DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course. And the chapter titles are courtesy of Robert Burns.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Travers has requested a meeting with Giles, Buffy and Colin, while Duncan has conned Riley into a plan to get Spike…

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

Chapter 41: The Soldier's Return

Some time during the night, the storm had stopped, leaving the countryside crisp and shiny, a fine frost shielding the damp heather from the approaching sun. Any other time, Riley might have taken the time to appreciate the beauty of the mountains around him; now, though, he was a man with a mission, focused on the task he’d been assigned by Travers, preparing himself to help Buffy in any way that he could.

He was going to kill Spike.

His knuckles were white around the steering wheel, his eyes locked to the narrow road ahead. At his side, Duncan---in the shape of Hornbrook---peered through the window, eyes darting over the horizon. “Pull over here,” he ordered, motioning to a layby.

With the efficiency inherent from years of training, Riley did as he was told, turning the key in the ignition before glancing over at his partner in this expedition. The man looked better than he had the previous evening, the bruises on his face not quite as mottled, and he moved with an easier lumber that belied the wound Riley knew he still sported in his shoulder. He couldn’t help but wonder if he’d been hurt as badly as he claimed if he was healing so quickly, but hastily dismissed his internal questions, waiting for the next instruction in Travers’ plan.

“We’re going in the rest of the way on foot,” Duncan explained. “If we go in the front, they’ll be expecting us.” That, and we can’t risk running into the others as they’re leaving, he silently added. If that happens, this whole plan will be shot to hell.

“What about weapons?” Riley asked. “Not that I don’t think I can take Spike one on one, but I can’t kill him without at least a stake.”

“There’s an arsenal within the castle,” the kelpie said. “You can get to that without being observed and get what you need from there.”

“Me? What about you? Aren’t you coming with me?” The young man’s face was furrowed, an insetting doubt beginning to peal through his brain. Orders were orders, but these were starting to not make sense. Safety in numbers, and all.

Duncan chuckled. “I’m not really at my fighting best at the moment,” he said, gesturing to the assorted bruises on his face as he tried to steer Riley back to the task at hand. He smiled as the other visibly relaxed and continued, “Besides, Mr. Travers was very clear on what our roles in this plan are. Your job is Spike. Mine is the harness.” Well, partially true. With Buffy and the two Watchers in town, Spike was really the only threat within the castle; the young Xander was hardly dangerous, and the girls were, well, just girls. If it weren’t for his wounds, markers that would remain on his form no matter which shape he took, Duncan would’ve taken care of Spike himself. As it was, he had to be satisfied with Finn filling his place. Regardless, whether the vampire died or not, Duncan needed him occupied while he searched for the harness. He couldn’t risk any more interruptions. He only hoped that the remaining guardian had died out on the mountain.

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

She couldn’t help the smile that spread across her face as she pushed open the door. He was still asleep, arm flung over his head so that the muscles of his chest stretched in a hungry line that made her mouth water, the blankets kicked to the floor so that the bottom of his bare feet greeted her as she stepped inside. The sweats she’d bought him at the market hung low on his hips---put on as an afterthought in anticipation of unwanted callers in the morning---and Buffy could tell even before she stepped into the room that he would be waking with an erection. Silently, she shook her head. She wasn’t sure if it was just a guy thing, a vampire thing, or a Spike thing, but he got hard and stayed hard more than anyone she had ever known. What that was going to mean for her, though, sent a warm tingle down the inside of her thighs.

He moved before she’d made a sound, rolling onto his side and opening his eyes to gaze at her in the doorway. “Mornin’,” he croaked, the vestiges of sleep hoarsening his voice. His lids were heavy, eyes dark, sweeping lazily over her as Spike rested his head on his bicep. “Don’t we look thoroughly edible today.”

Buffy blushed as the most recent memories of what exactly had been in the vampire’s mouth just a few hours before came rushing to the foreground of her mind’s eye. “I look like I’ve been up half the night being ravished by a handsome but insatiable vampire,” she corrected, crossing to the bed and setting the thermos on the nightstand.

As soon as she was within range, his hand came up to begin caressing her thigh, kneading the muscles there as the corner of his mouth lifted. “I seem to recall someone waking me up around six with a lovely little tongue bath,” he murmured. “So, which one of us is the insatiable one?”

Her color deepened. “Still, not exactly the best image for me to be putting forth when I have to go out and face the masses. Tends to lower my credibility as a card-carrying member of the legally sane.”

Spike frowned. “What masses?” he queried. “Since when does doin’ research require masses?”

“Not research,” she replied. “And actually, it’s just a mass of one. I’m being dragged before the English Inquisition again.” At his continued confusion, she elaborated, “Travers is in town. Pissed as hell apparently, and looking for Slayer blood because somehow he found out about you and me.”

Spike’s frown disappeared, to be replaced with a vague annoyance as he rolled his eyes. “Well, that’s one mystery solved. Least now we know how Whitebread got here,” he said. His fingers curled around the back of her leg, tugging her gently forward so that she fell to a sitting position on the edge of the mattress. “Does this mean you’re goin’ to be squarin’ off with him as well?”

Buffy shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe. Probably, if that’s really how Travers found out. Giles seems to think so, at least.”

“Just give me a minute to get dressed then.” He was halfway up when her hand stopped him, settling on his chest in a warm splay. “What?”

Her mouth was grim. “You can’t go.”

“Why not? Tuck me under a blanket in the back seat. I’m not lettin’ you face this one on your own. If this is about the both of us, then the both of us should be there.”

“I agree, but Travers said not to bring you.”

The confession hung between them, its blade swinging from one to the other, neither liking that it was there. The muscles twitched in Spike’s jaw as he stared up at Buffy. “They think you’re in some thrall, don’t they?” he queried, his voice low, dangerous.

“Nobody’s said---.”

Abruptly, he rolled in the opposite direction, jumping to his feet on the far side of the bed and storming to the wardrobe. “Can’t leave well enough alone,” he was muttering as he yanked out a shirt. “It’s fine to set me up as their little spell lackey, but am I good enough---?”

Her small hand on his forearm cut him off, and the vampire froze in mid-dressing, blond head turning to look down at her. “Travers doesn’t know the whole story,” she said firmly. “I’m going to tell him in no uncertain terms that there’s no brainwashing going on here. If you go, you’ll just…lose your temper. And that won’t look good for the I’m-totally-safe-around-Spike argument I’m going to have to make.”

“You shouldn’t have to do this on your own. That’s my job, remember? Watch your back.”

Her head tilted, golden hair tumbling over her shoulder. “So you can watch it from here,” she countered. “Keep an eye on the gang for me. Duncan’s still out there somewhere, and he knows I’ve got the harness now. There’s no telling what he might do.”

“Thought you were going to give it back to the guardian.”

“I am. But I don’t have time for that this morning. We’re running late as it is. Giles has gone into over-efficient Watcher mode, being all English and proper and ‘we’ll get some answers this time, by gum.’ So between him and Colin the bluster bunny, I’ve got no time for dawdling.”

The prospect of other methods of dawdling brought a gleam to Spike’s eye, and his hand came up to brush the hair away from her face. “If you want,” he said, “I can take it back to our resident kelpie watchdog. One less thing for you to worry about when you get back.”

Buffy shook her head. “That would be a good idea except for two things. One, Frank doesn’t seem to trust anyone here but me. Apparently, he only told the guys the bare minimum of factoids last night before skedaddling for a midnight swim, so I’m not sure how he’d react if someone other than me showed up with the harness.” She took a deep breath. “And two, I’m sorta taking it with me.”

She was answered with another frown. “You’re not seriously considerin’ givin’ it to that wanker, are you?” he asked. “After the way they set us up here?”

“No,” she assured. “I made a deal with Frank. I intend to stick to it. But the way I figure it, it’s a bargaining chip for me with Travers. Maybe he’s got information on how to stop you from turning into combusto boy with the closing spell. Plus, it gives me some credibility in not being under your thrall. And---.”

Chuckling, Spike held up his hand to cut her off. “I got it, I got it. Lots of reasons to take it with. Right.”

“Besides, he already knows I have it---.”

That threw him for a loop. “How’s that? Only people around here who know you’ve even got it are me and Red.”

“Willow told the others. Both Colin and Giles know I’ve got the harness as well. Oh, and Frank.”

“So, basically everyone in Dall Rath.” His eyes narrowed. “You don’t think Junior’s decided to play for both teams, do you?”

Shaking her head, Buffy stepped away from him, heading back for the door. “Not with how nervous he’s acting down there,” she said. “But not knowing who Travers’ source is, is just another reason why I have to go see him.”

His voice stopped her in the entrance. “What? So no goodbye kiss?”

Looking back over her shoulder, she saw him gazing at her, blond head tilted as he watched her with barely disguised desire, and felt the tremors return to her own body. “You promise it’s just one kiss?” she asked with a half-smile. “Because I’m in big enough trouble as it is. If I’m late because I can’t keep my hands off you---.”

He was at her side in a flash. “Nah,” he drawled, head bowing so that his mouth grazed the side of her neck in the faintest of caresses. “You’ll be late because I can’t keep my hands off you.”

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

So far, so good. Hornbrook had been right about slipping into the weapons cache undetected. The trickle of voices from the other end of the hall showed no indication of lessening, laughter and light conversation drifting along the stone walls in invisible curls. For a moment, Riley felt a pang of anger at being excluded from the camaraderie, that his friends were in there laughing without him, that he was most likely the current butt of all their jokes. Stupid Soldier Boy, he could imagine Spike saying with that annoying smirk on his face. Not even man enough to hold onto his girl the first time she spends any kind of time away from him.

Not that he really blamed Buffy. He’d spent the night tossing and turning, doing everything he could to rationalize her behavior, and finally settled on it being a Slayer/vampire thing. It was really the only explanation that made sense. Well, it was really the only explanation that made sense to him. And even he could begrudgingly admit that Spike wasn’t exactly hideous. Plus, he had that whole bad boy, dangerous vibe Buffy had seemed to favor in the past. If he’d decided to make Buffy his little sex slave, it probably hadn’t been that difficult to convince her, which meant…

He shook his head, returning his attention to the weapons before him. No. Not going down that road. Slayer/vampire thing. Had to be.

Hornbrook had told him that Spike usually spent his mornings upstairs, away from the others, which worked out well for Riley. Of course, he’d thought the same thing last night and look where that had gotten him. Still, there was no disputing the nocturnal tendencies of the vampire, and he was going to lay odds that Spike was still asleep. It would make his job a lot easier. As long as Buffy wasn’t up there, too.

The only part of this plan that was bothering him---well, not the only part, but the biggest part---was the absence of one of the cars that had been out front the previous evening. Someone wasn’t here, and though the daylight pretty much prevented it from being Spike, it was a detail out of place, something that could throw a wrench into the entire arrangement Travers had made. Maybe someone just ran into town for some supplies, Riley reasoned, sliding a stake into his belt before reaching for a long dagger. Yeah, that had to be it.

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

Why did this man always make her feel like such a child? Buffy wondered as she looked up at Travers standing next to the fireplace. His face was grim, his eyes cold, and he stared at her with a barely contained disappointment, worthy of a gold star from the Parenting Guilt Trip Hall of Fame. And he wasn’t even related to her. It wasn’t fair.

“Do you have anything to say for yourself?” Quentin asked, his gaze steady.

Buffy’s eyes darted from him to the two Watchers who stood behind him, looking very much like Tweedledum and Tweedledee with their hands stuffed deep into their pockets, their eyes locked on the carpet in front of them. She was alone on this one; Travers had made it clear that he wanted no interference from either of his employees as soon as they had stepped into the room.

“Does it matter?” she countered. “You’ve already made up your mind about it, so what does hearing what I have to say make a difference?”

Travers shook his head. “I’ve done no such thing, Miss Summers. I came here with an open mind, ready to hear both sides. It’s your rather erratic behavior that has me most concerned, though. I would think a Slayer with such experience as yours would tend to be just a little more…rational.” He ignored the snort of amusement from Colin behind him, and instead took a step closer to her. “So you’re not denying your involvement with the vampire?”

She could end the thing right now by lying, she knew. Tell them what they want to hear, pack up, and then just deal with the fallout when she got back to Sunnydale. It’s not like she hadn’t been lying about it before. Except…that was before. Giles knew the truth. Colin knew the truth. And most importantly, Buffy knew the truth. And no way was she going to deny Spike again.

“Spike’s on our side now,” she argued. “And since when did you start paying attention to jealous ex-boyfriends with unresolved demon issues anyway? Whatever Riley told you---.”

He cut her off with a wave of his hand. “Mr. Finn only confirmed for me what I had already retained from another source,” he said. “And you’re avoiding the issue.”

“The issue is that there is no issue.” Her face was tight, her hands clenching into fists in her lap, and she was beginning to wonder if Spike should’ve come along to make sure she didn’t lose her temper. Breathe, Buffy. Don’t let him get to you. “Who I see is my business, not Council business. And as long as it doesn’t interfere with my slaying, you have no right---.”

“Oh, but it does. Or are you going to dispute the fact that you have the harness in your possession?”

“You mean the harness you tried to bribe Spike into stealing for you?” she shot back. “The one we weren’t even supposed to know about? Is that the harness you’re referring to?”

His only reaction was a tightening around his mouth. “I can see, Miss Summers, that as usual, you have managed your resources in such a way as to surprise me. Again. You were never meant to learn about the harness’ existence in the first place.”

He hardly looked surprised. If anything, he looked annoyed, and it was pissing Buffy off to no end. “Just like I wasn’t supposed to learn about your little spell switcheroo, right? Let me tell you something, Mr. Travers. Promising the world and then not following through are not really the best methods for inspiring loyalty in your employees,” she said. “Spike’s not stupid. Even he could see that you were just playing him with the chip-free world you were painting. What I don’t understand is what is so important about this harness in the first place, that you’d convince my stoolie ex-boyfriend to snoop around for you. Because he’s the only one I can think of who could sell me out on such short notice.”

“Mr. Finn’s involvement in these matters is at his own behest, Miss Summers. I had already decided to come to Scotland on my own when he arrived in my offices. When he claimed you were in danger, I decided to allow him to accompany me here. But his…excursion to Dall Rath was done without my knowledge, so any conspiracy theories you may be harboring regarding our ‘partnership’ can be completely discarded. They are unfounded and untrue.”

“Why then were you coming to Scotland?” It was the first time Giles had spoken since arriving at the bed and breakfast, and he stepped forward so that he could look at his former employer directly. “Buffy only obtained the harness yesterday.”

“Ooo, good question,” the Slayer cooed. “I’d love to hear the answer to this one.”

“We had lost communication with our contact regarding the harness business here,” Travers explained, not even skipping a beat. “And our attempts to reach Mr. Sadler were unsuccessful.”

“Poor signal,” Colin muttered, his eyes darting to his superior only to hastily return to his favorite spot on the floor.

“Are you talking about Hornbrook?” Buffy asked. “Because I can answer that one for you. He’s dead. Been dead for days, by the look of things.” When all three Englishmen turned their gazes to stare at her, she straightened defensively on the divan.

“Why did you not mention this sooner?” Giles quizzed.

“Nobody asked.”

“And how do you know this?” This one came from Colin.

“His was one of the bodies I dug up out at the Kelpie Cave.”

“How then do you explain his contacting me regarding your alliance with the vampire just yesterday? Or the beating you gave him when he told you he’d expose your relationship?” Each word was clipped, bitten in careful precision as Quentin contained his temper. “He told me everything, Miss Summers. And for you to say otherwise---.”

“Hang on. I beat him? I’ve barely said two words to the man. The only thing my fist has been anywhere near lately has been…” Her voice trailed off as all of a sudden, everything made sense, and her hazel gaze snapped to her Watcher, the look in her eye telling him even before the name came out of her mouth.

“Duncan.”

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

He couldn’t find it. As he pressed himself into the wall of the stairwell, Duncan closed his eyes, fighting to control the urge to just scream out in frustration, his fingers clawing into the stone behind him. The Slayer bitch had won again. Either she had given the harness to the guardian---in which case he could pretty much say goodbye to ever getting it back---or she’d hidden it too damn well for him to find on such short notice. Fucking bitch.

His time was running short. Eavesdropping on the others in the great hall had revealed nothing, and Finn was on the upper level, preparing to deal with the vampire. While he rather fancied the idea of seeing Spike get the beating of a lifetime from the vengeful ex-boyfriend, the small niggle that he might actually need the bleached one at this point wouldn’t leave the back of Duncan’s brain. If Buffy had told anyone about the harness, he would be the one. He just hoped Finn didn’t kill him so quickly that the vampire didn’t talk about it first…

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

When he heard the footsteps in the hall, Spike rolled his eyes. Great. So much for having some peace and quiet while Buffy was gone. Probably Harris wanting to bug him some more about the poem. Right, he thought as he rose to his feet. Goin’ to head this one off at the pass.

He should’ve expected something when he felt the knob begin turning under his hand, even before his fingers had tightened his grip. “Look,” Spike said as he swung the door open. “I already told you, you can see the soddin’ po---.” He froze at the sight of the unexpected visitor before him.

“Hello, Spike,” said Riley.

 

To be continued in Chapter 42: Deluded Swain, the Pleasure