Disclaimers;
Joss. Mutant Enemy. WB. That's pretty much all you need to know.

Feedback; Ooh, yeah!

Spoilers; General Season Five so far(ie. Dawn's in the story.)

Rating; G. ever-so-slight angst.

Summary; Someone is leaving UC Sunnydale

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Clean Break
by Kirayoshi
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"So, you made your decision." She meant the words to form a question, but one look on his face supplied the answer before she even asked.

"Yeah," Riley Finn nodded, a touch of sadness in his voice. "I spoke to the dean. I'm having my current credits transferred to Iowa State University, and I'll be leaving there next week.

Buffy Summers didn't know whether to feel sad, angry or just -- nothing. She was surprised that she didn't have one dominant, all-consuming emotional response. After all, this was the man she was supposed to be in love with, the man with whom she had made love over the last few months. The Initiative was long-gone, she had her friends back, they seemed to accept him, he seemed to accept civilian life, life was good again.

But it wasn't. Not for them. Certainly not for him. The last few weeks, the tension had been mounting on his broad shoulders. He smiled less, he touched her less, he made excuses to not go out on patrol with her, or even to dinner at her mother's. Two weeks ago, she confronted him about his reticence, and he admitted that he was considering transferring to a college in his native Iowa. He said something about being homesick, and that he was offered a sports scholarship. But that was just speculation. He could change his mind, and come back to her. But now, that option was closed off. And Buffy was damned if she knew exactly how she felt about that.

One thought echoed throughout her head; Does this mean I never loved you, Riley Finn?

Riley could see the war of emotions being waged on her face, and could do nothing else but scoop her up in his arms, and offer what comfort that he could.

Buffy felt the tension in her shoulders ease at his warm familiar touch. His love comforted her, but never quite set her afire. It was the equivalent of macaroni and cheese, she decided then. Comfort food. But it wasn't enough. Not for either of them.

Knowing that she was losing him, and knowing that it wouldn't hurt nearly as bad as when she lost Angel was one thing. She still needed closure. She still had to ask. "Why?"

Riley dreaded hearing the question, but he loved Buffy too much to lie to her. "I can't stay here anymore." He let her go, and paced his dorm a few steps. "It's not you, it's not me, it's here. Sunnydale. The Hellmouth.

"I guess when I first joined the Initiative, I thought I was doing the right thing. There were monsters, animals, demons, that sort of thing in the world, and I thought I could deal with them. I guess that comes from a childhood filled with Captain America comic books," he chuckled as he sat on the edge of his bed. "I'd see the enemy, I'd take the enemy. That simple."

"But it wasn't that simple," Buffy sat next to him, leaning her head on his shoulder.

"Tell me about it," Riley's shoulders sagged. "I guess I was raised to believe in either God, or the world of my senses. If it existed, there had to be a logical explanation for it. Yeah, try to find a logical explanation for vampires, for those Gentlemen creeps we fought, for anything we saw here."

"Hey, I didn't believe in it at first either," Buffy consoled Riley. "When Merrick, my first watcher, told me that I was destined to fight the vampires, the first thing I said was, 'Does Elvis talk to you?'." Riley laughed at that statement, releasing his own tensions with the healing balm of laughter.

After he collected himself, he continued; "I guess that's what it boils down to. You have a destiny. I just had a job to do. And when I found out that Dr. Walsh was covering up Adam, that everything I knew about the Initiative was a lie, that she tried to have you killed, I dealt with it then. I never thought much past that, and when the job was over, I just went on with my life."

"And I don't have that option," Buffy admitted simply. "I'm the Slayer. I can't retire that, it's what I am, what I'll always be."

"Like Superman," Riley commented. "He is what he is, he can't stop being Superman. That's what you are."

"So, what does that make you? Lois Lane?"

Riley gave a resigned sigh. "More like Lana Lang, the one who couldn't hack it. I mean, Lois and Clark got married. Lana, she stayed in Smallville. Where I should have stayed." He turned to face the woman he would always love, but could never be with, saying, "If I could separate you from Sunnydale, from the demons, from the vampires, from all the baggage that goes with this place, I'd be on bended knee right now, asking you to marry me."

"And I'd probably accept," Buffy answered, her voice catching at the end.

"But look at you," Riley stood up and paced the room again. "You're so caught up in the Slayer bit, it's everything that defines you. Your best friend's a witch, an honest to God witch, and she's dating a witch. Your other best friend's dating a demon. Your sister's a psychic, you have a vampire ex-boyfriend in L.A., you hang out with another vampire..."

"I wouldn't call what I do with Spike 'hanging out'," Buffy amended his last statement, "more like 'suffering his presence while dreaming of new ways to stake him,'."

"Hey, whatever," Riley added, "but that just proves my point. You've faced things that no human ever should. Things that would drive anyone else completely insane. And you still joke about it. I can't do that. I'm not as strong as you are, I guess."

"You're plenty strong, Riley," Buffy rebutted. "I mean, you're starting a new life for yourself, you're making this decision that will change our lives, and you had the decency to include me in the decision making process. I ain't thrilled with the decision," she rolled her eyes, "but I accept it. I'll miss you bad, but you gotta do what's right for you."

Riley held her tightly, glad that he was blessed with her love for however short a season. "I'll miss you too, Buffy," he answered. He considered adding 'I love you', but stopped short. It wouldn't do any good. He knew that his days of loving Buffy Summers were over. Their relationship was done.

They just held each other for the rest of the night, saying nothing. Nothing needed to be said. They didn't make love that night, or ever again. They knew that the physical expression of the love they once shared, while pleasurable, would ultimately be futile.

It was over. They simply accepted it.

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One week later;

"Hey, thanks for seeing me off at the airport," Riley said to Buffy, as they walked down the concourse to his waiting plane, Riley hoisting his carry-on bag.

"Least I could do," Buffy answered as she looked around her. She caught some movement out of the corner of her eye, and directed Riley subtly toward the action. She shouted loudly, "Right, guys?"

"Right!" Willow answered. A group of people stood up from their seats in the waiting area, and marched in a ludicrous procession. Xander lead the impromptu parade, playing "The Colonel Bogey March" on kazoo. Dawn Summers was next, twirling a baton, followed by Willow, Tara, Anya and Giles. Willow was carrying a huge scroll, and once the marchers stopped their procession, Willow and Tara took the opposite ends of the scroll in their hands, and unrolled it in front of the others, who held up the giant banner in front of them. The banner read simply "GO, CYCLONES!" in red and gold poster paint, the mascot and the colors for Iowa State University.

Riley gasped, his smile beaming, as Buffy pulled a camera out of her purse. Obviously she had this send off planned as soon as his airline reservations came in. She snapped a pic of Riley, immortalizing the look on his face, then ushered him in front of the banner, taking his picture with the rest of the Scooby Gang. She even got a stranger to take a shot of her with Riley and the others. Finally, when she had exhausted her shots, she said, "You e-mail Willow your address at ISU, and I'll send you some duplicate prints of these shots."

"Thanks, Buffy," Riley said, as he worked his way down the line of Scoobs, shaking hands and accepting hugs. "Take good care, my lad," Giles said. "You will be missed."

"Yeah," Willow added, as she and Tara said their good-byes. "And if you don't keep in touch, I'll go down to Iowa, and--"

"Beat me to death with a shovel," Riley laughed. "Deal, Willow." He then accepted a warm, and surprisingly non-sensual hug from Anya, and handshakes from Xander and Dawn.

Then came the last goodbye. As he faced Buffy, he could hear the airline attendant make the boarding call. "Well, I guess this is it," Riley said, feeling stupid. Why did people always say that when they said goodbye. "I'm sure gonna miss you."

"I'll miss you too," Buffy answered as she gave him one last hug. Her lips met his for a final time, chastely, and then parted. "Just do me a favor when you get there. Find a nice girl. You deserve someone who can give you everything, and I'm afraid I don't qualify. Slayers' lives tend to be violent, and short. Find someone who can make you happy, and send me an invite to the wedding."

"I'll send all of you invites," Riley answered. He could feel the lump growing in his throat, and he let go of Buffy for the final time. He grabbed his bag, and left hurriedly for the plane. Just before he got there, Buffy shouted, "Hey, Riley!"

Riley turned his head, and the Scooby gang shouted, in unison, "GO, CYCLONES!" Riley smiled, and boarded his plane.

As she watched Riley's plane take off, and fly her old love away from her, then and only then did a tear course its way down her cheek.

"Hey, Buffy," her kid sister asked her, shaking her back to the real world. "You okay?"

Buffy looked at Dawn, and squeezed her hand. "Yeah. At least, I will be." Motioning to the other Scoobs, she added, "Baskin Robbins, people! The scoops are on me!" The friends left the airport, contemplating 31 flavors of ice creamy goodness.

For the second time in two years, Buffy Summers saw a man with whom she considered sharing her life leave her forever. But this time, she wasn't lost. Riley Finn was facing his future, and now it was her turn. She looked at Willow, as she strolled down the sidewalk, her hand in Tara's, and smiled. As long as she had her friends, she was going to be just fine.

FINIS

Author's note; I wrote this story for one purpose; I decided that, as much as I want Riley Finn off the show, I don't want his last episode(whenever that may be, I'm taking all rumors of Mark Blucas' departure with a grain of salt until I hear something from a reliable source) to be messy. If Riley is killed, or Turned, or sacrifices his life to save the gang, or something like that, Buffy would get angsty for the rest of the season, and an angsty Buffy is not a fun Buffy. Just look at the Angelus story arc. Powerful stuff, but man, I was starting to side with Cordy; "Spank your inner moppet!" This way, she makes a clean break. No angst, no regrets, just a simple goodbye, and a promise of a future for her. Plus, we won't see Riley pop up in any nasty nightmares the way Angel did at the start of season three. I remain, Kirayoshi