It had seemed like the best of best ideas at the time, especially since in years past, Buffy had somewhat lacked in the gift-giving department where Giles was concerned. And being that this was her first Christmas as an adult-type person, she wanted to give her watcher something more than the same old necktie or pair of socks, which had become more or less her staple.
Even better? Willow agreed that her plan was Genius, with a capital G and everything.
That was where better began to take a nosedive. Impressed with Buffy’s plan, Willow had reasoned if they all went in on it together, it’d be an even better gift. And benefit for all involved in the form of less financial strain. Because, hey, poor college students.
Within fifteen minutes of Buffy and Willow having completed their final pre-winter break class, Xander had been informed of the gift plan, was on board, and promised 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 Genius—still capital G, thank you—plan so brazenly hijacked by her closest friends faded fast at the logic behind Willow’s suggestion. After all, Xander needed as much QT with the Scoobies as possible before he faced the family with his ex-demon sex-crazed girlfriend. Plus he was the only one around who was good with tools. Though slayer strength did have its perks, it didn’t come with the promise that she would be especially proficient in shop class.
“We’ll do it at his house,” Xander had said. “Come on! All that space and Giles isn’t gonna be back until Christmas Eve anyway. Plenty of time to get it done and cleaned up.”
Buffy should have taken that as hint number one that this was, in fact, not a Genius with a capital G idea. But she didn’t because it was the first gift she was actually excited about giving. And nothing, not even blind-freaking optimism and a statement that all but screamed jinx would convince her otherwise.
It was strange not having her watcher around—like ‘the parents are out of town/cat’s away’ sentiment. Even stranger that Giles had given Buffy his house key and asked her to watch Spike while he was gone. Like Spike was a stray cat or something, which, she guessed he kind of was now. A formerly fierce, currently declawed creature that got its jollies by stalking across rooms and knocking things off shelves just because he felt like it.
Yeah, Spike was an asshole. Kind of like a cat. And somehow her problem.
It wasn’t until Buffy arrived at Giles’s place for her first ‘feed Spike’ shift that she remembered fully how very much she and the platinum pest did not get along. And that, unlike cats, this was one asshole who could talk back.
Even worse was Spike had made it perfectly obvious that checking in on him wasn’t going to be good enough. The vamp-cat needed constant supervision in order to not destroy the apartment—even if left in chains, he’d find a way, he’d said. And she believed him. So Buffy had moved in for the time being. And now she had awakened for the fourth day in a row to an obnoxiously alert vampire who insisted on padding after her as she performed her morning routine.
This wouldn’t have been a problem under normal circumstances. Nothing solved a problem like an annoying can’t-stake-you-because-ugh-reasons vampire like chains in the bathtub. The trouble was, after Willow’s botched spell of just a couple weeks ago, Buffy found, to her utter horror, that she kind of liked touching Spike, and therefore made it her goal to do as little touching as possible. Because she’d already done the touching thing with him and no thank you. She wasn’t even a cat person, for Chrissake. Give her a loyal dog any day.
Except the eyes she looked at him through now seemed intent on finding new, unicky things to focus on. Like his lips, which she remembered as being firm and sexy as sin. Like his lickable jaw. Like the black-tipped fingers attached to hands that had gotten more than a little friendly with her.
Like the way he’d catch her gaze and look at her in ways that made her think he knew damn well where her mind was and, despite his earlier protestations, wasn’t too far behind her.
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 who didn’t tower over her. That she’d felt genuinely adored and safe when he’d held her with those lean, mean wiry muscles of his.
Of course, that was the spell talking. 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… Well, that was no reason to think of him any differently. Aside from the occasional look he threw her way, Spike had gone straight to the pretending the spell hadn’t happened, which was really all the same to her. After all, she had told him to get on with forgetting and to never mention it again. Also, she was supposed to have done a memory spell to eradicate all these not-normal thoughts…but being that she didn’t trust Willow not to make her think it was her life’s ambition to be a chicken, she hadn’t let her friend anywhere near her cranium.
Though maybe she should have because Buffy’s stupid mind kept dragging her back to the way Spike had felt against her.
So that was the reason she didn’t look forward to the daily task of chaining him up. The real reason. Not the ooh, Spikey so incapacitated reason she liked giving her friends when Spike was in the vicinity. It was also the reason Spike had more or less free reign to torment her in his petty, can’t-be-evil-but-can-be-annoying ways, like fighting over the remote, bickering about dinner, and arguing the values of an action classic versus a well-known chick flick.
Not that Buffy cared much for chick flicks. But if watching them annoyed Spike, she’d keep them going twenty-four/seven.
Stupid things like that.
Coupley things like that.
Things had gotten better the second night. In order to be released, Spike had made a show of being on his best behavior. And while she hadn’t bought it for a red hot instant, Buffy had enjoyed the silence and the occasional-forced compliment he’d choke out, if only because she saw how uncomfortable it made him. And the neighbors undoubtedly appreciated the break from the constant screaming matches.
The third night, Spike 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 that he hadn’t had a good wank in days and was really itching to release some tension—though she was more or less certain he’d said that just to see her blush.
If that was the case, he had succeeded. But he’d also earned himself one slammed door and a night of being ignored.
Tonight was the fourth night. There were two more to go before Giles got back from his family thing or whatever had driven him to London. And since they had finite time to get the brilliant Christmas present constructed, she hadn’t allowed herself to think about Spike at all since arriving back from the shop. Not even when Anya and Xander had shown up for pizza and he’d wailed about being hungry. Not even when Willow had whipped out some festive cookie dough and started baking. Every scream and shout and murmur and whine went in one ear and out the next. What she was making was far too important to allow herself to be distracted with insane spell-induced obsessions.
Giles’s brilliant beyond brilliant Christmas present was a new and improved weapons chest, layered with engravings of his favorite and hazard-free sacred emblems. And though Buffy had been initially peeved when Willow and Xander had decided to piggyback her Christmas gift idea, a few hours into construction convinced her there was no other way they could have done this. Her hands were killing her and her back was sore from being hunched over a workbench, and she had all the slayer strength. Were it not for Xander, this gift would have ended up in the big book of Christmas disasters.
Phase two of Giles’s present would be to clean up the mess they had made in bringing Buffy’s Genius with a capital G idea for a Christmas present to life.
“Okay,” Xander said over the festive Christmas music currently playing on her watcher’s prized stereo. He 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. She stared at her friend 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 lid?” Xander shook his head with a laugh. “We’ve exhausted our resources and now must leave and get more.”
Buffy sat back on her legs, pouting. “I thought I got enough wood.”
“You did,” Willow jumped to agree. “For the, you know, chest itself. Not for the lid. 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 we break our fast tomorrow with a man named Rory.”
Willow turned to Xander with a frown. “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.” Xander’s face contorted into something resembling a smile. “Tis the season of obnoxious relatives.” He turned swiftly back to Buffy and nodded. “I guess we’re going on a supply run. You coming along?”
Buffy arched an eyebrow 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.” Though Willow didn’t look much of a fan of logic, unless scowling at logic was now her thing. She rose to her feet and slid into her jacket. “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 jacket. “A little Home Depot fun? Hey—maybe get some innovative slayage ideas, yes? I bet you could take the demon world by storm with a power saw.”
Yeah. That was just what she needed. Buffy shook her head. “Nah. Go. Away with you.”
Anya rolled her eyes and tugged on Xander’s arm. “Come on. She doesn’t want to go. You’re wasting valuable orgasm time. Move it!”
There was a pause. Xander turned bright red, sputtered something that sounded like, “Kafffacknug,” and all but bolted out the door.
Willow licked her lips. “Here’s an idea,” she said once she and Buffy 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. “Now, now, Wills,” she replied. “’Tis the season. Peace on earth, goodwill toward men.”
“She’s not a man.”
“Yeah, but I think former demons count in the receiving of goodwill department.”
“Yeah, yeah. You and your Protestantism. 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. We’ll be back soon!”
Then she was gone. And Buffy was left alone in a house that almost reeked of teenage devastation.
Well, almost alone.
Not even two seconds. A new record.
“Here’s the funny thing,” Buffy retorted, moving about the kitchen cheerfully. “I hear you yelling, and yet feel compelled to do absolutely nothing about it.”
There was a muffled groan. “Come on, Slayer! Have a bloody heart. My legs are crampin’ and it smells to high sodding heaven in here.”
She rolled her eyes and turned her attention back to the mess that was the living room. Chances of getting this under control before the others returned notwithstanding, she didn’t particularly think that allowing the vampire free reign would help, especially considering his penchant for knocking valuables off the shelves.
Even if his company would be an improvement on the bitching-about-holidays Xander and his orgasm-obsessed girlfriend, or Willow and her…spellness. Bad spells that made good girls think bad things about bad, bad men. Err, vampires.
“You can use a hand, Slayer. Don’t think I don’t know what you’ve done to the place. Harris can’t move a sodding foot without breaking something and the old man’s gonna be none too pleased when he gets home.”
“You’re one to talk!”
“Difference being I do it on purpose. Can pick a place up right nice like if I fancy. Let me outta here and we’ll have it lookin’ spic and bloody span in no time.”
“Or you’ll just destroy the place more and make for the door.”
“Yeah, and go where? Do what? ‘S not like I got a better option here. What’s that ole sayin’, love?”
“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.
“Is that the way we’re playin’ it?” Spike all but purred—purred as in being a cat, as in asshole—a moment later. “You wanna keep me chained up all night? Gotta say, as vanilla as you are, that’s almost kinky, that is. Didn’t figure you to fancy kink in your life.”
Well, that wasn’t as much gross as explicit, but it resulted in the same fashion.
“I have kink, Mister,” she replied, determined not to be sidetracked. Though that might not have been the best way to respond if her objective was to get her mind off sex. “Nothing you’ll ever get to see.”
“A pity, that is.” Another impatient rattle. “Come on, Slayer! Lemme out!”
“What’s a little 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 power tools and the like. “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?”
“Yeah. Like that, wouldn’t you? Slayer’s pulling out all the stops t’night.”
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, if you lemme out now, I can help you and your mates build whatever you’re buildin’ for Rupert. Right? Made a dozen things for Dru over the years. And it’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.”
“Tell me, could you even follow that jumble you just said?”
“Shut up. I will not be fooled into letting you out so you can destroy what we have managed to accomplish under the guise of helping out.”
At that, Buffy could practically hear his frown.
“Oi! I might be evil, but I do keep my word. Like I said, if 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 and 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. She shook her head, pushed the supplies aside and padded down the hallway.
The air filled with anticipation; 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 everything else, he certainly kept her on her toes.
And her decision to do as he asked was totally worth the look on his face when she pushed the door open.
“And you’re going to behave yourself?” she asked, delving her hand into her left front pocket to fish out the key.
Spike stared at her for a moment, gaping, then nodded urgently. “Be a bloody saint,” he agreed.
She snorted. “I’ll believe it when I see it.”
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.”
Buffy scowled and whirled around. “Hey! You said you’d help! No weaseling out. Weasels get tub time. Okay?”
“I’m not weaselin’ out!”
“There’s a definite weasel factor here.”
“Oh, that’s sodding it.” It seemed she’d reached his sodding it limit in record time. The next thing she knew, Spike had made a grab for her hand. She slapped at him, her palm landing on the back of his hand, shooting a jolt of pure not-hate through her unsuspecting body.
It was the first time they’d touched like this—at all—since the spell.
“No. Touching,” she barked, very mindful of the fact that she was holding onto him now and not the other way around.
A condescending leer touched Spike’s 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 shove him away from her. A good shove. The ‘I’d- rather-be-handling-a-scalding-pot-of-boiling-water-than-be-anywhere-near-you’ kind of shove.
Except that wasn’t what happened. Her fingers flexed and her hand moved, but his moved along with hers.
Buffy felt her eyes go wide. She looked up and met his panicked gaze.
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. Her hand rested calmly atop Spike’s, their skin fused together.
“What the bleeding hell did you do?” Spike snarled.
“Me? I’m not the one who was all with the grabby!”
“Yeah.” He held up his hand, demonstrating where hers was attached to the back of his. “Proof’s in the pudding, wouldn’t you say?”
The room was spinning. Buffy 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 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?”
“Just 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’ anything, all right? All we gotta do is ring the number on the glue and they’ll send us a solvent or tell us where we can get one. Savvy?”
Buffy’s vision had blurred. Had she worked herself up to tears already? The irritated and—offended?—look on Spike’s face betrayed the answer before she even felt the wetness trickle down her throat.
“The number on the glue?” she asked weakly.
“Yeah.” He nodded and slowly released his grip on her wrist, and she heaved a sigh of relief when they didn’t stick there as well. “They’ll have a number on the pack, love. Somethin’ reserved for this sorta situation. Come on. Dry your tears and 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, her left hand working to make up for a job it was not accustomed to manning on its own. Trembles wracked her body. And amazingly, Spike didn’t say a word about it. Didn’t call her weak or sensitive or anything she would have expected. Instead, he handed her a towel when she was through and followed her as she made her way back to the living room to find the glue.
It was maddening how painfully aware of him Buffy was all of a sudden. More so than before—something she had thought impossible. But she felt every move in his body as though it were her own. The shift of his skin against hers, the cadence of the few breaths he took, the sensation of his eyes on her face as she scoured the glue bottle for the number.
Then he held out his other hand and took the bottle from her, led her calmly to the kitchen—and Giles’s phone—as though knowing she was too frazzled to deal with it at the moment.
They hunched over the counter as he made the call. Buffy nibbled on her lip and did her best not to stare at their glued hands. His larger, pale one resting under her small, slightly less pale one. If this were any other guy, the scene might actually look romantic. A calm, reassuring touch between lovers.
His fingers were long. He knew how to use them too.
Except she wasn’t thinking about that. Would not.
God, the Scoobies were going to flip.
Buffy must have spaced completely, for the next thing she knew, Spike had slammed the phone onto the receiver with an angry huff and jerked her back to the living room. He seemed to forget she was there at all until she crashed into his side 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 Compassionate Spike to take a bow and leave the stage—but the damage was done.
“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 mean, what? Didn’t you hear any of what I just told you?”
No. She had been busy spacing then.
Regardless, Spike plowed right ahead. “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. And, to make everythin’ worse, they have to mail it into 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 and there was no humor behind it. “Happy fucking Christmas.”