DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Giles has agreed to help Maria find her daughter, while an injured Buffy has fallen asleep under Spike’s watch…
She woke to the overwhelming scent of pine.
Groaning as she rolled away from where she was curled into the back of the couch, Buffy blinked against the sight of a looming green hulk not four feet away, leaning against the window its needled branches effectively blocked. The irrational thought of am I still in the cabin? darted through her head as she propped herself up on her elbow to take a closer look. Almost immediately, though, a stab of pain shot up her arm, and she winced as she fell back against the pillow, cradling her broken wrist close to her chest.
“Took you long enough, Slayer.” From behind the couch, Spike suddenly appeared over her, and Buffy frowned as she noted both the wet curls announcing his recent shower and the fresh scratches across his cheeks.
“There’s a tree in the house,” she said.
His eyes jumped to the window, and then settled back on her in mild annoyance. “Yeah?”
She pursed her lips together, his condescending response to her statement causing her own irritation to flare. “Why is there a tree in the house?”
“’Cause I put it there.”
“And you did this because there’s no such thing as being too close to Mother Nature?”
With a roll of his eyes, Spike shook his head, pivoting on his heel to disappear from her view again. “I did it ‘cause you were whinging about bein’ stuck here for Christmas, you bint,” he said. “Got an eyeful of dead birds’ nest for my trouble, and this is the appreciation I get? Thanks ever so.”
The declaration of the tree’s true purpose made her sit up again, this time mindful of keeping her weight off her wrist. What she expected to see wasn’t what she was met with, however, and Buffy’s jaw dropped as she watched her now-hostile roommate pick up a mug of blood and head for the ladder to the loft.
Every cupboard in the kitchen was open, half their contents spread out on the floor, the counters, the table…really, any surface that could accommodate them. Scattered among the bags and boxes of food were various greeneries---and redderies, and orange-eries, and even a yellow-erie, if she was being exact---that she’d seen growing in the flora outside.
“What is all this?” she asked. “And why are you leaving it for me to clean up?”
“It looks like Christmas,” he shot back, more than a little sarcastic. “And now that you’ve finally decided to grace me with your wakeful self, you can do the sortin’ of what’ll work on that bloody tree ‘cause I’m goin’ to bed.”
He was up the ladder and out of her sight before she could bite out some quippy remark, but in all honesty, Buffy wasn’t sure she had it in her just then. Her gaze returned to the array around the kitchenette. As her thoughts began to shed the dullness of sleep, she came to the incredible realization that Spike had gone out and---somehow---chopped down a pine tree, dragged it back to the cabin, and then proceeded to extract anything inside their prison that might be useful as an ornament. The details of why weren’t exactly clear, but for some reason, he’d taken it upon himself to give her the appearance of a merry Christmas, even if she wasn’t anywhere near her home or her mother at the moment.
What does he want? she wondered as she pushed the blankets off. I wasn’t complaining about the Christmas lackage that much…was I?
Before she could posit any theories, however, the aching prickling of her feet yanked her from her current contemplations and back into the muddle of emotions that had been the previous night. Spike reading to her had taken her completely by surprise, and though she’d only wished for a conversation to act as distraction from the pain, Buffy had been more than content with the storytelling hour as an effective substitute.
Well, maybe content wasn’t the right word.
…turned on as hell.
It most definitely wasn’t the Robin Williams movie that Xander had made her watch---though if the video store had a tape about this Salammbo chick, Buffy was sure going to be recommending that one on the next movie night---and Spike’s voice had warmed to the task quickly, lilting over the lyrical passages with a liquid sensuality that made her feel as if she was being draped in toasted raw silk. She’d been riveted by his profile, fixated on the way his mouth moved over the words and remembering how he’d looked in the flickering shadows cast by the fire.
And then he’d stopped, and the air had been oppressive and hollow without the sound of him, without the presence of his voice, and she didn’t know why, and she didn’t care why, but having him continue had seemed like the most important thing in the world right then, and she would’ve done almost anything to make it happen.
So when he instructed her to close her eyes, she’d done so, though the instinct to argue with him about it had risen for the briefest of moments. Maybe it was the way he said her name that stopped her tongue, because Spike never called her by her real name. Or maybe it was the coiled tension she could feel in his limbs, like he wanted to run but was bound to the couch by some unseen force that only he was aware of. Or maybe it was the naked self-recrimination she’d caught in the almost black of his eyes before he shifted to something she didn’t dare recognize.
Whatever the reason, she’d complied, and it had seemed like forever before he’d resumed his reading, the minutes escaping her as sleep finally won.
Now here she was, waking up to a vampire’s idea of Christmas decorations, and she didn’t know what to think anymore.
The understanding that she really hadn’t known what to think the previous night either was quickly dismissed as Buffy rose from her makeshift bed. She had things to do this morning---not the least of which was to figure out what to do with the six-foot fire hazard now leaning only three feet away from the fireplace---but first things first.
When he heard the water start running in the bathroom, Spike finally allowed himself to relax back into the pillows. No confrontation then. Good. Wasn’t entirely sure what he’d be able to say to her anyway.
It had seemed like a bloody brilliant idea at four o’clock in the morning. For too long after he’d stopped reading, Spike had watched Buffy sleep, not bothering to move her legs from his lap but not allowing himself to touch her this time either. In repose, she seemed almost…ethereal, and he’d struggled to squelch the snippets of poetry that popped automatically into his head. Been awhile since that had happened, not since he’d been under Dru’s attentive care immediately after the organ incident. Unless, of course, he counted the verse he’d written special for the Slayer after Thanksgiving---
Violets are blue,
Bloody hate this holiday,
And fuck you, too.
---but counting that made his stomach inexplicably roil, so he shoved the memory aside in favor of remembering instead the blush of scarlet and gold across Buffy’s cheeks as the reflection of the flames had danced upon them.
At some point, the Slayer’s complaint about missing out on Christmas with her mom had jumped through Spike’s head. The holiday didn’t mean so much to him anymore---not without having Dru around to lavish with presents---but it obviously did to her, and so the seed was planted, until an hour later, he was outside in the snow with one of Buffy’s daggers, hacking away at the biggest, bushiest, greenest tree he thought he could get back inside before sunrise and getting mauled to death by the half-dozen or so birds’ nests that had toppled from its branches as he did so.
She’d have her Christmas, and he could walk away thinking he’d done something to pay Joyce back for being a decent lady by giving her daughter a peachy Noel. Yeah, that was how he was going to rationalize it.
Though he knew deep down he was doing it for Buffy.
She’d made a decision by the time she stepped out of the steam-filled bathroom. Saying she was calling a truce with Spike was one thing, but committing to it had been an entirely different ball of wax. Buffy knew she’d been dragging her feet on trusting him---really trusting him this time, because if he was going to kill her, he’d had ample opportunities and hadn’t acted on a single one of them---but if this was going to work, she had to stop with the half-hearted attempts and give the vampire the credit he was due.
And she was so glad Giles wasn’t around to witness her saying such a thing.
She couldn’t deny the facts any longer, though. They were piling up like so many empty pizza boxes at an all-night research session, and pretending they weren’t there was only giving her headaches. Surely, it had to be easier to just give in to the impulse to give Spike the benefit of the doubt. After all, the vampire had done his best to try and brighten the place up with a bit of holiday cheer. Just for her.
Of course, he’d also left a huge mess for her to clean up, too.
Standing at the table, she grimaced as she surveyed the display of condiments and foodstuffs that he’d decided could be converted into homemade ornaments. Dried penne to string on the dental floss he must’ve pulled from the supplies in the bathroom…boughs of pine that could be bent and shaped to drape over the doorways…Spike had even tossed in the last remaining bag of marshmallows, though what he thought she might do with them, she had no idea. A sudden flash back to the fireplace, and she was moving to start sorting the chaos, anything to distract her from her traitorous thoughts and her even more traitorous body as the memory of the heat and the fluff and his touch returned with a vengeance.
Right, she thought, forcibly shifting her train of thinking as she held an orange in one hand and a roll of saran wrap in the other. Time to start channelling my inner five-year-old. Or my inner Xander. Either way, it’s ornament-making time.
Over five hours later, a dishevelled Buffy sat on the floor amidst the garlands she’d created, a sense of surprising accomplishment swirling around inside her. Not too shabby, she thought, as she spun the star she’d made out of tin foil and a bunch of sticks from the wood supply. Mom would be proud.
Her wrist was sore from overuse, but splinting it when she came out of the bath had kept it immobile during most of her activity and she held no worries that she’d hurt it further. Plus, by forcing her concentration elsewhere, she’d completely forgotten about the aches in her feet, and those were now feeling as good as new again, though one was tingling from being curled underneath her for just a few minutes too long.
Dropping the star to the side, Buffy stood and stretched, glorying in the pull and burn of her muscles as the movement heated her body. Whatever his reasons, Spike had had an excellent idea with the Christmas decorations, and in her holiday spirit of goodwill toward a certain vampire who couldn’t hurt her anyway, she was going to thank him for it, if he ever decided to wake up. Hardly a peep had come from the loft since he’d vanished up the ladder, and if she hadn’t heard the occasional squeak of a bedspring while she fought trying to get dental floss through the tiny holes in the pasta, she almost would’ve been worried that something had happened to him.
Ornaments done meant there was only one thing left to tackle. With a baleful frown, Buffy turned her head to look at the tree leaning against the sill, its branches obscuring most of the visible glass in the panes. Now how in hell was she going to manage that? It would need to be rooted in place, but somehow, she didn’t think a treestand was part of the necessities Jenny and her ghostly cohorts had arranged in coming up with this little scenario. Something else, then, that could contain water so the thing wouldn’t die in two days and leave her with a cabin full of needles to sweep up, because somehow Buffy just knew Spike wouldn’t care enough one way or the other to do it himself.
Crossing to the cupboards, the Slayer pulled out a pot, turning it over in her hands to examine its sides. Its diameter was wider than the trunk, so if she used it, she’d have to find some way to bolt it into place. Was it their only pan? A quick glance told her no. That was good, because not having anything to heat Spike’s blood in would probably make him cranky as hell. But still…what could she use that was strong enough to hold it reasonably upright?
She mulled over the dilemma for a few seconds before brightening. Scanning the room, she spotted the weapons bag near the door, the short dagger Spike had obviously used to saw the tree down still tossed haphazardly across its partially open top. Its blade was dull from its unorthodox usage, dried sap still clinging to its serrated edge; it would need a serious workover before it would be at its most functional again.
It wasn’t the weapon she was after, though. With a few hurried steps, Buffy was kneeling by the bag, digging around for the longer of the two knives she’d brought. This one was thicker, with a blade a good foot and a half long, its heft more than enough to provide at least some balance for the tree while she secured its upper half to the curtain rail. Between it and the pot, it would be more than workable as a stand, she figured.
She figured wrong.
The first time Buffy tried lifting the tree to set it to rest in the water-filled pan, it slid between her fingers, its needled trunk scraping at her fingers, and dropped to hit the edge of the aluminum, spilling the water all over the floor and dousing her thick socks.
The second time, she tried from a lower angle, getting on her knees to pick up the tree closer to the base while she attempted to slide the refilled pot underneath it. She didn’t account for the extra weight at the top, however, and felt it start to tip forward just in time to shove the pan out of its path, thus avoiding another spillage. It didn’t save her from being buried beneath its branches, though, and got an irritable scrape across her jawline as she stood to push it back up.
What she needed was longer arms, Buffy decided as she held the tree upright. One that could hold the top, while the other slid the pan in underneath. Then maybe a third arm to keep it steady while she ran the knife through the pan to keep it in place.
OK. Maybe this plan was a little on the sucky side after all.
Deciding to give it one more go, Buffy reached through the prickly branches to grasp the trunk with both hands, carefully spaced to allow herself the maximum coverage. A twinge of pain shot through her arm from the force she was exerting on her injured wrist, but she ignored it as she focused on firming her grip. Once she was confident it wasn’t moving, Buffy looked to her side and stretched out her left leg, angling her foot to try and hook the pan she’d pushed away on the last attempt. Inch by inch, she kept her pace slow, ready to compensate her balance the second she felt the fir start to tip again.
When the toe of her sock brushed against the base of the pan, a smile of satisfaction creased her face. “About time,” she said to no one in particular, and redirected her attention to not accidentally stepping into the water as she nudged it closer to the tree.
Finally, she thought in triumph, only to have her every nerve jump to attention when the edge of the pan caught on one of the not-quite-smooth-enough floorboards, grinding to a halt as the water came splashing up over the sides. The jump diverted her focus just long enough for the tree to decide it wanted to fall over again, and before Buffy could stop it, it was slipping through her fingers, pressing against her chest as it began to topple forward.
Slayer reflexes weren’t quite as fast as the arms that appeared from nowhere, encircling her shoulders to grasp onto the trunk and thrust it back against the wall again. Buffy felt Spike’s bare chest leaning into her as he helped her guide it back into a canted position, the power flexing through his visible muscles as he did so, and then it was gone, leaving her staring at the pine branches as she released her own grip.
“Stupid tree,” she muttered.
“Stupid Slayer,” Spike countered from behind her. “What in bloody hell were you tryin’ to do?”
“You’re the one who brought the damn thing in,” she said, whirling on her heel to face him. She’d expected him to have moved back, and was visibly shocked to find Spike barely six inches away, head cocked in curiosity. Sleep had done its number on his hair, tousling it into errant curls that made her fingers itch, and he wore only his black jeans, the angled jut of his pelvis visible above the waistband. All of a sudden, she was too aware of her own disarray, and fought the urge to push back the tangle her hair had become in her tree tussle.
“You could’ve waited ‘til I was awake to do something about it,” Spike said evenly. His eyes darted to the pan on the floor. “Or maybe tried putting the water in after you’d got the soddin’ tree up.”
“Oh.” Her gaze followed his to the mess she’d made. She hadn’t thought of that option. Damn it.
“Don’t know how you expected it to work anyway.” Buffy turned back to meet the mocking blue of his eyes. “The tree’s just goin’ to fall over without something to make it stick.”
“That’s what that was for,” she replied, and pointed to the dagger that rested on the floor just a few feet away.
A slow smile curled his lips as Spike chuckled. “Gotta love a girl who knows what to do with a good poke,” he said.
Her eyes widened at the innuendo, especially when she saw the familiar running of his tongue along the edges of his teeth. He’s just baiting me. He’s trying to push my buttons. Frantically, she tried to latch on to some of her earlier resolve---I can do this, I’m better than him---and affected as genuine a smile as she could manage.
“I owe you another thank you, by the way,” she said, and watched the surprise overtake his bravado. Ha. Let’s see who gets the last laugh here, blondie boy. “For the Christmas stuff. You didn’t have to do that.”
It took him a moment to respond. “Don’t have to do a lot of things,” Spike said slowly. The corners of his eyes crinkled as his gaze narrowed in scrutiny.
She rushed onward, ignoring the hammering that had started inside her chest. “Still, it was a good thing. Like the reading last night to get my mind off my feet. I know you don’t have to, and you did it anyway, and I just wanted you to know…you know, thanks.”
More silence while he just regarded her. Why isn’t he talking? This is me being all adult here. I deserve a snark or a quip or something.
But when he spoke again, the words that came out were not what she expected.
“You liked the reading?”
His voice was a rumble in his chest, inexplicably raising goosebumps along her arms, and Buffy was grateful that she was wearing long sleeves so that he couldn’t see them. “It was nice,” she said, lamely. Why is he standing so close? Back up! Back up! Except there was a tree behind her, and with him so close and the branches poking into her sides and her back, the only way to get past Spike meant she’d have to physically move him, and somehow, Buffy just knew that touching the vampire at that exact moment in time would be monumentally bad.
“Nice is boring.” The tilt of his head was back. “Never been pegged as boring before.”
It was a challenge; she could see it glinting in the darkened blue of his eyes. “That’s not what I meant,” she said before she could stop herself.
“It’s what you said.”
“Why do you do that?”
“You know what. Twist around what I say.” It was slipping---her resolve---her frustration rising to the point where it felt like hundreds of tiny flames were singeing the inside of her skin. And what is his hand doing?
“There something else you’d prefer me to be twistin’, pet?” He’d reached up, a single finger stroking the graze she’d received from the tree when it fell on her, but instead of swatting him away, she shivered, unable to prevent the spontaneous response in her body from the almost gentle touch.
“Stop it,” Buffy breathed. Her gaze was diverted from his by the twitching in his jaw.
She heard his muttered, “Fuck it,” a split second before his lips crashed to hers.
To be continued in Chapter 13: Kiss Her Once for Me…