DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Giles is attempting to both find out what happened to Buffy and go along with Maria’s needs, while Buffy and Spike have shared a tumultuous kiss that ended with her storming off into the bedroom by herself…
The growling of her traitorous stomach was what finally drove Buffy to press her ear to the door. For too many hours, she’d waited it out inside the bedroom, ready to continue the fight with Spike if he chose to enter, vaguely disappointed when the door remained shut. There had been indistinguishable crashes and muffled swearing on the other side of it throughout the course of the evening, but about half an hour earlier, she’d heard the front door slam shut, trumpeting Spike’s exit for any and all to hear. Now, with the hour so near to midnight, she knew she had to eat something soon or deflate from hunger, and with the vampire out on some unknown call of nature, the present was as good a time as any.
Pulling the door open a tiny crack, Buffy peered into the front room, frowning at the veiled darkness it presented. Only the flickering orange shadows cast by the fireplace allowed her to see anything at all, and she opened the door wider in order to better scan the room’s interior.
What she saw made her jaw drop.
Sometime in the past six or so hours, and for some reason probably known only to the vamp and God himself, Spike had managed to not only rig the tree into a vertical position before the window, but he’d also taken it upon himself to adorn it with the decorations Buffy had made. Garlands of red laced through the branches like flowing veins, while clove-studded oranges hung from its tips, heavy and treacherous but seemingly secured in place. The swathes of green she’d lashed together rested across many of the available surfaces of the room---along the mantle, around the window and door frames---and Spike had even grown his own creative bone to add a flourish of berry sprays to the many otherwise bare fronds.
The only thing missing was the star she’d made, but Buffy spotted it resting on the table, just waiting to find its home atop the tree. Though still in the shape it was intended, the foil that had once been smooth was now wildly creased, as if at one point it had been balled up into a tiny, compact wad and then flattened out again. One of its points seemed to droop a bit, and, crossing to the table to pick it up, Buffy’s fingers played with straightening it out.
She had no idea why he’d done it. He’d been just as pissed as she when she made her exit, and this bordered on the realm of an apology, which Spike just didn’t do in her experience. Of course, Spike also didn’t go about saving his mortal enemy until now, either, she rationalized, and set the star back down thoughtfully.
She was curled up on the couch in front of the tree, a plate bereft of all but crumbs on the floor in front of her, watching the dwindling fire dance and crackle in the hearth, when the door was pushed open and Spike stepped in. His head was bent, his leather-clad shoulders white and wet from fallen snow, and he stopped on the threshold to bang his boots against the jamb. It was a full fifteen seconds of cold wind blowing into the cabin before he looked up and noticed her, and he hesitated to fully enter as their eyes met.
“It’s snowing again,” Buffy observed, as casually as she could muster.
He looked back at that, and started, as if realizing for the first time that the door was still open. “Like a bugger,” he agreed, closing it. Warily, Spike slid off his coat, shaking it free of the rest of the clinging snow. “Thought I’d check out the area. Make sure we didn’t have any unwelcome visitors.”
“It’s OK, Spike. You don’t have to check in with me.” She smiled. “It’s not like either one of us can get very far anyway.”
His head tilted in curiosity at her small joke. “Right,” he said quietly. He lifted his chin toward the dying fire. “You plannin’ on letting that go out or something? It’s a spot easier to keep a fire goin’ instead of havin’ to start with one from scratch again.”
“I guess I hadn’t realized it was so low. I was just…I must’ve lost track of the time or something.” It was an uneasy truce that seemed to have been called between them, one neither of them seemed completely comfortable with but one Buffy was afraid to rock for fear of the tension of their fight returning. She also noticed that neither one of them was bringing up the obvious topics of conversation---not the kiss, not the decorations---but knew that at least one of those would have to be addressed some time before they turned in for the night.
“You’ve got the survival instincts of a gnat, Slayer,” he said as he crossed to the fireplace.
Her mouth was open with a sharp retort at his gibe before the understanding that he was teasing her back sank in. “I think I’ve managed to do OK so far,” she replied with a grin.
She was rewarded with another of those curious tilts when he glanced back at her over his shoulder. For a long second, Spike gazed at her through hooded lashes before turning back to stab at the flames with the poker. “Didn’t know your meaning of OK included hurtin’ your wrist again,” he commented.
Looking down at the joint in question, Buffy frowned as she attempted to flex it. It was sore, and more than a little achy from her adventures with the tree, but it didn’t hurt nearly as much as it had before. “It’s fine,” she argued.
“It’s not. I can feel it pounding all the way over here.”
“It’s just a little uncomfortable. It’s not like I broke it again or anything.”
“If you’d kept up with the pine calisthenics much longer, you would’ve.”
So it was going to be the decorations that got discussed. Funny how she was actually a little disappointed that he’d picked the safer option.
“You didn’t seem to come off on the wrong side of getting it up,” Buffy said.
His shoulders tensed beneath his tee, but his gaze remained on the fire. “Yeah, well, knew you wouldn’t stop whingeing until it was,” Spike said. His tone was surprisingly neutral. “Bad enough bein’ stuck here with you. Don’t need to have you nattering on like an incredibly annoying bee in my ear just ‘cause you didn’t get your soddin’ Christmas tree along with it.”
“It’s our Christmas tree.”
That made him look up. “What?” he said, dark brows knit in consternation.
“You heard me. You’ve done most of the work with it, you know. Bringing it in, getting it up, putting the decorations on it. Sounds like a full opportunity treeshare to me.”
Silence. His eyes were unreadable, shadowed from the lack of light, and Buffy wished there was better illumination in the cabin so that she could more easily see what he was thinking.
“I don’t want it,” he finally said. “Didn’t ask for it, don’t want anything to do with it. It’s more bother than it’s worth, and I know you think I’m a dab hand at cocking things up, but this thing…this time, it’s not goin’ to be me.”
Her voice was a whisper when she spoke. “Are we still talking about the tree?”
When he didn’t reply, choosing instead to turn back and stoke the fire, Buffy knew that was the end of the discussion for Spike. He was willing to wave the white flag for the purposes of his own sanity for the next ten days, but more than that was too much work for him. It made sense, actually, because really, she didn’t want the kiss they’d shared going any further either. They didn’t actually like each other, plus there was the whole monster of a fact that Spike didn’t even have a soul.
Not that she could tell that, half the time. Not when he pulled stunts like the decorating.
“You forgot to put the star on,” she said when the silence began to swell into discomfort.
“Didn’t forget.” With the fire now raging, Spike stood and crossed to the kitchen, going to the refrigerator to pull out a blood bag. “Figured you’d want to do the honors, is all.”
It was clear he wasn’t going to speak to her unless he had to, and it made Buffy increasingly uncomfortable to just sit there listening to him heat up his blood. Taking her empty plate, she went and put it in the sink, rinsing it off before turning to face the table. The star still sat at its center, and she picked it up, casting Spike one last look before walking back to stand in front of the tree.
No way was she going to be able to put it up without some vertical assistance, so, setting the ornament down on the couch, Buffy went and retrieved one of the chairs, ignoring the sidelong glances Spike was shooting in her direction. Placing it next to the tree, she climbed up with the star in tow and situated it on the top.
“There,” she announced. She waited until he had turned to look at her. “Now, it’s officially a Christmas tree.”
“It’s crooked,” Spike said.
Buffy cocked her head to further examine the angle. “It looks fine to me.”
“That’s ‘cause you’re too close to it.” With long strides, he was at her side in seconds, his hand on hers as he tugged her off the chair and away from the tree. Taking her by the shoulders, he turned Buffy back to face the window. “Now look at it.”
Spike was right. What had seemed perfectly fine before, now could be seen as slightly askew, tilting just enough to mar the beauty of the work that had been done. She folded her arms across her chest, mildly annoyed that he’d seen it and not she.
“I like it that way,” she said stubbornly.
“No, you don’t,” he replied, not without a touch of humor. He took her place on the chair and fidgeted with the foil so that it aligned perfectly perpendicular with the ceiling. “How’s that?”
She didn’t want to reply, but… “It’s better,” Buffy said. It was a begrudging admission, and she knew even as it came out that it made her sound like a petulant child.
Spike shook his head as he climbed down. “You’d cut your nose off just to spite me, wouldn’t you, Slayer?” he said dryly, going back to his mug of blood cooling on the counter. “One of these days, you might find it interesting to try admitting you’re wrong about something or other. Could be a liberating experience for you.”
Unseen by him, Buffy rolled her eyes as she plopped back down on the couch. “Like you’re one to talk,” she muttered.
She pretended to ignore his footsteps as they clomped across the room, and, when he came to a stop in front of her, she deliberately kept her attention concentrated on the loose threads that seemed to be exploding from her socks. She would’ve even started whistling to continue the charade of not acknowledging his presence if he hadn’t suddenly dropped to a crouch and put himself directly in her line of sight.
“What is it you’re tryin’ to get me to say, Slayer?” he asked. His voice was low and dangerous, the muscles in his jaw twitching from the control he was exerting over them. “Because it seems to me, we’ve both done enough talkin’ for the day. I don’t particularly fancy goin’ another round of he said she said, and I don’t particularly fancy gettin’ blindsided again by that tongue of yours, so unless there’s something itching you so badly you just have to spit it out now, I suggest you leave me the hell alone.”
“Is that what you really want?” she shot back. “Because it doesn’t look like it from where I’m sitting.”
“Is what what I really want?”
“The Garbo act.”
“’Course it is. Why wouldn’t it be?”
“Then tell me why you did all this. Why go to the bother of the tree and decorating at all if you didn’t want any attention from it?”
“Already told you,” Spike said, and started to rise, only to be stopped by Buffy’s iron grip around his forearm.
“I want the real reason,” she said.
His lids dropped as he looked down at her hold on him, and Spike’s warning from earlier about pushing back began to peal inside Buffy’s head. “You don’t want to be doin’ that,” he said softly.
“Or what?” she challenged.
Lashes lifted to reveal the sparkling blue. “Or you just might find yourself gettin’ an earful of truth that would send you screaming for the hills, pet.”
“You think I can’t handle a little bit of honesty?”
Spike’s bark of laughter cut through the cabin. “Tell me when the last time you found yourself over the moon at hearing anything I had to say to you,” he said. “Face it. You prefer your little bubble of denial because it makes life easier for you. Black, white, and no pesky little shades of grey in between to muddy the waters. Not that there’s anything wrong with the tried and true black-and-white. Fuck knows I’ve had my own runaround with keeping the line straight.” He leaned in closer, his voice dropping to a husky murmur that made her fingers itch to do more than just hold his arm. “Thing is…you just can’t stand having someone turn the coin over on you, Slayer. You see white when something’s blacker than midnight, and it absolutely eats you up fightin’ what’s right before your eyes. So, it might be in your best interest to reconsider that request of yours. You ask for truth, you better be prepared to hear it.”
She so wanted to lash out at him, to slam her fist into his beautiful mouth and shut him the hell up. But she’d asked for this, and better yet, she knew how to turn the tables on his all-knowing smugness.
“That’s big talk coming from someone who didn’t want to hear what I had to say the last time we were in this room together,” Buffy said evenly. She forced herself to uncurl her fingers from his arm, waiting for him to back away.
“I heard you,” Spike said, and his nostrils flared in anger. “I heard you call me a charity case.”
“No, you heard me make a joke about the lecture Mom gave me before I agreed to vampsit you for Giles. For some reason, she seems to think that I wasn’t trying to understand what you’ve been going through, that maybe I owed you a little more respect for not buckling after everything that happened. Not once did I say I felt sorry for you, Spike. Hell, if there’s anyone I know who knows how to bounce back, it’s you. And if you dare tell anyone that I admitted that, I’ll personally pull your heart out through your nose. With tweezers.”
Her cheeks were flushed, her heart was pounding, but Buffy couldn’t tear her eyes away from the stormy confusion battling behind his. It was everything she’d been thinking about in the bedroom, stuff she’d been trying to tell him during their previous fight, and the fact that she’d actually managed to say it out loud astounded her. It dawned on her that this was something she’d been meaning to give to him, this declaration of respect, that she’d wanted him to know that his actions over the past few days hadn’t gone unnoticed. Whether it meant anything to him to hear it, though, was another matter.
“I wanted to see you smile again,” he said quietly.
In the way of non sequiturs, it took first prize. “What?”
Spike sighed, looking up and anywhere but into her eyes. “You asked why all the doodads and frippery. I thought…if I gave it to you…well, you’re a sight more pleasant to be around when you’re happy, Slayer. So, it was entirely selfish motivation on my part to try and get you to smiling again.”
“And the kiss?”
That brought his attention back. “What about it?”
“What was that all about?”
Even more pounding, aching, horrible silence.
If someone didn’t speak soon, Buffy was going to scream.
“It was just a kiss,” Spike finally mumbled. “Nothin’ special---.”
“Liar,” she said before she could stop herself.
He stared at her in disbelief, eyes narrowing as he tried to sort through her response in his head. She had no idea what he was going to do. She had no idea what she was doing, for that matter. Her head and her mouth seemed to be working on opposite teams at the moment, and her mouth---with the unwanted cheerleading support of every nerve ending in Buffy’s body that remembered what it had felt like to be touched by Spike, to be kissed by Spike, and was pulling out all its sis-boom-bah stops----was winning.
You couldn’t just let this go? she scolded herself. Spike had given her the perfect out for forgetting all about the incident, and she’d taken it from him and shredded it into itty bitty I’m-not-ready-to-sweep-this-one-under-the-rug pieces. Not only that, she’d thrown it back into his face with all the grace of a childhood dare.
And if there was anything she knew about Spike, it was that he could never resist a dare.
And, oh god, she really was the Queen of Incredibly Wrong and Bad Ideas, because she was about to make it even worse.
“We were both there, Spike. You can try telling yourself that it wasn’t anything, but…I saw you. I heard you. And…” She took a deep breath. “…it scared the shit out of me, because I don’t understand what the hell’s going on. What it is that’s happening…with…us. And I want you to tell me what it is, once and for all.”
Slowly, Spike shook his head. The skepticism of his aspect faded, to be replaced with the softer calculation she more closely associated with him, and Buffy found herself holding her breath as she waited.
“You never cease to surprise me, Summers,” he murmured. He stood and began pacing in front of the couch. “See, I had you pegged for bein’ the emotionally stunted type, with delusions of livin’ up to Romeo and bloody Juliet as the height of your precious little lovelife.” When her jaw dropped to snap at him, he pointed at her in reproval. “No sense in denying it. I was there for you and Peaches, remember? And I was there for the ‘we can just be friends’ bullshit.”
“I should’ve known you’d---.”
“Let me finish. You asked for my piece, so now you’re goin’ to get it.” Stopping, Spike looked down at her with a tilt of his head, eyes dark and sparkling. “The thing of it is…you’ve got this daft notion that I actually do know what’s happening. But guess what. The both of us are flying blind here, and it sure as fuck doesn’t make me happy because this…thing between us rates the top prize for unnatural selection in my book. Told you, like my evil, evil, and my do-gooders as dinner. Wondering how kissing you can taste like sunshine was never meant to be on the menu.”
In a way, his words were almost a relief. No wonder he was running scared. Spike had absolutely no clue as to why things were shifting like quicksand beneath their feet, and yet he was getting caught up in the whirlwind of how astonishing it felt just as much as Buffy was. Knowing this was one more thing that they shared, that she wasn’t alone in questioning what was going on inside her head, unexpectedly lifted an unseen weight from her shoulders.
“So what do we do?” she asked.
“Hell if I know,” he muttered, and began pacing around the room again.
“I’m not looking for any kind of relationship with you, Spike.”
He snorted. “Like I am?”
“I mean, yeah, we’re kind of on the same team for awhile here, and that’s OK. I’m OK with that. But more…” She was trying to visually follow his path, and finally sighed in exasperation. “Will you just stop for a second?”
The look he shot her was electric, but his feet never ceased, his steps deliberately heavier as he continued to march around the perimeter of the room.
Buffy jumped up and positioned herself in his path, forcing him to curtail his route. When he tried to step around her, she matched his movement and folded her arms across her chest to show him she could keep it up all night if he wanted.
“What?” Spike demanded.
“We have to figure this out, because it keeps happening and---.”
“Only kissed you the once, pet.” His eyes danced as they raked over her, his tongue curling against his top teeth. “Unless you’ve been havin’ some dreams you’re not sharin’ with the class here.”
“It’s not just the kiss,” Buffy replied. “There was the thing with the marshmallows, and that first morning on the couch, and---.”
“Thought you said you’d been thinking of Angel,” he accused, his amusement fading as his eyes narrowed in speculation.
She flushed as the realization that she’d stepped right into that one slammed into her brain, and Buffy pursed her lips tightly together, unwilling to admit to the fib she’d fabricated for the convenience of getting him off her.
It didn’t matter, though. Spike, as par for the course, saw right through her lie.
“Well, well, well,” he drawled, and back was the predator who’d just found a fresh trail to follow. “Looks like I’m not the only one around here whose pants are on fire, then.”
His innuendo slithered over and around Buffy’s body, latching hold somewhere in the pit of her stomach and sending her careening beyond the realm of any control she’d had left in the situation. It no longer seemed important to get answers to the questions that had been nagging her, not when there was no way Spike was going to stop turning the tables at every opportunity, and not when she had to fight the urge not to leap over that metaphorical table and pick up on their kiss exactly where they’d left off. She’d given him too much power already; it was time to tuck her tail and run while she still could.
“Never mind,” Buffy snapped with more conviction than she felt. Slowly, she began to back away. “This was just a world of wrong all over the place. Forget I said anything.”
Spike’s hand shot out and grabbed her arm, stopping her in a mimicry of the standstill she’d forced on him just moments earlier. “Don’t think so, pet,” he said. Firmly, he began dragging her toward the front door. “You started this. Think we’re bloody well goin’ to finish it, one way or another.”
She didn’t struggle against him, instead letting him lead her to the door he yanked open. A blast of cold wind raised a bevy of goosebumps along her skin, and she shivered as Spike deliberately placed her against the jamb, half inside, half out.
“I guess you changed your song on me going Shoeless Joe in the winter wonderland,” she said wryly.
Spike ignored her comment and jerked his head upward. “Take a gander, Buffy.”
Glancing at the overhead lintel, she said, “It’s green.”
Her attention snapped back to his face. “You put up mistletoe?”
“Call me sentimental.”
“More like presumptuous.” She started to step back into the cabin, but his arm came up to block her path, his hand on the jamb behind her. “I’m cold, Spike,” Buffy complained. She kept her eyes fixed on the dim interior of the cabin. “And I’m tired. And I’m starting to regret bringing all this up, so just let me go back inside, all right? Because breaking your arm to get it out of my way when we have no idea what kind of fight we’ve got heading in our direction is probably not the smartest thing for me to be doing right now.”
“Here’s the plan, Slayer. One time deal. And when it’s all over, if you want, you can blame it on the mistletoe.”
She could’ve stopped him. Part of Buffy knew exactly what was going to happen the second he identified what they were standing beneath. Part of Buffy could see what was glinting in that blue, the determination and the dare and the desire, and she could see the way his gaze remained on her, unwavering in its assessment, seeing through her---into her---just as it always did. She could’ve stopped him at any point.
Most of Buffy really didn’t want to.
His hand came up to tip her face back toward his, and his other joined the first in cupping her jaw as his mouth lowered to hers. Every movement was deliberate, every action measured. When Spike’s lips met hers, it was very much as if the past half-dozen hours had never occurred, the purposeful glide of his mouth across hers as he resumed the exploration he’d already started banishing the cantankerous voice that kept nagging in the back of Buffy’s brain. All her questions, and all her doubts, and each and every single one of the arguments that had proliferated in her consciousness since their earlier exchange were settled by the firm power of his mouth, by the fingers caressing her jawline both deadly and tender.
This made sense. In that moment, without any more reservations about what she was doing, Buffy knew that being with Spike made sense.
As she responded to the desire he barely restrained, Buffy lifted her hands to brace herself against his chest. The moment they made contact with the chilled fabric of his shirt, she felt him start, as if the return of her touch was more than he’d expected, and he pulled far enough away to look down into her upturned face.
“It’s not because of the mistletoe,” she said softly.
“What is it because of then?” he asked, and though Buffy understood that he hated the weakness it betrayed in him, the entreaty that coated his words exposed his need to know more so than the unfathomable blue of his gaze.
“I don’t know.” It was the truth, slipping past her lips before she could stop it, but before he could steal away from her embrace to berate her ignorance yet again, she let her arms glide around his back to hold him tighter as she added, “I really don’t care.”
Spike’s silent concurrence with her acceptance of their new situation was announced by the return of his lips to hers, his kiss stronger and more demanding as he took what she so willingly offered. The biting wind swirled around her ankles, but Buffy was oblivious to the cold, every sensation warmed by the certainty of their rising desire. She could feel his erection pressing into her hip through the confines of his jeans, long and hard and oh so ready to be free, and wondered erratically if he’d think she was even easier than he must already if she reached down to touch him.
Somewhere in the midst of their kissing, she became aware of a muffled cough, as if someone was repeatedly clearing his throat, but it wasn’t until Spike pulled away from her mouth, his arms wrapping protectively around her as his body bent automatically to shield her from the sound, that she looked in the noise’s direction.
At the bottom of the porch’s stair stood a man, dark hair blown askew by the wind, snowflakes collecting in the unruly curls. Bright eyes glinted in perpetual amusement as he looked up at them, and he released his hold on the handle of the covered cart that trailed behind him to stuff his hands deep into his coat’s pockets.
“I hate to be the one to break up such a fair display,” he said good-humoredly. There was a lilt to his voice that she couldn’t quite place, but it was obvious that whoever he was, he wasn’t local. “After all, a good kiss can be just what a fella needs. Of course, trying to explain that to the ladies can give you a headache, but---.”
“I know you,” Spike interrupted. His head tilted as he stepped away from the door. “Bit of a jaunt for you from LA, isn’t it?”
“I could say the same for you,” the man replied. There was no mistaking the slide of his appreciative eyes over Buffy. “Though I must say, you’re keeping much better company these days.”
“You two know each other?” she demanded, stepping out from behind Spike. She rubbed at her arms as her returning awareness of the chill bit into her flesh.
The stranger shrugged. “Not really,” he said. “Just a little torture between not-quite friends, right, Spike?” He grinned, and in spite of her wariness regarding this new development, Buffy couldn’t help but warm to the genuineness of his reaction. “The name’s Doyle, and I guess I’ll be settling up a few bets when I get back. I never figured William the Bloody and the infamous Buffy Summers would be in this one together.”
It was his choice of words that made her pause. “You’re part of what Jenny was talking about,” she said slowly.
Spike scoffed. “Not possible,” he said. “She was a ghost. I just saw this bloke breathing and heartbeating around Los Angeles not three months ago. And if he’s not all body-having right now, I’ll eat my jacket.”
“Hope you like the leather,” the man said with a grin. “Because that would be magic you’d be feeling, not me.”
A small whimper from inside the covered cart diverted his attention, and as Buffy watched, Doyle stepped back to peer through the small window cut out of its side. It was an odd construction, like a child’s red wagon covered with a big square box to create a makeshift go-cart. A tiny door seemed the only way inside it, and it was through that the sound was emanating.
“Awful noisy cargo you’ve got there,” Spike commented with a frown.
“Yeah,” Doyle agreed. “She’s a handful. Well, if I could lay a hand on her, that is.” He nodded toward Buffy. “I don’t suppose you could come down here and help me out, would you? The magic that makes me solid doesn’t exactly convince your little guest here of the same.”
Curiosity drove Buffy forward, and though the cold was starting to make her shiver, she held herself firm as she pulled open the door of the cart. She was immediately greeted by a pair of wide brown eyes, which were nearly hidden beneath a multi-colored cap, and when the owner of the eyes emerged fully, the Slayer found herself staring at a small child bundled from head to toe against the winter elements.
“Hello,” she said slowly.
“Hello,” the little girl repeated after her.
She certainly looked human, and before Buffy could stop herself… “Do you have a name?”
Huge eyes darted past the Slayer to look at Doyle for approval. When he nodded, they returned to gaze unblinkingly at Buffy. “Yes,” she said.
A long silence ensued where the only sound was the whine of the wind around them. It was a full thirty seconds before the Slayer realized that was the only response she was going to get from the child without further clarification. “I’m Buffy,” she said, and pointed to the porch. “And that’s Spike.”
She nodded. “That’s what Doyle said.”
“What should we call you?”
A sudden sneeze punctuated the air, the girl’s nose wrinkling as she sniffed against the cold. “Holly,” she said, and sneezed again.
To be continued in Chapter 15: What Child Is This?...