The place looked absolutely beautiful. Not more than at nighttime, however, now it was blooming with life. One could breathe a mouthful of air, or grab a handful of grass, and know that it was pure. She pulled off her boots and sat on the soft grass, sinking one foot in the lake. Meanwhile she couldn't help thinking that this place, the lake, the willow tree, it lacked something. It lacked Tara.
She had been the first to arrive. Her anxiousness of seeing Tara was to blame, but she couldn't help it. She didn't want to help it. All she could think about was exploring this relationship. Girlfriends, yes, but she wanted to spend every living hour with her, to share all that she was with Tara, and know everything about her blond beauty. To explore. Explore feelings, sensations and words of love, all new to her.
Suddenly, she heard the distinctive sound of horse-hoof treading on grass. By instinct, she turned to her own horse (which was tied close to the water), but she knew that it couldn't be him. Someone was coming.
Willow stood up and saw that a white horse was galloping full-speed towards her. She staggered on her nervous feet, not knowing what to do. The horse was near, and she couldn't take her eyes off his black eyes and hoofs, his white snout and mane. She was paralyzed, and couldn't even take out her sword, which was what she wanted to do. But she was like a living mind shut inside a dead, unmoving body.
The white horse hovered over her, rearing up and standing on his hind legs. Willow managed to react enough to throw herself flat on the ground and to cover her head with her arms. When the horse bellowed it was all Willow could do to keep from fainting. She closed her eyes firmly and waited for those black, chunky hoofs to descend on her.
But it didn't happen. She lifted her head slightly, just for her eyes to peer between her arms. The horse's hoofs were securely placed on the ground and nestled by the grass; not one of them was hovering over her head. Just in case, she rolled away from the beast's circle of action and got up.
"See? You're still afraid of horses."
Her eyebrows rose like never before, almost reaching her hair-line. A wave of intermittent relief, embarrassment and anger covered her. There, riding the white horse, smiling like a naughty child, was Tara. Her blond hair was completely free, and she looked like an Amazon or some legendary personage. Her back was completely straight - she didn't slouch like Willow did when she rode - and she secured the reins firmly between her hands.
"Tara!" Willow wiped the cold sweat off her face with her hands, "Tara, I can't believe you did that!"
"I just thought it was a good moment to prove my point. That you're still afraid of horses."
"Who cares? I mean... I'm not!" she began to babble "I thought... I though it was a wild horse, that it was going to attack me!"
Willow's words provoked an instant change in Tara, who jumped off her horse at once and went to the redhead. She hugged her close, muttering that she was sorry. At first Willow tried to turn away, but it was only for a moment, for Tara's guilty face made her stay where she was.
"I'm so sorry..." Tara repeated, dragging her fingers under Willow's hair to caress the back of her head and neck "I'm sorry, it was half-joke, half-shock therapy. I wouldn't have done it if..."
"If what?" Willow whimpered, swallowing and trying hard to keep herself stern and firm, even if what she really wanted was to bury her face on Tara's shoulder.
"If... if I hadn't been sure that it was safe... safe for you."
"How can you be sure?" Willow cried, a whinny sob climbing up her throat, against her will.
"I just am, I know too much about riding horses. I trust him, and so he trusts me. He knows, he feels I don't want to harm you. But I'm so sorry..."
Maybe she was exaggerating, maybe she was letting her only fear dominate her. And Tara looked really upset. She let herself be caressed and pampered by those hands, let herself be seated on the bank of the lake and relaxed, stopped her trembling. Tara was hugging her, and she could feel her gentle heart, beating worriedly..
"I'm sorry" she said, yet again.
"Tara, it's okay, I overreacted. Besides, you're right. I'm scared."
"If you want, if you... trust me, I could help you."
"Trust you?" Willow looked up at Tara and cupped her chin to keep her from hiding behind the curtains of her hair "I trust you. We're a team, aren't we?"
"You were trying to help me, but this phobia of mine is worse than you thought, than I cared to confess."
Before she knew it, she was telling Tara about her sixth birthday, how she had been placed on a pony (against her will) and how she had fallen from it. She had always been the first and the only one to believe that the evil pony (that wild beast) had thrown her off. And the animal hadn't sniffed her, he had tried to bite her arm off.
"That determined my relationship with all horses" Willow smiled, blushing "All I see is a really big pony."
"Aww, poor Will" Tara kissed her forehead, finally managing to smile.
"It was so traumatic..." the redhead faked a sob.
"We'll deal with it."
"How?", Willow was going to ask, but, before she could, Tara had kissed her, and was pulling her closer. This is... good, Willow thought, her hands roaming Tara's back, while Tara's hands were in her hair, drawing circles on her scalp with her fingertips. It was somewhat hypnotizing. She let herself go, sinking in the kisses, sucking on Tara's lips, gasping when her lips were sucked, thrilled whenever their tongues grazed. That's what it was; a thrill, a rush taking over her. Completely-new-goodness.
Then, she felt that Tara was pushing her slightly - but not away from the kisses - and sitting on her lap. Um... interesting, Willow managed to say to herself. But she was progressively losing conscience; she felt as if her mind was dissolving and all she could do was feeling those touches, those kisses, and Tara's weight on her lower abdomen. I think... I think I'm going mad. She brought her hands down to Tara's waist and rolled her down on the grass, beneath her. Her brain had been wiped clean, she knew, as she kissed her hard, parting her lips, sliding her tongue inside, searching for the other tongue. She had never felt... this, and Tara looked equally drowned in the same emotions.
There was a creak in the grass, and then another, and another. It wasn't casual; it had to be the trampling of hoofs. Willow opened her eyes and placed a finger first on her lips, then on Tara's. she rose her head very slowly, trusting that the grass was tall enough to cover them from superficial glances, and peered at the new arrivals. Buffy riding a black horse and a man riding a dark-brown one.
"It's Buffy" Willow whispered, laying back down on top of Tara "And a man."
She rolled off of Tara, who turned to lie stomach-down, to take a look at the man. He was in his forties, had light-brownish hair that was turning gray in some places and looked serious, a stoic figure.
"It's her watcher. We can stand up" Tara said, getting up.
"Yeah... Let's get up" Willow grumbled, pushing herself up "Spoil all the fun..."
Tara heard this, and couldn't help laughing at the pout that Willow was wearing. She circled the redhead's waist and kissed her cheek.
The new arrivals had already descended from their horses and were tying them close to Willow's. Buffy spotted them and waved, and the man's eyes brightened when he got sight of Tara.
"Lady Tara!" he gasped, his voice tender and insecure "It's been a long time..."
"Call me Tara, please" the blonde hugged the man briefly "Unless you want me to call you Sir. Willow, this is Sir Rupert Giles, Buffy's Watcher."
Willow reached out to shake his hand, but instead, the man bowed down and kissed her ringed fingers.
"No, please, enough with the nobility titles" Willow rolled her eyes and pulled the man to his feet "We're all on the same team now. You call me Willow and I'll call you... what, Rupert?"
"We call him Giles" Buffy said.
"Okay, I'll call you Giles too" the redhead shrugged "So, has Buffy filled you in?"
"Uh... yes, she has. She woke me up before the sun was up."
They sat down near the lake, forming a circle, with the things Tara and Giles had brought in the center.
"The King..." Giles paused, realizing that there were two kings "I mean, the king of the Highlands... Tara, your father... he wants you to uh, dip your hand in the black arts, so to speak."
"Yes, he wants me to beckon all the demons I can, and make them obey me. Make them fight for my father's side. He... he allowed me to read my mother's books to find a way. And I'll have to give him some kind of answer soon, he's asking me if I have achieved something... I'll have to prove something soon."
Willow frowned. Tara was getting nervous. Of course, she had quite a lot of pressure on her, with her father asking her to control demons, to use them to kill other people... And now he was demanding to see her progress.
"That's not good, Giles" Buffy piped in "I mean, he's gonna know that something's weird. Tara needs to convince him."
"Yes, she does" Giles said, calmly.
"So, what should she do?" Buffy went on getting nervous "We can't have her summoning demons!"
"That's exactly what we are going to do." Giles said, brushing his chin with his hand.
"What?" the three girls exclaimed, at the same time.
"Giles..." Tara said, grabbing a thick book "I can't do it. That's what we're trying to prevent from happening. Besides, in my mother's books... there's nothing of the sort. Nothing dark. You knew my mother."
"Yeah!" Willow cried "There's nothing dark-magicky in those books. Tara can't-"
"Honey, wait a second" the blonde placed a hand on Willow's knee.
Giles heard the word, saw the gesture and rose an eyebrow. Here was something that Buffy hadn't told him, but he kept quiet.
"Giles, why do you want me to do that? Besides, I'm not sure I can."
"I didn't say we should beckon demons... with magic. I'm saying that we might be able to use demons to trick your father and, at the same time, have them serve our purpose of stopping this battle."
"Huh?" Buffy uttered, wrinkling her nose.
"I've thought about this... I think we could use white magic, which is what your mother did."
"Yes" Tara said, remembering her mother. White magic was more like it.
"...But we'll use the demons too" Giles said "Buffy, I need you to go get someone... someone that we'll need if we are to do this. Meanwhile, I'll work with Tara here."
"Who?" Buffy asked "Who am I supposed to bring?"
"I'm not sure you'll be very pleased..." Giles clenched his jaws "It doesn't please me either..."
"Okay, enough with the mystery, don't you think?."
"Alright, then" Giles sighed "Bring Angel. We'll wait here."