In For A Penny – Chapter 8b

This entry is part 11 of 16 of the story In for a Penny

Title: In for a Penny [8b/?]
Authors: the_moonmoth & bewildered/bewilde
Rating: NC-17
Length: ~8,400 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.

Chapter 8, part 2

Buffy knew she had to take back control of the situation, that she couldn’t spend the evening off-balance and flying blind, but — well, she was off-balance, staggered by the acceptance that Spike apparently considered her future-self’s decree a good enough reason to switch sides in the grand cosmic good-versus-evil scheme of things. Staggered, if she was being honest, that any feelings he could have for her, even if they weren’t really real love, could be strong enough to lead him to such a complete one-eighty. And so she ate her spinach dip, and sipped her tasty-bitey-lime drink, and thought, and when her mouth finally opened again, it wasn’t to accuse or demand or threaten, which surprised even her.

“What’s it like?”

“What’s what like? The wings? You can have a few if you want, Slay-”

“No, what’s it like… not having a soul?”

Spike looked at her silently for long enough that she felt uncomfortable.

“I mean,” she awkwardly continued, “you were human once, right? And you… do you remember what it was like to be human? All soul-having and everything? Because now your soul is one-hundred-percent gone, so… what’s it like? What’s the difference?”

“You feeling all right, Slayer?” Spike asked, shaking his head. “Thought you knew everything there was to know about souls, the way you go on.”

“Well, souls are this thing that we always talk about like we know, like everybody knows, except we don’t really know, you know?”

Spike tilted his head in acknowledgment. “Have to say, I never thought about it. Just been living it.” His eyes narrowed thoughtfully. “What brings all this up?”

Buffy toyed with her little straw — was she supposed to drink through that? She hadn’t ever gotten a mixed drink before — and sighed. Seemed like Buffy-on-mixed-drinks had more on her mind that Buffy-on-Diet-Coke had realized. “There was a thing.”

“A thing. Well, that is ever so intelligible, thank you.”

“A thing where… A thing where I lost my soul.” At Spike’s sudden arrested look, she hastened to clarify. “Not for good, and not… not all of it. But probably more than half?”

“Uh-huh.” He picked up one of his buffalo wings and regarded it thoughtfully. “And did you rampage madly among the helpless citizens of Sunnydale? Would have liked to have been there to witness that.”

“No! There wasn’t any rampaging at all.”

“Pity.” He grinned wickedly.

“Well, unless you count a little bit of head bashing.” Then she glared. “Not really helping your good-guy cred here.”

His grin just got wider and he nipped the meat off his chicken wing with neat, precise bites of his white teeth, licking his fingers meditatively. “So,” he said finally — for some reason Buffy hadn’t been able to say anything while he was putting on his buffalo-wing-burlesque show — “how did it feel?”

“Well, that was the weird thing. It didn’t feel all that different.” She frowned at her half-empty plate of pita chips. “I mean, I was a little more violent and cranky, but I didn’t start nailing people’s pets to their doors or anything. I still tried to fight evil. I still loved my friends. Or, I think I did.”

Spike made a face like he’d just tasted something bitter, but took a long moment before speaking again, words far more measured than she’d been expecting, from his expression. “And you shouldn’t have been able to do either without a soul?”

“Well, I guess… I mean, I wondered…” she twiddled her straw uncomfortably. “The fighting evil could’ve just been a vendetta, right? Because that demon chick was a total bitca. Maybe I just wanted to take her down because she pissed me off. And as for the rest…” she glanced up at Spike, feeling hesitant and weirdly guilty. “I was always told that vamps couldn’t feel. That once they were turned, the soul left, and took all the real emotions with it. And my soul was leaving, too, so… maybe what I felt wasn’t real, either.”

A muscle in Spike’s jaw twitched and his eyes flashed darkly, and for a moment she worried he was going to vamp out right there in the middle of the pub. He didn’t, though. Instead he looked up at the grimy ceiling and took a deep breath, like he was praying for patience, before meeting her eyes again.

“All right,” he said. “Let’s make this real simple. You think you still loved your friends? Why’d you think that?”

“I… I felt it. I still wanted to protect them. I think I… wanted to prove to them I was right about Cathy, so that they’d know I wasn’t nuts. Because I still wanted them to like me. I mean, they were being total poop-heads, but I didn’t want to hurt them for it.” She had hurt Xander and Oz, but she hadn’t wanted to.

“So you thought you were in love, you acted like you were in love, but you’re worried it wasn’t real love. That about sum it up?” Spike’s voice was low but incredibly heated, his face full of restrained fury and hurt. This meant more to him than just their current conversation, she could tell, and so she didn’t bother to correct the ‘in love’ part, and just nodded, fighting the absurd urge to shrink away from him. “What’s the difference, then?” he asked. “If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, what’s the sodding difference?”

She stared at him blankly. “Huh?” Where did the ducks fly in from?

“My point, Slayer,” he said through gritted teeth, “is how do you define ‘real’? If a feeling comes from somewhere deeper than your soul, suddenly it’s worth less? Even though, any angle you look at it from, it’s the same bloody thing? If everything you think and everything you do lines up with a person who’s in love…” his voice cracked as he spoke, venom bleeding away until he just looked heartbroken. “What bloody difference does it make?”

Buffy stared. Even as she felt herself flushing, she couldn’t take her eyes off him. Her mind buzzed with what he’d been saying, but his face filled her world. The look on his face…

“I just feel like, without my soul, I should have been more… evil,” she whispered.

Spike slowly seemed to be forcing his body to unwind, slouching back against the wall of the booth once more. And he wasn’t looking at her, squinting out across the room like she’d seared his eyes or something.

“You mean like me?” he asked casually.

“No! Well… actually, yes. You kill people.”

“Yeah. Not anymore, but…” he sighed, and took a healthy swallow of his drink, and seemed to relax again for real this time. “When you’re a vampire, people aren’t people, right? People are just… food.” He sniffed. “A few stand out — musicians, artists, anyone who’s created something I enjoyed, I left them alone. Sometimes got to know one, got all sentimental about them, let them slide by, but it was like having a goldfish, you know? And slayers, slayers were always a breed apart. Always saw slayers as something special. But most people, they’re just…”

“Happy Meals with legs?” God, this was surreal, how she was getting sucked into this conversation. It was disgusting, but she still wanted to hear more, kind of like those creepy late-night true crime shows. And this one, she had a vested interest in.

“Yeah. ‘S not murder, when you slaughter cattle. It’s just survival.”

“It’s murder to us.”

“And that’s your whole raison d’etre, isn’t it? Protecting humanity from predators like yours truly.” He smiled, seeming somehow fond, and Buffy was mildly horrified to find she felt relieved to see it. “But you don’t call a wolf evil when it’s preying on sheep.”

“Wolves don’t seduce sheep off into back alleys. Wolves can’t talk.”

“Not a perfect analogy,” he said, that affectionate look still on his face. “But there’s the thing. Wolves don’t have free will or bloody logic. They’re always going to prey on sheep. Vampires… We can make choices. We can change. We can choose. Always going to be a demon, no changing our nature, but we can choose not to prey on humanity. If we do that, if we choose to throw in with the lamb, are we still evil?”

Buffy’s drink was half gone now, but she was pretty sure that wasn’t enough alcohol to account for the weird dizziness this conversation was causing. “So when I was all nearly-soulless-Buffy, what you’re saying is… I chose to still fight evil?”

Yes. Exactly. At bloody last.”

“And that made me… not-evil. Because evil is a choice.” She sounded the words out slowly, trying to feel their edges. “So what about you? Are you not-evil?”

Spike’s eyes widened suddenly and he gave her a cornered, conflicted look. “Uh, well, let’s not be hasty,” he spluttered. “I’m still the Big Bad.”

Buffy rolled her eyes. “No dice, Forrest Vamp. You just spent the last few minutes convincing me that evil is as evil does. You don’t get to back out now.”

“All right, all right,” he muttered sulkily. “But keep your bloody voice down.” He fiddled with his glass, spinning it around in its little pool of condensation. “Does this mean you believe me?” He glanced up, bluster replaced by something far more naked. “About the other thing, too?”

This time, it was Buffy who looked away. “I guess it does. The evidence is kinda compelling.” She felt his eyes boring into her. There was just one thing that still niggled at her, but she found she didn’t want to  break up the weird intimacy that had developed in their little sports-bar booth. But in the end, she had to know. “When I loved… When I was in love, it felt like it came from… like I was loving with my whole soul.”

He got a sour look on his face. “With Angel.”

“Yes,” Buffy said, moving on from that subject quickly. “But… you love Drusilla.” She felt her face grow hot again. “Loved.”

“I did,” he said heavily. “More than a century I loved her. Not the only one I loved.” Spike took a sudden drink.

“You had another girlfriend?”

“Not a girlfriend,” Spike said, something low and bitter in his voice. “There was someone I loved… before I was turned. Loved her when I was a man, and then when I was a vampire, all newborn and hot with bloodlust, I still loved her.” He drank again, draining his glass. “M’ mum.”

“Your… mother?”

“Yeah.” Spike frowned into his empty glass, brows beetled in apparent confusion.

When he didn’t elaborate, Buffy leaned forward, feeling strangely solemn. “What happened to her? Did you…?” Angel had killed his whole family, she recalled suddenly. Had Spike done that too?

“Dunno,” he said roughly, waving over the waitress. “Don’t rightly remember. But I remember loving her.” He shrugged. “She died, I think. She’d been sickly. Consumption. Don’t remember… don’t remember her dying, but I remember… after.” He scowled at Buffy again, expression suddenly fierce. “We love just fine without a soul.”

Well, that seemed to answer that. She loved her friends both with and nearly-without her soul. Spike had loved before and after losing his. Somewhere deeper than your soul, he’d said. Maybe he was right; maybe her love did come from somewhere much deeper, more intrinsic, than she’d imagined.

“And now, you…” Buffy lifted her chin defiantly; no need to keep tapdancing around the twelve-foot pink elephant in the room. “You love me.”

His eyes widened in surprise before melting into something fervent. “I do.”

“When?”

He laughed. “All the bloody time.”

That earned an eyeroll, even as she felt her face heating. Stupid face. “No, when did it happen?

He paused, and sat back, serious again. “Wonder that myself, some days,” he said at last. “Know when I finally sussed it out, like a bloody revelation, but Dru knew before that. Was why she gave me my walking papers.”

Buffy couldn’t help lifting her eyebrows. “When you showed up all drunk and disorderly?”

“Yeah, that was… But no,” he amended firmly. “It was earlier. It had to have been…” He trailed off, looking distant for a long moment, so Buffy was suddenly aware of the Eagles song playing over the intercom. She’d forgotten there was music. “Remember when you punched me in the nose, that time?”

“I punch you in the nose a lot,” Buffy sassed, folding her arms.

“With the police car. When I came to you about stopping… about saving the world.” Buffy’s disbelief must have been written all over her face, because he chuckled knowingly. “You punched me and I punched you, and then we set off for your mother’s house, and I remember looking down at you, all glowery and grim, with your hair all stuffed away under that ridiculous black cap, and you looked… different. Not just because of the hat. You were real.” He looked down at his newly-delivered drink, frowning. “Think that must have been it. That was when Dru changed, when I took her away from Sunnydale. That was when everything changed.”

“So you fell in love at first fight, and then went off to… what? Keep on rampaging through South America?”

“Oh come on now, Slayer. It was third fight at least. And I was in denial,” Spike shrugged. “Not like it was something I’d expected, not in my wildest dreams. And I was still choosing evil, wasn’t I?” He gestured vaguely with his drink off to the side. “That nasty bugger in chains, back at the mansion — he’s already in love with you. Just doesn’t know it yet. Won’t have a clue until….” He trailed off again, looking uncomfortable.

“How many more nose punches does it take? Ten? Twelve?”

“Enough.”

This was… She’d asked because she’d wanted to know but somehow the conversation was getting away from her, ploughing deep into a part of her that was far too vulnerable not to be affected by all this. She needed to put some distance back between them. She forced a flippant tone, “So should I expect a card come Valentine’s Day? Maybe some chocolates?”

“What, do you like chocolates?” he asked with suddenly-sharp interest.

“Not from him, I don’t.”

“Of course not.” He laughed then, ruefully. “Can’t say I envy the fellow what’s coming. Poor sod hasn’t the faintest idea what’s going to happen. And then when it does, he won’t have the faintest idea what to do about it.” He gave Buffy a bemused look. “Over a century of life after death, and never imagined it would end up with me trying to figure out how to… how to court a slayer. Might as well be trying to read Arabic, or climb bloody Mount Everest.” He lifted his glass in an ironic toast. “Couldn’t happen to a more deserving arse.”

“You really don’t like yourself,” Buffy said slowly, treading with caution lest things get sticky again. Things seemed to get sticky around Spike a lot. He was a vamp-shaped quagmire.

“Not then-myself, no.” Spike shrugged. “Can’t say if now-myself is much better, guess it’s not really for me to even say, ultimately, but if I ever needed proof of how much I’ve changed, I just need to think of how much I want to punch myself in the gob.”

“But he’s you.”

“Tragically, yes. But imagine this, Slayer — running into someone who walks like you, talks like you, is you, but they’re the very worst you you ever were. Like you’re looking in a mirror and it’s all covered in grime.” He drank again, abruptly. “That bastard’s what I’ve been trying to get away from all this time. All the things that…” he looked down, seeming somehow vulnerable again. “That you hate. And the fact of the matter is, a few punches in the nose would do the bugger good. He’s never going to become me if he doesn’t… have a reason to change.” He glowered at his whiskey then as if it were whispering an inconvenient truth in his ear and he wanted it to shut up.

Buffy suddenly thought of Faith, of the way she’d seemed a manifestation of all Buffy’s darkest thoughts and urges, and she thought maybe, maybe she understood. Just a little.

It didn’t seem possible, that the gross, obnoxious Spike chained up in the Mansion of Regrettable Life Choices was in love with her, but she had to admit, she did know a teensy bit about denial and the way it messed with your self-perception. Like her mom when she’d told her she was a slayer, or even the way she’d kept thinking her dad would come back, even when she’d found out about the trips to Spain with his secretary. Or the way she was totally not at all thinking about the confluence of a vamp who genuinely seemed to want to change for her and her shower…

Yeah, she kind of got denial.

She was startled out of her thoughts by the waitress coming back by their table, this time with the check, which surprised her for a moment, until she realized that the food had somehow all disappeared — stupid unconscious eating! — and Spike was drinking down the last of his latest refill, and her own drink was down to just ice and a twisted shred of lime.

She reached out and plucked a half-melted ice cube from her glass, crunching it slowly, feeling weirdly sad that their not-a-date was apparently over.

Spike rummaged in his pockets, digging out a few crumpled bills and tossing them on top of the faux-leather check folder.

Buffy gave him her very best stinkeye. “Did you tip?”

He rolled his eyes and dug out a few more bills.

“Twenty percent?”

He looked outraged, but dropped a few more bills on top of the growing pile. “Happy now?”

She sighed. “Do I have to ride herd on you like this to keep you good in the future? Because I am suddenly feeling very sorry for Future Me.”

He smiled. “Last time, you treated. Dunno how well you tipped.”

“Oh, right. Like I’d pay to be in his company.”

“Would you pay to be in mine?”

Buffy scooted out of the booth, allowing the very faintest of smiles. “No.”

“Right.”

She stood up, fussing with the fall of her shirt, feeling a little let down. She really had expected things to go a little longer — though looking around the bar, she could see that there had been a shift change among the patrons, and then she glanced up at the clock and tried not to gape. Wow, had they really been here that long? It had felt shorter.

It had felt… too short.

She stuffed that thought right into her Bin of Denial and turned to Spike with a bright smile. “Well, this has been slightly interesting.”

He tilted his head to the side. “So, where are we, then?”

Buffy couldn’t even think of a smartass quip. “I don’t know.”

“Are we… allies?” He looked suddenly nervous. “Can I help you with patrol again?”

What the hell? Why did that make her feel all bubbly and perky? “I guess.”

He smiled then, as if he saw right through her. “I’m thinking we should seal the deal.”

“I’m not going to kiss you,” she blurted out.

Spike blinked. “Of course not,” he said blankly, then shook himself into a more Spikeish leer. “Unless you want to.”

She just rolled her eyes at that, because she really was starting to not trust her vocal cords.

“No,” he went on, looking off at nothing. “Was just thinking perhaps we could… dance.”

She folded her arms. “I do not dance with my mortal enemies.”

“Thought you agreed we were allies.”

“Mortal allies.”

He suddenly looked very serious and intense. “Please, Slayer.”

God, was any part of her body trustworthy? Because she was all tingly again from the sound of his voice. “Fine. One dance.”

He took her by the hand and led her out to the floor, which had a few other couples swaying here and there, but still had plenty of room, and then she stopped noticing them at all when Spike pulled her close. She’d kind of expected him to pull her into a clinch and start rubbing his parts against her, the way he had when they were fighting, but instead he folded one of her hands in his, tucking it against his breast, and rested the other on her hip, light as a feather, and then he sighed and pressed his cheek against her temple, and… they danced, their bodies inches apart. Buffy set her free hand on his hip, just to give it something to do, fiercely telling herself that she didn’t need the parts-rubbing anyhow.

She told herself she wasn’t disappointed.

The song ended — something by Journey, she’d barely noticed — and some other soft classic had started up, and she knew she should put an end to things, but it just felt… nice, to be moving on the dance floor with someone who had a sense of rhythm; slow dancing wasn’t too demanding, but you could always tell when your partner couldn’t dance, or didn’t like to dance, and she could tell that Spike could and did and might even be able to take on a tango — and since the last guy she’d danced with had been Parker, ew, and the last guy before that had been Xander, not-ew-but-not-romantic-either, and then before that had been the Prom and she didn’t want to think about that right now, she just sank into the movement and let herself enjoy it.

After the third song, guilt made her start to pull away, but Spike’s grip tightened on her hand, and he looked down at her, pleading.

“Please, Buffy,” he said softly. “Just one more.”

The way he said her name did her in. And okay, one more wouldn’t hurt, it’s not like she actually had a test tomorrow. So she let him fold her back in, reassuring herself that it was good to be nice to your allies, and that she was kind of tired of always dancing with Xander and Oz, who were nice enough but basically off limits, and while Spike was off-limits for all sorts of valid reasons, at least she didn’t have to maintain that tight wall of platonic-only, not-available-for-attraction-ness, and could just enjoy herself.

She really did love to dance. When she was looking for a new boyfriend, she’d have to find a guy who knew how.

After a bit, Spike breathed something into her hair that she couldn’t quite hear — it wasn’t I love you, it was something else, but it sounded fervent and meaningful — and that encouraged her to lift her head to look up at him. He looked back at her, face somber.

“Do we…” Her voice caught; she cleared her throat. “Do we dance a lot, in the future?”

He was silent for a long time before answering. “No,” he finally managed, voice rough as sandpaper. “No, we never… except… yeah. Yeah, we danced. It’s all… all we’ve ever done.”

That didn’t make any sense, not at all, but somehow, she didn’t need it to.

Chapter 9

Originally posted at https://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/603283.html

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