DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss', of course. And the chapter titles are courtesy of Robert Burns.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: The Council needs Buffy, Spike, and Willow to handle an issue that's arisen in Scotland, and the Slayer has agreed, in exchange for medical care for her mom and the addendum that Xander and Anya are allowed to come...
Flying to another country was supposed to be exciting, the prospect of a few weeks living in a world so different from Sunnydale thrilling. New countryside to admire, new foods to try, new shops to explore. And all at someone else's expense. It had the makings of a dream vacation, a once in a lifetime opportunity to travel before her Slayer license finally expired. But, if that was the case, why was Buffy in such a foul mood?
Actually, she knew the reasons for that, and one of them was sitting just a few feet away, whistling something she didn't recognize under his breath as he flipped over the cards on the makeshift table in front of him. Not one of the Council guys had been willing to spend the entire flight to Scotland holed up alone with Spike, and it had fallen on Buffy's shoulders to volunteer to keep an eye on him, to make sure he didn't do anything about trying to escape or plotting to hurt anyone. Personally, she thought it was just a load of malarkey, paranoia on the part of a bunch of stuffed shirts who couldn't comprehend that the chip in his head meant the vampire couldn't do anything more than threaten to hurt them. But Colin's story about how he'd tried to attack him had spread fear throughout the group, in spite of her arguments that Spike had just been playing a joke, and now none of them would go near him without being heavily armed.
Giles had offered to vamp-sit, but Buffy had turned him down, extending the "He's a vampire, I'm the Slayer, it's my responsibility," argument. She'd lay good odds that nobody else would last more than a few minutes before they got fed up with Spike, and though the prospect hadn't exactly put her over the moon, it did give her another opportunity to find out about the chocolate sauce. He kept leaking details about what had happened at Willy's that made the story sound just too good not to hear.
Her bad mood probably wasn't helped by the fact that she was cut off from the rest of her friends for the duration of the trip, the area the Council had closed off for Spike being situated in the cargo area. It wasn't uncomfortable; in fact, for a cage, it was actually quite spacious, with enough room for two seats, a card table that had been bolted to the floor complete with two benches alongside it so that it more closely resembled a corner booth in some cheap diner, and a small fridge for refreshments. Still, a cage was a cage, and though they'd only been in the air for little over an hour, she was already starting to feel a little claustrophobic. She glanced at her watch and almost groaned. Great. Only eleven more hours to go.
"You don't have to sit there lookin' like someone just staked your best friend," he said, not even looking up from his spread. "I know games other than solitaire."
"Y'know, I've got a sneaking suspicion that I wouldn't like the kinds of games you play," Buffy said, and shifted painfully in her seat.
"Suit yourself," he shrugged. "Just thought it might help pass the time. We've got a long flight ahead of us and I'd hate or you to have to sit there and twiddle your thumbs the entire time." He couldn't help the smile that curled his lips as he glanced up at her. "Unless there's other things you'd rather twiddle."
She rolled her eyes. "The only response that that deserves is a big ewwww."
He watched her through his lashes as she struggled to get comfortable, squirming between the narrow armrests of the chair that had never been meant to really be put to use for long flights, the barely there cushion providing little padding between her bottom and the metal tracks of the seat. He'd been chuffed when he heard her offer to watch him, even more so when she'd told the Watcher he didn't have to bother, but that promise of quality alone time with the Slayer had quickly lost its sheen as she set about doing everything she could to ignore him.
"Look," Spike finally said, setting the cards down to address her. "This is bloody ridiculous, us sittin' here in silence like this. 'Specially since it looks like we're goin' to be workin' side by side on this Council problem, gettin' in each other's faces, watchin' each other's backs. Seems to me that might require actually communicating in ways other than with your fists."
Her hazel eyes were annoyed, meeting his directly for the first time since they took off, but her mouth remained closed, biting back the smart retort that had automatically sprung to her lips. She hated to admit it, but the vamp was probably right and she wasn't helping matters by being so antisocial. She sighed and unbuckled her seatbelt. "What other games do you know?" she asked, rising to join him at the table.
The impulse to suggest strip poker hung there on his tongue, but Spike pursed his lips, holding it back. "How 'bout cribbage?" he suggested.
"Don't know that one. Go fish?"
There was no mistaking his look of disgust. "With two people? Now there's a bloody challenge." He paused, then offered, "Canasta. Wait, we need two decks for that one."
"My turn. Crazy eights."
This time he grinned. "Do you know any grown-up games, Slayer?"
"Don't start, Spike. You're the one who wanted to play cards."
"I s'pose we could try whist, though I'm not sure I remember all the rules. Haven't played that one since Dru and I took that trip to China."
"And you're not playing it on this one, because I have no idea what you're talking about." Buffy bit her lip, thinking. "Will and I used to play 2-handed euchre."
"Too much like real life. Rummy?"
"Only if we can't think of anything better."
The pair sat in silence, both brains ticking over possibilities, until finally Buffy brightened. "Oh! Let's play slapjack!"
He looked at her, brows knitted together. "OK, I'll bite," he said. "What the hell is slapjack?"
"Dawn and I used to play all the time." She reached forward and picked up the cards, handling them between her fingers as she shuffled. "It's super-simple. Basically, we deal out all the cards, and then we each lay down a single card at a time. Then, when a jack comes up, you yell out 'Slapjack!' and try and be the first to, well, slap it. Whoever gets there first gets the pile and you keep going on like that until someone has all the cards." She squared off the cards on the table and began dealing them between out.
Spike's face relaxed. "Sounds like Snap," he said, and then his frown returned. "Wait a minute. We can't play this."
She stopped. "Why not?"
"What happens if, and notice I use the word 'if', you beat me to it, and I end up hittin' your hand instead of the card? That soddin' chip'll be goin' off the entire flight."
"Oh." Buffy physically deflated, her shoulders slumping. "Darn it, that actually sounded like fun."
The sight of the potential return of her bad humor sent Spike's mind racing. Don't lose the moment, he thought. Figure out a way for this to work. "This slappin'," he mused aloud. "It's not like I'm tryin' to hurt you or anything. Could be that the chip won't fire if it happens."
"What's that supposed to mean?" she queried. "Are you trying to tell me it doesn't work all the time?"
He could hear the suspicion automatically creeping back into her voice, and jumped on his reply. "No, trust me, it works," he assured. "Just I've come to figure out that if there's no intention, like I know I'm not goin' to hurt you, it picks up on that and leaves me alone. Like with that Watcher bloke at my crypt. Sure, I made with the growl and attack, but I knew I wasn't goin' to do anything, so I walked away from it free and clear."
"Which is why none of them believe me when I say you're effectively neutered," Buffy replied, mildly annoyed. "Next time you pull a stunt like that, the least you could do is pretend that it hurts."
"They need to learn how to take a fuckin' joke," he muttered, and picked up the cards in front of him.
She bit her tongue, the desire to call off this whole charade countered only by the tiny, dark part of her that actually agreed with Spike's assessment of the Council. Even if she hadn't found it funny, it certainly wasn't anything for them to have gotten all freaked out about, and she wasn't going to make things potentially worse by stirring things up with the vampire now. Instead, she straightened her own cards in her hand and met his blue eyes. "Ready?"
Her sides hurt from the giggling. It had been ages since she and Dawn had had a good night of slapjack, and Buffy had forgotten just how silly it could get...the speeding up as each player tried to get their cards down quicker, knowing because they'd been through the decks so many times just when the next jack was going to show up...the bickering over who was indeed faster, when fingers got interlocked because both of their hands made it to the table at the same time...the couple times Spike's chip had actually gone off when his temper got the better of him and he hit at the jack just a little too vehemently. She was a little surprised their noise hadn't grabbed the attention of the others, but, for some inexplicable reason, found herself glad it hadn't. She was enjoying herself too much to have it interrupted by warnings of, "Keep it down in there." That would sound like Mom yelling up during sleepovers she'd had as a kid, and that kind of thinking was not someplace she needed to go right now.
She knew her face was flushed, could feel her heartbeat pounding from the adrenalin running through her system, and slyly, Buffy glanced up at her opponent, watching as his nimble fingers shuffled the deck of cards like an expert, his face relaxed but his body tense as he prepared to start a new game. Playing with Spike was different than playing with her sister. After becoming the Slayer, beating Dawn every time they played had taken the joy out of it for her. She was just too fast. Now, though, Buffy faced someone whose speed quite often matched hers, and, considering he'd won the last two games, occasionally even beat it. It was actually kind of a nice feeling getting to play someone she could consider an equal.
"No cheatin' this time," Spike said as he began to dole out the cards.
Her jaw dropped. "I did not cheat!" she protested.
"You think you're playin' with a novice here?" he asked, blue eyes twinkling. "I saw you slip that jack to the bottom of your deck." The sudden tightening of her lips was the only confirmation he needed, and the vampire laughed out loud. "Not that it did you any good. I'd beat you even if I had one arm tied behind my back." He saw her mouth open, and held up a warning finger. "Not that that's goin' to happen," he added.
"Maybe we should try a new game," she ventured, even as she picked up her cards.
Her words made him freeze. "You're not havin' fun?" He tried to keep his voice level, to not betray the fact that he was having the time of his life. Everything about the past few hours---the bantering, the fleeting touches of his fingers on her skin or hers on his, the sheer joy that seemed to bounce from her laughter---had been more than he'd imagined possible, almost surreal in what seemed now its inevitability. Spike had assumed she was enjoying his company; the thought that she hadn't wrenched in his gut, leaving his body aching.
"No. I mean, color me surprised, but you've actually not been a total pain in my butt for the past couple hours. Well, except for that comment about my hair last year. That was uncalled for."
His shoulders relaxed, just ever so slightly. "I stand by my assessment," he stated. "It was too fluffy."
She ignored his gibe. "I'm just feeling...jumpy," she said. "Like I don't want to be sitting anymore."
"That would be the adrenalin talkin'." He realized his mistake as soon as the words came out of his mouth, and the stiffening of Buffy's jaw caused him to curse silently.
"How do you...know about that?" she asked warily.
Best to play it cool, shrug it off. Don't make a big deal of it. He almost shook his head in disbelief. Like being around the Slayer was ever not a big deal. "'Cause I'm a vampire, remember?" he replied. "And you're a potential lunch. Well, you would be if I didn't have this leash on me right now. It's how we suss you out. Hear the heart, feel the blood pumpin'. Doesn't your Watcher teach you anything?" That was good. Shift the conversation to her training. Put her on the defensive. Don't let her think you're actually spending time assessing her every bodily function.
"I must've missed that lesson," she said, her body still rigid. "I was too busy concentrating on the just-tell-me-how-to-kill-them part."
"Oh, that's right. I keep forgettin'. Buffy Summers, the high priestess of wham-bam-slay 'em-ma'am." That was it. He had officially burned his last bridge in this little truce, and he knew it. When was he going to learn to just shut up while he was ahead?
She threw the cards down onto the table and stood, reaching behind her to grab her foot and stretch out her legs. Spike watched as this forced the Slayer to arch her back, torso thrusting forward as she sought to relax the muscles that had tensed while they played, and felt his jeans tighten across his thighs. Great, he thought. Even in the throes of defeat she still manages to press my buttons. He stood no chance in hell of surviving the next three weeks if she was going to play him as easy as this.
"I should probably thank you." Her voice was ice as she turned her back on him and walked over to the cooler that housed their food for the journey. "For a second there, I almost forgot what an asshole you are."
He sucked at his teeth, checking his temper as it flared. "Just call 'em like I see 'em, luv," he drawled. It was gone, the camaraderie they'd shared fleeing like tumbleweeds in the desert, and for a moment, Spike felt an ache echo in his gut. It was almost better not getting these glimpses into what being with the Slayer on a friendly basis might be like; it offered hope, when he should know better than anyone that there wasn't any.
"So tell me," he said, desperate to get away from those kind of thoughts, "how did Soldier Boy take the news? Can't imagine he'd be jumpin' with joy knowin' I'm along for the ride."
"I didn't...tell him that part," Buffy said, popping the top on a diet soda. She deliberately avoided his gaze, and didn't see the quizzical tilt of his platinum head.
"Well, now, ain't that a surprise. Don't tell me there's trouble in paradise?"
"No, no trouble. I just...didn't...want to worry him unnecessarily." Lie, big fat humungous lie, but no way was she going to tell Spike how Riley had just about blown his lid at hearing she was working for the Council again. Even the promises of medical care for her mother didn't seem to convince him they could be up to any good.
"You can't trust them," he'd argued. "Not after what they tried to do to you last spring."
"They thought I was Faith," she'd countered, but had only been met with his back as he began pacing around the room.
"It's just like what the government did to me," he'd raged. "They suck you in with all these promises and good wishes, and then just when they've got you relaxed and believing in them, that's when they throw you the left cross that sends you reeling to the mat."
Nope, no way was she going to add, "Oh, by the way, they want Spike and not you. See you in a month!" Too hard, and not worth the headache it would've caused.
"So I guess you're all for the secrets, huh?" the vampire was saying, and she jerked her head around to frown at him.
"What're you talking about?" she demanded.
He shrugged. "Secrets from the boytoy, secrets from your friends...Oh, unless I misunderstood about the not-telling-Xander thing. Have to admit, I wasn't really payin' that close attention."
"Don't play dumb, Spike. I know you heard everything we said on the way over. And don't you dare blab a word to Xander and Anya. They don't need to know the Council didn't want them to come along. It would only hurt their feelings."
"Think it'll get obvious fairly soon, pet. 'Specially when they'll be standing around, asking for something to do and there's not even a donut shop for them to run to."
"They won't---." Buffy stopped, her brow furrowing. "Scotland doesn't have donuts?"
"Like Sunnydale?" Spike laughed. "Uh, no. And in the Highlands, depending on where we end up, you may not even be lucky enough to get a baker who'll sell you some buns."
She wanted to ask why she'd want bread instead of sugary treats but fear of looking even more foolish in front of the vampire stayed Buffy's tongue, and she drained the rest of the soda without saying another word. The more she thought about it, the more worried she got, as the reality of what she had done by getting on the plane only now began to sink in. Three weeks, in a foreign country, surrounded by people she didn't know and probably wouldn't be able to understand, with Spike as her right-hand man of all people...Was it too late to ask for a parachute so that she could try jumping to safety before they landed?
"I'm going to go to sleep," she mumbled, returning to the awful seat she'd vacated to play cards. "Try not to kill anybody while I'm out of it, OK?"
Spike watched as she buckled herself in, adjusting the incline of the chair so that she could at least have a sporting chance at getting some slumber, and ducked his eyes as she cast one last glance in his direction. Sleep for him was out of the question, not with the Slayer so near yet so untouchable, his body refusing to rest within her proximity as his fingers ached to reach out and curl into the long locks of her hair. It was maddening, knowing he'd had it within his grasp, had enjoyed even a few stolen minutes of a relaxed and smiling Buffy, relishing the fact that her laughter had been genuine and that he had been the cause. Three more weeks of this? he wondered. Part of him didn't think he could make it, and yet another---the louder, more opinionated part---screamed that he would, that he had to, that if ever he stood a chance to turn her from her dislike, this was it. And if nothing else, Spike was a vampire who knew when to grab his chances...
To be continued in Chapter 4: Come, Let Me Take Thee to My Breast...