For Want Of A. . .

Summary: Riley's departure from Sunnydale is unexpectedly interrupted.

Disclaimer: All of these characters remain the property of their owners/creators. . .I'm just borrowing them for a spell. . .

Rating: PG, for themes and language.

Time Frame: Near the end of "Into The Woods" (this is your spoiler warning, folks).

Archiving: Be my guest, but e-mail me ( to let me know. . .I like to know where stuff I write ends up and I might want to see what else you've got.


Riley stood silently, staring into the darkness and hoping to see a running figure, but there was nothing but the trees. A shout came from behind him: "Finn, it's time! Move it!" Riley's face contorted momentarily in frustration, then went grim again as he climbed into the helicopter and waited for departure.

The powerful engines of the helicopter roared as the pilot began the takeoff, then all hell broke loose. There was a loud popping sound, then numerous crimson indicators lit up on the instrument panel. The pilot swore loudly and quickly returned the control stick to the neutral position, flipping several switches as he did so. The helicopter's engines quickly died, and Riley's commanding officer was quick to inquire, "What in the hell was that?"

The pilot turned back and replied, "When I find out, you'll be the first to know, sir." He opened a section of the panel and pulled out a flashlight as he began scrutinizing the machinery within. The commander sighed and commented, "All right, gentlemen. . .might as well stretch our legs: we could be here for a while."

Riley sighed and climbed down, only to practically collide with Buffy, who had apparently just sprinted up. He blinked and whispered, "You came. . ."

Buffy's expression was one of relief: she nodded and replied, "I had a lot of thinking to do, and I talked with Xander. . .Riley, it's not OK between us-I think you need to know that. But you've been too important to me for the last year for me to just let you leave like this when it might be forever. I want to try to work things out, but I won't make any promises, except to tell you that I don't hate you, and I want you to be better." She slumped, visibly drained, then asked quietly, "Is that enough for you to want to stay?"

"Damn it, Buffy, how can you jerk him around like this?" Graham had walked up behind Riley, and his voice was unnaturally harsh as he lashed out at the Slayer: "Riley belongs with us, where he has a real mission and is with people who treat him as an equal. . .not like Lois goddamned Lane."

Riley flinched, and Buffy's eyes turned cold as she looked at Graham and replied, "Riley and I have problems, but whatever else has happened, he has made a difference here. He's saved my life and the life of my closest friends, and he's been there for me even at times where I really didn't want him to be. I'll be damned if I'm going to let him wander off into the night with you jokers so he can indulge his death wish."

"Death wish?" The commander came out of the shadows with a scowl on his face and walked up to Buffy before continuing, "Would you care to explain what you mean by that, Miss Summers?"

Riley began to speak, but Buffy cut him off smoothly and replied, "While my mother was sick, he's been patrolling alone. . .taking stupid risks. After he had that operation, he thought he had something to prove. I was going to confront him about it, but other issues came up. Bottom line is, he shouldn't be out in the field again until he gets his head straight."

The commander blinked, then turned to Riley and asked, "Is this true, Finn?"

Riley blinked, swallowed hard, and nodded once. The commander turned back to Buffy and commented, "Thank you for the information, Miss Summers. . .under the circumstances, I'm inclined to agree with you that Finn is not fit to serve with this unit at this time." He turned to Riley and concluded, "Sorry, Finn, but this unit doesn't need any loose cannons. If things change, I might reconsider." Riley nodded, and the commander turned back to the helicopter and shouted, "How's it going in there?"

As if in answer, the main rotor of the helicopter began rotating again, and the pilot shouted out, "Some idiot put the wrong fuses in. . .lucky they blew right off or we would have been in deep trouble! We're clear to go, sir!"

The commander nodded, then turned back to Buffy and Riley and commented, "Those fuses may have saved us all a lot of grief, Finn. . .get your head screwed back on, and we might get back to you in a while. In the meantime, good luck." He nodded at Buffy, then climbed back into the helicopter. Graham gave Riley a hard look, then followed. A few seconds later, the helicopter lifted off and swept off into the night.

When the sound of the helicopter's engines had faded into the distance, Riley turned to Buffy and demanded, "Why did you lie--?"

Buffy raised an eyebrow and replied, "I didn't lie. . .you have been taking stupid chances. Giles passed on word to me about that stunt you pulled with those vamps in that tomb, and we all managed to figure out you were playing X-Files games with those guys when the Queller Demon came to town. I didn't tell him about your games with the vamps because I didn't want them to decide you were a security risk like Maggie did about me back in February."

Riley paled momentarily, and he whispered, "You may have a point." He looked into the eyes of the woman he still loved desperately, and was not sure what he saw there. He took a deep breath and asked, "So, now what?"

"You go home, and tomorrow we start trying to pick up the pieces." Buffy's tone was quiet, and she looked at Riley with an expression of concern that was still not untainted by anger. "We've certainly had to deal with one of us messing up big time before. . .this particular thing is just a bit harder to deal with." She shook her head and commented, "Time was definitely not on our side: if that helicopter had taken off on schedule. . ."

Riley chuckled involuntarily and replied, "Yeah. . .score one for a helpful coincidence."

"Yeah. . .coincidence. Funny thing about coincidences, farm boy: they rarely are." The sardonic voice came from the shadows, and Buffy and Riley turned to see the black clad figure step into the light, his platinum blond hair shining brightly. Buffy rolled her eyes and commented, "Spike. . .I really don't want to deal with you right now. Mind telling me why you are lurking around here when any one of those soldiers who just left would have had no problems staking your sorry ass?"

The vampire shrugged and replied, "I was just out for a stroll earlier, and I saw this lovely machine. Slayer, did you know I've flown a few of those things myself? Quite a rush, that. Anyway, I jimmied the door and did a bit of a switch." He opened his right hand, revealing two small objects, which he tossed to Riley.

Riley stared at them and stated bluntly, "The fuses."

"Mmm-hmmm." Spike looked exceedingly smug as he confirmed Riley's conclusions, then continued, "Happened to hear that you might be skipping town with those soldier types, and knowing how the Slayer here tends to let things slide until the last minute, it occurred to me that an extra few minutes might change the situation a bit, and what do you know? I was right." He took in the startled expressions of his audience, smirked, and called out, "And with that, I bid you good-night." The vampire turned his back on Buffy and Riley and slipped back into the shadows.

Stunned, Buffy stood there while Riley cursed and ran after Spike, catching up with him about a hundred yards away. He seized the vampire's arm and yanked him around so that the two of them were face to face, then snarled a single question: "Why?"

Spike's face went blank, and Riley saw a hint of the hurt that had dwelt in the vampire's eyes the last time they had spoken before they went cold and he replied, "You don't get to ask me that question, soldier boy. If you want, you can tell the Slayer to come and ask me herself; somehow, I doubt that you will." The vampire effortlessly threw off Riley's grasp and stalked away, and Riley chose not to follow.

Riley stood there, quietly staring at the place where Spike had slipped out of sight, until Buffy came up next to him and asked, "So what did he say?"

A chill went down Riley's spine, and he hesitated for a moment before replying, "He wouldn't tell me anything. . .he's probably just getting off on having us confused, or maybe he thought you were pissed off at him for spilling the beans about my problem. Messing with our heads is about the only enjoyment he still gets out of life, Buffy. . .you of all people should know that by now."

Buffy stared at Riley's poker face for a moment, then nodded and replied, "I guess you're right, and given the results, I'm inclined to let things lie for now." She shivered and concluded, "Let's get out of here."

Riley nodded, and they walked away, both feeling insecure and confused, but willing to make the best of a situation that minutes before had seemed unsalvageable.

As always, comments are welcomed and desired