DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course. And the chapter titles are courtesy of Robert Burns. And Spike’s song is “She’s a Sensation”, by The Ramones.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: The body on the mountain is being taken care of, while the gang is starting to focus in on research. Spike has inadvertently re-opened his wound when he and Buffy were having another look through the dungeons.

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

Chapter 13: Fragment of Song

One shirt ripped to shreds, another one semi-soaked with blood. Felt like home.

The injury still hurt, but Spike was oblivious to the pain, the memory of the look in her eyes refueling his good mood of earlier. That had been genuine concern for his well-being, he thought, as well as apology for being the cause of it, and no way was he going to let that go. Coming from the Slayer, that was a first. Doing the I’m-sorry thing was just not her style, at least, when it came to him. What that really meant, though, he had no idea. Could mean she was finally starting to see him as someone real, not just some bothersome demon she was forced to have to deal with on the odd occasion their paths crossed. Could be their cramped circumstances were making her re-evaluate their relationship, making her admit that when the walls were down, she and Spike actually had lots in common, enough certainly to at least base a friendship on. Could be she might even be feeling something even more for him.

Personally…he was holding out for the more.

As he stood before the wardrobe suddenly lost in the decision of what to wear, music was filling his head, and Spike found himself nodding to the tune that began to reverberate in his throat, filling the bedroom with his humming as he looked past the folded t-shirts to sort the various ones on hangers. Wonder what Buffy would like, he mused. Not that it really made a difference. He sincerely doubted she’d ever paid two figs of attention to what he was wearing, outside of his leather. For that matter, he probably wasn’t going to see her before teatime anyway, not with Giles now on the scene and research to be done. Slayer duty called, and all that rot.

“She’s a sensation…” The lyrics came from his lips, the song unable to contain itself anymore, and Spike reached for the nearest shirt, consciously deciding not to deliberate any longer on Buffy’s choice, or Buffy’s favorite color. “She’s a sensation…” ‘Course, he’d be barmy not to make sure he at least looked presentable. Didn’t need to go throwing water on any fire that might just be starting up in the Slayer. “Good enough to eat…”

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

Her heels clicked against the stone floor as she emerged from the stairwell, the sounds echoing around her, and Buffy wondered again about how the castle seemed to take up all the noise and swallow it whole, almost as if it was starving for any sign of life. Maybe it was her mood, but she wasn’t as intimidated by the old building as she’d been when she’d arrived. In spite of its lack of amenities, she was starting to see some of the charm Tara had been going on about at breakfast; the smells that now drifted up from the kitchen certainly didn’t hurt, either.

Though she was starving, Buffy wanted to get this apology to Spike done and out of the way before she’d allow herself to eat. Guilt had plagued her the entire time she’d been out on the mountain, flashes of the blood on his hand interspersing with the look on his face after she’d lashed out at him lingering on her mind’s eye until even Giles was commenting on her distance. She didn’t know where it was coming from---she’d certainly taken her frustration out on the chipped vamp before---but as soon as she’d stepped foot back into the castle, the Slayer had excused herself, almost running for the stairwell in her hurry to assuage her feelings.

As she reached for the door, she heard his voice filtering into the hall, and frowned. Who could he be talking to? Everyone else in the castle was downstairs in the great hall, either already eating or about to, which meant either Spike had spent so much time alone he was now finding himself the best company, or there was another presence in Dall Rath that had somehow stumbled into their room. At the moment, she wasn’t sure which she preferred.

Buffy pressed her ear to the door, straining to make out the words, and it took only a moment to realize he wasn’t talking. She stifled the giggle that rose to her lips. Spike was singing.

“No matter what you do…I give my heart to you…And oh, oh, baby, I will give it to you…”

She didn’t recognize the lyrics, but knowing the vamp, it had to be something punk; he’d certainly made no secret of his affection for the genre. But it was so…bouncy. Buffy’s smile widened. If she didn’t know better, she’s almost say it could’ve come from a John Hughes soundtrack, one of those Molly Ringwald movies that she occasionally caught on cable. Who knew Spike had a secret taste for sappy love songs?

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

Stick with the tried and true, he believed, and slipped his arm inside the black cotton sleeve. “No matter what they say…” he sang, his voice unapologetically rough. “Yeah, we can find a way…And oh, oh, baby, we can find a…” He froze as the door opened, the Slayer standing in its entrance, her amused grin a broad testimony that she had heard enough of the impromptu concert to make Spike duck his head in embarrassment. Shit. Too lost in his own good mood. Didn’t even hear her walk up.

“No, really, don’t stop on my account,” Buffy said, stepping inside and shutting the door behind her. “This is great blackmail material.”

He finished putting on the shirt and dropped his hands, allowing the buttons to remain undone while he surveyed the young woman. “If that’s the best stuff you can get,” he drawled, “I’ve got nothin’ to worry about.”

Doing her best not to pay too much attention to the semi-bare chest before her, her gaze fell to rest on the edge of the bandage that was visible under his shirt. “How’s it doing?” she asked. “I assume since you seem to be all absorby in the vocal stylings at the mo, that it doesn’t hurt anymore.”

“Hurt’s all relative,” he replied. “’S’long as you don’t go throwing me up against any more walls, it should heal up just fine.”

Her smile immediately disappeared, her guilt returning with a surge through her chest. “Look, about that,” Buffy started, and took a step closer. She sucked at the whole word thing, and wished more than anything that she could get out of this without having to use them, let him know how she felt about what had happened in the dungeon with something other than the usual verbiage. But other possibilities escaped her at the moment, so, inhaling deeply, she raised her head to look directly into his eyes.

“You already said you were sorry, ducks,” Spike said before she could even open her mouth to speak. “No sense in wasting energy in repeating yourself.” His lips curled into a grin. “Even if it does rate high on the novelty scale.”

She blinked. He had not just beaten her to the punch. Why was he letting her off the hook like this? C’mon, she wanted to say. Milk this for what it’s worth. This is supposed to be the kind of thing you eat up with a spoon. Slayer at the mercy of the Big Bad…this is what you live for, right? Instead, she found herself caught like a deer in headlights, watching the way he was running his tongue along his teeth, blue eyes narrowed slightly as he waited for her to respond. “I…over-reacted,” she finally managed. “You gave me your reason, and I should’ve just let it go.” Look away, damn it. Make this a whole world of easy for you by not staring at him like he’s lunch.

“Probably half my fault anyway,” he replied. “Any vamp worth his salt knows better than to turn his back on the Slayer.” The music in his head was gone now, replaced with an ever-quickening rhythm that echoed against his skull. A quick glance down at the hollow of Buffy’s neck confirmed what he could already feel with his skin; her heart was racing like a thoroughbred in the last stretch. “Baaaad Spike,” he drawled, the timbre of his voice dripping in melted caramel.

His obviousness should’ve pissed her off, should’ve made her haul her arm back only to drive it into his jaw, but it didn’t. If anything, it was an addictive magnet, her fingers inching forward to grasp the edge of his shirt, pulling it aside to expose the musculature that she was coming to know so well. Buffy’s eyes lowered to the wound’s dressing, remembering the hurt anger in his own aspect when she’d made him bleed yet again, and swallowed. “You think you might be up to patrolling with me tonight?” she asked. Change of subject. Good. Plus, offer him something he wants. Always helps to ease the guilt.

“That what you want, pet?”

How was she supposed to answer that? “Only if it’s what you want,” she countered. “And as long as you’re up to it.” There. Ball was back in his court.

He sighed, more for effect than anything else. “Is it really that hard to make a choice, Slayer?” he asked softly. “It’s not like we’re talkin’ a life and death situation here. Me, I can take anything the local nasties want to dish. The question is, do you want me there?”

Damn. How did he do that?

She let the fabric fall from her fingers, her pulse pounding in her ears, and took a step back, lengthening the distance between them as if the additional space would help clear her head. Since when did dealing with Spike get so hard? Or so…distracting? Business. Focus on business. That’s what this was about. “You’re always an asset in a fight, Spike,” Buffy said as calmly as she could. “If something goes down, then yes, I’d want you there.” She smiled, trying to turn it into a joke. “Plus, no walls to go bumping against. That’s gotta be a bonus.”

His eyes were dark as his shoulders relaxed. He couldn’t really be expecting any miracles, now could he? She’d invited him, and in spite of her rather circuitous response, she wanted him there, and bugger if he was going to turn that down. “I’ll be there with bells on,” he said, and reached up to begin fastening the buttons on his shirt. “Though I still think you should’ve let me go last night.”

Buffy smiled, grateful for the return to normalcy his words conveyed, and started to turn for the door only to stop and glance back at the vampire. “What’re you doing about lunch?” she queried. “You want me to bring a thermos up?”

“Actually, I rather fancied something a little more solid.” He smiled at her lifted brows. “What? You’re the one who let the bloody smells in the room. Not my fault it smells like it might actually be more than edible. Even if the pillock did cook it.”

Tilting her head, Buffy gazed quizzically at her roommate. “Don’t you like Duncan?”

Spike snorted. “About as much as I liked havin’ this chip shoved up my head.”

“I think he’s nice.”

“And I think he’s an over-educated prat who probably has problems keeping his pants up whenever a piece of skirt walks by.” He shrugged at her look of amazement. “You asked.”

She was halfway out the door before she spoke again. “Doesn’t mean he can’t cook, though.”

“Never said it did, luv.”

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

Buffy almost groaned out loud when the door to the great hall opened and a large whiteboard on wheels appeared, quickly followed by the guiding hands of Colin and Xander. “You know,” she said, “for being out in the middle of nowhere, you sure have a lot of crap in this place.”

Colin’s gaze was steady as he helped push the board to the head of the table. “I didn’t hear you whinging when you saw the weapons cache,” he commented archly.

Buffy smiled, her eyebrows raised. “Well, well, well. Certainly didn’t take long for you to get into the holding of your own around here.”

In spite of his desire to maintain his composure, the Watcher blushed at her amusement, turning at the last minute to avoid seeing her laugh at him, the chuckle from the vampire in the corner undeniable. “I haven’t decided yet if your forthrightness is due to your being American, or due to your being the Slayer,” he said.

“Or any combination thereof,” Giles murmured, eyes twinkling as he looked at Buffy over the rim of his glasses.

“Don’t forget the whole California girl thing,” Spike contributed.

“Not to mention dying and coming back to life,” chimed in Willow. “That’s got to give someone the right to speak her mind.”

“Hey!” All eyes turned to look at Buffy, as she folded her arms across her chest in mock indignation. “Still in the room here.”

“Yes, and we still have much to accomplish today.” Colin reached for the tray of markers on the table and carefully uncapped both the black and red pens before turning back to the white board. “I want to discuss our dungeon guest first,” he said as he began writing.

Spike snorted. “Since when do guests try to eat each other?”

“Oh, that’s rich,” Buffy said. “Seeing as how you’re the only vampire in the room.”

“Like I’d even try to eat any of you. Probably give myself a tummy ache.”

“Well, you did try to bite me that time after the Initiative chipped you.” This came from Willow.

“And how many times have we heard how you’d kill any of us if you didn’t have to worry about blinding pain in the above-the-neck region?” quipped Buffy.

The vamp rolled his eyes. “Kill does not necessarily equal eat, Slayer.”

“People!” Colin’s voice was sharp, gathering back their attention at the head of the table. “Focus here. We’re discussing the demon in the dungeon now. What possibilities have we come up with in our research?”

“Not a whole lot,” Willow admitted, reaching for her own notepad. “The most obvious one is the kelpie---.”

“Ah, yes, the kelpie, of course.” Colin began scrawling across the board.

“Sounds like a baby fish,” Buffy commented. “Not like what went after Spike.”

“Actually, they’re purported to be quite malevolent,” the Watcher explained. “They’ve been known to lure unsuspecting humans into deep waters with the intent to kill them.”

“Didn’t look like luring to me,” the Slayer said. “It looked more like grabbing.”

“I don’t think we’re looking for Trigger here anyway,” the vampire offered. “Not unless these kelpies can grow hands.”

She turned in her chair to look at him. “Trigger? What’re you talking about?”

Spike settled his gaze on her. “Kelpies are horses. You know…ride ‘em, cowboy, kind of demons.”

“That’s not entirely t-t-true.” Tara picked up the book in front of her and handed it to Colin. “Kelpies are shapeshifters. It’s just that their shape of choice happens to be a horse.”

“Plus, they’re Scottish,” offered Anya. “So, you know, local.”

“How do you kill them?” Buffy asked. “Anything special about it?”

The two witches shrugged. “Not that we could find, but we’ll keep looking.”

“Which begs the next question.” Giles sat up, leaning forward to address the group. “How many are we dealing with?”

“I’m going to say two,” said the Slayer. “The one in the dungeon that came after me and Spike, and the one out in the real world that’s been having the locals for lunch. Unless there’s another way out of the castle that we don’t know about, there’s no way for the one downstairs to get out without one of us noticing.” She smiled. “I mean, we barely fit in the stairwell, let alone a ten-foot water demon.”

“It’s safer to assume two, as well,” Colin said. “If we were to kill one and then relax our guard because we believed to be done, we could very well be faced with a nasty surprise.”

“Hopefully when Spike and I patrol tonight, we’ll find it and narrow our most wanted list to just one.”

Both Giles and Colin frowned, turning to look at the vampire as he slouched in his normal corner chair. “Are you ready for that?” Giles asked.

“Ready as I’ll ever be. Didn’t fly halfway across the world to cool my heels while the rest of you get to have all the fun.”

“So, what happens when Buffy and Spike are done playing rodeo?” questioned Xander.

Colin’s answer was firm. “We wait until the end of the month to perform the ritual that will seal the rift back up.”

“Um, yeah, about that.” Willow’s frown was immediate as she picked up the book from earlier. “I don’t think we have to wait that long.”

“Yes, we do,” the Watcher argued. “I’ve explained---.”

“Moon cycles, yeah, I know.” Flipping through the text, the redhead scanned the pages until she found what she was looking for, then handed it to the man at the head of the table. “Isn’t this the same thing you want us to do?”

His gaze skimmed the words, his brow gradually wrinkling in consternation, until finally he flipped the book closed, using his thumb to mark his page, his eyes quickly reading the title on its spine. “Where did you get this?”

“It was in the stack you gave us to read this morning.”

He shook his head. “I’ve never seen this particular text before.” There was no mistaking the confusion in his eyes, and he seemed only half-aware when the other Watcher took the book away to glance through it himself.

“There are a lot of books,” Buffy said. “Maybe it just got put in by mistake.”

“Did you pull the resources from the Council’s library yourself?” Giles queried.

“Mostly. There were some here from the original team, prior to the events of Samhain.”

“Then it’s most likely one of theirs.”

Colin took the book from his proffered hand. “But this is the same ritual I was referring to earlier,” he argued. “And this affords a different interpretation of its efficacy.”

Buffy leaned into her best friend. “It’s what-cacy?” she whispered.

“Effectiveness,” came the whispered response.

“So Will was right,” said Xander. “We can do the ritual tomorrow night.”

Colin shrugged. “I see no reason why not.”

From his vantage point, Spike listened to the discussion continue as the gang finished sorting out the details of the upcoming days, but his attention wandered, the disappointment at his shortened time with the Slayer a stone weighing in his stomach. So much for opportunities, he thought. Not when they’d be picking up stakes and moseying back to the Hellmouth so soon. ‘Course, he had more than enough fodder to sustain his imagination and dreams for years to come, but suddenly, that didn’t seem like quite enough, not when he’d had the real thing in his arms, even if it had been for only the briefest of nights.

Absently picking at his nails, he watched her through hooded eyes, her smile and laughter softening his resolve, eliciting long-forgotten words of passion in damning rhyming couplets, and the music he’d been unable to shake since the bedroom came filtering back, playing itself inside his skull even as he fought to keep himself from humming it again. “And I don’t care, what the neighbors say…I always will be true…I always will love you…

What the hell…even if they did do the ritual the next night, that still gave him at least forty-eight hours with her. Who knew what would happen…

To be continued in Chapter 14: The Winter It Is Past