* * * * * * * *
Buffy heaved a sigh as she climbed the stairs to Riley's dorm room. Three vamps dusted in the span of two hours, and she still had plenty of frustration to go around. Unfortunately, they seemed to be the only vampires willing to get near her that night, so she decided to pack it in and meet up with Riley.
Though she wasn't exactly looking forward to the talk they were going to have.
She closed her eyes briefly as she approached his door and shook her head to clear it of the arguments filtering through. She had no right to argue for Angel's love, and no right to defend herself in what she had done. This was between her and Riley, and the lies that she had told. She would hang her head and explain it all to him and hope that he hadn't been lying when he said that they could work it out. And if it was too much for him to deal with, then she wouldn't pressure him into forgiving her, wouldn't force the issues.
She reached his door and paused, seeing a note taped to the front of it.
"Buffy," she murmured aloud, reading, "Got beeped. Meet you at your apartment later. Riley."
"Damn," she muttered, and turned away. She began stomping back down the stairs. Just when she had prepared herself for the inevitable discussion, he had to go fight monsters. She pulled out a stake, anger at something unknown pulsing through her veins. "Fine. I can do that too."
Another sigh as she reentered the inky night. "Might take the edge off."
* * * * * * * *
Riley knocked on the door once, and then let himself in. Willow and Xander looked up from the bed where they were playing Trivial Pursuit. Xander smiled, a little too warmly. "Riley! My man! You're a pretty smart guy. You could be on my team."
Riley sat down on Buffy's empty bed and cast them a lopsided smile, noticing that Willow was winning by five pies to none. He nodded to Xander. "Why did you let her talk you into playing that?"
Xander grumbled something under his breath and returned to the game. Willow bit back a grin. "What are you doing here, Riley? I thought you and Buffy would be at your place."
"We were supposed to." He spread his hands diplomatically. "Change of plans. Got beeped, so I thought I'd meet her here." He paused. "She didn't call or anything?"
"Nope," Xander said, his eyes still on the board. "Should she have?"
Worry filled Riley, worry over the mysterious man, and the kiss that he saw only a moment of, but that looked too intense to have been a mistake, no matter who Buffy was with. It had looked right, even to him, and that really....
Pissed him off. He wondered for a moment if she was still with him, and then pushed the thought away.
"Have you guys ever met Angel?" he asked casually.
Xander coughed, and Willow jumped, accidentally knocking over the box of question cards. They spilled out onto the ground, but Willow didn't bend over to retrieve them. She and Xander exchanged a look.
"Um, yes," Willow said slowly. "Why?"
"I met him tonight," Riley answered, his eyes following their nervous movements. "How well would you say you know him?"
"Too damn well," Xander said with a grimace. Willow reached out and nudged him painfully in the ribs, and he looked up at her. "Sorry."
"We've known him about as long as Buffy has," Willow said, trying to cover Xander's rudeness. "So, you met him?"
Riley's voice was curt. "Yeah."
"And Buffy... Introduced you?" Willow tried to keep the surprise out of her question.
"I guess you could say that," he muttered.
"And you're okay with all of this?" Xander interrupted, shocked. "I would have thought you'd be all pissed over the whole Slayer-and-Vampire thing, even if they did break up. I mean I was, and I was never even her boyfriend." He gave a smug little smile. "Though everyone could tell she wanted me to be. But the whole situation was wacky. I'm impressed with you, man."
Willow rolled her eyes at him, and then looked at Riley in concern. The color was bleeding from his face. "Are you okay?"
He stood, shook his head. "He's a vampire," he said quietly, as if to confirm it in his mind. "She... And he's a vampire."
Xander's eyes widened in alarm. "You... ah... Didn't know that?"
Riley glared at him for a moment, and then stalked quickly out of the room. Willow bit her lip, watching him go, and then turned back to Xander accusingly. Her best friend looked up at her meekly. "How much is Buffy going to kick my ass?" he wondered in a small voice.
Willow lifted her eyes to the ceiling, then looked back down. The situation was almost laughable, in a sad, unfunny sort of way. "Oh, lots," she said casually. She gestured to the game board. "Your turn."
* * * * * * * * *
His mind melted the pieces of information together, everything that had puzzled him for so long suddenly made sense. Buffy's bite scar, the way she was vague about her past love life, the way she let that hostile into Giles's house without killing him. Riley's breath came quickly, his heart beating faster than it ever had before, unless he was with Buffy.
She had lied to him.
Okay, maybe she didn't really lie, he conceded to himself. But she didn't tell him, and that was almost the same. An omission of something that needs to be said can be just as painful as an outright lie. Angel must have had some sort of hold over her mind, he thought. It's the only way to explain her behavior, the kiss. It's the only way to understand her having feelings for him. It's the only way.
He fled out into the night, intent on killing the thing that could slowly kill her.
* * * * * * * *
"Hey." Buffy tossed her bag on her bed and sat down next to Willow. "What're you guys playing?"
"Poker," Willow answered, her face blank. "Xander insisted that I was cheating at Trivial Pursuit."
Buffy nodded. "Um, did Riley show up?"
Willow and Xander looked at each other. Willow nodded firmly at him, her mouth stretched in a tight line. Xander winced. "Yeah, he sort of did."
"Sort of?" Buffy asked, confused.
"He did," Xander clarified. "And then he left."
Xander looked away. Willow frowned at him. "Tell her. Now."
"Tell her!" Willow insisted, her resolve face firmly intact. "You're not getting out of this one, Xander."
"He asked if we knew him, and I sort of mentioned that he was a vampire," Xander blurted, not looking at Buffy.
Buffy stared at him a moment, puzzled, and then his words processed. Her mouth gaped open. "You told him Angel was a vampire?! You *told* him?"
"I'm sorry, Buffy," Xander said quickly. "I didn't realize that he didn't know. He was sort of asking questions about Angel, and I figured you had told him. He said that they met."
Buffy shook her head, her anger slowly dissolving. Not Xander's fault, she told herself. She should have been more honest with Riley. She should have, but she hadn't been, so the blame belonged on her. She touched Xander's shoulder. "It's okay," she said quietly. Then she paused. "He just left?"
"He seemed pretty angry," Willow piped up sympathetically. "And pretty shocked. We figured he'd gone back to his room."
Buffy nodded, closing her eyes. Her voice was a whisper. "I think you figured wrong."
* * * * * * * * *
They stood face to face. One breathing heavily, one remaining still. A golden boy and a mysterious man. A vampire and a human. One of them with anger leading him, the other only worry over hurting his opponent.
Both of them in love with the same girl.
"I'm going to kill you for what you did to her," Riley said, his voice guttural.
Angel sighed. "Put down your stake and go home. Let Buffy explain things to you. I was on patrol hunting demons. I have no intention of fighting you."
"Have Buffy *explain* it to me?" Riley shot back angrily. "You've got her mind warped! You're a vampire, she's the Slayer! You've done something to her! Whatever she says to me about you is going to be some evil version of the truth, something that you cooked up to brainwash her."
"I don't really feel like killing you," Angel said patiently. "I don't do that anymore. So unless you feel like being killed, and not by me, you'd better get out of these woods. It's not safe for a human here."
Riley's mouth was tight, his throat aching painfully. He raised his stake. "When you die, she'll be fine. I've killed vampires before."
Angel looked at him calmly. "Look..." He paused, trying to remember the boy's name. "Riley. Things aren't as they seem. You might want to think about this, and talk to Buffy..."
"Buffy's going to be..."
"You don't believe in her enough to know that she's strong enough to fight off something like brainwashing?" Angel suddenly interrupted, yelling. "You don't know her at all. You don't know anything about her. You don't deserve her. No one does, but at least *I* tried, damnit!"
Riley charged the vampire, his stake aimed. Angel easily dodged, knocking him aside. Riley landed hard on his back, and glared up at Angel with undisguised hatred gleaming in his eyes. He groaned, and Angel considered helping him up when the younger man reached into his jacket.
And pulled out a taser gun.
Riley aimed and fired, hitting Angel squarely in the chest. Angel was knocked over with the force of the electricity, spinning in the air and landing on his stomach. Riley stood up and brushed himself up, slowly walking over to Angel and aiming the gun at his head. He fired again, and watched numbly as the back of Angel's neck began to burn from the continued electrical flame. The smell of burning skin suddenly filled his nostrils, and Riley stumbled back, coughing.
The vampire was down. Now, only one thing left to do.
He raised the stake again and stared at Angel for a moment. His hand began a downward arch.
A voice pierced the night. "Riley!"
Buffy ran, faster than she could ever remember. Riley didn't seem like he could hear her. Her legs pumped furiously, her heart pounding. Her eyes watered as the wind whipped her face. She reached the small clearing in the woods, seeing her boyfriend slash downward with one of the only things that could kill her....
She bolted in between them, tumbling on top of the unconscious vampire, and vaguely felt the stake pierce her shoulder. Her lungs stung, her vision was blurred, her heart ached. The run had hurt her. The conflict between Angel and Riley had hurt her. The wood slipped easily into her skin, and she could barely feel it.
"Angel," she wept, smoothing back his hair. Angel's eyes fluttered, but didn't open.
Buffy looked up at Riley, who seemed to be waking up from some sort of trance. His eyes were fastened on her bloody wound, his face slack. "Buffy," he whispered hoarsely. "Are you okay?"
Buffy glanced away from his gaze, uneasy with the intimacy with which she was holding Angel. Angel remained still and silent, however, so she continued to hold onto him as if for dear life. Her hands stroked his face tenderly.
Finally she answered her boyfriend quietly, sadly. "Just go, Riley."
"What?!" He was upset, confused, furious, and worried for her. "You want me to leave you alone with this... What are you doing? What are you thinking? *What* is going on?!"
The tears brimmed on her lashes, and she prayed they wouldn't fall. "Just *go*!" she repeated, her voice rising.
Riley looked at her for a moment longer. Buffy could feel his eyes on her body, concerned and angry, not knowing whether to tend to her wound or to his own heart. She knew that he couldn't fathom what Angel meant to her, and she also knew that it was her fault that he couldn't fathom it. Finally he exhaled loudly and stalked off into the night, leaving her there.
Buffy looked down at Angel's face, her fingers pawing at his cheeks lightly, her hand carefully examining the injury on the back of his neck. He flinched in her arms, and she was overwhelmed with love for him, and hate for herself.
Who was she supposed to be loyal to? Who was she supposed to care more about, give more of herself to, love most? Who was she supposed to spend the most time with, to want to the most, to smile the most with, to weep the most over?
She didn't know.
An inappropriate laugh bubbled up in her, and Buffy was startled when it echoed through the woods. She shook her head in disbelief.
It was turning out to be a hell of a weekend.