DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Joyce has ditched Giles and the others to find Buffy on her own, while Buffy and Spike have had a brief talk about his journal and trust…

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

Chapter 46: Following Yonder Star

Regardless of his protestations, Buffy watched Spike lose himself in the games with Holly, eventually turning his hands into killer vampire puppets and chasing her around the cabin with his fangs bared and socks at the ready.

“Stop it! Stop it!” Holly shrieked as she dove beneath a dining room chair.

“Never!” Spike growled. He reached forward and grabbed at a skinny ankle before it disappeared from his view, but the fact that his chip never went off told Buffy all she needed to know about their playing.

“No! Don’t!” There was a streak of yellow, and then the bedroom door slammed shut, with Spike coming to a jerky halt before he smashed his nose into it.

“Little pidge, little pidge, let me in,” he chanted as he leaned into the wood.

There was a pause.

“I don’t think she knows that one,” Buffy offered from where she was curled up in the corner of the couch.

“Sure, she does,” he replied. “I’ve been tellin’ her that bloody three little pigs story every day since she got here.”

“You’ve been telling a three-year-old a story about a house coming down around her ears? And you wonder why she’s been sleepwalking.”

He shot her a dirty look and then leaned even closer to the door. “Little pidge, little pidge, let me in,” Spike tried again.

“Was the Big Bad Wolf a vampire?” Buffy asked with a bright smile. “Is that why he had to ask for an invitation?”

“Shut up, Slayer.”

Then, from the interior of the bedroom, she heard, “Not by the chair on my finny fin fin.”

Buffy and Spike exchanged a frown before he shrugged.

“Close enough.” Back to the door, and in his best growly voice, “Then, I’ll huff, and I’ll puff, and I’ll blow your house in.”

“Don’t you need---.”

“Slayer!”

She just grinned. But as the silence grew from the other side of the door, she leaned forward to try and see past where Spike blocked the entrance to the bedroom. “Did she hear you?” she asked.

“Don’t know.” As he reached for the knob, though, it twisted beneath his grasp and a flash of yellow came darting out between his legs, knocking him over as Holly dashed for the other side of the table.

“Missed me!” she squealed.

“Spike lost to a three-year-old,” Buffy singsonged, turning back to the book she wasn’t reading in her lap.

He stopped in mid-stride. “When was the last time you patrolled, Slayer?” he asked, pointedly.

Their eyes met, and she smiled. “Fine, I can take a hint.” She rose, stretching until her back audibly cracked. “It’s not like I’ve been getting any kind of workout from anything inside for the past week.”

“And keep that up and you won’t get any more, either.”

She was still smiling when she shut the cabin door behind her. As she did up her jacket against the cooler air, all Buffy could imagine was how she was going to get Spike when she returned from her patrol.

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

He was woken by an urgent hand on his shoulder.

“Rupert! Rupert, you must wake up! Rupert!”

Grumpily, Giles swatted at the offending limb, and rolled over to blink into the too-bright light that was mounted next to the bed. “You better have a bloody good reason for this,” he growled at Paul’s blurry outline. He fumbled for his glasses. “I’d thought we were going to sleep until Joyce woke us.”

“That’s just it,” came the reply. “Mrs. Summers is gone.”

It was enough to shake Giles from his stupor. His dreams had been unsettling, an odd amalgam of nightmares regarding Angelus and Jenny, with Maria hovering in the background, but the apprehension that had twisted throughout his body throughout dissolved at the more critical situation currently at hand.

Pushing back the blanket, he noted the mid-afternoon time as he rose, grabbing the shirt he’d folded over the back of a nearby chair. “Did you try her room?” Giles asked. “Perhaps she’s just sleeping heavily.”

“Her car is gone. And she left a note for you with the hotel clerk. He said she’s already checked out.”

Giles snatched the envelope Paul proffered, tearing open the seal and pulling out the piece of paper inside. A credit card slipped from within the folds, but he tucked it into his pocket as he quickly scanned its contents.

“What is it?” Paul couldn’t keep his hands from twisting as he watched Giles toss the letter aside and storm over to his shoes. “Is something wrong?”

“Bloody woman,” Giles muttered. Louder, he ordered, “Pack your things. We’re leaving.”

“But…how? Is she coming back? What’s going on?”

“We’re renting a car, no, she’s not coming back, and she’s decided we’re both fools who are standing in her way of helping Buffy.” Giles swore under his breath as he caught his toe on the shoe, sliding his foot before trying to put it on again. “She’s gone off to find Buffy again. Apparently, she’s decided that we are excess baggage she needed to shed before doing so.”

“Was it because of the disagreement you had?”

He was pulled up short by Paul’s query, his brow wrinkling. “It’s because she’s a very stubborn woman who doesn’t understand that there are certain things beyond her means,” he said tightly. “It was foolhardy of her to leave without us.”

“But, weren’t you the one who was telling me that your Slayer gets many of her stronger qualities from her mother?”

Giles pursed his lips. He hated it when his own words were thrown back in his face. “Apparently, common sense wasn’t one of them.”

Paul remained still as Giles continued to organize their few belongings. “Not that I wish to argue with you about this---.”

“Then don’t.”

“What are your intentions? You’re not considering---.”

A knock at the door stilled both of them, their heads turning to stare at it as if an arrival was the last thing they expected. Giles was the first to move, a toothbrush in his hand as he closed the distance to answer it.

The sight of Maria and Silas on the other side immediately had him trying to slam it, but a sharp bolt of magic from her outstretched hand sent him flying back into the room to crumple at the foot of the bed.

“Really,” she commented as she crossed the threshold, “I wonder how it is you can have such atrocious manners, Mr. Giles. I’d heard your education was impeccable.” She smiled at Paul, a cold rictus of an expression. “Stop gaping. It’s rude.”

Giles shook his head as he struggled to sit up, his chest sore from where the magic had slammed into him, his balance shaky from the impact. “We’re onto you,” he said to Maria. Even through his discomfort, there was a menace to his voice. “You won’t play us as your patsies any longer.”

Silas’ foot shoved him back as he tried to rise, and though Giles knew he was stronger and in better shape than the other Watcher, the impact of his fall had weakened him to the point of bowing to the larger man.

“But we’re partners,” Maria was saying. Gently, she closed the door behind her. “Or we were, until you so boldly decided that you’d changed your mind regarding our mission.”

Your mission,” he spat. “If memory serves, I was abducted.”

“And you chose to stay. That is, until Mrs. Summers arrived. However did she persuade you to leave in such an abrupt manner? Don’t tell me there’s more to your relationship than the professional one you hold with her daughter.”

Giles’ eyes burned as he fought to control his rage. “She told us the truth. Funny, but I find myself much more willing to cooperate with someone who is honest with me than one who is not.” He was going to ignore Joyce’s lie of omission regarding Jenny. There was no way he was going to divulge any information regarding the ghosts to Maria.

“Does that truth entail informing you where her daughter is?” She wasn’t giving up. Perching herself on the edge of a chair, she seemed oblivious to Paul’s presence completely, though when Giles stole a quick glance at the young man, he could see that it didn’t matter. Paul was completely spellbound in his fear of the woman.

When Giles didn’t respond right away, Maria sighed. “I know she’s left,” she said. “I watched her go. What I need for you to tell me is where she’s going.”

“You’re off your box if you think I’m going to cooperate with you again in any way.”

She shook her head, her eyes gleaming in displeasure. “There is more than one way to skin a cat, Mr. Giles. And I know them all, especially those that leave the cat…screaming.”

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

Enough was enough, Doyle decided. He’d lounged around in the local watering hole for as long as he could stand, waiting for Joyce or one of her Watcher boy scouts to come and get him for their post-nap confab. Normally, he would’ve been overjoyed at the prospect of such an extended length of time in favorite type of establishment, but his temporary corporeal status was proving more of a headache than it was worth. He kept having to order drinks only to watch them go untouched, all because the bloody Powers hadn’t seen fit to toss eating and drinking into the mix when they’d come up with their grand scheme. A man could only take so much torture.

He was halfway to the hotel when he felt it. A mixture of excruciating pressure on his skull and a sizzling beneath his skin, the magic left a trail that made it impossible for him not to notice. Doyle stopped, head darting around while he tried to discern from which direction it was coming. He almost groaned out loud when he realized it was the hotel.

Breaking into a run, he’d just reached the bottom of the stairs that led to Joyce’s room when Tara appeared before him a few steps up. She wouldn’t have been able to stop him, but he skidded to a halt anyway. He didn’t have a problem with being walked through when he was more ghostly, but he knew it bothered her.

The look on her face said more than she could’ve ever uttered aloud.

“Are they dead?” he asked, already expecting the worst. When she shook her head, he sagged in relief. “Hopefully Joyce is giving her what-for. That woman---.”

“Joyce is gone.”

His gaze snapped back up. “Gone? What do you mean, gone?”

“Not here.”

“Where?” He stopped, already knowing the answer. “Do me a favor and just give me a pretty lie to hold onto for a few seconds. Something to take the sting away from knowing I pushed her back into looking for the Slayer.”

“How about I distract you instead?” Tara glanced back up over her shoulder, and there was no mistaking the worry that clouded her eyes. “Maria has Mr. Giles and the other Watcher cornered. We have to get them away from her before she figures out where Buffy went.”

“I can’t defeat her magic. And you’re not corporeal to try.”

“Then we create a diversion and do it the old-fashioned way. We don’t have much time.”

Grimly, Doyle stepped back and surveyed his surroundings. The hotel was an older model, with minimal vacancy at the moment. He had to be careful about potentially hurting anybody else in the building.

“Give me five minutes,” he instructed Tara as he turned on his heel. “I’ll get them out of there.”

At least, he hoped he would.

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

Giles was convinced that Silas had put rocks in his shoes prior to arriving.

Every time Maria asked Giles a question that he refused to answer, Silas kicked him in the stomach, and now he was quite regretting not killing the bastard when he’d had the opportunity that day in Maria’s library. He was already steeling himself against the sixth blow when a muffled explosion emanated from outside the room, followed immediately by some sort of ringing alarm.

Frowning, Maria rose from her seat and strode to the door, opening it up to step out into the sunshine. Beyond her petite form, Giles could see smoke wafting into the sky, and took advantage of Silas’ distraction to push himself upright in spite of the pain in his midsection.

“What is it?” Silas asked, coming up behind Maria to peer over her shoulder.

She didn’t answer. Instead, she moved out onto the path, and her sharp intake of breath was audible.

“Do I smell smoke?” Paul said, rabbiting forward with his first movement since Maria’s arrival.

Sure enough, Giles could now, too. Sharp, and acrid, and all of a sudden, there was smoke visible floating in wispy drafts around the entranceway. “The building’s on fire,” he said through gritted teeth. He struggled to stand, all the while holding his stomach. “One of your interrogation tactics, Maria?”

The look she shot him was deadly. “I would hardly blow up my own vehicle,” she said.

Unbidden, Giles’ mouth twisted into a smile. “I think that’s the first good bit of news I’ve had all day,” he said.

Another explosion rocked the air, and the distinct sound of fire trucks trickled through the boom. Running steps came down the outer walkway, and the hotel clerk appeared.

“Have to…evacuate…” he huffed. His face was red from the exertion of running to tell them, and his breath came in rapid gusts. “Fire…downstairs…spreading…” Without waiting for an invitation, he took Maria’s elbow as if she was an elderly woman about to cross the street on her own and began leading her back in the direction from which he’d come.

Silas followed, with Paul close on his heels, but Giles grabbed the younger Watcher’s arm before he could get too far.

“This way,” Giles whispered, jerking his head in the opposite direction.

“But…the fire…”

“Which would you rather face, a fire or Maria’s inquisition?”

There was only a moment’s hesitation before Paul reversed his path to come after Giles, and the two quickly ran as far from their would-be captors as they could.

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

Tara was surveying the damage across the street when Doyle darted between the fire trucks to saunter to her side. “A little…dramatic, don’t you think?” she said with a wry smile.

“Hey, it worked, didn’t it? And I knocked out Maria’s transportation, so I’d call it pretty darn clever if I do say so myself.”

“But…car bombs?”

“Molotov cocktails, actually. I’m a resourceful fella.”

“And the second car you blew up?”

Doyle stuffed his hands into his pockets. “The guy deserved it,” he said, with a shrug. “I’m pretty sure he was here cheating on his wife. No way can someone that bald and that stubby have a twenty-something blonde on his arm. I was doing his wife a favor.”

“Uh huh.”

“You going to keep an eye on Maria?”

Tara shook her head. “Jenny is. I’m going to go see if I can talk to Joyce before she does something even more foolish.”

“Then I’ve got the Watchers.” He was already headed back in the direction of the hotel when he shot back over his shoulder, “Tell Joyce she missed all the fireworks.”

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

Extra socks did little to keep her feet warm as Joyce trudged through the snow. She was beginning to regret her decision to search the forest; all she’d seen were trees, snow, and a lake that had frozen over. There was no sign of civilization, and even worse, she wasn’t entirely sure which direction was the road any more. She’d left her car parked nearly in the ditch to take her hunt on foot, but with the sun quickly nosing the horizon, she knew she should get back to it and safety before it got too late.

She stopped in her tracks, and looked at the dense forest around her, a blur of black, and white, and brown, and shadows. Everything looked the same.

It was already too late.

She just hoped Giles was having a better time than she was.

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

The forest was dead.

Not literally, of course, though the barren trees certainly gave that impression, but Buffy hadn’t even seen a squirrel as she’d patrolled the perimeter of their barricade. No slaying and all walking made for a very cranky Slayer.

With way too much energy to expend on a certain vampire when she got back to the cabin.

Veering off her path, Buffy began the trek back to the house, her thoughts occupied by naked Spike, and the way his tongue curled against the roof of his mouth when he was being all sexy, and the curl in his hair that he continuously fought. She didn’t notice the footprints in the snow until she’d stepped into one, and then stopped, looking down at the track with a frown.

It was human. Could be vampire.

She twisted her ankle so that her foot lined up with the print and noted the closeness in size.

A female vampire.

Her head snapped up, Slayer senses on alert as she scanned the growing dimness. She couldn’t sense anything but since these were on the inside of the barricade, that meant the vamp was still on the loose. She had to track it before it proved to be a real threat.

The footprints went in circles, with no rhyme or reason to its path. It looked almost as if the vampire had been lost, but as Buffy skirted the edge of the lake, following the tracks back in the direction of the cabin, she couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something not quite right about the situation. She wasn’t getting any kind of tinglies at all, and with so little else in the forest to distract her, she would’ve thought that was impossible. Had it figured out a way to get past the magical perimeter? No, it couldn’t have. It was just stuck like they were, and trying to find a way out.

It was nearly dark when she heard the crack of a stick off to her left. Stealthily, Buffy crept toward it, straining her ears for any other telltale signs.

She saw it before she heard it again, though. Well, she saw its coat. And its trailing scarf. And was that a mitten? Buffy frowned. A vampire that bundled up against the cold? That was a first.

It paused in its walking, and Buffy took the opportunity to circle around to its front. Without a sound, she leapt to a low-hanging branch, and waited for it to move beneath her.

It took a moment for it to resume its path, but as soon as it was close enough, Buffy sprang forward, tackling the vampire around the waist and sending them both into face-first into the snow.

A female shout rang in Buffy’s ears, and she twisted around in order to get a better hold on the demon. Her fingers brushed against warm skin when her hand wrapped its wrist, and she stopped in mid-crush.

Warm.

Not a vampire. Human.

“Ow!” the woman said, prompting Buffy to release her grip and stumble back onto her ass to get away from the voice she recognized all too well.

“Mom?”

 

To be continued in Chapter 47: We’re Snuggled Up Together