4/17/04)

AN: pretty much disregards canon in terms of time lines and Giles' return to England.

CONVERSATIONS IN A CRYPT

"Look! I've finally got into their system." Willow crowed. "They have cameras everywhere. Look at this – outside this house, the Magic Box, Spike's crypt..." The Scoobies gathered around to see the images coming up on Willow's computer screen.

"They've been in my store? I'll curse all three of them!" Anya's outrage would have been funny had she not been an ex-vengeance demon. "Where's Hallie? I'll make them sorry..."

"Where do you think that one is?" Dawn interrupted. "It looks like Buffy's yelling at somebody in a graveyard."

"She is yelling – at Spike," Willow said. " They look like they're really mad at each other."

"So what else is new?" Xander yawned. "I don't know why she doesn't just stake him and get him out of her hair. All they do is argue and fight."

"Shhh," Willow hissed. "I'm trying to bring up some sound. There we go!"

"Maybe I should just leave Sunnydale!" they could hear Spike shouting at the clearly angry slayer.

"Maybe you should!" she yelled back. "I can't keep doing this night after night. Can't you just give it a rest?"

"Oh, I'll give it a rest all right. You want me to move on? I'm moving on – on, up and out of here!"

"Good!""

"Fine!"

The two fighters were quiet for a minute – breathing hard and glaring at each other. Suddenly he moved closer to Buffy and tipped her chin up. His eyes searched hers intently.

"If I go, love, I probably won't be back. You know that, right?"

Xander reacted to the sight of Spike's gesture with typical calm.

"What the hell is he doing? He's touching her! What does he think he's doing? Oh, she is definitely going to stake him now," he said with smug satisfaction in his voice, but uncertainty on his face.

The women in the room looked at him with contempt and went back to watching the screen. They saw Buffy begin to tear up and watched Spike lean in to place his forehead against hers while he stroked her upper arms.

"If you really want me gone, Buffy, just tell me you do. But you have to tell me straight to my face – and when we aren't fightin'. It's the only way I'll believe you."

"Is he doing a thrall? Why isn't she telling him to get lost? It must be thrall. We'd better get there before he—" Xander's rant was interrupted as all three girls hissed at him to be quiet.

In the graveyard, whatever Buffy's answer was going to be was interrupted by the arrival of the demon they were there to slay. Buffy whirled to face it, the tears still in her eyes causing her to miss her first swing at its head. The demon backhanded her to the ground, then yanked her back up, holding her over his head and preparing to throw her against a nearby tomb. Instead, he dropped her back to the dirt as Spike threw himself onto the demon's back and tried to pull its head off.

Reaching back, it grabbed Spike's coat and used it to throw him over its head and into the side of the tomb. The snarling demon then grabbed a nearby branch and drove the broken end into Spike's chest. Buffy's scream and subsequent sword-assisted removal of its head, threw the thrust off just enough that the tip of the branch missed the vampire's heart by less than an inch.

Back at the Summers house, the anxious group watching the fight relaxed a little as they saw that both Slayer and vampire had survived the surprise attack. Dawn was shaking and pale as she recovered from having almost witnessed the loss of the two people she loved most in the world. Giles was muttering about "mixing slaying and emotions" and cleaning his glasses. All stayed close to the monitor in front of Willow, anxious to see what would happen next.

Buffy dropped the sword and fell to her knees beside Spike, now writhing on the ground with a foot-long piece of wood protruding from his chest. She touched his face and body, running her hands over him as though to reassure herself that he was really there. "Don't be dust, Spike," she chanted over and over. "Don't be dust."

"I'll be alright, Slayer. You made him miss. Thought for a minute there I was going to keep my promise to be gone for good." He gave her a small smile, his mouth twisted in pain.

"That's not funny, Spike. I thought I was going to be sweeping you up into a ziplock bag."

"If you really want me gone, Slayer, you should have just let him have me. Would have taken care of your problem, wouldn't it?" he asked with weary sigh. "No more Spike, no more worries."

"Exactly!" Xander exploded. "Why didn't she just let the demon stake him?" He subsided when he saw the expression on Dawn's face. "Sorry, Dawnie, but he just..." He stopped when he saw that everyone's attention was back on the screen.

"I don't want you dusted, Spike. You know that," she said just as wearily. "I just don't know what to do with you."

"Well, if I didn't have this hunk of wood stickin' out of my chest, I'd offer some suggestions." He leered at her. "But, under the circumstances, I'll settle for you pulling it out of me."

"Can't it wait till we get to your crypt, or to my house? I'm going to need something to stop the bleeding, and clean it up, and..." Suddenly she had buried her face in her hands; shaking all over as she realized exactly how close she had come to losing him forever.

"Hey, come on, love." he groaned, trying painfully to sit up. "What kind of first aid is this?"

Choking back the new tears, Buffy pulled herself together long enough to yank the long piece of wood out of his chest. She took off her windbreaker and used it to stem the flow of blood from the wound then helped him to sit up and lean back against the wall of the tomb. When he was as comfortable as was possible with a hole in his chest, she huddled next to him with her head on her knees.

"I thought I'd lost you," she finally said quietly. "That was too close."

Spike winced in pain as he shifted his weight and used one arm to pull her into his lap. "You know you'll never get rid of me that easily, Buffy," he said with more surety than he felt. He was reluctant to admit how much the close call had affected him, and called upon all of his macho bravado to hide it.

She huddled on his lap for a few minutes, then asked softly, "Why do you stay here? This can't be any more fun for you than it is for me. All we do is try to make each other miserable."

"Ah, love, but we're so good at it and we've been doing it so long. Wouldn't make sense to give it up now, would it?" He tried to get a smile out of her, but she stubbornly continued to sniffle with her face buried in his neck.

"Would you really leave it I told you to?" she asked hesitantly. "Would you really do that?"

"If I thought it would really make you happier, Buffy, I'd do it in a bloody heartbeat. But I don't think that's really what you want. Is it?" he added, touching her face with a gentle hand.

"I don't know what I want," she groaned. "I'm just so tired of fighting with you and lying to my friends…and trying to pretend—" She broke off abruptly.

"Pretend what, pet? That you don't care about me? Can't say I'm not a little tired of that myself..."

" I can't let myself love you, Spike. I don't want to love you," she insisted, sticking her lower lip out.

He stroked her hair gently, inhaling the familiar scent as he responded with a smile. "Even the Chosen One can't always get everything she wants, Slayer. Might as well give it up."

"Hmmph, you'd like that wouldn't you?" she sniffed.

As she glanced up, she caught the pained expression that he immediately tried to hide. She reached up and gently stroked his face in silent apology, sighing when he leaned into her hand and kissed the palm.

"Yes, love, I should like that very much. But I understand why you think you can't or shouldn't."

"What the hell are we seeing here?" Xander's angry question startled everyone out of their rapt attention to the computer screen, and Giles shook himself, stepping forward and reached for the computer.

"I believe we are seeing what is meant to be a very private conversation," he responded quietly, closing the lid of the laptop and shooing everyone out of the room. As soon as they had left, he sat down and put his head in his hands.

Bloody hell, my slayer is involved with another vampire! And this one doesn't even have a soul.

He sighed and went into the living room to suggest that no one tell Buffy that they had seen any part of the night's conversation.

The End