For a long moment they sat beside each other neither saying a word. Finally, Buffy broke the silence. "Are you sorry we kissed?" Her voice was soft and uncertain.
He looked at her for what seemed like an eternity before taking a deep breath and shaking his head. "No."
Buffy frowned. "Are you going to try to pretend it never happened?"
"A little bloody late for that," he muttered, with a certain grimness.
"Yeah," she agreed in a low voice. "Too late to go on ignoring what I've felt for months. Maybe years. "
The silence resumed.
Buffy licked her lips, savoring the lingering taste of her Watcher. Without thinking, she put her hand over his, which were clasped tightly in his lap. She could feel the strength in them and it sent a delicious shock wave through her. An even bigger shock zipped along her nerve endings when he turned his hand over and laced his fingers through hers.
"Um.., oh!" Buffy blushed slightly. With a small shake of her head, she looked up at him seriously. "I just wanted to say that I'm not sorry it happened either. I've been thinking a lot about you… about us… and… "
She smiled at the amazement in his voice. "I have the excuse of a long history of being the Queen of Denial, but didn't you ever wonder why I never really liked Jo?"
"You were jealous?" He sounded stunned.
"Big time," she confirmed. "I tried to tell myself that it was just a Slayer-Watcher thing, and since we're a team it was perfectly normal for me to be concerned about who you dated." She stared down at their linked hands for a moment before looking back into his eyes. "Then, the night of my birthday, I came home and saw you kissing her. Really kissing her and..." Her voice trailed off momentarily before continuing almost cheerily. "That's when I finally had to admit to myself that wanting to rip Jo's long, gorgeous hair out of her head, had nothing to do with me being the Slayer or you being my Watcher."
"I had no idea."
"Yeah, well, you not having any idea was sort of the whole idea. I could tell you really liked her. For the first time in a really long time you were happy, and I didn't want to do anything to screw it up for you."
Giles shook his head. "I'm not sure whether to be grateful to you for such an unselfish and noble gesture or be blazingly angry that you would keep the truth from me."
Buffy shrugged. "Didn't you ever say or do something that seemed like a really good idea at the time? Then, the more you tried to convince yourself that it was the right thing, the more confused you got and suddenly you realized that what you were doing was entirely wrong."
Giles sighed. "I believe you just accurately summarized my relationship with Jo."
Buffy looked into his eyes. "At least, Brad and I are still friends. Even if he did sort of get the short end of the stake."
Giles didn't move for a long moment. Then he slowly released Buffy's hand. "But… "
"I can tell already that I'm not going to like this." She settled more firmly on the couch and folded her legs tailor-fashion. "Go ahead. Tell me it's a horrible idea and will never work and that I'm too young and that you think of me like a daughter…" She stopped, a stricken look on her face. "Oh, god. You don't, do you?"
Giles shot her an aggrieved glance. "The way I was kissing you less than ten minutes ago should be answer enough for that ridiculous suggestion."
"Sorry. Fear of rejection and I have a long, rich, and very personal history."
"If we're going to compare insecurities, I believe I'm the one who has actually been likened to a parent. One of a different gender, at that."
She groaned at the lingering trace of hurt she could hear in his voice. "You don't get fries and a drink with the Buffy combo. Instead there's a super-sized order of foot-in-mouth along with a generous helping of stupidity." She sighed. "What I was trying to tell you was that having you there made it seem like home again."
Giles searched her face as if seeking clues for some deeply hidden mystery. "Thank you," he said finally.
Buffy frowned. "Since you still look like somebody just squished your puppy, I'm guessing the idea of me and you being a 'we' isn't filling your heart with song."
"It's not that."
She raised an eyebrow.
"All right. It is that." He leaned forward and took her hands once again. "These past months, being here with all of you, have been wonderful. Whispering Pines may not be as tranquil as we originally hoped, but…"
"There's that word again."
He released her hands and ran his fingers through his hair. "Each of us has made a new life here. Willow is studying to be a doctor. Xander has found a job where his carpentry skills are well respected. Dawn is making new friends and doing well in school. You have a job that you enjoy and are continuing your studies. I have my work for the Council and at the university."
Buffy scowled. "Still not seeing how your but fits into this."
"But," he emphasized the word. "If we become involved and it doesn't work out, you and I won't be the only ones hurt."
"I usually at least get to go out on a date before being dumped." When he started to protest, she waved one hand. "It's okay. I realize my romantic resume doesn't inspire a lot of confidence. But," she emphasized the word just as he had, "what if it does work? What if just like we match perfectly as Watcher and Slayer, we match perfectly as Giles and Buffy? That's a possibility, isn't it?"
"I suppose it is."
He sounded so depressed that Buffy couldn't help but laugh. "Way to go with the enthusiasm."
He exhaled deeply. "I'm sorry. I know that I'm making a mess of this. A beautiful young woman that I've been interested in for far too long finally expresses interest in me and I immediately start listing the reasons why it won't work."
"You are interested?" Buffy latched on to what she considered the most important part of his statement.
"Okay." She grinned. "I'll take what I can get for tonight, which is a whole lot more than what I ever dreamed I would get tonight. You know now that I want us to be couply, and I can see where the whole 'My Slayer has the hots for me' thing is kinda a big surprise to you."
Giles opened his mouth, shut it again, and then cleared his throat. "True."
"Maybe after everything that's happened tonight we should wait and talk in the morning." She glanced at the clock on the mantle. "Well, later in the morning."
"That's very… sensible."
"Don't expect it to happen again anytime soon." She uncrossed her legs and swung her feet to the floor. "That just used up my supply of sensible for the next decade."
"I just hope I can be as sensible on this matter." He smiled at her. "I'm afraid I'm a bit overwhelmed by it all. I think a talk in the morn… Damn!"
"What is it?" Buffy stepped forward, concerned.
"I'm sorry, Buffy. I just remembered… Just before I left this evening, I received a call from Percy." He gestured at the email printout forgotten on the floor. "That's an email with a flight itinerary and ticket bookings. I have to leave first thing in the morning for England. I'll be gone for about a week."
"What?!" Buffy blew out a breath. Then she shrugged and smiled at him. "It's all right. I understand. I don't like it, but I understand. Maybe it's a good thing. Being away will give you time to think things over." She looked at the floor and then raised her head to meet his eyes. "I promise, if you decide for us to just be friends, I'll accept your decision and never mention it again . I've loved you as a friend for a long time, and that won't change. "
"You've given this a lot of thought, haven't you?"
She nodded her head once, emphatically. "You always said I needed to think things through more… And if I was going to go for the whole truthful thing, I have to tell you that for the last few weeks I haven't thought much about anything else. I've been pretty focused on what I would do if I ever got the chance."
He stared at her for what seemed like hours. "I'm not sure what to say. Frankly, I never thought I'd be faced with making this decision." He smiled ruefully. "To be absolutely honest, I'm terrified. I don't want to risk what we have; I don't want to risk our family here. But…"
"I could really learn to hate that word."
" …if I don't try, I will never forgive myself."
Her jaw didn't exactly drop, but her lips parted slightly. She recovered with astonishing speed, however. "Really?"
Her smile stretched wide as she held out her hand. "My week without you just got a lot more and a lot less stressful both, if you know what I mean. C'mon. I'll walk you to your room."
They went silently up the staircase hand in hand. When they reached center of the hall, outside their two bedrooms, they stopped. Giles spoke first. "Goodnight, Buffy." He released her hand and took a small step backwards towards his door.
Buffy smiled and stepped towards him. She stretched up and gave him a slow, gentle kiss. His mouth parted under hers, hesitantly, as if he still needed to be certain that she realized what she was doing. The kiss deepened and she ran her hands up chest, over his shoulders. His left hand rose to cup her cheek and then moved back behind her neck and pulled her closer.
Finally, she pulled slowly away from him. Both were breathing raggedly as their hands dropped down. Buffy smiled shyly and stepped back. "Goodnight, Giles. Happy Valentine's Day."
As she backed slowly down the hall into her room and carefully shut her door, she heard him whisper, "Happy Valentine's Day, Buffy."