It came out of nowhere. One moment, the midnight sky was twinkling down in refreshing mettle; the next, sheets of rain were sweeping across the cemetery, blacking out the heavens as the gales whistled over the headstones, the distant rolls of thunder adding their bass voices to the storm’s song. A mouse tried skittering to safety under a bush, only to find itself picked up, tossed around like a lost ship at sea, and unceremoniously deposited over twenty yards away, muddied and more than a little dazed. On unsure feet, it disappeared into the darkness.
Pulling her very non-waterproof jacket closer around her thin frame, Buffy bent her head against the wind as she headed back to the graveyard’s gate. Slaying called on account of rain, she thought irritably. And Giles better not give me any crap for it ‘cause I ain’t in the mood.
It hadn’t been a good night for patrolling. Within ten minutes of reaching the cemetery, Buffy had encountered two newly born vamps about to start snacking on an elderly lady who’d only wanted to pay her dearly departed a late visit. But, when the Slayer had promptly staked both demons, Granny had turned on her, beating her about the head with her very large purse, screaming something about gangs and colors. For a moment, Buffy had actually considered trying to reason with her, but that thought quickly vanished when the bag landed especially hard on her shoulder. The blonde had turned and fled, convinced the old woman was packing something to the equivalent of a ton of bricks, putting as much distance between them as quickly as possible. It’s not even like I can hit her back, she’d thought grumpily as she ran. Stupid right and wrong.
It had gone downhill from there. Something green had immediately disappeared the moment it saw her, and before she could set chase to it, three vampires decided that it was their turn to die by jumping her from behind. She’d dusted the first with absolutely no effort. When she’d turned and faced the others however, Buffy had been greeted by the pointy end of a very long sword, with a grinning vamp on its other side.
“You know what they say about demons overcompensating with their weapons,” she quipped. “Big sword, little di---.” Her words were cut off as she expertly side-stepped an awkward lunge, sending the armed vamp sprawling, but not before the tip of his blade snagged on the hem of her blouse with an audible rip.
“Hey!” she cried out, her brows furrowed as she fingered the hole in the fabric. “This was one of my favourite shirts!” Leaping into the air, Buffy flipped herself over the head of the standing vampire, landing softly on the ground behind him. Before he could react, the Slayer had plunged her stake into his back, turning to face the last of the trio before the dust had even settled.
“This would go a lot faster if you’d just cut off your own head,” she said lightly. When he just stared at her blankly, she sighed. “No? Well, if you insist…”
A carefully aimed kick at his wrist sent the sword flying through the air and Buffy dashed to catch it before it landed, swinging it around in a liquid arc that separated the vamp’s head from his body, both disintegrating in a shower before hitting the ground. Giving the blade a swish or two, she nodded, saying, “Gotta love new toys.”
The storm had started almost immediately after that, and the Slayer had decided to pack it in for the night, tucking the sword under her jacket before heading out. She was only yards away from the gate when she bumped into the tiny demon. Literally.
It certainly looked harmless enough as it stared up at her with huge black eyes. Barely reaching her waist, it was covered in a thick fur that was now matted down from the driving rain. In fact, if it wasn’t for the long curled horns on either side of its pug nose, Buffy would’ve said it looked something like an Ewok, only not quite as cute. Its short arms clung to the package it was carrying, and the young woman watched as it slowly began to back away from her.
“I don’t want any trouble,” it whined in a high-pitched voice. “I just want to go home.”
“That makes two of us,” Buffy sighed as she pulled the sword out from underneath her coat. Her eyes widened as the demon squeaked in terror, dropping its package and scurrying off into the storm. “OK, not what I was expecting, but it’ll work.” Squinting against the rain, she walked over to where the parcel had fallen, bending over to run her fingers over the odd, water-tight paper that protected it. “Must be my lucky night,” she muttered, before slipping it under her arm and resuming her march home.
The light was on in her room when she pushed the door open, and Buffy was surprised to see Willow still awake, hunched over a book at her desk. At first, the redhead only glanced up at the new arrival, but seeing the saturated Slayer plop her things down in the middle of the floor before collapsing on her bed was enough to drive her to her feet, rushing to her friend’s side.
“What happened to you?” she asked, her eyes scanning the dishevelled form of her best friend.
“About a million buckets of water,” Buffy groaned.
Willow grabbed the other girl’s hands and pulled her back to her feet. “You’re going to soak your sheets,” she admonished. “You don’t want it getting out that the Slayer has bedwetting issues, do you?”
“Ha ha, very funny.” The blonde began peeling her jacket from her wet shoulders, grimacing as the material came away with a sticky plop. “I’m almost wishing I’d stayed here to study with you tonight.” At her friend’s widened eyes, Buffy hastened to add, “I said, almost.”
“Did you at least catch lots of bad guys?”
The Slayer nodded. “Sunnydale is officially minus five more vamps.” She leaned over and picked up the blade from the floor. “Plus I got this nifty sword.”
“What’s this?” asked Willow, squatting to finger the wrapping on the package.
Buffy shrugged. “Some teddy demon dropped it. I figured Giles might be interested in it.”
The redheaded witch turned a shiny face to her friend. “Let’s open it.”
“Really? That’s awful renegade of you, Will.” She settled down on the floor, crossing her legs and pulling the parcel onto her lap. “It’s probably ruined anyway. All that rain can’t be good for whatever’s in here.”
“That’s it, go with the rationalization.” The young Wicca ripped the tape that bound it closed, tearing away the covering in obvious excitement.
“Geez, eager much?” asked Buffy, her brows lifted in amusement.
Willow blushed. “Must be latent Christmas envy,” she admitted, and sat back on her heels, looking down at what her hasty unwrapping had revealed.
The colors seemed to glow in the artificial light, the figures almost leaping off the canvas as they stood, frozen in mid-swirl, smiles plastered on their beautiful faces as the unheard music played behind them. Scarlet…sapphire…gold…emerald…each had a life of its own, whether it was in the flowing dresses of the female dancers or the tiles of the floor. Even the black of the men’s tuxedoes appeared to come to life, providing a midnight satin that just ached to be touched.
Buffy’s fingers traced the gilt frame, dancing along the whorls, her attention fixed on the elegance of the painting. As she slid her hand over, an index finger pointed to lightly touch the raised ridges of one of the evening gowns, Willow’s own hand shot out and slapped the Slayer’s wrist.
“Your mom has run a gallery for how long and you still don’t know you shouldn’t touch paintings?” she scolded. “The oil in your skin can destroy it. You know that.”
Buffy sighed, her hazel gaze still locked wistfully on the picture. “How come life can’t be like that?” she mused. “All pretty dresses, and being Fred and Ginger around the dance floor. Plus guys in tuxes, always a bonus.” As she shifted her weight, her clothing squished around her and she frowned in distaste. “All I get is demon goo and vampire dust, not to mention no hazard pay for slaying in storms.”
The redhead reached to pat her friend’s shoulder, but at the first wet contact, pulled away, her nose wrinkling as she wiped her palm on her own pants. “I know things seem really tough right now,” she said, “especially since you’re feeling all Andrea Gail. But it’s nothing a good hot shower and tons of chocolate can’t cure.” Willow straightened, brightening. “Hey, and it could be worse. At least you’re not engaged to Spike anymore.”
Buffy glowered at the young witch. “I told you never to bring that up again,” she threatened.
Willow visibly shrank, ducking her eyes. “Sorry.” Her gaze flickered over to her desk. “Wanna cookie? I’ve still got some.”
Sighing, the Slayer picked up the painting by its frame, scanning it with longing. “Something this pretty’s gotta be stolen. Betcha Giles makes me give it back.” Rising to her feet, she propped it on her desk, angling it so that she could view it from her bed. “Well, tonight at least, it’s mine. I’ll just worry about giving it up in the morning.”
He lay on his back, hands behind his platinum head, a smile curling his lips. Only moments earlier, he’d woken from another of those dreams, one of the fantasies that had been coloring his thoughts since Red’s spell had been reversed. This time, Buffy’d been straddling him, her golden body a tight sheath as she rode his cock, head thrown back, hair flowing down her spine. All he’d had to do was lie back…and enjoy.
Sure, Spike had had thoughts about shagging the Slayer prior to Willow’s “my will be done” fiasco, but since feeling the reality of her in his arms, her lips on his, her tiny hands roaming over his back as their tongues did battle, those thoughts had become constant, filling his every sleeping minute as well as a good number of his waking ones. The urge to throttle her was still very much there, but now it was combined with a heightened awareness of her physicality…how her hazel eyes danced in anger when they argued…the way her hips swayed as she flounced away from him…the curve of her breasts that was only accentuated further when she folded her arms across her chest. Even now, his mouth watered as her image danced across his mind’s eye, and he ran his tongue along his teeth as he savored the sensation.
The knock at the door barely registered on his consciousness. It wasn’t his bloody flat and he certainly had no intention of playing Jeeves for the Watcher. Besides, even though the rain was still coming down in waves, it was still day outside, and he wasn’t running the risk of a certain flaming death, not for reheated pig’s blood and shackles in the bathtub.
He heard the doorknob slowly turn and stiffened, wondering if Rupert was about to get burgled. Figures it’d happen when he’s out and about, leavin’ me here helpless to defend myself, Spike thought, silently sliding his right foot over and down until it hit the floor. He was about to ease the rest of his weight onto the carpet when the scent assailed his nostrils, and he paused as familiarity seeped into his senses. Vanilla…the light sweat…only one person it could be…
“Giles?” Buffy called out. Spike heard the door shut, the Slayer take a few tentative steps into the room. No reason to let her know he was there, she’d find out soon enough. “Giles?” she repeated, coming in even further.
The erection with which he’d awoken had eased in the past few minutes, but the sound of her voice brought it back with a raging vengeance. Spike closed his eyes, gritting his teeth, as his jeans tightened uncomfortably, and slowly lifted his leg back up onto the couch to ease the pressure on his groin. What she might know could potentially kill him, so better to just keep this not-so-little secret to himself. The sound of paper rustling, then ripping, jerked his lids back up, and he frowned as he strained to figure what exactly she was doing. Shit, footsteps…
“What’re you doing?” Buffy loomed over him, the you-annoy-me-by-just-being-here look in her eyes, her arms folded across her breasts.
The blond vampire casually crossed his ankles, lowered his arms to his waist, doing his best to nonchalantly hide his arousal. “Most people call it lyin’ down, Slayer,” he responded. “What’re you doin’?”
He didn’t even see the fist as it shot out and connected with his nose, and with his head against the pillow, there was no room for his head to go from the recoil. “Bloody hell!” he cried out, jumping to his feet and away from Buffy. Gingerly, he pinched his nostril, sniffing to stop the blood from flowing, and looked at her angrily through hooded eyes.
“Where’s Giles?” the young woman asked, unfazed the vampire’s obvious discomfort.
“Out,” he growled. “Seems he feels the need to occasionally venture into the outside world, do somethin’ that’s not Slayer-sanctified. I believe nowadays they call it grocery shoppin’.”
Buffy’s face fell. “Oh.” As Spike watched, she turned away, her hazel eyes settling on the Watcher’s desk, and for the first time, he noticed the large oil painting that was propped up there. “Any idea when he’s going to be back?”
“I’m not his bleedin’ secretary.” He strode the long way around the couch, maintaining as much distance between them as possible, to look at the artwork more closely. “What’s this? It’s not ol’ Rupe’s birthday, is it? Someone should’ve told me. I’d’ve baked him a cake.”
“It’s something I picked up on patrol last night.” Stepping forward, the young woman tilted her head as she gazed at the painting, her face softening as she drank in its lovely lines. “I don’t suppose it rings any bells for you.”
Spike shook his head. “Sorry, no clang clang for this trolley. It’s good work, though. Really captures the era.”
Buffy’s eyes widened and she opened her mouth to speak, only to shut it almost immediately with an audible click of her teeth. When the vampire’s scarred eyebrow lifted in amusement, she said, “I keep forgetting you were actually around then.”
“One of my favorite decades.” He smirked. “Nothin’ like war to really get the blood flowin’.”
“Ewww.” Turning back to the painting, Buffy sighed. “Still, it must’ve been nice. Everything seems so elegant in there, doesn’t it? Like out of one of those old movies Mom is always trying to make me watch with her.”
“Appearances can be deceiving, Slayer.”
She didn’t hear him. In fact, in her head, she wasn’t even there anymore. Instead of being in Giles’ apartment, Buffy was imagining herself being twirled around a dance floor, silk skirts swooshing around her legs, the music suffusing her body with waves of pleasure, arms uplifted around the broad shoulders of some tuxedoed stranger. The colors of the painting were hypnotic, blinding her to anything else in the room, sucking her in with their reality, and she didn’t even realize that she’d reached out her hand, gently touched one finger to the dress hem of one of the dancers.
Spike saw it first. The instant the Slayer’s skin touched the oil of the painting, the color began bleeding into her flesh, creeping its way up her index finger…past the first knuckle…into the second. His blue eyes widened. “Bloody hell, Buffy,” he said. “Get away from it.”
She was transfixed, frozen in place, but the vampire could see the strain in her face. “I…can’t…” she breathed.
As he watched, the hues began to seep into her entire hand, and he saw the fear leap into her eyes. He didn’t know what the hell was goin’ on, but whatever it was, if something happened to Buffy, Spike just knew that Rupert would come looking for his houseguest first for some kind of answers, most likely with something sharp and wooden. Silly bint’s goin’ to get me staked good and proper one of these days, he thought irritably, and grabbed her upper arm, fully intending to yank her away…
Giles shifted the shopping bags to his left hand as he reached out and opened the front door of his apartment. Flat, he mentally reminded himself. I’ve been living in this country for far too long; I’m even beginning to think in American.
The silence of the living room consumed him as he entered, shutting the door quietly behind him. Spike must be asleep, he thought. Thank god. A few hours of peace and quiet, with no Passions or bad telly blaring in the background. Setting down the sacks, the Watcher spotted the painting on his desk almost right away, the vividness of the portrayal jumping out at him like a shock. That must be the picture Buffy called about, Giles realized. I must’ve missed her.
Although he studied the painting for a moment longer, the Englishman quickly lost interest in it, picking it up by the frame and leaning it against the wall, its vibrant hues turned away from the room. Whistling quietly under his breath, he retrieved the first of his shopping bags and headed for the kitchen, oblivious to the empty apartment that surrounded him…
To be continued in Chapter Two: Things Ain’t What They Used To Be…