"Can you imagine," Faith muttered as she stood on the roof of the hotel, "Willow's doing a World War I picture without horses. You know the kinda gags I could do with four runaway horses pulling a caisson?"
Tara flew at her with a flying tackle. Faith caught her and flipped her over onto a padded mat. "Try it again, and this time, hit me higher."
Dusting herself off, Tara asked exuberantly, "What's Willow got against horses? I love horses!" She moved back up the sloped gamble to get into position.
"Don't butter me up," Faith sneered back, standing again in the same stance as before. Tara ran, jumped and collided with the brunette. Faith flipped her down onto the mat again. "Better."
The two traced the route that Tara would following along the precariously slants parts of the hotel roof, avoiding the various "German soldiers" who were "chasing" her. Faith took diagrams out of her pocket to help explain the "gag," as she liked to call stunts, to Tara.
"You know a good 'falling horse' makes more money in a year than a bank president?" Faith mentioned to Tara as they traced their way across the gambled roof.
Tara shrugged, then said in an encouraging tone, "Picture's not over; maybe you'll get your chance!"
"Naw, never happen." They stopped and looked down through a clear skylight at a set below. Tara caught a glimpse of Willow as she put the cast and crew through their paces. "All they care about is story."
Faith led her over to where a long vertical drainpipe ran next to the roof. "Now, here's where the scuffle ends. You climb onto that drainpipe; it separates, falls, you fall with it--" She pointed to the part of the roof opposite them, separated by a small courtyard. "The pipe stops when it slams into the building over there, and you fall into that awning." She pointed to a small sqaure of fabric attached to the wall on the other side. "Then the Germans catch you and throw you in the nuthouse. That's the scene they're filming down there now."
Tara looked at the awning with incredulity. "That's gonna hold me? That wouldn't hold rainwater!"
Faith looked at her with a faintly contemptuous expression. "It's not a regular awning. It's a 'catcher.'"
Not entirely convinced, Tara moved on.
"See, the gag's same here as on the ground; it's just a little scarier." Faith sat on the edge of the roof, while Tara dangled down from the edge next to her, five stories off the ground. "'Course, that's what you get paid for." She had instructed Tara to swing down and hang from the roof for as long as she good, to overcome any fears about doing the stunt.
This is what I get for saying I'm not afraid of heights! Tara thought blackly. Then she mentally rewinded what Faith had said. "Yeah? How much?"
"Ennnh. Stealing candy with this one. Six hundred dollars."
"What?!?" Tara spun to face her, momentarily forgetting her precarious position. While six hundred dollars was a lot more money than she had seen in a long time, it seemed a paltry price to put on one's life.
"Jesus!" Insect-fast, Faith grabbed Tara's nearest hand and hauled, trying to scooch back using just her buttocks, getting Tara more onto the roof. "What d'ya think a stuntwoman is? She's a professional! If the camera jams you get six hundred, and if Willow says Let's Do It Again, you get another six hundred!"
"No, I'm not kiddin'!"
Tara screamed with glee, while Faith muttered, "Christ, what a dummy!"
Riley fought his way through the seeming legions of madmen, searching for Buffy. A sea of moaning, drooling figures swirled around the room trailing half-done restraints. They tore at Riley's hair and clothing...
A female scream erupted, followed by a shout of "Six hundred fuckin' beautiful dollars!" followed by another yell. RIley and the bandaged extras stopped, startled by the sudden noise. The film crew winced.
"All right -- CUT!" Willow bellowed. She bounded from her canvas chair and paced in a circle, irritated but not furious, almost bemused in a way.
"What the hell's goin' on up there?" one of the assistants yelled. "Somebody get up there and tell--"
"Oh, shut up, Charlie, I don't like it, I'm not happy with it!" She took note of the assistant cinematographer's timings. "Everybody, take five."
Anya strode up with her anal-retentive gleam in her eye. "Willow, time! Money! Time!" she cried, punctuating each word with a curt gesture. Willow glanced at her, not altering her expression an iota or making a sound. After several seconds of this, Anya waved off in a why-do-I-bother gesture and stalked off.
"What's wrong, Will?" came a gentle question from a brown-haired, brown-eyed man with the harried look of the perpetually suffering, who stood off to one side of the set as Willow grabbed her copy of the script and started paging through it.
"What's wrong?' Xander? The scene's wrong, that's what's wrong!"
Xander Harris looked indignant. "The scene is perfect. It reads like The Godfather's death scene."
Willow wrinkled her nose. "It's crapola."
"Crapo-Crapola?!?" Xander exploded, drawing the attention of the rest of the crew, looking with bemused expressions at what they had unofficially termed The Willow and Xander Show. "Who was it, Willow, that called me up at two in the morning, raving about the Magical Madhouse Scene? Who was it, my upstairs maid? I don't think so, Will, ya know why? Not only do I not have an upstairs maid, I don't even have an upstairs!! That's why."
Waiting until he had temporarily run out of breath, Willow replied evenly, "It's still crapola." She then turned and walked off.
Xander followed her half-heartedly. "That's it. Twenty years of you and I'm snapping!"
"The problem is, Willow, is that when there was a war on, nobody was going to let you make this movie," Xander said, between shoveling bites of his dinner in the hotel's private dining room. "Now they'll let you make it, but you don't have a war. What you do have, my friend, is a considerable amount of egg on your face. Vietnam is long over and done with."
Tara, along with most of the key production personnel and cast, sat in the dining room, watching the byplay and eating like starved wolves (Tara was glad to see that she was not the only one working the roast beef hard; with the exception of the waistline-conscious Buffy, everybody has asked and gotten second helpings). Willow, at the head of the table, amused herself by playing Catapult with sugar packets and a spoon. Virtually everybody at the table absently snatched flying packets out of the air without comment.
"This film isn't about fighting wars, Xander," Willow replied evenly, sending another Sweet-N-Low down the table. Faith, sitting next to Tara, snatched it out of the air between bites of mashed potato.
"Oh, really? Pray tell, Willow, what is this film about then?"
"It's about fighting windmills. Y'see, war and all that, terrible as it is, is not the disease," Willow continued, answering Xander's question in a lecturer's tone. Fortunately, the Willow and Xander Show had the most loyal audience in town. "It's merely a symptom."
Xander chewed the thought, and his dinner, with equal gravity. "So what's the disease?"
Willow glanced over at Tara. "Ask her." She then turned and directed the intense high-beams that she called her eyes at the newly-blonde woman. "Tell us, Magic, how did you like Vietnam?"
Tara smirked. "How do you like yeast infections?" Most of the people at the table laughed, including Willow.
"Y'know, not to impugn the tale that you've told me and several other people here," Willow said, after the laughter died down, "but...I wasn't aware the U.S. Army allowed women into positions of combat."
Tara had taken a sip of her water before answering. "I wasn't in the Army. I was a Red Cross service worker - ‘Doughnut Dollies,' they called us then. We visited various bases and units, dressed in our little uniforms, wearing lots of perfume and makeup...basically giving Our Boys a-a taste of what they fighting for." The smile on Tara's face faded.
"I got sent to a, they called it a firebase, way out in the field, y'know, s-say hi to the troops and all that. Only we got hit by the VC, our air support got cut off, and we had to run." She almost chuckled then. "Picture me in this Red Cross outfit, looking like an overgrown Campfire Girl, running through the jungle with a bunch of soldiers, with a million guys in black pajamas in hot pursuit."
"After about the fourth or fifth guy in our squad got killed, I got tired of running around in that outfit...s-so I picked one guy who was about my size...took his uniform...h-he wasn't going to need it." Tara took a deep breath to steady herself. "I took his M-16. The other guys taught me how to use that, and a lot of other stuff. I figured it was the least I could do, seeing how all these guys had adopted me and tried to keep me from getting k-killed or..."
"About eight months later, me and two other guys, out of twenty squad members, made it back to American territory."
Stunned expressions abounded around the table; even the perpetually stoic Faith gave Tara a sympathetic look, and if anyone noticed Cordelia wiping at the corner of one eye, no one said.
Willow's was both the most admiring and the most appraising aspect. "So you were actually out there, for eight months...killing people..."
Tara shrugged deprecatingly. "I didn't kill all that many people. Mostly what I did was run and hide."
"You said something to me on the beach," Willow asked, "Something about Thanksgiving; how'd that go again?"
"If you want to get home for Thanksgiving, you gotta figure the guy coming at you is out to get you."
Willow grinned at her, then turned to Xander. "See, that's what it's about: being scared, whistling in the dark, inventing enemies... Let's write a new scene; our screenplay will become relevant again, and my face will be egg-free."
Xander, knowing he was beaten, opted for the path of least resistance. "Fine, you'll get another scene. Won't make a damn bit of difference; the studio's just going to cut ‘em all out anyway, and all you'll have least are a bunch of swell battle scenes...which by the way, they told me look just terrific, the last time I was there."
Riley piped up. "What'd they say about me? No, no, don't tell me..." He gave himself a thumbs-down and a raspberry. Buffy giggled.
"They won't cut my film, Xander," Willow intoned gravely.
"Why the hell not? I mean, what makes you so goddamn special?" Xander replied heatedly.
"Because they know that if they touch my picture...I'll kill them."
"Really?" Tara asked, perhaps the only one at the table who might have dared to ask, especially with that air of skepticism.
Willow gave her the full power of her green eyes. "Yes. And then I'll eat them." The wicked expression on the redhead's face made Tara join in the laughter that rang around the table. "Xander, this film is my child. Supposed you had a daughter and the studio told you she would look better with her arms chopped off?"
Xander wiped his mouth with a napkin, giving the question a second's thought. "Well, being an insecure writer, I'd have to call my agent, and get a second opinion!"