Graham was in Xander's bedroom, the room that had been his for the past few nights, trying not to listen in on the conversation taking place in the other room. It was difficult not to, the walls just weren't that thick. He gave them credit for trying to keep their voices down, but still he caught snippets.
Enough to know that the guy, Xander, wasn't too thrilled that they'd accumulated a fifth housemate. The two women didn't seem to mind so much, and he had to agree with Buffy. It was her house.
His conversation with Mr. Giles had gone surprisingly well. He left the offices that day glad he'd made the decision to come. It hadn't been an easy one. His mother wanted him home. She wanted to take care of him. It was tempting, but he couldn't do it. At least not without making an effort to do something. He didn't want to become a person who relied on his mother or father to take care of him. He was too independent for that, had seen too much.
He'd become pretty functional. The nurses at the VA had spent hours with him. They were the only positive thing he had to recall about the whole experience. He had been promised a prosthetic, but the one that had been sent hadn't been fitted properly. That was months ago now, and he had contented himself with the reality that the government was not going to help him.
Coming to Buffy and the Watcher's Council was probably the last thing he should have done. It went against everything he knew. His training dictated that he be loyal to God and country. He still hadn't decided if God had failed him, but he knew his country had. So, where did that leave him?
The government had taken a normal, run of the mill guy and turned him into a demon hunter. How could he just walk away from that? Injured or not, he couldn't. The government might not want his help, but he had doubted Buffy would feel the same.
And he'd been right.
She'd startled him his first night here by asking him questions. He wasn't foolish enough to believe she had been doing anything but being nice. Making small talk. Making it seem like she was trying. He'd gone home for a short stay after being discharged from the VA. He'd seen the way his friends had looked at him. As if it was his fault he'd blown his ride to college by a fluke injury. And his looking like this was a result of that.
The injury, while preventing him from playing football his senior year, hadn't been bad enough to keep him out of the military. No scouts had seen him play, which resulted in his father being disappointed. A blue collar worker, he had hopes that his son's tenacity and years of dedication to the sport since Pee Wee football would pay off and get him out of the working class the Miller's fell under.
Riley had been the only one from his unit who had visited. And called. Graham imagined he still would. He wondered what Riley would say if he knew where Graham was now. Who he was with. Riley liked to put on an act, but he wasn't as over Buffy as he liked everyone to think. Not that he was still in love with her, he just knew it still hurt.
Riley loved Sam. She was a good woman. He was glad his friend had moved on. Graham had been one to put pressure on him. Getting him out of Sunnydale had been the best thing for him. Even if he'd come back for Buffy, at least he'd have known for sure. He hoped their attempts to start a family succeeded soon.
Graham had been in London for a week. Until today, he and Buffy had the house to themselves. He went into the offices with her every day. There were tests he had to take, paperwork to fill out. The testing wasn't too hard, but it was to ensure he was field ready. He scoffed at that, but from a health standpoint he was. He wasn't sure he'd ever be able to set foot in the field again. The night of the ambush was still too fresh, vivid in his mind. There were nights he woke up with a start, having to reassure himself he had escaped.
It had been a fluke, really. The demon who had done the brunt of the damage to Graham had underestimated just how much torture the soldier could take. He had been conditioned to take a tremendous amount. No secrets were to be revealed, the government and Army made sure their soldiers weren't going to crack.
"Buffy, there's already four of us here."
"Yeah, so. It's not like we don't have the room."
"Where's he going to sleep?"
"He can have my room, I'll stay in Dawn's. Or when Willow's gone, her room."
"I just don't like it."
"He's staying, Xander. At least until we know for sure this is what he wants to do. I'm not going to set him up in an apartment or something only to find out a few months from now he wants to go back to the States."
"Shouldn't he have thought of that before coming here?"
"I think Buffy's right, Xander." Graham recognized the voice to be Willow's. "He's not going to hurt anything and what kind of people would we be if we didn't help him. He came to us."
"Yeah, which is the part I'm not sure I like."
He closed his eyes, willed himself to close his mind to their conversation. He knew coming here would seem suspect. It was a risk he'd been willing to take. He liked making a difference. He liked knowing that he helped keep someone safe, even if no one knew that was the case. He was fighting a different war than the one people read and heard about in the news. This war was no less important to the survival of mankind.
He must have drifted off because the next thing he knew Buffy was waking him. It was just a hand against his shoulder, the lightest of touches. His eyes met hers and he saw she was smiling. For and at him. He felt like a sucker punch had been delivered to his gut. He hated it, but he was getting used to having her around. Her sunny disposition pissed him off sometimes. She didn't look at him with pity, though. He liked that.
He'd had thoughts and dreams once about waking up to someone. Of having someone look and smile at him in that way. He knew it was just wishful thinking now, which was why being on the receiving end of one of her smiles hurt. He'd never stopped to consider she was attractive before. She was Riley's girl. Buddies didn't infringe on that sort of thing. It was an unwritten rule. A code. Not that he had to worry about it anyway. Her wanting him.
She sat on the edge of the bed, one leg propped on it, facing him. "Yeah. I'm sorry. Xander's always the skeptic. I can't say as I blame him. I don't always think things through."
"If it's really a bother I can leave. I don't want to come between you and your friends."
"Well, this is my house and I'm kind of the boss when it comes to the slayer stuff. If I say you stay, you stay. That's just how it is."
"It is huh?"
He smirked at that. She could be pushy and stubborn. Those were traits Riley had complained of often. And admired. Riley had also maintained she was capable. He had never really seemed worried that something would happen to her. He just didn't like the fact Buffy didn't need him. It went against the type of guy that Riley was.
"It must be nice having a bunch of people do what you ask them to do."
"Well, I wouldn't go that far. It's not like I'm a colonel or anything. I'm just Buffy. It's the fact that I have experience that kind of leaves me the one in charge. Believe me, if someone else could take the helm, I'd turn it over."
"No you wouldn't."
"What makes you say that?"
"Because you're a soldier, Buffy." He saw her scoff and slid his hand to hers, stopping her from saying anything. "You don't need a uniform to be a soldier. The desire to do good, to see the mission through. Those things are in you. You wouldn't give them up because you need to know it's getting done right. They're innate."
She whimpered softly. He wasn't sure why. At first he thought maybe his touching her was a bother. Her eyes didn't say that, though.
"I've never thought of it that way before, but I guess you're right. And it bugs me."
She shrugged. "Because I thought activating the slayers would get me away from the mission. Give me a life. My life. Let me be Buffy Summers."
"You can still be Buffy Summers. I never noticed you begrudge yourself some R&R."
She slid her hand out from under his and laced her fingers through his. Whether she realized what she was doing he didn't know. He couldn't remember the last time a woman had touched him. High school was the last time he'd taken time for such things. And even then it was rare. Always focused, he had little time for girls. He'd escorted his fair share to dances and stuff, the things expected of the captain of the football team. He would rather die than admit it, but it was nice. Her touch.
"No, you're right. There were times my desire to have R&R turned out to be mistakes."
"We all make them."
"So, am I out on my ear then?"
"Nope. You're staying here. You'll stay in Dawn's room. She'll sleep in my room."
"Are you sure?"
"Yup. I thought about putting you in my room, but mine's the biggest so it made sense to put the two of us in the biggest room."
"I really am sorry I'm putting you out."
"It's no big deal. If you saw us last year in Sunnydale. My house was packed to the rafters with potential slayers. Let me tell you, taking a shower was no easy task."
He couldn't help but chuckle. She said some of the strangest things, but coming from her they weren't so odd seeming. "I'll bet that was a little trying."
"A little. Anyway, Dawn said she'll try and clear a drawer or two from her dresser."
"No, she doesn't have to. Really. I'm used to living out of my duffle. I can do it until I find a place of my own."
"All right then. I'll let you two hash that out."
"I don't have that much anyway. Don't need much out in the field. My parents will send the rest of my stuff once I settle somewhere."
"Good. And, don't let Xander get to you. I'm sure he'll like you once he's adjusted to the fact you're here. He liked Riley just fine."
Graham couldn't help but grimace at that.
"I'm not Riley, you know."
"I know you're not, Graham. I'm just saying. He'll come around."
"That he'll come around?"
He shook his head. "That I'm not Riley."
"Huh?" She seemed genuinely confused. He probably could have phrased it a little better.
He took advantage of the fact they were still holding hands and tugged just enough to set her off balance. It worked like a charm, she landed against his chest just as he'd anticipated. From here, he could maneuver a little better. He released her hand, reaching for her face. She seemed to understand what he was about to do and shifted, lifting her head just enough. That was interesting, because he wasn't all that certain of what he was doing until his mouth actually claimed hers.
He wasn't sure what made him do it. The look in her eye, the fact she touched him without hesitation, to prove he wasn't Riley, or the fact that she was a pretty woman. A little of each maybe. His heart hammered against the wall of his chest out of both excitement and fear of rejection. He was once a confident guy, not so much anymore. Being held captive by a demon whose sole purpose seemed to be a hard-on for torturing you left one's confidence a little shaken.
It lasted longer than he thought it would. He expected a gratuitous kiss in return, she'd pull away and look at him uncomfortably. Oh, she'd let him down easy. She'd probably change her mind about his being able to stay there, though. She actually kissed him back. There was no tongue or parting of lips, but that didn't matter to him.
She broke away and he kept his eyes closed, prepared for the worst but not ready to have her berate him. Especially with the others within earshot.
"Does it hurt?"
The little voice in his head cursing at him and telling him how stupid he was grew silent. He chanced opening his eyes then. She didn't sound upset or anything.
She placed her hand against his mouth, the side that was rough to the touch from scars.
"No," he said gruffly.
She shifted, sitting up a little and he watched as she scooted herself up. She rested the palm of her hand against that side of his face, stroking him with her thumb. He could hardly feel it, just the pressure from her hand.
"Listen, I'm sorry, I don't know what came over me."
She kissed him. He inhaled sharply, surprised she'd done that. It was short and sweet. Nice.
"You don't have to be sorry, Graham," she whispered.
"Listen, I don't."
She laughed then.
"You. I just said you don't have anything to be sorry for."
"I shouldn't have."
"Oh come on."
"No, why not?"
"Look at me."
"Yeah? I see you, Graham. I've spent the last week seeing you."
"I just shouldn't have."
"But you did. Do you want to undo it?"
"Then, don't be sorry."
"If you want me to leave."
"No, I don't want you to leave. I don't want you to be sorry. I don't want you to feel bad. And if you want to do that again, it'd be okay with me."
"Come on, Buffy."
"You can get any guy you want."
"And that has anything to do with your kissing me how?"
He shook his head and closed his eyes. "It's not right. Riley's my friend."
"Is Riley here?"
"Is Riley married?"
"Is Riley really trying to start a family?"
"I just don't get it."
"Why don't I scare you? Repulse you?"
"Why should you?"
She sat up then and leaned over him. She took hold of his hand and placed it palm first against her chest, over her heart. He swallowed hard and noticed her gaze never wavered from his. He felt the gentle beating there. A little lower and he could touch the curve of her breast.
"Everyone has scars, Graham. Some of us just don't have visible ones. You survived. You're a hero."
"You are. You left Sunnydale, knowing what you were getting into was going to be dangerous. You don't have the drugs in you Professor Walsh was giving you. You aren't a slayer or a vampire with a soul. You don't have the strength or speed or ability to heal quickly like we do."
"Thanks for reminding me."
"You're a hero, Graham. You did what you had to do to survive. If you can't be proud of that, that's fine. That doesn't mean I have to feel that way." She slid off the bed, leaned over and kissed him again.
"Oh, by the way, you have an appointment tomorrow."
She smiled then, wide, happy. Her eyes glimmered with it. "Yes, Giles didn't want me to tell you until we knew for sure. He called a little bit ago."
"You'll be getting your prosthetic."
"What?" He couldn't have heard her right. "How?" They'd managed to get him one in a week? Something his beloved Army couldn't see fit to do.
"You heard me. No more crutches for you."
"Buffy, if you're messing with me."
"I'm not. I wouldn't do that to you."
"Well, we need you field capable."
"I don't think." She placed a finger over his mouth. He took the hint and stopped talking. She lifted her hand once it was obvious he was staying quiet.
"I know you may not ever be ready for that, but we need it. We can't justify having you on board without that. With a prosthetic you'd be limited, but you'd be capable. We aren't the military, Graham. We're not going to cast you aside as if you're useless to us."
"I, thank you."
"You're welcome. Now, we should get you to your new room so that Xander can have his. Then maybe he won't be so cranky."
"All right," he said, suddenly excited at the idea. A leg. The ability to walk again. No crutches. Not having to hobble around or have even the simplest task turn difficult.
"Oh, and Graham."
"Yes," he said, pausing in his effort to get off Xander's bed.
"I wouldn't cast you aside. And you're not useless to me. And I'd say that even if you didn't have information. Just, you know, in case you're wondering."
He felt his face and neck grow warm. He was blushing. Terribly. He probably looked a sight.
"Um," he said, not sure how he was supposed to respond to that. Was she coming onto him? No. He couldn't be that lucky. For all he knew, she and Xander were an item.
She laughed then. "See ya in the living room."
Now what the hell did that mean? Women. He didn't understand them. He'd hardly spent time with them, other than Sam and girlfriends of his friends. How was someone like him supposed to understand one like Buffy?
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com