Special thanks to loisarah for the beta :o) Any and all remaining mistakes are mine.
"Spike! Spike, get off the ice!"
“Oh my God, he fell in!”
“We gotta get him out!”
“Where is he? I don’t see him!”
The frantic shouts cut through the frigid air like knives, the scene dissolving into sudden chaos.
“There!” Sam's voice instantly silenced those of his team mates. He pointed to where Spike’s head had just broken the surface, a few meters from the shore. “I’m going in!” he announced, immediately dropping himself to his stomach and slithering onto the ice.
“Sam, careful!” Ed warned. “That ice could break any second! We'll get you a rope!”
"No time, Ed, trucks are too far down the road!" Sam said grimly as he carefully inched across the ice. He felt a hand wrap itself around his ankle and glanced down long enough to identify its owner: Raf. Sam nodded gratefully at his team mate and quickly turned back to where Spike was trying to hoist himself onto the ice -- only to watch in horror as Spike lost his grip and fell back into the freezing water. “Spike! Boss, he went under! I lost hi- there!” he shouted, immediately adjusting his heading when he saw Spike break the surface again just a meter or so down the stream. “Spike! Spike, hold on!”
Spike clawed at the ice, his fingers desperately scrabbling for purchase, and finally managed to dig the fingernails of his left hand into a tiny crack. Sam pushed himself forward, knowing how tenuous Spike's hold would be: he didn’t just have to support his own weight, but about thirty pounds worth of gear as well.
“Slow and careful, Sam, or you’ll fall right in after him,” Greg reminded him through his ear piece. “That’s it, that’s good. Raf, make sure you don’t lose him!”
“Don’t worry, boss, I got Sam. Not lettin' go!” Raf shouted back over the radio and Sam felt the grip on his ankle tighten.
Sam edged across the ice as far as he could without dragging Raf with him, and reached out his hand. “Spike! Spike, grab my hand!”
Spike kicked and reached out, but couldn’t quite grasp Sam’s outstretched fingers. He fell back and only just managed to keep his hold on the ice. Sam could tell Spike was weakening, the freezing water leeching his strength; his face was white and his lips were already taking on a bluish tinge. “Raf!” Sam called out. “Raf, I can’t reach him! I need a little more leeway!”
“You got it!” Raf shouted back and Sam instantly felt him give his leg a boost.
“Go ahead, Raf, I got you. Slow and careful,” Sam heard Ed say, and he gained another few precious centimeters.
Ignoring the chill that was seeping through his own uniform, Sam reached out again and stretched his arm as far as he could. “C’mon, Spike! Reach!”
Spike was fading visibly, his eyes becoming dull and unfocused. With a supreme effort he managed to pull his right arm from the water, and reached out once more. “That’s it…” Sam encouraged, seizing Spike’s icy fingers as soon as they came within his reach and clamping onto his friend's wrist with his other hand. “I got you, Spike! Raf, Ed, I got him! Pull me back!" Sam shouted down the radio. "Hold on, Spike, we’re getting you out. Hold on.”
Spike’s teeth were chattering so badly he couldn’t even reply.
Sam felt himself being slowly dragged back across the ice and tightened his hold on Spike’s wrist, struggling to retain his grip when Spike was shaking so badly. The added weight of Spike’s body made the going extremely slow and Sam wondered how long Spike had been exposed to the bitter cold by now. It had taken Sam at least five minutes to even reach his friend and it was probably going to take even longer than that to get him off the ice. He noticed Spike’s eyes kept threatening to close, but his friend was fighting hard to stay awake.
“Spike?” Sam said, digging his thumb nail into Spike’s skin. “Stay with us, Spike.”
Spike responded to the stimulus by opening his eyes a little wider, but Sam could tell it took far more effort than it should.
“Jules, you get those blankets?” Greg's worried voice crackled in his ear.
“Got ‘em right here, boss.”
"Winnie, where the hell are those EMTs?"
"Almost there, Sarge!"
Sam tried to ignore the voices in his ear and focused all his attention on keeping Spike awake. In the space of a few minutes, Spike’s violent shaking had subsided, leaving him shivering weakly. Sam knew it was a bad sign. “Hold on, Spike. We’re almost there. Stay with us.”
Finally, they managed to pull Spike off the ice and safely onto the shore. The rest of the team immediately converged on their freezing team mate. Jules stood by with the blankets while Ed was already yanking down the zipper of Spike’s soaked vest. “We gotta get him out of these clothes!”
As the rest of the team worked on getting Spike dry, Sam crouched down beside his shivering team mate to try and shelter him from the wind chill. The contrast between Spike’s wet, dark hair and his white face shocked him, and it took him a few seconds to realize Spike's lips were moving in an effort to speak. Sam hastily bent forward, straining to hear.
Spike's voice sounded weak and hoarse, as though he'd been screaming. "S- Sub-ject?"
Sam straightened a little and smiled tightly. "We got her, Spike," he said, patting Spike's now blanketed shoulder. "She's okay; you got her off the ice in time. The unis have her in custody. You just worry about yourself, all right?"
Spike nodded weakly and closed his eyes.
"NO!" Sam almost shouted and Spike, startled, dragged his eyelids open. "No, Spike," Sam said more calmly. "Don't go to sleep, okay? You gotta stay awake." Spike just blinked at him sluggishly, still shivering as Ed finished peeling his soaked uniform off of him.
Sam kept talking and didn’t realize he was shaking a little himself until someone draped a blanket across his shoulders. When Sam looked up, Greg had knelt on Spike’s other side and was leaning forward. “Spike. Spike? Are you with me, buddy?” he said loudly, trying to get Spike to look at him. Spike was barely conscious, his eyes unfocused and wandering. Greg gently caught Spike’s face between his hands and held him still. “Spike, look at me. C’mon, stay with me.”
Spike, who was now completely wrapped up in blankets, slowly met Greg’s gaze, very briefly. Then Sam watched, horrified, as Spike went limp and closed his eyes. And didn't open them again.
He was cold. So very cold. His body was shaking and he wondered what the hell was going on. There was a buzzing in his ear, too, and beeping. He managed to drag his heavy eyelids open and panicked, for a second, when all he saw were white walls and bright lights. Then, a familiar face came into view. When he noticed that the lips were moving, he realized that the buzzing in his ears was actually a voice speaking to him.
“Spike, it’s okay. Go back to sleep. You’re gonna be okay. You’ll be warm soon.”
Though he recognized both the voice and the face of the person who was talking to him, his mind was apparently too sluggish to supply a name. Yet, he knew he trusted this person and if he said to go back to sleep then that’s what he should do.
He was still shivering, but drifted off almost as soon as he closed his eyes.
"All right, here we go," Sam said as he swung open the door to Spike's apartment and stepped aside to let Spike enter.
"You know, I don't mean to sound ungrateful or anything, but you didn't have to walk me all the way up to my apartment," Spike told him as he walked in. "I'm fine."
It had been two days since Spike had fallen into the icy waters of the Humber River and he'd only just been discharged from the hospital. Things had been touch and go for a while and Sam was pretty sure none of the team had any fingernails left, including Jules. Only after long hours of uncertainty had it become clear that their team member was going to pull through. Sam could still see the relieved expressions on everyone's faces when they'd received the news.
"Sure you are," Sam replied belatedly, closing the door behind him. "That’s why you were constantly nodding off on the way here. And anyway," he added as he watched Spike clumsily take off his thick coat, "Jules would kill me if she found out I didn't walk you to your apartment."
Sam paused in turning up the thermostat to give his friend an incredulous look. "Yes, she would. Have you met her?"
Spike chuckled. "I meant, she wouldn't find out. I don't doubt that she'd kill you."
"Oh. Well, believe me, Jules has her ways of finding things out," Sam said. He was about to turn back to the door when he caught Spike shivering, despite the warm jogging pants and heavy sweater he was wearing. Sam immediately slipped into Team Leader mode. "Okay, Spike, you go make yourself comfortable on the couch, I'm gonna go get you some blankets."
"Sam, really, I'm good," Spike protested, though he did sit down. "You don't have to-"
Sam didn't hear the rest as he was already making his way to where he assumed Spike's bedroom would be. He grabbed one of the pillows off the bed and stripped the bed of its blankets. Back in the living room, where he found Spike leaning back against the cushions of the sofa, Sam dumped the blankets in Spike's lap. The pallor of his friend's face startled him. There had definitely been some colour in his cheeks when they’d left the hospital only half an hour ago. The short walk to Sam’s car and from the car to Spike’s apartment must’ve really worn him out. "Lie down, Spike,” he said. “I'm gonna get some hot cocoa going."
"Sam, I'm f-"
"Spike, you almost died," Sam interrupted him. "And you still look like death warmed over. Now, lie down."
Spike stared at him, eyes wide. "O-kay, when you put it like that," he muttered, before slowly stretching out on the couch and arranging the blankets.
Satisfied, Sam purposefully strode into the kitchen and rummaged around in the cupboards until he found a mug and cocoa powder. Five minutes later, he carried the steaming mug into the living room. "All right, Spike, now-" he snapped his mouth shut when he spotted Spike curled up beneath the blankets, apparently sound asleep.
Sam smiled and quietly set down the cocoa on the coffee table. He made sure Spike was no longer shivering before heading to the door, intending to leave - only to almost trip over a pile of boxes in the middle of the floor. They were big moving boxes and he glanced around, wondering where they had come from. As he did so, he noticed more boxes, most of them tucked away in corners, lending the room a rather cold and lonely atmosphere.
In fact, the whole room seemed kind of…bare. The furniture was there, but all three bookcases that lined the far wall were empty and so were the CD/DVD racks in one of the corners of the room. There were no pictures or paintings or any other personal mementos, and, now that Sam thought about it, there was a distinct lack of Christmas decorations given the time of year. Spike was a big fan of Christmas, but you would never be able to tell by the current cheerless state of the apartment.
An uncomfortable feeling settled in Sam's stomach and as he looked back at the sleeping figure on the sofa, he just couldn't bring himself to leave his friend alone in a comfortless apartment like this. He slipped into Spike’s bedroom so as not to disturb his sleeping friend, pulled his cell phone from his jeans pocket and dialed.
“Hey, Ed, it’s Sam…. Yeah, just got him home. He's asleep… Listen, Ed, we gotta do something about Spike’s apartment.”
When Spike woke several hours later, it was to hushed voices and quiet Christmas carols. He slowly blinked his eyes open and was astonished to find himself the centre of all kinds of hustle and bustle. He spotted Jules decorating a Christmas tree – one he didn’t remember getting – and Ed, who was hanging up Christmas lights all around his living room. Sam was arranging picture frames on a side table and then there was Raf, who was unpacking a box full of books and putting them away in one of the bookcases Spike hadn’t gotten around to filling yet.
Wincing at the stiffness of his body, Spike propped himself up on an elbow and frowned. He had just opened his mouth to ask what on earth they were all doing in his apartment when his boss emerged from the kitchen with a tray loaded with…cookies?
Greg caught Spike's eye and his face immediately lit up with a smile. "Spike," he said, sounding both surprised and relieved. He set down the tray on the coffee table and pulled up a chair. "How are you feeling, buddy?"
"Good, I’m good, boss," Spike replied automatically, "but what are you-? Guys, what's going on?"
Ed had abandoned his lights to stand behind Greg’s chair. "Well, Sam here," he said, jerking his thumb at Sam and grinning, "got us some valuable intel on the sorry state of your new apartment, so we decided to remedy the situation."
Spike stared, at a loss for words, and Greg chuckled and patted his knee. "Come on, Spike, did you really think we were gonna let you spend Christmas Eve on your own?"
Spike slowly began to shake his head, but stopped when Greg's words sank in. "Christmas Eve? It's Christmas Eve?!" He immediately disentangled himself from the blankets and swung his feet to the floor, ignoring the light-headedness the move caused. "Guys, what are you doing here? It's Christmas Eve! Why aren't you spending it with your families?"
"We are spending it with family, Spike," Jules said, pausing in her strategic placement of tinsel to give him a gentle smile.
Spike looked at her and then at the rest of his team. Sam and Raf were both smiling and nodding and Greg and Ed were grinning like fools. Spike swallowed hard. "Thanks, guys. Really. Just- thanks."
"Well, don't thank us just yet," Raf spoke up suddenly, holding a couple of books in each hand. "We may have totally screwed up your filing system. I mean, do you alphabetize your books? 'Cause I can still change it around if you want, no problem. The DVDs may take some time though, ‘cause, dude, you got a lot of them and-"
They all burst into laughter, and Spike was grateful for the distraction. "Raf," he interrupted his team mate, chuckling. "Raf, you did an awesome job. It's perfect. Thank you."
“I’m surprised you haven’t switched to one of those e-reader things by now, Spike,” Ed observed.
“Oh, but I have,” Spike replied. “It’s in one of those other boxes.”
“Of course it is. Ed, how could you have doubted him?” Greg remarked with a chuckle as Ed shook his head, grinning. Spike laughed, and Greg got up from the chair, rubbing his hands together. “All right,” he said, “who wants to try some of Marina’s home-made Christmas cookies?”
"Hey," Sam said as he sat down next to Spike, who was once again bundled up in blankets on the sofa. They had just finished clearing the table from all the bowls and plates they'd used for dinner and Sam had been kicked out of the kitchen because, apparently, he'd been getting in the way. “You okay?"
“Yeah, I’m good.”
“You always say that,” Sam said, regarding his friend critically. Spike still looked pale, but better than he had that afternoon, when his face had almost been white. “But at least you don't look like the walking dead anymore.”
Spike quirked an eyebrow at him and laughed. “Thanks.”
“Listen, uh…I hope you don’t mind me calling in the cavalry.”
Spike looked at him, eyebrows raised in silent question.
"Well, I just…wasn't sure you'd be okay with us going through some of your personal stuff."
Spike shrugged. "As long as you didn't let Jules go through my underwear… You didn't, did you?" Spike added, pretending to look fearful.
Sam chuckled. "No, we didn't, though we were tempted for a minute there."
Spike smiled but quickly grew serious. "Truth is I needed the help," he admitted. "Between the job, keeping up with all the tech and stuff that's out there, and everything else that's been going on, I just haven't had the time to actually finish moving in."
"Why didn't you say something? We would've helped out."
"I thought I could handle it. And anyway, it’s not like you guys have been sitting on your hands lately.”
“Riiight,” Sam said. “Next time, Spike, just call.”
“You know, Sam,” Spike said, suddenly regarding him with a raised eyebrow. “You’ve been gettin’ awfully bossy lately.”
Sam raised his hands, feigning innocence. “Hey, it comes with Team Leader territory.”
“Well, you’re not Team Leader just yet, Samtastic,” Spike replied with an obvious twinkle in his eye, and Sam laughed, relieved that Spike was feeling up to a little banter.
Just then, an unexpected yawn popped Spike’s jaw open and he glanced at Sam apologetically.
Sam smiled and got up. “You should get some more rest,” he said. “We’ll finish up here.”
“Yeah, go get some sleep.”
“And again with the bossiness,” Spike remarked as he lay back down on the sofa and made himself comfortable.
Sam chuckled and started to make his way to the kitchen when Spike’s quiet voice stopped him.
Sam smiled. “You’re welcome. Now, go to sleep already.”
Laughter drifted from the kitchen and Sam stood, for a moment, just taking in the Christmas tree, the lights, the now filled bookcases and CD/DVD racks and the knick-knacks and photographs they’d unpacked and decorated the room with.
Much better, he thought. He glanced back at the quiet bundle of blankets on the sofa. “Merry Christmas, Spike,” he said softly and turned to enter the kitchen.
A sleepy mumble was his reply. “M’ry 'mas.”