DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss, of course. And
the chapter titles are courtesy of Robert Burns.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Riley and Duncan have come to Dall Rath, while Buffy has deduced that Duncan is now posing as Hornbrook
Drive faster! she hissed, fingers turned into claws around the leather seat in front of her.
Any bloody faster, and Ill rip out the transmission on this damned road! Giles growled.
In the passenger seat, a white-faced Colin held a handkerchief to his mouth, every once in a while gulping at the air as he fought to quell his nausea. It wont do anyone any good if we die before we get there, he stuttered.
And it wont do any of you any good if Spike is dead before we get there, Buffy warned, and threw herself back against her seat. Ever since they had discovered Riley and Hornbrooks---make that Duncans---absence from the bed and breakfast, she had been on autopilot, immediately ending the meeting with Travers and rushing the two Watchers out to their own vehicle. She didnt know what the kelpies exact plan was, but she knew it wasnt going to be good; the Council head had made it quite clear that Riley had been visibly distraught at the prospect of her and Spike being involved.
For a brief second, she felt sorry for her ex, being duped into helping the demon in retrieving the harness, his misery getting exploited by Duncan to further the kelpies own goals, but that was quickly shoved aside. He asked for it by flying out here in the first place, Buffy thought grimly. He shouldnt have abandoned Mom and Dawn, not to mention the Hellmouth, just because his feelings got a little hurt. The fact that home was now not only Slayer-free, but Slayer-backup-free, did nothing to distract her current worry, though. The only thing she could think was, if hed just stayed in Sunnydale, everything would be fine right now.
She just hoped she got back to the castle in time to stop him from doing something stupid.
Well, well, well, Spike drawled, head tilting as his gaze flickered over the tense man before him, resting only a moment longer on the dagger that was cradled in the palm of his hand before returning to Rileys uninviting aspect. Not really big on the knockin, are you?
He felt him move before he saw it, and had leapt back and out of the way by the time Riley lunged, putting the bed between them as he saw Finn go sprawling to the floor, tucking at the last minute to avoid his head colliding with the stone and rolling to safety against the far wall. Blue eyes sweeping the perimeter of the room, Spike assessed his situation with a centurys experience of getting out of tight scrapes before settling his gaze on the other person in the room.
Is this about Buffy? he asked innocently. Or does this have more to do with that oversized Iowa ego takin control of that pea-sized brain of yours? He pretended to sniff at the air. If I didnt know better, Id almost say thats pure testosterone Im smellin.
Youre a dead man, Spike, Riley hissed, sparking a derisive laugh from his opponent.
Welcome to the land of obvious, Soldier Boy, he replied, spreading his arms in supplication. Part of what bein a vampires all about.
Slowly, the ex-soldier rose to his feet, switching the knife from one hand to the other, and then back again, as he regained his composure. And would the other part have anything to do with trying to bag as many Slayers as you can?
Spike considered this for a moment, before half-nodding, half-shrugging. Yeah, that about covers it, he said nonchalantly. Dont tell me you stopped by for a little refresher course in Vamp Psych 101, cause hate to break it to you, but my class is all booked. His eyes glittered. Guess you missed your shot.
The double meaning wasnt lost on Riley, and his mouth thinned as his jaw locked. Dont lose it, he warned himself. Dont give him the edge. It wont work, Spike, he threatened. Your little quips arent going to distract me. I am going to kill you.
Slayers the one with the quipping habit. Not me. Maybe the change in time zones got you all confused. He stopped, cutting himself off as if a sudden thought had just occurred to him. Oh, wait. No, youre right. The vamp smiled. Looks like thats just one more thing Buffy and I have in common.
The boy was off his game, Spike decided, as he dove to the side to avoid the next attack. Both moves so far had been telegraphed far enough in advance for him to effectively dodge, and though he wasnt any closer to the still-open door, he knew that if he could just stay out of the way of either Finns fist or knife long enough to make a break for it, he could get downstairs to the rest of the gang and see if they could talk some sense into the deluded pillock. They wanted to be his friend? They could bloody well talk their other friend out of killing him.
Howd you do it? Riley was demanding. Is it a thrall thing? Tell me its a thrall thing. Thatll make killing you just so much more right.
You dont want to know the answer to that, mate. Dont think your fragile sensitivities could handle it.
Riley snorted in contempt. I think youd be surprised what I can handle.
He knew he shouldnt, but seeing the prats smug face staring at him and knowing he couldnt smash his fist through it made Spike want to lash out in other ways. And it wasnt like he hadnt asked for it, so really, it was his own fault.
You wanna know how I got to Buffy? he asked, cocking his head. Simple. I just gave her what she wanted. What she needed. You know. Respect. Space to be her own Slayer. That kind of thing. Seems they were missin from her life.
I respect Buffy---.
Which is why you abandoned her sis and her mum to the dangers of the Hellmouth to go racin across the globe to protect your little ego, right? Spike shook his head in mock dismay. Nothin says I love you like leavin those she holds nearest and dearest to the mercy of a world of nasties. Remind me not to buy your book on one hundred ways to please your lover.
Another lunge from Riley had the vampire dancing closer to the door, keeping it in sight of the corner of his eye. You know nothing about love, Spike, the ex-soldier spat, feeling the first twinge of doubt spark his step. Three swings and he had yet to lay a finger on the demon. But he wasnt out yet. Youre depraved, and immoral, and incapable of feeling anything for Buffy that could even come close to what real love is all about.
Name-calling he could handle; hell, thered been a time in his undead life hed taken pride in being called depraved. But it was the accusation that what he felt for Buffy wasnt real, that his feelings lacked the depth necessary for what she needed, that stung, clawing Spikes hands into fists, his nails digging into the palms until he could feel his own blood begin to drip down his cuticles. Remember the chip, remember the chip, he intoned, every muscle in his body screaming otherwise.
Deliberately, he grinned, a wicked smirk mirrored in the azure depths of his eyes. I think Buffy would disagree with that little assessment, he said. Too bad you didnt show up a tad earlier last night. You missed quite the show.
I saw enough.
See, and now, Im beginnin to think that maybe you didnt. Although, I gotta ask, you know, man to man here. He leaned in conspiratorially. Has the Slayer always been such a screamer? Not that Im arguin because it makes her come all that much harder, and I guess it was the shaggin of a lifetime, but still, she wouldve brought down the bloody roof if Id let her. He shook his head in wonder. And those special muscles shes got ? Shoulda given a bloke some warning. Girls nothin short of a miracle in the sack. Frankly, Im surprised she didnt snap you in two.
This time, Rileys feint started before the words were even out of Spikes mouth, and as the vampire dropped to roll out of the way, he felt the sharp edge of the knife graze against his arm, followed almost instantly by the pungent scent of blood. Damn, he thought as he glanced at the crimson trickle. Too caught up in my own sarcasm. Gotta be a little more careful about that.
The sight of the slight injury to the vampire was enough to bolster Rileys confidence, whirling to face Spike again, knife at the ready. Though the room was small, it was that fact that had given the vampire the advantage; the lower ceiling made the taller man more self-conscious of how he was moving, slower in his reflexes as he fought to ensure he didnt accidentally bang his head. Being smaller and generally more lithe, Spike was more in his element. Plus, he knew the layout, so when Riley drew his first blood, it was enough to renew his hope that he could finish what he had set out to do.
Look, you tosser Spike ground out. The time for games was over. Face the soddin music. Buffys moved on. Not that she ever loved you anyway, but the least you could do is be a man about it, and Back. The hell. Off.
Thats what youd like, isnt it? Just because you can fool Buffy, doesnt mean you can fool her friends---.
Our friends. And theres no foolin involved. Mutual trust and respects what we got. Well, that and the unlimited sexual compatibility. Gotta give that one some credit there.
Rileys laugh was a ragged rasp in the air. Was it out of this respect you convinced her to steal an artifact from the Council?
For the first time since the other mans arrival, Spike was thrown, his brow wrinkling in confusion. What in bloody hell are you talkin about?
Like you dont know. But Mr. Travers is on to you, and your little plan to run away with Buffy and the harness---.
Are you completely off your box? We dont even know what the thing is for. Why would we want to run with it? And who in the name of everything evil and unholy would be claimin we would?
Hornbrooks dead, so not exactly a prime source of information these days.
And why would I do that?
Oh, I dont know. Because youre a vampire maybe? Or maybe, because you cant handle the fact that as soon as I can tell Buffy the truth about you, about how youre just using her to further your own agenda, shell stake you faster than you can squeeze out one more bloody hell.
Spike stared at him through hooded eyes, his teeth clicking as he fought to control his temper. Only agenda Ive got is to make sure Buffys happy and safe, he said, his voice low and dangerously calm. Which means Im goin to explain this usin short, simple words thatll hopefully penetrate that thick, cornfed skull of yours. Cause, bugger if I know why, she still cares what happens to your sorry ass, and Im not goin to be the one who lets her down on that.
It was a backhanded reference to Rileys decision to kill Spike, in spite of Buffys avowal the previous evening, and both of them knew it, staring at the other in measured dislike. Theres nothing to explain, Riley finally said. Im telling you, Mr. Hornbrooks not dead.
And Im tellin you, Buffy saw the body herself. Bloke got himself killed by the same demon who stole the damn harness in the first place. Remember that bite on her shoulder? Well, shes not the only thing hes been sinkin his teeth into, apparently.
He told me---.
Then youre talkin to ghosts, you git, cause Im tellin you hes dead.
But hes here, Riley argued. He came with me so that he could get the harness.
It was the last puzzle piece Spike needed to splice together the story of what exactly had happened, and why Buffy had been called on the carpet the way she had. You realize youre makin Harris look like Albert-fuckin-Einstein, dont you, Finn? he said, shaking his head. The wankers usin you. Took advantage of the situation to have you keep me occupied so I wouldnt suss him out.
Riley was triumphant. Aha! So you admit, Hornbrook is actually alive then.
No, sorry, hes still dead. Ever heard of a kelpie, Soldier Boy? Thats what weve been dealin with here. Theyre shapeshifters. He enunciated the last word with careful deliberation. And the one youve decide to partner up with is the same one whos gunnin for Buffy. The vampire grinned. Nice show on gettin back on her good side, though. Sneakin with the enemy? Shes goin to loooove that.
Whatre you talking about? Though he was still tense, still ready to attack him, the argument Spike was making was confusing him. Hes just trying to cloud the issue, Riley thought. Stop listening to him. Its not going to work, Spike. Youre just interested in saving your own skin.
Well, you got me there. Doesnt change the fact that its still the truth, though.
It wasnt even Mr. Hornbrooks idea to come out here, you know. It was Mr. Travers.
The same Travers who called Rupes and Junior last night requestin a powwow with them and Buffy this morning?
The missing car. Buffy wasnt even here. But Hornbrook had said
That wasnt part of the plan---.
Maybe not your plan, but you can go ask the others downstairs if shes here or not. Theyll back me up. Spike frowned as he watched Riley slowly lower the weapon in his hand. Not the response hed been expecting, but certainly not one he was going to argue with.
Hornbrooks looking for the harness right now
This wiped the frown from the vampires face, making him laugh out loud instead. Then hes bang out of luck, cause Buffy took it with her.
He didnt want to believe him; the last thing Riley needed right now was to have to side with Spike about anything. But if this was true, and he was just a pawn in some plot he knew nothing about, killing the vampire would be playing right into his hands. Hadnt he just spent the last hour listening to the man coax and goad him into staking Spike? Not that the desire hadnt been there already, and not that it was gone now, but the others thirst for it seemed to be just as great. And what made it worse was that, by lying to him about Buffy, it could only mean he was her enemy as well. And he couldnt do that to her, even now. He still loved her.
So, if Mr. Hornbrooks dead, Riley finally said, his voice low and deliberate, who the hell did I drive here with?
That was the problem with humans, Duncan decided as he crept away from the open bedroom door. Send them in to kill someone, and they waste all their time talking instead.
The ex-boyfriend was useless to him now. Spike had divulged just enough information, cast just enough doubt to make Finn pause, and now the vampire was playing it for all it was worth, calling it a truce for Buffys sake while they sussed out what the hell was going on. And what was worse, Finn was actually listening to him. Whatever happened to good old-fashioned vengeance? Duncan thought miserably. A little slice and dice amongst enemies? When did it get so damn chatty?
The only good thing to come from the two men talking was at least now he knew what had happened with the harness. The Slayer still had it. Which meant it was still possible for Duncan to get it back. Unless she ended up giving it to the old man. In which case, even better for him. Killing Travers would be infinitely easier than either Buffy or Spike, and anything that made the kelpies life simpler at this point was to be embraced. He just had to wait until she returned.
She was out of the car even before it had completely stopped, allowing for the slowing momentum as her foot hit the earth, using it to begin propelling her toward the castle, her strong arms pumping as she ran for the door.
Colin frowned as he unbuckled his seatbelt, shaking his head as he watched Buffys retreating back. I dont think spying that car in the layby really helped matters much, he commented. Do you suppose hes actually here?
If he is, Buffy will find him, Giles replied as he turned off the cars engine. And God help him if she does.
If something has happened to Spike, Colin muttered as he followed his elder to the entrance, God help us all.
The two girls collided as Buffy rushed in, knocking both of them to their feet. Will! she cried out, jumping immediately back up and rushing to her friends side, offering her a hand to help her up. Oh, my god, Im so sorry. Are you OK?
The redheads smile was wan as she rubbed at the back of her head. I think I might have loosened a screw or two in the old noggin, she joked, but when Buffy turned to bolt for the stairwell, her hand shot out, grabbing the Slayers arm. Where are you going?
Spike Riley big mess Yanking her arm free, a flustered Buffy was halfway down the hall before Willow could speak again.
Spikes fine! she called out. When the blonde stopped to gaze back at her, the witch offered a small smile. Hes in the great hall.
Oh. Her head was whirling, the adrenalin still coursing through her system as she slowly stepped back toward Willow. And um I know this might sound a little, I dont know, wacky, but---.
Rileys fine, too.
Her exs name stopped her in her tracks. Hes here?
The redhead nodded. Now, before you start totally freaking out on me, I want you to take a deep breath. She waited, watching expectantly for her friend to comply. I mean it, Buffy, relax and hear me out.
OK, any sentence that ends with hear me out can never lead to hugs and kisses. Determinedly, she crossed the distance between them. Whats going on?
Everythings fine, Willow assured, and began to inch her way back toward the great hall. We took a vote and decided it was better if we caught you when you got in, so that we could you know, prep you.
Prep me? For what?
For what youre about to see. She stumbled slightly as Buffy brushed past her. Just remember, we had good reason to do what we did, so dont get mad, kay?
She barely heard the last few words as she reached the door and shoved it open, jaw already dropping to speak. When she saw the spectacle before her, though, the Slayer instantly froze, hazel eyes widening as they darted from one end of the table to the other.
What the hell is happening here? she demanded as she drank in the sight of Riley and Spike both tied up in chairs, sitting at opposite ends of the long dining table, their eyes locked on the other in sullen aversion.
Xander was the first to reach her side, a wide smile on his amiable face. I know it looks bad, he started, but in all fairness, this wasnt completely our idea.
Darn right, Spike growled. Blame it on the farmboy.
Hey! Riley shot back. I just suggested they tie you up. I never said a word about me having to go through this.
Like I can even lay a hand on you---.
Like you wouldnt try even with that chip in your head
I told you we shouldve gagged them, Anya said, rolling her eyes as she joined them at the doorway. She looked at the other blonde. Can you please do something about this? Theyre your boyfriends.
Can we start with something easy? Buffy asked. Like, why are they tied up in the first place?
Because neither one of them trusts the other not to kill him, Xander replied.
Im not the one who showed up unannounced, twice now, with stakes and daggers, lookin for blood, Spike said.
No, youre the one who tried throwing Riley into the fireplace, Anya said.
At Buffys raised eyebrow, Spike shrugged. It was there, he was there, it was too good an opportunity to miss. He looked pointedly at the other man. Not like I didnt get a headache for my troubles.
OK, Buffy said. Now that weve gotten that established, does someone mind filling me in on why Rileys here in the first place? She stepped up to the table, folding her arms across her chest, and addressed him directly. Like, maybe, Riley can.
His lips were thin, his nostrils flaring, but for some reason, he couldnt meet her eyes, fixing them instead on the bleached vampire opposite him. He told me it was Mr. Travers plan---.
Who told you?
OK, first of all, thats not Hornbrook.
This time, he looked at her. I know that now, Riley said. But when he showed up last night, the things he said His gaze darted back to Spike. made sense.
It made sense to come here and kill Spike? She held up a hand. Wait. Never mind. I dont want to know the answer to that.
Our Galloping Gourmet is still lurkin about here someplace, the vampire offered, turning an annoyed cerulean gaze toward the group of Scoobies congregating at the door. I couldve probably sniffed him out if he was still in the castle, but not when Im trussed up here like last years Christmas turkey.
It was for your own good, Xander said.
Hes after the harness, isnt he? Buffy directed her question to Riley, who nodded in response. She took a deep breath. Guess he didnt figure on me taking it with me, she murmured.
Did you give it to Travers? Spike asked.
She shook her head. We had a little meeting interruptus when we realized Duncan was back in the mix. And that hed decided to bring Riley along to play this time.
Weve been filling him in on the big picture here, Willow volunteered. Apparently, Duncan, aka Hornbrook, is still sporting some pretty nasty bruises from your little skirmish yesterday.
Well, thats at least one point in our favor. Now that she could stop worrying about ex-lovers killing current ones, Buffy was back onto the kelpie problem, eyes darting to random points in the room as she began to pace the length of the table. No matter which way she turned, it all kept coming back to one thing, and it was about time that one thing got taken out of the equation.
OK, she said, turning her back on the two men tied up at the table to regard her friends in the door. Heres the immediate plan. Duncans still around here someplace, Im sure of it. He didnt go to all this trouble to just walk away empty-handed. Which means we have to find him. Split up. Girl/guy teams. We cant risk Duncan using his charm thing against us by putting all our ovaries in one basket. And take weapons. Hes hurt, but hes still dangerous. Remember, he could be anywhere, look like anything.
Way to go for giving us the easy job, Xander muttered.
What are you going to do? Willow asked.
Buffys gaze darted to the two Watchers who had come up behind the young people, her mouth tight. Im getting rid of the temptation, she said. Franks getting his harness back as of right now.
She was nearly out the door when Spikes call stopped her. Hey! Still tied up here, yknow! he shouted, then eased back against his bonds when she turned to look at him. Youre not just goin to leave us like this while you get to have all the fun, are you, pet?
It took her a moment of considering the two men before she would reply. What guarantees are you going to give us that youre not going to kill each other if we let you go? Buffy asked. Because I dont have time for male posturing right now, so if you want to help, youre going to have to shelve those alpha male tendencies of yours for awhile. Her gaze hopped between the two. That goes for both of you.
Spike shrugged. Ill give you my word for it, but only for as long as Captain Cardboard there keeps his hands to himself.
In spite of his steady hatred for the vampire across from him, the young man was smart enough to realize that revenge was not his best option right now, and slowly nodded in acquiescence. But if I see him do one thing to threaten you, Buffy---.
You wont, you nit. Spikes tone was low, his barely concealed disgust at the mere suggestion curling his lip. But same goes for you.
It was the best she was going to get, and she knew it. With a quick smile at Spike, she turned on her heel and walked down to Rileys end of the table, leaning over so that her words would be slightly more private. Theres a lot of stuff going on now, Buffy said softly. And I know that Im the one to blame for how youre feeling, but youre going to have to work with me---with us---on getting it sorted out. That means playing for the team, Riley. So if you cant do that, you need to tell me now and get your tail out of here before you get in the way even more.
What about him? The ex-soldier nodded brusquely at the vampire across the table.
Buffy glanced back over her shoulder and saw her friends starting to untie Spike, his blue eyes locked on the pair opposite him. Her smile was automatic, a response to what she knew already, and it brought a corresponding quirk of the vampires own lips. Riley might not get it, but she sure as hell did, and by the looks of things, so did her friends. She swung back to look at her ex. Spikes one of us, she said simply.
Her voice seemed hollow in the mouth of the tunnel, and awkwardly, Buffy stuffed the amulet and paper back into her pocket, the muffled clarion call of the harness pealing through the heavy sack as it shifted against her body. The cavern seemed deserted, and she silently prayed that hed been telling the truth the previous evening in his plans for returning to the stream. Now is not the time to be lying to me again, Frank, she thought grimly. Dont make me resort to, Here, kelpie, kelpie
Calling out his name again, the Slayer began walking down the bank, further into the depths of the tunnel, balancing her flashlight with the bag. She had to be quick about this; the rest of the gang was upstairs, combing through the various floors and rooms in search of the missing Duncan, and she wanted to get into the hunt as soon as possible. It wasnt just a matter of wanting to rid herself of her kelpie infestation; the worry that Riley and Spike might somehow end up at each others throats was still very much there, in spite of their mutual promises to behave. And the sooner she could be there to referee, the better.
The splash in front of her brought her to a halt, and Buffy watched as a dripping Frank emerged from the stream, her gaze automatically scanning his torso for signs of yesterdays battle. They were still there, but much fainter, and he no longer moved as if in pain. Guess those really are healing waters, she thought.
Youre looking much better, he commented, his dark gaze sweeping over her form before resting on the site of her earlier injury. How is your shoulder?
Good, she replied with a small, tight smile. Looks like you got your own bit of mending done as well.
He nodded, but it was obvious he was most interested in the bag she held in her arms. The harness? he asked.
Yep. Just like I promised.
Does that mean the traitor is dead?
She didnt have a chance to respond. The arrow came swooshing through the air, cleanly missing her shoulder to embed itself in Franks abdomen, causing him to grunt in pain, bending slightly as his hand flew to the wound, the blood already seeping through the claws.
Buffy whirled, the bag still clutched to her chest, to see Duncan, back in his shape of the cook, standing at the bend in the tunnel, crossbow in his arms, a wide smile on his face.
So sorry to interrupt, he said lightly. But my ears were burning
To be continued in Chapter
43: Tho Cruel Fate Should Bid Us Part