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Finding William Pratt by Verity Watson
Ch. 1: The Bridge
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A/N: This is a sequel to Meet the Pratts, also archived here. If you haven't read the previous installment, here's what you need to know. There may be slayers in this 'verse, but Buffy isn't one. Instead, she's an ordinary girl - an a timid one struggling for enough cash to pay her college tuition - when she meets Spike in LA. They become friends, even though she quickly discovers the reasons for his, er, sun allergy. After one incredible, NC-17 night together, he skips town, leaving her with enough cash to pay for college. This takes place a few years later.

She hadn’t gone looking for him.

And when she remembered back to that night in the months that followed, she still couldn’t say if she’d expected to walk away in one piece or not.

By any measure, she’d been in serious danger.

Whether the danger was from her highly inappropriate lover or the rock bottom place that she’d hit, hard to say. What was for certain was that her life had changed dramatically in the weeks and months following their tryst. Buffy Summers today had the same eye color and social security number as that girl from four plus years back, but the similarities pretty much ended with her vital stats.

After that night in the alley – or, more precisely, during that night in the alley – Buffy had become bold.




Click – click- click.

She framed another shot and checked the light. From her perch on the abandoned railway bridge, she had a fantastic vantage point on the remains of a hulking steel mill – an industrial carcass the likes of which she was quickly growing famous for photographing.

Her work was edgy – abandoned buildings, lots of alleys and junkies. Anyone could do squalor. Buffy was in demand because she found the pretty in the downtrodden. There was something about her work that was raw. In an interview with a dinky little public radio station before her first show, she said that it was like she lived with her epidermis removed – nerves close to the surface. As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she’d thought it was an incredibly stupid and self-absorbed thing to say, but now it was an oft-quoted Buffy-ism, a reason editors cited for hiring her to capture the dismal.

Her cell phone chirped mid-shot.

“This is Buffy Summers.”

“Hey, Buf.”


“Whatcha doin’?”

“Standing on a rusty old bridge in Pittsburgh.”

“I thought you were in Cleveland.”

“That was last week. I’m hitting all the garden spots.”

“And you’re coming home …”

“Depends. If I don’t think there’s enough material, I might head east to Philly. Or even West Virginia.”

“Isn’t that west?”

“Huh. I guess so. Better check MapQuest.”

“Yeah. Anywho, I wanted to tell you that Anya Jenkins Harris from Space Magazine called. Something about a possible photo shoot in New Haven? They’ve got the go-ahead so they want to, well, go ahead during the second week of October.”

“That’s two weeks from now.”

“I said that. And gave her your cell phone number, so stand by.”

“Thanks, Wil. You should be earning commission.”

“Nah. Just bring me a bottle cap belt from Little Earth and we’ll be square.”

“You got it. I better shutterbug before the light fades. Say hi to Tara for me.”

“Okay. Be safe.”

“You, too.”


Back in the day, Willow had wigged.

She’d wigged over the check as much as Buffy’s revelation about the night before.

All these years later, they were still roommates, if in a better part of town and with a few more square feet. Buffy knew it wouldn’t last – even though it was supremely convenient to have someone collecting her mail while she traveled on assignment – because Willow was in love. And after more than a year, she suspected that phrases like “moving in together” were featuring large in Willow’s pillow talk with her lover.

Buffy hadn’t been in love, well, maybe ever. She’d certainly never had a talk about shacking up.

Nope. She fell in love with photography and stayed at LA College of the Arts an extra semester to learn her craft. Wasn’t a big deal – she had the money. Not only was the medium incredibly appealing, as it turned out, it paid the bills better than experimental sculpture or performance art.

After Riley – and Spike, of course – there had been other men. A banker called Parker, when she was still naïve enough to fall for a line or three. A classmate named Scott Hope – a promising one – until he’d tagged along to one of her photo shoots on the wrong side of town and seemed in serious danger of getting them both killed.

Still, her whole life had changed after that night. Spike had given her possibilities with that check, but it was more than just a scholarship to the school of her choice.

Pre-Spike, Buffy had been described as petite and pretty, sweet and nice. Not bad things, really.

Post-Spike, Buffy heard herself described as hot. It was that knowledge, she thought, of what really earth-shattering sex was like. She got called creative – that was high praise, in her book. She had a little bit of swagger that she stole from her lover. She had enough attitude to be accused of bitchiness now and again.

Most importantly? Buffy had not heard “nice” linked with her name in years.

She’d traded in KISS FM for stations lower on the dial. Before punk rock had been so much noise. Now she heard the lyrics and understood. Going down down under the sea, I wanna drown drown under the water… Buffy sang along with the soundtrack in her brain as she packed up her equipment and headed off into the city.

Even though she was still tiny, no one overlooked her now. To the contrary, she felt eyes following her whenever she entered a room. It was the secrets, she thought, the things that she knew and understood and accepted that made her burn a little brighter than other people.

She was changed. She was transformed.

And she hadn’t gone looking since that night in the alley, and that was perhaps the most important fact.


Buffy was holed up in a Holiday Inn Express, thinking about the commercials. “No, no I’m not really an award-winning photographer, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night,” she murmured to herself as she flipped through the digital images she’d captured on her trip.

The best part about her job, hands down, was that nearly every commission produced so much raw material that she was rapidly accumulating plenty of stuff for another solo show, if she could only land in LA long enough to get something together. Thanks to her mom’s contacts in the art world, Buffy had been able to sell a few things here and there since she’d figured out how to work her first camera. But there was a big difference between making a living as a hired eye and developing a stellar professional reputation.

Funny thing about her medium, really, was that she’d never taken pictures before that class she signed up for on impulse. She’d even avoided those cameras on the tables at weddings, letting someone else take the candids. Now she was making up for lost time.

With a sigh, Buffy rolled over on her back, staring at the ceiling. The king sized bed held her laptop and a favorite camera, plus a few cords to make them talk to each other.

The past day or two had yielded some good shots, but nothing spectacular. Now she was restless, crazy antsy to get out. It was the way she used to feel when she headed for Caritas, to wait for Willow and hope that Spike would show up for a chat.

She grabbed the local indie paper from her bedside table and scanned the events calendar. Traveling solo pushed her to go ahead and walk into clubs and theaters and restaurants as a party of one. She didn’t like it exactly, but she reminded herself that she’d gone to Caritas alone.

Pulling on her dark red boots and reaching for her camera bag, Buffy ditched her trusty standby digital camera and stuffed her Holga in the sack. She grabbed the paper and her room key, and headed out the door.

As she waited to descend from the 3rd floor to the lobby, she noticed the front page for the first time. The headline screamed.


The elevator doors opened, and Buffy chucked the paper in the trash as she headed out into the night.


The club was wall-to-wall for a CD release party for some band that was sure to be the next big thing. She’d barely squeezed in and wasn’t sure she’d be able to use the images she captured – there was just no way to talk any of the bodies into signing a photo release. Fortunately, the Holga produced such quirky images it probably wouldn’t matter.

Watching the party through her camera lens, Buffy saw it all. The longer the night went on, the more couples she saw. Actually, the longer the night went on, the more improbable couples she noticed. It was always like this, sober and aloof Buffy in a sea full of the unguarded. But tonight – there was tension in the air, something she hadn’t felt before.

In the ladies’ room, she overheard two girls wondering why the killer always went for short blonde girls. By the bar, three guys debated when the next body would turn up. One of the girls from the ladies’ room wrapped an arm around the waist of one of the debating guys, and the conversation broke up. *Of course,* Buffy thought. *Even the Court TV obsessed can find true love. But me? Ain’t nobody here but me and my camera.*

She headed for the back of the room and took some crowd shots. It would be a murky blur, she knew, but some of those murky blurs ended up being pretty, and one had been used in a Las Vegas casino’s ad campaign. Make that pretty and profitable. She clicked again.

There was a minute when she could’ve sworn she caught a flash of peroxide blonde hair on a frame about the right build, but that had become a typical part of her nights out. She’d be convinced she’d found him, hanging out in a dive in Seattle, riding a bar stool in some posh place in San Francisco. But she’d shift and focus and, sure enough, it was some ordinary stranger.

Last call came. Buffy decided against sticking around for the bitter end to get the gritty when-the-lights-come-up shots. Or worse, to be tempted by one of the several attractive guys angling to be her next regret.

Tonight she was aching more than most nights, and needed to get back to her big empty bed.