DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss', of course. And the chapter titles are courtesy of Robert Burns.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Spike has been attacked by some creature underneath the castle, while Buffy is becoming increasingly aware of the vampire's physical presence.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Sorry for the delay in updating, but with a house full of sickies---including myself---and RL issues, writing has taken a back seat over the last few days. Hopefully, things are back on track now…

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

Chapter 9: Yon Wild Mossy Mountains

As she emerged from the stairwell, Buffy heard the crystal tones of laughter drifting down the corridor, the muted voices of her friends rooting her back into the present and away from unsolicited images of pale shoulders and sculpted cheekbones. Spike still hadn't given her a satisfactory response regarding the aborted attack in the dungeon; in fact, when she'd brought it up again while re-bandaging his wound, the vamp had quite effectively side-stepped the entire issue by diverting her attention to the still-open door, commenting dryly that Giles would probably stake both of them if he caught them so casually dressed. By the time she had leapt up to close it, another offhand comment regarding dinner and feeling peckish had reminded her of her own growling stomach, and that had been that.

She wasn't sure why, but for some reason probably only known by God or John Edward, she was actually getting used to having Spike around, and in a not-so-annoying-I-need-to-stake-him kind of way. Playing slapjack with him on the plane had admittedly been a riot, and if she was being completely honest with herself, more fun than she'd had with anyone---including Riley---in months. So, OK, he'd pretty much resorted to blackmail to get out of sleeping on the floor, but he had saved her life down in the dungeon, and their chatting while they were unpacking Colin's stuff hadn't had its usual wattage of hateful remarks bandied about. When he wanted to be, Spike was proving to be entertaining company…which was probably a good thing since she was stuck with him for three more weeks.

Stuck…Her thoughts drifted back to the bedroom and the memory of Spike's face when she'd turned from lighting the candles in their room, the irrepressible sensation of feeling naked in spite of the towel that had been wrapped around her. Even across the space that separated them, his gaze as it had swept over her had been almost a physical caress, and the electrical charge that had tingled across her skin had startled her with its ferocity, the sudden urge to feel his body against hers overwhelming. There had been something in his eyes---something dark, unreadable---and it was only when he'd broken the contact to walk to the door, leaving the bloody trail behind him, did she realize that she'd been holding her breath. She wasn't sure why. She only knew that for a few seconds at least, the world around her had vanished, and the prospect of his hands on her flesh had made her shiver, raising goosebumps of anticipation along her arms.

But that had been in the room. Earlier. Just fleeting hints of possibility that meant absolutely nothing in the light of day. Or the light of dusk, as the case may be. Only one thing was really bugging her now, and Buffy was fighting the urge to turn around and go back up to the room to ask the vampire to spell it out for her. When she'd woken up from her nap in the bath, the first thing she had noticed was the complete absence of light; not even the small window offered any break in the murky darkness that permeated the room. The fact that she couldn't see her hand in front of her face didn't surprise her; what did was Spike's obvious demonstration with the towel toss and the following protestations that he was just as blind in the dark as she was. For some reason, she'd always taken vamp night vision for granted; they certainly fought well enough in its absence. Maybe the complete absence of ambient light---like being in the dungeon twenty feet below ground or in a stone-walled room with no artificial illumination---made them just as vulnerable as humans. If that was true, then Spike hadn't seen anything at all until she'd lit the lighter. If it wasn't, then…

Her lips pursed. Nope. Not going to think about the possibility of him seeing me naked. Not going there. Because then I'd have to kill him. Or tell Xander the truth so that I could kick Spike out of the room. Which might not actually be a bad thing if it weren't for the whole hurting-my-friend's-feelings part. Crap. I hate it when I have to trust vamps.

The laughter grew louder as she pushed open the door to the great hall, and Buffy's nose was assailed with the heady scents of spices, her skin prickling from the heat that suffused the large room. Her stomach grumbled audibly, and she smiled brightly she strode up to her friends at the dining table.

"Please tell me Xander left something for me," she chirped hopefully, eyes sweeping the length of the table, taking in the empty plates and mostly empty serving dishes strewn about.

"Oh, my god," Willow said with a huge smile. "You just missed the most amazing meal. I don't think I've ever eaten so much in my life when there wasn't chocolate involved."

"And you didn't come and get me?" Buffy pouted.

"We tried," offered Giles from the head of the table. "We knocked at your door, but when you didn't answer, we assumed you were getting some much needed rest."

"Is S-s-spike all right?" asked Tara.

"Unfortunately, the answer to that question is yes," the Slayer replied. "Which reminds me, I need to take something up to him before his complaining can be heard all the way down here."

Duncan jumped to his feet, and for the first time, Buffy noticed that the cook was actually in the room, firmly ensconced in a seat between Anya and Xander. "I left some in the kitchen in case you came down," he started. "I'll just go get it."

"No!" He stopped at the sharpness of her tone, and she blushed when he frowned back at her. "I mean, that's nice and all, but totally unnecessary. Spike doesn't eat regular food. He's on a…liquid diet."

"Yes," Colin interjected, rising to his own feet. "I believe I told you he has special dietary needs."

"Well, yes, you did," Duncan said. "But---."

"You won't have to worry yourself about taking care of them," the Watcher continued. "Buffy and I will handle everything when it comes to Spike's…needs."

At the mention of her name, she tossed the dark-haired cook a bright smile, nodding in agreement. "Besides, you're better off not having to deal with him. Spike can be a little…temperamental." She ignored Xander's none-too-subtle guffaw and watched as Colin began heading for the kitchen. "I'll just run it up to him when it's ready."

Duncan smiled at her as he settled back into his chair. "I do hope your boyfriend is all right," he said casually. "That was a nasty---."

"Spike's not my boyfriend," Buffy interrupted, eyes wide. "Why would you think that?"

"You're…sharing a room, and the way you two…" His words trailed off, confusion coloring his cheeks. "I'm sorry. I just assumed…"

"You assumed a huge world of wrong. We work together. That's it. I have a boyfriend back home."

"Oh." Duncan's frown eased, and his lips twisted into a bemused half-smile. "This boyfriend must be a very understanding sort to let his girlfriend share her bedroom with a male colleague then. I think I'd be jealous if I were in his shoes. Especially if she was as pretty as you are."

The compliment went right over her head as Buffy struggled with the sudden rush of guilt at the mention of Riley. Sure, he's totally understanding, she thought. In the way of totally having no idea that Spike's even here. When the kitchen door opened, she leapt forward, desperate to get away from the inquisitive stare of the cook. "Thanks, Colin," she said, taking the thermos from his hand. "I'll just run this upstairs."

"What about your own meal?" Duncan asked, swiveling in his chair to watch her almost run for the hall.

"I just remembered…I've got that…walking thing to do…right, Giles?" She looked at her mentor, hoping against hope that he understood what she was referring to. "You know, with our…walking sticks? Those sharp, pointy things that help us get out of…tight scrapes?"

"Oh. Yes. Of course." With a small start of understanding and a smile of apology, Giles tossed his napkin onto his table and pushed his chair back, rising to his feet. With a quick glance at Duncan, he turned to face Buffy and added, "I'll just gather our…walking supplies and meet you out front, all right?"

"Sounds like a plan." She smiled at the cook. "Just leave my dinner out. I'll grab it when I get back."

The exit of the two left the room in silence, broken only when Duncan stood back up. "I should probably start in with the washing up," he said, picking up his plate and reaching for the others.

Anya's hand stopped his, taking the dishes from his grasp with a too-wide smile. "No reason for you to do this by yourself," she said. "I'll help."

Xander's eyes widened, his jaw dropping to say something, only to have his words choked off when Willow and Tara both hopped to their feet. "Me, too," said the redhead, followed almost too quickly by her girlfriend's over-enthusiastic agreement. Before he could say anything, the four had disappeared into the kitchen, the girls chattering away with arms full of plates while an amused Duncan just smiled and trailed behind.

"How did he do that?" the young man demanded. "Anya never gets that excited about doing the dishes back home."

Colin shrugged. "He does seem to have a way with the young ladies."

"But that's my young lady!"

"Somehow, I don't think he minds." He glanced at the closed door. "If you're so worried, you could always go in and help."

"I'm not worried," Xander protested, but the deep line between his brows as his gaze fixed on the kitchen spoke otherwise, and he couldn't help the qualifier that came unbidden to his brain. Much…

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

Her feet seemed to sink into the heather, drowning her legs in scent as she stepped carefully down the side of the hill. Although the dim light from the sky did little to illuminate her path, Buffy couldn't help but wonder at the beauty surrounded her, elegant curves of the mountains dotted with the occasional wildflower amidst the brush. It must look gorgeous by day, she thought, and mentally promised herself that even if she had to sneak out tomorrow, she was going to get a good look at it in the sunshine.

"How is Spike doing?" Giles asked, and Buffy jumped at the sound of his voice. She had never known a place to be so dark or so quiet in her entire life, and his words seemed to echo throughout the surrounding land.

"Fine," she replied, keeping her own tone hushed. "Complaining too much. Being his usual annoying self just because I wouldn't let him come patrol."

"About that. Not that I'm eager to be spending even more time with Spike, mind you, but why didn't you? Your encounter this afternoon certainly proves there are dangers here. Extra fighting hands could prove beneficial, even if they are Spike's."

"Because last time I checked, leaving a bloody trail makes us surefire demon bait."

"I thought you said he was fine."

"He is. He just refuses to keep still long enough for that bite to start healing properly." No reason to go into details about why it had opened up again; Buffy was fairly certain that Giles didn't want to hear about naked vampires.

"I rather hope the two of you will be prepared to elucidate what exactly happened down there," the Watcher continued, picking his way down the slope. "His injury looks quite serious. I'd hate for one of the others to be caught unawares."

"For some reason, I don't think Nessie's our demon problem. It didn't seem to want to come out of the water, and whatever's been killing the locals, it's definitely out, about, and roaming the countryside." She smiled back at him. "Like us."

"I still think it's a threat."

"As well as any good Watcher should." Her good humor faded almost instantly as she saw the dark shape lying half-hidden in the grass ahead, and held out a hand to stop Giles from approaching any closer. The stake that had been carefully tucked away in the back of her pants materialized in her ready grip, and Buffy's muscles tensed in anticipation as she crept forward, hazel eyes glued to the inert form.

Even amidst the aroma of the heather, the decay wafted into the sky with a determination to break free of the dead body, announcing its presence only to those close enough to fight past the fragrant foliage. Though she sensed nothing demonish, the Slayer kept her weapon poised as she slowly knelt beside it, tilting her head so that she could get a good look at the face without having to actually touch it.

"What is it?" Giles asked.

"How many victims did Colin say they'd found so far?" Her gaze swept over the lined face, the saggy jowls, noting with a tinge of sorrow the age of the woman. She could've been someone's grandma, she thought. Hell, she probably was.

"Six."

"Then, meet unlucky number seven." Buffy reached out and rolled the body over, exposing the weathered face to the sky, the swarm of bugs that had collected underneath her scattering for cover. As Giles stepped forward, sweeping the beam of his flashlight across the corpse, her eyes widened at the dried blood and marks on the upper torso.

"OK, you can officially say, I told you so," she said, straightening and edging back to his side.

"Why?"

She pointed to the series of scars that marred the woman's flesh. "Because, other than the fact that there's more of them and it actually killed her, that could be Spike lying down there." Buffy met his level gaze. "The bites are identical. Whatever killed her is either the same thing that attacked me down in the dungeon, or its Cousin Joe. Either way, not good."

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

The cards were starting to bend from overshuffling, the edges starting to soften from overuse, and Spike cursed the fact that he'd only brought along the lone deck. Who would've thought I'd spend so much of my bloody time playing solitaire? he grumbled to himself as he laid out another tableau on the blanket before him. Plenty of beasties around to tangle with, and the Slayer puts me under house arrest. And all because of a little blood on the floor. Not even like there was a carpet to get stained and all.

What was worse, not only was he stuck inside the room, Buffy had also ordered he stay on his blankets on the floor until she got back. "I don't want to have to worry about blood on the sheets," she'd argued.

"I'm not a child," he'd countered. "I can drink my blood without spilling it."

"I'm not talking about your dinner. I'm talking about that bite." He'd wanted to argue, but the fact that he had in fact re-opened the wound just by disagreeing in the first place squashed that idea, so here he was, sprawled on the floor, his empty thermos at his side, the cold stone wall at his back. No shirt for him, not until the soddin' injury started to do some proper healin' and he didn't have to worry about bleeding anymore. With one t-shirt already ripped to shreds, he had to start being careful about his clothes. He hadn't brought enough along to be so careless with their maintenance.

It didn't even hurt that much anymore, not that Buffy was going to listen to anything he had to say after the little bath fiasco earlier. He knew she didn't completely believe him when he claimed not to have seen anything, but outside of giving her a lecture on the principles of optics and the need for at least a hint of light for eyes to work at all, Spike knew there was nothing he could say that would convince her otherwise. She was bound and determined to keep him on the not-to-be-trusted fence for as long as possible, and damn the evidence to the contrary. Fleetingly, he wondered just how many times he was going to have to save her damn life before she started believing he didn't want anything bad to happen to her.

The sharp knock at the door caused him to jerk, fumbling with the cards in his hands so that they went scattering. "Bugger," he said under his breath, and tossed the remaining cards down before barking out, "Who the hell is it?"

The heavy door swung open, revealing Xander standing in the hall. Spike's eyebrow cocked. "You must be either really bored, or I'm having another of those basement nightmares," he drawled.

He watched as the young man pressed his lips together, physically restraining himself from the retort that automatically sprung there. "Can I come in?" he asked instead, his voice tight with control.

"Not like you need an invitation," Spike replied. "Bein' all human and everything."

"Look," Xander said, shutting the door shut behind him, "I'm really in need of some male perspective here, and Giles is out patrolling with Buffy---."

"She let the Watcher go with her?" he asked incredulous, straightening in his seat.

"Yes, but---."

"Even with a chunk out of my side, I can still slay better than Rupes," Spike continued, shaking his head. "I can't believe---."

"Hey! Can we focus, please?" Xander sat down on the edge of the bed. "This isn't about you. I'm serious. I need to talk to another guy about this, and with Giles gone, that leaves you as my only option."

"What about the other Watcher? The one that makes Rupert look like Sid Vicious?"

"Nah, he's no good. Most of the time, he acts like I'm not even there. So, as much as I hate to say it, you're my only choice."

Leaning back against the wall, Spike smirked as he watched the other man shift uncomfortably in his seat. "Havin' lady problems?" he asked. "Need some advice on how to keep the little missus happy in the sack? Know a right dandy little trick involving a long paintbrush and---."

"This isn't about sex! Anya and I don't need---." He stopped, suddenly oddly intrigued. "A paintbrush? And what?" He held up his hand before the vampire could respond. "Wait. Never mind. This is so not about that."

"So what's got you in such a lather then?"

"Not what. Who. What do you think of that Duncan guy?"

The mention of the cook's name elicited a snort of derision from the blond vamp, rolling his eyes as his shoulders tensed. "Do I have to?" he said. "Bastard's a wolf in chef's clothing. Made me sick watching the Slayer fawn all over him at breakfast."

"Thank you!" The relief on Xander's face took Spike by surprise. "I was beginning to think it was just me. I mean, Anya just won't shut up about the guy. It's all, Duncan said this and Duncan did that. He's even got her down there doing the dishes for him right now."

"Surprised Buffy didn't volunteer for dish duty."

"Well, she kind of had the whole patrolling thing to do, but…" He ran a hand through his hair, rumpling it even further. "He's even got Will and Tara going all googly, and they're not even supposed to like boys! I just don't get it."

"Maybe we should have a little chat with him," Spike offered, eyes gleaming at the possibility. "Tell him in no uncertain terms we don't like whatever game he's playing."

"OK, first of all, noooo. Even I know it's not a good idea to go pissing off the guy who's cooking our food. That way, leads rat poison badness. Trust me on this. And secondly, have you forgotten already about that chip in your head? Duncan's not a demon, so unless you're jonesing for a whopper of a headache, violence is not the answer here."

"Who said anything about violence? I could just make with a couple well-timed growls, maybe a little fang action. I'm sure he'd get the hint and back it off."

"That's not a hint. That's a death warrant for both of us if Buffy finds out." Standing, Xander began pacing around the room, hands working in front of him as he spoke. "I'm thinking the girls aren't being too logical about this Duncan guy, so it's up to us to keep an eye on him, make sure he doesn't cross the line. I figure between the two of us, we can pretty much keep him covered. I know we'll find something. The guy just rubs me the wrong way." He stopped in his tracks, pointing a warning finger at the vampire still slouching on his blankets on the floor. "But we can't let Buff find out what we're doing until we've got something concrete. With his mojo, I'm not one hundred percent sure we'd come off as the good guys in this. And I cannot believe I just referred to you as one of the good guys."

"You want me to keep a secret from the Slayer?" Spike couldn't help the amused smile that spread across his face. "An absolute doddle. And you're goin' to have to trust me on that. But," his smile faded, eyes narrowing, "humor me here, Harris. Why in hell are you askin' for my help? We're not exactly best mates, y'know."

Xander's hand dropped to his side, and he straightened, trying to appear more confident than he felt. "Because I got no one else to ask," he said simply. "I'd go to Giles, but he's only here half the time, and since I'm not even a blip on that Colin guy's radar, you're the only other one around who seems immune to the whole Duncan mystique. And I can't do this by myself, much as I would like to."

Spike nodded. "Fair enough." His face remained calm, but inwardly, the irony of the whole situation tickled him pink, and it was all he could do not to laugh in the young man's face. Secret, secret, who's got the secret? The way this ride was going, the only one who'd be left without a secret to tell was going to be Colin…


To be continued in Chapter 10: What Can a Lassie Do with an Old Man