Dream the Third
“Hey, the curly hair was kinda cute,” Buffy said as she looked at a vision of herself unpacking in her first dorm room. “Ugh, Kathy! The roommate from hell, literally.” She didn’t need to think long to realize her dream seemed to be following the same theme as the previous ones. Welcome to UC Sunnydale and enter one Riley Finn.
As Buffy watched the scenes play out before her, she noticed how Riley seemed to be far more interested in Willow than herself for quite a while. She overheard Riley calling her “peculiar” when talking to his Initiative buddies. “Wonder what changed his mind?”
As she watched, she saw herself sitting on a bench, stake clutched tightly and hidden. She’d been waiting, trying to lure Spike. Xander had pulled her from a frat party to warn her that Harmony said Spike was out looking for the Slayer. She remembered being irritated when Riley slid next to her on the bench and tried everything he could to get Buffy inside to safety. “You think that boys can take care of themselves and girls need help?” she had asked him sarcastically. But Riley hadn’t been joking or sarcastic when he replied, “yeah.”
“God, he pissed me off! He was so Angel-like, trying to make me feel like a useless little girl needing a protector! I’m the Slayer!” Buffy felt herself sputtering with frustration. What was it with the men in her life that they claimed to want to take care of her and acted like she needed being taken care of, but they left her in the end? “I should have seen it coming right from the start.”
Buffy had to admit to herself that she probably wouldn’t have given Riley the time of day if she hadn’t reached the pits of her self-esteem. First, Angel leaving and then the whole Parker disaster and she’d had left feeling that no man would ever want her. When Riley called her beautiful, that had been his ticket.
To be fair, he hadn’t known how insecure she was and the compliment hadn’t been a line. Still, that was the moment when Buffy finally looked upon one Riley Finn and decided he might just be the guy to fill the role of perfect, normal boyfriend!
Riley had been funny, joking about the banner he was hanging and ‘admitting’ he was a lesbian. Next thing Buffy knew, he was talking about how mysterious she was, how beautiful … and she was mesmerized. “He likes me! He thinks I’m mysterious and beautiful!” Suddenly Riley Finn moved from Doofus TA to prime boyfriend material. Buffy, the all-too-fragile girl, was grasping at this guy like one starved. He was the ‘great white hope’, her chance to get it right.
As Buffy watched, she could see it so clearly now. Her friends pushing them together. The way she herself kept up the pep talk. Her cheerleader past was in the driver’s seat.
“Hey, You normal boyfriend fans,
Just stand up and clap your hands!
Go, Riley, Go,
Go, Riley, Go!
Hey, You normal boyfriend Fans
Now let’s see you wave your hands!
Go, Riley, Go! Go Riley Go!”
Buffy giggled as she easily pictured herself, Willow, and even Giles and Xander in cheerleading costumes, urging Riley on to make that touchdown.
“Kiss the Slayer,
Make her scream,
Toss her in the bed.
You’re the player,
Human, that’s the team,
Breathing not undead!”
‘Okay, that last cheer wasn’t so good. There was a reason I didn’t make the Sunnydale Razorback Cheer Squad,’ Buffy pouted.
She heard herself selling the pro-Riley position to Willow, even though her friend had already tried to help make the match. ‘Riley seems so solid, like he wouldn’t cause me heartache,’ DreamBuffy was saying. Buffy snorted, “Can you just say ‘safe’?” She shook her head as she listened to her DreamSelf remind Willow how painful just seeing Angel still was.
Willow had agreed with her that pain was not of the good, but DreamBuffy was making an interesting point that she managed to shove down in the interest of pursuing the “right” guy. Looking back, Buffy could see that even then she had known in the deepest parts of herself that Riley wasn’t what she wanted.
DreamBuffy was saying, “But I can’t help thinking…isn’t that where the fire comes from? Can a nice, safe relationship be that intense? I know it’s nuts, but a part of me believes that REAL love and passion have to go hand-in-hand with pain and fighting.”
Suddenly, Buffy heard a disembodied voice, Spike’s this time. “Great love is wild and passionate and dangerous. It burns and consumes.” She shuddered as she remembered when he had spoken those words, just before it all went to hell in that bathroom.
She remembered what she had said in answer too. “Until there’s nothing left. That kind of love doesn’t last.” When had she changed her mind on what love even was?
Buffy firmly shut out the many flashes of her relationship with Spike: the passion, the fighting, the looks of adoration in his eyes as he desperately tried to make their coupling an act of love and not just sex.
“NO!” Buffy had the vague thought that she hoped she wasn’t sleep-talking. “This is about Riley, NOT Spike.” Or was it totally? If that spell to work Willow’s will hadn’t happened, if Spike’s kisses hadn’t lit a fire, would she have rushed into Riley’s arms so quickly?
Buffy remembered trying to reassure Willow that she was over the whole bad boy attraction. “I’d be really happy to be in a nice relationship with a decent, reliable…,” DreamBuffy was saying.
Buffy watched as her DreamSelf grew wide-eyed and panicked, realizing Riley thought she was engaged to Spike. Suddenly Riley became the holy grail of boyfriends and the whole relationship went into fast forward.
“And that worked so well,” Buffy muttered. “Next thing you know, I find out he’s secret agent guy, demon hunting division. He discovers why I’m mystery girl and I had to start holding back. The more he saw of my Slayer side, the more insecure he was. It was like a competition! Who had the biggest balls? Only guys don’t want their womenfolk to have balls at all.”
She remembered sparring with Riley, holding back her full strength, and him vowing to take her the next time. He just never got it that her powers were supernatural and he would never ‘take her’ unless she let him.
Oh, Riley admired her and was proud of her. He was also jealous and a bit afraid. He had tried so hard to put her into a mold, just like Angel before him. He got her involved with the Initiative, made her ‘one of the gang’…only she never really fit in with that group at all.
She remembered how awestruck she had been when she got her first look into the underground facility. It had been impressive to a young girl. All those ‘professionals’ with all those high-tech toys. It didn’t even register what they were doing to the demons until Oz became a captive. Buffy knew even then that Riley only objected because Oz was a friend of hers. If Oz had just been some nameless werewolf, Riley would never have tried to help release him.
Her preoccupation with Riley and proving herself to Professor Walsh had driven a large wedge between herself, her friends and her Watcher. She remembered the many complaints that Buffy had abandoned them all for her new boyfriend and his group. In the end, the same jealousy and fear she saw glimpses of in Riley’s reaction to her powers caused Professor Walsh to try to have her killed. All those James Bond toys were no match against the Chosen One.
“Guess I should be glad Professor Walsh decided to kill me instead of dissect me,” Buffy muttered.
Even after Maggie Walsh was gone, Riley hadn’t completely sided with Buffy. He never had full confidence in her or her judgement. He had to have everything proven to him, from Professor Walsh’s betrayal to the existence of Adam. Even at the end he was wanting proof that Buffy would forgive him immediately for his irresponsible, hurtful addiction to the vamp ho’s.
His “habit” had put him, her, and all those she loved in danger. All it would have taken would have been for Riley to have been turned by one of his ho’s and they could have all been drained. They wouldn’t have seen him coming, wouldn’t have known the danger. Still Riley had expected–no, demanded–that Buffy blow it all off as a slight indiscretion.
It was bad enough that Riley’s trips to the brothel made her feel inadequate as a woman, but it was his playing with all their lives that was what she had been wrestling with, what she needed time to digest, to forgive.
Buffy snorted at the memory of how sex with Riley had made her feel. HE wasn’t the only one left wanting. She hadn’t resorted to anyone else though. No vamp ho for her.
Buffy firmly pushed down the image of Spike and the attraction she had felt even then–and still denied feeling, to herself and everyone else. She refused to admit that there was more than one night when Spike lurking under the tree was more alluring than she wanted to acknowledge.
“No,” Buffy insisted, “Sex was great with Riley! Well, not great, but perfectly good.” Buffy felt it was her fault if it were less than perfect. She always had to hold back her passion to keep from injuring him. Maybe she shouldn’t have held back. “Did Faith hold back when she seduced him while in my body?”
That was another thing she had never been able to forgive Riley for: not knowing it wasn’t her. “I’m more than a body. He should have been able to see it wasn’t me there. It’s not like he didn’t know about the kind of weird things that happen on a hellmouth, after all!”
No, Riley wasn’t a normal guy really. Not just because of the drugs and tampering by the Initiative, but his awareness of the dark world that Buffy was ordained to battle set him apart from all things ‘normal’. Still, he was as close as Buffy was likely to come to a normal guy and it had still been a disaster.
“It was all forced,” she thought to herself in review. “I had to convince myself to try to love him. Hold parts of myself back by force. I had to be less than I am to come close to pleasing Riley. In the end, it was just cold, no fire at all. The only time I felt the fire with him was that time when we were the battery-powered sex machine at Lowell House for the creepy ghostie things. Except for then, it was just a series of disappointments for both of us. No wonder he left. You see an iceberg, you steer the ship away or you sink.”
Then just as before, there was a scene of which she had no waking knowledge suddenly playing out before her. Riley was pushing his way into Spike’s crypt and staking him. “That couldn’t happen! Spike’s not dust, at least not because of Riley.” Buffy fought down the bile that had risen in her throat at the sight of Spike, Riley and the stake.
Her mother’s voice rang out, “But it did happen, sweetheart. Listen and you’ll see why Spike wasn’t destroyed by Riley’s bully tactics.”
Buffy listened to Riley’s explanation that the stake was plastic, made to look like wood. “Why carry something like that around?” she wondered. “You can’t kill a vamp with plastic. Riley knows that. All you can do is hurt them and scare them.” Suddenly she understood what her mother meant by bully tactics.
Buffy began to think of the behavior of the Initiative and saw that it smacked of prejudice and bullying. True, she killed vampires and demons, but she didn’t set out to rid the world of all of them, just the ones that needed to be killed. They got fangy and they met her wooden, lethal stake. They killed humans and she would take off their head. Clean, simple and necessary.
She didn’t torture them or experiment on them. She did what she was called to do. There were even demons she called friends; okay, just Clem and Oz, but they counted. So did Anya in a way, ‘cause even when she was human, she was still more demon than not.
Why hadn’t she seen that cruel streak in Riley? Why hadn’t it ever bothered her before? Why didn’t she see that Riley wasn’t really normal at all, at least she hoped he wasn’t. “Are all normal people going to have a problem with my friends? With me? Is it an impossible dream to find Mr. Normal Guy and live happily ever after?”
Buffy heard her mother whisper gently, “Don’t be so hard on yourself, sweetie. You weren’t meant for ‘normal’. You’re special. You need someone who can be your equal. Someone who sees you as you are, all of you, and loves you for who that is. Someone who wants you to be your strongest, your best. Someone who delights in all you can be and would hate your holding back any part of yourself. You just have to realize that you don’t have to define the right man for you based on what others want for you. Look into your heart, Buffy. The truth is there.”
“Mom, you wanted me to have a normal life,” Buffy said softly. “You sent Angel away.”
“First of all, I didn’t send Angel anywhere. He left of his own choosing. He could have pointed out to me that you would never have that life I dreamed of for you.” Joyce took an audible breath and continued. “I didn’t understand then what it was to BE the Slayer, that it wasn’t a job or a hobby or a phase. I learned, but it was too late.”
“So you wouldn’t have asked him to leave if you’d understood?” Buffy had a sob in a voice that saddened her mother.
“No,” Joyce stated, “I would have tried to get him to leave anyway. He wasn’t right for you, Buffy, and he wouldn’t have made you happy. Among other things he was too old for you. You were still just in high school.”
“It wasn’t his fault he was a vampire, Mom,” Buffy argued.
“True, but that isn’t even what I mean. He was too old, even if he had been a twenty-something human. The fact that he’d lived a couple of centuries already wasn’t the issue. He was controlling, wanted to make you into the image he had of you. He had you on a pedestal and the only thing that can happen to someone on a pedestal is to fall and break eventually. He loved an image and you loved a dream.”
“So I’m doomed to live a short, violent life all alone then?” Buffy was ready to cry. Why didn’t they just leave her in heaven if that was the bleak future she faced?
“Nonsense, honey,” Joyce chided her. “You’ll only be alone if you chose to be. That’s one of the reasons I’m helping you this way. The Powers have a wonderful future for you, but you have to be able to see what’s real, what’s right, if you can expect to have it. You are full of love. You glow with it. You love with all of your soul. It’s brighter than the fire, blinding. You’ve been hurt, but the Slayer forges strength from pain. Love. Give. Forgive. Risk the pain. It is your nature. Love will bring you your gift.”
“I know this part,” Buffy snorted. “Death is my gift. You hangin’ out with crazy Rasta Slayers up there?”
“Think about it, sweetie,” Joyce encouraged. “You are special and not just because you are the Slayer. You are much more than that, more than you know. Do you really think a fairly powerful, but just beginning, witch could use an interrupted ritual and drag the Chosen One from heaven if the Powers didn’t want it to happen? Do you think they would let you lose that peace, that joy and not have something even better waiting for you? You just have to be open to it, sweetie. You have to be ready and willing.”
Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/115308.html