DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss', of course. And the chapter titles are courtesy of Robert Burns.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Riley has returned and confirmed for Travers that Buffy and Spike are involved, while the Slayer has taken a potion to help with the wound on her shoulder…

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

Chapter 40: O Let Me in This One Night

Even if she hadn't seen the smoke wafting in a diaphanous cloud down the hall, Buffy would've known Spike stood in the entrance as soon as she stepped from the great hall. It wasn't just Slayer senses, either. That would be too easy of an answer. No, she knew as she walked slowly down the corridor that the stampede charging across her skin was a direct result of whatever bond was growing between her and the vampire, that knowing where he was or how he was feeling without even needing to physically see him was a side effect of opening the door inside her to let him enter. It wasn't that admitting she loved him---to herself, to her friends, and most importantly, to him---had allowed her the freedom to relax, even if it had.

It was that, for the first time in what felt like forever, Buffy Summers felt whole.

She slowed her pace even further as she approached, hazel eyes sweeping over his bent form as he stared out into the raining night. He was in profile to her, his bleached hair a mass of tumbled curls, the strays at the nape of his neck begging for her fingers to reach out and twist them around her knuckles, while his face was an exercise of shadows, the golden candlelight from the wall sconces warming his normal pallor even as it disappeared amongst the angular lines of his face. His hands were on the jamb, supporting his weight as he leaned forward, his cigarette dangling almost forgotten between his fingers, and she dwelled briefly on the strength of those forearms, how they'd felt wrapped pressing into her as he'd taken the time to bathe her just…oh god, was it only an hour ago?

"How did sorority hour go?" Spike asked, his head turning so that he could watch her near, blue eyes swallowed into black. "The girls convince you you've cocked everything up, or have I passed inspection?"

"Well, let's just say that if I ever need to pass over the title of president of the Spike fan club, Anya will be more than happy to take it from me." She stopped behind him and circled her arms around his waist, resting her cheek against his back, all the while inhaling deeply. Even the effects of the bath could do nothing to take away that smell that was so uniquely him; that curious blend would forever be enough to waken her senses in thrills. "What's the point of going outside for a cigarette if all your smoke ends up in the hallway?" she asked lightly.

He smiled, flicking the butt out into the rain, watching as the red tip arced into the night before disappearing in a tiny fleck of crimson. "It's not my fault," Spike said. "It's the wind's. Anyone's got a problem with it, they can just take it up with Mother Nature and give her an earful. I'm out of it." With his hands now free, he turned in her embrace, leaning against the jamb as he pulled her gently back against him, burying his nose in her hair as his fingers curled protectively around her waist. Out in the open now, he thought. No need for pretense. Never lettin' her go again.

With her back to him, Buffy couldn't see his face and twisted slightly to gaze up at him. She could tell that his mind was miles away, his eyes thoughtful even as they gleamed beneath heavy lids. There was a softness in his mouth, that half-smile playing with its luscious corner, that spoke of musings not of the bloody or violent kind. Her own face softened. "You know, I can see Spike, and I can feel Spike," she said quietly, a slight tinge of tease in her words, "but Spike's not really here right now, is he?"

He took a moment to respond, rolling the words around in his head before allowing them to slip out to her ears. "I'm sorry." His subdued tone echoed in the touch of his hand to the side of her face, palm against her jaw, his thumb brushing lightly over her bottom lip. He was fighting the urge to lean in and kiss her, to catch the fullness of her mouth between his teeth, and devour her on the spot, but Spike knew that if he didn't get this out now, he wasn't sure he ever would.

"For what?"

"For…the way…" No name-calling; be respectful, for her sake. "…Finn found out. About us."

"Oh." The reminder of Riley wiped the smile from Buffy's face, and she found herself leaning into Spike's hand, cradling her cheek against it as her breath softly fanned across his skin.

It was such a small movement on her part; to anyone else, it might have been completely dismissed. To Spike, however, it meant more, a monument of telling and trust screaming at him through his palm as he watched the pain flicker behind the luminous hazel. The Slayer was not one for seeking succor; so strong and so independent, she had rare need for it. But he knew this was her way of acquiescing to her current call for consolation. And he would give her whatever she wanted in order to satisfy it.

"Whatever you need…tonight…just tell me." He kept his voice low and even, though his insides were crawling to hold her even tighter. "You need space? You got it. Just say the word and I'm sleepin' on---."

"I need you." Buffy's head turned back to look up into his face. "We made our bed tonight by going public, so now you're going to have to lie in it. With me. Preferably naked."

Spike smiled, but his gaze flickered to her shoulder. "You're the one who's got to be careful now, luv," he said. "You don't need me hoggin' the bed when you should be gettin' your rest."

"I like the way you hog," she teased, and began tracing a path along his skin where his shirt rode up from his jeans. "And besides, I've been magicked up. Will and Tara gave me something for it so I don't have to worry about it hurting or bleeding anymore."

For once, Spike found himself grateful for the Slayer's friends. Talking with Harris had led to discussion of Buffy's relationship with Riley, and the unexpected confession from the young man that Finn suspected her dissatisfaction with the way things were between them before she'd even left Sunnydale had lightened the guilt he'd felt regarding how torn up she'd gotten by his sudden appearance. Not that he cared one way or the other how Soldier Boy found out. In fact, truth be told, he'd rather enjoyed the pained look on the other man's face at catching them the way he did. But still. This wasn't about him. This was about Buffy. And it sounded like her girlfriends had done their job in helping to ease some of her feelings about it. Gotta remember to pick them up a little thank you gift when we get back, he thought. Maybe nick something from the magic shop for them.

"So…are we going to stand here all night in the cold, or are you going to come upstairs with me and let me warm my feet up?" Buffy asked coyly, slipping away from his embrace, her fingers knotted in the hem of his shirt so that he was forced to come along with her. "I'm beginning to think I should be wearing double socks around this place."

"Nothin' wrong with socks," Spike said as they started up the narrow stairwell. Their fingertips curled against the other's, the tiniest of hooks connecting them lest one should slip. "Socks can be sexy." When she glanced back at him, waiting for his inevitable qualification, he chuckled. "Long as that's all you're wearing," he clarified.

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

The ringing from the table surprised them both. For a moment, Giles and Colin just looked at each other, matching frowns on their faces, before the younger Watcher rose to his feet and walked over to the table, picking up the phone that rested there. After a cursory glance at its display, he pressed the talk button and held it to his ear. "Hello?"

Giles saw his shoulders stiffen almost immediately, his head snapping back as if to attention, and crossed to stand by the other's side. Something was not good about this particular phone call, and he didn't want to miss a single word of it.

"Y-y-yes, sir," Colin was saying. "Not that I don't understand, but do you really think…Well, really, it's so much a matter of…Is that necessary? Because I can assure you, I have everything under con..." Whoever was on the other end wasn't allowing the young Englishman to finish any of his sentences, in spite of a concerted effort on Colin's part, and his color rose with each passing attempt. "I c-c-can explain. Surely, such lengths aren't…Yes. Yes, sir. No, I understand. And I'll inform Rup---Mr. Giles---so that we are both prepared…Good night, sir."

The lines were deep in Giles' forehead as he watched Colin turn off the phone and return it to the table. "Why did that not sound like good news?" he queried.

"Because it was Mr. Travers." The Watcher's eyes were bleak as he looked up at his colleague. "And he's here in Scotland."

His chest suddenly constricted, and Giles automatically reached up to remove his glasses, wiping them absently as he gazed intently at the other man. "What did he have to say?"

"Too much. And none of it good." A deflated Colin collapsed into a nearby chair, sighing heavily. "He wishes to see us first thing in the morning in town. He wants to discuss Buffy and Spike."

"Buffy and…Spike?"

"He knows. Don't ask me how or why because he didn't specify, but somehow Mr. Travers is aware of what has developed between them."

Giles sat in the opposite chair, returning his glasses to his nose as he peered at the younger man. "But that's not possible," he argued. "They've only just confirmed their relationship for us this evening. How could…" His voice trailed off, the possibilities tumbling in his head, but one kept fighting its way to the forefront, one that was leaving a sinking feeling in his stomach.

Riley. He was the only explanation. It was too much of a coincidence not to be him.

"There's more." Colin lifted his head to stare at Rupert. "He also knows that Buffy has the harness."

"What?" This time, Giles exploded, confusion brightening his eyes to a livid blue. How much exactly had Buffy told Riley when he'd been upstairs? It made no sense for the young man to be informed of the recent developments regarding the artifact, and yet there seemed no other possible way for Travers to have retained his information and acted so quickly on it. Furtively, he glanced around the room, leaning forward as he lowered his voice. "You don't think they've had us under surveillance the entire time we've been here, do you?" he quizzed.

Colin shook his head. "I don't know. I was never informed of that, but then again, I wasn't informed of a lot of things regarding this project, so there's really no telling. All I know is that Mr. Travers wants both of us there in the morning. With Buffy."

"What about Spike?"

"We're to leave him here. For some reason, he…fears for our safety."

"That's ridiculous."

"I'm just relaying what Mr. Travers said." Again, Colin sighed heavily. "I've a feeling none of this bodes very well for the satisfactory completion of our project."

And silently, Giles agreed.

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

When he hesitated in the doorway, Buffy looked back at him in surprise, the tiniest of lines between her brows. "It's your room, too," she teased. "Not like you need an invitation."

"I know that, luv," he said, and let his blue eyes slip past her, sweeping across the now tidy room, taking in the domesticated orderliness, from the his and her shoes lined up carefully next to the bed, to the arrangement of his mousse beside her shampoo, to the absence of the phony pallet on the floor. "It's just…everything's changed now. For good. You know that, right?"

"I think I figured that out somewhere around the time Riley got the full monty from you when you reached for the washcloth," she teased quietly, biting back the giggle that automatically rose to her lips. The look on her ex-boyfriend's face had been comical, to say the least, and…Mentally, she chided herself. Not funny. Serious business there. Not fair to be laughing at…And unbidden, the smile returned.

"And…you're sure you're fine with that?" He still wasn't moving, watching her intensely, waiting for her to crack even the tiniest. Because in Spike's experience, that's what always happened. He got what he wanted only to have fate step in and twist the knife by ripping it away from him. "Rupes is hardly chuffed to bits about us, and your mates…"

"…will get over any problems they have with it, if there are any problems," she finished. "Not that I think there are. For some reason, I almost think Xander was relieved to find out the truth."

"You know, he actually called me his friend tonight?"

This surprised her, and Buffy lifted her brows. "And I missed it?" she asked. "Was he drunk?"

"That's just it." Letting go of her hand, Spike ran a long hand through his hair, pulling at the curls in frustration. "I didn't get into this looking for friends, Slayer. Hell, to be honest, I never thought I'd get half as far as we've gone. And now…"

"…and now, Big Bad Spike is feeling scared," she teased, grabbing his hand again and pulling him over the threshold.

"Not scared," he argued.

"Looks like scared to me." Stepping up to him, Buffy reached around his torso to nudge the door closed, pressing her breasts into his chest at the same time, feeling her nipples harden at the contact with the black cotton of his shirt. Deliberately, she lifted her head, nuzzling it into the crook of his neck and inhaling deeply. "Smells like scared." Her mouth opened, the tip of her tongue a fine point along the outer curve of his ear. "Do you taste scared, too, I wonder?" she whispered.

The nearness of her was intoxicating, the barest touch of her tongue enough to dispel any rational thought in the wake of her promise, but Spike knew she was just playing with him, that she didn't really see what a muddle he thought all this was, and was trying to distract him with her body and her own needs. Not that his needs weren't as great; the hardness of his arousal scraping along the inside of his jeans was testimony to that. But he wanted her to get what he was saying before he was willing to allow this to go any further.

Taking her firmly by the waist, Spike eased her away from him, feeling the absence of her body against his like a cold slap across the face. "When I say everything's changed," he said, "I mean it. With you, me, your Watcher, your little friends---."

"Our little friends," Buffy corrected.

"Which is exactly my point! You're tellin' me, you don't think it's bang out of order for me, your former mortal enemy, creature of the night and all that rot, to be hangin' out with a group of do-gooding ex-Happy Meals, listenin' to them dish about whatever nasty's in town and bein' expected to throw in my two cents when they ask for it?"

Her words were measured. "Wasn't it you who didn't understand why I wanted to wait and break the news of us to the gang?" she asked quietly. "And you were right. They're more than OK with this. They like you, Spike. You gave them a chance to see past all the crap, and now you're surprised they're actually smart enough to see what I do?"

"It's not that---."

"It is that." Buffy felt the flush of the discussion warming her cheeks as she looked up into his face. "Look, it doesn't really matter why. There's no call for wigging out on me here. I'm glad of the changes, and I think, deep down, you are, too. And you're just too used to trying to be all big and bad that you don't want to admit it. But it's OK. My feelings aren't going to change because you happen to like hanging out with Xander---."

"I never bloody said that!"

This time, she couldn't help but laugh at the frustration twisting his face. "You know, you're cute when you're in denial," she said, and stood on her tiptoes to brush the softest of kisses across his mouth. "And if thinking that makes it easier, then I say go for it. Even if we both know it's a load of crap. Will you be wanting that white hat now, or later?" She laughed again as his lips pursed, ready to bite back with some sarcastic remark, and silenced him with another kiss, deeper this time, working over the tension in his mouth by pulling and sucking at his bottom lip.

Strong hands slid up her arms, pulling her closer, a hungry growl rumbling from his throat. She was laughing at him and it was infuriating, but no way could he resist a direct assault on his senses, not when her arousal emanated from her pores in palpable clouds. Just had to show her…

With more force than he felt, Spike broke from the kiss and stared down at her, watching as she so nonchalantly flipped her hair from her shoulder, exposing the edges of her injury to his inspection. "Not a white hat," he rumbled. "Demon, remember?"

She knew the game, saw the discomfort lurking behind the sapphire, too proud to say what was really going through his head. As Buffy's smile faded, it was replaced with a mischievous gleam in her eye. This was easy to give; no reason for him to need to ask for it. Too much had been stripped from him already tonight, and she wasn't about to add to the pile by not playing along.

"But demons are supposed to be scary," she taunted, stepping back and away from him, gazing up at him through her lashes. "And you're…not."

He responded with a flash of gold in the blue and a quirk of his lips . "No?" Spike asked softly, and mirrored her step with his own, head lowered, the animal grace of his body wound in a tight coil that threatened to break free at any given moment. "You sure about that?"

"Sure," she murmured, and deliberately ran her tongue over her bottom lip, moistening it so that it glistened in the candlelight.

The effect made his mouth water, driving him ever forward, one lazy step at a time. "How long before the witches' little hocus pocus takes effect?" Spike murmured, transfixed by the tiny flutter of her skin at the base of her neck, her pulse drumming from the inside in an increasing tempo that threatened to break through the nebulous barrier.

"About ten minutes ago," Buffy replied. "I am officially in a painfree zone at the moment." Her smile returned. "Anya was right. My arm's got this kind of tingly numbness shooting up it right now. Like when your foot's gone asleep and you stamp on it to wake it up. Very pins and needle-y."

"Oh." They were stopped now, the bed to their side, and though their bodies didn't touch, each felt wrapped in the other, the growing unevenness of her breath matched by the erratic racing of nerve endings over the vampire's skin. Lifting his hands, Spike's fingers began toying with the front of her blouse, slowly undoing the buttons as they played. "Does that mean you can't feel…anything?"

"Don't know," she breathed, or tried to, because all of a sudden, her lungs seemed not to be working, tightening at the first touch of his skin against hers. "Maybe we should test it."

The fabric fell from her shoulders, and though there was a distinct bite to the air, Buffy felt nothing but the searing of his fingertip as it traced a path around the curve of her breast, up to the scarlet marks of the wound on her shoulder, dancing over the crusted surfaces before trickling down her bicep.

"Feel that?" His voice was husky, thick with desire, his attention riveted to the honey sheath of her skin, glowing brightly in the candlelight. He didn't know how it was possible, but each time, seeing her like this felt like the first, like he'd somehow walked in on Diana bathing with her fellow huntresses and been stunned into silence by her perfection. So warm, so alive…

"Yes…" It was barely a whisper, her mouth too dry, her skin too hot, but it was all he needed to continue.

"What about this?" he asked, and lowered his head to skate his tongue around the bitemarks, the scent of her blood dizzying.

Buffy's fingers tangled in his hair, holding his mouth to her shoulder. "Yes," she repeated.

He fought back against her strength, pulling himself away to gaze down at her. As she watched, the ridges appeared in his brow, his eyes suddenly amber flames staring at her in hunger, canines elongating to razor points. The softness of his mouth remained the same, however, and Spike reached behind his head to take one of her hands, bringing it to his face and forcing her to feel the changes with her own touch. "See?" he said, his voice almost inaudible. "Still a demon, luv." It was the last bastion; he only hoped she wouldn't ignore this final call to arms.

Her response was slow, a feather caress across his cheek…a deliberate lifting of her mouth to press gently against his…the careful exploration of her tongue around the needle of his fangs. There was a moment of hesitation, and then Buffy allowed her tongue to slip, catching, the tiniest of cuts suddenly filling both of their mouths with her blood.

It was the last thing he'd expected, and as the elixir burned down his throat, Spike tightened his resolve, ignoring the demon's scream for more, refraining from just sweeping her up into his arms in favor of allowing his hand to slide around to the small of her back, pressing their pelvises together so that his hard cock ground against her hip. Desire mingled with a bursting hunger, but through it ran an uncharacteristic gratitude, relief and disbelief coursing in and out of him as he broke from the kiss to slide his mouth across her cheek. She knew. Like she always knew. And she accepted it, which made all the rest of it just disappear.

"Love you, Buffy," he murmured into her neck, returning to his human visage as his fingers came up to tangle in the golden tresses of her hair. "Always."

"Show me," came the muffled response, her mouth buried against his own neck, small teeth nipping along its length as her tongue traced the veins there.

Fingers interlaced as they broke apart. "This'll be a first for us," Spike said. "So far, we've managed to do this anywhere but in this bed."

Her answering smile was slow, but wide. "Think it'll prove as sturdy as the snooker table?" she asked slyly, hooking her finger into the waistband of his jeans.

"The only thing sturdier than that snooker table is me," Spike joked, allowing himself to be pulled closer to her.

"Bet I could do some damage to you."

"Like to see you try, Slayer."

Hazel eyes glittered, catching the orange from the dancing flames to flash eerily golden before him. "Maybe next time." She tugged at the hem of his shirt, pulling it from his jeans as she slid her hands underneath to mold around the muscles of his back. "I think I like you whole for now."

Their heads moved in unison, bowing and reaching into the kiss, hands clutching at the other in a desperate search for strength. The pressure was light at first, questing as lips skated over lips, parting only when Spike's tongue darted out to search the wet chasm of her mouth. Ice melted into warmth, sucking at her breath, swallowing it down to leave her gasping, and it was only when she felt the burning in her lungs did Buffy break away, hazel now gone in a pool of black as she stared up at him.

Though she claimed there was no danger, he didn't want to hurt her, and held himself back as he wrapped his arms around her to ease her back onto the mattress. Lying there, she was outlined in gold, sculptured curves beckoning him to touch, and Spike's eyes gleamed in anticipation. Beautiful. And his. She'd said so.

"Are you just going to stand there and look at me all night?" Buffy asked, the slightest of laughs in her voice. When he stood so, there was no mistaking the wonder in his gaze, as if she was some exquisite treasure he didn't believe he'd found, and she would've sworn she was almost glowing from the way it made her feel. Like she was breathtaking. If he'd had any breath to take.

"You're not cold?" When the Slayer shook her head, Spike pulled his tee over his head, baring the pale skin of his chest, and leaned forward, one fist supporting his weight on either side of her body. His mouth was watering, already savoring the texture of her hardened nipple against his tongue, and he dipped down, flicking the tip of the nearest in a gesture so light it made Buffy arch her back. Spike chuckled. "Greedy little wench, aren't you?"

She curled her fingers into his hair, pulling him closer. "More," she demanded.

His lips returned, sucking at her breast as his hand began tracing a line down the curve of her torso, increasing the pressure as his fingers slid beneath the waistband of her trousers to disappear in the heat. Buffy's moan was followed by her own hands joining his, undoing the fastenings and shedding the rest of her clothes in a movement that forced more of her soft flesh into his mouth.

Tugging at his shoulders, the Slayer pulled him away from his repast, forcing him to stretch out alongside her. "Your turn," she said with a smile.

Spike felt her hands light on his chest before trailing downward, and reached in for another kiss, this time deeper, exploring her mouth as lithe fingers popped the button, slid down the zipper, pushed the denim roughly over his hips even as her palms stroked the hard lines of his pelvis in a direct path for his ass. She held him as she had earlier in the bath, clinging in both need and fear, and he moved his lips across her cheek to settle just below her ear.

"Not goin' anywhere, luv," he whispered. "You're pretty much stuck with me from here on out."

Her laughter was hot against his neck. "Is that what we're calling it these days?" Before he could respond, she had pulled him on top, raising her feet to hook her toes through the denim and finish extracting them from his legs.

His cock twitched against the sudden exposure to her flesh, the scent of her arousal pricking his nostrils even as it made him salivate all the more. "You're killin' me here, Summers," he joked, and tried to lift himself away. "Can't put me so close to temptation. Not before---."

"If you're talking about foreplay," Buffy said, tugging him back against her, "I'm more than happy to take a raincheck." Her fingers tremored as she lifted them to his face, touching his brow with a gentle caress. "I told you downstairs. Tonight, I need you. All of you. Just…love me, Spike…please?"

How she did it, he had no idea, but the world slipped away with her words, all reasoning vanishing so that all was left was him, and her, and the bed, and her luscious mouth, so inviting…and close…

It took almost no movement for him to lower his head to hers, to delve into the kiss deeper than any of its predecessors, and only a little more to lift his hips, feeling his erection slide along her slippery folds, tiny hard heels digging into the small of his back as she spread her legs and invited him in. Suffocating in fire, that's what he was, unable to feel anything but wet and heat…her mouth…the tight channel now sheathing his cock…plunging into both as if to drown…knowing that he probably would if she wasn't there to draw him back.

There was no halfway with their lovemaking. Each stroke was deliberate, deep, her clit grinding against his pubic bone with every thrust, each time a mini explosion that went shooting up her torso, only to be forced to wait in excruciating agony for the next contact. Their bodies moved in a rhythm that prescribed either years of practice or a second of fate, and Buffy knew as she felt the muscles of his broad back flex beneath her hands that it had been inevitable, this coming together, meeting the one who equaled her without eclipsing, who knew when to be there and when to not, who…knew her.

As their tempo increased, she held him against her, feeling her nipples pressing against his, her heart pounding in a staccato cadence to deafen both of them. "Spike…" she whispered, forcing herself to tear away from his mouth to gaze up at the darkening sapphire.

"Ssshhh," he murmured, and lifted a hand to lay his fingertips across her swollen lips, caressing them in a feather movement that would've made her giggle if she could've found the air to breathe. He never stopped thrusting, replacing his fingers with his mouth, sucking and kissing as he quickened, driving harder and deeper as the sweat began to sheen against her skin, easing the friction between their chests as they rode it out.

She screamed into his mouth when she came, forcing her air down his throat just as he buried his cock inside her, his own orgasm jettisoning his hips into hers, an exchange neither understood the significance of, even as the world seemed to solidify back into stone around them. With his eyes closed, Spike seemed to be lost in everything Buffy---the slick glide of her skin against his, the musky scents of their sex mingling with the tang of her sweat, the taste of her tongue as their kiss eased into a sweltering caress. He could even hear her pulse racing, slowing as she drifted down from the crescendo of her climax, settling into that familiar even rhythm that was distinctively hers.

"Spike…" she tried again.

"You don't have to…" As much as he wanted to hear her say it again, he didn't want her to feel it necessary, to turn the words into some automated post-coital response that would eventually lose their meaning. Because he never wanted her to forget just what that little phrase really meant for him. And he'd risk everything to ensure she didn't.

"Let me..."

There was no color left in his eyes as he gazed down at her, two black pools drinking in the flush of her cheek, the glow of her skin in the candlelight. Gently, he stroked the damp hair away from her forehead, and marveled yet again how he'd managed to fall into such good fortune for a change. "Always love you, pet," he murmured.

Buffy smiled. "Am I ever going to be able to be the one to say it first?" she asked lightly.

"Told you I liked the words," he teased with a responding grin.

She laughed, all the tension from the night gone, and pulled him against her, kissing his jaw as she murmured, "I do love you, Spike."

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

The exhaustion was catching up to him, but most of it was in his head and not his body, each thought an ache as he tried to shut them away, focusing instead on the push-ups he was forcing his muscles through. He'd started them as a distraction against the images that refused to leave his inner eye, and though his body was now starting to catch up with the tiredness of his head, it wasn't enough, pictures of Buffy and Spike still lingering like salt on an open wound.

When the knock came to his door, Riley was almost grateful for the diversion, hopping to his feet with an athletic grace and stepping the few feet to the door. His eyebrows lifted in surprise at the visitor standing in the hall. "Mr. Hornbrook," he said. "I thought you'd gone to bed for the night."

Duncan/Hornbrook shuffled in his place. "Mr. Travers has made his arrangements for the morning," he said, his voice gruff. "As he was tired, I volunteered to come and fill you in on the details."

"Oh." Riley frowned. "I was under the impression he wanted me to stay out of Council business. That I wasn't to interfere."

"Well, it appears he's changed his mind, seeing as you've already decided to take that step on your own by seeing the Slayer this evening." He cleared his throat. "He wants to attempt to break the vampire's hold over the Slayer. He thought perhaps you would want to be a part of that." Inwardly, Duncan held his breath. He only knew bits and pieces of the story, and though he knew little of the young American himself, he was gambling that the obvious pain he'd encountered by going out to Dall Rath---a confession he'd made to Travers when the older man had pressed---would be enough to incite his approval of this plan. Duncan's plan. Because Travers talked too much. And right now, Duncan needed someone who wanted action.

It took him only a moment to decide. "Whatever he wants," Riley said grimly. "Just tell me what to do…"


To be continued in Chapter 41: The Soldier's Return