Written for the 2015 Circle of Friends Remix
Author: M. Scott Eiland
Summary: Riley sees an old friend in pain and decides he can't let it lie.
Fandom: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Time Frame: “As You Were,” just after Sam's conversation with Willow. Spoilers through season six.
Rating: T, for themes
Disclaimer: Still not mine—all hail Joss and the other Powers That Own the Buffyverse.
Original Story: “Sanctuary,” by VelvetWhip: http://velvetwhip.livejournal.com/1393096.html
My thanks to VelvetWhip for writing a lovely story for me to Remix.
REGROUPING (SANCTUARY: RILEY'S REMIX)
Sam walks through the doorway and meets my questioning gaze. She inclines her head in the direction she was coming from before smiling gently at me and heading out in the direction that Buffy had gone a few minutes ago. I walk forward and look into the room and see Willow sitting there in silence, with a look of desolate failure on her face that hurt to see there.
Before I left Sunnydale, I had been Willow's friend for over a year, and I had seen plenty of emotions on her face. “Cheerful” was a big one—she'd looked that way on occasions as varied as her setting a campfire ablaze with a casual gesture, and equally casually threatening to beat me to death with a shovel if I hurt Buffy. I'd seen her sad and distracted: the time I saved her from a close encounter with a speeding car after Oz cheated on her certainly came to mind there. I'd seen her looking intense and focused more times than I can count, both while I was still in Sunnydale and when looking at the intel reports which had revealed that—while until now we had no idea Buffy was actually dead for those months—Willow was leading Sunnydale's demon killing forces without the aid of the Slayer (yes, we knew about the BuffyBot—was anyone dumb enough to think that was really Buffy?). But this look was a new one for her, and I wanted to make it go away.
She looks up at me, and I am a bit relieved to see a new emotion in her eyes, even if it is anger that is belied by her dispirited tone as she says, “Hey.”
I put on my most reassuring smile and decide to break the ice: “I wanted to apologize.” Willow looks unmoved, and I quickly add, “I didn't know.”
“How could you? You left.” The words are spiteful in tone, but at least she isn't ignoring me.
Pissed-off Willow is daunting, but I'm not that easily put off. “I'm sorry. I should have said goodbye.”
She sniffs at me, and manages a old school Willowglare as she mutters, “Yeah, well, I'm not the one you did wrong.”
For a moment, I don't know whether to be relieved or hurt. She's pissed off at me for hurting Buffy by leaving, not for her own sake. “Buffy.” I see a sarcastic remark that would have amounted to “Duh!” forming on her lips and cut her off with the continuation of the sentence: “--she and Sam are out looking for the nest. I'm heading out to Willie's to see if I can get some information.”
Willow's eyes narrow, and her reply is dismissive. “Good. Well, goodbye then.”
I ignore her and press on. “I wanted to talk to you first.” I move forward quickly and grasp her hand gently, giving it a comforting squeeze as I add: “I mean it, you know. I *am* sorry. I guess I never thought. . .not *you*.”
I see her eyes well up and almost glow with pain. Instinctively, I reach down and hug her—somewhat relieved on several levels that she doesn't instantly blast me through the nearest wall—and whisper into her ear: “I think it's amazing. That you can give it up. Something so big and powerful. I'm impressed.”
She tenses, but does not reject the embrace with words or gesture. I pause for a moment, then continue: “There were these two shamans with our squad. . .they weren't as strong as you. They're not. . .with us anymore.” I feel her start to shake, and a tear drips onto my shoulder as I continue to tell her what I believe to be the God's Honest Truth—she's one of the strongest, brilliant, and brave people I've ever known. . .and sum it up in the only way possible: “You're wonderful.”
She pulls back a little at those last two words and stares at me with tears rolling down her cheeks. I can't read the emotion in her eyes, but I feel a shock run through me, and I respond by leaning down and kissing her, my arms still around her.
Her arms stay down, but she does not push me away or otherwise react. I slide one hand back and close it gently over her right breast—this causes her to move her hands between us, but with no force. I break the kiss, pull away a bit, and look at her with a questioning expression as I whisper, “Willow.” She looks away from me, refusing to meet my eyes, and I still can't read her expression as--
“Hey, Will—you up for some Monopoly?” Xander's voice comes from the living room, and the tension is broken. I gently release Willow and take a couple of steps back from her, trying to regain my own composure. She looks at me and seems to perceive my inner balancing moment as she dries her eyes and waits.
“I'd better go.” Sources to beat up, and unsettling emotionally charged moment between two old friends to repress and never mention to anyone. Speaking of which-- I look at her with the most sincere expression I can muster and say simply: “Don't.”
She is still nodding in agreement with my intention to leave, and she responds simply, “I won't.” I smile, nod and leave, waving to Xander as I pass him in the living room.
When I see her later, after the demons are blown up and I have had a long-needed conversation with Buffy, there is nothing in her expression that reflects those few moments. Just two old friends crossing paths briefly before heading off their separate ways.
On the way out of town, Sam touches my arm and notes, “Willow seems to be doing a bit better—did you have anything to do with that?”
I shrug with a casualness that I do not truly feel as I reply, “Willow is as tough as they come—she just needs time to regroup, and reminding her that she has already accomplished amazing things is just part of the process.”
Sam nods, and leans against me as the transport helicopter continues on through the darkness. She does not see me look back in the direction of Sunnydale with concern and a touch of wistfulness.
Remixer's Closing Note: Except for minor tweaking due to POV change and the adding of the closing scene with Riley and Sam, the dialogue is from the original story.