Title: An Emotion You Cannot Deny

Summary: So tap at my window, maybe I might let you in. S4 Willow/Riley affair!fic.

Rating: Pg-13

Chapter Length: ~2,500 words

Characters/Pairing(s): Willow, Riley, ensemble, Willow/Riley. Possibly some background, suggested Buffy/Spike because who am I?

Timeline: Starts in a slight AU version of New Moon Rising, and continues to the end of S4.

AN: This came from a conversation with a friend about how Riley and Willow always seemed like a more sensible match than Buffy and Riley, at least in S4.

Story Notes: Normally when I do an AU, I lean towards the "ripple effect" type, where one tiny thing is different, and that tiny thing makes waves that change a lot of bigger of things. This is not one of those. This is a what if? scenario with Willow and Riley accidentally falling in love. For the purposes of this AU, Tara does not exist. And Willow and Riley have become much closer friends then they were in canon. Buffy and Riley's relationship progressed similarly to the way it did in canon, but because of the feelings for Willow that Riley is trying to ignore, he and Buffy are a little more casual for a little bit longer.

x

Prologue

Willow, doesn't want to party, doesn't want be social, doesn't want to do anything but sit alone in her room and soak in her despair. She'll heal eventually. She always does. But Buffy loves to party, loves to dance, loves to slip outside her burdensome duty and ride the high of being eighteen and carefree, for however long the allusion lasts.

Willow doesn't even like parties, not really, but Buffy does. Buffy swears it will help. Will make the memory of Oz seem not as close or as sharp for a little while. Buffy wants to help, and Willow wants to let her, which is how Willow ends up spending so much time sitting on chairs and couches in rooms full of pulsing music and thrumming crowds.

x

Riley doesn't like parties. Not the way some of the others like parties. Riley would rather be out doing his job, or in his room with papers to grade, or having a cup of coffee with a friend. But Buffy likes parties. And Riley likes Buffy. So Riley goes to the parties, and he talks to Buffy, gets close to Buffy, dances—maybe—with Buffy, and it's the highlight of his week.

But no matter how much he likes to see Buffy, Riley still doesn't like parties, or anything that comes along with them, despite his best efforts to try. He's tall and stiff and wary of dancing too spiritedly in front of his peers. He's not great at shouting small talk over the sound of the stereo. He hates mingling with the drunk and the stoned. But Buffy loves it all. She weaves all through the throngs of people, dancing and chatting and laughing, and she always comes bouncing back over to whatever out-of-the-way spot he has found, and these stolen moments with her make it worth the hassle.

x

It's inevitable (at least, that's the word they'll use later. Inevitable. Fated. No way around it) that Willow and Riley find themselves thrown together time and again. They're at the same parties, because of the same girl; circulating the same packed rooms, trying to find a place that isn't so loud and bright.

It doesn't start out as anything to be concerned about. A held glance across the room, a half-smile, and a shrug of solidarity. But they know each other, there's a connection there, and eventually they begin to seek each other out. Save spots on the couches. Lean up against a far wall, in companionable silence as they watch the natives shake and shimmy. They start talking. Actually talking, not just idle chitchat to fill time. Joking, laughing, opening up.

Going from having friends in common to being friends themselves.

Good friends.

x

Willow doesn't want to party, but Buffy wants to help her cheer up. Riley doesn't like parties, but he likes seeing Buffy.

That's it, that's all, case closed.

(And if, someday, Willow ends up convincing Buffy to go out or Riley thinks about how he wants to tell Willow about this funny thing that happened in class before he thinks about Buffy pulling him in for a dance, well. People are always happy to see their friends right?)

Part I

A frenzied knock at the door roused Riley from sleep at-he checked the clock on his nightstand and groaned- half-past four in the morning.

He rolled out of bed, swiped a hand across his face, and stumbled towards his door.

In the thirty seconds it took him to cross the room, he ran down a mental list of people he could possibly find on the other side. It couldn't be Initiative business, they were never so crass as to bang on a soldiers door, instead preferring to call or sound an alarm. It could be Forrest or Graham, needing something that didn't relate directly to their work, although what either of them might need at this hour escaped him. Buffy was the most likely candidate. Patrolling could have run late and perhaps she needed help.

But the face he found staring back at him when he swung the door open was the last one he would have expected.

"Willow?"

She offered him a weak smile, her hand still poised to knock.

"Hi."

Riley stood to the side and motioned her into the room. "What are you doing here? Are you okay? Is Buffy okay? What's going-"

"Oz is in town."

He stopped cataloging her exposed skin for injuries and tried to ignore the way his stomach twisted at her words.

Buffy. Buffy. You're with Buffy. You want Buffy.

"Yeah, I, uh, I know. Buffy stopped by here on her way home last night and filled me in."

Willow blinked at him, her face suddenly guarded. "Filled you in on…what, exactly?"

"Enough." Without warning, the frustrated confusion he'd been plagued with the night before returned.

"A werewolf, Willow? What were you thinking?" He rubbed at the back of his neck. "What are you thinking? What if he gets loose? What if you get hurt? What if you get bitten?"

She was frowning at him now, but he couldn't seem to stop the words from falling out of his mouth, giving voice to all of the nightmare scenarios that had flashed through his mind the second Buffy said "werewolf."

"And I know, I know that Oz is a good guy and that you all took precautions to keep him from hurting people, but Will, what if something had gone wrong? What if something goes wrong now? Someone could get really hurt."

You could get hurt. I couldn't stand it if you got hurt. Please, Willow, don't get hurt.

Willow had somehow crossed the room without his noticing, and when he finally stopped speaking, she sat down on the edge of his bed and patted the spot next to her.

Riley complied with her silent request and sank down next to her.

"Did Buffy tell you why he left?"

"No. She just said that there were some things he had to take care of and that the rest of the story wasn't hers to tell."

"Okay. He left because- because something did go wrong. And someone did get hurt. And he couldn't stand that. So he went away."

"And now he's back."

"Yeah. He's back. Because he found a way to control the wolf. Last night was a full moon, Riley and he didn't change. He found a way to beat his demon."

"Oh."

It was all he could think of to say. What else was there? Oz was a great guy, and he'd seen the two of them together. Willow was lucky. Not everyone got a second chance with someone they really cared about.

Some of us don't even get a first chance.

The traitorous thought flickered across his mind so fast, he didn't have time to catch it and stomp it down, the way he'd done with so many of his Willow related thoughts in the past couple of months.

Riley covered her hand with his own, in what he hoped was a friendly gesture.

"You can tell him- tell him that he doesn't need to worry about The Initiative. If he's not changing anymore, I can't imagine that anyone would figure out what he is. And I promise they won't hear it from me."

Keeping that kind of secret wasn't exactly regulation, but he'd made up his mind before he'd gone to bed the night before. Buffy trusted Oz, Willow trusted Oz, and that was good enough for him.

Besides, he'd seen firsthand the devastation in Willow when he'd left. He'd be damned if he ever had a part in hurting her that deeply.

"What?" Willow was looking at him, completely startled.

"Riley, I never thought for a second that you would let Oz get taken by the Commandos. You wouldn't-You're not like that."

"As much as I appreciate the vote of confidence Willow, it doesn't really explain what you're doing here this early."

She took a shaky breath, her eyes glued to the place on the bed where his hand still rested on hers.

"I'm here because Oz wants to come back."

"Well, yeah I kind of figured—"

"I'm not done."

"Sorry."

"No! It's just—I really need to get this all out and it's kind of hard so…"

"No more interruptions, I promise."

He staunchly ignored the way his heartbeat was speeding up and acute awareness he had of her skin against his.

Willow took another deep breath and started over. "Oz wants to come back. To Sunnydale, to school, and t-to me. He wants me back."

Riley's stomach dropped in a way that really wasn't appropriate, or even slightly friendly.

"He was with me for most of the night, just talking, and it was nice. It was really nice, because I missed him; you know how much I missed him, and having him here, right in front of me, it was nice.

"But h-he asked me if there was a reason we couldn't be together. If there was anyone else. And I didn't know what to tell him. There shouldn't be, but…"

She trailed off and finally met his eyes. He couldn't speak, couldn't form words around the heart in his throat and the butterflies doing a conga in his stomach. All he could do was stare back at her wide, unblinking eyes and her pale, frightened face and let months of ignored thoughts and denied emotions finally burst out of the lockbox where he'd been keeping them.

And then Willow jerked back.

"Oh God."

She pulled her hand away and jumped to her feet.

"Oh God. Oh my God. I'm sorry. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to—

"We're friends and you're so nice to me, and there were all these little things, and then I thought—but no, of course it wouldn't be that, that's ridiculous, and now I've ruined our friendship and—"

Riley reached for then, caught her by the wrist and got her to stand still. He stood up, slower than she had, and turned her by the shoulders until she was facing him.

She bit her lip. "It was just me wasn't it? All along."

Riley's hand found it's way up from her shoulders, until it came to rest against her cheek.

"No. It's not just you."

She sagged under his touch, the tension draining out of her body. Her eyes fell closed and she let her face push farther into his left hand.

When her words came, they were muffled, her breath warm on his palm. "So what do we do?"

Reality came crashing back in, and Riley sighed, dropping his arms back to his sides. Willow tilted her chin back, just enough to look him in the eye.

"Well?"

He sighed again. "The way I see it, we have two options. Option one, we ignore whatever it is that's going on between us, and hope it goes away. Or, option two, we don't ignore it, I break things off with Buffy, we come clean to everyone, and then we… figure out what we can be."

Tears were welling up in Willow's eyes. "Buffy would be so hurt. I don't—I don't want to hurt her like that. I don't want to hurt anyone like that."

Neither did he. Hurting the people he cared about wasn't a concept he was familiar with. He was the nice guy. The good guy. He ate his vegetables, and minded his manners, and served his country, and called his mother every Sunday after church.

He wasn't the guy who dated an amazing girl and then dumped her for her best friend. No matter how real or accidental his feelings were.

But, even more than that, he didn't want to be the guy who dated someone, while having feelings for someone else. Not now that he'd finally admitted those feelings to himself.

"Willow, someone gets hurt no matter what we do."

"I know that! I just… I wish I didn't like you. I tried so hard to not like you!"

"Me too. I didn't let myself think about it, think about you as anything more than my friend. Every time I started to…"

A hundred little things that he knew weren't right, weren't friendly. The way his heart jumped when she smiled at him, the way he almost always spent parties on a couch somewhere with Willow instead of dancing, the way his skin burned when she touched him, the fluttery excitement whenever they spent time alone together, all the times she'd walked in unexpectedly and he'd forgotten how to breathe. All the things he'd been desperately convincing himself were just the side effects of close friendship, even faced with overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

If he was honest with himself, he'd already been trying option one for months.

Willow, it seemed, had reached a similar conclusion. Her tears had finally spilled over, chasing each other down her face.

"Riley, I don't think it's going to go away."

He smiled wanly. "So option two it is then?"

She nodded, a humorless laugh tearing it's way from her throat. "This kind of really sucks, huh?"

"Yeah." He agreed. "It kind of really does."

She leaned forward then, her brow pushing against his chest. Riley wrapped his arms around her and held on.

"It will all work out though. You'll see. We'll be okay."