DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss, of course. And
the chapter titles are courtesy of Robert Burns.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Buffy has found the truth about Duncan buried in the cave, while Xander and Spike have both learned some unwelcome truths about the upcoming spell
The first time, nobody noticed.
The second time, Anya glared at him out of the corner of her eye, and poked him in the side, wordlessly reprimanding him back into silence.
The third time, Xander felt an unwelcome kick in his shins from Willow across the table, along with another poke from his girlfriend, and ducked his head when Giles swiveled his gaze to stare at him over his spectacles.
The fourth time, Spike finally spoke up.
Oh, for the love of everything evil, will you just stop with the nancy boy sighing already? The vampire glowered from his chair in the corner. We all get the idea. Just let it go.
What? The young man looked innocently around at his friends. Im tired, and Ive got one butt cheek snoring away with the other doing its best to join it, and I just want to do something other than stare at these books for a little bit. I dont know what you guys are talking about.
Maybe you should go stretch your legs, Giles offered. Take a walk before lunch. Perhaps it will refresh you sufficiently so that you can continue with our research without the vocal accompaniment.
Youre lettin him go? Spikes voice was sharp in amazement. A few bloody sighs and hes gettin paroled. If I thought it was that easy to get outta here, Idve tried it myself. Thanks so ever-lovin much, Rupert.
Xander shambled to his feet. You wanna come? he asked the blond vampire.
The invitation took everyone by surprise, no one more so than Spike. He stiffened, brows furrowed, his eyes jumping from Xander to Giles, and then back to Xander again. This a trick question? he asked slowly.
The young man shrugged. Just thought Id offer, he said, and turned away from the table.
Hang on, then! Spike was on his feet and across the room in seconds. I didnt say no.
And just where do you think youre going? Giles queried, gazing at the pair in annoyance.
Dont tell me Harris falls outside of your little grounding rules. The vampire rolled his eyes. Cause unless you or Junior want to tag along, Im walkin through that door whether you like it or not.
The Watcher inhaled deeply, trying to control his rising irritation I just meant, its noon, and daylight outside. Your options are rather limited if youre interested in stretching your legs.
Spike glanced at the unexpected ally at his side before turning back to the group at the table. We could go scout out the dungeons again, he suggested. Do a quick sweep before the Slayer comes back for lunch. Maybe that beastie I killed the other night crawled into one of the nearby cells.
It was actually a reasonable offer, taking the older Englishman by surprise as he regarded the pair. Fine, he finally said. Just make sure you both take weapons. We cant be sure what else might have come through from the Otherworld.
Xander brightened. Oh! Can I take that nifty sword Buffy had the other night? he asked as he followed the vampires saunter to the doorway. The one with the swirly things on the handle?
Spike snorted. Sure. If you can bloody well lift it.
Their flashlights cut through the darkness as they descended the stairs into the dungeon, sending dozens of bugs scuttling into the shadows in the wake of their beams. Hesitating at the bottom, Spike waited for Xander to join him before gesturing off toward one of the adjoining halls.
Slayer and I checked that one out pretty good last time, he said, and nodded in the opposite direction. I think this ways goin to be our best bet at findin anything.
Is that what we really want? Xander asked, and ducked his head, his cheeks slightly red, when the vamp cocked his eyebrow. I just didnt want to read anymore. I didnt think we were actually going to be doing any serious patrolling here.
Spike started ambling toward the latter portion of the dungeon hed suggested. I was just blowin smoke for Rupes sake, he said. Buffy and I have been through here more than once. Trust me. Were not goin to find anything.
That a promise? He double-timed his step in order to catch up to the vamp. Safety in numbers, after all.
Since when do I make promises?
How bout just a super strong assurance then?
Will it make you shut your yap?
They walked along in silence for a moment, the knife that Xander had grabbed from the weapons cache gripped tightly in his hand as he focused his light before them. Upstairs earlier, he said, his voice sounding oddly hollow as it bounced around the stone walls. You werent really going to walk out on doing the spell, were you?
There was only the slightest hesitation in Spikes step as he glanced back at his companion. Were you? he countered.
I didnt actually get up.
But you thought about it.
Xander shrugged. But I wouldnt have done it. Just kind of hit me hard, what with the whole not-being-wanted thing, on top of only being useful because I have absolutely no special skills to contribute, whatsoever. Not exactly a huge kick to the old ego there and a double whammy to boot. Useless and uninvited. Xander Harris, empty vessel extraordinaire.
Not so empty. Ive seen the way you eat.
Donuts do not a man make. Unless your name is Homer. Or youre a cop. Or---.
At least they expect you to get through this thing alive, Spike interrupted. Think about how I feel. Turns out, Im just spell kindling. You just know theyre thinkin, good riddance to bad rubbish.
Giles and Willow wont let that happen. Theyll find a way to work around it. They always do.
I think Rupert would be happy to let me fry, right about now. Hes still just a tad vexed about last night. That made Xander stop in his tracks, and it took the vampire a few seconds to realize the young man was no longer behind him. He halted, tilting his head to look back over his shoulder, his face swallowed in shadow. What now?
He seemed to hesitate to pose the query, then made the conscious decision to go for it. About that whyd you do it? Take the heat, I mean. Anya told me what happened. Were all grown-ups here, Spike. And volunteers in the whole battle against evil shebang. Its not like were going to get fired or anything. Theres no reason you had to---.
Told Red, and Im not goin to repeat myself, the vamp interrupted, resuming his pace. Its done, its out there, and the more people keep harpin on it, the more I regret doin it in the first place. So let it go.
Did you do it for Buffy?
The Slayers name reached into Spikes spine and jerked him to a standstill, his shoulders tensing as he debated how to respond. Couldnt turn; even under the veil of darkness in the dungeons, there was no way Harris would be able to miss the truth on his face. Yet, the question held no malice, innocently asked in that trusting manner the young man usually reserved for the girls of the group. Somehow, he suspected that if he looked at Xander right now, Spike would see the wide-eyed artlessness that probably activated every protective instinct in Buffys body.
It was just the best thing. For all involved, he finally replied. Good. Safe answer. Boy cant argue with that one.
Not for you.
Bugger. He caught that.
The slight lift of Spikes shoulders almost went unnoticed. Since when does that matter? Sides, not like its goin to happen on a regular basis. Enjoy it while youve still got a patsy vamp around to blame things like this on.
Xander took a step closer. You didnt really answer my question, Spike. Did this have anything to do with you and Buffy?
Spike gritted his teeth. He wanted to tell, even if it was Harris, but hed promised her he wouldnt. Sure, hed slipped upstairs, letting his emotions get the better of him when hed thought the spell was a threat to her. But had that been enough for Xander to figure out the truth? Well, seein as there is no me and Buffy, thats not very likely, now is it? he said, and began walking again. Keep moving. Keep it light. Dont let him know. Promises, promises, bloody promises.
The hand around his bicep came as a mild surprise, and this time, Spike turned and shone his flashlight in the other mans face. There was no anger there, no hate, only that quirky half-smile as he struggled to find the right words. Times like this, the vampire knew why the Slayer let Xander hang around as much as he did. Annoying as hell, but still something there.
I see how hard youre trying here, Xander said. And if being in love is whats doing it, then hey, I say, all the power to you. Even if she doesnt see it right away, no way can Buffy pretend you havent been on your best behavior when we get back to Sunnydale. Not to mention a huge help. Which I know is what youre aiming for. Life on the Hellmouth is easier if youve got the Slayer on your side. I can personally vouch for that one. He laughed. And you wont have to worry about her staking your new girlfriend. You can just hold last night over her head as blackmail material with Giles.
He didnt know. God, Spike thought. The poor git really is thick. Well-intentioned and mildly likeable, but still thick. Ill remember that, Harris he said slowly. Though I wouldnt have thought youd be a big supporter of something as underhanded as that. His lips curled into a smirk. Must be the demon girls influence.
Ex-demon. Emphasis on the ex.
Still good to see she can corrupt with the best of em.
Im not corrupted!
You just encouraged me to blackmail the Slayer for personal gain. Sounds corrupt to me.
I just Xanders voice trailed off, his brow wrinkled, and he loosed his grip on the vampires arm. How is it you manage to turn every conversation I have with you into something that makes me want to drive something long, wooden, and possibly a little on the blunt side just for that extra bit of pain, right through your unbeating heart? he asked.
Spike laughed and began heading back down the corridor. Call it that vamp je ne sais quoi, he drawled. I got it in spades.
Have you figured out when were going to try this thing we planned in exposing the badness that is Duncan? Xander queried as he hurried to the others side.
Well see if the Slayer comes back with anything first, the vamp instructed. Somehow, I think any evidence she digs up might be a little more convincing to Rupert than us playin ping pong with the wanker cooks head. He grinned. Though that would be fun.
You told Buffy? And she believed you?
Didnt have to. When you lot were kipping it on the way home last night, we saw him out for a late night stroll on the mountain. Hard to argue with whats skulking around right in front of you.
But Colin said this was his last day. Shes going to have to move fast if shes going to---.
Junior said what? The amiable atmosphere evaporated, hardening Spike as he whirled to stare at the young man.
Xander flinched. Apparently, Duncan showed up this morning and said his aunt was doing better and that shed be back in the kitchen as of tomorrow, he explained. Colin said so before you came downstairs.
The ramifications of such a move on the part of the cook ticked over in the vampires brain, the muscles in his jaw twitching as he tried to figure out what exactly that could mean. Ready to make a run for it? But then why stick around for so long? What was his motive? And why play up to the girls for so long if he wasnt going to follow through? Plus, couldnt forget about the not too idle threat hed made to Spike the night of the storm, even if he had tried covering it up later on with some half-assed apology.
Dont like it, he finally muttered. Somethings not right there.
But this is good, right? Xander said. I mean, if hes not around, hes not a threat. And the girls will stop acting so crazy without him in the picture.
The blue of his eyes appeared almost black in the dim light of the dungeon. And where exactly is he sposed to be goin? he quizzed. A kelpie roaming around the Highland countryside, eatin up the locals for tea? You think Buffys goin to be thrilled to hear about that? And weve still got that whole harness deal to be worryin about. That Hornbrook bloke said that came from the Otherworld. What if theres some tie between that and our least favorite cook? We need to find it, suss out what it does. Maybe then well get some answers about this whole soddin mess.
OK, I see your point. Both men were silent, lost in his thoughts. And then, That doesnt mean we have to go back up to the research just yet, does it?
Spike snorted. Are you kiddin me? he retorted. We wait for Buffy to get back, see if she found anything. No reason for us to be bored out of our minds in the meantime. With that, he swept his flashlight back to the corridor and began trekking further into the bowels of the dungeon, Xander close on his heels.
He shouldve known. They didnt know he was there, blending amidst the velvet shadows. The vampire had obviously been too distracted to sense his presence. So there was no reason for them to lie. But their words, their worries it only confirmed what hed suspected from the beginning, solidified his plan. No other choice now. Must proceed forward.
He waited until their footsteps were mere echoes against the stone walls before emerging from the cell, his dark eyes glowing softly in the darkness. Instinctively, the guardian kelpie turned toward the stairwell, his own tread silent. Time to act.
She waited until the two Watchers had stepped from the room before jumping into it. OK, what the hell is going on? Anya demanded, dropping her book to lean forward over the table.
Willow and Tara exchanged a quick glance, both brows slightly furrowed. Were researching, the redhead said slowly. Isnt that what youre doing?
Thats not what I meant. She let out an exasperated sigh. Im talking about with Spike. And dont you two go pretending you dont know whats going on. I saw all those little looks getting passed around. Xander may be blind to these kinds of things, but Im not. Not after a thousand years of watching guys and girls falling in and out of love all over this stupid rock. So, spill. I want details.
Details about what? Even though she could sense it was pointless, Willow couldnt bring herself to confess to the truth just yet. Anya was just going to have to
Spikes in love with Buffy. Only a fool cant see it. If thered been one more wrong word out of Giles, wed be scraping little bits of stuffy Englishman off the ceiling right now and Spike would be passed out on the floor from the headache that chip gave him for attacking Giles in the first place. Dont think I cant tell that the two of you know about this. So I want the truth here. Is Spike in love with Buffy?
Willow visibly deflated. Yes, she admitted, her voice tiny.
I knew it! Anyas smile was wide. God, my instincts are good. Im so glad I havent lost my touch. I worry about that sometimes.
The redhead harrumphed, doing her best not to laugh in the other girls face. Oh, yeah? she challenged. You might want to think again about how good that touch of yours actually is. Apparently, Spikes been in love with Buffy for a while now, since before we left Sunnydale even, so fat lot of good those instincts are doing for you, Id say.
Like I really spent a lot of time with Spike prior to this little Highland fling, Anya countered. She shook her head. Xanders head is going to explode when he finds this out---.
You cant tell Xander!
The ex-demon frowned at the blonde witchs outburst. Why not? Everyone else seems to know about this. Well, except probably for Buffy. She chuckled. No way would she ever have agreed to the sleeping arrangements This time, there was no mistaking the guilty look exchanged between the two lesbians, and Anyas jaw dropped. Thats why you two were borrowing my bubble bath this morning! It was for Buffy! She paused. Well, good for her. Bathtub sex can be highly erotic, especially if theres lots of soap---.
Youre not going to tell Xander, right?
She went on as if she hadnt heard a word what the witch had said. His head is soooo going to explode. His best friend in love with another vampire? No way is he going to be able to process that one without some serious cerebral damage.
Were not supposed to say anything. Buffy wants to be the one to break it Giles and, well, just Xander now. Willow bit her lip. Their little secret wasnt turning out to be so secret anymore. She just hoped she wasnt the one who got blamed for it.
Then she should have a talk with her boyfriend. Hes the one whos got it written all over his face. Did you not see the way he nearly bit Giles head off?
She had a point. Ill find a way to tell her what happened, the redhead said. But in the meantime, could you please just keep mum about all this? Dont say a word to Xander until Buffy gives us the green light. OK?
Anya shrugged. OK, she agreed. Not like I havent kept secrets from him in the past. She smiled. There was this one time, when he wanted to have sex on top of the dryer
Picking up her book again, Willow slouched in her chair, hunching up her shoulders to try and cover her ears. Maybe if she thought about something totally different, like daffodils or Snoopy dancing or chem equations, she wouldnt actually hear what was about to come out of the other girls mouth, or picture in her head what she was describing
Nope. She sighed. Didnt work.
He was reaching for his coat hanging delicately from the stand when the rap came to his door. Enter, Quentin called, not hesitating in his task.
It opened, revealing a trim secretary waiting in its entrance. I realize youre about to leave, Mr. Travers, she said. But Im afraid something has come up.
He shrugged the heavy wool over his shoulders. Unless its regarding the issue at Dall Rath, he said, or involves dire circumstances, it can wait until I return.
No, sir, it cant.
The young mans appearance behind his secretary surprised Quentin, and he frowned as he lifted his gaze. Youre Mr. Finn, correct? he said.
Riley nodded grimly. And if youre going to see Buffy, Im coming with you. Thats why Im here.
Travers shook his head. Im afraid youve wasted the trip for nothing, young man. I have no intention of involving you in Council matters at this time.
Look, I can appreciate that you have protocols you have to follow. Ive been there. I know---.
Your government is hardly the same thing as my Board, Quentin said smoothly, and swept past him. Now, good day.
Riley watched as the man walked away. Hed come too far to get the brush off this easily. He wasnt going to let a little thing like no stop him from getting to Spike. Buffys in danger, he called after the Englishman.
Hesitating, Quentin glanced back over his shoulder to survey the veracity of his unannounced visitor. And why would you say that? he asked slowly.
She called me. The other night. She didnt say as much, but I heard Spike in the background---.
Spike? The vampires name sent a trigger of alarm through Travers veins. Was he threatening the Slayer in some way?
No time for niceties. The only thing that mattered was getting to Scotland. Yes, he said, chin held high.
There was a moment of consideration, Quentins pale eyes flickering over Rileys face as he seemed to be weighing his words. I dont approve of your methods, Mr. Finn, he said. No doubt you utilized your government contacts in order to locate me. But I do believe that you have only Miss Summers best interests in mind. Very well. You may accompany me to Dall Rath. But I will not have you interfering in Council business, do you understand?
Yes, sir. The relief flooded through the young mans body as he strode confidently behind Mr. Travers. One step closer to Buffy. One step closer to getting rid of Spike for good.
She stowed it in the brush outside the castle, doing everything she could to make its clarion ring as quiet as possible. Taking it inside would only be tipping her hand, and Buffy wanted to confront Duncan with as much ammo as she possibly could. If he knew shed found the harness in his stash of dead bodies, no telling how he would react. But first, time to arm up.
His body just inside the doorway jerked her to a halt, and Buffy sighed as she tried to step around him. Out of my way, Xander, she said, heading down the hallway toward the weapons cache.
He followed after her, long steps sure, and grabbed her arm. We need to talk, he said. When she gazed back at him, hazel slightly glassy, his lips thinned. In private, he added, and began pulling her in the opposite direction toward the stairwell.
She followed blindly, not questioning her friends motives. It was only when they were on the upper floor, when he had let go of her arm, did she speak. Whats wrong? she asked. Did something happen while I was out?
Kind of. He stood back, and under her watchful gaze, straightened, lifting his head and staring at her with wide brown eyes.
It was the last thing she expected the rippling of his skin as he seemed to shrink, his hair to grow lighten the chocolate of his eyes dissolving into hazel. Within seconds, Buffy found herself staring into her own face, grim and unsmiling, and only moments after that before she realized what it was standing in front of her.
Her foot lashed out, connecting with the kelpies gut, sending it reeling against the stone wall. Nice trick, she spat. But Ive got you figured out, Duncan, or whatever your name is. Dont think Im going to let you kill my friends like you killed all those other people. Not on my watch.
Not wish to
It was weird hearing her own voice arguing back with her, and for a second, Buffy faltered, the punch shed been about to throw catching for a millisecond before it landed. It was enough to allow the kelpie to react, to catch her hand within his, and to stay her movement as it began to shift again sprouting the black coat shed seen down in the dungeons teeth elongating
You are a worthy fighter, it said, its words gliding into her, using his charms to calm her nerves. But I am not the one you wish to battle. Very slowly, it released her from its grip, stepping back. And waited.
Really? she said, fists still poised, shoulders ready, prepared for another assault should it come. Who are you then?
The last remaining guardian of the Otherworld, it replied, and we share a common enemy. I believe you call him Duncan.
To be continued in Chapter 33: News, Lasses,