DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss', of course. And the
chapter titles are courtesy of Robert Burns.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Scoobies. Scotland. The Council. And Spike's along for the ride
Even in the crisp light of early morning, the castle still seemed dark to Buffy as she climbed the spiral staircase to the second floor. First floor, she quickly amended. Gotta remember that here, two equals one and one equals ground, and what the hell have I gotten myself into? She would've thought that being around Giles for the past five years would've helped in the culture shock of actually being on his home turf, but for the first time, the young woman was beginning to realize just how Americanized her Watcher had really become, in spite of all their jokes to the contrary. If it weren't for Spike and his translations, she would've been completely lost already, and if that wasn't proof that all wasn't right in the world, she didn't know what was.
He was downstairs right now, rummaging around in the kitchen, trying to help Colin get some type of breakfast thrown together for the gang because the woman the Council had hired hadn't shown up yet. The Watcher had practically begged Buffy to stay and help, brown eyes wide in fear as he kept glancing over at the vampire, but as soon as the towel had caught on fire---some kind of weird chain reaction thing from splattering sausage grease on the gas stove---Spike had kicked her out, claiming she was more of a menace than she was worth, leaving her to entertain herself in the great hall until Colin had come out and asked her to wake the others.
Maybe it's just the stairs, Buffy thought, glancing back down at them as she emerged onto the next floor. The stairwell itself was extremely narrow, allowing only one person to go up at a time, with steps so narrow even her small foot only half-fit on them and so steep that more than once she had caught her toe because she hadn't lifted her leg high enough to make it completely. There was no proper handrail; instead, along the outer wall, a coiled rope was looped through hooks in the stone, but because they were placed every few feet, it wasn't taut, and offered little support when someone occasionally stumbled which she quite often did. Just like training, she thought determinedly. New physical challenges just means reconditioning the way my body thinks. I can do that. It's only a set of stairs.
The corridor she stepped into wasn't nearly as gloomy as it had appeared when they'd arrived, sunshine streaming in through the few high-placed windows that lined the wall. With the benefit of natural light, Buffy could see the years of erosion that pocked the uneven stonework, its rough texture just begging to be touched, and decided it looked much better by day than it did by night. Not that it was wiggins-worthy when it was dark, but knowing what was around her, what the layout of the place was, was definitely of the good.
Although there was a row of doors down the hall, she knew from dropping them off last night that her friends were in the first two, and knocked on the nearest, foot tapping impatiently as she waited for Xander to open it. The sounds seemed to get swallowed in the vast length of the place, disappearing into the floor as if the building was starved for it, and slowly her rhythm stopped, the young woman suddenly all too conscious of being alone. She knocked again, harder this time. "Xander?" she called. "Time to rise and time to shine!"
This time, she heard noises from within, the faint scuffling of shoes along the floor and the low murmurs of Anya's voice. Within moments, the door opened to reveal a disheveled Xander, eyes squinting from the sudden exposure to light. "It is entirely unnatural that you're awake at this hour," he grumbled.
"What? It's almost nine-thirty. We let you guys sleep in."
"Nine-thirty?" He glanced at his wrist, only to realize he wasn't wearing a watch. "In the morning? How is that possible?"
"Well, the earth does this turny thing around the sun---."
"Xander, shut the door! You're letting in a draft!" Anya's voice filtered from inside the room, and Buffy bit back her grin as her friend automatically narrowed the gap, using his body to block the warmer air from escaping.
"Breakfast is in ten," she said. "And Colin wants a meeting after we eat to talk about everything."
He nodded, his lids already starting to droop. "Ten. Got it."
One down, Buffy thought as he closed the door, and one to go. She had barely raised her hand to rap at the second room, however, when it opened and an already dressed Willow stepped out with Tara right behind. "Don't bother," the redhead said tiredly. "We're up."
The Slayer grimaced. "God, Will, didn't you guys get any sleep?"
She shook her head. "For being a castle, it's got walls like tissue paper."
It took her a moment, but then Buffy's eyes widened, and she glanced over her shoulder at the room she'd just left. "Through stone?" she exclaimed. "Are they really that loud?"
"Guess I'm glad my room's on the third floor then, even if I do have to share with Spike."
"You know," Willow's face creased into a frown, "you don't have to do that. I'm sure Xander would understand if we explained it to him. Then, he could share with Spike and you could share with Anya---."
"And you could get a good night's sleep," Buffy finished with a smile.
She blushed. "I'm just saying, maybe we should rethink the whole keeping them in the dark thing. Unless you want to share with Spike."
A flash of porcelain muscles flashed across the Slayer's inner eye, the sinewy sculpture she'd been presented that morning sending tiny tremors down the inside of her thighs, and she caught herself ducking her gaze, turning away from her friends to hide the sudden rise of color in her cheeks. Want was such a strong word; it was more that she needed to be sharing with him right now, for Xander's sake Oops, except need actually sounded kinda worse, and the fact that she still hadn't answered the accusation didn't really mean that it was something she felt guilty about or anything. "I'm not hurting their feelings," she finally said firmly. "And if that means I have to put up with annoying bleached vampires for a few weeks, then that's what I have to do. Besides, it's not like he snores or anything. Bonus for not breathing."
As she headed back to the staircase, Willow and Tara exchanged a puzzled look, before the redhead said, "Sure, Buffy, whatever you say."
When they walked into the great hall, the food was spread out on the table, platters of sausages, bacon, and scrambled eggs dotted amidst the empty dishes. The girls' eyes widened, glancing quickly at Spike as he walked in from the adjoining kitchen with a covered bowl and a steaming mug. "You c-c-cook?" Tara asked.
"Don't sound so bloody surprised," he commented, setting down the last dish. Carefully skirting the sunlight that streamed in through the windows, he strolled over to a chair in the corner, tucked carefully away in shadows, blowing gently at the cup he still held. "Just 'cause my food of choice happens to be of the red liquid variety, doesn't mean I can't enjoy other culinary experiences."
"Besides," Buffy chirped, sliding into one of the seats, "he didn't do all of it. I made the sausages."
"No, you made a mess," Spike retorted. "Colin made the sausages."
"I thought Colin said they'd hired a woman to do the cooking," commented Willow.
"They did. She never showed." Lifting the cover of the bowl, the Slayer frowned. "Is this baked beans?"
"Last I checked," the vampire replied.
He sighed, exasperated. "Look, the sooner you stop questioning every little thing you don't get, the happier I'm goin' to be, 'cause I did not sign on to this gig to be your live-in travel guide, got it?" He sipped at his drink. "And yes, baked beans for breakfast. What you're lookin' at is a traditional English spread, minus the mushrooms and fried bread 'cause Watcher Boy is still workin' on those."
"Who is he expecting to eat all this food?" Buffy mused, spearing a sausage on her fork and placing it on her plate. "There's enough here to feed Mongolia."
"A good solid breakfast is the best foundation for a productive day," Colin stated as he marched in with two more platters of food. "And we have a very busy one ahead of us. Lots of issues to cover, roles to delegate, jobs to assign, and so forth."
"I don't suppose one of those jobs is a shopping job," the Slayer said.
"Shopping?" He frowned. "Why on earth do you need to go shopping?"
In the corner, the vampire chuckled. "Lemme guess," he drawled, leveling an azure gaze at the other Englishman. "You're single, right?"
"Yes, but " The Watcher's lips pursed into a thin line. "Why are you even here? I thought vampires slept during the day." He wasn't ready to have to be dealing with Spike today. Though he seemed to behave himself when the Slayer was around, his presence still left Colin on edge, and it was all he could do to reach for the eggs without his hands shaking.
"Still on Hellmouth time, mate. So unless you're a dab hand at sortin' out jet lag, I suggest you get used to me bein' around."
"I was thinking we should get some flashlights," Buffy volunteered. "And as long as we need to go into town, it might be kind of nice to see what it's like, maybe pick up some souvenirs."
"Oh, and I forgot conditioner," Tara interjected.
"Maybe we could meet with Giles," was Willow's contribution. "Instead of him having to come all the way out here."
Colin frowned as the three girls began running away with the conversation, his head swiveling between them as they chattered away. He could see Spike smirking in the corner, watching the whole thing in amusement, and wondered just exactly when he had lost control of the situation. This would never do. They'd only just arrived. They needed to know who was in charge here.
Before he could speak though, the door opened and the other couple came strolling in, hand in hand, looking very much like they could've used another few hours of sleep. Buffy brightened when she saw them. "Guess what, guys? Council's springing for us to go into town and get some highly needed retail therapy. Wanna come?"
When he saw the new girl---Anya, he reminded himself, the girlfriend of the other friend although for the life of him he couldn't remember the boy's name---light up and begin jabbering away with the others, Colin sighed, leaning heavily back in his chair. Apparently the Slayer was the one in charge.
Spike heard it first, the heavy thrum as the front entrance of the castle was closed, and cocked his head as he watched the group at the table, wondering how long it would take them to notice the new arrival. He wasn't disappointed. Within seconds, Buffy had stiffened, golden head turning ever so slightly as she listened. That's my girl, he thought, his lips curling into a satisfied grin.
"You expecting company?" she asked the Watcher.
He frowned, rising to his feet. "Mr. Giles is the only one due to arrive," he said. "And that's not until later." As he reached the door, hand outstretched, it opened into him, knocking the Englishman in the head.
"Oh! Terribly sorry!"
Colin scowled in pain as he gazed at the young dark-haired man before him. "I do hope you have a very good reason for just barging in," he complained. "Because if not, you're trespassing on private property and I'll be forced to contact the local constabulary."
"Actually, I was looking for Colin Sadler." His smile was wide, effusive, and immediately ingratiating, bringing frowns to Spike and Xander's faces and smiles to the girls'.
"And you've found him, or rather, you've hit him."
"Again, so sorry."
There was an awkward pause. "And you would be ?" Colin prompted.
"Oh! Duncan. Davison." His hand shot out in a late greeting, but when it was met with a cold silence, he quickly dropped it. "You're not actually expecting me. You're expecting my aunt. Fiona Davison?"
The look of recognition relaxed the Watcher's face and he nodded his head. "That's her name," he exclaimed, and then frowned again. "Wait. Is there a problem?"
"Well yes. There's been an accident." He rushed onward at the consternation that immediately beset the group's faces. "Oh, it's just a little break, nothing too serious. But, she can't get around right now, so when my mum found out she had this job lined up, she asked me to come up, see if maybe I could fill in for Aunt Fiona."
Colin's frown deepened. "We hired her to cook."
"And clean "
"Yeah, I know." Duncan laughed. "I get it. You want someone local, right?"
Buffy had to stifle her giggle at the Watcher's confusion. "No, not necessarily "
"Because I used to come spend my summers with Aunt Fiona so I do know the area, even though I don't sound like I should "
"That's good, but "
"And it's probably actually better for you, right? I mean, I know even I have problems sometimes understanding the accent and I grew up with it. My mum, you know, being from up here. So, I could help translate for you if you wanted. It would save you the trouble---."
"Really, it's not---."
"I think what Colin's trying to say," Buffy interrupted, "is he wasn't expecting to have a guy doing the cooking and cleaning up. Somehow, I get the feeling that's just a little too twenty-first century for him."
Duncan's smile was quizzical as he turned to look at the young blonde at the table. "Aunt Fiona said it was a bunch of Englishmen staying here," he said slowly. "She didn't mention anything about Americans, or girls."
In his chair, Spike straightened, brows knitting as he watched the new arrival take a step closer to the table. There was no mistaking the attention this Davison chap was now focusing on the females at the table, and what made it even worse, each and every one of them seemed to be responding to it, even the two witches. The vamp's eyes flickered to Xander, and took a small bit of satisfaction at the agitation in the young man's visage, watching as he leaned just enough so that his arm fell protectively across the back of Anya's chair. At least it's not just me, he thought, his gaze returning to Duncan.
"We're only here for a few weeks," Buffy was saying. "Just visiting, doing a little sight-seeing, you know hanging out."
"Well, if you need a tour guide, I'd be more than happy to volunteer. I used up my holiday at work in order to come up here and help Aunt Fiona out, so I'm here for the duration anyway. I can show you all the local haunts. There's a ton of history around this part of Scotland, especially associated with this place---."
"You're well-versed in the local legends?" Colin asked, stepping back into the conversation.
Duncan started, almost as if he'd forgotten the other Englishman was even there. "Blame it on my mum and Aunt Fiona. They told so many stories while I was growing up, it was probably inevitable I'd end up studying Scottish lore at uni."
The Watcher seemed impressed with this. "And it would save us the trouble of finding someone else," he mused.
"So are you saying you want me to stay?"
"I don't see why not," Colin replied, straightening. "You can cook, right?"
Duncan laughed. "And clean, so you don't have to worry. Aunt Fiona would never let anyone sully her good name around here." He glanced over at the table. "I've missed getting your breakfast, but I might as well start with the washing up, if you don't mind." He didn't even wait for a response, just began peeling off his coat as he headed straight for the kitchen door. "Just let me know when you're done eating and I'll come clear," he said, disappearing from the room.
Spike slumped back in his chair, his mood darkening to thunder. Something about the guy rubbed him the wrong way, probably the way the Slayer seemed to warm to him without his even having to try. He glared at her over the rim of his mug. Bitch. Doesn't know this new wanker from Adam and she flirts with him like there's no tomorrow, yet with me, it's all, I'm gonna stake you, you evil, disgusting vampire you. She's even got a boyfriend at home, even if he's not the catch of the century.
His lips tightened, and he sucked the blood from between his teeth before swallowing. At the moment, he wasn't sure who he was angrier at Buffy, for flirting with someone who wasn't him or the lucky bastard in the kitchen who got to be on the receiving end of it
In the end, Buffy and Colin compromised. Since he was the only one who could feasibly drive---as it was daylight and Spike was the only other person present who'd even consider it---the Watcher agreed to take Xander and Anya into the village to get the supplies everyone needed, provided Buffy unpacked all the research materials so that when he returned, the entire group could sit down and have a thorough debriefing, right before launching into the literature. She'd wanted to argue, but the pleading exhaustion on Willow and Tara's faces convinced her not to, and when they had vanished upstairs upon the other's departure, the Slayer had found herself alone yet once again with Spike.
"Have fun," he said, as he began sauntering toward the door.
Her hazel eyes widened. "You're not helping me?" she demanded.
He stopped, tilting his head as he looked back at her over his shoulder. "Wasn't my deal," he replied.
"That doesn't mean you can't pitch in when there's work to be done."
"The witches get to rest. Why can't I?"
"You weren't up all night because of loud sex."
His eyes narrowed, and his lips curved into a shameless slash. "That could've been arranged, pet," he drawled. "All you had to do was ask."
She ignored his taunt. "What happened to that vampire constitution? You can't be tired. I've seen you go way longer without sleep."
"It's called jet lag, pet, and why the hell aren't you sufferin' from it like the rest of us?"
"Probably because my body clock is so screwed up from slaying," she replied. "Sometimes I don't know my Tuesday morning from my Saturday night. Eight hours is nothing compared to that." Buffy glanced back at the boxes stacked in the corner before returning her gaze to his drawn face. "So you're really not going to help me?"
Her voice had softened, and though she still looked annoyed, Spike could've sworn there was a genuine plea in her tone, his resolve vanishing in spite of his determination to stay mad at her. He sighed. "Are you askin' me to stay?" He knew it wasn't what she really wanted, though why he insisted on torturing himself like this, he had no idea. Just shut your gob and do what she says. Make your pathetic excuse of an undead life a little easier.
"The company would be nice," Buffy replied, and the admission surprised both of them. She rushed to add, "This place gets a little creepy when you're all alone in it."
"I suppose I can always sleep during the Watcher's meeting," he said, quirking a smile and moving a small step back into the room.
"That'll be two of us then." He joined her in the laughter, and together, the pair headed for the boxes.
He heard them moving around in the great hall and stepped back away from the door, just in case one of them decided they needed to come into the kitchen for some unknown reason. Witches? Vampires? And the pretty American had mentioned something about slaying. Not your normal topics of conversation, yet the two who remained in the adjoining room bandied the terms with a nonchalance that spoke of familiarity.
Duncan's brown eyes were thoughtful as he wiped his hands on the towel. This certainly hadn't been what he'd been expecting, yet given the circumstances, he really wasn't that surprised. If nothing else, it made it all the more exciting, and if there was one thing he hungered for more than anything, it was excitement
To be continued in Chapter 7: Love in the Guise of Friendship