IN THE DUST
The last few lines of dialog from Buffy, Season 5, Episode 81, "The Replacement"
XANDER: How is it that she can always make me feel SuaveXander's left the building?
RILEY: You two have your friction, but ... she digs the whole package. It's obvious.
XANDER: Still, I do envy you sometimes. (Riley looks up at him) I mean for the sanity. Not that I'm still into Buffy. (quickly) Not that I ever was.
RILEY: (grinning) Hey, I'm well aware of how lucky I am. Like, lottery lucky. Buffy's like nobody else in the world. When I'm with her it's like ... it's like I'm split in two. Half of me is just ... on fire, going crazy if I'm not touching her. The other half ... is so still and peaceful ... just perfectly content. Just knows: this is the one. (Smiles a little, continues packing for a moment, then looks up at Xander again.) But she doesn't love me.
This story takes place sometime after "The Replacement," but before "Into the Woods".
"She doesn't love me." Riley's words echoed through Xander's brain, which while he would deny its emptiness, he also acknowledged that it tended to be slick and Velcro free, ideas rarely sticking to it as much as staining the walls when they were able, growing and spreading like mold, warping and mingling until they were unrecognizable from their original shape.
"She doesn't love me." Xander moved boxes, unpacked, argued with Anya about furniture before giving in and letting her decide, held her tight before falling asleep in the new, strange darkness, and tried to come up with a statement about love, what he felt about it, how it made him feel. He loved Anya, right? What would happen if, or rather, when, she stopped loving him back? Everyone always did. He knew his mom had once loved him, and in some abstract sense, probably still did, but . . . it was hard to see. He didn't know about his dad--wasn't around enough, and didn't want to be around enough, to know for certain. Willow didn't love him anymore, not like she had. And neither did Buffy, now that she was all involved with school. It was only a matter of time before Anya turned from him as well.
"She doesn't love me." Xander didn't know how to comfort Riley. How to make it better. But he should, right? He was the fix-it-up guy. The heart. It took some time, but eventually an idea did adhere to his brain. Maybe just hanging out would help. Letting Riley talk to someone who lived in that space, where love was never expected, and when it did show up like a stray puppy, it always seemed to already have another owner who would come and claim it sooner or later. He'd listened a lot that summer, to Giles, to Spike. They'd seemed to appreciate it. It was something he could do. Might as well go with his strengths, as they were not so many.
He picked up a six-pack of beer before heading over to the dorms. He felt awkward, strange, out of place on campus, like a freshman at the senior prom. Sure, he knew half the kids there. But he didn't fit in, didn't belong with them anymore. Tucked the brews under his arm and held it tightly--his invitation to this other world--as he knocked on the door to Riley's room.
Xander poked his head through the door. Riley stood at the far end of the room with his back to the door, looking out the window, standing as straight as if rebar reinforced his spine. The words "parade stance" came floating up from the ooze at the bottom of Xander's brain--half-known intelligence from another's memories, mostly useless.
Riley didn't move. The slashes of light coming in from the Levolor blinds cut across his cheeks as static as if they'd been painted there.
"So, ah, how's it going?"
The silence between them didn't tense or freeze or do any of those things that generally happened when Xander messed up, mocked when he should have moped, missed the steps of the social dance that he'd never been a part of, never understood.
"Well, I guess I'll just leave this here then and be on my way."
Xander stepped further into the room to place the beer on the table next to the door.
It wasn't quite a command. Army-guy memories not withstanding, Xander had heard enough orders to recognize that this wasn't. It wasn't a question or a request either. It was something in between, something gray yet defined, pushy and plastic like Silly Putty. Hard to break. Easy to shatter.
He tried to keep the words in, as Riley didn't seem to be in a talkative mood. He did. But the quiet itched and burned and stung and Xander wasn't good at uncomfortable even though the quiet wasn't anywhere near as awkward as that time with Oz after he and Willow had kissed and all he'd felt was the other guy's disappointment silently baring down on him with each phrase that had come stumbling out of his mouth.
"How about those--" Before Xander could finish, Riley was there, one hand across his mouth, holding the words in, the other circled around his shoulders. Without the light on Riley's face he looked . . . dead. Nothing was left behind his eyes, nothing living, anyway. Just dark holes, windows to a shattered soul. The shadows had hidden the stubble that the military had never allowed to grow. His hair was still clean though, and he smelled of the rubber of basketballs and cotton sweatshirts with hints of some masculine deodorant that Xander had probably used himself if it had been on sale.
"Shhh," Riley said, pulling Xander even closer, whispering into his ear. "Can you stay quiet? Just for a while?"
Anything resembling a relaxed muscle had long since left Xander's body--probably had originally taken off during grade school, the second time Billy Weisthesier had beaten him up and he'd realized that his life was never going to get any better. Still, Xander managed to keep his nod this side of manic. Riley didn't remove his hand or step away, but the arm across Xander's back slid and strong fingers now plucked at the hunched muscles of his shoulders. "You came to help, didn't you?"
Lathe-smooth that voice, tarnished with innocence and backed by that corn-fed, Iowa smile. Xander concentrated on white-white teeth after darting a look into eyes still empty and blacker than roofing tar and just as sticky and hot and impossible to wash off. Xander found he could nod even more slowly now as Riley's fingers dug into years of stress and turtle-reflex hiding that he'd always carried.
"You can help me. No one else. Only you."
Xander found himself blinking hard and fast. He couldn't judge the words from Riley's tone or his face but . . . something told him they were true. Maybe his own heart. His gut. His rage that shimmered and monsooned because no one had had ever said those words before and meant them.
Yet Riley did.
"Take me out of my head, Xander."
With that, Riley released him and stepped away.
"Buffy, she won't."
Riley grabbed his T-shirt by the back and pulled it up over his head.
"The . . . others, they do it."
Riley leaned against the bed, brought one leg up, shoved off shoe and sock, then bared the other foot.
"D-d-do what Riley?"
Xander was not backing up. No, the Xand-man was standing tall. Maybe ready to run at an instant's notice, now that the roller coaster of his life had taken off again. That is, if the crazy ex-military dude would let him. ("SOF. Special Operations Forces," came in through the window of Xander's brain, like a note being passed in class. "Fuck off," Xander wrote back.)
"Come here," Riley said, extending an arm bare except for the large watch around an equally massive wrist supported by an impressive bulging forearm and sculpted bicep and a chest that . . .
"Oh no, I'm not coming any closer. You're possessed, or evil, or--" Xander cut himself off, mid-rant, as Riley deflated, folding in on himself, his arm falling.
"I'm not evil, Xander." The quiet words brushed against the stiff spaces of Xander's spine, fastening hard droplets that would transform into either spikes or sweat. Soon. "I'm tired of always being second, never enough. I love her, so much . . . "
Xander stared, shocked, never expecting someone as good-looking, as popular, as smart or talented as Riley to echo the words that lived in his own heart. The pain in the tone sank into his gut, tying knots into the knots already there.
Riley reached his hand out again. "I just want to, to, not think about it. To have someone focus on me, just me, only me, for a night. I've heard Anya talk. I've watched you two. Can you do this? For me?"
Xander found he'd taken several steps forward. Anya, Willow, hell, even Cordelia, had told him how he'd made them feel like nothing else in the world mattered when he kissed them, how important and special they were when he put all his attention on them.
"Wait," Xander held up his hand as what Riley was asking for sunk in. "You're talking about a gay thing, right? Like some mano-on-mano action?"
"Xander," Riley sighed with exasperation. "It isn't gay if you're on top."
Quicker than Xander could back away, Riley grabbed Xander's hand and pulled him in for a kiss. It was a, a, man kiss. With stubble. And lips. And teeth. And breath that tasted of brown gravy and oregano. And a tongue that was as firm as his own, unafraid.
Old, old memories stirred, of choosing the strongest, finding a mate, being a part of a unit, a pack, something more than himself.
While Xander might not have been the brightest color in the crayon box, he did recognized a significant moment when it hit, the fork in the road, the path not taken. This was it. He could pull back. Walk away. Make his decision. Or . . . not. He knew it would still be gay, no matter what fairytale Riley told him. He knew it was still his choice, whether he claimed coercion or supernatural influence or curse or what.
Usually, it wasn't Xander who got these choices.
He pulled back from Riley, surprised to find that the fingers of one of his hands had wound themselves tightly in soft brown hair, that the thumb of the other now ran a course over the top of a hip bone.
"And what do I get? I mean, beyond new and exciting notches on my butt-monkey belt?"
Riley didn't take even a second to reply. "Me."
Xander's heart rate suddenly took off, staccato and harsh, but before he could consider why, Riley pulled Xander in for another kiss, and Xander's decision was made, not by the big head but by the little one as friction removed what little blood inhabited his grey matter and like ground against like and the whole of Xander's world narrowed to just lips and warm hands and dicks that shoved together and a twisting tongue that thrummed under his own.
Xander followed Riley down to the bed, straight as a plumb line, dusting sheets with moans and breathy sighs. Fingers wandered over smooth skin and found they liked digging into muscle, guy-flesh. They discovered a nipple--no breast attached, but still, a nipple was a nipple and they knew how to play. And Riley seemed to like what Xander's fingers did, if the thrusting and gripping were any indication. Lips strayed as well, finding a strong jaw to kiss, up to an earlobe to nibble, bite down on harder, seeing how far this partner liked to go.
Riley was his.
Xander let everything about this partner fill his senses, paid attention to every movement and sigh and whimper and groan. The lessons came easily, naturally. It was something he'd always been good at--maybe because his head normally didn't hold much, and bodies easily filled that space.
They kissed and groped and played, only grinding together occasionally even after Xander removed his shirt. Xander kept his touches random, tender then fierce, fueling the frustration in the other man, the sounds and smell of sweat and sex adding to the mix, before he let the backs of his fingers drift down over tight abs to a waistband.
"Can I?" Xander asked, as if on a date for the first time with a girl he barely knew. "Please. Let me," he whispered as fingers undid the button. "Please," he added again, following Riley's nod with lips. "Thank you."
Even he knew better than to say anything about Riley going commando. He refused to let himself be distracted. Riley had asked for attention, focus, to be taken out of his head. And Xander would give that to him.
Riley was his.
So, instead of commenting about viewing another guy's penis for the first time, up close and personal, Xander just licked it. He'd tasted himself before, his own come. It couldn't be that much different.
And it wasn't. But it was. Skin softer than a woman's clit. Stronger. Less fragrant. Still exciting. Something he could learn, be good at. So he licked. And nibbled. And moaned himself as he took Riley in, filling his mouth, his gut, and maybe some area of his heart that he hadn't realized was empty. He humped against the sheet and was thrust into in return. But he kept himself apart, some portion of his consciousness still aware. This night was not for him.
His partner's moans told him when it was time.
He easily found the lube and condoms in the bedside table. As he casually spread the slippery stuff through his fingers, Riley threw him a questioning glance. Xander shrugged and replied, "I have an Anya. And we really shouldn't be talking about her if we're going through with this. And we are, right?" Because it wasn't cheating if it wasn't a girl, right?
Xander couldn't prevent his uncertainty showing through, and instantly saw it reflected in Riley's eyes. He tried to make up for it by leaning forward and kissing Riley, letting his hunger, the hardness of his own dick, underlay it. He kept kissing Riley, pushing and rubbing and letting himself move a little more, enjoying the warm body underneath him. Finally he pulled back and used his fingers.
Anya had taught him well. Press from below, and let the opening take him in.
Riley had obviously had much practice. It didn't take long before a second finger joined the first, then Xander was easing into a space that was hot and tight and he fought to remain in control, to focus on Riley, his Riley, the man he was trying to drive out of his head, to drive into his.
Riley was his.
Xander thought he was succeeding. His hips snapped forward, allowing the driving force of his passion to take over, finally letting go. Riley pushed back, whispering curses and thrashing, eyes wide-open, unseeing. Xander shifted until he knew he struck that golden spot Anya found every time, and Riley gasped as well as shook with every thrust.
"Come on babe. Come for me," Xander pleaded, hand sneaking down to find the other man's cock, dripping and bobbing and begging itself. It didn't take long for Riley to find his release, his head turned to one side.
Riley whispered Buffy's name as he came.
Xander finished his business fast, taking only a few strokes more, knowing he had to move quickly before he shut down. Before his body could acknowledge Riley's lies.
Riley wasn't his.
He had no problems meeting Riley's eyes afterward, his own goofy-Xander mask firmly in place. "It's okay," Xander told him, cupping his face, kissing his brow. He swiped at the cooling mess on Riley's chest with a shirt then drew the sheet up over him. Riley was asleep, or at least pretending to be, before Xander was out the door. He left the beer behind.
He couldn't help hurrying as he walked across campus. He tried to stop his shivering by wrapping his arms around himself. The feelings in his gut, the disappointment, the sinking, were too familiar. And all the while, he tried to block out the new thought that had lodged itself in his brain, plastering the eggshell-white walls and echoing through the empty cold space.
He doesn't love me. He doesn't love me. He doesn't love me.