She is crying when the movie finishes.
Not sad tears. The happy kind. The kind that just start falling of their own accord because she is so startled by the unexpected ending. German movies aren't supposed to be so positive.
She doesn't make a sound, staying still in the darkness as the credits roll by on the screen before them, names with lots of hard consonants that make her think of Amazon-sized women sporting breast armor and horned helmets. Jarvinia, Leopold, Uta, Geert suddenly having the name of a tree doesn't seem so bad.
Wesley doesn't move, his gaze remaining on the screen, and she is somehow not surprised that he's the kind of person who stays and reads the credits. Oz had been like that
"People work hard," he'd said. "Other people should care."
Care. Like she had.
Like she did.
Oz thoughts bad. Oz thoughts make crying worse. Where before they had been silent trespassers stealing down her cheeks, now they are accompanied by the squeezing of her eyes and the strangled whimpers in her throat that she wishes she could swallow and pretend never happened. Weird how close sad and happy are in their choice of manifestation, she thinks through the muddle of her brain.
The first sound captures Wesley's attention, diverting him from the celluloid ghosts that linger in the periphery of her vision, watery blurs of black and white and grey she absorbs in the infinitesimal seconds her lashes part. "Willow " she hears him murmur, and the arm around her shoulders tighten, its mate reaching up and pushing away the armrest and curving to pull her gently into the soothing wall of his chest. Fingers trail at the nape of her neck, and his other hand slips beneath the hem of her sweater to seek out the small of her back.
Maybe it's the warmth of his touch. Maybe it's the hypnotic vibrations of his shirt against her cheek as he calms her with those same strings of words he shared during her nightmare. Maybe it's just that she's tired of crying, tired of the energy it saps from her, tired of feeling so out-of-control.
Whatever it is, her sobs return to their silence, and the tears turn into a trickle, until she is pushing herself away---I really want to stay there, honest, but it wouldn't be right, would it?---smiling at him through the revenants of the memories scuttling to the corners of her mind, tincture of rouge high on her cheeks. "Sorry," she says, and means it. "Betcha didn't know Waterworks is my favorite Monopoly property, huh?"
It's a lame joke, but it does what she wants it to accomplish, relaxing the rimples in his brow and lifting the corner of his mouth. "I wouldn't have selected it if I thought---."
"It wasn't the movie," she rushes to assure him. The last thing she wishes is to jeopardize the nebulous footing they've regained, the kiss be damned. "Well, it was the movie, in the way that they were happy tears because that ending was the last thing I expected. I mean, happy and German existentialism? Kind of unmixy, don't you think? But then the credits were rolling, and you were reading them, and it was so like Oz, and " She swallows when the threat returns at the mention of his name, wiping away the remaining tracks down her face in a valorous attempt to ward them back. It works, and she smiles again. "See? All better already."
She can barely make out his features in the still-dark theatre, the shadows from the screen oscillating over his face, alternately baring him and hiding him and she's not one hundred percent certain which one is the true Wesley looking back at her. And she doesn't flinch when his arms move, when they return to the lean house of his frame, even though she suddenly feels naked without the propitious shelter he offers, and though his mouth is moving and she knows that he is talking to her, she doesn't hear the words.
It's too hard to hear beyond the roaring within her ears.
"What?" she asks as soon as she realizes she's missed what's he's said to her. He makes me forget about everything else. Does it make me look stupid?
"I asked, what shall we do next?"
She smiles, because she can see his temerity caged within his fears, worries of shredding the gossamer threads of their newfound accord dancing across his face in a wicked two-step that shocks her at its clarity. She's usually not good at the reading thing, well at least not of the non-word variety, yet she's convinced that she's right about this, that he's just as scared as she is, and for some inexplicable reason, this fills her with a sense of power.
"Well," she says, her teeth gleaming white in spite of the darkness, "we've already done the first date thing, kind of. I mean, lunch and a movie matinee count as the same thing as dinner and a movie, right? It's food and it's film on both sides of the equation, so same thing, I think. So what do people do on second dates? 'Cause me on the vast dating experience end of the spectrum? Not so much."
And she's babbling, her joy at how right the world seems at the moment spilling over into her words, lighting her face and banishing the last of the tears, as she looks up at him expectantly. She's not even completely aware of what she's said. How many times has her mouth run away without waiting for her brain to catch up? Like the dish and the spoon all rolled up into one, and does that make me the cow or the moon?
Only then does she notice that he still hasn't spoken, that he's regarding her with the same intense manner he does when she's said something he can't fathom. What did I say now? Except she can't remember, which, surprisingly enough, isn't that surprising.
"Was this a date?" he asks.
Holy mother of Minnie Pearl. I called this a date. Am I crazy? Delusional to the nth degree, because one kiss does not a date make.
Even when it's a kiss that made her both forget the world around her and remind her of just what a beautiful place it is, all in the same hungry, hot, seductive breath.
A kiss neither one of them has mentioned since it happened.
Maybe it was only important to me.
She swallows down the gigantic lump that seems to have formed in her throat from nowhere, her glee diminished. "That's just me being silly," she tries, but her voice squeaks and sounds tinny and foreign even to her ears. Try again. "It's just the similarity kind of struck me, and you should've seen me zip through the whole this is like that part of my SAT's "
Like nothing else she has ever wanted before, she wants to bury her face in her hands and hide her shame at how foolish she sounds.
Especially when he comments that dates usually involve one person asking another. Traditionally, the guy asking the girl.
The sudden barrage of the lights coming up makes her blink, and she feels like a deer caught in headlights, staring at him and wishing the seat would just fold up and swallow her down and take her to whatever dimension things that disappeared between seat cushions went to. A world of pennies and old chewing gum? Or the world where Wesley laughs at her for being a silly teenager who thinks that a kiss actually means something?
Frankly, she's beginning to think that it's a real toss-up.
And the sound of the staff entering the theatre, laughing and chattering and clattering the wheels of the garbage bin they push, pushes him to his feet, her neck craning back to follow his upward movement. "We should probably go," he says.
But before she can do anything, or say anything, or think anything, or anything anything, he is bending, his hand taking hers and tugging, pulling her up to join him, his other returning to the small of her back to guide her down the row of seats into the aisle. Though he releases her fingers once they are free, he doesn't remove his hand from her back, and together they stroll past the oversized posters as if she hadn't just made one of the biggest mistakes of her life---bigger than following Oz? Not by a long shot maybe ---out into the sunshine in quiet.
Only then does she find her voice again.
"So back to the real world now?" she says. Of course. No more hiding in the dark. No more pretending.
"I was rather thinking technically, you chose pancakes and the movie, so really, I should be the one to select now. I've something in mind, but "
"Wait." She grabs his arm, and stops him from stepping off the curb, forcing him to look at her. "What are you saying?"
When he looks down at her, a flush creeps up her neck in agonizing lethargy, burning and flaring and flaming in her memory the imprint of his hand when he'd cupped her face. "I believe I'm attempting to ask you out," he says. "I thought that was obvious."
She feels like a fool. Because he hasn't been anything but nice and sweet and honest with her from the start, and yet she doubted him, doubted the kiss---both of them---and questioned everything, all because of her own insecurities and refusal to believe that he could be real because she was still stuck in the shadows of thinking the worst.
No more. I don't have to be like that. I can believe.
So, the words don't even stick in her mouth. And she doesn't allow herself to think. She just smiles.
"That sounds wonderful."
He surprises himself by becoming engrossed in the film, Willow's presence lulling him into a sense of familiar that has been long missing from the monochrome of his life, hunting and watching and bloodshed aside. None of the previous sparks the same tangibility that she does, tenders the requiescence of his defenses like her slow, even breathing, and so he's able to lose himself in the story, oddly unsettled at the uncharacteristic ending.
Then it's the credits, and time to mull over what he's just seen, not really seeing the screen as he twists and bends and shapes the themes of the film over in his head. It's been a long time since he's been able to luxuriate in unnecessary ruminations. He'd forgotten how delicious it could feel to analyze that which wasn't life or death. That didn't hold within it the power to kill or destroy. It was liberating.
All of it is shattered the second he hears the sobs arise from Willow, feels the trembling wracking through the body leaning into his side. When he looks down, all he can see are the silvery tracks her tears are leaving down her cheeks and wonders what possibly could've been in the movie to provoke such a reaction.
"Willow " he murmurs, but it's not enough, he has to hold her, to assuage her grief and bring back the smile that lights him so brightly within. So he gathers her into his arms---so soft, so delicate, and yet so strong---and hopes that he can soothe away her demons just as he did in the previous night, banishing them to whatever dark corners they insist on lurking. He'd fight them hand-to-hand if it was possible. It destroys him to hear her sobbing so.
And just as before, the words come.
"Ssshhh don't cry it's all right whatever it is, it'll be all right ssshhh I'm here please, don't cry "
And on, and on, and on, until the litany has tattooed itself on his brain, his fingertips on fire from the constant feathering across the bare skin of her back. He'd thought they were past this. The kiss had seemed to make everything better. I thought she understood.
But clearly she didn't, and though her tears quiet, and her shoulders stop the up and down rubbing against his chest---is it really any wonder how stimulating such a motion can be, regardless of the circumstances?---his worry over her doesn't ease. Not even when she pulls away and wipes at the wet stains she has left on his shirt, fingers shaking, apologizing and making a silly joke about Monopoly.
She's trying though, which means he has to try too. My turn. "I wouldn't have selected it if I thought---."
"It wasn't the movie," she interrupts. And then she's babbling again, just as she always does when she's either nervous or happy---how I wish it was the happy this time that was provoking it---and some of the coils around his heart loosen when he begins to understand the source of her tears. But when she mentions his name, and he sees the small man appear in his mind's eye, guilt at his own cowardice in mentioning Oz's presence in town, Wesley chills and wonders how long they will be living with the werewolf's spectre.
As if the two of us actually have some sort of future past this weekend.
But he can exile the ex-boyfriend for at least the next day and a half, he reasons. All he needs to do is keep her occupied, keep her smiling. Show her that she's worthy of better treatment. Show her that she matters to someone. To him.
He has to let her go, but releasing her from his arms now that she is no longer crying is the last thing he wishes to do. Still, it's not about what he wants. It's about what's best for her. I mustn't be so selfish.
"What shall we do next?" he asks, and already regrets not being able to feel her against him. How he would love to share in her strength, to sink into her---. No. Not right. One kiss does not a lover make.
"What?" she queries.
Her eyes shimmer in the shadows from the screen, and he is sinking, though it's not exactly how he'd envisioned. It's the quicksand of her countenance that draws him in, makes him hope that he doesn't misstep yet again and crush the foundation of what they're building. Are we building something? I can't be imagining that this will be anything more.
So he repeats his question, and waits for her to answer, reining in his enthusiasm until he's heard what she would like. All her words are lost, though, as soon as she utters those fateful four letters.
A date? Does she see this as a date?
Does she want it to be?
He already knows the answer for himself---yes, more than anything---but surely such a connection hasn't suggested itself to her. She was the one with all the questions, the whys and the hows and everything else. It doesn't make sense that she would change her mind about it so quickly. Nothing has happened that should do so.
Except for the kiss.
That mind-numbing, exhilarating, beauteous kiss.
"Was this a " God, how could she say it so casually? " date?"
And why he's holding his breath for her answer, he has no idea. Because part of him is desperately hoping for her to say yes, and another is even more frightened that if she does, he'll find some way to fail her, too.
A date. When was the last time I was on a proper date?
But the smile she'd been wearing has faded like a winter's frost on a blooming rose, and she is trying to speak, to make light of her choice of words and the way her mind works. Except he can see. Her. And he wonders when he will be able to convince her she doesn't need to be scared around him.
Best to make light of it. Levity is the answer. Xander is her best friend; surely that's an indication that she responds to humor as a method of emotional release.
"And here I thought dating required an exchange of asking and accepting," he jokes, remembering her fervent requests for pancakes and the movie.
It elicits no response. Her eyes remain wide in the seconds before the lights come up, and then she's blinking away, trying to refocus and looking unbearably darling in spite of the slight swelling around her eyes. Wesley fights the urge to reach up and touch her cheek, but when the cleaning crew loudly announces their arrival into the theatre with their bright chatter and noisy gum-popping, it's just as valid an opportunity.
So, he rises to his feet, prompting her with the reminder that it's time to go, and leans to take her hand and help her rise. He doesn't have to, but he can't help himself from returning his touch to the small of her back, that small hollow at the base of her spine lending the promise of the upper swell of her bottom that has already filled his fantasies with more than should really be proper.
He could already feel the faint tickling of the tiny hairs that he'd encounter when he ran his tongue along the length of her spine, his mouth watering at the unexpected tang her skin would offer. She'd probably giggle, and say it tickles, which would only prompt him to continue his laving, letting his fingers join in to explore all the hollows and curves and swells that her clothes hid so well.
All too soon, they're on the sidewalk, and he doesn't even remember walking out. The only thing etched in his mind is that he is still touching her, and that she hasn't argued with him about it. So when she speaks up and comments about returning to the real world, he is jolted back to the reality of the d-word.
"I was rather thinking " he muses out loud, contemplating his actions verbally so that she can extend her own ideas. "Technically, you you chose pancakes and the movie, so really, I should be the one to select now." Oh, but I do think she'd love that "I've something in mind, but "
Her tiny hand cuts him off, her single command of "wait" followed by her confused "what." And when he looks down at her, he has to fight back the smile, to hold back the pleasure he is experiencing at seeing the innocence shining from her eyes again. It's not fear, though he knows that is what drives her bewilderment, and he states the obvious, because it's only the clear that will convince her.
"I believe I'm attempting to ask you out," he says. "I thought that was obvious."
It takes a moment, but then there it is. The smile that he's convinced could fuel an entire city if they could harness its power. And she says three words that make his heart leap, because they mean she's finally beginning to understand.
"That sounds wonderful."