A month had gone by since Kincaide's visit. Buffy had a couple more dreams about Caroline and Daniel but nothing that suggested there was unfinished business between the couple. Giles' theory was that perhaps Caroline and Daniel was actually the first joining of the souls and once that part of Buffy recognized Riley and vice versa the souls did not want to be apart again. It was the only reasonable explanation, even if it sounded farfetched to Buffy.
The most astounding thing to Buffy was not the soul mate thing. She wasn't sure how much she banked on that being true, but she did know that Riley hadn't bailed on her left. He hadn't gone psycho. Both now knew who they were and he more often than not joined her on patrol instead of going with the Initiative guys.
She had no idea love could feel like this. At least she thought it was love, neither were overly forthcoming with spouting their feelings. She knew, though, that Riley wasn't the type to lead a girl on. It was a refreshing feeling. She woke up in the morning and he was still there. She left his room in the mornings and got back to her room and there was a message from him telling her to have a nice day. Things she hadn't gotten with her first couple of experiences.
Riley's Initiative buddies weren't too keen on Buffy. Most thought they were the amateurs, when Buffy knew the truth. Sure they had computers and statistical analysis and government funding. But nine times out of ten, Buffy and her friends came up with the same answers going through books more quickly than the Initiative's computer database did.
Buffy suspected Riley was beginning to question his loyalties, and eventually he had to make his choice. Buffy had expected never to see him again. So when Xander brought her to the old high school where Riley was hiding out she couldn't remember being so happy. He had chosen her.
Adam now defeated, the Initiative disbanned, the facility destroyed, Riley was free to be just Riley Finn. And Buffy loved just Riley Finn. She tried to repay the favor he had shown her by showing him through actions rather than words that she was not going to leave him because he was no longer super-strong soldier boy.
She sat in the cemetery, reclined against a comfort bearing Angel. They had said little since she saw him. Riley had not been happy about leaving her with Angel, but Buffy had proven more than once that her heart rested with her current rather than her former boyfriend. That did not mean that she did not welcome the comfort he offered.
Angel kissed the top of her head and Buffy sighed against him. It was nice to have him here and as much as she enjoyed the comfort he was offering she knew that her place wasn't with him anymore.
"Yeah, Angel, I am."
"That's all I ever wanted for you."
"I know that now."
"I'm glad. I never meant to hurt you, it was the last thing I wanted."
"And if he ever hurts you."
"He won't. Not in the way you mean anyway. He's a good guy. He's coming to terms with the fact he's just human, but we'll get through it."
"I knew it would happen."
"The chance at a normal life."
"You were right."
"I admit I wish it hadn't happened so soon."
"It's strange coming here, holding you, knowing you don't belong to me anymore."
Tears formed in her eyes. She loved him, always would. He was her first everything. Any boys she'd dated before him were nothing, meant nothing. Souls aside, there was a part of her that would always be his. His girl. Forever. Things they had talked about once, but she knew now were not just no longer possible. They were never possible. Fate had dealt them a stacked deck.
"I'll always love you, Angel. I'll always be here for you. We talked about forever once."
"You're going to give that to another guy."
"But he can't take the slayer out of me, Angel. He can't take my life until now away from me. You taught me so much, made me feel so much. I'll never forget that."
"Thank you," he said shortly and Buffy could tell he was crying now, too. It didn't help that they were sitting beside her mother's grave. A sad occasion to begin with. It was why he'd come. There was no love lost between Joyce and Angel, but he had come because he knew it would mean something to her. And it did.
She turned in his arms, cupping his face with his hand. "I love you so much, Angel, don't ever doubt that. Or doubt that what we had was real."
"It's so hard seeing you moving on. Moving away. Soon, three years of your life will be a drop in the bucket."
"Never. There will never be anything insignificant about my time with you." She leaned down to kiss him. It wasn't a passionate kiss, not like the kisses they once shared.
"I should go," he whispered, his voice sounding forced, hoarse.
"I know," she whispered, kissing his jaw. Somehow she managed to stifle the sob. She didn't want to sound overly pathetic. "Thank you for coming."
"Anytime, you know that. I wish I could handle this and stay a little longer, but if you need me."
"I know, thank you."
He stood slowly, offering her his hand to help her up which she took without question. His arm went around her, she did the same as they left the cemetery. They got to the street just outside of her house, saying little on the way. It was a path they had traveled together countless times over the years.
"I have to let you go here, Buffy. I can't do it, know that he gets to comfort you tonight."
He leaned down to kiss her, little more than a brush of his lips over hers. "Good bye, Buffy." He stepped out of her arms and turned away.
"Good bye," she said to his already retreating back. She waited to walk up the sidewalk leading to her house until she couldn't see him anymore.
She entered the house in tears, not realizing she had it in her to cry so much. It seemed that was all she'd been doing since her mom had been diagnosed. It happened so fast, they'd barely had a chance to get used to the idea that she was sick. Life was just not fair.
"Did he hurt you?"
"What?" She wiped her nose and her face with her shirt sleeve.
"Angel? Did he hurt you?"
"No, Riley, it just hurts to say good bye. It's like with my mom dying that part of my life is done. Over. I'm not a girl anymore. The dreams I had once upon a time aren't going to come true."
"Do you want him?"
She laughed and shook her head. "No, that's not what I'm saying. It's just the permanence of it I guess. I want you, Riley. Dawn needs both of us, I couldn't do this without you."
"If you're sure."
"Of course I'm sure. Angel's my past, you're my future. I know that. It just felt so," she shrugged. "It felt like it was really good bye this time."
She could see that he was holding back. There was no love lost between Riley and Angel, the two had tolerated one another the brief time they'd ever met. After beating the crap out of each other anyway. "It's just been a tough day."
"Well, I hope this will help."
He walked her to the dining room where Dawn, Willow and Xander were seated. She saw remnants of rootbeer float makings and smiled. She sniffled, getting her emotions in check. "I'm sorry, Dawn."
"I'm fine, Buffy. I mean, not fine, but you had to do what you had to do. I get that. We get that."
"Did Angel leave?" Willow glanced behind Buffy and then back to her.
"Yeah. He's gone."
"Hey, Xander, why don't you help me clean up in here?"
"What? Oh, okay, sure."
Willow led Buffy to the living room where they sat on the couch. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine. It just seemed so permanent. Not just a temporary good bye, but the real deal."
"Well, you don't need him anymore, Buffy."
"I know. I mean, I never thought I'd think that way so it's impressive I do so soon."
"He loves you, that's why he's letting you go."
"I know. I just hate that it hurts so much."
Willow gave her a hug, which Buffy returned glad for her friend's companionship. "I think you should go into the kitchen and talk to Riley. He's been worrying all evening that you were going to come back with a change of heart."
"I don't know why he'd think that."
Willow shrugged. "He's jealous. It's hard to compete with a girl's first. And when he's still strong and capable it doesn't help either."
"You're right. How's Dawn?"
"She's okay. Giles was here for a while but left just before you got home. I think it helped we were all here with her."
"I wouldn't have stayed with Angel if you weren't."
"I know that, Buffy, no one's accusing you of being a bad sister or daughter."
"Thanks." She stood from the couch and walked toward the stairs. "Would you send Riley up?"
"Sure," Willow said with a smile.
In the bathroom upstairs Buffy splashed water on her face to hopefully help combat the effects of such a tear-filled day. She couldn't remember crying this much ever. She opened the door after hearing the light knocking and stepped out. She took Riley's hand and led him to her room, closing the door.
"Are you sure you're okay, Buffy?"
"Yeah, I'm fine. I just wasn't very fair to you. Going off with Angel, leaving you to deal with Dawn."
"I don't mind." She arched a brow at him, knowing that wasn't entirely a true statement. "Okay, I hated every minute of it, knowing you were with him. But I trust you, Buffy. I have to or we'll never work. There are times I wish I had an ex so that I understood, but any ex of mind would not be able to compete with Angel. I get that."
"I'm glad." She sat on the edge of her bed, took hold of Mr. Gordo and stroked the pig's head. "I kissed him."
"I kissed him. Not like a soul-losing kiss or anything, but I needed to tell you."
"Okay. I guess I should be glad you told me, though I'm not seeing that just now."
"It was a comfort thing, appreciation for the fact he came here. He didn't have to, you know. He knows I'm with you and it would have probably been easier if he didn't come. I just wanted you to know."
"And that was it?"
"That was it. Oh I cried some, he cried some, we said good bye. He knows I'm happy, but it hurts."
"What? I feel like I'm the only one suffering sometimes. It hurts to know what you shared with him, that he can still help you in areas I can't anymore."
She stood and took his hands, pulling him to the bed to sit with her. "But see, I plan to come home to you. To wake up to you. To love you. You're right, Riley, there will be times that I need Angel's help. That I need Spike's help. I'm not dumb enough to turn down help. It's one of the reasons I'm still here. I have help and I'm not afraid to use it. That doesn't mean I want to be with them. I like knowing you're safe. I like knowing that one thing in my life is good and free of evil."
"No evil here."
"See that's what I'm saying," she said curling up on the bed. He laid beside her, wrapping his arm around her waist. She glanced at the window where she and Angel had spent so much time talking, kissing. She would never give up those memories, wouldn't trade them for anything, but they weren't her future. Her future was here, in Riley's arms.
She liked to think they would have gotten together eventually even if it weren't for some freaky happenstance that brought a child from their past lives to this time to help them identify one another.
"You know I was thinking."
"What's that," she asked with a smile.
"I like the name Ken for a boy."
"You do, huh?"
She sighed heavily, the idea of a boy that looked like Riley not at all offensive. "Me, too. Not anytime soon, though."
"No, but one day."
"Yes, one day."
He smoothed down her hair, his touch betraying his feelings for her. He was gentle, affectionate, forgiving. "Get some sleep Buffy."
"Night," she whispered, knowing she didn't need her dreams anymore she had everything she needed right here.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com