DISCLAIMER: The characters are
Joss’, of course.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Spike rescued a sleepwalking Holly while an unconscious Joyce has shown up at Maria’s house…
The holidays hadn’t transpired in any fashion similar to what he’d envisioned. His imagination had conceived a quiet day spent in his flat, a small meal of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding to remind him of days past in England, with Buffy and any of the others popping around to wish him a “Merry Christmas.” He would’ve indulged in some of the Ardbeg he saved for special occasions, and he most likely would’ve been good-natured---or drunk---enough to allow Spike a taste as they settled down to enjoy some good music and barely tolerable company. The vamp would’ve probably insisted on putting some inane program on the telly, but Giles would’ve conceded that one point, reminiscences of a youth listening to the Queen’s speech on Christmas afternoon invoking the remainder of his holiday spirit.
Instead, Giles had spent Boxing Day with Silas and Paul, poring over translations that made their hostess look like Mother Teresa, his dwindling hope that Buffy was still safe somewhere consuming his thoughts to the point of distraction. Even Silas, who’d been reluctant to question any of Rupert’s actions since their physical confrontation a few days previous, had voiced his concern, and Giles had snapped at him with the thinning patience of a man near the end of his tether.
He didn’t want to believe that his instincts had been incorrect about Maria. She’d threatened him, for God’s sake. What woman would do so, with as much aplomb as she’d exhibited, without having a cruel streak within her, capable of acts more selfish than saving the world? He could buy that she was worried about her daughter, but the evidence of her actions countered the evidence of the texts, and the contradiction was dizzying.
That was why he found himself wandering the halls of the manor long past the hour everyone else had retired. He’d debated going to Maria and engaging her in conversation, hoping that she would do or say something that would help to shed light on his current conundrum. But the prospect of another confrontation had left Giles weary, and instead he aimed for the kitchen, the one room that had been declared completely accessible without undue question.
He was surprised to find the light on, and the cook hovering over a steaming kettle. She looked up when he entered, nodding in acknowledgement, but quickly returned to whatever she was preparing, placing a pair of cups and tea accoutrements on a waiting tray.
“I don’t suppose there’s enough for a third,” Giles said with a half-smile.
“Should be,” came the response. “I just have to get this to the mistress, if you don’t mind waiting.”
He nodded. “I hadn’t expected she’d be entertaining at such a late hour,” he commented. “Silas and Paul were both asleep, last I checked.”
“You didn’t hear the flap?” At his denial, she added, “There was a woman found out front with a dead body. The mistress had her brought in, to find out what happened to her.”
Giles’ heart sped up in his chest. It was too farfetched to consider that it could be Buffy; he sincerely doubted that Maria would be so casual about inviting the Slayer into her home. Still, Buffy had a habit of leaving dead bodies in her wake. With as many other fantastic turns of event that had occurred over the past week, it was certainly within the realm of possibility that she might appear on the doorstep.
“Is she all right?” he asked carefully. “I assume because Maria hasn’t called for an ambulance---.”
“Out cold when she was brought in,” the cook interrupted. She was warming up to the idea of gossip. “She came to soon enough, but she complained of a headache and asked for tea.” She shook her head. “Don’t know what a woman her age is doing out in the middle of nowhere this time of night, though. At least the mistress understands her limitations. And the thing she was found with? The gardens are going to reek for a week. It’s just not natural for things like that to exist.”
Not Buffy then, Giles realized as he hung back. Which was a shame, because he would’ve rather enjoyed seeing his Slayer have a word or two with Maria. The only one who would be more enjoyable to watch tell Maria off was---.
The kitchen door clicked behind the cook as she left the room, leaving Giles lost in a newfound hope.
It couldn’t be.
But Maria had already told him about the possibility. He’d just assumed that she’d follow through on her threat from a distance. He’d never imagined that she’d bring Joyce Summers into her direct influence.
He was going to have to find out for himself once morning came around. If Joyce was here, she needed to know about what was going on.
Holly had curled into a tight ball beneath his duster, her eyes shut tight in sleep, by the time the pair returned to the cabin. The sound of the shower filtered from behind the closed bathroom door, but Spike only gave it a cursory glance before heading straight for the fireplace. The child was chilled to the bone; he needed to get her warmed up before her exposure began to have any more ill effects than it already had. This was one of those times he hated the fact that he couldn’t generate his own body heat.
Spike’s hands worked expertly over her exposed limbs, massaging with gentle power until the temperature of the fire began to seep into her languid muscles. Though he hadn’t been affected by the cold, a shivering had started deep within his gut long before he got back to the cabin, and now, with Holly’s pallor a too-loud testimony to his failure to protect her, it was threatening to overwhelm him.
It wasn’t until he’d been caught with the barrier between them that the depth of Spike’s fear had struck him. Being unable to truly help Buffy had shaken his sense of power; he held little doubt that his efforts were just a minor contribution to her recovery. But with Holly…having the child look up to him, being important to someone who believed unequivocally in him…it was only when he thought he might lose that, that Spike realized just how desperately he needed it.
So, his words for the duration of the flight back to the cabin had been all the same theme.
“Promise you, pidge,” he’d said. “No more need for you to be afraid, not with Spike on the watch. Promise with everything that I am, or was, or will be. I’m not goin’ to fail you again.”
Not having to face Buffy right away was almost a relief. There had been a moment out in the forest that he could’ve sworn he smelled her, but that had been dispelled when he walked in and heard her in the shower. He hadn’t actually expected her to listen to his request, but knowing that she had, knowing that she’d trusted in his judgment as well, almost made him buckle. He couldn’t have her knowing how he’d come so close to losing the little girl; how much ground would he lose if Buffy were to find out just what a royal screw-up he actually was?
His hands were still shaking when he heard the bathroom door open behind him, the steam curling in slippery fingers out into the main room. Hiding the tremors with the task of tucking Holly into the place on the couch they’d vacated earlier, Spike felt Buffy approach, her warm hand settling momentarily on his shoulder before stretching past to touch the child’s forehead.
“How is she?” she asked softly.
“Got a bit chilled,” he replied, just as quietly. “But she seems to be sorted.”
He glanced back at her, a small frown drawing his brows together. “I just fetched her in from the cold,” Spike said. “What would be wrong with me?”
Buffy shrugged, but there was a seriousness to her gaze as she bent to meet his eyes. Her wet hair stuck to her cheeks, proof to her haste to get out of the shower and meet him, and she smelled like heaven, soap and skin and Slayer mingling to divert him from his worries. For the first time, he noticed that she wore only a towel, beads of water still clinging to her bare shoulders, and his mouth watered at the sight. The instinct to drop his attention from Holly and pour out his frustrations into Buffy’s flesh was overwhelming, but he stifled it by breaking from the Slayer’s stare.
“You were just gone a long time,” she said. “I…I didn’t know if you might’ve met up with some kind of nasty out there.”
“No need to worry about me. I can take care of myself.” He had to bite his cheek not to comment on how he was the only one he seemed able to do that for these days.
She moved away at that, seemingly taking him at his word, and Spike felt an instant pang at the loss of her body heat against his back. “I think I’m hungry,” Buffy said. “Do you want me to heat you up some blood?”
“God, yes,” Spike muttered. An even better idea spurred him to his feet, and he was reaching over her head before she could even open the refrigerator. “Think a shot of something stronger might be in order, too.”
He didn’t even bother with a glass. Opening the Jack Daniels, Spike brought the bottle up to his mouth and gulped down a long swig, feeling the borrowed heat sear his throat, coating his lungs in fire before settling to a familiar burn in his stomach. The only thing it didn’t do was chase away the ache of failure that still clutched at his heart; all the alcohol could do for that was make him forget about it for a few precious minutes.
He was downing his second swallow when Buffy’s voice startled him.
“Do you ever think about biting me any more?”
His head snapped around, and he saw her gazing down at the blood she was pouring into the saucepan. “Where the hell did that come from?” Spike demanded.
“Does that mean you do?”“That means, where the hell did that come from?”
Her skin was pinking from the heat of the burner, her eyes unable to meet his. “I’m getting your food ready, I’m in a thinking kind of mood. It’s not really the Grand Canyon of leaps, you know.”
He didn’t need another of her mistrust tirades right then. Granted, it had been a few days since he’d been on the wrong side of one of Buffy’s speeches, but with his ego as fragile as it currently was, the last thing Spike needed was to be cut even lower.
“Thanks ever so,” he growled, his hand curling protectively around the Jack bottle as he slumped into one of the kitchen chairs.
It was snatched away from him before he could take another drink. “Will you stop being the drama queen for two seconds and actually remember that we’re on the same side now?” Buffy snapped. She set the whisky on the counter, beyond his reach. When she turned back to face him, her eyes were sparking, but what could’ve prompted her reaction, Spike had no idea.
“It was a genuine question,” she continued. “Complete with question mark and snideness lackage. How many times are we going to have the I actually trust you argument before you start believing me?”
“Shouldn’t,” he shot back.
“Trust me. I’ll only fuck you over, too.”
“What? You haven’t---.” Her head jerked to where Holly was still wrapped up in front of the fireplace, and she sighed. “It’s not your fault she went sleepwalking,” Buffy said, her voice calmer.
“No, it’s my fault she got out in the first place.”
“You brought her back, safe and sound.”
He stayed silent. If he spoke, he’d have to lie to hide just how close he’d come to losing Holly, and, given his current state of mind, Spike was fairly sure Buffy would rip through his façade like tissue paper. Instead, he jerked his chin to the stove. “Blood’s burning.”
With a muffled curse, Buffy turned away, grabbing the panhandle and then almost yelping as the sudden heat seared into her palm. To her credit, she didn’t flinch as she moved it off the burner, gritting her teeth in silent determination, but the instant it was free from her grasp, she was running for the sink, turning on the tap to let the cool water flow over her skin.
“You’re infuriating, you know that?” she queried. She didn’t bother looking back; Spike had a sneaking suspicion she wouldn’t have been so blunt with him if she had to look at him to say it. “You spend so much time convincing me to give you the benefit of the doubt, even getting me to go all lovey heart which is so not my style, and then you turn around and pull out all these crap insecurities and you expect me not to react? Do you do it to deliberately piss me off? Because inquiring minds are dying to know here.”
“I’m not done.” Grabbing a dish towel, she deftly wrapped it around her hand, busying herself with the minutiae of tending to her wound instead of meeting his gaze. “You honestly think I forget for a second that you’re not a vampire? Open your eyes, Spike. I’m reminded every single time you touch me, and considering how much touchy-feely has been going on here the past few days, that’s pretty much all the time.”
Now, she looked up. Spike could see the anger brightening the green, the tight lines at the corners of her mouth as she held her temper in check. But he could also see the hurt buried within her aspect, masked by the pride she wouldn’t let slip, not even for him, and felt shame swell up inside his gut.
“I asked you the biting question because I’m amazed that you’ve gone to the lengths you have for Holly and for me, especially knowing what you are. I know you hate having the chip, but I also know it’s the only reason I’ve had the chance to get to really see you because without it, you would’ve tried killing me the first chance you got. Hell, without it, you wouldn’t even be here. So, tell me. Where do you get off telling me who I can and can’t trust? You want me to love you, but the second I think I could---.”
“What was that?” He had to have misheard her. It was completely impossible for Buffy to have just admitted what she did. Just in case, though, he rose to his feet and closed the distance between them. No chance of his ears not working right if he was standing right in front of her.
Her cheeks went white, her eyes wide. “What was what?” she backpeddled.
Spike’s head tilted, all thought of his fears regarding Holly and the potential of hurting Buffy scattering in the face of her almost admission. “Never said anything about lovin’, pet. All I ever asked for was a little respect, maybe a spot of honesty. So what’s this about thinkin’ you can love me?”
“It’s nothing---,” she started, but when she tried to push past him, Spike’s arm shot up to block her way.
“If it was nothin’, you wouldn’t be so quick to rabbit off.”
“And if it was anything, don’t you think I’d tell you?”
“No, I think you’d be doin’ exactly what you are.” Keeping her path barred, Spike lifted his other hand to cup the side of her face, holding her firm when she tried to pull away. “Should apologize to you for bein’ such a sourpuss,” he said softly. His thumb stroked the delicate line of her cheek, the guilt at the fact that she’d been trying so hard to talk to him and he’d refused to accept her at face value spurring him to continue. “Just…still a bit keyed about the little one. She almost---.”
“Ssshhh.” She silenced him with slim fingers rising to his mouth, and his lips automatically parted to allow him to taste them. “You don’t have to explain anything. I know you’ve been through a lot the past couple days. If that doesn’t give you a reason to be cranky, then I’m not sure what does.”
She meant it. Spike could see it on her face, in the possessive lean of her body. He’d been so wrapped up in his own feelings that he hadn’t seen just how strong hers were, too. And while he was dying to push the envelope on her aborted confession, he also knew that doing so would probably just push her further away. Right now, that was the last thing he wanted.
So, he gave her what she wanted.
“Your answer’s yes,” Spike murmured, his eyes downcast with the confession. “I think about what you’d taste like more often than’d probably make you comfortable. Not to kill you, mind you. Not even to hurt. Don’t think I could bear that any more anyway. But…biting and drinking is more than the kill, pet. It’s about a connection. Don’t expect you’d know anything about that, though.”
“I know a little.” Though he didn’t see her face, he saw her fingers rise to ghost over the scar on her neck, and he grimaced at the thought of Angel’s mouth pressed to that tender spot. The Master had had his taste, too, but Spike doubted she felt anything remotely romantic in regard to that little nibble. And the blazing flare of jealousy that sprang to his heart at the thought of having to relinquish such a pivotal part of Buffy’s history to the Grand Poofah made him want to tear into her even more.
“That first night was hell,” he admitted. “You were bleedin’ all over the place, and I couldn’t shake the smell of you.”
“But you didn’t even try anything.” She said it almost as if she still found it impossible to believe. “Even then---.”
“Don’t be turnin’ it into anything noble. That was all about savin’ my own hide. I knew you’d stake me if I so much as blinked at you wrong, and when it comes to gettin’ through a rough patch, you’re pretty much ace. I was just pitchin’ my tent in the winning camp.”
“And saving Holly? Don’t try telling me that’s anything close to self-centered.”
He gnawed at his cheek, wondering how he could phrase it without giving too much away. “Made her a promise,” Spike finally said. “I don’t have much, so I’ve got this sick need to make my word worth gold. Thought you might’ve sussed that out by now.”
Buffy’s lips quirked. “Gold, huh? That’s why you came back to Sunnydale after promising me you’d stay away?”
She was teasing him, a faint good-heartedness meant to draw the sting from their earlier squabble. Spike took the olive branch, shoving aside the emotional drain that had been his evening, and lifted his eyes to meet hers.
“Like you could bear not havin’ my manly self around to keep you distracted,” he taunted.
Buffy’s gaze flickered over his shoulder. “Do you think Holly’s out for the night?” she asked.
“Doesn’t matter,” he replied. “I’m not sleeping any time soon to miss her goin’ out and about again.”
He sighed in pleasure when her fingers began running along the upper edge of his waistband, the tip of her index disappearing beneath his tee to etch a thin, fiery trail across his navel. “You should probably warm up,” she said, and her voice was thick with emotion. “We’ve had enough sickies around here not to be adding you to the list.”
Spike’s eyes drifted shut when Buffy stretched to run her tongue along the side of his neck. “Don’t get sick,” he rumbled, and groaned when her blunt teeth bit into his jugular. Sliding his hands beneath her towel, he cupped her ass to yank her forward, eliciting a small squeak from her throat when he did so. “Can prove to you just how not sick I am.”
When her arms slid around his neck, giving him the control he hadn’t asked for but so desperately wanted, Spike buried his face into her shoulder, his mouth and tongue thanking her with an adulation that brought goosebumps to her exposed skin. Memories of the lake still hovered on the periphery of his awareness, but every second that Buffy forced him to remember her trust in him dimmed its vividness, driving him to replace his dissatisfaction with the deepening roots of his feelings for her.
She was making it far too easy to love her.
And if she could come that close to admitting it, then, damn it, so could he.
To be continued in Chapter 37: Love Came Down at Christmas…