Tara walked into the "Character Development 101 - How Close to Canon?" workshop and looked for Anya. She spotted her friend paging through a magazine and walked across the room to join her. The workshop hadn't begun yet, so they had a few minutes to chat.
"Well? How was it? What was she like? Are you in love?" Anya asked.
Tara bit her lip. "It was...not quite what I was expecting. She's very different in person than I thought she would be."
"Well, in a lot of ways. She's got a quirky sense of humor online, and goes off on a lot of tangents and babbles. But in person, at lunch, her sense of humor didn't really come across. She was - well, not more reserved, because she didn't seem shy or anything. But she didn't babble as much as I would have expected from chatting with her all this time."
"Maybe she was nervous?" Anya offered.
"She said she was nervous, but it didn't really come through. She seemed pretty confident. More than confident. A little bit...arrogant, actually."
"Did she say arrogant things?"
"Well, sort of, but not exactly. I guess I think that because of the way she sat, and carried herself. She was dressed in all black and sort of swaggers when she walks."
Anya considered this. "If she's really a computer hacker, then maybe she's sort of a dangerous character, you know? Maybe she dresses the part."
Tara sighed. "Maybe." She shook her head. "I don't know, An. It just felt...weird. It wasn't at all like I was expecting or hoping it to be."
"What were you expecting?"
"Oh, you know. I expected to feel comfortable with her. I thought we'd laugh and joke and talk about fan fiction and get to know each other. I wondered - I hoped, really - that I'd be attracted to her, the way I feel with her online. But it just wasn't that way."
Anya offered Tara a sympathetic smile. "Well, I hope that at least the food was good."
Tara gave her a wry grin. "It was sushi."
"So you'll try sushi when it's the amazon_hacker taking you out, but not with me, huh? I see how it is," Anya teased. "Did you like it?"
"Well, sort of. I think it must be an acquired taste. That was part of the whole weird feeling I got from her, actually. When she said let's go to lunch, she just said there was a great sushi place nearby, and didn't even ask what I thought. And when we sat down, she ordered for us, without asking. I went along with it, because honestly, I was too surprised to say anything."
"You know what it sounds like to me," Anya said. "Either she's totally inconsiderate, which is very possible, or she was really nervous, and trying to hide behind some kind of bravado facade."
"Yeah," Tara said. "I can't quite figure it out. Anyway, I agreed to go with her to the dance tonight. I figured that I owed it to myself, and to this investment of three months of chatting to give her another chance, and not to throw it all away just because of a bad first impression."
Anya nodded. "I think that's wise. Of all people, I trust you to listen to your heart. Did you feel any spark with her at all?"
Tara shook her head. "Not really. I mean, she's attractive, don't get me wrong. But I didn't feel, you know, like I wanted to kiss her or anything."
"What did you guys talk about?"
At that moment, the workshop leader interrupted their conversation to begin the workshop. The discussion was to be about character development in uber fic and how to ensure that uber characters still were true to their canon roots in terms of their qualities and characteristics.
Tara found it hard to concentrate on the presentation, still somewhat thrown from her wildly divergent expectations and the reality of meeting amazon_hacker.
Faith led the way into the sushi restaurant. The hostess smiled and said to them "Will it be two for lunch today?"
For the rest of the lunch, Tara had focused on not dropping the chunks of sushi with the unfamiliar chopsticks, and on not gagging when she ate the raw fish. It wasn't so much the taste as the texture of the food, and she was already nervous and on edge. Avoiding the wasabi for the rest of the meal helped.
Tara wasn't used to talking about herself so much, but Faith had drawn her out, asking questions and follow-up questions. Looking back on it, she didn't really feel like it had been a two-way street - other than her physical appearance, Tara felt like she didn't know much more about Faith now than what she did from their online chats.
Whatever. Obsessing over this right now isn't going to make it any different. I should pay attention. Tara tried to put lunch out of her mind and focused on what the workshop leader was saying.
"It's especially important in uber fan fiction to pay close attention to character development," the workshop leader said. Her British accent seemed to enthrall the attendees. "While your setting and conflict don't necessarily need to parallel the TV show's plot, the basic character traits should remain the same. For example, a character who is organized and anal-retentive on a TV show should remain so in your fiction. You can't have him or her conveniently ‘forgetting' things, or being a scatterbrain to make your story flow more easily. Too much deviation from the core elements of the character and your story won't ring true."
That is totally true, Tara thought to herself. Not to mention that too much deviation from how someone appears online and their real-life personality can also throw people for a loop.
Buffy checked her watch. "Where is she?" she said to Xander. "It's 5:15 and we were supposed to meet here 15 minutes ago for dinner. It's not like Willow to be late."
Xander shrugged. "Maybe she and the girl she was meeting really hit it off and they decided to get dinner together?"
"That's not like her - even if she did decide to do that, she would have called us or left a message." Buffy dialed Willow's cell phone again. "It's just going straight to voicemail. I'm worried, Xander."
"Well, my cell phone doesn't get great reception inside the hotel. Maybe hers doesn't either and she couldn't leave us a message," Xander said. "Maybe she wrote us a note and left it in our room?"
Buffy sighed. "Well, let's go up and check."
They wound their way through the crowds in the lobby to the elevator and took it to their floor. Buffy dug in her pocket for the key card, and inserted it into the door lock.
A scene of chaos greeted them. The room appeared to have been ransacked, although it was hard to see all the details since the curtains were drawn tight. Willow's suitcase was emptied out on the floor, and clothes were strewn everywhere. The desk and nightstand had been pulled out from the walls. The bedclothes were a mess, both beds' sheets and comforters pulled out and tossed in a untidy piles on top of the beds. A large pile of crumpled tissues was on the floor next to Willow and Buffy's bed.
"Xander, we've been robbed!" Buffy shouted.
"Either that or the maid service really leaves something to be desired," Xander said. He walked further into the room and flipped on the light switch.
The pile of bedclothes on Willow and Buffy's shared bed stirred. A hand appeared from under the pile and grabbed a pillow, which then disappeared along with the hand.
"Oh my god, Willow!" Buffy said. "Are you okay? Are you hiding? We've been robbed; did you see who did this?" She walked to the bed and threw off the sheets to reveal a very red-eyed Willow with wildly sticking-up hair, clutching a near-empty box of tissues.
Willow blinked in the bright light. "We haven't been robbed," she said. "It was me."
Xander picked up a crumpled piece of paper off the floor and smoothed it out. It was Willow's copy of the convention schedule for Saturday. "Oh, man. What happened, Will?"
Willow blew her nose and sniffed. "It-it was 11:45, and I checked my bag for my pin, and it was GONE. I thought for sure that it had to be somewhere in here, so I ran up to look, but it wasn't anywhere. So I made a substitute pin, and got to the exhibit hall at 12:05, but she wasn't there." Tears ran down her cheeks.
Buffy sat on the bed next to Willow and put a comforting arm around her shoulders. "Are you sure she wasn't there? Maybe she left early, or chickened out."
Willow sniffed. "Or maybe she saw me and decided that she didn't want to meet me after all. Maybe she thinks I'm ugly!"
"Now that's crazy, Will. You're a beautiful, smart, funny person and anyone who is lucky enough to get to meet you would see that right off the bat," Buffy said.
"Yeah," Xander said. "Unless they're a Martian. Or totally stupid. Or a totally stupid Martian."
Willow favored him with a small smile.
Buffy rubbed Willow's back. "I'm sure it was just some totally innocent and understandable mix-up."
"But Buffy, what if it wasn't? What if she got there at noon on the dot, and I wasn't there, and she thought I was blowing her off? What if she's mad at me and will never agree to meet me again?" Willow's lip quivered.
"Listen, if she did leave and thought you were blowing her off, you can just explain what happened in a private message or in chat. And if she doesn't understand, then...well, that's silly. Five minutes isn't even late." Buffy's habitual tardiness was well understood and accepted by her friends, and in return she never expected anyone else to be on time.
Xander said "Well, it's the dinner break now. Some food will help you to feel better, especially if you missed lunch. Then the fanfic reading is at 7pm and the dance is at 8."
Willow burrowed deeper into the sheets. "I'm not going."
Buffy and Xander exchanged glances. "All right, this calls for some drastic measures, young lady," Buffy said. "First, we're going to order pizza and we'll have dinner here in the room."
"Pizza is good."
"Then, you are going to the fanfic reading. If not for yourself, then for Xander. Tonight he's going to read."
Willow considered this, and nodded. "I'll go to support Xander. But I'm not going to the dance. I'm too depressed."
Buffy said "Ah, that's where part three of my nefarious plan comes into play. I think tonight you need a special kind of strength, and to have your warrior spirit. So we're going to call on Xena to help you."
Curiosity battled with Willow's misery. Finally curiosity won out. "Okay, Buffy. If anyone can think of a way to help me, it's Xena."
Xander dialed the phone. "What do you want on your pizza, guys?"