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Redemption [2/3]

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 ]




The look on Rupert's face was a mixture of apprehension and worry. Jenny sighed; there was only one person that she could think of that could have elicited that reaction. "Hello, Buffy," she said without turning around.

"Giles, what's going on?"

/Why's she in the club again?/ Jenny translated silently, as she turned to face the girl. She hadn't expected a warm reception. She hadn't wanted a reception at all, right now, not from her.

Buffy's eyes widened slightly as she saw Jenny's face for the first time. She looked questioningly at Rupert, who cleared his throat a little nervously. "Angelus," he said, and Buffy's eyes flickered back to the bruised cut on Jenny's forehead. "He, uh... he came after her last night."

"Good."

Both Rupert and Willow looked startled at that. Jenny smiled grimly; she was, apparently, the only one who wasn't surprised at the teen's calm, cold response. Buffy turned away.

"I'm not sorry he failed," Buffy continued. Her voice trembled, but she didn't seem to notice. "I don't want her to die, especially not by /his/ hands. I wouldn't wish that on anyone..." She took two steps away, then stopped, back still to the group. "But maybe it's time she suffered too."

There was a moment of silence. Jenny found herself nodding slowly. Given her attitude over the past few weeks, Buffy's current reaction was almost predictable. Rupert, when Jenny risked a glance at him, was looking at his Slayer, expression blank, revealing none of his thoughts or emotions. Willow, however, sprang to her feet, visibly upset.

"How can you say that?" she cried, sounding close to tears. "You think she enjoyed this? You think she hasn't been suffering? Buffy, she almost /died/ last night. How long is this going to go on? How long are you going to hate her?"

Buffy didn't turn around. Her response was almost too quiet to hear. "As long as it takes."

Willow gave a choked cry and fled the library. Buffy and Rupert both stood immobile, Rupert staring fixedly at her back, neither one speaking. Jenny sighed and followed after Willow.

She found the teen leaning against the wall next to the drinking fountain, hands covering her face, sobbing quietly. "Willow," Jenny murmured, touching the girl's shoulder.

Willow raised her head and used her shirtsleeves to wipe ineffectively at her eyes. "I'm sorry; I'm being kind of stupid about this. I just don't understand it though." She looked up at Jenny, her expression lost, rubbing the damp spots of her sleeves together. "How can she hate you so much? How can she not /care/?"

Jenny smiled wryly. These were questions she had asked herself many times recently, though more about Rupert's attitude than Buffy's. "Because I betrayed her by not telling her before things happened, and by not sharing information that I didn't have until it was too late. And because..." Jenny shrugged. "She needs /someone/ to hate for all this, someone to blame. There are really only two reasonable choices: me and Angel. And I think we both know how likely it is that she'll hate Angel."

"So you're okay with it too, huh?" Willow asked a little bitterly, and sniffled. "Maybe I'm being an idiot if I'm the only one upset."

Jenny shook her head. "This isn't the way I wanted things to be. I wish none of this had ever happened, wish I could somehow make things right." She took one of Willow's hands in her own and squeezed it, eliciting a return squeeze and a small, trembling smile. "But I understand it. She's going through a lot right now, and honestly, I'm the most convenient target. Her mistrust isn't going to kill me."

"No, but Angel might."

Jenny bit her lip at Willow's small, lost-sounding voice. "Hey, I'm alive, okay? And I plan on staying that way."

Willow nodded, though she didn't look at all convinced. "I'm not sure how I can choose between the two of you. I mean, I want to help you, and I can't hate you the way Buffy's doing, but she's my friend and I need to help /her/ too..."

"You don't have to choose." Jenny looked in the direction of the closed and silent library doors, then back at Willow. "You can support her without agreeing with her decisions. She needs someone to blame, but maybe you don't. And... she needs you more than I do, I think. She's lost a lot more... she doesn't even have the guy she loves." Jenny hesitated at that. A small voice was whispering, /maybe you don't either,/ but she forced the voice away and continued. "Buffy needs your friendship, needs your support. And if it does come down to a choice... don't abandon her, okay? I've lived a long time on my own. I can do it again."

"For how long?" Willow murmured.

Jenny said nothing.

"Doesn't it hurt?" the girl asked, in a direct but subdued voice.

/Yeah. It does. More than I hope you ever need to know./ Jenny carefully didn't answer directly. "I'll live. I wish things could have been different, but I made a mistake, and I have to face the consequences of that." She took a deep breath, forcing a smile for Willow's sake. "It'll be okay, Willow, I promise."

Willow threw her arms around Jenny's neck in an impulsive hug. "I'm glad you're all right," she said.

"Thanks."

Jenny's smile felt plastic, stretched thin and out of shape, and it faded as Willow went back to the library. The library doors swung shut again, and Jenny leaned her head against the wall, too exhausted to cry.

/For how long?/ Willow's question echoed in her mind.

"For as long as it takes," she whispered in answer, speaking to the empty hallway.

After another moment of leaning against the wall, Jenny headed to the computer lab. Somehow it was less trashed than she remembered; in the light of day, the computer lying in ruins on the floor looked unthreatening, unthreatened, an accident of gravity. It was no longer burning, though some of the surfaces looked charred. Her purse lay in a corner, and she knelt to retrieve it.

Something moved in the far corner, silent and dark, darting across the edges of her vision, and Jenny gasped and whirled around, skittering backwards, off balance but not wanting to take the time to recover. The room was innocently empty. Jenny stared at the shadows with narrowed eyes, trying to slow her heartbeat down again.

"Great," she said, rubbing her head with shaking hands. "Yeah, sure, I'm really fine."

She knew that Angelus wouldn't be there. He was a vampire, and vampires burned in sunlight. But that didn't stop her subconscious from freaking. Sighing, Jenny got to her feet.

The computer looked pretty much like scrap metal. It would take time to figure out if anything had survived. But there was the disk that she'd saved the file to; that should be there, somewhere. She moved to the desk, which was a little messier than usual, and poked around.

The disk was nowhere in sight. Jenny frowned. She hadn't taken it with her, and the janitors obviously hadn't been by yet. Angelus couldn't have known what it was, so he wouldn't have taken the time to destroy it. So where could it be? Frustrated, she rifled again through the papers on the desk.

"Come on, you," she muttered under her breath. "I know you're here somewhere." There were a few disks, carefully labeled, none the one she needed. She tossed them aside to keep looking. One went farther than she intended to, and slid off the desk. Jenny grunted in frustration before she realized that it hadn't just slid off, but had fallen neatly between the desk and the filing cabinet.

She knelt, and her questing fingers found not one disk but two. One was the labeled one she'd just dropped. And the other was yellow and unlabeled and quite intact. Jenny just looked at it for a moment. There was a remote chance that it wasn't the one she was looking for, but that was a chance worth taking. It wouldn't be stealing, anyway, since this was all her stuff. She slipped it into her purse, glanced around to make sure there wasn't anything else she would need, and left.

She was halfway to the parking lot when Rupert hailed her; she stopped and waited for him to catch up. "You're still here," he said, when he was close enough to speak without shouting.

"I had to get my keys." Jenny held up her purse as evidence. "Did you want something?"

"Just to see if you're all right." He walked alongside her, hands in his pockets, not quite looking at her. "If you'll be all right."

"I'm fine." /Fine,/ she added silently, /and alone, and scared, and jumping at shadows.../ "Shouldn't you be with Buffy?"

"She's warming up, which she can do without me. I figured you'd be leaving soon."

"What else could I do?" Jenny asked, a little self-mockingly. "My computer here's out of commission, and I've been pretty much exiled from the library."

He gave her a small, tight, sympathetic smile. "I'm sorry it had to be this way."

"Life goes on." Jenny shrugged. They reached her car, a forest green SUV; she got in and stuck the keys in the ignition, but didn't start the engine yet.

Rupert cleared his throat, still not looking at her. "Buffy's seventeen years old... and she's the Slayer. Life, for her, has been very black-and-white. People are good, so she protects them... vampires are bad, so she kills them. You're... different. You don't quite fit either category, really, and I'm not sure she knows how to deal with that."

"So she puts me in the black." Jenny took another deep breath and stared at the steering wheel. "Yeah. I figured."

"I think," Rupert said uncertainly, "that she still cares about you... to some extent... I know that she, ah, approved of us, when we were... when we were 'us'... and, um, I think that's a little of what scares her, because she can't just outright ignore you. And so she... well, she pretends not to care, but..."

"I know." Jenny smiled sadly. "I wish I could make it up to her, though."

He nodded. "I understand," he said, and she knew he wasn't just saying that to make her feel better. "I think, though, that it might be best if you stayed away--"

"--for a while?" she finished with him. "Yeah. I was thinking the same thing." She looked over at him, meeting his gaze. "I'll see you around."

"Be careful?" Behind the glasses, his eyes were large with concern.

"You too." She tried to smile, but it didn't quite work, so instead she nodded tightly and started the engine. Giles stepped back, his expression unreadable again, and went back inside. Jenny had a sudden, overwhelming urge to put her head down on the steering wheel and cry. Instead she shifted out of park and drove away.

She needed another Orb, if she wanted to try the ritual. It hadn't been a special-order item when she'd gotten it before-- had that been only yesterday?-- so with luck the same store would have another one she could buy. They weren't exactly cheap, but she couldn't just give up, not now, not when it was her only real chance at helping to fix the situation.

The store, like most in Sunnydale, was open on Saturdays. When Jenny got there, there was another customer inside, a girl with messily-cropped hair and bare feet and an impossible number of rings and hoops and piercings, browsing the shelves like she didn't know what she was looking for but wanted to pretend she did. Jenny ignored her and went directly to the counter. The shopkeeper had his back to her, busy putting price tags on jars of some sort of dark green liquid, and Jenny cleared her throat to get his attention.

"Yes, what can I-- oh. You." His Romanian accent slipped a little as he turned; there was a flash of recognition in his eyes, and something else, something angrier. Almost immediately he had recovered the accent, and he was smiling genially at her, but the smile was tight. "Back so soon?"

"Yeah. I... need another Orb." Jenny twisted her hands together, nervous.

"Another one, huh? What, was the last one defective? I did mention our policy of no refunds, yes?"

Jenny frowned at the undertones of hostility. "I'm not asking for a refund. I just want to buy another Orb."

"I wish I could help you," he said dismissively, the unspoken /but I can't so go away/ clear in his voice.

"You don't have any more?"

He looked at her for a long moment, as if considering whether or not to explain. "I wish I could help," he said again. The door jangled as the barefoot girl left the shop, and his accent switched without hesitation from the pseudo-Romanian to a more normal one. "It's just that you're getting yourself into something that's too big, too dangerous. Playing with fire, know what I mean? And I really don't want to get involved."

"I'm not asking you to," Jenny said, unable to hide her impatience. "All you have to do is sell me something. Then you can forget about it."

"Sure. I don't get involved in what my clients do. Hell, I've seen some come in and buy expensive gadgets only to use them as paperweights or something. It's not my business. But it's different this time. One of /them/ came by last night." He put enough emphasis, enough loathing, on the 'them' that it was all too clear who he meant. The only 'them' that inspired such hatred were vampires.

"Which one?" Jenny asked carefully, trying not to give away too much of what she knew. If he thought she was even half as involved with vampires as she was, he would be less likely to want to help, which would get her nothing. "Tall guy, dark, handsome, smug, annoying?"

He shook his head. "Naw. A girl. Looks vulnerable, if you disregard what she is. British, maybe, from the accent. She had a dog with her, if that means anything. Half the time it didn't seem like she was paying attention to me, half the time it felt like she knew everything about me without even trying. Gave me the creeps."

Jenny frowned. It wasn't Angel, of course. Maybe it was one of the vampires working for him, though she didn't recognize the description. "Were you hurt?"

It was a stupid question, she realized almost immediately after she'd asked it. People hurt by vampires generally weren't walking or talking the next day; not during daylight hours, at any rate. But the shopkeeper didn't point that out. "Nah. She seemed in a hurry to get someplace, though she said she might be back later if she needed some entertainment." He shook his head, expression sour. "She knew who you were, that you'd been here. If I sell you another one... she'll know, and she'll come back. And she'll be angry. I can't help you."

Jenny nodded. His logic frustrated her, but she couldn't argue with it. He was more concerned with staying alive than with restoring a single vampire's soul. In his place, she would be doing the same thing. "Fair enough. Do you know anyone else who might carry an Orb?"

"At this level of danger? Nope." He smiled wryly. Now that he'd explained the situation, the anger he'd been directing towards her seemed to have vanished. "News travels fast, when it has to. Pathetic as it is, we're in the business of selling trinkets, for the most part, nothing more. No one's eager to die for it."

"Thanks," she said quietly, after biting back an irritated retort, and turned to leave.

"Janna."

She paused and turned around. The shopkeeper wasn't quite looking at her. "Whatever it is you're doing... I don't know, and I don't /want/ to know, but whatever you're doing, you've got them scared. And if they're trying to stop you... I guess it's not over yet."

"No, it isn't." /And,/ she thought but didn't say, /it won't be over until either I do what I'm trying to do, or I get killed./

"Do you honestly think you can do it?" He met her gaze, curiously but slightly awkwardly.

/Honestly?/ Jenny smiled mirthlessly. "No. But I have to try." There wasn't a lot of choice at this point, and never had been; she had to do this, for Buffy's sake, and Rupert's... and Angel's.

He shook his head. "You're nuts for trying, then," he said, but there was a hint of admiration in his voice. "Good luck."

"Thanks," she said, and left, rubbing her head. A headache was starting to build; she suddenly felt exhausted, and more than a little hungry. How long had it been since she ate? She couldn't remember anything since the previous day's hastily-eaten lunch. Shaking her head at her own idiocy, Jenny drove home for the first time in two days. She could eat, and then work on the spell, and somewhere, somehow...

Somehow, she would find an Orb and do the spell.

She had to.

**********

Giles stopped off in the men's room to splash some cold water on his face in an attempt to wake himself up. He wasn't anywhere close to the point of passing out from exhaustion, not yet at any rate, but he also didn't feel terribly energetic. A few hours' stolen sleep wasn't enough, the way it was when he was younger, and on top of that he had to train Buffy, a hard enough task when he was at the top of his form.

He was tempted to postpone the training session until tomorrow, in the hope that he could get some sleep between now and then. But that would be selfish, and a Watcher could not be selfish. It was a lesson that had been drilled into him time and again, and he was particularly aware of the need for selflessness now. He could give Buffy time if she needed it, but he didn't dare allow time for himself.

Sighing, Giles headed back to the library. Buffy would be waiting for him, and most likely wondering why he was taking so long. He rested his hand against the library door for a moment, trying to prepare himself, to gather enough energy that he could appear normal.

And as he paused, Willow's voice came clearly through the closed door: "Do you think you should tell Giles?"

Giles froze, listening as silently as possible, almost not breathing.

"I don't know." Buffy sounded hesitant. "I mean, they're just dreams. People dream all the time, and it doesn't mean anything, right?"

"You're not people though. I mean, you are-- a person-- but not just. You're the Slayer. If you think it means something, doesn't that mean it does?"

"I really don't know," Buffy said, almost miserably. "And if I thought I should tell him, what would I say? 'Hi Giles, I had this dream that your girlfriend's a traitor and she's lying to us and using you and wants to kill Angel.'?"

Giles found himself tensing. If she had dreamed that, it could easily have been nothing more than her subconscious trying to sort things out; just as easily, though, it could have been a Slayer's prophecy dream, and there was no easy way to tell which it was. If he had to choose -- again -- between her and Jenny, there was no real choice to make; his duty was to the Slayer, not to his own personal feelings. But he didn't want to do that, not again.

Inside the library, Buffy sighed loudly. "Not like it matters. He'd never believe me, anyway, whatever I said."

"Of course he'd believe you! You're his Slayer, and he's your Watcher."

"Yeah, but it's different. I've had dreams before that meant something, but this was..."

"Weird?" Willow supplied, when Buffy hesitated.

"Yeah. All the stuff made sense, though. Well, except for the talking dog."

"Talking...dog?" Giles, still listening through the closed door, couldn't see Willow's expression, but he could imagine it, a bemused and slightly wary look.

"It sounds stupid, I know."

"Not at all! I mean, it's a dream, and they're supposed to be weird."

"Weird, yeah, I guess. I don't know why it was a dog, but there was this little white dog that talked to me. Something British sounding, but not quite like Giles' accent, y'know? And it -- she? -- kept saying things. Gypsies have their own agendas; Ms. Calendar's really working with the Bad Guys, whoever they are, to take Giles away from me; Giles is helping them; things like that."

/That would never happen,/ Giles promised her silently. /I wouldn't let it./ She was his Slayer, and whatever happened he could not give up on her. Nothing that anyone, even Jenny, could say would take him away from her. Even if she stopped believing in him, stopped trusting him, stopped obeying him, he couldn't and wouldn't just walk away.

Buffy continued, slowly: "Honestly, I don't know whether this is just wish fulfillment, my brain wanting to find more reasons to call her an enemy, or if it's something telling me to pay more attention to what's really out there. I mean, she tried to send Angel away. It wasn't just trying to keep the hand of whateveritwas safe, she was actively trying to separate us. What if, when that didn't work, she took away his soul?"

"She wouldn't do that," Willow protested half-heartedly.

"I know, but what if she did? And what if she's still trying to get -- well, keep -- Angel away from me?" Buffy made a sound that might have been a laugh. "See why I can't really tell Giles?"

Giles closed his eyes. He felt dishonest, eavesdropping like that, but a part of him insisted, /if it's the only way you can learn these things, that makes it okay./ It didn't, not really, but... He shook himself and, pretending he hadn't spent the last few minutes standing outside, slapped the door open and strode in.

Willow ducked her head, as if trying to hide it behind her computer. Buffy glanced up at Giles, her expression guilty. "Hey."

Pretending not to notice, Giles gave her an encouraging smile. "Shall we begin?"

"What? Oh, right, training," Buffy said, and frowned. "Right." Given the situation, and the dream she'd just related to Willow, Giles wasn't terribly surprised at her preoccupation, but he also knew he wasn't supposed to know about that. He just had to pretend he would have noticed ordinarily.

"Are you okay?" he asked her quietly. "You seem a little distracted." He knew the answer, or at least a part of it. Mainly, he was interested in how much of the truth she would tell him.

"I do?" She shrugged, not quite looking at him. "Sorry... I guess I just didn't sleep well last night, that's all."

There was a rigidity to her neck, a tautness around her eyes and mouth, that Giles deliberately didn't acknowledge. If she didn't want to confide in him, pushing her would not have her trust him sooner, and admitting that he'd eavesdropped would make the situation even worse.

"Giles?" Willow said slowly.

"Hmm?"

"I'm assuming that the... attack... last night, that it happened after I talked to you?"

"Yes," Giles said.

She looked up at him, eyes a little glazed as if she were trying to figure something out. "What was she doing there-- here, I mean-- so late?"

Buffy sat up straight, becoming more alert and watching Giles with a sharp gaze, though she didn't say anything. Giles looked at them for a moment, and then rubbed one hand across his eyes. "I'm not completely sure. She wouldn't tell me... she said, earlier, that she might have some news, but then Angelus..." He took a deep breath, knowing that he had to be as honest as he could, but also knowing how it would seem to them. "Between what she said and the fact that he was trying to kill her, I'd suspect that whatever she was doing had something to do with Angel. I don't know what."

Buffy nodded slowly, and looked at Willow with an 'I told you so' expression. Giles tried not to flinch. /She's trying to help,/ he wanted to insist, /not to hurt you./ But he stayed silent.

"Are you sure Angel was trying to actually /kill/ her?" Buffy asked. The rest of her thought -- /or was it just set up that way so that you'd believe it/ -- was clear in her face, even if she didn't give voice to it.

"It seemed that way to me." Giles kept his voice calm. He didn't like having his judgment questioned, but on the other hand, he knew that it was smart of her to check all possibilities. Buffy hadn't been at the school, and therefore hadn't seen what had happened. If her dream were, in fact, prophecy, and Jenny was using Giles to achieve her own goals, then it was easy to jump to the assumption that last night's events had been staged as a way to work Jenny back into Giles' sympathies. But it had been too real... "His games tend to be psychological," Giles continued, "not physical. When he's... toying with his prey, so to speak... he goes into their room while they sleep, or leaves reminders of his presence, but he doesn't run them down and try to kill them unless he means it."

The tautness was back in Buffy's face, presumably at the reminder of what Angel had done, to her and to others. "If he's getting more dangerous, I really don't have a choice, do I? I have to kill him... have to stop him. I can't let him kill any more."

Her voice was quiet and far too emotionless for what she was saying. Giles tried to give her a reassuring smile. "If there's anything I can do..." he offered.

"Thanks." She smiled weakly in response, but her eyes were dead. "I think... in the end, this is something I have to do on my own."

Giles nodded. "I'm still looking for a way to--"

"No," Buffy interrupted. "There's no way out." There was a moment's silence, then she shook her head. "I'm glad you're trying to help, but I don't think there's anything you can do. Anything /anyone/ can do. If I don't kill Angel first, he'll end up killing me, maybe killing all of us. It's just something I have to do." She looked down at her hands. "Just another vampire to slay. Nothing I don't do every night."

Her voice had a forced carelessness that made Giles wince in sympathy. She was still trying to convince herself, almost against her will, of what she had to do, and he didn't blame her. It would never be easy. They both knew that she alone could do this, and that she had to, but he wanted desperately to find some way to help, some way to take the burden away from her.

Buffy closed her eyes and slouched further down in the seat, and for a moment she looked younger than she was. Giles smiled wryly. Being the Slayer, she'd had to grow up faster than she should have. The Slayer couldn't afford to be a child. It was easy to forget that she was still a teenager, not even eighteen yet.

"Giles?" Buffy asked without opening her eyes.

"Yes?"

"What if I can't?" She sounded doubtful, almost frightened. "What if I'm there, and he's there, and I've got a stake in my hand, and I just can't do it?" Her eyes opened, darker than he remembered. "I keep telling myself that I'll be able to, that I can and will... but I tried to kill him before, and I couldn't do it. What if I fail again?"

"You won't," Willow said, as loyal as ever. "You can't."

"Right. 'Cause I'm the Slayer and it's not my job to fail." Buffy raked one hand through her hair. "God. I wish... I wish I didn't have to be the Slayer. I wish the worst mistake I could make would be having a book overdue, or, or getting a parking ticket. I wish..." She faltered, then continued, her voice quiet and dead-sounding. "I wish I didn't have to keep loving him."

"Oh, Buffy," Giles murmured, wishing he knew how to help, and knowing he couldn't. If there were a way to stop loving someone, he hadn't found it yet.

She looked at him, her face suddenly an unreadable mask. "I'm sorry. I'm being... stupid. Weak. It doesn't matter--"

"Hey," Giles snapped, sharply enough to cut through what she was saying. "You're not being stupid. This isn't an easy thing to do. But you will do it, in the end, because it must be done, and because you're good at doing what's necessary. You're not weak, Buffy. A weak person would have given up a long time ago, and you did not."

Her eyes glittered with tears. "Still, I'm sorry. For..." Buffy gestured vaguely. "...this whole thing. For being emotional. For..." She trailed off.

"Loving Angel?" Giles shook his head. "Don't hate yourself for loving, for caring. It's part of what makes you human. Choosing Angel was not stupid; it just turned out that there were factors none of us knew." /None of us except Jenny,/ he thought, with another pang of regret that she hadn't trusted them or him enough to share what she knew about Angel.

"Yeah, but I should be able to get over it. I'm being such an idiot, and people have paid for my mistakes. People... you guys... are still paying. And I should have stopped it a long time ago."

It sounded like she was going to continue indefinitely with her self-condemnation. Giles held up one hand, stilling her. "Self-pity will get you nowhere," he said softly. "If you try, you will be able to do this. You might grieve, but you're strong enough to survive it. You can spend your time, if you'd prefer, hating yourself for the decisions you made, but if you spend all your time doing that, you're likely to end up dead." Buffy flinched at that, but Giles didn't look away. "It's your choice, Buffy, but remember that I will always be here to help you and to support you. You are my Slayer -- you are /Buffy/ -- and I have absolute faith in you and your abilities."

"That takes the pressure /right/ off," she said dryly, but at least she was smiling a little. "I'll try not to disappoint you though."

"I appreciate it," he said, with an answering ghost of a smile. "Now, would you like to train?"

"Yeah." She sat up, pulling her hair back away from her face. "I'm ready."

**********

Jenny awoke feeling groggy and mildly disoriented. It took a moment to place the ceiling as her own, to realize that she had fallen asleep in her living room. Her memories were waking with equal grogginess, but she vaguely remembered coming back, fixing lunch, and collapsing in exhaustion on the couch, too tired to bother making it back to her bed. With a groan she rolled over and stood up. Her head was still hurting somewhat, though not as badly as it had been earlier, and for the first time she didn't feel like she was about to start shaking.

"Well," she said, overly cheerful. "Things are improving. Hey, maybe now my life will get back to normal."

Her computer whirred at her, almost a response, and she smiled wryly. "I know. Not real likely." Not with a semi-psychotic vampire running around with strong motive to kill her. At least he didn't have access to her apartment, as she'd never invited him in. She had never quite figured out exactly what it was that kept vampires from entering a home if they hadn't been invited, but she wasn't about to argue it, especially if it kept her safe.

"Safe," she echoed dryly, sitting down in front of the computer. "Great. All I need to do is spend the rest of my life inside, not inviting anyone in, and I'll be safe. Practical, Jenny." There was no true safety, not in Sunnydale, especially not when you knew the Slayer. There was just 'not dead yet'.

The unlabeled yellow disk she'd rescued from the computer room at school was still in her purse. She dug it out, stuck it in the disk drive, and held her breath. /Please tell me it worked,/ she thought at her computer. /Please tell me it saved, please tell me it wasn't damaged.../ She could always recreate the translation algorithm, especially now that she knew that it was possible, but it wouldn't be easy. The success had been as much a random guess as anything else, and if the file had been corrupted in any way...

The program, far slower on her computer than it had been on the school's network, popped up dutifully, complete with the English translation of the spell, and Jenny let out a breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding. "Thanks," she murmured, patting her computer.

She had the spell. All she needed to do was find another Orb, and she'd be all set.

No, she realized, forcing away the spike of giddy enthusiasm from knowing that success was so close. That wasn't all. There was one more thing she had to at least try.

The original curse had been cobbled together in a hurry. It wasn't something her clan liked to talk about, even among themselves; it was far, far better to pretend that everything had been done with an infinite amount of foresight and wisdom. But as far as she could tell, the curse had been conceived and created and executed in the space of a few days at most, possibly even less than a single day. She had time, now, to try to fix the spell. To try to make it so that the demon would be banished entirely, or that Angel's soul would be bound more firmly to his body without risk of the spell losing control again.

If she performed the curse as it stood, it would give Angel his soul back. In a general sense, that was the main goal. But both he and Buffy deserved more than that.

Jenny pursed her lips and stared at the screen. The wording of the spell seemed to be fairly vague, fairly generic. It mainly involved pleading with the gods of the dead to return the one specific soul. As with much magic, the force of the spell was guided more by the intent than the actual words used.

The intent, originally, was vengeance. For one death, Angel would pay with an eternal lifetime of guilt. It wasn't quite fair, perhaps, but the clan hadn't been after justice as much as revenge. The curse was laid so that he would suffer forever; perhaps that was why it had stopped working once he achieved true happiness, since it gave him one moment free from suffering, thus making it impossible to suffer forever. If she cast it again, though, but with a broader, kinder intent, giving him his soul not so he could suffer but so he could heal...

Did she dare rely on that being enough?

A knock on the door, loud in the near-silence of her apartment, startled Jenny out of her train of thought. Heart pounding in sudden fear, she didn't move for a moment. It was still daylight, had to be, which meant that it couldn't be Angel. Still, it never hurt to be too careful. "Who is it?" she called.

"It's, uh, it's me." Even through the door, Rupert's voice was easily recognizable. With a sigh of relief, Jenny opened the door.

"Hey," she said. "Sorry. I just..."

He gave a small smile to indicate that he understood. "I didn't mean to disturb you. I just..." He rubbed the side of his head. "I was just heading home, and you were on the way, so I thought I'd... ah, check to see how you're doing."

Jenny wanted to smile at that, and at the worried, earnest expression on his face. "I'm fine, Rupert. Trust me, I'm not going to expire on the spot, or collapse as soon as you're not here."

She'd tried to say it lightly, teasingly, but Rupert flinched. Jenny sighed and rubbed her head. "I'm sorry," she said. "It's just... you keep fussing, and I'm..."

"Yeah," he said, uncomfortable, and adjusted his glasses.

"...not used to it," she finished quietly. "Hey, um..."

Rupert looked at her; he said nothing, but his expression prompted her to go on.

"Thank you."

Rupert gave a tight nod. "Would it be too... fussy... of me to ask if you need anything?"

The awkward uncertain look on his face made Jenny bite her lip to hold back from kissing him in reassurance. "No," she said, sounding as certain as she could.

"Good." He gave a slight smile, and said, "So, is there anything you need? Or anything I can do for you?"

"Not unless you happen to have an Orb of Thessulah," Jenny said, only half joking. "No. But thank you."

Rupert was staring at her with a faintly puzzled expression. "An Orb of Thessulah."

"It's a... it's an orb... that... never mind. Don't worry about it."

His expression hadn't changed. "I have one," he said quietly.

Jenny looked up at him, blinking, not sure that she'd heard him right. Rupert gave an embarrassed little smile. "I haven't had much use for it... it makes a good paperweight, though." The smile was gone as quickly as it had appeared. "Thessulan Orbs are spirit vaults for rituals of the undead, yes?"

"Yeah," she said, with a slight sinking feeling. It would have been easier if he hadn't known what they were, if he hadn't known what it meant that she was looking for one.

"Do you /have/ such a ritual?" he asked, quietly, as if he wasn't sure he dared know the answer.

Jenny looked away. A part of her was quite calmly telling her that she should stammer some excuse that would get her the Orb without admitting to him what she was doing. But she knew that the more she evaded his questions, the less of his trust she deserved. She was tired of trying to hide, to juggle two separate lives. "I might," she said with a sigh. "There's something I found that might be able to give Angel his soul back."

"Good Lord," he breathed. Jenny didn't dare look up at him. She knew what would be on his face -- surprise, disbelief, maybe hope or excitement -- and she knew that if she saw that, she would be tempted to explain everything. But she couldn't; she had to do this alone.

"I need to do more research," she said, "to make sure it works. I don't want to do anything stupid. But... yeah."

She looked up at him finally, and he gave a quick delighted smile. "Jenny, that's wonderful! I... I ought to tell Buffy..."

"No." Confusion replaced the surprise and hope on his face, and she rushed to explain. "I don't know that it's going to work, and I don't know if I'll be able to do it. It's why I didn't want to say anything to you until I knew for sure, and I certainly don't want Buffy to know yet. If we get her hopes up about this, and then it fails..." Jenny shrugged. "She's already lost Angel once. I don't want her to go through that again."

Rupert had gone back to the withdrawn, unreadable expression he got when he was retreating back into his shell, and Jenny tried not to wince. "Fair enough," he said at last. "I'll bring the Orb by tomorrow."

"In daylight, please," she said, with the faintest of smiles. She didn't want to risk losing another Orb to Angelus, and she /certainly/ didn't want to risk losing Giles.

He blinked. "In daylight, yes, of course. Jenny?"

"Hm?"

"Do be careful. I won't give you a lecture on the dangers of magicks... but the rituals of the undead are far more powerful than many things. Let me know before you actually do something, all right? If you're doing something that'll put you at risk, you need someone to watch your back for you."

Jenny nodded tightly, feeling something in her chest constrict. The nod was a deliberate lie, since she wasn't planning on involving him in the spell; she couldn't put him in that kind of danger, and she didn't really want to get /his/ hopes up, either, if it wasn't going to work.

Giles watched her for a moment, and then nodded. "I should get back home before the sun sets," he said, a bit awkwardly. "I'll see you tomorrow, then, with the Orb?"

"Yeah." Jenny wanted to kiss him, for his help and for not asking too many questions, but she stifled the impulse. "Thanks."

"Don't do anything rash," he said, and Jenny nearly smiled. /It's a little too late for that,/ she thought, but all she did was nod.

He gave her one last thoughtful look before leaving. Jenny, watching him leave, felt a pang of regret, missing the closeness they'd had once. Months ago, they would have touched, kissed, held each other. Months ago, she would have told him everything, worked with him on this, been comforted by his reassurances and support.

Months ago, Angel still had his soul, and Buffy didn't hate her for what she hadn't said.

Sighing, Jenny closed the door again and went back to the computer. The only way to make this up to Buffy -- and, indirectly, to Rupert -- would be to finish what she had started.

She spent several hours staring at the screen, playing with different variations of the spell, but in the end she left it the way it had been. Magic tended to be ritualized to some extent; even though this spell had been created in a hurry, it had worked once before. There was some possibility that changing the words would render the spell impotent.

Exhausted, head hurting still, Jenny finally went to bed. If Rupert brought her the Orb, she would be able to do the spell, but she would need as much of her energy as possible.

/You need someone to watch your back,/ Rupert had said. And a voice in her mind added, /someone to cast the spell with./ Rupert had already proven himself able to do magic. This was perhaps a bit darker, but she had no doubt that he wouldn't hesitate at the chance to help, no matter what the cost to himself.

And that, Jenny told herself firmly, was exactly why she couldn't let him help. This was her mistake, not his; she was the only one who should have to take any risks.

It was late afternoon before anyone came by the next day; Jenny, who had half convinced herself that she'd dreamed the previous day's promise, answered the door almost immediately after the knock. "Ru--" She stopped, blinking in surprise. "Willow," she corrected. "Hi."

"Hey," Willow said. She was holding a small plastic grocery bag, which she held out to Jenny. "Giles asked me to give you this."

"Thank you." The bag was heavy, about the right weight for an Orb of Thessulah. Jenny didn't look inside. Curious as to how much of her secret Rupert had kept, Jenny asked, "Did he tell you what it was?"

Willow shook her head, eyes large and serious. "Nope. He said it was important though." She hesitated, and then blurted, "I want to help."

Jenny cocked her head, deliberately pretending more confusion than she felt. "Help with...?"

"Whatever it is you're doing. You're planning something, I know you are, I can tell, and, well." Willow gave her an almost embarrassed look. "I can help, really I can."

"Willow, I'm not getting you involved--" Jenny cut herself off, realizing too late that she had effectively admitted to doing something.

"Buffy's my friend. I need to help her." The girl tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, looking up with a pleading expression.. "Please?"

Jenny looked at her somberly. "I'll let you know," she said softly. She was even less likely to let Willow help than to let Giles help, but she didn't particularly want to argue the point. She could always apologise afterwards, if Willow needed it. "Thanks. And thank you for this," she said, lifting the bag. On the verge of asking one last question, she stopped, and then continued cautiously: "Did he say why he sent you, instead of bringing it himself?"

The more pessimistic part of her, the part that was convinced everything with Rupert had been permanently changed by the situation with Angel, was whispering insistently that he had come to his senses finally and was avoiding her as much as possible. The part that held firmly to the belief that everything could be made right between them, eventually, was far quieter, relying more on the illusion of hope than on any sort of evidence.

Shrugging, Willow said, "Not directly... I think he's doing more training with Buffy though."

"At the library," Jenny said, more statement than question.

"Actually, no. Giles wanted to do stuff with swords, and they're not really supposed to have pointy things on the school grounds."

Jenny shook her head. "They do have them there, though."

Willow's grin was mischievous. "Yeah, but they pretend not to. Anyway, there's really no one on campus on Sundays, but they didn't want to take the chance. And Giles said something about field practice. I think he meant that literally, practicing in a field. 'Cause fighting in a field, or in a graveyard, or somewhere like that, requires different techniques than fighting inside the library where the ground's solid and not bumpy."

"That makes sense," Jenny said, relaxing. "All right. Thanks, Willow. I'll see you at school tomorrow?"

"Yep," Willow said cheerfully, and waved.

Once she had left, Jenny closed the door, locked it carefully, and reached into the bag. There was something inside, roughly Orb-sized, wrapped in a soft dark fabric to cushion it. Jenny stared at it for a moment, then set it carefully down on the table and unwrapped enough of the fabric to display the contents.

It was, as Rupert had promised, an Orb of Thessulah; real, intact, and waiting for her to use it. Jenny touched it lightly, awed, and couldn't stop a smile.

"This is going to work," she said. It wasn't the first time she'd said it, but each time she was one step closer to the goal.

She had the Orb, and the spell; the only thing remaining was to find a place to perform the spell. She could do it in her apartment, where Angelus couldn't get to her, but the spell was a strong one, and needed power she didn't have. The original curse had been performed by a Clan elder who was a powerful witch. Jenny had some talent, but not the native power.

But she could, she knew, draw power from the environment. Especially if the environment had its own strong magical energies. Someplace like the Hellmouth.

Slowly, she dredged up memories of the previous year's prom; of impossible masses of vampires heading with determination towards the school library, of tentacles coming out of the library floor, moments of utter chaos that at the time seemed permanently burned into her brain. The library was as close to directly over the Hellmouth as she could reasonably get. If she used the Hellmouth's power in addition to her own...

/And,/ she realized, remembering what Willow had said, /Rupert isn't at the library. For once./

She had a chance to do the spell, uninterrupted, if she did it now.

Jenny was moving almost before she'd finished the thought, collecting the herbs that she needed for the spell, gathering together a number of white candles, and dumping them all in the plastic bag with the Orb of Thessulah. She took a printout of the soul restoration spell, gave one last glance around her apartment to make sure she hadn't forgotten anything, and then left, heading for the empty library.

**********

[ continued... ]

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