Thank you once again to Spikeskat for betaing!
"Damn, that was a close one," Elaine commented relieved, watching as Spike stalked out of the kitchen to answer the front door, his bare feet slamming noisily against the wood floor.
"Yeah, especially since there's a huge mud puddle outside instead of snow," Buffy replied. "And that woulda been all kinds of messy."
"No, that woulda been all kinds of hysterical." Rick took another swig of his beer, ignoring the daggers that were being being shot from his wife's eyes.
Joyce noticed the way Buffy was eyeing the coffee pot in exhausted desperation and took the hint, filling up the glass carafe with water from the refrigerator door. "Elaine, would you like a cup of coffee?"
"I'd love some, thanks."
"Thanks for making coffee, mom. I so need it right now." Buffy turned in Elaine's direction. "Did I tell you how glad I am that you are here?" Buffy couldn't help throwing her arms around her friend and hugging her tight.
"Well, I missed you, dummy. And I was afraid you were going to do something stupid - like stay here instead of coming home."
Buffy pulled back and shot a guilty look in her mom's direction, relieved to note that Elaine's comment hadn't been overheard. "We haven't talked about any of that yet, " she told her friend quietly.
Elaine gave her an apologetic smile. "Gotcha. So keep my big mouth shut about it?"
Buffy nodded gratefully, ignoring Rick's predictable snort about his wife and the likelihood of her being able to keep quiet about anything.
Damned if it didn't almost feel like home.
That is, until the sound of footsteps in the hallway drew her attention and a familiar feeling of anxiety began brewing in the pit of Buffy's stomach seeing Xander and Willow tread solemnly behind Spike. From the tight expression on Spike's face, Buffy knew that Xander must have said something to piss him off again, and she offered her husband a sympathetic look as he stalked past her to throw open the refrigerator door.
"Hey! There was a beer in here earlier," he growled, whipping his head around to look at each one of them accusingly .
Rick held up the bottle and toasted him, unperturbed. "Yep, there was."
Spike glared at his friend. "Wanker."
Willow stepped timidly into the room, her dismay at finding Buffy's other friends in Sunnydale readily apparent on her overly-expressive face. "Uh, hi."
"Hi, guys," Buffy greeted neutrally, hoping this reunion of sorts wasn't going to turn into another ugly scene. She'd already had her share of the ugliness and just couldn't seem to muster up the energy for anymore.
"Uh, we just thought we'd come over and see how you were doing. We stopped by the mansion to see you, but you'd already left. Giles said you weren't feeling all that great."
"Yeah, well, I'm better than I was earlier." She could feel Xander eyeing the bite mark Spike had left earlier, the accompanying disapproval practically scorching her with its ferocity. Not about to hide the scar from his eyes, she opted to change the subject. "Did you see Angel?"
Willow shook her head. "No, he was sleeping. In one of the guest rooms though, so that's something. Giles is on guard duty with his crossbow. I guess Angel broke the chains."
Buffy knew he had, but if Giles hadn't shared the story, she sure wasn't.
"Mansion?" Elaine inquired neutrally.
"Yeah, Angel's mansion." Willow took a seat in the now-crowded kitchen, offering the older blonde a tentative smile.
Elaine returned it with one of her own before focusing her attention on Buffy. "He owns a mansion?"
Buffy shrugged, glancing in Spike's direction for clarification, not sure if she really wanted to know the answer to this or not. "Does Angel own the mansion?"
"Nope." Spike watched Buffy's face drop, knowing she immediately assumed that the previous tenants had been killed for their property. "I own it."
"YOU own it?" Elaine gaped at him, wondering just how many more of these little shocks were going to come up over the course of their friendship.
"All this time we've been together... and you've never thought to share that little tidbit with me?" Buffy regarded him with a raised brow.
Spike had the good sense to appear chagrined. "Didn't think it really mattered."
"Didn't matter?" Elaine echoed, definitely seeing a problem with this. "You own a frikkin' mansion."
"Eh, it's not a mansion. Angelus is the one who started calling it that. The day we moved in, the ponce jumped on his bloody irritating lord-of-the-manor high horse and deemed it the Crawford Mansion instead of a lowly house on Crawford Street." He caught Buffy's incredulous glance. "What?"
"How is it that you own it?"
"Oh. Well, needed someplace to hide out after that watcher of yours torched the factory. Again, thanks to Angelus, I might add."
"So... you just bought it?"
"S'wot I just said, isn't it?"
"No, you said you own it. That's a whole lotta difference when you're evil," Xander announced, flinching from the simultaneous glares that were sent his way from every occupant of the kitchen. "What? Am I wrong in this?"
Spike sent him a scathing look. "In this case, yeah, you bloody well are. Drusilla wanted it. I bought it. End of story."
"Didn't help though, did it?" Buffy asked softly, instinctively knowing why Spike had never brought up his involvement with that particular piece of real estate before and why he didn't particularly want to discuss it now. She knew firsthand how her former lover and Drusilla had behaved with each other after moving into the mansion, and also knew that Spike had definitely not been an equal partner in that squicky equation - mansion owner or not.
Spike snorted derisively, the pain of betrayal still a bitter pill to swallow. "Not a bit. "
An uncomfortable silence settled over the kitchen. "Is it nice?" Elaine asked suddenly.
"It stinks." Xander announced firmly, upset with himself for opening his mouth yet again. Making an effort to get along, he pushed off from the wall he had been leaning belligerently against and took the last remaining seat.
"Yeah," Willow agreed, more than willing to change the subject. "It does stink. Really bad."
"But is it nice?"
Willow nodded. "If you can get past the smell."
"Ok... So, my best friends own a stinky mansion in California. This is doable." She nodded to herself, looking thoughtful. "Yep, it sure is. Is it ocean front?"
"What's so 'doable' about it?" Rick asked warily, wondering if he even wanted to know.
"Hello? Vacation rental? Except without the actual renting part. Because friends don't let friends pay rent, you know."
"There's my girl. Always thinking about what's in it for her." Rick patted Elaine's hand patronizingly.
That served to break the escalating tension, even Xander managed to crack a smile. "Would you two like to stay for dinner? I made chili." Joyce opened the cupboard and began removing bowls from the middle shelf. Spike moved her out of the way and took over the task and she sent him a grateful smile. "It's just about ready," she called over her shoulder to the others.
"Um..." Willow looked at Buffy to garner a reaction, still not sure where she stood with her former best friend. A happy smile graced her face when Buffy nodded encouragingly. "Ok, we'll stay."
Elaine got off the stool and grabbed a stack of napkins. "How many places should I set?" she asked. "Is Dilbert coming?"
Joyce shook her head, not even bothering to correct Buffy's friend and handed her a pile of placemats. "No, I think Rupert is staying with Angel, although somebody might want to take him a plate later. I don't know what there is to eat over there."
"We can do that," Willow volunteered, glad to have something to do. The feeling of being uncomfortable at the Summers house was foreign and heavy with the unwelcome.
And she wondered if it would ever get any better.
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