Buffy minced casually towards the Magic Box, wearing jeans and a lacy red tank top, a black sweater over the top. She watched as the final few customers left, and was surprised as Tara and Anya followed. They stopped short when they saw her coming, and Anya offered her a huge, awkward smile.
“Uh, hi guys. You aren’t staying for the meeting?”
Tara opened her mouth to explain, but Anya cut her off. “No! I’m taking Tara to lunch! We’ll see you much later when the meeting is over.”
“Do you know what it’s about?”
“Giles... he wants to talk to you.” Tara tried to explain, but Buffy could see she didn’t want to talk about it, and Anya was growing steadily more uneasy.
“But we don’t, so we are leaving for lunch together!”
And with that, the ex-demon dragged the witch off and away down the street.
Buffy watched them leave for a moment, confused, before reaching for the door. Tara and Anya weren’t what she’d call close, and it was really strange that Anya, Queen of all things money, would leave the shop, even over the lunch rush. Frowning, she noticed the sign on the door reading “Closed for Lunch. Please Bring Your Money Back Soon!” and entered the shop.
The others were all there; Giles and Willow were sorting through some of the books that had been left on the table, some going back to the shelves, others being piled on the ladder to be put back in his private collection. She paused slightly as she saw Xander sitting with Riley, neither of them talking.
“So I’m guessing this isn’t a research deal,” Buffy announced her presence uncertainly, smiling tightly at the others. She wasn’t over the argument she’d had with Willow and Xander, and by the look on Riley’s face- and the abrupt exit by Tara and Anya- she wasn’t here for an apology.
“Ah, no.” Giles answered, placing the last of the books back on the shelves. “I… we needed to talk to you about the uh, gifts you’ve been receiving lately.”
“You guys told Giles?”
Xander shrugged, but both he and Willow had the tact to look slightly ashamed. Riley’s face hardened.
“I’m going to ignore that,” Giles said pointedly, hand in pocket. “Buffy, I am your Watcher, and I need to know if this kind of thing is occurring. It is my… my duty to watch over you, and I can’t do that if you’re keeping secrets from me.”
Riley stood. “Hell with that. Buffy, you’re my girlfriend, and I hear about this from Xander and Willow! I should hear about it from you!”
Buffy folded her arms, her tone rising a little more than she intended. She’d bristled when Riley had stressed her being his girlfriend. He’d said it like she was a possession, and the Slayer in her immediately stood up. Hell, the Buffy in her wasn’t pleased either. “It’s not like I was hunting down Glory by myself or something. I’m twenty years old, I shouldn’t have to check in with either of you with every little thing. And I shouldn’t have to worry about my friends reporting my every action and interaction to you.”
Willow bowed her head. “We aren’t… reporting you, Buffy.”
“They didn’t need to.” Giles said, cutting off an indignant Riley. He pulled a piece of folded card out of his pocket. “This was left on the counter. I found it this morning.” He handed it to her. “I didn’t read it, but when Xander here saw it; he told me what it was.”
Buffy ignored them, staring at the card in her hands. It was the same thick paper, the same looped handwriting done in black ink. She wanted to open it and read it now, but she glanced up. Riley was staring at her intensely, a look of suppressed rage on his face. So she decided against it. Tucking it into her pocket, she turned her attention back to the conversation at hand.
“They tell me this has been going on for over a month now, Buffy. Why didn’t you tell me what was going on?”
“Because I thought something in my life could for once be private.” Buffy sighed under her breath. The next words she said louder, letting the others hear her. “I’m sorry, Giles. I just… I didn’t think that it was important.”
“Didn’t think it was…” Giles looked exasperated. “Buffy, you have a stalker.”
“I can handle this.”
“No, Xander. Besides, how do we know that this is a stalker?” Buffy pointed out. “He could just be some guy too afraid to talk to me.”
“One that should know you have a boyfriend!”
“I know, Riley! But I’m not going to go on some insane crusade just because someone else is giving me the eye!” Buffy shouted.
“A someone else that knows where you live and where you hang out?” Xander interjected. He was still sitting at the table, and Willow had joined him, and both of them wore mixed expressions of disapproval and worry. Buffy wasn’t sure what irritated her more, that or Riley’s rage.
“So maybe it’s someone from High School or something! I don’t know, alright?” Buffy sighed again. “But… I can handle this. If it is bad, then I can handle it. You all know this. So what’s with the intervention?”
“We’re worried about you, Buffy.” Willow explained, glancing at the others. “You’re not worried about this at all, and we think you should be.”
“You should be more than worried, Buffy.” Riley moved towards her, and Buffy realized how much larger he was than her. An idle part of her also noticed how, even when moving with purpose, he wasn’t graceful. “He’s a sicko! Why didn’t you tell me! I can’t protect you if you don’t let me in!”
Buffy opened her mouth to answer, but stopped as the door to her right opened- the one that led to the basement. Immediately, one part of her breathed a huge sigh of relief without really knowing why. Why would she be relieved that Spike of all people had arrived on the scene?
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