After The Rain
Title: After The Rain
Rating: Maybe NC17 (I'm playing it safe with this)
Characters: Riley Finn, Lindsey McDonald
Warnings: Slash (not graphic though), angst and grief, mention of character death
Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters in either Buffy The Vampire Slayer or Angel. I am borrowing them for entertainment purposes and no copyright infringement is intended
Author's Notes: Thanks to Neichan for the beta. Also, this was my first serious attempt at fan fiction - It was going to be a one-shot; this chapter was it, but I was persuaded to do more.
Riley had, for a long time, imagined that his death would be spectacular. A magnificent sacrifice against impossible odds, fighting an unstoppable evil threatening the entire world. After which, all would know his name and hold his memory dear, for they would owe their lives to him. In death, he would achieve a measure of immortality.
This admittedly ego fuelling fantasy was far from his mind. For it was not an unstoppable evil. It was a vampire and not even a particularly powerful one. A recently sired vampire in the body of a seventeen year old slacker, who in life, would not have amounted to anything as impressive or powerful as a vampire.
Nor was it the entire world that was saved. It was a homeless forty year old man, who has been in and out of prison (usually in at the start of winter when the temperature drops, and out when spring arrives, bringing with it a warmer climate) for petty offences for the past ten years of his life. The fact that, in the past three months, he had raped four teenage girls was completely unknown to Riley at the time.
On top of all this, it was not Riley who made the sacrifice, although every moment since it happened, he wished it was. He wished he had died, and not Sam.
Sam. His wife. Both pursuing the vampire youth as a favour to the vampire's Uncle, some ageing, balding military somebody who has made it as far up the military ladder as he has, simply because no one has shot him yet.
Tracked the vampire to under some bridge, the exact location neither remembered nor important to Riley any more. It was advancing on the homeless man, the lights of the street on the bridge above casting shadows over their position. She did not, could not, see the piece of wood on the floor in front of her. Tripped, landing on a broken spirits bottle, discarded hours earlier by the homeless man when it refused to provide him with any more of its contents.
The homeless man survived. So did Riley. The vampire didn't, despite the mission being a capture. Riley watched his wife's throat shredded and pierced by shards of broken bottle, and the mission took on less and less significance. His wife's last breath was in his arms.
- - - - -
That was, well, then. Cut to now, nearly five months later. Riley was allowed an extended leave of absence from the military. That was so nice of them
. At this point, he had no intention of returning. He didn't have many intentions. Save for drinking until he passed out. As often as he could, for sleep came much easier with alcohol. And in his nightmares, Riley could see his wife once again, even if it was to watch her die one more time. At least in his nightmares, he could try to save her. It didn't matter that he never did, as long as he tried, because when he was awake and alert Riley had to deal with the fact his wife was dead. There was nothing her could do to change the fact. He was alone and awash with guilt over not being able to save her
So, more often than not, Riley would find himself at the local store. He never actually remembered making the decision to go, he would suddenly realise that he was there, buying as much alcohol as he could carry in whatever form he happened to reach with his arm outstretched.
Most days he woke to a room of empty cans and bottles. On occasion, he woke to a street of empty cans and bottles. This might have been one of those times, except he woke instead to a nudge of his leg. There it was again, his leg. And sound. Voices. "I'm telling you man, he’s completely out of it. Grab his wallet," it said.
Riley, as badly as he felt and despite his eyes still being closed, was aware of someone hovering over him, leaning closer. He could smell the leather of what he assumed was his jacket, even above his own various odours, sweat, beer, maybe urine. Riley moved. Just his hand, reached out, took hold, barely aware of what he had done until he opened his eyes and saw he was holding the wrist of a young man with long, dirty blonde hair. A look of shock on the man's face, mimicked on the face of the bald man stood behind him.
The look of shock turned to anger, and Riley became aware of the blonde man's free hand making a fist and moving rapidly towards him. Riley blocked, or rather, his free arm did, as he felt like this was happening to someone else, like he was just watching. Riley's arm then moved upwards, striking the blonde man in the middle of his face with the centre of his palm.
Riley didn't hear the screams; they merged with the sounds of his wife's and his own that he heard constantly. He did hear a crack. He saw crimson, unmistakable proof that he had just broken the man's nose. And they were gone.
- - - - -
Later, Riley stood. It proved difficult. Nearly didn't make it, which surprised him given that he managed to fend of the guy earlier. Walked home, holding on to anything that looked like it would hold his weight. Head pounding. Riley made it to his room above the tattoo parlour. Did not know how long it had taken him, minutes or hours, neither would have come as a surprise.
Door not locked. Again. Good thing he didn't have anything worth stealing, he thought to himself. He staggered to the bathroom and looked at himself in the mirror, one thing he did have. He stood. Stood and stared, unsure if he could move even if he had wanted to.
Shit. Hair was longer, greasy, matted. Chin was rough, he noticed as he brought his hand to it. There were more lines than he remembered having, maybe the dirt made them stand out. His clothes were wet, torn, stained with blood, mud, piss, any number of things. His reflection startled him, He'd seen in every day, but never paid it any attention. It never seemed important, because he was not important. Hadn’t been for nearly five months. But now, he did not like what, who, he saw.
Kicked off his boots with ease, apparently they were not tied. He unbuttoned his jeans and let them fall to the floor, stepping out of them as he peeled his sweater from his aching body. He saw bruises and cuts, some old, some fresh. Didn't know where they came from, yet there they were, beneath the dirt. Dirt. It was like looking at someone else's body. He does not look like that. He is toned and clean and.... What would Sam think?
It was almost audible. A quiet drone building swiftly to a deep echoing thud. The realisation that he had, for that brief instant, forgotten that she was gone. For only a second, if that, and he hurt. He felt so guilty; his breath became short, pain in his chest. Dropped to the wooden bathroom floor and cried. He'd got beaten up by demons and walked away in less pain than he was in right now.
- - - - -
Showered. Shaved. Ate. Slept, or tried to. Cried, most definitely, constantly from that moment to now.
"I can't do this any more,” spoken quietly, honestly as Riley's thoughts turned to home. He had not been back to Iowa in the longest of times. The words sounded in his head over and over – Home is the place that when you have to go there, they have to take you in. But he didn't want them to. He couldn't face the sympathy. He felt bad enough all by his own self without his family feeling bad for him. He didn't care for the smiles loaded with pity, the false compassion from semi-strangers as they tilted their heads to one side. The slow nods as they told him ‘It would be alright, that he'd get over it.’ He paused to consider this. What the fuck did they know?
He then began to think of Sunnydale, as at one stage in his life, he had thought of it as home. He had, for a while, been content there, and he could have been again, despite the enmity he felt about aspects of his life there. While it might be a reminder of heartache, it would be a stream of heartache lost within the ocean that was his current feelings. It would also serve as a reminder of joy, which would not be unwelcome. Unfortunately, it had been levelled some months ago, according to Graham. Everyone he knew had survived, and scattered throughout the world, with the exception of Anya, whose body had not been found. He could not think of her though, as his grief was otherwise occupied.
He thought of another time and place he had found a home.
Picking up the phone, he dialled a number still imprinted in his memory after all this time; a number that he did not even know was still in use. It rings. Again. A voice, familiar, bringing with it a wave of relief and, oddly enough, an uneasy feeling, new amidst a body of uneasy feelings.
"I need you."
The call was unexpected to say the least. A sudden reminder of another life, a life that seemed so far away and so long ago, longer than the couple of years that had actually passed. A welcome life that more recent circumstances had forced into a box and padlocked shut. The call not only unlocked the box, but upturned it and repeatedly banged on the bottom to make absolutely sure its contents were out.
And it made Lindsey smile although he couldn't be certain if he was happy. It wasn't that he was particularly unhappy either, as that was not the case. If he was being honest, he did not know how he felt or what he was, other than needed. The phone call had made that perfectly clear, and after taking an address, he promised to set off immediately and be there as soon as he could. There were few people in this world to which Lindsey made promises, as there ware few people who mattered to him enough for him to want to keep them. He opened his rucksack, stuffing clothes into it, not particularly neatly, and not paying any attention to what he was packing.
"What's going on?" A shrill edge to the already high pitch of the woman behind him.
"Eve," he began, realising that his rucksack was full; fastening it, "I have to go." his voice was flat, without tone or feeling. He had learned long ago to be able to speak without giving away his feelings. He never liked the idea that someone could have that advantage over him.
"Where?" Eve asked, a little desperately, thought Lindsey. "What's going on?" she repeated. He picked up his wallet and mobile phone from the night stand, and lifted the brown leather jacket from the hook on the back of the door, checking for his car keys in the inside pocket.
"Baby." The word seemed suddenly bitter in his mouth, and he felt his lip curl slightly as he said it. He was a little startled at this, and was relieved to still have the door in between himself and Eve, who stood, blocking his exit. He stepped from behind it, trying to look and sound sincere. "I have to go, some thing's come up, but I'll only be gone a couple of days. I'll explain everything when I get back." he lied, or at least, he might have done, for he did not know when he would be back. It would not surprise him if he decided not to tell her anything upon his return, either.
Lindsey smiled, but not at Eve as she thought. He smiled because when he first met Riley, part of him felt the need to tell him about his dark and other-worldly past. Yet his relationship with Riley had been, arguably the most 'normal' relationship he head ever had with another human being, and he felt no compulsion to tell Eve of any aspect of it. He moved towards Eve, forcing her to step back, and was almost immediately at the front door of her apartment.
"But Lindsey, what about Ang......" she was interrupted by Lindsey slamming the door behind him.
- - - - -
Riley had sounded like shit on the phone, thought Lindsey as he got into his car. Not the bright and cheerful man he… remembered. Lindsey realised he had not even asked Riley what was wrong. Those three words were, evidently, enough for him. Enough for him to drop every thing. Drop months of planning and work, take at least a seven hour car ride, travel half the night when he knew he ought to be sleeping. He left the woman he… was living with. Left Eve, without so much as a see-you-later. And yet there was no question in his mind. He was absolutely positive that he was doing the right thing. That certainty, that lack of moral ambiguity, was something Lindsey missed. That he had only experienced for a brief moment amidst eternities of deals with multiple devils.
- - - - -
Riley felt better after the call, at least, he convinced himself he did. Regardless, he scoured his room for a bottle or can that he had not yet emptied. Found two cans of beer, and a quarter full bottle of vodka, which surprised him, because he always thought he didn't like vodka. Apparently he was wrong, he thought, as he took a small glass from the sink, rinsed it and filled it with the vodka. He held it in his hand for some time. Not thinking about drinking it, just holding it, not thinking about anything. An improvement on the past five months.
He raised the glass, as if to make a toast, but said nothing. At that particular moment, that one point in time, Riley could not think of anything to drink to, so he dropped the glass in the sink. It shattered but that was unimportant. Opened both cans and dropped them in the sink too, followed by the bottle. He moved to the bed and led down, staring out of the window for some time. He watched the black, starless sky, too much light from the surrounding buildings and streets to see stars. Soon, he was asleep, a dreamless sleep.
- - - - -
Lindsey arrived, the town, nameless to him as they often were. This one was none too welcoming. It was dirty, windows put through or boarded up, graffiti, and more than one burned out vehicle. There was a constant sound of police sirens in the background, although he could not be certain if he was just imagining it, having watched too many films and dramas set in towns and cities not unlike this one with a constant sound of police sirens in the background.
It surprised him that Riley would live in a place like this, a far cry from the last place in which they were together. This was a nameless town, full of nameless faces, which he assumed might have been the point, for Riley to be just one more no-name face. While he understood, he did not accept. He could not, for this place should not be the home of the Riley he new, whatever had happened to him. It began to pain Lindsey as he drove. He knew many details of the tragedies Riley had endured, yet through them all, Riley had remained the most honest, open, cheerful and genuinely nice person that he had ever met, bar none.What must he have gone through to end up here?
Lindsey found Riley's address a lot faster than he had anticipated. He had stumbled into the general area by chance, and only had to ask for directions once, well twice, but Lindsey believed the first person he asked to be crazy as all he got was incoherent babblings and singing as a reply.
He parked across from the tattoo parlour, which was closed. He looked at his watch. Six twenty seven. Signs of day just beginning to appear. He looked again at the tattoo parlour, trying to make out the name from a sign that lost most of the letters probably years ago, he guessed. A large airbrushed picture of a devil was still visible, however, although faded. It raised a momentary smirk on Lindsey's face but as he sat in his vehicle, he felt a little awkward, although he did not know why. The feeling, new to him, did not sit well. Some time later, he looked again at his watch, which said six forty two. Fifteen minutes was long enough, he decided.
Opened his car door and got out. Slammed the door behind him as he made his way across the street to the metal staircase on the side of the building. He reached for the railing of the stairs, which led to the flat above. Seeing the rail, evidence of an old red coat of paint still visible but barely, he decided against holding it, and started up the stairs. Lindsey realised that he had left his car locked. He paused and looked over at it, with a slight look of contempt. He had not bonded with the vehicle as he had with his old ford truck, which unfortunately he had to put out to pasture a little over a year ago, so just sighed and carried on up the stairs.
- - - - -
A knock. Ignore it.
Another one. Damn.
A third. Impatient. Lindsey?
Riley sat up, quickly swung his legs off the bed, his feet finding the cold of the aged linoleum floor. He stood, buttoned the fly of his jeans and hurried to the door. He paused, took a breath and ran his hand through the hair on the back of his head absent mindedly, before opening it.
There. Blue eyes. Clear blue, and brighter than he remembered. Sadder, too. He always noticed Lindsey's eyes before anything else, and this time, stared for what seemed like an age, before taking hold of him by the shoulders and drawing him into a tight embrace. Lindsey returned the welcome, and both stood, without speaking a word.
Moments later, Riley eased off. "I'm sorry,” a quiver to his voice. "Come in. Please." Riley smiled, obviously a forced smile, even though he was happy to see Lindsey. Both entered the flat, although Lindsey realised, as he looked around, that calling it a 'flat' was putting it far above its station, the smell of damp and stale air overpowering.What a shithole.
The flat consisted of one large room with a door off to their left, near the entrance. One corner had a cooker, sink and a fridge with a small (excuse for a) counter top resting on top. A rough wooden table denied the 'kitchen' of any space it might have had.
A double bed in the opposite corner, not particularly clean, marked the bedroom. A large open suitcase was visible underneath, with a phone on the floor besides it, stained with age and use, it not being white for many years. The corner in between, as they were stood in the fourth, had a worn couch, the wooden frame exposed through the dirty brown leatherette on the back and arms. The couch was pointed towards a rectangle of unpainted plaster, surrounded by the dirty, formerly white, painted wall, suggesting where a television cabinet once stood. But not any more.
Lindsey had seen enough. He did not care to look through the door to their left, which he assumed would house some semblance of a bathroom. The sight and smell of the room disgusted him, and he'd lived in some crappy placed in his life. He shut his eyes as he came to a decision. "Can I get you some…?” Riley began, but was cut off as Lindsey spoke, his first words since his arrival.
"I'm taking you to a hotel."
Riley had not the energy to argue. He had detected a forceful tone to Lindsey's voice, one he had not heard before (one that Lindsey had never felt the need to adopt with Riley until now), so he just nodded slightly in agreement. Lindsey strode across the room, reached under the bed for the suitcase, fastened it, and gestured for Riley to leave.
- - - - -
Riley sat on a much more comfortable king sized bed at the Armada Hotel. Lindsey had paid for the room for two months; despite their evil nature, Wolfram and Hart knew how to pay - ridiculously well in fact.
Riley looked worn out. His eyes were red, circled with lines that Lindsey knew had arrived prematurely. His hair, long and unkempt (A look that Lindsey decided looked good on him, if not a little out of character). Through his T shirt, Lindsey could tell that Riley's physique had been neglected somewhat. Lindsey walked over to the bed and sat besides him, facing him. He himself felt like crap just seeing Riley this way, so he could only imagine......
A simple statement, but clearly a difficult one for Riley to say, and why wouldn't it be? It took Lindsey completely by surprise. He watched as Riley's expression changed from being vacant to one of grief. His bottom lip quivering, eyes tearing, Lindsey leaned into him. He wrapped his arms around Riley, one resting on his large back, the other finding the back of his head and easing it gently to his shoulder.
"I’m so sorry," he whispered in Riley's ear.My Wife Died.
The words sounded alien as he said them. Alien because it was actually the first time he had said them out loud. Sam's family had received the official military notification, and Graham had called Riley's family for him. Riley had never spoken those words.
Alien also because he was telling them to someone to whom he was very close, and yet Lindsey did not even know Riley had married. He could never bring himself to tell him. It was difficult when Sam and Riley had to go to Sunnydale and work with Buffy, but Lindsey was a different matter.
There was a selfish reason. It had been hard for Riley when he and Lindsey had parted, and he wasn't ready to open those wounds again, but there was more to it that that; he did not want Lindsey to feel betrayed, that so quickly after he left, Riley could find someone else. He did not want Lindsey to think that what they had shared had meant so little to Riley. That was simply not true; it could not have been further than the truth.
Riley had loved Sam, in as way he never felt possible, that's why he married her. But after they married, Riley realised, on some level at least, that were he to see Lindsey again, he would have to face the fact that he loved Lindsey too. Loved him differently and if he dared to admit it, loved him more. It was that simple, although it hardly seemed to matter now. He had not truly realised when they were together just what Lindsey had meant to him. Ever since, he has not really wanted to admit to himself that he made a mistake in leaving Lindsey.
And as upset as he was at the loss of his wife, for he did truly love her, seeing, touching Lindsey once again made him realise one thing; that it would be all right, that he'd get over it.