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Two Out of Three Ain't Enough

by Gem

Disclaimer: Oh please! Would I honestly claim Riley Finn as my own creation? He and Buffy are the property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, the WB and so on, up the line.
Rating: Umm, we'll say PG13
Spoilers: Out of My Mind
Author's Note: This one is just a quickie, designed to get a certain song out of my head . I also really didn't like the "I need you" conversation in "Out of My Mind." If you hate this, blame me. If you like it, thank my friend Denise, who first commented that Buffy and Riley's theme song should be "Two Out of Three Ain't Bad," by Meatloaf (lyrics at beginning and end of story).


Baby we can talk all night
But that ain't getting us nowhere
I told you everything I possibly can
There's nothing left inside of here

* * * * *

Buffy pushed open the door slowly, peering around the edge as though a demon might pop out at her any second. Realistically, this being Sunnydale, she knew one might; but that wasn't why she was hesitating. She had a pretty good idea of what she would find on the other side of that partition between duty and her elusive private life, and she knew she wasn't going to like it.

Riley looked up from his packing and saw her hovering in the doorway. He grimaced; he hadn't wanted to handle things like this. Still, maybe it was best to get it over with quickly, and in a place she'd never have to see again.

"Buffy, come on in," he called out reluctantly, waving her into his one-room apartment. He glanced down at the open bag on his bed and shoved it to the side. He didn't close it, though; he wasn't done yet.

The sporting equipment she glimpsed in the back of his car had already given her a hint, but she still stiffened when she saw the duffel bag. "Are you going on vacation?" she asked as she perched on the edge of the bed. "Any place fun?"

Her tone was bright and full of forced cheer, denial waging valiant war against the evidence of her eyes. She had seen too much not to know what was happening, but she had also seen too much not to try to wish it away.

Riley debated sitting down beside her, but he decided it would be best to keep moving. He headed for the tiny bathroom to retrieve his shaving kit, calling over his shoulder as he walked. "I'm going to visit Graham for a little while. In Arizona."

"Graham," she sighed with relief. Maybe she was just imagining things, based on a long history of too many broken dreams. "So how long will you be gone? I mean, you still have classes and all, this being sort of the middle of the semester, so you obviously can't go for long, but it'll be nice to get away for just a little while and..."

"I'm not coming back, Buffy," he said somberly as he came back over to the bed. He wound his shaving kit up in a towel, not daring to meet her eyes.

"I don't understand."

Her voice was small, almost as small as she felt at the moment. He was leaving, the way everyone did eventually, while she trudged through life alone and forgotten.

"I'm going to finish up my degree somewhere else; I'm not sure yet where. I have to leave Sunnydale, though. This just isn't the place for me."

"But what about me? What about us? Were you going to leave without even a good-bye?"

No one ever said good-bye to her; they just walked away.

"It's no good, Buffy," he replied helplessly. He dropped the shaving kit in his bag and turned up his hands in defeat. "I've tried to make things work, but I'm trying alone. I need to make a fresh start and figure out what I'm supposed to be doing in the world besides be the guy handing you stakes."

"So this is my fault," she said slowly. "I'm not making you feel important enough or something, so you're just going to go off to Arizona and pout? That's great Riley, just great." She started to get up from the bed, but he grabbed her arm and gently pushed her back down.

"It's not your fault, Buffy. You can't help how you feel, or how I feel. But I want more than to be the batboy in this game."

"Bat Boy?" she asked, now totally at sea. "Why would Xander call you Bat Boy? Spike maybe, and I know he probably called Dracula that, but..."

"It's a baseball term," he gently corrected her. "The kid who fetches the bats for the players is the batboy."

"So you think I don't need you to do any more than fetch my bat? Riley, that's not true," she protested. "I need you; I've told you that."

Told him over and over in fact, as though it were one of Willow's spells. She had seen the doubt in his eyes before, and felt it deep within herself as well, but she thought repetition would work some sort of charm and convince them both of its truth.

"Yeah, you have," he sighed. "I even think you meant it, but it's not really true anymore. Not now."

Buffy was trying hard to understand, but her failure was written all over her face. She had tried her best to make him believe he was necessary to her, even after he could no longer fight. She tried to include him in her activities, ignoring the needs of family, friends and self, all so he would feel important to her. Yet apparently her efforts still fell short of the mark.

"What's so different now?"

"When we first met, you needed someone to fulfill some fantasy of normal campus life, and I fit the bill. Joe College, right down to the sweatshirt collection." He waved a hand at his Iowa State sweatshirt in deliberate mockery of his "average" wardrobe. "But now, I think you're figuring out you don't have to have a boyfriend to be normal, and being alone has nothing to do with being lonely. I've outlived my purpose."

"So I should have just let you die when that chip started to malfunction? Gee, I'm so sorry I wanted you to live. No, make that I needed you to live." She grabbed his arm and held on tightly, not realizing how much force she was exerting until she saw him wince with pain.

"No, you need to let me go," he answered softly as she released his arm. "We don't belong together, Buffy; we don't fit. You must have felt it from the beginning or you would have opened up more and tried to make a place for me in your life. But now it's too late, and trying to prolong this is only going to make things more complicated."

"Riley, I have opened up to you more than anyone," she said slowly. "I have told you things I never told anyone else, shared things with you I never shared with another living soul. How can you say I didn't let you in?"

He sat down on the edge of the bed, careful not to get too close to her. He didn't fear her; he knew she would never intentionally hurt him. He was afraid of his reaction to her, though; he never seemed to have much self-control around her, and maybe that was the problem. Not enough self-control, and still less pride. That had to change today.

"You told me a lot of things," he agreed, holding her captive with his eyes. "You told me about your fourth grade teacher losing your homework and blaming you for not doing it; you told me the color of the dress you wore on your first date; you even told me the name you were going to give the new car your dad was supposed to get you for your sixteenth birthday." He sighed wistfully. "But you know what you skipped?"

"What?" How much more of her past did she have to lay bare to make him stay?

Riley looked at her intently, willing her to see the obvious. "How did it all make you feel, Buffy? How did you feel when you had to do the homework over again, or when your date spilled Coke on that yellow dress, or when your parents got a divorce instead of a second car?"

She couldn't believe him. "You're the psych student, you tell me," she snapped. "How do you think it made me feel, Dr. Freud?"

"I can guess, but I don't know," he admitted. "You never share that stuff with me, Buffy; it's all fact, no feeling. And I'm not a mind reader. Maybe you got too used to someone knowing how you were feeling without asking, but not all of us have superpowers."

He looked away before he could see the anger on her face replaced with pity, and self-recrimination. She had failed him, and now he was being driven away by that failure. She had to make him realize this was not his fault.

"This is about Angel, isn't it? You still feel like you're second best, like I'm comparing you two or something." She rested her hand lightly on his arm this time, trying not to show her desperation. "I swear I'm not. You're nothing like him; I never thought you were."

Riley barely managed to hold back a bitter laugh. When he had first heard about Angel, about her all-consuming, and ultimately doomed, love for a vampire, he had felt like she was comparing him to her ex. It had taken him a long time to beat that thought into submission, but in the end what had taken its place was a still more saddening realization.

"You think I don't know how different we are? That's how we ended up here." He turned back to face her squarely. "You went looking for someone who reminded you as little of him as possible, and I got the grand prize. Of course my temporary superpowers were probably kind of a liability. They reminded you of him. No wonder you were so glad when they were gone."

"They were killing you!"

"Admit it, you're glad I'm just Normal Guy now. Six months ago you wouldn't have fought me so hard about leaving, because you know as well as I do that the pretense was getting a little too thin. You're all caught up in your quest to be Super Slayer, and now I'm just a convenient lay to work off the tension."

The slap she delivered was worthy of a Super Slayer; he flew across the room, landing hard against the wall before he slid bonelessly to the floor.

"Oh God...oh Riley, I'm sorry!"

Buffy was on her knees by his side in an instant, but he pushed away her helping hands and slowly sat up unassisted.

"My mother would have done the same thing if she'd heard what I just said. Serves me right for talking that way to a girl." He rubbed his aching head as he looked over at her on the floor next to him.

Her arms were wrapped around her legs and her chin was propped, completing the portrait of misery. She bleakly surveyed the tiny apartment as the old familiar pain swept over her. Maybe this place was nicer than a sewer, but the feeling of abandonment was all too familiar.

"Buffy, I'm sorry. I'm doing this all wrong. I didn't want to fight; I just need you to understand. This is for the best."

It was breaking his heart to see her so bereft, but what hurt him even more was the knowledge that it wasn't really about him. She had suffered too many losses in her short life, and each one made her cling that much harder to the people she had left. He wasn't the greatest loss of her life; he was just another casualty, another statistic in the ongoing fight that was her life.

"It's always for the best. It's always for my own good."

The resentment was thick in her voice, but he knew it wasn't directed at him any more than her pain. She was fighting a battle almost two years old, and he was just a poor substitute for her real opponent.

"It's also for my good. I was trained to do more than play second fiddle."

"So now we move from sports metaphors to musical. What's next, Alex," she sighed, "Walking Cliches for
500?"

"I've never done this before," he explained. "I don't know how to say it right. I know that we have something physical between us, and that works. I also know that once upon a time you needed me in your life, and maybe you still think you do, but it's not enough for me. Not anymore."

"What else do you need?"

She hated the whine she could hear in her voice, but her last chance at a normal life was slipping through her fingers. Sacrifices had been made to secure her that life, and some of the most costly ones had not been her own. She would be damned if those losses would be in vain.

Riley closed his eyes for just an instant. This was it: the final test. He had never forced the issue, because he didn't want the painful truth shoved in his face, but now he had to make them both confront it. His hands came to rest on either side of her head, gently tilting her chin up so that he might look her straight in the eyes.

"Buffy, I love you."

"Then why are you leaving?"

And there it was, for both of them to see. The bewilderment in her voice hurt him deeply, for more reasons than just the pain he knew he was causing her.

"When he...when he said `I love you,' what did you say?" He looked deep into her eyes, needing to see the moment when it all became clear. It would be the moment that would set him adrift, and set her free.

"I don't under..."

Suddenly she pulled her head from his grasp and looked down at the floor. The words hadn't come easily to either she or Angel, but eventually there had been no way to hold them back. They were as much a part of her as breathing, and more so for him.

"You said `I love you too,' didn't you?"

"But I've said..."

Even as she said it, she knew she was lying.

"No, you haven't." Riley shook his head as he gently corrected her. "You've said `me too,' once or twice, but usually you just smile at me and change the subject. Even when you thought I was dying the words wouldn't come, because they mean too much to you to offer them in a lie."

"But...but it's not exactly an easy thing to say, or even to know" she protested. "I mean come on, we've only been dating for..."

"How long before you knew with him?"

She looked away without a word; her answer wouldn't have helped anything.

"You don't love me, Buffy. You never did, and I've stopped thinking you will if I just hang on long enough. Whatever love you have is still tied up with him, and I don't think you want it back."

Riley was right and she knew it; she just hadn't intended for him to realize it too. She had done her best to make him happy, but she couldn't give him what he was asking for. The part of Buffy that Riley wanted had never belonged to him, and it never could.

"Do you think I enjoy being in love with someone I can never have?' The words forced themselves from the depths of her aching heart and out her dry throat. "Do you think it's easy for either of us to know what could have been if things were just a little bit different?"

"I think some things are meant to be, and some things are not." Riley rose to his feet, intent on finishing what he started. He reached for his duffel bag and slowly zipped it up.

"And we're not," Buffy said flatly.

"No, we're not."

Her gaze was locked on Riley's back, but she wasn't really seeing him at all. Her eyes were drawn to an inner vision, a night of fire and destruction, and of wounds that would never heal. Meant to be, now there was a loaded phrase. In a million years, she never would have guessed that night was meant to be, and yet everyone else seemed convinced of it.

"Then I guess nothing I say is going to make you stay."

"Nope." He risked turning around to see her troubled face one last time. "You don't really want me to stay anyway. I'd just get in the way of your destiny."

She laughed harshly. "Destiny, huh? Not exactly on Buffy's five favorite words list."

"Oh, I don't know about that. I kind of think Angel is a part of that destiny, and I know that's what you want more than anything."

He thought he would choke on the words; there were limits to being a good sport. Somehow, though, he managed to get them out, as a way of saying a final good-bye to the dream.

"I thought you said you didn't know how I felt," she shot back.

Riley was almost relieved by her anger. He had heard so many stories from the others about her legendary fighting spirit, but he had seen little evidence of it in the past year. As much as he had come to love the parts of Buffy she allowed the world to see, he was even more drawn to the hints of the girl she used to be. It appeared his absence was the necessary ingredient to draw that part of her out again. Well, his absence followed by anothers presence should complete the transformation.

"A man would have to be blind not to see that much, Buffy." He picked up his duffel bag in one hand and his coat in the other. "I wish you luck, slugger, and happiness. And assuming it doesn't lead to an apocalypse, I wish the same for him."

He wanted to say more, to say something brilliant and inspired, and so heartbreaking she would remember him forever, the way she would remember Angel. The words wouldn't come, though; he wasn't that kind of guy.

Instead, he walked away in silence.

Buffy watched him from the doorway as he climbed in his car and slowly drove away. A part of her wanted to call after him, begging him to stay, but she resisted the urge. He had to go, and she knew it.

She could feel a burning of tears behind her eyes, and she welcomed them. The night Angel walked out of her life, she had been unable to cry; her pain was too great. Tears signaled the loss of hope, an acknowledgment of fate's triumph over love.

Her life had been similarly upended today, but a guilty portion of her mind admitted this pain was temporary, just as her involvement with Riley had been. She needed to let go of her little college fantasy life and move on.

She let her hand linger on the knob as she stepped into the sunlight, pulling the door closed behind her. Telling herself it was time to let go and actually doing it were two different things. She hated endings, and good-byes; they were the death of dreams.

She could remember sitting alone in her room in the aftermath of graduation day, her future in bloody shreds at her feet. She had made a promise to herself that night. Never again would she give her heart so completely to another. Her love for Angel had brought him so much pain and regret, and his loss had done the same to her. It was better to hold the remnants of her shattered heart close than risk such sorrow again.

Riley was supposed to be her chance to start over, without the merciless intertwining of hearts and souls. She was willing to let him be a part of her life, even be the focus of her life, but she had no intention of trying to give him what was no longer hers to promise.

If now he wanted, or needed, more than that, he would have to seek elsewhere. And she would either have to find someone who could live with what she had to offer, or spend the remainder of her days alone.

There was one other possibility, but it rested in a hope so faint that she dared not lay claim to it except in dreams. Angel forgiven his sins and free of his guilt. Herself free of her fears and forever by his side. She would happily give up her quest for a "normal life" if only she could share the freakiness that was her world with him again.

If only. She was starting to hate that phrase.

As she slowly released her grip on the doorknob and the past, she realized that Riley had become her shield. Angel may have stood between her and the darkness, but Riley stood between her and the girl in the mirror, the one who had made so many terrible mistakes out of fear and pride. Her name was Buffy Summers, she was a Vampire Slayer, and it was time she took responsibility for her own life, instead of letting others choose for her.

Vampires were so lucky; all they saw in the mirror was mirror.

* * * * *

I want you
I need you
But there ain't no way I'm ever going to love you.
Now don't be sad
Cause two out of three ain't bad.

The End

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