Laconic

Space And Time

They do not realize, I think, that you won't come back. They continue on, secure in the knowledge that they have found each other, and they don't see you, standing back with a tiny smile as you watch them together. They don't see; they never did.

But I do.

I see the resigned set of your shoulders, the slight lift of your chin. You are, as you have always been, quiet and difficult to read. You have been mostly silent this night, smiling occasionally, responding when one of the others tries to draw you out, but generally remaining in the background.

You look up, meeting my eyes briefly. I flush, embarrassed to be caught staring, and duck my head. Dammit. After a moment, I lift my head and meet your eyes. I will not be intimidated by a person half my age. I will not.

You smile faintly, as if we share some small joke just between the two of us. I smile back, not quite understanding your amusement, but knowing that it is not at my expense. Then Willow is standing before me, hugging me closely. I hug her back tentatively, then with more assurance. She is the daughter of my heart, and I'm proud to have shared this night with her.

She moves away after a moment, turning to you and hugging you much the same way she did me. You close your eyes, cradling the back of her head gently, and I have to suppress the desire to interfere. You would not thank me for meddling in your affairs. So I will not. But it's hard.

You pull back from her and kiss her forehead gently. You smile, and lift your glass in tribute. "Be happy, Willow."

As simply as that, the night ends for you. You have done, said, what you came to, and you can leave without feeling guilty. I watch you go; you act as if everything is the same, as if you will walk into the warehouse tomorrow afternoon, smiling and laughing as you did before. But you won't, and I don't understand how no one else can see that.

I feel the slight brush of air as Angel moves to stand next to me.

Almost no one else.

He moves silently, as befits a predator, and I chide myself for the thought. He has changed, and I should forgive. I do forgive. But compassion does not equal stupidity, and I let myself tense.

He smiles sadly, and I give him nothing in return. Angel tilts his head toward the doors. "He's not coming back, is he?"

"No," I shake my head. "I don't think he is."

It should not surprise me that Angel knows you well enough to understand. After all, the two of you share more of a bond than most of us tend to realize. You are the monsters, the stuff of nightmares, the things that whisper to us in the dark of the night. Angel knows you in a way that I never will. He knows, but I...I understand.

The thought makes me smile, and the evening is over for me as well. I say my good-byes and gather my things, folding my coat neatly over my arm. I will not need it, I think.

Angel watches me go, and I'm certain that he's smiling. It is the same smile that you and I shared just a short while ago. I turn and the smile widens, just slightly. He approves; for the first time since the loss and return of his soul, I smile back, and mean it.

I find you, surprisingly, at the high school library. You are sitting in one of the large chairs that flank the center table, curled up, knees drawn to your chest as you stare at nothing at all. It does not occur to me to ask how you got in.

"Hello," I say softly.

You lift your head, looking at me, and I resist the urge to squirm. The nonchalant mask is off now; you stare at me with all the focused intensity of a born hunter. "Hey," you finally answer. "The reception's over?"

"No. I...I wanted..." I look down first, and when I look back up at you, the intensity is hidden again behind the indifference you wear so well. "I wanted to say good-bye."

"What makes you think I'm going anywhere?" you ask quietly.

"Aren't you?"

"Yeah." You duck your head, looking at the ground.

I walk over to the table and pull out the chair next to yours. "May I ask why?"

"Sure." You glance at me, lips curved up faintly in amusement.

I sigh. You would insist on being difficult. "Why are you leaving?"

You shrug. "I feel like it."

"Ah." I nod. "Will you be returning?"

You smile, another brief flash of humor, and shrug again. "Maybe."

"You are not being very helpful, Oz," I tell you.

"Maybe I don't want to be very helpful." You look at me evenly. "Maybe I want to be really, really unhelpful." You stop, and stare down at your hands. When you speak again, it's so soft that I barely hear it. "Maybe...maybe I just don't know." You look up at me. "Maybe I'm just perverse that way."

"Maybe," I echo. We lapse into silence, and after a moment, I reach out, tentatively, and touch your arm. You look at me and pull back the tiniest amount, as if it's something you can't control. Or perhaps you simply find me repellent and do not want to hurt my feelings. I search for the right words to say, finally settling on, "You aren't alone."

You drop your eyes again, staring down at where my hand is resting on your arm. Slowly, hesitantly, you reach out with your free hand and touch my fingers lightly, tracing the length of them before your hand returns to your side and you pull back further. I suppress a shiver and withdraw as well.

"Thank you," you say. Nothing else, just those two words, and yet somehow I am relieved. You stare at me again, thinking about I know not what. You want to say something else, I think, but you choose not to and I find myself staring up at you as you stand quickly.

There is an almost physical feeling of vertigo as I look at you like this. A knowing, a feeling of having done this before when I know I haven't. Dj vu. If you say anything, I don't hear it, lost as I am in the memory, the image of you above me, looking down with those wolf's eyes of yours. I clench my hands around the arms of the chair, feeling the reassuring solidity of the wood beneath my fingers. Dear Lord.

Then the image is gone, replaced by the current reality, and you are tilting your head, eyebrows raised in silent question. I open my mouth, then close it and shrug. How do I tell you that I was not paying attention because I was caught up in the feel of your body moving over mine, because, somehow, I know the scent and taste of your skin?

I have always respected you. You are, after all, a remarkably together young man. You handle yourself with a quiet dignity that I admire, and you are strong enough to face yourself and others with total honesty. So, respect. But this...this sudden desire is new, and not wholly unwelcome. It happens sometimes, and generally, I would ignore it. But not now. Not after so long without feeling this way.

Something of what I am feeling must be reflected on my face, because I see your lips part slightly as you draw in a breath. We stare at each other, surprise and no small amount of fear keeping us apart. You drift closer, moving almost unconsciously toward me, and I hold my breath. You lean down, but not too much; even standing, you are not all that much taller than I.

The first feel of your mouth against mine makes my heart sing. God help me, but I have missed this. I have missed this sense of connection to another person, and I fear that you could be anyone and I would feel the same. No man was ever meant to be alone, and I have been that way for far too long.

I fight the urge to pull you down, to hold you closer against me. It would not be right; I will not take advantage of your vulnerability tonight. But I want to. I want you pressed up against me, whispering my name. I want to know the feel of your quick hands against my skin. I want so badly.

But then it is over, too soon and not nearly quickly enough. You touch your lips and stare at me, and I wonder at what kind of fool I must look. I wonder if I should have pulled you against me. I wonder.

You smile, but there is a hesitancy that was not there before and it breaks what little is left of my control. I'm terribly afraid that you will walk away now, and this...thing that has sprung to maddening life will eat away at me until I do not know what to do. The wariness in your eyes shatters me, and I struggle to keep my voice even. "I...um, that is to say..."

Dammit. Why must I retreat into blushing embarrassment now, when what I say matters so much? Simple words: don't leave, stay, I'm sorry, touch me...

God yes, please. Touch me, any way you want to. But don't bloody leave. Not now. Not when I finally feel alive again.

In the end, however, I simply say, "I'm sorry." What else can I say? I know how you feel tonight. To some extent, I feel it as well. She was important to you, and she's gone, resting in another man's arms. No matter how strong you are, how at ease with her loss, you are still vulnerable. I am sorry, but not for that kiss. That, I could never apologize for. But how do I make you understand that?

I close my eyes, because I can't face you right now. You touch my cheek lightly, softly, barely, a ghosting touch that is gone before I can do more than open my eyes. I catch your hand and hold it tightly, trying to show you by touch exactly what I want, what I need. You smile at me, a bright, joyous thing that makes my heart glad. It is rare to see you so obviously happy and it makes me want to laugh to know that I put that expression on your face.

You curl your fingers around mine, holding me firmly, but not tightly. Reassuring me. And I am reassured. How could I not be? I tug you closer and you move willingly. I would stand but I fear that if I try my knees may simply just give out, and then where would we be?

The smile on your face fades after a moment, and I want to protest. You don't smile like that nearly enough, and you should.

"Giles..."

Don't say it. Please. Let me have this moment.

Please.

I reach up and touch your cheek, and you lean into the touch, closing your eyes and sighing quietly. For a few seconds, I feel hope rise up again in my chest, only to watch it die with your next words.

"I have to go."

No doubt Buffy or Xander would make some small, debatably witty, joke about a train wreck here. It would be appropriate. And if this - the possibility of this, rather - meant less, I would try to do the same. But this hurts, badly, and I don't know quite what to do.

I release your hand, and fold my hands in my lap. "I understand." Damn, damn, damn. I feel fifteen again. I hated fifteen.

You cup my face between your hands, and I can feel the roughness of your calluses against my cheeks. You hesitate, unsure of your welcome, and I want to tell you that it will be all right. But I can't. I can't speak past the burning lump in my throat. Somehow, and I don't need to know how, you realize that, and you smile. And then I still can't speak, but this time for gratitude.

"Giles."

I blink. "Hm?"

"Nothing. Just wanted to say your name again."

How did Willow let you out of her life? I can feel that foolish little smile on my lips again. A bit tinged with sadness, perhaps, but still a smile. You look at me gravely and kiss my forehead. I close my eyes. I try, I truly do, but I need to know. "Will you come back?"

"Yes."

Ah. There's that warmth, again. Thank you for that. I begin to stand, but you stop me with a hand on my chest. I look up at you and you shake your head. "Oz?"

"If you kiss me again, I don't think I could go."

I nod. I understand the need to leave. I do. But understanding doesn't make it any easier. I watch you turn to go, and you are almost at the doors before I speak. "Oz."

You turn. "Yeah?"

I smile. Just a little. "I just felt like saying your name."

"I'll write," you say softly.

"You don't have to."

I can see the amusement in your eyes. "I'll write."

"I...thank you." I look down at my hands and repeat, "Thank you."

You turn to go again, and this time I let you. I watch you leave, watch the doors swing shut behind you, and I smile. You will come back, and then...

I close my eyes and touch my mouth lightly. Then we will see.



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Oz