DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Buffy and Spike have confessed their feelings---in a way---to each other and returned to the cabin to finish talking to Tara, while Joyce has decided to take matters into her own hands and escape out her window, only to pass out in the first room she manages to get into…

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

Chapter 41: Go Tell It on the Mountain

She needed to seriously start reconsidering all the passing out she’d been doing lately. All it did was leave her with a headache.

Joyce groaned before she opened her eyes, her hand lifting to rub at her temple. Had she hit her head when she’d come through the window? She didn’t remember. All she remembered was tumbling in and seeing a scarecrow of a young man staring at her in shock.

“Joyce? Joyce, are you all right?”

That wasn’t the scarecrow’s voice. She knew that speaker. Did she actually get something right for a change?

Carefully, she slitted her eyelids, the light in the room blinding. A dark shadow hovered above her and she could spy another one just behind him, but she was fairly certain she knew who it was who was gazing down at her so intently.

Her eyes drifted shut again. “Please tell me you’re Rupert and that this isn’t just wishful thinking on my part,” she murmured.

A soft chuckle was preceded by the faint shuffling of feet. “Well, she didn’t hit her head,” she heard Giles say.

“What are we going to do?” This was the other person in the room speaking. She wondered if it was the scarecrow. “She was trying to escape!”

“Can you blame me?” Joyce intervened. She opened her eyes again and met the gazes of the two men. “I was being held prisoner. I think Maria was planning on starving me into submission. Ethiopian hunger strike is not a good look for me.”

Rupert smiled at her small joke, but the young man with him looked stricken. “Maria wouldn’t do that,” he said, too quickly.

“Like she wouldn’t place us under surveillance?” Giles commented. He shook his head. “I’m afraid this only confirms our original hypothesis regarding our hostess. Frankly, I’m not that surprised.”

Struggling to sit up, Joyce was immediately assisted by Rupert’s strong arm sliding around her back, guiding her to lean against the head of the bed upon which she’d been reclining. She was in a bedroom much like hers, but there were masculine touches that attested to its owner. The young man, she presumed, since he had been the only one present when she’d entered.

She stuck her hand out and smiled. “I’m Joyce Summers,” she said.

He took it, but the clamminess of his palm betrayed his rampant nerves. “Paul McCallister,” he replied. “It’s an honor to meet the Slayer’s mother.”

Her brows lifted at his admission and she immediately turned to look at Giles. His shrug was almost embarrassed.

“I’m afraid Buffy’s status is well-known in this particular household,” he said. “It’s part of why exactly I’m here.”

“That makes sense,” she said, nodding. “Maria’s looking for the little girl Buffy is protecting.”

Both men were stunned into silence. “What…exactly…did you say?” Giles finally asked.

They were looking at her like she was from a different planet. “I was told Buffy and Spike are protecting the girl Maria is trying to get her hands on.”

The silence didn’t last. Her announcement made both men start speaking simultaneously.

“Why is Spike involved in this?”

“If you know where Maria’s daughter is---.”

“…and Buffy hasn’t staked him yet?”

“…we must tell Silas. We can stop the searching…”

“…who on earth told you all this?”

She cut them off with a frustrated wave of her hands. “My head hurts enough without trying to filter you two,” Joyce complained. “Let’s do this one at a time. Rupert goes first.”

The first question out of his mouth proved to her just how much he cared for her daughter. “Does this mean Buffy’s all right? She didn’t suffer any ill effects from the accident?”

“As far as I can tell, she’s fine. I haven’t exactly seen her---.”

“What? But you know---.”

She sighed. “All right, question and answer isn’t keeping me from getting interrupted, so let’s try it this way. You two don’t say a word, and I’ll explain everything that’s happened since I left Sunnydale.”

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

True to her request, both men were silent while Joyce spoke, though the quiet that ensued afterward was a trifle too heavy and lasted at least a minute too long. Finally, she rolled her eyes and said, “I know you have an opinion on this, Rupert. Voicing it today is probably a good idea.”

His eyes were narrowed as he regarded her, but when he readied himself to speak, Giles surprised Joyce by turning to young Paul instead. “We should’ve stuck to our guns.”

“And what?” Paul countered. “It made perfect sense. We did what we had to do. I don’t regret a single moment.”

Giles only looked at him over the rim of his glasses, forcing a flush to rise to the younger man’s cheeks.

“You know my story now. What’s the two of yours?” Joyce asked.

“Three,” Paul said absently.

She frowned. “Don’t tell me there’s another ghost.”

“There’s not,” Giles replied. “Silas is likely still in his quarters.”

“Who’s Silas?”

“Another Watcher Maria brought in.”

It was like watching a tennis match. “Then why isn’t he here? If there’s three of you, why would Paul only go get you when I showed up? Is there something about this Silas I should know about?”

The two men exchanged a quick look before either spoke. “Silas’ loyalties have been…questionable,” Giles said. “Paul did the wise thing in leaving him out of this at the moment.”

“You still haven’t told me why Maria kidnapped you, though. I assume it has something to do with the girl Buffy’s protecting?”

Paul nodded. “We’ve been searching for her. She needed us to locate Holly before she conducted the spell that would destroy the Slayer line.”

Joyce folded her arms over her chest. “The girl is three,” she said slowly. “Did either of you truly believe that a pre-schooler could be responsible for something that dangerous?” Their silence was damning, prompting her to sigh deeply. “You didn’t know, did you?”

“We assumed she was an adult,” Paul protested. “Maria claimed she was her daughter.”

“Didn’t you think to ask?”

“In all fairness, Joyce, I’m fairly certain Maria would’ve lied to us about Holly’s age,” Giles said. “She was more than willing to bend the truth on other details. It stands to reason she would’ve said whatever we needed to hear in order to follow through on her requests.”

“Doyle told me that Maria was the one who actually wants to destroy the Slayer line.” She’d deliberately only mentioned the lone ghost. Tara had warned about her involvement with Willow, and Joyce couldn’t help but feel that any mention of Jenny would distract Giles too greatly from the issue at hand. Let him think it was just the one do-gooder ghost for now.

“That would hold with what we discovered,” Giles mused.

Paul’s skin had become mottled, his throat working convulsively as he seemed to be fighting some inner agitation. “We were duped?” he whispered, and in that instant, Joyce felt a flash of pity for the young man, even if she wasn’t aware of the particulars. “It was all just…she used us?”

Gently, Giles set his hand on the younger man’s shoulder and nodded. “She used all of us,” he reassured. “Don’t be so hard on yourself.”

He nodded, but his thoughts were clearly running elsewhere. “We mustn’t stay then,” Paul began to babble. “She’ll know. She’ll learn of Mrs. Summers’ escape, and she’ll punish us. “We have to---ow!”

As he twisted away from Giles’ grip, Joyce saw the white of her friend’s fingertips where he’d tightened his hold on Paul’s shoulder. “Focus,” she heard him order, his voice suddenly cold. “If we don’t maintain our wits at this point, Maria will still win.”

Joyce rose to her feet and placed herself between the two men. “Not that I don’t agree with you,” she said to Rupert, “but I also agree with Paul. I met Maria, and in my opinion, the woman’s psychotic. As soon as she finds out I’m not in my room, she’s going to start looking for me. The only chance I have at this point is to make my escape real. And if I’m going, you can be sure as hell I’m taking you with me.” She glanced back at the red face of the younger Watcher. “You, too.”

Giles shook his head. “It’s almost tea time,” he said. “She’ll be expecting us. You’ll have to go back to your room and wait until after we’ve eaten. It’ll be the only way for us to delay her suspicion.”

“That’s all well and good for you,” she said, exasperated, “but my door is locked. The only way for me to get back in is the way I got out, and I am not doing that again.”

“We don’t have any choice---.”

“We have every choice,” Joyce countered. “If we get out now, we have the cover of darkness on our side. I know the general vicinity Buffy’s in. Between the three of us, we can find her and help her protect that little girl until the New Year.”

“And how do you plan on getting there? If you don’t even want to go out on a ledge, I can hardly see you walking through the dead of winter to where Buffy’s at.”

“Doyle and I left the car we brought where I could get to it if I had to. It’s only a mile from here.”

“Provided Maria hasn’t found it yet.”

For the first time since Giles had hurt his shoulder, Paul stepped forward and spoke up. “I like Mrs. Summers’ plan,” he said. “If we’re voting, I vote for hers.”

“Nobody asked you, Paul,” he growled.

“That’s awfully dictatorial of you, Rupert,” Joyce said with a raised eyebrow.

His blue eyes flickered between the two, not even the shiny lenses of his glasses hiding an iota of his frustration. “It’s suicide,” Giles finally said.

“It’s our only hope.” Joyce smiled. “It’s Christmas, Rupert. Miracles are always supposed to happen this time of year.”

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

By the time Tara left the cabin, Buffy was starting to think that maybe things might not be so bad after all.

Part of it was the calming effect the ghost had when she spoke. Once she’d let go of some of her initial anger at the situation and actually listened to Tara like Spike suggested, Buffy found herself being drawn into the quiet way she wove her words, feeling the assurance and kindness as closely as if she’d been wrapped in an electric blanket. Plus, it didn’t hurt when she heard her explain in greater detail about how exactly Joyce had been armed for her planned invasion. That loosened some of the knots that had formed when the subject had originally been brought up.

Part of it, too, was Spike. It wasn’t that she was distracted from the luscious memories of making out with him on the porch---and she so was going to have a talk with a certain little girl about spying on grown-ups; did she really think the flicking of the curtains wouldn’t be noticed?---but more the feather touch of his hand on her back, a soothing reminder that he was there, that he was right behind her, and that all she had to do to draw on his strength was turn around. He’d surprised her by admitting to his feelings aloud. When she’d confronted him, she’d fully expected to go through a round of denial and argument; it was the only reaction that made sense considering he didn’t have the guts to say it to her face the first time.

But she understood now that it wasn’t that he hadn’t been afraid. It was just that it had taken him by just as much surprise as it had taken her.

She loved him.

Buffy loved Spike.

Spike loved Buffy.

God, it sounded like some cheesy spin-off of a sitcom, didn’t it?

She hadn’t said it out loud yet, of course. Somehow, twisting her tongue around the actual words made her stomach flutter with a thousand ADHD butterflies on speed. It was easier to play along with his banter and let Spike know that way. It made it just as true, not to mention being more fun. And the kissing? Definite bonus. Evil or not-so-evil, there was no denying the fact that Spike knew his way around a kiss.

She smiled, stealing a glance out of the corner of her eye to watch Spike sprawled on the living room floor with socks over his hands. His kissing prowess was probably one detail she should omit in her grand plan to sell the idea of her and Spike to the Scoobies when she got back. She didn’t think Xander would be too interested in knowing the dozens of things Spike could do with his tongue.

At least, she hoped he wouldn’t be too interested.

And the sudden images that popped into her brain made her flush beet-red, sending her scurrying back to the stove to stir the soup before a certain vampire noticed the change in her body temperature.

Once Tara had said her goodbyes, Buffy had set to fixing something to eat for herself and Holly, good-naturedly ordering Spike to put in his time in entertaining the little girl while she did so. The glint in his eye made promises about how he’d be putting his time in with her later, but she’d refrained from responding to it, the sly smile Holly seemed incapable of wiping from her face telling Buffy that the child had seen far too much as it was.

There was no plan in place---well, no new plan, that is. The old plan of protecting Holly from psychos wanting to use her as some sort of ritual sacrifice was still on the bandwagon. Tara had been firm in her statements regarding the barriers that kept them enclosed, so short of sending the child out to rescue Buffy’s mom, Buffy really was stuck until after the New Year. Logic bit the big one sometimes. She could only hope that her mother would be smart enough not to do anything stupid that would get herself killed.

On the plus side, it meant more time to spend with Spike. She stole another look, and blushed when she caught him watching her, completely ignoring the way Holly was babbling away about “Mr. Monkeypants and his best friend, Pookie.”

“Dinner’s ready,” she announced, her voice too loud and way too cheerful. Yuck. She sounded like Mrs. Cleaver.

Turning her back to the room, Buffy ladled the soup into bowls, setting aside the saucepan to turn to the other that contained Spike’s warmed blood. As she grabbed the handle, though, his hand appeared from nowhere, curling around hers and guiding it to the mug that waited.

“I can do that,” she muttered. But she didn’t pull away, glorying in the cool velvet of his fingers encasing hers, the slight press of his hard body as he leaned into hers. She watched, transfixed, as together they poured the fluid, and then shivered when his mouth suddenly appeared at her ear.

“Think so much excitement for the day has earned us an early night?” Spike whispered.

“We don’t have early nights,” she replied. It shocked her how normal her voice sounded when her insides were quivering in anticipation of what Spike was so clearly promising.

“Pidge does.” His teeth caught the delicate shell of her ear and nipped before he disappeared from his vantage behind Buffy. When she turned with the bowls in her hands, he was already straddling his chair at the head of the table, Holly sitting expectantly in her own seat.

“My tummy needs a drink,” she announced.

“Soup’s a drink,” Spike offered.

Holly wrinkled her nose. “Soup’s food.”

“Do you want some water?” Buffy asked, turning back to the sink.

“Now, hang on a bit,” Spike said. He leaned in toward the child, tilting his mug slightly so that she could see the viscous fluid clinging to its interior. “Do you think mine is food or a drink?”

“Food.”

“But it’s in a cup.”

“But it’s food.”

“But I’m drinkin’ it.” He took a long swig to prove his point. “So it must be a drink.”

She shook her head. “Nope. Food.”

With a smile, Buffy set the glass of water down in front of Holly before sliding into her seat. “Give it up, Spike,” she said. “I don’t think this is one you’re going to win.”

“But Pidge here isn’t bein’ reasonable,” he argued, good-naturedly.

“Am so.”

“Are not.”

“Are so.”

“Are not.”

“Now I know you’re not going to win,” Buffy said. “Any time the are not’s start showing their faces, it’s pretty much a losing battle. Trust the one who was actually a kid in this century, Spike.”

Scowling, he picked up his mug and drained the rest of the blood, grumbling under his breath about estrogen levels being far too high in the small house. Buffy and Holly smiled as they settled in to eat, but when the little girl began yawning widely halfway through the meal, Spike finally seemed to snap out of his funk.

“Not tired, are you, moptop?”

It was all Buffy could do not to roll her eyes at the obvious expectation in his voice.

The response was another yawn. “I think I need to have an early night,” Holly announced. She immediately stood and began padding for the bedroom door. “Buffy can tuck me in.”

When it was just the two of them left in the room, Buffy and Spike exchanged a quick look. “I think we’ve been had,” she said, rising from her seat.

“You see me complainin’?” A broad smile creased his features and he sprawled back in the chair, giving her a birdseye view of the prominent outline of his cock beneath his jeans. “Sooner she goes to sleep, sooner you and me can get back to our little conversation on the front porch.”

Her body burned at the sudden onslaught of memory his words evoked, and Buffy heard him chuckle as she turned away. It might be an early night for Holly, she thought, hurrying to the bedroom, but something told her it was going to be a long one for her.

 

To be continued in Chapter 42: Oh, Dear Santa, Fill It Well