The Offramp Not Taken

Disclaimer: These characters are the property of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. They do not belong to me.

…..

It was another one of those re-gentrified urban downtown areas that was no different from a million other cities in the US. Once crumbling and neglected, the historic buildings in the area had each undergone a facelift and were now sporting the latest trendy new store fronts and bistros accenting the edges of the new city center. Overhead, the city landscape was dotted with banners and signs announcing the arrival of the most artfully designed, modern lofts and condos in the coming year. The cobblestone courtyard stood in the center with an overly designed fountain or a piece of modern art that had an unhealthy resemblance to a shoe horn in the center. The area bustled with people dressed in designer suits walking around with a phone in their ear or looking at an electronic device in their hand. And as to be expected, there was a national coffee chain retailer on a prominent corner, selling its overpriced and highly addictive product to the occupants of the city.

At about ten till nine in the morning, Buffy was sitting on a highly polished teak stool at the back end of a coffee chain, closing the portfolio on the Council's latest project. She had been with the Council for over ten years since Sunnydale disappeared. Now in her early thirties, she had moved out of hands-on slaying field work and up into management. She was a nursing a double tall cappa-mocha-chai with a shot whatever as she sat at the back of the store. The latest jazz compilation that the store was trying to sell the truly hip clientele was swimming over her head. She looked down and pulled her beat up leather messenger bag up from the floor where it had been leaning against the post of the table. She unzipped it and slid the folder inside and placed it back at her feet. She looked at her watch and realized that she had at least another forty minutes to kill before she was to drive over and meet with the demonologist at his lab regarding the latest Council project.

As she looked around the store, she saw there was a steady stream of customers flowing in and out of the coffee store's doors. Most of the tables were full with business types, a few actually talking with each other but most seemed to be lost in their own little world of high finance, business or world domination. With nothing to read to fill her time, Buffy saw a stack of newspapers for sale by the cash register on the counter. She walked over and pulled one from the top of the stack and got in line to wait for the cashier to ring her up. Luckily, there was only one person in line in front of her. He was a large man, who obviously spent a lot of time at the gym by the breadth of the charcoal gray garbed shoulders looming in front of her. She could only see the top part of the menu, as the man's body blocked her vision. Finally, the man moved and Buffy stepped forward to pay for her paper. Buffy looked down at her wallet as she pulled out some change as the young woman rang her up. She placed the change in the woman's upraised hand and moved to the side to replace her wallet back in her pocketbook. Suddenly, her hand froze as she was pulling the zipper closed. Something had struck her as familiar.

Buffy raised her head and stared at the opposite side of the store to a particular table up in the corner by the windows. There was a man sitting there with his back to her. There was something eerily familiar about him. He was wearing gray Brooks Brother suit. His ash brown hair was cut close to his head to obviously deal with the natural curl. There was something oddly familiar about the way he moved as he folded up the paper and placed it under his arm and grabbed his briefcase. Just as he was about to get up, he ducked down to check the dark clouds that were gathering in the sky. As he did so, Buffy was able to see his reflection in the window against the darkened atmosphere on the other side. With his forehead wrinkled as the eyes were cast up at the sky, Buffy got a good look. It was a face she thought she would never see again. It was a strikingly handsome face and there was even the tell tale scar on the eyebrow. It was Spike.

Buffy stood there at the counter, numb as she watched Spike deftly get up and leave the coffee chain. Buffy's first instinct was to chase after him. She took two steps before she remembered her bag. She charged back to her table, grabbed her bag and bolted for the door, navigating the scattered human obstacles in her path. She finally pushed the door open with both hands as she exited the store. She suddenly came to a stop with her hand on the door as she looked for Spike in the milling crowds in the plaza. She had lost him.

For the rest of the day, Buffy's mind kept going back to the coffee chain and who she had seen there. She made perfunctory work of her meeting with demonologist and was out in time to stake out the city center to see if Spike would reappear. Tapping her fingers against the edge of the bench seat, she sat across from the coffee chain for the remainder of the afternoon, watching the customer traffic flow in and out of the store. The threatening storm clouds dissipated as the afternoon wore on and sunshine beamed down on the courtyard, as she sat there intent on her hunt.

Around five in the afternoon, Buffy could see a surge in the pedestrian traffic as the office buildings started to release their paycheck prisoners. It was almost thirty minutes later when Buffy spied Spike moving through the crowd. She stood up as she watched him, admiring the way he looked in a suit. She had always pictured him in the black tee shirt and jeans or less when he crept into her thoughts in the years that had passed since Sunnydale. Watching his lean frame move with an animalistic grace in the well cut suit, she knew there would be additional thoughts of him with silk ties, tailored shirts and crisp suits to occupy her thoughts in the future. Spike seemed intent on his goal as he easily cut through the throng of commuters as they fled the area. Never taking her eyes off him, she fell in step about ten feet behind him. She was able to shadow his every move with him unaware.

All of a sudden, Spike turned and went down a side street away from the business hub of the city. Buffy followed at a discrete distance and watched him enter a parking garage. Desperate, Buffy waved down a passing taxi. Promising the driver a great deal of money as she climbed into the backseat, they waited for Spike to come out of the parking garage. The nonplussed driver pulled over to the side of the street as they waited. Finally about eight minutes later, a black moderately priced mid size sedan came out of the garage, driven by Spike. Pointing at the car, Buffy urged the taxi to follow him.

As Spike's car moved away from downtown and onto the highway system, there were times that Buffy feared they had lost him. The taxi driver who had done this thing before was not worried. He calmly sliced through traffic, always keeping Spike's car in sight. This was not the first jealous girlfriend he had driven around. It actually was quite a good business, with a healthy tip thrown in no matter what the outcome.

After about fifteen minutes on the highway, Buffy saw dark sedan slow down to take an exit. She jabbed the taxi driver on the shoulder, who nodded knowingly and took the same exit. After driving through a commercial area populated with grocery stores and shopping malls, Spike pulled into the entrance of a newer subdivision. All the houses were relatively new constructions and still retained the bright and fresh look per the builder's design. The yards were all neatly mown and kept green with automatic sprinkler systems. Moving deftly along the curving parkways, Spike made several turns inside the subdivision's maze of streets. At last, he slowed down and turned into a driveway of a two story brick home. There was a minivan parked on one side of the driveway, while Spike pulled up on the far side. The sliding door was open on the van and a woman with long dark gold hair was leaning inside.

The taxi stopped up the street as Buffy could see the front of the house. Spike walked round the end of the minivan, pulling his tie loose from his neck. He smiled as a little blonde girl in pigtails came running up to him. She bounced in front of him as he knelt down to speak to her. She grabbed his hand and tried to drag him after her. He held up his hand that he would need a moment as he gave her a quick pat. He then walked around to the woman who was working with something inside the van. He placed his hand on the small of her back and leaned in and kissed her cheek. Buffy felt a rush of jealously redden her cheeks as she watched how comfortably the pair acted around each other. She watched how Spike toyed with a lock of the long blondish hair the woman had hanging down her back. The blonde woman turned and placed a toddling baby boy down between her and Spike. The baby took a few drunken swaggering steps before Spike leaned down and swooped him up into his arms. He happily bounced the baby in his arm who clumsily patted Spike's face with his chubby hands in greeting.

The woman was still speaking to Spike as she moved away from the van, her back still to Buffy who was peering from the back seat of the taxi. Spike pulled the van's sliding door shut with his free hand and soon followed her to the front door. The blonde woman called the little girl to her as she stopped at the front walk. Going directly to the house, Spike opened the front door. He stood inside holding the door open, waiting as the woman pointed the little girl to the door. The little girl charged inside at a full run with her pigtails flying. Spike turned to watch where the little girl went as he waited for the woman holding the door with his free hand. As the woman got to the front door, it was evident from Spike's face that he was deeply in love with her. Coming through the door and patting him on the shoulder, the woman with the long blonde hair turned to shut the door. It was then that Buffy got a good look at her face. It was the same face that she saw in the mirror every morning.

Staring at the house for a moment, she realized that she was peeking at a reality that was not her own. Turning to the cab driver, she said.

"Okay. We can go."