DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss', of course.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Maria is concerned about Giles divulging information to Joyce, while Buffy and Spike seem to have cleared the air in time for Christmas morning…

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

Chapter 28: A Visit from St. Nicholas

It was the best kind of dream.

The specifics escaped him, but Spike was more than aware of the heat coursing through his body, surging and scalding from the inside out as only a fresh kill could do. His muscles hummed from the exhilaration of a good fight, pulled and stretched and ravaged until they sprang back and begged for more, but it sated him nonetheless, in ways he'd thought banished with the advent of the chip. Few gave him such satisfaction, and the various demons he'd been allowed to fight since getting tethered to the Hellmouth by a twisted mockery of fate did little but take the edge off.

If he was honest, he hadn't felt this good since fighting Buffy in the sunlight. Now that had been a beautiful day. In more ways than one.

As Spike drifted through the ether back into consciousness, he slowly became aware of a single observation that made the remnants of his dreams incongruous. The heat was not just within. The heat was also on the outside, centralized on his legs. Waking rationale offered up the possibility that it was just the blanket wrapped around his limbs, but he almost instantly dismissed the notion. It was too intense in some spots, less so in others. And it weighed him down more than a flimsy piece of cotton could.

Then…he heard it.

A moan, so faint that a human would've missed it, trapped within the confines of a slim throat that was struggling to contain it.

And with it, the heat instantaneously shifted into something more.

Something wet.

Something powerful.

Something oh so clinging, and silken, and sumptuous in the sensations it was wreaking throughout his flesh.

A mouth.

On his straining, rock-hard cock.

And Buffy's flushed curves splayed across his thighs as she sucked his length.

Automatically, Spike's hand reached down to tangle in her thick hair, curling around the back of her head to guide her as she slowly bobbed up and down. He could feel her tongue now, tracing the length of the vein on the underside, rimming the edge of the head before sliding back down to where her small hand gripped the base. She was doing her best to swallow as much of him as she could but was failing on the final few inches, compensating instead with a powerful squeeze that made his balls tingle. It was endearing, in a way. Like everything else in her life that she set her mind to, Buffy was trying to go all the way with her blowjob.

Spike couldn't repress the internal question if he was going to be the one to benefit when Buffy finally got the hang of deepthroating. God, he fucking hoped so.

With it more than obvious that he was now awake, Buffy's sucking intensified, and she moved just enough to allow her free hand room to participate in the festivities. Spike hissed when the tip of her nail scraped along the sensitive skin below his balls, but when she hesitated in mid-stroke, his hand tightened in her hair, pushing her back down with just enough force to set the chip to start tingling in his skull.

"Don't you bloody stop," he growled.

Her attention returned, her tongue swiping deliciously around the head, across the slit, while her hands rejuvenated their strokes, one squeezing so tightly it almost hurt, the other tickling and teasing the softer underside of his sac. Spike shifted, spreading his legs, and was rewarded when Buffy's hand drifted lower to draw a single line down the crack of his ass.

He'd stopped her from doing this the previous night. After they'd finished beneath the stars, Spike had demanded she retire back to the heat of the cabin, wrapping the pair of them in a blanket before the fireplace while they just watched the flames dance in the darkness. Buffy had tried initiating more sex, but after a leisurely fuck on the floor, the only thing he had wanted was to hold her.

Yeah. It had surprised the fuck out of him, too.

"You're comin' up, right?" he'd asked.

Her eyes had jumped to the loft ladder before shifting to the closed bedroom door. "Is that such a good idea?" Buffy had countered. "What about---?"

"What about, you stop fussin' with what's not broken?" Scooping her over his shoulder, Spike couldn't help but grin at the half-hearted pounding she was doing on his lower back as he strolled to the ladder. "C'mon, Slayer. You know you want to."

They'd fallen asleep curled around each other, though Buffy had insisted on wearing one of his shirts on the off-chance Holly gave a repeat performance of an alarm clock. He'd never expected waking up to a blowjob, but Spike was hardly one to look a gift Slayer in the mouth. After all, there were obviously other, more delightful things she could be doing with it.

She was speeding up, and the growing tightness in his balls only encouraged her to start some swirling thing with her tongue, adding to the cascades that were already making his thighs quake. What she lacked in expertise, she made up for in enthusiasm, and it was far too soon when Spike felt the familiar fire at the pit of his stomach.

His cock jumped in her mouth, the heat and the wet and---oh bloody fuck---her marvelous, talented tongue all joining to drive him over the edge, the words coming of their own accord, the luv's, and the god's, and the Buffy's slurring into an endless stream that loosened his fingers in her hair, drove him to drown in the vortex of her tight little mouth, threatened to liberate what tenuous hold he had on his self-control.

She held him down when his back arched away from the bed, much like he had done with her their first night, and Spike felt the last of his come shoot into the hot recesses of her throat. Somewhere, in the back of his brain, he was aware that the suction of her mouth had never left his cock, even while he came, but it wasn't until his eyes fluttered open for the first time to gaze down at her, and he saw her muscles still working, that he realized what she'd actually done.

Words fled. In the ambient glow that radiated from below, Buffy was blushed in bittersweet, eyes sparkling in spite of the shadows, swollen lips already curling in the beginning of a smile. She was beautiful, but it wasn't that that struck Spike dumb.

It was the carefree absence of strain in her brow, the soft set of her aspect as she just watched him. As if she didn't have a care in the world.

"Merry Christmas," she said quietly, breaking the silence that had settled between them.

"Come here," Spike growled, finally finding his voice. His hands slid beneath her arms, tugging her upward to sprawl along his length, and before she could speak, he'd pulled her mouth to his, kissing her as if he hadn't seen her in a century. Touching, have to be touching, and he burned wherever their skin melded. It was a merry Christmas, all right. The best bloody Christmas he could remember.

"I take it you liked that then," Buffy said when they finally broke apart.

He answered her by flipping her onto her back, eliciting a surprised squeak as he pinned her to the mattress. "Your turn," Spike murmured, bowing to press his lips to her neck.

The faintest of whimpers stopped him, and he turned his head automatically toward the sound, eyes narrowing to peer into the dim light.

"What is it?" Buffy asked. Propping up on her elbows, she tilted her head to look past his shoulder, but otherwise did nothing to remove herself from his embrace.

Spike's gaze swiveled back. "How long have you been up?" he asked. "Did you get moptop sorted before you set to my little prezzie?"

She shook her head. "I haven't heard her. I figured she was still sleeping."

"On Christmas morning? Not likely."

It ached to disentangle from her golden limbs, but Spike did so anyway, grabbing his jeans and slipping them on before padding silently to the ladder.

"What is it? Is she---oh." Buffy stopped at his shoulder, and he knew without having to look that she had seen the same thing he had. He only beat her to the rungs because she stopped to grab her panties, and listened to her scramble down as he strode toward the small child in the corner.

She had been doing everything she could to be quiet, burying her small face into her bent knees, thin arms wrapped tightly around her legs as she curled into a ball. It was as if Holly was doing everything in her power to disappear into herself, and Spike frowned as he crouched down in front of her.

"What's up, pidge?" he said softly. Carefully, he stretched a hand to push back the hair that hid her face, but when she flinched, he froze, unwilling to advance, not willing to withdraw.

"Something got you spooked?" She wasn't asleep---the rhythm of her tiny heart gave that away---so that ruled out the sleepwalking. The only thing Spike could figure for this kind of reaction was fear, though there was no scent of it on her skin.

The soft fall of Buffy's steps neared, but he didn't tear his eyes away from the child when the Slayer knelt beside him.

"What's wrong, Holly?" she asked, repeating his concern with pretty much the same result. When she reached forward, though, the girl didn't move, allowing herself to be pulled into an awkward embrace while she stayed knotted in her tight little ball.

"She's not hurt," Spike offered quietly. At Buffy's unspoken query, he added, "Can't smell any blood."

"Bad."

Their attention jerked back to Holly at the barely uttered word. "What was that?" Buffy asked.

"Bad."

"What's bad?"

"…Me."

"Did you do something? Is that why you think you're bad?"

Though she was still rolled into her ball, they saw Holly's shoulders shrug.

He waited as Buffy tried a different tactic.

"Why do you think you're bad, Holly? We don't think you're bad."

Silence.

It was driving him to want to shake the words out of her.

And then…

"…Santa does."

Not what he'd expected, and not what the Slayer had expected, by the line that had appeared between her brows.

"What about Santa?" Buffy said quietly. She was suddenly tense, her lips thin.

Finally, the small head lifted, revealing tear-stained cheeks. "Santa doesn't bring presents to girls and boys who are bad," she whispered.

He didn't need to look behind him to see the Christmas tree bereft of presents. He saw the ache that took over Buffy's eyes before she bundled Holly even closer.

That was all it took.

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

She felt Spike disappear, but Buffy was too wrapped up in trying to soothe away the sadness that had taken over Holly's spirit to pay more attention to it. She'd known the Santa thing would come back and bite her in the butt; she'd just hoped to keep the little girl distracted from the fact that there weren't any presents to unwrap until the holiday was past. She'd even decided she was going to surprise Holly with Mr. Gordo at some point during the day.

She hated the fact that it would be too little, too late.

Holly was still crying, but her tears were silent as they soaked into Buffy's shirt. Buffy knew words weren't going to help, but she gave them anyway, repeating the sentiment over and over as she tried rocking the child to some semblance of peace. It was a method Joyce had used on more than one occasion. It wasn't until now that the Slayer understood exactly why.

When the presence returned to her side, she didn't stop until Spike's cool fingers feathered across Holly's cheeks, wiping away the wet that remained.

"No reason to cry, moptop," he crooned in that voice Buffy was quickly coming to recognize as the vampire's best weapon against any rising emotion. "This is all ol' Spike's fault."

Both girls looked at him in confusion.

"See," he continued, "Nick trusted me with one little job and I've gone and mucked it up. S'pose that's what he gets for trusting a vamp, eh?"

"Who's Nick?" Holly asked in a tiny voice.

Spike clutched at his heart in mock dismay. "You give me an earful 'bout him thinking you're bad and you don't even know his name? For shame."

Her eyes widened in sudden understanding. "You talked to Santa?"

"That's what I said, isn't it?"

"When?"

"Up on the roof last night. Ask the Slayer." He turned a guileless gaze to Buffy. "Was I or was I not, up on the rooftop last night?"

She had no idea where he was going with this, but it didn't stop her from answering in truth. "Yes, you were."

Back to Holly. "There you go. And we both know, the Slayer never lies."

"Did Santa get stuck?"

"What's that?"

"In the chimney. Did you have to go unstuck him?"

Spike nodded, and it took all of Buffy's concentration not to break out in giggles at the seriousness on his face. "Turns out, the prat went a mite overboard on the Christmas pudding this year. Got himself reefed good and proper, and then started pissin' and moanin' for me to help him get out. Like I'm responsible for his bloody sugar bent." He leaned forward conspiratorially. "Even had to have the Slayer come up and give me a hand. That's how tight he screwed himself in there, tryin' to get your swag to you."

Buffy could only watch as Holly leapt from her arms, all thought to her previous mood vanished. When Spike hooked his thumb over his shoulder, it took the little girl a bare five seconds to go rushing past him, to the small pile he'd left by the ladder.

"What did you do?" Buffy whispered. She was spellbound as Holly knelt by a small, hand-hewn cradle. Rough bark still covered its base, but its interior had been hollowed out, a trail of something lacy acting as a lining. She strongly suspected it had once been her favorite camisole, but considering the look that was currently brightening Holly's face, Buffy was willing to hold her tongue.

He seemed uncomfortable at the scrutiny. "Told you," Spike muttered. "Not interested in a load of whinging 'bout a not so merry Christmas."

Impulsively, Buffy pressed her lips to his, kissing him long and hard. "So that's why you didn't get any sleep yesterday," she said when she broke away. "You're such a softie."

"Am not! You take that back!"

"So you didn't make toys for a little girl you barely know so she'd have a nice Christmas? And here I thought I was going to have to show you how great I think that was. With my mouth."

Beat.

"Did you see the skittles set? Took me forever to suss out what to use for a ball."

"Merry Christmas, Spike."

"What about the---?"

"Don't push it."

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

For a holiday, Giles found Christmas breakfast a somber affair, Paul and Silas making uncomfortable small talk regarding the weather while Maria just regarded them all in that composed detachment Giles found so disconcerting. More than once, he caught her gaze on him, but even when he returned it with a direct aplomb, she didn't back down. Instead, she waited for him to look away first, and then usually set to stirring her tea while she remained lost in her ruminations.

So, when she asked him to stay after the dishes were cleared, he couldn't say that he was all that surprised. Something was brewing, and the fact that she dismissed Paul and Silas to speak with Giles in private confirmed that before she ever uttered a word.

"How did you do it?" Maria asked as soon as they were alone.

"Pardon?"

Her tone was even, the lines on her brow deepened as she pondered whatever dilemma was perplexing her. "I've watched the surveillance tapes so many times, the images are eroding, and yet, for the life of me, I can't figure out how you did it. You should be quite proud of yourself, though. Very few have ever mystified me as thoroughly as you have."

Giles shook his head. "I have no idea what you're talking about."

"Your phone call. To Joyce Summers? You alerted her to the accident. Keen work, by the way. I have to admit, I'm quite enamored with the way your mind works."

So that was her game. When she'd mentioned surveillance tapes, Giles had immediately jumped to the conclusion that she meant she knew about the book Paul had taken from her private study. This was about Joyce.

But…did tapes mean she was aware of the theft anyway? How much of their actions were being recorded? Care would have to be taken to ensure nothing more could compromise their research, but Giles was worried that it might already be too late for such measures.

"You're not denying it," Maria said, breaking the silence brought on by his contemplation.

"Would my doing so do anything to dissuade you of what you've already decided?" he countered.

"There's nothing for me to decide, since the facts speak for themselves. Joyce Summers knows of the car accident, where it occurred, and that her daughter's body wasn't found. She's there right now searching for her, and she only did this after speaking with you." Her mouth hardened. "I don't enjoy having my hospitality disrespected so, Mr. Giles. I gave you the benefit of the doubt in contacting your Slayer's mother, and asked for nothing in return---."

"Beyond my complete dedication to this hunt of yours, you mean." It was his turn to steel, leaning forward in his seat to glare at her in barely disguised loathing. "Don't deign to pretend you're merely a gracious hostess, Maria," Giles said. "You have so many ulterior motives in this farce that it wouldn't surprise me to learn you work for Quentin Travers himself. It's only the fact that you're so casually unconcerned about Buffy's whereabouts that convinces me you're not. So, if you have a problem with me, or with the work I'm doing to try and prevent this catastrophe you're so convinced is going to occur, I highly recommend you tell me so to my face, rather than hide behind vague niceties and posh manners that, frankly, suit neither of us."

She smiled. The bitch actually smiled. It took all of Giles' control not to lean even further and wrap his hands around her throat.

"I like you," Maria said. "Your files were vague on your non-Watcher life so I only had hints of this…Ripper to whom the reports kept alluding. This must be him."

"I'm sure you have a point in there someplace."

"My point is that there is no room for insubordination under my watch," Maria replied. Her voice was ice, belying the smile that still curved her lips. "I've taken measures to get the issue with Mrs. Summers under my control again, so if you wish her to remain unharmed, there will be no more attempts to cripple my search for Holly. You may find the role of saboteur attractive, but is it really worth endangering the life of your Slayer's mother?"

His blood chilled at the threat. "What have you done?" he demanded.

"Nothing lethal. Yet."

"She has nothing to do with this. If you have a problem with my conduct, you take it up with me."

"But I have, Mr. Giles. This is why I'm speaking with you now."

He bit back the retort that rose automatically to his lips. Though he was glad that Joyce had understood his cryptic message enough to deduce the true events of Buffy's non-presence, he regretted that she was being put in harm's way as a result. Without knowing more, Giles lacked the power necessary to take control of the situation. For now, he would have to concede to Maria's authority.

"You will not hurt Joyce Summers," he said tightly. "I will not allow it."

"Then I suggest you stop interfering with outside matters and focus your attentions on locating Holly before time runs out for all of us. I can only guarantee her safety for as long as you cooperate."

Her insinuation brought his awareness back to alert. "What exactly are your intentions for Mrs. Summers?" he asked. Perhaps if Joyce were to be brought to the house, together they could find out what truly was going on.

"That's really none of your concern," Maria replied. For the first time, a glint of pleasure brightened her eyes, deepening the dread in Giles' stomach. "Let's just say, I'm very glad that Father Christmas isn't the only one who makes housecalls during the holiday season."

 

To be continued in Chapter 29: You Can Do the Job When You're in Town