There was a very nervous slayer pacing around the room. Buffy hadn't even stepped into her shoes; she had jumped to her (bare) feet as soon as she had noticed Willow and Tara's hands grasped together. Her eyes darted from the two girls to the floor.
"Okay" she looked at Willow and Tara, and then back down "Okay. There are a couple of things that I don't quite understand. How do you guys know about the conspiracy? Why do you suddenly want to stop this? And, in the name of God, why are you holding hands like that?"
"You're asking for quite an explanation..." Willow shook her head, preparing herself for a long speech.
"We're together" Tara said, bluntly summing up everything "First things first. Willow and I are together."
"Thank you, so I gathered" Buffy's voice tingled with irony "I see you're together, I'm asking why. Are you guys under a spell or something? Your hands have been stuck together?"
Willow and Tara looked at each other, a smile playing on their lips.
"Buffy, we're under no spell, see?" Willow let go of the other girl's hand.
"Don't you understand when we say 'together'?"
"Together as in... friends?" Buffy asked.
Tara frowned. Having to explain this to Buffy was tough and a touch embarrassing. They hadn't talked about it themselves, they had just let themselves go without stopping to define it. And it felt good, she wasn't complaining; whatever it was, it was theirs. And theirs to decide. But now they had to explain it to a third person that seemed totally clueless. Willow looked a bit confused too, about how and what to reveal.
"Good friends?" Buffy asked again, hopefully.
"No." Willow said, relieved because Tara was shaking her head too.
"More" Tara answered softly, happy to see Willow nodding at this.
Buffy just stared blankly at them, not daring to take a third guess. They could see that she didn't understand a thing.
"More?" Willow whispered, trying hard not to smile goofily.
"I guess..." Tara blushed slightly "If you want..."
"Oh, I do. When this is over I could take you to a ball or something. Go out with me?"
Giggling happily, the girls hugged each other, almost unconscious of Buffy's presence there, standing in front of them with her mouth wide open and gaping eyes. When they detached from their little - but vital - conversation and their hug, they turned to the gaping slayer.
"Girlfriends, actually" Willow said, with a smile from ear to ear.
"Girlfriends" the Slayer repeated, to which the girls nodded "Together."
"That's what we were trying to explain" Tara motioned for Buffy to sit down.
"How can it be? Tara, with the rumors of witchcraft going around, this won't help you. And Willow, you're the Princess, the heir of your kingdom. You can't persist in... I mean, Tara's a-"
"Tara's a girl" Willow finished the sentence for her "I certainly know that people will care. I expect them to deny it, to swear, to try to break this up. What I didn't expect was you trying it. You're my friend."
"You're my friend!" Willow repeated, getting up and giving her back to the Slayer.
"You can't force me to accept something like-"
"Something like going out with a vampire?" Tara asked Buffy, raising an eyebrow.
"It's not the same" Buffy shook her head and crossed her arms "Angel-"
"Angel is a vampire, and you went out with him. Everyone that ever knew about it condemned it, said it was wrong, impossible, disgusting, abnormal, inconvenient, not right, God-defying and downright weird," Tara said "No one tried to understand. You were alone. Now, remember, who was the person that was by your side on those moments? And don't dare say it isn't the same."
"Your mother" Buffy answered "And then you."
Willow was in complete awe. She had been surprised when Tara had told her that she knew Buffy, but now she confirmed that she knew her even better than herself. Buffy the Vampire Slayer going out with a vampire? But Tara was right; if Buffy had been involved with a vampire, then she knew everything about prejudice.
"How can you, of all people, say that I can't be in a relationship with whoever I want?" Tara was asking "I'd expect a little less prejudice, a little less judgment from the judged."
"I'm sorry" Buffy slouched her shoulders "I really am. My wacky Spanish-Inquisition-side had taken over me. Will, Tare, what can I say?"
"You could begin with 'congratulations'..." Tara smiled.
The three girls went to each other and hugged. Buffy was still feeling guilty, so she began delivering a sermon about how they should do whatever they made them happy, and not to listen to what anyone said, and if they ever needed someone to defend them, that they should call her...
Enough. Tara sat Willow and Tara on the bed, beside her, and said that they had very serious business to talk about.
"The conspiracy" Buffy nodded.
Taking turns in speaking, Willow and Tara explained that Tara's father had bribed the mercenaries into his side, that his thirst for defeating Willow's father was too great. He even believed that Buffy, the Slayer herself, was fighting on the other side. Because of that, he had given Tara all the stuff from her mother, so that she could learn to invoke and control demons.
Buffy couldn't believe that he wanted to mix the demons into this. Besides, she wasn't fighting in the war, it would be fighting and killing humans, which her conscience forbid.
"He wants you to summon demons?" Buffy asked, looking at Tara "Mercenaries and demons on the same side, fighting the people of Willow's kingdom? I'm having a butchery preview."
"I'm consulting my mother's books. It would be much easier if she was here... I need help, I need an idea, which is the difficult part. Putting an actual idea into practice is easier."
"Okay, here's what we can do" Buffy said "I'm going to contact my watcher, Tara you know him, and I'll explain all this. Then we can all meet up and, you know, collect ideas."
"Ooh, a magic-brainstorm" Willow said.
"Sounds well" Tara agreed.
"So, tomorrow morning... where?" Buffy stroked her chin "Somewhere where we won't be seen or disturbed..."
"We could go to our place" Tara smiled, nudging Willow.
Buffy just rose an eyebrow.
"Yeah!" Willow squeaked, happy to happy to have a plan, happy with the prospect of seeing Tara again the next day and happy to visit their special place again "It's a little forest to the right of my castle. There's a willow tree and a small lake."
"Okay, seems good for me. See you tomorrow then?"
They said goodnight to Buffy and disappeared down the corridor, succeeding in not being discovered. Then, they repeated the procedure, but the other way around. They covered the eyes of Willow's horse and entered the tunnel. When the wall had already closed behind them Tara realized that she hadn't brought something to serve them as a torch. She was about to comment on it when Willow grasped her hand and made her grab something, closing her fingers over it.
"It's a candle, I got it from Buffy's room."
Tara spoke the words "ignis incende" again, this time much more softly, and the candle was instantly lit. it made Willow's eyes shine in the almost-complete darkness.
"I know it will blow off, candles are delicate in that way, but I brought it anyway."
"Why?" Tara asked.
"It's extra flamey."
"If it blows out you'll whisper some words and it will light up again. You'll encourage the flame." Willow said.
Tara held the candle with one hand and used the other to put it around Willow's waist. She nodded and they began walking towards the exit. Since the blonde was allowed to go out when it was daytime, they decided that Willow wouldn't risk going to her castle to pick her up. They accorded their meeting at the lake.
"Goodnight" Willow whispered, when she helped Tara get inside her bedroom.
"We won't have to wait a whole day to see each other" Tara smiled.
"Just a few long hours."
"I'll miss you." She's my girlfriend, Tara thought, I'm her girlfriend.
"I'll miss you too." Tara, my girlfriend, Willow mused.
They leant in for a kiss, the sweetest they could make it, their lips moving slowly over each other.
When she got to her castle, Willow dove into her bed - covering head an all - and closed her eyes. She still had Tara's taste on her lips, and she licked them to savor it, to imagine that Tara was there, on the bed, breathing beside her and embracing her before going to sleep. How would it be, sleeping with Tara?