DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss', of course. And the chapter titles are courtesy of Robert Burns.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: A storm is on its way to the castle, leaving the Scoobies temporarily stranded there without the Watchers. Duncan was warned away in time by Giles, but had a minor confrontation with Spike before leaving…

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Chapter 24: My Heart's in the Highlands

"You should probably start back," Giles said as he squinted into the darkening sky. "That road to the castle might be rather treacherous once the storm starts."

Colin's scowl was uncharacteristically bleak, adding years to his otherwise youthful countenance, and he shoved the scrap paper into his pocket. "I just don't understand why we can't find him," he said. "It's not as if he's attempted to hide his tracks very well. He didn't even bother changing his name at that other B&B."

"It's likely he assumed we'd take him at face value," the older man said. "And supposedly, you're still on the Council's side regarding this issue, remember?" His gaze appraised his colleague coolly. "Travers would be correct in believing you would discourage me or the others from discovering Hornbrook's true identity."

"That still doesn't explain why it's looked like he's dropped off the face of the planet," Colin muttered. "You don't think he's returned to London, do you?"

Giles shook his head. "Doubtful. He's expecting to be conducting this deal with Spike."

"Another detail that boils my blood," the younger Watcher groused. "Why would the Council agree to such a transaction? Letting Spike back out into the populace without benefit of the chip is tantamount to murder."

"I don't know." His voice was thoughtful, his gaze pensive. "That's the one aspect of this I'm having trouble digesting."

"If I were Quentin Travers, I would've tried to figure out a way to get the harness from Spike without actually having to remove his chip," Colin said as he began walking down the path to the car. "That would be the smart thing to do." He was almost to the curb when his colleague's voice stopped him.

"What was that again?" When the younger man repeated his statement, Giles' brow immediately furrowed into a frown, his hands plunging even deeper into his coat pockets as his brain so obviously worked over behind his face. "Wait," he finally said, pivoting on his heel to head back into the B&B.

"Why? What's going on?"

Giles paused at the doorway, half-turning to look back at Colin. "I'm getting my things," he explained. "I'm coming back to Dall Rath with you."

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

She saw him before he saw her. Standing in the doorway…one hand on the jamb as he leaned forward staring at whatever through its opening…the sinew of his arms raised in bas relief even as he held himself away from the fading afternoon light. The coiled grace of his shoulders tugged at the knot in her stomach, and Buffy found herself stopping, freezing, holding her breath as she just watched him, the questions that had been flittering through her head like thousands of featherweight moths finally settling, as if someone had just extinguished the light that attracted them.

The flutterings had started out on the mountain, when she'd seen him begin stalking away after her faux pas with Riley on the phone. Her body had screamed at her then, ordering her to stop Spike, to make him understand that she didn't mean it, and she'd obeyed without question, with the very obvious reward of having him listen to her. And believe. That was the important part. That was always the important part.

It had snowballed after that, walking back to the castle hand-in-hand like a pair of shy teenagers. That didn't happen to her, not in Buffy's Slayer world, or at least, it hadn't happened in a very long time, and when she'd crossed the threshold of Dall Rath, brushing past Spike as he held the door open for her, she had realized just how much she'd missed it. The honest ease. No holding back. Buffy being Buffy. And the walls, they came a-tumbling down…

She'd been so close to it in their room. They had walked in, and when she'd seen the bed, the first thing that had crossed her mind was how it would feel having him pressing her down into the mattress, bare limb to bare limb, his mouth to hers. Even remembering it now made her skin tingle. And so she'd stripped, consciously avoiding the screen, letting him watch as she'd pulled the t-shirt over her head, hearing his slight hiss as she slid her legs into the cotton of her sweats. That was when she'd wished she'd brought something a little sexier to sleep in, but who would've guessed she'd be trying to seduce Spike? Not her, that was for sure. Yet, there she was, desperately wishing he would take the initiative and stop her, to cross the room and catch her hands and bury her in those kisses that seemed to never stop.

But he hadn't.

It wasn't until later that she remembered how he'd said it was her choice now.

And then the sleep…It still boggled her that she slept so completely when held in his arms. No waking up restless and needing to patrol, to do something---anything---just to get out of bed. No bad dreams with weird questions she never seemed able to puzzle out. No bad anything. Just utter rest. Peace.

Trying to gather them in the great hall had been pointless. There was work to do, and whatever thoughts that were going through her head that weren't kelpie-related had to wait, regardless of how delicious Spike looked sprawled in his chair, his leg thrown over its arm, the glint in the azure depths of his eyes. But…how had she gone so long not really seeing him? Not seeing the ease he slid into her circle…For some reason, Xander's light-hearted jab at the vamp had seemed more jokey than antagonistic. Or not noticing the simple beauty of his face…How it could strike her even when he was doing absolutely nothing. But now she was---seeing him---even if she had to somehow concentrate on the research.

Only during those few minutes when Duncan had been speaking were the moths temporarily netted, but as soon as the cook had left the room, they were once again released, driving her to find some excuse to follow after the vampire, to seek him out as he went after his nicotine fix.

And now they were gone. Because now she knew. She didn't know how, but frankly, she didn't care.

She was pretty much in love with Spike.

I wonder what he would say if he knew, Buffy thought. Would he laugh? Tell her she was crazy, that he was only in it for the sex? But he wasn't, at least…she didn't think so. Not that she was ever that good at reading guys in the first place, but everything Spike did seemed to say the opposite, that he wanted more than just the physical, that he was happy with the friendship part of it just as much. Why else would he have said no to her other night when she'd offered him her body? The only fly in the ointment was that he'd never actually come close to saying anything remotely like "I love you" back at her. Just that enigmatic "world to me" stuff that night of their almost-kiss. Was it worth it to ask? She didn't know. But she did know she couldn't. That just wasn't in Buffy's nature.

"He's gone already."

She was startled from her reverie by Spike's words, jolting herself back to the moment as she watched him turn to face her. "What's that?" she asked, taking a step closer to the vampire.

"Superchef," he clarified. "You've just missed him."

"Oh." A tiny line appeared between her brows as she edged herself even closer. Something was wrong. She could see it in the flecks of gold that kept flashing across his eyes, and realized for the first time the deep grooves in the wood where he'd been gripping the jamb. "What is it?" she asked.

He sucked at his teeth, lips pursed as he regarded her, then seemed to make up his mind. "What's the magic?" he demanded, straightening and stepping away from the open door. "What the hell is so bleedin' interestin' about Duncan Davison that's got you and Red and the other two so goddamn Pollyanna about?"

She immediately bristled. "What're you talking about?"

"I'm talking about holding hands, and going gaga because he manages to string more than two words together, and that 'oh I never thought of it that way' rubbish." Spike dropped his cigarette, grinding its red tip to dust beneath his boot. "You know he knows you're the Slayer, right? And somehow, he's managed to suss out I'm a vampire. But is that gettin' your hackles up? Noooo. 'Cause Little Miss Buffy is too busy sittin' on her soddin' tuffet to notice the big black spider about to start crawling its way down her back."

It was turning into one of his rants, but why, she had no idea. Something had obviously happened in the few minutes since he'd left the great hall, and it had obviously happened with Duncan. When she automatically stepped forward to the doorway, craning her neck to try and catch a glimpse the cook's retreating back, Spike snorted, whirling on his heel to head for the stairwell.

"Un-fuckin-believable," he muttered.

"Spike! Wait!"

He stopped at the sound of her voice, but didn't turn, hands balled into fists at his side, not even flinching when Buffy marched up to him to whirl him around.

"What the hell just happened here?" Her voice was strident, clamoring down the stone walls, and for a fleeting second, the Slayer wondered if the gang would be able to hear her all the way back to the great hall. Didn't matter, she decided quickly. Gotta get this fixed first.

And there it was again, that same look that had chilled her last night on the mountain. The impotent anger trying so desperately to hide the hurt underneath. Cutting through both of them. He was jealous. Of Duncan? Riley, she understood, but this…this made no sense. She didn't even know the cook very well. Why would Spike be reacting this way?

"Is this the way it's goin' to be?" he asked. She didn't know which was worse---when he was yelling, or when he went quiet like this, his voice sounding like it had been chipped from ice. "Play the hot and cold act. Turn me on and then turn me away, while you go skippin' off to chat up the next bloke. Turn into a simpering little bint just because he lays on whatever charm he seems to have, all the while forgettin' that the one who's been standing right by you the entire time is watchin'. Then go lookin' for him when he leaves the room." He snorted. "You've got stones, I'll give you that."

"I came looking for you, you idiot." Twin spots of color sprouted high in her cheeks as her voice rose in volume. "You're the one who brought up Duncan."

"And you were the one holdin' hands with him."

"No, he was holding my hand, not vice versa."

"You didn't seem to be stoppin' him."

"Because it happened for all of five seconds!" Exasperated, she turned away, only to whip back around to shove him back against the wall, pressing herself against his length, as she stared up at him, hazel burning. "In case you haven't noticed, I've been turning my world upside down to accommodate you, and this, and…us. OK, so I haven't exactly put a full-page ad in Variety announcing how I feel, but I told Willow. That counts for something. And hello? Do we not remember me giving Riley the brush-off last night? For you. Because I didn't want you to walk away. I'd've buried the stupid phone if you'd asked me to. You, Spike. That's who I want. Not Riley. And certainly not some English cook who I've barely spoken five words to ever since we got here." Her breath was coming in short spurts, her heart beating as if to escape her chest. "You."

"Hey, what's going on here?"

The sound of Xander's voice caused Buffy to leap away from the vampire as if burned, and her head whipped around to see him standing in the hall, the other girls rushing up behind him. An apologetic shake of Willow's head told the Slayer only that they hadn't been able to stop him, and she exhaled loudly, even as she glanced at Spike out of the corner of her eye.

"Nothing," she bit out. "Someone's just being a stubborn pain in my ass, as usual."

"Slayer's just pissed 'cause I had a few words with Duncan that weren't of the love and adoration variety," Spike said, sliding into the half-truth with an effortless ease. "Guess she doesn't like the fact that I'm not a card-carrying member of his fan club." His look at her was pointed. "Even if he is trouble."

Xander visibly relaxed. "Oh, well, if that's all," he said. To him, the explanation made perfect sense.

It didn't to the others. "How can Duncan be trouble?" asked Willow with a frown.

"You can't be trouble and cook as good as he does," piped in Anya.

"You can if you know you're catering to a Slayer and vampire," he replied. "Somehow, he's sussed it out about me and Buffy. That can't be good."

"But how could he know?"

Spike shrugged. "Probably overheard someone talking. Castle walls often have big ears."

"M-m-maybe he works with Hornbrook and the Council." Everyone turned to look at Tara. "He'd know about Buffy and Spike then, wouldn't he?"

"Could be." Buffy was calmer now, the shift back into work-mode enough to calm the frenzy in her skin that dealing with Spike's jealousy had churned. Not that she was anywhere near being done talking to him about it, not by a long shot. But he was right about Duncan's knowing not being good. Maybe it would be possible to kill two birds with one stone.

"Just to be safe," she continued, "I'm going to give this place a thorough sweep. See if I can find anything out of the ordinary. For a Scottish ruined castle, I mean." She turned to face Spike, her jaw tight. "You feel like seeing if we can find any trouble?"

His gaze was measured, taking his time to respond. "Sure, pet," he finally drawled. "You know me. Always up for a spot of violence before my evenin' tea."

"Do you want us to help?" offered Xander.

Buffy shook her head. "You guys go back to book detail. We can't be giving up on the research just yet. Spike and I'll be fine on our own." She watched as the gang returned to the great hall, waiting until she heard the door close in the distance before turning to face the vampire at her side. "Let's saddle up."

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

"So, there a reason we're starting here?"

Buffy glanced back at Spike, his face hidden in shadow as they made their way down the tunnel to the underground cavern. "Lots of them," she said. "Which one are you interested in hearing?"

He shrugged. "Surprise me."

"OK, the official Giles answer is that this is what Hornbrook wanted from you, this going into the tunnels. Plus, this is the only place in the castle we've actually had any trouble. So it makes Watcher sense."

"And unofficially?"

Stepping into the cavern, Buffy's eyes swept over the calm surface of the water as she waited for him to join her. When he had, she turned her flashlight and shone it directly into his face. "Privacy."

His eyes betrayed nothing. "For what?"

"To finish what we started upstairs."

"And that is…?"

She stamped her foot in frustration. "Are you deliberately trying to piss me off here?" she demanded. "Because that's the vibe I'm getting and I don't understand why."

This time, there was no mistaking the slight quirk of his lips. "So that's where little sis picked it up," he said, eyes skipping from her feet to her face. "Always wondered 'bout that."

Her gaze widened. "Now you're teasing me?" She watched as he sauntered past, heading along the side of the stream, and the unmistakable sound of his humming filtered back to her. "And that's it?"

"You said your piece upstairs, didn't you?"

"Well, yeah…" Buffy rushed to catch up, aiming the light ahead of them but looking up at him as she spoke. "But you didn't seem like you were listening."

"I've got ears, pet. Last time I checked, they seemed to be workin' just fine."

"Sometimes, I seriously wonder about that."

He stopped, finally turning to look at her. "Look, did you mean what you said? You're not yanking my chain here just to give yourself some kicks?"

"Of course I'm not. Pretty elaborate for just messing around with you, don't you think?"

"Then I'm right as rain now."

"But…you were…about Duncan…" Though she wasn't dismissing it, the sudden flip-flop in his attitude was confusing, and Buffy couldn't help but feel that she'd missed a step somewhere.

His head dropped, his gaze darkening as Spike looked at her through his lashes. "Yeah, about the cook," he said softly, and began advancing toward her, edging her back into the wall. "See, the thing of it is," and his hand came up, one finger tracing the line of her jaw as he spoke, "blighter made me want to rip his heart out and shove it down his throat when I saw him touching you like he did. All…up close and personal-like."

The cold wall pressed into her back, but Buffy couldn't feel the chill, her body warming from the inside out as he stood before her, her heart accelerating at the anticipation promised by that lone digit running along her skin. "It was just…a show," she breathed. "Hand holding to make his point. Nothing big."

"Not just that," he murmured. "It was the whole knee business…" As if to demonstrate, Spike's own joint inched forward, nudging its way between her legs, somehow caressing her inner thigh through the layers of cotton that separated them. "And then that stroking thing…" His other hand came up, capturing hers just as Duncan had caught it earlier, and the finger that had been sliding across her chin disappeared to re-alight on the vein that ran down the back of her hand, following it down onto her wrist before circling around to her palm.

"I don't…remember that…" And she didn't. Of course, if someone had asked her her name at the moment, she probably wouldn't have remembered that either, the sensations now rippling down her arm effectively erasing all rational thought from her head.

"Just made me want to let him know you're taken," Spike said. He seemed to be waiting for her to contradict him, testing the waters with his choice of words, his eyes taunting her as he held her pinned against the wall. When she didn't, when instead she pressed herself back into him, the corner of his mouth lifted, and his head came down so that his lips could brush up her neck. "Yeah," he repeated, his mouth against her ear. "Right as rain."

The splashing in the stream behind them jerked them from their reverie, and Spike stepped away and back, allowing Buffy to see the creature as it leapt from the water to stand on the bank. She automatically shifted her concentration, her body priming as she reached for the sheathed dagger at her side, feeling her partner ready himself even as she propped her light up against the nearby stone.

"Looks like trouble decided to show up after all," she said lightly, steeling herself at its sight. Black, and just as big as she remembered, its silky coat glistened from the beads of water that clung to it, its enormous human-like hands curled into dangerous claws.

"You trespass…" it said, baring its needle-like teeth as it spoke.

"Got a bone to pick with you, mate," Spike said. "Least, I assume it's you. Unless you've got a cousin or sister in there with you."

"I follow my duty," it replied, slowly advancing. "You are not welcome here."

She saw it lunge before he did, its head lowered as its long arms reached out to grab at whichever of the pair was closest. With a quick shove, she pushed the vampire out of the way, leaping into the air to somersault over the demon's head, landing with a soft thud on the ground behind it. A quick glance at the water reminded her to be careful, but as she prepared to attack it from behind, she saw Spike scramble out of the way of the approaching threat.

"Not goin' to fall for that one twice," she heard him mutter, his eyes shifting to gold even as the ridges appeared in his brow. With a snarl, he tackled the demon, sending both of them to the earth in a tangle of ebony, and Buffy rushed forward, weapon ready, skirting the rocks as Spike sank his fangs into the monster's arm.

A loud roar filled the cavern, echoing hollowly against the walls, and the demon tore itself free, the blood dripping from its limb. The momentary distraction was all Buffy needed. Just keep away from the mouth, she thought as she jumped forward, dagger ready, feeling it slice through flesh and muscle to sink into its chest. She pulled it out with a sickening squelch, and as the demon staggered, she whirled, foot already positioned into a vicious kick that sent it crashing into the wall.

She was on it in a flash, the dagger now discarded, fists pummeling it first left, then right, breaking the teeth into crystal shards that cut into the knuckles of her hands. It struggled between her legs, but remained powerless under the eave of her strength, its thrashing growing gradually weaker as the blood seeped into the dirt beneath it. When she felt the rumblings begin vibrating through it, it sent corresponding tremors through her own limbs, and Buffy hesitated, her weight shifting slightly back as she watched it with growing concern.

It was changing. The ebony of its coat was lightening, shading to a fleshy pink, even as it seemed to shrink onto itself…into itself. The teeth that had seemed so dangerous were all of a sudden human, huge gaping holes where she had beaten them loose, and the demon's face melted into a young man's, with huge dark eyes that blinked up at her in pain.

"Please…" it---he---whispered. "Don't…kill me."

Spike saw the change come over her, saw the glaze shine over her eyes as the monster spoke, and his brow furrowed into a heavy frown as she sat back, her hands opening and falling defenseless to her sides. "Slayer," he said, his voice low in warning. "Stop playin' around and just kill the bloody thing."

"What are you?" she asked the demon, ignoring her partner's words.

"A guardian," it replied, and within the space of a second, had thrown her off.

"Buffy!" Spike shouted, watching as she landed in a graceless heap over ten feet away. Though his brain wanted to run to her side, make sure she was all right, instinct dictated otherwise, whirling him forward to grab the demon, hands squeezing around its head, wrenching it sideways in a furious pique. With a sickening crunch, its neck snapped, and he let it drop lifelessly to the floor, not even waiting to check on its condition before rushing to Buffy.

"You all right?" Spike asked, crouching to turn her hands over, his fingertips hovering over the abrasions speckling her knuckles.

"Yeah," she replied, and her gaze flickered over his shoulder at the heap by the water. "Is it dead?"

He didn't even bother looking back. "Goin' to say yeah," he said. "Important thing is, it didn't get a bite out of either of us this time."

The cool touch of his hands on hers should've calmed the heat that was suffusing her body now, that oh-so-familiar fire that always started to burn after a good fight, the one that she'd only learned to recognize for herself after hearing Faith's rather ineloquent observations. But it didn't. Instead, it only stoked the furnace, enflaming her cheeks as she watched his bowed head, her fingers itching to reach out and tangle in the platinum curls.

"Spike…" she murmured.

He could feel the heat coming off her in waves, the adrenaline rushing through her veins combining with her heartbeat to create a deafening concert that lifted his gaze, tunneled the world around him so that he saw only her. That's the way it always was. Just her. Just Buffy. His Buffy.

There was to be no more waiting. Both moved at the same time, mouths opening…coming together…tasting, and searching, and needing…two sets of arms encircling behind powerful backs to strengthen the contact. It was at once too much and not enough---more, Buffy thought greedily, please---alternating shuddering waves of fire with walls of ice across her flesh, hardening her nipples as she pulled him to her, until the whimper of want that escaped her throat was unavoidable.

They could've been anywhere…on top of the Hellmouth...in the back seat of a '58 Buick…curled up beside each other on the softest of feather beds. Neither cared. The only thing that mattered was that each had just thrown away the last of the bricks that made up the wall between them, crashing through the dust and mortar in a flush of heat and need that billowed in scarlet waves, entwining themselves around the other in a flurry of limbs and half-shed clothing until they lay on the earth, bare skin to bare skin, clinging and kissing as if it was the last time…or the first…

His lips danced down her neck, tongue trailing to the uppermost curve of her breast, lapping at the sweaty tang that flavored her skin. Buffy gasped, the breath locking in her lungs, and curled her nails through his hair, back arching as Spike closed around the nearest nipple, sucking it hard against the roof of his mouth before abandoning it for its mate. More more more, her head chanted, and considered saying it out loud when his lips returned, swallowing her down into another kiss as his nimble fingers slid downward, grasping her hips to slide her directly underneath him.

"Last chance, luv," he murmured, the length of his arousal resting amid her coarse curls. "This can still stop. Just say the word."

Slowly, Buffy shook her head. "Don't like stop," she whispered, gazing up into the vampire's eyes. "I like…please."

It was the only invitation he needed. Raising his hips, Spike's knee coaxed her own apart, sliding himself downward just enough so that the tip of his cock settled at her entrance, before inching its way inside, stretching and filling, drowning him in warmth that sent shudders down his spine. He felt her muscles squeeze around him, drawing him deeper, and heard her breathing grow ragged, each breath a little shorter, each breath a little shallower.

When she felt their pelvises meet, she moaned, her eyes sliding shut as her head tilted to the side, waiting for his tongue to meet the contours of her neck, hungry for him to start sliding himself in and out, her muscles already tensing in anticipation. But the moment seemed to hang forever, and she felt instead his hand reach up to cup her cheek, guiding her back to face him directly.

"Luv, look at me."

Her lids obeyed, opening to gaze up at the aquiline features, the faintest of lines between his brows. "What is it?" she asked, her voice ragged..

His thumb traced her cheekbone as he seemed to contemplate his next words. "Don't turn away," he finally murmured. "I need you to look at me while we do this. I need you to see me." If she could say the word, so could he. "Please."

"I didn't…mean…" And she understood, without him having to say, and felt the guilt wash over her, mingling with the desire, as she realized what she'd inadvertently done to him by turning her head, such a simple response with such complex ramifications. It drove her forward, lifting her head to brush her lips over his mouth, while her legs curled around the power of his, crushing him to her as she began the rhythm for him.

A surprised growl rumbled from Spike's throat, but it took him only a moment to follow her lead, thrusting in and out, feeling her tight sheath clutch and squeeze with every stroke, milking the pleasure from his cock in hundreds of electric charges.

As she promised, she didn't look away, instead locking gazes, green to blue, sucking at his mouth in hungry kisses that demanded more and more with every pulse, while tiny nails raked at the flesh on his back, driving him deeper, summoning the demon within even as it called to the man. Growls interspersed with moans, some from her, some from him, until they became interchangeable…indistinguishable… one, guiding them to a pitch-fever crescendo that both had envisioned but neither truly expected.

Hers came first, a surge that pulled her from the swell of the moment and slammed her against the wall, shaking and spinning and shimmering and screaming, until the world swam before her eyes, forcing her to clutch the man above her in desperate hopes of not drowning, holding him even as the orgasm rocketed through his own flesh, his back bending impossibly as he gave one last thrust that threatened to split her in two, holding himself there for what seemed eternity before shuddering to a collapse onto her sweat-slick chest.

His mouth immediately sought her out, needing to taste, needing to feel, while his hands came up to sink into the golden tresses as he cupped her face. "God, Buffy," he murmured between kisses. "Love you so much…"

She wasn't even sure he realized what he'd said, but hearing it spoken out loud, knowing that she hadn't been wrong, sent tremors across her skin. He loved her. He'd said it. Should she say it back? Would he think it was just the heat of the moment? Or that she felt like she had to? So many questions, and how come she didn't know any of the answers? Spike always seemed to know, even if he did sometimes jump to the wrong conclusion, and…oh god, he said he loved her…

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

The winds were already in full force, whipping around him as he dragged the body across the heather. Get it to the others; that was the only thought in Duncan's head, his eyes almost glowing as he pulled it along. The storm was invigorating, but it didn't help his control, the itch to change suddenly overpowering, knowing he couldn't, not just yet. Not safe. There would be time enough for that later.

It was almost hidden, the cave, and Duncan marveled that the Slayer had yet to find it on her many sojourns out onto the mountain. Maybe she's not as smart as I think she is, he thought, pulling the corpse to the safety of the cavern. Maybe it's just the vampire I have to worry about, after all.

The others were buried under the loose dirt, able to be dug up if necessary, but now, his attention was focused on the portly body before him. Ripping open Hornbrook's shirt, Duncan ignored the deep wounds he'd inflicted the previous day, the blood where it had congealed across the mottled skin looking black in the confines of the dark. Laying his hand over the man's chest, his fingers spread, digging into the flesh. Time to give up your secrets, old man, he thought, and closed his eyes against the images that began to flitter into his head…


To be continued in Chapter 25: Braving Angry Winter's Storms