DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course. And the chapter titles are courtesy of Robert Burns.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Duncan has convinced the Scoobies to sneak out of Dall Rath to spend the evening in the local pub…

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

Chapter 28: Good Ale Keeps the Heart Above

It wasn’t a date. Not really. Not when there was a mess of Scoobies crammed into the back seat of the car. Not when half of them still had no clue that anything beyond the usual antagonism was happening between Buffy and Spike. And certainly not when he had to pinch some cash from Rupert just to cover the drink tab he was sure they were going to run up. So, not a date. Definitely.

Except it sure as hell felt like one.

He’d been surprised when Buffy had brought it up in the first place. “Don’t you think it would be fun?” she’d quizzed when he didn’t jump on the bandwagon right away. “And it’s not like we don’t deserve it. We’ve all been working pretty hard here. It’ll do us good to soak up some local color.”

“Just doesn’t sound like your usual style,” Spike had replied. But he’d dropped it at that. The anticipatory shine in her eyes made her mischievous grin all that much more infectious, and the prospect of getting to spend some time with her outside of the castle milieu---albeit with Scoobies in tow---was enough to quell any arguments he would’ve put forth. He wanted to prove to her that they could work, even within the framework of her Slayer existence, and placing them in a neutral setting, forcing him to socialize and interact with her friends, seemed the best way to accomplish that. He hoped. If not, he was going to end up strangling himself for agreeing to put up with them for the night.

She was excited about it, that much he could tell, and though his fingers itched to reach to his left and take her hand in his, Spike refrained from doing so, concentrating instead on the dark road ahead of him as he tried not to hear her heartbeat pounding in his ears, or to smell the combination of musk and perfume and radiated from her skin. Every once in a while, he would glance out of the corner of his eye to try and catch the shadow of her skin in the darkness of the car, but the night betrayed him, cloaking her in midnight so that he was left to rely on his other senses, picturing her bright face with his inner eye as he drove along, contributing the occasional remark to the conversation happening around him.

Maybe it was that that was messing with his perceptions. No one seemed in the slightest bit perturbed at the vampire’s presence in the car. In fact, Willow had actually teased him back at one of his comments, including him in the same camaraderie they usually reserved for Harris. And when Buffy had at one point leaned over to poke him in the arm when he said something derogatory about American beer, it had been jokingly, jerking Spike’s gaze to the mirror to see her friends’ reactions, surprised by their seeming lack of one. In so many ways, it almost seemed mundane, a group of friends going to the local hangout for some rest and relaxation, but on the night-to-night existence of the chipped vampire, this was far from it. It had been a long time since he’d felt like he was actually a part of something---even those last few years with Dru when most of his time had been spent just making sure she didn’t go wandering off into some loopy fugue---and if he was going to be honest with himself, he missed it. Who the hell would’ve guessed he’d find it wrapped up in the Slayer package of loving Buffy? And if he’d thought his reputation in Sunnydale was shot before, Spike knew there was no saving it once they returned. Not if Big Bad was spending his waking moments hanging with humans at the Bronze.

Finding the pub was cake, and Spike pulled the vehicle into the half-full car park that sat beside it, killing the engine as he glanced up at the wooden placard hanging from the building’s front. “End of the line,” he announced.

Buffy followed his gaze, her brows wrinkling slightly as she read the sign. “The Fleece and Firkin?” she said, looking over at the vampire. “What the hell’s a firkin?”

“Do you really want to know or are you plannin’ on playin’ the daft tourist all night?” he teased, his grin gleaming in the dim light. He chuckled as he jumped from the seat, avoiding her playful jab as he skirted the car, dropping the keys into his duster pocket as he watched everyone else emerge from the vehicle.

“We can drink here, can’t we?” asked Xander as he approached. “Isn’t eighteen the legal age in England?”

“It is,” Spike affirmed, “but you’re in Scotland right now, and about to go mingling with the locals, and they tend not to take too highly to being considered English. Mainly ‘cause they’re not. So try and keep your mouth shut when it comes to that, all right?” He grinned. “Though I realize askin’ you to stay quiet is about the same as askin’ Buffy and Red not to natter on about chocolate, or some such. Which,” he said, swiveling his head to gaze at the two women in question, “for the last time, is still better in this country, not that grainy stuff you try to pass off for sweets back in the U.S. of A.”

Buffy’s lips twitched. “Guess you’re the expert on chocolate, huh, Spike?” He caught her hazel eyes darting to the rest of the gang. “Have I told you guys about Bleach Boy’s little run-in with the Easter Bunny yet?”

“Slayer…” he warned.

She giggled and made a dash for the front door of the pub, eluding his outstretched hand. “Last one in’s gotta buy the drinks!” she called back.

Spike shook his head as they hurried past him, jostling and nudging in their rush to get inside. He was the one with the soddin’ money; didn’t make a whit of difference who was the last one in because it was goin’ to be his ass at the bar. Now, if he could just get her to keep her mouth shut about that chocolate sauce…

It looked like any other pub Spike had frequented over the years, though seeing the shine of delight on Buffy’s face as she drank in the ambience made him look around with a fresh set of eyes. Dark wood abounded, from the heavy beams that striped the low ceiling to the tall backs of the worn benches that lined the partially paneled walls, and framed pictures---from the publican’s travels, it appeared---took up what remaining wallspace there was, lending the interior a homey feel in spite of the small groups of people that populated the room. A worn bar dominated the space before the entrance, with the usual brass taps and array of bottles decorating it, while a quick glance around showed the doors that led to other areas, most likely a games room of some sort, the vampire reasoned. It was dark, and it was too warm, and for the first time since arriving in Scotland, Spike felt a sense of having come home at last.

He nodded toward a corner table near the fireplace. “Should probably grab a seat,” he said. “I’ll get the drinks.”

As he began to turn away, Buffy grabbed his arm. “You didn’t ask us what we wanted,” she said.

“Yeah,” he agreed. “There’s a reason for that.” His blue gaze flickered over the lot of them. “Don’t figure you lot are too expert at holding your liquor.”

“Hey!” Anya protested. “I’ve been drinking a helluva lot longer than you have, buster. I bet I could drink you under the table.”

“There will be no drinking under the table,” he warned. “The last thing you need is a bunch of hangovers in the morning announcing to the Watchers exactly what we’ve been up to.”

Buffy pouted. “Since when did you turn into the grown-up?” she asked.

“Since I’m the one who drove your asses out here,” Spike countered. “As much fun as it is sneakin’ around Rupes’ back, I don’t really fancy gettin’ caught when we get back, because you just know I’m the one who’ll end up gettin’ hell for it. Corrupting the young and all that. I’m sure Rupert will find some suitable way of torturing me if he finds out, and knowin’ my luck, it’ll probably involve either chains or boring Gaelic textbooks. Which means I’m doing the drink ordering.” He pushed her toward the table. “Now go sit.”

“I’ll help you,” Xander offered, and after a curious look from the vampire, followed him to the bar.

“What’ll you have?” the bartender asked.

Spike quickly scanned the bottles. “Glenlivet on the rocks, four bitter shandies---.”

“What’s a shandy?” Xander asked.

“Beer and lemonade. It’s a poofter drink. The girls should be OK with that.”

The other man grimaced. “Ewwwww.”

“Not American lemonade, you git. British lemonade. Like…Sprite. Or Seven-Up.”

“Oh. Well, that’s not so bad then.”

“You want a beer?”

“Sure.”

The bartender glanced over their shoulders at the corner while he prepared the drinks. “Two for one,” he commented with a smirk. “Lucky blokes.”

Xander’s eyes widened, looking back at the four girls as they sat giggling around the table before turning to meet Spike’s amused gaze. “Oh, it’s not like that,” he protested to the bartender. “We’re just all friends. Well, except me and Anya, we’re a couple, but the rest of us, just, well, Willow and Tara are---ow!” He crumpled slightly to his right as his head jerked to look at the vampire, his foot smarting from the force of the boot that had just landed on his toe.

His cry of pain was mimicked by Spike as the blond clutched at his head, mentally chastising himself for letting the younger man provoke him. “Just a group of friends looking to relax,” he said through gritted teeth. “Stressful day and all.”

“Should tell your friends to be careful then,” the bartender warned. “Some of the rugby team showed up after losing their game today. They’ve got a thing for chatting up the lasses, especially when they’ve been drinking. They’re in the snooker room for now so if you stay outta there, you shouldn’t have trouble.”

“Thanks for the heads up.”

“Just don’t want any problems in my pub, understand?”

Spike met the other man’s gaze and nodded. “No problems from us,” he repeated, and picked up the tray of drinks to take to the table.

“Why’d you kick me?” Xander demanded as they walked away.

“Told you to keep your gob shut.”

“You didn’t have to kick me. You could’ve saved both of us a lot of pain if you’d just cut me off nicely like everybody else does.”

“I’ll remember that next time.”

The girls’ giggles had bubbled into laughter by the time Spike and Xander sat down at the table. “What’s so funny?” Xander asked, an expectant smile on his face.

“They sell t-shirts here, too,” Willow said, pointing to a display on the wall. “Look.”

“I think I want the one that says, ‘I’d rather be Firkin than working,’” Buffy said through her giggles.

“As long as I get the ‘we give good head at the Firkin’ one,” Anya added.

As the group dissolved into laughter, Spike smiled, picking up the tumbler as he leaned back in his chair. This was most definitely going to be an interesting night.

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

His assessment of the drink situation would’ve been accurate if they had stopped at just one. When Spike had gotten up to change the music on the jukebox---they’d had to sit in agony while an old biddy kept plugging her change in to listen to Tom Jones sing “It’s Not Unusual” for twenty minutes straight---Buffy had pilfered some of the cash from his duster pocket and purchased another round, half of which was gone by the time he had returned to the table. He’d voiced his protestations aloud, but was privately amused, watching as she laughed and joked with her friends, her color high, hazel eyes dancing as she kept stealing looks at the blond across the table from her. Underneath the wooden surface, her foot stole across to nudge his before curling around his shin and running along the backside of his calf muscle. Her touch was electric, and his cock throbbed within the confines of his jeans, but Spike returned the pressure, locking her gaze with his, as he ran his tongue over his teeth. Oh yeah. Nothing wrong with a little R&R at the local pub. Not when it leant such warm promises.

The third round happened when he and Xander were arguing at the dart board, and though he’d been smart enough to take the money with him this time, Spike still returned to see the girls surreptitiously sipping at fresh pints, the stifled giggles and furtive glances at the guys at an adjoining table telling him all that he needed to know about who exactly had purchased these particular drinks. He’d given up at that point. Maturity be damned, he thought. If you can’t beat ‘em, might as well join ‘em. And became the official drink-go-getter for the Scooby gang. At least, that was the title Buffy bestowed on him. It wasn’t so bad. He’d been called worse.

“I’m bored,” the Slayer announced as the clock on the wall chimed ten. “What else is there to do in this place?”

Spike watched as she craned her neck to look around the pub. “You’re pretty much lookin’ at it, ducks,” he said. “Except for the snooker table---.”

“Snooker!” She leapt to her feet, and started tugging at his sleeve. “Let’s play snooker!”

“Do you even know what snooker is?” he asked.

“It’s like pool, right? And I can play pool. C’mon. I feel like doing something other than just sitting here.” She looked around at the others. “Does anyone else want to play?”

There was a round of head-shaking. “I think that last shindy---.”

“Shandy,” Tara corrected her girlfriend.

“---shandy might’ve gone to my head just an eensy weensy little bit,” Willow finished. “You go. We’ll watch from here.”

“It’s in another room,” Spike said.

“So, we won’t watch then. We’ll just think about watching.”

Without regarding what her friends might think, Buffy plopped herself down in Spike’s lap, throwing her arm behind his shoulder as she pouted. “I wanna play snooker,” she whined. “Come play snooker with me.”

“It’s harder than you think---.”

“That’s OK. I can do hard.” She grinned wickedly and squirmed slightly against the erection that was pressing into her ass.

Spike’s eyes darted from her flushed face to those of her friends, noting their oblivion to the Slayer’s behavior. Why am I the only one who sees her acting like a bitch in heat? he wondered. Not that he was complaining. The taut feel of her muscles against his thighs was making his mouth water in anticipation, and he certainly wasn’t going to argue with the smell of her arousal assailing his nostrils. Besides, he was the one who wanted to bring everything out in the open in the first place. If Buffy was going to make it this easy for her friends to suss out the truth, who was he to stop her?

“Much as I’d love to, pet, we can’t. There’s a rugby team in there right now.”

“So, we’ll kick ‘em out.” Hopping to her feet, she pulled him along with her toward the closed door to the game room. “They’re just going to have to learn how to share.”

A last look over his shoulder caught Xander’s eye, and Spike gave the other man an almost imperceptible nod while glancing at the women who remained. He may be drunk, but it was Harris’ turn to look after the lot of them. For some reason, the vamp was certain he was going to have his hands full with Buffy.

There were four of them gathered around the six by twelve table, and inwardly Spike groaned. The smallest of the group made Finn look like Pee Wee Herman, and though the vamp wouldn’t have blinked twice at taking on four demons of that size, four humans were another matter.

“Hi, guys!” Buffy chirped as she strolled in, a wide smile brightening her flushed face.

The four men looked at each other, then glanced at Spike leaning against the door jamb. “’Lo,” said the one nearest her.

The young woman picked up a cue from the wall and began twirling it expertly in her fingers. “You about done?” she asked innocently. “Because I was kind of hoping that we could maybe have the room to ourselves so that Spike here could teach me how to play.”

The one who had spoken earlier smiled and stepped toward Buffy. “Actually, we’re in the middle of a game, but if you’d like, we can teach---.” He stopped when Spike straightened and folded his arms across his chest, stepping slightly more into the room. Though he easily outweighed the blond by a good hundred pounds, something about the smaller man’s carriage set the Scot on edge, and he warily backed away from Buffy. “Or not,” he hastily added.

“Tell you what,” the Slayer said, still smiling. “You guys give up on the game and let us have the room for a while, and Spike will pay for your next round of drinks, OK?”

“Really?” asked the Scot.

“Really?” asked Spike, turning to look at Buffy.

“Really,” she said firmly, and waited expectantly for her partner to follow through with her offer.

Rolling his eyes, the vampire reached into his pocket and extracted the cash, pulling out a few bills to hand to the nearest man, then stepping back to allow the four to file out of the room. When the last had left, he turned to face Buffy again. “I hope you’re done drinking because that’s the last of Rupert’s money,” he said.

He watched with mounting amusement as she stepped up beside him and shut the door, grabbing a nearby chair and propping it under the door knob to prevent anyone from just walking in. “Yep. All done with drinking now. Now I’m ready for snooker.” She stood before the table, tilting her head to look at it. “How come in a country where everything is so super duper tiny, the pool table is enormous?” she queried.

“Because it’s not a pool table, luv. I told you this. It’s a snooker table.”

She picked up one of the red balls and sent it rolling down the green, watching as it bounced off the far side to go careening into a cluster. “There’s too many balls,” she complained.

“No, there’s just enough.” Picking up a nearby cue, he walked around the table. “Do you want me to teach you or not?”

“Maybe we can teach each other.”

Glancing back over his shoulder, Spike saw Buffy climb on top of the table, crawling to the middle on her hands and knees while knocking the balls in her path out of the way. The arousal that had started abating returned with a vengeance as he drank in her darkened irises, heard the quick pant of her breath. “You don’t play snooker from on top of the table, luv,” he drawled, but turned toward her anyway, setting aside the stick in his hands. “Lesson number one.”

As he watched, the Slayer stretched herself out, rolling onto her back and lying widthwise across the table so that she could dangle her head over the edge, gazing up at him upside down. “You look funny from this angle,” she said lightly.

“That’s because all the blood’s running to your head, pet.”

“Where’s all your blood running?” Before he could blink, her arm had shot out, her fingers hooking into the waistband of his jeans and pulling him forward so that she could rub her cheek along the length of his erection through his pants. “Found it,” she singsonged.

Spike chuckled as he extracted himself from her grasp, stepping just far enough away so that she couldn’t reach him. “You’re drunk, Buffy,” he commented.

“Yep,” she agreed. “I’m drunk Buffy.”

“This shouldn’t happen like this.”

“Why?” She rolled onto her stomach and propped her chin up in her hands to gaze at him, eyes luminous. “I thought you loved me.”

Damn, he thought. How am I supposed to resist that? Not exactly the spokesperson for the moral majority here. Still…“Because it would be takin’ advantage,” Spike said. “And you won’t be happy about that in the morning.” The fact that he was convinced she was going to be hungover as hell as well he kept to himself.

She made a buzzing sound in her throat. “Wrong answer, William. It’s only taking advantage if we’ve never actually done it before. But we have, so it’s just me throwing myself at you, because I desperately want a repeat performance of last night.”

“Really?” He tilted his head, gazing at her through hooded eyes, his lips curved into a half-smile. “And why’s that?”

Her voice was soft. “Because it was amazing, and you know it, you jerk,” she teased. “So get up here and snooker me.”

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

The first thing he did when he passed through the barrier was put down the bag that held the harness. This was never going to work if he showed up with it or in any way let its presence be known. Then, raising the sword he had taken from the weapons cache to a ready position, Duncan began stepping quietly down the tunnel toward the stream, dark eyes glowing in the dim light. Stay calm, he reminded himself. You’re armed. He won’t be. And he’ll know right away if something’s amiss if you appear anything but ready.

When he emerged, he hung back near the wall, unwilling to be taken by surprise. Though it would be a one on one battle, even armed, Duncan wasn’t certain he could best the guardian; after all, protecting the entrance to the Otherworld was its job. Let’s get the show on the road, he thought, and opened his mouth to utter a baleful cry that echoed throughout the cavern.

The splashing in the water was almost immediate, and he stiffened as the black shape leapt onto the bank, turning to face him in hatred. The guardian’s hands extended into deadly claws as he took a step toward Duncan. “You,” he growled. “You dare to return here? You dare…” He broke off, eyes narrowing. “Wait. Why have you come back?”

“I’ve come about the harness.”

The guardian snorted. “You can’t bargain with it,” he warned. “You’re a thief, and you will be treated as such. However, if you return the harness to me now, perhaps the Elders might be convinced to show some leniency and make your death quick.”

“I don’t have it anymore. That’s why I’ve come to you.”

It was an unexpected response. “Have you lost it? Or has my colleague managed to taken it back?”

“Your colleague is dead. The Slayer killed him.” Duncan kept his gaze level, regulating his breathing so as not to reveal his half-truth. Dead, yes, but killed by his own hand when he stole back the harness.

“Slayer? What Slayer?”

“The young blonde woman. She was with the vampire who killed the other just last night.”

Anger rippled across the guardian’s black pelt. “Vampire…” he hissed. “I should’ve known.”

Now was the time. “That’s why I’ve come to you,” Duncan continued, his voice smooth and even. “Yes, I stole the harness, but it’s been taken from me, and I need your help to ensure that it remains in the hands of kelpies, not those of humans.”

“Are you saying this…Slayer has our harness?”

“No.” Duncan shook his head, his eyes cold. “I’m saying the vampire has it.”

 

To be continued in Chapter 29: As I Came O’er the Cairney Mount