DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course. And the chapter titles are courtesy of Robert Burns.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: A wounded Buffy has returned to Dall Rath with Frank, the last guardian kelpie…

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

Chapter 36: She Says She Loves Me Best of All

Storytelling hour didn’t last for nearly that long.

Within minutes of settling in the great hall, the tremors began, starting from somewhere near the base of her spine and undulating outward, rippling in minuscule waves through her muscle tissue to overtake all sensations, until Buffy was left visibly shaking as Giles finished the last of the dressing. Nothing she could do could control it; even setting her jaw hurt as the shivers from going from the extreme wet cold of the mountain to the damp not-so-cold of the castle rattled her teeth.

Spike had been hovering in the background, allowing her Watcher to take control of the situation, watching in impotent worry as Buffy perched herself on the edge of the table---half on, half off---to let Giles peel away her jacket in a swift sucking rend before carefully ripping her shirt to expose more of the wound on her shoulder. Even from his vantage point near the fireplace, each daub of the antiseptic to the teeth marks sent an answering twinge through the vampire’s body, every hiss and visible cringe from the Slayer sparking the memory of his own kelpie bite, and he had to consciously stuff his hands into his pockets in an attempt to curb the desire to just snatch her away from it all. It didn’t work with his feet, though. Step by step, they moved of their own accord, edging him nearer to Buffy, until once again, he found himself back at her side. For one fleeting moment, the realization that they would probably have similar scars, albeit in slightly differing places, had sent a warm flash through his skin, but that had quickly dissipated, returning him to his icy anxiety regarding his lover’s health. And he watched. And waited.

His attention had been split, darting from Buffy to the corner, where Colin and Anya were tending to the wounded guardian. It had reverted to a human form, to make it easier for the others to deal with, but its wounds were still very much real, its bare chest still sporting the tiny daggers the younger Watcher was carefully extracting, while the young woman carefully bound the arrow wounds in its leg. The whole situation seemed to amuse Frank, and more than once, Spike found himself meeting the other demon’s eyes, the tacit understanding of what it felt to be at the care of a bunch of humans passing between them.

It didn’t mean he liked him, though. If the Slayer said he was OK, Spike was going to have to believe her, but since he was the only one outside of her who knew the full story, the vamp wasn’t risking any more attacks by taking his eyes off the kelpie. Not while Buffy was still in the room. And not while she was most definitely below par.

When the shivering began, though, all thoughts of Frank vanished, to be replaced with a grim determination as he watched Giles settle back to begin pumping her for information. Buffy’s skin was a flourish of color, twin spots of bright red high on her cheeks, fingers pale white from exposure to the wet and cold, her shoulder and upper arms mottled in purples and greens from the bruises he could only assume Duncan had caused. Though she was doing her best to be strong, the glassy shine in her eyes betrayed her discomfort, and she held herself as still as possible while she braced herself for the interrogation. She couldn’t fool Spike, though. Especially when he could hear the wild, uneven staccato of her heartbeat. Hell, he could practically hear the tremors vibrating her skin. Enough was enough, and bugger if he cared anymore about Buffy’s precious secrets. Nothing was worth her gettin’ sick over.

“OK, show’s over,” he announced, boldly slipping his arm around her waist to lift her to her feet. “C’mon, pet.”

She looked up at him, eyes wide, mouth set, but there was no struggle left in her, only the calm realization that the time for pretending was now long gone. Slowly, she let her own arm steal around his shoulder, leaning heavily against him as she turned back to the grim face of her Watcher, ignoring the array of responses from her friends around her.

“I haven’t even started,” Giles said, his voice tight.

“And you’re not goin’ to,” Spike finished. “Do you even have eyes behind those bloody glasses of yours? ‘Cause from this angle, I’d wager not.” His grip around her tightened as he felt her begin to sway. Buck it up, Buffy, he thought. You just have to wait until I can get you out of this and upstairs where you belong. “Slayer’s not up to this. She needs a long hot soak and then a good night’s rest. Anything she has to say about this whole mess can wait until mornin’.”

Giles’ gaze flickered from the vampire to his charge, taking in her disheveled appearance, the flush in her cheeks, seeing for the first time the slight quiver in her limbs as she fought against the inner trembling. As worrying as that was, it was the possessive bent of her head against Spike’s shoulder, the powerful curve of his fingers around her waist, that was the most troubling to the older Englishman, and he slowly rose to his feet. There was going to be no more argument regarding this; that much was certain. “Fine,” he said, meeting blue for blue with the vamp. “I shall be the one to help her upstairs. Then I can speak with her along the way.”

“Rupert---.”

“You and Xander begin fetching water for her bath,” Giles interrupted, ignoring Spike’s protestation. “Willow, could you and Tara please prepare something that will help Buffy speed in healing? We really need her to be at her best tomorrow night when we attempt to close the entrance again.”

The Slayer’s head swiveled to look back at Spike, the silent plea buried in the hazel to just go along with it clamoring for recognition. It took only a moment for the vampire to duck his head, stepping away to allow the Watcher to slip his own arm around her and pull her gently toward the door. A moment that felt like forever.

The demon inside him raged at being shoved to the side yet again, but on the outside, the vampire remained cool, face implacable as he was left to watch the pair disappear from the hall. She was going to get lectured, of that he was sure, and Giles was going to do everything in his power to try and sway her opinion of Spike, because there was no doubt in his mind any longer that the Watcher knew the truth about what was going on between them. Too many clues and Rupert was hardly a stupid man. A little blind, perhaps, especially when it came to considering his Slayer’s personal life, but definitely not stupid. Which might be hard on Buffy.

His mouth thinned. Headache or not, if Rupert made her cry, Spike was going to thump him.

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

He wasn’t sure how to start. Frankly, it wasn’t a conversation he’d ever thought he’d have with her, though in light of her past and her predilection for surprising him, Giles should have seen it coming. Still…knowing didn’t make it any easier to form the words, and he found himself remaining silent when they emerged from the stairwell, assisting her in mute concern as they made their way down the hall.

“Does it help if I go first?” Buffy asked quietly as they stopped in front of her bedroom door. Her tired gaze lifted to stare up into her mentor’s. “Or is it the sudden wish that you were deaf that’s turned you into Mr. Mime?”

His face softened. It was so difficult to be angry with her when the pleading hazel of her eyes seemed to cut through his feelings like a knife, and he ducked his head in order to get the words out. It was the only way he could. “What’s…happened between you and…” God, he couldn’t believe he was actually having to say the name. “…Spike?”

“A lot,” she admitted, and though she was still wary of how he was going to react, and though the chill of the castle air was still wreaking havoc with her body, there was no denying the liberation Buffy suddenly felt at confessing even to that much, the relief sending a warm flood washing through her body that temporarily lessened her shivering. She reached out to lay a thin hand on his arm. “But it’s all good.”

Giles snorted. “Good is not a word that I regularly associate with Spike,” he said. “And neither should you. Have you forgotten everything I’ve ever taught you? He kills Slayers, Buffy---.”

“Killed. Past tense. He doesn’t do that anymore.”

“Only because the chip doesn’t allow him.”

“Maybe that was the way in the beginning, but it’s different now.” Her face was earnest. “He’s changed, Giles. I can see it, Willow can see it. Even Xander can see it, I think. Why can’t you?”

“Perhaps because I’m the only one who refuses to be taken in by his so-called charm,” he retorted, and immediately regretted the harshness of his tone. Giles took a deep breath, deliberately lowering his voice as he continued. “Spike’s a survivor. He does whatever is necessary to preserve his own skin---.”

“Then why was he almost kelpie chow our first day here?” she countered. “And why did he take the blame for me and the gang about the joyride last night? Nobody asked him to do either, Giles, but he did them. Without being prompted to. Without getting any kind of reward. In fact, he got a nasty bite from the guardian and a grounding from you to show for his troubles.”

Her latter example took the Watcher by surprise, and he frowned. “What are you talking about?” he queried. “What about last night?”

Buffy sighed. “Don’t ask me why he did it because I have absolutely no idea. But…Will and I were the ones who badgered him into driving us and the others to the pub. We wanted to get out of the castle for a while, maybe experience some of the Scottish nightlife while we still had the chance.” She blushed under his amazed stare. “It seemed like a good idea at the time. You and Colin weren’t even supposed to find out. Of course, taking your money was probably not the smartest thing Spike could’ve done. But he did try talking me out of it. I was just more…persuasive than he was.”

“You should’ve said something to Colin or myself. There’s certainly no reason we wouldn’t have allowed…” His voice trailed off as he watched her tilt her head and look up at him pointedly. No. Even he didn’t really believe that. “Still,” Giles continued, “this is William the Bloody we’re talking about here---.”

“No, because there’s nothing left to say. You’re family, you know that, but I’m not a child any more that needs to be protected from what you think is bad for me. Because he’s not.” Her eyes were sad, but her mouth was firm. “Spike’s going to be a part of my life now, Giles, whether you like it or not. Of course, it would make everything a lot easier if you’d just trust me on this, but I believe in this enough to do it on my own, if I have to. Well, not really on my own, because Spike will be there, but you get the idea.”

It was all starting to go fuzzy in her head, her shivering returning with a vengeance, and Buffy found herself reaching out to clutch at the doorframe to keep herself vertical. Now was not the time to be looking like she couldn’t take care of herself, even if she really didn’t think she could. Had to look strong.

The action caught Giles’ eye and he was about to return his arm to her shoulders to guide her into the room when Spike and Xander stepped from the stairs, both loaded down with buckets of steaming water. It took only a moment for the vampire to see the state of the Slayer, to take in her heavy breathing and accelerated pulse, before he dropped what he was carrying to rush to her side, scooping her into his arms while he shot the Watcher a dirty look.

“So much for helpin’ her,” he snapped as he kicked at the door, forcing it open and marching inside.

Giles looked on puzzled as Spike set her down on the edge of the bed, pushing the hair away from her eyes before gently cupping her cheek in his palm. “Just have to wait a few minutes, luv,” he heard the vampire say, and then stepped aside as Xander brushed past.

The two men were quick, moving the screen to expose the tub, emptying their pails into it wordlessly before the brunette rushed out to refill his. Picking up the buckets he’d brought upstairs, Spike strode over to the door and shoved them into the Watcher’s unsuspecting arms. “Make yourself useful,” the vamp ordered, his eyes cold. “Instead of tryin’ to make this worse when it doesn’t have to be.”

Giles’ gaze darted to a shivering Buffy on the bed before flitting back to Spike’s stern anger. “I’m not done---.”

“Yeah, you are.” He desperately wanted to slam the door in his face, shut out the doubt and mistrust that shone in the Watcher’s eyes, but Spike knew it was the last thing the Slayer wanted, stepping back instead to fold his arms over his chest to watch in waiting.

When Giles looked to Buffy, his uncertainty lining the space between his eyes, she nodded. “I need this right now,” she said simply. It took her only a moment to add, “Please?”

He left then, with one last look at the pair, shaking his head as if it was some mystery he had yet to solve. Once it was just the two of them, though, Spike relaxed, glancing back at her over his shoulder as his arms fell to his sides. “I’m just goin’ to help finish with the water,” he said. “Then we’ll get you sorted.” He turned away, and paused, the muscles in his back rippling beneath his shirt as his hands balled into fists at his side. “If you want your privacy after…now that…” Getting the rest of the words out was impossible, and his head lowered as his body tensed again. If it was what she wanted, he’d do it, but he sure as hell didn’t have to like it.

“Spike. Look at me.”

Glancing back, the vampire saw the delicate smile curve her lips. “The minute I start feeling human again, we’re talking, OK? In the same room. So, no doing a duck and run because you’re worried about Giles.”

“I’m not---.”

“Hey, this is a big deal for me,” she joked as best she could. “You’re getting Chatty Buffy instead of Action Buffy for a change. I say, grab it while you can.”

He couldn’t help his grin. “Nothin’ wrong with Action Buffy,” he commented. “I like how she keeps me on my…toes.”

“Maybe she’ll make an appearance later. After Chatty Buffy decides she’s said enough. Or after you get tired of listening to her.”

Spike shook his head. “Never happen, pet.”

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

Although it was still raining, the storm had lessened from the gale that had raged upon Buffy’s return to a softer, steadier tempo that spoke of gentler winds and calmer skies. The temperature was dropping, and though he had left his jacket inside, Giles felt nothing of the bite in the air, staring as he was into the nothingness of the approaching night. The occasional drop would catch on the breeze to splatter across his trousers as he crouched in the doorway, but it was nothing compared to the wet that still stained his shirt from assisting the Slayer. Not that he would have noticed anyway. The last thing on the Watcher’s mind at the moment was his dress.

“Tea should only be a few more minutes,” Colin said from behind him, but even that wasn’t enough to gather Giles’ attention. “Anya is serving it up now.” A moment of silence hung between the pair, and then the younger man stepped forward, carefully setting down a bottle of whiskey and a tumbler at his elder’s side. “I thought you might like a drink before we eat.”

Picking up the bottle, Giles only gave its volume a quick glance before saying, “Thank you.”

Another pause where the only sounds were the alcohol before poured into the glass and the rain being dropped from the sky. “Rupert, I understand---,” Colin started.

“You understand nothing.” Giles’ voice was harsh as he lifted the tumbler to his lips, draining the amber liquid in a single gulp. “You’ve never had a proper assignment with a Slayer.”

“Well, no, but that hardly means I’m not familiar with the Watcher diaries. Required reading, you know.” He cleared his throat. “Buffy is not the first---.”

“That’s not the point,” he snapped, and poured himself another shot, downing it just as quickly as the first.

“I did try to warn you,” Colin tried again. “But you refused to listen to me.”

Giles straightened, turning to face the other man with barely disguised frustration gleaming in his eyes. “And is that supposed to make me feel better?” he demanded. “To know that a fledgling Watcher, with absolutely no field experience, knows my Slayer better than I do?”

“That’s not what I meant.”

“No, but it’s what you said.”

“Is it because of the problems you had with…the other one…with Angelus?”

It was probably the worst question he could’ve posed, and Colin had to physically jump away as Giles stepped viciously toward him. “She deserves better than a vampire,” he hissed into the younger’s face.

“N-n-not that I don’t agree,” Colin was quick to assure, “but I should think that perhaps this might be...Buffy’s decision to make.” He flinched as he saw Giles ball his hand into a fist, but the arm remained at the other Watcher’s side. “She’s almost twenty years old, after all. And technically, Spike is no longer a threat to her. Not that I still don’t think he’s dangerous, and he can certainly learn a thing or two about proper etiquette, but when it comes down to it, he’s no longer in a position to harm her. Isn’t that what’s important?”

Giles shook his head. “You are a horribly naïve young man,” he said softly. “It was only a year ago that Spike was trying to kill her. He will not have changed so drastically in such a short period of time.”

“Yes, about that.” Colin was gathering courage, straightening before his colleague as the thoughts ticked through his brain. “I’d read your accounts regarding Spike and Buffy prior to our arrival in Sunnydale, and one thing I always wondered was, why did neither of them ever succeed?” He hurried forward at the growing frown on Giles’ face. “I mean, Buffy is one of the strongest Slayers we’ve been privileged to have in quite some time. And Spike has two Slayer kills under his belt, including Nikki Wood, who was formidable in her own right. Why on earth haven’t either of them ever managed to kill the other? They’ve both had ample opportunities, yet something has always managed to intervene. Why do you think that is?”

“Rotten luck.” He didn’t want to consider what Colin was suggesting, that the attraction between the two had always been there, or at the very least, had been there far earlier than this…arrangement in Scotland. It was hard enough seeing Spike’s face, with a stalwart Buffy just behind him, knowing that they were presenting as a united front. Not that he hadn’t had to deal extensively with the chipped vampire in the past, but this was different. This was Buffy. This was his Slayer.

“It sounds as if you don’t trust your Slayer.”

“Hardly. It’s Spike I don’t trust.”

“And yet, to be fair, he was the first to insist Buffy wasn’t well enough to relay their findings. Surely, his concern for her above all else merits some…attention, wouldn’t you agree?”

“And you’re telling me this because…?” He wasn’t expecting a reply, his blue eyes narrowed as he stared at the younger man. “It wasn’t that long ago you were simply dismissing Spike as only another vampire. Not worth telling of his own potential endangerment regarding the spell. Expendable, I believe you called him. And now you’re his relationship advocate?” Giles shook his head. “Don’t tell me he’s got to you, too.”

“Not…got, per se. It’s just…his actions make me…curious. Like perhaps we’ve missed something. For example, in the great hall. There was a great deal of blood, including Slayer blood, and yet the only reaction from Spike was directed intently on Buffy’s wellbeing. He didn’t seem…attracted in the least, to the draw of a potential meal. In fact, he seemed much more concerned with---.”

“Enough.” That was the part that he was finding the most difficult to deal with. While Giles had been intent on discovering just what had happened on the mountain, Spike had been the one to notice just how badly Buffy needed to rest, pre-empting him from observing it on his own, and worse, making him look bad to the others. Not that he wasn’t used to occasionally being played for the fool by the younger generation, but certainly not when it came to Buffy. And definitely not by Spike.

But it had to have an explanation. The problem was, the explanation made him just as uncomfortable as the question, because that would mean that the two blonds had developed even stronger feelings for the other than they were verbally admitting. They were certainly behaving as a partnership and though he had at one point entertained the notion that perhaps the vampire would make a powerful ally, that his chip had allowed him the opportunity to attain some higher calling, it was never meant to happen in conjunction with…falling in love with Buffy. Because that’s what had happened with the vampire. And it was pointless to go on denying it to himself.

Giles sighed, the tension beginning to ease from his muscles as the alcohol started to wind its way through his veins. “This would be so much simpler if Spike could’ve just remained evil,” he muttered. “At least then, there’s no moral ambiguity issues for me to contend with.”

“Chin up, Rupert,” Colin said with a wide smile, one hand coming up to rest on his colleague’s shoulder. “Perhaps he’ll solve the problem for all of us by doing something so heinously wicked, Buffy will have no choice but to stake him.”

His lips twitched, battling the smile the other’s words encouraged. “You’re just trying to cheer me up,” he chastened, affecting a mock severity to his tone. “It won’t work.”

“No, I don’t suppose it would.” The two began walking back toward the great hall. “Maybe he’ll attempt to vamp her mother.”

This time, Giles laughed out loud, although more from the innocuous use of the word “vamp” coming from Colin’s mouth than anything else, and entered the dining area with a considerably lighter heart than he’d left it.

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

Watching the steam rise from the bath as Spike poured the last of the water in it made Buffy’s skin tingle in anticipation, her lip caught between her teeth as she tried to peer around him, almost bouncing on the bed in her excitement to just get out of her clothes and get into the tub. “Two baths in one day,” she commented. “And you said we were going to be roughing it.”

He glanced back at her over his shoulder. “Gettin’ mangled by a kelpie is a piss poor way to get an extra soak,” he admonished. “And I’m still annoyed you didn’t listen to me.”

“I did listen,” Buffy pouted. “I took the crossbow. It was the stupid storm’s fault. And Frank’s. Don’t forget him. He showed up out of nowhere and totally blew it for me.”

Spike snorted, straightening to turn back and face her. “Don’t think I can be forgettin’ the guardian,” he said. “Especially since he’s sittin’ down there right now, tellin’ God knows what tales about what happened out there.”

“How many ‘I told you so’s’ am I going to have to put up with before you let this go?” Placing her palms on the blanket, the Slayer used it to help guide herself into a standing position, stopping halfway as the world began to sway around her. Spike was at her side in a shot, strong arm around her waist, steadying her as she finished rising. “And I’m going to keep saying this until I’m blue in the face. Frank’s on our side.”

“You’re blue in the arms at the moment,” he noted, looking at the bruises that adorned her flesh. “Does that count?”

“Ha ha, very funny.” She twisted to face away from him. “Now help me get out of this so that I can wash the kelpie smell off of me.”

His blue gaze swept over the ruined fabric that still clung to her back, certain patches still damp while others were dry and caked with mud. “Are we pronouncing this shirt officially dead?” he queried.

“I’m pretty sure it’s past its sell by date.”

Abstractly, Spike nodded, and gripping the bottom hem of the material, tore it up the middle, allowing the two halves to fall to her arms so that she could shrug it away from her skin. Though there were abrasions and minor cuts marring the golden flesh of her back, it was for the most part unmarked, a smooth expanse belying the strength it housed inside. For a brief moment, the urge to run his fingers down her spine, to trace the delicate curve of the muscles, was overwhelming, and Spike had to consciously step backwards, away from the young woman, in order to refrain from doing so. She doesn’t need that right now, he silently reprimanded himself. This is about her doin’ some recuperative bathing, not about gettin’ off on how gorgeous she is…or enjoying the beauty she probably doesn’t even realize she possesses, not really…or about anything else even remotely connected to any of your body parts located from the neck down. Buffy. This is about her.

She had already removed her shoes and socks, in spite of the ice-cold floor, so all that remained were the trousers that seemed to be glued to her legs, but struggling with those only sapped what remaining strength the Slayer had left, leaving her worn and exhausted and bending in the air like a willow trapped in a hurricane. He noticed before she did, bending to lift her up, carrying her to the side of the tub and allowing her to slide inside.

The water wrapped around her in a fiery sheath, staving the shivers that had slowly started to win the battle with her body, letting her eyelids flutter shut as she sank into the oblivion the scents provided. Her sigh of pleasure was enough to bring a smile to Spike’s face, and though his dark gaze flickered over the exposed flesh, drinking in the curve of her breast and the sinew of her waist, it was the wound on her shoulder that kept the majority of his attention, the stark crimson too red against her skin. Hate for the cook boiled in his throat, and silently he vowed to be especially vicious with the other demon on their next encounter. Because there would be another one. There was no way the vampire could allow Duncan not to be punished for what he did to Buffy.

“About that chat you were wanting,” Spike started, and then stopped when her eyes shot open.

“You’re not bailing, are you?” she asked, her muscles tensing as she began to straighten in the water.

“I’m just thinkin’ maybe it should wait,” he replied. “You need to be gettin’ some sleep when you get out of there. I wasn’t kiddin’ Rupert about that.”

The candles that flickered in the sconces cast long shadows over her face, and for a moment, Spike thought he saw a twinge of fear skitter behind her eyes. “It can’t wait,” Buffy said softly, relaxing back into the tub. “It’s waited too long as it is.”

“If this is about that prat Duncan---.”

“No. It’s about…us. You. Me.” Her eyes darted to the bed. “Do you mind…sitting for this?” she asked.

His head tilted. “Sitting usually goes with bad news.”

“Oh, not bad,” she insisted. “You just seem very…imposing, standing there like that. And this is hard enough for me to say with you watching me. It makes me goosebumpy.” Suddenly, she seemed absorbed in the water, head turning as she watched it lap against the porcelain sides of the tub. “Or maybe…if you wanted…it’s kind of roomy in here. You could…sit in here with me instead of on the bed.” Her lashes lifted to allow the darkened hazel to meet the sapphire glitter of his eyes. “If you wanted.”

The arousal of his body was immediate, and his jaw dropped as his tongue darted forward, running along the inside edge of his teeth as he regarded her. “You’re s’posed to be gettin’ washed up so you can sleep,” he said softly, no recriminations in his voice, only a faint shine of expectation.

“So, I’ll wash after we’ve had our…talk.”

He didn’t have to be asked twice. With his eyes never leaving her, Spike pulled the t-shirt over his head, his blond hair mussing even further into the curls running his worried fingers through it all afternoon had already encouraged, tossing the tee casually aside as he sat down on the bed to unlace his boots. The sinew of his muscles flexed as he worked at stripping himself, sliding his feet free before rising back up and settling his hands at his waistband. He was hard, but not ashamed of it, and his erection sprang free as the denim fell, gleaming golden in candlelight, throbbing in sympathetic rhythm with the cadence of the Slayer’s heartbeat.

It was surprise on her face when he moved behind the tub, strong hands reaching forward to grip the sides as he lifted himself and slid in behind her, nudging her forward so that she sat between his legs, then releasing the porcelain to guide her carefully back against his chest. “How’s this?” he questioned, his voice a rumble in his throat, and allowed his fingers to carefully push her hair away from the arch of her neck, running his index finger along the vein that ran down its side as he leaned back against the slope of the tub.

Buffy could feel his erection pressing into the small of her back, up the beginnings of her spine, and wished for a second that she was facing the other way. “Not what I expected,” she admitted with a breathy sigh. Somehow, she had a feeling bathing alone would never quite be good enough again.

She felt him tense. “You want me to move?”

“No, no,” she insisted. “This is good. Somehow, you always seem to come up with better stuff than I can possibly imagine. It’s…surprising.”

His chuckle vibrated through his skin, into hers, echoing into her own torso. “It’s called a century of experience, luv. Now…” Spike’s hand dipped below the surface of the water, skating along the top edge of her thigh. “What’s this little chat of yours about?”

The tremors were beginning again, only this time, they were starting in her legs and they had nothing to do with the cold in the room or the injuries on her body. Determinedly, Buffy grabbed the vampire’s hand and set it on the edge of the tub. “You can’t do that if you want a coherent sentence out of me,” she warned. “And I want to get this out there.”

He smiled, though he knew she couldn’t see it. “Coherent sentence from the Slayer,” he mused. “This should be interestin’…”

Playfully, Buffy slapped at his knee, splashing the warm water over the side. “I’m being serious here.” She decided then that maybe it was a very good idea he was behind her. This was going to be so much easier if she didn’t have to look into those probing blue eyes.

“I’m pretty sure Giles knows now,” she started, her tone solemn as she began to focus on her task at hand. “About us, I mean. I didn’t come out and say as much to him, but he had most of it figured out.”

“Look, about that---.”

“I’m not blaming you.” She stopped, hesitating, dwelling on the words before selecting the ones that fit best. “I’m blaming me. I should’ve come clean about the whole thing when it started. Stupid Slayer logic.”

“It’s done now. You shouldn’t fuss about it.”

“I’m going to tell Xander and Anya in the morning. I’m going to make sure they all know. You deserve that after everything.”

“Pet, I don’t deserve anything---.”

“If you keep interrupting me, I’m never going to get this out, OK?” The tease in her tone was mirrored by the delicate trace of her fingers around his knee. “You’ve been very…open to me regarding what’s going on in your head, and I figure, maybe it’s only fair if my head is just as open. Only it’s not really my head that I mean. I mean…god, I really, really suck at this.” She sighed, burrowing herself deeper into the water, banging her head slightly against the wall of his chest.

“Just say it.” Everything in his body had stopped. No movement in his hands. The calm locking of his muscles as he waited. Only not so calm, because the hints she was dropping were driving him mad with hope. Expectations he hadn’t considered he’d be able to entertain until they were long gone from this place and he could devote himself properly to loving her, to being able to publicly love her. “It’s not that hard.”

Buffy’s breath was a feather against Spike’s shoulder as she turned her head, nuzzling his warming skin with her cheek. “Yes,” she said. “It is. Because I don’t do this. I’ve never been big with the words. I guess I’ve just learned that actions always speak so much louder. And I know you get that. But…I know I like hearing it, so the way I see it, you probably do, too, right?” She almost seemed to be waiting for a response, but answered herself after only a moment. “Except you have no idea what I’m talking about, so I’m just going to…get it out there.” A deep breath. “You’ve told me more than once that you love me. And that means more to me than you can possibly imagine. I just want you to know…you’re not alone on that.” Her lashes fluttered shut, her hand stealing beneath his leg to hold him in a gentle caress, almost as if she were afraid he would disappear if she didn’t. “I love you, Spike…”

 

To be continued in Chapter 37: Thine Am I, My Faithful Fair