DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss', of course. And the chapter titles are courtesy of Robert Burns.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Giles is late getting to Dall Rath, so Colin has sent Buffy and Spike off to the dungeons to do some more investigating, while the others begin on the ritual research.

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Chapter 12: Death and Doctor Hornbrook

"Are you s-s-sure this is the ritual Colin was talking about?" Tara asked, pushing a strand of hair off her face as she turned to look at the redhead sitting next to her.

"Yeah, pretty sure." Willow frowned, looking up from her book. "Why?"

"I thought they said we couldn't do it until the end of the month."

Anya and Xander looked up from their own texts as Tara set hers down on the table, allowing her girlfriend to lean over and begin scanning the words. "What does it say?" the ex-demon asked.

"Maybe they have other references that refute this," Willow murmured.

"Then why w-w-would Colin give us this to study?" Tara queried.

"What does it say?" Anya repeated, her voice a little louder, her words slightly more articulated.

"It could be it has other ritual-type stuff in it that's supposed to help," the redhead said.

"It does have this nifty appendix on Celtic charms."

"And he did give us a lot of books to go through. Maybe this one got mixed in by mistake."

The loud crash from the other end of the table startled both witches into looking up. Smiling innocently, Anya ignored Xander as he stood to retrieve the book on the floor beside her, concentrating instead on the two girls. "What does it say?" she asked brightly, as if it was the first time she had posed the question.

"Oh." Willow sat back in her chair. "Remember how Colin said we had to wait to do the ritual because of the moon? That its success was determined by the moon's cycle?"

Anya waved a hand in dismissal. "Vaguely. Wasn't that the chart Xander started doing the moo noises with?"

"Yes," the redhead replied, turning annoyed eyes to him as he returned to his seat. "Which was a little rude, by the way."

"Aw, c'mon, the cow jumped over the moon? What's not funny about that?" He reached for one of the scones on the plate in the middle of the table. "Besides, it was his fifteenth flow chart. We needed something to liven up the show a little."

"Anyway," Willow continued, "according to this book, the ritual is dependent on the moon's cycle but not like how Colin described. If this is right, there's no reason why we can't try the ritual tomorrow. We could be back in Sunnydale by the end of the week."

"Really?" Anya frowned. "Is that what we want?" She stiffened when all three turned to stare at her in amazement. "I'm just saying, think about it for a second. We've only just got here. We're only just starting to get over our jet lag. Do we really want to have to go through all this again by going back so quickly?"

"Don't you want to go back?" asked Tara.

The ex-demon shrugged. "It's nice having a vacation," she said. "I used to travel all over the world before I lost my powers. Sometimes, I miss that."

"You miss drafty old castles and no central heating?" Willow's eyes were wide. "I mean, not to be the pooper of parties or anything, but this hasn't exactly been a Carnival cruise here."

"I only meant, it makes a nice change…" She stopped, all of a sudden straightening in her seat, and Xander turned his head to see the other girls doing the same, three sets of eyes glued to the kitchen door that had just swung open.

"So sorry," Duncan apologized. "I don't mean to interrupt---."

"No, please, interrupt away," Willow chirped.

"This is really quite embarrassing," the young man started, his hand coming up to run through his dark curls.

"Ah, no, really? That's too bad," responded Xander in mock sympathy, only to wince when his girlfriend slapped his knee under the table, his fake smile dissolving back into the scowl he normally wore around the cook.

"What's wrong?" came from Tara.

"It was supposed to be a surprise," Duncan continued, as if he'd never been interrupted. "Mr. Sadler was quite adamant about that. He asked if I could possibly fix an all-American tea for you, as a small reminder of home, seeing as you're so far away."

"What's so hard about tea?" Xander challenged. "Some hot water, a little baggie with a string, and voila. All done."

"He's talking about supper, dufus," Willow chastised.

"Oh." He slouched down into his chair.

"Regardless, I'm afraid I've gone and mucked things up and I don't believe if I were to continue, it would be what he had in mind at all." Duncan's brown eyes darted between the young women, studiedly ignoring meeting those of the other man in the room. "I don't suppose any of you might consider coming in and telling me where I went---?"

He didn't even have time to finish the request before Willow was on her feet. "I can help," she offered. "I'm about as all-American as you can get."

"Me, too," said the other witch, rising to follow her girlfriend to the cook's side.

"Well, me three," Anya said, and before Xander could stop her, she was up and across the room, disappearing into the kitchen before the young construction worker could speak up.

"What about research?" he called after the closed door, then slumped into his chair. He didn't know how the guy did it. Just a few words and they ran like rabbits, and sure, given the choice, he'd vote for food over books any time, but this was just plain wrong. Memo to self, he thought as he picked up the text on water demons again. Learn how to cook.

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

Having the flashlights didn't make a bit of difference, she grumbled as she caught the heel of her boot in yet another unseen cranny in the floor. Not that she had really expected to find anything more than they had the first night she and Spike had come exploring, but it would've been nice if she could go six feet without turning her ankle. Gotta remember to wear flat shoes next time we come down here, she mentally noted.

Ahead of her, Spike's beam swept across the cold stone, revealing the same featureless walls, the same lack of detail that had been so not thrilling during their previous visits to the dungeon. Though they had exchanged few words since coming down, there was an ease between them that hadn't been there before, some unspoken familiarity that Buffy found both a relief and a puzzle, and she found herself watching the vampire's back as he walked along, almost wishing he'd turn around and say something rude or offensive so that she could go back to being annoyed at him. That had to be easier.

Rounding the corner of the corridor, an unexpected outcropping of stone caught Spike along his side, and Buffy heard him hiss slightly as his torso skittered away from the wall, his shoulder lowering as he bent into the pain. "Are you OK?" she asked, the question popping out of her mouth before she could stop it.

His face was hidden in shadows as he glanced back at her, and she found the only distinguishable feature she could see was the curve of his mouth, lips slightly parted as the tip of his tongue ran along the edge of his teeth. "Doesn't exactly tickle," he said, "but I'll do."

Before he could move further, Buffy had marched forward, shining her flashlight onto his side as she lifted the edge of his t-shirt to examine his bandages. Her fingers skated over the tape that bound them to his skin, watching as if in anticipation of the crimson stains she expected to spring onto the gauze, and Spike froze as the heat of her hand sent tiny shivers of electricity skittering across his stomach.

"This is never going to heal if you keep bumping it," she said, and though the blood she'd foreseen didn't show up, her touch lingered, drawn to the carved muscles by some inexplicable force. Now was the time for her to ask, now that there was this weird truce thing happening between them, but for some reason, Buffy was finding it difficult to get her mouth to start working. Or, for that matter, her lungs.

Carefully, Spike edged away, distancing himself from her hand so that his shirt slipped back down. Her fingertips were almost vibrating from the intensity of her pulse, and the corresponding shocks it was sending through his own system made continued contact a really bad idea, not if he wanted to maintain some leash on his self-control. "It's all right," he reiterated, and turned away, ready to return to the waste of time the Watcher had planned for them.

"Why'd you do it?"

Her voice was a mere murmur and when he looked back, her hazel gaze was still fixed on his side. "I've done lots of stuff, Slayer," he said, keeping his own tone low. "Can't really go explainin' myself unless I know what it is you're referring to."

Damn it, he was going to make this hard for her. She took a deep breath. "Since when did Slayer-saving become the recreation of choice for William the Bloody?" Buffy asked, this time lifting her eyes to meet his. "I just don't get why you played interception guy with Nessie yesterday."

Moment of truth, Spike thought, staring down at her. Perfect opportunity to tell her how you feel. Stop pussy-footing around the issue and just lay it on the line. And kiss goodbye to what little ground you've gained. "Told you," he said. "It was goin' after you. Since water's not exactly your thing, I figured rather than have to endure the rest of this little holiday minus the one person who actually makes it interesting, I'd take a little swim and see if I could help. End of story."

"No, not end of story," she argued. "Because I still don't get it. What have you possibly got to gain from saving me?"

His lips pursed. "Now, I understand. I can't just do something 'cause I want to. I've got to have some ulterior motive. Is that what you're saying?"

"Hello? You're a vampire, remember? Slayer-saving, not really part of your job description, Spike." This was better, familiar territory, and Buffy felt the fire flare in her voice. "Your whole existence is about ulterior motives."

He turned and started to walk away. "The song's gettin' old, Slayer. Let me know when you're ready to change the tune."

Her iron-grip around his arm was the last thing he expected and Spike found himself flung against the wall, the flashlight in his hand cracking against the stone and immediately extinguishing, cutting their illumination in half. The sharp stab in his side was instant, and the vampire grunted in pain, clutching at the wound as he whipped his head around to glare at the young woman.

"Why do you make me do this?" she demanded. "Why can't you just give me a straight answer for once?"

"Don't believe the words, 'Throw me into the soddin' wall' came from my mouth, pet," he snarled, and felt the familiar seep of blood begin to wet his fingers. Fuck. Bitch opened it up again.

"I knew you being normal was too good to be true," Buffy continued. "All I wanted was you…" She stopped, frowning as she saw him holding his side. "What's wrong?"

"What's wrong is that I'm most likely goin' to have to do some shopping to make up for all these shirts you keep ruining," he said.

Just as quickly as she'd thrown him, she was standing in front of Spike, yanking up his t-shirt to shine her light on the scarlet stain now appearing, hazel eyes darting between that and the blood that colored his fingers. "Shit," she muttered, and felt the pangs of guilt begin to stab at her stomach. She hadn't expected her reaction to his walking away---it had been reflex more than anything else---and now, knowing that she'd caused his injury to re-open, she felt even worse.

The dissipation of her anger was almost palpable, and Spike winced as she peeled the bandage away, exposing the oozing bites to the chill dungeon air. "Sorry," she murmured, and then looked up, eyes dark. "Really."

He watched as she used the edge of the gauze to dab at the running blood, taking every care not to make it hurt worse. Her mercurial moods were a mystery to him; he wasn't sure what caused the hot and cold to run so erratically, but he could only hope that he might be able to have enough time around the beautiful Slayer to figure it out. Spike swallowed. "Didn't want you gettin' hurt, Summers," he said softly, and saw her hands hesitate. "Don't think I could bear that."

Not what she'd been expecting to hear, but surprisingly enough, the sincerity behind his words rang true to Buffy, and she found herself looking up into the vamp's cerulean eyes, feeling her heart begin to race within her chest, the air suddenly too close around her. It was there as well, reflected in the enigmatic depths, and the sensation of falling into them, drowning in the sea of blue, suddenly overwhelmed her.

"Buffy?"

Her head jerked at the sound of her Watcher's voice, the ends of her hair flickering across Spike's chest, and he cursed Rupert's inopportune timing. Some wall between them had come down---he'd practically heard it crash---but now he was afraid that Buffy would find some excuse to put it back up again.

"Right here, Giles!" she called, stepping slightly away from the vampire.

The beam of light appeared around the corner, and the pair squinted as the Watcher stopped, his eyes flitting between the two. "Colin said you were down here. Is everything all right?"

Spike heard her inhale to speak, but inched forward, cutting her off. "Just me bein' my not so graceful self," he said dryly. "Snagged my bandages and started bleedin' again, is all."

She was grateful her face was in shadow as she glanced up at him, the frown clouding her eyes. Why was he lying? And why was she letting him?

"Oh. Well, I was rather hoping you were ready to go examine the body, Buffy. I'm afraid my tardiness has already cost us a good portion of the morning, but we can still be back before lunchtime if we hurry."

"Just give me ten, Giles. That should be enough time for me to get Spike cleaned up."

It was his turn to look upon her with curiosity, his head tilted as he caught her eyes. The charge that passed between them reminded her of that moment in their bedroom when she'd first lit the lighter, and Buffy felt the world around her slip away. This was her fault---he was bleeding now for her---and she wanted him to know that right then, she needed for him to be OK.

"You've got work to do, Slayer," he said quietly. "I can take care of this myself." His mouth twisted into a smile. "Certainly done my share of nursing in my time."

"Are you sure?"

This time, he was positive he heard the concern in her voice, coloring it in orange and red, and his smile softened. "Sure."

She could feel him watching her as she walked past him to join Giles as he turned to go back upstairs, and had to resist the urge to look back, to give him one last smile of apology before disappearing on him. Duty first, she reminded herself. I'll give him the full I'm-sorry routine later. I have to.

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

She hung back as the three men bent over the body, the two Watchers in the front, the doctor from the village just behind. Buffy had been surprised when they'd emerged from the castle to find him waiting for them; it was only after Colin had explained they would need someone local to both identify the body and to arrange for family to be contacted that his presence made any sense.

"So, do you know who she is?" Giles asked, pushing up his glasses as he straightened.

The doctor nodded. "Peg Calvock," he replied, his Scottish accent so thick Buffy almost didn't understand what he'd said. Pulling a handkerchief from his pocket, he mopped at his grizzled face, stepping back and exhaling loudly as if to clear his lungs. "Such a shame."

"I suppose you'll need to contact her family," Colin said. "Please express our condolences when you do."

"Thank the Lord, but I won't have to do that this time." His watery eyes met the puzzled gazes of the Watchers. "Peg's been without family in these parts for years. The last of her clan, you could say. I'm afraid it'll be naught but friends at her funeral." He scratched at his balding head. "I can't say that I've seen anything so large in these hills that could do such a fair amount of damage as that, though. I don't suppose you've seen anything out of the ordinary at the castle?"

Colin shook his head. "Everything has been quite peaceful," he lied. "We really have no idea what could've done such a thing."

Buffy's lips thinned. Oh, they knew all right, but trying to explain underground water demons that were ten feet tall and had somehow escaped into the countryside seemed like more than this quaint village doctor could take. Just as she had thought last night, seeing the body in broad daylight had only confirmed that the bites were identical to the ones on Spike, only more savage, since this woman had obviously not the power to fight off the attack like the vampire had. Whatever it was, it could prove lethal to those unable to defend themselves, and the Slayer had the sudden urge to return to Dall Rath and confirm that her friends were OK.

"Are we about done here?" she asked. "Because my stomach is telling me it's lunch time, and I am starved."

Giles nodded. "I think we've done about all we can."

Reaching into his wool jacket, the doctor pulled out a small mobile phone and began punching in numbers. "I'll just stay here until they can pick Peg up," he explained. "And thank you again for bringing this to our attention."

"If there's anything you should need---," Colin started, only to be cut off by the doctor's hand.

"I know where to find you," he said. "Now go eat. Duncan's not a patient boy. He won't be happy if you're late for one of his meals."

As the trio walked away, the doctor glanced back down at the body lying in the heather, quickly scanning the bared torso and the marks that were witness to its death, and raised the phone to his ear. Almost immediately, the other end of the line was answered and he heard the clipped tones of the receptionist. With one last look at the others to confirm they were out of hearing distance, he spoke quietly into the phone.

"This is Hornbrook," he said, the Scottish accent suddenly gone, replaced with the more genteel tones of London. A longer pause as he was put through, and then, "It's her. I'm going to need a removal team here as soon as possible."


To be continued in Chapter 13: Fragment of Song