StephenT (stormwreath) wrote,

(Commentary) From Ancient Grudge

I recently offered to do commentaries on any of my fics, and frogfarmasked me to do one for From Ancient Grudge. This was one of the first non-drabble fics I ever posted, and was also distinctive in being an all-dialogue fic. It was inspired by a discussion about how Willow and Faith felt about each other - and whether it would be at all realistic to pair them up together in fic, considering the way they apparently hated each other in canon. Of course, we all know there's a thin line between love and hate... and it's this dynamic that the fic explores.

The original fic is in normal text, my comments are in brown. The fic was rated 15 for swearing and implied violence, and is, of course, Willow/Faith. First, though, comes a digression on the genesis and background of the story.

Several years ago, I participated in a freeform online roleplaying game on the RPGnet forum. It started completely spontaneously, as for no apparent reason a group of regular posters started replying to threads in the voices of Buffyverse characters. Other people joined in the fun, adopting whichever persona was still untaken, and for about a week there was chaos. The conversation developed a life of its own as the different characters started interacting with each other. Eventually, though, most participants got tired of the game, and others complained that it was detracting from the Srs Bsns of the rest of the forum, and so posting to general threads in-character was Frowned Upon by the mods.

But some of the more dedicated fans - yes, including me, how did you guess? And would you be surprised to learn I was playing Willow?  - continued the roleplaying in a separate thread of its own. This went on for over a year, and developed enough storylines to make it practically a Virtual Season of its own before eventually winding down to a halt.

Because of the unplanned, spontaneous way the story began, the characters involved had no particular logic behind them: they were simply those personas which had been adopted by the people who carried on with the game after everyone else dropped out. Once we formalised the background and started telling actual stories with plots instead of just goofing around, one of the first challenges was therefore coming up with a reason why Willow, Faith, Harmony, Dawn and Wesley should be hanging out together... :-) We managed in the end; and Dawn stole one of Willow's spellbooks and gave Harmony a soul to stop her biting the other people, and Wesley decided to try and mentor her in her quest for redemption, and much fun was had with the idea of Harmony, of all people, as a Vampire With A Soul.

Meanwhile - and back on topic - the player controlling Faith was trying to get her to sleep with all the other characters. Most of the other players were perfectly happy to go along with this ambition, for some reason (*g*)... Dawn was reluctant until an episode with some cursed chocolate that temporarily changed her gender. I, on the other hand, thought that it wouldn't be at all in-character for Willow to jump into bed with Faith, and politely fended her off. Faith was persistent. Over the course of several weeks of play, and in between other storylines, it actually developed into some rather in-depth roleplaying. I decided Willow would be secretly flattered by the attention from Faith, and be exasperated and amused rather than offended by her constant flirting. The player controlling Faith, meanwhile, decided separately that Willow's repeated emphasis on the benefits of committed long-term relationships over casual sex would strike a chord deep in her heart, which she'd try to cover up with her usual brusqueness and isolationist-Slayer-crap.

The culmination of this was when Willow and Faith went on a mission together, and had - well, pretty much the same conversation they have in this fic here. I did recycle a small portion of the actual dialogue from the roleplaying, but most of the text is new... the sentiments and ideas expressed, however, are what we worked out for the two characters in the game.

From Ancient Grudge

>> The title is a quote from the opening scene of 'Romeo And Juliet', which is a play about two people who are supposed to be deadly enemies, but end up falling in love.

Right, we're through. I, uh, think...

>>The story starts in medias res. There is a whole plot going on here with an evil cult plotting to end the world, but I never explain it in much detail because it's not the focus of the story. It was fun filling in hints and little details about what's going on, though. Basically, Buffy needs information on the cult's plans before she can work out the best way to fight them, and she sends Willow along to spy on them because she can use magic to make herself invisible, and Faith is there as back-up in case there's fighting. We have to assume there's a good reason why none of the other Slayers were free to accompany Willow... and the ongoing nature of some of Willow and Faith's dialogue does imply that they're worked together before this.

Damn, Red, hell of a light show. You OK?

>>What do Faith and Kennedy have in common? They both call Willow 'Red', and I've paired them both up with Willow in fic. Here, Willow has just used magic to break through a sorcerous warding spell protecting the cultists' underground temple.

Apart from the blinding headache and the legs wanting to go in four different directions at once? Sure. Um, gimme a moment...

Don't take too long. We've got bad guys to find.

Uh, we're only supposed to check out what's going on, remember? Buffy said -

>> When I wrote this, I had problems working out how to transcribe the little breath-catchy noise Alyson often makes in conversation. I eventually settled on "uh", and it's what I've used ever since, but I'm not sure it exactly captures the sound.

Yeah, yeah, I got the lecture. "Strictly recon". Damn, does she think I'm gonna just dive in stakes blazin'?

Well, uh... yes?

Fuck that. It's this whole new thing I'm tryin', called "actually givin' a shit whether I live or die." B oughta see that, if she wasn't so wrapped up in her own damn -

>> My interpretation of why Faith was so reckless about diving into danger in Season 3.


>> Buffy is still Willow's best friend and she doesn't like hearing Faith criticising her. The implication here is that they've had this conversation once already, and Willow's throat-clearing is more to remind Faith of that. As we see, Faith is regretful; she's trying to be good now, and that includes attempting not to get angry at Buffy or give Willow a hard time.

Shit. Sorry. Dammit, you'd think I wouldn't let Blondie get to me that way, after all this time. Although, heh - she's not really blonde, you know. Carpet don't match the drapes.

>> For those of you who've led a sheltered life or are unfamiliar with English-language slang, that's a euphemism for Buffy's pubic hair ('carpet') not being the same colour as the hair on her head ('drapes'). Whether Buffy is a blonde in real life or if she bleaches her hair is something I've never been certain of, and I've gone both ways in my fic. Currently, my fanon is that she's a natural blonde but when I wrote this I thought she was a brunette. Also, Faith might be trying to be good now, but she's still pretty crude sometimes. :-)

What? How do you...?

Been inside her skin, remember? First hand personal knowledge. What, you thought I meant we'd done the naughty together? Heh. Although as a matter of fact, we...

>> That's a reference to 'Who Are You?' and Faith's in-depth inspection of Buffy's body in the bathroom after they swapped bodies. I deliberately leave unanswered the question of whether Buffy and Faith ever slept together. :-)

Shut up! I don't want to hear this, and I don't know why we're even having this discussion!

Yeah, like you've never thought about it. I've seen the way you look at her sometimes.

I do not! Buffy's my best friend. I don't think of her that way. I mean, sure, she's attractive, but I - just, no. Eww. It would be like sleeping with my sister.

>> I've always thought Willow had a huge crush on Buffy, at least when she was younger - but she's terrified of jeopardising their friendship by even letting herself consider any sexual aspects to it, let alone expressing them. I can't imagine them in a relationship together, but a surprising number of my fics involve them experimenting or being forced together by circumstances; they're probably the main non-canon couple I write about.

How'd you know? You don't have a sister. Anyway, don't knock it 'till you've tried it.

Look, can we just stop with all the really disturbing sex talk already? I think I'm ready to cast that glamour now, anyway. So stand still and don't move.

>> For all that she's timid and easily flustered, Willow can be very domineering when she feels confident of her ground.

Will, I -

Shhh! Stand there. Be quiet. And wait.
Animas tenebrarum, vos voco,
Advenite me et dictis meis parete,
Visus, sonitus, odoratus, gustatus, tactus,
hostes mihi celate nos, nunc et donec
potestatem vobis dabo ut abeatis!

>> "Spirits of the Shadows, I call upon you; come to me and obey my words; Sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, hide us from my enemies, now and until I grant you the power to depart!" Yes, I studied Latin for six years at school; who knew this is how it would come in handy? "I hereby grant thee licence to depart" is how a lot of Buffyverse spells seem to be ended by their casters.

That it? I can't see any difference.

You won't. But the bad guys won't be able to see us, or hear us, or anything, 'till I lift the spell. Well, unless they've got a Propinian Counterspell active, but I don't think they do. Pretty sure of it, anyway.

>> No, I don't know what a Propinian Counterspell is, but it sounded cool and I didn't want to make Willow's magic seem too overpowered and without weaknesses. The meta reason for her casting this spell, of course, is so that they can continue this conversation even as they're sneaking into the cult temple.

Yeah? What if you're wrong?

So you get that big fight after all. Don't tell me Big Bad Slayer's afraid of a few demons and cultists and things?

Hell with that. Just don't like surprises. Kinda bring back memories I don't wanna think about now. So come on, let's go.

>> If I remember rightly what I was thinking when I wrote that, the 'surprise' Faith is thinking about was the death of Alan Finch - "He came out of nowhere".

Sure. I think it's that way. Uh, Faith?


When you said "don't knock it" - you didn't mean that you really have slept with your own sister, did you? I mean...

>> Willow has too many thoughts.

What, you think I'm some kinda pervert?

Um, as I said before: "well, er, yes"...

Heh. Well set your mind at rest, Red, I haven't. Though I'm kinda curious to know why you're so interested in my sex life all of a sudden?

What? I'm not!

So why are you blushing?

>> The idea here is that actually yes, Willow is sexually fascinated by Faith just as much as she's repelled by her. It's quite similar to Buffy's feelings about Spike before Season 7, in other words. She knows Faith is a Bad Girl and she's a Good Girl, so of course she can't ever be attracted to her, even if on a superficial physical level she's acutely conscious that Faith is a smoking hot cleavagey slut-bomb.

I'm, uh,.... oh, look! That must be the main cult temple up ahead! (Thank Goddess!)

Damn, there's a lot of them. I'm actually really hoping your spell won't fail now...

>> Faith was blasée about going into the temple before, but now she sees how many of the cultists there are, she's suddenly a lot more cautious. Incidentally, I'm imagining this temple being built in a large underground cavern, with galleries carved into the solid rock, and a maze of passageways leading down into it that Faith and Willow are sneaking through.

Mmm. Me too. Look, there's a balcony up there. Maybe we can get closer that way, hear what they're saying.

Good plan. Hey, will this glamour hold if I actually bump into these guys?

Don't know. It should, but let's, uh, not risk it, OK?

Gotcha. Come on.
Mind that one... Try moving down there a little...

>> That sequence was there to add some tension and move the plot along. It was also the point where, in writing the fic, I began to think seriously about its structure. I'd started writing it as just dialogue without consciously planning that, and I did include a few sections of descriptive text around this point. But then I realised the fic didn't really need them, and with a bit of tweaking I could make it completely, 100% dialogue. However, in order to make it clear which character was speaking each line, I decided as a stylistic device to alternate their lines very strictly. Each paragraph would be spoken by one of the two women in turn. That meant that in order to connect the sections I'd already written, I had to insert a few extra connecting lines like "Mind that one" here or Faith's chuckle below, to keep the pattern alternating properly.

Damn! Did you hear that?

Faith, d'you mind not standing so close to me? Your - uh, part of your anatomy is pressing into my arm.

That's what you're calling it these days, huh?

What? It's my arm. I've always called it my arm. Now shift up.

*Heh heh*.

>> This is the one part of the dialogue I lifted straight out of the roleplaying I mentioned before, because the joke amused me. It also highlights how Willow is a lot less comfortable in her body than Faith is.

Oh boy. Giles was right. They really are planning to do it.
Shit. These guys are serious bad news. D'you believe what they're doing now?
Oh no. Please don't tell me they're gonna....

Eww. That is just all kinds of gross.

Just "gross"? It was horrible! That poor man...

>>Classic horror movie tactic here in fic form; show you the reaction of the onlookers rather than the actual horrible scene to let your own imagination paint in the details of what happened.

Hey, you rather they'd sacrificed some innocent virgin or somethin'? If big-ass demons feel like tearing their own worshippers into little tiny bits, it makes our life easier. Less killin' needed.

Yeah, but he was one of them, he trusted them, and then the way they just turned on him and pushed him into the pit... I'm gonna have nightmares for weeks. Those screams...

>> Willow is feeling guilty about her own dark phase here; the way she turned on her own friends and tried to kill them. Supporting your friends has always been one of Willow's core virtues; she's normally intensely loyal, and so I think she'd regard the way she treated Dawn, Buffy, Xander and Giles as her worst sin - far worse than killing Warren or, you know, trying to destroy the world.

Fuck it all to hell, Red, you're feeling sorry for the guy? He's evil! Was evil. He was one of them!

>> Faith never was one for much deep thinking. If you're a good guy, you kill the bad guys.

Exactly, and they killed him! And maybe you're all fine with that, but I'm not, and maybe I am projecting a little, 'cause I don't like betrayal but I hate it when friends turn on you, and sure, maybe that's not something you care about -

>> Willow's strong emotions are making her thoughtless, and she's remembering how back in Season 3 Faith betrayed Buffy, and assuming that betrayal is no big deal to Faith, because otherwise she'd be more upset now...

The hell is that supposed to mean?

>>... and of course that pisses Faith off tremendously. The idea is that they're both tense, afraid and under stress because of where they are; and they both get furious with each other; and so they start telling each other some home truths that under normal circumstances they might never reveal.

Well, it's not like you don't have the track history of -

Fuck you. You all gonna keep throwing that crap in my face forever? 'Sides, the way I hear it, you ain't exactly got much to boast about yourself. Hell, I killed a coupla guys, you almost blew up the world. But cute little Willow gets all forgiven, and I'm the one who's always gonna have to prove herself, and nobody's ever really gonna trust. 'Cause you've always looked down on me, all of you. It never changes.

>> Faith actually has a point here. The passive-aggressive way Buffy treated her in Season 7 was pretty inexcusable, especially compared to how quickly Willow was forgiven. Although Faith's insecurity and self-pity are feeding her own emotions...

We never change? You're the one still spouting self-pitying paranoia. "Poor me! Everybody hates me!" Ever wonder why, Faith?

>> ...As Willow points out now. It's disturbing how much fun it was to write these two people really tearing into each other and shredding the other's character and being as hurtful as they could. :-)

I know why. You all think you're better than me.

Fuck that. I know I don't swear much but just, FUCK that. We're better than you? You wanna know what I thought when I first got to know you? Really? All your stories about wrestling alligators in the nude, and wearing denim and leather, and dating boys (and girls too, probably) and dropping out of school and talking back to grown-ups and doing all the things I fantasised about but never dared to actually do...

>> I once wrote a whole meta on how, in my head, some Buffyverse characters swear for real while others only use fake swearwords like "heck" or "frikking". Willow is in the non-sweary camp, but she's so angry now that she breaks her own rule. Of course, being Willow, she's self-conscious about it even as she does it. Note that she's slightly misremembering; Faith fighting vampires in the nude and Faith wrestling alligators are two separate stories which Willow has conflated in her mind, possibly because she's so distracted by the idea of Naked Faith.

>> In this paragraph we're getting to the heart of how I think Willow might feel about Faith - at least in a Buffyverse where they end up together. Willow was very repressed as a teenager; she dreamed of being wild and rebellious and free, but was much too self-conscious and insecure and afraid of the consequences to act on her desires. (Magic eventually gave her that power, and look where she ended up with it in Season 6...) So back in Season 3, Faith was the living symbol of all Willow's suppressed fantasies of freedom. Everything she wanted to be but didn't dare. It's no wonder she was so jealous and resentful of her.

Shit, Will, you never -

Shut up! I'm ranting. Buffy and Xander were the only real close friends I had back in High School, and you came in and took them both away from me. And I couldn't really even hate you for it, 'cause you didn't do it to be mean or spiteful, you were just being you. Hell yes I resented you, but it was never 'cause I thought you were beneath me. It was the opposite.

> I love "Shut up! I'm ranting." Classic Willow. Notice that Faith is surprised; she always thought Willow regarded her with nothing but contempt, certainly not jealousy. So as Willow rants Faith is now radically re-assessing her views on their past history together...

Sure. Don't think I've forgotten what you called me. "Selfish, worthless waste," wasn't it? Yeah, I really felt the love there.

>> That's a quote from 'Choices' when Faith is holding Willow captive in the Mayor's office. Faith still isn't convinced by what she's learning about Willow's true feelings, she's testing them.

You'd hurt my friends by then. You'd hurt Buffy. She'd - we'd offered you a place with us, and you threw it back in our faces. You were all "take, take, take" and never give anything back. Friendships don't work that way. Heck, I don't work that way.

>> Like I said... the worst crime you can ever commit, in Willow's mind, is to betray your friends.

Yeah, well maybe I'd never had much chance to learn about this "friendship" crap, had I?

>> And Faith is no longer hostile or in denial; rather, she's getting defensive and making excuses for herself. She's almost there...

So maybe you should start. Now would be good. Or you can carry on with your edgy outsider, "I'm so alone" routine all your life. See if I care.

You? Care? Like you ever - oh fuck. Fuck! Look, I'm not wantin' to be best buds, and I'm certainly not lookin' for your pity. But I'm part of this now, and I ain't goin' nowhere. We're on the same side, an' perhaps we oughta start acting like it!

>> And this is the closest Faith is ever likely to get to an apology and an offer to be best friends forever. :-)

I am! I mean, I want to. I mean, I just, uh, *aarrgh*! Look, I'm sorry I snapped at you before, right? I was just kinda upset by that guy getting horribly tortured to death right in front of us. I'm funny that way. Friends again?

>> Willow is a bit better at apologies and friendship and stuff. More practice, you see.

Yeah, whatever.

>> And the sudden gushing display of emotion (relatively speaking) promptly makes Faith uneasy and wanting to back off again. She's uncomfortable with certain concepts, like "having friends".

Hey, don't knock it. Friends are good. World's a better place if you've got friends. Heck, the world wouldn't even be here if I didn't have friends...

>> Specifically, the world wouldn't be here if Xander wasn't Willow's friend, or if Giles hadn't been willing to sacrifice his life to give her the Coven's magic.

Yeah, alright already, I get it. I'm still not gonna do any of that hugging or bonding stuff, though. And you can paint your own damn toenails.

>> My favourite line of the fic. It's just so random that Faith would refuse to paint Willow's toenails.

What? I don't even - how do you even know about that sort of thing?

>> '"I don't even..." paint my toenails', that is.

Locked up for two years with a bunch of females, remember?

Faith, I've, uh, heard lots of stories about the stuff that goes on in women's prisons, and painting toenails never once featured in any of them.

Shows how much you know then, Miss Clever. Not a whole lot else to do when you're banged up in a cell together 24/7. 'Course, there were a few other things we did. Wanna hear about them?

>> I don't know whether prisoners in women's jails go in for toenail-painting or not, but the idea appealed to me. As for the "other things", I refer you to my fic "Stockton Gala Days" if you're interested. :-)


Heh. You're blushing again.

Look, maybe we could pay attention to this huge army of cultists all around us? The ones planning to start the Apocalypse? Our mission?

Hey, I thought banterin' in the face of danger was a fine Scooby tradition, yo? Just tryin' to fit into the gang here.

>> It really is.

Uh, thanks. Really, thank you. Look, I'm - I'm glad you're on our side.

Whatever, Will. We cool?

>> Aww. In the original roleplaying game the equivalent of this conversation was actually the moment where Faith and Willow got together as a couple, but for my fic I decided that was a little too ambitious. But now they've cleared the air, and a genuine friendship - or more - can grow between them.

>> I've talked mostly about Willow's complex feelings for Faith here, because I think that's the biggest barrier to any relationship between them. However, perhaps a word about Faith's side of the story is in order. Like I mentioned briefly above, I think Faith was working under the assumption that Willow felt contempt for her, based on their conversation in 'Choices' and Willow's "grenades" speech in 'Who Are You?' - although note that Faith-in-Buffy told Willow "I'd forgotten how much you hated Faith", but Willow's reply didn't dwell on that, but was just fiercely protective of Buffy. That, at the time, probably started Faith wondering why Buffy could inspire such loyalty when she couldn't. In this fic, Faith learns that Willow's feelings were a lot more complicated, and I think that does wonders for her fragile self-esteem. (Not that she'd admit that out loud; the thing about low self-esteem is that you feel uncomfortable telling other people about it, because they'd only look down on you more. *g*.)

>>Willow is the polar opposite of Faith in many ways; loving, values her friends, tends to over-think things rather than plunge straight into action, has high self-esteem but low self-confidence. That means that in a relationship between them, Willow can provide Faith with the stability and sense of belonging she craves, while Faith can push Willow into being more active and self-confident and push back when Willow needs someone to rein her in. (It's the same reason why I like Kennedy as a partner for Willow; she and Faith are very similar in a lot of ways. But this fic assumed that Kennedy had left the scene.) On the other hand, both Willow and Faith have a lot in common; they've both committed evil acts that they now want to repent for, and they're both afraid that they still have darkness left within them.

Yep. Uh...we're five by five.
So what does that mean, anyway?

>> That's kind of a running joke too. I'm sure if Willow really wanted to know she's perfectly capable of looking something up on Wikipedia.

Tags: buffy, commentary, faith, fic
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