Like if I'm old and blue-haired, and I turn the corner in Istanbul, and there you are, I won't be surprised.
And if it had been Oz she’d run into, Willow wouldn’t have been surprised, even though she’s not old or blue-haired. But Oz isn’t the one she just barreled into, distracted, as she furiously punched the end button on her phone – the conclusion of her latest argument with the Council wonk who sent her on this mission.
“Riley?” she asks, confused and disoriented. She’s on the ground, isn’t she? Guess it’s not just driving that’s dangerous while using a cell phone. Luckily, she hasn’t broken any bones, though her magic would handle just about any injury as long as she’s conscious. Fixing mangled limbs in front of witnesses, however? That isn’t always wise. Boy did she and Xander learn that the hard way.
But Riley’s talking and she really ought to pay attention, especially since he’s being chivalrous and helping her to her feet. “Willow?” For a second she thinks he’s just mirroring what she said when they collided, but then she recalls a whole bunch of sounds happening before that. Those were words, huh? Sadly, they’re words of which she has no memory whatsoever, so she tries hard to look as if she bumped her head and hopes he’ll repeat himself.
Her luck holds and he does. “What are you doing here?”
“Me? Doing here?” Maybe she did hit her head because she’s having a hard time forming sentences or remembering important things, like what the heck she’s doing in Istanbul, but hey, cut her some slack - it’s not like she expected to literally run into Riley Finn. Plus, now that she actually recalls the details, her mission is sort of on the clandestine side. “Um… World save-age stuff. Kinda the usual,” she says, trying to be both polite and discreet at the same time. Speaking of polite… reciprocation might work. “So what are you doing here? Second honeymoon or something?” She looks around, but Sam is nowhere to be seen.
The expression on Riley’s face tells her right away that she said the wrong thing and that there’s a good reason she doesn’t see Sam. His words finish the tale. “Didn’t take,” he says, and she can still hear the soldier in his clipped cadence. He sighs and the next thing he says sounds more human. “It was too soon after Buffy. I… it wasn’t fair to Sam. She got hurt.”
There’s a story there and a painful one, but she’s not one to go poking at wounds to watch them bleed, so she puts a solicitous hand on his arm. “For what it’s worth, I know what it’s like. I had a rebound thing myself.” Just then, she realizes that neither of her hands is holding a cell phone and she immediately searches for it. Oh. There it is. On the ground. Broken. Great. That would be the fourth one this year. The Council dork will have a conniption fit for sure.
Of course, she and Riley go to pick it up at the same time. “Ow!” in stereo as they clash heads, but she wins the battle for the honour of picking up the smashed machine and in a moment they’re upright again, each one rubbing their head as Willow puts this month’s casualty in her purse.
To her surprise, he immediately gets back to the subject they’d been on. “I heard about what happened to…,” he begins awkwardly, before plastering an ‘aw shucks’ grin on his face and ham-handedly seguing into, “So you’re a veteran of the bad timing wars too, huh?”
Willow chuckles, mostly because that would be an understatement and she’s just glad that she hadn’t had any prized possessions for Kennedy to break. No, everything that meant anything to her is in a hole where her hometown used to be… which was the problem, wasn’t it? “Yeah. She was a Slayer.”
She’s about to expand on that when he lets out a short burst of macho laughter. “Those Slayers,” he says heartily and she decides that he’s actually a pretty typical guy in spite of everything he’s done and seen. Ever since she came out, she’s noticed that men tend to fall into one of two camps: the ones who see her as part of their lipstick lesbian fantasy and want to watch her have sex with women or the ones who see her as one of the guys and want to talk to her about having sex with women. Oh well, better the latter than the former. Still, her vote is always to be part of neither paradigm and she’s trying to figure out how to ease out of this encounter when Riley shocks and abashes her. “They’re clueless when it comes to relationships, aren’t they?”
Oh goddess. Speaking of people wedded to stereotypes. Would kicking herself hard in the shin be too conspicuous right now? She’d read him all wrong. Out of old habit and loyalty, though, her first instinct is to defend Buffy. “She had a lot of issues to work through.”
“Yours or mine?” he shoots back and she’s struck by that. Funny how she’s never really thought about Kennedy before.
“Maybe both,” she says after a long moment. It’s then that it suddenly occurs to her that they’re standing on a public street and even though most of the passers-by probably speak little to no English, it’s still an awkward place to catch up. “Want to go get some coffee?” If there’s anything she’s learned about Istanbul, it’s that the coffee’s pretty great.
So that’s what they decide to do and it’s not three minutes later that they’re seated at a table being served a rather dark and exotic brew by a man who seems to melt back into the heat and dust the moment the coffee’s poured. This isn’t the Espresso Pump, is it? Istanbul – it isn’t Constantinople and it also isn’t Sunnydale.
“I was glad to hear you guys made it out,” Riley says after a minute or two has passed.
“Thanks.” It seems like a very paltry word, but then again, what else is there to say? She shrugs and then realizes that maybe there’s something he doesn’t know. “Anya died.”
Bingo. He had no idea. That look of shock isn’t something he could ever fake. “I wish I’d been there.” She wonders if he really believes he could somehow have saved Anya, but then she decides that maybe he thinks playing hero would have gotten him another chance with Buffy. Guess she can’t blame him for that. What would she be willing to do for one more day with Tara? A better question would be what wouldn’t she do. That would be the world’s shortest list.
Another shrug. “I wish it hadn’t happened,” she says, the weight of it all being more or less her fault for messing with the order of the universe crushing each word to earth and making her forget the danger in the opening phrase.
He hasn’t asked about her parents and she smiles, oddly pleased that he knows her well enough to remember they were never around. Or maybe he thinks they died long ago. Either way, he remembers her life and that… that makes this place oddly Sunnydale-ish for a moment. “I wish we were at the Bronze,” she says softly, again heedless of Vengeance demons. There are none here, but that’s more luck than care and she knows it.
“Wishing never seems to work, does it?” He sighs and changes the subject – or rather, takes it back to something they’d started to discuss before. “What happened? With your Slayer, I mean. When did you two…?”
“Break up? Get together? We broke up about three months ago. We got together while the whole apocalypse was gearing up. It never should have happened but…” She pauses, knowing she’s about to say something out loud for the first time. “No one trusted me while I was grieving. When we started having… when I was with Kennedy, it was like everyone could relax, you know? Like they weren’t waiting for me to turn evil again.” Another pause because now that she’s said it, it sounds harsh and unfair. “Or maybe I just imagined that, or projected. Maybe I’m the one who couldn’t trust me.”
“I’m sorry,” he says, and she can tell those are the only words he can think of to say. Which makes sense. Because he never met the girl who tried to end the world with magic. She’s so caught up in wondering what he’d think if he saw her hair go black and her veins paint themselves in contrast to her pale skin that she’s taking a sip of coffee just as he says, “I called out Buffy’s name… right after we were in Sunnydale,” and she winds up choking. It doesn’t last, though, because she’s not actually surprised – just instinctively faking it. But then he says something that does surprise her. “That’s the last time I thought of her – that way, I mean. It’s not fair, what I put Sam through, but it’s… it was what I needed to get over her.”
Okay… did he just say he’s over Buffy? That’s not even possible. No man in the history of the world has ever gotten over Buffy. Hell, she’s pretty sure Xander still carries a torch and he’s never gotten so much as a chaste peck on the lips from her. “You seem shocked,” Riley says, looking sort of self-satisfied, which he has a right to because he’s… well, right. Then his expression softens and he reaches across the table, fingertips touching hers. “She didn’t die. We broke up. It’s not the same.”
For the very first time, she doesn’t understand at all why Buffy never really loved him. Because someone who gets it? The way that Riley does? How often do you find that? She’s only met the Immortal twice, but he doesn’t seem all that insightful. For that matter, the less said about Kennedy on that score, the better. Not that Willow can throw stones, because she never understood the first thing about the second woman with whom she ever shared her bed… and she never even tried.
Riley’s looking at their hands, where they’re barely touching, and Willow can see a door opening… but no, she can’t walk through it. The truth is that he can’t either, and she knows it. He might be over his golden Slayer, but she’s still Buffy’s best friend and he’s the kind of guy who follows the unwritten codes, and she’s… she knows deep down that she’s not exclusive in her tastes, but Tara’s worst fear was that someday she’d head back to Boystown and she’s not ready yet to let go enough to acknowledge that it just doesn’t matter anymore, that promise made in silence. Tara’s nowhere near gone enough.
She gets up suddenly. “I better go.”
He smiles sadly, but doesn’t stand. “Off to save the world?”
“Something like that, yeah.”
“Don’t be a stranger,” he says as she leaves.
It’s the last time they’ll ever see each other.