The night was a luminous haze, blanketed by grey-black smog that hung thick in the air. City lights glistened in the soupy atmosphere, casting a ghostly glow. It was nothing like Sunnydale. Buffy realized it that been ages since she'd seen the sights of a major metropolis, and though Los Angeles was no more new than any other major city, it always seemed fresh to her. She took in its stale scent as the door to the balcony slid open behind her. With the crack of the seal came the boastful sounds of a celebration as it was liberated from inside the suite.
"What time is it?" Buffy asked her anticipated companion as the noise was trapped away again within its container.
"Closing in on midnight ," a polished British voice responded and Buffy smiled at her expectations being fulfilled. "Thought you might want some company, seeing as how a new year is only moments away. Five minutes, to be exact."
"Why is that?"
"It is somewhat of an annual tradition; the birth of a new calendar year, corresponding to the death of the older..."
"I meant, why did you think I wanted company, Giles?" She continued to stare out into the night sky as he stepped up along side her.
"Odds," he answered succinctly and leaned forward, resting his weight on the banister with his crossed arms. Buffy would only allow herself a fuzzy glimpse of him from the corner of her eye. "You've isolated yourself from all those around you since the victory at Sunnydale. I felt that a time of deep reflection might draw out your more sociable instincts." He looked over in hopeful anticipation of some response but when none was given, he pulled back. "Yes, well... I must have been mistaken. I apologize." He turned to leave.
Giles paused at the pitiful whisper that called him back and glanced over at Buffy's upset features. He slowly returned to her side, taking a similar position as before, offering up every bit of patience and understanding he could to coax out what was troubling her.
"I've been thinking..." Buffy's tone was burdensome and she kept her poignant stare fixed on the city landscape laid out before her.
"Awful habit, that..." Giles quipped, noticing how the light twinkled in her eye, making him wonder if she'd perhaps been crying.
"I've been thinking about you, about us," she amended and Giles jest quickly faded with the sober tone of her disclosure.
"I trust this is in reference to our future, our alteration of duty?"
"Sort of," she nodded.
Giles had expected it. The obligation of being the Chosen One had weighed much too heavy on Buffy over the years. It was only natural for her to take advantage of the moment and announce her retirement. Rumors of such a bombshell had overshadowed the reestablishment of the Council. And though it was a difficult prospect to face, he entirely supported her choice. But what pained him was that with her retirement came his own release from duty. Not to the Council, he could always find a place there. With Buffy's retirement would come his inevitable separation from her. Not that she'd needed him as of late. It was just that he'd grown contented with simply being there for her. Now, Buffy would no longer be wanting him and it hurt more deeply than he would ever admit, though he would never attempt to sway her choice by seeking pity from her. She shifted nervously in her spot and he could see the coming discussion would be a hard one for her so he settled in for the long haul, making himself comfortable beside her.
"Go on." He prompted gently, readying himself for heartbreak. It began.
"Things are different now," she started. "The world's changed. There are spankin' fresh Slayers just waiting for the newly rebuilt Watchers Council to sweep in and make something of them."
"Yes, I suppose so."
"What does that mean for me?"
"I'd think you could take some time off to determine your next course of action."
"It's been three months, Giles. What do you think I've been doing all this time?"
"Recuperating, as were all of the survivors."
"Yeah, I did a bit of that. But there was more to it."
"Buffy, as is the usual trend, I'm afraid I'm not quite following you."
Buffy turned to face him, noticing for the first time how different he appeared. Giles stood there, sharply dressed in a tailored black suit, miles away from the more traditional and casual loose cut she was familiar seeing him in. A solid, gray-green tie lay along his black satin shirt. Frameless eyeglasses sat gently on his nose, looking stylish yet practical and most importantly, not hiding a speck of the view of his extraordinary green eyes.
"I know it's been hard lately." Buffy continued on with her thoughts. "Who am I kidding... it's always been hard. But now... between us..."
Giles took in a deep breath, knowing where she was heading. "I've wondered when you would find the need to discuss this."
"The world changed, Giles."
"Yes... I believe you've covered that part." He bit back his sarcasm a bit too late.
"Yeah... sorry. What I mean is that with a few magical words from a gifted, red-headed witch and my world as I knew it changed forever. I've had to change with it."
"As have I." He nodded gently, wondering if she had the faintest idea what he'd gone through.
"We were friends once..."
'Once?' Giles thought as his heart sank with her choice of words and his eyes fell to his clenched hands. He hadn't realized how tight he was gripping the railing. He released his hold. "I'd hoped we still were." He mumbled regretfully.
"We've been through so much, seen so much. I don't see you the same way anymore. I don't think I ever can."
Another shot to the heart and Giles began to wonder if he'd overestimated just how prepared he was for the talk. "We've both done what we thought was best..."
"I know," she said somberly. "And now, I have to do it again."
Giles lowered his wounded gaze to his shoes for a brief second then straightened up, arms stiff to his sides, legs firm, standing almost at attention like the brave soldier he so desperately wanted to portray in his time of vulnerability.
"Do what you must." He said plainly, hiding any hint of the fury of emotion boiling just below the surface.
The sound of the raucous crowd interrupted the tense moment as the balcony door cracked open. Both Giles and Buffy looked over into the smiling face of Xander, who greeted them with a raised glass of champagne.
"Countdown's in full swing in here? You guys gonna join in on the festivities?" He examined his friend's faces and realized his timing was impeccable for making himself a genuine, grade A nuisance. "Sorry. Go on with... with... whatever. One minute and counting. Just though you'd want to know." With a regretful shrug, he slid the glass door closed and stepped back into the crowd of partygoers.
"God... we're running out of time, Giles," Buffy said excitedly, her face blushing a ruby pink.
"Time? Are you on a bloody schedule?" Giles couldn't mask his irritation. After eight years of suffering through hell together, if she was shutting him out of her life, the least she could do was be polite about it. Give the moment the tact and respect it deserved.
"You need to know," she demanded with a stern wave of her hand, trying to command herself into reaching her point.
"Then allow me to make this easier for you," Giles intervened, turning toward to the balcony door and taking a determined step.
"Wha... where are you going?"
"I'm giving you what you want." He continued toward the door. Just as he reached for the grip, he felt his arm catch.
"I need to tell you this, Giles." Buffy urged, tugging him back to her. "Please."
He glanced back into her pleading eyes and sighed. He never could deny her. "Very well," he ran his fingers agitatedly through his hair and stood before her, ready to be stricken down by her rejection. If she needed the closure of confrontation, he'd give it to her as his final act of duty. "What did you need to say?"
Buffy's face suddenly went pale and she swallowed hard. "I... I... don't know how to do this."
How hard could it possibly be? "What is this all about, Buffy? What's gotten into you?"
"You..." she squeaked breathlessly. Giles held his stare, utterly confused with the conversation. "You've gotten into me, Giles. After years of tweed and tea, years of duty and destiny, years of loosing everyone that I ever cared about... you're the one that's still here... that's still * in* here." She placed a reluctant hand over her heart.
"I-I don't understand..."
"I promised myself I'd tell you before midnight but I don't know if I can do this."
"Do what? Buffy, please tell me what you're on about."
Buffy's hands trembled with nerves and her stomach seemed to be tensing her whole body up in a wave of knots.
"I can't do this. I can't tell you, Giles..." her face fell with regret. After a moment, she raised her glistening eyes to meet his and cracked a delicate smile. "But I can show you." With that, she moved to him, gripped both of his shoulders and directed him to turn toward the balcony railing, stepped up onto a flower bed to be leveled eye to eye with him, leaned in, and captured him in an unflinching kiss.
Giles froze in disbelief. What was she doing? Was she ill? That or possessed, under some spell or glamour. But her insistent lips quickly stole away any concerns he had as she pressed more firmly against him. The odd soundtrack of the crowd roaring out there welcome to the newborn year filled his ears as Buffy's intimate touch sent his mind spinning. But before he had a chance to comprehend the situation and before he had the chance to react, the astonishing kiss ended. She pulled away, her anxious gaze creasing her forehead. Buffy remained still, mere inches from him, searching his expression for something she hoped was there. After a moment, her eyes cast downward, turning shy and embarrassed.
"I-I'm sorry," she whispered and stepped down from her improvisational step.
Giles wanted to speak but couldn't find the words. Nothing he could say would better the shocking moment. A matter of fact, he was quite certain any mutterings from him would only serve to worsen an already volatile situation. How had it come to this?
"I-I didn't know. I wasn't sure if you..." Buffy shook her head disappointedly. "God... how stupid of me! Of course you don't. How could you? You and I are like... like co-workers, Slayer and Watcher. We punch the clock and do our work and that's what it is. There's nothing else there... nothing else to it, is there? I mean, yeah... we're friends too, but not * those* kind of friends... the kind with benefits."
"No... it's okay, Giles. I get it. You don't feel that way about me. I'm still wigged from the whole Sunnydale thing, is all. My head isn't on quite right, yet." She dismissed his concerned gaze with a shrug and a trivial wave of her hand. "So... way, way off. No where near the land of reality. I'm sorry. I didn't want to make you uncomfortable or anything... I just misread..."
"Do it again," Giles spoke delicately, staring down at her with an almost dazed expression.
"What? Buffy glanced up, stunned.
"Kiss me again," he repeated softly, almost breathless. Buffy took a moment to realize the request being made. "Please."
Something in the sound of that word made her believe him. She returned upon the flower bed and leaned forward, her lips grazing ever so gently along his, filled with doubt and apprehension. But that time it was different.
After the initial connection, Giles mouth grew bold, firming against hers, pressing and pursing in an excited exchange. Buffy felt her tingles heighten as she sensed Giles encourage her onward, hoping he was experiencing the same reaction as she was. Her doubts paled as his silken lips parted and his tongue drew along the crease of her mouth, begging permission to taste her. She accepted his gentle invasion and met it with her own, coaxing it into an embrace between her welcoming lips. With a gentle suckle to his retreating tongue, she could feel Giles body closing in on her, trying to gain an intimacy he'd never before allowed himself with her. She pulled back, panting in a shallow breath.
"That was... was nice," she sighed.
"Q-quite pleasant, indeed." Giles face was flushed and he seemed just as breathless as her. He quickly regained his thoughts and tried to compose himself. "Buffy. Are your feelings clear on this. Not that I distrust your intensions but I find it most difficult to believe that after all these years together that you could see me as anything other than a Watcher."
"Giles, you've always been more. I just didn't know what. Was this... was it okay for me to do this?"
"To kiss me?" Giles couldn't help but chuckle. "I have no complaints... or regrets." He reached out and gently cupped her chin, drawing his thumb along her bottom lip, wanting desperately to touch her again. "And you?"
Buffy smiled shyly, taking his hand in hers and placing a tender kiss to his explorative thumb. "That depends on where we go from here." The rowdy shouts faded, replaced by the sound of pop music tempting the crowd to spill onto the dance floor.
"The world is yours, Buffy. It's the beginning of a new year, a fresh start." He inadvertently leaned forward into her, drawn in by her rosy, swollen lips calling for him to join them again in an intimate dance. "Shall we bury yesterday and praise today?"
"I'd like that." Buffy's lips brushed his again, playfully.
"So would I." He placed a feathery peck on her upper lip and wrapped his arms around her waist. "May I have this dance?"
Before Buffy had a chance to answer, she was unceremoniously whisked off the safety of the flower bed and twirled around, fully supported within Giles solid hold as he rocked her to and fro in his arms. At first, she felt silly, her legs dangling uselessly above the ground. Then, the initial giddy pace slowed and his adoring eyes fixed on hers, promising to fulfill her unspoken hopes. As his lips met hers in another tender embrace, she savored the sensation of finally knowing him, of finally reaching him. She soon accepted the fact that her feet weren't touching the ground. And she had a distinct feeling they never would again.
Happy New Year!