Title: Special Delivery
Count: 2,000 words
Characters: Tara, Buffy, Dana, Willow, Riley
Summary: Riley finds something in the ruins of Sunnydale and tries to return it to the Scoobies. (This is set in my post-Chosen world where some things have changed -- but for those who haven't read my Four Friends stories, going into more detail would ruin the surprise.)
Three people waited for Riley Finn as he drove his Hum-Vee into the basement parking garage of a
A line of nondescript sedans, vans, and SUV’s filled much of the area. Nothing flashy there; it wouldn’t do to attract attention while out hunting vampires and demons. Opposite those vehicles, however, was a more interesting line: a yellow school bus sporting the name West Chicago School for Girls; a blue church bus that announced it belonged to the Missouri Nondenominational Church of Christ; another Hummer that any civilian would assume was military, if they didn’t notice the lack of lettering; two ambulances; a black hearse; and a long white limousine.
Not for the first time, he wondered where Rupert Giles had found the funds to rebuild this organization. Best not to know.
Security cameras hung from every corner, and at the far end stood two doors, to a stairway and an elevator. What appeared to be a fluorescent light was set above each, bathing them in blue.
“They stole that detector from us,” Riley muttered as he climbed out of his own vehicle.
“It’s great to see you again.” He looked past her, to where a rather short girl in her mid teens, with brown hair falling to her shoulders, stood with her arms crossed. “And you, Kara.”
“Um, thanks.” The last time they’d met hadn’t been under the best of circumstances: She and Robin Wood had competed with the military in a search for demon eggs, at a
“No --” He took a step forward with the intention of shaking the girl’s hand but Dana jerked backward, fists clenching as she double checked her escape route. Kara gave a quick shake of her head. “Nice to meet you,” he finished, covering his embarrassment by walking to the rear of his Hummer. “I guess you’ll be wanting to see this …”
The women followed, none enthusiastically. “I can’t believe you found it,”
“Neither can I,” another, softer voice said just as Riley opened the rear gate. Startled, he jerked around to discover they’d been joined by the one person he’d least expected. She stood there staring at him, one hand on her hip.
“Buffy.” She wore a yellow sundress, and his eyes found the hollow of her throat where a small silver cross hung, while his mind remembered the scent of vanilla and the taste of her skin. “I heard you were in
“I came back -- had trouble with the language.” She smiled then, and it was with the same warmth she’d had during the best of their times together. But then it dropped into a frown, and she gestured toward the tarp-shrouded object in the back of the Hummer. “Let’s see it.”
For some reason, he got the strangest feeling that she’d actually said “You’re married”, but he maintained the presence of mind to turn and pull the tarp away.
The granite slab said simply Tara McClay, and gave two dates. She’d been twenty-two, Riley suddenly realized. Behind him, he heard
“It’s very nice,” Dana said, sounding doubtful.
“It seems a little … plain,” Kara added.
“I think it was just fine,” said another new voice, a voice that made Riley freeze. Only his eyes moved, tracking hard to his left, where he saw Tara McClay standing before him. It turned out Buffy wasn’t the last person he’d expected to see, after all.
“I mean, really, is a tombstone so important?” She wore a rainbow colored peasant skirt and a gauzy, long sleeved top of a similar color, and seemed completely solid. “It’s how we live our lives that’s important, isn’t it?”
With great difficulty, Riley looked away toward the others. They’d all bent forward to examine the tombstone, and none seemed to notice that someone else had spoken. “They didn’t think
Buffy laid a hand lightly on her friend’s arm. “She’d have loved it. I mean, as much as you could love something, under the circumstances.”
Riley jerked around.
“Riley?” He turned again, to see Buffy watching him with concern. “You okay?”
“They can’t see me,”
“Why, I -- yes, I -- thought I felt something.” He glanced over his shoulder. Still there.
“It can be spooky,” Dana said, in a voice that was itself rather spooky. “I mean, with the tombstone and all.”
“I wouldn’t know why I would feel something,” Riley said carefully, “when no one else would.”
“Is it a tombstone?” Kara asked. “Or would it be called a headstone, or a gravestone? What’s the difference?”
“I’m just saying …” Riley took a breath. This shouldn‘t rattle him -- he‘d seen all sorts of things, after all. “If there was a presence, why would I feel it and not you?” He gave
“Oh, it’s an afterwordly thing. There are rules. I can only be seen by people with homosexual tendencies.”
He stumbled back, waving his arms frantically. “I don’t have those!”
“Those what?” Buffy asked, looking puzzled.
“Those, um -- ideas, on whether the words mean different thing. Yeah. Stone’s a stone, I guess.”
For a moment the others followed her gaze, giving Riley a chance to jerk a thumb toward
“She’s too close to see me -- emotionally, I mean. And the others? No gay tendencies.”
He lowered his voice, and distinctly spelled it out. “I. Do not. Have homosexual. Tendencies.”
Rubbing her chin,
“It’s not denial!”
The other women whirled around to stare at him.
“It’s not The
Kara reached around him, gripped the stone, and carefully set it down on the concrete floor beside the hearse. “Sarcophagus, or something -- that’s what they have along the
Okay, that’s it. Striding forward, Riley awkwardly patted Kara on the shoulder. “It’s okay to let your feelings out -- nobody here is hiding their feelings. We’re all very open. And secure.”
By now Buffy had abandoned any thoughts of the tombstone, and was staring at Riley in open concern. “Are you sure you’re alright? You look -- haunted.”
As if in response Dana took a step backward, and stared at the soldier as is he was the crazy one. “He has spirits around him.”
“But not for any reason,” Riley told her desperately, “other than I’m carrying a tombstone around. Right?”
She held his gaze. “Maybe you’re just -- different.”
“I’m not different!”
“Relax, Riley.” Buffy stretched out to kiss him on the cheek. “You can’t spend time in this business without picking up a spirit or two. I know a lady in
“I’ll, uh, consider it.” He started backing up, toward the Hum-Vee’s door.
“No!” Riley tore the door open and threw himself into the driver’s seat. “Buffy, I have to go, I’ve got duties in, um -- did you say
Buffy nodded. “She owns an antique shop there. Look her up, she’s great.”
“Right, I’ll check it out -- great to see you, gotta go.” He threw the Hummer into reverse, told himself he was getting a macho sports car, and fled from the building’s basement as fast as the
The overhead door slowly lowered behind him. When it had closed,
Then they burst out laughing.
Kara’s shoulders still shook, and tears streamed down her face, but not from sorrow. “I couldn’t hold it back anymore!” she cried, clutching her sides.
Meanwhile Buffybot jumped up and down, squealing over and over, “I did it! I did it! I finally fooled someone into thinking I was the real Buffy!”
“You did a great job, Bottie,”
“I sure did,” came Dawn’s disembodied voice. “It’ll be on the highlight reel after supper, and e-mailed to Riley right after that.” Before agreeing to do this,
The group headed toward the elevator, laughing and going over their individual parts like pilots reconstructing a dogfight. But
“Are you sure you don’t …”
“It’s just a stone,
“Hey! You said that didn’t bother you!” Accepting the new direction,
“Snogged? You’ve been reading too much Harry Potter. Anyway, if I’d known you liked tongue rings so much …”
They caught up with the others just in time to hear a plot involving hacking, gay porn sites, and Riley’s computer.