DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course. And the chapter titles are courtesy of Robert Burns.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: The Scoobies are researching the guardian that Spike killed, while Giles is researching the control spell the Council wished them to use.

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

Chapter 27: Sensibility How Charming

Though the pictures were spread out on the desk before him, Quentin Travers didn’t see them, his eyes fixed on a spot on the opposite wall as he leaned heavily back in his chair. Examining photographs of Peg Calvock wasn’t going to tell him why Hornbrook hadn’t checked in the past two days, nor would it explain why they were in turn unable to contact him. It was as if the man had fallen off the face of the planet, and that worried the head of the Council more than he was willing to admit to his colleagues. At this stage of the project, each and every complication jeopardized what they had been working toward these past few months, and anomalies, whether a disappearance or merely a lag in protocol, could not bode well for their success.

“We can always bring in Mr. Sadler,” said the woman who sat across from him. “He’s proving resourceful, and I know he’s eager for more responsibilities within the Council.”

“No.” Quentin’s voice was quiet, but firm, affording no one in the room opportunity to argue with him. “I don’t believe we can entirely trust him with this just yet. He’s young, and easily influenced. If Rupert begins to suspect that there is a risk to his Slayer, young Colin might be swayed to act outside of the Council’s best interests.” He shook his head. “I’m afraid we’ll just have to sit and wait a while longer. Perhaps those storms we heard mention of knocked out power or something. It’s not a highly populated area. It could just be a temporary loss of communication.”

“What about the body of the witch?”

Slowly, Quentin straightened in his seat and began collating the pictures, stacking them into an even pile before returning them to the file folder. “Send it back for burial,” he instructed. “We’ve learned all that we can from it for now.”

He waited for the others to file out of the room before rising to his feet, sighing heavily as he did so. Though he would never confess it to the others, Travers was beginning to wonder if acquiring the harness was really worth all the effort the Council was extending. Hornbrook had claimed getting Spike to agree to the arrangement had been simple, and the vampire’s eagerness to be rid of the chip had stopped him from questioning their motivation in offering such a deal in the first place. It was times like this Quentin was glad of Spike’s impulsive nature; if he had given it the amount of thought such an offer should’ve warranted, the demon would surely have realized what a silly proposition it was to make in the first place. Nothing prevented either side from honoring their end of the bargain, and though it was that sort of thinking that he was counting on, Travers was slightly disappointed that Spike had accepted their proposal without doubting their sincerity for even a moment. Perhaps the vampire was not as crafty as they had always been led to believe. He just hoped it didn’t impede his attempt to fetch the harness for them.

Which only brought him back to his worry about the missing Watcher. In spite of his arguments to the contrary, Hornbrook was one of his top men, and his failure to report in was unusual to say the least. The more he thought about it, the more he believed in the worst, and without a man on the inside, there was no way they could continue the project to its completion. Travers sighed, and turned back to his desk, pressing the intercom on his phone. “I’ve changed my mind,” he said, resigned. “Get me Colin Sadler.”

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

Colin had been right. Now that it was morning, the storm was gone, with sunshine streaming in through the small windows to illuminate the great hall in morning brightness. As the Watchers had promised, the night had been spent in research hell, and the gang was just now beginning to feel the repercussions.

Almost everyone was asleep. Anya and Xander both sat at the table, their heads resting on the books in front of them, while Tara had curled up in the chair next to the fireplace. When Giles and Colin had started nodding off around dawn, Buffy had ordered them to go upstairs and rest, knowing that the better they slept, the more useful they would be later on. In his chair in the corner, Spike was dozing off and on, every once in a while his eyes fluttering open to gaze at her across the room before drifting back closed again, almost as if he was just checking to make sure she was still there. Even thinking of it now made Buffy smile.

She and Willow were the only two still awake, but how long that was going to last, the Slayer had no idea. Though it was only ten in the morning, she was exhausted, a night of reading tiny text and arguing with Giles giving them little but shortened tempers and tired eyes. She wasn’t even sure anymore what exactly they were looking for; after so many books on Celtic lore, Buffy was beginning to believe that maybe it was just all the trick of fairies, and that they should just go home and leave well enough alone. Let Tinkerbell have her day in the sun without them. And to top it all off, everyone was likely to end up sleeping through the day as a result of their wasted allnighter. Another twenty-four hours shot to hell.

The door to the kitchen swung open, and Duncan came strolling out, a tray with steaming cups on it in his hands. His eyes were bright, and he was whistling under his breath; of everyone in the castle, he appeared to be the only occupant to have slept soundly the previous night.

He crossed immediately to Buffy and handed her a cup. “Not that I think you should be staying up,” he chastised as she sipped at the hot tea. “Surely you should be getting some sleep. Whatever it is you’re looking for can wait on that, can’t it?”

As the heat seeped into her fingers surrounding the ceramic mug, she regarded him with steady eyes as he stepped to Willow’s side. “It’s OK,” she said. “We’re used to this kind of thing.”

“Yeah,” agreed the witch. “Although usually we’ve got Xander awake and ready to do a donut run right about now.”

Duncan brightened. “Would you like some pastries?” he asked. “It’s actually turning into quite a beautiful morning. I could walk into town and get something from the bakery. Or if you’d rather not wait, I could prepare something here. Aunt Fiona’s scone recipe---.”

Willow was waving her hand, trying to get him to stop talking. “I wasn’t fishing for goodies,” she interrupted. “You don’t have to do that.”

“It wouldn’t be a bother---.”

“No, don’t, really,” Buffy said. “We’re probably not going to last much longer anyway.”

“Maybe for when you wake up then.” He began to turn away, and hesitated, his dark eyes contemplative as he slowly swiveled back. “I hate to seem pushy,” he said, “but I must say, for being on holiday, it really seems as if you’re working awfully hard.”

The young witch rolled her eyes. “If this is a holiday, my name’s Little Bo Peep,” she said.

Buffy giggled. “And I’m Little Miss Muffet,” she added.

“And Xander’s Georgie Porgie---.”

“And Anya’s gotta be Little Bunny Foo Foo---.”

“And Spike’s Wee Willie Winkie---.”

Buffy smiled wickedly. “Not so wee,” she said suggestively, looking pointedly over at the sleeping vampire before turning back to her friend. “More like Huge Willie Winkie.” The pair of girls burst out into a fresh round of giggles, gulping at the air as they laughed at their own silliness.

“OK,” Willow finally said. “Maybe we’re a little tired.”

“What were we saying?” Buffy asked Duncan.

He smiled in return. “You weren’t. I was. I just think that if you really must work so hard, you should reward yourself now and again with a night out. There’s a nice little pub in town. Darts, a snooker table---.”

“Snooker?” Buffy wrinkled her nose in confusion. “What’s that?”

“It’s like billiards,” he explained. “Only harder. And on a bigger table. There’s no live entertainment, but it does have a jukebox with not too outdated music in it. You should really consider taking tonight off and paying it a visit. I think the break would do you good.”

The Slayer shook her head. “Giles would never let us get away with that,” she said. “Too much research to get done.”

Duncan’s eyes twinkled in wicked glee. “So don’t tell him,” he said. “You’re certainly over the age of consent and he’s not your father, is he?”

“It would be nice to do the whole pub thing before we go back to Sunnydale,” Willow said to Buffy. “And it’s not like anything…special needs to happen tonight anyway.”

“We can’t,” the other girl said. “None of us drive, remember? We’d have to walk there and back.”

Duncan glanced over at the sleeping form of the vampire in the corner. “Your friend Spike is English,” he said. “Surely he can drive for you.”

Both girls turned to look at the blond. “It’s not like it would be hard to talk him into sneaking around behind Giles’ back,” Buffy said slowly, the rationalization paving the way for Willow to start planning.

“One of us will have to steal a set of keys.”

“And we’ll have to do something to make sure that Giles and Colin go to bed early so they don’t catch us on the way out.”

“If you want,” Duncan offered, “I could ensure that tea is overly large. Nothing like a full stomach to coax a man into bed.”

“You would do that?” Buffy’s eyes were wide in surprise.

“Of course. It’s not like I don’t have to cook it anyway.” He glanced at the two men in the room before taking a conspiratorial step toward the girls. “I’d only ask one thing,” he said.

“Sure,” Willow replied. “Anything.”

“Would it be possible not to say anything about this being my idea?” His embarrassed smile was accentuated by his furtive looks at Xander and Spike. “I’m afraid your two male friends don’t particularly care for me. If they were to find out I suggested it, they’d probably say no to going, just on the principle of the idea. And I’d hate for you not to get your night out on my account.”

“What’re you talking about?” the witch said. “The guys don’t---.”

“Actually, Will,” Buffy interrupted, leaning forward so that her already low voice wouldn’t travel any further than necessary. “He’s got a point.” Her tired gaze up at the cook was apologetic. “I told Spike he was whacked, but he won’t listen to me.”

Duncan’s answering grin sent a twinkle to his eye. “Perhaps you’re not using the right type of persuasion,” he teased and laughed out loud at the sudden astonishment in her face. “He’s quite taken with you, you know. Which is why I’m sure he doesn’t care for me in the slightest. Anyone else who might find you attractive is automatically the enemy.”

“How’d you…is it really that…?” Then it dawned on her what he’d actually said, and Buffy colored. No mistake about it this time; he was flirting with her. And though it wasn’t unpleasant, it was unexpected. Except…was it really? Hadn’t Spike been saying all along that Duncan was playing her? But that was crazy. He was just a nice guy, paying her a compliment. Nothing sneaky or evil about that.

“Why don’t I get started on those scones?” Duncan said, gathering their cups before heading to the kitchen. “And whatever you decide, just let me know. I’ll do whatever I can to help.”

When he was gone, Buffy leaned across the table toward Willow. “What do you think of Duncan?” she whispered. “Was he just flirting with me?”

“Well, yeah, he flirts with all of us. I think it’s his thing. You should hear him and Anya go at it---.”

“But do you like him?” A tiny line appeared in the Slayer’s brow as she glanced at the closed kitchen door. “I mean, does he seem all right to you?”

The witch’s smile was wide. “More than all right. If I wasn’t gay, I know I’d be wanting a piece of Duncan pie.”

Buffy’s jaw dropped. “Will!”

“What? He’s cute, he’s smart, and he can cook. What’s not to like about that?”

“Spike’s got this crazy theory that Duncan is actually a kelpie in disguise. He’s convinced he’s some kind of threat to me and you guys.” She bit her lip. “I’m beginning to wonder if he might not have a point.”

“Oh, because Spike’s not the jealous type at all,” Willow commented, rolling her eyes as she settled back into her chair.

“You think that’s what it is? He’s just jealous?”

“Buffy, I know that’s what it is. This thing between the two of you, it’s still really, really fresh, and the fact that you still haven’t told Giles or Xander about it? Probably not instilling a huge sense of confidence in him.” She shook her head. “Duncan just knows how to talk to girls, put them at ease. Other guys get intimidated by that. Spike’s just reacting like any guy in love would---.” She froze, realizing what words had actually come out of her mouth, her eyes widening as Buffy fixed on her face.

“How did you know that?” Her voice was low, her words slowly enunciated.

“Know what?” Quickly, Willow buried herself in the book before her, turning the pages too fast, not really reading but not willing to meet her friend’s gaze. Blabbermouth. That’s what she was. Spike was sooo going to kill her when he found out.

With a quick glance at Xander and Anya asleep at the other end, Buffy rose from her seat and stepped around the table to lightly grab Willow’s arm, pulling her up and away from their friends to stand in the corner where they could continue talking in just a little more privacy. “How do you know about Spike, and the…being in love-age?” she asked again.

Wait. She wasn’t wigging. She seemed to… “You know?”

Buffy hesitated before replying. “Yeah. He told me. Down in the dungeon last night. How do you know?”

“Ummmm…” Had he shown her the poem? Could she bring that up? “Actually, that’s kind of a funny story…”

There was a long pause while Buffy waited. “And…?” she prompted after over a minute of silence. “Did he tell you before he told me? Because that’s not so much of the funny if he did.”

“No, no, Spike didn’t tell me. It was…” Oh, wait a minute! “…Xander. Xander told me.”

For some reason, that didn’t make things better. “How does Xander know?” Buffy demanded.

“Well, he doesn’t know it’s you. Seems they had a bonding moment when we were buying roses in town. Spike admitted to being in love with someone, but he didn’t tell him who it was, so your secret is still safe.”

“Spike and Xander bondage does not fill me with sunshine, Will.” Except…maybe that wasn’t a bad thing. One small step toward friendship might be just what Buffy needed to get their relationship accepted by the gang. Life would be so much easier if she didn’t have this to worry about, too.

“So…Spike said he loved you?”

The faraway look in Buffy’s eyes softened the exhausted circles underneath them, the heat rising to her cheeks as she remembered the caress of his hand across her face, the dark promise in his gaze as he’d told her. “Yeah,” she murmured. “Twice.”

“And…this is a good thing?”

Her lip curled, and she lifted her gaze to meet Willow’s directly. “Definitely,” she affirmed softly.

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

Sometimes, pretending to be asleep was a good thing. Their footsteps across the stone floor had pulled him from his dozing, and though he hadn’t meant to maintain the pretence, once Spike had realized what Buffy and the witch were discussing, his nerves had started racing, waiting to see what Red was going to say, whether she’d mention the poem that was still burning a hole in his pocket, and then, to hear what the Slayer would say in response. She hadn’t said the words, but he didn’t need eyes to tell what was going on in her body, to hear the faint catch in her voice as she spoke to her friend, to smell the scent of arousal emanating from her flesh. It would happen. It would just take time. And god knew, Spike had all the time in the world.

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

The air was crisp with cold, the sky a black velvet stretched above them, and the quartet stood next to the car, hands stuffed deep into pockets, watching the front door of the castle in eager anticipation. After a day of productive sleeping, they were finally all wide awake, ready to experience what Highland Scotland considered nightlife. That is, if Spike and Xander ever decided to show up.

“What’s taking so long?” Anya complained. “It’s just a set of keys.”

“What I wanna know,” said Buffy, “is why Giles locks up his car when we’re out in the middle of nowhere.” She stomped her feet in an effort to warm them. “Who does he think is going to steal it? The Loch Ness Monster?”

“Maybe they got c-c-caught.”

Willow shook her head. “Xander’s probably just being careful. If Giles knew we were sneaking out, he’d be out here already with a stack of books for us to start reading while he herded us back inside.”

“I didn’t know Giles and Colin were so tired,” observed Anya. “Did you see them after supper? Out like a light, the pair of them.”

“It’s just the research catching up with them, I’m sure.” Willow kept her eyes away from the others, unwilling to get caught up in the lie. Duncan had been true to his word and fixed a relative banquet for dinner, making sure that the Watchers’ plates were constantly full, giving them seconds and thirds even when they weren’t requested. Then, when they’d both begun yawning at the table over dessert, the cook had gone as far as suggesting a shot of whiskey with their cake. That had been the last straw. Within minutes, they were staggering upstairs, barely able to keep their eyes opened, and the Scoobies had gone scrambling to get ready to go out.

The door opened, and Xander and Spike exited, the vampire whistling as his duster swirled around his legs. “It’s about time!” Buffy said. “What the hell took you so long?”

The construction worker looked pointedly at Spike before turning back to face the girls. “Someone decided to make a small detour,” he said.

“Detour?” Buffy folded her arms across her chest as she looked at the vamp. “What kind of detour?”

“The kind of detour that goes through Giles’ wallet,” Xander explained.

“Big mouth,” Spike muttered.

“You stole money from Giles?” She was indignant, her voice rising, and it sparked the vampire to straighten in defense.

“How else were you expectin’ to fund this little midnight jaunt?” he said. “This may not be the Hellmouth, but they still expect you to pay for your drinks here. ‘Sides, Rupes won’t even miss the dosh. And even if he does, what’s he goin’ to do? Ground us all?” He rolled his eyes and headed for the driver’s side. “Get in and stop your whinging.” Spike caught the firm set of her mouth as he pulled open the door, and shook his head in resignation. “And if it makes you feel better, I’ll pay him back when we get to Sunnydale, all right?”

“And let the partying begin,” Xander said gleefully, rubbing his hands together as he waited for Spike to unlock the remaining doors.

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

It had almost been too easy. The girls had been so easy to sway, talking the others into a night out with little effort, while incapacitating the older Englishmen had been simple for him to arrange, an obscure sleeping concoction mixed into their food portions and drinks knocking both of them out within minutes of consumption. Duncan was now the lone waking occupant of the castle, just as he had hoped to be, and as he stood in the upstairs window, watching the car pull away from the front and down the lane, he smiled.

So much to do. And now he had most of the night free to get it done with little fear of interruption.

 

To be continued in Chapter 28: Good Ale Keeps the Heart Above