DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course. And the chapter titles are courtesy of Robert Burns.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Spike, Riley, and Xander have yet to find either Buffy or the trial to close the entrance, while Buffy has had an encounter with Duncan, leaving her passed out in the cave and him in possession of the harness…

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

Chapter 47: Under the Pressure of Violent Anguish

He saw them almost as soon as he emerged from the cave. Well, he saw the young man. The others were trailing far enough behind that it took Duncan a good minute to realize that Xander was not alone.

Damn, he thought, as he froze in his step, melting against the darkness of the cave as he surveyed the landscape. Although he had briefly dwelled on the possibility of someone coming in after the Slayer, he had hoped that it wouldn’t happen until after he’d already left. And the fact that there was three of them he had to contend with did little to ease the sudden rush of nerves that gripped the kelpie’s flesh. He didn’t like being cornered; he much preferred being the one doing the cornering, but then again, that was probably a generalization that could be said about just about anybody. Damn.

The blood was dripping down his arm, and the bruise he knew he was sporting on his abdomen from Buffy’s well-placed kick ached with a surety of internal damage. He still hadn’t recovered fully from her assault the previous day; these added injuries were only making things worse. With the added worry of her rescuers---and he had to admit to being mildly amused at seeing both the vampire and the ex-boyfriend in the entourage---the doubt that he was going to get out of here both alive and with the harness began to tickle at the base of his brain.

The harness…

His eyes flickered from Xander to the two other men walking so far behind, and then back to the brunette again. He was armed, but the sword was of little consequence if he could just get close enough.

A sly smile creased the kelpie’s face. Yes, escaping might yet be possible…

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

He wasn’t sure if the fact that he couldn’t hear them speaking anymore was a good thing or not. On the one hand, it could mean that Spike and Riley had hashed out their differences about the Buffy situation and everything was copasetic now. Maybe not best buds, but hopefully not at each other’s throats. On the other hand, it could also mean that they’d given up on words and were right now duking it out. Knowing the pair of them the way he did, Xander knew that was a more than real option. He just couldn’t bring himself to turn around and look to make sure.

And then again, he could’ve just walked far enough ahead that their voices weren’t audible any longer. That was always a possibility, too.

“Xander!”

Although it was hardly surprising, her voice wasn’t exactly what he’d been expecting, and the young man halted in his footsteps, swiveling his head toward the sound, his eyes widening as he saw a bloody Buffy stumble toward him. The harness was clutched to her chest, but the only thing he could see was the very real wound in her bicep, jagged pieces of her flesh oozing and spreading crimson as she collapsed against his chest.

“Buff! What happened?” he asked in a rush, feeling the tremor in her muscles as she fought to stay vertical. Dropping the sword to the ground, he began pulling off the long-sleeved shirt that covered his tee, only to be stopped by her quivering hand.

“Duncan…” she breathed. “He…back there…I hurt him, but…” She stopped, gulping at the air, her eyelids fluttering closed, and Xander’s hands gripped her shoulders tightly as she seemed to weave before him.

“You’re hurt,” he said unnecessarily. “We’ve got to get you back. Spike and Riley are here. We’ll---.” He cut himself off as her strength seemed to fail her, falling against him yet again, the harness a cold weight between them.

“Can’t…hold this…” she murmured, and turned beseeching eyes up to her friend. Slowly, her arms lifted, raising the bells. “Could you…please…?”

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

Their arguing had stopped just minutes earlier, and now they walked in silence, both faces grim, both bodies tense, two sets of eyes determined to stay on the path before them and not stray to the man at the side. Xander had long disappeared from view, and Spike was beginning to think now was just about the time to catch up to the boy when they rounded the crest of a hill and spied him in the distance.

Riley immediately stopped, eyes narrowing as he focused on the horizon. “What’s he doing?” he asked, all memory of his dissension with the vampire gone in the face of his confusion. “That looks like Buffy he’s talking to, but…” He shook his head, and broke his gaze away, darting to the side and back in front again. Buffy’s trail had been burning brighter as they’d progressed, but somewhere between them and Xander, it veered off to their left, disappearing into a flowered knoll, not to reappear. Yet, the blonde form who know stood in the distance was undoubtedly her, and he didn’t understand how that could be.

A few steps closer, and Spike had halted, the excitement about seeing the Slayer that had permeated his undead flesh doused by a clawing fear in the pit of his stomach. “That’s not Buffy,” he said through clenched teeth.

It looked like Buffy; there was no mistaking that. But where the Slayer breathed of fire, thrummed against his flesh in shades of crimson and gold, this was a pale imitation, a copy bereft of the energy that was so her. And if it wasn’t her, there left only one other explanation, one he didn’t want to waste time dwelling on because that would mean…

“Hey!” Riley frowned as Spike suddenly bolted toward the pair across the glen, a flurry of black and white against the night sky. How’d he know that? he wondered as his own feet took flight, following after. Too far away for vampire senses to kick in, and he can’t see her trail like I can. But the questions were sliced through by the sudden sight of gold twinkling around Xander’s neck, a faint chime of clarion calls ringing through the air.

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

He was still twenty feet away when he skidded to a halt, muscles tense in anticipation of what was to come. It wasn’t the sight of the harness that now hung around Xander’s neck; it was the smug smile of satisfaction that defiled the beautiful face of his Slayer behind him. Not his Slayer, Spike reminded himself. That fucking Duncan.

“Are you totally thick?” he demanded of the young man, choosing to ignore the blonde for the moment. “Do you not remember a bloody thing Frankie boy told us about that?” He gesticulated wildly at the harness.

Xander glanced down in confusion. “What?” he asked. “It’s harmless. Buffy said so.”

“That’s. Not. Buffy.”

He watched as Duncan in Buffy’s body snaked his hand up Xander’s arm and noted with pleasure the fresh wound that adorned its arm. “Don’t listen to him,” the kelpie was saying, its cajoling voice so carefully mimicking the Slayer’s. “I told you. He’s been against us from the start. We have to kill him.”

“And why would Buffy put that thing around your neck in the first place?” Spike argued. “It’s just tryin’ to use you to get past us, mate.”

“She’s hurt!”

“No, he’s hurt. And with any luck, the Slayer’s the one who did it to him.” He let his eyes slide to the blonde, nostrils flaring in barely controlled anger. “You better hope she’s still alive,” he threatened. “Or you’re goin’ to be havin’ bodily fluids comin’ out of more holes than you can count.”

Duncan’s grip tightened. “He’s lying,” he murmured into the brunette’s ear. “Just like he always does. I’m your friend, Xander. He’s a vampire. We kill vampires, remember? You have to help me kill him.”

“She’s right.” Slowly, Xander raised the sword, easing himself away from the blonde to take a step toward Spike. “You’re evil. You always have been, you always will be.”

“Evil, huh?” The more the kelpie spoke, the more automated Xander’s responses seemed to be. It was as if everything that had happened since they came to Scotland had been swept aside, leaving the angry young man who hated vampires in its wake, responding with answers that could’ve sprung from any moment prior to their budding friendship. For a second, Spike felt a flash of regret, missing the camaraderie that had developed between the two. It was quickly replaced, however, with a determined fury not to let Duncan win. Keep the boy talkin’, he thought. Keep him distracted ‘til I’ve got a clean shot at killin’ the wanker myself.

“Was it evil who just saved your sorry hide back there?” the vamp shot out. “You’d be the headless horseman right now if it wasn’t for me. And was it evil who let you see his bloody awful poetry?” He felt Riley come to a halt behind him, but didn’t stop. Couldn’t stop. All the frustration---at himself, at the changes in his relationships with the Scoobies---came pouring out in his words, sparking them against the night.

“I told you how much I loved Buffy and how it was tearin’ me up that I couldn’t show her properly. You think I would’ve spilled my guts like that if I didn’t think of you as my friend? You think I would’ve embarrassed myself by showin’ you the tripe I tried passing off as poetry if I didn’t in some small way value your opinion?” Azure blazed against his pale skin, skin taut as even the muscles in his face tensed.

“You were using me to get to Buffy,” Xander said calmly, too calmly. He took another step closer. “It didn’t mean anything. It wouldn’t surprise me if you go boasting to all your demon buddies back in Sunnydale how you pulled one over on the silly Slayer.”

“Boasting?” Even Spike couldn’t keep the astonishment from his voice and he began prowling back and forth in front of the pair by the stream, the energy radiating off him in waves. “You think I’m proud of what’s happened? Hello! Scourge of Europe makin’ nice-nice with the local do-gooders doesn’t really rate high on the demon scale of crimes against humanity, so I think boasting’s about the last thing I’m goin’ to be doin’ back in Sunny D.” He took a deep, unnecessary breath, his hands clawing into fists at his side. “But…it’s done, it’s over with, and whether you like or not, you Stepford prat, I’m your friend---.”

“You don’t know what a friend is---.”

“---which means,” he went on as if he’d never been interrupted, “that not only do you get to benefit from my sharin’ secrets that would make that little bird of yours blush, but you also have to put up with me tellin’ you how completely and utterly daft you are when you let yourself get sucked in by the biggest wanker this side of the Hellmouth.” He let his gaze slide pointedly to the blonde. “Who, by the way, does the worst Slayer impersonation I’ve ever seen. Even Captain Cardboard here could do Buffy better.”

“Put down the weapon, Xander,” Riley said, keeping his voice even. “You have to believe us when we tell you that isn’t Buffy. It’s manipulating you with that harness. Don’t you remember what the guardian said?”

“You’re just angry with me because I picked a vampire over you,” the faux Buffy said, settling her eyes on the tall young man. She turned to Xander. “I’ll prove it’s not the harness.” Thin fingers slid under the bells, removing it from his neck and cradling it in her arms. She wasn’t even pretending to be overly weakened anymore; although the injuries were still serious, there wasn’t any need for the theatrics since the new arrivals could see through her façade. Didn’t matter, though. Not when she had control over the best friend.

“That doesn’t make a bloody difference,” Spike said. “And you know it. Not that it won’t be my pleasure to kill you to break him from your thrall, but---.” A gentle breeze wafted across his skin, breaking his concentration from the scenario at hand as the aromas tickled his nose, jerking his head to the side to stare with narrowed eyes at a flower-covered rise on the horizon. The sudden salivation in his mouth was instinctual, but the realization of what it meant gripped his unbeating heart in dread, leaving him to feel the cold of his flesh in a more shattering certainty than anything he’d felt in the last century.

Blood.

Slayer blood.

Her blood.

And too much of it.

Riley noticed the difference in him immediately. “What is it?” he asked the vampire, not breaking his gaze from the pair in front of them.

“Not a what…a who…” he growled. “Buffy…” With a harsh thrust, Spike shoved the sword he’d been carrying at the ex-soldier. “Stay here,” he ordered as he began to run. “Don’t let the bastard get away.”

When Xander stepped forward to follow after the blond vamp, Riley found himself automatically lifting his weapon and barring the way, listening to the retreating footsteps behind him. “You’re not killing him,” he warned. “Buffy wouldn’t want that.”

“Oh, but I do,” crooned the faux Buffy. “Go get him, Xander.”

A quick slice through the air of his weapon punctuated Riley’s terse words as he forced the brunette back with a cautionary parry. God, he thought. This is the last thing I ever thought I’d be saying, but he was right about this not being Buffy, so… “Can’t let you do that, Xan,” he said, shaking his head. “You’re just going to have to go through me first.”

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

He would’ve been the first to admit that the scent was the ultimate aphrodisiac, an elixir of life that sharpened the edges of everything else as it flooded through the system, and maybe, if it had been five years earlier and this was Spike’s first introduction to this particular Slayer, he would have gloried in the anticipation of feeling it glide past his lips, course down his throat, soothe the icy rage inside with its heat.

Now, though, it was different. It was Buffy. And that was her life honing the air, creating a stench so thick of copper and fire that Spike had to stop and collect his thoughts as he stepped into the cave.

It was dark, but not overwhelmingly so, the light from the sky outside affording just enough illumination for him to see fairly clearly. He didn’t need eyes to find her, though. Not when her scent was making him dizzy. Not when the pulse of her heartbeat seemed to skip every couple of seconds, like it was having trouble keeping up with the rest of her body.

Not when she needed him.

She had slumped sideways against the wall, her injured shoulder exposed to the open air, and Spike saw the blood staining her shirt as he rushed to kneel at her side. It still flowed, although not as freely, and without thinking, he pulled his shirt over his head, tearing the still-damp cotton into pieces in order to staunch the blood’s course. It wasn’t the best solution---he wasn’t sure how well wet fabric could catch the viscous fluid---but it was the only one he could think of at the moment, his fear about her condition tremoring his hands as he pressed it into the wound.

“Buffy,” he murmured, cradling her shoulders into his side as his other arm slipped behind her back. “C’mon, pet, time to wake up now. We got us a demon to go kill.”

No response. Just her shallow breath fanning across his palm as Spike pushed back the hair that clung to her cheek. His thumb feathered across her chin, blue eyes quickly scanning her face for more trauma before sliding down her body, over her stomach, finally stopping at the dark stain that spread along her calf. There it was. He knew there’d been too much blood for just the single wound.

“Buffy.” A little louder this time, a little more insistent. He wanted to give her a little slap to wake her up, to make her snap out of it, but not knowing if it was going to hurt her held him back, prompting him instead to roll her against his chest, relieving the pressure on her shoulder to slide his arm under her knees. Taking care not to exacerbate the bleeding, Spike rose, carrying her toward the mouth of the cave. Lying in your own blood’s not good for anybody, he thought grimly. Just needs a bit of fresh air to bring her around.

A tiny groan escaped the Slayer’s throat as he laid her on the ground, her head turning to the side as her body settled. In the moonlight, the pallor of her skin was more pronounced, the shadows under her eyes darker, and Spike returned to his determined ministration of her wounds, desperate to distract himself from the growing fear that gnawed inside. Calm down, he reminded himself. No need to panic. Just concentrate. Pulse. Check her pulse again.

It was steadier than it had been in the cave, stronger than he’d thought, and though he couldn’t smell the beginnings of death anywhere on her, it didn’t stop the possibility from being there. No need to panic, he repeated. Just…play it cool. Wake her up. Once she’s up, everything will be fine.

Somewhere in the distance he heard the metallic clang of swords echoing in the night, the underlying baritones of the two men arguing a quiet blanket beneath it, but was oblivious to its implications. Frankly, he was oblivious to anything but the prone form of the blonde before him, and decided to hell with a headache, reaching up to begin lightly patting her cheek.

“Don’t need any more beauty sleep, luv,” he said. “You’re beautiful enough as it is, so let’s just say sayonara to Mr. Sandman and come back to the real world, all right?” His gaze flickered to the outcropping of flowers around them before returning to her face. “Or the Otherworld, as the case may be.”

Still nothing. Only the pale visage of the woman he loved lost in unconsciousness. And the panic was starting to return, his emotions already frayed from the confrontations with both Riley and Xander. Too much, too soon. Must stay in control.

“Buffy…please…” His voice was taking on a pleading quality, one that would’ve made him cringe under any other circumstances, but Spike’s mounting anxiety was gaining the better of him, leaning him toward her, searching for a sign that she would wake, anything to ease the sense of loss already filling him. “Luv, don’t do this to me. Don’t even think about packin’ it in. Not to that wanker. Not---.”

She moaned again then, this time her lids fluttering open to stare blankly at the tall grass at her side. “Spike?” she whispered, her voice hoarse.

His hand was instantly on her face, turning her head to look up at him. “Right here,” he soothed, fighting back the urge to crush her to his chest in a tight hug. Instead, he leaned forward, raining kisses over her brow before his lips swept down the bridge of her nose to light at her mouth, relief pouring into the gentle caress as he maintained the contact, needing to feel her beneath him, needing her to know just how much he really loved her. And how grateful he was she was still alive.

When he finally pulled away, he watched as her gaze danced over his bare torso, the tiniest of lines appearing between her brows.

“Not that I’m complaining,” she said, her voice faint but undeniably stronger than he’d expected, “but where’s your shirt?”

“Stoppin’ the blood from pouring out of your body.”

She smiled, not wide, but definitely there. “Is it just Scotland or do you always go through this many shirts?” she teased. “Because if it’s you, picking out Christmas and birthday gifts is going to be cake.”

He couldn’t help the laughter that bubbled from his lips, a heady mixture of relief and amusement as the fear dissipated from his muscles. A joking Slayer meant an OK Slayer, and any doubts that Spike had about her ability to recover from her injuries vanished with his fading chuckles.

Grimacing, Buffy struggled to lift herself up onto her elbows, wincing from the exertion. Like a shot, his hands were on her shoulders, guiding her back down to the earth, replacing the cotton that had slipped from her wound.

“Gotta take it easy for a bit,” Spike scolded, but the gentle caress of the back of his hand against her cheek belied the gruffness of his words. He tried for making the mood lighter. “Let your body catch up and do some of that fancy super-Slayer healin’ you’re always bragging about,” he added with a half-smile.

“I don’t brag,” she pouted.

“And Harris doesn’t stuff his face twenty-four hours a day. Now shut up and let your blood cells do their clotting.”

Though his eyes were dark, there was no mistaking the love in them as he gazed down at her. Several minutes passed in silence as they just looked at each other, each passing second strengthening her heartbeat, evening her breathing. His voice was softer when he finally spoke up again. “Don’t scare me like that again, all right? Don’t think for a second I’m givin’ you up that easy, not after what I’ve had to put up with today.”

Something in his words made her stiffen, eyes flying wide as she pushed back against his hands. “Crap!” she cried out. “Duncan! He’s here. He’s got the harness. He’s---.”

“---over there with Finn and Harris,” Spike finished. “Yeah, we know.”

“And you haven’t killed him yet?” The incredulity in her voice rang against his ears and Spike stiffened at the hidden accusation.

“We just got here!” he defended. “And for your information, there’s been a slight…hitch.” He didn’t know how much she knew about the harness, but somehow he suspected that hearing one of her best friends was now playing Punch to the demon’s Judy would not fill her with feelings of joy. The longer he could stay away from that topic, the happier he was going to be.

“I don’t want to hear about hitches. I want to hear about dead kelpies who think shooting Slayers is the sport of champions.” With more strength than he realized she had, Buffy pushed against him, knocking him back onto his bottom before rolling herself into a sitting position, holding it for a moment as the world swam around her. OK, too fast, she thought. Maybe I’ll stand just a little bit slower.

“Why does she have to make everything so bloody difficult,” Spike muttered, but there was no malice in his tone as he jumped to his feet, hurrying to guide her the remaining distance up, steadying her with a strong arm as she straightened. Her heart was racing, evidence of her effort even if she refused to acknowledge it vocally, and the vampire shook his head. Stubborn little bint. But an alive, stubborn little bint, his inner voice reminded him, which at this point in time, is all that really matters.

“You’re in no shape to be fightin’ him,” Spike chastised as they began walking toward the fray.

“So you can have the pleasure for me,” she said. She would’ve loved to argue with him about this, but as she slowly limped across the grass, Buffy knew he was right. The pain from the wound in her calf shot up her leg with every step, while the ache in her shoulder throbbed with an insistent rhythm that most likely promised another scar on her Slayer body. The strength of Spike against her side, across her back, fortified her will, sending a wonderful comfort throughout her limbs that made bearing the pain all that much easier, and she couldn’t help the sigh that escaped her lips as she leaned her head against him.

“Thank you,” she whispered, a delicate sound on the evening breeze, knowing that she wouldn’t have to elaborate, that he would know what the gratitude was for.

His lips brushed across the top of her head. “Any time, Slayer,” Spike murmured.

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

Riley was beginning to feel the burn of fighting with Xander, the brunette’s unflagging attacks obviously another side effect of the closing spell. “This is getting ridiculous,” he grunted, as he deflected a blow aimed for his head. If it wasn’t for the fact that the young man was now determined to kill the same vampire he’d just spent the last twelve hours defending, Riley wasn’t sure he would’ve been able to tell a difference in him. He seemed completely normal, just…more focused. Like he’d been given a mission. And run with it. Too well. “I’m your friend, Xander. You’ve got to listen to me.”

“As soon as you start making some sense, I’m all ears.” He danced back before lunging forward, this time directing his blow for the ex-soldier’s legs, only to be stopped by the forceful contact of Riley’s sword against his own. “Just call me Dumbo.”

“With emphasis on the dumb.”

“Why are you protecting him? You hate Spike as much as I do. C’mon, Riley. Be a pal and let me pass. It’ll put all of us out of his misery.” His brown eyes shone with sudden inspiration. “You could get Buffy back if he wasn’t around.”

For a moment, Riley faltered, the prospect of a return to their pre-Scotland status beckoning with an allure that made him forget momentarily where he was. Buffy back. It was all that he really wanted, wasn’t it? And yet a small voice piped up from the back of his head, refusing to be ignored this time. You want Buffy to be happy, it said. And like it or not, she’s made it clear that Spike is the one who does that. What would she think of you if you let Xander kill him? Do you really think that she’d come running back into your arms, crying her eyes out? No, she’d have you on the ground in a second, beating you senseless because you let it happen, holding you personally responsible for her misery. It would be as bad as if you staked Spike yourself. Damn. Well, so much for that…

He woke from his reverie just in time to dodge another blow, bouncing back on the balls of his feet as he stared at the other man. “Buffy wants Spike,” he said simply. “End of story.”

“You forgot ‘dead.’ Buffy wants Spike dead. She told us, remember?”

“No, the demon told you. And I thought Spike was your friend now. Why would you want to kill your friend?”

“It’s just another lie from the stable of lies he’s been telling all of us since he blew into Sunnydale. Just like he lied to Buffy about how he felt about her.”

He didn’t believe he said it, even as the words came tumbling out of his mouth. “Spike loves Buffy,” Riley replied.

Xander snorted. “Spike doesn’t know what love is.”

“Then why did he risk his skin by going through with this closing spell just to help Buffy?” he demanded. “Giles told me he doesn’t think they’ll figure out how to stop him from bursting into flame once we get back. And Spike’s not stupid. He knew he had lousy odds doing this, but he did it anyway. For Buffy’s sake.” It was the argument that had been rolling around in Riley’s head ever since they’d sat down in the triangle of stones, the one thing he couldn’t explain away. The rest of it---the sex, the so-called connection between the pair---he could reason into one of his convenient little slots, tuck it away as explicable if not logical. But this…this broke through the boundaries, defied any rationalization he could come up with, leaving him with only the very real---and increasingly obvious---belief that the vampire truly did love the Slayer.

Not that that actually mattered. For Buffy’s sake, he knew he had to give Spike the benefit of the doubt. It was just a little easier if he could allow himself to think there might be some genuine feeling from the vamp. Not that any of this was easy. Not by a long shot.

The brunette had no response for him, and instead came at the ex-soldier again, renewing his attack with increased vigor. Neither was aware of the approaching duo until Buffy’s voice crackled through the air.

“What the hell is going on here?”

Immediately, Xander stopped, brows knitting together as he gazed at the wounded Slayer leaning against Spike. Whipping his head around, he scanned the area behind him, only to turn back in confusion. “How’d you get up there?” he asked. “And where’s the harness?”

The vampire’s gaze had followed Xander’s, and he stiffened as his lips pursed together. “Thought I told you not to let him get away,” he barked at Riley.

“I didn’t---.” His voice cut off as he saw the wide, empty space along the shore of the stream, realizing that sometime during his clash with Xander, the kelpie had managed to slip away. Guilty eyes turned back to meet two sets of furious ones. “Sorry,” he said. “Guess I’ve been a little busy keeping Braveheart here away from Spike.”

It was then that he saw the fresh blood staining her clothes, and instinctively took a step closer to her, hand in mid-reach before he checked his movement, the obvious curl of the young woman against the demon at her side reminding him yet again that she wasn’t his anymore. “Are you all right?” Riley asked instead.

She half-nodded, half-shrugged. “I’m going to live. That’s always a bonus,” she said with a small smile. “Now, will someone please tell me what’s going on here? I did not undergo kelpie acupuncture just to have Duncan get away with the harness again.”

“Step aside, Buffy.” Xander stepped forward, weapon poised, his brown eyes locked on Spike. “I’ll finish him off, just like you said.”

The vampire rolled his eyes. “Oh, bollocks,” he muttered. “I don’t have time for this.” Easing himself away from the Slayer, Spike moved toward the young man approaching him. “This is going to hurt you a helluva lot more than it’s going to hurt me, mate,” he directed toward the brunette, and with a flying kick, he had knocked the sword from Xander’s grasp, landing just to his side and swinging with a strong left hook before the other could turn around.

Buffy watched as an unconscious Xander crumpled to the ground before turning surprised eyes to the vampire. “You hit him,” she said, stunned. “And your chip didn’t go off.”

“It’s a long story, luv, and we’ve got a chef on the run here. Let’s say we fill you in while we go after him, OK?” He glanced at Riley. “Don’t s’pose you can do your little seeing eye trick and suss out where he went?” he asked. “Seein’ as how you’re the one who let him get away in the first place.”

Biting back the retort that sprang to his lips, Riley swept his gaze over the land around them, before turning back to gaze at the water. “He went in the stream,” he said. “Probably on his way back to the castle.”

“And you can see that?” At her ex’s sheepish nod, Buffy turned her gaze to Spike. “This story is sounding like it’s going to be a doozy.”

“You haven’t heard the half of it, pet.” When he saw her sway slightly, Spike was at her side in a flash, steadying her with a strong arm around her shoulders.

“Does it explain why Xander wants to kill you?” she asked, leaning into him. Unthinking, her hand curled around his waist, her thumb absently stroking the skin it found there.

He nodded, then looked to Riley standing off to the side. “Think you can manage draggin’ his ass along with us?” he quizzed, jerking his head toward the brunette on the ground.

It took him a moment to respond, his eyes locked on the possessive bent of Buffy’s head against Spike’s bare chest. “Yeah,” Riley finally said, his throat all of a sudden too dry. “I got it.”

 

To be continued in Chapter 48: O Lay Thy Life in Mine, Lass