DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Silas has gone to Giles and Paul with evidence of why Maria has been holding back on them, Joyce seems to think she has an alternative to helping out Buffy, and Buffy is beginning to recuperate after coming into contact with Holly’s blood…

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Chapter 34: Rocking Around the Christmas Tree

When she woke, it was with the full consciousness that came from getting just the right amount of sleep, her eyes opening of their own accord, her mind already fully alert and prepared to face the day. Buffy’s body, however, was of a different inclination, and she groaned out loud as her muscles screamed in protest against her efforts to sit up.

Before she could get herself upright, a bleached head appeared at the top rung, his bright gaze sweeping over her in quick assessment before hopping up the rest of the way. “Lucky you’ve got a good excuse for bein’ a lazybones this morning,” Spike said. “And even luckier I’m in a good enough mood not to give you hell for it. Must’ve been that amazing shag I had last night.”

The bed slanted when he perched on the edge, and Buffy tumbled against him, his arms lifting her effortlessly into his lap before she could stop him. “What time is it?” she asked.

“Not sure on the specifics,” he said, but his gaze wasn’t on her face when he answered. Instead, Spike was fixated by the sight of her bare breasts, the hand he didn’t have keeping her in place on his legs rising to stroke the dusky pink of her nipple. “After lunch is the best I can tell you.”

She automatically stiffened, her eyes widening as Buffy struggled to get to her feet. “And you let me sleep all day?”

The steel curl of his arm around her back kept her rooted as he finally looked into her face. “I let you get the rest you need,” Spike corrected. “We were up ‘til the crack of dawn, if you care to remember, and the last thing you said to me before drifting off was that now your legs didn’t work, either. Thought I was doin’ you a favor.”

It was impossible not to hear the hurt behind the sharp tone of his voice, and Buffy forced herself to relax back into his grip. He had been true to his word, making love to her well into the night, bringing her to orgasm over and over and over again while he only came two or three times himself. When she’d succumbed to his repeated demands to guide him in what she wanted, whispered like velvet steel into her ear as he held her trembling body firmly against his chest, she’d responded with a torrent of words that shocked her but made Spike smile.

And comply.

Oh, boy, had he complied.

“How’s Holly doing?” she asked, changing the subject. “No more fatal tree accidents today?”

“Been good as gold.” His attention was back at her breast, tracing around the hardened aureola with a single finger.

“How did you punish her for what happened?”

“Didn’t.”

“What? Why not?”

“’Cause as soon as I punish her, she’s goin’ to think everything’s fine and dandy and probably get into mischief again. This way, she stays on her best behavior on the hopes she doesn’t get whatever penance she ought. So, are your tits always this sensitive, or do you just want me that much?”

She gasped at his question, both for as much as he’d actually said out loud and for the nonchalant curiosity in his voice. “Ego, much?” Buffy said, slapping his hand away. She didn’t have a lot, but what motor control she did command was more than enough to protect what little sense of modesty she had left. It wasn’t much. It was hard to be too modest around Spike after having begged him to bite her clit just a few hours earlier.

He ignored her protestations, and settled her back onto the mattress so that he could stand up. “You up to joining us downstairs?” he asked, crossing to the dresser. “Thought you could be my extra set of eyes while I fix the tree back up. Make sure it’s not crooked or anything.”

“We’re keeping it?”

“Yeah, why not?” Pulling out one of his tees, he tossed it to her, leaning against the bureau as he watched her slip it over her head.

“Maybe because Christmas is over?”

“Technically, it’s Boxing Day. So, the holiday’s not over just yet, luv.”

“You never did tell me what Boxing Day actually is.”

“And you never told me how you got that little scar on the inside of your thigh, so I guess that makes us even, huh?”

There was no mistaking his gleeful smirk, a testament to the uncharacteristic good mood that he’d been in ever since dusting the vamps the previous night. Some of it she understood; the sex had been amazing and not even Spike could escape the effects of the afterglow. What confused Buffy was this residual humor around her, the contrast of friendly gibes with an unceasing awareness of her wellbeing. Plus, it was more than obvious he was getting attached to Holly, in spite of his assertions to the contrary. Add it all up, and Buffy was left wishing she hadn’t skipped as many math classes in high school as she had.

“I need pants if I’m going down,” she finally said.

Spike shook his head. “Only need pants if you actually get off the couch,” he countered. “Which you’re not.”

Before she could react, he was back at her side, scooping her into his arms with the blanket wrapped around her body. He only went a few steps, though, before he was stopped, the comforter’s edge still tucked beneath the mattress, and he gave it a quick yank to free it from its moorings.

He pulled too hard, and Buffy frowned as a soft thud hit the floor at the same time the blanket came loose. “What’s that?” she asked, pointing to the small leather-bound book that now rested amid the dust motes beneath his bed.

For a second, she felt him stiffen, but by the time she’d shifted to look at Spike, his face was unreadable, his shoulders shrugging.

“Just a bit of bedtime reading,” he said and carried her away from it, leaving it lying there abandoned without any further thought. “Nothin’ important.”

She immediately forgot about the book when he jumped, the sudden drop to the floor below making her stomach surge in revolt, and Buffy scrabbled to tighten her hold on Spike’s shoulders as the vertigo made the room swim around her. “I think I need to eat something,” she said as he headed for the couch.

His mouth quirked. “Should’ve said something ‘bout that before we came down then,” he joked.

He settled her in the corner of the sofa, tucking the blanket around her before heading for the kitchen. On the floor beside the crooked tree, Holly sat with Baby, rocking her in the cradle Spike had made, but her eyes were locked on Buffy as she sang nonsense under her breath.

“How’s your leg feel?” Buffy asked.

“OK.”

A scrap of material hanging over the side of the cradle caught her eye, and she followed the trail to where it disappeared under the towel Holly was using for a blanket. “What’s that?” she quizzed, pointing to the fabric.

Picking up the doll, Holly lifted its dress to reveal the scrap tied around its leg. “Baby has a boo boo.”

“Say that five times fast,” she heard Spike mutter behind her.

“Can I see?” Buffy held out her hand, but the child hesitated, her eyes falling.

“It’s all right, pidge. I got you all bundled up tight when I changed your plasters, so there’s no need for you to be worried ‘bout leaking over the Slayer, OK?”

Spike’s assurance was enough to make Holly nod in understanding, and she carefully edged close enough to Buffy to hand over the doll. “She’s sleeping,” she offered, and withdrew her hand before their fingers could make contact.

“What happened to her?”

“She fell out of bed.”

“I’ve done that. That hurts.” And then… “You know I’m going to be fine, right? I know you were scared, but I don’t want you to be when it’s not necessary. I’ll bet I’m back on my feet before you go to sleep tonight.”

Holly’s eyes were solemn as she took back her doll, tucking it into the cradle as she seemed to contemplate Buffy’s words. “I don’t want you to die,” she said. She picked up the ball from her nearby skittles set and began rolling it between her palms, doing everything she could to stay apart from the conversation the Slayer was determined to have.

“And I’m not going to,” Buffy reassured her. “But even if something happens to me, like I get hurt again, Spike will---.”

“No!” With a vicious throw of the toy, Holly sent a surge of ornaments crashing to the floor, startling both adults. “Nobody dies! No more! No more!”

Her tiny fists were pounding against the decorations that tumbled beneath the tree, her body writhing in the throes of her tantrum. In a flash, Spike was there, picking her up and trying to pin her still as she kicked and thrashed against him.

“Bloody hell!” he shouted when her ankle connected with his groin. Instinctively, he threw her at the couch, shouting out in pain again when his chip fired. “Knew I should’ve tied you to the bloody bed!”

Before she could scramble away, Holly was wrapped in Buffy’s arms, her hysterical crying straining what little strength the Slayer had managed to regain. She fought to hold the child, though, rocking her into her body with as much reassuring calm as she’d witnessed Joyce exhibit over the years, all the while murmuring anything that she thought might help.

Her eyes met Spike’s over the top of Holly’s head. Please, she thought, and prayed that, this time, he’d pull one of those mind-reading tricks he excelled at and listen to her. This is so not me. Help me do this. I need you. Please.

Slowly, the tension dissipated from his body, his mouth softening as he regarded the two females on the couch. Without saying a word, he sat down on the couch and reached out to awkwardly pat the child’s back.

“Didn’t mean to yell, pidge,” he soothed, though there was still a slight rasp to his voice. “But we told you, Buffy’s goin’ to be just fine. You gotta trust us.”

“That’s…that’s…what they…all say,” Holly said between choking sobs.

“They?” Buffy kept her voice as low as possible, in order not to add to the alarm. “Who’s they?”

When no answer came, Spike tried, “Are these the blokes who were watching you before? Is that who you’re talking about?”

Still no response. Only the wracking tears.

“It doesn’t matter what happened to you before,” Buffy said. “What matters is that you’ve got me and Spike on your side now, and you know what? We hate to lose. In fact, Spike hates to lose so much, he has a tendency to cheat to make sure he wins---.”

“Hey!”

“---so there’s no reason to think that anything bad is going to happen, OK? Not with us to look after you.”

The sobs were starting to subside, and Holly wiped her face on the edge of Buffy’s blanket before looking up at her. “I don’t want to hurt anybody any more,” she whispered.

“You’re not going to,” Buffy promised, though in the back of her mind, she wondered how she could make a vow like that.

“C’mon, moptop,” Spike said. Gently peeling her away, he stood with her in his arms. “Think it might be best if you have a bit of kip.”

“I’m not sleepy,” she argued, and then her jaws stretched into an impossibly wide yawn.

“Wanna try that one again?” He shifted her in his grip. “Let’s go.”

“Baby, Baby,” she cried out, struggling to reach for the doll on the floor when he started to walk away.

Spike sighed. “And Baby, too,” he said and plucked it from the cradle.

Falling exhaustedly back into the corner, Buffy watched as he carried Holly into the bedroom, the child resting her cheek on his shoulder and already half asleep before he reached the door. He’d told her about the details of the girl’s past, but seeing the distraught reaction firsthand, combining it with the stories Holly had shared during their playdate outside, painted a picture so bleak that Buffy’s heart was breaking. Maybe it was because she was still weakened from recovery, but the desire to find whoever could possibly want to hurt Holly and kick their respective asses into another dimension swelled inside her.

Too bad she’d been out of it during Spike’s fight the previous night. She was going far too long without a good slay.

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

The little one was out cold before he could lay her down, and Spike hurriedly covered her up so that he could get back to Buffy. He probably should’ve put the chit down for a nap earlier, but Buffy had surprised him by waking up sooner than he’d expected.

Pulling the door closed behind him, Spike softened at the sight that greeted him from the couch. She’d curled into the corner, golden hair splaying over the armrest, her lashes dark against her cheeks as she rested from Holly’s outburst. Her color was undoubtedly better; he’d noticed, too, that the bluing was gone from her hands, though she still lacked the bulk of her strength. A few more hours of rest and Buffy would likely be back to her usual self, all verve and vinegar and ready to take the piss out of him again.

Just the way he liked her.

“Sorry ‘bout that,” he said, sauntering forward to perch himself on the opposite end of the couch. His good humor had lessened with the inadvertent attack on his person, but just looking at Buffy was enough to start restoring it again.

Her eyes flitted open. “What’re you apologizing for?” she said. “I’m the one who set her off.”

“Little one’s knackered. That’s why she’s on a hair trigger. Doesn’t have anything to do with you.”

“Still…” Her gaze was contemplative, though her mind seemed to no longer be with him. “Do you think Holly’s mom could’ve been a potential Slayer? You said it sounded like she was living with a bunch of them. Like a training camp of some sort, right?”

It was a possibility he hadn’t considered. “Pidge did say her mum died because of her job. Would make sense if she was slaying.”

“And then the Council just kept a close eye on her after her mom was killed. Because she was a threat to them.” She chewed at her lip, suddenly unable to meet his gaze. “She said…she told me you two talked a lot. About moms and stuff.”

Spike stiffened. “Yeah,” he said slowly. This wasn’t a topic he wanted to discuss with Buffy. She’d never respect him if she found out what a poof he’d been as a human, and losing what ground he’d gained over the past few days wasn’t acceptable. “I was just tryin’ to get the little one to open up. Try to find out why someone would be after her.”

“She said your mom was dead.”

“Well, considering it’s been a century since I was turned, I’d be surprised if she wasn’t, pet.”

He knew where this was going. As he watched the internal debate rage behind Buffy’s eyes, Spike fervently wished that she’d just drop it. It couldn’t end in anything good and the last thing he wanted was to wreck the gossamer tapestry that was being woven between them.

“Will a sandwich do?” he asked, launching from his seat to head for the kitchen. That was it. Change the subject. Distract her from what he really didn’t want her to---.

“Did you kill her?”

---ask.

Fuck.

He kept his back to her, busying himself with the bread and lunchmeat. “Does it matter?” he said. His throat was tight. “It was a long time ago.”

“That means yes, doesn’t it?”

Of course it meant bloody yes. But there wasn’t a fucking chance in hell she’d understand. So he did the only thing he could. He kept his mouth shut.

“Spike---.”

“You want butter on this?”

“On a sandwich? Ew, no. Spike---.”

“How about a bit of fruit, then? Pidge won’t touch the oranges, so---.”

“You’re avoiding the subject.”

He shot her a quick look and put as much venom into his voice as he could. “Took you this long to suss that out, luv? Good thing you’ve got the looks to make a spot of sense redundant then.”

The silence that ensued sliced as cleanly into Spike as his knife did through the bread. Any second now, he expected Buffy to revert to form and lash out at him, using words as her weapon of choice since her fists were temporarily out of commission. It was only fair. He’d done just that thing in order to get her to shut up.

The wavery sound of her exhalation was a soft sigh in the too-close air. Just bloody get it over with, he thought, suddenly weary. Knew all this was too good to be true, anyway.

“Holly told me what you said to her.” Her voice was low, her pitch even. “That your mom was sick.”

Bugger.

He was going to strangle the brat as soon as she woke up from her soddin’ nap. Obviously, that was the only way to keep the kid from talking so much.

“Were you telling her the truth?” Buffy asked. “Or was it just to try and gain sympathy points so that she’d open up?”

He knew he should lie. He knew he should just claim to be nefarious in word and deed and let the consequences be damned.

But when he turned back to face Buffy, when he saw the soft compassion in the solemnity of her eyes, Spike’s resolve crumbled.

Against the backdrop of the skewed Christmas tree, with the sunlight filtering through the curtains and merging with the warm glow of the fireplace, she didn’t look like the Slayer waiting for an excuse to stake him. She looked like the woman who rolled over when she thought he was asleep in order to hold him tighter. Tentative to trust what was right before her eyes, but bold enough to try.

A woman who cared. For him. Who’d known the truth all along and hadn’t let it stop her from taking the risk of going for more.

How could he lie to her now?

“I thought I could make it better.” He didn’t meet her eyes, not even when he handed Buffy the plate. “I just didn’t want her to hurt any more.”

Spike was relieved when she didn’t try to detain him, retreating back to the kitchen with the feel of her gaze heavy on his back. He had rinsed off the knife and put the food away before she spoke up again.

“Are you still going to fix the tree?” Buffy asked. The look of incredulity on his face must’ve been plain when he glanced back at her because she added, “You said you were going to do it. And I’m all ready to be the official Christmas tree inspector whenever you’re ready to go to work.”

She was just going to drop it. Ammunition to use against him, to call him evil and remind him that he was still a demon, and Buffy was just tossing it aside with the carefree abandon of someone who didn’t care.

Or rather, with the abandon of someone who did.

A slow smile creased Spike’s face.

“It’ll be a tad bare,” he said, wiping his hands on his jeans as he crossed to the fir in question. “Pidge broke more than a few ornaments with that last tantrum of hers.”

“It can be our Charlie Brown Christmas tree then,” she replied. “Those are better anyway.”

Impulsively, Spike pivoted on his heel and bent to his knee in front of Buffy, cupping his hands around her face to pull her into a hard, swift kiss.

Her eyes were glittering when he broke away, her swollen mouth curving into a small smile. “What was that for?” she breathed.

“Just realized I hadn’t kissed this bloody amazing woman since she woke up in my bed,” he said, straightening. “Just doin’ my best to right a wrong, but don’t you dare tell anyone I said that.”

Behind him, Buffy giggled. “You’re weird, Spike,” she said, but there was an affection in her tone that left his chest warm.

Bloody amazing was an understatement.

If he wasn’t careful, he could very well do more than care about her.

And maybe…

Maybe he didn’t want to be careful around Buffy.

Not any more.

 

To be continued in Chapter 35: A World Outside Your Window