With Interest
Dantes Edmondiaby

Disclaimer: Not mine.

AN: Naughty, naughty, naughty language.

- - -

I ain't no fuckin' pervert, but damned if she wasn't the cutest little thing I'd ever set eyes on. Sure, she was young, but she'd grow, and she seemed honest enough. We woulda been great together, but the Maitlands fucked me over, and as usual, it's all my fault even though I followed all of their goddammned rules.

Fuck 'em. Fuck 'em all. I got the best end of the deal in the end, even if it ends tomorrow, so I don't really give a shit anymore. Hell, if they'd known what was gonna happen, I'd've been rotting in Sandworm Land for all of eternity.

Goddamned bastards. "Go apologize to the girl," they said. "Then your punishment may be lifted," they said, "If she forgives you."

Everyone seems to have forgotten that I didn't do jack to her (Could you hurt something that goddamn adorable?) but hell, it was better than dealing with the Maitlands. Them I haven't forgiven, the whole mess was their fuckin' fault in the first place. And I fucking. Hate. Sandworms. The Deetzes? Screw 'em. But Lydia? Well... Lydia. Hell, even when I was being used as a chew toy, I couldn't much blame her. She didn't set the sandworm on me.

God, she was so fucking cute. Hell, I didn't mind going back to apologize - well, the apologizing I minded (I didn't do anything wrong, goddammit) but seeing her again was all right. Not often you meet a girl like that, no matter how young she is, and I repeat that I ain't no fuckin' pervert, but seeing her again was the only good thing that happened in two years of hell, and though it was a bitch to track her down again (What was wrong with Winter River? The house Chuck built in Peaceful Pines was fuckin' identical!) I sure as hell didn't mind seeing her sweet little face through the mirror again.

'Course, she wasn't too happy about it. Screamed her cute little head off and started throwing things at me. Woulda taken my head off with that lamp if not for the mirror. Fortunately the parents were out, or Chuck'd be back in therapy again thanks to me. Then again, I didn't haveta apologize to him, or his loony wife. Just the cute little thing screaming her lungs out and threatening to break the mirror with her excellent aim.

She stopped when I pointed out that I'd have no problem appearing in the little bits of mirror either. In fact, she threw a sheet over the mirror and told me to, quote, "Go the fuck away or else."

I'll admit it, I was impressed. She'd gotten brassier in two years. Without the Maitlands around though (stuck to their miserable little home back in Winter River until their century's up, and good riddance) there wasn't much she could do and she knew it. And me? Well, I had a young lady who was gonna get an apology if she wanted one or not, and though I'm not much of the patient type, I'm pretty damned persistent. And goddammit, punishments in the Neitherworld suck in every possible way imaginable, and a few ways that aren't.

So I came back the next evening. So did the sheet. Repeat ad nauseum for about a month, and she finally got the idea that I wasn't going to go away. I didn't bug her, either - just popped in, said hello, and got a sheet tossed over me - until one day I dropped in and she didn't immediately fling a sheet at my head. Instead, she was flopped on her bed, like a sad little rag doll, and looked up real slow when I called her name.

"God, for once, will you just go away?"

She sounded so tired, poor little thing, and maybe I was imagining things, but her eyes might've been a little red. I've never been one to press where it ain't my concern, and she woulda been suspicious of anything I said, but she was like a droopy little flower, and I like my flowers sick-sweet, not dull.

"Sure thing, babes. Whatever you want."

Next day came around, and she was just as tired, but she propped her little head up on a pillow and gave me a wary kinda glare. "Why are you harassing me, anyway?"

"Rules," I answered truthfully, and she laughed at me, real sharp and real bitter. I didn't like it - dark, yes, morbid, yes, but from what I knew of her she wasn't cynical - and gave me an even harder glare.

"Since when do you care about rules?"

Well well well - sure, an apology, that I had to do, but just 'cause she's cute as all hell doesn't mean she wasn't responsible. "Seems to me, babes, that I wasn't the one who backed outta our deal."

That shut her up for a minute, then she was spluttering. "You attacked my parents! And - the Maitlands! And you tried to marry me!"

Sigh. "Babes, babes, I was supposed to get paid for that scare in the hallway. I seem to recall that we had a deal. They hadn't tried to break it, I wouldn't have smacked 'em around."

"You still shouldn't have done it!" Ooh, that was a righteous fury, she was up in a swirl of black skirts, and goddamned if I didn't like that a sight better than the wilted little flower she'd been. "Somebody could've been hurt!"

I folded my arms and fixed her with my best stare. "Like who? I ain't exactly an amateur at this sorta thing. I did exactly what the Maitlands - and you - wanted me to do."

She wavered a little, but there was fire in her eyes. "You tried to marry me!"

"You," I pointed out, "Said yes."

"Only because I didn't have a choice!"

Well, she had a point there. Sweet little thing like her wouldn't let someone be hurt if she could stop it. "A deal's still a deal, babes. You walked out on me, but I'm the one who gets the shaft. Where's the justice in that?"

"I..." she trailed off for a second, all quiet, but she didn't droop. "...I guess there isn't any."

I'll admit, she caught me by surprise there. Been used to takin' shit so long that I forgot what it was to not get any, I guess. "The fuck?"

"Well..." She was too cute like that, biting her lip and pacing. "I - everything happened so fast..."

"I was there," I reminded her. "I remember everything." Damned Maitlands. Lydia might've been young, but she wasn't their kid - hell, she might not even have belonged to the Deetzes. "You know how many teeth sandworms have, Miss Deetz?"

She winced.

"Whole fuckin' lot of them. They've got rows. And two heads to bite with. I don't like sandworms much, babes, but they like me a whole hell of a lot."

Another wince. "Did it... hurt?"

Did it hurt. Big fuckin' teeth on a sandworm and she asks if it hurts. Hell if it wasn't cute. "Yeah. Yeah, it hurt."

Wince number three. "I, um... sorry." She peeked at me through these scraggly little bangs with these big dark eyes, and goddamned if you couldn't've knocked me over with a feather. She didn't realize it then, probably never will, but Lydia Deetz was the first person ever to apologize to me, and right then I knew I was doomed.

"Um... eh... don't worry about it," I said, all casual-like, and she looked at me with that pretty rosebud mouth falling open.

A few little tramps of those black boots closer, and she was staring up at me incredulously. "You don't mind?"

So fuckin' adorable. Sweetest little thing in either world, and goddamn if she wasn't like a hit of sugar to the system. "You're not the one who attacked me." Shrug, like it was nothing, like I wasn't the one who was supposed to be handing out the apologies here. Like it was nothing, like she hadn't dropped out on our deal, like I hadn't been chomped on for way too fuckin' long - but goddamn it, she apologized to me, and a girl like that doesn't say it if she doesn't mean it. She shook me up, hard, and she didn't even have a clue, just those nervous eyes. Still wary - she's a smart girl, and if she were anyone else, she woulda had a damn good reason, but she wasn't, she was just Lydia, ghost-seeing sad-eyed Lydia, and no way in any fuckin' universe would I hurt her. No fuckin' way.

Just Lydia, staring at the floor, clever and thinking things through, brow furrowed, while I tried to adjust my view of the universe to better accommodate her. Fuckin' hard to realize there's something good in any world when you're used to shit. If I needed to breathe, she woulda knocked the breath right outta me.

"...still... it was my fault, wasn't it?" Thinking it over, sitting down in front of the mirror like I hadn't scared her half to death. "I mean, the Maitlands... and - they were just trying to help," she said awkwardly.

"Their version of helping," I said rather icily, "Left me with sandworms chewing on my head for two. Fucking. Years."

She winced again. "They were trying to protect me!"

God save us all from the Maitlands' good intentions. "Protect you from what?"

"From you!" Flashing eyes - even cuter up close, goddammit, like little black universes.

"Why?" I'd stumped her once before with that question, and it worked again. She was rolling over ideas in her mind, but I cut her off before she could spout some doubtlessly misguided excuse that would still be cute because she was herself. "Seems to me they butted in on a decision you made yourself."

She gave me another incredulous look. "Under duress!"

"Fair trade, babes." I rolled my eyes. "Look it up sometime. You said yes, I said yes, and they butted in before our deal was sealed."

She gave a little shudder. "Thank God!"

Hell, I had to laugh. "You ain't such a prize yourself, babes. Cute as hell, yeah, but way too young."

Now she was offended. "You're the one who wanted to marry me!"

"Rules, babe, it's all about rules. A marriage in name only is as good as a romance to the rules." Silly thing, hadn't she gotten it yet? The Neitherworld was built on rules - you just had to know how to maneuver around 'em.

She was thinking though, brow furrowed again. "That's it?"

Blink. "What's it?"

"A marriage in name only?"

"...the hell did you think I wanted? I ain't no fuckin' pervert, goddammit!" Okay, so I was pissed. Really pissed. Goddammit, I really was a piece of shit if even she thought I was that kinda scum.

"Look, I'm sorry, but it's not like I really knew anything about you, okay?!" Frustrated and bristling, and she was like a kitten with ruffled fur, but twice as cute. "I was just a little freaked out by the whole idea!"

...yeah, okay, so I could understand that, but she didn't have to know about that. "Whatever, babes. Doesn't matter to me."

She gave me a coy little smirk. "Oh yeah? Then why're you so mad?"

Sneaky little wench. Goddamn, but I liked her.

"Touch."

"Thank you." She preened a little, and I blinked as I realized that through our entire conversation, she'd apologized twice and I hadn't at all. Armageddon was doubtless around the corner, in which case I'd better hurry, or I'd really never hear the end of it.

"Say, babes...?"

"Hmn?" Chin propped in her hands, like she didn't mind me so much anymore, like maybe this was okay - hell, only real conversation in two years and I'd never thought it'd be like this.

"Sorry."

She blinked at me. I blinked back.

"Did you just apologize?" Blink blink. So cute. If my circulatory system worked, I'd've been dead all over again from clogged arteries.

"Rules," I reminded her, and those pretty eyes grew a little darker. That I didn't like. "Plus I figure I owe ya." I tossed her an exaggerated wink. "For the scare and all."

She giggled. She actually giggled. "...honestly? Otho so had it coming."

Fucking doomed. But she hadn't actually accepted my apology, so I came back the next day, and she was propped on the bed again, face-in-pillow.

"Ain't the best method for suicide, babes," I said, and she looked up with a little quirk of her lips. Her eyes were definitely red-rimmed this time (goddamn it, but that bugged me) but bright.

"I suppose you'd know." She leaned forward on her elbows, curious as ever - I still couldn't figure why someone like her would wanna get into the stinking cesspool that was the Neitherworld any sooner than necessary, but it still wasn't any of my business.

"You see a lotta things on this side of the world," I told her, and her eyes gleamed like dark jewels.

"Like what?"

Another two words and she'd flipped my universe again. She wanted to know, yeah, and I was probably the only person who could tell her, but hell, she was sitting there and waiting for me to talk to her. Not cringing, not afraid, just waiting there, like this was okay, like this was normal, like nothing had ever happened. Wasn't true - shadows in her pretty eyes, and I know what I felt - but sugar-sweetness was on it like a gloss, and I sat on my side of the mirror and she sat on hers and we talked. I didn't know that I had that much to say - didn't know that anyone existed who would actually bother to listen.

She fell asleep at three in the morning, and goddamned if she wasn't the most adorable thing I'd ever seen. Pretty and pale and tragic, like a fuckin' china doll, and she'd blushed the first time I told her she was cute.

The next night, she was up until four, and I knew more about the Maitlands than I'd ever wanted to. Their niceness was positively nauseating. Lydia did sport the most amusing blush I'd ever witnessed when I asked if they knew she was talking to me.

They didn't. She wouldn't tell them.

I'll admit it, I liked that. I'm as petty and vindictive as they come, and goddamn it, sandworms. Sandworms. Plus if she was spending time with me, she wasn't spending it with them - Winter River's quite a ways away, after all, and she's only got a bike.

Three weeks later, and she actually was crying. I backed off, didn't come back for a few days, (and paid the price, goddammit) and got a lamp thrown at my head when I did show up again.

"You jerk!" The lamp was followed by a pillow, a framed picture, and her left shoe.

Better than wilting, but Lydia, as I was learning, had a temper on her. "The hell did I do?!"

She hefted the other shoe threateningly. "Where've you been?!"

I blinked at her. "Where do you think?" Ain't like I can actually go anywhere.

"You jerk, I was worried!" She threw the shoe, but she'd already gut-punched me in the worldview again, and if I still had a beating heart it probably would've stopped from the shock. God, she was like fuckin' rock candy dipped in pure sugar, and hell, if I wasn't in love with her already I probably was now.

"Lyds..." Hands up, placating, and I'd done this before but never once meant it. Did she have any idea what she was doing to me? "Lyds, I'm dead. It's not like they can kill me." A lie - devoured by a sandworm means death for the dead, but I didn't want her to know that. So innocent for one who was so curious about death...

But she'd frozen, and there was a look in her eyes that I didn't like at all. "...what can they do?" she asked, too clever as always, and I couldn't hold her gaze when she looked at me like that.

"Doesn't matter."

"Liar."

She still didn't understand, I didn't want her to, but she did, and it's not like I ever had much a chance of refusing her. "Lyds, it doesn't matter. There's nothing I can do about it - nothing you can do about it - and that's the way it is."

"...then why does anything matter?"

I looked at her, but her eyes were somewhere else, arms locked up tight around her like a hug. "If nothing can be done, why does any of it matter?" Shaking now, faintly and finely, but she wasn't drooping yet. "They'll always be the way they are."

And it wasn't about me, but it was, and all that brass and finery of hers didn't mean shit in the world she lived in. It explained her - her sweet melancholy, her yearning - and goddamn it, it made me fuckin' sick that all that beauty was being wasted on a piece of shit like me.

"Fuck 'em," I said, real soft, real slow, and hated the tears in her eyes. I never wanted so badly to reach out and touch someone, but she's a princess in a dream and I'm the worst filth of all.

"I don't know what to do," she whispered, and God, none of this was right. She shouldn't be here, talking to me - her world didn't suit her at all, if it had driven her to this - to me. Fucking hell!

"Fuck 'em," I said again, slow and clear, and this time she looked right at me.

"W-what?" She swiped at the tears with a lacy black handkerchief, all dainty-like, and I sure as hell was the wrong person to be giving her advice.

"So what if you can't do anything?" My own philosophy - someone, anyone else, why hadn't the Maitlands figured it out earlier than this? "You can still throw it in their faces." Shouldn't be telling her this, shouldn't even be here, but she was hurting and no one else was there. "So fuck 'em. They don't deserve the effort, and they're not worth the bother." But she was listening, shaking and clutching herself tight, but listening. "So what if you're not what they want you to be? You don't owe them." She didn't - but she was a teenaged girl, and if she was strange it was their fault for not understanding. "You don't owe anything to anybody. You never have and you never will."

Her shoulders slumped - tears, again, and how could sugar be so sour?

"Babes... Lydia." God, I wanted to hug her, promise it would be okay, but I couldn't do anything like that because promises are empty and worth shit in the world, and all I know I learned on my own. "If you're not worth it to them, why are they worth it to you?"

She cried for hours that night, and I hated every second of it. Hatred's nothing new - I hated pretty much everything before she tumbled into my life - but God, if only she'd speak the words and she'd never have any problems again, screw the fact that they'd torture me for a century or so before I got tossed to the sandworms for good this time. It'd be worth it just so long as she never cried another fuckin' tear.

But when I poked my nose in the next day, her eyes were clear and bright, and she said my name, and when we walked down the streets of the Neitherworld, she gleamed like the beauty she hides. Brass-bold, that little living thing among the dead, up in their faces and bartering for my freedom. She won it too, with a vicious little laugh of triumph - her first fight, her first K.O., and she loved it just as much as I did.

Goddammit, I love her. I ain't no fuckin' pervert, but I love her, and it's the most fucking terrifying thing that's ever happened to me. She'll grow up, find a guy who ain't scum to marry, and maybe she'll have kids and live long and hard and happy. And maybe one day she'll get sick of me - maybe on the day that her world finally looks at all that beauty and can't scorn it anymore - then she won't tear through my world like a dream that I didn't know I could have - and I won't even mourn because she'll be happy, and that's the only thing that will ever matter.

Fucking hell, I love her.

Chew on that, you fucking bastards. I fucking win.

- - -

AN: So movie BJ is deal-making casual with Lydia, and cartoon BJ has a shrine to her in his head. I kid you not. Movie Lydia's a bit quieter and more repressed than cartoon Lydia. (Cartoon Lydia's taken on the Neitherworld court system more than once on BJ's behalf.) Tried to get them from Point A to Point B. Tell me if it worked.