Fic: And the Dream Will Set You Free (7a/?)

This entry is part 5 of 6 in the series And the Dream Will Set You Free
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Yay! It’s my day today!

So, here’s some more of the fic I started posting in the last round. Hope that’s all right?

Title: And the Dream Will Set You Free
Author: randi (randi2204)
Rating: PG-13
Notes: This chapter is long, and will therefore be posted in 2 parts. Some lines in this chapter have been snagged and altered or outright filched from the episode Into the Woods.
Summary: What if, at the end of Out of My Mind, it was Buffy who woke up from a dream?

Previous chapters: One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six.

Disclaimer: Not mine, all Joss.

Chapter 7, part 1

*****

They didn’t fill the waiting area by the nurses’ station, but they made a pretty good attempt, and the fact that they were there filled Buffy’s heart.

Of course, that didn’t mean that they weren’t annoying.  Giles paced heavily, Willow kept asking the time, Xander couldn’t sit still, and Riley kept grabbing her hand no matter how many times she tried to move it.

Out of all of them, Buffy decided, that was the worst.  Or, well, maybe the worst part is that I can’t say anything about it right now.

She wanted to… kind of.  Mostly, what she wanted was for her mother to come out of the operation safely.  After that, she wanted Glory to disappear and take her skanky wardrobe and Key-seeking, Dawn-stealing… things with her.  She’d faced down four major apocalypses, and she wished she could find the courage to break up with her boyfriend.

I’m such an emotional coward, she sighed.

Even though their talk had ended with Riley leaving in a huff, he thought that conversation had reset them – that they were back where they’d been just a few months ago.  But I’m not there with him, she thought almost wistfully.  I don’t think he even realizes it.  I need to tell him.  After Mom’s surgery, I’ll tell him.  It’s not fair to him if I drag it out any longer.  Not when…

She wasn’t thinking of her dreams of Spike as nightmares any more.  In fact, in some ways, she looked forward to them.

And that made her feel that her apology to Riley was incomplete.  She had apologized for her distance, for her anger over Spike’s near-dust experience, for the way she’d ignored him after killing the Queller demon.  But she hadn’t made an attempt to kiss him, nor responded to his kisses, and she felt increasingly uncomfortable.  She hated deception almost as much as she hated causing him pain.

He needs to know, Buffy, she told herself firmly.  He needs to find someone to love him, who will love him better than me.  That’s how I have to look at this.  Somehow, a weight she didn’t even know she was carrying lifted from her shoulders.  She did love Riley – he was a friend, a good friend even… but that was all.

Buffy was so engrossed in her own thoughts that she didn’t even notice Dr. Krieger approaching.  Dawn nudged her.  “Buffy,” she whispered, “Mom’s doctor is…”

She spared a moment to squeeze Dawn’s hand.  Hearing her sister so afraid was just wrong.  She rose to her feet, drawing Dawn with her.  “Doctor,” she said, and her voice was a little croaky.

She didn’t get any further, as Dr. Krieger launched into a glowing report on her mother’s surgery.  Relief and joy washed over her, and while she heard the exclamations behind her, she didn’t pay any attention to them.  Trying to hold her tears of happiness at bay and failing, Buffy turned and grabbed Dawn, hugging her tightly enough that she actually squeaked.  “She’s gonna be okay, Dawnie!” she whispered.  “Everything’s gonna be all right!”

Dawn’s return embrace wasn’t as strong, but it was no less heartfelt.  Buffy let her hands comb through Dawn’s hair, fine strands twining around her fingers, before releasing her entirely.

It felt like the only thing left to worry about was telling Mom the whole truth about Dawn, and no matter what she’d already guessed, Buffy knew she would still love Dawn as her own daughter.

Her blinding smile dimmed slightly when she saw Riley looking at her expectantly.  No, she thought regretfully, giving him a reluctant hug, not quite the only thing to worry about…

***
Dawn had suspected something was up by the way Buffy was so eager to get rid of Riley when they left the hospital.  It was just starting to get dark at that point, and she’d half expected (and mostly dreaded, to tell the truth) that Buffy would jump at the chance for Riley to accompany them.  Especially since my sister is all uber-psycho-protective of me lately, she thought.  Ever since she did that weird smelly spell and totally wigged out at me.

But it seemed Buffy didn’t want her boyfriend to come with them, and Dawn was equal parts grateful and suspicious.

When Buffy dragged her into Restfield Cemetery, she had her answers.  “Are we going to see Spike?” she asked, and there was an edge of anticipation in her voice she just couldn’t quite contain.  She made a face when her sister rolled her eyes at her enthusiasm.  I can’t help it if he’s like the coolest thing ever, she thought disdainfully.

“Duh, Dawn.  Why else would we be going into a cemetery when it’s getting dark?”

“Well,” Dawn replied hopefully, “you could always be taking me on patrol.”

“Didn’t we already have this discussion?” Buffy huffed and walked faster.  “That is going to happen on the twelfth of never.”

“Meanie.” Dawn pouted briefly, then her excitement at seeing Spike bubbled up again as they reached his crypt.  Buffy pushed the heavy door open and stepped in, and she couldn’t believe it.  “Jeez, Buffy, did Mom forget to tell you about knocking?

Buffy paused, half inside the crypt, blinking incredulously at her before grabbing her arm and yanking her in as well.

“Ow!” she cried, and rubbed her arm petulantly when Buffy released her to close the door.  “Freak.”

“Brat.”

“Slayer.  Nibblet.”  Spike’s deep voice drifted over them, and they paused in their budding argument to face him.  He was lounging in his icky green chair, leaning back against one arm and twisting around to face them.  “Hope you didn’t come all this way to have a squabble just for my sake.”

Dawn blushed, and even though the light was dim inside, she could see that Buffy did, too.  “Sorry,” they muttered, almost at the same time, and then shot glowery looks at each other, blaming the other.  Or well, Dawn thought darkly, at least I’m blaming her.

Spike gave a snort of laughter.  “No doubt that you’re sisters.”

Buffy turned her scowl on Spike, but after only a few moments it melted away into a grin.  “Don’t remind me,” she said.  She hopped up onto the sarcophagus nearest Spike’s chair, and belatedly, Dawn followed.

Spike nodded, smiling.  “Good to know your mum’s all right.”

Dawn gaped at him.  “But we… How did…”

He cocked his head a little to one side, studying them.  “You’re here, and you’re actin’ like regular sisters do.  Stands to reason your mum came through her operation.”

Infuriatingly, Buffy just continued to grin, letting Dawn do her landed fish impersonation.  “Yep!  Mom’s all tumor-free now.  I can’t tell you what a huge relief this is.”

He nodded again and settled back into his chair.  “Glad to hear it.”

Suddenly Buffy leaned forward, frowning and staring at Spike.  “Hey, are you all right?” she demanded.  “You look tired… well, normally I’d say dead, but in your case…”

Dawn turned to study the vampire, now shifting nervously in his chair.  He did look tired, as Buffy had said.  She remembered how he’d been after he’d first escaped from the Initiative last year, and it wasn’t quite that bad, but he still looked paler than usual, with dark rings around his eyes that definitely weren’t from eyeliner.  “We didn’t wake you up, did we?” she asked, worried, then turned her best angry-teenager glare on her sister.  “See?  I told you!  Knocking is a virtue!”

“Dawn…”

“No, I wasn’t asleep,” Spike answered with a sigh.

Buffy’s frown grew deeper.  “Expecting company of the not-so-friendly kind?”

“Maybe.  No cause for your concern, love.  I can take care of myself.”

“I know, I just…” Buffy sighed.  “I worry, is all.”

Dawn nodded emphatically.  “Me, too.”

“Nothin’ for you to worry about, pets, but… thanks.”

“You want me to patrol tonight, so you can rest?”

“But…” Immediately Dawn swallowed the rest of her objection, and wished she hadn’t even gotten that much out.  I don’t need the sisters-only ice cream party.  I don’t. Even if she really only said it to get rid of Riley tonight. “Buffy, I think that’s a good plan.  Spike really looks like he could get some sleep.”

Spike shot her a sour look.  “Thanks ever so, bit.”

Dawn shrugged.  “Gotta call ‘em like I see ‘em,” she replied, and managed a grin.

“And no, Slayer, I don’t want you to patrol.”

“You should rest!”

“I’ll rest afterwards.”

Buffy’s scowl grew heated. “Being exhausted is no way to patrol!  And trust me on that, ‘cause I oughtta know!”

Spike returned her glare.  “An’ I said I’ll rest afterwards.”  Then his face settled into his familiar smirk.  “Got some payback I need to dish out.”

“Oh, well, payback.”  Buffy’s tense posture relaxed a little, and she offered him a smug grin.  “Now, see, that I understand.  Why didn’t you say so?”

Dawn rolled her eyes.  “Man,” she muttered. “Is the language of violence the only way you can communicate?”

“Oh, hush, you.  Let’s get home.” Still grinning, Buffy slid down off the sarcophagus.  “Thank you, Spike.  I can start patrolling again tomorrow night, and hey! The night after is our usual night to patrol together, so I’ll swing by, all right?”

Dawn squeaked in protest when she found herself being pulled off the sarcophagus.  But before either she or the vampire could summon any words, the whirlwind of Slayer motion was practically out the door, towing Dawn in her wake.

“Later, Spike!” Buffy tossed cheerfully over her shoulder, and pulled the crypt door shut behind her.

Outside, still being dragged along, Dawn stumbled over the uneven ground and nearly turned her ankle.  “Ouch!  Buffy, slow down!”

“Sorry, Dawnie,” Buffy said, and slowed down marginally.  “But we’ve still got to get the ice cream, and I just want to get home before it gets too much later.”

Dawn stopped still, staring at her sister in shock.  Her grip on Dawn’s arm caused Buffy to halt as well, turning to face her with a question on her lips.  Before she could say anything, Dawn whispered, “I didn’t think you meant it.”

“Huh?” Buffy’s brow wrinkled up in confusion.  “What are you talking about?”

“The ice cream,” Dawn continued, now staring at her shoes.  “I thought it was just a… a ploy to get away from Riley.  I didn’t think you meant it.”

Buffy’s hand was warm and gentle as she stroked her hair.  Dawn leaned into the touch, knowing how much her sister liked to play with her hair.  “Of course I meant it,” Buffy said softly.  “Yeah, it was a great way to get rid of Riley, but that’s not why I said it, Dawnie, not at all.”

Looking up through her eyelashes, Dawn managed a trembling smile.  “Can I have Chunky Monkey?”

Buffy made her blech face.  “Eew.  Yes.  Just don’t expect me to share.”

This time, when they started walking again, Buffy wasn’t pulling her along, and had slowed her pace to match Dawn’s.  Dawn bumped her shoulder against her sister’s, just happy to have some quiet time alone with her.

***

She was right there in his arms, but she was still a million miles away.

Of course, Riley couldn’t really say anything about that – just yesterday, Buffy had gotten the news she’d been hoping to hear ever since her mother’s ordeal had started.   She was allowed to be all space cadet if she wanted to be.

But he couldn’t help but think it would have been nicer to actually hold his girl, not the board she was masquerading as.  She had apologized for not being there for him, for being as distant as he’d once accused her of being… but it hadn’t changed anything.  She was as much not here as she would have been if she were still at the hospital.

Riley felt like all his careful prep was going to waste.  Soft music, candles on most available surfaces, the living room furniture pushed out of the way so they could slowly sway together before – he hoped – going up to her room… and she just wasn’t with him.

Wanting to reach her, he coaxed her head to rest against his chest as they moved.  At least I won’t have to see the distance in her eyes this way, he thought, and was ashamed.  “So, how does it feel?” he asked softly, trying to get her to let him in.

Buffy relaxed against him ever so slightly.  “It’s wonderful – like all the tension has just completely left my body.”

And he couldn’t begrudge her the happiness in her voice, now that her mother was going to recover, but he couldn’t hide the hint of hurt as he spoke.  After all, they hadn’t been together since Buffy had been stabbed by the vampire.  “Oh.  And here I had that scheduled for a little later tonight.”

Buffy looked up at him at those words, frowning a little, and he wondered just what she’d heard in his voice.  After a moment, her brow smoothed and she apparently decided to ignore it.  “I want to thank you for understanding about me and Dawnie wanting to have a private, sisters-only ice-cream-a-palooza last night,” she said instead.  “We really needed that.”

“Sure, Buffy.” It was difficult to keep the resentment from his tone this time.

He’d thought for sure that Buffy would have packed Dawn off with the rest of the gang last night, and let it just be her and him.  And maybe he’d been a little… pushy in trying to get her alone tonight, but it still felt like he wasn’t spending any time with her at all.

Like she’s avoiding me, he thought.

Just then, Buffy stifled a yawn, and that really became the final blow.  They stopped swaying and he stared down at her in disbelief until she flushed and pulled away.

Suddenly, he felt very empty.

“I’m sorry, Riley,” she said, studying her feet.  “The past few weeks have been filled with all kinds of stress, and now it’s like I can finally… well, knowing that Mom is going to be all right is just a huge relief.  No more sleepless nights for Buffy!” She flashed him a guilty looking grin.  “I’m really sorry, but I think I’m just going to go bed soonish, and maybe sleep late tomorrow.  I’ll see you then, all right?”

It was only then that Riley got what she was saying.  She was throwing him out.  In the nicest possible way, but still.  It took everything h had to push his anger back down.  “I… yeah.  I’ll see you later.”

She winced a little at his curt words, but just then he found it really hard to care.  “I’m sorry, Riley,” she repeated quietly as he made his way to the door.

“It’s all right,” he replied, though his tone clearly said it was anything but.  “I just… talk to you tomorrow.”

He didn’t think he’d be able to control himself if she apologized again, so it was probably best that she didn’t.  She also didn’t offer to kiss him good night, either, and he was upset enough that he could tell himself he didn’t care.

The door closed softly behind him, and the finality of it bothered him – but not enough to overcome the hurt anger.  He strode away, his destination fixed in his mind.

***

Last night had been a fluke, and Spike believed that sometimes, you had to make your own luck.  So that was why he was lurking in the shadows just down the street from the Slayer’s house, eyes trained on the front door. And when Captain Cardboard appeared, wearing an angry scowl, Spike knew.  He’s goin’ back there.  Bloody wanker!

It didn’t, however, explain why he’d spent most of last night’s payback – er, patrol –  wrestling with this very issue – to tell the Slayer or not – before deciding at last to sleep on it and see if it was just a one-time thing.

Apparently, it wasn’t.

He took one last drag off his cigarette and ground the spent end under his boot before trailing after the soldier boy, staying far enough behind that it wasn’t too obvious that he was being followed.  Even so, once or twice, Spike had to duck into whatever darkness would hide him when Riley unexpectedly glanced behind him.

He stopped just short of the nest, peering carefully around the corner of a building to watch Cardboard enter, and the door close.  Spike withdrew, back around the corner, leaning his head against the bricks and staring up at the small patch of sky visible between the buildings.

What the bloody hell am I doing? he asked himself, and ran a hand through his hair.  Why the hell should I care if he’s such a blazing idiot that he’d go to a place like this?  Let him find out first hand what happens when one of those emaciated trulls gets carried away.  He pushed off the wall and stalked back the way he’d come, lighting up another cigarette.  How can a git like that have a girl like the Slayer and still…

He stopped short, closing his eyes briefly.  Oh, bollocks.  What am I gonna do about the Slayer? If he ends up dead and she finds out I knew about his li’l nocturnal jaunts, I’m as good as dust.

He wasn’t quite sure he believed that any more… but it wouldn’t have been too far from the truth only months ago.

Christ, I don’t want to tell her.  He took a fortifying drag.  It’s not like she’s gonna believe me, either.  Don’t need any more Slayer punches to the nose.  Yeah.  With a nod, he resumed walking, secure in his decision.

It therefore came as some surprise when he discovered himself not only on Revello Drive, but on the Slayer’s porch, staring at her front door.

“Fucking hell,” he muttered.  “Gone all soft.  Might as well trade in my fangs for a white hat.”

Why in hell am I riskin’ a thrashin’ to tell her what she’s never gonna believe?  The thought came out of nowhere – ‘cause she’ll be more hurt if something happens to her honey and I didn’t say something – and he couldn’t deny the truth of it.  He sighed and reached for the doorknob.  Besides, I kinda like the Slayer now she’s not such a flaming bitch.  Don’t want her to go back to the way she used to treat me.  Satisfied that he was only doing this to save himself grief, he tested the door.

***

The vampire tinglies on the back of her neck screamed and woke Buffy from a very pleasant dream.  She jolted upright, grabbing for a stake before remembering that vamps needed invites, and that there were only two vampires that could come into her house.

“Slayer?”

And one of them is the one I was just dreaming about. Shaking away what remained of her sleepy fog, she shoved the stake back under her pillow.  “Spike?”  She could just make him out, a light-crowned shadow just inside her bedroom door.  “What are you doing here?”  The surge of adrenaline had already started to fade, and she slumped a little.  Then some bits of her dream came floating back to her.

Firm abs beneath her hands, warmed by her touch, cool lips heating against her throat, clever fingers inching under the waistband of her jeans…

Quickly, she pulled her attention back to him when she heard him take a deep breath.  “Slayer… Buffy, there’s something… something I have to show you.”

She shivered.  Not helping with the saying my name like that!  Then the rest of his words registered.  “What is it?”

“It’s… something you need to see.”  The white of his head moved, and she could imagine him looking away, anywhere but at her.  “Come on, we should hurry.”

Now she was frowning.  “Spike, what is it?”

“Buffy, I can’t… I just have to show you.  So you’ll believe me.”  The last he said so quietly that she wasn’t actually certain she’d heard correctly.

She nodded, sighing quietly.  “All right, let me get dressed.”  With her finger, she made a circling motion, indicating he should turn away.  That he did so without protest – or taunting – impressed on her the seriousness of the matter, whatever it was, and she dressed as fast as she could, pulling on the first things that came to hand and letting her pajamas fall.

Once outside, the pace Spike set was just a bit too fast for conversation, and she wondered why he didn’t want her asking questions.

Within a short while, they were standing at the back of a run-down building.  The stairs leading to the door were old, the outside facing covered with the remains of faded posters.  When she glanced at him, Spike nodded toward the stairs and the door.  Before she could mount the stairs, though, he grabbed her arm.  “This isn’t to hurt you, pet,” he said softly, his eyes focused intently on her face.  “Just want to tell you that.  This isn’t to hurt you… but it’s something you need to know.”

Bewildered by his words – her heart sinking as she contemplated the possible situations that might await inside – Buffy nodded.  He released her arm and gestured for her to precede him up the stairs.  Once at the top, he reached around her to open the door.

Vampires!  There were several vamps inside – a possible nest, yeah, she thought, glancing at Spike, but not anything that couldn’t wait until our patrol tomorrow night.

He met her gaze, as if he were expecting her to question this, then tilted his head toward the open door.  “It’s all right, pet,” he said quietly.  She nodded and stepped inside.

It was the worst kind of nest.  The smell of decay and death hit her at once, and she had to fight to keep from gagging.  The walls were covered with graffiti, the sticky floor littered with all kinds of trash.  Old sofas with mismatched cushions added the unpleasant odor of mildewed upholstery to the mix, and Buffy really wished she didn’t have to breathe.  She stumbled forward, then stopped, staring in shock.

On one of the sofas – one that she wouldn’t ever want to sit on –  she saw a skinny vamp in ratty clothing, sucking on the neck of another, better dressed one.  Slowly, however, it dawned on her that the one being sucked was human, and that the vamp wasn’t draining him, was just taking tiny, unhurried sips…

“Spike?” Her voice trembled.  “What…”

“I know, love,” he replied softly, right in her ear.  “I’ll explain it in a bit, promise.  Now, upstairs.”

Mechanically, she moved in the direction he indicated.  When she’d come in, she’d automatically placed every vampire, wondering why she hadn’t brought a stake.  Now one of them stepped away from the wall, to confront not her, but Spike.  She heard the vamp say something, though she didn’t bother to decipher the words, and then Spike’s deep voice issuing an order to be quiet.  In a moment, he was at her back, something familiar in this strange and horrible new place.

The irony of feeling comforted by having a vampire as old as Spike at her back was not lost on her.

The corridor into which the stairway emptied was little better than the main room below, lit by a single filthy window.  Still stunned by what she had seen below, she let Spike guide her to a door that was just slightly ajar.  Then he pushed the door open fully, and she looked in.

The room was only illuminated by the moon and what little light was reflected up from the unbroken street lamps outside.  By the window were two figures, distinguishable from the shadows only by the gleam of light on pale flesh.  Buffy recognized the wide chest, marred by a rough patch of scar tissue.  Riley?

Seated between his legs, bent over his arm – right where he told me he got a cut when I saw the bandage yesterday! – was a vamp girl skinnier even than the ones Buffy had seen downstairs.  She was sucking his blood.

“Harder,” Riley ordered, his tone harsh, and the vampire growled in response, but whether she was rebelling at his word or pleased to take more, Buffy couldn’t tell.

She didn’t know when she’d covered her mouth, but she had.  And when both Riley and the vamp girl looked up, she knew she’d made some sound.  The vamp dismissed her immediately, either not knowing what or who the Slayer was, or not caring.  Riley tensed, his face filled with shock and something like fear.  “Buffy,” he whispered… but made no attempt to remove the vamp from his arm, or to get up.

Somehow, that was the last straw.  Knowing only that she needed to get away before she gave into the riot of emotions seething inside, Buffy pushed past Spike and ran down the stairs as fast as she could.  In the main room, a vamp – stuck in the 80’s to judge by his hair and jacket – tried to get in the path of her flight.  “Hey, where do you think…” he started, but never got to finish as she shoved him away.  He flew up and back into the wall with the force of her push.  Plaster crumbled around him, and she flung open the door to the outside.

She stopped at the bottom of the outside steps, panting as though she’d run miles and miles, and as soon as she stopped moving, the confusion overwhelmed her.  How could he do that? How could he let a vamp feed from him?  With a guilty start, she remembered her own bites from the undead, and she fisted her hands and pressed them to her eyes.  Oh, God, I’m so confused…

“Slayer?”  Spike’s voice was low and rough and right next to her.

Slowly she lifted her head to glance over at him… and it struck her then.  It was her fault.  Somehow, she’d driven her boyfriend to this… with her unbidden feelings for Spike and her sudden cooling toward Riley, however obvious or not, combined with the insecurity he’d felt about his surgery.  Her over-protectiveness.  Her secrecy.  She had forced him to this somehow – made him betray her trust… and her friendship, even if she wasn’t in love with him.  “My fault…”

“Buffy?”

She jumped at the sound of her name and found Spike frowning at her, as if he were concerned.  “I didn’t mean…” He trailed off.

The door above them flew open and she spun around at the noise.  Riley was halfway down the steps in just a couple of long strides.  He saw Buffy and stopped.  “Buffy…”

She took a deep breath, forcing down the need to run that filled her.  Behind her, she felt Spike edging away, backing off to hide in the shadows, and she wasn’t sure whether to thank him or not.

Even without him there to draw more of Riley’s anger, this was going to be painful. It’s already painful, she thought, and let out a soft breath.  It’s been a slow, painful death since I realized I’m not in love him.

Riley took the last few steps, until he was just in front of her.  “I think we need to talk.”

She crossed her arms, wishing she’d worn a heavier jacket to keep out the chill – and knowing it wouldn’t have helped.  “Yeah, we really do.”  She eyed him and deliberately stepped back a pace.  “So talk.”

He looked at her, his face pleading in the glare of the street lamps.  “Let’s go somewhere else, okay?”

“Here is good.”  She was surprised at how cold her tone was.

Apparently, Riley was, too; he flinched.

“Is this where you give me the ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ speech?” And somehow, her voice didn’t even quaver.  “‘Cause I think I could quote it word for word at this point.”

He bristled at that.  “Hey, this isn’t just my fault here, Buffy,” he retorted.

“Funny, but I didn’t see anyone holding a gun to your head so you’d let her bite you!”

He took a deep breath, let it out slowly, and she could see that he was trying to hold back his anger.  Somehow, she caught hold of the edge of her temper.  “Riley, I’m not going to pretend that I know what was going on in there.  But whatever it is, if you’re letting them bite you, it’s too dangerous.  It’s…”

“Maybe I wanted to figure out what it was like… why you let Dracula bite you…”

That thin rein of control she had snapped.  “God!  I didn’t let him do anything!  Does the word thrall mean nothing?”

“And Angel? Did he use thrall too?”

The bitterness in Riley’s voice made her pause, drained away her anger.  “No.  Angel… I made Angel bite me to keep him from dying.  He loved me… and he nearly killed me.  Why do you think I’m telling you this is dangerous?  He loved me and he had a soul and he still almost drained me.”  Her voice rose as she tried to convince him.  “Those vamps in there… they don’t have souls and they sure don’t love you and they’re not gonna care if they kill you!  What if she’d taken too much? I could have been staking you in a few nights!  Do you know how that feels?  To have to kill someone I care about?”

Something in his eyes died as her words hit home.  “Someone you care about.”

Hoping he wasn’t going where she thought he was going, Buffy frowned.  “Of course…”

He stared into her face.  “But not someone you love.”

He was.  She simply couldn’t meet his gaze, and blushing, she looked down at the pavement.

He took an unsteady breath. “Buffy…” The pain in his voice cut her, and she closed her eyes.  “You don’t love me.”

“Riley…” She just couldn’t get the words out.  All the things she knew now she should have said days ago stuck in her throat.

“You… you don’t love me.  You don’t need me.”  His flat, humorless snort of laughter made her look up.  “I thought… I thought that maybe you would.  I wanted you to need me.”

“Please, Riley, I…”

She needed me, Buffy!”

Even though she’d already dimly suspected that it would end up being something like that, it was still a shock to hear him actually say it.

“She needed me, and for just those few minutes when she was sucking my blood, I was everything to her.”

He knows, she thought, a bit numbly.  He knows.  “And I don’t need you like that,” she said very quietly.

Pain creased his features, and Buffy regretted saying it that bluntly.  But it’s the truth, she thought sadly.  I don’t need him like that.  “I’m sorry, Riley.  It’s not fair to you… but you’re right.  I don’t love you that way.  You’re my friend, and I love you like I love all my friends… but I’m not in love with you.  I kept thinking I… But I’m not.  And I will probably never need you the way you want me to.  I wish I’d had the courage to actually… but Riley, you should have said something.  You didn’t have to do this.”

Riley took a step forward, reaching for her. “Buffy…”

She moved back.  “How long would you have kept doing this if I hadn’t found out?”  But she shook her head when he opened his mouth.  “No, I guess I don’t want to know after all.  Funny… I’ve been wracking my brain trying to come up with a way to tell you without hurting you.  I wanted us to still be friends, if we could.  Now I’m not sure we can.  I trusted you, Riley.  But I guess it’s only fair if I can’t because you don’t trust me, either.”  Buffy turned away from him.

“But I do, Buffy!  I only kept it…”

“No, you really don’t,” Buffy replied as gently as she could.  “If you trusted me… it never would have come to this.  And if you don’t see that, then maybe I’m not the only one who isn’t really in love.”  She faced the deep shadows in the alley, wishing she could make out the platinum glow of Spike’s hair.  She knew he was still there; her vampire tinglies hadn’t gone away, and he was a lot closer and stronger than the vamps inside.  “Spike,” she called, and could not keep her sadness or exhaustion from her voice.  “Spike, would you walk home with me, please?”

“Spike?” Riley growled behind her.  “What’s he doing here?”

“He brought me.” As Spike emerged from the darkness, she gave him a tired smile she knew didn’t reach her eyes.  “You don’t mind, do you?”

“‘Course not.”  He tilted his head, nodding for her to precede him again.

She was emotionally drained and paying attention to little else.  She was therefore taken by surprise when Riley grabbed her arm, fingers digging in hard enough to leave bruises.  She was even more surprised by Spike’s snarl, but apparently not as much as Spike himself was, if his expression was anything to go by.  “Let me go, Riley,” she demanded in her iciest tone.

He ignored her.  “Buffy… you’re here with Spike? What was all that about vamps and not being able to trust them?” His words were clearly meant to sting.

But they didn’t.  Buffy yanked her arm away, using more force than was really warranted.  “Okay, first, I said I couldn’t trust you anymore… and trust is a two way street even for friends, never mind couples.  Second, you were the one who let me be able to trust Spike… at least in part.”

Riley just gaped at her.  “What?”

She poked him in the sternum with her index finger, hard enough to make him wince.  “You put the chip in his head.  If you hadn’t, we would have kept fighting until one of us killed the other, and I would never have had an opportunity to know him… or discover that I could trust him.  Spike has always dealt straight with me, no matter how much he hated me, and once I trusted him, he’s never given me a reason not to.”

With that, she walked away, leaving both Spike and Riley staring after her in something like shock.

After only a few moments, Spike caught up to her and matched her pace, hands stuffed into the pockets of his coat.  They had nearly reached Revello Drive when Spike broke the silence.  “What you said to Finn back there… must have been hard.”  His voice was full of forced indifference.

She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye.  As if feeling her sidelong gaze, he looked up at the sky, then down at the sidewalk, anywhere but at her.  She gave another sad smile.  “Yeah, well, sometimes the truth is hard… and sometimes it’s not.”

Part of her wanted to explain how she was glad he was chipped, even though she knew he hated it, that she was happy she had the chance to get to know him… but most of her was too exhausted to open the discussion, afraid that it would lead to an argument about who would have killed who, and hurt and angry feelings.  And I just can’t deal with that right now, she thought.  I just want to pretend for a little longer.

Then they reached the house.  As Spike was turning to go, leaving her on the porch, Buffy realized she didn’t want to be alone just yet – she didn’t want Spike to go.  Reaching for something that would have him stay just a little longer, Buffy called softly, “Hey… you… you said you’d tell me what was going on in that place.”  She was tired, and there was more in her tone than the curiosity she was striving for – there was sadness and loneliness and betrayal and a definite pleading.

And she didn’t care if he heard it.

“I did, didn’t I?” Spike returned to the porch, and waited for her to unlock the door.  The resigned look on his face told her that she really wasn’t going to like what he had to say.

 

Continued in Chapter 7 (part 2).

Comments and criticism gratefully accepted.

 

Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/249709.html

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