This blog post is Part Three in my series about the different categories of fanfiction, as outlined by Henry Jenkins. Part One can be found here and Part Two here. In the first post, I look at different ways in which the story of the source text can be expanded to reveal interpretations of the characters. Part Two looks at how fans shift perspectives and genres to get “more from” the source text (Pugh 19). This post considers the emotional and erotic intensification found in some fanfic.
In “emotional intensification” stories, fans focus on character affect and relationships (Jenkins 174). These stories are often PWP (Plot? What plot?) stories; the focus is less on what the characters are doing and more on what they are feeling. A subgenre of this approach, Hurt/Comfort stories feature one character who is physically or psychologically damaged, rendering them more emotionally vulnerable, and another character cares for them, generally creating a bond between the characters. Camile Bacon-Smith identifies these stories as central to fandom because of the emphasis that they put on characters’ vulnerabilities, emotions, and relationships (see chapter 10). In my story, Buffy, the super powered slayer, is physically injured, and as Spike, a vampire with whom she was in an abusive and destructive relationship, cares for her, and they have an open, honest, and intimate moment.
Buffy limped home. Each breath was painful, and she was pretty sure that she had broken more than a few ribs. The side of her face was cut and raw and she could feel the blood oozing out, splattering on the pavement as she dragged herself home.
She could have died today.
If she wasn’t the slayer, she would have.
She had stumbled across the ubervamp during her patrol. She hadn’t been looking for him, hadn’t been hunting. If anything, she’d been avoiding the Turok-Han since her first run in had left her bloody and bruised and afraid. Sure, she’d gone all Thunderdome with that one in front of the girls, but that had been different. She had needed that fight, had needed to convince them that the ubervamps could be defeated. That she could defeat them. That they could. But she didn’t exactly relish another fight like that.
And there had been no avoiding this one.
He had attacked her, smashing her ribs, gripping her throat, throwing her to the pavement, flinging her across the street. The impact of the concrete, the scrape of the asphalt, the vampire’s strength as he tossed her around, they haunted her. The vamp could have killed her, snapped her neck, drank her blood. But it had been playing with her. Taunting her. Showcasing its strength to demonstrate her weakness.
And she had run.
She had run from a fight. Hobbling off and feeling like she had when she was newly called and afraid. She had lost.
And Buffy didn’t lose. Couldn’t lose.
But she had.
She entered the house as quietly as she could. She didn’t want to wake the girls. Couldn’t let them see her like this. If they saw the way in which she had been beaten, she would never convince them to fight.
“Jesus, Slayer. What the hell happened to you?”
She hadn’t seen the vampire lurking in the hallway.
“Shhh. Had a run-in with an old buddy of yours.”
Spike winced. “Hope you have as good as you got.” He whispered.
She shook her head.
His face softened. “Alright then. Let’s get you upstairs and those wounds tended to. He took a nasty chuck outa you, didn’t he?”
“More than one. But I don’t need your help. I’ll heal.”
He rolled his eyes. “Listen, Slayer. I let you Florence Nightingale me after you dragged me out of the First’s lair. Let a bloke return a favor.”
He offered her his arm and it felt so good to lean on him, to lean on anyone, that she let him lead her up the stairs to the bedroom.
“Good thing you’re a Slayer,” he said when he’d gotten a better look at her. “Normal girl wouldn’t have been able to survive this.”
“A normal girl wouldn’t spend her night fighting uber Neanderthal vamps.”
“No. She’d just be dead.” He paused. “But you’re not. Now let’s take a look at those scrapes. You got some ointments and suchlike around here?”
She pointed him to the first aid kit and was surprised by the gentleness of his touch as he cleaned and dressed her wounds, the salve cooling, soothing.
She had never seen him like this before. So caring and nurturing. So soft and kind and open. She relaxed in his hands. Finally exhaling after the fight. Finally feeling safe.
“You’re good at this.”“Don’t be so surprised, Slayer. I spent a century taking care of Dru. Not a complete shock that I learned a thing or two. I’m not that daft.” He dabbed some anti-bacterial ointment onto her cheek. “What happened out there?”
“I lost. He was stronger. Faster. Better.”
“Didn’t he already beat you up enough? No need to go all punching bag on yourself.”
“I’m not. It’s the truth. I don’t know if I’m strong enough for this fight.”
“You’ve already dust one of these buggers.”
“One. How many hundred more are their going to be?” She could feel the tears rising in her throat, fear, frustration, anger, regret. She just wanted it over.
“You’ll dust them too. Ashes to ashes. And all that.”
“I’m just tired, Spike. Tired of fighting. Tired of bleeding. Tired of hurting.”
“Tired of living?”
“No.” She smiled softly, her eyes glistening. “That was so last year.” She paused. “But I don’t feel like I’m actually living. I’m fighting. I’m surviving. But I’m not living.”
He nodded. “Never ends does it?”
“Like bleedin’ Ground Hog Day. But instead of a fuzzy little rodent to deal with you’ve got a bunch of nasties.”
“Ow.” She held her ribs. “Don’t make me laugh.”
“Let me take a look at those. Take that shirt off.”
She shied away from his touch. “No. I’m okay.” She knew that he was different now. That he had a soul. That he wouldn’t hurt her. But she couldn’t do that. Couldn’t bear her body to the man who had held her down on the bathroom floor, his body bearing down on hers, demanding entry that she did not want to give.
“Buffy…. I’m… I’ll leave you be.” He got to his feet.
“No, Spike.” She silenced him. “Stay? Please.”
“Alright then.” He settled back beside her and she rested her head on his shoulder.
“You’re the only person I can be like this with. For everyone else I’m the Slayer, the General, the Hero, the Leader, the Chosen One. I’m tired of being those things. Sometimes I just want to be me.”
“Thanks. For tonight.”
“Thanks for saving me from the First. The torture scene was getting a bit stale.”
“You would have done the same for me.”
“To hell and back for you, Buffy.”
“Been there. Done that. Can’t say I recommend.”
“Do you think… do you think it ever could have been different… I mean… between us.”
She looked at him sadly. “No,” she said simply. “Not the way I was. Not the way you were. We were destined to be painful and messy.”
“Yeah. I reckon you’re right.”
She took his hand. “But maybe. Not now. But at some point. Maybe things will be.”
Fanfiction has a bad reputation for being nothing more than porn, and while this is untrue, fans do eroticize stories that otherwise might not be. In addition to emotional intensification, PWP can also refer to erotic stories that focus on sexual encounters between characters. Jenkins explains that “Fan writers, freed of the restrains of network censors, often want to explore the erotic dimensions of characters’ lives. Their stories transform the relatively chaste, though often suggestive, world of popular television into erogenous zones of sexual experimentation” (175). I selected to write about The Princess Bride for this story. Not only does the film’s PG rating prevent anything to racy within the context of the film, Fred Savage’s character censors some of the story’s potential eroticism.
“A Kissing Book”
She felt herself call out his name (or at least what she called him) just so that he would look at her. His eyes, like the sea after a storm, dark and deep and calm, engulfed her, pulled her under and in and she was drowning but didn’t need air. Only him.
“Fetch me that pitcher,” she said, fumbling for something to say. Anything to keep him near and looking at her. She knew it was stupid. The pitcher was just over her head and she could easily fetch it herself. But she needed him, wanted him. Any excuse to keep him here with her a second (a lifetime) time more.
She held her breath as he approached, moving slowly and deliberately across the room, his eyes never leaving hers and she could only hope that he had read into her words the meaning that she had discovered in his. And he was there, before her, only inches away, and reaching up around her for the pitcher and she could feel the heat of his body and his gaze.
“As you wish,” he murmured, as he handed her the pitcher. And he looked so earnest and hopeful and beautiful that she couldn’t help but smile.
“Thank you, Westley.”
“I don’t think you’ve ever called me that before.”
“I could continue to call you ‘farm boy,’ if you prefer.”
He reached up and she felt herself leaning into his touch on her cheek. “No. I don’t think I do.” He paused for a moment, licked his lips. “May I kiss you?”
“As you wish.”
And then his lips were on hers, sweet and soft and gentle and chaste at first and then hard and hot and demanding. The pitcher crashed to the floor, and her fingers were in his hair that smelled like sweetness of straw and the shadows of the forest and the green grass of the fields and his were around her waist and running up her sides and on her breasts and she wished that there were not so many layers of clothing between them nor so many customs stopping them from undressing. If they kissed like this for another second longer, she knew that she would surrender to the heat between her legs, which was now engulfing her, to the hardness between his, which was pressed against her.
“Westley,” she breathed as she pulled away.
He looked down, ashamed. “Buttercup, I’m sorry… I…”
She kissed him lightly, a moth-wing whisper across his lips. “Shhh.” She hushed his apology and silenced his shame. She looked down, now her turn to be embarrassed. “I’ve never kissed a man before.”
He tucked his fingers beneath her chin, lifting her face so that she met his gaze, his eyes like the sea. “And I’ve never a woman.”
“You do it well.”
“I’d like to keep practicing, if you’ll have me.”
“I believe I would.”
Bacon-Smith, Camille. Enterprising Women: Television Fandom and the Creation of Popular Myth. University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992.
Jenkins, Henry. Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture. Routledge, 1992.
Pugh, Sheenagh. The Democratic Genre: Fan Fiction in a literary context. Poetry Wales Press, 2005.
Part One can be found here, Part Two here, and Part Four here.