DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss', of course. And the chapter titles are courtesy of Robert Burns.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: The Scoobies have gone out for a night at the local pub, while Duncan has taken their absence as an opportunity to go see the guardian kelpie in the dungeon…

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

Chapter 29: As I Came O'er the Cairney Mount

The two regarded each other, dark eyes to dark eyes, and Duncan did his best to maintain even breathing as he stared at the guardian kelpie. Yes, he'd eluded all three of them when he'd first run from the Otherworld, but it didn't negate the fact that they were still heavily dangerous and skilled at their chosen path of protecting the entrance. Even if he was only facing one now, that didn't mean he was any the safer.

"Since when does a common thief worry about the plight of his species?" the guardian asked. "If you cared so much, you wouldn't have stolen the harness in the first place."

"The two have nothing to do with the other," Duncan countered. "The vampire is a threat to our world, especially with the harness. If I can't have it, I'd rather it was back in your hands. Not in those of someone who aligns himself with the humans who want to control the passageway to the Otherworld."

The guardian's eyes narrowed, his nostrils flaring. "How do you know about that?" he queried slowly, his voice low and dangerous. "The witch we captured knew very little outside of the spell she was involved with, and you were nowhere around when we drained the information from her."

Damn it. That was more than he should have leaked. Quickly, the cook scrambled to sustain his composure. "I have my ways. I'm even doing what I can to thwart their efforts. Were you aware that the spell they attempted a few nights ago was actually one to close the seal, not to control it? That was my doing."

There was a long silence. "If the vampire is such a threat, why is he helping the humans? The Slayer…seems to trust him."

Duncan shook his head. "I don't know. I only know that I can only do so much on my own. It's part of your responsibility to protect the harness from those who would misuse its power. You must go after the vampire."

"Your generosity of spirit is overwhelming," the guardian said dryly, his disdain for the other kelpie dripping from his words like jagged shards of ice. "I shall consider your statements while I am returning you to face the Elders---." He cut himself off as Duncan stepped backward, readying the sword in his hands.

"I'm not going back."

"You must. You don't belong in the human world. Perhaps, in light of the current circumstances regarding the harness---." His thought was cut off in a garbled cry as the sword darted forward, slicing across his upper arm, leaving a trail of crimson streaming down his flesh, and the guardian watched as the other demon whirled and raced down the tunnel. He could've pursued him. It was his job, after all. But that would leave the Otherworld completely unprotected, and both wounded and unarmed, he was no match for the thief. He would wait. He had other issues to consider now. Primarily…the harness and the vampire.

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

As much as he loved her, as much as he loved the power and grace and strength of spirit that the Slayer owned, standing there alongside the game table, watching her inch herself backwards along the green to allow him room to join her, Spike decided that he genuinely liked drunk Buffy as well. Gone were the inhibitions he'd seen holding her back when he'd observed her with Captain Cardboard, replaced with a freedom he'd only previously witnessed when she fought, when she thought no one was around and she could lose herself in the thrill of the battle. He'd seen glimpses of this woman briefly over the past few days, each time a little longer, a little more direct, and was glad that she was finally discovering the facility to let go, to stop pretending about who she was and what she wanted. And though he wished she didn't need to drink to find it, he wasn't going to argue with the result.

"Someone could walk in on us," Spike warned, lifting himself onto the edge of the snooker table, settling on his hands and knees as he gazed at her through hooded eyes. Not that he cared about the relative lack of privacy. Just wanted it out there in the open so that if it happened, she couldn't blame him for distracting her.

She didn't even bother looking at the door, or the chair she'd left propped there to prevent anyone from entering. "Don't tell me Spikey's afraid?" Buffy taunted, eyes twinkling. "Does the thought of an audience all of a sudden strike Big Bad down with performance anxiety?"

He heard the breath catch in her throat as he began crawling forward, locking gazes as his tongue ran along the edge of his teeth. "They're your friends, pet," he murmured. "And the last thing you've got to be worried about is me bein' unable to perform." He stopped, nose to nose with her, and caught her mouth with his, nibbling at her bottom lip as he inhaled the scent of her skin. God, she smelled like ripened peaches just waiting to be plucked, and it was taking everything the vampire had not to rip off the clothes she seemed determined to shed and pound her senseless right then.

"So how come there are so many balls?" Buffy said, breaking away from the kiss to slide herself sideways, knocking the spheres out of her way as she stretched herself across the felt. "And why are so many of them red?"

Hovering over her, Spike lifted one hand to allow his fingers to dance down her torso, undoing the buttons of her blouse with a nimble grace, letting the fabric fall to the side and expose the golden expanse of her stomach. "That's the play of the game," he replied, catching the front hook of her bra between index finger and thumb. "Told you it wasn't like pool, not really. Much more complex. More thinkin' involved other than just sinking the balls in the right pockets."

As her nipples became exposed to the air, Buffy let her hands lift to trace the curve of his lip. "But half of them are red," she said. "How do you know which ones to hit?"

He smiled, nipping playfully at her finger. "It's the natural placement of things," he explained. "It's all about doin' things in the right order. First," and he lowered his head to her breast, tongue circling the tip, "you sink a red ball." His lips closed around the hardened bud, sucking it against the roof of his mouth as his hand curled around her waist, chuckling in pleasure when she moaned beneath his touch.

"And then…?"

Spike slid upward, leaving a wet trail across her skin that sizzled as it chilled against her. "Then you go for one of the others," he murmured into her ear, and hooked his fingers through the waistband of her trousers to pull her to him, pressing his hard length to hers, his erection straining to be free of his jeans.

Buffy's arms came up and around his shoulders, tangling in his hair. "What if you miss?" she asked playfully. "Is it the other player's turn?"

His eyes glittered. "Yeah," he drawled, and was immediately flipped over onto his back to find himself gazing through the tendrils of her hair that dangled over his face. Spike gasped as she laid directly on him, hip to hip, lean muscle to lean muscle, grinding her heat into his arousal as her mouth descended to his, swallowing him into a kiss that came from more than hunger.

How did she do it…? Make him forget within the space of a single blink over a hundred years of life without her…as if everything up to this time of his life had been merely preparation, drawing him to her with no doubts as to its truth, readying him to stand at her side regardless of how she might feel about him in return. He would've, too. Even if Scotland had never happened. It wouldn't have been as much fun, but for the love of his Slayer, Spike would've done it.

Yet there was more to it than that. He knew it. He could feel it coming off her skin in tensive filaments that coiled around his limbs to pull him closer, wrapping and stretching and binding him to her in something more than the heat of the moment. He only wondered if she could feel it as well.

Buffy broke away from the kiss to gaze down at him, irises almost completely swallowed by black. "So what happens when I knock one of the colored balls into a corner pocket?" she asked breathlessly.

He grinned. "You lose your turn," he replied. Swiftly, he'd reversed their positions, back to him being on top, and laughed at her wide-eyed surprise. "S'posed to go for a red one first, pet."

"Snooker's hard."

"But doesn't that make it worth it when you win?"

"So where's the strategy come in? Red, color, red, color. Doesn't take much thinking to keep that one straight."

"You have to start thinkin' about the game when you realize you can't sink a ball right away." Spike's thumb began tracing lazy circles around her aureola, carefully avoiding the pink. "When that happens, you try and set it up so that your opponent is forced into an awkward position, make 'em miss hittin' a red at all. That gives you extra points."

She giggled as his hand tickled over her abdomen to settle at the waistband of her pants, undoing the button there before sliding down the zipper to glide inside the silk of her underwear. "I like extra points."

"Not as much as I do."

She was soaking wet, hot and sticky as his fingers parted her outer lips, over her clit to sink deliciously slow into her depths. "No," she disagreed, breath barely coming in brief exhalations. "I think these kind of extra points are definitely more for me."

Propping himself up on his elbow, Spike looked down at her, watching as she caught her lip between her teeth, gliding his hand in and out, each time just lightly allowing the heel of his palm to brush against her clit in giddy anticipation of a firmer contact. "You don't think I win from this?" he asked.

It was getting harder to speak. "Well, maybe…eventually," she said. "But this part…" She moaned as he added a third finger, plunging the trio even deeper. "…this part is…Buffy wins…"

He snorted, but it was done affectionately, his platinum head shaking in mock dismay. "So much to learn," he teased. "This is goin' to be fuuun."

"And just what do you think I have to learn?" She was trying for indignance, but in the waves of pleasure rocketing through her inner muscles, it came out as merely a petulant squeak, her lower lip jutting into that familiar pout as she gazed up at him. Too hard to glare when her eyes refused to focus properly. And for some reason, she knew it wasn't the alcohol's fault.

Spike smiled. "Haven't you sussed out yet what gets me off?" As she opened her mouth to speak, he shook his head. "Other than the obvious." His hand never stopped moving as he spoke, gliding in and out in a lazy rhythm. "See, pet, the way it goes is…" And his voice became a husky whisper. "…the harder you come, the harder I come. So takin' my time with this…playin'…seein' you squirm…it's part and parcel of the same game, 'cause really, we're on the same side here, seein' as how our end goals are pretty much identical."

"Sometimes the obvious is enough." Her hands lit on the waistband of his jeans, tugging them undone to allow his erection to spring free, hard and smooth and pulsing in the circle of her fingers.

"Sometimes," he agreed, and lifted his hip to let her push his pants down, feeling her warm hand cup the curve of his ass in a desperate attempt to pull him closer. "But why settle for just comin' up to scratch when you can excel?"

For a moment, the only sound in the too-warm room was Buffy's heady breaths, catching thickly in her throat in their struggle to get out. "You haven't said," she started, and then moaned as his thumb caught at her clit again, "what happens when the…red balls are all gone. Is the game…over then?"

He pulled his hand free of her heat, sliding it around to drag her own trousers down around her ankles, off her legs, and positioned himself above her. "Not over," Spike murmured, dragging his lips across hers. "Just moves on to the next phase."

Her back arched as he slid himself inside her, no pretense at gentility guiding his motion as he began thrusting, pulling himself almost all the way out before plunging back in. If it had been their first time, each might have thought it was merely about satisfying a mutual lust, their bodies rash in need as hands crawled over skin, clutching and clinging and holding and raking, mouths tangling to encompass the other. But it wasn't. And neither entertained the notion that this was just a passing fling, an answer to a physical call they'd been unable to ignore. It was more than that. Even if Buffy had yet to say the words out loud.

He felt her first orgasm shudder through her body, and clamped his mouth over hers to stifle the scream that rose in her throat, swallowing her breath as she rode it out in writhing silence. No way was he going to get the gang's attention at this point. No bloody way was he ready to be interrupted now. Keep her quiet. Keep her close. Keep her all to himself.

His pace never hesitated, quickening instead into a pounding rhythm that dragged Buffy's skin across the felt of the table, made the snooker balls bounce as they jostled from cushion to cushion, occasionally brushing against her unsuspecting flesh in cool temerity that mimicked Spike's touch before skittering away to collide with another. The last thing she expected was to come again, but as she felt the now-familiar twitch of his cock as it stiffened even further in anticipation of his climax, she wrapped her legs around his hips, holding him deep, buffeting the forces that vibrated through both of them before drowning in the fervor of his mouth as Spike buried his face in her neck.

"God, Buffy…luv…" he murmured. As badly as he wanted---needed---to hear her say it, part of him was hoping she wouldn't, that she'd stay quiet in the aftermath. He didn't want it like this. Not when she wasn't completely sober. It wouldn't be right. It wouldn't be real. And now, after everything, that's what he wanted, that's what he was aiming for. The real deal.

She giggled against his cheek, and he lifted his head to look down into her laughing eyes. "I think I like snooker," she said softly. "Definitely my kind of game."

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

It wasn't until she saw one of them standing next to Xander did Willow come to see that, in actuality, rugby players were quite large. Massive, really. Not that she was feeling threatened or anything, but with the other three clustered around their table, everything in the pub seemed suddenly smaller and too close, the shimmery feeling the shandies had been creating in her head beginning to turn to lead, weighing her in until she had to fight the urge to jump from her seat and go running out into the cool night, dragging Tara along behind her.

A bell rang from behind the counter, catching her attention. "What's that?" she asked, deftly avoiding the nearest Scot's meaty hand as she pressed her knee away.

"Last call."

Anya grimaced. "Damn it!" she said. "I totally forgot they have to stop serving in this country at eleven." She began to twist in her seat toward the dartboard. "Xander---."

The man at her side leaned sideways, blocking her view of the game, lifting his arm around her shoulders as he did so. "You won't be needing him," he said. "He looks busy."

The player next to Tara grinned. "Just because the pub's closing, doesn't mean the night has to end," he said suggestively. "We can just move the party to another location."

Willow's eyes widened. OK. Now she was feeling threatened. Just a little. "We have an early morning tomorrow," she said. "We should really be heading back. Xander!"

The hand found her knee this time and pulled her legs apart as it held on. "Don't be daft," he said. "You've got time for just one more drink with us."

OK, maybe a lot threatened.

She reacted without even thinking, the combination of her rising anxiety and too many "poofter" drinks making her aim not as true as it should've been, or really as it would've been if she'd been sober. It was just supposed to be a small distraction, a drink in the farthest's lap so that they could make a break for the car, and stay there until Buffy and Spike came out to join them. But when Xander, who had finally heard his name being called, stepped in front of her pointing finger, it was too late to stop, and the pint that had been on the table suddenly appeared in his hand before tipping of its own accord over the rugby player's head.

It was hard to tell who was more shocked---a wide-eyed Xander or the soaking wet Scot who leapt to his feet to face the young man in front of him. His hands balled into meaty fists and he took a hostile step forward, only to be checked by the publican behind the bar clearing his throat. With one angry glance over his shoulder, he nodded to his teammates, who joined him on their feet. "We're taking this outside, Yank," he growled.

As the quartet herded a now-terrified Xander to the front of the pub, Willow pushed Anya to her feet, shoving her toward the closed door to the snooker room. "Go get Buffy and Spike!" she hissed as she rose to follow the men outside. "Now!"

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

They were stretched out on the snooker table, she curled into his side, nudging the occasional ball away with their feet, when the doorknob began jiggling, followed immediately by the incessant pounding.

"Buffy!" called Anya. "Get out here! Xander's about to become another basic food group for a group of drunk Scots!"

Spike rolled his eyes as she jumped from the table, stumbling slightly as the alcohol still in her system tilted the room around her. "Coming!" the Slayer replied, scrambling for the trousers that had fallen to a heap on the floor.

"Hurry!"

He listened to the ex-demon's retreating footsteps as he rolled onto his side, blue eyes hooded as he watched Buffy struggle to get her legs into her pants. "Might serve the boy some good," he said casually. "Let him learn not to make with the wisecracks around blokes who really can hurt him."

She glared at him, even as she toppled sideways against the wall, her foot caught in the fabric. "Are you going to come help me?" she demanded. "Or are you just going to lay there, looking..." She couldn't finish the thought, the memories of their recent escapades still flushing her skin. Focus, she thought. Xander needs help now. Sexy Spike thoughts can happen later.

"With the pants or with the boy?" He couldn't help smirking as her underwear appeared in his hand, extracted from underneath his body, and began to twirl them around on his finger.

"With Xander," she said through gritted teeth, finally managing to get both legs in at the same time. Pulling them up, she grabbed for her panties and stuffed them into her pocket before reaching for the shoes that had somehow disappeared from her feet as well.

It was a challenge, unspoken as it was, and he knew even before her heel had disappeared into the first shoe that he was going to help her. Much as Harris annoyed him, he wasn't about to let him get hurt unnecessarily, even if it meant turning his own head into mush as a result. No, this was part of the Slayer package as he'd accepted it. Inherit the friends. Get adopted into the inner circle. Find a family. And, truth be told, the git was starting to grow on him. He wanted to help him out. Damn it.

They found the pub nearly empty as they bolted from the room, rushing for the front door and the chill night air without their jackets to burst upon the scene of Willow standing in front of Xander, blithely attempting to barricade him from the four men who stood menacingly around. "Don't make me angry," she was saying, her voice nearly a squeak. "You won't like me if I get angry."

"Thanks for the help, Will," Xander said, his eyes locked on the four men. "But I'm not so sure Hulk-ese translates very well to Scottish."

"Hi, guys," Buffy said brightly, stepping forward into the fray. "What's going on here?" She stood between the two factions, head swiveling between them, a wide smile on her face.

"Someone needs to learn some manners," said the Scot who'd been dunked with the beer. As he began to take a step closer, a pale hand wrapped around his upper arm, closing in an iron vise that didn't hurt but definitely prevented any movement. He glanced back to see Spike looking up at him with deadly eyes.

"Much as I like your style," the vamp drawled, "I can't let you do that."

"Yeah?" the man barked. "You and what army?"

Before anyone could react, Buffy's leg had shot out, connecting with the chest of the nearest rugby player, sending him flying back into the parking lot even as she stumbled to keep her balance. Gotta remember, she thought as she straightened, watching the world swim before her hazel eyes. Fighting and drinking? Very un-mixy.

As the remaining three stood agape, Spike smiled. "Care to try askin' that one again?" he said, tightening his grip just enough to remind the man he was still there. Sometimes, intimidation could be a wonderful thing.

"He poured his bloody drink over me!"

"And I said I was sorry!"

Buffy folded her arms across her chest. "Sounds like a fair trade to me," she said. "No harm, no foul." She tilted her head to gaze at Spike. "Is that what they call them in rugby?" she asked.

"They're penalties, luv."

She turned back to the offender. "So, no harm, no penalty then." Her eyes flickered to the Scot trying to rise from the ground. "Unless you want some of what your friend got. Because I'm more than happy to oblige."

It took only one look back at the wheezing form of his teammate for the man to back down, stepping away as Spike released the grip on his arm. Black eyes darted between the group and with a quick jerk of his head, he nodded for his friends to follow him, down the path and into the slumbering town.

"Pissin' off a drunk Scot was probably not the smartest thing you've ever done, Harris," Spike said once they were gone.

"Yeah," Buffy agreed. "Why on earth would you pour a drink over him?"

Xander waved an angry finger at Willow. "No more magic!" he demanded. "Every time you start going all bewitchy, I end up turning into the bunny you pull out of your hat!"

"Hey! Not an image that's going to get you lucky tonight, Xander!"

He tossed an apologetic smile at his girlfriend. "Sorry, Ahn."

"Why don't we talk about this on the way home?" the Slayer offered. "I think our fun pub night out has just ground to a screaming halt."

"I'll go get the coats," Spike said, and pivoted on his heel to head back to the pub.

"Wait up," Xander said. "I'll come with you."

They walked in silence until they were on the other side of the door at which point, Xander grabbed the vamp's arm, forcing him to stop and look at him. "Listen," he said. "In case no one else says anything to you. Thanks." He nodded back toward the outside. "For helping."

Spike's eyes narrowed, his surprise etched across his brow. "Don't mention it," he replied slowly.

"No, really." His brown eyes were sincere. "I mean, I know Buffy can ride you kinda hard, so I just wanted to get it out there. 'Cause I'm not sure she's noticing it like I am."

There was a moment, and then the vampire shrugged. "Wasn't goin' to actually hit the wanker, you know," he said, as he turned away. "Not worth the headache it would've given me."

Behind his back, Xander smiled. "Yeah," he agreed, accepting the statement they both recognized as the lie it was. "I know."

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

None of them could hold their liquor, Spike decided. Within five minutes of jostling along the narrow road back to Dall Rath, the quartet in the back seat were asleep, heads on adjoining shoulders, the ex-demon girl stretched out across Harris' lap as loud snores emanated from his open mouth. Only Buffy remained awake and as soon as she realized her friends were out of it, she had turned to face him in the car, her face hidden in shadow, her hand reaching out to rest lightly on his thigh.

"Did you have fun?" she asked.

He glanced over, wishing he could see her eyes. Was she serious? After everything that had happened tonight, how could she ask him such a thing? "Don't really fancy facin' the Watcher Inquisition in the morning," he said. "But outside of that, yeah, I'd say I had fun."

"Good." She seemed satisfied with that answer, and leaned her head back against the seat, her lids fluttering closed even as her hand remained on his leg. "I was worried."

"After the snooker table? Trust me, pet. You've got nothin' to worry about."

Buffy laughed softly. "No, that's not it," she said, and then stopped as her mouth stretched into an audible yawn. "I thought you'd be a grump about it since the whole thing was Duncan's idea."

The cook's name sent a chill through Spike's body, raising his hackles as his hands tightened around the wheel. "What was that?" he asked, his voice low. But she was already asleep, her even breathing testimony to the effects of the alcohol still in her system.

The vamp's mind raced as he maneuvered the car through the winding road and over the mountain. No wonder it had seemed so off when Buffy suggested it. It wasn't her bloody idea in the first place. It also explained Red's odd behavior about the whole set-up, her evasive answers when she'd been initially pressed. Neither girl had wanted to admit to being convinced by Duncan to drag the gang out for the night, and the fact that she was only now admitting to the truth---albeit under the lingering effects of the alcohol---didn't appease Spike in the slightest. Warning bells were pealing in his head. There was definitely something not right about it, but what exactly it was, he had no idea.

If it wasn't for his heightened agitation, he probably wouldn't have noticed the movement in the adjoining field as he crested the hill. As it was, his gaze only flickered across the moonlit heather, not really seeing until the shadow passed within the path of a stray beam. Immediately, Spike extinguished the lights, braking the car as quietly and gently as he could without rousing his passengers, switching the key in the ignition as he stared out the window. He couldn't really tell for sure, and after a furtive glance at Buffy, let his vampire visage slide into place, golden eyes peering into the darkness, picking up the details that had heretofore escaped him.

Duncan. Speak of the devil.

Slowly, Spike dropped his hand to his lap, tapping firmly on the back of Buffy's. "Slayer," he said, his voice firm but low. When she merely stirred, he gave her fingers a squeeze. "Slayer," he repeated, a little louder.

Her lids drifted open and she gazed sleepily at the car's driver. "Are we…?" she started, only to cut herself off as she noticed the ridges in his forehead. Instantly, she straightened, senses alerted as her head whipped around to look outside.

Spike nodded in the direction of the figure, and waited for the recognition to widen her eyes before speaking. "Now do you believe me?" he asked. "'Cause that's not quite the way back to town for our boy, now is it?"

Wordlessly, she shook her head, watching as Duncan disappeared over the mountain's peak. Where could the cook possibly be going? He should've left the castle hours ago, to return to his aunt's, and yet here he was, trudging through the heather near midnight, moving in the opposite direction of his home. The niggles that had been biting at her ankles before suddenly grew teeth, and Buffy felt a chill as she realized how blind she had really been.

Spike had been right all along. Something was up with Duncan.


To be continued in Chapter 30: The Lover's Morning Salute to His Mistress