Buffy woke the day after the party, reaching for Spike only to find his side of the bed empty. She frowned as she glanced at the alarm clock and saw that it was after ten. "Good thing it's Saturday and you don't have class, Buffy," she mumbled to herself as she stood. She put on her robe and went to find Spike.
"Hey Buffy," Willow said.
"Hey Will. Are you cleaning?"
"Yeah, this is the last room to be done."
"You didn't have to do this."
"I know, but Tara and I woke up early for some reason," she shrugged.
"Well, thanks. I didn't mean to stick you guys with cleanup duty, though."
"Spike helped, too. We agreed you and your mom worked hard putting everything together that the three of us could see to the other end of things. It's no big, Buffy, really. I'm glad you slept."
"Where is Spike?"
"I think he's downstairs."
"Yeah, he went down there a while ago, haven't seen him since. So unless he took the car and drove somewhere, he's still downstairs."
"Okay, thanks," she said, walking to the kitchen. She stood there for a moment in awe at how clean and organized it was. She opened the refrigerator and all the leftovers were put away more organized than the way she had put them away the night before.
"There are some in the refrigerator downstairs, too," Willow called out from the doorway.
Buffy turned to look at her. "Thanks. Thanks so much."
Willow smiled. "You're welcome. Hey, that's what friends are for, right? Tara and I both felt like we were in the way, other than the bit we did to help with your hair and stuff. I know Spike felt the same way."
"Yeah, I guess he must have. Hey, Will," she said cautiously. "I hate to ask you for another favor, but I need you to do that spell again you did before to revoke an invitation."
"No worries, Spike already had me do it. I don't know which of us let him in, Buffy, but we're sorry. You should have told us."
"I didn't know he was going to show up at the house on the night of the party, Willow. Any other time, I know you would be cautious about who you guys invite in. I guess I should have expected it. What better time for him to get an invitation?"
"Okay, good. I was afraid you'd be mad. Spike was at first, but I think he understood just what you said. There were so many people coming and going, it was hard to keep up."
"It's no problem, Will. I was a little mad last night, but I'm glad Spike took care of it this morning. I don't want him being able to come and go."
"So you really met Dracula? I mean, what's he like? I don't even remember anyone who would look like him."
"I guess he must have done something to make him look different to you, to everyone but me and Spike, because you would have noticed him. He was dressed just as if he stepped out of a picture from a hundred or more years ago, complete with one of those big, floppy ties."
"Ah," Willow said with a smile.
"Stop laughing at me."
She put her fingers up to her lips as if she was zipping them shut. "No laughing here."
"Yeah, right. I'm going to go down and see if Spike's all right," she said admittedly a little concerned. It was not like him to sit down there.
She went downstairs and looked in the garage. Both cars were here, so he had not gone anywhere. Not that he would have taken her Jeep during the day. "Unless he decided to dust himself," she said softly not sure where that thought had come from.
"Spike," she called when she opened the basement door. She heard something in response, but it did not sound like words more like babbling. "Spike," she called again.
She stopped short when she saw him. He sat on the floor in the middle of the room looking at her, the nozzle to the keg in his hand. Well, he was looking in her direction; she did not think he actually saw her.
"What are you doing?"
"Tying one on. What does it look like I'm doing?"
"It's ten o'clock in the morning."
"Creature of the night, Slayer, it's past my bedtime in actuality."
"All right then let's get you to bed."
"Are you handling me, Slayer," he asked, his scarred eyebrow rising to emphasize the question.
"No," she replied cautiously.
"Good, because I'm perfectly content sitting here right now. This is where I belong, isn't it? Here, alone, in the dark?"
"What the hell has gotten into you?"
"Realism has gotten into me, Slayer. I don't belong here, in this house, with you. You deserve one of those college boys who are wagging their tongues after you. One who can take you on picnics, take you to the beach in that Jeep of yours when you can actually get a tan. You deserve little babies and worrying about who in the neighborhood is going to baby sit your kids."
"I don't want babies. I never said I wanted babies. When have I ever given you any indication I want babies?"
"You haven't. But you're so young yet, Slayer. I was stupid to think I could make this work, make you love me, convince anyone I'm human."
"But you're," she sighed softly. "Spike, I'm here, aren't I? Did I do something last night to make you think I wanted to be with one of those guys?"
"No," he said sounding dejected, his eyes downcast.
"What is wrong with you? If I did something wrong, just tell me."
"I did something wrong, Slayer, not you."
"What are you talking about?"
"I should have just granted you the bloody annulment and been done with it."
"You want out of this? Why? Did Drusilla come back?"
"You think I'd pick her over you? Not likely. Once upon a time, years ago, sure. Well, maybe. I don't know anymore if I would have chosen her." He peered at her, his eyes still downcast. "That's not the answer you were looking for, I imagine. I suppose I should have said I would have chosen you no matter what."
"No, you would be lying if you said that. You can't spend a hundred or so years with someone and not have some attachment to her."
"What do you know about it?"
"I don't. It was just a guess."
"Right. I suppose you were thinking of Angelus when you said that."
"Angel? What does he have to do with this?"
"Interesting question, that," Spike said.
"I haven't seen Angel since he came here to apologize, months ago. You know what I think?"
"This ought to be good."
"I think you want to be mad at me. I think that you want me to be mad at you. I think that something happened to make you think that we don't deserve this. Angel has nothing to do with it. He's just an excuse for you."
"Right. And you don't love him anymore, right?"
"I suppose no more than you can say you don't love Drusilla anymore. I realize it's different, I didn't spend decades with him or anything. Sure I still love him, but not as a boyfriend. We went through a lot, lots of good and bad, I can't cut him out of my heart. I can't stop the memories from being there. But, Spike I was seventeen."
"Pfff that, you're only bloody nineteen now, Slayer. Two years and it's gone, right. The heart is cleansed."
"I'm not going to stand here and argue about Angel with you. You're drunk and you're for whatever reason looking for a fight. I'm not going to give it to you."
"No, come on, give it to me, Slayer. Let's see what you got. It's been a long time since we've gone a round." He took a quick pull off the keg's nozzle as if he knew she would not even try it.
"Hello? Chip in your head? You can't. On top of that why would I hurt you?"
"You should have staked me one of these times you've had the chance and been done with it. It's your job, don't matter, chip or not, I'm a bloody killer. Remove this chip and I'd be right back out there doing it."
"Do you really believe that?"
"It's what I do, Slayer. I'm a vampire. I'm not human. I can't give you, or me, a normal life. I can't go out and mow the lawn on Saturday morning, but then I can't feed either."
"Do you really miss it?"
"Hadn't thought much about it honestly until last night. Tend to block it out I guess when you know it can't be done. For some reason, things started going in a positive direction between us and I stopped worrying about getting the chip out, stopped craving the kill, the fresh blood."
He took a longer pull from the nozzle, his eyes closing as if he relished the taste of the beer. Or maybe he thought if he got drunk enough whatever he was feeling would go away. "He made me miss it, Slayer. The thrill of the hunt, the taste of their fear as I fed, the power of it when I felt the life leave their body, the fleeting feeling of warmth I got from their blood coursing through me."
"I," she stammered not sure what to say. He had never talked like this. Sure, she knew what he was capable of without the chip. For a while there when he had first come to Sunnydale she actually wondered if he would be the one to kill her. But that he actually missed it, that bothered her. "Am I doing something wrong?"
He smiled sardonically, and Buffy was both frightened and hurt. She did not know what to do. This was not Angel struggling with the return of his soul or with the fact he had been returned here to kill her. This was Spike who other than a chip in his head was the same vampire he was last year. "You made me believe in love, you made me believe I could live in your world, you made me believe in something good, something light." He sighed taking another drink. "You just made me believe. You made me remember what it was like to be human. I never understand what Angelus meant when he told me that, and how it could be something he would come to resent. To even have an inkling of what it was like to be human, to feel that once again, I always thought it would be something like a rare gift. It's not. It hurts and it sucks."
"But I'm not doing anything. I'm not trying to make you human. Okay, other than wanting the house or an apartment. Would you rather I go back to living with my mother? What is it you want, Spike?"
"I want you to put me out of my misery."
"Is it me? Did feeding off me do this," she asked, taking a seat on the floor in front of him but not too close to him. Being responsible for Angel losing his soul was bad enough, she did not want to be responsible for this, too. All she had done was let him drink her blood. He had been doing it for years. "I am not going to kill you, Spike."
"And why not? You'd be a hell of a lot better off."
"I'm happy. Don't you get that?"
"Right. Do you even know what I do? What I've done these past months to get you this house? Your car? Those rings? Everything? Haven't you even wondered? It strikes me that you haven't wondered because you just bloody well don't care."
"I do care. I mean," she shrugged. "I guess I didn't want to know in case it was, well. You know, you have never thought twice about stealing."
"You think I'd buy all of this stuff, buy you all of these things, with money I've stolen? You really don't have a fucking clue, do you?"
"Don't swear at me. All right, so I don't know. I do know that you don't have a job. So that led me to believe it wasn't exactly honest the way you were earning money. But I didn't care! Has that occurred to you? Even though I thought that I didn't tell you to stop, did I? And it wasn't because I wanted you to spend the money on me. I'll give back the Jeep, the rings, the clothes you've bought me. All I wanted was a house for us to live in so that we could live together."
"Getting tired of living with your mom were you?"
"No! I was getting tired of having to leave you. I always felt so cheap afterward, you know?"
"No," he said and she wondered if he was just being difficult.
"Right. Whatever. Listen, I'm going to go upstairs, take my shower and go on with my day. I'm not going to sit here and argue with you about staking you. If I had wanted you dead, I would have done it without you asking me to do it." She stood then. "When you decide to sober up let me know if you want to talk."
"Right. Still a bit left to go in this here keg."
"Spike. Let's just stop this before it gets totally out of hand." She turned and walked away, stopping at the door. "What do you do, by the way? You brought it up. You must want me to know. So tell me," she said, turning to face him again.
"I kill demons."
"Well, I know that."
"For money. I kill demons or bring them in. Kind of like a bounty hunter, I suppose, but dealing in demons. And those hiring me aren't the police or bail bondsmen."
Okay, the killing the demons part she did not have a problem with. Bringing them to people she did have a problem with. Was there another Initiative wannabe out there? "Bring them in how?"
"Well, you know sometimes it's like a domestic squabble, demon A has left demon B and demon B wants demon A back, so I find them, stun them and bring them back. Collect my money. End of bloody story."
"So you're not like bringing a bunch of demons to someone trying to power up and bring about an apocalypse?"
"Not likely, Slayer. I'm evil, but I'm not crazy. I told you once before, I kind of like the world," he inclined his head slightly. For a brief moment he looked lucid. "Especially now that I have you here in it with me."
"You have an interesting way of showing it."
"As do you, Slayer."
"What does that mean?"
"Never mind, pet. It's not important. Go on up to your shower and what all."
"Are you going to be all right?"
"I'm not going to stake myself or anything, if that's what you're asking. Tried that once and I don't know that I could do it again. I actually have something to lose this time."
"I hope you remember that when you're hung over and looking to crawl back into bed with me."
"Can find another bed. Can sleep right here if I need to. It's nice and dark, no windows, no sunlight."
Okay, he was trying to keep her here and argue. That was why he was suggesting he would rather be down here in the basement than in bed with her. She was not going to do it. Whatever it was that had gotten him into this mood, she obviously was not the thing or the person to get him out of it.
"I'll check on you later," she said before leaving the basement, closing the door behind her and making her way back upstairs.
Buffy pulled into her mom's driveway, getting used to this driving thing. She hated driving, but now that she was doing it more and more she did not mind it so much. She pulled the large shopping bag full of her mom's things and made her way to the door. She always felt weird coming over to her mom's house now. Did she just walk in or ring the doorbell? Technically, she did not live here anymore. She rang the bell because her mother was not expecting her.
She had told her mom she would get the dishes and things back to her, but she had not counted on Willow, Tara and Spike being busy beavers that morning and getting everything done for her. Besides, she needed the excuse to get out of the house. Knowing that Spike was down in the basement, getting drunk and feeling sorry for himself was not something she wanted to sit at home thinking about.
"Hi Mom," she said when her mom opened the front door. "Just bringing back your things."
"Oh fine. I wasn't expecting you to bring them back today."
"I know. You can thank Willow, Tara and Spike for that, actually. They cleaned up while Buffy slept in."
"That was nice of them. You know I have to admit I had my misgivings about Spike but he seems nice."
"He has his moments."
"Uh oh. Are there problems?"
Buffy wondered if it was her tone or if she was just that easily readable. Once upon a time, Buffy thought her mother did not know her at all. Now, she was not so sure. Their relationship was a little different now, mother to daughter still but mother to married daughter no longer living in the same house. "No more problems than there should be considering." She paused, a thought occurring to her. "Mom, you know better than to invite anyone you don't know into the house right? I mean, just because I don't live here anymore doesn't mean you're entirely safe."
"Yes, Buffy, if you've taught me anything it's that."
"Okay, good," she said relieved.
"Well, come in then, Buffy. Can I get you anything?"
"Mom, no, you don't need to get me anything, but I'll stay for a few minutes. Tell me what you thought of the party."
"Oh the party was great. Everyone seemed to have a good time. Your neighbors all seem nice. There was one couple that seemed a little off," she said as they walked toward the kitchen.
"Yeah, the Jonas's."
"Yes, that was them. I don't know what it was about them, but I just didn't want to stay and talk to them longer than I had to."
"I feel that way most of the time. Claire is all right, but Buddy is," Buffy shrugged. "He just gives me the wiggins sometimes. Claire will talk to me when I'm out getting the mail, and she's always real nice. She's a stay at home mom, three kids and I think she gets lonely."
"That might explain her oddness."
There was a silence between them while Buffy took the things out of the bag and her mom wiped down the counter. Buffy could tell there was something on her mom's mind, so she just remained quiet.
"You know, I have to tell you, Buffy. I don't pretend I understand exactly how it is you and Spike came to be married, and I had never given much thought to being a grandmother being that you're only nineteen. But you know I realized last night talking to your neighbors, I'm not going to be one, am I?"
"No, Mom, you're not. I'm sorry if that bothers you. I mean, I don't know yet what Spike and I are doing. He has promised me if for whatever reason things don't work out he'd grant me an annulment. But, we get along all right, he makes me happy for the most part, I don't have to worry about hiding who and what I am to him, I don't have to worry about him getting hurt when he's with me." She shrugged. "So, no, no grandbabies for you."
"It's all right, honey, I just thought I'd ask. Say it aloud, I guess."
"I've thought about it. I mean I thought about it with Angel, and I guess I just got used to the fact that I wouldn't have them. Not that I'd want them now anyway."
"No, I guess I should be thankful in that regard. You're too young."
"You weren't much older than I am now."
"No, I wasn't, but I didn't have your job."
"Yeah, I know. It wouldn't be easy." She went to the cupboard and got a glass, getting herself a glass of water. "Mom. We had kind of a fight this morning."
"You and Spike?"
"Yeah," Buffy said, taking a sip of water before turning to face her mom. "I don't really know what it was about."
"Do you want to talk about it?"
"I don't know what to say. It all started when Dracula came to the party."
"Wait, Buffy, did you just say Dracula?"
"Yes," she said and proceeded to relate the story to her mother of how she had met Dracula to begin with and how he had come to be at the party the night before.
"He says he misses it, the killing, the being a chipless vampire."
"Just wait and see what he says when he's sober, Buffy. People say lots of things when they've been drinking. Some are true and some are just bold because their inhibitions are gone. He loves you, Buffy."
"He does not, Mom. I mean, we like each other, but it's not love. He has no heart, not a beating one anyway."
"I'm not going to argue with you, Buffy. Just see what he's like once he's stopped drinking, and until then," she shrugged. "I don't know what to tell you. At least I don't have to worry about him hurting you."
"No," Buffy said with a light, unfeeling laugh. "No, you don't. He can't hurt me."
A knock at the front door caused them both to stop talking. "Are you expecting someone?"
"Me? I don't live here anymore, Mom, so no."
"It's still daylight, so it's not going to be him, is it? Dracula? You don't think he's going to come here, do you?"
"I don't know, Mom, and I think he can do mind control, mind trick things, so just don't let anyone you don't know inside."
"I hate this, Buffy. I hate it especially because you're not here for me to know," she said, walking to the front door. She opened the door and paused. "Hello," she said softly.
Buffy heard the hesitancy in her mom's voice and walked to the front door, understanding her mom's reaction immediately.
"Buffy," Riley said. Dressed in a pair of jeans and button-up chambray type shirt, he looked exactly like he looked when she last saw him. He was tan, though, his hair was a little lighter. What had he done with his summer to look like he did? "Mrs. Summers. It's nice to see you again."
"It's nice to see you, too, Riley," Joyce said. She looked to Buffy and Buffy felt like a trapped rabbit. She did not know what to do. She had not known that Riley was back in Sunnydale. Of course she had not really looked.
"Riley," she said softly, smiling though she was certain it was as obviously fake to him as it felt to her.
"Can I come in, or is this a bad time?" He gestured behind him to the driveway. "I see you got a new car, Mrs. Summers. It's nice. Low mileage I noticed," he said, blushing a little at that comment.
"It's mine," Buffy volunteered.
"Oh," Riley said and Buffy could hear the puzzlement in his voice. If only her driving habits changing were all he was going to find out about. "Well, it's still nice."
"Thanks," she said shyly. Damn it, why was she acting like this in front of him. "I didn't know you came back."
"Well, you're hard to track down, honestly. I didn't find out you weren't living on campus until the other day. I was talking to someone in the Psych department and they mentioned you."
"Oh yeah, Abnormal Psych, it's actually my best class this semester."
"Good. I'm glad to hear that."
"I think I'll go put some things away in the kitchen. It's nice to see you again, Riley."
"You too, Mrs. Summers," he said as Joyce returned to the kitchen. "She's not leaving because of me, is she?"
"Probably a little," Buffy admitted.
"So you got the Jeep to get back and forth to school then. Good idea. Despite being the Slayer and all, I always hated that you walked everywhere."
"No, actually," she hesitated slightly. She ran her fingers through her hair, pushing her bangs from her face nervously. "I don't live here anymore, Riley. I was just bringing some things back to Mom she lent to me for a party I had last night."
"Oh, so you're really living off campus then, no RA and no Mom."
"Sort of, something like that, yeah."
"Okay," Riley said and Buffy could tell he was waiting for her to fill him in. Unfortunately, Buffy was not sure where to even start. "You don't seem that happy to see me, maybe I shouldn't have come over. I realize I didn't leave things very well between us, Buffy, but I was hurt and confused. Not just you, but Professor Walsh, the Initiative, everything. The summer off, working back at the farm really cleared up my head."
"Oh God," she said softly, sensing the direction this was going. "Riley. Wait. I'm living with Spike."
"You're what," he asked, inclining his head like he always did when he hoped he had heard her wrong. Buffy could not help but smile slightly.
"I'm living with Spike. The whole marriage thing," she said. There was no easy way to say these things. "He bought me the Jeep because I can't drive his car. Not unless I want to kill myself from lack of seeing."
"Wait a minute. I went home for three months, I come back and you're living with him? Not just dating him, but living with him? Buffy, are you crazy?"
"Maybe I am, Riley, that's what I'm trying to figure out. Things happened," she sighed softly. "Listen, I don't know how to explain it. All right. We're married, and we're trying to actually make a go of it."
"Buffy, he's a vampire."
"And I'm the Slayer, Riley. I don't belong with a human."
"You don't belong with the undead either."
"Well, the thing is, I understand his world better than I do yours. I don't understand a world where you would alter beings into some sort of army. In fact, it's your fault anyway."
"Excuse me," he said doing that head incline thing again.
"You heard me. If you and the Initiative hadn't taken him and chipped him, I wouldn't be married to him right now. So point the finger where it belongs, you and your Initiative."
"Buffy, I did not make you marry him."
"No, but without the chip he would not have been hiding at Giles' house from you and I wouldn't have had to protect him from you guys."
"Protect him from us? Is that what you were doing?"
"Yeah. Before I knew it was you. Yeah. All I knew is that there were some commando guys running around town. And by the time I knew it was you, well, he was helping us."
"So losing my girlfriend to a vampire is my fault?"
"I was never your girlfriend, Riley. We never got that far. From the night that I first slept with Spike I knew, part of me knew anyway. I can't explain it."
"The night you first slept with him," he asked and then shook his head. "Forget it, I don't even want to know."
"You probably don't. That morning I saw you in the cemetery, I was going back to campus and you were looking for something you lost. I realize now it was Spike."
"You were coming back from being with him?"
"Yeah," she admitted, suddenly finding her hands very interesting. She glanced at him, her head still lowered. "I'm sorry, Riley. This isn't how I normally would have said all of this. You happened to find me on sort of a bad day."
"Well, I'm sorry to ruin your happy life with the undead, Buffy. And you had a party at your house last night? Was he there? Christ, Buffy, you are just too much. How normal of a life can you have with this guy?"
"Not very, but my life stopped being normal the day I became the Slayer. I need him, Riley. Just like he needs me."
"He needs you, right. Like I need to have my leg shorn off. Wait a minute. You told me that day that the whole engagement thing was a lie."
"Yeah, because I didn't know at the time we had gotten married that night."
"But you'd had sex with him."
"Yes," she said softly, hoping her mom was not listening too closely.
"And you didn't think that might put a little wrench in our dating?"
"No, I honestly didn't. It's not like I liked him. It was a spell for crying out loud."
"And look at where that spell has gotten you now. You're living with him. You have a house with him. He's using you, you know that."
"He's what? Using me for what? What could he possibly be using me for, Riley?"
"A place to live, all that stuff."
"He bought the house, other than my tuition I haven't spent much on anything lately. Mom's helped some and Spike offered, but I wouldn't let him pay for my education."
"How nice of you."
"Don't be rude to me, Riley. First of all, you did not contact me once all summer. Mom would have taken a message had you called and would have given it to me. She would have given me a letter had you sent one. So don't come here, to my house, accusing me because I moved on and made some decisions. I'm happy. Don't you get that?"
"No, I don't. I don't think I'll ever get it. You know, I didn't have to come back here this year. I could have chosen a different school. University of Iowa is a damned good school. But I came back hoping to make things work between us. I came back for you, Buffy."
"You came back for the wrong reason then, Riley. I'm not yours to have. I'm sorry, but even if things don't work out with Spike I couldn't. We know too much about each other to start with a clean slate and we would never be able to trust one another. You'd always wonder if I talked to a vampire, Angel, Spike or whoever if I wanted to be with them. Hell, I already get that with Spike thinking I'm going to run off to Transylvania with Dracula."
"He what? Now you've lost me. What is it with you and vampires?"
"I don't know. Just lucky I guess. Anyway, it's not important. I hope we can be friends, I really do. But that's all we can be. And you can't walk around telling everyone about me, about Spike or what I do as far as being the Slayer goes as some sort of vengeance kick."
"I wouldn't do that, Buffy. No one would believe me anyway. I'm not sure I want to admit I lost you to a vampire anyway."
"I know." She did not know what else to say.
"So are you going to tell me where you do live?"
"You aren't going to come over there to hurt Spike are you?"
"Like that would get me anywhere. I can't say it wouldn't make me feel better, but no, Buffy, I'm man enough to realize when I lost. I'm not happy about it, and I think you're making a big mistake. Angel I could at least understand. I mean he had a soul. But Spike, he's an animal. All that keeps him from being what you stake is that chip."
"That's where you're wrong, Riley. That chip curbed the animal and has brought out some of his former self. He's not an animal."
"You really believe that."
She thought on that, really mulling it over. He had scared her that morning for sure, but something told Buffy that there was a reason for the thoughts. Something had caused Spike to start thinking like that. "Yes, I believe that. I might lose my husband, but I don't think he'd come after me."
"I hope you're right."
"Why? Are you going to arrange to have his chip removed?"
"No, we don't have the facilities to do it anymore anyway."
She told him her address. "I don't know what he'll say if you come over, but as long as you can be nice I have no problem with it. But you have to understand, Riley, it's his house."
"I understand, and I don't know that I'll ever come over. But it's nice to know where you are," he said with a shrug. "In case I need to know. Never know when knowing where the Slayer lives might come in handy."
"You never know," she said, offering him a smile. "I am sorry, Riley. I honestly didn't plan any of this. Any of it."
"I'm hurt but I'm not mad if that makes any sense. I don't blame you and I'm not mad at you. You have to do what you have to do, Buffy. You're an adult and if he makes you happy then I guess you have to go with that. Obviously, I didn't make you happy enough."
"I think we just had too many obstacles from the get-go, Riley. First we had to hide from one another who and what we really were, then we had to deal with knowing who we really were and I think it was just doomed to begin with."
"You might be right, and I guess we'll never know. I guess I'll let you get back to talking to your mom. If you ever need anything, I'm in the room next door to the one I was in last year."
"Thanks. Maybe we could have lunch sometime. Willow would like to see you again, I'm sure."
"Oh yeah, how is she?"
"She's doing all right. She and Tara live with us actually. I'll tell her you said hi."
"Yeah, do that," he reached for the doorknob. "I'll see you later, Buffy. I hope things work out for you."
"Thanks. You too. Hey," she said softly. "Will you be staying here? I mean, finishing out school here?"
"I don't know. I love you, Buffy, I won't lie to you and say I don't and that it hurts, but I also like you and I want you to know you can always count on me if you need to."
"I know," she said, tears forming in her eyes despite everything. A year ago she would have loved to have him say those words. A year ago she would have thought he was exactly what she needed, her Mr. Perfect. So much had changed in a year. He was somebody's Mr. Perfect, she had no doubt of that. He just was not hers.
He released the doorknob and stepped toward her, kissing her lightly on the forehead. "I'll see you around. I don't know about lunch right now. Sometime, though. Okay?"
"Good bye, Buffy."
"Bye Riley," she said and walked to the door, closing it behind him.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com