Really, it had seemed like a wonderfully thoughtful idea at the time. One of those ideas that hits about midway through a very boring class and manages to rejuvenate a dying spirit for the better of the next hour and a half. Though surprisingly better, for even after half the day had past, Buffy found herself latching onto her burst of creativity with enthusiasm that refused to find shelf-life. Thus, as she and Willow headed back to the dorm after completing their final classes prior to the holiday break, she let spill her insanely genius proposal and was pleased with the round of encouragement she received.
Though, as what happens with every genius proposal, once words hit the air, the redhead wanted to lend a hand. Within fifteen minutes, she had Xander on the phone and his request to do his part before he and Anya left for Oregon for the obligatory seasonal family visit.
Whatever indignation Buffy might have felt at having her project so brazenly hijacked by her closest friends was inevitably won over with logic. After all, Xander needed as much QT with the Scoobies as possible before he faced the family—Anya’s comments notwithstanding. Furthermore, he was the only one around who was good with tools. Though Slayer strength did have its perks, it never came with the disclaimer that Chosen Ones would similarly be talented in shop class.
More besides, Giles was only going to be out of town until Christmas Eve and they would need to extract as much manpower out of Xander as possible before he took leave.
It was strange not having her Watcher around; strange in an oddly-fashioned ‘the parents are out of town/cat’s away’ sentiment. More than she ever felt when her mother would leave on assorted overnight sales trips for the gallery. It was even stranger that he had given her his house key and asked her to watch Spike while he was gone. And then strange turned to remarkably funny at the thought that a vampire as old as he was would require a babysitter.
Remarkably funny quickly turned into annoyed. It wasn’t until she arrived back at Giles’s place that she remembered fully how very much she and the platinum pest did not get along. As though that entire section of her life was blocked temporarily for the feel of real-life adult responsibility on her shoulders. Something more than the common ‘save the world, stop the apocalypse’ thing that was by now highly routine.
A full three days had passed since Giles had finalized the arrangement. Three days of going to sleep under the same roof as her mortal enemy. Three days of waking up to an obnoxiously alert vampire that insisted on padding after her as she performed her morning routine.
Well, more like a day and a half. After a while, a girl needs her privacy. And that was when chains in the bathtub came in the handiest. The trouble was, after Willow’s botched spell of just a couple weeks ago, touching Spike was almost addictive. That sort of magnetic pull that was hard to miss and harder to ignore. A feeling of longing that stirred her gut and sucker punched her to the other side of the moon, as it were. It was hard looking at him with new eyes. Knowing now how those hands that had caused so much bloodshed felt when…
Okay. Blushing. Not going there.
It was strange. Looking at Spike in a different light was very much of the strange. And it wasn’t so much a different light—more a my-god-has-he- always- had-those-cheekbones? kind of light. A realization sort of light. The realization that she had never before been with a man that wasn’t always towering over her. That Spike’s size was small but wired with muscle, and that she felt genuinely adored and safe when he held her.
Of course, that was all accredited to the spell. The very, very bad spell that she needed to forget. Spike didn’t adore her, and keeping her safe was far down his list of priorities. And yes, while each step he took practically oozed of sex, that was no reason to think of him any differently. Being the typical male he was, he had gone straight to the pretending-it-didn’t-happen phase—which was really all the same to her, because she had told him to get on with forgetting and to never mention it again.
It didn’t help that her mind kept mentioning it for her.
It also didn’t help that her feelings for him had softened to the extent of allowing him free from the chains in the first place. While they had safely established that any physical harm was impossible for the handicapped bloodsucker, that didn’t mean there wasn’t a healthy abundance of other ways to torment her. Little things. Stupid things. Fighting over the remote, bickering about supper, making too much noise while getting ready, and arguing the values of an action classic versus a well-known chick flick that she decided to endure simply because it annoyed him so much.
Stupid things like that.
Coupley things like that.
It had gotten better the second night. In order to be released from his bonds, Spike forced himself into his very best behavior. And while she didn’t buy it, it was nice to settle in comforting silence and the occasional forced compliment rather than screaming matches that woke up the neighborhood.
The third night he had all but pleaded with her to let him go. Told her that Giles never kept him locked up this long. Told her that his joints were getting stiff. Told her that he was going to start smelling like the dead. Told her once, just to see her blush, that he hadn’t had a good wank in days and was really itching to release some tension.
Well, it succeeded in making her blush. It also succeeded in a hasty retreat, a slammed door, and a cautious routine of ignoring him for the rest of the night.
Tonight was the fourth night and they had two more to go before Giles got back from his family thing or whatever that had driven him to London. And since her brilliant beyond brilliant idea had come about, she hadn’t allowed herself to think of the vampire at all. Not even when Anya and Xander showed up for pizza and he wailed about being hungry. Not even when Willow whipped out some festive cookie dough and started baking—this time, gratefully sans the guilt. Every scream and shout and murmur and whine went carefully in one ear and out the next. What she was making was far too important to be distracted with idle obsessions that would dither once the afterglow of the spell was firmly off her back.
The brilliant beyond brilliant plan entailed building a new and improved weapons chest for Giles, layered with engravings of his favorite and hazard-free sacred emblems. And though she had been initially aggravated when everyone decided to hone in on her Christmas gift idea, she was more than pleased a few hours into construction when her hands were killing her and her back was sore from being hunched over a work-bench.
It seemed, looking around, that phase two of Giles’s present would be to clean up the mess her brilliant idea had made.
“Okay,” Xander said, bursting through the silence that had hazed her mind ever since the gang arrived—even with the laughter and the jokes and the festive, seasonally correct Christmas music playing on her Watcher’s prized stereo. Her friend sat up and wiped his hands on his jeans. “If we wanna get this anywhere near a state called done before Ahn and I leave tomorrow night, we’re gonna have to get more supplies.”
Buffy’s face fell and she stared at him blatantly for a few long seconds before turning to survey what damage had already been done. The place looked like a certified disaster area. “More supplies?”
“Yeah. I’m assuming you want this chest to have functioning hinges? Maybe a handle? And oh, right, a top?” He shook his head with a laugh. “We’ve exhausted our resources and now must leave and get more.”
A pout crossed her face. “I thought I got enough wood.”
“You did,” Willow jumped to agree, nodding hastily. “For the, you know, chest itself. Not for the top. And I need to go and see if they have that book at the Magic Box, anyway. A Beginner’s Guide to Magical Benevolence? It has a lot of the emblems and stuff that he likes. A-and it’s in English, so…bonus.”
“Plus,” Anya added, jumping to her feet. “It’s getting very stuffy in here. I want to get Xander home quickly tonight so that we can enjoy at least two sessions of copulation before tomorrow’s breakfast with a man named Rory.”
The redhead frowned. “Your uncle’s coming into town?”
“Yeah. Evidently, he’s skipping on the fam-shindig this year and decided instead to grace us with his presence—his uninvited presence, I might add—the day before we leave. Really, all he wants is an excuse to go get chummy with my dad with some very Irish eggnogs.” A forced grin wedged its way onto Xander’s lips. “Tis the season of obnoxious relatives.” He turned swiftly back to the Slayer and nodded, whisking away all hint of family shame. “I guess we’re going. You coming along?”
Buffy arched a brow and took another good look at their surroundings. “Uhhh…no? No, I think I’m gonna stay here. You know…straighten up and watch Christmas specials. But I do want to have it at least looking like a chest before you guys hit it tonight.”
“I’ve been known to work a miracle or two in my time.”
Willow shrugged. “I’m sure there’s a spell that—”
“No!” Spells equal bad. Lather, rinse, repeat. Ignore the hurt look on best friend’s face. “No…I just…not with Giles gone. You know if something goes all kablammy, he’s the only one—”
“Yeah, yeah. Logic abounds.” A sigh coursed through the redhead and she shrugged into her jacket that was, for the most part, vastly unneeded. “Besides, it’d kinda defeat the purpose of our making something from scratch.”
Buffy offered an enthusiastic nod. “Most definitely.”
“You sure you don’t wanna come, Buff?” Xander asked again, helping Anya into her coat. “A little home depot fun? Hey—maybe get some innovative slayage ideas, yes?”
She shook her head. “Nah. Go. Away with you.”
Anya rolled her eyes and tugged impatiently on her boyfriend’s arm. “Come on, Xander. She doesn’t want to go. You’re wasting valuable orgasm time. Move it!” And not at all surprisingly, the outburst inspired a sheet of bright red to tint his face; he nodded hurriedly, and bolted out the door.
Willow licked her lips as she made her way to follow. “Here’s an idea,” she said once they were alone. “He should take Anya to Oregon…then leave her there.”
Buffy stifled a grin as she moved into the kitchen to raid the fridge. Giles had been thoughtful enough to stock it full of every possible type of food that she would ever want. Plus an always-handy soda supply alongside an assortment of chocolate that led her to believe her Watcher had caught on to her fetish for sweets. “Now, now, Wills,” she berated lightly. “It’s the most wonderful time of the year, after all.”
“Yeah, yeah. You and your Protestantism.” A grin spread across the redhead’s face as she reached for the doorknob. “You want me to bring you back anything?”
“Nah. Well, the not-severed head of Anya would be a plus.”
“Damn. There goes that idea.” She laughed richly. “We’ll be back soon!”
Then she was gone. And Buffy was left alone in a house that almost reeked of teenage devastation.
Well, nearly alone.
There was the tiny factor of the vampire chained in the tub that had undoubtedly been waiting until the Scoobies left before rehashing his complaints at full volume. It was to be expected—for the past hour, his behavior had been more than commendable. She was beginning to think he had willed himself into a pile of dust, as Spike was never quiet for more than two minutes at a time.
“Here’s the funny thing,” Buffy retorted loudly, moving about the kitchen cheerfully. “I hear you yelling, and yet feel compelled to do absolutely nothing about it.”
There was a muffled groan of aggravation. “Come on, Slayer! Have a bloody heart. My legs are crampin’ an’ it smells to sodding high heaven in here.”
She rolled her eyes and turned her attention back to the mess that colored the living room. Chances of her fairing any improvement before the others returned notwithstanding, she didn’t particularly think that allowing the vampire free reign stood as a good idea. Regardless of how much she was itching for company beyond what her friends had to offer.
And that was the problem. Even more so, she refused to consider the very real fact that had it been just a couple weeks ago, releasing him would have been extremely out of the question. So much that he likely would have known better than to ask in the first place.
At that, she felt her will begin to slip. And when she raised her voice to answer his plight, the sharp edge that so often remained crisp and pertinent was gone.
“Hold on. I want to at least get this place presentable before you start making your usual mess.”
There was a brief pause at that; Buffy had to bite the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing aloud. With whatever else, it was nice to continuously take the vampire by surprise. She would have sworn for a brief second that he was aggravated that she had exhausted his line of reasoning and arguments with simpler acceptance.
The vampire did have the oddest habit of trying to get on her nerves.
“Well…” Spike began a minute later. “’F you’d let me out now, we’d have the bloody place picked up in no time. What’s that ole sayin’, luv?”
“If you’re about to say something gross, I swear, you’re not coming out of there at all tonight.”
Right. Because now he would say something gross, and she would blush and her voice would go higher than usual, and even though walls separated them, he would likely smell his affect on her.
God. Hadn’t she learned enough the first time? Vampires equal bad.
Maybe she had just sampled too much eggnog for one night.
“’S that it, Slayer?” Spike purred. “You wanna keep me chained up all night? Gotta say, din’t know you had it in you to be so brazenly kinky.”
Well, that wasn’t as much gross as explicit, but it resulted in the same fashion.
“I have kink, Mister,” she replied informatively, determined not to be sidetracked by idle conversation and attempts to knock her off her foundation. “Nothing you’ll ever get to see.”
“A pity, that is.” Another impatient rattle. “Come on, Slayer! Lemme out!”
“What’s a li’l hospitality between sworn enemies?”
“Something that’s off the table.” Buffy turned to locate one of the larger boxes that had at one time contained an assortment of powertools and the like. Perhaps that chainsaw that Giles had used to create a door last Halloween—now being used for hammers, nails, glue, screws, and screwdrivers. “I really don’t want to have to deal with you tonight.”
“Tough. I’m here. Deal with it.”
“Do you want to be gagged?”
“Yeh. Like that, wouldn’t you?” There was a lazy seduction added to his tone that made her cheeks flush and her aggravation rise. He knew it now. Undoubtedly. He knew it and he was deliberately rubbing it in her face. As if she was the only one that had been affected by that spell.
“You’re a pig.”
“How stunningly original. Look, Slayer, ‘f you lemme out now, I can help you an’ your mates build the whatever you’re buildin’ for Rupert. Right? Made a dozen things for Dru over the years. An’ ‘s not like I have anythin’ better to do.”
Buffy paused. Did he really have to mention Dru? She wasn’t over her crush yet.
But that was totally beside the point.
“Yeah. The likelihood of my letting you out being so great as is, the likelihood of you actually doing something to help me is just that much more…” She frowned at the lack of a better word. “Unlikely.”
“Oi!” Buffy could practically hear his frown. “I might be evil, but I do keep my word. Like I said, ‘f you’d stop to listen for a bleedin’ second, I have nothin’ better to do.” There was another break for reaction, and when she gave none, an aggravated sigh tackled the air. “You know, those commando blokes could take a chapter outta your book under cruel an’ unusual punishment.”
That was a bit much, but it did get the point across. And served to remind her that she was in the mood for some company of the non-Scooby persuasion. An answering sigh reached her lips and she shook her head, pushing the supplies aside and padding down the hallway.
The apartment stilled with an air of expectation; she knew he was waiting for her to snap at him so that he could launch fully into his rebuttal. A wry grin tickled her lips. Spike was nothing if not a source of entertainment. Regardless of anything else, he certainly kept her on her toes.
All else was worth the look on his face when she pushed the door open. She was greeted with a somewhat numbly astonished burn in his eyes. As though any sign of civility—even when full out proof was right before him—shook him to his core. And true, while things between them had been tacitly awkward since the blotched witchcraft, seeing him so taken aback was unlike anything she had ever before witnessed where he was concerned.
“And you’re going to behave yourself?” she asked, left hand delving into her front pocket to fish out the key.
Spike nodded urgently. “Be a bloody saint,” he agreed.
“Saints aren’t bloody.”
His eyes sparkled with annoyance but it didn’t matter the next second, for she had tossed him the coveted piece of bronze and turned to leave on the same beat. “The others will be back soon,” she said over her shoulder. “Xander wants to get the lid on and I think Will’s gonna start the engravings. We’re sanding everything tomorrow.”
“Right. Put the vamp near the dangerous blocks of wood. That sounds like a jolly good plan.”
A scowl beset her face. “Hey! You said you’d help! No weaseling out. Weasels get tub time. Okay?”
“’m not weaselin’ out!”
“There’s a definite weasel factor here.”
“Oh, that’s sodding it.” The offense seemed rather light for him to have reached his ‘sodding it’ limit, but one could not expect much more from an evil vampire. The next thing she knew, he had made a grab for her hand only to be slapped away; her own covering his in a moment of coveted contact. She knew her eyes were flaring.
“No. Touching,” she barked, very mindful of the fact that it was her grasp that held him in place and not the other way around. It was a piece of detail work that she decided pointedly to ignore.
Spike, however, did not have the same sense of courtesy. A condescending leer touched his mouth and he glanced pointedly between them. “You’re the one who can’t keep her hands to herself, pet.”
Buffy scowled and moved to release him abruptly—a good release. The ‘I’d- rather-be-handling-a-scalding-pot-of-boiling-water-than-be-anywhere-near-you’ kind of release.
Only the effect wasn’t exactly what she had hoped for. Her fingers flexed and her hand moved, but his moved along with her. Right along with her.
The Slayer’s eyes widened with alarm and met his of similar astonishment.
Then they were yanking in earnest. Pulling one way, pushing another. A tug of war between Spike’s left arm and Buffy’s right. They heaved and jerked and wrenched every which direction, but it was to no avail. The Slayer’s hand rested calmly atop her vampire adversary’s, their skin fused impossibly together.
“What the bleeding hell did you do?!” Spike snarled, eyes wide with fury.
“Me?! I’m not the one who was all with the grabby!”
“Yeh.” He held up his hand, demonstrating where hers was attached to the back of his. “As this would so admirably suggest.”
The room was spinning. She felt a headache coming on. “God, it must’ve been the glue.”
“You think?!” He stared at her for a minute, then quieted and glanced down. “What glue?”
“Xander brought over some industrial strength glue for the thing. The…chest or whatever. I must’ve gotten some on me when I was cleaning up.” She frowned pitifully and dropped her eyes at their linked hands. “Oh my God.”
“Bugger. Do you have any idea what a bitch of a problem that stuff is to get out?”
Buffy looked up at him in a panic. “What? What are you saying?”
Spike shrugged. “Well, for starters, unless you have a solvent on hand, we’re bloody well stuck like this.”
If she thought her eyes couldn’t get any bigger, her headache any louder, she was wrong. “What?!”
“Jus’ until we can get some, that is. Calm down.”
“Calm down?! Calm down?! I’m glued to you, and you’re asking me to calm down?!” Buffy was seconds away from hysterical laughter or sobs of frustration. “Oh God. Oh God. How…” She frowned and started hitting him with her free hand. “This is your fault!”
Spike growled lightly and caught her by the wrist. “Would you stop it?” he snarled. “This isn’t helpin’ anythin’, all right? All we gotta do is ring the number on the glue an’ they’ll send us a solvent or tell us where we can get one. Savvy?”
Her eyes were burning and her vision had blurred. Had she worked herself up to tears already? The somewhat irritated but surprisingly compassionate look on the vampire’s face betrayed the answer before she even felt the wetness trickle down her throat. “The number on the glue?”
“Yeh.” He nodded and slowly released his grip on her wrist, heaving a sigh of relief when they didn’t stick there as well. “They’ll have a number on the pack, luv. Somethin’ reserved for this sorta situation. Come on. Dry your tears an’ we’ll figure this out. All right?”
Buffy nodded and turned to the sink, feeling idle and foolish. She washed her face awkwardly with Spike standing directly beside her, his hand caught in hers, her left working vigorously to make up for a job it was not accustomed to manning. Her body wracked with trembles. And amazingly enough, he didn’t say a word about it. Didn’t call her weak or tell her anything more than what had already been said. Merely handed her a towel when she was through and led her into the other room to locate the number on the pack of glue.
It was maddening how painfully aware of him she was all of a sudden. More so than before—something she had thought quite impossible. But as he guided her into the kitchen and reached for the phone, Buffy honestly couldn’t remember being so thoroughly sentient of anyone in the whole of her life.
They were hunched over the counter as he made the call, their fused hands on the surface before them. She nibbled on her lip and came to the random conclusion that pretending he wasn’t there was likely the best mode of operation, no matter how painstakingly there he was.
God, the Scoobies were going to flip.
She must have spaced most extensively, for the next thing she knew, Spike had slammed the phone onto the receiver with an angry huff and jerked her in a manner that was more like himself into the living room. He seemed to forget she was there at all until she crashed into his back and nearly cost him his balance.
Spike straightened, murmured an apology, then flopped down onto the sofa—bringing her with him.
“Would you stop dragging me around like a doll?” The words hadn’t meant to come out as harsh as they did—she wasn’t particularly eager for the surprising light of Compassionate Spike to take a bow and leave the stage—but the damage was done and his jaw set determinately.
“Oh, I dunno. Could you not shrill into my ear while sittin’ two bloody inches away?” He glanced in disgust at the source of their predicament. “This is absolute bollocks.”
“What? What do you sodding mean, what? Din’t you hear any of what I jus’ told you?”
No. She had been busy spacing then.
Regardless, Spike plowed right ahead as though he had not left her with a question to answer. “The bloke on the phone said they’re waitin’ for a new shipment of the solvent to come in. Too bloody busy right now—bein’ so close to the big holiday. An’, to make everythin’ even more opportunistic, they have to mail it in to Sunnyhell from LA.”
That panicky feeling was coming back with a vengeance. “What? They’re…what?”
“Three to four days, best guess.”
“We’re stuck. Like this. For days.” He grinned humorlessly, though the look wavered at the desperation sparking her eyes. There was something else there. A spark of mischief that she knew not to trust. Something to bring even more chaos to this jumbled mess. “Happy fucking Christmas.”