DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss, of course. And
the chapter titles are courtesy of Robert Burns.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Now with the harness back in her possession, Buffy has formed an alliance with the last remaining guardian
Ill clear, Buffy chirped suddenly, picking up her plate as she rose from her seat at the table.
Youll what? Giles frowned, perplexed and more than a little surprised at the bright offer from his protégé.
She began circling the table, taking the empty dishes and balancing them in her arms. I said, Ill clear, she repeated. Just because I dont usually, doesnt mean I dont know how. And if five years of Slayer training means I cant balance a couple plates, Im doing something seriously wrong. She beamed down at her Watcher as she took his dish. Besides, Im in a good mood, so you should take advantage of it while you can. She stopped when she reached Spike, looking him directly in the eyes and giving him an almost imperceptible nod. Wanna help me carry these out to the kitchen? she asked the vamp, nothing in her voice relaying the hidden intent behind her words to anyone other than the man before her.
He didnt hesitate. Sure, pet, he agreed, and shifted to his feet, relieving her of part of her burden before following her out of the room.
When they stepped through the kitchen door, however, Buffys smile immediately vanished, her hazel gaze sweeping the empty room, taking in the simmering pot on the stove, noting the carefully stacked utensils on the drying rack. Whered he go? she asked, dropping her load unceremoniously onto the sideboard, her hand darting out to catch the top plate that threatened to fall to the floor.
Spikes own eyes were narrowed, his mouth pursed. Looks like the chef has flown the coop, he said. He the reason you were so gung ho to play housemaid back there?
She didnt reply, noticing instead the only other door in the room and striding determinedly over to it. With a quick yank, she revealed the empty pantry, and saw the door on the opposite wall, hurrying inside to open that one as well. Crap, she muttered, as she found herself gazing out onto the main hallway. Hes left.
Didnt answer my question, luv, Spike said when she came back into the kitchen. He leaned against the sink. What did you find out there this morning? You kept awfully mum during lunch for someone who was dying to dish down in the dungeon.
I didnt want to be overheard, she said. Guess whos got the harness?
The vampire snorted. Figures the prat was in on this whole mess, he said. So you think he stole it from that beastie you knifed out on the mountain?
I know it. Her eyes gleamed as she stepped up to Spike, stopping just in front of him to reach out and begin playing with the hem of his t-shirt. But hes going to be pretty disappointed when he goes back to his hidey-hole and finds out that his cupboard is now bare.
Pale fingers curled into her hips, pulling her closer, and the chuckle in his throat matched the smile on his face. Thats my Slayer, Spike murmured, feeling her thighs pressing into his. Hed been waiting all day to get his hands on her again, ever since his aborted bathtub seduction, and though the anticipation always seemed to consume him in fire, the reality of her always managed to shame that into ash.
I got us an ally, too, she said, looking up into his face. And youre never going to guess that one.
Who is it?
It turns out that Otherworld guardians come in threes.
His grin faded. Another guardian? he said, hesitantly. You mean, another kelpie with that whole animal attraction thing. He shook his head. Thought we got this sorted, luv. You cant trust them. Theyre trouble.
This ones not. Briefly, she explained the situation, how hed offered her the information without forcing whatever charm he had, and how Duncan fit into the whole picture. None of it seemed to ease the vampires suspicion, though.
If hes on the up and up, he argued, how come he took off when Harris and I showed up?
Well, lets see. Maybe the fact that you killed one of his co-workers? I think that might make me a little skittish.
This whole shapeshifting things starting to look like a problem, if you ask me, Spike continued. He got your attention by lookin like Xander, then fooled Giles by lookin like me. Whats to say hes not out there right now, posin as one of your friends? Maybe this is all some kelpie game, this is how they get off. Messin with the humans heads.
No, she insisted. OK, yes, it tricked me with Xander, but I totally knew it wasnt you. And I wouldve even if I hadnt seen him go presto change-o right before my eyes. Maybe I just wasnt paying enough attention when he was in Xander costume. It cant be that easy to fool us.
Hed actually stopped listening to her after her admission that shed seen through the guardians Spike disguise, the familiar rush of heat surging to his nerve endings, unconsciously strengthening his grip on her pelvis. You knew? he repeated, his voice a low rumble, focusing intently on those few words.
Well yeah. Buffy lowered her gaze to tentatively rest her cheek against his chest. How could she describe how it had been? Was she ready to tell him exactly why she thought she could tell? He loved her; hed made no bones about sharing and reiterating that information now that the declaration was out there. And she knew he was waiting for her to say it back, but those were words that didnt come easily to her mouth. Shed never been one to be all gushy with the vocalizations. Well, maybe at one time in her life. But not now. She wasnt the innocent teenager any longer; shed had her heart broken too many times by too many different men to just be handing it over so easily. Yes, she loved Spike, but she couldnt drown out the voice that claimed telling him would be giving over too much of her power. And so she didnt.
She pulled back, smiling widely up into his face, trying not to see the hope that flickered in the cerulean depths. I mean, cmon, she said lightly. How many times have you told me youre one of a kind? That is one mold that obviously went kaplooie after they used it. You really think a demon whos only seen you for a few minutes at a time is going to be able do an impression of you that wouldnt come across as some Billy Idol wannabe act? She tilted her head. Besides, youd be able to tell if it was trying to be me, wouldnt you? And there is only one way to answer that, just so you know.
He laughed, in spite of her whole circumvention of the issue, his fingers relaxing their hold. Dont think Id ever be able to not tell it was you, Summers, he teased in return.
Its not like Franks going to be Mr. Contribution anyway, she continued.
The guardian, she clarified. Apparently, kelpie names are on the hard to pronounce side, so thats what Im calling him.
The reminder of the guardian brought him back to his earlier misgivings. Its not some puppy youve just brought home, Spike argued, shaking his head. Youre not sposed to be naming him. Im tellin you, seein as how it can take the shape of any one of us, its trouble with a capital T---.
And I said---.
Be honest with yourself, Slayer. Did you have any clue it wasnt Xander before it changed on you?
She looked at him, eyes solemn. Well no.
And now hes just gone, right?
Both the Watchers left the room at least once during lunch, and Harris and his bird took an awful long time coming back down from washin up before we ate. Now. Can you tell me that youre one hundred percent positive Franks not sittin out there right now, pretending to be one of your little slaymates, while the real person is knocked out somewhere in Dall Rath?
The possibility hadnt occurred to her, and it showed in her eyes. Though she found herself wanting to trust the guardian, Spike had a point. The only one she could be sure wasnt the kelpie was the vampire himself; shed proven that downstairs. Buffy hated not being able to trust her friends---or what looked like her friends---but until the guardian showed his face again, maybe it was better to be safe than sorry.
Fine, she said. Point taken. But the fact remains, I made a deal with him. He agreed to let me take care of Duncan, and Im going to take him the harness before we do the spell again tomorrow---. Spikes snort cut her off, and Buffy frowned. What? Did you guys find something that explains why it didnt work?
You could say that. His voice was clipped as he told her the mornings events, carefully omitting the fact that it was his own slip-up that revealed the truth to Xander and Anya, leaving the part about his pending fiery vampire death for last, watching as her face grew darker and darker, until
She was out the door like a shot, separating from him with the precision of a finely honed knife, the wood slamming against the stone with a resounding crack that Spike suspected meant it probably wouldnt close properly again without some sort of maintenance. Thrusting his hands into his pockets, he followed after her, the saunter in his step announcing to all his self-satisfaction in having gained such a response from her.
Buffy stopped at the head of the table, leaning forward to press both hands against the wood as she stared at the two Watchers. When were you going to tell me? she demanded.
Giles eyes darted between the Slayer and the vampire who stood just behind her shoulder, his mouth thin. I presume Spike told you what we suspect regarding the spell for the Otherworld, he said. You were going to be told once lunch was finished. Once we re-grouped and had some semblance of privacy.
And have you completely forgotten everything thats ever happened in Sunnydale now that youre back on native soil? Her pointed look at Xander was telling. Magic and Xander go together about as good as chili dogs and chocolate sauce. Both really nice on their own, but not things you want to be mixing.
Its OK, Buff, I think Im finally coming to grips with the whole empty vessel thing. He quirked a smile. Its kind of refreshing knowing my uselessness is now of the useful.
And living on the Hellmouth isnt? Besides, if Spike can risk turning into Sparky the Fire Dog, I think I can handle this just fine. Its not like I have to do much.
Actually, we finally uncovered some information regarding the physical demands of the spell, Giles said, and then frowned as he glanced at the wide-open kitchen door. But perhaps we shouldnt be discussing this right now, he said slowly, looking purposely at Buffy.
She waved a hand in dismissal toward the kitchen. Were fine, she said. Duncan stepped out. Probably ran into town for something for supper.
Um actually, hes gone for the day, Colin interjected. He quavered under the Slayers direct gaze. He said he wasnt feeling well. I told him he could go home early. When there was a collective gasp from the sitting females at the table, he jumped.
But we didnt get a chance to say goodbye, Willow complained, her lip jutting into a tiny pout. Both Anya and Tara quickly nodded in support.
Buffy frowned at the unexpected responses from her friends. So? Youll just see him tomorrow anyway, she said.
No, pet, she wont. Spike folded his arms across his chest as the Slayer swiveled to look at him. Today was ole Duncs last day. Just ask Junior.
The reality of what that meant took a moment to sink in, but when it did, Buffys mouth tightened, her eyes steeled as she locked gazes with the vampire. No longer around meant harder for her to find, to kill before he disappeared for good and she was left with a rogue kelpie loose in her world. Except he didnt have the harness anymore. Would he run without it? Or would he figure out where it had went and come back for it? Either way, she didnt like it. He was a loose cannon, and that made her nervous.
Well, since we dont have to worry about unwanted interruptions then, Giles was saying, why dont we go over what we discovered? He rose from his seat, pushing his glasses up his nose, and crossed to a stack of books on the floor nearby. Its actually not as bad as we feared.
Whirling on her heel, Buffy had begun marching for the door even before the Watcher had risen, the vampire close behind. Does Spike still end up toast? she shot out as she pulled it open.
Well, yes, but---.
Then its not good enough. And just like that, they were both gone.
Where is she going? Giles asked to no one in particular.
I must say, Colin mused, amused at the older mans befuddlement, its rather enjoyable not being the only one she flouts authority with. At Giles furious glare, he shrugged. I was just saying.
He caught up to her just before she reached the weapons cache, his long hand wrapping around her elbow to jerk her to a halt. Whatre you plannin? Spike asked, as she looked up at him.
Ive got a kelpie to kill, she said grimly.
He recognized the dangerous tone in her voice. This was a Slayer who was past playing games, quippy young woman gone only to be replaced by the deadly machine who now stood before him. Though hed seen this all-business side of her often enough over the past few years, her lethal grace when she was so focused still managed to arouse his senses, sparking those memories of his own vicarious kills, inciting the demon within to fight for control. His blue eyes flashed with hints of gold.
You shouldnt go on your own, he warned. What if he decides to play dirty with the charm business? Whos goin to watch your back then?
Slayer here, remember? I watch my own back. Besides, I patrol every night on the Hellmouth by myself. I think I can handle one too-oily horse demon.
Oh, really? His arm dropped. That why you let the one down in the dungeon buck you off like some second-rate rodeo clown? Dont think Im just goin to stand aside and watch you go ridin off into the sunset just to get yourself killed. All its goin to take is one of his hands on you---hell, all it takes is one bloody finger---and thats it. Hell slip that knife into your back so fast youll never see it comin.
You honestly dont think I can take him out?
I know you can, as long as you have somebody watchin to make sure he keeps his bloody touch away. Believe it or not, bein a bird in this instance is a serious handicap because of that luring thing he does. His eyes softened, desperate to get her to understand. Im not talkin about keeping you from doin your job. Thats not what I meant. But watchin your back means more than just fighting at your side. It means lettin you do what it takes while makin sure whatevers on the other end of your fist doesnt come through with some secret mojo that bollocks the whole thing up.
Buffy tilted her head. You just dont want me to fight with Duncan because you want a piece of him yourself, she observed. Thats why youre stopping me here.
Spike began pacing the width of the corridor, never taking his eyes from the young woman before him. OK, Ill admit it. I want to get this wanker just as badly as you do, he said, but Im not prepared to be losin you in the process. Not after everything. Not after I finally---.
Her voice was low. You finally what?
Spikes nostrils flared, the turmoil seething below his skin in thunderous waves. For a moment, he debated how much more to reveal. It wasnt as if any of it was just one huge secret anymore, but still would it scare her away? She had yet to make any avowal of her own Ah, the hell with it, he thought, and rushed the rest forth.
You think fallin in love with you had something to do with the Scottish air? he asked. Think again. It was there when we were on the plane. It was there when Captain Cardboard and his little goof troop shoved this chip up my brain. Hell, it was there down in bloody South America. Why do you think Dru left me? Cause of you. Shes all around you, he mimicked, rolling his eyes. In my head. In my blood. In my dreams. I hadnt had a decent sleep in months til that night you let me hold you in that soddin bed upstairs. Spike stopped, stepping toward her, eyes dark. So if you think for a blinkin second Im just goin to wave all that adios while you go out bein all Chosen, youre even thicker than Harris is. One hand came up to brush an imaginary hair away from her forehead. I love you, Buffy. Im just askin you to be careful, is all.
Her heart threatened to burst from her ribcage, the palms of her hands suddenly slick with sweat. Im always careful, she said, her voice barely audible. And the last thing I want is for all this to go away, so trust me when I say, nothings going to happen. There was suddenly no moisture in her mouth, and the room began to sway around her. Give him something, she thought. Even if you cant say it, you have to give him something.
You think youre the only one with something to lose here? That I would risk losing us, by being careless or reckless? she asked, the faintest of quivers vibrating her words. You have no idea how free Ive felt over the past few days. Well, except for the whole not telling my friends part of the deal. But even then its like this door has finally been opened to me. One thats been locked up in forever. And thats because of you, Spike.
He knew by her determined need to keep her gaze averted from his that she wasnt going to say, and though it hardly surprised him, the vampire found himself oddly hurt that she was having such difficulty uttering the words. Yes, they were there, and yes, she was going to admit to needing him, to wanting him, to being fearful of losing him, but prying that small little sentence from her lips was going to take more than the possible threat of a kelpies charm. He would just have to be patient. Not his strongest suit, but for Buffy, he would do it. Even if it meant waiting forever.
But youre going to go anyway. There was no question in his voice; this was a battle he knew hed lost. And all because the bleedin daylight kept him from following her out there himself.
Its my job. But Ill make you a deal. She stepped back, turning towards the weapons cache. If Duncans not at the cave, Ill come straight back here. Odds are, once he realizes its gone, hell come looking for it anyway, and we can just have our little showdown here instead of out on the mountain. Thats another reason for you to stay, outside of the fact that you kind of have to because of the whole sunlight issue. Youre my back line of defense if he tries to pull anything dangerous.
Somehow, the thought of getting the chance to give the cook a piece of his fist brought a smile to Spikes face, and his shoulders relaxed as he watched her step into the cache. Youll come right back? he asked. No dawdling.
Yes, Mother, she called out.
And Ive got full permission to use whatever means necessary to stop the blighter?
Thats what I said.
His grin widened. Slayer probably had a point about the cook coming back to the scene of the crime when he realized the harness was gone. Shed be perfectly fine. As long as she kept her distance, shed
Take a long-range weapon! he instructed with a frown.
She emerged from the cache, a crossbow in her hand, her eyes amused as she shook her head at the blond vamp. Youre as bad as Giles, she admonished. Something tells me Im going to have two overprotective Englishmen haranguing me every step I take, when I get back to Sunnydale.
He watched as she brushed past, heading toward the front door of the castle. Whaddaya expect me to say to the Watchers? Buffy got bored so she decided to take a little stroll? Oh, by the way, she plans on doin in the cook. Hope you dont mind.
She stopped, hesitating. Tell them I need to double-check something I found this morning, she said. I shouldnt be gone for more than an hour. She thought about it for a moment. Walk there, kill me a kelpie, walk back. Yeah. An hour tops. But dont say a word about Duncan or the guardian just yet. Ive got a feeling they wouldnt believe you anyway.
Spike was left in silence when she disappeared through the door. Got that same feelin, pet, he muttered.
He knew as soon as stepped into the cave that shed been there. Even if he hadnt noticed the differences in the packed dirt, the smell of her perfume still hung in the air, cloying and too human, and for the first time since meeting her, Duncan felt disgust and anger at the Slayer. Thats what shed been doing out all morning. And him, playing the smug fool, had assumed he was now free and clear, leaving the harness where he couldnt protect it directly.
Though he was at the back of the cave as quickly as his feet could carry him, he knew before he searched the nook that it was gone. There was no way Buffy would come to such lengths and not be able to find it; it wasnt as if hed buried it along with the bodies. The bodies
His black eyes fell to the ground, and the realization that she now knew the truth about him, would most likely warn her friends now that he was no longer at Dall Rath, brought the depth of his situation clear. No way was he going to give up now, not after coming so far. The harness was his; hed stolen it, fair and square, and no too-skinny, too-blonde, too-perky Slayer was going to take it away from him.
The problem was, he couldnt go back for it. Not now. She would be ready, waiting for him, probably with that damn vampire right behind her, all too prepared to tear his throat out if he dared lay a foot inside the castle. The only thing he had going in his favor was the fact that the guardian would be after Spike as well, but Duncan knew he couldnt rely on that. The guardians werent exactly known for their propensity for venturing from the tunnels; that was one reason why hed been so shocked when theyd actually followed him out into the human world on the night of Samhain.
But this was about the harness. They would want to protect it, no matter what the cost. Maybe that would be enough.
Regardless, he needed another plan of attack. Another avenue of retrieving the harness without tipping the Slayers attention. Something she wouldnt expect.
As he heard the distant rumble of thunder begin rolling over the countryside, Duncans eyes lit on the ground at his feet, his shoe scuffing at the loose earth, and the scheme began to merge, the pieces slotting together into a twisted picture that brought an angry smile to his lips. Yes. That would work. And with the rainstorm on its way, it would probably buy him just enough time to get it off the ground.
It had started almost inaudibly, a gentle patter against the stonework that sounded like a soft hug, but by the time Spike had returned from heating up another mugful of blood, it had begun to pelt in earnest, hammering against the outer walls as if every drop was trying to drill its way inside.
Slayers goin to be in a lovely mood when she gets back, the vampire remarked wryly, glancing up at the window before settling into his chair.
Shell just turn around, wont she? asked Colin.
Giles shook his head. Shes patrolled in weather like this before. If its important enough, shell follow it through, regardless of a little rain.
Spikes derisive snort cut through the air. Youve been livin in Sunny Cal too long, Rupert. This ones goin to be a pisser of a storm. You can smell it in the air. No way Buffys been out in one like this before.
And since when did you become the expert on Buffys slaying habits? Giles demanded, pulling off his glasses as he turned in his chair to glare at the blond vamp. Or the keeper of her back, for that matter? Really, Spike, this new bend your attitude is taking around her is completely out-of-hand. Take that little outburst of yours earlier, for example. How dare you assume I would allow anything to happen to Buffy that she wouldnt be able to cope with?
Spike lowered his head, looking at the older man through his lashes, clicking his tongue in reproval. Not nice to lie, Rupes, he drawled, a hint of anger tingeing his tone. You forget. Ive bunked extensively in your little flat. Watchers who dont want to be caught out shouldnt leave their precious little diaries around where just anybody can pick the lock and read them.
Giles eyes widened. You didnt he hissed, and rose to his feet.
The vampire rolled his eyes. Oh, please. Like youre shocked and disappointed? Do we really need to go into the whole Big Bad theory again?
Rupert Colin half-stood, leaning forward to look up into the other Watchers face. Perhaps now is not the best time for this discussion.
No, I think now is the perfect time. His voice was cold, hard, his blue eyes blazing as he dropped his glasses onto the table, not even glancing back to acknowledge Colins increased presence. Its time Spike is reminded that his involvement with the Slayer is a temporary arrangement.
Slowly, the vampire set the mug down on the floor beside his chair, freeing his hands as he stood up. Sounds like youve got something youd like to say to me, he dared, eyes dark. Shouldnt bottle those kind of feelings up, Rupes. Not good for the digestion.
Actually, repression can be a good thing, Willow chirped, but the smile faded from her face when she realized neither Englishmen was paying her any attention.
I dont know what you think youre doing, Giles said, but pretending to care about Buffys welfare is most likely one of the slimiest turns youve taken since returning to Sunnydale to torture us with your continued presence. This will not garner her favor, Spike, nor will it garner mine.
Not that Im not one for bein all for the garnishing, but who says Im pretending?
Willows eyes went wide. He was going to tell. Oh god, where was Buffy when you needed her? He was going to let it all out, and Buffy was going to be so pissed. Come back, Buffy, she thought frantically. Come. Back. Now.
You shouldnt even be situated in our lives this closely in the first place, able to play your sick games whenever you choose. You may be an ally to her now, but once this entire matter is resolved, we will return to the Hellmouth, and you will no longer be a part of her life. Do you understand? Ice couldve been chipped from his voice, and his eyes glinted even paler in the dimming light of the great hall.
There was no denying the danger wound through Giles body, and it was mirrored by the menace in Spikes, the vampires hands balling into fists at his sides. What I understand, he said slowly, doing everything in his power to keep control, is that you dont know your Slayer as well as you think you do. I suggest that if youve got a problem with whatever relationship you think youre seein between me and Buffy, you try talkin to her about it. Cause tellin me to back off is the surest way to get me not to. His nostrils flared, and he allowed the smirk to twist his lips. This was Buffys tale to tell, but God, he was going to enjoy this while he could. Face it, Im here, the Slayer likes it, and this is her call to make. Sides, what do you think the chances of her getting overly chummy with a vamp are, anyway ? He broke it off as he feigned remembering. Oh, wait a minute. Did I forget about Peaches? The smile he offered the Watcher was malicious. My mistake.
Guys, guys. Before either man could register the thirds arrival, Xander was smiling at their sides, laying a hand on each of their shoulders, pulling them apart so that several feet stood between them. This is just a failure to communicate were having here. Or at least, the wrong kind of communicate. Were all just a little tense. Roughing it, both of you having to sleep on the cold stone floor. Blood sugars probably a little low from the serious lack of donuts around this place. Why dont you two go do a couple laps? Get some of that tension out of your systems.
Both men turned puzzled frowns to Xander, whose smile only grew wider, although now from slight embarrassment. Hey, it always worked for Coach Marin. Of course, he did end up getting attacked and eaten by his own swim team, but thats so not the point. He clapped their shoulders firmly in good will. Spikes not on a human diet anymore, and the closest thing Giles has gotten to cannibalism is that blood pudding Ive seen lurking around in the back of his fridge, so were all safe here, right?
Do you have a soddin point, Harris?
His point, as circuitous the route he is taking to make it appears to be, Giles said through gritted teeth, is that were all on the same team for the time being, and should behave appropriately.
Wow, said Xander, his pleasure lighting his amiable face. And here I thought I was just breaking up a fight between two of my friends.
It took a moment for the youngers choice of words to reach through Spikes receding anger, and his frown lessened, his head tilting as he gazed at him curiously. Hed said friend? When in bloody hell did that happen? And why wasnt he given a say in the matter?
We should really be concentrating on reviewing the physical requirements of the spell with Spike and Xander, Colin interjected, taking advantage of the lull to bring the focus back to the task at hand. With only twenty-four hours until our next opportunity, its important everyone is up-to-date.
Right, the vampire drawled, and turned his head back to face Giles. Toss you for who fills in the Slayer when she gets back, he offered.
Spike, Xander warned. Play nice.
Spike shrugged, stepping away to drop back into his chair. Hed probably land on his tail anyway, he said, reaching for his mug. No fun in that.
So, said Colin with a forced smile. Where were we?
They each bent their heads against the wind as they battled their ways to the waiting car, Riley automatically stepping back to allow Quentin to slide into the back seat first, even though it meant getting even more soaked from the driving rain. Sometimes, old habits were just impossible to break.
As soon as they were settled, the chauffeur turned around and handed a mobile phone to Travers. Theres been a call waiting for you, sir, he explained. Ive lost the signal once or twice due to the storm, but hes called back each time. He says its urgent he speak with you.
Who is it? Quentin asked, his brow furrowed as he raised the phone to his ear.
Its Mr. Hornbrook, sir
To be continued in Chapter 35: Epigram
on Rough Roads