24
By Jacqui

Title: 24
Author: Jacqui wily_one24@yahoo.com.au
Rating: G.
Disclaimer: Not mine. Don't sue.
Spoilers: None.
Feedback: I'd like that so very much.
Comments: They say the camera never lies.


24.

Such an innocent number.

Two times twelve.

Four times six.

The number of hours in a day.

After this day, however, Buffy Summers will never look at that number the same again, because twenty four is also the number of exposures in a roll of film. Exposure, she thinks after that day, is descriptive in more ways than one.

Buffy shifts her weight from one foot to the other as she impatiently watches the clerk slowly rifle through several files before triumphantly pulling out the small package of photographs. Behind her, Buffy is aware of the native sounds of the mall, shoes muffled on the floor, whispers of conversation, music being piped through the intercom, cash registers ringing and crashing, all blended into a noiseless type of noise.

"Here we are!" The clerk smiles like a school boy expecting lavish praise for work, as if finding the packet labeled 'Summers' is a difficult achievement that merits acknowledgement. Buffy smiles back as she pays and the too eager clerk blushes as he hands her the change.

It had been a magical day when the photos were taken. Bright, sunny, but not too hot. They'd gone to the beach, Willow, Oz, Xander, they'd even convinced Giles to go. A picnic lunch, a blanket, some beach towels and various other equipment assured it had been a day to remember, one where the memories are warm and fuzzy around the edges.

Sitting down and opening the packet, Buffy takes out the first photo and gasps. She can remember the exact moment that she'd taken the photo, the camera fitting in her hands easily. It had been just her and Giles, lying stretched out on the blanket as the other three had gone off playing frisbee.

The heat of the sun and the weight of the food had lulled them both into an easy lethargy. Buffy had opened her eyes, about to say something, when she looked over and saw Giles asleep. The deviously mischievous idea came to her that she could take his photo and bribe him for ever after with his nap on the beach. The outcome was totally different, however, Giles wouldn't need to pay anyone to keep this photo hidden, hell, people would pay HIM just to see it.

Buffy traces her finger over the lines of the picture and wonders how she ever missed the inherent sensuality of the man. In font of her very eyes, inside the scope of the little square of cardboard in her hand, he lies there, on his back, his arms crossed behind his head.

His sleeves have been folded up and small, wiry hairs dot his wrists and forearms, the first few buttons on his shirt have been undone and the muscles of his chest are suggested beneath the shadows of more body hair.

The skin on his face has taken on a reddish glow, not the bright red of a burn, but the healthier darkening given by a day in the sun. The corners of his mouth turn upwards slightly, as if he were in that very moment of sleep, dreaming of something pleasant. The lush fullness of his lips and the way they were parted just so, suggested something not entirely pure. Looking at the photo now, Buffy wants to touch those lips, their wetness, maybe even with her own mouth, parting them further. That thought and the direction it is prepared to take, shocks her.

His mouth is framed by four small dimples, creating a strange, but definitely appealing, focus on those lips. Odd, she has not noticed this before and wonders how she could possibly have missed it. There are creases that spread out from his eyes and as she looks at them now, they seem less like the product of age, than as a mark of his character. The result of many grins he has sent her way, chuckles at her comments, frowns of worry, disappointment, anger. Emotions. She wishes that he'd been awake for the photo, for she desperately wants to look into his eyes.

She can remember the click of the shutter and the sudden jerk of his awakening, how he'd sat bolt upright, a testimony to his ever alertness. Almost immediately, he'd relaxed, saying her name with a glare, but he'd been unable to hide the smile, the laughter in his eyes or the indulgence in his face. Buffy had poked out her tongue and jumped up to join the others, leaving him to settle back down and watch them. Buffy wonders what could have happened had she stayed. She banishes the that thought as she realizes that she's been looking at this one photo too long, though no one but her is there to notice.

She flips it to the back.

The four of them sit amongst each other on the blanket. Willow, Oz, Xander and Giles. She looks at the way they all accommodate each other. A mixture of limbs and skin and cloth. The remnants of their lunch in front of them. Willow lies on her stomach, propping her chin in her hands, a dreamy smile on her face as she stares into the camera. Oz is leaning over her back, aloof and seemingly unconcerned about anything, but he cannot hide from the camera a slight possessive air as his hand comes to rest on the opposite side of Willow and his face leans into her neck as if he's whispering something into her ear. Xander assumes much the same position as Oz, leaning over, but from the other side, of Willow and appearing behind Oz. The three belong to each other and it is seen in the photo.

But Buffy is looking at Giles, once more, caught and hypnotized by the man. He sits up, leaning back on his hands, his legs spread out in front of him. Buffy smiles at the way his bare feet poke out of his trousers, his bony ankles looking awkward, boyish and adorable. Her eyes drift over the round pink bubbles of his toes, the skin a surprising smooth contrast to the weathered wear of the rest of him.

She flips to the next photo.

She hears, in her head, Willow's authoritative voice. "Okay, now one with you in it!" She can see the disparaging shakes of all four heads when she starts to refuse. It was, she remembers now with a slight jolt, Giles' soft pleading that made her finally relent and hand the camera over to a nearby fellow beach goer.

Looking at the group, Buffy remembers, she had fit herself in the only place there had been room. Kneeling up next to and slightly behind Giles. Unconsciously, for she would never do so on purpose, Buffy blocks the three other scoobies out of her mind and looks only at the two of them. It is the first photo in which they are together and she is startled by the closeness, the absolute togetherness that they exude. On her face sits a wide, bright smile, her cheeks flushed with energy and laughter, glowing with happiness. Her hair falls into her eyes and just before the photo was taken, Buffy had flipped her head to shake it off. The effect was that, in the photo, she looks as if she is leaning into Giles, sharing an intimate moment with him.

The expression on Giles' face looks, if possible, more relaxed and comfortable than in the previous photos. His posture has shifted almost imperceptibly and Buffy can see this is because he is leaning into her. She was unable to see it on the day, but Buffy now notices the tilt of his head, the direction of his eyes. He's looking at her and Buffy finds herself almost surprised to see the emotion in his eyes.

Flip.

Xander pulls a face at her from the photo in her hand. Buffy smiles fondly. Suddenly, out of nowhere, the thought comes to her that he cannot keep this innocence forever. It saddens her, to wonder when he'll lose that quality, to wonder what will make that happen when he's already been through so much.

Flip.

It takes her a moment to decipher the details of this one. There are several figures on the beach, all focused on having a good time within themselves and their groups. All at once she sees herself and, a little further down the beach, stands Willow, between them a bright red frisbee flies. Another moment and Buffy is able to place Xander and Oz, just out of sight of the camera. Giles must have picked it up after she'd dropped it. The thought makes her smile.

She flips through the next few photos, looking at each one, but finding no reason to pause over them for any length of time. Photos of them all playing games, having fun, being free. It occurs to her that, in each of the photos Giles has taken, and there are seven, whoever is in them is smiling, unconscious of the lends focused on them, forgetting for a moment that the fate of the world often rests on their shoulders.

This comes to her in a sudden physical jolt, though it doesn't surprise her. She's never thought about it before, but it seems perfectly within Giles' nature to long to see them carefree and happy. She wonders just how much she automatically knows by instinct about Giles, about how much they are attuned to each other.

The instant she thinks about it, concentrates on explaining and detailing it, her knowledge about Giles becomes elusive and blurs, melding into the 'safe' opinions she has built up around him. She decides that she must, sometime soon, sometime very soon, sift her real thoughts from the defensive ones she has created because it was expected.

Flip.

They're in the water now. One of the few times she'd been able - Buffy pauses to correct herself without thinking, though later she wonders if her first phrasing had been more accurate - they'd been able to convince Giles to join them. Oz, however, had refused, claiming he didn't 'do the water thing'. She looks at the fine spray of water that leaps out of Xander's hand and covers Willow, the way that Willow turns away, but is laughing, calling something out.

Her eyes search out the two figures that stand nearby and she finds them with little effort. Giles stands waist deep in the water, reluctant to go any further, while Buffy holds his hands, pulling him deeper, leaning back with the effort. He looks as if he's deciding whether to laugh or growl at her. She's pouting and looks as if she's about to cry if he doesn't give in.

Flip.

Oz must have taken the photos in quick succession, for Buffy can recognize this one as occurring moments after. Willow has turned the tables and has leapt onto Xander's back, pushing him under the water. Both are laughing. Giles, she remembers, trips on something, losing his footing and being pulled forward by her. She, not having seen him trip, falls backwards, taking him with her. Her mouth is stretched wide in shocked laughter.

Flip.

Xander and Willow have disappeared from view, leaving in their wake splashes and odd limbs. Giles, finding coordination and his footing faster than Buffy, has grabbed her by the waist and twisted her around, off her feet, to stop her from falling. Buffy looks at the way she throws her head back and laughs. She can remember the total feeling of safety as he lifts her in the water. She can also remember the few moments when, lifted up, she wraps her legs around his waist, feeling a sharp contrast between the harsh salty coldness and the smooth heat of his skin.

Quick flip.

Willow and Xander resurface, spluttering, but still laughing. The photo is at an angle, as if Oz has been caught unawares. Buffy wonders whether he had been startled by Willow and Xander, or her and Giles. Maybe it had been either. She looks at herself, now several feet from Giles, wading towards her friends. Buffy traces a finger over the face of Giles, suddenly sad and angry at herself, because she can now see the confusion and disappointment on his face as he watches her race away from him as fast as she can go.

Quicker flip.

Xander has the camera now, she can tell, because the photos are of surprised faces, blanked out with shock at the intrusion, or clouded with anger and threat. She can hear the low growls forming in each of their throats. "Put it down, Xander." The faces flip by, Willow, Oz, Giles and herself.

Flip, flip, flip, flip.

The next photo surprises her, she hadn't known any one had photographed her as she'd napped, the late afternoon sun having leached all her energy. It is a good photo, though, it surprises her that her sleeping posture unconsciously mirrors that of Giles in the first photo. The thing that puzzles her, is who held the camera.

Flip.

Giles, Xander and Oz, in the midst of building a sand castle. It answers her question, she thinks, because the castle had already been built when she'd woken up. Willow had taken the photos. It makes her giggle, this photo, the total boyish innocence of the act. Xander, maybe Oz, she'd thought had been the budding architect. Never Giles, but there he was, his face clouded with intense concentration as his hand reached out to smooth the lines of the castle. A thin layer of sand granules crust his naked wrist.

Sigh. Flip.

The sky is darkening now, the air taking on an eerie quality, readying itself to be bleached of color before nightfall. Moments after this photo is taken, Buffy knows, they will rouse themselves to ensure that they get home before true nightfall, an unspoken and therefor unacknowledged reminder of their reality, a none to gentle reminder of why they'd all needed they day in the first place. For now, though, for the purpose of the photo, it is a moment of peace, contentment, a second to be savored and remembered.

Buffy now has control of the camera again and the photo is a side on view of the others. Oz sits with his back against a rolled up towel, on his face is a contented expression, in his arms lies a drowsy Willow. The photo gives the illusion that she is asleep, but in reality she is drifting along the waves of an almost semi sleep but never quite reaching it. Willow is leaning back against Oz's chest, his arms surrounding her, his legs nestling her. On the far side, Xander sits, unaware that Buffy is holding the camera, a fist digging into his eye, much like a tired child would do, his face is slack, as if he had just yawned and his skin is a bright pink that will turn into a vicious burn the next day.

Giles, in the front of the photo, is the only one aware that it is being taken. His face is stretched taut into an awkward, self conscious smile, his posture looks as though he cannot really decide what to do with himself. His head is bent forward, as if to shade himself from view, but this attempt is negated by the way his eyes are angled upwards, looking to the person behind the camera, to Buffy, as if sharing a joke, something secret and intimate between them.

Flip.

The next photo makes her laugh out loud. She'd forgotten this. Xander stands, his feet planted firmly in the sand, his arm outstretched, in his hand is a towel, springing back towards him. Giles stands a foot away, a murderous glare aimed at Xander. A fine spray of sand rains down upon them both. To the side, Willow has thrown her head back with laughter and even Oz looks amused. Buffy remembers laughing before Giles turned his glare to her and they continued packing in silence.

Flip.

The last photo and everything is packed up, the sun is struggling to give off the last rays of light and they are making their way back to the car. Buffy had carried the large, unwieldy folded blanket, Giles a bag of sports equipment, Willow and Oz carried the picnic basket between them and Xander had followed with the left over bags. Buffy hadn't realized that Xander had managed to juggle the bags enough to find the camera and use it. Willow and Oz walked, side by side, their heads leaning into each other, saying something that will stay between them, with nothing but their backs to suggest their closeness.

It is the couple ahead of them, once again, that catches Buffy's eye. Her and Giles. Buffy has the blanket hoisted under her right arm, her left hanging loosely by her side. Giles has the bag in his left hand, his right also hanging by his side. Both are looking forward, not talking to or leaning into each other, but they stand so close that their hands are almost touching.

Buffy shifts the bundle of photos back into its pouch and sits there, tapping her fingers on the table, lost in her own thoughts. She wonders whether the photos have changed her way of thinking, or if they have just illuminated it to her. She prefers the latter. There is no doubt in her mind, now that she thinks about it, how he feels for her. A smile dances across her lips. She is startled by a glass being placed on the table in front of her.

"Half caf, double mocha, yes?"

She looks up at him, looking down at her.

"Sorry I took so long, did you get what you needed?" He waits for a response and, when he gets none, becomes concerned. "What's wrong? Is everything alright?"

Buffy blinks, smiles and stands up, though she doesn't seem to snap out of the trance she is in. He stutters, confused, as she reaches for him and pulls him into her by his collar. Her lips are searing, searching, slightly cautious, but hungry. He feels he should resist, but knows he cannot. When she pulls back, he lets out an involuntary groan of disappointment.

"Buffy? What…?"

"I love you, Giles." Her eyes widen and she giggles as if saying this aloud both startles and delights her. "I love you."

He cannot help but smile back.

 
The END