They were expecting Giles to light up when he entered the library. Cordelia was still fussing with Ms. Calendar’s hair the way one might with a well-loved and long-lost Barbie doll, smoothing down the twigs and tangles. Willow was washing Ms. Calendar’s hands, working at the blood under her fingernails. Xander was hanging awkwardly near the checkout desk, watching as though he wasn’t quite sure where his place in all this was, and Buffy hovered near him; she didn’t know where she fit into this picture either. But they all did know one thing, and it was that Giles’s return to the library would make this moment the perfect, happy thing that it needed to be.
Ms. Calendar’s shoulders were curled inward. She had been trapped under the ground for hours before Angel picked up muffled screaming, and her unfamiliar detachment made sense to them all. No one was looking too closely at her, anyway; everyone was determined to believe that this one thing, this one miracle, could happen. Angel had returned, didn’t he? Maybe there was just some mystical thing going on.
Giles came into the library. He looked blankly at Ms. Calendar, whose unfocused gaze was directed at her bloody hands, and then he said, “Get away from it.”
Willow flinched, then burst into tears. She’d been incredibly close to crying ever since seeing Ms. Calendar, and Giles’s sharp voice had been enough to push her over the edge. Cordelia’s hands dropped from Ms. Calendar’s hair, and Xander went a little pale, and Buffy said, “Giles—”
“Get away from it,” said Giles again. His voice was level.
“These things,” said Giles, “do not happen without a reason. The Powers that Be do not grant boons like this. It is not Jenny, and it is dangerous, and the moment you trust it, it will strike. Get away from it.”
Ms. Calendar looked up at Giles. Her eyes were blank, no spark of anything in them.
Ms. Calendar ended up going home with Buffy, seeing as Buffy’s mom was the only one who knew about the whole supernatural thing. Plus Buffy did die that one time, so she figured maybe she and Ms. Calendar might have something in common now. They couldn’t get Giles to drive them, because Giles was still furious at everyone for even letting Ms. Calendar (or, as he called her, The Unconfirmed Entity) into the library, so they rode in the back of Oz’s van.
Ms. Calendar was still wearing the black dress she’d been buried in, as well as the tacky high heels, one of them broken in the struggle that had been Angel’s attempt to get her out of the coffin. She’d been half-conscious when she saw him, he said, but she’d woken up and started fighting him. They needed to be gentle with her, he said, she’d been through a lot.
Buffy took off her cardigan and tucked it around Ms. Calendar’s shoulders. Ms. Calendar looked at her, then said, “It was your fault, you know.”
The words felt jagged enough to cut. Buffy felt sick. “Yeah,” she said. “I know. I’m sorry.”
“That doesn’t fix anything,” said Ms. Calendar, and gave her a small, tight smile. “I’m still hurting. And it’s still your fault.”
Buffy felt suddenly grateful that no one else was in the back of the van to hear this. “I’m sorry,” she said again, voice cracking. “If there’s anything I can do—”
“Let me make myself very clear, Buffy Summers,” said Ms. Calendar coldly. “Helping you was a waste. I only wish I hadn’t died for it.” She turned away, then, directing her gaze out the back window of the van, seeming utterly disinterested in Buffy as a whole.
Buffy felt like something had been scooped out of her stomach. It is not Jenny, and it is dangerous, Giles had said, but Buffy sure couldn’t believe that. Ms. Calendar had died in the worst way someone could, and anyone with half a brain would blame Buffy.
Ms. Calendar slept in the guest room and spent the whole night having very loud nightmares, which Buffy knew because the screams from the guest room were keeping her wide awake. Buffy had to go into her mom’s room and cuddle up in her mom’s arms, which she hadn’t done since she was twelve and had a nightmare. Her mom held her tightly and said, “She was dead, wasn’t she?”
“Yeah,” said Buffy.
“But then she came back,” said her mom.
“Yeah,” said Buffy.
Her mom let out this shaky little sigh, then let go of Buffy and said, “I think she could do with some hot cocoa, don’t you? You said they found her buried alive.”
Buffy felt a strange sense of loss as she watched her mom leave the room. Ms. Calendar’s screams cut off, replaced by gasping sobs and the muffled, reassuring tones of Buffy’s mom. Some selfish part of Buffy, the one still stinging from Ms. Calendar’s cool, sharp words in the van, thought that’s my mom, not hers. It made her hate herself even more.
“You let it into your house?” said Giles. His voice was shaking with fury.
“It’s not an it, it’s Ms. Calendar,” said Willow, sounding angry enough to be near tears. “And you should know that, Giles. Buffy, it’s her, isn’t it? No weirdness, no supernatural stuff—”
“Yeah,” said Buffy, her stomach twisting. “It can’t be anyone but her.”
Giles slammed the books he’d been filing down onto the library table. He was staring at them both like he couldn’t believe they were this dumb. It felt like it could go hand-in-hand with that quiet contempt Ms. Calendar had directed at Buffy in the van. Everyone seemed to think Buffy was stupid for wanting to help, for caring. “That is not Jenny Calendar,” he said. “For once, Buffy, Willow, trust me when I say I know what is and isn’t her—”
“You thought that poltergeist was Ms. Calendar, Giles, and we’re supposed to trust you now?” Buffy shot back, furious. “When there’s a living, breathing Ms. Calendar who Angel had to dig out of her own grave? Maybe she’s not falling all over herself to make out with you, but news flash, that’s not how it works! She’s not gonna just show up and forgive you for what happened—”
She stopped, horrified. Some of those words hadn’t been meant for Giles, and directed at him, they had the potency to hurt more than any long-dead girlfriend could.
All the anger had drained from Giles’s face, and suddenly Buffy missed it. There was this terrible, broken look in his eyes. “You’re quite right,” he said weakly. “Quite right. When have my senses ever served me well, after all?”
“Giles,” said Buffy, trying to think of something, anything to say that could possibly make this better.
“She said she’d never leave me,” said Giles, eyes unfocused, and then he went and locked himself in his office.
“You shouldn’t have said that,” said Willow unsteadily, her gaze still locked on the place where Giles had been standing, like she couldn’t quite look at Buffy. “You shouldn’t have said that, Buffy, he’s not arguing with you because he doesn’t believe in you—”
“Don’t tell me what I’m doing wrong!” Buffy shouted. “I’m hearing it from enough people already, Willow, don’t you start on me too!”
“I wasn’t!” Willow was beginning to cry. “I’m so sorry, Buffy, it’s just everyone’s so angry and I don’t know why—”
There was a knock on the door, and then Ms. Calendar stepped in, wearing what looked like some of Buffy’s mom’s clothing. She looked softer in the morning light; more earnest. “Is Rupert in?” she said, eyes flitting over Willow and Buffy as though they were part of the background. Something felt wrong about that.
“Ms. Calendar,” Willow began, sniffling, smiling. “It’s so good to—”
“Not now, Willow,” said Ms. Calendar, waving a hand as though dismissing a fly. “Is Rupert in?”
Willow’s face crumpled. Without warning, she raced from the library in tears.
“You know what?” said Buffy, anger rising in her as she turned on Ms. Calendar. “That’s it. That’s the last freaking straw. You can say whatever you want to say to me, but don’t you dare take whatever you’re dealing with out on Willow.”
“I’m sorry, is a teenage girl’s insecurity the first thing I’m supposed to cater to after I come back from being brutally murdered?” Ms. Calendar shot back. “Murdered, might I add, by the homicidal vampire terrorizing Sunnydale for months just because you couldn’t keep your sad little love life together?”
“If you weren’t Giles’s girlfriend—” Buffy didn’t want to know how she was going to end that sentence.
“What?” Ms. Calendar tossed her hair over one shoulder, all fake-cool and too-pretty even in Buffy’s mom’s beige sweater. “You’d slay me? Kill me? What do you think Rupert would do if he heard you talking like that?”
The door to Giles’s office opened; Ms. Calendar turned, expectant, with big doe eyes and a sweet smile all for Giles. Something in Buffy’s chest started hurting. She couldn’t watch Giles and Ms. Calendar come back together, not after all that stuff Ms. Calendar had said. “I have to go,” she said flatly, and hurried away herself. At the very least, she could apologize to Willow.
Willow ran through the halls, ran out into the courtyard, and tumbled into Oz’s arms, crying and crying and crying into his shoulder. She couldn’t tell him why. It would make her sound stupid, ridiculous, weak, and he wouldn’t like her half so much if he knew how much she’d loved Ms. Calendar. Ms. Calendar, with her cool sweaters and her soft brown hair and her smile that lit up a whole room. Ms. Calendar, who had always had time to listen to Willow, who always put her work down and gave Willow advice in the moments that Willow’s mom would have shooed her away. Ms. Calendar, who called Buffy Buffy and not Bunny, who knew Willow’s favorite candy was from those little Pez dispensers, who was so kind that Willow had known from the very beginning that she couldn’t have been that angry, vicious poltergeist—
Something struck Willow, a half-formed concept that shocked her enough to get her to stop crying.
“Willow,” Oz whispered, stroking her hair like he thought she was calming down.
But she wasn’t. Thoughts were whirring through Willow’s mind at a mile a minute. Jenny could never be this mean, she’d said, near tears, and she knew Ms. Calendar couldn’t have. Ms. Calendar had been a lot of things when she was tired and scared after Eyghon, but never once had she turned Willow away. And as easy as it had been to believe in the moment, Willow knew in her gut that dying wouldn’t have changed the kind of person Ms. Calendar was.
Willow thought about the hollow, empty look in Ms. Calendar’s eyes, devoid of any soul at all. She thought about Buffy (the Vampire Slayer) and Giles (the Watcher) and Angel (the vampire with a soul). She thought about the people who, if Ms. Calendar came back raw and angry and blaming them, would be wracked with guilt and completely distracted.
Willow, however, was not wracked with guilt. And it was why she was beginning to get the sense that things with Ms. Calendar weren’t as cut-and-dry as they seemed to everyone else.
“Hey,” Willow heard Buffy say. “Is she okay?”
“Not sure,” said Oz, and Willow felt a kiss pressed to the top of her head. “Been kind of a tough day for all of us.”
Willow raised her head, sniffling. “Buffy,” she began, unsteady.
“No, Will, let me just—” Buffy sniffled too, trying to smile. “It’s been really weird,” she said. “And hard. And I’m so sorry I took it out on you. I’m no better than Ms. Calendar if I’m—”
“Buffy, something’s wrong with Ms. Calendar,” said Willow. “Something has to be.”
“Rupert,” said the thing wearing Jenny’s face, and her voice was that same low, liquid tone he still dreamed about, sometimes. Every single one of those dreams had hurt to wake from.
“You’re not her,” said Giles. “Prove that you’re her.”
Drusilla had said tell me what to do, he reminded himself. Drusilla had looked at him like he was the sunlight, like he held every answer within him just by virtue of being himself. Drusilla had looked at him like evil things looked at him when they were mimicking what they thought love was: gentle and adoring, free of complexity.
Jenny had always looked at him with fond exasperation, on their best days. Giles tried to remember the exact tilt of her head, the exact wry shape her mouth would make, and couldn’t, and god, whether or not this was Jenny, that gap in his memory fucking hurt.
“How am I supposed to prove myself to you?” There was a gentle half-laugh in the thing’s voice as it raised Jenny’s hand to his face.
“Don’t—don’t touch me,” said Giles, staggering back into the doorframe and hitting his head against it, hard. He barely registered the pain. He remembered the cool touch of Drusilla’s hand, and fucking god if she touched him and she was cold he might die, he might kill her, he might do both, the universe throwing her in his face thrice like this was too much for a man to bear—
“You’re expecting your Jenny, aren’t you?” it said, and dropped its hand, looking frustrated. Looking like Jenny, his Jenny, his love, how dare it. “What if I’ve changed, down there in the ground? Maybe whether or not I’m me isn’t your judgment to make, not after what you let happen to me.”
And whether or not she was Jenny, that felt like being punched in the stomach. “I love you,” whispered Giles, because even after it all, he was still a weak man.
Jenny laughed, a sharp, derisive sound. “Sure you do,” she said. “Enough to trust me over your Slayer? Oh, wait.” She stepped back, looking at him as though he was lacking. None of Giles’s dreams had hurt as much as this. “I loved you,” she said, “and I died knowing you’d never love me half as much. That kind of thing changes a girl, Rupert, so yeah. I’m not the girl you know, and I’m not whoever you tricked yourself into thinking you were in love with.”
“I love you,” said Giles again, a broken record.
“For once in our relationship, Rupert, do me the courtesy of being honest with me,” said Jenny with another hard laugh. “You lied to me about who you were from the very beginning. I lied to you about what, my name? A mission I didn’t care about? And you threw me away without even thinking about it. That’s not love.”
She died not knowing. She died not knowing.
“Don’t you ask me to prove myself to you,” said Jenny. “You don’t get to ask me that. Prove yourself to me first and we’ll talk.”
“You’re not her,” said Giles desperately. Begging.
Jenny stepped forward, stood on tiptoe, brushed her mouth against his. Warm to the touch. “Oh, England,” she whispered. “Don’t you wish that were true?”
Buffy had a dream that night, one she’d had before. It was that one in the graveyard, the one that had got her to realize what Ms. Calendar hadn’t been telling them, and returning to it was jarring and infuriating. “She can’t have more secrets,” she said, loud and furious, to Angel and the mourners. “She died. What else can she possibly be keeping from us?”
“You have to know what to see,” said Angel again.
Buffy turned, and the mourner that she knew was Ms. Calendar raised their veil—
—only Ms. Calendar’s eyes were missing. There were just two symbols carved where her eyes should be, and when she opened her mouth, Buffy saw rows and rows of sharp teeth.
And then Buffy woke up, heart pounding, frightened and angry. Something was messing with her friends.
Angel was drinking a cup of pig’s blood when Ms. Calendar stepped into the mansion, looking around with a detached interest. “So this is where you holed up after Rupert burned the old place down, huh?” she said. “I like it. Roomier.”
“I’m sorry,” said Angel, putting down the pig’s blood.
“You fucking should be,” said Ms. Calendar, a sudden hardness in her voice. It was only there for a moment, and then she was smiling, sweet and bright. “So are you still banging sixteen-year-olds, or is that just one other habit you’ve decided to drop?”
Angel didn’t know what to say to that. The guilt was overwhelming, stifling, looking at her. “I’m sorry,” he said again, helpless.
Ms. Calendar crossed her arms, teacher-like, cocking her head reprovingly at him in that way Angel had once seen her look at Xander. “I want you to know that you are nothing,” she said. “I want you to know that giving you your soul back meant nothing. I want you to know that I am always going to look at you and see a killer, soul or no soul. You ruined my life, Angel. You killed me. You hurt the man I love more than anything in this world, and he has to live with guilt I can’t take away from him.”
“What is that supposed to mean to me?” said Ms. Calendar, eyes blank, mouth half-smiling. “Why do I care how you feel? You broke me like a twig and you smiled while you did it. You’re a monster, Angel, and I hope you live out the rest of your days knowing it.”
Angel sunk back into the sofa, the mug of pig’s blood smashing on the floor. He only barely noticed.
“I don’t know if we can be sure that it isn’t Jenny,” said Giles. Sleep-rumpled and forlorn, he gently nudged a cup of tea in Buffy’s direction. They hadn’t exactly talked about what Buffy had said to him, but after she’d told him about her dream, things had felt a little easier between them. Until this weird thing with Ms. Calendar was solved, Buffy thought they might at least be able to pretend that things were okay. “The things she said, they were—”
“She told me that helping me was a waste,” said Buffy. Giles stilled. “And she brushed Willow off. Giles, listen, maybe I didn’t know Ms. Calendar as well as the rest of you, but it feels like she’s playing off all our insecurities about her death. And remember what you said about the poltergeist? You knew it wasn’t her, because you knew she’d never hurt us like that.”
Giles smiled a little tiredly. “I wasn’t aware you remembered that bit,” he said wryly.
Okay. So maybe things weren’t completely cool between them. “I was mad,” said Buffy quietly. “I was upset you were saying it wasn’t her, because—” She swallowed. “Because it felt like her,” she said. “It felt like she should be this mad at me for what I did.”
“Buffy, Jenny’s death was in no way your fault—”
“And it wasn’t yours either!” Buffy persisted. “That’s what I’m saying! There’s something going on here that isn’t right! Willow pointed it out to me earlier today, and I thought I’d sleep on it, but this dream proves—”
She stopped. Giles had this strange, sad look on his face. “Having her alive and hating me,” he said, quiet and shaky, “is still better than having her dead and gone.”
Buffy thought back to Angelus. She thought how it had felt when he was alive, like there was still, somehow, some magical chance that things might fix themselves. She thought about the terrible hole that feeling had left inside her, and she reached across the table, awkwardly, and hugged Giles very hard. “I love you,” she said. “Okay?”
Giles hugged her back. He didn’t say I love you too, but Buffy didn’t really need to hear it to know it. “We’re going to figure out what this is,” he said shakily. “We’re going to figure it out and we’re going to stop it.”
“Darn right we are,” Buffy agreed, sniffling, and pulled back. “Okay. I’m gonna call Willow and Xander, you—”
“I’ll check in on Jenny,” said Giles. “You said she was at your mum’s, still?”
“I mean, I left early in the morning, I didn’t exactly check her bedroom, but she should be, yeah,” Buffy answered, already heading in the direction of the phone. “And if she’s not—”
But Giles had stopped moving. He had that look on his face that he always got when he was working something out and really didn’t like where it was going. “No,” he said. “No, Buffy, she isn’t with your mum, not if she isn’t Jenny. If she wanted to sow real seeds of discord, cause lasting damage, she’d go for the most volatile and dangerous agent of good in Sunnydale.”
“Look at me, Angel,” said Ms. Calendar.
“Look,” said Ms. Calendar, and grabbed his face, nails digging into his flesh. “Look at me and tell me you’re not a monster. Tell me you don’t want to hurt me again. All these terrible things I’m saying, they make you angry, don’t they? They make you want to hurt me, break me, kill me—”
“Stop,” Angel begged her. “Please, Ms. Calendar, I—”
“Oh, Angel, if you murder a girl you should at least call her Jenny,” laughed Ms. Calendar, letting go of his face. “Have the decency to respect one of my requests, won’t you? Look at me and call me Jenny.”
Angel felt sick, looking at her, because he remembered Ms. Calendar. Not the woman with this mad, manic energy like she wanted him dead—the woman who was awkward, and a little too loud, and way too smart for her own good. The woman who had given him back his soul because she’d believed in him. He had killed that woman. He had done that. “Jenny,” he whispered.
Jenny’s smile widened. “Good,” she said, and placed his hands at her neck. “Now kill me again.”
Angel tried to jerk his hands away, but couldn’t. Why couldn’t he? Jenny was small, she was slight, she had broken so easily under his hands—she shouldn’t be holding him in a vicelike grip too strong for him to break free of. “Jenny,” he pleaded. “Please let me go.”
“No,” said Jenny. “Not until I show you what you are. I don’t want to be alive anymore, Angel. This world doesn’t have anything for me anymore, and that’s because of you. But if I’m going to die, I want to die knowing that you’re not pretending to be anything other than what you are.”
Angel thought he might be crying. Was he crying?
“Weak,” said Jenny. “I expected better.”
“Drive faster!” Buffy screamed. “We don’t get there in time and I don’t know what’s going to happen, she could hurt him, she could—”
Giles floored the gas and thought I will kill this thing for daring to wear her face.
“I can’t,” Angel sobbed, “I can’t,” and his hands fell limply to his sides as Jenny let go. He pulled himself up and off the sofa, stumbling away from her, lost in guilt and misery.
“You know what you are,” said Jenny. “Just because you can’t kill me doesn’t change that fact.” She stepped forward. “Kill Buffy,” she said. “How’s that? You remember what it was like, wanting to rip her pretty little throat out, and frankly, I remember too. The bitch kept me from Rupert, she deserves—”
Angel looked up, stunned. Buffy and Giles were standing in the doorway. “Listen, lady—” Buffy began, but Giles lunged.
He ran past Buffy, ran past Angel, knocking the thing that could not possibly be Jenny to the concrete. It screamed. He grabbed at its throat, thinking about Eyghon and Angelus and Drusilla and every single demon that had treated Jenny like theirs to own and break and wear as a disguise. “Show me your face,” he shouted, “show me your face, I promise I’ll rip you to shreds—”
Jenny struggled and sobbed underneath him. “Rupert!” she begged. “Rupert, please, please stop, it’s me, I promise—”
Horrified, forgetting everything but his love, Giles pulled back.
Jenny lay on the floor, crying. “I don’t understand,” she sobbed. “I’m sorry, Rupert, I don’t—”
“She’s lying,” said Buffy flatly from behind Giles. “Giles, she’s tricking you, that isn’t—”
Giles reached out, but Jenny flinched away, pulling herself awkwardly up into a sitting position. She was shaking, looking up at him with horror and fear. “Why would you think it wasn’t me?” she whispered. “You know me, Rupert, you know it’s me—”
“Prove it,” said Buffy.
And just like that, Jenny’s tears were gone. “It was a Slayer dream, wasn’t it?” she said. “I hate those things. Always giving me away.”
Giles tried to bring back that vicious, violent anger he had felt, now that he knew for certain that it was justified. But even though he had known it wasn’t Jenny, it had felt like hurting her, and the look on her face had been one he might never forget.
And the woman he truly loved was dead. And this was what he would remember of her.
“You hurt my Watcher,” said Buffy, “you hurt my friends, and you hurt the guy I love. Give me one good reason not to kill you.”
The thing that wasn’t Jenny laughed, that sharp, short sound that, now that Giles was really listening, didn’t sound like Jenny at all. “You still haven’t figured it out, have you?” she said. “I’m warm to the touch. I blink, I sleep, I scream, I cry. I am Jenny Calendar in all the ways that count.”
“No,” said Buffy. “You’re really not.”
“Jenny Calendar loved these people,” said Giles, quiet and unsteady. “She might have been afraid and angry, coming back, but she would never want to hurt us.”
“I’m not talking about Jenny Calendar’s soul,” said the thing that wasn’t Jenny, sounding somewhat annoyed. “Haven’t you all been wondering why Angelus came back?”
Buffy and Giles exchanged a wary look. “What?” said Buffy.
“The Powers chose a champion, and they returned a life to you in exchange for the many you saved from Acathla,” said the thing that wasn’t Jenny. “Angel was the champion. Jenny Calendar, bless her currently-missing soul, was restored in body.” It smiled slowly. “But I got here before her soul could.”
“What are you?” said Giles, and oh, good, there it was, the furious anger he’d been missing. Jenny’s body had returned, but something had stolen the life she deserved to have.
“I am something that your fragile little minds are not going to be understanding any time soon,” said the thing that wasn’t Jenny. “I’m the First Evil. The thing the darkness fears—”
“So get out of her body,” said Buffy fiercely. “Give it up.”
The First Evil raised one of Jenny’s eyebrows. “No,” it said.
“I will kill you,” said Giles. “Do you understand that? It will destroy me, but I will do it.”
“Do that and you’ll kill the shell I’m in, not me,” said the First, looking extremely amused. “But wow, it’ll be fun to—”
Angel whacked it over the back of the head with a volume of poetry. The First crumpled to the ground. “It’s gonna leave a bruise,” he said ruefully, “and it’s not a permanent solution, but it at least buys us some time to figure one out.”
“Angel, are you okay?” Buffy asked anxiously.
“Well, it does help to know that she was just trying to get under my skin,” said Angel, and tried to smile. “Besides which, I think someone needs to be okay right now.”
Giles was only half-listening to what they were saying. Carefully, he pulled Jenny’s body into his arms, his heart twisting as her head nestled against his shoulder. It was her. Not her soul, but her, and they would find a solution, because he would be damned if he’d let the world take her away all over again.
They brought the First to the library, carefully tied its hands behind its back, and locked it in the book cage.
“So,” said Willow uncomfortably. “Weird night.”
“Actually, by Sunnydale standards, this seems pretty normal,” said Xander, glancing nervously over at the First. “And we’re sure that’s not Ms. Calendar?”
“I mean, it is,” Buffy explained, “it’s just that she doesn’t have her soul.”
“Huh,” said Cordelia. “Well, there’s a lot of weird irony in that one.”
Inside the book cage, the First stirred, and then it sat up, looking at all of them with that cold, calculating expression. “So,” it said. “Planning on trying to thwart me?”
“No,” said Buffy.
There was a surprised silence.
“I’m sorry?” said Giles, who was very clearly in the Let’s-Hit-This-Thing-Until-It-Bleeds camp.
“No,” said Buffy again, stepping up towards the book cage. “We already have.”
The First scoffed. “You’re more confident than most Slayers,” it said. “Or perhaps more stupid.”
“I don’t think I am,” said Buffy. “See, you came in trying to mess us up, remember? You wanted us all at each other’s throats, so that when you turned Angel against us, he’d be able to kill us all easy-peasy.”
Angel looked a little sheepish at this. Willow patted his shoulder.
“But get this, smarty,” said Buffy, and rattled the book cage, punctuating each word. “It. Didn’t. Work. You’re stuck in a book cage with your hands behind your back because we know Jenny Calendar, and we knew you weren’t her.”
“Actually, I was the only one who—” Willow began. Xander covered her mouth with his hand.
“So no, we’re not gonna thwart you,” said Buffy. “You’ve lost. Big time. And unless you want us kicking you out of that body with a magic spell, I’d suggest getting out of it while the getting’s good, because I’m pretty sure Giles is going to make the exorcism process as painful for you as he possibly can.”
“Oh, I definitely will,” Giles agreed.
“Your choice, Firsty,” said Buffy. “What’s it gonna be?”
A moment. And then Jenny’s head dropped, and a chill rushed through the library.
“Did that seriously work?” said Buffy, sounding much more like a seventeen-year-old instead of the Vampire Slayer.
Jenny’s head jerked back up, eyes glowing.
“Okay,” said Xander. “Uh, maybe not.”
Jenny’s eyes cleared. She squinted at them. Then she said, “Okay, either I’m really hungover or someone just clocked me over the head with a second edition of Wordsworth.”
“The second one,” replied Buffy, a little shakily.
“How do we know she’s not a pod person?” Cordelia piped up.
But Giles was already unlocking the door. Without a word, he knelt down in front of Jenny, gently touching her face, looking at her like he couldn’t quite believe she was there.
“I should be dead, right?” said Jenny softly. “Shouldn’t I be dead?”
“You’re all right?” said Giles shakily.
“Aside from the whole second-edition-of-Wordsworth concussion,” Jenny began, a shy laugh in her voice, and that was when Giles kissed her very hard.
“Ugh,” said Buffy, but she couldn’t even pretend at being disgusted. The bubble of stunned, happy relief in her chest was way too overwhelming. “Okay. You know what? We should, um, give them some—”
“Privacy!” Willow agreed, and hurried out of the library, shepherding Xander and Cordelia along with her. Buffy followed.
Angel wavered at the door. Giles was untying Jenny’s hands, all but sobbing his apologies and worried inquiries and words of love. Jenny, even with her hands still tied, was trying to kiss every inch of his face, whispering comforting words right back.
Angel smiled, and then he followed the rest of them out.
Giles wasn’t at school the next day, but neither was Buffy; after her mom had heard what had happened, she’d given Buffy the day off. So Buffy grabbed Xander and Willow and they all headed over to Giles’s place, knocking on the door.
Ms. Calendar answered it. “Buffy, Willow, I am so sorry,” she began immediately. “Rupert told me you two might have—that I might have said—I mean, I didn’t really get the details—”
Willow let out an incredulous, tearful laugh and flung herself at Ms. Calendar, throwing her arms around Ms. Calendar’s neck. Ms. Calendar staggered back into the coat tree and knocked it over onto Giles, who yelped. “Really!” he said, and steadied it.
Buffy stepped inside and hugged Giles again, because that felt like the sort of thing you should do after this kind of a messy two days. “How’s it going?” she asked.
“Well, the woman I love is back from the dead and not hell-bent on world destruction,” said Giles, “which is, all things considered, about as good as it can get.”
Ms. Calendar was fussing over Willow’s new haircut. “Look at that!” she was saying. “I hope it’s a tribute to me. Hey, Rupert, did you write me any sappy lost-love poetry? I seriously expect some Annabel Lee level stuff.”
“She’s taking the being-dead thing extremely lightly,” whispered Giles to Buffy.
“That’s just good sense,” said Buffy, stepping up to Ms. Calendar.
“Listen,” said Ms. Calendar, Willow still clinging to her like a barnacle (to Ms. Calendar’s credit, she didn’t seem to mind all that much), “it wasn’t your fault, Buffy. Okay? To be honest, I’m a little annoyed with all of you and your guilt complexes, because there was really only one of us who was dumb enough to stay after dark in a public building.”
Buffy looked at Ms. Calendar’s eyes. They were chocolate brown, and soft, and warm, and a little worried. “You mean that?” she said.
“I’m not the kind of lady to absolve myself of all responsibility,” said Ms. Calendar with a small smile. “If anything, I’m the kind who takes a ridiculous amount of it on and gets myself killed.”
“Really too soon to be making jokes,” said Willow into Ms. Calendar’s sweater.
“Hey, it’s been the blink of an eye for me,” Ms. Calendar reminded Willow, gently untangling herself from Willow’s grip. She extended her hand to Buffy. “I’m sorry,” she said. “For what I didn’t tell you, and how I handled it. I-I’m so glad I was able to help Angel get his soul back, and I hope it at least begins to make things up to you.”
Buffy stared at Ms. Calendar. She thought of the First saying helping you was a waste. Then she sort of launched herself at Ms. Calendar too, hugging her tightly. Hey, Willow had some pretty good instincts.
Jenny headed down to her grave with some nice white roses, mostly because she thought the whole thing was way more hilarious than it had any right to be. Also deeply disturbing, and she was damn glad she couldn’t remember any of what the First had done in her body, but she thought she was getting a little better at handling traumatic events. It didn’t hurt to have a support system, this time around.
Angel was there. “Uh,” he said, looking nervous and a little guilty. “Hi.”
Jenny’s mouth twitched. “Hey,” she said.
“Save it,” said Jenny. “You’re the guy who stopped Eyghon from rotting my excellent face, remember? We’re not gonna waste time talking about what a demon inside you did, Angel. I’d never blame you for that.”
Angel looked surprised, then touched.
“That’s not to say things aren’t still weird between us!” Jenny added. “Because just to clarify, I’m not inviting you in any time soon. But I don’t want you wracked with guilt, because Rupert says it’s a total drag—”
“Giles said that?”
“I’m paraphrasing,” said Jenny. “The point is that guilt isn’t going to get you anywhere. The Powers brought you back because you’re a champion, Angel, so take up the mantle.” She knelt down, setting the roses on her grave. “God, Rupert wasn’t wrong. This is a terrible gravestone.”
“Did anyone ever call you Jennifer?” Angel asked, frowning at the carved letters.
“I’d probably have personally killed them had they tried,” said Jenny, reaching out to run her fingers along the groove of the J.
They were quiet for a little while longer. Then Angel said, “Ms. Calendar—Jenny—I don’t know how easy this will be.”
“For everyone,” said Angel. “All of us were ready to believe that you’d hate us for the way you died—”
Jenny stood up, looking thoughtfully at Angel. “You know something?” she said. “I kinda thought I might too. There are a lot of parts of last year that really, really hurt me, and I died feeling like all that hurt had been for nothing. But Rupert, those kids, even you—” She thought of the tears in Rupert’s eyes, the way Willow had nestled into her arms and all but refused to let go. “I might have grown up surrounded by vengeance,” she said softly, “but that’s not the way I want to live. That’s never the way I want to live.”
“A champion,” said Angel.
Jenny blinked. “Huh?”
Angel smiled slightly. “I don’t think the First had it right,” he said. “The Powers brought back someone as a gift for Buffy and Giles and someone as a warrior of good. How do we know for certain that the champion isn’t you?”
“Cute, Angel,” said Jenny, amused. “You’re still the one with the vampire strength.”
But she was smiling a little as she looked down at the white roses on her grave.