DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Tara has filled Buffy and Spike in on some of the specifics regarding Maria, culminating in the truth about Joyce coming out, which prompted Buffy to fly off the handle and storm from the cabin…

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Chapter 40: As Long As You Love Me So

She made it easy for him.

Ready to yell his lungs out for her to get her ass back to the house, Spike skidded to a halt when he saw Buffy leaning over the porch railing, staring into the thick of the forest. The closing of the front door prompted her to glance back, and he silently held out her coat, searching her pinched face for some hint of what was going on inside her head as she took it.

“Thanks,” she muttered, slipping into the jacket.

Sunlight streaming over the rail forced Spike to hug the wall of the cabin, but he walked as far he could to the side so that he could better see Buffy’s face. “So you know, offer still stands,” he said slowly.

If it was possible, her muscles clenched even tighter. “I’m not going to hit you, Spike.”

“Least admit you want to.”

“Why? So you can get some sick, vampire idea of foreplay out of the way for later?”

“You haven’t complained about my idea of foreplay yet.”

Her head fell forward, her brow resting on her forearms. It effectively hid her face from his view, but he took the fact that she wasn’t running even further away as a good sign.

“Just…go back inside, Spike. I’m not really in the mood to talk right now.”

“Which is exactly why you should be hitting something. Or fucking something. Something bein’ me, of course. Either way, you get it out of your system and we get back to helpin’ the little one, which is what this whole shindig is s’posed to be about, right?”

“And you became child advocate of the year when?”

“When the three ghostly stooges co-opted us for parent duty, remember?” His eyes slid upward, assessing the path of the sunlight and noting the line of demarcation across Buffy’s shoulders. Resuming a place directly behind her, Spike reached forward and slipped his hand beneath the bottom hem of her coat, finding the soft skin of the small of her back and stroking it in slow, soothing circles. As long as she didn’t move, he wouldn’t burn.

“Know you’re worried about your mum,” he said, his voice a caress to work in conjunction with his touch. “Can’t say that I blame you---.”

Her snort of derision cut him off. “Way to jump that fence, Spike,” Buffy said. “Does that come with a side order of whiplash from changing your mind so fast?”

“What’re you nattering on about?”

Pulling away from his hand, she twisted around so that she could hop up on the rail, facing him but just beyond his reach again. “It’s just you made it pretty clear you were on Tara’s side in there,” she replied. “And now you’re pulling the understanding act? How gullible do you think I am?”

“That’s not what I meant.”

“That’s what you said.”

“I said---.”

“I heard you the first time. Not really interested in the encore.”

“So you run off with your tail tucked between your legs? Since when is that your style, Slayer?”

“I didn’t run off!”

“And that door just slammed itself after your ass went tearing through it. Right.”

“Tell me, why exactly did you follow me?”

The fury that had bubbled inside was back, making her eyes flash. Spike could see Buffy’s hands balled into fists inside her coat pockets, but he kept the air of insolent nonchalance that was brassing her off so much. Maybe if he pushed her hard enough, she’d lash out at him and get it out of her system. She wasn’t thinking straight with so much tension winding through her muscles. Obviously, the soft and understanding approach wasn’t working.

“Because you’re the most infuriating, pig-headed, parochial bitch I’ve ever had the misfortune for caring about, that’s why.”

Confusion made her hesitate, but it didn’t lessen the sharpness of her tone when she spoke again. “What the hell does Catholic school have to do with anything?”

He rolled his eyes. “Remind me to buy you a dictionary for your next birthday,” Spike commented dryly. “Just meant, you’ve got this uncanny knack for seeing only two inches in front of your face. I thought letting me in might’ve opened your eyes a mite, but I guess I was mistaken.”

“Don’t you dare tell me I don’t have a right to be pissed off. They put my mother in danger, Spike. And they put me in a place where I can’t do anything about it. How am I supposed to feel?”

“First off, they didn’t do anything. They tried stoppin’ her, but I guess you were too busy seein’ red at that point to actually hear what that Tara was sayin’.”

“They should’ve tried harder.”

“Do you even know your mum, Buffy? She gets something in her head and there’s no shakin’ it. Hell, I’ve only had the two or three conversations with her and I know that. How is it her own flesh and blood doesn’t? Are you really that daft?”

She looked as if he’d slapped her, and for a second, Spike wished he hadn’t taken this route to try and snap her from her anger. He was wishing it even harder when she said, “I guess believing we were a team now makes me even dumber, huh? My bad. Somehow I thought that you thinking you’re in love with me meant you might actually care about me and my feelings.”

She might as well have hit him; it would’ve hurt a helluva lot less. “Heard that then,” he said slowly, his mood deflating as he stilled in his protestations. Fuck. This wasn’t how he’d envisioned this conversation happening. He had to salvage it in some way. “Look, lemme explain---.”

“I’m tired of explanations,” Buffy interrupted. “Because apparently words don’t mean anything to you. If they did, you wouldn’t be whispering them when you think I can’t hear and you wouldn’t be tuning me out when I try to tell you how all this business makes me feel. So you can just keep your explanation. I’m not interested.”

His lips pressed together, and before she could move, Spike’s hand shot out into the deadly sunshine to curl around her arm and yank her off the railing, onto her feet and against his chest. His fingers smoked from their brief contact with the light, but he didn’t lessen his grip, instead bringing his other hand up to keep her in place before him.

“You want me to say it in the light of day?” he asked. “Is that it? Fine. I love you, Buffy. And if I didn’t tell you earlier, it’s because I didn’t know how you’d take it. Vampire and Slayer? Not exactly the natural order of things, is it? Not to mention all the lovely, sordid details of our pasts conspiring against us. Like me tryin’ to kill you. You tryin’ to kill me. Your teenybopper plan to share Romeo and bloody Juliet medal of honor with the Grand Poof. You couldn’t even stand the sight of me before we got holed up here. Tell me how any of that would make me think you’d even want to hear how I feel. You can’t blame me for keeping my gob shut.”

She wasn’t struggling against him, but she wasn’t helping him, either. “If you loved me, you wouldn’t be going against me on this,” Buffy said.

“Are you kidding? It’s because I love you that I’m tryin’ to get you to see the other side of the coin. The only people you’ve got against you are the ghosts you’re putting there, pet. And just so we’re clear, I’m talkin’ about metaphorical ghosts, not the…” He jerked his head toward the closed front door of the cabin. “…real ones.”

“You think I’m being stupid for worrying about my mom,” she whispered. Her eyes were shiny, like she was fighting whatever emotions were welling inside, but it felt to Spike that his words were finally starting to get through to her.

“Never said that, luv,” he said softly. His thumbs began massaging reassuring circles into her arms where he held her, and he felt the muscles slowly begin to unwind. “Just don’t think it’s worth expending the energy to get pissed off about it when there’s not a lick we can do until we get out of here.”

“I can’t think that. I have to help her.”

“So tell me how you do that when you can’t get outside the invisible wonderwall.” Her eyes fell from his. They both knew he was right about that particular point, but she was too stubborn to admit it out loud. Spike released his left hand, using his index finger to gently tip her head back so that he could see her eyes again. “You give me one workable plan on how we can go rescue Joyce---hell, give me a half-workable plan, and I’ll be there. At your side, marching ‘til the saints cut my bloody feet off. But…I just don’t see it, luv. Granted, planning’s not exactly my strong suit---.”

The last brought the first smile he’d seen on her face since Tara’s arrival, though perhaps it qualified as more of a bemused smirk than anything else. “We’re pretty much screwed if we ever have to use our brains for anything, huh?” Buffy joked half-heartedly.

“Then I guess it’s a good thing we’re both strong and good-looking,” he replied.

Her smile faded, and tentatively, the Slayer leaned forward to press her cheek against his chest. Taking the edges of his duster, Spike wrapped it around both of them and held her close, brushing his lips across the top of her hair as he let himself fall back into the seductive rhythm of her pulse, the slow and even undertow that would drown him if he allowed it.

“Don’t ask me to hit you again.” It was a whisper against his tee, muffled by the cotton, but there was no mistaking the earnestness in her tone.

“I just---.”

“I know what you were doing.” Pulling back, Buffy looked at him, her eyes dark. “That’s what punching bags are for.”

“In case you hadn’t noticed, we’re a little short of those at the moment, pet. And I didn’t mind.” He grinned. “I know you can make it hurt in all the good ways.”

“You don’t hit people you love,” she asserted. “I don’t care what way you try to spin it, it’s not right.”

“That’s not…” Spike’s voice trailed off as her words sunk in. Slowly, he tilted his head. “Love?” he quizzed.

Buffy flushed. “You know what I mean.”

“Know what you said. Just wondering if that’s really what you mean.”

“Did you mean it when you said it to me?”

“Course, I did.”

“So…?”

A smile, warmer and more real than any he could remember in recent history, curved Spike’s lips. “Didn’t say it for you to say it back, Buffy.”

“Well, that’s pretty obvious considering you thought I was asleep the first time you did.” But she said it jokingly, traces of her good humor returning.

“But then, technically, you haven’t said it back, so guess I’m still up on the points there.”

“There’s points now?”

“Would you rather there was kissing?”

“We just had a huge fight, Spike. Why would I be in the mood to want to kiss you?”

“Because I’m so good at it?”

“Ha ha. You’re a funny vamp. As in not.”

“Because you’re so good at it?”

“I’m being serious.”

“So am I.”

“Spike---.”

“Shut up, Slayer.”

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

Through the crack in curtains, Tara could see the bow of Spike’s back as he kissed Buffy on the porch, but it was the small child who had run to the window to watch as soon as the vampire had left the cabin that made her smile. Holly’s hands were pressed flat to the glass as she knelt on the small table before the window, her attention rapt, a small smile of satisfaction curling her mouth. She’d witnessed the entire exchange, but it was only now that they were kissing that she was starting to relax.

“It’s not nice to eavesdrop,” Tara chided gently.

“It’s not eavesdropping ‘cause I can’t hear them any more,” Holly replied. “Nobody’s yelling.”

“It’s still not nice.”

Holly sighed and turned around to sit on the table. Her legs dangled over the edge and she began to swing them distractedly. “Spike loves Buffy,” she announced.

“I know.”

“They kiss a lot, but they don’t know that I know.”

“And you know what?” Tara leaned in and mock-whispered. “They never really get over that.”

The little girl giggled and twisted to look out the window again. “They’re still kissing,” she announced. “I wish they’d come back in so we can play puppets again. Buffy says Spike is really good with socks.”

Tara sighed. “I think they’re going to want to talk some more, sweetie. They might be done yelling at each other, but something tells me they’re not quite done yelling at me yet.”

“Keep ‘em kissing. They don’t yell when they kiss.”

All of a sudden, Holly jumped from the table, racing for the couch and scrambling to sit on top of it. A second after she was settled, the front door opened and Buffy entered, followed closely by a grinning Spike. The flush on the Slayer’s cheeks was from more than the cold, Tara realized, and kept her bemused grin to herself as Holly pretended to be surprised by the newly arrived pair.

“Right,” Spike announced, dropping his coat haphazardly to a nearby chair and sauntering to where his now-cold mug of blood sat on the kitchen counter. “Now where were we?”

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

She’d given up on pounding on the door. As annoyed as she was to be locked in her own room, Joyce was smart enough to recognize a futile gesture when she saw it, and instead set to figuring out everything she could about her new prison. Every corner of her room was searched, but outside of the scary dust bunny that had lurked beneath the bed, it was completely innocuous. Just a normal guest room that had been left empty for a month too long. That left only the window, and it was there Joyce currently sat, staring out at the snow-covered lawn, wondering just what she was going to do next.

Noon had come and gone, and her stomach was growling in protest. She didn’t think Maria was going to starve her into submission, but when she glanced at her watch and saw the hour creep past four, Joyce felt her heart begin to sink. Maybe she’d underestimated the other woman’s resolve. Maybe it was meant to be a slow death, where the demon would’ve been quick. Maybe---.

Her eye caught the latch on the window, and she frowned when she saw the simple mechanism. Unlike the door, it didn’t have a lock that required a key. It was just a sliding bolt that kept the window closed, with a single pane of heavy glass instead of double glazing. Leaning forward, Joyce examined the slope of the porch roof just outside, tilting her head to see it disappearing around the side of the building. She was on the second floor, and it was impossible to see what was directly beneath, but, with careful manipulation, the near level angle of the tile just beneath the sill could support her long enough to get to another room that wouldn’t be locked.

First thing, though, was to check if the window even opened. And if it did, make sure no alarms went off.

It stuck for the briefest of seconds and then flew upward, the glass rattling as the wooden edge slammed into the top of the frame. Joyce froze as she waited for a response, but when none came, she took a step back to compose herself.

OK, you can do this, she thought. You’re fit, you’re smart, and let’s face it, you’re desperate.

Emphasis on desperate.

Her hands white-knuckled the sill as she lifted one leg and stuck it outside. The night was already beginning to settle in, carrying with it the sharp edge of winter cold, but adrenaline was keeping her warm, fuelling her to swing the other leg until she was sitting on the sill itself.

Joyce took a deep breath.

Buffy does this all the time. Buffy can do this blindfolded and in her sleep.

But the little voice whispered back, Buffy’s nineteen and you’re not.

Contrary to discouraging her, though, the reminder of her age hardened Joyce’s resolve. Twisting just enough to grab the gutter that lined the edge of the roof above her, she pulled herself up to a standing position. For a moment, the world was fine, but as she put her feet down more solidly, her heel slipped on an unseen patch of ice.

The metal eaves cut into her palms as she scrabbled not to slide. Her hip slammed into the hard edge of the open window, and pain shot down Joyce’s pelvis into her legs, causing her to bite down on her cheek to keep from crying out. It took a solid thirty seconds but finally, her footing was surer, and while her breathing now resembled something that should’ve belonged to an out-of-shape marathoner, she was at least vertical and ready to try moving again.

Her room was at the end of a hall, so Joyce knew she had two options. Take the short path around the corner of the house and risk what she might find, or take the longer path down the front of the house and hope she didn’t go stumbling into Maria’s private bedroom.

The longer path won.

Inch by inch, she stepped along the roof, keeping her eyes forward and her thoughts away from the ground that she knew was impossibly far away. After too long, she felt the wall disappear from in front of her legs, she glanced down to see the window she’d found and exhaled loudly. Thank god. She couldn’t keep this up for much longer. Her muscles were screaming in protest.

Only problem was, the window was locked.

She hadn’t thought about that. It was entirely possible that all the windows were going to be locked and Joyce would’ve expended all this energy on a fruitless plan. She’d end up back in her room, cold, exhausted, and even more at Maria’s mercy should the woman decide to make a move, and what good would that do her?

On the other hand, she wouldn’t know if she didn’t try. Just because one window was shut to her didn’t mean they all were.

But the next one was.

And the one after that.

She had to go around the corner of the house before she found one where the frame would budge.

Her fingers were numb as she tugged at the wood, and she couldn’t feel her toes inside her shoes. But when the glass moved out of her way and she felt the blast of warm air hit her cheeks, Joyce almost sighed in relief as she tumbled inside.

Immediately, she saw a pair of men’s shined shoes, and her gaze traveled upward until she was staring into the gaunt face of a rather startled looking young man.

“Hi,” she said weakly, and then felt the black curtain of unconsciousness draw over her eyes.

 

To be continued in Chapter 41: Go Tell It on the Mountain