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I have a fic! You might almost have thought I saw this comm coming... Heh. I always liked what I wrote back in the day for the 'burnt out' prompt at sb_fag_ends, though, so I shouldn't have been too surprised that I was inspired by it again last week.

The story is in four parts, three of which are done and the fourth of which just needs the kick in the arse that is committing to post to make myself get it down. It should be around 16,000 words in total, posted over the next couple of weeks? It's very much standalone, though you can read it in context of some other fics I've written, mostly for Fag Ends. Generally, this is something I've been thinking about since that surfeit of fics set during and after NFA, where there was a trend in Spuffy fandom to decide that Buffy and Spike needed to live apart for a bit, Spike in LA and Buffy wherever she was. I've always wondered, what happens after that? How do you get from there to the fluffy futurefic Spuffy verses? I've been conscious that my own long distance relationship going-on-futurefic verse was missing that fulcrum, so this is apparently it.

Set in October 2006, this doesn't contain anything that would need a warning on AO3, but does have a bunch of swearing and a hefty amount of not hyper-explicit sex. You can probably guess the ending, but it's pretty angsty along the way. And, yes, the title is of a Finch song/album that everyone forgot about in 2002. There's not really any connection other than I like the turn of phrase.

What it is to Burn.
After three years in a long distance relationship, Buffy’s the one who cracks first.

one

There were two sets of keys in Buffy’s handbag. The first were her own, all her various house keys and the ones for the weapons lockers at work; the key ring was a few years old, from when she and Dawn had first arrived in the UK and gone out for the day at a theme park. There’d been this awful vampire-themed roller coaster, cheesier than Castle Dracula, but after Sunnydale it had felt something like a release. And the photo hadn’t made them look too much like a Munch painting, so it had seemed like a good souvenir at the time.

The other set was notionally a spare. Every key for her house, the two front door keys and the one for the French windows, the side alley and even her shed, they were on there. Some of them she’d had since they first moved in and they hadn’t originally been a set, just spare keys in a jam jar. Then, a few months ago, she’d found herself buying a Ramones key ring at Camden Market, because she’d gone all the way up the Northern Line to get there and refused to go home empty-handed. That too had lived in the jam jar for a while, until she’d been bored last weekend, heating up her soup. Once she’d threaded all the keys on, she couldn’t quite bring herself to take them off again.

Now she couldn’t leave them alone, so they were living in her bag. She held them in her hand sometimes, all neat and tinkling, just to think what they would look like bulked out with a car fob, or the desk key for furniture she didn’t own.

This was one of several things that made Buffy think she might just be losing her grip on reality.

It was Dawn’s fault for going to college, really. That had been a watershed moment and it was making her think, keep drawers and coat hooks free, spend three whole minutes staring at the beer aisle at Sainsbury’s…

It had been three weeks since they’d moved her into dorms. Now, as Buffy sat in her living room – devoid of a sister and devoid of her books, silent and echoing around the EastEnders closing credits – she had to accept it. She was lonely. Not cripplingly so, but not transiently either. Her nest was empty, and the twigs were proving themselves cold comfort.

As the programme changed over, her boyfriend rang, which was something of a relief from the feeling. But this was the boyfriend she hadn’t actually seen in the flesh since said flesh had burned to a crisp, and that was three years ago. She talked to him as she made some dinner, because she hadn’t yet found the will to cook that evening, and she laughed and rambled like always, but she couldn’t quite block out the echoing silence of her house, filling her opposite ear.

Lying in bed that night, there was nothing for Buffy to do but stare into the dark.




She had a plan. She made it a habit to never be without a plan, and this was no exception. It was an old one, truth be told, and she’d been honing the details for over three years. The first part was the trickiest, though, which is why it had never been attempted.

But that day, one day in late October, Buffy accepted there was no other way around it – and around it she was going to go.

“OK, so here’s the thing,” she told Giles as she took a seat in his office. He was looking at her, so it took an extra breath to steady herself, but she managed to say it anyway. “I need to go to LA.”

Immediately she knew her tone was wrong, because Giles was sitting up straighter, reaching for his phone across his heavy wooden desk. “What’s happened?” he said, on alert. “Has there been an escalation?”

“Huh? Oh, no no no,” she quickly reassured, waving her hands in an attempt to calm him down. He relaxed – and that made sense; Giles knew as well as her that Wolfram and Hart had been silent on the West Coast for eight months and more. “It’s nothing like that. It’s just…” Looking up, she breathed in, trying to think of her phrasing. “I thought I could take a vacation?”

“Ah,” came the reply as Giles caught on. He started shuffling papers, and she knew his fingers were itching for his glasses and a handkerchief. “I must say,” he commented carefully, with distance, “I’ve been surprised you haven’t asked for time off before now.”

It was noncommittal, but it was nonetheless an unequivocal statement of support. He could be pretty elegant with words sometimes, her Watcher. “Well, I’ve had…” It was a pity she didn’t have the same skill. “There’s been work and stuff,” she continued. “And –” No, she told herself, she couldn’t finish that sentence yet. Her second problem had to wait. She had a plan. “Could I have a week off?” she asked instead.

Giles didn’t even blink. “Take two,” he replied, as if he was going to insist. They both knew, of course, that she couldn’t really be spared for more than a fortnight.

“Thanks.” Buffy smiled, but it was forced. Most of her smiles were these days. She felt kind of like the bland, impressionistic office art behind Giles’ head: not quite what she was meant to be.

But she was relieved – and grateful. This was relief she was feeling, relief she was past stage one. She just wished she didn’t have to bring up the other thing.

Apparently Giles caught it anyway. “Buffy?” he asked, frowning.

Her first attempt at answering came out as a defensive, “I just –” Swallowing and shaking her head then, she calmed herself, focusing at her fingers where she ran them along the edge of Giles’ desk. “I don’t know how to start with this,” she dove in, unable to bail out now, “but you said – a while ago,” and he had, actually “that things were gonna be better, you know, with the Council’s finances?”

“Yes…” Giles agreed, looking a little embarrassed. She felt bad, talking about money like this, but he had said once that when the Council’s assets and things were sorted out there would be more money around, so things would be different. They’d be able to hire someone who knew about kenjutsu or whatever to lead sword practice, rather than relying on her. And she’d change pay grades.

“Well, I was hoping I could ask,” Buffy continued as carefully as she could, trying to maintain eye contact, “if that better was gonna be soon?” Things were already changing a little, Buffy knew, and she tried to convey that with her expression. She was earning more than a year ago, and they’d been refurbishing the offices. For the first year after they’d moved to London, the Council had been little more than a dump, but they had nicer furniture now. The pot plants were alive. The art was still bad, but there was more of it; that earned you points in that Sims game Dawn had, didn’t it? “I mean,” Buffy cut off her thoughts, refocusing on Giles, “it’s not like I can’t afford to go.” She had to stick with the plan. “He’s got that shiii-craphole apartment anyway, so I don’t need a hotel – but I…”

Grimacing with embarrassment, she tried to wait for Giles to interrupt. Unfortunately he just looked bewildered.

In the end she had to force herself to carry on. “Well, uh, you see…” And this was the moment she really cringed inside. “So, the thing is, the flights are kind of gonna max out my credit cards, and I still have some bills to pay this month – so I was hoping, maybe, I don’t know if –”

Buffy,” Giles finally interrupted then, making her jump and look him once more in the eye. He sounded more shocked than she’d hoped. “How…?” All at once she felt terribly, terribly guilty for failing to save when things were so good – because they were good. When she did the currency conversion on her wages she knew the Doublemeat Palace guys would think she was some kind of joke.

And yet… “I didn’t mean for this to happen,” she tried to explain, begging Giles to understand. “But everything – when we got here – it always cost a little more than I… And Dawn, she had all her new friends and I wanted her to have what they had, you know, what I had when I was her age, and I thought I could make it work, so…” Biting her lip, Buffy wasn’t sure what to say, really. She hadn’t plummeted into debt by any means – not like when she’d leapt into that abyss of non-earning death and robothood – but after three years of a little extra purchasing than she could afford, looking back, and after the washer broke and everything with the roof… She’d tried so hard to build a travel fund – any fund, really – but it had been eaten away, every time.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Giles asked eventually, gentle but still so bewildered. She looked up, surprised to see that he looked mostly disappointed in himself. “I know you’re careful enough; you shouldn’t have had to… We agreed your salary,” he reminded her, “on the same basis as everyone else: we kept it artificially low for the time being to maintain as much liquidity as we could while things got back on track.” She knew that – but he sounded strangely guilty as he added, “You weren’t supposed to scrimp and save for things like – you should have mentioned…”

“But I couldn’t,” Buffy interrupted, not sure he quite remembered how much money he’d really given her. Nor some of the things he’d once said about this relationship. “After you helped me get my house? That was so much, Giles, I…”

But he was rolling his eyes, sounding bitter. “No Watcher would have lived in that house,” he told her, as if trying to make her understand something. She wasn’t sure what. “Even with the postcode, any middle-rank researcher would have expected a third storey and higher ceilings.”

At that, she just felt offended on the behalf of poor Number 63. It couldn’t help being overshadowed by some of the bigger places in her neighbourhood. “You could live in my basement,” she defended. “I just haven’t fixed the damp yet.” Not that that was important. “I mean…”

Pre-empting her other concerns, Giles waved a hand. “You deserve to have your own home,” he dismissed, “and I don’t trust these 95% mortgages. It’s always best to be on a firmer footing – and the rates are far more reasonable. Not to mention,” he added, looking at her over the rim of his glasses, “you’ve been paying me back quite dutifully with that standing order every month…”

“But –” Buffy tried to interrupt again, not sure what she was meant to be saying. They were definitely off-plan now. All she wanted to do was grovel for a loan, but he wasn’t letting her.

“Look,” Giles explained forcibly, finally taking off his glasses in one rhetorical swoop to his handkerchief. “It’s not my money I’m paying you with, it’s the Council’s. It’s yours.” She wasn’t sure how that worked, but Giles had been saying it since day one. He always looked at her like she was his boss. “You could have used it to build a James Bond army barracks on a private island in the South Pacific, but you didn’t. You entrusted it to me to rebuild this organisation, for which I am eternally grateful.”

“Well, what else was I gonna do with it?” she asked, uncomfortable as she rubbed her toes into the carpet. “I’m really… I’m not so good as a figurehead. Honestly.”

With an overdone expression of seriousness, Giles looked like he was weighing up her leadership skills in his head. “However you feel about it,” he finished, actually serious once more, “I’ve been working with Faith on our bonus structures, and we…” A fond expression crossed his face, which Buffy couldn’t quite track. “I didn’t want to raise anticipation too far in advance of their introduction,” he continued, focusing on her once more, “but our main principle is reward for length and commitment of service, on which point Faith has been quite adamant that anyone like you – well, like you both, really – who ‘takes it for the team’, they should receive a pension of more than enough to spend any life after resuscitation ‘chillaxing the hell out’.”

Buffy blinked. “Chillaxing?”

“A portmanteau of ‘chill out’ and ‘relax’, apparently,” Giles confirmed, sounding perplexed. He shook his head. “The basic idea is that of a very comfortable life, in thanks for, well, literally giving it up for the cause. There were some details to thrash out, because I worried we might have an element among the cohort seeking out some sort of Blighty wound, as it were, but the statistics on post-traumatic CPR would frankly put anyone…”

“Giles?” Buffy interrupted, almost certain she was hearing things wrong. Blighty wound? “You’ve lost me.”

Still apologetic, he smiled at her before he explained. “It’ll be a few months more until we can fully finalise the dratted legal documentation,” he said, “but after that you will, quite honestly – especially since talking to Willow I hear there was a third time you never mentioned…” At that point, he managed to catch himself. “You’ll be able to do anything you want,” he said.

“Oh.” She worked out what he was saying then. It was an embellishment on what he’d been saying all along, really, what they’d all been saying. The Hellmouth was gone and they were free, free and potentially rich, at some unspecified point in the future.

The problem was, she was getting a little sick of living in the future, depending on promises and possibilities. It was time to deal with the now, and right now she was sitting in a run-down tower block no one even tried to call a skyscraper. And she was miserable.

“Look,” she said. Her voice came out duller than she meant it too. “I just wanna go and visit Spike.”




The cheque Giles wrote came with the insistence it was a gift, not a loan, but Buffy knew she’d have to get him something really nice for his birthday next year. No more socks and ink cartridges. He promised she’d have enough money by then that it wouldn’t be a problem, but she’d believe that when she saw it.

The next few days she spent in a daze, not quite sure what to do with herself – but she knew, at least, that she wasn’t the only one.

“Hey, uh, I’m coming to visit.”

“Oh, right.”

“Yeah.”

“Wait. You mean – here? Me? What? When?”

“Saturday. For two weeks.”

“… Bloody hell.”


It took the plane touching down in LAX for the reality of it to catch up with her, when it did so with a vengeance. As they wound down the runway her palms started sweating, the heat reflecting from the cover of her passport; her heart didn’t know what to do with the adrenaline and it took her about five seconds to realise what the beep meant when the seatbelt sign turned off.

Shuffling along with the herd, Buffy made her way through Immigration and reclaimed her zebra-print impulse-purchase a little while later. The AC made her shiver as they filtered through into Arrivals, but she made it, looking around unable to take anything in.

Something in the back of her mind registered a figure in black standing up from a bank of seats, so she felt it as her feet began trundling her over. He was watching her, though their eyes didn’t quite meet, and for a moment he looked just like one of the many photographs she had of him, frozen in time.

She’d always wondered how accurate those reproductions were, if immortal bodies really didn’t change. For that moment there didn’t seem to be a difference, but an instant later his expression flickered with some silent reaction. Blue irises slammed into her angle of vision and muscles crinkled, echoing the enigmatic quirk of his smile. He looked older than she remembered, three years older, every worry she’d heard he suffered writing over the worries she remembered from before. The development of his face, that was the same, still frozen in time, but he wore his features just a little differently. He looked at her with three more years of memories.

“Hello,” Spike said – and his voice felt softer on her ears than down the telephone line. More whole. The grin on his face was widening, as if he couldn’t quite batten it down.

She wasn’t supposed to be twenty-five when she looked at him, nearly twenty-six. How could she have been twenty years old, young and fragile, when she dominated him into bed? How could she have been sixteen when they first met? His physical presence was so…

“Sorry,” she said, shaking her head as the silence went on too long. With almost a pop of decompression, her mind shuttered away from abstract thought and caught up with the faint sting in her eyes and the stretch of her mouth and cheeks. She was smiling, and suddenly the man in front of her wasn’t an obscure Sunnydale memory, but her boyfriend, whom she knew like the back of her hand. Someone had taken her photos and her letters and his voice and given them a physical reality, embroidered a dream into vampire form.

When had she forgotten this existed?

“How was the flight?” he asked as she walked into his arms. His voice was familiar, level with familiarity, as if it was actually them who spoke almost every day.

Somehow, her voice came out the same. “Eh; it was OK. The food was terrible, but I’m getting more familiar with your culture now. They had that Wallace and Gromit with Shaun the Sheep and Del Boy fell through a bar.”

“Not the one with the chandelier, then?” It was only the feel of him that was new, even if her head knew exactly where to go on his shoulder.

“Nah.” And, God, his forearms squeezed more firmly than anyone else she knew.




It was no surprise to either of them, she didn’t think, that they started attacking each other the moment Spike’s apartment door was closed. Really, Buffy was surprised they made it that far, but it was a lot easier to smash her lips against his when there was a hard wooden surface to slam him against. ”Please be real,” she was apparently begging him out loud, groping under his shirt as his thigh thrust up between her legs and she kicked her feet out of Rocket Dog ballet flats. “You have to be real,” she kept trying to believe it, even as the hand in her hair wrenched her head up and her words were swallowed by lips she’d never quite kissed like this.

“Tell me what you want,” Spike was purring in her ear. Even as she was carried across the room, dumped on the bed and covered by a body, part of her still felt like he was talking on the phone and she was lost inside a fantasy. “Gotta give me some idea, else what am I gonna do with you?”

That part was a lie, because he was getting her clothes off quite well, just as she was pulling off his shirt and yanking at his shoelaces. They were sitting up on the bed; she was straddling his crotch and leaning backwards, one arm secured on his shoulder and the other helping him drag off a sock. “You know me,” she whispered as they swapped arms, coming in close for a kiss before they aimed hands at his other boot. This was always the trickiest part; she’d forgotten. “What do you think I want?”

“After two years of foreplay?” he mused for a while, until he’d unhooked her bra and she was under him again, bouncing on mattress springs. As he spoke she kept her eyes closed, curling arms around his shoulders and legs around his hips. “Hmm…” It still felt like a fantasy, but it was fun to make him shiver even in her head, and kisses under his ear always did just that. “Figure you want to be nailed to this bed so hard you go numb.”

Yes, she thought but didn’t say, arching her back as his fingers found the fly of her jeans, relaxing so he could drag them down her thighs. Her moan seemed articulate enough, sounding in her throat as he kissed her again.

“Also figure there’s good reason not to do that.”

He said it softly, raising a hand from the mess around her knees to rest his fingers on her temple, smoothing a thumb across her brow. The weight of his elbow made her head rock on the covers. At the feeling of it, her eyelids fluttered open and the sight of his face made her stomach drop away.

“Oh,” she said, as her sense of illusion vanished. A bolt of wooziness hit her, oncoming jetlag, but she saw him. He was real and his right hand was still tracing the inside of her thigh, which almost made her feel shy. “Oh wow,” she breathed, shaking her head against his fingers. “I think I’m still reacting.”

“Tell me about it,” he replied, looking bemused as he glanced around the bed area of his apartment. It was as drab as he’d ever described it, cold greys and blues and cheap, utilitarian furniture. Exposed brick. “Half of me wants to know if you’ve any new wisecracks from the postman,” he snarked, before he looked back, eyes alight. “The other half feels like you’ve risen from the dead.”

She smiled up at him, relieved he felt the same. “Me too,” she said, before kissing him slower, more softly. She hadn’t even bothered looking around the apartment when they’d come inside, because she knew where everything was, what it looked like. And yet the duvet felt so unfamiliar on her skin. “You’re like – something amazing that I…” Suddenly the feeling wasn’t so pleasant anymore. What did I miss happening?

He nuzzled his nose against hers and the newness of it was enough to make her breath catch. She didn’t know what to do with the depth of feeling she could read on his face. “You are – extraordinarily beautiful,” he said at last, sounding utterly conflicted. “You know that?”

When she kissed him this time, she found herself desperate to know what he felt like, what she could make his body do in light of everything she’d long since learned. “Don’t say anything,” she whispered, tipping him onto his back and pulling his belt through the buckle. Kissing him again. “Just nail.” Thankfully the feel of his cock wasn’t too jarring in her hand; she hadn’t misremembered that badly. Smiling into his gasps, she told him, “In my fantasies you talk too much.”

“Yeah, well,” he replied contrarily, tossing her back across the bed so he could catch her under his weight again. His smirk was so much more infuriating outside of her imagination. It was intoxicating. “In my fantasies –” At last, then, finally, those hands were scoping out everything between her legs she’d never really got the right angle on. “– you’re a domineering bitch.” And, boy, did the cocky bastard know what he did to her. “So you just lie there, all right?”

Pulling down his jeans by the sweat on the soles of her feet, she slapped two hands to his backside and aimed the front of him where she usually aimed. “How about you make yourself use-” she commanded, only to swear as he pushed in.

The unexpected sensation made her spasm, panting as her chin slammed to her chest and then fell back. She remembered now, quite suddenly, how long it had been since she’d felt anything do this that was outside of her control.

Breaking banter, Spike seemed to remember too, whispering, “This all right?” Right then there was a moment, one where she realised how many years it had been, how far she’d travelled that day. She realised he was ready to hold off and it almost made her panic.

But she didn’t, not yet. She clung to him instead, encouraging him on. “Just be here,” she hissed, trying to make it true.

.

[two]

Comments

( 18 comments — Leave a comment )
thisficklemob
Aug. 25th, 2012 10:34 pm (UTC)
Aww, poor Buffy. Scrimping and saving just to get to go see her boyfriend. Giles, you should have bought her tickets before you bought bad office artwork. :p
quinara
Aug. 26th, 2012 04:55 pm (UTC)
Hee! Yes, though I'm not sure the art was expensive enough to cover the costs. Maybe for the whole office building. (Or not.)
secrethistory_
Aug. 26th, 2012 10:38 am (UTC)
Loved this. I really like your style of writing,and your portrayal of post Sunnydale Buffy in London with small British details.
quinara
Aug. 26th, 2012 04:58 pm (UTC)
Thank you! Putting in details is very fun. Mostly I have to keep myself from going too far, because it's so easy after trying to write realistically about California all the time!
slaymesoftly
Aug. 26th, 2012 12:51 pm (UTC)
Oh my. I'm not sure I don't have tears in my eyes. Yay, yay, yay! for the new comm.
quinara
Aug. 26th, 2012 04:59 pm (UTC)
Thanks! And sorry. ;) (I promise something of a sense of humour along with future angst?) Definitely yay for the new comm! :D
waddiwasiwitch
Aug. 26th, 2012 04:17 pm (UTC)
Oh this was so wonderful and so them. I will look forward to the other parts.
quinara
Aug. 26th, 2012 05:00 pm (UTC)
Thanks very much! :) I hope the next parts live up to expectations.
shapinglight
Aug. 26th, 2012 04:51 pm (UTC)
This was wonderful. As usual, you never make it easy for them.
quinara
Aug. 26th, 2012 05:01 pm (UTC)
Oh, thank you! And of course I couldn't make it easy; they can get on with that later... ;)
zanthinegirl
Aug. 26th, 2012 05:23 pm (UTC)
I'm always excited to read a new story by you, but this one is particularly compelling. Gorgeous details, and so vivid. Really looking forward to more!

Yeah new com!
quinara
Aug. 26th, 2012 07:08 pm (UTC)
Oh, thanks very much!! That's really nice to hear. More shouldn't be too long at all!

\o/
rebcake
Aug. 27th, 2012 01:01 am (UTC)
He could be pretty elegant with words sometimes, her Watcher. “Well, I’ve had…” It was a pity she didn’t have the same skill.

That whole conversation with Giles, with them not really understanding each other, even with all the good intentions in the world, is fabulous. I do hope at some point that Buffy will start to understand just how central she is. Though I was discussing with a friend just today how people seem to always think that they are frauds and imposters in the workplace, and never seem to think they are doing good enough work...unless they are narcissists. Which is much worse than think you must always strive harder, probably. Anyway, that and that Faith has taught Giles to say "chillax" is just beautiful.

Naturally, I'm thrilled to see Spike and Buffy getting on with their "together time". Long may it last. Forever works for me.
quinara
Aug. 27th, 2012 07:51 pm (UTC)
Oh, thanks very much! I heard about that imposter syndrome thing (perhaps unsurprisingly, it's supposed to be absolutely rife in academia, particularly among women) and I think Buffy's definitely got a bit of it here. The thing about this 'verse, of course, is that's she's actually on the way out of being central, because Giles and Faith's plans aren't far from fruition, so I'm not sure, alas, that this Buffy ever gets to realise.

And I couldn't resist 'chillax'.

Much together time will be had! Thank you. :)
missus_grace
Aug. 28th, 2012 01:31 pm (UTC)
I think I sighed when they finally made it to bed ;)
quinara
Aug. 28th, 2012 08:01 pm (UTC)
:D Well, they have been waiting a long time.
hello_spikey
Jan. 17th, 2013 05:23 pm (UTC)
OMG love this. So much complexity. It's just breaking my heart in that good way.
Adore the 'in my fantasy' lines.

Also mmmmm Spike. I never have trouble relating to Buffy pouncing on him. :D
quinara
Jan. 18th, 2013 09:44 pm (UTC)
Really glad you like it - thanks! And of course very glad that the characters are relatable. :D
( 18 comments — Leave a comment )