THE DEPARTURE OF WICCA'D RED
S6.E12.x (set during the Break Up period)
Pairing: Tara & Willow

Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel were created and are owned by Joss Whedon.


"Um, okay, one last thing? An aureole is a halo. You know, like they have around the heads of saints in Christian iconography? The word you want is areola, without the 'u' and with an 'a' at the end. That's the…" Tara had been in the middle of gesturing, using herself as a model to illustrate her point, when she realized what she was doing and stopped, blushing. She took a deep breath. "You know, the dark skin surrounding the nipple? Unless you, um, want to say Nene's nipple was glowing?" Tara paused, reflecting on that possibility, since she really knew little about science fiction as a genre or its conventions. Definitely more Willow's bag. But the student's face was still scrunched up with what seemed her default expression of perpetual confusion. "If not, then it's a-r-e-o-l-a, not a-u-r-e-o-l-e. An aureole is like a corona." She finally stopped, relieved she'd gotten the explanation out, and smiled. Can this be any weirder? At least I'm not stuttering all this out.

Kris's nose wrinkled. "Corona? Isn't that the head of a co—a guy's… guy part?"

Oh Goddess. "No, well yes, it could be I guess, but I think you mean—" Tara again forced herself to stop. "Really not the point, Kris." Not that I'd know what I'm talking about on that subject, anyway. She paused. Really not the point, Tara, she mentally scolded herself. "I guess what I'm trying to suggest is, if you want to become a better writer, you really have to be willing to work a little at it. For example, research your topic, even little things like looking words up in the dictionary when you're not sure of the meaning or proper usage? Then you can start developing a personal style. Here's another example—'tauten'? Why didn't you just use 'tighten'? Did you get 'tauten' from a thesaurus or something?"

Kris blushed. Apparently she had.

"Okay, so anyway, go through this one more time before you hand it in. I marked off the paragraphs I think should be re-worded to make them flow more smoothly, and the parts… here… here … and… here… and here. And here…" Tara pointed out the relevant passages in the heavily red-scarred pages of the student's paper. "…Where I can't tell who's doing what to whom." Kris's characters have a lot of stamina.

Kris looked on as her tutor pointed out the reasons for all the red ink. "Yeah, that's the big problem with writing queer porn. Pronoun ambiguity."

Tara was about to nod sympathetically when she again caught herself in time. "Uh, right." Kris thanked her as she started putting her books into her school bag. Tara hid behind her mug of coffee, taking a cautious sip until her curiosity about which of the creative writing class instructors would accept Kris's piece as a writing assignment submission got the better of her. She had met them all, along with the other academic writing instructor staff from the English department, just after joining the writing lab as a part-time student tutor as part of her tuition and stipend package. She couldn't imagine which of the professors or visiting writers would permit this much latitude in fulfilling an academic assignment, no matter how liberal their personal attitude. "So, Kris, what class is this for, again?"

"Oh, this isn't for a class, Tare. It's a piece I'm working on for the fanfic bulletin board community I'm part of."

Tara almost spit up her coffee. She carefully put down her mug and gave Kris a stern glare. "What?"

Kris put down her backpack and leaned over Tara's lap to the computer sitting on the desk to the side. "Here." She brought up the web browser and started typing something in the address field.

Two months ago, Kris leaning over her lap like this would have been enough for Tara to completely freak out and end the tutoring sessions with the spiky haired, affable first year student immediately and permanently. She had long suspected Kris, one of those cool kids she had never had the opportunity of knowing growing up in Hillary, Alabama, who had no problem calling herself "queer" or asking whatever girl struck her fancy out on a date, might have a crush on her. The girl had first started coming into the writing lab for tutoring for a history paper three months ago and quickly established the fact that she found Tara's bosom very leer-worthy. A quick glance at the CDs—all Lillith Fair participants—and books (History of Sexuality and GLBTQ lit were well represented among the art history texts) piled on Tara's desk would've confirmed Tara's orientation, not to mention the Bound movie poster hanging behind her desk, a present from Willow for their two-month anniversary, after a movie night at Buffy's in which it was their turn to bring the movie and Tara had wisely talked her recently gay girlfriend out of Maedchen in Uniform for the more commercially accessible movie "from the producers/directors that brought you The Matrix!"

Tara didn't think it was right to encourage the girl even though she was now technically girlfriendless and available, for several good reasons. First, she was, in theory at least, mentoring Kris, and was in a position of authority over the young woman. Granted, this was a pretty flimsy excuse given she had less institutional power than the campus gardener's second assistant, but there were other reasons, as well. Though she was only three years or so older, Tara had also gotten a lot of mileage out of the serious issue of their age-difference in building the emotional fortress around herself.

Then, there was the biggie. There's Willow, even if we barely speak with each other these days. A sad smile unconsciously played on her lips. Tara couldn't deny it. There is still Willow, and will always be Willow...

But Kris was a nice girl, and she didn't want to hurt her. Thank the Goddess it turned out to be a moot point. Kris had absolutely no interest in her that way. Schoolmarm is apparently not her type, Tara thought with a blush at her boldness thinking she could be the object of someone's secret desire.

Little did Tara know that indeed, Kris had started out her visits with a raging crush on the quiet blonde, who, besides having a great rack and sultry blue eyes and a very sexy half-smile in which her full lips went up just on the right side, was smart and nice and apparently into girls—all of which made her very hot and desirable in Kris's book. But the brash young woman knew a lost cause when she saw it, and she had seen it early in the picture of the cute little redhead smooching a laughing Tara that the older girl carried in her wallet. Kris had seen it when her tutor had gone into her wallet to fish out some cash for Kris to do a mocha run during a particularly long and involved tutoring session. She later found out the girl's name. Willow, who, it seemed, was some kind of campus-renown super-brain, though on the other side of the academic tracks—she tutored in the computer sciences lab. She had asked Tara about Willow one time, and the way the shy blonde had blushed the color of Wllow's hair, she knew she didn't stand a chance. Oh yeah. She's got it bad. From what she understood, they had broken up about a month ago, but Tara still kept the picture in her wallet and still got the occasional glazed expression on her face when Willow's name came up.

The site whose URL she'd typed into the browser came up. "See? It's a BB where BC fans hang and share their fiction and drawings, comic books and videos." Tara frowned at the website, with the busty anime-style cartoon girls in various versions of revealing robotic battle armor, wielding impractically huge laser cannons and winking at each other lewdly. It looked strangely familiar. Kris continued enthusiastically, "I post in the AO section… here." She clicked on a link. "I'm Boom-Boom. That's my avatar." Kris pointed out a tiny animated picture of an exploding robot. What remained after the robot's outer casing shot off the edges of the tiny picture made Tara blush again. Then the explosion started over, repeating the revealing result.

BB? Avatar? Boom-boom? AO? But all that came out was "BC? Before Christ?"

Kris looked at her as if she'd suddenly sprung the head of a Gorlak demon. "Don't tell me you've never heard of Bubblegum Crisis?" Tara's blank stare confirmed her suspicions. Kris smiled sympathetically at the culturally-challenged older girl. "It's only the most awesome cyber-punk anime serial, like, ever! Don't worry. I'll let you borrow my DVDs, get you caught up."

"Kris, I'm not sure this is an entirely appropriate use of the writing lab's resources…" Tara began.

"Aw, no. You're not going to narc on me, are you?" Kris pouted, then her expression changed to one of utter horror. "Or stop reading for me, are you? Tara, no, I need you! I have to post this chapter by Friday, I promised!"

"But Kris…" The girl's puppy dog expression stopped her in her tracks. It reminded her of the one Willow always used on her, most of the time successfully, when wheedling for something. Usually sex. My sweet, crazy Willow! You chose magic over me, and you broke my heart. You lied to me and used me to make yourself feel better… But I still love you. I pray to the Goddess I did the right thing for both of us by leaving, but it's been so hard…

Kris could tell from the faraway expression on Tara's face that she had hit on something, though she couldn't tell what, and decided to push her luck. She made her voice small. "I'm keeping you from tutoring someone else, I guess."

That brought Tara out of her reverie. Her eyes narrowed at the girl's guileless attempt at manipulation—I've been tested by a master, little girl—but decided to play along. Tara pointedly looked around the room, an eyebrow raised. The virtual chirping of imaginary crickets filled the silence around them. The big inside joke among the tutors was that working at the lab was a great way to earn money by napping. "Uh, no. Every time you come here, Kris, do you ever see any other students here?"

"Well, there you go!" The girl could sense she was breaking down Tara and her over-developed sense of responsibility. She had one last card to play, and it would be the dealmaker or breaker. "And Tara, think of it this way, I'm writing! Me! Barely literate, uncultured, foul-mouthed, cartoon-loving, videogame-playing me! This—" and she gestured toward the webpage. "It can't be all bad, can it?"

Having once again given Kris her infamous rant about the banality of American monoculture and its stupefying effect on the creativity of the American consumer earlier that hour, Tara knew she was being played. However, she had to admit, it was a good point. "No. And you're not barely literate."

Kris strategically conceded the other items on her list of character flaws. "So you'll keep betaing me?"

"Huh?"

"Tutoring me, I mean."

"Well…"

Kris understood. "Anything, Tare. Just name it."

"Just… write a story without so much… smut."

Kris pouted, but Tara's stony glare brooked no opposition. "Okay. I can do an M. I know I have it in me." She puffed out her chest. "I can take on any challenge. They don't call me Boom-Boom, the Forever Robot, for nothing!"

Tara flashed back to the Buffybot and its original raison d'etre and grimaced. "Get out of here."

Kris grabbed her bag and was halfway out the door. "I'll email you the final version before I post it, Tara! Hell, I'm gonna dedicate it to you!"

"Please don't!" she called after the rapidly disappearing form of the younger girl.

Tara sighed. Kris really did remind her of Willow, in so many ways, and she often found after their tutoring sessions that her heart ached to see her ex-girlfriend again, even if it was just to see how she was doing with her recovery.

She heard Willow was doing better despite recent struggles from Buffy, when she went to visit the Slayer at her day job at the Doublemeat Palace. And of course, she got updates whenever Dawn or Buffy called. Most days during the first couple weeks following their breakup, she would return after classes to her single dorm room, retained as a stipulation of her tuition scholarship, to find a message from either Dawn or Buffy apprising her of Willow's progress or lack of it. In the beginning, Willow had called too, but after the first few times, Tara had firmly put a stop to it…

"Hello?"

"Tara?"

Pause. "Willow, what is it? Did something happen to Dawn?"

"No. Dawn's fine. I… I just wanted to talk to you, see how you were doing."

"I'm fine, Willow. Is Dawn or Buffy there? Could you put either one of them on the phone?"

Pause. She could almost hear the gears in Willow's head working. It was 5PM, Dawn should've been home some time ago. "No. They went to the mall."

Pause. "Willow, please don't call me."

"But Tara—"

"Willow!" Pause. "You're creeping me out."

Pause. "Okay. I won't call again."

She didn't, and Tara was relieved. Tara knew it was too soon, that their separation had not been in effect long enough for its intended purpose. She needed time to think, to remember herself before Willow, and to heal, get over the pain of being used and manipulated like an automaton, a… a boomer? A Tarabot, for all Willow's intents and purposes.

Yet even then, when the anger and hurt she felt was still so raw and hot it made her physically nauseous, hearing the pain and need in Willow's hoarse voice was enough to shake her resolve to see their separation through and let it run its course. That was why she had to cut Willow off, even if it was harsh. It was necessary. She desperately needed time away, to become her own person again, and Willow, she felt, needed the same.

Tara still had an hour left in her shift and had already finished her own class work, so she started idly scrolling through the website, still struck about how familiar it seemed.

Then she realized... Willow had this site bookmarked on her laptop. Tara had interrupted her ex-girlfriend browsing it during a break in fixing the Buffybot the summer before Buffy's resurrection. Willow had stammered something about Warren "utilizing the latest boomer technology" in the Buffybot's construction, and was using the website to research schematics before quickly minimizing the browser. But this looks like a cartoon website, not a… Tara's mouth dropped open upon clicking a link titled "Linna's – visuals gallery". Pictures and videos came up that made Kris's avatar look suitable for a Disney short.

You let Dawn borrow your computer when she could find this stuff on it? Oh, Willow…

Tara backed out of the gallery and, after a moment of hesitation, tried the "Daley's - Members" link, clicking "W." On the off chance… She felt relieved to not find Willow's name. But, just above where "Willow" would fit in the member list… It was too much of a coincidence. Tara clicked the member name.


NAME: Wicca'dRed

JOINED: 02/21/2000

EMAIL:

LOCATION: Hellmouth, USA

POSTS: 553

LAST 5 POSTS:

-Forum: Nene's - FF corner

-Posted: Feb 22 2001 14:28 GMT

-Subject: NEW - THE UNBELIEVABLY FICTIONALIZED ADVENTURES OF TWO BOOMERS IN LUST (WARNING! AO) by WICCA'DRED

-Preview: Hi everyone, Well here it is, the first chapter of my new fic. If you didn't follow the sounding board thread in the beta forum, too bad, I deleted it. You won't even find it in the ar… [MORE]

-Forum: Nene's - FF corner

-Posted: Feb 23 2001 12:29 GMT

-Subject: RE: NEW - THE UNBELIEVABLY FICTIONALIZED ADVENTURES OF TWO BOOMERS IN LUST (WARNING! AO) by WICCA'DRED

-Preview: Aw shucks! Thank you all for that. PrissLuvBunE – Yes, she is that hot. To tell you the truth, my gf might very well kill me if she ever knew I wrote a ff based on what we did that ni… [MORE]

-Forum: Nene's – FF corner

-Posted: Feb 26 2001 16:54 GMT

-Subject: THE UNBELIEVABLY FICTIONALIZED ADVENTURES OF TWO BOOMERS IN LUST (WARNING! AO) by WICCA'DRED – UPDTD CH 2 FEB26

-Preview: Thanks to all who left fb for the first chapter. This is the second, and by the posting gl I have to increase the rating to 21 which is kinda silly considering I'm 19. Irony is kinda i… [MORE]

-Forum: Sylia's – HQ & general

-Posted: Aug 12 2001 08:12 GMT

-Subject: I'M ALIVE. THANK YOU AND SORRY

-Preview: I know some of you have been trying to email me the past few months. I'm sorry for bouncebacks, but I had to delete that address. Some really heavy, hard things have happened in RL … [MORE]

-Forum: Sylia's – HQ & general

-Posted: Dec 01 2001 06:18 GMT

-Subject: I'M STILL ALIVE. THANK YOU AND SORRY, AGAIN

-Preview: I see my name came up again on the Nene board. Thank you to all who expressed concern. I'm still here, lurk occasionally. Things actually got better for a little while, but somethi… [MORE]


Tara clicked on the first link.

Fifteen minutes later, after reading the post then the replies that followed, including Wicca'dRed's post the second link pointed to, Tara leaned back from the monitor, her mouth hanging open. Finally, she closed her mouth as her brow furrowed simultaneously. She's right. I'm gonna kill her.

Taking a deep breath to calm herself, Tara clicked on the link that would bring her to chapter two.

Another twenty minutes later, Tara's mouth was hanging open again. It took a little longer for her to recover after this chapter, because it was difficult to sort out all the reactions she was feeling. She paused and reflected, trying first to approach things dispassionately, not as Willow's ex-girlfriend.

She knew her reaction to the first chapter had been tainted by recognizing a moment in their private life made public on the Internet—it was such a cliché, though Willow at least had altered the particulars enough to obliterate any connection to their real life. She learned early on in their relationship that her girlfriend had an exhibitionist streak and accepted it, even found it a little exciting in the right context, but this… it stirred Tara's resentment anew. It was just another example of Willow's lack of consideration for Tara's feelings, her selfishness and wolfishness, and she was hurt.

The second chapter, however, was a little different. As she had indicated in the disclaimers, the developments in Wicca'dRed's second installment warranted a rating change. Part of the reason for that was the chapter wasn't a direct adaptation of their personal lives, so Willow had extrapolated. Unless I slept through the part about the two of us having a three-way with a… "sexaroid?" Hmm. Maybe it was inspired by the Aprilbot? Oh, so don't want to go there… But did Willow?

It's really none of my business. And I'm just speculating because of my biographical knowledge of her. It's not fair to do that.

Instead, Tara tried a different tack. She actually did a good job advancing the plot while also managing to develop the characters. The way she intercut the battle scene with Priss and Sylia and the GENOM combat droid with what Nene and Linna and the T-0069 were doing in the command booth was really well done. The increased… squishiness of everything in this chapter aside, it isn't a bad piece of writing.

Tara frowned at herself, realizing there was something not right about how she was approaching Willow's story. Increasing squishiness was precisely what the fiction was about, and it couldn't be dismissed. The realization gave way to a grudging pride. It was quite easy to see, especially after just editing a draft by a novice writer like Kris, that Willow had written her story well. And I'm surprised, why? She excels at everything she does.

As soon as the statement settled in her mind, Tara realized that it too was a mistake, compounding the previous one of trying to approach Wicca'dRed's second chapter as a stranger. She was not being fair to Willow as a person. Willow already put so much pressure on herself, she didn't need any more from the people who love her.

The story simply was what it was, the writer was who she was. For what she had had with Willow, squishiness had been a big part. A huge part, even. It was just the way she was, and just the way they were. I fell in love with a horndog and I have to admit, some of it rubbed off on me. Or Willow rubbed it on me. Either way, that's who I am, now, too.

That conclusion seemed very significant, but reaching it had tired Tara out so she filed it away to contemplate later, at which time she would also try to deal with her unwitting role in chapter one.

Goddess… I'm wet. A scan of the comments following the second chapter confirmed she wasn't the only one with that reaction. Tara continued to the end of the page, expecting a continuation of the narrative, only to find the last posts of the thread were by readers inquiring about an update, until they too petered to a dead end.

Tara backed out the two screens to the list of Wicca'dRed's last five posts, now clicking the fourth one.

What she read cut through Tara's heart. There, in the span of a dozen lines, Willow had summarized in carefully generic terms the awful time beginning with Joyce's death ("my best friend's mom, who was like a mom to me, too, passed kind of unexpectedly"), Glory's violation of her mind ("my gf was traumatized and got really sick"), Buffy's death ("then my best friend, the one whose mom died earlier, was killed"), and the crushing responsibility of adopting Dawn ("my gf and I are taking care of her little sister, cause that's what she would've wanted"). Wicca'dRed ended the note with an apology to the other forum members that she wouldn't be coming back for the foreseeable future.

Tears stood in Tara's eyes as the words brought memories of the lowlights of the past year roaring back to the foreground of her mind, past the fragile protective shell of detachment and self-absorption she'd instinctively erected around herself after Willow's betrayal of her trust a month ago. She wiped them, before scrolling down. Wicca'dRed's friends, readers, and even just other members of the forum who apparently would normally just browse without posting messages of their own had left messages of condolence and support following her apology. They continued for several pages. There were too many to read through, and in fact, they seemed rather personal so Tara gave them only a cursory glance, almost missing the last post Wicca'dRed had left on the forum, the one pointed to by the fifth link on her profile page.


-Forum: Sylia's – HQ & general

-Author: WICCA'DRED

-Posted: Dec 01 2001 06:18 GMT

-Subject: I'M STILL ALIVE. THANK YOU AND SORRY, AGAIN

I see my name came up again on the Nene board. Thank you to all who expressed concern. I'm still here, lurk occasionally. Things actually got better for a little while, but something happened recently and I'm going to need some more time to deal with RL before I come back here to hang with you guys.

Good news, a relative of my best friend came to live with us to take care of lil sis, so she's with blood family again, which is probably for the best. I don't think I was ready to be a parent at 20, especially not to a teenaged girl. My gf was much better at it than me. She really is my better half, but it was a lot, even for her. That was a lot of pressure taken off us so things got easier for awhile. That is, until I messed up everything and she left me.

I screwed up real bad and hurt her. So now I'm putting everything I've got into making it up to her but it's going to take a while because I want to do it right.

Thank you all for the messages you left the last time. They were beyond helpful. I'm on my own with this one, tho, so no need to reply to this. Hopefully I'll be back for good soon, and I'll finish UFA2BL. If you were there when I sb'd this in beta, you know I wrote it for her tho so if I don't get her back, I don't think I'll be back myself. Not as Wicca'd Red, anyway, who is the true author of UFA2BL. I hope you all understand.

WR


The message had been posted two weeks ago. Only a couple of "good luck" follow-ups had been added, most of the posters following WR's suggestion that no replies were necessary. Tara's shift had ended fifteen minutes ago without her noticing. Catching the time on the computer clock, she closed the browser and sat back. The last post hadn't provided any more clarity to what she'd learned about Willow in the past hour. In fact, she felt more confused than ever. Still, she sensed that things were slowly, steadily resolving themselves, and also felt comforted by the feeling, stronger now, that Willow and she still had a chance together. She gathered her things and left the lab, locking the door behind her. I'll call her. See how she's doing. Not tonight, but Friday, after I've had a chance to think about it some more. Tara smiled, comforted by her decision, and headed back to her dorm room.


END