Chapter Notes:

Sometimes the things you don't talk about are as important as the things you do.


Chapter 25: Unfought Demons

February, 2001

Tara walked slowly through the hospital's Psyche Ward, listening carefully to the mumbles and comments of the people in the rows of beds on either side of her. There was no noticeable reaction to her presence. When she reached the far end of the room, she turned around.

Buffy followed her in, matching her pace. A chorus of commentary announced her at each step.

“Like white Christmas lights.”

“Two girls. One shadow.”

“Too fast, too fast!”

“Which is the real one?”

“This is not your place! This is not your place!”

“Can they break apart again?”

Buffy took Tara's arm and led her out of the room. She took a deep, shuddering breath when they were safely out in the corridor. “Ok, that was a little unnerving.”

“You didn't have to go in there. I only need a control for me, so I'll know how different the responses will be after.” Tara pointed to the room they'd just left. “They'll tell me if the glamour takes.”

“I needed to be sure it wasn't just Mom who could see me flashing... I guess not.” She shuddered again. “Are you sure you want to do this?”

“I asked you the same thing, last month. You said yes. You made your sacrifice to the cause, Buffy. You and Spike both. This is mine.”

“You realize that if this gets you killed, it won't matter if I don't jump. Willow will kill me.”

They started down the corridor. “I'm kind of afraid you mean that literally.”

“I do.”

Tara looked at Buffy as they walked, trying to determine if she was completely serious. Her distraction caused her to bump into a man as they stepped around a corner. “Oh! Sorry!” She looked up at him, and her eyes went wide. “Oh, goddess,” she said under her breath. She tried to act normally. “Hi. Um, I'm so sorry. I should have been watching where I was going.”

He chuckled. “It's no problem, really.” He noticed the woman beside her. “Buffy! Hey! I haven't seen you around here in a while. How's your mom?”

“She's good.” Buffy made the gestures of introduction, somewhat stiffly. “Tara, this is Ben. Ben, Tara.”

“Hey. It's nice to meet you.” He gestured to the area they were leaving. “What brings you girls out here to crazy land?”

“Just stopping by to see an acquaintance. We should get going.” Buffy reached for Tara's arm again, intent on leading her away, but Ben grabbed her hand.

“Hang on a second. I'd like to talk to you for a minute. Alone?”

Buffy gave Tara a glance that spoke volumes before replying in the most casual tone she could manage. “Sure.”

He led her into an empty exam room, and offered her one of the rolling stools, taking the other for himself. “I haven't seen you in a while. After your mom was checked out of here, you said 'hi' when you came in to get her prescription from the pharmacy, and that was it.”

“I know, but...” Buffy's thoughts were panicked. 'This didn't happen before. What did I screw up?'

“I'd understand not calling me. Maybe you lost my number. But you know where to find me. I'm right here, usually well over 40 hours a week. I don't want to be pushy, Buffy, but I thought you were interested. We had some good talks, didn't we?”

“You helped me get through Mom's illness, and I appreciate that, but I didn't really think it was leading anywhere.” 'Oh,' she thought. 'All the chattiness and getting his number when Mom was in for tests.'

“You didn't act like comfort in the waiting room was all you wanted. You asked a lot of questions about me, like you really wanted to get to know me. Then nothing. I really don't understand.”

Buffy shifted her weight, causing the stool to roll a little. Ben grabbed her thigh to still her, and kept it there. 'Uh, excuse me?' she thought.She struggled to tear her eyes from his hand and bring them back to his face. “Ben, I didn't mean to lead you on, and I was a little interested at the time...”

“And you're not now? That boyfriend you'd just broken up with, right before your mom got sick...” The hand shifted further up her thigh, and Ben's stool rolled a little closer.

'Ok,' she thought. 'This playing normal human girl thing officially sucks. And I can't throw his ass into the wall, which he really deserves right now, without bringing her out.'

“What was his name again?”

“Riley.” She furrowed her brow. 'Why is he talking about my ex? Oh, 'cause I led him on to try to dig information out of him, and now he thinks he's in line for the boyfriend role. Bloody hell. Real smooth, Slayer. ...Dammit, I'm thinking in Spike-speak again.'

“Riley. You got back together with him, didn't you? I see this stuff happen around here all the time. A crisis comes, and people go looking for old comforts. You wouldn't believe the number of relationships I've seen get a second chance in hospital waiting rooms.”

“No... Not Riley.” 'Sorry, Hellgod Storage Box, I'm kinda married. Can we remove the hand, already?'

“Oh. Someone else.” The other hand came to rest on her hip, and the stool rolled closer, Ben's knee pushing into the gap between hers until it bumped the edge of her seat. “Buffy, rebound guys aren't long-haul guys. You've had a little time now, maybe you've gotten Rebound Guy out of your system.”

“There isn't... isn't a rebound guy.” 'This normal and demure act is making me want to hurl. Paws off, Doctor Hellbeast! And you think you're the long haul guy? Please! The real long haul guy wants to make me immortal. Top that, you wanker. ...Dammit. I couldn't have hooked up with an American vampire?'

“Then give me a chance.”

Her eyes darted around the room, gauging different impromptu weapon options. 'Tiny scalpel. Tiny scissors. I need bigger stuff. Built-in cabinets. I could probably throw the exam table, but these stools might be my best bet.'

“Nothing heavy. Dinner, maybe a movie or something.”

'Ok, not a coffee date.' “Um, I'm kind of busy...” 'You know, trying to figure out how to stop the monster inside you without getting myself portal-zapped to death. Nothing heavy.'

“Just a couple hours of your time. You owe me at least a few answers.”

Buffy blinked. “Answers? To what?” 'Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit.'

“Well, when we first met, you asked a lot of questions about me, and didn't answer many about yourself. I'm... intrigued.” The hand on her hip moved to stroke her hair. He cupped her cheek in his palm, holding her gaze. “I really want to get to know you, Buffy. I want to spend a little time with you. I thought we had a connection.”

'Talk to me about a connection when you start biting through pillows to fight your instinct to claim a vampire. You don't know shit about connections. Also, enough with the hands!' she thought.

“And if you aren't still with some rebound guy, maybe you can make a little time in that busy schedule of yours for something a little more substantial?”

“More substantial than--”

“Than chatting in a hospital, yeah.” Ben smiled. “On the plus side, at least I didn't pick you up at a bar or something. This is at least... sterile.” He was the only one who laughed at the joke.

'Hey! Watch it, you stupid git. I met my husband at a bar.' Buffy abruptly pushed her knees against the edge of his stool to push her own away, forcing him to break his grip on her as she stood up. “Ben, I'm... seeing someone. Not a rebound guy. I'm very sorry. I have to go.”

She left the exam room before he could respond, closing the door behind her. She started down the corridor before she realized Tara was standing by, waiting.

“Did she...?” Buffy shook her head and kept walking. Tara struggled to keep up. “I called Spike, just in case. He's on his way.”

“Who's staying with Dawnie?”

“Your mom. He said he'd tell them to go to Lydia's for the night if they didn't hear from us soon.”

“He's going to freak out,” Buffy said as she pushed open the side door and led them out into the night.

“Buffy, what happened in there?”

“Ben... was hitting on me. Heavy. Handsy.” Buffy leaned against a tree at the edge of the parking lot and let herself sink to the ground. “And I couldn't do anything about it.”

Tara sat down with her. “You didn't want to risk bringing her out.”

Buffy shook her head again. “I'm not used to... Men don't normally make me feel so... trapped.” She looked up at her friend. “Speaking as someone who's just had the human girl problems with men shoved in her face for a second time, let me tell you: You're so much better off without them.”

“A second time?” Tara frowned for a moment. “Oh. That's what it was, wasn't it? The thing you don't talk about?”

Buffy nodded, her eyes closed. 'I shouldn't have said that. Stupid Ben. He's got me all twisted up and not thinking clearly. I was just so sure I was done with that stuff, with any other man touching me...'

“The 'wrong reason' Spike got his soul back. Buffy... Tell me he didn't...”

“Almost. It was right before the shooting... I was tired, and injured. And you know how bad things were. I definitely played a part in driving things that direction... But that's not why I forgave it.”

“Why did you, then?”

“Because I may have pushed him away, but I didn't actually stop him. I'm not sure I even could have, with the shape I was in. Spike is the one who stopped it. Stopped himself. He backed up, gave me this horrified stare when he realized what was happening, and he left. The next time I saw him, he'd been gone for months, and he wasn't the same vamp anymore.”

“Penance.”

“I guess that's one word for it. Self-destruction might have been more accurate. It took a long time to start to get my Spike back, and he's still not quite the same.” Buffy opened her eyes. “I've been scared a lot in my life, Tara. End Of The World scared, more than once. I can handle the kind of scared that comes from knowing I might lose a fight.” She shrugged. “That's the job. But what scares me the most is when I can't fight.” She shuddered, for the third time in an hour. “I can still feel Ben's hands on me, holding--” She looked up. 'I haven't been this relieved to see Spike since the mutiny. What does that mean?'

Spike put the scythes he carried on the ground and knelt in front of her. “Buffy? You alright?”

“Yeah, I'm--”

Her words were cut off by a growl. Spike reached for one of the scythes and was back on his feet before either woman could react, his demon face at the fore.

“Spike, no. It's fine. Really.” 'Actually, it's not. I wish we could chop him up, hands first.'

“I can smell him. He's all over you.”

“I'll take a shower as soon as we get home.” Buffy hopped to her feet and held out her hand to pull Tara to hers. “I just couldn't take the risk of pissing him off or showing my strength.”

Amber eyes bored into hers. “He didn't try--”

She shook her head. 'God, no. I don't know if Ben would have stopped himself.'

He dropped the scythe to pull her into his arms, his human mask slipping back into place while he held her. Tara looked away, sure Spike wouldn't have wanted anyone to witness the moisture in his eyes.

Buffy gripped the familiar leather coat tightly. 'I'd fall apart if I didn't have you around,' she thought. 'I hope you know that. But the suppressant left me so foggy and numb. I don't know what I feel for you anymore.'

*~*~*

Spike came downstairs to find Buffy in her pajamas, her hair still damp from her shower, sitting on the floor beside the bed. She had the lock box open beside her, and a ring box sat open in her hand. She didn't respond to his arrival. He sat on the floor with her.

“You think you wanna put that on sometime soon?”

“I mailed off the forms and stuff to the Social Security Administration weeks ago. I should hear back anytime now.”

“What does that mean?”

“I've started working on changing my name.”

“That lets out the secret to the few who might need your full name, and knew your maiden name to start with. Doesn't answer my question.”

“If I'd had this on tonight...”

“I know.” He took her free hand. “You sure I don't need to kill him? I'll take my chances with the magnificent skank.”

Buffy chuckled and squeezed his hand. “Don't. I can't risk losing you. But thank you.”

He used their joined hands to gesture to the ring box. “Put that on whenever you like. I'll wear the other the second you give me the go-ahead.”

“Even if it's now, when we're... not quite us?”

“You're still wearing the girlfriend necklace, even now. Is it much of a difference?”

She touched the ring hanging around her neck. “I guess Ben didn't notice this is a man's ring, didn't put it together.”

“Or didn't care.” Spike leaned his head back against the side of the bed. “Didn't care that you weren't his to touch... or was hell bent on making you his.”

There was a long silence before she whispered, “Let's go upstairs.”

“Why?”

“Because we're in the wrong place for this conversation.”

“Buffy, I'm not going in there.”

“Please? For me?”

“This is not a topic where batting your eyelashes will get you anyplace. No.” He stared across the room, his tone softening. “I'm just not up for it, love. The flashbacks, the look on your face...”

“Then make me a promise, for later.” She waited for him to look at her. “Promise me, that when we can go through the flashbacks together, you'll walk into that bathroom with me.”

“You like slaying all kinds of demons, don't you?”

“You're not the only person carrying one around, you know. ...Once in a while, I still have the dream I had while you were gone that summer. The look on your face, horrified and disgusted with yourself, that moment of silence after I yelled at you, and the nagging worry that I didn't see you after because there was nothing left to see. A morning stroll, you know? I'm ready to get rid of my nightmares, too.”

Spike lifted their joined hands so he could kiss the back of hers. “You have my word.”

“I do have one more thing to ask of you tonight.”

“Name it.”

“About the thing with Ben...” Buffy put the ring box aside and turned to face him, looking him in the eye. “Make me forget.”

*~*~*

The first thing she said when she caught her breath was “Lucky bed.”

Spike rolled onto his side to look over at the bed. “It's a wonder it's lasted this long.” He glanced over at her, his smile fading. “You had fair warning. You knew I couldn't turn you down.”

“You promised you'd at least try! That wasn't much of an effort.”

“There was effort! All kinds of bloody effort.”

“Uh-huh. Sure.”

He caught the twinkle in her eye. “You're not actually mad about it.”

“Hell, no.”

He tilted his head. “What does that mean?”

Buffy pretended to think about that for a minute, putting a finger to her lip. “Umm... that I like sex?”

That, I knew.”

“That I kinda knew you wouldn't be able to turn me down, promise or not?”

“Yeah, yeah. I made a promise I couldn't keep. You gonna lord it over me 'til the end of time?”

“Probably.” She grinned.

“Feeling a bit more than friends now?”

“I don't know, but I like the benefits.”

He dropped his head against the rug. “Opened Pandora's Box again, haven't I?”

*~*~*

Tara sat on her bed, catching clothes as they flew out of the closet, folding them before putting them in the box beside her. “So you're using him. Again.”

“It's not exactly the same thing.” Another dress flew out of the closet.

“You're right. This time, it's worse. This time you're fully conscious of what you're doing to him. And you're supposed to care.”

“I care. And he's enjoying himself, too.”

Tara sighed. “This is not what I meant by dating, Buffy.”

“Why not? We've added something back to the relationship. That's a good thing, right?”

“You've put the cart before the horse, again. I'm sure some couples can get away with that, and it works for them. But you guys... It's just a bad idea. And you know it.”

“Come on, Tara! We went weeks without, after having gotten used to almost every night. Buffy needs.”

“No, Buffy needs her head examined.”

A bright pink sleeveless top came flying out of the closet. Buffy followed it out, and snatched it back. “Never mind. I might need that one.”

“You might think of this as a short term 'friends with benefits' situation, but Spike is still feeling a little in love with you, and is fully aware you aren't returning the sentiment. You're not playing fair with him, and he's too smitten to put a stop to it.”

“For the record, he promised to try.”

“Yeah, and I'm sure you did everything you could to hold him to it.”

“Ah! There it is!” Buffy grabbed a pleated ivory skirt. “The other half of the outfit.” She pulled the pink top out of the closet again and held both pieces in front of her.

“Oh, no! Not that again. Can we just... not?” Tara glared at her. “Obviously, Spike doesn't need it.”

Buffy chuckled and returned the skirt and top to the closet. “I think I'm done. Finally. Everything I wear often is downstairs in the wardrobe. The only clothes I'm leaving up here are things I want to keep for occasional use, and my wedding dress. You now officially have bunches of extra closet space. And floor space, since the weapons chest finally got moved to the living room, to ruin Mom's decor.”

Tara looked through the charity box she'd been filling. “Everything here is colorful. Most of what went downstairs is black, white, beige, or grey. Are you sure you don't want to keep a little color?”

“I'll never wear it if I do. The stuff I actually wear has been drifting in a neutral direction for years. By the time Spike and I left, I'd pretty much given up wearing colors altogether.” She shrugged. “I guess neutrals are my war uniform.”

“And when the war is over?”

“Maybe I'll go shopping. You know, before the next one starts.”

That's a cheerful view to take.”

“It's a realistic one. Especially if Whistler really does want to get us working for the PTB on a long term basis. We'll probably stop dealing with just slayer crises, and get dropped into other people's messes.” She fell back on the bed. “Oh, god. Maybe even Angel messes. You know he stirs up trouble wherever he goes. I think it runs in the family.”

Tara smiled. “They're vampires, Buffy. Even if they aren't hunting, causing trouble is in their nature.”

“See! That's why you can't be mad at me for sleeping with Spike! It's totally his fault.”

“You just keep telling yourself that. See what happens.”

“So far, great sex. Really great sex. The kind we haven't had since the first time around.”

“Ah, so that's what you weren't saying.”

“I love you, Tara, but shut up.”

Tara laughed and pushed the box toward Buffy's head. “Get up and get out of my room. I have a phone date to keep.”

Buffy sat up. “I haven't talked to her in over a week. Let me say hi, and I'll get out of your hair.”

Tara dialed a phone number she'd already memorized. When the sanctuary operator answered, she said, “Willow Rosenberg's room, please. ...Yes, it is.” She frowned. “Yes, actually, she is. I'll pass along the message... Thank you, I'll hold.” She held her hand over the mouthpiece. “You can talk to Willow later. Althenea is sending someone to see you, like right now. I think they were waiting on my call.”

“Or they knew it was coming. I think Althenea likes to show off with people who are in the know, even if she does keep it quiet with outsiders.” Buffy grabbed the box of clothing and headed for the door. “Tell Willow I said hi.” She closed the door behind her and headed downstairs. She was just setting the box down near the front door when there was a flash in the living room. She walked in to find Giles standing beside the coffee table. “Um... Hi?”

“All these years, and you never told me?” He came toward her, his arms opened for a hug.

“Were we in the middle of a conversation I've forgotten? 'Cause you've been gone for like six weeks, and I don't care what the PTB does, the Buffy memory is never going to be perfect.”

“I'm so sorry.” He pulled her into the hug, which she returned awkwardly.

She pulled away. “Ok. Now that you've -hopefully- gotten that out of your system, what's so urgent you had to teleport back?”

“Not urgent so much as important.” He offered her a folded letter.

Buffy frowned as she skimmed it. “This is from Lydia.”

Giles sat down in an arm chair. “Read it.”

Buffy took the letter with her to the sofa.

Dear Mr. Giles,

Having been here for a few weeks, and gotten my bearings, I feel it important to write to you to express my profound respect for the work you have done here these last four years. I am only beginning to see how being trained as a Watcher does not in the least prepare one for the rigors of field work. And I hope you'll understand my meaning when I say no training could have prepared me for Buffy Summers.

The girl you have trained as a Slayer is a woman, mature beyond her years. There is a bit of the battle-hardened warrior about her. Some moments she seems little else. Other moments, she's a free-spirited young lady, enjoying the small things in life. I find this mercurial temperament fascinating. I have tried to learn its rhythms and patterns, but have thus far failed.

What I have learned is that Buffy does not in any way actually need a Watcher. She utilizes me primarily as a researcher. I also serve as an extra hand to assist with the care and protection of her sister, whose safety is our team's primary focus. 'Our team' is a pleasant term to use, I must say. I was honored by Buffy's request of me for this assignment, and again by her friends accepting me into their ranks. They have made no attempt to imply I have filled your shoes, but have offered me my own place.

Anya has taken me under her wing, befriended me. I believe what she likes most about me is that I am eager to hear tales from her time as a vengeance demon. Speaking of fascinating! I might one day write a book about her exploits.

I've found Tara to be an excellent witch, whose ethics and understanding of her power are beyond reproach. She has had some difficulty adjusting to Willow's absence, but has found herself on a more even keel since she moved into the Summers' home. Tara and Buffy are very close, and Anya has commented more than once that this is a new state of affairs.

I quickly caught on that while Xander is the only one among the group lacking special powers or knowledge, he is as integral to their cohesiveness as the Slayer herself. Anya tells me his weekly outings with the vampire are another new development, that such a routine would have been unthinkable six months ago. It seems things are changing here. Thus far, it appears to be for the best.

And then there's William the Bloody. Oh my, how my research has failed me! After years of study, reading a veritable mountain of material for my thesis, I expected to have a clear understanding of this infamous vampire. I apparently knew nothing at all. But then, one does not expect to find a teenaged girl and her sister's undead paramour arguing over an algebraic equation. Nor does one expect to find that same vampire calmly bandaging a Slayer's wounds after a difficult patrol. I am not at their home often, but what I see when I am there turns my research on its head.

Spike is the rock on which your Slayer leans, which I suspect is part of the reason for your parting of ways. I can see why that might be a difficult state of affairs to accept. No one has told me exactly why you and your Slayer are no longer close. I have only suspicions.

I may be betraying a 'Scooby' trust, but I will tell you something that was related to me, in the interest of mending this apparently damaged fence. Years ago, when you were held captive by Angelus, Spike sought out Buffy for the purpose of calling a truce. According to Joyce, they hashed out a deal in her living room that included Spike preventing his supposed comrades doing you any irreparable harm. Obviously, he played his part, and Joyce believes that truce to have been the catalyst to a series of on-going adjustments to the relationship between vampire and Slayer.

I mention this because -for some unknown reason- this truce was kept a secret among the three who were present for the event. No one told you the vampire who seemingly stands between you and your Slayer once saved your life. Perhaps he does not actually stand between you. Perhaps he happens to stand at the Slayer's side, and you feel a bit crowded out.

I hope this admitted speculation on my part does not offend. Again, my intention is to aid in mending the situation. As I stated, Buffy does not need a Watcher, and I am thus far quite pleased with my advisory position, so I am not speaking in a professional capacity when I request your attention to this matter. I am speaking as a recently adopted Scooby, who finally understands why the Council terminated your employment, and that you remained in Sunnydale for the very same reason.

If you were to pay a visit to Sunnydale in the near future, I know most would welcome you gladly. The only person in question is Buffy. That is not how things should be. No matter my assignment, you are her Watcher, and always will be.

We're all still fighting the good fight, as Scoobies are wont to say. Everyone is well. I hope this letter finds you in a similar condition, and enjoying your retirement.

Lydia Chalmers

Buffy put the letter on the coffee table. “Well, it was nice of her to give you an update.”

“It's been three years, Buffy. Six from your perspective. You've never told me what happened that night. Did you tell me in your own future?”

She shook her head. “I never thought I needed to.”

“Well, you did. If at no other time than when I made an ass of myself -apparently more than once, counting your timeline- worrying that Spike's soul and chip were the only things standing between him and the bloody mayhem for which he is famous.”

She leaned back against the sofa cushions. “So? Now you know the horrible truth: Spike is more than his leashes, and always has been. What does it change?”

“That I'm repentant enough to make up for the crimes of my future self, I hope.”

“That's a pretty big job.”

“Where is he? I'd like to speak to him.”

“Patrol. Well, he was. I can sense him getting close. He'll be home any second.”

“Spike is patrolling?” Giles looked confused. “And without you?”

“We're running split patrols these days, so one of us is here with Dawn. We're not going to leave Mom and Tara alone to fight off a potential attack. Either me or Spike is pretty much always home.”

“Your lieutenant is serving you well, General.”

The front door opened and closed. “Is there a reason no one checked the mail again today? Houseful of bloody women, and I'm left doing the dishes and bringing in the mail.”

“Pig!” Buffy called toward the hall.

“Slob!” Spike came into the room, sorting the mail. He nodded at their visitor. “Rupert.” There was a slow double take. “Rupert.” His eyes went to Buffy. “Everything alright?”

“I come with a white flag, Spike, not as a harbinger of doom.”

“Hope so. Be a step up from dropping girls on our doorstep.” He sat on the sofa beside Buffy, holding up an envelope. “Got Jenna to send me another little goody for Mum. Think she'll take it?”

“Don't you dare start that up again. She's still a little mad at me for depositing the last one. Also, Dawn might kill you both.”

“I can talk her 'round.” Spike handed off an oversized envelope. “Here's one you'll want, love.”

She looked at the envelope, addressed to 'Buffy Anne Pratt,' and stared at it until the feeling of Giles' gaze on her made her blush. She turned it face down in her lap. “So... should I leave you two here to talk?”

Spike was back on his feet, delivering mail to Joyce's desk. “You two talk. I'll put the kettle on. Glinda still up?”

“Phone date. How was patrol?”

“Fine. I'm being tailed, though.”

“Glory's minions?”

“All the way through Shady Hill and halfway to Restfield.” Spike went into the kitchen.

Buffy closed her eyes and sighed. “Glory's threatened all of us, but she's a little too excited about the opportunity to torture the information she wants out of a vampire,” she explained to Giles. “She got her paws on him the first time around, and it was pretty brutal. ...I think we may have to change the arrangement. I've been keeping my distance from Dawn in public. Spike is her escort around town after sunset, with Xan, Anya, and Lydia helping during the day, so Glory doesn't suspect there's anything special about her that would warrant my direct attention. But if the minions are stalking Spike, he may not be the best person to keep with her right now.”

“I can stay in town for a little while, help you out.”

“No offense, Giles, but there's a reason Spike's the person primarily assigned to Dawnie.”

“I may not be as strong as a master vampire, Buffy, but you know I can hold my own.”

Just then, unseen bells began to ring all over the house. Buffy stood up in alarm, with Giles close behind. Spike ran down to the basement. Bedroom doors began to open upstairs. Tara's voice could be heard from the top of the stairwell. “It's ok. False alarm. Go back to bed.”

Spike reentered the living room and tossed a scythe into Buffy's hand. The ringing suddenly stopped, leaving the faint whistle of the tea kettle in the background. Tara came down the stairs, with the phone still held to her ear. “Sorry guys. Willow and I were trying to tweak the wards, to see if we could make them work on Glory herself. Uh, hi, Mr. Giles.”

Spike gave her an amber-tinged glare. “Phone. Now.” He took the phone from her. “Hello, Red. Trying to wake the dead from a distance, are we? ...No, I just got home, but the idea holds. ...Alright. Apology accepted. Just be more careful? Nibblet and Joyce need their sleep.” He glanced over at Giles in time to see the man pick up the envelope that had fallen, forgotten, from Buffy's lap when she stood. “Gotta go, Red. Talk soon.” He handed the phone back to Tara.

Giles was staring at the envelope in his hand. “This... Social Security Administration... The name...”

“I think the kettle is going to boil over.” Tara turned her attention back to the phone as she edged toward the kitchen. “No, sweetie. Nothing's wrong. We're just having a cup of tea.”

“Buffy... what is this?”

She grabbed the envelope from him. “Mine. Unless you know another Buffy who lives here?”

“Who's surname is that, Buffy?”

“Mine, now.” She clutched the envelope in one hand, still holding a scythe in the other. “This should be my new Social Security card.”

Giles' eyes drifted to Spike. “No.”

“'Fraid so, Watcher.” Spike returned to the sofa to stand beside Buffy. “The name is mine.”





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