DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Buffy and Spike have come even closer together after their vows, and Joyce has escaped relatively easily from Maria’s with Giles…

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Chapter 44: Don't You Tell a Single Soul

When she’d contemplated how she’d be spending her Christmas holidays, Joyce never thought she’d turn out funding the Great Escape of 1999.

“I’ll pay you back,” Rupert said when she handed over her credit card to the hotel clerk.

“I know,” she replied. She didn’t want to talk about this at the moment. She just wanted to get to her room and sleep until the next year.

Paul had been waiting for them when they’d returned with the car, and the trio had driven for hours throughout the night, fearful of stopping and finding Maria directly behind them. Rupert had alternated the driving responsibilities with her, but young Paul had begged off, claiming his inability to discern the reverse positions of the car and roads too hazardous to put him behind the wheel. Eventually, though, exhaustion had won, and just before dawn, Joyce had pulled into a tiny hole-in-the-wall motel to get rooms for them to recover.

Paul disappeared into the room he was sharing with Giles with a faint good night and a small wave, leaving the remaining two waiting for the other to speak.

“How long do you think you’re going to need?” Joyce finally asked.

“A few hours, I’d imagine. You?”

“The same.”

The awkwardness stretched into silence, but when Joyce turned to unlock the door of her room, she felt Rupert’s hand come to rest softly her arm.

“What do you plan on doing?” he queried.

She smiled. “I thought it was obvious. Sleep.”

“I meant…afterward. Do you intend to return to Sunnydale?”

She’d been hoping he wasn’t going to ask. The issue had not been broached during their ride, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t considering it. She just wasn’t sure how he was going to react to her decision.

“Yeah, Joyce.”

The sudden voice behind her made whirl, her heart pounding even though she knew who it was. She glared at him when Doyle only grinned.

“What do you intend to do?” he finished.

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

It could’ve been his weariness distorting his perceptions, but Giles was certain that Joyce and Doyle were flirting with each other. She’d invited the so-called ghost into her hotel room with barely a chastisement for so visibly frightening her, and only as an afterthought had she done the same for Giles. Then, she’d proceeded to put on a pot of coffee in the dreadfully stained miniature coffeemaker that the room sported, and started chatting away about her adventures in Maria-land---as she so eloquently put it; really, was it any wonder that Buffy spoke the way she did?---as if it wasn’t unusual in the slightest to have a corporealized ghost sprawled across her hotel room bed.

Giles was left to gawp in silence.

“You didn’t!” Doyle exclaimed, his eyes twinkling.

“I did,” Joyce said proudly. “I went right out the window.”

“And Tara and Jenny were so worried about you,” he scoffed. “I guess you showed them.”

The names dropped so casually yanked Giles from his preoccupation with Joyce’s behavior to the lounging Irishman. “What…did you say?” he asked carefully.

Joyce sighed. “He doesn’t know, Doyle,” she said.

“I don’t know what?” Setting aside his still-full coffee cup, Giles rose to his feet, crossing to stand between the two who couldn’t help the guilty looks they kept exchanging. “What didn’t you tell me back at Maria’s?”

“I didn’t want to upset you,” she started, but though her voice was gentle, his short temper wasn’t willing to pacified.

“So it’s true? This Jenny he speaks of…is that…Jenny Calendar?”

He’d almost said my Jenny, for even though it had been almost two years since she’d been killed, he still very often thought of her in those terms. It was difficult not to imagine the sort of life they might’ve had if their chances hadn’t been cut so tragically short.

And yes, he was getting upset.

He had every bloody right to be.

“It doesn’t matter who it is trying to protect Holly,” Joyce was saying. “What’s important is that we’ve managed to thwart Maria’s efforts by removing you and Paul from that environment. Without you, she won’t be able to find out that Buffy and Spike are watching her.”

It was Doyle’s turn to come to attention. “Who’s Paul?”

“Another Watcher Maria had kidnapped. She was using three of them to try and locate Holly.”

“And you told him everything?” The jocularity was gone. Doyle was starting to get as upset as Giles felt. “How do you know you can trust him, Joyce?”

“You don’t,” Giles intervened.

“Why shouldn’t I?” she countered. “You do.”

“Out of necessity under those specific circumstances. I never suggested he accompany us on your grand plan, which by the way, still seems to have been executed just a little too easily for my comfort.”

She folded her arms across her chest, turning to face him squarely. “I didn’t hear you complaining when we got over that wall so fast,” Joyce said.

“Yes, you did. You just chose to ignore me. Don’t all parents develop selective hearing when their children become teenagers?”

“Are you saying you’re acting like a teenager?”

“OK, you crazy kids, pipe down.” Doyle stepped between them. “What we have here is a failure to communicate---.”

“Oh, wonderful,” Giles muttered, and turned away to sit back down in his chair. “Yet another one obsessed with quoting his pop culture. My day is now complete.”

“That’s enough.” Joyce’s voice was sharp and loud in the room, and her eyes were flashing as they darted between the two men. “Perhaps I should’ve been a little more upfront with you,” she said to Giles, “but if I’d told you about Ms. Calendar when we were still at Maria’s, can you honestly say you would’ve been just as quick to escape as you were? You wouldn’t have been distracted with thoughts of her?” She turned to Doyle. “And regardless of what Rupert might say, Paul seems honestly willing to do the right thing. I wouldn’t have brought him along if I thought he’d put Buffy in any danger.”

“I still don’t like it,” Doyle said.

“You’ve met Buffy,” Giles said to the other man. “Does it really surprise you that her mother would act so similarly?”

“And her mother is still in the room, thank you very much. Now. Can we start over, please? I’d like to get everything discussed that needs to be discussed before I fall on my face from exhaustion. I’ve been nearly killed, knocked out with magic, and then escaped from a psychotic’s home all within the past couple days. I really don’t need to add arbitrating differences with the two of you to that list.”

Giles pressed his lips together. She had a point, albeit a small one. Still, to think that Jenny was somehow involved in this…

“If it makes you feel better, Jenny wasn’t so keen on upsetting you, either.” Doyle was addressing him now, a look of pity behind those sharp eyes.

“No, it doesn’t make me feel better,” he replied, “but thank you for saying so.”

“Are we going to talk about this?” Joyce asked.

With a sigh, Giles pushed himself back to his feet. “My suggestion is that we discuss this after some rest,” he said. “I think our ill tempers will only be aggravated further if we were to continue on as we are without it.”

Doyle nodded. “Think that’s a grand idea. I probably shouldn’t have barged in until later anyway, but when I got word that Joyce here had managed to get out again, well, I couldn’t stay away from the excitement of it all.”

Giles hid rolling his eyes as he walked to the door. There was really nothing subtle about the ghost, was there? “I’ll ring your room when Paul and I are refreshed,” he said to Joyce, keeping his tone neutral. “If you need anything in the interim---.”

“I’ll call you,” she finished.

He was almost out the door when she called out, “I am sorry, Rupert.”

Closing it behind him, Giles sagged as soon as he was out of their presence. Jenny. He hadn’t considered her for any length in quite some time. To think…

No. Joyce had been right in not telling him of Jenny’s involvement. He was already distracted from the issue at hand, and they were under far less stress now than they had been under Maria’s control. He owed it to all of them to pull himself together. Sleep was exactly what he needed.

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

She felt like she could sleep for another week, but with the noise coming from downstairs, Buffy knew it was pretty much pointless.

Sighing, she rolled in the twisted sheets, opening her eyes to view the cold and rumpled pillow at her side. A room temperature body meant it was impossible for her to tell how long Spike had been up, but she reached out and fondled the cotton anyway, leaning just enough so that she could bury her nose in the folds and breathe in his scent.

She was sore, but in all the right places, muscles comfortably stretched, her bottom only slightly raw from where Spike had attacked it the night before. The memory made her squirm, and Buffy knew she was getting wet again as the feel of his mouth on her flesh returned with a vengeance to her imagination. He had vamped on her, and while it had been mildly disquieting at the time, she trusted him enough not to let him know that. It was going to happen every once in a while, and she would’ve been stupid to think otherwise.

“Slayer! I hear you awake up there! Get your ass down here!”

And then amidst a horrified giggle, “Spike! That’s a bad word.”

“Sorry, moptop.” He raised his voice to call up to Buffy again. “Get your lovely bottom down here!”

Rolling her eyes, she tucked the sheet around her body as she hopped up from the bed and padded over to the railing. Her mouth opened to yell down at him, and then she stopped, frozen by the sight that greeted her.

The lower room looked as if her closet had exploded. Piles of her clothes were strewn across the wood floor, and t-shirts draped over the back of each of the chairs. Individual socks were looped around anything remotely pole-like, including the poker on the hearth, the legs of the kitchen table, and the short sword she’d left in her weapons bag next to the front door. There was even one of her bras dangling from the antlers of the deer mounted over the fireplace.

“What the hell happened?” she demanded, all good humor fading.

“We’re playing store,” Holly said. Her upturned face was beaming, though really, that was all Buffy could see of the child. The rest of the diminutive form was complete hidden by Spike’s leather duster that she wore. “I’m selling your clothes and Spike’s buying them.”

Buffy turned her piqued gaze to the vampire, currently stretched out on the couch with various items from her underwear draped over him. As soon as their eyes met, he shrugged.

“It was like this when I got up,” he said. “Don’t be lookin’ to point your finger of blame at me.”

Instead, she lifted her hand and jabbed at the deer head. “You’re telling me she got my favorite bra up there? That’s too Animal House for a three-year-old and surprisingly restrained for you.”

Spike grinned. “That’s from when I was tryin’ to distract her from this notion we were goin’ clothes shopping.”

“It’s a slingshot,” Holly piped in.

“No, it’s a fifty-five dollar bra that I had to beg my mom to buy for me,” Buffy bit back.

“Well, I’d say you got your money’s worth, pet. Those cups have got a helluva snap to ‘em.”

She exhaled loudly, deliberately counting to ten inside her head before saying anything. “Is there anything left in my drawers?” Buffy asked carefully.

“Nope,” said Holly.

“So what do you expect me to wear today?”

Spike’s gaze raked over her. “I’d say you look particularly fetching in my sheet, luv.”

She pulled the aforementioned item tighter around her, suddenly conscious of her nudity in front of Holly. “Start picking them up,” she ordered the little girl. “I’ll be down in a minute to help you put everything away. And then we’re going to have a long talk about personal space and why you don’t invade it.”

“But---.”

“No buts.” She pointed to a pink scrap nearest the ladder. “Could you toss that up here, please? I’d prefer not to flash everyone when I come down.”

Casting a glance back at Spike, Holly slowly trudged over to the garment Buffy was indicating, the black leather dragging along behind her like a queen’s train. She picked it up and threw it upwards, but the underwear only made a half-hearted arc and landed on a rung that was well beyond Buffy’s reach.

“Hold up, pidge,” Spike said. Brushing off the clothing that was draped over him onto the floor, he rose from the couch and sauntered over, plucking the panties from the ladder with a quick flick before squatting in front of the little girl. “What say you start with the tidying while I go try and help Buffy out? Seems she’s got her knickers all in a twist and seein’ as I’m the resident expert on how to undo those particular types of knots, I best get up there before she falls flat on her face tryin’ to sort it herself.”

“Is she mad at me?”

It was a whisper, but it was a Holly whisper, which meant that it carried to Buffy’s ears all too clearly. She winced as she stepped away from the railing, but she still heard Spike’s response as she moved back to the bed.

“Slayer’s just not a morning person. By the time she comes down from that loft, I promise you she’ll be her usual charming self.”

Pause.

“Does she have to be?”

Buffy’s eyes closed. All those goodwill points she’d been accumulating with Holly the past few days? Out the window, it would seem.

“Now, you don’t mean that, and you know it,” Spike said. His voice had taken on a distinctly disapproving tone, one she’d never heard him use with the child before. “After everything she’s done for you, least you can do is show her the proper respect she deserves, Holly. Yeah, she can be a right pill when the mood takes her, but she’s got reason to be a little short-tempered with us about now. Don’t be tryin’ to turn her into the bad guy here when you know good and well we’re the ones doin’ the wrong, you understand?”

Silence.

Wow.

She’d never heard Spike get so stern with anyone before. He’d even called the little girl by her real name and not one of those annoying nicknames he was always using. It was enough to get Buffy starting to feel guilty about losing it so quickly at the sight of her wardrobe strewn around the room if that was the kind of response that it elicited.

She was sitting on the edge of the bed, still lost in thought when Spike’s head appeared at the top of the ladder. He didn’t step into the loft, however, just leaned against the top rung and surveyed her from his post, her pink panties dangling from his fingers.

“You don’t have to say it,” she said before he could speak. “I know I over-reacted.”

He shrugged. “Looked like a typical Slayer first response to me.”

“Yeah, well, I was hoping I was starting to outgrow those. Silly me.”

Shaking his head, Spike climbed up the rest of the way and strode to the bed to sit beside her, dropping the underwear into her lap. “Know I’m good, but I’m not a miracle worker,” he teased. He began running a single finger along the upper edge of the sheet, where the cotton met the top of her breasts. “Don’t be so hard on yourself.”

Buffy’s heart was starting to quicken at the hint of velvet each stroke was whispering into her skin. “Does she hate me again?” she asked, her voice tiny.

“She’s three, pet. She just doesn’t like being told she did wrong.”

“So she does hate me. Great.”

Spike’s hand disappeared behind her, slipping inside the sheet to slide down her spine and tug her gently closer. “You don’t hate family,” he said, and bent his head to taste the crook of her neck. “You get pissy when they gum up the works and make you clean up the mess, but you don’t hate ‘em.”

Inwardly, she shook her head at the ass-backwards way he’d chosen to reassure her, but it was hard to do more than sigh in relief as his teeth joined in the attention currently being lavished on her neck. When his free hand started tugging at the lower part of the sheet to allow him access to her now-soaking slit, however, Buffy pushed against his chest to force some distance between them again.

“We can’t,” she protested. “Holly’s down there and wide awake.”

“But do you have any idea how delicious you look in my bedclothes, luv?” His voice was a throaty rumble, and he grabbed her hand and pressed it to the bulge in his jeans.

Before she pulled away again, she gave him a quick squeeze, eliciting a groan that made him flop back onto the mattress. “We can do that later,” Buffy said. “Right now, I have some damage control to do to my wardrobe.”

She felt his eyes on her as she rose and let the sheet drop to a puddle around her feet. Quickly, Buffy slithered into her underwear and then strode over to the dresser, pulling out one of Spike’s t-shirts and slipping it over her head.

“I was wrong,” she heard from behind. “You look more edible in my kit than the soddin’ sheet.”

She glanced back and saw him propped up on his elbows, watching her through his lashes, his tongue running along the edge of his teeth. “Are you always this horny?” she teased, and pulled her hair out from the collar of the shirt.

“What can I say, luv? You just seem to bring out the beast in me.”

The instinct to reply that Buffy had thought she seemed to bring out the man in him rose and then was stifled, as she decided that going soft and mushy on Spike wasn’t going to rescue her clothes any faster. If anything, it was going to result in the pair of them doing something obscene---but fun---with the potential of being discovered by a more than capable Holly climbing up and interrupting at any moment.

Instead, she walked back and scooped up the sheet, snapping it at his recumbent form. “You want it, you’ll have to work for it,” Buffy said. “Help me make the bed.”

“Well, that’s not any fun.”

“Work never is. Hence, the work label and not the fun label.”

When he didn’t move from his reclining position, Buffy sighed and grabbed his ankle. “Just remember, you asked for this,” she said, right before she yanked and tossed him toward the farthest empty wall.

Though it took him by surprise, Spike twisted in mid-air and landed on his ass instead of his head. “Hey! What was that for?”

“For not helping when I asked you to.” But her tone was lighter than it had been, the quick rush of adrenaline the slight physical activity had given her already bolstering her mood. Maybe that’s what I need, she thought as she brushed off the blankets to get the sheet back into place. A good workout that doesn’t involve being naked. Kill a few demons, and get rid of some of this energy being pent-up in this place has stored---.

Her thoughts were interrupted when something sharp dropped on her toe. Bending slightly to look around the mattress she had lifted to tuck in the sheet, she saw the object in question

It was an old leather-bound book, unlike the ones that were stored downstairs, slim and worn as if it had been held and used on numerous occasions. Her brow wrinkled as she picked it up.

“What’s this?” she asked, as she started to flip open the cover.

 

To be continued in Chapter 45: In the Old Silk Hat They Found