Balance: Buffy and Riley

Technically, she's supposed to be Riley's dog. An Irish setter, like the one he had as a kid with the totally unimaginative name of Rusty. She become Buffy's dog the moment Buffy, slightly more imaginative than her then husband to be, named her Togo.

Togo followed Buffy everywhere. Oh, she let Riley take her for runs and would accept food from any and everybody but she was Buffy's dog. She there to greet Buffy after work and she would sit under Buffy's chair at the table. And she'd always follow Buffy to the mailbox and would wait patiently as Buffy looks though the envelopes for something other than junk mail and bills.

Today Buffy's luck was in, a postcard from Xander. According to the postcard, he was in Fairbanks, Alaska with a girl named Tracy. Or at least, he was two weeks ago when he sent this. Every postcard it's a new place and a new girl, like he's looking for something he lost. Or someone.

There is no return address. He never stays long enough in one place to need one. But that's okay. He also has an e-mail address, which he has been known to occasionally check. Buffy can get a hold of him if she needs to, which is more than she can say for Dawn. At least Xander came to her wedding.

Occasionally there's a letter from Dawn. Once there was a phone message, brief, like her letters. They all sounded as if Dawn was lost in some sort incoherent haze. They all sounded sad. They all said not much at all.

Dawn never asks for money. Buffy wishes she would. Then there would be a return address and Buffy would know where her little sister has run off to.

They hired a detective, years ago, but with no luck. If Dawn Summers didn't want to be found, Dawn Summers would not be found. There was nothing but hope that the next letter would have a return address.

That was Buffy's only good reason for not moving, when nothing else was holding her. Nothing but the horrible knowledge that if they moved, Dawn wouldn't know, Buffy would stop receiving her already rare letter and Buffy would lose her sister completely.

Riley refrains from saying, "You've already lost her. You're just holding on to a ghost."

Buffy knows this without needing Riley to say so. Sometimes she wonders that it might hurt less to let her go. Call her dead in her mind, bury what she left behind and let her go. Like Buffy let her mother go. Like she let her father go. Like she let Angel go.

And Buffy really does want to leave it all behind. The sadness here is painful, lonely and empty. And Riley makes a good, logical argument, "It's too expensive to keep this place. It's too big for two people. Let's move into a smaller place. An apartment, like Anya and Xander had."

True, true and temping. Still, she hopes for a return address.

They aren't exactly poor but money's tight. They're both still in school and Riley's severance money is going to run out sooner than later. And the place IS too big for just the two of them. Without mom. Without Dawn. Without friends. Without children.

It is the last one that hits her hardest of all, though she can't imagine why. She never wanted children… until she couldn't have them.

Buffy remembers the day she'd gone to the doctor. She'd missed her period. No big deal, really. It had always been sporadic at best and it wasn't their first scare but the pregnancy tests, both of them, had been inconclusive. So, she had gone to the doctor, who told her she wasn't pregnant but wanted to set an appointment with a specialist anyway.

In an office with blue carpeting and white egg shell walls, the specialist told Riley and Buffy that Buffy was infertile. Her ovaries had shut down and the precise eggs inside her were dead and useless. The specialist had said it in much politer, empathic way, of course, but it came down to the same thing. Buffy couldn't have kids.

Riley tried to take it like a man or, rather, how he thought a man should take it. He said there were always fertility treatments and adoption options. He tried to be supportive when it was himself who needed support. He wanted children more than Buffy could ever guess and he wanted them with his wife.

Buffy wanted answers. She called the first woman she could think of who could give her them, Willow, who studied slayer lore in England. If this malfunction had anything to do with slayage, Willow would have answers. Unfortunately, Willow did have the answer. She tried to explain gently that when a slayer is called, a power is thrust into their body and, sometimes, non vital organs would get damaged. It's a trade off, giving up one thing for another. Willow was very sorry.

Buffy thanked Willow in as calm as voice as she could muster, hung up the receiver and threw the phone into the wall, shattering plastic and plaster.

That had been two months ago. Now, in the present, Buffy is thinking of writing a letter to Dawn, in hopes that she'll have something to send when she finally has an address to send something to.

She thinks of Xander, still wandering, still searching, and of Willow, her searching done. She thinks of herself, and Riley and their love and the children she will never have.

Buffy closes the mailbox door and heads back into her far too empty house she can't risk to give up and can't afford to keep. Togo follows her faithfully.

End

Author Notes: So, that's the end of that. Please leave a review to tell me what you think.