Fic: In For A Penny [4/?]

This entry is part 7 of 16 of the story In for a Penny

Title: In for a Penny [4/?]
Authors: the_moonmoth & bewildered/bewilde
Rating: NC-17 (eventually)
Length: ~9,300 words this chapter
Timeline: s4-5
Warnings: Sexual situations, bad language, violence, smut. Suicidal ideation. Temporary Spike/Other and Buffy/Other.
Summary: Spike travels back in time to change the future. It goes poorly.
Notes: Woohoo for figuring out how to make LJ and gdocs play nicely!

Beautiful banner by javajunkie247

 

Chapter 4

The night had been a triumph.

A triumph of optimism over experience, that was. Buffy wondered why she had ever thought she could have a nice, quiet evening out. And then, just as things had started looking up, just as she’d got all amped up and ready for a good throwdown, the guy had left her high and dry. Typical. Oh, and the thing with Parker had sucked, too.

So much for plan-making. She’d always been better in the heat of the moment, anyway — she should just stick to her strengths. But when Buffy had spotted Parker at the Bronze tonight, she’d formed certain expectations. She’d expected, for example, that he’d eventually come over to her table to say hi. Maybe there’d have been drinks, some pleasant, easy conversation of the type that had been flowing effortlessly since they’d met; definitely there would’ve been some A-plus quality eye-contact and suggestive touches. And then she’d expected that he’d offer to walk her home, because that’s how the story was supposed to go with the kind of guy he was.

Or, the kind of guy she’d thought he was.

Now she didn’t know what to think. Buffy wasn’t in the habit of believing drunken randos in a club over her (boy?)friends, but there was something about seeing a guy beat on by a furious ex that just… spoke volumes. Mostly in tones of caution. That, she had not expected.

And speaking of unexpected drunken randos — or not-so-rando, since he kept popping up like a Whack-a-Mole — what the hell had that all been about with Spike?

“Buffy?”

Buffy started and blinked owlishly at her dorm room door, before turning to Willow and Oz. Where had they come from? Wait, how long had she been standing here, lost in thought?

“Are you okay?” Oz asked. He gestured vaguely in the direction of her face, looking slightly embarrassed, in his diffident way. “You’re bleeding.”

“Also kinda dishevelled,” Willow added.

Buffy quickly finger-combed her hair, then poked at her lip, her cheek, and her nose, before finding the cut at her hairline. “I’m fine,” she said, but it sounded more like a question. “There was, uh–” She cut herself off as one of their neighbors walked by. “Let’s go inside. You will not believe the trash I found skulking about in the alley.”

“Oh, so that’s where you went,” Willow said once they were all in, locking the door behind her. “Because I came back to our table to find–”

“Yeah, I saw Spike, at the Bronze,” Buffy said. Weirdly, she felt almost nervous talking about it, and her words were coming out all rapid-fire. “He, he was at the bar I think, and he said something to this girl, and it made her come over and start telling me all these, these things about Parker–”

“What things?” Willow asked, big-eyed.

“That he wasn’t… who I thought.”

“Like, ‘whoa, Mr. Giles the school librarian is also a scholar of magic, prophecy and ancient fighting techniques’ not who you thought? Or like, ‘Angelus’ not who you thought?”

That brought a little stab of humiliated pain to her chest, and she glanced briefly at Oz. The dissection of that part of the night was emphatically going to be Girls Only.

“Later,” she deflected, moving on before Willow could object. “So anyways, I’d just pulled the girl off of Parker when I saw–”

“Wait, she was hitting on him?”

Oz leaned over. “Probably just hitting.” He lifted one corner of his mouth minutely at Buffy. “Based on the aftermath.”

“Right, yeah, there was a little tussle. But going back to Spike, I saw him slipping out the back, trying to escape, so I followed him and…” She realized she was clutching at her hands, and made herself stop it. “We fought, I guess.”

Willow frowned. “You guess?”

“Yeah.” Buffy sank down onto the edge of her bed, facing the other two, the wind suddenly gone from her anxious sails. “I mean, first of all, he was really drunk. I mean, really. Like last year when he kidnapped you, only times about a hundred. And then he kept rambling on about trying to save me from something, which was beyond weird. And then, this is so freaky, but…” She took a breath. “He said he loved me.”

There was silence as Buffy stared into two blank faces. Then Willow whispered to Oz, “Is she joking? Are we supposed to laugh now?”

“Hard to tell,” Oz replied. “On the one hand, it is pretty hilarious. On the other hand, it’s Spike.”

“Sitting right here, guys.”

“I know, I’m just…” Willow gestured helplessly. “So what happened? Did you stake him?”

“No, I…” Buffy looked at them imploringly. “He was crying. It was so pathetic. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.” The way he’d looked at her, the way he’d touched her hair… she’d felt his turmoil like a tangible thing, and it had left her stunned, her body too hot, skin too tight. “And then he started blathering on about some Gem of Amore, and someone called Dawn, and then he just took off. It was so weird. That is weird, right?”

“Legitimately weird,” Oz agreed.

“Did Drusilla dump him again?” Willow asked.

“Days of Our Unlives, the saga continues,” Oz said with a laconic raise of his brow. “Better tell Giles.”

“He’s not into daytime TV. He literally thinks it’ll make his brain melt out of his ears,” Buffy grumbled, but Oz was right, so while the other two smooched at the door saying their goodnights, she left a quick message on Giles’s machine, and just hoped he wouldn’t call her back too early tomorrow.

“Okay,” Willow said slowly once they were alone, sitting back down opposite Buffy. “It seems like a lot happened tonight. I can tell you’re wigged.”

“You noticed, huh?”

“Special best friend superpowers. You wanna talk about it? The parts you left out, I mean.”

“Yeah,” Buffy said gratefully. “Thanks. It was all just so weird. What does he even want?”

Willow looked confused for a moment. “Who?”

“Spike.”

“Oh! Oh, right. Obviously that’s who you’re… concerned with….”

It was annoying that Willow wasn’t keeping up for probably the first time in her life, because the more Buffy thought about it, the more the antsiness was coming back, until she jumped to her feet again and started pacing. “Gah! Why is he here? Hasn’t he had enough spectacular ass-kickings to put him off yet?”

“Maybe he just likes messing with you,” Willow suggested. “You know, get under your skin, distract you, and then–”

“Right,” Buffy scoffed. “Like I’d ever let him get to me like that.”

“Oh, no, of course not,” Willow said soothingly, catching her by the arm as she made another pass and steering her back towards her bed. “But, you know — Spike. Much with the weirdness.” Buffy could only nod in agreement. “So what do you think he wants?”

“A few more kicks to the head, if tonight was anything to go by,” Buffy said, but she could hear her certainty wavering. There had been a moment, when they’d been locked in place holding onto each other’s wrists, when the charged air had seemed to shrink and she’d been sure he was going to kiss her. Try to kiss her, she amended, and refused to think about why that important little word was only just poking its head up now. He hadn’t seemed like he was looking for a fight, although Spike being Spike, he’d certainly enjoyed it once they got going.

“Are you okay?” Willow asked. Second time tonight, Buffy noted grimly. That couldn’t be good. “‘Cause you seem kinda discombobulated.”

“Discom-who-be-whatted?”

“Wigged.”

“Major wiggins,” she agreed. “With a side order of weird. Oh, and did I tell you how freaksome it was?”

She hadn’t even mentioned the time travel thing yet. Of course, she absolutely did not believe it, so there was no point even bringing it up, but — god, her mind was spinning like Dorothy Hamill, and she couldn’t shut it off — there’d been something in his face that had seemed truthful. Sure, Spike was a conniving, murdering, evil bastard, but as evil bastards went, he was pretty transparent. That was how she’d known he’d keep up his end of the deal when they’d taken on Angelus together; how she’d known he really would bring her to Willow last year, and not just her drained corpse. If he was lying, he’d suddenly become much better at it — like, Oscar-worthy better — but how could it be true? How could any of it?

“Buffy?”

“Huh? Oh.” She dredged up a wan smile for Willow. “Sorry, just preoccupied, I guess. Wasn’t exactly the quiet evening with our honeys we were hoping for, was it?”

“When is it ever? But speaking of honeys…” Willow paused a moment, looking like she was going to burst. “When are you going to tell me what happened with Parker?

“Oh god,” Buffy groaned, burying her face in her hands. She felt like she could either deal with Parker, or deal with Spike, but not both. Why did these things always have to clump together like this? Was it some ancient Law of the Slayer? Thou shalt not ever have time to deal with your personal crap before the next crisis hits. She would have to ask Giles. “Wills, it was so–”

“Weird?”

“Buffy’s life, brought to you by the letters W and Eird,” Buffy chirped, and let herself fall back on the bed. “She basically accused him of being a liar and maybe a cheat? That part was sorta implied.”

The bed dipped as Willow came over to join her, lying on her side with her head propped up on her hand. “So what did he say?”

“Not a lot. It seemed like he didn’t really know her all that well, like they were just acquaintances? But she was pretty adamant they’d dated.” Buffy sent Willow a dry look. “And that was when the fists started flying.”

“Well,” Willow said, grinning sympathetically, “that explains what he was doing on the floor when I got back. Though, that could’ve been–”

“I mean, who am I supposed to believe? It’s not like I can have you hack into his college email and find out the answers.” Her eyes slid sideways towards Willow. “Can I?”

“No, Buffy!” Willow said, shocked. Then she looked thoughtful. “Well, maybe if I…” Then she looked stern again. “But that would be against school rules, and you know how I feel about that.”

“You like to live the exciting life of a thrill-seeking rule breaker?” Buffy asked hopefully.

“It’s like you know me,” Willow said, rolling her eyes. “Couldn’t we just, you know, Google him?”

Buffy blinked. “What’s a Google?”

***

Giles listened to the typically-garbled message Buffy had left him, and ran a quick mental translation. (He sometimes considered that learning to translate from Buffy to English had been one of his greatest linguistic triumphs.) ‘Gem of Amore’ surely meant Gem of Amara, but, well, it was like the vampire equivalent of the Holy Grail — much sought after, but ultimately, not real.

He stood thoughtfully for a moment by the phone, trying to remember what he knew about it. A source of enormous power, he recalled, though the texts were always conveniently vague. Many a questing vampire left empty handed. A great deal of activity related to its recovery in the — what was it, again? Giles went to his books on medieval vampire lore and ran his finger along the spines until he found the right one. Ah yes, there it was — the tenth century.

So, no significant activity in a millennium, and now Spike was in town, apparently in its possession. Interesting. Almost certainly not in a good way.

Giles took off his glasses and polished them slowly. Amara, amara… the word was familiar, aside from the current context. What would the etymology be? Conveniently, his collection of translating materials was on the shelf above the medieval manuscripts. ‘Bitter’, he discovered a couple of minutes later, thumbing through his Collins Gem pocket-sized Latin dictionary (coming away from the spine in places, as he’d had it since prep school). Yes, that was right. But hadn’t he seen it somewhere else before, as well? He paused, perusing the titles. Fotherington-Smyth’s Ancient Greek to English, A Definitive Edition. The al-Ahmed Treatises on Sumerian. Ah ha! There it was, Sanskrit for Dummies.

“Immortal?” Giles said aloud, when he found it. “What in heavens would a vampire need a ring of immortality for?” It didn’t seem like something worthy of drawing Spike back into the danger of Buffy’s orbit. And ‘bitter’ sounded like an outright warning. Then again, Spike never had been the sharpest tool in the shed.

“Tool is right,” he muttered to himself as he started taking down more volumes from his shelves. What had the vampire thought he was doing, trying to trick Giles like that, earlier? In fact, it seemed like he had sought out Giles before he’d gone looking for Buffy, a clumsy attempt to use him against his slayer, perhaps? Or perhaps the Gem of Amara needed activating in some way, a spell or a ritual, and Spike had thought Giles would be able to assist him. He shook his head — truly moronic, to come to his door and ask for his help. And passing notes like a highschooler! What an utter twonk.

Though, he had yet to come up with a satisfactory explanation as to how the vampire had got hold of Willow’s handwriting. If it was a spell, Giles had never come across such a thing, but he had heard her in the background of Buffy’s message, alive and well, just as Oz had assured him earlier (those mobile telephones could be useful contraptions now and again, he was forced to admit) and honestly, with it being Spike, he simply hadn’t bothered to apply any further thought to the matter.

He carefully ignored the little twinge of doubt that this might not have been the correct course of action.

In her message, Buffy had related Spike’s claim that the Gem would let him walk in daylight. Giles considered a moment — it had been twilight when Spike had appeared, dark enough to pose no risk of spontaneous combustion, but how had he got here? Maybe there was something to it; it was, at the very least, a place to start.

If only there were some clever system by which he could simply search his books by keyword. Someone should invent something like that — now there was a useful application for (he shuddered) Technology. Picking up the book on the top of the pile, he took it with him to the kitchen to thumb through while the kettle boiled. When it began to whistle, he reached absently for something to mark his place, and slid an empty pink envelope between the book’s pages.

***

Buffy was amazed.

“Wow, Willow, ten pages of results? Way to go with the computer-fu!”

“Buffy, I just typed ‘Parker Abrams Los Angeles’ into the search box. We learned how to do this in literally the first week of computer class.”

“Well, yeah, but that was also the class where there was a demon in the computer trying to kill us. Remember that? I think I am pretty justified in staying away from those infernal….. Oh, god. I just started to say a Giles thing. Am I turning into Giles?”

Willow obligingly gave Buffy a once-over. “Don’t worry, you are most definitely tweed-free.”

Buffy sighed in relief. “Anyhow, I thought we had already figured out our places in the world. You and Giles do the research, Xander brings the donuts, Oz looks enigmatic, and I do the smiting.”

“I can smite, too,” Willow grumbled. “I smite people all the time. Remember? With the pencil? And last night, I–”

“Fine, fine. We can tag-team the smiting sometimes. Just… you do the computer stuff. It’s all fun and games until I get frustrated and click the mouse a little too hard. Those things are expensive. And really, not very sturdy at all.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Willow grinned. “Okay, let’s see what the Google dragged in…”

Several minutes later, they were still feeling none the wiser.

“Vanessa Abrams, president of the school board in Woodland Hills. Anthony Abrams, hair stylist. Gerald Abrams, attorney at law. No Parker, though,” Buffy sighed, as Willow scrolled to the bottom of the third page of search results. “I don’t think we’re going to find anything.”

“I guess not,” Willow agreed. “Maybe you should just ask him, you know? Try the direct approach.”

“The direct approach? With a guy? I don’t know, Will, I think I’d rather face another apocalypse,” Buffy said wryly.

“Oh, now you’ve gone and jinxed us. Apocalypse in three…two…..”

“You think?” She perked up. “Hitting things is so much easier than dating.”

Her mind inexplicably wandered back to Spike. Total distraction technique, she knew, but he was a mystery to solve, and one that would more than likely result in a very satisfying grudge match. A grudge match she intended to win. In fact, right now? She couldn’t think of anything she’d rather do than come out on top of Spike. There was no way Parker could take the kind of pounding she felt the rising need for — if he even deserved it, results were still inconclusive after all — but Spike, he had a face made for punching, and next time she saw him, Buffy was going to take great pleasure in doing just that.

“Yeah, so about that?”

“Yes!” Buffy started guiltily. “Um, what?”

“Hitting things. There’s something I’ve been trying to tell you since I got here.”

“Go on.”

“Well, like I said, I came back from backstage Oz-snuggles to find Parker on the floor by our table and no Buffy in sight, but what I didn’t mention was–” She pulled a face, somewhere between a wince and a sneer, “Harmony was there and–”

Harmony? Dear god, tell me she’s not another ex.”

“I… don’t know? But she was kinda laying into him. With her fists? Only, it’s Harmony, so it was more like a slapfest. I think there was hair pulling. It was ugly. And everyone was just sorta standing around, watching, so I, uh, I intervened.”

Buffy was impressed. “Go Willow!”

“Right, but here’s the thing. I had to use magic. It was actually this cool little spell I read about in– and then I was all pow! and they were all whoosh!— but anyways, the point is, she was really strong. And, you know, pale. And kinda bumpy in the forehead region.”

“Wait,” Buffy said, sitting up straight. “No way.”

“Uh-huh, yes way.”

They shared a moment of silence for the suckage that was getting killed and turned. Even Harmony hadn’t deserved that. Probably. But then the mental images started coming, and Buffy couldn’t contain it any longer.

“Harmony, a vampire?” she sputtered. “She must be dying without a reflection!”

“Oh you should’ve seen her, Buffy. She just made me so mad. ‘My boyfriend’s gonna beat you up,’” Willow mocked. “Hello! I just magically pulled her off of a guy by the scruff of her neck like a naughty puppy.”

“Boyfriend,” Buffy repeated. Oh this was just too good, and way easier than thinking about Parker or Spike.

“Well, if you believe her. She always lied about stuff like that. ‘Oh, he goes to another school, you wouldn’t know him.’ Oz said Devon dated her for a while, but she was too flaky for him.”

“Stop and marvel at the concept,” Buffy snorted, shaking her head. The night might’ve just been worth it after all, for this. “Guy dating Harmony dead,” she laughed. “Must be, like, the most tolerant guy in the world.”

***

It was bloody intolerable, was what.

Spike had known, of course, that all his memories of Dawn had been implanted; he’d learned at basically the same time as she had — had had a go at comforting her, even, which hadn’t been particularly successful, of course, but he’d tried — and gone back to his crypt to paint his nails while he mulled it over. In the end, though, those implanted memories were a warm thing, and after a century loving a mad seer he was no stranger to alternate realities, so he hadn’t really given it a second thought after that. He certainly hadn’t thought at all about it when it came to this insane journey through time.

Dawn didn’t exist. Not yet, at least.

What a bloody mess.

He stumbled back into the mansion — skin still tingling deliciously where Buffy had struck him, though the injuries were already healed — aiming straight for his liquor stash so he could get back in a proper state to process this development, but a few steps in, he was brought up short.

He knew that scent. What the bloody hell had Harmony been doing here?

He mentally rephrased that question. He knew exactly what Harmony had been doing there, because he absolutely knew that scent, and she’d obviously come by for a conjugal visit. That knowledge opened up an entire kettle of wormy follow-up questions, like how on earth had she found them? and had she done that thing she’d learned from her magazine? and, most importantly, did he still have a prisoner?

Much to his surprise, he did.

“So,” he said, regarding himself blearily. “Have a nice evening?”

Chained-up Spike managed to look both smug and put out at the same time. “Better than yours, I most sincerely hope.” He got that faraway look in his eye that Spike recognized as fantasising-mayhem, which he supposed was better than wanking. Not that he objected in theory — it might even be interesting to watch, as he’d no idea what he looked like mid-ecstasy, but suspected he looked damn fine indeed — but just at the moment he had more important things to focus on.

Spike privately thought he wouldn’t trade tonight’s confrontation with the slayer for a thousand shags with Harmony. He sank down onto the couch, rummaging through the liquor bottles to find something fancy enough to match his feelings. For such a miserable dive, Willy’s had quite a remarkable selection; he chose a Scotch almost half as old as he was and uncorked it, inhaling the fumes as an antidote against the lingering, sickening smell of exes past.

It was smooth on his tongue and went straight to his brain, and he savored it all, the floaty out-of-body sensation of his renewed bender, the residual jolts of energy from battle, and most of all… Buffy. He’d touched her hair, breathed her fragrance, heard her voice — god, even furious, it was bloody music — and oh, how they’d fought. It seemed like forever since he’d felt that rush, the joyful magic of trading blows with his arch-enemy, his love, the satisfaction of letting himself go, fists and fangs against the bloody slayer. It had been fucking transcendent.

Something about that was niggling at his brain, though, and he tried to remember. When was the last time he’d felt that? But he’d chosen his poison too well; as he tried to trace back his memories, sweet boozy blackness rolled in like the night, and he sighed and gave himself over to it.

No need for thought. Not when he’d just touched Buffy….

He jolted awake suddenly, eyes feeling like they were going to burst from his sockets. It was later; he didn’t know how long he’d slept, but the sun wasn’t up yet, and he had only vague memories of dreams of blood and sex and tenderness and battle, which had somehow led him to an epiphany.

He’d touched Buffy.

He’d hit Buffy. Multiple times.

And the chip hadn’t gone off once.

How was that even possible? He’d gotten used to it, even taken the pain on deliberately when he’d needed to, to the point where he flinched reflexively in advance of the jolt, but last night when he’d been fighting the slayer, he’d been too drunk to hold back, just reacted on instinct. What could have changed…?

He heard Willow’s voice in his head yet again (bloody witch was worse than Jiminy Cricket, and decidedly less helpful). The spell won’t work if I try to send anything back that didn’t exist then. It would just disappear.

He’d come back to before the chip had been implanted. Possibly before it even existed.

Bloody buggering fuck, was the chip gone?

He fell back on the couch, staring up at the ceiling, pressing the heels of his hands to his temples, as if he could press the truth into his skull. Chip gone. Chip gone. He could fight, he could kill, he could feed…. God, how he wanted to feed! He sat up again with a jolt, the urge to hunt pulling at him. He was at the door before he knew it, mind racing as he calculated how much time he had before dawn, where in Sunnydale he might be able to find someone at this late hour. As his hand touched the doorknob he could almost feel it on his tongue — hot, fresh blood, warm skin against his lips as he drank deep….

Cold skin against his lips as he’d kissed the slayer’s forehead, laid out in his crypt, when nobody was watching.

He shut his eyes against the darkness, but he couldn’t shut out her eyes, cold and dead and accusing. She wouldn’t like it if he went hunting, he knew that, and part of him wanted to do it just because of that, to show her what he was, what she’d forgotten he used to be, but then he remembered her, standing on the steps above him, eyes serious as she entrusted her sister’s future to him.

She’d trusted him.

He wanted… he wanted to be worthy of that.

He stared at his hand, gripping the old-fashioned doorknob like it was his only anchor to reality – which perhaps it was. Cold metal against his cold flesh, everything cold as the grave, everything except the hot hunger that had been threatening to boil over, bloody pressure cooker of bloodlust finally set to explode….

“Going somewhere again, are we? What a busy little bugger you are. Well, if you’re off out, I fancy a bit of takeout.” His own voice echoed behind him, wry and poisonous.

Spike pressed his forehead against the door, turning the doorknob just far enough to hear the latch click — the sound of his freedom — and then he released it, his fingers uncurling one by one, feeling like he was letting something precious fly away.

But in the end, a man had to have priorities.

He turned, glaring at his alter ego, and walked over to his cool box — he’d nicked two, one for each of him — and pulled out a carton of pig’s blood, and drank deep. It tasted bloody awful, of course; it always had. But being able to choose… that tasted sweet indeed.

He might be a monster, but he could choose to be a man.

Though bloody hell, he was going to have to nick some bloody burba weed straight away. He wasn’t a complete masochist.

He crushed the empty carton in his fist, flinging it in the vague direction of the bin, and stolidly turned his back on the door. That was that, then. Time to move on. He rummaged around the corners of the room until he turned up an old pencil — broken, but he could sharpen it with his pocketknife — and salvaged a brown paper bag from the bin. Heaving a deep breath, he sank back into the couch, consciously relaxing into his new world order.

Right then. He was stuck here for two bloody months, during which time he was somehow supposed to make sure nothing bloody changed. This rather required he know what he bloody well wasn’t supposed to change.

Setting his jaw, he started to write.

***

Harmony woke up, her head pounding, and for a moment she thought she was back in high school, that all the vampire stuff had been a dream brought on by one too many illicit drinks at the Bronze, but then she remembered that the vampire stuff was totally real, which was kind of a relief? Though… yeah, she still had a one-too-many-drinks-at-the-Bronze headache. Some things never changed.

It was weird, though. She wasn’t in the lair. Where was she?

She’d beat up the guy — that had been awesome! — and then she and Monica had toasted each other, and then they’d toasted each other again, and Harmony had told Monica everything. Well, not everything. But enough everything to get some sympathy, because Spike’s stupid minions always just rolled their eyes at her when she tried to confide in them about stuff. And then they talked about her behind her back, except right in front of her. They were all so mean.

Monica had listened.

…Oh no! Had Harmony remembered not to eat her?

A quick look around the room confirmed that no, it really wasn’t the lair, and yay! Monica was asleep over there, still breathing, and ooh! that skirt hanging on the closet door was really, really cute. Maybe she’d let Harmony borrow it, now that they were sisters.

She was pretty hungry, though. This not-eating-the-nearest-available-person thing was totally inconvenient. She should have eaten that womanizing jerk last night, then she could have gotten vengeance for her BFF — done women everywhere a favor, even! Like a vigilante…ette, giving all the meanies in the world a taste of justice! — and filled her tummy at the same time.

Stupid Willow. Even at college, she was still a buzzkill. She was just lucky Harmony hadn’t bitten her.

Oh well. Maybe later. In the meantime, Harmony needed a manicure. She’d gotten a few chips when she was being all justice-ey, and unlike some vampires she could mention, she had better taste than to leave them all chipped and gross. Plus, with her enhanced vampire sight, she’d just spotted a bottle of polish on Monica’s dresser that totally matched her favorite corset top. Maybe when Monica woke up, she could do hers, too, and then they could go out for lattes and bond and stuff.

Still, regarding her damaged nails, she couldn’t help but feel a rush of satisfaction. It had felt awesome to let out some of her frustrations on someone who really deserved it. Nobody messed with Harmony’s posse and got away with it.

She hoped she’d left a mark.

***

“Oh my god, Parker!”

Buffy had seen him from behind in the corridor and had been mentally debating whether or not she wanted to duck away when he’d turned his head to say something to one of the guys he was with, and she’d caught sight of his face. His very, very, definitely-more-than-when-she’d-left-him battered face.

“Buffy,” he said, surprised and… relieved? He was all swollen and lumpy, so it was kinda hard to tell, but she thought it looked pretty genuine. “I’m so glad you’re okay! When you didn’t come back last night…”

But maybe it wasn’t genuine? Maybe she was just really bad at reading men, and he was as big of a liar as the stranger-in-the-bar and the even-bigger-and-stranger-liar had warned her.

“Yeah, I had… stuff. To do,” she prevaricated. “You look — I’m sorry, but you look really bad!”

Buffy was momentarily impressed with Harmony for being able to put such a hurt on, before remembering she was a vampire now and by rights Parker should be dead. Clearly, Cordette Number One hadn’t risen with the All-Purpose Vampire Guide to Martial Arts. That made for a change, at least, although if she’d had to pick a vamp who’d go for a bitchslap over a karate chop, it would’ve been Harmony Kendall.

Parker touched the smooth, purplish swelling beneath his eye self-consciously and winced. “Turns out that girl — Molly? — had some friends with her last night. They jumped me as I was leaving. Thank god my friends were there to get me to the ER,” he said earnestly.

Well, that patently wasn’t true, which was most definitely a strike against — and seriously, Parker? He forgot her name again? Guy’s memory was leakier than a colander — but… she could kinda see how he would be bewildered about getting beat on by a girl. Girls. She still remembered how badly she’d bruised Xander’s masculinity in high school, and that had been when she’d been protecting him. And Parker had had it twice in one night. Poor guy probably wasn’t gonna be singing it from the rooftops, especially if he didn’t know one of those girls was a vamp.

Why had Harmony gotten involved, anyway?

“But you made it back for class today,” Buffy said probingly.

“Honestly?” He smiled a little shyly. “I was mostly just hoping to run into you.”

Wait, hadn’t he said he’d been worried about her? So why hadn’t he called? Duh, she hadn’t given him her number yet — she’d kinda liked that he hadn’t just asked right out — he was taking his time to get to know her. Besides, maybe he’d asked around, found someone who’d seen her come home all safe and sound. It wasn’t like she wanted a guy who was constantly checking up on her from a distance. Been there, done that with Angel, and it Hadn’t Worked, so obviously she was in the market for something different.

“That’s… really sweet,” she said, softening.

He shrugged modestly. “So anyway, I heard a rumor about this thing called lunch? Apparently they serve it at the cafeteria. You wanna walk with me?” He chuckled. “At this rate, I might need you to be my bodyguard.”

So Buffy walked with him across the quad in the sunshine — take that, Spike! No embarrassing scenes here, no sir. Time travel, her cutely-clad ass! — talking about class, and their professors, and what movies they’d seen lately, and by the time they’d finished their food, Buffy had started to regain that lovely, floaty feeling of being romanced by a nice guy. Forget weirdly-emotional vampires and their creepy-if-affecting love declarations — this was exactly what she wanted. What she needed.

“Buffy,” he said, just as she was putting her empty soda cup back on her tray and wondering if this had been a date, and if so, was he going to walk her back to her room? And if so, were they finally going to kiss? And if so… “I know it’s short notice, and I know I’m about as attractive as Quasimodo right now, but I’ve really enjoyed hanging out today and I know I’m going to regret it if I don’t ask, so… do you want to come to a party at Wolf House tonight? Um, with me, that is.”

She couldn’t help the warm smile that spread across her face. “Love to.”

Later as she sat in the library completely failing to study, Buffy let her mind drift back over their conversation. He’d asked a lot of questions, about her hobbies and interests and all the things her old teen mags had told her were good to be asked, but it was only now that she noticed — he’d never answered any of them himself. She told herself it meant he was just a good listener, even though she now had the image stuck in her head of a guy going down a checklist.

Like he had an agenda.

***

Spike slouched down on the couch, glaring at his makeshift notes. He’d done his very best, wracked his brain for every iota of information on the happenings in Sunnydale from October to December, 1999.

It was official. He was well and truly buggered.

So far, he’d safely, if not perfectly, made it through Find Gem of Amara. Fight slayer in sunlight he’d underlined three times, because that memory, at least, was Dawn-free, and also, god it had been glorious. He closed his eyes for a moment, remembering, even the muddy conflict of his emotions not dimming the way it had felt to go all-out against her. This time he’d know to appreciate it, not waste a second of the experience.

Yeah, he had to make sure that happened, just give it a different ending. An ending he was under bloody orders to change, he reminded himself defensively.

Go to Los Angeles he’d crossed off decisively — no need, with the ring in his possession — and Torture Angel he’d crossed off reluctantly, because much as he enjoyed watching the looming wanker squirm, it just wasn’t fun enough to warrant the two-hour drive each way. Though he supposed he could give his traitorous subcontractor a ring, suggest Angel had something he wanted; maybe he’d be intrigued enough to go it alone. Ironic vengeance against two twats with one phone.

Unfortunately, there was a hefty chunk of time thereafter when he hadn’t been in Sunnydale, and he only had a vague notion of what had happened: Wee little fear demon. (Dawn had told him about this one, which automatically meant whatever he knew was probably wrong.) Cave Buffy. (That one had always intrigued him, the way Xander’s voice had gotten reverent every time he referenced it.) Wolf-Boy goes to Tibet. (Before or after Willow discovered she was gay? He had no sodding clue. Nobody liked to talk about it, for some reason.)

He’d written down captured by military bastards just so he could scribble it out vehemently, because he was bloody well not spending a minute of his precious two months as a lab rat. Chip he’d written down, crossed out, written down again, crossed out again, and then written a third time, with five question marks. Chip?????

There was a sticking point indeed, because he, Spike of the future, newly chip-free, was not going to walk tamely into the soldier-boys’ tasers and take the chip that was meant for his past self’s head. He should, he supposed, offer up his past self for the chipping — Willow would be adamant about not changing that part of the past — but… bugger. Bugger, bugger, bugger. He just didn’t think he could do it to himself.

He glanced over at his regrettable past, who was pointedly ignoring him, still disgruntled over Spike’s refusal to bring him someone fresh, “preferably wearing red. You know the ones I like.” He’d forgotten what it was like to be… himself. No chip, no muzzle, no inconvenient love….

Problem was, he rather liked his current self. His past self was, to put it mildly, an ass. For the first time, he wondered just who he’d be if the thrice-damned chip hadn’t forced him into a truce with the slayer and her lot. Would he ever have sussed out the real reason he was so obsessed with her bloody fighting technique? Would he have become the Spike who would fling himself into the void on the off-chance it might let Buffy live a few more years? Because if he wouldn’t have, and his past self never did get all chipped up, this entire mission would be dead on arrival.

At the same time, could he do it? Really?

He looked again at his murky mirror. Son-of-a-bitch had taken the bloody knitting and was sitting on it, like king of the bloody hill. No consideration for how Spike might be in need of a little yarn meditation right now. He really was an obnoxious bastard…. Perhaps when the time came, Spike would be sufficiently pissed off to turn on himself. He shrugged, and moved on to the next item.

Thanksgiving. He remembered that well enough — tied to a chair in the watcher’s flat whilst being turned into a pincushion and menaced by a bloody bear. Problem was… Dawn had been there. Been one of the highlights of his evening, how she’d snarked at him all day before sneaking him a little snifter of brandy, apologizing that it wasn’t blood. And then of course she’d shamelessly hidden behind him when the arrows started flying. He’d been secretly delighted by her…. He added a question mark after Thanksgiving? and then wrote down bear just so he could cross it out, because fuck no.

Snogging Buffy could stay though — Willow could get her magical restraining order after that little bit of wonderful wrongness — and he was fairly certain whatever had happened to make them all lose their voices had been externally caused, though of course he hadn’t been in the thick of it, just pottering around all impotent like and getting pummeled by bloody Xander. He wrote down Silent Treatment and tapped his pen against the paper, frustrated. All he remembered after that was Xander’s smelly basement, another thing he’d be just tickled to avoid. Except… was that before the bloody laryngitis? When exactly had he moved out of the watcher’s bathtub and into Xander’s revolting pseudo-flat? And that altercation with the demons, the one where he’d learned he wasn’t completely without options for violence — had that been before or after his Christmas deadline? He couldn’t bloody well remember. The only things he could pin down in time were bloody Thanksgiving — some bloody Thursday, but it would be on the calendar — and Halloween. Everything else had just… happened. At some point.

He sighed and went back down his list, putting question marks after every bloody item, because he couldn’t be certain of a bloody thing, and then he stared down in desperation at his notes. Which were more like a bloody crossword puzzle than any sort of answer.

That was it. That was everything.

He was buggered.

***

“Some party, huh?” Parker said, when Buffy finally found him that night. “Last day in Rome.”

Ooh, references. This was a guy she could proudly call hers. “Better,” she said with a smile. “No old Romans.”

She’d spent ages agonizing over her look for tonight. There may have been some opining from Willow on the general topic of if only she spent that much time and effort studying… to which her response had been a hearty bah! Wills clearly didn’t get it — luring in and then keeping that special someone took work, and she hated to admit it, but the thought of another failure made her feel so lonely. Of course, Oz had basically fallen for Willow at first costume, so it was no surprise she’d forgotten what it was like… and wouldn’t that be nice for a change, to be the one being chased by a cute guy, openly and with intentions laid bare? But the point was, these things took planning. And wondering. And fantasizing. And a significant quantity of Nair. In the end, she’d opted for ‘effortlessly sexy’, with a backless top that was held together by nothing but a few ties, hair in a messy bun with loose tendrils teasing down around her face and bare shoulders. She could tell from Parker’s face that he appreciated the effect.

“You look really pretty tonight,” he said, brown eyes big and deep. Oh, she could happily fall into them. “Not that you don’t always look pretty. Just, tonight, even more so.”

“You don’t look so bad yourself,” she said, running a finger lightly along the edge of his shirt collar. “This shade really brings out your bruises.”

He laughed. “That bad, huh?” Then he sobered, getting pensive. “I wonder if it’ll scar? Kind of ironic. Up until now, all my scars have been psychological.”

“Please, those are the best kind,” Buffy said, trying to lighten the mood. But he didn’t seem to hear her, gazing distractedly off across the room at something she couldn’t see through the forest of bodies.

“So, hey,” he said suddenly, looking back at her without really seeming to see her. “Do you want a drink? I’m going to get us drinks.”

And then he was gone, quick as a flash.

“Oookay,” Buffy said, touching her hair self-consciously while trying to figure out what had just happened. A moment later, the answers stumbled merrily towards her, arm in arm. “Monica!” she said, surprised somehow to see the other girl again, especially with… “And Harmony.”

“Hi, Buffy,” Harmony trilled. “Mon wanted to come over and ask what you’re doing here with that loser. Cute outfit, by the way — last year.”

Buffy rolled her eyes. Unlife clearly hadn’t done anything to improve Harmony’s repartee. And like handkerchief tops were even a thing last year, anyway. They didn’t do a great job of hiding stakes, though. Curse you, stylish but affordable wardrobe. Oh well, it wasn’t like she couldn’t handle Vampire Barbie with her bare hands, if necessary.

“Monica,” she said, totally ignoring Harmony, which was guaranteed to get up her nose more effectively than anything Buffy could say to her. “Thank you for the warning, I appreciate the thought, but I make up my own mind about people. Though, if I can return the favor for a moment, do you know you’re hanging out with a vicious monster who lives only to destroy her innocent victims?”

“Hey!” Harmony was indignant. “Wait. I mean, thanks?”

“Yeah, that’s kind of high praise coming from the slayer,” Monica said, slurring gently. Maybe one day Buffy would run into her sober, but today was not that day.

Also, “Huh?” she said, eloquently. She hadn’t actually meant… Oh, Harmony was so going to get it. If Buffy had to spend all of college living with the same rumors she’d had to put up with in high school, all because of one brainless brassy blonde and her big brassy mouth, Buffy was going to twist Harmony’s head off one inch at a time.

“Oh, yeah,” Monica said genially. “Harmony totally told me everything. She kind of had to explain after the whole lack of reflection thing in my vanity this morning. That took a lot of coffee to get my head around, let me tell you,” she said confidingly. Struck by a sudden thought, Buffy reached out and took Monica’s wrist in her hand. Her pulse beat strongly against Buffy’s fingers. Still alive, then. Huh. She must’ve meant Harmony’s lack of reflection.

“So you’re… willingly hanging out with a vampire,” Buffy said cautiously, testing the waters. In the absence of being dead, Buffy would usually have just assumed Monica was yet another drunk co-ed being led away to her doom. But she had to admit, the picture didn’t quite add up with the whole coming over here to speak to her thing.

“I know! It was a bit of a shock, don’t get me wrong, but you can’t argue with the…” she gestured vaguely at her own forehead, completely missing the point. Buffy adjusted her mouth from English to Drunk.

“Do. You. Know. She’s. Going. To. Eat. You?”

“No, it’s totally fine!” Monica waved her off. “She’s promised to go vegan.”

Buffy stared at the two girls for several seconds, eyes ping-ponging back and forth. “Okay,” she said eventually, “I’ll bite. Vegan?

“Duh,” Harmony said. “Bottled blood? From Willy’s? He gets it from the hospital or whatever. Like, when you think about it — ew — who wants to drink their milk straight from the udder?”

Buffy stared in silent horror, struggling to unsee the awful, awful word-picture.

“I’m even thinking about going into business,” Harmony continued airily. “Bottled blood deliveries for the more disturbing–”

“Discerning,” Monica corrected.

“–vamp. I could make a fortune. Not everyone wants to bathe in their food, you know. It’s total hell on the couture.”

“You can say that again,” Buffy muttered, before shaking herself, because — god. Having things in common with a vamp was surely a sign of an impending apocalypse. She grasped for some normality. “Look, Harmony, it’s my night off. Just for once, I’d really like to get through the evening without something slayer-related causing a scene. So why don’t you leave Monica here and skip off back to your lair or your nest or whatever grunge-infested lodgings you’re holed up in, ‘kay? I’m giving you a pass for tonight.”

“No way,” Monica said, tightening the arm that was draped around Harmony’s shoulders. “You can’t chase off my wingman. We were here first!”

“Yeah, Buffy,” Harmony said petulantly. “You always act so high and mighty just because you’re all chosen, but you don’t know anything. Vamps and humans can totally be besties. I slept all morning in her room and didn’t even bite her once.”

“That’s right!” Monica said defensively. She wagged a finger under Buffy’s nose. “So no staking my girl.”

Buffy floundered for a moment. So many things to explain! One, vampires couldn’t be trusted, even when they promised with their dainty, manicured pinkies (and no, Buffy was not at all eying up that color polish). Two, no vamp ever stuck with bottled blood for long; even Angel had struggled at times, and he had a soul. Three, veganism didn’t even work like that. But in the end, other than tying Monica up and locking her in a room, what was she going to do?

“If she wakes up dead,” Buffy said to Harmony in her most threatening tone of voice. “I’m going to find you, and me and Mr. Pointy are going to make it slow.”

Harmony, who had shrunk back behind Monica, actually yelped, nodding frantically.

“Great. See ya!” Buffy beamed, and turned her back on them. They could make their own bed and sleep in it. Time to go find Parker again.

He was out back this time, hanging out by the makeshift bar with some guys she thought she recognized from last night.

“Hey, you! You never came back,” she said warmly, touching his arm.

“And I proffer this classy beverage in apology,” he said with a wry smile, handing her a Dixie cup. “These guys kept me waiting for the keg, I’m sorry to say.”

Buffy peeped around him, trying to catch an eye with her friendly smile, only to find they were all watching her already like a Greek chorus. Only, being fratboys, a really ogly Greek chorus.

“Are you going to introduce me?” she asked, trying to be polite, but was pretty relieved when he waved her off.

“What, these assholes?” He smiled charmingly. “I have to plead the fifth. You’d judge me unfairly if you knew my friends.”

That… didn’t sound quite right. If they weren’t good guys, why did he hang out with them? It wasn’t like they were in high school anymore. But when she looked up into his eyes, she thought he looked kind of adorably abashed, so she decided to let it go.

“Okay, stay of execution, since this is a first date and all. But I’m warning you now, friends and family are totally second date material.” At his look of consternation, she added, “And third dates are for wedding dress shopping.”

He didn’t laugh. She felt her eyes getting big.

“You know that was a joke, right?”

“Oh, no, yeah. It’s not that, it’s just… my father died last year, and you talking about family reminded me–”

“Oh, god. Parker, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bring it up, that stuff. Bad, bad Buffy.”

He smiled sadly, and gestured for her to walk with him to a quieter spot. “No, I’m okay to talk about it now. I just still feel so sad about it sometimes, because there was, well, a lot of stuff that he didn’t finish. It made me think about, you know, living for now.”

Buffy knew a bit about unfinished business. “I think about that sometimes. I sort of drowned a couple years ago. But I came back. Obviously. But I don’t, I don’t put stuff off anymore. Like you were saying.

“Yeah, I mean, I don’t want to go through life regretting the things I never did. It’s so easy to just give up before you even give something a chance.” He looked away, chuckling. “I declared premed, you know? For him. But I hated it so I switched to history. I still feel guilty about it sometimes.”

“I get that,” she said. “My wa– aah, my mentor guy, Giles, when I was younger, I often felt like he wanted me to be something I wasn’t. It made things really hard for a while. We’re good now, though.”

“That’s great,” he said with big, serious eyes. “I mean, everyone says they get it. ‘Oh man, me too, parents are harsh.’ But how many people really know what it’s like to go against their wishes? It’s cool to find someone else who understands.”

“Yeah, I mean, don’t get me wrong, I still feel guilty sometimes about not being… better. But that’s on me, you know? I know he just wants me to be happy.”

Parker nodded, like he was really taking note of what she was saying. “He sounds like a great guy.”

“Oh, he totally is. You should meet him,” Buffy said, smiling coyly up at him. “I mean, he is kind of my father figure. If we’re going to be dating…”

She let it hang. Parker drank some beer. He let it hang, too.

She felt her smile fading as a distant bell started ringing in her mind. The thing about his father? It’s not true. And he isn’t a history major either, he’s pre-law. He’s just trying to get into your…

“Wait, what did you say your father’s name was?”

“Uh…” he gave her a confused look. “Gerald.”

That sounded familiar. Where had she…? Willow! Google!

“Gerald Abrams?”

“…Right.”

They’d found him on page three, idly clicking through to read his little blurby thing. “Attorney at law, Gerald Abrams?” He’d gotten some kind of fancy humanitarian award, just last month.

“Um, yeah. How did you…?”

“At Blakely, Something and Abrams?”

“Buffy, did you know him?”

Buffy scrutinized Parker a moment. There was something hunted in his face now. He was trying to cover it up, and maybe would’ve succeeded, except she was a hunter, and she knew that expression very, very well.

Crap.

Crap, crap, crap.

But, might as well scrape the barrel, she thought, sighing inwardly. It never hurt to be sure.

“Oh, no, I don’t think so,” she said after a moment. He frowned in confusion, but she broke out Guy Distraction Technique Number One: The Megawatt Smile, and leaned closer. “So, history. Fascinating dates and compelling faces. Kinda dry, isn’t it?”

Parker immediately seemed to regain his balance. “Well, yeah, you might think so. But there’s something amazing about these huge events that, when you dig down into them, they’re just about regular people trying to make choices. When you look back at it, it seems like people were swept up in events they couldn’t control. But I don’t believe that. I believe you have a choice in everything you do.”

That had sounded like… oh god, it had sounded like a line. A well-rehearsed, well-used, smooth as you please line. Which, she suddenly realized, was true of most of their conversation tonight. And earlier today. And for the past week.

Son of a…

Her heart sank as she realized Monica had been right all along. God, Spike had been right, too! That might actually be more sickening than being taken for a ride by Parker Fudgeface Abrams. Spike being right was pretty much a sign of yet another impending apocalypse. (How many was that tonight? Two? Three? Twelve? And if he’d been right about this, then what else…? But she shoved that thought away for later.) It was becoming increasingly clear that the story she’d thought she and Parker had been writing together was not the story he was looking for, not at all. His expectations were… different.

“You really believe that?” Buffy asked, leaning closer still. She reached up and touched the side of his face, running her finger lightly along the edge of his bruises. “You believe all we have to do is… choose?”

“What are you doing?” Parker asked, his voice pitched low and intimate, eyes expectant.

“Making a choice,” Buffy smiled sweetly.

And she turned around and walked away.

 

Chapter 5

Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/591944.html

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