DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY:  Giles has been asked to speak at a symposium north of Sunnydale, and when he is reluctant to leave Spike alone, Buffy is the only one who can help out, tagging along for the ride, only to be knocked unconscious when the trio gets in a car accident…

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

Chapter 2: Over the River and Through the Woods

He woke to the scent of blood.

Thick, luscious, piquant, and making his mouth water just at the prospect of it running over his tongue.

And though he felt the delicate tickle as it dripped down the side of his face, Spike knew that it wasn’t his own blood that he was smelling.  He’d been in more than enough fights with her to recognize the scent of hurt Slayer when it assaulted his senses.

Cracking his lids open, the first thing he saw was the huge dent in the roof overhead, buckled and bent as if a giant had tried poking his fingers through the metal in order to extract its occupants like some candy surprise.  That’s modern engineering for you, he thought irritably.  One little roll and it’s tin can alley for the bleedin’ car.  The door at his feet was dented in as well, and Spike had a sneaking suspicion that if he turned his head, he’d see the same thing behind him. 

Somehow, the smell was even more overpowering with his eyes open, and gingerly, he sat up from his sprawled position across the seat, stretching his limbs as he did so.  Nothing broken, though his noggin had taken a good hit, screaming at him from the inside like a banshee straight out of hell.

“Well, that was a kick and a half,” he drawled as he wiped at the blood running down his face.  Sucking it off his thumb, he half-turned toward the front seat, ready for whatever derisive quip the Slayer would throw at him this time.

It never came.

She was slumped against her seat belt, an angry red welt from the strap scraping its path around her neck to disappear beneath the collar of her blouse, her lashes dark against the bluing of her cheek.  Golden tendrils were sticking to her forehead where the source of the blood he smelled flowed, and though he could see the spider web cracks in her window, he spoke to her just the same, trying to confirm his suspicions.

“Slayer?”  His voice seemed too loud in the confines of the car, but when it elicited no response, he tried again, this time reaching out to shake her shoulder.  “Buffy?”

Nothing.  Out cold.  Giles’ old man driving had finally done someone in.

Only then did the break in Spike’s scrutiny allow him to register what should’ve been obvious the second he’d sat forward.  With a very deliberate turn of his head, he looked over at the driver’s seat, and his lips pursed tightly together.  The Watcher was gone.

Not gone, as in dead, but gone as in…no longer there.  The driver’s door was jammed closed, but a quick glance was all Spike needed to know that that hadn’t been Giles’ egress of choice.  In rolling down the embankment, the car had been stopped, right side up, by slamming into a large tree, and the thick trunk now effectively blocked any way of opening the door from the inside.  The windshield was also out as a viable option; though cracked and non-usable, it was still in one piece, with no gap in it large enough for someone of Rupert’s size to get through.

What made it even more odd was that the driver’s seat belt was still firmly fastened, empty as if whatever it had contained had simply been lifted out, and the keys were missing from the ignition.

Jaw grim in determination, Spike turned to the rear doors, pulling ineffectively at their handles only to learn that they too were broken in the accident, blockading him inside the vehicle.  “Fuck that,” he muttered, and leaned back on his elbows, his booted heel smashing against the window to send it flying into the snow that still swirled outside.  It was a tight fit to shimmy through it, but he’d done worse over the course of his lifetime, and ended up half-buried in the accumulating snow by the time he tumbled out the other side.

The storm was even worse than it had been when they’d gone off the road.  Darkness wouldn’t have normally been a problem for the vampire, but now it was laced with flurrying flakes that eddied and whirled around Spike’s head.  Shifting into game face didn’t help much, but the simple act calmed his furious nerves.  Mother Nature wanted to fuck with him?  He’d give her a hell of a fight then, and go down biting with the bitch if that was the case.

Right.  So.  First order of business.  Get the fuck out of the storm before---.

Her groan cut him off.  Even with the wind whistling in his ears, Spike heard the Slayer’s moan and without thinking, stepped forward and yanked her door from its pins.  Rupert can kiss that security deposit goodbye, he thought as he crouched at her side.

From this vantage, she looked even worse.  Her wrist was obviously broken, bent at an awkward angle across her lap, and there was more blood oozing from various points on her body.  A jagged piece of plastic extruded from her calf, but when Spike grabbed its edge and yanked it free, an agonized cry bubbled from Buffy’s throat and he looked up in time to see her eyes flutter open.

“Spike…?” she murmured when her gaze met his.  Confusion merged with pain in the darkened green of her eyes, yet it wasn’t that that captured his attention.  Instead, Spike’s gaze fixated on the grey pallor setting in her skin, pinching around her lips, and a comfortless understanding sank into his stomach.

Even if her Watcher had managed to get out somehow to go get help, and even if the Slayer did have super-healing capabilities that would make mincemeat of most of her injuries under normal circumstances, the bitter cold would do her in faster than either could help.  She was already shivering from the blasts of wind gusting through the interior, the flakes clinging to her lashes, and the tiny coat she was wearing was doing nothing to protect her from the elements.

His mind raced.  Part of him was shouting to hell with it, leave the Slayer be and get himself sorted.  The cold wouldn’t bother him too much while he found shelter until it passed, and then he’d be a free agent again---albeit a chipped one---away from the Hellmouth and ready to start trying to make a fresh start of it.  It wasn’t his bloody fault she was in her current state---that honor rested on her Watcher’s head---and it wasn’t as if he cared a rat’s ass what happened to her anyway.  So why weren’t his feet moving?

Because in his gut, he knew he couldn’t do it.  She was a warrior, brilliant in her killing beauty in spite of being a white hat.  If she was going to die, it was going to be at the hand of a worthy opponent, preferably him.  Freezing to death when she could live to fight another day was beneath her. 

“Where’s Giles?” she asked, her voice ragged.

“Gone,” was his reply.  “It’s just the two of us.”  What else could he say?  It didn’t make sense to him that her Watcher would just up and vanish when his Slayer was bleeding to death at his side, so it was pointless trying to draw any conclusions.  “We’re goin’ to have to get you out of here,” he said.  “How do you feel?  Anything broken?”

She ignored his question, staring back at him with eyes whose lucidity countered the balance of her injuries.  “What are you doing?” she asked.

“What?”  He bristled under her intense gaze, throwing his shoulders back.  “Just thought…Look.  Fine.  Have it your way.  You want to freeze to death, you be my guest---.”

Her hand shot out and grabbed his arm when he began to straighten, strong in spite of her wounds.  Spike glanced down at it for a long moment, her fingers pale where they curled over the leather, before looking up to see the darkened green of her eyes. 

“Just…my wrist, I think,” she finally said, and he realized she was answering his previous question.  “My leg hurts like a bitch, but I don’t think it’s broken.”

“Can you walk on it?”

“I don’t know.”  It was killing her to admit to the weakness, her eyes darting around to look at anything but his face.  “But it wouldn’t have to be that far, right?  Just back to the road so that we can hitch a ride.”

“Which is god knows how many feet up and away,” he countered.  Spike gestured to the swirling snow.  “Can’t tell for sure through the bluster, but looks to me like we rolled a fair bit.  It’s goin’ to be a climb to get back up, I think.”

“Oh.”  There was silence for a long moment, the world devoid of any sound but the rushing of the wind.  “I’m going to have to wrap this up,” she finally said, tugging at the sleeve over her injured wrist.  “There’s a first aid kit in the trunk.  Can you get it?  I’ll take care of this, while you get our things together.”

“If you’re thinkin’ of turning me into your own personal packhorse, Slayer, think again---.”

“I meant weapons, you jerk,” she bit out.  “And blood for you.  We could end up at some gas station in the middle of nowhere while we wait for someone to come get us.  I’m just trying to…be prepared.”  Her initial bombast was fading, and Spike could see the strength waning from her countenance.  Already, she was starting to tremble from the exertion of holding her own against him, and he straightened to go to the rear of the car, rather than argue with her some more.

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

Buffy’s lashes fluttered closed for a moment as she leaned against the headrest, listening to Spike curse as he fought with opening the trunk.  Not so sure this was worth the pass on Aunt Darlene’s visit, she thought listlessly.  Next time, I just keep my big mouth shut when Giles has a personal problem.

Giles.  Spike said he was gone, and her own quick glance to the seat beside her only made the confirmation ache even more.  What if he got thrown from the car? she wondered.  He could be lying out there right now, hurt, or stumbling around to try and find her.  Or dead.  That prospect hurt the most.  More than anything, she wanted to throw off her seatbelt and go off in search for him, but in spite of what she’d told Spike, she knew she wouldn’t make it ten feet in the storm on her own.  They would both be dead and that would be the last thing Giles would want.

The back of the car bounced as the trunk dropped shut, and Buffy turned her head in time to see Spike reappear at the door, the black of his coat making him stand out against the snow.  She had to stifle the hysterical giggle that rose to her throat.  Usually, it was the bleached hair that turned him into one huge beacon of “notice me!”; now, it and his pale skin melted into the white, almost making him seem like the headless horseman swooping in to her side.  It was kind of funny, if she thought about it.

“You’re an idiot, you know,” he was saying.  He gestured toward her coat. “Fashion statement or no, I don’t think a little piece of cowhide to show off those perky breasts of yours is worth dyin’ for, do you?”

It took a moment for her to realize he was referring to her suede jacket, and Buffy’s good humor immediately vanished.  “Funny talk…c-c-coming from the…S&M Ken d-d-doll…” she managed. 

Her teeth were starting to chatter, clicking loud enough for him to hear over the wind, and Spike just shook his head in disbelief.  “Quipping to the end,” he muttered, and as she watched, he slid his arms out of his duster.  “Here,” he said, holding out the coat, waiting for her take it.

“What?”

He grimaced, dropping the leather unceremoniously onto her lap.  “Unlike you, I don’t need to be worrying about my internal furnace going tits up at a little spot of cold.  Just…don’t bleed too much on it.  It’ll take me ages to get the Slayer smell out of it as it is.”

Warily, she watched as he proceeded to toss her the first aid kit as well.  Something was making the vampire edgy, more so than normal, and that, in conjunction with the massively weird saving-the-Slayer routine, was making her edgy.  She didn’t like edgy.  She liked being edge-free.  Of course, she also liked not being in pain, or being out in the middle of nowhere in a freak snowstorm with only a vampire determined to kill her at his first opportunity for company.  Which just led her back to her original question of why exactly he didn’t run when he had the chance.

She was taking too long to bandage her injuries.  “Fuck, Slayer,” Spike swore as he knelt at her side, yanking the kit from her good hand.  “At the bloody rate you’re goin’, we’ll both be icy treats by the time you’re done.”

Quickly, his deft fingers wound the bandages around her wrist, immobilizing it and causing the stabbing pains in it to dull to a throbbing ache.  Buffy moaned at the immediate satisfaction it gave her, but ignored the curious frown he shot her before he bent to tend her leg.  Don’t care, she thought stubbornly as the glide of his hands across her calf brought almost instantaneous relief.  Less pain equals good.

She’d managed to undo her seatbelt by the time he was done, and was already sliding her body out of the seat before he’d stepped away.  Each move made her wince, and as soon as she put her full weight on her injured leg, Buffy felt her knee give out from the excruciating pain.

Spike’s arm was around her in an instant, grabbing the duster from the car seat and wrapping her in it before scooping her against his chest.  Immediately, she buried her face into the crook of his neck, using his body to shield herself from the worst of the storm.  Oh, this is better, she thought drowsily, and breathed a huge sigh of relief.  Much, much better…

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

At the first touch of her exhalation, Spike stiffened, holding himself rigid as he felt her body’s rhythms pound against his flesh.  In spite of her lowered temperature, her breath was warm, flushing his skin and tickling beneath his shirt in delicious licks that the cold couldn’t touch, and he flinched when the memory it evoked roared its ugly head behind his mind’s eye.

Red’s bloody spell.  All those moments in Rupert’s chair with hot little Slayer all curled around me, like she was tryin’ to get inside my skin.  Like she was tryin’ to fuckin’ wear me like this month’s latest vogue, only it wasn’t meant to be a static thing, no, she had to be constantly crawling and touching and draping and rubbing like if there wasn’t an inch of her not covered by me, she’d crumble into dust.

Like I wasn’t tryin’ to do the exact same thing to her.

Though it hadn’t been that long since their faux engagement---just a few weeks, really, what’s a few weeks when one’s lived over a century?---he’d managed to sublimate most of the memories to his subconscious, only reliving them when they appeared again in his dreams, usually with some permutation that made the ending a tad more hospitable.

But this…the actuality of Slayer skin and Slayer breath and Slayer blood…so close and so maddening with its singsong taunts of “here I am, come and get me.”  He’d been able to largely ignore his desire to taste her while he set about to the tasks at hand, but now, his demon raged inside his skull, demanding satisfaction though it knew it wouldn’t get it.  That didn’t mean it stopped the little bugger from trying to goad him to try her---just a little lick, licks won’t hurt her, no hurt no foul and the chip stays zap-free---and it was taking all his concentration not to drop Buffy in the snow and just say to hell with the whole situation.

“Spike…” she murmured, the lone syllable drawn out as if she wanted to make it two, all sweltering and coaxing along his skin where she breathed it out onto his neck.

“Yeah, Slayer?” he replied gruffly.  His amber gaze began scanning the clouds of snow around him, trying to discern which direction to go to get to the road.  Another car coming along would save both of them a world of trouble right about now.

“Thanks…”

The tension in her limbs dissipated as he felt her lapse back into unconsciousness.  Just as well she’s out like a light again, he thought.  ‘Cause what in the bleedin’ hell do I say to that?  Gratitude from the Slayer was more confusing than the dreams that plagued his sleep.  Whatever gods had mucked up the arrangement of hate/hate between them were goin’ to get more than a kick in the pants if he ever caught up with them, that was more than certain. 

Except, of course, she would have nothing to be thankful for if he just stood there like a complete git and let the snow pile up around his ankles, freezing both of them to death.  Well, her to death, him to just someplace extremely uncomfortable.

“Right,” Spike muttered.  Another sweep of the area around the car and he was off, head bowed against the wind, Buffy’s wrapped body nestled against his chest.

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

From the safety of distance, she watched as the vampire began to march away with the Slayer in tow, the duffel of supplies he’d taken from the broken vehicle slung over his opposite shoulder.  One of his savage kicks had popped the trunk, and she had observed in wonder as that savagery had vanished with his tending to the wounded girl, replaced with a matter-of-fact gentleness that had more than gotten the job done.

“Huh,” she mused out loud, head tilted, eyes dark in begrudging admiration.  Yet another surprise from the chipped demon.  The others had argued with her about his inclusion, and she was astonished to find that their assertions were becoming truth.  She hadn’t even had to step in to convince him to save the Slayer; he’d done that inexplicably and completely on his own.  She was going to have to eat some serious crow if everything turned out all right in the end.

He passed within yards of her vantage point, oblivious to her presence, and when she realized he was heading toward the road, she frowned.  That wouldn’t do.  The road was beyond their protection.  Something would have to be done about that.

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

The steep face of the embankment stared back at him through the white squall, and Spike gritted his teeth at his impending scramble.  Up and over, mate.  Car came down, you can sure as hell go back up it.

It was easier said than done, though.  Perhaps if he’d been unencumbered, he wouldn’t have given the climb a second thought.  Actually, no perhaps about it.  The rise would’ve been nothing if he were on his own.  Problem was, he wasn’t.  He had Buffy in his arms, and with each second that passed, the trembling rooted deep inside her thin body spread, emanating outward and vibrating into his flesh, even through the layers of her clothes and his coat.  If she was going to make it, she was going to need to get to someplace warm.  Fast.

For a brief second, he considered taking her back to the car.  He could probably hotwire the thing, keep the engine running for her while he went to the road and hailed for help.  She’d be there if Giles showed up as well, and Spike wouldn’t end up on the short end of a stake in case the Watcher took his helping her the wrong way.  In the way of options, it might be the best one when it came to saving the Slayer.

There was a third option, one that niggled in the back of his brain, but Spike was ignoring it as best he could.  Just leave her, it whispered.  Every vamp for himself.  But listening to it meant failure at what he’d set his mind to.  It meant his gut was wrong.  It meant denying Buffy what she deserved. 

And giving it credence was not something he was prepared to do, even if the question of just when he’d gone soft on Slayers made him want to rip out his own heart.

So, his boot gritted through the piling snow, and he shifted Buffy in his arms to reach for the branch of a nearby tree.  It was then that the first waft breathed along the undercurrents of the wind, prickling his nose with sulphur.  Spike froze, his spine stiffening as his golden gaze swung around.  All he could see were the snow and trees, both thick, both impenetrable, and for a moment, he thought he’d imagined the sensation.  He was almost ready to turn back around and face the embankment when another draft of the scent made his nostrils flare.

No.  He hadn’t been wrong.  Someone, somewhere close, was burning something.  A fire.

That meant life.

That settled it then.  Option number four.  He’d get the Slayer to someplace warm and hope that they had a phone.  As he began the trek deeper into the woods, he felt her shift within his arms, mumbling something he didn’t quite catch into his coat.  Automatically, his hand came up and stroked the nape of her neck, fingers like ice where they met the small hollow, her shivers lessening for a moment at his touch.

“’S’alright, Slayer,” Spike murmured.  “Just a little snow.  Not even worth noticin’.”

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

Every time she felt darkness start to overwhelm her, the smell of Spike’s duster sparked her back to the real world.  Sharp and oddly soothing in its familiarity, she was grateful for the added protection it provided, even if the ramifications of Spike offering it in the first place gave her more questions than answers.  He could’ve run, she realized.  Or worse, he could’ve killed me.  I was already bleeding so it probably wouldn’t have hurt if he finished off the job.  Plus, he was vamped out.  Had he tried before she came to?  Was that the reason for all the bumpies?

She didn’t know, and she didn’t have the strength at the moment to ask him.  Not that talking seemed to be a problem for him, however.  He kept muttering to himself, phrases drifting in and out of her consciousness, things that didn’t make sense and hurt her head trying to fathom.  But, he was moving, and as long as he was moving, she had to believe that they were getting somewhere, that every step took them closer to the road, closer to civilization, and further away from weird vampires with Slayer fetishes.  Except, he was going with her so maybe not further away, but…

Shuddering against the confusion that was clouding her mind, Buffy tightened her grip around his neck, wincing when her wrist was jostled and a brilliant stab of pain shot up her arm.  Immediately, Spike responded by shifting her weight, taking care not to aggravate any of her injuries, and slid her arm from around his neck so that it was nestled between their bodies.  She felt the hard planes of his chest beneath her, the thin cotton of his tee providing only the most cursory of protection, and swallowed at the sudden heat that rose in her veins.  You’ve touched that chest, she reminded herself.  Not that she really needed reminding.  The events during Willow’s spell had a way of poking their head out from her memory at the most inopportune times.

Like now.

She realized he was slowing then, his footsteps growing heavy, and risked lifting her head to see what could’ve lessened his pace.  The sharp angles of his face disappeared into ebony shadows in the storm, and his eyes were dark pools in spite of their amber glow.  They were fixed straight ahead, staring at something in the distance, and Buffy twisted in his arms to see what it was.

A rustic cabin loomed amongst the trees, its porch half-hidden by all the fauna.  Several windows glared back at her, devoid of life, but one on the ground floor seemed to dance and flicker in her vision, as if something on its other side shimmered in expectancy.  Flashes of orange made her heart leap with hope, and her eyes slid automatically to the roof, searching the outline against the sky for the proof that she needed. 

It took only seconds to find, surprisingly enough.  And as she inhaled, the aroma of fresh fire and smoke warming her from the inside out, she heard Spike mutter under his breath, “Home, sweet home…”

 

To be continued in Chapter 3:  The Fire Is So Delightful