They almost made it to the huge staircase before they were spotted. Jenny tried to dart for it, but quickly saw the futility and skittered to a halt, her heels scraping on the highly polished wood floor. She pulled Buffy protectively behind her, shielding the little girl with her body. The young man stood in front of them, arms crossed over his chest in a position designed to make him appear more menacing. Jenny refused to be intimidated. Squaring her shoulders, she glared defiantly at her brothers handler.
Angel is not taking visitors this morning, he said sharply. He was English, Buffy noted as she tried to peek around her stepmother. The mans voice had the same crisp edges as her fathers though he was markedly younger.
Wesley, get out of my way. I won't leave without seeing him, Jenny seethed. As always happened in times of stress, all of Jenny's fears and heartache morphed into a brittle rage. Angel was damn lucky he wasnt dead - yet. His actions were reprehensible, stupid and childish, and he might well be forced to pay for them with his life. It was all such a waste. All of that youth and potential squandered on vengeance and avarice. And if Angel didnt die on his own, Jenny would be tempted to throttle him with her bare hands for the mental anguish she endured on his behalf. Angel jeopardized her entire world with his actions. Not only his life hung in the balance, but hers as well. On the best of days, Jennys husband Rupert Giles had a hard time ignoring her past. For Angel to throw their family secrets in Ruperts face like this was unforgivable. Not to mention the fact that Jenny was not only ignoring Ruperts wish that she stay away from Angel, but also bringing his eight-year-old daughter with her as an accomplice.
Im sorry, but youre going to have to leave or I will call the police, Wesley said firmly.
Jenny's hand clamped tighter around Buffy's wrist and the youngster knew that something was going to happen. Buffy felt power gathering. It seemed to tingle along her skin, squeezing her with invisible hands. There was pressure in her ears; the very atmosphere around them was clawing to get under their skin. Buffy's wrist, where it was clasped in Jennys hand, felt like it was being pricked by a thousand tiny pins.
I will see him, Jenny said, her voice weighty and thick with magicks.
Wesley stared at them blankly and then nodded like an automaton. Buffy instinctively knew that her stepmothers use of dark magicks would anger her father. She also knew that she would never betray Jennys confidence. Buffy trotted behind as her stepmother quickly ascended the stairs. She often heard Jenny and her father argue about Angel and she was curious to see him for herself.
The heavy double doors were closed as they approached. Jenny muttered something under her breath, twisting mightily on the doorknob. There was a metallic grinding as the lock gave way. Taking a deep breath, Jenny pushed the doors open and walked inside.
In an involuntary reaction, Buffy pressed her hand over her nose and mouth. The action was useless in blocking out the stench of death that assailed her as they entered. Like the pressure she felt in her ears moments before, this smell was not rooted in the tangible realm. It was metaphysical and wrapped around her malignantly.
Jenny stood just inside the suite of rooms, adjusting her eyes to the near darkness as she steeled her resolve. Reluctantly she inched toward the massive bed that was the centerpiece to the cavernous main room. Jennys hand was clasped firmly around Buffys much smaller one, preventing the girl from hanging back in the plentiful shadows. Angel's bedroom was filled with an oppressive darkness. Heavy black drapes blocked the early morning sunlight from piercing the weighty gloom. The only illumination came from a scattering of candles and old oil lamps.
A sound drew Buffys attention to the bed. It was enormous, the ebony glistening in the flickering light. The posters were adorned with intricate carvings of demons and assorted underworld creatures. The dancing light seemed to give them unearthly life. The bed was mounded high with dark covers, looking like a sea of blood beneath the vile creatures. Buffy was staring at the carvings so intently that she jumped when there was movement beneath the bedding. Several abortive movements later and the thing in the bed turned to face them.
Jenny sucked in a sharp breath and cursed fluidly in Gaelic, involuntarily bringing her free hand up to cross herself. The pale husk in the sea of black covers laughed, a violent, dry scrape of sound. It was meant to unnerve and scare. It achieved its goal with Jenny, who jumped. But Buffy was not frightened. The laughter tore at her heart, echoing inside of her mind. Tears welled in her eyes at the staggering depth of pain in the broken sound.
The creature was horrifying -- sunken, coal black eyes and unearthly white skin stretched over the skull like weathered rawhide. Jennys hand shook as she crept closer to the bed. What did you do? she asked in an agonized whisper.
What I had to, the creature rasped.
You didnt have to, Jenny replied severely, her voice thick with tears.
He murdered our mother, it replied. Would you have preferred I let him live?
Once again, Jenny cursed sharply in her native tongue. Do not lie to me, she countered angrily in English. Your vengeance was your own. You cared nothing for the bitch that bore us. You did this for power. You were unwilling to wait, to learn, to follow the rules. You stole Vocahs powers and now theyre killing you, eating whatever is left of your humanity.
Will you mourn me, Janna? the creature asked in an empty, mocking tone.
You bastard, Jenny spat. Your own hunger for power will kill you, but youre not the only victim. I love you, you stupid son of a bitch. She made a choking sound as she fought to retain composure. I know you think youre a man, Angel, but youre barely more than a boy. You deserve more of a life than this this freak show you've created out of your existence.
Jenny fell on her knees next to the bed. She released Buffy, burying her face in her hands as she wept. Buffy watched Jenny, but slowly her eyes wandered back to the creature in the bed. It watched Jenny, with a face expressionless as a wax figurine. But Buffy could sense something within it. Despair? Regret? It did not wish to cause Jenny pain; somehow Buffy knew that. But it would never be able to articulate that sentiment. The creature did not have words that encompassed emotions like forgiveness or love. It was helpless, caught up in a tangled web of pain, both physical and emotional.
Slowly Buffy approached the bed, her head cocked to the side. As she drew closer, she realized it was not a creature but human. Or at least it used to be human. He was a young man, not yet out of his teens but no longer a boy. Deathly thin, pale, gaunt, he was barely recognizable as human and yet he was ... somewhat.
He was not entirely human but neither was he entirely Other. Buffys expression softened at the realization. As long as she could remember, she thought she was the only One. But at that moment she was not alone. Buffy had always known she was different from the rest of humanity, although she could not pinpoint why. She had always felt isolated, set apart. But this wretched creature inhabited the same twilight world to which she belonged. Without fear, she reached out and touched his forehead. It wasnt cold as she had anticipated, but warm.
As she touched him, he shuddered uncontrollably. She felt something roll through him and sensed his pain ease. In the darkest recesses of his dying soul, his icy spirit responded to the warmth of hers. It was as if a tiny bit of kindling sparked to life at her touch. Their eyes met and he watched her mutely, his eyes full of wonder. Her fingers trailed lightly over his deathly pale face as he drew in a deep, ragged breath. Life seemed to flow back into him with that breath. The coldness in his eyes receded, replaced by more suffering than a single human soul was capable of bearing.
Buffy slowly grinned at him, pressing the pads of her fingers to the center of his forehead. She then pressed the fingers of her free hand over her own heart. We are the same, she whispered with a smile.
He nodded, his face reflecting his simultaneous confusion and understanding. Slowly, they both became aware of Jennys gaze. In tandem, they turned their eyes to her. Jennys expression was one of confusion and wonder and more than a little fear. She wrapped her arms around Buffys waist and drew the girl away from Angel into her own lap. Buffy went willingly, but her gaze stayed on Angels face.
Jenny rocked her, trying to soothe herself more than Buffy. Jenny didnt understand what had happened, but she knew something weighty had lifted. The press of Death had receded.
We need to go, she whispered, rising to her feet and pulling Buffy with her.
Outside on the front steps to Angels enormous mansion in the harsh glare of the mid-morning sun, Jenny dropped to a crouch in front of her stepdaughter. Are you all right? she asked seriously, tucking a lock of Buffys hair behind her ear.
Im fine, Buffy answered honestly, confused about Jennys concern.
Youre certain, Buffy? Angel didnt ... hurt you when you touched him? Her voice was taut, like she was barely managing to keep hysteria at bay. If anything happened to Buffy, Rupert would never forgive her. His relationship with Joyce was amicable, but if something happened to Buffy odds were high that Rupert could lose joint custody of his daughter.
Buffy didnt know how to put into words what had happened. Something transpired, but it hadnt been bad. Angel didnt hurt me, she answered honestly.
Jenny sighed and her posture relaxed with relief.
Why are you so worried? Buffy asked with the innocence only children possess. I thought you loved your brother.
Jenny frowned. Its complicated sweetheart, she said. I do love my brother, but he ... Angel has a lot of problems. He doesnt mean to be that way, but he has hurt a lot of people.
Oh, Buffy said, not really understanding. Well, he didnt hurt me.
Lips pursed together, Jenny studied her stepdaughter. Buffy when you spoke to him ... she trailed off.
Yeah? Buffy prompted.
Sweetheart, Jenny said frowning, you didnt speak to him in any language Ive ever heard.