An older story, set largely in Santa Carolita, California. Written and set before the canonical first meeting of Riley and Angel.
Disclaimer: Joss owns all except Santa Carolita, which is mine.
X X X X X
Riley Finn felt like swearing.
And Riley Finn was a man who had earned his reputation as a good, clean-cut all-American boy, gallant and conservative in politics and personal life. So when Riley Finn felt like swearing, it meant there was something seriously wrong.
Being trapped in an abandoned train station with five vampires, a ticked- off, wounded demon, two dead compatriots and no gear of any kind except a sharp knife and a walkie-talkie qualified.
Unfortunately, if he started swearing the hostiles might track him down. So he stayed quiet and pondered the situation.
It had seemed fairly easy at the beginning – another demon in Sunnydale, killing people – so the Initiative went to hunt it down.
The troubles began when first the creature took out Forrest and Graham. They were alive, they were conscious, but they couldn’t fight any more. The demon killed two other members of the Initiative, in the process losing an arm. Riley and two others had been sent out to hunt it down with extreme prejudice.
At that point the hostile had decided it was the right time to get out of Sunnydale, and had fled in a car towards the north. Riley’s orders had been to terminate the demon, so they “borrowed” a nearby car – all Initiative operatives had training hotwiring if pursuit of a hostile by that means became necessary, though Riley didn’t much like stealing as a general rule – and sped northward after it.
The chase had lasted the better part of two hours; the demon had finally abandoned its car and run into an abandoned train station in a small town not far south of LA called Santa Carolita. So the troop loaded up on its demon hunting materiel and went inside the station, heavy-duty flashlights shining brightly.
They saw the demon about thirty feet away.
They moved towards it.
And that’s when they saw the eight vampires that ALSO made the Santa Carolita Terminal their home.
The vampires and the demon had attacked immediately, and that’s when the troubles compounded. Football players when they change teams sometimes take some time getting used to their new teammates and their new plays.
And Riley had had no chance to get used to working with these two.
End result: Three dead vampires, two dead Initiative soldiers, and one Riley Finn running for his life up the crumbling stone stairway of the terminal, demon and vampires in hot pursuit. So far he’d gotten lucky in finding a convenient place to hide, but he could hear them looking for him – train stations were almost impossible to muffle sounds in.
He could just charge out and hope for the best. But there were two problems. One was that if any of them caught him he’d be dead where he stood, and a knife, even one with a six-inch long blade, was not the best weapon for taking on vampires. No percentage in guaranteed suicide. The second was that Casey – one of his dead fellows – had the car keys somewhere on him; Riley was betting dollars to donuts he wouldn’t have time for any extended searches.
And he didn’t think he could hole up until sunrise, either.
He pulled out his walkie-talkie and, setting it on lowest possible volume, pressed the button that would put him back in touch with the Initiative. Only static came out.
Now he did swear, under his breath. Something was blocking his connection to base.
The walkie-talkies were, of course, also working cell phones. If he couldn’t get in touch with the Initiative . . . there was another alternative.
He dialed quickly.
“Hello,” Buffy’s voice came from the other end of the phone. Riley had never heard a sound as sweet.
“Buffy,” he whispered, “It’s me. Look. I don’t have much time.” Then he explained what had happened. “I can’t contact the Initiative right now. Can you come help?”
The next five seconds passed like years. “I TOLD you this would be complicated. I can’t come right now – Lyle Gorch is back in town.”
Buffy had told him about the cowboy. “You said he was incompetent.”
“He is. He’s also already killed four people, and almost put Anya in the hospital. If I leave right now –“ her voice was anguished.
Riley said, resignedly, “He’ll go after Xander, Willow and Giles.”
“Exactly. I can’t leave them to this guy’s mercies. He’s got none.”
“Then what do I do? I can’t take them all on by myself.” Of course Riley was afraid. It didn’t diminish his manhood to admit he was afraid of the situation. Only a fool wouldn’t be afraid.
“I don’t know – wait, wait. Yes I do.” Another period of silence. “Yes I do,” Buffy finally said. “I know someone who can help.”
“Good.” He heard the vampires creep by not far away. “Could you tell whoever it is to speed things up?”
“Of course,” Buffy’s answer came. Then Riley broke the connection and stood up. As best he could tell in what little light there was there were two doors to the room he was in – an abandoned railroad office. And there were vampires on all sides of him.
That left the window. When Riley looked out he saw it led to the station roof, but from there there were more windows he could get to. There was louder muttering outside the two doors.
Riley didn’t hesitate. He clambered out the window; the hostiles burst into the room a few seconds afterwards.
One of the vampires, smarter than the others, apparently saw the open window and came to the right conclusion. Riley saw it poking its head out behind him.
He decided to give the rest something to think about. Before the vampire could catch its bearings, Riley strode over, grabbed its shoulders, and pitched it off the roof.
He didn’t stick around to see where it landed. A busted window, just ahead. He jumped through it into a disused restroom and kept going.
As he approached a staircase, he surprised another vampire coming up. He kicked the startled vampire in the chest and turned and ran the other way.
He hoped that help of Buffy’s showed up soon. He couldn’t keep this pace up all night.
A half an hour later, Riley was even more pressed. He’d killed one of the vampires by shoving it onto a piece of the framework, but now the other four, plus the demon, had caught up with him in a room off what had to have been the main concourse. He had the knife drawn, but had little hope of it doing any good.
The one he’d thrown off the roof approached him first, hissing. Desperately, Riley said to the demon, “Hey! Are you going to let this guy kill me?”
Surprisingly, the demon laughed. “Nice try,” he rasped. “I watch Daffy Duck cartoons too.”
The vampire in front of him growled and kept approaching.
Suddenly one of the other vampires disappeared in a cloud of dust. The one in front of him turned, startled, and Riley slashed the knife across his throat. He became dust as he collapsed.
The other two vampires huddled around the demon. Riley saw someone move towards him in the darkness, a man with some kind of arm-mounted crossbow. The man took out a stake and tossed it to Riley, saying, “Here. You look like you could use one of these.”
“I could use an armload,” Riley said gratefully, taking the weapon. “Thanks for the assist. Buffy sent you?” The man nodded. Keeping one eye on the hostiles, Riley extended a hand and said, “Riley Finn.”
They shook hands, and the man introduced himself. “Angel.”
Riley and Angel turned as one to look at the demon and the two vampires, who were doing the same to them. Assessing the situation.
“What’s going on?” Angel whispered.
Riley said back, “Demon killed people in Sunnydale. I chased after it with . . . some friends of mine. Found demon here along with a small vampire nest. Two friends got killed, ran and hid and called Buffy. She was busy but said she knew someone that could help –“
“And that would be me.” Riley nodded. “Happy to do it,” Angel said. He added, “That’s a Tarros demon, by the way. Smart but bloodthirsty, strong as hell. Vulnerable around the neck.” Riley was grateful for the information.
The demon – about seven feet tall – glared in their general direction, but he wasn’t making any threats. Neither was he running for his life. The two vampires seemed considerably more nervous, though Riley was hard-pressed to see why; even with this Angel’s assistance the two of them were clearly outmatched.
The demon growled and shoved the vampires away, towards Riley and Angel. One of them looked at the other and said, “Well, Mitch, if we have to we have to –“
Then they attacked. Riley dodged Mitch’s charge, barely; Angel met his attacker with a solid right to the jaw, and then Riley was too busy fighting for his life to notice much about how Angel was fighting.
He couldn’t dodge Mitch’s second charge, but he didn’t want to. Instead he went down and flipped the vampire over his head, and then drew the stake. The two of them circled.
“Maybe this’ll be easier than I thought,” the vampire said.
Riley didn’t do witty in-fight banter; he left that for superheroes. He lashed out with the stake and grazed Mitch’s arm. Off the corner of his eye he saw Angel manhandling his opponent. Professional demon-hunter, Riley guessed. Then he dodged a punch – wild, untrained, no discipline, but Riley gave the vampire credit for a bit more brains than most of his bloodsucking brethren. Most of them relied on strength alone.
But Riley thought he could take this one in a fair fight. He kicked at the vampire’s legs and – success! –knocked it down. But before he could pounce, he was abruptly reminded that this was indeed NOT a fair fight. The demon grabbed him from behind and lifted him into the air. Riley kicked backwards with one leg. This only injured his foot.
Mitch got up and started grinning widely, then went into full vampire mode.
Angel staked his opponent and then leapt to Riley’s aid, literally. He jumped onto the Tarros demon’s back and wrapped his arms tightly around its neck. This forced the demon to let Riley go; he plopped to the floor right in front of the very surprised Mitch.
Riley rolled to his feet and slammed into the vampire as had as he could, knocking him backwards and into the railway station wall. Then he took the stake, still clutched in his left hand, and thrust it through the vampire’s chest.
Then he turned to see what help he could offer Angel. The chokehold was working, and the demon seemed weaker, but the fight was far from over. The demon slammed Angel into one of the columns, but he held on and kept strangling it.
Riley took his knife and approached warily; the Tarros demon was thrashing about wildly, trying to pluck Angel off his back with his one remaining good arm. He’d have to time this just right . . . there! A slash across the chest. Deep one, not a killing blow.
“Never kill it there!” Angel gasped out. “I said the neck!” Riley wasn’t sure he’d heard him right; Angel’s face was very nearly buried in the back of the demon’s head, so he could hardly see it. The demon could hear him clearly, and though Riley cut the demon six times over the next few minutes none was a killing blow.
But just when Riley thought the standoff would last as long as he and Angel’s energy held out, Angel swung backwards and then forwards, toppling the demon. All three hundred pounds or so landed solidly on the railway station floor as Angel was thrown clear. Quickly Riley rushed forwards and slashed the demon’s throat.
The next thing Riley knew he was staring straight upwards into Angel’s face. He shook his head and sat up. Mistake. His head hurt as though it had been the plaything of an angry baboon with a rubber mallet. He gave Angel a quizzical look.
“Usually people say, “What happened?” Angel said.
“I have some idea – I just need the details.”
“You can probably guess. Your knife wound was the fatal blow, but he went into seizures as he died. His arm clipped you on the back of the head, knocked you cold. I made sure you were okay and went back to watch him die.” A good idea. Riley had lost another member of his squad early on when they’d turned their backs on one ostensible corpse.
Still – “So he is dead?”
“Oh, yes.” Then, “How do you feel?”
“My head hurts, but –“ he slowly got up – “Nothing else seems too badly damaged.” Aches and pains, but nothing serious. He shouldn’t have any down time.
“Good to hear.”
And then the silence became awkward. Suddenly Riley remembered he had two dead comrades lying near the front door. He was about to ask Angel for help – but then realized that Angel knew nothing about the Initiative. He couldn’t afford any awkward questions. “My friends,” he began – “They were killed when we walked in. I’d appreciate it if you could help me carry them to the car –“ Then he stopped.
Unexpectedly, Angel chuckled. “And there are questions you don’t want me to ask.” Relieved, Riley nodded yes. “Don’t worry. Buffy asked me not to pry. Actually, her exact words were, ‘Please don’t ask him a lot of personal questions.’ From the look of your uniforms and gear. I can see why. I’d really like to know what three twenty-two year old boys are doing with all of this military equipment, and especially what they’re doing chasing vampires and demons, but I promised Buffy I wouldn’t.”
Riley recognized both the prying and the veiled warning, and decided to ignore both. He said, “Then could you hang back here for a minute?”
Angel said yes. Riley went up and gathered all of the sensitive equipment and piled into a drawstring bag. Then he gave Angel the go-ahead. He came up and hoisted a body over one shoulder – smooth and clean, all in one motion. Riley was impressed with the strength; he had difficulty managing both the bag and the other body out to the car. But he succeeded, barely.
Before he laid the bodies in the back, he rummaged for the keys. When he stood back up his head felt ready to explode, and he staggered a bit.
Angel reached out an arm to steady him. “You did too much too soon. You’re in no shape to drive.”
“I’ll be okay.”
“No you won’t.” Then, faster than Riley could defend himself, Angel snatched the keys from his hand. Riley blinked – if he could let someone just snatch the keys like that from his hand, he must be a bit woozy. “Get in the passenger side. I’ll drive you home.”
But then Angel stopped the car as they got to the main road and got out. Someone else got out of a car parked not far away. Instinctively, Riley tensed.
“There you are,” the other man said in a British accent. “I had begun to worry.” His eyes flickered towards Riley. “And that would be . . . “
“That would be Riley Finn – the friend of Buffy’s we came to help. I’m going to drive him back to Sunnydale – he cracked his head during the fight.”
“Ah. And you would like me to trail you back to Sunnydale?”
“If you would.”
“Excellent! A chance to brush up on my shadowing skills.”
“Wesley, I want you to follow me. Don’t make it harder than it has to be.”
“Very well,” Wesley said grumpily as he got back into the other car.
“Your partner?” Riley said as Angel pulled out.
Angel started at that. “No. Wesley’s a rogue demon hunter. He’s been helping me on some of my recent cases.”
“He’s a rogue demon hunter?” Riley asked skeptically. “He looks more like an English professor.”
“Well,” Angel said with a slight grin, “We humor him.”
“So that’s what you do then? You hunt demons?”
“Not quite,” Angel said. “I’m a private detective. I just specialize in these kinds of cases – involving the supernatural, mostly, but not always. I rescue people. I assume what you and your friends try to do is something similar.”
“Yes. Yes, it is.” This was already more than Angel should know, but Riley felt guilty telling the man who’d just saved his life nothing.
“I figured as much.” But he didn’t go any further, true to what he’d told Buffy.
Now there was a thought – and a way to deflect attention from the Initiative. “How do you know Buffy?”
Angel took a lot more time than Riley had expected answering the question. “We . . . worked together in the past. I helped her on some stuff here in Sunnydale. We’re . . . friends.”
No, they weren’t. Whatever they’d been, it was never friends –
Oh, god. This was HIM. The reason Buffy’d been leery of going out with him after his Initiative dual life had come out. Angel was also involved with the supernatural.
Buffy had wanted a nice, normal relationship, with someone uncomplicated. He didn’t fit the bill, and neither did Angel, from all he saw.
“Sorry – lost in thought there.”
“Just wanted to make sure you weren’t slipping into unconsciousness.” An uncomfortable silence ensued. “Well, if you get to ask it, so do I: How do you know her?”
So how did he answer the question?
Same question, same evasion. “We’re . . . also friends.”
Angel chuckled. “The hell you are.” The chuckle seemed very dangerous somehow.
“No, really, it’s true. I like her.”
Now Angel frowned, furrowing his brow. “Okay, you are friends. But I can tell – you’re not just friends, are you?”
“I’ll answer you if you answer me: You weren’t either. Am I right?”
Angel sighed. “You’re right. She and I have – had – a very tempestuous relationship.”
Despite himself, Riley laughed. "And here I was thinking that I was the only one who used big words in describing relationships. You wouldn't believe the looks I got for saying the word 'court'."
This time Angel’s voice held genuine amusement. "You tried to COURT Buffy? I can't imagine she took it very well."
"It took me a few tries to get it down,” Riley answered. “Though I did manage to find out that she likes cheese. Fortunately, she was willing to give me the benefit of the doubt."
"Yes. Buffy does tend to be very prickly . . . where cheese is concerned."
For just a second Riley looked at Angel, and then it struck him that the vampire was trying very hard to keep the dialogue as light as possible. To avoid going too deeply. But Riley needed more than witty banter.
Clearing his throat, Riley sobered. "Buffy doesn't talk about it much, but I have gotten the impression that she's had some relationship troubles in the past. Would you be able to shed any light on the subject?" He watched the other man's face carefully.
There was a long silence. "In other words, do I want to give Buffy's current boyfriend any tips on how to avoid ending up her ex, like I did?"
Riley considered his response carefully. "I'm not asking you for the dos and don'ts of dating Buffy, I can figure those out on my own. What I'm saying is that I know that Buffy has been hurt in the past, and I'm suspecting that you might have had something to do with that."
“You sure ask the hard questions, don't you?” Angel finally said.
"I'm a Psych grad student,” Riley shot back. “I practically took a course in the subject of asking hard questions. And speaking of questions, you're evading mine."
"It didn't take a grad pysch student to figure that out. Yes, I had something to do with it. I'm just not sure how much to tell you. There are parts that need to remain private." From what Riley could read on Angel’s face – and right now it appeared to be carved out of one of the more durable varieties of igneous rock – that was a sizeable understatement.
"Whatever you can tell, I'm interested in hearing. How big of a part did you play in this?"
"Pretty large. First, we were attracted to each other; then she found out I'd been hiding something; then we slowly began dating; then -- something happened and I acted like a complete jerk for months. I did nasty things to he, but eventually I became myself again. We tried to stay friends -- but then an old friend of mine pointed out what we'd known all along, we could never be friends, we'd either love each other or kill each other. Then we had an off-again on-again relationship that ended when I finally came to the conclusion that I was hurting her too much by staying. That's how I came to LA." More and less than he’d expected to hear.
Riley paused for a moment, waiting for Angel's words to really sink in. "You must've really cared about her to leave like that." Clearing his throat carefully, Riley continued. "You obviously know about Buffy's . . . night-job, and from what I saw back there, you probably helped her out.” Angel nodded, though Riley really hadn’t needed the confirmation. He went on. “But when I met her she was obviously really looking for a 'nice, normal guy', to a pretty extreme point. There's a lot you aren't telling me here, Angel, and not just the personal stuff with Buffy."
"First, thanks for the first part. You -- you must care for her to ask these questions. And no, I am not a nice normal guy. Much as I'd wish to be, I'm far from it. I -- my family was killed by vampires, so I'm heavily immersed in that world. It gave us a lot to talk about, but it also led to friction occasionally. And there is a lot I'm not telling you, yes."
Riley picked up on THAT subtext right away. "Meaning there's no chance in hell I'm going to find out, right?"
Angel answered, “Not from me.”
Anyway. "Friction occasionally wasn't really the impression I got. Actually, 'doomed' was the word she used, and I had to do a lot of talking to convince her not to drop what we had. Obviously the fact that you aren't telling me a lot is frustrating, but I'll respect that." Riley paused for a moment, then said, "And for what it's worth, I'm sorry about your family."
“Thanks.” Then came another quiet period. Finally, Angel said quietly, “Here’s what I can tell you. Mystery . . . can be intoxicating, but too much can be deadly. Never keep a secret from her. EVER. No matter how painful it may be to reveal. She’s been hurt way too often by people who weren’t playing it straight.” And THERE Angel was the voice of experience, no doubts about it.
Riley smiled ruefully. "Yeah, I learned that one the hard way. Buffy and I found out at the exact same time that we'd both been keeping some secrets. Talking about it made everything feel a lot better. Thanks for telling me what you could, though. I appreciate it. I'd do anything to keep her from getting hurt again."
"Good." Then Angel said, "Because if you EVER hurt her in a meaningful way, I'll kill you." The tone was light, but Riley didn't think it was a joke.
"She brings that out in people." The two exchanged a moment of perfect understanding.
"She's the strongest person I know and she has all these people bending over backwards to protect her. Amazing, isn't it?"
"She's special. At first I just thought she was peculiar, but then I finally realized what it was. You look into her eyes, and you know that she'd do anything to protect you. She'd give her life to save someone she had never met before, but once she really knows you . . .you just know that there is nothing on this earth that would stop her from doing anything for you." Riley shook his head in amazement. "Just thinking about that . . it just blows my mind. I've never met anyone like her before, and I doubt I ever will again."
"God knows I haven't."
"Well," Riley said, "You realize we just took what could have been an awkward moment and --"
"We didn't kill each other," Angel interrupted.
“And that in itself is a miracle.”
They rode for a while in silence.
Then Riley turned to Angel with a wicked gleam in his eye. "If you have this need to kill anyone who's hurt Buffy, I have a suggestion . . . "
* * * * *
Riley had Angel drop him off a mile or so outside of campus, but not before the other man looked him over to check the status of his injuries.
Apparently satisfied that Riley was not any moment due to keel over in a dead faint, Angel took a step backwards. The two sized each other up one final time. Then they both took a half step forward and shook hands.
Just before he got into the car, Angel called back to him, “Remember what I said about killing you if you hurt her?”
“You were just kidding?” Riley asked.
“No . . . I just wanted to be sure you remembered.” Then he grinned and got into the car.
Riley waited until he’d driven off before he tried once again to contact the Initiative. This time the reassuring voice of Maggie Walsh came through at the other end. “Agent Finn! Report! What is the status of your mission?”
“Demon dead. Also five vampires – and the other two Initiative members.”
“Come in for debriefing.”
Riley had been hoping to go see Buffy first, but orders were orders. “Yes, ma’am. It was a very . . . interesting evening.”
To say the least.
X X X X X
Somewhere on the campus of UC-Sunnydale, there was a knock on the door.
Angel walked in and shut the door behind him. “Hello, Parker. My name’s Angel. You and I need to have a little discussion on the way you treat women . . . “