He's a married man now – with a terrific, gorgeous wife who fights by his side and who isn't stronger than him and who's perfect for him in every way and…
Who's he kidding? Because all he had to do was see Buffy in that ridiculous hat, reeking of grease, and it all came back.
He still loves her.
She's still the magic that lights him up and he admits to himself that during every battle he keeps hoping that somehow she'll show up – in South America, in Vietnam, in whatever hellhole he's been sent. She's still the same face he sees every time he closes his eyes when he makes love to Sam.
But she's sleeping with Spike. Spike. And yeah, he's a hypocrite considering the way he let those vampire girls suck on his… It might not have been his cock, but it got him off and that's not only sex, it's infidelity.
God, he was a jerk, wasn't he? Still is, too, since he married Sam without giving her even an inch of space in his heart, all the while telling himself that the fact he'd told her about Buffy meant he was being honest and open, pure in word and deed.
What a fraud he is.
Right now, he's supposed to be gathering his gear and catching a plane out to his next mission in Nepal. With Sam. But instead he's standing here, in front of that stupid bridal shop where, way back when, Buffy told him she was engaged to Spike. It had been a game, or so she'd said. Of course now…
"For what it's worth, I told him it's over." He whips around, not believing she's here. "What you said… It made me think."
What he said? That crap about being lucky and happy and in love with Sam and how the wheel turns? He's not arrogant enough to think that what he said about still thinking she's hot and how much he used to love her had any influence, although god how he wishes it had.
Don't look her in the eyes. "I'm glad," he says, hating himself because he'd rather she be alone than with anyone but him. Not for nothing, but he is the worst hypocrite on the planet.
"Me, too," she says, not looking him in the eyes either. "I'm glad you're happy."
What can he say to that? Because if she would just look for one second… Dammit, you're a soldier, Riley Finn; be brave. He tilts his head, it's a bit clumsy and probably looks weird, but he manages to lock eyes with her and…
Her eyes widen. Does she see? "Riley, I…" He doesn't make her finish. Instead, he takes her in his arms and kisses her. It's not friendly, or nostalgic; it's not an ode to love lost. It's passion - here, now, and forever.
She's kissing him back and it's… It's even better than he remembered. God help him. Sam is waiting and lives depend on him and… "I'm not going," he says when he can bring himself to pull his lips away from Buffy's. "At least… Do you want me to stay?"
A second later, he's being held so tightly he can barely breathe. "I want," she says, in a voice just slightly choked with tears. He's about to hurt Sam and endanger thousands of people… and this is the happiest moment of his whole life.
"Then yeah, I'll stay." They stand like this for a few moments and then they're walking, hand in hand, back to her house.
"Have you thought about…?"
"How I'm gonna tell Sam? Not really. Guess I'll just make sure she's unarmed at the time." He's trying for humour, but it falls flat, even though he knows Sam isn't the type who'll lash out. Hurting her… he never wanted to do that. She's a wonderful woman, better than he ever deserved. It's just that she isn't Buffy, and that will always leave her out there in a place where no one can touch him. If only they'd never met. But then again, he'd been bound and determined to rebound, so some woman would have wound up in the crosshairs of his unintentional but inevitable betrayal. Sam will probably take the hit better than most.
Man is he kidding himself. It tears him up inside, hurting Sam. But he can't do anything else, not with Buffy offering him heaven. At least now Sam will have a chance to find it too. She was never going to have anything real with him. "What are the others going to think?" he asks, wincing at the memory of Willow bonding with Sam and Xander and Anya seeing his marriage as a template for their own.
Guess Buffy could see his expression. "Look, if you don't want to do this. If you just feel guilty or like you owe me…"
He stops her words with a kiss. "I want this," he says a moment later, "I want this more than anything. Buffy, I meant what I said tonight. Greasy and wearing that stupid uniform, you're still the most beautiful woman in the world. And I have never for one moment stopped loving you. It's just… It's gonna be… awkward." Boy is that ever an understatement.
Fear, though? It fades when Buffy looks at him with the most beautiful smile he's ever seen on her face. "I think I can handle awkward." He smiles at that, but she's not done. "I love you too," she says softly. The words… he can hardly believe he's heard them again.
He loves her… and she loves him.
She takes his hand again and they keep walking. Towards their future. Their awkward, wonderful future.