DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Joyce has gone off with Doyle to find out what exactly is going on with Buffy, while a slightly drunken Slayer has followed Spike to the rooftop and confessed to him that their relationship means more to her than he thought…

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

Chapter 26: 'Twas the Night Before Christmas

The roof shimmered in the moonlight, broken patches of snow blinding alongside the dark tile that peeked through the icy crust. Even standing still, Spike’s balance was unsteady, but it wasn’t the cabin’s camber that forced his precarious stance. It was her words, pounding against him in vicious accompaniment with her body’s rhythms, threatening to topple him from the peak, and he had to steel his spine in his resolve not to fall.

A resolution that was already wavering in the face of his naked need to believe her.

Spike coughed, clearing his throat. “Well,” he drawled, more casually than he felt. “Juliet, you aren’t.”

It lit a fire somewhere inside Buffy, jerking her head up to glare at him in righteous fury. “And you think you’re my idea of Romeo?” she snapped. “Wrong body temperature, for one---.”

His tsking was a sharp slice through the crisp night air. “That argument only works on those who aren’t familiar with a certain Slayer’s romantic history,” he chided. “Which would be neither of us, pet.”

“This has nothing to do with the fact that you’re a vampire!”

“So you’re head over heels because of my sparkling personality? Funny, but that one’s almost as hard to swallow.”

Eyes bright.

Nostrils flaring.

A single beat where Buffy almost seemed to be vibrating from her barely controlled indignation.

And then…

“You think this is because I’m drunk, don’t you? I’m not drunk. I told you that.”

Spike lifted a single brow. “I believe we’ve already established that someone’s verbal skills are a bit lacking at the moment. Not that that differs too wildly from when you’re stone cold sober---.”

“I can prove it to you.”

“What, that you can talk?”

“That I’m not drunk.” Gritted teeth now. She was approaching pissed off, which, while not his ideal state for her, was at least one he understood.

“And how exactly do you propose we do that, Buffy?” Spike said. “Have you walk the straight and narrow so you can tumble nogginfirst into the drifts?” He shook his head. “Don’t think so. Not about to get suckered into that role again.”

Her confusion made her sparkle, a bundle of jittery nerves that electrified his mood, made him relish the confrontation even if the reasons for it were still cowering in fear of exposure. “Why are you even arguing with me about this?” Buffy demanded. “I thought you’d be all floaty and gloaty about getting into my head.”

“Oh, I dunno. Might have something to do with gettin’ treated like a bloody pariah almost since you rolled outta my bed this morning,” he countered. “You’ve got more moods than Sybil, so pardon me if I’m not exactly sure which one you’re channelling at the moment.”

“I just told you I cared about you.”

“And downstairs, you said you hated me.”

“We were fighting!”

“And we’re not now?”

“No! Yes! No!

Spike smirked at her in satisfaction, though it didn’t quite reach all the way into his heart. “Believe that settles the debate on the power of your oratory,” he stated.

With a wordless cry of disgust, Buffy threw her hands up in defeat, beginning to whirl to escape his presence only to stop in mid-spin when her heel started to slip on the ice. She fell to her knees, scrabbling for a hold as she kept herself from falling further, and shot Spike a withering glance when he unconsciously took a step toward her to help.

“I don’t know why I expected any different from you,” she grumbled as she equalized her weight along the peak. She wasn’t rising back to her feet, choosing instead to sit and stare out through the skeletal trees. “Once a self-centered meanie, always a self-centered meanie.”

Ah, the eloquence of inebriation. How the mighty have fallen.

With her back to him, Spike couldn’t see her features, but the tone of her voice made that unnecessary. For a long moment, he just regarded Buffy, the bow of her head as she stared out at the forest, the curve of her ass where it melded to the bend in the roof, and each passing second watered down the ire that had burned so brightly in his chest during their discourse. He couldn’t believe her, of course, as much as he might want to, but hearing each jagged breath being wrenched from her body as if he was clawing it from her lungs himself was more than he could stand.

Slowly, Spike inched his way forward, crouching when he was within a foot of Buffy to sit directly behind her. She stiffened when she felt his thighs brush against hers, but the tension was short-lived after he’d pulled her back to lean against his chest.

“Listen,” he said, and his voice was an even modulation that had soothed more than one ruffled feather in the past. “I’d be lyin’ if I said I didn’t want to believe you, luv, but we both know it’s the Jack doin’ the talkin’ at the moment, not you. It’s got you goin’ in circles and frankly, I’m gettin’ more than a little dizzy trying to keep up.”

“You’re not the only one,” she muttered.

He smiled, and let his hand drop to begin stroking the back of hers where it rested between her legs. It was easier to bare his thoughts to her when those green eyes weren’t boring into him, daring Spike to rise above his demon, gloating when he failed. And if she didn’t remember a word of what he said when morning rolled around, all the better.

“I didn’t get any sleep today,” he continued, “for the thought of you, and what you and me might be together. How great that could be, even if it’s scary as hell.”

“Yeah,” she whispered, and the single word wrapped around his heart and squeezed. “I did a lot of thinking today, too. That’s why---.”

“Let me finish.” The temptation of her throat where he could see it beneath the lapel of her coat made his mouth water, but Spike held firm, pulling away from the obvious contact to lessen the allure. “Tried to make amends with the bath and such, but it’s a little too late for gestures, isn’t it? Can’t very well hope that you’d feel the same way, not in any real deal where it’s not just about the sex. I’ve been the Big Bad to you for too long for that to happen, so really, it’s nobody’s fault but my own.”

She twisted around to face him, and the moon behind her shadowed Buffy’s face from scrutiny. “I can’t believe you’re actually apologizing,” she said.

“What? No, no apology. I’m just sayin’…” But the enormity of what she’d said stuttered to a halt at the edge of Spike’s thoughts, and carefully, he reeled it back in, turning it over and weighing it against the tirades and the nonsense and the so-called admissions that had been spilling from Buffy’s lips for the past half hour. “What is it you think I need to be apologizing for?” he asked warily, eyes narrowing in anticipation of her response.

She stiffened, but didn’t turn away, small chin jutting forward in a determined show of pride. “For trying to use sex with me as a way to make staying here easier for you,” she said.

And then it clicked, and the morning replayed in all its awful Technicolor glory as he saw it through the eyes of a confused Slayer, and heard his “nice” gibe as something other than the joke he’d intended. He wanted to laugh, and scream, and sob, and shout at the realization and her stubbornness and her innate sense of being able to automatically assume the worst. But instead, he just yanked her to him, pressing his mouth to hers in a quick kiss.

She spluttered against the onslaught, and pulled away, her fingers going automatically to her swollen lips. “You’re not getting sex for giving me the brush-off,” Buffy warned, and, when his head ducked for another caress, braced her other hand against his chest to stop him from repeating the action.

Spike grinned. A weight had been lifted from his shoulders with this new understanding, and if it weren’t for the icy snow seeping through the denim to blister his ass in cold, he’d think he was floating somewhere above the trees. “Let me give you a spot of advice, pet,” he said cheerfully. “Next time you get your knickers in a twist ‘bout something you think I’m sayin’, don’t turn tail before callin’ me on it. Odds are, I’m just flapping my gums and you’ll save us both a heap of headaches by getting the truth up front.”

The sudden shift in his mood brought a flummoxed frown to Buffy’s brow. “Huh?”

“C’mon.” With a quick yank, he’d hauled her to her feet, dragging her down the length of the roof to the edge before she could protest against it. He turned a wicked smile to her, and, curling his arm around Buffy’s waist to mold her to his hip, asked, “Feel like flying?”

She didn’t have a chance to respond.

Lightning reflexes had Spike leaping to the ground below, Buffy tucked safely against him so that she wouldn’t take the weight of the jump on any of her previously injured limbs. She fell against him when they landed, knocking him back into the snow, but rather than scramble away, she stared at him in bewilderment, still unsure what exactly had heralded this mania that now seemed to possess him.

“I thought I was the drunk one,” she commented.

Strong fingers cupped her ass, grinding her pelvis against his growing erection. “Don’t tell me that wasn’t fun,” Spike admonished.

“That wasn’t fun.”

She yelped in surprise when he pushed her up. “Guess we’ll have to try it again,” he announced, entwining her fingers with his.

Buffy stopped him before he could make the jump back up onto the roof. “Not that playing Batman and Robin isn’t at least something different,” she said, “but where in the world did this come from? Just two minutes ago you were all apologetic and broody---.”

“Angel broods. I ponder.”

“Whatever. Still doesn’t tell me what your sitch is, Schizo Boy.”

His head tilted as he contemplated her. “You were right,” Spike finally said.

“I know.” Beat. “About what?”

“I do owe you an apology, so mark this day, pet, ‘cause you won’t be gettin’ another.” When she tried to distance herself from his grasp, Spike drew her closer, wrapping his coat around the pair of them to cocoon them from the elements. “But first…did you mean it? About caring. The truth, now.”

The alcohol in her system softened her features, he realized, made it even more impossible for Buffy to hide from him the dangerous thoughts and emotions that commanded her existence. Gazing down at her, he witnessed the trepidation return, fear of another rejection battling with the proud backbone that made her so formidable, and gleefully watched the fearlessness win.

“Yes,” Buffy admitted.

“But…” He reached up, stroked the silver-blonde hair away from the eyes he so desperately needed to see. “…this morning, luv. The pushing me away. I thought it was because you didn’t, see? You wouldn’t let me touch you, and after last night…did you really think I’d be willing to just walk away after what went on between us? Don’t rightly understand what it is, and it scares the shit out of me, but…you and me…it sparks. It burns, and it blinds, and as terrifying as it is, it’s---.”

“Real,” she finished.

The corner of Spike’s mouth lifted. “Yeah,” he said. “Exactly. So, that’s what I owe you the apology for. For not believing you when you said…when you told me…”

She watched him struggle to find the right words with growing amusement. “Guess I’m not the only one who has a hard time wrapping her tongue around it, huh?” Buffy teased.

He growled when she playfully punched him. “Good thing I’m so good at wrapping my tongue ‘round other things, then isn’t it?” he taunted with a devilish gleam in his eye.

She squealed when his mouth dropped to nip at her neck, pushing him with enough force to send him back into the snowdrift. “I thought I said you weren’t getting sex again after giving me the brush-off,” she said with an assumed haughtiness. “Don’t think you’re getting to me that easy, buster.”

“You think this has been easy?” Spike replied. A few minutes earlier, he would’ve been furious at her shove, but with their new understanding out in the open, it was simpler to see the flirtatious taunt in her voice. Hell, he could already smell her newly realized arousal clinging to her skin. If the Slayer wanted to play, he was more than willing to oblige her.

“I think you’re obsessed with sex.”

“Well, yeah. It was bloody fantastic. Can’t really fault me for wanting more, now can you?”

Her eyes flickered to the cabin. “There’s still the issue of Holly.”

“Moptop’s sleeping.”

“I mean, we can’t be all over each other all the time in front of her. It’s not…that’s what I was trying to put a stop to this morning, you know. She’s impressionable.”

“So she’ll learn from a master.”

“I’m serious.”

With a sigh, Spike pushed himself back to his feet, leaning against a tree trunk as his hands automatically went to his pockets. The crumpled pack reminded him that he only had five cigarettes left to last until the New Year, but with as much as had happened that day, he figured now was as good a time as any to have one.

“So, you’re saying you want nothin’ hands on in front of the kid, is that it?” he asked, inhaling deeply on the filter. The nicotine sizzled along his veins, doing its job in relaxing him when languor was the last thing on his mind. “Think you’re makin’ a mistake, though.”

“That’s because you want permission to get into my pants whenever you want.”

“Not just that. It’ll do her good to see a positive spin on a relationship for a change. She’s not exactly been exposed to the same sunny side of the street you grew up on, luv.” He frowned when Buffy began to giggle. “What’s so funny?”

“You. Us. The thought that anything about you and me being together could be positive for anyone.” She suddenly sobered. “How do you know that about Holly?”

He shrugged. “Not hard to tell. Kids sleepwalk for a reason, and considering Doyle said this Maria bird has been after her since she was born, stands to reason that Holly’s seen more than her fair share of the uglies.”

“It would explain why she’s not afraid of your game face.”

“That better not be a comment on my looks, pet.”

“So, can we make some sort of deal? Just…hold back a little on the PDA when we’re in front of Holly?”

He’d already made his decision regarding her request before she’d pushed it, but Spike held his tongue for a long moment, his lungs filling periodically with smoke as he puffed at his cigarette. “We’re not in front of Holly now,” he finally said, deliberately sweeping his gaze over her.

His lips quirked at her shiver. “You’re not cold?” Buffy asked.

“Vampire, luv. The question should be…are you?”

He only saw the smile that spread across her face for a brief flash before Buffy whirled away from him and dashed off into the trees. Pushing off the trunk, Spike flicked the remains of his cigarette into the snow, hearing the quick sizzle as the burning tip melted its way below the surface before setting off after her.

New game, new rules.

Think I’m goin’ to bloody love this one.

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

Joyce pressed the compress into her eyes, though she knew it was going to do nothing to ease the ache that was making her skull feel like it was going to explode from the inside out. The glut of information that had been thrown at her over the past few hours was enough to make her wonder if this was what Buffy went through every time an apocalypse breezed its way into town, or if Joyce was just acutely unable to process it in the same manner. Either way, her headache was more than testimony to the weight of the situation.

She’d thought she was handling it remarkably well, considering. It wasn’t until her skepticism and constant questioning had worn their patience thin and the pair of ghosts had resorted to having Jenny Calendar appear out of nowhere to convince her it was all the truth, that Joyce crumbled. Seeing the dead teacher, looking every inch as if she was still alive and hadn’t suffered at the hands of a ruthless Angelus, had been disconcerting at best.

At worst, it had been a nightmare. And not how she’d envisioned spending her Christmas Eve.

At least she knew Buffy was safe. The details they’d shared about the mission for which the Powers That Be had selected the Slayer seemed innocuous enough, though the enemy that was pursuing the child in question didn’t. Joyce didn’t fully understand why they wouldn’t tell her where her daughter was, but until her head was clear again, she was letting them get away with that. That would be an interrogation for another time.

It was surprising that Spike had been chosen as well, though she’d discovered that his primary advocate among the ghosts seemed to hold the same opinion of the vampire that Joyce did.

“Spike fights to the death for those he cares about,” the young woman had said. “Once he decides you’re his concern, there isn’t anything he won’t do to protect you. That’s the kind of loyalty we need protecting Holly.”

Joyce wanted to argue that, while she believed they were correct in their assumptions regarding Spike’s behavior, he was still a vampire who had no vested interest in an unknown child, but her headache got the best of her, keeping her silent long after the women had left. It was only when Doyle said he was stepping out to fetch her something to drink that she spoke up again.

“You’re worried about them, aren’t you?” she’d said as he hovered in the doorway. “You think Spike’s going to screw up somehow.”

Doyle just shrugged. “I won’t lie and say the thought hasn’t occurred to me,” he’d admitted. “But if he can get the likes of you and Buffy to care about what happens to him, well, then I guess anything is pretty much possible, isn’t it?”

Food for thought. Well, if thinking didn’t involve so much discomfort. Better to just lie still and pray for a moment of clarity when it was past.

She opened her eyes when she heard the door quietly open and close, propping herself up on her elbows to see Doyle enter with a large sack in his hand. “I’m not that thirsty,” Joyce commented with a wry smile.

Doyle chuckled. “Thought I’d get you a few things,” he said, setting his parcel down on the lone table in the motel room. He spoke as he emptied its contents. “It’s not exactly home cooking, but since we aren’t having luck talking you back to Sunnydale just yet, I guess it’ll have to do.”

The sugary smell of homemade pie wafted to her nostrils, and Joyce sat up, swinging her legs over the side of the bed to get a better look at the food he was laying out. “I thought everything was closed at this hour,” she said.

“Everything is.” He held up a warning finger. “And don’t be lecturing me. I get enough of mothering from the girls.”

“I think my stomach is inclined to be on your side in this matter,” Joyce replied. They were both silent while he finished with the arranging. “You’re not going to leave me alone, are you?” she asked when he’d settled back into the chair he’d first vacated.

“Can’t,” he admitted. “As long as you’re still about, someone’s got to keep an eye out for you. Now, if you’d be a good girl and go back to Sunnydale---.”

“Not without Buffy.”

Doyle sighed. “Which means, you’re stuck with me.” He flashed her his widest grin. “It could be worse for you. I’ve been told I’m quite the charming fella.”

In spite of her weariness, Joyce joined in his smile, crossing to sit opposite him at the table. “I could just slip out when you’re not looking. You can’t watch me all the time.”

“One advantage to being dead. Every reason you can think of that would naturally divert my attention is gone. Would you like to try for door number two?”

“Something tells me that’s the door with pie.”

He pushed the tin closer to her, watching as she fished out one of the plastic forks he’d also brought. “Happy Christmas Eve, Joyce,” Doyle said. “Let’s say we relax and enjoy it. While we can.”

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

“You’re certain?” Maria’s voice betrayed none of the unease that was gripping her insides, and her hand remained steady where it held the telephone receiver.

“No doubt,” came the masculine voice on the other end of the line. “I was there myself when she came in. All hot and bothered that her daughter was in that car crash you were asking about the other day.”

“And what did you tell her?”

“Exactly what you asked us to. Nothing we could do without a body, and so forth. She came with a whole bunch of information she only could’ve gotten from another cop, though, so she’s talked to someone. I just can’t tell you who.”

“I see. Thank you very much for calling me. I do appreciate it.”

He laughed. “That’s what you paid me for, right?”

“And there shall be a very hefty Christmas bonus for you, as well,” she said. Bidding the officer farewell, Maria was completely absorbed in her thoughts by the time she returned the phone to its base.

Joyce Summers was alert to the accident, even knowing as much as the general vicinity where it had occurred.

The only communication to Sunnydale had been under Maria’s supervision, when Rupert Giles had contacted his Slayer’s mother to alleviate her worrying.

Ergo, Rupert Giles must have said something to warn the Slayer’s mother that something was amiss.

Rupert Giles would have to be watched.

It was unfortunate, really, because the work he’d accomplished so far on the translations had far exceeded any of their expectations. His brilliance was putting both Silas and Paul to shame, though Maria had few delusions that his aid was motivated by anything other than his concern for his Slayer. His loyalty rested with Buffy. Now, he’d proven it by giving the elder Summers some unknown alarm that could only inhibit Maria’s search.

She wished that she could remember the conversation he’d had on the phone, so she could understand how he’d managed to elude her detection so thoroughly. Perhaps there would be a clue there as to something she had missed.

Pressing an intercom button on the phone, Maria waited until a tinny “Yes?” came through the speaker before ordering the request for the security tapes. It might take her a little time to find what it was Rupert thought he was getting away with, but she had no doubts that she would.

There was no room for failure at this point.

It was just a shame such a keen mind would have to be sacrificed. Maria would’ve liked to further explore a relationship with the strong-willed Watcher. Beyond Holly’s frustrating disappearance, Rupert Giles had been the one wild card to remain in her hand that sparked any sort of interest for her.

 

To be continued in Chapter 27: The Stars Are Brightly Shining