With Deepest Sympathies


by Saber ShadowKitten






Special Agent Riley Finn hefted the military-issue footlocker and set it on the metal-frame cot. The crisply made bedclothes wrinkled, the olive green blanket no longer tight enough to bounce a quarter on. Riley smoothed the covers out again as best he could. Graham would've hated that his bed was messed.

Tears filled Riley's eyes and he quickly wiped them away. No more crying; he had a job to do. Special Agent Graham Miller's personal effects were being delivered to his parents in a few days, and it was Riley's job to make sure nothing inappropriate, such as adult magazines or letters of a personal nature, was packed and sent to them.

Clearing the knot of grief from his throat, Riley cut the lock off the footlocker and opened the metal box which held the personal items of his deceased best friend.

Riley took a shaky breath, gathering his composure. A man's footlocker was his private space, never to be violated, a rule each member of the Special Operations Unit held sacred. Riley felt awkward even looking in Graham's footlocker, let alone having to go through the items inside.

"Damn it, Miller," Riley growled, wiping his eyes again. "Why the hell did you have to die?"

There had only been one death in the attack on the camp, which, from a military standpoint, had been lucky. The Junari, a species of pigmy demons, had attacked without warning, surprising the Special Operations Unit. Graham had been the only one to die, taking the spear meant for one of the other Special Agents. Graham had died a true military hero's death, and he'd receive several posthumous medals because of it.

Riley wanted to tell the Brass that Graham had deserved the medals long before he'd died.

Riley took another quick, fortifying breath, then began his arduous task. The photograph of himself, Graham, and another Special Agent taped to the locker door almost had Riley breaking down before he even truly got underway. Putting the picture in his pocket, he removed several magazines, spare laces, and the boot-shine kit, which he would dole out amongst the men in the unit. Some things were hard to come by in the South American jungles, so the soldiers shared what they could.

Riley quickly separated the other military-issued items until all that was left in the locker were Graham's personal effects. There were two rubber-banded stacks of opened envelopes, a wallet, a large broken shard of a seashell, and Graham's dogtags. Riley went for the envelopes first. He flipped through the return addresses on one of the stacks and recognized that the letters were all from Graham's parents. Mail was delivered to the unit weekly, along with whatever supplies they needed. The military had a way of keeping track of their location, even when the agents of the unit had no clue where they were.

That stack of letters was put in a manila envelope with Graham's parents' name on it. Riley then picked up the second stack, and his jaw dropped when he saw the return address. He quickly skimmed through the rubber-banded pile. They were all from the same place: Sunnydale, California.

The tall soldier sat on the edge of the cot and removed the top envelope from the stack. There was no name on the envelope, only an address and box number. Riley suddenly remembered Graham's bright smile each time the mail had arrived. Riley had wondered but never asked the cause of the smile, and Graham had never volunteered information on the contents of his mail, unlike the others in the unit. Then again, Graham had been the most private person of their small operation.

The second stack of letters was thicker than the first, and a ball of dread formed in Riley's stomach. Somehow, Riley knew that he'd have someone else to notify about Graham's death, someone important enough to Graham that he'd kept the letters after reading them.

With a shaky hand, Riley removed the letter from the open envelope in his hand and unfolded it. The letter was dated from two weeks before but instead of an ordinary greeting, or even a flowery one, the letter started off with a defensive insult, which had Riley rushing to see who it was from.

The blond soldier blinked several times, rubbed his eyes, and looked at the signature again. He shook his head in disbelief. The name didn't change, however. It was still there, in black and white, taunting him.

The letter was from Spike.

Riley turned the handwritten letter over, his mind reeling. Spike?! Graham had been corresponding with and kept letters from Spike?! Riley was flabbergasted, and grew even more so as he began to read.



Sod off, you trotting arsebandit. I did not say that I liked N*Sync. I said that they were only good for eating! Bugger, if rumor got around that I liked those pretty boys -- and I don't -- I'd be a laughingstock.

And no, I'm not one now. Shut up and fuck you.

Things here in Sunnydale are still quiet. It's driving me batty. I am BORED. There's only so much fun to be had ragging on Buffy and friends. Can't you take a vacation or something and come play with me? I got a new set of chains...



Riley stopped reading at that point, carefully refolded the letter, and stuck it in the envelope. At random, he chose another letter from the stack.



Feeling a bit melancholy tonight, pet.

Went for a walk on the beach earlier. The harvest moon was very orange. It reminded me of the night we shagged there, getting sand in the worst places. Remember that shell that kept jabbing us, but we were too lazy to get rid of? Laughed a lot that night, I recall. It was a good time.

I miss you.



Riley's gaze went to the shell fragment sitting in the footlocker. He folded the letter, put it in the envelope, slid it into the stack, and chose another letter. Then another. And another, and another, until he could no longer deny it:

Spike was Graham's boyfriend. His significant other. His 'buddy.' Worse, it was obvious by the letters that they had been in love.

Riley dropped his head into his hands and groaned. "Graham, you idiot, what did you do?"

Graham had never mentioned he was involved with anyone, let alone Hostile 17. Riley knew he should be pissed that his supposed best friend would keep such a secret, but he could understand why Graham had. Aside from the whole hostile aspect, 'Don't ask, don't tell' was in full effect, especially in a small unit such as theirs.

Still... Spike?? When had Graham met the chipped moron? How did they get together? Why did they get together? And what about Buffy? Riley thought the defanged vampire had a thing for his ex-girlfriend.

Riley realized he would never know the answers to the questions flying through his brain. Graham was dead, and Riley would not learn how an Initiative soldier and a hostile demon had fallen in love.

Pushing his turmoil aside, Riley retrieved another manila envelope, wrote Spike's name on it, and put the letters and shell fragment inside. Riley split the dogtags into two separate chains and put one in the envelope for Graham's parents, the other in the envelope for Spike. That done, all that was left to look through was Graham's wallet.

Somehow, Riley knew he'd find a hidden picture of Graham and Spike. The picture was actually a small caricature of the two, like the ones drawn at amusement parks. Graham's face was very square, and Spike had super-exaggerated cheekbones and anime eyes. In the drawing, Spike was sitting in front of Graham, with Graham's hands clasped around the vampire's waist. A conjoined thought bubble rose above their head, which read: "I can't believe I'm doing this."

Riley refolded the caricature and added it to the envelope for Spike. The only other thing in the wallet pertaining to Graham's relationship with Spike was a phone number, which Riley recognized as Rupert Giles's. But Riley had already decided that he would be making a trip to Sunnydale to break the news to Spike. Aside from telling Graham's parents, it was the least he could do for his fallen friend.

*****

In full dress uniform, Riley entered the Magic Box in Sunnydale, California, and stopped in the doorway. The sun coming through the window was hot on his back. Above his head, the bell announced his presence in the store. Four people gathered at the counter turned in his direction, and he nodded in greeting. "Hello."

"Riley?" Buffy took several quick steps towards him, then pulled up short, wariness written across her features. "Riley, is that you?"

Buffy looked beautiful to him, and he was hard-pressed not to gather her into his arms and not let go. His heart hurt, however, from seeing her again. Their breakup had shattered him, even though it had been inevitable.

"Yes, it's me," Riley said, further entering the store. He tore his eyes away from the petite Slayer and greeted the others. "Mr. Giles, Anya... Spike."

He hadn't expected to find the vampire so readily. He'd thought he'd have to ask Giles for directions to Spike's current residence. Riley didn't know whether to be relieved to find him so soon or not, considering the message. But was anyone ever prepared to give such devastating news?

"It's G.I. Jane," Spike said quite perkily. He glanced past Riley, a slightly hopeful expression on his face, one that would've been missed by anyone not looking for it. "Do I need to worry that you brought your Marching Band friends?"

"Actually, I'm here in an official capacity," Riley said, automatically squaring his shoulders. Telling Graham's parents had been hell, and he had a feeling telling Spike was going to be no different, despite his past dislike for the vampire.

"Official capacity?" Anya said. "That sounds bad. Are we going to war? Does Xander need to runaway to Canada so he doesn't get drafted and die and I become a war widow and end up receiving one of those telegrams that begin: 'It is with our deepest sympathies--'"

"Anya, let the boy speak," Giles interrupted. He smiled apologetically at Riley. "You were saying?"

Riley felt like he was going to be sick because of what Anya inadvertently said. The military no longer sent telegrams, they sent soldiers to break the news in person, but the words were exactly the same. He closed his eyes for a brief moment, cleared his throat, then looked directly at Spike. "Spike, may I speak with you in private?"

Spike stiffened, fear flashing across his face before it was replaced by wariness. "Why?" he asked, taking a single step closer before stopping. "Does it have something to do with the bloody chip in my skull?"

"No," Riley said. "It's personal."

Spike looked at Buffy. She nodded and Spike walked over to him. From the letters, Riley knew Buffy and Spike were friends, and the soldier was glad it was here that he'd found Spike. If Spike and Graham's relationship was a deep as Riley suspected, the vampire was going to need a friend.

Riley led Spike closer to the door, keeping out of the sunlight, to afford them some privacy. It would've worked if Buffy, Anya, and Giles were not-so-unobtrusively straining to hear. Spike was frowning deeply, a spark of worry evident in his blue eyes.

Riley's posture became ramrod straight and the words that had been drilled into him were spoken without inflection. "It is with deepest sympathy that I must inform you Special Agent Graham Miller was killed in action, protecting his fellow serviceman." He ignored the gasp from one of the others and held out the manila envelope with Spike's name on it. "The military is deeply sorry for your loss."

Spike stared at Riley, his face completely blank. "Oh," he said, taking the envelope. He looked at it, looked back at Riley, then turned to the others. "I have to leave now."

The vampire started for the door, but Buffy stopped him. "Spike, it's day still. Don't you want your blanket?"

"That's right. Can't go out in the day," Spike mumbled. He turned to Riley again, eyes slightly unfocused. "Are you sure?"

Riley felt like he was telling Graham's parents all over again. Damn it, Miller! Why did you die and force me to have to do this? "I'm sure," Riley replied.

Spike's hands tightened on the manila envelope, crinkling it. "But he promised to take me back to Disneyland so I could scare the riders in the Haunted House," he whined in a child-like tremor, as if that would change Riley's answer.

"I'm sorry," Riley repeated, clenching his jaw against his swelling emotions.

It was then that the tears started. Large, fat ones that rolled down Spike's face unheeded as the blond continued to stare blankly at Riley. "He's really dead, ain't he?" the vampire asked roughly.

"Yes."

"Oh." Spike looked at the door, looked at the envelope in his hands, then looked over at Buffy. "I don't know what to do. Buffy, I don't know what to do next. What do I do? What do I do?"

Buffy was at the vampire's side in an instant, pulling him into her arms as he whispered brokenly, "What do I do... what do I do... what do I do... what do I do..."

Riley swallowed, blinking away the tears in his eyes. Any doubt that he had about Spike being able to love his best friend had disappeared.

Breaking military protocol, Riley touched Spike's shoulder and, when the blond finally quieted and raised his red, teary eyes, said, "Graham always smiled when he received your letters."

Spike, still tucked into Buffy's embrace, gave him a watery smile. "Thanks for telling me about..." He sniffed and looked at the floor. "I never would've known if you hadn't come. I won't forget that."

"I'm truly sorry," Riley told him. He met Buffy's own teary gaze and nodded at her unspoken request for privacy. He turned, tilted his head goodbye to the others, and left the Magic Box.

Down the street, away from the bustle of the mid-day shoppers, Riley sat on a bench and allowed his tears to flow freely. Maybe someday Spike would tell Riley about his relationship with Graham. Riley had a feeling it was a tale worth hearing.



End