DISCLAIMER: Everything but the plot is Joss'. Too bad.
SUMMARY: Spike and a sick Buffy have been kidnapped from the crypt after a confrontation with the Hound.
Dust swirled around the truck's tires as it lumbered along the drive, jostling its occupants, startling a rabbit to bound off into the rising sun. It was already promising to be a brilliant day, but the woman in the passenger seat looked anything but pleased. Her heavy brows shadowed her dull eyes, and her fingers twisted endlessly in her lap.
Would he be angry with her? Her duty had been to catch the Slayer and bring her to him, unharmed. There had been no arrangement for her to use his men for her own gains, and no approval for accommodating her vampire within the ranch. And the Slayer, well...
She sighed, rubbing her exhausted eyes. One touch on the young girl's head and she knew...magic, a potion most likely...executed by novices...no consideration for the power of the spirits it was conjuring. Even now, the Slayer lay in the back, fevered as her body attempted to attack the remnants of the spirits that inhabited it, incoherent when she was awake, deathly still when she wasn't. Taking her had required virtually no effort; the witch had been the only obstacle, and she'd been knocked out with very little force. It had almost been too easy.
As they approached the house, she could see him waiting for their arrival on the front porch, his arms folded across his chest. When she'd teleported the Hound out of the alley the previous evening, she'd told him the time had come, and still remembered the smile of satisfaction that had contorted his too-full lips.
"I knew hiring you was wise," he'd said as he'd patted her shoulder and disappeared back into the house.
The knowledge that he only saw her as another employee, albeit a very powerful one, twisted the knife in her stomach even further. And now with the hunt over, he'd have no further use for her talents. He would soon be sending her away...
The truck jolted to a halt at the bottom of the wooden stairs, and she was out of the cab before her employer had even started coming off the porch. Straightening to her full six feet, she pulled at her skirts, wishing she didn't look quite so frumpy and wrinkled.
"Celandia, you look drained," he commented absentmindedly. Impeccably dressed in his tailored whites, she found herself slightly annoyed to see him already wearing his signature sunglasses, even though the sun was barely up. "Perhaps you should just go ahead and retire to your room."
"Oh, no, Daymon," she argued. "After all the work I've done, I wouldn't miss this part." And I have to somehow explain our extra passenger, she added silently.
Following him around to the rear of the truck, she hung back as the driver undid the padlock and swung the doors open. The other men quickly disembarked, revealing the blond vampire hunched in front of the bench that hugged the back of the cab. As Celie expected, Daymon turned to her and asked, "Who is this man and why is he bound like that?"
"The Slayer was with him, staying with him it appeared---."
Daymon motioned toward one of the crew. "Take off his gag. We're not barbarians."
She jumped forward. "We didn't want him to yell for help."
"Of course, of course," her employer said dismissively.
They watched as the man ripped off the tape from Spike's face, causing him to roar out in pain. "Bloody fuckin' hell!" He blinked against the light, glaring at the two standing outside the truck.
"Colorful, isn't he?" Daymon murmured. His cultured voice indicated humor, but with his sunglasses, his true feelings were hidden from those around him. "I still don't understand why you didn't just leave him there. What am I supposed to do with him now?"
"He's a vampire, sir," offered one of the men.
"He'll burn in the sun," said another.
"A vampire? Oh, how common," said Daymon, grimacing.
From inside the truck, Spike snorted. "I'll give you common, mate," he said, rattling the chains that bound him.
"Whatever possessed you to bring back a vampire, Celandia?" he asked, turning to the dark-haired woman.
Before she could respond, however, the blond vampire was speaking again. "Look, I hate to interrupt your little tea party, but Slayer's not doing so hot in here. Maybe if we could---."
"I told you the Slayer was not to be harmed!" Celie flinched at her employer's furious onslaught and watched as he jumped into the back of the truck himself.
Ignoring the vampire, Daymon stepped toward Buffy's prone form on the bench. Her hair hung limply over the edge, her breathing shallow, the rise and fall of her chest a ragged tune audible even to Celie outside. Spike could only watch as the foreigner crouched beside her, his broad features softening, and reached forward to stroke her forehead, wiping the dampness from her brow. "I didn't expect..." he murmured. "So...lovely..."
"She needs to be in a proper bed, with some proper---."
"Yes, yes, of course." He almost seemed hypnotized as he sat and stared at Buffy. "I have a room made up and ready for her..." Turning to face Spike, he asked, "You are her friend? You were...caring for her?"
"Yes." His response was automatic, more fervent than he intended, but it seemed to satisfy the other man. As Spike watched, Daymon crawled out of the truck, taking care to brush the dust from his trousers as he emerged into the sunlight.
"Have them both taken up to the Slayer's room," he said. "Your containment spell will work for two, won't it?"
Celie felt the hot flush creep into her cheeks. "Yes, but you can't be serious! He's a vampire! How can you trust him?"
"You're a witch and I trust you."
"How dare you equate me with that---that---monster!"
Daymon laid a strong hand on her shoulder. "Now, Celandia, you know I don't. But you said yourself, the Slayer was staying with him, am I right?"
"And I'm sure Mr...." His voice trailed off as he looked quizzically back at the blond vampire.
"...Mr. Spike understands that if something happens to the Slayer, he'll find himself blowing with the tumbleweeds, am I not right, Mr. Spike?"
His head down, Spike stared at his captors through his lashes, his tongue running along the inside of his teeth. "Right," he finally drawled.
The down pillow under her cheek was the first thing she became aware of as she fluttered back awake. Soft...so soft...She tried to swallow but her throat was sandpaper, coarse and ever so dry...A cool hand pushed her hair off her forehead, and her eyelids flickered open. "Spike...?"
"Right here, luv," he murmured. His face was a sea of white in front of her, but the concern in his blue eyes was unmistakable. "Don't speak." She blinked, trying to focus on him, and felt the catch in her throat when he disappeared from view.
As she struggled to rise, the ice of his hands returned, pressing her shoulders back into the bed. "Stay still," he ordered. One hand slid behind her neck, a frosty relief amidst the blaze that seemed to be enveloping her, while the other reached across her to the nightstand. It returned with a tall glass of water, and she looked up at him gratefully as she gulped at the refreshment.
"This isn't...the crypt," she murmured as she settled back into the pillows.
"No." Spike didn't want to tell her about their capture just yet; better to wait until the fever was gone, when she was feeling more like herself again. "You shouldn't be wastin' your energy. You need to rest, fight the fever."
A weary Buffy shook her head. "Tired of sleeping. Can't I just...take some aspirin or something?"
"Not that kind of fever, Slayer." What had that witch said? "Drugs don't work on spiritual battles. You need to fight this one naturally."
"But..." Her voice faltered as the waves of fatigue washed over her. "...it's not getting any better, is it?"
How could he lie to her? "...No."
Closing her eyes, Buffy tried focusing on the sensations flooding her body. It had been a long time since she'd been this ill; she still cherished the memories of her mother hovering over her with that extra blanket...the steaming cup of soup...a gentle touch on her cheek...
"Bath..." she murmured.
Frowning, Spike leaned forward, his azure gaze intent on her flushed face. "What was that?"
"A cold bath," she repeated, a little louder although the exertion seemed overwhelming. "To...break...the fever..."
It was actually a good idea. Although it had been years since Spike had had to worry about physical illness, he remembered the old-fashioned remedy as having been effective a good part of the time, especially before the advent of modern pharmacology. "Smart thinkin', Slayer," he commented, rising to get it ready for her.
"Can you get...Willow, please?" she asked, laboring to sit up. "I don't think...I can do this...on my own."
"Ummmm..." He stopped, his back to Buffy. Aye, there's the rub, William, he thought, as he pursed his mouth, sucking at his teeth. Out loud, he said, "Red's not around. I'm afraid you've just got ol' Spike to lean on."
"Oh." He didn't want to turn and see the disappointment in her hazel eyes, but fighting the pull of her gaze was more than he could resist, and he glanced over his shoulder. She was watching him, and even from that distance, he could see the thoughts flitting across her mind's eye. "Do you...mind?" she finally asked.
His shoulder dropped, forcing him to half-turn back to face her. In the thrall of the fever, everything about her seemed brighter, the shine of her skin evidence to the potion's lingering power. This was the most lucid she'd been since her initial collapse, yet here she was requesting his aid in...what? What was she expecting? "How much...do you want me to help with?" he finally queried.
This time she ducked his blue gaze. The added color in her cheeks came from a different source, and she was mildly ashamed at her embarrassment. "I'm...not feeling very...Slayerish," she admitted. "I don't think I've strength to get to the tub, so you'd have to...carry me..." Her voice trickled away. Her rational thought told her that the cold bath was her best solution at this point in trying to break her fever, but the memories of her dream and her previous behavior made her wonder if she wasn't really asking for something else.
"Whatever you want," he replied thickly, and turned away before she could see him swallow the lump that had suddenly formed in his throat. "Let me just...get the water going..." Once out of her sight, though, he stopped, ducking and shaking his head. She didn't ask you to bloody join her, he scolded himself. Just get it going, carry her in, and stop thinking with your dick.
By the time he returned to the bedroom, Buffy had managed to push the heavy comforter off her thin form and was struggling to swing her legs over the edge of the mattress. In three long strides, he was at her side, his arms under her knees, her shoulders...and there she was, cradled in the curve of his neck. Spike felt the muscles in his cheek twitch as her soft breath fanned across his skin, and the tightening of his jeans made him all too aware of what touching the Slayer did to his senses. C'mon, Spike. Get a grip.
He had discovered that, for being essentially a jail cell, the accommodations were actually quite luxurious. The bathroom especially boasted an oversized claw-footed tub that now lay waiting for Buffy, filled just inches from its brim with chilled water. Gently, Spike leaned over, setting her down on its rolled lip. She seemed deceptively frail against the massive piece of porcelain, and he had to turn away as yet another wave of desire swept over him.
"I'll just be in the bedroom if you need anything, Slayer," he said, his hand already on the knob to pull the door shut behind him. "No more than ten minutes, though---."
"I...can't do this...myself." Her voice was quavering, but whether it was from the fever or discomfort, he couldn't tell. He waited, unsure what to do. "Stay...please?"
Spike stuffed his hands into his jeans, desperate to hide the tremor that suddenly shook them. He'd been waiting a long time to hear those words, even if when this was all over, she wouldn't remember them. Though she seemed rational enough, he knew how illness could play tricks with your head; years of nursing Dru had certainly taught him that. But how could he possibly turn Buffy down?
Swallowing hard, he took the few steps across the ceramic tile with deliberate slowness, giving her ample opportunity to change her mind. She watched him as he pulled his hands from his pockets, reached forward to pull her to her feet, grabbing her hip to steady her as the room tilted drunkenly beneath her. Even as his free hand reached behind her, catching the drawstring of her tank top, pulling it free from its knot, she kept her hazel eyes locked with his, silently assuring him that it was OK.
It was only when the delicate fabric of her top fell to the floor, exposing the pale curves of her breasts, the dusty rose of her hardened nipples, did Spike make a sound. The sharp intake of breath echoed against the tiled walls, and he would've blushed at his own obviousness if there'd been any blood circulating in his system. Instead, he averted his eyes as his fingers slid down to the waistband of her jeans...undid the button...felt the sharp angle of her pelvis jut out from the curve of her hip. The denim fell to the floor, followed quickly by the satin of her underwear as Buffy gently pushed his hands away to remove them herself.
"Thank you," she murmured, and Spike felt her heat edge away from him, slide noiselessly into the water.
"Remember, ten minutes." He wanted to walk away, but his feet were stone, rooted in the cement of his desire, and he stood there listening to the cool water splash over her skin.
"Spike, I can't...the sponge..." Even as the words tumbled from her mouth, Buffy couldn't bring herself to make the request out loud. Vulnerability was not her strong suit, even when she knew it was necessary.
This is for Buffy, this is for Buffy, he intoned silently as he reached toward the shelf she couldn't reach. It wasn't until he'd knelt at the tub's side did he have the nerve to look at her full on.
Her eyes were closed, her lashes dark against her pale skin, and he could see her heartbeat pulsing in the hollow of her neck. The same throb was visible in her left breast, and his gaze crept lower, over the white velvet of her stomach...down to her golden curls swaying under the surface of the water...muscled thighs leading down to the gentle arc of her calves...all the way to the pale pink polish on her pedicured toes.
The sponge was a cloud between his fingers as it hovered over the water, hesitant to shatter the crystalline surface. Buffy was making no move to take it from him; although he was unsure of her reasons, he knew she was waiting for him to make the first move.
He didn't even notice the chill as he soaked the sponge in the bath, dragging it along the length of her arm in an extended caress. So slender, so succulent, completely belying the strength hidden within its depths. Under his gaze, the goose bumps sprang to the surface of her skin, and he echoed the sweep down the opposite limb. So engrossed was he in his ministrations, he almost didn't hear Buffy when she finally spoke.
"Are you still pissed at me, Spike?"
The question caught him unawares, breaking his reverie, clouding his blue eyes, jerking his attention back to her face. She still lay in repose, eyelids shuttered from him, no lines creasing her brow. "You're referring to a perpetual state, Slayer," he said, trying his best to keep it light. "When aren't you pissin' me off?"
"I'm serious." Her eyes opened, and her hazel gaze was steady. Spike was struck by the incongruity of it all, Buffy stretched out nude in the tub before him, his raging hard-on at the potential doing its best to distract him from her solemn tone. "Sometimes, I get so wrapped up in the whole 'Chosen One', Slayer package crap, that I forget about the why of the whole thing. I mean, I didn't even understand about Riley until it was too late."
Unconsciously, his fingers tightened on the sponge at the mention of her ex's name. "If you're comparin' Big Bad with Captain Cardboard, I really will be pissed."
"No, just that...bitchy Buffy isn't really me, and I think...I forget that sometimes." A wet hand emerged from the water to lightly grasp Spike's. He froze, wondering what would come next. "I don't hate you, you know. You annoy the hell out of me most of the time, but that's not the same thing, I don't think."
"Buffy, I..." He knew this was his opportunity, his chance to finally say the words out loud that had been plaguing his dreams for months now, but they choked in his throat. Dropping the sponge into the tub, he stood and turned his platinum head away. He reached for a towel and said, "I think time's up."
He could hear her teeth starting to chatter as she rose from the water, and passed the towel back. With the mirror just before him, it would only take a glance, a blink really, to catch one more look at those glorious curves, but he stayed the reflex. The memories of the bath alone would feed his fantasies for a long time to come; one more look wouldn't...
"'C-c-course, being sick while I t-t-tell you this has an advantage," Buffy was saying. "I g-g-get carte blanche to say I d-d-don't remember anything."
Unbidden, the smile came to his lips and, when his gaze slid to her reflection anyway, there was no mistaking the slight quirk of her mouth, the twinkle behind the too-bright eyes. Ducking her head, the Slayer wrapped the towel around her body, trying to hide the blush that swiftly rose to her skin.
Leaning over, Willow blew gently, extinguishing the last of the candles. Her head was still aching from her encounter the previous night, and attempting the locator spell again so soon had drained what little reserves she'd had left. A worried Tara hovered behind her, light hands stroking her hair, her familiar scent calming the redheaded witch's racing pulse.
"Please tell me you didn't ruin my map even further," Giles asked as he came back into the training room.
"Your map is fine." Straightening, Willow passed him the folded diagram, unable to meet his worried gaze.
"Well, when Xander and Anya get back from the crypt, we can take what they find and formulate a plan on getting Buffy and Spike back. You two don't mind missing classes today, do you?"
"Oh, no," reassured Tara. "But..." She glanced over at Willow, an exchange not missed by the Watcher.
"What is it?" he asked. "Didn't the spell work this time?"
"No, we're pretty sure the spell did what we asked it to," replied Willow. "But there's a reason why your map didn't go all poof."
His blue eyes narrowed, although he was fairly certain he knew what was coming next.
"Buffy and Spike aren't in Sunnydale anymore."
To be continued in Chapter Eight: Cleansing...