DISCLAIMER: Everything but the plot is Joss'.  Too bad.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY:  Buffyand Spike are slowly discovering that they have real feelings for the other, while Anya has reluctantly agreed to take Xander and Giles to see H’roven about the painting.

*************

Chapter 8: This Changing World

It was only a dream.  How did he know?  Well, for starters, he certainly hadn’t done any sittin’ around in the bleedin’ sun for a while---OK, there had been that bit last autumn with the Gem, but before that it had been over a century---but the kicker of it was standing there in the daylight, staring him in the face, a cigarette dangling from his fanged mouth.

Spike was talking to himself.

“What in the fuckin’ name of all that is evil and unholy do you think you’re doin’?” the vamped Spike sniped.

“What’re you talkin’ about?”

Vamped Spike grimaced.  “I’m talkin’ about the Slayer, and stop bein’ such a prat.  You know right well what I’m brassed off about.”

“You’re brassed off?”  He snorted.  “That’s a lark, seein’ as how you’re not even real---.”

The punch sent him reeling to the ground, the force of it a thumping ache reverberating through his jaw, and Spike tasted the coppery tang of his own blood as the inside of his cheek split.  Out of the corner of his eye, he could see his other self, dancing around on the balls of his feet, the cigarette now crushed beneath his boot.  “C’mon,” his vamped self taunted.  “Don’t be such a nancy boy.  Get up and fight me like a real demon.  Or are you Slayer-whipped now?”

Without regard to how his chip might react, Spike lunged at the intruder in his dream, tackling him at mid-abdomen, sending both of them crashing in a tangle of black leather against the brick wall of the building.  As his fists barrelled into the other vamp’s face, the fleeting thought that he was doing this with no blinding repercussions flashed across his mind’s eye.

Vamped Spike chuckled as he broke free from the clinch, standing back from his counterpart and spitting out a stream of scarlet blood onto the sidewalk.  “Feels good, doesn’t it?” he said.  “Feels right.”

“Feels like you fuckin’ hit me,” Spike snarled.

“Well, yeah.  Someone’s gotta knock some sense into you.  Moonin’ over the Slayer like some lovesick puppy.  You’re supposed to want to kill her, not shag her.”  His lips twisted into a smirk.  “No, OK, I can see the fuckin’ her bit, but still doesn’t explain why you’ve gone all soft on her.  Might as well call you marshmallow man.”

“I haven’t gone soft!”

Vamp Spike’s eyebrow lifted.  “Really?  Whaddaya call it then?  ‘Cause from this side of the fence, I’d say you were ‘bout two feathers short of bein’ a pillow.”

“Case you haven’t noticed, me and the Slayer are in a bit of a muddle at the moment.  We’re just passing the time ‘til Rupes gets us back to Sunnyhell.  Not my bloomin’ fault everyone thinks we’re engaged.”

“Uh huh, yeah, that’s it.”  The other Spike pulled out his pack of cigarettes from his duster pocket.  “I mean really, dancing lessons?  You the Arthur Murray of the demon set now?”

“She didn’t know what the hell she was doin’,” he replied through gritted teeth.  “Got appearances to keep up.  Can’t have the locals sussing out Buffy isn’t---.”

“And when did you start thinkin’ of her as Buffy?” Vamp Spike shot back.  “Wasn’t that long ago it was Slayer this, or Slayer that, even the occasional ‘bitch’ thrown in every once in a while.  You can’t go buggerin’ it all up by goin’ with her name now.  You start with that shit, and you might as well hand her your balls on a bloody platter.”

The growl erupted from his throat, and Spike launched himself at the other, his fury carved in vampiric ridges over his forehead.  The momentum continued through into his fists, raining punches down over his counterpart’s face, his shoulders, beating him until the features began to bleed together, distorting into his human visage, before melting away into nothingness…

*************

His eyes shot open, and Spike found himself staring up at the ceiling, the black satin sheets cool against his back, entangled amid his bare legs.  A dream, that’s all it was, just a bloody dream.  So much for waking up to images of a naked Slayer, he thought ruefully. 

Although it was already beginning to fade, the residual baggage left by the dream still ate at the vampire’s gut, churning and grinding as it filled him with doubt, dredging up the sense of insecurity that had plagued him ever since Dru had left.  What was it she had said down in South America?  About seeing the Slayer around him?  And here he was, fooling himself into thinking that maybe there was something there, when their respective roles were more than obvious.  Vampire.  Slayer.  Enemies.

Except…he didn’t really believe that, hadn’t been able to believe that ever since Red’s spell had been reversed.  Oh sure, he’d blustered on about the flavor of Buffy on his lips, feigning disgust, but that’s all it was…just talk.  Put on a show for the humans, let them think that he hadn’t been rocked by thinking he and the Slayer were in love, that those feelings didn’t actually linger like an aftertaste in his mouth, more so than the memories of her kisses…or her hands…

The events of the past two days had only brought all that into sharper focus.  Ever since they’d come into the painting, Buffy had been treating him differently---hell, everyone was treating him differently---and for the first time since his encounter with the government guys, Spike was feeling like a man again, getting the respect he well deserved, being free to enjoy himself as he saw fit…within the confines of the bloody chip, of course.  He didn’t care that it was all an illusion; all he cared about was how empowered he felt after such a long period of impotence.  It was about bleedin’ time.

Swinging his legs over the side of the bed, Spike spotted the clock on the nightstand for the first time, and grimaced.  Four-thirty.  Fuck.  He’d slept the entire day away.  No time now for anything more than a brief encounter with Buffy, even if she was up for more, and considering his own present state of mind, he wasn’t one-hundred percent convinced he was himself.  Plus, in spite of his protestations the previous night to the contrary, he was hungry.  He sincerely hoped that she’d gone out like she’d said she was going to.

*************

Although he was still buckling up his belt as he opened the door, Spike stopped in its entrance, eyes alighting on the form of the young woman curled up on the floor, surrounded by brightly colored packages of every shape and size.  Dressed in simple slacks and a sweater, she had her hair pulled back into a low ponytail, her make-up light and simple.  The familiar tug in his groin was joined with the blond vampire’s initial reaction…this was the Slayer he knew.    

The metallic click of his buckle alerted her to his presence, and Buffy looked up, a small smile curling her lips.  “Well, if it isn’t Rip Van Winkle,” she said lightly.  “I’d say you must’ve slept like the dead, except you’re already dead so that would be kind of redundant.”

“You’re little miss perky today,” he commented.  “Guess you didn’t have as much trouble sleeping as you thought you would.”

“It’s absolutely gorgeous outside,” she said, avoiding a direct response to his reference to her earlier assessment.  “Did you know there is this fabulous string of shops right around the corner?  I got some great things.  Oh, and I found a butcher who’ll deliver, so no more embarrassing trips for me searching for blood.”  As he glanced over at the kitchen, she added, “It’s in the fridge.  I would’ve heated it up for you, but…”

Spike’s gaze narrowed slightly as he looked back at Buffy“But what?”

She blushed.  “I wasn’t sure how to do it,” she confessed.  “There’s no microwave.”

The vampire shook his head.  “That’s what the bleedin’ stove is for, Slayer.”  He was halfway to the kitchen when he stopped, looking back at her with a frown.  “Not that it matters, but how did you happen to pay for everything?”

Stretching to the couch at her side, Buffy grabbed a billfold and waggled it in front of her.  “Found the checkbook,” she replied.  “Do you have any idea how much money we have?”

His only response was a roll of his azure eyes as he sauntered into the adjoining room.

*************

He stayed in the kitchen as he gulped down the mug of blood, the hot liquid streaming down his throat.  No, it wasn’t human, but after two days of nothing, it was still an intoxicating elixir, and he was enjoying every second of it.  The only thing was, Spike couldn’t restrain the demon from emerging as he drank, and for some reason, he didn’t really fancy having Buffy watching him in that state.  He didn’t think he could stomach the revulsion right now.

“Are you coming back in here or not?” the young woman called out, as if on cue.  “I want to open these presents.”

The sudden sense of domesticity wasn’t lost on the blond vampire, and he felt the first gnaw of fear in his stomach.  He wanted to talk about what had happened; she seemed bound and determined to keep busy with other things.  Still…a happy Slayer meant no stake for him, so maybe it was better to play things her way…for right now…

“Don’t we have to be at the club in an hour?” Spike asked from the doorway.

“Hour and a half,” she corrected, glancing at the clock.  “Lombardi called to say when the car would pick us up.  C’mon, we could’ve been done by now if you hadn’t been such a lazybones today.”

“Didn’t have to wait for me, y’know.  You could’ve just opened them on your own.”

Buffy rolled her eyes.  “Well, duh, they’re addressed to both of us.  Except for one which says it’s just for me.”  She peered around at the packages.  “Now where’d I put that one?”

Spike settled himself on the couch, lounging back with his hands cupped behind his head, a faint smile on his face as he watched the Slayer act like a child at Christmas.  The dream seemed like an eternity away, and Sunnydale even further; if he didn’t know better, the blond vampire would’ve almost said that he felt…content.

“I take it you didn’t have much problem sleeping.”  Her words were measured, careful, and it was obvious she was doing her best to keep her hazel eyes away from him.  Great, he thought, here it comes.

“Wasn’t the sleepin’, luv,” he said.  “It was the dreamin’.”  He nudged one of the bigger boxes toward her with his foot.  “Just start openin’ them.  You’ll find the one that’s yours soon enough.”

“You said…we were going to talk.” 

“I did.  Isn’t that what we’re doin’?”

Buffy ran a fingernail under the edge of the wrapping paper, ripping the tape.  “That’s not what I meant.  Stop making this so difficult.”

“Sorry, luv, didn’t know I was puttin’ a cramp in your style.”  It came out sounding more flip than he intended, but it was already too late.  The light flared in the young woman’s hazel eyes, and her hands tore at the gift, savaging the paper. 

“If you want to just go back to me beating you up, I can do that.  With extreme pleasure,” she bit back as she lifted the lid from the box, exposing an old-fashioned blender.

Nothin’ would make you happier, I’m sure.”  His nostrils flared as he sat up, leaned forward to force her to look at him.  “Just another round of Kick the Spike to you, that’s all this is.  Can’t even think about sayin’ what’s really goin’ on in that pretty little head of yours ‘cause communicatin’, well, that’s really not something your Watcher’s been very good at teachin’ you, now is it?”

“You want to see how well I communicate?”  Buffy grabbed at another present.  “I can be the queen of communicators.  Just you see.”

“Yeah, you’re the queen of somethin’, all right,” he grumbled, his eyes flickering down to the slim book she now held in her hands, noticing the name of the poet on the spine before the Slayer tossed it aside.  “Should’ve known this morning was all an act.  When am I ever goin’ to learn?”

“An act?”  She turned wide hazel eyes to gape at him, seeing him for the first time since he’d come back from the kitchen.  “Why would I pretend to enjoy kissing you?  What could I possibly gain from that?  If anyone’s acting here, it’s you.”  Another gift found its way into her hands.  “You’re just so terrified I’m going to stake you, you’re doing everything you can to keep me distracted.  Good, but not quite Oscar-material, I think.”

“Tell me how in that warped Slayer head of yours kissin’ my mortal enemy is non-suicidal on my part.  I may not’ve been thinkin’ with my brain, but that sure as hell doesn’t mean I don’t have one.”  He settled back, pushing another present closer to her, arms folded across his chest.

There was a moment of silence as Buffy worked on the package, peeling back the paper to reveal a set of silver candlesticks.  Her fingers traced the delicate filigree on one of the bases, and Spike could feel her heartrate start to accelerate. 

“So…you weren’t pretending?”  Her voice was barely above a whisper, husky as it caught in her throat.

“Isn’t that what I’ve been sittin’ here tellin’ you?”  He paused.  “Wait.”  He frowned as what she had said sunk in, the realization of what she was admitting untying the knot that had grown in his stomach.

Buffy’s laughter was short and sharp.  “Well, we’re a pair,” she said wryly.  “Why do I get the feeling that this would all be that much easier if we just hated each other right now?”

Spike didn’t have anything to say that, instead relaxing and watching as she unwrapped another box.  A faint flush colored her cheeks, and more than once, he caught her glancing at him out of the corner of her eye, but neither one of them spoke, not until she had opened the gift.

“What’s this?” she queried, a tiny line between her brows.  Spike leaned over, watching as Buffy pulled out one, two, three, and then a fourth, brightly colored patch of silk.  “Why would anyone give us a box of scarves?”

Chuckling under his breath, the blond vamp tugged on the end of the nearest scarf, sliding it slowly between her fingers, running it casually over her wrist.  “’Cause they’ve got great taste,” he murmured, his voice a satin rumble.  “Don’t tell me you don’t know what to do with these.  Didn’t Angel like to…play?”

It took her a moment, and then Buffy’s hazel eyes widened in shock, her jaw slowly dropping.  “How do you---?”  She cut herself off.  “Never mind.  Stupid question.”

Spike laughed, and took the present from her hands.  “Don’t worry.  I’ll just shut them away with all the other toys in my room.  You don’t have to bruise your delicate sensibilities by lookin’ at them.”

Shaking her head, the young woman began to reach for another gift.  “I don’t know why I’m surprised, considering where I work---.”  Her face lit up.  “Oh!  That’s the one that’s for me!”

The vamp beat her to the punch, snatching the small box before she could reach it.  “So who’s thinkingivin’ you a gift of your own is a good idea?” he teased, pulling out the card. 

“There’s no other name on it,” she said, twisting her body around so that she was between his legs, on her knees, reaching for the gift as he held it over his head beyond her grasp.  “It just says ‘To Buffy’ which means it’s mine to open, not yours.”  She lunged for the box, laughing as his legs locked around her waist, staying her motion and throwing her against his chest.  Her hazel eyes glittered as she looked down into his.  “You so didn’t want to do that.”

Before he could react, Buffy threw herself sideways onto the settee, knocking both of them off-balance, causing Spike to fumble with the present, sending it flying onto the floor and out of both of their reaches.  The vampire landed on top of the young woman, muscled arms holding himself up over her, chest heaving unnecessarily from the sudden exertion.  A crooked smile began to curl his lips.  “Play games like that, and I’ll begin thinkin’ you can handle those scarves after all,” he said.

Buffy squirmed against the hardness of his hip, feeling the moisture begin to seep into her own pants.  “Never said I couldn’t,” she taunted, and was about to throw him off her when a soft scritching from the floor caught both of their attentions.

Their heads swivelled, gazes fixing on the small box that had landed upside down in their tussle.  A moment passed, and, as they watched, the wrapped package moved almost infinitesimally along the carpet.  The breath caught in the Slayer’s throat.  “Please tell me that didn’t…”

Spike didn’t need to reply; the gift did it for them.  Another quarter-inch and both of them were up, off the couch, circling the box with their eyes locked onto it.  The vampire sniffed, but noticed nothing significant in the air, only the scent of Buffy and her excitement.  It distracted him for a moment, but when he saw the young woman step forward, closing in on whatever it was on the floor, he snapped back.

“Stop!”  She halted at the sound of his voice, looking at him quizzically.  “Gifts that crawl around on their own cannot be good,” the blond vamp continued.  “And since that one’s meant for you, I’m thinkin’, you and distance is probably a crackin’ idea.”

Buffy watched as Spike lifted his boot and brought it down on the box, flattening it with an audible crunch.  She grimaced as he stepped back, revealing a mess of cardboard, skinny and broken insect-like legs, and wrapping paper.  “Is it dead?” she asked.

The vampire nudged it with his foot before crouching down to inspect it closer.  “Considerin’ I’ve smashed the hell out of it, I’m goin’ to say yes,” he replied. 

“What was it?”

His blue eyes were almost black as he looked up at her.  “You really want to know?”

“Something tells me you’re not going to say it was some kind of pet spider some real sicko at the club thought I might enjoy.”

Picking at the remains, Spike pulled out something long and curled , ending with a needle-like point.  “That,” he said, “is a scorpion tail.” 

*************

She didn’t care what Giles had said; it had been two days since she’d last seen Buffy, and Willow was officially worried.  She had tried taking her mind off it the previous evening with a long study session at the library, but that had only ended with her falling asleep in one of the chairs behind the stacks, having nightmares about vampires chasing her through the books.  The redhead had been awakened this morning by a very irritated librarian, and after profuse apologies, had dashed back to the dorm, scrambling to change her clothes and grab her books before slipping out to her first class. 

She hadn’t actually had a chance to talk to the Watcher since their conversation the other day, but Willow had a sneaking suspicion that the blinking light on her answering machine was there because of him.  She hadn’t had the time to check it this morning, but seeing as how Buffy was still eligible for milk carton status, she wasn’t going to waste even more time by going back to her room; better to just head out to Giles’ and get the scoop firsthand.

Her knock at the door went unanswered, and she stood there, looking around her, wondering what she should do.  It wasn’t like him not to be in; Giles didn’t have anything that seemed to take up his time other than Buffy and research.  Maybe something was wrong and by standing here debating about what she should do, she was killing him because he was lying inside, on the floor, bleeding to death…

OK, over-react much? she admonished herself, but bit her lip.  It couldn’t hurt to try the door.  If he was out, it would be locked and she’d know everything was…

It turned under her grasp, and Willow froze, her mind racing.  Was it considered breaking and entering if the door was unlocked?  What if you knew the person?  Maybe he was seriously hurt after all.  Oh god, she thought, please let everything be OK…

“Giles?” she called out as she poked her head inside the apartment.  She immediately heard the distant sound of running water and audibly sighed in relief.  Shower.  That was of the good.  Time to relax.

Dropping her bag by the door, Willow stepped inside, surveying the many books that were strewn around the room.  Wow, someone had a monster research party, she thought, then pouted.  How come nobody called me? Oh yeah.  I was at the library.

As she passed the desk, her gaze was caught by the painting that rested there, and she stopped, looking down at it wistfully.  Buffy had been right; it was certainly pretty.  Lifelike even.  Bending over, Willow’s eyes scanned the tiny figures, drinking in their gowns, envying the bright smiles on their faces, only to be stopped by the oddly familiar form of a woman in a blue dress.  If I didn’t know better, she thought, I’d think that was…

And then she spotted the platinum head of the figure’s partner, her mouth making a tiny “o” as she sucked in her breath.  Oh sweet goddess, it isn’t, it can’t be.  But it certainly looked like it, and the more she stared, the more convinced she got that the couple dancing near the orchestra were Spike and Buffy.  Without even thinking, her hand lifted, shock taking over, fingertips gently touching the raised oil of her friend’s dress…

To be continued in Chapter 9:  Fools Rush In