Every now and then, there's a natural pause in the fighting.
Not surprising. They've been at it for hours.
When it happens, one or other of them backs off, hands raised, and they retreat to opposite corners of the room, like boxers between rounds.
He'll light a cigarette, take a swig from his hipflask, while she'll wipe herself down, or re-braid an errant pigtail.
They don't talk at first. He looks down his nose at her, lip lifted in a sneer, like she's beneath him somehow. She rolls her eyes at his pathetic attempts to psych her out.
But on their third break, he's turned thoughtful. Taking a deep drag on his cigarette, he blows smoke out through his nostrils, tilts his head, opens his blue eyes wide, and says,
"You ever have the feeling things aren't right, love?"
"Yeah." She wipes sweat from her forehead. "Every fucking night I waste on killing scum like you. And don't call me 'love.'"
He grins, like he's heard that before and didn't take any notice then either. "Not what I meant, pet, but..." The grin fades. "Hang on a sec. Maybe it is what I meant?"
When his eyes meet hers again, the grin is gone altogether. Instead, he looks serious, solemn even, almost like he's sorry for her.
"Whatever I sodding well meant, I wish things weren't this way." he says. "Little bitty thing like you, hardly out of the playground, already all scarred an' bitter like a veteran three times your age. No light in you at all, is there? It's hardly worth killing you because you're dead inside already. As for me, I'm ..."
His voice trails off. He grimaces.
"...one of the Master's pets? His lame attack dog, maybe?" she finishes for him, noting without surprise that what he said about her made her feel....nothing at all. "No wonder he named you 'Spike.' What do you get if you kill me, huh? A juicy bone? A dog bowl in the corner?"
He's still frowning. "Something like that. Not the way it should be either. I'm..." His voice takes on an indignant tone. "I'm better than this."
"Yeah, yeah," she jeers. "Keep telling yourself that, asshole."
But his words have set off a weird kind of echo in her head. For a moment, she feels like she's stuck in a room with no windows, or if there are windows, someone's papered over them with darkness, and if she could just tear that darkness aside, the world would be different.
Lighter. Brighter. Her world, not his, though somehow she knows he'd have a place in it.
But it's only a moment.
World is what it is, she thinks. We fight and we die. Wishing doesn't change that.
"Is this a 'get in my pants' thing, Spike?" she says, out loud,"'Cuz screw that, and screw you too. Let's get this done. I don't have time for stories."
He's doing the thousand yard stare over her shoulder, but at her words, he blinks and focuses on her again. Dropping his cigarette butt on the floor, he grinds it out beneath his boot heel and armours up, all bumpy forehead and razor fangs.
"Have at it, then," he snarls. "Only one thing I'm good at anyway. Killing Slayers."
She readies herself for round four. "That's what they all say."