DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course. And the chapter titles are courtesy of Robert Burns.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Spike and Buffy haven’t had a chance to be truly alone yet since their night together---she wants to keep it quiet until they get back to Sunnydale, while he has misinterpreted her distance to mean it didn’t mean anything to her---while the Scoobies are beginning the final preparations for the ritual.

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

Chapter 17: Open the Door to Me

“You really shouldn’t have suggested it, Buffy,” scolded Giles as he slowed the car to a stop before the castle. “If your ankle is bothering you that much, you should’ve just said so.”

“I know,” the blonde said, not even looking at her Watcher as her hand hovered over the door handle. “My bad.”

“I’m serious.” Shifting the car into neutral, he frowned as he studied her through his glasses. “You’re not taking this entire project very seriously. I realize that it’s rather distracting being in a foreign country and all, and perhaps my casual attitude toward Colin isn’t exactly conducive to instilling confidence in you, but tonight’s ritual is really the crux of the entire problem here at Dall Rath. You really must be in top form.”

Buffy flashed him an apologetic smile as she pulled the door handle. “And I will be,” she assured. “That’s why I insisted you bring me back so that I can rest some. I want this to work just as badly as you do.” She eased herself out of the car and stood, taking extra care not to put any unnecessary weight on her injured foot. Well, not so much on the injured side. More on the faking it hurts so she could get some alone time with Spike side. “I’ll be fine. Go shop. Have fun. Buy yourself a kilt or something.”

Giles shook his head as she slammed the door and began hobbling toward the entrance. She was pushing her body too hard and it was making her sloppy. It wasn’t her usual style, but he supposed that the novelty of being away from home was the culprit in sidetracking her so. Nothing else could really explain it.

As the car ground into reverse, Buffy glanced over her shoulder to see her mentor steer the vehicle back onto the narrow lane that led to the castle, hesitating as she watched it disappear around the bend. It had almost been too easy. Suggesting everyone go into town this afternoon for some shopping had been like offering Anya free money after a year’s supply of sex; convincing Giles that he didn’t need to babysit her while she rested from the mysterious return of her sore ankle had not. But, it was done now. She was here, the gang was in town, and all she had to do was get upstairs and sort things out with Spike.

She wasn’t one hundred percent sure what to expect when she got up there. Though she’d tried to keep things as casual as possible during lunch, Buffy suspected that she might’ve taken it a little far, if the look on the vampire’s face when she’d walked out with Xander was any indication. Definitely not the face of a happy camper. She’d tried to catch his eye a couple times, and she’d done the footsy thing before skipping out to help with setting the table, but somehow, she didn’t think it had been enough. Most likely, Spike was going to be just a little cranky until she explained everything to him. Then, he’d get it. And if he still didn’t believe her, then she’d just have to show him what he meant to her.

She’d barreled into him before she’d even realized he was there, her hands coming up to brace herself against his chest as Hornbrook stepped through the front door. “Oh, sorry,” she said automatically, then blinked as she realized who she was addressing.

“It’s all right, it’s all right,” the man assured, smiling widely. “No damage done.”

“You’re the…doctor, right?” Buffy asked, eyes narrowing slightly as she looked over his portly form. “The one who came out about the…body we found?”

“That would be me,” he agreed. “I stopped by to talk to that young Mr. Sadler about the arrangements that have been made for Peg. He’d expressed some interest in knowing.” He scanned the area behind Buffy. “He’s not with you, by any chance? The only person I could find inside was young Davison. He said the group of you had stepped out.”

“Right. Everyone’s back in town. Colin probably won’t be back until close to supper.” She frowned and turned to look at the empty drive. “How’d you get here?”

Hornbrook laughed, brushing past her to get outside, tightening his coat around him. “You Americans,” he said. “You’re a funny lot, you.” As he began walking away from the castle, hands thrust deep into his pockets, he shouted back, “Just let Mr. Sadler know I stopped by, lassie, will you?”

“Sure.” She waited until he was gone, then bolted inside, almost running for the stairwell at the end of the corridor. Gotta get this done, she thought.

“Spike!” she called out as she pushed open the door to their bedroom, her heart thumping in her chest. Her feet stopped on the threshold as she stared into the empty space, the unmade bed mocking her from its position on the opposite wall, and her forehead wrinkled as she quickly scanned the room. He wasn’t there.

“Spike?” Buffy said again, crossing to the screen, hesitating only a moment before sneaking a peek around its corner. Nope. Not there either. As her shoulders slumped, her mind began poring over the possibilities. It was daytime, so he couldn’t have gone far. He had to be somewhere inside the castle. It was just up to her to figure out where.

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

The beam from his flashlight wavered as he tucked the torch under his arm, pulling the string on the leather pouch so that he could dump the amulet into his open palm. The folded piece of paper that had been wrapped around it fluttered to the floor, and Spike cursed under his breath, stooping to pick it up. Not like I’m actually goin’ to bloody well read the thing, he thought. Not that daft. Just…curious is all.

The amulet itself was unremarkable, a small silvery blob that more closely resembled a lump of hardened quicksilver than anything else, but that Hornbrook had seemed pretty certain it was the thing to do the job. At the moment, Spike was wishing he’d gotten a better gander at the Watcher’s when he’d done his little open sesame trick; a little confirmation could go a long way, right about now. Still, according to his Scot/not a Scot visitor, it all worked on the same principle. Read the incantation, pass the amulet over the wall, unseal the opening to the tunnels. Simple.

The vampire shook his head. Not so simple. Shouldn’t even be down here in the first place. Buffy was goin’ to stake him for sure if she found out he’d been messin’ around with this stuff. ‘Course, that would mean the bitch would actually have to be here.

The thoughts were just lipservice. He wanted to be mad at her. In fact, he’d worked himself up into a pretty good lather just considering the things she was probably whispering to Soldier Boy at that very moment. Little love words she’d refrained from saying to the vampire during their little romp under the sheets last night. It wasn’t as if Buffy had ever actually come out and said anything that he could’ve construed as legitimatizing what had happened between them. “God, please,” was just a request for more of the same at that moment in time, not a declaration of her unending love. He didn’t know why he really expected otherwise. He hadn’t come out and announced his feelings in so many words, and she hadn’t pressed the issue to find out exactly what he’d meant, so the vamp could only assume she didn’t care.

So, he wanted to be angry with her. He really did. Problem was…he wasn’t.

Spike was hurt.

It had felt real, damn it. She had looked him in the eye and kissed him when he’d given her the choice to just say no. She had touched him, and curled into his arms, and slept on his shoulders, all like it had meant something. Even this morning, she had tucked the blanket around his shoulder, kissed him one last time before heading off to work, like she bloody well cared.

And then the mixed signals in the great hall. OK, to play footsy with…not OK to actually deign to talk to. Good enough to mess around with…not good enough to actually be allowed to join into the conversations like an equal or anything.

He wasn’t interested in being the Slayer’s little vamptoy that she kept hidden on the side, not while Captain Cardboard got the benefits of working alongside her, hearing her laugh at his stupid farmboy jokes, holding her in his arms when she needed the support. Sure, the sex would be pretty much phenomenal---even the hints of it that she had offered upstairs had rocked his notion of intimacy, those muscles squeezing around his fingers offering promises that aroused him just thinking about---but after seeing that look in her eye, Spike wanted more.

He grimaced. Wrong, he chastised himself. You want more because of what you thought you saw, not what you actually did, ‘cause if it was real, she wouldn’t have bloody well run off to phone home leaving you in the lurch, now would she?

It was then that he heard the door to the dungeon open and close, the distinct sound of footsteps descending the stairs alerting his senses. “Fuck,” he muttered, and shoved the amulet back into the little bag, pulling its string before he realized he was still holding the piece of paper.

“Spike?”

The vampire stiffened at the sound of Buffy’s voice, his head jerking up to stare at the open door. What was she doing here? They couldn’t have been gone for more than forty-five minutes on the outside; it made no sense for her to be roaming around in the bowels of the castle.

“Spike?”

She was closer now, and he could see the swathe from the beam of her flashlight as it bounced down the hall outside the small room. The realization that she was going to ask why he was down here gripped him in panic, and quickly, he shoved the leather bag into his pocket, losing his hold on the torch at the same time so that it fell with a clatter to the floor.

“Spike?”

He blinked into the sudden glare as she aimed her flashlight directly at him, holding up his hand to shield his face from its brilliance. “What’s the matter, Slayer?” he asked wryly. “Couldn’t find the local Bloomies?”

She ignored his question as she lowered the light to his chest, allowing him to look at her directly. “What’re you doing down here?”

Spike shrugged. “Got bored. Figured, didn’t get invited to your little party, might as well have one of my own.” Casually, he leaned over to pick up the flashlight as he slid the paper into the same pocket with the bag. That’s right, he thought as he straightened, folding his arms across his chest and leaning against the wall behind him. Don’t draw attention to it. Not yet.

Moving her light had left his eyes hidden in shadows, and Buffy bit her lip as she fought the urge to shift it back, to illuminate those blue-grey depths so that she could see exactly how pissed off he really was. The nice thing about Spike was that he wore his emotions on his face like a fashion accessory; as long as she could look into his eyes, she was pretty sure she’d always be able to figure out what he was feeling or what he was thinking. But his aloof attitude prevented her from doing that right now; somehow, it almost felt like an invasion of privacy.

“I came back so that we could talk---.”

His snort of derision seemed to echo in the empty dungeons. “Didn’t think talkin’ was what you wanted from me,” he snapped. “Or wasn’t Soldier Boy around? ‘Cause gotta tell you, pet, I spent more than my share of years doin’ the second fiddle gig. ‘Bout had my fill. The whole business leaves a bad taste in my mouth.”

“What’s Riley…?” She stopped, her mind whirling as she tilted her head to stare at him. “How’d you know about that?” she asked.

“Harris said---.”

Xander told you?” She took a step closer, daring him to step away, relieved when he didn’t back down. “That was an excuse to get out of the castle,” she said. “That’s not why you’re so pissed at me, is it?”

“As good a reason as any. But if you’d rather the full-blown, alphabetical list, I’d be more than happy to oblige you, Slayer.” Spike squared off with her, shoulders back, staring at her coldly, grateful for the mask the darkness allowed him to wear. He could do this. Wasn’t like the pair of them hadn’t had this little confrontation before. Just had to be strong. Don’t think about last night. Don’t remember how she felt…

Buffy felt the air of the dungeon suck in around her flesh, constricting her torso in anxiety as she heard the ache behind his words. She had anticipated anger, could deal with Spike storming around the castle, ranting and raving about how he always managed to be the one to get shafted in the mix, but this…this ran deeper. The hurt in his voice hinted at knives that had sliced through major arteries, but why exactly…she had no idea. The only thing she did know was that she somehow had to make this better.

“Look,” she started again, deliberately steadying her voice to as calm a decibel as she could manage, “I realize I handled lunch pretty badly, but I’d like the chance to explain.”

“Think skipping off to let your fingers do the walkin’ is explanation enough.”

“Are you hearing anything that’s coming out of my mouth here? I told you, that was just a cover.”

“You expect me to believe that you lied to your little friends?”

“Yes, that’s exactly what I expect.” She took another step. “I had to get everyone out of the castle so that I could come back and talk to you in private.”

“Well, aren’t I Mr. Popularity today,” Spike drawled, and then wished he hadn’t. She would ask questions that he wasn’t sure he was in the mood to answer; hell, he wasn’t sure she deserved to know the answers after the way she’d treated him. Change the subject. “Well, you’ve got my back up against the literal wall here, ducks, so why don’t you just say your piece so you can run off and join your little pals.”

“If I wanted to be with them, I wouldn’t have come back here, now would I?” She bit her lip. Even she thought that sounded harsh. Try again, softer this time. “I thought…you know…last night…” God, she sucked at this. “It meant a lot to me. You should know that.”

For a long minute, the pair just stood there, each wishing the other’s face wasn’t hidden in black shade, neither willing to say the words that so desperately needed to be said. Finally, Spike turned his head, staring off at the wall, anywhere but at Buffy herself. “Y’know what I hate?” he asked, his voice so low she had to strain to hear him. “I hate the fact that you can play me, Summers. No, I hate the fact I let you play me.”

“What makes you think I’m playing?” Yet one more step. “I’m not. I thought I made that clear.”

“As clear as mud.” He could feel her heat as she crept closer, heard the silent strum of her pulse as it kindled under her skin, and cursed his own traitorous reaction, the impulse to reach out and hold her battling with his pride. “Second thoughts should’ve been checked at the door, pet. Save us both a lot of headaches.”

He wasn’t getting it. How could she make him get it? Slowly, Buffy turned off her flashlight and set it on the ground, watching as he turned to stare at her. “Turn it off, Spike,” she said softly.

The room was in darkness just a moment later, and the soft click as the plastic came to rest on the stone floor was perceptible to both of them. “Please tell me there’s a good reason I---,” the vampire started, only to cut himself off as he felt warm fingers gripping his forearms, her hands sliding up to rest on his shoulders, her breasts suddenly very much pressing into his chest.

“See?” Buffy’s voice was a breath against him, and he felt the tremor in her skin as his arms automatically came up, his fingers curling lightly around her waist, ready to either pull her closer or push her away based on the selection of her next few words. “I don’t need lights to find you. What do you think that means?”

“I think that means you’re the Slayer,” he replied slowly. “It means you’re good at your job.”

“You’re not a job, Spike. Not anymore.” He actually heard her swallow before taking in a deep breath to continue. “You’re a choice. My choice.”

Though her words reached into his gut and relit the flare of hope he’d allow to die down, Spike steeled himself for the worst, relaxing his grip even as he felt hers climb around his neck. “The choice you shoved to the curb in front of your friends,” he said.

“I know.” It almost wasn’t audible. “I’m sorry. I should’ve explained about that.” One finger began tracing the hollow that started at the base of Spike’s skull and ran down the back of his neck, only to lazily climb upward again as Buffy spoke. “This is about me being totally selfish, which, I know, isn’t fair to you, but it just seemed like the best way to spring this on the gang was…gradually…after we got home…” She sighed. “Which, in retrospect, seems a little lame, but that’s what was going through my head. And I just didn’t get a chance to let you in there as well.”

“It h…” Spike’s voice choked on the next word. There were two ways admitting it could go, and he wasn’t sure he was prepared for either.

“…hurt,” Buffy finished, and rested her cheek against his chest. “And again, I’m Apology Girl here. I just want this to be as…painless as possible. For everyone. Giles and the others…it gets…complicated.”

“What about Finn?” he asked quietly, unable to keep it contained. His grip had tightened, his body responding in fire to the gentle caress of her touch, and suddenly the scent of her skin seemed overwhelming.

There was a long silence. “When we go back to Sunnydale tomorrow,” she finally said, “I’m telling him everything. He deserves better than me. Someone who can commit to him one hundred percent. I haven’t been able to do that for a long time now.”

His internal debate lasted only a moment. “What if we don’t go back to Sunnyhell tomorrow?” Spike queried.

Buffy’s hands stopped as his words sank in. “Why wouldn’t we go back?”

“Better turn that torch back on and have a seat,” he said. “’Cause I’ve got a doozy of a story to tell you.”

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

She stared at the amulet in her hand. “You have got to be kidding me,” she said, hazel eyes flicking up to gaze into the vampire’s face.

“Wish I was,” Spike replied. “I’m kinda lookin’ forward to gettin’ my feet back on California soil. See, there’s this girl…”

Buffy rolled her eyes at his put-on leer, half-smiling as she scrambled to her feet. “Maybe that Hornbrook was lying,” she said.

“Could be. Only one way to find out.” It took only a moment for her to nod in affirmation, and Spike pulled the loose paper from his pocket, joining her on his feet, the pair of them turning to face the wall. As he read the Latin text, Buffy passed the amulet over the stones, hoping she was remembering Colin’s placement correctly, and together, they watched as the wall disappeared before them.

The Slayer stood back, her lips tightly pressed together, the hand with the amulet dropping to her side. “I am sooooo going to kill that little weasel,” she said grimly.

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

Her voice was a murmur as she slowly read over the words in the book, her green eyes squinting against the failing afternoon light. “Y’know,” came a voice from beside her, “if you read it backwards, it spells out the lyrics to Stairway to Heaven.”

Willow looked up from the tome to glare at Xander, watching as he played with the sprigs of herbs they had purchased in the market. “I’m practicing,” she said firmly. “I don’t understand a lot of this Gaelic and some of the words are kind of hard to pronounce. I just want to get this right.”

“You’ll be OK.” He used the sprays in his hands as puppets, bouncing them along the page of her text. “Yes, you will, o mistress of magic,” he singsonged, stopping in mid-dance as the redhead turned her annoyed face to stare at him. “You shouldn’t be reading in the dark anyway,” he grumbled.

With one last glance at her friend, Willow returned to the words before her, carefully selecting the phrases that were affording her the most difficulty, repeating them over and over under breath. She didn’t notice when Xander reached down for the bag at his feet, but when the car bounced over a rut in the road, she lurched against him, and heard the glass shatter on the floor.

“What was that?” Colin asked from the front seat, his eyes darting to the rearview mirror to gaze at his backseat occupants.

“Nothing,” Willow and Xander said in unison, and together they leaned over to begin picking up the shards that were now scattered over the young man’s foot.

“I told you not to play with the supplies,” she whispered.

“Tell Mario Andretti up there to take it easy then,” he hissed back, and grimaced as some of the container’s fluid stuck to his fingers, using the side of his shoe to try and get it off. “Do I want to even know what this stuff is?” he asked.

“Um, no. Probably not.” She grimaced as she snagged the herbs from his hand. “I knew I should’ve made you ride with Anya in the other car.”

“She wouldn’t let me,” Xander admitted. “She said I smelled funny after playing with those sheep.”

As they sat back, they saw the looming form of Dall Rath outlined against the dusky horizon, and Willow frowned as the Slayer stepped from the entrance to approach the oncoming cars. “Guess Buffy’s foot is feeling better,” she commented, closing her book and sliding it back into the bag at her side. She was halfway out of the car when she saw the blonde stride determinedly up and yank a startled Colin from behind the steering wheel, turning him around to slam him against the hood.

“Buffy!” Giles’ voice was sharp as he leapt from the other car. “What on earth do you think you’re doing?”

The gang just watched as the Slayer twisted the Watcher’s arm around his back, holding him down as he winced in pain. “Have fun shopping for the supplies for the ritual?” she asked Colin brightly, ignoring the shock on her friends’ faces.

Giles hovered at the front of the car. “What’s going on?” he quizzed.

“You’re asking the wrong person.” Tugging him back to an upright position, Buffy turned Colin to face her mentor. “I think you should be talking to Benedict Arnold here.” At everyone’s confusion, she gave him a little shake. “C’mon, Col, let’s chat about magic.”

“Miss Summers, I really don’t---.”

She tightened her grip on his arm, causing him to yelp slightly. “I am so tired of people lying to me. You’re just lucky I’m not taking Spike’s advice and beating you up first. He seems to think teeth are an optional accessory for people who are getting interrogated.”

“Actually,” Anya piped up, “he would be right about that. I always found---.” She cut herself off as Giles turned to glare at her. “No, beating up Colin would be bad,” she said simply, and stepped back.

“Buffy, really…” Giles inched cautiously forward as if trying to catch a rabid animal. “Why don’t you just tell us what this is all about?”

Sighing, her hazel eyes met his worried ones. “This is about rituals that don’t really do what we’ve been told they do.” Her gaze flickered over the waiting group. “The Council isn’t interested in closing these tunnels. They’re interested in controlling them.”

 

To be continued in Chapter 18: Such a Parcel of Rogues in a Nation