SPOILERS: Thru Prom, but set after season 4.
COUPLES: B/A mentions
SUMMARY: Buffy looks through a photo album, her POV.
NOTES: (aka, the OTHER STUFF) ... Okay ... well, this is kinda based on a dream I had, the only reason I wrote and sent ... anyway, the point is, after this fic, I'm pretty much done fic writing for awhile - a long while, I guess. And I just wanted to thank everyone who's been so supportive the whole time. Love y'all.


I had forgotten all about the little leather-bound photo album until I came home for the summer and opened my closet to put away my clothes. It fell from the top shelf, from underneath blood-stained shirts and shoes, and right to my feet.

It was inscripted in gold with my name, a present from my dad on one of the many birthdays he had been away for - I think this one was fourteen, though. I had fallen so in love with the little book that I had forgiven him immediately and set my mind to filling it up.

The late-June sun was scorching through my window, I wouldn't have been surprised to have gotten a sunburn in the shape of a windowpane across my forehead. I curled up on the far edge of my bed, as away from the sun as I could get, and opened the album slowly.

The plastic pages that encased the photos stuck together in the sticky weather, and I had to drag a nail between them to separate them. The first page held a photo of me and Dad - he had put it there. It was from my third birthday, strawberry icing was smeared across my face and my hair was frizzed up to the ends of the earth in a true 80's style, courtesy of my mother.

The next page was from eleven years later, my fourteenth birthday - right when I had gotten the album, while Dad was on "business" in Peru. Thinking back, he probably just wanted to get away. In the photo, I was wearing a shirt that was so sheer that the lace of my bra showed right through, a trashy bra that was too big but I had been so proud to have and had flaunted at every chance.

I must have gotten some fashion sense in between that picture and the next one, from my eighth-grade graduation dance at Hemery Middle. That had been the start of my boy-crazy time, a preparation for high school, I guess. My red dress was racy and low cut, my heels too high, and I had a boy on each arm and another kneeling at my feet, prayer style. My smile was what stood out though, because it was radiant in the way that if someone else was looking at it, they'd think I was incredibly happy, when really, it was fake, plastered across my face for the camera.

That night, after they thought I was asleep, my parents had argued worse than I could remember prior to that. My dad had been blatantly rude to my mother, chiding her for allowing me to wear the dress and pose with the boys - one of the reasons I continued that trend through high school. My mother had argued back that I was just trying new things out and I'd learn on my own. I hadn't liked either side, crying myself to sleep.

My bathing suit choices - at one time chic but modest - had become extremely provocative that summer, as the next picture clearly showed. My breasts wear nearly falling out of the spaghetti strap top and the bottom was no better, only covering what was absolutely necessary and tying loosely at the sides. A few of my snobby friends surrounded me, boys in tow. In fact, Ashley had her hand on the hard, chiseled stomach of a boy that looked at least seventeen, her mouth sucking on his neck. I was certain my parents hadn't taken that picture, but I couldn't remember who had. Another snob, I guess.

My ninth-grade school photo was in the next slot, my pink-painted lips forming that same fake smile. My long blond hair was partially pushed back with a wiry headband, and I was disgusted to realize that I hadn't put a bra on under my pale-green tank top. Typically LA-Buffy, that was me.

There were several more LA photos that I flipped through quickly - they were all the same. Fake smiles, slutty clothes, ditzy air about me, obvious even in the pictures. Several of me and my "friends", even more of me with different boys, all older. A final one of Mom and I in front of the moving truck, in which I hadn't even tried to smile, merely glared and moved as far from Mom as I could. I had been so mad at her for doing that to me.

Then came my favorite pictures - the ones from Sunnydale. There was one of me, Willow, and Xander - we had gotten professional photos one day in tenth grade, Mom's idea and money. I remember that day clearly - Willow had refused adamantly, going on about being camera shy and then about having nothing to wear to something so important. Eventually, I had dragged her out of her house in the sweater and skirt she had been wearing, silencing her protesting with a hard glare. We had horsed around so much at the photo studio that the photographer threatened to kick us out, and in turn, Mom threatened to not buy me the new Sarah McLachlan CD I had been pleading for. We had settled down fast after that - posing in about six different ways as the photographer snapped away. Our smiles were all genuine.

The next photo was obviously unposed for - me and Angel, talking - arguing, more likely. Willow had been carrying a disposable camera from a field trip and had snapped the picture while Angel fed me his cryptic saga. The look on his face was incredibly sexy, his arms crossed in front of his chest. I was half turned away, totally unaware of the photo, my hair a mess and my face angry as I waved my hand in the air. But I loved the photo, because he was in it, and so was I, and we were in it together.

I guess the next few photos should have made me happy, then. Willow had taken several pictures of us around that Halloween, once we were "together", or at least, closer. We had posed for them - Willow had always told me in advance so I could put on something special, but when the time came for the photos I acted like I had no idea, shaking my head, and asking Angel if he minded. Of course, he always agreed, wrapping his arms around me from behind as Willow instructed, even lifting me into the air in one picture by her request.

"Kiss her," Willow had instructed, keeping her voice firm and level.

"What?!" I asked, startled. She hadn't told me about that plan!

"Angel, kiss her for the picture, okay?" Willow's voice was a little nervous, trying to have her way with an older man, as we later joked.

As it turned out, Angel didn't need Willow's prodding all that much, pulling me closer to him and kissing me soundly. My heart had fluttered crazily, I thought I would pass out as I leaned into the kiss - I forgot Willow was even taking the picture until the flash went off. Even then, Angel's lips lingered on mine a little longer - not much, but enough to up that happy feeling a few notches.

I guess, thinking hard about it, the pictures do make me happy. In a sad kind of way, because I miss that. How carefree we were, together, really together but not so together that everything was chaotic. And not together in a way where there was no chaos but the memory still lingered. Just the perfect, blissful together, the indescribable, wonderful happiness.

The pictures from there on were increasingly happy, and that just made me increasingly sad. There were several pictures of me and Angel in that time after Halloween until my birthday where the love was just obvious in our eyes, in the way we held each other, in every little nuance of the picture. Even in the pictures that were just of me, or of me and Willow or me and Mom, I was happy.

I hate that I experienced being that happy, because now that I know what it feels like, I know what I'm missing. But I don't think I would take it back if I could ... I'm not that strong.

Even when the world was falling apart around me, in those pictures, I was happy. It reflected how I felt inside, and it was all because of a certain someone who I loved so deeply that he had become my life.

There weren't many pictures from after my birthday - one Mom had taken of me, Willow, and Xander, party hats on our heads, but none of us even smiled. A second bout of school photos, my eyes dull, hidden in the dark circles around them. I was practically swimming in the black clothing, I had become too thin. Then there was one of me and Giles that the Yearbook photographer had snapped without my knowledge, while we had been in the library discussing Acathla.

I even had a photo from that summer, of me in my restaurant uniform. One of the cooks had taken it, a Polaroid, when I had quit, to "remember our trashy restaurant by". I had shoved it in my skirt pocket and ran as fast as I could.

I didn't have a senior picture, thanks to Cordelia's forgetfulness. I did have a Homecoming picture that Mom had insisted on taking, and there were a flurry of snapshots from when I had first come back, like Mom wanted to imprint every bit of me onto paper for all time. And maybe that was her intention.

There were no pictures of me and Angel for a good part of that year, nor of me and my friends. I had shied away from the camera, avoiding the Yearbook staff, Willow, and my mother if they had a camera in hand. Even though Angel was back, even though things were getting better, I didn't want that memory.

It's stupid, really ... of course I still remember it crystal clear.

There is our Christmas photo. My mother and me, in matching green dresses and red sweaters, jingle bells clipped to the barrettes in our hair. It was taken in front of the roaring fire - Mom had gone through extremes to set up the camera and tripod to take it, vowing to turn them into cards and send them out. We never sent them out, the film canister collected dust until I finally developed it. I don't know why I even did it.

My life was so hectic around then, with Angel and his ... life, I guess. And my life. My life with him, or without him.

Then came my birthday again. Even after my dad had cancelled on me, even after I had started to lose my strength, my mother ridiculously insisted on taking my picture.

"Mom," I protested, keeping my voice calm. "I don't really want a picture."

"Just a quick one, Buffy. Do you want to change?"

"No. I don't want a picture."

Mom sighed. "Okay, I'll take it in that." She made a face, looking at my torn black shirt and lopsided khaki shirt. "Smile, Honey."

I glared. "I'm not smiling."

Mom glared right back at me, hard. "I'm your mother, it's your eighteenth birthday. You're no longer my little girl, smile for the damn camera." Her teeth were gritted, but a too-cheerful smile was practically stuck on her face.

I gave her a menacing look, but forced my lips upwards just enough that she was happy, taking shot after shot until I thought I was blind from the bright light.

The pictures, in the end, turned out okay. Mom framed most of them, I put one in my photo album. Just to have it, I guess, not because I wanted it that badly.

There's only one more picture of me with Willow. We're sitting out on the quad, best-friends necklaces draped around our necks, her arms around me, both of us grinning wide. It was happy, because we were acting like the stereotypical best friends, something I had never really done.

There was also a finale one of me and Xander - I had his flannel draped over my shoulders, he was giving me bunny ears, and we both had our tongues sticking out like five-year-olds.

Then there was one of me in the library, actually studying for a final exam.

I missed that, too. I missed having my friends a block away, I missed having the library as a safe haven. I missed having Giles to always tell me what was wrong and how to fix it, I missed having my mom not know about Slaying. Most of all, I missed having a lover. I missed Angel.

The last picture in my album was from Prom. Angel, and me, standing side by side, our hands loosely joined. I hated the picture, I loved the picture. I never wanted it - it had actually been Angel who had convinced me to get it taken, to completely fulfill the "high school experience".

I took the picture as a way of trying desperately to hold on. I kept it to remind me of why Angel and I could never be together again.

Because, in that picture, I was happy. Radiantly happy, a genuine smile, holding the hand of the love of my life. My love who I could never have. And beyond that radiant exterior, inside, I was dying, and my eyes showed it all. The glittering tears in the corners, not even visible without close inspection, said everything.

I was too happy, I was too sad, and I was halfway between a relationship that I could never truly have.

And so the picture took the last space in the small album, one single photo that encompassed everything else, all my emotions ... my entire life.

And so it stayed ... just in case I ever forget.


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