"Have you seen my kitchen!?!"
Matt cringed, dropping a bag containing Stay's disastrous breakfast attempt into the can outside. He'd seen Mercy head inside a few minutes ago but had hoped she would just go upstairs to Archie and avoid the rest of the house. That was her usual habit after work, mostly because Arch loved to be woken up by the lovely redhead in her Hooter's outfit.
Tonight, of all nights, she just had to go into the kitchen, didn't she? Matt sighed, resisting the urge to look up into the sky and asking God if the Almighty really hated him this much. It was a pointless question; the last year had pretty much answered that one.
"Yes, I have. I'm sorry, Mercy..." There wasn't anything else to say. The little blond moppet was a one-girl war zone in pigtails. He'd pretty much given up on staying in hotels after the "Zebra Incident" and he was running out of excuses for her. When Stay got bored, the world suffered for it. And sadly? She got bored way a lot.
"There's a burn mark through the stove top!" Mercy was closer, about halfway between the front door and the curb where he was standing. She was closer but her voice wasn't any quieter.
"Yeah. It looks better if you don't move the dish towel." That had been Stay's excuse to him. It hadn't worked when she said it and he doubted it would work now.
It didn't. "What was she doing? Smelting gold?!?"
"Worse." He sighed and hung his head. "She was watching the Food Network."
"Oh Gods." She was right behind him now. "It's a wonder I have a house left at all. Did you see what she did to Archie?"
Matt nodded. "I'm sorry, Mercy. I really am. I can't control her at all. I tell her to behave and every night I leave thinking she means it when she says she will. Some nights she's an angel and others..." He closed his eyes, not used to feeling so helpless.
Her tone softened as he felt her hand slip over his shoulder. "You know why she's doing this, don't you?"
He shook his head, feeling his loose, long hair flow across his shoulders. His shirt hadn't survived the evening and his jacket was draped across the seat of his bike. Mercy leaned in close, her chest pressing softly against his back.
"You know, sugar, I keep forgetting how young you really are. You don't know kids at all."
He shuddered as she kissed the back of his neck. It always hurt for him to admit a weakness, even a slight one like this. He hated not being an expert, not being able to handle something on his own. Still, lying to this woman had never been easy. She was so much like him, after all. "I really don't, Mercy. I'm not old enough to take care of a child."
She hugged him tight, pulling him against her ample chest and squeezing tight. She was being incredibly gentle, which meant she was watching her strength. Mercy had been possessed by a demon once. She was free of it... mostly... but it had left its mark. Some of the mark was good, some was bad. And some was what made her just like him in a way. Her demon was the same kind that he was still wrestling with inside. And it made her want the same thing.
Constant, unforgiving, raw sex.
Even now, worried about Stay and upset, the touch of a woman was making him hungry. He could feel she was thinking the same thing; her body was about as subtle as his when desire started overwhelming reason.
And like him, reason rarely put up much of a fight...
"Talk later?" His voice was a starving whisper.
"Shut up and kiss me."
Later, much later, they were laying beside each other against the side of a burbling hot tub. Mercy leaned across him delightfully, pouring them both another glass of wine. He just watched her peacefully, all his energy drained and quiet for a while.
"Think the neighbors saw?" he asked with a soft laugh.
She sat back up, handing him one of the goblets. "I hope so. It was quite a show, sugar."
He chuckled and sipped at the red. "That it was. Sorry about the mailbox."
She shrugged, a lovely gesture with her wet curls plastered to her shoulders and his naked form obscured by only the slightest of bubbling foam. "Bah. I was gonna replace it anyway, sweet. Besides, I'm more worried about that dog."
Matt laughed, nodding. "I think he's scarred for life."
"Well, if the neighborhood bitches start turning up with broken tails and no fur on their necks, we'll know he learned something." She giggled into her wine.
For a while, they just soaked and enjoyed the comfort of quiet contact. When the bottle of wine was gone and the last of the nibbles were history, Mercy leaned over and kissed him again. "Mmmm... thanks for the ride, sugar. I needed that."
"Me too." Truer words were never spoken. There was something about Mercy that kept him coming back and it wasn't just free room and board.
"Who'd have thunk you'd be staying here with me when we met, huh?" She was laughing again, running a finger down his chest with a calm yet playful look in her eyes. The woman was voracious and her recovery speed matched his own. Aside from him, only Archie could match her and with that poor fool being run ragged by the Mages Council these days, he wasn't always around to keep Mercy "fed".
Well, that was a chore Matt didn't mind helping the tired wizard out with. Not at all.
"Certainly not me," he answered honestly. They'd met a couple of months ago in a back alley near the waterfront. Mercy had thought he was a demon and, since she was a demon hunter, that hadn't gone well. They'd fought, beat the crud out of each other and spent the next five hours breaking almost every public decency law on the books.
This was Tennessee, though. There weren't many of those laws to start with. And the few they hadn't shattered into a million little obscene pieces, they'd managed to fracture tonight. That poor, sad little mailbox...
"About Stay," he started to say.
She shushed him with a kiss. "It's all right, sugar. She's a little girl and she doesn't have anyone but you to watch after her. She's gonna act up now and then, just 'til she finds the high water mark."
He tilted his head, nibbling the edge of her ear as Mercy's hands found something to hold other than stemware. "What... mmmm.... what do you mean?"
"She needs to know what's right and wrong. She's ten years old, Matt. You're her friend and her caretaker but she needs a father too. She needs to know the rules and you haven't set any, darlin'." Then Mercy got very, very distracted.
The tub was definitely getting hotter by the moment. Fighting to concentrate, Matt bumped her head with his to get her attention. "But what are the rules?" he managed to say.
She looked up at him before going underwater again. "That's for you to decide, sugar, but if you'd do me the kindness of taking away her cooking privileges, I'd be real grateful."
He grinned down at her, only barely thinking about... anything. "Oh? How grateful?"
She showed him.
By the time he got inside and found Stay asleep in the living room on top of every pillow and seat cushion in the entire house, Matt was too tired to care, too happy to be upset and too warm to do anything more than fall down on the pile and go to sleep with a silly, well-worn smile on his stubbly face.
Eventually, Stay woke up, looked over at Matt and cuddled up next to him. She was so glad he was home. Everything was boring without him here. She knew he was mad about the stove... and the wall... and the Archie but she was really sorry. She really meant it this time. She'd be good. Super good so he'd never get all growly again.
He just seemed so happy now.
And sound asleepy.