Disclaimer: Thanks be to the Joss. The Joss is good. In the footsteps of the Joss do we gratefully warm ourselves, nor expect we thanks or remuneration. (Though feedback would be nice ...)
Buffy waited a moment, but there was no answer. She tapped on the crypt door again. Another pause, and she was beginning to turn away when the door swung open.
"Slayer." The vampire looked her up and down. "Couldn't believe it was you. You never knock."
"Yeah - well - " Buffy gave a nervous shake of her head, sending her shorter hair spraying out around her. "I wasn't sure you were home, or - "
Spike looked at her in sudden understanding. "You thought I might not be alone."
"Whatever." Buffy looked away and shifted the bag on her shoulder. "Look, sorry, I shouldn't have disturbed you, this was probably a - "
"Slayer." His voice arrested her and she turned back. "You can stop by anytime you need something. You know that." She hesitated and nodded. "If I'm not alone I just won't answer the door," he continued. "Thanks for the knock, though. Appreciate it."
She nodded again. He waited for her to speak and after a pause prodded her. "So, you needed something?"
"Yeah, I was just wondering - uh, if you could come out and patrol with me tonight. Nights I work it's hard to do a full sweep before I have to get home again, and if there were two of us - " He said nothing and she hesitated again. "It's okay if you can't, I know you have other stuff to do, and - "
He shrugged. "Patrol. Sure. Let me get my coat."
He was back in a moment, lighting a cigarette as he fell into step beside her. "How're things?" he asked as they set out towards the north side of the cemetery, falling into their usual sweep pattern without need for words. "Haven't seen you since the wedding that wasn't."
"It's been chaos," said Buffy. "Anya hasn't left her apartment in the week. She's heartbroken. She keeps saying, 'but I didn't do anything wrong.' We take turns to go over there in the evening and sit with her. She's packing her stuff up but you can tell she really doesn't want to move out. I think she's hoping Xander will come back and it will all be okay after all." She sighed.
"No sign of him?"
"He's staying at the Super 8 by the freeway. He's been going to work and stuff. They've talked on the phone a couple of times, and Anya got me to take a suitcase of his clothes over to his room. They had coffee a couple of days ago but he didn't come back with her after. She looks just miserable. "
"Poor kid." Buffy looked up at him. His expression was merely sympathetic, no hint of irony. "What's happening with the shop?" he added.
"We tried to persuade Anya to shut it up until she felt better, take a holiday for a couple of weeks, but she won't do it. She says the only thing that makes her feel better is knowing that the business is still doing well. So Tara and I are taking it in turns to mind the shop during the day. Willow can't, of course."
"Suppose not. Too much temptation."
"Yeah. To your right," Buffy added suddenly. A flicker of motion caught Spike's peripheral vision and he wheeled around to face it. "I'll go round behind", she added sotto voce, and sprinted around the corner of a nearby crypt.
Spike sauntered over in front of the pair of Fyarl demons they'd spotted coming out of the crypt door. "New in town?" he said genially. "A few things you ought to know." He launched himself at the nearest one, crushing his cigarette ember into its chest. "First, we don't like your kind."
The demon howled and swung at him, and Spike dodged back quickly, tripping it heavily into the ground as it lunged for him. Its mate grabbed his arm and yanked, wrapping it up behind his shoulder. "Ouch! Christ, watch that," Spike muttered, kicking hard at the kneecap exposed behind him and wrenching out of the demon's grip.
"Duck!" he heard and dipped his head in time for Buffy, coming up behind him, to leap up on the tombstone to his side and swing the double axe in a flat arc, terminating in the demon's neck. The head flew off, still growling, to land beside the crypt, green ichor spurting from the severed neck as the body tottered and fell.
"Behind you," she said conversationally, and he plucked the axe out of the air by the handle as it flew by him and swung it without looking as he spun round. The axe imbedded in the second demon's chest as it pulled itself up from the ground. It screamed and collapsed, scrabbling at the axe with one thick, three-fingered hand before slumping bonelessly into the grass.
Spike yanked the axe out and looked at it. "Where'd you get this?"
"Behind the crypt door," said Buffy. "I think one of them was carrying it. Better take the head off."
"Oh. Yeah." Spike swung the axe again and severed the neck just as the demon's eyes flicked open. He hefted the weapon. "Nice balance. Think I'll keep it."
"Hey, I found it."
"Too long in the haft for you."
Spike tucked the axe into his duster. He nodded left. "West wall next?"
"Good plan. I cleaned out a nest of Gzar lizards there last week, but I might have missed a few eggs."
"The baby-eaters? Haven't see any around here lately."
"I think mom was in transit when she laid the nest."
"You think they'll work things out?"
"Anya and Xander?" Buffy turned to watch a suspicious motion behind a tree on the periphery. "Don't know." There was another tell-tale flicker and she said "vamp, I'll get it," and ran for the tree, Spike behind her. Spike circled around to find Buffy leaping and kicking a large ex-frat-boy vamp in the head. She flipped, landed on her feet and staked him as he lunged at her. Another vampire, thinner and older, appeared out of the shadows beside Spike and he punched it once, twice, three times in the head and stomach, until it staggered and fell back, winded, against a stone. He dusted it and replaced his stake in his back pocket.
"What's Xander's problem?" Spike asked. Buffy fell in step beside him as they headed west again.
"I think he was worried about a lot of things," she said. "Never talked to Anya about them. Hoped they'd go away, was afraid her of her reaction. Whatever. He picked a lousy time to suddenly let her know."
"Better than marrying her if he wasn't sure," Spike said. He held up a hand, eyes searching ahead of him, and Buffy stood still. A squirrel ran out of the shrubbery ahead of them and they relaxed and continued on.
"I guess. Still. He could have figured it out sooner." Buffy scanned the wall as they neared it. "Over there." She pointed. "The nest."
They walked cautiously closer. "Nothing," Spike said. "I think you got the lot."
"Hope so." Buffy thoughtfully kicked some rough grey pottery fragments in the grass. "These look like eggshells. I wonder if - "
A roar behind them made both turn, and a 9-foot two-headed serpent covered with glittering jagged scales erupted from behind a crypt and loomed over them. Blue liquid dripped from its fangs.
"What's that stuff?" Buffy asked, fascinated.
"Bugger. It must be in heat," said Spike. "Don't get any on you. Eats right through the skin. Poisonous as hell." He pulled out the axe. "Good thing I kept this," he added and lunged. Buffy, beside him, leaped onto a treestump, grabbed a branch and swung over the serpent, landing on its back and twisting to hang onto its right neck. She pulled a short sword out of her jacket and hacked at the scales, hanging on frantically around the throat as the serpent writhed, trying to throw her off. Spike threw the axe spinning straight up into the open left mouth, shearing through the back of its throat and severing the top of its head. The left neck slumped and Spike danced back, narrowly avoiding the gouts of yellow blood, steaming and bubbling as they splashed on the ground in front of him and ate through the grass.
Buffy was making no headway through the scales and was beginning to slide down, dislodged by the serpent's frantic writhing. Spike retrieved the axe and threw it up to her. "Into the mouth", he shouted and she nodded and reached higher, hacking into the monster's lip and through the forked tongue and back into the brain pan. The serpent keened horribly, tottered, and fell twitching into the grass. Buffy slid off, gasping.
"Wow," she said. "And I thought roller coasters were cool." She looked at her jacket. A steaming hole was beginning to form, traces of blue ichor around the edge. "It got my jacket!" she said and automatically went to brush it off with the other hand. Spike caught her arm.
"Don't touch it," he said. "It's lethal." He helped pull the jacket off and dropped it on the grass.
Buffy contemplated it, irritated. "That was a new jacket. It's not like I can afford this."
"Teach you to wear new clothes on patrol," Spike said. She never did wear new clothes on - hm. He looked at her thoughtfully.
"I should get the Watchers to pay me," Buffy said. "Clothing allowance at least." They stowed their weapons, Buffy with sword still in hand, and made a quick circuit of the rest of the graveyard, ending by Spike's crypt.
"Thanks for your help, Spike," said Buffy. He stretched, rolling his shoulders.
"No problem. I haven't had this much fun since - well, since the last time I patrolled." He grinned. It was true. A little violence before bedtime always set him up.
"Guess I should be gettin' in," he said neutrally, one eye on Buffy to see her reaction. What was all this about, really?
"Yeah, I guess," Buffy said. She checked her watch. "Dawn's over at Tara's for a little while yet." She looked nervous. "Um, hang on a sec." She ducked behind the tombstone in front of his crypt and reappeared with the knapsack. She must have stowed it there before they set out. She laid down the short sword and struggled with the fastening. "I wondered if you might like - uh - "
Spike watched, intrigued, lounging against the wall of the crypt, as she retrieved a large silver thermos from the bag. "Some hot chocolate," she offered, handing it to him. He took it, his eyes on her. She rooted around in the bag and produced another cup. He had said nothing and she looked up at him hesitantly.
"I thought maybe we could talk," she said. "Um, not if you don't want." She was afraid he was going to reject her, he realised. Reject her peace offering. "Or we could just have some hot chocolate before you get on with your evening. I mean," her voice trailed off and her shoulders began to sag as he still didn't respond. "Well, whatever," she said again, beginning to turn away. "Maybe it wasn't a - "
"Is this a date?" Spike finally found his voice.
Her eyes flew to his. "Not, um, not - "she began. But she was blushing. It wasn't just the fighting.
"You take me out for a fight, just the kind of thing you know I like. You wear a new jacket. Nice one, too," he added. "And now you're offerin' me hot chocolate." He considered her. "This is a date."
She looked up at him. "Well - would you like it to be?"
"Depends" He looked her over, "What's this about, Slayer? I thought we were quits. I don't need you to come round and yank my chain, if that's all you're doin'."" He settled his shoulders against the wall, watching her. "I'm an evil undead thing. I can't offer you anything you need. I don't matter to you. All that. You remember."
"You do matter to me."
He nodded eyes on her face. "I know," he said. "But when did you figure it out?"
She wasn't looking at him. "After the wedding. I couldn't sleep. I was thinking about - " she stopped.
"I sent her home," Spike said, suppressing a smile. "Didn't have much of a taste for her, really. Just didn't want to show up alone."
This got a glimmer of a smile in return. "That wasn't all I was thinking about, " she said.
"No?" He looked at her speculatively. "You never once imagined what I might be doin' while you lay there, alone in your quiet bed?"
"No. Not once," she said firmly.
"I was thinking about a lot of things," she said. She hesitated.
He opened the thermos as he watched her and held out his hand for her cup. He filled hers first and handed it back to her, then poured the rest into his cup and took a swig. "Go on," he said when she still hadn't spoken.
She took a sip. "I was thinking," she said, "that we got off on the wrong foot. And then I was a complete jerk and that didn't help."
He nodded. "No arguments there."
"I'm sorry." She looked up at his unmoved face. After a moment her gaze slid away.
"Don't know if I'm ready to accept an apology," he said at last. "It's only good if you stop doing it."
She nodded, accepting this. "Fair." She looked into her mug. "If, if you were willing to give me the chance, I'd like to do better."
He nodded, relaxing a little. "Not exactly music to my ears, Slayer, but it would be a start."
"Okay." She took a breath, and another sip of her hot chocolate.
"Anything else you want to say?" he asked after a silence. "Cards on the table, all that? So long as you're here anyway, might as well tell me everything you want." He didn't move, but his eyes never left her face.
She took another breath and looked at him. "I hoped maybe we could start over," she said baldly. "Figure out what we want, talk about stuff, go slow, all those things." She looked up at him, and he could tell that she was nervous. "I understand if you don't want to. It can't have been much fun for you."
"Wouldn't say that, Buff." He crossed over towards her and leaned against the tombstone beside her. "There were excellent moments." She smiled at him fleetingly. He looked at her hair, and wanted to touch it, tuck it behind her ear. Not going there yet. "I don't know how much of a chance we'd have anyway, pet," he added seriously. "There are problems. Me vampire, you Slayer. Me evil, you good."
"I don't know how good I am," Buffy said. "And I don't know that you're so evil, either. I don't even know what it means, really. I used to know."
He contemplated her. "It means I like chaos and violence," he said simply. "And it's true. I do. I get off on it. You saw that tonight. It's not going to change."
She shrugged. "So do I. Is that all it means?" She looked at him, and he knew his next answer was important.
He thought carefully. "It means," he said slowly, "that a lot of things you take for granted, rules and such, I don't take for granted. Breaking rules bothers you. You really don't like it. I do. It gives me a rush. I can stop if - someone I love, say, doesn't want me to do it. But I don't have the impulse that tells me not to on my own." He looked at her. "Doesn't mean I haven't come to value it in other people. But I don't have it myself. I really don't."
"Breaking rules doesn't bother me the way it used to", said Buffy.
"Little ones," he answered. "You don't break any big ones."
"Neither have you, for a long time," she pointed out. "Even when I was dead."
He shrugged. "Yeah. Not sure why not. Helped keep you alive for me, maybe."
Buffy looked at him. "Ever since I came back, you've been really good to me," she said. She thought. "Before that, even. Better than I deserved. Especially lately." She took a mouthful of hot chocolate. "I don't think a totally evil guy could get it right as often as you do."
"Never said I was totally evil, pet," Spike answered. "I just don't have that built in 'good' impulse. Doesn't mean I can't do good things. Doesn't mean I can't love you." He took a breath. "It does mean I'm not going to always do things you like."
"Being 'good' didn't mean I always treated you well," said Buffy. "Far from."
They looked at each other. "So you want to go slow," said Spike at last.
"See how it goes," Buffy agreed. "I mean, you're right, it's not like there aren't problems. But." She swallowed and licked her lips. "I've really missed you. Not just the - " she waved one hand.
"The sex," Spike supplied.
"Yeah," she nodded. "In fact even if we try this maybe we better not, um, not right away."
"Right about that," Spike said. "It was great, but it was getting in the way."
She looked at him in surprise. "Impulse control, pet," he said. "It's not just for wankers. The sex was great. But it wasn't getting me anywhere I wanted to go."
"Me neither," she said. "Though - " she shook off the thought. He hid a smile, watching her. "But I miss everything," she went on. "I miss fighting with you. Hanging out. Everything."
He didn't respond right away and she looked over at him. "Um, maybe you want time to think about it," she said. "I can understand if - "
She's afraid I'm going to say no, he thought. Wants to put it off. It's not like I haven't got reason enough to turn her down. She knows it.
He looked back at her soberly and thought over his answer.
"If this were a proper date," he said at last, "you'd have the little marshmallows."
"Oh!" Buffy started up from the stone she was leaning against, and set her cup down on the grass to root around in the bag again. "I forgot." She held up a small zip-lock bag of tiny marshmallows.
He grinned at her and snagged the bag from her hand. "Well then, pet, I guess you're on."