DISCLAIMER: I don't own the characters and don't profit from this. Buffy and all related characters are the property of Joss.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is set at the end of 'HUSH'. Buffy and Riley's talk. Here's one way it might go, or at least one way it might begin.
"Guess we have to talk." Buffy sat on the edge of her bed and glanced down for a second and then back up.
"I guess we do." Neither spoke for a long time.
The silence dragged on with no apparent end in sight. Finally, the Slayer spoke.
"Well, this is fun," Buffy sighed. She really didn't know what she would say next, the words were just coming, but she figured it had to be better than sitting there staring at the floor. "Y'know the most frustrating part?"
"What?" Riley asked, confused.
"I can't even be mad at you," she pouted. Riley had no idea how to respond to that. "I mean I wasn't exactly forthcoming." He got it then and nodded. That, at least, he could understand. I'm glad I'm not the only one feeling guilty.
He mentally kicked himself for the selfish thought. Say something dork!
"Yeah, well… I couldn't tell you. I wanted to, but I…"
"I know. Seems like every time we talked I had to lie. Work came up one way or another. I'm guessing you had orders?" He nodded. "From who?" Okay, careful now,
one part of him, the part in uniform, cautioned, and he kicked himself again. How could he have a normal, healthy relationship with someone he had to lie to all the time? Normal?
some cynical part of him chimed in. Didn't that possibility already spiral down the toilet when she screamed and those things' heads exploded?
Buffy was looking at him expectantly. Say something dork!
"That's the question…I mean we both want to know who the other, um..."
"Right." Buffy though a moment. "How about we lay out some ground rules." Are we buying time?
Buffy started at the thought. She was certainly doing that. It was necessary. She didn't know what to do next. Trust him completely? Think of him as an enemy? Too extreme each way.
Buffy went with her favorite tool. Gut instinct.
"Such as?" She's being cautious. Is that a bad sign?
"Well. Um,… how about one question for one question. Don't ask if you're not prepared to answer. In my case some of those answers are going to be pretty strange." And the prize for biggest understatement goes to…
"Okay. I can do that. And I won't tell my superiors." He paused and took a deep breath. "Um, well now. You asked who I work for." He pursed his lips. "I'm in the army, assigned to a special project to study vampires." This answer seemed vague enough. She might have guessed that much already.
"To what end?" Buffy asked. "What's your goal?" The military is studying vampires? This can't be good. I'm getting flashes of every movie about secret government projects I've ever seen. Was the army ever the good guys?
"Hey," Riley raised his hands. "You set the rules. Who do you work for?" Buffy nodded. All right.
"You might have guessed already. I’m the Slayer, and I don't work for anyone." Riley opened his mouth to object, "anymore." She'd never thought about telling him this. There was a lot of pain mixed up in her reasons for quitting. Bad memories. Oh well. Some of it anyway won't hurt.
Buffy took a deep breath and began. "Until about six months ago I worked for the Watcher's Council. They're a group of scholars. They've been around for centuries, monitoring vampire activity and directing efforts to wipe them out."
"You said you don't work for them anymore. What happened?" Buffy thought about that for a while, not sure how to answer.
"That's a long story. I guess… I guess it's mostly that the Council is out of touch. They kept screwing things up. Every time they tried to get involved they made things worse. No one on the Council has dealt directly with a Slayer in decades. They just sit back and bark orders from a safe distance." Buffy suddenly remembered something Giles had said to that Council member that had shown up for her 'test'.
"There's a difference between waging a war and fighting one. They don't know the difference anymore." There was a lot more to it than that, Riley could tell, but he didn't want to push for details. Not now. It was obviously a painful topic. Buffy continued though, even without encouragement. "To people waging a war, the sacrifice of a single soldier doesn't mean anything." Riley definitely wasn't prying.
Buffy shook off the gloom her memories were threatening to bring on. "I think you're one answer up on me. What's this project?" The mood change almost caused whiplash. Riley had seen the quicksilver shifts before, and they always caught him off guard. It was one of the reasons he found her so fascinating.
"Ah yes. The project, the Initiative," Careful now. What can I safely te-
Kick, kick, and kick again. Take a chance
. "was set up to study a threat to the public. Vampires kill lots of people, but I don't have to tell you that." Buffy shook her head. No, he certainly didn't. "We capture them for study. We hope to isolate the cause of vampirism, maybe find a cure. There are scientists studying it."
"In that underground lab of yours?" Riley blinked, surprised. She knows? How did she know?
"You know about that?"
Buffy nodded. "A little. Spike told me a few things after he busted out." That got Riley's full attention.
"Spike?" He asked, several previously unrelated events coming together in his mind. "Isn't he the guy you were going to marry?"
Buffy blushed furiously. "Ah, well, that's another long story." She's cute when she blushes,
Riley noticed, but set the thought aside quickly, not wanting to get sidetracked. "Spike is a vampire. He's been in your lab, but he escaped. I know your scientists did something to make him harmless. That worries me a little. Especially when you tell me... well you know… military." Worry? Why?
"You were the one who helped him escape that night at the dorm. If you're a… what did you call it, Slayer?" What's a Slayer?
"Why would you help him?"
"I was there, but I wasn't helping Spike. I was more concerned with Willow. You were trying to snatch her." Her voice suddenly became accusatory as she remembered this. Riley held up his hands defensively.
"We had to be sure she hadn't been bitten. Obviously she wasn't. We would have let her go as soon as we determined that." Actually, he didn't know this, but it didn't seem smart to say so. Buffy considered a moment and then nodded, deciding to accept the explanation.
"Okay. Spike came to see me a few days later. He was pretty desperate by then, couldn't even defend himself, and by the way what did you do to him?"
"Huh?" There's that quicksilver change again.
"He can't hurt people. Gets a headache every time he tries, says it's like a stake between the eyes." Walsh would not be happy if I told her that. Uh-oh. What am I going to tell Walsh?
"Um well that's kind of a secret. I-I don't know if I can say."
"Can you at least tell me if it's permanent?" Riley looked uncertain. "Come on. If it's going to wear off I can just stake him without guilt. If he really is permanently neutered then I can kick him out." Riley just stared at her, trying to digest this.
When he didn't answer Buffy leaned forward, an almost pleading look on her face. "Come on Riley. He's driving me nuts."
Riley was saved from answering, at least temporarily, by the phone. Buffy picked it up.
"Hello? Oh hi. Yeah, everything's fine, the Gentlemen won't be causing anymore problems… No, actually their heads exploded. Ick… Hmm? No, cleanup won't be necessary. That's been taken care of. I had a little unexpected help last night." She glanced over at Riley who was watching her curiously. He's cute when he's confused
, she smiled and Riley returned it tentatively. At least the phone call was giving him time to think. Then her smile vanished.
"Yeah, them. I ran into one of them fighting the same bunch, good thing too. I'm trying to get some of those answers now… Yeah I-. Huh? Get off the line. No, Spike I'm not going to hit him for you." Riley blinked, both at the name and the statement.
"No, I wasn't going to hit him anyway. I'm perfectly capable of doing this without violence. I-." Buffy stopped, her mouth hanging open a second, then it snapped shut. "Stop that." A sound from the other side of the conversation was coming through now. Riley strained to hear. Someone was- "Spike if you're still laughing when I get back you're vacuum bait!" She slammed down the phone. Then what she had said hit her as she turned back to Riley.
"Ah, hmm. Despite how that must have sounded," she glanced at the phone, and then back at Riley, not quite meeting his eyes, "I'm not a homicidal lunatic." Riley nodded, doing his best not to look doubtful. Before last night he wouldn't have thought Buffy capable of any type of violence. Now he was realizing he didn't know anything about her. Suddenly her mood changed again. She was indignant, angry.
"You see what I put up with?" She gestured at the phone, her frustration showing through clearly. "One of these days he's gonna push too far and-" She broke off looking worriedly at him. "Really. I'm not."
"I believe you," he assured her hastily, a little too hastily. Buffy suppressed a desire to sigh. Terrific