"Hi," Buffy said when she found Graham. Was he getting sick of her yet? Since he'd come to London he hadn't been out of her company for very long. The others continued to travel while Buffy stayed put. He had come to her, so she felt a little responsible for him. And, the truth of the matter was, she liked him.
They hadn't kissed since that night in Xander's room. She'd made sure, or at least tried to, that he knew she wasn't uncomfortable around him after that. She understood that there was probably more going on than his feeling bad for infringing on what was once Riley's territory. She'd done some research and knew that depression and low self-worth were fairly commonplace in situations like his.
They had a doctor on hand, which had helped expedite Graham's rehabilitation process. He didn't have to go anywhere or do anything but come to work with Buffy every day. It never ceased to amaze her just how deep the pockets of the Council went. She'd had this picture of Quentin Travers in some out of the way shack with a helper or two. The Watchers Council was a multinational conglomerate that had a lot of manpower. The First would never have taken everyone out.
They were both on their break and Buffy brought him lunch. He smiled and she returned it enthusiastically. He looked better now that he was getting comfortable with the leg. He'd had a prosthetic before she'd learned, but something had happened with the fitting. So, while getting adjusted to a new prosthetic was in order it wasn't an entirely new experience for him. She swore if she saw Riley or anyone from Graham's unit again she'd cut their manly parts off for making Graham go through this. They'd used him up and spit him out when he was no longer useful to them. It made her sick.
"I come bearing food." She held up the bag of food she'd ordered for them. It was just sandwiches, but neither seemed to mind what they ate as long as they ate it together.
"Well, that's the best thing I've heard all morning."
"How's it going?" She set their food out in front of them, going to the fridge to grab drinks for them both.
"Good," she said, sitting next to him. She let her hand rest against his thigh as she ate her sandwich. She tried to touch him often. Not to be sexual or suggestive, but just so he understood he was still worthy of touching. It was strange to think that below the thigh there was nothing but a mechanical-like piece of plastic holding him up.
She felt his hand rest over hers and she twined her fingers through his. It was the first time since that night in Xander's room he'd touched her back.
"Thanks," he said softly.
"Everything. Just, you've done so much. I don't know how to repay you."
"No payment necessary. That's not why I'm doing it."
"Why are you doing it then?"
"I don't like seeing a good man left with fewer options than he should have available to him."
"You really mean that?"
"Damn straight. And, well, I like you."
"I was thinking."
"Thanks. You were thinking?" She took another bite of her sandwich, glancing at him.
"Dawn and Xander are going out tonight, right?"
"Mm hmm, that's what they said anyway. A movie or something."
"You're all right with them dating?"
Finally! Someone asked her that. She couldn't believe no one had thought to ask how she felt about one of her best friends dating her little sister.
Buffy shrugged. "I don't really have much choice or say in the matter. If Dawn's going to date someone, I'm glad it's Xander. I know him. He's not going to hurt her. And, they both live under my roof so he's not going to take advantage of her."
He chuckled at that. "Smart woman. Remind me not to try and outthink you."
"I will be sure to every chance I get."
"She's off somewhere. It's hard to know with Willow. She can do that teleporting thing now. So, she might be in Paris but that doesn't mean she's going to stay in Paris. What did you have in mind?"
"I'd like to cook you dinner."
"No, really. I'd like to. You've done so much for me. You're giving me free room and board."
"It's not room and board."
"You know what I mean. The least you can do is let me do something to feel useful."
"Well, you don't have to cook me dinner to be useful. But I'll let you anyway."
"You'll let me, huh?"
"Yes. This once. Unless you're really good at it, then we might just make a regular thing out of it."
"I, uh, at cooking?"
She glanced at him then, smiling. He looked a little uncomfortable. It was kind of sweet. "That is what we're talking about, isn't it?"
"I thought so."
"I guess you'll find out later."
"I can't wait. Do we need to stop at the store on the way home?"
"If you don't mind."
"Not a problem."
She stood and cleaned up their mess from lunch. She brushed a kiss against his cheek.
"I can't wait. I've never had anyone but my mom cook dinner for me."
"What about your roommates?"
"Well, we kind of all pitch in. I guess, yeah, they've cooked. That's different though."
"Well, they're Xander, Willow, and Dawn."
She saw the fleeting look of disappointment in his eyes and placed her hand against his arm. "That's not how I meant it. I don't look at you the way I do Xander, that's all I meant."
"How do you look at him?"
She shrugged. "He's Xander. I've known him since I was sixteen. He's my friend, but he's sexless."
"I'm sure he appreciates that."
"Well, that's just the way it is."
"And I'm not?"
"No, Graham, you're not. You think I bring lunch for everybody?"
"Well, no, I know you don't."
"No, just stop. We don't need to talk about this now. It's not the time or the place anyway. You need to focus on your therapy."
"I'm doing fine."
"Yes, I've heard that."
"You have, huh?"
"I think the doctor thinks we're involved."
"Why do you think that?"
"He keeps telling me things, like to be sure you remember not to use lotion on your leg. As if I can stop you or have some influence."
"Ah. Is that a problem?"
"No, because I do pay attention when I see you. I don't want you to get hurt any more than you already are."
"You're welcome. And, by the way."
She rested a hand against the bad side of his face. "You're a very good looking guy, Graham."
He snorted. "Get real, Buffy."
"You are. You know, when you first came here, I noticed your leg before these."
"Yes. I think you're too hard on yourself. I'm sure there's a reason for that. You remember what you used to look like. Probably have pictures of you going to prom and stuff looking all Hollywood actor like. But you still look more than fine."
"You're welcome, but I didn't say it to make you feel better. I mean it."
"I get that."
"I hope so. I'll see you after you're done with your therapy and then we'll head to the store."
"Okay." He looked at her then. He had avoided doing so for a few minutes now. He had such nice eyes. They could be cold and calculating, but right now she saw no signs of those things there. He kissed her then. She sighed, surprised more than anything, considering where they were.
"I look forward to dinner."
"Me, too," she whispered. She forced herself to walk away, depositing the remnants of their lunch in the garbage before leaving the room. It was hard to do. He was a nice kisser. The fact that he wanted to cook dinner for her had to be a positive thing. It had to mean he was ready to move forward, feeling better about his situation.
Buffy sat at the table, a glass of wine in front of her watching as Graham went about fixing dinner. He asked a few questions as to where things were located, but otherwise she was just here as an observer. He had joined her at the table a minute ago. It was kind of nice, this domestic thing they were doing. Xander, Willow, and Dawn were like passing ships in the nights most of the time. She saw them here and there, rarely were the four of them together. Meals were catch it while it's hot. And while there was still food in the pan. If you were late, you were on your own. To have someone puttering around in her kitchen made her feel like this was a home and not just a house for the first time. Until now, it was a place to crash, hang her hat, a permanent fixture so that no one would think they were nomads.
He refilled her glass before pouring himself a little bit of wine. He didn't drink much she noticed, which was good. Neither did she. It was one of the warning signs the doctor had mentioned to her. A sign of depression. Graham really didn't seem depressed. It was more insecurity, uncertainty. He wasn't sure where he fit in anymore. The military didn't want him. The Council did, but if he didn't have information to trade with maybe they wouldn't. Little did he know, she wouldn't have turned him away, information or not. It just wasn't in her.
"Where'd you learn how to cook?"
"My mother taught me."
"I was an only child, I told you that already I think. It took them a while to have me. They were older, closing in on forty. I'm not sure they tried again after me or not. All I know is I don't have any brothers or sisters. Mom wanted a girl of course and Dad wanted a boy. So, I did the boy things. Games of catch and touch football with Dad. And Mom taught me some more useful things. She claimed she didn't want me to get married because I had to."
"Yeah, she's all right."
"Have you talked to her lately?"
"Just to tell her where I was. She doesn't know what I do."
"Yeah, I know the secrecy aspect all too well."
"I know you do. It's hard, though. She doesn't understand why I had to come here for a job."
Buffy smiled at that. "I can imagine how that conversation went."
"She wants me close to home."
"I can't say as I blame her."
"I had to try. Even if you turned me away. Going home to my parents was my last choice."
"That's completely understandable. And they'll learn to accept it, too. They're just worried for you, I'm sure. Your parents wouldn't be parents if they didn't want to take care of you at a time you needed it."
"I'm not sure I need the type of help they'd give me."
"Which is why I think you're right in not going home. Some people would have, a weaker person would have."
"I'm not that strong."
"You are. God, Graham," she placed her hand over his and squeezed it. "I don't know how you can still deny that's in you. You're a good, strong man. I've been through a lot, but I'm not sure how I'd do under the circumstances you told me. I know I don't have all the facts either and I'd probably have killed myself."
"No, you wouldn't have, I don't think so anyway. You'd want to protect your friends, your sister."
"You're probably right. I'd do anything to make sure they were safe."
"The only thing that kept me hanging on was not wanting my parents to have to endure my being MIA for the rest of their lives."
"It kept you alive, Graham, that's the important thing."
"On to better topics."
He shrugged. "Anything brewing?"
"No, actually. It's been fairly quiet. Other than the whole keep Buffy's actual location as secret as possible."
"Do you ever get tired of it?"
"Knowing someone, something, wants you dead just because of something beyond your control?"
"This is a better topic?"
He chuckled as she shrugged, more than prepared to answer the question.
"I guess. Even though there is more than just one, there are still things that are going to want to come after me. Maybe because they still consider me the slayer. Or maybe because I've lived longer than I'm supposed. Or I survived even death and they want to be the one to put a stop to that. The fact I have an army of slayers now to combat their attempts. You name it."
She shrugged again and spun her wineglass around on the table top.
"I had a dream once about the perfect life. The stuff dreams are made of. Marriage, a family, a dog, a cat, a couple of fish maybe, two cars to go in the garage of the perfect house. I'd grow old, have grandbabies bouncing on my bed. Maybe even great grandbabies."
"Life is what it is. This is my life. Slaying. Death. Destruction. Apocalypses. Training young girls so that they don't get killed just because something beyond their control makes them a target, too, for all the nasties out there. I can fool myself into believing that dream life is going to happen or I can just make the most of what I've been dealt."
"Was the dream with Riley?"
She smiled at that, her eyes meeting his for a moment. "I wish I could say yes. No, it was before him. I dated a vampire. A vampire with a soul. I was sixteen. Young enough to still believe in fairy tales and happily ever after endings. I know now it wouldn't have worked. I would have gotten older and died while he would have stayed the same. Not to mention he had his soul with a clause."
"Yeah. One moment of perfect happiness and his soul goes bye-bye. Been there, done that, I had to send him to hell in order to save the world. Only problem was, Willow found a way to restore his soul just a moment too late."
"So you had to send your boyfriend to hell?"
"Yup. That pretty much sealed the deal for me as far as the possibility of my getting that dream life."
"Why not with Riley?"
"Why with Riley? Everything he stood for went against what I knew. Our ways may seem archaic compared to yours with all the technology and resources you have, but it's worked for centuries. It took me a while to realize it, but things would never have worked. He's the type who believed his way was the right way. It didn't matter I had more kills than he did. It's just the way he was made. I wouldn't have made him happy in the long run. He would have compared himself to Angel, to Spike, or someone else. And someone like that, second guessing himself over my ex or my friend, that wouldn't have made me happy."
"And someone like me?"
She met his gaze again. He was serious. "Are you applying for the job?"
"I can't deny the thought hasn't crossed my mind."
"It shouldn't be."
She smiled at that, not sure she should ask but she couldn't help herself. "Why not?"
"Riley's my friend."
"Riley's not here."
"No, but there's a code between friends."
"We covered this once before. He's not here. He's married. He's trying for a family. He's moved on. So have I."
"And then there's me."
"What about you?"
"I'm not whole."
"And I've seen you with and without the prosthetic, Graham."
"I just can't help but think you deserve better. More. Someone complete."
"And a partial leg missing means you're incomplete? I guess I should tell Dawn she can't see Xander then. He's not complete either. So he must not be worth her time."
"It's an eye."
"Yeah, and once you get used to your leg you'll walk with a limp maybe but wearing pants people won't notice you've got a fake leg. People are always going to notice Xander's got a patch over his eye."
He got up from the chair then. Buffy was afraid he was going to walk away. He only walked to the oven. She breathed a sigh of relief, watching as he struggled a little with the oven. These were things she took for granted. Being able to reach things easily, shower with little effort. They'd already made some small changes around the house. No one seemed to want to mention to Buffy that it seemed like she was making room for him. It wasn't as if the handheld shower head was only usable by Graham.
"I'm not blind, Graham. I will say this about Riley. Not him specifically, but something dating who I've dated made me realize. I've dated guys that didn't know who, what, I was and what I do. And it sucked. They either got the impression I was incredibly stupid and ditzy because I had to blow them off all the time without an explanation. Or they just lost interest because they took my gapping on plans to mean I wasn't interested. So, I like the idea you know. Or I guess I should say that the person I'm with knows."
"Is that all? I mean."
She stood then and walked to him. He was taking the pan from the oven and she was careful to stay out of his way. It smelled good. Real good.
"No, it's not convenient. That smells really good. What is it?"
"It's something my mom used to make. It's pretty good and real easy. Pork chops with cream of celery soup. Serve it over rice. It's warm and hearty without being too filling."
"Huh. And you can just do that? No recipe? No phone calls to your mother asking her how to do it?"
"I'm impressed." She placed a hand on his shoulder, moving in front of him once he'd set the pan down and shut the oven door. His eyes flicked to her mouth, mirroring hers.
"I can't do some things."
He shrugged. "Take you dancing."
"You can come with and watch. Slow dances wouldn't be completely out."
"Go for long walks or running."
"So, we'll go for short walks and I don't really like jogging with someone else anyway. Too distracting, I don't like having to pace myself to someone else."
"Someone human you mean."
He chuckled. He lifted a hand to her face. He hadn't touched her first since that night in Xander's room. He tucked some hair behind her ear, grazing the lobe with the pad of his thumb.
"If you were anyone else I'd think you were a freak."
She stifled her gut reaction to his use of that word. One Angel had used to describe their relationship years ago. "Why?"
He shrugged. "I don't know. I just believe you. That this isn't because you feel sorry for me or something. I don't think I could buy it from anyone else. You just see someone for who they are. The whole person."
"People surprise you sometimes, Graham, they're not all bad."
"No, just would have placed odds against someone like you noticing me now."
"You say that. Often. God, Graham. I'm nobody special. I'm just a woman."
"Shh," he whispered. "I get it."
Her eyes widened. "You do?"
Could she have finally gotten through to him? She'd spent every day with him for close to a month. Living with him, working with him, listening as he struggled during the night, and crying silently for the pain he continued to experience. It wasn't like she was throwing herself at him. If he wasn't interested, fine she'd be his friend. That wasn't the case, though. He was just uncertain, nervous, and afraid. She couldn't blame him.
She liked him, though. She liked making him laugh. She didn't even notice that his smile wasn't entirely complete anymore. It was just him. She liked it when he took a break from his therapy to come watch her work. Sometimes she was just working at her desk. Others, she was working in the training room by herself or with a slayer. A few times he'd met her in the library and had helped research whatever baddie she was looking up information on. She liked having him here in her house. She liked driving with him to and from work. She liked sitting on the couch with him watching TV. She liked just being with him.
He kissed her then, doing what she wanted him to do. Badly. He pressed into her as she leaned against the counter and slid her arms around him. His fingertips grazed the side of her neck lightly, his thumb stroking the pulse point at her throat. She parted her lips, inviting him in. There was something very nice, refreshing about kissing someone who didn't have a century or more of experience more than she did. It was new and neither was exactly sure, but they were on a pretty even playing field.
"Buffy," he murmured as he broke the kiss. "I don't know if I can."
She raised her hand to his mouth, brushing his lips with the pads of her fingers. "Shh. We don't have to worry about any of that. Let's eat dinner and then we'll go from there."
"All right," he said with a lift of his lip in the partial smile she'd come to count on seeing from him. "Just so you know, I can, I mean I'm functional. It's the mental."
"I know, Graham. You're fine. We don't have to do anything more than this right now anyway. I'm not going anywhere and neither are you."
"Is that right?"
"Mm, yes, pretty sure. Unless you have plans you didn't mention."
"No, no plans."
"All right then," she said as he stepped away. She had felt for herself that things worked, so she'd known even without his saying it that all was normal in that department. "I'll set the table."
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com