DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course. And the chapter titles are courtesy of Robert Burns.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: After a night spent at the pub, Buffy and Spike have seen Duncan on the mountain…

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Chapter 30: The Lover's Morning Salute to His Mistress

Even before she was awake, she knew he wasn’t there. A hollowness seemed to overtake the fuzzy dreamland in her mind, and as Buffy battled through the clouds of waking, the absence of Spike in her bed sent her reaching sideways, fingers stroking the sheets in search of his cool skin, finding instead only the abandoned wrinkles he’d left behind. Wherever he was, it wasn’t with her. And though she knew it shouldn’t, the taste of disappointment it left in her mouth drove the Slayer to pull the pillow over her head, to try and block out the morning and the pounding ache inside her.

Only half of it was because of the hangover. One of these days, she thought miserably, I’m going to actually realize that drinking is a bad thing. I wonder if Willow still has that “Beer=Bad” sign she made up after CaveBuffy came out? Anything to remind me not to go through this again. It just isn’t worth it.

At least she could still remember what had actually happened the previous night, even if things did start getting a little blurry about the time they’d pulled up in front of the castle. She remembered the pub, and the snooker table---oh god, and Spike on the snooker table, no way could she forget that---and the fight with the rugby players, and the drive home…

And it was there that her brain stopped, the image of Duncan’s silhouette in the moonlight as he traipsed through the heather etched in clarity across her mind’s eye. Out on the mountain. Way past when he should’ve been anywhere near Dall Rath. And the look on Spike’s face, that “I told you so but you’re just a stubborn bint who refuses to listen to me” look she had a feeling she was going to come to know really well, staring back at her as she tried to figure out what to do.

Spike had wanted to go after him on the spot, but Buffy had talked him out of it, using the gang in the backseat as an excuse not to abandon the car. She was embarrassed to admit that if he was right and Duncan was actually one of those kelpies, she wasn’t sure she was sober enough to fight effectively, let alone lay chase should he decide to run, and hid behind her responsibility to protect her friends, knowing even as she said the words that the vamp saw right through her. He didn’t argue, though. Just looked at her with that amused tilt of his head as she promised to come out in the morning and scout around, to see if maybe she could find what exactly Duncan was up to. It didn’t make her feel better about it, though.

But thinking of it now wasn’t helping her headache, and Buffy quickly banished the thoughts of the cook to the far recesses of her brain, locking them in the closet of “Things to Do When I’m Feeling Human Again Land” in hopes that sometime in the next few hours, she would actually be up to lifting her head from the mattress. I wonder what time it is, she mused. More importantly, I wonder what the hell could’ve been so important to Spike that he’s not even here when I wake up.

She wanted to go back to sleep, but suddenly, the single bed seemed huge, the vacancy left by the vampire daunting, and Buffy found herself tossing under the blankets, twisting them around her legs as she sought to get comfortable before finally kicking them off to embrace the chilly air. Gotta get up. Find Spike. Make sure he doesn’t approach Duncan until I’ve got a chance to…

She saw it before she was even halfway up, and her surprised smile brought a childlike glee to her hazel eyes. In the corner, the screen had been set aside, revealing a steaming bathtub complete with an array of toiletries at its side. They weren’t hers---somehow, they were nicer---and as she rose from the bed, Buffy couldn’t help but wonder just where he had gotten them from. Because Spike was really the only explanation for this. This had to be his doing.

The paper had fallen to the floor, and she spotted it as she padded quietly to the tub’s side. Stooping, she picked it up, scanning the words once…and then a second time, wishing yet again that he was there.

Because it’ll help. ---S

His handwriting was neater than she’d imagined; somehow, she’d always thought Spike’s script would be more of a scrawl, not the confident, angular strokes that now graced his note. No mention of where he’d gone or when he was going to come back, but as the heat of the water began to steam across her cheeks, the fuzz inside Buffy’s head began to settle in anticipation of the relaxing draw of the bath. He was probably right; a good, long soak was sure to get her ready to face the day, and if anyone knew anything about helping with hangovers, she was sure it was the blond vampire. She could only hope that he wouldn’t be gone for too long.

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

If he’d had a watch, he would’ve been looking at it, checking to see just how long she had been inside. As it was, Spike had to settle for pacing irritably in front of the closed door, giving it a look of death every time he passed by, his hands balled into fists deep in his pockets.

When it finally inched open, allowing Willow to squeeze herself out without the occupants seeing out into the hall, the vampire pounced, grabbing the bottle from her hand even before she had closed the door behind her. “Took you bloody long enough,” he growled as he looked over the label.

“You are going to owe me in such a huge way,” the witch whispered back, her face furious. “Do you have any idea how many lies I just told to get you that? Not to mention the images that are now burned onto my retinas. Remember that rope Colin was complaining about not being able to find? Well, guess where I just found it.”

Now that he had what he’d come after, Spike’s mood lifted, allowing him to look back at the closed door with a cocked brow and half-smile. “Well, notch one up for Harris,” he drawled.

Willow wrinkled up her nose. “No. No notching. That’s one of my best friends in there. I do not want to be imagining him and Anya playing their little bondage games. I lose enough sleep as it is worrying about important stuff, like school, and Tara, and my other best friend getting involved with another vampire.” She said the last defiantly, lifting her chin as if daring Spike to argue with her, but under his direct gaze, found herself faltering within moments, her own eyes falling to the bottle in his hands. “I don’t know why you want Anya’s bubble bath anyway,” she pouted. “It’s not like you didn’t already raid everything Tara and I brought along for Buffy. Couldn’t you have used her own stuff?”

“It wouldn’t be much of a surprise then, now would it?” He shook his head, turning the toiletry over in his hand as he scanned its label again. “’Sides, this smells better than what the Slayer has. She didn’t exactly pack for a day at the---.”

“Spike!”

His shoulders slumped at the sound of the Watcher’s voice behind him, but he had only managed to turn halfway around to look at him when Giles’ hand gripped his upper arm and shoved him face first against the wall. “Hey!” Spike yelled. “Defenseless vampire here!”

“Defenseless, my ass,” Giles said through gritted teeth, and pushed him harder into the stone. “Where in blazes did you go last night?”

Willow’s eyes widened, and she caught the vamp’s level gaze as he grimaced. Uh oh. Busted.

“What makes you think---?”

“Don’t play me for a fool, Spike.” His words were clipped, the blue of his eyes flashing in anger. “There’s fifty pounds missing from my wallet, and Colin just told me that half the petrol is gone from one of the cars. You’re the only one who can drive in this country, outside of Colin and myself. Now. I’m going to ask you one more time.” He shoved him again for emphasis. “Where did you go last night?”

“Should’ve known you’d be keepin’ an eye on the tanks,” Spike rejoined, but was rewarded with a hard twist of his arm. “I was out of smokes,” he barked. “And goin’ stark ravin’ mad bein’ cooped up here with Nancy Drew and her hardy girls. And since you and Junior were bein’ so stingy with the whiskey last night, I decided I’d get myself a pint or two. That’s all. Not like the rest of you haven’t been gallivanting off into town whenever the fancy takes you. Leavin’ me here to rot in boredom, with nothin’ to do but stare at books that make your eyeballs bleed.”

“And Buffy just let you go?”

“Slayer didn’t know anything about it,” the vamp countered, avoiding the surprised look from the nearby witch. “I told her I was goin’ out to do a bit of patrolling, stretch my legs a bit.”

“And she trusted you to go out on your own? I find that very hard to believe.” Giles’ grip loosened, and he stepped away from the wall, allowing Spike to turn around to face him.

“We’ve got an understanding.”

Willow could see the danger begin to flicker in the azure depths of his eyes, and was amazed at the restraint the vampire was showing in not blurting out the true story to the older Englishman. She didn’t know why he was covering for them, but seeing the righteous anger in the Watcher’s face, she was rather glad he was.

“Well, understand this.” Giles held up a warning finger as he spoke. “You are not to go out of this castle again without the express permission of either myself, Colin, or Buffy, nor without supervision from one of the three of us. I will not have you roaming the Scottish countryside, looking for kicks. Or worse, escaping entirely and leaving us all here with a spell we can’t complete and questions we can’t answer. Until we return to Sunnydale, consider yourself under house arrest.”

“You’re grounding me?” Spike’s jaw dropped in incredulity. “I’m not some soddin’ child---.”

“Then stop acting like one.”

“It was just a runner to the pub.”

“I don’t care if it was a runner to Heaven itself. If you can’t behave as a responsible member of this team, you hardly deserve the freedoms afforded to those of us who take the time to search for the answers we need to get out of this place and get back home.”

Spike’s head tilted as his eyes narrowed. “Right. ‘Cause you were burnin’ the midnight oil buried in your books,” he snorted. “How was your little kip? Have any nice dreams?”

The Watcher’s gaze was cold behind his spectacles. “I suggest you make yourself useful for a change, Spike,” he said, ignoring the vampire’s gibe. “Get downstairs and---.” He stopped, noticing for the first time the bottle in the other’s hand. “What is that?” he queried.

Spike’s fingers curled reflexively around the label, blocking its contents from view. “Conditioner,” he said evenly. “Slayer ran out and asked me to get some from the witch here.”

“What were you doing in Buffy’s room while she’s bathing?”

He didn’t even hesitate to respond. “I wasn’t. She makes me stand in the bloody hallway. Yells at me through the door when she’s done.”

As Willow watched the two argue back and forth, it was all she could do not to shake her head in reluctant admiration for the vampire’s ease in lying to Giles. OK, spent a century evil and doing this for a living, she thought, but still, no good reason why he should be doing this now, masking the Scoobies’ involvement in the pub escapades with plausible half-truths.

“Buffy’s just going to have to do without,” Giles finally said, the definitive tone of his voice brooking no more discussion on the matter. “I need you and Willow downstairs in the great hall to work on the spell. Colin and I believe we may have discovered something about the casting.” He turned on his heel and was halfway down the corridor to the stairwell before he stopped, glancing back at the pair over his shoulder. “Five minutes,” he instructed.

“Wow,” the redhead breathed once he was gone, “he’s really mad.”

Spike shrugged. “Nah,” he dismissed. “Should’ve seen him last year when I taped Passions over his copy of the highlights from the 1966 World Cup. Made me drink cold blood for a week.” He shook his head at the wrinkled confusion on her face. “It’s an English thing,” he said. “Trust me. He was pissed.” He handed her back the bubble bath, glancing in the direction of the stairs wistfully as his finger unconsciously caressed the bottle. “Not that I’m thrilled about missing Buffy’s blue lagoon bit, but I better be gettin’ downstairs if we want this story to stick. Thanks anyway, Red.”

She stopped him before he’d taken two steps. “How come you didn’t tell Giles what really happened?” she asked.

“’Cause I’m his favorite fall guy,” Spike replied, with a half-smile. “Let’s just say it’s easier for him to be brassed with me than it is for Buffy to have him being disappointed in her.”

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

He was whistling when he entered the great hall. Last day, he thought. Time to pack up and move on. In a small way, Duncan realized he was going to miss hanging around the Americans; there was just something about the girls that drew him to them, that Slayer in particular, but with the harness safely stowed in the cave and the groundwork laid for Spike to be the guardian’s target for a while, he knew it was time to go. Take the time the diversion was going to allow him to run as far as possible, to start a new life with the harness to help.

He knew he could’ve just walked away last night. That probably would’ve been the sensible thing to do. But suspicions might be raised if Duncan were to suddenly disappear, and with Fiona’s injury healing enough for her to tend to the matters at Dall Rath herself, putting in this final day seemed right. He just had to inform the Watchers.

“Mr. Sadler?” He had to stifle his smile when the younger Englishman started from his seat at the table, turning to notice him for the first time since entering the room. “I wanted to let you know that my Aunt Fiona is doing much better,” he continued. “In fact, so much better, she’s decided that she can resume her responsibilities around here beginning tomorrow.”

“Oh. Well. Thank you for telling me.” Colin seemed slightly flustered by this information, his brows knitting together. “You’ve been…most helpful in filling in for her.”

“It was my pleasure. Really.” Duncan’s dark eyes darted to the door, watching as the older Watcher came striding in. “I’ll just be starting with breakfast now.”

They didn’t even wait for him to leave the room before striking up a conversation. “You were right,” Giles said behind him. “It was Spike.”

Duncan slowed his pace slightly to hear the other’s response. “I knew I smelled smoke in the leather,” he replied. “What did he think he was going to accomplish by stealing out in the car last night?”

“He said something about needing cigarettes and then started off on this woe-is-me speech about how we leave him out of everything. Funny, really, coming from him, considering how he’s managed to get himself involved in almost every aspect of this project. He was just supposed to help with the spell, yet he’s helped Buffy with the demon in the dungeon, helped us in our translations.” There was a pause. “I can’t believe Buffy would just allow him to go out on his own like that. It’s not like her to be so careless.”

Duncan didn’t hear any answer, but as he stepped out of the room and into the kitchen, the thought in his head almost exactly matched that in Colin’s.

It’s not careless; it’s called being in love.

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

To say she was disappointed Spike hadn’t returned while she was in the tub was an understatement. By the time Buffy emerged from the water, her mood had shriveled almost as tightly as the wrinkles in her skin, and though the worst of her hangover was now gone, she couldn’t help but be annoyed that the vampire would go to the lengths of providing such an erotic possibility without actually following through with it. Stupid Spike.

When a knock came to the bedroom door, her heart leapt to her throat, only to immediately sink when she realized that he wouldn’t bother with announcing his arrival; Spike would’ve just walked right on in, that jaunt to his step, probably with some self-satisfied smirk on his face. She sighed. Great, now she was doomed to Spike-filled fantasies all day. No doubt of the naked, sweaty variety. Her sweat, not his. That cool flesh of his always seemed to remain so dry, only getting slick when her own body was rubbing up against it, feeling his muscles tense against hers, his mouth…

She sighed again. This was going to a loonngg day.

“B-b-buffy?”

The Slayer frowned, pulling her hair free from her collar as she crossed to the door, opening it to reveal a smiling Tara. “Hey,” she said. “What’s up?”

“Willow asked me to come up and try and catch you before you came downstairs.” She glanced furtively back over her shoulder before returning her wide gaze to the girl in the doorway. “Can I…talk to you…in there?”

Buffy stepped aside to allow her to enter, closing the door behind them to leave the pair in solitude. “Is something wrong?” she quizzed. “Willow hasn’t done another spell on Xander, has she?”

Tara laughed. “No, nothing like that.” Her gaze flickered over the tub. “Did the bath work for your hangover?” she asked. “Spike said it would.”

“Yeah,” she replied, softening. “Are those yours?” She gestured to the toiletries that still rested next to it.

“Spike said they were…nicer than the ones you brought,” the witch offered in apologetic explanation.

“He’s right. Thanks.” Crossing to the bed, Buffy perched herself on its edge to begin slipping on her shoes. “So what did you want to talk about?”

Briefly, Tara explained what Spike had done, the confrontation with Giles and his subsequent banishment to the great hall and research duty. With each passing sentence, the Slayer’s eyes widened, her surprise at his assumed culpability enveloping her in waves of guilt, until she finally cut the other girl off with an upraised palm.

“Stop,” she directed, rising to her feet. “I’m going to go fix this. He can’t be---.”

The touch of Tara’s hand on her arm astonished both of them, but she didn’t remove it even when Buffy made to move away. “Spike said don’t. He passed a note to Willow and said just to let sleeping dogs lie on this one.”

“But why…?”

“Mr. Giles was pretty peeved. Spike thinks it’s better if it’s directed at him, than the rest of us. He s-s-said…well, he wrote that we’ll be more productive this way.”

She hesitated, mulling over the vampire’s logic. Twisted and uncalled for, but somehow, probably right on the money. Funny how he always had a way of doing that. One of these days, she was going to have to ask him how he pulled it off. “So, he wants me to keep quiet when I come down,” she mused. “Guess I can do that. Not like we’re not getting really good at keeping secrets around here.”

“Actually…” Tara seemed hesitant to say anything further, biting at her lip as she blocked Buffy’s path to the door. “Spike said something else to Willow. Something about you not coming down to the hall at all.”

“Oh? And pray tell, what does he think I should be doing?”

“Um…he said not to w-w-wimp out and forget about checking the mountain this morning. I guess…you saw something last night on the way home?”

She seemed to be waiting for a response, the messenger frightened of the unhappy reply, and Buffy smiled in reassurance. “It’s OK. He’s right. Besides, anything is better than research. As long as it’s not raining.” She looked hurriedly up at the small window, and relaxed when she saw the sunlight peeking through. “Just tell Giles I’m doing a little investigating and that I’ll be back in time for lunch. Don’t give him any details or anything. I’m not sure what I’m going to find.”

Tara frowned. “Is it bad?” she queried. “A demon? Or something to do with the harness, maybe?”

Buffy shook her head. “I don’t know,” she admitted reluctantly. “But I’m going to find out…”

 

To be continued in Chapter 31: Had I a Cave