Part 13: Monday

Joyce agreed to meet with Merrick in the school library late in the afternoon after school hours. The halls were completely deserted. There were no extra-curricular activities any more at Sunnydale High that might keep the students or faculty out beyond sunset. She stood outside the library door for a moment, checking her clothing. She’d dressed herself as carefully as if she were going to a job interview. The clothes were new, courtesy of Cordelia’s Platinum card. She’d had her hair done too, and a manicure; girding her loins. She took a deep breath and opened the doors.

The sun was setting and the dying light that came through the tall windows tinged everything with a warm orange light. Merrick was sitting at one of the study tables, bent over a large book that she suspected came from Giles’ collection. He rose when he saw her.

“Mrs. Summers,” he said. Objectively he wasn’t bad looking, but there was no light in those cool grey eyes and his thin-lipped smile was artic. She’d never known Buffy’s first Watcher. She wondered if he’d been this unpleasant in her world.

“Mr. Merrick,” she said giving it right back to him.

He offered her a seat, but remained standing himself. “I’m gratified at the chance to meet you. And I’m certain that the council will be in contact with you – our researchers will be eager to speak to a, er, trans-dimensional traveler.”

Joyce heard the or whatever it is you are hanging unspoken in the dusty air.

“They’ll be happy to pay for your time of course.”

“Buffy isn’t going back to Cleveland with you,” she interrupted.


“She’s staying here. In California. With me. She feels she has a job to do and as her mother I support her decision.”

He shook his head and sighed as if disappointed in her. “Mrs. Summers, I regret having to point this out, but as a dead woman I think you’ll find you have precious few rights. I have a copy of your death certificate back in my room should you like to see it.”

The condescending bastard had the nerve to smile at her. A cool, invigorating anger flooded her, her heart pounded as her lips curled back from her teeth.

“Mr. Merrick. We both know that piece of paper means squat in the face of me, alive and well with fingerprints, DNA and friends and family to back up the fact that I am exactly who I say I am. In fact I’m betting my identity would hold up better under scrutiny than yours would.”

The smile had gone for good. “And the woman we buried? The one Buffy Summers identified as her mother?”

“She was under stress and she made a mistake,” Joyce answered calmly.

“And how exactly do you intend to explain your absence for the past three years?”

Joyce kept smiling. “Traumatic amnesia. Unfortunately I have no memory of anything since early on the day my husband was murdered – until last week, when I found myself here in Sunnydale.”

“You can’t really expect to get away with that!”

“That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it,” Joyce said; she felt a little giddy. “Feel free to tell them the truth, if you want. They probably won’t commit you, as long as they don’t think you’re a danger to yourself or others.”

The look he gave her was downright nasty. “And how do propose to take care of Buffy? You have no legal existence, no money, no place to live…”

She could have told him that as of this morning she had a replacement driver’s license, a bank account, and keys to her very own apartment, but she was tired of this game.

“That’s enough!” His mouth dropped open at the lash of her Mom voice. She stood up. “Mr. Merrick. I don’t have to ask your permission or prove anything to you. Buffy is my daughter and a minor. If you try to interfere by, for instance bringing up that bogus custody degree you wangled somehow I’ll let you explain to the FBI what business an unrelated older man had taking an underaged girl across state lines, isolating her from her relatives, keeping her out of school…”

Merrick’s pale face filled with blood. “That’s the most…you wouldn’t dare!”

She had the tiger by the tail now, and it was exhilarating. She walked up to him, leaned into his space and showed her teeth. “Try me,” she said.

Merrick’s face got redder. She could actually hear his teeth grinding. “You cannot do this! Buffy has a sacred duty! Obligations she must fulfill! If you imagine you can simply march in and change everything at your whim…”

“I told you, Buffy wants this too.”


She cut him off . “You keep bringing my death up, which reminds me: what happened to the insurance money? My payout will have to be returned of course, but poor Hank is still dead.”

“What insurance money?”

Merrick’s head whipped around at the sound of Buffy’s voice. His face drained of color at the realization that he’d been set up.

“What money?” Buffy asked again, her face grim.

Joyce smiled at her. “Our life insurance, honey. $1 million for him as the main breadwinner, and half that for me; and the house of course. We had quite a bit of equity. With both of us gone you-- ” she closed her mouth before the ‘and Dawn’ could slip out. “-- would have been the sole beneficiary.”

“$1.5 million?” Buffy’s eyes went wide. She turned her attention to her Watcher. “You make me buy my clothes at Ross and Wal-Mart! You said the Council wouldn’t pay for a car for me! I’ve been taking the El in the middle of the winter!” Buffy was across the room in a flash and now Merrick had two pissed-off women crowding him.

“I assure you, everything has been handled in an above-board manner!” he puffed, taking a step back. “Buffy’s inheritance has been placed in a trust, to which she will gain access at age 21…”

Spike’s laugh ricocheted off the walls as he emerged from the stacks. “Nice one! Why not make it 30 and make bloody damned sure she never gets her paws on it?”

“And if she never reaches her majority no doubt the Council is the beneficiary,” Giles murmured. Merrick flinched almost imperceptibly.

Buffy stared at her watcher. “I -- don’t believe you. You stole from me?! For three years, I’ve fought, risked my life and…”

Joyce went tense as her daughter raised her fist and stepped in closer. She saw fear blossom in Merrick’s eyes.

“Buffy, there is absolutely nothing sinister going on. We were only thinking of your welfare.”

“Yeah mate, course you were,” Spike snarked.

Buffy took a breath, and lowered her hand. She shook her head. “I hate you,” she said and turned away from him. She spoke to Joyce. “Do you think Cordelia could put me up for a couple of nights? I don’t want to see him.”

“Sure, I mean – let’s go call her.” Mother and daughter started toward the door, leaving together. Joyce couldn’t resist a last glance over her shoulder and caught a glimpse of Merrick holding onto the edge of the table as he shook with what didn’t look even a little bit like remorse. Against her better judgment she let Spike catch her eye, he grinned and saluted.

Posted 19 December 2003

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