A storm was coming. The wind kicked up and made the fall leaves dance around her as she walked through one of the many Sunnydale cemeteries. It smelled like rain and she wrapped her sweater more tightly around her shoulders. There was a full moon, which, despite six years having gone by, always reminded her of Oz. She wondered where he was now, what he was doing since he left the small California town. It still struck her as ironic that the one thing he loved in all the world was her best friend, Willow, and that was the one thing he couldn't have. And that scenario was one all too familiar.
Buffy stopped in front of a crypt to admire the intricate engraving that adorned the door. She sighed, "I can't believe I can admire these things now, that I can find beauty in them." She'd been a Slayer for a long time. At the age of 26 she was the oldest Slayer in history, something she was fiercely proud of. She planned to be around for many, many more years, Slayer or not. She ran a finger along a deep crack in the crypt's door, a crack that lead to the face of a cherub angel. Things always seem to lead back to angels….
Suddenly a stick cracked to her left and all other thoughts flew from her mind. Her ears perked up and her eyes quickly assessed her surroundings, even though she had stood in this spot dozens of times before, fighting or preparing to fight. Nothing came flying at her and nothing tried to hide. There seemed to be no one there, but she wasn't convinced. When there seems to be nothing wrong, usually all hell breaks loose…literally, she thought. She walked towards the origin of the sound and paused, almost sniffing the air. If I put my mind to it, I probably could smell vampires. I can certainly sense them every other way.
Finding nothing unusual she took a step back towards the crypt she had been admiring. A little jumpy these days, aren't we? It's probably a rabbit. But she knew better. In Sunnydale, it was never, ever just a rabbit.
She stepped onto the blacktop path that wound its way through the cemetery and continued on, patrolling as she had for over ten years. Things had changed since the first time she stepped foot in this cemetery, in this town. The important things had stayed the same, though, she decided. Xander and Anya were together, married, with children. Xander was the foreman for the construction company he had started out at as a laborer so many years ago. Anya still helped Giles run the Magic Box, the magic store he had taken over after the original owner had been killed in yet another Sunnydale tragedy. Giles was still officially Buffy's Watcher, despite the fact that she really no longer needed one. They still trained together almost daily, and he was still the greatest source of demon knowledge in the country.
Luckily, Giles had convinced his on-again, off-again girlfriend, Olivia, that his lifestyle wasn't too dangerous for her and the two had been married several years back. At first Olivia had wanted to live in London, but Giles had refused, telling her his feelings for Buffy, the daughter he had never had. He had told her that he couldn't leave her, they needed each other. It had touched Olivia enough to agree to a California address. And she, in some small ways, took over the mother-role that Buffy had lost at such an early age. The two had become very close over the last six years. Olivia was by no means a replacement for Joyce, but she had a very understanding nature, and often helped guide Buffy in making her choices in life. Choices of the heart, not of the mind. Giles had that department covered as far as advice went.
Losing Dawn had been the worst, almost as bad as losing her mother. Buffy still felt she failed, despite the fact that Dawn had willingly given up her own life to save Buffy, the Scoobies, and the rest of the world. Angel had been there, been there to help comfort Buffy as he had been just a few weeks earlier when she had lost her mother. But Dawn didn't die as peacefully as their mother had. A brain tumor would have been a blessing. Dawn bled to death on an altar as Glorificus had tried to bring Hell on Earth. Tara had given her life so that Dawn could live, but it was too late. Dawn had lost too much blood.
Willow….Willow had barely survived Oz's departure, and the death of Tara had put in her such a state of shock that no one thought she would come out of it. It had taken months before her catatonia had broken, but when she "woke up" the change in her was amazing. She had been in a trance, one that she had put herself in to help with the healing. In this trance she had been able to communicate with Tara and to be assured that all would be okay. When she came back to her friends she had grieved and was prepared to move on. She would never forget and would never stop loving Tara, but she was at peace.
In the end, Glory had been defeated by a spell the Watcher's Council had "suddenly come up with." A grand battle had still been needed, but a binding spell had kept Glory/Ben and the third hellgod, Doc, from performing any sort of majic or ritual. Buffy performed a spell over Dawn's lifeless body that trapped her energy, the Key's energy, in a crystal that she now wore around her neck. It was in the shape of the sun, of dawn, a symbol of her sister. She had vowed to never take it off and to guard it forever. Glory/Ben and Doc were easy to kill once their powers, and more to the point, their strength, was bound. Spike took care of them in two quick swoops of a sword, surprising everyone.
And here they were…..Sunnydale, six years later. So little had changed, and yet so much had. Spike had left town after the death of Dawn, but returned a few years later. He had traveled and found a witch doctor who removed his chip and for awhile he had reverted to his old tricks, drinking from anything with a pulse. He was still a threat, but the Scoobies didn't have the heart to kill him. Not that they let him know that, Buffy smirked. He had been so devastated when Dawn died, he had blamed Angel for distracting Buffy, then blamed Buffy herself for being too caught up in her own problems. Since his return he had actually been helpful, though Buffy was still wary of him and his unrequited feelings.
Riley had returned about a year after Dawn's death and he and Buffy had tried to work things out. Sadly, it wasn't meant to be. Angel had stayed in town for months after Dawn's death, helping the Slayer who had lost so much in such a short time. Their relationship had stayed platonic, but barely. Riley's return was ill timed. He had been watching Buffy for a few weeks before he made his presence known, and reentered her life as jealous of Angel as he had been when he left. Buffy sighed, and sat down on a park bench, remembering their last encounter.
She and Angel had been patrolling the streets of Sunnydale when they were attacked by a group of vamps. They quickly went to work fighting them off, having easily fallen back into the flow of fighting side-by-side. It was one of many things they did well together, and Willow had once remarked that it was amazing to watch the teamwork the two possessed. Buffy was making quick work of one particular vampire when two more ambushed her. Angel came to her rescue and all three vamps were quickly dusted, but the event left her slightly shaken.
"I thought I was back on my game…guess not," she said, brushing the vamp dust off her pants.
"You're getting there. Those two came out of nowhere. You can't be expected to handle three on one."
She smiled up at him ruefully, "I guess I'm just lucky you're still around."
They held hands as they walked back onto the sidewalk, as they occasionally did. Buffy wasn't sure what it meant, but it was nice and she didn't push for it to stop. They reached the end of the street and rounded the corner, heading towards the Bronze when a figure came out of the shadows ahead of them. Angel instinctively moved in front of Buffy but stopped when he saw who it was.
"Angel! Move!" Buffy exclaimed, pushing her way in front of him. "You've got to stop….." she trailed off as Riley's face came into her view.
"So…taking a bite out of crime, you two?" Riley asked, sarcasm dripping.
"Riley…you're back!" Buffy said, stunned.
"Just got in, more or less. In enough time to see you two…together…with the hand-holding."
Angel stepped up next to Buffy. "Riley…good to see you," he said, unable to keep the mocking tone out of his voice. He had never had patience for the boy standing in front of him.
"Not in the mood, Angel. I just came to talk to Buffy."
Buffy walked over to him and searched his face. "What are you doing here? I waited, all those months to hear from you. I tried to find you," pain filling her throat.
He leaned into her, taking her cheek in his hand. "I couldn't get away. I tried, but the mission was too important. I had to see it through. Besides, you didn't seem to want me to stay, if I recall correctly." He looked up at Angel standing behind them. "Guess I know why." Angel wiggled his eyebrows at him.
She sighed. "I tried to get to you. I ran, but the helicopter took off and you couldn't hear me. I tried. But I was too late."
His face softened slightly, then returned to stony. "I'm sorry."
She looked down, unable to meet his eyes. A moment passed, then another. "So what are you doing here now? Are you back?"
"I can be. I just need you to say the word. But, it seems that you've taken up with Mr. Broody again, so I suppose you're not needing me."
"Riley, I'm not with Angel. He's been here, these last few months, when you weren't, I might add, helping me."
"What's the deal? Some big bad in town?"
"No, nothing big, nothing bad."
"'Cept me," Angel muttered under his breath, glaring at Riley. Buffy hushed him with a look.
"Then why do you need him?" Riley asked impatiently.
"I…my mom…Dawn…" Buffy couldn't get the words out before the tears spilled over. Riley put his arms around to comfort her and for a moment she melted into him. Suddenly she pushed back. "No! No! You don't get to be the one. You left. You weren't there." She turned and ran down the street. Angel threw a nasty glare at Riley before taking off after her. Riley swore and followed them up to Buffy's house. The Slayer ran inside and Angel followed. Riley sat on the steps, knowing that he was unwanted, waiting.
Moments later Angel returned. "Nice job. Very nice. Six sentences into your first conversation with her in almost a year and you manage to make her cry. I can see why you're still single."
"Whatever, dead-boy. I can see why Xander liked that nickname so much. Is she okay? What the hell happened while I was gone?"
"What happened!?" Angel paced impatiently. "Her mother is dead. Dawn is dead. Tara is dead. You weren't here for any of it. You weren't here to see her almost go over the edge and then come back again. That's what happened."
Riley stood there, stunned. "I had no idea. I had no idea." He sat on the porch step and Angel crouched a step above him.
"You weren't here," Angel said into his ear.
Riley looked up at him. "And you were, is that the point?"
"No, it's notthe point, but it's a point."
"What happened? How did they all die?"
Angel sighed and sat down. "Joyce died of a brain tumor, about a month after you left. Buffy tried to reach you but couldn't. Her own father couldn't be found. Thank God for Giles." He paused, then continued. "Dawn died by the hands of Glory. Buffy tried to save her but she had already lost too much blood. She died swearing to Buffy that this was what she wanted, to save the world, to save her sister, and to be with her mother."
"Tara tried to give her life for Dawn's. She did it without Buffy's knowing and of course Glory killed her after capturing Dawn."
"Everyone else? They're okay?"
Riley stared at his shoes, taking it all in. "I should have been here."
Angel said nothing.
"I thought it was best, for me to leave."
Angel said nothing.
"Are you two….together?"
Angel said nothing. He stared at the boy in front of him, still dressed in his military garb, then turned and walked to the front door of the house. "Riley, we've always been together," he said, and went into the house, leaving Riley on the porch, alone.
The wind smacked at her face and Buffy broke out of her memories. It had happened such a long time ago. Despite their efforts, they hadn't been able to work it out. In their last big argument, weeks after Riley's return to Sunnydale and Angel's reluctant departure to LA, Riley had told her what happened on her front porch that night. Angel had said they'd always been together. And yet, she thought, here I am in a lonely, miserable cemetery, alone. She jumped up off the park bench and began her walk home. Angel had left for LA again and nothing had happened between them since, though she was sure he still felt as strongly for her as he always had. She didn't know how she felt about him. Glancing at the sky she grimaced. Where had these thoughts come from tonight? Better to leave that alone...no use in digging up the past.
Rounding the corner to her house, where she and Willow now lived together, the vamp attacked. He came upon her from behind and she barely had time to turn around before she was thrown back against a tree. Crumpling to the ground she reached inside her sweater pocket and retrieved a stake. She leapt to her feet and dove at her attacker, "Getting brave now, huh? Attacking me right in front of my house?" she taunted. She knocked the vamp to the ground. "Were you looking for me? Decided the cemetery wasn't public enough?" She straddled him and punched him first with her left fist, then her right, over and over.
"Tell me! Why were you looking for me? Why were you stalking me?"
The vamp grabbed her arms to prevent her fists from further pummeling him. "Angelus wants you," he said.
Buffy stopped, stunned. "What?!"
"Angelus…he ordered me to bring you to him."
"Angel. You mean, Angel," she said, forgetting that the man underneath her was a vampire and therefore needed a good stake in the heart.
"No, Angelus. He's back, and he wants you," the vampire said before throwing her off him and jumping to his feet. Buffy snapped back into Slayer-mode and performed a spin-kick that flattened the vamp. She tossed her stake down at his heart and watched as he disappeared.