DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Joyce and the Watchers have holed up in a hotel for some sleep where Giles has discovered that Jenny is one of the ghosts, while Buffy has found Spike’s journal beneath his bed…

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Chapter 45: In the Old Silk Hat They Found

Fuck.

He’d forgotten all about the sodding journal. He hadn’t given it any thought since the last time it had fallen from its hiding place. I bloody suck at hiding things, don’t I?

Double fuck.

As Spike watched Buffy pick it up, time slowed to a molasses pace, her normally graceful movements now dull and protracted. His stomach was lead, and if his heart could still beat, it would’ve stopped in mid-pulse, waiting to see what his Slayer was going to do with her discovery.

Fuck this waiting.

Leaping from his feet, Spike snatched the book from her hands before she could look past the first page, tossing it to the side and toppling her to the bed. Pain shot through his temple when Buffy’s ankle hit the nightstand, but he ignored it as he rolled on top of her, grinding his pelvis into hers as he dove in for a violent kiss. Distraction was his best hope.

Distraction wasn’t working.

With an annoyed shove, Buffy pushed him off, slithering out from beneath him. “I thought I said we’d do that later,” she commented.

“Can you blame me?” Spike reached for her hip, a sly leer darkening his eyes though his mind was still with the book that now sat haphazardly on the floor. “Told you, you looked delectable, didn’t I?”

“And I told you---.” She cut herself off, shaking her head. “Never mind. Let’s make the bed.”

This time, he was all too glad to help her with the task, kicking the book beneath the dresser as discreetly as he could when she turned her back on him to tuck in her corner. He even reminded her---loudly, so that Holly was sure to hear---of the clothes that were still strewn about downstairs, and breathed a sigh of relief when she went charging down to take care of them. Better to place her attention on the little one than consider what it was she’d been holding. His best bet was to burn it at the first opportunity he had.

He waited until he thought the bulk of the tidying was done, making sure he went down with a shirt and socks on in order to explain his delay. A dejected Holly was sitting on the couch, rolling socks as Buffy gave her another lecture on personal property, and even though she shot Spike a baleful glance when he emerged from his hiding, he met the Slayer’s eyes long enough to recognize the need to skirt the entire issue.

She came up to him when Buffy disappeared to the bathroom to get dressed in her own clothes.

“Why didn’t you have to help?” Holly whined.

“Wasn’t my mess,” Spike replied, sipping at his mug of blood.

You made the slingshot.”

“Actually, some bird named Victoria’s responsible for that. I just put it to good use.”

“You should’ve helped.”

“I did my fair share.”

She frowned as she thought hard about his statement. “Is a fair share the same thing as nothing?” she finally asked.

Spike pursed his lips, narrowing his eyes as he leaned in toward the child. “Little girls who make messes should be prepared to clean up after themselves,” he said.

“But---.”

She clamped her mouth shut when the bathroom door opened, and scurried back to her place on the couch as Buffy emerged. The Slayer stopped when she caught the tail end of the dash, and cast a curious frown at Spike.

He shrugged. “Not too pleased with her punishment, I guess. Why don’t you take a load off, pet? You really haven’t had a chance yet to stop today, have you?”

When she ignored his invitation and went straight to the refrigerator for some juice, Spike felt the first fingers of doubt begin to tickle around his awareness. They clenched into tight fists on his gut when she hopped up on the counter and called out, “Holly? Can you come here please?”

The little girl’s feet shuffled along the wooden floor as she came over to the table, looking up at Buffy through her lashes.

“Sit down next to Spike, please.”

Slayer had something in mind, he could tell. He had a sneaking suspicion something was about to go very much wrong for him.

Buffy waited until Holly was settled before addressing the both of them. “Not counting the rest of today, we’ve got two more days until we can get out of this place and Holly’s going to be safe. Because of what happened this morning, I think we need to set some new rules in place so that nobody wakes up to any more surprises, and nobody has a reason to get angry with someone else.”

“You said you weren’t angry.” Holly’s voice was tiny, her eyes glued to Buffy.

“I’m not. Not any more. But you and Spike have this knack for being way too creative in entertaining yourself, and one of these days, it’s going to backfire on you. Isn’t that right, Spike?”

His mood was plummeting with every word from Buffy’s mouth, and he did nothing to mask his scowl. “It was just a bloody game, Slayer,” he said. “And I backed you up on it, didn’t I?”

“You were also the one who hid upstairs while Holly and I did all the work,” she replied. “Not to mention the one who tried enhancing Rudolph’s fetish for women’s underwear.”

Holly frowned, turning to Spike. “What’s a fetish?”

“It’s when---.”

“Spike! Topic, please!”

He crossed his arms over his chest, slouching back in his chair and deliberately propping up his feet on the table so that they partially obstructed Buffy’s view of him. He may love the bloody bint, but this bossy side of her was one that he could take or leave. Preferably leave. Especially, when it was directed at him in such a condescending manner.

“So, considering the events of this morning, I think we need to have a rule about punishments. If someone does something wrong, they need to be punished for it. Agreed?”

She was looking at both of them with such expectation that Spike couldn’t hold back the snort of derision. “You’re talkin’ to a vampire and a three-year-old girl, luv. You really think either one of us is goin’ to give you our blessing to do with us as you will?” He paused, a sudden image of Buffy in a black leather corset and stiletto-heeled boots with a whip in her hand springing to his head. “Well, one of us might,” he conceded with a leer.

Her lips thinned. “If there’s risk of punishment, we’ll all be less inclined to do something wrong,” she said. “And the same goes for me. If I do something wrong, I expect to get a punishment, too.”

Like that’s about to happen. Out loud, he just said, “There a point to any of this, Slayer? Because I think you’ve just wasted another of those days we’ve got left here with your little lecture.”

“My point is, that Holly made up for her mess this morning.” She turned to the little girl. “And since Spike skipped out on taking his share of responsibility and left you to do all the work, I think it’s only fair that you be the one to punish him now.”

His cry of “What the bloody fuck?” was almost overshadowed by Holly’s squeal of delight, and Buffy held up her hands to quiet both of them.

“Just to show that I can be fair about this,” she said, “we’ll vote. Whoever thinks this is a good idea, raise her hand.”

Spike scowled when Holly’s arm shot upward so quickly she toppled sideways off her chair. “Don’t think I won’t remember this the next time someone wants some hot chocolate, you little turncoat,” he groused as she clambered back on, her mood considerably lifted.

“Punishment wins,” Buffy announced. “Now, what do you think it should be?”

“Make him eat an orange!”

He couldn’t help but snicker at her enthusiasm. So maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all.

“That’s not really a punishment.”

“Yes, it is. Oranges are yucky.”

“Yeah, Slayer. You heard the girl. Oranges are yucky. Now, chuck one over and let’s get this over with.”

The look Buffy shot him silenced him yet again. “Spike likes oranges, so that won’t really teach him a lesson, will it? Try something else.”

Holly’s brow wrinkled as she sank into deep thought. A minute passed, and then another, and Spike began to grow restless as they waited.

“Any minute now, Holly,” Buffy prompted.

“He could run around the outside of the house a bajillion times.”

In spite of his annoyance with Buffy’s newfound desire to be Super Mom, it was impossible not to be amused by the little one. His lips quirked as he exchanged glances with Buffy, and he saw that she was enjoying this as well.

“Well, that’s a good idea,” she said, “except a bajillion is a lot, even for a vampire. And going outside now while the sun’s out might be a little extreme for the crime. How about we try something a little less combustible, OK? Something that he can do indoors.”

“We could play sockpuppets. That’s an inside thing.”

Buffy’s smile widened, just as Spike’s disappeared. “I think that’s an excellent idea. A day of sockpuppets. Just you and Spike.” When Holly jumped from her chair and started to dash for the bedroom door, however, the Slayer’s voice stopped her. “Not my socks, though,” she called out. She pointed to the loft. “Get some of Spike’s.”

“But…I don’t do down.”

“I’ll come up and get you when you’ve got them,” Buffy replied. “And while you’re up there, could you get the book that Spike knocked underneath his dresser? I think he might forget about it if it gets left there, and that would be bad.”

His stomach fell at the mention of his journal, and Spike dropped his eyes to the table when he felt Buffy turn hers to him. Bugger. So that’s what this had all been about.

“Dirty pool, pet,” he muttered, when Holly was safely upstairs and out of earshot.

Hopping off the counter, Buffy came and sat in the chair next to him, leaning forward to poke him none too gently in the chest. “It’s your fault for being a stupidhead,” she said.

“That one of your college words? Good to see your money’s not bein’ wasted.”

“I mean it.” She dropped her hand to his, feathering across the knuckles. “I don’t know what you’re so scared about. All I saw was your name, and the ‘journal of’ that kind of gave away what it was.”

“Because you’re goin’ to want to read it. And if you read it, I can pretty much say good bye to this thing between me and you working out, and in case you haven’t noticed, I’m gettin’ more than a little attached to you, Buffy.”

“But why? Did you write that I was fat or something?”

She seemed so honestly worried that that was the extent of his musings, Spike couldn’t help but chuckle. “That would be the least of it, pet. That journal goes back a bit, but I left it with Dru when I took off that last time. So in the way of bitter rantings about the Slayer bein’ a thorn in my side I wanted to rip out and shred to pieces? It’s the piece de resistance.”

“You could’ve just told me that.” Blushing at the look of disbelief he leveled at her, Buffy added, “Well, at least you didn’t have to go all kamikaze trying to get it away from me. You were a little obvious, Spike.”

“So, is that what all this was about? You were just pissed because I didn’t tell you what it was?”

“I’m not pissed. I’m hurt. You didn’t trust me. I thought…after everything that’s been going on here the past two days, I thought that trust was the one thing we’d got figured out. Didn’t the letting you bite me kind of drive that home?”

She had a point, and Spike felt like a wanker for not giving her the benefit of the doubt. All he’d had to do was ask her not to read it and…nah, he would’ve reacted that way regardless. Having his personal thoughts and anything writing-related skewered so often over the past century made it an automatic response any more. And considering it was only the past week that Buffy was treating with any measure of respect, he didn’t think his reaction was all that far off.

“Didn’t mean to hurt your feelings, luv,” he said. “But after havin’ Angelus and Darla make me their own little laughingstock ‘bout it, I’m more than a bit sensitive about the whole mess.” He held up a warning finger. “And no, that doesn’t give you permission to taunt me about bein’ the sensitive type, so don’t even think it.”

“I’ve got it!”

Holly’s voice drifted down to them from the loft, turning both of their heads to see her standing at the railing. “Be right there,” Buffy called up. She cast a sideways glance at Spike. “Actually, Spike will be right there.”

“Bloody sockpuppets,” he muttered as he rose from the chair. He stopped when she laid a hand on his arm.

“I meant what I said. Do whatever you want with your journal. Hide it again, throw it away, make paper airplanes with the pages. They’re your words, and if you want them private, then I’m going to respect that. I know I’d hate it if I had a diary and somebody was poking their nose around in it if I didn’t want them to.”

A slow grin curled his lips, and he stepped forward to grab her hip and pull her close to him. “Thank you, pet,” he murmured before giving her a quick kiss. “Next time, I’ll try not to be so quick with the leaping.”

“Oh, I don’t know.” Her eyes danced in wicked amusement. “Sometimes your leaping is fun.”

“Does this mean I don’t have to be stuck playing Kukla, Fran, and Holly now?”

Buffy shoved him away good-naturedly, shaking her head. “No. That’s what you get for scamming out of helping her this morning.”

“Bitch.”

“Pig.”

“Actually, she always makes me the bloody monkey.”

“And that’s so wrong why?”

He glared at her as he turned to head for the ladder, but they both knew it was put on. Inside, Spike wore a grin as wide as the ocean at the thought of Buffy trusting him with his own thoughts. The woman would never stop amazing him, and he’d be damned if he was going to bugger this up now and lose that.

Even if it meant wearing socks on his hands to entertain the little one.

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

The first thing she did was stop at Wal-Mart and pick up some new clothes, especially new shoes and socks. The clothes Joyce had brought were fine for the day-to-day, but for what she had planned now, she was going to need something a little more heavyduty. It was just a shame that California wasn’t quite as prepared for heavyduty as she might’ve liked.

As she paid for her boots and thermals with the cash she’d pulled from her checking account, she squelched the pang of guilt that was already threatening to make her turn tail and return to the hotel. She had left her gallery credit card and a note for Rupert to use it to rent a car to get back to Sunnydale, and taken hers to resume her search for Buffy without the others. With the Watcher now being aware of Jenny’s involvement, and Doyle’s trust in her fractured because of her decision to rescue and include Paul, Joyce knew she was back to being on her own in this. It was up to her to make sure Buffy was all right until after the New Year.

Sitting in the Wal-Mart parking lot, she looked at the local map and surveyed her best possibility. All her talks with Doyle and the ghosts had led her to believe that she’d been all too close in finding Buffy when she’d been investigating the scene of the accident. According to the map, though, the only thing in that area was forest and more forest. Doyle had said they were safe; did they have them tucked away somewhere amidst all the trees? It had to be the only answer.

Back to the accident then. And hopefully, back to Buffy.

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

Silas’ eyes darted from the SUV pulling out of the parking lot to Maria sitting at his side. “Well?” he asked, as the distance began to lengthen between the two vehicles. His fingers tightened around the steering wheel. “What would you like me to do?”

She didn’t respond. Instead, Maria closed her eyes and started murmuring under her breath, curling her right hand into a ball. When she was done, her lids lifted, revealing eyes swallowed in ebony, and her fingers suddenly splayed as if releasing some burning unknown in its palm. A flash made the car’s interior all too hot for a split second, and then, it was gone.

Silas shivered. In spite of the weeks he had spent with her, the true extent of Maria’s magic was only coming to light now, and the depth of it was nothing he’d seen before. Not even the Council’s coven had seemed to manipulate their power as easily as Maria did, and he was beginning to wonder just why it was she had found it necessary to bring them into the fold.

“Go back to the hotel,” she instructed. “We’ll determine what it is Rupert and Paul are planning to do, and if it doesn’t entail finding Holly, we’ll resume following Mrs. Summers.”

“But how?” He gestured futilely at the near-empty parking lot. “We don’t know which direction she went.”

“Yes, we do.” Maria’s voice was brittle. “Now. Are you going to continue to question the spell I just cast, or are you going to do as I instructed you and drive?”

It was impossible not to notice how angry she was with him. If she wasn’t so insistent on using ordinary means to track the runaway Watchers---less likelihood of being detected, she’d stated---Silas had no doubts that she would dispose of him in the blink of an eye. His use to her without the others was minimal, and if he didn’t want to risk being made completely redundant, he’d do exactly as he was told.

He drove.

 

To be continued in Chapter 46: Following Yonder Star