DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY:  Buffy and Spike have found shelter in the cabin, but Buffy has developed a fever from her run-in with the cold…

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

Chapter 4: See Amid the Winter's Snow

First…there was the warmth.

Not the smothering swelter that often accompanied the breaking of a fever, made even more uncomfortable by too much awareness of one’s own skin.  No, this was the luxuriant satisfaction of being cocooned in downy tinder, wrapped and shielded and secure against invaders both outside and in, where the only thing in the world that seemed to matter was burying oneself deep within the swaddling and only coming out to eat.  And even that could be argued as unnecessary, given the right circumstances.

Then…there was the weight.

All around her, not just around a specific portion of her body, bearing her down without suffocating.  Blankets and clothes and more, and it was the more that brought the unsolicited smile to her lips, comfort to bask in as she felt the arm across her waist, the broad hand made warm where it had slid beneath her blouse, cupping the undercurve of her breast in proprietary.  More was around her lower half, a knee nuzzled between hers, a strong thigh pressing against the cleft between her legs, and Buffy automatically burrowed against it, firming the contact to spread a delicious glow within her muscles.

But then…there was the scent.

Peaty smoke that coated her throat, made the air thicker, more palpable, as if she could take it onto her tongue in cottony licks if she only tried.  Blood, dried not fresh, but almost so familiar that it was like background noise to the rest.  Leather.  Stale cigarette smoke.  And the unmistakable musk that was uniquely Spike.

Buffy’s eyes shot open, her smile vanishing, the memories of the previous night rushing back with a clarity that left her breathless.  She was on the couch, turned in toward its cushioned back, buried under blankets and Spike’s coat and most importantly, Spike.  It was his leg that was pressing against her sex, and it was his arm holding her tight against his chest…his hand cupping her breast.  Now that she was awake, she could even feel his cheek resting against her hair.

Oh god.  I’m spooning with Spike.

Her good hand clenched into a fist where it was curled against her chest, her body going rigid as anger flooded her system.  What the hell was he doing?  Where was her stake?  Oh, he was so dust when she…

And then she stopped, choking on her indignation with the advent of the memories.

She couldn’t condemn him for it.  Even squeezing her eyes tightly shut couldn’t change the fact that the recollection of her thoughts and actions during the worst of the fever burned with a crystalline fire on her retinas, as if she was watching it from across the room, and Buffy now remembered without a shadow of a doubt how she’d forced the vampire to hold her.

She’d been so cold.  She remembered the bittersweet flames gamboling and circling in the fireplace, and how hypnotic their dance had been, how nothing had seemed more important at the time than to get as close to them as she possibly could.  And then his arm, strong and powerful, pulling her away to leave her chattering with need, the ice inside her veins threatening to explode with a deluge that would leave little tiny Buffy pieces all over the floor if she didn’t do something about it quickly.  All she’d wanted was for it to stop, and without heat to surcease the tremors, the only other option had seemed that from her childhood.

His initial refusal had made her angry, and wasn’t that a boatload of weird because wanting to be held by Spike?  Not high on her list of fun things to do.  Or at least, it hadn’t been until last night.  Yet, he hadn’t fought her when she’d yanked him down, probably out of fear of opening her wounds again, though why that should’ve stopped him, she had no idea.  Sleep had quickly overtaken her, bringing with it dreams of pancake breakfasts with Spike and her mom that only left her feeling even more confused about what the hell was going on, and now here she was, awake with a sleeping vampire draped over her, feeling oddly at peace in spite of who it was, and questioning why she wasn’t kicking him off the couch for good.

She wasn’t even going to begin asking herself why he’d stayed with her in the first place.  That way could only lead to badness; she was sure of it.

Be nice, she could hear her mother say, and gritted her teeth in anticipation of doing the unthinkable.  “Spike?” she whispered.  She’d just ask him to get up.  She could be adult about this; she’d been sick and he’d just been nice enough to help her out when she needed it.  Oh god, I just referred to Spike as nice.  This has to be an apocalypse or something in the making.  That’s the only way to explain freaky weather and freaky Slayer thoughts. 

The single word did nothing to prompt any movement in the vampire, and gently, Buffy rocked her body, trying to jar him into waking up.  “Spike,” she repeated, this time a little louder.

This time, she got a response, just not the response she expected.  A growl rumbled from Spike’s throat, vibrating against her neck, and his grip actually tightened around her, his thumb brushing across her lace-covered nipple.  She gasped, the small stroke driving the muscles in her stomach to clench, and inadvertently pushed back against him in response, the frisson of pleasure it elicited in her momentarily outstripping her rational thought.

“Mmmm…” he murmured.  “Someone’s finally warm, methinks.”

The silken amusement in his voice sent goosebumps erupting along her exposed neck, and she felt herself begin to drown in the sensations.  But when his lips brushed the shell of her ear, when his tongue started to trace the delicate curve before nipping at the lobe in a coordinated attack with his fingers, reality came crashing back.  Stiffening, Buffy’s elbow jerked back, connecting roughly with his solar plexus and forcing him to stop.  “Spike!” she said, all regard for being nice gone straight out the window.

She felt him lift his head, but no other part of him moved, his hand still firmly placed inside her blouse, his thumb…OK, she wasn’t going to consider what his thumb was doing.  “Think your bedside manner’s got a bit of work to be done with it,” he said.  “Last time I checked, sucker punching the bloke who’s just saved your life didn’t fall under the Emily Post code of etiquette.”

“And feeling up your patient does?”

His chuckle was more felt than heard, and it corresponded with a rough squeeze of her breast.  “You didn’t seem to be complainin’.  Can’t fault me for takin’ what’s bein’ offered, now can you?”

“That’s because I thought you were Angel.”  The words flew out of her mouth before she could stop them, a lie to her ears but the surest way she knew to cut through Spike’s bravado. 

He immediately stilled, then pulled away within seconds, taking with him the bulk of the blankets as he clambered to his feet, leaving her feeling oddly bereft alone on the couch.  Rolling onto her back, she saw the stiff posture of his shoulders as he crossed the few feet to the fireplace, grabbing the poker and jabbing harshly at the dying embers.  Guilt rolled over her at the untruth she’d used to disengage from him, but she pushed it aside as she tried to sit up.  He’d asked for it; he shouldn’t have been doing what he was in the first place.

“If you’re back up to snuff, I’d like my coat back,” he said.  No more warmth remained in his tone, his voice as cold as the room around them.  “Need to give it a proper seeing to.  Your blood’s all over it.  The sooner I get the smell out, the sooner I’m not a walkin’ target for half the demon population back in Sunnyhell.”

“You don’t get out of Giles’ house anyway---.”

“Doesn’t change the fact that I want my bloody coat back.”

“Then why’d you bother giving it to me in the first place?”  She was angry now, all her questions from their trek through the snow spilling forth.  “For that matter, why go to the hassle of getting me someplace warm last night?  I mean, I know you’re all about the song and dance, Spike, but I always thought the wanting me dead part was real.  Seems to me, you blew a perfectly good chance to get what you’re always running off at that mouth about.”

“I’m beginnin’ to think the exact same thing,” he growled.  Tossing another log onto the fire, he shot her a glower of hate over his shoulder.  “Now take it off.”

Common sense told her that now was not the time piss him off even further.  He couldn’t physically hurt her with the chip in his head, but in her current state, he could get to her through the sheer act of negligence.  Leave her stranded once the sun went down, let the fire die out so she’d freeze to death, the possibilities were really endless.

Which was why, of course, her stubbornness kicked in and she did the exact opposite.

“I’m still sick,” she complained.  “And it’s still cold in here.”

His eyes glittered as he stared at her, flecks of gold visible in the blue even at that distance.  “That’s what the blankets are for,” he said in a low voice.

“It’s not like you need it anyway.”

“My life’s never been about need, Slayer.  It’s about want.  And right now, I want you to stop actin’ like a selfish baby and give me my damn coat.”

“But I’m---.”

“Don’t bloody say it.”

“---sick,” she finished.

She never even saw him move.  One moment, he was crouched before the fireplace, the poker dangling from his hand.  The next, he was bent over the couch, fists on either side of her head propping his body up as he leaned over her.  Spike’s nostrils flared as he inhaled deeply, and she literally saw his pupils expand, the black swallowing the irises as they swept over her face in an intimate inspection that left her breathless.

“So…that your reasoning then?  You want to hang onto my coat because you’re still all…hot?”  His voice was suddenly casual---too casual, oh crap---and Buffy squirmed beneath him, ignoring the twinges of pain from her leg as she wondered why it was it felt like he was smothering her when their bodies weren’t even touching.  Where exactly was he going with this? 

She wasn’t going to let him see her weaken, though, and lifted her chin in defiance, staring him down.  “I’m still feverish, if that’s what you mean.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

“You didn’t know you were last night.  What makes you so certain you are now?”

“I just know.  Take my word for it, Spike.”

“Oh, because a vampire puttin’ his trust in the Slayer makes a whole world of sense.  Right.”

She smiled, in spite of the butterflies in her stomach from still not knowing what game he was playing.  “Well, until you manage to find a thermometer in this place, you’re not going to have much choice in the matter, now are you?”

He paused, still eerily calm though now a dangerous glint had appeared in his eyes.  “Give me a reason to believe you, pet.”

I’m not going to rise to his bait, I’m not going to rise to his bait.  Out loud, she said, “Because if you don’t, I’ll kick your ass.”

He chuckled.  “Strong words comin’ from someone who couldn’t even walk through the door without fallin’ on her face.”

“I never asked for your help, Spike.”

“No.”  His face hardened.  “That, you didn’t.”

She could see what he was thinking, the remembering of how she had asked him to hold her flitting across his face.  He’d only done as she’d requested---well, she hadn’t exactly asked for the groping part but hello, he was a vampire, what did she expect?  And even if she didn’t understand the why of it, it didn’t lessen the fact that he’d gone out of his way to get her to safety when he could’ve just run.

“I did say thank you, didn’t I?” she said, biting back the retort that rose automatically to her lips.  “Some parts of last night are still kind of fuzzy, so if I didn’t, I’ll…say it now.  Thanks.”

The corners of his eyes crinkled as they narrowed, her words obviously taking him by surprise.  This close, the male scent of his skin that had been so pervasive when she woke returned, bringing with it the call of his caress, and her inner muscles tautened at its promise.  OK, not the reaction I expected.  No!  Wanted.  I meant to say wanted.

“There are other ways to tell if you’re sick, you know,” Spike said.  Back to casual.  That can’t be good.

“You’re not just going to believe me, then.”

“Call me funny, but trusting what comes out of that mouth of yours doesn’t quite measure up to trusting what I can tell with my own body.”

It took a moment for what he said to sink in.  “Huh?”

His head lowered, and Buffy shrank back into the padded arm of the couch trying to get as far away from him as she could.  She froze when his cheek feathered over hers, his audible inhalation along the side of her face too loud in her ear.

“Could smell it on you last night,” he murmured.  “Now…not so much.  I’ll have to find some other way to get a fix on your temperature.”  He pulled back.  “Unless of course, you’ll just be a big girl about it and pass over the coat like I asked.”

Her lips pressed together, but she didn’t move. 

“Y’know…”  His eyes swept downward, lingering on her torso and hips before dragging back up to meet hers again, making her feel naked in spite of the two coats and other clothing barring his view.  “…a century of ninety-eight point six experience makes me a thermometer, in the absence of something proper to use.”

“And again with the…”  Her query trailed off as the innuendo sank in, every thermometer-shaped appendage the vampire sported rifling through her imagination faster than he could’ve acted on, and the tightening in her stomach shot lower even as her head exploded in indignation.  “Lay one finger on me, Spike, and that’ll be a finger you’ll never see again,” she warned.

“Who said anything about fingers?”  His tongue ran along the edge of his teeth, and this time, there was no mistaking the smile playing on his lips.  “If that’s the way the Slayer mind works, it’s no wonder Angel and the college boys didn’t stick around for seconds.”

Though in hindsight she realized she should’ve seen his gibe coming, Buffy went rigid at the sting of his words, their intent cutting deep.  How did…? she began to wonder, only to answer her own question before it was even finished.  Of course he knew.  Spike was evil, not deaf.  Angelus had probably said something, and as for the others, she and Willow had had enough conversations on Giles’ couch for something to have been picked up by undead ears.

“Shouldn’t worry that Clairol head of yours about it, though,” he was saying, and it took everything she had to force her attention back.  “Can taste the heat just as well as touch it.”

His head was bent before she could react, descending lower and lower, and all she could seem to focus on were those full lips and the imminent kiss he was going to take.  Her heart caught in her throat, impossible to breath or swallow, but when he tilted his head at the last moment, pressing his mouth to her forehead instead, her lashes fluttered closed, relief and anger and just a little disappointment mingling together to leave her stomach churning.  It was a kiss oddly evocative of those from her childhood, gentle but firm and riddling her in bewilderment, lingering for only a second---one that stretched into infinity by way of forever, it seemed to her.  Then…he was gone, not just gone from the swift caress but gone from above her, standing at the foot of the couch with eyes that were too dark for his face, all mirth wiped from his countenance as he looked back at her.

“Should sleep some more,” he said, his voice neutral.  “Your fever’s not as high as it was last night, but it’s still there.  And if you want to bug out of this joint when the sun goes down, you’ll need all the strength you can get ‘cause I’m not carryin’ your ass this time.”

Pivoting on his heel, he was halfway to one of the closed doors before she spoke again.  “Where are you going?” Buffy called out.  He’d never been the kiss and run type before; what in hell was bugging him now?

“Shower,” he replied tersely.  “You’re not the only one who bled last night.  Got a certain stink I’d like to get off me.”

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

His face was a twisted snarl as he raked the washcloth across his skin, scrubbing at the dried blood around his cuticles until they began to bleed again from the force.  What had started out as a ploy to get back at the Slayer for her dig about Angel had escalated into something he hadn’t expected, all evil intent evaporating the instant his lips had touched her skin.  He’d just wanted her to hurt, to burn like her words had, just mess with her head and think he’d actually deign to kiss her without the benefit of magic, but the smell…the taste…fuck, the bloody heat…all too suggestive of the hours he’d spent wrapped around her, the peace that had soaked into his muscles for the first time in what seemed like centuries.

Not that he understood it for a second.  She was a bitch to him at the best of times---well, not exactly true, she’d been oddly polite and nice at intervals yesterday---and she’d stake him in a second if she thought he was a threat of any kind.  So relaxing into her while they slept was the antithesis of what should’ve happened.  He should’ve never fallen asleep at all, or let down his guard.  And he damn well never should’ve gone so far as touch her outside of a fist to her face. 

But he had.  And fuck if he hadn’t actually enjoyed it until she made her little cut about thinking he was Broodboy.  Because now that he looked back on it, he didn’t believe it for a second.  If she was so averse to him and everything he was, why was she hanging onto the soddin’ coat?

Didn’t mean it didn’t still hurt like a bitch, though.

And it didn’t make any of her other words any clearer, either.  Thanking him in the middle of his little game?  What the hell had that been about?  He’d almost sacked the entire thing then, the instinct to back off visceral and a struggle to overcome.  Of course, if he’d done that, he wouldn’t currently have the taste of Slayer still lingering on his lips, all honeyed heat and soft…

Bugger.

With one last dunk of his head under the water to clear his thoughts, Spike stepped from the tub, grabbing the fluffy white towel he’d set aside and running it briskly over his skin to dry off.  Just have to get through the rest of the day, he thought with renewed determination.  Find a ride back to Sunnydale tonight and then that’s it.  No more Watcher means no more free room and board.  No more reason for me to stick around the Hellmouth when I’m not completely toothless any more.  Get away from the Slayer once and for all; being around her lot’s making me go soft in the head.

He grimaced as he looked at his dirty clothes.   Should’ve brought an extra change instead of the Slayer’s weapons, he thought as he slipped them back on.  Not like she needs them anyway.  She’s the most resourceful bird I’ve ever known.

He was still seesawing when he opened the door, curly head bowed as he dropped his boots on its other side.  “How much blood did you bring?” he heard the object of his internal battles say, and he jerked his gaze up to see her standing before the open fridge, his coat hanging off her slim frame, using the edge of the door to keep herself upright.

“What’re you doin’ up?” he demanded, ignoring her question as he marched to her side.  Gone was all thought of their earlier skirmish on the couch, replaced with a frustrated concern that she really was going to kill herself if she didn’t start listening to what her body was telling her.  Even the light in her eyes seemed to say adios to the kiss, which in Spike’s book, was definitely a good idea.  “Didn’t you hear me?  You still have a fever, and I’m really not in the mood for a repeat of last night.”

“How much blood did you bring?” she repeated, and this time there was no mistaking the flare of anger in the her voice.  “I told you to grab weapons.  This isn’t meant to be a little vacation where you can just pig out at your heart’s content, Spike.  We need to protect ourselves---.”

“Don’t get your knickers in such a twist.”  He held up his left hand, fingers spread.  “Five bags.  That’s what I figured I’d need to get through a day.  And I don’t know why you’re checkin’ up on me by lookin’ in there anyway.  I haven’t even put ‘em away.  They’re still in the…”

His voice faded as she pushed the door open wider to expose the interior to his view, slim fingers grasping the freezer instead to steady herself.  It was stocked, just as the bathroom had been stocked, but what stopped him in his tracks was the top shelf, laden with bag upon bag of what could only be fresh blood.  There was enough there for a week’s rationing and---.

“There’s more in the freezer.” Buffy finished the thought for him. 

His eyes were serious when he tore them away.  “You know those aren’t mine, right?” he asked.  “Even if I had only brought my stores---which I didn’t---it still wouldn’t be enough to fill that.  Those belong to whoever owns this place, which means---.”

“---we’re crashing a demon’s house who’s got as much of a food fetish as you do,” she said.  “No wonder you could get in last night.”

“So where is he then?”  Spike folded his arms across his chest.  “And why leave the homefires burning if he’s not going to hang about?  Not that I’m fussed, mind you.  Something tells me a demon with a thing for stuffed pigs will be a doddle for us to take care of, if he pokes his head around again.”

“Huh?  What’re you talking about, Spike?”

He hooked a thumb toward the bedroom.  “Prat’s got one sittin’ pretty right in the middle of the bed, like it owns the joint.”

She was past him in a flash, hobbling along and keeping as much weight off her injured leg as possible.  By the time he joined her at the bedroom, beads of sweat were already forming on her brow, her breathing shallow from the exertion, and Spike’s hand shot automatically to Buffy’s waist to help stabilize her.  He watched her face as she pushed open the door and peered inside, his confusion matching hers albeit for different reasons.

She seemed hypnotized by the bed.  “Can you…go get it?” she asked.  Her knuckles were white around the jamb, and he could feel her heartbeat racing out of control.  This wasn’t the fever talking; this was something else, something that drove his feet to respond without any snarky questions, something that made her fingers shake when she took the stuffed animal from him and turned it over.

“Something’s going on, Spike,” Buffy said in a low voice.  “Somebody’s playing with us.  I don’t know how, I don’t know why.  Maybe they even have something to do with the car accident last night, but…”

“And playin’ with the stuffy tells you this…how, pet?”

She pointed to each spot on the toy as she named it.  “Mascara, from crying over stupid Parker.  Chocolate ice cream, from Xander deciding Slayer pigs deserved to be part of victory celebrations, too.  And that very inappropriately placed hole in his seam?  That’s from Amy getting out of her cage and decided to make him her new chew toy.”  She held up the pig to emphasize her point.  “This is Mr. Gordo, Spike.  This is mine.”

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

Their voices were a murmur from somewhere around him, but it was nothing compared to the pounding in Giles’ head.  Like a thousand jackhammers spread around his skull, the pain reverberated with a tension that made him wonder just who had hit him this time and vow to give it back thousandfold.  Please be Spike, he thought.  That would at least give him twice the satisfaction.

Only then did he remember the accident, the pitching of the car as it had gone over the embankment.  That’s it, he realized.  I must be in the hospital.  When he opened his eyes, though, he wasn’t greeted with the sterile white he expected.  Instead, a wall of books loomed over the twin bed he was resting on, and the voices didn’t belong to doctors but to two suited gentlemen conversing on the other side of the room.

He must’ve made a noise as he stirred because both men immediately stopped talking and looked in his direction.  The taller and younger of the two was impeccably groomed, close-cut dark hair and gaunt features giving him the effect of a scarecrow in spite of his tailored suit, but it was the other one who strode forward with a smile on his bearded face, a handkerchief appearing from his pocket to mop at his brow as if any sort of physical effort would cause his rotund form to burst.

“Ah, Endymion awakens,” he said.  “We were beginning to wonder if you were ever going to come around, old chap.  We can’t have the prize pupil sleeping through what could very well be the best holidays of his life, now can we?”  He chuckled as if he’d just made some sort of joke, leaving Giles staring at him in confusion.

He had a British accent, a Northerner who’d tried to posh it up with obvious years at Cambridge and failed miserably, achieving instead a mishmash that would fool no one except Americans who couldn’t tell a Scot from an Aussie.  But being British didn’t necessarily bode well, and gingerly, Giles sat up, realizing that he was still fully clothed.  “Who are you?” he demanded, though the effect was somewhat spoiled by his wince at the loudness of his own voice.  “And what in blazes is going on here?”

The speaker held up a fat finger.  “Ah, but the question isn’t what is going on here,” he said, “but what will be going on.  Do keep that straight, Mr. Giles, or I’m afraid that we shall never find her in time.”

 

To be continued in Chapter 5: Now the Jingle Hop Has Begun