DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course. 
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY:  Doyle has left Holly in Buffy and Spike’s care, but when Buffy finally broke down and offered Spike some semblance of a relationship, he turned her down because he didn’t like her conditions…

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Chapter 16: Follow Me in Merry Measure

It was the first time since they’d arrived at the cabin that she’d thought of the couch as uncomfortable.

Mesmerized by the sinuous leaps of the fire, Buffy altered her position for the sixth time in the past half hour, this time rolling onto her side in order to better see the effects of the orange and crimson flames as they reflected off the floor.  Around her feet, the blanket she was cocooned inside came undone, but she left her toes bare, the heat from the hearth more than enough to keep her warm for the time being. 

Spike would make me cover them up.  He’d have some excuse about me getting sick again or something.

Automatically, she squeezed her eyes shut, almost wincing at the intrusion of the vampire into her thoughts.  Am I interpreting everything through a Spike filter now? she wondered in annoyance.  Is this a Slayer version of cabin fever?

Whatever it was, she had to do something about it fast, because not being able to sleep due to a severe abundance of Spike on the brain was wrong in more ways than even a brainiac like Willow could count.  And when her brain slid into the natural continuation of not sleeping wouldn’t be as bad if it was a severe abundance of Spike on the body, she knew she would have to do something drastic.

Right, she thought, taking in a deep breath.  I can do this.

Just block him out…

…she wouldn’t think about how much it pissed her off that he got to take the high road on her proposition and she came off as the baddie…

…and she wouldn’t remember how his voice had deepened and coarsened at her mention of partners, the bright flicker deep within the blue that coincided with his mixed sense of disbelief and awe that she would suggest such a thing…

…and she definitely wouldn’t dwell on steel thighs pressing to hers, or silken lips sliding across her jaw, or the heady scent of his skin when being such scant millimeters from tasting it made Buffy’s mouth start to water just in memory…

“Arghhhh!!!”  Burying her face into her pillow to muffle the sounds of her frustration, Buffy flipped onto her stomach and tried to scream the irritation out of her system, her blankets twisting around her body in a rough approximation of a straitjacket gone mad.  The slickness between her legs didn’t make her release any easier, nor did the small shivers that ran down her spine when her pebbled nipples rubbed roughly against the couch cushion.  And when her gurgled cry finally faded and she took in a deep though stifled breath, the scent of eau de Spike that pervaded the pillow filled her head, making her jump backwards into a sitting position.

This is getting ridiculous, she thought.  Her eyes jumped to the ladder to the loft, the top half hidden in shadows as the rungs seemed to climb into nothingness.  It’s only Spike.  The same vampire who tried to kill me six ways to Sunday before getting chipped.  The same vampire who’s saved my life almost as much just since we got to this stupid place.

It should’ve been simple.  If he’d only just accepted her conditions, she could be sleeping right now, curled up in a nice comfy bed instead of being alone on the couch.  She wasn’t even entirely sure what his objections actually were.  Since when did Spike care what she thought, or what the others thought about him?  He had no interest in fighting the good fight, or in being nice to any of her friends.  Hadn’t he proven that, ad nauseum, to her in the past?

The more Buffy thought about it, the angrier she got.

The angrier she got, the more awake she became.

And the more awake she became, the better it sounded to just go up to the loft and give Spike a piece of her mind.

She never even gave a second thought to the sleeping child in the next room.

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He couldn’t sleep for wondering just what in bloody fucking hell he’d been thinking, brushing off the Slayer like that.

Staring up at the ceiling, Spike could hear her tossing and turning on the couch below, every move she made a sandpaper whisper across his skin that taunted him with the promise of what he didn’t dare take now.  Sure, she’d royally pissed him off with her holier than thou provisos, and for about thirty seconds after he’d stomped out of the bathroom with his pride held high in smug satisfaction, Spike had been pleased as punch at besting Buffy at her own game.

It was the three hours, twenty-six minutes, and thirty seconds that followed that were less than stellar.  When the reality of what exactly he’d refused slammed back into his consciousness with the subtlety of a Mack truck.

Right now, his body was at war with itself.  His head was triumphant in its gloating, crowing to any other limb or organ that would listen about how gobsmacked he’d left the Slayer, and that the look on her face when he’d sauntered from the bathroom was almost worth getting chipped for.

Other, more netherly-located, parts raged on about what an absolute prat he was being, because passing up the opportunity to shag the Slayer was the daftest thing he’d done since coming back to Sunnydale and turning into Plan 17 from Inner Space for Uncle Sam.  Who cared what her conditions were?  All they could think about was the scent of Buffy’s…well, everything, and what it would be like to have a handful of hot, Slayer flesh to hold onto while she rode him into the bloody sunset.

And the organ in between, the one long unbeating and most of the time forgotten, was caught in its own little world, whispering in his ear all the complications of emotions that were better left denied.

He knew he had to sleep; the sprout hogging the other bed in the joint would most likely be up at the crack of dawn and demand to be fed, or some such nonsense.  He’d even considered wanking off to relieve some of the tension, but the first time his hand strayed to his semi-erect cock, Spike had stopped just before touching, the memory of soft breasts and softer lips making the act seem somehow hollow all of a sudden.  He’d growled at her control over him, even at such an emotional distance, and lashed out at the blankets instead, kicking them to the floor and just lying there on the sheets, fists balled at his sides as he fought not scream out loud.

He heard her as soon as she rose from the couch, of course.  All he’d been doing for the past three and a half hours was listening to every Buffy noise, analyzing what she was doing, how she was lying, what she was wearing.  When she got up from the sofa, Spike imagined that it was probably just to go to the bathroom, or get a drink.  He didn’t imagine that she’d start climbing the ladder to the loft, but once the realization had sunk in, he quickly closed his eyes and feigned slumber so that she wouldn’t know he was still up as well.

The scent of adrenaline hit him first, followed almost instantaneously by the quickening of her heartbeat.  When Buffy’s sharp inhalation reached his ears, Spike waited for her to enact whatever purpose had brought her to his room, but was met with a deafening silence.  That seemed to last an eternity.

What is she bloody waiting for?

He was about to pretend to wake up, just to see what could be keeping her so silent---because, for future reference, that was a trick he was going to have to learn how to repeat---when a certain recognition of his current circumstances struck Spike.

Fact number one.  His blankets were no longer on the bed.

Fact number two.  Except for those few times downstairs, and for the time he’d spent at Rupert’s house, Spike slept without any of his kit on.  It was just more comfortable that way.

Fact number three.

…Fuck.

That’s what was going on, he realized.  She was just standing there gawping at him, and while he didn’t exactly have anything to be ashamed of---.

Hold up.

Why exactly was he bothered by this?  She was the one not moving from her vantage point.  She was the one whose body betrayed her every reaction to seeing him like this.  He didn’t have a bloody thing to be fussed about; in fact, maybe seeing what exactly she was missing out on would be enough to knock some sense into Little Miss Herbal Essences, and they could finally get around to the shagging that should’ve happened before she opened her big mouth.

The instant his cock started to swell again in response to the much-more pleasant images now playing inside his skull, Spike heard a distinct gulp, and then the swish of fabric dragging across the wooden floor.  When the blankets dropped onto his midsection, his eyes flew open, and he saw an enraged Slayer standing over him.

“You’re a pig,” she spat out, turning on her heel to go back downstairs.

“Well, that’s a disappointment,” Spike drawled, sitting up.  He was tempted to let the blankets continue to slip down his body as he did so, but when his words stopped Buffy in her tracks, he grabbed the edge and held it against his hip.  “All this way just to toss me one of your old standby’s?”  His tongue clucked in mock reproval.  “Someone’s slippin’.”

“A little sign around your neck saying ‘I’m so in love with myself, I sleep in the nude’ might’ve been helpful, Spike.”

“Funny, but something tells me that my neck wasn’t where you were lookin’, pet.”

The bright color in her cheeks was conspicuous even in the dim light that filtered from below.  “Get over yourself,” she snapped.

She looked ready to bolt, but the fact that she’d stayed so long already gave the vampire a strange sense of hope.  “There a point to this little visit?” he asked.   “’Cause I was just in the middle of a particularly pleasant dream when I was so rudely awakened.”

Buffy’s eyes slid for a second to his waist and the unmistakable bulge the blanket barely hid before jumping back to his face.  The corner of his mouth lifted when she said, “Please say it wasn’t about me.”

“But that would be lyin’,” he said in false innocence.  “And here I thought we were past that little phase of our relationship.”

“Spike.  We don’t have a relationship.”

His smile faded.  “No, now there you’re right, Buf---Slayer.  What we’ve got is a bit of a muddle, isn’t it?”

“That’s not the half of it,” he heard her mutter. 

She didn’t move, and he didn’t move, and the air between them grew thicker as a minute slipped into two.  It stayed that way until he finally slumped against the headboard, blue eyes almost black as they riveted to the gaze she couldn’t quite settle on his face.

“You’re not hurtin’ again, are you?” he asked quietly, hating that he caved so quickly in front of her.  Since when did she have that power over him?  It had certainly never been that way before.

There was a moment where she seemed to hesitate, and then her chin lifted as she reached some unknown conclusion.  “Yes,” Buffy replied.  “My…wrist is acting up, and it’s not letting me sleep.  I was thinking…”

“Dangerous…”

“…that you could, maybe, do that thing you did the other night,” she finished, ignoring his slight gibe.  “When I couldn’t sleep because of the frostbite.”

“It was just frostnip, pet, and you’re tellin’ me you want a bleedin’ bedtime story?  I thought the Holly bird was the babe in the woods here, not you.”

As she bristled at his mocking tone, Spike held back the eager bite of want that surged forward at the possibility of having her sleeping at his side by affecting his most disdainful smirk.  The battles that had been waged between his various body parts came to a temporary détente as the reality of Buffy returned.  He’d won his moral war by her coming to him first, so the intellect could still remain superior; she was standing there wanting him just as much as he wanted her, so his cock was more than happy; and as for his heart…well, even Spike had to begrudgingly admit it seemed a little less tight just having her in the same space as him.  Whatever she wanted, he’d be more than willing to do; he was just going to let her twist in the wind a bit before succumbing to her whim.

“Never mind,” Buffy said.  “Forget I asked.  In fact, I never asked.  This conversation?  Never happened.”

But she still wasn’t moving.

And her heart rate had started accelerating again.

“Is it really that hard?” Spike commented.  This was getting old, even if he was glad she hadn’t turned tail and run.

“What?”

“Sayin’ you need me.”

“I thought I’d already done that.”

“You know what I mean.”

“I told you.  I couldn’t sleep.”

“And you want me to remedy that?”

“I don’t know what I want!”  It wasn’t excitement that was thrumming her veins; it was frustration, and it drove the Slayer to start pacing around the small space about the bed.  “I mean, I thought I did, and I laid it out there, and then you try and tell me it’s not good enough?  What is that, Spike?  Since when am I not good enough for you?”

“Is that what you think that was about, Slayer?”  No longer caring about covering himself up, Spike sat up at her diatribe, anger raising his voice.  “You’re tellin’ me that putting out all the rules, and saying we do this your way or no way, isn’t just a tad selfish?”

That brought her to a stop.  “You’re a vampire!  How dare you lecture me about being selfish?  You’ve got the moral code of Ted Bundy!”

“Which is why I pulled your ass from Rupert’s car before you turned into Slayer on a Stick, right?”

“Stop changing the subject!”

“Do you even know what the subject is?”  He was out of the bed, eyes flashing and oblivious to his state of undress, and standing in front of her as the taunts continued to come.  “Who is it you’re really mad at here, pet?  Not feelin’ guilty for bein’ such a bitch, are you?”

“What?  No!”

Spike smirked.  “I’d say something here about too much protesting, but then, that would require a lady bein’ present.”

He saw the hit coming long before the muscles contracted in her arm.  Even as the words slipped from his mouth, he could see the anger in her face melt into hurt, and then revert back to venom long before Buffy took her swing at his nose.  Lifting his hand, he blocked it easily with his forearm, and took a small step forward to deny her the space to try it again.  The movement pressed their pelvises together when she didn’t counter his shift, and though his erection had abated slightly in their argument, the heat of her flushed skin through the thin fabric of her t-shirt brought it back with a throbbing hunger.

Her eyes were huge as she lifted them to his face.  When she finally moved---an eternity, it seemed, to Spike---it wasn’t backwards, away from his touch, like he expected.  Instead, it was the smallest of shifts sideways, which caused the head of his cock to brush against her stomach, sending a cascade of sensation straight through his veins and making him groan in spite of his determination not to give her the satisfaction.

“Spike…” she breathed. 

“Don’t,” he croaked, when her head started to tilt toward his, and stopped her from getting nearer by placing his hands on her shoulders.  The battle within had resumed, only this time a clear winner was quickly declared. 

Though having his chest ache as much as it did certainly didn’t seem fair when his heart had come out ahead.  Since when was winning supposed to hurt?

“What?” Buffy asked, confused.  “Why not?”  She accompanied the questions with another slide of her torso, and in those seconds that stretched to forever, Spike wondered just what it was he was arguing against.

“Told you,” he finally managed to say.  He wasn’t backing off, though; he couldn’t, not when each glimmer of her touch was deliciously insufficient.  He had to stay there in order to add up enough of the caresses to satisfy what he wanted…if that could ever truly happen.

“Oh.”  She seemed to understand what he was referring to without his need to elaborate, and he watched her falter as her bottom lip got snagged by her teeth.  “Well…about that…maybe…I don’t know…we could compromise?”

She’d said it.  She’d actually said it.  His eyes dropped to her mouth and watched her nibble at her lip, imagining what those same nips being applied elsewhere to his person would feel like, and struggled not to throw her onto the bed and find out for real.  “What?” he said, feigning ignorance of her meaning.  “You want to punt the tadpole into the nearest snowbank and spend the next ten days shaggin’ instead?”

“No.”  A small frown.  “I meant…you know what I meant.”

“Do I?”

Just a small taste.  That’s all he wanted.  And she was already folding on the equality issue, so his heart couldn’t actually argue about getting smashed into smithereens by her over-inflated white hat, now could it?

His cheek brushed her temple as Spike bent his head, the perfume from her shampoo mingling with the scent of a stray spruce needle she’d failed to catch during her earlier tangle.  This was how he would always remember Christmas smelling like, he half-realized in amazement when his mouth pressed to the hollow beneath her ear.  A blend of Buffy, and pine, and peaty smoke that made his throat tighten, his body hum.  Funny how over a century with Dru hadn’t offered the same sort of sensory pleasure for this particular holiday…

A small scrape of wood against wood somewhere far away made her freeze against Spike’s caress.  “What was that?” Buffy whispered.

He had a good idea, but bugger if he was going to stop now.  “Forget it,” Spike murmured, but when he tried to pull her closer, Buffy’s hands came up to his chest and pushed, forcing the distance to return between them.

“Is that Holly?” she asked, and craned her neck to look over the railing to the floor before.

“Probably just goin’ to the loo,” Spike offered.  “Doyle said she was housebroken.  Kids do that.”

She ignored his suggestion, and broke completely away.  “Holly?” she called out as she stepped to the ladder.

When there wasn’t an immediate response, Spike came up to her side and glanced down to see the toddler just standing in the middle of the room.  Her doll was clutched tightly to her chest, her mousy-brown hair tangled into a rats-nest in the back.  He couldn’t see her face from that angle, but the eerie stillness of her pose almost sent a shiver down his bare spine.

“Holly?” Buffy called again, and when the second attempt wasn’t acknowledged either, she turned her frowning gaze back to the vampire.  “Why isn’t she answering me?”

“I’d say nobody’s home.”  He’d automatically dropped his voice to match hers.  “I think Doyle might’ve forgotten to mention Little Orphan Annie down there likes to go for midnight strolls.”  When her confusion didn’t go away, Spike added, “She sleepwalks, Slayer.”

“Oh.  Isn’t she a little young for that?”

He shook his head.  “There’s no age limit on this sort of thing.  Just take her back into bed all gentle-like, and try not to wake her up.  That’s about all you can do for her.”

She started to head for the ladder and then stopped, glancing back at him.  “How do you know about sleepwalking?” she asked curiously.

“Dru did her fair share of it,” he replied.  All of a sudden, he felt too visible, standing there without his clothes on, his erection fading with the onset of bittersweet memories.  Turning away from her, he grabbed at the jeans that lay crumpled on the floor, trying to block out the images of alabaster skin streaked with blood and the sound of his dark princess’ voice when it singsonged into the night.  Focus on the nowThink of Buffy.

“’Course,” he added with his back to the Slayer, “half the time I wasn’t so sure if it was sleeping or just one of her spells, but I treated ‘em all the same, just in case.  One of the few times I’d go by the better to be safe than sorry edict.”

From downstairs, the sound of a door opening and closing echoed in the cabin.

“See?” Spike said, buttoning his jeans.  “She put herself to bed.  You’re all sort---.”  He turned to see the Slayer disappearing down the ladder.  “What’re you doin?”

“She’s not in the bedroom,” she replied.  He looked over the railing in time to see Buffy grab her shoes.  “She went outside.”

She wasn’t even bothering with a coat, and Spike swore under his breath when she followed the toddler out into the still-dark night, hopping on a single foot as she struggled to her shoes on at the same time.  “Stupid bint’s never goin’ to learn,” he muttered, leaping down to follow her.

On the porch stairs, Buffy stood in the inky blackness, already shivering from the cold, her head whipping back and forth as she scanned the murk of the forest in front of them for any sign of Holly.

“Were you born in a barn?” Spike complained as he hopped down to her side.  “I’ve got to be the only one who bothers to close that damn door.”

“Where is she?”  She gestured wildly to the tramped snow at their feet.  “I can’t even tell which footprints are hers, and how exactly did she get out of my sight so fast?”

Spike sighed.  “Go back in,” he said, trudging down the remaining stairs.  “I’ll find her before she wanders off into more trouble.”

“And how exactly are you going to do that?”

He turned now-golden eyes to face the Slayer, and smiled around his fangs.  “Same way I always found you.”

He didn’t wait for her reply, just whirled and went off in the direction of the tiny heartbeat he could hear under the humming music of the pre-dawn forest.  Lucky for him, he found the girl before his brain could work too hard on the implications of how quickly he’d jumped to the rescue---just covering my ass so Buffy doesn’t get sick again, no more nursemaid for me---and Spike deliberately slowed his heavy pace as he approached.

“Anyone ever tell you, you’re more trouble than you’re worth?” he crooned, in a dulcet pitch that contradicted the menace behind the words.  Past experience told him it didn’t matter what he said to her; all she’d respond to was the tone of his voice, and not even remember any of it in the morning.

She was circling one of the trees, tiny fingers trailing along the bark, and he could hear the nonsense rhymes she spoke as each phrase added to the cold fog surrounding her head.   Her teeth were audibly chattering, but other than that, Holly seemed oblivious to the cold.

“Might be better to tie you to the bed at night,” Spike said as he cautiously narrowed the gap.  “Don’t really fancy you doin’ any more runners that interrupt things between me and Buffy when they’re just gettin’ good.”  He brightened.  “Better yet, we can put you in the bathtub.  Maybe then she’ll see how heartless it was chaining me up so.”

He was in front of her then, forcing her to halt her circuit, and he waited as she tilted her head back to look at him.  “Is she coming?” Holly asked simply, her face solemn.

Spike frowned.  “Is who comin’?”

“I didn’t do it.  Honest.”

He’d forgotten his own rules.  She was talking gibberish and for a split second, he’d treated it like a real conversation.  “C’mon, moptop,” he said, crouching to meet her eyes.  “Time to get back to bed.”

She came to him without hesitation, burrowing her face into his neck with a simple trust that made him hitch awkwardly as he straightened.  Having only slipped on his jeans before leaving, Spike suddenly regretted not having a shirt or his jacket to slip around her shivering frame, but shoved the thought to the side as he hastened back to the house.  Just doin’ my job, he thought resolutely.  I’m just…doin’ my job.

He didn’t say a word, not even when he passed Holly over to a waiting Buffy in the doorway.  Only when the Slayer glanced curiously back at him once he’d closed the door behind him did he speak.

“What?”

Being careful not to jostle the now-sleeping child on her hip, Buffy gestured abstractly toward his face.  “She didn’t freak out?”

His fingers lifted to touch the ridges that were still on his brow.  “Huh,” Spike said as his vampire mask slipped away.  “Guess it doesn’t bother her.”

There was an awkward pause.  Holly’s early morning sojourn had definitely put a crimp in their loft badinage, and though he was eager to pick up on the compromise she seemed willing to discuss now, Spike could see the Slayer swaying on her feet, exhaustion draining the adrenaline that had fuelled her thus far.

“You need to sleep,” he said quietly.

“Yeah,” she agreed, stifling her responsive yawn.

“Probably best if you two bunk together ‘til we figure out how we’re goin’ to stop her from doin’ another walkabout.”

She just nodded, not even protesting when he nudged her in the direction of the couch.  Yawning again, Buffy stretched out on it, laying a sleeping Holly against her side.  Her eyes flickered to his when he grabbed her blanket and covered them with it, but she remained silent, even when he added his duster over the top.

He was halfway to the ladder, silently cursing whisky-bribing ghosts and tiny children who unnerved him by not being frightened when they should be, before he risked a glance back at the couch.

Buffy was fast asleep, her cheek nuzzling the soft leather of his coat, her arms tight around the girl.

If he wasn’t so tired himself, he almost would’ve thought she was smiling.

 

To be continued in Chapter 17: Please Put a Penny in the Old Man’s Hat