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Redemption [1/3]

Title: Redemption
Fandom: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Rating/Pairing: PG, Giles/Jenny, auxiliary Buffy/Angel
Summary: A rewrite of the latter half of "Passion": Jenny lives, but that doesn't automatically fix everything. (This started out as a quick fix-it fic. Ten years and 23k words later, the only part of that phrase that still applies is 'fic'.)

[ Part One | Part Two | Part Three ]




It was a Friday evening, late, and well past the time that any sensible person should be home -- home, or at a restaurant, or at a movie, anywhere /other/ than the purgatory of Sunnydale High School.

/Then again,/ Jenny Calendar thought wryly, /sensible people don't stay in Sunnydale at all./

She stared at the computer screen with narrowed eyes, absently tapping a pencil against the desk. Against the silent darkness of the rest of the computer lab, the monitor seemed bright. "Come on," she breathed, coaxing, urging, as if by will alone she could make the program work correctly. "Come on..."

The 'percent complete' bar hit 100 and vanished; the computer whirred thoughtfully. And next to the Romanian text, the English translation scrolled up.

After all the false starts, all the times when the translation had been patchy or, worse, pure gibberish -- after all that, success seemed unreal. Jenny read and re-read the English text, hardly daring to breathe. How many times, in her dreams, had she gotten this far only to have the ritual dissolve before her eyes, or melt into flames? But the translation remained on the screen, intact and unchanging, and she didn't wake up. It was real. "That's it," she said at last, unable to stop a grin. "It's gonna work."

This project had from the start been a crazy scheme with only half a chance of succeeding. Rationally, it shouldn't have been worth her time. But this gave her something to do to help, especially since Buffy and Rupert were both shutting her out. Their attitude was understandable, she had to admit, given the situation, but it was still frustrating, and meant that she was reduced to improbable schemes. But crazy or not, there the translation was, looking more and more... well, probable. "This," she repeated, "will work."

Out of habit more than anything else, she saved it to disk, then hit print. The school's old dot-matrix printer whirred to life. Jenny thumbed the disk-eject button, set the little yellow floppy disk to one side, then scooted her chair sideways to watch the printout.

That was when her skin began to crawl.

Startled, she looked past the printer to the dark shadows of the computer lab, and felt her heart pound with sudden fear. "Angel," she said, pretending calm, not looking away from the figure sprawled carelessly in one of the seats. "How did you get in here?"

"I was invited," he said mockingly. He met her gaze with equal unwavering intensity. "The sign in front of the school: 'Formatia trans sicere educatorum'."

"Enter all ye who seek knowledge," Jenny translated automatically. Funny, really, how she could translate Latin even when she couldn't otherwise think straight.

Angel gave her a slow, sardonic smile, stood up lazily, and sauntered towards the desk. "What can I say?" he asked, giggling. "I'm a knowledge seeker."

/Sure you are,/ Jenny thought as she scrambled away from him. /You're seeking pleasure and pain, not knowledge./ The vampire was looking at her with a hungry expression she didn't particularly like, and to distract him she gasped out the first thing that came to mind. "Angel, I... I've got good news."

"I heard," he said with enthusiasm too syrupy to be anything but false. He cocked his head and looked at the Orb, which she'd left lying out on the desk. "You went shopping at the local boogedy-boogedy store."

/Oops./ Part of her wondered how he'd known, how he'd found out what she was planning. The rest of her knew it didn't matter much. All that mattered was that he knew-- and that she was alone. Jenny continued backing away until her back hit the door. Her fingers grasped for the handle. It was locked. /...Locked? I didn't.../ She looked at Angelus again, and he half-winked at her, then reached for the crystal Orb.

"The Orb of Thessulah," he said, nodding slowly as he examined it. "If memory serves, this is supposed to summon a person's soul... from the ether. Store it until it can be transferred." Angelus tapped the crystal gently, and it glowed in response. He smiled, looking half-enchanted. "You know what I hate most about these things?"

Jenny froze, mind whirling -- /Is he expecting an answer? or is he talking to himself? or was that a rhetorical question?/ -- and then ducked with an involuntary shriek as he flung the Orb at her head. It hit the blackboard behind her with a noise that seemed far too loud, and shattered into a fine dust. Angelus just chuckled and made disapproving tsk-ing noises. "They're so damn fragile," he finished, shaking his head. "Must be that shoddy Gypsy workmanship, huh?"

Another cold flood of fear washed over her, and her eyes widened as she fought back tears. With a sudden, dreadful, nightmarish certainty, she knew that he was going to kill her, that no amount of luck or guts would save her this time. /I don't want to die,/ she thought, desperately. /Not like this -- not alone, not now./ And a small voice inside her whispered that there was no chance, now, to set things right. No chance to say goodbye...

Angelus, pretending to ignore her, turned the computer monitor so he could read it. "I never cease to be amazed," he said, his tone pleasant and conversational, "how much the world has changed in just two and a half centuries. It's a miracle to me. You... you put the secrets to restoring my soul in here--" Almost effortlessly, he swept the computer off the desk. It shattered against the floor in a shower of sparks. Angelus looked down at the destruction, his face flickering with light as the circuits caught fire, and then looked over at the printer, which was still churning merrily, spitting out the last lines of text, oblivious to the danger. "--and it comes out here."

He took the finished product and skimmed it. " 'The Ritual of Restoration'," he read. "Wow. This... this brings back memories." He glanced it over again and started to rip it in half.

"Wait," Jenny protested, almost forgetting that she was talking to Angelus the vampire and not the old Angel, "that's your--"

"Oh, my cure?" Angelus grimaced in mock regret, then shrugged and finished tearing it. "No thanks. Been there, done that, and deja vu just isn't what it used to be."

Jenny couldn't stop a whimper, but he turned his attention to the burning computer in front of him. "My, isn't this my lucky day," he murmured, almost to himself. "The computer, and the pages..." He tossed the torn printout down into the shattered monitor. Flames licked hungrily at paper and computer alike, and he stood over it, smiling, warming his hands as if it were a campfire.

Half-hoping he'd forgotten about her, Jenny began to inch away. The far door of the classroom was probably locked as well, and her keys were far too close to Angelus for comfort, but there was a wooden shelf along the wall which she could smash and use as a stake. Snyder would get on her case for destroying school property, but it was better than dying.

"Looks like I get to kill two birds with one stone," Angelus said in a satisfied voice. He squatted over the fire, appearing oblivious to Jenny's actions.

/Almost there,/ she thought, trying not to draw his attention even though she herself didn't dare take her eyes off him. /Almost there./

"And teacher," he said, softly, raising his head and smiling directly at her through full vampire features, "makes three."

His eyes gleamed in the light from the fire, and they were chillingly alien. It wasn't just the color, though gold eyes were disorienting enough, but there was something more, a cold, emotionless hunger. Angel, the soul-cursed vampire, had the eyes of a human; a human in pain, much of the time, but at least it was something recognizable. Angelus, pure vampire, soulless, had nothing in his eyes but the rage of a demon.

Jenny broke into a desperate run, but almost before she was aware he'd moved, he had lunged forward, grabbing her arm and flinging her roughly against the near door. Her head exploded in pain; she was vaguely aware that the door had snapped open from the impact. Then her vision cleared a little, and as she scrambled upright using the door frame for support, she could see Angelus, smirking, strolling lazily towards her.

She did the only thing she could think of, and ran away.

Fast.

It wasn't fast enough, of course. Her shoes weren't built for running, and she was being chased by a monster with inhuman strength and stamina. A part of her brain, watching the scene detachedly like the viewer of some late-night horror movie, observed that she was going to die.

She didn't waste her breath screaming. There wasn't much point. No one was at the school this late at night, except vampires and crazy gypsies who didn't trust anyone enough. Even Rupert, who was the most likely of anyone to be here late, had gone home long before. There was no one to hear her, no one to save her. She just ran, as fast and as far as she could-- ran until her legs and side ached, until her breath came in ragged gasps that ripped through her lungs and throat, until her body was so full of adrenaline that she almost didn't remember how to move.

Frequent glances back showed her that Angelus was striding confidently towards her; walking, not running, but easily closing the gap between them. She slammed into a door that didn't want to open, and tugged at it frantically until it cooperated. Desperate, she pulled the door closed behind her to buy a few moments' grace, not even able to feel some pleasure as Angelus, snarling, ran headlong into the glass. There wasn't time to feel anything, just time to run, as the corridor stretched in front of her, nightmarishly endless.

It didn't take Angelus as long to open the door as it had taken her, and he was catching up quickly now, breaking into a run for the first time. Half-blind with panic, Jenny shoved a janitor's cart in his path; he stumbled, tripped, and landed sprawling on top of the mess. Shaking so hard she thought she would collapse before she could take another step, Jenny ran up the stairs, glanced back once -- the vampire was nowhere to be seen -- and collided with someone.

She yelped and lashed out blindly, wildly, in the barest of hopes that by some miracle she could get away; it took her a moment to realize that the jacket she was flailing uselessly against was not the cold black leather of Angelus' long coat, but was rougher. Scratchier. Tweed...

Jenny looked up into the warm, familiar face of Rupert Giles.

With an incoherent sob of relief she flung her arms tightly around him. Her legs started to give out, and Rupert staggered slightly under the unexpected shift of weight, then tightened his grip on her to steady them both.

"Jenny?" he said, concern in his voice. He touched her forehead, which set off a new, nauseating wave of pain. His fingers came away stained red, and his eyes narrowed in concern. Jenny watched as he rubbed his fingers together, smearing the blood. She'd been cut, then; not that she was all too surprised. Her head felt like it had been split open with a dull hatchet. "Jenny, are you all right? What happened?"

There was too much to tell him. Jenny tried to speak, but at first all she could manage was a shaky laugh that sounded hysterical even to her own ears. "Rupert," she whispered, and licked her too-dry lips. She could taste the liquid salt of tears and sweat, and something metallically sweet that could have been blood. /Blood,/ she thought. /Vampires like blood. Vampires... should tell him.../ Jenny shook her head, tried to pull away, then grabbed at his arms to steady herself when her legs turned to rubber. "Angelus-- he--" She stared into Rupert's eyes, as if she could tell him everything just by telepathy. "He's still here, somewhere--"

He tensed, and for a moment she could see in his eyes the same fierce, unforgiving, alien anger that she'd seen in Angelus. It frightened her a little, but before she could decide whether or not she'd imagined it, he had shoved her behind him. She stumbled and, unable to react in time, unable to recover her balance, sprawled heavily to the floor. The shock of falling made her vision dance, but out of the corner of her eye she saw a shadow at the top of the stairs-- a shadow with gleaming golden eyes--

And then the world spun, and Jenny found herself retching helplessly, unable to stop, unable to control it. Vaguely, as if from far away, she could hear the solid thwap of a crossbow firing, and an animal cry of rage and pain, followed by silence. But everything continued to spin about her, and her muscles burned from the effort of not collapsing in a boneless heap; she stopped trying to keep track of what was happening.

"Can you stand?" Rupert asked, when her heaving had stopped. His voice seemed distant, even though she could, through the spotty darkness of her peripheral vision, see him kneeling next to her, supporting her. He put his hand against her forehead, stroking her hair back. Jenny, trying to get her breathing back under control, nodded, and then moaned as the world threatened to spin again.

"I know it's not easy," he said gently, "but we do have to get out of here. Angelus is gone for now, but he might come back. I want to get you somewhere safe."

"Safe. That'd be...nice..." Jenny whispered, trembling with exhaustion. /Shock,/ a voice in her head stated detachedly. /You're going to have a hell of a night./ That made her laugh -- /I've already had a hell of a night,/ she thought, giddily -- and Rupert's arm around her tightened.

She wasn't quite sure how she made it out; she could barely remember how to walk, and her body had decided it really didn't want to move at all. But somehow she made it, half-stumbling, leaning heavily on Rupert for balance. She didn't even know where they were going, but he guided them to the parking lot, and yanked open the front passenger-side door of his old battered Citroen. "In," he commanded, slinging his bookbag over the back of the seat. Something clattered out onto the floor of the car.

It was probably better, Jenny decided fuzzily, not to argue, even though she'd have preferred her own car. She slid into the seat and groped for the seatbelt. Her head, aching since the encounter with the door, started spiking in pain; she leaned it back against the headrest and closed her eyes for a moment. Just for a moment... she'd have to tell him how to get to her house...

"...Jenny?"

She snapped her eyes open. The car was idling in front of Rupert's apartment, and he was watching hear, steadily, worriedly. Jenny winced and shrugged. "Fell asleep, I guess," she explained with a faint smile.

"Mmm. Can you walk at all?" he asked, his voice gentle. "We really should get inside."

"Inside," she repeated, frowning slightly. "Mm-hmm, I can do that." She fumbled at the door latch, which didn't seem to work right. Rupert leaned over her and pushed the door open-- he smelled of mothballs and musty books and a faint hint of aftershave-- and Jenny got out, stood unsteadily up, and promptly collapsed on the ground retching again.

After a few moments the heaving slowed. Jenny rubbed at her mouth and laughed shakily. "I'm getting really tired of this," she murmured.

Rupert was again kneeling at her side, one arm around her shoulders, his free hand stroking her hair. "Concussion, I'd imagine," he said, lightly fingering the gash on her forehead, and flinching back when she rushed at the sudden rush of pain that triggered. "That and shock." He pressed the back of one hand against her cheek, and frowned. "Damn. We should get you to a hospital."

"No hospital," she tried to protest. She didn't really like hospitals, never had... but he was already guiding her back to the car, and it was far too much effort to fight him. It was hard enough just keeping the world even somewhat right-side up.

When, shortly after starting, the Citroen's engine spluttered, coughed, and died, she was too tired to care about anything but the fact that the noise had finally stopped.

**********

Giles slammed his hand against the steering wheel, furious and frustrated. Damned car. Of course it would have to stop working just when he needed it the most!

With a sigh he got back out and went again to the passenger side. If he couldn't take Jenny to the hospital, he could at least get her inside, where it was safe. Outside had vampires, Angelus in particular, and despite Cordelia's insistence to the contrary, de-invitation rituals didn't work with cars.

"Jenny," he said, trying to keep his voice low and soothing. "Jenny, we need to get inside."

She was in bad shape, pale and shocky. Her head looked like it was bleeding far too much, and it didn't help to tell himself that even shallow scalp wounds always bled furiously. He knew that living on the Hellmouth had its dangers, and he'd seen too many people die even without the effects of a Hellmouth factored in, but she was Jenny. She wasn't supposed to get hurt. She wasn't supposed to die.

Giles allowed a laugh at his own foolishness as he half-carried Jenny into his apartment. Neither death nor the Hellmouth cared about who were the good guys and who were the bad guys. It didn't work that way, no matter how much he wanted it to.

His house had been decorated lavishly in his absence with roses and candles and champagne. It wasn't something he'd set up, and if Jenny had been at the school she wouldn't have been able to either; it didn't make any sense. Giles puzzled over it for a moment, then gave a mental shrug. Roses could wait. Jenny couldn't.

"Here," he said, guiding her to the couch. She sat down and put her head in her hands. Giles gave another bemused glance at the champagne, then moved towards the kitchen.

"Rupert," she said abruptly, sounding on the edge of panic.

"Shhh, I'm not leaving you. I'm just getting you something to drink." His first instinct had been tea, but perhaps pure water would be better.

"Rupert-- he broke it--"

He brought a glass of cool water to her, and sat next to her on the couch. "It'll be okay," he assured her, even though he wasn't quite sure what she was talking about. "You're safe now, all right?"

She clutched the glass, staring at the water. "I had the Orb," she whispered, and closed her eyes. "I was so close. So close..."

Giles touched her cheek gently, but she pulled away. "I'm sorry," she said, her voice choked with tears.

"There's nothing to be sorry about," he protested. /Tell me how to help/, he pleaded silently. /Tell me what to do./ "I'm going to call an ambulance, all right? So we can--"

"No," she said, her voice abrupt with panic. "No hospitals. Don't... don't like... no hospitals. Please." She started to shiver. "I'll be fine, really I will, just, no hospitals."

"Shh, okay," he said, a little uncertain. He couldn't take care of her properly, since he wasn't medically trained, but for right now, maybe keeping her calm was more important. With luck, she didn't have more than a mild concussion-- and with luck, there would be enough time to get her some help if he was wrong. "All right. No hospitals." She relaxed a little at his agreement, and Giles smiled slightly. "Jenny, you... your head, do you mind if I clean it off?"

She didn't move, didn't respond, just stared blankly at the glass in her hands. He took that as a /go ahead/, and left to fetch his first aid kit. Gauze patches, lukewarm water from the sink, iodine for disinfectant, surgical tape, and-- /hello, what's this?/

There was a note on one of the side tables, a once-folded sheet of thick creamy parchment-like paper, something he hadn't been able to see when he first came in, but that caught his attention now that he was at the right angle. He flipped it open. 'Upstairs', it read, in a smooth cursive not unlike Jenny's writing. "Jenny? This note, it's not yours, is it?"

"What note?" There was a creak as she shifted, possibly to stand up.

"Never mind; stay there." Giles could feel his shoulders tensing, and he deliberately forced himself to relax. The note wasn't hers. Angelus, then, leaving notes for him like he did with Buffy? Perhaps. Whoever it was, though, they had left something waiting for him upstairs. And despite the pleasant and fairly romantic setting, he had a nagging suspicion that whatever was upstairs wouldn't be all that nice.

He'd left his main crossbow in the back seat of the car, having been too preoccupied with getting Jenny in. For a moment he considered getting it, but he had another crossbow in his weapons chest, which he wouldn't have to go outside for. Besides, the one in the car had no bolts, since the one it had been primed with was, last he'd seen, buried in Angelus' shoulder. Paranoia, he reflected wryly, was useful sometimes. If he hadn't decided to stop by the school on the way back from Buffy's house, and if he hadn't as a matter of habit carried his weapons with him, Jenny would most likely be dead at Angelus' hands.

/No./ He wouldn't think about that; he couldn't let himself. She wouldn't die. Couldn't die. He wouldn't let her, not as long as he could protect her.

The trail of roses, as far as he could see, led up the stairs. There were no noises, and except for the roses and candles, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. That just made him more nervous.

Wary, alert for any sounds or movements, he went to his weapons chest and pulled out the small crossbow and a sword. "Jenny?"

"Mmm?"

"I'm going upstairs for a minute. Will you be all right?"

"Yeah," she said, sounding faintly annoyed.

Giles stepped over to the couch, still not taking his eyes off the stairs, and handed her the crossbow. "Take this. Shoot at anything that moves."

"Even you?" Despite the situation, her voice held a trace of mischief.

Giles smiled, remembering the last time she'd used one of his crossbows. The scar was still there, though barely noticeable; his lower back twinged slightly at the memory. "I'd prefer you didn't, please," he said dryly.

She laughed, then abruptly stopped, wincing. "Go do whatever you need to upstairs," she told him, rubbing her forehead on the side that wasn't cut.

Giles hesitated, watching her, and took a breath. /I hope she'll be okay./ It was half idle thought, half indirect prayer to whatever gods were listening. /I'd never forgive myself if--/

He forced himself not to finish the thought. Nothing would happen.

/Right./

He narrowed his eyes, staring up into the darkness at the top of the stairs, and slowly started to climb, holding the sword ready in case of attack. There was a long-stemmed red rose on every step, alternating direction each time, and short, stout white candles on either side. Who would go to this trouble? Jenny, perhaps, except that she had to all appearances been at school the whole time; if she had come to his house to set this up, why go back to the school, alone and in the dark? And for that matter, how would she have gotten in?

And if not Jenny, who?

He'd reached the top of the staircase, and still there were no sounds, no movement, nothing odd. Except for the new decorations, it was all perfectly ordinary. Giles flipped on the light in his bedroom.

There was a note on his pillow; nothing else, no sign that anyone was in the room. Giles picked up the note, which was on the same cream-colored parchment as the one downstairs had been. 'Soon,' it read, the word scrawled above a disturbingly accurate sketch of Jenny's face, and at the bottom a silhouette of a winged figure. An angel...

Giles frowned, and slowly began back down the stairs, the note still holding most of his attention. So, Angel was after Jenny now; he'd been going after her specifically, not just taking the chance opportunity of someone being alone at the high school at night. But why Jenny? Angel's main target was Buffy, not Giles. Her friends were plausible targets, but Buffy wasn't feeling all that friendly towards Jenny right now. There were better choices for the vampire to concentrate on.

Unless--

Angel, he was certain, had to know of Giles' feelings for Jenny. To strike at Jenny would be, indirectly, to strike at Giles, and thus at Buffy. If Jenny died, Giles wasn't sure that he'd be very helpful to her. Not only would she spend time worrying over him, and probably be upset that she hadn't been able to kill Angelus before anything happened, but she would be left without a Watcher.

Giles' mind raced, following this new series of thoughts. Angelus had been chasing Jenny, most likely with the intent to kill her. And if Giles hadn't come at the right time, if Angelus had succeeded, what would he have done? The notes were Angel's, which meant he'd set this up. His prior behaviours indicated that he twisted everything, with morbid creativity, into a situation that would do the most harm to his victim. Jenny's death would cause grief enough, but if the vampire had arranged it so that Giles would find Jenny dead, in his own house...

Giles felt himself go cold at the thought, and colder still to realize that if he was right about this, the note on the bed had to have been left after Angelus failed at his attempt; had he succeeded, it probably would have been Jenny there, not just a note. Giles hadn't had a chance to perform the invitation-revoking ritual yet. Angelus could still be in the house.

And Jenny was downstairs. Alone.

Giles clattered down the remainder of the stairs. The first thing he saw, even before he was all the way down, was that she was no longer sitting on the couch. "Jenny?" He jumped down without touching the last four stairs, landing hard and skidding slightly. /If anything's happened.../

There was no response. Trying to keep from panicking, he called again: "Jenny!"

"Not so loud," she moaned, just as he came enough into the room to see that she was lying down on the couch, sunk into the pillows. Not gone, not attacked, not dead. Giles felt a rush of adrenaline at the relief.

"Wha's problem?" she asked, squinting up at him sleepily. "Y'look concerned."

"Nothing." He glanced again at the note and set it carefully aside. It didn't matter, he told himself. "Come on. You should get some sleep."

" 'Swhat I'm doing." Jenny closed her eyes again.

"In bed," he added, trying to help her stand up.

"No. 'Sfine here. Comfy."

"Bed," he told her sternly. "You've been injured. You need to sleep properly. No arguments."

"Lemme 'lone," she mumbled, making no move to get up. Giles sighed and lifted her like a child. She struggled at first, grappling weakly at his hands, trying to push them away, then gave up and snuggled her head against his shoulder, still half-asleep.

/I'm glad I don't have to nurse Buffy through something like this,/ he thought, half-amused, as he carried Jenny up the stairs to his bedroom. /She's just as stubborn, and at least Jenny doesn't have a Slayer's strength to fight me with./

As gently as he could, he set her down on the bed. She sighed but didn't show signs of being awake. Except for the drying blood on her forehead, she looked peaceful, almost happy. /She's beautiful,/ Giles thought, a little wistfully, and touched her cheek.

He hadn't treated concussion victims in a while, but he vaguely remembered that they weren't supposed to sleep more than an hour at a time, at least the first night. Which meant that he wouldn't be getting much sleep either, as she wasn't likely to wake up on her own. /You've spent sleepless nights before,/ he told himself sternly. /It won't kill you to do another./ Besides, he had too much to do before he could sleep.

With one last longing glance at the bed, he started downstairs to perform the ritual that would keep Angelus out.

**********

//Fear -- pure, soulless, thoughtless, mindless -- flooded through her like fire, aching, throbbing, consuming everything in its path, and still she didn't move -- couldn't move! -- burning, smothering, and she tried to close her eyes but couldn't, because she was staring up at the sky; and the stars were warring like chess pieces, and half of them were named Jenny and the other half Angelus, and she wasn't too surprised to find that Angelus' pieces were winning, that they'd taken her queen, that he'd all but beaten her before she'd figured out the rules to the game.

The stars parted like a curtain, and Angelus stepped through, tall, dark, glaring at her, one eye brown and one gold, both blazing with hate and contempt. She struggled, surrounded by fire and darkness and pain, red and black, all the colors of panic and fear and death and defeat; the struggle changed nothing.

"Jenny," he said, questioning, stating, condemning. /You are a fool,/ he told her, and laughed, mockingly. /You thought you could beat me? You thought you could hold me down? After I got free?/

"It wasn't supposed to be like this," she said, and couldn't tell if she were whispering or screaming. /It wasn't! How was I supposed to know what would happen?/ Another flare of pain. /She wasn't supposed to love you, or you her. I couldn't predict that./ She tried to breathe, failed, and stared hopelessly out at the darkness. "You weren't supposed to love..."

/But I did./ Angelus laughed again, canines long, eyes hungry, and there was fire and blood and suddenly he bore Rupert's face, and Rupert's clothes; only his voice remained that of Angelus, at least for a while. /You couldn't predict anything, it seems./ He circled, put a hand on her forehead (but it was wrong, all wrong! didn't smell like him at all, didn't feel like him at all, too cold, too hard--), and when he spoke again, it was with Rupert's voice. "Jenny..." A breath, a sigh, disappointment, betrayal, anger. /You are a fool, Gypsy. You should have guessed, should have predicted, should have known--/

/I didn't, I couldn't!/ She thrashed wildly, drowning in his anger, suffocating -- fire and fear rolling over her, heavy, smothering, and the world in front of her eyes flashed red and black, and she fought, kicking to the surface, fighting--

"Jenny!" he cried once, behind her.

--still fighting, seeking air--//

--and he was holding her down, still wearing Rupert's face. Jenny shrieked and twisted in his grasp, trying to get away, but he was too strong for her.

"Jenny," he said again. His face was taut with worry, his eyes pained, but he still held her wrists down. She might have been a match for him if things had been equal; but things weren't equal and, feeling suddenly drained of energy, she relaxed. After a moment of stillness, he let her wrists go. Concern warred with wariness in his eyes.

"You all right?"

She nodded, fighting to get her heartrate back under control. Her head pounded fiercely. /A dream,/ she told herself, still a little unconvinced. /Just a dream, that's all./ "Yeah," she said, trying to sound like she meant it. "I'm fine."

He smiled, a little wearily -- there were circles under his eyes, she noticed abruptly; when had he last slept? -- and reached over to brush hair out of her eyes. Her instinct was to flinch back, but she forced herself to hold still. His touch was gentle, and his fingers warm. Jenny let herself relax.

"You had me worried," Rupert told her softly. "You were having a dream-- a nightmare, rather-- and you were fighting rather fiercely." He gave a half-laugh, and continued, a bit wryly: "I thought you were going to rip me to shreds there when you woke up, if you had the chance."

/A dream,/ she reminded herself. /Just a dream, nothing more./ "I wasn't expecting you," she admitted.

"Oh?" He raised his eyebrows. "Who, then? ...Or do I not want to know?"

She turned her face away so she wouldn't have to look at him. The pillow smelled of him, sweet and musty, and her eyes prickled with tears. "Angelus." It was little more than a whisper, but from the way he tensed up beside her, there was no need to wonder if he'd heard.

"I'm sorry" he said hesitantly, after a long silence. "Do you want something to help you go back to sleep? Some...chamomile tea, or, or...something?"

"No thanks." She almost smiled.

He hesitated, and then he was stroking her hair again, a comforting non-nightmarish sensation. "Did..." He cleared his throat, sounding nervous. "Did you know you were talking?"

"Just now?" She rolled over enough to give him a confused look, but forgot to move slowly; her head spun, and she clutched at the sheets to keep from falling off.

"While you slept... dreamt." Rupert looked almost embarrassed.

"I was talking?" Jenny looked at him, alarmed and embarrassed and amused and quite curious. "I don't remember. What was I saying?"

He turned away, rubbing his neck. His movements were awkward and hesitant. "N..nothing. Nothing. Just, just crying out... nothing. Go back to sleep."

It was hardly nothing, from his reaction, but she couldn't remember talking, couldn't think of what she would have been saying. Not that it mattered, really. The main secret that she'd had wasn't a secret any more. And sleep sounded really good at this point. She closed her eyes. Sleep would be good...

// /Why did you do it?/

Her eyes flew open, but there was still darkness. She was kneeling on something cold and hard; her hands were bound behind her back. Everything ached.

There was a scratch and a hiss in front of her nose, and a sudden, blinding light flared to life. Jenny cried out, bowing her head away from the light, away from the pain. It was only a match, but it seemed far too bright.

/Why did you do it?/ It was her Uncle, standing over her, scowling, who spoke; behind him stood Buffy and Willow and Rupert and Angel; behind them, the rest of her Clan, muffled in shadow. The match died, leaving her in solid darkness again, broken only by the dancing red-black afterimages. /Why did you let the curse break?/

/I didn't know,/ Jenny said.

/Wrong answer./ It was Buffy who spoke that, her voice deadly with emotionlessness, and she kicked Jenny sharply in the ribs. /Try again./

Jenny tried to curl into as tight a ball as possible, protecting herself from as much pain as she could. "I didn't know," she whispered against the ground. "I wasn't told what would happen."

/That is irrelevant,/ Uncle said. /You should have done your duty./

/I was trying to do what was right.../

He kicked her without warning, hard in the head; his boots were duller than Buffy's, but hurt no less. /You failed,/ he hissed, and behind him, Angel and Buffy and Rupert and the clan chanted, /Failed, failed, failed,/ timing their chants with Uncle's kicks. Jenny tried to twist away, whimpering--//

"Shhh," said a voice she recognized after a moment as Rupert's. He was lightly dabbing a damp washcloth against her forehead; it felt good against the throbbing pain. Jenny forced herself to relax, and sighed shakily.

"Thanks," she whispered. He gave her a little smile.

"We'll get you through this night," he said. It was half assurance and half prayer.

Jenny looked up at him, at his somber exhausted expression. There was a part of her that wanted to ask him for a promise, like a child asking daddy to check one more time for monsters under the bed. But the Hellmouth allowed no guarantees, no promises, no safety. Jenny bit her lip and closed her eyes. Life would be so much easier if they weren't on the Hellmouth.

Then again, Jenny thought wryly, you could argue that life was easier when you were dead. No worries, no responsibilities... no way to screw up. Just dead.

And if she'd been just a little slower tonight, or if Giles hadn't been there...

She realized she was curling up again, hands in tight fists, muscles taut. It scared her to think of what might have happened, but all the same there was a part of her that wondered, in a quiet seductive whisper, whether it would have hurt much, and whether it would maybe have been better if she hadn't fought, if she'd just accepted the inevitable and let it happen.

It would be easier, she knew. And the same seductively dark voice whispered: /It wouldn't matter, you know, if you were gone. They wouldn't be alone, any of them. They have each other. They would grieve, perhaps, for a short time, and then they would forget... and you wouldn't have to see the hurt and betrayal in their eyes./

She could think of no rebuttal.

Curling tighter, she tried to sleep, hoping she wouldn't dream.

// /I trusted you,/ Rupert said, softly and emotionlessly.

Jenny tried to respond, but couldn't. Something was sealing her mouth shut; not a gag, not cloth, but lighter, gauzier, like a spiderweb made out of silk and iron. Her hands were bound at the wrists with a similar unbreakable material. A rush of panic flooded through her, tightening her throat and chest, and for a moment she couldn't breathe. Rupert just watched, impassive, not making a move to help her.

/I trusted you,/ he said again. /And I think... I think I loved you, once./

He stepped forward, one hand raised as if to touch her cheek. The hand wavered, then dropped, and he turned and began to walk away, slowly but steadily.

The binding around Jenny's mouth loosened, and she gasped for air. /Wait,/ she called after him, hating the desperation in her voice. He stopped but didn't turn around.

/It's over, Janna./ He barely stumbled over her Kalderash name, and she shivered. His tone was so cold, so forbidding, so final. /You had your chance, and you lost it./

Protests rose in her head-- that he hadn't told her everything, either; that she was doing the best she could; that her only other option would have hurt them just as much. It's human to make mistakes, she wanted to say. I love you, she wanted to say.

He took another step away.

/Don't leave,/ she said, awkwardly. She'd never liked begging, but she didn't see much choice; it was either that or lose him. /I need you--/

Rupert turned, but his face was the mask of a stranger. /I don't know you. I don't know that I ever did./

She stared at him, frightened, confused, upset. /I'm Jenny.../

/You are gypsy./ He took a step back, starting to fade into the shadows. /'Jenny Calendar' was and is a lie. There is no Jenny./

/Wait,/ she said, reaching out for him. /I don't want to be alone./

His eyes glowed a moment, catlike. /Perhaps you should have thought of that earlier./

/Please.../ She reached further, but he took another step backwards and was gone. Her fingers touched only shadows, only darkness.

/If Jenny is a lie,/ she whispered, half to herself, /who am I?/

Nobody, the shadows whispered back. You are nobody.//

**********

Giles put his book down with a sigh. It was a twelfth-century treatise on souls and demons, something that he'd hoped might contain a clue on restoring Angel; but it was poorly written, and he couldn't concentrate.

Jenny, still asleep in his bed, was curled up and shivering. Giles brought another blanket out of his closet and draped it over her; she murmured restlessly. He lingered for a moment, watching her in the dim light afforded by moonlight filtering in from the window. He kept wanting to touch her, to reassure himself that she was real, that it wasn't some sort of dream.

She stirred, and her eyes opened, fever-bright. "Rupert?"

"I'm here." Hesitant, torn between coming closer and backing off, he sat on the edge of the bed, not taking his eyes off her.

"Don't tell her," she said, sounding more than a little desperate. "Don't let her leave--"

"Shh," Giles said soothingly. He didn't know who she was talking about, but it didn't matter. She was most likely still trapped in a dream-world, and needed reassurances and comfort more than rationality and questions.

"If he gets it-- if he takes it away--"

"It's not going to happen."

"No?" She looked at him, somber. She was slowly beginning to relax, and, Giles suspected, also beginning to wake up a bit more.

"Not going to happen," he said again, and stroked her cheek so lightly that it was almost more of a memory of a touch. "You're safe now, all right?"

" 'Kay." Jenny smiled a little. "I'm being horribly out of it right now, aren't I?"

He echoed the smile. "Just a little. It's all right. How are you feeling?"

"Like I just died," she said bluntly. "My head feels... like it's about to explode."

Giles could feel his smile, frozen in place, start to fade. "I'm sorry." He wanted to touch her, wanted to reassure them both, and knew it wouldn't help. "I wish there was something I could do."

Jenny closed her eyes and half turned away, looking exhausted. "Thank you at least for being here."

Giles looked away, swallowing hard. She meant it honestly, he knew, but it seemed more like recrimination than gratitude. If this had happened a few days ago, he wouldn't have known, wouldn't have been there, and she would have been alone through all of this. A few days ago, she would have died instead.

"You should sleep," he said finally, trying not to think about what might have happened.

"Don't want to. I'll just dream again..." She looked at him, like a child pleading for a promise she knew he couldn't give.

"I know." Giles reached to touch her again, but stopped himself with his fingers not quite brushing her cheek. "I know. But you do need the sleep to heal. I'll be here."

Her face contorted briefly, as if she were about to cry, and then she nodded. Her eyes fluttered closed. Giles stayed sitting on the bed until her breathing slowed, and then he carefully made his way back to the chair. Everything seemed a little blurry and distant. More than anything, he wanted to go to sleep, but he didn't dare, in case she needed him again.

He picked up the book he'd been reading, opening it where he'd left off. It was written in Latin, not by any means an unfamiliar language, but he had to read the same paragraph four times before the words even started to make sense. Giles sighed in frustration and ran a hand over his face, closing his eyes momentarily...

He awoke, some time later, to sunlight flooding the room.

Jenny was awake, staring at the ceiling, lost in thought. Giles stood, ignoring as best he could the stiffness in his neck and back and the numbness where one leg had fallen asleep, and moved to her side. "Good morning."

She started at his voice, and blinked at him in tense confusion before relaxing again. "Hey."

Giles stood a little awkwardly by the side of the bed. "How's your head?"

"Hurts." Jenny put one hand to her forehead, where a purpling bruise surrounded the cut. "It's... it's like a bad headache. I've had worse." She looked away.

/I'm glad you're all right/, he wanted to say, but didn't. Jenny sat up with a wince. "Easy, now," Giles murmured.

"I'll be okay," she said, staring at nothing. Giles closed his eyes. In the light of morning, crisp and bright and warm, she looked more real, more normal, less like some nightmare conjured by his fears. At the same time, though, now that things were less surreal, he could, and had to, recall all the complications of the past month. He wanted to offer her reassurances, wanted to promise her that everything was fine. But it wasn't, and wouldn't be, and such a promise would be meaningless.

"Do you have any aspirin?" Jenny asked quietly, startling him out of his thoughts.

"Oh, yes, of course. I... there's some downstairs, I'll fetch some for you."

"I might as well come with you." Jenny stood, a little shakily, frowning with concentration.

"Are you sure you should?"

She looked at him with a tolerant expression that was half amused and half exasperated. "You don't need to hover. I'm not going to shatter the moment you look away."

"No, of course not." Giles turned away, embarrassed that he had been that obvious with his worry. "Sorry."

Jenny sighed sharply. "Rupert."

He stopped halfway out the door, and turned his head a little, watching her out of the corner of his eye.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean that." She shook her head and sighed again. "I'm glad you're here, really I am. I'm just... not used to this."

Giles nodded, not trusting himself to speak even enough to ask what part of 'this' she wasn't used to, and went downstairs. She followed him after a moment; he busied himself in the kitchen, pretending he wasn't being hyperaware of her movements, of the little hesitant creaks and shifts as she came down the stairs and moved around.

"Would you like some tea?" he asked her, speaking over his shoulder without looking behind him. "Or I might have some juice...?"

She didn't answer at first, and when she did with a murmured, "Tea would be fine," it sounded distant and distracted. Giles turned for the first time. Jenny was standing by the couch, looking down, fingering the knitted throw draped over the back.

"Are you all right?" he asked, unable to keep the concern out of his voice.

"I..." Her voice trailed off. She looked up at him as he came out of the kitchen, and her expression was troubled. "I keep wanting to think last night was a dream. It wasn't, though, was it?"

"No," he said, cautiously, not sure where she was going. "It wasn't."

Jenny sat down on the couch, looking away again. "It's strange. It seemed real... it /was/ real... and yet, I've had nightmares that were just as real..."

She sounded young and a little lost. Giles felt something catch in his throat. "Oh, Jenny," he breathed, sitting next to her, taking her hands in his. "I am so very sorry."

Jenny shook her head, making an obvious effort to hide her fears again. "Look, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have... I... I didn't mean to say that. The dreams aren't your fault."

"No," he said quietly. "They are. All of this is. I should never have gotten you involved in my life, with any of this. I knew what would happen."

"You knew?" She smiled a little, mocking him gently. "Everything, huh?"

Giles refused to be distracted from his point. "It's a dangerous life. I knew this. Buffy and I... we have to be involved with these things, because of who we are, because of /what/ we are. We can't avoid the risk, the ever-present threat. You... can."

She was silent for a moment, and then said, almost inaudibly, "Maybe it was worth it, to be with you."

/Was/; not /is/. Giles nodded, feeling something curl tighter in his chest. "Maybe. But I shouldn't have let you get this close." /For both our sakes,/ he added silently.

"Hm." Jenny gave him an even, measured look. "How close would that be?"

"Close enough to get hurt." The tea kettle had started whistling, and was growing more impatient; he stood up to deal with it, but kept talking as he did. "As a Watcher, I am duty-bound to help the Slayer, and she must come first in everything. That isn't a fair arrangement to you. And the business with Angel--"

"Would have happened just the same way. I didn't take his soul." There was no malice there, and no defensive tone, just a simple emotionless statement of fact.

"Yes, perhaps." Giles flashed her a nervous half-smile, then retreated to the kitchen. He was grateful to have something as ritual as tea-making to concentrate on while he spoke. "Actually, I meant his attacking you. Ever since he lost his soul, he's been striking out at the things that made him the most human: Buffy, primarily, and Willow, and me. And, by extension, Buffy's mother, through Buffy... and you, through me. If you'd... died..." He faltered a little, frowning at the teapot. "I would have been a trifle too upset to be much use to Buffy. She needs a Watcher now, perhaps more than she ever did before. If I weren't..." He stopped again, and finished, "Really, it's just another way for him to chip at her support structure."

"Wait," Jenny said, slowly, like she was piecing things together. "You think he attacked me last night because he wanted to hurt /you/?"

"It seemed reasonable, given the situation." Giles poured two cups of the tea and brought them in. "You have a different theory?"

She cradled one of the cups in her hands, as if absorbing the heat. "I'm Gypsy, remember? Pretty much his mortal enemy? I'm from the tribe that cursed him. He's bound to want to take revenge... you saw what he did to..." She swallowed and shook her head, wincing. Giles wasn't sure whether it was the headache bothering her, or the mental images she was conjuring up. "If nothing else, getting rid of me would ensure that I don't re-curse him."

"Yes, well." Giles looked down at the tea. "Those magicks are lost."

"Yeah," Jenny agreed softly, but there was an odd quality to her voice. "But he doesn't know that."

Giles nodded, and then half-laughed, wryly. "And I don't suppose he would believe us if we told him that."

"I'd be surprised." She flashed a smile that didn't quite reach her eyes. "Um. This may be an odd question, but... today's Saturday, right? No school?"

"Correct... oh." Giles glanced at his watch and grimaced. "I had arranged to meet Buffy at the library in... twenty minutes. I could..." The Watcher part of him was insisting that duty to the Slayer came before anything else; the more human part of him wanted to cancel the training, to stay with Jenny for the day. "I could call her and explain..."

"No. I'll be fine. Your duty is to the Slayer, remember?" She was watching him with a faint smile, perhaps knowing as well as he did that his duty was the thing he was least likely to forget. "Look, if you could drive me over... my car's still there, and I need to pick up a few things from the computer room."

"Are you certain you'll be all right?"

"I appreciate your concern," she said, sounding frustrated, "but I /will/ be fine, okay? I'm quite used to taking care of myself, honest."

"All right." /I'll stop hovering,/ he promised her silently. He felt a similar protective urge towards her as to the teens, Buffy and Willow and Xander (and, he was surprised to discover, Cordelia, if to a lesser extent), but somehow he was able to be less obvious around them. Maybe because they were more like his children, and Jenny... wasn't.

"Besides..." She shrugged, affecting casual disinterest, but there was a trace of mischief in her smile. "I've survived worse than this at faculty meetings."

"Indeed," he said, trying not to laugh. "Shall we go, then?"

"Yeah." Jenny stood and smoothed down the front of her shirt. She needed to change clothes, not to mention the need to grab a shower, but no one would see her that cared that much about her appearance. "Sure."

The school was decently close; driven, it took less than five minutes to get there. Giles took his usual parking space, though the lot was predictably deserted, as few teachers found reason to be at the school on the weekends if they weren't forced to. "Jenny?" he said uncertainly. It was the first time either of them had spoken since leaving his apartment. "This... this may not be the right time to ask, but last night, you'd said you perhaps had something to tell me?"

"I...not really." She sighed and tucked a strand of hair behind one ear. "It didn't really work, or at least I need more time to figure it out."

"Is it possible to tell me what you were working on? If it were important... perhaps I could help?"

"Rupert." She looked at him, expression serious. "Do you trust me?"

Giles hesitated. It was a simple question, but by no means a simple answer. He wanted to trust her, and had no doubt that she wanted that also, but he didn't know if he honestly could. Answering 'yes' would be only a half-truth; 'no' would be worse. There was no answer he could truthfully give, but he also knew that silence would be as much of an answer. Looking away so he wouldn't have to see the hurt on her face, he answered, as neutrally as he could, "Should I? Or, more to the point, can I?"

There was a long moment of silence, broken only by Jenny's breathing, each breath long and shuddering. "You know what my answer is going to be," she said at last. Her voice was almost too calm.

"If I were to trust you," he said carefully, not committing himself either way, "what would the issue be?"

"I would ask you to trust that I'm doing the right thing, even by not telling you."

Giles looked at her for a moment, smiled a little, and got out of the car. "And if I were to not trust you," he said, even more cautiously, "what then?"

She met his gaze without flinching, but also without the hostility he'd been dreading slightly. "Then I don't really have a reason to tell you, do I?" she asked mildly. "You wouldn't be able to believe me anyway."

Giles nodded in acknowledgement and started towards the library, not quite looking at her. "Still, it might be better if we coordinated efforts."

"You don't even know that we're working towards the same goal," she pointed out, walking backwards in front of him.

"Fair enough. I suppose I just assumed..." Giles shrugged.

"If you trust me, let me do my own thing." She was watching him closely. Giles nodded tightly at her, and she relaxed.

"But if you find anything that can help us, please let me know?"

Jenny smiled at him, then turned to go through the library doors. "Of course."

Giles found himself smiling too, as he followed her in. He'd missed the smile of hers; there had been little occasion for it lately.

Willow was there already, head bent over the computer. "Hey, Giles," she said, then looked up. "Hey, Ms. Calend-- are you okay?"

Jenny's hand flew to the cut on her head, as if she'd forgotten about it. "Um," she said. Willow looked from her to Giles, her expression growing more worried and confused by the moment.

"She, uh." Giles cleared his throat. "Angelus decided to pay her a visit last night."

Willow's eyes widened. Jenny shrugged. "I'm okay," she said, a little hollowly. "I'm alive, at least. I can't say as much for the computer lab here, though."

"Willow, I assume you performed the ritual on your house?" Giles put a hand on her shoulder, and she looked up at him.

"I... yeah."

"Be careful, all right? Angel is... he seems to be not just playing any more."

Willow looked over at Jenny and gave a solemn, wide-eyed nod. "Okay."

"I'd better go," Jenny said. "I have things to do."

"You be careful too, all right?" Giles asked her. "I wouldn't want anything to happen."

She shrugged. "I'll be fine."

"Still." He smiled humorlessly and came nearer, close enough to be able to touch her if he'd wanted. "Angel might very well try to finish what he started. Last night showed that the school isn't safe any more-- if it ever was-- and that you aren't particularly safe, either."

"I know." She didn't show any fear; he didn't know if that was because she was hiding it, or if she were still in shock.

"I'll swing by your place later--" he started to offer. In the middle of his sentence, the library doors opened, and Buffy came in; she was smiling, but the smile faded as she saw who was there. There was a heartbeat of tense silence.

"Hello," Giles said quietly.

**********

[ continued... ]

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