"I don't mean to be intrusive or anything..." Willow said, urging her horse on to keep up with Buffy's.
"You're going to ask me about Angel, aren't you?"
"We... we had a really bad breakup. You could say that" Buffy said, glancing at Giles.
The man wasn't looking at them, his eyes were fixed to some point ahead and far away, but he was clearly listening, for he wrinkled his nose when he heard the word "breakup". Also, he rapped the horse with his heels to make him go quicker. Buffy eyed him with sorrow and a bit of guilt.
"I thought about asking Tara about it. If you don't mind."
"No, not at all. Actually, it's a good idea. If I ever needed a truthful witness, that would be Tara" the Slayer smiled sadly "Looks like you too are going yo have consequences for sleeping with someone. It's like a curse... Actually, in my case there was a curse involved."
Buffy fell silent then, probably lost in her private memories, and Willow didn't press her on. Specially with Giles looking so miserable too. What could have happened? Consequences for sleeping with someone? A curse? What had Angel done to Giles?
Tara and Angel reached the castle practically in no time. The lookout guards were their usual pesky, interrogative selves, only much worse. Wartime made them extra cautious, doubly suspicious and much more reluctant to let people inside the castle. They had no problem allowing Lady Tara in, but they weren't too sure about her male companion. Luckily, his black clothes finally convinced them that he was a priest and they opened the gates.
They trotted inside the castle and left their horses in the stables. Tara led the way, and walked Angel into her father's chambers, where he was discussing strategies with Donnie. They were standing before a massive oaken table covered with heaps of maps drawn in vellum, so absorbed in their plans that they didn't notices Tara's presence.
"You just do as we planned, okay?" she whispered to Angel, before clearing her throat out loud.
"What is it? Oh, it's you. Dear daughter, I was meaning to send for you. So, tell me, have you made any advances with your mother's books?"
"Yes Father, it wasn't to difficult for me... And so I brought something to prove- to demonstrate it to you."
"Let us see."
Donnie and the king sat down on their respective armchairs, and Tara snapped her fingers. Showtime. Angel entered the room, his eyes inexpressive and unblinking, and his manner completely serene (he looked so apathetic that even Tara was tricked at first); his hands were folded before him, like a polite boy. The king made a face; he couldn't understand why his daughter had brought this priest-like man.
Smiling, Tara pronounced the words "game mode", and Angel displayed his "game-face". His vampiric face appeared, consisting of scary predator-like fangs, bulky forehead and yellow eyes. He growled like a panther and his manner became totally animalistic.
The king froze in his seat and Donnie promptly dove into the floor, hiding behind his armchair.
"A vampire, a vampire!" he whimpered.
"Yes, a vampire" Tara echoed, but with the coldest voice "Vampire, break that chair."
At once, Angel went to Donnie's armchair, lifted it as if it weighed nothing and smashed it against the floor. When he did that, he turned to Tara, waiting for more instructions.
"Vampire, crouch on the floor and stay still no matter what happens" Tara ordered, "Now Father, put your feet up on him."
The king did this very slowly, still unconvinced. He rested his feet on Angel's back, using the vampire's body as a comfortable cushion.
"I can't believe this..." the king gasped "This is too perfect. Imagine an army of these monsters."
"Yeah" Donnie giggled nervously and grabbed one severed leg from the destroyed chair "Can I kill him now?"
"No! This vampire is completely docile, he won't do a thing if I don't tell him to. Father, I have a group of demons settled not far away from here, they all obey me like this one. They will fight on the day of the battle."
The king nodded approvingly. "So you got them under your complete control?"
"I do. On the day of the battle-"
"I really hope so, because the battle will we the day after tomorrow."
"What?" Tara cried.
"What? aren't you ready?" her father asked.
"Yes, Father, I am."
"Fantastic" the king stood up and kicked Angel's face, sending him rolling on the floor "We're going to win!"
With that, the king and Prince Donnie left to get some well-deserved sleep. As soon as they had disappeared, Tara ran to Angel and asked him if he was alright. The vampire pushed himself up. He was still wearing his "game-face", and was growling furiously.
"I'm sorry, Angel. I didn't know he was going to kick you... You did very well, not striking back..."
"Turn the other cheek... I must say, it's going to be very hard not to kill him the day of the battle" the vampire muttered, slowly calming himself.
When his face went back to being human-like, Tara sent him away. The day after tomorrow... She knew the war was going to happen, and be soon enough, but she still saw it as something far away. As if she could live like this forever, preparing for this war, meeting Willow every day. But the time had come for action, they had to deal with this battle and stop it whatever it took. Still, she couldn't imagine what would happen to Willow and her when it was over.
She opened the door and went into her bedroom. As soon as she closed it, she was seized from behind, arms surrounding her waist.
"Willow..." she sighed.
"Boo. You forgot that I was coming?"
Tara turned and hugged the redhead fast against her.
"Is something wrong?"
Willow worried suddenly. What if it hadn't gone well? What if they had discovered Angel? Then the whole plan would go to hell and... But no, Tara was calming her, stroking her hair. She told her that it had been perfect, that Angel had acted like a tame lion and had even put of with the king kicking him in the face.
"Poor Angel. But... good, they've believed it. So why do I feel you worried?"
"The war... it's so soon."
"The day after tomorrow soon."
"That's... soon alright. But hey, we'll manage."
Willow's main concern was reassuring Tara. She cupped her face and kissed her softly, trying to transmit some reassurance into her. Everything was going to be alright, she really thought so; all she had to do was hug her and infuse it into Tara. It had to be alright. Willow felt that they were also fighting for themselves. There had to be some working of destiny here, having them drawn together and sharing magic. So they simply couldn't draw back and fail.