DISCLAIMER: The characters are
Joss’, of course.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Doyle has created a distraction to get Giles and Paul away from Maria, while Buffy has found Joyce in the forest outside the cabin…
Adrenaline only got him so far before he had to rely on Paul’s assistance to get him any further. As they ran from the conflagration that was consuming the hotel behind them, Giles saw Maria and Silas being relegated with the few other guests by the firemen who now seemed to be crawling around the premises like an army of ants. She looked annoyed, but it appeared as if every attempt she made to step free from the fracas was thwarted by a uniform of one sort or another.
When they reached the edge of the parking lot, away from the worst of the crowd, Paul stopped, his lungs audibly exhausted from rushing. “Must…rest…” he panted, and nearly toppled when Giles clouted the back of his head.
“Considering how quickly Maria found us when we had resources,” Giles snapped, “you must be daft if you think this is sufficient to escape her now.”
“Good thing you’ve got me then,” Doyle said, jogging up from across the street to meet them on the edge of the tarmac. “First things first, we need to get you two as far from here as we can.”
“That would be much easier if we had a car,” Giles replied.
“You don’t look so good, man.”
“Silas was interrogating him,” Paul explained. “With his feet.”
“Ouch.” Doyle frowned and quickly scanned the parking lot. “So, we need a pair of wheels then. Follow me.”
As he led them to the nearest car, he whistled beneath his breath, prompting Giles to ask, “Are you not even going to inquire about Joyce?”
Doyle shrugged. “Joyce took off hours ago. Looks like we’re all on our lonesome now.” He stopped before a white Corvette and grinned. “It means we can travel in style now.”
“You must be joking.”
“I never joke when it comes to the classics.” His smile widened when the door opened. “And this, my dear friend, is a classic.”
Giles could only watch as the ghost’s head disappeared below the dash. A moment later, the engine roared to life. “How do you propose we fit in this?” he demanded. “There are three of us and only two seats.”
“We’re not going far,” Doyle assured. Reaching across the interior, he slid the passenger seat back as far as it would go. “I suggest you flip to see who is sitting on whose lap. Or there’s always the trunk.”
Giles and Paul exchanged quick glances, each assessing the other’s weight and height without saying a word.
“C’mon, c’mon, we don’t have all day,” Doyle pushed. He slipped behind the steering wheel and stroked the leather of the dash. “Though I’m more than happy to take my time if that means I get to drive this beauty a little longer.”
“You’ll face forward,” Giles instructed Paul with a warning finger. “And be careful of your elbows. The last thing I need is one of those adding to Silas’ handiwork.”
Giles closed his eyes as he took his position in the passenger seat, wincing when Paul squeezed his lanky form onto Giles’ lap. There was no room for all of their legs, and the younger man was forced to draw his knees up to his chest in order for the door to close properly.
“I’d say, buckle up,” Doyle said with a chuckle, “but that would be a bit silly, now wouldn’t it?”
“Just drive,” Giles said through gritted teeth. He felt the car begin to move beneath him, wincing again when a wide turn drove Paul’s heel into his thigh.
“Sorry,” came the apology.
This was all Joyce’s fault, he thought. More than anything else, this particular indignity was the worst part of her abandoning them. He would have a few words to say to her when this entire debacle was over.
It took only a moment of stunned silence before Buffy had her arms back around her mother, this time in a fierce hug.
“What’re you doing here? How’d you find me? Is Giles with you? You’re not hurt, right? Christmas wasn’t the same without you…”
And the babble went on and on, even as Joyce started laughing and pulled Buffy’s arms away from around her neck.
“You act like you’ve been cut off completely from civilization for two weeks,” she joked. “We both know better than that, don’t we? How is Spike? Not dust, right?”
For a moment, Buffy froze as thoughts of her new relationship came slamming back into her consciousness. “You know?” she asked, wide-eyed. “How do you know?”
“A certain ghost called Doyle,” came the reply. Looking around at the trees that surrounded them, she added, “So, are you going to make me stand out here in the cold while I find out what happened to you, or are you going to take me to wherever it is you’ve been keeping yourself safe? I don’t know about you, but my toes are freezing.”
“Oh! There’s a cabin!” After a quick scan to determine her bearings, she pointed off to her left. “Back there. You can warm up by the fire.”
They began walking through the snow, their arms around each other’s waists. Buffy hadn’t realized just how much she’d missed her mom until she was back, and now, feeling her warmth pressed into her side and smelling her faint perfume, it overwhelmed her with sentiment.
“You’re stuck now, you know,” Buffy said as they trudged through the snow. “There’s a magical thingamabob that won’t let us out of this part of the forest until after New Year’s Eve.”
“How did I get in, then?”
“As far as we’ve been told, it works on a one-way system. You can check in, but you can’t check out. Well, until New Year’s Eve, at least.”
“That would explain why you’re still here, though Doyle did say you and Spike were helping to protect that Holly.”
“How’d you find Doyle?”
“Actually, he found me.”
Buffy listened as her mother started telling about what had happened to her over the past few days, but she’d only reached the point of meeting up with Doyle in the bar when the cabin suddenly appeared before them. “Home sweet not-quite-home,” she announced. “It’s not much, but it’s warm, and Spike’s great with the fire. It always manages to start going out when I try and stoke it.”
As if he’d heard his name, the front door was flung open to reveal the vampire in the entrance, Holly clinging to his back.
“Took you long enough,” he teased. “Thought I’d have to---.” He cut himself off when he saw Joyce, and he stiffened as he cast a wary glance at Buffy.
“Who’s that?” Holly asked loudly.
“Slayer’s mum.” He cleared his throat, turning back to the house. “Best get back inside before you catch cold, moptop. Slayer will have my hide if I keep you out here any longer.”
Joyce’s jaw was dropped as she watched the pair disappear back inside. “That’s Holly?” she asked.
“But she’s just a baby.”
“She’s three, actually. You were expecting Grandma Moses?”
Joyce shook her head. “I just didn’t think she’d be so young. Rupert must not be aware of her age, either, otherwise he never would’ve doubted me.”
Together, they climbed the steps to the cabin. “How much do you know about what we’re doing here?” Buffy asked when they reached the door.
“Enough, I think,” Joyce replied. “But it’ll be good to compare notes so that we know exactly what to expect.”
Buffy’s eyes widened as they stepped into the house. Sitting primly on the end of the couch, Holly was staring at the door as if she expected the boogeyman to come jumping through it at any minute, while Spike was busying himself in the kitchen. The soft gurgle of water starting to boil was followed by the sounds of cups being set on the counter, and Buffy caught his eye for a moment before he turned away again, flashing him a pleased smile.
Crouching down in front of the little girl, Joyce smiled gently. “Hello,” she said. “Now, who are you?”
She looked to Buffy for approval before replying. “Holly,” she said. “Are you really Buffy’s mommy?”
“I am. But you can call me Joyce if you want.”
“Are you here to take Buffy away?”
“Oh, no, sweetie. I just came because I was worried about her.”
Holly jerked, suddenly fearful. “Spike would never hurt Buffy!” she exclaimed. “Spike lo---.”
“---is making us tea!” Buffy interrupted. No way could she let a little mouth blab about the depth of her newfound relationship with Spike. “Mom, why don’t you make sure he’s doing it the way you like it, OK?”
The corner of Joyce’s mouth lifted. “You want me to try and correct an Englishman on how to make tea?” she commented.
Spike snorted in amusement, and then coughed as he tried to cover it up.
“Relax, Buffy,” Joyce continued. “Sit down. Holly and I are just getting acquainted, aren’t we, Holly?”
The little girl nodded, and Buffy could only sigh as her mother took the seat next to the child.
“I think you and I have a mutual acquaintance,” Joyce said to Holly. At the girl’s confused look, she elaborated, “A common friend.”
“Doyle. He’s the one who told me you were with Buffy.”
Holly immediately brightened again. “You saw Doyle? Is he OK? I miss him. He has the best songs! Did he sing for you? I like the one about Mrs. Durkin best.”
Not only Joyce was amused by the little girl’s exuberance. Buffy giggled at the possibility of what the song he’d been singing had actually been about, relaxing a little as she hung her coat up and settled in.
“No, Doyle didn’t sing for me,” Joyce was saying. “But I’ll be sure to ask him about it the next time I see him.”
“Spike sings, too,” Holly said. “’Cept his songs don’t sound like songs.”
“Hey!” The vampire’s head whipped around, his gaze indignant. “Thought someone said they liked the Ramones.”
Taking a moment to look around, Joyce’s gaze lingered on the makeshift decorations before settling on the Christmas tree, her eyes going upward to its star. “At least you didn’t have to miss the holidays by being here,” she said, though this time, her comment was directed more to Buffy than the child.
“Santa came, too,” Holly said. She hopped up from the couch and grabbed Joyce’s hand. “Wanna see my toys?”
She began leading Joyce to the bedroom. “They’re in my room. This is where I sleep. Buffy and Spike sleep up there.” She pointed upward to the loft. “But I don’t go up there any more unless Buffy says so. I don’t do down.”
Buffy felt her stomach drop as her mother shot a look over her shoulder before disappearing into the bedroom with Holly. It was one of those patented, “If I heard what I think I heard, you and I will have some serious talking to do later, young lady,” looks that Joyce was so good at.
“Well, this is interestin’,” Spike commented, coming up behind her. When he tried to slip his arm around her waist, however, she yanked away, whirling to face him with wide eyes.
“Are you kidding me?” she said, her hands on her hips. “My mom is in the next room! Now is not the time for hanky or panky until I get a chance to talk to her, OK?”
His mouth settled into a sulk. “Don’t see what the big deal is,” he said, plopping down to the couch. “Your mum likes me. She’s goin’ to be thrilled for you.”
“Oh, thrilled, yeah, if that means pissed off in this alternate dimension you seem to have fallen into. Have you forgotten getting beaned by an axe? And you weren’t sleeping with her daughter then.”
His brow furrowed with the memory. “Good point.”
“Just behave until I get a chance to explain it all, all right?” Glancing back at the closed door, Buffy risked leaning in and pressing a quick kiss to Spike’s mouth. “Play nice and maybe you’ll get out of here with all your body parts intact.”
“That’s OK. I’ll just hide the axe outside so that she can’t chop off my head.”
“If I were you, it wouldn’t be my head I’d be worried about.”
Though she watched them steadily throughout the simple dinner she helped Spike fix and after while they played with Holly, it wasn’t until he was tucking the little girl into bed that Joyce brought up the subject directly with Buffy.
“So,” she said, as the two women settled on the couch, “do you want to tell me what exactly is going on here?”
Buffy affected her best innocent face. “We’re protecting Holly from Maria,” she said brightly. “Remember?”
“I meant, with you and Spike.”
Her eyes flickered to the closed door. She knew he was hiding away from the potential grilling and only wished she could use the same excuse he was. “He saved my life,” Buffy said. Her tone was wary. “He could’ve just left me in the car to die after the accident, but he didn’t. I…gave him a second chance after that.”
“By sleeping with him.”
It wasn’t a question, and Buffy ducked her head at the disappointment in her mother’s voice. “It’s not what you think---.”
“When I told you to be nicer to Spike, this wasn’t exactly what I had in mind.”
“It’s not like that!” At Joyce’s frown, she took a deep breath. “I did what you said. In the beginning. We were stuck here, and I was hurt, and---.”
“Wait a minute. You were hurt? How badly?”
“Pretty bad. And Spike patched me up. He just seemed…different, and we started talking, and you know, actually communicating instead of fighting, and I realized…he’s not so bad.”
“And this ‘not so bad’ assessment meant that it was all right to have sex with him.”
Buffy cringed. Sex talks with her mom never turned out well. In fact, if she could live until she was sixty and never hear her mother use the word “sex” again, Buffy would be one happy Slayer.
“I didn’t just fall into bed with him, like you’re thinking,” she argued. “Give me a little credit for not making that mistake again.”
“So you waited…what, a week?” Joyce shook her head. “I’m disappointed in you, Buffy. After everything that happened with Angel, I would’ve thought you’d learned your lesson.”
“Spike is not Angel.”
“He’s still a vampire, though. And as much as I might like him, he can’t give you what you need.”
Buffy lifted her leg to sit cross-legged on the couch so that she could face her mother directly. “What is that exactly? Since you seem to know so well what my needs are.”
Joyce’s lips thinned. “Don’t take that tone of voice with me, young lady.”“But what am I supposed to do? I took your advice, Mom. I put aside all the history and gave Spike a chance. Partially for my own sanity, because, hello, we are kind of snowbound here, but more because I thought he deserved it after all the life save-age. Did you know he carried me through the snowstorm until we found this place? And he stopped me from getting frostbite, and from setting myself on fire when I was sick, and…” She stopped when she saw Joyce’s brow had quirked at the growing list.
“You know what I found out?” Buffy asked, changing tactics. “Spike can be pretty darn amazing when he wants to be. He’s smart, even though he pretends he’s not, and he’s funny as hell, and you saw him with Holly. She adores him. Doesn’t that count for anything?” She took a deep breath. “I know you want me to have this perfect future, Mom, but let’s face it. Odds are not in my favor that it’s going to be a very long one. Why can’t I just take what happiness I can find now? Especially with someone who’s proven that he cares about me.”
“He’s still a vampire, Buffy---.”
“And I’m still the Slayer. He’s taking just as big of a risk as I am in putting his trust in me. That’s gotta count for something with you.”
They were silenced by the bedroom door opening again, and the subject in question sauntering out. “Went out like a light,” Spike announced. “Think I wore Moptop out today.”
“You’re very good with her,” Joyce said. “I must say, I’m impressed.”
He shrugged, a grin curving his lips. “What can I say? Birds love me.”
Silently, Buffy groaned at the cocky attitude he was displaying, not even noticing until he was standing in front of them that he’d grabbed her coat and was handing it out to her.
“We goin’ to go find that Fyarl that was terrorizing the little one yesterday?” he asked.
She frowned. “Huh?”
“”Less you found it when you went out to patrol. Then we can just stay in and have a hot cuppa.” He looked to Joyce. “Big nasty thing kept tryin’ to break into the house couple nights ago. Gave Pidge all sorts of nightmares. Slayer here was s’posed to try trackin’ it down this afternoon, but I think finding you cut her search short.”
Buffy was about to start questioning whether his blood had gone bad and short-circuited his memory, when she met his innocent gaze and realized what it was he was doing.
“Oh,” she said. “That Fyarl. No, I didn’t find it, which means we should probably get out there and kill it tonight before it tries attacking again.” When she rose and took her coat from him, there was a moment where their fingers brushed, her skin tingling at just the slight contact. She couldn’t risk meeting his eyes again, but when she turned her back to him to face her mom, Spike’s hand crept surreptitiously between them to settle at the small of her back.
“You’re OK watching Holly until we get back, right?” she asked Joyce.
“Well, of course, but---.”
“We won’t be gone long,” Buffy promised, and leaned down to give her mother a kiss on the cheek. “But we have to make sure everything’s safe, especially now that you’re here.” She led the way to the door, only looking back when they reached the threshold.
“I’m really glad you found us,” she said softly, a faint smile on her lips. “And please, trust me. I know what I’m doing.”
With that, she went out into the cold night, Spike directly on her heels.
Thankfully, Doyle didn’t drive for long. As soon as they found a small garage that also rented cars, Giles and Paul insisted that he pull over so that they could put Joyce’s credit card to good use. One swift negotiation later---which wasn’t actually a negotiation because the young woman in charge of the rentals seemed all too eager to serve them once she heard their accents---and the trio were on the road again in a used Taurus.
They argued along the way regarding their destination. Doyle was of the opinion that everyone was much better off in Sunnydale until after the New Year, but as Giles was the one behind the steering wheel at this point, he was the one making the decision. He knew Joyce considered Buffy to be somewhere near where the accident had occurred, and it was his intention to try and intercept her. Perhaps they would find Buffy; perhaps they wouldn’t. But he wasn’t about to let her go stumbling into it alone. She wasn’t prepared to deal with such dangerous matters like either Buffy or himself, and he wouldn’t have any potential harm to her occur when he could do something about it.
His ribs had a slightly different plan, however.
As they neared the town where Giles had had the accident, Doyle’s protestations getting more vociferous and more outlandish by the mile, Giles’ breathing began to labor. The muscles in his chest were seizing from the stiff posture of driving for so long, and it was becoming impossible to steer the wheel effectively.
“I believe we’re going to have to stop for the night,” he announced when he saw a hotel sign loom on the horizon.
Doyle seemed relieved, but Paul frowned.
“If you need a reprieve---,” the young Watcher started.
“No. I need to lie down,” Giles said. He angled the nose of the car into the parking lot, breathing a sigh of relief when he was able to park and lower his arms.
“I’ll get us a room,” Doyle volunteered. “Just one, though. If Maria decides to come looking for you again, I can feel her magic before she gets too close. We’ll have a chance to escape then.”
Giles merely nodded. Leaning back into his seat, he closed his eyes as he tried to ignore the pain in his abdomen and chest. Wherever she was, a small, spiteful part of him hoped that Joyce was suffering for her independence as much as he was.
An even bigger part hoped that she was all right.
To be continued in Chapter 48: It Came Upon a Midnight Clear…