“Mind if I join you?” Jenny recognizes the voice instantly, and holds up her beer in a make-yourself-welcome gesture without turning around to face its source. Rupert comes up beside her. He rolls his pant legs up before sitting down beside her and slipping his feet into the motel pool next to hers.
“How are you?” he says softly. Rupert is always soft with her. Like he thinks if he talks too loudly, she’ll die—for the second time, apparently.
“I’m fine,” Jenny says. She kicks at the water. “Doing great. Amnesiac zombie and all, but y’know, pretty great for a reanimated corpse that had to be told her own name.”
“You’re also drunk,” Rupert observes.
“Bingo.” Jenny drains the last of her beer and adds the bottle to the growing line of empty bottles beside her. She leans back, staring at the pool as she kicks her feet in small circles, stirring up ripples. “Was I always this coherent drunk?” she asks after a minute. “Because my brain seems to still be working, and that’s not what I was going for.”
“I don’t know,” Rupert says after a minute. He’s getting that distant look behind his glasses, the one he always gets when he talks about the the-woman-who-was-Jenny. It makes the woman who is Jenny now ache a bit, deep in her chest. She’s only known Rupert for a month or so, but she’s learned his face well, learned all the micro-expressions of his eyes and mouth, and when he talks about the Jenny that he remembers, the one the current Jenny forgot, every single inch of him radiates grief.
“We only got drunk together once,” Rupert is saying. Jenny looks back down at the pool.
“Really?” she says. “I figured we were like, best friends or something. Didn’t we know each other forever?”
“No.” Rupert leans forward, setting his elbows on his knees and resting his chin in his hands. He takes off his glasses, setting them on the edge of the pool between himself and Jenny. “We—it was only a year or two. Not much in the grand scheme of things. Certainly not long enough.”
“Weird.” Jenny kicks a particularly large wave and watches the ripples spread out across the unnaturally blue water. “I feel like we knew each other longer.” She can feel Rupert’s eyes on her, so she adds, “I don’t remember anything. Just…I don’t know. It doesn’t matter.” She rubs at her eyes, exhaustion suddenly filling her up. “I’m tired.” Rupert slides his feet out of the pool, putting his glasses back on and standing. He offers her a hand, and Jenny takes it, allowing herself to be pulled to her feet.
“I’ll walk you back to your room,” Rupert says.
“I think I can find my way through the world’s smallest motel by myself, thanks,” Jenny says. She goes to let go of his hand, but Rupert’s grip tightens.
“Jenny,” he says quietly. “The last time I left you alone somewhere at night, you were murdered by a vampire.” Jenny looks away.
(She doesn’t remember dying. She doesn’t remember anything. She remembers where she was before this—somewhere soft, gentle, warm; somewhere she felt safe and loved; somewhere she’s pretty sure was some form of heaven—and she remembers waking up in a coffin, digging her way to the surface. She remembers picking splinters out from under her fingernails in the back of Rupert’s car, as he drove her and a pack of children out of a town overtaken by demons. She remembers everyone talking to her, calling her Jenny, calling her Ms. Calendar, talking and talking and talking until—
—Jenny had screamed in that car. Screamed wordlessly because her hands hurt and she didn’t remember what pain felt like. Screamed because everyone in that car had known who she was but her.)
“Whatever.” Jenny allows herself to be led back to her motel room, Rupert’s hand gentle in hers. He treats her like glass, like she’s so goddamned breakable he can’t even breath around her.
(Maybe Jenny is breakable. She’s forty-three days old; she’s entitled to a little vulnerability.)
Jenny goes for a drive.
It’s strange. She remembers how to drive. She remembers how to speak Latin, and every way to kill a vampire ever recorded. She remembers songs, melodies. She’s pretty sure if she sat down in front of a piano, she could play a song or two. She remembers how certain foods smell, even taste, but not whether or not she liked them. She remembers everything she should about the world—except how she fits into it.
Tara goes with her. Tara and Willow are fighting, which seems to disturb everyone else. It’s a rare occurrence, apparently. Not that Jenny would know. From what Willow has told her, Jenny died long before she even met Tara, or realized she was gay.
They go out on the highway. They’re staying in a tiny town out in the desert, unsure of where else to go. Sunnydale is thoroughly trashed, and likely still being ransacked by demons. There’s been discussion of going to meet a man named Angel in Los Angeles, but every time the subject is brought up, everyone stares at Jenny like she should know what to do, or at least have an opinion. Jenny is yet to have an opinion, or any memories to base such a thing off of, and so for now, they’re stagnating. The motel is cheap, and the staff aren’t paid enough to worry about what their guests are doing, so they’ve been hovering uncertainly for a month now, waiting for some sort of sign.
Tara fiddles with the radio as Jenny drives. It’s Rupert’s car. He had given her the keys without a question the moment she had asked for them. He has so much goddamned faith in her, so much trust.
(Jenny doesn’t know why, but she doesn’t think people are supposed to trust other people that easily.)
“Jenny?” Tara says after awhile. She’s the only one of the children—Jenny thinks of them as the children, despite the fact that the only actual child in the group is Dawn; it’s a tic she picked up from Rupert, she thinks—that actually calls Jenny Jenny. Xander calls her Ms. Calendar, no matter how many times she tells him to call her Jenny, and Dawn is at the age where calling an adult anything other than Ms. or Mom feels like a crime.
(Willow calls her Ms. Calendar. Every time she speaks to Jenny, she calls her Ms. Calendar with this look in her eye—this hopeful, pleading, desperate look, like she’s begging Jenny to remember her. She looks younger when she does that, looks more like Jenny imagines she looked in high school: wide-eyed, hopeful, determined yet terrified.
It breaks Jenny’s heart, and Jenny has yet to work up the willpower to tell Willow to call her Jenny.)
“Yeah?” Jenny says. Tara clicks the radio off.
“Don’t you need to get gas?” Jenny glances down, and sure enough, the gas light is on.
“Well, shit,” Jenny says. Tara suppresses a snort in the passenger seat, raising a hand to her mouth to cover her grin. “What?” Jenny says, glancing over as she begins to slow the car, spying a gas station next to the highway.
“Nothing,” Tara says, lowering her hand. “Just—the way Willow describes you, I think her head would explode if she heard you swear.”
“I swear all the time,” Jenny says as she pulls into the gas station.
Tara shakes her head. “Not to Willow, you don’t.”
Jenny parks the car, slipping the keys out of the ignition. She sits in silence for a moment. Tara doesn’t speak, simply watching her, seeming to pick up on her discomfort. That had been the first thing Jenny had noticed about the girl—how in tune she is, how much she knows about the people around her just from paying attention.
“Can I ask you a question?” she says after a minute. Tara nods immediately. “What are you and Willow fighting about?” Tara looks away, frowning deeply, and Jenny’s stomach sinks. “I’m—I’m sorry. We don’t know each other that well, I shouldn’t—“
“I-it’s okay,” Tara says, the slight stutter Jenny has noticed her exhibiting on occasion making an appearance. “I think I need to talk about it, actually.”
“Yeah?” Jenny offers what she hopes is a soft, comforting smile. She doesn’t know if she was any good at comfort in her last life, but she certainly doesn’t feel very good at it in this one.
“Willow won’t listen to me,” Tara says, shrugging. “I can’t talk to Xander or Anya. Dawn is just a kid, and Giles…” She trails off. “Giles has enough on his mind.”
“So talk to me,” Jenny says. Tara looks down at her lap, twisting her fingers together nervously.
“It’s—it’s actually sort of about you,” she admits.
“Me?” Jenny says, frowning.
“Well, not—not you, specifically,” Tara says. “Just—Willow has a lot of problems with, with m—magic. She depends on it a lot, and you’re sort of…”
“Exhibit A,” Jenny says. She closes her eyes. “God.”
“It’s not your fault,” Tara says softly.
“Isn’t it?” Jenny doesn’t intend to be bitter. She doesn’t know if she was a bitter person, before, but she doesn’t want to be one now. She wants to be…good, she supposes. Whatever that means. “You guys didn’t get your friend back,” Jenny says. “You didn’t get your—what did I teach?”
“Computer science,” Tara says.
“You didn’t get your computer science teacher back, either,” Jenny says.
“She—you—you weren’t my teacher. Anyway, that’s not true.” Tara shifts in her seat, facing Jenny. “You’re—you, just…a sort of different you. You know?”
“Am I?” Jenny looks down at her hands, flexing her fingers back and forth. “How do you know? I could be a totally different person who just—woke up in this body. I could not be me at all.”
“But Willow and Giles did all those tests,” Tara says, frowning. “All those spells. No demon, no monsters, no tagalong ghosts, no big bad. There’s nothing in you but a human soul.”
“But whose soul?” Jenny says. Tara doesn’t have an answer to that.
The question leaves them both in silence. Jenny watches cars pass on the highway in the rearview mirror, colored blurs of sound and motion.
“Ask Giles,” Tara says after awhile.
“Ask Giles.” She smiles a bit at Jenny. “Ask him if he thinks you’re…you. He knew you best, before.” Jenny considers that for a moment, considers the way Rupert looks at her like a glass sculpture, the way he always seems to have faith in her. The way he’s stopped bringing up the past, the before, around her, as if he picked up on the discomfort it causes her that she’s never put into words. She thinks about his hand in hers the night before, the way it had felt more familiar than anything else has since she woke up six feet under.
“I think he knows me best now, too,” she murmurs. Then she shakes her head, pulling herself back into reality. “I’m sorry,” she says to Tara. “We were supposed to be talking about you and Willow.”
“It’s okay,” Tara says. “You needed to let that out.” Jenny nods. “You’re, um…” Tara taps her own cheek lightly. Jenny reaches up and finds that her face is wet.
“Oh,” she murmurs. She wipes at her eyes, then says, “I don’t think I like crying in front of people.”
“I won’t tell anyone,” Tara promises. Jenny smiles. She finally unbuckles her seatbelt to get out and actually get the gas they stopped for.
“Tara,” Jenny says awhile later, as they’re driving back to the motel, some acoustic station Tara had found on the car radio playing quietly. “Thank you.”
“Any time,” Tara says. Jenny glances over at her.
“I hope you and Willow work things out,” she says. “You seem good together.” Tara is silent for a moment.
“I hope we do, too,” she says, in a tone that Jenny can’t identify, but one that doesn’t sound particularly optimistic.
“This can’t be safe,” Jenny says in an undertone as she carefully closes the kitchen door behind her. It’s sort of pointless, given that every window in the house is smashed to pieces.
“It likely isn’t,” Rupert says tersely from ahead of her.
“Then why the hell are we doing it?” Jenny says. Willow takes a sharp breath at the profanity, and Jenny winces, a familiar pang of guilt filling her chest—the same guilt that makes itself known every time she does something that Willow doesn’t expect, something that the old Jenny Calendar wouldn’t do.
“What else are we gonna do?” Xander says. No one has an answer to that, so they all filter out of the kitchen and into the living room of the Summers house.
“Holy shit,” Jenny whispers as she steps into the living room. It’s absolutely trashed. Broken glass, pieces of furniture, even a few burned planks lie on the floor. The couch is ripped to shreds, its stuffing strewn about randomly. Books are tossed across the room, torn out pages lying around like decorations.
“They really tore the place up,” Xander says, rather unnecessarily. Jenny glances over at Dawn. It’s her home, after all, even if she hadn’t grown up there, having apparently grown up as an ancient, mystical ball of green light with the power to end the world and all living things in every universe.
Jenny still isn’t really clear on how all that happened.
Dawn’s face is blank. She stares at the carnage that was her house, arms crossed, jaw set stubbornly, and says nothing, gives nothing away. Some part of Jenny admires that strength, and thinks that, if Dawn shared any part of that strength with her sister, she can see why everyone wants Buffy back so desperately. Most of her, though, weeps for the fact that a fifteen-year-old girl should have to be so strong.
“I’m going to look upstairs,” Willow announces, shaking everyone out of their daze. “Ms. Calendar, do you want to come with me?” It’s a question, but it’s pointed, and combined with the glance Willow shoots everyone else, it’s clear what she means: for Jenny to go with her, and for everyone else to stay downstairs.
(Jenny isn’t sure how Willow ever dealt with someone else being the leader of their little group. She’s—Jenny doesn’t want to call her authoritarian, but she’s certainly not good at compromise, and even worse at following others’ lead.
Buffy must’ve been truly extraordinary, if Willow was willing to follow her.)
“It didn’t used to be like this,” Willow says, as they climb the stairs. “Well, I mean, obviously it didn’t used to be like this. Ms. Summers wasn’t really into post-apocalyptic chic as a decor theme, and when Tara and I lived here, it was messy, but it wasn’t…” She gestures at the wall next to them, which is mostly caved in.
“I figured,” Jenny says as they reach the landing and start down the hall. “And the town? I mean, obviously people used to live here, so that’s different, but was it always so…”
“Creepy?” Willow says, smiling slightly. Jenny nods. “Sort of,” Willow says, shrugging. “I mean, growing up here, you get used to it, you know? You learn pretty quick not to go out past nightfall, not to speak Latin in libraries, all that. Only, no one ever tells you why. So then you get to high school and you get all rebellious and adolescent and angsty and you decide, well, Mom can’t give me one good reason I have to be home by ten, so I might as well stay out till ten-thirty, and then you walk home in the dark and get eaten by vampires. Or, if you’re lucky, Buffy—“ Willow stops. She clears her throat, her happy-go-lucky rambling cut off. “Buffy saves you,” she finishes, her voice small.
“That’s—“ Jenny shakes her head. “You know, I don’t remember growing up, but I’m pretty sure that’s not how it’s supposed to work.”
“We do have the highest mortality rate of a town our size in the nation,” Willow says thoughtfully. “Or would, if the federal government officially recognized our existence.” Jenny doesn’t have the time to unpack the implications of that, because they stop in front of a door and Willow says, “Here we are.”
“We are here,” Jenny agrees. “Which is where?”
“This is me and Tara’s room,” Willow says, pushing the door open. “Or was, I guess.” The room isn’t as trashed as the rest of the house, but that’s hardly saying much. The mattress is flipped over on the floor, the sheets ripped to shreds. Many of the drawers are ripped open or pulled out of the dresser entirely, their contents missing or ripped up on the floor.
Willow doesn’t seem to notice the sorry state of her previous possessions, or, if she does, she doesn’t care. She walks across the room, moving with purpose. Jenny hovers uncertainly in the doorway. It’s clear Willow brought her here for a reason, but she’s unsure of what it is. Willow walks over to the destroyed bookshelf, which is mostly a pile of ripped-up books and wood, but she seems to know what she’s looking for in the debris. She starts digging through it, picking up pieces of books and shelf and tossing them aside.
“Want any help?” Jenny says after a minute, feeling a bit useless in the doorway.
“No, I—“ Willow stops. She’s holding half of what looks like a leather binder cover, though it’s scorched and blackened. She tosses it aside, and begins frantically digging through the rest of the pile, pushing pieces of wood and the remains of books all over the floor.
“Willow?” Jenny steps out of the doorframe and into the room. “Are you okay?” Willow doesn’t answer. She pulls the rest of the binder the leather cover had previously been attached to out of the pile, and Jenny recognizes it for what it is—a photo album. Or, it had been a photo album, before being cut in two, cracked, and burned.
“No,” Willow says as she holds the binder in her arms. Her voice is small, but there’s something in it that makes Jenny’s throat tighten—with empathy or fear, she doesn’t know. “No.”
“Willow.” Jenny steps closer, half-reaching out, but before she can get close, Willow stands up. The motion is—Jenny doesn’t know how to describe it, but it doesn’t feel like Willow. It’s smooth, graceful—too graceful for the girl Jenny has known over the past two months, and when Willow turns around, Jenny knows why.
Willow’s eyes are black. Dark veins are spreading out across her face, and—it makes no sense—her hair is getting darker, tinged with black.
“I’ll kill them,” Willow says, and her voice is cold, brutal. “I’ll kill them all.”
“Willow.” Jenny takes another step forward. The air feels electrified; it’s making the hairs on the back of her neck stand up. The debris on the floor is beginning to rattle, lifting half an inch up into the air and shaking. Some part of her, some fight-or-flight instinct that understands what’s happening, is telling her to walk away, to run away as fast as her legs will carry her. Whatever’s happening, it’s magic and it’s bad.
Jenny takes another step forward, bringing herself within arm’s length of Willow. Willow needs her. She’s not running away.
“Wil, it’s okay,” Jenny says softly. She doesn’t reach out, doesn’t dare touch Willow, but she stays firmly in place, a few feet away from Willow. Willow stares at her, past her, those black eyes unfocused and angry. “It’s okay. Whatever you’re doing—let it go. Alright?”
“They deserve to die,” Willow says. There’s nothing warm in her tone, nothing good, and the debris in the air lifts higher, reaching knee level. “They took—“ Her voice breaks, just the smallest bit. “They took—“
“Willow.” Jenny digs her nails into her palm, keeping the tremor fighting its way into her own voice at bay. “Take a breath. It’s okay.” Willow, incredibly, listens. She takes a breath, and a bit of the tension, a bit of the rage, seeps out of her face. The debris lowers back down to the floor. Willow’s eyes are still black, and her hair is still a shade darker than usual, and it’s indescribably strange to Jenny, seeing Willow look up at her, sad and innocent, with eyes that aren’t human.
“I thought…” The darkness fades from Willow’s hair, and her eyes begin to whiten at the edges. “It’s my high school photo album,” Willow says, looking down at the burnt binder in her hands. “I thought…I thought if I showed you the pictures, you would remember.” Jenny’s heart sinks. “I just wanted you to remember me,” Willow says, looking back up at Jenny with human eyes again, human eyes that are sparkling with tears.
“Willow…” She shakes her head. “I’m sorry.”
I don’t think I’m ever going to remember.
Jenny doesn’t say that part out loud. Instead, she hesitantly opens her arms in a silent offer. Willow takes it, dropping the binder to the floor and stepping forward into Jenny’s arms. She buries her face in Jenny’s shoulder, and Jenny gently returns the embrace.
It’s the first time she’s initiated physical contact with someone since she came back from the dead—since Willow pulled her back. Some part of Jenny is resistant to the entire idea, afraid of…Jenny doesn’t know, doesn’t remember. Willow has hugged her a dozen times, of course, but this is the first time she’s been the one to reach out, to open her arms, to ask. She doesn’t know how to feel about it.
Jenny is holding Willow, but Willow is holding a memory.
“Willow?” The voice comes from the doorframe after a minute or two of Jenny and Willow standing there, Willow crying quietly into Jenny’s shoulder. Jenny looks back and sees Tara there, standing in the doorway, a worried frown on her face. Willow pulls back a bit from Jenny’s embrace, spying her girlfriend in the doorway.
“Go,” Jenny says, gently slipping her arms off of Willow. “It’s gonna be okay.” Willow nods, swallowing hard and stepping past Jenny, towards Tara.
“Sweetie,” Tara says softly as Willow approaches her. “Are you okay? What happened?” Willow shakes her head. Tara reaches out, catching Willow’s hands and lifting them up, examining them. “You’ve got splinters,” Tara says. “Come on. I’ll find something to take them out.” They leave the room, and Jenny is alone.
She kneels down, picking up the burnt remains of the binder, and flips it open. There’s nothing salvageable from what she can see, nothing but melted plastic and burnt photographs, but she flips through it anyway, turning many pages melted together at once. She finds nothing, and she’s about to drop the ruined album on the floor again when something falls out of the back of it.
It’s a photograph. A whole one, untouched by the ash and destruction around it. It flutters to the ground, and when Jenny leans down it pick it up, she does a double take.
It’s a photograph of her.
Well, not just her. Jenny is in the back. In front of her stands a much younger Xander, an equally younger Willow, and a blonde girl between them, all smiling. Jenny in the photo, the old Jenny, the real Jenny, is smiling, too.
Jenny barely recognizes herself.
“What did you find?” It’s Rupert’s voice, and Jenny turns around again to see him standing in the doorway of the room.
“A photo,” Jenny says, holding it up. Rupert walks into the room, and she hands him the photo. He looks down at it, a sad half-smile touching his face. “That must be Buffy, huh?” Jenny says, pointing at the blonde girl in the photo.
“It is,” Rupert says. “You’ve never seen a photo of her before, I suppose.” Jenny shakes her head. “That’s from sophomore year, I think. She would’ve been sixteen.”
“She’s pretty,” Jenny says softly. “Or—was, I guess. Was beautiful.” It’s true. Jenny doesn’t know how to articulate it, but even within the photo, Buffy looks…alive. Alive and glowing, in a way that Xander and Willow and old-Jenny can’t compare to.
“She was,” Rupert says, handing the photo back to Jenny. “In every imaginable way.” Jenny takes the photo back.
“You must have loved her a lot.” Rupert doesn’t answer immediately. He reaches up, taking off his glasses and cleaning them absently on his shirt.
“I made mistakes,” he says eventually. “So many mistakes, with her. But the biggest may have been never telling her just how firmly I thought of her as my daughter.”
“From what I’ve heard, she was a smart kid,” Jenny says. “I’m sure she knew.” Rupert slips his glasses back on.
“She knew,” he says. “But she should’ve heard it from me.” Jenny doesn’t know what to say to that, so she just lays a hand on Rupert’s shoulder, as sympathetically as she can.
“What was that earlier?” Jenny asks after a moment. “With Willow?”
“What happened?” Rupert says, frowning.
“What do you mean?” Jenny says. “The eyes turning black thing?” Rupert looks at her blankly. “With the veins? And the black hair? And the general creep factor?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Jenny,” Rupert says carefully. “But, if I had to guess, knowing Willow? It sounds like dark magic.”
“Dark magic.” Jenny looks back down at the photo, at the teenage Willow it depicts—a much younger Willow, with longer hair, brighter eyes, a ridiculous sweater. “I’m gonna hazard a guess and say that’s bad.”
“Quite.” Rupert shakes his head. “I’ve failed her, too. I thought it best to stay out of her experiments with magic, to let her learn at her own rate however she wished. I didn’t want to get too…”
“Attached?” Jenny suggests. Rupert gives her a piercing look.
“I was going to say involved,” he says. “But—yes, you’re right. I didn’t want to get too attached.”
“Why not?” Rupert shrugs.
“It isn’t my job,” he says. “A Watcher is meant to help the Slayer, to guide her. Not to try and fail to parent her friends.”
“Your Slayer’s dead, Rupert,” Jenny points out. “Why are you still here if your job is done?” Rupert blinks at her through his glasses, and some part of Jenny, some buried, long-sleeping part roars itself to life, making her heart stutter and her stomach fill with butterflies.
Oh, God, I think he’s cute.
“Where else would I go?” Rupert says, shaking his head. Jenny makes a vague, expansive gesture with her free hand.
“Anywhere,” she says. “Back to England. Travel the world. To Antarctica, I don’t know. There’s a whole wide world out there, you know.” Rupert just looks at her blankly. “But you can’t,” Jenny says, the pieces finally clicking into place. “You can’t leave, because you can’t imagine a world without those children.” Rupert inhales sharply. Then he laughs, and Jenny tries not to be charmed by the way his eyes crinkle up at the corners.
“How is it,” Rupert says, shaking his head, still smiling, “that you’ve been dead for three years and still know me better than I know myself?” Jenny doesn’t have an answer to that, and Rupert doesn’t seem to need one. He simply shakes his head one last time and takes a breath, soothing away his mirth. “I’m going to go check on the children,” he says. “Join me?”
“Uh, no,” Jenny says, glancing back down at the photo in her hand. “I’m gonna stick around for a minute, if that’s okay.”
“Of course,” Rupert says. “Come down to the living room when you’re ready to leave.” With that, he leaves, and Jenny is left alone in the room.
She looks down at the photo once more. Willow’s black eyes and icy voice from earlier are clear in her mind, and so is the way her skin had crawled in that Willow’s presence, the way her body had screamed at her to run. In the photo, though, Willow is about the furthest thing from evil Jenny can imagine.
All of a sudden, she wishes she hadn’t died. It’s the first time the thought has crossed her mind since she was brought back, but she wishes she had never died. Maybe if she hadn’t, if she had been there for Willow over the years, she could’ve made sure that horrible darkness never touched Willow’s eyes. At the very least, if Jenny had been there, she would understand. She would understand how the smiling girl in the photograph became the woman who could reach into heaven and drag someone back down into their grave.
“Hey, Ms. Calendar.” Jenny looks up from the book she’s reading as Xander sits down in the chair at the other end of the table from her. He grins at her, and she smiles back in greeting.
“Hi, Xander.” She closes her book; Xander isn’t the type to sit in silence. “What’s up?” Xander shrugs.
“Not much,” he says. “Willow kicked me out, and I’m out of money for snacks, so—“
“I’m out of cash,” Jenny says, already knowing where this is going. She’s only known Xander for a few months, but it’s patently obvious that he thinks with his stomach. “Also, you can’t eat in here, anyway.” They’re in a library in a small town—a different town than the first, not that Jenny could tell from the look of it. It has the same depressingly empty streets, low-rent motels, and dead-eyed residents as the last one. They have an extra box of research materials that Giles salvaged from the wreckage of Sunnydale, but other than that, their trip home brought them nothing. They’re right back to where they started, just a little to the east.
“Maybe you can’t,” Xander says. “The trick is buying chewy snacks instead of crunchy snacks. Or just crunching very, very slowly.” Jenny smiles fondly, shaking her head.
“What is Willow researching, anyway?” she asks. “She’s been in that computer room for hours.” Xander shrugs.
“She and Tara are trading off every half hour so they don’t miss stuff,” he says. “But when I left, Willow was trying to figure out how to try again to bring Buffy back, and Tara was researching spells to bring your memory back.” Jenny goes very, very still. “And I’m guessing I wasn’t supposed to tell you that second part,” Xander says after a pause.
“You probably weren’t supposed to tell me either,” Jenny says, her voice coming out small. “But no. I—I didn’t know.” Xander sighs, pushing a hand through his hair. It’s getting long, Jenny notices, not that they have the extra money to scrape together for haircuts. Rupert’s savings can only stretch so far.
“Look, Ms. C…” Xander gives her a pleading look. “Wil’s just trying to help.”
“I know.” Xander gives her a deadpan look, and Jenny gives it up. “Fine, I’m upset,” she says. “You’re all so goddamn observant. Can’t a zombie woman have her secrets around here?”
“Why are you upset, anyway?” Xander says, ignoring the second comment. “Don’t you want your memories back? Don’t you want—“ He cuts himself off, but Jenny doesn’t need her memories of him to know where that was going.
“I want to remember you, Xander,” she says gently, and the frown on Xander’s face relaxes a bit. “I just…I don’t know, I…” She pauses, taking a moment to gather her thoughts. “I don’t know who I was, back then,” she says eventually. “I just—it’s hard enough figuring out who I am now, without decades of memories that aren’t mine in the way.”
“Not yours?” Xander shakes his head. “Of course they’re yours.”
“Are they?” Jenny shrugs. “Even if I got them back, I don’t think I’d be the person they belong to anymore.”
“Dying’ll do that to you,” Xander says softly. Jenny nods. “So what are you going to tell Willow?”
“Willow?” Jenny shakes her head. “Nothing. I can’t tell her anything. What am I supposed to say? ‘I know I meant a lot to you, and I know you’re the reason I’m alive, but I don’t want to remember any of it?’” Jenny looks down at the table, tracing aimless patterns in the thin layer of dust with her fingertips. “It’d break her heart,” she says softly. “I just have to hope Willow doesn’t find anything.”
“What?” The voice comes from behind Jenny, and Jenny feels her heart drop out of her chest. She turns around in her chair.
Willow is standing there, a crestfallen look on her face. Tara stands a few steps behind her, biting her lip anxiously.
“Willow…” Jenny stands up, taking a step forward, but Willow takes a matching step back.
“You don’t want to remember?” Willow says, hardly above a whisper. Her voice breaks on the word remember, and Jenny’s heart breaks with it.
“Willow, listen,” Jenny says pleadingly. “Let me explain. I—“
“No.” Willow raises her hands defensively. “No, no, just—don’t you want to remember me? Don’t you—everything that happened back in high school, everything that—it doesn’t mean anything to you?” The tears in Willow’s eyes begin to escape, slipping down her cheeks. “Don’t I mean anything to you?”
“Of course you do, Willow,” Jenny says gently. “I care about you.” Willow shakes her head, whirling around and walking away as fast as her legs will carry her, vanishing into the bookshelves. Jenny takes one step after her, but Tara shakes her head grimly.
“Give her space,” Tara says quietly. “I’ll talk to her.”
“Okay,” Jenny says. “Okay.” Tara turns away, chasing after her girlfriend. Jenny stands, frozen in place, watching the place where Willow had disappeared. Xander steps up beside her and gives her a sympathetic look.
“Jenny,” Jenny interrupts. “Just—please just call me Jenny. I don’t—“
“Jenny,” Xander echoes. He blinks. “Man, that feels weird. Anyway, Jenny, it’s gonna be okay. Willow’s just—she’ll throw a fit, but she’ll get over it. ‘Specially if Tara wants her to.”
“You sure?” Jenny says, looking over at Xander. He hesitates, gazing after the way Willow disappeared for a moment before he speaks.
“Willow still won’t talk about it,” Jenny says, running her fingers along the spines of the books on Rupert’s desk absently. “She just—she’s pretending it never happened. All ‘Ms. Calendar’ this and ‘Ms. Calendar’ that, just like before, only she’s—“ Jenny cuts herself off. She can feel Rupert’s gaze on her from across the room, and she can imagine the face he’s making right now—all inquisitive and thoughtful and caring.
“She’s what?” Rupert asks softly. Jenny looks over at him. He’s sitting on his motel bed, his feet up, his arms crossed, in a sweater that looks immensely comfortable. That part of Jenny that’s been…inconveniently attracted to him since their temporary return to Sunnydale is silent, but it’s there nonetheless, weighing heavily on her brain.
“She’s stopped saying when,” Jenny says. Rupert gives her a blank look, and Jenny realizes how unhelpful that is. “She’s—she used to say when,” she says, not really clarifying much. “When I get my memory back.” Understanding flashes through Rupert’s eyes.
“And now?” he asks.
“And now…” Jenny looks out the tiny motel window, to where the evening rain is soaking the parking lot, turning the concrete of the dingy town a softer grey than it is in the harsh daylight. “She says if.”
“Isn’t that what you wanted?” Rupert says. He stands up off the bed, joining her by the window.
“I don’t know,” Jenny says softly. “I don’t know what I want.” She turns, looking up at Rupert. They’re close together, close enough that Jenny is intensely aware of the scent of Rupert’s aftershave, and the good six inches of height he has on her. “I don’t know anything, Rupert,” she says. “Literally. I don’t know anything.”
“I don’t think that’s true,” Rupert says, looking away from her, out the window. “You still have your sense of right and wrong. You still have your languages.” He smiles slightly. “I think you still have your fashion sense.” Jenny glances down at herself, at her jeans and sweater. It seems meaningless to her. “You’re still incredibly selfless,” Rupert continues, his voice turning serious once more. “Setting your own feelings, your own needs, aside to make this easier on the children. You’re living in a deeply flawed world, having been to heaven, with the knowledge that there is something better for you after this life, and yet you continue to choose, every moment, to live.” He sets a hand on Jenny’s shoulder lightly and smiles at her. “You’re still the bravest person I’ve ever met.” He pauses and considers it for a moment. “With the possible exception of Buffy.” Jenny smiles, and she’s pretty sure if she was less averse to the entire concept of crying, she would be tearing up right about now.
“From what I’ve heard?” she says. “With the definite exception of Buffy.”
Then, on an impulse, she leans up and kisses him.
Rupert, to Jenny’s shock, accepts the gesture and kisses her back, even slipping a hand to the small of her back and holding her closer. It’s too good to be true, though, and after a moment, Rupert pulls away.
“Sorry,” Jenny says immediately, stepping back. “Sorry, I’ll—“
“Jenny.” Rupert half-reaches out to her before pausing and lowering his hand back to his side. “Please, just—stay for a moment. Let me explain.” Jenny hesitates before finally nodding. Rupert lets out a breath of relief and adjusts his glasses. “In the interest of—of full disclosure,” he begins. “Of not founding our relationship on a lie again…this isn’t the first time we’ve done this. We—we were previously involved. Before…”
“Before I died,” Jenny finishes numbly. “So I’m your dead girlfriend, huh? You, uh, you did a pretty good job of—of not showing that.”
“Did I?” Rupert murmurs. Jenny nods. “We weren’t—it was complicated. I was quite in love with you, but I was also far from honest with you, and you…you lied to me a few times, as well.”
“You really know how to make a girl feel good about herself, huh?” Rupert flushes.
“No, I don’t mean—I just—“ Rupert stops, taking a deep, slow breath. “I’m only trying to clear the air,” he says after a moment. “I want—if you’re going to kiss me, I want you to know everything that’s happened in the past. I want you to know who you’re kissing.”
“I do,” Jenny says with a shrug. “Amnesia or no, I know you now. You said so yourself.” Rupert smiles, visibly remembering that moment in the house in Sunnydale.
“I did,” he agrees.
“So can I kiss you again?” Jenny says. “Because that was really nice, and I sorta want to do it again, and if—“ She’s cut off by Rupert stepping forwards and kissing her.
It…heats up a bit, from there, and before Jenny is really fully aware of what’s happening—being wholly fixated on Rupert—they’re lying on Rupert’s bed, making out like teenagers. And Jenny isn’t about to complain, she really, really isn’t, but she also—
Takes her shirt off.
“Oh,” Rupert breathes, eyes widening behind his glasses, which have been knocked askew. Jenny reaches out, slipping his glasses off of his face and setting them aside on the nightstand.
“Okay?” Jenny asks, refusing to give in to the urge to cross her arms over her chest. Rupert nods, blinking rapidly.
“Okay,” he says, but he doesn’t move to touch her or remove his own sweater. He seems to sense her tension, and Jenny is grateful, because she has more to say.
“Before we…” she begins. “When—when you kiss me, are you kissing me, or the old Jenny? The one you were in love with?” Rupert says nothing for a moment, and Jenny begins to worry.
“Why are you so sure that you are two different people?” he asks eventually. “Memories are just things, just objects. You can take all of the furniture out of a house, but at the end of the day, the walls are the same as they always were.” Rupert reaches up, gently cupping Jenny’s cheek. “You’re still you,” he says, smiling softly at her. “Maybe the walls have been repainted, but underneath, the drywall is the same.” Jenny closes her eyes for a moment, leaning into Rupert’s touch.
“I can’t believe I just found being compared to drywall romantic,” she says, and Rupert laughs. It’s bigger, fuller, happier than the laugh Jenny is used to hearing out of him, and it makes her heart swell.
“I am quite the poet,” Rupert agrees, his eyes crinkling in a smile. “But, to answer your question, I see you. Who you are now, and who you used to be within that.” He presses their foreheads together, gazing into her eyes. “I see you, Jenny. Only you.”
Jenny kisses him again, kisses him until she thinks her lungs might collapse to the sound of the rain outside against the window.
The neon numbers on the alarm clock by the bed read 4:35 AM when Jenny wakes up. She’s confused for a half a millisecond, unsure where she is, but she feels…warm. Safe. Then she remembers the night before, and recognizes the weight of Rupert’s arm around her shoulders.
He’s holding her lightly, more lightly than Jenny would’ve expected. She had him pegged for a cuddler, and had, on some level, expected to wake up with him wrapped around her, octopus-like, every limb holding her to him. Instead, Rupert holds her gently, almost hesitantly—as if, even in his sleep, he’s afraid of holding on too tightly, of breaking her.
It works to Jenny’s advantage. She slips out of his arms without him even stirring, standing up and finding her underwear on the floor in the dim, pre-dawn light filtering in the window. She steals his button-up from the day before, slipping it over her shoulders and buttoning it loosely.
Jenny goes to the bathroom, dealing with what woke her up in the first place, then returns to the main area of the motel room. She doesn’t want to go back to bed; she’s not tired at all anymore. She’s adapted to subsisting on three or four hours of uneasy sleep since she came back to life; she can’t get any more with her persistent nightmares.
Tonight, though, Jenny has slept well. They went to sleep sometime between ten and eleven the night before, and Jenny had slept deeply, uninterrupted by visions of the dark inside of the coffin she had woken up in, or the phantom sensation of splinters and dirt under her fingernails. For literally the first time she can remember, Jenny feels rested.
She watches Rupert sleep for a moment. He’s peaceful, unnaturally so. He’s perfectly still in his sleep, no stirring, no snoring, hardly any noise at all. He sleeps the way he held her—like he’s holding his breath.
Jenny wanders over to the desk, switching the soft lamp beside it on. She glances over the books that are resting on it—all old, original volumes; things Rupert had salvaged from Sunnydale. She sorts through them. Bestiary, bestiary, spell book, bestiary, prophecies, spell book…does he do anything but work? Then, at the bottom of the stack, Jenny finds it.
It’s a simple, high-quality leather-bound volume, and, on the front, in gold stitching, it reads Diary of Rupert Giles, Watcher, 1997-1998. Jenny hesitates for a moment, tracing the lettering with her fingertips. It would be an invasion of privacy to read it, a violation of Rupert’s trust in her. But if she’s doing the math right, this diary would cover their past relationship in its entirety, and Rupert had said he wanted her to know everything. A page in the diary is bookmarked, and Jenny slips her fingers between the pages, pulling it open to the marked page. Just this one, she decides. I’ll just read this one.
Jenny still won’t speak to me. I can hardly blame her, really; I put her in danger. I nearly got her killed. I try not to show it to her. I don’t want her to feel guilty, but it’s so hard to see her every day. I haven’t seen her smile in weeks. I miss her smile. She’s so beautiful when she smiles. She’s beautiful all the time, but especially when she smiles.
It’s my fault. I shouldn’t have lied to her. No, I shouldn’t have gotten involved in the first place. It was selfish of me to burden her with myself. She deserves better than me. She’s perfect, and she was happy. I’ve ruined that.
Buffy’s training is going well. Last night, we…
Jenny puts the diary down, a sick feeling forming in her stomach.
Suddenly, the room is too warm for Jenny. She can’t quite get a full breath. She stands up from the desk, leaving the diary open where it is. She finds her jeans on the floor and hastily forces them on. She makes a beeline for the door as soon as they’re buttoned, barely even remembering to leave it propped open so she can get back inside.
Once she’s outside, barefoot on the cold sidewalk outside the motel, Jenny takes a breath. The night air is cold, soothing in her lungs. She reaches into the pocket of her jeans, pulling out a crumpled dollar bill, and makes her way to the vending machines at the end of the building. She feeds the dollar bill into the soda machine and presses a drink at random. The machine clunks and whirs, and a can falls into the bottom.
“I’m not perfect,” Jenny tells the softly glowing display in front of her, not moving to collect her soda. “I can’t be perfect. Not for anyone. Not even for him.” The vending machine doesn’t respond, which Jenny decides to take as reassurance that she isn’t as crazy as talking to a vending machine would make her seem. Jenny leans down to grab her soda—which she doesn’t even want, really—when her head splits in two.
Jenny lets out a groan of pain, falling sideways, shoulder-first, into the vending machine and sinking to the ground. Her hands fly up, grasping at her skull, expecting blood, or a—a hole, or something. Instead, she finds nothing out of the ordinary, even as her hands scrape across her scalp, searching desperately for the source of the pain.
Jenny is running. Running so hard her legs are numb, her ankles trembling beneath her. She’s never been this scared in her life, and all she can think is she doesn’t want to die like this, doesn’t want to die at all, but especially not like this—running and running and tasting bile in her mouth.
Jenny hits the stairs with a stumble in her gait. She overcomes it, making it up the stairs two at a time. She can hear his footsteps behind her, hear his laughter echoing in the halls. She glances over her shoulder, and it’s a mistake. He’s a shadow, a shadow with teeth and slitted eyes, and suddenly she knows that she is going to die.
Still, Jenny runs. She turns the corner at the top of the stairs, nearly falling. She gets her feet back under her and takes off down the hall, and—
—and Jenny is lying on the sidewalk now, clutching her head. Someone is groaning, begging, over and over, for the pain to stop. Vaguely, she’s aware of the way one of her legs is spasming, her heel slamming into the base of the vending machine over and over again.
He catches up with her by the window. Suddenly she’s suspended in the air, her toes lifting off the ground, his hands around her throat. He’s grinning, not even triumphantly—just smugly. She doesn’t think she’s ever hated anyone more in her life. This—this monster, the one without a soul, he broke Buffy’s heart. He hurt Jenny’s people, so many years ago. He’s—
—he’s tightening his grip, and Jenny is choking. He opens his mouth to speak, and—
“Are you okay?” Jenny hears the voice like it’s an echo in canyon, distorted and tinny. “Jenny?” Jenny recognizes the voice—she swears she recognizes the voice—but she can’t answer, opening her mouth and only managing to let out an agonized, dry sob.
“Jenny,” the voice says again, and this time it’s accompanied by touch, someone’s hands on her shoulders, holding her still against the pavement. “Jenny, can you hear me? What’s happening?” The hands are gentle, kind, but they do nothing to combat the waves of pain and adrenaline that are rapidly firing through her body. She blinks her eyes open, trying to find the source of the voice, and sees—
That sick fucking grin on Angelus’ face doesn’t fade. It fills every part of Jenny that isn’t busy being terrified with revulsion. All the bedtime stories as a child, all the hatred and anger and vengeance that her family had tried to instill in her, everything that Jenny had never been able to feel towards the man Angel was with a soul—she feels it for this monster.
She feels it when he snaps her neck, feels the exact moment, the exact spot, that her vertebrae split and her life ends.
“Jenny,” the voice is saying. She’s being held by someone, she realizes, cradled against someone’s chest. “Jenny.” Jenny forces her eyes open, blinking in the dim light of the motel sidewalk, and sees Rupert gazing down at her through his glasses. “Jenny,” he breathes out as her eyes open. “What happened?”
“I…” Jenny coughs, her body convulsing violently. Her throat is raw, and her mouth tastes like iron. She bit her lip, she realizes, and it’s still flooding her mouth with blood.
“It’s okay,” Rupert murmurs. He lifts one hand, gently pushing a strand of sweat-soaked hair out of her face. “It’s okay. Let’s go back to the room so you can lie down.” Jenny nods, then immediately regrets the motion as her neck throbs in protest. Rupert slips one arm around her shoulders and the other under her knees, and he’s about to lift her up when a voice speaks from behind them.
“Ms. Calendar?” Jenny turns her head, looking past Rupert’s arm, and she’s not in the least bit surprised to see Willow standing there, shifting her weight back and forth anxiously.
“Willow,” Rupert says. “Go back to bed.”
“Ms. Calendar, are you alright?” Willow asks, ignoring Rupert, and there’s something in her voice, some half-knowing, half-wistful tone, and suddenly—
—suddenly Jenny understands.
“Go to your room, Willow,” Rupert says.
“No.” Jenny pushes herself up into a sitting position, ignoring the way every muscle in her body aches from seizing. Rupert, though visibly confused, helps her sit up, keeping an arm around her shoulders to hold her up. “No, Willow. Stay here.” Willow takes a hesitant step forward, frowning uncertainly at Jenny.
“Are you okay?” Willow repeats. Jenny stares at her for a long moment, an empty feeling settling in her chest.
“You wanted me to remember,” Jenny finally says, and the way Willow’s eyes light up tells Jenny everything she needs to know, confirms everything she’s afraid of.
“Do you?” Willow asks, desperation in her voice. “Do you remember?” Jenny slowly shakes her head, feeling the way her bones move with the motion, remembering the feeling of her neck breaking in two.
“I remember dying,” she says quietly. “That’s all.” Willow’s face falls, then sets into a determined look.
“But you remember something,” she says. “If I keep trying, I can—“
“Willow, no,” Jenny says. Her voice feels like sandpaper in her throat, and it echoes, harsh and grating, in her ears. “You can’t—I don’t—the person you remember is dead. Alright? Jenny Calendar had her neck snapped three years ago, and thanks to you, I remember exactly what that felt like.” Willow flinches, but the growing, empty chasm in Jenny’s chest doesn’t move, doesn’t respond to the pain and guilt on Willow’s face. “She’s dead,” Jenny repeats. “I’m not her, Willow. I’m not…” Her voice dies.
“Go back to your room, Willow,” Rupert says, his voice cold. Willow hesitates, glancing back and forth between them. Jenny looks away, leaning her head into Rupert’s chest, too tired to look up at Willow. Finally, she hears Willow’s footsteps moving away, back along the motel sidewalk to her room.
Rupert carries her back to the motel room. He somehow gets the door open without setting her down and kicks it closed behind himself, not letting go of Jenny until he sets her on the bed.
“Can I get you something?” Rupert asks, his voice nearly a whisper. Jenny appreciates the quiet tone; her head is still pounding, though it no longer feels like someone’s ripped it open and stuffed an anvil inside. “Water? Tea? I think I have some tylenol—“
“Just—“ Jenny says, pressing her head into the pillow and closing her eyes. “Just, hold me? I don’t—I want to—I need to rest.”
“Okay,” Rupert says immediately. “Rest.” Jenny listens as he walks around to the other side of the bed and climbs in next to her, pulling the blankets over them both. She curls into him, pressing her face into his shoulder. He wraps his arms around her gently, holding her in that same hesitant way as he had earlier.
“Tighter,” Jenny whispers as the tears she’s been fighting start to pour down her face. “Tighter, please.” Rupert obeys. His arms tighten around her, pressing her closer to his body, and Jenny cries, her held-back sobs muffled by his shoulder.
Day 77 “Are we ever going to talk about it?” Jenny asks. They—she and Rupert—are in a diner, a few miles up the road from the motel. They both need space from the children right now. Willow hasn’t left her room since the night before last, when the spell she cast to restore Jenny’s memory went so terribly wrong.
(Some part of Jenny is worried, but mostly she’s just glad. She’s not sure she could look Willow in the eye right now, not without making everything worse.)
“I read your diary,” Jenny continues. “Are we just not going to deal with that?” Rupert sighs, swirling his tea absently. He’s been giving it vague looks of disgust since he got it, accompanied several times by pointed comments about Americans and their inability to properly make tea. Jenny is trying and failing not to find his obsessiveness cute.
“I was rather hoping we wouldn’t have to,” Rupert says, looking up from his tea to meet her gaze. “I—I saw which pages you read.”
“We need to talk about it,” Jenny insists. “You—you called me perfect, Rupert. We need to talk about that.” He starts to look down at his tea again, so Jenny reaches out and steals it, pulling it to her side of the table. “I’m not perfect,” she says as he gives her an exasperated look and makes a half-hearted grab for his tea. “I’m—I’m so fucking far from perfect. And if you don’t see that, we have a problem.” Rupert adjusts his glasses, thinking for a moment before he speaks.
“You have to understand,” he says. “The man who wrote those things—I’m not him, anymore. I was—naïve, back then. Exceedingly so.” He pauses, running a hand through his hair and exhaling slowly. “I will admit,” he says. “When I thought of you over the years—I didn’t very often, really. When I thought about you, I would miss you, and I had neither the time nor the headspace to spend days in memories.” Jenny half-smiles sadly, reaching out setting her hand over one of his on the table between them. He flips his hand over, tangling their fingers together. “When I thought of you, though,” he continues. “I did tend to think of you as—as flawless. I was deluded and naïve when we were together, and after you were dead, I had no wish to remember our bad times. So I did think of you as perfect, for a long time.”
“But not anymore.” Rupert shakes his head. “Me coming back really reminded you of all my flaws, huh?”
“You say that like it’s a bad thing,” Rupert says. “I see you as a whole person now, Jenny, rather than the perfect caricature I had reduced you to.” Jenny drops her head, looking down at the table rather than at him.
“God,” she says, shaking her head. “Why are you so—just, ugh. Cheesy and romantic?”
“I have been forced to watch many a ridiculous romantic comedy with Dawn,” Rupert says thoughtfully. “That could be to blame.”
“You—“ Jenny shakes her head, words failing her, and lifts Rupert’s hand to her lips, pressing a kiss to the back of it. “Stop knowing exactly what I need to hear and saying it, damn it.” Rupert’s playful smile fades.
“I do have something to say that you won’t want to hear,” he says, and Jenny’s chest instantly tightens with anxiety. She nods permission for him to say it. “You need to talk to Willow.” Jenny looks away, her grip tightening on Rupert’s hand.
“I know,” she says quietly. “I just—what do I even say?” Rupert shakes his head helplessly.
“Whatever’s going on in her head right now,” he says, “it can’t be good. She needs you.”
“I know, okay?” Jenny snaps. “I know. I know I have to say something. I know I have to deal with—with what I remember now and what she did but I just—“ She bites her lip as a thin film of tears begins to form over her eyes, blurring her vision. “I don’t know how.”
“Can I sit?” Willow looks up at the question, and her eyes go wide when she sees Jenny standing there behind the bench. They’re in the only park in the entire town, and Willow is on a bench under a gazebo, hiding from the slow, dripping rain.
“Ms. Calendar,” Willow says. “I—“
“Willow,” Jenny interrupts. “Can I sit?” Willow hesitates, then nods. Jenny steps around the bench, sitting down next to her.
“Can I ask you to do something for me?” Jenny interrupts again. Willow’s frown deepens, but she nods. “Call me Jenny,” Jenny says. “Just Jenny.”
“I—“ Willow stares down at her feet, her shoulders slumping, as though she’s trying to take up as little space as possible. “I don’t know if I can do that.”
“Try?” Jenny says. Willow nods, but she doesn’t look up at Jenny. They sit in silence for awhile, the air tense between them. Jenny watches the rain hitting the sidewalk, where it’s beginning to form a puddle in a crack.
“I’m sorry,” Willow says abruptly after a few minutes. “I didn’t mean for you to—I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
“I know you didn’t,” Jenny says. “But it still hurts.” Willow flinches, and Jenny wants nothing more than to apologize, to take Willow in her arms and tell her that it’s all okay, that it’s going to be fine. She doesn’t move, doesn’t touch Willow beside her. It isn’t the time.
“I just wanted you to remember,” Willow says, so quietly it’s nearly drowned out by the sound of the rain on the roof of the gazebo. “I just wanted—I wanted Ms. Calendar back.”
“Rupert says I’m not that different,” Jenny says, setting her elbows on her knees and propping her chin up on her hands.
“You aren’t,” Willow agrees. “That’s why it’s so hard. You look like her, and talk like her, and you are her, but you don’t remember me.”
“Do I need to?” Jenny looks over at Willow, but Willow is staring off into the rain.
“I want you to,” Willow says. “I want you to remember.” She finally turns, meeting Jenny’s gaze, and the look in her eyes is so raw, so pained, that Jenny almost feels like she shouldn’t be looking. “I want you to care. Not because you feel like you’re supposed to, or because I told you you used to, but because you love me.”
“I do,” Jenny says, shocked. “God, Willow, do you think I don’t care about you? Do you think I just—I just feel obligated or something?” Willow says nothing, but the quiet fear in her eyes tells Jenny everything. “Willow.” Jenny reaches out, holding Willow’s face in her hands. “Willow, I love you, and I am proud of you. You hear me? I’m so goddamn proud of you.”
“Even though I hurt you?” Willow’s crying now, tears tracing the heels of Jenny’s hands. “Even though I couldn’t bring Buffy back?”
“No matter what,” Jenny says. She kisses Willow’s forehead, wiping her tears away with her fingertips. “I’m proud of you.” She pulls Willow into a hug, and slowly, Willow returns it, wrapping her arms around Jenny.
They sit like that for awhile, holding each other until Willow’s shoulders stop shaking, until her breathing evens out.
“It’s going to be weird,” Willow says quietly, not moving from her spot in the crook of Jenny’s neck. “Calling you Jenny. It’s going to be weird.” Jenny half-laughs, and suddenly finds that there are tears in her own voice.
“Yeah,” she agrees. “It is.” Willow pulls back slightly, and Jenny lets her go.
“I’m gonna do it, though,” Willow says determinedly. “Okay? I’m gonna do it.” Jenny smiles at her, brushing a stray strand of hair out of Willow’s face.
“I know,” she says. “I know. We’re gonna figure it out.” Willow nods. She glances out from the gazebo, across the park, and suddenly smiles, smiles in a way that reminds Jenny of that photo from Sunnydale, of the way Willow had looked in it, as a teenager: unadulteratedly happy.
“Hey,” Willow says. “The sun’s coming out.” Jenny looks out, and sure enough, sunlight is pouring across the ground, drying out the concrete, reflecting off the puddle Jenny had noticed before.
“C’mon,” Jenny says, standing up off the park bench. “Before it starts raining again. Let’s go home.” She offers Willow a hand, and Willow takes it, pulling herself up.
Together, they walk out from under the gazebo, into the sunlight.