"Okay...open your eyes!"
At the hairdresser's command, Tara opened her eyes -- and stared at the stranger in the mirror. Her hair was a bit shorter, much better styled (as opposed to the trimmed-with-a-Swiss-Army-knife style Tara usually frequented) and several shades blonder than the mousy coloring she was more-or-less born with. Her eyebrows had been trimmed as well, giving her a rather sultry aspect, and she had been applied with blush that emphasized her cheekbones. "Holy cow."
"Whaddaya think?" asked Cordelia, the hairdresser, leaning in beside Tara and looking at the reflection in the mirror.
"Could be worse," Tara replied, grinning. "Could be green." In truth, Tara was astonished. It had been a long time -- a lifetime, it seemed -- since she cared enough about her appearance to put any work into it. Looking at her reflection was an echo of a lost memory. "It's great."
"Of course it is. Ask anybody: Cordelia gives great hair." She stood up and rubbed Tara's shoulders. Tara had been mildly amused to see that the hairdresser for this movie, one of the behind-the-scenes people, had movie-star quality looks herself. Between the beautiful Buffy and the striking Faith, in addition to this Playboy Playmate of a girl, Tara had begun to feel dowdy. Now she saw herself as almost toothsome, a feeling she was not really accustomed.
Cordelia moved off, checking off on the variety of wigs that adorned the makeshift makeup room in the hotel. "I tried to make you look as much as Buffy as possible. I guess, for the moment, we're pretending you're Darla. But anyway, I went ahead and did the face, too. Might as well -- 'if you don't look good, we don't look good.'"
"You do the hair and makeup both? Is that unusual, or...?"
"Hey, we're fairly low-budget here. Well, not low-low budget, call it medium low-budget. Anya pinches every penny and strangles every nickel. This wouldn't even be a union shoot if we thought we could get away with it."
Tara frowned. "Why not?"
"Cheaper. Almost everybody here is working for minimum scale, mainly because they believe in Willow's ability to pull this film off. That's why Buffy fronted a ton of cash and options up front -- technically, she's a producer, but she's letting Willow call the shots on this film. It's her baby -- well, her and Xander's, he's the writer, you'll meet him later, I suppose."
Tara got up to stretch her legs; her butt was starting to get a little numb from sitting for so long. She crossed over to a window set in the makeshift makeup room. "What's she like?" Tara asked, seeing Willow in the walkway below, talking to Buffy about a scene.
"Selling douche powder, she's terrific," Cordelia answered offhandedly, which confused Tara for a second until she realized the other girl had missed her point. "But the dog food thing, I'm not sure she's sincere."
"Um, actually, I meant Willow."
At that, the makeup girl's eyes widened. Then she pursed her lips, her expression unreadable for a moment. "You find out," she finally offered, which really told Tara nothing...except that Cordelia knew more than she was letting on.
"Very nice," Willow offered, turning Buffy's head side to side, inspecting the latex covering her face that Cordelia had reapplied a little while ago. Once again, the beautiful young woman was transformed into an old crone. With a gray wig and a black dress, the illusion was complete.
"Easy for you to say. These dental implants are killing me," Buffy murmured while the director pored over her, imagining shots and angles.
"All for our art, Buffy, all for our art. Cordy, magnificent work. That summer you spent with Dick Smith paid off."
"Yeah, well, nothing says 'good work' like a little gold statue...and I don't mean those novelty ones you buy on Melrose Avenue!" The makeup girl's tone was flippant, but her expression betrayed how pleased she was with the results.
"Not even the ones with little lights and make interesting buzzing noises?"
"Cough, cough," Buffy said, cutting off the game. She turned abruptly serious. "Any word on Darla?"
"No," Willow answered, matching the somber mood. "And no film ever made would ever be worth it." She sat down in the makeup room's couch; both of the other women followed suit.
"I wonder why these guys, Faith and Darla and their stunt guys -- why do they take such chances?" Buffy asked.
Willow shrugged. "The only thing that ever really know, is that we are going to die someday, somehow...and that makes some people so...crazy, so scared, that they'll do anything...fight wars, fight windmills..." Her breath quickened as she had to yet again repress the grief that threatened to shoot through her. "...drive off bridges, whatever. But that's what our film's about. Or haven't you noticed?"
At that point, Tara peeked into the makeup room, where she had left an hour ago. Anya had put her up in Faith's room, who had lent her some of her clothes, which fit well enough. Between those and the new hairstyle, her tranformation from her Running Fugitive look was complete.
"Oh, good! Come on in!" Willow beckoned, standing up from the couch. Tara sauntered in, trying hard not to stare at Willow.
Buffy stood as well, smoothing out her dress and putting on a smile, old-age makeup notwithstanding. She strode over to Tara, hardly believing that this was the ragamuffin who had 'rescued' her hours before. "You're looking much better."
Tara smiled. "You, too." A little cheeky, given Buffy's current look.
The actress took the verbal sallie with a smile, then turned to Willow. "My new 'carbon copy'?"
"Not 'new'," Willow corrected. "It's really important that we don't let that circulate for a while. Let's pretend that she really is Darla. But not 'Brass Bra' Darla," she added, "no, after her miraculous escape from the car, we now refer to her as," she looked at Tara with a twinkle in her eye, "'Magic'."
Anya barged in at that moment. "Willow, they need you on the set for the madhouse scene." She missed, or chose to ignore, the roll of Willow's eyes at that point. "And, uh, 'Darla'...Faith wants you out on the lawn."
Willow turned to Tara with a sickle-sharp smile. "School's in, Magic."
"You ever done any stuntwork?"
On a lawn in front of the hotel, Faith had laid down a couple of padded mats. Tara stood near them, feeling as if she were being interrogated as the brunette circled her. "Sort of."
"'Sort of?' Either you have, or you haven't."
Tara's mouth curled into a lazy smile. "I got out of Vietnam in one piece...that was a helluva stunt."
Faith snorted derisively. She turned and pointed towards the hotel. "You think you can jump from that tower-" She tracked from a lighthouse set on top of the hotel... "-to that platform? ...to a platform on the roof that, to Tara's vantage point from the lawn, looked to be at least eight feet away, at least three stories in the air.
Tara smiled again. "To save my ass once, I jumped from a banana tree into a cartload of buffalo chips. Does that count?"
Faith shrugged. "Maybe." She reached into a nylon bag and drew out a couple of small pads with elastic attached. "Put these on. Under the pants, over the knees." Tara complied as rapidly as she could; the kneepads were a little strange but not too uncomfortable. Faith then pointed from about where Tara was standing, to a point about six feet away. "Try jumping from there to there."
"Okey-dokey," Tara replied brightly. Taking a couple of steps back, Tara launched her self across the space, clearing it handily.
"Very good!" Faith said. "Except you're dead. Your brains are splattered all over the payment." To Tara's confused look, she added. "You're supposed to land in a tuck-and-roll."
Slightly nettled, Tara spread her hands. "Show me, Sarge."
Tying her hair back, Faith positioned herself, and with scarcely a second of hesitation, leaped forward, landing on her hands and shoulders on the mat, tucking her head down and using the momentum to end up on her feet.
"Very fancy!" Tara said, nodding.
"Very fancy," Tara repeated, tying her own hair back. Taking a deep breath, she set herself.
Pushing off as hard as she could, she tucked in and hit the mat, rolling to her feet faster than she would have believed. "Whoa-oa!" she cried as she steadied herself. She turned towards Faith, seeing her instructor standing there with her arms crossed. "How's that?"
Faith shrugged noncommittally. "Okay."
Struggling to keep a lid on, Tara added, "My specialty was cross-country running."
Faith's eyes hardened. "And Darla's specialty was drowning! What the hell is Willow thinking, sending me an cocky, amateur goofball, when I need a stuntwoman?" Over Tara's offended expression, she shot, "It's a little different when you're running across that rooftop and they're shooting tracer bullets over your head!"
Tara felt her jaw tightening. An inner voice told her to cool it...she, in turn, told the inner voice to go fish. "I was running through a stinking jungle in Southeast Asia for eight months, while guys were shooting at my head, not over it. And the ones that didn't want me dead wanted to spread my knees in opposite directions!" Faith was about express her disbelief in her account, but a second look at Tara's eyes cut her off. "I'm here. I'm alive. I knew goofballs...and I have nothing against them, seeing as they're all dead." She took a breath to steady herself. "So are you gonna give me a break?"
Unsure of what to say in response to the spiel, Faith opted for something else. "Maybe."
Tara's brow furrowed. "Are you putting me on?"
"Me? I wouldn't know how to do that..."