DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course. And the chapter titles are courtesy of Robert Burns.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: The truth has finally come out about Buffy and Spike for everyone at Dall Rath, including an uninvited Riley…

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Chapter 39: A Bottle and Friend

Though his feet were bare against the stone floor, Spike was oblivious to the cold, standing inside the door and surveying the water that was spilled around, the damp towel dropped haphazardly into a heap on the bed. Goin’ to need new sheets, he noted wryly. Won’t do for Buffy to have to put up with wet ones.

First things first, though. Had to empty the bath.

He’d come up here for a purpose, though not the one he’d shared with the Slayer. The near non-existent surprise of their announcement had been followed by a quick clearing of the table, with the girls shuttling Buffy into the kitchen and the two Watchers burying themselves back into their books. That had left Spike with Harris, and though the younger man had made it more than obvious he had few problems with the new arrangements, there was still a note of sticky discomfort in the air, quieting both of them until the vampire had made the excuse of cleaning the bedroom and took his leave, right after telling the Slayer where he was going. It was a valid reason to come up, but truth be told, not the only one. For some reason, Spike was convinced that the others needed some alone time, space to talk about him without his lurking that would only make them curb their words.

The one thing he was hoping it would do was give Buffy a chance to help get her head sorted about the whole mess. Though he certainly didn’t have a problem with how their arrangement came out---hell, it was Finn’s own fault---he knew Buffy did, and maybe talking it over with her girlfriends was what she needed to come to grips with it. At least, that’s what he hoped.

His back was to the door when the rap came, and the vampire glanced over his shoulder to see Xander hovering in the entrance, a thermos dangling from his finger. “Yeah?” Spike asked, reaching into the water to pull out the washcloth that had settled to the bottom of the tub.

“Can I come in?” He was shifting nervously from foot to foot, playing with the flask in his hand, and looking not at all like he actually wanted to enter.

The vampire frowned, immediately stiffening. “Something wrong?” he asked, wringing the cloth over the tub.

“No, nothing wrong, just…” Xander held up the thermos. “…thought you might be a little hungry.”

“Oh.” Spike shrugged. “Just set it on the side. I’ll get to it after I take care of this.” He began to turn away, then hesitated before shooting a brusque, “Thanks, mate,” back to the doorway.

It took him only a minute to realize that Harris hadn’t moved and he stopped his organization of the toiletries to face the other man head on. “What is it?” he demanded. “’Cause if you’re just bored and lookin’ for a show---.”

“Do you need some help with that?”

The offer took him by surprise, and Spike glanced back at the still-full tub before reverting his attention to his guest. “Something tells me you’ve got more on the brain than bein’ blood delivery boy or playin’ at housemaid,” he said, folding his arms over his chest. “So spill it, Harris.”

This pulled Xander inside the door, grabbing the knob and shutting it closed behind him. He squared his shoulders as he looked over at the blond. “I was hoping we could talk. You know, mano et vampo. About Buffy. Well, about you and Buffy.”

Spike snorted. “Ahhh, here it comes. Figured your little act downstairs was too good to be true.”

“Hey, that was all about me being Mr. Sincerity down there,” came the retort. “And I’m beginning to think that maybe I should’ve slipped something into your little bloodshake there with the kind of welcome I’m getting.” He tossed him the thermos, stuffing his hands into his pockets once they were empty.

The vampire caught it with a clean jerk, his blue eyes narrowing as he regarded the other man. “You’re serious,” he said slowly. “You just want to…talk.”

“Well, yeah. It’s not like it would be the first time it happened, you know. Which is kind of what I wanted to talk about.”

“This isn’t the sort of chat that’s goin’ to end in some sick group hug, is it?” His lip curled in distaste.

“Only if you ask really nicely. Or annoy me to no end. Frankly, I see the latter as being more likely.”

Tossing the thermos onto the bed, Spike turned back to the full bath and picked up the empty buckets at its side. “If we’re goin’ to do this, you’re goin’ to work at the same time. Help me with the bailing here.”

Xander crossed to the tub and took one of the buckets from the vampire’s hand. “When I was being the gout man,” he started, “and you were telling me about this girl you were in love with…that was all about Buffy, wasn’t it?”

No point in hedging now. Everything was already out in the open. “Yeah.”

“And you didn’t tell me it was her because…?”

Spike’s scarred brow lifted. “Hello? Am I the only one who remembers the long, pointy stick? Wasn’t too interested in losin’ an eyeball there. Not that your aim was good enough for that anyway. With my luck, you would’ve just poked something that should by all rights be doin’ the pokin’.”

Xander stopped in his tracks, holding up a warning finger to the vampire in front of him. “OK, still coming to grips with the whole my best friend’s dating a vampire thing, so any references that conjure up images of Buffy getting…poked by you? I would greatly appreciate it if you could somehow find a way to keep those to yourself for now.”

Spike rolled his eyes, shaking his head in annoyance. “I’m just sayin’, don’t think you’d’ve been very receptive to hearin’ the truth about my feelings for Buffy back then.” He stepped out into the hallway. “Now stop your lollygaggin’ and get to hauling.”

Trotting after him, Xander frowned as the vampire stopped before one of the windows, pulling down the pane of glass to let in a fresh blast of wind from outside. “What’re you doing?” he asked.

“You feel like lugging all this downstairs when there’s a perfectly good window here, be my guest.” Hoisting the bucket to his shoulder, Spike poured the water through the opening, heedless to the wide-eyed surprise of the young man behind him.

“That’s the front of the castle. Someone could be standing down there!”

Cocking his head to listen, Spike waited a moment before shaking his blond curls. “No unholy screams so I’m callin’ it safe.” He brushed past Xander to go back into the room. “’Sides, don’t think anyone’s goin’ to notice with the way it’s pissin’ rain out there.”

The vampire had filled a second load from the tub by the time Xander came back into the room. “I take it that my advice was all about you luring Buffy to the dark side of the force then,” the brunette commented.

“It would’ve been if I’d actually followed up on it---.”

“Wait a minute.” Xander stood in the doorway, blocking the entrance, his brown eyes wide. “I impart to you my greatest words of wisdom regarding the fairer sex, and you just blow me off? Well, that’s a fine how-do-you-do.”

“I didn’t…” Spike grimaced at the younger’s choice of words. “…blow you off. Just didn’t work out that way, is all.”

“So you tried the grand romantic gesture then?”

“Didn’t need to,” he said, brushing his way past. “Buffy came around on her own.”

“But you were planning to.” Without bothering to refill his own pail, Xander hurried after the vampire, hanging on his heels even when the other man stopped to turn and face him.

“Not that it matters now, but yeah, I’d given it some thought.” His head tilted, brow wrinkling. “What’s the bug up your skirt, Harris?”

“Nothing. I was just…wondering if I was in any small way…responsible for you and Buffy…”

The worry that clouded the dark-haired man’s face would’ve been comical if Spike didn’t know how serious he was about it. So, yeah, he didn’t go off the deep end regarding the truth about their relationship, but that sure as hell didn’t mean he wanted to think he was the one who brought it all about. Any other time, the vampire would’ve just let him simmer in his own juices, and though the sarcastic comeback popped instantly to his lips, he bit it back, all of a sudden remembering the casual reference to him as one of Xander’s “friends” earlier in the great hall. And somehow…it didn’t seem like a friendly thing to do. Damn. He must be going soft.

“It wasn’t you,” he assured. “This thing between me and Buffy…it’s been stewing a long time. Before Scotland even, I think. Which is one reason why Soldier Boy took it the way he did. But it’s got nothin’ to do with you or what you said, so don’t fuss yourself about it.” OK, semi-truths there. Though his feelings for Buffy had been around for a while, Spike wasn’t entirely sure about the Slayer’s, but phrasing it this way took the bulk of the burden from the young man’s shoulders.

Xander’s relief was a loud exhalation. “OK. Because you know, I was just wondering and all.” He headed back into the bedroom, speaking as he walked. “So what were you going to do?”

“None of your business.”

“Aw, c’mon. You can tell me. Not like you actually did it. And it was my idea in the first place.”

“I don’t care. I’m not tellin’.”

“It can’t be so bad,” Xander pressed. “What was it? Stand outside her window blasting the Sex Pistols? Sweep her off her feet and into your crypt?” His face brightened. “Oh! Or maybe you were going to write her an epic love poem.” He laughed. “That would really…” As the muscles in Spike’s jaw twitched, his nostrils flaring, the young man’s voice trailed off even as his eyes widened in amused delight. “Holy gee willikers, Batman, you were going to write her a poem!”

The volume of his voice had risen in his glee, and the vampire marched back into the room, slamming the door shut behind him, blue eyes flashing. “Chip or no chip, you say one word to Buffy about that, your little demon girlfriend’s goin’ to be investing a lot of her hard-earned dosh in battery-operated substitutes, if you get my meanin’.”

Xander held up his hands in defense. “Hey, did I say I was going to blab? It’s just…” His lips quirked, unable to hold back the smile. “…funny.”

“It’s not funny,” Spike growled, storming back to the tub’s side and viciously refilling his bucket. “It’s a soddin’ nightmare.”

“What? Did she laugh at it?”

“She never saw it.” He glared at him in warning. “And she’s not goin’ to.”

“Why not? It can’t be that bad. And Buffy’s a sucker for poetry. There was this one guy in high school---.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Already heard the Dickinson story, Harris. Just drop the whole subject, all right? The poem was a piece of rubbish, and no way am I goin’ to let Buffy know about it, not while I’ve got a drop of self-respect left in these bones.”

When the vampire left the room again, Xander tilted his head, watching the black-covered back thoughtfully. “Maybe it just needs some polishing. You know, buff it up for the ol’ Buffster,” he offered when Spike returned.

“Aren’t you s’posed to be helpin’ me here?” the vampire complained as he passed by to drain another pail of water from the tub. “Because this looks remarkably like you’re not.”

“I’m just saying---.”

“Don’t.”

“But---.”

“No buts.”

“If you want---.”

“And I don’t, so stop pushin’ me. You’re not seein’ it, and that’s final.”

“No such thing as final---.”

“Keep it up, Harris, and bathwater won’t be the only thing goin’ out that bloody window.”

Their bickering continued, floating down the hallway and into the stairwell, the tattoo of the rain getting broken by the semi-regular splashes of water hitting the ground below. With the easy gibes that passed between them, the casual onlooker would’ve wondered why two such friends were even arguing about the matter, its resolution barreling forward to the vampire’s inevitable collusion.

Of course, it didn’t hurt that Xander refused to give in. This one was just too good to pass up.

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

Steam rose from the mug cupped in her hands, and gently, Willow blew across the top, cooling it with her breath before handing it over to Buffy. “It’s still hot,” she warned.

Sniffing at the contents, the Slayer grimaced. “And it still smells like the bottom of the refrigerator when Dawn forgets it’s her turn to clean it out,” she commented, holding the mug as far away from her as possible.

“That’s the hing,” said Tara. “It has a kind of distinctive odor.”

“It could be worse,” Anya offered. “You could have to be wearing it.” The other girls just looked at her questioningly, prompting her to explain. “Hing’s a popular remedy for indigestion,” she said. “Mix it with a spoonful of curd and smear it on your tummy. Works wonders.”

“So what you’re telling me is that the Pepto Bismol of the magic world is going to make this little lovebite of Duncan’s go away?” Buffy asked disbelievingly. “You’re kidding, right?”

“It doesn’t make it go away,” Willow corrected. “It just kind of…cauterizes the wound from the inside to prevent it from opening again. Plus, it’s supposed to have a numbing effect so that you can’t feel any more pain from it. But it still looks for all intents and purposes that it’s there.”

“The numbing comes from the hing spice,” the ex-vengeance demon said. “You should feel what it does when you get it in your belly button.”

Buffy bit back a smile. “Can I drink it hot, or do I have to wait for it to cool? Because at the moment, I’m thinking hot might be better. That way, it’ll burn off all my taste buds so that I can’t tell what I’m really drinking here.”

“It’s your call. Heat doesn’t affect its healing properties.”

The kitchen was silent as the Slayer sipped at the concoction, holding her breath as she did so in hopes that not smelling it would help its taste. It didn’t. Her face contorted as the liquid slid down her throat, and Buffy stuck out her tongue, hoping the cool air would somehow alleviate the lingering pungence in her mouth, an incoherent, “Ughhh,” ripping from her lungs.

Willow laughed. “I’m going to guess that’s not a face Spike has seen very often,” she said lightly. “Because not really a falling-in-love-with kind of face.”

“I’m so glad my discomfort amuses you,” the Slayer complained. It was only then that she realized what exactly the redhead had said. “Since when did joking about me and Spike become public domain?” she asked.

“Since you decided to throw Riley out with the bathwater,” Anya said. Three sets of wide eyes accompanied dropped jaws as the trio of girls gaped at her boldness, and she bristled. “What? Don’t tell me you don’t think it’s just a little bit humorous Riley finding Buffy and Spike like he did. Personally, I think it’s hysterical. I mean, can you imagine the look on his face?” She waited expectantly for some support from the others, but finding none, she shrugged, her wide smile only fading slightly. “I just think it would’ve been priceless to have been a fly on that wall.”

“Can we just…not talk about Riley right now?” Buffy asked softly. It was hard enough remembering the hurt in his eyes, the pain and anger that had flashed in those hazel depths when she’d admitted her feelings about Spike. Part of her had been tempted to lie, to try and cover the whole thing up, to deny it was anything but a physical thing. But it wouldn’t have made anything easier. Because then she would have two hurt men on her hands, one of whom she loved, the other whom she cared for, and the young woman wasn’t sure even she was strong enough to have to deal with that. Not even a Slayer had that kind of strength.

“Let’s talk about something a little more angst-lite,” she said, forcing a smile. “Like kelpies and rituals that kill your boyfriends.” She took another sip from the mug. “Where did Frank take off to this time this time?”

“Once he got all bandaged up, Colin took him back down to the Otherworld tunnels,” Willow explained. “Frank said the stream has a healing effect on guardians and it would speed everything up so that he could help us with Duncan tomorrow.”

“Did he take the harness with him?”

“Well, considering you’re the only one who knows where it actually is,” said Anya, “the answer to that would be no.”

Buffy frowned. “Crap. I guess I should’ve said something before I went upstairs.”

“Colin told him you would t-t-take it to him tomorrow.”

“Not that he was very happy about that little arrangement, let me tell you.” Anya was on a roll. “Trying to reason with him that you were too hurt to be bothered with it right then was like trying to convince Xander that marshmallow fluff is not a basic food group. Very stubborn.”

“Did he tell you what the harness does before he left?” Her hazel eyes swept the small group, waiting for a response, but was met with only furtive glances and guilty smiles. The Slayer groaned. “Please tell me he at least filled you in on the whole Duncan thing before returning to the Kelpie Lagoon there. Give me that.”

“Yep. Three guardians, blah blah, lost the harness, blah blah, can change into anything they want, blah blah, and Duncan’s a kelpie?” The last was the only bit of Anya’s list that registered any emotion, her voice peaking in shock.

At Buffy’s nod over her cup, Willow shook her head. “What gets me is that Xander and Spike suspected him from the beginning. At least, that’s what Xander claimed when Frank gave us a demo and shapeshifted into Spike right in front of us. Why didn’t they say anything?”

“Would you have believed them?” the Slayer quizzed. “According to Spike, we were all acting pretty wacky. If I hadn’t seen all Duncan’s dead bodies buried out in the Kelpie Cave with my own eyes, I’m not sure I would. But murdering demon plus stolen mysterious artifact pretty much equals bad guy in just about anyone’s book, I think.”

“Oh!” The redhead’s face brightened. “We did get some answers regarding the closing spell, though. Giles and Colin were right about the physical requirements of it. Turns out that once the three are imbued with the magical spirits, they have to transfer the urn to the other side of the entrance where apparently there’s this trial they have to pass. That’s how the entrance gets closed.”

“And what’s the trial?”

“Ummm, we’re still working on that part.”

“And if the entrance gets closed while we’re all on the other side of it, how do we get back?”

“The magical spirits. They act as a kind of hall pass while they’re still in you. Once the trial is over, you bring the urn back to the stone triangle and voila! The spell is over.”

“Is that when Spike does his combustion trick?” The darting of her best friend’s eyes was all the answer Buffy needed, and she set down the mug on the counter so hard, some of its contents sloshed over the side. “We’ve got to fix this!” she demanded. “I did not go through all this All My Children-esque melodrama tonight just to lose Spike to a stupid magic fire. Can’t we just put a protection spell on him or something that will shield him from the effects of the closing ritual?”

Willow shook her head. “We don’t know how it would affect it,” she said. “For all we know, it could just transfer the fire to you or Xander.”

“And I am not having a crispy-fried boyfriend,” Anya said. “I’ve gone down that road before. You just end up with ashy bedsheets.”

“We’ve still got twenty-four hours until we can do the spell,” Tara said. “We’ll figure something out.”

“And if we don’t, we can just wait to do the spell until the next lunar opening we get,” her girlfriend added. “Gotta love those lunar openings.”

Though she nodded in agreement, Buffy kept silent, picking up her cup to finish draining off the healing potion. Dread was filling her torso, worry that they wouldn’t figure out what to do in time coursing through her arteries. Too much had happened; there was no way she was going to lose Spike over something as ridiculous this now, not when she’d only just found him. And found herself in the process.

“How’s the shoulder feeling?” Willow asked as Buffy set down her now empty mug.

Testing the joint, the Slayer winced before settling it gently back into place. “Still hurts,” she said. “Is this supposed to have worked this fast?”

The redhead blushed. “Actually, no. I was just hoping a change of topic might make it less tense-y in here.”

“I know what would make me less tense-y.” Buffy’s face was grim. “Pummeling a certain kelpie to a pulp before tossing him off to Spike to finish. That would definitely rate high on the relax-o-meter.”

“Or you could have sex with Spike,” offered Anya. “That always works for me.” At the Slayer’s raised eyebrow, the ex-demon rolled her eyes. “With Xander, of course. Not Spike. Although, I do have to say, not that I’m envious or anything, good job on that one. I’ll bet anything Spike’s much more compatible than Riley when it comes to orgasm potential.”

“Anya!”

“Oh please. Like the rest of you weren’t thinking exactly the same thing.”

“Um, no. Because, hello, gay now.”

“And that’s why you were hanging all over Duncan, right?” Anya smiled. “Don’t think I didn’t notice that one, missy.” She turned back to the Slayer. “I’m just saying, a century of experience, vampire stamina, that body. You’ve definitely upgraded your model, Buffy.”

In spite of the other girl’s bluntness, Buffy found herself smiling in agreement, the memory of Spike’s hands on her in the bath washing her in fire. She still felt like thrashing Duncan, but somehow, she had a feeling that Anya’s suggestion was going to work just as well.

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

He hated this form. As he stood by the fire, the tumbler of whiskey in his hands, the kelpie who had been Duncan stared at Travers, wishing yet again that this Hornbrook had been young or at the very least, fit. It hurt to breathe, and the bulky body he was forced to carry was uncomfortable, slow in reflexes and awkward to maneuver. He was going to be glad when he didn’t have to keep this shape anymore.

Quentin was regarding him in a mixture of worry and disbelief, the heavy lines etched into his brow as he frowned at his colleague. “My apologies for not believing you,” he said. “But I just find it inconceivable that Buffy Summers would inflict this kind of damage on another human. Especially someone who is a member of my Council.”

“Believe it. It was that vampire’s fault. She’s in love with him, and when he decided he was going to keep the harness for himself, he convinced her to try and get rid of me.” He hadn’t expected this loyalty Travers was exhibiting for his Slayer. When Duncan had conceived the plan in the cave, he had assumed Hornbrook’s word would be enough and yet, here he was, arguing over the finer points of his story, because Quentin refused to acknowledge that Buffy was capable of an attack of such viciousness toward a human. The fact that this part---the part where she was the reason behind his injuries---was actually true, just made it all the worse. Too bad he couldn’t admit to being a demon. Then, the bastard Travers would have to believe him.

“And she now has the harness.”

“Yes.”

“And you’re convinced she and Spike are---.”

“In love.”

They hadn’t heard the door open, but both men looked around to see a soaking wet Riley Finn standing in the entrance, his face grim. “What was that, Mr. Finn?” queried Travers.

“Buffy and Spike are in love, sir,” the young man repeated. “I’ll vouch for that.” His voice was flat, his eyes dull, but the tension that locked his arms behind his back, almost as if he were standing before a superior officer, rippled through his tall body in dangerous waves.

Quentin’s eyes narrowed. “And you would know this because…?”

“Because she told me.”

This was his chance, and Duncan pounced on it. “I’m telling you, sir, it’s that Spike’s fault. He has some kind of control over her. She’ll do anything he says.”

He hadn’t wanted to believe, but there was too much evidence staring him back in the face. Hornbrook’s injuries were serious, and the man was a valued member of his board, loyal to a fault and excellent at his job. While Quentin knew little of Finn, it seemed odd that the young man would travel so far if it wasn’t a serious matter; certainly finding out the woman you love was under the thrall of a powerful vampire would qualify as such.

And yet that meant Buffy Summers had turned traitor. Which couldn’t be. Slayers simply just didn’t…and then he remembered Faith, and his mouth thinned.

Slayers sometimes did.

Which meant he had to take action.

 

To be continued in Chapter 40: O Let Me In This One Night