Blinded With Science
RATING: G for now, moving up later
SPOILERS: Fourth season, through This Year's Girl
SUMMARY: Willow is determined to help Spike, whether he will or no.
FEEDBACK: makes the fic go round.
DISCLAIMER: All characters belong to large corporations, and were created by the brilliant writers for Buffy and Angel.
It was dusk. There was a soft tapping on the stone of the crypt.
Spike pulled the skeletal feet higher over his head. Those sodding soldier boys again. As consciousness slowly returned, he rejected that idea. Soldier boys didn't knock. Those bloody American kids, wanting his help. Bugger that for a game of soldiers. <<Got to find a new phrase for that now...>> He lay still, hoping the intruder would lose interest and leave.
"Spike... I know you're in there, it's still daytime! Can I come in?"
It was the witch's voice. <<Right again, worse luck.>> "GO AWAY!"
Footsteps came in. "If you really don't want people to know you're there, it isn't smart to yell at them."
Spike's temper, never under tight control, exploded. He pushed the corpse aside, sat up, vaulted out of the sarcophagus, strode over to the redhead, and glared down at her. Another good day at Unthreatening-Clothes-R-S, he noted.
"Let's get one thing clear, Pet. I am not your friend. I am not your ally. If it were up to me, you'd be dead. Not slightly dead, not interestingly pale, not crying on my shoulder about your sodding dogboy, but drained and gone. So get your mortal arse out of my sight; whatever you're peddling, I'm not interested."
The wide green eyes went wider, and, to his disgust, Spike recognized Willow's "Nobody loves me" face, an expression with which he had become all too familiar. "Didn't you want to turn me?"
He pretended he hadn't noticed. "Witch, you have the most amazing gift for focusing on the irrelevant. Turn you into what? I'm not a bloody fairy granting bloody wishes."
"I thought you offered to make me a vampire." She looked ridiculously like a kitten begging for a treat.
Spike was in no mood to oblige. "Right now, I'd like to make you into a rapidly-fading memory, but as we both know, that's out of the question at the moment. Now will you kindly leave?"
Willow drew herself up to her full height, a gesture that would have been significantly more impressive had it been executed by a woman of height. "I'm sorry I interrupted your important nap, then. Okay, I'm going. I just wanted to tell you that I'd thought of something that might help with your little problem." She turned on her heel and began to walk toward the door.
Spike snorted. "No more magic, thanks so very much. If I was really lucky, you'd disappear for good. More likely, I'd find myself shagging the Watcher. No, I've sworn off spells for the remainder of the century, especially when cast by incompetent amateurs."
Willow spun back to face him. "Incompetent amateurs? Fine. STAY neutered. We all love hearing you tell us how evil you are. It's loads of fun, nearly as good as hearing you complain about how boring we all are. At least we're trying to - to do something useful, not just whining all the time!"
Spike grabbed her fuzzy pink shoulders hard. "Go. Away. Now." He began to shake the witch. Unfortunately, he didn't temper his strength, Willow shouted "Ouch!", and suddenly his head was taken over by the Sisters of Pain.
When Spike could focus his eyes again, he was sitting on the ground with his head between his knees, and Willow was squatting beside him, a concerned look on her face.
"That can't be good for you. You know, too much painful stimulus, and the brain starts to reconfigure synapses to avoid it."
"Which means that it would be a really, really good idea to get you OUT of my bloody sight so I'm not tempted to do it again! What do I have to do to get you to leave?" His voice cracked on the last word. <<Haven't done that in a hundred-odd years. Wonderful, vampire second adolescence. Somebody stake me now.>>
Willow gave him her best serious look. "This isn't magic. What's wrong with you has nothing to do with the dark arts. It's psychological, or actually psychomedical. I eavesdropped when Riley was talking to Buffy. They put something into your head, to cause pain whenever you tried to hurt something. It's sort of operant conditioning, only done with computers."
"Swell. So I can thank Bill Gates instead of Hecate for these headaches. Now that you've delivered that little Valentine, can I hope for your departure before I test it again?"
"You don't understand, Spike. If this is computer-related, I'm pretty sure I know how to fix it."
"And why should I trust your computer skills to be more effective than your magic skills?"
"Because you're so tired of being helpless that you're willing to take the chance."
"And why should I trust your computer skills to be more effective than your magic skills?"
"Because you're so tired of being helpless that you're willing to take the chance."
The kitten, it seemed, had teeth. His, however, were sharper. "When I want your -- or any other human's -- sympathy, it will be time to go admire the sunrise. Now sod off!"
The redhead flounced out of the door, and Spike dropped his head back into his hands. He had a horrible suspicion that she was right. Another few days of being the laughingstock of Sunnydale's netherworld, and he might well be desperate enough to ask for her help. That idea was almost as loathsome as the Sun itself.
Willow frowned at her laptop. Another pointer gone mad, spewing data all over memory. If only her CS professor didn't insist that assignments be written in C...
There was a knock on the door. Willow sighed, put down the laptop, and got out of bed. After that fall's unpleasant incident, she'd stopped shouting "Come in!" sight unseen. She padded barefoot to the door and said "Yes?"
"Open the door and let me in!"
Willow couldn't resist. "Not by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin!"
"Oh, bloody hell!" Willow threw the door open to see Spike's rapidly-retreating back. She ran after him.
"Wait, I was only joking, it's been a long evening of debugging and you were the one who started it, anyway..."
Spike turned and scowled. <<Nice taste in nightwear. If you're six. What, they were out of footie pajamas?>> "Somehow, quoting nighty-night stories doesn't inspire great confidence. Can't imagine why. Perhaps it's the pig-tailed innocence, perhaps it's the inanity."
"And you need confidence in me because...?"
"Forget it." Spike turned away, but was slowed by a small hand grabbing his duster. He whirled and slapped it, only to fall to his knees in agony.
Willow snatched the erring hand back to her chest. "Look, we have to talk. We can't do it in the middle of the hall, and I don't want to do it where Buffy might interrupt. Give me five minutes to change, and I'll meet you at the coffee shop downtown; it's open late."
"All right. You have five minutes." <<I'm still in control here. If she's late, I'll leave.>>
Sunnydale was a small town, and Willow, if not a snappy dresser, was at least a speedy one. She arrived, slightly out of breath, at the coffee shop a minute before her self-imposed deadline. She scanned the seating area anxiously, and found Spike scowling in a corner booth. She ordered a decaf latte, waited for it to be made, oblivious to the counter worker's attempts to flirt, and took her cup back to the booth. This early in the semester, there were few students desperate enough to pull all-nighters; they had the shop to themselves, except for the bored counterman, who had returned to his copy of the Necronomicon. (You can find *anything* on a Hellmouth.)
Starting conversations was always so difficult. Willow looked hopefully at Spike, who was staring pointedly into his empty espresso cup. <<Why does the shy person always get stuck doing the talking?>> She took a sip of her latte, then peeked over the bowl at the vampire. Still staring into the cup. <<Boy, those must be some fascinating dregs. I wonder if you can tell fortunes from coffee grounds as well as tea leaves? I should ask Giles. Of course, he probably wouldn't approve, so maybe I should just look it up myself the next time I'm at his place...>>
Spike cleared his throat pointedly. <<This wasn't my idea. You asked for the meeting, you begin it.>>
Just when it looked as if the narrator was going to have to intervene, Willow gave up the contest. "So, how's the whole biting problem?"
Spike growled. "Do you think we'd be having this conversation if it had cleared up? I suppose *I* could be having the conversation, but I never much liked monologues. You'd be in no condition to participate."
"Why do you keep threatening the person who's trying to help you? I mean, I know being scary is part of the whole vampire thing, but it doesn't make a lot of sense right at this moment. Why should I help you, if you're just going to kill me?"
"Good question, Witch. I never did trust altruists. Why *should* you help me? What's in it for you? Got somebody you want disposed of? Planning a dramatic suicide to get the Slayer's attention away from her new beefheaded boytoy? In either case, count me out, thanks."
Willow swallowed hard. "Buffy is my friend, and I'm glad she's found somebody to love. And -- and this isn't about me, it's about you.
"I never liked zoos, even when I was little. Even aside from the whole frog thing, I felt so sorry for the wolves. They just paced and paced and paced, in this little tiny cage, and they never got anywhere, and they never looked like they were having any fun.
"And I always thought, wolves should be wolves. Maybe they do eat Bambi, and maybe they'd eat me and Xander if they got the chance, but they don't belong in cages. It's one thing to shoot a wolf that's trying to kill you. It's different to make that wolf miserable for the rest of its life, just so elementary-school kids can see what a really unhappy wolf looks like. It's wrong.
"Right now, you're the wolf. You even pace like one. And I hate it. And I can't stake you, because you aren't trying to kill me, right this minute. So that doesn't leave any other good choices. So I guess I unlock the cage."
She took another swallow of the latte to avoid Spike's face, and the contempt she was sure she'd find there. Eww, there was a skin on the top, and the drink underneath was lukewarm. <<Not only am I making a fool of myself, I'm drinking stale coffee-flavored milk. I wish I were back home with my laptop!>>
Spike laughed. Not happily, but it was a laugh. "High-mindedness gets you killed, princess. This is real life, not a fairy tale. If you set the wolf free, he isn't going to turn into a noble prince."
Willow looked across the table. For once, Spike wasn't sneering, and his face was serious. "I know. You're our enemy, and that isn't going to change. But I have to play by my rules, even when I know that you won't. Otherwise I'm no better than the things I'm fighting.
"But I'm not stupid, Spike. I'm not going to help you get rid of that chip, unless I can make sure you'll leave my friends alone. If we're going to end this truce, it can't be with you murdering all of us.
"I'm pretty sure I know how to set you free. That's the easy part. What I can't figure out is how to open the cage without being eaten by the wolf." She raised her eyes and met Spike's full-on. "I thought you might be able to help with that part."
Spike was taken aback. << She makes it so easy to write her off. So easy to overlook the brain under the diffidence and the mannerisms and the baggy orphan clothes.>> "Pet..." For once in his afterlife, he was at a loss for words.
He tried again.
"Witch... You want *me* to tell *you* how to keep me from killing you? Isn't that a bit optimistic? What's to keep me from lying?"
Willow nodded. "You see the problem. It's sort of like knights and knaves."
Spike cocked the scarred eyebrow. "Knights? Knaves? Are we back in fairy tales, luv?"
Willow sighed. "It's a kind of logic puzzle. Knaves always lie, and knights always tell the truth, and you run into somebody, and you don't know if he's a knight or a knave, and you only get to ask one question, and you need to ask a question that will give you the right answer whether he's a knight who tells the truth or a knave who lies. I really like those puzzles, but I'm not sure how to apply them to vampires, because a simple 'Yes' or 'No' doesn't really help here."
Spike nodded gravely. <<Now there's a piece of mortal knowledge I could have used. Although lying all the time is straightforward compared to most demons I've met.>> "So what you need is a way to get a trustworthy solution from somebody you don't trust."
Willow's entire face lit up. "Exactly. And I thought, because you've spent your life -- well, your afterlife -- around demons, you must have had to make deals with people -- uh, demons -- you couldn't trust before, and you could tell me what the procedure is."
Spike sighed. "I'm going to need a cigarette to think this one out, and the tosser up front called the police last time I lit up in here. Care for a walk?"
"Okay." Willow looked distastefully at the remains of her latte, then got up and carried the cup and saucer over to the bin. Spike headed for the door without a backward look; sighing, Willow dropped a tip on the table, scooped up his espresso, carried it to the bin, and followed in his wake. <<Boy, that coat sure can make an effective exit. Of course, it does hide... Stop that, brain! Bad thoughts!>> By the time she reached the door, he was ten feet away, in full stride, cigarette glowing in the night.
Willow scurried to catch up. "Hey, wait up!"
Spike looked back disdainfully, never slackening pace. "Do you want the information, or don't you?" << Can't let the chit know she's holding all the cards.>>
Willow bit her lip. << Who is helping whom here? >> "Where are we going? Because I need to be home in time to get some sleep tonight."
Spike suppressed a grin. "Dunno. Around. I think better on my feet. So, the question is, how can you trust me when you know I'm evil?"
"Yes. But it isn't a lifetime trust. It's just a trust about one specific question. What do you do when you need to trust another demon?"
"I don't. Wouldn't have lasted this long if I did. Stupid question."
Willow stopped still. "Are we having this conversation, or aren't we? Because if you're going to waste my time, I could be tracking down a memory leak, something that I can actually make progress at."
Spike strode on without a backward glance. "We're having this conversation, as long as you don't ask stupid questions. Bore me enough, and I'll just keep on -- pacing, was it?"
Willow sighed, and hurried once more to catch up. <<I am NOT going to ask him to slow down again. I can just walk fast. Short legs really bite sometimes. His just keep on going...>> "Okay. Sometimes you need something from another demon. How do you get it?"
Spike gave her a wolfish grin. "Well, beating him up's always favourite."
"Now who's being stupid? I couldn't beat you up if I had -- "
"You could try..." The grin became somewhat more carnivorous, then faded. "Usually, you don't negotiate unless the two parties are matched. If one party is significantly stronger, he just takes what he wants; no muss, no fuss. Not practical here... There's always hostages."
"What?" Willow gulped. "I've been a hostage. I didn't like it. And anyway, I can't think who could be your ...." << Uh, oh. I can think, actually, and we shouldn't go there. Besides, she isn't here, and I could no more keep her prisoner than I could beat up Spike.>> Before he could reply, she continued, "I can't keep a hostage, because I couldn't hurt the hostage if you hurt me. It would be wrong."
Spike sighed theatrically. "Pity you spotted the catch there, luv. So, no force, no hostages ... you really do need a credible threat. Basic requirement of living, ducks. Or unliving."
"The credible part is the problem. Where are you going?" They were rapidly running out of town, and chip or no chip, Willow didn't like the idea of being alone with Spike outside civilization. << And I am not going into the cemetery after dark without Buffy or Giles.>>
Spike glanced around. "Nowhere, pet. Like this conversation."
Willow snorted. "In that case, you can walk me back to the dorm." Spike raised an eyebrow, but she continued, "You walked me out here, you can walk me back to safety." Borrowing a trick from his book, she turned around and strode off without looking.
Spike stood watching her for a moment. <<Do I let her win one, or do I call her bluff?>> Before he could decide, the witch spun around, her face alight.
"Spike! I can't hurt people, but I can hurt things! You could give me a -- a thing hostage! Something that you want, but that I could damage! Like your coat!"
Spike began closing the gap between them. "Pet... If I grabbed Chubs and you had my coat, which one do you think would bleed longer?" Suddenly he loomed over her, reminding her how fast he could move at need. <<I do hope that chip's still working...>>
"Oh." She hung her head, and they walked a block or so in silence.
Spike thought. <<If I don't let her win, I lose. Bit tedious, having to play both hands myself.>> "The only other bargaining chip I can think of is pride. Sometimes the weaker party can blackmail the stronger party." <<Strong enough hint for you, luv?>>
Willow's brow crinkled. "Hmm. I could tell the other vampires ... no, I'm not getting near any more vampires , one's plenty. Or two, if you count Angel, but he isn't here any more..." Her voice trailed off.
Spike remained silent, slowing to match her pace. << Come on, Red, use that brain. If I have to feed you the answer, you'll start wondering about the catch.>>
About a block from the dorm, Willow cleared her throat, then fell silent.
<< Last call.>> "Yes, witch?"
"What if ..." The next sentence came out as one word. "What if you wrote a letter saying you loved ... umm ... NSync ... and I gave it to Willie the Snitch to hold?"
Spike looked amused. "And I would trust Willie the Snitch because...?"
"That's a detail. You write the letter, I'll figure out someplace to put it so that Willie gets it if I die, and we're set!" She was glowing with the satisfaction of a problem solved.
"It's a bargain, Pet." <<And we won't mention the vampire literacy rate, will we?>>
Willow beamed at Spike. "I've got to set some things up with friends. I'll let you know when it's ready!" And she scampered off to the floodlit door, swiped her card through the reader, and vanished into the dormitory.
Spike stood for a moment, watching the door. <<Honors to me, I think.>> He spun on his heel and strode off toward the graveyard. *****