Tara breathed deeply as she walked away from the table. The intensity of her anger surprised her - she normally dealt with upsetting situations by rationally figuring out the source of her distress, and then taking methodical steps to deal with it. But Faith's actions had provoked a purely instinctive response. She didn't like the feeling - such raw anger made her feel out of control.
She spied Anya in the middle of the ballroom dancing with Xander. Weaving her way through the throng of people, she reached out and grasped Anya's arm.
Anya turned. "Hey!" she said, instantly registering Tara's emotional upset. "Something happened, didn't it?"
"Are you okay?"
She nodded again. "I'll tell you all about it tomorrow morning. Right now I just wanted to let you know that I'm leaving the dance. I'll probably go up to our room or walk around or something."
"Do you want me to come with you? You just say the word, and I will."
Tara almost burst into tears - not that she was surprised by her roommate's offer, but because her emotions were on a roller coaster anyway. "No, you stay here with Xander. I'm just going to unwind and think a bit - I'll be fine."
"Promise?" Anya didn't push, knowing knew Tara well enough to know that she wouldn't have hesitated to ask for companionship if she had wanted it.
"Yes." The two exchanged a hug, and Tara quickly found the path of least resistance from the ballroom to the nearest exit.
Willow sighed as she walked back into the ballroom from the restroom. The high point of her night, talking to Tara, had been cut mercilessly short, and the next hour she had spent at the dance was singularly unsatisfying. She hadn't seen Tara again, and she was rapidly tiring of playing third wheel to Xander and Buffy's newfound love interests. Her friends didn't make her feel like she was intruding, of course, but she was painfully aware of being the only sword without a sheath. Maybe that's not the right image - the only yin without a yang. She had turned down five offers for slow dances from Xander and Angel - and one from Anya. Endless cups of sugary punch made her feel slightly sick, and the only silver lining to her many bathroom trips was that she had an activity to keep her busy. Normally being solo wouldn't faze her, but this weekend had definitely not been the best of times.
Buffy was engrossed in conversation with Angel, who hadn't left her side all night since asking her to dance. Wanting to let her friend know she was leaving, she approached them and cleared her throat to announce her presence.
"Hey, Will!" Buffy said, turning from Angel and facing Willow.
"I just wanted to let you know that I'm going to go upstairs," Willow said, with an apologetic glance at Angel.
Buffy's face took on a concerned look. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine. I just think that I've had all the fun I'm going to have for tonight, and hey - I should go out on a high note." Willow's tone belied the irony behind her words.
"Listen, I'll come with you! We'll all come! Party time in our room!"
Willow smiled. "No, you don't need to come with me, seriously. I'm fine. I think I'm going to work on my fan fiction, so no need for a party."
Buffy studied Willow's expression. "Are you sure?"
Willow nodded, knowing that Buffy needed to believe that Willow truly wanted to be alone in order to feel comfortable with letting her go. Truth was, she was ambivalent about whether or not she wanted Buffy's company - she could be equally happy bemoaning the events of the day again with Buffy, or stewing by herself. But Buffy's clear happiness at talking to Angel had decided the matter for Willow - she didn't want to take Buffy away from that.
Willow turned to Angel. "Angel, it was very nice to meet you. You make a wonderful Cupid."
He smiled. "I appreciate that. And you're a very convincing warrior princess."
Willow smiled, and with a quick hug from Buffy, she headed toward the stairs.
Buffy and Angel watched her go. "Think she'll be okay?" Angel asked.
"Oh, yeah," Buffy said. "Will is resilient. Sometimes I call her Iron Will."
Angel laughed. "You're funny, you know. You slay me."
Willow unlatched the breastplate from the shoulder straps and let the armor fall to the ground. Removing the rest of her costume, she pulled on a pair of boxers and a T-shirt and settled onto the bed with her laptop.
While the machine was booting up, she leaned back into the pillows and sighed. Instead of feeling energized and excited, she was feeling drained. She had been painfully aware of herself tonight at the dance - her body, her hands - experiencing a level of social anxiety that she hadn't felt in years. Growing up she had always felt like the odd one out, but high school and college had done a lot to help her like herself and to stop the constant commentary of self-criticism in her head. But the events of today had taken her back to that place. She had felt aware of every step she took, had felt too self-conscious to dance, and worried the entire night about how others were perceiving her.
Well, not the entire night, she amended. She had enjoyed talking about Xena episodes with Xander and Anya, and people-watching with Buffy. But Xander didn't really count - he was her oldest friend, and she shared an uncommonly close friendship with Buffy. It was being around the other people that had caused her the anxiety.
Except for Tara. Talking to Tara had made all her anxiety just melt away like an ice cube on a hot sidewalk. What was it about the blonde that put her at such ease? Willow pondered this as she called up the blonde's features in her mind.
Her eyes. Her eyes are amazing to look at - they're so penetrating, as if she can see right through me and she understands exactly what I mean. And she always looks right at me when we're talking - she pays attention better than most people, and she's never looking at anyone else. It makes me feel like I'm the only person in the room.
Her ears. They're so cute, and they stick out a little bit when she tucks her hair behind them. She's a great listener - when we were talking downstairs she didn't seem distracted at all. At least, not until Faith got back and interrupted us.
Her mouth. She has such full lips - substantial, without being pouty. And she has such a sweet smile, when she smiled at my silly joke about being in the same boat. Wouldn't I like to be in a boat with her.
Willow considered this last. From what she could tell, Tara hadn't seemed to be enjoying herself with Faith. They appeared to be together, but it didn't seem to Willow that Tara was necessarily happy about it. She wondered if they were a long-term couple that had become disenchanted with each other. That didn't seem likely - even couples who were on the rocks had some degree of familiarity and comfort with each other, and Willow had sensed none of that.
Truth is, if I had gone downstairs at noon and it was Tara who was there, I would have been thrilled. She's the kind of person who I was hoping or expecting wiccanbard to be. What if - by some crazy coincidence - Tara IS wiccanbard?
Willow was momentarily caught up in this seductive fantasy. What if something happened, and she's the person I was supposed to meet, but for some reason she was late, or chickened out?
She sighed. Well, she's a wonderful person, and that's almost proof positive that she's not wiccanbard - because the Tara I've gotten to know just isn't that type of person. I can't see her standing anyone up that she had plans with. I guess I'll just have to accept that whomever it was that I thought I was going to meet, she's not the person I thought she was.
The line of thought was depressing her. Her laptop was fully booted up now, and she called up the latest draft of her story. She had completed the draft, and planned to read it tomorrow night at the Sunday fan fiction reading. There were a few details she wanted to flesh out, however, so she arranged the pillows behind her on the bed in a comfortable pile and leaned back, settling the computer onto her lap.
Okay, I haven't really set this story anywhere - all the descriptors are generic. I think it would help the story to feel more real if I could fill in some of the details about the town, the places, and the people.
Where would a vampire story take place? Well, Transylvania, obviously. But I don't know anything about that part of the country, and then it might feel too much like Dracula anyway. Besides, the characters are mostly American-type people so it should be somewhere in the United States.
What city would be logical for vampires to live in? Somewhere dark and depressing, maybe, like Cleveland. Or...um...Crawford, Texas. Ha. Hmmmm. Only problem is, I don't know much about those cities, and I don't really think spending hours on Google finding out authentic details will do wonders for my mood.
Why not Sunnydale? It's totally the last place anyone would think of for vampires, being southern California and all, but maybe that can be part of the irony of the story. And I know all about it so I can fill in street names and places without it sounding made-up.
Excellent. Okay, now about Xena the Vampire Slayer. Obviously, she kicks ass, but what kind of personality should she have? If she's a California girl, she's gotta have a little bit of the Valley thing going on. Canon Xena is all broody, but plenty of the comedic episodes let Lucy Lawless really go wild with Xena's silly side. I don't think it will deviate too far from canon to play up some of her more lighthearted qualities. I can add some humorous lines here and there about clothes, boys, and makeup, since she's supposed to be a teenager in this story.
I can take a lot from Buffy's life, actually. Willow smiled to herself. I wonder if Xena would have been more like Buffy if her brother hadn't been killed when she was young and she became a warlord and all. Buffy certainly has her dark side, what with her parents' divorce and moving right before high school and all, but it's more like her playful side masks her dark side, rather than vice versa.
That takes care of Xena. Now, about Gabrielle. I don't really see any difference here, except that instead of being a fighter, she's going to use magic to help Xena fight the vampires. And Gabrielle's character has always been sweet and innocent with a feisty streak. I think that will work pretty well here.
As Willow considered the character, her mind drifted to thoughts of another blonde. Tara was dressed like Gabrielle tonight - I wonder if she sees herself as like Gabrielle. She seems innocent, but not prissy, and sweet, but not saccharin. Hard to tell if she's feisty, though, with Faith around. Speaking of which, who would want to dress up as Callisto? I mean, really. Hmmm, I think I'll make Callisto a vampire, and have Gabrielle stake her. Or cut off her head. Or burn her. Maybe all three.
Willow shook her head, trying to clear her mind and concentrate on her story. She paged through the story, filling in part of the setting with familiar details from Sunnydale, and fleshing out the Xena character. Gradually she became absorbed in the work and was able to temporarily push aside any other thoughts, a welcome relief.
In a different room on a different floor, Tara tossed restlessly, caught up in a dream where she was running through the forest in pursuit of a red-headed warrior princess who was always just out of reach. Relentlessly pursued by a dark-haired Callisto, she leapt over streams, sprinted up hills, and dodged under fallen trees - always one step in front of her pursuer, and one step behind the object of her desire.