Disclaimer in Part One
Flowing from one moment to the next, weight swaying from one foot to the other, the world pushing away from under her feet.
Turning, falling, lifting, flying
Buffy glided across the ice, weaving her way through the undines, joining their dance, counter-pointing their ballet. Ice cold hands reached for hers, catching hold and then letting go again, spinning her on her way. She whirled and she leapt, and she landed, light as a feather, feeling every moment of abandon, feeling the way each jump took her higher, feeling totally and utterly free …
She’d always loved to skate. She’d revelled in the discipline and freedom of it, finding delight in a carefully mastered and executed figure and sheer joy in the freer forms of the dance and the jump. She’d been pretty good at it when she was young – and she was even better at it now, her skills enhanced by her slayer’s gifts. The undine’s dance was a challenging one, but she had the strength and the balance to master it, challenging them
in a dazzle of axels, lutzes and triple loops.
It was exhilarating.
It had been a long time – a long, long
time, since she’d done anything like this. Done something for the sheer joy of it, giving herself up to the moment without a seconds thought. She felt breathless. Alive. And safe
in a way she couldn’t explain and didn’t want to stop and analyse.
The slaying could feel this good sometimes – but it always came with the heart pounding adrenaline that reminded her she was in constant danger. One slip during a fight and it might turn out to be her last. If she slipped here,
the only thing she’d risk was losing her dignity – and possibly gaining a few bruises on her butt, but the chances of doing that seemed infinitesimal.
Nor did she feel at all self conscious, the way she’d expected to in those first few tentative steps onto the ice. True, Giles was watching her, but that was what he did.
No doubt he’d have something to say about her form, or her recklessness, or possibly even question the take off that launched her into her triple Salchow, but she didn’t really care.
Right then she didn’t really care about anything except the swish of her skates across the ice, the rip of the cold as it warred with the heat in her lungs, and those breath catching glimpses of the bundled figure on the shore line as she twirled and leapt and spun as if lifted on crystal wings.
Did he know how wonderful this was? He’d gifted her with something so simple, and yet so profound that she didn’t think she’d ever be able to express her gratitude. Not in ways that their current relationship permitted, anyway. Here she was, flying, and there he
was, being her anchor, holding her heart … and she still
had no idea if he knew or not, but the thought of him knowing didn’t seem to scare her as much anymore.
The crystal clarity of the winter air cut into her soul, opening her eyes to endless revelations. She’d never seen things quite so clearly before. Her feet carried her across the ice. Her heart lifted her blithely into the air. She jumped and she whirled, casting away the burdens she’d been carrying for so long. The weight of Angel’s obsessions. The insecurities of Parker’s indifference. The obligations of Riley’s need for self validation. One by one they’d shaped and changed her, forcing her into shapes that met their
needs, their vision of the woman they wanted her to be.
When all she needed
to be was Buffy.
Joyce’s daughter. Dawn’s sister. Willow’s friend. Xander’s best bud.
Giles’ Slayer …
The final jump spun her to a halt, breathless and giddy, right in front of him. He was just standing there, his hands jammed into his pockets and his shoulders hunched a little against the cold. He might not have Angel’s sculptured looks or Riley’s macho build, but he didn’t need either of them; what he had was quiet strength, certain presence, insightful intelligence, and a smouldering charm that was uniquely his own.
Not to mention the hints of arcane power and the suggestion of a fierce and feral passion penned in behind his smile.
He was the only man she knew that could manage to be disarmingly cute and dangerously sexy all at the same time.
"Having a good time?" he asked, and she grinned, twisting herself into a spontaneous spin of delight.
"S’wonderful," she declared, coming to a halt and hugging her arms around herself in happiness. "Thank you. Thank you for everything.
Her eyes met his, dark and shadowed behind moonlit glass. Buffy’s breath caught. She felt a shiver, deep in her heart. For one, brief moment she could see
the gift he’d been given, a power so profound it could literally change the world.
The true magic of the soul …
Then Giles coloured and looked away, tugging off his glasses and polishing them on his scarf with habitual embarrassment. "Yes … well … umm," he hedged, reacting to her thanks with typical dismissive modesty. "Time to go home, I think."
Buffy’s amusement at his reaction was quickly curtailed as his words registered. "So soon?"
"It’s getting late." His voice held sympathy, but the announcement brooked no arguments. He nodded towards the ice and she turned, seeing the undines drifting away from her, becoming fainter and fainter as they faded into the night. Snow was beginning to fall again, floating down from the sky in soft, silent flakes. She shivered, suddenly feeling the cold.
"Perhaps we ought to get back. I just need to – " She swallowed the rest of the sentence, staring down at her feet which were, once again, clad in her battered trainers. The skates were gone. "Oh." She looked up, and looked round. Ferdy and his brazier were nowhere to be seen. "I didn’t …" She glanced at Giles’ patient expression. "I-I wanted to thank him."
"Save it for the next time you see him," he suggested, reaching out to offer her the shelter of his arm. She blinked, gulped, and then stepped in close, needing no second invitation. He really was
cuddly, bundled up like that; she hesitated for less than a second before her arm was sliding around his waist and she was settling in against him as if she belonged there.
"Will I?" she wondered. "See him again, I mean."
He chuckled, and she could feel it rumble through him, a small quake of amusement. "You never know. Fox spirits … well, predictability is not the most obvious of their virtues. But they can be very loyal. To the people they – um … take a shine to. I expect he’ll be around. Somewhere."
There was a story behind all that; one Buffy suspected she might never hear in full. But that wouldn’t stop her trying to wheedle it out of him when the opportunity arose. Not now though. Now
was the time to savour walking beside him, encircled in the strength of his arm and pressed up close to his warmth.
There was definitely something to be said for a cold snowy night.
They reached the house all too soon; the yard was a winter wonderland in which familiar shapes lay blanketed beneath their covering of snow. Buffy’s steps slowed as they approached the porch. She didn’t want this magic night to end, but she knew there was nothing she could do to prevent it. "This …" she said, the first hesitant words she’d offered since they’d left the park. "This will be all gone in the morning, won’t it."
"I’m afraid so." Giles lifted his arm and stepped away from her, reclaiming the required propriety with what looked like suspiciously like regret. Buffy wrapped her arms around herself, clinging to the remnants of his warmth before the cold stripped it all away. "But – um … it’s probably better that way. Don’t want to – uh – upset the local environment too much."
"No." The moment was awkward, for all sorts of reasons. "I just … wish …"
"Don’t," he interrupted firmly. "Don’t even think
about it. You never know who might be listening."
She grimaced, half in apology and half in self annoyance. "I know," she sighed. "But you ..."
"That’s not how it works," he said softly, and she looked at him with surprise. "The wishes of the heart can only be spoken by
the heart. Thoughtless words can be taken and warped. Made to mean … almost anything. But the heart’s desire … " His smile twisted with wry wisdom. "Cannot be mistaken. Cannot be denied. Cannot be questioned. This," he said, indicating the sweep of the snow and the crispness of the night, "is simply a fantasy. A moment out of time. But this
…" He stepped closer, leaning forward to plant the gentlest of kisses on her lips. "Is a possibility. If that’s what you truly want."
She stared at him. Stared into his eyes, barely inches from her own. The moment trembled between them, the fire of his kiss burning through her, a whisper of worship. Of promise. Of surety. And surrender …
"Oh God, yes
," she breathed.
His smile was slow and sultry. He started to lean in again – just as the kitchen door slammed open, spilling Dawn out into the night.
"Oh God, oh God, oh god!
" The teenager was bouncing in excitement, her eyes wide with wonder and amazement. Watcher and Slayer both took a hasty step backwards, exchanging a look of mutual frustration and promise. Later
, Giles mouthed, and Buffy nodded, trying to calm the racing beat of her heart.
"It snowed. I don’t believe it. It snowed
." Dawn was off the porch steps and on her knees in the snow, burying her hands in the yielding whiteness.
." Amusement at her sister’s antics bubbled up through Buffy’s disappointed exasperation. It wasn’t Dawn's fault that she’d managed to interrupt … well, whatever it was she’d just interrupted. Nor could she really be blamed for her goofy behaviour. She’d never even seen
snow before. "Stop that. You’ll get frost bite."
"Quite." Giles, being eminently practical, had peeled himself out of his jacket so that he could wrap it around the excited teenager. Dawn looked a little puzzled for a moment, then shrugged into the fabric, hugging it around herself as she got to her feet. Buffy had to fight down a sudden surge of jealousy, imagining what it would feel like to be so intimately wrapped in his warmth and his scent. "There’s really no need for such an undignified display."
"Yes there is," Dawn retorted, staring round herself in delight. She bounced further into the yard, stamping down snow with fascination. "I wanna … ride in a sleigh. Build a snow man, have a – eek!
Buffy blinked. Something round and white had flown past her to spatter firmly across the side of Dawn’s face. The teenager was gaping in outraged astonishment. And Giles … Giles was standing there with a look of total innocence on his face, quietly groping behind himself for the ammunition for a second snowball …
"You do realise," Dawn announced with steely determination, "that this means war
"Absolutely," he agreed and launched his second attack with the same deadly accuracy as the first. Dawn squealed and grabbed for ammunition. Her throw was uncoordinated and missed its target by miles. Buffy, with a gleam of mischief in her eye, gathered up her own missile, half hefted it towards Dawn, then turned and threw it straight into her Watcher’s chest.
"Nobody snowballs my
sister and gets away with it, mister!"
Within moments they were engaged in a full out snowball fight, white missiles whizzing backwards and forwards with furious abandon. Giles made a valiant effort to defend himself, but he didn’t stand much chance when matched against Dawn’s youthful exuberance and a Slayer’s speed and reflexes. It wasn’t long before he was down on his knees in the snow, throwing up his arms to fend off the missiles and crying pax in-between paroxysms of laughter. Buffy stalked across and stared down at him, a freshly gathered snowball in her hands.
"Do you surrender?" she demanded, making mock menaces with her weapon while Dawn giggled and scrubbed at her hands to warm them up again.
Giles had to struggle to get his breath back. He looked up, meeting his Slayer’s teasing smile. "Completely. Without … reservation," he gasped, giving her a warm look that suggested he wasn’t just talking about the snowball fight. Buffy had to fight down a desire to throw away the snowball and throw herself at him instead. She wasn’t sure enough about what was happening between them to risk exposing it to her sister’s scrutiny.
Not yet, anyway.
"The Slayer is merciful," she declared with mock haughtiness. "You may live."
"Thank you," he acknowledged, climbing carefully to his feet and brushing snow out of his sweater. "I think it’s time Dawn was in bed, don’t you?"
"Aww," Dawn protested, pouting at him. "Can’t I …?"
"No," Buffy interjected firmly. "Giles is right. It’s late and you have stuff to do tomorrow. Me too. Say goodnight, Dawn."
Dawn sighed and carefully extracted herself from the bulky jacket, reluctantly handing it back to its owner. "Good night, Giles," she said, shivering a little without the additional warmth. "And … thanks."
"You’re welcome," he smiled, watching as she turned to go into the house. Buffy moved to follow her and he put out his hand, drawing her to a halt. "There’s just … one more thing," he said. A quick glance confirmed that Dawn was safely out of sight again. "Or maybe two."
Buffy’s shiver had absolutely nothing to do with the cold. "I have to give my coat back too?" she quipped, trying to quell the sudden flutter in her stomach.
"No," he smiled. "That you can keep. And this."
He pulled the glove from his left hand, reached up – literally reached up
– and plucked something from the sky. When he brought his hand down again, it was clutching what looked like a crystal star; a delicate translucence in which a shimmering flicker of starlight lay entrapped. He pressed it carefully into her hands, folding her fingers over it so that she held it safe. "That’s for your tree," he explained. "And this
is for you."
He dipped forward with a smile. This time there was no interruption as she turned her face up to meet his. His bare hand reached to gently cradle the nape of her neck. His lips settled against hers as tenderly as a falling snowflake – and Buffy melted into the moment, discovering that perfection came seasoned with heaven and honey and the smoky after taste of tea …