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saw her in the streetlight, making all the world bright

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Jenny found out about Wretched mostly by accident. It was one of those things that kept popping up, annoyingly, on YouTube, because apparently the site’s defunct algorithms thought she’d really, really like some poorly-filmed recording of a B-list band touring California, and after the fifteenth time it popped up she decided to click on it just so she’d know.

She’d been expecting the standard I’m-So-Edgy-Even-Though-I-Wear-Designer-Labels crap, and was already gearing up to hate it entirely—glowering at each member of the band in turn as the camera panned from person to person—when the song started, sharp and bitter. It wasn’t good, not at all—the melody was clunky, the lyrics clumsy—but…

he said it was my fault he left, because i wasn’t good enough

well, don’t you know he’s all i had to hold onto when things get rough

But the guy—the lead singer, the guitarist—was very clearly singing about an ex-boyfriend with blazing anger. The only thing that made the song clumsy was the fact that the guy’s fury was bubbling over and into it, all but obfuscating the fact that he was performing. This didn’t feel like it was something meant for other people to watch—it felt like it was something that the guy wanted to scream about, and so he’d decided to set it to music.

Something about that made Jenny smile. She kept watching.

The other songs weren’t quite as charged as that one, but all of them left that bitter, half-frightened taste in Jenny’s mouth—she felt like that guy, whoever he was, probably wasn’t doing so great. None of his songs had been about love, or loss—all of them had been about things that had crashed and burned.

funny funny thing, how strange can it be

you’re calling for the demons when there’s demons in me

“Jesus,” Jenny whispered, and smiled a little. Some part of her was still hurting, viscerally, from the way it had felt to face down her disinterested, uncaring family—how it had felt to hear her uncle say you are a useless girl, and useless girls get the useless tasks. She knew that feeling—like there was something wrong with you. Like there had to be.

Wretched, Jenny read in the video description, and her heart leapt: she’d seen a flyer advertising that exact band at the Bronze in a week’s time. In a desperate bid to find some kind of distraction, she'd kind of been throwing herself into every Sunnydale High extracurricular that would have her, but none of them had given her the rush of excited intrigue that this band did. Obviously, she decided, she would have to go—and so she started making plans.


Jenny went with Fred Burkle—not really as a date-like thing, though she’d initially considered the possibility. Fred had partnered with her in their honors chemistry class, and they’d had a lot of fun talks about Sunnydale nightlife, so it had seemed like a fun idea to have some company for once.

“You come here often?” Jenny asked Fred.

Fred blushed. “Oh—no, not—not usually.” She smiled, shyly. “I kinda wanted to seize the opportunity, y’know? Charles doesn’t get back from his family vacation till Saturday, and he’s the one I go out with most of the time, so when he’s not here I end up just staying home alone—”


“Boyfriend,” said Fred, blushing further still.

“I gotcha,” said Jenny, grinning easily. “Want a drink?”

“Maybe a Sprite?” said Fred shyly.

Jenny obliged, weaving through the crowd until she’d made her way to the bar. She bought Fred a Sprite, attempted to con her way into a beer for herself, sulkily accepted the Coke, and was about to find her way back to Fred when a familiar chord rang out through the Bronze.

There were cheers. Oh my god, other people liked this band? Jenny refused to be a groupie.

“All right!” shouted a voice, and the lead guitarist from the video was striding purposefully out to the front of the stage. “We’ve got a decent fuckin’ turnout here, haven’t we?”

And it was strange—he was grinning, but his smile looked spacey and fake. Not quite okay. Jenny set down the drinks, forgetting all about Fred, and squeezed through the crowd into the middle of the dance floor to get a better look at him.

The video had been grainy, as had all the other videos Jenny had tracked down in the week she’d been waiting for this concert. The video had been grainy, and Jenny hadn’t realized that the lead guitarist had shaggy, soft-looking hair the color of milk chocolate, or wide, bright green eyes, or a smile like that

The lead guitarist launched into a song that Jenny remembered from the video, one that didn’t use pronouns but was still so clearly about the same terrible ex-boyfriend. This one was less I hate him for leaving me and more I loved him way more than he loved me because he was a selfish dickbag, but the sentiment still got across: this guy was really pissed off about a whole lot of things.

Jenny wanted to move to the beat, because the loud music was thrumming in her bones in that way that meant dancing was pretty much a necessity, but she couldn’t quite stop watching him. It was weird, and kind of cool, and she was thinking—maybe I should talk to him after the show. Just so he knew he was striking a chord with someone, because everyone around her just seemed happy enough to dance without listening to the lyrics.

She wanted to, but—

Fred tugged on her sleeve. “I think you forgot the drinks,” she said, a gentle giggle in her voice.

“Oh!” said Jenny, embarrassed, and turned—missing the moment when the guitarist finally noticed the one person not dancing.

Ripper wasn’t thinking, really. Drugs were off the table, magic even more so. The only thing that gave him something close to that high was music, and it was only if he lost himself in playing and shouting and being angry as all hell, so it was incredibly important that he not think at all while he played. But he came down, sharply, when he saw a flash of dark hair, and noticed the tiny girl being tugged back towards the bar by her friend.

She wasn’t dancing. That was what got Ripper’s attention. Even her friend, focused on the bar, was half-shimmying as she wove her way through the crowd. But this girl walked steadily, like there was no music at all—and somehow that made Ripper feel something. He wasn’t sure what it was, but it cut through the haze of anger, and he didn’t like that.

She had to be dancing. They all had to be dancing. It was a fucking concert—

Cutting himself off mid-song, Ripper turned and motioned for the band to stop. They looked pretty pissed, but they did; they were used to him pulling shit like this. “RIGHT!” he yelled into the mic, loud enough for the girl to turn around—and fuck, she was beautiful. Of course she was beautiful. He couldn’t make her out from the stage all that well, but he knew in his bones that she was beautiful. “This isn’t the usual, but you’re not the usual crowd, so how’d you like a new song that no one’s heard before?”

“Jesus, Ripper!” said Elaine waspishly, glaring at him as surreptitiously as she could onstage. “Coming up with these set changes off the top of your head? What the fuck are we supposed to do, then?”

“Follow my lead,” Ripper hissed.

It was going to be an absolutely shit song. He recognized that. But the point wasn’t about it being a good song, the point was getting that girl to dance, because if she wasn’t dancing, then what the fuck was Ripper doing up here? He hesitated, mind blank—then went with his instincts.

you’re the worst thing i’ve seen all night

darling you’ve got me feeling like i might be all right

It had been about Ethan. It had been about Ethan, and Ripper had been fucked up on a drugs-magic cocktail when he’d written it, and the words had spilled out of him and into a song while he was watching Ethan get high off something they’d picked up at the apothecary down the street, because—it had been fucked up, but in that moment, Ripper had felt okay for the first time in his fucking life. He’d been doing what he wanted, he’d been doing who he wanted, and he didn’t ever have to be a straight-laced boy in a stupid fucking Watchers’ Academy uniform. He got to choose where he went. He’d never get sent to his death again, he’d never have to watch his friends die in front of him—he’d die himself, and first, and he’d get to choose how it happened.

And it was a slow song, because—if she wasn’t going to dance to fast and angry, maybe she’d dance to slow and wistful. Girls liked that kind of thing, Ripper thought. Probably.

But she didn’t dance. She just stopped, drink in hand, leaning against the bar, and watched him, a small, shy hello smile lighting up her face. A blush was rising in her cheeks, and Ripper realized with a shock that she did like his music. Too much to dance to it.

He smiled back, and quite by accident, it was a real smile. Horrified, he dropped his eyes from hers, but he felt his cheeks heating up as he continued to play. If he looked up, he knew she would still be watching him, and he wasn’t all the way sure if he was ready for that.

Jenny stayed after the show, and ran into the cute bassist on her way up to the stage. “Hey,” she said, blushing; cute girls always threw her off a little. “Is, um, is—I mean—your guitarist, your, your singer, can I—”

“Ripper?” said the bassist, scoffing. “Listen, I love him, but he’s a fucking mess. You can do better.”

Jenny felt a little affronted on Ripper’s behalf. And on hers, for that matter. “I just wanted to tell him—” she began.

The bassist looked genuinely sympathetic. “All the girls do, usually,” she says. “And he’s a total asshole to all of them. Listen, if you want your illusion shattered, go ahead, but he doesn’t like it when people compliment his music. He gets all weird about it.”

“So I’ll compliment his good looks,” said Jenny stubbornly.

“Don’t say I didn’t warn you,” said the bassist, stepping aside.

On the stage Ripper was tuning his guitar with that same sharp, angry urgency as his playing. Jenny hesitated, tried to imagine holding a civil conversation with such a bitter, furious guy, and found herself realizing that the bassist was probably right. Everything he sang was blazingly angry; she couldn’t imagine him being anything else in person, and she didn’t feel ready to take on that anger at its full force.

She watched him for another few seconds—his hair falling into his face, his eyelashes fluttering as he glowered at the guitar—and then she turned and left. It sucked, but it was probably the right decision.

Ripper had been half-expecting the girl to come up after the show, and found himself strangely hurt when she didn’t. He’d liked her—couldn’t she tell? He didn’t fuck up an entire show for just anyone. Even if she had wanted to talk to him, he knew one of his mates had probably talked her out of it, and he knew they had reason to. He didn’t fucking like it when girls came over to swoon and simper, and he was extremely vocal about that—but not even being worth this girl’s notice felt strange and terrible. He’d liked her.

Everyone I start to like doesn’t want to stay, he wrote in his songbook on the second night. Everyone I fucking hate, they can’t stay away.

Sounded like a good beginning, he thought. Ethan kept fucking texting him from different numbers no matter how many of them Ripper blocked, and the only person who had made him feel something that wasn’t a strong desire to go on a bender was some random girl who liked his music enough to want to listen to it.

“I am the most fucking pathetic person to exist,” he said, falling back onto the couch.

“It’s pretty pathetic to say that, so you do get a few points there,” said Dave from next to him.

Ripper flipped him off. “How long till we’re on?”

“Only a few.”

“Think your girl will be here again tonight?” asked Elaine, grinning a little.

“Fuck off,” said Ripper. “Don’t think I don’t know it was you who told her not to talk to me.”

Elaine scoffed. “Like you wouldn’t have done the same if I let her near you! She was proper hot, Ripper, and I am not breaking a hot girl’s heart.” She grinned, that sideways smile she got whenever she was considering a new romantic option. “Maybe she’ll be here again tonight and I can not break her heart for real.”

“Don’t fucking—” Ripper began, infuriated.

“Shit, Ripper, you like her?” said Peter incredulously.

“Stop fucking talking to me,” said Ripper, and went back to writing.

Maybe what I need is to be alone.

That didn’t rhyme with anything he had on paper so far, but the whole not-rhyming thing could be an artistic statement. Those three lines as the chorus? Ripper liked that. They were the kind of lyrics you could yell to rile an audience up.

“We’re on!” said Elaine suddenly, jumping up. Putting down his notebook, Ripper followed, determined to put all thoughts of the girl firmly out of his mind.

The Bronze was just as packed as the night before. Ripper caught a flash of blonde hair, a glimmer of red—but nothing as memorable as that long, dark hair, and no one standing as still or expectant as that girl had been. He launched into the first song without preamble, waiting for her to reveal herself as the rest of the crowd danced, but everyone was dancing, no mystery girl in sight—

Screams drowned out the music, and the crowd scattered from the middle: a vampire was crushing a high schooler to its chest, sinking its fangs into the poor kid’s neck. Ripper stared, incredulous, and acted on instinct: jumping down from the stage, he drove his guitar through the vampire’s chest, knocking the kid to the ground in the process.

There was a furious shriek, and Ripper was rushed by three vampires. Their leader, a blonde in a frankly disturbing schoolgirl outfit, shouted, “YOU’VE DESTROYED THE HARVEST!”

“Oh, so that’s what that was!” said a voice suddenly, and one of the vampires was very abruptly gone. The other two swiveled: as the cloud of dust fell, a tiny blonde girl was revealed, standing strong and confident with a neatly whittled stake in hand. “I’m Buffy,” she chirped. “And it looks like you two are gonna be history if you don’t hurry up and leave this place alone.”

“Counter-offer, sweetie,” said the lead vampire. “You leave. I’ll give you that kill, and I’ll let you go out of respect—”

Buffy staked the other minion. “You’re missing a key bit of info,” she said helpfully. “I’m theVampire Slayer.

Ripper’s jaw dropped. “Here?” he said before he could stop himself.

Buffy frowned. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I—nothing, just—my dad said the official Watchers’ Council transcript had you called in LA,” said Ripper, bemused. “Why the fuck would you downgrade from LA to an active Hellmouth?”

“An active who now?” said Buffy. Then, “Watchers’ Council?”

The vampire’s eyes flitted between Buffy and Ripper, looking greatly amused. “Oh, this is incredible,” she said. “This is like Christmas. A poorly-trained Slayer and a gangly teenage Watcher? Killing you two is going to make my day.”

“Do you wanna, or should I?” said Buffy.

“We can tag-team,” said Ripper, and broke his guitar over the vampire’s head. The vampire shrieked, staggering, and Ripper added, “I’ll give you that insult, and I’ll let you go out of respect. How’s that?”

Still looking a little dazed, the vampire seemed to weigh her options. Eyes flickering from Ripper to Buffy and back again, she snarled, glared, and swept out of the Bronze.

“Seems appropriate,” said Ripper.

Buffy, the apparent Vampire Slayer, was watching him with interested eyes. “Aren’t Watchers all old and terrible?” she said.

“I’m not your fucking Watcher,” said Ripper. “And could you keep vampires from ruining my shows, next time? Thanks so much.”

Buffy stared. “Seriously?” she said indignantly. “It wasn’t my fault—”

“You’re a vampire magnet, aren’t you?” said Ripper flatly. Without waiting for an answer (and pointedly ignoring her affronted little foot-stomp), he swung himself back up onto the stage, then strode away. He wasn’t quite sure where he was going, only sure that it needed to be away, because the sharp cravings in his chest needed some kind of distraction.

He hurried past his band, out of the Bronze, down the road, repeating lyrics and phrases to himself in his head, filling his mind with anything that wasn’t a need for something to take him out of himself. The music helped—it wasn’t as good as the alternatives, but it helped—and despite his best efforts, not being able to play a show meant that the desire for something else was like a physical compulsion. He didn’t know of any suppliers—magical or otherwise—but hitting up the local magic shop might—

Almost down the block from the Bronze, Ripper collided with the girl.

Both of them just stared at each other for a solid ten seconds, Ripper’s mind shockingly blank for the first time since Eyghon. All he could do was stare, astonished, because close-up to the girl, it was now clear that she was fucking phenomenal. Her dark hair had a bluish tint in the streetlights, her large, long-lashed eyes were a deep, rich chocolate, and her half-open mouth was a vibrant, lipsticked red-orange. Ripper couldn’t breathe, she was so pretty.

They probably would have stared at each other for a very long time if the brunette from the night before hadn’t rounded the corner. “Jenny!” she called. “Sorry I kept you waiting, Charles wanted to FaceTime and we haven’t found time in ages—

The girl—Jenny—colored, hurrying over to her friend, and Ripper realized that about fifteen seconds ago, he’d been considering throwing sobriety out the window. It felt like someone else’s desire, now; whatever it was he’d wanted so badly had been sated by Jenny’s dark, beautiful eyes.

And she won’t be needing savin’

That brown-eyed—

Ripper stopped, and glowered at the paper. He refused to change the prior line for the sake of the rhyme scheme, but he couldn’t think of a word that worked with the song and matched Jenny’s gorgeous eyes. (Not that anyone had to know that some pretty girl outside the Bronze had inspired his first real song since Eyghon. He could always just pretend he was being extra creative now that he was clean.)

“Brown-eyed what?” said Elaine, peering over his shoulder.

“Jesus fucking fuck what have I told you about creeping up on me,” snapped Ripper, tossing the songbook away in a bid to get it out of Elaine’s line of sight. This, however, had the unfortunate consequence of launching it directly at Dave, who took it and immediately began to read. “Oi—

“Who’s Jenny?” said Dave with interest.

“Jenny?” Elaine echoed, a delighted laugh in her voice. “You find out your mystery girl’s name now, Ripper?”

“Here, he’s crossed out a few lines—” Dave began to read. “Jenny with the dark eyes doesn’t dance for most guys—”

“Oooh, you want her to dance for you?” teased Elaine.

“Fuck off,” said Ripper sharply. “If she’s pretty enough to get me writing songs, I’d say that’s better than shows where I have to yell about Ethan onstage, all right? Just—” He let out a shaky, stuttering breath, and was humiliated to realize that his eyes stung with tears.

“Oh,” said Elaine, immediately softening. “Shit, Ripper, we’re sorry! You just—you usually don’t write songs about groupies, we kind of thought you were just trying to be an arsehole about her not dancing—”

“Yeah, mate, if you like her—” added Dave, looking just as abashed.

“I don’t like her!” scoffed Ripper, indignant. “She’s just pretty, and—and I don’t want you fucking trashing my songs before they’re even written!”

Elaine and Dave exchanged a Look, but Elaine said, “All right, then we’ll drop it,” and crossed the room to take Ripper’s songbook from Dave. She pressed it back into Ripper’s hands. “We’ll be nicer about your songs from now on,” she said, but the way she said songsmade it clear she meant Jenny.

Ripper glared, refusing to admit to relief. He opened the songbook, considering: maybe naming her outright might be a mistake.

stranger with the dark eyes doesn’t dance for most guys

Jenny stopped. She put down her pen, squinting across the Bronze, heart pounding for a reason she couldn’t quite understand.

“Are you all right?” said Fred from next to her. “Are you having trouble with one of the problems—?”

saw her in the streetlight, making all the world bright

This wasn’t a song about a trashy ex-boyfriend, or about a world falling apart. This was a song about a girl.

long dark hair like a night-sky curtain, too good for me now that’s for certain

But it wasn’t—but it couldn’t be about Jenny. It couldn’t possibly be about Jenny. He’d met her once, and he was already singing fucking songs about her? How the hell could he possibly—

“Asshole!” said Jenny aloud, humiliated and infuriated. She’d thought—she’d thought he was for real, with his sob stories about his boyfriend and his demons and his visceral, primal hurt—but he was singing about her, some random girl he’d seen all of once, like she was someone that mattered to him. He had taken one strange, wonderful moment and pretended it was more than what it was, just so he could churn out another song from it.

“Is everything okay?” Fred asked, a touch of worried uncertainty to her voice.

Jenny got up and stormed through the crowd, knocking people aside in her bid to get to the front of the stage. She was no longer listening to the song; everything had faded but her burning, righteous anger, and she pulled herself up onto the stage to face Ripper. Shocked, he stopped playing, and so did the rest of the band.

“Get down here and talk to me right now, you dick,” she said.

For a very brief moment, she saw a nervous hurt in Ripper’s eyes—and then it was gone. “Say it to the stage, then,” he said, grinning sharply at her. “This is a performance, isn’t it? Can’t just bail out on my band in the middle of one.”

Jenny grabbed him by the collar and dragged him offstage, ignoring his attempts to twist himself away, the protestations of the band, and the bemused shouting of the crowd. As soon as she’d pulled him into a more secluded area, she gripped his leather jacket and flipped him around, pushing him against the wall. She didn’t know what she was doing—only that she was angry, and hurt, and lonely, and she had thought he could be the one fucking thing that made sense.

“How dare you sing about me,” she said. “How dare you. You don’t know me. I never asked for a song. You took what you saw about me and turned me into your fucking manic pixie dream girl and that is disgusting and I hate you and you’re the worst person in the history of people.”

Ripper was staring at her with wide, frightened eyes. “Is this how I die?” he said weakly.

“You better believe it,” said Jenny, fingers digging into his jacket.

“Hey, can you two, uh—” The bassist had jumped off the stage, and was now watching the both of them with a vaguely perturbed expression. “Can you not kill him till we get paid for this gig?” she said. “Ripper’s the one who writes the songs. I totally respect where you’re coming from right now, but maybe don’t take the rest of the band down with him.”

“Oh, thanks, Elaine,” said Ripper. “That’s really helpful.” He wrested himself away from Jenny, glaring at her. “And for the record,” he said, “my songs aren’t about some vapid, self-centered groupie.”

“I’d never be a groupie for a band that fucking sucks,” Jenny shouted, burying the humiliation under more anger, “and you should consider that maybe that’s why I wasn’t dancing!”

“You were staring at me—”

“Because I couldn’t believe anyone could be such a talentless hack!”

FUCK OFF,” shouted Ripper, and stormed back up onstage.

Elaine was watching Ripper with a worried expression; quietly, she looked back at Jenny. As she opened her mouth, Jenny said sharply, “Don’t fucking try and excuse your asshole guitarist.”

“I just think you should know—”

“I don’t care,” said Jenny. “Okay? I don’t care if he’s got some sob story about terrible parents, I don’t care if his boyfriend was the biggest dick on the planet, I just. Don’t. Care.” Without waiting for Elaine’s response, she turned on her heel, storming back towards Fred. “I have to go, I’m sorry,” she said, hurrying past Fred with full recognition of the fact that this did make her look like kind of a jerk. She was too busy trying not to cry to care.

Ripper was angry, at first, but it wasn’t at Jenny. He had been fucking terrible, writing that song about some girl he didn’t even know and having the nerve to insult her when she’d called him out for it. She had had every reason to be as angry as she’d been.She’d seen him doing shit she hadn’t liked and she hadn’t given him an inch before telling him off for it.

Ethan would always pretend things weren’t wrong, but he’d do it in such an obvious, pissed-off way that it would piss Ripper off too. And generally Ethan would only ever get mad when Ripper had wanted to do responsible things, like not summon a fucking demon just for laughs. It had felt intoxicating, being with Ethan; the fun choice had always been the right one.

But Jenny’s eyes had been blazing, her words sharp and quick, her anger stemming from a line of thinking that he agreed with. And all of a sudden, Ripper wasn’t quite as interested in leaving Sunnydale in such a rapid hurry.

“If I—” He hesitated, glancing around the room at his band. “If I wanted to stay,” he said. “In Sunnydale. For maybe a few more months.”

The group exchanged a look. Then Stan said, “This was one of our last tour stops. We can always slow things down a little if you like.”

“Yeah, you’re the boss, mate,” agreed Elaine cheerfully.

Ripper felt wildly underqualified to be the boss, especially when he was making decisions based on a gut feeling, again. His instincts had said get out of the Council, and he’d set his life on fire. His instincts had said Ethan’s the love of your life, and Ethan had helped set his life on fire. Ripper had gotten extremely used to burning things down when he followed his heart—

—but Jenny had said don’t romanticize me. Jenny had drawn lines in the sand, and said he wasn’t allowed to follow her round like a stray puppy. And shamefully—strangely—that made Ripper certain that staying in the same town as her couldn’t possibly be a mistake. “Yeah,” he said. “Yeah. So we’ll stay here for a few months, play the field—”

“The Bronze pays extremely well,” said Dave, grinning. “Probably all the vampires eating their other bands.”

“Probably,” Ripper agreed distantly, and pulled out his songbook, resting the pen against the paper for a hesitant moment. Then he began to write.

my heart’s been my compass so long now

but it feels like it’s led me astray

yeah, i’m feeling like things have gone wrong now

but i’m going to make them okay

Ripper saw Buffy Summers in a graveyard when he was walking home. If she had been trained, it clearly wasn’t by someone who had known what they were doing, because she fought using brute strength instead of precision. Her attacks were clumsy, she was using too much energy, and the vampire was gaining the upper hand—

At what seemed like the last possible second, Buffy grabbed the vampire’s arm, flipping it over and impaling it on a tree branch. As it dusted, she leaned against a tombstone, hugging herself and watching the dust settle and fall. Her face was blank, her eyes bright and wet, and she looked exhausted in a way that seemed to go bone-deep.

“You can’t fight like that,” Ripper scoffed, hopping the decorative cemetery fence. Buffy turned, eyes widening, and he stepped up to her. “Now, you’d knock me through a cemetery wall easy as you please, but that still takes energy. You need speed, not a neat kill.”

“You’re not my Watcher, remember?” said Buffy stiffly.

Ripper shrugged. “Watchers are just useless sacks of shite who pontificate about duty and destiny,” he said. “Doesn’t take a lot to do that.” He put on his most affected British accent, mimicking his dad— “A Slayer must have the strength and skill to—damn it all to hell,” he said, slipping back into what had once been a feigned accent itself, “I don’t care enough about it to remember the rest, but it’s probably something about vampires.”

Buffy was smiling, small and uncertain. “I don’t really want a Watcher,” she said, “but it might be nice to have someone who knows at least a little bit more about this stuff than me. Do you?”

“I know monsters and shit,” said Ripper, shrugging. “And the Dewey Decimal System.”

Definitely more than me,” said Buffy, and giggled.

She was very small, now that Ripper was looking closely; she couldn’t be more than sixteen, and even for sixteen she was tiny. Baby-faced Slayers seemed wrong, somehow. The last Slayer Ripper had met had looked much older than this—but the last Slayer had probably been doing it a hell of a lot longer than tiny Buffy Summers. Something about letting this kid fight monsters alone—no Watcher, no nothing—didn’t sit right with Ripper, which was probably why he opened his mouth and said, “I could be your Watcher, I guess.”

Buffy considered. “I’ll take you on a trial basis,” she said. “You’re not allowed to call me a vampire magnet again.”

“That’s basic fucking science,” said Ripper. “Vampires are drawn to the Slayer. It’s part of your destiny, Buff, it’s not an insult—”

“—and you’re not allowed to use the D-word,” said Buffy. When Ripper frowned (going over a list of inappropriate words to use in front of vampire-killing children), she elaborated with an eye roll, “Destiny.”

“Destiny’s absolutely bollocks,” Ripper agreed emphatically.

“You’re hired,” said Buffy. Next to them, a hand began to claw its way out of the ground. “Ooh! Teach me how to fight that guy, um—” She stopped. “Oh my god, I don’t know your name.”

“Rupert,” said Ripper, surprising himself. He smiled a little. “But I, uh, go by Ripper usually.”

“I would too if I was named Rupert,” laughed Buffy, making a face and very nearly missing that the vampire had finally wrested itself free of its grave. “Oh, whoops!” Heedlessly, cheerfully, she launched herself at the vampire, looking worlds less desolate than she had on her own. She was still giggling. “I mean, I sometimes get made fun of for Buffy—

“FOCUS ON ONE THING AT A TIME!” Ripper shouted, and Buffy, obliging, shoved the vampire into another jutting-out tree branch. He watched her, grinning, and thought: maybe this could work.

Jenny did attend one last gig; she couldn’t quite help herself. Most of it was a lingering pissed-off-ness at Ripper for being literally the worst person in the history of people, but some of it was because he was also kind of the hottest person in the history of people, and a small town like Sunnydale didn’t have a lot of options. Obviously she wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of getting to date her—but that didn’t mean she couldn’t enjoy the eye candy from a dimly lit back table in the Bronze.

Ripper was only just starting when she got in, strumming his guitar without that fierce, fervent anger that she’d gotten so used to seeing. He was singing—a slow song, a love song, and all over again Jenny found herself blown away.

loved him more than anything—

The way he sang that line wasn’t full of fury or hate or hurt. It was just…reflective, and a little sad. The way you talked about an ex to your friends—yeah, he was great, but that’s not happening again. Jenny watched Ripper sing, and—god help her, she kind of liked the song. It wasn’t as weird or jarring as hearing a song about her had been.

Hearing a song about her like that might be nice, Jenny thought. Ripper with his voice all soft, all shy—

new town, new girl, new friends, new faces

i was looking for love in all the wrong places

It was trite, Jenny thought, grinning a little. Definitely cheesy and definitely cliché, and she hadn’t ever expected to hear it from the guy singing about demons inside him. On top of being an asshole, she thought, he was ridiculously romantic, but she didn’t hate that about him. She got up and leaned against a nearby pillar to watch him play.

my heart’s been my compass so long now

but it feels like it’s led me astray

yeah, i’m feeling like things have gone wrong now

but i’m going to make them okay