Set between "Shadow" and "Listening to Fear." Riley's snoring drives Buffy downstairs to sleep on the couch, when a noise in the kitchen rouses her to discover a certain vampire plundering her pantry.

Usual disclaimer: I do not own anything

Refuges

Buffy had stayed in the hospital room with her mom and Dawn for over an hour. She had stayed until the doctor informed them they had to leave. Her mom had had a long day, the doctor told them. She needed some rest. Buffy hadn't wanted to leave. Neither had Dawn. But the stupid doctor had gotten pushy, telling them they had to. That visiting hours were over a long time ago. That they could come back first thing in the morning. Buffy had argued with him, but with no success. Her mother had assured them that she would be fine. Insisted that she take Dawn home so they could all get some sleep.

Still, Buffy felt like she should stay there. Just in case. She needed to be there to protect her mom. It didn't feel right leaving. She didn't want to. Her mom would be all alone. She should be there. Just in case. What if something went wrong? What if her mom needed her?

"Do you think she is going to be okay?" Dawn asked as they walked down the hallway towards the waiting room.

"Of course," Buffy assured her sister. "The doctors say that they caught it pretty early. And the prognosis is good. Plus, she's mom. She'll be fine."

They walked together for a moment in silence. "Buffy?"

"Yeah."

"What if she's not?"

Buffy grabbed Dawn's hand, squeezing it tightly. "She will be, Dawn. I promise."

"Buffy?" Dawn asked again, warily.

"Yeah, Dawn."

"You're hurting my hand."

"Oh sorry," Buffy smiled tiredly. "She'll be fine," she said again, as much to herself as to her sister.

She had planned to call Giles. To have him pick them up from the hospital. But when they got to the waiting room, she saw Riley. He had stayed, she guessed. He looked up as they entered, quickly rising from the uncomfortable looking chair he had been sitting in.

"Buffy," he said, walking towards her. "I didn't leave. Didn't know if you would need me. You know, when you were done in there."

"Thank you," said Buffy, embracing him. "I'm glad you're here," she murmured into his chest.

"I'm always here for you," he replied, kissing the top of her head. "I love you."

Buffy heard Dawn let out a groan. She didn't have to turn her head to know that her sister was rolling her eyes. "Can all of this gross lovey-dovey get-a-roominess stuff wait until we get home?" Dawn demanded petulantly.

Buffy, turned her head, leaning it against Riley's chest. "Dawn," she said with an edge of warning in her voice.

"What? Just because you two are soooo in love. I don't need to see it. Besides, I'm tired and I want to go home."

"I can take you," Riley offered. Buffy loved that he was here when she needed him. That he offered to do things like this without her asking. He was the perfect boyfriend. He was always there.

"Thanks," she said, pulling out of his embrace. "Alright, lets go."

The car ride home had been mostly silent. Only the quiet music on the radio made it bearable. Stopped it from being awkward. Riley had tried to make small talk, but neither Buffy nor her sister had been much in the mood for conversation. They had too much to think about. It had just been too much. Too fast. Riley had understood, and after his first attempts at conversation had failed, he too accepted the silence, focusing on the road until he steered the car into the driveway.

"Thanks for the ride, Riley," Dawn said perfunctorily as she hopped out of the back seat of the car and scampered up the steps of the house.

"Sorry about Dawn," said Buffy after her little sister had exited the car. "It's a lot for her to handle right now."

"It's a lot for you too, Buffy. Don't feel like you have to do this alone."

"I don't. Its just… I'm so used to being the Slayer. Everything is always my responsibility. Its always my job to fix things. To save the day. I don't know how to not deal with something like this alone."

"Well you're going to have to figure that out, Buffy," he saw her flinch, and he softened his tone. "This isn't Slayer stuff. This is just human stuff. And its damned hard stuff. But its not something you have to do alone."

"I know," she smiled sadly. "Since your all about the ask-for-helpiness, there is something else you could do for me."

"Shoot."

"Do you think you could stay the night? I don't think I want to be alone tonight. Without mom here, the house… it just feels empty. You know. Like all the hominess is gone. But if you were there with me. It might help. You know. I don't want to be alone tonight."

"Buffy, you never have to be alone. You choose it."

"Riley, I know. I'm sorry. I know I haven't exactly been girlfriend of the year…"

"You don't have to be girlfriend of the year," he cut her off. "You just have to be you. I love you because you are you, Buffy. And I wouldn't change a thing about you. You're one hell of a woman. I just wish you wouldn't try to do everything on your own. Because no matter how amazing a person is, we all need a little help sometimes," he saw her face start to fall. "Now, lets get inside. Its late. Lets get some sleep."

He would talk to her about everything else that was on his mind some other time. For all her strength, she seemed so small, so fragile. He would take care of her tonight. And some other time, when things were not quite so bad, he would talk to her. Talk to her about the walls she had put up between them. The distance she had maintained. She needed him now. Finally. Lately, it felt like she hadn't needed him at all. But now she did. Had asked for help. And he would take what crumbs he could.

They walked inside the house. Closing the door behind them. Neither noticing the smell of smoke that hung about the air or the red glow of a cigarette behind the tree in the Summers' front yard.