Mucho thanks to spikeskat who earned the record for the fastest beta turnaround EVER for this one. We're talking in less than 10 minutes. *hugs kat.*
It was dusk when Joyce took the apple pie she had made out of the oven, the chili she'd prepared hours earlier was simmering quietly in the crock-pot. As she began to tackle the task of cleaning her cooking mess, the doorbell rang. Wiping her hands on her apron, she took her time in reaching the front door, hoping the bell would prove to awaken the slumbering slayer and vampire.
Assuming it was Xander and Willow on one of their unannounced visits, Joyce didn't bother to check through the peephole before she threw it open.
It wasn't Xander or Willow.
"Avon calling!" a bright, chipper voice greeted Joyce, catching her off guard. The visitor on the other side of the door was unmistakable. Even bundled in layers of clothing that were at serious odds with the temperate California climate, the nervous, frenetic energy and mischievous smile were easy to recognize.
"Elaine!" Joyce greeted warmly.
"Hi Joyce! Bet you didn't expect to see us, now did you?" The New Englander whipped her hat off and fluffed her hair.
"You mean you didn't call to let her know we were coming?" Rick demanded, looking at his wife with something akin to horror, wondering just where her brain was sometimes. "Sorry, Joyce. I figured she'd show some manners for once in her life. I should have known better."
Elaine waved him off. "Oh, it's fine. Right, Joyce?"
Buffy's mother found her lips curving up into a smile. "Of course it is. Come on in."
"See? I didn't need to call ahead. Besides, where's that element of surprise if you call to warn somebody you're coming?" Elaine pinned a questioning look on her husband, who remained steadfastly silent. "That's right, there is none." Elaine ignored Rick's pained sigh and shared a conspiratorial smile with Joyce. "Besides, we're practically family," she announced, looping arms with Buffy's mother and stepped over the threshold. "Oh wow, I just love your house." Her eagle eyes missed nothing as Joyce led them into the kitchen.
"Something sure smells good in here," Elaine announced, peeling off her parka. "And you know, it's a bit weird taking off in the beginnings of a snow storm and landing in disgustingly beautiful, warm weather. I'm dying here. How can you stand this heat?"
"Well, you are a bit overdressed for Sunnydale weather, I have to admit."
"I tried to tell her that, of course. Told her to at least leave one layer behind. But do you think she listens to me?" Rick complained, throwing himself onto the barstool that Spike had vacated hours before.
"Where are Spike and Buffy?" Elaine inquired as if her husband had never said a word.
"See? She won't even listen to me bitching about her never listening to me," Rick griped good-naturedly.
"Oh, I listen to you, honey," Elaine replied, batting her eyelashes as she slid into the seat next to Rick. "I listen perfectly well when you have something I actually want to hear." She giggled at his pained snort and leaned over to give him a quick kiss, then turned back to Joyce to repeat her question. "Are Spike and Buffy here?"
Joyce nodded. "Yes. Actually they are asleep right now."
"Asleep? It's... like... five o'clock in the afternoon! Sheesh! Spike, yeah. You expect it. But Buffy?" she shook her head to emphasize her point. "She's back in California for a day and she turns into a lazy slug!"
"Yes, well, they had a rather... trying morning."
Elaine immediately dropped the teasing and allowed her concern to show through, that same concern that had prompted her to get on a plane in the middle of a snow storm and fly to offer her unfailing support, her husband a willing participant at her side. "Are they both ok?"
"Yes. Well, they should be. Buffy said that all she needed was a little sleep and she'd be fine." Joyce glanced at the clock on the stove, frowning. "Although, they have been asleep for hours now. I'm starting to get worried."
"Well, maybe someone should go wake them up?" Elaine suggested. "Make sure they're ok."
Rick tossed his wife a knowing look. "Nice try."
"What?" she cried. "I can't help it if I like seeing Spike all rumpled! He looks so cute when he gets up, with all those little ringlets he has."
"Spike has ringlets?" Joyce inquired curiously.
Elaine nodded. "Damn cute ones, too. That's why he pours all that gel in his hair."
"Tell me again why I put up with you?" Rick questioned, hooking his arm around the back of Elaine's chair.
"Because... you love me?" Elaine sent an impish smile his way.
"God knows why-" His words were cut off abruptly when his wife gave him a swift, hungry kiss.
Observing the affectionate interaction between the couple in front of her, Joyce realized that she had been invaded by a subtle sense of well-being. It had begun to take root the moment she had opened her front door to find Rick and Elaine on her porch and she took a moment to absorb the significance of it. They had quickly become her friends as well, and Joyce knew that they were the only ones, beside herself, who she could trust to have Buffy's best interest at heart. Even Rupert, as concerned as he had been, had hidden motives in regards to her daughter. But these two? Their motivations matched her own.
And she was damn glad to see them.
"Can I get you anything to drink?" Joyce offered warmly once the couple broke apart and had finished giving each other sappy smiles.
"I'm fine, thank you. We got bumped to first class so I made the stewardesses work for their pay." Elaine pressed a quick kiss to her husband's cheek then directed her full attention to Joyce.
"They are called flight attendants, Elaine."
"Whatever. But thank you for the offer, Joyce."
"Do you have any beer?" Rick asked hopefully.
"I believe so." A quick scour of the shelves proved fruitful and Joyce handed him a bottle of domestic beer.
After a few moments of idle chitchat, Elaine's voice becoming increasingly louder in an attempt to awaken her sleeping friends, she suddenly turned serious. "Joyce, don't mess with me here. Are Spike and Buffy really ok?"
Joyce nodded thoughtfully. "Yes, as I said before, I think sleep is all they needed."
"No, I mean mentally ok."
"I think so, Elaine. They both seemed fairly... ambivalent about the whole thing this morning, if you want to know the truth."
Elaine sighed with relief. "Good. Because that would have made me angry, if they had been sad again." At Joyce's questioningly look, Elaine continued, "When they first came to Windmont, they were sad. They hid it well, but that's the truth. Then after a while, they weren't."
Joyce had to blink back the sudden rush of tears that clouded her vision.
"But then when you and Grupert came into town-"
"It's Rupert," Joyce corrected automatically.
Elaine brushed off the name with a nonchalant wave of her wrist. "Whatever. Point is, they suddenly seemed to get a whole lot sadder when they found out that they had to come deal with the mess here." Her gaze hardened as she regarded Joyce. "I don't like seeing them sad."
Joyce sighed. "I don't either, Elaine."
"Jesus Christ, talk about being a drama queen, Elaine." Rick shook his head in wonder. "Could I use your bathroom, Joyce?"
"Of course. It's around the corner."
The moment her husband exited the room, Elaine sent Joyce a mischievous look. "Is Buffy's room right above the kitchen?"
Rick dried his hand on the flowery guest towels before leaving the quaint bathroom and heading back to the kitchen, becoming sidetracked by the gallery of photos on the wall.
Laughing at one particularly amusing picture of an adolescent Buffy, he entered the kitchen with a smile on his face. "Joyce, how old was Buffy in that picture with the clown?"
His question trailed off as he saw what his wife had been up to in his short absence. "What the hell are you doing , Elaine?"
"What does it look like I'm doing?" The broom in her hand told him all he needed to know.
"I can't believe you're doing that here." He shook his head at her audacity, then noticed the conspiratorial exchange of glances between his wife and Buffy's mother, quickly realizing he had walked into some sort of twisted female bonding ritual.
"Well, I refrained from going upstairs and waking them up personally, didn't I? I think that showed some restraint on my part." Elaine sent her husband a 'so there' look and began her task of jabbing the ceiling with the wooden tip of the broom. "Besides, Joyce said she would have done it herself if she had thought of it, didn't you?"
"Well, I might have opted for knocking on their door rather than the ceiling," Joyce admitted with a smile, but her current anxiety over her daughter's well-being was overriding her common sense at this point.
Rick snorted derisively. "You're gonna get it. Remember what happened the last time you pulled that shit?"
"Eh, he wouldn't dare."
"What happened last time?" Joyce questioned curiously.
"Don't," Elaine threatened, pointing the broom handle in her husband's direction.
Her empty threat was ignored. "Spike came running down the stairs and threw her ass out in the snow, is what. It was the funniest shit ever." Rick snickered at the memory. "On second thought, keep it up."
"You didn't tell me that part," Joyce accused, beginning to rethink her involvement.
Shrugging nonchalantly, Elaine took the opportunity to glare at her husband. "That was his fault." She pointed at Rick. "Buffy and I had been out shopping all day and Buffy wanted Spike to wake up so she could show him all the bargains she had got. I couldn't calm her down, she'd drank way too much coffee and was just spazzing. So, I took a broom and knocked on the ceiling a bit. We didn't know that dumbass over there had kept Spike up all day working on some stupid project in the garage and he had just gone to sleep twenty minutes before we got back."
"Yeah, I was in the garage finishing up and I hear Elaine shrieking like there was no tomorrow," Rick ignored the dirty look tossed his way. "So I go running up and I was just in time to see Spike toss Her Tactlessness into the snow and rub her face into it. I bought him a beer for that one." He couldn't help but laugh at the memory. "Should have seen her, with her make-up dripping down her face, screeching, and there was Spike - all fangy and dumping snow on her head. It was priceless."
"You're such an asshole," Elaine informed him, her voice carrying little conviction.
"Yeah, and you're a class A bitch."
Elaine beamed suddenly. "Why, thank you, sweetie."
"Bloody hell. Didn't you learn your lesson last time, Elaine?" An amused voice commented from behind them.
Elaine whipped around, a guilty look gracing her heavily made-up features. Acting on pure instinct, she pushed the broom in Joyce's direction. "It wasn't me."
"Right," Spike drawled.
Elaine opened her mouth to attempt to deny it once more but suddenly found herself with an armful of best friend.
"You're here!" Buffy exclaimed, hugging Elaine.
"Well, duh, silly! Wouldn't be much of a friend if I wasn't, now would I?" she admonished, drawing back to study her friend. "You look a little pale."
Buffy gave a tearful laugh. "Should have seen me earlier."
Elaine turned her attention to Spike, gasping loudly. "What in the hell took a bite out of you? Jaws?"
Before a reply could be made, the doorbell rang.
ut oh... who is at the door now?
Yeah, I don't know either.
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