Chapter 1: new slayer
“It’s long division.”
“I’m definitely not disputing that.” Jenny slid the pen across to Xander. “And I’m not listening to Mr. Hughes complain about you and your math tests in the staff room anymore, so at least try, okay?”
“I could be dead tomorrow,” Xander pointed out. “Dead in a ditch somewhere because a vampire drained me dry—”
“Do not talk like that, Xander.”
“And you’re making me do long division? No offense, Ms. Calendar, but I feel like your priorities here are way out of whack.” Xander pushed the pen back at Jenny. “Why can’t I just study with Willow on my own time?”
“Because as much as I love her, Willow is something of a pushover when it comes to letting you blow off studying, and also not a certified educator,” Jenny countered.
“I could be Bronzing it up right now!” Xander objected.
“Yes,” said Jenny, “tomorrow. This study session is once every week, and you said you would show up today.”
“It’s been five minutes,” said Rupert, coming in with a small tea platter and setting it down in the middle of the table. “Are you two still arguing?”
“Giles, long division is awful and pointless for a Scooby to do, right?” said Xander hopefully. “Especially since I could be dead tomorrow.”
“Xander,” said Jenny, “if you put half the effort you’re putting into trying to avoid long division into, say, long division, you’d be able to pass this class. I just want to get you up to a C at least.”
“Ms. Calendar, it’s not like I’m planning on going off and becoming an educated individual or whatever,” said Xander with a noncommittal shrug. “I don’t really feel like the college thing is for me anyway.”
“Regardless, you still need to work toward the option,” Jenny persisted. “And you said you’d come over.”
“Yeah, because I thought this would be short and not require me to put in ten times the effort I usually do,” Xander retorted irritably.
“Do you just…not do the problems?” said Jenny disbelievingly. “Rupert, have you just been letting him not do the problems?”
“I’m going to go make some tea,” said Rupert nervously, hurrying out of the kitchen.
“Where, in the bedroom?” Jenny called after him exasperatedly. Turning to Xander, “Xander, it should not be this difficult for me to get you to try in school.”
“What’s the point?” Xander asked stubbornly. “If you can give me a reason why I should be working hard in class, I’ll do this stupid worksheet.”
Jenny considered this, then said quietly, “Does it count at all that I think you’re a smart kid when you put your mind to long division?”
Xander’s annoyed expression dissolved slightly and he looked down at the long division paper. “I’m not,” he said. “I don’t get this. I don’t get why you think I can get this.”
“I’m just asking you to try and do the problem for me, and then I can show you—”
“What I’m doing wrong,” Xander finished. “Ms. Calendar, I don’t—want you to see how much I get wrong.”
Jenny smiled slightly. “Okay,” she said, picking up the pen and tugging the worksheet across the table. “How about I just show you how I would do this problem, and then you try and apply it to another one?”
“I guess,” said Xander hesitantly, taking a cookie from the tea platter. The phone rang. “Is Giles gonna get that?”
“No, I think he’s busy with his nonexistent tea,” said Jenny with a light laugh. “Hold up.” She headed over to the phone, picking it up. “Hello?”
“We were trying to call Giles, but he didn’t pick up, so I’m guessing he’s with you?” Buffy asked.
“He is! Hold on—” Jenny covered the receiver. “England, Buffy’s on the phone,” she called.
Rupert, who had been probably lurking apprehensively outside the kitchen anyway, hurried into the room, taking the phone from Jenny, who sat back down next to Xander at the kitchen table. “Hello?” he said. “Wh—goodness, really? Yes—of course, tomorrow morning. Briefing. Yes. Thank you. Goodbye.” He hung up, then turned to Jenny and Xander with a strange expression.
“Everyone okay?” Jenny asked apprehensively.
“What?” Rupert blinked. “Oh, yes, of course. It’s just—there’s a new Slayer in town.”
Faith threw her stuff down on the motel bed, though there wasn’t a lot of stuff to throw. Really, it was just a duffel bag with the clothes she’d managed to grab before leaving Boston. She was actually thinking of stealing a few tops from the mall when she had time; expand her wardrobe and all that. Kinda sucked when a lot of your shirts had blood on them and you didn’t have enough dough for dry cleaning.
As she was walking to her bed, she paused by the mirror. When she was younger (much, much younger), she’d used to like mirrors, because you could pretend you were looking at yourself when really you were looking behind you. Adults always thought kids were lost in their own worlds, and some of them had tried to get the jump on her before while she was near a mirror, thinking that she was too busy looking at herself to notice them. Faith hated that she had been stupid enough to trust reflections back then. They didn’t show everything, and she’d learned pretty recently that some things didn’t even show at all in a mirror.
She breathed out, studying the mirror. Reminded herself that a lot of things were missing and gone, but at least her reflection was still there. The only thing in her world that completely belonged to her, and she’d die before she let anyone, dead or living, take it from her.
“Screw you, Kakistos,” said Faith, practicing the words. Even though she did sound angry and badass (she always did, in her humble opinion), her tone still had a barely-there quaver, and she felt glad that she was alone. Even though she did technically know a few people in this town now that she’d met Buffy Summers and her posse, she didn’t at all like the idea of them, or anyone, seeing her vulnerable.
Not vulnerable. Vulnerable was a word you used to describe weak people, and weak people were people who had something to lose. Faith didn’t have anything or anyone to lose anymore, and it was freeing. It made her brave. It made her a better Slayer than the ones who had a life to protect, like Buffy Summers with her sun-kissed hair and her halfway smile. Buffy Summers, who looked a hell of a lot like the kind of girl who thought she knew what real pain and fear was just because some guy had left her in the lurch. A girl who made misery and poetry out of the stupid things Faith couldn’t have and didn’t want.
Faith wasn’t sure how she felt about Buffy, who held herself with a tenseness and a look in her eyes that suggested she wasn’t used to having slaying company. Buffy seemed coolly cordial, not as easily accessible as her friends. All holier-than-thou just because Faith had a few stories that weren’t exactly PG. She bet Buffy had shrieked and frozen up the first time she saw a vampire, like teeth and fangs had been the worst she’d ever faced. She bet Buffy was on the cheer squad before she became a Slayer.
It made Faith feel better to be vindictive. It distracted her from the fact that motel rooms didn’t count as home, and that if a vampire got hungry, she’d make a prime snack. Faith wasn’t planning on going to sleep that night, especially not when she knew Kakistos was still out there, and especially in a motel room that anyone could easily get into. She flipped on the TV and got static. So far, Sunnydale was a total buzzkill, and she still had to figure out a way to pay for her lame-ass motel room.
Faith threw the remote back down and contemplated her options before deciding to sneak out for some late-night slaying. There were always some vamps that thought they were smart, waiting until they thought the Slayer had gone off to bed or whatever. Too bad for them that Faith wasn’t planning on sleeping tonight.
Chapter 2: watcher retreat
“What are Slayers usually like?” Jenny asked, taking a sip of her coffee. “Historically, I mean. Are they all like Kendra, or does it vary?”
“Going by the diaries of Watchers before me, it really does seem to depend on their environment, their upbringing, and their Watcher,” Rupert replied, pouring a bit of milk into his tea. “Kendra, for instance, was identified and raised as a Potential from a very early age, but Buffy remained relatively unnoticed and undiscovered and is therefore a bit more—”
“Wild?” Jenny quipped.
Rupert smiled slightly. “She’s certainly not the most well-behaved Slayer,” he agreed, clear affection in his tone as he spoke of Buffy. “I have heard a few stories about this Faith, however, though none of them seem to paint her as all that obedient.”
“Sounds like a character,” said Jenny with interest, sitting down atop Rupert’s desk. “Is her Watcher going to be here too?”
“I expect not,” said Rupert, his face souring slightly. “Willow called and mentioned that Faith’s Watcher was on the retreat.”
“Really?” Jenny smirked. “You know, you haven’t said a word about any kind of Watcher retreat, Rupert.”
“It isn’t like I’ve been hearing you talk and talk about it for weeks,” Jenny persisted with amusement.
“You are an awful, awful woman,” said Rupert only half-seriously, sitting down in his desk chair and taking Jenny’s hands in his. “And it irks me that I’m not invited. I have more than enough field experience to lead a lecture of my own there.”
“Maybe it’s like the slumber parties they always have in those high school movies,” Jenny suggested helpfully. “You know, where everyone gets invited except for the one weird girl with long hair and an eclectic fashion sense, and they all make fun of her over the weekend and come back to school and call her mean names.”
“You’re saying…what, exactly?” Rupert inquired somewhat apprehensively.
“I’m saying you’re the fuddy-duddy who didn’t get invited to the cool kids’ party,” said Jenny playfully. “Though—thinking about it, those Council members are pretty stuffy, so it’s essentially that you’re not enough of a snob to be in the Snob Club. Which is probably a good thing in the long run, if you think about it.”
“There’s kayaking,” said Rupert plaintively. “And horses.”
“Or maybe it’s like if your parents didn’t let you go to summer camp.” Jenny frowned. “You know, I’m starting to think I should quit the analogies.” She ruffled Rupert’s hair. “You’re too cool for them anyway, England. I bet none of them summoned demons in the sixties.”
“Oh, lord, that’s probably why they never invite me,” Rupert groaned, burying his face in his hands.
“You know, we do have more important things to deal with then the retreat,” Jenny added, doing her best not to giggle when Rupert looked reproachfully up at her. “Faith, for instance. Should we be doing anything to get ready for when she shows up?”
“Not really,” said Rupert. “The children aren’t due for another thirty minutes, though I do think we should let them know about the most recent disappearances.”
“Never a dull moment here,” said Jenny dryly. Rupert chuckled. “So,” she added significantly, and slid neatly off the desk into his lap.
“Didn’t Buffy say something about not utilizing the library as our own—” Rupert frowned slightly. “I believe she called it a smooching space?”
“This isn’t the library,” said Jenny pointedly. “This is your office, which has a lock on its door.”
Rupert smiled, a touch of mischief in his eyes. “Right,” he agreed, and wound his arms around her waist, pulling her so close that their noses brushed. “About the retreat,” he continued conversationally, “they have a hiking route that goes along this lovely sunlit trail, and I’ve been told that during said hikes, a topic of conversation is usually—”
“I’m going to kill you,” said Jenny.
The library was sunlit, and Faith already liked that about it. Lots of windows meant lots of escape routes if shit got messy during a research session. And, yeah, lots of books too, but whatever. Faith wasn’t much of a reader. Too much sitting still.
“I guess we’re here early,” commented Buffy next to her. Faith glanced over at her. She still wasn’t all that sure how she felt about Buffy, who continued to seem only as pleasant and friendly as she needed to be.
“Oh, no,” said the redhead—Faith couldn’t quite remember her name, though she got the sense it was some kind of plant—in a horribly mortified voice.
“What?” said Buffy. The redhead jerked her head towards the closed door of the library office, and Buffy groaned. “Oh, no,” she said exasperatedly, and picked up a book, throwing it at the door.
“Don’t throw my books!” came an irritated British voice, immediately followed by the sound of a woman laughing.
“Ugh,” said Buffy. The expression on her face looked much less composed, and it made Faith like her a little more. “Ew.”
“We were just talking, Buffy. You don’t have to throw heavy volumes to break us apart.” A short, dark-haired woman came out of the office, followed by a guy with glasses and a nice suit. He was giving the woman an affectionate look that made Faith’s stomach turn a little in a way she didn’t completely understand. She labeled it as disgust and put it out of her head.
“Oh, don’t play innocent with me, Ms. Calendar,” said Buffy indignantly. “You think I don’t remember the time you guys were kissing right in the front of the library? With tongue?”
The man was blushing furiously by this point. “You’ll be Faith, then?” he said a bit loudly, as though trying to drown out what Buffy was saying. “Apologies for the—um—unorthodox introduction.”
“Yeah, usually we’re more up front with the kissing,” added Ms. Calendar. Faith snorted.
“No. No up front. No behind. No kissing anywhere in this library,” said Buffy with clear disgust before turning to Faith. “Faith, this is my Watcher Giles, and Ms. Calendar teaches Willow magic.”
Willow. Okay. That was the redhead. “Cool,” said Faith. “So you’re a witch?”
“Technopagan is the term,” said Ms. Calendar, and shared a smile with Giles, as though they were sharing some kind of joke that Faith wasn’t in on. Judging by the looks on the other faces in the room, though, no one else was either, so that made Faith feel a little better. “I’m mostly good at practical magic.”
“Love that movie,” Faith quipped. Ms. Calendar gave her a newly appreciative look.
“So, Giles!” Buffy cut in. “Faith said that her Watcher was off on a retreat.” Faith’s stomach twisted a little at this, but she kept her face neatly composed. It felt both good and bad that no one thought to look closer. “How come you’re not there?”
To everyone’s surprise, Ms. Calendar snickered before suddenly bursting into violent giggles.
“Stop,” said Giles irritably. “Stop it, Jenny, it isn’t funny.”
Ms. Calendar choked out something about “hasn’t shut up for hours!” and staggered over to the library table, burying her face in her hands to muffle her laughter.
“It’s not—stop.” Giles glared at Ms. Calendar before turning back to Buffy. Ignoring a still-laughing Ms. Calendar with almost over-the-top dignity, he explained, “There's a Watchers' retreat every year in the Cotswolds. It's a lovely spot. It's very serene. There's horse riding and hiking and punting and lectures and discussions. It’s a great honor to be invited.” His expression soured slightly. “Or so I'm told.”
“Whew!” Ms. Calendar rubbed a hand across her face before standing up, her face still a bit pink from laughter. “I keep telling you, Rupert, the entire concept of a Watchers’ retreat that leaves out an active Watcher is complete bullshit—sorry, Faith.”
“No sweat,” said Faith, who was starting to very much like Ms. Calendar.
“If they’re going to leave you out, they’re leaving out one of the two people actually doing the job they base their organization around, which is ridiculous and illogical,” said Ms. Calendar to Giles. Then, her mouth twitching, “And yet you’re still obsessing over that damn retreat.”
“It’s not obsessing,” Giles objected.
“Sure, sweetie,” Ms. Calendar agreed placatingly, patting him on the arm. “Anyway, putting aside Rupert’s emotional issues about the Watcher retreat—”
“I object immensely to that statement.”
“—there’s something actually important that we need to address.”
“I object immensely to that statement as well.”
Ms. Calendar fixed Giles with a dryly amused look before turning back to the Scoobies. “It’s pretty lucky Faith showed up when she did.”
“Aha!” Willow interjected. All eyes turned to her, and she looked a little embarrassed. “Sorry. I just meant…aha! There's big evil brewing. You'll never be bored here, Faith,” she added to Faith, who grinned at her. “’Cause this is Sunnydale, home of the big brewin' evil.”
“Yes, well, I don't know how big an evil it is,” Giles began, “but, uh, two people have disappeared from the Sunset Ridge District.” He handed Buffy a newspaper, and Faith peered over her shoulder, scanning the article. Not a lot to look at. Basically just said what the Watcher had. Though apparently they put disappearance notices right next to high school lacrosse team scores, which made Faith wonder how normal mysterious disappearances were in this town.
“Well, I'm good for patrolling,” Buffy agreed. “Late-ish, though. I promised Mom I'd be home for dinner.” She handed Xander the paper, then said a bit awkwardly to Faith, “Um, to which you're also invited, of course, dinner with us.”
“Dyin' to meet the fam,” Faith agreed gamely. “I'm in.”
“Great!” Buffy said. “Great, then we can patrol, also together.” She didn’t sound exactly thrilled about this. Not that Faith minded. She had plenty of time to figure out what Buffy’s deal was.
“Hey, don't you have that health science makeup?” Willow asked Buffy. Buffy replied something that Faith didn’t catch, because Willow had turned to her and was saying, “You know, you can hang out with us while she's testing. You wanna?”
“Okay,” Faith agreed. To Buffy, “Hey, later.”
She didn’t look back as she left the library. As nice as these people seemed, it wasn’t like she was going to be a part of any of their lives for all that long.
“I like her,” said Jenny thoughtfully.
“She certainly does have a lot of…zest,” Giles agreed tentatively, glancing over at a glowering Buffy.
Jenny shook her head. “That’s not why I like her,” she said cryptically, and exited the library.
Giles followed. “Far be it from me to criticize your, ah, endearing ambiguity, dear,” he said, slipping his hand into hers as they walked, “but you’re being quite enigmatic.”
“If there’s a more British way to ask what do you mean, I really want to hear it,” said Jenny with amusement. She frowned a little thoughtfully, then said, “Faith’s very friendly. Playful and quippy. I like that about her. But I get the sense that there’s something she’s not telling us, and I’m honestly a little intrigued by that.”
“Hmm,” said Giles. “I didn’t notice.”
“I mean, you were very busy going off on tangents about hiking and punting and lectures and—” Jenny cut herself off to grin at the look on Giles’s face. “You know I love you,” she said placatingly. “I’m just—I wonder what there is that we don’t know about Faith. She’s a pretty ambiguous person herself.”
“I like to think we’ll have the opportunity to find out,” Giles replied.
Chapter 3: support
Jenny woke up shuddering, fingers curled tightly around the lapels of Rupert’s pajama shirt. After she’d reminded herself that Angelus wasn’t anywhere in the vicinity, she felt very grateful that Rupert had decided to stay the night.
“It’s all right,” Rupert was saying, voice steady, stroking her hair. “You’re safe.” She felt him press his lips to her forehead. “I’m here.” He pulled back to look at her, hand cupping her cheek. “Darling?”
Jenny nodded, tipping her head toward his and letting him kiss her softly. They stayed close even after she broke the kiss. “I’m good,” she said, and sniffled. “Was there sleep-crying?”
“Not that I’m aware of,” Rupert answered, kissing her forehead. “I only awoke when I felt you start shaking.”
“You’re getting good at this,” said Jenny quietly. She wished he wasn’t so adept at holding her through nightmares, but at the same time she was kind of glad he was, because before this summer, the prevalent emotion on his face right now would be guilt instead of love, and she’d have hidden her fear from him anyway. It was comforting to look at him and know that her fear wasn’t causing him more pain than it had to. “I’m sorry. How early is it?”
Rupert glanced over at the small digital clock on Jenny’s bedside table. “One-thirty,” he said, “but it’s all right. Do you feel like going back to sleep yet?”
Jenny thought of Angelus, eyes glinting, and exhaled quietly, just to remind herself that she could. In the dream, there hadn’t seemed to be nearly enough air. “I don’t think so,” she said guiltily. “I’m so sorry to keep you up like this.”
“Don’t be,” said Rupert, and smiled a bit sadly—not as though he was tired of waking up early with her nightmares, but as though he didn’t like that she still felt guilty about it. “I want to be here for you.”
Jenny pulled him into a brief hug on the bed before pulling away and getting up, leaning down to pick up her bathrobe from the floor. Rupert was already out of the bedroom by the time she’d donned the robe, and when she entered the kitchen, he was pouring water for the kettle. She sat down at the table and said, “Can you turn on the radio?”
Rupert finished setting up the kettle before flipping on Jenny’s small transistor radio. Slow, staticky jazz filled the kitchen as he sat down in the chair next to hers, taking her hand and lightly kissing her fingers. He did that a lot, now. “Talk to me?” he inquired gently.
Jenny smiled. The warm glow of the kitchen hadn’t exactly erased her nervousness, but it did dull it a bit. “Well,” she said, “I have five thousand papers to grade tomorrow, and I’m thinking of asking Willow to help me with the marking, because—” She looked down at their joined hands. Her crooked fingers didn’t interlace quite as neatly with Rupert’s as they’d used to. “You know.”
“I’m sure she’ll be happy to help,” said Rupert. “She adores you.”
“Yeah, but I don’t want to use that all the time for my own personal gain, you know?” Jenny pointed out. “I could ask Willow to clean my entire classroom and she’d probably do it with a spring in her step.”
“To be fair, Jenny, you do need some help when it comes to, ah,” Rupert glanced down at their hands as well, “hand-related matters.”
Jenny nodded slightly. There was a strange, sad silence before she finally said with a rueful laugh, “God, can we go two minutes without talking about Angelus?”
“Perhaps not immediately after you’ve had a nightmare, no,” said Rupert carefully, “but I like to think that eventually we’ll both be able to move—if not past this, then at least through it.”
Jenny smiled at him. “Yeah,” she said.
The kettle went off. Rupert let go of Jenny’s hand, kissing her temple as he headed to the counter to pour them tea.
Some part of Jenny hated that Rupert had become so patient and reliable when it came to supporting her, because she didn’t like being someone who needed support. Some part of her was slowly coming to terms with the fact that maybe she’d needed support for a long while before now. It was something of a jumbled mess in her head, but she was still sure of two things: that she was grateful to be able to love and be loved, and that she was angry at Angelus for doing this to them. This was what Angelus would want, she knew. He’d be happy to know about the fact that he’d caused this much lasting damage, even if he wasn’t alive to see it. Or add to it.
She wished she’d seen Angelus die. On nights like this, it would be a comforting memory to bring up.
Rupert sat down next to her again, placing the warm mug in her hands and carefully curling her fingers around it. “Here,” he said. “On a subject that isn’t Angelus—what do you make of Faith?”
Jenny smiled slightly, taking a sip of tea before responding. “I mean, I did say earlier that I like her,” she said. “From what I’ve seen of her, at least. I hope dinner with Buffy’s mom went well for all parties involved.” She hesitated, trying to think more about Faith and less about the lingering fear the nightmares had left her with. “Does she have anywhere to stay?” she inquired. “And how long is she staying, for that matter? She’s been pretty vague about all that.”
“I’m not actually sure,” Rupert replied with a slight frown. “She never brought up needing a place to stay, but—”
“I think we should ask her tomorrow,” said Jenny, thinking about Faith’s hard, sharp smile. It glinted in places, like armor. “Regardless of whether or not she’s a Slayer, she came here to help, and we should definitely make her feel included for as long as she’s here.”
“Certainly,” Rupert agreed. He hesitated, then, “I feel a bit guilty that I didn’t think of that myself.”
“It’s okay.” Jenny placed a hand over his. “You’ve got a lot on your plate anyway. Mentoring your Slayer, running the library, getting woken up at weird hours by your girlfriend—it’s a wonder you even remembered the staff meeting yesterday.”
“I wish I’d forgotten that,” said Rupert with distaste. His face softened. “And you have plenty of things to deal with too. Please don’t ever think I mind being woken up.”
Jenny took a sip of tea and leaned towards Rupert. He wound an arm around her waist, pulling her quietly into his side.
So she’d fucked up with Buffy on patrol. No big. Faith had bigger fish to fry than whatever problem Buffy clearly seemed to have with her, and it was kind of pissing her off that she’d been called out for beating up the vampires too hard. What, was B trying to be humane with the vampires?
Faith had secretly been looking forward to meeting another Slayer, someone who understood the pain and the fear and had learned to toughen herself against it. An older Slayer, too, one who could have been guidance in a way her Watcher couldn’t anymore. (Not that Faith needed guidance, because Faith was fine by herself, but it would just be—nice.) And Buffy had been a total letdown in that respect.
Buffy, with her group of vampire-slaying friends and her sunny library and her friendly mom with tons of food. Buffy, who’d probably always known what it was like to have a home, and who probably more than took it for granted. Faith hated that.
Buffy’s friends weren’t all that memorable. Nice enough, but a little bland for Faith’s tastes. Everything about Sunnydale was so much blander and friendlier and uncomplicated than she’d been hoping for—it was like Vampire Slayer turned suburban. The plot of a friendly little teen TV show, maybe, where Buffy was the charming protagonist who struggled with balancing her Slaying and her social life. Faith amused herself imagining a scene where Buffy tried to figure out how to catch a vampire roaming the halls during the school dance before realizing that something like that probably had happened to Buffy at some point, which weirded her out so much that she put the concept out of her head.
Slaying wasn’t a job that you could put into a neat little box. Slaying was Faith’s life now, and she’d been hoping that Buffy would understand how alienating and lonely that could be. But Buffy seemed certain that her slaying was just a responsibility, not something to spend time on and fine-tune more than she had to. Out of all the girls that Faith could have been hanging out with, she’d ended up with Little Miss Part-Time Slayer.
Faith sighed, then looked over at the door out of habit. She’d locked it, but you could never be too careful. Lucky she was used to not getting much sleep, or she’d be a mess right now; she hadn’t slept a wink last night. An unlucky vamp had tried her door and she’d woken up and staked him before he could even blink, but the motel still didn’t feel all the way safe.
Chapter 4: heavy lifting
“What you must realize, Buffy, is that you and Faith have very different temperaments,” Rupert said, taking a sip from his mug of tea as the three of them walked through the halls.
Jenny agreed. According to Buffy, Faith had gone somewhat overboard on a vampire, beating it to a pulp while Buffy was struggling with two vampires of her own. It seemed to reaffirm what Jenny had seen of Faith, who did seem almost purposefully casual. If what Buffy was saying was true, Faith was about as clear-cut and uncomplicated as Jenny had immediately anticipated, which made her quite different from her co-Slayer. Jenny had always been able to get a general read of Buffy’s thoughts and feelings, but she was beginning to suspect that Faith was less easy to understand.
“Yeah, and mine's the sane one,” Buffy replied a bit sharply.
“Hey,” said Jenny carefully. “We barely know Faith. Let’s not pass judgments just yet.”
“You wouldn’t be saying that if you’d watched her whaling on that vamp,” Buffy objected. “The girl's not playing with a full deck, Ms. Calendar. She has almost no deck.” She paused, considering. “She has a three.”
“You said yourself that she killed one,” Rupert pointed out. “She's just a plucky fighter who got a little carried away, which is natural. She's focused on the slaying.”
“She doesn’t exactly have a life here to fall back on,” Jenny added.
“She doesn't need a life,” said Buffy irritably. “She has mine.”
“I think you're being a little...” Rupert trailed off.
“No, I'm being a lot,” Buffy agreed reluctantly. “I know that. But she nearly got us both killed. The girl needs help.”
“Rupert, you think you can call her Watcher at the retreat?” Jenny inquired, trying to keep her face straight.
Rupert nodded. “I believe so,” he agreed, checking his watch. “They're eight hours ahead now. Probably sitting down to a nightcap.” Buffy kept walking. Jenny, who had been through this a good five times over the last two hours, stopped and waited. “I wonder if they still kayak,” he continued wistfully. “I used to love a good kayak.”
Buffy stopped, looking over her shoulder with some exasperation. “How do you date him?” she inquired of Jenny.
“Babe,” said Jenny patiently.
“I’m sorry?” said Rupert, flushing a pleased shade of pink. “Did you just call me—” Jenny jerked her head towards Buffy, who was giving them both an exasperated look. “Ah,” he said, looking somewhat embarrassed. “Sorry. I digress.” He moved up, falling into step with Buffy. “The vampires that attacked you, can you furnish me with some details that might help me trace their lineage? I mean, ancient or modern dress. Amulets, cultish tattoos...”
Jenny gave Rupert a quick smile, quietly exiting the conversation. Rupert and Buffy had Slayer-Watcher things to discuss, and it wasn’t something she specifically needed to be there for. Plus, there was someone she wanted to check in with before the next class started.
Willow was cheerfully filing Jenny’s now-graded assignments and whistling something that Jenny was pretty sure was from a Disney movie. Jenny leaned against the door, watching her with a strange, wonderful feeling in her chest. Willow had been determinedly, exhaustedly happy over the summer, as though she was afraid of what might happen were she anything but. This was clear and natural, and the smile on her face was easy.
“You’re looking chipper,” Jenny said lightly, not yet ready to let on how proud she felt at that.
Willow jumped, then turned to her with a grin that was somehow even brighter. “Hi, Ms. Calendar!” she said. “Did I tell you that Xander passed that math test? He says it’s mostly thanks to you. I think maybe he cheated off Cordelia a little. But still! Mostly thanks to you is still a lot. Also definitely don’t tell anyone he cheated.”
Jenny mimed zipping her lips as she stepped all the way into the classroom. “I wanted to thank you for doing all the heavy lifting lately,” she said, and meant it. “I’m still getting used to having my hands all the way back again.”
“Oh, it’s no problem,” said Willow cheerfully. “Anything for my favorite Ms. Calendar.” She crossed the classroom to give Jenny a hug. Jenny was always taken aback by how easily Willow showed affection, but she liked to think that she was getting used to it. “How are you? Do you have any coffee?”
“Wow, you really do know me, don’t you?” said Jenny with a mixture of surprise and amusement. “I grabbed a cup in the staff room.”
“Do you want another cup?” said Willow a little hesitantly, and produced a cup of coffee from behind her back.
“Willow!” said Jenny with genuine delight, and took the mug, taking a long sip. Willow had put way too much cream and sugar in, and Jenny could tell that it wasn’t strong enough, but it made her think of Willow fussing in the staff room until she came up with a concoction she deemed completely suitable. Jenny felt warmed and happy. “Thank you so much,” she said.
“Of course,” said Willow emphatically. “Can I hang around in here? It’s my free.”
“Sure, but you have to do homework this time around,” Jenny replied, taking another sip of coffee. “As much as I love you helping out, I think you could use some study time.”
Willow’s gaze darted briefly over to the magic books on Jenny’s desk. “If you’re talking study time,” she began hesitantly.
Jenny considered this. Withholding knowledge from Willow or implying that things were too advanced for her would really just make dangerous stuff more appealing. She felt glad that the books on the desk were ones she’d been intending to discuss with Willow anyway. “Pick up the one with the blue cover and read up to chapter two,” she instructed with a slight smile.
Willow beamed at her and headed over to pick up the book. “Hi, Giles!” she added.
Jenny looked up at Rupert, who looked a little nervous and pale. “You okay?” she added with some worry, crossing the room to take his hands in hers.
“Faith’s Watcher is dead,” Rupert informed her immediately. Jenny might have dropped Rupert’s hands had he not been holding on so tightly. “Has been for a good period of time, apparently. I’ve asked Buffy to talk to Faith tonight, but from what I’ve heard from the Council, the Watcher was killed in front of Faith and they haven’t heard anything from or of Faith since. They were actually quite shocked to know she was still alive.”
Jenny thought of Faith and that casually guarded smile, and suddenly understood why she’d immediately liked Faith so much. Like recognizing like, maybe. “God,” she said quietly. “Do we know anything about what killed the Watcher?”
“More of a who, I’m afraid,” Rupert replied tensely. “Kakistos. And I expect he’s been after Faith as well, seeing as she came all the way here.”
“She was looking for a Slayer,” said Jenny softly. “For help.”
“I don’t know if—”
“I’m going to go over to the motel,” said Jenny. “I know you’ve sent Buffy, but I think in this situation some adult guidance would probably be a good thing. Especially if it’s a traumatized teenage girl we’re dealing with.”
“I wouldn’t call her traumatized,” said Rupert tentatively. “We—we don’t know the full story, a-and she really does seem to have a handle on the situation—”
“Believe me, Rupert, I know what having a handle on a situation is, because it’s something I’ve been striving for constantly.” Jenny picked up her purse from the table, placing down her mug. “Sorry, Willow. Can you tell Snyder some important family business came up? If he asks, say—I don’t know. Say my cousin got hit by a car.”
“Okay,” said Willow uncertainly, “but Ms. Calendar, I’m not sure if it’s the best idea for you to go after a vampire by yourself, even if it’s not likely that he’ll be there.”
“Oh, I’ve done that before,” said Jenny without thinking.
“I’m sorry?” said Rupert with alarm.
“Um,” said Jenny. “With—a crossbow. And broken fingers. To check up on Acathla. You weren’t there and it’s a long story and I’m fine now so it’s all good and we really need to check up on Faith okay? Okay. Love you.” She kissed Rupert quickly before darting around them both in an attempt to get to the door.
Rupert caught her arm. His grip was light, but it did still stop Jenny. “I’m not sure if this is the safest choice to make,” he said carefully.
“Look, Buffy isn’t qualified to deal with the mental health of someone who watched their mentor figure get brutally murdered in front of them,” said Jenny firmly. “And the more time we spend arguing, the more time Kakistos has to get to Faith.” Then she realized what was really bothering Rupert, and added more carefully, “Rupert, I’m not saying you can’t come with me.”
Rupert’s face relaxed slightly at that. “I just—didn’t want you going alone and without any weaponry,” he said, “and you seemed quite ready to flee the school without any plans in mind.”
“So grab some weapons,” said Jenny. “We’re gonna go talk to Faith.”
As it turned out, the talking-to-Faith thing was a disaster before it even started, because Rupert’s car was still a mess from that time he’d lost the keys and the zombies had attacked it, so it took five minutes to get the engine started, ten minutes to try and get it out of the parking lot and ten more for them to decide just to use Jenny’s car. By the time they got to the motel, it was sunset, and they were both arguing fiercely.
“—it wouldn’t kill you to get a new car! It could actually be, I don’t know, a good thing.”
“My Citroen is perfectly respectable!”
“Yeah, especially the glass shards in the seats left over from the zombie attack. It’s a fucking adventure just to sit down in those ever-so-respectable seats.”
“It runs well, and that’s what counts.”
“If it ran well, we wouldn’t be in my car right now!”
Rupert huffed and crossed his arms, glowering at the road in front of them. “I like my car,” he said finally.
“From a Watcher standpoint, you still need a new one,” said Jenny somewhat unsympathetically. “And we’re—shit.” She stopped the car abruptly, barely even registering the screech of the brakes. A group of burly men were walking up the motel stairs, and one of them had cloven hooves. “Shit, shit, shit.”
She felt Rupert’s gaze on her. “Should we try and ambush them?” he asked worriedly. “Are the girls in there?”
“I’m honestly not sure,” Jenny replied with worry. “On both accounts. They could easily take us both down without breaking a sweat. I should have brought the holy water.”
“It’s in my car,” said Rupert with some smugness. Jenny turned around and gave him a very angry look. “Right,” he said. “Sorry. Certainly not the appropriate time for this.”
“Wow. Who’d have possibly guessed that?” said Jenny, glaring at him.
Rupert gave her a sweetly apologetic look, which irritated Jenny, because it was really, really easy to forgive him even when he was being a dick. But if they were about to go off on what could probably be a suicide mission, she didn’t want to die mad at him, so she stopped glaring. “I’m going to be really pissed when we get back,” she informed him.
“I know,” said Rupert, and gave her a sideways smile.
The vampires broke through the door. Jenny grabbed for her cross and stake and pushed the car door roughly open, heading for the motel at a run, but the vampires didn’t even turn to notice her. By the time she’d gotten up the stairs, the motel room was a wreck, and there was no one to be found.
“They must have gone through the window,” said Jenny, voice shaking. She reached behind her for Rupert’s hand, their argument forgotten. “We—I don’t want us to split up.”
Rupert looked at her with soft, starry eyes, and said, “I find it quite remarkable how brave you are, Ms. Calendar.”
Just like that, Jenny wasn’t mad at him anymore, because damn if he knew the right thing to say to her to make her feel like she could chase down some vampires. She smiled at him, and he smiled back, and it felt so much more intimate than any forgiving kiss. “We don’t have time to get mushy,” she said, even though she was still smiling in a suitably mushy fashion. “We’ve gotta help Faith and Buffy.”
“Of course,” Rupert agreed, and helped her through the broken glass of the motel window.
Chapter 5: spare room
Faith had just put a stake (or, more accurately, a giant wooden beam) through Kakistos when a disheveled Giles raced in, followed by Ms. Calendar. “Buffy!” he said with utter relief. “We—are you all right?”
“I think we’re good,” said Buffy with a small smile at Faith, who was pretty sure she might be shaking a little but still managed a convincing smile back.
To Faith’s surprise, Ms. Calendar very quietly stepped past Buffy and Giles, coming up to her with a slightly nervous expression. “I—heard about Kakistos,” she said tentatively, and the quiet, worried sympathy in her eyes made Faith suddenly, violently angry. As much as she’d initially liked Ms. Calendar, she still didn’t like it when people looked at her like that. Like they were somehow high enough above her to be concerned for her or some shit like that.
“So?” said Faith coolly.
Ms. Calendar didn’t seem fazed by this, but she did school her expression into something less readable. Faith didn’t want to like her for that, and tried not to. “So I wanted to ask where you were staying,” she said. “I’m guessing it’s at the motel?”
Faith nodded slowly.
“Look.” Ms. Calendar twisted her hands, halfway glancing over at Giles and Buffy (who were talking quietly with near-identical exhausted expressions on both their faces) before continuing. “I know you’re a smart, capable Slayer, and I don’t want this offer to seem like I’m trying to patronize you or anything, because I get the sense you’ve been taking care of yourself for a good amount of time. But if you’re staying in Sunnydale—”
“Never said I was,” said Faith, fixing her with her best annoyed stare. She hated herself for it, a little, because she had a feeling Ms. C was just trying to help or whatever, but she didn’t want that kind of help. Or need it.
Ms. Calendar still looked unbothered. This was unusual to Faith. Generally, the kind people she met were always cowed by her indifference or (if it came down to that) her anger, but—it almost looked like Ms. Calendar was giving her a flat, disinterested look right back. Granted, her eyes were still reassuring and soft, but Faith couldn’t all the way tell whether or not Ms. Calendar was just trying to look brash and indifferent or whether a part of her really was.
Despite herself, Faith was intrigued. “If I was,” she said carefully, still keeping her tone neutral, “what would you be offering?”
“My place has a spare room,” said Ms. Calendar. “And I can install a lock on the door, so you’ll have privacy from the rest of the house.”
Faith imagined sleeping somewhere that wasn’t a motel, staying with this woman who seemed a strange mixture of sharpness and softness, and felt a strange ache in her chest at the thought. It took her a moment to realize that it was want, a deeper kind than just wanting a weapon or a leather jacket, and it scared her more than she cared to admit. The question that came to mind was What happens when you get tired of me? but she bit it back, taking a ragged breath.
“You don’t have to answer right now—”
Ms. Calendar blinked, startled. Faith liked that. She didn’t like conforming to people’s expectations, and if Ms. Calendar was confused by her, she couldn’t reject her. Not that Faith would care, because she could always just go back to the crap motel, but— “I have to pick up some stuff from the motel first,” she said.
“I’ll come with you,” said Ms. Calendar. “Someone’s gotta pay for damages.” She didn’t say it in an accusing way, just matter-of-fact.
“You don’t need to do that,” said Faith sharply.
“Yeah, well, otherwise you get a bunch of calls from the motel guy and he eventually takes someone to court,” said Ms. Calendar with a small, amused smile. “Trust me. When I was sixteen, I broke the window of a lady’s house with a brick when I was trying to steal her cat, and I almost got sued over it.”
“Long story. Involves magic. I’ll tell you when we know each other a little better.” Ms. Calendar walked away, falling into step with Giles and saying something quietly to him. He smiled at her and wound an arm around her waist.
Faith watched them for a moment (Ms. Calendar’s soft, unguarded eyes, Giles’s easy smile) and then followed, not entirely sure what she was feeling. Or maybe (and this was the option she was leaning towards) she just didn’t want to think about it.
Faith was quiet during the car ride back. Jenny had Rupert drop them off at the school so she could get her car, and kissed him goodnight in the parking lot.
“Get a new car,” she said as she let go of his hands.
“I love you too, dear,” said Rupert with a small smile. Jenny fixed him with a pointed look. “But yes,” he agreed reluctantly. “I do need a new car.”
Jenny kissed him again, harder this time, mostly because she was really excited about having a boyfriend who didn’t drive a Citroen with the windows still smashed in from that one time zombies had tried to kill them. She pulled away to hug him, said, “We’re going car shopping this weekend,” ignored Rupert’s groan, and hurried across the parking lot to where Faith was waiting by Jenny’s car, a duffel bag slung over her shoulder.
“Nice car,” said Faith, jerking her head towards the Beetle. It wasn’t clear whether or not she meant it.
“I thought it was the cutest thing back in my twenties,” said Jenny. “It doesn’t really work for driving around the kids, though. I’m thinking of getting an SUV.”
“So you’re like the Scooby mom or something?” said Faith, a derisive laugh in her voice.
Jenny didn’t let it sting. “I like to think of myself as the Scooby cool aunt, but yeah, I’m probably the mom,” she joked, unlocking the car. “You want the radio?”
“Cool.” Jenny got in, starting up the engine. “Buckle your seatbelt,” she reminded Faith, who gave her what was very clearly an are you serious look. Jenny gave Faith the look she’d gotten very used to giving Xander. Faith obliged, but did it somewhat huffily.
It felt strange and natural to drive with Faith in the front seat. Jenny chalked it up to taking care of Willow and Xander over the summer. Somewhere along the line, she had turned into some kind of a mom, which made her want to laugh. She turned on the radio instead.
They drove mostly in silence, although Jenny did catch Faith quietly tapping along to the rhythm of one of the songs out of the corner of her eye. The more she saw of Faith, the more she wanted to help her, but she knew it was going to be an uphill battle. Like trying to help me, Jenny thought, and smiled slightly. She remembered what it was like to want everyone to believe you were strong, and to be angry at anyone who tried to love you too much.
Jenny pulled up next to her house and got out of the car, Faith following. “The spare room has a bed, but not much else,” she said apologetically as she unlocked the front door. “I mostly set it up since Xander and Willow stayed over on occasion last summer, but if you’re planning on staying long-term, I can definitely take you out to buy more furniture.”
“Bed’s fine,” said Faith, breezing past her without looking her in the eye. “Just through that door?”
Jenny nodded, watching her go.
The spare room was small and lit with a yellowy glow from the crappy overhead light. There were a few posters up, charts and lists written in loopy cursive that seemed to fit Ms. Calendar nicely. Faith paused by a moon chart and saw that Ms. Calendar had stuck post-its all over it with notes in various languages. Seemed like Ms. Calendar was just as much of a nerd as her boyfriend.
Faith sat down on the bed. The sheets were soft, and not at all cheap-motel scratchy; they’d been washed recently. Faith wondered for the first time if Ms. Calendar had been planning to ask her to stay earlier than this, but decided against it. She tossed her duffel bag down at the foot of the bed, kicked off her shoes, and changed quietly into a large, worn nightshirt, settling herself under the covers.
She didn’t want to feel safe. She hated that. She’d thought she was safe with her Watcher, and it had gotten taken away, and now she was stupid enough to start thinking that maybe Ms. Calendar could be some kind of help to her. She didn’t want to like Ms. Calendar any more than you’d like some cool teacher who made funny jokes. Ms. Calendar wasn’t like anyone Faith had ever met. She liked Faith, but she wasn’t taken aback when Faith didn’t like her. She didn’t have time for idiots, but she was letting Faith stay in her house. Lots of qualities that made sense by themselves, but definitely not paired together.
Faith refused to let herself be lulled into a false sense of security. Kakistos was dead, sure, but that didn’t mean some other big bad could come after her or (Faith’s stomach clenched) after Ms. Calendar, who for all her calm determination didn’t really seem like the type to face down a master vampire. She closed her eyes, pulled the covers tight around her, and tried to ignore the way it felt to be warm and safe, because she knew that nothing like this ever lasted.
Chapter 6: on trust
About two hours after going to bed, Faith woke up screaming. It took her a moment to get her bearings, and another moment to regulate her breathing. She sat up, running a shaking hand through her hair, and fumbled for the knife under her pillow, and when she came up with nothing she realized that she’d forgotten to put it there last night.
Shit. Okay. Probably a good thing, because if Ms. Calendar had heard her and come in, and Faith had stabbed her, that probably would have killed any chance of her being buddy-buddy with the Scoobies. Faith turned on the lamp on the bedside table, rummaging in her duffel bag, and realized that she’d left the knife back in the motel.
“Fuck,” said Faith, and got up, exiting the spare room. Maybe there would be something in the kitchen she could use. She didn’t sleep well knowing that she could get jumped and not have something to defend herself with.
The kitchen light was on, and Faith paused by the door. Ms. Calendar was very quietly drinking tea, and looked up at her over the mug. “Hey,” she said, nonchalant and quiet, as though she hadn’t heard Faith screaming. “You feel like some tea?”
“Thought you’d be more of a coffee person,” said Faith, entering the room. “I want a knife.”
“Okay,” said Ms. Calendar, in the same calm way you’d respond to someone saying I need a snack or I’m going to do my homework now. “They’re over in the bottom drawer.”
Faith stared at her. “I could be about to kill you,” she said, “and you’re just telling me where your knives are.”
“I trust you,” said Ms. Calendar simply.
Faith hated her for that, because who gave out their trust to just anyone? Ms. Calendar was stupid, and she was going to get killed with that kind of optimism, and Faith was starting to like her anyway so it was gonna suck even more when she died. “You’re a moron,” she said, and headed over to the bottom drawer of Ms. Calendar’s cabinet. There were plenty of sharp utensils in there. “Why are you up this late, anyway?”
“I get nightmares,” said Ms. Calendar, taking another sip of tea.
“Yeah?” Faith turned, forgetting about the knife. Anger was bubbling up in her; this felt like some weird kind of manipulation on Ms. Calendar’s part to try and make her feel better. “About what?”
In response, Ms. Calendar put down the mug and lifted her hair off her neck, and Faith felt all her vindictive rage dissipate. There was a quiet, raised mark on Ms. Calendar’s neck in the distinct shape of a vampire bite.
“Oh,” said Faith, and even she could hear the change in her voice. She wasn’t sure whether she wanted to ask what had happened. She took the knife from the bottom drawer, shutting it. “I sleep with it under my pillow,” she said. It was strange to tell this to someone. “So don’t go into my room if I’m screaming. Might stab you.”
Ms. Calendar bit her lip and nodded. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I know how you feel. Or—not all of it, but I think some of it.”
Faith hesitated. “Did—” It took her a moment to actually ask her question. “Did a master vampire do that? Not—not some lame-ass vamp just out of the grave, a real master vampire. With centuries of experience and minions and shit.” She wasn’t asking it in an angry, accusing way, as though trying to catch Ms. Calendar making a big story out of a small thing. There was something in Ms. Calendar’s eyes that made Faith think they might have a shared experience.
“Can you sit down?” Ms. Calendar replied. “You can keep holding the knife if it helps.”
Faith nodded, came over, and sat down next to Ms. Calendar at the kitchen table.
“Yes,” said Ms. Calendar after a long moment. “I was. He tortured me in front of someone who loved me very much.”
“You don’t have to tell me this,” said Faith reflexively, her stomach twisting. This somehow sounded both more and less awful than what had happened to her with Kakistos.
Ms. Calendar smiled, and it was still easy and calm. Suddenly, that meant a whole lot more to Faith. “The other kids know,” she said. “They were there for most of the aftermath. If you’re staying in Sunnydale, I think you have a right to know too. I don’t want there to be secrets of mine that you feel like you have to fight to find out.”
Faith felt strange at hearing this, because Ms. Calendar was so much braver than she had ever even considered. To go through something like that and still try and think about other people, people like her—she couldn’t understand that, but she wanted to, and she was afraid of wanting to. Things she wanted had never worked out for her. “I want some tea,” she said roughly. “Can I get some tea?”
“I’ll pour you some,” said Ms. Calendar, and got up.
“What happened to the guy?” Faith asked, almost afraid of the answer. At Ms. Calendar’s questioning look, she elaborated, “The guy who had to watch when you were—” She swallowed, not quite able to say tortured.
Ms. Calendar put a mug down in front of Faith and started pouring the tea. “I think you mean Giles,” she said, and Faith felt a jolt of surprise. “He didn’t handle absolutely everything perfectly, but he figured things out in the end.”
Faith hesitated. Then, “Were you ever—mad?”
Ms. Calendar put down the kettle. “What do you mean?”
“That he didn’t step in.” Faith drew in a breath, only half conscious of the fact that she was shaking. “That he didn’t save you.”
Ms. Calendar studied Faith’s face, and Faith got the uncomfortable feeling that she wasn’t being as subtle as she was trying to be. “I was mad at myself, mostly,” she said. “For being weak. But I was never mad at him.”
Faith felt better. Or—maybe a better way of putting it was that some small part of her didn’t feel as bad anymore. “Okay,” she said, and took a sip of tea.
Faith went back to bed after the tea, and took the knife with her. Ms. Calendar didn’t try to take the knife from her, which almost made Faith want to put it back in the kitchen drawer. It made her feel weird and wrong to know that Ms. Calendar trusted her, and she didn’t want to use up that trust on stupid things like sleeping with a knife under her pillow. But then she remembered what it had been like to wake up from a nightmare and have her fingers curl around air instead of a knife, and decided that maybe she could use some of Ms. Calendar’s trust on that, if only for her own peace of mind.
She slept in late and long, and woke up when she heard the tinny sound of a radio from the kitchen. Faith lay there in bed for a few more minutes, feeling a strange, tentative hope mingled in with the first night of good sleep she’d had in months, and then she got up and went to the kitchen again.
“Hey,” said Ms. Calendar, who was setting up cereal boxes in the kitchen. “You sleep well?”
Faith shrugged. “Shouldn’t you be teaching some class or something?” she asked.
“I called in sick for my first two periods,” Ms. Calendar replied. “I figured I might need some extra sleep after last night.”
Faith paused, then asked, “Did I wake you? With the—” She looked directly at Ms. Calendar, forcing out the last word. “Screaming.”
“A little,” said Ms. Calendar, “but it was better than the dream I was having, I can tell you that.”
Faith studied the many boxes of artificially flavored cereal. “Aren’t adults supposed to have nutritional cereals and shit like that?” she asked, not sure whether or not she was judging or teasing Ms. Calendar.
Ms. Calendar laughed; Faith guessed that she’d taken it as the latter. “I get that from every single person who knows me,” she said. “Rupert keeps on trying to steer my shopping cart away from the cereal aisle whenever we go out for groceries.”
“Giles,” said Ms. Calendar. “He’s a healthy eater.”
“He seems like the type,” said Faith. Then, hesitating, “If I was going to stay in Sunnydale—”
“You can stay here,” said Ms. Calendar, as though it were obvious. She rummaged in her cabinets for two bowls, one of which she handed to Faith. “Though I think we should probably go furniture shopping for your room. Get you an actual dresser, at least.”
“I’m not, like, your daughter or anything,” said Faith coolly, not liking the idea of permanence. Furniture and clothing that were hers would make it harder when Ms. Calendar got killed or got tired of her—though, a traitorously optimistic part of her whispered, she survived a master vampire too. Just like you.
“It’s an offer to go look at stuff in Ikea, not start planning family picnics,” said Ms. Calendar with amusement. She didn’t seem at all insulted by the brushoff. “And it might do me well to have a spare room that’s well furnished even if you decide you want to leave. Maybe sometime we can drive out and pick some furniture together.”
Faith was about to turn Ms. Calendar down again, but she ended up just shrugging instead. She kept her eyes on the Froot Loops as Ms. Calendar poured them each a bowl. “I like Frosted Flakes,” she said when Ms. Calendar had finished with the second bowl.
“Cool,” said Ms. Calendar, and passed her the box.
Chapter 7: men & murder
“Nice place,” Faith commented. They were in one of the cemeteries closer to the high school tonight; Ms. Calendar and the Scooby crew were hitting the one Faith and Buffy had done last week. “Do you ever catch kids doing the diddy out here?”
“No,” Buffy replied easily. Faith liked the way Buffy’s voice sounded when it wasn’t closed-off and self-righteous. “There's a smooch spot up by the woods. That's usually where kids go.”
“Yeah?” It was weird, because Faith was usually bad at names, but she perfectly remembered the name of Buffy’s boyfriend. “Bet you and Scott have been up there kicking the gearshift,” she teased, and gave Buffy a playful grin.
Buffy gave her a reluctantly amused smile back. “Hardly,” she said, and Faith found herself grinning more. “Only been on a few dates.”
“But you like him,” Faith persisted, half teasing Buffy and half seeking out something she wasn’t quite sure of yet. “And when you think about him, you get that good, down-low tickle, right?”
“Yeah, I guess,” Buffy agreed a little vaguely, “but...” She trailed off, giving Faith a look. “How low?”
Faith grinned. “You tell me.”
“How about not?” said Buffy with a laugh in her voice. She smiled, almost to herself. “But he is nice, and he's funny.”
“And quite a muffin,” Faith added lightly, smiling at Buffy. She felt a strange kind of tug when Buffy smiled playfully back at her.
“Blueberry,” Buffy agreed cheerfully. “That crunchy, munchy stuff on top. But my most favorite thing so far is that he doesn't seem to be any kind of hell beast.”
Faith was really starting to wonder about this Angel guy if Buffy was saying things like that. “All men are beasts, Buffy,” she said matter-of-factly.
“Okay, I was hoping to not get that cynical till I was at least forty,” said Buffy, still in that casually playful tone.
“It's not cynical,” Faith continued, careful to keep her tone level. She was serious, but she got the sense that Buffy didn’t realize that. “I mean, it's realistic. Every guy from Manimal down to Mr. I-Love-The-English-Patient has beast in him. And I don't care how sensitive they act. They're all still just in it for the chase.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that,” said Buffy uncomfortably.
Faith wanted to press the subject, but got the sense that doing so might lose her whatever tentative ground she seemed to have gained with Buffy. She decided to talk about something else. “So I’m living with Ms. Calendar now,” she said abruptly.
“Ooh, that’s nice,” said Buffy, looking visibly relieved at the change of subject. “She’s really cool.”
Faith nodded slowly. “Yeah,” she said. “What went down with her?”
Buffy’s expression faltered. “What?”
“I don’t know,” Faith shrugged nonchalantly. She wasn’t ready to bring up any of her conversation with Ms. Calendar in the kitchen, but she did want to know what Buffy knew about Ms. Calendar. She felt weird about straight-up asking Ms. Calendar what had happened to her, and why, but maybe if she found out through someone else— “She just seems kinda nervous at night, that’s all,” said Faith finally.
Buffy hesitated, then, “You know, it’s really not my place to talk about Ms. Calendar. I’m sure she’d be super upset if she—”
“Aw, come on, B,” Faith persisted, trying her best to do the whole gentle-teasing thing even though she really did want to know. “No one’s listening. Just you and me and the night sky.”
Buffy pressed her lips together. Then, slowly, “There was a vampire, a-and he had a soul. A moral compass. He wasn’t a danger to anyone as long as he knew right from wrong. Ms. Calendar got sent here to make sure he kept that soul, only she didn’t know that he could lose it.”
“Sent here?” Faith repeated.
“By her family,” said Buffy. “They didn’t do a super good job of informing her.” She smiled weakly, as though trying to lighten the mood. “Anyway, we all—we kind of blamed her for the vampire losing his soul, when he did, because he tried to—to hurt. Some of us.” The way she was telling the story was strange and jerky, and it made Faith think that there was a detail she was leaving out, but the story made enough sense for Faith not to poke any more than she had already. “So Ms. Calendar tried to fix things. Give the vampire back his soul.”
“And the vampire didn’t like that,” Faith finished. “What happened to him?”
“Dead,” said Buffy, in a way that very clearly indicated that that was all Faith was going to hear about that part of the story. “But not before he left his mark on Ms. Calendar.”
“Literally,” said Faith without thinking.
Buffy gave her a funny look. “What?”
“Nothing,” said Faith hastily. Now it was her turn to scramble to cover things up. “Man, poor Ms. C. I’ll try not to be too hard on her.”
She tried to imagine anyone giving a soul to a vampire. She tried to imagine anyone trying to give that vampire its soul back instead of killing it. Second chances. That was what Ms. Calendar seemed to be about, even now. If Faith had gone through something like that, she sure as hell wouldn’t be all that inclined to give people the benefit of the doubt.
She wasn’t sure how she felt about Ms. Calendar now that she knew this. It didn’t make her like Ms. Calendar any more or any less, not really. All it made her think was that Ms. Calendar was kind of stupid to trust people so easily, and the fact that her trust was given so freely made Faith angry (and, in a weird way, jealous).
Didn’t matter, anyway. With an attitude like that, Ms. Calendar would end up inviting some poor, downtrodden vampire in, and then Faith would show up to find Ms. Calendar lying in a pool of blood on that nice kitchen floor of hers. Faith shrugged off thoughts of Ms. Calendar and turned her eyes back to the cemetery ahead.
“Murder,” said Rupert quite seriously, coming into Jenny’s classroom.
“Oh, hi, boyfriend,” said Jenny with some exasperation. “Boyfriend who is interrupting my class with murder. Go outside, Rupert.” There was a light titter from the class at this.
“Jenny, it’s urgent,” said Rupert pointedly.
“Is anyone going to be murdered if you wait five minutes to tell me?” said Jenny, who had been through this kind of thing at least ten times over the course of her career as Girlfriend To A Watcher, which (contrary to popular belief) was nearly as much of a job as the one that actually paid the bills.
“Go,” said Jenny, and all but pushed him out of the door, turning back to the class. She was trying her best to set a positive example for the students, and ducking out of class on what could be interpreted as a romantic rendezvous with her lover was definitely not a thing she wanted to model. “All right,” she said. “I’m going to walk around the class and check your assignments from last week, and then we’re going to review the programming basics we covered yesterday, okay?”
She let the class out three minutes earlier than she had to, mostly because she really was concerned about whatever it was Rupert was trying to tell her. It wasn’t of serious urgency, or he would have pushed her into coming outside with him, so she wasn’t concerned about that. Opening the door again, she saw Rupert standing outside and looking miffed. “Don’t make that face at me,” she said with exasperated fondness. “You should know not to interrupt when I'm teaching a class. And maybe don’t open with murder when you’re coming into a room.”
Rupert nodded, his irritation giving way to embarrassment. “You’re right,” he agreed. “I apologize. I was—merely tense regarding a possible development with Oz.”
“What, did Oz murder someone?” Jenny asked skeptically. When Rupert’s face didn’t change, she felt her annoyance give way to worry. “You’re not serious.”
“It’s still very indefinite,” Rupert explained, beginning to head towards the library. Jenny followed. “Xander swears he was here all night, but—”
“It is Xander,” Jenny finished as Rupert opened the library doors for her.
“I heard that,” said Xander.
“And I meant that in the best possible way, Xander,” said Jenny smoothly. “Care to brief me on what’s going on?”
Chapter 8: jen
So apparently there had been a gruesome murder, and apparently it was a nice kid that Oz had actually known, which made the possibility of Oz murdering him even worse for everyone. But it still wasn’t definite that it was Oz, which was good. Jenny hated the thought of someone so young having to come to terms with the fact that he’d murdered someone.
She thought, with a strange twist in her stomach, of Angel, and the guilt that he’d had to face alone. The redemption that Jenny’s inaction had stolen from him. She hated Angelus with every fiber of her being, but she couldn’t hate Angel, and didn’t know what to make of that. Reaching out, Jenny tangled her fingers with Rupert’s, resting her head on his shoulder.
“You okay?” Xander asked her from where he was sitting by the steps.
Jenny tried to smile. “Getting there,” she said, and felt Rupert’s arm slide around her waist. “When’s Buffy coming back from her meeting with the counselor?”
“A few minutes,” said Willow, eyes drifting to the clock.
“Are you quite sure you’re all right?” Rupert asked Jenny quietly. “You seem a bit off-color.”
If Oz was dealing with that kind of guilt, killing one person he’d cared about, what would it be like for Angel to know all the pain he’d caused Buffy and Giles and Jenny? And for him to know that Jenny could have stopped it? She’d gotten so lost in being angry at Angelus these past few weeks that she’d started to forget all the harm that had been done to Angel, and that she hadn’t been able to save him, and she was starting to feel really profoundly awful about it all of a sudden, completely out of the blue, which sucked, because—
Jenny was jolted out of her thoughts by Buffy entering the library, and managed to look up at Rupert and give him what she hoped was a convincing smile. It wasn’t that she didn’t want him to know she was upset—she just figured that maybe this was a conversation to have after the thing with Oz was completely figured out. “I’ll talk to you when we get home, okay?” she replied. “I don’t think now’s the time.”
Rupert hesitated, then nodded.
“I’m almost afraid to ask,” Jenny heard Buffy say.
“Oz ate someone last night,” Cordelia explained.
“He did not!” objected Willow, glaring at Cordelia.
“Oz does not eat people,” Xander agreed, turning to Cordelia. “It's more werewolf play. You know, I bat you around a little bit, like a cat toy. I have harmless, wolf fun.”
“Xander,” said Jenny, “really, profoundly not helpful right now.” Xander looked down, and Jenny felt a little guilty—it wasn’t like he had a stellar home to spend the night in, and she had a feeling that that was why he’d volunteered to watch Oz in the first place—so she added carefully, “I know you were probably tired, but this is a serious mistake to make.”
Xander looked ashamed, but also a little grateful that Jenny wasn’t full-on mad at him in the same way as Rupert. Jenny was probably going to have to talk to Rupert about that later. “Oz got out of his cage last night,” she explained to Buffy.
“And there was a mauling that took place around that same time,” Rupert added, “but it’s still unclear whether or not Oz is involved or…something else.”
“It's okay,” said Buffy with soft conviction. “We'll work together, and we'll figure this out.”
“Yes,” Rupert agreed. “Buffy, you patrol the woods. The others, um, check out the morgue.”
“Right!” said Willow hopefully. “We can see if it's a werewolf kill or not.” She glanced over at Oz with worry. “But what about Oz?”
“Well, I have some research materials at home I need to look up,” began Rupert worriedly.
“I’ll do it,” said Jenny.
Rupert tensed. “I—” he began, and then drew out a breath. Jenny suddenly remembered the last time she’d been in the library after hours. “If—I’d feel much more comfortable if we asked Faith to stay with you,” he said, turning to her and looking at her with a mixture of affection and worry. “I—you know I trust your capabilities, Jenny, I just—”
“Oh, so we need a Slayer in the room for someone to keep an eye on me?” interjected Oz. “Well, good to know we’re not overreacting.” He started to storm off, but Willow caught his arm.
Jenny decided to let Willow deal with that one for the time being. “I get it,” she told Rupert gently. “And I know you’re not really one for the panicky-hovering thing anymore.” Rupert gave her a nervous flicker of a smile at that. “I think I’d be a little nervous alone in the library, actually, after the whole vampire-ambush thing,” she said with a rueful laugh, “and it could be nice to get to spend some time with Faith.”
“Good,” said Rupert with visible relief. “I—good. Yes.” He kissed Jenny on the cheek. “I’ll go call the motel.”
“Oh, no, Faith’s staying with me,” said Jenny with surprise. “Did I not tell you?”
The library went quiet.
“Faith’s staying with you?” Willow repeated in a strange tone of voice, turning away from the book cage where Oz was undressing.
“Yeah.” Jenny shrugged, trying to keep it light and nonchalant. “Seemed better for her than staying in a motel, and I think she could really use a safe place to live.”
Willow nodded, nodded again, bit her lip, and said, “Okay!” still with an odd cadence to her tone. Almost hurt. Jenny would have pressed it if not for Willow then saying with strained brightness, “So I’d better head to the morgue! Xander, Cordelia, you in?”
“Willow—” began Jenny.
“It’s cool!” Willow sounded high and panicky. “Just a little surprising, you know, and it’s sad you don’t have a spare room and all that, but I’m fine, and so is everyone. I mean, not Oz, but that’s what we’re working on, so let’s go,” she finished, and hurried out of the library before Jenny could get another word in.
“I’ll talk to her when she gets back,” said Jenny quietly to Rupert, who nodded, a worried expression on his face.
“That’s really cool of you,” said Buffy suddenly. Jenny turned, and saw that Buffy had an appreciative, shy smile on her face. “To let Faith stay with you.”
“It’s not like I’m planning on letting her just live in a motel she can’t pay for,” Jenny joked a little uncomfortably. She felt weird about taking credit for ensuring Faith’s safety, like it was something unexpected and unusual for her to do. But Buffy’s smile didn’t falter, so she added on a hesitant, “Thanks.”
Buffy inclined her head and headed out of the library. Xander and Cordelia followed.
“I’ll call Faith,” said Jenny to Rupert, who nodded in agreement.
Ms. Calendar was sitting with a plate of cookies when Faith came in. “These are mine,” she said, and nodded towards a box near her. “You can take from that. Rupert bought lots of cookies from Safeway for tonight. I don’t know if cookies are your style or whatever, but Rupert says he can’t condone me taking shots in a school library, so alcohol’s out of the question.”
“Are you trying to be the cool mom?” said Faith. “’Cause I feel like someone should tell you that you’re really bad at it.”
“Faith,” said Ms. Calendar, “I am effortlessly cool.”
“Might believe you a little more if you weren’t holding a sugar cookie,” said Faith, and snagged one of the chocolate chip cookies from the box, taking a bite.
“It’s all about confidence.” Ms. Calendar took a bite of her cookie. “That and leather jackets. I found a picture of Rupert in a leather jacket once and he looked cool as all get-out, which was extremely disorienting, let me tell you.”
Faith smirked. “Dating a nerd makes you less cool by association, you know,” she said.
“So I’ve heard.” There was a crash from the cage, and Ms. Calendar glanced over at Oz. “I’d give him a cookie too, but Willow says that feeding him just makes him worked up,” she said. “Do you want to make inane, uncomfortable small talk, play cards, listen to music, or just ignore each other for the rest of the night?”
“Not a lot of appealing options there,” said Faith.
Ms. Calendar nodded thoughtfully. Then she said, “Could you teach me how to fight?”
This took Faith aback. “What?”
“Look,” said Ms. Calendar. “If we’re going to be here for the rest of the night, I’d like to be doing something that could possibly help me in the long run. My fingers were fucked this summer, so I couldn’t exactly practice my punching, but I figure no one’s going to know how to fight better than a bona fide Vampire Slayer.”
Faith liked the way Ms. Calendar said that. It wasn’t the kind of fake gushiness that adults paired with adoring eyes and you’re just so cool, can have a Bonding Moment so that I can feel like I’m Reaching You? Ms. Calendar was looking at her with genuine respect, and Faith wasn’t sure what to do with that, but she did know that she liked it. It made her feel important. She didn’t want to let that on, though, because then Ms. Calendar had won, so she said with a shrug, “Don’t expect me to go easy on you.”
“If I thought you would, I wouldn’t be asking you,” replied Ms. Calendar, unfazed. She put down her cookie. “Where do we start, Ms. Lehane?”
Faith liked the way that sounded, too. “If I’m your teacher,” she challenged, “I can’t call you Ms. Calendar, can I?”
“Jenny,” Ms. Calendar said.
“Your name’s Jennifer?” said Faith, wrinkling her nose.
Ms. Calendar shook her head and smiled enigmatically. “Just Jenny,” she said.
Faith nodded. “All right, Jen, let’s get down to business,” she said.
Ms. Calendar, who Faith was going to call Jen because that sounded one hell of a lot better than Jenny, stood up from the table, taking a hair tie out of her pocket to quickly pull her hair into a ponytail. “You gonna make a man out of me?” she quipped.
“You didn’t seem like the Disney movie type,” said Faith with sarcastic amusement.
“Neither did you,” said Jen, and quirked an eyebrow at her.
Faith punched Jen in the face kind of hard at first, the same way she’d punch a vampire, halfway just to see if Jen was really serious about wanting to learn or if she’d switch back into Teacher Mode and start calling Faith out for punching too hard. But Jen came up with a bloody nose and that unfaltering, calm smile and said that if Faith didn’t mind, she was going to go see if Rupert had a few handkerchiefs, and then they could start up again, so Faith decided she wasn’t going to abuse whatever weird level of trust Jen had in her.
Granted, Jen was an idiot. But the world would probably teach her that soon enough, if it hadn’t already, and some strange part of Faith didn’t want to be the one to make Jen aware of how stupid optimism was.
Buffy came in around the time Faith was working with Jen on roundhouse kicks. She looked a little startled. “Am I interrupting anything?” she asked tentatively. “I—I was going to offer to let you guys off free, but if you’re busy—”
Faith hesitated. Jen’s kick had just gotten hard enough to sting a little. “Well,” she hedged, not quite ready to admit that she might be okay with spending time with Jen.
But then Jen said, “Faith, if Buffy’s ready to let us go home, would you mind continuing our lesson there? I could move some furniture around, maybe even turn on some music. Unless you want to rest.”
“A Slayer never sleeps,” said Faith, trying her best not to jump at the chance Jen had given her. She tucked her arm casually into Jen’s, tossing a grin over her shoulder at Buffy as they left the library. “I was going kinda crazy in here anyway.”
Chapter 9: faith and i
Faith woke up early, just because, and met up with Giles coming out of Jen’s bedroom. He turned red and started stammering something about how sometimes he dropped in at late hours and how he hoped this wasn’t improper in any way and then Jen came up behind him and said with amusement, “Rupert, just go get some breakfast.” Giles obliged with visible relief.
“He like that all the time?” Faith inquired.
Jen wrinkled her nose and shook her head. “He’s just not used to me having someone else in the house,” she said. “Generally, he’s not as much of a disaster.”
“I heard that,” said Giles from the kitchen.
“I know, sugarplum,” Jen called back, a saccharine-sweet note in her voice.
“We have a guest. Are you trying to humiliate me?”
“Deliberately,” said Jen, and gave Faith a sneaky little grin that made Faith want to laugh. She bit it down. “C’mon, Faith. We get to have actual breakfast now that Rupert’s here.”
“I suppose I’m just a chef to you,” said Giles dryly as they entered the kitchen.
“A cute one,” said Jen, and smiled winningly at Giles when he turned to give her a look.
It was weird how domestic the whole thing felt. Jen and Giles kept snarking at each other through the entire breakfast-making process. Giles asked Faith how she liked her eggs, and Faith felt that same strange ache again, because she couldn’t remember the last time she’d had eggs in a warm, sunny kitchen, off of neatly matching plates.
Faith breathed out, and the words came to her head for the first time. I want this. Somehow, this life had landed in her lap, a reward for something she’d never done. There were other people who should have this life. Other people who did have it. She didn’t want to think about what would happen when Jen figured out that this kind of friendliness wasn’t what Faith deserved from people like her and Giles.
“Would you like eggs?” Giles repeated gently, and Faith realized that she’d never answered his question.
Faith shrugged. At Giles’s questioning look, she said, “I don’t have eggs a lot.”
“Put her down for over hard,” said Jen excitedly, nearly knocking over the vase in the middle of the kitchen table. “Rupert—”
“No,” said Giles, and pointed the spatula at her. “No one likes eggs over hard.”
“I like eggs over hard!”
“I am forever horrified by the fact that I am in love with a woman with such appalling food taste. No. I’m making Faith scrambled eggs.”
“You have to try some of my eggs,” Jen informed Faith. “I’ve got to prove him wrong. More people on the Eggs Over Hard team.”
Faith laughed, forgetting about trying to suppress it. Jen and Giles didn’t treat it like anything unusual—no stares, no pleased smiles at finally seeing her brightening up. She wasn’t sure how to feel about that.
Jenny got into class a little late, partially because she’d been setting Faith up in the library with the punching bag and some snacks. School was mostly slow up until noon, when Buffy found Mr. Platt, the school guidance counselor, dead in his office. That entirely eliminated the possibility of it being Oz mauling people, which was good, but the fact that now they had no leads to go on was significantly less good. Jenny had been jumpy for most of the rest of the day, and actually threw her binder at the door when it opened after class was over.
“Ow,” said Rupert.
“Don’t sneak up on me!” said Jenny indignantly.
“You do realize that there is no indication of—”
“Jeff and Platt have no correlation that we know of so anyone could be coming after anyone with teeth,” said Jenny. “At school.”
Rupert had a look on his face that seemed to be mingled amusement and worry. He stepped forward and kissed her softly, which didn’t really help as much as he seemed to think it might. What did help was when he said softly, “I’m here, and Buffy’s in the library, and we will hear you immediately if you’re in danger. All right?”
“I can fight off a lot of things, but I can’t fight off whatever did that,” said Jenny reluctantly, slipping her hand into Rupert’s as they left her classroom.
They entered the library. Faith was sitting on top of the table, and she gave Jenny a small half smile upon seeing her. “Hey, Jen,” she said.
“Jen?” Willow repeated. There was an injured note to her voice.
“Sorry.” Faith held up her hands. “Should I call you Ms. Calendar during school hours or whatever?”
“I do think we have more important things to discuss than what to call Jen—” Rupert cleared his throat, seeming to remember that they were still on school grounds. “Ms. Cal—um—”
Jenny held back a laugh. “It’s fine, Rupert,” she said. “You call me Jenny, the kids call me Ms. Calendar, Faith can call me Jen since she’s not technically my student. How’s that?”
Willow didn’t look all that happy.
“At any rate,” said Rupert, who had now gone a bit pink, “now that we are quite certain that the murderer isn’t Oz, our task now is to determine what sort of killer we are dealing with. Clearly, we're looking for a depraved, sadistic animal.”
“Present,” said Oz, coming in behind them. Willow’s smile showed up in full force, and she all but pushed past Rupert and Jenny to reach her boyfriend. “Hey, I may be a cold-blooded jelly doughnut, but my timing is impeccable,” he continued lightly.
“But you aren't!” Willow informed him happily. “It's a kill-in-the-day monster! A hundred percent for sure.”
Oz was silent for a moment, before a slow, relieved smile spread over his face. “Okay,” he said simply as Willow put her arm around him.
“Yeah, well, much as I’d like to celebrate, we do have two victims of this guy who don’t seem to have anything in common,” Jenny put in.
“Missing internal organs,” Faith suggested.
The group turned to look at her. “Besides that,” said Rupert.
“Debbie,” said Oz suddenly. As all eyes went to him, he continued, “Well, victim number one, Jeff. He was in jazz band with us. They used to horse around.”
“They were screwing?” Faith inquired.
“I don't think so,” Oz replied slowly, “but he hid her music comp book once.”
“And we know that Debbie knew Platt,” Buffy chimed in. “I mean, she was seeing him and way vocal about not having love for the guy.”
“Add this and stir,” Oz said. “I just saw Debbie a minute ago sporting a nasty black eye.”
“Okay, so pretend Debbie wanted Platt dead,” said Willow. “Maybe he fought back.”
Buffy shook her head. “No. Platt was dead in an instant. He didn't even drop his cigarette.” She paused, thinking. “Now, what if boyfriend Pete's the one doling out the punishment?”
Rupert’s eyes were calculating and worried as he said, “We should find them both immediately.”
“Well, Debbie was in the quad a minute ago,” said Oz.
“Okay,” said Jenny, “Faith, you and me are gonna look for Debbie. Willow, Rupert, Buffy, I think we’ll need more people when it comes to Pete.”
“I could help you guys find Debbie,” said Willow hopefully.
Jenny bit her lip. Normally, she’d want to reassure Willow, who seemed to need it more than usual all of a sudden, but there just wasn’t enough time. “We need an adult and a Slayer on each side,” she said, “and we need you to help if anything with Pete goes down. Strength in numbers.”
“You know I don’t know enough to help in a fight!” Willow objected.
“Willow, we’ll talk later,” said Jenny firmly. “I promise.” She gave Faith a pointed look, and Faith jumped up, following her out of the library.
Debbie was in the girls’ bathroom, quietly covering up what looked to Faith like one hell of a shiner. Jen hesitated at the door.
“What’s up?” Faith asked.
Jen pressed her lips together, then said, “If Debbie’s in any kind of an abusive relationship, she’s not going to want to open up to a teacher. I don’t think I can help her, but I think—”
“You think maybe I can,” Faith finished. “Why, ‘cause I seem like a kid with street smarts?”
“Because you seem like a kid,” said Jen with quiet patience, and tugged at the sleeves of her gray sweater. “And I’ll seem like an adult trying to poke my nose where it doesn’t belong.”
Faith shook her head almost involuntarily. Eyes fixed on Debbie in the mirror, she said, “You don’t really give off that vibe.”
She didn’t look over to see the way Jen was looking at her when she strode into the bathroom. Her heart was pounding a little. It was small, but it was the most honest that she’d allowed herself to be with anyone in a long time.
“Debbie,” said Faith. Debbie jumped and turned around. “Look,” she said, striding forward with purpose in her step, “you don’t know me, but there’s something going down and a little birdie told me you know what’s what.”
“Oh boy,” said Jen from the doorway.
“You put me in charge,” said Faith, glancing over her shoulder.
Jen stepped up, placing a gentle hand on Faith’s elbow. Faith tensed without thinking, and Jen let her hand drop right as Faith realized she didn’t mind it there. “We’re not trying to be scary,” she said quietly. Faith felt a little embarrassed, and didn’t like it. “We want to help you.”
“I don’t know anything,” said Debbie, flat and matter-of-fact.
“Faith and I are on a bit of a time crunch,” continued Jen with firm patience. Faith smiled slightly at Faith and I before she could catch herself, and Jen caught her eye and smiled back. Faith felt a weird mixture of resentment and happiness at that. “And normally I’d let you be about this, but people are going to get killed if you know something and you don’t share.”
Debbie hesitated and glanced at Faith. “It’s not his fault,” she said finally. “He’s not himself when he’s like this.”
Jen bit her lip. “Pete,” she said, not quite a question.
“It's me,” Debbie continued with a guilty, sad conviction. “I make him crazy. He just does what he does because he loves me too much.”
Jen looked down. Breathed out. There was a horribly sad expression on her face. “Debbie, can you come to the library with us?” she said. “I don’t know how much time we have, but I think you could do with some tea.”
“He won’t—” Debbie was suddenly panicked. “He doesn’t—”
“It’s okay,” said Jen. She reached out, placing a hand on Debbie’s shoulder. “We’re not going to hurt Pete. We just want to make sure everyone’s safe for today, okay? We’ll talk about the big picture stuff tomorrow.”
“But—” Faith began.
Jen fixed Faith with a steely look, and it was then that Faith realized that Jen was lying.
Debbie hadn’t picked up on this; her face had relaxed slightly. “As long as you don’t do anything to him,” she said softly. “He doesn’t—he really doesn’t mean to.”
“I know,” said Jen carefully. “Come on. We’re gonna get you some tea, and I’ll see if Mr. Giles can find you an ice pack for that eye. How’s that?”
Debbie still didn’t look convinced. “He might—you have to know that he might hurt you,” she said. “He won’t—he doesn’t mean to, he just—”
“Trust me,” said Jen. “We’ll be okay.”
Chapter 10: easily breakable
warning for mild violence in this chapter.
They were not okay. Not in any sense of the word. Halfway to the library, they heard a loud yell, and when they finally made it there, Pete was wrestling with werewolf Oz on the floor.
“Found Pete,” said Faith. Jenny gave her a look.
“The dart gun,” Rupert was saying to Buffy, Willow hovering nervously in the background.
Jenny saw the panicked look in Debbie’s eyes and was about to grab her arm, but Debbie moved first. “Pete, look out!” she cried, pushing Buffy out of the way just as the dart gun went off.
It hit Rupert.
Jenny shrieked. She didn’t do well with seeing Rupert get hurt.
“It’s fine!” said Rupert, turning around in an attempt to reassure her and glare at Buffy at the same time, except he actually just collapsed against the side of the wall. Jenny rushed to him, trying to make sure he was out of range of werewolf Oz. Werewolf Oz, who was going around and through the office, jumping across the counter, and rushing out of the door.
“You get the wolf,” she heard Buffy saying to Faith, and then something occurred to Jenny lightning-fast. The person Pete was going after—really going after—was the one that a Slayer needed to be focused on protecting.
“I’ll get the wolf,” she heard herself say, and she stood up, taking the dart gun from Buffy. “Faith, make sure Debbie’s okay.”
“Wh—” Faith didn’t look happy about this. “No offense, Jen, but we need a Slayer to go after a werewolf.”
“We’ll need a Slayer to take down Pete,” said Jenny sharply, worry making it hard for her to regulate her tone. “Anyone can operate a dart gun. Willow, you’re with me.”
Willow’s face lit up. Jenny tried to smile at her before they started running after Oz.
They actually got him pretty easily, mostly because Willow took the dart gun from Jenny and used her holy-water-gun experience to aim the dart straight at Oz as he ran away. “Ms. Calendar—” she began, hopeful and bright. Jenny could see in her eyes that she wanted one of their usual celebratory moments.
“Willow, go look after Rupert,” said Jenny, trying to infuse apology and affection into her voice. She wasn’t sure if she pulled it off. “I need to make sure Debbie’s okay.”
“Debbie and Faith,” said Willow, face falling.
“I promise,” said Jenny, squeezing Willow’s shoulder, “that we will talk—really talk—once all this is over. Okay?” Willow didn’t look all that convinced. Jenny wished she had more time to convince her. Crossing her fingers that she could find the girls in time, she started in the direction she thought she’d seen Debbie head in.
Faith caught Debbie when she was halfway down the hallway. Grabbing her arm, she yanked Debbie to face her. “Listen,” she began.
“You lied,” said Debbie, eyes hurt and accusing.
“That gun wasn’t for your boyfriend, okay?” said Faith. She wasn’t exactly pulling off the quiet, careful tone that Jen had somehow managed (how the fuck could anyone be that calm?) but she was angry, and worried, and she wanted to make sure Buffy didn’t get killed by that guy. “You saw that big thing attacking him. We were trying to get it.”
Debbie didn’t seem calmed by this, but she also didn’t seem as angry at Faith. “So Pete—”
“Is going to be fine,” said Faith. She was too determined to get Debbie somewhere safely out of the way to feel guilty about lying to her. “He’s fine, okay? I’m gonna go after him and—and talk him down, and you stay here.”
“You don’t know him,” said Debbie, a note of panic in her voice. “You don’t know what he can do. I have to talk to him, I—”
“Hey.” Faith placed a hand on Debbie’s shoulder. “Let a professional handle this one, okay, kid? Where’s he at?”
Debbie shut her mouth and looked down.
Faith considered her options. She could follow Jen’s instructions, hide with Debbie like a good little girl, and learn later that her not helping Buffy had gotten someone killed. Or, and this is the option Faith liked more, she could let Debbie take her to Pete and have the guy face not one, but two kickass Slayers. The point wasn’t to hide Debbie from Pete, really, it was to take Pete out. Jen would get it. Faith hoped Jen would get it, anyway.
“Okay,” she said. “You go to Pete, I’ll come with. How’s that sound?”
Debbie didn’t look happy with this agreement, but she seemed to realize that Faith wasn’t letting go of her arm anytime soon, so she nodded. “Fine,” she said. Her voice was shaking. “I’ll take you to him.”
“Thank you,” said Faith, throwing an arm up in the air. Debbie pressed her lips together and started walking.
The supply room was empty when they reached it, and at first Faith thought that Debbie had meant to trick her. But after a few minutes, in came Pete, still bleeding from what looked like a nasty bite Oz had given him. Great, thought Faith. Exactly the kind of guy we need as a werewolf.
“Pete!” said Debbie, a sob in her voice, and tried to run to him. Faith grabbed her arm, holding her back. “Hey—”
“What’s she doing here?” Pete demanded, eyes fixed on Faith with an angry, glinting expression Faith had seen many times over.
Suddenly, violently, a furious rage came over Faith, and she forgot about plans and Debbie and what Jen would think if she rushed in like a crazy person. She’d seen guys like Pete before. She’d seen what they did to girls like Debbie. All Pete wanted was control and power, and all Debbie wanted to give him was love, and Faith hated that, she hated how stupid Debbie was and how Pete’s eyes looked so ready, so eager to hurt—
Debbie was screaming. Faith felt her arm twist as Pete’s hands grabbed at her, but she kneed Pete in the stomach and his grip faltered. She thought she might be bleeding. All she could focus on was that she wanted to hurt him, wanted to hurt him until he could never, never hurt anyone again, hurt him and then some because god knows what he’d put the girls before Debbie through. “Faith!” someone shouted. Faith didn’t care, wouldn’t care—
She was thrown against the wall. She tried to scramble to her feet, but someone was running over to her, cool hands pressed to her face. “Faith, sweetie—” Jen was saying, a horrible, terrified note to her voice, and then Pete grabbed Jen around the waist.
“You brought a teacher in here?” he was saying, angry and accusing, jerking Jen around to face Debbie. Faith felt a rush of cold fear, because all of it was happening all over again. Jen struggling, Pete bloody and bruised but still standing strong, Faith frozen to the ground, unable to do anything but watch. “You think she’s gonna help you?”
Jen elbowed Pete in the face. Pete didn’t falter. Faith wanted to move. Told herself she had to move, or Jen would die in front of her. Just like her Watcher.
Pete threw Jen against the wall. The first thing Faith felt was an almost shameful amount of relief, because if that was all he was going to do, Jen was probably fine. But then Faith remembered how small Jen was, and how easily breakable, and okay, yeah, she should be working on protecting Debbie or whatever but this was where Jen was supposed to be sitting up and giving her an easy smile.
Faith had pulled herself up and was halfway across the room when Buffy burst in. She’d never been more grateful for another Slayer to do the dirty work.
Jen was lying on the floor. She wasn’t bleeding or anything, but she also wasn’t conscious. Faith checked for a pulse, hands trembling and leaving bloody marks on Jen’s wrist. She wondered how badly she’d hurt Pete. How badly she’d been hurt.
“Please,” she said. She wasn’t sure who she was talking to, and she was kinda glad Jen wasn’t awake for this. “Please, please—”
Jen groaned. “Probably gonna beat Rupert when it comes to concussions this year,” she said weakly. “You okay?”
Faith almost started crying. It was really embarrassing.
Faith helped Jenny sit up, and both of them kind of stayed back against the wall while Buffy fought Pete. Jenny’s head ached too much to stand up, and Faith was covered in scrapes and bruises from head to toe, not to mention her blood-covered hands.
“You okay?” Jenny asked quietly.
Faith shook her head.
“Me either.” Jenny turned to look at Faith and saw the deeply shaken look in her eyes. “Hey,” she said. “We’re okay.”
“He’s not dead yet,” observed Faith, as if Jenny hadn’t said anything. The brief moment of vulnerability seemed to have vanished, but Jenny was too shaken from the whole thrown-against-a-wall thing to be disappointed in the missed opportunity. “If he kills Buffy, I’m gonna have to go back in there.”
“He won’t,” said Jenny with conviction.
Pete threw Buffy against the wall.
“I’m gonna go back in there,” said Faith. She stood up, wobbled on her feet, and promptly passed out, falling straight into Jenny’s lap.
Jenny hated every aspect of this, every single one. The head injury left her unable to fight back, an unconscious Faith meant one less Slayer to keep the non-Slayers safe, and she was watching Buffy get pummeled by a vicious, abusive, supernaturally powered monster of a high school student. There was really no way this situation could be any more frightening.
The door burst open. Standing there, vamped out and feral, was a furiously violent-looking Angelus.
Chapter 11: pretty badass
Giles recovered from the tranquilizer dart fairly quickly, but this was partially because Willow had just dumped half a cup of water on his face and Cordelia was slapping him. “What on earth—” he began.
“Ms. Calendar’s hurt!” said Willow tearfully. “She’s hurt, and so is Faith, and Buffy said to get you, and Giles, Buffy said that Ms. Calendar got thrown against a wall—”
Giles was suddenly very wide awake. Pulling himself up, he ignored the lingering dizziness from the tranquilizer and all but ran out of the library.
“Other way!” Cordelia called, sounding exasperated, which somehow managed to annoy Giles even in his panic. “They’re in that weird little supply room.”
Giles turned and ran.
Buffy was standing in the middle of the supply room, shaking, tear tracks on her face, Pete’s body in front of her. Debbie was sobbing against the wall, and Jenny was holding tightly to an unconscious Faith with a shell-shocked expression on her face. Giles dropped to his knees next to her, taking her hands in his.
“I saw Angel,” she said, voice small and shaking. “He was—right there. He—”
“Of course, dear,” said Giles, gently disentangling Jenny from Faith and gathering her into his arms. He felt Jenny’s hands curl around his lapels. “Let’s get that head looked at, shall we?”
“Rupert, he was there—”
“I know,” said Giles, who thought it highly unlikely that Angel had come back from the dead just to frighten Jenny, but didn’t find it out of the realm of possibility that Jenny had suffered some serious head trauma. The best thing to do at this point would be to keep her calm, and his own worry wasn’t something that would help the situation. He kissed her forehead. “Come on, love,” he said gently. “Up we get.”
Jenny followed his direction somewhat dazedly. “Faith—” she mumbled.
“I’ll help Faith to your car if you’re driving to the hospital, Giles,” said Willow, and Giles was surprised to see sincerity in her eyes. But when Jenny smiled at Willow with a mixture of gratitude and affection, it became quite clear why Willow had agreed so readily.
“Buffy,” said Giles, turning with Jenny still nestled in his arms, “I’m going to drive Jenny and Faith to the hospital. I—I believe Jenny’s suffered some sort of serious injury; she says she’s seen Angel.”
It was strange, but Giles thought a flicker of guilt crossed Buffy’s face at those words. “Sounds pretty bad,” she said, and looked almost unconsciously over her shoulder. “Not like Angel’s—here. Or anything. And if he was, he, uh, definitely left be-before I could see anything.”
“Quite,” said Giles, who wasn’t really in the place to appreciate Buffy’s usual quips. “Debbie, if you wouldn’t mind coming with us?”
Debbie curled inward, sobbing even more. Giles rather wished Jenny wasn’t concussed and half-conscious, as she was generally better at these sorts of things than he was. He knelt down next to the girl (a bit awkwardly, seeing as he was still carrying Jenny) and continued gently, “You can’t stay here, Debbie.”
“Pete’s dead,” said Debbie, and started crying again. Giles thought he caught the words “my fault.”
“Certainly not,” said Giles firmly. “There is nothing you could have done to stop this. He was capable of killing innocent people—at some point or another, he would have killed you.”
Debbie started crying even harder at this. Giles felt very much out of his element.
“Hey,” said Willow, and sat down next to Debbie. “I—I know you’re hurting right now, but maybe you can just come with us to the hospital? I promise nothing bad’s going to happen to you. We’re just trying to keep everyone safe.”
Debbie studied Willow’s face, looked over at Pete’s body, seemed to come to the conclusion that she didn’t really have any other options, and stood up, leaning heavily on Willow.
“Faith,” said Jenny again, her eyes now half-open and fixed on Faith, who was still lying sprawled on the floor.
“I’ve got her,” said Buffy softly, and knelt down, easily picking up Faith in her arms. Faith stirred, blinked, and said something in a drowsy, teasing voice that made Buffy smile a little wryly. “She’s good,” she said.
Jenny nodded vaguely and rested her head against Giles’s chest, seemingly all right with relaxing now that she was sure everyone else was okay. Giles felt some of the tension drain out of him at that.
“On the bright side,” said Willow, playful and careful at the same time, “the bruises make you look pretty badass.”
“Yeah, well, getting thrown against a wall isn’t pretty badass.” Jenny leaned back against the pillows, letting Willow snuggle into her side. It was nearly one in the morning, Rupert was in the hospital hallway coming up with some explanation for Pete’s mysterious death, and Faith was asleep in the chair by Jenny’s bed, all bandaged up. Faith had flat-out refused to sleep in a hospital bed—something about not feeling like relaxing just yet—and had almost immediately fallen asleep upon sitting down. “Getting thrown against a wall hurts. Nine out of ten do not recommend.”
“What about the tenth guy?” Willow’s voice sounded sleepy.
“Ten guys tried it, nine guys didn’t recommend it because the tenth guy died getting thrown against a wall,” said Jenny. She was pretty sure she was falling asleep too. “So the tenth guy—” She yawned. “The tenth guy couldn’t recommend it.”
“Not your best joke,” said Willow, and rested her head on Jenny’s shoulder. “Or your most understandable.”
“Hmm,” said Jenny.
There was silence for a few seconds before Willow said softly, “Ms. Calendar?”
“Do you like Faith better than me?”
Jenny sort of wished that Willow had held off on that question until her head injury had healed, because right now she was too dizzy and tired to come up with a really eloquent answer. “I like Faith, and I like you,” she said vaguely. “I like a lot of people.”
Willow hesitated, then, “I-it’s just that you guys have been spending a lot of time together, and—”
“Sweetie, we still have magic lessons on Tuesdays and you can still come over to make pancakes even if Faith is living with me,” said Jenny with drowsy conviction. “And I’m glad you’re here, okay? I’m really glad you’re here.”
She couldn’t turn her head to look over at Willow, because by that point she was almost all the way asleep, but she did hear the smile in Willow’s voice when she said, “I’m glad to be here.”
Jenny drifted in and out of sleep after that until she felt Rupert sit down on the side of the bed and stroke her hair. She smiled, leaning into his hand. “All right?” he asked softly.
“Yeah.” Jenny would have shifted to face him, but Willow was now all the way asleep and she didn’t want to jostle her. “You?”
“Everything’s sorted,” Rupert replied, shifting to lie down next to her. “I told the authorities exactly what we found. Since you and Faith are both fairly badly hurt, it’s unlikely they’ll consider you suspects, especially since the autopsy did confirm Pete’s supernatural strength.”
“Mmm. Don’t talk about autopsies while I’m trying to sleep.” Jenny reached over, taking his hand. “C’mere.”
Rupert obliged. “Is Faith all right?” he asked hesitantly.
Jenny nodded. Then, “Did—was Angel there? I was sure I saw him.”
She felt Rupert tense. “I—” He exhaled. “I don’t know,” he said finally. “You were quite disoriented when I reached you. I’m not sure if the panic of the situation made you think you saw Angel, or—”
“I think I want to go with that explanation,” said Jenny.
“I think I do too,” said Rupert, “but I might inquire further with Buffy, all the same.”
“Please—don’t,” said Jenny, a note of desperation in her voice.
“If—” Jenny breathed out, trying to keep herself calm. She’d felt Willow stir, and she didn’t want to wake Willow up in the middle of the night with her worry. “If he’s back, he’ll come. I don’t want to live in suspense if Buffy tells me something I don’t want to hear. I want to chalk this up to a hallucination and move on, okay?”
Rupert didn’t say anything for a very long time, long enough to make Jenny think that maybe he’d fallen asleep. She was gearing up to very carefully elbow him without jostling Willow when he said, “I don’t want you putting yourself in danger because of your conscious decisions to only learn what you need to know.”
Jenny swallowed. “Rupert,” she said, “Angelus is the monster that I heard about for so much of my childhood. He’s one of the most terrifying figures in my entire life. I don’t know if I can handle the knowledge that he might still be out there.”
“But if he is?”
Jenny was almost unable to say what she was thinking. “I just—” She breathed out. Her cheeks were wet. “I just don’t want him to be,” she said shakily. “I don’t want him to be.”
Rupert was quiet for a moment, and then he placed his arms carefully around her shoulders, resting his chin on the top of her head. “I know we’ve had the conversation about my protecting you,” he said, slow and tentative, “but I hope you also know that I’ll do whatever I can to keep you out of any situations involving Angelus, as long as I’m sure it’s what you want.”
“It’s what I want,” said Jenny with conviction.
She felt Rupert kiss the top of her head.
It wasn’t too serious, as head injuries went, and Jen and Giles both had some experience with head injuries (Giles with getting them, Jen with bothering him to take care of himself) so they had a general idea of how to go about making sure Jen was doing okay. Faith was greeted with that happy news when she woke up, and also that they all probably needed to drive home; Willow, who had stayed in the hospital with Jen, had class that day.
“You okay?” Faith asked Jen awkwardly.
Jen smiled, just as calm and composed as ever. It was a little unnerving, now, because Faith could vaguely remember being half-conscious with Jen holding her in a vicelike grip, hearing her panicked, half-sobbing breaths. Looking at this small, unruffled computer science teacher, it was hard to imagine anything that awful happening to her. Or think about it. “Doing better,” she said.
Giles gave her this mushy little smile that was kind of gross, but Faith also kind of got it. “We have ice packs at home,” he said, then flushed pink. “Um. That is to say. Your house.”
“Rupert, at this point, we’re probably going to spend the rest of our lives together,” said Jen with some amusement. “You don’t have to get blushy about a slip like that.” She kissed a stunned Giles on the cheek, then extended a hand to Faith. “We should get home,” she said. “I’m thinking comfort food and blankets for you, comfort food and ice packs for me.”
“I guess,” said Faith noncommittally, and took Jen’s hand, letting Jen gently help her up. She let go as soon as she’d stood all the way up, keeping her eyes trained straight ahead. “We using Giles’s car?”
“Rupert’s new car,” said Jen smugly. “Not his old, sad, broken-down—”
Willow started giggling.
“Charming,” said Giles, and started walking. Jen grinned at Faith and followed her significant other, taking his hand as they walked. Willow took a few running steps to walk next to Jen, who smiled at her and said something that Faith didn’t catch. Faith fell into step behind them.
She was a little shaken. She remembered bits and pieces of last night, and she hadn’t been anything close to gentle with Pete. Sure, it hadn’t done much in the long run, but she couldn’t quite understand how Jen could walk in on her beating Pete to a bloody pulp and still be so worried about her. Not only that, but Jen was fine. Situations like that, people like Pete, they always seemed to kill the good things in Faith’s life before she could even blink. But there was Jen, walking ahead of Faith with Giles’s arm around her waist.
What Faith wanted to do was take a few steps forward and walk next to Jen and Willow, make some quip about head injuries, and tell Jen how glad she was that she was okay. What Faith did was linger behind and remind herself that the moment she started hoping was the moment everything fell to pieces.
Chapter 12: the blushing type
Jen was still recovering from her head injury, which meant she had to stay home for two days. Faith didn’t have school to go to or anything, so she had decided to stay with Jen. Not to hang out with Jen or some lame shit like that—it was just boring to be training all the time, and if Jen was watching TV, Faith wanted to see what it was so she could make fun of it.
“Is the big shark gonna eat the ship?” Faith inquired through a mouthful of popcorn.
“Shh. No. It’s going for the captain. It’s got a vendetta, remember?” Jen took some popcorn from the bowl in Faith’s lap. “Because the captain harpooned its mom.”
“Right,” said Faith. Then, “Can we watch something with explosions?”
“The colors make me want to throw up,” Jen replied apologetically.
“That’s cool,” said Faith, and scooted closer to Jen to get some more of the popcorn. “I like watching the shark thing try and kill the captain. That captain was a dick to his girlfriend, anyway.”
“I think she’s the other guy’s girlfriend,” said Jen. “I’m not actually following this storyline. It jumps around a lot.”
“Hey, you were the one who was like let’s watch something trashy on the old movie channel,” said Faith, leaning in to nudge Jen playfully.
“True.” Jen took some more of the popcorn. “Did you put salt in this? It’s really good.”
“Salt and butter,” said Faith. “Used to make microwave popcorn a lot on the run.”
And the thing she really liked about Jen was that there wasn’t a soft, worried I’m so sorry you had to go through that, there was just Jen looking at her with a quiet, understanding expression before moving a little closer to Faith so that their shoulders really were touching. She gave Faith a half-smile. “Well, you got good at it,” she said.
Faith shrugged. “I guess,” she said, eyes fixed on the TV screen.
Jen was quiet for a while, then, “Faith, I wanted to talk to you about something.”
Honestly, every time someone said that, Faith’s heart started racing a mile a minute, because so much of her life felt like just waiting for someone to find out what she really was. She kept her face cool as she turned to Jen. “Yeah?”
Jen smiled slightly. “You can relax,” she said. “I just wanted to ask you about enrolling.”
Faith blinked. “What?”
“In Sunnydale High,” Jen elaborated. “It’s not so much of an academic thing as it is a Scooby thing. There might be days when we need you on campus at all times, and I don’t know how many excuses we can come up with if you’re going to be staying in town for a while. Snyder’s pretty annoyed by kids who aren’t enrolled hanging out in the building.”
“So what, I enroll and fail all my classes all over again?” Faith snorted, feeling an old spark of anger flare up. “No thank you.”
Jen shook her head, looking a little guilty. “I know this isn’t exactly the most ethical thing for me to do,” she said, “but I’d be willing to do some of your homework for you if it kept your grades up enough for Snyder to stay off your back.”
Faith stared. “You’re a teacher,” she said.
“Yep,” said Jen, popping the P.
“You’re a teacher offering to cheat the system. For me.”
“If you enroll,” Jen reminded her.
Faith turned back to the TV, only halfway registering what was going on in the movie. There was something soft and warm in her chest that made her want to smile and hit something at the same time. “The shark guy just killed the captain,” she said weakly.
“Hmm,” said Jen, and took another handful of popcorn. “You sure he’s dead? Maybe he’s having an underwater fight with the captain or something. They do that sometimes in kids’ cartoons, I think.”
Faith let her head fall onto Jen’s shoulder, eyes still fixed on the TV. “Yeah,” she said softly.
“Enroll?” Buffy repeated. There was a small, delighted smile playing at the corner of her mouth that made Faith feel a little flutter of—excitement. Yep. “Faith, that would be so cool! I bet Giles and Ms. Calendar could line up our schedules so we have classes together, and we could totally have slaying sessions and then study sessions! I try and make flash cards sometimes. It doesn’t work out. But still! It would be great to have you here.”
She knocked Faith’s shoulder playfully. Faith, who was sitting on the countertop, grinned and looked down, glad that she wasn’t the blushing type. “Yeah,” she said. “I mean, I’m still not sure—”
“Well, figure it out soon,” said Buffy, whose smile hadn’t gone away. Faith kind of hated how pretty Buffy looked right then, because it was making her want to enroll, get straight A’s, and win Prom Queen just to see that big, approving grin on Buffy’s face. That or maybe set something on fire. Either way. “It’d be so cool to have a friend in English class. Willow always knows the answer, and Xander never knows the answer, and I’m like…the not-so-happy medium.”
“You look pretty happy to me,” said Faith with amusement.
“Oh, you know,” said Buffy, and grinned. Buffy was the blushing type, it seemed. “Scott, you enrolling, me being back at school…everything seems to be coming up Buffy lately.”
“Good,” said Faith, and meant it. “Hey, speaking of Scott, didn’t you say he wanted to see you before you started in on your workout? You’ve got like five minutes to get across the school to him, right?”
Buffy’s eyes widened comically and she made a little eep noise. “How’s my hair?” she asked breathlessly. “And my sweater? Am I wearing too much pink?”
“Fine, good, and yeah, you are, but you’re rocking it,” Faith replied easily. “Go get ‘em, tiger.”
Buffy giggled nervously. “Okay,” she said. “Okay, thanks, okay, see you in five minutes! Or ten! Or however long it takes! I’ll be back!” She all but dashed out of the library, leaving Faith with a small, dazed smile.
“You’re looking chipper,” Jen observed, breezing into the library. “What’s up with Buffy?”
Faith very gracefully fell off the countertop. Jumping up and doing her best to make it look like she’d meant to do that, she said, “She’s, uh, gonna go see her boyfriend, I guess. She’ll be back in a few for punching stuff.”
“Hmm,” said Jen.
“What?” said Faith a little too defensively.
“I didn’t say anything,” said Jen, who had an amused quirk to her smile. “So have you given any more thought to what I suggested?”
“About enrolling?” said Faith, trying to capture an air of cool nonchalance. “Guess it’s better than hanging out around town all day. But don’t I need papers or a guardian or some shit?”
“Well,” said Jen, suddenly looking unusually uncertain, “Rupert says that if he puts in a good word for me with the Council, they could pull some strings and—I could be your legal guardian for a while. Not—permanently, if you don’t want it, and your eighteenth birthday’s coming up soon anyway, so it would just be enough for Snyder to have to let you in.”
Faith felt that want again, stronger this time, and suddenly enrolling in Sunnydale High seemed like a pretty good idea for more reasons than just Buffy. “Yeah,” she said. This time, she couldn’t keep her voice calm and easy. “Okay. Yeah.”
Jen smiled. “Good,” she said, and pulled herself up onto the countertop, sitting next to Faith. “Buffy’ll be back in a few minutes?” she added casually.
“Yeah,” said Faith. She hoped she wasn’t the blushing type.
“Cool,” said Jen. “Have you had lunch?”
“Lunch,” said Jen a little reprovingly.
“Just because you’re gonna be my guardian doesn’t mean you have to be my mom,” said Faith, who felt like she should probably be annoyed and defensive. She wasn’t.
Jen was opening her mouth to reply when Buffy came in, looking not even half as happy as she had when running out.
“Hey,” Faith said tentatively, taking a step towards Buffy. “You okay?”
“Yeah,” said Buffy a little flatly. “Totally. Peachy keen.” She sat down at one of the library tables, staring straight ahead.
“How’d it go with Scott?” Faith asked.
“Apparently I’m not as much of a force of nature as he thought I was,” Buffy said, still in that tired monotone.
“Oh boy,” said Jen. Buffy looked up with an indignant expression, and Jen sighed. “High school boys are idiots, Buffy,” she said. “They don’t know a good thing when they see one. Or a phenomenal one.”
“Now you’re just being nice,” said Buffy, and went back to staring at the shelf in front of her.
Faith considered this unexpected turn of events. Buffy was single. Buffy was single and sulky and probably needed to let out some anger. “Hey, B,” she said, and picked up one of the punching gloves from the floor, tossing it neatly into Buffy’s lap. “Wanna hit something?”
Buffy’s lips curved slowly upward, as though Faith had all but forced a smile out of her without her even realizing it. Faith liked that smile too. “Do I ever,” she said, getting up from the table. Her hair fell over her shoulders, catching the sunlight, and Faith tried her best to ignore Jen’s knowing smile.
“So,” said Jen. “You asked Buffy to Homecoming. That’s nice of you.”
“Shut up,” said Faith.
Chapter 13: hypothetical situation
As it happened, the day Faith’s high school career began was also the day before Sunnydale High’s homecoming dance, which meant that Sunnydale High’s newest student was able to cast her ballot for Buffy as Homecoming Queen, which meant that when she told Buffy this in the library, Buffy looked at Faith like she was the sun and threw her arms around Faith’s neck and said “thankyouthankyouthankyou!!!” before dancing off to go tell Giles how cool Faith was. And that, in Faith’s opinion, was a pretty good way to start off her academic career.
“What?” she said loudly.
“I didn’t say anything,” said Jen, and took an innocent sip of her coffee. “Are you going to need a dress for Homecoming?”
Faith had seen a deep red velvet dress in one of the cheaper stores that she’d kind of been thinking of grabbing for the dance, but the problem with that was she wasn’t just Faith Lehane anymore. She was Faith Lehane with a guardian and a high school career, and thinking about changing into a stolen dress in Jen’s house made her feel a little sick. She sure wasn’t gonna rely on charity for help, though. “Uh—” she began.
“I was thinking we could use some of the Council funds to buy some new clothes,” said Jen, cutting off Faith, which Faith was actually pretty grateful for since she didn’t know what she was about to say anyway. “I can’t imagine that you managed to pack a lot in that one small duffel bag.”
“Not—a lot,” said Faith jerkily. “No. Not much.”
Jen nodded, putting down her cup. “So we get you a dress,” she said, and smiled slightly. “And maybe a bathrobe or something. You don’t have to go too overboard if you don’t want to, but Rupert says the Council will pay for anything if he says it’s a necessity, so it is an option to buy whatever you want.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” said Faith, and tried to give Jen an easy smile. She thought it wobbled a little.
Jen crossed the library, sitting down next to Faith on the table. “Buffy and Cordelia are having this big blow-out fight,” she said carefully, “and the kids all decided to give the limo to them so that they can work it out on the ride over. You think it would be okay if you rode with Rupert and me to the dance instead?”
“Yeah,” said Faith.
“I know it’s not a limo, but—”
“Yeah,” said Faith again. She felt herself grinning. “As long as I get to pick what’s on the radio.”
Jen smiled back at her. For the first time, it wasn’t careful and calm, as though she was trying her best not to scare Faith off. Her eyes sparkled with pride and affection, and it made Faith nervous and dizzy and happy all in one. The difference, though, was that Faith felt the happy more than the nervous.
Jenny stopped typing, looking up from her desk. Willow had stopped sorting through the papers she’d said she’d help Jenny grade, and was now looking at her with a strange, tense expression. “Yeah?” she said carefully.
“You—if I—” Willow seemed to be stumbling with her words. Then, “I-if Giles cheated on you, how mad at him would you be? Like, on a scale of one to breaking up and never speaking to him again?”
“Why, have you seen something?” Jenny quipped.
Willow didn’t smile. “It’s just—you know he loves you. And you know that he might have—made a mistake, in the heat of the moment, one that he really, really wants to take back but can’t—like, how unforgivable would that be? If it’s someone you love?”
Jenny considered the question. Then she said, “Can you sit down for a minute? I’ve got about ten minutes before my next class.”
Willow obliged, scooting her chair close to Jenny. “I—you know I think—really highly of you,” she said jerkily. “A-and I wanted your advice on this. Not—not advice!” she added hastily. “Because it’s a totally hypothetical situation! Just—you know, you’re always really smart about things.”
Jenny placed her hand on Willow’s shoulder. “Willow,” she said, “if there’s something you need to tell me that you think will make me think less of you, you should know that I’m not going to stop loving you because of it. I think you’re a smart, kind girl, and I think you would never deliberately try and hurt anyone.”
Willow burst into tears.
“Okay,” said Jenny, startled, and pulled a sobbing Willow into a hug. “This looks like something that might take a little longer than ten minutes.”
“You wouldn’t be so nice if you knew!” Willow wailed before burying her face in Jenny’s shoulder.
Jenny rubbed Willow’s back and let her cry for a few minutes, a mixture of concerned and nervous. Sometimes, she didn’t feel at all qualified to be a teacher, especially when it was clear that Willow thought so highly of her. She didn’t know what to do with that level of care.
Willow sniffled for a few seconds, then looked up, her nose a little blotchy. “I cheated on Oz,” she said, and her face crumpled again.
Jenny winced. “Yikes,” she said, then remembered that she was talking to an insecure teenage girl and not Rupert. “Okay. Well. I still love you.” She fumbled for words, and finally managed, “I think you need to come clean to Oz before he finds out through someone else.”
“But—what if he’s mad?” Willow’s eyes were wide and hurt.
“Well, what happened?” Jenny asked carefully.
“Xander and I were—we were choosing outfits for the homecoming dance, and,” Willow looked down at her hands, sniffling, “and we started practicing dancing together, and he just—looked so nice in his tuxedo, and then suddenly we were kissing.” She looked back up at Jenny. “I can’t tell Oz,” she said. “I can’t lose him.”
Jenny thought about this. “Willow,” she said, “I think by not telling Oz, you’re holding off on making the choice you know you need to make.”
“What, one boyfriend or none?” said Willow sarcastically. At Jenny’s surprised look, she winced. “Sorry,” she mumbled.
“It’s okay,” said Jenny with a small smile. Then, cautiously, “How do you feel about breaking up with Oz to be with Xander?”
“I—I can’t do that to Oz,” said Willow immediately. “He’d—he’d be so hurt.”
Jenny took Willow’s hands in hers. “Listen,” she said. “I’m going to be straight with you. When you’re in a relationship, that person has to be the person you’re sure you want to be with. You don’t stay with someone because you’re scared of hurting them by leaving, you stay because you like being with them. Do you like being with Oz?”
“I—he’s nice,” said Willow hesitantly. “He likes me.”
“He’s very nice,” Jenny agreed. “He’s a great guy. But if he woke up one morning and went ‘Willow, I just want to be your friend,’ would you feel happy about that if it let you be with Xander?”
“Why does he just want to be my friend?” Willow sounded injured and anxious. “Is there something wrong with me?”
And that’s when it clicked. “Willow,” said Jenny, more relieved than anything now that she knew what she needed to say. “Willow. Sweetie. You don’t base a relationship around the boys that like you. You base a relationship around the boys that you like. Or even the girls that you like, if that’s the way you feel like going—which, to clear that up, is just as okay as liking guys. Though I know that’s not the issue at hand here.” God, Rupert was rubbing off on her. Jenny never used to ramble like this.
“Girls?” Willow repeated with a small frown.
“Girls,” Jenny affirmed. “But we’re not talking about liking girls right now. We’re talking about liking Willow. If Xander didn’t like you right now, would you still be all cut up about not getting to be with him, or would you be completely happy to be with Oz?”
“I don’t—” Willow breathed out. “I don’t know,” she said finally. “I don’t know. I think I’m supposed to know, but I don’t know. Ms. Calendar—” Her lip was trembling.
“I think I’m going to call a substitute so we can talk this out,” said Jenny. “I know I’ve been really busy with Faith, but it seems like you’ve got a lot on your plate too.” Willow started crying again. “Come on,” said Jenny softly, and hugged her. “Let’s go. You could use a break.”
Faith came into the library as soon as school was out—Jen had said she’d drive them both home—and was surprised not to find her new guardian at the front table reading or something. She was about to leave for Jen’s classroom to see if she was there when she heard voices coming from Giles’s office.
“You know you’re going to have to make a decision,” Jen was saying. Faith hesitated, then took a few quiet steps towards the closed door, close enough to hear, but not close enough to look like she’d been listening if she got caught.
“Yeah,” came Willow’s voice. She sounded a little shaky, like she’d been crying. “I—I know, but—” There was a pause. “Can’t I just not tell Oz?”
“If you don’t tell him, it’ll be easier for you to do it again,” said Jen in that same patient voice, “and I know you don’t want to hurt Oz. He’ll be upset to find out you kissed Xander, sure, but he’d be even more upset to find out you’ve been kissing Xander a lot more than just once.”
Faith’s jaw dropped. Now this was something she’d never expected to find out about Willow. Her and Xander? It sure wasn’t her place to tell anyone, but she thought she might die trying to keep this to herself.
“I don’t want to tell him,” Willow said in a small voice. “He likes me so much. He thinks I’m nice, and kind, and once he finds out that I’m not—”
“I’m going to let you in on something that I don’t think you know,” said Jen, quiet and reassuring. Faith had to take another step towards the door to make out what she was saying. “When someone does something they think is bad, they aren’t the ones who get to decide that they can’t be loved anymore. The people who decide that are the people who decide to love them. You can’t choose who loves you, Willow, and you can’t choose who hates you. All you can do is give what you can to the people you want in your life and hope for the best.”
Faith didn’t hear what Willow said after that, because she kept on hearing Jen’s words in her head, over and over. She wanted to say that Jen was being stupid, that she was optimistic and ridiculous and she was going to end up dead, because that was what she usually did when Jen said something like that. But she could feel truth in Jen’s words, and that was the scariest part.
Scary and good at the same time, Faith guessed, because there were always people who were going to be stupid enough or positive enough to believe that there was good in her and love her for whatever they thought they saw. But bad because there was no real way of making herself into someone better if she didn’t know that that would get her the kind of love she might want.
Not that Faith wanted to be loved—it was a side benefit. Like getting extra fries when you hadn’t ordered them. She just thought that maybe if she was someone better, she could be the kind of person who wanted love and was ready to take it in the same way she took a jacket or a dress.
Except she didn’t take dresses anymore. She was living with Jen, who was gave her dresses and who might be giving her love too. Like extra fries, because it wasn’t something Faith needed. Not really.
Jen opened the door, and her face lit up when she saw Faith. “Hey!” she said cheerfully. Behind her, Willow hastily scrubbed at her face. “You been here long?”
“Just showed up,” Faith lied. Not for the first time, she wondered how much Jen could tell. “You ready to drive back and get all dolled up for Homecoming?”
“I need a new outfit,” said Willow vaguely. “Different dress. I think it was the clothes.”
“It wasn’t the clothes, sweetie, just wear what you want,” said Jen, turning and brushing a maternal hand through Willow’s hair. Willow closed her eyes, smiling. Even though she had a feeling she’d be pretty pissed if Jen smoothed down her hair, Faith felt a twist of jealousy at that.
Chapter 14: normalcy
Faith spent a long time fussing in the full-length mirror Jen had gotten for her room. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d owned a store-bought dress without the memory of stealing it from a thrift store rack or something, and this dress was a nice one—a dark, knee-length, velvety number with thin straps and a low cut. She twisted her hair up, thought that maybe Jen might be doing the same thing, let it fall down because she didn’t want to copy Jen, decided that she was being ridiculous, and twisted her hair up.
It felt weird being in this room, especially now that it didn’t just have a bed. There was a dresser full of clothes Jen had gotten her with Council money, and a dorky, fuzzy purple bathrobe that Faith hoped Buffy would never learn of, because it would totally ruin her image. Faith’s shoes were lined up in front of her bed, and she even had a small, broken TV that she and Jen had found at a thrift store on the way home from the mall. Jen had gotten so excited about fixing it up that Faith had let her buy it, because it seemed like Jen was more into the fixing of the TV than the buying-Faith-stuff part. Which Faith liked. She wasn’t Jen’s charity case, and Jen never treated her like one.
There was a knock on Faith’s door. She jumped. “Hey,” called Jen. “Come see Rupert. He’s going for the penguin look.”
“It’s a formal, Jenny, do you expect me to not wear a tuxedo?” came Giles’s irritable voice.
Faith looked in the mirror and saw that she was smiling. She had to cover her hand with her mouth as she left her bedroom.
Jen was wearing a dark red dress with elbow-length sleeves, and her hair was swept into a graceful updo, highlighting the scar on her neck. Faith felt a little weird about having her hair up like Jen’s, but Jen didn’t say anything, just smiled and said, “You look nice.”
“Yeah.” Faith ducked her head. “You too.”
“Doesn’t she?” Giles agreed. Jen tucked her hand into the crook of his elbow, and he smiled softly at her in that way Faith was starting to get used to seeing. “I’ll be driving you both to the dance,” he added, “so Faith doesn’t have to feel that she’s missing out on the experience of being chauffeured.”
“It works better now that he’s got a car with windows that aren’t smashed in,” Jen added with a pointed, playful look at Giles, who rolled his eyes and smiled softly. “Faith, is there anything you want to grab before we leave the house? I think Buffy’s mom said she’d drive you home if you didn’t feel like waiting around for me and Rupert.”
“Waiting around?” Faith echoed.
“We’re chaperoning,” Giles explained cheerfully.
“Means we have to stick around for the whole thing,” Jenny added, and smiled up at Giles. “Hours of dancing.”
“Good lord,” said Giles as he and Jenny began to walk.
Faith stood there a moment, and that’s when it hit her that she’d never been to a school dance before. Not usually her scene, especially since all the other girls had dresses that weren’t stolen and makeup that wasn’t cheap and money to get their photo taken with their perfect date. But here she was making plans for if her guardian wasn’t going to be able to drive her home, with a friend’s mom who might pick her up and a dress that wasn’t cheap either.
She felt strange about the whole thing. Disjointed and sad, because she knew that there was a time when this kind of thing would have meant the world to her, and now it was just something that she remembered wanting. It was normalcy, finally, except now it was Faith that didn’t fit.
Rupert was a good dancer.
“You weren’t busting a move like this last year!” Jenny laughed breathlessly as he twirled her, pulling her into his arms so that their noses brushed ever so briefly.
“Yes, well, we weren’t in love last year,” said Rupert, with a warm grin that made Jenny’s heart flutter. “I had much more reason to be worried about what you’d think of my dancing.”
“Oh,” Jenny linked her fingers with his, moving to the music, “are you saying that I hold off on criticizing you ‘cause I’m in love with you? I can assure you that that’s not the case, or I wouldn’t call you on things like how badly you decline Latin nouns.”
“You’re sloppy,” said Jenny, and stepped forward, draping her arms around his neck. “I know Latin, and first declension accusative nouns never end in –ae.”
Rupert just kind of smiled, like she’d said something profoundly wonderful, and then he leaned in and kissed her. It wasn’t a long kiss by any means, especially since they were supposed to be chaperoning and not making out in the gym, but he rested his forehead against hers when they pulled away. “I adore you,” he said.
“It’s a really hard mistake to make, messing up accusative nouns,” Jenny continued, undeterred. “First declension’s all feminine.”
“Are you guys seriously talking about Latin right now?” said Faith from next to them.
“We did just kiss earlier,” Jenny replied helpfully.
“Not sure how to feel about that,” said Faith. Then, carefully, “Willow just showed up. So, like, if you wanted to talk to her—”
Jenny suddenly remembered that Faith had been outside when she and Willow had come out of the office. She had considered the possibility that Faith might have heard some of their conversation, but not that Faith might be tactful enough to try and help. She felt a warm pride at that. “Yeah, I think I might,” she said, and smiled at Faith. Faith smiled back in a way that was almost shy. “Thanks, Faith.”
Faith inclined her head slightly, and then her jaw clenched, eyes fixed on a quietly swaying couple. Jenny looked, and saw Buffy’s ex-boyfriend Scott Hope dancing with one of the girls on the cheer squad. “Sleazebag,” said Faith.
“Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do,” said Jenny mildly.
“Didn’t you get into fistfights when you were Faith’s age?” said Rupert with some worry.
Jenny smirked. “Like I said,” she said to Faith. “Nothing I wouldn’t do.”
Faith’s smile widened with slow delight. “Aye, aye, Captain,” she agreed, and headed in Scott’s direction.
“I worry about the influence you have on that girl,” said Rupert, but there was an amused cadence to his voice. “Are you going to go talk to Willow?”
Jenny hesitated. “Slow song,” she said reluctantly.
“I’ll be here,” said Rupert, and kissed her on the cheek. “Waiting in the wings, as it were.”
Jenny felt herself smiling before she consciously realized that she wanted to. She looked back over her shoulder at Rupert while heading towards Willow, and he blew her a kiss, which made her nearly trip over the hem of her dress. She tried to pretend that she’d meant to do it.
Willow was standing by herself, eyes on Oz. Seeing Jenny, she smiled a little sadly. “Hey,” she said.
“Hey,” said Jenny. “Did you tell Oz?”
Willow swallowed, then nodded. “He—he was hurt,” she said. “He wasn’t happy. But he says he’s glad I told him now instead of later, and th-that as long as we’re both sure we’re with the person we want to be with, he thinks he can work through it.” She was quiet for a moment. “I think he thinks it was just in the heat of the moment,” she said. “I cried a lot when I told him, but he—never stopped holding me.”
“How are things with you and Xander?” Jenny asked.
In response, Willow reached up and hugged her. “I love you,” she said in a small voice. “Okay? I—all the stuff with Xander was confusing and messy and I know I like Oz more. It just—it felt so good. To know he finally wanted me back.”
“We’re going to need to have a serious talk about self-love,” said Jenny playfully, but she felt Willow nod and thought that maybe there was some truth to her statement. “Do you still like Xander?”
“It felt good to kiss him,” said Willow uncertainly. “In a weird way. Like—like there were people who wanted me. Plural. That—doesn’t happen a lot.”
Jenny nodded slowly, stepping back to look at Willow. Then she said, “Do you think you’ll kiss him again?”
Willow hesitated. “I’m not—” She breathed out. “I don’t know,” she said finally. “I—know that’s bad.”
Jenny considered her answer before she spoke. “Willow,” she said, “the most important component in a relationship isn’t that everyone in it is happy.”
“It’s not?” said Willow nervously. “Then—”
“I know it’s so, so wonderful to be in a happy, loving relationship where no one has any reason not to trust anyone,” said Jenny gently, “but the truth of the matter is that it’s not a healthy relationship if you’re not able to address your problems. You told Oz what happened, and you told him that you’re sorry and that you have no intention of doing it again, and now he’s hurt but he does know that you’re someone who’s willing to face your problems head-on.”
“But I’m not!” said Willow, now looking quite upset. “I—I don’t want Oz to think that I’m going to go and cheat on him and then tell him about it all the time! If Oz told me that he’d kissed another girl, I’d be so upset! I don’t know if I’d ever really trust him again.”
“Would you be more upset if he told you that he’d kissed one girl by accident or if you walked in on him kissing a girl?” Jenny asked simply.
Willow hesitated. “I don’t know,” she said finally. “Both of those seem pretty awful.”
“Communication is always, always more important than making sure everyone’s happy,” said Jenny, thinking back to last year and the awful feeling in her chest every time Rupert had mentioned Buffy being out with Angel. “Especially if it means misleading a person into thinking everything’s okay. If that’s the only thing you learn from this, I’ll be more than proud of you.”
“So—” Willow breathed out. “If I’m doing something that I know might make Oz mad, I have to tell him and then really stop?”
“Not always,” said Jenny. “Sometimes you talk things through and you come up with a solution that makes both of you happy. I don’t know if that extends to kissing other guys, though,” she added with a small smile. “Unless you and Oz feel like that’s something you want your relationship to have.”
“I’m strictly an Oz girl,” said Willow, shaking her head firmly. “I want to stay that way. I—just don’t know if healthy communication is something I’m brave enough to do. Not if it means I might lose him.”
Jenny smiled and hugged Willow again. “Fake it till you make it,” she said. “It does take a lot of courage, but chances are Oz doesn’t want to lose you either.”
Willow smiled back at her, looking significantly more cheerful, and headed over to the stage where Oz was playing. Jenny wondered if she should talk to Xander, but then he hadn’t really come to her about the situation. Chances were that he wasn’t going to, and she didn’t want to push him into an uncomfortable situation. She hurried over to Rupert instead, because the second slow song of the night was playing and she had no intention of missing this one.
Twenty minutes in and Buffy was nowhere to be seen, which was making Faith a lot more nervous than she wanted to let on.
“Hey,” she said, and threw a finger sandwich at one of the dancing couples. “Hey.”
Jen very slowly raised her head from Giles’s shoulder. “Don’t throw food,” she said vaguely, and went back to smiling at Giles. It was kind of weird, but also kind of sweet. Faith wondered if school dances just brought out the awful lovesick idiots in people, because Willow and Oz had been cuddling on a couple of the foldable chairs for the past thirty minutes.
“Buffy’s not here,” said Faith. “Neither is Cordelia. It shouldn’t take this long for them to get here.”
Giles frowned. “She may have a point,” he said with some worry. “Buffy’s home isn’t all that far from the school. She really should be here by now.”
“Do you think she called the library?” Jen suggested. “We should maybe check that out.”
“I’ll go,” said Giles.
“We can both go,” said Jen innocently.
“One of the chaperones needs to—” Giles began, but then saw the very significant look Jen was giving him. “O-oh! Right! Yes! Yes, we’ll both go.” He grabbed a laughing Jen’s hand and all but ran out of the gym.
“Gross,” said Faith, just in case anyone was watching, and headed over to the snack table.
Chapter 15: angelus
When Jenny came to, she was in the desk chair in Rupert’s office, Buffy and Cordelia sitting on the desk, Rupert fussing over her with a cold compress and saying in a nervous tone of voice that this was the second head injury she’d had in two weeks and it was really starting to concern him.
“Ow,” said Jenny.
“You got hit by one of the vampires when you guys went to the library,” Buffy explained apologetically. “There was this whole thing—everyone trying to kill Vampire Slayers for fun—you feeling okay?”
“Kinda wishing I’d stayed in the gym, but yeah,” said Jenny, and then caught sight of the large purple bruise on Rupert’s temple. “Aww, England,” she said sympathetically, reaching up to brush her fingers against his injury.
Rupert winced, smiling ruefully. “I’m fine,” he said. “Are you feeling all right? Would you like some water? I can drive you home, if you’d like.”
“I think I’ll be okay,” said Jenny. Rupert took her hands, helping her up. “Don’t want to miss Homecoming night, you know? Still gotta see who’s been crowned queen.”
“Oh!” said Buffy in a high, anxious voice, and raced out of the office, Cordelia hot on her heels.
Jenny laughed. “Really makes me feel special,” she said.
“I did sneak in a vote for Buffy,” said Rupert, and tucked his arm around her waist as they exited the office.
“Why, Mr. Giles,” Jenny teased him. “How unethical!”
“We talking unethics?” Faith inquired, sticking her head out of the gym. “Cause that’s—” She faltered. “You guys okay?”
“We’re good,” said Jenny easily. “I might need some down time when I get home, though.”
“Anyone I can beat up?” Faith asked, a hard, angry glint in her eyes.
Jenny stepped away from Rupert and shook her head. “I’m okay, Faith,” she said. Faith’s expression didn’t falter. “I’m okay,” she said again with conviction. “Do you need me to, I don’t know, do jumping jacks or run a few laps or something? I’m fine. Come on. There are still a few more songs before the dance is over.”
Faith breathed out. “Fine,” she said reluctantly, falling into step with Jenny as they headed back into the gym. Jenny glanced over her shoulder at Rupert, who was giving her a proud, soft smile for a reason she only halfway understood. “But for the record, I still kind of wanna hit someone.”
“Well, we can always go for a late-night drive,” Jenny suggested. “See if there’s anything scary for you to stake or chop up or something.”
“Cool,” said Faith, then, “Oh. Yikes.”
Faith gestured to the two girls onstage, neither of whom were Buffy or Cordelia. “B’s not gonna be happy,” she said a little sadly.
Jenny smiled slightly. It wasn’t her place to start poking Faith about what seemed to her like a pretty obvious crush, but she still thought it was a pretty adorable one. “You want to go see if you can console her?” she suggested nonchalantly.
Faith glared at her. “Shut up.”
So maybe Jenny wasn’t that good at not poking. “I’m going to go grab some food,” she said, and gave Faith a last smile before heading over to the snack table. Glancing back to see if Rupert had gotten into the gym yet, she bumped into the other person at the buffet. “Oh, sorry—”
Debbie looked up, eyes wide. “Ms. Calendar!” she said in a high, anxious voice.
Jenny winced. “Debbie,” she said. “Hey. I’m sorry about that. All that.” She hadn’t had the opportunity to talk to Debbie after the events in the supply room, though she and Rupert had had a meeting with Debbie’s parents and explained some of the things that had gone down with Pete. “I didn’t expect to see you at Homecoming. Thought you might need some down time.”
Debbie smiled nervously. “Same here,” she said. “I—I mean, after that vampire killed Pete—”
Jenny’s stomach twisted. “What?”
“I—maybe he wasn’t a vampire,” said Debbie uncomfortably. “The light was pretty bad, I just thought I saw fangs, and, well, you know Sunnydale—” She breathed out. “Or—did I just imagine it? I know Pete ended up dead, but I told my mom that a vampire killed him and she said that it was just post-traumatic stress o-on my part.”
“No,” said Jenny weakly. “No, um, you—you didn’t—excuse me.” She stepped away from the buffet table, feeling dizzy and a little nauseous. She could see Rupert’s concerned eyes on her, but couldn’t bring herself to go to him and tell him what she’d just found out. Taking one step, then two, Jenny hurried out of the gym, breaking into a run as soon as she was in the hallway.
She only just made it to the women’s restroom, at which point she threw up in the sink. She was shaking so badly that she could barely stand up, and let herself slide down until she was sitting against the wall.
Angelus was back. He was back, and he’d killed someone, and he was just biding his time and waiting for the chance to kill again. Jenny buried her face in her hands and tried to remember how to regulate her breathing like she’d practiced over the summer, but it wasn’t working, and there just didn’t seem to be enough air—
“Hey. Hey.” Hands pulled at Jenny’s, gently forcing her to uncover her face. Faith’s eyes were worried and scared. “Jen. Hey. Look at me and breathe.”
Jenny almost started crying. “No, Faith, it’s okay,” she said, almost desperately. The last thing Faith needed was to see her like this. “I’m okay. Just—I need a minute.”
Faith shook her head. “I’ll give you a minute when you stop looking like you’re gonna puke,” she said. Her eyes flitted to the sink. “Ew. Okay. Or maybe I’m a little late for that.”
Jenny took a shuddering breath. Thought about the fact that Faith and Rupert would worry themselves to death over her if she didn’t calm down. Breathed again, and realized vaguely how tightly she was holding Faith’s hands. She laughed shakily. “Sorry,” she said. “Guess it’s a good thing you’ve got Slayer strength, right?”
“What happened?” asked Faith without preamble.
Jenny knew how Faith was, and knew that Faith would run off to try and kill Angelus if she found out what was going on. “I don’t know if I can talk about it right now,” she said truthfully.
Faith nodded. “Okay,” she said. “Can you get up?”
“Yeah,” said Jenny softly. Faith slid an arm around her waist, helping her up. “Ugh. My mouth tastes awful.”
“I’ll get you some water,” said Faith. “You wanna go back to the dance, or—”
“I think I just want to go home,” said Jenny.
“I’ll get Giles, then,” said Faith, her tone easy and agreeable, as though they were discussing the weather, and that was when Jenny realized how very, very much she cared about her. It wasn’t just general worry for a kid she thought needed help. At any given time, Faith was ready to punch anyone in the face, but she was still more careful and gentle right now than a lot of people could be.
“Thank you,” said Jenny, trying to convey more than just her gratitude.
Faith smiled awkwardly. “Sure,” she said.
As it turned out, getting Rupert wasn’t at all necessary; he was waiting outside the bathroom with an anxious expression and rushed forward as soon as he saw them both, taking Jenny into his arms. Jenny half-fell against him, burying her face in his shoulder and holding him tightly. “Is she all right?” she heard him inquiring tensely of Faith.
“I don’t know,” said Faith, sounding unusually worried. “I—she says she wants to go home. And I think she puked in the sink.”
Jenny felt Rupert kiss her hair. “We’ll go home,” he murmured to her, rubbing comforting circles on her back, “all right?”
Jenny nodded into his shoulder, feeling a little bit safer at that. He smelled nice, like cologne and old books, and she wondered how that smell still lingered even when he was wearing a tuxedo. She felt him begin to carefully walk them towards one of the exits. “Thank you, Faith,” Rupert was saying quietly. “I—I’m very glad you were there for her.”
“Sure, yeah,” said Faith, sounding uncomfortable. “Just doing my thing.”
Jenny felt a little less shaky, and finally found it in herself to raise her head. “Rupert,” she said, making sure she wasn’t speaking loudly enough for Faith to hear, “I might need to talk to you when we get home. In private.”
Rupert nodded. He had the same dazed, worried look on his face that he’d had months ago, when she’d still been in a hospital bed. Jenny felt a weird sense of déjà vu. “I’m okay,” she added, and this time she meant it. “I’m fine.”
“I know,” said Rupert. “I just—you know I’m rather skilled at worrying.”
Jenny laughed, which made Rupert smile in relieved surprise, which made her feel better. “Yeah, I got that,” she said, and rested her cheek against his chest as they walked.
Rupert made everyone tea when they got home. Faith, who seemed to get the sense that they wanted to be alone, said that she’d take hers in her room, and then surprised both Rupert and Jenny by giving the latter a hesitant, awkward hug.
“If I’m not there, you breathe, okay?” she said, pulling back and giving Jenny a pointed look. “Don’t want you dying ‘cause you’re freaking out and forgetting to breathe. That kind of thing is gonna sound really lame in the obituary section.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Jenny agreed gamely. “I hope I didn’t ruin your first Sunnydale dance too much.”
Faith smiled in a way that Jenny didn’t completely understand. “Nah,” she said softly. “I’m good. Thanks for the dress.” She picked up her mug and left the kitchen, heading to her bedroom.
“I’m glad she was there for you,” said Rupert, sitting down in the chair next to Jenny’s. He turned his head to say something else, but Jenny leaned in and kissed him instead, wanting to prolong the inevitable for as long as she had to.
They kissed for about ten minutes. Things felt good and warm and safe, and it made Jenny more afraid of what would happen when she told him about Debbie. The moment it became real was the moment this quiet safety ended for them, and they went back to that horrible tension Jenny remembered from before Acathla.
It was Rupert who pulled back. “You wanted to talk to me,” he said carefully, his hands resting on Jenny’s shoulders.
Jenny bit her lip and nodded. “Yeah,” she said. “Um. Wow. This isn’t going to be a fun conversation by any means. Rupert—” She closed her eyes momentarily, trying to recapture how happy and light she’d felt at the dance. “Angelus,” she said. “Angelus is back.”
She felt Rupert tense up. “I’m sorry?” he said, as though hoping she was wrong but knowing that she wasn’t.
“I talked to Debbie,” said Jenny. The words came slowly and with effort. “She said she saw Pete get killed by a vampire.”
Rupert breathed out, then pulled Jenny all the way into his arms. “And he was close to you again,” he said. His voice was trembling.
“I’m okay,” said Jenny quietly. “I’m alive.” For now. “I just—I—he’s out there. It hit me hard.”
“Understandably.” Rupert smoothed back her hair with a shaking hand. “We’ll have to strategize further in the morning, but for now I think I just—” He faltered. “I just want to hold you,” he said softly.
Jenny smiled, and felt a mixture of sadness and relief. Sure, Angelus was back, but they were lucky right now. They might not be lucky tomorrow, but Rupert was here, and they were alive, and she wasn’t going to waste any time that they had.
She pulled him into a deep kiss, one that he returned with equal fervor. Seemed like they were on the same page.
Chapter 16: investigating a theory
So the whole “strategizing in the morning” thing turned into a “having sex to avoid talking about Angelus” thing, which then became a “kissing a lot during breakfast to continue avoiding talking about Angelus” thing, and it was all really nice until Faith said that she got that she was a guest and all but could they please tone it down at least a little, at which point Jenny had to stop kissing Rupert and remember that the vampire who wanted her dead was alive and waiting to strike. She poked at her pancakes.
“You guys have been weirder than usual,” Faith commented through a mouthful of fruit salad. “Everything okay?”
“We’ll tell you when we’ve come to a definitive conclusion,” Rupert replied, not unkindly. “Jenny, love, you need to eat.”
“Don’t patronize me,” said Jenny, but it didn’t come out as playful or joking as she wanted it to. Rupert winced and directed his gaze to his own plate. Feeling guilty, she reached across the table and took his hand. “We’ll—figure it out, okay?” she said finally.
Rupert looked back up at her and nodded. She could see the old worry in his eyes. “I trust you,” he said.
“And I know you trust me to talk to you about things worrying me,” Jenny added very pointedly. “Like I did last night.”
“If you guys are gonna get all cryptic—” Faith interjected a little indignantly.
Jenny breathed out, turning to Faith. “How about I put this in perspective?” she suggested. “Rupert and I are going through something deeply personal, and something I don’t want any of the other kids to know about. What you know right now—that we’re upset and worried—is so much more than what I want Willow, Xander, or Buffy to be aware of. You still know more than some people, Faith, and I trust that you’ll keep it that way.”
Faith looked startled. “So—” She hesitated. “I don’t tell anyone else that you guys have been acting weird all morning.”
“Our secret,” said Jenny. “You can trust me, right?”
Faith gave Jenny a small smile. “Yeah,” she said, and shrugged, as though her admission of trust was small potatoes. Jenny knew Faith well enough by now to know that it wasn’t. “But I’m with Giles, Jen. You should eat.”
“Is everyone here mothering me today?” said Jenny, and this time it came out with her usual playful snark. Rupert smiled.
Faith wasn’t sure how to feel about the fact that Jen and Giles obviously had something they were both worried about, but she did like the fact that she was the only other person who knew about them being worried, and that Jen had specified she was trusting her to keep that secret. It felt special. Big. Not even Buffy knew that Giles was worried, and that made Faith feel important and guilty at the same time. But mostly important. So that was good.
Jen and Giles had a really long private conversation after breakfast (Faith sat in her room and turned on the radio so she couldn’t hear them), and when they got into the car they were holding hands. Faith threw her backpack into the backseat and got into the car as Giles was saying, “So we talk to Buffy?”
“I think we should,” said Jen. “I’m going to start researching what it might have been when we get to school.”
“You don’t have to be—” Giles glanced back at Faith and then said very loudly, “So! Music?”
“You’re going to talk to Buffy?” said Faith, trying her best not to sound hurt.
“Kind of,” said Jen. “But it’s sort of more us investigating a theory than us telling her what’s going on. If that helps.”
“Not much,” said Faith, putting her feet against Jen’s seat.
“How about I promise to tell you as soon as everything’s sorted out?” Jen asked. “Will that be good?”
“Are you going to keep that promise?” Faith shot back.
“You know I will,” said Jen simply.
Faith felt a little weird about the honesty in Jen’s eyes. She opened up her backpack and started pretending to read the book for her English class while Giles started up the car, listening quietly to the front seat conversation for the first few minutes. But Giles just kind of talked about how much he hated the time Snyder wasted with pep rallies, and Jen said that he was the pinnacle of un-American behavior, and Giles said of course he was, he was British, and Faith felt a little better. This kind of conversation was the kind of stuff she’d gotten used to over the last few weeks.
It was only when they got to school that it hit Faith that she hadn’t once thought something about everyone in the car ending up dead, which made her feel anxious and worried, because last time she’d let herself get comfortable, things had gotten real bad real fast. And now she was realizing how awful it would be to watch Jen die, because Jen understood her in a way Faith wasn’t sure anyone ever had, and she still hadn’t told her that, and she probably wasn’t going to tell her that—
“Hey, study girl.” Jen was leaning through the now-open car door. “That book must be pretty good, huh?”
“I guess,” said Faith, and unbuckled her seatbelt. She didn’t want Jen to die. But she hadn’t wanted her Watcher to die, either. “Still haven’t written the essay for English class.”
“You’ve got time over the weekend,” said Jen encouragingly. “We can work on it together, if you want. Or Rupert can help. He might be better equipped for the literary world than myself.”
“Nonsense,” said Giles, and kissed Jen. They’d been all weird and kissy ever since Homecoming. Faith guessed it had to do with Jen’s panic attack. “Are you ready to go in?”
Faith made a face.
“Me too,” said Jen with amusement. “Me exactly. You know I have some of the athletics kids in my first class, right? The ones Snyder’s always trying to blackmail me into passing when they’re not even paying attention to the assignments?”
“Did you report it to the school board?” Giles asked with a frown.
“I did! But they were all ‘oh, we try and let each principal address the grading system in their own individual way’ just because they don’t want me fucking with their athletics system. I’m thinking of going to the mayor if it gets too out of hand.”
“You would,” said Faith.
Jen blinked. “Something wrong with that?”
Faith shook her head, and only realized she was smiling when Jen smiled hesitantly back. “No, just—” She shrugged. “You’re all about ethical learning and shit like that. It’s cool.”
The small, delighted grin on Jen’s face made Faith feel like she wanted to say things like that more often. But not too often, because then they’d lose their meaning, and Jen wouldn’t look at Faith like she was looking at her right now. “I didn’t know you thought so highly of me,” she said.
“Yeah, well, now you do,” said Faith flippantly, and started walking faster. Jen didn’t try to catch up with her, but when Faith looked over her shoulder, she could still see that happy smile.
Jenny started looking into possible ways Angelus could have come back, but seeing as she had no idea where to start book-wise, it was a pretty difficult job, so she started looking online instead. She found a few articles about a thing called the First which could theoretically have the power to bring back vampires from hell dimensions, and which was a malevolent force of evil anyway, but it seemed a little far-fetched that this great big force of evil would focus in on trying to hurt them with Angelus. But then it occurred to Jenny that Buffy was, after all, one of two Slayers, and bringing Angelus back could create a serious rift between Buffy and Faith, which could be what this First thing was going for.
Essentially, she just had no clue what was going on. At all. And it was frustrating, because she was taking the day off of teaching class to research this, and she wanted to tell Rupert hey, honey, I’ve found fifteen different articles on what might possibly bring back the vampire that wants me dead. She wanted to be able to tell herself that, because then she could work on trying to stop whatever it was that brought Angelus back. Or if he even was back.
Were there spells to track that down?
A mug of tea bumped her arm. She looked up and smiled. “Hey,” she said tiredly.
“Scones,” said Rupert, and handed her a small bag of pastries. “Might help alleviate the tension.”
“I’m going to be tense for the rest of my life, probably,” said Jenny, “especially if Angelus is out there.”
Rupert sat down next to her. “We’ll—hack this,” he said with conviction. “This is what we do.”
“Hack,” said Jenny, and laughed softly. “Looks like I’m rubbing off on you.” She handed Rupert one of the printouts on the First. “This is what I’ve got so far,” she said. “I know it’s a long shot, but it’s one of the only things I can find that might have enough power to do something like this.”
“There’s always the Powers that Be,” Rupert suggested.
“Right,” said Jenny. “The Powers would bring back a soulless vampire who wants to kill good people. Seems super likely.” She took a sip of tea. “I feel like we should be looking more on the evil side of the spectrum. Things that might want Buffy or Faith dead, because Angelus would sure do a good job of at least driving them apart.”
Rupert flinched. Jenny took his hand, and he gave her a flicker of a smile. “I just—” He breathed out. “I don’t like the concept of Buffy’s death,” he said finally, as though admitting something huge and awful.
“Are you supposed to?” Jenny asked carefully, trying to restrain herself from also asking is this a weird Council thing?
“I’m not supposed to have any feelings on the matter whatsoever,” said Rupert, his eyes on their joined hands. “The Council says a Slayer is a weapon before she is a girl, and she must be reminded of that constantly.”
“The Council also encouraged you to break up with me because it would be dangerous for me to be involved in supernatural matters,” Jenny reminded him. “I think at some point you really need to reevaluate your position on what they want you to do.”
Rupert looked slowly up at her. “About that,” he said. “I—I’ve been meaning to talk to you. There’s a tradition involving the Slayer’s eighteenth birthday—”
This was when Buffy came in. “Hey, Giles!” she said cheerfully. “You said you wanted to talk to me before class?”
Rupert hesitated. He still seemed a little nervous about something that Jenny couldn’t place. “Yes, I think so,” he said uncertainly. “I-it’s a bit of a sensitive matter. I hope it doesn’t negatively affect your studies.”
“Spill, Giles.” Buffy pulled herself up to the counter, giving Jenny a small, easy smile. “I’m sure it’s not all that bad.”
It suddenly hit Jenny that Buffy had been in the supply room too. Not only that, but Buffy would have seen Angelus better than anyone, seeing as he’d broken up her fight with Pete. If Angelus was anywhere in the vicinity, and if Buffy had known it was him, why wouldn’t she have brought it up to them? “Rupert,” she said quietly. This wasn’t going to be a fun conversation, and she wanted to let him know.
Rupert placed a hand over hers, mistaking her concern about him for worry about talking about Angelus with Buffy. “Buffy,” he began, “Jenny heard from Debbie that she saw Pete get killed by a vampire.”
Buffy’s smile flickered and faded. She looked down. “Yeah,” she said hesitantly. “Um.”
But then Rupert said, “I—I realize you may have been somewhat out of sorts, especially when facing as formidable a foe as Pete, and I understand that you may not have seen Angelus if he did, in fact, kill Pete, but we may have to entertain the possibility that Angelus really has returned.”
Jenny saw Buffy’s face visibly relax at this. “Yes!” she said, almost too brightly. At Rupert’s startled look, “I—I mean, I’m just—I’m glad that you told me. So that I can prepare, i-in case he goes after me or—something.”
“Actually, Buffy, I don’t think you’d be the primary target,” said Rupert quietly, and Jenny felt his hand tighten around hers.
“Well—” Buffy stopped, and then her eyes landed on Jenny. “Oh.” She ducked her head. “Oh, I—didn’t think—”
“Angelus and I didn’t part on what one would call good terms,” said Jenny lightly. “He shows up and I get the sense that he’s going to want revenge for that soul spell I cooked up, so it’s really important that we know all we can about what could be going down with him.”
She couldn’t flat-out say that she thought Buffy knew something and wasn’t sharing, but she could try and convey the importance of the situation and hope that Buffy gave some information herself. But Buffy smiled nervously and said, “Well, I—I’ll let you know. If I find anything out, I mean.”
Jenny decided to put her half-formed suspicions about Buffy to the side. It was likely that Buffy had been out of it during the fight, and maybe she hadn’t seen Angelus at all. She liked that possibility a lot better than Buffy keeping Angelus a secret from all of them, and anyway, Buffy would never do something as thoughtless as that. She was a sweet kid with a good head on her shoulders, even if she could be a little vindictive sometimes, and it was likely that her weird behavior right now was coming from her being shaken about finding out Angel might be back. “Thanks,” she said gently. “I’d appreciate that.”
Buffy was now smiling so widely and tensely that it looked like she was gritting her teeth. “Yeah,” she said. “Yeah. I’ll see you guys after school.” She turned, hurrying out of the library.
“I hope she’s okay,” said Jenny quietly, and then turned back to Rupert. “What were you saying about birthday traditions?”
Chapter 17: half-formed possibility
To Jenny’s surprise, Rupert leaned in and kissed her, surprisingly hard. He pulled back just a bit, studying her with a strange look in his eyes. “Do you know,” he said, his voice shaking a little, “you turned my life upside down from the moment you told me you loved me?”
“This isn’t—it isn’t about you being better than I deserve. I know how you feel about that.” Rupert’s fingers traced Jenny’s cheek. “I expected to be alone,” he said. “I expected that if I did find someone who I might want to spend my life with, I could never be completely honest with that person, or prioritize my relationship with them over the teachings of the Council. And I wouldn’t ever have considered that I might make the conscious choice to tell that person what I am about to tell you right now.”
Jenny could see the intensity in his gaze as he looked at her, and it all but took her breath away. She waited.
Rupert closed his eyes, then spoke, as though he couldn’t quite bring himself to look at her. “There is a tradition on every Slayer’s eighteenth birthday,” he said. “A rite of passage, one might call it. The Cruciamentum. The Slayer is drugged and stripped of her powers, and then locked in a house with a brutally strong vampire. It is meant to test her skills and intelligence, to prove that she is strong enough to continue fighting. It has killed many, many Slayers before, but many others have survived beyond it.”
Suddenly Jenny saw where this was going. “No,” she said slowly. “No. You’re not going to go through with it.”
“You’re not going to go through with it,” Jenny continued, “or you wouldn’t have told me.”
Rupert breathed out, and Jenny, relieved, knew that she’d been right. “I don’t know what I can do,” he said finally. “The mere thought of contemplating going against Council orders—they’d have my head if they knew I was discussing the Cruciamentum with my lover. But—” He smiled slightly. “Do you remember what you said when we broke up?”
“Which time?” Jenny quipped.
Rupert laughed quietly. “Over the summer,” he said. “You said, ‘Rupert, just because you’re a Watcher doesn’t make you the all-knowing, wise one in our relationship.’”
He let his hand drop, studying her face with so much love that Jenny felt a little off-balance. Sometimes she forgot how much he loved her. She was only now coming to terms with the fact that he might have reason to. “The way the Council holds themselves above other civilians, some of whom have more field experience, is truly deplorable,” he said. “I called them to ask about Faith being placed under your care, and it took me a good twenty minutes to convince them that you were suited for taking care of a Slayer. So many Watchers called over the course of the next two hours to tell me how unethical my methods were, that they would never dream of doing such a thing, that Faith deserved someone actually trained and qualified in Slayer history.”
“And you didn’t agree,” said Jenny, almost a question.
Rupert nodded emphatically. “The Council wants the vampires destroyed,” he said. “In their eyes, Slayers are expendable resources, and rebellious ones aren’t useful to the cause. That’s what they’ve always taught us, and that’s what they’ve told us is safer for us to believe. The concept of a woman not affiliated with the Council being involved in any way with training a Slayer goes against everything that they believe in. That I believed in.”
“But?” Jenny prompted.
“But I’ve seen the way Faith looks at you,” said Rupert simply. “I don’t know if she’d have stayed so firmly anchored to the side of good if not for the care you’ve shown her in these past few weeks.”
“I think you’re exaggerating a little,” said Jenny, embarrassed.
“I don’t think I am,” Rupert replied, a quiet, solid certainty in his voice.
They were both silent for a moment, studying each other’s faces. Then Jenny said, “So I’m guessing you’re putting aside some of the Council teachings?”
“Not some,” said Rupert, a bitter note in his voice. “The Council is based on the assumption that Watchers have more wisdom and knowledge than any other person in regards to the supernatural world. I don’t want to be a part of that kind of elitism.”
Jenny stared at him. Then she said, “You have never been sexier to me than you are right now.”
“I am dead serious,” said Jenny.
“As, um, flattering as that is to hear,” said Rupert, who was doing a very bad job of not blushing, “I—we do really need to talk about what to do in regards to the Cruciamentum.”
Jenny sighed. “You have a point,” she agreed reluctantly. “Okay. What are our options?”
“I’d say we dispose of the drug when I’m given it, but it’s a highly toxic substance,” Rupert replied. “If injected into a human, it would kill them on the spot.”
“How is this a tradition?” Jenny demanded, suddenly very angry. She thought of Faith, who was so close to eighteen, going through something as terrifying as that. She imagined how horrible Buffy would feel knowing that Giles had violated her trust so completely. “This is disgusting.”
“I quite agree,” said Rupert, taking her hands in his. “My suggestion is that we find some magical means of destroying the drugs. The Council knows of my relationship with magic, but they don’t know about Willow. If she were to vanish it—”
“Vampires!” said Jenny suddenly. Rupert blinked. “Look,” she said, “I feel like if this is a tradition, it’s definite that more than one Watcher has tried to destroy the drugs magically. But injecting them into vampires—if the Council decides to do a spell to see how the chemicals left the syringe, they’ll see that it was injected into someone. And we could just stake the vampires afterwards, so that we aren’t leaving a trail of bodies that could be used for evidence.”
Rupert pressed his lips together. “It seems a bit risky,” he said finally.
“There’s always the possibility that one of the kids might have a better idea,” Jenny reminded him. “We’re definitely going to have to talk to Buffy about the whole locking-her-in-a-dangerous-house thing.”
“You’re quite right.” Rupert hesitated. “Jenny,” he said, “I’m—so grateful to know you. I don’t like to think of what I might have done on Buffy’s birthday if not for what you’ve taught me.”
“About the Council. About myself. Just—” Rupert smiled awkwardly, looking down. “I think I forgot sometimes,” he said, “that relationships are a give-and-take sort of thing. Before I met you, I assumed that there wasn’t much I needed to learn.”
“You put too much blame on yourself,” said Jenny, squeezing his hands. “You would have done the right thing whether or not I was here.”
“Be that as it may, I’m still very glad that you are,” Rupert said with affection.
Jenny smiled. “Me too.”
“You know,” said Faith, tossing her backpack onto the sofa, “you could have told me that being a part of Sunnydale High meant selling lame-ass candy to people.”
“No, this is new, or I would have warned you,” replied Jen wryly. “Me buying ten boxes from you should be enough to keep Snyder happy. He still doesn’t have much of a reason not to like you.”
“Oh, he doesn’t seem like the type who needs a reason,” Faith informed her, taking a bar from one of the boxes. “I can eat this now, right?”
“I’d hardly be a responsible guardian if I withheld food from you,” quipped Jen. “Do you have that form thing I need to sign to buy candy?”
Faith dug in her backpack, fishing out the slightly crumpled form and a pen. “Here,” she said, handing both items over to Jen before beginning to unwrap the candy bar. “You do know that Giles is probably gonna buy a billion boxes from Buffy, though, so—”
“Then it isn’t about candy for him either,” said Jen without looking up from the form.
Faith got a weird lump in her throat, forgot what she was going to say, and tried to focus instead on the candy bar, which tasted unusually good. She wondered if that was a thing too in Sunnydale. “You sure this isn’t magic candy?” she asked Jen playfully.
Jen laughed. “I hope not,” she said. “I’m thinking of melting some down to make hot chocolate tonight.”
“Giles coming over?”
“Actually, Willow and Xander might stop by.” Jen’s face seemed purposefully neutral. “I hope that’s okay with you.”
Faith shrugged. “Hey, it’s your house,” she said.
Jen was quiet for a few minutes, rearranging the magazines on her coffee table almost nervously. Then she said, “Faith, I—I want you to stay here on a permanent basis.”
Faith felt a strange rush of an emotion she wasn’t sure whether or not she liked. “What?”
Jen looked up, twisting her hands in that way Faith was now beginning to realize meant that she was anxious. “I know you’re not big on the permanency thing,” she said, “and I’ve tried my best to respect that, but I want this to be your home as much as it is mine. If that’s—too much, or too soon, I completely understand, but I just want you to be aware of the fact that a home in Sunnydale is one hundred percent something you can have.”
“I left something in my room,” said Faith, and got up, leaving the living room as fast as she could without running. She half expected Jen to call her back, but she didn’t, and Faith slammed the door of her room shut harder than she needed to.
She hadn’t realized Jen had cared about her this much. Or, okay, maybe she had, a little, but it hadn’t been something real and concrete until Jen had straight-out said it, and that had made it safe. Unattainable. A half-formed possibility that wasn’t frightening in the slightest. The want in her chest was burning like a red-hot coal, but she couldn’t smash the glass of a store window and pull out a perfect life for her, newly formed. There was always a catch. There had to be a catch.
Maybe the catch was that Faith couldn’t tell Jen all the things she wanted to, because her life had taught her over and over that trusting in a happy ending was a horrible idea. The moment she gave in and let herself feel like she had a home was the moment she had something that could be taken away from her.
Except she already loved Jen, and that sure as hell counted as something she didn’t want taken away.
Faith got up and kicked her dresser, hard. What was she supposed to do with love? All it was doing was making her angry and scared, even though she’d wanted someone to love so badly when she was little. She was awful and ungrateful, and she hated that for some reason Jen didn’t seem to care about that. More than that—she hated how much Jen cared about her.
There was a knock on the door. “I’m going to call Willow and Xander and tell them tomorrow might be a better day to visit,” Jen said carefully. “I think tonight might need to be a quiet night.”
“Fuck you,” said Faith.
“Can I come in?”
“Okay. Can I talk to you through the door?”
“Do whatever you want, if you’re so big on bothering me,” said Faith as coolly as she could, and hated how easy it was to be cruel. It was in her nature, probably.
The responding silence was so long that Faith began to feel the beginnings of guilt, but then the door opened and Jen came in. Faith hated the understanding in her eyes more than anything in the world. “We don’t have to talk about it,” she said.
“I don’t care,” Faith snapped. “Invite Willow and Xander over. Hell, invite Giles and fuck him in my bedroom. Do whatever the fuck you want, just stop talking to me.”
Jen looked down. “I’m sorry if I pressured you with my offer,” she said, quiet and uncertain. Somehow, that was so much worse than any kind of anger she could have directed at Faith. “I—I hope you know that I never want to make you feel—”
“I don’t—stop.” Faith felt the anger draining out of her, leaving her with an awful guilt. Jen looked small all of a sudden, and Faith realized for the first time that Jen was actually shorter than her. She held herself with so much confidence, usually. It made her seem taller. “Stop apologizing to me. Stop it.”
“Stop it,” said Faith fiercely. “Okay? Just—I—”
She meant to say something mean and incisive, something that would drive Jen away and get her kicked to the curb. End her time as a Scooby on her own terms instead of on someone else’s. But then Jen looked up, and the guilt in her eyes made Faith angry and sad at the same time. She knew she couldn’t say anything that would hurt Jen more.
“Just leave me alone,” said Faith. She hated that her voice was shaking. “Leave me alone.”
Jen bit her lip. “Okay,” she said quietly, and left, shutting the door behind her.
Faith sat down on the floor. See, she thought, if I can hurt someone like Jen, there’s nothing good left in me, and in a weird way that made her feel a little better.
Faith was scared. Jenny got that. Permanence and love were two things that angry, bitter teenage Janna would have been frightened off by too. Sometimes it was weirdly like looking in a mirror, seeing Faith with her defensiveness and anger so readily visible. She wondered if this was what it was like to be a mom—not the sweet, easy comradery she’d always had with Willow, but a struggle with someone who had the more difficult parts of Jenny’s personality. Someone who didn’t realize Jenny might be able to help, and didn’t understand how much Jenny cared.
Jenny sat down at the kitchen table, a hollow feeling in her stomach. It was exhausting, sometimes, trying to reach Faith, even if she knew that what she was doing was the right thing.
“I brought—” Rupert stopped in the door of the kitchen. “Are you all right?” he inquired softly.
“I, uh,” Jenny laughed a little self-deprecatingly, “asked Faith if she wanted to stay with me. Permanently.”
“Oh.” Rupert put the boxes of band candy (wow, that was a lot of band candy) down on the kitchen counter before sitting down next to Jenny. She leaned into him. “Would you like me to make you some hot chocolate? I may have purchased a small amount of candy from Buffy.”
“Small,” said Jenny. She felt her mouth quirk up as she glanced pointedly over at the boxes.
“You’re clearly very upset, so I shall allow that teasing,” said Rupert with good-natured annoyance, resting his hand over Jenny’s on the table.
Jenny turned, wrapping her arms around his neck so she could hug him. “Thanks,” she said quietly. “It’s been a taxing day all around.”
“I’m sure some chocolate will put things in perspective,” Rupert replied, stroking her hair.
Jenny laughed quietly, resting her chin on his shoulder. “Yeah,” she agreed. “I could really use the relaxation.”
Chapter 18: some kind of magic thing
Faith came out of her room the next morning to find Jen gone, an entire box of candy bars open and cleaned out, and a note on the kitchen table that said Gone Out—J in scrawly handwriting that wasn’t quite as precise as Jen’s usual cursive. There were a bunch of candy wrappers in the trash and two hot chocolate mugs on the table. Looked like Giles had stopped by after Faith’s mini-meltdown.
She really wanted to be angry, but it was so unlike Jen to leave without any kind of verbal notification or check-in that all Faith could feel was nervous. That made her angry, because she hadn’t asked to be nervous about some annoying teacher with no self-preservation instincts and way too much affection to give. She grabbed a candy bar and took a large bite before heading to the living room and grabbing her backpack off the couch. Sure, she was still kind of angry about a lot of things, but maybe she’d find Jen at school.
Not that she was worried—fuck it. Fine. Fine, Faith was worried. Faith was worried, because she loved Jen and she didn’t want Jen to have done some stupid thing that ended up getting her killed, and the fact that she was worried was incredibly frustrating to her.
“Happy?” said Faith to the empty house. “You win, universe.” Except, shit, what if Jen had gone out last night? What if Jen had gone out last night when Faith was sulking in her room and that note was from last night and Jen’s body was lying in some cemetery, drained dry? And Jen would have left all hurt and sad because she thought Faith didn’t like her or something like that—
Faith all but ran out of the house, throwing her backpack over one shoulder. Jen’s car wasn’t in the driveway. “Shit,” she said aloud. Her voice broke, sounding smaller and more scared than she liked. She hated that. She was brave. She was free. She was—
She was someone with someone to lose. She’d been afraid of this and she’d somehow managed to fuck everything up again. Faith sat down on Jen’s front porch and focused on her breathing, wishing that she hadn’t so readily pushed Jen away. “Okay,” she said. “Chill. You can’t be a mess if you want to find Jen. And she’s probably fine anyway. She probably just headed to school early.”
Never mind that Jen always stayed late at home if Faith slept in. Never mind that Jen and Faith had started a weird little tradition of having cereal together in the morning. This was the first time they’d had a real fight, even if it was kind of one-sided, and maybe this was the way Jen dealt with feeling hurt. Sure, it was a little nerve-wracking for Faith to wake up and find Jen gone, but it was going to be completely okay when she came into the computer lab and found Jen safely teaching a class at school.
Jen wasn’t at school. Jen wasn’t even in her classroom. Faith was kind of a basket case all day—not that any of her teachers noticed—and she maybe sort of snuck to the girls’ bathroom at lunch and punched a paper towel dispenser, half because she was so scared and half because no one else seemed all that worried about Jen. She turned out to be wrong about that second one, though.
“Hey, is Ms. Calendar okay?” Willow asked in study hall, sitting down in the seat next to Faith. Her eyes were wide and concerned and reminded Faith of some kind of baby animal. “I haven’t seen her, and since you guys—”
“I don’t know,” said Faith shortly. “Buzz off. I’m working on my homework.”
“I can help,” Willow offered nervously. “A-and then maybe we can talk about Ms. Calendar? Or not,” she added hastily at the look Faith gave her. “I just—I figured maybe you’d know where she was, and if she was missing or something—”
“Grow up, Red,” said Faith, fixing her attention on the geometry problem she was supposed to be doing. “She’s not a teenager. She can handle her shit, and if she can’t, we find her body in a few days. That’ll solve your problem.”
“How can you be so—so—ugh!” Willow stomped her foot, picked up her things, and moved to sit next to Xander instead. Faith wished she could feel bad, but she just wanted to be left alone. She was worried enough about Jen as it was; she didn’t feel like worrying about Jen in a group.
She tried to focus on her geometry problem, but all she could think about was the fact that if Jen was dead, it would be Faith’s fault for hurting her. Jen, the one person who had tried to be kind to her for no reason other than it was what she thought people did for other people. She’d made Faith feel special, and loved, and all Faith had given her back was anger and hate.
A tear fell onto her geometry homework. Faith crumpled the paper up and threw it into the garbage can before anyone could see it.
“Where is Giles?” Faith suddenly heard Buffy saying to Cordelia. “He hasn’t shown up all day, and it’s not like him to be this late to study hall. He’s never late.”
Faith turned around very fast. “Giles is gone too?” she said.
“Too?” said Willow, eyes wide and worried.
“I—” Faith pressed her lips together, not wanting to tell the Scoobies what had happened between her and Jen. “Jen left early this morning,” she said. “I saw the note when I got up. I—I might see if I can duck out and check Giles’s place.”
“You do that,” said Buffy with a concerned frown. “Call me as soon as you hear anything, okay?”
Under normal circumstances, that kind of thing coming from Buffy might have made Faith feel fluttery. “Okay,” she agreed, and hurried out of study hall. It was weird how the teacher in charge didn’t call her out, but Faith didn’t think much of it.
Faith could hear music playing from Giles’s house when she showed up at the front door. At her knock, the music stopped, and she heard Jen call, “Who’s there?”
Okay. Now Faith was pissed. She’d been worried sick all day and Jen had just gone to go screw her boyfriend. She shoved the door open. “What the fuck?” she demanded.
Jen looked up from her magazine with disinterest. She was wearing a shade of lipstick that looked almost like a bloodstain, and her makeup was heavy, making her look unusually pale. “Oh,” she said. “Hey, Faith. You look like shit.”
“Wh—I—” Faith was almost too angry to speak. “Who the fuck just leaves a note on the kitchen table?”
“I, the fuck,” said Jen dryly, and went back to her magazine. “Ripper, can you turn that down?”
“It’s Cream,” said Giles in a very affronted tone.
“I don’t care if it’s milk and sugar. I’m trying to talk to Faith.” Jen flipped a page. “You know, Faith, you don’t have to be such a frigid bitch all the time.”
Faith stared. She felt like she’d just been hit in the stomach. “What?”
“I’m trying to be nice to you, and all you do is shut me out and tell me how annoying I am,” said Jen, eyes fixed almost purposefully on the magazine.
For a moment Faith was about to say something incisive right back, but then she noticed the strange, tense way Jen was turning the pages of the magazine. There was an angry guardedness to Jen that reminded Faith of someone she couldn’t place, and it occurred to her that Jen might be hurt. “I’m sorry,” she said awkwardly. She wasn’t sure how to do the apology thing, but she knew that she did want to do things right by Jen. “I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
“Well, you did,” said Jen, and turned another page.
Faith walked hesitantly over to the couch, sitting down next to Jen. “I don’t—like—the idea of losing you,” she said. It was strangely easier to say sappy shit like that when Jen was acting so cold and angry, instead of when Jen was looking at her with quietly understanding eyes. Faith had a feeling that wasn’t all that good. She didn’t care.
“So don’t be a frigid bitch,” said Jen. “And don’t expect me to stick around all the time. I don’t do that.”
It hit Faith like a lightning bolt. Jen was acting like her. “Hey,” she said. “Hey. What’s the matter with you? This isn’t you.”
Jen continued to stare at the magazine impassively. “Oh, and you know me so well,” she said without interest.
“Oooh, you tell her,” teased Giles.
“Fuck off, Ripper,” Jen replied coolly.
“My home, my rules,” said Giles.
Ripper? Faith thought with some bemusement as he lit a cigarette. What kind of lame name is that?
“Fine.” Jen put down the magazine and grabbed Faith’s hand. “We are leaving,” she said. “Have fun with your cigarette and your lame-ass record collection.” Ripper looked thoroughly affronted, and this seemed to please Jen, who tugged Faith up from the couch. “Come on,” she said.
“Aren’t you mad at me?” said Faith, bewildered.
“Whatever,” said Jen. “You’re better to hang out with than him, anyway.” There was a playful needling in her voice that sounded comfortingly familiar. “All he does is sit around and listen to records and talk about how ‘oh, I’m going to get a band together!’ Like he can even play worth a—”
“Oh, you want a good time?” Ripper looked livid. “I’ll bloody well show you two a good time.” He jumped up from where he’d been lounging on the floor, grabbing Jen’s other hand. “You couldn’t handle my idea of fun, anyway.”
“Try me,” Jen challenged.
“What is wrong with both of you?” Faith demanded, a mixture of anger and fear rising in her. Ripper and Jen looked at her blankly, as though not understanding why she was so agitated and not really caring. “Neither of you showed up all day.”
“I called in,” said Ripper. “And you wouldn’t have noticed anything was wrong if Janna hadn’t been so intent on telling you off.”
“She doesn’t even know my name,” said Jen to Ripper, smirking. Her eyes shifted to Faith. “Sure you know me?” she asked almost mockingly. “Bet you thought you had me all figured out, huh? Sweet, naïve Jenny Calendar with too much hope in what Faith could be.” She stretched luxuriously. “God, it’s good to be back,” she said. “Feels like waking up.”
“We could walk down Main, smash in some windows,” Ripper suggested idly. Faith stared.
Jen—Janna—wrinkled her nose. “You just want to smash things to feel important, don’t you?” she said with distaste, and for a moment Faith saw a hint of Jen’s dry annoyance. “I’m going to go to the Bronze.”
“That place is dead,” said Ripper dismissively.
“Yeah? Well, it’s more interesting than smashing in windows.” Janna tugged her hands free of both Faith and Ripper, striding purposefully out of the apartment. She looked over her shoulder with a toss of her hair, adding, “Come or don’t. I don’t care.”
“I don’t need her,” Ripper informed Faith seriously. “’M not tied to her or anything.” He promptly followed Janna out of the apartment.
Faith sat down on the couch, not sure what to think. Was this some kind of weird thing Jen was trying to do in order to teach her a lesson about entitled teenagers? It definitely didn’t seem like Jen’s style, and Faith doubted that Giles would so easily agree to something like this.
Maybe it was some kind of magic thing. Faith liked that. Then she realized that if it was some kind of magic thing, Jen could be in trouble, which made her feel panicky and angry at the same time. Loving someone was frustrating.
She threw her backpack down on the floor of Giles’s apartment before grabbing his car keys from the counter—he’d forgotten to take them before he left. Lucky for Faith. She was going to need that car when she drove down to the Bronze.
Chapter 19: like-minded people
Buffy and Willow were leaving the Bronze just as Faith showed up, followed by an excitable-looking Snyder. Upon seeing Faith, Buffy smiled with an exhausted kind of relief that made Faith suddenly feel like everything would be completely fine. “Hey,” she said. “You find Giles and Ms. Calendar?”
“What, they’re not here?” Faith groaned. “Super. Now I gotta go looking all over town for them.”
“They’re okay, though?” inquired Willow anxiously.
“Well, Jen’s wearing a ton of makeup and calling herself Janna, but other than that they seem fine,” said Faith dryly. It hit her that she sounded like Jen, which made her bizarrely amused; Jen was acting all angry and resentful and Faith was the one who had to fix all the problems being caused.
“We think there’s something going down that’s making the adults act like teenagers,” said Buffy, “because the Bronze is full of some totally wasted grown-ups.”
“My doctor tried to crowd-surf shirtless,” Willow added, sounding like she wasn’t sure whether to be horrified or concerned by this. “I think some guys are trying to take him to the hospital. Ironic, in a sad way.”
“Cool,” said Faith exhaustedly. “Great. I’m gonna see if I can find Jen before she and Ripper get themselves killed.”
“I’m sorry,” said Buffy, a semi-panicked note in her voice, “did you say Ripper?”
“No, it’s cool, B, it’s not like Jen’s hanging with a serial killer or anything,” said Faith hastily. “That’s just what Giles is calling himself now.”
“That’s what I was afraid of,” said Buffy, and dashed to the car. Willow followed with a halfway apologetic look.
Faith felt more than a little left out. Yeah, she got that there wasn’t all that much time for giving the newbie an explanation, but Jen had always made time. They were on patrol once and Jen almost got jumped, and in the middle of staking a vampire she’d been shouting to Faith about how the particular cemetery they were in might have some kind of vampire-attracting artifact. And now Buffy and Willow were dashing off to solve the problem and save the day, and knowing their luck, they’d find Jen before Faith did.
Screw that. If she was going to have to fly solo, she’d do it—for Jen, if not for anyone else. Faith tried to think of a place in town Jen might go, and then it came to her. Teenage Jen might be some kind of rebellious wild card, but there was one thing that any Jen wasn’t going to be able to resist.
“Candy.” Ripper’s voice was doubtful. “You want us to drive halfway across the bloody town for candy. What kind of fun is that?”
“I’m hungry,” said Janna, “and you said yourself that the Bronze was dead. I thought you’d be happy about having something to do.”
There was a motorbike up ahead with the keys still in; its owner was in an arm wrestling match with another guy. “Ooh, here we go,” said Ripper with delight, and hurried up to the motorbike, straddling it before tossing a glance over his shoulder at Janna. “We can use this to get to the factory,” he said. “Hop on.”
“You don’t have a helmet,” said Janna uneasily, hanging back.
“What, too rebellious for you?” said Ripper mockingly.
Janna set her jaw and stared him down. “I don’t steal,” she said.
“This is my kind of fun,” said Ripper smugly. “Thought you said you could handle it.”
Janna pressed her lips together. She liked feeling this light and free, unencumbered by all the expectations that seemed to tie her down, and she’d developed the kind of persona that would let her feel that way. But there were certain lines that she still couldn’t cross, no matter who she was pretending to be. “I don’t steal,” she said again. “Not when it’s something someone wants.”
Ripper studied her face. It seemed like he was waiting for Janna to change her mind, which wasn’t going to happen. Janna sped up, feeling a little hurt. She had a feeling he was judging her, and she didn’t like it.
She heard him fall into step with her, and didn’t look over at him, keeping her eyes trained straight ahead.
“What is it with you?” Ripper said, his voice quiet and thoughtful without even a hint of that confident sneer she’d gotten used to. “Every time I think I know you—”
Janna bit her lip until she tasted blood.
“—you switch on me. Thought you’d like stealing a motorbike.”
“Well, I don’t,” said Janna shortly, “so why don’t we just leave it alone?”
“Leave it alone.”
Ripper fell silent. Janna kept on looking ahead of them, at the streetlights and the night sky. “Where I lived,” she said, very quietly, more for herself than anyone else, “the city lights didn’t blot out the stars. I had a telescope.” It felt comforting to say that out loud. Whoever Janna was, angry or trapped or whatever, she’d always liked the stars.
To her surprise, she felt Ripper’s hand slip into hers. He was smiling slightly at his feet in a way that seemed more honest and real than the triumphant grin he’d had on that motorbike. She hadn’t realized he’d been walking close enough to hear her. “I made star charts,” he said. “Papered my bedroom. I was twelve.”
“I was fourteen.” Janna felt a tentative, uneasy warmth between them at their mutual admissions. It frightened her a little, but in a good way. “I tried to make my own constellations.” Ripper chuckled, and she glared at him. “What?”
“Twelve-year-old me would have been scandalized, ‘s all,” Ripper said. “He was very by the book.”
“And you’re not?” Janna asked, curious despite herself. She remembered bits and pieces of what Eyghon had left in her, but not enough to make out Ripper’s story.
Ripper looked at her for a moment, as though trying to assess how much to tell her. “I don’t know,” he said finally. “I don’t want to be.”
Janna stood on tiptoe and kissed him, on impulse. It was a lot softer and sweeter than she’d expected their first kiss like this to be. Ripper’s response wasn’t hard and passionate; he stumbled, startled, and nearly tripped over the sidewalk, which made Janna smile against his mouth. But then he was kissing her back, hands resting carefully on her shoulders, leaning down to meet her mouth with his.
He was the one to pull away, smiling a little awkwardly in a way that made Janna’s heart ache. “What was that for?” he asked.
“Books are dumb.” Janna laced her fingers with Ripper’s, feeling strange and happy as she grinned at her combat boots. “They’re isolating. Reading is a solitary activity, and knowledge should be shared with like-minded people.”
Ripper got it. He smiled too.
They walked slowly, but Sunnydale was a small town, so they reached the factory in a reasonable amount of time. The thing was, though, Janna didn’t feel that same kind of drive to prove herself, and candy didn’t seem all that appealing to her at the moment.
“I don’t want to steal,” she said quietly, “but I want to go see the stars with you.”
Ripper looked at her, then said, “Compromises might have to be made for the sake of reaching the stars in time.”
Janna smiled slightly. “We’ll call it borrowing,” she said.
“Just so,” said Ripper, and he sounded a little like someone Janna half-remembered and all the way loved. Everything had turned soft and gooey between them all of a sudden, and neither of them seemed to want to be the one to remind the other we aren’t like this, we’re rebels, we’re angry and we mean business.
“I should apologize to Faith,” said Janna, suddenly remembering. “I was way harsh with her. I just—”
Ripper nodded slightly. “She hurt you,” he said thoughtfully. “You bite.”
“Sometimes.” Janna felt chastened. “I didn’t mean to.”
“You can apologize tomorrow,” said Ripper, and kissed her again. Janna let her eyes flutter shut. She thought she could still taste chocolate on his mouth, but maybe it was just her imagination.
As it happened, Faith actually reached the candy factory at the same time as Buffy, which turned out to be a good thing, because Buffy saw them first, and her loud “Oh my god!” served as a generally helpful warning for what Faith saw next.
“Jeez, can you two keep it in your pants under any scenario?” she quipped.
“Not. Funny.” Buffy directed a horrified look at her. “I want to bleach my entire brain.”
“Faith,” said Janna, ignoring Buffy. There was a guilty look on her face. “Listen, I—”
Faith recognized that look from the night before. “We’re cool, okay?” she said, and meant it. “Five by five. I hurt you too, remember?”
Janna shook her head. “I shouldn’t have just run off in the morning,” she said firmly. “I know how that feels.”
“What do you mean?” Faith asked hesitantly, feeling almost guilty for asking. She wasn’t sure if this was stuff Jen—not Janna, but Jen—wanted her to know. Next to her, Buffy very casually stepped off to the side, giving them both some privacy. To Faith’s surprise, Ripper did the same.
“I—” Janna took a breath before speaking. “I woke up alone a lot,” she said. “Empty house and all that. Sometimes I got worried that my uncle had gotten killed by something, ‘cause he never left a note, and I always got all panicky until he came back. He was really mad at me for it the first time.” She fiddled with the sleeves of her leather jacket. “Said that worry shouldn’t be the driving force in my life. I’m supposed to be all vengeful.”
“Oh.” Faith looked at Jen. It took her a moment to remember that it wasn’t Jen at all, and another moment to realize that in a way, it kind of was. “I get that,” she said quietly. “The whole—anger thing. Seems like that’s all anyone wants me to be.”
Janna’s eyes looked sad. “I know it’s not me, but I want to be kind,” she said quietly. “I want to know how to be kind.”
The words struck a chord with Faith, on more levels than she’d anticipated. Yeah, sure, she related to what Janna was saying, but what really struck her was that Jen did learn to be kind. She did become someone good and smart and happy, with more than one person who loved her. And if Jen had been so much like Faith as a teenager, then maybe there was some hope for Faith too.
“You’re good,” she said. “You’re good enough. You have plenty of time to figure shit like that out, and if you’re lucky, you’ll find someone to help you. Like—” Faith had to cut herself off, pressing Jen’s car keys into Janna’s hand to distract from her unfinished sentence. Like I did.
“Hey,” called Buffy. “You guys helping us with the candy?”
Janna hesitated, glancing over at Ripper, who said, “We—um—had plans.”
Buffy blinked, then groaned. “I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that,” she said. “Do whatever you want, okay? Just don’t eat any of the candy.” She stepped forward, taking Faith’s hand in hers (Faith felt butterflies. Stupid butterflies) and beginning to head toward the factory.
Janna took Ripper’s hand, smiling quietly up at him, and the two of them headed towards Jen’s car, which Faith had driven here. Faith smiled slightly and waved goodbye over her shoulder, and she felt her smile widen when she saw Janna turn to wave back.
Chapter 20: good things
The whole candy thing actually got solved pretty quick. Faith helped save the babies, and Buffy set Lurconis-the-baby-eater on fire with a gas pipe, and then Buffy made out with Faith for her amazing baby-saving skills. Except that last part was mostly in Faith’s head, but Buffy did hug her, so, you know, that was basically making out. As close as Faith was gonna get, anyway.
It was only when they were exiting the sewers, all slimy and gross, that Buffy said with some concern, “Faith, where are Giles and Ms. Calendar?”
“Huh?” Faith was still kinda riding the high from that hug.
“We left them at the factory, but they were gone by the time we were heading to check out the hospital.” Buffy bit her lip. “You think they’re okay?”
“That Ethan guy said the candy should wear off by tomorrow,” said Faith, “and beside which, if Jen’s apologizing to me, she’s definitely not the kind of teenager to murder someone or do some reckless shit that’ll land her in trouble. She’ll keep an eye on Giles.”
“Ms. Calendar was apologizing to you?” Buffy frowned quizzically.
Damn, Buffy was cute. Faith had a feeling that that was the reason she answered honestly. “I was kind of awful to her,” she said, “the day before the candy kicked in, and then when I went to check up on her she was awful to me back. And then she apologized for that outside the factory, which was pretty nice of her. Considering how awful I was.”
Buffy hesitated. “Look,” she said. “I—I don’t know the whole situation, but I think you’re really—” She blushed a little, looking down. “Cool,” she said finally. “And I’m sorry you and Ms. Calendar are having a hard time. You guys seem really close.”
“We’re not—” Faith stopped, blinked, thought about Jen signing forms to buy candy she didn’t need. “Yeah,” she said.
Buffy looked pleased. “Good,” she said. “Because I like having you here in Sunnydale, and it’d suck if you got in some big fight with Ms. Calendar and left or something. It’s nice to have another Slayer in town, you know? You did some great baby-saving tonight.”
“A girl doesn’t hear something like that all that often,” teased Faith. Then, before she could stop herself, “Hey, you want to go grab a milkshake? There’s this diner place that I think is open till two.”
She was expecting B to blow her off. She was already kicking herself for asking. But that soft, almost unconscious smile spread across Buffy’s face, and she tucked a slightly muddy hand into Faith’s. “I’d like that,” she said. “I just hope we don’t get ick all over the diner seats.”
“Hey, their only policy is no shirt, no shoes, no service,” Faith quipped. Her heart was doing jumping jacks at Buffy’s hand in hers. “And we got ‘em all. They can’t turn us away.”
“Diner,” said Buffy happily. “Wow, a milkshake sounds so good right now. Or a hamburger. Or five hamburgers.”
Faith laughed. “Late night dinner with the prettiest girl in town,” she teased, even though she knew she was pressing her luck. She guessed she just had a thing for risk. “How lucky can I get?”
“I don’t know about that,” said Buffy, her smile fading a little.
“Hey, you know who I didn’t ask?” Faith let go of Buffy’s hand to throw an arm around her shoulder as they walked. “Any of the loser boys in your loser high school. Boys are losers, B, and you’re the best thing in that sad, sad, lonely, sad little place.”
Buffy laughed, nose crinkling. Faith felt like she’d just won the lottery.
“I decided to call that one Big Ladle.”
“Mmm.” Janna shrugged noncommittally, shifting onto her side so that she could rest her head on Ripper’s chest. They were lying together on the hood of Jenny Calendar’s car, looking up at the stars. “I didn’t get why anyone would call it a dipper. Ladle makes more sense.”
“Dipper,” said Ripper, frowning. “Haven’t you ever heard—some people call ladles dippers.”
“Dunno. Some people.”
“I could call you Dipper.” Janna smirked. “Rhymes. Plus, you’re kind of a dip.”
“I don’t like you,” said Ripper, and pulled her on top of him. Janna felt a full-body shiver at the way he was looking at her. “Not,” he kissed her, “at all.”
“Are we going to go back?”
“Mmm. We have time.”
“It’s getting late.”
“It’s early.” Ripper tucked Janna’s hair behind her ear, and she smiled. “Stars are still out. We can stay out here.”
“What if it’s cold?”
“California climate,” said Ripper, and made a face. “Nothing like London.”
“Maybe I’m cold.” Janna made a face back at him.
“Maybe Jenny Calendar keeps a blanket in her car.” Ripper sat up on the hood of the car, hopping off to head to the back and hunt through the trunk. Janna waited, rolling onto her back and looking up at the quiet, twinkling early morning sky. “Hallelujah!” she heard Ripper shout with a laugh. “Bloody hell, Janna, you come prepared.”
“That’s Jenny Calendar, not me,” Janna corrected.
Ripper came back over with the blanket. Janna sat up, and he jumped up to sit down next to her, draping the blanket over her shoulders. “Jenny Calendar is you,” he said with certainty.
“Debatable.” Janna leaned into him.
“Well, then, Miss Smarty, don’t you think Jenny Calendar would say you’re her?”
He had a point. It was weird and roundabout, but it still made an annoying amount of sense. Janna laughed and lifted the blanket up so that it was around Ripper’s shoulders too. “Fine,” she said. “Fine. You win. I’m Jenny Calendar, and she’s me, and I come prepared to every occasion.”
Ripper grinned, looking very pleased with himself, and wound an arm around Janna’s waist, pulling her in for a long kiss. “Tell me more of your constellations,” he said in a low murmur when they’d pulled away.
But the memories seemed dulled, somewhat, not as easy and accessible as they had been a few minutes ago. Janna looked up. “That one,” she said, pointing to a cluster of stars, “that’s Janna-and-Ripper-should-totally-make-out-on-top-of-this-car-right-now.”
Ripper laughed and threaded his fingers through Janna’s hair, kissing her again and again until everything became sensation and feeling. Usually Janna’s mind was working a mile a minute, but Ripper tethered her firmly to the now with the way he was touching her, his hands tugging cautiously at the hem of her shirt. Janna raised her arms over her head, untying her hair from its ponytail as she did so, and let Ripper slide her shirt off.
Ripper paused. “Are you—”
“I’m good,” said Janna, and meant it. This didn’t feel impulsive—it felt natural. And she remembered Rupert now, a little more clearly than she had before, so why not, right? This teenager thing, whatever it was, was looking like it might wear off sooner or later, but Jenny and Rupert cared about each other just as much as Janna and Ripper did. Definitely more, actually. No risks to take here, which felt like a first for Janna and Jenny alike.
Ripper smiled, hesitant in a way that belonged to Rupert, and he kissed her. Janna stopped thinking about names.
“Two milkshakes,” said Faith, glaring at the waitress when she looked dubiously at Buffy’s sewer-splattered clothes. “Vanilla for me, strawberry for the lady.”
“How’d you know?” Buffy looked delighted by this.
“You seemed like the type,” said Faith. Her cheeks felt hot, but she kept her smile bright. “That all right by you?”
“Extra whipped cream,” Buffy said hopefully to the waitress, who rolled her eyes and headed behind the counter.
“So.” Faith propped her chin up on her hand, studying Buffy’s face with casual interest, even though the question she asked was anything but. “Any new guys in your life?”
“Hardly,” said Buffy with a rueful laugh in her voice. “I’m not sure if guys are really my thing right now.”
Faith thought she might want to set the entire diner on fire, because she knew what Buffy meant, but it sure sounded different. What she said was, “You’ll change your mind sooner or later, I bet.”
Buffy shrugged. Then she said, “So, how are you liking Sunnydale so far?”
“I like Sunnydale a lot,” said Faith. “Best place I’ve been in a while.”
“You think you’re gonna stay?” Buffy asked, and Faith could hear the thinly disguised hope in her voice. “Not just on a temporary basis—on a real basis?”
“Yeah,” said Faith. She thought about Jen, who was probably off having some wild and crazy adventure as her teenage self, and smiled. “I’m staying. Too many good things in this town to leave behind.” She wasn’t just talking about Jen, this time, and directed a very pointedly flirtatious look at Buffy. Straight girls never picked up on things like that.
Except—Buffy blinked, then smiled, blushing a rosy red, and directed her gaze at the tablecloth. “I like Sunnydale too,” she said. “I mean, the night life’s not exactly lively, but, um, there are a lot of nice people who show up in town sometimes when you don’t expect them.”
Well. Here was yet another thing that might not be as unattainable as Faith had first thought. “Yeah,” she said. Screw it. Time to put all her cards on the table; if it worked with Jen, maybe it might work with Buffy too. “Listen, B—”
Their milkshakes showed up at exactly that moment. Faith wasn’t super sure how she felt about that. A little relieved, maybe. She took a sip of her milkshake instead of finishing her sentence.
“Yeah?” Buffy prompted.
Faith swallowed. “Just really happy we’re friends,” she said. It felt weird to say shit like that, but also nice. She thought maybe she’d tell Jen that when Jen got back from…wherever she was. “Also, you think maybe we could have a study session in the library sometime?”
“Oooh, you should hang out with me and Willow at lunch!” said Buffy excitedly. Her smile faltered. “What do you do at lunch?”
“Not much,” said Faith, who usually spent lunch in the library with Jen and Giles. Giles was always giving her this semi-worried look, like he thought she should be somewhere else but didn’t think it was his place to say. “Might be nice to hang with you and the crew. Guess I just wasn’t sure whether or not I was a member.”
Buffy looked down, biting her lip. “I’m sorry,” she said. Faith felt a little guilty. “I’ve been kind of distracted lately. I hope I—I didn’t make you feel like you couldn’t be a Scooby.”
“No way,” said Faith emphatically. “We’re cool, okay?”
“Okay,” Buffy agreed, not sounding all the way certain.
“You’re cool,” Faith added playfully.
“So are you,” said Buffy, and damn if Faith wasn’t smiling like an idiot at that.
Faith stumbled home early in the morning and took a long, luxurious shower, enjoying the way it felt to be in a bathroom that she knew really well. The sink was squeaky because Jen had tried to do some weird shit to fix it instead of calling a plumber like a normal person, and there were three toothbrushes in the little toothbrush cup thingy. Faith brushed her teeth and smiled in the mirror, playing with the ends of her wet hair.
She came out of the bathroom to see that Janna and Ripper had come back, both of them fast asleep on the couch. Janna was lying on top of Ripper’s chest and snoring ungracefully, her arms wrapped tightly around him. Faith found them a blanket and threw it over them as casually as possible before giving in and tucking it more securely around Janna. Jen.
She felt a little weird about going to sleep and leaving them out in the living room. Like—if a vampire broke a window or some shit, there might be glass all over the place. Or something. Faith settled into the chair next to the couch, resting her head on her arms and closing her eyes.
She woke up with someone tucking a blanket around her. Faith kept her eyes closed for a little longer than she needed to, which turned out to be a good call, because then she felt Jen gently smoothing down her hair in that way she’d always wanted a little.
Faith opened her eyes.
“Hey, sleepy,” said Jen with a small, wry smile. “Should I start with how embarrassed I am or how sorry I am?”
Faith felt a lump in her throat, pushed off the blankets, and hugged Jen, hard, burying her face in Jen’s shoulder.
Chapter 21: formal evaluator
Giles moved in with them. It wasn’t really a big thing, seeing as he’d already been spending nearly all of his time at Jen’s place already, but he had a lot of books. The living room was piled high with boxes that Faith had to maneuver carefully around, which was a little annoying, but he was a lot better with English papers than Jen was.
“Strongly worded,” he said, sliding the paper back to Faith, “but your topic sentence is still a little weak, and you might consider some more—ah—academic language choices.”
“So no swearing,” said Faith.
“And no run-on sentences,” Giles added. “You’re writing a paper, not talking to your friends.”
Jen came into the kitchen with a mug of coffee. “You guys down for a study break?” she inquired. “There’s a black-and-white flick playing on TV right now.”
“We probably need to leave for patrol soon,” said Faith, “but if Giles thinks we can—”
“We can,” said Giles, and gave Faith a proud, pleased smile. “Faith, a-as much as I critique, do know that your writing really is improving.”
Faith ducked her head. “Cool,” she said. “Thanks.”
That was another nice thing about Giles living with them. He seemed way more comfortable around Faith than he had been before. Sure, he’d been a lot nicer to her since Homecoming, but Faith got the sense that a lot of that had been because Jen liked her. Now it felt a little more like Giles liked her.
“We really do need a place for these boxes,” said Jen as she moved a few aside to make room on the couch. “Maybe we hit up a furniture store this weekend, check out some bookshelves?” Trying to sit down on the couch, she tripped, nearly spilling her coffee mug. “Damn it! You know, Rupert, I think you might have to give some of these up.”
“I could keep my old apartment,” Giles suggested. “Convert it into a research library instead of a living space.”
“Worst case scenario, I think that’s what we might do,” Jen agreed. “Where were all of these in your apartment? I don’t think I ever saw this many.”
“Spare room,” Giles replied.
“So they were just—sitting in boxes in your apartment too, then? Why are we still keeping them?”
“Jenny, I am a researcher—”
Faith cleared her throat.
“Right,” said Giles, and sat down on the couch. Jen snuggled into his side, careful not to spill her coffee. Faith sat down next to Jen and turned on the TV.
The movie wasn’t all that good, but Faith got the feeling that no one was paying attention to it anyway. Jen was mostly drinking her coffee, Giles was watching Jen drink her coffee with a really sappy expression on his face (gross), and Faith was thinking about seeing Buffy on patrol tonight. Buffy, who might not be as straight as Faith had thought, and wanted Faith to stay in Sunnydale. Buffy’s hair was a really nice color. Kind of like sunshine. Faith was pretty sure it was the best hair color anyone could have.
Jen nudged her. “Ready?” she asked.
“I guess,” said Faith, trying her best to project an air of nonchalance.
They picked up Buffy at the Bronze. Faith decided to ignore the whole “we’re just good friends” thing, because B had that little quirky smile that she always got when she was teasing someone, so it was likely that maybe she didn’t think that at all. Or maybe Faith was overthinking things. Or maybe she wasn’t.
“Hey,” said Buffy with playful authoritativeness. It was like a kitten using its Angry Voice. Faith wanted to laugh, but managed to stop herself. “Get your head in the game, Lehane. This is serious business here.” She slipped her hand into Faith’s, and Faith was pretty sure there were fireworks, and fuck she was really falling hard for this girl.
“Do we take notes?” Jen was asking Giles. “Why did you bring a notepad?”
“No, this is just my—”
“Oh my god, Rupert, do you play hangman with yourself on patrol?”
“Dedicated Watcher,” said Buffy, glancing over her shoulder at Giles, who was trying to defend himself to a wildly amused Jen. “Hey, Ms. Calendar, you’ll wake the dead with that kind of laughing.”
A vampire sprung up, and another was already clawing its way out of a grave.
“I did warn you,” said Buffy with a grin.
“That is some great timing,” said Faith with amusement.
“Well, I’m good at my job,” quipped Buffy, and ran at the first vampire.
“Thanks,” said Jenny, taking one of the paper cups of coffee from Rupert and sitting down next to him on the bench. “One cup doesn’t cut it when we’re out this late.”
Rupert hesitated, then, “I—need to talk to you about something.”
“I got a phone call from the Council at lunch today.”
“Oh,” said Jenny quietly. “So, uh, I’m guessing they’re not planning on making me Faith’s legal guardian any time soon.”
“No, they’re not,” said Rupert heavily. “In fact, they’re so unnerved by the fact that I’ve pushed so hard for a civilian to be made sole caretaker of a Vampire Slayer, they’re considering putting me through a formal evaluation.”
Jenny drew in a sharp breath. “Shit. Rupert, I am so sorry.”
“What?” Rupert looked startled. “Oh—it’s really fine. I’m less concerned about myself than I am about you.”
“Me,” Jenny repeated. “But you’re the one the Council’s got jurisdiction over, right?”
“Well—” Rupert hesitated. “They do have some amount of power over Faith. Granted, her birthday is approaching, which means that power is limited, but they still have a significant say in who Faith is staying with. If they wish it, they could decide to relocate her.”
“Relocate her,” Jenny repeated. “But that’s—Faith’s birthday is only a little while away, right? She could always come back.”
“As much as Faith cares about you,” said Rupert carefully, “I get the sense that she isn’t exactly the type to—backtrack, I suppose you could call it. At this stage of her life, from what I’ve seen of her, she seems very much focused on moving forward. In the event that you became a part of her past, I don’t think she would come back to Sunnydale unless extenuating circumstances led her there.”
Jenny didn’t like how true that sounded, and she didn’t like the concept of not having Faith in her life—a lot more than she realized she would, actually. “Then we’ve got to really ace that evaluation thing,” she said with conviction.
“Quite,” Rupert agreed, and took a sip of his coffee as Buffy and Faith came sauntering up to them.
“That was quick,” said Jenny, impressed.
“Synchronized slaying,” Buffy replied cheerfully.
“New Olympic category?” Faith inquired.
Buffy looked over to Giles. “What do you think?”
“Sloppy,” came a lightly accented voice Jenny didn’t recognize, and a formally-dressed woman strode up to the group. “You telegraph punches, leave blind sides open, and, for a school-night slaying, take entirely too much time. Which one of you is Faith?”
“Who’s asking?” said Jenny more than a bit sharply. She felt Rupert’s hand move to rest on the small of her back, and got the sense that he’d come to the same conclusion she had.
“Gwendolyn Post, Mrs.” Mrs. Post gave them a short, barely-there smile. “Formal evaluator, and potentially your new watcher.”
There was a long silence, and then Faith said very loudly, “What the fuck?”
“So,” said Faith carefully.
“Yeah?” Jen didn’t look up from the dishes.
“We gonna talk about that Post lady who showed up on patrol tonight?” Faith asked.
“Faith, I think Jenny needs some alone time right now,” said Giles from the kitchen table. To Jen, he added, “I’m going to bed, all right?”
“Yeah,” said Jen, scrubbing a plate with what seemed to Faith like unnecessary vehemence. “You do that.”
Giles got up, pausing by the kitchen sink to kiss Jen on the cheek. Faith thought she caught him saying to Jen that “it’ll be fine, dear,” but it was so quiet that she wasn’t completely sure. “Goodnight, Faith,” he said with gentle pointedness.
“Sure,” Faith agreed, and waited until Giles had left the kitchen to turn back to Jen and say, “I’m not leaving until you tell me why there’s an evaluator lady showing up all the way from England.”
“Rupert told you in the car,” said Jen, “and she told you when she got here. She’s here to see if he’s a qualified enough Watcher to make decisions about me being your primary caretaker.”
“So she can’t just evaluate you?” said Faith a little doubtfully.
“Apparently they aren’t super big on evaluating random non-Watchers,” said Jen somewhat tiredly. “Something about a waste of resources. They think it’ll be easier to just observe the way Rupert and I are around each other and use that to determine whether—” She stopped.
“Whether?” Faith prompted.
Jen didn’t say anything for about thirty seconds. Just when Faith was about to leave, she heard Jen say quietly, “Whether or not you can stay with me.”
Faith stared. “Fuck that,” she said fiercely, feeling the beginnings of panic. Just when things were falling into place—god, she’d let her guard down, finally, and now it was catching up with her like it always did. “They’re not the boss of me.”
Jen still wasn’t looking up. “Until you turn eighteen,” she said, “they’ve still got enough power to keep you controlled.” She frowned at a mug. “Huh. Maybe that’s why the Cruciamentum stuck around as a tradition.”
“What is up with you?” Faith demanded. “You’re usually all ready to fight this kind of thing—why aren’t you looking at me?”
Jen sighed. “I need to go to bed,” she said. “I have a bunch of preparing to do if I’m going to be the model mentor figure.”
“You are,” said Faith angrily. “If a bunch of snobby Council guys don’t get that, then—then that isn’t my problem. They can’t make me do anything I don’t want to do. There wouldn’t even be a Council without a Slayer. I’m the Slayer, and I want to stay.”
Jen set down the dish towel and looked up at Faith, clearly surprised. Faith suddenly realized that this was the first time she’d ever said anything like that out loud, let alone to Jen, and she almost wanted to backtrack. “We’ll work it out,” said Jen, but it reminded Faith of the way Jen had spoken to Debbie about how no one would hurt Pete. She decided to let herself believe it anyway. “I’m going to head to bed. I think you should do that too.”
“Sure,” Faith agreed, but couldn’t find it in her to leave the room. Maybe she woke up tomorrow and the Council would have already done a surprise midnight evaluation. Maybe she’d be packing her bags tomorrow morning.
“Faith?” Jen was looking expectantly at her.
Faith could have said something meaningful, like thank you or I love you, but the words stuck in her throat. She felt like once she said them, she was acknowledging the possible finality of the situation, and she couldn’t do that. “Night, Jen,” she said.
Jen smiled a little tiredly. “Goodnight,” she said, and left the kitchen. Faith waited a few seconds before doing the same, turning off the light as she went.
Her room had changed since her first night here, and it wasn’t just that there were clothes and a few posters and her dress from Homecoming hanging neatly on her closet door. It felt safe, being in here. Warm. A little bit like Faith thought home might feel.
Faith changed into a t-shirt and shorts and climbed under the covers, hugging one of the pillows. No. Not hugging. Holding tightly. She was holding tightly onto one of the pillows, and it wasn’t really making her feel any better.
Chapter 22: nerves
Jenny sat down on the edge of the bed, kicking off her shoes. One of them hit the dresser with a loud thud, and she winced. “Sorry,” she whispered, reaching behind her to rest her hand on Rupert’s.
“S’ fine,” Rupert mumbled sleepily, squeezing her hand. “I was awake.”
Jenny sighed. “Can we have one year without multiple disasters?” she asked him, beginning to unbutton her blouse. “Or is that, like, completely unrealistic for us?”
“Mmm, I’d hazard a guess at the second one.” Rupert pulled himself up to a sitting position. “It’ll help for you to get some quality sleep, though. Worry-free.”
Jenny laughed a little exhaustedly. “You know what’ll help?” she said, shrugging her blouse off. “Not having to have any worries. I mean, god, we already have to deal with whatever’s up with Angelus, and now on top of that, we have to be model citizens so that we don’t lose Faith to detached Council drones.”
“Jenny,” said Rupert softly.
“I’m tired,” said Jenny, getting up from the bed and heading to the dresser. “And none of us ever seem to catch a break.”
Behind her, she heard the shift of blankets and the sound of footsteps, and then she felt Rupert’s arms around her stomach, his chin resting on the top of her head. “I’m sorry,” he said quietly. “I like to think that this Mrs. Post will be reasonable enough to recognize our good judgment, but there’s always a possibility that she’ll be more of—”
“A detached Council drone,” said Jenny, leaning back into Rupert as she opened the dresser.
“That is one way of putting it, yes,” said Rupert.
Jenny could hear the amusement in his voice, and it simultaneously annoyed and comforted her. She tugged one of Rupert’s t-shirts out of the open dresser, carefully pulling it over her head. “Sometimes,” she said, “I feel really unqualified to keep an eye on these kids.”
“That’s mine,” said Rupert indignantly, letting go of Jenny. “Why are you always taking my things?”
Jenny stared at him. “Seriously?” she said. “We’re on the verge of a full-scale Council inspection, and this is what you choose to focus on?”
“It is two in the morning,” said Rupert. “My concept of reality is thoroughly limited given the minuscule amount of sleep I happen to be operating on.” He tugged at the edge of the shirt. “Off with it.”
“I’m your girlfriend.” Jenny crossed her arms across her chest and bit back a smile. She shouldn’t be smiling right now. Things were bad. “Clothes-sharing is what you signed up for, Rupert. Can we get back to talking about what’s been bothering me?”
“You stayed to look after Xander and Willow during the summer when I was busy trying to keep everyone safe by abandoning them, and you made them both feel incredibly cared for,” said Rupert with irritation. “You are more than capable of keeping an eye on the children, so may I please have my shirt back?”
Jenny turned to face Rupert. “How do you do that?” she said quietly.
Rupert frowned, now looking adorably perturbed. “Do what?”
“You make me feel kind of okay when everything...really isn’t.” Jenny stepped forward, resting her hands on his shoulders. “Even if it’s through making a big fuss about me wearing your clothes.”
Rupert looked momentarily indignant, but then the full effect of Jenny’s words seemed to register with him. “Ah,” he said, blushing. “Yes. Well.” He reached up, placing his hands over hers. “I feel the same way about you.”
Jenny smiled. “Please,” she said. “I would never stop you from wearing my leather jacket.”
Faith woke up early—mostly nerves—and took a long shower before heading into the kitchen. Jen was already sitting at the table with a mug of coffee, and Giles had just gotten started on a pot of tea.
“Good morning,” said Giles, giving Faith a small smile. Jenny managed a weak grin before going back to her coffee.
“When does the evaluation thing start?” Faith asked without preamble.
Giles turned the stove on. “Last night, Mrs. Post was very adamant about wanting to start as soon as possible,” he said. “She requested that she begin her observations after patrolling, but Jenny made up some excellent excuse about us all needing to get our after-patrol rest and we bought ourselves a bit of time. I’m assuming she’ll start things up today.”
“Okay,” said Faith a little uncertainly. She’d never really done well with tests, or with the Council, and a combination of both didn’t seem all that great. “How are we going to pass this thing?”
“Well, if Mrs. Post is next in line to become your Watcher, she’s going to be looking for any excuse to say my judgment is impaired,” Giles answered. “Being the Watcher to an active Slayer is a full-time job, and generally one that requires a long application process. I can call in Travers if I’m looking for a less biased opinion, but that won’t look good for me in the eyes of the Council.”
“Call Travers,” said Jenny suddenly.
“What?” Giles looked over at Jenny just as the kettle went off.
“We don’t know anything about Mrs. Post,” said Jenny hopefully. “And wouldn’t it look good in the eyes of the Council if you checked her credentials?”
Giles frowned, fiddling with the stove. “Normally, I’d agree with you,” he replied. “But if Mrs. Post is who she says she is, she’s most likely quite high up in the Council hierarchy. They don’t let just anyone do evaluations.”
“If she’s so high up, then why haven’t you met her before?” Jenny pointed out.
At that question, Giles actually looked a bit embarrassed. “The Council and I haven’t been on the best of terms ever since I told Travers I was resuming my relationship with you,” he said to Jenny. “Truthfully, I haven’t been involved in Council politics for months. There’s a very good chance that Mrs. Post is a highly qualified newcomer, and it’s not a risk I can take right now.”
“She could be evil,” Jenny suggested. “That’s not too hard to believe. The Council’s corrupt enough as it is—maybe she’s a Watcher gone rogue.”
“Much as I’d like to believe that,” Giles said reluctantly, “it’s not a solid enough theory to risk losing Faith over.”
It suddenly hit Faith that the tenseness in the room was over the possibility of losing her. Jen’s exhaustion, Giles’s quiet reassurance—all of that was about her. Awkwardly, she cleared her throat, wanting the mood to go back to light-and-breezy instead of something scary and real. “Hey, Giles, can you teach me how to make eggs?” she asked, crossing her arms over her chest so that she at least looked a little tough while she was asking.
Giles and Jenny looked at each other, then at Faith, as though only just remembering she was there. Giles’s expression softened. “Of course,” he said, as if it was a given. It made Faith want to cry a little—not that she was the crying type. “Here, watch me make yours.”
Faith stepped over to the stove and glanced over her shoulder. Jenny was watching them both with a small smile.
Buffy came running up to their car not long after Rupert had pulled up to the curb, followed closely by Willow. “What were you doing?” she demanded immediately, opening the car door for Faith. “Mrs. Post came in early and totally ambushed us when I came in.”
“Good lord.” Rupert took off his glasses, blinking at Buffy. “An ambush?”
“She means Mrs. Post asked her and Willow a bunch of boring questions about your methods as a Watcher,” said Jenny, and then frowned. “She does mean that, right?”
“It was awful,” said Willow emphatically.
“It really was.” Buffy made a face at Faith, who turned a little pink and grinned back. “Honestly, an ambush would have been way better than ‘tell me about your Watcher’s investment in your life, Buffy’ and ‘would you classify your Watcher as a father figure, Buffy?’ I wish she had tried to jump me. Then I could have staked her when she started asking Willow about Giles and Ms. Calendar.”
Now it seemed to be Rupert’s turn to blush. “What—exactly—did she ask?”
“Lots of questions that I am so glad I don’t have the answer to,” said Willow. “If I knew exactly when you guys consummated your relationship, I would be very disturbed about my role in both of your lives.”
“Wow, this is going to be a really fun interrogation,” said Jenny, her voice dripping with sarcasm.
“Evaluation,” Rupert corrected.
“I said what I said.” Jenny looked up at Rupert and stood on tiptoe to smooth down his lapels. He caught her hands, smiling.
“What, you guys decided to skip the clingy-goodbye-makeout this time and just make us all sick with the goo-goo eyes?” asked Buffy teasingly.
“Oh, are you two that close?” inquired Mrs. Post from behind Faith.
Buffy’s eyes widened. “That was a joke,” she said. “You know me—cynical LA slayer who can’t help with the wise-cracking.”
“She’s practically an archetype,” Willow agreed immediately.
“We’d better get to class,” said Faith pointedly. “And Jen—uh, Ms. Calendar has class too, and Giles—” She glanced a little worriedly at the expectant Mrs. Post.
“Mr. Giles will be speaking with me,” finished Mrs. Post.
Rupert gave Jenny a quick, nervous smile. “Right,” he said. “I’ll see you later today, then.”
“Okay,” said Jenny, trying not to feel too anxious as Rupert and Mrs. Post left. “Yeah. I should probably get to class, right?”
“In a second,” said Faith. “I’ll catch up with you later, okay, B?”
Buffy wavered, but at Jenny’s encouraging smile, she gave them both a little wave and headed up the steps.
“Willow?” Faith added pointedly. “No offense, but I kind of want to talk to Jen alone.”
Willow’s eyes darted between Jenny and Faith. “You skipped my magic lesson last Tuesday,” she said in a flat, sad tone.
“What?” Jenny blinked, then remembered. “Oh. God, Willow, I am so sorry. There was just—I’ve been crazy busy with research, and, and Rupert, and—”
“I got it,” said Willow forlornly, hugging her books to her chest. “So—I’m just going to go home early this coming Tuesday, I think. You seem pretty busy lately.”
Jenny winced. “Willow, I’m really—”
“I gotta go.” Willow turned, following Buffy quietly up the stairs.
That wasn’t good. Jenny honestly had forgotten about magic with Willow; she’d been trying to balance Angelus research, taking care of Faith, and patrolling for a good two weeks now, and it looked like things were starting to slip through the cracks. As it was, she barely got any quality time with just her and Rupert.
Behind Jenny, Faith cleared her throat.
Okay. She’d fix things with Willow after this evaluation was done. She really would. It was just—Faith needed her right now, and Jenny couldn’t just ignore that. “Is everything okay?” Jenny asked.
Faith looked at Jenny, looked down at her feet, looked back up at Jenny, and said quietly, “Can I do anything to help?”
Jenny blinked, then understood. “You can go to class,” she said gently. “The Council wants to see a well-adjusted Slayer who’s governed by logic and not emotions, so—as long as Mrs. Post is in the vicinity, try and think like…” She trailed off, contemplating, then finished, “Think like you think Rupert might.”
Faith rolled her eyes. “That’s not gonna work,” she said. “The minute you so much as cut your finger on patrol, Giles is knocking aside vamps just so he can get you a Band-Aid.”
Jenny laughed. “Cute,” she said. “But I think you know what I mean. Just think like a Watcher, okay? Cool, detached, impersonal, a little bit awful—”
“I got it,” said Faith, grinning.
Chapter 23: talking about books
Jenny was hovering by the staff room snack table trying to decide between muffins (blueberry was always nice, but she’d never tried cranberry walnut) when she felt a pair of arms wrap around her from behind, pulling her quickly into a nearby supply closet.
“Rupert!” she said, irritated.
Rupert turned her around, still holding her in his arms, his eyes very wide behind his glasses. “Mrs. Post is driving me mad,” he hissed.
“Do you remember,” said Jenny, “a time when you just said things like, you know, ‘Jenny, I’d like to speak with you in private’ instead of grabbing me while I’m picking a muffin and dragging me into supply closets to talk? I’m starting to really miss that.”
“Anywhere else and she would have found me,” Rupert said in a low whisper. “She’s been following me around all day telling me about some bloody Glove of Myhnegon and criticizing my books. My books!”
“Well, let me fire up the library computer and impress her with my online database, then,” said Jenny, placing a reassuring hand on Rupert’s chest. “I can do that. After lunch.”
Rupert gave her a grateful smile. “You’re a lifesaver,” he informed her, leaning in for a kiss.
“I think I saw him dash in here,” came Snyder’s voice from outside. “Probably off demonstrating thoroughly inappropriate conduct with that computer science teacher.”
“Computer science teacher?” Shit. That was Mrs. Post. “By any chance do you mean Jenny Calendar?”
Snyder scoffed. “Obviously you don’t know Mr. Giles that well if you have to ask. Those two are practically joined at the hip.”
“See,” said Jenny quietly, mostly trying to distract herself from genuine panic, “this is another problem with picking a supply closet as a meeting place. They catch us and they’re going to think that we came in here to—”
“Shh,” said Rupert, who seemed to be trying to simultaneously disentangle himself from Jenny and hide himself behind a mop handle.
The supply closet door opened.
“I should have known,” said Principal Snyder with disgust.
“We were just—talking about books,” said Jenny unconvincingly.
“You have lipstick on your mouth, Mr. Giles,” put in Mrs. Post, who was looking very smug.
“Is this going to go into the evaluation?” asked Rupert, who sounded as though he already knew the answer but was hoping it would somehow change.
“Oh, everything has to,” said Mrs. Post airily. “If you both would perhaps like to meet me back in the library? We really do have many things to discuss, and it might do to have your—” She frowned, looking at Jenny in a way that made Jenny kind of want to hit something. “To have your lady friend present,” she said finally, and with great disdain, before sweeping out of the room.
“Mr. Giles—” Snyder began.
“Stuff it,” said Rupert, grabbing a delighted Jenny’s hand and pulling her out of the staff room.
Jenny laughed, too in love to remember the gravity of the situation. “That was badass,” she teased him. “I’ve always wanted to see someone put Snyder in his place like that.”
“Yes, well, we have more important things than Snyder to—did you really think so?” Rupert stopped walking, looking down at Jenny with an adorable grin.
“I mean, yeah—” Jenny stopped too. “Wait. Okay. We’re doing exactly what Mrs. Post is here to prove that we’re doing.”
“Hmm?” Rupert blinked, smile fading a bit.
Jenny waved a hand. “You know, gazing moonily into each other’s eyes, forgetting that we’ve got an actual obstacle in front of us, things like that.”
“What? Oh! Right!” Rupert winced, beginning to walk again. “We really should get to the library.”
“Yeah, before we make things any worse,” Jenny said dryly. “I mean, assuming something’s worse than your evaluator catching us making out in a supply closet.”
“Oh, lord,” Rupert muttered as they entered the library.
Faith was sitting at the table, working quietly with her head down. It was a little jarring, but it touched Jenny a lot—seeing Faith trying meant that Faith wanted to stay in Sunnydale too.
“Mr. Giles.” Mrs. Post nodded to Rupert. “Jenny.”
“Gwendolyn,” said Jenny, more than a little pissed off by the subtle condescension. Rupert flashed her a warning look, but she kept going. “So if I don’t get a formality, does that mean we’re on the way to becoming best buddies?”
Faith looked up from her homework with a smirk.
“Hardly,” replied Mrs. Post smoothly. “It simply means that in comparison to Mr. Giles and myself, your status as a supernatural educator and mentor is somewhat limited.”
“Cool,” replied Jenny, giving Mrs. Post a saccharine smile. “Let’s see you try and work a computer, though.”
“Mrs. Post, you were talking about the Glove of Myhnegon,” said Rupert very loudly. “Why don’t we go back to talking about that?”
“Certainly,” said Mrs. Post, who was somehow still unruffled. Jenny wasn’t sure how Mrs. Post was managing it, because she wanted to kick something. “A demon named Lagos is coming here to the Hellmouth.” She glanced over at Giles. “Mr. Giles, an illustration of Lagos, if you please.”
“Oh—” Rupert blinked, hurrying to flip through one of the books on one of the tables. “Yes—er—”
“Perhaps later,” said Mrs. Post indifferently.
Rupert looked a badly repressed kind of indignant. Jenny was crossing her arms so that she wouldn’t accidentally punch Mrs. Post.
“Lagos seeks the Glove of Myhnegon,” Mrs. Post informed the group. “No record of this glove's full power exists, but we do know it is highly dangerous and must not fall into the hands of a demon. Lagos must be stopped.” She looked over at Jenny. “And as I said to Mr. Giles, if it's not too radical a suggestion, I thought we might kill him.”
“Right,” said Jenny dryly. “Because we were planning to ask him to dinner.”
“Well, I don’t know all that much about how you do things in America,” said Mrs. Post, looking coolly at Jenny. “Certainly not neatly.”
Jenny suddenly noticed her rumpled cardigan (see, this was what came of being pulled into a closet without warning) and indignantly straightened it.
“Moving on to more important things,” continued Mrs. Post, “I suggest two Slayers at full strength for a coordinated hunt. We believe the glove to be buried in a tomb somewhere, so Lagos will be headed for the cemetery.”
“Yeah, there’s more than one cemetery in Sunnydale,” said Faith.
“I see,” said Mrs. Post. “How many?”
“Twelve, within the city limits,” Rupert answered.
Mrs. Post sighed, like she’d never been on a long patrol in her life. “Well, we'll just have to take them one at a time.” She glanced over at Rupert, who had begun to flip through a book again. “Anything in your books that might pinpoint the exact location of the tomb would be useful, but then, we cannot ask for miracles.” After a moment’s pause, she turned to Jenny. “I’m sorry, Jenny, but in exactly what capacity are you currently of use to this situation?”
“I’m a technopagan,” replied Jenny smoothly. “And a kickass researcher to boot.”
“Hmm,” said Mrs. Post a little doubtfully. “I suppose we shall just have to see.” She turned to Rupert. “We will begin tonight at sunset,” she informed him. “Faith, I have a few questions for you. Come with me, please.”
Faith followed, glancing worriedly over her shoulder at Jenny. Jenny tried to smile encouragingly, but it came off a little more like a grimace.
Rupert waited until Mrs. Post and Faith had left the library before turning to Jenny. “That was not good,” he said. “That wasn’t worse than her catching us in the midst of a romantic rendezvous, but it came quite close.”
“I don’t like condescending people,” said Jenny fiercely. “You should be congratulating me for not saying anything worse than I did.”
Rupert sighed, then smiled a little tiredly. “Somehow,” he said, “though it also has the possibility to be quite catastrophic, I find your determination incredibly endearing.”
“Take it as a win and move on, England,” said Jenny, smiling back. “You know I’m not letting that stuck-up Watcher lady take Faith. It’s just not going to happen.”
“I wish I had your confidence,” said Rupert, his smile fading a bit.
“I’m glad I have this opportunity to talk to you, Faith,” said Mrs. Post with a polite smile. Her voice was a touch warmer than it had been with Jen and Giles. Faith registered this with more than just a touch of dislike. “There are many things about your current situation that I would like to discuss with you.”
“Yeah, well, let me set you straight,” said Faith. Jen had said think like a Watcher—Mrs. Post hadn’t pulled her punches with Jen, so Faith wasn’t going to pull her punches with Mrs. Post. “I’m good here. I’ve got a Watcher in Giles and a great teacher in Ms. Calendar, and I don’t like the way I’ve seen you treating them, so how about you cut the crap and leave Sunnydale before I decide to make you leave?”
Mrs. Post didn’t waver. Faith would have been impressed if not for the way she’d seen Mrs. Post treat Jen. “Faith,” she said with sympathy. “I’ve read quite a lot about you in the Council files. I completely understand your desire for a home, and I am sure that Mr. Giles and Jenny Calendar have done their best to provide you with one.”
This wasn’t at all the kind of attack on Giles and Jen that Faith had been expecting. “Huh?” she said, which was about as much eloquence as she could swing at the moment.
“You must understand that you are meant for bigger things,” Mrs. Post continued, “and that is where Jenny Calendar falls short. She desires to be your mother figure, and prioritizes your own future before the future of the world. You are the Vampire Slayer, Faith, and as intoxicating as it is to be loved, it is also seriously impairing your judgment.”
Faith felt sick. Mrs. Post’s words sounded true in a different way than Jen’s. Jen’s truths made her feel warm and safe, but Mrs. Post’s made her feel—something else. Like she was being shaken roughly awake. “You’re wrong,” she said.
“Am I?” Mrs. Post gave her that same polite smile. “As much as you wish to be a normal girl, you truly never can. Jenny Calendar is not a Council member, and as such, she can never truly understand the responsibilities of a Vampire Slayer. All I want, Faith, is for you to be in a place where you are able to understand those responsibilities as completely as you can, and I strongly doubt that Sunnydale is that place.”
Faith thought about Jen’s brilliant smile and Giles making eggs and Buffy’s soft blonde hair. “I want to stay here,” she said, half-desperately.
“I know,” said Mrs. Post, her voice soft and sympathetic. “And I certainly hope my evaluation will bring you to an eventually happy place. It’s very possible that you can stay in Sunnydale—I just don’t know if it’s the best idea that you continue to have regular contact with Mr. Giles, or any contact at all with his lover.”
“You don’t know me,” said Faith. She felt like she was grasping at straws. “You don’t know any of us enough to just pass judgments.”
“The evaluation is not a quick process,” Mrs. Post said, sounding somewhat surprised. “I certainly won’t be making snap decisions. What I would like is simply to know that you can trust me, and eventually accept me as your Watcher.”
“That’s not gonna happen,” said Faith, and got up, storming out of the room. Mrs. Post didn’t follow her, which was a small mercy.
Chapter 24: unresolved issues
“Ronnie, deadbeat. Steve, klepto. Kenny…drummer.” Faith rattled off the names easily, looking at Buffy out of the corner of her eye, trying to gauge her reaction. “Eventually, I just had to face up to my destiny as a loser magnet. Now it's strictly get some, get gone. You can't trust guys.”
“You can trust some guys,” said Buffy. Faith gave her a doubtful look, and Buffy added earnestly, “Really, I've read about them.”
Faith laughed. “Yeah. So, what about you?”
“You mean like, me and guys me?” There was a sudden edge to Buffy’s voice.
“Mm-hm,” said Faith carefully.
“Not much to tell these days,” said Buffy simply.
Faith kind of wanted to keep pushing, but the guarded look on Buffy’s face reminded her a lot of various tense moments with Jen and Giles. Whatever this was, it was something Buffy didn’t feel like sharing just yet, and honestly, that kind of sucked. Back when Faith had first come to Sunnydale, she’d thought that Buffy was closed-off, but now she was starting to miss even that Buffy.
“You know what?” she said. “We're oh for six tonight. Why don't we just blow this off?”
“Yeah. I am kinda beat,” Buffy agreed, then faltered. “But Shady Hill's pretty close.”
“I'll swing through it,” said Faith casually. “It's on my way anyway.”
“Alone?” Buffy replied hesitantly. “I-I don't know if I'd…”
“I’ve already got that evaluator lady on my back. I don’t need another babysitter,” said Faith, hoping that that sounded reassuring enough. “I’ll holler if I’m having any fun.”
“Okay,” said Buffy a little reluctantly.
“Later,” said Faith, still keeping her voice light and breezy as she walked towards Shady Hill.
She was a little glad to be alone. She had a lot to think about. Buffy, who was sweet strawberry-milkshake girl one minute and closed-off mystery girl the next. Mrs. Post, who seemed pretty invested in making Faith see how important it was that a Vampire Slayer couldn’t have people who put her before the world.
Buffy had that. Buffy had always had that. Buffy had a mom, and a dad, and a bunch of friends that Faith still barely ever talked to. Buffy had everything that Mrs. Post said Faith couldn’t have, and that just didn’t add up. What, was Faith supposed to be the Slayer without the life so that Buffy could slack off and have hers? If Mrs. Post really thought that Faith wasn’t in a good learning environment, she’d be trying to pull Buffy out of that situation too.
Or maybe Mrs. Post just kind of figured that Buffy was some kind of a lost cause, what with all the time she’d been living with parents and friends and all that jazz. Maybe Mrs. Post thought Faith would be easier to reach because she hadn’t been in Sunnydale as long as Buffy. The thought of being the Council’s last hope filled Faith with a strange mixture of pride, guilt, and fear. By all rights, it should be Buffy who the Council was depending on—Faith was kind of a mess.
But Mrs. Post hadn’t even paid attention to Buffy. Faith was going to have to leave this life she just found while Buffy stayed in Sunnydale, slaying vamps with friends and family. The thought of leaving Sunnydale with the knowledge that there was a relatively happy Vampire Slayer living there made Faith angry.
“God, I really hope there’s something for me to beat up when I get to Shady Hill,” she said emphatically, rounding the corner to the cemetery.
“Ah! Yes. There we are.” Rupert entered the kitchen, looking adorably rumpled from all the boxes of books he’d been sorting through, and placed an open book on the kitchen table. Jenny stepped closer to him, looking down at the page he was pointing to. “There's a wood engraving. See? The Glove of Myhnegon.”
Mrs. Post, sitting at the kitchen table, barely glanced up. “Yes, engraved by Father Theodore of Wolsham.”
“Yes,” Rupert agreed.
“Based, I believe, on very sketchy and unreliable folk legends,” said Mrs. Post matter-of-factly. “The pictures are fun to look at, Mr. Giles, but one really ought to read the nice words as well.”
Jenny, furious, was already halfway to insulting the entire Watchers’ Council when Rupert placed a hand on the small of her back. The kettle went off. “Some tea, perhaps?” he asked, a gentle warning in his voice.
“Yep. Tea.” Jenny sat down at the kitchen table, making sure to choose the chair across from Mrs. Post instead of next to her.
“I know that you must find me tiresome, but it's insidious, really,” commented Mrs. Post. Rupert stepped forward with a tea platter, setting it down on the table and pouring some hot water into the cup in front of him. Mrs. Post looked down at her own cup. “A person slips up on the little things,” she continued, taking out the teabag, “and soon everything has gone to hell in a handbasket.”
Rupert poured Jenny half a cup of tea before Jenny stopped him. “I probably need something stronger tonight,” she said, only half joking.
Mrs. Post opened her purse, taking out a small box of tea. “For example…Buffy, your Slayer.”
“Wow,” said Jenny. “You carry tea everywhere, or just when you want to make a point?”
Rupert pressed his lips together, looking thoroughly exhausted. Jenny felt a pinprick of guilt; her being sarcastic almost definitely didn’t help the evaluation, and she had a feeling that that put a lot of stress on him. She’d have to try to tone it down a little. “Mrs. Post,” Rupert said, pouring Mrs. Post some hot water, “I can assure you that Buffy is both dedicated and industrious, and I am in complete control of my Slayer.”
The doorbell rang, followed immediately by someone banging on the door. “Giles! Ms. Calendar!” Xander shouted.
“Use the key, Xander,” called Jenny, very grateful for an interruption.
They heard the sound of a key in a lock, and soon after, Xander tumbled through the door, sprinting into the kitchen and knocking into Jenny. “Sorry,” he gasped, very out of breath. “It’s just—we have a big problem. It’s Buffy.”
Mrs. Post raised an eyebrow.
Rupert winced. “Will you excuse us?” he inquired. Without waiting for an answer, he took Jenny’s arm, tugging her out of the kitchen with him and shutting the door behind them. “What’s going on, Xander?”
Xander, who had been looking almost comically panicked, sobered. He glanced between Rupert and Jenny a few times before answering heavily, “Angel’s back.”
Jenny blinked. “Is that all?” she asked without really thinking.
Rupert gave her a look.
Xander stared. “Is that—what do you mean is that all? Did you know?”
“Wait.” Jenny frowned. “How do you know?”
“Oh no.” Xander held up a hand. “I want to hear how you know first.”
“Jenny?” Rupert turned to her, taking her hand in his.
“Uh,” Jenny tried to collect her thoughts, “well, when Pete and Buffy were fighting, I—I thought I saw Angel, but Rupert and I thought it was just nerves. I only found out that I’d really seen him when Debbie said something at Homecoming about seeing a vampire kill Pete.”
“That’s all we knew,” Rupert added. “We didn’t tell anyone but Buffy because neither of us were exactly sure what Angelus was planning, and he hadn’t actually hurt anyone.”
“He still hasn’t,” Jenny added. “The death count isn’t as high as it was when Angelus was first on the loose.”
Xander nodded slowly. “Huh,” he said. “I guess that’s some small consolation.”
“What do you mean?” said Jenny apprehensively.
“I found out Angel’s back because I saw him grabbing something from a crypt,” said Xander uncomfortably. “I followed him—”
“Xander,” said Jenny sharply.
“What? No one else was there to do anything!” Xander objected indignantly.
“You can’t just follow Angel on your own!” Jenny said, her voice higher and tenser than she’d intended. “You see something that dangerous, you call me.”
“Yeah, because you’re so accessible nowadays,” Xander muttered.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Jenny asked sharply.
Xander winced. “Uh. Nothing. Doesn’t matter. Anyway, I followed Angel to—”
“You can’t just say something like that and drop the subject,” persisted Jenny.
“Pardon me,” called Mrs. Post from the kitchen, “but would you like some assistance?”
“Thank you, that won’t be necessary,” Rupert called back with a feigned smile.
“Xander, being passive-aggressive is going to get you nowhere,” said Jenny pointedly.
“Look, Ms. Calendar, maybe we can talk about this when you’re not busy fussing over Faith,” snapped Xander.
There was an abrupt, uncomfortable silence.
“Perhaps I should go make some more tea,” said Rupert nervously. Jenny grabbed his arm, holding him in place.
Xander seemed to realize what he’d said, but he didn’t take it back. “I’m glad that Faith’s so important to you,” he continued awkwardly. “I mean—I know she needs it. But Willow and I barely ever see you, and when we do, you’re always researching with Giles or teaching your class. Willow almost skipped school last week because she was so sad about you ignoring her that she wasn’t sure if she could even pull off going to class, and it was me that talked her out of it. Not you.”
Jenny thought about all the times she’d tried to make it clear over the summer that she’d be there for Willow, and how it must have then felt for Willow when Faith showed up out of the blue. “God,” she said quietly. “I guess I’m not as good at balancing things as I thought.”
Xander shrugged. “Guess you’re not,” he said coolly.
“I’m going to talk to her as soon as this evaluation is over,” Jenny said with conviction.
“You got anything to say to me?” Xander asked, challenging.
Jenny bit her lip. “I—”
“Anyway,” said Xander shortly. “Putting aside our own unresolved issues for a little while, we need to talk about Angel and Buffy.”
Rupert started. “Angel…and Buffy?”
Xander shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “Like I was saying. I followed Angel to that mansion where…” He trailed off, but Jenny saw his eyes dart quickly to her crooked fingers. “Acathla,” he said. “And I got there, and Angel and Buffy were kissing.”
Jenny thought back to Buffy’s tense expression in the library, back when she and Rupert had told Buffy about the possibility of Angelus’s return. She felt vaguely sick. “She knew,” she said.
Rupert had the same look of realization. “When I came in after Pete’s death,” he murmured, “I mentioned Jenny seeing Angel, and Buffy looked almost guilty. I never thought—I assumed that guilt was due to Jenny being hurt.”
“Yeah, well, it looks like it wasn’t,” said Xander bitterly. “I think we need to talk to Buffy.”
“All of us,” Rupert agreed.
“Not Faith,” said Jenny suddenly.
Xander pressed his lips together, very clearly biting back an angry retort, then looked up. “Why not Faith?”
Jenny sighed. She honestly hadn’t considered that focusing on Faith would have this big of an effect on Xander and Willow, and she felt horrible for not even bothering to think about it. “She cares a lot about Buffy,” she said finally. “It’s going to really hurt her to find out that Buffy’s kept this from her. I think she should talk to Buffy one-on-one.”
“Buffy didn’t tell us about Angel,” said Xander. “Why does Faith get the special treatment?”
“Because—” Jenny faltered. It took her a moment to find a genuine reason. “Because if Faith finds out any other way, there’s a chance she might run off and try to kill Angel. I don’t want that happening.”
“I don’t count that as all that much of a loss.” Xander’s expression was hard and angry. “He hurt you and Giles and the first thing he does when he comes back is make out with Buffy, not try and make things right with the rest of us. Seems like killing him is long overdue.”
“I won’t have anyone I love die trying to kill Angel,” said Jenny fiercely, stepping away from Rupert. “And that includes you, Xander.”
Something in Xander seemed to falter. He dropped his eyes to the ground. “I wasn’t sure about that one,” he said to his feet.
Jenny breathed out. “I’m so sorry,” she said. Her voice broke. “You and Willow were so good to me over the summer. I got so wrapped up in taking care of Faith that I never once checked in on how that might affect you.”
“I get that Faith doesn’t have parents,” said Xander quietly, still not looking up, “but I’d swap the parents I’ve got for having no parents any day.”
Rupert cleared his throat. “I’m going to check in on Mrs. Post,” he said uncomfortably.
Jenny grabbed Rupert’s arm again before he could leave. She really needed to talk to him about his attempts to avoid emotional situations. “We are a family,” she said, choosing her words carefully. “Not just a bunch of people thrown together fighting evil.” This part was kind of directed at Rupert too, because she wasn’t sure if he always understood that. “And Xander—you’re going to stay over here one day of every week.”
Xander did look up at that. “What?”
“What?” Rupert echoed, looking more than a bit perturbed.
“Once a week, you come and stay here,” said Jenny. “I’ll clear off some of the boxes and you can sleep on the couch.”
“What if I don’t want to do that?” Xander challenged her.
“Yes, what if he doesn’t?” Rupert added.
Jenny elbowed Rupert, gave him a shut up look, and said to Xander, “I want to fix things. This seems like a way to start. If I turn out to be wrong, you can tell me, but at least try spending one night over here. Rupert makes good pasta, and you and Faith can get to know each other a little better.”
“And you’re not asking Willow to do this?” said Xander doubtfully. “Seems like this kind of thing would be something that’d make her way happier than me.”
“Willow doesn’t have parents like yours,” Jenny replied simply, crossing her arms in front of her chest. Suddenly she felt a little like running; emotions were kind of scary, and parenting (did this count as parenting?) was even scarier. “I can find her a different kind of space.”
She saw the change in Xander’s expression—it was a subtle thing, but his eyes didn’t look so hard and angry. “Fine,” he said. “How’s Friday?”
Chapter 25: mother figure
Faith got home just as Xander was leaving. Upon seeing her, he smiled awkwardly and mumbled something about having left his jacket at Ms. Calendar’s house. Faith didn’t pay all that much attention to him.
“Mrs. Post still here?” she asked of Jen, trying to shrug off her jacket and stopping when she felt a twinge of pain. Her stomach still really hurt—that demon guy could definitely pack a punch.
Jen sucked in a breath, getting up from the couch and cupping Faith’s face in one hand. “Rupert, can you get me an ice pack?” she called over her shoulder. To Faith, “Yeah, she left about half an hour ago. You okay?”
“Fine,” said Faith, disconcerted. She didn’t move away from Jen’s hand.
“Here—” Jen stepped back, moving a few boxes off the couch and onto the floor. “I’m going to get you some tea.”
“I’m fine,” said Faith without much vehemence behind it. There was a small, warm feeling in her chest, and coupled with her exhaustion, it made it difficult to remember to be genuinely defensive.
Jen rolled her eyes. “Sure,” she said, and placed her hands on Faith’s shoulders, steering her over to the couch. Faith sat down. “Get your shoes off and lie down,” Jen instructed her as she crossed the room, “and when I come back, we’re going to do a little bit of first aid.”
“Seriously, Jen, I’ve had way worse,” said Faith, more out of habit than out of a real desire for Jen to stop fussing over her. “When I was in Boston—”
“Faith,” said Jen shortly, pausing by the doorway, “I have had a really stressful night, and as much as I’m normally okay with you playing the tough Slayer card, I just really want to make sure at least one important part of my life isn’t seriously injured or internally bleeding. Okay?”
Faith tried to remember the last time someone said she was an important part of their life. Even Mrs. Post, so hell-bent on making Faith trust her, hadn’t said that. “Okay,” she said. Her voice broke. Embarrassed, she added, “It doesn’t hurt, I’m just—” Shit. She scrubbed at her suddenly-teary eyes. “I just—”
Jen’s eyes widened. Behind her, Faith saw Giles standing nervously with an ice pack. Jen glanced over her shoulder, took the ice pack, and hurried over to Faith, kneeling down in front of the sofa. She pressed the ice pack to Faith’s head. “There’s a bruise there,” she said softly.
Faith sniffled. “I’m fine,” she said shakily. The “fine” came out a little like a sob.
“I know,” said Jen, smiling wryly.
“How come Buffy gets a family and I get an evaluation ‘cause the Council thinks a family isn’t good for me?” Faith mumbled, scrubbing at her face some more. The sleeve of her jacket was getting really wet.
“The Council sucks,” said Jen without hesitation, gently catching Faith’s hand and tugging it away from her face. “Right after I went through that whole Angelus debacle, one of them swooped in like a bat and tried to convince Rupert that a girlfriend wasn’t good for him.”
“That’s bullshit,” said Faith, leaning into the ice pack.
Jen ducked her head, grinning. “It is,” she said. “And Faith?”
Faith drew in a shaking breath. “Yeah?”
This was when Giles came in with a mug of tea. “Chamomile,” he said awkwardly, hovering in the doorway.
“We don’t bite,” said Jen with amusement. “Come here. Give Faith the tea.”
Giles took a few hesitant steps forward. The look of discomfort on his face made Faith laugh, but it turned out that she was also kind of crying, so it came out a little like a sob too. Jen didn’t say anything about that, just reached over and gently squeezed Faith’s arm with the hand not holding the ice pack.
“Tea,” said Giles, kneeling down and handing the mug to Faith. “I-I’ve found chamomile quite good for stress, and I made sure to add honey.”
“You would,” said Jen playfully, letting go of Faith’s arm to briefly touch Giles’s shoulder. “Okay. Faith, what I was going to tell you—you’re going to drink that, right?”
Faith wanted to start crying for a very long time and not stop. She felt like she was getting really, really close to that point, but tonight didn’t feel like that kind of night. Not yet. Not while there was still a risk of her not getting to stay with these people, in this house, with this tea. “Yep,” she said, and took a long sip.
“Mrs. Post is a complete moron,” said Jen matter-of-factly. “She never makes any efforts to look past the rules she’s been given, and they aren’t the right rules to follow.”
“You don’t know what she said,” said Faith instinctively, her stomach twisting with guilt.
“Okay.” Jen pulled herself up onto the couch next to Faith, letting the ice pack drop. Giles hurriedly caught it. “What did she say?”
Faith hesitated. She didn’t wanted to say she didn’t remember, but telling Jen what had really stuck with her—that Mrs. Post thought Jen would prioritize her over the fate of the world—might make Jen say something like of course I wouldn’t do that, Faith, you know the world is more important. It was only really hitting her now how much she didn’t want to hear Jen say that. “She said—” She directed her gaze at her hands. “She said that you want to be my mom,” she said, drawing the words out. Her heart was pounding. “And that a Vampire Slayer can’t have that.”
There was a very long silence. Faith didn’t dare look up at Jen.
“That’s it,” said Jen. “I’m going to kill her.”
“Jenny—” There was a warning note in Giles’s voice.
“Who says to a seventeen-year-old girl that they don’t get to have a mom?” Jen snapped.
That made Faith look up.
“It’s not behavior uncommon in the Council,” began Giles, but faltered at the look Jen was directing at him. “N-not that I would say anything like that, of course,” he added.
“You’re not going with her, Faith,” said Jen sharply. She took Faith’s mug, placing it down on a clear spot on the coffee table. “You’re just—not.”
Faith tried to say something, but couldn’t. All of a sudden, she felt exhausted and very scared, because it had been—she couldn’t even say that it had been a long time since someone had been mad about something done to her. It just hadn’t ever happened before. “She can’t make me go,” she said, but it didn’t come out as angry and emphatic as it had the night before.
Jen’s eyes glittered. She raised a hand, fingertips skimming Faith’s cheek with a careful gentleness very much at odds with the anger in her expression. “She won’t,” she said. “There’s no way in hell I’m going to let her.”
Jenny lay awake for a lot longer than she wanted to that night. It would have been nice to just fall asleep, curled up in a cozy nest of blankets and boyfriend, but she couldn’t stop thinking about tomorrow’s Angelus intervention with Buffy, and the possibility of losing Faith, and that awful, awful Council lady who would casually tell a lonely, frightened girl that there was no way she could ever have a mother figure.
Then that got Jenny thinking about Mrs. Post’s words. Did she really want to be Faith’s mom? She’d been so busy trying to reach Faith that she’d never actually had time to seriously consider that concept, and the possibility of that level of responsibility scared her a lot. She didn’t feel at all ready to be solely responsible for a kid’s welfare.
Not solely, said a small voice. Jenny rolled over onto her side and looked at Rupert, and for a moment she felt warmed. But then she thought about how in intensely emotional situations with Faith, Rupert faltered. And Jenny still cared about Buffy, but she still couldn’t bring herself to feel exactly comfortable around the girlfriend of the guy who’d broken her fingers and left her with horrible nightmares. They really needed to have a talk about that, because Buffy was incredibly important to Rupert, and Faith—was incredibly important to Jenny.
Okay. That was big. It should have been more obvious to Jenny than it was, seeing as the thought of losing Faith had made her that mixture of furious and horribly sad, but it felt like she was only now figuring it out.
She moved closer to Rupert, draping an arm over his chest. Rupert stirred, looked down at Jenny, and gave her a sleepy smile before closing his eyes again. Jenny stared up at the ceiling, thinking. Mom was a scary word with a lot of responsibilities attached to it. Even on her best days, Jenny didn’t know if Jenny Calendar was enough to pull off all the stuff that needed to be fixed.
But Faith was important. Not just because Jenny sympathized with feeling lost and alone, but also because of Faith’s clumsy kindness, and her dry quips, and the way she’d started to visibly try, directly in contrast with the guarded girl Jenny had initially met. It was slow going, but Jenny could see that Faith was starting to trust people. She didn’t want that newfound hope to be destroyed under the tutelage of Mrs. Post, who looked at Faith and saw a weapon instead of a kid.
And—the certainty that Jenny wouldn’t let the Council take Faith was pretty new too. She couldn’t think of a time she’d ever been so confident in her ability to openly defy an institution. As much as Jenny liked to think of herself as the rebellious type, there were actually a lot of rules that she generally tried to adhere to and respect. This rule wasn’t one of them.
“Rupert,” she said softly.
Rupert made a drowsy noise. Jenny felt his hand rub her shoulder. “Mm?”
“I’m not going to let them take Faith.”
“I know, dear,” said Rupert blearily.
“No,” said Jenny. “You’re not getting it. I don’t care if we fail this evaluation. I am not going to let them take Faith.”
Rupert’s eyes opened completely at that. He rolled over onto his side. “Jenny,” he said carefully, “the Council is an extremely powerful organization. They could make our lives miserable if we don’t comply with their regulations.”
“Then they will,” said Jenny. “I don’t care. We have two Slayers on our side. Faith doesn’t have to go anywhere she doesn’t want to go.”
“I won’t let them take Faith, Rupert,” said Jenny fiercely. Her voice shook.
Rupert studied her face, then reached out, pulling her into his arms. “You won’t have to,” he said, using the same gentle voice he did when she had a nightmare.
“I don’t want comfort, England, I want solutions,” Jenny persisted, pulling back to look at him. “There has to be a way to make it definite that she stays with us. I don’t care if it’s unethical.”
“I’m not bothered by the ethics, Jenny, it just seems very unlikely that—” Rupert stopped, then frowned. “When I first started out as a Watcher,” he said slowly, “it was made very clear to me by the Council that if my Slayer and I were not a good fit, it would be my responsibility to turn the mantle of acting Watcher over to someone else. Now, the chances of Mrs. Post doing that are relatively slim, but if you and Faith both continue to make things difficult for her, it’s possible she may at least hesitate to immediately commit herself to a Slayer she sees as a potential lost cause.”
Jenny looked at him, feeling a smile beginning. “Yeah?”
“This isn’t definite, Jenny, and I don’t want you to get your hopes up—oh, sod it.” Rupert pulled Jenny in close, kissing her forehead. “Talk to Faith about it in the morning, will you? Before—” He stopped.
“Before we talk to Buffy,” Jenny finished heavily.
Rupert sighed. “I…very much want to believe that there are extenuating circumstances,” he said finally. “I don’t like to think that Buffy has so little respect for me.”
Jenny winced. With all her concern about Faith, she hadn’t even thought about how Rupert might be taking the news about Buffy. At least this mishap was something she could fix, though. “Do you want to talk about it?” she asked carefully.
“You have so much to be worried about, darling, I certainly don’t want to add to—”
Jenny cut him off with a kiss. “Listen,” she said. “I told you what’s worrying me, but that doesn’t mean I’m not able to listen to what’s worrying you. Relationships are give-and-take, not give-and-give. Okay?”
Rupert studied her face, then smiled slightly, kissing her again. Jenny pulled back. “Rupert,” she said, only halfway reproving.
“I do understand,” Rupert agreed, tucking a strand of hair behind Jenny’s ear. “But we can talk tomorrow, Jenny, and it’s been a while since we’ve just been with each other.”
Jenny opened her mouth to argue, but then actually thought about what he was saying. What with all the stuff going down lately, almost all of the time she’d spent with Rupert had been somehow related to talking through all the problems they needed to figure out. It had been so long since they’d been together just because they wanted to be together. “Good point,” she said softly, her eyes drifting shut as he kissed her again.
Chapter 26: good instincts
The car ride to school the next day was incredibly quiet. Faith stared out the window of the car, hugging her backpack, lost in thought. Jenny tapped her fingers nervously on the car door, resting her hand on Rupert’s leg as he drove.
She wasn’t at all looking forward to the inevitable conversation with Buffy. Even back when Buffy had forgiven her, Angel had been a delicate subject between them. A part of Jenny still felt a little like she had no real right to be mad at Buffy, considering that she herself had hidden aspects of her life from the group because she thought it was the right thing to do. Another part of Jenny was decisively furious and hurt; Angelus had tortured her in front of Rupert, and Buffy had hidden his existence from them both just because she didn’t want them to react negatively to his being back.
Rupert took one hand off the steering wheel and rested it on Jenny’s. Jenny felt the knot in her chest loosen a little as they pulled up to Sunnydale High.
“I have class,” said Faith abruptly, letting go of her backpack and fumbling with her seatbelt.
Jenny glanced at Rupert, then said, “Hold on, Faith, there’s some stuff I want to talk to you about.”
“I’ll go in ahead of you,” said Rupert quietly, giving Jenny’s hand a quick squeeze before letting go and getting out of the car.
Faith looked up. “Something wrong?” she asked a little warily.
Jenny shook her head. “Not—exactly,” she said, which was as truthful as she could get without starting the inevitable Angelus conversation.
A sudden thought occurred to her that made her forget what she was going to say—why hadn’t she told Faith about Angelus yet? Why was she so incredibly hell-bent on making sure that Faith didn’t have to know about Angelus until it was an absolute necessity? Sure, initially Faith running off to kill Angelus had been a genuine concern, but more recently, Faith had almost always respected Jenny’s judgment without rushing recklessly into battle.
Maybe it wasn’t that Jenny wanted Faith to learn about Angelus from Buffy. Maybe it was that Faith was only seventeen, and she already had vampires to kill, and she didn’t need another reason to be afraid that someone she cared about might get hurt.
Jenny didn’t want to have to see Faith afraid. That was all it came down to, really. She didn’t want Faith afraid.
“Jen?” Faith was giving her a strange look.
That was selfish. That was stupid. She couldn’t keep Faith in the dark just because she wanted Faith feeling happy and safe. In a town like this, knowledge was the difference between alive and dead. “Faith,” said Jenny, “do you remember that conversation we had your first night here?”
Faith frowned. “About nightmares?”
“About the vampire,” said Jenny with effort. “The one that tortured me.”
To Jenny’s surprise, Faith looked a little bit guilty. “Yeah,” she said. “I—kind of asked Buffy about that.”
“Really?” This was news to Jenny. “What did she say?”
Faith hesitated. “She said you were sent to Sunnydale to keep an eye on a vampire with his soul, and that he lost his soul, and then you tried to give it back to him and got hurt doing it.” She smiled a little. “Kinda badass, if you ask me.”
Jenny winced. “Yeah. That’s, um, kind of a highly simplified version of what happened. Do you want to get out of the car?”
“Sure.” Faith slung her backpack over one shoulder, climbing out of the car. Jenny followed. “So. What happened?”
“I came to Sunnydale because of a vampire,” Jenny began as they started to walk towards the school. “Angelus. He’d killed a, um, family member a while back, and we’d cursed him with a soul so that he’d feel the guilt of all the murders he’d committed.”
“Whoa.” Faith’s eyes widened. “That’s hardcore.”
Jenny smiled a little. “I guess you could call it that, but a vampire with a soul isn’t in any way the same person as a vampire without one. Angel was—kind.” She thought back to Eyghon, something she’d thought so traumatizing and terrifying at the time, and almost wanted to laugh. A lot had changed since then. “He saved my life once. My family is pretty big on the whole vengeance thing, though, so they weren’t too keen on listening to me when I told them he’d changed, and they never got around to telling me that the curse could be broken.”
“How’d he lose his soul, then?” Faith asked, holding the school door open for Jenny. “That seems like a pretty weird curse if it’s breakable.”
Jenny hesitated. This was the part she’d been a little worried about telling Faith. “Angel and Buffy were dating,” she said carefully. “Because of his time with Buffy, Angel experienced a moment of perfect happiness, and the curse…wasn’t built for that. The soul he’d been given was meant to make him suffer, so when that suffering ended, even if it was only for a moment, the soul was gone too.”
“Fuck,” said Faith. Jenny was startled. Looking over at Faith, she didn’t see a single hint of anger at Buffy’s omissions, only sympathy. “I guess I get why B’s not big on the whole sharing thing.”
“You could say that,” Jenny agreed.
“So then—what happened?”
“Well,” Jenny paused before continuing, “Rupert and the kids were understandably pretty mad at me. I hadn’t actually told them that I’d come to Sunnydale to watch Angelus, and,” she remembered that horrible moment in her classroom, Buffy striding in with steely eyes, “it didn’t come out in the best of ways. So I tried to make things right.”
Faith stared. “Giles was mad at you?”
Jenny had to laugh. “Yeah. Our relationship was a pretty intense rollercoaster last year.”
“And then Angelus…tortured you because of that.” Faith’s expression was almost carefully neutral.
“No, actually, Angelus tortured me for information about how to bring about the end of the world,” Jenny replied simply, “but it didn’t work, and he ended up dead instead. Or as dead as a vampire can get, I guess.”
Faith nodded slowly, then frowned. “Not that I don’t appreciate it, Jen, but why are you telling me this now?”
Jenny stopped walking. They had reached the library, and she could see Rupert and Mrs. Post talking in his office. “Because Angelus is back,” she said finally. “We found out last night that he’s—” She hesitated. She had a feeling that telling Faith about Buffy and Angel kissing wouldn’t make Faith all that happy—that, and she’d caught Faith staring at Buffy more times than she could count. At some point, Jenny wanted to talk to Faith about girls, but she was pretty sure that they weren’t there yet. “He’s with Buffy,” she said finally. It wasn’t her place to tell Faith about Buffy and Angel.
Faith stared, eyes wide and hurt. “B’s been keeping secrets,” she said.
“From all of us,” Jenny said hastily. “Not just you.” She decided that this might be a good segue into her next topic, and continued carefully, “Rupert and I are holding something of a Scooby meeting to talk to Buffy, but I think it would mean a little more if you talked to her later. One-on-one.”
“Yeah.” Faith crossed her arms, shaking a little. Jenny wanted to reach out to her, but she had a feeling that that wouldn’t exactly be met with gratitude. “I—don’t think what I have to say to her is stuff I want to say in front of you guys.”
Jenny wasn’t sure if she should advise Faith against lashing out at Buffy, and eventually decided against it. Faith was getting pretty good at calming down and talking things out. Besides, Jenny understood the need to work through intense emotions, and she knew that she’d be there to help Faith if things went awry. “Okay,” she said finally. “I just don’t want you to feel like you’re being left out of a Scooby meeting.”
Faith smiled slightly, shrugging a little, and said to the floor, “I know you wouldn’t do that to me.”
It took Jenny a moment to register what Faith had just said, and another moment to press her hands to her mouth in an attempt to hide her smile. “Oh,” she said. “Yeah. Well. You’ve, um, got good instincts, Faith.”
Faith looked up, smiling. “Damn straight,” she agreed. “I gotta get to class, but—”
Jenny caught Faith’s arm. “One last thing,” she said. “Remember what I said about thinking like a Watcher?”
Faith’s smile faded a little. “Uh,” she began. “About that—”
“Doesn’t matter,” said Jenny, remembering the late-night conversation with Rupert and smiling fiercely. “Give Mrs. Post hell.”
Faith blinked, and then her smile came back in full force. “Yeah?”
“Yeah.” Jenny squeezed Faith’s shoulder. “Go get ‘em, tiger.”
Jenny was kind of a mess through most of her morning classes, but thinking about Faith and Rupert made her feel a little better. Then, smack in the middle of the last period before lunch, she realized that Willow hadn’t come in for her TA session. And then it occurred to her that she couldn’t actually remember the last time Willow stopped by her classroom since Faith, which resulted in her having to let the kids out of class five minutes early just so she could pace anxiously around the halls. She felt awful about the way things were going with Willow, but there just wasn’t time to really mend anything right now, and somehow that made her feel even worse.
Rupert caught her arm as she passed the library. “Coffee?” he suggested gently.
“I didn’t want to bother you,” said Jenny a little shakily. “And Mrs. Post might still—”
“Oh, she’s long gone.” Rupert tucked Jenny’s arm into his, steering her into the library. “I managed to convince her that there was really no point in evaluating me during a school day.”
He stopped them both by the checkout counter, letting go of Jenny to enter his office. Jenny followed, sitting down on the edge of his desk. “Do you want to talk to me about Buffy?” she asked tentatively as he closed the office door. “You said something about that last night.”
Rupert handed Jenny a mug of hot coffee and sat down in his desk chair, resting a hand on Jenny’s knee. “I’m not sure—” he began.
“I mean, if you don’t feel comfortable—” Jenny added hastily.
“No, not at all, it’s just…” Rupert trailed off. “I don’t know where to start,” he said finally. “I’m not exactly in the habit of being forthright with my emotions.”
“Yeah, I know the feeling,” said Jenny, smiling slightly. “Just—try, okay?”
Rupert nodded, his fingers tracing patterns on her knee. It was silent in the office for long enough to let Jenny take two sips of her coffee, and then he said, “I did say last night that I worry Buffy doesn’t respect me, but—I don’t know if that’s entirely why I’m so upset by the concept of her keeping this from me.”
“Okay,” said Jenny, putting down the mug of coffee so she could place her hand over Rupert’s.
“It’s—” Rupert looked up at her. “Angelus tortured you,” he said, his voice oddly steady. “For hours. For pleasure. He knew he wouldn’t get what he wanted from us, at least not in time, and he still broke every last one of your fingers in front of me. I know you don’t remember much of that night, but I do. Every part of it. He wouldn’t let me look away.”
Jenny looked down at her hand. The fingers were still crooked—just slightly, and only if you were looking for the imperfections.
“It isn’t just that Buffy disrespected me with this gesture.” Rupert’s eyes were wet behind his glasses. “It’s that she disregarded what Angelus did to you.”
This was so far from what Jenny had been expecting that she couldn’t come up with anything at all to say in return. At Rupert’s hesitant expression, she suddenly remembered that this was probably the first time in a very long time that he’d been direct and honest with someone, and wow she was doing a really bad job of reassuring him. “Fuck,” she said weakly. “Sorry. I just—that’s a lot to take in, Rupert. I didn’t think—I mean, you know, I thought—wow, if she—”
Rupert kissed her.
Jenny kissed him back, then pulled away. “God, England, I’m so bad at this,” she said miserably. “I thought you were supposed to be the flustered one.”
“We can switch off.” Rupert was smiling for a reason Jenny didn’t entirely understand. “It’s—if it helps, it makes me feel quite a bit better to know I have someone to talk to about this.”
Jenny managed half a smile back. “It does help,” she said. “Thanks.” She sniffled (was she crying?) and squeezed Rupert’s hand. “I—think Buffy might have put at least some thought into not telling us, to be honest,” she said carefully. “I think she was scared of how we would react, and she didn’t want us to tell her she couldn’t see Angel. It was maybe a little selfish, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t coming from a place of disrespect.”
“Thank you,” said Rupert softly. “That’s quite astute.”
“You’re sweet,” said Jenny wryly.
“I’m honest,” Rupert replied simply.
Outside, Jenny heard the library doors opening, and then the hushed voices of Willow and Xander as they entered. Upon hearing them, Rupert stood up, gently pulling her with him.
Chapter 27: guilty
“Lagos is out of luck,” Buffy informed Giles as she entered. Jenny looked up, feeling a vague sense of nausea. “I got the magic mitten thingy.” She stopped, looking around the room. “What's with all the tragedy masks?”
The gravity of the situation was suddenly hitting Jenny very hard. For Buffy to be that cavalier when she was hiding Angel from all of them—as much as Jenny had meant her advice to Rupert, there was a part of her that was starting to really understand how little Buffy had thought about Angelus’s impact on her. Her research on the cure, her hours of torture…Jenny was pretty sure that Buffy had thought about not telling Rupert, but she had a feeling that Buffy hadn’t thought much of not telling her.
“Better take a seat, Buffy,” said Rupert heavily.
Xander got up out of his chair, moved it to the head of the table, and stepped away to stand next to Cordelia. A little warily, Buffy stepped over to the chair. “What's going on?” she asked apprehensively, sitting down.
Jenny stepped closer to Rupert, taking his hand. Rupert held it tightly without looking up. “We know Angel is alive,” he said without preamble. Buffy’s eyes widened with shock and guilt, but she didn’t argue. “Xander saw you with him. It would appear that you've been hiding him and that you lied to us.”
“Nobody's here to blame you, Buffy,” Willow added. “But this is serious. You need help.”
Buffy looked up at Willow. “It's not what you think,” she began.
“Hope not,” said Xander coldly. “Because I think you're harboring a vicious killer.”
“Xander,” said Jenny, gripping Rupert’s hand. Buffy’s eyes went to her, and she resisted the sudden urge to bury her face in Rupert’s shoulder and block out the entire discussion.
“This isn't about attacking Buffy,” Willow cut in. “Remember, 'I' statements only. 'I feel angry.' 'I feel worried.'”
“Fine,” said Cordelia. “Here's one: I feel worried…about me! Last time around, Angel barely laid a hand on Buffy. He was way more interested in setting up hour-long torture sessions with Giles and Ms. Calendar.”
“But he's better now,” Buffy persisted.
“Better for how long, Buffy?” Xander inquired angrily. “I mean, did you even think about that?”
Suddenly, something hit Jenny. Angel being better now— “The curse,” she said.
All eyes went to her. “Yeah, we’ve covered that,” said Xander sarcastically.
“Xander, not now,” said Jenny, her voice shaking. “Buffy—did the curse work?”
“Is that really our priority right now?” Xander asked. No one answered him.
Buffy faltered. “I don’t—didn’t Giles tell you?”
Jenny turned towards Rupert. “Tell me what?” she said. Rupert looked down and didn’t answer. “Tell me what?” she repeated.
“I didn’t—” Rupert looked up at her with pleading eyes. “I thought—if I’d known—you said Angelus was back, and then I thought it wasn’t relevant, or that Buffy must have been mistaken, and if I’d told you, it would have destroyed you to know—”
“God, every time I think you’re finally being honest with me, something always comes up, doesn’t it?” Jenny demanded, more out of fear than anything else. It had been a long time since she’d seen Rupert look that guilty.
“Giles, Ms. Calendar, I don’t think now is the time,” said Willow nervously.
“No, this is important.” Jenny tugged her hand free of Rupert’s, crossing her arms in front of her chest. “Rupert, what are you not telling me?”
“Angel was cured when Buffy sent him to hell,” said Rupert quietly. “Willow performed your ritual while she was hospitalized, and it did the trick.”
Jenny felt like she’d been punched in the stomach. “My ritual sent Angel to hell?” she said, voice breaking.
Buffy’s eyes widened. “Ms. Calendar—” she began.
“This is way off topic,” Xander interjected.
“Xander, shut up,” said Rupert shakily, looking up at Jenny. “Jenny, please—”
“I had a right to know,” said Jenny.
“You said—when you had that concussion, you said you wanted me to keep you out of situations involving Angelus.”
“You know that wasn’t what I meant!”
“No one’s using the ‘I’ statements!” said Willow in a high, anxious voice.
Jenny turned to Buffy, eyes wet. “The curse worked, then,” she said.
Buffy nodded. The defensiveness was gone, replaced by visible guilt and sadness. “Yeah,” she said. “Ms. Calendar…I-I’m sorry I didn’t tell you.”
“It’s okay.” Jenny twisted her hands.
“It’s not.” Buffy looked down. “You got hurt so many times trying to help Angel, and I just—I thought you knew about the curse working. I figured Giles or Willow would have told you.”
Slowly, Jenny turned to look at Willow.
“I didn’t want you to get hurt, Ms. Calendar,” said Willow nervously. “It’s not like this is exactly happy news.”
“What was the game plan, then?” Jenny demanded. “Keep me in the dark about this for the rest of my life? Rupert—haven’t we already had this discussion about honesty about four times in the last year alone?”
“I think we’re getting distracted from the—” Xander began.
“Intervention,” Jenny finished. “Yeah. You all finish with your intervention. I don’t think I can handle any more of this.”
“Jenny.” Rupert caught her hands in his. “This—wasn’t out of a desire to protect you from truths I didn’t think you could handle. You’ve been through so much trauma in this last year—I wanted to at least spare you this.”
“I’m responsible for another few hundred years of Angel suffering,” said Jenny, and laughed a little hysterically. “This isn’t something you can spare me.”
Rupert breathed out, the sound almost a sob. “I acted wrongly,” he said. “I’m sorry.”
“I need to go home,” said Jenny, pulling her hands away from Rupert’s and leaving the library without looking back.
Jenny drove home, but she didn’t even make it halfway through unlocking the front door before she was crying uncontrollably. She wasn’t much of a crier, even under the most stressful of circumstances, but this situation took the cake. Sure, her boyfriend had been lying to her in some misguided attempt to make her feel like she was a better person than she was, but that didn’t at all compare with the fact that her desire to help had ended up sentencing a good person to possible centuries of torture.
Angel was good. Angelus was fucked up and evil and she would probably never forgive him, but Angel was good. That was the one truth that had hurt Jenny about sending Angelus to hell, but she’d been comforted by the fact that at least Angel had had a relatively peaceful end. Angel was good, and because Jenny was a complete and total idiot, he’d been down in Acathla’s hell dimension for god knows how long.
Of course Buffy would want to hide Angel from Jenny. Jenny’s good intentions would probably end up killing Angel all over again.
It took nearly ten minutes to manage to unlock the door and enter the house, at which point Jenny half-fell onto the couch, shaking. She heard the sound of footsteps, and then Rupert was holding her as she cried. “I’m sorry,” he was saying, his voice shaking. “I’m so sorry, Jenny.”
“It’s my fault,” Jenny sobbed.
Rupert held her tightly. “It isn’t.”
Jenny buried her face in his shoulder and cried. She wasn’t really keeping track of how long, but it felt like a while, because she’d run out of tears when she finally managed to stop. “I thought you were going to stay at the library,” she said quietly without raising her head from his shoulder.
“I wrapped things up as quickly as I could,” Rupert murmured. “I thought you might…need someone.” He hesitated, pulling back a little. “Or—to be more truthful, I hoped. I-I understand if you’ll want me to leave now, though.”
Jenny sniffled and shook her head, keeping her arms draped around Rupert’s neck. The fierce anger at Rupert had dissipated with the crying. “Don’t be an idiot.”
Rupert faltered. “I’m sorry?”
Raising her head, Jenny felt a little better just looking at Rupert. He was rumpled and exhausted-looking, and it looked like he’d left his jacket at school running to catch up with her. “I’m kind of done breaking up with you every time one of us makes a mistake,” she said softly. “Yeah, this was big, and you weren’t honest with me, but—we can talk it out now, right? I think we’re getting better at that.”
“I like to hope so,” Rupert agreed. He pulled a handkerchief out of his jacket pocket, gently dabbing at Jenny’s face. “I wish the world would stop throwing things like this at you,” he said softly.
“Yeah, well, this one isn’t on the world.” Jenny felt a lump in her throat. “God—” She curled inward, hiding her face in her hands. “I wanted to help,” she said, the last word almost a sob. “I didn’t want to hurt him, I wanted to help him, and somehow I ended up hurting him more than any of my family ever could.”
She felt Rupert kiss the top of her head, wrapping his arms around her. Jenny let her hands drop to his shoulders, resting her cheek against his chest. “You can’t blame yourself for this,” he said quietly, stroking her hair.
“You didn’t tell me because you knew I was going to blame myself,” said Jenny, smiling a little ruefully. “And you’re still saying you don’t think it’s my fault?”
“From a purely technical standpoint, it is,” began Rupert thoughtfully. This was so ridiculously unhelpful and so very Rupert that it made Jenny laugh out loud. “No, no, bear with me,” he added, sounding brightened by her laughter. “You couldn’t possibly have known that Buffy wouldn’t be able to hold Angel off long enough to save him. You couldn’t have known that he would open Acathla. While your determination to cast the spell is what brought it to our attention, it wasn’t you that cast it, it wasn’t you that opened the portal, and it wasn’t you that killed Angelus. It—it takes a village, as the saying goes.”
Jenny closed her eyes. She still felt wrung-out and guilty, but Rupert’s words had a comforting ring of truth to them.
The phone rang.
“For god’s sake,” said Rupert emphatically, which made Jenny laugh again. He kissed her nose, pulling reluctantly away. “I’ll only be a moment.”
“No, I’ll get it.” Jenny stood up, hurrying to the telephone. “Calendar-Giles residence, Calendar speaking.”
“You guys okay?” There was a note of worry in Faith’s voice. “I showed up at the library and Willow said you left school early.”
“Oh,” said Jenny, wincing. “Um, yeah. Some stuff went down, and Rupert and I had to go home to talk it out a little, but we’re all good now.” She glanced over at Rupert, who gave her an adoring grin. “What time is it?”
“If you left for a nooner, just tell me, Jen,” Faith teased. “It’s two-thirty. I ducked out of math class to call you.”
“Okay, don’t do that,” said Jenny, smiling slightly. “Go back in and study. Rupert and I will drive back to the library and pick you up after your classes are done.”
“Cool. See you then.” Faith hung up.
Jenny placed the phone back on the hook, turning to Rupert. “So tell me, England,” she said as brightly as she could, “on a scale of one to obvious, how much does it look like I was sobbing into my boyfriend’s shoulder for about an hour?”
Rupert stood up from the couch, crossing the room to hug Jenny tightly. She held him close, breathing him in.
Chapter 28: payback's a bitch
Jen showed up in the middle of Faith’s chem class, eyes blotchy and chin defiantly up. “Hey, Miranda,” she said to Mrs. Watterson, “they’re asking for Faith at the counseling office.”
Mrs. Watterson looked a little concerned at Jen’s obviously emotional state, but didn’t comment. “Faith, you can go early,” she said. “Make sure to do the reading—pages 171 through 178.”
“Yeah, sure,” said Faith, barely listening. She slung her backpack over her shoulder, hurrying to follow Jen out of the classroom. “Are you okay?” she asked as soon as they were a good way down the hall.
“I’ll live.” Jen gave her a tired smile.
“What is it?” Faith felt a sudden, cold jolt of fear. “Is it Mrs. Post? Did she—”
“Huh?” Jen looked up at her. “Oh. No. It isn’t Mrs. Post.”
“Then what is it?” All sorts of worst-case scenarios were running through Faith’s head. That Angelus guy killed Buffy. Jen and Giles split up and now Giles wants the Council to take me away from Jen. The intervention went bad and now Buffy and Jen are having a big blow-out fight.
Jen crossed her arms, as though trying to hold herself together by sheer willpower. “My resouling ritual worked,” she said. “The one I worked so hard to create—Willow cast it, but a portal to a hell dimension had already been opened with Angelus’s blood, and it needed that same blood to close it. The moment after Angel came back, Buffy had to sacrifice him to Acathla so that there wouldn’t be hell on earth. Angel got sentenced to god knows how long in a hell dimension because I was so determined to bring him back.”
Faith stopped walking. All she could come up with was, “Wow. Heavy stuff.”
Jen stopped in front of her, looking a little startled. “You don’t seem all that upset.”
“Don’t see why I should be,” said Faith awkwardly, trying to sort through her jumbled thoughts. “Sounds to me like you were just trying to help. It’s not like you knew this could happen, right?”
Jen nodded slowly. “Rupert said something pretty similar,” she said carefully. “I just wasn’t sure if you’d react the same way.”
Faith studied Jen’s face. “Were you—crying?” she said softly.
Jen looked away, fiddling with the hem of one of her sleeves.
Faith plucked up her courage, and then reached forward, patting Jen’s shoulder. “Um,” she said. “There, there.”
The corner of Jen’s mouth turned up into an amused half-smile. “Thanks,” she said, looking up.
“Faith!” Mrs. Post hurried up to them both, closely followed by an angry-looking Giles. “Where have you been all day? You’re to come with me immediately—you’ve missed nearly all the training plans I had set up.”
“I keep telling you, she attends classes here,” said Giles through gritted teeth. “You can’t just barge in and demand she train with you.”
“Oh, that will no longer be an issue,” said Mrs. Post. “Schooling is of no importance for a girl like Faith.”
Jen turned very slowly, a dangerous look in her eyes. “I’m sorry, what do you mean by ‘a girl like Faith,’ exactly?” she said.
Faith felt herself flush a little. She’d heard that kind of phrase a lot before, enough for it to lose its sting somewhat, but she didn’t like the thought of Jen hearing someone say that to her. “It’s cool,” she said, trying to end the situation as quickly as possible.
“It’s not,” said Jen.
“Jenny dear, why don’t we go get a muffin from the staff room?” said Giles somewhat tensely, stepping forward and winding an arm around Jen’s waist. Jen tried to push him away, but he held her tightly in place next to him.
“Frankly, Jenny, I think you’re being more than ridiculous at taking personal offense,” said Mrs. Post calmly. “Faith is a Slayer, not a student. She does not need to attend high school and then college for a job that might distract from her sacred calling. While I’m certain her parents might object to her schooling being terminated, this luckily isn’t an obstacle here.”
“Hi,” said Jen, raising a hand. “Objecting parent here.”
Faith grinned without thinking and had to look down.
“Hardly,” said Mrs. Post. “You’ve known the girl for what, a month? Maybe two? That’s certainly not enough to link you to Faith’s life.”
“Hey, when that Post lady is done arguing about what I’m doing without asking me,” said Faith loudly, “I could tell her that I’ll train with her when hell freezes over.”
“If I have to bring in Council reinforcements, I will,” Mrs. Post warned Faith sharply.
“Fine,” said Faith. “Do it. Bring the wrath of the big scary Council down on my head.”
To Faith’s surprise, Mrs. Post seemed to momentarily falter. “We haven’t quite reached that point yet,” she said finally. “I may be a bit of a foolish optimistic—”
Jen scoffed. Giles gave her a look that seemed half reprimanding and half admiring.
“But I do believe you will eventually see reason.” Mrs. Post gave Faith a small, annoyingly confident smile. “I suppose I’ll just record this little altercation in my evaluation.”
“I’m sure we’ll live,” said Giles dryly. “Faith, Jenny, I need to discuss some aspects of the Glove of Myhnegon with the both of you. My office?”
“I’ll come too,” said Mrs. Post pointedly. “I am a part of this investigation, Mr. Giles.”
Faith thought of being in a room with the adults talking about some dusty old artifact and almost physically shivered. “I’m gonna head home,” she said. “Got some homework to do.” Just to piss off Mrs. Post, she moved forward, giving Jen a quick hug. “Feel better, okay?” she said quietly.
Jen beamed at her. “I think I already do,” she said.
Rupert opened the door for Jenny, letting it swing shut as Mrs. Post was walking through. Mrs. Post ignored this small slight. “So,” she said. “What news is there on the glove?”
“We have it,” Rupert replied simply.
“We do?” Jenny thought back to the intervention, then remembered what Buffy had said about the magic mitten thingy. “Oh!”
“Were you out of the loop too, Jenny?” said Mrs. Post smugly. “My condolences.”
“Can it, Gwen,” said Jenny with a sweet smile. “Where’s the glove at, Rupert?”
“It’s in—the mansion on Crawford Street,” said Rupert, glancing up at Jenny. She felt the smile slide off her face. “Angel—he’s a friend of Buffy’s—he’s keeping it there.”
“Well.” There was a new light in Mrs. Post’s eyes. “We must get to it. Immediately. Hide it before someone else finds it.”
“Or better still, destroy it,” Rupert added.
Mrs. Post blinked, startled. “Destroy it?”
“Yes,” Rupert agreed with a pleased smile. “I didn't think it could be done either, but…” He hurried to his desk, picking up a book and handing it to Mrs. Post. She barely glanced at it. “It involves transforming fire into living flame and immolating the glove.”
“And we’ve got the stuff needed for living flame?” Jenny inquired.
“Yes, I believe so.” Rupert turned back to his desk, looking over the materials laid out. Jenny leaned against the wall next to Mrs. Post, watching Rupert.
“Jenny, I don’t think you’re needed for this part of the investigation,” said Mrs. Post with steel in her voice. “It might be best for you if you left now.”
“Where Rupert goes, I go,” said Jenny matter-of-factly. “Not sure how you haven’t figured that one out yet, but—”
Mrs. Post moved forward, hitting Rupert hard over the head with a nearby wooden statue. Rupert stumbled, turning with a startled expression, and Mrs. Post hit him again. He collapsed.
“Rupert!” shrieked Jenny.
“Oh, I don’t think your loyalties extend to following him this far,” Mrs. Post said smoothly, turning to Jenny with the statue raised. “But perhaps—”
Mrs. Post tried to hit her with the statue, but Jenny had the element of surprise on her side. Grabbing the statue from Mrs. Post, she hit her hard across the face. As Mrs. Post stumbled, Jenny dropped the statue to grab her wrist. “I don’t know what the fuck your deal is,” she said furiously, “and frankly, I couldn’t care less.”
“How dare you raise your hand to me!” Mrs. Post struggled. “The Council will have your head for this!”
“I’m not affiliated with the Council,” said Jenny smoothly, twisting Mrs. Post’s wrist. “I don’t exactly have as many obligations to keep you alive, especially since you just tried to kill my boyfriend.”
Jenny wasn’t actually going to kill Mrs. Post, but she did take a lot of satisfaction in seeing the genuine fear in her eyes. “Ms. Calendar,” said Mrs. Post nervously. “Please be reasonable.”
“I’m sorry,” said Jenny, “you just concussed Rupert, and you’re telling me to be reasonable?”
“Mr. Giles speaks—very highly of you,” said Mrs. Post nervously. “He told me you were kind—”
“Oh, and that’s why you were expecting me to not fight back when you tried to kill my boyfriend?” Jenny twisted Mrs. Post’s wrist again. Mrs. Post made a small, pained sound that almost made Jenny falter; she remembered what it was like to be hurt and scared. But then again, Jenny had never hurt someone as good as Rupert.
You hurt Angel, said a quiet voice in the back of her head.
God, this so wasn’t the time to wallow in guilt.
Pushing away thoughts about Angel, Jenny kept a tight hold on Mrs. Post’s wrist, stepping over Rupert (her heart caught; she didn’t know how bad it was, and she couldn’t check just yet) to rummage in his desk with her free hand. Finding some rope, she forced Mrs. Post’s hands behind her back.
“The Council has enough power over Mr. Giles to terminate his relationship with you,” Mrs. Post was persisting. “One word from them and you’ll never see him again!”
“Do I have to gag you?” Jenny inquired, tying the knots tight and shoving Mrs. Post into the desk chair. She knelt down next to Rupert, pulling his head into her lap. Her hands fumbled for a pulse and found it, soft and steady. She kissed the top of his head, smoothing down his hair with a rush of dizzying relief. “You know, you’re lucky he’s not dead, or I really would have killed you,” she said without looking away from Rupert’s face.
Mrs. Post scoffed. “He’s hardly a model Watcher,” she said. “In my opinion, putting him out of commission would have been quite good for the Council in the long run.”
Jenny pressed her lips together, pulling off her leather jacket and placing it under Rupert’s head. She stood up, turning to Mrs. Post. “Okay,” she said. “I’m going to call the Council, then. If they’re sending assassins to take out Rupert, I want it known that I’ve taken the first one down.”
To Jenny’s surprise, the angry expression on Mrs. Post’s face gave way to something more frightened. “I don’t think that’s necessary,” she said nervously.
“I think it very much is,” said Jenny slowly, testing the waters.
“I—I doubt they’re even awake right now,” said Mrs. Post desperately. “Time difference and all that.”
Jenny frowned. “You’re a Council girl, aren’t you?” she said, kneeling down in front of Mrs. Post. “Why wouldn’t you want me to call them?”
“Oh, I really don’t mind, I just don’t think it’s—” began Mrs. Post.
“You really don’t mind,” Jenny repeated skeptically. “I just tied your hands behind your back. I’d think you’d be jumping at the chance of a rescue from your superiors.”
Mrs. Post looked away.
Jenny grinned. “Ooh,” she said. “Seems to me like you haven’t been completely truthful here. So what am I going to find out when I call the Council?”
“You—please don’t call the Council.” Mrs. Post looked up at Jenny, face pale. “They won’t take kindly to hearing of my latest excursion.”
“Yeah, well, you brought a wooden statue down on my guy’s head,” said Jenny brightly, her smile steely. “Payback’s a bitch, Gwen.” Turning neatly on her heel towards the desk, she found the Council’s number next to the phone.
Chapter 29: supervised by a civilian
“Hey, Mr. Travers, this is Jenny Calendar.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“You know, Giles’s girlfriend? The one who got tortured?” Jenny shot a big grin at Mrs. Post.
“Please,” said Mrs. Post desperately. “My life is at stake.”
“Sorry, hold on,” said Jenny to Travers, covering the receiver before turning to Mrs. Post. “Can you keep it down? I’m on the phone. I need to make this call quickly so I have time to call an ambulance for my boyfriend. I don’t generally like people that hurt my boyfriend.”
Mrs. Post seemed to finally understand the situation she’d gotten herself into. “Mr. Giles talked of being worried about you,” she said bitterly. “I was certain you would be easily apprehended—”
“See where superiority gets you?” Jenny turned away from Mrs. Post. “Sorry, Mr. Travers. Listen, I realize that this is very early in the morning, but I’ve just captured a lady who goes by the name of Gwendolyn Post.”
There was a stunned silence on the other end of the line. “Gwendolyn Post?” Travers repeated. “She’s a highly dangerous rogue Watcher—how on earth did you—”
“Oh, a highly dangerous rogue Watcher?” Jenny repeated smugly, grinning at Mrs. Post. “Wow. Tough stuff.”
“What is she doing in Sunnydale?” Travers demanded.
“Well, I’m not—” Jenny stopped, thinking. Mrs. Post had only hurt Rupert when he’d talked about destroying the Glove of Myhnegon. Mrs. Post had known one hell of a lot about the Glove of Myhnegon being in Sunnydale, actually—more than one would expect of your run-of-the-mill rogue Watcher. “She was making an effort to find and use the Glove of Myhnegon,” Jenny said confidently, and from the mixture of fury and terror on Mrs. Post’s face, she knew she’d hit the jackpot. “Thankfully, I took care of the situation before it escalated.”
Travers was quiet. Then he said, “Ms. Calendar, it appears the Council may have thoroughly underestimated your capabilities.”
Jenny blinked. “What?”
“It was a matter of great debate, letting the newest Slayer be supervised by a civilian.” Travers paused, then added a little reluctantly, “Letting the newest Slayer be supervised by the woman who apprehended Gwendolyn Post is another matter entirely.”
This was definitely not how Jenny had anticipated the conversation going. “So you’re saying—”
“We will have to check and see if it is indeed Mrs. Post you have with you,” said Travers crisply, “but in the event that it is she, there will be no evaluation necessary to determine your continued guidance of Miss Lehane, and legal measures will be taken to make sure your Slayer may continue to stay with you.”
Jenny felt a slow, brilliant smile spreading over her face. “Thanks,” she said.
“We shall send a group of Council members stationed nearby to collect Mrs. Post from Mr. Giles’s apartment before sundown tonight,” Travers continued as though she hadn’t spoken. Jenny was too happy to be annoyed by that. “Be ready and vigilant. Mrs. Post is a notoriously deceptive woman.”
“Didn’t need to tell me that,” Jenny muttered.
“Nothing,” said Jenny brightly. “Thanks for the update. Our Slayers will keep Mrs. Post under lock and key.”
“See that they do.” There was a click, and then Jenny was just listening to the dial tone, smiling at thin air.
“How dare you,” growled Mrs. Post. “You insolent—”
“Shut up,” said Jenny, and thought for a moment before dialing her home number.
Faith entered the library still half-expecting a practical joke—Jen’s call about Mrs. Post being completely evil had sounded more than a little bit far-fetched—but when she rounded the corner into Giles’s office, Mrs. Post was indeed tied up in a chair. Kneeling on the ground was Jen, supporting a half-conscious Giles and pressing an ice pack to the back of his head.
“Faith, thank heavens you’re here,” said Mrs. Post desperately. “Ms. Calendar has gone completely mad—”
“Try that bad acting on some other Slayer,” said Faith dismissively. Jen looked up, smiling tiredly at her, and Faith smiled back. “How’s Giles?”
“It’s a pretty bad concussion, but I’m doing what I can.” Jen placed the ice pack on the floor, running a gentle hand through Giles’s hair.
“Shouldn’t someone take care of the Post lady?” Faith nodded towards Mrs. Post. “Where should she go?”
Jen paused, thinking. “Take her to Rupert’s apartment. You drove my car here, right?”
“Was I not supposed to?” replied Faith, half defensive and half uncertain.
Jen gave Faith a look. “You can use my car any time as long as it comes back in one piece,” she answered. “I’m just asking because the key to Rupert’s apartment is on the same ring as my car keys. It’s the one with all the hearts—”
“It was an anniversary present.” Jen smiled a little, setting Rupert’s head on the makeshift pillow she’d fashioned out of old jackets, and stood up. “Just take her to Rupert’s old place, then stay there until the Council guys show up, okay? They’ll pick up Mrs. Post, and then you can come hang out with Rupert and me at the hospital. Okay?”
“Okay.” Faith stepped forward and hugged Jen quickly—she’d done it once today, anyway. Maybe she could turn hugs into a regular thing without Jen ever noticing.
Jen hugged her back. “Stay safe.”
“I’m the Vampire Slayer,” Faith scoffed playfully, tossing her hair over one shoulder.
“Yeah, but that’s not all you are,” said Jen, a gentle reminder in her voice. “Stay safe.”
Faith hesitated. “I will,” she said finally, pulling Mrs. Post roughly to her feet.
“Listen to me, Faith,” Mrs. Post persisted. “The path you’re on will only lead you to ruin. You need control, you need instruction, you need—”
“I need you to shut up,” said Faith. “Last thing I need is Snyder hearing about me dragging some tied-up lady through the school parking lot.”
“Use the back door,” Jen suggested helpfully as she reached for the phone. Faith threw a smile over her shoulder as she left.
“What kind of Slayer are you?” Mrs. Post demanded, struggling furiously against Faith. “This sort of behavior is not condoned by the Council! You have a total lack of respect for authority, you’re—you’re manhandling a Council member without hesitation—no wonder the Council puts so much store in Buffy and Mr. Giles, if you’re the only other option.”
A long time ago, those kind of words would be enough for Faith to backhand Mrs. Post as hard as she could. But she had places to be today, and she didn’t have time to get all caught up in proving she wasn’t what everyone thought she was. Or—maybe she didn’t need to prove anything, now that there was someone in her life who thought she was a seventeen-year-old girl instead of a lost cause or the other Slayer. “I’m gonna go get some duct tape if you don’t shut up,” she warned Mrs. Post cheerfully.
“Struck a nerve, have I?” Mrs. Post tossed her hair, eyes glittering.
“Nah.” Faith shrugged. “Just kinda on a time crunch.”
“I was told about you,” Mrs. Post continued with determination. “The unstable Slayer. You know, the Council files I’ve read about you haven’t exactly been glowing reviews.”
“Wow,” said Faith, opening the back door to the parking lot. “That means so much from the lady who tried to kill my—” She faltered. “Jen,” she finished, her voice a little softer.
Mrs. Post frowned a little thoughtfully, then cocked her head with a small, almost triumphant smile. “Jen,” she repeated. “Is that what she has you call her? An effort to make herself more approachable, I suppose.”
Faith felt a surge of involuntary anger and pressed her lips together.
“I almost had her,” Mrs. Post continued. “She was sobbing for her lover. Really, it was only one of her grabbing hands that tripped me—”
Faith let go of Mrs. Post. Mrs. Post, not noticing, took a step forward and tripped over Faith’s outstretched foot, falling down hard on the parking lot concrete.
“Word of advice,” said Faith. “Don’t lie about Jen.”
“So I bought out, like, the entire vending machine,” Jenny informed Rupert, dumping the assorted snacks down on the bed in front of them. “Get your snacking in now, because the kids are coming to check up on you and Xander’s probably going to eat everything available to him.”
“Mm.” Rupert took Jenny’s hand. “Not really feeling like eating right now.”
“Napping’s good,” Jenny said easily.
“Not that either.” Rupert kissed her, soft and deliciously slow, and pulled back to say, “My girlfriend impressed the Watchers’ Council.”
“It wasn’t all that impressive,” said Jenny lightly.
“I’m fairly certain that it’s been nearly a century since a Slayer’s been placed under the care of a civilian,” Rupert informed Jenny, “and never a civilian in a committed romantic relationship with another Watcher.”
“Is that the only reason you keep me around?” Jenny teased. “Am I just your trophy girlfriend to show the Council how cool you are?”
“Hardly.” Rupert kissed Jenny again, puling her into his lap.
Jenny kissed him back, then pulled carefully away. “Rupert, are you sure you’re well enough to handle this?” she murmured a little worriedly, running a gentle hand over the bandage on the back of Rupert’s head.
“Jenny, I’d rather die kissing you than die by the hand of some demon,” Rupert replied quite seriously.
“Yeah, well, I’m trying to prolong your death for as long as possible, so how about we cut it out with the morbid jokes?” Jenny said, stress making her tone sharper than she intended.
Rupert winced. “I’m sorry.”
“The next time someone hurts you in front of me,” said Jenny, her voice catching, “I’m not going to be as nice as I was to Mrs. Post.”
Rupert kissed her, this one urgent and demanding, as though trying to remind her through sheer forcefulness that he really was okay. It was a damn good kiss, and he did seem to be doing relatively well, so Jenny decided to put her concerns to the side for a little bit, because the nurses hadn’t expressly forbidden smooching sessions in the hospital room, and if there was a real health concern they would have specified—
“Oh my god they’re making out,” came Cordelia’s voice.
“Wow.” Xander sounded impressed. “Giles has game. Concussed and feeling up Ms. Calendar?”
Jenny pulled away very slowly and gave the kids at the door a very irritated look. “We’re not asking for commentary, thanks,” she said.
“Hey, my parents at least put a sock on the door,” said Xander, throwing up his hands. “Who’s expecting to walk in on their teachers getting it on in a hospital bed?”
“Are you guys okay?” asked Buffy tentatively. Uncharacteristically, she was hovering at the back of the group instead of the front.
Climbing off of Rupert with as much dignity as one could in that situation, Jenny turned to face Buffy. “We’re fine,” she said gently.
“I wanted to say—” Buffy began, an apology in her eyes.
Jenny stepped forward and stuck her hand out. “We’re fine,” she said again. “I know more than anyone that situations like this aren’t always as cut-and-dry as you’d think.”
Buffy looked honestly stunned. Without a word, she stepped into the room and took Jenny’s hand, smiling hesitantly. “Yeah,” she said. “They’re not.”
“To be clear,” said Xander loudly from the back, “the rest of us aren’t exactly over the fact that Angel’s back.”
“Xander,” said Jenny reprovingly, dropping Buffy’s hand to cross her arms, “Buffy’s had a stressful night, and she could do with at least a little support from the people that care about her. Okay?”
“Okay,” said Willow in a small voice.
Jenny looked up, surprised. Willow gave her a barely-there smile.
“Cool!” Xander pushed forward, hurrying to the bed and picking up half the snacks. “All right, Ms. Calendar, you got a Chocolate Hurricane! I haven’t had one of these since—”
“That incident with the clown a couple years ago,” Buffy finished with a teasing smirk. “We’ve heard.” She walked over to the bed, sitting on the edge, and sat hesitantly down next to Rupert.
Jenny threw an encouraging smile over her shoulder at Rupert before stepping over to Xander and Cordelia. Buffy and Rupert could probably do with some privacy.
Chapter 30: kind of a mom
“Hey,” said Buffy, a knot in her chest. Giles looked pale and tired, and he didn’t seem to want to meet her eyes. “How’re you feeling?”
“I’ve had worse,” said Giles simply, managing a weak smile. “This is all part of the job, I suppose.”
“Yeah.” Buffy scooted a little closer to Giles. “Look—I never got the chance to tell you that I’m sorry.”
Giles’s smile faded, his eyes drifting to a point slightly over Buffy’s shoulder. “Buffy,” he said quietly, “honestly, it isn’t that you didn’t tell us. It’s that by not telling us, it seems very much as though you don’t understand the impact Angelus had on all of us.”
Buffy followed Giles’s gaze. Ms. Calendar was unwrapping a candy bar for Xander, fumbling a little with the wrapper. She thought about how fast a typist Ms. Calendar had been last year, compared that to the tiny, unnatural bends in Ms. Calendar’s fingers now. “I didn’t want to scare you guys,” she said.
Giles really did look at her then. “I’m not sure if that’s entirely the truth,” he said heavily. “It was much more frightening to us when we didn’t know if Angel was good or evil—and you say he’s good, but we still have no real way of knowing.”
Buffy felt a flare of defensive anger that she had to suppress. “Ms. Calendar’s spell worked,” she said, keeping her voice low. “I’m positive of it. He’s weak, but—I’ve been taking care of him.”
“For how long?”
Giles sat up a little more. “For how long?” he repeated. “We told you the day after Homecoming that we had reason to believe Angelus was back. Did you know then?”
Buffy bit her lip. “Yeah, I—Giles, I just didn’t want you both more upset than you had to be.”
Giles nodded. “I see,” he said, in a way that made Buffy feel like he’d figured out more than she wanted him to. “Jenny and I talked before the meeting in the library, and she was of the mind that your reasons for not telling us had to do with your not wanting to hear objections to being romantically involved with Angel again.”
Buffy looked over at Ms. Calendar again. “Yeah?” she said, trying not to feel resentful. Making snap judgments was never a good decision in Buffy-land.
“She said she didn’t think you were being deliberately disrespectful,” Giles added. “She thinks quite highly of you.”
“Oh.” Somehow that was worse than Ms. Calendar hating Buffy’s guts.
Giles was quiet for a moment, then he said, “It hurts me very much to think that you didn’t consider telling Jenny.”
Somehow that was the worst thing Giles could have said, because it was completely true.
Buffy had been feeling guilty about not telling Willow and Xander and Giles, sure, but Ms. Calendar’s issues with Angel hadn’t once been on the agenda for her. Ms. Calendar had only ever been in Buffy’s peripheral vision last year, but something had definitively shifted over the summer. It was like Ms. Calendar was a Scooby in her own right, not just because of who she happened to be dating, and Buffy hadn’t been around while that change was taking place.
“I’m sorry,” she said, and this time she really did mean it. Like, yeah, she’d meant it before, but she’d been more focused on fixing the damage than actually feeling guilty. She wouldn’t change not telling them; it had been hard enough trying to figure out how to act around Angel on her own, let alone with her friends hanging judgingly over her shoulder. But Ms. Calendar was kind, and Buffy got the sense that she might have had some kind of an ally if she’d at least gone and talked to her.
“Oh, hey,” Cordelia was saying to a newly arrived Faith. “There are still some snacks over there, if you—”
“Xander took them all,” said Ms. Calendar ruefully, giving Faith a small grin. “I can go get some more.”
“I didn’t take them all,” huffed Xander.
Buffy looked hesitantly up at Giles. He smiled, and it looked a little more real this time.
“So they picked up Mrs. Post?” Jenny asked Faith, taking her shoes off and settling down on the hospital bed next to Rupert.
“Oh, it was great,” said Faith with a big grin. “God, I wish you’d been there. She started screaming bloody murder about how the Council was foolish and she’d come back more powerful than all of them combined and then one of them put a bag over her head. And then I heard another one of them saying ‘we’ll report back to Travers that the Slayer will remain with Ms. Calendar on a permanent basis’ and that’s like one of the best pre-birthday presents a girl could have, y’know? And I’m thinking—”
“Did you, like, have a bunch of candy?” Jenny teased gently.
“Just a bunch of adrenaline,” said Faith a little breathlessly, sitting down next to Jenny on the bed. “You okay, Giles?”
“Hmm,” said Rupert sleepily, cuddling into Jenny’s side.
“He’s fine,” said Jenny with a relieved smile, running a hand gently through Rupert’s hair. “He’s sleeping it off. Listen, Faith, you’re welcome to stay with us, but if you want to go home—”
“Nah,” said Faith, lying back on the bed. “I’m not feeling like driving your car home late at night. Besides, how’re you guys gonna get to school tomorrow if I took your car home?”
Jenny smiled slightly. “Okay,” she said. “Shoes off if you’re staying, though.” Faith kicked off her boots. One hit the wall and left a noticeable mark. “If anyone asks, that was there when we got here,” Jenny added immediately.
“Sure thing,” Faith agreed. She glanced furtively up at Jenny, then rested her head on Jenny’s shoulder, moving a little closer on the bed. For Faith, that was practically snuggly.
Jenny smiled. “Night,” she said.
Faith was looking at the ceiling. There was a small, soft smile on her face without a hint of her usual guardedness. “Night,” she said, closing her eyes.
Faith had a few nightmares, but nothing awful enough to wake her up, which she figured was pretty good in the grand scheme of things. What did wake her up was Jen very gently shaking her and saying something about how they had to be out of the hospital in time to get to school.
“That sucks,” Faith mumbled, trying to find a blanket to pull over her head. “How much sleep did I get?”
“Six hours,” said Jen, “which isn’t ideal, but you can get some sleep this weekend. Come on. You have that math quiz, don’t you?”
“You know how much I miss not trying in school?” Faith sat up, stretching. “A lot. I miss it a—”
“I got you a cinnamon roll and some hot chocolate,” said Jen with a small smile, handing a paper cup and a pastry bag to Faith.
“Thanks,” said Faith, somewhat taken aback. She took a sip of the hot chocolate. It was still toasty warm, but not hot enough to burn her tongue. “Where’s Giles?”
Jen gestured behind Faith. Turning, Faith saw Giles asleep on the other side of the bed. “He’s staying another day,” said Jen a little smugly. “Took a little fighting on my part, but I got him to go back to sleep.”
“Wow, I must have been out cold if I missed you guys fighting,” said Faith, surprised.
“Oh, it was whisper-fighting,” Jen replied with amusement. “And then he fell asleep in the middle of it anyway, which pretty much proved my point.”
Faith grinned. “Nice.”
“Thanks,” said Jen proudly. “I’m probably going to stay with him, but I wanted to make sure you get to school on time first.”
“How come I don’t get to stay with Giles too?” Faith objected.
“Because school is important and I’m really looking forward to seeing you graduate,” replied Jen without missing a beat. “The robes they have picked out are kind of awful, but I bet you could still make maroon work.” She sat down next to Faith. “Plus, I’m pretty sure Buffy’d miss you if you stayed back from school today.”
Faith grinned. “Shut up,” she said, looking down.
“C’mon.” Jen nudged her gently. “I left my coffee in the car and I don’t want it to get cold.”
“I get to pick what’s on the radio,” Faith informed Jen, reluctantly pulling herself up from the hospital bed.
“Always,” Jen agreed easily.
Faith found her boots by the side of the wall, and while she was putting one on, she happened to look up at Jen. Giles was stirring, and Jen was saying something softly to him, tucking the blankets securely around him.
“You’re kind of a mom,” said Faith. It wasn’t the same derogatory way she’d said it that first night she’d known Jen. Not even close.
Jen smiled. “Well, not in this scenario,” she said. “Right now I’m the doting wife.”
“Did we get married?” said Giles drowsily. “I feel like I might have missed that bit.”
“It’s a joke, honey, get some sleep while I drop Faith off at school.” Jen kissed Giles’s forehead, letting her hand rest on his for a moment before crossing the room to Faith. “Did you get any homework done last night?”
Faith winced. She’d forgotten about that.
“Okay.” Jen frowned. “Yeah. I really didn’t think this one through. Obviously you were pretty caught up with Council stuff yesterday, and you definitely didn’t have time to study for that quiz, so—”
“I’m staying here?” said Faith eagerly.
Jen smiled reluctantly. “You’re doing homework here,” she said.
Faith looked around the sunny hospital room and grinned. “I’ll survive,” she said easily.
“You stay here,” Jen instructed her. “I’m going to get my coffee and your backpack, and then I’m going to call the school and let them know you’re not coming in, and then I probably need to find a computer and email Willow to let her know why I’m not here, so just—keep Rupert company, okay?”
“Sure thing,” Faith agreed, kicking off her boot again. It hit the bedside table with a crash.
“They’re coming!” shouted Giles, sitting straight up. Then, “Oh—what? Oh.”
“Hey, honey, a little less of the ominous predictions and a little more napping, okay?” Jenny walked back over to the bed, gently but firmly pushing Giles back down into the pillows. “You need your rest.” She smiled a little wryly at Faith. “We’re a pretty jumpy bunch, huh?”
Faith snickered, getting up off the floor. “Kinda, yeah.”
Willow got an email from Ms. Calendar in the middle of computer science class (which, incidentally, Ms. Calendar was missing from) and decided not to open it, because it was probably some explanation as to why Ms. Calendar couldn’t be there (again) and it probably had something to do with Faith (again) and it was really starting to get on Willow’s nerves.
Her resolve to ignore Ms. Calendar’s correspondence lasted about thirty seconds before she accidentally-on-purpose clicked on it when her mouse slipped. Just a little.
I’m probably not going to make it to class today. Sorry for the late notice—I’d have told you guys last night, but I was expecting Rupert to have already bounced back by tomorrow. He’s generally pretty good at pretending to recover and then refusing to listen to me when I say another day of bed rest would be good for him, so I figured that’d be the case this time around, but it looks like all that overexerting himself finally caught up to him. Anyway, he’s staying in the hospital today and Faith and I are staying with him—
Willow stopped reading and clicked the email shut.
Chapter 31: giving kids space
“Willow!” Jenny had to walk a little faster to match Willow’s pace. “I wasn’t sure if—I mean, you didn’t stop by the hospital to check in.”
“I figured Faith was taking care of that,” said Willow awkwardly, glancing sideways at Ms. Calendar as she walked. “You mentioned in your email that she was staying with you.”
“Well, yeah, but there’s still something I wanted to talk to you about.” Jenny stopped walking, waiting for Willow to stop as well.
Reluctantly, Willow turned, meeting Jenny’s eyes hesitantly. “What’s up?”
Jenny breathed out. “I am so sorry that I’ve been neglecting our magic lessons,” she said with gentle vehemence. “I really want to make it up to you. Any way I can.”
Willow crossed her arms, looking down at the floor. “Sure,” she said tiredly.
“Will it help if I set a date?” Jenny persisted.
“Sure.” Willow shrugged, still looking quiet and sad. “Whenever is fine.”
Jenny sighed. “I really am sorry.”
“I know.” Willow still didn’t look up.
“How about tomorrow?” Jenny suggested. “We can meet in the library, and maybe you can show me all the magic you’ve been practicing. How’s that?”
Willow’s head snapped up, eyes wide. “Practicing?” she repeated, her voice a squeak.
Jenny blinked. “Of course, it’s okay if you haven’t been practicing,” she added hastily. “I know you’ve been pretty distracted—”
“No, I-I’ve been practicing!” said Willow in a high, anxious voice. “I’ve been practicing so much—you’ll be amazed at the spells I can do now!”
Jenny smiled, feeling a small, warm sense of relief. She didn’t like seeing Willow anxious, but anxious was better than detached and miserable. Jenny could handle anxious. “Okay,” she agreed gamely. “We’ll meet tomorrow and I’ll see if I can teach you something new, okay?”
Willow gave Jenny a weak half-smile. “Okay,” she said nervously.
“Hey,” said Faith, sauntering up to them both. “Giles sent me to get Jen. You good with that, Red?”
Willow’s half-smile vanished. Without a word, she hurried into the nearest classroom, shutting the door behind her.
“She okay?” Faith asked, frowning.
“I’m working on it,” said Jenny truthfully. “How are you?”
“Meh,” said Faith, falling into step with Jenny as they headed towards the library. “My birthday’s soon, so that’s kinda cool. We won’t have to worry about crazy Council evaluators almost killing your boyfriend while they’re trying to take me away.”
Jenny smirked. “The Council swears there was a memo about Mrs. Post.”
“What I can’t believe is that Giles didn’t pick up on her being evil until she hit him with that big statue,” Faith quipped, holding the library door for Jenny. “I knew the minute she was all ‘Gwendolyn Post, Mrs.’”
Jenny stepped through the library doors and was just about to make another comment on Mrs. Post when Rupert picked her up, hugging her tightly and swinging her around. “Rupert!” she laughed, then, “Okay, okay, put me down, the nurse said no overdoing it.”
“We’re going away,” said Rupert excitedly, gently letting Jenny down enough so that her feet touched the ground.
“What?” Jenny had to smile, he looked so delighted.
“It’s sort of a-a supernatural retreat thing tomorrow night,” Rupert explained happily, “and it’s at the site of some fascinating druidic rituals, and I’ve been bothering the people in charge about letting you come for months—”
“Oh!” Jenny beamed. “This is that thing you were talking about back in September!”
“What’s going on?” inquired Faith with interest.
Jenny turned, draping her arms around Rupert’s shoulders. “There’s a supernatural retreat going on for a few days,” she said brightly, “and it looks like Rupert and I are off to have our own little romantic getaway.”
“Well.” Rupert hesitated. “There are going to be some other people—”
“Let me have my moment.” Jenny kissed Rupert on the cheek, then faltered. “Shit. I promised Willow I’d meet her in the library tomorrow. When are we leaving?”
“Oh—um—” Rupert faltered. “I-initially I was thinking we would leave after school, but I don’t see the harm in us heading out a bit later if you’d like to catch up with Willow.”
“Wait.” Faith looked a little concerned. “Not that I’m not happy you guys are getting some time to be with each other, but are you sure this is the right time to go off on a retreat?”
“Technically, the research being conducted at the retreat could be useful in future Hellmouth-related incidents,” Rupert replied easily, “so this is really just a business trip.”
“With me,” Jenny added. “A business trip with me.”
Faith rolled her eyes, smiling. “Fine. You two crazy kids have your honeymoon. I’m pretty sure we can hold down the fort for a few days.”
Willow’s mom was kind of big on giving kids space. When pressed, she’d always said that she liked to think her daughter was independent enough to no longer need maternal care and affection. That wouldn’t have been a problem if Willow hadn’t been eight years old when her mom had started saying things like that, or if anyone had ever thought to call Willow’s mom out on saying things like that. But everyone always seemed to look at Willow and think sweet, well-adjusted, doesn’t need as much attention. The kind of girl who’d do fine on her own.
Willow wasn’t doing fine on her own. But Ms. Calendar seemed pretty busy lately, what with the whole Troubled-Slayer thing Faith had going for her. That was what always seemed to make all the adults get fussy and worried—the sullen, hard-to-reach kids. Not Willow.
Except…her mom had always paid attention to Willow’s high grades and glowing teachers’ notes. Maybe if Willow pulled off some kind of extra impressive, extra advanced spell and did it for Ms. Calendar tomorrow, Ms. Calendar would think something like wow, Willow’s clearly a gifted student who needs attention and coaching! Or not exactly that, but maybe something close. Something that would make Ms. Calendar do a double-take and decide that maybe Willow needed some more attention.
Satchel slung over one shoulder, Willow opened the door of the Magic Box, smiling shyly as Ms. Heather hurried up to her.
“Blessed be, Willow!” said Ms. Heather warmly. “It’s been quite a while since you and Ms. Calendar have been by. Is she here too?”
Willow’s smile slipped. “Oh. No. Just me.”
“Pass along my well wishes, then,” said Ms. Heather.
Willow bit her lip, trying not to think about Ms. Calendar. “I-I was actually wondering if you could help me out a little.”
Ms. Heather frowned. “What with?”
“Um, I’m trying to—find some kind of powerful spell,” hedged Willow. “You know. For research. Ms. Calendar and I are getting together tomorrow to do some magic, and I wanted to have something to, uh, research with her.”
“Hmm.” Ms. Heather tapped her chin. “Perhaps a love spell should do the trick? That’s certainly powerful magic.”
“Oh, no.” Willow laughed nervously. “Been there, done that, and let me tell you, love spells aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.”
Ms. Heather smiled and stepped neatly behind the cash register, rummaging under the shelves. “Here,” she said. “I’m sure there’s something in my old grimoire that you and Ms. Calendar can go over together.”
“Thanks!” Willow took the grimoire, smiling gratefully. “Should I—I mean, how much—”
Ms. Heather waved a hand. “Just bring it back when you’re done.”
“Oh my gosh, thank you so much!” Willow felt a rush of warmth. Hugging the grimoire, she added, “Have a nice day, Ms. Heather!”
“You as well.” Ms. Heather inclined her head, giving Willow a small smile as she left with the grimoire.
Behind the bookshelf, Spike smiled slowly.
So, he thought. One of the Slayer’s annoying little friends might prove useful after all.
“Rupert, this retreat isn’t even a week long,” said Jenny disbelievingly, looking at the many carefully packed bags on their bed. Picking up a winter jacket, she added, “You do know that this is southern California, right?”
“Never hurts to be prepared,” Rupert replied seriously, throwing a broadsword onto the bed.
“Whoa. No.” Jenny picked up the broadsword, placing it carefully down on the dresser. “It’s a supernatural mentor retreat, not a battle.”
“Jenny, if we are jumped by a—a winged bear soldier—”
“Okay, now you’re just making things up.”
“—we are going to want weapons readily available.” Rupert strode over to the dresser, picking up the broadsword and placing it purposefully down on the bed.
Jenny smiled, reluctantly amused. “I hope you know that I’m not helping you carry any of this.”
Rupert looked up with a small grin. “Of course. And I’m not helping you carry the dozens of rocks you decide you want to bring home.”
“Fair’s fair.” Jenny turned from the dresser. “Okay. I gotta swing by the library to do the whole magic thing with Willow, but I’ll try and be back in time to grab a bite before we leave.”
“I’m making mini pizzas,” said Rupert cheerfully. “Faith always seems quite open to my culinary experiments. It’s lovely.”
“She’s a cool kid.” Jenny stepped forward, giving Rupert a long, tender kiss. “Mmm. God, it’s going to be nice to get some alone time with you.”
“Academic retreat time,” Rupert corrected, but he looked happier than Jenny had seen him in a long while.
Jenny smiled back and left the bedroom, giving Faith (who was sprawled on the living room floor working on homework) a quick grin on her way out of the house. Unlocking her car, she tried to remember where she’d left off in her lessons with Willow.
“Okay,” she murmured, opening the car door and climbing in. “We did transformation spells—sugar into salt. We did that. We did…fuck, what else did we do?” She started up the car, feeling more than a little guilty; her inability to remember their magic lessons said a lot about how long it had been since she’d spent time with Willow.
But that was okay. It wasn’t okay now, but it would be when Jenny made up for doing an impressive vanishing act.
“Vanishing!” said Jenny triumphantly, accidentally turning the radio on in her exuberance. Hastily, she turned it off again, focusing instead on her drive to the school.
Willow was waiting in the parking lot, looking more than a little bit tense. “It’s kinda late,” she said nervously. “I forgot about Daylight Savings Time. I think maybe we should go somewhere else.”
“Yeah, I second that.” Jenny glanced around. “You wanna get in my car and head over to my place? We can get dinner with Faith, and then—”
“Oh—no, actually, the library’s okay!” Willow said in an unusually high-pitched voice. “We can go to the library! How about we go to the library?”
“Willow,” said Jenny carefully, “is there something you want to talk to me about?”
“Nope!” Willow gave her a very badly feigned smile, crossing her arms in front of her chest and rocking on the balls of her feet. “Let’s just go inside, Ms. Calendar. The library has the best books, and—not to dis Giles, but most of his books are in boxes right now, so I don’t know how much use—”
Abruptly, Jenny felt someone grab her wrist from behind, twisting it hard, and then she was tossed roughly to the ground. She heard Willow’s scream. “Willow!” she shouted, pulling herself awkwardly up to a standing position. She reeled.
“Oh, for—” Spike gave Jenny an irritated (and somewhat inebriated) look, Willow held in front of him like a shield. “How the hell are you not dead? You were all—tortured last I saw you.”
“Shut up and let go of Willow,” said Jenny sharply.
“I’m sorry, ‘m I supposed to listen to you?” Spike vamped out. Willow uttered a terrified whimper.
Jenny felt a rush of panic and anger. What she did next wasn’t the smartest thing she’d ever done, but it was the only thing she could think to do. Running forward, she tackled Spike and Willow, knocking them to the ground.
In his surprise, Spike let go of Willow, just enough for Jenny to pull her out of his grasp. She staggered to her feet, holding Willow very tightly to her. “You’re okay you’re okay you’re okay,” she whispered, heart pounding as she stroked a shaking Willow’s hair.
“Not quite,” said Spike, and lunged.
Chapter 32: incredibly resilient
Giles was humming happily as he washed the dishes for dinner, and it was very clearly because of the retreat thing. It was weirdly sweet, Faith thought, if a little annoying, and she watched him for a while before going back to the stupid history worksheet. “My history teacher put fuckin’ cartoon animals on this thing,” she said with some annoyance. “What, are we in kindergarten?”
“Hmm. Language,” said Giles a little distantly, then, “I’ve always wanted to go camping with Jenny.”
This made Faith smile in that reluctant way she was starting to feel more and more accustomed to. There was still that small voice in the back of her head saying that this wasn’t permanent, but fuck it, she’d be happy with it while it was. “She back yet?” she inquired.
Giles shrugged. “At times, her lessons with Willow take a while,” he replied easily. “And we can afford to be a bit late to the retreat.”
Faith pushed down her nervous feeling. Jen could take care of herself.
“A spell,” Spike was saying to Ms. Calendar. “For me. You’re gonna do a spell for me.” He cast a glance at a shaking Willow. “Her too, if she can handle it.”
Willow wasn’t afraid. She wasn’t afraid. She wasn’t afraid. She reached out, grabbing at Ms. Calendar’s hand for some semblance of comfort. “Um, what kind of a spell?” she said in a small voice.
“A love spell!” shouted Spike. Willow flinched. Ms. Calendar squeezed her hand, hard, almost a promise. “Are you brain dead?” He walked towards the dresser, grabbing a bottle. “I’m gonna get what’s mine,” he muttered. “What’s mine. Teach her to walk out on me.”
Gripping Ms. Calendar’s hand, Willow’s eyes flitted involuntarily to Spike.
“What are you looking at?” Spike demanded.
Willow looked hastily away. “Nothing,” she said, voice trembling.
“You can do it, right?” Spike persisted, his eyes only on her. “You can make Dru love me again? Make her crawl?”
“I-I can try,” Willow stammered.
A terrifying expression of fury crossed over Spike’s face. He moved forward, pulling Willow up and away from Ms. Calendar to slam her hard against the bedpost. His hands were on her neck. “What are you talking about, trying?” he shouted. “You’ll do it!”
“Get the fuck away from her!” shouted Ms. Calendar in a tone of voice that was way scarier than Spike.
“Yes, I’ll do it,” half-sobbed Willow.
Spike let go of Willow, smashing his bottle against the opposite bedpost. Ms. Calendar all but ran forward, trying to reach Willow first. But then Spike was grabbing Willow again, thrusting the jagged end of the bottle up to her face and roaring, “You lie to me, and I’ll shove this through your face! You want that?”
“No,” Willow whimpered.
“Don’t you dare, don’t you touch her,” Ms. Calendar was shouting, hitting at Spike. He barely seemed to notice.
“Right through to your brain!” Spike yelled, shaking her.
“No, please, no,” Willow begged, and was horrified to realize that she was crying in front of Ms. Calendar.
Spike let go of her again, and this time Ms. Calendar pulled Willow in, holding her very tightly and murmuring incomprehensible words in a soft, soothing tone. Willow really wished that this kind of closeness was under different circumstances; sure, she’d missed Ms. Calendar lots, but she definitely didn’t want to die in this broken-down old factory.
“…but she didn’t—are you listening to me?” Spike shouted.
“Blah blah girlfriend troubles blah blah fragile masculinity blah,” said Ms. Calendar acidly. “Touch Willow again and you’re going to wish Angelus had killed you when you were stuck in that wheelchair.”
“Don’t make him angry!” Willow hissed, trying to stop shaking.
Spike stepped forward, eyes glinting. Then, unexpectedly, he burst into tears. “I’m so unhappy,” he sobbed.
“Oh my god, you are not serious,” muttered Ms. Calendar. Gently, she let go of Willow, pushing on her shoulders until Willow sat down on the bed. Walking over to Spike, she said carefully, “I really don’t think a love spell is the way to go here, Spike.”
“Yeah?” Spike gave her a reproachful, teary glare. “No one asked you, though, did they? You’ll do that spell for me or I kill your little witch over there.”
For the first time since they’d been taken to the factory, Willow saw Ms. Calendar falter. “Okay,” she said, her voice softer, more careful. “Then I’ll do that spell for you.”
Spike nodded slowly. “Damn right you will,” he said with drunken conviction, stepping forward and lifting a lock of hair off Ms. Calendar’s shoulder. Ms. Calendar flinched, but didn’t move, her expression careful and calculating.
Lifting his head, game face on, Spike said, “I haven’t had a woman in weeks.”
“And you won’t be having one now if you want that spell of yours done,” Ms. Calendar replied coolly, side-stepping Spike and moving towards the box of supplies to rifle through it.
“Get started, then,” Spike growled.
Ms. Calendar looked up and gave Willow an amused little smile, glancing over at Spike as though he was some kind of sad puppy trying to get out of a chair. “He’s not going to hurt us,” she said very quietly. “I’ve seen evil. This is just sad-post-breakup-guy, only with a little bit more fang and bloodthirst.”
“Are you sure?” Willow murmured.
Ms. Calendar’s smile stayed on her face, but it seemed a little strained. “Would I lie to you?” She looked up at Spike. “This isn’t going to be enough,” she said, this time loud enough for him to hear.
“What?” Spike stepped forward, moving to stand next to Ms. Calendar.
“Well, generally I can’t do a love spell without all the ingredients,” replied Ms. Calendar calmly. “Not to mention that Willow’s spellbook is still in the library.”
Spike nodded slowly. “Write me a list of ingredients,” he said finally, rummaging in his pocket and shoving a pen and paper at Ms. Calendar. “I’ll get the things, but if you’re lying—” He turned, coat flaring out, and strode over to the other side of the room, glaring at them both from a corner.
Ms. Calendar knelt down on the bed, scooting forward until she was next to Willow. “You okay?” she said softly.
Willow shook her head.
“We’ll be okay,” said Ms. Calendar, picking up the pen and beginning to write. “We’ve got a pretty kickass team on our side.”
Willow settled herself into the bed, lying down next to Ms. Calendar, and she felt Ms. Calendar’s hand absently card through her hair. She closed her eyes, trying to pretend there wasn’t a drunk, angry vampire in the corner. “Should I help with the love spell?” she asked tentatively.
Ms. Calendar shook her head. “I’ll be okay on my own, Willow,” she said. “You just—relax.” At Willow’s doubtful look, she laughed ruefully. “Yeah. Okay. I see the irony in that.”
Spike stormed over, wordlessly holding out his hand. Ms. Calendar neatly folded the list, handing it to him. “Don’t try to escape,” he informed them both. “Even if I don’t get you, chances are something else will.” He didn’t look too displeased by this concept.
“We’ll hang here,” Ms. Calendar replied, lying back in the bed.
“Don’t get too comfortable,” said Spike darkly. “Still haven’t decided what to do with the littler witch when you’re done with the spell.”
Willow felt a rush of cold fear at this, because it wasn’t like Giles or Buffy or anyone would think to look in whatever this place was. Not for a while, at least, and who knew how much time they had?
“Gotcha,” said Ms. Calendar, outwardly unfazed, but Willow noticed that her hands were trembling very slightly.
Giles had stopped the happy humming and started pacing. Behind him, he heard the sound of Faith snapping her pencil in half. “When are we going to look for Jen?” she asked him loudly.
“I don’t—” Giles exhaled, glancing up at the clock. It had been two hours since Jenny left, and there hadn’t been a single call. It was making him anxious and panicky, but he knew that he didn’t want Faith to worry. “Perhaps she and Willow are, are making up for lost time—”
Faith gave Giles a pointed look. “It’s Jen,” she said. “She knows you worry. She’d call.”
Giles leaned heavily against the counter, looking down at his shoes, and didn’t say anything. He couldn’t.
“We gotta go,” Faith persisted. “Check the school, at least—”
And that was when the phone rang, loud and shrill. Giles made a dive for it, grabbing the receiver and nearly toppling to the floor. “Jenny?” he demanded breathlessly.
“No,” said Buffy heavily.
For one terrible, awful moment, Giles thought—
“Spike’s got Willow and Ms. Calendar locked up somewhere,” said Buffy.
Giles felt a confusing mixture of feelings. Not dead, then, he thought, but the Watcher in him reminded him not definitively dead, and certainly not unhurt. “Do you know where that is?” he managed.
“What’s going on?” Faith demanded, coming up behind Giles in an effort to listen in. Giles waved her off as best he could.
“We’re on it,” Buffy replied, and Giles knew her well enough to hear the thread of genuine worry in her voice, buried under authority and determination. “Spike wants them to perform a love spell for him, and he’s looking for the tools to get that done.”
“So Jenny’s alive, still,” said Giles. This didn’t comfort him at all. The last time Jenny had been taken by a vampire—
“I think so,” said Buffy, her voice softening. “Listen— Angel and I are going to help Spike find his ingredients. We’ll try and keep him away from wherever the place is for as long as possible, so you and Faith can go looking for her. Cordelia, Xander, and Oz are all on it too.” She hesitated, then, “I’m sorry you and Ms. Calendar can’t go camping.”
The excitement of vacationing with Jenny seemed distant, now. “Yes,” said Giles vaguely, and hung up.
“Tell me what happened,” Faith snapped, but Giles thought he saw fear in her eyes.
“Jenny and Willow were just kidnapped by Spike,” he informed her weakly. “Not exactly what one would call a formidable vampire, but—”
Faith looked at Giles, grabbed her jacket from where it was hanging on a kitchen chair, and shoved past him.
Giles reeled. He hadn’t expected this immediate of a response; he hadn’t actually realized how deep Faith’s affection for Jenny ran. Quietly, he followed Faith to where the door of her room stood ajar, moving to stand hesitantly by the doorway.
Faith was throwing weapons helter-skelter into a beat-up old bag, tucking a stake into the sleeve of her leather jacket as she muttered. Giles could hear the suppressed sob in her voice. “Fucking vampires always taking my Watchers, swear to god I’m gonna fucking kill this one before he can so much as—”
“Faith,” said Giles. His voice broke.
Faith looked up, and stopped. She blinked hard. “Don’t you tell me to stop,” she said, her voice wobbling.
Giles shook his head, stepping into the room. Strangely, seeing Faith so distressed centered him in his desire to calm her down. “We can’t afford to be reckless,” he said as steadily as he could. It didn’t come out all that steady. “Not when Jenny or Willow might be seriously injured.” He sniffled, and felt a bit ridiculous for it, but Faith didn’t comment. If anything, her expression softened a bit. “Currently, Spike is with Buffy and Angel,” he said.
Faith pressed her lips together at Buffy and Angel. It reminded Giles ever so slightly of Ethan’s face when he’d seen Jenny for the first time, but now certainly wasn’t the time to press Faith about that. “But Jen’s not with Spike, then,” she said. “So he can’t hurt her.”
“That’s the idea,” Giles agreed. “You and I will take my car—I have some ideas as to where they might be.”
Faith nodded, tucking an extra stake into her jacket pocket. Then, to Giles’s surprise, she faltered, looking briefly away. “She’s gonna be okay,” she said awkwardly. “Really. Jen’s tough.”
Giles managed a flicker of a grin. “She is incredibly resilient,” he said with a soft kind of pride. Then, “You’re ready to go?”
“Sure am.” Faith tossed her bag over one shoulder, breezing by Giles—but she looked back, giving him an encouraging little smile.
Chapter 33: genuine human connection
Jenny picked up a fancy-looking candelabra and threw it at the door as hard as she could. The candelabra broke, a jagged piece flying at her and cutting her face. She ignored this, throwing her shoulder against the door.
“Ms. Calendar—” Willow’s voice was small and wavering.
“Come over here and help me,” said Jenny without faltering.
“Ms. Calendar, what happens when we finish his spell?”
“Willow, right now I’m working on this door,” said Jenny, forcing down her panic. She couldn’t let Willow see her scared. She couldn’t let Willow be scared. “We can talk in a minute, okay?”
“You’re not answering my question,” Willow persisted in that high, thin tone of voice she only ever got when she was very anxious. “Ms. Calendar—”
Jenny turned. She could feel blood dripping down her cheek from the cut on her face, and heard Willow’s sharp breath. “It’s fine,” she said, and it took everything in her to keep her voice level as she stepped toward Willow. She knelt down in front of the bed, taking Willow’s hands in hers, and said, “I am not going to let anything happen to you.”
Willow looked away. “Stop that,” she said quietly. The shrill pitch to her voice was suddenly gone, replaced by something unfamiliar to Jenny.
Jenny faltered. “Stop what?”
Willow closed her eyes, as if steeling herself. Without opening them, she said, “You’ve already got a favorite. Don’t act like it’s still me.”
The statement cut. Jenny let Willow’s hands drop, feeling uncharacteristically lost for words. She fell quietly back to sit on her knees, still in front of Willow, and tried to think of something to say that might undo the damage she’d somehow done. “Willow,” she began.
“Faith doesn’t even bother to care,” Willow continued, her eyes squeezed tightly shut. Her arms went up, crossing in front of her chest defensively in a way that reminded Jenny painfully of herself. “And—and I was there all summer, and I was the one who wanted to learn magic—just to be close to you. It was never about the magic, Ms. Calendar, not ever.” She made a small, hiccupy noise. “I—I know—I know Faith needs you more than me. I know that. Everyone needs someone more than I do.”
“Willow,” said Jenny, and was alarmed to realize that her composure was slipping. God—she remembered what that was like. That awful, lonely isolation, the knowing that she was capable of being alone more than the other people around her—she’d put Willow through that without even meaning to. “Willow—”
“I hate being so smart!” Willow all but wailed. “Everyone looks through me because they know I’ll be fine!”
Jenny clambered awkwardly onto the bed and pulled Willow into a rough hug. Willow stiffened, but then her arms reached up and around, holding Jenny tightly. She started to cry. “I missed you,” she sobbed. “I missed you, and you’re just going to go away again when someone else needs you more.”
“You need me one hell of a lot right now, I think,” said Jenny softly.
“Not just—” Willow looked up, tearful. “Not just right now,” she mumbled. “That’s not how that works.”
Jenny laughed, exhausted and sad. “Yeah. You’re right.” She rested her chin on Willow’s shoulder. “God,” she said, more to herself than Willow. “I’m kind of bad at what I do.”
Willow turned her head, looking up at Jenny. “You try,” she said, still sweetly reassuring even with tear tracks streaking her face. “I—I really think that counts.”
“I’m going to try harder for you,” Jenny replied with quiet conviction. “I promise.”
They stayed like that for a while, until Jenny felt Willow stop shaking. Then, carefully, she pulled back, pressing a gentle kiss to the top of Willow’s head. She was reminded of that summer, the loneliness—Willow had been a constant then, and Jenny hated that she hadn’t been able to give Willow that consistency back. “I’m here now,” she said, and this time, she understood the gravity of the promise she was making. “I’m here.”
Faith didn’t like sitting in Giles’s car. It felt better when she was walking, running, doing something other than sitting in car while they tried to get to wherever the fuck they were looking first. Giles was flooring the gas, sure, driving at a speed that was almost definitely illegal on suburban roads, but she felt trapped in this small space. At least when she was running, she was responsible for getting there, not Giles’s shiny new car that he wasn’t using turn signals for.
“Where are we going?” she asked, just to distract herself from the familiar feeling in her gut. She’d had this feeling once before, when—
“There’s an abandoned factory where Spike and Drusilla set up shop last they were here,” Giles replied, eyes on the road. He made another turn, knocking over a trash can and not even bothering to look back. “It would be different were it Angelus, but Spike isn’t the most inventive vampire there is.”
Faith was thinking—someone who’d died at the hands of a vampire, someone who’d seen something special in her. They always died, Faith was realizing, but somehow it hurt even more this time because it was Jen she was going to find bloodless and mangled. “So he just, what, skips the torture and goes straight to the killing?” she said, her voice coming out too sharp.
Giles’s hands tightened on the steering wheel, but he didn’t say anything. Faith tried not to think about her first Watcher, the ripped-apart remains of what used to be a woman who smiled a little tiredly and took her cup of tea at precisely four in the afternoon. She tried not to think about what this vampire might have done to Jen.
Faith knew that they didn’t know anything yet, or at least not enough to jump to such a drastic conclusion, but she just—she felt it in her bones. She couldn’t not believe it. The world wasn’t good enough to let someone like Jen live, and somewhere during this car ride Faith’s anger at that had faded into a strange, quiet numbness.
She wanted to be angry. It was comforting, familiar even, to be angry and vengeful and ready to kill some vamps for taking someone else away from her. But she was just tired, and sad, and the shit she’d gone through her had taught her many times over what happened to good people who got taken by stupid vampires.
Faith looked back over at Giles, and—she didn’t know how to explain it, but something in her chest unknotted. Just a little.
“If Jen’s gone,” she said, very quietly, “is there still a place for me here?”
She hadn’t expected Giles to hear her. “Of course,” he said. “I don’t merely put up with you because Jenny loves you, and—” He paused, then said with careful deliberation, “The more I know you, the more I appreciate your strength and your compassion. There will always be a place for you here, Faith.”
Faith wanted to cry. She bit it back.
They pulled up in front of an old, crappy-looking building. Faith jumped out of the car before it had completely stopped moving, then stopped, faltering. There was no sound coming from the building.
“Faith,” said Giles.
“I can’t go in there,” said Faith, voice breaking. Her first Watcher’s blood had been all over the floor.
A pause, and then she felt Giles’s hand rest briefly on her elbow. Faith flinched back—she was used to Jen touching her like that, but not anyone else. She realized with a pang that she hadn’t been used to anyone touching her like that before Jen—like she was a young girl instead of a woman. “Faith,” he said softly, “we need to find them.”
Faith took a step forward, then another. “If she’s dead in there, I’m gonna fucking kill you,” she informed Giles fiercely. “I’m gonna rip out your spine and feed you to vampires and—”
“Yes, of course,” said Giles, in the same droll tone of voice he used when Jen said coffee is infinitely better than tea, Rupert, you’re just being stupid. Something about that gave Faith enough courage to walk up to the building and through the open doorway.
“Careful of the floor,” she said, making sure to avoid a couple of rotting boards. “Might fall through, impale yourself before we even find Jen.”
“And I’d most certainly never hear the end of that,” Giles muttered dryly, following Faith’s path.
There was a door, bolted shut from the outside. Faith undid the bolt and opened the door, heart in her mouth.
Jen looked up and Jen was alive and Jen had a cut on the side of her face but no bite marks, no blood, no entrails scattered no dead-looking eyes she was alive she was alive she was alive—
Faith ran. She ran and she tackled Jen, knocking them both to the floor, and she realized that she was really crying for the first time since before she could remember. She buried her face in Jen’s shoulder and sobbed. “Jenny,” she wailed, because all of a sudden Jen didn’t sound like enough. Giles made Jenny sound like a term of endearment, like a privilege, and Faith wanted that.
She was kind of expecting Jen to make one of her usual dry quips, but instead Jen just held her very tightly and didn’t let go. Faith couldn’t let go.
“Oh,” she heard Willow say in the distance, very softly. “I—didn’t know—”
Jen pulled back, tilting Faith’s chin up. Faith was crying a lot and she wanted to go back to hiding her face, because she probably looked awful and snotty. Like one of those kids that fell down and bawled over a scraped knee.
“Okay,” said Jen, smoothing Faith's hair. “I think we need to get you home.”
Faith tried to stop crying. It wasn’t working. This was probably where Giles would say some philosophical shit about how bottling things up just makes them all come back to get you in the end, or something stupid like that.
“Faith?” Jen pushed Faith’s hair away from her face. “Listen, we really need to get out of here before Spike gets back.”
Faith swallowed hard and snuffled (god, one little incident and she was a fucking baby all of a sudden) before quickly pulling away from Jen. “Yeah,” she said gruffly, scrubbing at her face. “Yeah. I—” She looked over her shoulder at Jen, just to make sure she was still there. “I love you,” she said, because it felt important to make sure Jen knew.
And wow did she wish she’d said that sooner, because the soft, startled look on Jen’s face made this whole nightmare worth it. Jen smiled at her, slow and proud. “I love you too,” she said, as though it were nothing at all. No big, cosmic revelation—just fact. “Now—”
Giles swooped in and kissed Jen very hard.
Faith stepped back, glancing over at a giggling Willow. “It’s okay that no one’s kissing me,” she said brightly. “I mean—you love Ms. Calendar, and, um, she’s basically the love of Giles’s life.”
“Don’t tell me you believe in that soulmate crap,” Faith snorted, realizing with delayed mortification that she’d been sobbing like a little kid in front of Willow.
But Willow looked up at her with this warm sideways smile, and said, “I think I just believe in genuine human connection.”
Giles and Jen were still kissing, and Faith noticed that both of them were also crying a little. She remembered what Jen had said in the kitchen on that first night—Angelus tortured me in front of someone who loved me very much—and realized that she wasn’t the only one that had been reminded of past failures when they got that call.
“Genuine human connection,” said Faith, and tilted her head. “Wasn’t expecting to find so much of it in a town with so many dead things.”
Willow’s shoulder bumped Faith’s. “Welcome to my world.”
Chapter 34: willow and faith
Giles and Ms. Calendar had shut the door to their bedroom and it was abundantly clear what would soon be going on in there, so Willow turned on the radio extra loud to give them some privacy and started looking for the hot chocolate mix. A few minutes passed before she noticed Faith hovering by the door, now in a tank top and cotton shorts. Her hair was tied up in a messy bun a lot like Ms. Calendar’s, but Willow decided not to comment on that one.
“Hey,” said Faith. “You, uh, staying the night?”
Willow shrugged. “It’s too late to go home now,” she replied, “and I doubt Ms. Calendar really feels like giving me a ride.”
Faith snorted. “Too busy riding Giles, more like,” she said with a small smirk, which made Willow nearly spill the milk she was pouring. “Won’t your parents be worried or some shit?”
Willow managed a tense smile. “No,” she said shortly, placing the mugs in the microwave.
To her surprise, something in Faith’s face softened a little. “My mom’s a little like that,” she said casually.
“You have a mom?” This wasn’t the smoothest response, but Willow was honestly taken aback. Flustered, she added, “I-I kind of just thought your parents weren’t in the picture.”
Faith shook her head. “Nah. I just have some really shitty parents.” She swung herself up onto the kitchen table, studying Willow. “Does Jen have any marshmallows?”
“For the hot chocolate.”
“Oh!” Willow blushed, embarrassed by all the stammering she seemed to be doing. “Yeah, I think she keeps them in the cabinet near the fridge. You can get them, if you want.”
Faith didn’t move, tilting her head. “You know your way around this kitchen,” she said thoughtfully. “How come I haven’t seen you here more often?”
Willow glanced over at Faith, honestly surprised. “You’ve been here a lot,” she said. “I didn’t think Ms. Calendar needed me here as much.”
Faith stopped smiling. She looked down.
Willow felt a twist of guilt. She’d actually kind of liked the tentative peace between them—granted, Faith had never known anything was wrong in the first place, but still. “So, you love Ms. Calendar, huh?” she said awkwardly. “That’s nice.”
“Shut up,” said Faith, turning a dull red.
“O-kay.” The microwave went off. Relieved, Willow turned away to get the hot chocolate. “I made you a mug too,” she offered, taking one out of the microwave. “Do you want whipped cream?”
Faith took the mug without answering Willow’s question, downing it in the same way someone might take a shot of—whatever people took shots of. Willow wondered if Faith had ever drunk alcohol before, but felt like it would make her seem babyish to ask. As though it isn’t babyish to offer Faith hot chocolate toppings, she thought wryly.
“What’s your mom like?” Faith asked unexpectedly.
Willow fumbled with her mug of hot chocolate as she took it out of the microwave. “What? Oh, um, she—she’s a mom.” She wasn’t sure how to answer that question. “She just—she isn’t around a lot. She’s really busy.”
Faith nodded. “And she won’t notice you staying here tonight,” she said.
“Yep,” said Willow stiffly.
Faith nodded again. Then she said, “You can stay in my room.”
Willow nearly spilled the mug on her sweater. “What?” she squeaked.
“Chill, Red.” Faith gave her a small smile that reminded Willow strangely of Ms. Calendar. “You always this jumpy? I’m not saying we have to get all cuddly or anything—you take my bed, I’ll grab an extra blanket and sleep on the couch.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t want to put you out—” Willow began nervously.
“Trust me,” said Faith a little dryly. “I’ve had worse. And after that whole kidnapping thing, you deserve bed rest, not couch rest.” She turned, still holding the mug, and exited the kitchen, adding over her shoulder, “You can borrow some of my clothes to sleep in, if you want. You’re pretty tiny, so they’ll probably fit.”
Sitting down at the kitchen table, Willow took a sip of her hot chocolate, listening to the cheesy pop music on Ms. Calendar’s old radio. For the first time in weeks, she felt warm. It’s ‘cause I’m home, she thought, and smiled.
“Honestly, I was kind of expecting you to throw me down on the bed and ravish me after the night we’ve had,” said Jenny as playfully as she could. She donned a nightshirt, wincing a little at the lingering pain in her shoulder. She must have slammed it against the door too hard.
“Yes, well,” Rupert was buttoning his pajama shirt, “I—I think we should talk, first.”
“And that’s not foreboding at all,” Jenny quipped, trying to smile.
Rupert stepped forward, taking her in his arms. Jenny felt a lump in her throat, quite similar to the one in the factory. “Are you quite all right?” he asked softly.
“Yes,” said Jenny, and then, “No.”
“Would you like to talk about it?”
Jenny let her head fall forward, nestling into the crook of his neck. Rupert held her carefully, as though she might break. “I—” She thought of Willow’s tear-streaked face at the factory and Faith’s Slayer-strength grip. “I don’t know,” she said, holding onto him a little more tightly than usual. “I was just—so scared.”
She started to cry, then, and it felt—god, she was such a hypocrite. Here she was trying and trying to get Faith to open up to her, and it was only now hitting her that this was the first time she’d really let herself be vulnerable in front of Rupert. Jenny was pretty sure that she was getting Rupert’s favorite button-down wet, but he didn’t seem to mind.
Rupert didn’t say anything, either. He just held her.
Jenny wasn’t much of a crier, though, even in this moment. It only took her a few minutes to stop, and she was surprised to find that the lingering anxiety had lessened. Just a little. “I love you,” she said, soft and very small. It was easy to say it playfully, but this kind of honesty was a little harder.
Rupert’s smile was tired, but it was still so sweet. “And I love you,” he said, and kissed her tenderly. “Now. An exasperatingly clever woman recently told me that relationships are give-and-take, not give-and-give. What can I give you?”
Jenny rested her forehead against his, closing her eyes. “I think this is enough,” she said finally, and really meant it. It felt so freeing, not to hide fear for the sake of the people around her. Carefully, she leaned in to brush her lips against his, waiting until he responded before deepening the kiss. “Don’t hold back on me,” she teased, and felt a fluttery rush as Rupert pulled away to grin at her.
“Never,” he said, and grabbed Jenny’s waist, flipping her over and onto the bed. Jenny shrieked, laughing, and had to press a hand to her mouth—if the girls heard this—while Rupert kissed her neck. “How are you feeling?” he murmured, hand skimming her bruised shoulder as he started to unbutton her nightshirt.
“Loved,” said Jenny, moving towards his touch.
The academic retreat thing had been on a weekend, so Jenny hadn’t set her alarm. Unfortunately, this time around, that meant that she had a lot of time to dream about Spike holding Willow up in front of him in game face, only the dream didn’t end there. It was more than a relief to wake up and curl into Rupert’s side.
Jenny held Rupert tightly and thought about Willow hugging her in the factory, alive and uninjured and safe. God, she thought, I was kind of hoping emotional honesty with my lover meant less nightmares, not worse ones.
“Jenny?” said Rupert blearily.
Jenny sighed. “Kinda looking forward to a time where I don’t get jumped by vampires,” she said. Then, because it had kind of gotten lost in all the crying and reunion sex last night, “The scariest part wasn’t Spike.”
“Oh, certainly not,” Rupert agreed, grinning wryly at her. “He may be a vampire, but when push comes to shove, he’s more ‘drunken pillock’ than ‘terrifying fiend.’”
Jenny nodded distantly. “Yeah,” she said, cuddling into him. “Yeah. It’s just—” She hesitated. “How the hell did you do it?”
“Be brave for these kids when you’re thinking about how someday you might watch them die.” Jenny traced his jaw with her fingertips, not quite able to look at him.
“Truthfully?” Rupert’s smile faded a little. “I don’t think I was ever in a situation like you were last night. The stakes were never that high.”
Something about that comforted Jenny, in a weird kind of way. “You think I did okay?” she said softly.
“Willow seemed in remarkably good spirits for a seventeen-year-old girl locked in an abandoned factory,” Rupert replied simply. “I don’t think anyone could be scared if they knew you were there for them.” His eyes were soft and adoring. “I know I’m not.”
Jenny hugged him. “I’m so glad you came back last summer,” she murmured, and kissed him once before pulling reluctantly away. “Get some more sleep,” she added. “I’m not the only one who had a stressful night.”
“Yes, dear,” Rupert said with a small, grateful smile, lying back and snuggling into the covers again. Jenny waited until his eyes had closed before she climbed out of bed, donning her bathrobe. The nightmare had left her with less quality sleep than she’d like. Coffee would help, she decided.
She entered the kitchen and stared.
“Shit, Red, you’re about to put way too much sugar in here,” Faith was saying, both of the girls bent over something on the counter. “Jen drinks it black.”
“She likes it this way,” Willow insisted. “I gave—give—it to her like this all the time.”
“Yeah, well, you make Jen coffee, she’s gonna love it no matter what it is.” Faith pointed out. “I’m just making sure she loves it as much as she can.”
Jenny cleared her throat.
“Ms. Calendar!” Willow whipped around, turning a little pink. “Um, I—” She stopped, glancing over at Faith. “I mean, we made you coffee.”
“Black,” Faith added, holding out the mug. “Strong. Didn’t think you’d be up by now, though.”
Jenny took the mug and took a sip. “Perfect,” she said. It really was. Just the right temperature, exactly the right strength— “You two should make me coffee more often,” she joked.
Faith and Willow both blanched. “No thanks,” said Faith. “This chick’s bossy as all get-out.”
Willow huffed, but Jenny could see a small, reluctant smile on her face. “This from the girl who was all Jen drinks it black!”
Jenny sat down at the kitchen table, taking another sip of coffee. “You two had breakfast yet?”
“We were mostly busy with the whole coffee thing,” Faith replied with a shrug.
Jenny gave her a look.
“Fine, we’ll eat, I’ll take care of myself,” said Faith dramatically, slumping down into the chair next to Jenny.
“I can cook!” said Willow brightly, beaming. “Here, I’ll make us all pancakes!” She all but skipped over to the stove.
This was when Rupert came in, wearing a bathrobe of his own and looking thoroughly bleary-eyed. “Coffee?” he observed, sitting down on Jenny’s other side.
“The girls made it special for me,” said Jenny happily, taking a sip.
Rupert looked at Jenny, then at Willow and Faith, then back at Jenny, eyes wide and bemused. “Willow and Faith?” he said.
“Do we know any other girls who love me enough to make morning coffee?” Jenny quipped.
“No, it’s just—” Rupert hesitated, then leaned in, murmuring, “I was under the impression that Willow was a bit—upset by Faith’s place in your life.”
Jenny thought back to Willow’s comment about Faith. “I think she gets things a little better now,” she said.
“That makes sense,” said Rupert thoughtfully. “I—wasn’t aware how deeply Faith cared about you until last night. I expect the same applied to Willow.”
“Hey, Giles, I’m making pancakes right now,” Willow offered from the stove. “I can make them in special shapes if you want!”
“I’d like a circle,” said Jenny seriously over the rim of her coffee mug. “Expresses my individuality, pancake-wise.”
“Charming,” said Rupert, and placed a hand on Jenny’s shoulder, tugging her over to kiss her temple.
Chapter 35: nervous and fluttery
Buffy heard the doorbell from her bedroom, waited for her mom to get it, heard her mom say “Oh! Faith!” and jumped up out of bed, running around her room in a flurry to make herself look presentable. “Buffy’s upstairs, still sleeping, I think,” she could hear her mom saying, “but if you want to wait here while I—”
Buffy found a nice pink top, remembered the time Faith said that she was wearing too much pink, tossed it to the side, remembered that Faith said she rocked too much pink— “Chill out, chill out, it’s just Faith,” she chanted, running to find the blue sweater Willow had lent her. Or, wait, maybe not that— “It’s just Faith, it’s just Faith—” She found a reasonable cream-colored top, a nice pair of jeans, and started changing as fast as she could. She was so not going to look a mess today, no matter how much last night had sucked for her.
There was a knock on the door. “Buffy?” called her mom. “Faith’s here!”
“Tell her I’ll be down in a minute!” Buffy shouted, throwing on a pink cardigan and starting to hurriedly brush her hair. Maybe the bed-head thing worked for Faith. Not that she was trying to find something that would work for Faith. God, she was a basket case. She applied some lip gloss, slipped on a pair of low-heeled shoes, decided that that was the best she could do, and hurried downstairs.
Faith was sitting on the sofa, wearing a red leather jacket and looking—stylish. That was the word, Buffy thought. Stylish was a nice word to describe Faith, with that soft-looking dark hair and all the nice Council-funded clothing that Ms. Calendar seemed to be getting for her. Except, you know, it didn’t seem like Faith was stylish in the same way as Cordelia—more like Faith was stylish enough to make Buffy feel a little jealous. Or dizzy. Or—something nervous and fluttery that Buffy wasn’t sure how to define.
“Hey,” said Faith, standing up and bringing Buffy back to reality. “Can we talk?”
“What?” Buffy felt herself blushing. “Yeah! Yes, totally! What’s up?”
Faith looked down, then back up. “Look, B,” she said, “I like you. A lot. But I’ve had a lot of people screw me around before, and I want to know you’re someone I can trust to be honest with me.” She smiled, but it wasn’t as soft as Buffy had been getting used to seeing. “I get that you probably want some of your business to stay just your business, but it’d be cool to at least know that you’re hiding your vampire ex from me. Or that you have a vampire ex.”
Buffy tried to smile. She hadn’t realized that Faith would know about Angel too. It had been comforting when Faith hadn’t; at least one person didn’t know how badly she’d screwed things up. “That doesn’t come up in conversation that easy, does it?” she joked halfheartedly. When Faith’s face didn’t change, she sighed. “I like you too,” she said. It felt—weird, saying that to Faith. More of an admission than she wanted it to be. “Things with Angel and me are never really clear-cut,” she said, looking away from Faith. “It’s—I’m not going to be seeing him anymore. He doesn’t need me to take care of him, and I’m kidding myself by saying I can be just friends with him.”
“So you’re still into him,” said Faith. There was a strange note to her voice.
Buffy looked up. For a reason that her brain didn’t quite understand, she said, “Yeah, but I’m definitely trying to move on, so—if you wanted to help me with that—”
Faith’s eyes widened. “What?”
“Um,” Buffy fumbled for a way to save face, “well, you know, maybe—maybe we hit up the Espresso Pump tomorrow, talk sad love lives. Except, you know, this time I’m honest about mine.” She laughed nervously. “Kind of a friends’ night out,” she added, not sure why she felt the need to clarify.
Faith smiled hesitantly. “I’d like that,” she said. “So—things are done with Angel, then.”
“Completely,” said Buffy with emphasis. “I—I’m always gonna care about him, but—my being with him hurt a lot of people that I care about.” She tried to smile. “I’m still going to miss him,” she said, and her voice caught a little. Embarrassed, she pretended to adjust her hair, trying to surreptitiously wipe her eyes on the sleeve of her cardigan.
“I get that,” said Faith. “I do. I—” She exhaled. “I know how it hurts,” she said finally, without looking at Buffy. “To know you can’t be with the person you want to be with.”
If Faith wasn’t Faith, and Buffy wasn’t Buffy, Buffy might almost think— “Espresso Pump,” she said shyly. “Tomorrow. I’ll pay.”
“Where’s Faith?” Willow asked.
“Oh, out.” Ms. Calendar waved a hand, walking over to the bookshelf and picking out a magic book. “I’m pretty sure she said something about talking to Buffy.” She knelt down, placing the book in front of Willow on the floor. “You know, Willow, if you want to spend time with me, it doesn’t always have to be under the guise of me teaching you magic,” she added, looking up at Willow in a way that almost seemed hesitant.
“What?” Vaguely, Willow remembered her words in the factory. “Oh.” She blushed. “I-I would love to spend hanging-out time with you, but I really do want to learn magic! I feel a lot calmer when I cast a good spell. And, you know, my head’s kind of a constant worrying machine, so—”
Ms. Calendar frowned, looking thoughtful. “Maybe spell-casting isn’t the way to go today, then.”
“What do you mean?”
“Scoot.” Ms. Calendar leaned down and nudged Willow’s leg with her hand. Obligingly, Willow moved over, letting Ms. Calendar sit down behind her. “This isn’t exactly a magic lesson,” said Ms. Calendar. “I can do your hair if you want, though.”
Willow thought about how generally moms did their daughters’ hair, thought about how her mom had stopped doing that a long time ago, thought about how Ms. Calendar probably knew that, and said in a very small, very happy voice, “Sure. Okay.”
“Awesome.” Ms. Calendar’s hands tugged gently at Willow’s hair, untangling a few snarly bits. “Lucky I’ve got a few hair ties on me, or I’d have to call in Rupert. He keeps on using my scrunchies to roll up ancient scrolls.”
“Okay.” Ms. Calendar divided Willow’s hair into two sections, starting to braid one. “Today’s mini-lesson is that you can’t use magic to hide from what you see as your own personal failings or flaws.”
“Shh,” said Ms. Calendar playfully. “It’s a lesson, not a lecture. You haven’t done anything wrong.”
“But I said that thing about anxiety, and then you said—”
“I know. I’m covering some potential problems that might come up eventually.” Ms. Calendar tied off the first braid. “Hmm. Kinda thought this would take longer.”
“I got it cut short like you,” said Willow without really thinking about it. She winced a little. Dork.
“Please. I could never pull off braids.” There was a gentle laugh in Ms. Calendar’s voice that made Willow feel hot-chocolate warm. She’d missed this. “Anyway. Magic. It’s definitely one hundred percent something that you can use to center yourself, but you can’t depend on it to center yourself.”
Willow blinked, confused. “But you said—you’ve always said that magic is a tool to center a person. You say that all the time.”
“And I stand by it.” Ms. Calendar tied off the second braid, tucking an extra strand of hair behind Willow’s ear. “Shit. These are some really bad braids. Do you want me to redo them?”
“Yes,” said Willow happily, forgetting momentarily about the whole confusing magic conversation.
Ms. Calendar started in on undoing the braids. “I might have started you off too early,” she was saying. “You’ve got a gift, Willow, and you’re a quick study, but I think you need to learn how to be happy in your own skin before you can really blossom as a witch.”
Willow felt her stomach sink. “So—no more spells?”
“I didn’t say that.” Ms. Calendar tugged affectionately on one of Willow’s revamped braids. “Fact is, I like spending time with you, and I’ve really missed teaching you what I know. I just think our lessons need to extend beyond magic spells.”
“A lot more meditation,” Ms. Calendar replied, “a lot more time spent here with me and Faith and Xander—”
“Xander?” Willow repeated, startled, and turned around to face Ms. Calendar.
“He’s staying the night tomorrow,” Ms. Calendar explained. “Kind of part of a deal I made with him. Long story. Willow—” She hesitated. “Anxiety sucks,” she said finally. “But it’s so, so important that you feel like you have someone to talk to about what’s worrying you. Don’t bottle it up and let it fester, okay?”
“What if I feel like what I’m worried about is stupid?” Willow asked quietly.
“Then talk to Rupert,” said Ms. Calendar with a small, teasing grin. “He’s had to deal with kids coming into the library asking where the DVD section is. He’s a pretty patient guy, and he’s definitely not going to judge you for worrying.” She took Willow’s hands in hers, squeezing them. “Neither am I.”
“I missed you,” said Willow softly.
Ms. Calendar’s smile flickered a little. “Yeah,” she said. “I missed you too.”
Xander came over for lunch. “I was all where’s Willow till I figured she’d be hanging with you,” he said cheerfully, taking half of Rupert’s sandwich. “Is this going to be a thing again?”
“A thing?” Jenny echoed, frowning.
“You know, like it was over the summer,” Xander explained with his mouth full. Jenny gave him a look, and he swallowed. “I spent, like, almost all of the summer at your house until Giles came back.”
Jenny felt an awful twist in her chest. As much as she’d wanted to be there for the kids, she’d gotten very caught up in Rupert when he’d come back to be there for her. Even though she was fixing things now, she didn’t feel at all okay with how easily she’d forgotten about Xander and Willow. “It’s going to be a thing again,” she said definitively. “Though it might be a little hard to squeeze so many people into one house.” She smiled. “Clearly, we’re going to have to kick out Rupert.”
“And who would make you coffee?” Rupert inquired, kissing Jenny on the cheek.
“Oh, god, you guys got all domestic,” Xander groaned.
“You should see ‘em at breakfast,” said Faith with her mouth full.
Jenny waited for Faith to swallow before continuing. “I think I have an old air mattress if there are nights that you want to stay over, Xander,” she suggested.
Something in Xander’s face shifted ever so slightly. In a strange tone of voice, he said, “Can I stay over during Christmas?”
This took Jenny aback. She knew things at Xander’s place generally weren’t that great, but— “That’s fine by me, but you’re sure that your parents won’t miss you?” she asked carefully.
“Nah,” said Xander lightly. “And if they do, they’ll look for me at Willow’s. They thought I was there for most of the summer.”
“I don’t celebrate Christmas,” said Willow, sounding a little left out.
“Neither do I,” Jenny reassured Willow, feeling very happy to see Willow smile shyly at her. “Dumb holiday. We can all make baked goods, maybe invite Buffy over—”
“Buffy does a thing with her family, though,” said Xander. “She and her mom drive to her aunt’s or something.”
“So we save some baked goods for B,” Faith suggested.
“I can make pudding,” said Rupert excitedly. “And cake. And—oh, Jenny, have you ever had my icing?”
“Is that a euphemism?” Xander asked. Faith choked on her water and started laughing very hard.
Chapter 36: anya
“You’re not a coffee girl?”
“I get all jittery,” Faith replied easily. “Not a good thing for a Slayer.” She squinted at Buffy’s drink. “Does that thing have any actual caffeine?”
“It’s a decaf frappuccino with whip,” Buffy said cheerfully, taking a dollop of whipped cream off the top with her finger. Her tongue darted out to taste the whipped cream. “Mmm. This place has the best toppings. Let no one tell you otherwise.”
“Huh,” said Faith vaguely. It took her a moment to stop thinking about Buffy’s tongue. “So. Talk to me about Angel.”
Buffy’s smile faded a little. “Oh,” she said. “Cutting to the chase, huh?”
Faith gave her a look.
“Right. Opening up.” Buffy nervously tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear. “Um, we met about two years ago, we started dating about a year ago—”
Faith shook her head. “B,” she said, “I could get the bare-bones details of your relationship from Willow if that’s what I really wanted. Talk to me about Angel. Like—what kind of kisser is he? Is he always as broody as Xander says, or is it just an act?”
“He’s the good kind of kisser,” said Buffy softly. “Just a little bit cuddly, which I know is a little weird for a vampire, but I guess he didn’t do the whole cuddly thing pre-soul. He got me flowers one time and gave me a whole bouquet on patrol.” She blushed, smiling. “We used to make out in the cemetery on patrol a lot.”
It did sting a little to hear the lingering affection in Buffy’s voice, but it felt nice to know that Faith was trusted. “And you’re not getting back with him,” she said, just to clarify. Obviously.
Buffy looked up, smiling curiously. “Why are you so hung up on that?” she asked. “I don’t think you’ve even met him.”
Faith felt herself blushing. Was she blushing? She hoped she wasn’t blushing. “I just don’t want you getting hurt,” she managed.
“You’re sweet.” Buffy had a wry half-laugh in her voice. “It’s a little late for that, though.”
“Then I—I don’t want you getting more hurt,” said Faith awkwardly. “You’re nice. You’re a nice Slayer.”
“Thank you,” said Buffy, sounding bemused but pleased. “You’re nice too, Faith.” She hesitated, smile fading a little. “He was the first guy I ever loved,” she said, “and because I fell in love with him, I ended up hurting some of the best people I’ve ever known. How am I supposed to come back from that?”
Faith hesitated, trying to think of something profound and kind to say. Jen made it look so easy. “I used to hurt people without even thinking,” she replied carefully, “and run like hell when they called me on it. You’re facing up to the fact that you fucked up, at least. That takes a lot of guts.”
“Yeah, but I want to fix it,” said Buffy, taking a vehement sip of her frappuccino. “Giles and Ms. Calendar had, like, the toughest summer in history because of me, and they’d just worked through their own boatload of weird relationship problems. They should have been—I don’t know. Holding hands in libraries.” She looked up at Faith, eyes bright with what looked uncomfortably like tears. “A-and I just left Willow that whole summer! She’s my best friend, and she’s been there for me for everything, and I left her, and then I kept this big secret from her! And I’m crying right now, and you’re so cool, and I’m crying in front of you—” She hid her face in her hands with a muffled sob.
Faith sat there, staring. This was not how she’d expected the outing to go, but she had made it clear that she’d be there for Buffy. “Hey,” she said softly, scooting her chair over until she was sitting directly next to Buffy. “Um, hi. Yeah. Did I tell you about how two days ago I got snot all over Jen’s leather jacket when I was sobbing like a little kid about her being okay?”
Buffy let one of her hands drop, leaning into Faith. Faith placed an arm around Buffy, reveling in the closeness. She almost felt guilty for enjoying it as much as she did. “I was crying so hard,” she continued, “and I kept on thinking, you know, I look like a fuckin’ baby in front of all these people—because Willow was there, too, and Giles—”
Buffy giggled wetly.
“Hey.” Faith elbowed her lightly. “Shut up. I’m telling you this embarrassing shit out of the goodness of my heart. Anyway, what I’m saying is it’s a badass thing to cry.”
“Super brave, especially if it’s in front of someone else.” Faith squeezed Buffy’s shoulder. “Fact of the matter is, you’re the coolest chick I know.”
“You’re just saying that to make me feel better.” Buffy raised her head. Somehow, her makeup still looked absolutely perfect.
“Swear I’m not.” Faith smiled at Buffy, shyly, and felt all kinds of butterflies when Buffy smiled back.
“You’re not staying in?” Rupert inquired with surprise, looking up from his book.
“Some new teacher just called,” Jenny replied. “She’s subbing for the missing history teacher and she doesn’t know how to set up her computer.”
“Good lord, isn’t there anyone technologically adept enough to do it who isn’t you?” Rupert tugged insistently at Jenny’s hand, trying to pull her down onto the sofa.
Jenny laughed, leaning down to press a kiss to Rupert’s nose. “Do you realize how ridiculous it is that you’re the one complaining about technologically inept faculty members?”
Rupert rolled his eyes playfully. “Fine,” he said. “Fine. Spend your free Sunday away from me. See if I care.”
“Hey.” Jenny hesitated, feeling a sudden pinprick of worry. “Are we okay?”
Rupert looked genuinely surprised. “I’m sorry?”
“I mean,” Jenny crossed her arms across her chest, “the kids are probably going to be over a lot more now, and we haven’t had as much time together as usual.”
“Oh, that’s—” Rupert waved a hand, then smiled a little. “If you’re really worried,” he said thoughtfully, “we could set aside Friday night, make it date night.”
“Date night?” Jenny repeated skeptically. “Rupert, that’s really romantic and all, but a lot of the nightlife in this town is actually already dead.”
“So we have a night in,” said Rupert, looking at Jenny in that soft, adoring way that always made her heart do a cartwheel. “I could light candles.”
Jenny felt herself smile. “I’m sure the kids wouldn’t mind going out on Friday nights,” she agreed, leaning down again to give Rupert a proper kiss. “I still need to go help a lady with her computer, but—date night?”
“Yes,” said Rupert happily, going back to his book with a large grin on his face.
Jenny kissed the top of his head and left, grabbing her purse on the way out. Opening the door, she saw Faith and Buffy walking up the driveway together, Faith’s hand tucked into Buffy’s arm.
“Hi, Ms. Calendar!” said Buffy brightly. Faith went bright pink and just kind of grinned.
“Hey, girls,” said Jenny easily. “Faith, I think there’s some leftover pasta in the freezer if you two are hungry.”
“Oh, I can come in?” Buffy sounded a little surprised. “I mean, I was just gonna walk Faith back to your place, but if you’re okay—I mean, I didn’t want to impose—”
“Everyone spends time here now,” called Rupert from the sofa.
“Yeah, he won’t leave,” Jenny quipped, then smiled. “Seriously, Buffy, you’re always welcome here.”
Buffy blinked, then smiled very shyly. “Oh,” she said. “Thanks, Ms. Calendar. That—that means a lot.”
“You going out?” Faith asked.
“Just gotta help a substitute teacher,” Jenny replied reluctantly. “Apparently, I’m Sunnydale High’s tech support.”
Faith made a face. “Don’t get kidnapped,” she added more seriously.
“I won’t,” Jenny reassured her, amused. Adjusting her purse, she walked down the steps to her car, glancing over her shoulder at Faith and Buffy. Faith was unlocking the door, completely missing the furtive, appreciative way Buffy was looking at her. Hmm, thought Jenny, but decided that now maybe wasn’t the time.
She drove fast, mostly because it felt really nice to drive fast when there wasn’t an emergency, and reached Sunnydale High relatively quickly. Pulling into the parking lot, Jenny saw a woman standing by the entrance to the school.
“Hey,” called the woman. “Are you the computer-fixing lady?”
Jenny wasn’t sure whether to be annoyed or entertained. “My friends generally call me Jenny,” she quipped, getting out of the car. “And you’re—”
“Anya,” the woman replied promptly. “I’m the substitute history teacher, and my computer isn’t working. I tried the little flippy switch just like the other teacher said I should, and then I tried another switch and I thought it was turning on, but all that did was turn on the classroom light.”
“Oh boy,” said Jenny, more than a little bit irritated now. Anya seemed friendly enough, but this didn’t seem like a problem that needed her specifically. “Okay. Just—take me to the computer and I’ll see what I can do, and then I think I’m going to talk to Principal Snyder about calling me in on weekends.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, am I inconveniencing you?” Anya asked anxiously as they entered the school.
Jenny winced, embarrassed. “No, not at all! It’s just been a pretty long week. You’re completely fine.”
Anya nodded thoughtfully. “It might do good to know someone on staff,” she said, almost to herself. “I’m not sure if I’ll be here for that long, but one never knows.”
“Well, yes,” said Jenny carefully, “one never does know with substitute gigs.”
“Hmm? Yes, of course.” Anya smiled widely at Jenny. “Oh—here’s my classroom!”
Jenny entered the room, strode over to the computer, and turned it on. “Okay,” she said, her mind already back with Rupert on that sofa. “That should work. I’m looking forward to seeing you around school.”
“Oh, no, you don’t have to go so fast!” Anya tugged gently at Jenny’s arm. “I haven’t made any friends yet!” She paused, frowning thoughtfully, then inquired, “Hey, do you know if a Ms. Emerson works here?”
Surprised, Jenny replied slowly, “Like, blonde hair, blue eyes, kinda young, just went through a really tough breakup Ms. Emerson?”
Anya beamed. “That’d be the one,” she said.
Chapter 37: winter-solstice shopping
“Hey,” Faith tossed a box of Pop-Tarts to Giles, “can we get these?”
Giles gave Faith a long-suffering look and said, “Bloody hell, I’ve got two of them now.” Jen started laughing.
“What?” said Faith defensively.
Jen tried to speak through her laughter, waved a hand vaguely, and kept laughing.
“Ms. Calendar always tries to sneak Pop-Tarts in,” Oz explained, placing a few cans of soup into the shopping cart. “Last time she and Giles had a tug-of-war in the juice aisle.”
Faith looked at Giles, looked at Jen, and handed Giles five more boxes of Pop-Tarts.
“Stop that,” said Giles indignantly. “Jenny, stop laughing, this is your Slayer we’re talking about. You should be concerned about her eating habits.”
“I found the eggs, Giles!” Xander called, running up with four cartons in his arms.
Giles pressed his hands to his face. “They’re breakable.”
Jen seemed to finally manage to stop laughing, took the Pop-Tart boxes from Giles, placed three in the cart, put the rest back, and said, “Xander, really, you’ve got to be more careful with the eggs.”
“We’re keeping three?” said Faith with satisfaction.
“Oh, completely,” Jen agreed. “Okay. How much stuff do we have that’s actually on the shopping list?”
“Fruit,” said Buffy cheerfully, placing a box of raspberries carefully on top of one of the remaining Pop-Tart boxes. “And I’m pretty sure Willow’s off getting baking chocolate.”
“Where’s Cordelia?” Xander asked, looking around with genuine surprise. Jen took the eggs from him.
Buffy frowned. “You know, I’m actually not sure.”
“Hey, Giles, do we need Easter Peeps for whatever it is we’re doing right now?” Cordelia asked, hurrying up to the group with a large bag of brightly colored marshmallow chicks.
“It’s my first round of shopping for our holiday dinner in December,” said Giles exasperatedly, “and I made sure to tell you all that in the car, and no, we already have Pop-Tarts. That’s enough artificially flavored garbage to—”
“Aww, Easter Peeps!” Jen hurried past Giles, taking the bag from Cordelia. “I don’t care that we’re winter-solstice shopping, those never go out of season.”
“For the love of—” Giles stepped forward, trying to tug the bag away from Jen.
“I’m sorry, tug-of-war? Are we five?” Jen said with mock indignance, and stepped on Giles’s foot, taking this opportunity to pull the bag of Easter Peeps away from him and collide with a shelf of cat food.
“This is great,” said Xander to Willow. “I wish my parents fought over Easter Peeps in the middle of a grocery store.”
“No. No, you don’t. Stop encouraging her.” Giles took the bag of Easter Peeps from Jen and handed it back to Cordelia. “I am trying to draw some kind of line.”
“What if I said they were for me?” Jen inquired.
“And me,” said Faith hopefully.
“Oooh, Easter Peeps!” said Buffy with interest.
Jen smiled a little wryly. “Fine,” she said, “I see your point. No Easter Peeps.”
“Communication is an important part of a healthy relationship,” Willow teased.
Faith gave Jen a brief grin before taking a look at her copy of the shopping list. No one had gotten the frozen peas for Giles’s chicken pot pie yet, so she decided to go and get those. “Be right back,” she told the group, and headed into the frozen section.
To her surprise, she saw that pretty blonde physics teacher from school crying directly in front of the frozen peas. Great. Now Faith was going to have to walk past her to get the peas, and there was going to be an inevitable awkward moment whether or not the physics teacher recognized her. Trying to decide how best to play this one, Faith hovered nonchalantly by the aisle.
A short woman with caramel-colored hair came up to the physics teacher. “I’ve found the cupcake mix,” she announced. “We can do some angry-vengeance baking together now.” She hesitated, looking at the teacher. “You feeling a little better?” she asked sympathetically.
Relieved, Faith took a step forward. Maybe now they’d leave.
“Oh, yeah, crying in a grocery store does wonders for morale,” sniffled the teacher. “I’m pretty sure I already saw five people I know here, and two of them are faculty members.”
“Come on.” The other woman patted the teacher awkwardly on the shoulder. “Buck up. We can go get some hot chocolate and talk about—”
“God, I wish no one could see me like this!” the teacher burst out. “Or—or even hear me!”
Faith was just about to decide that the frozen peas were definitely not worth watching this mortifying spectacle and leave, but then the other woman’s face—changed. It wasn’t exactly horrifying, but it was definitely not human. “Done,” said the woman, and suddenly the pretty physics teacher was gone.
“Hey!” Faith shouted. The woman turned, her face still creepy and very demon-y. “What the hell did you do to her?”
Behind her, she felt a hand on her shoulder. “Faith,” said Jen a little reprovingly, and then, upon seeing the demon, “Oh. Wow. Okay.”
Without a word, the demon vanished.
“Oh, wow, that’s reassuring,” said Jen, her grip tight on Faith’s shoulder. “Did she—you’re okay, right?”
“What?” Faith looked over at Jen. “No, I’m fine. I’m more worried about the other lady.”
“The other who now?” Willow inquired from next to Jen.
Buffy sprinted into the aisle, fists up. “What’s going on?” she demanded.
“Faith’s shouting at nobody in a grocery aisle,” said Cordelia, strolling over to stand next to Buffy.
“Not nobody,” said Faith indignantly.
“Yeah, there was a creepy demon lady who disappeared a few seconds after I showed up,” Jen added helpfully.
“And the physics teacher,” Faith put in.
Giles frowned, rolling the shopping cart up to the group. “The physics teacher?”
“Shit,” said Faith. “Uh, I don’t remember her name. Blonde lady, really pretty. Lots of crying.”
Jen’s eyes widened. “Ms. Emerson?”
“Yeah!” Faith beamed at Jen. “That sounds familiar. Ms. Emerson—why do you look so worried?”
“No, it’s just—” Jen waved a hand. “Some substitute teacher was asking me about Ms. Emerson a few days back.”
“Substitute teacher?” Xander repeated warily.
“Ooh, yeah.” Willow winced. “Substitute teachers do tend to be a little weird in this town. Remember that one who was a praying mantis?”
“Awesome,” said Jen exhaustedly. “I turned on a demon teacher’s computer.”
“Is that a euphemism?” Xander asked.
“So not the time,” said Cordelia pointedly.
“Let’s not jump to any unwarranted conclusions,” interrupted Giles. “Faith, what happened to Ms. Emerson?”
“Well,” said Faith slowly, “she was crying about something with her friend, and she was all I wish no one could see me like this, and then the friend turned into that demon and Ms. Emerson disappeared.”
“No one can see her,” said Giles slowly. “Perhaps—”
“—her friend took that one literally,” Jen finished. “Where was Ms. Emerson?”
“In front of the frozen peas,” said Faith. “Why?”
Jen stepped forward, giving a worried-looking Giles a reassuring smile. Carefully, she walked towards the frozen peas, reaching out in front of her. “Ms. Emerson?” she said carefully. “Are you there?”
“Oh, right,” Faith added hastily. “Ms. Emerson also said something about how she didn’t want anyone to hear her.”
Jen yelped and tripped over something, grabbing at something else to hold her steady. “Hey, Rupert?” she called. “Can you come over here for a second?” She shifted to a kneeling position on the floor, placing her hand on thin air. “Hi,” she said. “Okay. Just—hold on to me, all right? We’re going to try and fix this.”
“Ah,” said Giles weakly. “She’s found Ms. Emerson.”
“So I’m guessing we save shopping for a later date?” Xander inquired uncertainly.
Willow carried a grocery bag in, handing it off to Faith when she entered the kitchen. Buffy and Faith were putting the groceries away, Giles was making pasta, and everyone else was clustered awkwardly around Ms. Calendar and Ms. Emerson at the kitchen table.
“Hey,” said Ms. Calendar with a tired grin. “Thanks for finishing up the shopping.”
“No problem!” Willow smiled back. “How’s Ms. Emerson doing?”
“Pretty well, considering that this is her first contact with the supernatural world,” Ms. Calendar replied, pointing to the pen and paper in front of Ms. Emerson. “She’s been communicating with us via more traditional means. Turns out that the substitute history teacher is some kind of weird demon lady, because she’s the person who Faith saw with Charlotte.”
“Charlotte?” Xander repeated.
“Ms. Emerson,” Ms. Calendar explained, glancing over at the empty chair next to her. “She and Anya have been pretty close for the last few days. Apparently, Anya’s provided something of a listening ear through some hard times.”
“Someday,” said Giles, placing a stack of plates down on the table, “Snyder will get what’s coming to him for all these bloody demons he keeps putting on staff.”
“Oh, no, I think the praying mantis was actually thanks to Flutie,” said Ms. Calendar thoughtfully. “Also, I really want to hear more about that tape Buffy said you made on proper filing.”
Ms. Emerson tapped the pen pointedly against the table.
“So how exactly do we fix this?” Cordelia asked. “Anya’s vanished into thin air, and we don’t know if she’s coming back any time soon.”
“Before we figure out how to help Ms. Emerson, don’t we need to figure out why Anya came here in the first place?” said Oz thoughtfully.
All eyes turned to him. “What do you mean?” said Willow, surprised.
Oz smiled at her. “Well,” he said, “if we know why Anya decided to grant Ms. Emerson’s wish, we’ll know why she was there for Ms. Emerson to begin with. And if we know that, we’ll know how to get her to come back.”
“That is a really good point,” said Ms. Calendar, jumping up from her chair and crossing the room to Giles. “Rupert, put someone else on dinner duty. You and I need to get into research mode.” Without waiting for Giles’s answer, she grabbed his arm, pulling him into the other room. Over her shoulder, she called, “If anyone wants to ask Ms. Emerson any useful questions, definitely do that too, okay?”
“I think you should cover that, Will,” said Xander, nudging her gently.
“Yeah, Willow,” said Faith in what was a surprisingly genuine tone of voice. “You’re a smart chick. Go for it.”
Quietly, Willow slid into Ms. Calendar’s seat, feeling a little weird to just be looking at an empty chair. “Um, hi,” she said.
The pen moved. On the paper, Ms. Emerson’s neat cursive spelled out hello.
Willow tried to think of a useful question she could ask. “So, um, how did you meet Anya?” she asked carefully.
She was in the staff room at the same time I was, Ms. Emerson wrote. She made me a cup of coffee.
“Hey,” said Faith suddenly. “Was there anything weird about Anya?”
“Well, duh, she can turn people invisible,” said Cordelia, examining her nails.
“That’s not what she means,” Willow realized aloud. “Ms. Emerson,” she continued, “was there anything distinctive you noticed about Anya? Like, a birthmark, a scar, some weird piece of jewelry—”
The pen began to scribble very fast.
“Bingo,” said Faith, beaming at Willow.
Willow peered over at the piece of paper. Anya gave me a necklace to wear, it read. She said it was a good-luck charm. I don’t have it on me anymore—I think it disappeared along with her. Is it possible that this necklace could be linked to her somehow?
“All right, someone go tell Giles and Ms. Calendar about this,” Willow instructed the room. “Ms. Emerson, can you draw what the necklace looks like? Just a rough approximation should be fine.”
“Ooh, you’ve got the leader thing down pat,” Buffy teased gently, pausing by the table to smile at Willow. “I’ll finish up that pasta for everyone.”
Chapter 38: terminated relationship
“Found it!” Ms. Calendar tossed a book to Giles, looking extremely proud of herself, and took a quick bite from her plate of spaghetti.
Giles caught the book, holding it protectively to his chest. “This is an antique,” he began indignantly.
“Yeah, yeah, don’t throw books, you’re an absolute heathen, Jenny, how dare you,” Ms. Calendar waved a hand dismissively, moving forward to open the book for Giles. “Look at this.”
Willow stepped forward, peering over Ms. Calendar’s shoulder. “Anyanka,” she read aloud. “Renowned vengeance demon, specializing in…scorned women.”
“Bad breakups!” Ms. Calendar sounded positively delighted. “And Charlotte’s been upset over her ex-boyfriend—it all fits.”
“Not the part where Ms. Emerson went all Invisible-Woman on us,” Xander interjected. “That doesn’t seem like something a vengeance demon would do.”
“No, see,” Faith’s eyes lit up, “she wished that no one could see or hear her, ‘cause she felt like she was making a scene, and Anyanka grants wishes, right?”
“Jenny, you’ve got tomato sauce on your nose,” Giles was saying at the same time. “What? Oh, yes—it does say here—Anyanka has the power to grant any wish made by a vengeful woman.”
“And she chose to grant that one?” said Ms. Calendar with amusement. “That’s pretty literal-minded.”
“Okay, so we know why Anyanka turned Ms. Emerson invisible,” said Buffy, handing Willow a plate of spaghetti. Willow, who was particularly hungry after the action-packed last few hours, gratefully started eating. “That doesn’t tell us how to turn her back.”
“According to this, Anyanka’s power is in her necklace,” Giles explained, handing Ms. Calendar the book to take a serving of spaghetti. “Thank you, Buffy. Theoretically, if we could break the necklace, that would then break the power of Anyanka’s spell on Ms. Emerson.”
“Or we could ask nicely,” Willow suggested. “I don’t think Anyanka meant to turn Ms. Emerson invisible, exactly.”
Ms. Calendar shook her head. “There are definitely patron saints of scorned women who don’t do harm,” she said. “I remember after a really bad breakup in my teens, I called on the help of one of them to help me heal. But Anyanka is a vengeance demon, and that’s a very, very different thing.”
“So how do we get the necklace?” Oz asked.
“I’m going to summon Anyanka,” Ms. Calendar replied. She hesitated, thinking, then, “Rupert, could you break up with me for a second?”
“What?” said Giles, looking honestly bewildered.
“Just—you know, as a precaution,” said Ms. Calendar, as matter-of-factly as if she was asking Giles to do the dishes. “That way, I can honestly tell Anyanka that she’s been summoned by a scorned woman.” She took another bite of spaghetti.
Giles still looked a little confused, but replied, “Right, um—I hereby terminate our relationship.”
Ms. Calendar choked on her spaghetti and started laughing.
“Giles,” Buffy whispered very audibly, “never use the word ‘terminate’ to break up with someone.”
“Yes, thank you, Buffy,” said Giles irritably. “Jenny, I really am breaking up with you. Stop laughing.”
“Yeah, Ms. Calendar,” Xander chimed in, grinning. “You don’t look scorned.”
Still giggling, Ms. Calendar staggered over to take the book from Giles. “God, I can’t even look at you,” she managed, hitting him lightly with the book. “Such a dork.” She looked over at the group, and her smile faded a little. “Everyone stay in the kitchen, okay?” she said. “This thing is between me and Anyanka. I don’t want anyone caught in the crossfire.”
“I actually think—” Giles began.
“No men,” Ms. Calendar reminded him.
“That wasn’t what I had in mind,” said Giles a little irritably. “I was merely going to say that I think you should have a Slayer assist you. You can summon Anyanka, and the Slayer can take the necklace.”
“Why just one?” Faith grinned at Buffy. “Two makes it all the more fun.”
Even after all the stuff that had gone down in the factory, Willow felt more than a little left out. Magic was her thing with Ms. Calendar. “Can I help too?” she asked, already pretty sure she knew the answer.
Ms. Calendar looked between Buffy, Willow, and Faith, then said, “You know what? I think Buffy’s going to help me on this one. Faith, you and Willow can help set up the ritual, but then I want you both to go to the kitchen too, okay?”
This wasn’t at all what Willow had expected. Judging by the expressions on Buffy’s and Faith’s faces, they hadn’t seen that one coming either. “Okay,” said Willow, still a little surprised, but not feeling quite as sidelined.
“Okay,” Faith agreed, picking up the pot of spaghetti. “Should I finish up serving dinner?”
Buffy paced the living room while Ms. Calendar prepared herbs and materials for the ritual. Everyone else was having dinner in the kitchen, and a part of her kind of wished she was there; she’d never really gotten the chance to connect with Ms. Calendar, and she was honestly still a little worried that Ms. Calendar might harbor some resentment towards her.
Sure, Ms. Calendar was nice and all, but Buffy still didn’t know all that much about her. And more and more, she was beginning to feel the effects of that. Willow would gush about something particularly witty Ms. Calendar had said, and Faith—well, obviously Faith didn’t gush, but there was clear affection in Faith’s voice whenever she brought up Ms. Calendar at all. It made Buffy feel strangely left out. She wanted to appreciate Ms. Calendar for more than just being Giles’s girlfriend, but she didn’t know where to start.
“Why’d you want me to help out?” Buffy asked without thinking.
Ms. Calendar looked up from where she was setting up the last of the herbs. “What?”
“Why me?” Buffy repeated, feeling a little embarrassed to even ask. It was too late to go back now, though, so she continued. “I mean—Faith’s pretty much your Slayer, and you and Willow have that whole magic thing going on. Why just me?”
Ms. Calendar smiled slightly. “Because,” she said, “you’re important to Rupert, and therefore important to me.”
The answer was simple, and it made Buffy feel warmed and guilty at the same time. She didn’t like that Ms. Calendar still liked her. If the situation were reversed, she sure wouldn’t like Ms. Calendar. “I wasn’t exactly great to you last year,” she said. “And I barely know you.”
“Another reason why I want you to help me out,” Ms. Calendar replied without missing a beat. “Nothing like taking down a centuries-old vengeance demon to get to know someone.”
Buffy smiled nervously and handed Ms. Calendar the spellbook. “You ready?”
“All set,” Ms. Calendar agreed. “Get ready to tackle her when she shows up.” She began to read. “Oh, Anyanka, I beseech thee,” she recited, giving Buffy a small, encouraging grin. “In the name of all women scorned…” She sprinkled a handful of herbs onto the fire. “Come before me,” she finished.
Quietly, and without fanfare, a demon appeared in the middle of the room.
“Huh,” said Buffy.
“Why have you called on me?” Anyanka asked somewhat imperiously.
“I’m a scorned woman with a wish to make,” said Ms. Calendar seriously. “See, my boyfriend just terminated our relationship—”
“You think I don’t know your trickery?” Anyanka demanded. “There is no wrath in your heart! I have seen the look of a vengeful woman, and you are not one, so why have you called on me?”
“All right, enough’s enough,” Buffy announced. As Anyanka turned to look at her, Buffy tackled her, grabbing the demon’s wrists and holding on tight. “Ms. Calendar, get the pendant!” she shouted.
Ms. Calendar rushed over, pulling the necklace away from the demon. The chain snapped. “Guys, get in here!” Ms. Calendar shouted, just as Anyanka broke free of Buffy’s hold in an attempt to retrieve her necklace.
In the commotion, Buffy managed to grab the necklace herself, tossing it across the room to Giles. “Smash it!” she yelled.
Anyanka let go of Ms. Calendar, rushing Giles. He threw the necklace behind him to Faith, who placed the necklace carefully down on the floor and stomped on it as hard as she could.
A ripple passed through the living room—
“God, I wish no one could see me like this!” the teacher burst out. “Or—or even hear me!”
“Done,” said the other woman ominously.
Shit, thought Faith, that’s weird. She decided that she would wait on getting the frozen peas.
“Wait—done,” she heard the other woman saying as she left.
“I wish Robert was in as much pain as I was,” the teacher continued, sniffling. “I wish he was in more pain than I was!”
“Done!” The other woman sounded extremely frustrated.
Faith rounded the corner to the shopping cart, smiling at the group. “Hey,” she said. “We might have to wait on getting the frozen peas. Some teacher’s having a breakdown about her ex-boyfriend.”
“I’m guessing that’s Ms. Emerson,” said Jen sympathetically. “At least she’s got a friend on staff. Some substitute teacher—”
“Yikes,” said Xander. “You never can tell with substitute teachers in Sunnydale.”
Chapter 39: nightmare(s)
Xander came over at the beginning of December, an overnight bag slung over one shoulder. “I have to stay the night tonight,” he said, not offering any explanation. He was shaking.
Rupert placed down his newspaper, looking mildly concerned. “Xander, what—” he began.
“You remember when we went to the beach?” Xander’s eyes were on Jenny. “I’m pretty sure my dad never noticed. And I was gone for, like, the whole day, and he never noticed.”
“Are you okay?” Jenny asked carefully.
“Thanksgiving sucked,” said Xander sharply. “Dad caught me trying to sneak out in the middle of a Harris family get-drunk-in-front-of-the TV-Thanksgiving and got super mad, so I had to help my mom with Black Friday shopping. And then you guys weren’t here over the weekend because you were—where were you?”
“We were tracking down a rare book in Los Angeles,” Rupert replied, sounding almost ashamed. “Xander, would you like some tea? I still have a pot on the stove.”
“Yeah. That’d be nice.” Xander sat down next to Jenny on the sofa, keeping himself a good distance away from her.
Jenny had learned from Faith that now probably wasn’t the best time to physically reach out. Then it occurred to her that Xander wasn’t Faith, so she moved a little closer, placing a hand on his shoulder. “Hey,” she said. “I’m gonna have to wake Faith up to let her know you’re here, but you can sleep on the couch if you want.”
Xander breathed out. “Okay,” he said. Then, “Listen—I—my dad doesn’t know I’m here—I mean, I know he doesn’t care, sometimes, but other times he does—it’s—”
This was when Rupert came in with two mugs of tea, handing one to Xander and one to Jenny. Xander barely seemed to register the mug in his hand. Rupert observed this, then said to Xander, “Take a shower.”
Xander and Jenny both gave Rupert a strange look. “I took one this morning,” said Xander, bemused.
“I don’t doubt that,” said Rupert calmly. “But I think a shower might help a little. Did you bring a clean set of pajamas?”
“I don’t—” Xander looked a little helplessly down at the bag. “I packed in a hurry, I don’t—”
“Borrow a set of my pajamas and take a shower, then,” said Rupert, in an unusually gentle tone compared to the way he usually spoke to Xander. Jenny registered this change and tried to hide her surprise by taking a long sip of tea.
Xander faltered, then handed the mug to Rupert and got up, heading down the hallway. Rupert fell back into the couch with a heavy sigh, placing the tea down on the coffee table in front of him.
“You handled that well,” commented Jenny.
“You sound surprised.” Rupert sounded thoroughly exhausted.
“Are you okay?”
“Not especially.” Rupert stared ahead, looking almost deliberately at nothing in particular. “I just don’t know if I’ve ever put a lot of thought into Xander’s home life, and that disturbs me.”
Jenny looked up at him. “You care about him,” she murmured, startled.
Rupert breathed out. “Bloody exhausting,” he managed. “But—yes, I believe I do. I suppose you’re not the only one who considers yourself bad at the whole mentor thing.”
“We try.” Jenny reached out, taking Rupert’s hand. “That’s gotta count for something.”
In the next room over, they could hear the shower running.
Faith lashed out, jerking straight up in bed. It took her a moment to fully wake up, another moment to realize that she’d hit Jen in the face while waking up, and a good thirty seconds for the lingering terror to reach a manageable level. “I’m sorry,” she forced out, pulling the blankets close. “I’m—didn’t mean—”
Jen staggered to her feet, rubbing her head. “I mean, ow, but it’s okay,” she said, wincing. “I definitely shouldn’t have come that close to wake you up. I’ll turn on the light next time.”
Faith breathed out, her heart pounding. “Yeah,” she said shakily. “Yeah, you do that.”
Flipping on the light, Jen crossed the room to sit down on Faith’s bed. “Sorry to wake you,” she said, “but Xander just got in, and I know how you wake up in the middle of the night sometimes—I mostly just didn’t want you to see some shadowy figure on the couch and get nervous.”
“Or you just didn’t want me to beat him up,” said Faith a little sharply. The nightmares made her edgy.
“Yeah, that’s definitely it,” said Jen, in the way she did when Giles said something particularly ridiculous. “Do you want me to get you some tea?”
Shit. See, that was the problem with crying—once you did it the first time, other stuff made you want to do it again. “Fine,” Faith said, “whatever,” and sniffled a little bit, but it was only because she hadn’t vacuumed her room like Giles had been telling her to do and there was dust in the air or something.
“Okay,” said Jen, and gave her a tired smile. “I’m going to get tea, and then I’m going to go to sleep, because it’s two in the morning and I have a bunch of winter-solstice dinner preparations to start up on tomorrow.”
“You have work tomorrow,” said Faith, sniffling again. She kind of wanted Jen to leave so she could wipe her eyes, because the dust was getting to them too.
“Whatever.” Jen got up off the bed, hesitated, tucked the covers a little more securely around Faith, and left.
Faith could hear her clattering around in the kitchen. She waited, lying back in bed, and felt for the knife under her pillow. She still had nightmares, but it wasn’t as scary to wake up anymore. The knife felt more like a weird kind of security blanket now, because it wasn’t like she was going to stab someone with it.
Jen came back in with a warm mug of tea, carefully curling Faith’s fingers around it. “Get some rest,” she whispered, and patted Faith’s shoulder.
“Like you didn’t just wake me up,” Faith teased. There was a lump in her throat.
Jen turned on Faith’s bedside lamp. “You got me there,” she replied, quietly exiting the room. She paused to turn off the overhead light, looking back at Faith with this small, proud smile. “Love you,” she said.
Faith felt her stomach turn over. “Yeah,” she said, still not sure how to respond, and took a long sip of tea as Jen closed the door.
She took her time with the tea. Jen had put honey and milk in it, which tasted way better than Giles’s tea. Giles almost never put anything in—something about diluting the integrity of the beverage or some other wordy British crap—but it was still nice to drink tea in the kitchen with him. Faith had done that one time when they were working on her history report together.
Setting the mug on her bedside table, Faith settled into the blankets. She felt safe, which still did make her feel a little terrified, but it was worth it for hot tea and someone telling her they loved her. She’d heard people say it before, but Jen was the first person who made the words ring true.
Xander had fallen asleep on the couch in a set of Rupert’s pajamas, snuggled under a comforter and hugging a pillow. Jenny tucked him in very carefully before donning her leather jacket, grabbing her car keys, and heading quietly out the door. Now that things with her family (god, that felt a little weird to think; weird but nice) seemed to be reaching a relatively calm place, there was some other business she needed to take care of.
Jenny wanted to see Angel, not on anyone else’s terms but her own. She didn’t want to see him for the first time when Buffy brought him in to help with something, or if he decided that he wanted to talk to her. She felt like she needed something about the situation with Angel that she could control, and seeing him for the first time might qualify as that.
Halfway down the front porch, she saw a figure leaning against her car. The keys slipped out of Jenny’s fingers.
“Huh,” said Angel. “Heading off to see me?” He wasn’t smiling, and the expression on his face was too hard and too human to be anything but Angel. “I think you should consider that you’ve done enough damage as it is.”
Jenny tried to find words, but she was too terrified to move or even speak. Her eyes moved to the car keys, now lying on the step in front of her.
Angel moved forward very fast, and Jenny flinched, nearly falling down, but then he was straightening up with the keys in his hands. “You should consider that maybe I don’t want to forgive you for what you’ve done,” he continued. He still wasn’t smiling. Unexpectedly, Jenny found herself missing Angelus.
“What I’ve done,” Jenny echoed shakily.
“Sent me to Hell?” Angel looked impassively up at her.
“I’m sorry.” Jenny’s voice broke. “I wanted to help—”
“A word of advice,” said Angel, his face changing. “Stop helping.”
“You’re not Angelus,” oh god why wasn’t Jenny running, he was going to kill her and she didn’t even know why.
“A couple centuries in a hell dimension can really change a guy,” Angel informed Jenny with stony anger, and lunged—
Jenny woke up and all but tumbled out of bed, pulling half the bedsheets with her. Frantically, she tried to untangle herself, but these fucking sheets were wrapped around her waist and her leg and—
Her sleepy-eyed lover knelt down next to her, taking her hands and wordlessly pulling her up. “There we are,” he said, soft and comforting. Jenny tried to compose herself, but Rupert smoothed down her hair and pulled her into his arms. “What’s the matter?”
“Um,” Jenny breathed out, very conscious of the fact that she was shaking, “nightmare.”
Jenny had to pause a moment before answering carefully, “Yes.”
Chapter 40: on the verge
Xander woke up early and felt a moment of confusion before remembering the fight he’d had with his dad last night. It wasn’t the worst that had ever happened, just loud and drunken accusations from his dad while his mom stood tight-lipped and washed dishes, but for some reason Xander had completely lost his temper and ran. He’d pushed past his dad and ran down to the basement and grabbed the emergency bag Willow had made for him when they were in freshman year and ran the fifteen blocks to Giles and Ms. Calendar’s.
Giles stepped into the room and sat down in the easy chair, looking supremely uncomfortable.
“Uh, hey,” said Xander awkwardly, not sure how to deal with Giles this early in the morning. “I can, I can leave,” he fumbled, all of his determined conviction dissipating at the concept of being unwelcome.
“No, it’s fine.” Giles took off his glasses, polishing them furiously. “Jenny’s under the impression that—well, that your home life isn’t exactly ideal, and she wanted me to extend an invitation for you to spend some time here. A-at least until you’ve figured out a more permanent living situation.”
This was when Xander caught sight of Faith, leaning against a wall and watching him from behind a history textbook in the kitchen. “You sure you guys have enough space for me?” he said awkwardly, trying not to let on that he’d seen Faith listening in.
“Not for anything permanent,” Ms. Calendar answered shortly, entering the room and sitting down on the arm of Giles’s chair, “but you can crash on our couch for the rest of the school year if that’s the way things are looking with your parents.”
Xander breathed out. Ms. Calendar looked unusually angry, but he got the sense that it wasn’t directed at him. “I don’t—I don’t know,” he said finally. “I—ran away, once, a few years back, but I ended up going back."
Ms. Calendar and Giles exchanged a look that Xander didn’t quite get. Then Ms. Calendar said in a strained tone of voice, “You should have told us things with your parents were bad enough for you to want to run away, Xander.”
“Right, when you’d just been tortured by a crazy vampire and Giles had skipped town because he couldn’t deal?” Xander was being awful, he knew that, but if they focused in on how awful he was being then maybe they wouldn’t get as upset about the other thing he’d just said. He didn’t want their pity. “You had a lot on your plate last summer. No way I was adding to it.”
Giles looked down and didn’t say anything.
Ms. Calendar nodded to herself. “Okay,” she said quietly. Then, louder, “Okay. Xander, you are staying here. Rupert, Faith, we’re not going in to school today, I’ll call us all in sick. This is—” She drew in a sharp, pained breath. “You should have told us,” she said, and exited the room, hurrying down the hallway and into the kitchen.
Giles’s expression was unreadable, his eyes downcast.
“That was a low blow on my part,” said Xander awkwardly. “About you not being able to deal. Sorry about that.”
“The worst accusations are the ones with truth to them,” said Giles quietly, and looked up. “If the people around me are getting hurt and I am so willing to overlook it on so many different occasions, it’s safe to say that I, as you so aptly put it, can’t deal.”
“Yeah, well,” Xander shrugged, feeling suddenly awful, “it’s not your job to take care of me. It’s your job to train Buffy.”
Giles looked over his shoulder and down the hallway. In the kitchen, Ms. Calendar was leaning down to place her hand on Faith’s shoulder and saying something that Xander couldn’t hear. “I think I need to re-evaluate my job options,” said Giles.
Giles drove everyone down to a diner in the same part of town as the Bronze. While Xander and Faith were having a stilted conversation about school and putting overly gratuitous amounts of syrup on their waffles, Giles and Jenny went out under the guise of getting money from an ATM and had the first genuine alone time they’d managed in weeks.
“I feel awful,” said Jenny miserably. “I mean, he made allusions, but I never thought—god, and Willow’s parents are never around either, and I just ignored her in favor of Faith, Rupert why are there so many kids in my life that I’m doing such a shitty job of taking care of—”
“It truly isn’t as simple as that,” Giles managed. He felt even worse than Jenny. “You—you’ve been trying to mentor and support three children at the same time, completely on your own. I’ve been single-mindedly focused on you and Buffy, and I haven’t once considered that the rest of the children could use my presence as well.” He took off his glasses, polishing them even though he knew they were clean. He didn’t want to look at Jenny. “This is more my fault than it is yours.”
“You know,” said Jenny, “I kinda wish it was still last year. My biggest problems then were relationship drama and a homicidal vampire targeting me.”
Giles tried to laugh. It didn’t really work.
“You think he’ll be okay on our couch for now?” Jenny asked, still sounding thoroughly wrung out. “The house isn’t really big enough for you, me, him, Faith, and a bunch of your books.”
“We’ll work out something more permanent eventually,” Giles answered. “Right now, I think it’s most important that we’re there for him.”
Jenny snorted. “You realize the irony in saying that when we’re walking down the street away from him, right?”
“You make a good point.” Giles took Jenny’s hand, turning them back around toward the diner.
Faith had finished her waffles and had ordered herself and Xander two milkshakes by the time Giles and Jenny got back. “It’s a celebration breakfast,” she was explaining with determined cheer. “This is how you celebrate getting away from shitty parents. Day after I left my mom, I—” She stopped talking when she saw them both, taking a long sip of her milkshake to cover it up.
Jenny sat down next to Faith and hugged her, hard. Giles, after a moment of frightened hesitation, sat down next to Xander and began a panicked mental debate with himself about whether or not Xander now expected a hug.
“I’m fine,” Faith was saying to Jenny, but her voice caught a little and she hugged Jenny back. “Sheesh. Just—trying to be helpful.”
“I’m very proud of you,” Jenny whispered, and let go of Faith, turning to Giles and Xander. “Rupert, calm down, I don’t think Xander needs a hug. Xander, you want any more food?”
Xander shrugged distantly. “I’m good,” he said. “I’m full, I think.”
“Cool.” Jenny took a sip of her half-finished coffee. “We should get going, then.”
“Jenny, you can’t just have coffee and count that as breakfast,” Giles objected.
Jenny waved a hand dismissively. “Xander, Faith, we’re going to drop you off at the house so that Rupert and I can run a few errands,” she said.
“Errands?” Faith echoed, frowning. “What kind of errands?”
“Nothing you need to worry about,” said Jenny in a suspiciously breezy tone of voice.
Giles had the distinct sense that whatever they were doing would probably upset one or both of the children. Honestly, the fact that this woman had hidden her secret motives from him for months last year was something he would never be able to understand; she was absolutely horrible at hiding her motives right now. Gracefully, he covered for her. “Groceries,” he said helpfully.
“And we can’t come why?” Faith inquired.
Xander smiled a little, looking up. “Yeah, last I remember it was you guys getting into a fight at the grocery store,” he quipped, which made Giles feel a bit better.
“Because we want to maintain our dignity and pretend that that was an isolated incident,” said Jenny with relief, shooting Giles a thank-you look. “So we’re going to drive you two home and you’re going to watch cartoons while Rupert and I buy groceries.”
They didn’t buy groceries.
Tony Harris had left for work, Jessica Harris was out actually buying groceries, and Jenny (being the impulsive and furious woman that she was) was now attempting to break into his house with a bobby pin. “That son of a bitch, scaring his kid enough to run him out of the house,” she was muttering ominously. “I’m going to take Xander’s stuff and I’m going to take a few other things too just so that asshole can—”
Placing a calming hand on the small of Jenny’s back, Giles reminded her, “First of all, dear, I’m fairly certain that the maneuver you’re attempting only works with practice. Also, you’ve overlooked the fact that his key is under the welcome mat.”
Jenny looked up. “What? Oh. Oh, god, Rupert, why did I not think of that—”
Giles turned Jenny away from the door and into his arms, reaching around her to unlock the door. She turned her face into his jacket, resting her cheek on his shoulder very briefly before they broke apart. “Do you know what we need?” he inquired.
“I don’t know,” said Jenny. “Everything. I don’t know.” She opened the door, hurrying into the house. “Find a bag somewhere, just, just take everything out to the car.”
Giles leaned against the doorframe, suddenly exhausted. There were too many moving pieces in his life, all of a sudden, too many things he’d invested himself in. Part of himself wanted to re-enter that mentality of the Council being the most important part of his life, but the Council wouldn’t condone what he was doing right now, and something about that made Giles more than a little certain that he wasn’t the type of Watcher they’d want.
Maybe he wasn’t the Watcher type at all. Most other Watchers didn’t have a past that involved joining a rebellious demon-raising cult and having a clearly unstable romantic relationship with a clearly unstable chaos mage. Most other Watchers had already accepted a solitary life as fact—
Jenny threw a bag of clothing down the stairs. “Honey,” she called, sounding stretched thin, “I get that you’re feeling awful, because I do too, but we really need to speed things up here if we’re going to get out of this house without getting caught.”
This’ll make truly excellent material for my Watcher diaries, Giles thought as he picked up the bag of clothing and exited towards Jenny’s car. Breaking into a civilian home. He picked up the bag, taking it out to the car.
Jenny came down to the car with two more bags, both significantly full. “There wasn’t actually a lot of stuff,” she said, shoving the bags violently into the backseat of her car. “Just a lot of clutter. I’m gonna have to apologize to Xander; this isn’t exactly the neatest packing job.”
Giles placed the bag of clothing down and pulled Jenny into his arms. She made a choked noise and buried her face in his shoulder, and some part of him felt comforted by the certainty of her. He felt like he was on the verge of figuring out something important, but he couldn’t quite discern what just yet.
Chapter 41: birthday wishes
Faith was awoken by a knock on the door. Burrowing further into her blankets, she inquired with some irritation, “What?”
“Can I come in?” Jen inquired quietly.
“It’s, like, seven in the morning,” Faith mumbled, “on a Saturday,” but sat up in bed anyway, rubbing her eyes. “Fine,” she conceded.
Jen opened the door. Jen and—and Giles, and Buffy, and a three-layer cake with birthday candles. Faith’s hands dropped from her eyes and her jaw just straight-up dropped.
“Do we start singing now?” Buffy asked Giles.
“Oh, this is wholly and completely Jenny’s operation,” Giles replied very seriously.
“Shh,” said Jen, fixing them with a look. “One, two, three, four—”
“Happy Birth—” Buffy belted, then stopped when she realized no one was singing.
“Jenny always counts to eight,” Giles said, sounding thoroughly satisfied, “and I always tell her how confusing it is, but—”
Faith was very grateful that everyone was distracted, because it gave her enough time to wipe her eyes on her comforter. It wasn’t cheap grocery-store cake, either, it was cake with homemade chocolate icing and little vanilla-icing roses. Faith had always loved little icing roses. She didn’t know who had figured that one out.
Jen seemed to diffuse the argument, then, because that was when Giles led everyone in a rousing chorus of Happy Birthday. Buffy brought the cake up close for Faith to blow out the candles.
“These better not be trick candles,” said Faith, and sniffled. “Smoke,” she added as explanation.
“Of course,” said Giles dryly. Jen elbowed him.
“Ooh, and we can give you presents!” said Buffy with enthusiasm. “Your birthday’s super close to Christmas—December must be such a fun month for you!”
Truthfully, Faith had completely forgotten about her birthday. So much had been going on with Jen and Giles and Buffy (who was looking unreasonably gorgeous this early in the morning) that thinking about her birthday wasn’t at all on the agenda. Sure, she’d made a few remarks in passing, but she couldn’t think of the last time she’d had a real birthday celebration.
“You know,” Jen said, sitting down next to Faith and beginning to cut the cake, “it’s important to remember the significance behind celebrating birthdays.”
“Yeah, it’s like we’re all saying yay, Faith’s here in the universe with us!” Buffy handed Jen a plate for the first cake slice. “Giles, you’re on fork duty, right?”
“Are we all having breakfast in here?” Faith inquired.
“Well, it’s your birthday,” said Jen with a nonchalant shrug. “You can kick us all out and eat the entire cake by yourself, you can let us all stay and eat cake in here, you can get dressed and we can eat cake in the kitchen.” She winced. “I think I asked Xander to set the table, but he had to go pick up some more of his stuff from his parents’ today, so, uh, eating in the kitchen might take a little longer to set up.”
Faith considered this, then said, “In here.”
Buffy handed Faith a slice of cake, smiling big and bright. “For real, though,” she said shyly. “I’m—glad you’re here. Like—in Sunnydale-here, on-this-planet-here—anyway. Happy birthday.”
“Thanks,” said Faith, trying to look as cool and nonchalant as possible. She was pretty sure it didn’t work.
While Faith got dressed and Giles took a shower, Buffy helped Ms. Calendar wash dishes.
It was—strange. On a lot of levels. Buffy had had a lot of conversations about Ms. Calendar lately, but not that many with Ms. Calendar, and it made her feel like there were a bunch of important things she needed to say without actually knowing what they were. Plus, Ms. Calendar was all smiley, and that was weird too, because last year Ms. Calendar’s smiles had seemed more perfunctory than genuine.
Buffy wanted to know Ms. Calendar well enough to understand why everyone seemed to like her so much. She really wished she’d been around that summer, because then she’d have already gone through all the liking-Ms-Calendar stuff and not have to feel like she was left out of some new, weird Scooby club.
Not—okay. Not weird. Weird was definitely not the right word to use.
“That was a nice cake,” said Buffy much too loudly, and felt a rush of embarrassment immediately after.
Ms. Calendar put down the dish towel. “Buffy,” she said, frowning thoughtfully. Uh oh. “If there’s anything you want to talk to me about—”
“Giles,” said Buffy, latching on to the one thing she knew they both had in common. “He’s, he’s really great, isn’t he? Kinda dry, but I guess that’s working for you guys since you two moved in together. How’s that working out, by the way? This is a really small place—I mean, no offense, since you seemed really into the bachelorette life last year—which is also totally valid! Not that I’m saying—”
“Buffy,” said Ms. Calendar, who now looked slightly amused, “how about you breathe, I get you another slice of cake, and we get to know each other before Faith steals you off for a movie?”
“We’re still washing dishes,” managed Buffy, exhausted from her breathless ramble.
Ms. Calendar didn’t show any sign of hearing her. Carefully, she took the plate Buffy was holding, placing it down on the counter before steering Buffy over to a chair. “I think there’s about half the cake left,” she said, “so if you—”
Giles came in, then, freshly showered and wearing a sweater and slacks. It was a little disconcerting to see him out of his usual jacket and tie, but then Buffy hadn’t really seen him relaxed before this year, either. “Hello,” he said, taking Ms. Calendar’s hand. “Are you two having more cake?”
“We’re still saving some for dinner tonight,” Ms. Calendar answered, smiling easily at Giles.
Buffy watched, nonplussed. They’d been happy last year, sure, but this was straight-up domestic bliss. “Are you sticking around, Giles?” she asked, mostly out of a desire to remind them that she was still here. “There’s probably cake for you too.”
“Actually, I should probably go and call the Council,” Giles replied. “There’s—Slayer business that I should discuss with them, seeing as Faith’s just turned eighteen.”
“I’m sorry?” There was a sudden cold note in Ms. Calendar’s voice as she handed Buffy a slice of cake.
“Not that,” said Giles immediately. “I actually haven’t heard a word from them about anything involving that, which is why I need to call them.”
“What’s going on?” Buffy inquired, confused.
Giles and Ms. Calendar looked at Buffy, then each other. “Nothing of relevance,” said Giles awkwardly.
“Damn straight,” said Ms. Calendar, smiling thinly. “Not to Faith or to Buffy, right, Rupert?”
“Completely,” Giles agreed. There seemed to be a conversation going on that Buffy didn’t quite understand, because Ms. Calendar’s face relaxed at that. “I just need to call them and make sure that they aren’t planning on enacting the Cruciamentum without my supervision.”
“The what now?” Buffy asked, frowning.
“We’ll talk about it later, okay?” Ms. Calendar gently pushed Giles towards the door. “This is something Rupert needs to tell you on his own time. Not now. Go check with the Council, sweetie.”
“I will.” Giles kissed Ms. Calendar in the doorway, then hurried out and down the hall.
Buffy turned toward Ms. Calendar. “What are you guys not telling me?” she asked, and felt a weird, twisty, deja-vu feeling.
Ms. Calendar gave Buffy a clearly forced smile. “Rupert has some Council business that he needs to figure out,” she said. “It’s something that’s very much his business—”
“But you know,” said Buffy pointedly.
“It’s not my place to tell,” said Ms. Calendar with finality. She hesitated, then, “And this isn’t—this isn’t like me spying on Angelus. This is something related to Rupert’s job as a Watcher that would really hurt him if I was the one to tell you. I hope you don’t think that—”
Buffy considered the odds that Ms. Calendar was trying to pull one over on Giles again, then felt guilty for even thinking that Ms. Calendar would do something like that, then felt doubtful because she didn’t know Ms. Calendar all that well, then guilty again because that was kind of her fault, then decided that she was done with her mini-crisis and would focus in on eating cake instead. “It’s fine,” she said awkwardly. “It kind of sucks to be out of the loop, but—you’re Giles’s girlfriend. You should come first.”
Ms. Calendar looked honestly startled. “You’re his Slayer,” she said. “You come first.”
There was a surprised silence, and then both of them started laughing. Buffy wasn’t sure whether it was anxiety or amusement or what, but whatever it was, it felt like a real relief. “Wow,” she managed, giggling, “we are really on different pages about this whole Giles thing, huh?”
“Try different books altogether,” said Ms. Calendar wryly. “Buffy, I really am sorry—”
“It’s cool,” said Buffy, and was surprised to realize that she actually meant it. “I trust you.”
Giles drove to the library in order to make the call to the Council. This wasn’t a phone call he wanted overheard by Buffy or Faith, and it wasn’t something that could stand to wait much longer. Dialing the Council’s number, he waited to be put through to Travers.
“Mr. Giles,” came Travers’s irritated voice, “I certainly hope this is an emergency. You’ve awoken me at an unfortunate hour.”
“Terribly sorry,” said Giles, trying to sound cordial and breezy while still professional. It was a difficult balance to maintain. “I merely wished to call you, seeing as today is the Slayer’s eighteenth birthday, and—”
“I find it thoroughly unusual that you cannot remember the birthday of your own Slayer, Giles,” said Travers long-sufferingly. “The Council records clearly state that Buffy’s Cruciamentum will take place in January.”
It bloody well won’t, Giles thought, but at least had enough presence of mind to not articulate this to his superior. “I’m sorry, I was actually referring to Faith,” he replied. “The Council records I received indicate Faith’s eighteenth birthday is today.”
There was a long silence. Then Travers said, “You can’t possibly be using falsified records as reference?”
This wasn’t at all how Giles had anticipated the conversation going. “I’m sorry?” he managed.
“Miss Lehane is a liability to the Council,” Travers informed him, as indifferently as though he were talking about the weather, “and she has been ever since she was Called. As a minor, and as a runaway, she is legally the Council’s responsibility until she turns eighteen. The decision was made between the Council and Miss Lehane to speed that process along.” He paused, then said disbelievingly, “How on earth did you not know about this?”
“I—” Flummoxed, Giles fumbled for words. “No one ever informed me—Faith knows she’s not eighteen?”
“Faith is not a Slayer that we intend to waste our resources on,” Travers replied, “particularly not now that she is under the care of a civilian.”
“Now, hold on!” Giles began indignantly.
“Mr. Giles, I do hope you are not about to attempt defense of your lover to me,” said Travers exasperatedly.
Giles had moved past confusion and straight into anger. Holding tightly to the receiver, he forced out, “So Faith shall not be taking the Cruciamentum?”
“A self-destructive, badly-adjusted Slayer with more respect for a Watcher’s paramour than a Watcher himself is of no use to the Council,” replied Travers without much interest. “Miss Lehane is almost entirely governed by emotions. Were it not for your Jenny, she might have been useful to us—”
“You mean that she would have been alone,” said Giles, unable to stop himself. “That’s all that you mean.”
“The situation was finalized when it was clear that Ms. Calendar would provide an obstruction,” Travers continued, as though Giles hadn’t spoken. “You must understand—falsifying records to legally make Faith eighteen is a mercy, not a crime.”
“I rather think it falls quite neatly under crime, actually,” Giles snapped.
“Rupert,” said Travers. There was condescending pity in his voice. “They’re Slayers. They cannot and will never have the chance to be teenage girls.”
Infuriated, Giles slammed down the receiver, realized what he’d done, and let his head fall against the wall. “Damn it,” he muttered. But—he couldn’t possibly keep his head under those circumstances, could he?
You know, said a small voice in the back of his head, by Council standards, being calm about things like this should be easy for you.
Giles stopped. For a very long moment, he considered this. Then, with practiced ease, he dialed another number.
“Calendar-Giles residence, Calendar here and eating the rest of Faith’s birthday cake,” came Jenny's wonderfully comforting voice.
“I can’t continue to be Buffy’s Watcher,” said Giles. The words felt strange to say. “There’s no possible way I can affiliate myself with the Council anymore.”