Penny for your Thoughts...

* * * * * * * *

Giles surreptitiously watched the blonde girl pummeling the life out of a punchbag and wondered for about the fifth time that morning what was on her mind. She'd been distracted for a couple of days now and, if she didn't watch out, she was going to get herself injured on patrol.

He supposed he should try and find out what was bothering her but he was reluctant to spoil the more harmonious relationship they'd achieved over the last few weeks by probing into something that was probably none of his business. Besides, Buffy's mind was still a complete mystery to him and it was doubtful how much help he'd be. Still... it couldn't do any harm to ask...

He cleared his throat and glanced over his glasses at his Slayer. "Penny for them?"

Buffy's head whipped round. "Huh?" She moved aside just in time as the punchbag swung round to hit her and Giles sternly repressed a smile.

"Your thoughts," he said. "You seem to have had something on your mind of late. I just wondered if there was anything I could do to help." He took off his glasses and polished them on his sweater, anything to avoid looking into those bright, beautiful eyes that always made him feel slightly uncomfortable. "Sometimes it helps to, um, talk things through, with a disinterested party, so to speak. I just thought you should know that I'm always here for you if you need a, um, friendly ear."

He looked up to find her regarding him with fond indulgence and the expression warmed him from the inside out. Strange how she could have that effect on him. No one else had ever made him feel good just with a look. When that look changed into one of thoughtful speculation, however, he felt vaguely uneasy. What had he got himself into?

* * * * * * * *

"Well," said Buffy slowly, wondering how best to broach the subject. There was no indication that Giles felt anything 'romantic' for her and she wasn't about to blow their friendship on a whim. Not that there was anything particularly whimmy about what she was feeling for him. She'd waited for the novelty to wear off and to go back to thinking of him as Giles, loyal friend and comrade-at-arms, but she was unfortunately still thinking of him as Giles, wonderful guy and strong-pair-of-arms. So, something was going to have to be done.

Even Riley had noticed the difference. Of course, his being jealous of Giles in the first place didn't help, but now Buffy was feeling the guilt because he had something to be jealous of. She hadn't been able to be near him for the last couple of days and he was being all hurt and huffy about it... not that she blamed him. She decided to start with that and test the water with Giles. Maybe if she watched his reactions really closely, she could get some sort of clue to how he really felt about her. If all went well, they could be smooching by lunchtime and, if not, well she knew for a fact that there was a jumbo tub of Ben and Jerry's with her name on it at home.

"I've been having some problems with Riley," she began and watched his face attentively.

* * * * * * * *

Riley again. That bloody pillock didn't appreciate his own good fortune. The way he constantly upset Buffy put Giles' back up. It wasn't that he disliked the bloke, far from it, they actually got on pretty well most of the time. He sometimes wondered whether he'd ever approve of any man Buffy chose. It was unfair of him to expect her to remain single – after all, she was a young, vibrant, beautiful woman. It would be a shocking waste.

He looked over at her, somewhat surprised at the term he'd used, even if only in his thoughts, to describe her. He'd always thought himself immune to her attractions, even as he'd watched with amusement as every other man she met tumbled head over heels and followed her around like a puppy. God, that would be the ultimate irony, if she gained that power over him as well. The one man who was supposed to be strong and guide her. He forced the thought aside and concentrated on what she was saying.

"We've been having problems for a while. You, uh, you probably noticed that, right?" she asked ironically.

"Just a tad," he replied in the same tone.

"Riley was heavily beaten with the jealousy stick and he kind of wigs out whenever he thinks I might be paying any other guy too much attention."

"Sign of insecurity," said Giles shortly, and then was unable to resist adding, "and probably immaturity too." Oh, that was clever, old man. Could you have sounded more snide and petty if you'd tried?

Strangely, Buffy seemed not to notice. At least she perked up noticeably so he assumed she hadn't heard him.

"I guess," she said. "Only lately, he seems to have focused on one particular target for his little green-eyed vendetta."

"Oh?" Giles was intrigued. He hadn't noticed Buffy spending any amount of time with anyone Riley could have homed in on as a threat.

"Yeah. Wanna know who it is?" There was a teasing note in her voice. If he hadn't known better, he would have said she was flirting with him.

"I'm on tenterhooks," he said. "Do tell."

"It's you, Giles."

His eyes opened wide for one moment before he began to laugh. "Good heavens. He does seem to have got the wrong end of the stick, doesn't he?"

Buffy stepped closer and took his glasses, placing them on the table next to him before leaning in and whispering, "Has he? Or is he just more astute than we are?"

"I, I... er... don't know w-what you mean," Giles was having trouble with his breathing. Her delectable figure was coated in spandex and it was right there in front of him. Even with his vision, he could see more than he'd ever allowed himself to want to see. "W-we h-have a close relationship, true, but it has always been, um, entirely i-innocent." Unlike his mind at the moment, came the wayward thought.

"Uh-huh," she agreed, looking up at him with something that looked suspiciously like desire. "But, you know, I discussed it with Willow and it kind of made me think about a few things."

"Things? What things?" he almost squeaked. God help him, but her perfume was driving him crazy. He could feel his body beginning to respond to her proximity and hoped like mad that she wouldn't notice. When she wriggled a little closer and looked up at him with a slow smile, he knew he'd hoped in vain.

"Things like... how much we have in common, how close we've gotten over the years, the way your butt looks in those black jeans of yours..."

Giles blinked. "My... sorry?"

"But most of all, you know what I thought about?" she asked softly.

He was almost afraid to find out, but he was more afraid not to. This whole conversation was like some bizarre dream but he didn't want to wake up. "What?" he said.

"I thought about what it would be like to kiss you and have you hold me and know that I was safer there than anywhere else in the world."

He felt his heart melt in his chest. "Oh, Buffy," he said with a smile.

"Wanna satisfy my curiosity?" she said, putting her arms around his neck and holding him tightly, as if afraid he might escape if she let go. It was one more sign of the insecurity of this girl who carried the world on her slim shoulders, and Giles wasn't proof against it. He bent his head and pressed his lips softly against hers, wrapping his arms around her waist and holding her tenderly against him. It was a sweet kiss, with the promise of passion lying just beneath, but for now the promise was enough. More important was the sense of connection and the growing feelings in the two people who clung so closely to one another.

It was the sound of a throat being cleared that brought them out of their reverie. They pulled reluctantly apart to see Willow and Xander standing at the doorway. Xander had his hands pressed firmly to his eyes, but Willow had a satisfied smile on her face, almost a smirk.

"You might wanna flip the 'Closed' sign when you're otherwise occupied," she said. "It'll save Xander's tender sensibilities in the future."

"If I just keep my eyes closed, it'll all go away," Xander said fervently.

"Don't worry, I'll take him away and put him in therapy," said Willow with a giggle. "He'll be fine in a year or two." With that she grabbed his arm and tugged him out of the room.

Buffy and Giles glanced at each other and grinned. Where they would go from here was anybody's guess, but for now they couldn't have been happier.

"Now," said Buffy, stepping closer to him again, "where were we before we were so rudely interrupted?"