Everything you want
Spoilers: Up through "Hush." I've projected about two months beyond it, and assumed Buffy and Riley did actually talk eventually.
Disclaimer: Characters are not mine (duh!) - all Joss's. The lyrics are from a song called "Everything You Want" by Vertical Horizon. When I first heard it, it made me think of Riley. And it better continue to do so, or the aforementioned Joss is going to have some 'splainin to do.
He's everything you want
He's everything you need
He's everything inside of you
That you wish you could be
He says all the right things
At exactly the right time
But he means nothing to you
And you don't know why
Buffy watched herself in the mirror with quiet satisfaction as she brushed her long blonde hair. Her dress clung in all the right places, her nails were polished and unbroken for a change, her make-up was subtle but flattering, and she was definitely having a good hair day. She looked just like an eighteen-year-old girl should look going out to a party with the perfect guy.
Except she needed a bracelet.
She started rummaging through the debris on top of her dresser, searching for the perfect accessory to wear with the perfect dress and the perfect hair and the perfect guy.
"Hey, Buffy," her roommate called out as she came in the room.
"Hey, Will." Buffy stopped her search long enough to flash a brief smile at her best buddy, Willow. "Coven meeting tonight?"
Willow nodded as she began her own search, trying to find the book of spells she bought last week. "You look really nice. Going out with Riley?"
"Yeah. Fraternity party. Should be fun." Buffy was distracted by her image in the mirror again when she noticed a loose thread on the hem of her dress. Unfortunately pulling it out slightly mussed her hair, forcing her to resume brushing.
"I can't believe your hair is so long now," Willow said without a trace of envy. "It's like we've changed places. Hairwise, I mean. You know, long and short." She pulled at one of her own abbreviated locks to illustrate.
"I get it, Will. Actually, I used to have long hair in my pre-Slayer days." Buffy's arm fell to her side as she contemplated herself in a new light. Her parents would never have let her wear a dress this daring at 15, but she suddenly noticed some remarkable similarities to LA Buffy, the one she thought she'd left behind. Shallow self-centered Buffy that she wanted to forget. The one she used to think of as normal.
Somewhere there's speaking
It's already coming in
Oh and it's rising at the back of your mind
You never could get it
Unless you were fed it
Now you're here and you don't know why
"It's funny," she murmured, more to herself than to Willow. "I never realized how much..."
"Aha! Found it!" Willow triumphantly held her book aloft, before tossing it on her bed while she searched for her favorite highlighter. "Hey, you know it's good you're seeing so much of Riley. It's nice to see you happy again. I mean, you're not over the moon happy any more, but nice, normal everyday happy is good too. And I think it's all because of Riley."
"Hmm? Riley?" Buffy was momentarily confused, but forced herself to recall the trail of the conversation. "Yeah, he's great. Perfect, even." She resumed her search for the bracelet worthy of such a paragon.
"He's tall, and kind of cute, and smart," Willow enthused, waving her best pink highlighter for emphasis. "And, okay, there's that whole demon-torturing Initiative thing, but that doesn't necessarily make him a bad person. And he's human, that's a plus."
"Especially to Mom," Buffy said dryly. "You should have seen her giving him the two-handed handshake the first time she met him." The look of confusion on Willow's face forced her elaborate. "You know, one hand in his and one hand holding his wrist to discreetly check for a pulse." She abandoned her survey of the top of the dresser and began working her way through the top drawer.
"Gotcha. Well, he passed."
Buffy's traitorous memory brought forth the image of one who would not have passed. The one who didn't pass any "mom" tests.
"Yup. With flying colors." She pushed away the memories with a determination born of months of practice. He was of the past, in more ways than one, and the past was not what she was about. She was a today kind of girl. Suddenly her fingers encountered a small flat box.
Willow finished packing her books and pens in her backpack and slung it over one shoulder. "I'm off. Have fun tonight!" She opened the door without noticing Buffy's lack of response. "Oh, hi Riley. Come on in."
Buffy didn't hear a word Willow said. She stared at the jewelry box in her hand, fighting the urge to open it. She knew what was inside, and she knew it would drag her back to the past she was trying so hard to...get past. If she opened this box she would jeopardize everything she'd worked for since graduation. If she put the box away unopened she would know she had won.
But under the skinned knees and the skid marks
Past the places where you used to learn
You howl and listen
Listen and wait for
Echoes of angels who won't return
She opened the box slowly.
The antique silver cross glowed softly in the lamplight. It was beautiful, and elegant in its simplicity, and it had saved her life on more than one occasion. The same could be said for the man who gave it to her.
Buffy ran a trembling finger down the cross as she succumbed to the onslaught of memories. She still remembered every single moment that she spent with him there hadn't been enough. Life with Angel was always tumultuous, and subject to frequent interruptions. Every time some demon enforced a separation it created a swamping fear for his safety, and broke her heart just a little more.
To be fair, she had to admit Riley was a dependable and constant presence in her life. His rare absences were always school-related, and never a cause for concern.
Angel always reminded her of moonlight, and not just because that was his time of day. The mystery, the romance, and yes, the secrets that were hidden in the shadows, all made her think of him. He would never lie to her, but there was so much left unsaid. It made him all the more bewitching, and exciting, and so potentially hazardous to her well being.
High noon on a prairie on a sunny day best described Riley. After revealing the whole Initiative thing (about which she still had mixed emotions), there had been no more holding back on Riley's part. She knew everything he felt, everything he wanted, every childhood memory. All in excruciating detail.
Life with Angel had been a rollercoaster. Breathtaking highs and earth shattering lows, but she had never felt more alive. Or so safe. For all the dangers she knew Angel posed, and they were numerous, his arms were the one place in the world she felt safe. Humanity depended on her to protect them, but she never realized until he was gone how she had depended on him to cover her back. And when he held her close, somehow the bad stuff disappeared for just a little while, long enough for her to regroup.
Riley was more of a carousel-man. The highs and lows of their romance were relatively minor it was predictable and safe. Yet he never made her feel safe. Unless he had his arsenal, and sometimes even then, he was just another ass she had to save.
She would always remember the look of anguish in Angel's eyes when she broke up with him after their first kiss, before they even had their first date. Riley, by contrast, looked a little bewildered and faintly hurt when she dumped him after their first date with the intention of marrying Spike.
Angel knew her inside and out, better than she knew herself some times. Riley knew very little about her, other than vital statistics, and she was content to keep it that way.
In the end, none of that really mattered anyway.
Bottom line: Angel was a young girl's fantasy. The tall, dark, mysterious stranger. The older man. The bad boy turned good for the love of a woman. The one who would love her completely, so much that he would give up his life for her. The one she let walk away through pride and fear. He was a dream come true turned the impossible dream.
Riley was a lucky Slayer’s dream walking. He would get a good job, buy a nice house and make an excellent father. He would mow the lawn on Saturday mornings and carve the Thanksgiving turkey and always say the right thing to, and about, her mother. He would never leave.
He was stable and responsible. Friendly and outgoing. Confident and comfortable with his choices in life.
Kind to children and small animals.
Standing right behind her.
Buffy snapped the lid closed on the jewelry box and tossed it in the drawer in one swift motion. She slammed the drawer shut as she spun around to face Riley, her mind already working on a good line of defense.
"Riley, you're," she glanced at her watch, "fifteen minutes late. Which, in girl-time, means right on time. Of course you are."
The only time Riley had on his mind was the good five minutes he'd been standing in the doorway before he approached Buffy. She seemed to have been oblivious to his presence until he spoke to her. She had been completely absorbed in studying whatever was in that little box she'd just hidden away.
"What was in the box?"
Buffy smiled brightly. "What box?" She slipped one hand under his arm and grabbed her shawl off a chair with the other. "Come on, we're going to be more than fashionably late if we don't get a move on."
He still wanted to know about the box, but she didn't give him a chance to get a word in edgewise. All during the long walk across campus to his fraternity house she chattered about classes and parties and various other college-related subjects. While she talked too fast and laughed too loudly, Riley relived a scene from a night at the Bronze a few weeks ago.
He'd come back from Christmas break a few days early, both because of Buffy and because of the Initiative. One night he and Buffy had gone to the Bronze to dance before her nightly patrol. They'd been having a good time until she had a chance encounter with an old boyfriend, a guy by the name of Scott Hope. It was an awkward situation, but they both seemed to be dealing with it all right, up to the moment Buffy introduced Riley as her boyfriend.
Scott suddenly looked at him with, well, the only thing Riley could think of was pity. Conversation quickly lagged, and Scott made an excuse to leave. As he walked past Riley, he laid a hand on his shoulder and leaned over to speak softly in his ear.
"I’d wish you luck, but it wouldn’t help."
Looking down at the blonde head next to that same shoulder, Riley felt his unease growing. They hadn't been dating for long, but he already loved her so much. They battled evil every single night, and yet she never showed any signs of fatigue or despair. She lived life to the fullest, and she was determined to get the most out of the college experience. Admittedly she preferred the non-academic side of it, but since he always thought of himself as too serious he felt they complimented each other perfectly.
She didn't trust him, though. He thought that the secrets were over when he learned about her job as the Slayer, and she learned about the Initiative. From here on out, they were a team unshakable and inviolable. Whatever they didn't know about each other, they would learn.
But whatever was in that box meant more to her than the trust between them. It was part of the past she still wouldn't talk about. When she shared plans for the future with him, they were vague at best, and never concerned her personal life. He suddenly realized he'd seen her laugh a hundred times, but when she cried, she cried alone.
He loved her, but he wondered if he would ever really know her. If she would ever want him to.
I am everything you want
I am everything you need
I am everything inside of you
That you wish you could be
I say all the right things
At exactly the right time
But I mean nothing to you and I don't know why
And I don't know why
I don't know
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