The Channing Museum's annual anniversary gala had gone off nearly without a hitch. Oh, there was the usual handful of behind-the-scenes glitches, of course, but as long as they stayed behind the scenes, El decided they didn't really count. She gave out at least thirty business cards, some of them to quite prominent members of New York society. By the end of the evening, she was confident that Burke Premier Events would have work for months to come.
Really, if she overlooked the vamp she'd had to stake in the men's room just before dessert, El could count the evening as an almost unmitigated success.
Fortunately, the attention of the attendees was elsewhere when her fanged friend showed up. El was supervising clean-up from dinner during the live auction when a handsome man in a tux strolled ever so casually past her, and all the hairs on the back of her neck suddenly stood up. She slipped her hand into her purse to find her stake, told Yvonne she'd be right back, and followed him.
"You know," she'd said, pushing her way into the men's room after the vamp, "I wish you'd all have the courtesy to at least stay away from my day job. I'm really trying to keep the two separate."
"Slayer," the vamp snarled, as predictable as moss on a headstone, and tried to slam her into the wall. She countered with an elbow to the vamp's nose, slammed her knee into its stomach, and staked it through the back. Then she dusted herself off, straightened the neckline of her dress, and tucked her stake back into her purse before going back out to oversee the distribution of the dessert wine.
"Everything all right?" Yvonne asked when she reappeared.
"Yes, of course," Elizabeth said. "Just had to take care of some personal business. Now, tell Gerald to start slicing the cake, we'll start serving it as soon as everyone has their port."
By midnight the party was winding down. Once the last guest had gone, El asked Yvonne to supervise the clean-up and caught a cab back to Brooklyn. Inside the car, she texted Peter: Event just finished. Where are we tonight? Ten minutes later, her phone pinged. Greenwood. Cap. Shattuck reports weird muggings around there lately. Neck injuries. We'll meet you out front. El smiled to herself. Patrolling was always more fun when Neal came along.
It was just past twelve-thirty when the cab dropped her off in front of Greenwood Cemetery. Peter had parked on the street right in front of the gates, and she could see him and Neal standing beside the Taurus, bickering no doubt. Drawing closer, El could see that Neal had conjured up a pretty purple fire that sparked and sparkled in the air between them.
"If you're cold, we can sit in the car," Peter was saying.
"I don't want to sit in the car, Peter," Neal replied. "I want to be outside, in the fresh air. There's nothing harmful about this fire."
"It's a short-cut," Peter said. "And short-cuts are what got you into trouble, Neal. You can't just use magic to solve all of life's inconveniences."
"I can use it to solve this one," Neal said, and then added, pointedly looking over Peter's shoulder at El, "Good evening, Elizabeth."
Peter turned, looking caught-out. "El, I didn't hear you pull up."
"No, you didn't," she agreed, giving him a quick peck on the lips. "You were too busy yelling at Neal."
"Don't I get a kiss, too?" Neal asked with a pout.
El kissed him on the cheek. "Were you misbehaving, Neal?"
"No," Neal said.
"Yes," Peter said.
El suppressed a smile. "Did you bring my change of clothes?"
"In the backseat," Peter said. "Along with a few more stakes."
"Holy water, too? I'm running low."
"Got that, too, fresh from St. Pat's this morning."
"What would I do without my watcher?" she asked teasingly, and slid into the backseat to change into clothes that wouldn't be ruined by cemetery mud and vampire dust. She pulled on the jeans, sports bra, sweatshirt, and running shoes that Peter had brought for her, and then sorted through the bag on the floor of the car. She chose five fresh stakes and the spray bottle full of holy water. Peter would carry his usual broadsword, and Neal - well, Neal's weapons couldn't be carried, but he'd have them along all the same.
"Well, boys," she said, emerging from the car, "are we ready?" Peter had apparently won the argument about the fire, she saw, or at least Neal had put it out.
"Yeah," Peter said.
"I suppose," Neal sulked.
"Good," El said, and leaped up to grab the top of the cemetery gate and swing herself over. She undid the padlock from the inside to let Peter and Neal in, then shut it behind them. Except for her brief encounter in the men's room, her slayer powers had been sleeping all evening. Now they woke, and a subtle buzzing in the back of her mind told her there were vampires nearby. She stood very still, listening with that part of her that wasn't entirely human, and then opened her eyes. "This way," she said, and led the way up the path at a brisk jog.
"So how did the gala go?" Peter asked as they walked.
"Really well, actually," El said, doing a quick flip over a headstone just to get her muscles warmed up. "Had to stake a guest during the live auction, but no one got hurt. And the chocolate mousse crème brûlée was outstanding. I'll definitely be serving that again."
"You should let me do a small working at your next event," Neal said. "It could make it just that little bit bett -"
"No," Peter said firmly.
"I said no, Neal." Peter stopped dead in the middle of the gravel path and turned to pin Neal with a finger on his chest. "How many times do I have to explain this to you? You're on probation. That means you only use magic when I say so and where I say so. If the Council were to find out I was letting you use magic to give my wife's business a boost, we'd both be behind bars."
"But they're not going to find out," Neal said reasonably.
"That isn't the point, Neal! Being a good person means being that way all the time, whether or not someone's watching you!"
El's vamp sense lit up suddenly, almost painfully. "Okay, you two," she said, pulling a stake from her pocket, "you're going to have to do this later. We've got two vamps, coming in from the -"
The vamp slammed into her from behind, tackling her to the ground. El rolled with it until a headstone put an abrupt halt to their momentum. She curled her legs in toward her chest and kicked them out, flinging the vamp away. She sprang to her feet with her stake in her hand. The vamp snarled and rushed her; she pivoted at the last moment and its momentum carried it headfirst over the headstone. El leaped to the top of the headstone, balanced briefly, then did a forward flip to land on her feet. She turned and shoved her stake through the vampire's chest while it was still struggling to stand. It exploded with a scream and the usual cloud of dust.
She turned back toward the path and saw that her vamp's friend - who was apparently smarter or at least somewhat more experienced than her own had been - was occupying Peter and Neal. Neal had conjured up a ball of pure sunlight and was using it to herd the vamp toward Peter, who held his broadsword at the ready. El decided they had things under control and pushed herself up to sit on the headstone, legs swinging as she watched Peter swing his sword, the play of muscles in his upper arms and chest obvious even through his shirt. The vamp ducked, but Neal sent the ball of sunlight rushing towards him and he flinched away, giving Peter just the opening he needed to swing his sword straight through the vampire's neck. The vampire showered them both with dust. El clapped.
Neal waved his hand and the sunlight vanished, plunging them back into darkness. El's eyes adjusted almost instantly, but Peter stumbled. Neal caught his arm, supporting him. Peter straightened but didn't pull away. El watched with interest. "Nice fighting there, Zorro," Neal said to Peter, so close their noses nearly touched.
"Not bad yourself, Merlin," Peter replied.
And then, as usual . . . nothing. El sighed to herself and slid off the headstone. "You both did very well," she said, rewarding Peter with a kiss. "Come on, let's get the other two that're hanging around. I'm hungry and I have to be up for a client meeting tomorrow."
It didn't take them long to dust the other two vamps - they were both fledglings, inexperienced, impulsive, and overly confident. The first one, Peter sprayed in the face with holy water while El staked it from behind, and the second Neal blasted with sunlight until it burst into flames and disintegrated. El paused to listen then, but her vamp sense stayed quiet, so they called it a night and headed back to the entrance to the cemetery.
"You want to stay over?" Peter asked Neal, when they reached the car. "It's pretty late. The guest room's yours if you want it."
Neal hesitated, but El, watching him, knew what he'd say. It was what he'd said more and more lately, to offers of their guest room. "No, thanks," he said. "I'll catch the subway back to the city. See you tomorrow, Peter?"
"See you tomorrow," Peter agreed.
"Don't you want a ride to the subway at least?" El asked.
"Nah, I'm okay. Good slaying tonight, El," he said, and with that, he was gone, melted away into the shadows.
El slid into the front seat. Without having to ask, Peter punched the address of her favorite all-night burger place into the GPS. El was quiet as they pulled away from the cemetery onto the relatively quiet streets of late-night Brooklyn. Then she said, "Honey, about Neal . . ."
"I know," Peter said.
"It's okay, you know. With me."
"No," Peter said. "I mean . . . I do know, or at least I thought so. Thank you." He sighed and his hands tightened on the steering wheel. "But he's not ready, El. I'm the only thing standing between him and imprisonment or being stripped of his powers, and I couldn't live with the former and he couldn't live with the latter, so it has to work. And for it to work, there need to be as few complications as possible. And we would definitely be a complication."
"As much of a complication as a slayer being married to her watcher?" she replied, lightly.
Peter glanced at her, a slight smile lurking around his lips. "Much worse. Not now, El," he sighed. "Not yet."
"Not yet," she agreed, and reached over put her hand on his thigh. But maybe someday.