The Things You Find in Vending Machines
You know, if anyone should have remembered food when planning to hide out from a bunch of commandos, it’s Buffy. But she didn’t, so here she is, making a stealthy 2 AM run to the vending machines at her dorm. No problem, right? Everyone’s asleep, or too bleary to even recognize her if they do come here and no way will Riley’s former friends think she’d come back to campus… right?
Too late to worry about that now, because here she is. The lights are back on, though as dim and headache-inducingly flickering as they always are this late, and for a moment she’s as alone as she had hoped to be as she tries to remember whether Riley likes Fritos or Doritos, but then she hears the soft sound of footsteps and hears a voice. “Hi.”
She whips around, on guard despite the fact that she doesn’t feel that sense of ‘enemy’ she’s learned to pick up even when the evil has a pulse and no scales or horns or fangs.
Oh god. It’s Tara.
As in, Willow’s girlfriend, instead of just a girl who’s a friend – the one Willow’s been having… Okay, don’t go there, because revisiting Xander’s porn collection is so not of the good right now. “Hi,” she says back in a voice that might be too quiet not to arouse suspicion, but just in case Forrest and the others are craftier than she thinks… “Don’t tell anyone you saw me here, okay?” More stage-whispering and she thinks Tara’s going to be confused or ask ‘why’ but instead all she does is nod and smile shyly.
No more conversation Buffy figures when silence follows, so she gets back to what she was doing: putting some coins into the machine and choosing Fritos, then buying a bag of Munchos and some Starburst – hey, fruit is a food group – before turning around… and Tara’s still standing there. Not buying anything. Not getting coffee. Just standing there. She’s shifting her weight from one foot to the other and looking as if there’s more she wants to say.
Maybe it’s because, for all that Buffy’s open-minded in the abstract, finding out Willow’s suddenly a lesbian has her more than a little wigged, but she stumbles through what was supposed to be a short and pithy goodbye to Tara. “Is there a something? Because I have a something. I mean a someone. To do. I mean… not do, but I have somewhere I have to be.”
Oh great. Not only is Buffy officially a dork, but Tara looks like a deer caught in the headlights, so now Buffy feels guilty… and still wigged out. It suddenly occurs to her that Tara is probably here picking up some snacks for her and Willow after they’ve… done lesbian things together.
When is this going to stop being weird? More than anything she wants to think of Willow as Willow again and not as ‘Willow, my gay friend – you know, the one who’s gay’ the way she’s doing right now as she looks at Tara… the girl who Willow is gay with. “I guess Willow’s probably waiting for you upstairs, huh?” she says, trying to be conversational and pretend that she wasn’t rude just a second ago.
“Yeah.” Feet shuffle and eyes are downcast but then? Then Tara surprises her. “I-I know it’s a sh-shock. I get that. But...” She stops and then stands straight, head up, eyes meeting Buffy’s. “You’re her best friend. I g-get that too. And you care about her and w-want her to be safe. I kn-know what Oz did and… I’m not leaving her,” she says – steel beneath the stutter – and Buffy realizes that it’s a promise, but there’s defiance there too. She’s not Oz. And that means all kinds of things. Like yeah, she’s not gonna cheat on Willow and leave town… but she’s also not going to leave town just because Willow’s friends can’t deal.
She’ll stay and fight.
Underneath the curtain of hair and the shyness and those deer-eyes there’s someone who wants Willow badly enough to stand her ground.
And it happens. All of a sudden, here in this room, surrounded by junk food and ripped upholstery and bad coffee, it happens – everything’s okay. Willow’s finally got someone who maybe deserves her, and if that person isn’t the gender Buffy has always assumed they’d be, well, that’s something she can handle, will handle. “That’s good,” she replies at last. “She’s worth it, you know. Staying for. I’m glad you get that.”
Tara ducks her head again, hiding a smile and Buffy realizes she really does have to get back to Riley before he panics and does something macho and foolish because he thinks she’s in danger. So she gathers her provisions and heads out into the night.
Halfway back to the cave, though, a thought occurs to her: What on Earth is going to happen when Xander finds out?
It’s all she can do to stifle her laughter as she makes her way back to the hideout. Can she please at least be there when Willow tells him?