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Imperfections

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“It’s long division.”

“It’s awful.

“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 Text

“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.”

“Do stop.”

“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 Text

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 Text

“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 Text

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—”

“Okay.”

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.”

What?

“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?”

Faith shrugged.

“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 Text

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.”

“Rupert?”

“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 Text

“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.

“Well—”

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 Text

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 Text

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 Text

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 Text

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.


 

“Ow.”

“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?”

“Yeah?”

“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.

“I’m sorry?”

“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?”

“Jenny.”

“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 Text

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?”

“What?”

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 Text

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.


“Ms. Calendar?”

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 Text

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.”

“Preposterous.”

“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 Text

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.”

“What?”

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 Text

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 Text

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?”

“Rupert—”

“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.”

“Jenny—”

“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.”

“Jenny—”

“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?”

“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—

Shit.

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?”

No.

“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.”

“Faith—”

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 Text

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.”

“Who?”

“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 Text

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?”

“Janna—”

“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 Text

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.


 

“Big Dipper.”

“I decided to call that one Big Ladle.”

“Why?”

“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.”

“Who?”

“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 Text

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.”

“Yeah?”

“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 Text

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 Text

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 Text

“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.

Except—

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 Text

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.”

“Legally speaking—”

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 upoh, 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 Text

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 Text

“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?”

Rupert flinched.

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 Text

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—”

Jenny lunged.

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 Text

“Hello?”

“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.

“I’m sorry?”

“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—”

“Cute.”

“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 Text

“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?”

“What?”

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.

Giles nodded.

“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.


 

Willow, hey!!

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 Text

“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 Text

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 Text

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 Text

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?”

“M-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?”

“Do what?”

“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 Text

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.”

Willow giggled.

“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.”

“I don’t—”

“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.”

“Meaning?”

“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 Text

“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.”

“Yeah?”

“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 Text

“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 Text

“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 Text

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.


 

“Hey.”

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.”

“Angelus?”

Jenny had to pause a moment before answering carefully, “Yes.”

Chapter Text

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 Text

 

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.”

Chapter Text

“Rupert, are you okay?” Jenny asked with clear worry.

“I’m not—” Giles breathed out. He leaned heavily against the wall, holding the receiver to his ear. “I am not the Watcher she needs,” he said.

“Yeah, well, no one needs a bureaucratic asshole like Travers in their life.” Despite the lightness of her words, Jenny sounded somewhat unnerved. “Come home. This isn’t the kind of conversation we should have over the phone.”

“This isn’t a conversation I can wait to have,” said Giles quietly.

“This isn’t a conversation I’m prepared to have, Rupert, I don’t know what you want me to say!” There was an edge of panic in Jenny’s voice. “I’ve got the Watcher-girlfriend thing down pat, I can do the whole reassuring thing when you’re talking like you, but—”

“I just wanted to hear your voice, darling. I don’t need you to reassure me.” Giles found it rather odd that he was suddenly the one comforting Jenny instead of the other way around. “It’s fine. I—I’ve made up my mind.”

“I haven’t made up mine!”

“What happened to all that disdain for my following Council rules?”

“That was when it was a non-negotiable that you would! It was—it was frustration at an existing system. I never thought you’d actually do anything like this!”

“You think that little of me?” Giles said quietly.

“Oh my god, that’s so completely not what I’m trying to say, I’m just—” Jenny exhaled. “I’m worried about you,” she said with frustration. “How is that so hard to get across? The Council has been a part of your life since you were a kid, and it’s been a part of mine since we met.”

“Well, not exactly. I didn’t immediately tell you about—”

“Shut up. Not the point. Rupert, why are you calling me and telling me this?”

“I talked to Travers,” said Giles. “Faith’s seventeen. The Council falsified her records because she was too much of a liability as a minor, and they have no interest in wasting resources on her.”

Jenny didn’t respond.

“Jenny?”

“You’re not serious, right?” Jenny now sounded very much beside herself. “This is a lot to take in. Faith’s seventeen—oh my god, I didn’t put the right amount of candles on the cake—”

“Is that really what you’re focusing on right now?” Giles inquired, nonplussed.

“Well, it’s better than focusing on how fucked up the Council is!”

“That’s…why I called you.” Giles was beginning to regret not waiting until he’d returned home; he very much wished he could be holding Jenny right now. Comfort to them both. “I’ve just found out that the people I’ve spent my life trusting are…wrong.”

Jenny was quiet. Then she said a little shakily, “Yeah. I think I know how that feels.”

Giles didn’t know what to say to that. He hadn’t considered the similarities between his situation and the experiences Jenny had gone through last year. He hadn’t realized that those similarities would be comforting to him now. Thinking about the fact that Jenny had gone through something—if not exactly alike, then at least close enough that she would understand what he was going through right now—it made him feel so much less alone and off-center.

“I love you,” he said, very softly.

Jenny sniffled, then sighed. “I love you too. This is just—it’s—it’s a really big decision to make, Rupert. No going back.”

“Honestly, I-I think this was a long time coming,” said Giles, and meant it. “I—” He laughed ruefully. “I care about too many people to be a Watcher, and the fact that my Slayer is one of them—well. It’s probably for the best that I step down.”

“Okay. Um. Are you going to call them now, or…?”

This gave Giles pause. As certain as he was about resigning, there were still logical aspects that needed to be considered. Buffy’s impending Cruciamentum. The new Watcher that might take his place. “Not now,” he said. “But—soon. After we map things out.”

“We?” Jenny’s voice was soft and surprised.

Giles smiled, feeling a bit warmer. “What would I be if I didn’t confer with my supernatural partner?”

“God, you make it sound like I’m a vampire.” There was an exhausted laugh in Jenny’s voice.“You really need to come up with a better way to say that.”

“Duly noted,” Giles agreed. “I’ll be home soon.”


 

Faith re-entered the living room to find Jen hanging up the phone. “Hey,” she said. “You know, you should really consider finding a place for all these boxes in the living room. Or getting a bigger house. Either way.”

Jen looked up. “Faith,” she said. “Rupert just called the Council.”

Faith felt a rush of fear and anger. “How come?” she demanded, already prepared for an answer she wouldn’t like.

“Were you planning on telling anyone that you’re not eighteen?” Jen asked, more concerned than accusing.

Faith blinked, startled. “Wait,” she said. “That’s what this is about?” She frowned, trying to figure out how to explain her confusion. “Jen,” she said finally, “I don’t keep great track of my birthdays. The fact that you’re celebrating my eighteenth…I kinda just assumed that you picked it up from some Council papers.”

“You don’t know that you’re not eighteen,” said Jen slowly.

“Am I not eighteen?” Faith honestly couldn’t care less, but it seemed to be bothering Jen, so— “The Council guys made me sign some papers when I first got called,” she said. “I didn’t really read them that well. Maybe that’s where the fuck-up happened.”

Jen’s face relaxed a little. “Okay,” she said. “I kind of figured that it would be something like that, but I wasn’t sure—”

“I’m not in the habit of lying to you,” said Faith, which she suddenly realized was true. Though there were many things about herself that she hadn’t told anyone, not once had she looked Jen in the eyes and lied. That meant something, probably, so she said it again, testing the words. “I’m not in the habit of lying to you.”

Jen didn’t look startled by Faith’s admission, which made Faith feel better about it; she didn’t know how she’d feel if Jen reacted with surprise to Faith claiming honesty. “And I’m very grateful to you for that,” she said, moving a few notebooks off the couch so she could sit down. “Happy seventeenth.” She frowned. “Seventeen—” Her eyes widened, her gaze snapping up to look at Faith. “You were sixteen,” she said. “When you got here—you were sixteen, and on the run from a master vampire.”

This came as a vague surprise to Faith too, because she’d put herself at a ballpark of seventeen when all the shit with Kakistos went down. “Huh,” she said, sitting down next to Jen. Then, “You’re not gonna get all mushy on me, are you?”

“What?”

“Like, oh, poor Faith, she went through so much and she was only sixteen.” Faith smiled a little mockingly.

To Faith’s surprise, Jen gave her a small, worn-out smile. “Yeah,” she said. “If that’s mushy, then I’m it.”

Faith hadn’t been expecting that kind of sincerity, and wasn’t exactly sure what to do about it. Awkwardly, she sat down next to Jen. “I don’t want you worrying about me,” she said. The words didn’t come easily. “You’ve got enough to worry about as it is. I can take care of myself.”

Jen bit her lip and studied Faith, then said, “That’s not in dispute. I worry because I care.”

“But you shouldn’t.” Faith faltered, then tacked on, “Worry.”

Jen smiled a little at the specification. “But I’m gonna.”

Faith hesitated, then sat down next to Jen on the couch. “I’m serious about all these boxes,” she said. “They take up a ton of space.”

“Rupert’s thinking we convert the basement into a study room,” Jen explained, scooting over to make room for Faith. “Hopefully, the boxes will be out of here in a week or so.”

This was when Giles entered the living room, looking all kinds of awful. Immediately upon seeing him, Jen stood up, eyes wide.

“I’m fine,” Giles said.

“Do you need to talk—”

“I’m fine,” said Giles with tired conviction.

“You sure about that?” said Faith a little doubtfully.

Giles and Jen both looked over at Faith as though only now remembering she was there. After a brief moment, Giles said, “Jenny, Faith’s birthday really isn’t the time to have this discussion.”

“Okay,” said Jen with some reluctance. “But we’re seriously gonna have to talk about it later.”

“What’s going on?” asked Faith, the words coming out sharper and angrier than she intended them. She thoroughly hated feeling like this all the time—like at any moment, this new life of hers could crumble to bits. She wanted to be able to trust that it would stay constant.

Jen and Giles exchanged a look. Then Giles said, “I’m having a bit of a crisis in regard to my chosen career, and I want to talk to Jenny about it in private at a later date. Truly, Faith, you have no reason to worry.”

Jen looked about as surprised as Faith felt. Generally, it was Jen smoothing things over, not Giles, and the difference felt indicative of something that Faith couldn’t quite pinpoint. “Rupert’s pretty much right,” Jen agreed. “We have some stuff to talk about, but this is your day, Faith.”

My day. That felt weird, a little, but in a good way. Faith knew someone better would be polite, deflect, give Giles and Jen a chance to have whatever conversation they needed, but instead she said, “I want to watch a movie. Do you have any movies we can watch?”

“I’ll go make popcorn,” said Giles, giving Faith a small smile as he exited.

Jen sat down next to Faith again. “You know,” she said, “you haven’t once asked about presents.”

Faith felt a hard, twisting kind of want at the word presents. Every part of this day felt like something she wanted to grab close and hold tight before it was gone. “Yeah?”

“Hold up.” Jen slid off the couch, rummaging under the nearby coffee table before coming up with a neatly wrapped box. “Now, um, this isn’t the greatest present in the world—”

Faith tested the weight of the box in her hands, staring down at the multicolored wrapping before beginning to carefully undo the bow. She wanted to fold up the wrapping paper, save it for later or something. She didn’t know for what, exactly, but maybe she’d have time to figure it out now.

“—and I really wasn’t sure what to get you, because I wanted something that wasn’t too violent and Slayer-y—” Jen was rambling.

After she’d carefully removed the bow and tape, Faith set the wrapping paper aside and opened the box. Her breath caught. Inside was a deep red cashmere sweater, the kind that was so expensive she’d never even have considered trying to steal it from a mall.

“I just, I thought it would look really nice on you, and—keep you warm, and stuff,” Jenny finished, looking incredibly nervous. “And it’d go really well with your leather jacket—I don’t want you to feel like I’m being charitable, Faith, I just really wanted something you’d like, and this seemed like—”

Wordlessly, Faith touched the sweater. As a kid, she’d gotten pity presents from well-meaning teachers, socks and charm bracelets and cheap, cutesy things like that. As a Slayer, she’d gotten knives and stakes and everything a girl needed to get a dirty job done. But all Jen wanted was to make Faith feel warm.

“Thanks,” she said. “Um. I’m—really glad I came here, Jen.”

“Yeah,” said Jen, who looked a little exhausted from the nonstop panic-ramble, so Faith scooted closer on the couch and rested her head on Jen’s shoulder. She watched the mild surprise cross Jen’s face before it gave way to a shy pride. “And you know I’m glad too.”

Chapter Text

Faith and Giles were out of the house on a super secret expedition that was very clearly Christmas shopping, and Jenny, having tried (and failed) to make dinner, was now watching holiday specials with Willow, Xander, and some microwavable popcorn. It felt weirdly like summer, but with less broken fingers and a happier atmosphere. “Hey, Willow,” she said, “you’re still coming over for dinner in a few days, right?”

“For not-Christmas dinner?” Willow beamed. “My parents are out of town, so I can totally swing by!”

“Oh, yikes,” said Jenny, looking around the house with a worried frown, “I just realized I don’t want you driving home alone at night. You come over and you’re going to have to stay the night, but, uh,” she waved a hand, “we really don’t have a lot of space at the moment.”

“You guys need a bigger house,” Xander pointed out.

“We’re working on it,” said Jenny awkwardly, blushing slightly. The truth was that she wasn’t sure how to talk to Rupert about potentially buying a house together. That was a significantly more serious commitment than him moving in with her, especially when he was still working on selling his old apartment. Hastily, Jenny added, “We’re trying to move some of the boxes of books into the shed out back, but—”

“You have a shed out back?” Xander sounded genuinely intrigued. “Like a creepy vampire-infested shed?”

“No, like an it’s-technically-on-the-property-but-I-need-to-talk-to-my-neighbor-about-who-owns-it shed,” Jenny answered. “Also, kinda mildew-y, all things considered.”

“I could live in the shed!” said Xander enthusiastically. “I could move all my stuff out from my parents’ house, live in the shed!”

This sounded like a very bad idea to Jenny for very many reasons, not least of which was the concept of having Xander live in a shed without heating or electricity didn’t seem conducive to a good environment for him. “Xander,” she said, “no one is living in the shed.”

“But—”

“Yeah, I’m with Ms. Calendar, that’s a bad idea,” Willow agreed. There was a knock on the door. “Ooh, that must be Giles!” she said with a grin. “Did he forget his keys again?”

“Well, I’m not getting up,” said Jenny, “I have popcorn and a blanket. He can just stay out there and think about his bad life choices.”

There was another knock on the door.

“Just give me a minute, Rupert,” Jenny called without moving, and lightly shoved Xander, who made a face at her. She made a face back.

Rolling his eyes, Xander got up and crossed the room to open the door. Halfway through opening it, he stopped, stared, and then slammed it shut very hard.

“Everything okay?” Jenny asked, bemused. Xander let out a shaky, angry breath. Without a word, he turned to face them, leaning back against the closed front door. “Xander?” Jenny prompted.

“We’re not opening that door,” said Xander shortly.

“Should we be worried?” Willow asked nervously.

“No,” said Xander, “we shouldn’t, but we are not opening that door.”

“Xander—”

“It isn’t Giles out there,” said Xander. “He’s not back yet. His car isn’t in the driveway, and he’s probably got his keys, so let’s—just—not open that door.” Jenny placed the bag of popcorn down on the coffee table, moving to get up, and Xander said sharply, “No, Ms. Calendar, don’t—”

“Just tell me what’s going on, Xander, and I won’t,” said Jenny, keeping her voice level and calm.

Xander shook his head, somewhat jerkily. “Just—trust me, okay?” he said. “You guys don’t want to open that door.”

Jenny ran through a list of potential possibilities. If it were a vampire, Xander would’ve just told them, maybe even laughed it off. It had to be someone who Xander didn’t like—his father, maybe? Showing up to try and bring Xander home? Jenny considered opening the door to have a conversation with Xander’s dad, realized that she was still very upset at the concept of Xander’s dad running Xander out of the house, decided that they had been having a very nice night until they’d been interrupted, and said, “Okay, Xander. Whatever’s bothering you, we’ll table it for later, how’s that?”

Xander gave Jenny a weak, grateful smile that seemed to support the dad-at-the-door theory. “Yeah,” he said, and crossed the room again, sitting down next to Jenny, who placed a tentative hand on his shoulder. He leaned slightly into her touch, turning his attention back to the television.

But Willow had a strange expression on her face. Quietly, before either Xander or Jenny could intervene, she got up, crossed the room, opened the door, and said in a flat voice, “Just to be clear, you’re not welcome here, okay? I don’t care what you want from her, I don’t care if you want to tell her you’re sorry, you hurt her and you’re not welcome here.” With that, she shut the door unusually hard, very visibly shaking.

Jenny stared. “What—”

Slowly, Willow turned back to Jenny and Xander, smiling a little awkwardly in a way that looked almost pained. “Xander,” she said, “you probably should have just told her.”

“It’s movie night,” said Xander, “we are not bringing this up right now.”

“You know he’s just going to come back—”

Very abruptly, Jenny understood who had been at the door. Shaking, wordless, she sank back into the couch.


 

“So, hey, you planning to get Jen an engagement ring for Christmas?” Faith teased, rummaging through the various shopping bags. “Ooh, this for Buffy?”

“Kindly do not look at the presents, Faith,” said Giles very long-sufferingly, “you’re ruining the surprise, and what will happen if you find yours beforehand?”

“I’ll keep it,” said Faith very seriously, but she obliged, placing the shopping bags back at her feet. “Willow and Xander are staying over tonight, right?”

“Xander, yes, Willow, no, if I recall correctly,” Giles answered. “I believe Jenny and I are driving her back to her parents’ after dinner.”

Both of you?” said Faith significantly. Giles went pink, which pretty much confirmed that he and Jen were probably trying to get some time outside of the house to make out in a car or whatever. “Chill,” she said, “it’s none of my business what you two get up to when I’m not around. Unless it’s loud enough for me to hear.”

“Yes, thank you, Faith,” said Giles, which Faith had learned over the course of the last few weeks was his very British way of saying this is making me uncomfortable. Faith thought it was pretty funny, but she also kinda wanted to be on Jen’s boyfriend’s good side, so she didn’t push him. “You’re all done with your homework?” he added.

“Yeah,” said Faith, shrugging nonchalantly. It had taken a good three hours to work through the math yesterday with Willow and Jen combined. “Jen thinks I should take remedial math over the summer or something, ’cause I missed a lot of school last year.”

“Oh,” said Giles, frowning a little. “Summer.” He laughed a little exhaustedly. “Good lord,” he said, “these past few months alone have seemed so long, I’d honestly forgotten about summer.”

Faith hesitated. Then, awkwardly, “Should I—will there—you guys won’t mind having me around over the summer, right?”

Giles gave her this weird look, then said, “Where else would you be, Faith?” which was somehow so much better than him saying he wouldn’t mind, so Faith took that as a win and relaxed back into the seat until they reached the house.

As they pulled into the driveway, Faith noticed some big hulky guy in a dark coat standing awkwardly on the porch, looking tense and uncomfortable. “Hey, Giles,” she said, “you know that guy?”

Giles looked up, stared, and nearly ran his car into the side of the house, barely managing to slam the brakes and park the car. “Stay in the car,” he said sharply, and unbuckled his seatbelt, hurrying out of the car.

Faith considered this, then got out of the car, following Giles up the walk to get a better look at the guy. He was kinda good-looking, she guessed, with short brown hair and a generally broody look to him. But the expression on Giles’s face when he saw the guy made Faith decide that maybe this was a conversation she might want to take a few steps back for, so she stopped at the porch steps, waiting.

“Leave,” said Giles.

“I need to talk to you,” said the guy quietly.

Giles nodded, slow and clinical, and then said, “Faith, go inside and make sure Jenny’s all right.”

“What?” said Faith, nonplussed.

“Please, Faith, do as I say,” said Giles, eyes never leaving the guy.

Faith felt a little weird, side-stepping whatever was going on on the porch, but she took out her keys and unlocked the door, slipping inside. Jen, Xander, and Willow all looked up with wide, nervous eyes, but each relaxed upon seeing it was her.

“What’s going on?” said Faith, genuinely confused. Then, because Giles had told her to ask, “Jen, are you okay?”

Jen looked around at all of them, then buried her face in her hands with a small, choked noise. Willow bit her lip, standing up. “Is he still outside?” she asked.

“Who, the big guy in the coat?” Faith asked uneasily. “Yeah. I think he’s talking to Giles.”

Jen’s head snapped up, face pale. “Hey, no, it’s okay,” said Willow anxiously, turning to Jen. “Giles is handling it, okay? He’ll tell us what’s going on. It’s okay.”

“I should be—talking to him,” said Jen jerkily. “It’s—my responsibility—he was—”

“What’s going on,” said Faith again, this time less of a question and more of a demand. It frightened her, seeing Jen like this.

“Angel’s outside,” said Xander shortly. “We don’t know what he wants, and honestly, I don’t care.”

Faith took this in, and was surprised to find that she wasn’t angry, just a strange, wrung-out kind of tired. Crossing the room, she sat down next to Jen, placing an awkward hand on her shoulder. “You breathing okay?” she asked.

That made Jen kind of smile. “So-so,” she said, placing her hand over Faith’s. “Thanks.”

This was when Giles came in, looking somewhat shaken. Without a word, he crossed the room, dropping to his knees in front of Jen and taking her hand. “You’re all right?” he demanded.

“Everyone’s fussing over me,” said Jen, smiling in a dryly amused way that felt more comfortingly normal. She slid down from the couch, winding her arms around Giles’s neck and hugging him without saying anything else. Giles let out a shaky breath and kissed Jen’s cheek, hugging her back.

Faith continued to sit awkwardly on the couch before she felt Willow tug at her sleeve. “I’m going to make some hot chocolate,” she said. “You should come.”

“You sure—” Faith gestured towards Giles and Jen.

“I think they need some time alone,” said Willow simply, which was enough for Faith to get up and follow her into the kitchen.


 

“This isn’t ideal,” said Jenny into Rupert’s shoulder.

Rupert laughed a little sadly. “No,” he said. “It’s really not.”

“Did he tell you what he wanted?”

“He was quite unclear, actually.”

Jenny exhaled, pulling back a little to look at Rupert. “I think I want to ignore this for a little while longer,” she said. “I just—so don’t have the bandwidth to listen to Angel apologize to me right now.”

“The what?”

Jenny bit back a smile. “The emotional resources,” she said. “I don’t even know if I need an apology from him, but I know he’s going to give me one, and I just can’t handle that right now.”

“He is going to want to talk to you,” Rupert reminded her gently. “I think you need to start preparing for that. At your own pace, of course, but Angel can be remarkably, frustratingly persistent.”

Jenny rested her cheek against Rupert’s shoulder, closing her eyes.

Chapter Text

Xander honestly wasn’t sure how to feel about the whole Angel thing. It had been easy, earlier on, when it had just been all jealousy and anger and too much time spent thinking about the guy’s impressive physique. But the very real consequences of Angelus, and the visible effect Angel’s return had had on both Willow and Ms. Calendar, left him with the sense that this was something he was angry about for all the wrong reasons. “Why do you think he showed up?” he asked.

“I don’t care,” said Willow matter-of-factly, who was pouring milk into a mug. “He hurt Ms. Calendar. He doesn’t get to show up without calling ahead until she says she’s okay with that.”

“Seconded,” said Faith grimly. She pulled out a chair, sitting down at the kitchen table. Xander followed suit. “Last time I saw Jen like that was at Homecoming, and—” She stopped, a strange expression on her face. “So that’s why they were being all hush-hush the next day,” she said thoughtfully, and turned her attention to Willow. “Marshmallows in mine, all right?”

Willow was gripping the counter so hard that her knuckles had gone white. She didn’t answer.

“Will?” said Xander quietly.

“He hurt Ms. Calendar,” said Willow, “and he’s acting like an apology is going to fix that. Nothing’s going to fix her fingers or her neck or any of that stuff he did to her. She had nightmares, I know she did, ‘cause one night last summer I stayed over and I heard, I heard this scream, and then she came out and made me tea like nothing was wrong but her hands wouldn’t stop shaking and I hate him, Xander, I hate hating him because it wasn’t his fault but I hate him and I don’t want to—”

Xander wasn’t really sure when Ms. Calendar had shown up in the room. All he knew was that one moment Willow was shouting and the next Willow was sobbing into Ms. Calendar’s shoulder, holding tightly to her like a small child. “Oh, god, Willow,” Ms. Calendar was whispering. She was crying too. “Willow, I’m so sorry.”

Giles stepped into the kitchen, too. This was new. Usually when loud, emotional stuff was going down, Giles made some kind of excuse and ran for the hills. But Giles drew up a chair next to Xander and Faith, cast a slightly nervous glance over at Willow and Ms. Calendar, and said awkwardly, “Um. Are you—that is—do you two need anything?”

Faith blinked. “Uh, I’m good,” she said. “Guess I missed out on a boatload of trauma, huh?”

“To say the least,” said Giles. “Xander?”

“What?” Xander was taken aback. Giles hadn’t been paying him all that much attention up until recently, and the sudden shift was still pretty hard to get used to. “Uh, actually—yeah,” he said, surprising both of them. “Yeah, I kinda—want—to talk to someone, right now.”

He was sort of expecting Giles to turn him down. Then Giles said, “All right,” and stood up. “Faith, if you’ll excuse us—”

“Go right the fuck ahead,” said Faith, looking a little overwhelmed. “Honestly, it’s kinda nice to not be the cause of the crying for once. Or, y’know, the one crying.” She pulled herself up, crossed the kitchen, awkwardly patted Willow’s head (Willow giggled wetly), and headed in the direction of her room.


 

“Willow,” said Jenny, once she was done crying. They were sitting at the table, the kitchen lights dimmed. It reminded her in a sweetly painful way of the summer after Angelus, and their long talks at her kitchen table. “I had no idea I put you through all that.”

“Stop doing that,” said Willow fiercely. “This one’s not on you. You always act like these things are on you, Ms. Calendar, and they’re not.

“I’m the adult,” said Jenny matter-of-factly. “And anyway, this conversation isn’t about me. Do you really hate Angel?”

“I hate his face,” said Willow helplessly. “I looked at him and I thought that’s the guy who broke Ms. Calendar’s fingers and made her cry. That’s the guy who made Giles leave.”

“Okay, whoa, slow down there,” Jenny interjected, unnerved. “You think Angelus was the reason Rupert left?”

“You guys were happy,” said Willow, sniffling. “And then he tortured you, and after that Giles left—”

“You more than anyone should know it was more complicated than that,” said Jenny simply.

Willow hesitated. Then she nodded. “Yeah,” she said. “I know that. Logically, I do. But part of me still feels like it’s easier to blame him than—”

“Than Giles,” said Jenny, smiling wryly. “Or me.”

“It wasn’t your fault—”

“Do you know why I always tell you,” said Jenny, reaching across the table to take Willow’s hand, “that communication is an important part of a healthy relationship?”

Willow shook her head.

“It’s because that was a lesson I had to learn three times before it stuck,” said Jenny. “Over and over again, I didn’t share things with Rupert that I should have, and he didn’t share stuff with me, and it all ended up culminating in a messy summer-long breakup that drove him out of Sunnydale in a misguided attempt to protect me.” She squeezed Willow’s hand. “It feels a lot nicer to blame Angelus, I know,” she said. “I fell into that trap a lot myself last summer, thinking if he hadn’t done this to me—” She stopped. “But the point is that Giles and I were a mess,” she said, “and with or without Angelus, we still would have been a mess.”

“He still hurt you,” said Willow, sniffling. “He still hurt Buffy.”

Jenny let out a tired breath. “Yeah,” she said. “That one I can’t explain away. But I don’t want you hating him because he hurt me, Willow. I—”  She stopped, stunned by her own realization. “I forgave him a long time ago,” she finished.

“I don’t know if I’m good at forgiving,” said Willow quietly. “All I saw when I looked at him was the guy who let a world of hurt happen to people I love.”

“He didn’t let—he wasn’t there,” said Jenny firmly. “Okay? Be mad at me, if you wanna be mad at somebody, but don’t take it out on Angel. Even if you’re justified in being angry—” She smiled a little sadly. “That kind of vengeance always takes a toll on you,” she said. “You don’t have to forgive him. Just don’t hurt yourself being mad at him.”

Willow considered this. Then she said, “Okay. For you,” and scooted her chair over, resting her head on Jenny’s shoulder.


 

“So,” said Giles, tilting his head up and looking at the sky. “What do you want to talk about?”

Xander let out a shaky breath, not entirely able to look over at Giles. “I don’t know,” he said. “It’s just—Faith’s pretty cool, and it’s kind of amazing to stay with you guys, but adding Angel back into the mix feels like everything’s gonna fall apart all over again. Every time that guy shows up, something goes wrong.”

“I can’t say I disagree,” said Giles, looking at Xander with a quiet, affectionate expression. Giles very rarely gave him that look, and Xander kind of felt like he hadn’t earned it. Slamming Angel didn’t seem like the right way to gain points with Giles. “Xander, it really isn’t about Buffy for you anymore, is it?”

Xander blinked, honestly surprised. “What?”

“Well,” said Giles, “it was always rather clear to me that you resented Angel at least in part because—”

“Because he was hot,” said Xander a little too loudly, then felt a terrified blush rise in his cheeks. “And. Uh. Because of Buffy. Obviously.”

Giles blinked. Slowly, he said, “Not just because Angel was dating Buffy?”

Xander looked hesitantly up at Giles. There was something strange in Giles’s eyes, a kind of recognition, and it made Xander brave enough to say quietly, “It was because Angel was dating Buffy. But it was also because Buffy was dating Angel.”

Giles inclined his head very slightly, then gently bumped Xander’s shoulder. “Well,” he said. “I must say I never imagined that this would be what we two had in common, but it’s…not at all an intolerable thing to share.”

“Huh?” said Xander stupidly.

Giles was blushing, too, now. “I, um,” he said, and directed his gaze to his feet, uncertain in a way that he hadn’t been since before he started dating Ms. Calendar. “Well. Unless I misinterpreted?”

“One of us should just come right out and say it, right?” Xander asked reluctantly.

“You were the one who brought it up,” said Giles immediately.

“Hey, no fair—” Off Giles’s look, Xander exhaled. “Okay,” he said. “Yeah. Uh, I like guys. Like, really like guys. But I also really like girls, so—I mean, there isn’t really a category for that, right?”

“Good lord, the school systems really are failing America’s youth,” said Giles. “Not that England was much better in my day. Much worse, as it happened.” He grinned a bit, looking proudly up at Xander. “Though it means the world to me that you trust me enough to share this with me. You’re a braver man than I, Xander.”

It suddenly clicked. “Hold on,” said Xander, disbelieving. “But you’re dating Ms. Calendar!”

“Yes, I am, and I love her very much,” Giles agreed. “That doesn’t at all invalidate the attraction I might feel towards other men.”

“So what, this is just the way all guys feel and we don’t talk about it?” Xander finally managed.

Giles snorted. “Decidedly not,” he said. “Being bisexual is much like being gay. Not all men are gay, and not all men are bisexual.”

The word rang a bell with Xander. He first felt the warm sensation of being recognized, and then the usual half-exasperated sensation of being very stupid. “Oh,” he said. “Huh.” Then, “But you’re bisexual. And you’re, like—I mean, you’re normal about it.”

“I fight demons for a living, I train a preternaturally strong teenager, and my girlfriend was once tortured by a master vampire,” said Giles, mouth twitching. “Normal is quite overrated, Xander. Kindly never believe you are anything less than extraordinary.”


 

“Seriously?” said Jenny disbelievingly, looking at Rupert to see if he was joking. “You and Xander bonded?

“A bit unexpected, but certainly not unwelcome,” said Rupert, who looked very quietly happy. “We, um, have a bit more in common than I anticipated.”

“Oh?”

Rupert hesitated. “He’ll tell you when he’s ready, I think,” he said finally.

Jenny tugged off her sweater, tossing it unceremoniously onto a chair. Off Rupert’s look, she rolled her eyes, picking it up and pointedly folding it before properly putting it away. “Willow’s staying with us for the night,” she said. “She says her parents won’t notice, and after the kind of night we’ve had, I think it might be good for her to be with people she cares about.” She winced a little. “Not that she doesn’t care about her parents, just—”

“Just that she needs people who do notice her absence,” Rupert finished, smiling slightly as he buttoned his pajama top. “I understand, Jenny, don’t worry.” He hesitated. “How are you doing?”

“Kind of okay, surprisingly enough,” said Jenny wryly, slipping a nightshirt over her head. She hesitated, then added uncertainly, “Enough so that I think we should try and talk to Angel.”

Rupert’s smile slipped. “I’m sorry?”

“It’s not doing the kids any good to watch me worry about him,” said Jenny, becoming more decisive as she continued, “and—and it’s putting them in a position where they feel like they have to protect me. And it’s sweet of them, but it isn’t healthy, so I think you and I need to be adults and find out what Angel wants. We can turn him away, just—we need to find out what he wants.”

Rupert’s easy happiness was all but gone. “Jenny, I very much dislike this idea,” he said quietly. “The last time you and I were alone with Angelus—” He swallowed, hard. “I am sure that you would be able to handle a meeting,” he said. “I am not quite as sure about my own ability to be—civil—with that monster.”

The dangerous anger lurking underneath Rupert’s careful words was unlike anything Jenny had ever heard from him before. The closest he’d come to that level of controlled fury was with Ethan, and Eyghon, and that she had understood, but this— “He’s not Angelus,” Jenny reminded him.

“I cannot forgive him for what he did to you,” said Rupert, and his voice was shaking with fury. “It was hard enough not to rip his throat out, talking to him this evening. He had the audacity to ask me for help, Jenny, and I told him no, and—and I am able to control myself when it is between him and myself, but I don’t ever want him anywhere near you again.”

“That’s not your choice to make,” said Jenny, disbelieving. “And where is all this coming from? You’ve been all about giving me space—”

“It was easier when your meeting him was clearly not on the table,” said Rupert stiffly. The anger, Jenny realized, wasn’t directed at her, but at Angel, and at himself. “And—damn it, Jenny, I know it isn’t my choice to make, I just—you have to know, before you make any decisions, you must know that I don’t think I will be able to control myself around him, seeing him so much as look at you with guilt in his eyes. He seems to think his repentance means something to me, to us, and it means absolutely fucking nothing, Jenny, not after what he did to you in front of me—”

Rupert,” said Jenny, horrified. He’d been so calm, these last few months, so accommodating and gentle. She’d had no idea he was hurting this much.

In two strides, Rupert was kissing her. Passionately, and hard enough to bruise. His hands on her waist, he lifted her effortlessly up onto the dresser, placing her down so that her face was level with his. He kissed her, and kissed her, and kissed her, and then he pulled back, breathing hard. “Seeing him,” he said. “You have no idea what it awoke in me.”

“Hey,” whispered Jenny, cupping his face in her hands. “Hey. It’s okay.”

“You are a kind and forgiving soul,” said Rupert, looking at her with haunted eyes. “I cannot give Angel the same mercy you give him, Jenny, and I feel as though I have failed you.”

Jenny shook her head. “You haven’t,” she said. “You’re telling me your limits and we’re just gonna have to work around them. I’m not the only one Angelus tortured.”

“You’re the only one he hurt—”

“Rupert,” said Jenny, and placed her hand on his heart. He stilled. “I can talk big talk all I want, but if I had seen him torture you—” The thought made her stomach twist into knots. “I would have killed him myself,” she said finally, and knew it was true.

“That doesn’t make my reaction just,” said Rupert quietly. “I know it isn’t Angel who deserves my wrath.”

“I don’t know if there’s an easy fix for that one,” said Jenny with a tired smile. “But what I do know is I’m tired, and I think you are too, and as much as I’d love you to fuck me into next Tuesday—”

“Jenny, really, there are three children in the house—”

“—this seems like something we both need to sleep on,” Jenny finished. “Okay?”

Rupert gave her a wobbly smile, resting his forehead against hers. “You ground me, my love,” he said. “I’m ever grateful.”


 

Jenny woke up before sunrise the next morning. She pulled herself out of bed, kissed Rupert’s temple, scribbled a quick note to leave on the dresser, threw on a t-shirt and jeans, and left the house, trying not to think too hard about what she was about to do. She’d had a thousand and one nightmares about this exact chain of events, but if Angel needed their help, there had to be someone besides Buffy who’d be willing and able to give it. It wouldn’t be the children, and it clearly wasn’t Rupert—so. It fell to her. And she could be brave for them.

“Okay,” she said, and started the car, heading towards Buffy’s house. Buffy would know where Angel was, and then… Jenny would talk to him, for what felt like the first time.

Chapter Text

The doorbell rang when Buffy and her mom were eating breakfast. “I’ll get it, sweetie,” said her mom, ruffled her hair, and headed out of the kitchen.

“Ugh,” said Buffy. She really just wanted to finish her cereal without interruptions. Her mom’s book club friends kept on stopping by at weird, early hours, and then Buffy had to field awkward questions about what her college plans were, and if any colleges had gotten back to her yet, and god, why couldn’t adults just shut up about college? Buffy already had enough on her plate with the awful dream she’d had last night—

“Jenny!” Her mom sounded extremely surprised. “What are you doing here? Is everything okay?”

The spoon slipped out of Buffy’s hand, splashing into her milk. “Um, yeah,” came Ms. Calendar’s voice. “Actually, I was hoping I could talk to Buffy for a second?”

“Oh—is this a Vampire Slayer thing?” asked her mom anxiously. “Because it’s a little early in the morning for people to be in danger.”

Ms. Calendar laughed wryly. “Yeah. No. It’s not anything too dangerous, I hope. I kinda just needed to check with her about something.”

Oh no. Ms. Calendar showing up now definitely meant Buffy had to talk to her about her dream, no matter how little she wanted to. She slid reluctantly off her stool, padding out of the kitchen and wishing she wasn’t wearing her banana-split print pajamas. “Hi, Ms. Calendar,” she said uneasily. “It’s actually really good you’re here.” Glancing up at her mom, she added, “Mom, you mind giving us a minute?”

Her mom looked a little bothered by this, but nodded. “I’ll just be in the kitchen,” she said, squeezing Buffy’s shoulder before heading back towards breakfast.

“Buffy,” began Ms. Calendar, looking puzzled.

“Ms. Calendar, I had one of those weird prophecy dreams again,” said Buffy very fast.

Ms. Calendar frowned. “Okay,” she said. “Um, not that I don’t value your trust, but this seems more like something you’d want to tell Giles.”

Buffy shook her head, unable to elaborate further. “No, you—I—” she managed, and felt like crying. The dream had felt like she’d intruded on something of Giles and Ms. Calendar’s that she had had no right to see, and telling Ms. Calendar about it would only make that feeling worse. But—she was the Slayer, and this was her responsibility, so she took a steadying breath. “I was in Angel’s dream,” she said. “Or I think I was.”

The look on Ms. Calendar’s face was first shocked, then tired and a little sad. “Oh,” she said. “And you—you saw him torture me, right?”

“Yeah,” said Buffy. “I-I’m sorry.”

“Not your fault,” said Ms. Calendar, trying to smile. “It makes sense that he’d be dreaming about that.” Her smile faded. “My big question is why you and him are suddenly linked. Is there any possible reason that—”

“Can’t think of a single one,” said Buffy dismally.

“Okay,” said Ms. Calendar. “All right. Um, I’m gonna go talk to him, if he’s—is he still in that mansion?”

Buffy’s head jerked up. “You’re going to talk to him?” she said disbelievingly. “Is Giles okay with that?”

“No,” said Ms. Calendar simply. “He thinks I’m off getting groceries. I’m going to tell him when I get back.”

Buffy felt that familiar and frustrating resentment rise in her, and hated it. “You’re doing it to protect him,” she said aloud, a reminder for her as well as Ms. Calendar.

“I’m doing it because an adult’s gotta talk to Angel,” said Ms. Calendar quietly, “and Rupert barely managed to hold it together for a thirty-second conversation with him. He’s not quite as forgiving as he wants to be.”

Buffy nodded. This clocked. Dream-Giles had had this terrible look on his face, when Angelus had turned to gloat—like he couldn’t decide whether to break down crying or burn down the whole mansion. “He’s kinda crazy about you,” she said, smiling a little. “It’s sweet.”

“Yeah, I think so too,” said Ms. Calendar, and she smiled too, almost unconsciously.

“He’s still in that mansion, by the way,” Buffy added. Then, “I-I won’t tell Giles.”

Ms. Calendar blinked, visibly touched. “Thank you,” she said. “Your trust means a lot to me, Buffy, I hope you know that.” Before Buffy could respond, she had turned, opening the door and stepping out into the morning light. She looked back, once, over her shoulder, and gave Buffy a last little smile before getting into her car.

Buffy felt strange and warm, like something had been settled. “Okay,” she said softly. “Cool.” She shut the door, and then she went to eat breakfast.


 

It was the third time Jenny had visited the mansion. The last time she’d come here had been with splints on her fingers, a crossbow at her side, and a lonely, leaden feeling in her chest. This time, she was thinking of Rupert tangled in the bedsheets, and Faith and Willow and Xander all asleep in the living room, and Buffy standing in the doorway, watching her with a new, quiet respect. She felt as though she should have been more afraid than she was, but she’d always found it so, so easy to be brave when she had people to be brave for.

Angel was sitting, hunched over, in the middle of the empty mansion. He jerked to his feet when he saw her, eyes wide, as though he’d seen a ghost. “Leave,” he said harshly. “Leave me, I don’t want—I won’t—

The moment felt strangely anticlimactic. Jenny had imagined their meeting as violent, bittersweet, laced with guilt—all sorts of powerful, passionate emotions fitting for the first time she was face-to-face with the man and not the monster. But Angel was shaking, looking at her like she was a thousand times more dangerous than she was. “Angel,” said Jenny quietly.

“They said you wouldn’t see me,” said Angel desperately. “They said I hurt you too much to—” He stopped, looking wary even through his fear. “You’re here to kill me?” he asked, as though sure he already knew the answer.

“I’m here to help you,” said Jenny honestly.

“That’s what they said,” said Angel. “That’s what they all said.”

He was looking at her with so much anguish that his next move took her completely off guard. In two steps, he’d crossed the room, furiously grabbing her neck and slamming her against the wall. “Solid, now, are you?” he demanded. “Trying to trick me?”


 

“Buying groceries?” Faith squinted at Jen’s note. “We went shopping two days ago, remember? Plus there’s all that shit in the fridge for Christmas shopping—do we even have any more room for groceries?”

Giles went ashen. Without a word, he ran out of the bedroom.


 

Jenny was in the mansion and she was in her classroom and her fingers were being broken, one by one. She was crying in a hospital room and she was standing alone on a beach and she was winding a scarf around her neck to hide the bruises. And she couldn’t breathe—

There was a terrible, fleshy sound, and Angel’s tight grip on her throat was gone. She collapsed, falling to the floor, and stared in horror: Rupert, still in his pajamas, was standing in the doorway, reloading a crossbow, and Angel was on the floor with a bolt protruding from his side.

“Angel,” Rupert said, a cold and terrifying figure, “you have made a very, very terrible mistake.”

“Rupert,” Jenny managed. She couldn’t possibly process all the stuff that had just happened in the last minute or so.

“Jenny, I’m going to kill him,” said Rupert, raising the crossbow, his voice perfectly level.

“That’s—that’s really Ms. Calendar?” said Angel. He looked genuinely horrified as he pulled himself to a sitting position. “Oh, god, Ms. Calendar, I-I’m sorry. I am.”

But suddenly Jenny couldn’t quite find the sympathy she’d had for him before. “You hurt me,” she said quietly. “Even with your soul, you—Angel, I don’t understand—”

Angel, all but stunned with shock, seemed barely aware of the crossbow aimed at his head. “I’ve been having visions,” he said shakily to Jenny. “I’ve been seeing my victims, having dreams about the stuff I did, I thought—I thought you were one of them. You had to be.”

Jenny let out a shaking breath. Though she recognized the truth in Angel’s words, the old terror hadn’t at all left her. “Rupert,” she whispered. “Please—um, can you—can you come here?”

“I’m going to kill him,” said Rupert fiercely, but the crossbow was shaking. “Angel, look at me. Look at me, Angel, do you see what you did to her?”

“Rupert, I don’t—”

“She gives you a soul and you try to kill her—”

Rupert,” Jenny burst out, and began to cry. Her loss of control startled all of them, and she had to press her hands to her mouth before continuing. “I don’t want this eye-for-an-eye bullshit,” she sobbed. “I don’t. I want to help.

Rupert looked at Angel. He looked at Jenny. Then he dropped the crossbow, walking shakily past Angel to kneel in front of Jenny and take her hands as she cried. “Jenny,” he said in a small voice. “He could have killed you.”

“He had his soul, I thought—”

“I was foolish, last night,” began Rupert.

“Oh, and you weren’t an idiot now?”

“Better vindictive and vengeful than forgiving to one’s own detriment—”

“I don’t ever want to be vengeful,” Jenny whispered. “I can’t. All that does is hurt the people I love.” She tugged a hand free of Rupert’s, straightening his glasses. “And I-I’m sorry. That I didn’t tell you where I was going. But it scared me, seeing you like that.”

“I know,” said Rupert quietly. “I’m sorry too.”

“I’m not saying your anger wasn’t justified, I just—” Jenny sniffled. “It’s our responsibility to help people,” she said. “It won’t help anyone if Angel goes all the way crazy while we’re not paying attention.”

Rupert nodded. Then he said, “Are you all right?”

Jenny shook her head. “I think I’d like to go home,” she said quietly.

“Ms. Calendar,” Angel began. The horror had dissolved into a familiar guilt. “I didn’t—I’m sorry.”

“I understand,” said Jenny simply. She did. But that didn’t erase how fucking terrifying it had been to have her nightmare come to life. “I think I might need some time before we make nice, though, Angel.”

Angel didn’t answer. He looked down at his hands, then at the bolt, then at a point over their shoulder, a lost, tired expression on his face.


 

Giles and Ms. Calendar showed up about ten minutes after Giles had grabbed a crossbow and his car keys, ran out of the house without even bothering to put on socks or shoes, and driven off at a frankly illegal speed. They didn’t look good at all. Giles was pale, and Ms. Calendar had little spots of blood all over her t-shirt.

“Are you guys okay?” Xander asked uneasily.

Ms. Calendar turned her face into Giles’s chest. Giles said, “We, um, we had a brief confrontation with Angel.”

Willow felt sick, and a little like crying. “What happened?” she asked shakily. “Did he hurt you?”

“I wanted to see what he needed from us,” said Ms. Calendar unsteadily, raising her head. “It didn’t exactly go well.”

“He’s seeing things,” said Giles. “Visions of the victims he’s slaughtered. He assumed that Jenny was one such vision and attempted to attack her.”

Faith had paled. Willow was pretty sure she herself looked about the same. Xander’s eyes went all cold and hard, and he said, “So we’re gonna kill him for real, now, right?”

“No,” said Ms. Calendar. “We don’t kill people.”

“Uh, last I checked, Ms. C, Angel isn’t people,” said Xander, a lightness to his voice that didn’t match his clenched fists.

“We help people,” said Ms. Calendar fiercely. “All right? We don’t kill people just because they hurt us and we hate them. And if I ever hear you saying that again, Xander, I—” She swallowed, hard. “We don’t kill people,” she said again. “And killing Angel isn’t going to stop whatever’s causing this. We need to figure out why he’s having these visions, because Buffy’s been having them too.”

“Buffy?” Giles turned to look at Ms. Calendar, wide-eyed. “How do you know—”

“I stopped by her place to make sure Angel was still in that mansion,” answered Ms. Calendar. “She said she had a dream about—” She stopped. “About some of Angel’s victims,” she said, in a way that made it pretty clear who those victims had been.

Xander still looked mutinous. “I don’t like this,” he said. “I don’t like that that guy’s life gets saved because of extenuating circumstances.”

“Believe you me, Xander, I would very much like to kill Angel myself,” said Giles matter-of-factly, and there was a scary steeliness to his voice when he said it. “But Jenny makes a damn good point. If Buffy is involved, killing Angel is very clearly not something we can risk.”

“Merry fucking Christmas, I guess,” Faith burst out unexpectedly.

The room went silent. Ms. Calendar looked up at Faith with worried eyes.

“I don’t—” Faith sniffled, looked mortified, then all but raced from the room, slamming the door behind her.

Ms. Calendar pulled away from Giles, making a move to follow, but he steadied her, kissing her on the cheek. “I’ll take this one, Jenny,” he said quietly, “you should get some rest,” and left for Faith’s room.

And then it was just Willow and Xander and Ms. Calendar, like it had been that summer.

“I’m sorry,” said Ms. Calendar. Her voice wobbled. “I wanted to be—braver—than I was.”

To Willow’s surprise, Xander swallowed, nodded, and stepped forward, pulling Ms. Calendar into a tight hug. Ms. Calendar gasped, then started to cry. “You’re kickass, okay,” Xander mumbled, “no one thinks any less of you—”

Willow hurried forward to work her way into the hug too. “Seconded,” she added assertively, which made Ms. Calendar giggle.

Chapter Text

Giles knocked on the door, then waited. Faith didn’t answer, which was unusual. Generally, if she wanted to be left alone, she was rather vocal about it. “May I come in?” he called.

Five seconds passed. Then he heard Faith say, “Sure,” in a shaking voice.

Well, then. Giles warily opened the door, and was extremely surprised to see Faith sitting on her bed, hugging a pillow. Tears streaked her cheeks, but she seemed quite unaware of them. “Faith,” he said softly.

Faith looked up at him. She didn’t make any attempt to wipe her eyes or look composed, just said, “Can you sit with me?”

Feeling very much out of his element, Giles obliged. “I’m sorry if we’re ruining Christmas,” he joked nervously.

Faith shook her head, chin resting on the slightly damp pillow. “It’s not that,” she said. “It’s just that—the other stuff that’s been going down, with Mrs. Post and the band candy and, and that Pete kid—I could help with that stuff, at least a little. But I can’t with this, ‘cause I wasn’t here for it, and I don’t like that Jen helps me but I can’t help her.”

Giles took another look at Faith, startled. His first impression of her had been a reckless, impulsive Slayer who cared about little else but the thrill of the fight. He was beginning to realize just how wrong that impression had been. “I,” he exhaled, “know how you feel.” Off Faith’s doubtful look, he said quietly, “I don’t know if Jenny told you exactly what happened last summer.”

“She said she got tortured by Angelus and you had to watch,” said Faith, eyes locked on the opposite wall.

Giles followed her gaze to the dark velvet dress hanging on Faith’s mirror. He chose his words carefully. “You’ll recall that the Council doesn’t take kindly to—ah—personal relationships,” he said finally.

“Yeah, I kinda figured something weird happened between them and you,” said Faith, frowning a little. “You don’t talk about them the same way my last Watcher did.”

“Yes. Um.” It felt a bit terrifying, being open and honest with—anyone, really, particularly anyone who wasn’t Jenny. “I-I was told,” Giles said, “by the Council, that my close connection with Jenny was putting her life at risk. And I loved her, so I left her, not a week after Angelus had tortured her and left her needing me more than ever.”

Faith let out a low whistle. “Wow,” she said, sounding genuinely impressed. “You really fucked up, huh?”

Giles exhaled, almost a laugh. “To put it mildly.”

“But you came back,” said Faith, and he felt her shoulder rest awkwardly against his. “Right? You didn’t just leave her in the lurch forever.”

“Faith, I missed an entire summer,” said Giles distantly, remembering the terrible, lonely feeling of waking up in a motel room with Jenny and the children miles away. “A summer that, by all rights, I should have been there to help her through. Seeing Jenny like this—seeing her so undone by Angelus’s return—it terrifies me, because I fear that she might have healed a bit more easily if I had been truly there for her. I’d happily kill Angel if it meant it would undo what my absence did to her.”

Faith was silent for a very long time. Then, without a word, she reached out, placing a hand quietly on Giles’s shoulder.

“You’re kinder than I would be,” said Giles, smiling bitterly at his lap.

“You’re here,” said Faith. “Now. You fucked up a whole bunch, leaving her when she needed you, but that doesn’t mean she needs you any less right now.”

Giles looked up and over at Faith, touched. “The same applies for you, you know,” he said. “She loves you very much, and I am beginning to very much understand why.”

Faith gave him a crooked smile. “Hey, right back atcha, Watcher-man,” she said, and punched his shoulder a bit too hard. Giles winced, but didn’t stop smiling.


 

Jenny was lying in bed when she felt the mattress shift, and then felt Rupert drape an arm across her stomach, fingers tracing her hip. She smiled, mouth trembling, and turned into his arms, letting out a shaky breath. “I’m really fucked up right now,” she said. “Like, I don’t—I can’t—if you guys are doing research, I don’t think I can be a part of it for a little while.”

“No, I know,” said Rupert gently. “And we will be doing research eventually, but you are my top priority. Whatever you need from me, Jenny, I’m here for you.”

“I think I just—need you—to hold me,” said Jenny, slow and halting. “I keep on, I keep on thinking about his hands on my neck, and—” She sniffled, trying to smile. “Nothing feels safe anymore,” she said. “Nothing. He looked at me like Angel and he grabbed me and threw me up against that wall and Rupert, I thought I was going to die—”

That same cold fury flashed momentarily in Rupert’s eyes, but then he kissed her forehead, pulling her very close to rest her cheek against his. “We can just stay here,” he murmured. “You and me, all the kids bunking in the living room, and to hell with the rest of the world, how’s that?”

Jenny hid her face in the crook of his neck. He smelled like home. “I love you so much,” she whispered. “Thank you for being here. And not going into one of your stupid terrible guilt spirals, because seriously, those suck for me.”

She felt Rupert’s quiet laugh. “Anything that helps you in this moment, I’ll do,” he murmured. “Though believe you me, I have every intention of spiraling as soon as you’re feeling at least a bit better.”

Jenny did feel better. She felt safe. And she really, really wanted to stay in Rupert’s arms for the next two days at minimum, but if Angel was unstable enough to attack her, he could end up seriously hurting someone else. After allowing herself a good few minutes of blissful stillness, she raised her head, nose brushing against Rupert’s, and said reluctantly, “We should get back to research.”

“Are you sure?” Rupert’s fingertip traced her cheek.

“I want to make sure that this thing messing with Angel doesn’t mess with us,” Jenny reminded him. “Time is, as always, of the essence.”

Rupert considered this. Then he said, “This summer, we’re going to go somewhere with sand and beaches, and you’re going to get the long-deserved vacation that an ordeal like this merits.”

“God, you really do love me if you’re willing to brave beach time,” Jenny teased, and Rupert’s grin in return made her feel all kinds of cozy and warm. “Okay.” She kissed him, a kiss that was meant to be short but slipped into a much longer, softer one than she’d intended. “Okay,” she whispered against his mouth, and kissed him again.

“Mm—Jenny, the, the research,” Rupert mumbled without much conviction, rolling onto his back and pulling Jenny on top of him.

“You’re such an enabler,” Jenny giggled, kissing his neck.

A loud hammering on the door broke them apart. “Faith!” came Willow’s reproving voice.

“HEY, JEN, ARE WE EVER GONNA ACTUALLY DO SOME RESEARCH?” Faith shouted.

Jenny groaned, trying not to laugh, and pulled herself reluctantly off of Rupert, who looked extremely annoyed at the interruption. Crossing the room to open the door, she realized belatedly that she was thoroughly rumpled, and winced, attempting to smooth down her hair.

“Classy,” said Xander. Willow whacked his shoulder.

“Rupert and I were just about to come out,” said Jenny, trying not to look too much like she’d been seriously considering having sex instead of researching. “We want to get a jump on the research too—”

“Uh, actually, we wanted to take this one by ourselves,” said Faith hesitantly.

“You guys have been through a lot this last year,” Willow added, “and all of it to keep us kids safe.”

“And you put in a whole bunch of hours of research to make sure we didn’t have to,” Xander finished. “We’re gonna call in Buffy, but—we wanted to give you guys a night off.”

“You know,” said Faith tentatively. “Like a Christmas present.”

Maybe it was just that Jenny was feeling pretty emotionally fragile after that whole almost-dying thing, but she felt very close to tears. “Oh,” she said. “Oh, that’s—god, that’s really sweet. Rupert, did you hear what they said?”

“I made some of it out, yes,” said Rupert, who looked similarly affected. “Children, you—you really don’t have to—”

“That’s what makes it a present!” Willow beamed. “Seriously, you two, you deserve to, uh—”

“Finish up what you were doing in there,” Faith said helpfully. Willow whacked her shoulder.

Jenny bit her lip, smiling, and looked up at Rupert. “What do you think?”

“I, um, think my Christmas presents to all of you won’t match up in the slightest to what you’re giving me,” said Rupert to the kids, tucking an arm around Jenny’s waist. His eyes were a bit misty. “Thank you,” he said. “We greatly appreciate it.”


 

Buffy was expecting to see Giles and Ms. Calendar in the library, and was therefore extremely surprised when she looked around and saw everyone but them. Willow, Xander, Faith, Oz, even Cordelia were all busily flipping through a thousand and one musty books (and, in Willow’s case, surfing the web). “Where are Giles and Ms. Calendar?” she asked, half-afraid of the answer.

“Taking a break,” Willow answered lightly, grinning. “My idea. We thought we’d give them an early Christmas present.”

“Five bucks says they’re back to getting all snuggly, if you catch my drift,” said Faith, and accepted Xander’s high-five.

“Ugh,” said Buffy, but she felt warmed. She couldn’t think of anyone who deserved a night off more than Giles, and him spending it with Ms. Calendar was definitely of the good. “Hey, you guys mentioned—something about Angel—?”

There was an awkward silence. Faith and Willow exchanged a nervous look, Oz went very still (stiller than usual, at least), and Xander glared determinedly at the book he was reading. Only Cordelia blinked, frowned, and inquired, “They didn’t tell you? Angel went all psycho on Ms. Calendar ‘cause he thought she was some kind of demon. Ms. Calendar might have gotten killed if Giles hadn’t shown up in time.”

Buffy stared. “But he’s…good,” she said weakly.

Xander very visibly bit his lip, but didn’t say anything.

“Buffy, that doesn’t mean he’s not dangerous,” said Willow quietly. “We know he didn’t mean to hurt Ms. Calendar, but it was still really scary for her.”

Buffy swallowed, hard, then sniffled. “I really love him,” she said in a small voice. Faith’s face tightened at this. “And—and it sucks, because I—” She realized it, then, in that moment, looking around at all of her friends. As much opposition as they showed to the concept, she knew that if she went back to Angel, they’d eventually come around. And if he hurt them again, they’d still always forgive her. She couldn’t put them in danger like that. “Because I can’t be with him,” she finished, and for the first time, she completely meant it. “I won’t be with him again.”

Willow sniffled too, looking sympathetic and deeply sad. “I’m sorry,” she said.

“Yeah, me too,” said Faith. Her face had relaxed, and she looked…happy? But in a guilty way, Buffy thought.

“I’m not,” said Xander, then winced. “But…I am sorry you’re hurting, Buff. It was a tough thing for all of us to go through. I just…really, really hate the guy.”

Buffy managed a wet laugh. “I mean, you weren’t exactly subtle about it, Xander,” she teased lightly. “So what are we researching?”

Chapter Text

As it turned out, Ms. Calendar had set aside a hefty file of articles and manuscripts about something called the First Evil, marking it re: Angel’s return, which would have made researching a lot faster if they’d found it right off the bat. It took five hours of reading all the useless stuff before Xander went into Giles’s office to look for pizza money and came out with a very resigned expression, holding the file out in front of him. Still, Buffy figured it had given Giles and Ms. Calendar more than enough of a break, even if it had been at everyone else’s expense.

Cordelia thought differently. “She could have at least mentioned that she’d taken literally all the useful stuff and hidden it,” she complained as they pulled up in front of Giles and Ms. Calendar’s place. It was still pretty weird to think of it as Giles and Ms. Calendar’s place instead of just Ms. Calendar’s place, but—weird in a good way. Like how Buffy felt when Faith flipped her hair or applied lipstick all slow. Or, okay, not that, but that was the only other weird-but-good feeling Buffy could think of.

Off topic. “We gave Ms. Calendar a break,” Buffy reminded Cordelia. “She probably didn’t think all the Angel stuff would come up again.”

Thank you,” said Faith. “Don’t give Jen a hard time. She flips out every time Angel’s mentioned. If she thought she could help, she would have.”

Cordelia huffed, but she looked somewhat placated as she parked the car.

Buffy got out first, then opened the door for Willow and Faith, waiting in particular for the latter. “Hey,” she said. “Are you doing anything for Christmas?”

Faith blinked, then blushed. “Uh, yeah, actually,” she said. “Giles is having a whole not-Christmas dinner—”

“Oh, you’re going to that,” said Buffy, feeling stupid. “I kinda forgot you live with Giles now too.”

“Why do you ask?”

“Well, my mom wanted to know if any of my friends wanted to come over for Christmas,” Buffy began, “but now I’m starting to wonder if she and I could drop in on Giles and Ms. Calendar’s not-Christmas dinner.”

Faith looked a little surprised. “But you were gonna invite me to Christmas with your mom?”

“Yeah,” said Buffy. She felt like she might be blushing too. “Things have been really weird with Angel lately, and they kinda seem to be just getting worse, but—you’ve been really, really cool about it, and you didn’t have to be. So…thanks.”

“Hey, sure,” said Faith, giving her a small, encouraging smile. “Slayers gotta stick together, right?”

The door opened. “I thought I heard reckless driving,” said Giles, squinting at Cordelia in a way that would have been reproving if he didn’t have like fifty hickeys on his neck. Ew. “You do know that there’s a speed limit for a reason, yes?”

“Can you tell your girlfriend that next time she’s got important information, it’d be great if she didn’t hide it in your office?” Cordelia shot back.

Giles considered this. “Touché.”

“Wait, you guys knew?” Xander objected.

“We figured it out about ten minutes ago, if that helps at all,” Ms. Calendar added, peering out from behind Giles. “Also, Rupert made dinner, if you all want to take a break.”

But Oz frowned. “Uh, I hate to break it to you guys,” he said, “but there’s like eight of us, and your kitchen table only has three chairs. I’m really not seeing how a Scooby dinner is gonna be possible when you have a three-person kitchen plus all those boxes in the living room.”

For some reason, Ms. Calendar and Giles both blushed, not looking at each other. “Well, I mean, we’re making it work,” said Ms. Calendar, at the same time that Giles said, “It’s a tight fit, but it seems the most reasonable—”

Oh,” said Cordelia. “You guys are pretending to be all casual. Listen, you’re clearly the worst kind of sappy about each other, and Giles keeps on trying to kill Angel every time the guy so much as looks at Ms. Calendar, so what’s so bad about moving into a bigger house? I mean, it’s not like Giles is gonna throw away all his books to make room for us. The man wears tweed on his days off.”

Ms. Calendar and Giles exchanged a very resigned look. “So that’s a no to the dinner, then, Cordelia?” said Giles.

“Hey, I’m all about free food,” said Xander, and pushed past both Giles and Ms. Calendar into the house.


 

The kitchen-table thing was solved when Ms. Calendar brought a few extra folding chairs out of a hall closet, though Faith and Buffy did end up having to sit on the counter together. Ms. Calendar came over and sat with them after a few minutes, though mostly she just let Faith steal food off her plate. “Should we talk research now or later?” she asked the room at large.

“Ugh, later,” said Cordelia.

“Now, I think, is best,” said Giles. “It’ll be brief. Jenny’s resources are quite thorough.” The last part was said in the same way most normal people would say Jenny’s super hot, which was extremely disturbing.

“Yeah, this file’s really comprehensive!” Willow piped up, sifting through the various printouts. “There’s this one bit about the guys who conjure up the First—maybe those are the people making your dreams all weird!”

Thinking back to one of her more recent (and more R-rated) dreams, Buffy winced. “Can I see those guys?” she asked, hopping off the counter to peer over Willow’s shoulder. Sure enough, the pencil sketches looked a lot like the weird priest-y guy who had showed up when she and Angel were—well. “Great,” she said. “Now I know whose teeth I’m gonna kick in.”

“The only problem with that is us not knowing where they are,” Xander pointed out. “We could hit up Willy, maybe, you know, intimidate him?”

Ms. Calendar took a sip of tea to hide her smile. Faith, biting back a grin, said, “Yeah, Xander, you go kick Willy’s ass for us.”

“I don’t think that that’ll be necessary,” Giles began.

“You don’t think I can take Willy?” Xander squared up, raising his fists like a boxer and nearly knocking over his glass of milk. “I can take him! I’m tough—”

“We’re not disputing your manliness, Xander,” said Willow, giggling. “It’s just that Ms. Calendar marked off a lot of stuff about them already.”

“Yeah, I think you guys are overestimating my research,” said Ms. Calendar, setting her mug down to cross the room as well. Faith followed. “Most of that stuff I marked off is vague, prophetic Watcher crap. No offense, honey,” she added to Giles.

“None taken,” said Giles.

“So I get to go intimidate Willy?” Xander asked hopefully.

Ms. Calendar and Giles exchanged a look. Then Giles said, “Take Faith with you.”

Xander punched the air in victory and really did knock over his milk. Giles and Ms. Calendar let out identical shrieks and dived for the research, nearly upending the table in their haste to get it all out of the way. Most of the milk ended up landing on Cordelia, who (to everyone’s surprise) nodded resignedly, kissed Xander on the cheek, and said to Willow, “It really is just a hazard of dating him.”


 

Faith finished dinner and headed into her room to change. If she was going to some demon bar, she didn’t want to wear the extra-nice sweater, no matter how good it looked with her leather jacket. But just as she was taking off her shirt, the door opened, and then she heard Buffy gasp, “Oh, oh no, oh my gosh I should have knocked—

“Easy, B,” said Faith, pulling off the sweater and beginning to fold it as she turned around. “We’ve both been in a girls’ locker room before. Shut the door, will ya?”

Buffy obliged, but she did it without looking away from Faith. Specifically, without looking away from Faith’s bra. “That’s a nice bra,” she said in a squeaky voice. “Is it a push-up bra?”

Have you been in a girls’ locker room before?” said Faith, bewildered. “Didn’t peg you for the type to get all freaked by a chick without her shirt on. Maybe if I wasn’t wearing a bra—

“So anyway,” said Buffy very loudly, “I, uh, I just wanted to make sure you knew that the rest of us are gonna be pulling an all-nighter seeing how we can stop the First. Giles and Ms. Calendar both say that I’ve gotta beat up the Bringers, but they want to make sure the Bringers don’t have any secret strengths or anything, and, and are you going to put a shirt on?”

“You were talking to me, remember?” Faith reminded her, amused, then hesitated. Going to a demon bar was okay enough, but pulling an all-nighter with the rest of the Scoobies actually sounded a lot more her speed. “Hey,” she said. “Would it be okay if we swapped Slayer jobs? I haven’t really been feeling the whole seedy-bar thing lately.”

Buffy blinked, surprised. “Okay,” she said. “Research duty can be kind of boring, though.”

“Eh,” said Faith, smiling a little awkwardly. Research was boring. Spending time with a whole bunch of people in a warm house more than made up for that. “I’ll manage. Plus, you seem like you could do with some info-finding that’s a little more solid than books right now.”

Buffy nodded, smiling back. She looked a little sad. “Kinda, yeah,” she said. “All this stuff with Angel is really hard to deal with when I don’t know how to stop it. And if he’s enough of a danger to hurt Ms. Calendar—” Her smile faded and she looked down.

“Easy, B,” said Faith again, softer and less playful, and she crossed the room to place a hand on Buffy’s shoulder.

Buffy stilled at her touch, looking up. There was a quiet, nervous look on her face. “You’re still not wearing a shirt,” she said in a small voice.

“That a turn-off for you?” teased Faith lightly.

“Kinda the opposite,” said Buffy. Before Faith could completely process what had just happened, Buffy turned bright red, then said very fast, “Okay I gotta go help Xander with the demon thing see you later bye!” and bolted, leaving the door wide open as she ran.

Faith pulled her sweater back over her head, still staring. She thought about Buffy staring at her bra, and Buffy holding her hand, and all the weird, awkward moments that Faith had chalked up to a curious straight girl, and then she thought about how Buffy’s brand of “curious straight girl” really seemed one hell of a lot more like “bi girl in denial.”

“Huh,” she said, and tried to stop grinning. She had a feeling Jen would pick up on the cause of her stupid, unstoppable smile.


 

It was about one in the morning when an extremely frustrated Buffy called them from a pay phone. “All I got out of Willy was that they’re underground,” she said. “Which really, really isn’t a lot to go on. Any luck on your end?”

“Unfortunately not,” said Giles ruefully. “We’ve found bits and pieces of information about the Bringers themselves, but not quite as much about where they might be located. We’ll keep you posted, but for now—take the night off. Get some rest.”

“Will do,” Buffy agreed, sounding a little disheartened. “You too.”

Giles hung up. “Buffy says they’re underground,” he informed the group. Willow had already fallen asleep on the sofa, and Cordelia and Xander were snuggled on the floor, but Jenny, Oz, and Faith all gave him varying nods of response without looking up from their own books. “Is there anything that any of you have found in Jenny’s notes?”

“Not a lot,” said Faith. “Most of it is just dumb poetic shit. Like—” She put on an affected, Shakespearean accent, “For they are the Harbingers of death. Nothing shall grow above or below them. No seed shall flower—”

“Hold on,” said Xander, pulling himself up and off the floor to rub at his eyes. Cordelia made an indignant noise. “Ms. Calendar, remember when we went down to check out discount Christmas trees at, like, the one lot in town, and there were a bunch of dead ones that the guy was selling off for next to nothing? He said they’d just up and died in early December and he didn’t know why—”

“I remember that lot!” Jenny snapped her fingers, pointing at Xander. “We were gonna surprise everyone with a Christmas tree, but all of them were either dead or expensive so we just gave up and went home!”

“Nothing shall grow above,” said Faith significantly.

“Or below,” Jenny finished, then stood up. “Let’s go get some Bringers.”

Chapter Text

Everyone drove out to the Christmas tree lot, but it ended up only being Faith and Jen who went up against the Bringers. Willow, Xander, Cordelia, and Oz were all dozy and comfortable in the backseat, and Giles wanted to stay behind and take care of the sleepy kids, but Jen—well. Jen started up a whispery argument with Giles as to whether or not she was okay enough to fight things, won when she pointed out that “beating up the guys who got Angel to hurt me will really make me feel better,” accepted a hug from Giles, and clambered out of the car to help Faith unload weapons from the trunk.

“I can handle this by myself, you know,” said Faith, thinking of how less than twelve hours ago, Jen had been pale and shaking and holding onto Giles like a lifeline. “You really could do with a break from this shit, after the day you’ve had.”

Jen picked up a crossbow, testing the weight, then put it down with a grimace. She turned to Faith. “Being your kinda-Watcher is a full-time job,” she began lightly.

“Jen, I’ve had a Watcher,” said Faith. “Nine times out of ten they end up dead. That’s not who I want you to be.” She hesitated. Christmas was the time for sappy shit, right? “Do you remember—when Ms. Post said that she thought you wanted to be my mom?”

Jen blinked, looking a little bemused. “I mean, yeah,” she began.

“Well, she,” Faith cleared her throat, turning a dull red, “got it backwards.”

Jen stared at her for a moment. A small smile crept across her face. “Oh,” she said. “I mean…oh.”

“Yeah,” said Faith, and shrugged, looking steadily up at Jen. She didn’t feel like tackling Jen in a Lifetime-movie hug or anything, but she also didn’t feel like stabbing someone, which by her normal standards was actually pretty good. Trusting someone made honesty one hell of a lot less painful. “My Watcher fought vamps with me, but you’re not…I don’t want you to be my Watcher. Watchers kinda suck.”

Jen considered this. Then she said, “C’mere,” and stepped forward, pulling Faith into a hug. It was the first time they’d actually hugged under circumstances that weren’t super emotional or life-and-death, and it was…nice. It was really nice. Faith couldn’t think of a time someone had just hugged her out of the blue. Granted, some of that might have been because Faith would have stabbed them, but still. “You’re a really good kid,” said Jen, her voice all wobbly. “And I worry about you a lot.”

“That’s annoying—

“Clearly,” said Jen, pulling back a little to give Faith a reproving look, “you just want all the huggy parts of having a—” She stopped. “Not-Watcher,” she finished, her expression softening.

“Yeah, whatever,” said Faith, grinning a little. “Not-Watcher.”

Giles honked the horn.

ALL RIGHT, RUPERT, KEEP YOUR PANTS ON,” Jen shouted as loudly as humanly possible. Faith thought she saw Giles cringe, and did her best to hide a laugh as Jen pulled away from Faith to grab a weapon at random. “We all set?”

“Fuck yeah,” said Faith. She was really looking forward to fucking up the guys that had hurt Jen.

Most of the trees seemed to be doing pretty okay, but then they reached six in the middle that surrounded a dry, open patch of earth. Without hesitating, Faith raised the axe she’d grabbed and whacked the ground as hard as she could, watching with satisfaction as it crumbled…creating a hole that opened up beneath their feet.

Whoops.

Faith barely managed to grab onto Jen before they were both tumbling down through the hole and into a dimly-lit cave. She managed to take most of the impact, which left her with a lingering soreness but no serious injuries, and pulled them both to their feet. “You okay?” she asked.

“Next time?” said Jen. “Bring a shovel.”

Not too far away, Faith could make out the sounds of chanting. Briefly, and without turning, she squeezed Jen’s hand. “Thanks,” she said quietly.

“Always,” said Jen, and squeezed her hand back, then let go, waiting.

Taking the hint, and raising her axe, Faith began to head in the direction of the chanting, doing her best to also keep track of Jen behind her in case they got jumped or something. It didn’t take them too long to reach a table in the middle of a big, creepy cavern, encircled by three creepy, eyeless priest guys.

“This is where I quip, right?” inquired Faith, and lunged for the first priest. Behind her, she heard what sounded like Jen whacking the second priest in the face with a sword, then stabbing him. The third priest, who seemed a little bit smarter than his friends, ran for the hills. Good call. Faith had just finished up with the first priest, and she was now bringing her axe down hard on whatever the priests had been standing and chanting around.

“Entirely unbecoming, Janna,” said a voice.

Faith looked up. Some old dude was standing in the middle of the cavern. She frowned, raising the axe, but then heard a strangled noise from behind her—almost a sob. “Uncle,” said Jen.

“The vampire tries to kill you, and you continue to aid him?” said the guy. “You are a disgrace.”

“I’m not—” Jen drew her arms against her chest, shaking. The broadsword clattered to the ground.

“You are,” said the guy. “The family is in disarray, our legacy and our calling in shatters, and you turn your back on those you claim to love to devote yourself to the service of a vampire?”

“I’m not,” Jen whispered. “I’m not, I’m not, you didn’t want me, you said—you said that carrying out everyone else’s vengeance was all I would ever be good for, I just wanted to be kind—”

Faith looked at Jen, thought about all the talk of creepy guilting visions, and threw her axe as hard as she could. The guy shimmered and shifted as the axe passed right through him, and suddenly—fuck. Suddenly it was the Prof. It was the Prof, and Faith’s axe was on the other side of the cavern. “Really, Faith,” said the Prof, looking over her shoulder at the axe, “I taught you better than to fight impulsively.”

“You’re not my dead Watcher, and you’re not going to fuck with me,” said Faith sharply. “You can’t touch me. How fuckin’ weak is that, relying on other people’s guilt to get them killed?”

“Clever girl,” said the First. “Stronger than all the rest.”

Faith looked over her shoulder at Jen, and something furious rose in her chest, because Jen was crying. Not in the quiet, clumsy way Faith had seen on rare occasions, but full-out messy sobs that had her doubled over as she shook. “I’m gonna kill you,” she told the First.

The First rolled its eyes. “You think you can fight me?” it scoffed. “I'm not a demon, little girl. I am something that you can't even conceive. The First—”

“Evil, yeah, whatever,” said Faith sharply. “Everything I fight is evil. I can kill you.”

The First looked almost amused. “Angel will be dead by sunrise,” it said.

Behind Faith, Jen stopped crying. “What?” she whispered.

“His attempt to kill you wasn’t planned,” the First said mildly to Jen, “but it certainly helped with the guilt. Tragically, he can’t live with himself as a monster.” It shrugged. “Better for us, I guess,” it said. “We can’t live with him as a man.”

Faith picked up the broadsword and thrust it at the First.

All of a sudden, she was surrounded by a black, smoky cloud, one with too many eyes and sharp teeth and claws that might have scratched if they’d been substantial. “DEAD BY SUNRISE,” a voice rasped through the cavern, and then Faith was standing alone, shaking.

Someone stepped up next to her. As Faith’s knees gave way, she felt her cheek fall against Jen’s shoulder. “I’ve got you, Faith,” Jen whispered. “I’ve got you. It’s okay.”


 

Jenny tucked Faith back into the front seat, then kissed Rupert very hard. “I have to go find Angel,” she said. “He’s in danger.”

“Jenny, that is not—

“There is no one else who can do it, Rupert,” said Jenny as steadily as she could. She kept on thinking about her uncle as a ghostly apparition—you are a disgrace, you turn your back on those you claim to love—and reminded herself that that sure as hell would never be what she was. “You know it has to be me.”

Rupert looked around at the children, all of them asleep in the car. Then he unbuckled his seatbelt, clambered out of the driver’s seat, and grabbed Jenny’s waist, pulling her flush against him as he kissed her. It was the same kind of desperate kiss they’d shared the night before, right down to the intensity of his gaze when he pulled back. “If he kills you,” he said, “I will kill him. I will go to him and I will rip him apart, piece by fucking piece. You must understand that, Jenny.”

“Yeah,” said Jenny. But there was a strange, burning conviction in her chest: she would not let Angel die again. The strength of her belief was enough to make her certain that she would come back to Rupert in the morning. “I love you,” she whispered, and wanted to say other, stupider things, but there would be time for that after sunrise. “Drive me to the mansion?”


 

He wasn’t in the mansion. It took Jenny a few panicked seconds to figure out where he might be, and then it clicked. Walking slowly—there were a few hours left till sunrise, after all—she made her way through the mansion, into the bushes out back, and climbed up the hill to find Angel. He was looking out at a peaceful, well-lit section of town, and didn’t turn as she made her way towards him.

“Angel,” said Jenny.

Angel turned, shocked. “Ms. Calendar,” he said finally. “You shouldn’t be here.”

“Yeah, that’s what pretty much everyone keeps saying to me,” said Jenny simply. “Mind if I sit with you?”

“I hurt you,” said Angel. “I could have killed you. What are you doing here?”

Jenny opened her mouth to answer, then shut it. “I don’t know,” she said finally. “I honestly don’t know. I don’t know you, Angel. I know you from horror stories that my uncle used to tell me, and I know you from how much Buffy loves you, and I know you from the fact that you saved my life a year ago. But none of that really means I know you.”

“The sun’s coming up soon,” said Angel. “I don’t think you should be here for this.”

“The sun isn’t coming up for three more hours, drama queen,” said Jenny, mouth twitching. “I think that gives us more than enough time to talk about this incredibly stupid decision you’re making.”

“If you don’t know me, then you can’t understand that this is the right decision for me to make,” said Angel with sharp conviction. “I hurt you today. I’ve hurt you before. I’ve tasted your blood, and you think that the world should still have me in it?” He turned all the way now, looking at her with contempt. “You’re an idiot,” he said.

Something snapped inside her. “You don’t get to say that to me,” Jenny said furiously. “You don’t ever—look at me, you asshole, you don’t ever get to tell me that I am an idiot. I let you torture me for hours in front of the first person I ever let myself love, and I spent the whole fucking summer trying to deal with that, and I come up here forgiving you because I care and you tell me that I’m an idiot? It’s not an idiotic thing to do, Angel, to forgive people. People aren’t perfect. People aren’t supposed to be. People make stupid mistakes that they can’t undo, that happens, but what’s really going to count is what you do to make sure you never, ever make that mistake again.”

“I don’t have that certainty,” Angel burst out. “I never get to have that certainty. As long as I’m alive, Angelus runs the risk of getting out, and after what you did to get me back, you’re the very first one he’ll go after. The things he wanted to do to you—” He shuddered, almost involuntarily, but he was still visibly furious. “This isn’t a choice you get to talk me out of,” he said. “I saw the way you looked at me after I thought you were the First. You know I’m right.”

“Angel, the First showed up to me as my uncle and told me I was a disgrace to the family name,” said Jenny, exasperated. “If everyone who got guilted by that thing killed themselves, Sunnydale would probably be toast. Look, can you just…hear me out?” A lingering spark of anger prompted her to add, “I feel like I’m owed at least that much from you.”

Guilt flickered in Angel’s eyes. He nodded.

Jenny nodded too. “Okay,” she said, stepping up to him. “I…I have spent the last six months blaming myself unceasingly for all the stuff that happened to you. You losing your soul, you getting sent to hell, Rupert having to watch me get tortured, Buffy having to kill you—it always, always felt like there was something I could have done to save you.”

“It wasn’t your fault,” said Angel immediately, almost reflexively. Jenny fixed him with a look. He coughed, abashed, and waited.

“What I’m getting at,” said Jenny, a lump in her throat, “is that I never got to know you. Not well enough for me to feel this much guilt, at least. There was all this time I spent working out my feelings towards you, time that I could have used on helping people who were there and not dead…” She trailed off. “You’ve been given an incredible opportunity to do good,” she said, and meant the words for both of them. “Spending all your time beating yourself up for the things you’ve done wrong is a waste of that gift.”

“If you haven’t forgotten,” said Angel derisively, “that ritual your family pulled off was a curse, not a gift.”

“My family didn’t give you your soul this time around,” said Jenny quietly. “I did. Willow did. Because you meant something to us. We could have let Buffy kill you and sent you to hell, but we didn’t, because Buffy loved you and Willow loves Buffy.”

“And you?”

“I saved your life because you saved mine,” said Jenny, smiling a little.

“I almost killed you—”

“Eyghon,” said Jenny. The terror and trauma of that long-ago incident seemed strange and distant. “I would have been a puddle of blue goo if you hadn’t strangled that demon out of me. I never forgot that, Angel.” She smiled, not quite sadly. “I don’t think I ever will.”

Something in Angel’s expression had changed. “I didn’t ever think of it like that,” he said. “I just thought, back then—if I could help—I want to help people, Ms. Calendar. More than anything.”

“There you go,” said Jenny softly, and stood on tiptoe, squeezing his shoulder. “Look, it’s your choice, in the end. But there are people here who need you, Angel, people you might not even realize you’ve helped.”

“I’m not a good man,” said Angel, eyes darting down to Jenny’s hand on his shoulder like he wasn’t quite sure why it was there, or if it should be.

“It’s not about good and bad,” Jenny persisted. “Okay? It’s about the mistakes you’ve made and what you’re doing to make sure they don’t happen again. There’s no person who’s inherently good, Angel, and no person who will ever be anything but bad. People come in shades of gray.”

“I’m not a strong man,” Angel amended.

“Then find yourself a damn good reason to be,” said Jenny. “The world wouldn’t be better without you, Angel, it’s better with you. You could bring a lot to it if you got over your whole self-flagellation kick.” She let her hand drop, looking up at him. “Final verdict?”

Angel let out a quiet, shaking breath. “I don’t know,” he said. It was almost a sob. “I don’t know what to do.”

“Okay,” said Jenny. “So let’s go inside.”

There was a long, still moment, and then Angel nodded.

Chapter Text

“I mean, we’re not inviting him over for bangers and mash—did I say that right?”

“No,” said Giles, who hadn’t looked up from the newspaper.

“Whatever. No one asked you.”

You asked me.”

“Shush. Anyway, we’re not inviting him over for bangers and mash or anything, but—we’re for real pretty good. Or good enough for now, at least.” Jen handed a tentative Buffy a string of lights. “Help Xander string some of these outdoors?”

“Sure,” said Buffy, looking relieved at the opportunity to do something that wasn’t just standing around.

“Are we doing a gift exchange?” Willow asked, darting worried eyes to the presents heaped on the coffee table. “I didn’t get any gifts—”

“It’s not a gift exchange,” said Jen, who was haphazardly stringing garlands of tinsel over the fireplace. “We just, you know, bought all of you gifts. There’s no exchange there.”

“You guys bought us gifts?” Buffy looked like she might melt.

“Oh, damn, we should give you yours before you’re off for Christmas with your mom!” gasped Jen, tossing one of the garlands over her shoulder at random.

It hit Giles in the face. He spat out some tinsel, then said, “Jenny—

“Whoops,” said Jen remorselessly, turning back to draping tinsel in a way that definitely looked like a fire hazard.

Giles very carefully set down his newspaper, got up from the chair, and wrapped his arms around Jen’s waist from behind, scooping her up and off her feet. She shrieked, laughing. “You,” he said, pressing a kiss to the top of her head, “have officially been stripped of all tinsel-related responsibilities.”

“Ugh, okay, on that note,” said Buffy, blushing furiously, and hurried out the door with the string of lights.

After a glance at Giles and Jen, Faith rolled her eyes, grinned, and followed, enjoying the gentle flurry of snow that was beginning to fall. “Is snow a usual thing in Sunnydale?” she asked Buffy, falling into step with her.

“Not usually,” Buffy answered, smiling softly as she turned to look at Faith. Snowflakes were catching in her hair, some of them landing on her soft red jacket, and she was probably one of the prettiest things Faith had ever seen. “Kind of a Christmas miracle, I guess.”

“Winter solstice miracle,” Faith corrected, grinning fondly in the direction of Jen’s half-open front door. “Jen seems pretty big on that aspect.”

Buffy’s attention had turned to the lights, which had somehow tangled themselves around most of her right arm. “What do you think the odds are that some of these are, like, magically annoying?” she grumbled, attempting to tug herself free.

“Oh, hey, don’t break those,” said Faith, hurrying forward to help untangle Buffy. Focusing largely on making sure Buffy was free of the lights, she almost missed the way Buffy’s blush returned with a vengeance. “You okay?”

“What?” squeaked Buffy.

Faith looked up at her, and that was when she realized how close they were. A few months of a solid, persistent crush on B had made her a little less panicky about physical proximity, which she felt kinda grateful for. The snow was falling softly around them, and the porch lights added a gentle glow to Buffy’s blonde hair—this kind of shit would have had her all kinds of nervous under different circumstances. “You okay?” she said again, ‘cause that was really what mattered after the few days they’d all had.

For a moment, Buffy’s deer-in-the-headlights look didn’t waver. Then she blinked, swallowed, and gave Faith a small, timid smile. “Merry Christmas,” she said.

“Winter solstice,” said Faith.

“Whatever,” said Buffy.

They stood there for another few seconds, and it felt…nice. In a not scary way. Faith hesitated, then said, “You know, you’ve been…I really like you, B. I’m glad we got to know each other.”

Buffy’s smile widened, and her eyes went all soft. “Me too,” she said.

There was a loud crash from the house, and then Jen shouted, “Okay, we are getting rid of some of these fucking boxes!”

Faith snickered. “I should probably get back in there,” she said. “Whatever’s going on sounds, uh, worth watching.”

“You do that,” said Buffy, who seemed to have finally managed to extricate herself from the lights. “I need to go see where Xander’s at.”

“I think he might be decorating the backyard?”

Buffy waved a hand. “I’m sure he’ll turn up,” she said.


 

“See?” said Xander, gesturing to the newly-furnished shed (newly-furnished, in this context, mostly just meant that he’d moved in a ratty mattress and a sleeping bag). “Sure, maybe it doesn’t have heating, but I moved most of my stuff in and now it’s actually pretty livable!”

Jenny pressed a hand to her temple. “Didn’t we have this conversation?”

“Yeah, but there’s so much more space in the shed,” Xander persisted. “And I figured, you know, with the boxes cluttering up your living room, it might at least make things easier if you didn’t have me taking up space on the couch on top of all that.”

Rupert had a strange expression on his face. “Xander, you really aren’t taking up space,” he said quietly. “You’re here because you need a place to stay. If anything, the fault is ours for not having a larger house.”

Xander scoffed. “So what, the blame falls on you ‘cause Ms. Calendar didn’t think to buy a three-bedroom?”

“Oh, it certainly isn’t Jenny’s fault,” said Rupert earnestly.

“If anything, it’s the books’ fault,” said Jenny.

“Let’s not toss harsh words around,” said Rupert immediately. “The books are a non-negotiable.”

“Rupert, we need more space,” Jenny persisted. “And I’m not tossing the kids out on the street for the sake of your personal collection.”

Rupert’s eyes were soft and bright. “I’d never suggest that,” he said. “I would, however, suggest a larger house.”

Jenny blinked. “What?”

“W-well,” Rupert began, nervous but still determined, “I, I know the subject of, of commitment hasn’t really come up in any, ah, serious way, particularly since my moving in was more out of convenience than anything, but I—” He stopped, smiling shyly. “I love you very much,” he said. “I think I’d like to take that next step and buy a house with you. A real one, that’ll fit all of us.”

Jenny felt a rush of butterflies. “So you’re not planning on leaving?” she asked, the words tumbling out before she could snatch them back.

Rupert’s smile fluttered, then faded; he looked ashamed. “I won’t ever do that again, Jenny,” he said. “I regret—deeply—that that’s a question you even have to ask. No, I-I’m not—I don’t think I ever want to leave you and the children.”

It was the children, hesitant but still firm, that did it. Without a word, Jenny gripped Rupert’s lapels, pulling him into a soft, solid kiss.

Xander attempted to pointedly cough, swallowed wrong, and started hacking.

Jenny pulled away from Rupert. “Go drink some water,” she instructed Xander, stepping over to brush some snow out of his hair.

Through his coughing fit, Xander choked, “So no to the shed?”

“You’re going to have your own bedroom at the new place, Xander,” said Jenny patiently.

Xander stopped coughing, mouth half-open. Weakly, he said, “I’m not—I mean, you guys aren’t letting me stay, are you? You said not for anything permanent, you said—”

“Yes, well, that was before we had a big enough place to put you up,” said Rupert simply. “If we’re getting a new house, it stands to reason that we’re to factor in the innumerable amount of children that seem to be in it on a daily basis.”

Jenny elbowed him.

“Ah. What I meant was…” Rupert trailed off, his cheeks red from a mixture of cold and what Jenny knew was shy affection. It gratified her, seeing that look directed at Xander. “Your home situation isn’t ideal, Xander,” he said. “Given that Jenny and I have the resources to rectify that, I think it’s only appropriate that we shall. If you’d like to stay—”

“Yeah,” said Xander. His eyes were wet.

“And do you see your parents objecting?”

Xander wavered. Then he said, “When I went to pick up the last of my stuff from my mom’s, she said she thought it was a good thing, me and him not being under the same roof.” He swallowed, hard. “She said that maybe some distance is what me and my dad both need.”

Rupert cocked his head, a glint in his eye reminiscent of the way he’d looked during his and Jenny’s conversation about Angel. “Oh, did she?” he said coolly.

Jenny placed a calming hand on Rupert’s arm. “Well, that’s good, then,” she said, and meant it. “That means you get to stay with us.”

Xander had a look in his eyes that suggested, had he been a few years younger, he might have tackled Jenny in a hug. As it was, he wavered, awkwardly clapped Giles on the shoulder, said “Cool,” to the shed, and hurried away, a tentative smile lingering on his face.

“So, new house?” said Jenny, letting her hand move to Rupert’s shoulder.

Rupert turned to her, looking at her as though he almost couldn’t believe she was there. “Yes,” he said softly. “Yes, a-a new house, with, with bedrooms, a backyard, perhaps a study—”

Jenny stood on tiptoe and kissed him again, properly this time, twining her arms around his neck as he lifted her off her feet.


 

Faith was sitting on the couch when Xander came up, dropped the coil of lights on top of the coffee table, and fell into the seat next to her, a dazed expression on his face. “They said I could stay,” he said.

“Yeah, they’re cool like that,” said Faith, bumping his shoulder. “Merry solstice or whatever, I guess.”

Xander hesitated, giving Faith a sidelong glance. “So, uh, we’re gonna be under the same roof,” he said awkwardly.

“Looks like,” said Faith.

“You cool with that?”

“Well, if the new place is gonna fit you, me, Giles, Jen, and five metric tons of books, I figure it’s gonna be a pretty big roof,” said Faith lightly.

“Not what I meant,” said Xander simply.

Faith sighed, then took a moment to seriously consider the question. “You’re cool enough,” she said. “Plus you’ve kinda been living here already.”

“That wasn’t permanent—

“Course it was, dumbass,” said Faith, amused, and that was when it hit her: she was going to be living with Giles and Jen for as long as she wanted. They were getting a new house for Xander and the books, sure, but for her too. “Course it was,” she said again, all but wondrously.

Xander gave her this annoying little smirk. “It hit you too, didn’t it?” he said, all but smug.

“Whatever,” said Faith, and settled herself into the couch, letting her shoulder bump against Xander’s. After a moment of contemplation, she added, “My room better be bigger than yours.”

“That’s seriously what you’re worried about?”

“I have seniority, Harris,” Faith informed him. “I have rights—

This was when Jen and Giles stumbled through the hallway and into the living room, nearly knocking over two boxes of books. Giles’s jacket got caught on some tinsel. “So!” said Jen, who looked the happiest that Faith had ever seen her. “We are going to have to start instigating a semi-regular bedtime, because growing kids need their sleep.”

“Shit, Jen, two seconds of domestic bliss and you’re already trying to mom us to death?” Faith tipped her head back, grinning at the ceiling.

“Everyone has to start somewhere,” said Jen unapologetically, squeezing in between Faith and Xander. “Move. I want to watch some bad celebratory TV.”

“Actually, Jenny, I, ah, think we should all start looking at real estate listings,” said Giles suddenly. “There were a few I marked in the newspaper—”

Faith hesitated, then turned, tucking herself into Jen’s side. What the fuck, right? It was the best time of year to be sentimental and dumb as shit. “Love you,” she said, quietly enough that only Jen would hear it.

In answer, and very gently, Jen smoothed down Faith’s hair, fingers catching in a few lingering tangles from the mess brought on by the Bringers. “Happy solstice, Faith,” she said.

Chapter Text

“This is just more boxes,” said Buffy upon entering the living room. “This is just a whole bunch of boxes, only now they’re stacked to the ceiling. This is like Box Hell.”

“Yes, well, that is usually what moving entails,” said Giles with a small smile. “Not exactly the best Christmas party—”

“Are you kidding? This is amazing! I feel like I’m back in college!” Jen slid by in socks, leggings, and the truly terrible sweater that Giles had knitted her. “Faith, you’d better finish packing your room before I pack it for you, Xander, I think I called your mom again and she said she’d drop any extra stuff off at the new place, Rupert, how many boxes of books do we still need to load onto the truck?”

“Five,” said Giles, catching Jen’s arm before she slid into a stack of boxes. “Buffy, is your mum stopping by for dinner?”

“I said I’d call her when all the boxes were cleared out,” Buffy answered obligingly. “She’s bringing a roast, is that cool?”

“We have a teenage boy and two Slayers,” said Giles dryly. “I daresay we need all the food we can get.” Buffy made a face at Giles. Solemnly, Giles made a face right back. “Faith, have you finished packing your room?” he added.

“Mostly,” said Faith evasively.

Jen made a reproving little noise, tugged herself free of Giles’s hand, and slid across the floor to collide with the couch. Giles winced. “There isn’t too much left to pack, I hope,” said Jen, tugging affectionately at the sleeve of Faith’s leather jacket.

Faith thought about her still-unpacked dresser, winced a little, and said, “Is it cool if I just throw the clothes into a cardboard box without folding them?”

“I’d prefer if you didn’t,” said Giles, at the same time Jen said, “I mean, that’s what I’ve been doing,” at which point they exchanged an alarmed look.

Deciding to take that as a yes, Faith pulled herself up off the couch, squeezed around Xander and Cordelia (who were very busy making out in the middle of a nest of boxes), and stepped into the hallway, opening the door to her near-barren bedroom.

The no-longer-broken TV had been packed already, as had the full-length mirror and most of her clothing. The dresser remained, half of its drawers open, clothing strewn haphazardly about the room and across the bed. Faith made a face at the mess, decided that she could sort most of it out at the new house, and started tossing clothing into a nearby cardboard box.

“Need some help?”

Faith jumped, then grinned. “Sure,” she said, straightening up to face Buffy. “You gonna go postal if you touch one of my bras?”

“I’m never gonna live that one down, huh?” said Buffy wryly, stooping to pick up one of Faith’s tank tops.

For a while, they packed in companionable silence. Then, her mind on all those lingering touches, Faith said casually, “So how’s your love life been going?”

Buffy made a gagging noise.

“That bad?”

“I don’t think I ever wanna date again,” said Buffy, wrinkling her nose as she folded the tank top. “At best, you end up with a broken heart, and at worst, your boyfriend goes postal and tries to kill your computer science teacher.”

“You ever consider trying girls?”

The tank top slipped out of Buffy’s hands. She didn’t notice. “Girls?” she echoed, in that same squeaky voice that had said that’s a nice bra.

“Well,” Faith shrugged, “yeah. I mean, I—” God, her palms were sweaty. “I like girls,” she said, and all but hurled one of her sweaters in the general direction of the box. It missed by a mile. “So. You know. It’s always an option.”

“Huh,” said Buffy. Faith hadn’t even known human voices could reach that pitch. “You mean you—you think girls are pretty, right? ‘Cause I figured everyone thinks that kind of thing.”

Faith looked up, amused. “There’s a fine line between thinking girls are pretty and thinking girls are pretty,” she said. “And I, uh,” she faltered, aware that she had left plausible deniability behind a long while ago, “think that second one. Girls are pretty, man.” She then busied herself with throwing the next sweater at the box (it also missed).

Buffy leaned down to pick up one of the sweaters by the box, folding it while looking somewhat nervously at Faith. “Huh,” she said. “I-I didn’t know—I mean, I never figured—”

“You cool with it?” Faith kept her voice light, tried to infuse a half-threatening challenge into the question.

Buffy smiled somewhat shyly. “You’re my friend,” she said. “I’m totally cool with it. I might need a little bit to, uh, recalibrate, I guess, but…” She trailed off. “It’s just another piece of the Faith puzzle,” she finished.

God, B was sweet. “You’re, uh,” Faith shrugged, doing her best to look nonchalant, “kinda the first person I told.”

Buffy’s eyes went wide. “You didn’t even tell Ms. Calendar?”

“Uh,” said Faith, thinking about all the significant looks Jen had directed at her every single time she’d tried to flirt with Buffy. “Not directly.”

Buffy was blushing a gentle pink that all but matched her magenta sweater. “Then, um, thanks,” she said shyly. “It means a lot to know you trust me like that.”

“Yeah, I, I do,” said Faith, feeling all warm and fluttery.

Buffy opened her mouth, and for a moment, the nervous softness in her eyes made Faith all but certain that they were gonna start getting all sappy and romantic and shit. Like, high-school-rom-com sappy, and maybe they’d even start making out in her bedroom, and Faith was already moving to shut the door when the look faded from Buffy’s face. She shut her mouth, looking significantly sadder, then said, “It’s honestly gonna be a while before I try dating anyone. Boys or—” and then her eyes moved to Faith, wary and warm all at once, “—or anyone.”

You’d have to be a fuckin’ moron not to get that message. “Sure,” said Faith, her heart pounding. “But, uh, I’m not goin’ anywhere. Just so you know.”

Buffy gave her a small, tired grin. “I’ll keep that in mind,” she said.


 

“Stop that,” said Rupert, taking the mixing bowl from Jenny. “That’s for much later, and didn’t you read that article I gave you about the dangers of raw cookie dough?”

“Rupert, the odds of me dying by random vampire attack are far higher than the odds of me contracting salmonella,” said Jenny, making a production of licking the spatula.

“That’s unhygienic—

“Have you finished packing?”

“Are you just trying to get me to leave the kitchen in order to eat the rest of the cookie dough?”

“Yes,” said Jenny. “I am transparent, awful, and a paragon of unhealthy behavior. Have you finished packing?”

Rupert rolled his eyes, smiling indulgently. “Yes, dear,” he said. “I have finished packing.”

Jenny looked at him, then at the large stack of books on the kitchen table, then back at him. “Well, those aren’t mine,” she began.

“Those…” Rupert trailed off, his expression clouded. “Those belong to the Council,” he said.

Jenny’s smile faded. “Oh,” she said. “So are we bringing them with us?”

“I’m honestly not sure.” Rupert’s gaze turned to the books, studying them pensively. “Tentatively, I plan to resign from the Council after Buffy’s Cruciamentum—”

“You said that wasn’t happening,” said Jenny sharply.

Rupert turned back to her, looking alarmed. “Of course it isn’t!” he said, and the genuine surprise in his voice relaxed Jenny. “If I resign before she is supposed to take her Cruciamentum, the new Watcher will simply implement it themselves. I intend to resign only after I’ve ensured that Buffy won’t have to go through such a thing.”

“Right answer,” said Jenny, and tugged on his sweater, pulling him down to give him a quick kiss on the cheek. “Okay. So the right-now question is are we packing these books, but the for-later question is are you still going to be able to utilize Council resources after your resignation, right?”

“Indeed,” said Rupert, looking back towards the books. “Generally speaking, Watchers who resign are still allowed to retain Council resources and connections, but if it’s revealed that I tampered with the Cruciamentum—”

“They’ll kick you out on the spot?”

“Precisely,” said Rupert dismally. “You see my predicament.”

“Not really,” said Jenny. Off Rupert’s look, she said, “Look, we’ve already established that the Council is staffed by idiots, right? They convinced you that your love for me was putting me in danger, they decided that Faith was too volatile to ever be a good Slayer, and they hired Gwendolyn Post. And you,” she stepped up, pressing her hands against Rupert’s chest, “are my sexy, capable Watcher boyfriend with an actually functioning brain—you know, sometimes—”

“Oh, thanks ever so—”

“Shush,” said Jenny, dropping a placating kiss to his mouth. “My point is that you’re one of the smartest guys I know, and it’s already established that I’m a fucking genius. It is well within our wheelhouse to pull the wool over the eyes of the Watchers’ Council.”

Rupert preened. “One of the smartest you know?”

“Take it with a grain of salt,” said Jenny, patting his shoulder. “I could just be blinded by love.”

“Either way, it turns out excellently for me,” said Rupert with a grin.

Jenny rolled her eyes, smiling. “Pack the boxes,” she said, giving him another kiss.

“Absolutely,” said Rupert, kissing her back.

“Put up some warning signs!” came Buffy’s voice from the hallway.

Rupert pulled away. “Buffy, this is our house,” he reminded her.

“Not anymore it’s not, remember?” Buffy countered. “You guys have that nifty little place a few blocks from school, with all the bedrooms and the big backyard and the room for the fifteen thousand books?”

“Be that as it may,” said Rupert mildly, “this is a private kitchen—”

“You didn’t close the door!”

“—and I have full liberty to kiss my lovely girlfriend whenever I see fit,” said Rupert, and then proceeded to attack a laughing Jenny’s neck with kisses.

“This is your fault,” Buffy informed Jenny, but a reluctant smile was beginning. “He was never this bad till you showed up.”

“Oh, he was intolerable when I showed up,” said Jenny between giggles, finally managing to push Rupert away. “Hey, Snobby—”

“Haven’t heard that one in a while,” said Rupert with an easy grin.

“—pack those books,” Jenny finished, and grinned back, stepping into the hallway to meet Buffy. “So how’s our winter solstice dinner looking?”

“Well, almost all the boxes are in the U-Haul,” said Buffy, “which means we only have to do the heavy lifting, and you said that was for after dinner, right?”

“Right,” Jenny agreed. “You wanna call your mom, see if she can bring over that roast? I’ll start setting up a few more folding chairs for the living room.”

“On it,” said Buffy, skipping out into the living room.

Jenny followed Buffy through the hallway, but made a sharp left into Faith’s room, which was very nearly packed up. Faith was working on stuffing an already-overstuffed cardboard box with the last of her clothing, looking extremely annoyed with the box for not closing. “You know you can use more than one box, right?” said Jenny helpfully.

“I’m committed to the process,” said Faith without looking up. “Think I can punch it into submission?”

“Hold up,” said Jenny, stepping over to the box and taking out a few tank tops. “These are small. How about you just wear five of these until we get to the new house?”

“Already getting started on the mom jokes, huh?” said Faith.

“Eat your greens, sweetie,” said Jenny, patting Faith’s shoulder.


 

Giles and Ms. Calendar’s long-anticipated solstice dinner took place in their mostly-barren living room, everyone either squeezed onto the small green couch or perched on an uncomfortable folding chair. The dinner itself was tasty, but the really fun part was when Giles and Ms. Calendar brought out gifts, at least in Buffy’s opinion.

Nice!” said Xander, holding up a comic that Buffy totally didn’t recognize, and fist-bumped Ms. Calendar.

“It’s so thoughtful of you,” Willow was saying delightedly to Giles, hugging the Growing Witch’s Book of Spells to her chest. “And so cute!”

“Neat,” said Oz, examining the record.

“Oh, I’m afraid I’m regifting,” began an apologetic Giles, who was handing Ms. Calendar her present.

“No, it’s great,” said Oz, and he actually sounded closer to enthused than his usual relaxed-yet-unfazed. “Thanks, man.”

“Thanks from all of us,” Buffy chimed in. She was pretty sure Ms. Calendar had been the one to pick out her present, possibly with some help from Faith; there was no way Giles could have picked an aqua top that was so absolutely her style.

“This,” said Ms. Calendar abruptly, “is terrible.” She gave Giles a smitten grin, then showed the room the floppy-disk earrings she had just unwrapped. “He’s trying to turn me into some cheesy teacher who relies on outfit-related prop comedy,” she informed Buffy’s mom happily.

“Well, that’s…” Buffy’s mom trailed off. “Very Magic School Bus,” she said finally, which made Ms. Calendar start laughing so hard she wheezed.

“Have I been insulted?” Giles asked Buffy, looking somewhat bemused.

“You know, I’m really not sure,” said Buffy, squinting at Ms. Calendar. “I mean, she did just call your gift cheesy, but she also did it while giving you puppy-dog eyes.” For some reason, that phrase made Giles choke a little on his water and then start giggling himself. “What?”

“Oh, hey,” said Faith appreciatively, holding up the silver cross necklace Willow had given her. “Never had one of these before.”

“It’s on account of safety during patrol!” said Willow with a shy smile. “Buffy’s always talking about how worried she is when you just go rushing in—”

Is she,” said Faith, and as she donned the cross necklace, she was looking at Buffy through her eyelashes with a pleased, flirty grin on her face. Buffy felt jumpy butterflies in her stomach as she smiled back.

Chapter Text

So now Xander was living with Giles, Faith, and Ms. Calendar, in a two-story house with a living room and a study and an actual library. To be fair, he’d been living with them for a few weeks before the move, but there was a difference between crashing on Ms. Calendar’s couch and having an actual bedroom in Ms. Calendar’s house.Like, sometimes he’d get up for a midnight snack, because that was a thing he was allowed to do now, because this was his home. Every single part of the arrangement felt absolutely surreal.

A particularly weird part was the morning. Back at Ms. Calendar’s old place, Xander had gotten up early, grabbed some milk and cereal, and headed to school by himself. Eating breakfast with a group of people wasn’t something he had ever done at home, and he didn’t want to get into a habit he’d just have to break. Now, though—

“We have seventeen minutes before we need to head out,” Giles announced to the room at large, flipping a pancake with precision. “Is everyone going to be done eating by then?”

“I’m already done, slowpokes,” said Faith with her mouth full.

“I think you have to chew and swallow to qualify as done,” pointed out Ms. Calendar, who was idly flipping through the newspaper while she drank her coffee. “Xander, your homework is still all over the living room. Can you pack it up after breakfast?”

“Sure,” said Xander, struck by the ridiculous domesticity of the moment. Looking at them from the outside, and without context…for a few seconds, he imagined a world where Giles was his dad and Ms. Calendar was his mom and Faith was his annoying little sister. They looked alike enough for it to be plausible, he thought.

“Are you gonna eat that?” Faith enquired, gesturing a greasy fork at Xander’s leftover bacon.

“Faith, I can make you more bacon,” said Giles. “Kindly do not harangue Xander about the food that is rightfully his.”

“Waste not, want not, Giles,” Faith persisted. “If he doesn’t want it—”

“I’m eating at least half of what’s left,” said Xander, too amused to be irritated. “But if you take whatever there is after that, I get some of your dinner tonight.”

“Deal,” said Faith.

“Has anyone heard of politely asking for seconds?” said Giles to the stove.

“Top me off, babe,” said Ms. Calendar, holding out her mug without looking up from the newspaper.

“Emphasis on politely, Jenny,” said Giles. “Though it is delightful to know that I’ve become a glorified servant to all of you.” Despite his theatrics, he crossed the room with a small smile, taking Ms. Calendar’s mug to fill it again.

Xander took a few more bites of bacon, then pushed the plate over to Faith, getting up from the table. “Should I, uh, homework?” he said uncertainly.

“You should definitely homework,” Ms. Calendar agreed. “Get it all together and head down to the car, okay? We should all be done pretty soon.”


 

Pretty soon didn’t work as well as it had in the old house, particularly not when Jenny, used to driving a relatively shorter distance from home to work, got them lost in their new neighborhood for a good fifteen minutes. By the time they all got to school, the kids had missed first period, Jenny had missed an important faculty meeting, and Rupert had missed his usual morning briefing with Buffy. As such, when Rupert and Jenny entered the library, neither of them were expecting Buffy to still be there, which was why it came as such a surprise to see her sitting stiffly at the library table.

“Buffy, you have physics,” said Rupert reprovingly.

“Giles, we need to talk,” said Buffy flatly. “Something seriously messed up went down on patrol last night, and my mom was there.”

Jenny and Rupert exchanged a horrified look. “Goodness,” said Rupert weakly. “Is she all right?”

“What?” Buffy blinked. “Oh, no, she didn’t—she isn’t hurt or anything. We just…” She swallowed, hard, looking vaguely nauseous. “We came across a couple of dead bodies.”

“Oh,” said Rupert, relaxing slightly. “Well, I’m, I’m sorry to hear your mother was shaken by—”

“Kids’ bodies,” said Buffy.

Rupert paled. Jenny reached for his hand, feeling very much like throwing up herself. “God,” she whispered. “Do you know anything about who did it?”

“Only that they’re going to wish they were dead when I find them,” said Buffy grimly.

“Buffy, please do keep a level head,” said Rupert anxiously.

Buffy stood up, very nearly knocking a chair over. “Don’t tell me to calm down, Giles!” she snapped. “They were kids! Little kids, and my mom can barely speak—

“I’m well aware,” said Rupert, his grip tightening on Jenny’s hand. “I simply don’t want you rushing in after this type of monster with limited information.”

This seemed to relax Buffy, if only slightly. “We have some info,” she said, picking up a pen and a nearby notebook and scribbling something down on it. “There were no, no vampire bites or anything, but there was this symbol on their hands.” To both Rupert and Jenny’s surprise, Buffy handed the notebook to Jenny, looking anxiously up at her. “Ms. Calendar, you’ve been teaching Willow magic,” she said. “Do you know this symbol?”

Jenny looked down. Squinted. Took the notebook with her free hand, turning it upside down. “This symbol,” she said. “Are you sure you didn’t get it wrong?”

“I definitely didn’t,” said Buffy quietly. “It’s burned into my brain.”

“You know it?” Rupert sounded somewhat surprised.

“Well, yeah,” said Jenny, handing the notebook back to Buffy. “Willow—uh—I hate to ruin your birthday, Buffy, but Willow’s been setting up a little protection spell for you as a present. This is the primary symbol she and I have been using to cast it. People use it in spells cast out of love and compassion.”

“Nothing about those dead kids screamed love and compassion,” said Buffy, frowning. “You’re sure you didn’t get it wrong?”

“As soon as Willow comes in, I can show you the book,” said Jenny, genuinely confused. “That sigil’s harmless. Whatever killed those kids, it had nothing to do with that.”

“So it could have been some, some monster, or—” Rupert began.

“I don’t know,” said Buffy miserably. “And I don’t like not knowing, especially when this stupid town is starting to kill kids.

“You know we’ll figure it out,” said Rupert gently, reaching out to squeeze Buffy’s shoulder.


 

“I haven’t figured a single thing out,” said Giles dismally.

“Chin up, man,” said Faith, squinting at some particularly gory illustrations in the book she was flipping through. “Weird-ass symbols are your thing, right?”

“Not when they’re completely disconnected from the way those children died,” said Giles, turning the page of a thick volume all but morosely. “There’s no causal link for me to explore—”

“Well, we’ll hack this,” said Jen, shifting the book in her arms and bending to press a kiss to Giles’s cheek. He smiled. “That’s what we do.”

The library doors opened, and Faith looked up. To her surprise, Mrs. Summers entered, stopping nervously by the checkout desk and looking at all of them with a tense, miserable expression.

“Joyce,” said Jen, dropping her book on the table and hurrying to cross the room. “I am so sor—”

“Oh, I’m fine, Jenny, but thank you,” said Mrs. Summers in a small, thin voice. “It’s been…trying, that’s all.”

“Understandably,” said Giles, putting his book down.

“I came to invite you to a vigil at City Hall,” Mrs. Summers informed Jen. “And Mr. Giles, too, of course. We need all the help we can get to make sure that something like this never happens again.”

“Joyce, I’m not exactly sure how much the Mayor can do about this one,” said Jen carefully.

“Well, we won’t know until we take action,” said Mrs. Summers matter-of-factly. “I really hope you’ll be there, Ms. Calendar. It’d mean a lot to me.”

“Of course,” said Jen gently.

Mrs. Summers nodded, an off-balance, wobbly nod, and then she turned and hurried out of the library again.

“Sorry,” said Jen to Giles. “Executive decision.”

“Oh, no, it’s, it’s perfectly all right,” said Giles. “Lord knows we’re not doing all that much here.” He stood up, closing his book. “I suppose we should head home and get ready for the, ah, vigil?”

“Sounds reasonable,” Jen agreed, then hesitated. “Faith, if you want to stay home—”

“Nah,” said Faith. “This shit is sick. Maybe vigil-ing isn’t gonna do all that much, but being around other angry people kinda sounds pretty good right now.”

“Interesting reasoning,” said Giles. “I entirely concur.”


 

Apparently, there were a lot of other angry people.

“Okay,” said Jenny, looking around at the many signs reading NEVER AGAIN in furious red letters. “This is new, even for Sunnydale. Remember that time that half the swim team died and all we did was hold a half-assed memorial service?”

“Yes, well, they weren’t seven-year-olds,” Rupert reminded her.

“I don’t know,” said Faith. “I kinda agree with Jen. A lot of people go missing in this town, but this is the first time something as big as this has kicked off.”

“Never underestimate the raw, untempered power of my totally terrifying mom,” said Buffy dryly, stepping up to the group with Willow in tow.

“Well, at least your mom’s making an effort,” said Willow. “My mom’s probably…” She trailed off, eyes fixed on a redheaded woman crossing the room to them. “Heading right towards us. Mom?”

Jenny knew very, very little about Willow’s mom, but what she did know, she didn’t at all like. She was already opening her mouth to say something along the lines of hey, I’m the lady who’s been keeping an eye on your emotionally neglected kid when she felt a hand on the small of her back. “Easy,” said Rupert quietly.

“Mom, what are you doing here?” Willow was saying nervously.

“Oh, well, I read about it in the paper, and what with your dad out of town…” Mrs. Rosenberg trailed off, blinking at Willow as if seeing her for the first time. “Willow, you cut off your hair!” she said, sounding genuinely surprised. “Huh. That’s a new look.”

“She cut it back in August,” said Jenny coolly.

Willow turned a miserable shade of red, staring down at her shoes. Belatedly, and horribly, Jenny realized her mistake: Willow had always very pointedly avoided mentioning her mom. Having Mrs. Rosenberg so visibly out of touch in front of her friends couldn’t be a good experience for Willow.

Mrs. Rosenberg missed absolutely all of this. “I like it,” she said brightly to Willow, then turned to Jenny. “And you are…”

“Jenny Calendar,” said Jenny, doing her best to smile. “Willow’s computer science teacher. You know, you’ve got a really remarkable kid there, Mrs. Rosenberg.”

Willow looked up, a small smile on her face.

“I’ll second that,” said Rupert, catching on. “Rupert Giles, Sunnydale High’s librarian. Willow is a treasure and an incredible help around the library.”

Willow glowed.

“Lovely to meet you both,” said Mrs. Rosenberg with a sort of bland politeness. Jenny really didn’t like her.

This was, of course, when Joyce crossed the room to shake Mrs. Rosenberg’s hand. “Sheila, I’m so glad you could come,” she said warmly.

“Well, with the rumors going around…” Mrs. Rosenberg trailed off.

“Rumors?” Rupert echoed, frowning.

“About witches,” said Mrs. Rosenberg. “People calling themselves witches are responsible for this brutal crime.”

Rupert and Jenny exchanged a bemused look. “Where’d you get that from?” said Jenny, frowning. “From what I know about that sigil—”

Mrs. Rosenberg’s and Joyce’s eyes snapped to Jenny, both of their expressions all but accusing.

“I research,” said Jenny, exasperated. “I definitely don’t go around murdering kids. Buffy showed me that sigil, and I recognized it from a book I’ve read. It’s a protective symbol, not a ritual murder.”

The suspicion in both women’s faces hadn’t died down, which struck Jenny as odd. Though she didn’t know Mrs. Rosenberg, she liked to think that she was at least on okay terms with Joyce. Just as she was about to ask why, exactly, a casual mention of her research merited so much distrust, some electronic feedback from the microphone up front interrupted them all, and Joyce stepped away from the group.

The Mayor cleared his throat. “Hello, everybody,” he said, and began his speech.

“That was weird, right?” Jenny whispered to Rupert.

“A bit, yes,” Rupert agreed, looking somewhat perturbed. “Aren’t you and Joyce relatively friendly?”

“I mean, we’re not bosom buddies, but she knows me well enough to know I’m not a child murderer,” said Jenny, still a little stung.

“Well, I’m on your team,” said Rupert helpfully.

Shh,” said Buffy, and jerked her head towards the lectern. The Mayor had stepped down, leaving room for Joyce to step up.

“Thank you,” said Joyce, and considered, then began to speak. “Mr. Mayor, you're dead wrong.”

“About what?” Rupert whispered.

“This is why it pays to listen,” said Buffy through her teeth.

“This is not a good town,” Joyce continued. “How many of us have, have lost someone who, who just disappeared? Or, or got skinned? Or suffered neck rupture? And how many of us have been too afraid to speak out?”

Jenny’s moment of sympathy for the effect these kids had had on Joyce lasted all of two seconds.

“I-I was supposed to lead us in a moment of silence, but…silence is this town's disease.” There was a new, almost scary note to Joyce’s speech. “For too long, we've been plagued by unnatural evils. This isn't our town anymore. It belongs to the monsters and the witches and the Slayers.”

Buffy’s jaw dropped. Willow stared.

Jenny turned to Rupert. “See?” she said in a sharp whisper. “Weird. You can’t tell me that this is normal.”

“Trauma can cause—”

“A lot of things, I agree, but not Joyce deciding to try and run her daughter out of town!”

“I say,” Joyce persisted, “it's time for the grownups to take Sunnydale back. I say we start by finding the people who did this and making them pay.”

As the room erupted into cheers and applause, Jenny tucked her hand into the crook of Rupert’s arm, frowning at the lectern. Worried as she was, she couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something they were missing about this whole mess.

Chapter Text

The school day began with a faculty meeting, and the faculty meeting began with Snyder making a speech. This wasn’t exactly an unusual occurrence. The man loved the sound of his own voice, and would take any opportunity to make his staff listen to him rant about gum under the auditorium seats or disrespectful youth these days. This speech, however, was specific enough to make Jenny and Rupert exchange a worried look, and the smug look on Snyder’s face only made them more apprehensive.

“Am I imagining things,” Rupert began, holding the door for Jenny as they exited the teachers’ lounge, “or was he insinuating—”

“—locker searches?” Jenny finished. “Yeah, that’s…seriously not good. Usually the school board shuts him down and he rants about it for a few weeks.”

“It seems a bit odd that we didn’t get prior notice,” said Rupert, a small frown on his face.

“Almost as odd as, oh, I don’t know, Sunnydale moms out for my blood?” said Jenny casually.

“Jenny, now really isn’t the time for your fringe theories—what on earth?” Rupert stopped in his tracks, staring.

Jenny peered over his shoulder, and her mouth fell open: two police officers were carrying her computer out of the computer lab. After taking a moment to register what this might mean, she directed a very pointed look at her boyfriend, then said, “What were you saying?”

“That you’re right about everything and I should really listen to you more often,” said Rupert weakly.

“Yep.” Jenny patted his shoulder, then stepped towards the officers. To her surprise, Rupert gripped her elbow, pulling her back. “What?”

“I did say you were right about everything,” said Rupert tensely, “and it seems particularly odd that police officers are going after one of our most upstanding faculty members on the basis of what she researches in her spare time. All you keep on your computer are blessings and lessons for Willow, yes? Nothing harmful?”

“No black magic,” Jenny confirmed. “Not even a dab of gray.”

Rupert gave her a skeptical look.

“Okay, some gray, but it’s for research purposes!”

“Which proves my point exactly,” said Rupert. “Anyone with half a brain would know you well enough to know that you’d sooner die than hurt a child, and I count Joyce Summers in that majority. Police officers carting away your computer based on rumors she may have spread strikes me as extremely odd, even for Sunnydale.”

“So we’re thinking some kind of paranoia demon?” Jenny suggested. “Maybe feeding off the deaths of those kids?”

“It’s a fairly solid concept,” Rupert agreed pensively. His hand tightened on Jenny’s elbow. “Which means that anyone who so much as glanced at a spellbook is likely in danger.”

Something about that sentence struck a terrifying chord in Jenny. She replayed it in her head, then— “Willow,” she gasped. “Willow has stuff in her locker!”

Rupert’s face paled. “Go make sure she’s all right,” he said. “I’ll—”

“Get any supernatural research books out of the library,” said Jenny sharply.

“How?”

“You were Eyghon’s devotee in your early twenties, Rupert, you’re telling me you can’t manage a simple transportation spell?”

“There’s no room for all those books at home—”

“Figure something out!” snapped Jenny. “I don’t want you burned at the stake!”

Rupert’s expression softened. He reached out, squeezing her hands. “No one’s getting burned at the stake, all right?” he said.

“Don’t make promises you can’t keep,” said Jenny stubbornly.

“I’ll keep that in mind,” said Rupert gently, then let go of her hands, hurrying towards the library. Jenny watched him for a moment, remembered the situation with Willow, and sprinted in the direction of the student lounge.

A cluster of students had already gathered by the lockers. “Willow?” Jenny called, pushing through the crowd. “Willow—”

Buffy turned, eyes wide with relief. “You can fix this, right?” she said almost desperately. “You’re a teacher—”

“Where’s Willow?”

“Snyder’s office, I think,” said Faith worriedly. “They found magic stuff in her locker and I think she’s about to get chewed out for it.”

“Then that’s where I’m headed,” said Jenny.

“Um, how about not doing that?” piped up Cordelia, genuine worry in her eyes. “I heard a couple of teachers talking, Ms. Calendar, and it sounds like they’re out for you too.”

“Rupert and I are starting to think there’s some kind of paranoia demon at play,” said Jenny tensely. “If I’m in danger, Willow definitely is.”

“No, it’s okay,” said Buffy nervously. “It is. Snyder’s just gonna call her mom, and…her mom’s kinda ditzy, but she’d never hurt Willow, okay? She’ll keep Willow safe. That’s what moms do.”

A sharp resentment rose in Jenny at the reminder of Willow’s obliviously neglectful mother, and it made her consider that she might not be able to look at the situation objectively. Buffy knew Willow’s mom. Buffy was probably right. “Okay,” she said. “Yeah. Faith, Xander, we’re going to the library to make sure Rupert’s okay, and then we’re going to go home. Buffy, I strongly suggest you go home—”

“I’m coming with you,” said Buffy firmly.

“Two Slayers,” Faith agreed. “Double the protection.”

Jenny decided not to waste time arguing. “Fine,” she said. “Just hurry.”


 

Upon entering the library, they were met with a beautiful sight: Rupert had indeed vanished all the books, and Snyder was having a fit. “Where are they?” he demanded furiously. “Where are the books? We were given jurisdiction to confiscate all of them—”

“I took the liberty of weeding all the inappropriate material for you,” said Rupert, directing a very big smile at Jenny and the children over Snyder’s head. “Anything to help protect our youth.”

Wonderful to see you, Principal Snyder,” Buffy chirped, beaming at Rupert as she crossed the room to stand next to him. “How’s your little crusade going?”

Realizing that his failure now had an audience, Snyder all but growled. “I know they’re here somewhere!” he snarled. “You can’t hide them forever!” He stormed up to a shelf, rattling it; it almost fell on top of him.

“Good to see that your work has had such an impact,” said Jenny helpfully.

This was a mistake. Snyder’s eyes locked on her, a slow smile spreading across his face. “Ms. Calendar,” he said, then stopped. “Oh, wait. I think I want to savor this moment.”

Jenny raised an eyebrow.

“You’re fired,” said Snyder with relish.

Rupert took a step forward. Buffy grabbed him, towing him back.

“Cool,” said Jenny, largely unbothered. Too many weird things had happened today for her to take Snyder seriously. “I’m still the girlfriend of a staff member, though, so I’ll just stay on campus and help him with the, uh, card catalogue?” She glanced over at Rupert for verification; he nodded, still looking very ready to knock Snyder sprawling. “Card catalogue,” Jenny confirmed. “Because that’s what they use in libraries.”

Snyder’s gleeful expression began to fade. “You’re fired,” he said again, as though she might not have heard him.

“Gotcha!” Jenny gave him a thumbs-up. “Rupert, do you still have instant coffee in your office?”

“I’ll make you a pot,” said Rupert coolly.

Snyder was seething. “This—you—fired,” he sputtered.

Ignoring him, Jenny followed Rupert into his office, the children close behind, and shut the door once they were all inside. “Okay,” she said to Rupert. “Spill.”

“It’s an illusory glamour mixed with an incantation to create a pocket dimension,” said Rupert proudly. “Technically, the books are there, but no one can see them or get to them unless I include them in the spell.”

“You mixed your magic?” said Jenny, biting her lip and smiling slowly at him.

“As it happens,” said Rupert, giving her a flirtatious grin, “I’ve been well schooled in the merits of experimentation.”

“Someone please stop them before we find out what he means,” said Buffy loudly.

Jenny took the hint. “Research time?” she asked Rupert.

“As soon as Snyder clears out,” Rupert agreed.

Faith peered through the window of the office, then said, “Looks like he’s stomping away. Time to hit the books?”

“I think I should check up on my mom,” said Buffy darkly. “Whatever this is, it sure feels like she’s involved.”

“Ah, Buffy,” said Rupert suddenly, “please do keep in mind that it’s likely some sort of demon causing her to act this way. Whatever she says, you, you shouldn’t take it too personally.”

“And that absolutely extends to that lecture she gave Sunnydale last night,” Jenny added.

Something in Buffy’s face relaxed. “Thanks, guys,” she said. “It’s not exactly the greatest to know my mom’s all demony-influenced, but…it’s better than that being her, you know?”

With some worry, Jenny thought back to Willow. Whatever she was going through couldn’t be pleasant.


 

So Willow and her mom had a fight, kind of. Willow wasn’t entirely sure how to categorize whatever had gone down between her and her mom, but seeing as it had ended with her grounded and her mom making that Mildly Annoyed Face she always seemed to be making whenever Willow talked for longer than thirty seconds, “fight” had the kind of negative connotations she needed at the moment. Especially since she’d just stormed out of her mom’s house without looking back, taken the car, and driven down to Sunnydale High, hoping against hope that Giles and Ms. Calendar might be researching late.

The light was on in the library, which made Willow feel at least a little better through the awful. Whatever was going on, at least someone might be there for her to talk to. She opened the door, stepping inside.

Faith jumped. “Fuck, Red, you startled me!” she said, a light laugh in her voice. “Jen’s gonna be glad to see you—she’s been worried sick. Tryin’ not to show it, but you know Jen, she’s all protective mama bear and shit. Oh, damn, are you okay?”

Faith’s expression had changed, and Willow suddenly realized that it was because she’d started crying. Mortified, she stumbled back, knocking neatly into Giles. “Willow, what on earth,” he began, stopped, and pulled her into a semi-awkward bear hug. That was new too. Willow thought she should maybe thank Faith and Ms. Calendar for turning Giles into some kind of soft working dad.

“Oh no,” she heard Ms. Calendar saying, in that gentle mom-voice Willow could have really used from, you know, her mom. “Oh, Willow, what happened?”

Willow kind of just started crying harder. “I’m gonna be in so much trouble!” she wailed.

“No, no, Willow, it’s a paranoia demon,” said Giles, evidently thinking that this was somehow comforting to her.

“Let me take this one, honey,” said Ms. Calendar with some amusement. She stepped in, hugging Willow too. “You okay?”

It would have been different, Willow thought, if she wasn’t so used to Giles and Ms. Calendar fussing over her good grades and exclaiming when she did something right and telling her they were proud of her. After her mom had grounded her without listening to her at all, she might have just gone quietly up to her room with an achy feeling in her chest. She didn’t really know how to express that thought, but then it didn’t really matter, because nobody was letting go of her and nobody was telling her she was acting out. Without a word, she burrowed further into the hug.

“God, I wish I had a camera,” she heard Faith saying to someone, a note of genuine appreciation in her voice. “This shit is ridiculously cute.”

Willow pulled away, just a little, and let Giles dab at her face with a handkerchief. “Do crying teenagers usually throw themselves at you?” she tried to quip, but it sounded more morose than playful.

“Just one of Sunnydale’s many hazards,” said Giles, giving Willow’s cheek a last affectionate pat.

Ms. Calendar was, in fact, looking at Willow with large, worried eyes. Suddenly, all that jealousy Willow had felt for Faith felt really ridiculous. “Hey there, champ,” said Ms. Calendar, stepping up and tucking Willow’s hair behind her ear. “Who do I have to punch?”

That made Willow laugh. “No one,” she said, and was surprised to find herself meaning it. “It’s okay.”

Chapter Text

By the time Buffy returned from her usual patrol, the Scoobies had found a handful of articles on fear demons, as well as a few books detailing how to stop them. The only problem with this, however, was that none of the fear demons described were as subtle or as insidious as the situation that was happening in Sunnydale.

“There’s always the possibility that this really is just Sunnydale paranoia going horribly wrong,” Giles was saying as Buffy entered.

“Oh no,” said Ms. Calendar. “No, no, no. Remember what you said in the hallway? You said I’m always right about everything and you should listen to me.”

“Jenny, your argument is the most convincing one,” said Giles, looking up from his book with a tired frustration, “but even after countless hours of research, we’ve found little to no evidence that would support demonic involvement.”

“I might have to poke a few holes in your argument there, Giles,” said Buffy, striding up to the table. “What do we know about these kids?”

“What?” said Giles, setting his book down.

“Facts,” said Buffy. “Details.”

“They were found in the park,” Willow began helpfully.

“No,” said Buffy. “Where do they go to school? Who are their parents?” She paused, looking around, and saw that her instincts had been correct: not a single one of her friends had an answer to give her. “What are their names?”

“My mom’s been talking about those kids nonstop,” said Cordelia uneasily. “But she’s never once mentioned any names.”

“It never came up,” said Faith. “At all.”

“I assumed someone else had the details,” said Giles, looking bemused. “I suppose I never really…”

“We need info,” said Ms. Calendar. “Willow, pull up some newspaper articles, see if anyone ID’d the kids.”

“On it,” said Willow obligingly, taking Ms. Calendar’s place at the computer.

Ms. Calendar stepped up to Buffy, giving her a small, tense smile. “How’s your mom?”

“Well, let’s put it this way,” said Buffy, her stomach twisting at the thought of some of the things her mom had said, “I sure as hell hope that it’s some kind of fear demon pulling her strings.”

“Two Children Found Dead, Mysterious Mark,” Willow read aloud, then frowned. “No, wait, that’s from fifty years ago.”

“Keep going,” Xander added.

“Wait,” said Giles. Then, in a very different tone of voice, “Jenny, Buffy, come here and look at this.”

Exchanging a puzzled look, Buffy and Ms. Calendar obliged, stepping up to peer at the computer screen. From behind her, Buffy heard Ms. Calendar’s low whistle, and found herself extremely agreeing with the sentiment. “Those are the same kids,” said Buffy. “How are those the same kids?”

Willow loaded up the next page. “1899,” she read, eyes wide. “Utah. Rural Community Torn Apart by Suspicion.”

“A hundred years ago?” said Giles, confused. “How is this possible?”

“Oh, it goes way past a hundred years,” said Ms. Calendar suddenly. “Willow, can you scoot?” Willow scooted, and Ms. Calendar took her place, typing furiously. Information flew across the screen faster than Buffy could keep track of it.

“Jenny, would you mind slowing down a bit?” said Giles, leaning over her shoulder.

Ms. Calendar stopped on a German article. “1649,” she said with satisfaction, then squinted at the print. “My German’s a little rusty. Rupert, can you…”

“Of course,” said Giles, tilting his head and reading the article himself. “It was written by a cleric from the Black Village. He apparently found their bodies himself. Two children…”

“Greta and Hans,” Ms. Calendar finished, at which point she and Giles exchanged a Look.

“So they have names,” said Xander. “That’s new.”

“Do you think—” said Giles.

“Greta and Hans,” said Ms. Calendar with meaning. “Hans and Greta.”

Buffy cleared her throat. “Anything you guys wanna share with the class?” she said.

“Some folklorists believe that certain regional stories have very, ah, literal antecedents,” said Giles.

Buffy blinked.

“Fairy tales are real,” said Ms. Calendar.

“Hans and Greta,” said Faith, and then her eyes went wide. “Oh, shit.

“Jenny’s paranoia theory was entirely right,” said Giles proudly, knocking Ms. Calendar’s shoulder.

“I wouldn’t say that,” said Ms. Calendar. “I kinda thought that whatever we were up against was using the deaths of those kids as a way to screw with the minds of people in the town. From what we’ve found out, it looks very much like the demon is the kids.”

“It feeds on our darkest fear,” Giles added. “Turns peaceful communities into vigilantes.”

“And the leader of those vigilantes is my mom,” Buffy finished, horrified. “We have to talk to her!”

“I’ll go with you—” began Ms. Calendar.

“Absolutely not,” said Giles. “You’re already on their witch list. I’ll go with Buffy, and you—” He hurried to a stack of books on the table, pulling one out and handing it to her. “Chapter seven, I think,” he said. “It should make the demon appear in its true form. I’ve supplies at home in the study.”

“Cool,” said Ms. Calendar, and gave him a quick kiss. “Beep me when you need me, ‘kay?”

Giles gave Ms. Calendar a worried smile in return, then turned to Buffy. “To your mum’s, yes?” he said.

This was when Michael from Willow’s coven tumbled in, sporting a black eye and a bloody lip. “I was attacked!” he gasped.

“Oh, no, by who?” Willow gasped, hurrying forward to support Michael.

“My dad,” said Michael miserably. “Him and some of his friends. They’re taking people out of their homes—talking about a trial at City Hall. They got Amy.”

“Giles, we have to get to my mom,” said Buffy.

But Giles’s eyes were on Willow and Ms. Calendar. “Anyone who’s even close to being a witch, stay here,” he said sharply. “Jenny, that goes for you too. Don’t go home, don’t get anything, just—”

“Oh, you are not pulling this!” objected Ms. Calendar, infuriated.

“Jenny,” said Giles. “There is a stark difference between me being overprotective and me making sure the angry mob doesn’t put you on witch trial.”

Ms. Calendar opened her mouth, glared, and shut it. “Fine,” she said. “Fine!”

Giles muttered a few words, and the books once again vanished, leaving only the book in Ms. Calendar’s hands. “We’ll get to Joyce and get the spell together,” he said. “Stay safe.” And with that, he hurried out of the library, Buffy at his heels.


 

So absolutely nothing went according to plan.

“Buffy,” Willow was saying, her voice squeaky and urgent. “Buffy!”

Buffy stirred, wincing. Her head ached, and were those ropes digging into her stomach? As she opened her eyes, she was met with an angry mob, all of them holding torches and surrounding…oh no.

“So they got to the library,” said Ms. Calendar helpfully, her voice thin. She was tied to a stake at the far end of the room. “Can’t wait to tell Rupert all about how his bright idea ended up with us all tied to stakes. You know. If we don’t get burned alive.”

Great pep talk,” said Amy sarcastically.

“Hey, B,” said Faith from the stake next to her. “Think Cordy and the guys got away, if that helps.”

“Not really,” said Buffy, wincing. At the front of the mob, she saw her mom, looking impassively up at her. “Mom!” she called. “Mom, you don’t want to do this—”

“When has it ever mattered what I want?” said her mom matter-of-factly. “All I wanted was a happy, normal daughter, and I got a Slayer.”

“Torch,” said Mrs. Rosenberg helpfully, handing Buffy’s mom a torch.

“Can you get loose?” Faith asked Buffy.

“They tied me pretty tight,” Buffy answered, but struggled anyway. The ropes didn’t loosen. “Willow, Ms. Calendar, you guys got any witchy tricks up your sleeve?”

“I’m a theorist!” Ms. Calendar burst out.

“And the most I can do is float pencils,” Willow added, sounding miserable about it.

Buffy’s mom had lowered the torch to the kindling, and a fire was beginning to start around them. “We need an exit strategy,” said Buffy through her teeth to Ms. Calendar.

“Working on it!” Ms. Calendar seemed to be trying to jostle her pager free. This only kind of worked. It did fall out of her pocket—and right into the flames. Ms. Calendar cursed violently in a language that Buffy didn’t know, which made more than a few torches turn in her direction.

That gave Buffy an idea. “That’s right!” she shouted at the crowd. “Be afraid! Be—uh, be very afraid, for if we die, your souls will be—”

“Cursed!” Faith chimed in. “Totally fuckin’ cursed and shit!”

“Maybe don’t yell at the angry mob, kids,” said Ms. Calendar tensely. “Really didn’t work in Salem.”

Amy then attracted a significant amount of attention by turning into a rat, scampering free of the fire, and running from the stake-burning.

“She couldn’t have done us first?” Buffy said indignantly.

Faith was still playing up the curse angle with a ridiculous amount of enjoyment for someone who was being burned at the stake. “Yeah, you in the back!” she was shouting. “You’re gonna have, uh, boils! Don’t look at me like that, you know where they’re gonna be—”

“Maybe we should leave,” said the subject of Faith’s curse in a high-pitched voice.

The air in front of Buffy’s mom shimmered, and then those two little kids were standing in front of the stakes. Oh, great,thought Buffy.

“But you promised,” said one.

“You promised to kill the bad girls,” said the other.

“Mom, dead people are talking to you,” Buffy persisted. “Do the math!”

“I’m sorry, Buffy,” said her mom placidly, like Buffy wasn’t a hair away from being really on fire.

The doors opened, and Giles, Xander, Cordelia, and Oz all hurried through, none of them noticed by the angry mob. Oz made a dive for the fire hose in the corner, Giles started getting his supplies ready, and Xander and Cordelia hovered apprehensively at the back.

Oz broke the glass. This got the crowd’s attention. “Stop them!” Joyce shouted, right as Oz turned the fire hose in Willow’s direction. Giles was frantically reciting in some language that sounded kind of like German; Ms. Calendar seemed to be trying to shout over the angry mob and correct his pronunciation.

“This is a mess,” said Faith conversationally to Buffy. “You wanna get milkshakes after?”

“Yeah, okay,” said Buffy without thinking, then stopped. Blushing, she glanced over at Faith (who was giving her a small, crooked smile), not quite sure what to add as a qualifier. It’s not a date, she thought, but…honestly, she kinda wished it was. It felt weird to hammer home a point when it wasn’t a point she really wanted to make. And what did that mean for her and Faith, if—

Buffy’s semi-panicked thoughts were interrupted when the two kids morphed into one giant, terrifying demon, provoking screams from the now-much-less-angry mob and a relieved grin from Giles. Buffy’s mom blinked, then stared. “Oh my god!” she gasped. “Buffy!”

“Protect us!” the demon rasped. “Kill the bad girls!”

“You know what?” said Buffy brightly. “Not as convincing in that outfit.”


 

Rupert and Joyce freed Buffy first, careful to make sure the dead demon didn’t topple over and fall on all of them. Then Joyce went to untie Willow, Buffy untied Faith, and Rupert untied Jenny, who spent most of the process making cheerful jokes about A) bondage and B) I Told You Staying In The Library Was A Bad Idea. It was perhaps a mark of how exhausted Rupert was that he didn’t really argue with her; Jenny made a mental note to kiss him silly before bed. That usually helped.

Willow’s mom had left.

Jenny noticed this fact because, as she was rubbing the rope burn on her wrists, she saw that Willow’s gaze was directed towards Joyce and Buffy. Joyce was whispering half-sobbing apologies and kissing the top of Buffy’s head; Buffy was snuggled in her mother’s arms, smiling softly.

“Hey,” said Jenny, sitting down next to Willow on a patch of charred straw. “You okay?”

“She burned me at the stake,” said Willow quietly. “And I know Sunnydale’s weird, I know she won’t remember tomorrow, but…Buffy’s mom at least remembers right now, you know? My mom isn’t gonna hug me and kiss me and put burn cream on the places where my sneakers melted weird—”

“Let me see those sneakers,” said Jenny immediately.

Willow’s mouth trembled. Without a word, she stuck out her feet; there were indeed a few places where the tips of her sneakers were made of strange, liquid plastic. “They don’t hurt that much,” she said. “But they still hurt. And it’s not even that she doesn’t notice, Ms. Calendar—she’s just not there.

“Let’s go home,” said Jenny quietly.

“I don’t wanna go home,” said Willow, her voice wobbling.

“Not to your mom,” said Jenny, feeling suddenly very grateful that she and Rupert had sprung for a house with an extra bedroom. “Rupert and I have more than enough space at our place, remember?”

Willow nodded, then tucked her face into Jenny’s shoulder. As Jenny carded her fingers through Willow’s hair, she noticed something else: Joyce, still hugging her own daughter, was giving her a small, approving smile over Buffy’s head.

Chapter Text

Upon arriving at home, Jenny shepherded Willow and Xander into the kitchen (Faith, off to get milkshakes with Buffy, gave Jenny a quick, awkward hug before leaving), and Rupert made them hot chocolate. Xander took his mug up to bed, but fifteen minutes later, Willow was on her fourth mug and going strong.

“Giles, can I have another one after this?” she asked absently, wrapped in a flannel blanket Jenny had pulled out of the hall closet.

“Five mugs and you’ll have had more than everyone else in this house combined,” said Rupert, placing a gentle hand on Willow’s shoulder. “It’s getting late, Willow. I think you should head up to bed after this.”

Willow nodded, eyes unfocused. “I keep on thinking about, about how maybe my mom might be worried,” she mumbled. “On account of me not being home, and after all that stuff that went down—”

“Do you want me to call her?” Jenny asked.

No,” said Willow.

Jenny uncurled Willow’s fingers from the mug, handing it to Rupert. “C’mon, sleepy,” she said, pulling Willow carefully up from the chair and into her arms. “Come here. It’s okay. How about you go up to bed and I make you that last mug of hot chocolate at breakfast tomorrow?”

“My mom says hot chocolate from a mix is cheap and tacky,” Willow said into Jenny’s shoulder, “but she never makes me hot chocolate with syrup ‘cause she says she never has enough time—”

“Okay, honey,” said Jenny, focused primarily on getting Willow to go to sleep. “It has been a long night, huh?”

“I wanna go home,” said Willow, and sniffled. “I mean, I don’t wanna go home, I just want to not be at home right now. I want my home to be where it’s supposed to be.”

Jenny decided that now probably wasn’t the time to start a conversation about home and family with an exhausted, upset Willow. Momentarily, she buried her face in Willow’s hair, pressing a soft kiss to the top of her head. “Let’s go to bed,” she said, and was gratified to find that Willow had relaxed when she pulled back.

To Jenny’s surprise, Rupert, who had been tentatively following them both, stopped them in the foyer. Without a word, he tugged Willow into a hug, wrapping the blanket a little more securely around her shoulders as he did so. “Do you need something to sleep in?” he murmured, squeezing Willow’s shoulder. “I have a few t-shirts if you need to borrow—”

Stunned, Jenny watched as Rupert steered Willow the rest of the way up the stairs, speaking to her in a low, comforting voice as she leaned against him. Up until his decision to quit the Council, Rupert had been visibly uncomfortable whenever one of the kids was going through some kind of emotional turbulence, leaving Jenny to make sure they were okay. Up until right now, Jenny hadn’t realized that, ever since that decision, he’d been making an effort to support the kids in the same way she did.

Rupert came down the stairs just as this realization was sinking in, and ended up getting the full brunt of Jenny’s touched smile. He looked wrung-out and sad, but his face relaxed at her expression. “I’m glad I could at least help someone,” he said, giving her a self-deprecating grin in return. “I worry I’m not all that good at providing the sort of comfort Willow needs.”

“You’re lucky you make idiocy look sexy, because that’s the stupidest thing you’ve ever said,” said Jenny, and stood on tiptoe to hug him. She meant for it to be a quick hug, because they really did have to get to sleep, but all of a sudden, she remembered the hollow, painful loneliness of that summer without him. Her arms tightened around his waist. “You did good, Rupert,” she whispered, pressing a hard kiss to his shoulder; she wasn’t sure how else to articulate how much his helping the kids meant to her.

Rupert seemed to get the gist. “Terrible as it is that her mum can’t provide her with one, I think our home is right where she’s supposed to be,” he said very softly.

“Yeah,” said Jenny. “Me too.”

That was when the doorbell rang. Startled, Jenny jumped, then reluctantly pulled herself away from Rupert, crossing the room to open the door. In response to his worried expression, she reminded him, “Vampires don’t generally use the doorbell.”

“They could have learned,” said Rupert, but he seemed appeased.

Opening the door, Jenny stared. “Joyce?”

“Hi, Jenny, Rupert,” said Joyce, in a shyly earnest way that made much more sense than crazy-witch-burning lady. “Can we talk?”


 

When they entered the kitchen, Giles busied himself with clattering around in the cupboards pretending to make tea. This was, he knew, a conversation that he should probably be involved in, but the look in Joyce’s eyes suggested that it was Jenny she had come to talk to. Being in the same room seemed like a compromise of sorts.

“It’s a little late for a social call,” Jenny was saying, a light laugh in her voice. Giles well recognized that laugh: it only ever surfaced when Jenny was worried. “Is everything okay? Is Buffy—”

“Oh, Buffy’s fine,” said Joyce immediately. “I think she’s still out with Faith.” She let out a wobbly laugh of her own. “I came here because…”

“Because?” Jenny prompted gently.

“God, this is awkward,” said Joyce ruefully. It took her a few seconds to continue. “I understand Rupert’s involvement in my daughter’s life,” she said. “Buffy’s explained the whole Watcher deal to me, and while there are some parts of it I don’t necessarily like, I can at least respect it. But you…this isn’t something that you have to be a part of, and yet I think your being here has helped my daughter and her friends in so many ways.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” Jenny began.

“Now’s not the time to be modest,” said Joyce firmly. “Buffy talks about you a lot at home. She says you’re the reason that Faith isn’t staying in that seedy little motel downtown, and I’m inclined to agree.” She paused, then said, “You’re clearly an important factor in making this part of Buffy’s life something a little less…”

“Horrible?” said Jenny helpfully.

“Yes,” said Joyce. “That.” She swallowed, then said, “The things I said under the influence of that demon…it hurt to know that Buffy believed me so readily. I know so little about being a Vampire Slayer, but I want to be able to support my daughter. And I can’t do that if I’m not there for her in every part of her life, not just the ones that I feel like I can handle.”

Giles stilled. The statement resonated with him, but he didn’t know how to express that in front of Joyce.

“So what are you saying?” Jenny asked.

“I’m saying…” Joyce trailed off. “I’m saying I’d really like a crash course on the life of a Vampire Slayer from someone else who hasn’t always been a part of it,” she said. “Preferably not by stumbling across a dead body or two. I know that that demon did things to my mind, but I don’t know if it’d have been as easy for it if I’d known at least a little bit about…I don’t know. Protection symbols.”

Jenny laughed, this one a low, warm sound that made Giles smile softly at the kettle. “I’ll say,” she said, and when Giles turned to look at them, he saw that Jenny had reached to touch Joyce’s hand over the table. “Look, there really isn’t a lot to the supernatural. If you want, we can call you in for the next Scooby meeting and you can watch how we work? I’m sure Buffy’s not gonna be over the moon about the idea initially, but merging the supernatural aspects of her life with the, uh, natural ones…I think that could be good.”

“I rather agree,” said Giles tentatively. As Jenny and Joyce looked up, he continued, “If these last few years have taught me anything, it’s that treating Buffy solely as a Vampire Slayer is…” He trailed off. “Cruel,” he said. “She’s a talented, capable girl, and the Council’s determination to use her as a weapon is utterly reprehensible. I think having you involved in her supernatural responsibilities might help remind her that being the Slayer is not the only thing she has to focus on.”

Joyce smiled slightly. “It’s good to see that you have Buffy’s best interests at heart,” she said. “I must admit, Rupert, hearing about this arrangement for the first time, I had my doubts about you.”

“You had every reason to,” said Giles, thinking of the man who had flown to Sunnydale, economy class, thinking of bloody course they assign me a secondhand Slayer who’s due to die in a year or two anyway. “Buffy is a remarkable girl to have changed me so thoroughly.” He smiled too, glancing over at Jenny, who blushed. “Though I don’t think all the credit lies with her.”

“No, I don’t think it does,” said Joyce warmly, squeezing Jenny’s hand. “You two are doing incredible work, taking care of those kids.” She hesitated, then said, “If you ever want any adult company, I do attend a neighborhood book club, and they’re always happy to welcome new members.”

Giles tried to remember the last time he’d been in the proximity of adults he actually liked (excluding, of course, Joyce and Jenny). “We might have to take you up on that,” he agreed.

“Is there anything else we can help with?” Jenny added.

“Thanks, but I should really be getting home,” said Joyce with a small, tired smile. “I don’t exactly like the thought of Buffy coming back to an empty house.”

“I’ll walk you to your car,” Jenny suggested, standing up. Joyce followed her out of the kitchen, leaving Giles to contemplate this development.

Even as recently as a few months ago, he might have been comparing Joyce’s request with what was and wasn’t accepted by the Council, trying to decide whether involving the Vampire Slayer’s mother was Council-sanctioned, perhaps even attempting to dissuade or ostracize Joyce if he believed that it wasn’t. The concept of the Council being an infallible, trustworthy source of information had been one that had comforted him after Eyghon: their rules, he had felt, would keep him in check.

But that was a man who hadn’t seen what the Scooby Gang looked like under the guidance of Jenny Calendar. Willow, Xander, Faith…all of them, Faith in particular, had desperately needed care and attention. Though the Council rules did provide a baseline, they also required one to look at human beings as chess pieces, and Giles was beginning to find that concept more and more distasteful.

Jenny reentered the kitchen, yawning. “I think this could be good,” she said. “It’s really nice to know that at least one of our kids has a parent with a brain.”

The phrase our kids, coming from Jenny, sent a fierce twist of want through Giles, one that more than surprised him. He filed this information away to process at a much later date. “It is fortunate,” he agreed. “Gives us a bit less to worry about in terms of Buffy.”

Jenny hesitated. “About that,” she said.

“This is about the Cruciamentum, isn’t it?”

Jenny nodded. “Her birthday’s approaching,” she said, “and we really need to tell her about it before the Council shows up with the drugs and the vampire.”

Giles wavered. “Jenny, I don’t at all like the idea of telling Buffy anything about this,” he began.

“Look, I know it’s not going to be a fun conversation—”

“It’s not that,” said Giles. “I can very easily see Buffy deciding to take on the Cruciamentum so as not to jeopardize my job. She is a reckless girl, but her impulsivity is almost always motivated by compassion. Hearing that I might not be her Watcher if she doesn’t comply to this test…”

“You don’t get to make that decision for her prematurely, Rupert,” said Jenny firmly. “Whether or not you and I agree with what Buffy wants to do, the fact remains that this is still something that’s gonna really affect her, no matter how it plays out. She deserves to have a say in its outcome.”

Giles exhaled. “I don’t like it when you’re right about these things,” he finally said.

“I know,” said Jenny, grinning. “But if you sulk every time I’m right, you’d be sulking in perpetuity.”

“Debatable,” said Giles, letting her tug him out of the kitchen and up the stairs.

Chapter Text

Buffy honestly wasn’t sure how to feel about her eighteenth birthday. Sure, she always loved the birthday fun, but thinking about her seventeenth birthday made her feel all weird and miserable. If she was being honest with herself, her eighteenth birthday felt less like a birthday and more like the one-year anniversary of the time she’d screwed up hard enough that all her friends got hurt. She didn’t like the thought of that happening again.

So when Giles broached the topic of her birthday at Wednesday’s Scooby meeting, the one with her mom there for some weird reason, Buffy felt almost nauseous. “Maybe now’s the time to tell you guys I really don’t want a big celebration,” she blurted out before Giles could finish his sentence. “Last year was kinda terrible and I really don’t want—”

“Oh, you didn’t like the party?” said Cordelia, sounding almost injured. Xander and Willow both gave her a Look. “Ohhh,” said Cordelia. “Right. ‘Cause your boyfriend went all psycho and almost killed Ms. Calendar.”

“Tactful,” said Ms. Calendar, her mouth quirking. “And Buffy, we’re not talking in terms of party time.” Her smile faded, and she glanced up at Giles, who looked similarly concerned. “This is something that I think Rupert has to tell you guys about.”

“Regrettably, I agree,” said Giles. He paused before beginning. “There is a tradition in the Council with relation to the Slayer’s eighteenth birthday,” he said, and Buffy noticed that he was gripping Ms. Calendar’s hand so tightly that his knuckles had gone white. “By telling you directly about it, I am breaking that tradition.”

“Okay,” said Buffy, frowning. “Why break it?”

“Because it is an archaic exercise in cruelty,” said Giles stiffly. “Because you are—” He swallowed, hard, and Buffy felt a lump in her own throat; this was the most affected she had seen Giles by anything. “Because you are important, Buffy,” he said. “To me, and to the rest of the world. I don’t give a damn about what the Council thinks of my efforts to protect you from the Cruciamentum; this world is a better place with you in it.”

Buffy stared at him, mouth half-open. All she could think about was the thousand and one times she’d thought, furious, back in sophomore year, I wish Giles would stop looking at me like some faceless tool to fight vampires with. Not once had she imagined that he ever actually would.

“The Cruciamentum, for which the Council has already arrived in Sunnydale to begin preparing for, involves drugging a Slayer, without her knowledge, and in some cases against her will,” Giles continued, his voice shaking. “When she is stripped entirely of her powers, she is locked in a house with a generally ruthless, murderous master vampire, and she is to use her wits alone to kill him.” He seemed to notice how tightly he was holding Ms. Calendar’s hand, and loosened his grip a bit, letting out a shaky breath. “It is not something that I can put you through in good conscience, and it is a subject on which I entirely disagree —”

Buffy crossed the room and pulled Giles into a tight hug, burying her face in his shoulder.

She wasn’t really expecting him to hug her back, but then he did, making a little sobbing noise and pulling her right back into him. “Oh, Buffy,” he whispered, stroking her hair like she was a little kid. “Your destiny is no longer a burden that will rest on your shoulders alone. I want you to go into adulthood knowing that.”

And that made Buffy start to really cry.


 

“So do we have a plan?” Faith asked. “’Cause if everyone’s just standing around crying, I feel like we’re gonna be totally fucked when the Council rolls in.”

“I think they kinda needed to get that out in the open,” said Jen, who was going through some of the papers on Giles’s desk. “And no, right now we don’t actually have a plan. We’re working on it. Step one of the plan was telling you kids about it.”

“Step two is probably gonna have to be talking B’s mom down,” said Faith. “She’s pretty pissed that some old dudes wanna basically murder her daughter.”

“Her and me both,” said Jen, giving Faith a small, tense smile.

Faith hesitated. Then she said, “Hey—I turned eighteen pretty recently, at least on Council records. How come they didn’t fuck me up too?”

Jen’s hands stilled. She put the papers down, turning to Faith with a small, proud smile. “You were a lost cause,” she said, and stepped over to Faith, tucking a lock of hair behind her ear. Her fingers traced Faith’s cheek in a way that reminded Faith of—of being five, and getting scraped up in the rock quarry, and her mom looking at her all distant-and-soft. “My kid from day one, remember? Even the Council was able to pick up on that one.”

Faith leaned into Jen’s hand, closing her eyes. The sharp, angry fear left over from Boston was still there, might always be there, but…it was muffled, and lessened, when Jen called her my kid like that. “Love you, Mom,” she said, because she could always play it off as a joke as she wanted.

Jen exhaled. Faith could almost hear her smiling. “I love you too,” she said, letting her hand drop to squeeze Faith’s shoulder. “Ready to make a plan to fuck up the Council?”

“Eh,” said Faith, opening her eyes. “Are there snacks?”

“That’s my girl,” said Jen.


 

“Okay,” said Buffy, standing at the head of the table. Her eyes were still a little blotchy, but she carried herself with the same focus and determination as always, and Giles felt ridiculously proud. “So we need to get these Council guys off our backs about the Cruciamentum, right?” She hesitated, then said, “Giles, I know you’re not gonna like this, but—”

Giles saw where this was going. “You are not partaking in that barbaric ritual,” he said shortly.

“Look,” Buffy persisted, “it’d be different if I didn’t know it was going to happen, but I do know now, and that changes the game. I know vampires, okay? Maybe I’m not gonna be able to fall back on strength and speed, but I can figure out other ways. Booby traps. Water guns.”

“Rupert’s right,” said Jenny from next to him. “Buffy, you’ve been trained to rely on your strength. That’s the whole point of being a Vampire Slayer—”

“The point of being a Vampire Slayer,” said Buffy firmly, “is to be prepared for absolutely everything that might go wrong. Maybe this isn’t the safest way to figure it out, but it is so better than trying to mess with the Council and ending up with Giles fired. We need them on our side.”

“We really don’t,” said Giles.

“You say that now because they’re still an option!” Buffy objected, indignant. “At the very least, you should have the choice—

“Buffy,” said Joyce suddenly. Her voice was very sharp.

“Mom, don’t you start in on me too!”

“I’ve seen you patrol,” said Joyce. “You’re quick, and you’re smart, and you knock those vampires sprawling. And I don’t like it, but I can at least know that you’re strong enough to hold your own against those things. Taking that away from you—what do you have left?”

Giles didn’t at all think that this was a very good way to phrase their argument. “No one doubts your skill and intuition,” he began hastily.

But Buffy’s eyes were full of tears. “Sure you don’t!” she snapped. “You’re all just flipping out because you think I might break a nail! Well, news flash, I don’t need my Slayer powers to be the Slayer, and I think maybe I’d like to prove that to all of you!”

“You are not proving your worth by getting yourself killed!” shouted Joyce.

“God, Mom, for once why can’t you just trust that I know what I’m doing—”

“STOP IT!” shouted Willow, tears in her eyes as she sprung up from her chair. “Buffy, just stop for a second and think about what you’re saying! You’d be going in after a vampire drugged! Not without your powers, you would be drugged, and you would get killed, because that’s the kind of thing the Council wants!”

“They don’t—” Giles objected without thinking, then stopped, reeling. He felt Jenny’s hand on his elbow, and turned to look at her, knowing that there must be a horrible, horrified look in his eyes. “Oh,” he whispered, raising a hand to his mouth. He thought he might vomit. “Oh, dear lord.”

“They don’t make up this stuff to test you,” persisted Willow, who was now really crying. “They don’t make up this stuff to make a good Slayer. They don’t poison people to make a good Slayer, Buffy, and you can’t just go along with it to prove a point. They want Slayers like Kendra, remember her? They want you dead and some other Slayer there to boss around until they kill her too.”

Faith was very pale. “B, she’s right,” she said. “They said I was a liability ‘cause I was Jen’s kid and not their Slayer. They want girls who are gonna die in the line of battle for the good of the fight, and you’re not that, okay? You’re better than that.”

She stepped forward, taking Buffy’s hands. Buffy stared at Faith like she was the only bright spot in the room, and Giles thought, a twist of recognition in his chest, oh, darling girl. Don’t waste time.

“You are better,” said Faith softly. “You’re everything.

Buffy’s face collapsed. “They don’t want me dead,” she whispered. “They don’t! I’m not—I’m not supposed to die I don’t wanna die Faith I don’t—”

On instinct, Giles rose, nearly knocking over a chair or two in his haste to get to Buffy. For the first time that night, and for the first time since knowing her, he was the one to pull Buffy into his arms, letting her cry against his shoulder. “Those Council bastards don’t know a thing about the war we’re fighting,” he whispered fiercely. “All right? You’re not going anywhere, not if any of us have any say in the matter.”

“You don’t,” Buffy sobbed. “I’m the one—the only—”

“Since when?” said Faith suddenly.

This startled Buffy so much that she stopped crying. Giles, too, surprised by Faith’s succinct and accurate rebuttal, let his arms drop, though Buffy still leaned heavily against him. “I’m sorry?” he said.

“Uh, if we’re looking for examples of the Council’s logic bein’ absolute shit,” said Faith, “I’d say we’ve got Exhibit Goddamn A right here.” She gestured to herself, adding a hair flip for emphasis. “They said one girl in all the world, B, but we got two, and that ain’t happened in generations.”

“Exhibit B,” said Jenny solidly, standing up and holding out her crooked fingers, then arching her neck to show off her vampire bite. “Tortured by a master vampire, remember? And all because I was Rupert’s girlfriend? The Council would have had him leave me, and that’s the last thing I want. Ever.

“Exhibit C,” said Willow, her voice still wobbling. “Us. We love you so much, Buffy, remember? And Slayers aren’t supposed to have that. Maybe the Council’s got resources and history and all that stuff, but it’s been way too long since they’ve actually been in the thick of the kind of stuff we face every day.”

“You said once that I was so useful,” said Giles softly, “sitting in here with my musty old books. I rather think you should direct some of that admirable ire towards the Council, rather than blaming yourself for not being enough of a Slayer. You’re the strongest Slayer there is.”

“I got you guys hurt,” Buffy whispered, her fingers curling around Giles’s lapel like a small child’s. “You a-and Ms. Calendar and Willow and Xander—”

“We choose to be here,” said Giles, placing his hand over hers. “Don’t you ever forget that.”

Joyce exhaled, a sobbing sound, and stood up herself. “Buffy, I am so sorry,” she said helplessly. “Everything I say seems to be the exact wrong thing. I only want you to know how—how safe I want you to stay.”

“I know, Mom,” said Buffy, and sniffled, resting her cheek against Giles’s chest. “It’s just been kind of a tough night.” She looked up at Giles. “But if the Council’s so terrible,” she said, “then why are we—I mean, what’s the point of even trying to fool them?”

Giles blinked. “What?”

“They suck,” said Buffy. “That’s established. Haven’t there ever been rogue Slayers who don’t need a Watchers’ Council?”

Giles wavered.

“I think that’s a conversation Rupert and I need to have on our lonesome,” said Jenny carefully. “It’s a pretty big life decision for him to make, and we’re trying to ease into it.”

“If this Council is hurting my daughter,” Joyce began, eyes narrowed.

“Joyce, we’ve established pretty clearly that hurting Buffy is the exact last thing we want to do,” replied Jenny, giving Joyce a tired, reassuring smile. “It’s just that—”

But Giles looked down at his hand, feeling Buffy’s own underneath it. “No,” he said quietly. “Jenny, I think that Joyce and Buffy are right. My continued association with the Council isn’t worth the resources if it puts Buffy at risk.”

Buffy looked up at him, stunned. “You’d give up being a Watcher?” she asked.

“I’d give it up in title,” Giles answered, squeezing her hand. “My calling hasn’t changed in the slightest.”

Chapter Text

“That was some nice stuff you said to Buffy,” said Jen as they walked to the car.

Faith’s stomach flipped over. “Yeah,” she said uncertainly. “Yeah, it was—she means a lot to me, y’know?”

“I’ve noticed,” said Jen, and maybe it was just wishful thinking on Faith’s part, but there was an almost purposeful lightness to her tone. Like she knew Faith was holding shit back. “I’m really glad you two have hit it off.”

Faith bit the bullet. “I might ask her out,” she said. “Like, on a date. To prom, maybe. I don’t know. Haven’t really thought it through all that much.” She was doing her best not to look at Jen, continuing to talk so that she wouldn’t have to hear what Jen had to say to that. “I mean, she’s still gettin’ over Angel, she says she wants to take things slow, but if she’s not going with Angel she might as well go with me—”

“Faith?”

“I’m into girls,” Faith blurted out, refusing to look at Jen. “Which you should probably know, ‘cause B’s gonna be coming round sometimes, maybe. I don’t know. But that’s why she means a lot to me and we haven’t just hit it off in a friendly way—”

“Breathe,” said Jen, tugging on Faith’s leather jacket until Faith stopped walking. When Faith finally mustered the courage to look over at Jen, she saw that Jen was looking at her the same way that Jen always looked at her, and the relief at that realization was dizzying. But then Jen spoke again. “You’re not the only one who’s had crushes on girls.”

Don’t try and tell me that every straight girl feels this kinda thing—” Faith began, outraged.

“Operating on some faulty intel there, kid,” said Jen, a broad smile beginning. “Whoever said I was a straight girl?”

Faith stared. Then she said, “You suck face with Giles in the kitchen on a daily basis.”

“You kids really need a crash course on bisexuality,” said Jen, who was now grinning fit to burst.

Faith didn’t really know what to say to that. Slowly, she managed, “So all that time you’ve been giving me looks every time me and Buffy talk—”

“I know the signs,” said Jen, knocking Faith’s shoulder. “You were making the same face I did around Marian Hall back in college, and somehow you managed to be even more obvious about it than me.”

“I was so not obvious!” Faith objected, indignant. “B didn’t catch a thing, and Giles didn’t either—”

“I love the kid, but Buffy probably wouldn’t have figured your crush out if you waved a sign saying DATE ME,” said Jen matter-of-factly. “And Rupert spent the better part of last year trying to figure out whether or not I liked him, most of that time while we were actively dating.”

Faith snickered. “Fair point,” she said, and reached down, quietly gripping the hem of Jen’s sleeve as they started to walk again. Her heart was pounding. “So I kinda just came out to you, huh?”

“Kinda, yeah,” Jen agreed, her voice softening. “I’m very proud of you.”

Faith made a gagging noise to try and hide her dumb grin.


 

Willow apparently still hadn’t reconciled with her mom, who had somehow forgotten the stake-burning but remembered that Willow had run away after being grounded. Joyce was still trying to talk Mrs. Rosenberg through that one, but for the time being, Willow was staying in the Calendar-Giles attic/guest room, which was A-okay in her book.

Ms. Calendar made Willow some hot chocolate again, this time with half-melty marshmallows and a dollop of whipped cream. “Does your mom tuck you in?” she asked, crossing the room to sit down on Willow’s bed (no, the guest room bed, Willow reminded herself). “If I recall correctly, you’re the kind of kid who really appreciates that.”

“You could tuck me in again,” said Willow. Ms. Calendar had done that a couple of times over the summer, back when things were a total mess and Willow stayed in Ms. Calendar’s bedroom pretty much every other night.

Ms. Calendar stood up, then bent down again, tucking the covers more snugly around Willow from the waist down. “You can just leave your mug on the nightstand when you’re done,” she said, leaning around Willow to fluff up one of the pillows. She smelled like a mixture of old books and floral perfume. “And get some sleep, okay? Don’t do that thing you do where you nap for two hours and get up to read books from Rupert’s study.”

“Giles has a study?” Willow grinned. “This is a nice house.”

“Yeah, I like it too.” Ms. Calendar gave Willow a little kiss on the cheek. Willow thought she felt a waxy smudge of lipstick, and kind of liked the thought of it lingering. “Night, Willow.”

“Goodnight, Ms. Calendar,” said Willow with a yawn.

Ms. Calendar wavered. Then she said, “You know, if you wanted, you could call me Jenny outside of school. You’re not just my student, Willow.”

Willow felt a kind of rush and had to blink really fast to hide potential tears. “Um, yeah,” she sad, swallowing hard. “Maybe. But, but maybe not yet?” The thought of Ms. Calendar as Jenny felt weird and informal, especially since Giles was the only one who called her that. Faith called her Jen, but that was a name that Willow personally thought didn’t really fit Ms. Calendar. “I like Ms. Calendar,” she clarified. “It used to feel kinda formal, but now it feels…”

Even though Willow wasn’t quite sure how to finish her sentence, Ms. Calendar smiled slightly, like she got it anyway. “Yeah,” she said. “That name didn’t really mean a lot to me until I came to Sunnydale, but now…”

She squeezed Willow’s shoulder, then leaned down again, enfolding her in a soft, floral-perfume hug. Willow closed her eyes, smiling.


 

Giles was still sitting in the kitchen by the time Jenny came down from putting the children to bed. Upon seeing her, he stood, feeling a sense of profound sadness and exhaustion. “Moment’s come, hasn’t it?” he said quietly.

“Come here,” said Jenny.

Giles obliged, stepping into her arms and closing his eyes. “You are so remarkably resilient tonight,” he murmured.

“Yeah, well, next apocalypse it’s my turn to freak out,” Jenny informed him, turning her head to rest her cheek on his chest. “Listen—this is gonna be hard, I know. But it’s the right thing to do for all involved.”

“They’re going to come here in person, you know,” said Giles quietly. “They’re going to demand to speak to Buffy, and I don’t know what they might convince her to do—”

“In a few days she’s turning eighteen,” Jenny replied simply.

“I was twenty-one when I raised Eyghon,” said Giles.

Jenny pulled away, looking up at him with a resigned, loving expression. “Rupert Giles,” she said, “idiot of my heart, you are gonna have to let that girl make her own choices. There’s only so much a parent can do to protect his kid, and after you make this call, you will have done everything you can.”

One word in particular stood out to Giles. “Parent?”

Jenny’s smile fluttered; she looked suddenly nervous. “Was that—I mean, was I off base?”

“Quite the opposite, I think,” said Giles unsteadily. “It’s simply that I worry my attachments mean I have failed her as a Watcher.”

“We have already established,” said Jenny firmly, “that the system you were raised in is bullshit. I know it is going to be so hard to let go of all that stuff, but holding onto it only hurts you.”

There was a level of understanding in her eyes that went well beyond her knowledge of the Council alone. “Jenny,” said Giles quietly, “you came to Sunnydale to carry out a mission of vengeance.”

“Yeah,” said Jenny, and gave him a wobbly, crooked smile. “Yeah. Because my family told me that that was all I would ever be good for.”

Something twisted in Giles’s chest. Not once had he thought about what might have brought Jenny here—in part, he supposed, because he knew it must have been painful for her. “You’re good for—” he began.

“I’m not a witch, remember?” said Jenny, who seemed to be doing her best to keep her smile steady. It wasn’t really working. “I came from a long line of seers and witches and warlocks and people in tune with the earth, and I was never, ever that. So they sent me off to watch Angelus, because that was the only way I would ever be of use, and…” She trailed off, raising her hands to his face. “I know,” she said. “I know for a fact that you’re making the right choice, Rupert, because you’re making the same one I did a year ago. I don’t regret a single thing I did last year, not one, because it led me to a home and a family and one of the best hot librarians I know.”

Giles stared at her, eyes wet, and then he kissed her, and…how, he thought, was he this lucky? Watchers lived a painful, lonely life; nearly everyone they dared to love ended up dead, and here was beautiful, compassionate, resilient Jenny, changing the rules because she could. “I love you ceaselessly,” he said clumsily as they broke apart, then kissed her again, an awkward kiss that was more of a collision than anything. Both of them were a bit too emotional for finesse. “Unendingly.”

“Don’t make promises you can’t keep,” said Jenny with a nervous laugh.

“You know I would never do that to you again,” Giles persisted.

Her expression didn’t change, but Giles felt Jenny press herself closer against him. “Yeah,” she said. “Ditto.”

“The promise thing or the flowery-love thing?”

“Don’t make me say it,” said Jenny, giving him a small, watery smile.

Giles kissed her one last time. Then, with no small amount of reluctance, he let go of her, stepping back and picking up the phone. Eyes locked on Jenny’s, he dialed the extension, waiting for Travers to pick up.

“Hello?”

“Travers, it’s Giles,” said Giles, and Jenny took two steps forward, winding her arms around his waist. Grounding him.


 

Faith was hanging around the general area of Buffy’s locker, looking somewhat tense. Even after the emotional mess of the night before, Buffy’s heart did a funny little flip thing upon seeing her, and she couldn’t hide her smile. “Hi,” she said bashfully, stepping up to Faith.

“Yeah, B, I got some bad news,” said Faith shortly. “You were gonna find it out when you got to the library, but Jen said I should run and tell you beforehand.”

Buffy felt the crush-related jitters fade, replaced by some more general jitters that she didn’t really like. “What’s going on?”

“So, uh, Giles and Jen tried to call the Council yesterday night,” said Faith, falling into step with Buffy as they headed towards the library. “Didn’t really go over well.”

“How did it not go over well?” Buffy asked, pushing the door open with her shoulder. Then she stopped.

“Ms. Summers?” said an old guy in a tweed suit, flanked by a whole bunch of other business-formal people that Buffy didn’t know. “My name is Quentin Travers, and I am the head of the Watchers’ Council. I believe you and I need to talk.”

Chapter Text

“I thought we were pretty clear about the whole we’re-leaving-the-Council thing,” said Jenny through her teeth, rinsing one of the used mugs and barely noticing the way the hot water stung her hands. “I mean, I was there, right? You weren’t exactly vague about your reasoning.”

“Yes, well, I assume Quentin is taking preventative measures,” Rupert answered, pouring tea into one of the washed mugs. “How many cups do we need?”

“Don’t make them tea,” Jenny snapped. Off Rupert’s somewhat wounded look, she sighed. “I’m sorry, I’m just—”

“This changes absolutely nothing, my love,” said Rupert firmly, taking the mug Jenny was washing and placing it in the dishrack. “I have made my stance clear, and I’ve no intention of altering it, regardless of what Travers might have to say.”

“But what about Buffy?”

“Didn’t you give me that whole speech about Buffy making her own decisions?”

“Last time that guy showed up, you left me,” Jenny blurted out. Humiliated, she turned back to the sink, grabbing a mug at random and beginning to haphazardly scrub.

There was a painfully long silence. Then Jenny felt Rupert step up behind her, winding his arms around her stomach. “I am never going to leave you again, Jenny Calendar,” he whispered. “All right? No matter who shows up at our door, the only place I’ll ever be is at your side.”

“I wish that that could just magically make me feel better,” said Jenny, her voice trembling. She tilted her head back, leaning into his chest. “But you were gone all that summer, and seeing him brought so much of that back for me.”

“Well, I’ll be here to hold you till you feel a bit better, how’s that?” Rupert suggested.

That made Jenny smile. “I can buy into that,” she mumbled, closing her eyes.


 

So Giles and Ms. Calendar were getting a tea tray ready for Creepy Travers and his Watcher Squad, which meant that Buffy got to sit in the same room with said Watcher Squad all by herself. Well, she had Faith, but Faith had spent the first five minutes alternating between glaring at the Watchers indiscriminately and angrily eating a snack bar she’d grabbed from Ms. Calendar’s purse, and then she’d left the main room of the library to clatter around in Giles’s office. Buffy got the sense that Faith wasn’t too big on Watchers since the whole Mrs. Post debacle.

As soon as Faith was in the office, Travers said, “Miss Summers, we came to talk to you and you alone.”

“O-kay,” said Buffy, finding herself wishing that Giles was here. He spoke stuffy academic way better than anyone she knew—mostly because he kinda was one, but it felt like it’d still be helpful right now. “What about?”

“We found it extremely concerning that your Watcher called us expressing your desire to leave the Council,” Travers explained, a small, weirdly cordial smile on his face. It seemed like he was trying to pull off “paternal” but didn’t really know how. “We wished to know whether these are truly your desires, or if Mr. Giles has in some way misled you into believing that abandoning the resources of the Council is a wise choice.”

“Well, I don’t think he’s misled me,” said Buffy, testing the waters. “Unless he was lying when he said you guys were planning to drug me on my birthday and lock me in a room with a crazy vampire.”

The fake-dad expression sort of froze on Travers’s face. “Well,” he said stiffly. “The Cruciamentum is actually why I arrived here to begin with. I wasn’t aware that he divulged its nature to you.”

“Yeah, he mentioned it,” said Buffy, giving Travers a small, tight smile. “And I said that that probably wasn’t something I wanted to be involved in.”

“Indeed,” said Travers. “Well. I am very sorry to hear that Mr. Giles has so absolutely failed in his duties as a Watcher.” There was a new note to his voice now, one that Buffy didn’t like at all. “Steps will have to be taken to make sure that the Council does not make such a drastic mistake again.”

“You’re kinda missing the point,” said Buffy indignantly. “It doesn’t matter whether or not the Council is making a mistake. I quit the Council, remember?”

Travers was looking at Buffy in this weird, assessing way. “Certainly,” he said, then stood, motioning for his Watcher Squad to do the same. “Give Mr. Giles my regards,” he added over his shoulder, “and tell him I apologize for leaving before tea was served.”

As the library doors swung shut, Buffy sat there, a foreboding feeling in the pit of her stomach. She never, never liked it when both her Slayer-senses and her Buffy-senses agreed that something wasn’t right.


 

“Sho he jush leff?” said Xander with his mouth full.

“I’m sorry?” said Giles, giving Xander an exaggeratedly confused look. Jenny smacked his shoulder.

Xander rolled his eyes, but swallowed, already going in for another bite of his sandwich. “So he just left?” he repeated. “No follow-up conversations, no severance pay, no nothing?”

“Yeah, Giles, no severance pay?” Faith piped up.

Glancing between Giles and the children, Jenny looked suddenly worried, as though the oddness of Travers’s sudden departure had only just occurred to her. Giles knew Travers well, and knew that his leaving so abruptly meant that he was undoubtedly constructing a plan to bring Buffy back into the fold, but bringing this up in front of an uncharacteristically fragile Jenny felt like a needlessly callous thing to do. They could talk things out tomorrow, Giles decided, perhaps without the children there; the events were still fresh and upsetting for her, and he didn’t feel like alleviating her concern. “I’m sure it’s nothing,” he said, and punctuated his statement by pressing a kiss to Jenny’s temple. “Willow, why don’t you tell us about that fundraiser you’re putting together for the robotics team?”

“Really?” Willow blushed. “You wanna hear about that?”

Jenny was giving him a Look, one that very clearly said I know what you’re doing. Giles very pointedly ignored it. “I think we could all do with some lighthearted discussion,” he said.

Willow launched into an explanation of the brownie sale she’d be running next Sunday, and how she was hoping that they could all maybe make brownies for it, and how Xander had better not do that thing he did sophomore year where he ended up eating half the batter by accident. Xander had some exaggerated objections to this statement, and Faith thought they were all very funny, but the look on Jenny’s face lingered until the children had all trooped upstairs to do their homework in Faith’s bedroom.

“You can’t shake this one off,” she said as soon as they were alone. “I don’t like that he left without checking in with you.”

“Jenny—”

“Rupert, if something’s wrong, tell me,” Jenny snapped. “I don’t want you treating me like I’m about to have a full-on emotional breakdown just because Travers is back in town.”

“And I wouldn’t be doing so if I didn’t have good reason to do it!” Giles persisted as gently as he could. “Seeing Travers again, and so unexpectedly, under incredibly similar circumstances to the last time he was here—that’s bound to have an effect on you, and it isn’t helped by you trying to hide it from me!”

“Maybe I don’t wanna talk about what’s going on with me right now!” Jenny shot back. “Okay? Something is going to happen, Rupert, and you shaking my well-founded concerns off in some misguided attempt to protect me isn’t doing either of us any favors!”

“You’re not thinking clearly—”

You’re brushing me off!”

“Uh, guys?”

Giles and Jenny whirled. Willow, Xander, and Faith were all standing in the doorway, all with worried expressions. “You were getting kinda loud, that’s all,” said Faith uncomfortably. “Is everything okay?”

“Yes—” said Giles.

“No,” said Jenny loudly, and turned, pushing past the kids and hurrying out of the kitchen.

Faith looked genuinely shaken. “She’s not usually like that,” she said unsteadily. “I’ve seen Jen upset, but I’ve never seen her upset like that.

“She was like that a lot last summer,” said Xander, his eyes fixed almost accusingly on Giles. “Does this have something to do with the Council?”

Giles exhaled. Little as he liked the way it had come about, Jenny had a point about his attempting to sweep genuine danger under the rug. “She’s concerned about Travers leaving so abruptly,” he said. “She thinks he’s planning something. We had something of an argument about the way I was choosing to handle that concept.”

Willow crossed her arms, tilting her head. “Are you gonna leave again?” she asked a little coldly. “Because she’s acting the way she did back while you were gone, and—”

“I’ve told her countless times that I am here to stay,” said Giles miserably.

To his relief, Willow seemed to register the truth in his words. Her face softened. “Well, it kinda seems like she’s not getting the message,” she said. “Maybe you should try telling her again?”

“Perhaps,” said Giles distantly, reaching to adjust his glasses. “Excuse me.”

He squeezed between the children, exiting the kitchen to find the door ajar. It was nearly sunset, and while there weren’t that many vampires in their neighborhood, Giles and Jenny had a mutual agreement that no one went out after school unless it was on patrol or to fight the monster of the week. Wincing a bit—Jenny must have been quite upset to forget that rule—Giles stepped outside, looking around.

There was no one in sight. This struck Giles as odd, especially since Jenny’s car was still in the driveway, and a twinge of worry was added to the guilt. He began to walk down the block, but Jenny was still nowhere to be found. He used the time it took to reach the street corner to contemplate what they’d argued about. She hadn’t been wrong about the Council, he knew, and it was certainly within the realm of possibility that they might use her to get to him. The Council had done a number of somewhat-unethical things under the guise of protecting the Slayer line, all of which Giles had believed completely reasonable at the time, but now…

Rounding the street corner, Giles was met not with Jenny, but with Travers. “What on earth are you doing here?” he said sharply, too concerned about Jenny to care about cordiality. “I was under the impression that you’d left town.”

“Appearances can be misleading, Rupert,” said Travers simply. “I came to question you further about a remark your Slayer made during my conversation with her.”

“Oh?” said Giles, nowhere near dropping his guard.

“She mentioned that you had informed her of the Cruciamentum,” said Travers, leveling Giles with an almost calculating look. “You are aware that this sort of breach in tradition is a firable offense?”

“Very aware,” Giles agreed.

“And you are aware why it is a firable offense?”

This took Giles aback. “I’m sorry?”

“The Cruciamentum allows us to assess the tactical abilities of the Slayer,” Travers explained. “Removing her power, placing her up against a vampire, shows whether or not she is worthy of possessing preternatural strength. A Slayer must be able to win her battles even when at a disadvantage. Only then—”

“Skip the cryptics, Travers,” said Giles shortly, his mind still on Jenny and the children. “What do you want from me?”

“Regardless of whether the Cruciamentum is implemented,” said Travers, “you and I both know that the Slayer must still be tested.” He took a step forward, eyes on a spot behind Giles. “You and your Slayer have formed a bond,” he said. “That much is clear. She spoke of you with a kind of blind loyalty, and I believe it more inhibiting than any drug could be, at least in her case.”

Giles scoffed. “Buffy’s loyalty, her compassion, all of that makes her stronger—”

And that was when something hit him from behind, hard enough to knock off his glasses. His vision blurred from a combination of pain and poor eyesight, Giles staggered back, and found himself in the grip of one of the Council lackeys Travers had brought with him.

“I do apologize, Rupert,” said Travers earnestly, sounding genuinely remorseful. “You’re needed for this portion of the analysis.”

Chapter Text

For a brief, petulant moment, Jenny had opened the door and contemplated dramatically storming outside. But it was close enough to sunset to give her pause, and as angry as she was, she still had enough presence of mind not to go out without any weapons when it was getting dark out. Clenching her fists, she hurried upstairs instead, striding down the hallway and entering the master bedroom before shutting the door tightly behind her.

In their old house, the bedroom had originally been just Jenny’s, and squeezing Rupert in had been a little difficult. In comparison, this bedroom was huge, with enough room for Jenny’s desktop computer as well as a bookshelf for Rupert. Light from the setting sun was streaming in through the sheer curtains, giving the room a calming, cozy glow.

Jenny swallowed, scrubbing at her face. Distance was giving her clarity, enough for her to realize that she’d been very unfair to Rupert. She didn’t ever like it when he tried to keep things from her for her protection—it reminded too much of his leaving her that summer—but there was a difference between him withholding information and him saving it for when she was a little more ready to hear it. She’d have to tell him that.

That, she thought, smiling wryly, and that he’s a saint for putting up with me.

She knew she hadn’t been wrong about Travers, though. Rupert would have been less evasive had she been genuinely off base. In a weird way, that comforted her; at least she’d been right about something during their argument. She did agree that any further conversations about the Council really would have to wait until she was a little less of a mess, though, and she should probably tell him that he’d been right about that.

Jenny turned to open the door, but it was yanked open before she could turn the doorknob. Without preamble, Willow said, a note of badly restrained panic in her voice, “Ms. Calendar, the door’s open downstairs and Giles’s glasses are lying on a street corner—”

And for the first time since Rupert’s official return to Sunnydale, Jenny found her sense of safety completely shattered.


 

Buffy had already had kind of a terrible day, what with Creepy Travers talking about Giles like he was some kind of a total failure and leaving her Slayer-senses tingling when he headed out. Coming home to find out that her dad wouldn’t be making their annual ice show trip—for her eighteenth birthday, no less—took the cake, but she took some comfort in getting out a tub of ice cream, watching old movies with her mom, and telling herself that at least the day was over.

And then there was a knock on the door.

Ugh,” said Buffy, pausing the movie. “Mom?”

“On it,” said her mom, leaning to press a kiss against Buffy’s temple. “You just focus in on that ice cream.”

“I love you,” said Buffy, giving her a small, tired smile and watching as her mom left the room.

She heard the sound of her mom opening the door, and then her mom said, “I’m sorry, do I know you?”

“Mrs. Summers?” said Travers. “I need to speak to your daughter. It’s a matter of—”

That was it. “I AM OFF THE CLOCK, I AM WATCHING OLD MOVIES WITH MY MOM, AND IF YOU DON’T GO AWAY I WILL THROW YOU THROUGH A WALL,” Buffy shouted at the top of her lungs.

To her dismay, Travers didn’t take this threat as seriously as he should have. Squeezing past her mom, he stepped into the doorway, observing Buffy and her flamingo-print pajamas with disapproval. “Miss Summers, your Watcher is in danger,” he said without preamble.

It took Buffy a moment to realize what he meant. “Giles?” she said stupidly. “But Giles quit—”

“Mr. Giles has been taken by a master vampire by the name of Kralik,” said Travers, “one residing in the old boardinghouse on Prescott Lane. Kralik was initially intended to take part in the Cruciamentum, but…” He trailed off, looking remorseful. “It appears we have lost control of him.”

Buffy had to resist the very strong urge to punch Travers in the face with all her Slayer strength. “So you’re telling me,” she said through gritted teeth, “that you shipped a master vamp over to Sunnydale and didn’t think anything would go wrong?”

“Kralik has participated in Cruciamentums before—”

“Oh, and is that supposed to make me feel better?” Buffy snapped. “That he’s killed other girls you drugged and tossed in for him to snack on?” Stepping into her bunny slippers, she shoved past Travers, knocking him sideways onto the couch. “Mom,” she said, turning to face her mom, “stay here. I need to go get Giles.”

“Absolutely not,” said her mom.

Buffy stared. “Mom?” she said, infuriated. “Did you not hear the part where Creepy Travers said Giles is in danger?”

“And I completely agree that you need to go after him,” said her mom firmly, “and that time is of the essence. But I won’t have you running in after a, a master vampire all on your own. I’m calling Ms. Calendar.”

Buffy thought of the pale, wordlessly terrified look on Ms. Calendar’s face upon seeing Angelus. “No,” she said. “No, Mom—Ms. Calendar would completely lose it if she knew Giles was in danger. Call Faith and tell her to meet me at the boardinghouse, but don’t tell Ms. Calendar.”

Her mom pressed her lips together in a thin line, but nodded.

For some reason, Travers looked incredibly bothered. “Time, Miss Summers, is of the essence,” he said shortly. “You can hardly waste it calling Miss Lehane, now, can you?”

“Exactly,” said Buffy. “That’s why my mom’s doing it for me.” Without waiting for an answer from Travers, she grabbed her bag of weapons from its place by the door, hurrying out of the house and trying to ignore the squeak-squeak of her bunny slippers against the gravel. There was no time for an outfit change, not when Giles was in danger.


 

As Joyce turned to make the phone call, Travers coughed. “Pardon, Mrs. Summers,” he said, “but is the front door still open?”

Glaring at him, Joyce put the phone down, crossing the room to shut the door. Quietly, Travers took a pocketknife and cut the phone line.


 

“This isn’t good,” said Willow for the seventeenth time. “This isn’t good.

Faith was extremely inclined to agree. It would have been one thing if it had been dark out when Giles had gone missing, but it was only a minute after sunset that Willow had found his glasses. Whatever had snatched Giles hadn’t been a vampire, and adding that to the fact that it had happened on the day the Watchers’ Council was in town equaled an extremely angry Jen. One who was currently turning the house upside down looking for pretty much every weapon available.

So, yeah. Not good.

“Where the FUCK is the MOTHERFUCKING BROADSWORD,” shouted Jen from the kitchen, in a tone of voice that made Faith’s stomach flip over. She’d seen Jen frightened, upset, sad, but she had never seen Jen angry in this way before, and it was bringing back memories of…other people from long ago, ones who had been kind one minute and angry the next.

Jen isn’t like that, said a small, firm voice, one that Faith had only recently learned to trust. Carefully, she got up, heading into the kitchen to check in on Jen. “Hi,” she said uncertainly. “You need help demolishing the house, or—”

Jen turned. Her eyes were still flashing with rage, but she seemed to be trying to keep it under wraps for Faith’s sake, which was somehow more comforting than Jen immediately calming down upon seeing her. “You keep weapons in your room, right?” she said. “Can you bring a few down for me? I wanna test the weight.”

“Look, whatever took Giles probably isn’t something you can kill—” began Faith.

“Yes,” said Jen flatly. “It absolutely is.”

Okay. So much for comfort. “So you’re not going after Giles?” said Faith tentatively.

Jen laughed, a short, semi-hysterical sound that didn’t sound like Jen at all. “Of course I’m going after Giles!” she said. “I’m just going to kill Quentin Travers first, and personally, right after I find out where that bastard took my boyfriend! I think that sounds like a damn good plan—”

“Jen,” said Faith, and to her horror, she couldn’t hide the tremor in her voice. “You’re scaring me.”

Apparently, those were the magic words. The scorching fury in Jen’s expression dissipated, and she drew in a soft, sharp breath. “I’m sorry,” she said weakly. “I—”

Faith wanted to say something comforting, but all of a sudden she just felt scared, and really, really sad. “Giles is gonna be okay, right?” she said, hating the fact that she was suddenly so near tears. “He’s always okay, right? We just have to find out where he is and it’ll all—” She wiped roughly at her face. “It’ll all be okay, right, Jen?”

Jen made a strangled noise that sounded like she was trying not to cry too, which pretty much answered Faith’s question. Crossing the kitchen, Jen pulled her into a tight hug.

“We gotta find—” Faith sniffled. “We need to find where he is.”

“Yeah,” Jen whispered.

“We’re gonna go find him now, right?”

“You and me,” Jen agreed.

“And us.”

Jen turned, and Faith looked up: Willow and Xander were standing in the kitchen doorway, weapons in hand. “No,” said Jen. “You two can’t—”

“Oh, so you guys are allowed to go charging in after Giles but we have to stay at home and watch cartoons?” Willow objected. “What happened to involving us in things like these? Wasn’t that what we were trying to do last summer?”

“Ms. Calendar,” said Xander, “if Giles is dead, you’re gonna have to—”

“Don’t fucking say that!” Faith shouted at Xander, and she might have punched him in the teeth if she wasn’t so afraid of letting go of Jen.

Jen stared at the kids, glassy-eyed. Unsteadily, she said, “Faith is a Vampire Slayer who does this kind of thing every night. She can come with me because I know she will be safe, because she is able to take care of herself in these situations, because she’s been gifted with powers that allow her to keep herself safe and, yes, outrun a threat if need be. I am an adult, and I am old enough to make these decisions for myself.”

“We’re close enough to adults to—” Willow began, outraged.

“If Rupert is dead,” said Jen, and stopped. She swallowed, then tried again. “If Rupert is dead,” she said. “There is no way I can survive losing one of you.” And her arms tightened around Faith in a way that made it clear that Faith was very much included in that statement.

Faith knew even before looking at Xander and Willow that Jen had won the argument. She knew what it was like to have shitty parents, and she knew how it felt to have Jen look at you like you were someone worth protecting.

“Don’t get yourself killed,” said Willow, near tears, and handed over the broadsword.


 

Jen and Faith headed to Buffy’s house in Giles’s car, Jen flooring the gas in a way that probably would have gotten her like ninety-seven speeding tickets in a normal town. No smart cops were ever out at night, though—hell, no one was ever out at night—and so they didn’t get into any auto accidents en route to Buffy, though Jen did very narrowly miss hitting a tree.

Halfway to Buffy’s, Faith noticed something odd: another car, driving similarly recklessly, with a familiar driver at the wheel. “Wait, Jen, stop,” she said.

As soon as she saw the driver, Jen obliged, the screech of the brakes causing the other car to stop as well. Jumping out of the car with Jen at her heels, Faith sprinted across the street to yank the car door open. “Mrs. Summers?” she said. “What the hell are you doing out at night?”

“My phone line was cut by the Watchers’ Council,” said Mrs. Summers, her voice shaking. “Buffy’s gone to the boardinghouse on Prescott Lane. Mr. Travers said Rupert’s been taken by a master vampire—”

“That FUCKING BASTARD,” shrieked Jen, and made a mad dash for Giles’s car.


 

Giles, unfortunately, had been conscious for absolutely all of the proceedings. The lower-tier Council members had tied him up, placed him in a room, and left. They had used magic to undo Kralik’s straitjacket and create the protective wards that would ensure no one outside the house could be hurt.

And now Giles was tied to a chair, facing a master vampire. Alone, with Jenny and the children well unaware of his predicament. Not only that, but the institution to which he had pledged decades of loyalty and trust had decided to use him as a chess piece in a battle they weren’t even fighting themselves. The hypocrisy and lies that had led him here made him feel sick to his stomach, even without the horrible fear.

He was going to die, here. He knew that. Kralik was looking at him with a calculating interest, stepping forward with a broad silver knife, and all Giles was thinking was—of the dishes he hadn’t done, the paperwork he wouldn’t file, the woman he loved, the children he had wanted to see grow up.

I lived well this last year, at least, he thought, and as Kralik’s knife dug into his throat, he closed his eyes tightly shut.

Chapter Text

If they’d been driving fast before, this was warp speed. Faith swore she could smell burning rubber as the car tore down the road, Jen’s knuckles white on the steering wheel. It should have taken them about ten minutes to get to Prescott Lane, but they made it there in four and a half, Jen pulling the car to another screeching stop up front.

“We’re here,” she said. She made no move to get out of the car.

“Okay,” said Faith slowly, and waited.

Jen turned to look at Faith. “You go fight the vampire,” she said. “I have some stuff I need to do.”

Faith stared. “What stuff?” she said disbelievingly. “Giles is in there and he’s in danger, and you’re just gonna drive off and—”

“Don’t worry about it, baby,” said Jen, and reached across the car to smooth down Faith’s hair. The love in her eyes was real, but there was something else there, something scary, and Faith didn’t like seeing it there. “I know you and Buffy are going to save him. You always do. I’m going to go handle the tough stuff.”

“I’m not getting out till you tell me what you’re gonna do,” said Faith, more than a little frightened by the level of crazy Jen was apparently operating at.

Jen’s soft little smile vanished. “Faith, time really is of the essence,” she said. “Buffy and Giles need your help, okay? I’m an adult, I can make my own choices—”

“You’ve never had to use that line on me before, Jen,” Faith persisted, a combination of misery and worry making her nauseous. “You always tell me what’s going down. Always. And if you’re not telling me right now, that either means that this shit has seriously fucked you up, or that you’re gonna do something that you know you shouldn’t do.” She considered. “Probably both. So—”

“It’s not—I know it’s not something I should do!” Jen shouted. “I know I shouldn’t but I have to because he’ll be out of town and as soon as Rupert’s safe I’m gonna lose my nerve and not—

“And not?”

“And NOT GO AND MURDER QUENTIN TRAVERS,” Jen screamed, slamming her hands down on the car horn so hard Faith was pretty sure something broke.

Faith stared. “But you’re—you’re my not-watcher,” she said, aware of how small and childish her voice sounded. “You don’t kill—you’re not—Jen,” and then she did start crying. Not the half-restrained stuff of the kitchen: this was full-out sobbing the likes of which she hadn’t seen since that night at the factory. Because Giles was going to die and Jen was going to spontaneously combust and Buffy was going to be miserable and Xander was going to go back to his shitty dad and Willow to her shitty mom and her dumb, perfect little family was going to shatter into fragments and it was just going to be Faith, alone, all over again, alone alone always—

And now Jen was crying too, curling in on herself in a way that seemed painful and intensely private. Faith wanted to reach across the car to her, but didn’t know how to bridge the gap. Jen had always done that, before, and now—

Now it was Faith’s turn, she guessed. Leaning across the car, she pressed a hard kiss to Jen’s cheek. “I love you, Jen,” she said fiercely. “And you can kill Travers all you want when Giles is safe, but right now, we’re gonna get him back and we’re gonna yell at him a whole bunch for getting himself in trouble, okay? Stay here if you want, or come with me—it doesn’t matter, ‘cause I promise Buffy and I are gonna get him back.”

Jen stared at Faith like she was seeing her for the first time. Without a word, she reached out, squeezing Faith’s hand.

Faith squeezed back, then let go, clambering out of the car. Honestly, she was too fucking angry to be afraid of a master vamp right now. She was thinking about Giles, now, his soft eyes and his nice smile and the way he’d say well done, Faith when he proofread her English essays, and about the kind of a monster you had to be to put a guy like that in danger just to prove a point. She couldn’t bring herself to look back and see if Jen was following her, so she soldiered on ahead.


 

Buffy didn’t go looking for Kralik. Giles was her first priority, not some master vampire the Council had shipped over to try and kill her with, and so she moved carefully and stealthily until her Slayer-senses picked something up from a room on the second floor. Opening the door, she found Giles, tied to a chair, his shirt covered with blood and his throat cut.

And for a horrible, terrible moment, she stood there, grief hitting her like a sucker punch, but then Giles drew a rattling breath from the chair and Buffy burst into tears.

He was trying to say something, but couldn’t quite manage it. Buffy raced forward, forgetting about Kralik and the Cruciamentum and all the stuff in this house and just wrapping herself around Giles, hugging him tightly for a long moment. “I love you so much,” she sobbed. “Please be okay after this, Giles, please be okay, the ice show is in two weeks and I am so not going without my Watcher there to complain about how much he hates it—”

“Actually,” said Giles very weakly, his voice all raspy and wrong, “I rather like ice shows.”

Buffy was almost crying too hard to get the knots undone. “Don’t ever do that to me again!” she wailed. “I thought you were dead! Do you know how mad Ms. Calendar would be if she found out I got her boyfriend killed?”

There was a loud crash from outside, and Buffy jumped, instinctively positioning herself in front of Giles as the door to the room burst open. Kralik tumbled through, followed closely by Faith and Ms. Calendar, the latter of whom was wielding a mace and hammering it down on Kralik with clear intent to kill.

“That mad, probably,” said Giles.

“Stop talking,” said Buffy, tugging off her pajama top and pressing it to his throat to stop the bleeding. So much for flamingos, she thought.

Ms. Calendar landed a last blow with the mace, then shouted “STAKE,” in a frankly terrifying tone of voice. Hastily, Buffy tossed Mr. Pointy over her shoulder. Faith, who was holding Kralik down, caught it with her free hand, then handed it off to Ms. Calendar. She drove the stake home.

Kralik was dusted.

Ms. Calendar turned, saw Giles, and burst into tears, collapsing onto the floor. Faith assessed the situation, sat down next to Ms. Calendar, and hugged her very tightly, letting Ms. Calendar sob into her shoulder.

“At least this didn’t happen on my actual birthday, right?” said Buffy, sniffling. “That would have totally sucked.”

“Small mercies,” said Giles, and coughed up some blood.

“Stop talking,” said Buffy fiercely.


 

Everyone was crowded into the tiny waiting room. Buffy’s mom had very gracefully taken over taking care of Ms. Calendar, who was in a hysterical state the likes of which absolutely no one had seen her in before. She was currently crying incoherently into Buffy’s mom’s jacket, which really didn’t help create a hopeful atmosphere as they waited for news on Giles.

“He was talking, though,” said Faith, whose leather jacket was still covered in vamp dust. Willow reached out to help brush it off, and Faith gave her a small, tired smile. “Thanks, Will,” she said.

“It was a pretty clean cut,” Buffy agreed, sniffling. She was wearing her mom’s jacket over a lacy bra, pajama bottoms, and slightly bloodied bunny slippers, but seemed completely unbothered by the strangeness of her ensemble. “I think Kralik just wanted it to look like he was dead.”

At the word dead, Ms. Calendar started sobbing even harder, and Willow’s stomach twisted. Even during that awful summer with Buffy and Giles gone, even with all of her nightmares, Ms. Calendar had never, ever lost control in front of them, at least not intentionally. Quietly, she said, “So someone’s going to kill the Watchers’ Council, right?”

“Yeah,” said Buffy. “Definitely.”

As if on cue, the doors opened, and Quentin Travers entered, flanked by a beefy Council member on either side. Leveling a disapproving gaze at Buffy, he began, “Miss Summers—”

Ms. Calendar stopped crying. She stood up. Then, taking two neat steps forward, she stopped in front of Travers, pulled Buffy’s tiny dagger out of her purse, and stabbed him, hard, in the shoulder. Without waiting for him to react, she pulled the dagger back out. “Leave,” she said, “or next time that hits your heart.”

Travers reeled, clapping a hand to his shoulder, an expression of complete and total shock on his face.

“Did you not hear me?” said Ms. Calendar, her voice deadly. “He’s been through hell because of you, and I’m not just talking about tonight. You got into his head and you made him think that loving other people was something he would never get to have. I love that man and you made him afraid to love me back. No one should ever be afraid to love someone.”

Ms. Calendar,” said Travers, sounding strangely infuriated for a guy who had just been stabbed in the shoulder.

In answer, Ms. Calendar raised the dagger again. “Do you think I’m kidding?” she asked. “I am really not kidding.”

“Jenny,” said Buffy’s mom, a note of warning in her voice.

But Travers looked again at Ms. Calendar, then nodded, eyes narrowed. “We will be sending a Watcher to replace Mr. Giles,” he said, “and to hopefully retrain at least one of your Slayers. As long as you cooperate with this Watcher, we will not—”

Willow saw it coming before anyone else did. Jumping up from her chair, she grabbed Ms. Calendar’s waist just as the dagger flew again, pulling Ms. Calendar back so that it stabbed the air. “Leave,” she added, holding tightly to Ms. Calendar’s waist and glaring at Travers as she did so. “We don’t negotiate with you guys.”

Travers took the hint. Pressing his handkerchief delicately to his shoulder, he left, the Council goons following him out.

Willow let go of Ms. Calendar’s waist and sat down, feeling a little nauseous. “New Watcher’s probably going to show up whether we want him or not,” she mumbled.

“Why did you stop me?” Ms. Calendar asked, her voice clipped.

Willow knew the answer to that one without having to think about it. “I know you wouldn’t regret stabbing him in the shoulder tomorrow,” she said, her voice wobbling. “You know, when Giles is alive and okay and you’re feeling a little less, uh, stabby. But even as terrible as that Council guy is, I know killing him would really mess you up. Killing anybody would mess anybody up.”

Ms. Calendar nodded a little jerkily and sat down, curling again into Buffy’s mom without a word. That felt weird. Usually it was Ms. Calendar making sure everyone else was okay, not everyone else making sure Ms. Calendar was okay, and Willow didn’t like the change. She didn’t like seeing funny, kind Ms. Calendar so angry and hurt.

The doctor then entered the waiting room, looking a little exhausted. “He’ll live,” she said upon seeing them. “He’s awake, if a little drugged up, but he can take visitors.”

Everyone looked to Ms. Calendar. “Yeah,” she said in a small voice. “Um, I’m his, his girlfriend, can I—”

The doctor stepped to the side, letting Ms. Calendar go ahead of her. Willow felt Faith’s shoulder bump hers, and reached out, grabbing Faith’s hand. Everyone cared about Ms. Calendar, but Faith was the only other one who got how Willow was feeling right now.

Faith squeezed her hand. “Chill out, Red,” she said, but now Willow knew her well enough to hear the genuine reassurance in the statement. “It’s all okay now.”

Chapter Text

Jenny entered the room and saw Rupert looking at her with glassy, tired eyes. He looked like he wanted to say something in response, and so she added, “If you speak and ruin your voice—”

In answer, Rupert picked up a pad and paper, scribbling something down and holding it up. Can’t speak, it read. Doctor’s orders.

Jenny tried to smile. “I’m so glad you’re not dead,” she managed. “I think I kinda flipped out and scared pretty much all our kids.”

Rupert considered, then made a little motion with his hand. Jenny stepped closer, watching him write. When you were tortured by Angelus, the paper read, I was short with Xander, distant with Willow, and completely detached from reality until I was positive you were all right.

“Yeah, well, you didn’t stab somebody,” said Jenny, trying to laugh.

She felt Rupert’s free hand at her waist. I love you, darling, he wrote. I am so lucky to have you in my life.

It was so strange that Jenny wasn’t absolutely in tears at that statement. She’d been crying on and off all night, and had half-expected to completely break down as soon as she saw that Rupert was okay. But seeing him, knowing he was okay, somehow made every terrible part of the night bearable again, and so she sat down on the bed next to him, settling herself into his arms. “I love you all the time and always,” she whispered.

On the paper, Rupert drew a little heart.

Faith poked her head around the door, smiling slightly upon seeing them both. “How are you guys?” she asked in a whisper.

“Okay,” said Jenny, and managed a watery smile. “Sorry I went all psycho.”

“Eh,” said Faith. “You get a get-out-of-jail-free card when your boyfriend gets kidnapped. If that Cruciamentum bullshit had happened to Buffy, I’d have stabbed way more people than just Travers.”

You stabbed TRAVERS?????? Rupert wrote, then gave Jenny an extremely impassioned kiss on the cheek.

“Stop—stop!” Despite herself, Jenny was laughing. “I set such a bad example for the kids—”

“Are you kidding?” said Faith. “You’ve made me realize my long-hidden dreams of becoming an axe murderer. I owe you so much, Jen.” She entered the room, then called over her shoulder, “Hey, guys, c’mon in! Jen’s all normal again!”

Buffy was next through the door. Upon seeing Rupert, she made this little sobbing noise, then took two running steps over to the bed, clambering into his lap like a five-year-old and winding her arms around his neck. Rupert looked a bit overcome.

“Yeah, she’s majorly fucked up,” said Faith helpfully, stepping to the side so that Willow and Xander could move past her. “She said while we were driving over that she thought you were dead when she saw you.” Though her tone was light, her posture was tense. “So I think she should get a whole bunch of hugs, ‘cause thinking your Watcher’s dead can mess you the fuck up—”

Jenny held out her hand, and was somewhat startled when Faith came over to the bed without the usual awkward hesitancy. Instead, she sat down next to Jenny, then snuggled into her side. “I could do with some hugs too, y’know,” Faith added. “Seeing as you went all psycho in the car.”

Jenny tugged Faith closer. “I’m so sorry I scared you,” she murmured.

Faith shrugged, looking up at her. “I know what it’s like to go through fucked up stuff and have it come back to get you,” she said. “That Travers guy, he was the reason Giles left over the summer, right?”

“He was,” said Jenny, touched.

Faith grinned. “I’m glad you got a good stab in,” she said.

Jenny dared a glance at Rupert at that statement, and was surprised to find that there was no disapproval or regret in his eyes. She’d been expecting him to be upset that she’d stabbed his old boss, or at least a little emotionally conflicted, but—

Turning very slightly and reaching over Buffy’s head, Rupert tilted Jenny’s chin up and kissed her, soft and solid. And all of a sudden, Jenny knew that they were not going to be breaking up again.

Faith wolf-whistled, Willow dissolved into relieved giggles, Joyce seemed to be pretending to read one of the pamphlets she’d taken from the waiting room, and Xander said, “Do you guys just make it a habit of making out in hospital rooms?”

“Leave them alone, Xander, they’ve had a tough night,” said Buffy into Rupert’s shoulder. Raising her head, she gave them both a soft, crooked smile. “You okay, Ms. Calendar?” she asked.

Jenny made a face.

Buffy giggled. “Me too,” she said.

Willow stepped forward, sitting down at the foot of the bed with a small sigh. “What time is it?” she asked through a yawn. “We have school tomorrow—”

“Yeah, none of you are going to school tomorrow,” said Jenny, waving a hand. Belatedly, she realized that one of these kids actually did have a parent who might object to her statement, and hastily added, “Though I can’t speak for Buffy—”

“Oh, no, Buffy is staying home,” Joyce agreed. “I think we all need a break after tonight. Myself included.” She let out a shaky laugh. “Are all your nights like this?”

“Last time it was me and Ms. Calendar who got kidnapped by a crazy vampire,” Willow replied with a little grin. Her smile faded. “Nobody got their throat cut, though.”

“No, but I think my sweater is still soaked through with drunken vampire tears,” quipped Jenny, reaching out to give Willow’s hand a reassuring squeeze. “So are we going home, or—”

“The doctor mentioned something about Rupert staying overnight for observation, I think,” said Joyce somewhat apologetically. “If you want, I can go get some things from your house, make this a little more comfortable?”

“Thank you, Joyce, yes,” said Jenny, giving her a small, grateful smile. “I don’t think any of us feel really ready to leave Rupert just yet.” Upon seeing that the children were all nodding in agreement, Rupert looked incredibly touched. “Stop looking so surprised, you dork, we love you,” Jenny added, pressing a theatrical kiss to his temple.

“Yeah!” Xander agreed. “Who else would I check out hot guys with?”

There was then a shocked silence. Slowly, and trying not to laugh, Jenny turned to look at Rupert, who had his lips pressed together in a way that suggested he was doing his best not to start giggling himself.

It took a moment for Xander to realize what he’d just said. “That,” he said, then, “Uh,” and finally, “Oh god.”

“Wait, man, you like dudes?” said Faith, looking interested.

“This is my nightmare,” said Xander to himself. “This is my nightmare come to life again. Where’s that baseball-playing kid so we can snap him out of it?”

“Speaking of baseball,” said Jenny helpfully, “you and Rupert aren’t the only ones in this room who play for both teams.” She grinned. “If that helps.”

“Oh my fucking god,” said Faith, and started giggling. “Is no one in this room straight?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” said Xander, his panic now edging towards bemusement.

“Well, there’s me,” said Faith, gesturing to herself with her thumbs, “and I’m all about the ladies. And there’s you and Jen and Giles, and you guys are into everyone, right?”

“That about sums it up,” Jenny agreed.

“And there’s me,” said Buffy, a small, shy smile on her face.

Faith’s easy grin faltered and her eyes went all soft. “You?” she said, turning to look at Buffy.

“But you already knew that one, though, right?” said Buffy, her gaze directed unhesitatingly at Faith. “Seeing as I liked Angel and I like you.”

Jenny and Rupert stared, Xander’s jaw dropped, and a huge, stupid grin spread across Faith’s face. Joyce, however, smiled slightly, then said, “Well, there were a lot of Dorothy Hamill posters on your wall when you were eight—

Mom!” said Buffy indignantly, but she was grinning a little.

“So wait, you and Buffy—” Xander was saying to Faith.

“Can she help it?” Faith seemed to be doing her best to sound casual, but she was all but glowing. “I’m totally hot stuff.”

Jenny heard the scritch-scratch of pen on paper, and turned to look at Rupert. You know, he was writing, I believe there was a study done about the tendency of non-heterosexual youth to group off early in life, though I daresay it is unusual that both of us are included in that number—

“Nerd,” said Jenny, kissing him on the cheek.

Abruptly, and without explanation, Willow stood up, her eyes full of tears. “I—” she began, wavered, then raced out of the room, not even bothering to shut the door behind her.

Buffy’s smile faded. “Is she okay?” she asked timidly. “I didn’t think—I mean, maybe she’s bothered by—did she know you guys were—?”

Jenny and Rupert exchanged a purposeful look. Hastily, Rupert scribbled something else down on the paper, then held it up for Buffy to see.

Buffy’s jaw dropped. “You and Ethan Rayne?” she all but shrieked, Willow forgotten. As the children clustered around Rupert, all of them asking questions a mile a minute, Jenny quietly got up off the bed, hurrying out of the hospital room.


 

Willow was sitting outside, curled into a ball, shoulders shaking as she quietly cried. Carefully, Jenny sat down next to her, leaning back against the wall and waiting a few seconds. Then she said, “What’s wrong?”

Willow only cried harder.

“Come here,” said Jenny softly, tugging Willow upright and into her arms. “It’s okay. Whatever it is, I promise it’s okay.”

“I don’t like Angel-and-Faith,” Willow sobbed. “I just like Faith!”

“You have a crush on Faith?” said Jenny slowly, frowning.

Willow shook her head furiously. “It’s a metaphor—”

And then Jenny got it. Holy shit, was she obtuse. “Willow,” she said, choosing her words carefully, “is there a possibility that none of my kids are straight?”

“I’m dating Oz,” wailed Willow. “I’m not gay if I’m dating Oz!”

“No one said gay, remember?” said Jenny, stroking Willow’s hair. “You could be bisexual, like Xander, or like some super cool techno-mom who shall for now remain nameless.”

Willow raised her head, sniffling. “But Jenny, I’m not,” she said in a small voice. “I spent half of freshman year trying to mix the shade of Cordelia’s hair in art class. A-and when Buffy showed up I knew the exact color of lip gloss she wore, and sometimes I’d buy it and put it on and I wouldn’t know why, and Faith says you can just be into girls and if you’re all into girls then it’s okay to be into girls and my mom said being into girls is just a phase and—”

“Breathe,” said Jenny.

“—and if it’s not a phase and it’s not something that happens to everyone then I’m definitely into girls but I can’t be into girls because Oz is so nice and he’d be so hurt and so mad at me and he likes me so much and I didn’t—”

“Willow,” Jenny persisted, pulling back to cup Willow’s face in her hands. “What happened last time you told Oz something you were scared to tell him?”

Willow stopped, taking a few shaky breaths while she considered the question. “He got it,” she said in a small voice. “He was upset, but he was glad I told him before things got messy.”

“And how do you think Oz would feel if he knew you were keeping this big, huge secret just to save his feelings?”

Willow sniffled, then smiled, a sad, wobbly smile. “Communication is an important part of a healthy relationship,” she mumbled.

“Yeah,” Jenny whispered, and kissed Willow’s forehead. “You are such a brave, strong girl, Willow, and I am so proud of you. Okay?”

Willow’s face crumpled and she dissolved into tears again. Jenny held her close as she cried.

Chapter Text

Jenny woke up feeling sore and stiff, and it took her a moment to realize why. Blinking in the sunlight, she curled further into Rupert’s arms, tracing quiet circles on his chest as she looked around the hospital room. Buffy and Faith were curled up together on one of the uncomfortable-looking chairs, Xander was snoring in a nest of jackets and blankets on the floor, Joyce was asleep in the other chair, and Willow was lying on the bed, snuggled into Jenny’s side, mumbling something about gummy worms and sparkle dust.

Rupert made a soft noise, his hand brushing against her hair, and Jenny realized that he was awake too. She looked up at him, about to say something soft and loving, but seeing him—the bandages around his neck, the dark circles around his eyes—brought out her delayed realization that she might never have seen him in the morning light again. She felt her face crumple, and swallowed, trying to regain control; she didn’t want to wake the kids up with her crying.

Rupert reached out and kissed her, a sturdy, reassuring press of his mouth against hers. As clearly as if he had spoken, she heard him: I love you.


 

Faith woke up and noticed two things: that she was snuggled so close to Buffy that she could feel B’s soft breath on her shoulder, and that Giles and Jen were kissing in the way that meant they both kind of needed to be comforted. As carefully and quietly as she could without jostling Buffy, she got up, tiptoeing out of the room and down the hall.

She wasn’t super sure where she was going until she saw the vending machines near the end of the hallway. Digging in her pocket, she found a handful of crumpled bills from that time Jen had given her milkshake money. She didn’t think Jen would mind her using it to buy everyone snacks, even if they weren’t super healthy.

“Hey.”

Faith jumped, turning. Buffy was standing there, still wearing that weird, ridiculous combo of her mom’s jacket, pajama bottoms, a hot pink bra, and the most adorable bunny slippers in the world. “Oh,” she said, blushing. I like you, B had said last night. I liked Angel. Past tense. “Hi. Uh. I’m getting everyone snacks, you want—”

Buffy gave her this tiny, shy smile. “Okay,” she said, following Faith over to the vending machines. Then, “So, um, are, are we dating now, or—?”

Faith blinked, only barely managing to not drop the milkshake money. “What?”

“I mean, I kinda just told everyone about how much I liked you—”

“You said you weren’t ready, right?” said Faith, turning to give Buffy a small, encouraging smile. “Just ‘cause everyone knows we have the hots for each other doesn’t mean you’ve gotta jump headfirst into a big romantic thing. Look, you’re important to me, B, and I don’t wanna start a relationship till you feel—”

Buffy kissed her.

Faith dropped the milkshake money, her knees giving way as she fell against the vending machine. She raised shaking hands to cup Buffy’s face, returning the kiss with clumsy tenderness. All things considered, it wasn’t a very long kiss, but it felt like it could have gone on for years and Faith would have still been disappointed when Buffy pulled back.

Buffy’s eyes were bright and a little wet. “So you didn’t turn into a vampire,” she said with a wobbly laugh. “That’s cool.”

“Man, Angel set the bar real low,” said Faith with a weak laugh. “I’m not gonna even have to get you a birthday present, huh?”

Buffy sniffled, then grinned. “You’re not getting off that easy,” she began.

“Lookin’ forward to your help, then,” said Faith significantly.

Buffy burst into violent giggles, winding her arms around Faith’s neck and hugging her tightly. Halfway through, the giggles turned into tears, which Faith had kinda figured might happen. You don’t just shake off walking into a room and seeing your Watcher dead, even if it turns out he’s okay. “Hey,” she whispered. “Hey, Buffy, it’s cool. You wanna go back and check in on Giles?”

“I really want to be ready!” Buffy sniffled. “You’re, like, an actual normal person and I like you so much and I wanna be just magically okay enough to date you!”

“Hate to point it out,” said Faith, stroking Buffy’s hair and feeling vaguely surprised that she was actually comforting someone, “but starting something up right after your Watcher almost gets murdered is kinda the kiss of death for a new relationship.”

“I kno-ow,” Buffy sighed, raising her head to look at Buffy. Her eyelashes were all wet, her eyes all soft.

Faith gave in. Leaning in, she kissed Buffy again, softer and slower than their nervous first kiss. Buffy kissed her back, a fact that sent warm fuzzies through Faith from head to toe. The fuzzies got warmer when Buffy snuggled into her with a sweet little sigh, like Faith was someone she was safe around. No one had ever kissed Faith like that.

There was a clatter and a yelp from the hallway. Hastily, Faith and Buffy broke apart, turning to face a furiously blushing Jen.

To Faith’s complete surprise, Buffy gave Jen an extremely smug grin. “Turnabout’s fair play, Ms. Calendar,” she said. “How many times have I walked in on you and Giles playing tonsil hockey in the weirdest of places?"

“Oh my god,” said Jen, burying her face in her hands, and headed back into the hospital room.

Faith and Buffy exchanged a look, and then both of them started giggling.


 

Jenny entered the room with her face flaming red, stepping over Xander and squeezing in between Willow and Giles without a word. After she had settled herself firmly back in Giles’s arms, she looked up, then said, “From now on, we kiss strictly in the bedroom.”

Giles raised an inquisitive eyebrow.

“God,” said Jenny. Her smile wobbled. “I keep on forgetting you can’t talk back.” She sniffled. “Now’s where I make some joke about how I would have just loved this two years ago, right?”

Giles had only seen her looking at him with such exhausted guilt after Angelus, and he didn’t like seeing it now. Gently, he reached out, stroking her cheek and wishing that he could smother her with endearments.

Jenny exhaled, resting her forehead against his. “We got so lucky,” she whispered. “I don’t know how you’re alive, Rupert, but I’m so glad you are.”

Giles kissed her nose. A small flutter of a smile crossed Jenny’s face.

Willow stirred, then yawned, throwing an arm across Jenny’s stomach as she woke up. Blinking sleepily up at both of them, she mumbled, “Jenny are we gonna go home?”

“Probably as soon as everyone’s ready,” Jenny agreed. “I think Xander and Joyce are still napping.”

“Where’s Buffy and Faith?”

Abruptly, Giles realized why Jenny had been blushing, as well as the nature of her statement. Reminding himself that he didn’t want to further damage his throat, he bit his lip, making a strangled noise in his efforts not to laugh. “Stop,” said Jenny. This didn’t help Giles’s predicament. “Stop,” she said again, grinning reluctantly.

“Oh,” said Willow significantly. “Are they still—”

Buffy and Faith chose that moment to enter, laden with vending machine snacks. “We are here way too often,” said Buffy, handing Willow a packet of M&Ms. “I should not know what everyone’s favorite snack from that thing is.”

“Buffy, I like girls too,” Willow blurted out.

Buffy blinked. “Oh!” she said, and then giggled, looking a little relieved. “So you’re cool with me and Faith?”

Giles gave Jenny a wide-eyed look. She gave him a shh look back, which rather strongly indicated that Willow had told her this the night before.

“Yeah, I,” Willow rubbed at her eyes, giving Buffy a nervous smile, “I just was a little…thrown, ‘cause when you told us about you and Faith, it made me realize some stuff about, uh. Me. So. I’m kind of a whole lesbian.”

“As opposed to a half lesbian?” said Faith, but shut her mouth at Jenny’s quelling look.

Buffy frowned a little. “But you’re—”

“Dating Oz,” said Willow, her smile fading. “Yeah.”

“And you—”

“Think he’s super amazing and one of the best people I’ve met,” said Willow a little miserably. “Just maybe not in the way I should.”

“There’s no should or shouldn’t about it, baby,” said Jenny immediately, turning away from Giles to squeeze Willow’s shoulder. “And if Rupert had his voice, he would be saying, uh—” She cleared her throat, then said in a surprisingly spot-on British accent, “You’re a lovable, loving girl, Willow, and you thinking of Oz as only a friend doesn’t make you any less of a person, or make your affection for him any less valuable.”

Giles pressed a hand to his temple, exasperated and amused all in one.

“But was I right, thought?” Jenny persisted.

Picking up the pad from the nightstand, Giles wrote, Frustratingly, yes.

“Score one for Calendar,” Jenny announced, snuggling back into Giles’s arms.

Willow’s tentative smile had returned. “Okay,” she said unsteadily. “I’ll—I’ll tell him—today?”

“Tomorrow,” said Buffy decisively. “Today was totally crazy. I think we all need to go home and watch bad TV and nap somewhere that isn’t a hospital bed or a hot Slayer’s lap.” She coughed, blushing, as Faith beamed. “Uh—”

“Practice safe sex, kids,” said Jenny helpfully. Willow giggled.


 

They all piled into Joyce’s car and she drove them home. As Jenny was watching Xander and Faith head up the stairs, she felt a hand on her shoulder, and saw Joyce looking at her sympathetically. “Do you remember much of last night?” she asked.

Jenny didn’t. The entire night had been something of a blur until she’d reached Rupert in that hospital room. “Um—” she began, flushing.

“I just wanted to let you know that I’ll always be there as a shoulder to cry on,” said Joyce gently. “You and your Rupert lead dangerous lives, and if anything ever—”

The memories hit Jenny unexpectedly. She’d killed a master vampire, hauled her bleeding boyfriend out of the boardinghouse, sobbed unceasingly into Joyce’s shoulder, and— “I stabbed Travers?” she said very loudly, eyes wide.

“It was the best,” said Buffy as she got out of the car, beaming at Jenny in a way she never had before. “And then you tried to kill him and Willow had to, like, physically haul you back, and the look on his face—

Jenny buried her face in her hands.

“Oh, no, don’t be embarrassed!” said Joyce, distressed. Jenny raised her head to stare at her, and Joyce said, a hard glint in her eyes, “That man would have had my daughter killed to serve his ridiculous cause, and he’d have taken you and Rupert down with her. We were all a little too overwrought to pull it off, but every single one of us wanted to do a lot worse than stab him.”

“Yeah, Jenny, you kicked ass!” Xander added from the porch.

Jenny recognized the use of her first name with some surprise. And it hadn’t been the first time, either—Willow had started calling her Jenny too. Something had changed between all of them the night before, she realized. Something incredibly important, though she wasn’t yet sure how to articulate what it was.

“As long as you know you’ve got me,” said Joyce, squeezing Jenny’s shoulder. “And that goes for Rupert, too.”

Jenny hugged Joyce again. “Thank you,” she said softly. “So much.”

“Jen, come on,” said Faith impatiently. “You’re the one with the house keys!”

Jenny turned, hurrying up the stairs, and was gratified to see Buffy and Joyce follow. “Okay,” she said to the group. “Rupert’s voice is out of commission, which means I get to boss everybody around.” As Rupert opened his mouth, she silenced him with a quick, graceless kiss, pulling back before he could deepen it. “I know, right? I love you too, sweetheart.” Turning back to the children, she said, “Everyone is going to change into pajamas while I drive out to rent a movie to watch, and then we are going to kick back, relax, and do nothing related to world-saving for the entire damn day. Got it?”

“Yes Jenny!” sang out Willow, looking absolutely delighted.

That kissing thing will only work for a few months, you know, read Rupert’s pad.

“That’s more than enough time to take charge of this entire household,” said Jenny, giving him an open-mouthed smile. “Wanna marry me, England? Was that a yes? Oh, look, now I’ve manipulated my way into your finances, too—what?”

All the children, and Joyce, were staring at her with wide eyes. Wordlessly, Willow gestured to Rupert’s pad.

Yes.

Chapter Text

Willow wasn’t entirely sure what she expected to happen. Maybe for Giles and Jenny to start kissing like crazy, or for Jenny to panic and run, or for something to happen that was just as big and dramatic as Giles saying yes, he did want to marry Jenny. But Jenny just went a little pink, lips parted, and hurried to unlock the door with fumbling hands, and then she shooed them all upstairs so they could change into clothing that wasn’t bloody or dirty.

And by the time Willow got back downstairs, Jenny was gone, off to rent them a movie. Buffy, Faith, and Xander were squeezed onto the sofa watching some sitcom (Buffy once again on Faith’s lap and wearing what looked like one of Giles’s old t-shirts), Buffy’s mom was snoring in the easy chair, and Giles was sitting in his armchair, writing something on his pad with that Concentrating-Watcher expression on his face.

Willow sat down in the easy chair, an anxious-happy buzzing in her chest. Jenny’s accidental proposal had added a strange joy to the room, and mixed in with the lingering fear that came from almost losing Giles…well, the feeling was kinda weird, to say the least. “How long till Jenny comes back with the movie?” she asked Buffy.

“Since when are you guys calling her Jenny?” said Buffy, more curious than judgmental.

The honest answer, Willow knew, was that when someone says there’s no way I can survive losing you and tells you that every part of you is worth being proud of, calling them Ms. Calendar felt way too teacher all of a sudden. Calling her Jenny made it clear that Jenny was an adult who was a permanent part of Willow’s life, one who didn’t need formalities. But that felt too complicated to hash out, so she said instead, “She said we could call her Jenny outside class.”

“Really?” Faith grinned. “Cool.”

Giles smiled a little at his pad, his pen pausing as he listened. And that was weird, too, because Willow would have thought that Giles would have needed something more from Jenny to be happy. Giles knew Jenny better than all of them, and they had all known Jenny had been joking, so why would he be happy even if he didn’t know whether or not she really wanted to marry him? Relationships confused Willow, sometimes.

“Jen left ten minutes ago, so she should be back any second now,” said Faith, who was tracing absent circles on Buffy’s arm. Apparently their whole no-dating thing didn’t really extend to excessive cuddling. “Also she said someone should set up a snack platter.”

Giles gave the room a little thumbs-up and stood. Immediately, Buffy jumped up and off of Faith’s lap as well.

“I’ll help you guys,” said Willow immediately, eager for a non-sitcom distraction. Such a crazy amount of stuff had happened in such a short amount of time, hugest of which was that she’d realized she liked girls. Snack-platter action sounded a lot more fun than freaking out about what, exactly, this would mean for her and Oz, or for her and her parents, or for her college prospects, or for—

“Hey, Will?” said Xander, turning to look at her. “Breathe, okay? Yesterday was kinda nuts. I think we’re all dealing in different ways.”

It didn’t exactly fix everything, but it did settle Willow a little to see Xander looking at her like he’d always looked at her. Some things, at least, wouldn’t change too much.

“Okay, so I got, uh, Home Alone, Clueless, and the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice because that seems like something Rupert would like,” called Jenny from the foyer. “Any votes?”

Blushing furiously, Giles grabbed the pad, hiding it in his jacket pocket.

HOME ALONE,” Faith and Xander yelled at the same time. Buffy made a little whining noise, and Faith amended, “But I can live with Clueless—

Jenny breezed in, setting a bag of rented videos on the table, and stepped up into Giles, giving him the same soft kiss that she always did when she got home. Willow watched them, bewildered. Shouldn’t they be all tense and weird and panicky? The last time something this messy had happened to Jenny and Giles, Giles had skipped town and Jenny had only barely not fallen apart.

“Willow?” said Jenny, looking up from the TV to give Willow that I-know-what-you’re-thinking-about look. “We’ll handle the adult stuff. You work on relaxing.”

And that felt kind of nice to hear, so Willow snuggled back into the couch, watching Faith set up the TV and Xander tease Buffy about having a thing for brunettes and feeling pretty comfortably at home. Which was nice, too, after the kind of night they’d had.


 

While everyone else started up Home Alone, Buffy and Giles made a snack platter. Giles wasn’t saying anything, largely because Giles couldn’tsay anything, largely because Buffy had opened her big dumb mouth and told Travers that Giles had told her about the Cruciamentum, and the unfairness of the entire situation kept on bringing tears to Buffy’s eyes. She had to hold her breath to keep herself from crying, taking tiny little gasps of air every time she sliced cheese for the snack platter.

Giles kept on giving her these worried little sideways looks. He had stopped putting crackers down on the plate. Buffy, are you all right? read the little notepad thingy that he had to use, because he couldn’t say anything, because he’d gotten his throat cut and he’d almost died thanks to stupid, useless, terrible Buffy—

Oh, okay. Now Giles was hugging her. That was kind of nice. Or would be kind of nice, if Buffy wasn’t bawling like a little kid. You know, she and Giles should really have more hugs where she wasn’t crying. She might tell him that, when he could talk again, if he could ever talk again—

Buffy, said Giles’s voice, and it was in That Tone, the one he’d used two days after her seventeenth birthday when everything had felt like her fault. Everything that led me into that room was my choice, and my choice alone. Don’t you blame yourself for it.

Buffy raised her head, staring at him. Can you read minds? she thought. Is this a weird Watcher thing that—

Telepathic broadcast spell, said Giles in the back of her head, drowning out what she’d been thinking. Traditionally used to enhance magical capability. It only works one-way, so I can’t hear anything you’re thinking, if that helps. I haven’t used such a thing in years, but I…His voice trailed off. There was a pause, and then, Buffy, I love you very much. I couldn’t let my words of comfort be hindered by my injured throat or my slow penmanship.

“It’s not just an injury,” said Buffy, her voice all wobbly and croaky, the way it always got when she cried. “You got your throat slit, Giles.”

Giles made a little face at her, one that kinda conveyed eh, it wasn’t that bad. Which made Buffy laugh, despite herself, ‘cause she’d seen how bad it was. I did sign up for this, you know, he reminded her. It’s all in the line of duty.

“You quit,” said Buffy stubbornly, sniffling. “You decided you want to take care of all us kids and marry Ms. Calendar and keep the world safe in a non-Watcher-sanctioned way, remember?”

Giles’s face went a little pink at the marry Ms. Calendar part, but he didn’t comment. I rejected the title, Buffy, not the calling, he persisted. And those are my choices, ones I made with full awareness that there would be repercussions.

“Giles, I told Travers what you told me,” said Buffy, her voice wobbling. “It’s my fault he—” She couldn’t finish.

Never, Buffy, said Giles fiercely in the back of her head. Travers would have—could have—done worse to me, had he thought it might bring you back to the Council. I shall not have you blaming yourself for the callous decisions of a man who treated you as an expendable weapon. Are we clear?

“Giles—”

Are we clear? repeated Giles’s voice.

Buffy let out a tiny, shaky breath. “I love you too,” she whispered.

Giles’s firm expression slipped and he gave her this little wobbly smile, pulling Buffy into another hug. Breathe, he encouraged her, and Buffy did, breathing in time with the ticking clock in the kitchen. It helped, kinda, especially since Giles was all warm and not covered in blood. Especially when she knew he wasn’t going to die not knowing how much she cared.


 

What with all the nervous looks the kids were directing her when they thought she wasn’t looking, Jenny felt like she should feel a little more on edge than she was. She knew for a fact that the Jenny Calendar of a year ago—hell, of six months ago—would probably have been genuinely, majorly freaking out about the fact that Rupert Giles thought she was marriage material. But that was a Jenny Calendar who hadn’t had to go through thinking that Rupert was dead, and the experience had left Jenny with one solid, steadfast conviction: she wanted Rupert in her life for the long haul. She wasn’t necessarily sure if that meant marriage, but the concept of talking about it with him didn’t scare her as much as it might have, before…

Before Faith, and Xander, and Willow, and the new house. Before boxes of books and kissing in the kitchen and Christmas dinner with a crowded, loud family squeezed into a too-small living room. So many parts of Jenny’s life had solidified into something beautiful, and while it wasn’t a life she would have chosen for herself, it wasn’t one that frightened her.

Rupert and Buffy entered the room with an extravagant snack platter. Buffy’s eyes were a little blotchy, but she looked a little less tense, and she gave Rupert an adoring smile as she sat down next to Faith. Setting down the snack platter, Rupert first returned Buffy’s smile, then looked a little shyly in Jenny’s direction, jerking his head quietly towards the kitchen.

Jenny got the message. She stood up. “You crazy kids keep the party going without me,” she said, ruffling Xander’s hair, and followed Rupert out of the living room.

Rupert shut the kitchen door behind them.

“So we’re gonna talk about this?” said Jenny, feeling a rush of butterflies as she looked at him.

Rupert held up a finger, digging his pad out from his jacket. He began to write, and Jenny sat down at the kitchen table, waiting.

It was a good three minutes of just that: Rupert writing quickly and haphazardly on his notepad, Jenny waiting and watching him with a confusing mixture of elation and dread. She honestly had no idea what Rupert was going to show her, which felt incredibly unusual after months of them being on the same wavelength. But she trusted him—she had always trusted him—so she waited, trying to think positively. His face looked relaxed, after all.

Finally, Rupert finished, blushing softly as he looked up at her. Crossing the room, he set the pad down on the kitchen table, sliding it over to Jenny.

She picked it up and her breath caught in her throat. The message was heavily edited, with lots of scribbled-out fragments, but what was there was exactly what she should have expected.


 

Jenny,

Writing this is incredibly difficult for me—you know I’m rather inept when it comes to emotional honesty—but you’re well worth the effort, and so I shall bravely soldier on.

When I was tied to that chair in the boardinghouse, absolutely certain that I would die, all I could think was that I was so, so happy to have at least spent the last years of my life with you. That feels important. Monumental, even. I don’t know what it says about me that I was prepared to die—nothing good, I know—but it does say something that, faced with my impending death, all I could think was that the time we spent together made up for all those lonely years tucked away in the British Museum.

I spent much of my adult life convinced that, if assigned to a Slayer, I would live out the painful, solitary life of a Watcher, endangering anyone I loved simply by loving them. Not once had I considered that I would meet someone who valued my life beyond the context of my duty. Never had I considered that I would fall in love with—and be loved by—someone willing not only to patch me up after battle, but to fight those battles with me.

Jenny, I want you to know that, no matter how difficult the years ahead will be, no matter what form our relationship takes—romantic, platonic, old friends who meet for coffee—I want to have you in my life. I understand that marriage isn’t something you’ve ever really been drawn to, and whether or not this is changed by what I have written, whatever you want is more than enough for me.  

Which is to say: marry me, or don’t. It won’t change a thing about how much I love you.

 

Rupert


For a terrifying moment, Giles feared that he’d been too honest, too open, too direct in his intentions—that Jenny would be frightened by the concept of something as concrete and unchanging as marriage. But then Jenny looked up from the letter, and her eyes were full of tears, and she was looking at him like he hung the moon.

“I had no idea you felt like that about me,” she said in a small voice. Giles had never seen her like this before; he felt like he had been trusted with something infinitely precious. “I—I was never someone who, who wanted to get married, Rupert, but that letter…” She exhaled, almost a laugh. “I love you so much,” she whispered. “So painfully much. And if there was anything I realized when I thought you were dead, it was…it was the exact same thing as you. That all the time spent with you made those lonely years so worth it.”

Giles opened his mouth, realized with some frustration that speaking still wasn’t an option (and Jenny had had far too many experiences with things in her mind for him to even risk a one-way telepathy spell), and instead crossed the room to tug the pad away from her. Turning to a blank page, he wrote, So what now?

“Well,” said Jenny, and swallowed. Giles took her hand across the table, kissing her crooked fingers, and this seemed to encourage her. “I think what we’ve recognized is so, so important, and I don’t want to undervalue it, but I don’t think I want a marriage that stemmed from you almost dying and me cracking a joke. When I propose to you—”

Despite himself, Giles felt his breath catch in his chest.

Jenny caught this, and her smile widened. “Yeah,” she said. “When I propose to you, I think it should be…later. When your voice is better, so you can really tell me yes.

Heart pounding, Giles leaned across the table and kissed her.

Chapter Text

Buffy ended up spending the night in what was probably going to end up being Willow’s bedroom, along with Faith, Xander, two air mattresses, and a whole mess of blankets that Ms. Calendar had brought of for all of them. “Let me know if you need anything,” she said for the seventeenth time, “just—uh—page me, or something, and I can bring it up—”

“You really don’t want us to go downstairs, huh?” said Faith innocently. “Anything you and Giles planning on getting up to?”

Ms. Calendar gave Faith a Look, then said, “Does anyone in this room really want to know the answer to that question? No? Okay. Beep me if you want snacks,” and she headed out of the room.

“So wait, are they getting married?” asked Xander, who was already making himself a nest in one of the piles of blankets.

“Think so,” said Faith seriously. “They’re all domestic already—it was bound to happen.”

“I don’t know,” said Willow thoughtfully. “I think maybe they’re good as they are.”

“Well, they’ll tell us if they do, right?” said Buffy, who mostly wanted to get some actual sleep. There had been a lot of good parts about today, but the image of Giles, throat cut, was still fresh and hurting in her brain. It felt weird to be gossiping about Giles and Ms. Calendar when today could have been them all talking in sad voices about poor Ms. Calendar, she and Giles didn’t even get five years together, they’ll never get to get married and have babies and live happily ever after—

Faith bumped her shoulder, a tilt to her head that suggested she knew where Buffy’s head was at. Which made sense, Buffy realized, because Faith’s Watcher really had been killed. “Ease up, Buffy,” she said gently. “We’ve got a lot to be happy about, right?”

Buffy tried to smile, and wasn’t sure if she managed it. “I think I’m just tired,” she said, emphasizing her point by flopping back onto the air mattress.

Faith flopped down next to her. Tentatively, her shoulder just barely touching Buffy’s, she said, “Can I—” and moved a little closer.

In answer, Buffy rolled onto her side and draped an arm over Faith’s stomach. Faith smelled nice, like citrus soap and clean linen, and Buffy didn’t have to hold back her Slayer strength as she snuggled closer to her. “Okay,” she whispered, and thought, maybe I’ll sleep a little better tonight. “Will you still be here when I wake up?”

“This is my house, B,” said Faith, which made Willow and Xander stifle giggles.

Buffy grinned a little into Faith’s shoulder. “So that’s a yes?”

Faith didn’t answer for a few seconds, waiting for Willow and Xander to stop giggling. Then, very quietly, and only for Buffy to hear, she said, “That’s definitely a yes.”  


 

Giles fell asleep content and warm, curled in Jenny’s arms with her hand stroking his hair. He had expected this warmth to carry into his dreams, but instead, he was brought back to that dark, dank boardinghouse, Kralik watching him from across the room. And it was so much worse than the dull pain of the knife, because he knew it was coming, but he was trapped, trapped, thinking only of Jenny and the children and all he would lose—

“Rupert, Rupert!” Jenny was saying, and Giles jerked awake, heart pounding and tears in his eyes. “Babe—honey—” She was pressing kisses to the top of his head, her arms tight around him—protective, not constrictive—as she murmured soothing words into his hair. “You’re here,” she was saying. “You’re with me. Stabber of Council goons, remember? That’s the lady you’re gonna be spending the rest of your life with, and she is not going to let anything happen to you. Not ever again.”

Giles hadn’t been comforted in…

Giles hadn’t been comforted. Ever. And the realization was flooring to him. Perhaps in childhood, but those memories were hazy and unfocused, nothing substantial enough to believe. In his teens he was too old, and Ethan, fierce and passionate as he was, had never been one to comfort, and then he had been alone and then he’d met Jenny and—

He curled his face into her neck. She smelled like home.

I love you, he thought, too far gone to remember his worries about Jenny and one-way telepathic broadcast spells. The words were running together in his mind, and he couldn’t whisper them back to her, but she had to know. I love you I love you I love you I love you—

Jenny gasped, and for a moment, Giles was brought back to himself. Just as the self-doubt was settling in, he heard Jenny’s voice in return, in the back of his head, shaky and unsteady—One-way telepathy spell, huh?

Giles raised amused eyes to look at her; of course she’d know the rudimentary basics of establishing magical connections. But then he was looking at her, and her eyes were so full of love, and all he wanted to do was stay in this moment forever. He had never been looked at so tenderly before. Not by someone like her.

I love you, he thought again.

In answer, Jenny kissed him, then let him curl back into her. “Go to sleep, okay?” she whispered. “I’ll be here if it gets bad again.”

But Giles couldn’t quite fall asleep again, not when he felt…he wasn’t sure how to define it. Safe, perhaps. Loved. It struck him as odd, that he had never realized his calling’s effect on him; the absence of fear and loneliness left him feeling rather off balance. Up until now, he hadn’t ever really believed that Jenny would be with him for longer than a few years at most, and the realization that she was choosing to be with him permanently was flooring.

He waited until she was asleep, her breathing soft and familiar to him, and then he kissed her shoulder and carefully removed himself from her arms—not for long, just to walk about and clear his mind a bit. Slipping out of their bedroom, Giles was halfway to the landing when he saw someone else on the stairs.

Faith looked up, surprised. “Needed to use the bathroom,” she said. “What’re you doing up?”

Giles opened his mouth to answer, remembered his predicament yet again, and winced, pointing to the bandage on his throat.

“Oh,” said Faith, and gave him a sheepish grin. “Sorry.”

Giles shrugged, smiling a bit. And then he took another look at Faith, a new look at Faith, and remembered the biting, guarded girl who had entered the library all those months ago.

Faith seemed to sense that there was something going on in Giles’s head, because she stopped, looking right back at him. Then, returning his smile with a lopsided grin of her own, she said, “You look happy.”

Giles inclined his head a little. So do you, he thought, but it wasn’t something he needed Faith to hear right then. She most likely already knew it, anyway.


 

Everybody had breakfast in the actual dining room the next morning, which was a pretty cool step up from being crowded around the kitchen table. Giles made everybody French toast, and he and Jenny were really cute, and Faith and Buffy were really cute, and all the couple-y antics were starting to make Willow feel really antsy about coming out to Oz.

“You’ll be okay, Will,” Xander reassured her.

“Would you say that if you were going to come out to Cordelia?” Willow shot back, twisting her napkin.

Xander considered the question. Then he said, “Well, it still means I want to make out with her, so I don’t think she’d mind as much as Oz might.”

“Xander, that isn’t helpful,” said Jenny, who was stealing food off of Giles’s plate. “Rupert, stop blocking my fork, I swear to god—”

“Hey, I came out,” said Faith, gently bumping Willow’s shoulder. “To Jen. And it was scary as fuck, but I promise you’ll feel better once it’s over. Oz is a cool dude, remember? He’ll get it.”

“And if he doesn’t?” Willow persisted.

Then he is the least cool of dudes, read Giles’s pad. Least was underlined three times, which made Buffy and Jenny both start laughing.

Weirdly, though, that made Willow feel better about the whole thing. Because Oz was cool, and kind, and honestly one of the best people she knew. She liked him a whole bunch, and she liked knowing he liked her too, but apparently that wasn’t really what romance was about. Which made sense, now that she was looking at how snuggly Buffy and Faith were getting all the time. She could understand wanting to get snuggly with a soft, sweet blonde.

“Thanks, Giles,” she said shyly. Giles gave her a little grin, then went back to trying to wrest his French toast away from Jenny. Willow wasn’t super hungry, so she added, “Jenny, you can have my French toast if you want—”

“It’s the thrill of the chase,” said Jenny very seriously.

“You are setting such a bad example for us kids,” Xander informed her, then stole two slices of French toast from Jenny’s plate.

As breakfast proceeded to transition into a giggly battleground, Willow left the table with one last nervous glance over her shoulder. Giles gave her a little thumbs-up, Buffy beamed at her, and Jenny (still trying to get her food back from Xander) just gave Willow one of those I-Know-You’re-Scared-But-I’m-Really-Proud-Of-You looks.

Willow felt buoyed by this, a little, and headed out of the dining room, stepping into her shoes at the door. Then she opened it, very ready to head off in the direction of—

Oz.

Was waiting on the front porch.

“Hey,” he said. He looked a little worried. “You weren’t at school yesterday. I was just about to ring the doorbell.”

“What?” Willow squeaked, heart in her throat. “Oh! Uh, Giles got his throat cut, but it’s all fine! I mean, about as fine as throat-cutting can be, but Jenny’s taking care of it—um, she said I could call her Jenny—also I think she and Giles are getting married? It’s super hard to tell right now, but she did kinda propose to him—”

Oz held up a hand, eyes all soft in that sweetly Oz way, and then took Willow’s hands in his. And maybe this was why it had taken Willow so long to figure out she was gay: because Oz was so nice about things. Not nice in that boy-way, where you know they’re just being nice because they want to kiss you; Xander had been like that with Buffy a few years ago. Oz was always nice to Willow because she was Willow, even back when she wasn’t sure she wanted to date anybody, and it had left her with a warm, fluttery feeling that was the closest to love she’d thought she could feel. “You okay?” he asked gently.

Willow made a face. “You’re gonna hate me,” she said nervously.

“Not gonna happen,” said Oz, and squeezed her hands. “What’s up?”

“Um, I’m.” Willow swallowed, tears in her eyes. She almost didn’t want to say it. She almost wanted to stay like this, with Oz, her sweet, perfect high school boyfriend, her life the way she’d always daydreamed about it being.

Almost was the key word here.

“I’m gay,” said Willow timidly. “As in lesbian. As in—”

And without saying anything, Oz pulled Willow into a hug. Just like that. Like he got how hard it was for Willow to say this stuff, because of course he did, because he was Oz. Because he got her. Willow sniffled, then started to cry again, because she’d been half-expecting him to just stare at her, or worse, glare at her, but he was hugging her like nothing had changed.

“You’re still the same old Willow, though, right?” Oz said into her shoulder. “No horns? No fangs?”

Willow giggled. “None of those things,” she said, hugging him back.

“So I think we’re good,” said Oz, and pulled back. He looked a little sad, but that seemed to be about it.

“You’re not freaking out?” Willow asked, sniffling again.

“Maybe a little,” said Oz thoughtfully. “But not because you’re gay. I really love you, Willow, and if we’re just friends, we’re just friends. I might just have to start getting myself used to that.”

“I really love you too,” said Willow, her face trembling. “I really wish I could love you like a—”

“Stop,” said Oz, gentle and firm all in one. “You love me just right, ‘cause it’s everything you feel happy giving me. And a happy Willow is way more important to me than Willow-kissing.”

Willow gave him a smile, and it felt like the best thing in the world. “Do you wanna come in?” she said. “We’re still having breakfast, and I think there’s some French toast left—”

Oz looked touched. “Sure,” he said, and followed Willow inside.

Chapter Text

For the sake of her own peace of mind, Jenny had begun casting basic protective wards around the new house. Vampires couldn’t get in, she knew, but the incident with Rupert had proven that vampires might not be the only thing they had to worry about. As such, when she and Willow were out buying groceries (usually Rupert’s job, but he was resting at home), she made sure to grab a few containers of ground-up herbs and spices.

Noticing Jenny stocking up on rosemary, Willow gave her a skeptical look. “Isn’t there that thing about herbs losing their magical potency if they’re intended as food products?” she asked doubtfully, picking up one of the glass jars and squinting at it. “If you’re going for a more heavy-duty magic spell, I’d say you might want to just swing by the magic shop.”

“Wow, look at you!” Jenny knocked Willow’s shoulder, grinning proudly. “You’re picking up on this stuff scary fast. Might outpace me soon.”

“Never,” said Willow loyally, leaning into Jenny as they continued to push the cart.

“Your point is a very valid one,” Jenny agreed. “But in this case, I actually want a weaker ritual, because I’m trying to make sure it’ll entwine nicely with the stronger ones I’ve been casting. If you cast two different protective wards, they start trying to protect themselves from each other, and it becomes a whole thing.

“Magic is weird,” said Willow.

“Magic is weird,” Jenny agreed, taking the jar from Willow and setting it back down into the shopping cart.

By the produce section, a young woman had stilled, hand frozen midway to grabbing an apple. As they passed her, she turned, looking slowly at them as though searching for something. Jenny recognized her, very vaguely—Anya Jenkins, she thought, that lady who’s teaching substitute history—and Anya’s interest in their conversation struck her as a little unusual. “Hey,” she said, giving Anya her best attempt at an easy smile. She didn’t feel like having her family fucked with so soon after the mess that had been the Council. “Just out shopping with my kid.”

Willow beamed. “That’s me!” she chirped.

“Pardon my eavesdropping,” said Anya, giving them both an almost-too-sweet smile in return, “but were you two talking about the casting of magical rituals?”

Willow’s smile faded and she winced. “Was I too loud?” she whispered to Jenny. “I can be less loud!”

“It’s okay, Will,” said Jenny carefully. “What do you want to know, Anya?”

In answer, Anya let out a playful, half-ashamed laugh. “God, I’m such a ditz,” she said, grinning ruefully and stepping forward to lean against their shopping cart. “I misplaced a family heirloom of mine—this beautifully shiny necklace—and I could really use some help finding it. A locator spell would definitely do the trick, but that requires at least one other witch, and I don’t have a lot of friends in Sunnydale—”

“We can help!” said Willow immediately, then blushed, looking askance at Jenny. “Um, I mean—can we help?”

Jenny wavered. On the one hand, she knew she was more on her guard than usual, and that could be coloring the very strange vibes she was getting from Anya. On the other hand, her instincts hadn’t led her astray thus far, and she felt like trusting them might be a good call in this instance. “We’ll get back to you, Anya, okay?” she said. “Right now, we have to concentrate on our own magic.”

“Oh, of course!” sang out Anya, but her smile seemed just a touch more plastic. “No hurry, obviously!”

As Jenny steered the shopping cart away, Willow hurried after her. “I’m sorry,” she began, “I, I didn’t mean to speak for the both of us, or for any of us, ‘cause I know what you said about doing magic with strangers and I—”

“It’s okay,” said Jenny, giving her a small, reassuring smile. “You wanted to help. That’s admirable. Right now, though, I think we both need to exercise some caution, okay? There are a lot of weird people showing up in Sunnydale as of late.”


 

Wesley Wyndam-Pryce arrived in Sunnydale on January the 19th, the day that his new Vampire Slayer’s Cruciamentum would have taken place, if not for the inefficient bungling of an inexperienced, foolhardy Watcher. Age did not necessarily equal wisdom, Wesley thought smugly, particularly in the case of one Rupert Giles, whose file Wesley had read extensively before arriving in Sunnydale. The Council had also mentioned a Jenny Calendar, Rupert Giles’s significant other, who was apparently both deluded enough to believe herself qualified to care for his other Vampire Slayer and unstable enough to assault poor Travers. The fellow was, thankfully, making a speedy recovery, but he had emphasized to Wesley that Calendar was not to be trifled with.

Wesley had absolutely no interest in trifling with Calendar. In fact, Wesley had absolutely no interest in Calendar at all. Mr. Giles, though he had been unceremoniously fired (or had he resigned? No one in the Council seemed to know), was bound to at least understand that Wesley was the Watcher these girls needed, and he would do a sufficient job in reining Calendar in. Even if this was not the case, Wesley was confident that his expertise would win the Slayers over; he had, after all, faced two vampires. Under controlled circumstances, of course.

“Sunnydale High, good man, and make it speedy,” he informed the taxi driver, already looking forward to the look on Mr. Giles’s face when he entered the high school library. He was looking forward to a lot of things about this job. He was one of the youngest Watchers in Council history, one of the most studious, most dedicated they had ever seen—this was sure to make his father proud. He just knew it.

The taxi took a surprisingly short amount of time to get from the airport to the high school; really, this town was ridiculously small. Getting out of the car, Wesley blinked in the annoyingly bright California sunlight, weaved through the clusters of chattering American teenagers, and entered the high school that, according to Travers, housed a Hellmouth, two Vampire Slayers, and an extremely volatile computer science teacher.

As he rounded the corner to the library, he noticed something of a commotion: a short, bald, red-faced man was all but shouting at a sign. “I hope he knows,” he blustered, “that I won’t be paying him, this many sick days in a row—”

“I’m sorry,” said Wesley, finally registering the firmly closed library doors, “but is Mr. Giles not in today?”

“No, he is not,” said the man, turning his ire in Wesley’s direction. “And neither is that floozy of a computer science teacher. The levels of unprofessionalism, of indecency—”

Deciding that further conversation with this man would get him nowhere, Wesley stepped up to the sign placed in front of the library, frowning at the neatly placed letters. Librarian Out For Health Reasons, it stated. Library Closed Until Further Notice.

“I’m his substitute,” said Wesley helpfully. This might be rather advantageous. The Slayers would undoubtedly show up in search of their old Watcher, and when they entered the library, there Wesley would be, easing the transition from old to new. A clean break, in every sense of the word.


 

“You are the best Watcher in the history of Watchers, ever!” Buffy shrieked, throwing herself across the sofa and into Rupert’s arms. Rupert made a startled little oof sound, but hugged Buffy back, grinning fiercely. “Thank you so so much, Giles, I love them so much—”

“Seems a pretty big fuss over a pair of skates,” Faith commented, frowning at the patent leather ice skates as though trying to figure out what made them so incredible.

“Buffy always wanted to be a figure skater,” Joyce explained fondly. She looked extremely pleased. “It’s very nice of Rupert to remind her that she can be anything she wants to be.”

Faith frowned some more, then grinned, getting it. “Like, not just a Vampire Slayer?”

“Exactly,” said Jenny, smiling. “Buffy, be gentle with my honey, okay? He’s still getting over that whole almost-got-murdered thing.”

Buffy let go of Giles, dusting him off and straightening his glasses the same way one would a much-loved teddy bear. “Thanks, Giles,” she said, still beaming. “I really love them. And you, obviously.”

Giles beamed, blushing, and made a few vague, British gestures that very clearly conveyed I love you too.

“Open mine open mine open mine!” chanted Willow, bouncing impatiently on the sofa. Jenny placed a steadying hand on her shoulder. “Sorry,” said Willow unrepentantly. “But open mine, Buffy!”

Running a hand over the skates one last time, Buffy smiled, then turned to fish Willow’s present out of the sizable pile. Pulling it out of its bag, she gasped, delighted. “Oh, Willow!” she said, holding up the shimmery purple jacket.

“So I’m gonna be flirting with a disco ball,” said Faith. “Guess I can live with that.”

“No one likes a critic,” said Buffy, still grinning as she tried on the jacket. Standing up, she twirled, modeling it for the group. “How do I look?”

“Am I allowed to answer that with your girlfriend here?” Xander asked. “And my girlfriend here?”

“No,” said Cordelia, and kissed him. To Buffy, she added, “That is definitely your color.”

“Are you lying to me because it’s my birthday?” said Buffy.

“Pretty much,” said Cordelia, shrugging.

“Sounds about right,” said Buffy, and turned to Jenny. “Ms. Calendar?”

“I like it,” said Jenny. “I think it’d go great with that—what was that skirt you wore last week on patrol?”

“Oh, it would,” said Buffy with delight, preening. “I can wear it to the ice show!” Glancing shyly over at Giles, she added, “Um, if you’re still—I mean, if you still want—you could always still come with me?”

Giles responded by scooping Buffy up into a big bear hug, one that made Jenny make an involuntarily anxious noise. Joyce gave her a reassuring pat on the shoulder and said, “Hugging won’t hurt him, Jenny,” which, while true, didn’t stop Jenny from worrying. Everything felt different, now, knowing how much they honestly meant to each other.

“Quit freaking,” said Faith, resting her head on Jenny’s shoulder. “We all turned out okay.”

That made Jenny smile. “Debatable,” she said. Faith made a face at her.

“Ooh, hey, cake!” said Buffy, pulling away from Giles to give her mom a hopeful smile. “Mom made this whole ice cream cake thing, y’know, ‘cause ice skates and ice shows and, um, I don’t know, my birthday’s in winter?”

“That doesn’t mean all that much in California, though, does it?” Cordelia pointed out.

“Whatever,” said Buffy.

“I’ll get that cake,” Joyce agreed, squeezing Jenny’s shoulder as she got up.


 

So then they all had cake, which was amazing, and Buffy got to talk everyone’s ear off about how awesome the ice show was going to be. And she meant it, this time, because last year she’d gone with her dad and it just hadn’t felt the same. She couldn’t talk to her dad about how cool it had been when Willow had tripped up a vampire on patrol, or how funny Xander’s impression of Spike was, or how hard it sometimes felt to have big, scary feelings for Angel. She could talk to Giles about all that stuff, though, which felt kinda important. It made her feel so, so glad that he was okay.

The party ended late, which meant that Ms. Calendar and Giles had to make sure everyone was wearing a cross before they all walked the short distance to their parked car. While everyone was making sure that everyone else was ready to go, Buffy snuck out onto the porch; she’d noticed the one person who had already headed out.

“Hey,” said Faith, looking up at her with a small, crooked smile. “Birthday girl. So I’m, like, totally jailbait now, huh?”

Buffy blushed, smiling back. “I really don’t know how to answer that,” she admitted, stepping up to stand next to Faith.

It was different, her and Faith. Being with Angel had felt magnetic, and almost scary in its intensity. Being with Faith had felt a lot like that too, at first, but something had changed when Faith had said you said you weren’t ready, right? and looked at her with a gentle expression that Buffy hadn’t seen on her face before. Faith was up-front about how she felt—no long, charged silences, no subterfuge—and she was willing to wait until Buffy was really ready.

“Did I ever wish you happy birthday?” Faith asked softly.

“Does it mean you’re gonna kiss me again?” said Buffy, too daring for her own good.

Faith tilted her head, smile widening. “Just to be clear,” she said. “You’re gonna tell me when you’re ready for a real thing.”

“I am,” Buffy agreed.

“But you’re the birthday girl,” said Faith, taking a step closer, “and birthday girls get strings-free kisses. If they want ‘em.”

“This is a total step up from last year,” Buffy breathed, and somewhere between one second and the next, she and Faith were kissing, all soft and sweet in the moonlight, and it wasn’t scary, wasn’t powerful, wasn’t anything but soft and happy and warm, Faith’s lipstick smudging her mouth, Faith’s nose bumping against hers—

“Um, Buffy?” called Xander from inside the house. “You, uh, know we can all see you from the living room, right?”

In answer, Buffy pulled away, tugged Faith back into her arms, and gave Faith a smacking kiss on the cheek, in full view of her entire family. Which felt totally nice.

Chapter Text

Jenny returned to work a few days before Rupert was due to, mostly because she had missed more than enough class already. She made a polite apology to Snyder (who, based on his thinly veiled threats, had completely forgotten that he’d technically already fired her), assigned some homework to the classes she’d missed, and swung by the library after school to pick up a few of the books Rupert had requested for pleasure reading, Willow and Faith in tow. Willow had the list of books that Rupert had written up, and Faith said she’d left her headphones in the library.

They were extremely surprised to find the library already open for business.

“Is that supposed to happen?” said Faith, squinting at the propped-open door. “That’s not supposed to happen, right? Don’t they need an actual librarian to run the library?”

“That would be me,” came a voice, and the door was opened all the way. A young man, about college-age, wearing an impeccably pressed suit and a pair of wire-rimmed glasses, was looking at them with an expression that reminded Jenny strikingly of Rupert at his stuffiest.

“Watcher!” said Faith loudly, pointing at the guy with a huge grin on her face.

Willow started giggling, and when Jenny noticed the affronted expression on the man’s face, she couldn’t help but join in. “I’m sorry,” she gasped, pressing her fingers to her mouth, “it’s just—your face!” and then she too succumbed to laughter.

“Yes,” said the Watcher, looking somewhat bothered, “well—

“I’m getting good at spotting them, right, Jen?” said Faith, sounding extremely proud of herself.

“I’ll have to get you some reward ice cream on the ride home,” Jenny managed, squeezing Faith’s shoulder. To the Watcher, she added, “Sorry, did we, uh, ruin your moment? We’re really just here to pick up some books.”

“Now seems like a good time to formally introduce myself,” said the Watcher, now visibly flustered. “I-I had intended to wait until Miss Summers and Miss Lehane arrived at the library in search of Mr. Giles, but—”

“Oh, no, Giles is at home,” said Faith, looking bemused. “With us. He’s taking the day off today to take Buffy to the ice show, and then tomorrow he’s getting some TLC from his honey—” Willow elbowed her, and Faith hastily revised her statement, “—uh, some, some completely professional time with Ms. C, and then it’s back to work for him.”

“Yeah, we know where he’s at,” Willow agreed. “We’re all taking a break from vampire slaying till he’s feeling better.”

The opportunity was just too good to pass up. “You can’t really slay vamps without a smart, capable Watcher, right?” said Jenny innocently.

Well,” began the new Watcher, puffing up.

“Let us know if you find one,” said Jenny, patting the new Watcher’s shoulder.

Faith hid her face in Willow’s shoulder, shaking with suppressed laughter. The new Watcher stared at Jenny as though not quite sure how he had lost control of this situation. “Wesley,” he said weakly. “Wesley Wyndam-Pryce. I’m the, the Council’s new—this is my first—”

“We’ll be back on Friday and you can attempt to commandeer our meetings then,” said Jenny cheerfully. “Till then, I really appreciate you filling in for my boyfriend.” Her hand tightened on Wesley’s shoulder, and she couldn’t help enjoying the way his eyes fluttered fearfully down to it. “But you would do well to remember,” she said, her smile thin, “that Rupert Giles is irreplaceable. And any attempts to replace him won’t end well for you.”

Faith let out a low, impressed whistle. Willow looked extremely pleased.

“The last guy who tried something with him got stabbed,” said Jenny, still smiling. “Let’s hope you’re smart enough to avoid that.”

Wesley had stopped looking afraid and started looking affronted. “Ms. Calendar,” he said. “You are Ms. Calendar, yes? You would do well to remember that I am appointed by the Watchers’ Council to—”

“You didn’t get our memo?” said Faith. “Man, you guys are shit with memos.”

“We’re leaving the Council,” Willow piped up. “You can hang around if you want, but you’ll be contributing to world-saving, not leading it. That’s Buffy’s job.” She considered. “And sometimes Giles and Jenny’s, but mostly Buffy’s.”

Wesley pursed his lips, attempting to shake Jenny’s hand off. It didn’t work. “I will see you on Friday,” he said stiffly. “And I will expect—”

Jenny dropped her hand, turning away and beckoning for the girls to follow. She didn’t think Wesley’s expectations were all that important when it came to the fate of the world.


 

Wesley was utterly flabbergasted. Not one part of his first interaction with Calendar had gone as planned. She was volatile, certainly, but he hadn’t at all expected that she would have the genuine and unwavering support of one of his Vampire Slayers. From Travers’ description of the situation, Wesley had gathered that Calendar’s judgment was flawed, but that, with some provocation, the Slayers might be steered in the correct direction. However, Miss Lehane had seemed obstinate, coarse, and utterly ill-mannered—absolutely impossible to reach with logic and reason. He hoped Miss Summers wouldn’t be similarly defective.

Still struggling to understand where, exactly, he had gone wrong, Wesley headed in the direction of the staff room, and then stopped in his tracks. The most beautiful woman he had ever seen was rounding the corner, her soft, flaxen hair falling in gentle waves to brush against her shoulders. Her eyes were a sweet sea-green, her mouth a perfect pink—

“You are blocking the hallway,” snapped a thoroughly ill-mannered young girl, shoving past Wesley and catching the lady’s attention. She raised her eyes to his, then gave him a small, amused smile, and Wesley found himself utterly breathless.

“New here, huh?” the lady asked.

Wesley had found Calendar’s American accent distasteful, but the bluntness of the lady’s tone was…stirring. “Ah, yes, I, I’m certainly—yes,” he stammered, blushing. “I’m filling in for, for an absent teacher.”

“You and me both.” The lady shifted the books she was carrying, and Wesley caught the title of one: The Rise and Fall of Ancient Rome.

“You teach history?” he asked shyly.

“I’m subbing,” said the lady with a little smile, as though privy to a joke that no one else knew. “You could say I have a…rich background in history.” She stepped forward, made a motion as if to stick out her hand, and nearly dropped the books. Clutching them to her chest, she laughed at her own clumsiness. “Can’t shake your hand,” she quipped, “but it’s still nice to meet another substitute on staff.”

Something about her seemed different, Wesley thought, well beyond the women he had met in England. “Wesley Wyndam-Pryce,” he said softly. “It truly is a pleasure.”

The woman’s smile was practically a self-satisfied smirk. “I’m Anya,” she said. “Anya Jenkins.”


 

Rupert and Buffy were already home by the time Jenny and the kids arrived back from school, Buffy chattering happily away about some ice dancer or another while Rupert listened with a small, relaxed smile. Upon seeing her, his smile widened, at which point Buffy noticed, grinned, and turned. “Guys!” she chirped. “I have to tell you about the ice show! Giles bought me one of those programs with the glossy pictures and we got hot chocolate after and he let me have half of his even though I drank all of mine—”

Jenny crossed the room, dropping down on the sofa next to Rupert. “So I think I scared the hell out of the new Watcher,” she informed him, cuddling into his side.

“It was awesome,” Willow agreed.

“There’s a new Watcher?” said Xander with interest.

“Wesley Snooty-Last-Name,” said Faith, making a face. “Thinks he’s gonna train us up.”

“He’s got another think coming,” scoffed Buffy. “I am a one-Watcher girl, and that one Watcher just let me have an obscene amount of hot chocolate.”

Rupert looked extremely pleased by this turn of events. Tilting his pad towards Jenny, he wrote, Can you just keep running them out of town?

“Sure,” said Jenny, and kissed his temple. “So is there anything supernatural on the agenda?”

“Well, Giles says there’s a cave downtown making a lot more noise than it should be,” Buffy answered, crossing the room to sit on the arm of the sofa. “Maybe Faith and I should swing by tomorrow, check it out?”

“Can we try out that clouding spell?” Willow added hopefully in Jenny’s direction. “You said you thought I was good enough at it to use it on vampires—”

“Yes, I did say that,” Jenny agreed, “but we need to practice it a few times tonight before bed, okay? Magic can be a little dicey in the field of battle.”

“Ooh, dramatic,” said Faith, “the field of battle,” and threw herself down on the sofa next to Jenny. “Giles, can you help me with my thing for history? Ms. Jenkins wants us to have a paper done by Monday—”

The name reminded Jenny of something else. “That’s another thing we should practice,” she added to Willow, who beamed. “Lost object spells. Can you check in the library and see if there’s anything we can use to help out Ms. Jenkins?”

“You guys have a library?” said Buffy disbelievingly.

“Sometimes I go in there and read comics,” said Xander happily. “It’s pretty cool.”

Why does Ms. Jenkins need a lost-object spell? Rupert wrote on his pad, looking bemusedly up at Jenny.

“She says she’s looking for some necklace,” Jenny answered, waving her hand.

And she asked you because?

“Uh,” said Jenny. “Willow and I were kinda having a discussion about magical rituals in the grocery store. I guess she must have overheard. I’m still a little on the fence about doing magic with someone I barely know, but at the very least, learning how to find lost objects might be good practice for Willow tonight.”

Rupert relaxed. So nothing’s writ in stone, then.

“Not yet,” Jenny agreed. “Besides which, we have bigger fish to fry than some substitute history teacher. That nest of vamps will definitely need our attention tomorrow.”

“Am I coming?” said Xander uncertainly.

Jenny looked up, surprised. “Why wouldn’t you be?”

“Well, nest of vamps,” said Xander. “Last time something vamp-related went down, you told me and Willow to stay home, remember?”

“Last time something vamp-related went down, Rupert almost got killed,” Jenny reminded Xander, trying to keep her voice light. “I wasn’t exactly operating at full capacity.”

Xander nodded. “Point taken,” he said. “But still—”

Rupert had written something on his pad while Jenny wasn’t looking, and held it up now. Your help is always valued, Xander.

Xander blinked, then grinned a little awkwardly. “Yeah?”

Rupert nodded, giving Xander a small, reassuring smile in return.

“Okay,” said Xander. “Okay. Just, usually I’m not that great with vampires—”

“The trick is to treat vamps like Jen treats Watchers,” said Faith helpfully. “Grab ‘em and stab ‘em. Right, Jen?” Buffy fell off the arm of the sofa, laughing.

“Grab ‘em and stab ‘em,” Xander repeated solemnly to himself.

“Glad to see I’ve imparted some wisdom,” said Jenny, doing her best not to start laughing herself. It felt really, really good to be back in business—especially since Wesley Snooty-Last-Name didn’t seem like the kind of guy who’d be causing any problems for them.


 

Generally, Anyanka didn’t involve herself with mortals outside of the vengeance gig, and flustered, stuffed-shirt academics weren’t usually her type anyway. But Wesley had been talking pretty loudly about his status as the Slayer’s new Watcher, and Anyanka knew for a fact that the Slayer wasn’t interested in any Watcher but Giles. Paying attention paid off, she thought, and paying attention to eager-to-please Wesley might work out pretty well for her in the long run.

The hardest part, she thought, would be keeping her smile placid and kind. Spending time with that idiot was somewhat akin to the sound of nails on a chalkboard. If she’d had her way, she’d be seducing whip-smart Jenny Calendar or bitingly sarcastic Rupert Giles. Or both. Now that would be interesting. Unfortunately, both Calendar and Giles were definitely smart enough to pick up on her efforts to regain her necklace—though Anyanka’s attempts to reach it through Calendar’s protégé did seem tentatively promising. Perhaps wooing Wesley wouldn’t be necessary after all.

Still, it was important to keep her options open. Anyanka decided she would stop by the mall to stock up on lipstick and business-formal clothing; those Brits really did seem to like their ladies all dolled up.