Buffy stepped out of her bathroom just as her phone rang. Well, it wasn't totally hers as in a private bathroom, she shared it with Giles and Willow. But at the moment it was private because she was the only one there. Giles was off doing whatever heads of the Watchers Council did and Willow was somewhere trying to locate more slayers.
"Miss Summers, there's a gentleman here to see you."
She wasn't sure where Giles had found the receptionist. She was the daughter, niece, cousin, or something like that of someone who used to work for the Council in some capacity. She was efficient and was apparently glad to have a job with the Council. Follow in the family's footsteps. Not that Buffy understood that mentality, especially with the way the Council used to be run.
Buffy didn't usually meet with people, certainly not men. Slayers were women, girls, that was her department. And there was a reason they had decoys scattered across the globe. No one was supposed to know where she was at any given time for certain.
"I'll come up to meet him, Denise, thanks."
She took a minute to ensure she looked presentable, professional. Okay, professional was stretching it, but she tried not to look like a slob anyway the days she was in the office. They'd set up a base of operation quickly after arriving from Sunnydale. Since everything was already based in London, and had been for centuries, that's where the headquarters remained.
Buffy wasn't sure where Giles came up with all of the money and stuff, but he never complained about finances being stretched. So, she assumed things in that department were okay. A couple of years dealing with how to pay a mortgage and she was done balancing checkbooks for a while. He could have the responsibility.
She made her way through the rather sterile looking halls, her ID card at the ready when she got to the everything-including-a-bomb proof doors that led to the reception area. It was the way things had to be done now. It seemed everything and everyone evil, or with the capacity to do evil, had a hard-on for taking down the Council now. Wanting to succeed where the First failed.
She peaked through the window in the door, surprised when she saw who was waiting for her. The waiting area was positioned in such a way that anyone coming from the offices could observe without those waiting being aware of it. It made it handy to keep Buffy's whereabouts covert.
It took her a minute to recognize him. It had been well over two years since she'd seen him and a lot had happened in that time. For both of them she was sure. The years had not been kind to him. He looked older, but that wasn't the right word. Her first thought seeing him here was that something had happened to Riley.
Then she realized he wasn't in uniform, so that couldn't be right. And why would anyone send someone to inform her of Riley's demise? The government thought she was one of the enemies at the moment. She swiped her card and waited for the system to disengage, allowing her to walk to the reception area.
"Thank you, Denise," Buffy said as she made her way to where her visitor was seated.
She saw when he noticed her. He wanted to stand, but something stopped him. It took her a moment to realize he couldn't without a good deal of effort, one of his legs was gone. To say she was surprised to see him sitting in her lobby was an understatement. To say that she was surprised to see him not intact and scarred was another.
"Hi," she said. She placed a hand on his shoulder. "Don't get up, please."
"I was hoping to talk to you, ma'am."
"It's Buffy. We were sort of friends at one time."
Friends was probably stretching it, but she'd never got the overwhelming feeling of hatred rolling off of him she'd gotten with Forrest. Graham had tolerated her and she'd seen a time or two that he'd sided with her and her way of doing things.
"Yes, ma'am, Buffy I mean."
"And I'm not a superior officer. So, just Buffy will do."
"Right," he said and she noticed a blush at the tips of his ears. She smiled, it was cute.
"So you wanted to talk to me?"
"Do you want to go back to my office?"
"If you don't mind."
"Can you walk that far?"
"I have crutches."
"Oh right, of course."
They went in silence, Buffy keeping her pace slow to match his. Whatever happened to him, it had been recently. She could tell by the way he struggled with the crutches. The scars were pretty fresh, too, reddened and festered looking.
"How did you find me?"
"Well, I took a guess. I remembered from before that things were based out of London and I just followed my gut."
"Your gut seems to have done well for you."
"How are you?"
"Aside from the obvious." He gestured to the absent leg.
"That's okay, at least you asked. Some people don't even do that. I'm all right."
"He's fine." His eyes widened, the realization that she thought he might come bearing bad news about her ex-boyfriend finally settling in. "He's fine. Nothing's happened to him. He and Sam, they're trying for a family, but it's not working so well."
"Well, they haven't been married that long."
"I know, you know how he gets though. All or nothing."
"Yes," Buffy said with a tight smile. "Can I get you something to drink? Eat? Are you staying in London?"
"I'll take a Coke if you have one, thanks. Otherwise, I'm fine. And, I'm here for the time being. That's what I'm here to see you about."
"All right. I'll be right back."
She walked to the outer area that connected her office with both Willow's and Giles'. It wasn't a huge area. They could have a secretary of their own if they wanted. Maybe one day they'd need it, but for right now Denise did just fine. They worked all kinds of crazy hours, so all of the comforts of home were here. There was a small closet they'd managed to fit a cot into for those times a power nap was necessary. She grabbed Graham's Coke and a diet for herself.
"Here you go." She took a seat behind her desk again. It was remarkably clean at the moment. She had been focused on organizing this morning. She was set to leave in a day or two and didn't like to leave anything open or out of place in case Giles or Willow needed to find things.
"You're welcome, Graham. Now, tell me, what can I do for you?"
"I want to help you."
"You, the Council."
"Why? How? I'm confused. You've left the military?"
"Didn't have a choice, Buffy. They let me go. I'm not even sure they're going to get me a prosthetic."
"Oh," she said, her eyes narrowing at that idea. "Why?"
"I saw something I wasn't supposed to."
"Well, then you'd think they'd give you whatever you need."
"Yeah, the military doesn't work that way unfortunately. At least not where our unit is concerned. I mean, who's going to believe me if I go off on a tangent about demons, vampires, and apocalypses. They'd see me with no leg, the military buzz cut, the scars, and just assume I was suffering from post-traumatic or something. Or that Phantom Limb Syndrome had clouded my brain."
"Your what, what?"
He smiled. "Phantom Limb Syndrome. You know, where amputees claim they still feel the missing extremity."
"Does that really happen?"
"Sometimes, yeah. I wake up and I think it's still there. It feels like it's still there and I think it was all just a bad dream. I mean, it's really still there. There's no way to describe it. No way to describe what happens when I realize it's not there."
"I'm sorry, Graham." It seemed so lame, not enough. She'd been so busy paying attention to his lack of leg she hadn't really focused on the rest of him. He'd mentioned scars. They were everywhere. It was almost like someone had taken acid and burned him with it. She swallowed hard, wondering if that was in fact what had happened to him.
"What happened? I mean, if you don't want to say."
"I was abducted. It was an ambush. I don't know how many days I was held captive. It was some demon I've never seen before. Kept me alive, was going to bleed me out little by little, wanted me alive while he did his thing."
"Oh God, Graham."
He popped the top on his Coke and took a long sip. He swallowed hard, guzzling it. This probably wasn't easy for him to talk about. How could it be?
"I'm not so sure there is a God anymore, Buffy. What God would let that happen to me?"
"But you're alive."
"Yeah, and my career has been flushed down the toilet. I'm useless. All I've ever known was first the Initiative and now this. I don't know how to do anything else. Demons, that's what I know."
"Demons don't make you who you are, Graham."
"No? Tell me again why Riley left Sunnydale. Why you're here in this office in a city you wouldn't have set foot in ordinarily?"
"That's not fair. And we're not here to talk about Riley. Or me."
"You're right, I'm sorry."
She sat back in her chair, an arm reaching behind her for the headrest. She rocked slightly, regarding him.
"So, you got injured, mutilated in the line of duty and they cut you loose. I find that hard to swallow, even for those goons at the Initiative. What did you see?"
"They're doing it again."
"What?" She sat up then, at attention, both arms on her desk.
"Not to the scale of Sunnydale, but there are experiments going on. Tests. Then again, the scale may be more, just spread out this time. I'm not sure."
"I don't know. That's not really why I came here. I mean, they're going to do what they're going to do and I don't think you or I can stop them. But I want to help. I want to make a difference."
"Revenge isn't what we're looking for. I had that on my team the last year in Sunnydale, someone with an agenda and he almost killed one of my most valued men."
"I have experience, I have knowledge, and I'm smart. I want a job, Buffy. Is revenge what brought me here? Maybe. But I figure I have a couple of choices. I can go back home to my parents' house, live out my life there, let my mom cater to me like I'm an invalid, and die a miserable old man. I'm sure I'll get some compensation from the government, enough to sustain me so I keep quiet. I can live on the street, because who's going to hire me? Would you buy something from me? Or want to look at me at a desk across from you every day?"
"No, save it. I know what I look like. I've looked in a mirror. Studied myself for longer than you can possibly imagine. I love my parents, but living with them isn't an option. Neither is living on the street or in halfway houses the rest of my life. So, I thought on it. Pretty damned hard. I had nothing but time while I was recouping at the VA. I can come here, see the one person I know of that I think wants to do good in the world."
"I kill things, Graham."
"For the better of the world. And, you didn't kill that Spike vampire, and I know there are other demons you let go. It drove Riley crazy."
She smiled at that. He did, too, though one side of his mouth didn't seem capable of going with the rest. It made for a rather sinister looking smile, but she knew it was a smile.
"I know it did. Is he dead?"
"Whatever did that to you?"
"Yes, the main one. There were several. The one in charge has been dispensed with. That's the thing," he said, using his crutches to shift to the edge of his chair. She saw a fire in his eyes, one she recognized well. There was nothing wrong with his heart, mind, or drive. They may have scarred him physically, but they didn't break or beat him down on the inside. That was where it mattered, Buffy knew that.
"I can give you intelligence, information. I can tell you where my squad has been, where I've heard other squads have been. They've been there because there's activity. Activity you would reasonably know about."
"I have to talk to Giles. He'll want to talk to you, too."
"I figured as much, I just wanted to talk to you first. I know you, I don't know him. I figured if I showed up wanting to talk to him, he'd think it was some sort of trick."
"You have a point."
She leaned back in the chair again, regarding him. It took guts for him to come here. Courage. He had no way of knowing they'd believe him or even listen to him. That chapter in her life hadn't left a very good taste in her mouth where the government was concerned.
"Where are you staying?"
"You're staying somewhere in London?"
"Oh, well, actually, uh, no. I came here first, wanted to get this conversation out of the way. It was getting late in the day, I didn't want to put it off until tomorrow."
"So, you flew to London with no plan? No place to stay? Nothing?"
"No, just a duffle, which is out in the lobby. The cab I took here, the driver was nice enough to carry it in for me."
What was the likelihood that Giles would turn him away? If the government was up to something again, Graham could give them information. And seemed willing to do so.
"I'll be right back," she said, standing from her desk. It had to be easier for her to get up and go to another office than for him to move around.
She went to Willow's office. She always felt odd entering Giles' without permission. It was like his office at the library at Sunnydale High had been. His inner sanctum. His space. Intruders beware. She dialed out, tapping her fingers on the desk while she waited for either an answer or voicemail.
"Hi, how are you?"
"I'm doing well. And you? Is something wrong?"
"Nope. Are you going to be in the office tomorrow?"
"I'd planned on it. Has something come up?"
"You could say that. Do you remember Graham Miller?"
"No, should that name mean something to me?"
"He was one of Riley's Initiative friends. Not the black guy."
"Okay, vaguely, I'm not sure I more than saw any of the others."
"Right, well, he's here."
"In my office."
"Well," she paused, taking a deep breath. She told him the condensed version of Graham's story.
"Do you trust him?"
"Well, I think he's sincere. I told him you'd want to talk to him, which is why I'm calling to see if you'll be in the office tomorrow."
"Yes, at my usual time."
"Okay. He has nowhere to stay, Giles. He came to London, all this way, not even having a place to stay when he got here."
"Buffy," he said softly. She recognized the tone. He knew she was about to do something he wouldn't like.
"I'm going to invite him back to the house for the night."
"Oh lord, Buffy. We don't know that he's not some sort of information gatherer."
"I don't think so, Giles, I really don't. If you could see the look in his eyes."
"Do what you think you must, Buffy. I can't stop you anyway."
"Okay. We'll see you in the morning then."
"Good night, Buffy. Be careful."
"You bet. And, hey, slayer against a one-legged man, I don't think you have to worry."
"That's assuming he's really by himself."
"Ever the pessimist, Giles. What would I do without you?"
"Do you really need me to answer that?"
"Mm, no," she said with a laugh. "Good night, Giles."
She hung up with Giles and placed a call to Denise, asking to have Graham's bag brought to her office. Then she called Willow and asked her to see how much of Graham's story she could verify. She trusted him, but she knew Giles would ask if she'd looked into it at all.
That done, she returned to her office after hanging up. Graham looked like he hadn't moved since she'd left. You could take the uniform off him, but you couldn't take the military out of the man. Even here, in front of her, his back was ramrod straight. At attention. His eyes met hers. Eyes that had seen far too much. Haunted.
"Okay. Giles will be in the office tomorrow morning. You two can hash it out then. I'll put in my recommendation and then we'll go from there."
"Okay. Thank you, Buffy. I know you don't have any reason to trust me."
"No, you know, I do trust you, Graham. It took guts coming here. By yourself, too. I mean, you obviously get around all right."
"I make do."
"Well, it would seem you're in luck."
"You came here without any real plan, and my housemates are gone."
"Xander, Willow, my sister, Dawn. I think you know Willow. She went to UC Sunnydale with me. I'm the only one in town right now."
"And that's lucky for me?"
"Yes, because you're going to get treated to Buffy's version of hospitality. That will include a bed, I'll even throw in clean sheets since it's Xander's bed and I don't know where the sheets on the bed now have been."
He chuckled. "All right."
"We'll order in or something. Okay?"
"You're welcome, Graham. Your bag should be here any minute and then we can go."
"You're not cutting your day short because of me?"
"No, actually, I was about done anyway. It's after five."
"No hostiles to take care of?"
"Not tonight. I'm kind of managing today, no slayer duties."
Someone brought the duffle in question into Buffy's office.
"That's our cue to go then. I'll take the bag. Do you need help with anything else?"
"No," he said, struggling a little getting out of the chair. He managed, though, and Buffy knew if she'd rushed to help him that would be the wrong thing to do. He had to learn to get around on his own. She learned that with Xander. Not that an eye was the same as a leg, but it was still a loss. There was still an adjustment to be made.
She tried not to think about how odd it was to be walking through the Council headquarters halls with a member of the Initiative. Maybe she was too trusting or gullible, but she just didn't see Graham coming here as some ploy to get close to her. Willow would have answers for her soon enough she hoped and then she'd know for sure. There were spells on their house, so she wasn't worried about being attacked in her own home.
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.
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 had 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 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?
"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 is 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 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 that 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."
Buffy woke when Graham did. That wasn't entirely unusual. She was used to hearing him during the night. The fact that she woke up because of him leaving her bed was the unusual part. She stretched, glancing at the clock by her bed when she heard the doorbell. It was barely seven o'clock in the morning. Had Xander and Dawn stayed out all night? That was possible. The likelihood they'd both forgotten their keys to get inside was not, though. She didn't have to worry about Willow because she could just pop in. No keys necessary for the witch. So, that left Giles, and Giles wouldn't come here this early unless there was a crisis of some sort.
Unsure where Graham was, she slipped the shirt he'd been wearing last night on and made her way into the main part of the house. If Dawn had come home last night, she must have come into the bedroom they'd been sharing for the past month and gotten an eyeful. Graham had admitted his experience even before losing his leg was minimal, and while it wasn't perfect it had definitely been enjoyable. They had a lot to learn, she just hoped he could keep a sense of humor about it when one thing or another didn't work.
She got to the entryway about the same time Graham did, a few seconds after actually. So, he was the one who answered the door.
"You are here, I was beginning to think Sam had copied the wrong address when I saw it was a house."
Buffy winced at the voice. Graham was shirtless and here she was in his, probably looking as disheveled as Graham did. A night of exploring did that to you. And they had explored. There was absolutely nothing that wasn't in working order on Graham Miller.
"Uh, Riley, what are you doing here?"
Good question. It was the one Buffy would have asked right up front. Good to know they were on the same wavelength.
"Well, I called your mom the other day to check on you," Riley said, pushing his way into the house. His eyes went from Graham to Buffy who too late put a hand around her neck. She knew there was at least one love bite there. She didn't miss the fact he noticed the shirt. She hoped it wasn't dreadfully obvious she wasn't wearing anything underneath, but he knew what she looked like anyway.
"She was worried about you. Thought a friend and commanding officer could talk some sense into you."
She gave him points for continuing on with his spiel as if nothing was odd about the situation. Riley standing in her living room. There was no Sam, she noticed. He wasn't anticipating seeing Buffy so he left her back at their hotel most likely. That gave her some comfort, to think he'd brought Sam with him to Sunnydale because he didn't want to face her alone.
"Well, you're not my commanding officer anymore. I was honorably discharged months ago now."
"I'm still your friend."
"I'll put on some coffee," Buffy said, for lack of anything else to say at the moment. She needed something to do.
"Who's at the door?"
It was Dawn. She looked about as exhausted as Buffy felt. Buffy's eyes got wide when she noticed her little sister was wearing one of Xander's shirts. They obviously had something in common and needed to have a talk later. Dawn's questioning gaze slid from Buffy to Graham and Buffy knew the instant she saw Riley by the audible gasp.
"Hi Riley," Dawn said. No use trying to cover the gasp. They'd all heard it.
"It's just Dawn now."
"I suppose it is, sorry. Old habits."
"I was about to make coffee. Want some, Dawn?"
"Uh, sure, I'll help you, because it's way too uncomfortable out here."
"Just who's shirt are you wearing anyway?"
"Uh, well, we got home and you were," Dawn glanced at Graham. "I didn't have access to my stuff."
"Ah," Buffy said, leading Dawn into the kitchen.
"I thought your location is supposed to be a secret."
"He's not here for me, Dawn."
"Oh," she said. Both Buffy and Dawn glanced at the two men one last time before stepping out of view.
"Okay. I'm thoroughly confused," Riley said. Graham didn't miss the fact Riley's gaze hadn't left the kitchen yet. "Are you living with Buffy?"
"Yeah, for the past month or so."
"How? I mean, I didn't even know where she was."
"You didn't even know where she was? You make it sound as if you two share information."
"Well, no, but, I have access to intel."
"Speaking of which. You can't tell them she's here."
"No, Riley, you can't. You came here looking for me, not her. It's a fluke you found her. You can't go back and tell them you found her."
"What in the hell are you doing?"
"Moving on with my life. That's what you recommended I do, isn't it?"
"Yeah, but of all the women in the world."
"Trust me, Riley, I know."
"Are you sleeping with her?"
"How is that your business?"
Graham felt the weight of Riley's stare as his one-time friend gave him the once over. He knew what he was looking for. What he saw. Buffy was right, the scars weren't terrible, but they were there. With his shirt off more of them were visible. The doctor at the Council had mentioned the possibility of skin grafts, but Graham was focusing on his leg first.
"What do you want, Riley?" Graham finally posed the question that was on his mind when it became obvious Riley couldn't come up with an answer to Graham's previous question.
"Your mother was worried about you. So was I. We had no idea you knew anyone in London. She thought you were homeless or something."
"Christ. I gave her the address and phone number."
"She wanted me to be sure. Sam and I were flying overseas anyway, so it kind of worked. A little out of our way, but that's what friends do for one another."
Again with the friend bit. Was he trying to make Graham feel guilty? Or was it just Graham making himself feel guilty? He had nothing to feel guilty for. They'd been over for years. Riley had moved on, married someone else, and the last Graham knew was trying like hell to get that someone else pregnant.
Any doubt he'd had about taking his budding relationship with Buffy to the next level were swept aside last night. She'd been incredibly patient, loving, gentle, and even laughed a time or two when it was either that or cry. It was definitely something he looked forward to working out the nuances of with her again and again. In the end, he'd fallen asleep with her in his arms. Just that much had given him something he never believed he'd get.
"You can tell Mom I'm fine and the next time she's worried about me she can ask me herself. I don't need you checking up on me. I'm done with the government, Riley, and you don't have the right to come in here."
"I told you, I'm here as your friend."
Buffy and Dawn appeared, giving them each a cup of coffee. He didn't miss the fact Buffy seemed to remember how Riley took his coffee. He doubted that was something you ever totally forgot when you spent so much time with someone.
"Why don't you two sit down or something? You're going to get tired."
"I'm fine," he said curtly. He saw the look of hurt in her eyes and Dawn's, too. "I can stand for a few minutes."
She threw her hands up. "Fine. Forgive me for worrying about you. I just don't want to see you undo all the progress you've made. Come on, Dawn."
He'd screwed up. Her bed was barely cold from their night together and he'd already pissed her off. He so sucked at this. There was a reason he'd stayed away from women and out of relationships. He'd seen what they did to people like Riley. They messed with their heads, interfered somehow with their normal way of thinking. Made a normally sane, rational man act like an idiot.
Dawn hadn't followed Buffy back toward the bedroom. She stood there glaring at him, looking pretty formidable at the moment. Riley took a sip of his coffee as if he could care less what Graham did. The way he saw it, he had two choices. His past was right here with Riley. He could hear Riley out. Maybe there was something he could still do as a civilian for the government. It was what he knew.
In the back bedroom was something, someone, that could potentially be his future. He'd seen enough to know that Buffy was right. Experimenting rather than just killing the monsters they were out to destroy was wrong. It didn't take him very long to make up his mind, it only seemed like forever.
"I'll be right back."
"That took you longer than I figured it would."
"Uh, yeah, we're okay?"
Riley shrugged. "Maybe you can be to her what I couldn't. If she's going to choose someone I know, you'd be my first choice."
"I'll be here. I'll catch up with Dawn."
"What about Dawn?" Xander said, joining the group. His hair was wet so he'd obviously just come from the shower. "Oh, hey, it's Riley. What's Riley doing here?"
"He's here to see Graham," Dawn offered.
"I see," Xander said. "Need a knife anyone? The tension needs to be cut I think."
Graham didn't say anything else, just walked toward Buffy's room. He stood at the door, not sure if he should knock. He decided against it and pushed the door open. She'd left it ajar, so she must have assumed he'd come after her eventually.
He could hear Dawn, Xander, and Riley talking. He imagined it was a shock for all three of them to see one another. The last person he'd expected to see in London was Riley. She was busy making the bed. The bed they had slept in, made love in, and talked about nothing in particular in.
"I'm an ass."
"Yes, you are."
He smirked at that. "You didn't have to agree quite so quickly."
She looked up at him then. Glared might have been a more accurate term. Wow, okay. He remembered Riley had mentioned she had a temper on her a time or two.
"Or maybe you did. Thank you for looking out for me."
"A lot of good it did me."
"I shot you down in front of him. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have done that, but you saying that made me feel weak."
He saw her wince, knew she hadn't thought of that. She'd been too busy working up her anger at him. She sat on the edge of the bed then, facing him, grasping a pillow in her lap.
"You're right. I'm sorry. I just, you were both standing there like you were going to draw guns any minute. I just didn't want you to forget."
He laughed then. She always did that, made him laugh. It was something a few months ago he'd never envisioned himself doing again. Laughing, making pillow talk, caressing a woman's soft skin. And, lord, was hers soft. The softest. Not that he had a vast amount of previous experiences to compare her to.
"Believe me, honey, I won't be forgetting anytime soon."
"I suppose you won't."
He walked to her then, cupped her cheek with his hand.
"I'm sorry, Buffy. I wasn't expecting him to be here, to be faced with this situation. It's uncomfortable. The military is competitive, everyone wants to get ahead, to get the next rank. He's my friend, but there's still that drive. And I just wished I could have told him in my own way that we're together."
"You don't think so?"
"You think I'd let you see me, all of me, if I thought otherwise?"
"I guess not."
"You've done more for me, all of you have but especially you, in the past month than most anything else has. Until I came here I was depressed, lost hope, couldn't picture my life being remotely normal."
"Maybe it's good he came here now."
"Uh, well, I could have done without him finding us like this."
"True," he said, moving to sit beside her on the bed. It wasn't very smooth, but he didn't feel like he had to put on pretenses so much anymore. She knew better than he did sometimes when his leg was bothering him. She shifted so she faced him, one hand resting on his thigh.
"I just meant, I realized with him here. I don't know if he'd have something to offer me, but even if he did I don't want it. I don't know what's going to happen, it's only been a month. We may grow apart. I want to find out, though. I know what that life is and I know I wouldn't be happy in it again. They'd give me some job they created for me, and I'd hate that."
"And we won't do the same thing?"
"You want me, that's the difference. They'd do it out of some sense of obligation or guilt that they didn't rescue me before it was too late. Or fear that I'll go public."
"Go talk to him."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, he came here to see you. He flew all this way, he's obviously concerned. Go. Spend the day with him if you want. You can play the tour guide for a change."
He chuckled, tugging her toward him. He kissed her, lightly at first. He was surprised how easily it was to get sucked in, though, deepen it and want more.
"You're sexy as hell wearing my shirt."
"I was hoping you wouldn't mind, I didn't have anything else handy. My first thought was that it was Giles at the door with bad news."
"Don't mind at all. In fact," he murmured, kissing her lower lip.
"You have the day off, right?"
"Hmm, two things come to mind. One is the more appealing."
"Let's start with the least appealing one."
"Come with us."
"And the most appealing one?"
"Stay here, wait for me, get rid of Xander and Dawn again and let me come home to you dressed just like you are."
She chuckled, rubbing her face against his. "Hmm. Those both have potential. I think I'll choose the staying here, waiting for you. I'm not in the mood to play nice with my ex right now. Not to mention, I need to have a talk with Dawn and Xander."
"Yeah, I noticed she was wearing something similar to what you've got on."
"Me, too," she quipped.
"Something tells me you're not too happy about it."
"Well, it's not that. I just don't want them to get hurt. Either of them."
"So, can I take a shower in this scenario or do I have to stay grubby all day?"
"A shower would be acceptable."
"All right." He stood then, using the bed post for leverage. "I'll talk Riley into letting me pick up some dinner on the way back. I figure it's the least he can do for making me alter my plans."
She stood, sliding an arm around him. She did it in part to support him, but it wasn't just that.
"And what plans were those?"
"They didn't involve you wearing my shirt."
He noticed while she blushed she smiled real nice. He grazed one of the marks on her neck with his finger.
"I'd apologize for that, it's very high school but I kind of like seeing them there."
"Them? How many are there?"
She opened the door and started to walk out with him. "No, no, nothing to be sorry for. Maybe you can work on leaving them in less obvious places next time."
"Have you looked at yourself yet this morning?"
He leaned into her then. "I already did work on leaving them elsewhere, honey."
"Hmm, seems I'll have to take a peak in the mirror."
"You might need one for a couple, yeah."
"Stop," she said, hitting his shoulder.
Riley, Dawn, and Xander were in the living room. Dawn and Xander were sitting next to one another, holding hands. They made no effort to move apart when they entered the room. It was probably smart of them not to, Graham realized. That would make it look like they were guilty of something. Graham didn't get the impression the couple was much past the stage of hand holding. Then again, they would have said that about Buffy and him up until last night, too. A lot could change in a night. Hell, his life the past year or so had been full of change. Only the last month or so had been pleasant.
Riley stood when he saw them. He didn't look all that comfortable, but Graham gathered Xander and Dawn hadn't been hurling insults at him.
"Listen, I can go. I just came here out of the blue. It's not like we're neighbors or anything. I'm not trying to invade your life, Graham. Your mom wanted me to be sure you're all right. I can go back and report to her that you are."
"No, it's fine. Want me to show you around London for a bit?"
"Are you up for it?"
"Sure. Just let me get dressed."
"Maybe we can all have dinner later. Dawn and Xander, too. The six of us. Or seven of us. Is Willow here?"
"No, she's not, but I'll tell her you thought of her."
"I'll be back in a few minutes," Graham said, excusing himself. He noticed as Buffy walked to the couch that while she hadn't taken off his shirt she had put some shorts on.
"Take your time."
"So," Buffy said. She had to fight back the instinct to place herself in between Dawn and Xander. It wasn't that it bothered her. She'd seen signs over the past couple of months that things were evolving. She just didn't want the fact they were under the same roof speed things along that wouldn't ordinarily go faster.
"I'm sorry to just barge in. I didn't realize."
She lifted her hand to stop him. He'd ramble on all apologizing until sundown if she let him.
"I get that you didn't know I was here."
"Graham's asked me not to tell anyone you're here."
"And?" This was the pinnacle moment, right here. Was he the rule following soldier? Was he Graham's friend and her ex? The line was a little blurred when so much was involved.
"As far as anyone's concerned, Graham's in London that's all I know."
"Are you all right?"
She shrugged. "As all right as can be. You take out an entire town and people – both good and bad – notice. Suddenly, I've got a target on my back. The good guys and the bad guys both don't seem too happy with what I did. Never mind we saved the world."
"Well, Graham has a way to contact me. If you ever need help. My help. I don't care what anyone says, Buffy, I know you didn't set out to hurt anyone."
"I'm glad someone on your end believes in me."
"That was never up for debate as far as I was concerned."
"Listen, about dinner. I mean it. You didn't see Graham when he first got rescued. His recovery. He's almost normal again. I mean, personality wise."
"He is normal, Riley. There's nothing abnormal about any part of him."
"You would know."
She shook her head, clearing the scathing retort from her mind before she put her foot in her mouth. "That's not fair, and that's not what I meant. I just meant, he is who he is. It's that type of attitude that upsets him. Can we not argue about this please? You have no say over who I date."
"You're right, it's just a shock. I mean, it's Graham, I can't say that I even knew he noticed you much."
"No, I just mean," he shrugged. "Anyway, it doesn't matter. If you two are happy, then great. Come to dinner. Sam would enjoy seeing him this way, too. That's why she didn't come along this morning I think. She feels bad. Her and I kind of stand for the things he didn't think he'd have a shot at now. He was obviously wrong."
"He just underestimated people."
"People. I didn't get him the leg. I haven't put him through therapy or anything. I just put the wheels in motion. I couldn't turn him away, you know that. Anyway, we'd be happy to have dinner with you and Sam. Dawn? Xander? You in?"
"Sure, why not. Free food that we don't cook. And, hey, I saw evidence that you had food last night."
"Mm, yes, good food, too."
"Are the leftovers open to bidding?"
"You can have them."
"Great," Xander said, rubbing his hands together. Buffy couldn't help but laugh. "Oh, hey, Graham, I suppose I should ask you since you're the one who cooked."
"How do you know I didn't cook it?"
Xander's arched eyebrow was his only response, and the only necessary one. Buffy wasn't a culinary goddess. Anything beyond your standard fare escaped her.
"Help yourself. Call it my contribution since you all put up with me."
"Yes, it's a real pain, too. All that racket you make dancing all hours of the night."
Graham chuckled. "I'll work on calming down."
"You do that."
Dawn stood then. "Well, I have to go get ready. Xander and I were going to a movie. Want to come, Buffy?"
"No, thanks. I think I might actually stay and enjoy some quiet time. With five people living here, I don't get it that often. Maybe I'll even take a bubble bath. Have fun playing tour guide. You can take my cell if you think you might get lost."
"Yeah, that'd be a good idea."
She stood and walked to the entryway where her cell phone was and handed it to Graham, giving him a kiss. "I guess we'll have to take a rain check on you coming home to finding me in just your shirt."
"I'll make it up to you I promise. In fact, I'll try and come up with something better than your shirt that I can actually wear in public."
"And you want me to go now, thinking about that?"
"Mm, yes, anticipation. I hear it's pretty exciting." She kissed his ear. "Have fun."
Graham turned to look at Riley and Xander who were busily looking anywhere but where Graham was. "Are mere words supposed to have that type of effect on you?"
Both men looked at him as if he'd grown a second head. Okay, he supposed that was the point. If the person you were with couldn't excite you by planting an image in your head you probably had a problem. No problems were evident as far as Graham was concerned.
"Okay, stupid question. Forget I asked. Let's go, Riley. Later, Xander, have fun at the movies."
"Good seeing you again, Xander."
"Yeah, you, too, Riley."
(Contains slight spoiler implications for Angel Season 5 episode DAMAGE featuring slayer Dana.)
Buffy woke to the strangest feeling. Well, not strange, just different. She knew Graham was lying beside her on the bed. That wasn't the different part. She had fallen asleep after her bath without clothes on, not even his shirt. It was somewhere on the bed. His fingers inside of her coupled with his mouth on one of her breasts was the different part.
He seemed to sense when she woke up and increased his mouth's pressure at the swell of her breast. She moved her body against his fingers. How could she not? It was instinctive. And his fingers felt very good inside of her. Her release came quick and hard, which she imagined had been his intention.
"Mm, hi," she said, stretching before she rolled onto her side to face him. "How was your day?"
"Good to hear." She kissed him, snuggling against his chest. "I can't say I've ever been woken up like that."
"I couldn't resist. The sheet was off just enough to tempt me."
"Well, don't let me stop you from tempting you anytime."
"I'll remember that."
"So, we're still having dinner?"
"Yeah, as long as it's not too uncomfortable for you."
"Nope, not for me. I'm fine with it."
"You sure? Riley and I weren't sure."
"I'm fine. Better than fine. Besides, I think Xander's kind of looking forward to it. He liked Riley."
"I get that."
"Not that he dislikes you."
"I know." He kissed the top of her head. "It's fine, Buffy. I couldn't believe he was standing there this morning."
"Oh God, me neither. I mean, what are the odds. You've been here a month, right? And he chooses this morning to make an appearance."
"I can't say I minded too much."
"No, I like him seeing we're together."
"Yup, can't get much more together than we are. You're living here."
"I wasn't planning on staying here forever. I mean, I'm not a freeloader."
"Well, that's up to you. It's not like we just met a month ago. You can still stay in Dawn's room if that makes you feel better. I can't say I'd mind you being here, whether this room becomes our room. I'm sure Dawn would like to have her room back eventually."
"Unless she takes up with Xander."
She covered her eyes with her hand and let out a sigh. "Don't even talk about that right now."
"It's not funny! She's my sister!"
"So, it's okay for you to have sex."
"Yes, exactly! She'll always be my baby sister."
"I get it. Okay, I'll refrain, but this dinner tonight, we're all like couples."
"Yeah, I noticed that, too. And since you woke me up in such a nice way, I'll even let you pick out which dress I wear if you want to."
"I'm not up on dresses."
"Well, I'll try on a couple and you can tell me which you like best."
"Got any that will show this off," he said, grazing the fresher of the marks along the top of her breasts.
"You're bad, and a little mean."
"And a little possessive. I admit it."
"Hmm, I'll see what I can do. In the meantime," she said, tugging his shirt out of his pants and working the fasteners. "Since you woke me up so nice, let me repay the favor."
"I didn't just wake up."
"No, but, possessive one, you'll sit at the table knowing you've just been inside of me."
He groaned softly. His eyes drifted closed as her hand stroked him.
"You like that idea?"
"That should bother me, but it really doesn't."
"That's good, because it is what it is."
"A guy thing?"
"Yeah, something like that."
"Is your leg okay?"
"Yes," he said.
She knew he'd probably walked around and done more on the prosthetic than he had since getting it outside of therapy.
He opened his eyes then, meeting her gaze straight on. "Would that stop you?"
"If you were in a lot of pain? Yes, I mean, unless you wanted me to continue."
"I'll remember that."
"I'm sure you will," she said, moving on top of him and over him, taking him inside of her.
"So, how long have you been here in London, Buffy? We'd heard rumors, but no one seemed to know for sure. "
Here come the questions. Sam hadn't been there that morning when Riley had said he wouldn't tell anyone where she was. She wondered if she could hold Sam to the same degree of confidence. She had to trust Riley had told her about their agreement before coming to dinner tonight. Buffy had to admit, she liked Sam. She liked her more this time than the first time they'd met. The shock factor wasn't there. And, well, she'd moved on from Riley. He was no longer her most recent ex.
She didn't bother telling them that there was a reason they would have gotten convoluted rumors. Sightings of Buffy at different places simultaneously, or very close together as to be impossible. Unless she could teleport, which wasn't her thing.
"Since early summer. We've been busy working, gathering slayers and information, building from scratch what was lost. Centuries of stuff. Some was backed up, but some was lost for good."
"I can't imagine you're too choked up about that," Riley said.
"No, in some ways. The Council was archaic and needed to be brought into the twenty-first century. Now that Giles and I are in charge, we can do that. It just takes time, especially when there are watchers and employees who survived. They're not too keen on change."
"I bet," Sam said.
"But, Buffy's slowly winning them over," Xander offered. "She has that way with people. They eventually give in." He frowned then as everyone looked at him. "I guess that didn't sound so good. It sounded more complimentary in my head."
"We know what you mean, Xander," Riley offered.
Graham's hand was locked with Buffy's, resting against his thigh. She hadn't been able to find a dress to his specifications. Close, but not quite.
"I don't always stay in London. I just happened to be here when Graham came last month, and I'll be here until he's released for field duty."
"He's going to go out in the field with you?" Leave it to Riley to question it. "Buffy, you can't be serious."
"Why not? He wants to go, I can use someone who's good with the research and knows the monsters. Book knowledge just isn't good enough anymore. At least not for anyone traveling with me. I need someone I know isn't going to freeze."
"I guess you have a point. It just seems foolish," Riley said.
"Well, I'm not you and I don't work for you, so it's not your call to make." Graham gave her hand a squeeze. "He may get there and realize he's not ready, but that's his decision to make not mine."
"And what, he loses something else? I haven't asked how Xander lost his eye."
"And it's none of your business. We've all lost stuff and suffered, Riley. I died. Can't get much more suffering and loss than that."
"Buffy," Xander said. She knew he was trying to calm her down. The loss of his eye was a sore spot for Buffy. She doubted anyone had any idea how much of one. She still had visions of that day, went over the events in her mind. Unfortunately, with the limited information she had going into that battle, there was nothing she could have done differently. Other than just not go. But flying by the seat of her pants hadn't failed her to that point.
"No, listen, I had a nice time. Dinner was good. It was great seeing you two again, I'm glad you found Graham and were able to spend the day with him. But there's one great thing about being someone's ex, nothing requires me to take crap from him."
She stood from the table, releasing Graham's hand in the process. She could tell he was a little surprised.
"I'm glad you're doing well, Riley, but I'm sorry to see you haven't really changed. You should be supporting your friend in trying to do something not condemning him before he's even tried. I'm going to take you at your word earlier that you're not going to go back to your commanding officers, or whoever's looking for me, and tell them my address. If for no other reason, you'd be putting your friend out of not just a place to live but a decent job."
"I'm going to catch a taxi, stay and have a good time. I'll see the rest of you at home," she said and walked away.
The restaurant they'd decided on was close to Riley and Sam's hotel so a taxi wasn't hard to come by. She waved one down, pulling out her cell phone as she slid into the backseat, giving the driver her address.
"Hi, it's Buffy."
"Well, hello ‘it's Buffy'."
"Where are you?"
"I'm near LA, actually. One of my locate spells indicated there was a slayer here, but I'm having a hard time finding her."
"Oh?" Willow didn't generally have that problem once she'd gotten a lock on a slayer.
"Yeah, it's really weird. It's like she's there one minute, gone the next minute. If I didn't know better, I'd think she could teleport."
"Is that possible?"
"Well, anything's possible, that's why I'm here. I'm going to sit tight until she becomes a little dot on my map again."
"How goes it?"
She exhaled sharply.
"That good, huh?"
"We had dinner with Riley and Sam tonight."
"All of us. Graham, Xander, Dawn, and me. You were invited, but of course you weren't here."
"Right. So, what brought this on?"
"You'll never believe it."
She laughed then. "Okay, you will believe it," she said, and continued to fill Willow in on the details.
"Hmm. And you just left?"
"Well, yeah. What kind of woman would I be if I let him put Graham down like that?"
"Oh, I understand completely. I'd have done the same thing if it was someone I loved or cared about."
"You would have?"
"Well, yeah, I mean, that's why I love or care about them. Right? And you do care?"
"Well, then you're okay. I'm sure he'll understand."
"I don't know. He gets kind of touchy when he thinks I'm putting him down or protecting him in front of other people."
"Understandable given his circumstances. He's a big boy, and wants to prove to everyone he still is. You already seem to know."
"Yes, I do."
"Willow, that's not what I meant."
"Oh, so you haven't?"
"I didn't say that either."
Willow laughed. "So, when does Dawn get her room back?"
"I don't know, we're still working out that type of thing. He said earlier today he had planned on looking for something else."
"But that was before you found out he still."
"Well, no, but I mean. Hold on," Buffy said, pulling enough money out of her wallet to cover the taxi fare and a tip. "Thanks," she said to the driver. "I took a cab home," Buffy said by way of explanation.
"Anyway, no, it was after and before the, um, second time. He said he didn't want to be a freeloader."
"Well, yeah, but like I told him it's not like we just met last month. We weren't best friends or anything, but we're not strangers."
"No. I don't know what to tell you. Wait and see what happens. He may feel like he needs to move into his own place for his own benefit. And it may not last long."
"I guess." She unlocked the front door and tossed her keys aside, walking to the kitchen to get herself some water. "If he doesn't hate me after walking out like that."
"I'm sure he doesn't hate you. It sounds like Riley was out of line, or maybe that's the wrong word. Trying to get you to second guess Graham or something?"
"I don't know. Stupid male stuff. You should have seen Graham this afternoon."
"Well, we were together before going to dinner. Last night was all nice and long and really nice."
"And today wasn't?"
"Well, no, but it was different. More possessive? I'm not sure how sex can come across as being possessive. But it's like knowing Riley's in the vicinity."
"Ah," Willow said and Buffy knew her friend understood. "Was it bad?"
"Well, no, not at all. I told him I should be bothered that he got like that, but that I wasn't. It's just I'm not sure how to handle it. We're bound to run across Riley again."
"Most likely. You have twice already since he left Sunnydale, even if this time was a fluke."
"That's the other thing. I'm not so sure I want to stay in London."
"I'm not sure I can trust Riley not to go back to the government and tell them."
"Ah. Well, we do have a couple of places you can go. You'll have to get the information from Giles, but I know we have places set up globally if we need to cart you off."
"I'll ask him."
"Would you take Graham?"
"If the doctor clears him and he wants to come, yes. I'll make a tour out of it, you know help you collect slayers or something."
"Let me know."
"Okay, and thanks for talking."
"Anytime, you know that. I'm sorry I'm not there to give you a best friend hug."
"I can feel the hug from here anyway."
"Good. It's the vibes I'm sending your way. Knock ‘em dead."
"Thanks, Wil, be careful."
"You know me."
"Yeah, I do, so be careful."
They both laughed and disconnected the call. She changed into something more comfortable then the dress and sat on her bed for her next phone call to Giles. She hated that she didn't trust Riley. Dawn and Xander would have to remove any evidence she lived here. The house while Buffy's was listed under an alias so there was no proof she lived here. It would be Riley's word. It would mean she'd have to stay away for a while most likely. If she knew the government they wouldn't just take Dawn and Xander at their word Buffy didn't live there and leave. They'd come back again and again until they were sure they were being told the truth.
This part of the covert, secret identity thing she could do without. She hadn't had to pack up and move at the drop of a hat since coming here last summer. It seemed her luck had run out. She couldn't risk it, couldn't risk the hard work that she and Giles had done to get things up and running. She sighed audibly, bringing her knees up to her chest as she got comfortable on the bed. Maybe he had a nice place she could go. The Bahamas. Hawaii. Key West. Oh, yeah, those were places she could get into hiding out at.
And as much as she didn't want to admit it, she could easily picture Graham by her side. She wasn't sure it wasn't too soon for that type of thing. The image was there whether it was too soon or not. She just hoped the doctor would grant permission and he'd want to come with her.
It wasn’t The Bahamas, Hawaii, or Key West. It was Oslo. Who the hell lived in Oslo? And why would anyone want to put a hellmouth here? Hers was not the job to question. She just went wherever there was demonic activity. Giles had said Oslo was a spot with some questionable activity of late. He wasn’t sure it was hellmouth level activity, but that was part of her job. Check out Oslo, the reports, and see what was here. If it warranted a team, they’d assemble one and come in for a quick sweep mission. A few would stay behind to ensure things were squelched. Temporarily. It was always temporary. Evil always had a way of resurfacing. That was why their corporation was profitable. It was a never ending battle.
“I’m really sorry about this,” Graham said from behind her. She was standing on the little area outside their backdoor that she supposed Giles would try and say was a porch. She leaned against him when he placed his arms around her.
“It’s not your fault.”
“But it is. If I hadn’t come to you.”
“You had nowhere else to go.”
“I led Riley to you.”
“It was bound to happen eventually, Graham. That’s why we have these places set up.”
“Where do they come from?”
“I’m not sure to be honest. I know the Council had deep pockets. We still do, but different. This was probably a former potential slayer’s home.”
“Not one you’ve found?”
“No, judging by the looks of things in there, this place hasn’t been lived in for a while. She’s gone. I’m not sure what happened to slayers that weren’t called. I mean, when I got called, there were hundreds of potentials that didn’t. When I died, Kendra got called, but she was that age. So, a slayer that was twenty wasn’t going to get called. Does that make sense?”
“Yeah, I’m not sure I get it either. I’d have to ask Giles. It’s just never priority.” She turned in his arms then, wrapping her arms around his waist. “I’m glad you came with.”
“Yes. It wouldn’t be much fun on my own, and I think if we put off getting you out in the field you’ll start to fear it.”
“Thanks I think.”
“I don’t mean that in a bad way. You just have to get back on the horse.”
He chuckled. “Yeah, I know what you’re saying. So, what did you get at the store?”
“Everything your heart can imagine. Or would that be your stomach?”
“Mm, it’d be your stomach since I’m the designated cook.”
“Yes. Next time you should come with me so you see what there is.”
“Mm,” she said, reaching up to kiss him. “It’s kind of romantic in a way. If only we weren’t here to hunt demons and things.”
“We are kind of in the middle of nowhere. How far was it into town?”
“About six miles or ten kilometers.”
“Listen to you with the metric talk.”
“Hey, I’m getting there with all this international travel I’ve been doing lately.”
“You know, he’s not going to tell anyone and he’s not going to look for you.”
“You’re probably right, but I just can’t take that risk. If it was just me I wouldn’t worry about it, but I have more people to be responsible for and to now.”
“I get that. I just hate that you felt the need to uproot in the middle of the night.”
“Giles agreed with me.”
“Giles worries about you.”
“And you wouldn’t?”
“Well, yeah, but that’s different.”
“You must not be too worried.”
“Because you left Dawn and Xander there.”
“If I took them with me, it’d be obvious I really had been there. We’ve got look alikes around the world, Graham, for just this reason.”
“It blows me away sometimes.”
“That you’re girlfriend is on the Top One Most Wanted List by all the demons, vampires, and the US government?”
“Well, yeah. Put like that.”
"I tried telling you. I'm destructo girl. Maybe it won't be on Sunnydale scale next time, but there will be a next time. Another government, another agency will have us on their radar. I guess you can say the secrecy thing is pretty much blown now."
"You know, I'd think less of you for saying that, as if that was all you cared about. Except I know you're concerned for those girls."
"Of course I am. They're my girls. Each and every one of them. I made them this way. I take full responsibility for that, and each time one dies or is injured I have to take that with me to my own grave. Assuming Willow lets me stay dead the next time."
Graham chuckled, wrapping his arms around her tighter. He was way more comfortable on his leg now. She noticed a limp now and again, but it was usually when he was tired and had to think about walking. Or so it seemed to her anyway.
"I know. It was a compliment, Buffy. I wonder if you even realize what you look like to someone like me. You're so generous."
"Pfft, I am not."
"You took me in without question. For all you knew I could have been a plant."
"I only knew you weren't because Riley wouldn't do it that way."
"Riley isn't in charge."
She turned to face him, cupping his face. "No, but you wouldn't have done it either for that reason. You're an honest guy."
She shook her head. "You wouldn't have followed those orders, Graham. If I was a faceless stranger, maybe, but you know the risks I take every day."
"Yeah, I do. But that doesn't change the fact you're the most generous person I know. Giving, always giving. Training these girls, giving them shelter if they choose to work with you, and leaving on a moment's notice so that no one else is in danger."
"I changed their lives, the least I can do is see to it that they know what they are. What I did to them. And who it was that did it to them. I've met each and every one. It might not have been until after they'd gotten to London and were set for training, but I've met them all."
"Of course you have. You're arguing my point for me. I like when you do that."
She laughed then, leaning in to kiss him. "I'll just bet you do."
"So, how long do we have to stay in Oslo anyway?"
"I'm not sure, Giles will let us know when things cool down. Why?"
"I don't know. I feel kind of like James Bond out here. Satellite phone, just in case. A house that while small-seeming on the outside, has a level below ground that is a fortress."
"That's us Council folk. Sneaky and prepared."
"Yeah, but have you really looked at the arsenal down there?"
"It's stock, Graham. All the safe houses have it."
"To sound childish and like a true boy at heart. It is so cool."
"You want to go play with the toys?"
"We can go play with the toys. We should get you some time in anyway."
"Buffy, I know how to handle weapons."
"I know you do, but it's been a while. And these aren't your weapons. Come on, James Bond, let's go see what we've got down there for you to play with."
"James always gets the girl."
"Yeah, I've heard that about him."
He reached for her, touching her cheek, and bringing her face closer to his. "Do I have you, Buffy?"
She blinked. "You know you do. I'm not going anywhere."
"I'm just making sure I didn't screw it up by having dinner with Riley."
"I don't work that way, Graham. I'm pretty much an all in girl. I'm not going to have sex with someone on a whim."
"And, hey, we'll have plenty of time to figure out the nuances of a new relationship while we're stuck here in freaking Norway."
"What," she said with a pout. "Giles probably did this on purpose. Punishing me somehow. As if it was my fault!"
"So what if we're stuck here?"
"You wouldn't care?"
"Not if you're here. We'll make the best of it, Buffy. Besides, I've heard the nights can get pretty chilly."
"Yeah, and James would always do his best to ensure his woman was kept warm." He kissed her then. Just a gentle kiss, a light brushing of his mouth along hers. It was enough to get her body's attention though.
"Warm is good," she murmured.
"I always thought so."
"And then what?"
"Well, we'll have to figure that out on our own."
"I like that plan."
"We can leave, go back if you want to," she murmured.
"Not a chance. It's a nice place. It's a little rustic, but I've slept in pup tents in the jungle, so I can handle rustic. The view is great. I've got a pretty woman here and all the ammo and weapons I'd ever need to defend my fortress. We're good. I'm in, Buffy."
"All right. Well, let's just see what's what in our little fortress. We may be here a while."
"I still say you're worrying about nothing."
"I know. Better safe than sorry, though."
"You're right. I just wish I could call him. Find out."
Buffy shrugged, settling her hand in his as they walked inside. "You know, London's overrated anyway. There's nothing saying I have to be there all of the time."
"Oh? I just assumed."
"Well, I haven't gone anywhere else because Dawn needs to go to school and stuff. And it's easier, of course, being there to train people, but we've retrieved most of the girls we're going to now. So, I'm stuck with more downtime than I was a few months ago."
"If you're sure."
"Yup, besides, for the first time in a while I have things other than Council business on my mind. And I like it."
"What would that be?"
"You and me and sex and love and maybe in the not too distant future a little Graham or a little Buffy."
He squeezed her hand, she squeezed back.
"I'd like that."
"And I've heard tell that Norway isn't a bad place to raise a family. Because like you said, I've given a lot. I wouldn't object to some Buffy goodness that's not steeped in death and violence."
"I think I'm the man for the job."
"Mm, that's what James Bond always says."
"Yes. Maybe I should prove it then," he said, leading her to the bedroom. Not that he had to lead her too much, she was there on her own. "And if Giles calls back tomorrow and says you can come back?"
"I'll tell him I'm really liking Oslo and deserve a vacation."
"An extended one," he said as she sat on the bed.
"Yes, definitely of the long variety."
"Well, let's start it out in the right way."
"I thought you wanted to go look at weapons."
"I've got one right here that needs seeing to."
"Oh? Should I look at it?" She cupped the front of his pants with one hand, working the button and zipper with the other hand.
"I'd say so, yes."
"Well, let's have a look. You do know how to use it, don't you?"
He smiled widely at that. "I'm a fast learner, ma'am."
She gave the head a swipe with her tongue. "I'd say you'd best prove it. James wouldn't let his prowess be called into question."
"That James. He's a tiger in bed I've heard."
"Yeah, me, too. Let's give him a run for his money."
"I'm game, babe, I'm game."
When this was all over and she was able to get back to London, Buffy would have to remember to send Riley a thank you card. This was the most assertive, forward he'd been since he'd been in London. Maybe it was because it was just the two of them. Or maybe it was just that he was getting more comfortable with his limitations and accepting that he was still a whole man even if he couldn't do everything he once did.
Who needed Hawaii, Key West or the Bahamas. The temptation to leave their house once in a while to get out and enjoy the sun would be far too great. She liked the idea of being confined with him for days with nothing to do but enjoy one another. So, really Riley had done her a favor, because she probably would have hesitated to bring Graham out into the field for a little while yet. She talked a good talk about getting him out there, but she was emotionally invested now and wouldn't want to see him get hurt or depressed from an inability to perform as he expected himself to.
Here they could go at their own pace. They were miles from town, a good mile from the nearest neighbor. They had the privacy and the land to get a lot of training in without it being in your face, life and death stuff. Yeah, Giles knew what he was doing sending them to Oslo. She should know better than to doubt him anymore. And if they never left she'd be okay with that.
"Besides, you know how to do the important things really, really well," she whispered once he was inside of her again.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com