DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss', of course. And the chapter titles are courtesy of Robert Burns.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Buffy and Spike have killed a kelpie down in the dungeon, making love for the first time afterward, while Giles has opted to return to Dall Rath with Colin…

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Chapter 25: Braving Angry Winter's Storms

"Is it possible you could find another pothole in the road?" Giles asked irritably, his foot nudging back the bag that had tipped against his leg.

Colin's knuckles were white on the steering wheel, his shoulders tense as he peered at the driving rain through the windshield. "I'm doing the best I can," he said through gritted teeth. "And if you didn't want to be chauffeured through a Highland storm, you should've stayed in town. It's supposed to have passed by morning." He stole a quick glance at his colleague, taking a deep breath before barreling forward. "Are you going to sit there and stew the rest of the way to the castle? Or are you going to tell me what you're considering? Because frankly, if you still believe that I'm not on your side---."

"I want to take a closer look at the control spell the Council wished to utilize." The effort of keeping his thoughts to himself was exhausting, and in spite of his mood, he knew that having another brain working over the possibilities could only benefit their side. Even if it was Colin.

"Why?"

"Because I don't believe they ever intended for Spike to survive the ritual."

It took a moment before Giles' implication sank in, but when it had, Colin's eyes widened, the wheel jerking his hand to press the older Watcher uncomfortably into his door.

"Keep your bloody eyes on the road!" Giles barked. "I'd rather like to make it back in one piece, not wrapped around a tree trunk."

"I realize that we're generally considered the 'good guys,'" Colin protested, "but I find it just as difficult to believe that the Council would kill Spike as they would to de-chip him. How on earth are you reaching this type of conclusion?"

"Because if I'm correct, I think I know why the spell failed for us. And I think Travers knows why it failed for them."

"And do I have to guess at these suppositions, or are you going to tell me?"

Giles sighed. "When we attempted the spell, we saw the magic try and possess Buffy, Spike, and Willow, correct?"

"Yes, but it was very obviously expelled from Miss Rosenberg. She even said she could feel it getting pushed out."

"Exactly. She was meant to be the host, but for what? Celtic magic is based on the power of three, the living, the dead, and the---."

"---the immortal," Colin finished, and frowned, his mind working as he mulled the details. "The core of Celtic power itself."

"And though she may argue to the contrary, Willow has a very powerful natural talent for magic. I would argue there wasn't room for the host within her. That's why the spell failed for us."

"So, the ritual will never work with her as an element," Colin mused. "We'll have to make the necessary adjustments for our next attempt. Frankly, I'm surprised Mr. Travers would've requested her presence if he knew that aspect."

"I would imagine they didn't anticipate just how strong Willow really is," Giles said. "But what concerns me is that we don't even know exactly how the control spell works. What happens after the three are possessed by the magic? Up to this point, we've been accepting that it's a passive process for the participants. What if it's not? Maybe the spell failed the first time because the dead component needs to be animated in order to complete its portion, and so the corpse was incinerated from the power of the magics that consumed it."

"And Spike's demon circumvents that issue."

"We know at least that within the confines of the spell itself, he doesn't have the same conflict that Willow does. But what about after?" Giles shook his head. "We know far too little about this spell to be so blindly trusting in it. And after all the subterfuge in their attempts to gain the harness and control of this passageway to the Otherworld, it wouldn't surprise me if the Council never expected Spike to walk away from this project. It would certainly explain their rather cavalier offer of de-chipping him."

They drove along in silence, bending around the curved lane as the storm raged around them. More than once, the younger Watcher sneaked a peek at his colleague, before finally gnawing at his lip. "Not that I…maybe we should…I mean, it's only Spike," he tried, quailing when Giles turned a hard gaze to stare at him.

"You are not suggesting what I think you're suggesting."

"Well, he is just a…vampire…" Colin's voice trailed away, only to reassert itself as he stared ahead. "You don't even like him," he qualified. "Why does it matter to you what happens to Spike?"

"It doesn't. But…it would be wrong." Even as he said it, Giles couldn't believe the words were coming out of his mouth. "Not that I believe we should remove the chip. But Spike is more than proving an…adequate ally. Punishing him for that is hardly the right message to send, don't you think?"

"And then there's Buffy to consider."

It was meant off-hand, stated merely as an adjunct to Giles' own explanation, but the inference narrowed the older Watcher's eyes. "And what exactly is that supposed to mean?" he asked quietly. "You are not actually pursuing this line of thought again."

"I'm not pursuing anything. I just believe that if something were to happen to Spike…Buffy might not be happy about it." Colin sighed. "And I'm changing the subject now. Go back to stewing."

He wanted to reach over and slap some sense into the younger man, force him to realize just how ridiculous he was being, but Giles refrained, instead removing his glasses to rub tiredly at his eyes. It was bad enough to consider that the Council had intended reneging on their deal with Spike; to contemplate something might be brewing between his Slayer and the bleached vampire was just too much fodder for headaches, and now was the time to keep his mind clear.

He frowned as he felt the car slow to a stop in the lane, and looked up to see Colin leaning forward, eyes narrowed. "What is it?" Giles asked, slipping his spectacles back onto his nose.

"Is that Duncan in the road ahead?"

The older Watcher squinted into the rain. "I don't know how you can tell," he muttered. "I can see bugger all in this."

As if on cue, the hunched form of the cook appeared in the headlights, shielding his eyes to try and make out the car's occupants before breaking out into a smile and bolting for the driver's side. When Colin rolled down his window, Duncan poked in his head and said, "I don't suppose you'd let me spend the night at the castle?" he asked, his voice far too chipper for the strength of the surrounding storm. "I'm afraid I got a little side-tracked and at this rate, I'll never make it back into town."

"Of course," Colin agreed, and watched as their new passenger climbed into the back seat. "What about your aunt?"

Duncan's smile was wide. "She'll just have to learn that I'm not a child anymore," he replied, and wiped the wet from his brow.

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

"I'm tired of researching," Xander whined, closing the book in front of him as he pushed himself away from the table. "Let's go find Buffy and Spike, and help them with the recon instead."

"Um, how about no," said Willow, and pushed his book back toward him. "We still don't have any answers and they really don't need our kind of help."

"I'm going to bet they find something," the young man continued. "If our boy Dunc's keeping any secrets, Buffy'll find them. Or Spike. One of them." He seemed to be waiting for some sort of response, but getting none, took a deep breath and pressed on. "OK, I'm going to go out on a limb here, but I just gotta know if this is me playing all by my lonesome in this tree house or not."

"What is it, sweetie?" asked Anya.

"It's about Spike. Does anyone else think that he's a little…different since we got to Scotland?"

The two witches immediately stiffened, glancing at each other before affecting an air of ignorant nonchalance. "Seems like the s-s-same old Spike to me," Tara said, eyes glued to the book in her hands.

"Yeah," Willow agreed. "You know, grrr, can't wait 'til I can bite you, crankypants Spike. Not different. Definitely the same."

"I don't know." Xander's face was thoughtful. "I mean, he's still annoying, and I still occasionally get this irresistible urge to play Pin the Stake on the Vampire when he's around, but I'm thinking he's not really the same guy anymore. Makes me wonder if maybe it's got something to do with this new girlfriend of his."

"New…girlfriend?" The redhead had frozen, eyes like saucers, her voice a tremulous squeak. "What makes you think…he's got a…"

He shrugged. "He said so."

"He just…t-t-told you this?"

"Is it so hard to believe? Cupid's pretty much turned Spike into his own personal pincushion. The guy needed some friendly advice."

In spite of her anxious surprise, Willow's wide-eyed apprehension twitched into an amused grin. "And…you figure you're the best candidate to be playing Dr. Phil? Xander, I hate to break it to you, but your dating record's not much better than Spike's."

"Hey!"

The redhead smiled apologetically at Anya. "No offense."

"See, and my take on the sitch is I'm the perfect guy to help a vamp out of a tough spot. Or have you all forgotten that I'm catnip for the demon set?" He ticked them off on his fingers. "There's been Bug Lady. Mummy Girl. Anya's only recently left the demon fold. And let's not forget Miss Cordelia Chase. If anyone has demon girlfriend experience, it's Alexander Lavelle Harris."

Both witches visibly relaxed. He didn't really know. Not when he thought…"So, Spike's new girlfriend is a demon?" Willow asked.

"Well, yeah, what else would she be? Just…" He leaned forward conspiratorially. "…don't go telling Buffy, OK? The guy's already having a hard time trying to figure out how to tell this girl he loves her. The last thing he needs is the Slayer busting his fangs because she's not having any luck in the slaying department. You know how much the Buffster likes to take her frustrations out on Spike."

"Don't worry." Their smiles were wide. "His secret is safe with us."

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

It was as if a thousand butterflies were trapped just under her skin, and had simultaneously decided that exact moment to take flight, beating their gossamer wings in a flurry to escape the confines of her flesh, only to be netted in frustration, fluttering instead against Spike's skin in a riot of feather kisses. As he rolled himself to the side, propping himself up on his elbow while his other hand trailed down between the sweaty slickness of her breasts, he watched as she followed him, her eyes somehow made more translucent in the dim cavern light, and wondered just what Slayer thoughts could be teeming behind the hazel to create the illusion of more than he hoped to imagine.

"Have I told you how beautiful you are?" Spike murmured, letting his fingers curl under the weight of her breast.

Wordlessly, she nodded. "Something about…climes, right?" she breathed.

It took him a moment before realizing she'd actually been listening to the poetry on the mountain, Byron's words lingering in her memory like the aftertaste of a fine wine, and the sense of satisfaction that began to tickle in his gut warmed him, lifting the corner of his mouth into a smile. "But better," Spike said, and lowered his lips to hers in a gentle kiss. "Much better."

When he pulled away, she was still watching him, and he lay, transfixed, as she caught her bottom lip between her teeth. "I don't…suppose…" she started, then blushed, finally ducking her gaze.

"What?"

Buffy rolled onto her side, stretching out her legs to match his. "I'm not really…tired," she said.

He caught the inference and held it to his chest, entranced by this sudden shyness on her part, wondering what else she would do yet tonight to surprise him. "Vampire constitution, pet," he murmured. "All you have to do is say the word and I'm there." His lips quirked. "Or even ahead of you. That's been known to happen on the odd occasion."

Her brows shot immediately up. "That sounds like a challenge." Her hand began dancing over his chest, one fingernail grazing the tip of a nipple, tweaking it to a hardness that matched her own. "You're not really daring the Slayer here, are you?"

His cock twitched against her hip, hardening within seconds at the promise behind her words. "Depends." A flash of gold glittered behind the azure. "You think you've got something to prove?"

In a flash, she had pressed him back onto the floor, and Spike felt the grit rasp across his shoulder blades, just as the silk of her fingertips stroked the outline of his chest. The shine in her eyes was gone now, replaced with darkened irises that gleamed in hunger, and the anticipation of what she was going to do spurred him to lift himself onto his elbows. "That's not the best you've got to offer, is it…Slayer?" he taunted, and was immediately rewarded by a shove back into the earth, her thighs straddling his hips, slick against hard as she leaned forward, her hair dragging over his cheek.

"I haven't even started," Buffy whispered, and licked upwards at his chin, catching his mouth with hers in a fevered kiss as her fingers dug into his flesh.

More than anything, he wanted to wrap himself around her, hold her close as their tongues battled, but Spike knew the rules to this little game, had played it out in his head countless times before he'd ever considered it could even become reality. The dance of who really was in control. Letting her lead until it was his turn. Then, showing her that it wasn't about winning. It was about the dance itself. Executing the steps as one. His. Hers. Together.

So he clung to the ground, feeling her lips leave his and begin their wet descent down his neck. And he waited.

He tasted of clean leather, and with each lap against his skin, Buffy felt the prickles in her mouth salivate, coating her in moisture as she licked a duet across his chest…down the slight hollow of his abdomen…into the muscled creases of the juncture of his thighs. Each lethal sinew seemed to hum beneath her touch, and when she heard his groan as she nipped at his hip, she couldn't repress the chuckle of delight that bubbled from her own throat. "Told you not to dare me," she said, wrapping her hand around his erection as her tongue darted out to trace around its head.

Gritting his teeth, Spike's eyes squeezed shut as Buffy replaced the warmth of her fingers with the heat of her mouth, sliding down the length of his cock as she swallowed him whole before inching her way back up again. Not yet, he warned himself. Not bloody yet. But when her nails raked along his inner thigh, he bucked, forcing himself even further down her throat, unable to constrain the instinct to thrust even as she lifted herself away to gaze up at him in amusement.

"Don't tell me you like that," she teased. She lowered her head back down to allow her tongue to skate along the velvety underside of his arousal. "I wasn't even trying that hard."

This was his cue, and he grabbed it with both hands, twisting out from beneath to knock her backwards, pinning her down just as effectively as she had him only moments earlier. His eyes drank in hers, and Spike smiled. "My turn."

She wasn't sure what she was expecting, but as she felt him pass by the curve of her breasts to continue downward across her stomach, Buffy stiffened, knees lifting as she instinctively curled to protect herself. "Spike!" she squealed. "What're you doing?"

"Way I figure it, turnabout's fair play," he drawled, and gently pushed at her legs, forcing them to straighten even as he spread them apart.

"But I…this is…I've never…" She flushed, suddenly embarrassed, and turned from the quizzical tilt of his blond head.

"Lemme guess. Not Soldier Boy's thing?"

Buffy shook her head. "He said…he'd tried it once, but…" God, this was awkward . "…it didn't really do anything for him," she finished.

"Always knew something was off with Whitebread." Spike slid himself up so that he could wrap his arms around her, pulling her against him as his mouth caressed her ear. "If you don't want me to, I'll stop," he said. "But gotta tell you, pet…just the smell of you is drowning me here. I can taste you already…" His hand slithered across her hip to her inner thigh, one finger dipping into the moisture it found, causing her to gasp as he pulled it away. "Do you have any idea just how delectable you really are?"

She watched in mute fascination as he licked at the juices clinging to his finger, holding her breath as it returned to the font between her legs. "You…like it?" she asked. "It's not…"

Spike chuckled. "Most definitely not," he affirmed. "Trust me?"

"Of course."

Though the light in her eyes would've been the only impetus he needed, hearing her say the words lifted the corner of his mouth, kissing her tenderly before beginning the inexorable slide back down her body, allowing his tongue to wander this time…a cool flick across her hardened nipple before tracing the pink aureola…tasting the clean line of drying sweat in her navel as he felt the tremors begin vibrating through her skin…his hands pressing her thighs into the ground as he positioned himself between her legs, watching the staccato of her body's rhythms play across her limbs.

He seemed to wait forever, but as she felt those cool fingers part her coarse curls, Buffy's eyes fluttered shut, the heady sensations of his strength causing the world to tilt around her. The first glide of his mouth along the inner curve of her labia caused her hips to twist, forcing him to tighten his grip as he held her firm. I'm going to come before he even touches me again, she thought erratically, but when she felt his tongue circle her clit, catching it between his teeth, the jolt it sent up her spine rooted her in place, ripping the guttural cry from her lips as her fingers tangled in his hair, pulling him closer…and deeper.

There was no mistaking her pleasure, and as he felt the smooth skin of her thighs against his cheek, Spike couldn't help the growl of satisfaction that rumbled from his throat. Though he had always known it could be this good, it was having the proof trembling beneath his touch, hearing her call out his name in rasps that scraped down his spine in virulent tremors, that made each second of waiting more than worth it. She was his now, whether she knew it or not. And if he had to fight every remaining moment of his undead life to keep her, Spike was prepared. Because he couldn't lose her. Not now. Not ever.

Her orgasm was a flood through both of their bodies, her legs wrapped around his shoulders, locking him in place as the undulations ricocheted through Buffy's muscles in a tornado. At the first sign of ease within her legs, however, Spike slid up, guiding himself inside before she'd finished, thrusting in a furious rhythm as he clung to her tiny frame. His own climax was only seconds away as she squeezed around his cock, and as he came, he buried his face in her neck, the demon within struggling to emerge even as he fought to keep it under his control.

"Spike…" she whispered, arms clinging to his broad back, her mouth hot against his ear. "Say it."

And he understood then, remembered his words as they'd tumbled from his lips before, and knew why her body had betrayed her earlier thoughts with its racing pulse and butterfly quivering. As they slid over the crest of their lovemaking, Spike lifted his head, kissing the corner of her mouth, and felt her gaze remain steady on his face. "I love you, Buffy," he said softly, and saw her visibly soften, her breath escaping in a delicate exhalation from the hold she'd been keeping it.

That was it. Asking him to repeat his earlier declaration had been one of the hardest things Buffy had ever had to do, and even then, she hadn't been certain he would. It could've been just the heat of the moment, words only tossed about in the flurry of fire that had consumed them both. He could've feigned ignorance, done almost anything else if he hadn't really meant it. But he hadn't. And she'd seen the look in his eyes this time. He believed. And he loved her.

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

The intruders seemed to take an eternity to get dressed, and then even longer to leave, gathering their things while they so studiously ignored the dead body on the shore. It was only when the cavern returned to its natural light did he break his head free of the water, immediately swiveling to gaze upon the shadowed corpse as he began the swim to the bank. This was a risk of being a guardian, but facing the death of his colleague was difficult. It wasn't just that it meant the gate to the Otherworld could now not be completely sealed without other forms of intervention; this was a friend, and as such…he would mourn.

His black hands curled around the kelpie's human form, carrying it back toward the water. He didn't believe the man and woman would be back tonight; their departure announced clearly that they believed the cavern was now clear. This meant it would be safe to leave his post long enough for him to return his friend's body to their home. And to pray that the third returned quickly with the harness…


To be continued in Chapter 26: Behold the Hour, the Boat Arrive