Man! challenge in a can Man!





Ingrid Fairfax

For a cityboy, born and bred, it is sometimes difficult to accept that there are places on the earth where civilization disappears and all that is left is the wild. On some level, the belief is held that a community must lie just over the next mountain, complete with convenience stores and cable television. Despite missions that have taken him to the most remote regions on the globe, Graham feels the pull of human development even still. It tugs at him like a sort of electromagnetic attraction, an internal compass seeking out blacktop roadways and powerlines.

With a sigh, he shifts to his side on his bed of vegetation. These jungle missions always feel a little surreal to him. A little like being trapped in a wildlife park. This is a vast terrain of tangled underbrush, insects and things even less human that leaves him feeling melancholy and alone. By what little starlight that manages to filter through the thick canopy above, he can barely make out the forms of his comrades in their bedrolls, each one faintly outlined by a blue line. Craning his neck slightly, he can see Riley against a tree, keeping watch with his gun resting in the crook of his arm.

He has spent considerable time studying Riley's arms and the patterns of scarring across his wrists and in the bends of his elbows. In the Initiative, he saw enough vampire attacks that he recognizes them for what they are. He simply doesn't understand what they represent. For close to a year now, Graham has been trying to understand how Riley has changed so much.

Graham has lived a lifetime saying little and observing as much as he can. Riley has never been hard to understand, not for Graham. He thought he had Riley all figured out: decent, dependable, corn-fed boy from Iowa. A strong leader. Someone who understood the mission and would stay true to it, simply because the idea of deviation would never occur to him. Riley used to be all these things, but he's changed. His scarred forearms are testament to that.

Before Sunnydale and Buffy Summers, before Maggie Walsh and Adam, back when the Initiative was at its height, they were part of a cohesive unit, a family. There was never any doubt that they were fighting , and winning, the good fight. Now the few remaining Sunnydalers have only memories. The ties that bound them together are fading away, leaving only a thin residue of purpose and trust that feels more like force of habit than truth. Still, they are able to look at each other and say, silently, "Yes, we were brothers. We fought the Initiative's Last Battle together. We were strong. We were noble. We were part of something larger than life. Together, we crushed mythologies under our feet. Yes, I know you, and I've got your back."

They all have that. Except Riley, who exists in isolation.

Graham thinks that he knows why Riley wanted to leave Sunnydale. He is afraid of himself. Better to go to far off lands where the only friends you have are your fellow soldiers. In far off lands, there are no Slayers, no demons with names and personalities, and no easy-to-find dives full of vampires eager to open your veins. Riley is running, and he has been since the fall of the Initiative.

In the quiet moments before battle, he has watched the way Riley's fingers absently trace his own scars, gently rubbing back and forth, harder in the bends of the elbows where the scarring is thickest. While on watch, he has seen the way Riley mutters and thrashes in his sleep, clutching a red-patterned kerchief. He has schooled himself to watch for the look of almost-envy that flashes across Riley's face after a clean kill. Most painful to see is the barely concealed hunger that comes over him on the rare occasions when they encounter a group of vampires out here in the jungle.

Graham feels that he is the sole witness to the gradual demise of Riley Finn.

Riley used to be the most cautious of soldiers. Never cowardly, just measured and methodical. Completing the mission and protecting the safety of his men was paramount. Now he sees the eager way Riley throws himself, and everyone else, into the most dangerous situations. Sooner or later, Riley will get what he wants.

It is inevitable that a demon will one day catch them unprepared. Riley will be just a fraction too slow in dodging or hesitate at a crucial moment. Or perhaps Riley will get what he's really been looking for, and he will show up in camp one night, yellow eyes glowing and fangs shining in the filtered starlight. Graham knows it will fall to him to face his former friend and then pack up his belongings for Special Forces to deliver to an Iowa family in place of their son's body.

He thinks that he should take that red-patterned kerchief back to Sunnydale, and bury it on campus, over the old complex. He should bring Riley's touchstone full-circle to where it all fell apart. Then he looks at Riley again in the starlight and asks himself why he should even bother.

With another sigh, he rolls over and tries to sleep.

Graham. Bed. Melancholy.

Man! challenge in a can Man!