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“The Dundie award for "Longest Engagement" goes to Tara Maclay. Tara, everybody! Whoooo! When is that girl gonna get married? That's what I have to say. Ah, Roy's accepting. Yes. Thank you, Roy. Are there any words you'd like to say, on Tara’s behalf?”

“Ah, w-we'll see you next year.”

“Yeah, oh, hope not! Oh God!”


 

2000

Faith hates Michael Scott.

“You could be a little subtler about it,” says Ms. Calendar, and takes one of Faith’s chips, dipping it in Buffy’s salsa. Both girls give her an indignant look, which she smoothly ignores. “You’ve been staring daggers at him for the whole evening.”

“He should shut up about Tara, that’s all,” says Faith. “What kind of joke is it, making fun of T? He does it every year. It’s not even funny.

“Ah, yes, Michael,” says Giles. “Renowned for his sparkling wit.”

Buffy tries to muffle a laugh with her napkin.

Still,” says Faith. “Why can’t he just leave her alone?” Buffy gives Faith this very quietly thoughtful look that makes Faith feel a little uncomfortable, and she hastily tacks on, “Like, it’s so not cool that he always gives Buffy the Hottest in the Office award.”

I’d give Buffy the Hottest in the Office award,” teases Willow.

“You’re just saying that because Fred transferred to Utica,” Buffy shoots back playfully. Willow turns pink.

“I’d give Rupert the Hottest in the Office award,” says Ms. Calendar casually without looking at Giles. Giles chokes on his water.

Please stop,” says Buffy. “Willow and I did not bring you here to hit on my coworkers. And definitely not Giles.”

“Should I be hitting on someone else at this table?” inquires Ms. Calendar.

“I’m spoken for,” says Faith.

Are you?” says Buffy with interest.

Faith feels her gaze dart toward a tired, sad-looking Tara, and her heart twists a little. “In a way,” she says finally.

Ms. Calendar and Willow exchange a glance. Then Ms. Calendar says, “Must be tough for Tara, huh? To have to go through this every year.”

“You think someone should talk to Michael?” Buffy inquires.

“Wouldn’t do all that much good,” says Giles. “He’s rather set in his ways.”

Buffy snorts.

“What?”

“Nothing,” says Buffy unconvincingly.

What?

“You are so not the person to talk about being set in your ways, G,” says Faith. “Didn’t it take you, like, five years to tolerate the idea of computers?”

Really,” says Ms. Calendar in a very different tone of voice.

“Is something the matter?” says Giles a bit apprehensively.

Willow looks like she’s trying not to laugh. “Ms. Calendar taught computer science at Buffy’s and my high school,” she explains. “Huge fan of computers.”

Faith loses interest in the banter at the table, focusing in instead on Tara and Roy. Tara always sits with Roy and the warehouse crew, but Faith’s caught her looking sadly over at them a few times tonight. She’s wearing her hair tied back from her face, Roy’s jacket draped over her shoulders. Roy’s telling a story to the rest of the table, and Tara looks small and forgotten among the guys.

Faith hates Michael Scott for making jokes out of things like that. He shouldn’t get to make jokes out of people who are lonely and sad and don’t get treated right by their shitty fiancés who don’t get the treasure they’ve been given. Faith hates Roy for making Tara look so sad.

Faith hates a lot of things.

Longest engagement!” Michael crows again. Faith digs her fingernails into her palms.


 

2001

Ms. Calendar shows up for the Dundies again, and this time she hasn’t been invited by Buffy and Willow. She makes up some lame-ass excuse about “being in the neighborhood,” but she doesn’t sit down next to Willow like last year—she sits down next to Giles, who smiles shyly. Faith’s pretty sure they’re holding hands under the table, which is a pretty smooth move on Ms. C’s part.

“So,” she says. “How long have you two been a thing?”

Giles turns bright red, but Faith notes that he doesn’t let go of Ms. Calendar’s hand. “Um,” he says. “We—if—you—” He looks helplessly over at Ms. Calendar.

“A few weeks,” says Ms. Calendar.

“Are we a thing?” says Giles with a mixture of surprise and delight.

“Wow,” says Buffy. “Even I’m better at relationships than you, Giles. That’s an achievement worthy of a Dundie.”

Ms. Calendar kisses Giles on the cheek. Giles smiles and brings their joined hands up above the table. Faith feels a strange jealousy at that and tries to smile, because Ms. Calendar is her friend and she should be happy that Ms. Calendar’s able to figure shit out and finally get to be with the guy she’s liked for a long time. Not jealous. Ms. Calendar’s friendly, and funny, and doesn’t get hung up on engaged girls with a surprising amount of playful sweetness, and—

“H-hi.”

Faith looks up. Tara gives her a shy smile, soft eyes warm and hopeful, and she’s pretty sure her brain falls out of her head. “Uh,” she says intelligently. “Are—what?”

“Um,” Tara scuffs her feet, “r-remember when we sat together at lunch a few weeks ago? It was—nice, and R-Roy had to go home to get something, so I was wondering if I could—sit here. With you. Just for now.”

Faith wonders how in the world Tara can expect her to say no to something like that. “Yeah, sure,” she says.

“There aren’t enough chairs,” Willow observes a little hesitantly.

Faith stands up. “Take mine,” she says.

“Oh—” Tara falters. “Really, Faith, y-you—I don’t want to take your spot, I mean, if you don’t have room, that’s—”

“Take mine,” Faith repeats, and gives Tara a gentle smile. It feels weird on her face. She’s more good at the aggressive shit. But it seems to work, because Tara gives her a heart-meltingly sweet smile back and sits down between Buffy and Willow.

Oh,” says Ms. Calendar suddenly, eyes darting between Faith and Tara.

“What?” says Giles.

Faith feels her heart catch in her chest.

“Nothing,” says Ms. Calendar with feigned nonchalance and looks very meaningfully at Faith. Faith gives Ms. Calendar a cool, unbothered look in return.

“Oh, I should go get my food,” says Tara suddenly.

“I’ll get it for you,” says Faith, placing a hand on Tara’s shoulder. Girls do that kind of stuff with girls all the time, don’t they? Casual, platonic touching. Totally cool.

But Tara smiles in a bright, eye-crinkling way that Faith hasn’t seen before, and suddenly Faith feels impulsive and reckless and ready to kiss Tara if it would get her that smile again. She’s never seen Tara smile at Roy like that, not once, and she’s been here just a little bit longer than Tara’s been engaged, so—

Faith suddenly realizes that her hand’s been on Tara’s shoulder for a lot longer than it needs to be, and she’s just been looking into Tara’s eyes instead of actually going to go get the food.

“Shit,” says Faith, then winces. Tara doesn’t seem like the type to appreciate swearing. “Uh. Fuck. Shit.” Great job, Faith. “Let me just—go get your food.”

“Okay,” says Tara. She hasn’t stopped smiling. Abruptly, she seems to realize this, and looks down, her hair falling to hide her face. But Faith can still see the smile, as though Tara can’t quite suppress it as well as she’s trying to.

Faith heads over to the warehouse guys’ table, picking up Tara’s barely-touched plate and unopened beer. Just as she’s about to leave, Roy says, “Hey, that’s my girlfriend’s.”

Faith blinks. “Oh,” she says, trying to keep her voice polite and civil. “Tara said—you went home to get something.”

“Yeah, well,” Roy smiles. Somehow the fact that he doesn’t hate Faith’s guts makes her hate him even more. “Found it in the car.” He glances over. “Tara sitting over there?” he says.

Tara looks up. The smile on her face—changes, into something resigned and practiced and not really a smile at all. “Roy,” she says, her voice sweet and tranquil. There’s a tiredness in her eyes. Faith wants to kiss it away. “Is it okay if I sit here?”

“Sure,” Roy agrees gamely. Faith’s about to smile when he adds, “I’ll sit with you.” He takes the food from Faith, striding across the diner and placing it in front of Tara before turning to Ms. Calendar. “Hey, you mind if I—”

Ms. Calendar gives him a deadly stare and scoots her chair away from Roy, all but knocking into Giles. Giles, who doesn’t seem to have caught on to the nuances of the situation (and, judging by the looks on Buffy’s and Willow’s faces, is the only one at the table who hasn’t), looks pleased by the close proximity this provides him to Ms. Calendar.

“Y-you can have my chair,” says Tara nervously, getting up from Faith’s spot.

No, he can’t, Faith almost says, but bites it down. Tara isn’t going to like Faith as much as she does right now if she knows how much hate there is in her.

“No, he can’t,” says Buffy a little testily. “Tara was sitting there.”

“Oh, it’s fine,” says Tara with a nervous laugh in her voice.

“Faith and I can get another chair,” says Ms. Calendar suddenly.

“Uh—” says Faith, who’s torn between looking good in front of Tara and avoiding the conversation she’s pretty sure Ms. Calendar wants to start.

“Oh,” says Giles with disappointment.

“You sure?” says Willow.

Yes,” says Ms. Calendar, and lets go of Giles’s hand. “Sit tight, Roy. Metaphorically speaking.”

She gets up, directing a very teacherly look at Faith. Faith follows reluctantly. They walk a few paces until they reach the buffet table, at which point Ms. Calendar catches Faith’s arm. “I think you need to be honest with someone about this,” she says quietly.

“Fuck off,” says Faith. After five minutes suppressing the urge to punch Roy in his smug, dopey face, it feels really good to get to say that to someone.

Ms. Calendar sighs. “Look,” she says. “I spent forever mooning over Rupert—”

“Giles isn’t an engaged girl,” says Faith in a fierce whisper. “You so can’t compare—”

Ms. Calendar raises an eyebrow.

“Oh,” says Faith, not sure if she’s pissed off or impressed. “Clever.”

Ms. Calendar shrugs. “I haven’t been in your situation,” she says. “I’m not going to pretend that I have. But Tara—” She looks down, breathes out, then looks back up again. “I’m sorry,” she says finally.

Faith shrugs. She feels a little better and a little worse at the same time. “It sucks,” she says. “And I don’t think I’m gonna get over her any time soon.”

“I can see why you wouldn’t.” Ms. Calendar gives Faith a small smile. “She’s a wonderful girl,” she says. “I’ve heard nothing but good about her.”

“Yeah,” says Faith heavily.


 

2004

“Hey.” Willow catches Faith’s arm.

Faith turns. “What?”

“Um—” Willow hesitates. “I’m sorry Michael kicked you out,” she says.

Faith shrugs. “It’s an old joke,” she says. “It’s stupid. I think it’s worth getting kicked out over if it means maybe he’s not gonna make fun of Tara in front of everyone anymore.”

“You know it’s not going to change anything,” says Willow, “so why do you do it?”

Faith almost can’t look at Willow. “It’s not like I can stop,” she says finally.

Fucking unbelievable,” Faith hears Buffy saying as she exits Chili’s, and then she’s outside the restaurant with them, shivering in her light jacket. Giles follows, looking ruffled and angry. “When is he going to get over himself?”

“Michael?” says Willow.

“Roy,” says Giles darkly.

This is a plot twist. Faith looks over at Giles in surprise. “What happened?”

“Roy started badmouthing you a few minutes after you yelled at Michael and left,” says Buffy thinly. “All ‘oh, it’s just a stupid joke, why do some people get so bitchy about things like that?’ And then Tara got all sad and wouldn’t say anything and Roy was too busy talking smack about you to care.”

“He was just trying to suck up to Michael,” says Willow, crossing her arms. “He’s been on thin ice for a few weeks now anyway.”

Why is our boss a giant man-child?” Buffy demands. “Why can’t Giles be our boss?”

“Is Tara okay?” Faith asks suddenly. She’d been too angry to think about Tara when she yelled at Michael, which suddenly makes her feel awful and twisted inside. That’s the kind of shit Roy would pull.

Giles, who Faith is starting to think might have been briefed by Ms. Calendar at some point over the last year, says gently, “I’m sure she doesn’t think any less of you for this, Faith.”

“She should,” says Faith. It’s more for herself than anyone else.

She wonders if maybe this is what Roy’s like. Lots of love for Tara, awful ways of showing it. Maybe it’s lucky that Tara’s with Roy and not Faith, even if Tara isn’t happy with Roy, because Faith knows that she’d have already asked Tara out if she wasn’t engaged, and Tara would be too nice to turn her down. Maybe then Tara would be even sadder than she is now, and that makes Faith feel worse about everything.

Which is impressive, since her life’s already shit. The girl she’s in love with is going to get married to another guy (someday, probably), and Faith’s not even good at loving people the right way.

“Hey.” Buffy bumps her shoulder. “Once Ms. Calendar comes out, what do you say we hit up Poor Richard’s on our way home?”

“You guys are all leaving?” Faith says with surprise. “They didn’t kick you out.”

“Frankly,” says Giles, “I do not feel like this year’s Dundie atmosphere is as welcoming and friendly as it was the year before. And that says quite a lot.”

Ms. Calendar exits Chili’s, shutting the door with a loud bang, and strides over to Giles, grabbing the lapels of his jacket and pulling him into a deep kiss. Giles stumbles backward into a stop sign.

“See,” says Willow with amusement, “this is what engaged couples should look like.”

Ms. Calendar pulls away. “I am so grateful you’re not Roy,” she says. “When’s our wedding?”

“This July,” says Giles, who looks a bit dazed. Faith isn’t sure if it’s the kiss or the collision with the stop sign. “The date hasn’t changed.”

“Okay,” says Ms. Calendar, and kisses Giles again before turning to Faith. “You deserve so many medals for putting up with that crap,” she says apologetically.

“What happened?” Faith asks.

“I tried to defend you to Roy and Tara,” says Ms. Calendar. “Didn’t go over too well with Roy.” She smiles tentatively. “It did with Tara, though.”

Faith’s heart skips. She wishes it wouldn’t. Hopeless situations don’t merit moments of happiness like this, especially when Faith can never really be good enough for Tara anyway.

“We’re going to go to Poor Richard’s,” Willow’s saying to Ms. Calendar. “I think Buffy has to drive. I’m feeling a little tipsy, and you look kind of like you want to kill something.”

“It’s wearing off,” says Ms. Calendar. She glances over her shoulder. “You coming, Faith?”

“Yeah,” says Faith heavily.

She hates that this is her life. It feels like a perpetual wait for the finality of Tara’s wedding day, and she’s not even sure what the world’s going to be like for her after that. But there are parts of it that are good, in small, sunshiny ways, like Buffy (they slept together a few times. Nothing really serious—more friends-with-benefits stuff than anything—but Buffy’s an awesome chick) and Willow (honestly, Willow sometimes scares Faith a little) and Giles and Ms. Calendar (kind of like the parents Faith never had—not that now is the time to get into that). Faith just needs to figure out how to focus in on the good parts and let go of the bad.

“Hey!”

Faith turns. Tara sprints across the parking lot, winded and teary-eyed. “Tara,” she says softly.

“I—” Tara sniffles. “Th-that was really nice of you,” she says finally. “Really, Faith. I—told Roy I had to get something from my car, but—where are you guys going?”

“Poor Richard’s,” says Ms. Calendar with wide eyes.

“You can come!” Buffy adds helpfully.

Tara sniffles again. “I’d like that,” she says shyly, and shivers.

Giles hesitates, then takes off his jacket, offering it to Tara. “It’s chilly out,” he says. “You should—”

“Hey!” Roy storms up to them, looking angrier and drunker than usual. Tara flinches back. Faith catches this and feels a white-hot anger rise in her; it takes an impressive amount of strength to push it down. “You hitting on my girlfriend? That’s sick, man. You’re what, twice her age?”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” says Ms. Calendar loudly. “Is it against the law for him to offer her his jacket now?”

Roy takes a menacing step forward. So does Ms. Calendar. Giles’s eyes go very wide and he pulls Ms. Calendar behind him, fast. “No one is looking for a fight here,” he says, steel in his voice.

“I am,” says Ms. Calendar from behind Giles.

“I love you,” says Faith to Ms. Calendar, then turns her attention to Roy. “Heard you were talking shit about me,” she says.

“Jesus, Faith,” says Roy. “Why do you take things so seriously?” He steps forward and slings an arm around Tara’s shoulder, steering her back towards the restaurant. “You got what you wanted?” they hear him say as he leads her away.

“No,” says Tara, so softly that Faith isn’t sure if she’s heard it.

Jenny,” says Giles with a mixture of frustration and relief. “He’s twice your size.

“He’s a jerk,” says Ms. Calendar with conviction. “And he treats Tara like shit.”

Faith wishes she could be so unapologetic about hating Roy, without worrying about what Tara might think. She wishes she could hate Roy and then wind her arm around Tara’s waist. She wishes she and Tara could hate Roy together and then kiss.

“I’m sorry,” says Ms. Calendar hesitantly to Faith. “I shouldn’t have—”

“I get it,” says Faith. She really does. “He was being a dick to someone you love. You always have to step in if you can.”

Ms. Calendar looks at Faith with a quiet sympathy. Faith gets the sense that Ms. Calendar got everything that she was trying to say, and feels grateful and sad at the same time. “I guess you do,” she says.


2005

Tara’s getting pretty drunk.

Faith feels like she should step in and say something, but it’s really unnerving to see Tara like this, and besides which she’s pretty sure that Tara stayed behind instead of going with Roy to wherever it was Roy went off to, so she’s just all-around confused. She wants to go ask Ms. Calendar for advice, but Ms. Calendar and Giles ducked outside halfway through the awards.

The one year something’s up with Tara, and Ms. Calendar decides she wants to make out with her husband instead of help Faith.

Faith looks around. But Willow’s using this time to chat up Fred-from-Utica at the bar, and Buffy’s giggling and playing with her hair while a cute-looking girl talks to her, so it looks like this one’s up to her.

“Hey,” she says. “Tara. Hey. You okay?”

“I will be,” says Tara brightly. “Just need a little more of that sea breezy drink. The, the,” she waves a hand, “the greeny-blue one.”

Faith hesitates, glancing up at Michael. Now is so not the time for him to pull his usual Longest Engagement stunt. “Tara,” she says quietly. “What happened with you and Roy?”

Tara’s smile fades. “Why?” she asks.

“You’re my friend,” says Faith. Nearly six years of knowing Tara, and this still feels like more of an admission than she’s accustomed to. “If—something’s up with you and Roy, I want to be able to help.”

Tara shrugs. “He’s just—a lot sometimes,” she says finally. Then, “I still want that sea breezy drink.”

Ms. Calendar and Giles show up right then, and Faith feels an actual physical sensation of relief at the worry on Ms. Calendar’s face. “Tara, you okay?” she asks.

“Why is everyone so worried about me?” says Tara cheerfully, and snags the beer Ms. Calendar’s holding, taking a long sip. “I’m having a great night. Dundies, you know?”

“Pillock,” Giles mutters.

“What?” says Faith quietly.

“We saw Roy driving off,” says Ms. Calendar, sitting down next to Faith. “We kind of thought Tara was with him.”

“Guess she’s not,” says Faith. She wishes she had some beer to drink, but she’s pretty sure Tara drank hers.

“And this next award is going out to our own little Tara Maclay,” Michael’s voice blares through the restaurant.

Tara’s face sobers as she puts the beer bottle down. Faith doesn’t know if she’s ever hated Michael more.

“I think we all know what award Tara is going to be getting this year,” Michael continues dramatically.

“Does he ever get tired?” says Giles with angry exasperation.

“It is the "Whitest Sneakers" award!” Michael finishes.

Faith and Tara exchange disbelieving looks.

“I guess he did,” Ms. Calendar replies, smiling slightly.

“Because she always has the whitest tennis shoes on!” Michael shouts, “Get on down here! Tara Maclay, ladies and gentlemen!”

Tara jumps up. The exuberant smile on her face makes up for everything bad in the world, and Faith’s happy for a second before she remembers that a lot of that smile is because this is so much better to her than being teased about her engagement. Then Faith goes back to hating Michael.

She still keeps her eyes on the soft curve of Tara’s lips, though.

“I have so many people to thank for this award,” Tara announces, stutter-free. “Okay, first off, my Keds. Because I couldn't have done it without them.” She beams as the room applauds. “Thank you. Let's give Michael a round of applause for MC-ing tonight, because this is a lot harder than it looks.” She considers, then tacks on, “And also because of Wesley too. Um, so, finally, I want to thank God. Because God gave me this Dundie.”

Faith laughs out loud and has to cover her mouth. She loves this girl.

Tara smiles at Faith. “And I feel God in this Chili's tonight,” she concludes, then holds the Dundie over her head with a long, excited shriek.

“Tara Maclay, ladies and gentlemen,” Michael concludes. Tara hugs Michael, giving him a quick kiss on the cheek. “Oh! Thank you.”

Faith stands up, and Tara stumbles over, still smiling bright and happy. She’s sunshine, with that soft hair catching the light and those bright eyes sparkling and—


and.


Faith pulls away, Tara’s smile still dazed and happy like she didn’t just end Faith’s life with a kiss. This is it. This is all Faith gets. One drunken kiss that Michael’s going to make a joke about in half a second.

She turns to the stage, but no one seems to have noticed but Giles and Ms. Calendar, both of whom are staring at her with visible concern. Something ugly and angry is living inside Faith, something hurt, and she can’t.

She runs.


 

2005 (still)

“Hey.”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” says Faith without looking up. “Okay?”

Ms. Calendar sits down next to Faith on the steps of the back door and places a hand on Faith’s shoulder. “I’m sorry,” she says, and it’s in the same way Faith thinks that moms are supposed to sound. Not that Faith would know. But now isn’t the time to get into that.

“Doesn’t matter,” says Faith. “It’s stupid, getting hung up on some—” But she can’t. Come hell or high water, she won’t say a single bad thing about Tara. Enough people do that every day, and they barely know her—Faith loves Tara too much to do that to her, even if Tara’s too drunk to remember anything about tonight.

“It’s not,” says Ms. Calendar. “Okay? Never call it stupid. If you love her, you love her. It’s going to suck, and it’ll hurt, but never try and make yourself stop feeling something for someone when those feelings aren’t hurting anyone at all.”

“They hurt me,” says Faith, voice breaking.

Ms. Calendar isn’t the hugging type. Faith has never, ever been more grateful for that in this moment. “Yeah,” she says. “Feelings kinda suck like that.”

Faith sniffles. “I hate this,” she says. “I—I’m never going to be anything but that to her.”

“I don’t think that’s true,” says Ms. Calendar in a strange tone of voice.

“It is,” says Faith. “I get stuck mooning over an engaged straight girl that I wouldn’t be good enough for even if she was—

“I don’t think she’s straight,” says Ms. Calendar.

Faith looks up at Ms. Calendar. “Straight girls kiss gay girls all the time,” she says.

“You would know this how?” says Ms. Calendar with some amusement.

Ms. Calendar actually kind of has a point, in a weird way, which makes Faith laugh a little. “I—guess I don’t,” she says.

“Was it a good kiss?” says Ms. Calendar, and scoots a little closer to Faith.

Faith sighs. “Yeah,” she says in a small voice, “but I think it’s just ‘cause I love her.”


 

Faith doesn’t know how things are going to go. She doesn’t feel super confident about her ability to handle those things well. But she knows she’ll still try, even when everything’s impossible and everything she wants is out of reach, because what would she be if she just lay down and gave up?