Shadows on A Wall
His doorbell rang in the middle of the night. Not that he'd been asleep; he'd been a nightbird all his life, and especially since the destruction of Sunnydale, had developed a timid, but recurring insomnia that blossomed to its fullest eac time that a date which to him held a special meaning came up. This time, it was his birthday, and the day regularly reminded him of what he hadn't been able to achieve in his life, of what he had lost, of how his dedication to Slayer matters, well, to Buffy's matters, had kept him from living the life he had wished for. Not that he hadn't wanted that. He had made his choice consciously - to stay on even when he wasn't needed anymore. It had been a matter of more than responsibility.
Now, in Cleveland, they had gone separate ways. Well, not entirely. Both (and the others) lived there because of the occasional demonic activity, due to the rather small Hellmouts located underneath the city. But since there wasn't much required to do - at least, not at the time being - everyone had gone to find a job, except Dawn, who, with the last bit of Giles' savings, had been sent to college. Xander and Giles were the only ones who were able to support themselves with one job only; Giles had gone back to working as a librarian and couldn't deny that he did, in fact, enjoy it. He had been in dire need of some peace, and for that, his occupation was perfect. Buffy juggled with three jobs, working as a secretary in a law firm, mainly, but also taking the night shift at two different bars to be able to save at least a little money. Today, she had come to Giles directly from there.
His surprise was obvious when he opened the door. He didn't question her visit (he never did); he probably thought that she'd forgotten his birthday, of which she had been in the habit of doing at Sunnydale. As the same thought occurred to her, Buffy walked in with even more determination than with which she had come. Exactly as she had expected him to, and as she had come to love it, Giles instantly disappeared to the kitchen to put on the kettle. Smiling at how he was still as she had remembered him from good times, Buffy sat down on the sofa. From the kitchen, Giles politely asked her how she was, and they engaged in a bit of small talk, followed by a mostly silent cup of tea in the living room. When they were finished, Buffy got up and swept to the kitchen, only to return with two wine glasses, met by an inquisitive look from Giles.
"Well, don't pretend there's nothing to celebrate today! Cause that's why I stopped by, Watcher-mine." She smiled conspiratively, and, disarmed, he returned her smile. Buffy rummaged in her large handbag and presented a small bottle of champagne. "I talked my boss into giving it to me. Actually, I said it was your birthday, and that it was really important."
Giles popped the bottle open very professionally and filled their glasses.
"I'm impressed. Thank you, Buffy." They cheered, and she shot him a smile that would probably have blinded every other mortal. Or so he thought.
After a few sips, he dared to ask her, "Whose birthday did you say it was? Your father's? Your uncle's?" He had tried to make it sound very casual, but she heard something in his voice which she identified as hope, and to her surprise, the fact relieved her, considering the reason why she had come. "Neither, but what I said is a secret," she answered, masquerading her insecurity with a - hopefully - mysterious smile. Putting down her empty glass, she stood, and he found himself expecting her to go. But she put her hands to her hips and commanded,
"I've actually brought you a present. I'll need you to sit somewhere else though." She picked up a very large pillow from the couch and put it on the floor, a little more than halfway to a pretty empty wall on the other side of the room. "W-What are you up to, Buffy?," he asked, confused, and unable to make sense of her visit at all yet. Of course, he was well aware of what his heart was screaming, but just swallowed instead and decided that it was just another irrational thing that Buffy would do from time to time. She made a very inviting gesture and told him to sit on the pillow, facing away from her. Curious, Giles did as he was told. Behind him, Buffy turned off all the lights, then rummaged in her bag again, producing a large and strong lamp with which she lit the empty wall. "I've taken a few classes, you know, with Dawn away and everything, and I figured I needed some kind of sports, too, hope you like it," she rambled. Giles sat, facing his own shadow; from the sound of it, he could tell that she was going through his records, eventually settling for a collection of Ravel's orchestral works. He was beyond surprised, but made no sound.
Finally, she stepped in front of the lamp, her shadow projected next to Giles' from behind him. From her silhouette, he could tell she had gotten rid of her jacket. After a moment in which he heard her take a deep breath, she started dancing behind him, her every movement mirrored on the white wall in front of him. He was captured by her elegance; he had seen her train and fight so many times, and admired her natural grace, but this was different. Often enough, he had imagined her as a professional ice skater or ballet dancer, one of which he was sure she'd have become, hadn't it been for her calling. As his eyes followed her projection, he decided that even in his imagination, he hadn't been prepared for such beauty.
Her heart beating in her throat, Buffy kept telling herself that it was too late to retreat, and put everything she had in her dancing instead. It was a kind of modern ballet, the kind that contained very classical, as well as very expressionist movements; in short, a style which seemed more than apt for shadow theatre. Buffy had seen such a performance once, when still living in Los Angeles; her mother had taken her there for her birthday, and she had been enchanted. Now, swirling on the wooden floor behind her Watcher, she lost herself in the figures after a while, focused only on her movements. She wasn't aware of the effect her dancing had on Giles; he sat in silence, his eyes always on the beautiful, almost bird-like silhouette in front of him, her movements conveying, to him, more emotions than she had ever been able to show him through words. To Giles, it was almost as if she had opened a window inside herself for him to see, as if she were telling a story that had been buried deep inside her, or rather, considering their current relationship, between them.
After minutes and minutes of dancing which, to both, seemed like hours, Buffy started including Giles' shadow into her performance. His silhouette was projected onto the white wall, too, after all, and without touching her Watcher, she danced behind him as if it were with him. Soon, her figures became a sort of pas-de-deux, her performance something which his heart longed to interprete as a silent question, a question that maybe could be understood as a timid offer. The record slowly came to an end, and on the last note, she froze into a pose which, projected to the wall, united her shadow with his, making it look like a loving embrace, even though in reality, she was kneeling farther behind him.
The sound of the needle being moved back to its initial position and the record coming to a halt broke the silence, but not the tension between them. Giles didn't know what to do, what to think. The intensity of her performance had brought tears to his eyes, and the sheer beauty of her movements had planted a familiar, but formerly better hidden longing into his chest, a feeling which he had - unconsciously, for the most part - suppressed for several years. It wasn't purely carnal desire - although, if he was being honest with himself, there was that, too - but rather an ache in his chest, a feeling of pain that could only be cured by holding her in his arms, by a loving gesture from her, by the knowledge that she felt the same. But alas, he told himself, those were childish hopes. Still touched by her dancing, he quickly rubbed his eyes with two fingers, briefly touching his glasses in the process.
The moment of tension was over; Buffy had sensed it, too, and suddenly felt very embarrassed by her actions. What had she been thinking: that he was going to jump at her and declare his never-ending love? He probably didn't even have that kind of feelings for her; only recently had she discovered her love for him, and didn't seem it probable that he should return it, not after all that had happened. To him, she was possibly still a child, anyway. With a sigh, unable to hide her sudden frustration with herself, she stood and walked back to lamp to switch it off. Giles didn't move, but before she could turn on the living room light again, said, hoarsely, "Come sit next to me."
She swallowed, but walked over to him and, in the dark, sat on the floor. As she pulled up her legs, their knees touched for a split-second, making her hold her breath for a moment. Her nervosity would have shown, had the lights been switched on; she was trembling slightly. Unable to clearly make out her form, he took a wild guess and put a hand onto her shoulder. She shivered briefly at his touch, but relaxed when she heard the familiar sound of Giles taking off his glasses with his left. Secretly, she smiled. "Thank you, Buffy," he said, and his voice sounded oddly different; there was gratitude in it, but something else, something unknown, too, and it struck her to the core. "This was undoubtedly the most ... beautiful birthday present anyone ever gave to me." She raised her own hand to cover his fingers with hers. "You're welcome," she whispered.
Suddenly, in the brief moment which passed between them in silence, the ticking of Giles' living room clock became all too audible, and Buffy observed that it was much slower than her agitated heartbeat. Finally, he spoke; Buffy remembered that she thought that somehow, mysteriously, the dark made saying things one was insecure about much easier.
"Buffy, you have to t-tell me at once if I'm wrong." She nodded, then smiled crookedly at her own stupidity: why would he be able to see that?
His voice became raspy, and she could tell that his heartbeat was competing with hers. "This ... your dance. I ... I feel that you wouldn't have done it if you d-didn't ... If there wasn't a p-particular reason for it."
Silently, she hoped he was about to say what she felt; when he didn't, she answered in a way she hoped would provoke him to put it into words.
"Your birthday ...?"
She could practically hear him stiffen. "Well, t-that, yes." Did he sound annoyed? Or was it ... sadness? She felt him withdraw his hand from her shoulder and quickly grabbed it, surprising him audibly as he drew in a sharp breath. Very slowly, she raised his fingers to her lips to place a tiny kiss upon his palm.
His voice was shaky. "Or is there ... s-something else?" There was so much hope in his voice that she almost started to cry with joy, for his insecurity meant that he felt the same way about her as she did for him. He felt her smile against his palm and started trembling; slowly, he turned to face her in the dark. Suddenly, her soft hand pulled him towards her, and less then a moment later, her soft lips brushed his. The gentle sensation sent waves of joy, but also burning desire through his entire body. "Buffy-," he whispered. "Are you ... very sure?" He could almost hear her smile. "Yes," she replied with so much warmth in her voice that he thought his chest would burst, "I love you, Giles." Her heartfelt words ignited him; all his dreams suddenly come true, he pressed her to him, covering her in passionate kisses, exploring every inch of her bare skin with his lips, receiving loving, but demanding caresses in return. As their lips came together again, she pulled him flush against her, her hips mirroring his desire. Just before their bodies, naked and vulnerable, finally united, he whispered in her ear the words which he had been waiting to speak for such a long time.