DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course. And the chapter titles are courtesy of Robert Burns.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: After wounding the kelpie on patrol, Buffy and Spike returned to Dall Rath, where Buffy finally gave in to her attraction to Spike.

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

Chapter 16: The Day Returns

When he’d been human, being an Englishman in Scotland was begging for trouble; for some reason, the bloody Scots were still a little miffed about the whole Bonnie Prince Charlie debacle, conveniently overlooking the fact that they had lost their bid for independence in the soddin’ eighteenth century. So, considering Angelus’ barmy notion of keeping a low profile, Spike had never really spent a great deal of time in the northern country prior to the Council’s recent holiday offer. It was just as well. Most of the time, the place was colder than a witches’ tit, with a local menu that left a lot to be desired---outside of the actual locals, that is---and if a vamp wasn’t interested in the scenery, there wasn’t a helluva lot left.

Not anymore. As of last night, Scotland was officially Spike’s favorite place on this entire planet, for one simple reason; the Highlands had given him Buffy.

Well, not given, he quickly corrected as he stared up at the stone ceiling, hands folded behind his head. Not like anyone could ever actually own the Slayer. More like…offered a place at her side. In her bed. In her.

OK, so not actually in her yet. But after feeling her come apart around his fingers, hearing those satisfied little sighs she kept making while she’d slept on his shoulder, Spike didn’t doubt that that would soon be rectified, that tonight after the ritual, the pair of them would continue their little dance to its natural conclusion, and that once they got back to the Hellmouth, Buffy’d be dumping her little Soldier Boy faster than he could say, “Bite me.” God, did he want to be there to witness that. Serve the smug bastard right.

He’d only seen her briefly today, when he’d woken as she was heading down for breakfast, but he wasn’t fussed about it, the fact that he’d drifted back off, not fully waking until well past mid-morning, more than enough reason for her not to stay there. After all, she had a job to do. The Slayer couldn’t very well be lollygaggin’ about when evil was afoot.

Spike snorted. She was goin’ to turn him into a bloody Scooby yet, he thought, he could just feel it. Already thinkin’ in terms of afooting evil, and helping out, and…wait a minute . He frowned. He was goin’ to be seein’ a helluva lot more of those little friends of hers, which meant she was probably goin’ to make him treat them nicer. The witches were a bit of all right, and Anya was an ex-demon so at least interesting to talk to if a little long-winded, and it wasn’t like he hadn’t actually lived with Rupes for a while there…Maybe it wouldn’t be such a tough gig after all. Provided he didn’t end up throttling Harris. That might be bad. Buffy probably wouldn’t like that much.

Tossing his legs over the side of the bed, Spike stood and stretched, feeling for the first time since getting attacked in the dungeon that he was finally mending properly. The wound didn’t hurt any longer, though if that was due to actual healing or his flying good mood, the vampire didn’t know. Didn’t really care, for that matter. What mattered was the final result, and the result was…he felt good.

And hungry. Time for a trip downstairs.

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

More than anything, she wanted to be upstairs right now, not sitting here staring at another of Colin’s flow charts, wondering just how much longer he was going to discuss the trail he and Giles had uncovered on their early morning excursion out on the mountain. After hearing about her encounter with the kelpie the previous evening, the Watchers had gotten excited about the possibility of catching it alive for the purposes of further study, taking notes about where she’d been so that they could go out after breakfast to see if they could track it down. Hello! she’d wanted to shout at them. Am I the only one who remembers the Initiative last year? You’re supposed to kill the demon, not study it. Especially if it’s eating the local population.

Calling all pots, calling all pots, came a small voice in the back of her head. This would be the kettle speaking. Spike’s a demon, too, and you’re doing a lot more than just studying him.

Buffy scrunched down in her seat, her pencil doodling aimlessly across the top of her notepad, hoping no one would see the blush that suddenly heated her cheeks. A lot more was an understatement. Though she’d certainly thought about the possibility of maybe kissing Spike---especially after his little game out on patrol---she’d not really considered that it might go any further than that, or that she’d wake up from her dream wanting him so badly that she felt hollow without him in her arms, or that his mere touch would feel like ocean waves breaking over her skin…powerful, exhilarating, and most of all…right.

The hardest thing she’d had to do was leave him there this morning on his own. When she’d woken, her first response had been to look up at him, and she found herself caught in the pale craftsmanship of his still face. It wasn’t perfect---the nose was too big, his brows too heavy---but that only added to its beauty, and the urge to trace the line of his cheekbones with her fingertips had been irresistible. Her touch had been feathers across his skin, because, though she wanted him awake, Buffy didn’t have the heart to disturb him when he looked so peaceful, settling instead to watch him for the few moments she was allowed.

It was only when she remembered Willow’s wake-up call the previous day, and the look on the redhead’s face when she’d seen Spike in the bed, that Buffy scrambled to her feet, hurrying to get downstairs before someone showed up to see the definite lack of a pallet on the floor, or the semi-naked vampire asleep where the Slayer should’ve been. She couldn’t really use his injury as an excuse anymore, and though she held no regrets regarding her choice, she wasn’t ready to have it out in the open with her friends just yet. After everything that had happened with Angel, she didn’t think another vampire boyfriend was going to fly too high with Giles and the rest of the gang.

Just as she’d been about to walk out the door, Spike had stirred, calling out her name in a fuzzy rumble. Buffy had stopped, turning to see his blue eyes blinking groggily at her, and smiled. “Go back to sleep,” she’d said, returning to the side of the bed to pull the blankets up around him.

“Not…tired…” he’d mumbled, and made a half-hearted attempt to grab her wrist as it brushed past his face.

“Uh huh, yeah, right,” she’d said softly. His eyes had flickered shut again, and she couldn’t resist leaning over and brushing another kiss across his lips, feeling him smile in contentment as her mouth lingered on his.

No. Definitely no regrets.

But that didn’t mean it was going to be easy. There were so many things to consider…how the Scoobs would feel about Spike being one of them when it hadn’t been that long ago he’d tried turning them against each other…Giles’ disappointment that she was pursuing another relationship with a vampire. And what about Riley? Everyone thought they were marvelously happy, even if she knew it wasn’t completely true; what would be their reaction to find out she was messing around with Spike behind his back? No, she was going to have to talk to Spike, to convince him they needed to keep this thing between them under wraps until they got back to Sunnydale. Then, she could officially break it off with Riley, and bit by bit, integrate the vamp into the Scoobies so that when it came out about them sleeping together, it wouldn’t be a major shocker.

And it wasn’t as if he was going to have wait very long. Though Colin and Giles hadn’t found the kelpie’s body in their trek, they had discovered significant amounts of blood, indicating that it was wounded quite badly, so both Englishmen figured it was just a matter of time before the demon’s dead form actually turned up. Which meant after the ritual was done tonight, they’d be packing up and home in less than twenty-four hours. Even Spike could wait a day and a half…couldn’t he?

A sharp poke in her ribs caused Buffy to jump, straightening in her chair as she dropped her pencil onto the table, and she turned to see Willow nodding toward the Watcher at the head of the table.

“I was asking, Miss Summers,” Colin said, carefully enunciating his words as if speaking to a child, “whether there were any other details from last night that you’d like to share before we break for lunch.”

As she watched her best friend silently mouth, “Sorry,” Buffy settled back in her seat, swiveling her attention back to the meeting at hand. “Not that exciting a story,” she said, shaking her head. “Demon run. Buffy chase demon. Buffy trip. Demon get away. Pretty straightforward stuff.”

“I still don’t understand why Spike didn’t go after it,” Giles asked.

“You’ll have to ask him that,” she replied. “I told him to, but he listens to me about as well as Dawn does.”

“Well, you were hurt,” Willow offered. “And you said you couldn’t even walk last night. It probably wouldn’t have been very smart to just leave you out there.”

Buffy glanced at her friend curiously. “Yeah, that’s what he said,” she mused. “But I still think it was a cop out. He could’ve caught it in no time. That thing had my knife sticking out of it, it was leaking blood all over the place, and with that bell harness, there was no way he could’ve lost it in the dark.”

The table went silent as everyone in the group turned to look at the Slayer, and she felt herself grow uncomfortable under their stares, her skin crawling as her gaze flicked from person to person. “What?”

“Bell…harness?” Giles prompted.

“Yeah, that’s how we heard the kelpie in the first place.” Her cheeks flushed. “Did I…forget to…mention that part?”

“Uh, yeah,” said Xander, and turned to the Watchers. “If it had a harness, does that mean it’s got a rider out there roaming around, wondering where his friend Flicka is?”

“Doubtful,” Colin replied, his brow furrowed. “Kelpies are notorious for being untamable.”

“Wait a minute.” The group stopped as Willow reached forward to grab a book from the middle of the table, thumbing through it quickly until she found the page she wanted. “According to the legends, putting a harness on a kelpie is how you control it, that while it’s wearing one, it can’t hurt humans or do the luring to the death thing. That you can even ride them.” She frowned. “Of course, it’s supposed to be an actual work-‘em-ride-‘em sort of harness. Not usually the musical variety. What did the one you saw look like, Buffy?”

“Well, it was kind of goldish, although I guess that might’ve been the moonlight, but it definitely had this shiny, metallic aspect going for it. Oh, and it had the bells. It was quite pretty, actually.” She laughed. “Spike made this joke about it when we saw it, something about being there with…bells on…” Her voice trailed off, her smile fading. “But I guess you had to be there to appreciate it.”

“We’ll do more research this afternoon,” Colin said firmly. “See if we can find anything about this---.”

The clearing of a throat behind them cut off his words, and the group turned to see Duncan standing just inside the door to the kitchen. “So sorry to interrupt,” he said. “But lunch is ready. Would you like it now, or would you rather I wait?”

“Oh, now is fine,” the Watcher said and began wiping down the white board behind him.

Tara jumped to her feet. “I’ll help you bring things in,” she said with a smile as she scurried to Duncan’s side.

“Me, too,” said Willow, followed almost immediately by Anya’s own exuberant offer.

Xander glowered as the three girls left the room, leaning forward to address Buffy quietly. “How long do you think he was standing there?” he whispered. “Do you think he heard anything?”

The Slayer shrugged. “I dunno. Does it matter?”

His brown eyes widened. “Does it matter?” he repeated. “How can you ask that? We’re sitting in here talking about demony things. What happened to our Slayer code of silence?”

“I didn’t realize we had one,” Buffy laughed. “And actually, we were talking about horsey things, so I think it’s OK.”

“But what do we really know about this guy?” Xander pressed.

“Well, we know he can cook, which is what he’s supposed to be doing, remember?” She was about to continue when the door to the hall opened, and Spike came sauntering in, lips pursed in a whistle.

“Mornin’, all,” he said, and let his cerulean gaze settle on the remaining female in room as he ignored his normal safe chair in the corner and crossed to her side, pulling out the seat Willow had just vacated to straddle it himself.

“It’s lunchtime, Spike,” Xander said, oblivious to the tension in his friend as she suddenly became interested in her pencil. “So technically, no longer morning.”

“Is for me,” he replied, and tilted his head to look at Buffy’s profile. “How’s the foot doin’? Feelin’ better?” His voice was softer, his concern for her plain to see, and she felt her fear rise in her throat, a hard lump that blocked off all but the smallest passage of air. Crap. She wasn’t even going to be able to look at him without giving everything away. How in hell was she going to keep this under wraps with him so near?

“Fine,” she said, too brightly, busying herself in straightening her pad and the books in front of her. “Gotta love that super Slayer healing.” When she felt his boot nudge the side of hers, she hesitated only briefly before pressing back, allowing the tip of her shoe to run along the side of his foot before curling itself for a lingering moment around his ankle. Can’t look at him, she thought desperately. Xander will know for sure that’s something up. I just hope Spike gets why.

When she saw him lean toward her, his arm rising to lie across the back of her chair, Buffy’s brain screamed out, “Too much! They’re going to know!”, and she leapt to her feet, her chair skittering behind her. “I think I’ll just go help Duncan and the others,” she said out loud, and practically ran for the kitchen door, leaving behind a frowning Spike and a furious Xander.

“She’s a bit…skittish this morning,” the vampire commented as he slowly turned to face the other man. “Sadler been playing with his flash cards again?”

It was as if he hadn’t even spoken. “Did you see that?” Xander hissed. “All four of them, in there like his own Stepford harem. How’s he doing it?”

“Who?”

The young man rolled his eyes. “Duncan, remember? Mr. Magneto? The reason we’re playing at I Spy?”

“Oh. Right.”

“We’ve got to do some more digging on this guy,” Xander continued, keeping his voice down so that the two Watchers at the end of the table couldn’t hear him. “So I was thinking, when we all go into town this afternoon, you come down---.”

“You’re all going into town?”

“Yeah. Colin can’t find some of his supplies for the ritual tonight so when he said he was going to check out the local market for substitutes, Buffy suggested---.”

“It was the Slayer’s idea?” He couldn’t keep the surprise out of his voice. Though he hadn’t expected her to be Little Miss Cheerleader about the changes between them, being left out in the cold hadn’t crossed his mind either.

“Yeah, she said she wanted to call Riley, find out how her mom and Dawn were doing.”

And the fun just kept on coming. The muscles in Spike’s jaw twitched as he turned his darkened gaze to stare at the closed kitchen door. Asking after her family made some sense, but not the calling Soldier Boy part. What exactly was she playing at? Running almost as soon as he showed his face…making excuses to be out of the castle during the day, knowing he couldn’t follow…not even looking him in the eye when he’d asked after her ankle. OK, the footsy thing had been nice but still…

He slumped in his chair, folding his arms over his chest as he ignored Harris’ continued prattling. Something was going on with Buffy. And if it involved Finn, it couldn’t be good for Spike.

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

“You’ve got it?”

Spike sighed, looking at Xander in annoyance. “It’s a bloody waste of time,” he said. “According to the Watcher, we’re goin’ home tomorrow anyway. What’s the point in goin’ after the cook, other than the fact that he’s a prat and probably deserves a good roughin’ up?”

“It’s a…contingency plan,” Xander replied. “In case we don’t end up going home. Or maybe, he’s evil and secretly plotting to mess with the ritual. Don’t you think we should know that before we, you know, actually do the ritual?”

“If he’s so soddin’ evil, why are we even still here?” Spike countered sarcastically. “Bugger could’ve poisoned any one of us at any time. Well, you lot, anyway. And you were the one who pointed out the advantage to bein’ the cook when you’re tryin’ to kill your enemy, remember?”

“I just said, maybe he’s evil,” he defended, then hurriedly stepped away from the vampire as Buffy and the others rounded the corner of the corridor, approaching the pair where they stood by the front door of the castle.

“Ready, Xan?” she asked, carefully evading Spike’s probing stare.

The young man nodded and held the front door open as the girls and Watchers filed out, leaving Spike alone in the castle, his blue eyes blazing. His mood was blacker than his t-shirt, all remnants of his good humor entirely banished by the Slayer’s continued denial in acknowledging his presence. When she’d returned with lunch, she’d deliberately opted for a different seat, only answering him with the most perfunctory of responses whenever he spoke up, barely bothering to look him in the eye when he did address her directly. She’d been the first to excuse herself from the table, but when Spike had tried to follow, he’d been stopped by an impromptu interrogation on the part of the Watchers, as they inquired into the events of the past night to get his perspective on the whole matter.

He was so pissed off at her cavalier attitude that he almost told them what the highlights of his night really were, how Buffy had practically jumped him in his sleep and how he’d gotten her off without even having to go as far as to properly shag her. It was only remembering the look in her eyes when she’d kissed him---that first, proper kiss---that stopped Spike, forcing him to stay in his seat while he’d answered their questions as quickly as possible.

It still didn’t seem feasible he could’ve misinterpreted her thoughts so badly; he’d given her an out and she’d refused it. And the signals her body was sending certainly didn’t match the Ice Queen persona she’d adopted since coming back into the great hall for lunch. She’d spent the entire meal in a heightened state---heart racing, the slight sheen of sweat on her forehead---and though at one point their eyes had met, it had been fleeting, with it impossible for him to read her thoughts in light of the distance she forced between them.

None of it made sense, and with Captain Cardboard thrown into the mix…

With one last glance at the closed door to the great hall, Spike snorted and went stalking toward the stairwell, his boots loud against the stone floor. Bugger Harris’ plan, he thought. Not goin’ outta my way and riskin’ a bloody headache when we’re not even goin’ to be here tomorrow. The way my brain’s goin’ right now, I’d be halfway to killin’ the wanker before I’d get a word out of him anyway. The thought actually made him hesitate for a moment at the bottom of the stairs---could be a good way to get out my anger---but it got shoved quickly aside as practicality returned. Cook’s not worth it, he decided, and stomped up the two flights to his room.

His face was thunderous as he shoved open the door, and he was two steps over the threshold before he saw the man rise from the bed. “Who the hell are you?” Spike barked, blue eyes quickly scanning the grizzled face and portly form.

“I was looking for Spike,” the man said, his Scottish accent so thick the vampire almost didn’t recognize his own name. “I was told this was his room.”

“Yeah, that’s me.” He folded his arms across his chest. “That still doesn’t tell me who you are, mate.”

The man motioned toward the still-open door. “Do you mind?” he asked. “This would be better if we were private.”

Without turning, Spike reached with his foot and kicked the door shut, the slam echoing through the tiny room. “Now,” he said, “you goin’ to tell me what this is about?”

The man smiled. “My name’s Hornbrook,” he said, all signs of his accent gone. “And I’m here to offer you a deal…”

 

To be continued in Chapter 17: Open the Door to Me