DISCLAIMER: No copyright laws were meant to be hurt or infringed by this fiction. All characters not mine belong to Joss, Mutant Enemy, or other corporate entities that don’t include me.
It started simply as a means of escape, a way to release tension, something relaxing to do. He had begun coming up to the mansion on Crawford Street months ago, while he had been staying in Xander’s closet. There hadn’t been much else to do; no one seemed to want his company at the time. Bitterly, he wondered if anything had really changed or if Buffy just needed him more now that the battle with The First was imminent.
He had found the repetitive physical motion helped to relax his mind, while at the same time providing a much-needed outlet for his boundless energy. He estimated that he had cut and split enough firewood to heat the mansion for a month by the time he finally ran out of deadwood close to hand. If anyone had noticed that the parks, woods and cemeteries around Sunnydale were looking better than usual, they hadn’t mentioned it. He didn’t want to start chopping down living trees – it wasn’t like he actually needed the firewood for anything, and he knew from past experience that drawing attention to himself was never a good thing.
Instead, Spike had turned his restless energy to the inside of the building. He was afraid at first that spending so much time at the old place might bring back memories of things that he was trying to forget: both of Angelus and Angel. The impotent feeling of being confined to a wheelchair, Angelus and Drusilla screaming out their passion in the next room. Later, the fact that Angel had lived here, and awful realization that Buffy had loved Angel in a way that she had never been able to love him. Instead, all he heard was silence. So, he dusted and swept the disused rooms, and aired out the linens, and scrubbed the floors and walls until the old house shone.
With the advent of the Potentials, the house on Revello was always full of people now. There was no quiet or privacy to be found anywhere; often not even in his basement which doubled as both laundry and storage room. It had occurred to him that they’d all fit much better in the old mansion, except for the lack of central heating, electricity and hot water, which the humans generally objected to.
He couldn’t remember when the idea had first come to him – after that disastrous evening with Faith at the Bronze? He wasn’t the only one on the edge. They all needed a break. Living in such close quarters was difficult on everyone. And the anticipation of the impending apocalypse was almost as bad as the apocalypse itself - except that Spike knew better. He knew that they wouldn’t all walk away from this one unharmed.
She was here. Spike could sense Buffy as she hesitantly opened the front door and entered. Unlike the rest of the gang, he hadn’t told Buffy what to expect, what he was planning. It was a measure of her faith in him that she didn’t question it, merely did as he asked. He was inordinately proud of that. Even if she didn’t love him – at least she trusted him.
It was only around four in the afternoon, and already it was growing dark outside. The fire in the main hall had been raging for hours and the room was warm and welcoming – as it hadn’t been since before the vampires had made it their own.
She saw him halfway down the stairs. He had given up wearing his signature black outfit, and Buffy thought that in the uncertain light he looked more human than she could ever remember. “Spike,” she began, “What…?”
Almost, he could think it was years ago – before their disastrous love affair, before her death and resurrection. His eyes twinkled, “Do you trust me?”
Such a simple question, but with so much behind it. He held out his hand for her to precede him back up the stairs, as he waited for her answer. She didn’t respond, but merely moved in the direction indicated. She didn’t know what he was up to, but he was right, she did trust this quieter, softer Spike. She kept expecting him to act the same, as he would have before he had come back with his soul, but he didn’t. Sometimes it crossed her mind that she really didn’t know him very well anymore.
She almost balked when she realized that he was taking her into a bathroom. They had bad memories of bathrooms; both of them. Perhaps he understood that, as he merely held the door open for her to enter, while he stayed in the hall. She could smell the bath before she rounded the corner and saw it – filled with bubbles and an array of her favorite beauty products on the shelf nearby. It had been ages since she’d had the time or privacy to actually relax in a tub. With some many girls in the house now, it was all they could do to squeeze in shower time for each of them every other day. Buffy refused to allow herself extra privileges just because she was the Slayer. Right now the idea of a long soak in a tub rivaled her memories of Heaven.
“Take as long as you like. Although I’m afraid that there is no hot water on the tap. The power is off, which includes the hot water heater. If you like, when the tub gets cold, there’s a few extra buckets of hot waiting in the corner.” He ran his hand through his hair; a new habit of his. Buffy wasn’t sure what it meant, but if she’d been forced to put an emotion to the gesture, she’d have said he was shy or nervous. Emotions which did not fit her idea of Spike at all. “I’d refill it for you, but I’ve got other things to do and might not be around if you call. Besides, the whole point was to give you some time to yourself.”
“Thank you, Spike.” As she said them she realized with wry humor that she might never have put that simple combination of words together before. It was way past due. When had he become so considerate and so perceptive? This was exactly what she needed. It took her a moment more to actually process what he had said. “Are you saying you filled this whole tub up with hot water you heated in buckets over the fire?”
Spike shrugged, “Twas the way it was always done back in the day. You lot take your modern conveniences for granted - don’t know how to live without. It’s no big deal.”
“It is big, Spike, it is very big. Thank you. I can’t remember the last time I had the leisure or privacy to luxuriate in a hot bath. Thank you.”
Spike shook his head ruefully and looked away. “When you’re done, you can relax across the way. I’ve told Dawn and the others to come by around nine. Should be back before eight, if there’s anything you need.”
“What’s happening at nine?” She sounded sincere. If so, that meant that for once Dawn and the others had managed to keep their mouths shut. She really had no idea what was going on tonight. Of course, the others didn’t realize the extent of what he had planned either. He hoped that it would prove to be a welcome respite for all of them. Gods knew they needed it. Just the stress of all trying to coexist in a house meant for four people was driving them to distraction, let alone the shadow of the impending apocalypse.
He smiled a little and rocked on the balls of his feet. He was more sure than ever that this was what they needed. “Having us a party. I thought you all needed a chance to relax a bit. Unwind. Originally thought of it as a Christmas party, but the holidays got away from me somehow.” He grimaced a bit at that. Buffy realized that although the holidays had been bleak and bitter for the Scoobies, they were no doubt worse for Spike. He had spent Christmas being tortured by The First. She was still a little bit ashamed that it had taken her so long to come to his rescue. She had never apologized to him for allowing his captivity to last so long. She hoped it hadn’t been too bad; but then she knew better.
After a moment Spike continued in the direction his thoughts had gone. “Everyone can be assured they’ll be safe and sound for the night – I’ve paid for a bit of professional spell casting – so no demon violence here tonight.” He raised his hand towards her face, then, thinking better of it, lowered it again. “For tonight at least, you’re just a bunch of girls having a party and the world can take care of itself.”
Buffy decided that she shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth and if Spike wanted to let bygones be bygones and play the host, she was more than happy to let him. Truth was, she was more than just a little strung out, and some serious relaxation would be greatly appreciated.
The bath smelled heavenly and she could just imagine how terrific it would feel to slide under the water and let herself completely relax. She tested the water with her hand, relishing the sound it made. The silence of the house itself was amazing; no girls’ constant chatter or complaining, no footsteps stomping or dishes rattling. She could actually hear the swish of the water under her hand and the gentle pop of the soap bubbles bursting. She grinned as she shooed Spike out, firmly closed the door and began to undress. She discovered that it was even quieter in the tub.
Much later, a soft rap on the door startled her – she must have fallen asleep. “Buffy – you fall asleep in there? Water’s gotta be cold by now.”
Buffy wasn’t quite sure how to respond. Who was this man and what had he done with the Spike she knew? “Buffy- you haven’t slipped under have you? If you don’t answer me I’m going to have to come in there after you.” He pushed the door open partway, but made no move to enter. “The room across the hall is yours – fire’s going so it’s nice and warm and the bed’s been turned down for you if you want to take a nap before the party.”
Belatedly Buffy realized that the soap bubbles covering her had long ago disappeared and she was completely exposed lying in the tub. Hurriedly, before he could push the door open any further, Buffy called out, “I’m fine Spike. The bath was a great idea. The bed sounds even better.”
“Right then. Want me to wake you up after a bit so you can get ready – or should I just let you sleep?”
In the hallway, Spike could clearly hear the sounds of Buffy emerging from the tub. Could imagine that brief moment as she stood, her skin glistening with damp rivulets of water and foam running down her breasts and thighs, before she could reach for the warm towel that he had left out for her; rubbing it over her legs and thighs to dry them. He had to hold himself back from entering the room, from just opening the door a little more so that he could see her reflection in the mirror, from reaching out to touch her.
He was so lost in his own thoughts that he was almost startled when she stepped out into the hall wrapped in the towel. “What do you mean ‘get ready’? It’s just gonna be us and the potentials….”
The words died in her throat as she looked down the hallway. On each doorway were hung three or four full-length evening gowns with matching shoes and accessories. One was midnight blue with silver stars and matching slippers. Hanging next to it was another of pale silk, and a third of deep maroon. Looking down the hall were dresses of every description, each lovelier than the next. As she drew closer to feel the fabric, she noticed that on each dress a nametag was attached. This dress was meant for Cho-Ahn. The one next to it was for Kennedy. There were so many. Buffy wasn’t even sure that she knew all of the girls’ names - let alone their dress or shoe size.
She looked at him, eyes questioning. She saw a slight smile she couldn’t recall having ever seen on him before as he shrugged his shoulders. “I wanted it to be something beautiful, something for everyone to remember. Like the parties of my youth, I suppose. Beautiful women dressed to the nine’s, dancing until three in the morning without a care in the world. I dunno - selfish of me I guess, to want to see something like that one more time.”
“Selfish?” Buffy turned back to look at him, reluctantly letting go of the streams of fabric she was holding. “You go to all this trouble for us and you call that selfish? Believe me, they’ll all love it.”
“Well, I didn’t really ask you or anyone else if they wanted a fancy dress ball – it was just something that got stuck in my head and then I couldn’t get rid of it. I’m just grateful that Dawn and Xander agreed to go along with it and help me out some. Without too much complaining.”
“Complaining? Dawn was complaining about this? I’m gonna kill her.”
“Come on Buffy. Have you ever known Dawn or the SITs not to complain? I wouldn’t be surprised if they ripped each other’s eyes out over a hairpin, and it’d all be my fault.”
Was that really the way Spike saw his place in the world? That no matter how hard he tried to do the right thing, if anything went wrong, he’d be blamed for it? “Spike, I personally will deck the first girl who says one whisper of complaint. I promise.”
His smile broadened into a more familiar smirk at her words, and there was the twinkle in his eyes again. She hadn’t realized how much she’d missed it. “And what if the first one to complain is you, luv?”
That was more like the Spike she thought she knew. “Never.” She shook her head vehemently. “But if I do, then I give you permission to take a shot at me. Really, I can’t believe that you went to all this trouble to set this up. There will be absolutely nothing but praise and gratitude from all involved.” A thought occurred to her. “Unless you stole all this stuff. You did, didn’t you?”
“Not a bit of it.” Buffy glared at him and he knew that nothing but the absolute truth would do. “Well, that might be a bit of a stretch on the truth. But then I wasn’t expecting three new girls in as many days. But if the store’s boarded up and the owner’s fled, there wasn’t really any way for me to buy it proper like, now was there? So seeing as I did the best I could to honor your code of ethics, I’m gonna hold you to that no complaining promise. If you think such a thing is possible, Slayer.”
Spike looked like he didn’t believe that Buffy could make it through the evening with one single complaint, but he was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. Especially since she was standing not two feet away from him wearing nothing but a damp towel.
“In you go to rest then. There’s a nightshirt for you on the bed. I’ve got to oversee the rest of the decorations and the catering.”
“Catering? There’s going to be catering? Where did you get the money for all this, Spike? Suddenly you’re rich?”
“Always been loaded, Slayer. Gem of Amarra wasn’t the only treasure in that tomb, let alone what I’d already had put by. Just didn’t see the need to spend it. Except when you and Dawn were short on dosh – but back then you refused to take anything from me – especially not cash.”
If that was true she was more of an idiot than she had thought. All those hours of suffering at the Doublemeat when all she had to do was ask Spike for a loan. But then, she really couldn’t have. Thinking about it now, the distinction really didn’t make much sense. She had taken advantage of Spike in every other way possible. Taking his money too shouldn’t have been difficult. But then, it really wasn’t about Spike. It was about her. Taking his money would have made her feel like a whore. She tried to think of something to say to him to express what she was feeling, but it wouldn’t come.
Instead she simply reiterated her earlier promise. “I promise you nothing but smiling faces all evening.”
The temptation to reach up and kiss him just then was very strong, but Buffy held it back, and headed into ‘her’ room. In the normal course of events right now, dealing with the latest and greatest evil, she didn’t have time to deal with her feelings for Spike as well – whatever they were. It wasn’t fair to him to start something that she wasn’t sure she wanted. They’d been down that road before, and it had almost destroyed them both. Any personal or romantic relationship she had with Spike would have to be all or nothing. She admitted to herself that she did have feelings for him – of one type or another.
And then there was the fact that he hadn’t once proclaimed his love for her since his return from Africa. She wasn’t sure if he still felt the same way. But she needed his help and his unconditional support right now, and she couldn’t allow other emotions to get in the way. Maybe there’d be time to explore their relationship more after The First was taken care of.
Spike smirked and counted off the seconds as he started back down the stairs. He heard her open her bedroom door, rustle around, close it again, and finally come out to stand at the top of the stairs, one had on her hip and the other still clutching the towel to cover her.
Spike looked up and smirked even more, seeing she was still dressed in nothing but the towel. “Nothing wrong Buffy, is there? No complaints?”
Buffy looked down at him and fumed. How had he maneuvered her into this position? Did he do it on purpose? Or did it somehow just work out this way? She shifted from foot to foot, feeling guilty. “It’s not a complaint, Spike. Really, it’s not. Just a question.”
Spike continued to leer at her. “You’re sure about that? Because I wouldn’t want to give you a shiner just before the big shindig. Wouldn’t look right what with your pretty dress and all.” Of course he wouldn’t actually hit her, but she couldn’t know that for sure, and that was half the fun. Then again, maybe he’d just take her over his knee…
He had to close his eyes and will away his body’s response to that thought. Spike couldn’t help thinking that she looked vulnerable and innocent standing there in only a towel, and the thought of her bare bum under his hand … well, it would be bad with the others due to arrive soon.
He had almost forgotten how young she still was. And how much fun it was to tease her.
“So. You did get me a dress, you’re just hiding it from me. I take it all back Spike. You are evil.” She was furious, but Spike had always thought she was most beautiful when she was angry. “Why didn’t you put it on my door like all the other girls?”
“Cause you’re not like all the other girls, are you? More fun if you have to ask me for it. Specially standing there in just your towel.” Grinning, he disappeared for a second and then returned carrying a long opaque dress bag. She tried to hide her disappointment that she still couldn’t see what he had picked out for her to wear.
“I’m sure its lovely Spike,” she said with more enthusiasm than she felt. What if it was really hideous? After all, Anya had had the most horrible taste, and it had been difficult to get her to decide on something that was even halfway decent. But then she remembered the other dresses in the hall – they had all been beautiful. Surely, the dress he had chosen for her to wear would be as well.
She felt a thrill pass through her as she reached to take the dress from him and their hands touched for just a moment. Their eyes met and held. If Spike could have blushed he would have. Instead he coughed lightly and took his hand away. “Go get your beauty rest, Slayer, so you won’t be all complainy Buffy when you wake up. As you’ve said, I went to no little trouble to set this up, and I’ll be right annoyed if you don’t enjoy it. If the herd of girls getting ready doesn’t wake you up, I’ll let you sleep ‘til eleven o’clock. I’ve a Christmas waltz planned for midnight, and you’ll need to be dressed and ready by then.”
“Dancing? There’s going to be dancing?”
“Course. What kind of a party would it be without dancing?”
“But a waltz, Spike? No one knows how to waltz anymore.”
“I’d be careful if I were you, Slayer. That sounds awfully close to a complaint. Again. It’s my party and I’ll choose the music, the food and any other bloody thing I feel like. Just don’t you worry how to dance. Follow my lead and I’m sure it will be as smooth as if we were fighting.”
Buffy wasn’t sure how to answer that, or whether or not she had been insulted. So she settled for a non-committal “Whatever” and stomped up the stairs. She placed her gown on the back of her door and found a nightshirt laid out for her on the bed. She hadn't even noticed it before. It was only when she went to put it on that she realized that she’d been standing there talking to Spike with her hair damp and wearing only a towel. Her first thought was to be embarrassed. But the more she thought about it, the more aroused she became. After all, they were alone in the house now. They could do anything, and no one would have to know.
Buffy tried to reign in her thoughts and calm down as she brushed out her hair. Whoa girl. He does one nice thing – well, okay, a whole lot of nice things, and now you’re ready to fall back into bed with him? So not a good idea. Remember, you were gonna think things through this time. Spike and I are friends. Good friends. Close friends. I’m not gonna let a momentary indiscretion jeopardize that. Besides, I need Spike for this battle. Hot and cold running Buffy would not help your cause.
Buffy finished brushing her hair and decided to braid it before lying down. No electricity meant no hair dryer – somehow she’d have to do without. The freshly made bed smelled wonderful, and the fire in the grate was both cheerful and soothing. She was sound asleep before her head hit the pillow.
Author's Chapter Notes:
Major thanks to my Betas Cursed Carly and Jackie Abbott. This is my first attempt at fan fiction, so let me know what you think. Hope you enjoy. Happy Holidays.
Revised December 2005.
Revised December 2005.