the pearl

Christmas In Iowa

The snow is clean, crisp, and firm, packed down after a bitterly cold night. The sun glimmers over it like crushed glass, sharp and almost painful to look at.

Riley Finn trudges through the show, the crunching of his boots making the only sound in the still silent morning — the silence of the frozen and the alone.

It was Christmas. And instead of spending it the only way he wants, his arms around his angelic girlfriend, smiles all around, he is back home, the family all treading softly around the questions he knew they had — what happened, where was she, what had he been doing all those years in Sunnydale, why — above all why — he had returned, suitcase in hand.

But he won't face the questions, he won't face his family. He stands out here, doing all the chores in the cold winter air — the silent country asking him no questions, making no judgment.

Riley makes his way on the small path he had shoveled clean the day before, the slow steady stream of smoke rising from the house cheering him slightly. Mom would be basting the turkey she got up before dawn to slowly roast, and Dad would be starting up the fire in the living room, preparing for when his older brothers and their families arrived, arms loaded with presents and mind loaded with questions for their baby brother, the golden child of the Finn family, named after Emily Finn's maiden name, and always destined for greatness. Danny would ask about college, Richie would ask about California, and only Jack would dare mention what they all thought was The Army.

A figure stands on the narrow back porch, too tall to be his mother, and his father had been warned about smoking one too many times to be trying it on Christmas. Riley frowns as the figure became more and more defined, and the slight frown of curiosity deepens into a frown of confusion mixed with anger, as the snow crunches under his feet and the man on the back porch looks at him, his eyes bleak with knowledge. "Riley," he says, his voice low.

Riley lowers the basket he's been carrying, careful to not drop a single egg within the basket, and looks up at the man on the porch, his eyes narrowed. "Giles."


They stand there in silence for a few minutes, their breath curling slowly around their bodies, then, finally, Riley speaks, his voice low and tired, as if he has already laid out the entire conversation in his head and doesn't wish to relive it. "I suppose you're here to find out what happened..."

Giles looks down at the porch for a second, staring at the gray planks underneath, then looks back up at Riley. "I've heard the details..." he finally says.

"From Buffy?" Riley asks angrily, a million words about her point of view barely repressed by his tongue.

Giles' eyebrows raise slightly at Riley's tone of voice. "And Spike. And Xander had a few things to say as well."

Riley's anger fades slightly as he hears about Xander, but only slightly. "And I suppose you had to come out here to tell me what a horrible person I was, and how mean I was to Buffy, and that I ought to return and apologize as quickly as possible, right?"

Giles looks back down at the ground, a faint smile on his lips. "The thought had crossed my mind," he says softly. "As well as bringing a large club to thoroughly thrash you with, but..." He pauses slightly, looking back up at the younger man, his expression growing serious. "I mainly came to ask you why."

Riley chuckles harshly, and looks out over the snow-covered farmland. "Why what?" he asks, already knowing the answer.

"Why this occurred." Giles does not explain further, and he doesn't need to, the memories of what has happened rising up between them.

Riley looks back at Giles bleakly, then sighs and turns away. "What's there to explain?" he says softly. "I..." His body slumps in defeat before he can continue. "I screwed up."

Giles just continues to look at him, waiting for him to continue, refusing to answer until the story comes.

And Riley follows his lead unconsciously, the story coming out slowly, vaguely. "It was like she could handle anything, you know? I was so used to handling everything, and then it was taken away from me..."

"And you saw the power dangled in front of you — the thing you couldn't achieve because you weren't..." Giles pauses in his explanation to search for the word. "The chosen one." He turns away from Riley, looking out towards the barn. "And you have to discover what it is that makes them chosen, you have to keep pushing and pushing at what they've achieved, and before you know it..."

"It's gone too far..." Riley says, his hands unconsciously rubbing against the scars still on his arms.

Giles' hand is unconsciously rubbing against the tattoo on his forearm, and as he turns back towards the younger man, Riley's eyes catches his and they realize what they each are doing, what they each have done.

The two men look away from each other, embarrassed at the weakness revealed, but then their eyes match, and there's a comfort in there, a gentle reassurance, the brotherhood of the inadequate made whole.

"She doesn't need me..." Riley says quietly. "She can take care of herself."

"She doesn't need me..." Giles replies. "But she still wants me to be there."

Riley looks up, his eyes sharp with knowledge. "You love her," he says, not a question, but a definitive statement.

Giles nods, slowly, precisely, and matches Riley's gaze. "And you still do."

Riley turns away from him, sighing again. "I love her more than anything in the world, Giles," he says slowly. "She's the one thing in my life that feels right, you know? I could just hold her in my arms forever..." He wraps his hands over the railing of the small porch fence, feeling the rough wood against his gloves. "But I can't go back there."

Giles looks at Riley's back, and shakes his head slightly. "Then I've failed," he says softly. "I'll have to go back and tell her that you're nothing more..." He pauses, apparently for emphasis. "Than a coward..."

Riley's fists tighten around the railing in a moment's fury, then release, his entire body slumping in defeat. "Yes," he says in a weary voice. "I guess I am..."

They are silent for a few more minutes, each man staring out over the wintry landscape and avoiding each other. Then, when Riley couldn't bear the silence any more, he turned back to Giles. "I..." He straightens a little, almost as stiff as the military at-ease position. "I..."

Giles raises both eyebrows, looking at him quizzically. "Yes?"

Riley relaxes, any resolve he had disappearing again. "Look, I can't go back," he said. "It''s too's too soon." He looks towards the back door, seeing his mother glancing over occasionally as she prepared part of dinner. "But I'd like it if you stayed for dinner...I'm sure Mom can set another setting, and it'd be nice to have someone there to back me up..."

Giles frowns slightly. "Back you up?"

Riley gives a half-smile, the smile of the weakly brave. "I figure that it's time I told them what happened..." he says softly. "All of what happened." He shrugs. "I can't keep what I've been doing a secret forever..."

Giles nods, reaching out to grasp Riley's shoulder in something akin to comfort and support, and, together, they go into the house.

This Angel/Buffy the Vampire Slayer story was written by Kate Bolin. If you liked it, there's plenty more at And you can feedback her at