DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Buffy and Spike have reached a tentative truce, each realizing that they need the other in order to stand up to whoever is playing them…
Only the hush of a whispery wind skimmed across the settled snow, capturing its fine crust and swirling it in a silken powder over the wooden porch rails. Like faint glitter, the landscape sparkled in response to the dancing firelight that emanated from the cabin’s windows, and Buffy pulled her coat tighter around her, a small smile on her face as her gaze followed the snow into the midnight horizon, losing the vista through the thick of the trees.
She was cold, and was going to get colder still when they finally ventured out, but now, it wasn’t the result of the fever. That was mostly gone, according to Spike’s estimation.
“You’re not going to kiss me again, are you?” she’d asked warily when he’d approached the couch after her nap.
He’d smirked. “Hardly a kiss, Slayer. You wouldn’t have been able to speak quite so fast afterward if it had been.”
“In your dreams, Spike.”
“Think you’d be surprised what goes on in this head of mine. Makin’ that kind of a suggestion is only askin’ for trouble.”
“Because having you as a roommate isn’t already trouble.”
“And here I thought we’d reached an understanding.” His tongue had clicked in mock reproval. “My unbeating heart is breaking, Slayer.” His fingers had settled on her forehead then, cool and firm, and he’d held them there for a long minute just watching her.
“Well?” she’d finally prompted.
“Well what?” he’d asked, not moving his hand.
“Do I have a fever or not?”
“Is that what I’m s’posed to be doin’ here?”
She’d batted him away and struggled to sit up. “Never mind. I’m feeling better.”
Strong hands slid under her arms and helped her finish the movement. “Gone enough for government work,” he’d said.
“Are you sure?”
“As I’ll ever be.” He’d leered, his eyes falling to where the coat gaped open and the soft swell of her breast was exposed in the neckline of her blouse. “’Course, if you’d like to be absolutely sure and try it again, we could always go the oral route. Sure I could think of an appendage or two you could wrap those lips around---.”
She’d rolled her eyes. “Gee, predictable much, Spike?” she’d said.
Now, she waited, standing in front of the window while he bustled around behind her, the dying embers in the fireplace doing little to keep her warm. Her leg was feeling better, wrapped tightly in fresh bandages, and she was wearing two layers of clothing to help protect her from the frigid air outside. Outside of her broken wrist and the various bruises and scrapes adorning her body, she was feeling much stronger, and with Spike’s claim that the road couldn’t be too far away considering the amenity of the cabin, Buffy was confident she could make the trek without having to rely too much upon the vampire.
At least it wasn’t snowing anymore. On the other side of the glass, the world hung in icy stillness, blanketed in white for as far as she could see. The heavy weight of snow made the trees even more skeletal, lacy and dense and blocking out the moonlight that peeked through the branches.
“What’s got you so beguiled?”
She hadn’t heard him approach, and now Spike’s voice was almost at her ear, his body only a spare inch from hers as he joined her at the window. “Snow pretty,” Buffy murmured, and lifted a finger to trace invisible patterns on the window as she sighed.
“Think you’ve just got an eye for the shiny things,” he chuckled. “First, the fire, now this…” His hand came up to the pane, fingers splayed in a crystalline outline against the glass. “You’re not changin’ your mind, are you?”
“About leaving? Not on your life. Just…” Another sigh. “It’s too bad I never got that ski weekend with Giles. There’s something to be said for winter wonderlands.”
“Yeah,” he agreed. “They’re cold.”
Smiling, Buffy ducked under the arm that blocked her path and limped to the front doorway. “Did you remember Mr. Gordo?” she asked as she picked up the duffel they’d brought from the car.
It was out of her hands before she could sling it over her shoulder. “Take this one,” Spike instructed, thrusting the other bag he’d packed at her. At her confused look, he clarified, “It’s lighter and got your precious pig in it. Don’t want to put too much stress on that leg of yours. You’ll be givin’ it enough of a workout as it is.”
“I guess.” She frowned, as a sudden thought struck her. “How come clothes are so heavy?”
“They’re not. Weapons are.” With a swirl of black leather around his legs, Spike pulled open the door, and nodded toward the outside. “Let’s mush, Slayer. The sooner we’re rid of this place, the sooner we’re back in the lap of the Hellmouth.”
His boots crunched across the porch, the ebony stark against the snow, the familiar swagger in his stride oddly comforting as Buffy followed after him. She’d relinquished control of the coat so that he would have some protection from the elements outside---though without the storm brewing, she wasn’t sure he exactly needed it---and now it fluttered around his legs far more elegantly than she imagined it had on her. Probably because of the height thing, she reluctantly admitted. Even if Spike’s not that much taller than me.
Of course, she’d been more concerned about using the coat for warmth as opposed to fashion when she’d been wearing it, she further reasoned, her feet automatically stepping into the deep impressions Spike left for her to trail. And if she was being completely honest, it had been as much of a comfort thing as anything else. Without the familiar surrounding her, barring Mr. Gordo’s presence, it was reassuring to have the recognizable scent of leather and stale cigarette smoke and Spike clinging to her skin. She’d never admit that to him; that was a boon he would taunt and take advantage of until she closed his mouth permanently and no way was she just going to offer that up on any colored platter. And it weirded her out to no end to think that Spike’s presence could be in any way solacing, but…there it was. She was weird girl Buffy, hanger out with the undead.
His path through the trees was circuitous at best, stopping every once in awhile to scan the surroundings, occasionally sniffing at the air as if he could smell the way back to the road. Once, Buffy mimicked him, wondering just what it was he thought he could detect, and immediately felt everything in her nose crystallize from the cold. Vigorous rubbing at it to make it go away was followed by a violent sneeze, prompting Spike to stop in his tracks and look back at her in concern.
“You all right?” he asked.
“Fine,” she squeaked, and shooed him away. “Just go.”
After that, any sound that came from her direction made his gait hesitate, and more than once, the glance he shot her over his shoulder made her shiver more than the cold. It was almost as unnerving as the silence was, the solemn quietude that saturated the forest and made each of their steps through the crusty snow echo inside her ears.
“Was it this dead when we came through the first time?” Buffy asked.
“Dunno,” came the response. “Was too busy tryin’ to get you to someplace warm to pay much mind.” He stopped then, jerking back as if he’d run into someone, and she collided with the bag that hung from his shoulder with a muffled oomph.
“A little warning next time on turning yourself into a roadblock would be appreciated, Spike,” she said with a grimace, rubbing at where her cheek had grazed across the rough fabric. “Is this another scratch-your-head-and-sniff stops?”
He swiveled an annoyed gaze back at her. “No, this is one of those something’s blocking me from going any further kind of stops.”
With a frown, Buffy looked past his shoulder at the trees scattered ahead of them, their wraith-like branches stretching into the night sky, the snow unbroken around their roots. “OK,” she said slowly. “Not seeing the problem here.”
“Seein’ isn’t always believin’,” Spike muttered. Grabbing her good wrist, he gently tugged her forward, holding her hand so that it was palm out and reaching toward the forest before him.
The shock jumped from nowhere, sizzling her skin so that she jerked free from his grasp. “What is it?” she asked before tentatively stretching a fingertip out again. “Please tell me it’s not magic.”
He waited until she was shocked again, and rolled his eyes as she repeated the yank backwards. “All right, Pavlov,” he drawled, “it’s not magic. ‘Cept we both know it is.”
“But why?” Frustration made her voice rise, and she shifted the weight of her pack as she faced him.
“Why’re you askin’ me?” Spike countered.
“Because you’re here and Giles isn’t.”
“And that makes me the expert then?”
“Not really, no. But I’m not the one who’s so big on the mojo. I hit things. That’s my job. I’m not supposed to be Nancy Drew. I’m supposed to be Supergirl.”
Her agitation quivered through the air, her cadences as ragged as her breath. All she wanted was to get home; was that so much to ask? She had half a mind to scream out at whatever magical thing---witch, warlock, overambitious college student---that she was mad as hell and wasn’t going to take it anymore, but had the sneaking suspicion that whoever it was wouldn’t care.
Pushing Spike aside, Buffy began marching parallel to the obstacle barring their course, every few feet reaching up to test the barrier, every few feet getting the same resulting zap to her fingertips. Only when she’d distanced herself in yards did the vampire speak up.
“Care to share where you’re going, pet?”
Her face was grim as she continued walking. “I refuse to believe this goes all the way around the cabin. There’s got to be a break in it somewhere.”
“Not that I’m disagreeing with you…” The tamping of the snow marked his rushed footsteps as he hastened to catch up with her. “…but you think you’re up to that?”
Buffy whirled in her spot and faced him. “Do I have a choice? Unless you’ve suddenly learned how to sprout wings and fly us out of here, Spike, walking is the only way we’re going to get back to civilization and find out what happened to Giles.”
“And again, I’m not disagreeing with you.” His eyes were black pools as they skimmed over her features, and before she could react, he was leaning in, his head ducking as his cheek grazed over hers. A slight tilt and his lips were sliding across her temple, not in a caress but firm and testing, and just as quickly, it was gone, leaving Buffy breathless and gaping and wondering why in hell she didn’t just hit him the next time he did that.
“Your temperature’s startin’ to go up again,” Spike said. “I’ll wager you don’t get thirty yards before thinkin’ the trees are the pretty in-thing now.”
“I’m fine,” Buffy snapped.
“You’re not. You’re dragging your bad leg again, and you’re turnin’ into a liability, Slayer.”
“So…what? You want me to just give up?”
“No, I want you to go back to the cabin and let me do the checking. Something tells me that you get much more of the electric fence treatment, and it won’t make a difference how sick you are.”
“I told you---.”
Spike held up a warning finger. “Is this the part of our agreement where you tell me to bugger off instead of listenin’ to what I have to say?” he demanded. “’Cause that bit of show and tell back at the cabin looked awfully convincing to me. For some godforsaken reason, I was of the mind to believe you this time.”
Her mouth opened to speak, but Buffy froze, the words choking in her throat. With his face so close to hers, there was no mistaking the hurt anger in his eyes, but it was the question of why he’d be hurt by that in the first place that cautioned her so. What did he care if she was stubborn about this? She knew her own body pretty damn well, and if she thought she could make the walk, then…
Except she’d also thought the fire in the hearth was pretty enough to touch, once upon a time. What if Spike was right and she was only going to make things worse?
“Why?” she asked, finally finding her voice.
His eyes narrowed. “Why what?”
“Why are you offering? Is this a one-upmanship thing? Can’t kill me so you’ll get the blue ribbon for getting us out of here?”
A gleam appeared in the depths, his brow smoothing. “That is not a road you want to walk, pet.”
“You’re just bound and determined to keep me off my feet, aren’t you, Spike?” She regretted it as soon as it came out of her mouth, the innuendo obvious even to her, and prayed to God that the vamp wouldn’t take her up on it.
Obviously, God was on a coffee break.
Blue eyes raked over her body, slowing over her hips before falling to her boots half-buried in the snow. “Could carry you back, I s’pose,” he mused, almost nonchalantly though the huskiness of his voice betrayed more than she thought he wanted. “’Specially since it’s startin’ to seem you’re a bit partial to bein’ in my arms---.”
“Ha!” Buffy snorted. “If I remember correctly, I was the one who kicked you off the couch this morning.”
His gaze returned then, and though he hadn’t moved any closer to her, his intent seemed only inches away. “And if I remember correctly,” he said, “you were also the one who insisted I get on it.”
“Delirious, remember?” She swallowed the lump that had formed in her throat, but kept her chin strong.
“And here I thought you just had good taste.” He paused, cocking his head. “Oh, wait. You dated Angel and the Joyless Wonder. Well, that knocks that theory out of the water. Let’s just go back to wantin’ me, shall we?”
“Can’t really blame you, I s’pose. Been told I’m quite the manly specimen on more than one occasion.”
Rolling her eyes, Buffy turned in her tracks and began trudging in the direction from which they’d come, her steps heavy as her muscles began to scream in protest.
“Where are you off to this time?”
“The cabin. At least if I let you check the magic boogaloo on your own, you’ll either fry yourself to dust, or I’ll get a few minutes where I don’t have to see your face or hear your voice. Either way, I win.”
Spike’s chuckle floated along the frigid air. “You just keep tellin’ yourself that, ducks,” he said.
As she walked away, she couldn’t resist the one last glimpse back at him over her shoulder. Hip cocked, thumb hooked through his belt loop, he looked just as smug as he sounded, and Buffy frowned, the confusion crowding into her skull to join the plethora of uncertainties already there. The epitome of concern one moment, Don Juan on crack the next. If Spike had decided that his job was to drive her crazy until they got back to Sunnydale, he was succeeding marvelously. Not that that was anything new, but this new methodology led to a whole different world, one where she was second-guessing herself around every corner and asking questions about him she had no right to be asking.
This was all her mom’s fault. If she’d just not said anything about being nice to Spike, and not let Aunt Darlene come over for the weekend, none of this would’ve happened in the first place.
Yeah. She’d blame Mom for now. That was easier than thinking about the alternative.
His smile vanished as soon as she disappeared through the trees, and Spike automatically straightened to start following after her, maintaining his distance so that the Slayer wouldn’t sense his presence and start in on the distrust again. He’d told her the truth; she was favoring her uninjured leg and every step she took only exacerbated the other. And the fever was rising again, whether from too much exertion too soon or something else. What she needed was a good day or two with nothing but rest to get herself healed up for good. Only thing was, Buffy was too stubborn to truly listen to him until it was too late. So he just had to make sure she made it back to the cabin without her knowing he was there.
Things had been surprisingly better after she’d awoken earlier. Familiar bantering---albeit taken up a notch considering their circumstances and wasn’t that a kick and a half when she didn’t even seem perturbed by some of his more lewd suggestions---and then not even an argument when he’d set to fixing her something to eat.
“You’re not serious, are you?” she’d asked him, the light in her eyes surprised disbelief instead of anger.
“Would I offer if I wasn’t?”
He’d grinned. “Fair enough. But this is about gettin’ your strength up and anything that means I don’t have to cart you around is good, in my book. So what do you want?”
“Is there soup?”
“Then soup. But if you try and gross me out by putting blood or something else in it, you’ll be wearing it as a fashion accessory, OK?”
“Wouldn’t expect anything less from you, Slayer.”
She’d curled back into the corner of the couch, and he could feel her eyes boring into his back as he began searching the cupboards for something resembling soup. When it came, without the delusion of fever to prompt it this time, it took all his willpower not to stop what he was doing and look back at her in astonished pleasure.
Encountering the magical barricade hadn’t even come as that much of a surprise. Someone had gone to a lot of bother to make sure they were taken care of at the cabin; to just let them walk away from it seemed stupid, even to Spike. But he’d test the boundaries, like he’d promised her though he was sure it would be impenetrable all the way around.
A crashing off to his left halted his step, his eyes glittering in gold as his head whirled to see a pair of dark forms go barreling toward Buffy.
Or maybe not.
She was already battling them when Spike leapt into the fray, launching himself toward the nearest attacker to pull him away from the Slayer and falling into the unbroken snow with a muffled growl. The demon’s tusked face lunged toward his shoulder, intent on gnashing through sinew to separate the limb from the rest of the vampire’s body, and Spike automatically twisted in the opposite direction, rolling the pair of them through the snow until he was on top.
He didn’t recognize the species. Curling tusks around a triple stack of teeth, and a thick, scaled hide he could already tell he’d never be able to sink his fangs through. Its upper body was heavily muscled though its legs were lean, and when it fell for Spike’s fakeout, its jaw meeting his fist, he knew that it was more brawn than brains. That usually made for an easier fight.
Buffy was still on her feet, throwing punches with her good arm while using the obstacles of the trees to keep the demon off-guard. She was avoiding any kicking, but when she was rushed, she vaulted through the air, grabbing a low-hanging branch and using it to propel her away from the attack. Her landing had her injured leg taking the weight of her fall, and Spike saw the unmistakable wince as she rolled out of the way, leaping back to her feet with a graceful flip. Well, graceful for being in a foot of snow.
The demon beneath him bucked, throwing him off, and the vampire crashed into the trunk of a tree, his head smashing against the bark. “Spike!” he heard Buffy yell. “Weapons!”
Weapons, right. In the duffel. The one he’d dropped as soon as he’d seen the threat approaching the Slayer. Bollocks.
Shaking away the worst of the impact, Spike wrenched around to weave through the forest, eyes sweeping the white for the dark lump of the bag, the demon on his heels as he ran. There, in a copse of pine. Scooping it up in one deft motion before twisting and heading back, his speed gained him an advantage as he distanced himself from his attacker. One of the daggers was out and in his hand before he was within ten feet of Buffy, and he shouted to grab her attention before tossing it through the air.
She grinned as she turned back to face the demon. “Look,” she said brightly as she held up the knife. “I can have sharp, deadly things, too.” With a sweep of her arm, the blade whistled through the still air, slicing through the demon’s near nonexistent neck and almost decapitating it.
The remaining demon regarded the two blonds with wary red eyes as they turned to face it. “Where is she?” it lisped through its multitude of teeth.
Buffy waved the ichor-stained dagger in front of its face. “Hello? Right here. What, are you guys blind as well as ugly?”
“Where is she?” it repeated, prompting a sigh from the Slayer.
“I’m going to take that as a yes, then,” she said. The throw of her weapon was almost casual, arcing through the winter air in silvery glints before embedding itself in the middle of the demon’s forehead.
They both watched as it tumbled into the snow, and Spike grinned as he looked back at the Slayer. “Was hopin’ I’d get to see…” he started, only to stop as his gaze took in her flushed face, the trembling of her hands that made the air vibrate around her. Without adrenaline to fuel her, her body was shutting itself down, preparing to fight the enemy within now that the external one was gone. She needed rest, and this time, he wasn’t wasting any more time by arguing with her.
“C’mon,” he said, picking up the second duffel bag and letting it dangle from his hand as he leaned into her side, his arm snaking around her waist, forcing hers to cling to his shoulders. “Off to bed with you.”
Though she leaned against him as they started to walk toward the cabin, her weight was a feather for him to carry, and she surprised him by not squabbling about his aid. “Where’d they come from, Spike?” she asked instead.
“Don’t know,” he replied. “But soon as we get you settled, I’ll come back and finish scouting that fence, see if there’s a break they might’ve used to get in.”
“Take a weapon,” she murmured. “You won’t have me…to save…your skin this time.”
“Right, Slayer,” he chuckled, and together, they trudged through the snow.
She was almost asleep by the time she climbed the stairs to the cabin, leaning against the wall as she waited for Spike to open the door and then blindly stumbling toward the couch. At least I didn’t have to be carried this time, she thought with a note of satisfaction as she collapsed into the cushions, torn between curling into a ball to preserve her body heat and stretching to alleviate some of the tension and pain wound in her muscles. Stretching won, and Buffy’s cheek rested on the sofa’s arm as her eyelids began to droop.
She’d just take a little nap while Spike found the hole in the fence, she reasoned. Around her, she could hear him bustling as he set about relighting the fire in the fireplace, his boots scraping reassuringly across the wooden floor. The thought that he wouldn’t let her down floated somewhere around the edges of her consciousness, too ephemeral for her to grab onto and wrangle with even if the desire to do so had actually been there.
Her eyes were closed when she felt the weight curl around her shoulders, the down of the comforter from the bed offering her relief from the cold. She didn’t question it, not even when the weight increased and not even when the tickle of leather brushed against her jaw, its scent filling her nostrils and deepening her breath. The last sensation she was aware of as she drifted into sleep was the whisper of cool fingers across her forehead.
To be continued in Chapter 7: Who’s Naughty or Nice…