DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY:  Spike awoke from the accident to discover a wounded Buffy and a missing Giles, and together, Slayer and vampire are braving the storm for shelter, only to find a cabin in the woods…

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

Chapter 3: The Fire Is So Delightful

She wanted him to run, to escape the bitter winds that somehow managed to find every crack in her clothing to sear her in ice.  Her skin, where she could feel it, burned from the cold, but with sanctuary only yards away, Buffy didn’t understand why Mr. Whaddaya-mean-it’s-not-Saturday-yet was dragging his boots to get there.  Every step he took was achingly slow, and by the time she turned back to face him, her mouth was already open to snipe at him.

“Now would be a perfect time to show off that vampire speed you’re so hot-to-trot about,” she said.

Instead of picking up his pace, he halted, golden eyes glaring down at her.  “Next time you’re marching through six feet of snow, against the wind, toting a Slayer who’s scarfed down one too many donuts during her so-called research parties, we’ll talk about who’s not so fast,” Spike growled.

“You forgot about it being uphill both ways,” she said dryly, and then stopped, a small pout jutting her lower lip.  “You really think I’m fat?”

Rolling his eyes, he resumed his pace, head bent against the oncoming gusts.  “You’re a piece of work, Summers,” he muttered.

She held her tongue, gaze intent on his features.  Spike might not be bothered by the cold, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t having an effect on him.  The normal pallor of his skin had taken on a more ashen cast, the hollows beneath his cheekbones even more stark in their angularity.  Snowflakes clung to his dark lashes and brows, thickening them to the point where imagining some sort of demon yeti didn’t seem so farfetched to Buffy, and the lower curve of his lips was beginning to turn blue.  She hadn’t seen him look this bad since the day he’d shown up on Giles’ doorstep, and that had been pretty bad.  She was almost feeling guilty about being the reason he was out in the storm in the first place.  Almost.

Though it had to be the wrong side of midnight, Spike’s tread was heavy as he clomped up the stairs to the porch, each step knocking off snow that had accumulated around the soles.  “You’re g-g-going to wake everybody up,” Buffy admonished as he approached the door, though it lost some of the harsh effect she intended by her teeth clickety-clacking away.

“And lettin’ ‘em lie about with their sugarplum fancies is exactly how we want to get ‘em to come and let us in,” he replied.

“Oh.  Right.”  She hated how stupid he made her feel sometimes.  But when he lifted his fist to pound at the heavy wood door, she spoke again.  “Wait.”

His exhalation was one of frustration, but his muscles stilled anyway.  “What is it now?” he snarled.

Wordlessly, she pointed to the ridges that stood prominently from his forehead, quirking her brows at the same time.  A second passed, then understanding burned inside the gold, and Spike gave his head a quick shake as he forced the demon to recede.

“Better?”

“More likely to get us in,” she answered.

There was a hitch in the arc of his arm as he glanced down at her, her not-quite-a-compliment taking him by surprise.  Buffy kept her mouth shut, just looking into the familiar blue, and waited as he pounded at the door, not completely certain why she’d phrased it that way either, but having neither the strength nor the attention span at the moment to care.

The sound of his pounding was smothered by the screeching wind, but even when he beat at the door a second time, the seconds ticking by in direct opposition with the tempo of the swirling snow around them, Buffy felt her hope begin to fade.  Could it be that nobody was home?  But what about the fire?  Wasn’t leaving one going a hazard or something?  So close and yet so far, and her body was crying out for the cushiony embrace of the heat enclosed in the four walls, screaming if she would let it, pain from her injuries and lethargy from the cold battling to subdue her once and for all.

Taking care not to jostle her more than he already was, Spike leaned over to peer into the window, and Buffy craned her neck to try and see what it was he was witnessing.  He straightened before she had a chance, and looked down at her with an amused determination in his eyes.

“Looks like the three bears are out for the evenin’,” he said.  “Feel like a little b&e, Goldilocks?”

She wanted to argue with him about the wrongness of what he was suggesting, to tell him how not surprised she was that he would suggest criminal activity when the legal way didn’t pan out.  She wanted to, really.  But when a snowflake flew into her eye, stinging her eyeball and making her lids squeeze shut against the squall, she remembered the trek into the woods they’d already done, the pull of Spike’s feet as the drifts had started to slow even him down, and the words refused to come.

Besides, maybe they were only sleeping.  Maybe as soon as Spike opened the door, some guy would show up in an old-fashioned nightshirt with a loaded rifle under his arm and a curlered wife hugging the wall behind him, ready to defend his property against the invading marauders---.

Then again, maybe she should just stop thinking.  And watching “Little House on the Prairie” marathons with Willow.  Neither was really helping her out here at the moment.

He took her small nod in stride, but it was only after he’d already turned the knob---without even having to break any lock, Buffy noted---that the reality of their situation truly hit.

“Spike,” she said as he pushed open the door.  “You’re going to have to put me down.”

“Thought your leg couldn’t take it,” he said, hesitating.

“I don’t think we’re going to have much of a choice.”  The heat from the interior struck the side of her face with a mother’s caress, and she almost moaned from the exquisite torture of feeling her cheek tingle from the newfound feeling.  “If the owners aren’t here, you’re not going to be able to go in.  No invite, remember?”

“Oh.”  It was obvious the possibility hadn’t occurred to him, and the guilt Buffy had almost felt earlier came flooding back with a vengeance when his eyes fell to the threshold.  “Well, guess that about tears it then, doesn’t it?” he commented, but there was an odd emptiness in his tone as he did.  “Just make sure to pass me back my coat once you’re all snuggled in.  I’ll find me a shed or something to hole up ‘til rescue arrives.”

“OK,” she agreed, her voice somber.  “And I’ll find some blankets, too.  I’m sure whoever lives here will understand.”

Silently, Spike dropped the arm that cradled her knees, allowing Buffy to stretch her weary muscles and right herself on the doorstep.  Avoiding putting any weight on her injured leg, she grasped the edge of the entrance and leaned forward to call out, “Hello?  Is anybody home?”

“Well, I could’ve done that,” she heard him drawl behind her.

She couldn’t hear a thing from inside the cabin, only the crackle of the wood in the fireplace she caught on the periphery of her vision.  “Hello?” she called again, this time braving a small hop forward.

Her leg brushed against a jutting beam, and the unexpected jolt sent another cleaverful of pain ringing through her muscles, her body collapsing of its own accord as if rolling herself into a tiny ball on the floor was its only escape from the agony.

She never hit.  Before she could make contact with the burnished grain, strong arms wrapped around her waist, tugging her up and away, and Spike’s annoyed tone filtered to her ear.

“Jesus, Slayer, you’re as bad as a day-old kitten.”  The comforting solidity of his chest---and since when did she start thinking of Spike’s chest as comforting?---met her cheek, and she found herself staring up into the aggravated blue of his eyes, nestled once again in reassuring peace.  “Remind me to tell Rupes when we catch up to him that good old-fashioned book balancing does wonders to keep his Slayer from falling on her ass when she gets a little boo-boo.”

It wasn’t meant to be funny, and the reminder of Giles and the fact that he wasn’t with him stung like a bitch, but Buffy couldn’t keep the smirk from twisting her lips, or the laugh from bubbling forth.  “Boo-boo?” she said.  “Big Bads use words like…boo-boo?”

“Don’t get me started on what kind of words get bandied about.  Think that might be a little war you’d be inclined to lose.”

“Because using bloody and sodding in every other sentence makes you the king of literacy, right?”

“It’s colorful.”

“It’s annoying.”

“It’s---wait a minute.”  He frowned, and looked down at his feet in confusion.

“What is it?”  Twisting her neck around, Buffy looked over the side of his arm, and saw his heavy boots fidgeting in their place on the floor.  “Did you step on something?”

“No,” he said, as if he was speaking to a child.  “I’m in.  Looks like I didn’t need an invite after all.”

He was right.  In reaching to catch her, he’d crossed the threshold and now stood a good two feet inside the open door, the snow already melting from his boots to puddle along the wood floor.  All thoughts of their arguing vanished as the circumstances sank in, and Buffy lifted her head to scrutinize the room.

“I guess this means it really is deserted then,” she murmured.  It didn’t make sense, though.  The place looked lived in.

Most of the design was open-plan.  One wall sported a large fireplace, in which the fire they’d smelled outside was burning happily away with a large supply of wood in the scuttle next to it, and a large deer head was mounted over the mantle.  A couch was positioned in comfort before the blaze, but the only other furniture in the room was a table and chairs resting in the corner that was meant to be the kitchen.  The usual rustic appliances were there---a small fridge, a gas stove---with cupboards hewn from the same wood that comprised the walls and floor.  Other than the entrance, there were two doors, both closed, and a ladder led the way into what looked like a loft.

Yeah.  Lived in.  Except it couldn’t be if Spike could just walk in without the usual allowance.

She waited for his usual sarcastic quip, but it never came.  Instead, he marched over to the couch and dropped her into its corner, letting the duffel fall from his shoulder at the same time.  “I’ll find some blankets for you,” he said.  “Let you warm up a tad.”

That much nearer to the fireplace, and the heat it radiated was already thawing the icy crust that Buffy imagined had formed along her skin.  Her head drooped against the padded arm, and she waved unenthusiastically toward the door.  “Cold,” she complained.  “Close, please.”

He rolled his eyes, but did as she instructed, his heel sliding in the melted snow at the entrance.  “I’ll see if there’s a phone in the other room, too,” he said, heading for one of the closed doors.  “Don’t see one lyin’ about in here.”

“OK.”  She didn’t feel like arguing any more.  She didn’t feel like anything any more.  Each lick of the fire crackling behind her head was melting her muscles, and she could feel herself sinking into Spike’s duster, the leather caressing and molding to her limbs, as the world began to spiral around her.  Nothing seemed to matter more than the almost painful liquification of her body, each digit coming back to life while her head seemed to fall into an oblivion. 

Fire good was her last cognizant thought before exhaustion swept her away.

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

No phone, but plenty of blankets and a bed someone could get lost in.  Or a pair of someones, if the opportunity presented itself.  Even a trio could manage to find their own niche beneath the down quilts, but Spike figured that his chances for anything like that here were as good as the soddin’ Blue Fairy showing up and spelling the chip away.  Wasn’t going to happen in his immediate future, not with the Slayer just on the other side of the door.

Standing in the doorway, his head tilted as his gaze flicked over the space.  The bedroom was deceptively large, with a fully functioning bathroom that he hadn’t expected to find behind the second closed door.  It was stocked as well, toiletries and towels to come out his ears if he wanted, with a rustic charm usually reserved for New England getaways.  All it’s missin’ is a rocker and Whistler’s mother, he thought, and shrugged as he went back into the main room.

He stopped as soon as he saw her on the couch.  She had fallen asleep, his coat coiled tight around her body, her hair tumbling across her face.  Tinges of pink were starting to return to her cheeks, and in the flickering orange of the fireplace, Spike would’ve sworn on a stack of corpses that Buffy was almost glowing.

“Bugger,” he swore under his breath.  So much for getting his coat back.  One move and she’d wake up, and in her tired state, she’d probably lash out at him in violence, regardless of her injuries.  Probably break my nose again, he thought irritably as he closed the distance between them.  Wish I knew what the cow’s problem was with my nose.  Or better yet, wish I could just give her a taste of her own medicine.  See how she likes it, havin’ part of your face smashed in on a regular basis.

His nose pricked as he approached her.  Blood.  Sharp and tangy and most importantly, fresh.  She must’ve started bleeding again.

A quick glance over her face told him that it wasn’t coming from her head wound, so his eyes automatically drifted to her other major injury, and saw the crimson stain spreading along the fabric of her pants.  Great.  She’d re-opened the gash, and now she was bleeding like a stuck pig all over the only comfortable-looking piece of furniture in the joint.  With a sigh, Spike grabbed the first aid kit from the top of the duffel and knelt at the side of the couch, lifting her leg carefully so as not to wake her.  He was going to have to rip the material, but he figured she’d rather live with a floppy trouser leg than watch her life flash before her eyes in a blaze of bloody glory by bleeding to death.

He left her shoe on.  Easier than stripping her down and frankly, once his cool fingers came into contact with her slim ankle, he decided it was probably safer as well.  Each brush of his skin against hers stole a little more of her heat and by the time he’d rebandaged the wound, more of his body was aflame than he was comfortable admitting.

He hesitated before setting her leg back down.  Her calf was smooth, well-muscled, with the instinctive grace of a thoroughbred colt, and other than the cut that was momentarily tamed, free of any other marks.  I wonder if she scars, he thought absently.  His thumb was stroking the delicate bone of her ankle, but he was unaware of it as his head tilted in contemplation.  Fights enough, has taken more than her share of battle wounds, she must have a trophy or two hidden away on that pert body of hers.

“So, do I get to hear the story of how you got this?” she’d asked while curled into his chest, her fingertips dancing over the scar on his brow, the book of wedding invitation samples forgotten on their laps.

“Memento from a Slayer in China,” he’d said.

She’d pretended to pout and he’d been instantly fixated on the quiver in that bottom lip, wondering how long he had to listen to her talk before going in and giving it another nibble.  “I don’t like the idea of another slayer touching you,” she’d groused all too prettily.  “That’s my job.”

He’d growled at that, and yielded to the desire to kiss her, tugging her tight against him and feeling her tremble under the ardor of his caress.  And the issue of scars hadn’t been brought up again.

His hand jerked back as if burned, and Spike rose abruptly from his seat, backing as far away as he could.  Bloody magic.  Always getting in the way, confusing the issue by turning the pair of us into a couple of drooling teenagers.  It didn’t matter that she’d actually treated him nicely while they’d been engaged; he preferred her this way---sharp, both in tongue and mind, not simpering and fussing and phony like she’d been those few hours.  RealHonest.  Even if she did hate him.

Being currently unconscious was good, too.

Still…he faltered from his pacing at the far end of the room, eyes drawn back like magnets to her sleeping form on the couch.  If he was going to dwell in the land of truth-telling…if he was going to be stuck in the middle of nowhere with one of Rupert’s little gang, he could do worse than it being with Buffy.  She’d at least make it interesting.  And what was the point of it all if not to be interesting?

A small sigh escaped her lips, and as he watched, the Slayer pulled the coat even tighter around her.  Must be cold, he thought, and picked up one of the blankets he’d brought out from the bedroom.  He laid it over her without thinking, and then stepped back when she snuggled into it, her good hand tugging the hem up to her face as she tried to draw it closer.

Interesting.

That was definitely one word for it.

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

It was the shivering that woke her up.

Quaking that seemed to start somewhere in the pit of her stomach.  Trembling that made her skin vibrate, made her eyeballs ache, made her jaw tense from trying to still.  All around her, too close and taking control and when did the world turn orange?

Her open eyes were trying to focus, but all Buffy could see was black and brown and red and orange, blending and churning along walls that didn’t look familiar.  But they did look tall.  When did everything get so tall?  Her breath caught in her throat.  I’ve shrunk!  Oh god, Willow’s done another spell and I’m teensy tiny and if Amy gets out of her cage, she’ll eat me and that wouldn’t be---oh wait.  I’m lying down.  That’s OK then.

She could feel the weight of blankets pressing her down, the smell of leather and smoke pervasive and pungent, almost like she could taste them. 

I have leather blankets?  When did I get leather blankets?  Maybe they’re Willow’s.  Why would Willow have leather blankets?

It wasn’t until she struggled to sit up that she saw the black coat fall open, the vague memories of the trek through the snow floating back to her awareness.  It was too dark to be morning already, the curtains drawn over the windows, the dying embers in the fireplace the only illumination in the cabin.  The bite to the air set a new round of shivers coursing through Buffy’s body, and she pulled her legs up to her chest in an attempt to warm herself up.  In some faraway place, she was vaguely aware of a throbbing pain in her calf, but it was nothing compared to the ice that was chilling her from the inside out.

Just wanna be warm.  Think warm thoughts.  Warm warm warm…what a funny word.  Kinda like worm.  Warm worm, warm worm, warm worm…nope, not working.  Find something warm to do the job for me then.

From the fireplace, a snap of the charred remains of one of the logs sent a spray of sparks dancing into the air, and Buffy swung her head around to stare into the leap of flames that it suddenly spurred.

Ooo…fire pretty…

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

He’d found a well-stocked woodpile around the corner of the house.  Rather than sleeping, especially since they couldn’t be sure that someone might not yet show up and claim the property, Spike had grabbed a book from a small shelf unit in the corner and read by the firelight until the flames got too low to do so comfortably.  Stoking it over the past couple hours hadn’t really diminished the supply in the scuttle, but he’d quickly realized that they would run out of wood some time during the day.  Plus, with Buffy temporarily out of commission and his own sunlight issue, hauling more in was really the best plan.

His arms were laden when he kicked the door open, and he knocked his heel against the corner to loosen the snow that clung to his boot.  It was then that he heard the swish across the floor, and Spike looked up in time to see Buffy crouched before the unsheltered fire.

She must’ve woken while he was out, and risen from her place on the couch.  Still wrapped in his coat, she was propping herself up on her good hand as her injured one stretched toward the flames.  For a second, he frowned, wondering just what in hell she had in mind.  But when he saw the visible tremor in her slim fingers, and saw the fire jump up as if to shake her hand in an incinerating caress, he reacted instantly, dropping the logs and flying forward to pull her away from the blaze.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doin’?” he started to demand, only to have the words die in his throat before they could fully come out.

Her body was shivering against his, her teeth starting to chatter, yet when she turned her face to look at him, even in the dim light Spike could see the heightened pink on her cheeks, her huge eyes haunting and fever-bright.

“Cold…” she murmured.

“You’re sick,” he corrected automatically, and pulled her closer as he rose and sat on the couch.  “Burning up.  It’s probably from bein’ out in that bloody storm.”  Laying her back, he picked up the blankets she’d tossed to the floor and tucked them in around her.

“Still cold,” she complained.  Her eyes were following his every movement, sliding as he marched over to the door and shut it, never wavering even as he picked up the logs he’d dropped and toted them to the hearth.

“Fire just got a little low,” he said, wiping the snow and dirt from his hands now that they were empty.  “You’ll warm up soon enough.”

“Are you cold?”

“I’m not the one who’s sick.”

“When I was little and got sick, my mom used to hold me and rock me until I fell asleep.”

He stopped at that, eyes narrowed as he tried to read her face.  “I’m not your mum,” he said carefully.  She wasn’t really asking him to hold her, was she?  “And in case you haven’t noticed, you’re not so little any more either.”

Her lip quivered.  “You do think I’m fat.”

Frustrated, Spike ran his fingers through his hair, wondering how he’d ever managed to survive a century of listening to Drusilla’s nonsense.  Oh yeah.  Because I loved her.  So why am I still sittin’ around here, listenin’ to the Slayer?

“You’re not fat,” he said out loud.  “I just said that to wind you up.”

Without warning, she lashed out, kicking off the blankets that he had just laid on top of her.  “Hot now…” she muttered, and her fingers began to claw at the coat.

She was still burning up; he could smell the fever seeping from her pores.  There weren’t any drugs in her first aid kit, so sweating it out and resting was her best option of getting over it.  “Now none of that,” he chided.  Picking up the blankets, he bent to begin wrapping them around her again, only to feel the Slayer’s good hand wrap around his wrist and tug him down on top of her.

In spite of being sick, she was still strong, and Spike ended up sprawled along her length, half on and half off the couch.  The full body contact between them elicited an immediate sigh from Buffy, and before he could stop her, she was nuzzling her nose into the curve of his neck, inhaling deeply.  “Better…” he heard her murmur.

He didn’t understand what she was doing.  Moreover, he didn’t understand why he stayed there, drawing up the blankets to cover both of them.  Maybe it was the furnace of heat she provided to warm him, better than a thousand fireplaces.  Maybe it was the iron grip that was still fastened around his wrist, holding on desperately as if letting go would mean disappearing into nothing.  Maybe it was the delicious weight of her head on his shoulder, the sense of being needed and useful again pervasive and intoxicating inside his veins. 

And maybe it was a little bit of all of them.

The soft flush of her breathing soon told him she was asleep, and too easily, Spike lost himself in the sensations of her pressed up against his body.  The ends of her hair tickled against his forearm, the musky scent of fever and blood and Slayer and Buffy mingling and drifting to his nose.  It was more hypnotic than the rhythmic rise and fall of her chest, a drug he’d long ago forgotten how to appreciate, and within moments, he was fast asleep.

 

To be continued in Chapter 4: See Amid the Winter’s Snow