Author's Notes: I do the laundry in my house. It used to be so that I could get a weekly allowance, but now it's because I realized that if I don't do it, the clothing just remains in the bin. Today I was trying to get blood and coffee stains out of my favorite white tee-shirt (don't even ask, it happened when I was visiting my cousins, let's just say that it was a tragic and unavoidable accident and leave it at that) when this story just popped into my head.
Dedication: For Jen, who sits next to me in Physics and was remarkably patient for the two weeks that I sang excerpts from The Pirates of Penzance. And for Karen, who gave help the way only a fellow loony could. *g*
The stain was tenacious. It had scoffed at Stain-Away, triumphed over standard bleach, and withstood even a dousing of club soda. And while it clung to the fibers of the shirt with a grip of death that put to shame even the worst chocolate stain, Buffy was acutely aware of the fact that she was standing in the middle of a laundry room without a shirt on. While admittedly her bra covered more strategic area than most of her swimwear, it was one of those instances where it was just the idea of the matter. Short skirts and slutty tops she had in plenty, but she was just not the kind of girl who was comfortable enough to prance around using a bra as a top.
Faith had been - but unfortunately Faith had not been the kind of girl who *wore* bras.
This was it, Buffy decided, looking down at the demon blood. This stain had pushed her too far. It would now know what it was to mess with the Slayer. Setting the shirt down on the edge of the sink, Buffy crouched down to where her box of supplies lay. With the grin of a hunter whose prey is finally in sight, she looked through the various items until she found her Excalibur. A spray-bottle filled with holy water. Hasta la vista, stainy.
Hopping back to her feet, the prize in hand, Buffy suddenly let out a sharp shriek, which was echoed by a very male yelp of surprise.
Holding his tainted bag of laundry at an arm's length, Riley walked slowly across the campus. Between correcting papers, classes, and the Initiative, Riley found that very few minutes of the day were actually left to him. And ever since Graham got Electronic Battleship, there was even less time for Riley to just walk around by himself. The campus was almost completely empty, with everyone either at classes or still asleep, and he enjoyed the ten minutes or so it took him to get to the laundry.
As he entered the realm of bleach and ironing boards, Riley felt his mood sour somewhat at the sight of an assortment of female clothing laid out in and around one of the sinks. Even worse than a completely full laundromat where everyone was shoving against each other and yelling about whose dryer was whose and mixing up socks was a laundromat where only one other person was there - especially when that person was of the opposite sex. Either you tried to completely ignore each other or you attempted lame conversation to pass the time; and in both cases you concentrated mainly on getting underwear from bag to machine and back again as quickly as humanly possible. In a crowd, it wasn't that bad, since everyone was tossing around articles of unmentionables, but it was an entirely different ball game on the one-on-one level.
His unintended laundry partner was crouched down on the floor, looking through a box. Giving her a curious glance, he noted with interest that her long blonde hair was long enough to cover whatever midriff top she was apparently wearing. It didn't take much of a leap in imagination to picture that she was kneeling there wearing nothing more than a pair of jeans - a very nicely fitting pair of jeans, he might add. He was a nice guy, but hey, he was a *guy*. There were no rules against looking.
As she got up and started to turn around, Riley quickly snapped his jaw closed. Nice guys didn't let girls know that they had been drooling at the sight of them kneeling on the floor, no matter how great the jeans looked. He started to think up some inane greeting, probably running along the lines of "doin' laundry?", but all that came out of his mouth was a startled yelp to compliment her horrified shriek.
After all, it wasn't every day he came into the laundromat to see a girl wearing no top other than a *bra*.
Not that it wasn't something he couldn't get used to, but-
Quickly derailing his brain from *that* thought, Riley concentrated on forcing his gaze from the girl's chest to her face, a much harder task than it might sound. This girl had a chest that really should've been celebrated in story and song. Which is when shock #2 hit him.
"*BUFFY?*" he asked. At this rate, he could probably just save time and keep his jaw hanging open, since another shock would probably just come in its place.
The tiny frosh was sputtering in shock, her wide green eyes clearly stating that this was not her best day ever. She brought her arms up immediately in an attempt to cover herself, an attempt that unfortunately didn't do much good.
In the sudden silence that followed their combined shrieks/yelps, Riley found himself in somewhat of a conflict. His brain was ordering his eyes to stay on Buffy's face - and nowhere else - and his eyes were declaring complete mutiny. And while his neural and ocular areas were locked in combat, his mouth was left with no standing orders, and started trying to swallow his foot.
"It's going to be one of THOSE dreams again, huh?"
It took Riley a full second to realize that he hadn't just *thought* those words, but that he had also *said* them. Riley's hand - a little slow on the uptake - smacked across his mouth. The utter horror was quite quick to sink in, and Riley closed his eyes in pain. There was no way this girl was ever going to speak to him again.
In the twenty minutes that Buffy had spent trying to get the Stain-From-Hell out, she had imagined every possible thing that someone walking in and seeing her shirtless would say. Every situation, every contingency had been carefully thought through and a response plan created.
Okay, every one except this one.
But how was she supposed to know that her psych TA would choose *this* moment to wash some laundry, or say something like *THAT*?
Deciding to just dodge the issue of his little 'dream' quip completely - for the moment - Buffy managed to weakly rasp out, "Um, Riley, it's not what it looks like-"
"Oh," he answered, removing the hand over his mouth but moving it up to cover his eyes. Thank God the man was a gentleman. While this was hardly a situation she would term 'comfortable', at least his eyes were covered. "So you *aren't* standing in the middle of the laundromat with no shirt on. Glad to know I'm just hallucinating again."
"That's not what I meant," she replied, somewhat testily. However uncomfortable he might feel, *she* was the one without a shirt. "What I *meant* was that I was just in here doing some laundry, and I saw that my shirt had a stain on it. No one was around...so I decided to wash the shirt."
Riley bobbed his head in understanding. There was another long pause, and she cleared her throat awkwardly.
"Well...I'll just get back to my washing then..." Turning, Buffy wondered what the odds were of just jumping into the sink of water and holding her breath until he went away. Not good. He'd probably fish her out and try CPR. Complete the trauma.
"Just a sec-" he called to her. As Buffy turned around, she recoiled immediately at the sight of him unbuttoning his shirt one-handed, as the other hand still remained firmly clasped over his eyes.
"WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?" she yelled.
Riley winced at her pitch and decibel.
"I'm just-" he tried to explain, but was immediately cut off. While before she had sounded surprised and embarrassed, now she just sounded pissed.
"If you think for one second that the fact that I happen to be shirtless right now means that I am planning to have sex with you on a washing machine, you had better think again, you hippomatanic land-mass! I have no idea where you frat guys get these ideas, but you-"
Riley opened his mouth several times to try and interrupt, but finally just gave up. With a quick jerk, he yanked his shirt the rest of the way off, and dropped the hand from over his eyes. Had he not been pretty irritated himself at this point, he might've been more distracted by the fact that Buffy Summers had completely forgotten about her topless state in her outrage, and was now stalking towards him like a tiny, hissing stormcloud of fury that reminded him of the time he had accidentally knocked his sister's cat Rollo into the toilet, and the outraged muff of fur had chased him all over the house. But Buffy looked a lot better than the wet Rollo did, with her bright eyes snapping with fire and her fists clenched at her sides.
Then, of course, there was still the matter that she had no shirt on....
"I was just going to give you my shirt to wear until yours was dry, you twerp!" he yelled back.
There was a long pause during which they regarded each other steadily.
"Oh. Thanks." Buffy said. Riley sighed and tossed her his shirt, which she caught and tugged on in one quick move.
"Don't mention it." he responded with a sigh.
The awkwardness in the air was almost a tangible thing. Any minute now, there was likely to be some kind of manifestation. The awkwardness demon would appear, and wouldn't even bother to strike them down. They'd done a great job all by themselves.
Buffy was no longer embarrassed. No, she was mortified. This was the guy who stood off to the side in her Psych classes every day, this was the guy who corrected her homework assignments, this was the guy who was looking damn fine without a shirt on-
Where the hell had *that* thought come from? She was thinking about *Riley*, here. Tall, took up a lot of space, very much the gentleman, slightly doofy, these were the mental tags she had given him. The thought that he was a hottie was not figuring into this equation.
Sneaking a look over her shoulder, she immediately reconfigured that equation. Yes, Riley was a hottie. It wasn't something you noticed off the bat, but this man worked out and had a gorgeous body. Buffy found herself captivated by the play of the muscles of his back as he poured the fabric softener into the washing machine.
Great. Perfect. He walks in on me standing topless in a laundromat, we engage in a screaming match, and *then* I find myself deeply attracted.
With a sigh, Buffy put that potential relationship in the basket clearly marked 'misfire' and concentrated on the shirt. With one last scrub, she pulled it out, gave it a quick wring, and regarded it through narrowed eyes. With a triumphant grin, she noted that every trace of the stain was gone. One goal accomplished. Tossing the pile of now stain-free clothing into the dryer, she plugged in the appropriate amount of quarters and started the cycle.
Of course, this left the problem of what to do while the clothes dried. She was embarrassed enough already, so taking the opportunity to run laps around the room was out. The possibility of stepping out for forty-five minutes was there - she doubted that Riley would stand by while someone raided her dryer - but that would be pretty rude. Then there was the option of waiting out the time in uncomfortable silence. That didn't really appeal to her.
Which left only the last option. Taking a deep breath and reminding herself that she was the Scourge Of The Hellmouth, and had suffered far greater humiliation than this on multiple occasions, yet had lived to tell the tale, she walked over to where Riley was sorting through his whites.
Riley kept his eyes fixed on his whites, refusing to let his eyes wander over to Buffy. He had no idea how this had happened, but somehow he had completely blown any chance he ever had with Buffy Summers. Perfect. Beautiful. No sooner did he finally realize that this particularly peculiar girl was one that he had feelings for, than *this* happened. There was only one explanation for it.
God hated him.
There was no other possible explanation. He was probably up there on a cloud laughing his Almighty ass off. Whatever bad karma points he had stored up had resulted in this situation. Riley closed his eyes in pain.
Then snapped them open again when he felt a soft touch on his arm and an equally soft, "Riley?"
Standing next to him was Buffy. She looked pretty uncomfortable, but Riley couldn't help but notice how she had rolled up the sleeves, tied the tails at her waist, and left the first two buttons undone on the shirt he had given her. Somehow she had made that shirt look like a completely acceptable article of women's clothing.
Of course, looking at her made him painfully aware of the fact that he was not wearing a shirt himself. Crossing his arms with forced casualness, Riley turned to face her and tried not to blush. Girls always seemed to find his propensity towards blushing adorable, but he regarded it with painful embarrassment. "Yes?" he said, mentally giving thanks that his voice had settled long ago, otherwise there would've been a painful squeak.
Buffy looked uncomfortable, and was clearly not yet over her earlier embarrassment, but she kept her eyes on his face as she said, "Um, I'd just like to apologize for yelling at you . . . and for calling you a hippomatanic land-mass . . . and for that whole other part . . . and say thanks for the shirt . . ."
"No problem," Riley replied, "I apologize for walking in on you . . . and for calling you a twerp . . . and that other part . . ."
Riley suddenly met her eyes, and trailed off. The tension in the room suddenly drained away, and he was facing a grinning frosh. "So," she said, giving him a very brief - but very appreciative - glance that made him extremely thankful for all the working out that the Initiative required, "are we all set?"
"I'd say so." he replied, though slightly disappointed that she would now probably return to her side of the room. But to his surprise, she gave a quick hop and perched on the table that he was sorting his whites on.
"Mind if I stay over here while my stuff dries?" she asked with exaggerated casualness and a quick glance that made his heart give a little skip.
"Not at all." Riley said easily, while mentally he did a little victory dance. Not only was she noticing him, but she was willing to spend time in his presence. Switching his colored wash into the dryer, he tossed in his whites, then leaned against the table. When he looked over at her, though, he felt a tingle of worry at the evil gleam in her eyes.
"So, Riley," she said perkily, "do you often have dreams where I'm standing in the middle of the laundryroom in jeans and a bra?"
Oh, yes. This girl was going to make him pay for that comment. But two could play at this game. Riley countered with an equally evil grin as he said, "That depends. Do you often consider having sex with me on a washing machine?" He quirked his eyebrows and waited.
They both burst out laughing at the same time.
Riley grinned. He was going to have to start doing his laundry more often.