He was watching her. She felt it even though her back was to him at the moment. She was changing the sheets on Xander's bed. He was hovering in the doorway. She wondered if he was uncomfortable. Was he tired? Was he standing there because he wanted to go right to bed?
"Is this your sister?"
She turned to look at him, not sure what he was talking about. Dawn and Xander were off looking for slayers. They weren't expected back for days. And she would have heard the door if someone else had come in.
He came further into the room, stopping by Xander's dresser. With a little bit of effort and somewhat of a balancing act, he took the framed picture of the four of them taken right after they'd arrived in London.
"This picture. I recognize the guy and the redhead. I've seen them with you, and Riley talked about them. The brunette, though."
"Oh, yeah," Buffy said, walking to the dresser. She rested a hip against it. "That's Xander, Willow, Dawn, and you know me."
"Yeah, I know you," he said, his gaze resting on her. "She's pretty."
"Thanks. Not that I had anything to do with it."
"Well, from what Riley said, you look out for her, so I think you did."
He set the picture back down. He didn't seem to know what to say any more than she did. She couldn't say she wasn't curious about Riley, but he wasn't here to answer questions about her ex. And, really, it wasn't her place to ask. He had moved on. She had, too.
"I don't know what else you need, but the bed is done. Xander's never complained, so it must be okay. I'll show you the bathroom and the kitchen."
"Four of you live here?"
"Yeah. We converted the dining room into a bedroom. No one wanted to share," she said with a shrug.
"I'll set towels out for you. Do you think you'll need anything else?"
"No, this should do it."
"I meant," she gestured to his missing leg. "I'm not sure what that would require."
"I'm all right."
"Okay. If you need something, just holler. My room is right next to this one. And I'll sleep with the door open."
"I'll be fine, Buffy. This is more than I expected."
"What do you mean?"
"None of us were very kind to you. And I wouldn't blame you if you didn't trust me coming here out of the blue like this."
"If you know me at all, Graham, you know I wouldn't turn my back on a friend."
"We weren't really friends."
She placed a hand on his forearm. The skin was both rough and smooth under her hand. Scar tissue. She made sure she didn't flinch or waiver in her grasp. Doing that would be an insult. His eyes shot to her hand on his arm and then up to meet hers. She saw surprise there. And she was glad she'd touched him. She wondered who had been the last person to touch him. Had anyone? Besides nurses.
"We weren't enemies, Graham, and that's good enough for me."
"Well, thank you just the same. I'm not sure what I would have done if you'd thrown me out on my ear. It's all I know."
"You can't be out in the field, Graham."
"No, I know that. At least I can help, though. Even in the field you need information, research."
She sighed heavily, he was right. And if he was telling the truth, the government was up to no good he could lead them to places Buffy didn't know about. She just hoped Giles saw it that way in the morning.
"Let's get us something to eat and then we can do whatever you want for the rest of the night. Are you used to flying?"
"Yes, we traveled a lot."
"Oh, sure, right. Well, then you know all about sleeping patterns so I won't lecture you on them."
She showed him the bathroom, taking a minute to get some towels for him.
"Xander's used to all the girl stuff in the shower, so I apologize if it's too much."
"Do you have sisters?"
"No. I am an only child."
"Hmm," Buffy said. She wasn't sure she even knew that much about Riley. Funny, all the time they spent together and she'd never really taken the time to ask him things like that. She wasn't even sure she could name the town he was from beyond it was in Iowa.
The kitchen was next. They were able to turn the dining room into a bedroom because the kitchen was big enough for a table. It wasn't the biggest table, and they were pretty crowded if they all sat together, which they tried to do when they were all in town.
"I'm not real used to the TV here yet, so if you find something you like we can watch that. Otherwise, I've got some DVDs. There's always music."
"Whatever you want. Please don't treat me like a guest."
"All right, I'm sorry. It's innate I guess. My mother's teaching or something."
"I understand, but I don't want to be a guest. You're right, we weren't friends but we weren't enemies either. Maybe you can treat me like a friend."
"All right. Have a seat. I'll order us some food while you pick out our entertainment."
He found Xander's stash of entertainment. They made a night of Platoon, Dirty Harry, and Top Secret. They weren't bad choices, just not first choices for Buffy. She glanced at him a couple of times, but he seemed to be carefully avoiding doing the same. It was strange, sitting near him. He was really when it got down to it, somewhat of a stranger. She knew nothing about him beyond the limited information she'd gained while dating Riley. She'd been so focused on other things that she'd never taken the time to get to know his friends. Perhaps that was part of the reason they didn't want to accept her. And the reason Sam was Riley's wife instead of her.
"Where are you from?"
She didn't think he was that involved with Val Kilmer's exploits to not have heard her. Just in case. "Where are you from?"
"I didn't have you pegged as a big city guy."
"Well, it was a suburb, but close enough."
"Oh. Do you miss it?"
"Sometimes. I miss my family. Most of my friends from high school are still around there. It's one of those areas that people tend to come back to. I loved the city growing up, but then I discovered there were bigger things out there and city life couldn't compete. Capturing a hostile, making that kill, knowing someone wasn't going to die that night. Well, you know."
"Hmm," she said in silent agreement. She did know. "I bet you were a jock."
He smirked, taking a sip of his drink. "Yeah, you could say that."
"And then the Army?"
"Yeah, I got injured playing football my senior year, blew the potential ride I had for college. My parents weren't that well off so it was the Army or some dead-end job."
"I get that."
"And you? Cheerleader? Prom queen? The whole nine yards?"
"Mm, you have me pegged. Until I was called, so no I didn't do too many of those things really."
"I suppose that put a damper on things."
"I went from being in the in crowd to being in no crowd."
"It couldn't have been that bad."
"I tried. Lord how I tried. That was the great thing about Riley. I could have a boyfriend and still be the slayer without living a double life."
"But you still had to in a way, didn't you?"
"What do you mean?"
He shrugged. "You couldn't really be who you were completely."
She regarded him for a minute. Not sure if he really understand how she'd felt or if he was just guessing.
"How do you know that?"
"He suspected as much. That you held back, that you'd rather have that vampire by your side then him."
Buffy rolled her eyes. "That is so like him to complain about Spike."
"Was it a lie?"
"Well, no, not exactly. You're right. I mean, Riley's human. You guys aren't used to hands on like I am. He could have been hurt."
"And Spike couldn't have been?"
"Well, not the same way, no. He's a vampire, harder to kill. And I'd fought Spike. I knew how good he was, so I knew I didn't have to worry about him."
"You had to worry about Riley?"
"I'd never fought Riley. Not a real, to the death thing. Sparring doesn't count."
"I thought his leaving Sunnydale was the smartest thing he'd ever done."
"Yeah, I'm sure that was the majority opinion."
"I just didn't think he was right for you."
"Right for me?" Now that surprised her.
He shrugged again and worked himself off the couch. It was odd to watch him. He didn't seem to have to think about how to move, what to do. She wondered how long ago the injury had happened. She'd ask, later.
"I'm going to bed. Thank you for dinner and the movies."
"All right," she said, more than a little confused. Had she said something wrong? She was just trying to get to know him better. Maybe it had been the wrong thing to do. Maybe he didn't like her enough to do that. She stood then, clearing their things to the kitchen.
"You'll let me know if you need anything?"
He stopped in the hallway and glanced over his shoulder at her. "I will, Buffy. I promise."
"I should be the one thanking you, but you're welcome."
"Are you an early riser, Graham?"
"Not particularly. My days of having to be up at 0500 hours have been long gone."
"All right. Well, then we should get along great. I'll wake you if you're not up already when it's time for us to head back in."
"Night," she called out, busying herself with cleaning up the kitchen. She listened to him in the bathroom. She hated to admit it, but she tried to picture how he did things like shower. She supposed he brought his crutches in with him. It was hard to picture him from before. She spent quite a bit of time around him, not exactly with him. She remembered his face. She understood why he might be bitter. He had been a good looking guy. Movie star good looks. That was no longer the case. Well, not at first glance anyway. It was still there, under the scars.
She imagined that put a damper on his having much of a social life. More by his own doing than anything else. He'd always been quiet, but she sensed there was more to it now. Something deeper. She could understand that. She might not have physical scars, but she had some of her own, too. It took a while for them to heal. She wasn't even sure they had completely healed.
Seeing Graham again made her realize she'd never really closed the Riley chapter of her life. She'd accepted he moved on and married. How could she do anything else? There was just that lingering doubt of ‘what if' that nagged at her once in a while. For all she knew, it would always be there. And why not? Riley was a good guy.
She slept surprisingly well, considering there was a strange person sleeping in the room beside hers. Not strange as in stranger, just someone she wasn't familiar with. She woke a couple of times, heard him shifting on the bed or get up to use the bathroom or a drink of water. She realized there were no simple tasks for him. Getting up in the middle of the night required him to be fully awake and aware that he couldn't just walk from the bed.
She woke early the next morning. She wasn't usually an early riser, but there came a point when she knew sleep just wasn't going to happen. She'd gotten to it today. She left a note for Graham in case he woke up while she was gone and then went for a jog.
She tried to take a different route every time she went for a jog. She didn't do it every day, sometimes it wasn't more than once or twice a week. She was still getting her bearings about her, though, and it was nice seeing the different houses and people.
She cut her usual five miles just about in half, not wanting to be gone too long. She didn't like the idea of leaving Graham alone. She bounded up the steps that led to her house and opened the door. It was so strange to think of this place as hers. She owned it outright. She'd gotten some insurance money after Sunnydale fell off the map and their dad had kicked in a bit. Willow and Xander were living here until they were able to get places of their own. As far as Buffy was concerned, they could stay forever. She didn't care. She imagined one or two of them would get married one day and have a family.
She smelled coffee when she got inside. It smelled heavenly and she realized it wasn't such a bad deal having a houseguest.
"Somebody is awake," she said as she entered the kitchen.
"I hope you don't mind." She didn't need to worry evidently. He was obviously doing okay. She shouldn't have doubted him. He'd gotten all the way to London without her help.
"Not at all. Mi casa es su casa."
"I took French in high school, not Spanish. Isn't that how you say it?"
"Yeah, it is," he said with a light laugh. He had found a cup and a glass and was sitting at the table with a cup of coffee and an empty glass with what she presumed had been full of orange juice.
"Did you sleep all right?"
"Yeah. Different bed, travel, I was a little off, but I expected it."
"I thought of making breakfast, but I wasn't sure what a woman like you ate."
"A woman like me what?"
"Well, you're fit and your note said you were out for a jog."
"Oh right. Well, part of the slayer package is a great metabolism, so I can eat pretty much whatever I want. What were you in the mood for?" She walked to the fridge, stopped and turned to look at him with a frown. "You actually found something you thought would be breakfast food in this fridge?"
"Well, you have eggs, cheese, and some vegetables I noticed."
"Huh," she said, turning again toward the fridge to open it. "I guess I do."
"You're not a cook?"
"Not so much. More of an eat on the go type person. I can cook."
"I made myself some toast, so I'm all right. Maybe tomorrow. If I'm still here."
"Well, it's not like I'd send you packing anyway. Xander won't be back for a while, and even if he were we could figure something out, Graham. I'm not the Army or the government. We're not going to kick you out."
"You say that now."
She heard the venom in his voice. The government had burned him. Badly. She wondered if the scars they had left hurt him more than the ones visible to the eye. He was older than her by a few years at least.
"No, Graham, I mean it. I'm going to shower and then I'll be ready to go."
"All right. I'm set. You think he's going to take me on?"
"If I have anything to say about it. At least temporarily. I don't know about for good, there just may not be need for it. Have another cup of coffee, just save me enough to fit in my mug," she said, setting her insulated coffee mug on the counter by the maker.
She had to go in through the regular entrance since she was bringing a guest. It was a pain in the ass process, but she couldn't break the rules.
"Good morning, Miss Summers."
"Hi, Denise. How are you this morning?"
"Is Giles in?"
"Yes, he has been for a while already."
"Figures." She paused at the security door, taking an extra second to look at Denise. "Did you do something different with your hair?"
"I have a friend who's a hair stylist. She did some highlights last night. Does it look all right?"
"It looks great. It's real subtle. I wasn't even sure what was different."
"You're not just saying that?"
"Nope. I just assumed you'd gotten it trimmed or something."
"Good. I don't usually do things like that, but she came over needing to talk."
"A girls night thing. I understand. It looks good on you."
"Have a good morning, Denise."
"You, too, Miss Summers."
She swiped her card then, letting Graham go first.
"I've tried to get her to call me Buffy."
"She's good at her job."
"Yeah, she is. And I don't mind being called Miss Summers. It's just, I'm 22, it makes me feel like a teacher or something."
"Well, you are kind of, aren't you? Isn't that what you're doing here?"
"I suppose in a way. How do you know?"
"Riley mentioned it. He was the one that kind of planted the idea for me to come here. He didn't know it. He visited me at the VA one day. We were talking and he mentioned Sunnydale and he wasn't too happy that you're on anyone's radar now."
"I don't think it's a protective thing so much as he knows what you do is secret."
"Not much I could do to keep an entire city disappearing secret. A high school, yes."
"Yeah, I heard about that. Saw the site before they started rebuilding. Impressive."
"I was actually talking about my first high school. Hemry. I burnt the gym down."
"Yes. That's how I ended up in Sunnydale. No one else would have me. Mom and I were the pariah's of Los Angeles County."
"Somehow I can see that."
"The downside of a secret identity is that you can't rush out and tell your school principle that you saved lives by burning the gym down."
He laughed. She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. He was actually doing the partial smile thing she'd seen him do a couple of times yesterday during the Val Kilmer movie. It was funny, even she had to admit that. It was ridiculously stupid, but funny. She didn't pretend to think she was the cause of his laughter or smiles, but it was nice to see. He had looked so serious, hard and cold when she first saw him yesterday. She knew part of it was the military training, but it was more than that.
"Hi, Giles, we're here," she called as they entered the outer office area. "I'm sure he'll want to talk to you without me. I'm too biased or something he'll claim."
"I heard that, Buffy, and it's not that I believe you're biased. I just would like to hear what Mr. Miller has to say."
"All right. I'll be in my office. Just let me know what's up. You already know my opinion."
"Yes, I'm aware of your feelings."
"Listen, if this is going to cause a problem."
Buffy waved him off. "Don't be silly, Graham. You'll get used to it. We bicker like this all of the time. Giles is frustrated because he can no longer follow me around with books telling me the end of the world is coming."
"I might just start doing that again. Things have grown rather tedious around here lately."
"Bite your tongue, Giles. And don't say that again!" She walked to her office. "Bye guys," she said and shut the door, intending to call Willow.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com