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Chapter Twelve - I'm Feeling Fine
'I'm sorry?' Riley glanced up at the stewardess hovering beside his seat.
'Would you like a drink, sir?' the stewardess repeated.
'No,' Riley told her. He smiled at her, showing his teeth. 'No, thank you.'
The stewardess beamed back. She was cute, Riley mused, then chided himself for such thoughts. Buffy would not approve.
'Is everything all right, sir?' the stewardess asked.
Cute and perceptive, Riley thought as he amended his mental description of her.
'I'm fine, thank you,' he insisted. 'Just a little distracted.'
And who wouldn't be, what with the fate of the world resting on his shoulders. Well, Xander for one. He was snoring softly in the seat next to him. He had gone out like a light almost as soon as he had sat down, not even staying up for the movie. Not that he had missed much.
While Xander may be able to sleep through the end of the world, it made Riley nervous. There was a lot riding on him and his 'squad'. He nearly laughed out loud at that. A neutered vampire and a carpenter. How the mighty had fallen. If the world was in their hands then maybe now would be a good time to start looking for a new one.
But despite all of that, Riley had not felt this alive in months. Since the Initiative he had felt as if he were drifting without a purpose. He missed that. Sure, Buffy had come long and opened his eyes, shown him that all he had been told was a lie, but before that, those had good times. Professor Walsh had found him and given him a purpose, a mission and so what if that mission had been false, at least then he had had direction. Now he could not help feeling like a soldier without a war.
He got to patrol with Buffy, of course, to help the Slayer in her battle against the forces of darkness, but he was just tagging along in someone else's fight. He wasn't even part of the top team. No, those positions were reserved for Giles and Willow and - and this was the real kick in the head - Xander. Riley was relegated to the also-rans, the second stringers.
Was he being unfair? He loved Buffy, loved her more than he had believed possible. He remembered his mother once, while they were both sitting on the porch, telling him how she and his father had met. At the time he had felt that she had overly romanticised her account. Now he wondered if perhaps she had not done it justice. And it was not Buffy's fault that the Initiative had turned out to be the enemy. But then why was there still this emptiness inside of him?
He shook his head to clear it.
None of that mattered, not right now. He had a job to do, a mission, a purpose. People were counting on him and he was not about to let them down, not if he any say in the matter.
* * *
He had had to wake Xander up as they came in to land. Half asleep, Xander had mistaken him for Anya and muttered a number of things Riley could have gone his whole life without hearing. He was still playing the visual in his mind as he stood by the payphone watching Xander retrieve their luggage, what little of it there was, from the carousel.
The phone rang and Riley snatched up the receiver.
Fifteen seconds later, he replaced the receiver and crossed to Xander.
'You okay with these?' Riley asked.
'Just peachy,' Xander gasped as he hauled his case off the conveyer belt and onto the cart. Anya had helped him pack.
'Good,' Riley said. 'Listen, I've got an errand to run. I'll meet you outside.'
'An errand?' Xander repeated. 'But '
But Riley was already striding away.
* * *
There was a coffee shop on the other side of the terminal building. The place was packed and Riley slid into an empty seat opposite a young man in a white T-shirt and faded blue jeans.
'You're late,' the young man said. 'Hardly the Agent Finn I've heard so much about.'
'Stick it in your ear, Marc,' Riley said with a lopsided grin. 'Long time no see.'
'Too long, Riley, too long,' Marc said, extending an arm across the table. Riley took his hand and gave it a firm shake.
'How's civilian life treating you?' Marc asked.
'It has its perks,' Riley told him.
'Yes, I'd heard about her.' Marc took a sip of his coffee to hide his smirk. 'You should try the espresso. It's just about palatable, which, for an airport, is saying quite a bit.'
'Maybe next time,' Riley said, 'but I'm not here on a social call. Did you bring the stuff I asked for?'
'Right here,' Marc said, indicating the briefcase at his feet. 'Everything you wanted. You know, it's a good thing you've still got friends in high places. Some of this stuff '
'Yes, I know,' Riley responded. 'But I need the best.'
'Fate of the world stuff, huh?' Marc said. 'Look, if it's really as big as your making out you should be bringing is in on it.'
'No deal,' Riley insisted. 'I explained this. I don't want the service involved. If things get too much for me to handle, then I promise to bring you in, but otherwise '
'We could just refuse to help you at all,' Marc said. 'Co-operation's a two way street.'
'The service isn't stupid,' Riley remarked. 'Sure, you could refuse to give me the help I need, but if I go and get myself killed then you're even worse off than you were before.'
Riley stood up to leave.
'You know, you were a good agent, Riley,' Marc said. 'One of the best. And we're not all like the Initiative, you know. If you ever find yourself looking for work '
'I'll bear that in mind,' Riley said as he scooped up the case. 'But I'm happy where I am.'
Marc shook his head.
'You can take the boy out of the army, but you can't take the army out of the boy.'
'Well here's hoping I can prove you wrong,' Riley retorted. 'And Marc?'
* * *
'What's in the case?' Xander asked.
'A few bits and pieces,' Riley admitted. 'The sort of things I wouldn't have been able to get through customs.'
'Aha, so your little errand was in fact a visit to Q-Branch,' Xander deduced.
'Come on,' he said, 'let's go spring Spike from his box and then find somewhere to crash for the night.'
'How come he always gets the best toys?' Xander complained to no one in particular as he trailed in Riley's wake.
* * *
There was a bus that ran from the airport to the hotel. It was a short ride made longer by Spike's incessant whining about the conditions of his flight. Riley tuned him out, half-suspecting that the vampire had slept through the entire trip and was only complaining on principle.
Willow had already booked their room and the guy behind the desk directed them to the far end of the building. Xander had to try the keycard three times before the lock clicked open. Spike was tapping his foot and sighed dramatically.
Xander held the door open.
'After you, oh impatient one,' he said to Spike.
Spike didn't move.
'Don't be a prat,' he snapped. 'I have to be invited in, remember.'
'Really?' Riley said, stepping past him and into the room. 'Does that mean we can leave you out here all night?'
'Har bleedin' har,' Spike replied. 'Just invite me in already.'
Riley had stopped just inside the doorway. There were two people already inside the room, a girl sitting on the bed and an older woman standing by the window.
The woman turned to look at him.
'We've been expecting you,' she said.
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