DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course. Excerpts from Spike’s reading are from Gustave Flaubert’s Salammbo.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Giles has dined with Maria and the others to find out what exactly he’s doing there, while Buffy has fended off another attack from vamps who are after Holly, only to end up getting frostnip on her toes and hurting her wrist again…
Under other circumstances, he would’ve been able to appreciate the night. Crisp and inky, the sky beckoned to Spike through the forest’s spidery branches, glittering with long-dead light that made the snow shimmer like a mirage beneath his boots. If Dru had been with him, he was certain that she’d be in the thrall of some rapt conversation with her twinkly oracles, and for once, he almost wished he had the same skill. Maybe they could tell him what the hell was going on inside his head, because he for one had no fucking clue.
He had just finished a long patrol around the perimeter of their prison, having abandoned the Slayer as soon as he’d fetched her change of clothes, silently trusting that she’d do the smart thing for once and use the basin of warm water he’d given her for thawing her feet. The cabin had seemed stifling, the fire he’d been entranced by uncomfortably blistering, and the excuse of looking for more potential attackers had been perfect for fleeing her presence.
Spike was furious, and not finding any more demons upon which to vent his frustration had done little to dissipate the burn that hummed through his veins. Not only had Buffy rebroken her wrist in her fight with the two vamps, the stubborn cow had gone and gotten frostnip on her feet from standing out in the snow for too long. It was a mild case, but that didn’t stop him from being annoyed at her. If she hadn’t run outside, she wouldn’t have gotten herself into the mess in the first place.
Of course, if she hadn’t run outside, he held little doubt that he wouldn’t have been able to resist the draw of her scent, or the swell of her mouth, or avoid reaching out to touch the satin luster of her skin. Even thinking of it now, his body betrayed him with the resounding pitch of his muscles, hardening and throbbing in an imagined accord as he remembered crumbling at the sight of Buffy’s rapture. Or was it his rapture? The lines were already blurring in Spike’s head, though one thing remained crystal-clear.
The look in her eye when he’d touched her.
As if, for the first time, she saw him.
The Slayer wasn’t the only target of his fury, though. He’d deliberately stood in the doorway and watched her battle the two vampires, not once considering jumping in to lend her a hand. She didn’t need his help to beat them; they were both obviously young, and though the snow was an unexpected hindrance, Buffy proved with her icicle trick that she was more than resourceful enough to compensate for her surroundings. Besides, watching her fight was better than watching Passions. He’d have to be thick as a brick to miss that opportunity.
On the other hand, by doing nothing, Spike had left her to get hurt again when she should’ve been on the final side of mending. Her broken wrist was entirely his doing, just as the frostnip was also his fault. If he’d not been so stubborn about bringing out her shoes sooner, she wouldn’t have to be soaking her feet in the cabin now, trying to fight back the damage the cold had done.
The damage he’d done.
As the cabin loomed before him, Spike swore under his breath. The idea of going back inside was almost enough to send him walking in the opposite direction. Only the hope that the Slayer might actually be asleep already, thus avoiding any confrontation, kept his stride forward.
That, and his stomach was growling like a son of a bitch. Guilt had a way of making him hungry.
Fuck. He did not just think of himself as feeling guilty.
With a violent shake of his head in an attempt to clear it, Spike pushed open the front door, his eyes automatically straying to the couch. The words were out of his mouth before he could even consider stopping them.
“What in bloody hell are you doin’?”
Buffy jerked from the massage she was giving her feet, shrinking away when he stormed forward and grabbed her hands to keep them from their task. “They hurt,” she complained, and freed herself from his grasp. “They were all tingly and I thought I’d just give them a rubdown to make them feel better. What’s your damage, Spike?”
“My damage,” he said, mocking her tone, “is that I don’t fancy catering to you any more than I already am. You can’t touch where you’ve been frostnipped. Rub ‘em down and you destroy the muscles before they can heal themselves, Stumpy.”
“Oh.” She didn’t seem to know how to take this information, and looked disappointedly at her feet, her tanned legs stretched out before her. “Not even a little?” she asked. “What about just kind of poking them? That can’t be bad, right?”
He caught her in mid-reach, staying the arc of her arm. “No. Touching,” Spike reiterated. He stood like that for a long moment, cold fingers wrapped around her hot hand, staring down at her in ice-blue frustration, and understood in the flash of a second the grief her Watcher went through.
The realization was an electrical bolt through his veins, releasing his grip and whirling him in a circle of ebony leather as he marched toward the kitchen. Along the way, he shed his coat, dropping it to the table and well out of her reach---daft bitch can do well enough without her vamp security blanket for a change---and fought back the fury that was threatening yet again to swell inside.
“Go to sleep, Slayer,” he ordered, yanking open the refrigerator door. The packet of blood was in his hands, his demon already out to slice through the plastic with a sharp fang, before he heard her move, heard the faint rustle of the blanket as it slipped to the wooden floor. Not looking back, not looking back, he intoned silently, and instead focused on the task of warming his food, the comforting familiarity of pouring the liquid into the small pan, grabbing the spoon to stir it so that it wouldn’t scorch while it heated. I’d just tear her head off for bein’ a stubborn chit and then get my own headache in turn. Not looking back. Don’t care what she says.
“I’m not tired,” she said, and he could almost hear the pout in her voice.
“So fuckin’ get tired,” Spike muttered. His stirring grew more rigorous and splashes of blood jumped over the side of the pan, dotting the stovetop in crimson. He couldn’t deal with her right now, not with the Gordian tapestry his thoughts were weaving. Hate her, admire her, want to rip her throat out in one moment, want to kiss and suck at it the next. Repulsion…desire…frustration…wonder…strand after strand after strand that mocked him with ease when offered singly, but laughed in merriment by knotting together and refusing to come undone. If he could just pull one…
But no. Not even that would make the lot unravel, and Spike just knew without examining it any closer that doing so would be wrong anyway.
“What’re you doing?” she asked.
He didn’t even bother to reply. From her angle, he thought it was pretty obvious what he was doing, and so he’d just make it known through his silence that her sad little attempt to make conversation wasn’t going to work. Even though he had to literally bite his tongue not to say anything.
The hush stretched into painful proportions, the only sounds in the room the crackling of the fire and the metallic clink of the spoon. “What’s with being so Oscar the Grouch?” Buffy finally asked.
“What’s with the Chatty Cathy routine?” he shot back. Only then did Spike allow himself the luxury of stealing a glance, his intent that it last only the second it would take to satisfy his curiosity, but he froze when his gaze settled on her.
She was kneeling on the couch, leaning against its back to watch him work in the kitchen. From behind her, the fireplace cast its illumination, brightening her hair to sun-kissed sand but leaving her face shadowed and solemn as she seemed to wait for some unseen signal to speak. He could still see her eyes, though, and it was the look there that scattered the disquiet furled into coils around his gut, locking him into place with the naked honesty that gleamed in the green.
“It hurts,” Buffy said softly, like each word stung to admit. “And I’m trusting that you’re right about not massaging it if I don’t want to make it worse. So pardon me if I thought keeping myself distracted by chatting might make it a little easier to deal with.”
“Don’t really feel up to the parlez vous, pet,” Spike said, just as quietly. He tore himself away, reaching for a mug and emptying the saucepan though he could still her eyes burrowing into his back.
“You’re not going to bed, are you?”
“Hadn’t counted on it. Someone’s got to keep an eye out in case we get an encore from another gruesome twosome.”
“But you won’t talk to me.”
He stared at the blood in the cup, the fluid made darker by the black ceramic surrounding it. “Tried that earlier, remember?” he said. “You opted for the ice queen road instead.” Sipping at his drink, he crossed to the shelves and picked up the book he’d been reading before heading for the small table.
“So you’re going to read instead?”
“That’s what it looks like.”
Quiet. Heavy and oppressive and so glazed in viridian, Spike swore he could hear every blink of her lashes as she watched him stare blindly at the words before him. His eyes swept over the page once…twice…three times, each pass failing to reveal any more of the text, before he growled and scraped his chair back across the floor.
“Lay down, Slayer,” he said, marching toward the sofa with the book tucked into his hand.
There was a moment of hesitation before she complied, stretching back along the length as her gaze followed his approach. “What’re you going to do?” asked Buffy.
He settled in the far cushion of the couch. “Way I see it, you need to sleep and you’re not goin’ to let me be until you are. So, if you won’t let me read in peace, I’ll just have to share it, is all. Five minutes of Flaubert and you should be out for the count, courtesy of bein’ a card-carryin’ member of the MTV generation.”
She grimaced. “You can’t read something else?” she complained. “I saw the movie during one of Xander’s video nights, and outside of those little jiggly green guys bouncing around, I didn’t think it was all that cute.”
“Somehow I don’t think ol’ Gustave set out to be ticklin’ your funny bone when he wrote it, Slayer. Unless you think gore and carnage in Carthage is particularly amusing, in which case, you’ll probably think this is a bloody riot.”
“That doesn’t sound like the movie I saw.”
“I’d wager not.” Nimble fingers thumbed through the pages, finding the spot where he’d left off. Suddenly feeling self-conscious, Spike cleared his throat, staring at the book as the question of what the hell am I doing? rambled around inside his skull.
“’She wished to learn the future,’” he started, his voice semi-flat. “’…and approached the serpent---.’”
“Wait.” He looked up to see her frowning at him. “You’re not starting from the beginning.”
“Uh, no. I’ve already read that part.”
“And that’s my problem because…?”
“I won’t know what’s going on.”
“You’re s’posed to be gettin’ a bit of kip anyway.” He turned back to the book. “Live a little on the edge, Slayer. Playin’ it safe’s for pansies.”
As he resumed reading, Spike’s nerves slithered in response to her steady gaze on him, knowing without needing to look that she was staring and wondering what he was playing at. Not that he actually knew, but damned if he was going to let her know that.
“’…approached the serpent, for auguries were drawn from the attitudes of serpents. But the basket was empty; Salammbo was disturbed…’”
In, and out, and in, and out, and in again, each breath that should’ve been leading to slumber still too shallow and still too rapid to mean anything but that Buffy was far from falling asleep. If he concentrated, Spike thought he might actually be able to hear the blood rushing through her veins, a soft swirl of bittersweet and fire to contest the heat of the flames that crackled in the hearth. But he couldn’t do that, shouldn’t do that, wouldn’t do that, because doing that would be tantamount to conceding defeat, letting her win by making him lose control when he already had so little of it.
“’…She found him with his tail rolled round one of the silver balustrades beside the hanging bed, which he was rubbing in order to free himself from his old yellowish skin, while his body stretched forth gleaming and clear like a sword half out of the sheath…’”
His voice faltered for the briefest of moments when Buffy stretched out her legs, her calves coming to rest across the top of his thighs. The iced patches across the top and sides of her feet were fading, but they were still too stark against the golden tan of her skin, glaring at him in reproach for daring to brand her flesh with his negligence. His jaw tightened. It shouldn’t be like this. He should be dancing with proverbial joy at seeing the Slayer incapacitated. But he wasn’t. It was a bloody ridiculous way to be ambushed, and she, more than most, deserved better than that.
Her words were barely above a whisper, but they clamored in Spike’s ears, drawing his eyes away from the ashen mottling on her feet to the luminescence of her aspect. Black had devoured the green, and she watched him with a gravity that made him wonder if she was really aware of what she was doing to him.
“Close your eyes, Buffy,” he murmured, and waited the long seconds before she obeyed. “Can’t expect to sleep if you don’t.”
It dawned on him when he turned back to the book that he’d called her by name, but shook it off. He was allowed to slip up every once in a while.
“’…The white light seemed to envelop her in a silver mist, the prints of her humid steps shone upon the flagstones, stars quivered in the depth of the water; it tightened upon her its black rings that were spotted with scales of gold. Salammbo panted beneath the excessive weight, her loins yielded, she felt herself dying, and with the tip of its tail the serpent gently beat her thigh; then the music becoming still, it fell off again…’”
A log fell in the fireplace, desiccated and charred but still echoing against the walls. Buffy’s legs jerked in his lap, her muscles rubbing against his, and he felt rather than heard the corresponding jump in her heart rate. Though his reading never stumbled, Spike’s attention was split between the words on the page and the body stretched out beside and atop him, his every sinew waiting for her to return to her relaxed state. It didn’t happen right away, but as he finished the chapter and moved to the next, the vampire suspected that the story was working against him here, winding her up instead of winding her down.
“’…Matho did not hear; he was gazing at her, and in his eyes, her garments were blended with her body. The clouding of the stuffs, like the splendor of her skin, was something special and belonging to her alone…”
He so desperately wanted to shift her legs, to remove the pressure their fine weight was exerting on the length of his erection, rubbing the rough seam of his jeans just enough to keep it in the forefront of his mind. Was she even aware of his excitement? he mused. He doubted it. She wouldn’t be so calm and unmoving if she knew. Of course, the evening of her breath, and the slowing of her pulse, told him that she was finally being lulled into sleep. That could most likely explain her ignorance of his arousal.
“’…He was carried away by ungovernable curiosity; and, like a child laying his hand upon a strange fruit, he tremblingly and lightly touched the top of her chest with the tip of his finger…’”
There was no denying the rhythm of Buffy’s body now, and Spike finally looked away from the book to see the gentle rise and fall of her chest as she slept. It was hypnotic, just as mesmerizing as the heat that washed from her flesh, and the cabin dissipated into a muddy haze on the fringe of his vision. As had happened before the fireplace when he’d steered the marshmallow to her mouth, all Spike could see was Buffy, and the urge to begin massaging away the pain in her feet swelled inside him. He knew he couldn’t; he’d been telling her the truth about it being detrimental to her recovery. But he also knew it would temporarily alleviate her discomfort, and for the space of that second, that seemed more important than any far-reaching ramifications.
He shook off the spell and turned back to the book. Just keep reading, he told himself. You’ll stay out of trouble that way.
The books that lined the wall blurred in his vision, in spite of the spectacles that were still perched on Giles’ nose. He was exhausted, and his head ached, but the thoughts that churned inside refused to be put to rest, raising question after question, scenario after scenario, making him wish he’d never even considered accepting the speaking engagement. Maybe then, he wouldn’t be in his current predicament.
He knew that was false thinking, though. Maria was quite adamant that she needed him in her search for her daughter, and throughout the course of the evening, it had become increasingly obvious that she had been prepared to do whatever it took to get him onboard. That didn’t make his decision any easier; if anything, Giles found himself wondering how someone so rabid about maintaining the Slayer order could’ve stayed outside of Council radar for so long.
There was a soft knock at his door, prompting an automatic, “Come in,” before he could think otherwise.
It opened to reveal a nervous Paul, dark shadows beneath his eyes announcing his fatigue with the late hour. His fingers played with the doorknob as his gaze swept the clean interior of the room. “You’re not packed.”
Giles leaned back in his chair, folding his arms across his chest. “Did you expect me to be?”
“We weren’t…certain,” Paul admitted. “You were unexpectedly reserved once you sat down for tea. Silas and I have been sitting down in the drawing room, wondering how long it would take you to either join us or announce that you were leaving.” He took a tentative step forward, though his hand never left the door. “Have you reached a decision?”
“I don’t see where I have much of a choice. Telling me that Maria’s daughter has the capability of killing Buffy is just as effective as putting me under lock and key, don’t you think?”
Though Giles’ tone was cold, the admission that he would be staying on was enough to relieve some of the tension in Paul’s stance. “Maria will be extremely pleased to hear this,” he said. “Your participation is vital to our success. The knowledge you bring to the table---.”
“Yes, yes.” Giles cut the sycophantic babbling off with a curt wave of his hand. “I’m not prepared to do anything tonight, though,” he went on. “And I wish to speak to Maria first thing in the morning regarding what she will need to do in order to ensure my full cooperation.”
For a moment, he faltered. “You…wish to be paid?”
“Hardly. But since it’s her interference that has either hurt or put Buffy in danger, I expect the least she can do is try to compensate for that.” He rose from his seat and turned his back on his visitor to cross the room to the bathroom. “I’m turning in for the evening,” Giles said. “I suggest you do the same.”
From the sanctuary of the adjoining room, he listened to the soft click of the outside door, sagging in exhaustion to the side of the tub as he exhaled heavily. Maria’s claim that her daughter had devised a way to destroy the Slayer line, whether true or not, was serious enough an allegation to warrant further investigation. Really, he had no choice but to stay and find out what he could, regardless of the questions that were reeling inside his head or his attitude toward the other Englishmen. He just couldn’t let them gain the upper hand.
Giles sighed, rubbing wearily at his eyes. He would do this for Buffy, and hopefully, she was still alive to benefit from the outcome.
To be continued in Chapter 12: It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas…