Say Hello, Wave Goodbye

Summary: She's running to his helicopter, and it's too little, too late. They both know this is how it ends. Riley, Buffy, Into The Woods.

A/N: Started writing this and the David Gray's cover of Say Hello, Wave Goodbye got stuck in my head, and thus the title was chosen. This isn't a songfic, but it's really pretty fitting, and you should give it a listen sometime. Anyway, this could be considered AU, perhaps, but I consider it more of a possible reading of the end of Into The Woods. Also, slight implications of Buffy/Angel, but no more than was in the show at the time.

Xander gives her the speech about how Riley's the one, the kind of guy a girl should hold onto because it literally does not get better than this loving, caring, considerate guy who will shove his own needs aside at a moment's notice to simply be there for not only the girl he loves, but for her friends and family as well and...

And Buffy knows Xander is right; he must be right, he sounds so sure.

And she knows that she does love Riley. Not like she loved Angel - she cannot lie to herself about that anymore (because that ship has well and truly sailed, away, away) but she does love Riley and needs him and isn't Xander so smart for knowing that all along? She makes this realization in the space of two heartbeats; her walls crash down and the distance she put up between Riley and herself shrinks to nothing.

If only he knew.

And so she runs, to him, for him. She runs.

He waits for her. Thinks he hears her once or twice among the trees, but then it's time to go, and Riley thinks he's known from the beginning. He's seen the shadows of him in her eyes, traces of him in her tentative touch. He was nameless for so long, but Riley always knew there was someone who hurt her, someone she still longed for, someone who she...belonged to. The thing is, Riley knows he was dealt a bad hand and maybe should have folded long ago, but the jackpot was simply too alluring, the stakes too high.

And it's never helped to know that she's the Slayer. He's told himself over and over again that he loves strong women; it's totally hot that she can kick his ass and he isn't threatened at all, but the voice in his head whispers, couldn't she need you just a little a bit? At all?

Next thing he knew, he was letting himself be drained of life and blood and he hated himself and still wanted more. More, harder. And he's so in love he can't see straight and his vision is blurred and she knows his secret. And now the military wants him back, too, and it should be a hell no, you created a monster and a mess of me, but instead it's dependent on maybes and ultimatums.

And all at once everything and nothing makes sense, and he's sitting in the helicopter and somehow knowing that this is it.

When she tells Xander about it later, she'll tell him how she ran her hardest and almost made it. He will sympathize and hug her and she'll take it graciously and never tell the truth. She'll never tell any of them that there were seconds towards the end where she simply stopped running her hardest. She could have made it, she knows she could have. She does loves Riley and he's left traces on her heart, but their relationship has been nothing but almosts and nearly enoughs and she knows when the race is run.

So, in the end, she slows down just enough to see him off. She calls to him just so that he'll know she was here, that he has meant something to her, but she also knows he won't come back down even if he hears her voice.

Too little, too late, she thinks, and for them, it's always boiled down to that much.

The next time Riley sees Buffy, he'll think about telling her.

He'll think about saying that he saw her that night, from the corner of his eye and that he managed to hear her voice even through the chaotic noise made by the helicopter. He'd say that he appreciated that she came, that he's sorry for not acknowledging it, sorry that their break-up wasn't nearly as amicable as it could have been, should have been.

But then he'll really look at her and see the sad little smile she gives him, and thoughts of bringing up the past will fade away, away, and he'll remember what he knows now just as well as he did then:

Their ending had come.

A/N: Hmm, I think I got more fond of Riley by writing this. Anyway, reviews are much appreciated!