Buffy sat on the couch feeling very underdressed. She really was not, but it was the fact that Riley had to have seen that she was excited when she answered the door. She folded her arms over her chest, her hand clutching either arm and gathered her feet underneath her.
"What is it, Riley? I really am tired, Scotty will be awake in a few hours and I have class in the morning."
"You're back in school then?"
"Yeah, I worked my ass off last summer to make up for the spring semester I had to drop out of. I worked with my professors during fall semester to get any assignments ahead of time since I was due right when the semester started. Slayer healing and all, I was up and walking around in less than three days. I really only missed one day of classes, because he was born Thursday night and I was back in class Monday. So, I'm in my sixth semester."
"Good," Riley said and he seemed sincere. "What are you majoring in?"
She smiled slightly. "Criminal justice. It seems to be what I'm most suited for."
"Yeah, I guess I see your point there." He leaned forward, elbows resting on his knees, hands together, tapping his fingertips against each other. "Are you really all right, Buffy?"
"Yeah, why wouldn't I be?"
"Well, we didn't get the chance to talk earlier because of everyone being here and then going after the demon. Spike didn't seem willing to let you out of his sight."
"Yeah, well, vampires are that way, you know."
"No, I'm afraid I don't know that much about them. Spike's the only one I've ever gotten to know, and I wish that weren't the case."
"It's not his fault, Riley."
"I know it's not, Buffy. I liked to tell myself it was. It was so easy to blame him, to blame anyone but myself. I was sorry to hear about your mom and Dawn. I didn't know. I tried to get a letter to you, but mail was just not something we had access to where we were. And to tell you the truth, I wasn't sure what to say in a letter. You couldn't have written me back, so I wouldn't have found out anyway."
"Thanks, and you don't owe me any explanations, Riley. We broke up."
"I should have been here for you. Spike was right in what he said earlier, I left when I knew you were in trouble, up against something pretty unstoppable."
"She was a god," Buffy said wryly.
"Yeah," she said simply. "A god. I don't really want to talk about it, though. I mean, no offense, but if you came here to make me cry I'd rather not."
"No, that's not why I came. Are you happy?"
"Yeah, I am."
"But, it's Spike? What was I? The transition guy between vampires? Didn't you learn your lesson with Angel?"
"Angel and Spike are not the same, Riley. And you weren't a transition guy, but you were my first human guy and it just didn't work. It wouldn't have worked even had you stayed. I did go to the airfield that night."
"Yeah, I did, but I was just going to tell you that I was sorry. I wasn't going to ask you to stay, because as much as it hurt that you left like that, just picked up and left without seeming to want to give us a chance to work on things, I knew that they weren't going to work. We never could have gotten past what happened."
"But you can forgive Spike for his crimes against hundreds of people?"
"I can because those crimes weren't done against me."
"Buffy, he tried to kill you. He worked with Adam."
"Yeah, he did, and I tried to kill him, too. And I kept him tied up to a chair like an animal. But you know what?"
"He was there for me after my mom died. He did exactly what I needed him to do, he just sat with me. He did not try to fix my problem, did not try to tell me everything was going to be okay. He was there, helping me try to stop Glory from using Dawn to open the dimension gates. He was willing to drink some of Dawn's blood and jump off that tower to see if he might be able to fool the gates into thinking he was the key. He was willing to sacrifice himself to save the world, Riley. He was the one who encouraged me to go to school during the summer, to finish my sophomore year knowing once I had the baby it might be hard for me to go back if I wasn't already in school. He hasn't passed judgment on me, and ironically he was the one I was scared of most."
"Scared of him judging you? Why?"
"Because he's from an era where women didn't have babies on their own."
"Well, I have to admit I don't much like the idea of you doing it on your own either. Where's his father?"
"He's not involved," she replied evenly.
"Does it matter why?"
"I guess not," Riley said and grew quiet. "Does he know a vampire is helping to raise his child?"
"He knows Spike is with me, yes," she answered carefully.
"What if I offered to marry you?"
"And do what? Leave the military and stay here to be miserable? Or would I get to live on a military base somewhere and move around every year or two? Or better yet, I could stay here and wait for you to get weekend passes and leaves."
"Buffy, I love you, that hasn't changed. All those things I did," he sighed and ran a hand through his hair. Buffy watched him and wondered how she ever thought she could have been happy with him. He was nice and he would certainly make someone happy. But he wanted the June Cleaver type of wife. He probably wanted to return to Iowa and a farm when he got done with his stint in the military.
"I know, Riley, I do. But I don't love you. Your offer is kind, but I can't marry you."
"If you weren't with Spike?"
"I'd still say no. My dad isn't happy with me, but if things were to get real bad I could move in with him. There's always Angel, he's got a whole hotel, I'm sure he'd be willing to put me up until I got my feet on the ground."
"What kind of life is that for your son?"
"I said if things were to get real bad. But they won't. I've got a job, I'm working at Swanson's as a cashier part-time. My dad is paying the bills on the house and college. I have to pay for the cable and Internet because those are luxuries Dad says. So, my job pays for Scotty's stuff and Spike helps, too. Willow and Tara or Xander and Anya or Giles are always willing to baby sit."
"So they don't live here anymore?"
"Who? Willow and Tara? No, they're on campus."
"I'm heading out tomorrow."
"I figured you would be. Demon's been caught, eggs have been destroyed, mission accomplished."
"I can give you an email address and an AFP address for regular mail. I can't guarantee I'll get either in a timely fashion, but if you ever need anything. I was wrong leaving the way I did, Buffy, I know that. I was hurt, hurt about what I did to you, and hurt that I let myself believe I couldn't be what you wanted and that I was willing to change."
"Don't ever change who you are, Riley, not for anyone. That's how I know it wouldn't work between us, too much changing needs to be done by both of us."
"And you're happy?"
"Yup," Buffy said cheerily.
"You wouldn't be lying so that I won't feel bad for leaving again, would you?"
"No, Riley. I am happy. I can't say that being a mom is easy, I thought taking care of Dawn for the few months she was alive after Mom died was hard. That was nothing compared to a baby. But he's worth it. I can come home exhausted and he rejuvenates me just by smiling at me. He smiles at me because I'm his mommy and I make him happy. He doesn't want anything from me. He's not old enough yet to smile because he wants to get his way, he just smiles because he's happy. I've never felt anything like it, it's," she paused searching for the right word. "Amazing. It doesn't describe it right, though. It's beyond amazing." Riley was staring at her with an odd smile on his face and she lowered her head, embarrassed at her rambling.
"You know, I've never seen you talk about anything like that. The look in your eyes," he said smiling wider. "It looks good on you."
"Thanks," she said softly. "That means a lot."
"Okay well, as much as I hate to do it, I guess I'll let you go on up to bed. Say good bye to Willow and Tara for me, and tell Xander, Anya and Giles I said hello and that I'm sorry I didn't have more time."
"I will. Xander will be sorry he missed you, you know."
"Maybe on the next trip I'll have more time," he said as he stood and walked to the downstairs extension. Buffy watched as he took the pen and wrote something on the paper next to the phone. His address more than likely, not that she would ever use it. But maybe one day she would be ready to tell him the truth and she would need the information.
"No rest for the demon hunters."
"Nope," he said as he walked towards the front door and Buffy followed him, opening the door for him. He handed her the slip of paper. "Good night, Buffy. Good luck. As much as it hurts, I'm glad to see you're happy."
"Take care, Riley."
"I will," he said and turned to leave. She waited until he had made it to the public sidewalk before closing and locking the door.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com