DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss', of course. And the chapter titles are courtesy of Robert Burns.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Buffy and Spike have been approached by members of the Council to meet with Quentin Travers...
The shrill whistle of the kettle pierced the close air of the kitchen, momentarily distracting Giles from the fury that was simmering beneath his skin. Hastening to remove it from the burner, he cursed under his breath as a few drops of the fiery liquid splashed onto his fingers, startling him into almost releasing his grip on the handle, renewing his ire at his unwanted guests. Arrogant, interfering bastards, he grumbled angrily, and cast a quick glance out of the corner of his eye at the recumbent form of his former employer.
"We've had remarkable weather in London this fall," Travers was saying. "Quite mild, considering."
He had to physically restrain himself from shaking his head. Why in bloody hell do Brits spend so much time discussing the damn weather? Giles thought as he poured the water through the strainer. It had been the only consistent topic of conversation since Quentin and his entourage had arrived on his step just minutes earlier, and though he wished he'd had the fortitude to just slam the door in their faces, the slight spark of curiosity as to their presence convinced the Watcher to allow them entrance.
"I'm afraid Sunnydale doesn't offer the same meteorological interest as the ways and means of British rainfall," Giles said, walking into the lounge with the tray of steaming cups of tea balanced in his hands. He set it down on the coffee table and stood back, gazing down at the elderly leader of the Council. "But I'm certain that isn't why you've flown across an ocean and an entire country to see me."
"Actually, you are not our primary interest here," Quentin replied, gingerly picking up his cup.
As if in direct response to his assertion, there was a knock at the front door, and Giles frowned as he glanced at the clock. The hour was much too late for proper visitors, leaving only the possibility that it was yet more of the Council arriving to make his life miserable. "I do wish you'd called first," he said as he crossed to answer it. "I would've arranged to be out."
Willow was the last person he expected to see on the other side of the entrance, her eyes wide in nervousness, cheeks pale in spite of the cool night air. "Hi, Giles," she said as brightly as she could manage, and jumped slightly as the stern woman accompanying her prodded her over the doorstep.
"What does the Council want with Willow?" Giles demanded as he shut the door.
"She told me this was about Buffy," the redhead exclaimed. "Isn't she here?"
"My apologies for the subterfuge, Miss Rosenberg," Quentin said. "We merely wanted you to come of your own volition. We do hate to use unnecessary force." He ignored Giles' snort of derision and smiled at the young woman. "Do sit down. I'm sure Rupert would be more than happy to provide with you some refreshment while we wait."
She glanced at her mentor before perching herself on the edge of the couch cushion, hands folded uncomfortably on her lap. "It's all right, Willow," he assured. "Would you---?" Another knock at the door interrupted him, and with one last glance at Travers, the Watcher returned to answer it.
"You have no idea how glad I am that Travers wants his little confab here," Buffy said as she breezed past, stopping when she realized the man to whom she was referring sat within just a few feet of her. "And speak of the British devil," she added.
For the first time, Quentin stood, inclining his head slightly in welcome. "Miss Summers, it's good to see you in such fine health."
Her brows lifted. "You expected to find me laid out on a cold slab?" she asked, and then held up her hand. "Wait. Don't answer that."
"Well, hail, hail, the gang's all here," Spike drawled, sauntering in to stand just inside the doorway.
Giles whirled at the sound of the vampire's voice. "What are you doing here?" he demanded irritably.
"I got myself an invite." He smiled, enjoying the Watcher's consternation.
"Yes, Rupert," Quentin confirmed. "Spike is here at my request. Although, I must say, I didn't expect him to be able to enter your flat without an express invitation. Are there perhaps details of your involvement that we should be aware of?"
"Like you bloody care," Giles muttered, containing his temper from slamming the door shut behind the three men who entered after the vamp. "Any other guests I should be expecting?" he asked, blue eyes blazing. "Xander? Anya? The Queen of England?"
Travers resumed his seat. "No, everyone is present." His watery gaze watched as everyone settled, Spike collapsing to a sprawl in one of the chairs while Buffy stood at the end of the sofa with her arms folded across her chest. "I'm sure you're curious as to our presence here. We haven't exactly been on the...friendliest of terms for the last few months unfortunately."
"Just cut to the chase," the Slayer said. "I'm not really in the mood to play out some bad movie scenario with you as the police inspector about to tell us someone was murdered and that one of us is a killer. You wanted us. We're here. Now talk."
"The chase, yes..." Quentin met her eyes with a directness she found unsettling, the urge to duck her head like a chastened schoolchild suddenly seeming too heavy to ignore, but Buffy remained firm, meeting his gaze with an assurance she didn't feel on the inside. "The Council requires your presence in Scotland for a matter that has grown...beyond our control."
"Requires?" For the first time since running into the trio at the graveyard, she began to feel some of her control returning to her grasp, and her shoulders relaxed slightly. "You got a vamp infestation you need a Slayer to take care of for you?"
"Not vampires, at least, we don't believe so. And it's not just your skills we need." He glanced pointedly at Willow and Spike before continuing. "Several months ago, the Council was requested to help with the renovation of a property in the Highlands as it held...historical significance. In the process of our excavation, however, we unearthed a network of tunnels that led into the nearby hills."
"The hollow hills..." Giles murmured, eyes crinkling as he began to get involved in his ex-employer's tale.
"Yes, Rupert, although fairies were certainly not what we were expecting to find."
Buffy couldn't help the smile that crept to her lips. "You want me to fight Tinkerbell?" she asked.
"According to Celtic mythology," Giles offered, "the hollow hills can be construed as the home of the fairies, or their death mounds, or even as portals to the Otherworld, but there's never been any conclusive evidence to support any of those theories in modern-day society." He turned to look at Travers. "What did you discover?"
For the first time, Quentin looked uncomfortable, lowering his gaze to his cup as he took a long sip of his tea. "It's not so much what we discovered," he finally said, "as what we...unleashed."
The Slayer's eyebrows lifted. "You let a big bad get out?" she asked, her amazement unable to be hidden any longer.
He was quick to respond. "I can assure you that was not our intention," he stated. "The entrance to the tunnels was found just a week before Samhain---."
"Samhain," Willow interjected. "The old name for Halloween, although it's still considered a witch holiday in coven circles."
Quentin nodded. "We continued work as normal, but on the night of Samhain---."
"It got out." Giles finished the older man's thought, not even noticing when Travers nodded in agreement.
"It?" Buffy repeated. "You let some demon escape? Didn't you think, maybe, it might be a good idea to put a guard on it or something?"
"It's not quite that simple," her Watcher said. "On Samhain, the veil between our world and the Otherworld lifts, allowing those on either side to cross over. By exposing the tunnels, it appears the Council inadvertently opened a new path for them."
"So you need me to come to Scotland and kill whatever you let loose." She looked at the others in the room. "That doesn't explain why you've dragged Willow into this. Or how you could possibly need Spike."
"Killing the creature is only part of the task," Travers explained. "We also wish to permanently close the portal so that this sort of...incident doesn't occur again."
Very slowly, Willow raised her hand, waiting until Quentin looked at her before speaking. "That kind of magic isn't really my forte," she said meekly. "I mean, I'm getting pretty good, but a spell of that magnitude requires more juice than I can give you."
"That would not be your role, Miss Rosenberg, although your capabilities will most certainly come in handy. The ritual requires three---someone living..." He nodded at Buffy. "...someone dead..." His gaze turned to Spike. "...and a third to act as a host." His eyes returned to the young witch. "That would be you. We attempted the ritual ourselves the night after Samhain, but it proved...beyond our capacity at the time. Our next opportunity lies at the end of the month, and the Council believes that the three of you are more than strong enough to...fulfill the requirements."
"So once again, you guys make a mess of things and expect me to come in and save your asses." Buffy shook her head. "Why should I do this? Why should I let you place me and my friends in jeopardy when this is all entirely your fault?"
"Because if you agree, we will arrange for the world's finest specialists to come in and treat your mother." His face was implacable, his confidence in his offer enough to reaffirm his directness with the Slayer. "I understand that the Sunnydale physicians have yet to determine the cause of her illness. Do this for us, and we will guarantee her the best diagnosticians and treatment that money can buy."
The air was thick in the crowded living room, and both Willow and Giles turned their gazes to look at Buffy. Her concern over her mother's health had been her top priority lately, and though she had no love for the Council, they both knew this offer was not something she could just ignore.
"What about me? What do I get out of this little arrangement?" It was the first time Spike had spoken since sitting, and Quentin turned to gaze at the vampire as if his presence were negligible.
"We assumed cash would be sufficient for you," he replied.
There was a moment, and then the vamp nodded with a small shrug. "Yeah. Works for me."
"What about you, Willow?" This came from Buffy, her voice low as she addressed her best friend.
The redhead shook her head. "As long as I know we'll all come out of this alive and still breathing, I'm OK with it." She smiled. "Plus, I've always wanted to go to Scotland. It's supposed to be gorgeous."
He shook his head, mirroring Willow's earlier action. "I will be there, no matter what you decide, Buffy."
She sighed. "Well, it's not like it's something we haven't done before. And if it helps Mom..." She lifted her chin. "Fine. You've got a deal."
Travers smiled. "Splendid. Now, about the arrangements---."
Buffy ignored him, turning to her Watcher. "You should call Xander and Anya and let them know so that they can start packing, and then I'll get on the phone with Riley---."
"They won't be coming."
With widened eyes, the Slayer turned to stare at Travers. "Excuse me?"
"They won't be coming," he repeated, unmoved by her hostile glare. "We've made accommodations for the four of you, as you are the only ones necessary in this...matter."
"Oh, but I don't want to go without Tara." Willow swiveled to face the man at her side. "She's a witch, too. She'd be a huge help in...whatever it is we have to do."
"And Xander and Anya are part of the team," Buffy added. "I wouldn't be here today without their help."
"They have no abilities to contribute to this," Quentin argued. "They will merely get in the way." He glanced at Willow. "Although I suppose another witch could possibly be beneficial."
"If Tara gets to go, then Riley does, too. He's big, and strong, and knowledgeable about demon stuff. He can help."
Spike snorted. "And if Soldier Boy goes, you can count me out. No amount of dosh is worth a month of torture from him."
"Gee, chip on your shoulder much?" Buffy retorted. "Oops, sorry. I meant, chip in your head."
"Well, let's just see how friendly you get when someone zaps you with one of their techno space guns and shoves a piece of metal in you that takes all the fun out of your sorry existence of a life," he snapped back, rising to his feet. "See how much you like hangin' around playin' at bein' best mates."
"It beats the hell out of hanging around with a whiny, over-bleached, pitiful excuse of a vampire, who doesn't even know better than to duck when someone throws a bucket of chocolate sauce at him!" The color was high in her cheeks as she took a step toward him.
"I'm not whiny!" he growled. "And for your information, you guessed wrong. It wasn't thrown, it was dropped from overhead. Do you have any idea how bleedin' tall Truva demons are?"
"Oh, like you'd even notice. You're not exactly starting center for the Chicago Bears, now are you?"
"That would be the Bulls, you stupid bint---."
"Enough!" Travers' voice crackled through the air, stopping the argument with the utterance of that single word. He frowned as his eyes flickered between the pair. "There will be no more discussion on this matter. Riley Finn will not be accompanying us to Scotland." Spike smirked at Buffy. "I will allow Miss Rosenberg's...friend to come along, but that will be it. Understood?"
"Not understood." The Slayer turned her furious form to face off with the head of the Council. "If Xander and Anya can't go, then I'm not going either."
"Me either," Willow said, hopping to her feet to stand by her friend.
"Xander and Anya have both proven to be valuable allies in the past," Giles offered. "Their particular skills may not be readily...apparent, but you can trust that they will be necessary."
They waited as Quentin regarded them, taking in their unsmiling countenances before finally settling with a sigh. "Very well," he acquiesced. "But their welfare will be in your hands, Miss Summers. I am not prepared to waste Council resources just so that your...friends can enjoy a free holiday." He stood. "We should let you start packing then," he said, striding toward the door. "We leave at dawn. I will send a car for you and your things."
"Dawn's not exactly good for me," Spike started, only to be cut off by the elder man's hand.
"We've taken the appropriate measures for your safety," he stated. "You will be picked up at sunrise."
The room was silent after they left, the four remaining lost in his and her thoughts. "I should probably be the one to call Xander," Willow finally said, shattering the quiet. "Anya gets cranky when people call in the middle of the night."
"And I'm going to go see Riley," Buffy said. "Someone's going to have to keep an eye on Mom and Dawn while I'm gone."
Spike followed after her to the door. "Don't suppose you'd mind swingin' by my crypt first?" he asked, jerking to a halt when she turned to glare at him. "Still got a Truva demon after me, remember?"
"I didn't think you had other clothes worth packing," she commented, hazel eyes sweeping over his traditional black garb.
"You want to be around me for a month wearin' the same thing, I got no problem with that. 'Course, I can always give them a wash, but then that'll mean not wearin' anything..."
"Fine." Buffy pulled open the door. "At least this time it won't feel like I'm walking through town with Willy Wonka."
Willow stared at the entrance as the pair exited the apartment. "Do you know what they were talking about?" she asked Giles, a small frown wrinkling her brow.
He shook his head. "And, for some reason, I really do not care to find out."
He couldn't help whistling as he tossed his few clothes into the ready sack. Three weeks or so with Buffy...having to work alongside her...getting to watch her without having to worry about getting caught under that bleedin' tree...and he was getting paid for it. Someone was certainly smiling down on him tonight.
At that very minute, she was standing outside his crypt, waiting for him to come out so that she could go and tell her paper doll boyfriend that she was leaving the country without him, that she was in fact leaving town with a certain blond vampire, off to foreign lands to play out her every fantasy...OK, so that was his own interpretation of how that little scene was going to play out, but Spike figured it was infinitely more interesting than how it would actually go.
"I'll miss you..."
"I'll miss you, too..."
For a moment, he debated on whether he should leave a note for Harmony, let her know just what he was up to, but quickly dismissed the idea. She probably wouldn't even notice for a few days anyway, not 'til she needed something or got horny, and he wasn't about to go out of his way for someone who couldn't be bothered to see that he wasn't even around the crypt anymore. Let the silly bint suss it out for herself. And if she laid one finger on his nail polish while he was gone, Spike was going to kick her to the curb for good.
As he strolled to the door, the vamp's thoughts returned to the images of Buffy in Scotland that had been bouncing around in his head since they'd left Rupert's. This time of year, it'll be colder than a witch's tit, he reasoned, and his mouth watered as he suddenly imagined the Slayer out on the heather, kicking the crap out of some demon, nipples hard under a tight sweater. Gotta love those stiff Scottish breezes...
To be continued in Chapter 3: Over the Sea and Far Away...