Buffy turned over in the bed and stopped snoring. Thank goodness, Willow thought, lying next to her. I would never have been able to get to sleep with that racket. At that moment, Buffy began to snore again - deep, even breaths that sounded for all the world like an electric buzzsaw. Each snore seemed to enter Willow's ears and wrap around her brain with almost a tangible presence, prodding her more and more awake. Finally in frustration she got out of the bed.
Buffy lay on her side with her knees drawn up to her chest. Her mouth was slightly open, which only served to amplify the volume of her snores. She was drooling on her pillow and was facing directly toward Willow's side of the bed.
I love Buffy, but she is definitely not at her most attractive when she's asleep. And where is Xander? Why must I suffer alone? Does Buffy have apnea? Willow's mood was rapidly deteriorating. Well, there's no point in staying in here if I can't sleep.
She walked over to her suitcase and removed her pajamas, pulling on the jeans and shirt she had worn earlier that day. She grimaced when she realized she had forgotten to pack any books, but saw a magazine peeking out from Buffy's shoulder bag. She grabbed the magazine, her wallet, and a key, and eased the door open carefully so as to not make a loud noise.
Buffy turned over in her sleep and was silent. Willow slowly allowed the door handle to close. As the door let out a soft snick, Willow heard Buffy begin to snore again. Rolling her eyes, Willow made for the elevator.
Tara leaned against the elevator wall as she rode up to her room. She was tired from the long day and instead of stretching out in the courtyard as she had planned, she had sat for another half hour, lost in thought. I'm looking forward to lying down, she thought.
As she walked down the hallway, she spotted something on the door handle of her and Anya's shared hotel room. "Huh," she said, fingering the nylon stocking that was tied into a bow around the handle. She unfolded the piece of paper that was taped to the door just above the stocking and read it.
Tara sighed, but was more resigned than annoyed. She and Anya had discussed what to do if either one of them had a romantic liaison over the weekend, and had agreed on the tried-and-true sock-on the-doorknob method. Tara had known she probably wouldn't be taking advantage of the need for privacy, but clearly Anya needed some now. I should have put some time-of-night parameters around this, Tara thought. As she took out a pen to write on the back of the paper - I'll be down in the coffee shop, T - she caught the faint strains of voices coming through the door.
A deep voice, singing. Singing? "He's Xander the mighty, he always looks tidy, everybody loves him, 'cause he's got a funny grinů"
Then a higher-pitched voice. "Anya is his sidekick, playing with his little sticků"
"Aw, Xander, it's not how big your sword is, but the vigor you bring to the fight." The voices gave way to some muffled sounds of shrieking and thrashing, followed by "No tickling!"
Tara checked her watch and marked the time as she slid the note under the door. If Anya doesn't come get me within a half hour, then I'll just have to come up here and break it up. She smirked to herself, knowing that she would probably do no such thing, but enjoying the thought. She turned away from the occupied room and walked back down the hallway toward the elevator.
Willow settled into the padded bench of the booth. She had been pleasantly surprised to find the coffee shop still open, and even more pleased to find that they offered a selection of herbal tea. Maybe a dose of kava kava will knock me out. And if not, I can always stuff the teabag into my ears, she thought wryly as she tugged on the teabag's string as it floated in the teapot. She replaced the lid to allow it to steep, and turned her attention to the magazine she had borrowed from Buffy.
It was a martial arts magazine, with articles about all facets of the sport - techniques, personality profiles of prominent athletes, and advertisements for karate schools. Not my usual cup of tea - ha ha - but any port in a storm, Willow thought. She began to read an article comparing the two disciplines of karate and kung fu, and found herself more interested than she would have thought.
The fan fiction she had written for this weekend was a departure from her usual genre. In her previous fiction, Willow had placed Xena and Gabrielle in the world of computer hacking, since computers were such a big part of her own life. She wrote about what she knew best, and hoped she explained the technical aspects of her stories in a way that was understandable for the lay person. Buffy was an excellent sounding board for most of those stories, having basic knowledge of how computers worked from an end user perspective, but not knowing much about programming or hacking. If Buffy understood the technical parts - and better yet, found them interesting - then Willow knew she was writing at the right level for most readers.
She had found herself a little more out of her element in her latest fic. Her ongoing chats with wiccanbard had turned her thoughts to magic, and she began to play around with an idea about incorporating the use of magic into a story. That, combined with a movie night at Buffy's house where they had first watched Charmed (at Buffy's kid sister Dawn's insistence) and later Dracula, had given her the basic framework for her idea: Xena as the 'chosen one,' a vampire slayer, assisted by her witch friend (and lover) Gabrielle.
She had found the fight scenes harder to write than she had anticipated, not being much of a fighter herself. As she scanned the article in Buffy's magazine, she began to make mental notes of how she could incorporate some of the fighting techniques that were discussed into her story. 'Xena knocked her assailant's feet out from under him with a snap kick' sounds better than 'Xena kicked him in the shins,' she mused.
Thinking about her story led her to thoughts of wiccanbard. She was excited about their planned meeting. She had been chatting online with the girl for well on three months now, and knew almost from the first that she had stumbled across something special.
Willow's friendships were important to her - she and Xander had been friends since childhood, and were a close as siblings - closer, probably. She and Buffy had been fast friends ever since Buffy had moved to Sunnydale at the beginning of high school. Buffy's carefree ease and free spirit had helped nudge Willow to out of her shell and to view herself not just as a nerd, but as a fun person who was worth knowing. Together, the three of them formed a tight group that was unconditionally supportive and accepting of each other. Their common interest in the show Xena: Warrior Princess, which began its first season at the beginning of their high school freshman year, was just another activity they could participate in together.
Each person found something different in the show, and took something different away from it. Buffy loved the fighting - the swordplay, the hand-to-hand combat, and especially Xena's war cry. Her appreciation for the fighting had led her to begin practicing martial arts in high school, and her natural ability helped her quickly ascend the ranks until now, halfway through college, she was helping to teach classes at the dojo. The discipline and concentration that karate required, combined with the cathartic outlet of physical exertion, gave Buffy a grounding influence in her life - an anchor from which she could face things like her parents' divorce, the strain of being the new kid in a brand new high school, and putting up with her well-loved but often annoying little sister.
Xander saw the show at first mainly through the lens of his adolescent hormones, watching mainly because Willow and Buffy did (and with eyes only for Xena's ample breastplate and Gabrielle's toned midriff). As the seasons waxed on, though, he began to identify with Joxer, the goofy recurring character who desperately wanted to be a warrior but never seemed to quite measure up. As the show wore on and Joxer progressed from comic relief to a character with more depth and a pivotal role to play in the battle for good, Xander began to realize that his own clowning around was a defense against his unease about his tumultuous family life and his feelings of difference from his friends since he did not head on to college as they did after high school. Understanding this helped him to a new level of acceptance, and he had become more comfortable with his life plans.
Willow found something else in the show - something unexpected. She had spent most of her life feeling different from other people - she was the smart kid, the computer nerd, she had detached and often-absent parents, she felt unpopular and unattractive, couldn't talk to boys (except Xander, who didn't count), and of course the other usual teenage woes. She hadn't thought it was particularly unusual that she wasn't boy-crazy like all of her other peers in high school - she just chalked it up to yet another characteristic that set her apart, wondering occasionally on dark nights of the soul if something inside her was broken in that regard. But Buffy's own boy-craziness often made it seem like there was plenty to go around.
But watching Xena and Gabrielle's relationship evolve over the course of time evoked a deep emotional response from Willow, something that she couldn't quite put her finger on at first. The depth of their friendship was apparent, as was the deep bond they forged and reaffirmed through challenges and tribulations. In watching certain scenes, Willow found herself glued to the television set with a thumping heart.
Gabrielle was poisoned, and Xena wept, holding her near-lifeless body, begging the gods to give Gabrielle back to her, and exhorting Gabrielle to fight for her life. Gabrielle got married, and Xena kept up a brave face, only faltering a bit as she placed a kiss on her friend's lips to bid her goodbye. Xena died, and possessed Autolycus's body - and kissed Gabrielle passionately on the astral plane. And of course, Xena and Gabrielle hastily awakened in a haystack, clearly having been interrupted from some intimate discourse.
At first, Willow wasn't quite sure what to make of her reaction to scenes like this - it seemed like all she felt was an achingly sweet longing and sadness. During her junior year of high school, she began to have a glimmer of an idea, and by the end of her senior year, she had begun to realize - and accept - that the longing she felt while watching the show was actually the longing she felt for a similar bond with another person. A female person.
After embracing this revelation, much of her life began to make more sense. She wasn't flawed or emotionally stunted, as she had begun to fear - she was simply interested in girls rather than boys. During the summer before college, she told Buffy and Xander about her realization, and they readily accepted and adjusted to it.
Xander, in private, had asked her soon after, "So do you, you know, like Buffy in that way?"
That conversation stuck with her through the rest of the summer. What is it like to fall in love? she wondered. Observation didn't yield much insight - her parents' relationship seemed more like a business partnership than a passionate romance. Xander didn't date often, although not for lack of trying. Buffy's string of roller-coaster romances seemed to Willow not exactly the stuff of real love. And as for Willow herself, she didn't think she had yet met the right person, because her yearning never found a focus in any of the girls she met.
In college she enrolled in computer science classes during the first term of her freshman year, of course, but surprised herself by also picking up a creative writing elective. Maybe writing about this will help me to figure some of it out, she thought. Unsure of where to begin, however, she used the framework of the Xena/Gabrielle relationship to give her stories focus and structure (changing their names, though - she didn't think Jenny, the graduate student who taught her creative writing course, would approve of using characters that were not original).
Though the process of writing stories didn't yield any greater truths, Willow found that she enjoyed it - so much so that she continued with the courses throughout the remainder of her freshman year and sophomore year as well. Toward the end of her sophomore year, Jenny pulled her aside after class.
"Willow, I want to ask you something. It's about your stories. You seem to use the same two characters pretty often as your protagonists - a tall brunette with a dark past, and a blonde who helps to redeem her in some way."
Willow was no stranger to the internet, although most of her online activities centered around computer software and hardware, programming, and hacking techniques. But Jenny's encouragement had planted a seed, and Google led her to a Xena and Gabrielle fan message board called The Warrior, the Bard, and the Bad Wardrobe.
True to Jenny's prediction, Willow had thrived in the fan community. She enjoyed reading other people's works, often finding more depth and satisfaction in them than she did in the actual show. And after the last two episodes - which ended the series so abruptly and illogically, in her mind - the message board provided a healing balm. It was truly a world where Xena and Gabrielle could exist together forever, untouched by the whims and vagaries of the show's writers.
And it was also a world where Willow met wiccanbard. At first, wiccanbard was simply one of Willow's favorite authors, whose characterization of Xena and Gabrielle and the pacing of their relationship touched a chord with Willow. wiccanbard's portrayal of Xena and Gabrielle's relationship was that of a gently supportive friendship that gradually grew in intensity and passion. wiccanbard described this gradual blossoming of trust and intimacy in slow, loving detail - generating many exhortations from her fans for frequent updates.
Willow's appreciative feedback for wiccanbard's stories was returned with thankful replies, and then comments of wiccanbard's own on Willow's stories. And comments led to more replies, which led to private messaging and then chatting. Willow's attention drifted from the karate/kung fu article as she remembered the first message wiccanbard had sent to her.
Willow came out of her reverie as she noticed someone enter the otherwise empty coffee shop. The girl walked up to the counter and appeared to be ordering something to drink. Willow's view was partially obscured by a pillar that blocked her line of sight, and she leaned over to get a better look. Oh my gosh, I think it's HER - that blonde girl who caught me smiling at her at the fanfic reading!
The blonde girl accepted a steaming mug from the man behind the counter and turned to find a seat. Willow had ducked back behind the pillar, fidgeting nervously. Should I go ask her if she'd like to sit with me?
"I-is this seat taken?"
Willow's head snapped up. The blonde girl was standing in front of her table, toying with her mug of tea and shifting from foot to foot as she awaited Willow's response.
"No, it's not - I'm alone. Would you like to join me?" Willow folded her magazine and made room at the table, her heart thumping both from the surprise and the proximity of the girl.
The blonde smiled as she slid into the empty seat. "Thanks."
"No problem," Willow answered. "My name's Willow. I saw you earlier tonight."
"It's nice to meet you. Whatcha doing up so late - couldn't sleep?"
Tara made a wry face as she removed the teabag from her mug and set it on a napkin. "Not exactly. My roommate sort of met someone tonight so I'm giving her a little bit of privacy."
"Wow," Willow sympathized. "My roommate is snoring and it's so loud, there's no possible way that I could have fallen asleep - so I came down here to read and hopefully get kind of sleepy." At that moment, she let out a yawn which she embarrassedly tried to stifle with one hand.
Tara glanced at the torn teabag wrapper that lay by Willow's teapot. "Kava kava?"
"That stuff will probably make you more than sleepy. I almost never drink it because it sort of knocks me out." Tara indicated her own mug. "C-chamomile is about the strongest of the relaxant teas that I can handle."
"I just asked the guy if there was a tea that would help me sleep - I guess he picked the right thing," Willow said. "Wow, you're not kidding - I do feel kind of loopy." She yawned again. "I swear, it's not the conversation."
Tara smiled. She liked this girl - there was something about her friendliness that put Tara at ease. Her stutter, which usually appeared when she was nervous or uncomfortable, had barely registered at all during their short conversation. And there were also butterflies in her stomach - butterflies that had almost prevented her from approaching the girl in the first place, and that the chamomile tea wasn't doing much to calm. But she had figured that the coffee shop was fairly deserted and it seemed silly to sit alone, especially since the two had exchanged glances earlier. It doesn't mean anything, she rationalized. I'm still meeting amazon_hacker tomorrow. I'm just being friendly and meeting people. That's what you're supposed to do at a convention, right?
The redhead seemed to have been reading a martial arts magazine - she was probably one of the variety of Xena fans who was into the action and fighting aspects of the show. As Willow rubbed her eyes and yawned, Tara noticed something written on the back of the magazine in black ink.
Property of xenarulz
Ah, I know who that is, Tara thought. xenarulz was a member of the Warrior, the Bard, and the Bad Wardrobe message board, and was exactly the type of fan Tara had been thinking of - very into discussing the fight sequences and what fighting styles they embodied. Tara never followed those discussions very closely - she was more interested in the other parts of the storylines and often would fast-forward through the fight scenes if they stretched on for too long.
"So - is this the first time you've been to a convention?" Tara asked.
At that moment, Anya entered the coffee shop and looked around. "Tara!" she called out, spying her roommate. "I'm all done with my naughty romp! You can come to bed now!"
Tara nodded to Anya and smiled apologetically at Willow as she stood up. "Well, Willow, it was r-really nice to meet you. I hope you're able to get to sleep tonight." She gave Willow a half-smile.
Willow smiled back. "Thanks," she replied. "I don't think getting to sleep will be a problem - this tea really seems to have done the trick. It was nice meeting you too. And yes, this is my first time at a convention." She watched Tara walk across the room to meet Anya and a faint glimmer of recognition crossed her face. I wonder if that's where Xander has been all night? Boys! Why is it always so easy with them? She carried her empty mug and teapot to the counter and stuck Buffy's magazine in her pocket as she headed for the stairs and to her bed, still yawning.
Tara nudged Anya as they rode up the elevator to their room. "So you didn't waste any time, I see, reeling in one of your many fans," she teased.
"Doesn't look like you wasted any time either. I'd be happy to stay down here and have a cup of tea if you want to take your new friend upstairs to have orgasms." Anya replied.
"Anya, jeez! We just happened to both be in the coffee shop at the same time. Her because her roommate was snoring, and me because my roommate was busy hooking up - or auditioning for the next Xena musical episode, by the sound of it," Tara said.
"Listening at doors, my love?" Anya didn't even look abashed. "Anyway, quit trying to throw the focus off yourself. Methinks the lady doth protest too much."
"I don't protest at all. This was just a coincidence, and tomorrow I'm meeting amazon_hacker and you'll have something new to tease me about," Tara said with an air of finality.
"And if amazon_hacker really is this redhead?" Anya asked.
"Then we'd have a great story to tell. But she's not - I saw her handle written on her magazine, and it's xenarulz. You know the one from the board who's really into the fighting parts of the show?"
"Oh, that's disappointing," Anya said. "If this were a fan fiction story, she'd definitely be amazon_hacker and you'd ride off into the sunset together."
"Well, it's not. This is real life," Tara replied, unlocking their hotel room door. She felt a twinge of disappointment as she said it. More than a twinge, actually. But tomorrow is another day.