The kiss is both the last thing she expects, and the most natural thing in the world.
She could’ve pulled away. She should’ve pulled away. Why didn’t she pull away?
Because his scent is pungent, and intoxicating, like soap fading in a breeze of fresh air, with an underlying muskiness that makes her nose prickle, her toes curl. And the lips that are way too soft for a man’s are surprisingly firm yet conciliatory, taking what they want with only a hint of an apology, as if not even Wesley can believe that he’s really kissing her.
And…because she wants it. She needs it. How long has it been since someone has asked such of her? Oz doesn’t count; he stopped counting the day he left though admitting such a thing still stabs even if she is content with her closure. She has spent so much of her life unimportant, unnecessary, watching from the sidelines when just once she yearns to be the center of attention, and so kissing him back is natural, tender and oh so innocent, because really, she deserves this. What’s so bad about being kissed by Wesley?
Oh sweet heaven, I’m being kissed by Wesley!
Her eyes fly open as she jerks back, gaping at him as he looks down at her, the blue of his aspect almost swallowed by ebony. “What…? Huh…? Why?” Her palms are suddenly slick with sweat, and her heart is thudding a mile a minute inside her ribcage, but the only thing Willow is cognizant of at the moment is the flicker of hurt that seems to waver behind Wesley’s eyes.
The distance between them is all too quickly greater, and he is staring not at the horizon this time, but at his own hands, clenching them together as if he’s afraid they’ll run away without him. “I’m…sorry,” he mumbles, shaking his head. “I…forgot myself for a moment. Please. Just…don’t be angry. It won’t happen again.”
Now, this is a statement she wants to quiz as to why, but as soon as she reaches out a tremulous hand to touch him, he is on his feet, stepping over her to pull himself back up on to the other side of the fence. His hand is outstretched, waiting for her to step up so that he can help her clamber back to the surface, but she can only bring herself to rise to her feet. There is no room inside her traitorous head for anything else.
He’s running. Ohmigod, he’s running and I pushed him away and I don’t even know what I did, except, OK, maybe asking him why he kissed me was not of the good, and why did he kiss me? I’m not pretty, and I’m not strong, and I’m not Cordelia or Buffy or Faith, and it makes no sense because I’m just me and he’s just Wesley and way too old for me, and…how old is he anyway? Definitely not Giles old and I had a daydream or three about him sophomore year, that’s for sure, so maybe not too old. But still, I don’t get it, and oh god, he’s running…
“Do you not need my help?” he asks.
The fact that he is still standing there does nothing to lessen the confusion inside her. “Where are we going?” she asks. She has to. She has no idea what just happened here.
He takes a long time to answer, just looking down at her, his hand never wavering in its extended position. “Perhaps it’s best if we start for Sunnydale this afternoon,” he finally says cautiously.
“Why? I thought I was staying the weekend.” Again with the why. Is that the only thing I can say?
“You…still wish to?”
And she’d almost say he sounds hopeful, but nothing in his face has changed, still closed and reserved and hurt---of course he’s hurt, you just pushed him away, sillyhead---and she has the sudden desire to rewind the clock just a few seconds, to go back to the point before she pulled away from his kiss. Anything to get back the Wesley who’d spilled his heart out to her, who’d confessed all his aches and fears without any request for consolation. The one she’d been enjoying so much to be around.
Maybe a distraction. Make him forget the kiss. Make her forget the kiss. Maybe that will work.
So the suggestion tumbles from her mouth, though she doesn’t know why it’s occurred to her to propose such a thing.
He doesn’t seem to understand, either. “A…movie?”
It sounds even more lame coming from him, but she doesn’t want to look more foolish by backing out on it now. So, she slaps on her widest smile and begins to climb back up to his side without his help, saying, “Sure, it would be fun. You, me, extra buttery popcorn that makes our fingers all sticky. And jujubes! We can get jujubes, too, because, you know, sugar makes everything all better, right?”
“I’m not sure…where---.”
Letting him finish anything that sounds remotely like a no is out of the question, she decides. “Then we find one. We’re two intelligent, grounded adults. We should be able to scare up a movie theatre if we want one.” And she’s at the top now, standing right before him, and the smell that had been so sweltery while she was kissing him---he was kissing her, keep it straight now---is back, only fainter because there is too much space between them now for her to fully appreciate it. She’d have to bury her face in his neck if she really wanted---OK, bad place. No necks, no smelling. Concentrate on cinematic goodness.
His mouth opens and closes as if he wants to talk but doesn’t know what to say, and for a moment snatched from time, Willow feels like she’s watching the Wesley of last year before her after taking a particularly vicious verbal attack from both Buffy and Giles and maybe even a little bit of Faith on the side. It doesn’t make her feel good. In fact, it makes her feel downright lousy because she doesn’t want to be that person, not after everything he’s done for her, not after how nice he’s been. All she seems to be doing these days is screwing things up. Maybe he’s right. Maybe she should go back to Sunnydale---.
“I know a place,” he is saying, and he walks back to the motorcycle, taking off the helmets and handing hers over before she can say otherwise. “Is there anything in particular you’d like to see?”
“No action,” she affirms. She doesn’t want to question this tenuous change of mood lest it evaporate as quickly as it has arrived. This is better. This is normal. “And no horror. Too real life.”
“Yes. Something more…escapist, I would imagine is what’s called for currently.”
And then they’re back on the bike, and they’re back to flying down the concrete, only now Willow feels funny putting her arms around Wesley’s waist, wondering how he is construing it, how it makes him feel. Except she can’t very well let go because, falling off? Not an option she wants to entertain. So she tightrope-walks the balance between holding and hugging, grimacing behind her helmet every time he takes a curve so fast that she instinctively clings to him even harder. Once, she even squeaks out loud, and hastily prays that he hasn’t heard her. He’ll think she’s an even bigger baby than she’s already proving herself.
He’s right. He does know a place. He leads her in with barely a look back at her, and purchases two tickets to some foreign film that is playing since it’s the only thing on the bill that doesn’t involve explosions, magic, monsters, or romance. Oh yes, she notices the last. Because he very deliberately avoided the romantic comedy that is playing, and never even considered the one with the girl who has to take care of her dying lover. She’s not completely sure why he does it, if it’s a conscious attempt to shield her from memories of Oz.
Or if it’s a try to make her forget about Wes.
She follows him around the lobby, waiting with him in the concession line, occasionally offering some inanity that makes her think maybe she should be blonde instead of a redhead. He never laughs, although the odd remark does make him smile, and he’s still the very model of a perfect major gentleman when they reach the counter, purchasing the jujubes, and the extra buttery popcorn, and even the water for which she asks---no soda, because nothing here is caffeine-free and if I was skittery-ish before, we won’t even go to the place I’d be after thirty-ounces of Coke.
Then, dark. Or dim, rather, because the movie hasn’t started yet and they still have those funny half-globe lights on along the walls. And a completely empty theatre. He allows her to pick out their seats, and she opts for two near the back, not really in the mood for neck ache. That’s Xander’s gig. And if I have to read my movie, I’ll get my headache the old-fashioned way, from eye strain.
As they sit there in silence waiting for the movie to start, she wonders why exactly he agreed to this if he wasn’t going to talk to her, why bother with the pretence of nothing happened/the world is a perfectly normal place where college co-eds don’t kiss their best friend’s former Watcher turned rogue demonhunter, and OK, that sounds weird even for the Hellmouth. She hates it---too quiet, too many bad things happen when it’s quiet---even after all the time she spent with Oz, so she blurts out the first thing that pops into her head.
“How old are you?”
He looks at her, startled, before answering. “Twenty-seven.”
There is no follow-up, no why from him she realizes, the number just hanging there between them, woven with the magic of a secret shared. “I’m only eighteen, you know,” she says, though she’s fully aware that he knows her age. “Almost nineteen.” Does that make it sound better?
Something hides behind the blue, something even she can’t miss in the dim light. “My apology was sincere, Willow,” he says. “I was out of line. It won’t happen again.”
“Why?” My brain is shorting out or something, that’s got to be it. I have a much bigger vocabulary than this, honest. I’m just stuck on this one word.
He is as nonplussed as she, frowning and staring at her as if she’s speaking another language, which maybe she is because that’s the only reason she can come up with for what keeps coming out of her mouth. “You…what?”
The lights start dimming then, and helplessly, she points to the screen, eyes ingenuous and pleading with him not to press her, and says, “Movie. Doing that starting thing.”
“There’ll be adverts. And trailers. What did you mean?”
He couldn’t have been Chatty Cathy before we got here? she wonders desperately. Because now she’s trapped, and he’s looking at her with fathomless eyes because it’s too dark to see properly. “I don’t know,” she confesses. “It was…nice. Very nice. Just…” Do I really want to admit this? Does this make me look like a slut? “I don’t get the why. Why you did it, why me, and…why you don’t want to do it again.”
There. She’s said it, and her throat feels like a sliver of a channel that won’t allow any air to pass, her eyes fixed to his face even if she can’t really see what he’s thinking. Step right up. See the silly redhead get humiliated yet again, because having one man vamoose on her in a weekend isn’t nearly enough. Oh, no. She’s a glutton for punishment, this one is. Get your money’s worth and see the freak show.
“Who would ever have considered a single word capable of encompassing so many different queries, all in a single breath…” Wesley muses. His voice is soft, as if he’s keeping it lowered to protect their conversation from other patrons, and she is spellbound as she waits. The arm that he has been careful of keeping clearly on his side of the armrest comes up, a long finger stroking the outline of invisible veins along the back of her hand where it is curled around the water bottle in the drink holder.
Each stroke sends electric shocks up her arm, down her spine, into places she thought would never feel anything ever again, and she still doesn’t have any answers but she knows one thing for certain… “You’re going to kiss me again, aren’t you?” she breathes.
Except he’s already leaning forward, and his hand---the other one, the one not doing the touching thing that’s making her skin flame---is already cupping the side of her face, pulling her closer so that she will meet him halfway.
Halfway doesn’t describe the kiss, though.
Probing. Hungry. Strong but not too forceful. Those are better words to describe it. And her lips are parting, not only at his insistence but also of their own volition, allowing his tongue to sweep in and taste and search and make all those little explosions happen on the inside of her eyes, the ones that make her dizzy if she doesn’t squeeze her lids shut really tight, to keep her whole head from bursting from just too much.
It is an explosion from the screen that jerks her away this time, both of them looking up in synchronicity to see Bruce Willis walking away from some conflagration of fire and smoke before disappearing in a field of black as the film’s title flashes across the screen. She realizes his hand is still curved around her cheek, his thumb gently stroking her cheekbone, but she doesn’t pull away as she turns back to look at him.
“Someone better tell them that maybe people who are willing to sit through a movie reading it instead of watching it, might not be your target audience for a mindless violence sort of trailer,” she jokes with a grin. She waits until he smiles back at her, then swivels in her seat so that she is facing the front again. It means his hand is gone, but she angles her body so that her shoulder is nestled in the hollow of his, waiting in anticipation for him to slip his arm around her.
It takes only seconds for the warm weight to come down, hesitate before lifting up a fraction of an inch, and then settle again. She still doesn’t know the why, not the why of any of it, but as the heat that had been rampant inside her begins to slowly ease into a steady simmer, Willow decides that those kind of questions can wait a few hours.
Escape. That’s what they were doing. Wesley has said so himself.
She is just glad she isn't the only one is doing the escaping here.
He’s not entirely certain why he waited so long to kiss her. Not when she’s responding so. Not when they fit like yin and yang, none of that dreadful awkwardness and groping that had so characterized his unfortunate encounter with Cordelia.
His fears of being rebuffed are quickly being flayed by his triumphant heart as she almost seems to lean even further into the caress, following his lead with minimal prompting, and he is about to brave the next step when she suddenly yanks herself away, her eyes wide as saucers, staring at him as if he’s just forced her to drink some sort of poison.
“What…? Huh…? Why?” And she is stuttering as she searches for her words, and he can see her pulse pounding in the hollow of her throat, the sprinkling of freckles there standing out in bas relief. Oh dear lord, what have I done? Fool. I’m a fool. Just made what was a perfectly wonderful arrangement, a right bloody mess.
Quickly, he shifts back to his position against the wall, his hands knotting together in his lap in a valiant attempt to hide the shaking that is threatening to overwhelm him. I can face a Jwa’hra demon without showing fear, and yet here I am, trembling like a schoolgirl. “I’m…sorry.” As if that will make any of this better. “I…forgot myself for a moment. Please. Just…” Don’t run. Don’t hate me. Don’t run. “…don’t be angry. It won’t happen again.”
He means it. He’s never meant anything more, he believes. He’s not so blind or foolish not to see that he’s made a tremendous mistake, misgauged her responses egregiously, and the only thing for him to do now is get her back to Sunnydale as soon as possible, to cease this farce he’s managed to create with whatever shred of dignity he can cling to. So he stands, and steps over her, climbing back to the summit with a lithe grace he certainly doesn’t feel. But he can’t just leave her there, and though he battles his embarrassment and would rather not have to face her again, he would never allow himself to fail her, and extends his hand in wait for Willow to take it.
She doesn’t. She just stands there, every emotion he could possibly imagine rippling like a chorus of showgirls behind her eyes, kicking and marching and causing her pain with every step. And it looks like she’s going to cry---was it that bad? why should she cry?---and all he wants to do is take her in his arms and tell her he’s sorry, that he never wanted to be the one to make her cry, not after Oz, not after all the pain she’s already gone through. But he can’t. He only asks if she needs his help. They are the only words that seem to be able to find their ways to his lips.
“Where are we going?”
What does she mean? The way she speaks, he almost believes that she’s talking about them, about Willow and Wesley as a pair, a we. When was the last time I was part of a ‘we’? So he chooses the tactical position of ignorance, and refers to Sunnydale, because truly, that seems the only possible course at this juncture, but he is not prepared when she asks him why, when she reiterates her desire to stay the weekend. With him.
When she ignores his question, instead suggesting they go to the cinema, his confusion deepens, only able to stammer back at her while she makes her own way to his side, waiting expectantly for him to respond. Only…he doesn’t know what to say, though he attempts to more than once, his mouth opening and closing of its own will as the words fail him yet again.
“I’m not sure…” Of anything. Of what the hell I’m doing, what the hell you’re trying to prove. “…where---.”
“Then we find one,” she says. “We’re two intelligent, grounded adults. We should be able to scare up a movie theatre if we want one.”
And he has no clue as to why she is pressing on this, or why she seems so willing to stand so close to him when just seconds ago she couldn’t get far enough away, and when she is standing this close, the shine that he’d mistaken for tears looks more like---no, mustn’t think that, focus elsewhere. Except his eyes fall to the small swell of her breasts, which is just as bad because she doesn’t want this, she’s not interested.
Why would she wish to spend the weekend with me if she is upset with what happened?
He’s already taken one risk, and the kiss had been wonderful for the too few seconds before she stopped it, so he goes out on a limb and reverses his decision to take her directly to Sunnydale, letting it be known that he does actually know where they can go. “Is there anything in particular you’d like to see?” he asks, as he pulls the helmets from the bike. A movie. It seems rather…normal. Normal is good. Normal allows them to move on from the debacle he’s created. He owes it to her.
“No action. And no horror. Too real life.”
“Yes.” His lips quirk in amusement at her earnest disavowal, but he hastily hides it behind his helmet. “Something more…escapist, I would imagine is what’s called for currently.” Understatement.
But when they’re back on the bike, and they’re flying down the roads toward the cinema he hopes he can remember how to get to, and Willow’s arms are back around his waist, those little squeaks she makes when he turns drifting up to him on the wind, Wesley can almost forget that anything wrong actually happened. Stop. Rewind. She’s willing to move on, so I should be, too. Because it feel so safe, and reassuring, her body weighing the back of the motorcycle so that maneuvering is actually simpler. Balance. She gives him balance. How did I not see that before?
He’s not ready to upset that balance, however, so as they stand in the queue, he scans over their options. Explosions? Nixed. Monsters trying to take over the world? Too close to the real world. He lingers for a moment on the one comedy on the bill, but with “love” in the title, he knows he is only inviting disaster, or another crying jag, if he selects it. So, he opts for the foreign film, a German feature he’s heard good things about, something more intellectual that will surely be more thought-provoking than anything else that is showing.
Her chattering as they stand in line for the food she’s already expressed the desire for relaxes him, takes him back to their comfortable lunch, and all the moments they’ve managed to share that didn’t involve tears or heartfelt confessions, which in fact, are not that many. He even fights the instinct to laugh out loud more than once, but only because he’s still not certain what exactly is going on. For all attempts and purposes, it appears that she is trying to pretend everything is fine.
He can do that. He’s had years of practice.
“...and a large diet Coke---.”
“Oh, no.” He glances down and her eyes seem stricken. At Coke? “Can I have water instead, please? A small one. Anything bigger and I’ll be all squirmy for the last half of the movie and if you think I’m fidgety now…” She laughs at her silliness, coaxing another smile from Wesley.
“Water, it is.”
For a moment after they step into the theatre, he regrets his choice. No one else there. All alone with Willow. He quickly shakes himself free of the thought, though. They’re here to watch a movie. She wouldn’t have suggested it if she wanted anything else.
He is secretly pleased with her choice of seats, though he doesn’t say so out loud. Not too close and not too far. Centered. Balanced. But the silence is deafening, a din within his ears as they wait for the film to begin, his arm carefully tucked against his side when he realizes she’s taken control of the armrest, watching her slim fingers drum silently along the ridges of the bottle she cradles in the holder. It lends itself to reflection, driving him to bury himself in his head instead of elsewhere, and he is about to bring up the Jwa’hra again---anything, really, just to get some sort of conversation going---when she speaks up.
“How old are you?”
She certainly has a knack for taking me by surprise, he thinks as he looks at her. And why on earth would she want to know such a thing? “Twenty-seven.”
“I’m only eighteen, you know,” she blurts. “Almost nineteen.”
And like the proverbial light bulb, he understands. Or thinks he does. It’s about the age difference. She sees me as an old man, which is hardly surprising considering I was an authority figure only last year. It’s why she’s constantly referring to me as a Watcher, regardless of my current status. I’ve crossed an imaginary barrier inside her head by attempting to alter our relationship.
“My apology was sincere, Willow. I was out of line. It won’t happen again.” Please believe me. I’d rather have you as a friend than---.
Even more disconcerting than the age query. Because it carries with it the implication that she wants it to happen again. “You…what?” He knows he sounds like a fool, but really, this makes absolutely no sense. And he has to know.
She grabs on to the dimming of the lights like a preserver, gesturing vaguely toward the screen. “Movie. Doing that starting thing.”
She doesn’t want to answer. I can’t let that happen this time. So he reminds her of the previews, and the advertisements that have become de rigeur. “What did you mean?”
He refuses to look away, watching her fight with herself and marvelling at how expressive her face is. And when she starts out by saying she doesn’t know, he momentarily feels deflated.
“It was…nice. Very nice. Just…”
She liked it. I wasn’t wrong.
She is breathless as she barrels forward. “I don’t get the why. Why you did it, why me, and…why you don’t want to do it again.”
The light bulb becomes a beacon, searing his head in understanding. Because this was never about him. Her distance. Her fear. This is about her, about Willow’s blindness to her own appeal, about her panic in being hurt again. I won’t hurt you, he wants to say. I’ll do whatever I can to make sure you never hurt again.
But that will send her running even further, so he murmurs soothing words that he hopes will show that he comprehends what she is going through while at the same time telling her that she doesn’t have to be afraid of him. He reaches up to touch the back of her hand to emphasize his point, but the audible hitch in her breath, the way she captures her bottom lip between her teeth, hypnotize him as surely as if she’d used her magic.
He doesn’t even hear her as his other hand reaches up to cup her face---can’t stop, I have to touch her, so soft, so delicate---and he pulls her closer, eyes fixed on the tremble of her mouth. They both want this, he knows, and if she pulls away again, he’s going to demand to take her back to Sunnydale because this yoyo-ing isn’t good for either of them, not with her emotions so fragile after Oz and not with his own heart so determined not to get broken.
But she doesn’t pull away. She sinks into his desire like molten lava seeping into his skin, lips parting without his insistence so that he can taste and search and god, she’s so sweet, and as his fingers tangle in her hair, he feels his heart running out of control, skittering out of his reach, ready to give itself over to her even if she doesn’t wish it.
And she’s kissing him back, leaning in further, and Wesley curses the armrest that divides them, debating if he’s willing to break contact with her long enough to push it up and out of the way---.
The explosion on the screen is what startles both of them into breaking apart, looking up at the screen simultaneously, though he refuses to release his hold on her cheek. When she jokes about the inappropriateness of the trailer, he realizes she didn’t pull away, and she didn’t tell him no, and she isn’t asking him why. She is waiting; for what though, he’s unsure, so he smiles and hopes that’s enough.
The feel of her in the hollow of his arm smooths the warmth burning in his pelvis throughout his flesh, and he momentarily battles his uncertainty in settling his arm over her shoulder, tucking her even closer against him so that the perfume of her skin, her hair, become all he’s aware of. How he will be able to concentrate on the movie now, he has no idea.
But it doesn’t matter.
He’s not alone now.