Spike watched as Mya stirred her tea around and around. He sighed, leaning forward in the worn armchair. Norman paced the room anxiously, his way of trying to figure out a solution. There wasn’t one. This whole thing had no solution, it would end badly. That was plain to see. And Buffy didn’t care.
Or at least she didn’t seem to but she’d always held her cards close to her chest. He used to be able to read her better but maybe too much time had passed and he’d grown complacent. Or maybe he was just an idiot.
That seemed more likely.
“Faith says she’s not there,” Willow announced as she hung up the phone.
Spike looked up, brow creased. “She left ages ago.”
The literal truth of that statement hung in the air for a long time before anyone spoke.
“Great,” Xander scowled. “She’s probably in trouble.”
Spike knew he blamed him for this too. He was right. He should have insisted on giving her a lift home. But when it came to Buffy he never could insist on anything.
Mya shrugged. “Or maybe she just needs some time. Things have gotta be tough on her.”
Willow nodded. “She always did like to be alone when stuff got too much.”
Spike shook his head and loosened the knot in his tie. Maybe the reason she liked to be alone when faced with difficult times was because she felt she had no one to talk to. He’d always been there. He still was and she should have been able to talk to him. He’d messed it all up by kissing her.
He always messed it up.
“Anyway,” Mya cleared her throat. “We can help by figuring out this court case thing.”
Norman stopped pacing. “You’re right. We have excellent character witnesses, we have The Council’s backing, we have…”
“We have nothing,” Spike muttered.
Xander stood up, looking out of the window of the hotel room. “Buffy will pull through, she always does.”
“We can’t rely on hope,” the vampire scowled. “She’s got nothing!”
Xander whirled around. “She’s got us!”
The fire in the man’s eyes was something Spike hadn’t seen in a long time. Funny how it took Buffy’s return to get everyone to wake up. Xander looked as though he wanted to punch Spike and Spike was glad. It meant he still really did care about Buffy. And Buffy needed all the help she could get.
Mya stood up, putting herself
between them. “Xander’s right. She has all of you and from the way I heard it, you guys always pulled through.”
“That was a long time ago,” Spike looked down at the floor. “And all the evidence is against her. We never had to face the law. It was demons and monsters we were good against.”
Xander shrugged. “If that’s what you think then why don’t you just leave this to us?”
“Xander,” Willow warned him. “Let’s all just calm down. The Council still has a lot of power and if they’re willing to back Buffy then she has a good shot.”
“H.U has a lot of power too and they’ll fight it to the end,” Spike reminded her.
“I guess you’d know,” Xander slumped down into a chair. “Being one of them.”
Spike snorted. “Firstly, I quit and secondly - am I supposed to be ashamed? They’re the good guys.”
He gave him a hard look. “That’s a matter of opinion.”
Willow held a hand up. “Guys, can we not? This isn’t about H.U or ethics or whatever. This is about Buffy.”
“But, essentially,” Norman spoke but he seemed to be deep in thought. “It is about ethics. Buffy killed a man.”
“She killed a demon.” Xander protested.
“A man protected by our laws and rights. We have many witnesses to the murder. Buffy doesn’t deny it.”
“She thought he was trying to hurt a little girl.”
Norman nodded. “And perhaps that’s where we start. We offer Buffy up as a protector. Trained to be a protector for many years. She has the great need to save people.”
Willow nodded too. “Yeah! That’s right. Buffy is all about the saving.”
“Maybe that would justify her assaulting the guy, but not killing him,” Spike noted. “And none of the witnesses will testify that he was doing anything wrong. Just playing with his daughter.”
Xander shook his head, angry. “That girl was not his daughter.”
“So, they weren’t related. That means nothing. It means less than nothing.” Mya said steadily and he ducked his head.
“The only way Buffy has a chance with this is if we can prove she was in another dimension for all those years,” Spike sighed. “And we can’t prove that.”
Willow frowned then brightened. “Unless…unless we show them.”
“Huh?” Mya contributed.
Spike watched her, understanding. “You mean we open the portal?”
“We open the portal.”
+ + +
Buffy gave a closer look to the man in front of her, sceptically. The longer she looked at him the more she saw it. The broadness of shoulders, the laughter lines around his eyes, the gleaming white teeth and all-American smile. The soft grey sweater he wore matched the speckles of grey entwined in his once golden hair, the battered jeans and sneakers…it was so Riley. It was older Riley but still Riley. And, god, he was so tall. Too tall.
He let his hand drop. “Buffy, it’s me.”
“I…know,” she managed. “I just didn’t expect to see you here.”
Riley smiled earnestly. “I could say the same thing to you.”
She didn’t know what to say. It was Riley and he was here and that was strange and not expected at all. But then nothing ever was. He took a step towards her and she found herself stepping back, not entirely sure why. A slightly hurt look flashed across his face.
He stepped back. “It’s alright. You’ve been through a lot. But, hey, I don’t see a single grey hair on you. Lucky for some.”
She touched her hair self-consciously then looked away. “How come you’re here, Riley?”
“Things are brewing in Sunnydale,” he shrugged, looked up at the starry sky.
Buffy folded her arms. “Things are always brewing in Sunnydale. What’s happened now?”
He looked down at her. “You.”
“What does that mean?”
“We heard about the trial. About what you’re up against,” Riley told her.
She frowned. “We? We who?”
Her frown deepened. It rang a bell. People, ever since she had come back, had been mentioning that name. It was always floating around in the background. A casual mention here and there. Now that she thought more about it she realised she’d seen it written too. Graffiti all over the town. Just the way the word was spoken made her believe it couldn’t be a good thing. She wanted to know what it was. So she asked.
Riley pushed his hands into his pockets. “A group. We call ourselves Humans For Humans.”
Buffy raised an eyebrow.
“It’s just a name but we are a cause. A worthy one.”
She looked at him, tilted her head. “A cause for what? Human supremacy? Death to all other species?”
“We believe that vampires are not humans,” he replied. “It’s a view I thought you shared.”
She shifted from foot to foot. “I do.”
Riley inclined his head. “We could help, Buffy. This crime you’re on trial for…it’s not even a crime. That vampire was evil. You did what was right.”
“And you could help how?”
“Join us, patrol with us,” he said quietly. “And we’ll keep you safe.”
Buffy looked at him. “So, in other words…go underground? Hide for the rest of my life?”
“Can you honestly tell me you’ll ever stop being a Slayer? That if you’re proven innocent of this, you wont just go right out again and stake another vampire? It’s who you are. It’s what you do,” he said.
She looked at him for a long moment. “You’re right.”
Riley smiled. “So, are you in?”
Buffy considered it. In a world where very little made sense maybe Riley’s group would be like stepping into the past. Fighting vampires, doing what she’d been destined to do. He was right; she didn’t think vampires were humans. They were demons. They were evil.
“I can’t,” she said.
But she owed it to her friends, to Spike, to everyone, to try and fit in with this world. She had seen that some vampires had the capacity for good. Spike, Angel, even Faith. If they were capable of suppressing their demons then maybe, just maybe, one day other vampires could be like that. It wasn’t something she was terribly optimistic about happening but the very fact that there was a slight possibility of it gave her enough pause. H.U. seemed to be pointing things in the right direction and maybe it would be right of her to step back and let them do their thing. Make no mistake; if any vampire even looked like they were slipping into their old ways then Buffy would be there in a heartbeat. But maybe the future deserved the chance of being slay-free. If vampires weren’t killing anymore then no new vampires would rise. Their numbers would decrease and Buffy would have a lot less to worry about.
She could see the positive in that.
“Buffy, I know you’ve had feelings for vampires in the past,” Riley said. “But you can’t deny they’re demons.”
She shook her head. “I’m not. But not all demons are bad, Riley.”
“They kill people, Buffy! Vampires kill people.”
“Yes. They do. People also kill people,” Buffy replied. “If I see a vampire harming someone, I’ll kill them. But I won’t go vigilante. I can’t. I have people who need me and who I need.”
Riley folded his arms. “Spike.”
“Not just Spike.”
“Giles would have –”
Buffy held up a hand. “Giles is gone.”
Just saying it out loud made her feel cold inside but it was something that she needed to do. Her Watcher was dead and she’d never see him again. She’d never see him smile; never see him clean his glasses again. The little things. The important things. It was hard to acknowledge but she did.
Riley at least seemed to understand that she wouldn’t be swayed by talk of Giles and wisely decided to let things be.
He let out a breath. “If you change your mind…”
“I won’t but thank you. For offering. It’s good to see you, Riley.”
He smiled sadly. “It’s nice seeing you too, Buffy.”
“You look good.”
“No, you look good,” he laughed. “I look old.”
Buffy smiled slightly. “You wear it well. How’s Sam?”
“She’s dead,” he said softly, looking at his shoes.
“Oh god, I’m sorry,” Buffy touched his arm gently. “I didn’t…”
She trailed off and they looked at one another in silence for a long moment.
He rocked on the balls of his feet, looking around. “I better go.”
Buffy nodded, letting go of his arm. “Me too.”
Riley Finn gave her one last charming smile and then turned and walked off into the darkness. Probably to patrol. Like she felt the craving to do. Instead she carried on home. This time.
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