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[ n e v e r . h a d . h e r ]
He didn't know why but the knock at the door gave him a sense of foreboding, and opening it to find what was clearly a broken Riley didn't exactly assuage his fears. "Hey man," Xander said, smiling slightly. "Uh... what's up?"
Riley looked around, seeming to not see Xander. "Leaving," he said, his gaze settling on Xander's shoulder. He shook his head and finally met Xander's eyes, mustering a feeble half smile. "I'm leaving."
"Is Anya here," Riley said, peering around the door jamb into his apartment. "Cause if this is a bad time I could come back lat... or, well..." He laughed slightly, shrugging his shoulders. "Actually I couldn't come back later, but we could pretend I would."
"Okay," Xander said, opening the door wider. "Riley, you're not making sense," he prodded, laughing uncomfortably. "Come in."
"No," he said, shaking his head and holding up his hands. "I just wanted to stop by and say goodbye..."
"Yeah," Xander said, reaching out and grabbing a hold of Riley's black sweater. "Come in." He pulled Riley into the apartment and shut the door behind him, looking at him concerned. "And no, Ahn's not here."
"Right, I just didn't wanna... interrupt or... bother..." Riley sighed heavily, turning to face Xander. "So I was right," he said, the smile on his face not reaching his eyes.
"Right about what," Xander hedged, pulling up a chair next to the island counter.
Riley began popping his knuckles, looking around the apartment and pacing. "Ya know... about Buffy."
Xander chewed on his lip for a moment, waiting for the man to go on. When he didn't he shook his head and reached out to grab Riley's arm again. "Hey, sit down... take a load off," he said, smiling reassuringly at him. "And start from the top."
"The top," Riley said, snorting out a laugh and sitting on the stool next to Xander. "The top... what exactly *is* the top," he said, laughing and looking at Xander with almost a plea in his eyes. "Would the top be my top, or would it be hers? Would the top be where we began, or did it start before then? Would the top be when I realized it would never be enough, or would it be when I started acting accordingly..."
Xander watched him as he rambled, chewing on his lip as he watched Riley's fingers rap endlessly on the formica counter top. "Just start talking," he said, shrugging and resting his hand on top of Riley's to get him to stop tapping. "And take it easy before you wear those things down to stubs."
"It's over," Riley said softly, looking down at his hands.
"Buffy," Xander asked softly, knowing without having to ask but trying to keep Riley talking.
"Yeah," Riley said, laughing and nodding his head slowly. "I mean, I already knew. I knew way before now... I should have anyway. I mean, I did, but..."
"I just..." Riley looked up and laughed again. "I love her. Stupid huh?"
"No," Xander said, shaking his head. "Not stupid."
"No, I know," he said, nodding again and tracing his fingers over the counter's edge. "I know it's not stupid to love her... she's a hell of a woman, I mean... who wouldn't love her?" He sighed, licking his lips. "It's just... it was stupid to expect her to... want her to... love me back."
"She did, Riley," Xander said softly. "She *does.*"
"Yeah," Riley laughed out, looking up out of the corner of his eye at Xander. "Sure she does."
"She *does,* Riley," Xander said confidently. "In her way. As much as she can."
"That's it though," Riley said, pointing a finger at Xander. "As much as she can... her heart, it doesn't have enough room to love me, and..." He paused, shaking his head. "And that's not her fault, but god damnit... if she'd just let herself love me, I know..."
"But she won't, will she," he asked, looking at Xander with tears threatening to fall out of his eyes. "She won't ever."
"Riley," Xander said, looking at him. "Have you had this conversation with *her*?"
"Yeah," he said, nodding. "Just... waited a bit too long to have it."
"Well just wait it out, man," Xander said, patting Riley on the back. "You'll see, she'll..."
"Too late," Riley said, shaking his head. "Too screwed up... I screwed up too big."
"Riley, just give her some time..."
Riley laughed, looking up and blinking away his tears. "Oh, Xander, you don't know what you're talking about," he said, laughing. "Trust me on this... you don't want to know, but it's too late."
"I'm sure you're exaggerating... you're scared of losing her but..."
"I never had her, Xander," Riley said softly, the pain clearly evident in his voice. "Can't lose something you don't have."
Xander sighed, opening his mouth to say something reassuring but realizing there was nothing to say. Instead he let his hand fall to Riley's back, rubbing it as he watched Riley breathe in and out, trying to control his emotions. "I'm sorry, man," he said softly, wishing he could think of something to ease his pain.
Riley brought his hands up to his face and scrubbed at it vigorously. "Ahhh," he grunted, laughing and looking at Xander, embarrassed. "Anyway... just came by to say bye."
Xander sat back, letting his hand slide down Riley's back one more time before falling to his side. "Bye for what."
"I'm leaving," Riley said, pinching the bridge of his nose. "Tonight... midnight. Some jungle... excursion."
"How long," Xander asked, frowning.
"Don't know, months... years... no telling."
"With the Initiative," Xander asked, his voice rising questioningly despite himself.
"No," Riley said, smiling and shaking his head. "No more Initiative... but yes, the government."
"Oh," Xander said, looking away and brushing his hand over the counter, scattering some crumbs to the floor. He looked back up at Riley, biting his lip. "Have you told..."
"Yeah, I just did," he said, his voice rough. "Came straight from there, as a matter of fact." He shrugged, trying his best to smile at him. "Know what she said?"
"I don't think I want to know," Xander said honestly, smiling sympathetically at Riley. "Couldn't have been good."
"Xander... King of the Understatement," Riley said, laughing lightly.
"Alright, well..." Xander cleared his throat, looking down. "When will... I mean... will you be back?"
Riley shook his head. "I don't see why I would," he said, looking at him. "Don't see the point."
"Right," Xander said, nodding. He smiled, shrugging. "Right, well... ya know..."
"I'd like to keep in touch, Xander," Riley said, leaning forward. "I'd really like it if we could keep in touch."
"Yeah," Xander asked, surprised.
"Yeah," Riley said, smiling and putting a hand on Xander's shoulder. "Ya know, I feel like you and I've become... close, sort of," he said, laughing and backing off. "Considering."
"Considering the fact that there was that short amount of time where we thought maybe you were ‘the enemy' back when you were in the Initiative," Xander asked, smiling at him. "Yeah, I feel like we have too."
Riley laughed, nodding. "And that's exactly why I'm going to miss you," he said, smiling at him.
"... cause I didn't trust you," Xander hedged, furrowing his brow.
"No," Riley said, laughing again. "Cause you always get me to laugh."
"Oh," Xander said, ducking his head slightly. "Well, ya know... s'nothing. It's what I do."
"So then," Riley said, sticking out his hand formally. "Have a good life, Xander Harris."
Xander looked at his hand, shaking his head. "Nah, we're way closer than that," he said, smiling at Riley, pulling his hand hard and wrapping him in a hug. "Take care of yourself, Finn."
"Yeah," Riley said, hugging him back and pounding a fist into Xander's back. He laughed when he heard Xander's guffaw and subsequent flinch. "You too."
Xander got up, following Riley to the door. "Keep in touch, Riley," he said, leaning against the door and smiling at him.
"I will," he said, nodding and smiling at Xander.
"And hey," Xander called just before Riley walked away. "About Buffy?"
"Yeah," Riley asked, looking ten years older just by the mention of her name.
"One day she realize what she missed," he said, looking Riley in his eyes. "And she'll kick herself for it."
"Yeah, well," Riley said, laughing and shuffling his feet slightly. "Thanks."
"And hey," Xander said, his smile widening. "If nothing else, hell... I‘ll sleep with you."
Riley's eyes narrowed slightly and he looked Xander up and down. "Be careful what you say, Harris," he said, fixing Xander with his patented Platoon Leader glare. "Might just take you up on that offer."
"Oh, the things they'll do after being stranded in the jungle for months on end," Xander teased at Riley's back as he retreated down the hall. His smile faded once Riley disappeared into the elevator. Reaching around the door he grabbed his jacket he shrugged it on as he went in search of his car keys and wallet.
Someone blond and stubborn was getting a visit from him, and he had a deadline of ‘some time before midnight' to squeeze this heart to heart in.