By Rachel A.
Sequel to Scary Scooby; part of The Geek Series
Summary: Spike plays poker with Willow and waxes existential.
Thanks, as always, to Cynthia Liskow for introducing me to the world of Buffy, being my kick-ass beta reader, and writing some great Willow/Spike smut just for my amusement.
Disclaimer: Not mine, alas.
Spoilers: Through "Normal Again"
"Where did you learn to play cards?" she asks him, after dealing their second official hand. She takes a quick swig from her plastic cup and coughs a bit. Yeah, she's getting hammered. He can smell the fumes coming off her tiny body in waves.
"Angel," he says, snorting briefly at the memory. Their first game had taken place in the parlor of a demonic whore-house, and the currency had been human girls. Those were the days, all right.
"Oh, yeah, you guys hung out a lot back in the uh, olden times, huh?"
"Well, not that olden..."
Holy Hell! He's got four kings. Poker face, he reminds himself. Poker poker poker face, you bloody idiot.
He doesn't think he's grinning like the Joker, but it would help if he had a mirror to peer into for confirmation. If he could see himself in a mirror, that is.
"But you guys, like, lived together, and um...hunted together and did all kinds of stuff together, right?"
Four kings. Four kings. Four perfect little kings. He wishes Clem were here to see this.
God, is she still blathering on about Angel?
"Yeah, we hung out," he says shortly, hoping to shut her up so he can enjoy the splendor of his hand in peace and quiet.
"So, did you ever um...do...it?"
"Did you ever have sex with Angel?"
Oh, bloody hell. It's far too early for a question like that. That's a question for three or four o'clock in the morning, for an empty bottle of whiskey in the dark and feeling like you're the only two people in the world. Not now. Not eight-thirty, when there are teenagers roaming the streets and some people are still eating dinner, and Charmed is on the telly. He got her drunk too quick.
Of all the things she could've asked him. Christ! He's lived through two world wars, depressions, violent revolutions, damn near every social and political upheaval she's read about in her sodding history texts. He's met Charlie Chaplin and Louise Brooks, James Dean and Nancy Sinatra, Dorthy Parker and Sylvia Plath, Shane Macgowin and Johnny Fucking Rotten. He was at Woodstock, at Altamont, at CBGB the first night they opened the doors. He knows where Jimmy Hoffa is for pity's sake, and she wants to know if he shagged some boring wanker a hundred years ago?
Way to go all Interview With A Vampire, Red. Bloody brilliant.
He might've expected this sort of random and intrusive inquiry from a girl like Buffy, had a girl like Buffy ever shown even the most remote interest in his life. But Willow? Girls like Willow don't ask questions like that.
And if a girl like Willow should, per chance, ask him a question like that, at a time like this, he'd imagine the name to be Buffy's, not Angel's. Though it's probably for the best that it isn't Buffy she's asking about. He threatened to talk if Buffy didn't, and it's quite obvious that she hasn't, but it was a hollow threat. A sad attempt to frighten her into coming back around, to set her off in one direction or another so that she'd find some peace and so would he. He's not particularly anxious to follow through. At least not with Willow, now that he's got something to lose with the girl.
After all, she is here in his crypt, drinking whiskey- though hers is sweetened with RC Cola- and playing poker with him even though Clem cancelled at the last minute due to some rapidly spreading, demonic skin irritation. She's here with a turtleneck sweater, big Muppet eyes, and the strangest question he's been asked in quite some time.
Maybe she's trying to distract him from his game. He's beginning to wonder if her whole novice routine is just that- a routine. He's beginning to wonder if she's here for a friendly game of poker, or a good spot of revenge.
He did ask her over here at the worst possible moment.
It was the day Buffy officially lost her mind. He says official because it had been going on for quite some time, but nobody else seemed to notice. Not until that day.
He left her room after delivering the ultimatum- because dramatic exits are just what's done after the issuing of an ultimatum- and he ran into Willow in the hall on his way out.
"Did you make sure she drank it all?" she asked him.
"Um, yeah. Yeah, she drank it," he told her, and he wasn't sure if it was a lie or simply a misrepresentation. He honestly couldn't remember if he'd seen her drink it or not. He'd gotten so wrapped up in his speech, so pumped full of righteous indignation. Every day, it seemed, he realized a little bit more how badly she'd used him up, and every day he grew a little bit more disgusted with himself for letting it happen. But it didn't stop him from wanting to help her, and he knew the only way she'd get better was to admit what was wrong in the first place. That's what he'd been trying to get through to her, and, at the time, it seemed more important than the poison and the antidote.
The delusions were just a symptom, after all. The poison may have been the more literal cause, but he knew the real disease was inside her. It was all so bleeding perfect. Of course she'd create a world in her head where he doesn't exist. A world where everything and everyone that's real is just a creation of hers, something to be built and destroyed at will. She'd like to believe she has that power, and that escape is a possibility. She'd like to think he's a figment of her imagination.
It didn't really matter if she drank the antidote or not, he thought. It had only been a matter of time before she lost her few remaining marbles. And it figured she'd do it in just this way- this maddening way that made him question his own sanity, his very existence.
He's often wondered if he might simply vanish into thin air without his feelings for her, without the all-encompassing way she's possessed and staked a claim on every part of him. Standing there in the hall, he started to wonder if he'd exist without her at all. Maybe this was the delusion after all, and he was merely playing his part in her bizarre thought-scape. He tried to summon some sort of proof that it wasn't so, but everything in him was her. There was no escape.
He wanted to do something unexpected, something she'd never think of or predict, to assert his autonomy. He wanted to make a move that wasn't a reaction to her, but he realized that his very desire to authenticate his existence was, in itself, a reaction to her. And her very insanity was a reaction to him, reacting to her. He was a mirror, and her image was endlessly reflected back on itself inside of him.
"Are you doing anything Thursday night?" he asked Willow suddenly. Almost desperately. It was obviously the wrong time, wrong question. But he'd been thinking about it since her last visit to his place, and his desire to invite her seemed at least moderately unrelated to Buffy.
"Um...I dunno. Kinda depends on...stuff..." She shifted from foot to foot, blatantly uncomfortable, and he hoped she didn't think he was trying to ask her for a date.
"Right. Well, there's a poker game at my place. You know, if you get bored."
She raised an eyebrow, and half of her mouth.
"Are you inviting me?" she asked, echoing his own bewilderment when she'd invited him to Buffy's birthday party.
"Yeah. Sorta." She was looking at him very strangely. Why was she looking at him like that? He began to panic. "Come if you want. Doesn't matter to me."
He left in a hurry, feeling foolish, frustrated, and somewhat non-existent.
He didn't hear anything more about the Slayer's lack of sanity, so he figured everything must've turned out all right. Then, two days later, Thursday came, and so did Willow, and she had bruises on her neck, and fury in her eyes. She dropped her absurdly large purse on the floor, and he heard the unmistakable clatter of multiple stakes jostling around.
"You didn't make her drink it," she said. "You said you did, but you didn't. I trusted you, and nobody else trusts you, but I did, and you lied."
He's killed children before. He's eaten them, sometimes in front of their parents. He's held women down, and some men, and fucked them as he killed them with his teeth. Slowly. He's devoured towns, left neighborhoods, cities in ruin. He's ravaged, looted, wallowed in depravity and anarchy and absolute annihilation. And he doesn't feel a whit of remorse.
Should he? He doesn't know. But he can say that hearing those words, seeing her big, damp, accusing eyes, he felt like a right piece of shit.
"I-I'm....did she...she didn't drink it?" he stammered helplessly.
"No! She didn't! And she tried to kill us! And it almost worked! And we'd all be dead now if it wasn't for Tara, and all because you're a big, stinky liar! Why did you do that?!"
It was really the only answer he could come up with. She sighed and sat down at the card table.
"Don't you ever get tired of that excuse?" she asked him.
That was two hours, one poker lesson, and three whiskey and RCs ago. They haven't talked much since they started playing for real, but it seems that for some reason she's decided to stay and forgive, or at least forget. Unless she hasn't....
"I'm sorry, did you just ask me if I've had sex with Angel?"
"Yeah," she nods, staring intently at her hand, pointedly not at him. Her cheeks are brighter than the soda can on the table in front of her. Least she has the decency to blush. "Or, well, Angelus I guess. Or, I dunno...is-is that not a valid question? Are you offended?"
"No, not offended exactly. Just curious as to why you'd ask such a thing."
She shrugs and tosses another quarter into the pot.
"I dunno. Isn't curiosity a good enough reason?"
He adds his fifty cents. Best hand of his unlife. Even if she is trying to hustle him, she's not gonna win this round.
"You've gotta tell me why you're curious before you're gonna get any kind of answer," he says.
"Never mind," she smirks and sees his two quarters. Raises him a dime. "You just gave me your answer."
So she thinks. But she's assuming there is an answer to that question. A yes or a no, or maybe even an almost, maybe, none of your business. There isn't. He wishes it were that simple.
Was it a yes, simply because his innocence was stolen, not, as he'd hoped, by the woman whose mad, smiling face he saw upon bursting out of the new Earth covering his grave, but by the hulking, dark, menacing man standing next to her?
He remembers the pain of tearing flesh, the blood, the screaming, the words in his ear: "You are mine, sweet William. You will always be mine." William liked the idea of belonging to someone, finally, but Spike soon realized that belonging didn't confer some special identity onto him. Everything and everyone in the house belonged to Angelus, and belonging meant lack of freedom, lack of choice. Spike grew to hate "belonging" and began to rebel. He began to reclaim his spirit, but the ravaging of his body continued almost daily.
Does one equate being raped, tortured, punished, claimed repeatedly, continuously, with "having sex"? The instinct would be to say no, if he hadn't ever enjoyed it.
He doesn't know how to explain to this girl that for them sex wasn't about sex. It was always about power. Angelus's power to have any of them any time he pleased. His power to deny Spike access to either woman for as long as he saw fit. He was allowed to touch Dru after a few months. Permission to Darla never came.
It was only when Angelus left for good, when Spike killed the first slayer and proved himself at least a marginally adequate replacement for the man of the house, only then was he truly free to be his own man, and to shag the both of them as he damn well pleased to. And even then, even then the shadow of the absent father hung over them all, informing his every word and deed to one degree or another.
Power. Not sex.
And damn Willow for making him think about this because he's starting to realize he's always existed as someone else's reflection.
"Spike? Are you folding?"
He mutters a curse to himself and tosses two quarters, a dime, and a nickel into the pot.
"What about you?" he asks.
"No, I'll raise you five cents."
"No, I mean....have you had sex with Angel? Angelus? Either?"
She giggles, then takes a big sip of her drink. "That's a silly question. Of course not."
It strikes him suddenly, how few women he really knows who haven't. He's never loved a woman who hasn't fucked Angel, never loved a woman who wasn't in love with Angel. He wonders what that would be like.
"That's good," he says. "New. And good."
He adds more coins to the steadily growing pile and wonders, for the first time, if her hand could possibly be better than his.
"So, where did that question come from, Red? Seems like sort of a non-sequitor, even for you. Not to mention, what's it to you?"
Not to mention, is there something about him that says flaming queer? Yeah, Angel's got it written all over his gloppy hair and stylishly morbid threads, but Spike's pretty sure his persona screams lady killer, in every possible sense of the word.
He wonders if maybe it's just a little fantasy of the girl's, if she gets off on thinking about that. He hopes that's it.
"Oh, I dunno...just tryin' to make conversation," she shrugs, raising him yet again. Dollar-twenty-five. Bugger.
"What sort of conversation is that? If you wanted to make conversation, you might've complimented me on all the work I've done rebuilding the place.
"Oh," she nods, smiling and looking about. "Yeah, it's nice."
"Why did you ask me that question?!"
Well. That came out a bit...insane.
"Jeez, I thought you weren't offended. Look, I was...I was just curious, okay? I'm kinda...prone to seeing these, um, undercurrents. Like-like at Buffy's, uh, her...thing, in the woods..."
"You mean her funeral," he flatly reminds her, wanting, with just a tinge of resentment, to force her to face up to what all she's done.
"Yeah. Well, you guys..."
They fought. He remembers it, like everything else from the time Buffy was gone, with bleary, barely focused horror.
It had been unseasonably chilly the night they buried her. He couldn't feel it because of the combination of vampire physiology, and the steady stream of 80 proof he'd been sending through his veins all afternoon, but he could see everyone else's breath. Everyone but Angel, that is.
He remembers letting Dawn drink from his flask, hearing sobs and chokes as he helped lower the coffin into the ground, wondering if anyone would notice or care if he threw himself in after it. He remembers Angel walking up to him when the last of the dirt had been tossed and telling him that he wasn't good enough, didn't belong, didn't deserve to be standing on this hallowed ground. And the rest is a blur of fists and fangs and futile humans trying to separate them, then giving up in disgust.
"We made a mockery of everything Buffy stood for," he says, echoing Giles's admonishing words from later that night.
"Well, yeah," she nods. "But...there was thrusting. Of the, uh...pelvic nature."
"What? No there wasn't! There was no thrusting! And what were you doing, ponderin' the homoerotic subtext of a sodding fistfight at your best friend's funeral?"
"No! No, I wasn't. I mean, not then. Not till...well, kinda recently actually. Not sure why I was thinking about it. Anyway, it just...it made me wonder 'cause, well, it's not the first time I've noticed that kind of...stuff."
"What-what do you mean stuff? What kind of STUFF? What are you thinkin'? That I'm some kinda poof?"
"Because let me tell you something, Pet," he lectures, pointing the index finger from his free hand in her general direction. "One...thing with one...thing does not a poofter make! But then, I guess that's news to you in'nit?"
He places two dollar bills on the table in a grand gesture, unable to restrain the satisfied smirk from crossing his lips. He watches her face in the candlelight as it contorts with simultaneous realization and confusion. Such expressive features on this one. So easy to read. Except, of course, when it comes to her bleeding cards.
"Hey!" she exclaims, suddenly sitting up straight, realizing he's insulted her, but not really understanding the nature of the insult. "What the heck is that supposed to mean?"
"Oh, nothing Miss 'I bagged one chippie and now I'm queen of the Isle of Lesbos'..."
"Hey! What's that supposed to mean?" she repeats, slurring her words a bit this time 'round, as if to remind him that she's a lightweight and he's been filling her belly with whiskey for the past two hours. For a moment he entertains the fantasy of engaging her in a round of strip poker, letting her win so he can strip naked in front of her and watch her curious eyes traveling over his body...
"Just because you happened to fall for one girl, it doesn't mean that you're..."
"What? Gay? You don't think I'm gay? I'm gay, Mister! I'm as gay as they come. Queer as folk. Do you have a problem with that or something?"
She slams a five on the table, rattling their drinks.
"Not generally, no. But in your case, I think you might be kidding yourself. I mean, really, how many boys've you had a hankering for? How many you been in love with? Were you faking it with the wolf boy?"
"Faking...what...no! No, I wasn't faking anything. I just didn't realize yet, that I was...gay."
"Come on, Willow. Don't you think it's possible that your sexuality is just a little bit more complicated than that? Isn't it possible that the whole riot grrrrl lesbian routine is just another label you've assigned yourself to make things easier? To detract attention from what you perceive to be your inherent geekiness?"
Or maybe it's not complicated at all, he thinks. Maybe the girl just wants to be loved.
"Hey! I'm not a faker! I love Tara. This isn't a big routine!"
"I know you love her. Never said you didn't. That's not what we're talking about."
Bloody hell. He's almost out of money. With an anticipatory grin, he shoves the remaining pile of bills and change into the middle of the table. All or nothing, baby.
"Fine," she says, pushing her own pile out to join his. "You wanna talk arbitrarily assigned labels? What about you?"
"What about me?"
"Your whole 'Oh, I'm evil. Look at me. Sooo evil. Yep, evil over here.' Gimme a break! If you were really evil you wouldn't have to, like, announce it all the time. I mean, look at Angelus. Pure, undiluted evil, and you just knew it. He didn't have to issue a statement of evilhood. He just did, you know, actual evil."
"Turn over your cards."
"Were you even slightly naughty when you were a human? Or were you just really repressed?"
"I said, turn over your bleedin' cards."
Fine. She wants to play it that way, he's perfectly willing to oblige. Might as well be the first, show off the best hand that's ever been in the history of poker. The thought of her suddenly irritatingly pretty face crumpling in defeat and disappointment has become incredibly appealing.
He lays his cards down with a flourish, in a showy accordion design, smirking without attempt at restraint now. Almost time for a victory smoke.
"See that, Red? That's four kings. Four of 'em. That's all the kings there are in the deck. Right in my hand. Surely even a poker novice such as yourself can appreciate the rare and delicate beauty of a hand such as..."
No. Oh, no. That just simply cannot be. It just...can't.
But it is. Five perfect, red diamonds, staring up at him. Mocking him. Eight, nine, ten, jack, and queen.
"Gee, Spike," she croons sweetly. "I know I'm a novice and all, but isn't that what you poker pros call a straight flush? And, um, doesn't that beat four of a kind?"
"That...you- you cheated! There's no way you- you cheated!"
Now she's the one wearing the smirk, and her witchy paws are all over his money. She holds open her purse at the edge of the table and sweeps the pile of change and bills into the depths of the bag.
"Come on, Spike. Don't be such a sore loser."
"I am not a loser! You cheated! You-you lied! You've played before. You must've done."
She stands from the table and slings the strap of her bag over her shoulder. Shrugs with affected nonchalance.
"I dunno, Spike, maybe I have. Doesn't feel too good being lied to, does it?"
So that's what this has been about, then. Revenge, just as he'd suspected. She seems like such a nice girl. He shouldn't've let himself forget about the shadowlands inside her. Shouldn't've let himself believe she'd come here because she might genuinely enjoy his company. No one genuinely enjoys his company.
Still, as disappointed and irritated as he is, he can't help but be a little impressed.
"You know, Red, there is a difference. I didn't lie to screw you over. In fact, I didn't even lie deliberately. I just...wasn't paying attention. I'd call it more careless than malicious. What you did...revenge games aren't very nice."
"It wasn't revenge."
"Well then what? Just have fun stealin' people's money? You're not even drunk, are you?"
"I didn't steal your money! And I didn't come here to teach you a lesson, or-or hustle you like a big...hustler!"
"Just a side benefit, then?"
His eyes are directly level with her chest, and he lets his gaze linger on her heaving little breasts for a minute. Tight, low-cut shirt, push-up bra...holy hell, did she come here to seduce him?
No, can't be that. Not after trying to turn their poker game into a gay pride festival.
"I don't get you," he blurts out unintentionally. He doesn't like to let people know when they've confused him. Sort of undermines his whole insightful-speaker-of-painful-truths shtick. But bugger all, she really has been confounding him lately.
"You don't get me?" she scoffs, and he looks up at her face. Her eyes are wide and full of disbelief, and her skin is turning splotchy with red. "YOU don't get ME? What is that, a funny? You get me. You totally get me! You get the heck out of me and it's really really annoying! You're the one that's...not-gettable!"
"Me? What's to get about me? Vampire, evil, et cetera. It's really very simple."
She makes a horrible sound; something like a groan or a squeal or a car alarm. It makes his temples ache.
"God, Spike," she whines awfully. "Why do you have to do that? It's so frustrating! That is so completely not an explanation for anything about you! Why do you have to make yourself seem like less than you actually are?"
"What's that mean?"
"It means you're not just 'vampire, evil'. You're funny, and smart, and sometimes even downright nice! And maybe the nasty, evil, creepy guy is the one who gets laid or something, but I kind of like the other guy and I wanted to find out which one was fake. So, that's why I came here, okay? Sorry if that's a big, bloody problem for you!"
"Well...did you figure it out?"
He'd sort of like to know. He'd like to know if there is a fake. Or if they're both fakes. Maybe his entire existence is a sham after all. Maybe the people he's loved are all he's made of, and there really is nothing else underneath at all.
How is it possible, he wonders, for a man to shape his very being after what a woman wants and needs and expects, and yet fail completely to garner any sort of true affection from her? How is it possible for it to happen twice? Three times? Is it only possible for a woman to love a man who's really....something? Something completely separate, independent, autonomous?
He looks desperately into her eyes, hoping she'll see...something. Him. Whoever he is.
"No," she sighs. "All I figured out is that you have severe Angel issues, and get easily distracted. Maybe I asked the wrong questions..."
"Or maybe there's nothing to figure out. Maybe there's just...nothing."
"Is that what you think? That you're nothing?"
Great. Now he's got her all stuffed full of pity.
"Look, it's been fun, but I've got...things."
"No you don't. You don't have any things. You don't even have a TV anymore. But I'll go if you want."
He doesn't know what he wants. He wants to stop feeling confused. He wants to know that he's real. He wants his money back. He wants her to stay and talk and confuse him some more and he wants her to leave and never ever come back. He wants to kiss her again, and see if she'd still be afraid.
"You probably should," he says. And she does.
When William was a very young boy, he enjoyed sitting at his mother's vanity table and playing with all the pretty jewelry and perfume she never wore. She'd been sick, it seemed, since the day William was born, and his father died before William got through his first year. His brother moved into his own home, started his own family before William's fourth birthday. There was no one to tell William that sitting at a woman's vanity table and playing with her things was not a very manly thing to do.
One day he noticed a small, hand-held mirror with silver engravings along the sides. He picked it up admiringly, twirling it between his fingers and making faces at his reflection. On a whim, he turned the chair around. His back to the larger, main mirror, he looked at himself in the smaller mirror and saw something very strange. It was a reflection of his reflection. Of his reflection of his reflection. The line seemed to go on endlessly. Hundreds of Williams, getting smaller and smaller and smaller, folding in on themselves. He struggled to find the last one, the end of the line, but it was impossible.
It confused and frightened him, but he never forgot about the pretty mirror and on his last visit home- the night he said "good-bye" and "I'm sorry" to his mother- he stole the little thing and brought it back to Dru. She couldn't see herself in it, of course, but she liked the shiny silver and the way the metal felt in her hands.
Spike still has the mirror, and after Willow leaves he finds himself digging through his trunk, trying to locate it. When he finds it, he brings it to the card table, sits down with it, and stares into the glass.
He sees the room behind him- his new bed, and the velvet tapestry on his wall, and the broken lamp on the floor. It's all there, all real, but somehow he is not. There's an empty space where he should be. A void.
It's not the first time Spike has looked into a mirror. It's not the first time he's seen the emptiness, but it is the first time it's frightened him. It's the first time he's felt a real lack.
He wonders what Willow sees when she looks at him. What Buffy sees. He wonders if he has any odd facial ticks that no one's mentioned, or if his skin ever breaks out. He wonders if he flushes red after feeding, the way that Dru did.
He wonders how he's supposed to find himself when he doesn't even know if he has pores or eyebrows.
He doesn't think about killing much anymore. It's taken a couple of years, but he's more or less gotten used to his situation. Tonight, he thinks about it. He fantasizes, again, of killing Willow, turning her into his eternal mate and leaving this rat trap of a town forever. He thinks about the way her blood must taste, how easy it would be, how much fun. He thinks about the impact it would make, the proof it would leave. There's no better way to say "Spike was here." Spike exists. Spike is real, and scary, and he can do something. Anything.
Something has to change, he realizes, and a few hours later he smashes the face of the mirror against the table. Shards of glass scatter and fall onto his thighs, onto the floor. He looks down, sees that the shards are still large enough to register his lack of a presence, then crushes the remnants of the mirror decisively under his boots.
Something has got to change.