Hi everyone! Just one offering for you this season, but I hope you enjoy – and now I get to relax and go appreciate everyone else’s contributions!

Title: This Side of Forever
Author: Brutti_ma_buoni
Rating: PG13
Summary: a pocket dimension with no one to fight. Surely not the perfect place for a Spuffy reunion?
A/N: The idea for this fic was originally sparked by a banner made by amyxaphania for the good__evil artathon, which I didn’t have time to tackle during the artathon itself. But she kindly allowed me to use it belatedly as inspiration for this fic. Discussions with rahirah about pocket dimensions planted a little of the mechanics of this in my brain, but this dimension has nothing to do with hers. The full banner is at the end of the fic, but here’s a little taster:

thissideofforever

There were many reasons not to go.
1. They didn’t know what was waiting for them.
2. They didn’t know if, or how, they could get back.
3. It was extremely probable that the four Potenti new Slayers who had been sucked into the portal were dead. As in splattered. As in unlikely to be retrieved for decent burial, let alone rescued in any meaningful sense of the word.

“So, portal-jumping dimensional travel opportunity, then?” Buffy rolled her eyes and picked up her purse.

Giles looked stern at the frivolity. “I’m afraid so Buffy. I’m sorry to ask it, but I think this is one mission you’d best take yourself, since it’s so closely allied with the Slayer line. I dread to think what the outcome could be if the new Slayers lost confidence.”

“Gotcha. I guess this SSR-SWC position demands sacrifices (also, we have to get a better acronym. Can’t we get up a working group? Senior Slayer Representative – Slayers and Watchers Council, it’s just…awful).”

“Delightful as an extensive nomenclature debate would be just at this moment, I really think the time has come to get specific about this mission. For a start, who goes with you.” And that was what Buffy had been hoping would not come up.

There were even more reasons not to go with Spike.
1. He was bloody, battered and filled with silent grief for the lost of LA
2. He had had his “fill of sodding mystical trans-dimensional fiddling around” and was apparently “in the mood to find something massive and kill it.” Which was not the point, for once.
3. Dead guys who don’t call should not get prime missions with chief Slayers

“No one – no need. C’m on Giles, I’ve been solo hundreds of times; there’s no other senior Watcher or witch around, I’d die rather than take Andrew, and like you said, this isn’t a newbie job.”

“Nonetheless, walking voluntarily between worlds is not a matter for casualness. You’re taking backup, and that’s an end to it.” Giles eyed Buffy slantwise. “And given the potential risks in an unknown, you should take someone experienced.”

A moment to process how much worse that made the newbie Slayers’ chances. And then a realisation about why Giles was looking so embarrassed about the plans, “Oh no. You’re not thinking… you can’t be… Giles! No way!

“Yes, I’ve asked Spike to accompany you. He’s happy to oblige.”

So Spike came too. And, in the end, there were sufficient reasons to go.
1. There was a chance that the girls could be saved. Enough said.
2. It would be their first opportunity to get to know one another again in reasonable privacy. Okay, in potentially lethal danger, not a date situation per se – but at least as promising as any situation they’d ever had.
3. They would apparently be safest with a car to link them together (thanks Angel – handy trans-dimensional hints aplenty). Which meant Spike got to drive something cool. This cheered him up noticeably.
4. Dawn had opened the portal. Someone had to fix that.

*

Reasons one and four were the important ones, of course. But two was on Buffy’s mind as Giles opened the “portal book”, and recited the text Dawn had used.

They hadn’t really talked since he came back. He’d been healing; she’d been furious. Then hurt. Then both, silently seething. Two weeks before, Spike had advised her to “get over the snit, Slayer – I came back to you in the end.” But that had made her furious once more. And now they were travelling through inter-dimensional space together. Damn sacred duty. Not that Spike had one of those. She wondered sometimes why he’d come back at all. And whether he’d stay.

*

It wasn’t a very spectacular portal. Giles didn’t have Dawn’s power. It sort of… sagged open. Spike got the Fabulous Mission Car (TM) up to all of fifteen mph and slithered apologetically into the vortex. Which was a fancy word for ‘vaguely swirly blur’.

So not impressive.

Once inside, though… Yeah. Impressive definitely the word. Eight-dimensional swirlyness with ripping winds and total absence of ‘up’ and ‘down’. Buffy began to laugh in disbelief, caught a glimpse of Spike’s manic grin, and grabbed his hand on the gearshift (well, was he going to be downshifting at this moment? No).

Comradeship and excitement. Totally not a romantic reaching-out. Are we clear?

They shot out of the portal doing something over ninety mph. By the time they’d bumped to a stop, Buffy had managed to let go of him and pretend that the moment of reaching out had never happened. Besides, it was time to be the Slayer again.

It was always odd, the first steps in a new dimension. They emerged into the world, leaving the car with caution and establishing Spike wasn’t going to burn to a crisp in the odd half-light of this place. The sky was pink. The ground was swampy. Elongated tree trunks on the horizon were more disturbing than trees should be. There were no creatures visible. There was, however, a sinister mansion in the distance.

And then they saw what had made the landing a bumpy one.

It was Sonja. Had been Sonja. Was now Sonja-parts. They’d hit one of her legs, and an arm (three fingers were caught in the grille). They hadn’t hit her head, because that was twenty yards from the rest of what had been Sonja. But it helped with the identification.

It took a long time to check that it was only one of the girls, not a pick-and-mix combination of unfunniness. No sign of the others, though; not even a scent of them fleeing. Looked as though they had indeed been scattered coming out of the dimensional vortex.

The questions neither Spike nor Buffy wanted to ask: what had they been scattered as? Whole people, or a random splatter of body parts?

They buried Sonja where they found her. No point sending that sad collection of flesh and bone home.

Buffy tried to get some words out; she’d had the practice at this grim job. But in the end it was Spike who quietly spoke over the grave. “Sorry kid. Wish we could have saved you. You won’t be forgotten.” He draped an arm round Buffy’s shoulders (comforting, maybe steering her away, totally not cuddling, noted a rebellious inner non-Slayer voice).

They headed back to the car. There were no roads, but everything looked pretty solid – grassy and driveable. And they both wanted some protection against the Otherness of outside. They drove slowly and silently, heading for the stand of trees on the horizon. Buffy watched the scenery listlessly, trying to get up the necessary urgency to seek the other three girls, but desperately aware that their task might end in more horrors. And they had a whole world to search for splattered corpses.

Except-

“Spike? Are we going in circles?”

“No love, haven’t hardly touched the steering wheel since we started.”

Don’t call me love unless you mean it. But she knew it was habit. “Then why are we back at Sonja’s grave?”

The sad little pile of covering leaves, and the twig cross Buffy had made to mark the spot, were unmistakeable.

“Right. Pocket dimension then.”

“When did you become the big dimensional portal expert?” Buffy was surprised by how definite Spike sounded.

He half-smiled, wistful round the edges. “Learnt a lot in LA, love. Had some good teachers and a lot of freaky experiences to ram the message home.” It was a reminder of how things had changed for Spike since Buffy had really known him. He didn’t talk about Los Angeles at all, not since he’d arrived on their doorstep and simply stated, “All my friends are gone. I’ve got nowhere else to go.” Twelve hours later, when she’d established Angel wasn’t dead, Buffy punched him for that scare. But his devastation at the loss of ‘Lorne’, ‘Gunn’ and ‘Fred’ and, good grief, Wesley was very real. Speaking of them was a rare event, to be celebrated.

Right now wasn’t the time for that. Slayer-head on; they had girls to find – and an increasingly small area to explore. Driving in the exact opposite direction had the same effect, and trying to head away from the mansion was an even shorter option; barely half a mile before they were back where they had begun. Not a sign of life, of any kind, the whole time, and certainly not a sniff of other Slayers (yes, Spike was sniffing out for them. Eeuuw).

Spike snorted. “Okay. Huge ominous mansion, here we come. I’m sure this will be a picnic.”

“Yeah, but at least we know it’s the only other place. We’d have seen the girls if they’d been outside. They all came to the same place, so…”

Repeated snort. “Huge comfort that is. Have you thought, if they could see us they’d have shouted out by now?”

“No, Mr Snarky Vampire, never thought of that. Thank you so much for enlightening.”

Spike was still glaring at her as they drew up to the house, so Buffy hopped out of the car without continuing the argument. Spike had further to move, and she reached the (dark, dirty, sinister) front steps well ahead. She walked straight up to the door, half-stepped inside and shouted, ‘Hallooooo?” No instant response, so she stepped out again.

Spike grabbed her immediately, shaking her quickly as though checking she was real. “Where’d you go?”

“Uh. Inside. You saw me go.”

“Yeah, two hours ago.”

“What? I was less than half a minute in there.”

“No way. Was ages. I thought they’d got you.”

“And yet you didn’t come in?” Mr Snarky Vamp, not so much with the Mr Hero Vamp, apparently.

“I started to. There wasn’t… time.” Spike looked baffled at the words coming out of his mouth. Then snapped his fingers – “You know what this is? It’s ‘relative time dilation in an amazingly compressed space’.”

This time Buffy really did boggle. “Uh – what? You get that from your dimension-traveller friends too?”

An annoyed shake of the head, as Spike had to confess. “Nope. Andrew. It’s from Red Dwarf. Stop laughing. Doesn’t make it wrong, does it? Time takes longer out here, shorter inside. Threshold changeover must’ve thrown me off coming to get you. Make sense?”

“… Yes.” Buffy was trying hard not to show how stunned she was at that. Spike truly had grown in their months apart. A jealous thought: who’d been teaching him to be so analytical? Probably not Andrew… Stop that thought. She coughed to cover confusion, and continued, “So the girls, if they’re in here, they might have been in for longer than we thought? Days, even weeks?”

“Yeah. Could be. Doesn’t work out here – Sonja looked pretty freshly dead, so that’s about Earth time. But in the house… How long were you inside?”

“Ten seconds, max.”

“And that was two hours outside. That’s a hell of a multiplier. They may have been here longer than a week.”

They were on the threshold once more. A voice from inside said, “Yeah. Longer is right.”

Buffy grinned and relaxed a little for the first time since coming through the portal. “Hey Mattie, thought we’d lost you.” And stepped into the house.

There as a stranger waiting for her. A pretty woman, somewhere in her thirties, probably, slightly familiar and with a terrible haircut. She was smiling, but with a tremble to her lips.

“Mattie?” Buffy wobbled out the word in return, as Spike stepped in beside her.

He nodded, still in analyst-mode. “Didn’t I say? Relative time dilation? Took us a couple of days to get on the case. You must’ve had twenty years here, right?”

Matter-of-fact worked well. Mattie, since it was apparently Mattie, nodded. “Yeah. I got unlucky. Came out in the house straight away. Spent more than ten years alone, I reckon. You’d think I’d have gone nuts, but there’s so much to do I kept busy. This house is great, it provides everything you need. Except escape.”

Buffy was focussed on the others. “So you’re not alone? Ingrid and Ana, they made it too? Because Sonja…”

Mattie’s wry laugh didn’t fit the subject. “Oh yeah, they’re fine. And I’m sorry, but I’ve known Sonja’s dead for years, so… The others came through together; came up to the house after a while. They’ve been here a few years, but nowhere near as long as me. They’ll be down soon, but I wouldn’t interrupt them.”

Two conflicting issues to pursue now. Buffy would have followed that cue up, if not for Spike’s impatient, “No escape, you said? Seems like we’d better hear more about that.” Hey, who’s Slayer here?

“Well, I’ve been here twenty years, and I’ve never set foot outside. I just… can’t. Now you’re properly inside, you won’t be able to either.”

“And you didn’t think to warn us?” Buffy’s first thought was an angry one.

Spike sighed irritably, “Didn’t give her much of a chance, did we? Look before you leap, as our motto bloody well should be.” He nudged Buffy in sexless reminiscence. “Seems like old times, eh Slayer? Trapped in a house again. Don’t supposed it’s a vengeance demon though. Shame, we dealt with that one okay last time.”

“Yeah, a real shame. I remember the big scary demon slashing up the helpless guy especially fondly.” And the sneaking touches, when she and Spike still touched like lovers. Sexless, Buffy. Remember?

The three started to move into the house, since standing by this supposedly impenetrable doorway was no help to anyone. Despite the grim exterior, it was no Hammer House of Horror. They got set down in a comfortable room with easy chairs for relaxation. Started to plan. Established that Mattie had done all the obvious stuff, trying windows and cellars for alternative exits, conventionally and by trying to smash her way out. Even tried getting out through the roof. There were no spell books or other magical items around, even if any of them had any expertise in that area. Which… no. Apparently Spike hadn’t developed into a warlock during his Wolfram and Hart time. Dammit. The mystical field around the house provided food, leisure pursuits and pretty much anything else on request (“We redecorated the bathroom last year. New suite, plumbing, the works.”) But anything which might have helped them to get out simply never materialised.

Ana and Ingrid trailed downstairs after an hour or so, seeming pleasantly surprised to see new company, but without any of Mattie’s urgency about escape. The way the two entwined with each other explained a lot about what they’d been doing earlier; judging by Mattie’s eyeroll they’d been doing it for quite a lot of their time in the house. They had aged a little, were now maybe twenty or so, but nowhere near Mattie’s time. Upon enquiry, after the portal they’d taken well over a day to risk going into the house. They’d seen Sonja’s corpse, and been terrified, spent ages seeking an alternative to the spooky mansion and only reluctantly stepped inside. They’d been shocked to find Mattie so aged, and distressed for a while.

“But then, we grew together,” said Ana, stroking Ingrid’s thigh. “So all ended happily.”

The look on Mattie’s face suggested she didn’t agree. “I’m really hoping it isn’t the end. Can you help us get out? You didn’t get stuck on the threshold. That’s got to be a sign of something.”

Uh, no. Not really. Except I wasn’t totally inside the magical field, thought Buffy. But no one needed to hear that.

“Yeah, and I crossed it no problem,” Spike pointed out. “So there’s something demonic going on.”

Unhelpful Slayer thoughts #2: Uh, yes. Alternate dimension. Duh

After four-plus hours of discussion and catching up, the talk fizzled out. It had been a long day of little activity and much talking. Keyed up for fighting unknown enemies, Buffy and Spike were deflated by finding themselves stuck in a non-physical puzzle. But that would wait till morning. Food, and even blood, were provided in the kitchen at need, so they ate.

Beds, on the other hand, not so much provided. There was only one spare room, which had appeared that afternoon. Buffy considered sleeping on the couch, or bunking in Mattie’s sparse single. But no, apparently, the house had provided a double for the newcomers to share. All attempts to walk into another room now looped them back into that shared double.

Okay house. We get it. What, are you a demonic prison slash matchmaker?

Or is it that both of us silently asked for there to be just the one room? Because… hello. Interesting.

Not the first time they’d slept together since… well, since everything – since the breakup, since the Bathroom, since the soul. They had a settled sleeping pattern, even, spooned close together. They found it again, silently – for the first time since Spike came back. So it was a first time, really.

But silence didn’t last. Buffy finally asked about the past year, safe now in the dark. And Spike talked about his friends; their mission; being a ghost and a hanger-on around experts: scientists, lawyers, warlocks. But also about finding himself; beating Angel, acting the Hero and finding he could do it well (“though the po-faced avenger bit never did suit me. Bloody stupid, some innocent people. Deserve a bit of trouble.”).

He concluded, quietly, talking into her hair. “Thought I was done for, when the Hellmouth burned. Took a while to know I wasn’t. Seemed like my old story was over; couldn’t find a new one. Didn’t want to try to revive the past till I’d found myself.”

“Did you?”

“In the end. Yeah. I am a bloody hero, you know? I just don’t do it off my own bat; don’t always see the right thing. So I need to be part of something. I came back to find my place. See how you felt about it.”

Buffy shifted round a little, so she could see his mouth at least. “I’m glad you did.” She kissed him, gently, before cuddling down to sleep.

She woke in the night to find him hard against her butt through layers of modest cotton. Tempting. Would he mind?

Buffy? He loves you. He wants you. He came back to find you and he’s in your bed. He won’t mind you making the first move. In fact, it would probably help, right?

So Spike woke to find Buffy riding him already; first awkward touches skipped over, straight to the deep, needy fucking they had been aching for without knowing how to get there. She held his arms down, driving them to pleasure with rocking hips and inner squeezes. He laughed, silently, and begged with his eyes till she freed one of his hands so he could stroke into her wetness and take her with him when he came.

Collapsed happily atop him, Buffy waited for Spike’s reaction. “So we’re okay then, Slayer? Got over your snit?” She only punched him slightly; too happy to care much.

“Not a snit. You should have called. Next time you die, call me after. ‘Kay?”

They slept again, differently entwined. Buffy draped over Spike, open and trusting.

*

In the morning, the five prisoners collected to compare notes.

1. No, on checking, they really could not get out of the house. Doors, windows, chimney etc. Nope.
2. Trying the patent ‘doesn’t apply to dead men’ gambit also failed – Spike bounced off the doors etc just like the rest of them.
3. There were in fact no secret trap doors, hidden rooms or similar which might promise a way out.
4. Nor were there any magic texts, potions or Teach Yourself Witchcraft primers available.
5. Yes, they all accepted, Mattie had checked all this out a few times during her twelve years of solitude and they could have saved themselves some trouble by just believing her. (Buffy and Spike silently boggled at how much Mattie now acted like the Mom in this place – three days ago they had known her as a feckless fourteen year old with an iPod addiction).
6. Ana and Ingrid were insanely in love. Which was sweet, but also infuriating. Not all sentences need end with ‘isn’t that right, sweetheart?’.

It was a grumpy day. Spike was already getting cabin fever. Buffy idly began to wonder how many years it would be before she was forced to stake him for the sake of her sanity. Then reconsidered. If she didn’t kill him in a week, she’d put up with him forever.

That was a pretty big thought. She tested it, and found it held up. Okay, revelation time.

It was barely getting dark (sky turning magenta) when Buffy declared it time to turn in. They needed a break from one another, and a lot more rest.

No break from Spike, obviously. But their relations in private were a different matter. Perhaps it hadn’t been so much cabin fever as thwarted lust – Spike went from civilised to desperate in the second it took to close the bedroom door. And took her fast and furious against the wall, fully dressed apart from panties ripped off and jeans shoved down.

They made it to the bed in the end, but only to love more thoroughly and with greater freedom of movement. Reacquainting themselves with each other’s bodies took hours of pleasurable effort, till they slept entwined once more.

In the glimmering of the pinkish dawn, Buffy woke Spike. He had been dreaming, looked at her blankly for a second, and then started to grin.

“Sorry mister. Not after your body right now.”

“Sure I can’t persuade you?” Spike’s hands were wandering, and Buffy rolled into him for a second.

But then grabbed his intimately stroking hand, “Not just now. I want to say this. If we’re stuck here long term…”

“Don’t be silly pet, we’ll be out of here in a jiff. My oath on it.”

If we are… I’m glad you’re here. Cause I don’t see my long term without you.”

Buffy buried her nose in Spike’s chest, hiding from his gaze in the intimacy of the moment. After a second, he lifted their joined hands, kissed the interlace of their knuckles.

“Slayer?”

“Hmm?”

“I love you. Time we said it together, isn’t it?”

She raised her head, cautious now. “And you’re not going to say I’m wrong?”

“Not again, love. We’re in it long term now. No messing.”

“Love you.” And she held his gaze for a long moment, almost waiting for his denial.

But Spike simply smiled, loosened their hands, and returned to tempting her. Only a contented “Yeah” acknowledged her words.

*

On the second morning in the house, things got organised. To be more precise, Spike took charge.

He truly had changed in LA; evil law firm apparently very educational. More businesslike, almost commanding, as they drew up a plan of campaign. Buffy had a strong feeling at times he was copying someone else’s style; someone who’d run this type of operation before. Angel, maybe? Wesley? Seriously?

Aim #1 was to identify the creator/owner of the pocket dimension. “Cos there’s no way this is natural. There’s nothing sustaining this world, no natural life. And all this junk that turns up when you need it. Nope, this place is a magical construct, true, but the stuff’s real enough and it must come from our home dimension or something like it. Which means someone’s running this dimension; and someone’s paying for it. Pretty sure they weren’t planning to support four Slayers and a vampire indefinitely.”

Mattie rolled her eyes. “If they’ve done it for twenty years, don’t suppose it’ll change now.”

“Okay, but worth thinking about.” Blessed was Buffy, for she was attempting to be a peacemaker.

Spike nodded, emphatically. “Be better if we got some idea who’s running this place. Can’t be that many types that can run a whole dimension for decades. Specially not ones who just want a prison, not some hellish torture place.”

“You’ve got an idea.” Buffy grinned at him.

“Met some people in LA who might do this. Could be good or bad. Don’t know many other types that could sustain this. And that book Dawn was using when she made the portal, that was one of Fred’s wasn’t it? So: I reckon LA’s the connection.”

Fred’s name was a powerful totem. And after overturning most of the contents of the house, they had the evidence.

1. One blank book, with a wolf on the spine.
2. One candlestick, decorated with rams’ heads.
3. One small, inexplicable, mirrored hand bell. With a hart forming the handle.

“Friends of yours?” asked Mattie, regarding Spike’s satisfied grin.

“Wolfram and Hart, love? No. Deadly enemies. And ex-employers. But, pretty budget-conscious ones these days. We just messed up one of their homes and they had to raise an Apocalypse. They’ll be counting the pennies right now. We just need to get their attention.”

“So, what, we order golden elephants?” Mattie was sarcastic, but not enough to throw Spike.

“Pretty much, if we can. Unless you fancy trying some sort of ritual – bell, book and candle is for an exorcism, but I’m not holy enough for that. How does this ask-for-anything-except-escape thing work?”

In the end, they tried a two-pronged approach. Mattie and Buffy worked on combinations of the three objects: pages, flames and reflections. They got burnt and dazzled, but nothing more. Possibly because the house seemed unwilling to provide a Bible to try the full-on invented exorcism Buffy secretly would have liked to try.

Spike and the lovebirds tried wistfully requesting into the ether an increasingly bizarre selection of costly objects. The kitchen became more and more cluttered, though they did decide against the elephant in case they got stuck with it longer term. Mattie assured them that unwanted junk vanished from the utility room, but an elephant seemed like too big a risk.

Finally, after six hours of annoyance, and only a brief lunch break, Ingrid said, “What we need now is a selection of Faberge eggs. Twenty, at least. No imitation crap, either.”

The mirror in Mattie’s hand flared blue, and she almost dropped it. The candle lit, spontaneously. Buffy flipped open the book, and found text.

Wolfram and Hart is not able to accede to your increasingly costly requests.

Your terms of captivity are under review.

Spike shouted into the ether, “We’re not fucking captives, you bastards. Let us out!”

Mattie tried to smile. “Yeah, that never works.”

Except… Two minutes later, a smart woman with impeccable hair materialised in the midst of the costly debris. She carried a Palm Pilot, and looked slightly startled, but that didn’t stop her talking before any introductions could be made.

“Wolfram and Hart has recently been made aware that due to circumstances outwith our control and some temporary construction issues at our Los Angeles branch we have not been as speedy as we might have been in resolving a case of mistaken imprisonment in one of our reserve dimensions.”

“Breathe, for chrissakes,” interjected Mattie.

“She doesn’t need to,” said Buffy, reaching discreetly for her purse stake. “Vampire.”

“Steady,” Spike cautioned. “Lawyer. Also, possibly our ticket out of here.”

And sure enough, Vampire!Lawyer continued. “As a gesture of goodwill, we are prepared to release all persons and demons currently contained in Dimension Zeta Kappa Mu-B, with immediate effect.”

The Slayers started to cheer. Buffy raised a brow. “Goodwill? That would be your legal obligation. I think we’d be looking for a little more goodwill on this occasion.”

Vampire!Lawyer started to talk about “monetary recompense of course open to negotiation”, but Spike cut her off.

“Not cash. Time. You’ve stolen these girls’ lives. Might at least offer them back.”

*

Evidently, Buffy was on reasonable legal ground (or possibly, just dumb lucky this time). Wolfram and Hart obliged with a gift of time, in return for a no-fault agreement absolving the firm from future repercussions “emerging from the unauthorised use of Wolfram and Hart property, however inadvertent”.

The Slayers considered their options, and in the end, Mattie opted to take back over a decade, and become a college girl. Ana and Ingrid stayed where they were. (“Teen acne and training bras? No way! Also: no sex…”).

But the important thing was that Sonja came back with them. She wasn’t unscathed. They might have reversed her magical death, but the memories were with her still, and completely fresh: no time had passed for her. Trauma was too small a word. But they had to believe it was better for her to have a chance at life.

Sometimes doing a deal with an evil law firm that owes you actually works out.

*

Time to go home. All six crammed into the car. Lawyer!Vampire spoke words of power (“Open Sesame. Please remember our binding anti-litigation agreement”). And they drove through another portal swirl, the girls cuddling Sonja tight as she flinched.

And they were back.

Much squealing ensued. The other junior Slayers were slightly in awe of the returning grown-up girls, but Dawn’s glowing relief covered a lot of the early awkwardness. That subsided when the full horror of Sonja’s experience was explained, but for anyone who hadn’t seen her dismembered corpse, it was less raw. There was a lot of celebration, exclamation… Total disbelief on Giles’s part that they’d saved the day without a punch thrown.

Eventually, though, Giles started to talk seriously about how they might get Spike involved “now his tactical skills are starting to catch up with his physique”, which was unnecessarily snotty but suggested the Council would be offering something with a salary. Which: yay, except Spike’d probably start smoking again once he had cash. Time to start another list.

It was hours before Buffy managed to get Spike alone. He’d been on the edge of the group, smiling and encouraging the girls; shrugging off thanks from anyone but Dawn. Who had been held tight and reassuringly, and allowed to cry discreetly into his shoulder.

But Buffy was determined not to let their breakthrough go. She dragged him into her study declaring, “Mission debrief.” SSR-SWC power!

Spike snorted as he allowed himself to be overpowered. “Debrief? Since when did you go all Initiative?”

“Since I wanted to kiss you for basically saving us all and the strategy and general fabulousness, but not in front of the juniors.” That made him smile, though he shook his head.

“Wasn’t much. Didn’t get to hurt anything, no real danger. Where’s the fun in that?”

“Giles is impressed though. You’ve got a job here if you want it, maybe a unit head. Part of something bigger, like you said.” Buffy was willing him to see this as the future.

“Yeah?” Not overwhelmingly thrilled vampire.

“Promise you’ll get to beat on big nasty demons next time?” That did the trick.

A happy, celebratory time later Spike finally pulled away from Buffy. “So… we’re okay?”

“Very. Very okay.” Buffy was smiling, open and loving; Spike still half-disbelieving.

“Cos, we’re not stuck with each other for eternity after all, so…”

Buffy was definite. “So we choose to be together. For as long as we want. Way better. I want a looooong time.”

“Yeah. Yeah, that sounds right.”

*

thissideofforever

 

Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/357479.html