DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss', of course. And the chapter titles are courtesy of Robert Burns.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: The Scoobies are ensconced in Dall Rath, a castle in Scotland, with no idea yet just what's going on…

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

Chapter 7: Love in the Guise of Friendship

Two hours of Watcher-speak and Buffy still wasn't sure why the hell they were in Scotland. As she observed the proceedings from her vantage-point at the end of the table, she stifled the yawn that seemed to appear out of nowhere, ducking her head so that Colin wouldn't notice and stop his presentation yet again. Twice was enough for her. And the dirty look Giles had given her after the last interruption was not something she was ready to face again just yet, not to mention Spike's incessant chuckling from the corner behind her. It seemed that everything she did today was cracking him up.

She had to give this new Watcher credit for being prepared, though. The man had a flow chart for everything. Diagrams of the castle, maps of the outlying areas complete with color coding for what he considered the most likely areas for demon activity, even a completed calendar for the duration of their stay. That, of course, was going to get tossed out the window once he realized that she didn't work that way, but for now, Buffy was content to let him have his little fantasy that he was actually in charge.

"Now," Colin was saying, "are there any questions?"

"Let me get this straight," the Slayer said, thankful for the light at the end of the tunnel he was offering. "You guys went digging around in the dungeons, knocked a hole through the wrong wall, and now there's a back door between our dimension and this Otherworld, right?"

"Well, that's putting it a little bluntly, but, yes, generally speaking---."

"And you know something got out because all of a sudden there were these deaths in the village, but you don't know what it is yet because nobody's seen or heard anything useful."

"Yes, but---."

"And you want us to go do a search and slay on this demon or whatever, and then me, Will, and Spike do your little ritual to close up the door for good, and then we go home, right?"

"That's a very simplistic interpretation---."

"But that's it, right?"

Colin sighed, rubbing tiredly at his eyes. "Essentially, yes, that's it."

The rest of the gang did their best to suppress their smiles as Buffy faced off with the new Watcher, his obvious fluster shadowed before her matter-of-fact summary. After five years, they were used to this, but that didn't stop them enjoying her effect on those uninitiated on the Summers' style.

Standing up, the Slayer stretched, lifting her arms overhead and arching her back as she spoke. "I want you to show us where this back door is. I don't remember seeing anything this morning that looked like a dig site." She turned to look back at the vampire. "Do you, Spike?"

"Not even a soddin' grave," he commented, shaking his head in disgust. "That is the sorriest excuse for a dungeon I've ever seen."

Giles frowned. "Not that I doubt you," he said, "but what on earth were you doing down in the dungeons? And with Spike?"

"We couldn't sleep," she explained with a shrug. "Seemed as good a spot to start as any. Besides, we didn't even see anything. The scariest thing down there was Spike."

"Thanks, Slayer," he muttered, slouching further down into his chair. For a while there, he'd thought he'd been making headway, making her laugh occasionally while they'd been doing Sadler's work for him, taking her side when the wanker had criticized her for taking a kip during his lecture. She had actually gone four hours without one disparaging remark about the vampire. Guess it had been too good to be true.

"I really must express my dismay that you'd venture out so," Colin said. "I haven't even had the opportunity yet to direct you to the weapons cache we've created---."

Buffy's face lit up like a child at Christmas. "Weapons?" she chirped. "Where?"

"In the adjunct at the end of the hall, but…" His voice trailed off as he watched the young woman dash out of the room, his brows knitting together in confusion. "She really doesn't…listen, does she?" he mused, not speaking to anyone in particular.

"Weapons are kind of her thing," Anya commented. "Same as ringing the bell for Pavlov's dog. You know, ding ding! There goes Buffy!"

"But don't beat yourself up about it," Xander chimed in. "At least you didn't bring them up at the beginning of the meeting. Giles still makes that mistake sometimes."

"Oh my god! Giles! Come here!" Buffy's shrieking carried through the stone walls, automatically jerking her Watcher to his feet, rushing out with a frown on his face.

Spike's lips quirked into a half-smile. "Kid in a candy shop," he drawled, shaking his head, and shuffled to his feet. "But should be good for a laugh."

Exchanging a quick look, Willow and Tara quickly rose and followed the vampire out into the hall, with Xander close on their heels. Anya watched as Colin just sat there and shook his head in stunned amazement. "It's OK," she assured. "Eventually, you get used to not being listened to."

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

She stood in the doorway, hazel eyes ranging over the carefully assembled weapons that lined the upper part of the walls and filled the glass cases that ran along underneath. Even in the dim light that filtered in from the hall, there was no mistaking the gleam from the various metals---silver blades, both curved and straight; brass edges by finely honed craftsmen; even something gold glinted in the far corner---and the vicarious thrill of having such armaments at her fingertips sent Buffy's heart racing. I haven't been this excited about something since I got those leather boots half-price, she thought, and was just reaching for a sheathed dagger that rested near at hand when Giles and Spike came up behind her.

"What is it?" her Watcher asked, then stopped, taking off his glasses as he surveyed the room.

A low whistle came from the vampire's mouth as he brushed past, sauntering straight for a battle axe that sat in the corner. "Well, I'll give those Council blokes credit for this, at least," he said, picking it up and hefting the weapon's weight. "They know how to hold a fight in style."

"I think this is the most gorgeous knife I've ever seen," Buffy murmured, as she pulled it from its case. Its nailhead-studded grip blended effortlessly into the engraved blade, and she trailed a fingertip over the silver crests along its sheath.

"That's a traditional Scottish dirk," Giles observed. "Particularly popular among the Highlanders."

"Is it bad I really want to kill something right now?" she asked with a small smile.

"Well, there'll be time enough for that later," the older man replied and then brightened when his gaze fell upon a claw-like weapon on a lower shelf. "Oh! But remind me to work with you on that one, though," he added, crouching down to examine it further.

"What is it?"

"It's called a double flying talon. Chinese descent, used primarily for attacking horses and their riders. I haven't seen one outside of a book in over ten years."

"Cool." Buffy grinned as her friends appeared in the doorway, and held up the dagger. "Look what I get to play with."

The trio's eyes widened. "Didn't C-c-colin say they think it was just one demon that got out?" Tara asked.

"Who cares?" Spike said, coming up to the Slayer's side with the axe still in his hands. "I say we clear out the whole countryside if it means usin' some of these bad boys."

"It does seem like an awful lot just to get rid of one little nasty," Willow said.

"But we don't know what the nasty is," Buffy argued. "We need to be prepared, right, Giles?" She looked up at her Watcher for confirmation. "Isn't that the Slayer motto?"

"I thought the Slayer motto was 'Don't die,'" Xander observed.

"It does seem like an unusually large arsenal," Giles murmured as he straightened, returning his glasses to his nose.

"Well, I don't care." The blonde brushed past the group, heading back down the hall with the dirk still in her nimble fingers and Spike tagging along behind. "Now that we've got flashlights and weapons, I want a better look at that dungeon and this hole they knocked through to the Otherworld. I haven't had a good slay in two days. Maybe if I'm lucky, something will decide to poke its head through and give us a little excitement."

Spike bit back the innuendo that leapt to the tip of his tongue, ducking his head to hide his smile from the others. She could argue about it until she was blue in the face but there was no denying the fact she got off on the hunt just as much as he did. Even now, he could smell the anticipation seeping from her skin in a fragrant musk, thickening the air while at the same time hardening his cock, and his mouth watered as the memory of her body pressed up against him in her bed came rushing back. Their bed, he hastened to correct, properly bargained and traded for. 'Course, it had been kind of one-sided, his playing on her feelings of guilt and worry for her mum a little sneaky, but if it got him even that much closer to her, Spike decided it was worth it. Who could possibly get hurt from the arrangement? Well, maybe Captain Cardboard, if the vamp had his way, but that only made the deal all that much more delicious. It would certainly show the blighter once and for all that Buffy needed a man in her life with just a little bit of bite…

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

They stood before the square cell, beams from the multiple flashlights criss-crossing throughout the room in golden stripes, illuminating the bare walls for the gang to see. "See, told you so," said Buffy. "Nada."

"I gotta admit," Willow said at her side. "It's kind of light on the spook factor."

"That's because we've hidden the entrance," Colin replied smugly, and pushed his way to the forefront. The group watched as he walked to the far wall, shining his light along the cracks of the stone, halting on an oblong shape about a third of the way down. He fumbled in his pockets, and Buffy frowned when he pulled out a small amulet, passing it before the mortar while murmuring under his breath.

"What's he saying?" she whispered, leaning closer to her best friend.

"I think it's Latin," Willow answered, green eyes fascinated by the sight in front of her.

Even as they watched, the stones that had seemed so solid just moments earlier began to shimmer, shifting to gossamer before fading completely away before their eyes, revealing a large gaping hole that led into blackness. Colin turned with a triumphant smile. "As you can see, we've taken every precautionary measure we can. The last thing we want is for another demon to escape."

"That's a very powerful spell," Giles commented, stepping forward to run his fingers along the edge of the entrance. "I couldn't even sense the use of magic." He glanced at his colleague with a small frown. "Are you that skilled?"

The other Watcher blushed. "Oh, no. We had a witch onsite who performed the spell for us. I merely learned how to turn it on and off, so to speak."

"Another witch?" Suddenly fearless, Willow joined the two men near at the hole in the wall. "That would be way helpful around here. Tara and I had some ideas we were bouncing around, so maybe she could give us some guidance. Is she coming back?"

"Um, no." Colin turned away, shining his flashlight through the wall. "She had something pressing…elsewhere. I'm afraid we won't have her skills as an ally during this particular…assignment."

Buffy cocked her head, noticing for the first time that the near silence of the dungeons was now shattered. "Do I hear…water?" she asked, and strode forward. Though she aimed her own light into the hole, it did little to ease the inky darkness and she felt the first fingers of trepidation begin to curtail her sense of exploration.

"Yes. You'll see. Just follow me." And with that, Colin disappeared through the entrance.

The group stood frozen for a moment, slightly surprised at their leader's boldness, and it wasn't until Spike marched up that anyone even moved. "Can't be that bad if the nancy boy's not afraid," he commented, and tossed a quick glance back at the Slayer before following after him.

Buffy stiffened. Stupid vamp's showing me up, she thought angrily, gripping her blade even tighter. No way can I let both of them look braver than me. A chipped vampire and a Watcher going in ahead of the Slayer? Mentally, she shook her head, even as she stepped through. I'm definitely slipping. It won't do if the gang starts thinking I'm going soft.

The darkness in the cell had been deceiving. Following the beams of light in front of her, Buffy quickly found the walls growing lighter, glowing almost as if from within, and it became increasingly easier to watch where she was going, to see the intricately carved walls of the tunnel, joining Spike at its other end as she emerged into a wide cavern. The source of the water became clear as she found herself gazing at an underground stream that snaked through the grotto, meandering in its coiled bed until it vanished around a curve, its rock-encrusted banks discouraging anyone from nearing its edges.

"I'm going to guess this is the tunnel to your hollow hills," she said, and swept her now unnecessary flashlight around to look at the etchings that decorated the walls.

"It's actually quite exciting from an archaeological perspective," Colin babbled. "There've been suspicions for years regarding the actual existence of the Otherworld and now we have concrete evidence to support further investigations. We should really feel quite privileged in being a part of such an adventure."

"Tell that to the people who got killed by the demon you let out," Buffy replied, shining her light directly into the Watcher's eyes. "I'm sure they're just thrilled to pieces about your little find here."

He blinked against the sudden blindness. "Well, of course, I didn't…"

"How far have you followed this back?" she asked, walking along the edge of the stream toward the farthest bend.

"Not…too far. It's rather dangerous as you progress. The banks---."

Her hair swung over her shoulders as she turned to look back at Spike. "C'mon," she said. "Watch my back."

As he emerged into the cavern, Giles frowned, watching the retreating forms of his Slayer and the blond vampire as they headed away from him. "Buffy, do be careful."

She glanced back, smiling. "I just want to get a feel for it," she said. "And besides, if anything jumps out at me, I'll just shove Spike at him." The grin she shot the vamp conveyed her joke, and the group watched as he just shook his head and followed after her.

"You're not going to just let her go…are you?" Colin asked, worrying his flashlight between his hands.

"Do feel free to try and stop her," Giles encouraged, unable to hide his own smile. "I'm sure she'd appreciate the sentiment."

His feet automatically took a few steps in her direction, only to halt when the other Watcher's words finally cut through his consciousness. "Well, she does have Spike with her," he reasoned, and jumped when Xander came up to pat him on the shoulder.

"It's a long, slow process, my friend," the young man said. "You just gotta learn when to let her go."

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

Watch my back, she'd said. The Slayer. Asking him. As if it was the most natural thing in the world. She needed him, appreciated what he had to offer to the mix. No way in hell was he going to turn that request down.

Needless to say, Spike was chuffed to bits, his step lighter than it had been since leaving Sunnydale, the humming under his breath unconscious as his gaze darted from Buffy, to the walls, to the stream, back to Buffy, before beginning the circuit again. Why had he ever had any doubts? It was only a matter of time---.

"What is it with the humming?" Buffy complained, and there was no mistaking the annoyance in her hazel eyes as she glanced back at him. "You might as well have a bullhorn announcing that we're here."

"Sorry if I'm in a good mood," he countered. "You're not the only one who's been chompin' at the bit for a spot of violence."

"I'm not chomping. More like…nibbling."

"Semantics, Slayer. A bite's a bite."

"Because you vampires are experts on the fang thing, right?"

Spike's azure gaze flickered to her neck, lingering on the scar. "I'd say you've clocked some mileage on that as well," he said, his voice a sultry burr, and returned his eyes to her face, noting the color that had suddenly risen in her cheeks. "Angel, I get, 'cause of the whole burnin' first love rubbish, but Drac…" He shook his head. "Never did understand his appeal over the birds. Too…indirect for my tastes. I like it to be up close and personal-like. Lay my cards out on the table." Even as he said the words, he couldn't believe they were coming out of his mouth. Uh huh, yeah, right, he scolded himself. That's why she thinks you're in this for the dosh.

"He had this whole thrall thing going," Buffy argued, her sudden discomfort at the turn the conversation had taken averting her gaze back to the path in front of her. "And it's not just a girl thing, remember? He got Xander as well."

Spike rolled his eyes. "That does not help your argument, Slayer," he said. "Harris has the willpower of a gnat. Even I could get him to do my bloody biddin'." He bridled at the amused grin she shot back at him. "If I really wanted to!"

Buffy's flashlight cut a swathe across the water as she stopped in her tracks to turn and face the vampire. "You're going to stick to your word, right?" she asked. At his frown, she elaborated. "About not telling him and Anya about the not-being-useful thing."

"Oh, that," he said, relaxing. "Personally, I can't believe he hasn't sussed it out already. Your new Watcher did just about everything he could to ignore him during his little confab."

"Yeah, I noticed that, too." She bit her lip. "Willow thinks we should just come clean. Then, you'd share a room with Xander and I'd be in with Anya."

For a moment, Spike panicked, his heart leaping into his throat. Lose the current arrangement? Especially to share with Harris? Not in this lifetime. "Red may be smart, but that doesn't mean she's always right," he said as calmly as he could manage. "You go tellin' him the truth now, it'll just make it worse 'cause he'll think you're feelin' sorry for him."

"That's what I thought," she said, nodding. "Though I hardly expected you to agree with me. I would've thought you'd love to see him squirm."

He pretended to be offended. "And here I thought we were startin' to come to an understanding, Slayer." He tsked under his breath as he brushed past her. "One of these days, you're goin' to open those eyes of yours and actually see what's in front of you for a change. Think you might be pleasantly surprised."

His words were curious, and Buffy frowned as she watched Spike stroll on ahead, moving his flashlight in front of him as he inspected the water and ground. She was used to his sweeping generalizations, insights into her head and her life that seemed to grind her own thinking to a halt, but, sometimes, on the rare occasion, he truly did seem to make no sense whatsoever. I'm sure it all connects somehow, she thought, somewhere underneath all that bleach. Deep, deep under the bleach.

The splashing in the stream next to her caught her attention before she could move forward, and Buffy turned, shining her light down at the water's surface. "You don't think there's actually fish in there, do you?" she asked, bending slightly in order to get a better look.

Spike turned just in time to see the black shape lunge from the stream toward her, catching her off-guard, and leapt forward to tackle it, his own safety forgotten as his fears for the young blonde's rooted in his instincts. The Slayer fell back, and she watched wide-eyed as the vamp disappeared with a thunderous spray, dragging whatever had jumped out at her down with him, the water cresting and waving as the pair sank to the bottom. She scrambled forward, edging herself to the stream's bank as close as the jagged rocks allowed, hazel eyes searching the murky depths for some sign of either of them, wondering what in hell had just happened. He hadn't just saved her…had he? Why on earth would Spike do something as…unselfish as that?

She debated for a moment about jumping in after him, but the lack of light within the cavern and her own slight inhibitions about the potential of drowning held her back, causing her to rationalize her own hesitancy. He can't drown, she reminded herself. Vampires don't breathe, so therefore they can't drown. But he could still get eaten, a tiny corner of her mind reminded her. Or it could cut off his head and finish him off that way. It didn't seem fair all of a sudden that he would do what he did and she wouldn't even try, so setting her flashlight to her side, Buffy tensed as she prepared to dive in after him.

His head broke through the surface, a white beacon amidst the black, and she saw the blood dripping from the large gash in his forehead. Automatically, she scrambled forward, heedless of the stones tearing at her trousers or slicing into her own flesh, her hand shooting forward in offering. "Here," she ordered, and only had to wait a moment before Spike's own grip met hers, pulling him out as quickly as possible to avoid as much contact with the rocks, laying him out in the path away from the rushing water.

Whatever it had been, it had put up a good fight, she thought grimly as her gaze inventoried the injuries dotting the vampire's body. Besides the cut on his face, there were lacerations up and down his arms---superficial, she decided---and a huge chunk torn out of his t-shirt, exposing a series of circular wounds almost six inches across. She leaned in closer, fingers reaching out to brush lightly across its surface. If she didn't know better, she would've almost said they looked like teeth marks.

Spike groaned, trying to sit up. "Well, that wasn't bloody fun," he muttered, only to crumple back to the ground as a wave of pain washed over his torso.

"Yes, because water aerobics with demons twice your size is always a barrel of monkeys," she retorted, ripping the wet fabric to reveal the rest of the bruises and gashes that adorned his pale-white flesh. "You know, if you'd wanted to take a swim, you should've brought your swimsuit."

He grinned in spite of the pain. "Always preferred skinny dippin' myself," he murmured, feeling her fingers dance over his skin. Getting hurt wouldn't have been his first choice in getting him to touch him, but he'd take it any way he could get it.

"What was it? And why on earth did you go after it?"

"Dunno. All I saw was black," he said, and felt his head begin to swim as darkness threatened to overtake him. "And didn't have a choice. It was goin' after you…" And with that, the world faded away around him.

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

Duncan's eyes widened as he saw the American girl sweep by, the unconscious form of the man dripping in her arms. He'd heard the commotion as the group returned from the dungeons, knew something was amiss, but the incongruous sight of the two blonds took him by surprise. Not the norm, he thought. Most definitely, not the norm.

"Do you need anything?" he called after them as she headed for the stairs. "Some hot water, perhaps? Or some bandages?"

She seemed to contemplate his request for a moment, and then turned. "Both," she ordered. "Just bring them to my room. I'm going to fix him up there." When she swiveled back to face the stairwell though, she hesitated, hazel eyes glancing between the narrow opening and the blond lying across her forearms. "Xander!" she called out. "Come here and help me." The young man rushed forward, stopping at his friend's side. "You take his shoulders and go up first. I'll get his legs."

"Why don't you just throw him over your shoulder and take him up that way?" Xander asked. "Not like you've never done it before."

"Because he's not a sack of potatoes, that's why!" Her tone was harsh, and Duncan watched as she took a deep breath, seemingly to steady her nerves. "If I try this on my own on those stairs, you're going to see me on my ass and Spike hurt even worse than he is now because I've dropped him on his head. So, just help me with this, because I've got vamp blood dripping off my elbows here."

It took only a moment for the pair to reposition the wounded man, and Duncan frowned, watching as the trio vanished up the stairwell. "Should we call a doctor?" he asked the older man at his side.

"That won't be necessary," was the response. "Buffy is well trained in these matters."

The group dispersed, the energy gone from their initial descent, leaving Duncan alone outside the great hall. Less than one day, and things were already taking an interesting bend. His smile curled his lips as he turned to return to the kitchen for the supplies. Most interesting…


To be continued in Chapter 8: Here's to Thy Health