The scream that woke Riley from an uneasy sleep wasn't a surprise, nor was the sight of his normally confident wife curled into a tight ball, whimpering and trembling in her sleep. It had been the normal state of affairs for over five years now.
Riley gently shook the tiny blond woman into wakefulness. Hazel eyes filled with guilt and grief met his briefly then Buffy threw herself into his arms. Riley rocked back and forth, carefully smoothing her sleep tangled hair and murmuring soothing nonsense as she clung to him desperately.
Another man might have resented this, that even after all these years his wife still grieved for the loss of another man, but Riley knew that this was what made his relationship with Buffy possible.
Six years ago he'd left her because she didn't need him, now she did. Riley remembered seeing Buffy for the first time after their break-up, it had been ten months since the night he'd left Sunnydale. It had been a coincidence, one that had been bound to occur someday. The Initiative and the Slayer had both been called to LA for the same disaster in the making.
After it was all over Riley learned that Buffy's vampire lover had called her for help a week earlier, but she'd been busy with her own problems and had told him to take care of things on his own. By the time Buffy had arrived in LA, Angel was missing, presumed dead.
The three groups: Buffy and the Slayerettes, Angel's friends and the Initiative soldiers, had formed an uncomfortable alliance. Together they stormed the offices of Wolfram and Hart in a last ditch attempt to prevent the Old Ones from escaping. The Old Ones, or as the employees of Wolfram and Hart called them, the senior partners, two ancient beings of evil who had set up the law firm as a means by which they could manipulate events in the world so as to free themselves from their long confinement.
Riley had to admit it was clever; most demons lured humans into their service through cults. Those were the type of organizations that the Initiative monitored just in case one of the nutcases actually managed to raise a real demon; they never thought to suspect a prestigious, if unethical, law firm. By the time anyone but Angel's little group realized what was occurring the building was already nine tenths in Hell. Not quite a doorway between dimensions, more of a pressure lock.
Between the Initiative techs and Buffy's witch friends they'd put together several magically enhanced bombs that would destroy the building and seal any rifts in the barrier between Hell and the world. The only trick was that the bombs had to be planted inside the building.
Three bombs, three teams, with the rest acting as a diversion. Buffy and Graham were to place their bomb on the roof. Gunn, Wesley, Xander and Agent Walker had the ground level placement. Riley and Spike were given responsibility for planting the sublevel bomb. The witches and spell casters had stayed behind with the Initiative's surveillance specialists, ready to lend their magic wherever it was most needed, while the Initiative combat team staged a frontal attack on the building to divert attention from the true mission.
Riley remembered the cold fear of failure in the pit of his stomach as he and the bleached blond vampire snuck through the sewers below Wolfram and Hart with the disassembled bomb split between the packs on their backs. The components of the bomb were too dangerous to carry together.
Riley remembered encountering the deranged vampiress Drucilla…
"You've been a very naughty boy, Spike," The beautiful girl who had seemed to appear from the shadows had said in a singsong voice.
"What do you mean Princess?" Spike had asked.
"You're like my Angel now, your heart's all full of her," the vampiress scolded.
"I needed someone to fill the hole you left Pet," Spike replied. "You left me with no one else to turn to. You sent me to the Slayer Dru, this is no one's fault but yours."
"Oh my poor knight," the girl exclaimed. "I've wounded you grievously."
Riley stared at the pair in horror. If Spike defected now the plan would fail and the world would be subjugated by the Old Ones. "Why had they trusted that creature," Riley had wondered.
"Forgive me?" Dru had requested and Spike had opened his arms welcomingly to the mad girl.
Riley raised his pistol, specially designed to fire bullets of hardwood, but couldn't fire. If Spike's pack went to dust with the vampire the plan would fail as surely as if he defected. Plagued by indecision Riley watched as the lovers embraced, then in open-mouthed shock as the dark haired vampiress crumbled into dust.
"After a century with Dru I know how to project emotions so as to manipulate those insights of hers. O'course I could never fool her for more than a few seconds," Spike commented staring at the ashes of his former lover.
"I thought…" Riley began, lowering his gun.
"I've never been in favor of ending the world," Spike explained. "And Dru abused my love for her one too many times."
The rest of the mission had gone smoothly for them. They'd planted the bomb and retreated according to the plan. Exactly according to the plan, they hadn't deviated in the slightest. Not for anyone.
Buffy and Graham encountered a clan of Jakry demons while getting to their assigned site. Graham had been clawed badly across the ribs. Buffy took out the demons with an icy determination then supported Graham the rest of the way. She got him to the bombsight and back out after he'd armed the bomb. The last team hadn't run into any problems, but the diversionary unit had taken heavy casualties, even though the spell casters had been transporting out the injured and sending illusions to confuse the enemy.
Once the bombs were placed everyone had pulled back post-haste. After the bombs went off nothing had been left of Wolfram and Hart but a scorched hole in the ground.
Riley had gone to see Buffy afterwards and to his immense shock had found her sobbing inconsolably, harsh, wrenching sobs that shook the Slayer's slender frame. For once Riley was being allowed to see past the tough competent front she put up to the grief-stricken girl who just wanted someone to take away her pain.
Riley held her as she cried, listened patiently as she poured out her guilt that she hadn't come when Angel first called, reassured her that she couldn't have know that Angel would be lost because of that delay.
The next night Buffy had called him in tears once again and he'd gone to her. For the first month after Angel's death the nightmare had come every night and by the end of that month Buffy was living with Riley, she couldn't bare to sleep alone.
During Joyce's illness Buffy had never once turned to Riley for comfort. She'd treated him like the rest of them, like Dawn, like he needed her to take care of him, to be strong for him. That had been what had driven him away.
In her grief and guilt over Angel she hadn't done that, instead Buffy had turned to Riley for comfort when she was hurting and it made all the difference. That was what Riley had wanted: to have Buffy depend on him. Even after five years Buffy's dreams still plagued her and she still needed him to hold her when she woke screaming with tears on her cheeks.
Even after getting back together with Buffy, Riley stayed in the Initiative. It wasn't easy, and he did a lot more commuting than the military really approved of, but Buffy's dreams always got worse when he wasn't with her. Riley liked that. Eventually the Initiative had given in to the inevitable and made Riley their official liaison to the Slayer. Frequently it was a difficult job, Riley might be Buffy's husband and the only person who ever saw her cry, but the Slayer didn't let anyone from Initiative tell her how to fight.
Giles was her adviser, the Scoobies were her trusted friends and council and Spike was her fighting partner, the Initiative was an interloper who she occasionally tolerated but never welcomed. To the Slayer, Riley was always a member of the Initiative, even if he was Buffy's husband.
Riley wished it was otherwise, but he was also glad she had the Scoobies and Giles, without them she'd have been dead years ago. Spike had also saved her life on more than one occasion but Riley wished that the Initiative had killed the peroxide blond all those years ago when the Initiative had taken him captive.
Now Riley couldn't do anything about Spike… no more than Spike could risk doing anything to harm Riley. They each stood on one end of a plank balanced on a high wire, if one fell so would the other.
So Riley gritted his teeth and didn't saying anything when Spike showed up ready for patrol every night. He never mentioned how he felt watching Buffy and Spike fight together or spar against one another, moving in such synchronicity that a person would think that they were telepathically linked.
Of course he was jealous, Riley knew Spike loved Buffy and that the blond vampire was allowed into a part of her life from which he'd been barred. Riley also knew that if he ever told Buffy she had to choose between her slaying partner and him, Spike would be history, but he didn't dare ask.
He and Spike never spoke of the secret that lay between them. Neither ever said the word blackmail. They didn't needed to. They both understood their position; it wasn't the something that needed to be discussed.
Riley remembered his and Spike's retreat from Wolfram and Hart after planting the bomb. He remembered the hoarse screams that had drawn him to the door of one particular cell under the building. He remembered seeing a slight blond girl maliciously twisting the red-hot fire iron driven into a dark-haired man's side, eliciting yet another scream. He remembered the moment when the man hanging in chains looked up, his dark, bottomless eyes meeting Riley's. He remembered the moment of mutual recognition and the look of comprehension in Angel's eyes the moment before Riley turned away. Riley remembered turning away from Angel only to face Spike's knowing smirk.
"You're not exactly the boy-scout everyone thinks you are," Spike had said.
Riley had walked past the bleached blond and away from the cell holding Buffy's first love. He never looked back, not even when another pained shriek rent the air. Spike followed after the commando, the blonde's smirk had lasted for days. Even now there were moments when it crossed the vampire's face, and Riley knew Spike was thinking about how much alike they really were.
They both loved Buffy. Each of them had taken over half of Angel's role in her life, Riley was the one she turned to for comfort now and Spike was the one she trusted to watch her back in a fight. There were both willing to accept that they would never be Buffy's first choice, that spot was held by a ghost, but she needed them and that was enough.
And they had both made the choice to leave Angel behind that night at Wolfram and Hart.
Riley had gone to Buffy that night to confess what he'd done, only to find Buffy more vulnerable than he'd ever imagined she could be. He'd thought he couldn't live with the weight of Angel's death on his conscious, then Buffy had turned to him, and Riley knew that he would keep his secret.
Riley still loved Buffy with all his heart, and she still didn't love him, but that day, for the first time she needed him and that was enough. They'd been married only a few months later. Riley knew he could heal the guilt that had crippled Buffy for so long with just a few words, but he never said those words. Even if Riley hadn't been the one to blame for Angel's death, he still wouldn't have told Buffy that her delay hadn't been what cost Angel his life. Riley didn't tell her because that knowledge would have freed Buffy from her weakness and it was her weakness that formed the basis of their relationship not her strengths.