Title: Beer Very Bad
Author: Golden Waffles
Rating: T. For… I don't even know anymore.
Disclaimer: Of course I don't own the characters or settings of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Just the situations I put them in here.
A/N: Hi, everyone. I realized the other day that I was taking so long to post because I was getting trapped in that bad writing habit where you feel like you have to plan and edit yourself into oblivion and you never really get anything on the page. And my entire reason for writing this story was to get away from that, to just get things written and see where it led me. So I sat back down and finished this. It's the first half of my Superstar.
A/N2: In my hiatus, I did write a Christmas one-shot ('Tis the Season). It's a change of pace from this, but if you like my writing style here, you might like that as well, and I'd appreciate any feedback you have about it.
Anyway, without further ado…
"I'm really glad you wanted to come tonight," Willow said, smiling brightly. Their arms were loosely linked, keeping them warm in the night's chill.
"Are you s-sure you're okay with this?" Tara asked again, furrowing her eyebrows suspiciously.
"Yes. For the last time, yes. I'm fine. Really." The redhead slid her fingers between Tara's and squeezed reassuringly. "It's all planned out. We'll get to hear Jonathan sing, which will obviously be amazing. And I told Buffy we'd be there, so she's going to keep an eye on the door. She sees us, comes over, and then I get to introduce you two. Then we go up to the balcony, while the others stay on the main floor. We watch the show safely up there, and if everything goes well and we feel ready, we can look for Xander afterwards and you can meet him. And Anya, I guess. If we don't want to meet them yet, we can just wait for them to leave or sneak out while they're distracted. There are stairs down to the back door that make for a quick escape. It's a foolproof plan. Really. We just need to take it all in steps."
"Have you ever heard of Rube Goldberg?" Tara asked, giving her a bemused look. Willow shook her head absentmindedly, no longer paying attention. She was busy triple-checking the schedule in her head. She had planned out the night far ahead of time, with dozens of contingency plans– and contingency plans for her contingency plans– that could each be swapped out at a moment's notice. She and Tara would finally get to have something that could qualify as a date, without Hellmouth interruptions, academic distractions, or having to keep their distance in case of prying eyes. It would be perfect. Foolproof.
Tara leaned into her side slightly as they approached the warehouse, although she pulled back again as people came into view. As they had suspected, the Bronze was absolutely packed tonight, with people cramming in to hear Jonathan play. Tara tensed at the sight of the brimming crowd, but Willow squeezed her hand reassuringly.
"It'll be worth it," Willow promised. Tara offered a weak smile, and they continued on towards the lights and noise. As they drew near, the muffled sound of a male voice drifted through the door. Willow gave an excited hop. "I can hear him!"
"Me, too." Tara grinned excitedly at the sound of Jonathan's flawless tenor, and Willow urged them forward. They made their way to the door, straining their ears to listen for more of Jonathan's singing. When they weaved through the crowd and through the door, Willow drew herself up on her toes, casting her eyes around for the blonde hair of her best friend. She didn't see her. Or Xander. In fact, she couldn't even see Jonathan. The stage was empty, his voice coming from a recording, one of his many platinum records.
"Where is he?" Tara asked, looking around curiously. The people around them in the nightclub seemed unusually agitated.
"I don't know." Willow frowned. "I don't see Buffy here either."
She felt Tara's hand tighten over hers.
"Do you think something happened? You know, something… Hellmouth-related?"
"Maybe. Hold on." The redhead scanned the crowd until she recognized a face. There. There was a boy in one of the huddled groups near them that she was pretty sure she had tutored in high school chemistry. David, maybe? Hopefully he's aged better than Percy. Reluctantly releasing Tara's hand for the moment, she stepped towards him, interrupting their conversation. "Hey– sorry– where did Jonathan go? Did something happen?"
A few people in the group looked up as she approached, but David was the one to speak.
"Yeah. Some girl, Karen something, came running in right as he was starting a song from his new album."
Willow's eyes widened at the news.
"You mean Jonathan on Jonathan? He was really–" she caught herself, forcing the excitement down in favor of practicality. "I mean, um, what did she want?"
"She was hurt or something. Something attacked her. Jonathan went to take care of it."
Willow nodded solemnly.
"He's so brave." A murmur of agreement went around the group. "Thanks." She turned back to Tara, who had easily overheard the conversation. "I guess that's it then. Buffy must have gone with him. He lets her tag along sometimes, even though she mostly just gets in the way. It makes her feel important."
"I think it's sweet," Tara said, smiling softly. "Do you think she's coming back?"
"I don't know. I guess we could wait around for a little bit. I mean, at least they're still playing his music." She looked at one of the mounted speakers, which was blaring one of Jonathan's famous drum solos. "Although I already have this album at home."
"I think everyone does," Tara pointed out.
"Probably." Willow scuffed her feet against the floor. "Man, I can't believe this. I really wanted you to meet her." I can't believe this keeps happening. Or not happening, really. At this rate, I'll be introducing the two of them at our wedding.
"Me, too." Tara squeezed her arm comfortingly. "It's fine, though. We can just… do something else. Another time." She shrugged helplessly.
"I guess." Willow looked around. "Well, we're still here. You want to grab a table?"
Tara nodded. She tried to stifle some of her smile, but it was clear in her eyes. Willow linked their arms and began zigzagging through the crowd, which in Jonathan's absence was slowly starting to disperse. It took a few minutes, but they finally managed to find a small table with two chairs, tucked into a corner.
"So, here we are," Willow announced once they were seated.
"What?" Tara's voice was almost completely swallowed by the dull roar of the crowd. Willow frowned and dragged her chair over so that they could hear each other. It also had the benefit of bringing their knees within touching distance.
"A little loud, huh?" Willow said, somewhat abashed. Tara shrugged a little.
"It's okay." She inched closer to Willow as someone passed on her other side. "Do you… Do you think the crowd's gonna clear out? Since Jonathan's not here?"
Willow lay a hand on her knee and looked towards the doors. More people were trickling out than in.
"Yeah, I think we just have to wait awhile." She rubbed Tara's knee gently, probing her expression with concerned eyes. "We can leave, though, if you want. We could just get coffee or something."
Tara shook her head, embarrassed.
"No, it's alright. We can stay."
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah." She covered Willow's hand with her own and forced herself to relax. "So… here we are. On a date. Right?" Her eyes were hopeful, but with an edge of insecurity. Willow just grinned goofily.
"Yes. Definitely on a date." She liked the sound of it. On a date. Me and Tara on a date. Study tonight? Oh no, I can't, Buffy, I'm going on a date with Tara. Because we're dating. Tara and me.
"Okay then." Tara's warm smile reassured her, and her light blue eyes revealed a hint of mischief. Willow watched her coax her face into mock-seriousness. "So then… what's your take on long walks on the beach?"
Willow's first response was a fit of laughter. She loved Tara's unexpected jokey, playful side. She just wished it could come out more.
"Oh, I'm in favor of them." Willow answered finally. "As long as you watch out for our old high school swim team."
"Bullies?" Tara guessed.
"Of course." The blonde nodded with false bravado. "That was my second guess."
Over the next hour, the crowd thinned considerably. The pair had thoroughly amused themselves talking about whatever came to mind, including Tara's absentminded English professor ("He actually writes over his own writing, so you can't read anything."), Willow's disastrous first roommate ("Our room was like a clown car full of drunk people!"), the perils of late-night television watching ("So the elevator would grow teeth or something. And growl."), and Jonathan's newest autobiography ("That part about him and the moon landing was incredible!"). Once the warehouse's floor was comfortably sparse, Willow grabbed a few sodas from the bar and eagerly dragged Tara towards one of the vacant pool tables.
"Okay, so here's the game. Every time I get a ball in the pocket, you have to tell me something about yourself. Something I don't know yet," Willow explained, holding out a cue. Tara laughed, but nodded, taking the stick from her.
"Fine, but the same goes for you."
Willow began rallying the numbered balls and gestured for Tara to break. She stood at the end of the table, head cocked, considering the shot.
"Have you played a lot before?" Willow asked as she lined up the first shot.
"Who knows. Maybe you should make that your first question," Tara teased, neatly knocking the white ball into the triangle of colored ones. They scattered, bouncing chaotically off the walls. None went in. Willow narrowed her eyes playfully at her.
"Maybe I will." She approached the table and looked at her options. There was nothing good. She scowled, until a wonderfully wicked idea occurred to her. She lined up the shot, and sent the cue ball directly into the corner pocket. "So, milady, why don't you tell me about your billiards experience?"
Tara arched an eyebrow at her.
"But that was a scratch," she pointed out.
"The rules were just that I had to hit a ball into the pocket. I did. So start talking." She crossed her arms smugly as Tara rolled her eyes.
"Fine. Cheater." Willow saw her grip tighten on her pool cue, but she seemed to speak willingly. "There was a bar in my town that had a few old arcade games and a pool table. There wasn't much else to do, so I played there sometimes." She fished the cue ball from the pocket and began to set up a new shot. "I could probably beat you at Space Invaders, too." She scored. "Stripes." She paused for a minute, thinking up a question. "Why are you afraid of ponies?"
Willow blushed, but laughed at the question.
"I don't mind the concept of them. They're pretty and majestic and all. But there was one at a birthday party when I was a kid, and it bit me. Hard. And it hurt. And they're a lot bigger than you'd think. Especially when you're six. So that kind of ruined it for me."
Tara nodded, satisfied.
"Understandable. Ponies can be mean." She lined up another shot, which missed. "Your turn. And no funny business this time." She wagged a scolding finger in Willow's direction.
"Fine. From now on, I'll actually try." She attempted a wild shot, and somehow knocked a solid into a side pocket. She whooped triumphantly, to Tara's amusement. The redhead cocked her head, trying to think of a really good question."Actually, I don't want to ask anything. I just want you to tell me something. Anything you think is interesting about Tara."
"Tara's not all that interesting–" Willow started to interrupt her, but was ignored. "–but I'll try." The blonde paced the length of the table, pondering her answer. "Tara… can read and speak Latin pretty well," she said finally.
"Because of magic?" Willow asked.
"Mostly. My… um… my mom started teaching me when I was little, and there was a Catholic school in my town where I took lessons."
"So can you read, like, the Aeneid and stuff in the original language?" Tara nodded, taking a sip of her soda. "That's cool. Latin poetry must be beautiful."
The blonde raised her head from the glass and shook it in disapproval.
"Oh, you don't ever want to read Latin poetry. It's really… obscene."
"Really?" Willow's curiosity was piqued. "How?" Tara just put her hands on her shoulders and turned her towards the table again.
"It's still your turn," she reminded her.
"Oh! Right!" Willow quickly made another wild shot, yielding nothing.
The game quickly deteriorated into silliness, and by the time Tara knocked the 8-ball into the corner pocket, ending the game with Willow's final revelation ("My favorite trees are actually oaks. I've never liked willows. They're all crooked and stringy, like they're about to keel over dead."), their faces were sore from smiling and laughing.
They walked home with purposeful slowness, their arms entangled and their hands clasped. They didn't separate when they reached Kresge, just standing quietly together.
"That was really fun," Tara murmured, the levity of the night giving way to seriousness. "Thank you."
Willow rotated to stand in front of her, taking both of Tara's hands in hers. There was just something about them– the softness, the warmth, the shape, the weight of them– that she couldn't get enough of. Their hands just belonged together.
"I had fun, too. A lot, actually. More than I've had in a really long time." She looked up and met Tara's eyes. "To be honest… I don't really want to say goodbye."
Tara looked at her for a long moment before glancing towards the building.
"You could… I mean… You don't really have to. N-not necessarily."
Willow oscillated her gaze between Tara and the dorm before settling on the girl of her dreams, and deep in her chest, knotted and tense, she knew she didn't want to leave Tara alone. She wanted to go in with her, or bring her back to Stevenson, or take her out for a midnight cup of coffee. Anything but leaving her here alone.
Tara had apparently read the look in her eyes, and Willow abruptly noticed that their faces were now a few inches closer than they had been. She felt her breath catch in her chest. Since that first morning, Tara had stood back and let Willow set their pace. Tonight, though, she seemed to have found something in herself– confidence, bravery, resolve, exasperation– that let her let herself make the first move. Willow closed her eyes.
She could barely feel Tara's breath on her lips when a sudden crash broke the intimate silence of the moment. Willow's nighttime instincts kicked in, and she sprang back, looking towards the source, searching the night for vampires or demons. Tara flinched back as well, but it seemed to be provoked more by Willow's withdrawal than from the noise.
The noise itself had come from inside Kresge, probably just a student coming or going or knocking something over. Willow returned her attention to Tara, who stood a few feet back, still cringing. Willow stepped forward, feeling a little guilty.
"Sorry. Sunnydale instincts," she chuckled weakly. Speaking of… "I should probably head back to my room. Wait for Buffy. Find out what happened with Jonathan." She lay a hand on Tara's arm. "But I'll see you tomorrow, right?" She could hear the fear and hope in her own voice. Luckily, Tara seemed to understand. She relaxed a little and nodded.
"Tomorrow." She smiled weakly, waiting for Willow to depart. The redhead was having some trouble convincing her feet to move, though. The same feeling that had clenched in her chest was now rooting her feet to the ground, as well as making the hair on the back of her neck stand up. She didn't want to leave. She didn't want to leave Tara alone there. But I have to. Buffy might need me. And I don't know what might happen if I stay.
She forced herself to take a few tiny steps back, her hand slipping down Tara's arm to her hand, fingers refusing to release until the last possible second. Finally, they were separated, and Willow took a few more shaky steps away.
"Good night, Willow," Tara's voice followed her as she left.
Yes, it was.
The ominous feeling didn't leave her in her walk back to Stevenson. She dragged her feet so badly that it took almost ten minutes to reach her own dorm from Tara's. It just sat in the back of her mind, gnawing at her, as though she had forgotten something vitally important. But there wasn't anything.
She dragged herself up the stairs to her room. Buffy was standing by the closet, buttoning up a pajama top. Her purse lay on her bed as though she had just gotten back.
"Hey Will," she said, closing the closet door and heading for her own bed. "I didn't expect to beat you back."
"Yeah, Tara and I decided to stay at the Bronze and finish our date." She headed for her dresser and pulled out a pair of fuzzy pajamas, hoping they would help her relax and ignore the bad feeling. Buffy watched her curiously.
"Did it not go well?" she asked tentatively.
"No, it was great. Amazing, really." The words were true, but her voice was detached and morose.
"That's not what your face says."
Willow pulled the pajama top over her head, contemplating the tightness in her chest.
"I've just had this weird feeling since I dropped her off. Like I did something wrong."
"Did you forget to kiss her goodnight?" Buffy teased, smirking. Willow shook her head slightly.
"She almost kissed me, but some klutz accidentally interrupted. It kind of ruined the moment."
"Smoochus interruptus?" Buffy suggested.
"Something like that." Willow shrugged helplessly. "It doesn't matter now, I guess. What happened with you and Jonathan?"
"Nothing, really. He said it was just some creature that accidentally wandered out into the open. He said it's harmless. Nothing to worry about."
Willow nodded instantly.
"Well, if Jonathan said it, it must be true." Buffy didn't respond. "Right?"
The Slayer hesitated for several seconds.
"Right." She shook her head, as though shaking off a dizzy spell. "Yeah. I mean, of course it's true. He's Jonathan." She nodded more confidently to herself. "Are you seeing Tara again tomorrow?"
"Then I wouldn't worry so much. Whatever it is, you'll work it out."
"I don't know. You get bad feelings sometimes, don't you? And it usually means there's something bad going on."
"Yeah, but that's my Slayer sense. It's all mystical and junk."
"And you don't have a bad feeling about anything now?"
Buffy's answer came about a half second too late for Willow to be truly reassured.
"Go to sleep, Will. You'll feel better in the morning."
She rolled over and closed her eyes, but sleep wouldn't come for a long time.