“As You Were,” by Douglas Petrie
Buffy’s at the day job, getting a lecture about office politics from a keen-eyed college student, and feeling demoralized about her apparently non-existent future. On the way home, she’s singing the Doublemeat jingle, which doesn’t serve to build her morale. It’s almost a relief to be attacked by a vamp, at least until he’s put off by her grill smell. He’s grossed out and only too happy to pile insult onto injury.
Don’t you wish you could kill people like that? Hey, in this case she can!
Finally, capping off an already imperfect evening, Buffy finds Spike waiting when she gets home. She tries to resist his charms, but her willpower is lacking in that department. (Studies show that sustained self-denial can really wear you down when crunch time comes!) In time, she heads home with grass stains on her coat and a cold, mashed Doublemeat Medley for Dawn.
Instead of gratefully consuming the meat process made with love, Dawn, along with Willow, tries to lure Buffy out to the Bronze. It doesn’t work.
And perhaps it’s just as well, because XandAnya are already there, trying to figure out last minute wedding details and stressing out noisily. It’s not a vibe likely to mellow an overworked Slayer, or anyone within earshot.
Willow confides to Dawn that, as a kid, she used to imagine what her wedding to Xander would be like. Now she’s just relieved to have dodged that stress grenade. The two also talk about how Tara is taking Willow’s phone calls now. She could hypothetically ask her to the wedding. As a date, even! She isn’t quite ready to make that move yet. Still, Alyson Hannigan is always charming and adorable when Willow has her hopes up. It’s a moment worth enjoying.
All alone at her slowly depreciating home, Buffy is fighting to wash the stains out of her coat. She misses the garbage truck’s weekly run, and then learns that she didn’t get back into UC Sunnydale. There’s a mountain of dishes waiting for her, too. Why didn’t Dawn and Willow do some of the housework? We can only guess.
There’s also no sign that she’s had any chance to sleep or chill out when she goes in for another round of Doublemeat Punishment. And so, naturally, that’s when Riley Finn turns up in her burger line, looking freshly shaved and smelling of Iowa cornfields, or perhaps recently-washed American fighting man.
It’s a tough moment: Buffy babbles her way through it. She’s clearly glad to see him, though, and all it takes is an ‘I need you’ from Agent Finn for her to walk out of Stench Palace, leaving politics guy to deal with the line of customers. As Riley is explaining that there’s a suvolte demon in town, Buffy’s chortling over his gadgetry and making Star Trek jokes. How nice to be hanging out with a normal man again!
The two of them chase El Suvolte down an alley, lose it, and switch to tracking it in a car. They don’t fill each other in on their latest personal news, instead agreeing to catch up later.
(This is perhaps another episode that would have to be set up differently in the age of Twitter. Then again, maybe not. Riley’s Tweets would be classified and Buffy isn’t exactly about to go around posting about how she is in a Relationship with Spike.)
Actually, Buffy’s Facebook timeline might be pretty intricate. You’d have her birth date, when she was called as a Slayer, the first school expulsion, “Buffy and Angel are in a relationship,” the 1997 death, revival, “Buffy and Angel are not in a relationship,” and so on, right up through the 2001 death and resurrection.
Now I want a Facebook for all my imaginary friends.
Where was I? Oh! In an odd coincidence, XandAnya are also in traffic. They are picking up the oft-mentioned but never seen Uncle Rory, he of the Zeppomobile. (I suddenly remember that, at this point in first run BtVS history, there was some generalized fanburble expressing a hope that Bruce Campbell would get to play Rory.) The two lovebirds have reached the point in the pre-marital process where they are realizing they should have eloped. They are comfort-eating as fast as they can chew. It’s really a great scene.
Despite the many challenges ahead of them, Anya is determined to have an amazing, perfect day, so there will be no eloping! Which is too bad—it might have saved them.
Meanwhile, Buffy and Riley have exited the vehicle only to discover a pressing need to rappel to the bottom of a big dam, closely snuggled against each other on a shared rope. Buffy’s getting overwhelmed by her nostalgia for the clean cut American cuteness of it all. They fight El Suvolte—who escapes again. They share a moment, and guess who turns up next?
Yep, it’s Mrs. Agent Sam Finn and her amazing can of kick-ass!
Perhaps fortunately, the demon returns before things can get too awkward, and in a fit of performing her fate-ordained function in the universe, Buffy kills it. This, it turns out, is a mistake. The newlywed agents (Ram? Samley?) were trying to figure out where it was going, you see. Well, it’s Riley’s fault. He was so busy not mentioning that he had a wife that he also forgot to tell anyone that this particular hunt was a bring ’em back alive gig.
The group zooms off to Buffy’s house, where there’s a peculiar ScoobRiley reunion. Dawn is snarky to Riley for having abandoned them. If only he’d shown up in time for the birthday party last week, huh? He too could’ve been stuck in the house with Sword Demon. Sam, who seems genuinely nice, gives Xander wedding tips and sticks her foot in her mouth about Willow’s addiction. She apologizes whole-heartedly, earning back a few points.
Then Sam and Buffy end up going out in search of the demon nest together. The two of them are in the graveyard, and Sam is filled with effusive admiration for Buffy. By way of sharing the general concept of “OMG, you rock!” she also tells the whole long story about how she picked up Riley’s wee brokenhearted pieces and made him a peppy, solvent, purposeful, sexually fulfilled kinda guy, the sort who emphatically who does not seek his happy place in scummy vamp bars.
It’s all a little too much. Buffy pries herself away and heads to the crypt to pump everyone’s favorite undead orgasm friend for a boost to her plummeting sense of worth, along with any information he might offer. (He doesn’t offer.) Then she goes to sleep with him, which is perhaps ill-advised. Riley arrives next, claiming Spike is the guy trading demon eggs to world powers, and he catches them in their post Spuffy slumber.
This spills a whole lot of ugly relationship milk, starting a fight which is only interrupted because Spike didn’t know the demon eggs needed to be frozen. So they hatch, Spike flees, and Buffy and Riley are stuck throwing grenades at the sulvoltini until they die.
Then, for a change of pace, we return to XandAnya, who are fighting in the bathroom while their houseguests argue in the rest of the apartment. They reach a happy conclusion: their wedding might be awful, but at least it will be over soon. Their marriage, on the other hand, will be deliriously joyful and of lengthy duration.
(I didn’t say it was a correct conclusion.)
Back at the crypt, Riley asks if Buffy wants him to ‘take Spike out’ and she lays into him about her pathetic life. He tells her that none of it matters: not the job, not the job smell, not the Spuffing. Even with Spikebreath, she’s still awesome. Sure, he’s in a good space and she’s not, but so it goes. Next time, he implies, he may be down and Buffy may be up.
It may or may not be truth, but it’s kind, and instead of letting him know she tried to catch him that night when he helicoptered off into Sam’s clutches, Buffy tells him she’s sorry for how things ended between them. It’s a way of giving him closure, and with that done it’s about time for the newlyweds to leave.
As the episode ends, Buffy heads down to the crypt to find Spike rooting through the burned and grenaded remains of his stuff. She admits she wants him, admits she’s using him, and says she can’t ever love him. Being weak and selfish in this way, she says, is killing her. She dumps him yet again, but she calls him William to show him and us that she means it.
Riley’s return reminds Buffy of the squeaky-clean woman she wants to be, and her reasons for calling it off—that she can’t live with a version of herself who treats someone else so badly, even if that someone else is Spike and explicitly asking for it—are quite high-minded. She’s said all of these things about why she doesn’t want the relationship before, but rarely so coherently. It’s been “I’m disgusted with myself,” not so much “I’m disgusted with myself for using you.”
As for Riley, he can make all the gracious statements he likes and it doesn’t change the fact that him appearing in Sunnydale with Sam in tow is another blow Buffy can ill afford. He’s moved on with his life, and that’s fair, but even though he didn’t look her up intending to give out with a big “Nyahnyah, I’m doing better than you,” the fact that he’s succeeding, professionally and romantically, while she simply isn’t has got to burn.
Her response—to break out of a bad pattern with Spike, one where he’s happily taking the worst she’s got to dish out—is, in that context, pretty noble.
In “As You Were,” it’s also possible to see how deeply the Scooby group is mired in individual dramas. They’ve stepped up their attentions to Dawn, which is why she’s getting to come Bronzing with them. But it’s as though this has sucked up their last reserves of energy. Of course XandAnya are wrapped up in their wedding, and of course Willow is still using all her available attention to not go back to using magic. The dishes piling up at Chez Summers are just a sign of how far behind they’re falling on the basics. And Buffy’s the one carrying the heaviest part of the load.
What they all really need is a Watcher. (Okay. A Watcher and a mom. And a sugar daddy.) At this point, even getting a six-month loaner deal on Wesley might not be a bad idea.
Next: Going to the (Hell) Chapel...
A.M. Dellamonica has tons of fiction up here on Tor.com! Her ‘baby werewolf has two mommies,’ story, “The Cage,” made the Locus Recommended Reading List for 2010. There’s also “Among the Silvering Herd,” the first of a series of stories called The Gales. (Watch for the second Gale, story too—“The Ugly Woman of Castello di Putti”!)