Fic: In For A Penny [5a/?]

This entry is part 8 of 16 of the story In for a Penny

Title: In for a Penny [5a/?]
Authors: the_moonmoth & bewildered/bewilde
Rating: NC-17 (eventually)
Length: ~11,000 words this chapter (yes, yes we do have a problem)
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: Moony would like it noted for the record that this chapter was, like, 75% Bewildered. At least. Three cheers for Bewildered! (For those interested, this is also the chapter that Bewildered was referring to in her end notes to True Blue *snicker snerk*) This is the last of our contributions to this round’s seasonal_spuffy — a big thank you to all of the mods for continuing to make it happen. If you would like to know about future updates to this fic, you can also find it on AO3, EF, or by friending/following this LJ account (there will be a little bit of a hiatus as we get back ahead of ourselves). Now, onwards to the spuffy!

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Chapter 5, part 1

For crying out loud. Couldn’t a well-meaning, legitimate, entrepreneurial businessman get a lousy break once in a while?

It wasn’t enough that that cheap bastard Spike had to come in, already drunk off his ass, demanding all Willy’s finest booze — a collection that had gained him the patronage of the P’shorak tribe, who had given him high marks at the Better Business Bureau — and then telling him to put it on his tab. Sure, he’d said he’d pay it off in two months, but Willy hadn’t run a successful business catering to the demon community for years because he was a schmuck. The chances of his collecting on that tab were nil-bordering-on-zip, even if he started refusing the schmoe service.

It wasn’t even enough that the cheapskate’s trashy moll came in after him, asking where Spike’d got to, like Willy was some kind of personals column with nothing better to do than hook up lonely vampire singles. What did he look like, a matchmaker or something?

No, on top of all of that bullcrap, tonight the freakin’ slayer was here. Also looking for Spike. Jesus H. Tapdancing Christ, couldn’t kids today talk to each other without dragging the poor bartender into it? Wasn’t that what they made those cell phones for?

Man. At least the vamp chick had flashed her tits for the information. Not that the slayer looked like she had much to offer in that particular department, but tits were tits.

Instead, she was showing him her fists. Which, he had to admit, were pretty convincing.

“Look,” he stammered, eyes riveted to her poised knuckles. “I already told you everything I know!”

“I know,” the slayer said cheerily, wriggling her fingers into a more-painful-looking configuration. “But I want you to tell me again. And make sure this time you don’t leave anything out.”

Willy gulped nervously, glancing around the bar. If there was one thing he’d learned as an entrepreneur, it was that the right words in the wrong ear were like stuffing your own business license right into the shredder. But it was a slow night, most of the regulars already in the back room gambling for stakes Willy could say under oath were not legal tender, just a few minion-types hanging in the booths at the back.

“All right,” he gasped. “This is what I know. Little while back, local vamps started dropping hints that there was something big going down. Some kind of… excavation?”

“Go on.” Geez, for such a valley girl she sure could look mean.

“All right. Then, the other day, they said the dig was off. And then the guy you’re looking for, he comes in like he’s the lead singer of the Cure, all emo and crap, and takes off with half my stock. I had to place a special order with my supplier, and believe you me, the kind of Scotch the P’shorak tribe goes for ain’t….”

He stopped talking when she shook him like a freakin’ Polaroid picture. “I don’t care about your supply-and-demand, Willy. Just tell me where he went.”

“Like I said, I didn’t…” Her fist tightened in his shirt, jogging his memory. “Crawford Street. Some of the boys said they’d seen him headed up Crawford Street. Towards that freaky Frank Lloyd Wright mansion.”

The slayer’s eyes closed for a second — thank god, she really had a nasty stink-eye — and then she focused on him again.

“So. Mansion on Crawford Street. This isn’t some kind of setup, is it? Because if it is, you know I’ll be back.” She had a grin like a freakin’ shark. Creepy bitch.

“No!” he said quickly. “No setup! I swear, my double-dealing days are over!”

At least until Spike paid his freakin’ tab.

Slayer narrowed her eyes, then nodded, like she’d seen right through him, and then she turned to go, but… yeah, she’d punch his nose later if he didn’t tell her. Might as well give it all up, make sure she didn’t have any reason to return.

“One last thing, Slayer,” he said before she could leave. “And I’m only mentioning it because I wanna be thorough. Don’t want you coming back claiming Willy gave you partial information, right? But this one’s… a little weird.”

She turned halfway, just far enough he could see her eyes glittering. “I can handle weird. Let me hear it.”

Willy heaved a deep breath. “All right, so one of the boys — nice fellow, always tips — he was walking home from his Thursday night poker game, maybe three, four in the morning? Anyhow, he says that he saw our boy Spike, out for a stroll like? Except Spike, he had a body over his shoulder. And Clem, he’d been drinking up his winnings so I dunno how reliable this last bit is but… the body over Spike’s shoulder? He says it was another Spike.”

The slayer stood there like a statue for a moment, like she was thinking over what he’d said, then gave a short nod.

“Thanks,” she said quietly. “That’s… that’s good to know.” She was almost to the door when she turned around again. “Just out of curiosity, have you been selling blood to a vamp named Harmony? Blonde hair, dumb as a box of rocks?”

“Uh, yeah. She came in a couple hours ago, said she was on a new-fangled diet or something.” He was pretty sure she’d called it a vagina diet, which… well, Willy hadn’t built a successful business from the ground up by being all judgemental about lifestyle choices and stuff. He was a modern guy. Plus, if he played his cards right he might get to take pictures.

The slayer looked kinda confused, but she finally just shrugged. “All right. This info better be good, or I’ll be back for an explanation.”

And then she finally got the hell out of Willy’s place.

He heaved a sigh of relief, watching her go. Man, why hadn’t he opened up his bar in San Diego, like his cousin? San Diego bars didn’t have to deal with the freakin’ slayer.

Sunnydale was the freakin’ armpit of California.

He sighed and got down to polishing up the bar.

***

Buffy walked slowly away from Willy’s Place, the weight of the day making her feet drag. Dumping Parker — or whatever that had been, since he clearly hadn’t considered her his girlfriend — had felt kind of amazing at the time. But afterwards she’d been left aimless and alone on a night when she’d been expecting to party very much not-alone. And it wasn’t like trying to fact-check creepy-love-future-Spike was exactly making her feel any better, but at least it was something to do.

Of course he was holed up in Angel’s mansion. Of course he was. That was exactly what Buffy needed, more reminders of her depressing romantic past while she was dealing with the fact that her first foray into the Brave New World of normal dating had been a complete bust. God, she really knew how to pick ‘em. Maybe what she should do was look around for the last person in the world she would ever want to date, and make a go of it with him, because the people she kept choosing turned out to be the exact opposite of what she was looking for. Maybe in Bizarro World she’d pick out a jerk and he’d turn out to be secretly a really nice guy.

Like that could ever happen.

She knew she should go by the mansion right now, figure out what Spike’s game was, but… ugh. Not tonight. Tonight had been supposed to be her night off; she’d had it all planned out, how she and Parker were going to hang out and talk and maybe smooch and maybe more-than-smooch, and even though those plans had been thoroughly torpedoed, she just didn’t feel up to approaching a huge concrete monument to her regrettable life choices and knocking on the door. Especially not with an incredibly confusing vampire lurking on the other side of said door.

Another incredibly confusing vampire. Because Buffy really knew how to pick arch-enemies too, apparently.

No, what she needed was girl talk and a good night’s sleep. Willow might even be waiting up for her, ready for Buffy to dish some discreet dirt.

And oh, did Buffy have dirt to dish.

***

Spike shoveled aside the last of the dirt he’d hastily piled up to conceal his private excavation from curious eyes. He’d been in a hurry before, of course, getting to the crypt, but now that he was resigned to sticking around awhile, and also had sobered up a little, it had occurred to him that the Amara treasure was a boatload of convenient cash just waiting for him to cart away before someone else got their grubby mitts on it. (In his own past, he’d returned from Los Angeles to find the remaining treasure already gone, probably snatched up by Brian. Or Harmony. Or possibly even Giles — bastard certainly had lived well above his means. In any case, nicked by somebody not Spike.)

Also, it gave Spike something to do while he waited for the sun to come up.

He’d spent hours reviewing his pathetic calendar, trying to come up with a path that would satisfy Willow’s bloody rules while still allowing him to not be chipped, menaced by a bear, or otherwise made miserable, but the fact was, there was only one item on his list that he cared about. His eyes kept getting drawn back to it like bloody mosquitoes to one of those bug-zapping light contraptions.

Fight slayer in sunlight.

He wanted it with a wrenching need that was like acid in his gut, bitter and biting and impossible to ignore. If there was ever a moment in his memory that was the utter antithesis of the slayer lying broken and dead and empty in the thin light of morning, it was the slayer alive and golden and riddled with pain, winning an impossible fight against an invulnerable foe.

For all he knew, he had already mucked up the timeline beyond repair — fighting her in the alley, setting Monica on Parker; perhaps it had been completely buggered since the sodding butterfly. He might still return to a future where he had failed, or not even have a future at all. But he was by god going to have this, even if it was the only good thing he ever had.

He was going to fight Buffy, in the bright sunshine, and it was going to be fucking glorious.

Problem was, he’d come by his epiphany after the sun had set again for the evening. He’d done his best to occupy the time — attempting vainly to sleep, sketching out diagrams of his fight strategy, even trying to trick the other Spike into handing over the knitting so he could do something with his fidgeting fingers — but he’d ended up pacing the garden of the mansion, the scent of jasmine sweet and cloying and redolent of remembered pain. Finally he’d come up with the idea of salvaging the treasure, tucking it away somewhere safe for his future use.

He needed something golden to tide him over until the day.

It didn’t take him long to gather it all up, priceless jewels and gold heaped negligently in a rusty wheelbarrow; he gave the ransacked crypt a final once-over before dropping down through the hole and tucking a tarp over the wheelbarrow’s contents. He wheeled it out of his private tunnel and out towards his lair.

“God, you are such a liar!”

Spike spun around, trying to hide the wheelbarrow with his hands before he belatedly realized that was bloody useless. Harmony was standing there, hands on her hips, glaring at him like he’d broken her favourite unicorn statue. Which he had, of course — bloody thing had had the most disturbing eyes Spike had ever seen, which was saying something after Dru’s dollies — but he’d found a clever hiding place for the pieces that she would never discover. Nobody buried the evidence like Spike.

Bugger, what had she said?

“‘Course I’m a liar, pet,” he replied hastily. “Evil.”

“You and your ‘restrained against your will,’” she continued scornfully. “I knew you could get out of those chains any time you wanted, you big faker.”

“Uh, yeah. Of course I can.”

Harmony craned her neck, peering around Spike. “Are those more chains?”

Spike glanced down, tucking a trailing gold necklace back under the tarp. “Blimey, you caught me.”

She eyed him speculatively. “This must be really important to you,” she said, face thoughtful.

Spike blinked. He hadn’t thought ‘thoughtful’ was part of Harmony’s repertoire. “Yeah,” he said at last. “Really important.”

Harmony’s eyes started to roll, but then she closed them, just for a moment, and when she looked at him again, her eyes were soft and sympathetic. Or at least, looked like they were trying to be. “Well, I guess you are really hot when you’re chained up.”

He was indeed; Spike nodded cautiously.

With the air of a benevolent queen, Harmony gestured in his general direction. “I guess I can play along. Punish you when you’ve been a bad boy.”

Spike pictured the other-him. “Yeah, sometimes I’m a right bastard.”

“You like it, though,” Harmony said seductively, sauntering closer. “When I knock you around.”

The thought of the actual pummeling on his agenda, sunshine and fists and flying golden hair, sent a shiver down Spike’s spine. “Yeah.” God, how many hours did he have left?

Harmony frowned in confusion. “Do you have to be chained up, though? I mean, I can knock you around anywhere.”

“No!” Spike hastily interjected. “The chains are… Well, they’re a necessary part of the experience, aren’t they? Not much fun without them.”

She took another step towards him. “I get it, Spike. I really do. I went through some back issues of Cosmo with my new girlfriend today, and they all said that it was totally okay to indulge in fantasy roleplaying. I mean, they weren’t real specific about the whole help-I’ve-been-kidnapped scenario, but I’m just…” She closed her eyes like she was reciting something from memory. “I’m really honoured you trust me enough to let me into your fantasy world.” Her eyes popped open. “Even if you were a total jerk about it.”

“Well,” Spike shrugged lamely. “I was acting, wasn’t I?”

“You’re a really good actor. I almost let you go, you were so pathetic.”

Bugger. Spike threw himself under the bus. “That’s the most important part, though. That you never set me free. No matter how much I beg and plead and swear.” Mostly swear, if he knew himself. Which he did. Actually, it was rather delicious imagining his past self’s rage. Serve him right for being such a selfish twat about the knitting.

“Really?” She frowned. “But what if you really do want to get out of the chains? Like, maybe you swallowed the key on accident. ‘Cause, if you were a human, you’d eventually poop it out, which is gross, ew, but since you’re a vampire…”

“Tell you what, love,” Spike interrupted, grinning with anticipation. “Why don’t we just arrange a password, right now. If I say the password, you’ll know that I’m actually in trouble, and if I don’t, you’ll know that I’m just acting.”

“Oooh!” Harmony squealed. “That sounds fun! Like kinky secret agents or something. So, what’s the password?”

There was only one thing Spike could think of that he would never have said in 1999. Something nobody would have said, because… you never talked about what didn’t exist at all.

“Dawn Summers.”

Harmony crossed her arms. “Really. We’re being kinky secret agents, and you want our password to be a brand-name douche?”

Spike rolled his eyes. “That’s Summer’s Eve, Harm.”

“Oh. Right. Well, it’s still weird.”

He growled in frustration. “Look, Harmony. I’ve still got all these… chains to haul before the sun comes up. Next time I feel like playing damsel in distress, you’ll be able to tell by how chained up I am. Mind buggering off so I can get back to work now?”

“Whatever,” Harmony huffed. “God, it would serve you right if I made you wait a week before I find you next time.” She flounced off down the tunnel and was gone.

“You do that,” Spike muttered, taking up the handles of the wheelbarrow again and heading off to the tunnel entrance where he’d left the DeSoto.

***

“Wakey, wakey sleepy-head!”

“Oh god,” Buffy groaned. It was way too early in the morning for that amount of chipper from Willow. Also, “I don’t have class this morning, why are you torturing me?”

“Hey, be thankful it’s just torture! Gotta be better than soul-stealing. Not that I’m seeing much difference right now, you big grump. Here, I brought you coffee.” She thrust an extra-large vanilla iced latte at Buffy. “Giles called. He’s found something.”

And of course, Giles being Giles, he couldn’t just tell them what it was over the phone. Oh well, at least Xander and Oz were coming too — misery loved company, but more importantly, there’d be donuts.

Showered, blow-dried and dressed, the two of them walked over in the fall sunshine. Willow had been asleep after all when she’d got in last night, so Buffy spent the time productively, getting her all caught up.

“So his ex was right about him after all,” Willow said darkly. “That worm. I know a spell — you just say the word, Buffy, and he’ll never get lucky again.”

“Thanks, Wills.” Her friend’s outrage was more gratifying than Buffy wanted to admit. Maybe Willow could be forgiven for her incurable morning perkiness after all. “So anyway, after I left him in the dust, I went on patrol and kinda ended up at Willy’s.”

“Uh huh.” Willow nodded encouragingly. Then she caught Buffy’s look. “Oh. Oh. The other thing.”

“Yeah, the other thing,” Buffy muttered.

“You were knocking ‘em down like dominoes last night, huh?” Willow grinned. Buffy forced a smile in return. “So did he have anything for you?”

“Not much,” she sighed. “Just rumors, mostly. There was one thing…” She trailed off, eyeing Willow and wondering if the time travel thing was worth mentioning now, but, well, she couldn’t think about it without her mind returning to that alley behind the Bronze where she’d fought Spike and he hadn’t even tried to bite her, not once, and instead had looked at her with those eyes and… Willow was giving her an expectant look, but before she could decide whether or not to spill, she realized they’d arrived.

It couldn’t possibly be that important, she told herself. It could definitely wait.

“Ah, Buffy, Willow, good,” Giles said, when he opened the door. “We’ve been waiting.”

“Believe me, you wanted to wait for me to shower off last night’s exploits,” Buffy told him.

“Really,” he said, in that way that was both non-committal but also sorta judgey. It was pretty galling that whatever he was imagining was probably way more exciting than the vampire dust she’d been talking about. (Not to mention the weird, whirly, confusing thoughts about one vampire in particular that she’d needed to send down the drain along with everything else.)

“I just meant–” Ugh, whatever. It wasn’t like she hadn’t been jonesing for a little extra-curricular fun at the start of the evening, and she was not gonna feel bad about that, even if her intended study buddy hadn’t been up to snuff in the end. “You know what? I’m an adult now and it’s none of your business what I do.”

“I’m sincerely relieved to hear that,” Giles said. “Now, can we discuss the impending disaster?”

There was tea — of course — and more coffee — freshly brewed, thank god — and the menfolk had indeed brought donuts — yay motorized transport! Xander seemed unusually quiet — also kind of glassy-eyed and distant-looking — but she just put it down to the early start. Appropriately caffeinated and en-sugared, Buffy sat down in Giles’s tiny living room, ready to listen.

“So, Giles, Willow said you found something?” Oz started.

“Yes, a text. It refers to the Gem of Amara as residing in the valley of the sun.”

Willow said, “That sounds like demon fancy talk for…”

“Sunnydale, yes.” Giles nodded. “It seems the Gem may indeed exist, and is buried somewhere nearby, perhaps in a sealed underground crypt or cave. Or was buried, if we are to believe Spike.”

“Do we?” Xander asked, visibly shaking himself out of his catatonia. “Believe Spike?”

All eyes turned to the resident expert on Spike. Oh right, that was her. Ugh.

“I don’t know.” Buffy shrugged. “I didn’t get a lying vibe from him, and he did have a ring I haven’t seen before… Guess we won’t know for sure until he shows up in the middle of the day,” she joked lamely.

“The idea of your most persistent enemy being able to walk around in the sun is… disturbing, to say the least,” Giles said. “Not to mention this, uh, ring, you said? Might confer other abilities.”

Of course. Of course it did. Knowing her luck, it’d confer the ability to be an annoying pain in her butt. Not that Spike needed any help with that.

“Such as?” she asked warily.

“Well, if I’m interpreting correctly, he could become unkillable while wearing the Gem.” Giles’s eyes became distant for a moment, then he made a tutting sound and muttered, “I knew my aim wasn’t off.”

“Something I don’t get,” Oz said. “If he’s had the ring all this time… why is Buffy still alive?”

“Thanks,” Buffy muttered drily. Oz just raised an eyebrow. She supposed she had to concede he had a point, even if she was pretty confident she could take Spike regardless. How hard could it be to slip a ring off his finger mid-fight? And besides, there was the weird non-bitey thing going on — if he kept that up, she had no qualms about using it to her advantage the next time she saw him. Strangely emotion-filled eyes aside, she hadn’t forgotten that they were enemies.

His voice suddenly filled her mind, still uneven from the tears he’d shed before, We’re friends, Slayer. Fight the good fight together, hang out all the bloody time. She snorted to herself. As if!

“Maybe you should tell them about the other stuff,” Willow prodded, bringing her back to the present.

“What other stuff?” Xander asked around a mouthful of jelly donut.

Buffy hesitated a moment. She’d been hoping to keep that part to herself, or at least to just her and Willow, but there was no getting out of it now. She tried to be annoyed with Willow, but the others probably did kinda need to know. Some of it, at least..

“When we fought, Spike was, well, he was really drunk and acting kinda like…he didn’t want to fight me? Mostly he just yelled at me, and told me I was ungrateful.” She decided judiciously to leave out all the crying. Probably not relevant; most definitely wigsome to think about.

“Interesting,” Giles said, eyes getting that foggy look again, before he snapped back. “Did he say what for?”

“Um…” God, this was awkward. Why was it always her who had to live out her bad romantic decisions in front of the whole gang? “See, there was this guy I was kind of dating — or, I thought we were dating.” She stared at her hands. “Only it turns out we weren’t because he just wanted me for — I mean — um.” She dared to glance up from under her lashes. “But I totally broke it off with him before — that.” Giles was blushing way worse than she was, that had to be a win. “Like he didn’t even get to first base, so really, it’s all good. Except not good good, because he’s a total jackass, but at least I didn’t…” Oh god, oh god, mouth moving, words coming out. She wracked her brains desperately for the point. “Spike! Spike was there when I was talking to him — Parker, I mean — and he’s, well, he’s kinda the one who warned me about him.”

She looked around. The faces staring back at her were varying shades of confused.

“Spike… warned you that your boyfriend was a, a cad?” Giles took his glasses off and began to polish them.

“I guess?” Buffy wasn’t one hundred percent sure what a cad was, but it seemed about right. “And I absolutely did not believe him at first, but it turns out… he was right.”

Giles squinted blindly into the middle distance. “And you’re sure he didn’t somehow set this up?”

“I don’t see how,” Buffy sighed. “I’d been seeing Parker for over a week, and when I spoke to Willy last night, he said Spike only got into town a couple days ago.”

“That is peculiar.”

“There’s more,” Willow said oh-so-helpfully, giving Buffy an encouraging look.

Buffy wasn’t sure she could say it, though. Not this. The other stuff was embarrassing, sure, but this? At first it had just seemed funny, in an oh-my-god-isn’t-Spike-a-freak? way. But now, a day later? She wasn’t sure she had words for that odd, wriggly, confusing feeling in the pit of her stomach whenever she thought about it. Which had been hardly at all, of course, but, well, it wasn’t like she could just pause her brain.

She surveyed her audience with apprehension. Xander stuffed his mouth with another donut, a look of dread and anticipation on his bulging face. Giles put his glasses back on and gave her a concerned frown. Oz blinked.

“He… he said he loved me!” Buffy blurted.

Xander sprayed powdered sugar all over his pants. Giles took his glasses off again.

“That’s an unexpected twist,” Oz observed mildly.

Xander looked delighted. “I can’t decide if it’s funny or… No wait, it’s definitely funny!”

“Hey, it’s not nice to laugh at someone just because they have feelings for someone else who might not return them,” Willow said, giving him a stern look.

“Wills, he’s a vampire, it’s not like they’re real feelings.”

“Let me get this straight,” Giles said, rising to his feet, glasses still in hand. “You think that Spike didn’t try to kill you when you fought in the alley because… he’s in love with you?”

Buffy just sort of gaped at them all like a big beached fish, and prayed it was a rhetorical question. Because how on earth was she supposed to answer that? Yes meant that she believed what Spike’d said, which, no, it was just too weird. But no meant coming up with an alternate explanation, and she had nothing. Just… there had been something about that look in his eyes, something shivery and tingly and… yeah, confusing. It was really, really confusing.

Luckily, Willow stepped in again. “Xander’s right, maybe he only thinks he is? He did take his break up with Drusilla pretty badly. Maybe some wires got all crossed up in his brain?”

“That’s messed up, even for Spike,” Xander said, sobering suddenly. “I mean, vampire, slayer. Slayer, vampire. Mystical enemies of the yin and yang variety. This is… this is not good!”

“Actually, yin and yang are complements, not–” Oz started to say, but was cut off by Giles.

“I feel it behooves me to mention that I have also had a visit from Spike.”

“Don’t tell me,” Xander said. “He’s in love with the G-man, too.”

Giles spluttered a bit. “Do shut up, Xander. In fact, he came here claiming to want my help.” He paused a moment before continuing. “Or possibly to offer me his help, I’m a little unclear on that. As with Buffy’s encounter, he did appear to be rather off his face.”

Buffy frowned in confusion. Spike’s face had seemed fine to her. Better than fine. A little less bruisey than it usually got after the punching and stuff, but still… on.

Giles caught her eye and sighed. “Drunk,” he amended, with the air of a kindergarten teacher struggling to teach the letter A.

“Oh, right. Obviously.”

“Seriously,” Xander said suddenly, eyes slightly unfocused. “Evil demons just–” he gesticulated wildly– “showing up at your door, like you owe them something, and then okay, yeah, you give them what they say they want, and it goes pretty okay, really awesome in fact, except then they get all mad at you because maybe they wanted something else, which is so not fair because you asked them to explain it at least ten times before you even said yes, and then they go away all huffy, and it’s like, what just happened here? Am I crazy?”

Buffy sent up a quick prayer to whatever deity was in charge of Xander’s mouth and weird mood-swings because finally, for the first time since she’d arrived, everybody was staring silently at someone not her.

He blinked, suddenly aware he was the focus of attention. “What?”

“Never mind,” Giles sighed. “Might I suggest, since Spike is unlikely to drop by and answer our questions any time soon, that we commence research?”

Books. Books sounded good to Buffy.

Well, okay. Not good. But better than continuing to publicly dissect and discuss her dead-on-arrival love-life and perplexing hate-life and all the embarrassing details thereof. Books were all texty and solid and not confusing at all.

Or at least not as confusing as Spike.

“So what do you think we should focus on?” Willow asked as the others reluctantly passed around what Buffy assumed was the relevant part of Giles’s personal library. “I guess the location of the crypt isn’t so important, since we think Spike’s already got the Gem. Right?”

“Yes, I agree,” Giles said. Our priority must be pinning down exactly what powers the Gem confers to Spike. Here, Willow, you take this one, since it’s in Latin.”

She practically glowed with pride as he gave her (Buffy chanced a look, and immediately regretted it) Annales of the Watchyrs Counsil, 1201-1250. She knew WIllow had been learning Latin in her free time, but that looked hardcore, even for her — thick and kinda creaky, and was that a pink post-it note? She raised her eyebrows at the very un-Gilesy page marker.

“Hey, what’s this?” Willow asked, noticing it too. “I recognize this…”

Xander, who seemed about as keen on the research as Buffy did — as in, not very — leaned over to scrutinize the slip of paper Willow had pulled out from between two ancient, crackly pages. “Isn’t that…?”

“I think it is!”

“What?” Buffy was now craning to see. Huh. “It’s a Hello Kitty envelope,” she said, nonplussed. “Giles, why do you have Hello Kitty stationery in your dusty old books? Did you turn into a twelve-year-old when we weren’t looking?”

All eyes turned to him. “Well,” he shuffled about uncomfortably for a moment, but the glasses stayed on. She didn’t know if that was a bad sign or not. Then he got a funny look on his face, and said, “Perhaps Willow would like to explain.”

All eyes swung obediently back to Willow.

“M-me? I don’t…” she stammered. “It looks like the stationery set Xander gave me in junior year, but… I never used it.”

“Well, at least that makes one of you who doesn’t want to use my goods and wares,” Xander said, looking way more hurt than the situation warranted.

“I’m sorry, I’m just not a fan of fuschia pink! It reminds me too much of Harmony.”

Buffy raised her eyebrows at that, because Willow wore it all the time, but now didn’t seem the time to point that out. Across the room, she caught Oz’s eye, and knew somehow by the twitch of his mouth that they were thinking the same thoughts. Don’t interfere, she tried to convey to him. She thought the wry lifting of one eyebrow was his version of How stupid do you think I am?

“Anyway,” Willow continued, tempting Xander to perilous waters, “one of who?”

“Huh?”

“You said, ‘that makes one of you who doesn’t want me for my goods and wares.’ So, one of who?”

“Well, I–”

Obviously sensing the danger, Giles cleared his throat pointedly. “If I can redirect you to the matter at hand,” he said, “you will note that there is something written on the other side.”

Willow turned the envelope over and blinked. “That… that looks like my handwriting.” She paused. “And my favourite purple gel pen! I bought a whole pack of them. You know, for highlighting key points.”

“Ah, I remember it well,” Buffy said. “You always ended up underlining every other word, so in the end you just started writing in purple.”

“Good times,” Oz said, nodding.

“But… how did my handwriting, on my stationery, in my gel pen, end up in one of Giles’s books?”

“Yes, that was rather the question I was asking,” Giles said wearily.

“You didn’t ask a question,” Buffy pointed out.

“I most certainly did.”

“Nuh-uh. You were all ‘perhaps Willow can explain’ and then you made us figure out what the question was, like Jeopardy. Except without the cash prize.”

“Uh, so what’s the question again?” Xander asked nervously.

Willow waved the envelope in the air. “I didn’t write this. At least, I don’t think I wrote this. Unless I wrote this some time that I don’t remember. Is that possible? Do people sleep-write or something?”

Giles sighed, looking smug. “I thought as much. Just some trickery…”

Buffy snagged the envelope, looking at it more closely. It really was Willow’s handwriting, down to the shy little loops she always put on her s’es. “Giles, where did you get this?” she interrupted.

“Oooh!” Willow said excitedly. “Was it vampire-me? Because, you know, I can really see vampire-me going for fuchsia…”

Giles did remove his glasses again this time, harrumphing a little before he got to the point. “Spike… Spike gave it to me. When he came to my door. I believe it was shortly before you came across him in the Bronze, Buffy.”

Huh. He’d gone to Giles’s first? Why?

“He gave you an envelope?” she prodded.

“He said it was from Willow,” Giles shrugged. “Of course, I knew it was balderdash from the very start. At first I thought perhaps he’d, well, captured Willow, perhaps in some cunning scheme to get his hands on you, but needless to say when I spoke to Oz later, he confirmed…”

“The envelope doesn’t look balderdashy,” Willow frowned. “All it says is ‘Mr. Giles.’”

“There, there was… a letter.” Giles fell silent, regarding his glasses with great intensity.

“And?” Buffy prompted. “What did the letter say?”

With a final sigh, like he was facing the firing squad, Giles replaced his glasses and looked Buffy in the eye. “I burned it.”

“Okay, then you can just give me the Cliffs Notes version.” Thank god, that purple gel pen was really hard to read even when it wasn’t on radioactive paper.

“Well, I didn’t exactly… I’m not certain….” He shrugged. “I didn’t precisely, er, read it before I burned it.”

“You burned a letter… from me?” Willow asked, eyes big and wounded. “Without reading it?”

“You said you didn’t write it, Will,” Oz reminded her.

“Yes, but… it was my handwriting, and he burned it! You did know it was my handwriting, didn’t you?”

Giles looked uncomfortable. “Well…”

Xander heaved a commiserating sigh. “Giles, do you know nothing of the fairer sex?” Off Buffy’s look, Xander shrugged defensively. “For the record, every member of the fairer sex I am personally acquainted with could kick my pasty ass. I am wise enough not to tempt fate.”

“Even if it was from vampire-me, it could have been something important,” Willow went on, lower lip protruding dangerously.

Buffy took a deep breath, starting to feel sorry for Giles. “No, I get it. Consider the source here. I would’ve burned first and asked questions later, too. Or, well, staked first. I’ve been trying to cut back on burning things down, after that whole gym thing.” Except, of course, she hadn’t staked first. She’d just stood there while he got all up in her personal space, and let him touch her hair. Thankfully, though, no one pointed that out.

“I did shoot him with my crossbow,” Giles muttered. “Twice.”

They all took a moment to absorb the occasional badassery that was Giles.

“Sometimes you’re scarier than Buffy,” Oz said, in as close to tones of awe as he got.

“Yes, well.” Giles looked a little flustered at the praise (at least, Buffy took it as praise). “The question remains, what was in it? I confess I am starting to wonder if, hm, if it might have been important.”

Willow was still in a pit of wounded indignation. “What if it came from another dimension, or, or the future?” she said.

And Buffy sat up so straight it was like an electric shock had seized her spine.

“What did you say?”

“What if some future-me wrote that letter and used a spell to send it back in time?”

“Could that happen?” Oz asked, frowning at Giles.

“I suppose it could,” Giles said slowly, “but the magic involved… it would take a terribly powerful witch to enact it.”

“I’m studying,” Willow said in a small but slightly aggrieved voice.

“It’s not a question of study,” Giles said, exasperation starting to tinge his voice. “It would take immense natural talent to draw on those kinds of forces.”

Willow opened her mouth again to protest, but Buffy beat her to it.

“Willow’s right,” Buffy said. “I mean, not about the, the spell, I don’t know anything about that, but, uh…” she swallowed — crunch time. “Spike did tell me he was from the future.”

Silence.

Then, Giles sat down. “You might have mentioned this earlier, Buffy,” he said quietly. She fought the urge to curl up into a ball at his chiding tone of disappointment.

“I didn’t believe him!” she said defensively. “He was drunk and, and delusional. How was I supposed to know that was the thing I was supposed to listen to?” Instead of the strangely seductive rumble of his voice as it cracked with emotion for her, all for her. “Besides, it’s not like you mentioned this thing about the letter earlier.”

Giles rubbed his forehead. “Frankly, it simply didn’t occur to me that Spike could have been telling the truth.”

“Well,” Buffy said, mollified. “Ditto. So… while we’re, you know, having confession time, there’s something else Willy told me.”

“Something else,” Giles muttered. “Oh good.

“Yep. Apparently, one of his regulars saw Spike out and about a few nights ago with a body over his shoulder, and the guy said he thought it was another Spike.”

“Spike… was carrying another Spike?” Xander said. “You kind of have to marvel at the sheer concentrated evil. Shame they didn’t explode on contact.”

“Yes, well, this is the real world, Xander, not bloody Star Trek,” Giles said. He was starting to sound a little ropey — when the bloodies came out, it was never a good sign.

“Star Trek?” Xander scoffed. “You uncultured swine! It was–”

Buffy rushed to cut off the nerdboy ranting. “So are we thinking time travel now?” She looked around the whole gang, expressions ranging from bewildered to bemused to just plain confused.

“Solid maybe,” Oz said, nodding.

And with that, by silent agreement, the meeting broke up.

***

What could possibly have been in that letter?

Buffy walked across the quad, barely hearing the chatter of her fellow students as she pondered. If Spike had been giving a letter to her, she would pretty much have expected it to have… well, the same things he’d said to her in the alley, except maybe a little more with the cool and a little less with the pathetic. Something like “Slayer, I am from the future. Do as I say if you want to save the world.” But he hadn’t given a letter to her, he’d given it to Giles.

Not to mention… Willow. Didn’t maybe-future-Willow trust her?  None of it made any sense. She was the slayer. If there was important world-saveage intel to be shared, shouldn’t it come through her first? Then she could delegate the boring research and take decisive action. That was how they worked, right?

And what she really couldn’t wrap her brain around was… why Spike?

No, it had to be some lame-o plan. Something with exactly three steps, because Spike was just not a planner and that was literally all he could handle. He was smart, sure — especially at thinking on his feet — but he didn’t exactly play three-dimensional chess. As far as she could imagine, his plan would probably consist of: One, give letter to Giles. Two, something? Three, Buffy dead.

Or three, Buffy alive? She was still a little fuzzy on that, but it didn’t exactly seem possible. Spike hated her, just as much as… But the letter had come from Willow, who didn’t hate her… Hopefully… And this Spike actually kinda maybe didn’t hate her so much, either, what with the I love you’s….

She was so lost in her own thoughts that she was almost on top of the couple schmoozing on the park bench before she realized that the man was Parker, clearly hitting up a girl she’d never seen before. She stopped in her tracks, just out of his line of vision, not sure of the proper etiquette for approaching a brand-name douche who’d been trying to get into your pants while he was trying to get into his probable-next-target’s pants.

But then she heard what he was saying, and etiquette flew out the window.

“…Yeah, it’s kind of hard to learn to trust again, after something like this happens. I mean, when you spend so much time with someone, you don’t expect them to just walk away like that.”

“Does it hurt much?” The new girl reached up to stroke at the curve of Parker’s black eye.

“Only when I smile,” he said charmingly. “So… a lot, when I’m hanging out with you.”

Buffy stood in the shadow of the trees, awkwardness swiftly turning into impotent fury as she listened, but when he started to talk about his father — who had apparently died yet again, overnight — she set her jaw and hurried forward.

“Parker!” she warbled, running to his side and setting her hand to his cheek. “Oh my god, how is your eye doing? Did the ice help at all?”

“Buffy!” he choked, glancing furtively at his new flirt.

“Wow,” Buffy went on, taking his face and turning it for a better view. “Hard to believe a girl did this to you. She must have been pretty mad.”

“A girl? I thought it was a couple of big guys…?”

“Buffy, have you met Allison?” Parker interrupted, voice ingratiating.

“Good thing your dad’s a lawyer,” Buffy said reassuringly, giving his cheek a final pat — one that could even be interpreted as a slap. “Has he had any luck tracking down the girl yet? I mean, I’m sure you have a really good case against her, since she was just a crazy stalker.”

Allison’s eyes narrowed. “His father–”

“–Is just a partner in one of the biggest firms in Los Angeles! Of course he’ll be able to get justice against that delusional girl who thought you were dating just because you slept together after a week of hanging out and talking and sharing personal stories.” Buffy gave Allison a knowing look. “Some people!”

“…Yeah,” Allison said slowly. “Some people.”

“Anyhow!” Buffy stepped back, favoring Parker with a brilliant smile. “Good luck! I hope you get what you deserve. I really do.” Maybe Harmony would give up being “vegan” for a night and eat him, after all. A girl could dream. “See you in class?”

Parker nodded, his eyes wide with either confusion or fear. Possibly a little of both.

Buffy sauntered off around the corner, sagging against a tree when she was finally out of sight again. She could hear Allison’s voice, curt and dismissive, and Parker, defensive and a bit desperate, and she wanted to laugh and cry at the same time, because it felt good, cathartic, shining a bit of light on a creep and his machinations, but at the same time… god, she wished it had been something real. Was it really too much to ask for someone who truly wanted her, who saw her, who’d walk through the fire to get to her and treasure her after? Why were so many guys such–

“Well, that was bloody inspirational,” Spike purred, stepping out into the sunlight before her.

damn.

 

Chapter 5, part 2

Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/592967.html

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