Disclaimer:  Joss Wheldon, Mutant Enemy, and Fox own the characters of BtVS.  No Copyright infrindgement intended.

Part 16

Garwin looked on in half amusement, half confusion as Willow and Angel continued their carefully choreographed dance of avoidance.  They not only managed to escape any and all physical interaction, but there was absolutely no eye contact.  What Garwin found truly amazing, however, was the fact that they were so obvious in doing so.  He was sure that he was not the only person noticing their odd behavior.  He was sure that most people would chalk it up to the stress of impending war, but he knew the news of Aylmar's betrayal could never have this sort of effect on them.

He smiled as his mother sat down beside him and took his hand.  He looked twice, however, at the expression on her face.

"From whence comes this bemused smile?" he asked.

"I have no doubt but that you have noticed the strange behavior of our prince and princess?"

"Indeed.  I think most of the court has.  But from your knowing smile, should I assume you have an idea?"

"I believe I do."

"Have they finally consummated their marriage?" he asked quietly.

"Why, my son!  How did you know about their...hesitancy?"  she asked with genuine surprise.

"Fear not, Alaric did not tell me.  Yet I am perceptive enough, and I have had my suspicions that their bridal bed has remained pure."

"Well, unfortunately, both for their mutual felicity in marriage and for the kingdom's hopes for an heir, you are right.  But I do not think they
have amended that lack, exactly.  Instead..." she stopped thoughtfully.

"Confide in me, mother.  I will keep your counsel faithfully."

"I do not know to what extent, but I believe they have experienced at least some small amount of new intimacy.  New lovers are never this
uncomfortable around one another.  No, I think they are both struggling from the discovery of something else entirely."

"Love?" he asked.

"Desire," she intoned, winking playfully at her son when he laughed in surprise.



Willow was going to die.

She could feel the curious stares of the court, but she could not seem to do anything to stop the waves of embarrassment that were emanating from her body.  Sitting next to her husband, all she could think about was the feelings that had been coursing through her that morning when she had awoken to find herself in his arms.  She could not help but remember his arms wrapped so tightly around her, the heat from their combined bodies, the feeling of his lips, the taste of his mouth...

Yes, she was going to die.  She was going to wither and perish solely from the torture of extreme embarrassment.  She tried to concentrate on
her meal, but thinking about food took her mind to naughty places.  Food was bad.

She wanted to run out, to escape his presence, to stop thinking about the feeling of being pressed up against him.  She wanted to stop wanting him.

She wanted to die.  Anything but have to sleep next to him that night.



Angel was about to use his fork to poke out his eyes, in the hope that the horrible pain might distract him from the small woman sitting next to
him.  Of course, he knew it probably wouldn't work, and if it couldn't even do that, there was no point in making himself blind.

He was supposed to be her friend and protector.  He was supposed to be the one person she could trust.  He was NOT supposed to take advantage of her in her sleep.

There was a subversive yet logical voice in his head, pointing out that they were, in fact, married.  It also made the observation that Willow
had been no more asleep than he had been that morning, and that she could have easily stopped him, that if she had really objected to the feeling of his lips on hers, she could have pushed him away.

Angel wished that voice would shut up.

He needed to concentrate on his duties as a prince (providing an heir, the voice said.  Shut up, Angel replied), he needed to think about the
war, about how he could prevent his father from destroying everyone he cared about (especially his extremely lovely, extremely soft wife, the
voice said.  Shut UP, Angel replied.).

Above all else, he needed to fight the urge to sweep her into his arms and take her back to their bedchamber, where he would finish what their
respective subconsciouses had already begun.

He needed to put down his fork.



Garwin had sent Thayne away for a few hours, while he and Marie spent some time together.  Wandering into the stables, Thayne stopped suddenly when he heard a low voice speaking nearby.  Turning around, he looked for the person whose voice he was hearing, but there was no one in sight.  A horse whickered and the voice laughed in response.  The laugh was louder than the words had been, and Thayne followed the sound.

He found a man sitting next to a horse a few stalls down.  The horse was in poor shape, for it was not even standing, but had lay down in the bed of straw.  The man looked up apprehensively, but Thayne smiled amiably to put him at ease.

"Forgive my intrusion,"  Thayne apologized.  "I heard a voice, and followed it to...you."

"Not at all.  I was just having a conversation with Evadne here."

"Is she going to be alright?"  Thayne asked, coming over to pat her hindquarters.

"I hope so," the man replied.  "My name is Stephan, by the way."

"What happened?"

"We rode hard all the way from the border."

"Oh!  Then you're the one who brought the message about Aylmar's preparations for war."

"Yes.  Evadne did all the work, though."  His eyes were shadowed as he ran his hand up her graceful nose.

"Good work it was," Thayne remarked.

"It's worse than ever,"  Stephan said, his face worried.  "The country has been at war for so long, but it's different this time.  This isn't going to be about victory-- this is going to be about inflicting as much pain as possible.  This is going to be intimately horrible."

Evadne nudged his still hand worriedly.

"The prince doesn't deserve this.  Neither does Garwin,"  Thayne said sadly.

"You speak as if you know them."

"I am Garwin's personal guard, appointed by the princess," Thayne explained, his grey eyes miraculously empty of any and all pride.  He
said it merely as a statement of fact.

"That's quite an honor," Stephan remarked with a little awe for the unassuming man kneeling next to him in the straw, but Thayne just

"I wish we could avoid this war.  I don't want to see more people die."  Thayne dropped all pretense of being any sort of soldier, and he looked
exactly like the frightened young man he was.

Evadne looked at them, and each of the two humans fell silent.  Her still belabored breathing was the only sound in the stall.



Willow glowered at the leaves falling all around her.  She and Angel had arrived in late summer, and fall was coming quickly.  The air was already
becoming chilly, and soon it would be winter...

"Of all the ridiculous times to start a war!" she muttered into her fur lined cloak.  War was always atrocious, but it was even worse in winter.
It meant even more unnecessary deaths.

Thinking about death and mayhem was the most effective way to keep herself from thinking about Angel.  She had used the same method when she found Xander kissing Cordelia, blocking out the confusion and overwhelming emotion with a focused view of the impending disaster.

Of course, now, just as then, it couldn't work completely.  She did her best to keep her mind focused, but nothing seemed to work for very long,
and memories of the morning would come scampering back.  Abandoning all pretenses of princesshood, she began kicking the leaves covering the ground with a brutality she had used only when fighting demons in the past.  After a few minutes, there were leaves in her face, on her cloak
and floating in the air, and she herself was flushed from the exertion.  Much as she had been flushed that morning...

"Aaaaaahhh!"  she screamed.  "Shut up, brain!"

"Direct approach," a voice came from behind her.  "Does it work?"

Willow whirled around to find Marie smiling.  "Not one word," she threatened through clenched teeth.

"I didn't say anything," Marie pointed out innocently.  "Come along, walk with me and I shall distract you from your incalcitrant brain with the
inane chatter that comes so easily to a lady-in-waiting like myself."

With a sigh of relief, Willow took her arm, and the two women walked away together.



Of course, Marie could only distract Willow for so long.  Willow was forced to endure yet another wretched meal with her silent husband beside
her, but she wished it could have lasted forever.  She knew that however uncomfortable she and Angel were as they picked at the food on their
plates, it would not be able to compare to what they would be suffering in a few hours.  They would be sharing the same bed yet again.

Willow cursed her unruly subconscious.  She had learned to control herself, to create a persona she felt she could present to the world, but
there was nothing she could do when her own dreams were betraying her.   She could smile at Angel like she cared for him in a friendly way, she
could take his arm with a casual grace that belied no sort of further emotion, but there was no way the morning's performance could be regarded
as platonic.

The worst part of her situation was that there was no way to guard herself against similar gaffes in the future.  She wasn't a very light
sleeper, and if her body was enjoying itself-

Stifling a groan, Willow tried to think about something else, all the while knowing that bedtime was dangerously close.



Angel felt that he should say something.  He felt that he should break this heavy silence, try to penetrate the deadly tension that seemed to
cover their bedroom.

Say something.  He knew there were words available for use, he just had to figure out what they were.  He had to find something benign and
comforting, something that could sound apologetic but not regretful.  He needed words with no sexual implications, words that would put her at
ease but not make her feel vulnerable.  Oh, and perhaps some words with just the slightest touch of tastefully heartwarming humor.  He needed
words that wouldn't make him cringe immediately after he said them, words that wouldn't embarrass her either.

He needed to say something before she fell asleep.

"Goodnight, Angel," her soft voice said suddenly, as she rolled onto her side, her back facing him.  She was as far to her side of the bed as she
could be without falling off.

"Goodnight, Willow," he replied.  They were not, perhaps, the words he had been looking for, but they would do until the morning.



Their dreams that night were oddly vague and unimpressive.  They were so dull, in fact, that neither would be likely to remember them the next

As Willow woke up, her first cognizant thought was to check and make sure her lips were having nothing to do with Angel's.  They were not, and she deemed it safe to completely rouse herself from sleep.  It was in doing so that she realized she really did not want to, owing to the comfort of her position.

In Angel's arms.

Now, although she froze at the thought at first, it was quite different than the previous dawn.  There was no intertwining, no movement.  She was cradled in his arms as if he could protect her from anything, at least during sleep.  It was, all in all, not a bad place to be.

Deciding herself to be in no immediate need to vacate the bed, she closed her eyes again.  She felt Angel shift, and, knowing he would wake in a
moment, wondered what his reaction would be.  She felt his arms tense as he realized situation, but he relaxed as quickly as she had.  Neither
moved, and for a short time, there was no need to explain, no need to wonder or surmise what had happened.

Opening her eyes once more, Willow looked up at Angel.

"Good morning."

His smile, though sluggish with sleep, made the warmth of his embrace complete.

"Good morning, Princess."

Part 17

Angel burst into the room where Willow was reading, his cheeks flushed and a wide grin on his face.  "Willow!  You have to come see this."

"See what?" she asked with a bemused smile.

"Just come outside.  Look, I even have your cloak.  Come on!"

Allowing him to bundle her up in the thick velvet garment, she could hardly keep up as he practically ran to the doors leading to the palace
gardens.  Pausing before the large doors he gave her a mysterious smile. "Are you ready?" he asked ominously.

"I suppose I'll have to be," she replied.

Throwing open the doors, he pulled her out amongst the frost covered flower beds.  "Watch," he whispered.  Then...

"What?" Willow asked as he looked at her expectantly.  She hadn't seen anything to occasion remark.

"Look!  I'm breathing!"  he cried.

"Angel, you've been breathing since we got here," she pointed out.

"Yes, but now you can see it!" he laughed.  Willow finally saw what he meant, as his breath fogged in the crisp morning air.  She couldn't help
but giggle as her husband, prince, and future king remained enraptured by the visual manifestation of his breath.

Actually, Willow herself was not overly used to it.  After all, Sunnydale winters were not known for their freezing temperatures, save the
miraculous snowfall the year before.  It wasn't long before Willow and Angel were both trying to make rings out of their crystallized breath,
and practically hyperventilating in the excitement of it all.  They both fell onto an ornamental bench, feeling refreshed, both from the chill in
the air as well as the unmitigated silliness of their games.

"I love how it swirls around," Angel said, puffing out once more to prove his point.

"I like the way it gets tossed around by the breeze," Willow added.

"Hey!  Would your breath do the same thing to my breath as the wind?" he asked.

"Let's see," she replied.  He gently exhaled, and Willow leaned forward to breathe upon the dissipating cloud.  They each watched the fine mists
swirl and dissipate, only to find their mouths excessively close once the experiment had evaporated.  There was yet another moment of  awkwardness.   Such instances had lessened in the weeks since their dream induced intimacy, but still cropped up now and again.

Yet, something had changed, Willow realized.  There was a new sort of confusion, not the fear of getting caught, and not just embarrassment...

"Oh," she said suddenly, falling off the bench.

"Are you alright?" Angel asked with concern as he helped her up.

"Fine, fine, just a little cold.  I'm just going to go back to the library, warm up, I'll see you later." she walked away quickly, her cheeks rosy, but no longer from the cold.  She was determined not to think about it, but all her determination was for naught as her incalcitrant mind kept turning over her fresh realization.  Her almost-kisses with Angel were becoming increasingly difficult to deal with not because they made her uncomfortable.

Rather, she had started wishing they would actually come to pass.


If Willow's subconscious was anything to go by, then she had been waiting for Angel to kiss her long before the morning's small epiphany.  But the fact that her waking mind was finally catching up disturbed her in a way she couldn't even define.

She focused again on the book, but her mind was thinking only of how warm his lips would have been in the cold air...

"Bad!  Bad wrong bad bad bad bad."  Willow's self-scoldings had been with her for many years, but she cut herself off suddenly.  "Bad?" she said to the empty room, her brow furrowed in thought.  She looked at the ring on her finger.

Shutting her book, she began to pace around the library, occasionally clutching at her head as she was overtaken by somewhat...revolutionary
thought processes.  She was still there several hours later when the sun went down.  Taking a deep breath, she straightened her back and marched out of the room with undeniable purpose.


Angel was tired.  He had ridden out into the town in the hopes of taking his mind off his rather peculiar home life, but it hadn't worked.  He
seemed to choose the one day when all the young lovers in the country had convened in the capitol city to make him feel wretched.  There were
pretty wenches flirting with their admirers, some bold young men even stealing kisses.  One couple had been so amorous, they hadn't even
noticed their prince riding by.  A tradesman and his glowing, pregnant wife had bowed as Angel rode past, and he couldn't help but notice how
happy the young settled couple had looked.

To make it worse, the town had been absolutely crawling with redheads.

In a modest church on the outskirts of the town, he had seen a wedding procession, the bride positively sparkling with love for her proud
husband.  She did not cry tears of sadness on her wedding day, Angel thought disloyally, though he scolded himself for the unworthy notion in
the next minute.

Eventually, the prosperity and goodwill of his nation proved too much for his gloomy disposition, and he headed back to the palace and his oddly platonic marriage.  Having retreated to his bedchamber, he sat in front of a dying fire, wondering why they had been dragged through the portal in the first place.

He looked up as Willow entered the room.

She was as jumpy as a cat, her eyes wide and her movements oddly jerky.  She kept twisting her hands together, and her whole demeanor was one of concentrated nerves.  Yet she came toward him purposely, with a determination that was only slightly lessened by her palpable fear.

"Angel," she began, her voice unnaturally high and tight.  "Hi."

She stopped then, and seemed to be waiting for permission to continue.

"Um, hi," he answered.

"I've been thinking.  A lot.  About, well, stuff, like who I am.  And stuff."

"Right," Angel replied.

"I started wrong...Okay.  We are not in Sunnydale anymore.  Well, you've been out of Sunnydale longer than I have, but what I mean is that I'm not in Sunnydale and you aren't in LA and this world is completely different. Because, you know, of the whole alternate dimension thing.  And we bothhad...roles, before.  And duties, and loyalties.  But we aren't there anymore, so I was sort of thinking that our duties in this world are
more- wait, that sounds stupid."

Angel looked at her in disbelief.  Could she possibly be saying what he thought she was saying, or was he just hearing what he wanted to hear?  She wouldn't meet his eyes, so it made it more difficult to tell.

"Ummm," she continued.  "Well, we've been here for quite some time now.  And, you know, I always cared about you.  Because, well, you saved my life all the time and that was really great, but also because you were...you.  I mean, I guess I always trusted you, except when you were
evil, but I liked you a lot.  Because you are likeable.  And I did.  Like you.  Um, but, you know, now we're here together.  And sometimes I think
that it was a mistake that I came with you, because it didn't seem to make much sense.  But I am here, with you, and during the time that we've
been here, our relationship has...changed.  No, that isn't what I meant.   Well, I mean to say, that we've, um, gotten to know one another much
better.  And, also, see each other in different circumstances.  Because, before, whenever we ran into each other, it was to fight evil or because
you had something cryptic to- never mind.  We saw each other in specific places and situations.  But here, it's very different.

'This world is sort of, well, classier.  You know?  I can't honestly say that I don't like being a princess and having people adore me on principle.  But that isn't the topic.  Well, you know, as a prince and my husband besides, you have to treat me in a certain way.  And I guess I sort of like it.  Because having a handsome man smile at me like I'm all he sees and escort me about with my hand on his arm and do all the chivalrous things you do is...nice.  But people like your father remind me that you, as in you, Angel, are the gentleman.  It isn't your upbringing and it has nothing to do with the portal travelling.  It's you.  And...wait, I lost the topic."  She paused, looking confused.

"Willow-" he began, but her eyes brightened and she held up a finger.

"No, I remember.  Okay.  Well, I mentioned all my thoughts about who I was.  Because Willow Rosenberg, UC Sunnydale student and best friend of Buffy Summers, was in love with Oz.  Still is, in many ways, even though he left.  And then there's Angel, Angelus, vampire and former resident of hell, who loves aforementioned Buffy Summers.

'But Princess Aurelia never technically knew any of those people.  Neither did Prince Alaric.  And, as a married couple, since we are they,
I just find myself wondering if, maybe, we wouldn't be completely right in abiding by the rules of their marriage by-"

She stopped, and Angel almost sighed out loud.  She had almost said it, and he was really, really hoping she would say it.

"That makes it sound like a moral obligation, and that isn't what I mean to say," she corrected herself.  In her nervousness, she began walking in
small circles, still refusing to look at him.  "I don't want to say this and have you be disgusted with me, Angel.  I just hate living like this.
Seeing you every day, sharing a bed with you, wishing it wasn't just an act.  I'm only human, and you've been so wonderful, and I'm tired of
feeling guilty when I find myself..."  her words faltered then, and she sat on the back of the sofa, her back facing Angel.  Her shoulders were
stooped with the difficulty of the words she had been trying to say.

"Why do you feel guilty?" he asked then, his voice quiet.

"Well, I started wondering that myself!  I mean, from the looks of it, we aren't going home anytime soon.  We're married, after all.  Different
names used, us nonetheless.  And Oz left me, and Buffy's trying to move on with her life without you, and yet I feel like-"

He came around in front of her then, and put his finger under her chin to make her look at him.  "Like what?" he whispered.

"Like they would be, maybe, scandalized, if they knew."  Her breath was getting caught in her throat as he looked at her so closely, the dark red
embers of the fire glowing in his dark eyes.

"If they knew what?  That we're lost?  That we're married?"

"No," she shook her head.  "That-"

"That I might be falling in love with you?"

She was holding her breath, that he could tell in the silence of the room.

"You can't blame me," he smiled.  "Every day, I'm amazed yet again by your strength and grace.  Some people would have broken under half so
much pressure, but you not only keep going, you're determined to be cheerful about it.  That takes a lot, but you keep managing."

"And you tend to be attracted to strong women," she pointed out with a half smile.

"True.  Furthermore, I haven't even mentioned your incredible beauty.  I just didn't want to say anything because I didn't want to impose.  Also
I'm a coward."

"Didn't want to take advantage?" she guessed.

"That too."

"Well," her eyes looked searchingly into his own, "take all the advantage you want."

It was his turn to catch his breath, but her eyes were truthful, with just a hint of shame at her own brazenness.  Determined not to let her
take back her offer or her admittances, he took her at her word.

With a swiftness stemming from the long denial of his desire, he leaned over and pressed his lips to her upturned mouth.


Marie entered the royal bedchamber quietly, but almost tripped over her own feet at the sight within.  Her dearest princess was being ruthlessly
kissed by her husband as she precariously balanced on the back of a sofa.   Silently backpedalling, Marie exited the room and tried to stop the
wicked smile that kept surfacing on her face.

She really needed to prepare Willow for the banquet, but...

Perhaps she should just take a short walk before she returned.


Willow's brain managed to reflect that it was certainly to her benefit that Angel had retained his centuries of romantic experience, right before all her cognizant thought processes shut down.

Her perch on the sofa was uncomfortable, and her head was still aching from her hours of intense thought, but she noticed nothing save the
insistent pressure of her husband's gifted mouth.  If this was what he could do to her with nothing more than a kiss, then why had she waited so
long?  The room was dark and cold, but she was burned by his every touch.   She was glad her speech (if you could call such a convoluted mess of random words a 'speech') had worked.  Oh yes, she was very very glad.

For his part, Angel was just as glad.  He had been using quite a bit of control to keep his relationship with Willow stable, and to finally let
go was turning out to be a marvelously pleasant experience.  Perhaps it was the long time that had elapsed since he had kissed anyone, perhaps it was the unresolved sexual tension that had been circulating between them for weeks, perhaps it was the novelty of being human again.  In any case, the mere feeling of her lips was-

There was a loud knocking at the door.  He broke away from Willow with an exasperated sigh, and she leaned her face against his chest.  "I'm
beginning to hate servants," she muttered against the velvet.  He laughed in reply, and she hopped off the sofa.  She stole one last kiss, then
called out, "Enter if you are able!"

"Wrong universe," he pointed out.

"Right," she smiled, her lips rosy from his attentions.

Marie came in with an odd air of excitement.  "Your Highnesses, the banquet will begin soon, and neither of you is ready.  Come, Princess, I
will attend to you, and your husband must do what he can for himself.

You are decidedly late!  What were you doing?"

"Lost track of the time," Willow explained, her eyes on her husband's.  He smiled at her, a sensual smile full of promises, but neither one was
aware of the knowing look that crossed Marie's face.

"Of course," she replied in a neutral voice, dragging Willow away to her dressing chamber.  Willow was decidedly dazed as Marie dressed and
arranged her, chattering on and on about nothing at all, the whole time observing Willow's dreamy face very carefully.  It was only as they were
about to depart for the feast that Willow actually noticed the gown she was wearing.

"Marie!" she hissed.  "I can't wear this!"

"Why not, pray?  I think you look vastly fetching in it."

"Look at me!"  Willow looked at the mirror hesitantly.  The dress itself wasn't really problem.  It was more the lack of the dress that left her
so concerned.  The amount of decolletage revealed by the neckline was not in her usual style, and she futilely tugged at the firm brocade.

"It's a little, low, don't you think?" she squeaked.  One wrong move, and she would find herself quite exposed to the entire court.

"Don't be ridiculous.  Now hurry up, dear.  You are already late," Marie reprimanded her.  Willow walked out the door with a somewhat defeated
air, so did not see the look on her lady's face.  Marie smiled at her reflection in the full length mirror.

"It will do him some good to go mad with wanting during dinner.  Don't you think?"  She winked at herself, and with a youthful giggle, swished
out the door herself.


Angel strummed his fingers on his forearm impatiently as he waited for his wife.  He just wanted the evening to be over, so that he could take
her back upstairs and finally-

"Oh, sweet heaven," he whispered, for Willow had entered the room.  He would not have been able to really describe the dress.  His eyes
registered neither color nor fabric, neither embroidery nor trim.  All he could have said was that the dress managed to destroy all his capacity
for thought at first sight.

"Angel?  Angel!" he realized Willow was saying with some concern.

"Mmm?" he replied, his tongue being sluggish to form any actual words.

"Is something wrong with my dress?  You keep staring.  Should I change?" her question was not asked to fish for compliments, but merely out of self-conscious ignorance.

"No," he replied firmly.  "You should NOT change."

The glossy look in his eyes convinced Willow that he was completely sincere, and for the first time, she began to realize why Marie had
chosen that particular dress.  Taking his arm with a small smile hovering around her mouth, she looked up at him through her lashes.  "Shall we
dine, milord?"

"Only if it won't take too long," he replied, the look in his eyes making her flush with pleasure.

They entered the main hall together.


There were moments during that evening when the rest of the court might as well have been nonexistent, for all the notice the couple of honor
took of them.  Course after course came and went, with neither prince nor princess eating very much.

"It's about time," Garwin declared as he and his mother watched the lovestruck pair.

"You'll have nieces and nephews in no time, dear," his mother replied.  "I just hope they have some time together before this ridiculous war
occurs, as it no doubt shall."

She would later curse herself for her unlucky words, but had no idea of their import as she said them, and continued to chat with her son.

A few moments later, a special platter was brought to the princess.  One of her other ladies-in-waiting, Gwen, conveyed the good wishes of the
chef.  "He prepared this dish specifically for you, Your Highness," she said as she curtsied before Willow.  "He has understood that you are fond of chocolate, and has prepared this tart in the hopes that it will please your discriminating palate."  The nobles politely applauded, and Willow smiled in delight.

"Thank you, Gwen.  I will convey my thanks to the chef as well.  Oh, but I couldn't eat another bite, not just yet.  Will you taste it for me?"
she begged.

"Princess, I doubt not that it is delicious, but I would not presume-"

"Oh, please.  I am too full right now.  You try a bit, and if it meets your approval, I will endeavor to eat some more."  Willow was just
remembering that Gwen had once been as important a companion as Marie to the princess, and her guilt made her hope that her mark of favor might restore some of Gwen's status.  She dug her fork into the delectable looking dessert, and held it up to the lady's mouth.  "Please, I would
love for you to try it," she pleaded.

Gwen smiled and nodded, and everyone waited expectantly as she took the fork into her mouth.  Her eyes widened at the flavor, and she nodded as she chewed.

"Good?" Willow asked.

Gwen nodded emphatically, and Willow used a fresh fork to dig out a bite for herself.  She almost had it to her mouth, when Gwen's hand suddenly clamped down on her wrist.  Willow looked up at her in shock.

"I think," Gwen gasped, "Your Highness should not taste it."  Her lips were blue, and she began to shake.  Clawing at the air, she fell
backwards, her head striking the stone floor quite hard.  Willow fell to her knees beside the woman, chafing her trembling hands as others
gathered around.

"Poisoned, Princess," the poor woman whispered.  "Please, I didn't know.  I think-ah!  I think the chef is innocent.  I," her words were halting,
and all the blood had rushed from her face.  "I- I am glad you, you did not- taste it.  Your kindness saved- saved your life- I-" her body
convulsed then, and her hands went quite limp.

"No," Willow breathed, backing away in horror.  "No!" she shrieked, clutching at her gown.  Angel helped her up, but she hardly noticed as
her eyes rolled in panic.

"Who would dare attempt to attack my daughters life?" the king's voice thundered across the hall.  Suddenly, guards ran into the doors.

"Your Majesties," he bowed before the king, "A young woman was seen riding away from the palace.  She had been engaged as an assistant in the kitchen for three weeks.  She was riding towards...the border."  The soldier's voice was filled with dread.

"Aylmar," the king growled.  "Gentlemen, let us adjourn to the councilroom.  My dear," he said in a softer voice as he turned to Willow,
"I am sorry, but you it will not happen again, I swear.  We will teach him that he cannot make attacks on your inviolate person and expect it to
go unpunished."  He whirled away, his face as hard as stone.

Angel was quite upset, not only by the attempt on Willow's life and the death of her servingwoman, but by the fact that he was forced to leave
her to plan a war.  She was trembling quite violently in his arms, and he could tell that her slipping self-control was really only the first stage
of extreme panic.

Marie appeared, her face much older than it had been earlier, and she took Willow into her arms gently.  "Go, my prince," she said to Angel.
"Plan your war, and I will watch over your bride until you return."

He nodded gratefully, and kissing Willow's white cheek, he followed the king.


As Angel entered the room, the first thing he noticed was that Marie had fallen asleep in a chair in front of the fire.  She stirred as he walked
over to her, and she stood up, putting a finger to her lips.  "She's asleep," she whispered, gesturing to the mound of blankets Angel assumed
to be his wife.

"How is she?" he asked with great concern.

The look on Marie's face did nothing to allay his fears.  "I have never seen her this distressed.  She is not quite herself, and though she has
ample reasons to be upset, I cannot help but worry.  I hate to see her so shaken."

Angel nodded.  "Thank you, Marie."

"So, Your Highness, what are the king's plans?"

He shut his eyes wearily.  "We are to march at daybreak."

Marie's gasped.  "No!  Not yet!  You have only just- but it isn't my place.  I am sorry, Your Highness."  He looked at her curiously, but she
curtsied wearily.

"You will want your rest.  Goodnight, Prince Alaric."  She left the room with a tired air, and Angel remembered that she had only just begun to
know her son, but Garwin would be leaving the next day with the rest of them.

Pinching the bridge of his nose, he crossed the room to the bed and looked down at his wife's pillow.

It was empty.

"Willow?"  He threw back the blankets, but the bed was unoccupied.  Suddenly panicked, he looked around the room in terror.  She was nowhere to be seen.

He shivered, and as he saw that the balcony doors were slightly open, his heart seemed to stop.  Throwing the doors open, he cast his glance out over the stone railing.  "Willow?" he asked again.  Then he saw her.

She was huddled against the wall, her thin shift no protection aginst the cold night air.  Cursing under his breath, he ran over to where she had

"Me.  He wanted to kill me..." she whispered as he gathered her up in his arms.  Her thin body was terribly cold, and he ripped of his doublet to
wrap it around her shoulders.  he carried her back inside, securing the doors on the way in.  He settled her into the bed, and kicking off his
boots, he climbed in next to her.  Her skin was still much too cold, and he rubbed his hands up and down her shaking arms, hoping the friction
would warm her.

"Are you insane?" he whispered, his voice angry and frightened.  "You could have gotten frostbite, or hypothermia.  You could have died."

"Dead.  He wanted me dead!" she cried.

"Yes?  We knew he hated us.  Why are you so upset that you would let yourself almost freeze to death?"

"I've been attacked and nearly murdered by any number of monsters," she began, "but this is different.  Even Faith, who at one time was on our
side, was different.  But Angel, that man is your father!  I tried to love him, I wanted him to be happy for us.  And he tried to kill me!  So cruelly, such calculation.  Faith was hot tempered, it reminded me how weak and utterly human she was.  But him- poison!  And not even himself.
To send a spy...  He didn't want me dead because he even hated me.  He just wanted me dead to start a war.  And then...Gwen..." she stopped
then, squeezing her eyes together.  "It's my fault."

"What?  What are you talking about?" Angel asked, furious that his father had reduced her to such a state.

"I should have known something horrible would happen if I said those things to you.  I should have known it was wrong-"

"Willow, something horrible happened because my father is horrible, not for any other reason.  Gwen died because of my father, not because of
you.  Remember that."

Willow nodded dumbly, but her eyes were grateful.  Some warmth was seeping back into her extremities, and her face was regaining color.
"What happened at the council?" she asked.

"We're leaving tomorrow."  Angel's voice was low and heavy.

Willow shook her head violently.  "No!  You can't!  Not when I finally realized-" she paused, looking up at him.  "Not when I finally realized
that I love you."

"Oh, Willow," was all that Angel was able to say.

"Now you'll go to war and I won't have the time to-"  he stopped her with a kiss.  The tragedy of the evening seemed more and more distant as they realized that they had only one night left, one night before he disappeared.  Her body was no longer cold, it was hot and throbbing, and
his felt much the same way.

And his mouth, his lips, were as eloquent as any of the words he didn't have the breath to whisper.  He clung to her desperately, and she would
not have been able to tear herself away if her life had depended on it.  She could only do her best to reciprocate each feverish embrace.

There was no thought of war or treaties that night, no thought of duty or even servants.  If past loves were remembered, it was with the vague
fondness of a pleasant memory, and not the shooting pain of broken hearts.  Actually, the night was not for much thinking.  It was far more
focused on touch.