Disclaimer: I don't claim to own anything.

A/N: A fill for the Fag Ends Halloween Challenge prompt "Dragon's Blood."

Buffy squints through the dust.

Even months later, the Magic Box still smells smoky and she doesn't really trust the rubble not to go up in flames or collapse out from under her or turn out to be hiding some sort of lurky shadow demon that jumps out at her and bludgeons her with a charred-up magic statue.

She toes at a blackened piece of unidentifiable but possibly lethal something and creeps closer to the basement stairs.

She can hear Spike picking his way along behind her.

Bringing a vampire, especially a recently insane one, on a mission to retrieve a highly flammable object from a building that has also recently proved itself to be somewhat flammable (or at least not resistant to magic lightning) may not be the best plan, but he's also the one she trusts not to die from smoke inhalation or collapsing staircases.

The basement door falls off of its hinges when Buffy goes to open it and she throws it off to the side.

"Okay," she says, "Anya said it should be near the stairs."

Stairs. Buffy's not so sure about the stairs, really. Not only does the basement smell just as bad as upstairs, but it also comes with the added bonus of being completely dark.

Buffy glances back over her shoulder to find Spike waiting with a blank face. He looks startled when he catches her gaze but sorts his expression into one of readiness. "Your night vision is better than mine, right?"

"Well," says Spike, "I do have a bit of an advantage."

Buffy steps back for him to go first when the flashlight slips out of his pocket. Spike looks at her expectantly, head tilted so that he has to flick his eyes up to meet hers. He grins a little grin and Buffy rolls her eyes.

"You still get to go down first," she tells him.

"'course," says Spike.

He creeps his way down the stairs carefully, testing the each step before trusting it with his weight, first with the flashlight's beam and then with a poke from his boot.

It's weird. Careful Spike.

Spike's generally good at backing out of a fight when he's guaranteed a loss. She knows he's pretty good at taking his time to regroup and come back to things, fights at least, when he's got a better chance, but she never really has thought of him as someone who is careful.

Not that poking around in the basement of a ruined building looking for a bottle of seriously volatile blood is all that safe, but it's still weird to think that Spike has pretty much turned into a completely new person since he ran out of her house five months ago.

"Watch that one," Spike warns her just before she can settle her weight onto the step below her. He holds out his hand and she takes it, allowing him to help her over the undependable stair and down closer to him.

The flashlight's beam sweeps back the black to reveal more black, but this time in a more charcoal-y sense. The shelf of pillows is very much not a shelf anymore, and a lot of the knickknacks are looking pretty battered.

"Over on the shelf, maybe," Buffy suggests.

Spike leads the way over to the herb shelf. Okay, so blood isn't exactly herbs, or even in the same family as herbs, but it falls under spell ingredients and Buffy figures Spike would have said something if Giles had put in a blood shelf at some point. He'd always seemed pretty familiar with the basement when she'd caught him down here before.

"You'd think Anya would've thought to come get this stuff earlier," Spike says, as they delicately scoot the bottles around the burnt shelf. "'specially back when she could've just popped in and gotten it for herself. Thought she was all about this stuff. Being on top of things."

"The summer was rough for everyone," Buffy says diplomatically.

And it was.

Like, seriously rough.

She's impressed that there weren't more of them huddled in the basement talking crazy talk, really.

She can see Spike's shoulders tense under his new jacket and he doesn't look at her.

Being careful is weird enough, but without the coat, Spike's barely even Spike. The duster's been hanging in her closet for the whole summer, waiting for him, but he hasn't even asked about it.

"Mm," goes Spike, "here." Gingerly, he pulls a bottle from the half-collapsed second-to-top shelf and holds it out for her examination.

Chrystal jar. Golden stopper. Thick dark liquid inside. Yahtzee.

"Dragon's blood," says Buffy, "accept none of those cheap, salamander knock-offs."

"Salamander blood's good for things too," says Spike. "But probably not worth worrying over. Won't burn the rest of the block down if it gets spilled when the clean-up crew comes through here."

Buffy opens her backpack for Spike to store the jar in.

When their fingers accidentally brush, Spike jerks back, out of reach, his eyes wide and frightened and apologetic. Buffy clenches the bag around the jar, catching it before it hits the ground, and makes sure to settle it in securely.

"Sorry," Spike says.

Buffy just stares at the bag and at her hand. Stares at where they brushed and where the fire didn't spark and explode inside her body and all through her skin. Where the want and need and aliveness didn't kick in the way it had all last year.

She's already alive.

When she looks up, her eyes go straight to the way Spike holds his hand. Like it's hurt, like he's trying to hide it from her. Like their brief touch was some wicked, awful deed that he can never atone for.

Buffy settles her bag back over her shoulders.

"When we get back to the house," she tells him, "I have something for you."