Title: First Contact

Part: 1 of 1

Series: Change in Cadence

Pairing: Riley/Willow pre-relationshippy

Summary: This picks up about a third of the way into The Initiative. I borrowed dialogue until about "There's no hurry", and the rest of the words are mine.

Thanks to Valancy and Glossolalia, my fantabulous beta crew. And to Meg, who helped me with titles and let me bounce and babble a lot. :)

"I can't believe it," Riley said glumly. "I choked."

Willow nodded in agreement. "You really, really did."

Riley shook his head. "You don't understand. I'm good at things. That's what I do. Work hard, apply myself, get it done." He looked toward the crowd forlornly, watching Buffy in her element with another guy.

"Well, you failed extremely well," Willow offered. She tried to smile reassuringly but it didn't quite reach her eyes.

"That's a great comfort to me," Riley said sarcastically. Willow's face grew long, but Riley was staring out at the dance floor, too distracted to notice. She wanted to help him, even if it was all a selfish ploy to get him to smile. She really, really liked his smile.

She whacked his leg lightly. "You need to relax. I mean, you're not proposing. You're just making contact, getting a reaction. Any reaction is ok, except projectile vomiting. But, heh, what are the chances of tha-- " She broke off when she realized what song was playing. It brought memories of Oz rushing back; his small smile, reserved only for her, the way his fingertips danced across the strings of his guitar, his soft, gentle voice...

"Are you ok?" Riley asked. It sounded like real concern.

Willow felt her throat getting smaller, and she swallowed thickly, trying not to let her emotions get to be too much. "This song..."

Riley hesitated for a second and then nodded. "Oh, yeah, it's a tape of some bands from last year's party." He looked at her worriedly. "Associations?"


"Bad?" Riley asked, and Willow nodded slowly, trying to keep her breathing steady.

"A.J.!" Riley called to his friend and made a 'kill it' motion with his finger across his neck. His friend nodded and shut off the music, ignoring the complaints of the people dancing.

Willow smiled a little, grateful and a little surprised that he cared that much. "Thank you. Now go find Buffy."

"There's no hurry," Riley replied, and he turned his big, earnest gaze on her. "I mean, if you want to talk."

Willow shook her head. "No, I...I mean, unless you want to."

Riley looked out at the dance floor, at Buffy in her element, and then back at Willow. He seemed to be weighing options in his mind, and Willow was about to say something when he smiled and nodded.

"Let's talk."

"Really?" Willow was surprised. "I mean, you want to? I'm probably all no fun Willow right now, not big with the happy."

"No, no that's okay." Riley smiled again and then took her hand. It was much bigger than her own, and she felt a little bit small, but also very cozy. "I wanna help," he said. "Or just talk. Whatever you want."

Willow looked down at their joined hands and took a deep breath. "Our hands...they're all holdy." She turned wide eyes on Riley, but held tight when he started to pull away. "It's good. Nice, I mean."

"Was it a guy?" Riley glanced towards the stereo. "With the association?"

"Yeah. A guy." Willow sniffed and rested her other hand on top of their joined ones. "Oz. I asked you about him earlier today..."

"Oh, right. Short guy. Didn't say much."

Willow nodded and bit her lip. "Yeah."

"But you said he was coming back." Riley looked a little uncomfortable all of a sudden, and Willow guessed it was because he was holding hands with a possibly-taken girl.

She glanced over to where Buffy had been last, and saw Xander talking to her. She thought for a second about getting up and going after them, but then looked down at their hands and decided to stay. They wouldn't need her anyway, and she was...cozy.

"Yeah." She sniffed, and a warm tear trickled down her cheek despite her efforts to keep from crying. God, she was in the middle of a party, talking to the guy who was probably going to be her best friend's boyfriend, and crying. "But it's like, when you told me that he had dropped out, it hit me, you know? He's gone, and...and part of me feels like he's never coming back."

Riley drew his brows together worriedly, his honest eyes large. He looked sad, like it was his first time hearing about a girl getting hurt. With a fingertip, he chased the tear back up her cheek, brushing it aside. "It's okay to miss him."

"I know," Willow said. She managed a small, teary smile. "I'm sorry, I was here to help you with Buffy and be all secret agent girl, and now I'm being all babbly and weepy." She wiped at her cheeks with shaking fingers.

"No, it's okay." Riley smiled back. "Don't worry about it. I think you need me more than she does right now, anyway."

Willow nodded gratefully and was about to speak when Riley's friends walked up and stood beside them. She felt a little overwhelmed; suddenly surrounded by three big guys.

"Hey Rye, we need you downstairs."

Riley looked from his friends to Willow worriedly. "I...I have to go..."

Willow smiled and shook her head. "No, go. It's okay. I think I should go home anyway." She stood up, giving the other two a thin-lipped smile, and she kept her hold on Riley's hand for a moment longer than she probably needed to. "I think I saw Buffy take off, so it's good. It was nice talking to you, Riley."

"Yeah, you too." Riley gave her a bright, honest smile and then turned and started away with his friends.

Willow watched them walk away and felt...well, something. She didn't want to say good, but it kind of felt like that. Like a little bit of sunshine, or hot chocolate. Or fuzzy slippers.


"So what was that all about?" Forrest asked as they walked towards the elevator.

Riley looked sideways at him. "What? Willow? We were talking."

"Looked like more than talking to me, man." Forrest grinned a little and stood up straight for the retinal scan. He nudged Graham lightly. "Looks like our boy here is turning into a player."

"Hey." Riley put his hand in front of Forrest's chest. "Not a player."

"Whatever you say," Forrest said. "What happened with Buffy, though?"

Riley frowned a little and stared at the wall. "She left with some guy. Alone with him."

"Ooh, that's gotta hurt." Forrest shook his head quickly. "At least you rebound quickly."

Riley rolled his eyes and shrugged. "Willow's not a rebound. She's..." he leaned forward and spoke into the voice identifier. "A friend." The doors slid open.

"Yeah? Well, just don't start holding my hand," Forrest said as they started towards the debriefing area.

"Who said we were friends?" Riley asked with a smirk.

"New girl and fresh insults. Is that really you in there?" Forrest made a show of looking him over.

Riley raised an eyebrow. "Still me."

Professor Walsh turned around as they approached. "Gentlemen," she said. "Suit up. We have a code red. Hostile 17 has escaped."

Riley and the others tugged on their jumpsuits quickly while Maggie explained the situation. He gave out orders and then started off with Graham and Forrest. They moved quickly, the weight of the situation and what it could mean for their livelihoods weighing on them.

Graham stopped them just outside a small clearing, looking towards the center with a pair of binoculars.

"What is it?" Riley asked.


Riley took the binoculars and saw Buffy sitting on a bench. "Damnit," he muttered. "We gotta get her out of there."

"Sir," Graham said. "There isn't time."

"You wanna just leave her there?"

"Maybe we can get beta squad to come keep an eye on her," Forrest suggested.

Riley bit his lip, thinking for a moment, and then nodded. "Okay. Get 'em on the line." He kept his binoculars trained on Buffy, watching her carefully. She looked like she was waiting for someone, and Riley wasn't sure he really wanted to be there to see who it was.

"They're on their way, Riley." Graham's voice cut through his thoughts.

"Right then. Let's move out." Riley stole one more glance at Buffy and then handed the binoculars back to Graham. The other two nodded, and they moved out silently.

Almost no one was out, which Riley took as a silent blessing for them. The sooner they could catch the hostile, the sooner everyone would be out of danger.

A shrill scream suddenly pierced the quiet night.

Riley glanced at them all and then started running in the direction of the scream. Graham set up their scanner just outside Stephenson Hall, and within seconds confirmed the location of the hostile.

"We got a cold one."

Willow's room. Shit. "We're going in. I need a lockdown on grid 6." He quickly called in the other squads and then headed upstairs as soon as the lights went down. They set up right outside the door, and Riley just prayed that Willow was okay, and that Buffy hadn't come home yet.

With a splintering crash, the door burst open. Willow was standing there, and she pushed the men away before being knocked into a corner in the hallway. One of the troopers turned his stun gun on her, and Riley quickly jumped between them.

"No, hold your fire!"

The hostile came barreling out of the room, slamming Graham into a wall. Riley tried to keep an eye on Willow while his men brought down the vamp. Several men jumped on him at once, pulling a bag over his head and restraining his hands. Riley turned away from the terrified girl in the corner, ready to pack it up.

And then the hostile was loose again. He grabbed a fire extinguisher and hit Lopez in the face with it, knocking him out. Riley tried to grab him, when a flare exploded in the hallway. He cried out as he was blinded, tearing the night vision goggles from his face and tossing them away. A small, blurry figure cut through the scene, efficiently taking his men down.

He thought it looked like a girl, but there was no way.

"Abort!" he said, grabbing someone and pulling him backwards with him. He wasn't going to mess with this, girl or no.

He started towards her, or it, or whatever, intent on getting Willow out of harm's way, but someone grabbed his arm and dragged him back. He struggled for a moment and then realized it was hopeless. Whoever it was, was way too strong for him to take on, especially half blind.


Riley spent the next morning trying to help Maggie identify their attacker. It was hard; whoever it had been was tougher than they were used to dealing with. He walked away feeling somewhat defeated, but at least he'd made it clear that he would capture Hostile 17, and put things right.

He was still lost in thought about it on the way to class. He nearly bumped into Willow in the hallway, but managed to, he thought, compose himself pretty well.

"Hi." Yes, he thought. Can't go wrong with hi.

"Oh, Riley! Hey." Willow smiled and clasped her hands lightly in front of her.

"Sorry about last night, having to take off like that. I had some stuff -"

Willow interrupted him. "Oh, don't worry." She brushed her hair back from her face. "I know how that goes, gotta go be all best friendy sometimes."

"Yeah. How are you?" he asked, looking her over. He couldn't see any bruising without looking suspiciously close, and she seemed cheerful enough.

"Oh, I'm okay. Still kind of wired after that fraternity prank last night." She rose her eyebrows just a little. "They broke our door down, it was all excitingly frantic."

Riley smiled and nodded. "I bet. I'm just glad you ended up okay."

She blushed a little and dropped her gaze. "Me too. I like me all in one piece."

She was adorable. Shy and smiling and happy.

"Say, you want to get some coffee or something?" he asked.

"Oh! Coffee would be -" She stopped mid-sentence, and her shoulders fell a bit. "Class. I have to go and learn things. But, maybe later?"

"Yeah. Later works." Riley smiled. "Later would be just great."