Author's Chapter Notes:
Ghost story is from the Chris Woodyard book, "Haunted Ohio." It is a great read and there are 5 books so far in the series. I highly suggest them for spooky reading!
Willow winced as Xander gently spread aloe vera on her taunt shoulders. “Sorry hun,” Xander apologized. Willow just nodded mutely and closed her eyes against the burning pain that enveloped her body. She was sure Buffy was doing no better after hearing a loud whimper on the other side of the camp.

After they had returned from the disaster they called boating to find their camp a mess, Xander and Spike immediately started putting things back in as much order as they would go. The guy’s underwear that had not been pulled down were now dry and they moved what was left of their stuff into the girl’s tent, seeing as their own tent had been ripped to shreds by something.

The girls hadn’t bothered to help, they could barely move with the massive sunburns they were sporting. They both sat on the picnic bench and watched as the men packed everything up and set the camp aright. Then Xander dug around at the bottom of the cooler and pulled out a bottle of clear aloe vera gel.

Spike had offered to put some on Buffy’s back and shoulders while Xander helped Willow. Neither girl protested because it hurt to move their lips. Instead, they just barely nodded and followed their respective healers to a secluded area on each side of the massive tent.

Spike helped Buffy gingerly sit on the tiny stool in front of the folding chair he had set up. As he sat behind her with his bottle of the ice-cold gel, he could see the start of angry red welts peppering her small back. He put his palm near her skin and could feel the heat radiate off her blistering skin in waves. He grimaced and knew what he was about to do would greatly pain her.

“Need to put your hair up, love. Got any clips?” he asked near her ear.

She startled with his closeness but recovered. “In my bag in the tent. You’ll have to get it, I don’t think I can move much.”

She felt him get up and cross to the tent, his movements causing air to buffet at her distressed skin. She cringed and whimpered in pain. Stupid, was all she could think about. As in, how stupid was she to think about boating without sun block. Thank god Spike was being somewhat tolerable about the whole thing. No sarcastic remarks about how blond she was, nor any slaps on the ass or crap like that. To be honest, if he did that, she would have found the strength to haul off and deck him with the way she felt right now.

She felt him return and he gently pulled her shoulders back towards him. He then took a handful of her hair and twisted it lightly to lie against her head while he applied the clip that made her hair stay put. “Gonna have to untie the top, pet…if you want me to get all the affected area,” Spike said softly.

“Go ahead,” Buffy said, just as softly. She didn’t have the strength to argue about being decent.

Spike’s mouth suddenly went dry as he pulled the knots that held her shirt up. Either she didn’t want to bother with being decent because she was in so much pain or…well, any other thought was ludicrous as he surveyed her bright pink flesh. She was bent over legs and rested her head on her knees. For a short girl, she had very long legs he noticed.

“This will probably sting at first, love, but it can’t be helped,” Spike explained hoping she would forgive him for hurting her.

She closed her eyes in resignation and sighed. “I know, it’s ok, really.”

Instead of putting the gel in his hands to warm it up, he just started slathering it on her back, knowing the coolness of the gel helped in pain relief. She gave a whimpered moan but didn’t move. She decided, after much thought, that she needed something to take her mind off of the pain. And what better way than to get Spike talking.

“What are you going to do once we get back to Sunnydale?” she asked quietly.

Spike stopped his ministrations for a moment but then resumed after looking at her closed eyes. “Hadn’t thought that far ahead yet, pet. S’pose I’ll visit with mum a bit more then figure out what I want to do. Got a couple of leads on photo jobs, maybe they’ll turn out.”

Spike was schooled in England and visited his mother during the summers. He had finished his schooling the year before the rest of the group had, so he was actually looking for work. Where that work would be was still up in the air and she had to repress the urge to ask him to stay here in the states. Her feelings for him were increasing in confusion with every touch, every word he uttered. She was striving to keep her heart safe and if he was going back to England then she’d rather know sooner than later.

“Aren’t you going back to London?”

This time he stopped and looked her in the eyes. “I changed my mind,” he whispered.

That was not a safe answer. She gingerly sat up, the gel already working to loosen the tightness of her skin, and pulled the straps of her top together behind her neck to tie them. Buffy grimaced with the task but murmured her thanks to Spike as she started to head into the tent.

“Buffy, please…” he called to her before she pulled back the flap. She waited for him to continue and he went and crouched before her in the doorway. She watched him warily, like a frightened bird with a cat nearby.

He reached out to caress her cheek, the gel still coating his fingers. He rubbed as much as he could into her skin with one hand and then started with the other, cupping her face in the end. He gently brought her forward, nose-to-nose, always mindful of her sensitive skin.

“I want to stay because,” he breathed against her lips.

“Because?” she answered dreamily. This was bad, this was so seriously of the bad Buffy thought.

“Because I found something worth staying for, something I’ve wanted for a very long time,” he murmured as he pressed soft kisses against her cheeks, eyes, nose, and finally lips.

“A job?” she wondered aloud, her mind having gone completely to mush as Spike peppered her face with kisses.

Spike softly chuckled and rested his forehead against hers. “Not yet, but…”

“Aaarrgghhhh!” Willow screamed. “That’s freakin cold!”

Spike closed his eyes in frustration. How hard could it be to tell the girl he loved her? Every time he had tried, one thing or another seized the opportunity to intrude. He looked back at Buffy who had retreated into the tent and sighed. Knowing she needed her space and probably some sleep, Spike started gathering supplies for that evening’s dinner, grumbling about the timing of the future Mr. And Mrs. Harris.

That evening, after a meal of hot dogs and campfire mac and cheese, Spike pulled out the marshmallows…along with bars of chocolate and graham crackers. “S’mores anyone?”

The girls were visibly drooling at the mere thought of chocolate and marshmallows, Xander not far behind them as he smacked his lips in anticipation.

Several burnt marshmallows and sticky fingers later, Buffy offered an idea as they sat around the campfire, the twilight falling fast. “How about some ghost stories?” she asked in a spooky way.

“Oh yeah, really creepy ones too!” Willow squealed. Xander heartily agreed and nominated Spike to be the first to start.

Spike cleared his throat and began in an ominous tone. “Back in the 1860’s, in an area much like this one, a group of settlers had gathered for a community log-burning. By nightfall, so many log fires were burning that the cleared area was as bright as day.”

Spike stood up and slowly walked around the fire telling the tale, adding just the right inflection where it was called for. “The jug was passed, the fiddler fiddled like the very devil himself, and more logs were heaped on the huge fires. Everyone took turns poking the logs to keep them burning quickly. There was so much laughter as the sparks shot into the night sky like fireworks or showered down on the workers,” he said with a sweeping of his hand towards the night sky.

Buffy had wrapped her arms around herself feeling a chill crawl up her spine and she shivered.

“One young woman,” Spike continued, “in a red plaid shawl took a pole and worked together with the young men, her cheeks glowing scarlet. Someone called her name and she turned, still holding her pole to the blaze. Suddenly, the huge pile of logs shifted and rolled over onto her!”

A collective gasp issued from the group sitting on the chairs as Spike went on.

“Everyone scattered, and when they looked back, swatting the cinders from their eyes, they young woman lay screaming, her hands trapped beneath a pile of burning logs. By the time the men heaved the logs off her arms, she was unconscious. Everyone gasped at the horror that lay there, for the hardwood had burnt white-hot.”

The girls covered their mouths to keep from gagging. Xander just whistled low and said, “Wow.”

“The doctor shook his head when he saw the blackened stubs of charred bone,” Spike said with a grimace. “He asked someone to boil oil. The wrist stumps would have to be cauterized after he amputated. He cut off the young woman’s hands halfway between wrist and elbow. Holding his breath against the stink, his assistant carried the hands into the forest and dropped them into a rotten tree stump. By the time he returned, the doctor was wiping his saw on a rag and replacing it in his bag. Weeping women covered the now dead woman’s sooty distorted face.”

Willow leaned closer to Xander and he in turn, pulled her into a gentle hug, mindful of her burn. Buffy drew her arms closer to her body and she shivered a little more. Spike decided to sit down for the rest of the story and so sat next to Buffy, doing the same thing as Xander.

“After that, the horses would shy and rear as their riders passed that rotten stump. As the horses ran with their nostrils flaring, a stench floated after them – something like burnt sausages,” Spike said as he pulled Buffy closer.

“Other travelers, riding watchfully through the forest at night reported being clutched at the throat or knees by an invisible attacker. When they tried to seize the arms of the ghostly strangler, they grasped only air. Others claimed that when they walked through the darkened forest, a cold hand smelling of burning flesh, slipped into theirs. Some scoffed at the witnesses but they still avoided the forest path.”

Xander snorted in derision. “No way that stuff is true.”

“Well, travelers would do well to avoid that area today. It’s still said to be haunted by a pair of disembodied hands that grab at the ankles or neck – blackened hands that twitch their way through the forest like charred spiders,” Spike intoned as he made creepy crawling fingers towards the group.

Willow squealed when Xander ran fingers up her back and she smacked him. Buffy laughed but soon stopped as a wave of nausea overcame her. “Oh god,” she muttered.

Laughing at Willow and Xander, Spike turned to see Buffy’s eyes, glazed over in what was probably a fever. “Buffy, love? What’s wrong?”

“Don’t know,” she chattered. “I’m so cold.”

“Bollocks! Was hoping you wouldn’t get it that bad, pet,” Spike said, worry edging into his voice as he pulled her closer.

She was getting dizzy and she had to grasp hold of his shirt to keep from falling as he pulled her up and was directing her towards the tent. “Get what?” she mumbled, her vision hazy.

“Seems you have sun poisoning, Buffy. Have you ever had it before?” Spike asked as he started peeling her layers of clothes off. He needed to cool her skin and this was the quickest way to do it.

“Is she ok?” Willow asked in a small voice from the tent flap.

“Grab the medic kit, if you will Red,” Spike said, not really answering her question.

Willow quickly did as she was told and Xander followed her into the tent, where Buffy was curled into a ball of chills and pain.

“She’s got a fever from the damage done to her fair skin. Surprised you haven’t got the same Red,” Spike pointed out.

“I wore a longer sleeved shirt,” Willow answered, confirming the reason her sunburn wasn’t as bad as Buffy’s. Buffy had worn only a tank top and shorts, while Willow had worn Capri’s and a mid arm sleeve length shirt.

“Need to get her fever down, the medic kit has ibuprofen in it. Grab a bit of water, mate,” Spike instructed Xander.

After all was said and done, there was nothing to do but wait it out. Spike lay down next to Buffy and pulled her into his embrace, Xander and Willow having fallen asleep long ago. She whimpered in her sleep and he loosened his grip from the pain he must be causing her.

Instead she rolled over and snuggled into his chest and he was left stunned by her actions. He was even more stunned when, in the midst of her feverish ramblings, she said something that he grasped hold of with his heart and refused to let go.

“Love you Spike.”

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