StephenT (stormwreath) wrote,

(Commentary) Parallel Lines

It's been quite a while since I did a fic commentary. Of course, a lot of my recent fics have been either parody or pornographic, and doing a blow-by-blow commentary on porn might get a bit embarrassing. :-)  But on Saturday I wrote a Willow - Kennedy relationship fic, Parallel Lines, and I thought it would be fun to go through it here and explain the thinking behind how I wrote the story 

The parts in brown starting with >> are my added comments.

Parallel Lines

>>Parallel lines, famously, never meet. The idea was to suggest how everybody in the fic - Buffy, Willow and Kennedy - is proceeding along quite happily through their lives, and never really understanding each other or touching each other's true thoughts. But also not diverging or going off on each other - just staying parallel.

Kennedy balanced the knife in her right hand, eyeing the target carefully.

>> This, of course, was meant to make you think there was going to be a big fight scene or something coming up.

She weighed distances and angles... then, on a whim, shifted the blade to her left hand instead. Then to make things even harder, she closed her eyes and set her other hand down in place.

>> Even when she's by herself, Kennedy is competitive and determined to always be the best at everything. I wanted to show her cocky, show-off side here to balance the fact that later in the fic she's going to be insecure and emo... I didn't want to lose the Kennedy of her. Plus, I do think her relationship with Willow is pretty much the only thing in the world Kennedy might be insecure about - but it's a huge exception.
The knife flashed down in a rapid sequence of blows - chop-chop-chop-chop! When she opened her eyes again, it was buried in the wood just a millimetre from her untouched right hand, and the small circles of sliced carrot spilled across the chopping board in perfectly symmetrical, evenly-sized shapes.

>>See? She's chopping carrots, not fighting demons. And she's cut them into perfectly parallel-sided pieces, as a call-back to the fic's title.

She grinned in triumph and flung the knife in the air, spinning and glittering as it arced around, and caught it back-handed. As she did, there was an "Eep!" from behind her, and she spun, instantly contrite.

"Sorry, babe. Didn't hear you come in."

>>In my personal canon at least, Slayers can almost always sense danger creeping up on them. The fact that Kennedy didn't sense Willow shows that even her Slayer intuition or subconscious doesn't classify Willow as a threat to her.  Aww.

"I expect flying weaponry out on patrol, not in my own kitchen." Willow softened her words with a smile as she walked over to the drawer, opened it, and pulled out an entire box of candles. Kennedy blinked in surprise.

"You planning a month-long bath? Or an orgy?"

>> I imagine they have a lot of candlelit baths. As for the orgy, that's a call-back to that Amber Benson interview clip on YouTube where she describes Alyson Hannigan and herself running around the 'Buffy' set with candles explaining to everybody what you could do with them "if you're a girl".

"Huh? Oh, these. No, I need to set up a teleportation circle. Buffy called, said she needs me over there."

"Oh. Right." Kennedy concentrated on sliding the carrots into the pan. "So when are you going?"

>> First sign of displacement activity: Kennedy focussing on the food preparation so she doesn't snap at Willow.

"Uh, now, pretty much."

Kennedy swallowed her instant flare of anger. She was trying to be a Good Girlfriend. So instead she said in a careful measured tone, "But I'm making dinner. For us."

>> This is heartbreaking, really. Kennedy is so determined to be a Good Girlfriend (complete with capital letters)  because I think she knows, deep inside, that she doesn't mean as much to Willow as Willow does to her, and she'll do anything to stop Willow going away. Even curb her instinctive temper and force herself to remain calm and reasonable....

"Sorry, sweetie, but it did sound kinda important. Something about a demon nest. I'll be back as soon as I can."

>> I was trying to walk a fine line here. Willow is being inconsiderate and thoughtless, and totally taking Kennedy for granted. I didn't want to make her into the bad guy of the fic, though. There are demons to fight, and Buffy needs her help, and Willow is prepared to drop everything and go because she thinks it's the right thing to do... and she just assumes that Kennedy will agree with her. When Willow thinks she's right about anything, she simply doesn't get the idea that other people might disagree. But she's not deliberately being cruel here, just thoughtless.

"Okay. Fine." Kennedy was horrified to feel the beginnings of a tear prickling at her eye. She of all people wasn't a crybaby, dammit! It must be the onion she'd been chopping earlier. She put the pan down on the stove with a little more force than was necessary, water slopping up the sides. Yes, anger was better. She embraced her anger.

>> I did wonder if I was being out-of-character here making Kennedy get close to tears. But then I thought - no, because the thing is, she doesn't cry here. She gets angry instead, to stop herself from crying. Plus, she's still only about 20 or 21 years old and in her first serious relationship, and I think she's allowed to get a bit teary sometimes. :-)

She gradually became aware that Willow hadn't moved; she was still standing there, candles in her hand, just looking at her.


"I - uh, I can, uh, I mean, I'll stay for dinner first."

>> Willow proves she's not completely insensitive after all, and she's also intelligent enough to know straight away why Kennedy's angry.

"Buffy needs you, you said. You'd better go."

"But I don't have-- you're mad at me, aren't you?"

"You noticed that then?" But Kennedy made the fatal mistake of looking over at Willow as she said it, and the stricken look on her partner's face almost made her resolution melt. Willow always hated quarrels, and her woebegone expression made Kennedy want nothing more than to rush over and enfold her in a huge hug. She sternly fought the impulse down again.

> I think that's basic Willow Characterisation 101. She hates it when her friends are unhappy or people are arguing. Especially if it's her they're mad at. At least she's learned her lesson and won't - I assume - be using Forget spells on Kennedy. Also, of course, however angry she is right now Kennedy is still head over heels in love with Willow, and nobody does a hurt and upset and vulnerable expression like Alyson Hannigan (or, well, Willow. Or Michelle or Lily too, I guess.) can.  

"You'd better just go. Demons don't kill themselves."

"Actually, some do.

>> She's thinking of the three suicidal demons in 'Doomed' in season 4.

This one time, in Sunnydale...

>> Yes, thats an 'American Pie' reference, if you didn't spot it.

uh, no. Sorry. Inappropriate non-sequitur. Bad timing. Sweetie, if you really don't want me to go of course I'll stay."

That was exactly what Kennedy had been hoping to hear, but of course at that moment her inconvenient conscience chose its moment to pop up. She was still a Slayer, after all.

>> Kennedy has "won" in the sense that Willow saw she was upset and changed her plans accordingly. (cue 'Kaiser Chiefs' song line: "Love's not a competition - but i'm winning.")  But then again - remembering what I said about not wanting to put Willow totally in the wrong - she recognises that actually, Willow really ought to go off and help Buffy slay the demons.

"Will, if there is a demon nest there maybe you really should go and help take it out."

"Don't worry. I can be late. From what Buffy said, she'll need time to get a team together anyway, this will be a multi-Slayer plus witch type job."

"Then why don't I come with?"

"Huh? Sweetie, you're in charge of the Slayer squad here."

"So? You can teleport us both there and back before either of us are missed. And it'll be fun to fight alongside you, I don't get to do that nearly often enough."

>> Slayers like fighting. Kennedy likes being with Willow. She'd love to combine them. Willow, on the other hand, eats danger for breakfast but flees in the face of breakfast cereals.

Willow started stammering. "I - uh - I d-don't think that w-would be a good idea. Really. It's n-not that I don't want you there, b-but Buffy--"

>> As explained in the Author's Note before (and in 'Anywhere But Here'), Willow is terrified that being around Buffy is unhealthy for the people she loves. (Which is ironic, given that Buffy herself is also terrified that being around her is unhealthy for the people she loves.) At this stage, Willow hasn't fully realised why she feels this way; she just gets very uncomfortable with the idea of Kennedy coming with her  when she goes to meet Buffy, especially if there's going to be fighting. Hence the stammering; she's trying to think of an excuse.

"Why would our fearless leader have a problem with it? She doesn't hate me, does she?"

>> Kennedy doesn't really care what other people (who aren't Willow) think about her, but she's not stupid, and she probably knows her manner can get people's backs up. In Kennedy's eyes, that's their problem, not hers - she's a child of privilege after all, and all her life she's got what she wants. For the record, I tend to feel that Buffy finds Kennedy's self-confidence and spirit rather refreshing; Kennedy's one of the few Slayers she can give a job to and expect it to get done without needing to hold her hand all the time.

"No, of course not!"

"Only it seems to me that every time I suggest going to Scotland with you, you always find some reason why I shouldn't. There'd be no room in the helicopter. I might disrupt the chain of command, whatever the hell that means. You'll be too busy with Buffy to have any time for me. What am I supposed to think?"

>> Yes, Willow's previous excuses have been pretty feeble at times. "No room in the helicopter" is a shout-out to the inn in Bethlehem, of course, but it has a literal meaning too - if Buffy's taking a team of Slayers plus Willow on a mission there would only be room for a certain number of people; but I'm quite sure that Buffy would leave out someone else to make room for Kennedy if Willow asked her to, so it's a poor excuse really. The chain of command, other than being the chain Buffy beats people with if they don't obey her commands (/Firefly) , is a reasonable excuse - Kennedy's in charge of the San Francisco Slayer Squad, so if she starts throwing her weight around in Scotland there'll be trouble - but her follow-up comment is my little dig at the notion that the Slayer Army is all hierarchical with strictly-defined psoitions and seniority and everything. The last excuse is, of course, the killer.

As she said that, a nasty suspicion blossomed in Kennedy's mind. She fought it back, dismissing it as ridiculous, but the idea wouldn't let go. Willow was spending an awful lot of time in Buffy's company these days. Time alone together, and despite all Willow's denials Kennedy was becoming more and more certain she was keeping her girlfriend away deliberately. And Willow and Buffy had a history going back forever, they'd known each other since they were young teenagers, they'd shared things Kennedy could never hope to touch...

>>It's deeply ironic , of course, that Willow is keeping Kennedy away from Buffy because she loves Kennedy, and Kennedy here leaps to the conclusion that it's because she loves Buffy. (Willow's feelings for Buffy are an entirely different subject that would be too long to get into here...)

What exactly was going on between them? Kennedy almost came straight out and demanded an answer there and then, but she restrained herself. If she was wrong, she'd only drive Willow away with her suspicions; and if she was right... she didn't want to think about the possibility that she was right.

>> Poor Kennedy. This is part of the character development I think she'd show by this stage of Season 8; whereas a younger Kennedy probably would have blurted out her question and damn the consequences, the more mature version almost does so, but restrains herself by conscious effort. Of course, that sort of characterisation is much easier to get across when I'm telling the story from her POV. ;-)

So she kept quiet. She let the matter drop, brushed over Willow's babbled explanations and apologies, and concentrated on putting the finishing touches to the meal. She asked Willow to lay the table and get things ready, and her girlfriend obeyed the instructions meekly.

>> Willow is wise enough to know when not to cause a fuss.

By the time they sat down together at the dinner table, they'd established a détente once again, and could even smile and make small talk.

By the time they were halfway through the main course, Kennedy had decided on a plan of action.

>> Which is basically to find a sneaky way to get Willow talking about Buffy, specifically in the context of her views on homosexuality, to see where she stands and maybe get some hints on whether they're having an affair.

She was just slicing through a piece of meat and using the fork in her left hand to pop it into her mouth when she glanced up to notice Willow watching her. Her years at school in England meant that Kennedy had learned to use a knife and fork European-style, and she'd never lost the habit; it always fascinated Willow.

>> As I understand it, Americans cut up their food with the knife in their right hand, then put the knife down and move their fork to their right hand to eat with, then move the fork back to their left hand to pick up the knife again when they next need it. Europeans simply hold the knife in their right hand and fork in their left all through the meal. The fact that Kennedy went to school in Britain is more or less my own private fanon, although it's suggested by the fact she apparently arrived from England with Giles and two other Potentials back in Season 7. I assume it was some sort of boarding school for rich people (you know, like Joss Whedon went to an English public school himself), except in Kennedy's case secretly run by the Watchers' Council as a cover organisation.

So their eyes met, and Willow smiled at her, and Kennedy seized the opportunity.

"Hey, I don't think you've ever told me how Buffy reacted when she found out you were gay. How did it go?"

"Haven't I? Well, it was kind of crazy. She completely freaked, you know?"

>> "Are you freaked?" is what Willow asked Buffy in 'New Moon Rising', of course. Buffy denied it, not very convincingly.

"Freaked how? 'Oh that's wonderful' freaked or 'oh my god you're a freak' freaked?"

>> Well, if Buffy was secretly gay and was longing for Willow to come out too, she might think it was utterly wonderful. That's Kennedy's biggest fear, of course.

"Uh, pretty much the second, I think."

Kennedy felt a huge wave of relief pass through her. True, Willow was now going on about how Buffy soon got over it, and how she'd been great ever since, but Kennedy believed in first reactions.

>> I disagree with Kennedy here - but I do think it's characteristic of her to put such stock in first reactions. She's very impulsive. But first reactions might reveal that we have some unresolved issues or unexamined prejudices, of course: but I think it's what we choose to do after we've thought it through and had chance to process our emotions properly that really counts. What we saw in 'New Moon Rising' was Buffy initially in a state of shock, yes - but probably more out of sheer surprise than anything else - but then deliberately taking a deep breath, reminding herself this was her best friend Willow she was talking to, and approaching the subject in a much calmer and reasonable frame of mind. But Kennedy hasn't seen the episode; she can only go on what Willow's telling her now, and she's getting completely the wrong idea.

Especially when it came to Buffy; if there was one thing Kennedy genuinely admired about the senior Slayer, it was her straightforwardness. Buffy might hide things - in fact, she had quite a history of that, if Willow's stories were to be believed - but she didn't lie about them or about her feelings. Still, she decided to make sure.

>> I had to think about that one, but I think it's fair to say that if Buffy lies about things, it's usually only a lie of omission - not mentioning that Angel is back from Hell, or she's sleeping with Spike, or whatever, rather than actual telling untruths - at least not to Willow, who's the one recounting the story. Being in heaven instead of hell is the only big exception I can think of offhand, and post-Season 6 Willow is totally going to excuse her for that lie.

>> I'm pretty certain that Willow talks about Buffy a lot when she's with Kennedy... not only is she her best friend, but also her hero and role model. All that doubtlessly helps to feed Kennedy's jealousy and suspicion there's something going on between them. Note that apart from a few months living in the same house as Buffy and 30 other girls, Kennedy really hasn't spent much time in Buffy's company - the fact that Willow is deliberately keeping them apart doesn't help with that, of course - so Willow really is her main source of information on what she's like.

"So she hadn't guessed already? She wasn't one of those 'Yeah, I've known that for ages' types?"

>> I understand that's a fairly common reaction when people finally come out to close friends or family members. :-)

"Not at all. She was pacing all up and down the room like someone lit a firecracker inside her, and she kept on saying my name over and over again, like in every second sentence. It was weird." Willow proceeded to perform a Buffy impersonation, complete with gestures and facial expressions and a unique touch of her own - a tiny glamour to turn her hair temporarily blonde - which had Kennedy in a fit of giggles. She told herself it was relieved reaction.

>> It was amusing thinking of how that scene in 'New Moon Rising' would have looked from Willow's perspective, and how she'd remember it later. I also suspect this isn't the first time she's done a Buffy impersonation, especially if she has a spell ready to hand to make her into a blonde. (That wasa late additon to the fic.) We know from her "Sweet girl. Not too bright." comment that Willow isn't above making fun of her best friend in private. Heck, she makes fun of her to her face often enough: Willow and Buffy teasing each other is one of my favourite things about them.

"And this was while you were at UCS, right? After you'd already gotten together with Tara?" As usual, a brief shadow flitted across Willow's face as she heard that name, but Kennedy was pleased to see it didn't dim her smile for more than an instant before she nodded agreement. Kennedy was determined not to let the ghosts of the past haunt their relationship. Any of the ghosts.

>> As I said in the comments to the original fic, I think this is classic Kennedy. She's not going to pussyfoot around by Not Saying Tara's Name or anything like that. Though of course if it did really hurt Willow to hear her mentioned, Kennedy would be considerate of that: but I think Willow herself is quietly grateful to Kennedy for not making a big issue of her tragic-ending previous relationship. She's moved on; Tara will always have a place in her heart but she now has her whole life ahead of her.

>> UCS = University of California at Sunnydale. I assume Willow and Kennedy have talked about their respective pasts often enough that Kennedy will know that Willow's friends found out she was gay after she got together with Tara, but she won't necessarily have all the details.
"So in all the years she'd known you before that, Buffy never once put two and two together?"

"Well, be fair. I wasn't really sure myself for a lot of the time, or I thought maybe it was a phase I'd grow out of, or that I'd like boys more if I really pushed myself.

>> Ah, the age-old question of what Willow's sexuality was like back in Seasons 1  - 3 and earlier, given that making her a lesbian later was pretty much a retcon. I've gone backwards and forwards on whether she was in complete denial and repression, or whether, as described here, she always knew but didn't want it to be true and kept on hoping that if she tried hard enough, it wouldn't be.

A lot of the books in Mom's library talked about that kind of thing." Willow grimaced. "I sent her a more up-to-date bibliography, after I came out. She said thank you, but I don't know if she read through it."

>> The idea that Willow's relationship with her mother now consists of sending her a reading list of books on sexuality seems both funny and tragic to me. My assumption is that Willow's mother is an academic of some kind, but not specialising in this field, and so she bought a bunch of books on the subject of adolescent development and sexuality many, many years ago, just for reference and 'in case', and she's never replaced them. Young Willow would, of course, have devoured every book on her parents' shelves at an early age.

Kennedy expressed sympathy, but her concern right now was Buffy, not Willow's parents. She brought the conversation back on track.

"Well, there was this one time I kinda dropped a hint. To see how she'd react, you know?"

>> "That's me as a vampire? I'm so evil and skanky and... I think i'm kinda gay!" Acknowledgements here go to [info]gabrielleabelle  for first suggesting to me that Willow's whispered aside to Buffy might have been not so much an expression of worry, as a test to see how she would react to the idea that Willow might be gay.


"And she completely rejected the whole idea. She reassured me as much as she could that I totally couldn't be gay, that I had nothing to 'worry' about."

>> Actually, she comforted her friend by telling her what she thought Willow wanted to hear. Misunderstandings all round.

"Oh, great. Classic."

"That's what I thought. That's why I didn't mention it again, until the whole thing with Oz and Tara blew up and I couldn't hide it anymore. B-but don't get me wrong, Buffy's been great about it ever since."

"Yeah, but she knows you. You're her high school best friend, and you get special friend allowances."

>> Buffy always struck me as someone who likes to think of themselves as liberal and open-minded and accepting, but until Season 4, it had all been very abstract. She lived in a nice privileged cocoon (just ask Faith)... until suddenly she discovered that her own best friend was a lesbian, and it completely threw her because now it was real. But after she'd come to terms with the idea and had time to get used to it, it turned out that she really is liberal and open-minded and accepting. After their big friendship-rekindling hug in 'Primeval', I don't think Buffy ever showed the slightest sign of being uncomfortable with Willow or her sexuality, nor with Tara or Kennedy either. But Kennedy wasn't there to see most of that, and her interpretation here would be perfectly valid if the underlying assumption wasn't false: even if Buffy were a raging homophobe, she might still make an exception for her best friend (because Willow  "isn't like all those other ~gay people~").

"N-no, I don't think it's just that. She's--"

Willow looked unconvinced, but Kennedy - her heart still singing inside of her - hurried to reassure her. She wasn't attacking Buffy, she liked Buffy herself, Buffy had plenty of good qualities. Buffy... Kennedy had one last moment of doubt.

>> Willow is sensing that Kennedy has got the wrong idea about Buffy, and she's trying to correct her - but Kennedy doesn't want to listen. It's much too important for her that Buffy should be anti-gay; it means she's not a rival. Kennedy is probably dismissing Willow's attempt to defend Buffy as being because Buffy's her friend, so she doesn't want to think badly of her.

"You don't suppose she's repressing, do you? That's she's gay herself, but in denial?"

>> Of course that's the other problem; that many of the most homophobic people are really repressing their own sexuality. Kennedy needs to account for that. Also, note that here at the end of the conversation she's coming straight out with the question she really wanted to ask right at the beginning - is Buffy gay? - but that would have been much too blatant.

"Buffy?!" Willow burst out in incredulous laughter, her face a picture. "Buffy, the straightest person in Straightville, Arizona?

>> Do Americans say "--ville, Arizona" as an expression? I just assumed so, given that Arizona is in the US... Of course, the real irony here is that as Willow and Kennedy are talking, Buffy is quite possibly flirting with Satsu... but Willow has her own reasons for thinking Buffy is straighter than she really is:

Have you any idea how many hours I spent listening to her drooling over Angel, or describing Riley's muscular forearms to me in exquisite detail? Heck, I'm pretty sure Faith carried a torch for her at one time, but Buffy was completely oblivious. And all the time those two spent together, you'd think she'd have noticed, but nope.

>> And that's it: Willow has had a ringside seat for most of Buffy's love life, and I'm sure they engaged in lots of giggly girltalk about Buffy's boyfriends that was too risqué to be broadcast on the TV show. But Willow isn't around to see Buffy's developing relationship with Satsu; so she doesn't suspect that side of her until she literally drops into their bedroom in 'Wolves At The Gate'. You'll notice me slipping in my personal fanon description of the Buffy/Faith interaction there. :-) Given that Buffy is canonically bicurious, i'm not sure she was as completely oblivious to Faith's attraction to her as Willow thinks - but in Season 3, Buffy was still much too inhibited sexually to act on it, or even discuss it with anybody (or admit it to herself) .

Buffy likes The Cock."

>> That expression or variants of it seems to have been used a lot in fandom debates lately, so I thought I'd slip it in here. (fnar fnar). Though I do wonder, is there really only one, definitive Cock out there that people like? Whose is it? Or is it a Platonic ideal of a cock, casting a shadow inside its cave?

Kennedy grinned broadly. "I guess somebody has to. At least it keeps the population up."

>> And harmony is restored, because Kennedy is now secure about the fact that Buffy will not be making a play for her girlfriend any time soon.

"Not if all your boyfriends are vampires."

>> Willow has forgotten Riley here, of course, but she will later say that all her "truest loves" are vampires...

"Yeah, what is up with that?"

And so the rest of the meal passed in pleasant gossip and conversation, and when it was over Kennedy was still so happy that she volunteered to clear up and wash the dishes herself, leaving Willow free to teleport off to the castle in Scotland straight away. Willow promised to get back as soon as she could, with a sly grin and a wink that hinted there'd be something to look forward to when she did.

>> She's going to bring back a tin of Scottish shortbread with her? Or a haggis? Or maybe I've got the wrong idea here. ;-)

Kennedy watched her blink out of sight in a flare of magical energy with a light heart. Sure, she knew she ought to be angry at Buffy for her covert homophobia, but it wasn't like she was the only person in the world who felt that way, and she hid it better than most - and if it meant there was no chance Willow would be having a secret affair with her: well, Kennedy was prepared to forgive a great deal.

>> Again, Kennedy is a child of privilege. She doesn't care if people hate her, because her family has enough power and money to buy and sell their bigoted asses three times over. 

She whistled as she carried the first lot of dishes back into the kitchen. 

>> And so, of course, the stage is now set for 'Wolves At The Gate'...

Tags: buffy, commentary, fic, meta
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