The stopping of the car jerked Buffy awake. She glanced around. They were parked in front of Spike's house, an older two-story brick colonial located on a quiet side street in the older section of Sunnydale. She'd always loved it. Although she never thought the former bad boy of high school would ever settle down to such suburban life. Yet somehow she couldn't think of the man he'd become living anywhere else.
"Yeah," Buffy said, with a small stretch. She grabbed her purse. "Sorry for falling asleep. It's been a long day."
From his curt monosyllabic conversation since leaving the hospital, Buffy sensed Spike was angry with her, but she didn't have a clue as to why. If she was honest, she wasn't too concerned about it at the moment. There were too many other things for her to stress over, then to worry about what Spike was feeling. Besides knowing him the way she did, she knew eventually he would blow his stack and tell her what was wrong.
Spike waited while she got her bag out of her car and then led the way to the entrance. After unlocking the door, he pushed it open for her to precede him into the foyer.
"I'm home," Spike called out bringing a flurry of activity.
Anne clattered down the stairs while Lucky, soon followed by Matt, came barreling down the hallway dividing the house. If it weren't for her pet, Buffy would have felt left out of the boisterous reunions. While she watched Anne hugging her father, and Matt telling him that he'd kept some dinner for Spike, it made her aloneness more obvious. She would probably never get to experience such a moment in her own life. Ready to sink into a vast pool of envious wistfulness, Buffy sighed when it all came to a screeching halt.
"What's she doing here?" Anne asked, while staring at Buffy's overnight bag with repulsion. "She's not staying the night, is she?"
"Yes, she is. I invited her to stay the night," Spike said. "She's already had a full day and I thought it would be easier on her if she didn't have to leave again. Besides, if she stays then Lucky won't have to be left locked up all day at Joyce's house."
"Who's going to be here to watch him?" Anne asked. "I'm going with you tomorrow, right?"
Spike sighed. "Yes. In the morning you can go to the hospital with us, but there won't be any need for you to stay all day. Mattie either. So when you leave, you can take care of Lucky, right?"
"I guess," Anne said. "I like the dog."
"Anne, you're being rude," Spike said, flashing Buffy an apologetic glance. "Buffy is a guest in our home and you need to behave. Now apologize."
With a dramatic rolling of her eyes and a tone that left no doubt she didn't mean it, Anne said, "I'm sorry."
"Accepted," Buffy said, while trying not to laugh at the territorial stance Spike's daughter was taking, but she understood it. After her parent's divorce, she'd done the same thing with any female near her father. So, she tried to appear unaffected, continuing to pet Lucky while Spike handled his daughter. She wouldn't be hanging around enough for her to try to change Anne's mind about her, but she didn't want to cause any problems for Spike.
"Is your homework done?" Spike asked, glancing at his watch. "And it's late. Why aren't you ready for bed?"
"Dad," Anne whined. "I'm not going to school tomorrow so my homework doesn't need to be done, and if no school, why do I have to go to bed?"
"Because we have an early day tomorrow," Spike said, kissing Anne's forehead. "Now upstairs."
Anne didn't say anything. She sighed before racing back up the stairs. Mattie laughed, as soon his sister was gone.
"Geesh, could she get any more dramatic?"
"I'm afraid so," Spike answered. He shook his head. "I don't even want to know how much more." He clapped Mattie on the back. "What's for dinner?"
"Chili mac and salad."
"Sounds good," Spike gestured for Buffy to follow him down the hallway to the kitchen.
The fragrant aroma of chili tickled Buffy's nose making her realize she hadn't eaten since that morning. Feeling more at ease with just the two males, Buffy asked, "Please tell me there's enough for me to have some."
"Yeah, of course," Matt said. "Unlike Anne, I figured you would be staying so I made extra."
"Thank you," Buffy smiled. She looked around the kitchen. "Anything I can do?"
"Are you starving?" Matt asked, reaching into the refrigerator to pull out a salad.
"Yeah," Buffy said. "I didn't realize it until I smelled the chili, but now my stomach is doing somersaults."
She hoped they weren't going to make her wait too long. She didn't know how much longer she could hold it together. Exhaustion was pulsating through her body. She felt in need of a shower, but her stomach was winning in the demand for attention. A hot shower was second on her lists of needs. Putting on her soft flannel pajamas and crawling into a bed would be a perfect ending to a bad day.
Matt handed Buffy a bowl of salad. After she took it from him, he disappeared back into the refrigerator to look for something else. Buffy put the bowl on the kitchen table before returning to see if there was anything else she could grab. Spike was dishing out chili into big soup mugs, making her mouth water.
"Go sit, Buffy," Spike said, gesturing to the table with his head. "We'll bring the rest over."
It didn't take long for Spike and his son to have everything laid out. She grabbed her spoon as soon as she saw Spike tear a roll in half and stuff it into his mouth. The chili mac was delicious and obviously homemade with its rich spicy flavor.
"Did you make this?" Buffy asked, after a couple of bites. "I haven't tasted anything so good in a long time."
"Thanks," Matt said, from his seat across from her. "Well, Dad made the chili. I defrosted it and cooked the macaroni."
"An unstoppable team," Buffy smiled. "I usually have a frozen dinner or salad when I get home from work so this is heaven. Thank you."
For some absurd reason, Buffy's praise of the simple meal gave Spike pleasure. It wasn't like he'd invited her to stay because he wanted her in his house. Or to get her approval. She was only there because he'd promised Joyce. If he'd known that it would make Anne so unhappy, he might have let her go back to her mother's house. Sighing, he realized that wasn't true. Even if he was angry with her, he couldn't be cruel and to leave Buffy alone would be just that.
"Matt, what about your homework?"
"Done Dad," Matt said. "And my chores are done. Yes, I realize we have an early morning so I'll head upstairs to take a shower. I can take a hint," he added with a grin. "Sleep well, Mrs. Finn."
"Why don't you call me, Buffy? Since I'm not married anymore it sounds funny to be called that."
"Well, goodnight Buffy," Mattie said, grinning. "Night Dad."
Spike stared after his son as he left the kitchen. Matt's grin was a little too much and he could swear his son's cheeks were pink. He looked back at Buffy who was eating. She didn't seem to give a second thought to Matt's pleasure at being given permission to call Buffy by her first name. It wasn't uncommon anymore for teenagers or even children to address adults with such familiarity, and not much different from him calling Buffy's mother by her given name. For some reason, though, it irked him.
"I wished you asked me before you did that."
"Did what?" Buffy looked up confused. "Oh, you mean Matt calling me Buffy." She shrugged. "I didn't think it was a big deal. He's an adult."
"He's seventeen," Spike said. "Not an adult yet."
"You didn't think you were a child at seventeen," Buffy's tone implied she was teasing. "But looking back, I know I was definitely more a child than an adult at that age. Didn't have a clue how difficult being a grownup was going to be."
"That's for damn sure," Spike said, giving up trying to make a point about Mattie. Buffy hadn't taken the hint and it would probably take a sledgehammer to get his point across to her. Other than his own irritation, it wasn't really a big deal, and if his son did end up with a crush on Buffy, it most likely would be a passing thing.
Besides, he could see why Mattie would be thrilled by it. Buffy was a beautiful woman even if she did look exhausted at the moment and she was thinner than the last time he saw her almost a year before. It amazed him that two hours traveling time was too much for any of them to take to see each other. They may as well have lived a state away for all the effort they made. Once the two of them were close enough to share secrets, and one summer a few kisses, but they had let time get away. They were more acquaintances than buddies anymore.
"How is work going?" Buffy asked. "Mom told me that you got a promotion."
Spike relaxed at the introduction of neutral territory. It would keep him looking beyond the anger he was trying to hold onto when it came to Buffy. He pushed his plate away before answering.
"Yeah, you're looking at the new VP of Marketing."
"Congratulations," Buffy said, raising her water bottle to toast him. He touched his bottle to hers. "How does it feel being a big shot?"
"The big shot is my boss," Spike said. "The VP is the guy who does all the grunt work and takes all the blame when something gets screwed up." He leaned back in his chair, rubbing his hands over his face. "I like it. The pay is better, although the hours suck, and I'm never bored."
"Not being bored is a priority as a job description."
"And you? How is work? Life?"
"Up until today, it's been peachy keen," Buffy said, leaning her chin on her hand. "Work is busy. We've gotten a couple of new high profile cases that are making everyone's life hell. Lindsey, my boss, is lapping it up. He wants to win so that he can be equal with Lilah in the senior partner's eyes."
"Your mom has mentioned Lindsey," Spike said, just to let Buffy know that he also knew of her personal relationship with him. He didn't approve, but it was really none of his business. Rebound relationships were normal, although it took him almost a year after Drusilla's suicide to be with someone else. The way Joyce explained things, it sounded like Buffy had waited merely days after her split with Riley to jump into bed with Lindsey.
"My mother doesn't have any idea of privacy."
"She worries about you." Spike shrugged.
"She didn't approve of my relationship with Lindsey." Buffy stood, graceful but exacting in her movements. It was obvious that she didn't want Spike's opinion of Lindsey, but he had a couple nonetheless. Such as he didn't like Buffy doing something that could jeopardize her job, or her getting involved with a man who was into power more than he was into having morals. Her involvement with Lindsey only emphasized her poor judgment in the last year.
He watched Buffy take their dirty dishes to the sink. The current subject was closed. Standing, he put the food away while she washed the dishes. It didn't take them long to get the kitchen clean. When they were done, Buffy whistled for Lucky who they could hear bounding down the stairs.
"Hey boy," Buffy said, petting her friend. "Were you with Anne? She likes you, I know."
"Drusilla never wanted the responsibility of pets," Spike said, trying not to stare at the cleavage Buffy was revealing by bending over. "Anne's always wanted a dog."
"Maybe you should get her one," Buffy said. "I don't know where I'd be without Lucky."
Spike could think of a hundred more fitting scenarios, but bit his tongue. It was Buffy's life. "I've never really thought about it. Are you taking him out?" After Buffy nodded, Spike opened the back door, ushering the other two out before he followed. It would have been easy for him to excuse himself, but he didn't. Buffy stopped on his deck while Lucky raced into the fenced backyard to do his business.
"I'll clean up after him in the morning," Buffy said. "It's dark and I don't want to take the chance of breaking a heel."
"Typical female excuse," Spike teased, looking down at the 2-inch spiked heels that Buffy wore. They did wonders for her legs. He followed the turn of her calf upwards to where the view was cut off by her skirt that stopped a couple of inches above her knees. The woman still had great legs.
"Stop Spike," Buffy said, with a laugh. "If you don't, I'm going to have to wear a nun's habit around you."
"Hey, you brought up the shoes. I'm a man, and was just following my basic instinct."
"Typical male excuse."
They both laughed. It took some of the pressure off from the earlier conversation. A reminder of the days when they were able to joke around without having to tiptoe around certain subjects. He leaned against the railing next to Buffy.
"Thanks for earlier," Buffy said. "At the hospital. If you hadn't grabbed me, I think I would have collapsed into a big pile of goo." She took a deep breath. "Seeing my mother like that, it was just a huge shock."
"I know," Spike said, and before he could stop himself, he squeezed her shoulder. Then hoping to hold onto some of the teasing, he added, "I could tell that under the professional attitude and power suit beat a marshmallow heart."
"Very funny." She covered his hand still resting on her shoulder, and gave him a weak smile. "I really appreciate everything you've done for my mother. You're a good guy."
And with that, Spike felt a bit like a marshmallow himself.