Title: Picture Perfect
Summary: After Sunnydale, Buffy wants something to remember Spike by, just in case. Set during the party in Season 9, Issue #1. 4,400 words.
Disclaimer: These characters are not mine; I am making no money, etc.
A/N: Apparently being disgruntled by the comics spurs me to write cause I started this a little over a month ago but didn’t feel very inspired until after #7 came out! Anyway, it takes place during #1, so nothing in #7 affects it, and it’s comics-canon-compliant. For those who don’t read the comics, all but the last 400 or so words could also be applicable to a general post-NFA future, no comics required.
“No, I am not his bleeding fan. He stole this look from me, I’ll have you know. Christ, I used to eat people who asked me that! Oh, sorry, mate, I didn’t mean it like that…”
At the summons his whole body seemed to tingle. He turned automatically, blindly, toward the sound of her voice. Despite the crowd of much taller and bigger guests around her, he spotted Buffy instantly. She was pushing her way through the throng purposefully, with a determined set to her lips that made his nerves buzz and his back straighten. She halted at the tiled edge of the kitchen, which he had stepped into moments before to get more beer. Her eyes- suspiciously bright but not yet hazy- locked on his. Spike swallowed and squashed the urge to smooth back his hair.
“Here you are.” She smiled at him, and it felt like someone lit a candle in his chest.
“Here I am.” His voice came out a little rusty, and he had to resist the urge to take a swig from his refilled red plastic cup. “What can I do for you?” Anything, love; name it.
No, he wasn’t supposed to be thinking like that anymore-
“I need you.”
Heat lanced through him, searing his gut and continuing straight on downward.
“Come with me,” she went on blithely, as though she made these sorts of blunt, toe-curling admissions every day. Before he could blink, her hand shot out and grasped his arm.
Like he needed any encouragement.
“I need him; sorry.” This last was addressed to the bloke who’d remarked on his hair; he and his girlfriend didn’t look too disappointed by the development.
“Sure, pet. Where are we off to?” He was quite proud of how easily he spoke, that his voice didn’t tremble or lilt with foolish hope. Buffy was clearly already on her way to smashed; he had to take everything she said and did with a grain of salt.
“Um…” Buffy looked at the living room, frowning slightly, and set off back the way she came, tugging him firmly in her wake. Spike considered pressing her for details, but they were threading their way past too many noisy guests to comfortably start a conversation; besides, she looked like she was concentrating, her lips in their adorable little pout as she stared around the party.
You’re not supposed to think she’s adorable, chided a voice in the back of his head.
He’d made a dozen lists over the past few months of ways in which he was not allowed to think of or act toward her anymore. He wasn’t supposed to think she was beautiful or cute (even though she was). He wasn’t supposed to tingle or buzz or sear at any choice phrasing (let alone her mere presence). He certainly wasn’t supposed to feel as nervous and shy and out of place as he had at parties in Victorian drawing rooms (he wasn’t supposed to feel like William).
Maybe he couldn’t stop himself from feeling like love’s bitch when it came to Buffy, but he wasn’t going to play the part anymore. She didn’t love him; they were friends, and that was all they would ever be. That meant no pining after her, no following her like a puppy begging for a scrap, and definitely no acting like a lovestruck teenager.
He’d been doing pretty well tonight, too. To all the other guests he was the suave, cool, slightly dangerous and devastatingly charming vampire, and even with Buffy he’d kept his composure (“Any chance I can make you beg?” “Not this year”).
So why now did he feel like an anxious, overgrown, out-of-his-element schoolboy?
So much for his lists. He blamed the two beers he’d already had.
Buffy stopped suddenly, and he nearly walked into her. She didn’t move away, even though their hips were practically pressed together. Fortunately, she was too busy scanning the room to notice his sudden trembling. What was she looking for? They’d already made a circuit of the party, and from the look of things it was a rousing success. The room was stuffed to overflowing; every flat surface was taken up by a warm body, and every face looked cheerful.
“No good,” Buffy muttered, barely loudly enough for him to hear over the din, even with his enhanced senses. “Too crowded.” She set off again as suddenly as she had stopped, moving with renewed purpose, as though she’d realized what she wanted.
They ended up in front of a closed door, which she promptly opened.
Spike inhaled sharply.
The grin Buffy wore as she looked over her shoulder at him was half-giddy and half-mischievous. “C’mon.”
And with that, she pulled him into her bedroom and shut the door behind them.
He should have been struck dumb by the turn of events, but instead he heard himself blurt, in a tone that was damnably high-pitched and scared-sounding, “Pet, what are we-?” He flapped his free hand helplessly.
What did she want with him in her bedroom?
For the first time a shy expression crossed Buffy’s face. She shifted weight from foot to foot, and her hands rose to her midriff to fidget. In fact, she was fidgeting with something. It took Spike a moment to recognize what the compact, metallic thing was.
“New camera, pet?”
“It’s Tumble’s. I’m borrowing it”
“You the official scrapbooker for the party?”
“No!” The shyness disappeared, replaced with a much more normal expression of irritation. Spike stifled a smile. So she wasn’t in a joking mood. Good to know.
Buffy squared her stance and tilted her chin up. “I want to take your picture.”
Spike blinked. Okay, so a photography session actually made more sense than more traditional bedroom activities (and God, wasn’t that depressing), but not by much.
“Any particular reason you’ve got a sudden yen for my mug shot?”
The resulting pallor in her cheeks was unexpected, as was the brief pinch to her lips. He was about to ask what was wrong when she mumbled,
“I didn’t have any. After Sunnydale.”
Spike felt his throat constrict. Her head ducked, and it took everything in him not to gently cup her chin and make her look at him.
“After you…I didn’t have anything to remember you by.” Her voice trembled as she spoke, breaking his heart while her words mended it all at once.
“And not that you’re…not that you’re going to…again-” Her shoulders quivered. “Or going to leave- you’re not going to leave, right?” Her head shot back up, features alarmed.
“No,” he promised instantly. He meant it, but the vow still made him twitch a little on the inside. What if she really didn’t ever reciprocate his feelings? Would he be able to stay, always yearning for what would never be? Could he live like that indefinitely?
But that wasn’t important now. What mattered was Buffy’s trembling, relieved smile.
“So I don’t- I don’t need pictures then, but I, um, I want them…cause you never know.” Red suffused her cheeks, suiting her much better than the milk-white of fear. “Please?”
“’Course,” said Spike.
The word came out guttural, not like him. Buffy beamed.
The memories of Sunnydale gone as suddenly as they’d appeared, she turned on the camera and gazed critically around the room.
Spike did, too, guessing that she was looking for the proper place to pose him. There weren’t many options; the room was tiny to begin with, and the furniture made it downright cramped. He hadn’t had the privilege of visiting her new bedroom before, and he was surprised by how sparse the decorations were. Her room in Sunnydale had been a reflection of her, full of knickknacks and photos and memories. The walls in this room were barren, and there weren’t even many knick-knacks; the piles of jewelry and assorted make-up seemed smaller than in Sunnydale. Her furnishings looked nice, at least, even if the wood of her bureaus was probably fake and came from IKEA. He wouldn’t have pegged Buffy for having avian bedding, but the lavender hue suited her.
The room’s lack of personality made sense, he supposed, given that she’d lost everything in Sunnydale and had lived a transient life up until only a few months ago, but there was still something sad about it. He only spotted one framed photo, in front of and a little to the right of the mirror. It showed Buffy with Dawn and Xander, the three of them smiling outside of what looked like a park; maybe they’d gone sight-seeing upon moving to the city. Where had Willow been?
“Just sit on the bed,” said Buffy. Though it was the obvious answer, since there weren’t any chairs in the room, Spike still felt a lurching sensation in the pit of his stomach as he set his cup next to the photograph and settled gingerly on the bed.
“Smile!” Buffy held the camera to her eye. “Three. Two.”
Already? She didn’t want anything special? How candid was this supposed to be?
Spike snapped to attention. The camera flashed.
Buffy studied the result. Was it his imagination or did her cheeks pinken? Either way, her lips stretched in a small smile before she looked at him again.
“Nice. Okay, now a real smile.”
Spike stared at her, nonplussed. “That was a real smile.”
“No, it wasn’t. You were smirking.”
“No, I wasn’t.”
“You were! You’re totally smirking.” She leaned into him without warning, tilting the camera so he could see. He had to force his attention off the flowery scent of her hair before he could.
Well. All right. It had been a while since Spike had last seen his various facial expressions for comparison, but there was, undeniably, something smirky about this one.
“It’s your classic bad boy look!” continued Buffy. “Ooh, look at me, I’m a sexy beast! Come closer so I can rip your throat out and/or ravish you!”
It took Spike a few seconds to process and make sure he’d heard her correctly. Then he pulled back slightly so he could properly stare at her. It didn’t do much good; she straightened, eyes on the camera, oblivious to his shock.
“Smile for real this time. Ready?”
He nodded mutely, even though he wasn’t. Hadn’t he been smiling before? Sure, it looked like a smirk, but that was just his default. What else did she expect?
He leaned back on his palms and grinned, trying to show all his teeth.
The camera flashed.
The look on Buffy’s face wasn’t promising even before she reviewed the photo. “That’s just scary.”
“Scarier than ‘come closer so I can rip your throat out and/or ravish you’?” said Spike, mildly offended. “Let me see!”
She handed him the camera and put one hand on her hip. He gazed down at the photo.
Okay, sure, his bared-teeth grin looked a little like a skull’s, and his pale skin certainly didn’t do anything to help the comparison…but calling him scary was taking things a bit far.
Spike gave a disdainful sniff as he returned the camera. “I prefer ‘unsettling.’”
“Not so much with the teeth,” said Buffy. “Don’t look like you’re trying.”
“But I am trying."
“But don’t show it.”
He wanted to throw his hands up in the air. He wasn’t a bloody magazine model!
Actually, he’d probably make a damn good magazine model; they wouldn’t mind his smirk, he thought grumpily.
“How’s this?” he asked, and smiled.
Buffy wrinkled her nose. “You look like you’re constipated.”
"Try saying cheese."
"I am not saying cheese.”
“Cheese,” said Spike, through gritted teeth, and the camera flashed.
Buffy checked the results. “Still constipated.”
Spike winced. “Really ruining the moment, love.”
Buffy narrowed her eyes at him. “Who can’t smile for a picture?"
“Hey! When I was alive you weren’t even supposed to smile for pictures.”
“Well, that’s just stupid.” She put a hand on her hip. “You can smile. I’ve seen you smile. Real, normal, happy smiles. Just, just be natural!”
He exhaled and went for it.
Buffy inhaled, her eyes going slightly rounder; there was definitely rising color in her cheeks this time. “Seriously, you look like you’re trying to seduce me.”
His first impulse was to extend his apparently-a-smirk-again into a full-out leer, but he caught himself. Seducing Buffy was…not something he did anymore.
“Sorry,” he muttered, pursing his lips as hard as he could. Bad lips.
"I mean, it’s okay,” said Buffy. She turned red even as she spoke but didn’t look away or retract the words. Heat curled in his belly again and rose all the way to his throat. He had to swallow all the questions he desperately wanted to ask.
What does that mean?
Do you mean it doesn’t matter because you don’t think of me that way anymore and it’s just a joke?
Do you want me to seduce you?
“But I want a real smile, too,” said Buffy softly.
I’m trying to give you what you want, pet. He wanted to cry out the words, but he’d only sound desperate, pleading for her patience. She should know he’d do it- anything to please her- if he just knew how.
It wasn’t like he had a lot of experience with posing. The last time he’d had his photo taken was with Dawn during That Summer. She’d asked one night, out of the blue, while he was sitting her, if vampires showed up on camera. Instead of being satisfied with his affirmative answer, the bossy chit had demanded proof. After he harrumphed for a while, she scavenged a camera from somewhere in the house, one of the old kind, not these swanky digital gadgets, that Joyce had taken with her when scouting new pieces for the gallery, and photographed him. Then it had been easy to pose because he’d been caricaturing himself, making plenty of long-suffering faces and a few threats to disembowel her; his efforts had elicited rare and incredibly precious giggles. Afterward she spent ages experimenting with the timer so that it would take a photo of the two of them together.
Several weeks later she’d come to his crypt with a handful of photos to give him; Tara had taken her to develop the film and paid for doubles. As though it were yesterday, Spike remembered the image of Dawn curled up against him, snug and smiling and, briefly, content. The photo had been destroyed during Soldier Boy’s rampage. He had no idea what had happened to Dawn’s copy; doubtlessly the Hellmouth had claimed it along with everything else. Unless of course Dawn had already ripped it up and thrown it out.
“I want your Buffy-smile,” said Buffy suddenly.
She ducked her head and dragged the toe of her shoe in a little circle on the carpet. “Your, um, smile when it was just us. When we were alone and you weren’t…pretending, like in front of everyone else.”
He stared at her, an unaccountable itching feeling developing behind his eyes.
“When I made you happy,” mumbled Buffy.
He tried to speak, but his throat didn’t seem to want to work.
She looked at him quite solemnly for a moment, long enough for him to wonder if she was more sober than he’d thought, and then, inexplicably, she crossed her eyes and stuck out her tongue.
Spike started. “What-?”
She sucked in her cheeks and pouted her lips like a goldfish before saying, “You smile when I do funny things.”
He was going to snort at that when he felt it: his lips stretching, a light strain in his cheeks-”
The camera flashed a fourth time.
Buffy was already smiling when she looked at the photo, and what she saw didn’t do anything to change that.
“It work out?” asked Spike.
She sat next to him again, so close their thighs pressed together. He squashed the urge to wrap his arm around her.
The man on the little screen didn’t necessarily look like he belonged on that violet bedspread; his slouched, closed-in posture indicated he probably wouldn’t disagree. But his expression was one of complete ease. The eyes gleamed directly at the viewer, and the smile…Spike understood now why she hadn’t thought the first few looked genuine.
He looked at her beside him and felt it again, the same pressure inexorably drawing his lips apart. Buffy mirrored him.
“Maybe I should drink more,” she said, a little breathlessly. “You think I’m adorable when I’m drunk.”
“I do,” said Spike, also feeling breathless. “But I always think you’re adorable. You shouldn’t drink more.
If she sobered up, maybe he could…maybe he could talk to her. She was being so…intimate tonight. Maybe it would be all right to tell her that he still…
“You don’t need to be funny to make me happy,” he whispered. “You do that just by being you.”
Buffy flushed but looked more pleased than embarrassed. She glanced down, still smiling, at her lap, where she was fiddling with the camera strap.
A thought struck Spike, and he blurted, “Can we take a picture of the two of us?”
Buffy started. “Yeah!” She held the camera up, fumbling a bit as she tried to position it in a way that would capture them both. She leaned into him, her hair brushing his cheek while hers was practically on his shoulder. Before he could lose the nerve, Spike wrapped an arm around her waist. Their proximity made him dizzy. He definitely didn’t need any funny-face incentives to smile now.
Buffy pressed the button. After the flash, she lifted her head but didn’t pull away from his embrace.
“Oh,” she said, disappointed, looking at the camera.
Despite her best efforts, the picture only included half of Spike’s head.
“Try again,” he said.
The second attempt got both of them but was at a weird, tilted angle, and their expressions looked strained.
"You try,” said Buffy, and handed him the camera.
His result was even more badly aimed than her first.
“It’s not like I have a lot of experience with these things,” he pouted when she snickered.
Before she could take the camera back, he made a split second decision and said, “I’ll get someone. Wait here.”
He was most reluctant to bring a third party into the bedroom, even temporarily, but he would do it if it meant he got a photo of him and Buffy together. He opened the door and ducked his head out, afraid even to leave the room in case Buffy got distracted.
“Oy! You!” he called to the nearest guest, a woman in a blue top with short, dark hair and a ridiculous bow on top. “Help a bloke out?”
The look she gave him was incredulous bordering on insulted, and he realized how it must look, him poking his head out of the bedroom and asking her to join him.
“Not like that,” he said hastily, and showed her the camera. “Will you take a picture of my friend and me?”
The woman arched a brow but handed her drink to a friend. “Your ‘friend’ better not be your penis.”
Spike had no idea what to say that and settled for ducking back inside.
The woman looked mildly surprised to see Buffy, and wore a much friendlier expression when Spike offered the camera.
He resumed his seat next to Buffy and pulled her close. She pressed into his side in a way that even Harris would have to call snuggling; her hand gripped his knee.
“On three,” said the woman. “One. Two. Three.”
Rather than leap up to see the results, Buffy stayed where she was. Her fingers loosened but didn’t move from his knee.
“It looks good,” said the woman. “One more just in case?”
“Sure,” said Spike. He smiled again.
After she was done, the woman studied the photos for another moment before saying lightly, “You guys look really good together.”
Spike gave her a very heartfelt grin. “Thanks, pet.”
She held out the camera, and Buffy finally stirred.
"Thank you,” said Spike. The woman nodded and turned to leave. At the door she glanced back, searchingly, and then closed it behind her.
Thank you, he thought yet again, fervently.
“Mission accomplished,” said Buffy quietly as she clicked through the photos. She paused on the last one, and Spike’s heart turned over.
They looked so comfortable together, eyes alight, smiles wide but not forced, and not an inch between them. In this one moment they didn’t seem to have a care in the world besides enjoying each other’s company.
They looked…normal. Peaceful. Happy.
They looked like a couple.
Spike’s voice came out hoarse. “Can I have a copy of these?”
“Of course,” said Buffy. She spoke softly, equally entranced by the photo. After a moment she seemed to feel his gaze and looked up. Their eyes met, hers huge and drawing him in until he felt like he was drowning.
Spike swallowed. “Buffy…”
“Yeah?” she whispered.
Why had he spoken? What did he want to say? His hand felt hot on her waist.
Her eyes drifted downward, to his lips. He could feel her hesitation, could taste the anticipation.
And he could smell the beer on her shallow breaths.
“B-Buffy,” he forced out.
She blinked and drew back, not out of his embrace but out of easy reach.
She was intoxicating. And intoxicated. A little at least, and that meant they couldn’t do anything. He couldn’t take the risk that in the harsh light of day she’d regret her actions and blame him.
Because in the harsh light of day, when she was sober, she wasn’t interested in him like that.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
Her gaze was so innocent and guileless. He felt paralyzed. Could it really be okay? She wasn’t acting drunk-
The door swung open. “Buffy? Come play chicken f- oh.” Andrew stopped short in the doorway, mouth open.
Buffy straightened, not pulling away exactly but all her attention going to Andrew. With effort, Spike let go of her waist. His fingers curled automatically into a loose ball on the comforter. A wild part of him wanted to punch the boy.
"What about chicken?” asked Buffy, when Andrew didn’t speak.
“I, um, sorry, I didn’t mean to-” Andrew fish-mouthed, obviously chagrined, and Spike felt the violent desire fade.
“What about chicken?” Buffy repeated.
“It’s a pool game…”
“Oh!” Her eyes lit up. Spike felt a dart of dismay.
“I love that game!” she exclaimed. “I haven’t played that since sixth grade.”
“I thought you’d be good at it,” said Andrew eagerly. “Cause you’re strong enough to be top or bottom. But, uh, I didn’t meant to interrupt,” he added hastily. His gaze sought Spike’s and seemed to hold an apology.
“It’s okay,” said Buffy brightly. “We’re done!”
She sprang up so fast the bed bounced. Spike wanted to follow but still felt frozen. Her absence at his side felt like an ache.
She turned off the camera and slid it carelessly onto the vanity. She was at the door before turning and saying, “You coming?”
“Uh- y-yeah. In a minute.” He had to get control of himself first, get over this absurd feeling of betrayal and disappointment so that he didn’t look like a petulant git when he rejoined the crowd.
“’Kay. But come play chicken fight later.” Her eyes twinkled, and without warning she stepped back toward him. Her voice lowered as she leaned in close. “I wanna top you.”
She straightened and breezed past Andrew, who gave Spike a guilty smile before following.
Spike struggled not to hyperventilate.
Now it might be a minute or so before he could walk comfortably.
* * *
Several hours later he sat on the couch in the living room, several feet from Buffy and worlds apart.
So many people had wanted to try sitting on the tiny blonde’s shoulders to chicken fight that he didn’t get near her before she said she’d had enough of the water. Then she’d gone off with Riley of all people, and instead of following them like he would have a few years ago, he’d gone back inside to…whatever the non-forehead-y equivalent of brooding was.
He didn’t brood, and he didn’t sulk, and he definitely didn’t stare wistfully at her when she was taking Xander into her bedroom next or dancing on the table. And if he had half a dozen more beers, well, so did she, by the looks of things, so they could both be drunk now.
It would’ve been nice to see her so happy if his heart hadn’t felt like it was being slowly compacted.
Now she sat on the table in front of him, talking to a guy with dreadlocks, oblivious to his nearby presence. He took another swallow from his cup and realized that was the last of it. Stupid red plastic crap; they emptied out so quickly.
He felt someone sit on his other side and turned to see the dark-haired woman who had photographed him and Buffy. She’d wandered over earlier, but he’d been in the middle of talking with Tumble and hadn’t paid much attention. Now she was back and Tumble was gone, and so he tried to smile pleasantly, but his lips didn’t seem to work anymore.
"Hey,” she said.
She waited a beat before saying, “So I’m Melissa.”
He stared at her briefly, wondering why that mattered, before remembering to say, “Spike.”
The woman’s mouth quirked a little in response. “You seem like an interesting guy. It’s sweet, wanting a photo like that.”
Spike glared at her. Sweet? Was she mocking him?
The woman raised an eyebrow but looked otherwise unfazed. “I didn’t mean it in a bad way.”
He shrugged. Buffy laughed at something her companion said, rocking back and forth on the table.
“You like her.”
Spike looked back at Melissa, who had followed his gaze.
Well, yeah. Why wouldn’t you?
“So?” he muttered.
Melissa cocked her head. “You wanna make her jealous?”
He stared at her, nonplussed.
She leaned forward, slowly, and kissed him.
He let her.