Fic: “Positive Exposure (2/2)” by Quinara

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On to Part 2!

Title: Positive Exposure
Author: Quinara
Rating: R/NC-17 for some briefly graphic sex and relatively high amounts of swearing.
Word Count: c. 13,600 in total.
Summary: Safe in the bosom of the A-List, Spike is set up on a date with Buffy: the world’s most hated tabloid trash. Wackiness refuses to ensue.
Author’s Notes: Please see Part 1 for notes and to begin reading!

Warnings: Pervasive misogyny, but otherwise none in particular.

Of course, a week later, the news that he’d pretty much moved into Buffy’s apartment was all over town. It seemed to confuse everyone, not least his agent.

“What am I supposed to say, Spike?” Daz’s voice harangued him down the phone. “What d’you want me to tell them? That you get a kick out of the Immortal’s leftovers?” He sounded like he was pacing; possibly the only redeeming characteristic the man had. “You might’ve saved the city, but if they think you’re on Buffy’s side… Come on, man; this is the Immortal!”

Patience, Spike told himself. If he could only focus on the stitching of Buffy’s sofa everything would be fine.

Oh, sod that. “Tell them whatever you like, mate,” he replied, forcibly talking over the Daz’s protestations. “The Immortal’s a wankstain on the arse-end of existence, far as I’m concerned. People can say what they like, but I’ll tell you now I don’t give a toss.”

And with that he hung up.

“So, Daz doesn’t think I’m a great career move, huh?” Buffy grinned from the kitchen, bringing out a bottle of wine and a couple of glasses. He could only shake his head, sitting back down on the sofa as she crossed the floor to put their things by the Chinese food in front of them.

Eventually, after shifting to accommodate her next to him, he said, “I suppose that’s all you can expect from a bloke named after detergent.”

She blinked, not comprehending. “Okay…”

Of all the cultural references she could understand, Daz was probably the one least likely to enhance her life, so he let it go. “Doesn’t matter,” he said, handing over a pair of chopsticks.

The first part of the meal passed in comfortable silence, the sound of far-away cars coming in through the window. After a certain mouthful, however, Buffy interrupted the quiet with an excited ‘mmm!’, sitting up and waving her chopsticks furiously enough that it was more than a little disconcerting.

“I meant to say!” she exclaimed at last, having swallowed. “Dawn keeps emailing me these links.” She picked up another piece of beef, but smaller this time, or so it seemed when she used it to point at him. “You’re, like, King of the Blogosphere!”

And that was worth practically choking over? “I’m king of the what now?” It was definitely time for some wine, he decided, reaching for the bottle and the opener as Buffy rolled her eyes.

“You know, some time tonight we’re gonna have a conversation both of us understand,” she told him, plucking his half-finished carton from between his knees to go with hers to the table. He could have complained – it wasn’t as if he was going to drop it, not with his reflexes – but then Buffy-hands going towards that general area were only to be encouraged. “You know blogs, right?” she continued. “On the internet? The only place in the whole world where they think maybe the Immortal isn’t really all that? The blogosphere!”

“Can’t say as I do,” he replied, easing the cork out of the bottle. “Though it doesn’t sound like a half-bad holiday destination.” He grinned. “’Specially if they want to make me king.”

She snorted, taking the bottle opener from him and swapping it for their glasses before she snuggled back into his side. “I think that joke makes you officially the World’s Funniest Old-Guy.”

“Cheers, love,” he replied, pouring the wine. “Though it’s just as well.” Tilting his head to his shoulder, he considered more seriously, “Haven’t got long in the real world before they stop phrasing my headlines as questions.”

When will Spike come to his senses?” she quoted, using what he knew was her newsreader voice, remarkably similar though it was to her movie-trailer voice. “Is Spike getting sucked into Buffy’s trap?” He could only hope so, with the way her fingers were walking up his chest. “When will Spike shake off that bitch humping his leg?” And then the joke fell flat, not that it had ever really been funny. Silence grew. He looked to her face, but she was lost, staring into the wine-dark sea of her glass. “You know,” she said softly, “I kinda resent that one – the metaphor doesn’t even work.”

To make up for the lack of eye-contact he curled his arm around her shoulders. “Told you, love, you say the word and the lot of them’ll have on record exactly where I stand.”

“It wouldn’t help,” she replied, smiling at him distractedly before she crushed her hair against his chest. “Open challenges against him make people get defensive, remember? They’d hate you outright.”

He frowned, not knowing what else to say. The silence was as comfortable as before, but overshadowed by the same gloom that had been hounding them all week. Seeking comfort, he ducked his nose into her hair, ignoring the smell of hairspray to find the chamomile of her shampoo. If it could only be the two of them, in this place.

Naturally, after a minute, the phone rang again. He groaned, just as Buffy sighed. “Check the ID,” she told him resignedly. “I think Dawn said she would call.”

He leaned away, swapping his wine between hands to pick up the phone from its dock beside the sofa. Thankfully it was Dawn after all.

“All right, Dawn?” he answered, trying to keep his voice vaguely cheerful.

She squealed. “Ohmygod, you are living with Buffy; she was so vague when I asked…” It was an abrupt change of mood, to say the least. He thought about holding the phone away from his ear, but decided that wasn’t entirely fair. “Anyway, anyway, I’m sorry I was so emo when I came round to your apartment. Andrew and I have been hanging out with Angel and his agent, Mattie – did you know she’s a witch? – and we have the best news!”

It took a moment to take in everything she’d said. Mattie was a witch? Andrew was in LA? Why had nobody told him – he’d have put the doorman on alert. And who the hell had let Dawn at the sugar, anyway? “Er…” he finally replied. “Do you want to talk to Buffy?”

“Buffy can hear fine where she is,” came the no-arguments voice from his chest. “And she’s very comfy sans-phone. Hey, Dawn!

Hey, Buffy!” Dawn replied, far too loudly.

“All right then,” he conceded through slightly-gritted teeth. “Do tell what’s got you so excited.”

“Okay, okay, so, you know the Immortal?” she began, not particularly well for his annoyance-levels. “Self-perpetuating popularity, powerful magicks, yadda yadda yadda.” Oh, who was that git who’d gone on and on about there being ten seconds to get interesting? He could hear the voice and everything. “But.” Hmm, less than one. Fair enough; that was Dawn for you. “Actually not, because all the questions about you and Buffy, you know the ‘what does Spike see in her?’ stuff? Shouldn’t be happening.”

“What are you talking about?” he asked, definitely more interested than annoyed now. “I think we can all say he’s still winning the popularity contest, hands down.”

“Yeah, but only by a little, if you actually read what people are writing. And, looking back through the books, that’s never happened before – maybe it’s a mass-media thing, but you can’t find anything that’s not 100% go-go-Immy. Not anywhere. And we’re talking, like, stuffy Watchers and everything.”

He frowned. “But me and Angel have never liked him.”

Buffy looked up, smiling ever so slightly. “He must have crossed a line with you guys. I mean, I remember – it’s literally like waking up and realising that, uh, no, you’re not taking that from him.”

He thought back. He could remember the incident with the nuns, and Darla and Drusilla – bloody bastard – but he couldn’t for the unlife of him remember when the hatred had started.

“All right, then,” he said into the phone, taking it on faith. “What can we do to wake everybody else up?”

“Uh,” Dawn replied, less cheerfully. “We don’t actually know, but, maybe, do more of the same? Keep everybody talking? Mattie’s convinced it’s a modern-media loophole. I mean, she says that’s why she isn’t all gaga over him – ‘cause she’s an agent she has no stakes in popularity whatsoever; she just cares about what’s best for Angel.” Well, of course, it was only natural that Angel ended up with someone much more useful than Daz the Italian-leather-licking tosser.

Still, the prospect of ‘more of the same’ couldn’t help but bring a smile to his face. “Doesn’t sound too taxing, pet, where’s the –” Oh, bugger; he tightened his arm around Buffy. She frowned. “What about Buffy’s cash?”

Dawn took a breath. She’d clearly thought about this, which made her a better person than him. Wasn’t he a git. “Well, I know Buffy and Candice had that argument about you – ”

Wait, argument? That was the first he’d heard of it. Buffy looked sheepish though, and shrugged her shoulders, so he supposed it must to be true.

Dawn continued, “– but if the story gets as big as it could, then people’ll be kissing Buffy’s feet for interviews. It should be totally win-win in terms of money and reputation and high-profile-client-having and everything.”

“Quite the optimist, aren’t we?” He shared an amused glance with Buffy, who, he was happy to see, seemed to be perking up a little bit.

Dawn got the last laugh though, even if it was more of a self-satisfied giggle. “Once upon a time they told me I picked it up off you, so don’t blame me if you’ve decided to get all broody about life.”

He was almost certain he had nothing to say to that. Not least when Buffy started laughing too.

Eventually he found his voice and they signed off, him shaking his head as he disconnected the call. “She seems cheerful,” he said, putting the phone back in its cradle.

Buffy snorted. “I think she gets a kick about telling us to sit tight while she solves the mystery.”

He thought about that for the moment. Sitting tight really didn’t sound too bad to him, not at all.

Buffy couldn’t patrol these days; the harassment was too much. He on the other hand was usually able to shake off any attention after a couple of minutes, once he’d wandered a few blocks from the apartment. It was a perk of being a much more distant object in the Immortal’s orbit: people didn’t care about him that much.

That night, however, something was off. Photographers were doggedly tracking him in slow-moving cars, cameras flashing through the windows. They appeared from alleyways, in his face, herded him through the streets like an errant piece of livestock. He tried to keep his focus, but there were too many distractions.

The first vampire Spike came across was lurking behind a club, all greasy hair and leather trousers, but not that bad a fighter: he saved on posturing and made no sound but growls, blocking Spike’s punches and sweeping a leg low to trip him up. Spike fell down, but happily kicked the bloke away, repeating the move to get back on his feet. Another round.

But then, with a slow crescendo, the jeers started coming from the alley’s entrance. The press had found him, but of course they weren’t taking pictures now, not when he was actually doing something useful.

To block them out Spike let his mind switch off. His perception was flooded with the feel of the stake in his hand, the shocks of his feet pounding against the hard gravel, the elbows and fists against his bones. In a moment a hand grappled round his upper right arm; his hand matched it; he twisted his body, bringing the stake across as he flung all of himself into a roll.

Rough boot-soles kicked against his legs and he tumbled, to a halt eventually, dazedly looking up into a crowd. They shouted at him:

“What are you doing, Spike? Yeah, on the ground, in the filth! Who d’you think you are?”

He was on his backside, hands scraped from the fall. The vampire was dead, dust on his knees, but the stake had clattered away, lost. This was only meant to be a quick patrol; he had nothing else.

The bulbs flashed and he had to hold an arm in front of his eyes as he scrambled to his feet. “Bloody bugger off!” he shouted, charging through the gathered group with yellow eyes and jutting fangs. They shouted more things as he ran, sneering, unintelligible things. He’d never heard such hatred in their voices, or in any case not directed at him.

Confused and pissed off he found himself running home, clambering up wire fences in alleyways so as to avoid the main roads. His hands started bleeding and his jeans were ripped, but he had no idea why. It wasn’t until he got back to Buffy and her look of fearful understanding that he remembered the phone call with Daz. And what he’d said about the Immortal.

Because, of course, people took open challenges very badly.

Oh, bollocks.

The next evening was awkward. It was the first time he and Buffy had met up with Angel as a couple and it didn’t help that Angel’s limo arrived at almost the exact same time as theirs, bringing the encounter forward to several hours earlier than anticipated. Originally the plan had been to meet after that evening’s premiere, which promised to be mind-numbingly dull, when Spike had hoped liberal amounts of alcohol and a common target for griping would have kept the conversation on an even keel.

As it was, they met in front of the cinema, utterly sober, with the world’s press all around them. It felt like there was a collective intake of breath, the journalists like spectators at the arena watching to see how Angel would treat his misguided and possibly unhinged ex-partner. Because, of course, they’d all been reading the latest: SPIKE “TOO UNREASONABLE” FOR AGENT – DAZ REVEALS ALL. Hell, most of them had written on it. Him and his bloody temper.

Silently Spike begged that Angel wouldn’t let them down. Buffy, presumably doing the same, was squeezing his hand so hard she was going to leave a bruise.

“Spike,” Angel managed, stopping short in front of them like a robot. All right, so no blood spilled yet. “Buffy.” He forcibly cracked a smile, in response to which Buffy beamed. Her eyes showed her panic, but no one would be able to tell from profile shots, thank God. “You guys look great.”

The delivery lacked anything resembling emotion, but Buffy responded in kind and Spike nodded along, making noises where appropriate. He didn’t trust himself not to piss Angel off; it felt more natural than breathing sometimes. They quickly dispersed to the edges of the crowd, waving and signing autographs.

Spike wondered if it was strange that, even now that he’d fallen from grace, people still wanted a piece of him, a piece of his infamy. This crowd, the one without the press-badges, it was a rolling sea of hands and faces: jabbering, cheerful mouths; wide eyes; reaching arms and phone-cameras. Not all of them could know who he was, even as he signed their books. He doubted any of them still passionately maintained that the HellA of his and Angel’s film wasn’t a metaphor. Yet they treated him like this.

He and Buffy barely got away; Angel still hadn’t cleared the scene when the actors arrived. As they found their seats in the auditorium Spike’s worry began to grow even deeper. The picture eventually started rolling, but Spike could only think of what Angel might say at the party afterwards, because, although there would be fewer journalists there, but they’d be more likely to overhear any slips. It could so easily be a disaster. And then where would they be? He would be left with nothing to trade on but disenchantment and inevitable apathy.

The comedy was bad, but Spike found himself hoping it would keep going, just to delay things. He had such a feeling of dread. Last time that he and Angel had been told to pick between working against the Immortal and fighting about Buffy, well, it had gone rather spectacularly wrong. And that hadn’t even been the real Buffy.

Despite his hopes, however, the film crawled at length to its inevitable close. Spike applauded it half-heartedly, feeling the call of the gallows as he rose from his seat and left the cinema, Buffy at his side.

She fidgeted as they walked, seemingly trying to decide whether to keep hold of his arm or let it go. He admired the sentiment, he really did, but, “Love, the cat is more than out of the bag.”

“Oh, fine,” she replied, relaxing against him as much as she was able. The party in the lobby was just starting, still quiet. “But when Angel makes sad puppy eyes you’re going to be the one who keeps the conversation going.”

When they found him, however, Angel looked more like a mule than a puppy, drink held aggressively in front of him.

“All right, Angel?” Spike asked before he could help himself. “Enjoy the film?”

“I was sitting with the cast,” he groused back, glaring into the middle-distance. “Apparently there were jokes every five seconds, and I was supposed to laugh at them.” He took a slug of his extremely blue cocktail, before starting up again. “You know what actors don’t have these days?” he demanded. “Timing. Laurel and Hardy made all that film’s jokes over fifty years ago, but, when they did it, it was funny. And I’ll tell you another thing…”

He continued in the same vein for a good half an hour, by which time the ice had been well and truly broken. As Buffy said when they finally got home: “I guess there are some things Angel does care more about than us being together…”

That fortunate turn of events buoyed them for a while, but, for Spike at least, it wasn’t long before frustration set in. Days went by with the same old trash getting printed and it felt like nothing had changed. He’d set them back, he was sure of it, and the guilt made him want to do something rash, anything to push things along. He tried not to keep bringing it up, but one morning he found it too much not to rant.

“Okay, so what’s your plan then?” Buffy asked in a dangerous tone, not getting up from the kitchen table.

He continued to pace by the oven, enraged by the magazines that had accompanied their breakfast. “Right now?” he replied, images rushing through his head. “Get on a plane to Rome and rip the bastard’s guts out.”

“Oh, great idea, Spike,” she replied with particularly blunt sarcasm. “Just swell. Hey, maybe we can lead the international mourning when he gets cannified or whatever.”

“For a start, it’s canonised, you daft –”

He managed to bite his tongue, but not quickly enough. “You know what?” With the hideous screech of stool-feet on stone, Buffy reversed her chair and leapt from it, bare feet slapping on the floor. “You can tell me I fucked up my life, that I fucked up your life, that I sold out, that I’m doing nothing to change anything, but don’t you dare call me stupid.”

He couldn’t meet her eyes, hovering by the double sink. Shit, shit, shit. “I didn’t mean…”

“If you wanna leave, leave!” Her voice was ragged, her fury wrestling with something else; when he glanced up he saw she was staring at a point on the far wall. “I was doing fine without you, you know? I was dealing with this for a long time before you came along! And, and I don’t need you in my house making me miserable – the rest of the world is more than enough – I don’t need you at all, so freaking go, why don’t you?”

He stared at her, wanting so desperately to call her bluff and say how gladly he would leave if the sun weren’t up, because even if it was only fair for her to start stabbing at his self-doubts, it didn’t stop it hurting like bloody… But, as he stared, he could see the smallest quiver in her hands and he knew that like him she didn’t really mean it.

He found himself walking over to the table, arms aching to embrace her. “I’m sorry –”

Don’t,” she commanded, though her hands came to his chest all the same, nails barely digging in through his t-shirt. His arms hung loosely by his sides. She continued coldly, “There’s nothing to fight here, Spike. No way to swoop in and save the day. I can’t give you that, only this stupid will-they-won’t-they wait-and-see, so if what you need…”

He glanced at the table, where amongst all the other headlines he could still see the words that had set him off: ANGEL SAYS SPUFFY “NOT A MISTAKE”. Such a bloody anticlimax. “I just wish I knew,” he grumbled. “How much more do the bastards want?”

“Enough to make a good story, that’s all.” Buffy sighed and slowly her arms relaxed against him, inviting his to come up round her back. She’d told him that before, of course, dozens of times. Why wouldn’t he take it in?

“They could at least let you leave the house without getting mobbed,” he said, brushing a kiss against her hair. “It’s not fair, you being cooped up in here all day, not with me the ranting git.” He pulled back to look at her, trying to apologise without words. I’m not going anywhere.

She broke into a watery smile, before shaking her head and kissing him in a way that was clearly meant to be a brief peck, rather than the full-on snog it folded into. He found himself seeking out every last taste of orange juice, desperately searching while she clutched the back of his head.

As their holds became tighter her hips began to push forcibly against his. She worked him along the edge of the table, tongue telling him he was not to leave with harsher and harsher articulation. They crashed into a stool, so he kicked out a leg, finding the foot rest and levering himself onto the granite.

For a moment his mouth tore away from hers and they stared at each other, blinking. Then she bounced, hands braced against his forearms as he hauled her up on top of him. The newspaper skidded beneath her knee, but somehow they stayed balanced: her arms crooked possessively round his neck, his hands curling under her top.

It was all about to get very interesting, mouths finding each other once more, but then the phone rang. And rang. And kept on ringing.

They groaned as one, mood broken. Then Buffy, with the soft kiss she’d originally intended, slowly eased herself away and down from the table. Spike let himself fall backwards, settling in.

He had lain on that table for the entirety of Buffy’s phone call, rather hoping she would come back and pick up where they’d left off. But when she’d actually returned, she’d dragged him down and told him, in an oddly-excited sort of voice, that kitchen-sex was no longer going to happen.

Bouncy bed-sex, on the other hand, had been required immediately.

Because it turned out that the man who’d designed Buffy’s kitchen had become extremely famous in the last couple of months. His work was being sought out so features could be illustrated and, so Candice had said on the phone, the journalist was thinking she’d do an interview as well.

In other words, as long as they could keep the kitchen free from any hard-to-explain scuffs and breakages, things were possibly about to start looking up.

In the hour before the journalist came, two days later, Buffy couldn’t sit still. One moment she was watching the telly with him, the next she was polishing the espresso machine, the next she was spending five minutes outside so she could come back through the door and judge whether the apartment smelled like a brothel. He tried to tell her the four vases of lavender she’d brought in more than negated any lingering scent on the clean sheets, but that only made her scrutinise her reflection for hickeys.

Spike didn’t know what to expect. He’d done plenty of interviews after LA had been put back to normal, but those had all been for TV and men’s mags. The woman who turned up, however, was perfectly charming – for all she’d shared in the communal spewing of bile. She had a sensible hairdo of cornrows and a bun, not-so-sensible shoes, and a ready grin.

“Hi, I’m Taquisha,” she told them as she shook their hands. Nodding her head towards the man behind her, who was balancing an oversizedshoulder bag, she continued, “CJ’s gonna get some shots of the kitchen, if that’s okay? Maybe set up a couple lights.” CJ saluted them from his back-to-front flat cap; Spike let Buffy’s wave count for him too. “Why don’t we sit down somewhere… Is that an Armani couch?”

Luckily there was a possibly-Armani armchair as well, which Taquisha took so Spike and Buffy could both sit on the sofa. He kept his mouth shut as the women started talking, not sure whether he was supposed to be contributing, but deciding it was better to stay quiet. He made sure to listen though, just in case.

“…so you bought the house last year, even though you were still living in Rome at the time?”

“Yeah, well, I guess I thought it would be nice if I – or more like the Immortal and I, I guess – could come visit sometimes, ‘cause I grew up here and all, and have friends here – like, uh, Angel, and….”

They stayed on the apartment and the kitchen for a while, but it wasn’t long before the inevitable subject came up. Spike had to force himself to relax, rather impressed that Buffy seemed to remain perfectly calm, one elbow leaning elegantly on the armrest. She had, he supposed, been doing this for a very long time.

Rather than launching in immediately however, Taquisha tapped her pen against her lips, frowning slightly at her notepad.

“Buffy, I’m gonna be straight with you,” she said at last, setting her pen to pad again. “Everyone and their mom has an opinion on you and the Immortal, but these last couple weeks you and Spike have got us all wondering whether maybe we missed something.”

Spike had to resist the old urge to remind the room Ben is Glory.

“So I guess I want to know – what is it we’re missing, in your opinion?” She actually looked earnest, that was the frightening thing. As Buffy began to talk, explaining how she’d realised the Immortal wasn’t all he said he was, Spike watched the journalist’s face. She looked like she still didn’t quite believe it, but she was nodding despite her frown of confusion, her pen flying across the paper in quick flurries of shorthand. Every now and again Buffy would pause, leading Taquisha to look up, biting her lip as though she wanted to interrupt – but she never did.

“Sorry,” Buffy finished after she’d gone through the whole story, now beginning to blush. “That’s way too much, isn’t it? It’s not gonna fit.”

Taquisha shook her head. “No, no, Buffy – thanks. I think we’re all ready to start thinking about this stuff.” She shifted in her chair, still looking pensive. “Even if it is a little out-there…”

For a few moments the only sound was the dramatic clicking of CJ’s camera, followed by the squeak of metal equipment being adjusted. Spike was beginning to think enough was enough now, but naturally that was when Taquisha turned to him.

“Of course, Spike, you’ve been standing by Buffy since she came to LA. What’s made you keep on supporting her?”

Spike looked back at the woman, frozen as he stared into her intense eyes. This, at last, was the moment when he could actively make a difference, but he couldn’t think of anything inspiring to say. Nothing that would make people more likely to believe what Buffy was telling them.

As the awkward silence continued, though it could only have been for a couple of seconds, Buffy shifted next to him, her warm leg brushing against his own. He glanced at her, watched her fidget with her hands for a moment, then found himself simply telling the truth. “Well, I trust her, don’t I?” he told Taquisha, who seemed pleasantly surprised as she wrote this down. “Doesn’t matter what everyone else is saying.”

There wasn’t anything more to add, but Taquisha seemed happy with that, flipping her notebook closed and thanking them for letting her come. They walked up the steps, out of the living area and over to the kitchen, where CJ was folding a small tripod back into his enormous bag.

He looked up, seeming much more upbeat than before. “If I could get a couple of you, Buffy, I think I’ll have the set. Maybe by the counter?” He looked around the space, from the fridge back to where they were standing. “No, I think sitting at the breakfast bar, nice and simple…”

He pulled out a chair for Buffy to sit on, coming to stand a few paces from her side, a little bit behind her. Spike tried to give him some room, hovering where the floor changed from wood to stone; Taquisha pulled a vibrating phone from her bag and went back the way they’d come to take the call.

“Now, just look down the kitchen – maybe rest your chin on your left hand – no, maybe the back of your hand; yeah, that’s it…”

After every frame he took, CJ would look at it on the small digital screen of his camera. When he’d done that a few times Spike purposefully edged forward, trying to catch a glimpse of what he’d shot. Vampire abilities had to be useful for something.

The images were coming up in black and white and, from what Spike could tell, they were good. The arch of Buffy’s back looked so fragile compared to the gleaming angles of the units and surfaces, her mouth smiling but her eyes full of melancholy.

But, when she moved to stand by the oven, he found himself watching her instead. She was so brilliant at this, this having-her-picture-taken-fame lark, in her element even. She’d probably spent her childhood running around in front of the camera or at least had maybe grown up used to the bloody things, unlike him, but all the same he found himself once more annoyed that she had been treated so badly.

Buffy caught his eye, a twinkle of humour in her grin. She knew he was watching her. He smiled back and there was the sound of another shot being taken, but it wasn’t till he glanced round that Spike realised it had been of him. “Oi, what you playing at?” he said, before remembering to be polite.

CJ, however, merely shrugged. “I’ve seen your pictures; you pose pretty bad, man.”

It was true. And yet they’d given him the breaks for so long.

Candice sent the magazine over as soon as she got a copy, three days before it hit the shops. It was the morning after a party, so they were meant to be sleeping in, but Buffy woke up at eight anyway, fidgeting with his fingers and asking him if he thought the mail would be there yet.

“If she hadn’t been going out of town she could have brought it over,” she complained as he tried to go back to sleep.

Not that he could, of course. This felt far too much like a turning point. He tried to distract them both, initiating one of their nastier-tasting kisses and raising Buffy’s finger-fidget a waist-fondle, but it didn’t work – one or other of them kept breaking away to look at the time.

Eventually Buffy couldn’t take it any longer. Jittering with nervous energy, she slipped out of bed and quickly pulled on jeans and a strappy top, walking into a pair of flip-flops. He sat up before she left, climbing to his knees so he could give her one proper kiss, but after that she was gone.

It seemed like an age passed before she returned. All he could think to do was stare at the ceiling, imagining what the article could possibly say and driving himself a little insane as he tried to work out the worst-case scenario.

Finally, however, he heard the door and Buffy reappeared moments later, large brown envelope in her hands. “It was there!” she said, rather redundantly, before kicking off her flip-flops and climbing back onto the bed. “You have to open it,” she added, passing the thick envelope to him as she sat on the pillows against the headboard.

“Right,” he replied, sitting up himself and staring at Buffy’s name and address.

“Come on,” she said, making the whole mattress bounce.

He didn’t bother asking why she couldn’t open it herself. With fumbling fingers he turned it over, forcing his thumb under the flap and along the edge.

The magazine slid out into his hands; Candice had attached a post-it with a big smiley face drawn on in pen. He wasn’t sure what to make of that. It was an interior-decorating magazine, with the cover-photo an extremely stark-looking living room, but it seemed to be vaguely ‘lifestyle’ as well, considering it sold their bit straight-out as an Interview with Buffy Summers on Page 64.

Slowly he thumbed through the pages, taking a deep breath as he opened it up.

It was one of those extended features, where the first photo took up a page and a half. He’d been expecting that, but the picture wasn’t the one he’d thought it would be, rather the one CJ had taken without him knowing. Shot in colour, not black and white, it had a much wider field than he’d anticipated: he recognised himself grinning across at Buffy, hands in his pockets, while she smiled back, openly happy as she leaned against the counter. You could see nearly all the kitchen between them, with the play of sharp lines and soft light turning the whole image into a statement of welcoming modernity.

“Oh wow, look at us…” Buffy breathed, resting her fingers on the pages. “I am so getting a copy framed.”

The article itself was mostly about the kitchen, but on the third page it got to the personal questions. Taquisha’s narrative was full of doubt and queries, but they were respectful. She’d noted what he’d said as well, the real gem coming right at the end.

And I asked myself, who do I trust? Who do any of us trust? And why do we trust them to tell us how things are? Great design always looks beyond tradition and assumption, striking out with its own self-confident approach – is this way of thinking in art something we need to imitate more in life?

It was rather easy to tell when Buffy finished reading, because she kissed him so hard his head banged against the wall. So hard, in fact, that it finally knocked some sense into him. He realised now, a little distractedly as Buffy spun the magazine down the bed and straddled him, that there was no grand gesture that could save her from this mess. There was only trust, trust and staring down the mob until it started to doubt it motives. The world could trust Buffy, he knew it could, and given enough encouragement it would realise that. The only thing it would take was time.

He felt like humming, the photograph’s grin breaking across his face once more as he helped Buffy out of her top. This was the start of something effing amazing. He knew it.


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