My Work Is Done

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This is a reply to a challenge issued by my pal Ellen. Her specs are at the bottom of the fic. :)
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I actually don’t know where to start. I don’t know if I should begin at the part where he almost got himself killed to protect me, or if I should skip that and go right to what I did to protect him. Or the miracles that happened afterwards. Maybe I should just start at the beginning.

When I first looked at Riley Finn, I thought he was attractive, sure, but I wasn’t in the market for a hot new guy, and I didn’t really make the best impression by dropping books on his head. So, you can imagine my surprise when more and more, I found my gaze drifting his way in class and my mind wandering aimlessly to that secluded little patch of longing that he occupied.

I’ve never been very lucky in love. Okay, that’s the understatement of the millennium. I’ve had such rotten luck in love that I’m pretty sure I pissed off Cupid in a past life and he’s going around shooting darts at guys who are destined to hurt me. I didn’t want to fall in love with Riley Finn. I was completely against it. As hard as it was to keep my hormones in check, somehow I managed to do it, and kept my walls up. But Riley is Riley and he’ s got these big sparkly eyes and soft voice that just—well, he’s a wrecking ball when it comes to my protective walls and he gets right down into my heart and soul and can tell me what I’m thinking before I say it.

For a long time, I was totally happy with him. We survived the government trying to kill us, him finding out that I lost my virginity to a demon, and said demon pulverizing him one night, and everything was still amazing. College life was wonderful, I was actually making decent grades, and I had every single thing I had ever wanted and more.

And then he almost died.

I had been leery about him helping me patrol. When the Initiative folded and he was completely weaned off the drugs that they had supplied him with, he became weaker. More and more, I’d see him stumbling, losing his footing, missing with his punches, and more and more, he insisted that he come with me. I didn’t have the heart to let him know that he was just slowing me down. Having him along and having to keep an eye on him meant that I had a blind side and I was taking my fair share of pummeling just to keep him safe. I couldn’t do that anymore.

There was a big bad in town, and this demon had made it very clear that I was on his menu. Riley wouldn’t hear of letting me face it alone. And I loved him so much for that, but at the same time, I knew what kind of risk there would be if he came along on patrols. So, I lied right to his face about where I was going one night. I should have known he would follow me. God, how we argued. I don’t think I have ever seen him so mad. His jaw was tight, his shoulders rigid, and his voice was so loud in the cemetery that I should have been prepared for it to wake the dead. Literally.

Before I knew it, we were surrounded by odd little gnome things and this demon, the same one who had come to town just to kill me, was right there in front of me. It was a bloodbath. To this day, I don’t know how I survived it at all. I don’t even remember a lot of what happened because it was so fast that it felt like a blur. One minute I was pinned to the ground with long canines in my belly, and the next minute the demon was dead. I found out later that Giles killed it; that the entire gang showed up and finished off the demons before they could kill us, but when I looked over at Riley’s crumpled body, I knew that it had to be the end. If he didn’t die, I would get him away from me and the danger in Sunnydale.

For three weeks, I kept a constant vigil at his bedside, begging him to wake up, and apologizing a million times for what I was. And then one night while I dozed in the chair, he woke up and called my name. I was on my feet instantly, brushing his hair back, rubbing my palm over his scraggly cheek, sobbing into the front of his gown. It was such a relief, but it was the most bittersweet triumph of my life. Over and over again I told him how much I would always love him and he wasn’t even mad at me anymore. He apologized! Can you imagine that? He apologized to me for making me cry that night in the cemetery. God, I wanted to curl up beside him and just hold on forever. But I knew better.

The doctors had told us he would need physical therapy, and I had taken it upon myself to contact his family. They arrived the day after he woke up, and I didn’t go back to the hospital at all after they got there. That’s actually I lie. I stood across the street, half hidden behind a large palm tree on the day they released him. I had a hood over my head and sunglasses on and I watched him scan the street, looking for me, I knew he was, but I didn’t make a move. I watched the Taxi Cab pull away from the curb and as it rounded the corner, my heart fell straight into my stomach – and I walked away.

Before you judge me, just listen to my reasons. I’m a Slayer. That means that I have to patrol every single night. I have to train, I have to concentrate, and I have to stay focused, otherwise the world as we know it could cease to exist. There was no way I could be what Riley needed as he healed. Yes, it makes me the most selfish person alive, but it also makes me the most determined person alive. As I watched him struggling to breathe, and heard that he was lucky to be alive, I became determined that Riley Finn would live a lot longer than I would. And the only way to make sure he did that was to push him out of my life.

I didn’t go back to the hospital because I was terrified of what would happen. I already told you that he has this way of seeing right through me and breaking my resolve, and I knew that all he would have to do is ask me once, and I’d change my mind. Every day, for weeks, he called me from Iowa—but I left my machine on and didn’t return his calls. Finally the calls dwindled to once a week, and then they stopped.

Thanks to Graham, I knew he was back on his feet and healthy as could be, but I also knew that he wouldn’t come to Sunnydale again. In the earliest messages he threatened to come back several times, but I knew he had pride and he wouldn’t just forgive me for abandoning him the way I had done. Not without some kind of effort on my part. And all of my efforts were tied up in being the Slayer. After four months, the hurt began to dull, the pain began to come and go, and I completely lost myself in school and slaying. I purposely kept myself so busy that I didn’t know whether I was coming or going half the time.

*~*~

But enough backstory. Let me get to the point. I'll tell it to you like it's happening right now. My mind wonders so much lately that I find myself talking in present tense about things that happened a year ago, and past tense about things that happen now.

Let's relive it together.

~*~* I happen to be rushing out the door when I bump into a tall blond girl I've never seen before. She has this odd ring of flowers on her hair and she's wearing a long pink dress and I almost laugh at her appearance, but I'm in too much of a hurry to question it. Or apologize for offending her for laughing at her.

“Oh, sorry,” she says as she helps me gather the books I had dropped on her feet. “You must be Buffy. I heard that you like to drop books on strangers.”

I glance up at her warily. There was only one stranger that I had ever dropped books on. “Who are you?”

“My manners suck.” Shaking her head, she extends a hand my way. “I’m RayAnne Finn. Riley’s sister.”

Oh boy, talk about uncomfortable silences. I just kinda stare at her for several seconds, taking note of the strong resemblance she has with Riley, flowers notwithstanding, and finally shake her hand. “Buffy Summers.”

“I guess you’re wondering why I’m here, huh?” she asks me, then elbows her way past me into my dorm room. “I would be too.”

I follow her and shut the door. “I actually have an appointment in a few minutes.”

“It can wait,” she replies, plopping down on one end of my bed. “Listen Buffy, I’m not going to beat around the bush and waste both of our time. I don’t know what happened between you and Riley, and to be perfectly honest I ’d like to belt you one for the way you treated him, but that’s not why I’m here.”

I cross my arms and glare at her, letting her know that the threat she issued isn’t going to fly over my head. “If you have a point, get there.”

“My point is, Miss Thing, that I happen to love my brother very much,” she brushes a hand through her short hair, snags the flowery thing, frowns, and slaps it back in place. “We’re twins and when he’s unhappy, I’m unhappy. For the past few months, I’ve watched him wallow in misery, refuse to eat, drink himself nearly to death, and every single day I hear how wonderful you are. I’d like for you to prove him right.”

“Prove him right?” I ask, tensing slightly.

“Did you love my brother at all?”

“I don’t think that’s any of your business to be perfectly honest.”

She watches me for a few minutes and I shift uncomfortably from one foot to the other. There’s something about her eyes, the same color and shape of Riley’s that seem to inject me with a truth serum. With a sigh, I toss my hands in the air and move toward Willow’s bed, where I slump against it. “Yes, I loved him. I do love him, but we can’t be together because I’m a Sla—“ It takes me a second to realize that she is a complete stranger and I change the direction of my conversation. “Because I’m a slave to my studies and a love life interferes.”

“You’re the Slayer. I know all about demons and what you are.”

My eyes widen. “He told you about that? That’s not just something that you share with people.”

“Relax. I was in the Initiative for a while. I got recruited at the same time he did, but it wasn’t the thing for me. I prefer to fly planes and decided to join the Air Force instead.” She smiles and gives me a mock salute. “And Riley and I talk about stuff, Buffy. That’s why I’m here.”

“You’re wasting your time, RayAnne.” I let out a long sigh. “If he told you all about me then you also know that it’s because of me that he almost died.”

RayAnne shakes her head. “No, the way he tells it is that he almost died because of a demon. You don’t look like a demon-- even if you are as cold hearted as one.”

I let that comment slide as well.

“He was helping me,” I tell her, more than just a little annoyed that she has the ability to use the tone Riley always used, and slide in a few zingers when I'm off guard.

“You’re kinda selfish, aren’t you? Sorta self involved?” A small smile curves her lips. "Riley told you that once, didn't he?"

“Did you come here just to insult me?”

“No, I came here to let you know that everything isn’t about you, Buffy Summers. But if I can make you feel half as bad as you did my brother, I won ’t apologize for it. You’re a Slayer because you were chosen by some higher power, right?“

I nod.

She continues. “Is that the only reason you do it?” She pauses, but I didn’t reply so she starts talking again. “Because Riley wasn’t chosen by some higher power. He did it because he knows the truth about the things that are out there. Do you honestly think that he’s the kind of man who could close his eyes to the demon world and go about his day?”

“No,” I answer honestly. “But I also believe that if he’s not at the Hellmouth that he won’t get hurt again.”

“Then you’re a fool,” she says and stands up, lifting a photo of myself and Riley off my night table. “You hurt him more than any demon. He’s killing himself because of you.” Turning the photo so I can see it, Rayanne hands it to me. “Take a long look at him there, Buffy, and remember him that way. Because you wouldn’t even recognize him now.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, trailing my thumb over his perfect face in the photo.

“He’s hollow. He’s skinny. He’s unshaven, his hair is unkempt, and he doesn’ t come out of his bedroom to do a damn thing for himself. The only time he eats is when my mother cries and begs him to. They’re convinced that he’s shell shocked or something.” She flops on my bed again. “They government told them that he was injured in a war simulation.”

“I don’t know what this has to do with me.” I contemplate standing up to put the photo back, but I hug it to my chest instead.

“God, listen to yourself! It has everything to do with you! He’s not shell shocked! He’s lovesick! And you’re gonna make it better!”

“How the hell am I supposed to make it better? I can’t move to Iowa to be with him! I’m always going to be the Slayer and as long as he’s in my life, he is going to be—“

“Happy. He’ll be happy if he’s in your life and to be perfectly honest with you, I think you’d be happier too. No offense, but you don’t exactly look much better than he does.”

“I think it’s time for you to leave,” I say through clenched teeth. “And really, I don’t know how backwards Iowa is, but whatever look you were aiming for, you missed.”

She stands, red faced, and towers over me for a second. “You know what? I used to pride my brother on his ability to judge a person’s character, but I think he was wrong this time. He needs you, Buffy. He needs you like no man has ever needed a woman before. And he needs you right now if he’s going to make it.” Pulling a piece of paper from her pocket, she slams it down on the bed beside me. “If you can pull your head out of your ass long enough, that’ s where he is.”

I continue to sit on Willow’s bed, long after she has slammed out the door. Over and over again, I replay the things she’s said in my head. It only takes me about three hours to talk myself into going to Iowa. I keep getting this mental picture of Riley lying in the hospital bed, telling me that he loved me and that he was sorry. He loved me and I was too much of an idiot to realize that what we had could have been the best medicine in the world for him. I pack a bag, call the airport, book a flight, and leave a note for Willow. I’ll miss a few classes, but I only plan to be gone long enough to talk some sense into Riley. I know I don’t deserve his love and I am not worth the pain in his heart .. I just have to convince him of that. Right?

On the plane, I sit next to an elderly couple who feel the need to tell me repeatedly that it is their sixtieth anniversary. It makes my heart twist inside my chest to give into the reality that a sixtieth wedding anniversary is just one more thing I’ll be denied in my life. I keep a fake smile plastered on my face and let them tell me what a beautiful bride I’ll make one day. I don’t even give into the urge to tell them I’d probably make a prettier corpse. By the time the plane lands I’m completely depressed and motion sick and miserable.

It takes me about an hour in the restroom of the airport to pull myself together. After I wash my face, reapply my makeup and brush through my hair, I change into a dress and hail a cab. The drive to Huxley isn’t a long one, but my anxiety makes it feel like ten years. The cab feels too hot, too cold, too cramped, it smells like the Jesus air freshener on the rear view mirror and I get choked, and if it’s at all possible, I feel even more pathetic than I did in the airport. For once, I am grateful that being a Slayer has prevented me from traveling much, because I never wanted to travel again.

I almost squeal in relief when we make the turn off the interstate and take a windy road into the heart of downtown Huxley. I dig through my purse, getting the exact address from the paper RayAnne had left me, and in no time, we are traveling through the countryside. It’s beautiful, flat and colorful, and as I watch the sun set, I calm a little. Then the cabbie turns into a driveway and I see FINN etched on the mailbox and I have another mini panic attack that has me contemplating throwing myself out the door. Maybe Riley won’t be too mad if I’m a mangled wreck. Or maybe he'll dig the hole to bury me in himself and be happy about it. Now there's a reassuring thought.

We pull to a stop in front of a rambling house with old fashioned columns and a balcony on the second floor. It’s painted with multiple colors, looking for all the world like a Victorian house from some fairy tale, and it takes my breath away. Also, the thought of Riley somewhere inside takes my breath away — and I almost suffocate before I realize that the cab driver is glaring at me with his palm outstretched. I lug my suitcase out and pay the fare, then stand there watching as he drives away. I don't realize until he's out of site that I should have kept him out there in case I needed a getaway car.

The silence is unbelievable. There’s nothing except the wind rustling slightly in the trees and the sound of my heart pounding in my chest. Glancing to the left, I note that there are no cars in the open garage, and I make my way up the stairs of the front porch, hoping someone is home. I hold my hand up, ready to knock, when the door creaks open and an elderly lady with a walker flips the light on.

“Hello, may I help you?” she asks me.

I gasp. She’s even smaller than me! Her shoulders are slumped a little and her milky white hands on the rails of her walker look paper thin. Her white hair is pulled away from her face in a tight bun and she’s wearing a fluffy robe that is cinched around her tiny waist. “I- I’m looking for Riley Finn,” I finally tell her.

“Oh, honey, Riley’s just left for his house,” she steps aside and motions me in. “Come on in here and we’ll call him on his cell phone. He can’t be more than a couple miles away.”

“I—I don’t want to impose,” I tell her, but it’s freezing cold outside and my thin sweater isn’t helping at all.

“Nonsense, now,” she replies, and turns her walker, expecting me to follow her. “My name is Evelyn Finn.”

“I’m Buffy Summers,” I say, trying not to gawk at how wonderful her home is. The walls are covered with family photos, beautiful old fashioned wallpaper, and the smell of fresh baked – something causes my stomach to rumble angrily. I put my suitcase just inside the door and walk into the living room, taking the cordless phone she holds out to me. “I don’t know his number,” I admit.

“It’s on the speed dial. Seven and one. I’ll be right back.”

I wait for her to leave the room and take a deep breath before I press the numbers. Bringing the phone to my ear, I listen to it ring three times. I’m tempted to hang up when he answers. “Hello?”

“R-Riley?” I squeak, then realize that I sound like I’ve been inhaling helium and clear my throat. “It’s Buffy.”

The silence on the other end of the line stretches way too long and I’m still tempted to hang up, but I hear him breathing on the other end and try again. “I- I know that you probably don’t want to hear a thing I have to say, but I’m in Huxley and – "

“You’re in Huxley?” he asks, his voice sounding so familiar to me, and so close, that I feel my whole body start to tingle.

“Yes. I wanted to see you. I needed to talk to you, in person.”

“Are you at the bus station?”

“Uhm, actually, I’m at your grandmother’s house. I just got here.”

There’s another long silence and I can almost hear the gears turning in his head. I moisten my lips and lower my voice slightly. “Riley, I’m sorry that I didn’t call you first, but I was afraid I’d lose my nerve if I didn’t just catch a plane and not think about it. Could you – will you come here?”

“I guess I don’t have much of a damn choice, do I?”

I flinch a little and feel my eyes well with tears. “Yes, you do have a choice. If you tell me that you don’t want to see me, I’ll call a cab and go back home.”

“Oh, that’s uncharacteristically generous of you, Buffy, but I think we actually do have a few things to say to one another. I’ll be there in about fifteen minutes.” He cuts the connection before I can say more and I cradle the phone and lean back.

“Buffy?” Mrs. Finn calls from another room. “Won’t you come join me?”

I brush off the tears that have fallen and go into the kitchen, where she is currently pulling something from the refrigerator. My eyes widen as she seems to teeter with her balance, and I grip her arm, taking the plate of cookies from her. “Thank you, child,” she pats my hand. “Why don’t you pour us both a glass of milk and we’ll sit right here and wait for Riley.”

“Yes, ma’am,” I pull out a chair for her and she directs me toward the cabinet with the glasses. I pour us both some milk and take the chair across from her. "Thank you for letting me come in and use the phone. And for the snack," I add, motioning at the food.

She breaks her cookie in half and dunks it and I do the same. “Tell me about yourself. Did I see you pull up here in a cab?”

I swallow my bite of cookie, which is absolutely heavenly, and nod. “Yes, ma ’am. I flew in from California today. I’m – I’m a friend of Riley’s from college.”

Her eyes widen and she beams at me. “You’re the girl that Riley told me about, aren’t you?” Before I can reply, she’s talking again. “You must be. He told me that you weren’t bigger than a minute, and that you were the prettiest thing he had ever laid eyes on. He didn’t lie.”

I blush a little. “Thank you.”

“Did you get in touch with him?”

I nod at her, finishing off my cookie. “He said he’d be here in fifteen minutes.”

“I’m guessing you came here because you heard about his sister. He sure could use a friend right now.” Evelyn lifts another cookie from the plate, then lays it back down, her own eyes suddenly moistening. “Lord knows that the only good to come out of her passing away is the effect it's had on Riley. He cleaned himself up and stopped hiding away in his room.”

I think my heart stopped beating for a second, and when she moves to lift the cookie she had laid down, I find my voice. “I – I didn’t know his sister had passed away.”

With a sad glance at me, she nods. “Yes, honey, she passed on four days ago. I bet you heard about the plane crash on the news.”

“I’m sorry for your loss, Mrs. Finn,” My heart goes out to the poor elderly lady across from me. I can tell by looking at her face that she's close to breaking down and I’m at a momentary loss for words. I take a sip of my milk and say, “How many sisters does Riley have? I only know RayAnne.”

“RayAnne was his only sister and since she and Riley were twins, he took it real hard.”

“Wait—" I swallow hard, trying not to choke, and put my glass back down on the table. “You said that Riley’s sister died four days ago.”

“Yes. We buried her today,” she glances past me, back toward the living room and I can hear tires on gravel, but I can’t comprehend anything. “I reckon that’s Riley pulling up,” she mumbles.

RayAnne died four days ago? I want to scream that it’s impossible. That RayAnne had paid me a visit just that morning, but I’m pretty much mute and when the front door opens and I hear Riley walk in. I stand up, meet his gaze when he walks into the kitchen --

And promptly faint.

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I come back to my senses and realize that someone has lifted me and laid me on the sofa. My eyes flutter as someone puts a cool cloth to my head. I blink and finally focus on Riley, who is leaning over me. “Welcome back,” he tells me, loosening the tie around his neck. He's dressed in a dark suit, and he looks like he's been crying. And he is way thinner than he should be. And pale.

I can’t remember where I am or what happened to me for several seconds, and then it hits me like a ton of bricks. Without thinking, I sit up and wrap my arms around him. "It’s so good to see you.”

“Thank you.” He stiffens and pushes me away, glancing at his grandmother, who is hovering behind him. She holds up a cup of water and he takes it and hands it to me. My hands are shaking so badly that I slosh it in my lap and he grabs it again, his eyes meeting mine for the first real time. “You okay?”

I shake my head and bite my lower lip. I don’t know whether or not to tell him that the ghost of his sister haunted me that morning, or to just apologize. Maybe I’d be better of running. “I – I don’t- “

Riley’s jaw tightens. “Buffy, what the hell are you doing here? I’d say you have a lot of damn nerve-- ”

“Riley!” Evelyn’s hand flies suddenly, surprising me with it’s swiftness, and she swats him on the back of the head. “You don’t talk to guests that way in my home. Are you sick, child?” she asks me with a softer tone. “Do you need to go to the hospital?”

“No. I’m okay,” I tell her, successfully suppressing the urge to giggle at the shocked look on Riley’s face as he smoothes his hair.

She looks from me, back to Riley. “I didn’t live to be this old because I’m so darn cute. I know a thing or two about people and I know that the two of you have something between you that needs sorting out. Hear me now, you’d be wise to get it squared away, because no matter how young you are right now, time moves fast and if you waste it, you’ll have nothing but regrets come judgment day.” Turning her attention toward me, she smiles softly. “Buffy, sweetheart, if you need anything at all then Riley’ll get it for you. Won’t you, Riley?”

“Yes,” he says, scowling slightly. Evelyn clears her throat and he looks up at her and quickly adds, “ma’am. Yes, ma’am.”

I plaster a goofy grin on my face and stand up. “It was really nice to meet you, Mrs. Finn. Thank you – for everything.”

“It’s wonderful to meet you as well,” she winks at me and glances back down at Riley. “You were right, son, she’s a tiny little thing, and just as pretty as a picture. And she did come all this way to see you so you’d best mind your manners. I’d better not hear you raising your voice again.”

Riley blushes and when I glance down at him, my smile fades and I feel like dropping down to my knees and begging him to forgive me. He sees me watching him and stands as well, telling me something about how he’s going to help his grandmother to her room. While he’s gone, I calm myself enough to sip some water, and sit back down on the sofa. I have my face buried in my hands, trying to wrap my head around the events of the day, when I feel him sit back down next to me.

“You fainted,” he tells me. “Are you pregnant?”

My eyes widen and I gasp. “Do I look pregnant to you?”

“No. To be perfectly honest you look anorexic.” His face clouds slightly and he touches my arm. “Are you anorexic, Buffy? Is that why you fainted?”

I narrow my eyes at him. “No. I just had a really – bad isn’t the right word for it -- day. I guess I got a little overwhelmed, seeing you again.”

“You’re not taking care of yourself.” His eyes search my face and I wonder if he realizes that his hand is still on my arm, feeling so right, so familiar, so – good. “You don’t look like you’ve been sleeping enough.”

“You either.” I glance down, smoothing my skirt a little, trying to figure out what to say. “I – I heard that you weren’t – " Looking back up at him, I decide to tell him the truth. “I’m about to tell you something that you aren ’t going to believe.”

“You seem to be the queen of making me believe things. I believed you loved me, didn’t I?” he stares at me so hard that I can’t say a word, and then he seems to notice that he’s touching me and moves away. “What do have to say, Buffy?”

I wait for him to settle on one end of the sofa and use the time to choose my words carefully. “Riley, something very weird happened to me this morning. I was rushing out the door to go to class and I bumped into this girl. She—" I stall, more for my benefit than his. “She was wearing this long pink dress and had flowers in her hair.” I can’t bring myself to look at him. “She said her name was RayAnne and that I had to come here right away."

“RayAnne?” he says, almost so low that I don’t catch it. A normal person probably wouldn’t have heard it.

“Riley, I know that you probably think I’m making this up, but I swear to you she was there. She told me that your family thought you were shell shocked and that you were depressed and would only eat when your parents begged you to, or something like that, and she told me I had to come here.” I pause, then add. “And she was very forceful and told me to get my head out of my ass.”

He regards me with a look of utter shock, then he begins to laugh. I’m almost ready to laugh with him when his face suddenly falls and the laughter turns to sobs. He leans forward, presses his fingers over his eyes, and cries like I’ve never heard anyone cry in my entire life. I slip off the couch and kneel down in front of him, forcing my arms around him. He clings to me then, rocking us back and forth. I’m whispering anything I can think of to try to soothe him, but he’s inconsolable. We stay in that position until I’m sure that he couldn’t possibly have any more tears to cry, and then he loosens his grip and pulls back a few inches. “She used to always tell me to get my head out of my ass too, Buffy.”

“You believe me?” I ask him, rubbing my palm over his face to catch a few tears.

He nods simply and catches my hand, squeezing it lightly. “I- I went to the funeral home this morning, before anyone else arrived, and I told her all about you. I told her everything and I told her that there was no way I could live without both of you. I had gotten used to existing without you, Buffy, but not without her — and she was wearing exactly what you described."

His eyes fill with tears again and my heart breaks for him. “Riley, I wish that there was something I could do to take away this pain you’re feeling.”

“I was going to kill myself,” he mumbles suddenly. “When you called me I was on my way to do it. I- I think she must have known. She sent you because I needed you so much—“

//“You hurt him more than any demon. He’s killing himself because of you.”//

// He needs you, Buffy. He needs you like no man has ever needed a woman before. And he needs you right now if he’s going to make it.//

“I think you’re right,” I reply, as RayAnne’s words echo through my head. “Riley, I don’t know how to apologize to you enough for what I did. Seeing you in the hospital with all of those tubes and stuff— I couldn’t deal with the guilt of it. I was selfish, but I was also scared that you would die because of me and – “ My own tears come rushing out and it’s my turn to break down. “I thought that pushing you away would be the best thing, but it ’s not. It’s not, Riley, it’s not.”

He lifts me easily, pulling me into his lap and I bury my face against his neck. “No,” he whispers. “It’s not.”

Just as I had done with him, he lets me cry until I have it out of my system, and then he brushes my hair away from my face and kisses my forehead. “I’m sorry,” I manage to choke out.

“I know, baby. I’m not even mad.”

“You should be.”

He moves me so he can look at me and he nods. “I was, for a really long time. I was angry and I was hurt and I wanted to hate you and I couldn’t.”

“Riley,” I start to cry again. “If you had killed yourself – “

“Don’t. Let’s not talk about it.” He hugs me to his chest again and sighs. “RayAnne would have seen to it that I didn’t rest in peace.”

I chuckle just a little. “Probably. I really wish I had gotten the chance to know her.”

“You would have loved her,” he leans his head against mine. “She had this way about her – you reminded me of her from the first day I met you.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, she was a fighter and brave like you.”

I feel incredibly guilty, with him comparing me to someone he loved so much after what I did. “I’m not really a fighter. I gave up on us.”

“Yeah, you did, Buffy, but you were also brave enough to come here. I wasn’t even brave enough to come back to Sunnydale for my things.”

“What are we going to do?” I ask him. “I mean, so much time has gone by and you’ve got a life here.”

“My life is where you are, Buffy. I’ve known that since the first time you kissed me. If you’re bound by your destiny to live on the Hellmouth then so am I,” he suddenly looks almost bashful and glances down at our twined fingers. “That is, if you want me in your life. I may not be as strong as I once was, but I can help you. I want to help, Buffy, no matter if that means researching with your friends or patrolling with you. I want to make a change in the world and do my part,” he lets his breath out. “What do you want?”

Oh god, doesn’t he know? Can’t he tell that my whole world is resting on his decision. “I want you.”

He smiles at me, and the smile actually reaches his eyes. My gaze is drawn to his mouth, and I lean forward, kissing him lightly. He brings his hand up, massaging my jaw, and it intensifies, until we’re both breathless. I pull back and watch him for several seconds. “What?” he asks.

“I love you. And I plan on spending the rest of my life showing you how much.”

He closes his eyes and leans his forehead against mine. “I love you and I plan on letting you.”

Suddenly there’s a bright, blinding light in one corner of the room and we both gasp, clinging to one another as we turn to look at it. I can just barely make out her shape, and she gives us a half salute. Riley’s on his feet instantly, reaching out toward her. “RayAnne!”

“It’s okay, Riley.” Her voice is distant, sounding faraway and echoing slightly, “My work is done. I can rest.”

I get to my feet and take his trembling hand in mine, and together, we watch the light brighten even more, then fade completely.

And we never really mention it again.

<><><><><>

EPILOGUE

We didn’t go back to Huxley together until the following year, and when we returned, we took our daughter Evelyn RayAnne to the cemetery. Evie was only a few months old at the time, but she stopped pitching a tantrum the second we stopped the car -- and as her daddy placed roses on her aunt’s headstone, she kicked her little legs and laughed happily. Riley said that he was convinced that RayAnne was alive inside of Evie, and there were times that I thought he was right. Whatever miracle that had sent RayAnne to me that morning, was definitely a part of us from that day forward.

We lost Riley’s grandmother on that same trip, but she died happy, knowing that she had a namesake and that we were happy and content. Riley’s parents said that she held out until she could meet the baby, then she died peacefully. Riley took it hard, just as I did when Giles passed away a few years later. Giles never got to meet my son, Anthony Giles, but the night I went into labor with him, I dreamed that Giles was there, holding him, loving him through the complications that almost cost us his life.

Over the years, I’d catch a flash of Giles inside of Tony, when he would pull off his glasses and clean them meticulously, or when he would ponder things with a tilt of his head. And Evie sounded like Riley’s grandmother all the time. If Riley and I argued, she would put her hands on her hips, glare at us, remind us of our manners and it was so cute that Riley and I would forget whatever the fight was about and grab her and hug her. According to Riley, RayAnne was just like his grandmother, so while we missed the people who had been taken from us, it was like they were still there.

Basking in the magic of our love.

And as funny as this will sound, I actually did get to see my sixtieth wedding anniversary, but Riley wasn’t here to see it with me. His heart gave out three months before we would have celebrated it. I told Evie and Tony and the grandkids that his heart just got tired from loving so much and had to go to sleep.

But he won’t sleep alone for long.

My bones are weary and my soul is tired.

My work is done too.

And I’m ready to rest.

The End

<><><> THE SPECS

*Got to have a character named RayAnne, because I'm in My So Called Life withdrawl.
*Riley's grandmother. And she needs to be spunky, despite her age. (and don't name her RayAnne)
*Buffy breaks up with Riley and goes to IOWA to see him later on.
*He needs to be taking their breakup hard.
*A ghost, just for the hell of it. *A couple of kids, because I like fluff.
*Make Riley cry, because I get off on pain.
*Make me cry and I'll love you forever.
*And write some futuristic epilogue.

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