- Seven Stages to Clarity Chapter 1
- Seven Stages to Clarity Chapter 2
- Seven Stages to Clarity Chapter 3
- Seven Stages to Clarity Chapter 4
- Seven Stages to Clarity Chapter 5
- Seven Stages to Clarity Chapter 6
- Seven Stages to Clarity Chapter 7
- Seven Stages to Clarity Chapter 8
- Seven Stages to Clarity Chapter 9 (the final one)
A/N Into the Woods (written by Marti Noxon), Triangle (written by Jane Espenson)
Buffy’s relief over the success of the operation left her nearly weak in the knees. Riley held her close and kissed her forehead. “You were incredible.”
“Not really, I was so scared and I cried so hard I didn’t think I’d ever stop.”
Riley looked puzzled. Buffy had cried? When had that happened? He edged Buffy closer to the edge of the bed tenderly. He’d waited so long to have her to himself again and didn’t want to wait a minute longer.
“I was a regular watering pot,” Buffy ducked her head. “I think I kinda scared Spike.” She giggled. “Don’t think he’s used to females weeping about anything except to beg for their lives.”
“Spike saw you cry?” That was just the last straw! Riley was going to get rid of that creep at long last.
“He saw and he awkwardly offered a shoulder that I made totally soggy,” Buffy laughed at the memory. Spike had been so relieved when she had told him the surgery was a success. There was no denial that the vampire was sincere in his caring either. Like her mom had said, he could be kind of sweet after all.
Buffy didn’t notice Riley’s ire and wrapped her arms around him as they settled on her bed. There was nothing more life affirming than sex and right now she was all about the affirming of life!
Spike couldn’t figure out just when he’d become a masochist. He spent night after night under the sodding tree just listening to Buffy sleep, the Summers family enjoying each other’s company, Buffy showering, Buffy crying, Buffy having sex with the great lout of a boyfriend who hadn’t troubled to be there for her when she most needed it. The frustration was slowly driving him as bonkers as Dru. He crushed his latest cigarette, adding its butt to the small pile accumulating and mentally promised to clean it up before the Slayer got wise and came out with stake swinging.
Actually, Buffy had been a bit nicer to him of late. Spike wasn’t sure what to make of that, but he took what he was offered. “Bit off her game with Joyce sick,” he figured.
He glared up at the bedroom window. Finn hadn’t been there all that long and they were finished already. Boy must have been feeling almost a virgin again since it had been so long. He could hear the soft snores and snuffles of Buffy, but could tell from the little noises that Riley was not enjoying post-coital unconsciousness.
Spike had just decided to pack it in for the night and go back to the crypt for a bit of liquid comfort and a sad wank when Finn came out the front door. Spike slid behind the tree out of view. Wouldn’t do to be caught watching. Judging from the look on Finn’s face it wouldn’t be good being caught doing anything close to Buffy or her house. He decided to follow the boy from a safe distance.
Something was just off about the whole thing. He’d heard all the whining about wanting ‘me time’ with Buffy, but now that the berk had her to himself, he was haunting the dark alleys of Sunnydale. Something was definitely rotten in Denmark.
The ex-soldier headed straight for a rundown warehouse on a side of town that gave even Spike pause. Spike frowned and tried to remember what he knew about this nest. He had a feeling Finn wasn’t on a kill mission.
Joyce settled back on the couch as Buffy put another movie in the DVD player. “You don’t have to keep me company all night. Go out and have some fun. Doesn’t Riley want to take you to a movie or something?
Buffy frowned. As much as Riley had complained about her lack of attention the past few agonizing weeks, he hadn’t exactly been around as much as she had expected now that she had some free time. He’d jumped at her suggestion of her staying home with her mom without a complaint. “I gave Riley the day off. Told him to make plans with his friends because I want to have you all to myself, okay?” She smiled at her happily, just glad her mom was still there to hang around with. “Besides, I can see him any time.”
Joyce mulled that over. She was almost certain that Buffy’s heart wasn’t engaged, no matter how she seemed to want it to be. Riley was likely Buffy’s rebound guy. He was the first boy after Angel to try to carve a place in her heart. There were some similarities to Angel that Joyce noticed from the first but hadn’t given voice to her thoughts. Better to let Buffy sort out her heart for herself. She had already interfered once and all it seemed to do was cause her daughter hurt.
“Still, I don’t want you cooped up inside with the recovering patient. You’re young, you need to enjoy life.”
“I am. I do.” Buffy sat next to her mom and pushed play. “And right now I’m enjoying watching ‘O Brother Where Art Thou’ with you. Who could ask for more? You, me, popcorn and George Clooney!”
Joyce laughed and took a handful of popcorn. “Who indeed?”
Joyce rather hoped that Buffy wasn’t too attached to Riley. She had noticed so many hints that he was beginning to look elsewhere than her daughter. She had ignored those signs with Hank but they were clearly there in the younger man. Buffy deserved better, someone loyal who would be true-blue no matter what. Someone who put her needs over his own and understood that she had very important things in her life beyond just making some man happy. She ran a fond hand through Buffy’s hair and smiled in contentment. At least she’d be around to help pick up the pieces if it did go badly.
Buffy woke as soon as she heard the door open. “Riley?” she whispered. She wasn’t too comfortable with him slipping into her room while her mom was home. She knew that Joyce realized they were having sex, but it didn’t feel right with her mom just on the other side of the wall! She would have to talk to him about that.
A soft, deep voice that was clearly not Riley’s spoke. “It’s me.”
Buffy shot up, clutching the covers to her. “Spike! What in the hell are you doing in my room in the middle of the night?! You’d better have a really good reason why I shouldn’t just stake you.”
“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t have a good reason. I’m here to help, even if you never seem to get that.”
Buffy snorted. He was acting rather nervous and cagey. Clearly something was up.
Spike had wrestled with how best to clue Buffy in on Riley’s new dangerous habit. He was fairly certain she wouldn’t believe him if he just told her, wouldn’t get how important it was that she put a stop to it without seeing for herself. “I wanna show you something.”
Buffy could hear the gravity of his voice. “What?”
“No, you need to see it for yourself. But we need to get a move on if we want to get there in time.”
“You need to turn around, ‘cause there’s nothing for YOU to see here,” Buffy warned.
It was a measure of his awareness that he was on thin ice that he avoided trying to sneak a peek as Buffy slipped out of bed and headed for the closet to change for the secret mission. “As if!” His denial of interest sounded false even to his own ears.
“Is this about Dawn? Did she sneak out again? I swear I’ll kill her if she has,” Buffy whispered.
“Kid sis’s tucked away safe and sound in her room, snoring loud enough to wake the dead.”
“Yeah, like you care,” Buffy tossed over her shoulder as she slipped on her boots.
“Course I care about the Bit. She’s the only one of you lot that’s nice to me ‘sides your mum.” Spike was genuinely affronted. He knew that Buffy doubted his gentler emotions, but he knew how to care for those he loved. One day she’d have to see the truth of that.
Buffy felt a jolt of guilt when she heard the slight hurt in his voice. She really did see that he cared for her mom and little sister… for some unexplainable reason. It wasn’t right to taunt him, mom was right about that. He’d been very helpful lately, covering for her or coming along on patrols while her mom healed, listening to her fears when they overflowed from her heart and poured out her mouth.
“You still need to learn boundries, Spike. Like, this is my room, as in you don’t just pop up in here like you’re a member of this household. Got it?” She reached for her weapons bag. If he had risked at least a beating to confront her this way, the problem must be a big one.
“Noted. Don’t think you’ll need the hardware, but better safe,” he admitted.
She was numb. Buffy had no idea how she felt or if she felt at all. It was like waking up in another universe and that was something she didn’t want to test out in reality.
She couldn’t scrub the image from her mind of Riley with a look of satiated passion while an ugly, skinny vamp-ho was fangs-deep in his arm. He hadn’t even said much to her when he looked up and saw them in the doorway. Merely continued to let the vamp suck away.
She’d been too shocked by all that she’d seen, especially her ‘too busy to drop by tonight’ boyfriend to even think of slaying the many vampires plying their trade in the ruins of the warehouse.
Now that the initial shock was wearing off, she began to feel the burn of anger. At Riley first and foremost, but also Spike, who had forced her to see what Riley was doing. “I just know the jerk loved every minute of showing me.”
“What’s that, dear?” Joyce had noted Buffy’s mood and wondered just what had lit the fuse she could see burning hot and strong.
Gone were the days when Buffy felt the need to protect her mother from the unseemly parts of her life. It was nice to have someone to talk to, someone who just listened without judging.
Buffy shared all her pain and anger over multiple cups of coffee. She was more than a bit surprised when her mother got up and brought down a bottle of whiskey, pouring a generous shot into Buffy’s mug. “You look like you could use this, not that I condone using alcohol as a crutch on a regular basis. Been there, done that, got the tee-shirt and had nothing but hurt to show for it.”
Joyce had been shocked to learn about the vampire business with the paid drinking of blood, but not as surprised to hear about Riley’s involvement with them. Riley had seemed to be teetering on the edge of something for quite a while. Joyce had expected a typical affair, but then neither Riley nor Buffy were exactly typical and this was much the same in the long run.
“… and I’m sure he got off on seeing me hurt like that! I had just started to trust him a little too,” Buffy was continuing, but Joyce had missed the first part.
“Trust who, dear, Riley? I thought you have a long while now.”
“Not Riley! Of course I trusted him! I was talking about Spike.”
Joyce could see that Buffy was looking at shooting the messenger in an attempt to deflect some of her anger at the real culprit.
“Honey, you should probably be grateful that Spike let you know what was going on.” Buffy snorted but Joyce sallied forward anyway. “Just think of what might have happened.”
“I could have stayed in blissful ignorance and been happy?”
“No, we could all be dead or you might have had to kill Riley.”
Buffy frowned, not liking either scenario. “How do you figure that?”
“Well, had it gone on too long and gone too far, he might have been turned. You know that you’d invite him in without question, Buffy.”
“I would have staked him as soon as the bumpies came out,” Buffy replied defensively.
“And if he’d shown up while you weren’t here? What if it were Dawn or me who opened the door?” Buffy shuddered at the thought. “You know that could easily have happened. He was flirting with danger by going to those vampires. It’s no stretch of the imagination to see how bad it could have been and we would have been none the wiser until far too late.”
Buffy couldn’t argue but stubbornly held on to her anger at Spike. “Still, Spike could have just told me. Mom, it was terrible to have to actually see it happening, and in front of Spike too.”
“Would you have believed him?”
Buffy had to admit that she probably wouldn’t have. Joyce could see the knowledge register on her face.
“He knows you too well to have simply told you. Buffy, he’s a vampire and knows better than anyone the dangers of what Riley was doing. He showed you because he cares about you and has particularly good insight where your reactions are concerned.”
“You think Spike knows me that well?”
“I seem to recall last summer when you were quite angry at how well he knows all of you. Didn’t you nearly stake him for using that ability to drive a wedge between all of you?”
“Yeah. He has always seemed to really get me especially.”
“He pays attention. Takes the time to listen and observe. I don’t doubt it’s one talent that has helped keep him existing this long.” Joyce thought about that a bit, then continued, “What do you really know about him though? Do you pay attention to how he thinks and what he feels?”
“A, not much, and B, he can’t, ‘cause he’s a demon.” Buffy immediately countered.
Joyce laughed at her daughter’s knee jerk reaction. “Actually, he has a fine mind and is well educated.”
“He sell you a bridge with that one?”
“He didn’t sell a thing. Some things slip in conversations. He’s never come out and said anything, but it’s obvious he had a fine education and he’s continued learning over the years since.” She ignored Buffy’s look of skepticism and continued, “As for him feeling … well, Buffy, you’d have to be blind not to see that. He wears his heart on his sleeve. Every emotion–and he has plenty of those–shows in his eyes.”
Buffy didn’t want to admit a bit of it, even though she knew there was truth in what her mom was saying.
“Haven’t you ever noticed that he gets particularity nasty and lashes out most when his feelings have been hurt? I’ve seen it dozens of times when you and your friends have said unkind things to him. It’s his only way to fight back.”
“I still think he loved every minute of my pain there in that warehouse,” Buffy insisted.
“Oh, I doubt that, honey. If Spike wanted to see your pain, he would have kept silent and waited for you to have to stake Riley when he became a vampire.”
Great! More stuff for Buffy to have to think about while trying to get some sleep.
The next shock came when Giles showed himself completely aware of vampire suck houses, as did Anya. The ex-demon was proving to be as filled with knowledge as Buffy’s mother had suggested. Now if Anya would just start to share a bit, they could all benefit. Then again, when she had tried in the past they had all shut her down.
Giles and Xander had gone along when Buffy had burned the warehouse down and staked the vamps doing business there.
She was kind of glad that Xander hadn’t demanded an explanation when Buffy had flamed at his suggestion they wait until Riley could join in the mission. She’d been too humiliated to explain to her Watcher or friends why Riley Finn was persona non grata anywhere around her.
Sooner or later, she’d have to tell them. Her love life was once more at a crashing halt. It surprised her how the biggest hurt was to her pride. Her heart seemed curiously unharmed. Buffy chewed that over. She would have expected to feel heartbreak along the lines of watching Angel turn and leave at graduation, but she didn’t, not even a bit. She was insulted and angry. She was also a bit relieved, as if somewhere deep inside she knew they were going no place with the relationship.
It was almost funny to realize that Xander was likely to take the news harder than she had herself.
Riley knew though. He hadn’t been around. They hadn’t spoken, but she knew that he was fully aware that they were over. It had been in his eyes as he looked at her over the head of his vamp ho in that dump. He had no one but himself to blame.
“It was all Spike’s fault,” Riley raged as he stalked over to the crypt.
Spike seemed to be expecting him. He sat in his armchair holding a bottle of whiskey and looking resigned. He sighed as Riley burst in. “Does no one knock anymore?” He raised an eyebrow at the intruder, “Took you a bit longer than I expected. Takes a while to get back your strength after all those bites.” He eyed the clenched left fist and noted the right fist headed his way as Riley grabbed him and pulled him from the chair, slamming him into a wall.
“Look, I’m not the one who got you into trouble with your honey. You’re the one didn’t treasure what you had, then decided to roll in the dirt with that lot. Don’t kill the messenger.”
Riley growled, pulled back his arm and slammed a stake into Spike’s heart. ”Why the hell not?”
Spike flinched as the pain shot through him. “Bloody hell! Oh, God!” Then he noticed that he hadn’t dusted and looked closer at the stake that Riley pulled back out of him while he desperately held his chest as the pain seared through him. The stake looked and felt real enough, but something was wrong.
Riley gave a rather sinister laugh. “Plastic wood grain design. Looks real, doesn’t it? He slammed Spike back against the wall again. “Don’t think I don’t know what’s going on with you, Spike. You stay away from her or we’ll do this with the real thing the next time.” He patted Spike on the cheek and started to walk away.
Spike swayed from the pain and moved to his chair, still holding his chest. He gave a snort of laughter. “Oh, man! You are really under it, aren’t you?”
“What are you talking about?”
“Look at you, all afraid I’m hot for your honey.”
“But that’s not your problem. Even if I wasn’t in the picture, you’re never gonna be able to hold onto Buffy.
Riley shoved Spike down into the chair, his hand on Spike’s own, pushing into the wound and causing Spike to grimace in pain. “Bloody hell! Come on, you’re not the long haul guy and you know it or you wouldn’t be getting suck jobs from two-bit vampire trulls.” He reached for his bottle and uncorked it with his teeth, taking a long pull on the contents. “Girl needs more than you can give her. Needs a bit of monster in her man. She may not like it or even realize it yet, but she does. Regular fella like you’s just not up for the job.”
Riley glared at him. “You actually think you’ve got a shot with her?” His snort of laughter said what his opinion was about it.
Spike looked in more than physical pain. “No, I don’t, but gotta try though, do what I can.”
“If you touch her, you know I’d kill you for real.”
“Yeah, and if I’d had this chip out of my head, I’d-a killed you long time ago. Ain’t love grand?” Spike groaned and took another deep drink from the bottle. “Sometimes I envy you so much it chokes me. And then sometimes I think I’ve got the better deal.” He sighed with a hint of desperate longing. “To be that close to her and not really have her. To be all alone even when you’re holding her, feeling her surrounding you….” He shook his head. “No, you’ve got the better deal.”
“I’m dead serious, Spike. Leave Buffy alone.”
“Like you’ve done too many nights lately?”
She’d been right; Xander hadn’t taken it well at all. “See, I think you got burned by Angel and then Riley shows up.”
“I do know the story, Xan.”
“Yeah, but you missed the point. You’ve shut down, Buffy. You’re treating Riley like he’s just the rebound guy. He’s the kind of guy that only shows up once in a lifetime.”
“Sounds like you want him yourself,” Buffy said with narrowed eyes.
Xander sputtered. “No way! But I have eyes. He’s never held back a thing from you, he’s risked everything, and you’re willing to let him walk?”
Buffy thought about that for a minute. Riley had walked away from the Initiative, but then again, he had other reasons besides just doing it for her. As for holding back…well, they both did a lot of that. For some reason, the whole ‘rebound guy’ thing seemed to fit in a way that made Buffy more than a bit uncomfortable. Is that all Riley had been? A way station to the next real thing after Angel? A band-aid over the Angel-sized hole in her heart?
Xander was still pleading Riley’s case. “Look, if he isn’t the guy, if he isn’t the one and you just can’t give him what he needs, then you need to let him go. Break his heart with a clean break. But if you do love this guy even a little–I mean the real thing, messy and all–then think about what you stand to lose.”
Buffy was still thinking about that when Riley entered. “We need to talk.”
She felt pretty talked out, thank you very much. “I’m not ready to talk to you yet.”
“Too bad.” Riley motioned to the back room, away from the audience.
Buffy glared at him. Did no one listen to her anymore? “I’m serious, I don’t want to deal with this just now unless you want to fight.”
“So let’s fight. We need to have this out, Buffy, right now.”
“Nothing you say will make what you did any better. You risked all of us because…what…I didn’t fill all your needs?”
“Hey, I know I screwed up, but it’s over now. I just need you to hear me out. I think some of it started after you stopped needing me after last summer. Then Dracula showed up and you followed him like he was the best thing ever.” He caught her angry look and backed off a bit. “Okay, it was stupid and immature of me, but seeing how you let him bite you, I wanted to even things up.”
“I didn’t LET Dracula bite me, you idiot!” Buffy huffed.
“I do know that on some level, but just seeing the scar…scars…on your neck. Buffy, it wasn’t just Dracula or one bite. I wanted to know why Dracula and Angel have so much power over you.”
She rolled her eyes in frustration. “You just don’t get it!”
He nodded his head in agreement. “That’s just it. I wanted to get it, Buffy. I wanted to get you.”
She was livid. “So this is all my fault? Buffy’s been bitten by vampires. I think I’ll go out and risk getting turned, let some ho–”
Riley took her by the shoulders. “No. I’m not saying it’s your fault. I hate like hell that I’ve hurt you, disappointed you. It’s just these girls, they made me feel something, Buffy. Something I didn’t even know I was missing until…”
“I really don’t want to hear this.” She was more disgusted than she wanted to show and more hurt. “Fine, tell me about your whores. Tell me what on earth they gave you that I didn’t.” She had heard the same words from her mother directed at her father not all that long ago. Deja vu was not a pretty, happy, puppy-filled land.
“They needed me. It wasn’t about money, even though I did pay. It was about me. My blood, my body, my life force. When they bit me…,” To his shame, even he could hear the yearning in his voice. “It was beyond passion. They wanted to devour me, all of me. I craved it and kept gong back. They made me feel like they had such a hunger for me… ME.”
“And I didn’t make you feel like I needed you? God, Riley I’ve needed you more than ever these past few weeks and you’ve hardly been there for me at all. You aren’t a passion to them; you’re a snack!”
Riley was angry. “No, I know exactly what they feel when they bite me, because I feel it every time we’re together. Like the whole world falls away and all there is is you.”
Buffy was silent. She wished she could say the same, or close to it. The truth was that while the sex was good, it wasn’t life-changing like he was making it sound like it was for him.
“You keep me at a distance, Buff. You didn’t even call me when your mom went into the hospital.”
She was stunned at his lack of understanding. “So sorry that I couldn’t take care of you and your feelings and needs when I thought my mother might be dying.”
“You just don’t need me and you make that clear. You have to tough it out alone, be the strong one.”
“That’s part of being a Slayer is.” Her mind suddenly snapped to the real issue. “That’s what this is really all about, isn’t it? You can’t handle the fact that I’m stronger than you?”
“Sometimes. I’ll admit it’s hard sometimes, yeah. But it’s more than that. You say the right words, but Buffy, I just don’t feel it.”
They stared across the large, deep gulf of hurt in silence for a while. She couldn’t reassure him of a love she realized she didn’t feel and he couldn’t undo the hurt he had caused.
“They want me back in the military. It’s deep undercover, no contact with civilians. The transport is leaving tonight.”
“When were you going to tell me?”
“I’m telling you now. If we can’t work this out…”
Buffy blinked in amazement. He was asking for her to just give a blanket pardon? Forget her feelings, forget the very real danger he’d put her in by his choices, forget the problems they clearly needed to work through before any reconciliation could be possible and he was wanting her to just leap?
“So that’s it then. This is goodbye?” Riley shrugged and Buffy saw red. It was so like Angel making all of their decisions as a couple by himself, for himself. “You’re unbelievable! You come in here and make excuses then give me an ultimatum?”
“I came to work things out, to explain. But unless you give me a reason to stay, I’m leaving tonight.”
“Don’t let the door hit you.”
The next few weeks were a blur of emotions. Buffy alternated from anger to feelings of inadequacy. Joyce tried to convince her that she had done the right thing. That there was better for her out there than Riley. That real men don’t cheat or knowingly place those they love in danger. Most of it sank in.
Still, Buffy was completely tired of seeing the backside of the men in her life. In the end, they all just turned and walked away.
Spike continued to patrol with her, even though Buffy was back to normal. He never mentioned Riley and Buffy figured he knew that Finn had left. She was glad Spike hadn’t decided to rub that in.
Giles had headed to London to try to get any information the Council might have on Glory and Willow and Anya were behaving like complete brats, sniping at each other continually.
The whole thing had led to them releasing a large, dangerous troll loose on the town. That was followed by more than a bit of property damage and a few people making the local hospital a bit richer. Buffy wished she could say there had been anything to gain from the whole incident, but aside from a nifty troll hammer and the realization that Anya was a whole lot scarier than they all thought, there wasn’t much to show for it.
Xander seemed a bit bemused to realize he was only Anya’s second serious long-term relationship and a bit grateful that he had never angered her enough to turn him into something large and ugly like she had Olaf. It was worth remembering. He’d made it a point to be a bit nicer to the love of his life and a little less critical. Xander didn’t fancy becoming a troll any time soon.
Spike had come in handy with that fight. Who knew trolls were so strong? Giles was going to be furious with all the repairs the Magic Box was going to need and the inventory was going to be of major fail, but at least no one died.
Buffy even noticed that Spike had helped the patrons of the Bronze who had been injured during Olaf’s ale-questing rampage. Buffy was taking her mom’s advice and trying to actually look and learn. They had overlooked a lot with both Anya and Spike. Considering the danger represented by Glory, that was a mistake she was glad to rectify.
As for missing Riley, not so much. She wasn’t sure whether to feel upset about not being upset or not. Mostly she just tried to move on.
“Rupert, I still don’t understand why the other Watchers made you go all the way to London when they don’t know anything.” Joyce was disappointed. She had hoped there would be news about this threat to her babies.
“They have no record of Glory or anything like her based on the information I’ve given them though they now have the resources to look into it. They might have something soon.”
Buffy wanted to cut to the chase. She didn’t trust the Council at all. “What about the Key? Were they all over it?”
“They are interested certainly, and full of theories, many of them pure nonsense, but I revealed nothing.”
“So they don’t know it’s Dawn?” Buffy hadn’t noticed her little sister coming down the stairs or pause when she heard her name.
Joyce shook her head, “I still can’t begin to grasp this. I mean, she’s my baby girl and I…”
“Yes, it is disorienting at best, invasive at worst,” Giles agreed.
“What happens if they figure it out? What would they do?” Buffy would fight to the death, even against the Council if necessary to protect her younger sibling, real or otherwise.
“I can’t even think about this! It’s too…” Joyce got up and Dawn drew back out of her mother’s line of vision.
Something was up. Something that concerned her. Something they weren’t telling her, probably because they still thought of her as a little girl. Well, this little girl had mad skills. She’d find out and then they’d have to stop shutting her out of everything important.
Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/402363.html