DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course. And the chapter titles are courtesy of Robert Burns.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Buffy has asked Spike to go patrolling with her, and the Scoobies have started to make a dent in the research, coming up with some good possibilities for their resident demon…

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Chapter 14: The Winter It Is Past

His fingers lingered over the leather-spine, tracing the gilt lettering in abandon, oblivious to the deafening quiet of the castle as he contemplated the book. Although Rupert’s explanation regarding its origin---that it was actually left by the first Council team to handle the expedition---made a certain sense, Colin was very doubtful as to its veracity, knowing as he did that the initial entourage had catalogued every text they’d deemed necessary for the affair, and this particular title had not been included on the list. It didn’t mean it couldn’t have appeared in that way; it just made its likelihood extremely slim.

The afternoon had been incredibly productive, and, in spite of the jocularity between the young Americans, Colin had found himself relaxing into their presence, even occasionally volunteering his own bit of whimsy when the opportunity arose. The young man---his gaze darted to his notebook---Xander, was actually quite entertaining, even if the Englishman only understood a third of his pop culture references. Really must watch more television, he thought.

Perhaps it was the growing sense of camaraderie that was creating the feelings of guilt in the Watcher now. He’d been so eager for this assignment, had trusted himself to be prepared for it, but now, in the face of such earnest belief as he was now witnessing in the Slayer and her friends, he was beginning to regret not being completely upfront with them. Mr. Travers’ voluble support of Buffy was beginning to make sense, even if Colin didn’t understand her rather flip attitude toward authority or her casual acceptance of Spike within the fold, and though he held that the information she didn’t have was really of no value in completing the project, he couldn’t help but wonder how she would react should she know the whole tale. Probably violently, knowing her tendencies. Violence directed toward him. He really hoped she never found out.

The door to the great hall opened, and Colin looked up to see Giles standing in the entrance, his coat dangling from his fingers. “Heading back to town?” he asked.

The other Englishman nodded. “No reason to linger, I don’t think. Everyone’s retired, well, except for Buffy and Spike, that is.” He began walking toward the kitchen. “I just thought I’d check to see if Duncan wanted a ride.”

“Oh.” Colin frowned. “I believe he’s left already.”

Giles stopped in his tracks and shook his head. “I’ve been in the States too long,” he murmured. “I keep forgetting people actually walk here.”

“I really don’t know how you’ve done it.” The admiration was evident in his voice as he regarded the older man. “She’s very…spirited. I think I probably would’ve requested a transfer within a week if it had been me.”

“Being a Watcher isn’t like working in an office. There is no interdepartmental juggling when one has difficulties.”

Colin blushed. “Oh, I didn’t mean…I mean, Miss Summers is exceptional…as the Slayer, of course. Not in a…non-Slayer capacity.” In his fluster, he turned back to the table, unnecessarily straightening the books that still dotted its surface. “Which must be due to your influence, I’m sure. Being her mentor. I’m just not sure I could’ve done the same job if I was in your place.”

“You’re doing remarkably well,” Giles offered, but when he was met with a raised eyebrow, he ducked his head. “Considering.”

“I appreciate the sentiment, Rupert, even if I am convinced you’re lying through your teeth.” The two men chuckled. “Just as well, I suppose. Provided they’re able to catch the demon tonight, and the ritual goes as planned tomorrow, everyone can go back to their lives as normal by the end of the week.”

“Funny, but before coming here, I’m not sure I would’ve considered returning to the Hellmouth as life as normal.” Giles’ smile was small, and he gave his colleague a brief nod before turning around and walking back to the room’s entrance. “See you tomorrow, then.”

The return of silence catapulted Colin’s mood back to sobriety, and he settled himself heavily into the nearest chair, his hand reaching out aimlessly to stroke the books at his side. He sincerely hoped Buffy would find and kill the demon that had been loosed onto the countryside; then, when the ritual was completed the following evening, he could begin to relax again, knowing that the worst would then be over.

*************

Every breath hung in the air like a crystal fog, the chill punctuating her lungs, each inhalation an avid reminder of her own body. In spite of the cold, it was a beautiful night, with a large moon that hung low on the horizon, casting silver stripes across the heather in its icy embrace, and if it wasn’t for the all-too real weight of the knife sheathed at her side, Buffy could’ve almost imagined for a moment that she wasn’t the Slayer, or that she wasn’t currently in search of a demon that didn’t belong in her world.

Spike strolled ahead of her, his duster swirling around his legs, oblivious to the encroaching cold. She could hear his faint humming, the tune the same as the one she’d caught him in earlier, and smiled, shaking her head at the same time. “You know,” she said, “you have got to be one of the happiest vamps I have ever met.”

He stopped, looking over his shoulder with a curious glint in his eye, his lips crooked into a grin. “Think it’s a matter of perspective, pet,” he replied. “How many vamps do you actually take the time to get to know before you give them the ol’ stake treatment?”

Buffy ducked her head in embarrassment. “OK, so I could probably count those on one hand, but still…Even Angel---.”

“You are not about to compare me to the poofter,” Spike snorted. “Wanker was never about the fun, and him gettin’ that soul only made him even more depressing to be around.” His eyes narrowed. “Always wondered what you saw in him, though I s’pose that whole tall, dark, and potentially dangerous thing he cultivates really revved your little Slayer heart into overdrive. Certainly worked its number on Dru.”

“Whoa!” Before he could blink, she had closed the distance between them, her finger up and hovering over his chest, almost as if she was desperate to start poking him in anger. “Don’t even think about comparing me to Insano Girl. Outside of Angel and an unfortunate association with you, I’ve got nothing in common with her.”

It was happening again, that pounding in her ears as her heart rate accelerated, the tunneling of her vision as Spike suddenly seemed too very much there, an intoxicating blend of leather and smoke, black and blond, and Buffy swallowed as she stared up at him, her eyes flashing from the illumination of scattered moonbeams. His lips seemed to take forever to form his next words, and she felt the world around her begin to swim as he spoke.

“No, s’pose you’re right about that,” he murmured, his own gaze shadowed in ebony as it swept over the undeniable color in her cheeks. “She can’t really hold a candle to you.” His smile was slow, deliberate. “Not that she would, of course, seein’ as how that would be virtual suicide. Open flame, and all.”

The admission from the vampire was almost a caress, reaching around to the small of her back to trace invisible fingers up her spine, and Buffy’s mouth worked in gaping silence as she fought to find the words that would make sense of the emotional gamut wreaking havoc through her body. He wasn’t kidding this time. Though his smile remained, it wasn’t the usual mocking leer that twisted everything that came out of Spike’s mouth. He honestly believed what he’d just said, even if he had tried to hide it behind a joke. What exactly did that mean? And why would he go that far?

“Fire…” she breathed, unsure as to just what she could say. “…usually…you know…bad…” OK, now she wasn’t making any sense at all. Just go and slap a Rainman sticker to my forehead, she thought. Step up and see the idiot girl. Listen as she babbles on about nothing. Watch as she tries to stare away her attraction to the vampire.

Her eyes widened. No, I did not just think attraction, she struggled. Except she had. And she was. And it was making parts of her body she’d never associated with the vampire before begin to tingle in anticipation.

“Not always.” This was dangerous ground, and he knew it, but the sultry pull of the living flame before him was too beguiling for him to resist, and Spike’s hand reached up, a single finger brushing a stray lock of hair from her temple. “I’m certainly not complaining about the fire that was snuggled up against the Big Bad last night. That’s just the right sort of burn.”

“It wasn’t…snuggling…” But there was no conviction in her voice, and Buffy suddenly realized it wasn’t cold outside after all. It was, in fact, too warm, and growing steadily warmer, even as his mouth seemed to draw closer to hers.

“What would you call it?”

Replying would mean speaking and the sudden lack of moisture in her mouth made that impossible, so when her tongue darted out to run over her lips in an attempt to make speech achievable, the last thing she expected was the flash of gold in Spike’s eyes, or the low growl that rumbled from his throat.

“What’s wrong, Slayer?” he murmured. “Talkin’s not so hard. Not like you don’t have the right…body parts for it.” His gaze lowered to her mouth while his thumb came up, feathering over the full bottom lip once…twice…a third impossible time before floating over the hollow of her cheek to the sharp line of her jaw. Now came the moisture, the inside of her mouth springing to life as it itched for something more than his touch, and the involuntary turn of her head into his hand made the vampire chuckle as he dropped his arm.

She wanted to step away, to move back from the proximity of deft fingers so skilled in finding those points on her body that craved attention, but found her feet unwilling to obey, fixing her to her present position in a silent cry for more. Run, she wanted to scream at herself. Get out of there as fast as you can. Vampire, remember? Been there, got the t-shirt. Plus, boyfriend back home. Not like you don’t already have a very active sex life. You don’t need this kind of problem in your life.

It was a hollow argument, and she knew it. Active, yes. Fulfilling? Not for awhile. And though sex with Riley was certainly…nice, it wasn’t…enough. She was always wanting more. Not necessarily more sex…just something…more. Yet here she was, standing in the middle of a field in Scotland, letting a vampire---Spike, of all people!---caress her in ways that felt more intimate than anything any lover had ever done to her, and Buffy couldn’t get enough of it. In fact…and she almost blushed with the truth of it. She wanted his hands on her, wanted to feel those lips crushed to hers…taste him and devour him and hold him until she had no sensation left in her body…only memories of him etched into her skin, and right or wrong be damned…

He leaned forward, and for a brief hysterical moment, Buffy thought he was going to kiss her, immobile as the possibility became more imminent, only to watch his head tilt, his tongue dart out to retrace the path his thumb had taken over her cheek just moments earlier, sending fiery shivers down her spine with each inexorable inch. His mouth ended just beside her ear. “So…you still haven’t said, luv. What do you call it?”

It was a husky whisper filled with dark promises. I call it crazy, she wanted to say, but the blood pounding through her veins silenced her doubts, swirling the world around her in crimson. He wasn’t moving, just holding himself there…his cheek touching but not…his body infuriatingly near yet impossibly too far away…and it was no longer enough, her neck twisting so that her own lips skated across his pale skin, everything slipping away until it was just her…and him…

It didn’t seem real that the distant jingle could actually be there, but as the clarion call grew more insistent, Buffy realized it wasn’t in her head and tore herself away from the vampire, chest heaving as she fought to regain her breath, darkened eyes scanning the countryside for the source of the ringing bells. It was only then that he noticed the sounds as well, and Spike silently cursed whatever distraction it was that had disrupted the moment, his gaze blazing in shades of blue and gold as he joined the Slayer in the search.

It was coming from in front of them, and, refusing to meet her partner’s face, Buffy brushed past him to follow it, hurrying to the hilltop’s crest to survey the ground below. The moonlight was stronger here, bathing the valley with hoary illumination, and she froze as she saw the outline of the animal at the hill’s base, its proud head thrown back, a midnight mane caught in what little breeze there was. “Spike…” she whispered, afraid to speak louder lest she spook the horse, and felt him join her at her side.

“Now that’s taking the bein’ there with bells on thing just a little far,” he drawled, and decided then and there that he hated whatever it was. Couldn’t have waited, he thought irritably. And if this buggers up any chance I’ve got with the Slayer ‘cause she’s now got time to think about what she’s doin’, you can guarantee I’ll be back to hunt you down.

“Too much of a coincidence, don’t you think?” she asked, still unwilling to look up at him. “We found that lady’s body not too far from here.”

It was then that he realized she was again asking him his opinion---like it mattered---and his irritation eased, his euphoria from moments earlier returning at a gentler ebb. “Well, it doesn’t look like what came after you in the dungeon,” he said, “but if the witches are right, this thing can change to look like whatever it wants to.”

“I suppose it could be a real horse,” she mused.

Spike snorted. “Wearing a bell harness in the middle of soddin’ nowhere? Not very likely, Slayer.”

The beast’s head turned then, its long nose facing the pair that stood above it, and Buffy pursed her lips as its eyes gleamed golden in the moonlight. “OK, not a real horse,” she acquiesced and slowly reached for the weapon at her side.

In a flurry of liquid movement, the kelpie bolted, its hooves pounding silently into the earth, fleeing in the opposite direction of those who watched it, and the Slayer’s instincts took over, her feet springing to life beneath her, her body whipping down the hillside as she took chase. This was better. This was work. This wasn’t thinking about kissing Spike. She could deal with this. Catch the evil horse. Kill the evil horse. Except not really a horse. And she’d been seriously considering actually kissing Spike

Rolling his eyes, the vampire followed, his pace slower as his recent wound twinged in a reminder of its presence. Not that it was going to make a difference, he thought. This was Buffy’s kill. He was just along for the ride.

They were a trio of grace as they raced through the heather, the distance between the girl and the kelpie closing with each step. At one point, she saw it falter, veering heavily to the left, bringing it closer to her than it had been since she’d started, and she took a risk, the knife in her hand carving a deadly path through the air as she flung it at the beast, her smile triumphant as she saw it embed itself in the animal’s throat.

Its whinny pierced the air, stumbling to its knees, and Buffy put on an extra burst of speed, her delight in slowing it momentarily distracting her, diverting her from the hidden hole in the ground that grabbed at her ankle just moments later. She went flying forward, her foot trapped, and felt it wrench sideways, the sudden stab shooting up her leg forcing her to cry out, more in frustration than in actual pain, and the Slayer could only watch from her vantage point on the frozen ground as the kelpie regained its balance and continued its flight.

Though he saw the demon fleeing, Spike’s only concern was the prone form of the young woman, and he stopped as soon as he reached her side, kneeling to allow his hand to rest on her ankle. It was rooted in the small hole, and he could already feel the flesh around the joint beginning to swell, pulsing in a furious rhythm that he knew matched her heart. “This might hurt,” he said, wrapping his fingers around the limb, and gently twisted it free.

“Don’t just sit there,” Buffy barked as soon as he let her go. “Go after it.”

His eyebrow lifted. “Are you totally daft?” he shot back. “You’re hurt. I leave you here, and no tellin’ how many of Mr. Ed’s friends’ll show up and decide to have a Buffy buffet. No way am I goin’ to have to explain to Rupert how I let his Slayer get eaten in the line of duty.”

“Fine.” She struggled to her feet. “I’ll just go myself.” Her frustration fuelled her body as she stood up, but as soon as she applied her weight to her ankle, it gave underneath her, causing her to lurch sideways.

Spike caught her before she could fall to the ground again, his hand sliding around her back as he swung her up into his arms. “Riiiight, Slayer,” he said. “Only place you’re goin’ is back to the castle.”

The sudden force of meeting the wall of his chest sucked the air from her lungs, and Buffy stopped fighting, all thoughts of the pain in her foot dissipating, to be replaced by even more confusing ones, the inscrutable look in his eyes forcing her to avert her own. “You’re not really going to carry me all the way back there,” she accused as harshly as she could manage. She wanted to fold her arms across her chest in protestation, but the way he was holding her prevented it, and she found herself gripping his sleeve to keep from tumbling to the ground. “You’re going to open that bite back up again.”

“First off, I’ll be fine as long as you don’t go playing wriggly worm.” She immediately stopped moving, unwilling to be the one responsible for his continued bleeding. “And secondly, unless you’re about to tell me that you can sprout wings and fly yourself back, yeah, I am goin’ to carry you.” He grinned. “That is, unless you can think of a good reason for us to hang out here for a little longer…”

Her eyes widened as she felt his thumb begin caressing the back of her thigh, the corresponding shivers across her skin almost sending her flying from his hold. Instead, she stiffened, and deliberately turned her face away. “No,” she said firmly. “There’s absolutely no reason for us to stay out here if you’re not going to go after the kelpie.”

“Just as well.” Spike’s loping pace as he began the trek back to Dall Rath rocked her gently against him, vibrating both of their flesh to near distraction. “More in the mood for a bed anyway.”

*************

None of it was any clearer by the time Spike pushed open their door, and Buffy sighed as he kicked it shut behind them. What had she been thinking out there? She had a boyfriend back in Sunnydale, a very loyal boyfriend who loved her very much, and here she was, wrapped up in thinking about the sexual stylings of another guy. No, correction. Another vampire. Who Riley happened to hate with a passion. Who Riley would dust in a heartbeat if he thought he was any kind of threat to her. Who Riley didn’t even know was here because Buffy had been too afraid to tell him. Crap.

Yet, even as he gently lowered her to the edge of the bed, she couldn’t deny the very real way her body was reacting to Spike…the way her mouth watered at the thought of his lips on hers…the butterflies that flitted from stomach to throat and back again every time she felt his cool touch on her bare skin…the unmistakable moisture between her legs at the thought of something more than a vigorous kiss from the vamp. Some of it had been there before tonight---she’d be lying if she said otherwise---but it had always been manageable, something she could cope with, to comfortably categorize before locking it away under those unexplainable things that weirded her out, better not thought of or dealt with. What, then, had changed?

As she watched him pick up the first aid kit that sat on the nightstand, Buffy knew the answer to that, even if she wasn’t ready to fully believe it. The thing that had changed was her. How she saw him. He wasn’t just a body anymore. He wasn’t just a vampire anymore. He wasn’t even just an annoying pest she had to worry about on the fringe of her Slayer existence. Spike was a person, with moods---albeit strangely uplifting and unpredictable moods---and feelings, and oddly disjointed jokes that somehow still made her laugh, and a sense of concern for her that was even more confusing than her own reaction to him. And that was why she’d let her guard down.

He stood before her, the ace bandage dangling from his fingers. “Normally, I’d say no talkin’ from the Slayer was a good thing,” he joked, crouching down to lightly grasp her swollen foot. “Mainly because I always seem to be on the wrong end of that tongue in ways that usually end in some part of me bleedin’.” His azure gaze darted up to look at her drawn face, his strong hands sliding off her boot. “But after what happened out there…” He let the thought trail off, deftly baring her toes to the cold, silently challenging the young woman to finish his sentence as he began to wind the bandage around her ankle.

You can do this, she thought. Be nonchalant. “It was nothing,” she said as lightly as she could manage. “No big.”

His eyebrows shot up in surprise. “No big?” Spike repeated. “Sorry, pet, but it felt bloody huge to me.”

“Don’t know why.” Buffy shrugged, keeping her eyes down, locked on the work he was doing in wrapping her injury. “These things just happen sometimes. It doesn’t mean anything.”

“Look at me.” There was a command in his voice that she wanted desperately to ignore but couldn’t, dragging her hazel gaze up to meet his. The muscles in his jaw were tense, belying the softness of his brow. “Say that again,” he said softly. “Only this time, you look me in the eye when you do it.”

“It doesn’t mean anything,” she repeated, but even as the words tumbled from her mouth, she knew they weren’t true, even as he did, and found herself swallowing as Spike leaned forward, her now-bandaged foot sliding from his grasp.

“Even if you’re not itchin’ to come clean with it,” he murmured, “I’ve got nothin’ to lose anymore, ‘specially since I think I made myself pretty clear out there before we got so rudely interrupted.” His hands balled into fists and he placed them on either side of her legs, using them to support his weight as he leaned in, his tongue darting out to trace the outer curve of the lobe before his mouth settled just millimeters away. “It meant the world to me, luv,” he murmured, and heard the sharp intake of her breath. Not the words he wanted to say, but as much as he thought she could handle right now. Anything more and she’d be bolting from the room, or worse, reaching for her weapon. As it was, he still wasn’t sure she wouldn’t.

An eternity seemed to pass as both remained motionless, each of them lost in the confusing amalgam of their emotions, before Buffy finally turned her head away from Spike, inching herself back onto the mattress so that there could finally be some space between them, breaking the spell his words had woven. The vampire’s eyes briefly closed as he stood, and he squared his shoulders as he stepped away from the bed.

“Right,” he said, his tone brisk. “So we’ve still got a deal then, Slayer? Think I’m past the point of being Old Faithful, so no reason we can’t go back to our original arrangement.” He didn’t even look at her as he walked toward the screened corner. Not going to give her the satisfaction, he thought. Not going to let her think she won this round. “I’m just goin’ to---.”

“Spike…”

The soft brush of her voice caused him to hesitate, and Spike glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. Though he was sure she probably wished otherwise, the flickering light from the candles they’d left burning etched the plea across her features in shades of gold, and he marveled yet again on just how beautiful she really was.

“What?” he asked, hoping for righteous indignation but settling for the curious sigh.

She didn’t know what to say. She only knew that she hadn’t wanted him to go so cold on her, to turn his back like nothing had happened…even if she had been the first to pull away. Damn. “You…don’t have to sleep on top of the blankets,” she finally said. “If you don’t want to, that is.”

His blue eyes narrowed as he studied her. Never in a million lifetimes would he ever completely suss her out, Spike decided. Hell, he wasn’t sure she could suss herself out. But…it was something. It was all he needed. For now.

“Thanks,” he murmured, and turned to retreat behind the screen, wondering how in hell he was ever going to go to sleep now…

 

To be continued in Chapter 15: I Do Confess Thou Art So Fair