Things had been going... strangely. Not bad strangely but strangely. There was an ease between us, a closeness like we shared in our final year of high school. But there was, strangely enough, also some tension.
I knew we had to talk. She knew we had to talk. We both knew that talk was a good.
But, not-so-strangely, we didn't talk.
After giving it some thought I came to the conclusion that what was needed was just a little something to get her over the threshold, so to speak. Something to not exactly break the ice but maybe melt it a little. Something, well, something alcoholic.
Hey, it worked in college.
The trick would be to get her just a little tipsy without over doing it. That would be bad. That would be the wrong thing to do.
Also, she falls asleep when she drinks too much.
The second trick would be to remain sober while letting her think I was just as tipsy. But hey, I got talents and abilities beyond normal people.
And I can be subtle.
I was watching Buffy set things up. My wine coolers, her vodka coolers, ice bucket, a foot high stack of DVD crystals and two 'everything but the furry-fish' pizzas. When the idea of a video slash pizza slash cooler party had come up we'd had a fair division of labour. I hooked up the rental DVD player and she got everything else.
You gotta take advantage of being a techno-geek whenever possible.
"Why do we still call them videos?" she asked as she put the DVDs into some kind of order.
"Same reason my folks call CDs LPs."
"Oh. And that would be."
I looked at her with great pity. "Because we're old."
"No way! Look at this: greasy pizza, coolers, movies filmed in colour. We're wearing jammies with cartoon figures and having a slumber party. This screams youth."
"I know. Now, what do you want to see first?" she asked, handing me a cooler.
"Something fun to start with."
"Thelma and Louise or Titanic?"
Titanic was, well, Titanic. They meet, he wears a tux, the boat sinks, he drowns. I was trying to figure out why this had appealed to me a decade ago and couldn't come up with a reason.
"It's not fair," she groused. "How come all guys look great in tuxes. Even Xander," there was a slight hitch in her voice and she seemed to zone out for a second. "Umm. even he did."
I chose not to press this. It was the first time she'd mentioned his name since I'd arrived and I wondered if I should credit her trust in me or the four coolers. So I simply nodded agreement and grabbed another slice.
"Okay," she said, somehow fanning three DVDs cases. "We have Bound, Better than Chocolate and Desert Hearts."
I blinked at her a few times and then went into my fake swami routine. "Buffy, I sense, I sense a theme." I opened my eyes and took my hand down from my forehead. "And you're missing Personal Best."
"It was already out. I mean rented. It was already rented," she said. "I thought..."
I raised an eyebrow and tried hard not to smirk. She sometimes does bring out the smirker in me. "You thought," I prompted, "that I'd enjoy them? Or you thought you'd show you were cool with the whole 'not-straight' thing?"
It was her turn to pause before answering. "Both, I guess."
I let the third option stay unspoken. She was looking pretty close to the wiggins and a freaked slumber party partner was not that appealing.
I selected the least explicit and popped it into the tray. "Another cooler?" I suggested.
"God, yes," she muttered.
"How do you know?"
I regarded her. She had been strangely silent throughout the movie. Well, since the rain scene. Although fairly discreet by today's standards it had been a bit more explicit than Buffy's comfort level judging by the blush and fidgeting for the last part of the movie.
"When its real?" I asked, wanting to clarify what she was actually asking and picking my second choice. "When its Christmas tree lights around the heart, when its twuu wuv? Say, did you get Princess Bride?"
"No, it was ou... rented. That's not what I meant. I'm a bit of an expert at recognizing falling in love. You know what I mean, evasion girl."
"I don't know. I suppose that 'you just know' isn't going to work as an explanation here?"
She shook her head and I pondered the matter for a few more seconds.
"Well," I said, "its pretty easy when your skanky, domatrix vampire self from an alternate universe spells it out by making a pass at you. I mean, you can do the denial thing but that's a fairly neon type of sign."
"Oh. I suppose not everyone gets that."
"Sure, some do. Well, not the alternate universe self part but the neon sign. Sometimes you just look at someone with new eyes, see them in a way you never did before. Or it suddenly occurs to you that you may have to choose and there really is no choice."
"It's not like a switch, Buffy," I said, grabbing another DVD and popping it in. I realized that I didn't want to be having this particular conversation with this particular person at this particular time.
That's my life. Bad timing.
"Do you blame yourself? For him dying?"
She started and a trainload of emotions crossed her face. She was silent a long time and I wondered if I'd pushed too far, too soon.
"Of course I do because it was my fault. He only went out there because of me. And I tried so hard to..."
I caught the guilty look directed at me. "Push him away like you did Giles and your mom and me? Like everyone else you cared for?"
"I figured," she said slowly, "that I had an oft mentioned sacred birthright but you guys didn't. And that maybe I'd be able to do it better if I wasn't worrying about you being safe."
"Did it work?"
She shook her head and used the grabbing of a pizza slice to try to hide the swipe across her eyes.
"Hey," I said, grabbing her shoulder and pulling her to face me. Just long enough to let her know I could see the tears without saying it. "I miss him too. I missed you both."
"You didn't come back then."
"I was scared."
She shrugged and smiled. "Just as well; I pretty antisocial at the time. Nearly got myself fired. Not that *that's* unusual in itself."
I'd come to the realization over the last few months that Buffy and the police force had some kind of unspoken agreement where they basically let her do what she wanted and she didn't scare them with the details of what it was that she did.
"You shouldn't blame yourself. You know you couldn't have stopped him from wanting to help. And if he couldn't help you he'd just have gone off and done it on his own."
She winced and things began to fall into place.
"He heard about a couple of leads and wanted to check them out with me but I told him to stay out of the way. So he tried to clear out one of the smaller ones. On his own. I should have..."
She shrugged helplessly before hitting the play button on the remote.
I looked at her. "You've never wondered?"
"Never," she stated firmly.
"Ever? Not even about Faith?"
"Like in hope and charity?"
"No way," she protested. "So very very very no way. No way in your wildest dreams and imagination is that even remotely..."
"Protesting too much, me thinketh."
"You're a sick, sick woman, Rosenberg."
"So I have been told," I said dryly, watching as Buffy got two new coolers. "Not ever? Not even all those times you two went out to do the Slay thing and got all hot and hungry and ho..."
I waited. I'm getting good at waiting.
"Your evil side is showing."
I waited a bit more.
"I didn't think so," she finally said. "I mean, and even if I did, which I really hasten to add, I didn't, it doesn't mean anything, right?"
Waiting works better than pushing.
"Wait a minute," she said abruptly, "did *you* ever think about Faith that way?"
Apparently turning the tables beats waiting. But sudden change of location works best.
"Out of popcorn! Be right back!"
"That was the stupidest movie I ever saw!"
I looked at her as if she were insane. "You're insane. Its a modern masterpiece."
"Its a load of crap. The only reason I watched it all was because you spoke so highly of it and I kept expecting it to get better."
"Thats it, Rosenburg. Were through."
I knew she was joking. We'd said it to each other a million times and each time wed smiled and laughed. Only this time there was no smile in her eyes. Only stark terror.
"No choice," she whispered as I stared at her in confusion.
She leaned close and I lost all track of time. I wondered abstractly how she'd gotten so close without me being aware of it. Something about her expression worried me. I tried to place it specifically and finally clued in. It was her 'I'm going to kiss you unless you flee in terror' expression. Riley use to get it a lot.
"You've been drinking," I protested. "Your inhibitions ..."
"My coolers were grape juice. I doctored them."
"You did?" This would make confessing the anti-inebriation spell a bit easier if it should come up.
"Yeap. And you have some spell running to keep you from being drunk."
"But you're just curious," I tried again. I'm not sure why I was trying so hard. Actually, I did know. Nobility sucks but I've had great teachers.
"No. I mean, yes but not the only reason. Not the main reason."
"And the main reason would be? I mean, there are lots of reasons to be doing what I think you're planning on doing but you know, I think its very important that this doesn't happen for the wrong ..."
"Twenty-nine," she said and then kissed me.
After a few seconds she drew back, staring at me with a half concerned, half bewildered look.
"Did I do that wrong?"
"I mean, I love you and...
"...I thought. Oh," she paused. "I've said that to you thirty times?"
"Twenty eight and two kisses," I answered. "You're sober?"
"As a judge. Actually, more than a judge. Especially Judge Wal..."
"And you're not doing this just 'cause you're curious or think you owe it to me for some stupid reason or some other Buffy theory that only makes sense to you?"
"I am insulted mildly and adamant strongly that you are not some experimentation."
I reached out slowly, hand slipping over her neck and my fingers tangling into her hair.
"You're sober and you initiated it but not out of simple curiosity," I repeated, confirming that all my mental conditions had been met.
"Yes. Don't you think you're obsessing on this just a mmmummph"
Three months of frustration, twelve years of half recognized and suppressed desire, an adult lifetime of feeling without being able to act went into that kiss. I could sense us moving until she was backed up against the couch, her hands resting lightly on my arms before tentatively moving to hold me. A dozen lines of bad fiction came and went through my mind; all of them true. I drew back a little to gauge a reaction.
"If you say sweet," I half growled at her, "I shall be forced to pummel you."
"What do we do now?"
"Now? We argue over whom gets the last piece of pizza and fall asleep over Interview with a Vampire, like we always do. That okay?"
She considered that for a bit and then nodded. "That
sounds great actually."
I watched her, sleeping on the couch beside me. There was no need to rush the rest. The details, the finicky bits, the million and one questions would work themselves out now. The subject of Xander still had some black holes to fill in and nothing between us had been resolved tonight. Far from it, something new had been added. Or brought into the light.
I didn't know if this was true love with Christmas lights around our hearts but it was comfort. And that's a good place to start.