DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Buffy and Spike have consummated their relationship, and when Buffy tried to leave his bed, Spike convinced her to stay…

*************

Chapter 22: Christmas Is Coming

Something was wrong with her feet.

Like…heavy kind of wrong.

Like…not really a part of her kind of wrong.

Just…wrong.

As she struggled through the clouds of sleep to wakefulness, Buffy fought to remember what it was she had dreamt about that could render such a reaction in her conscious world. Had she been Bozo the Clown? A demon with enormous blocks for feet?

…Nothing.

She didn’t think she’d dreamed anything.

She did, however, more than remember what had happened directly prior to falling asleep. The sex with Spike. His insistence that she stay. Her reluctance to go, even though she knew that staying was only going to encourage him into thinking that they had any kind of real future when they both knew it was impossible. He’d been so surprising, almost gentle, as he’d tugged her back to the bed. That was a memory that wasn’t going anywhere.

And did she mention the great sex?

She could feel him now, the weight of his arm curled around her waist, his erection poking into her bottom. He wasn’t moving, not even a surreptitious grope like he had that first night on the couch, so…asleep maybe?

Buffy frowned, though she had yet to fully break from the vestiges of slumber.

Asleep? So much for keeping his ears open. Stupid vamp couldn’t even keep his eyes open.

Damn it.

She really hoped Holly had stayed put for the night. She didn’t want to have to explain to the Ghosts of Christmas Past that she’d lost their little girl because she’d been too busy boinking the vampire who was supposed to be the bane of her existence. What could she possibly say to them? Oops?

In the meantime, she really had to figure out what was wrong with her feet. She couldn’t go chasing after anyone if her toes were going to be on the missing in action list. Maybe it was an afteraffect of the frostbite.

Slowly, Buffy cracked her eyelids, grateful that there wasn’t any sun in the loft to blind her. She was about to push the blanket away when she spied the reason her feet felt so heavy.

“I’m hungry,” Holly said, from where she was perched on the end of the bed.

“Ssshhh…” Buffy automatically said. “We don’t want to wake---.”

“Already up.”

Her head whipped around to see Spike gazing down at her, curls tousled into sexy spikes, and she felt the irresistible urge to reach up and tangle her fingers in them. Bed hair. Yum.

Buffy blanched at her traitorous thoughts, and started to push the comforter back to get away from the vampire, only to feel the cool cabin air glide across her naked breasts. With a quick yank, she held the blanket to her chin as she sat up against the headboard, her eyes jumping between the two who seemed so intent on watching her.

It was evil. Like they’d planned it ahead of time or something. No matter which one she was looking at, both Holly and Spike’s gazes followed her like a demonic painting.

“What?” she demanded, when the silence stretched too long for comfort.

“I’m hungry,” Holly repeated.

“Moptop wants breakfast,” Spike said casually.

“I heard her the first time.”

“Can I have hot chocolate?” the child asked.

Buffy frowned, her head swiveling to the foot of the bed. “No, that’s not breakfast food.”

“But I played the game like Spike said,” came her plaintive reply. “He said if I played, I could have hot chocolate.”

Back to Spike. “What game?”

“She wouldn’t stop blathering,” he explained. “You seemed like you could use the shut-eye, so I made a deal with her. Play the Quaker Meeting game ‘til you woke up, and she’d get what she wanted for brekky.”

Buffy shook her head. “OK, first of all, making deals with three-year-olds? Not exactly going to win you any awards as Babysitter of the Year. What if she’d wanted an ice cream sundae, Spike? What would you have done then?”

“Oh! I can have ice cream?”

She ignored the child who was now bouncing on the end of the bed. “Secondly, why couldn’t you make her breakfast? Why wait up for me to do it?”

His chin jerked in the direction of the dresser on her side of the bed. “Clothes are in there,” he said, a sly smile already breaking through. “And you were all twisted up in the duvet. You really want me to be flashing her my goodies?”

The fact that his jeans were dangling over the loft railing didn’t escape Buffy’s attention, but the last thing she felt capable of dealing with right now was a bunch of questions from a far too inquisitive young mind about why they were both naked in the first place. Instead, she asked, “So why didn’t you send her back down while you got dressed?”

Holly stopped jumping at that, and shook her head. “I don’t do down. I fall.”

Spike’s faux innocent shrug, as if he was saying you heard the kid, what do you expect me to do?, made Buffy want to scream. “Fine,” she said. “I’ll do breakfast.” She leaned over the side of the bed to pick up her shirt, but realized her pants were slightly out of her reach, and she wasn’t even going to think about where her bra might have ended up when she’d slingshot it.

Scrunching down further under the blanket, she slapped Spike’s hand that had followed her beneath its cover. “Can you get my pants, please, Holly?” Buffy asked before ducking to pull the shirt over her head. When she re-emerged just a few seconds later, she frowned when she saw that the child hadn’t moved from her perch at the end of the bed. “What’s wrong?”

“Are you going to yell at me for helping again?”

The query made her wince. “No,” she said gently. “No more yelling.”

That seemed to satisfy Holly, and she scrambled off with a tumble to fetch the garment in question. Under the blanket, Buffy had to push away Spike’s questing fingers again, and shot him a dirty look before the child turned back to face them.

“How come you came up here?” Buffy asked as she slithered into her trousers. Ick. First thing I do once I get downstairs is find some clean underwear.

“I couldn’t find you. I got scared.” She looked back and forth at the two adults. “Were you scared, too? Is that why you came up here?”

She could hear Spike chuckling, but Buffy ignored it as she slid off the bed. “We were talking,” she offered in careful explanation.

“Without your clothes on?”

How do I get myself into these corners? But before she could reply, the mattress squeaked behind her as Spike spoke up.

“Sometimes that’s the only way to get yourself heard,” he said nonchalantly. Scooping Holly into her arms, Buffy pivoted to see him sprawling against the headboard like he was king of the castle. “’Specially when one of you is a stubborn bint who’s got delusions of self-grandeur.”

Her jaw dropped to argue with him, but snapped quickly shut again when she caught the twinkle in his eye. “C’mon,” she said, heading for the ladder. “Let’s go get something to eat.”

As uncomfortable as it had been, Buffy decided as soon as they were downstairs that it was better she had been wakened in that particular manner rather than some other way. If it had just been she and Spike on that bed, she was positive one of two things would’ve happened. Either Spike would’ve insisted on having some kind of post-coital confrontation or they would’ve had a repeat of the previous night. Possibly even both.

Her thighs automatically warmed as the memories flooded her mind.

OK, so the sex had been good. Really good. Better than chocolate good. And she had to concede the bonus points for Spike not going evil---because, hey, already evil---and for actually being there when she woke up. That was more than she’d gotten from a human, albeit jerk-y, Parker, and…

She really didn’t want to finish that comparison.

But being a cuddler, and being amazing in bed, didn’t mean anything in the grand scheme of things, right? Because it wasn’t possible for the two of them to have any sort of real relationship when they got out of here, even if they seemed to be getting along better now, and even if she couldn’t honestly say she hated him any more, and even if just thinking about his lips made her start quivering like a leaf all over again.

Or was it?

Absentmindedly, Buffy took the eggs out of the refrigerator, setting them on the counter as she filled a pan with water. So lost in thought, she didn’t even realize she’d pulled out the second pan until a small voice from the table stayed the hand she was reaching back inside the fridge.

“Can I try some?”

Buffy looked down to see the blood bag in her grip, then glanced up at the soft step of the approaching vampire. He was dressed now, though his feet were bare, and he watched her in wary expectation as he straddled the far chair. For the long moment their eyes held, the events of the past twenty-four hours went rushing through Buffy’s brain, all his words and all his deeds tumbling into an oddly comforting pattern that seemed to settle at least one of the questions that had befuddled her.

“No,” Buffy said firmly. She resumed the task of heating up his breakfast, studiously avoiding Spike’s gaze again. “Little girls don’t drink blood. Little girls eat eggs.”

“What about my hot chocolate?”

The last thing she expected was for Spike to try and fix what he’d done. “How ‘bout we have that for special tonight, pidge?” he said. “Seein’ as how it’ll be Christmas Eve, it’ll be a treat, don’t you think?”

“Are we going to leave some for Santa, too?”

Buffy froze in mid-stir. Crap. I never even thought about that.

“Don’t think Father Christmas knows where we are,” Spike offered. “We’re playin’ hide-and-seek, remember? Like Doyle said. If everyone knew we were here, it wouldn’t be much of a game, now would it?”

“But---.”

“Why don’t you go and wash your hands?” Buffy interrupted with a bright smile. “Breakfast is almost ready.”

It was obvious she didn’t like the suggestion, but Holly obeyed anyway, sliding from her chair and padding quietly to the bathroom. Hesitating at the door, she stole a glance back at the pair in the kitchen before disappearing inside. In an instant, Buffy was at Spike’s side.

“What’re we going to do?” she hissed.

He frowned. “’Bout what?”

“About…” Buffy waved in the general direction of the bathroom. “…that.”

“Still not following, pet.”

“She’s going to expect Christmas tomorrow, especially since you’ve gone ahead and reminded her that it’s right around the corner.”

“And here I thought the giant tree in the living room was what gave us away. My mistake.”

“I’m serious, Spike. She’s three. She deserves to have some kind of holiday. And we’ve got nothing here.”

His eyes narrowed at that, and he peeled himself off from the back of the chair. “Don’t know if it’s nothin’,” he said slowly. “Thought we were doin’ pretty good, considering.”

In less than a blink, he’d completely changed the subject on her, and Buffy threw up her hands in exasperation. “I don’t know why I bother---,” she started to say, only to feel his hands grab her waist to pull her onto his lap.

“Tired of seein’ the back of you,” he growled into her neck. His mouth was already working along her skin, even as his fingers found their way beneath her top to hold her firmly against him. “Not that it’s not a very pretty back, but---.”

“All clean,” Holly announced as she came back into the room.

Buffy tried to get off Spike’s lap, but outside of pushing him off the chair, there was no way to gracefully break his grip. The thought of choosing a more physical means of getting free flitted across her mind, but somehow, she had the feeling that direct manhandling of the one person Holly actually seemed to like wasn’t going to help boost her approval rating with the child.

The child who now gazed at the pair of them as if seeing them in such close contact was the most natural thing in the world.

“Got a plan for you today,” Spike said.

Shifting to ask what it could possibly be, Buffy stayed silent when she saw his eyes resting on Holly.

“You like snow?” he went on to ask.

She nodded.

“Well, Buffy here’s been bugging the hell outta me ‘bout gettin’ some fresh air. So, I was thinkin’…can you do me a favor and keep her company when she goes? I got this pesky sun allergy or I’d do it myself, and I can’t just let her go out on her own, ‘cause she’s always picking up stray demons and bringing ‘em home. And the only demon I want around my Slayer is me.”

Spike took that opportunity to pretend to bite at Buffy’s shoulder, eliciting a giggle from Holly. Though she was still stiff within his embrace, Buffy could feel her resolve dissipating, and she just watched in amazement as he finished the negotiation with the child. He really was good with her; without even having to try very hard, he had Holly insisting on accompanying Buffy out into the snow for a day of fun and frolicking that would supposedly be good for the both of them.

“I need to stir your blood or it’s going to burn,” she interrupted as she heard it start to sizzle in the pan.

Spike sniffed at the air, but released her without question. When she rose to go to the stove, however, he followed after her, leaning against the counter at her side with the casual ownership of a man who had little desire to be long separated from…what? What exactly were they?

It didn’t matter. Having him so near felt strangely right, even if she didn’t get why. Buffy didn’t even protest when he stretched a finger to swipe at the blood that spattered on her wrist, returning it to his mouth to absently suckle.

Only when Holly went scampering off to the bedroom to fetch her outdoors gear, did Buffy speak again.

“Thank you,” she said quietly. “You didn’t have to do that, you know.”

“Do what?” Though he feigned innocence, she was more than aware of how he couldn’t quite meet her eyes. “Don’t think I’m doin’ this just because you failed so miserably yesterday. I just fancy gettin’ a bit of kip at some point today, is all. That’s not goin’ to happen if the pair of you are hovering about, ‘specially if I have to play doctor to the nipper because of an unfortunate doily-making incident.”

She didn’t react when he moved to stand behind her, his hands on either side of the stove as he leaned in to run his lips along her neck. “Now, if you fancied a turn at some doctoring,” Spike murmured, “I wouldn’t fuss about that. Bet we could find a whole slew of new ways to check your temperature.”

“We’ve been down that road, remember?”

“Yeah, but this time, we’ve got a whole new map, luv.”

Tilting her head to allow him better room to her neck seemed almost natural, and Buffy’s eyes fluttered closed against the goosebumps his mouth was raising along her skin. She knew she shouldn’t be giving in so readily to his touch; hadn’t she come up with some sort of argument about why at some point? At the moment, though, it escaped her. It must’ve not been a very good one.

“Could always send the kid out to play on her own,” he was whispering. Now, his hands had joined in the exploration, slipping beneath her shirt to stroke the tender skin of her stomach. “Missed the chance to wake you up good and proper this morning.”

“Someone has to watch her,” Buffy breathed. She grabbed his hand before it could disappear down the front of her pants. Time to nip this in the bud before Holly came back to find them naked on top of the table or something. “And I woke up just fine, thank you very much.”

He pouted when she turned and shoved the saucepan of blood into his hands. “And here I thought gettin’ laid might actually make you a sight more pleasant to be around,” Spike groused.

Her jaw dropped, the last consideration in continuing with his touchy-feely flying away on the wings of his statement. “Excuse me?” she asked tightly.

“I’m just sayin’---.”

“Yeah, I heard what you said.” The plate she pulled out of the cupboard shattered when she slammed it down to the counter, and Buffy swore under her breath as she began picking up the pieces. When Spike reached to try and help, though, her elbow automatically shot back, connecting with his solar plexus and sending him stumbling into the table to skid it across the floor. “Is it so hard to keep your hands to yourself?” she complained.

“Didn’t hear you protesting so much about my hands last night.” He was already back up, strong fingers on her shoulder to whirl her around to face him. “What’s really goin’ on here?” he demanded. “Gettin’ cold feet after the fact, pet?”

“My feet are just fine.” Wrenching free, Buffy pushed past him to head for the bedroom. “Holly’s eggs are done. If she complains about the yolks, just tell her they’re yellow, not orange.”

“Where are you going?”

“I’ve got a snowdate to get dressed for, remember?”

“What about hashing out whatever it is that’s bothering you?”

She stopped with her hand on the doorknob, but didn’t bother to turn around and look at him. “I think I like my hash exactly where it is right now,” Buffy said, and her voice was a bitter rasp in the wide room. It had all started out so promising; Spike had actually been pleasant. Of course, then the real Spike had stepped up to the plate. He thinks he can make it easier for himself by getting me laid?!? She knew it had been too good to be true.

“Buffy---.”

“Save it, Spike.” She pushed the door open and almost knocked down an overdressed Holly on the other side. Immediately, she stepped forward to take the little girl’s hand in hers, ignoring the fact that the child seemed to be wearing half her wardrobe. “Ready to go play?”

*************

The local cops thought she was crazy. Even with the facts she had in hand from John back in Sunnydale, the police weren’t willing to give Joyce any additional information that might help her in locating Buffy. If anyone had survived the crash, they explained, he or she would’ve turned up already. Since no one had, it could be safely assumed that the storm had probably killed them.

She refused to believe them. Giles was alive; she’d had the phone call to prove it. She couldn’t use that as evidence, of course, because then they’d start asking awkward questions such as where he was or how he’d walked away from the accident. Without those answers, Joyce was just another overprotective mom with a missing daughter. Still, she couldn’t just give up. Rupert had called her for a reason; she had to be diligent as she sought out the truth behind the crash.

The morning sun made the snow crisp and clean, as she slowed to a stop along the highway. Though she didn’t know exactly where the accident had occurred, the reports had narrowed the stretch of road she was going to search to a mile’s length. An early dusk the night before had prevented Joyce from going out then, but with a new day dawning so brightly ahead of her, she was ready to start the hunt with gusto, heavy boots on her feet, thick gloves on her hands.

Two hours later, she’d walked the mile four times, scrutinizing the trees carefully for any sign of the accident. There had been one point where she thought she might’ve seen some broken branches, but after following them for a few feet, she’d come to a very steep drop-off, and knew she was in no position to make that sort of hike. Still, she remembered the spot as somewhere to go back to, lest all of her other attempts failed.

Though what those attempts were going to be, Joyce had no idea.

*************

From her vantage point across the road, she was motionless as she watched Joyce get into the car for the third time to warm up, only stirring when she felt Jenny’s presence appear at her side.

“What’s going on?” Jenny asked. “I was in the middle of---.”

“Mrs. Summers is here,” the first woman said, pointing.

Jenny frowned. “Why?”

“I think she’s looking for Buffy.”

“But…I thought the police didn’t identify Buffy as being in the car.”

“They didn’t.”

The implications hung in the air between the two ghosts, and it wasn’t until Joyce emerged to begin the trek along the road one more time that Jenny spoke up again.

“If Rupert told her where he was, Joyce wouldn’t be here,” she said.

“But he might’ve said something else to her,” the first one argued. “Maybe there was a clue that she just doesn’t recognize.”

“And what would we do if we found him? Maria will be too heavily warded for us to get through. No, I still think our best bet is to keep an eye on Holly here. For the sacrifice to work, Maria has to come to her, so this way, we’re safe.”

They watched as Joyce stopped at the broken branches again, this time venturing further down the slope to investigate. “If she keeps this up,” the first one said, “she’s going to find Buffy and Spike before sundown.”

“Or get herself killed.”

“Neither option is acceptable.”

“So, what’re you saying? We stop her from looking for her daughter?” Jenny shook her head. “We’ve interfered too much as it is.”

The first woman smiled. “That’s funny, coming from the one of us who arranged to have vampires attack Buffy.”

“It worked, didn’t it?”

“I think that’s why you don’t want to look for Giles,” she teased. “You’re afraid of what he’s going to say if he finds out what you did.”

“If I see Rupert,” Jenny countered, “I think the last thing he’s going to be freaking out about is a couple of vamps.”

“This isn’t solving the problem with Mrs. Summers.”

“No, it’s not.”

Silence. If they’d had breath to hold, the two ghosts would’ve done so as they waited to see if Joyce would come up from the slope. When she finally did…

“So…” Jenny looked at her partner. “…do you have any brilliant ideas?”

 

To be continued in Chapter 23: Pine Cones and Holly Berries