Rated PG for violence. Assume that everything happens in this story, as happened in the episode [Passion] -- right up until Angelus appears in the computer lab.
A shadowy figure was seated across the room. Angelus smiled, just a little, and Jennie knew.... *Sorry, Rupert. Guess I won't see you later, after all.* Pretending calm, she tugged the pen from behind her ear and dropped her hand into her lap-- along with the disk.
"You know, I'm only doing this for Buffy," Angelus said, standing. "Nothing personal."
Keeping her eyes focussed on him, she wrote RUPERT on the disk's label, and let it slip from her fingers to the floor.
"Well, actually, it *is* personal," he added. Suddenly, he was standing in front of her. She didn't need to pretend fear; she leapt to her feet, knocking her chair over as she pressed her back to the wall.
Angelus smiled with feigned curiosity as he lifted the Orb from its carved box. "Capturing souls in a crystal ball," he mused. "If you were voudoun, you'd use a bottle."
*A bottle, huh?* Jennie thought, detached. *Wonder if Rupert knows about that?*
"You know what I hate the most about these things? They're so damn fragile. Must be that shoddy gypsy craftsmanship," Angelus said, going on with his monologue. He threw it at the wall, then, with a deceptively careless movement, almost languid. She screamed as it shattered into dozens of fragments; one large piece richocheted off, gashing her forehead. A slow line of blood began to trace its way down the side of her face.
Casually, still, he moved toward the end of her desk, turning the monitor towards him. She backed towards the door, picking up her purse as she did so. He didn't bother to stop her, didn't even look at her. As he read the display, his eyes widened. "The ritual of restoration. Wow. This... this brings back memories."
"It's your cure," she began, hating the quaver in her voice.
"Oh, my *cure*? No, thanks. Been there, done that, and deja vu just isn't what it used to be," he cut her off. There wasn't anything she recognised as human in his voice-- not anger, not bitterness; not hate, nor passion.
"Nice work, gipsy," he added. One sweep of his arm, and the entire system crashed to the floor. The delicate circuitboards smashed to the tiles; wiring sparked, and a small fire started.
Jennie wasn't there to see it, or watch as Angelus dropped the precious printout into the flames. She was already out the door and running. Hearing another crash, she assumed he'd overturned her desk.
*He won't find the disk-- oh, please, let him not find it,* she prayed. *Don't let me die-- die for nothing. Let me make things right. Oh, please. He can't find, he won't-- he's crazy, he won't look for a disk-- he won't stop to search--
*He'll come after me.* And she could hear him.
Jennie careened down the hall, yanking frantically at a set of doors-- locked, trapping her. A desperate glance behind her showed Angelus, strolling towards her. She didn't bother screaming for help. Even if someone heard, it would only doom one more innocent to death. And if anyone deserved to die here, alone and in the dark, gods knew, it was she.
She ran on, and the next set resisted her. A frantic effort opened them, and she slammed them in the monster's face. He snarled, and she spun to continue her flight. Her ankle turned in her fashionable, impractical shoe. *If I live through this, I'm getting rid of all my heels,* she thought, skidding to a stop in front of a janitor's cart. As the monster crashed through the doors, she shoved it at him. Blinded with some alien, less-than-animal emotion, he slammed into it, toppling over, sprawling, cursing.
Jennie raced up a final flight of stairs, tearing her keys from her purse; this last set would bring her to the steps leading to the main exit, the parking lot, her car, and possible safety. For the first time, she thought she might live.
The monster was there at the top. Stunned, she stumbled to a stop. *This isn't fair!* she wailed. *I almost made it....*
Almost tenderly, he cradled her face in his hands. "I love this part," he murmured.
And her hand came up, and her car key slammed into his right eye.
Jennie was amazed, in a distant way, that it was so easy. Her key slid through the softness of the monster's dark eye. Something wet flowed over her fingers, and she yanked back as his howl of pain nearly deafened her. The serrated metal edges grated against the bone of the eye socket. The feeling was indescribably horrible, but she held tight to the key, and retreated, leaving the monster on his knees, screaming.
Somehow, she made it out the doors. Somehow, she got to the parking lot. Her fingers were strangely steady as she unlocked her door, got in, started the engine-- without even stalling-- and pulled out. In the rearview mirror, she saw the monster charge out of the school, the right side of his face a dark stain. She didn't even flinch, although she could hear his cursing over the engine noises.
She was more than a little pleased with her self-control and calm. *No fainting female, I.* She drove calmly down the streets of Sunnydale. She thought she saw an oddly pale woman in a red dress at a corner. She was sure she saw the monster, himself, standing in front of a store, no reflection visible. But she didn't scream, or even respond. She was very proud of herself. A true lady of the Rom, cool and collected until the end. Her pulse was quite even, and her breathing, slow and regular.
In fact, she was perfectly even and easy, until she found she had driven to Rupert's place. His thrashed-on car was nowhere to be seen. She shrugged, calmly, and drove around the block again. She paused in front of the house again. His thrashed-on car was nowhere to be seen. She shrugged, calmly, and drove around the block again. And again.
She wasn't sure, later, how many times she circled his home. Long enough that, by the time he did appear, she couldn't pry her fingers from the steering wheel.
Giles glanced over his shoulder as he locked his car door, and recognised Jennie's car. *Excellent timing.* He wondered if he should wait for her to get out; and then realised she didn't seem to be doing so. In fact, she didn't even quite seem to see him.
Frowning, he walked to her and bent down to look in the side window. Jennie was staring ahead, hands clenched around the wheel. He tapped on the window. No reaction.
"Jennie, are you-- Jennie?" No response.
Clearly, firm measures were called for. He opened the door, relieved to find it unlocked, and reached in to shake her, gently by the shoulder. She turned to look at him, then. His eyes widened; a line of dried blood ran down her face and neck. "Jennie, you're hurt!"
"He broke the orb," she said, as if that explained everything.
Carefully, he knelt beside her, holding the doorframe for balance. "Who did, Jennie?"
His hand tightened painfully on the frame. "He was at the school. Oh, god. He was there for you--"
"He broke the orb," she repeated. "So we'll need another one."
"Yes, of course," he said hurriedly. "Right now, though, hadn't we better get inside?"
"Inside, Jennie," Giles said again, standing, and gently reaching out to try and loosen her grip on the wheel.
"Inside. Right. I can do that." She released her hold, and climbed out, awkwardly, as if she had forgotten how to walk. She took a step, and then froze. "Omigod. Buffy-- Willow--"
"They're fine, they're just fine," he reassured her, relieved to see she was regaining some measure of her composure. "The ritual worked perfectly." As he spoke, he locked and closed her car door. Carefully, he put his arm around her shoulders. She leaned into him, slipping her arm around his waist, and they walked down the walk together.
Giles already had his keys out when they reached his front door, but his attention was caught by the single red rose tucked into the frame. He was confused, but a glance down at Jennie, who leaned against him wearily, eyes closed, offered the most likely explanation.
He smiled, just a little; he couldn't help it. He suspected that Jennie had had a little more in mind, this evening, than a simple conversation. He unfastened the lock, and opened the door.
Inside, only one lamp was on, giving just enough light to see by, and to give the whole scene a warm, intimate appearance. On his desk stood a holder with a magnum of what he presumed was champagne, with two glasses standing beside it. Rose petals were scattered across the desk, the floor; as Giles surveyed his home, he noted, with pleasure, that they made a trail upstairs, to his bedroom.
"Lovely," he said, his tone heartfelt. "Jennie, I do appreciate this-- the effort-- I'm... I'm touched. Truly, I am." He smiled down at her, feeling rather inclined to mist up.
She looked back at him, confused. "What effort?"
"This," he said, softly, taking in the living room with a look. She followed the direction of his glance, and her face paled terribly.
"I didn't do this--!" she grated, pulling away, and backing toward the door. "Rupert-- the ritual, to keep Angel out--"
"I haven't done it," he said, suddenly very afraid. "Jennie, get back into the car." He shoved his keys at her.
All she could do was watch, disregarding his instructions, as he pulled a long, narrow sword from the umbrella stand, and moved silently upstairs.
*He's going to die, and I'm going to have to watch. Love doesn't conquer all. It doesn't even conquer some.*
But in a moment, Rupert returned, looking vastly relieved. He stopped short when he saw her. "Jennie, I asked you to--"
"He isn't here, still?"
"No. No, he's gone. If he were here, he'd have shown himself by now." All the same, he moved around the rest of the house, sword ready, until he was certain, himself, that all was safe. He replaced the sword-- *Only Rupert would keep a sword in an umbrella stand,* she thought.-- and closed the door, locking it soundly. "Sit down and rest, Jennie, please." He led her to a chair; hesitated; then removed his coat and wrapped it around her shoulders, before helping her to sit. She clutched the slightly musty-smelling coat, still warm from his skin, around her, and watched as he gathered the ingredients needed to perform the revocation spell.
"Do you need help?" she asked.
"Just rest," he told her, more firmly. "You've had a terrible shock. I'll take care of everything."
Efficiently, he went through the words; when he concluded, she felt the quick, almost electric tingle that told her magic had been worked. "I found a way," she said, matter-of-factly, "to reverse the-- to restore the curse. An orb of Thesulah."
He paused in the act of closing the small case that had held the herbs he'd burned. "But the ritual that explains the use was lost--"
"I reconstructed it. But Angelus... I think he destroyed it. He broke the orb. It's all been for nothing," she said, dully.
"Jennie, no. You tried. I know you meant--"
"I saved the reconstruction," she continued. "But...."
"I think you need some sleep," he said, finally, when it was obvious she wasn't going to say anything else. The magnum of champagne caught his eye, and his mouth twisted in distaste. "Just a moment, though."
Moving quickly, he fetched a trashbag from the kitchen, then went back upstairs. He gathered up the roses from the treads of the steps as he went, and rummaged through his bedsheets until he'd picked out all the individual petals. Downstairs again, he gathered up the flowers from the desk, adding them to the bag, and topped it off with the champagne. He undid the locks, opened the front door, and dumped it on the pavement.
"Now-- time for you to sleep," he said, shutting the door and re-securing the locks. He turned to face Jennie, who was shaking her head, slowly.
"God. How can I sleep? I don't think I'll ever feel safe again. How can I ever feel safe?" There was fear, there, beneath the numbness, and guilt, too, Giles suspected. Misplaced guilt, but this wasn't the time to try and convince her of it.
"Go upstairs and take a shower," he said, firmly. "I've got a spare pair of pyjamas you can borrow...."
"I'm staying here?" she enquired, puzzled.
"I'd feel better, if you would," he admitted. "I don't imagine Angelus is going to make a second attempt on you in one night, but, well--"
"He isn't going anywhere tonight," she said flatly. Giles started to question her further, but something in her tone of voice stopped him. For the first time, he saw the stains on her left hand. He wasn't sure what it was, but he didn't care. Time enough to ask questions tomorrow.
"I can stay." She considered it, then stood up, shakily; she dropped back into the chair, and he hurried to her side. "I need new shoes," she informed him, as if it explained everything. Looking at the heels on the sandals, he was inclined to agree.
She sat still, looking at them, disapprovingly. Carefully, he knelt beside her and loosened the buckles, removing one shoe, then the other, and setting them neatly aside. He took a closer look at her left ankle; it looked slightly swollen. Gently, he raised her foot in his hand. "You may have a sprain, here," he remarked. "I'll get some ice for it. Well, after the shower. Come on, now."
"Okay, I'm going, quit fussing," she said, with a temporary return of spirit. She stood, successfully, this time, and walked slowly to the stairs. He followed.
"The bathroom's through here. Let me get the-- here you are," he said, handing her a pair of dark green pyjamas. "You'll find soap, and shampoo, and, er, whatever you need. And a toothbrush in the closet, I think."
"Okay, thanks. Thank you." She closed the door, and he heard the lock catch.
Down in the kitchen, Giles dithered. Should he make tea, or possibly some soup? would she want to eat, or just rest, or perhaps some juice, instead of tea? *Stop this,* he ordered himself. *One of you has to be the grown-up, and right now, it's your turn. Later, she can take care of - you-.* The possible double meaning in his words occurred to him a moment later, and he choked on the cup of tea he'd poured himself.
Jennie scrubbed at her hand with a soapy washcloth, until every trace, real and imaginary, of blood and fluid was gone. Unscented, plain, white soap, of course-- nothing frivolous for Rupert Giles-- and plain, simple white towels. She wondered, briefly, if *everything* he owned was that simple. Then again, he had that nice lamp downstairs, that meant something, didn't it? Of course it did.
The tiny window in the bathroom had steamed over. It was frosted glass, so no-one outside could see in. If anyone cared to watch, that is. *Who would, though, really, I mean, he's a librarian, nothing exciting happens here, not at all, well, except for homicide every once in a while, and, hell, this -is- the '90s, we're -used- to this kind of thing. Right. So, the only one who'd spy on Rupert would be, okay, maybe me, and a stray vampire, maybe, and I wouldn't invade his privacy--*
The thought that someone might be watching the house-- someone with every reason to hate and resent both of them-- sent Jennie out of the shower in a second, grabbing both towel and p.j.s, and into the bedroom. She dried herself off with shaking hands, letting the towel fall in the general direction of the bed, and yanked on the borrowed clothing. A draft sent a chill over her skin. *Why's he got the window open? Oh, great. He's a fresh-air freak.* She slammed it closed and drew the curtains. She did not look outside into the darkened street.
When she walked back downstairs, she wasn't surprised to see Rupert in the kitchen with a kettle. *Tea, the cure-all. He should be in a museum, somewhere.* But she accepted the cup he offered her, as well as the ice bag. She did, however, make a face as she took a sip. "How much sugar is *in* this?"
"It won't do you any harm," he said firmly. "You've had a terrible shock. You need something warm inside you."
"I thought I needed sleep," she said, rather embarrassed at her pettish tone of voice, as she sat on the couch, drawing one foot up under her. She stretched out her leg and pressed the ice bag to her ankle.
"That, too." Rupert paused. "I also thought-- did you, had you wanted to tell me what happened?" She shivered. "No, never mind," he said, "I shouldn't--" Cautiously, he sat down next to her.
"I think you need to know," she interrupted him. Jennie took a pause, to gather her thoughts. "I was finishing up the reconstruction-- the lab has a -- well, I sort of-- tweaked the connexion, so the lab computers run a *lot* faster." Rupert nodded encouragingly, although she suspected he didn't have a clue what she was talking about.
"It was dumb, really," she said. "I should have gone home. I should have told you-- never mind, forget it. I was in the lab, and he was just *there*. Somehow, he knew about it-- the orb, I mean. I think we'd better be a lot more careful about security, from now on."
"I'm sure you're right," he replied, politely. "So, he broke the orb, trashed a perfectly good computer, and, um, tried to kill me."
Rupert looked at her. Dark bruises were beginning to show at the angle of her jaw. "Yes, I see," he said, lips tight. "And you...?"
"Put my car key through his eye."
He stared. "Your key."
"Through his, ah, eye."
"He wasn't amused."
"No. No, I can see how he mightn't-- um, yes." He was watching her closely, now. "You might consider not going out alone after dark for a while, Jennie."
"I was thinking that, myself." She took another sip of tea. "Nice place you have here."
"Thank you. Jennie?"
"I think you'd best go to bed."
"I have a feeling I'm gonna have a nice set of hysterics, later on. If I'm going to have a lousy night's sleep, I'd like you to share it." She stopped. "That wasn't quite what I meant."
"It's all right," he said, softly. "I understand."
"Yeah. I thought you would."
She took her cup into the kitchen, set it on the sideboard, and wandered back upstairs.
Giles watched her as she left. He did not, at all, like the situation. Jennie was far too calm for his peace of mind. He didn't suppose it would last, though. Thoughtfully, he picked up the phone, intending to call Buffy, then replaced the receiver. Like as not, his Slayer had quite enough trouble, without him adding to it.
He rinsed out their cups and the teapot, double-checked all the locks, and turned out the lights, before heading upstairs. She was already in bed, the blankets tugged up around her chin, curled in a small ball. He noted the window was shut. He picked a damp towel from the floor where she had let it fall, and went into the bathroom, stopping long enough to pull his own pyjamas from the bureau.
He washed quickly, brushed his teeth. He considered the situation; and then opted to leave the light on, closing the door almost all the way.
*This is awkward,* he realised, standing over her at the foot of his bed, looking down at Jennie. Ought he to sleep on top of the blankets? That was the most mannerly thing to do, certainly. Or would she take it as some kind of subtle insult? He could sleep on the floor, although he was really getting too old for that kind of thing--
"Rupert, cut it out and come to bed. You're giving me the creeps," Jennie said, without opening her eyes.
"Um, yes. Right."
Hesitantly, and feeling like an utter fool, he climbed into bed next to her, deciding to leave some space between them. His bed was just big enough to give them both some room. He was rather proud of himself for being able to understand that, given the recent violent occurrences, she wouldn't welcome any physical--
Jennie turned and wrapped her arms around him, burying her face in his chest.
--on the other hand, the need for comfort was, he knew, strong in everyone, especially after violent occurrences.
"Shut up, Rupert," he muttered under his breath, and shut his eyes.
A moment later, he tensed and sat up. Jennie bolted upright, heart beating frantically. "What is it-- what's--"
"I forgot to set my alarm," he said, shaking his head at his own carelessness. He leaned over her to the clock at the bedside, fiddled with the settings, and lay down again.
"Riiiiight," she said, and returned to her former, very comfortable, position, with her cheek resting on his heart, her arm around his waist. He settled his own arm around her shoulders, holding her close and easy. Such a nice man.
He'd had to set the alarm. For some reason, she found that comforting in its normalcy.
Buffy was screaming.
It was her fault. She should have stopped and killed Angelus, not just wounded him.
Buffy was screaming.
"Jesus!" she gasped, sitting up in bed. Jennie looked around wildly for the source of the terrible, shrieking noise, and located it in the alarm clock inches from her head. She slapped at it, and the din ceased. She turned again, to meet Rupert's more-than-slightly-shocked expression. "Over- reaction, huh?" she said.
"In a small way," he agreed. "Um-- good morning?"
"Sure, why not." She cast a baleful look at the old-fashioned wind-up alarm. "I'm getting you an electric clock," she announced as she disentangled herself from the sheets, unwillingly; they were still warm from his body.
"And if the electricity goes out," he said, reasonably, "it won't go off, and I'll be late to work."
"Live a little, Rupert. Life won't come to an end if you're late for work once. Want me to make tea?" she asked, feeling suddenly terribly out of place.
"No, that's quite all right. You drink instant coffee; I shudder to think what you'd do to tea," he replied.
Jennie rolled her eyes and scooped up her clothes. "I don't guess you keep any women's clothing around, do you? Didn't think so. I've got a spare set in the car, actually. I keep meaning to work out before school, but it just never happens. Would you mind...? Or should we give your neighbours a thrill?"
"I'll go," he said, hastily, pulling on a pair of slippers and hurrying down the stairs.
Jennie moved to the window, and watched him leave the house. He dumped a plastic trash bag at the curb, before going to do battle with her car. He had a brief struggle with the keys, but emerged with her bag. He glanced up, and saw her watching him; she was surprised to find herself blushing. Before she could do something dumb, she hurried to the bathroom.
"I'll leave your, ah, things on the bed," he called a moment later.
When she finished, she shoved yesterday's clothes back into the gym bag. She was going to just-- just throw them away, she decided, with a shudder.
She met Rupert on the steps, still in his slippers. He smiled, a little embarrassed. "There's tea and toast ready for you, on the table," he said.
"Thanks." She dropped into a chair at the tiny kitchen table and ate absently, not really knowing what she was eating. Even if the orb was useless, even if the restoration ceremony was no good-- the monster had mentioned capturing souls in a bottle. Had he been serious? Just how much did he know about magic and the occult? He'd helped Rupert; but then, that had been Angel. Angel the man; Angelus the demon; and never the two should meet.
There had to be a way. This mess was her fault. She would have to fix it. She had to fix it.
Giles hurried downstairs, knotting his tie. No matter how she tried to dissemble, Jennie Calendar was definitely *not* all right. The few words she had spoken last night hadn't done anything to give him less reason for concern. But his worry faded somewhat as he saw her sitting, apparently relaxed, at his table. "He said you could capture souls in a bottle," she informed him, leaning to fill a cup for him.
"Thank you. Angelus said this?" he asked, seating himself.
"Last night, right before he broke the orb. Angel knows a lot about magic, doesn't he?" she asked, watching for his response.
"Well, yes, he does. Quite a bit, really. I was impressed, really," he admitted, smiling a little.
"So it's possible-- he said, if I could work voodoo, that's how I'd do it-- instead of with the orb," she added.
He sighed. "But one can't draw conclusions about what *Angelus* might know. Why would he have told you about another possible cure? I don't imagine he was any too eager for the return of his soul, last night...?"
"No, he wasn't. Not at all. But... well, maybe there's a part of him that's still Angel, that's still human. Or-- or maybe he figured, it didn't matter what he told me. He was going to kill me. Wasn't like I could tell anyone anything...." Her voice trailed off, and she was suddenly fascinated by the dregs of tea in her cup.
"We'd best be off," Giles said, quietly. "I'd like to speak to Buffy before class, make sure everything's well."
She looked up again, surprised by his words. "Did something happen last night?"
"In a manner of speaking. Angelus paid a call to the Summers residence, last night. Mrs Summers is now aware of their, ah, involvement."
"Is she all right?" Jennie asked.
"Yes, she's fine-- but she's had a bit of a shock. I imagine Mrs Summers had a few things to tell her daughter." Giles smiled wryly.
"Wow. He's a sadistic bastard, isn't he?"
Giles' eyes were caught by a spot of red on the carpet-- a stray rose petal.
"Yes, he is," he agreed, soberly.
Jennie set her cup on the table. "Okay, let's go."
Giles followed. "Is your ankle better, then?"
"It's just fine...." she said, and was horrified to find tears in her eyes. "I'm okay. I'm just fine. I'm okay."
"You're crying," he pointed out, stepping a little closer to her.
"It hurts," she said, voice cracking. "It really hurts."
"I know it does; but it will get better." He held his hand out to her, and she walked into his arms. She only wept for a moment or two, before pulling herself together.
"It won't hurt forever," Rupert told her.
"Promise?" she said, scrubbing at her eyes with her hand.
"I promise," he replied, handing her a handkerchief.
She linked her arm with his as they walked out. Rupert said it was going to be all right. *Ha. A lot he knows.* But somehow, she felt a little, just a little, better.
"Buffy!" Willow hurried to her friend. "Is everything okay? I mean, after I left, did you guys, you know, have another talk?"
"Yeah, kind of. I mean, Mom didn't say anything, but...." Buffy shrugged.
"Oh, yeah." They crossed the campus slowly, heading to a table, where they could see Xander and Cordelia, having what seemed to be an actual conversation.
"Have you guys been to the computer lab yet?" Xander asked, the moment they got there.
"No." Buffy looked at the ground.
"Uh-huh. Why?" Willow asked.
Cordelia and Xander traded looks. "It's trashed," Cordelia said, at last. "I mean, really trashed."
"What'd Ms Calendar say?" Willow wanted to know.
"She isn't here, yet."
"I hope she's okay. I mean, who would want to hurt her?" Willow said.
The same thought occurred to all four at once.
"Oh, no," Buffy said, softly, and they ran for the library.
"Giles isn't here, either," Buffy said, emerging from his office a few minutes later.
"Well, the library isn't supposed to really open for another couple of minutes," Willow pointed out.
"Giles *lives* here," Xander reminded her, but before anyone could say anything else, the librarian himself entered.
He looked only mildly surprised to see them.
"Giles, the computer lab--" Buffy began.
"I already know," he said, interrupting her gently. "Jennie told me."
"She's okay!" Willow said, sitting down, incredibly relieved.
"She's fine," Giles reassured her. "Rather shaken, though. She was here, last night, working on a way of restoring Angel's soul. However... events conspired to interrupt her plans."
"Angelus, the man with the plan," Xander said, interrupting him sarcastically. "He did the redecorating, huh?"
"Yes-- and tried to end Jennie's research... permanently."
"But... she's okay."
"Yes, Buffy. She's fine... and she may have a way to help Angel. To help all of us."
Buffy was quiet for a moment. "It may be too late," she said, finally. "We may not have any time left. He's really crazy, Giles. He's going to get one of us, sooner or later." She looked around at all of them. "That's the way he works. He can't come into our houses, but we can't hide forever."
"Buffy." She wouldn't look at him, so he rested his hand on her shoulder, lightly. "Buffy, don't lose hope. This isn't done, yet."
"One way or another, it has to be," she replied. "Soon."
Jennie exhaled slowly. In the light of day, the wreckage of the lab looked really, really bad. *Guess Angel came back to do some more redecorating after I left.* Every monitor, and almost every console, was on the floor. Most of the desks were in fragments,and all the windows were broken. *Points for enthusiasm.*
Principal Snyder walked around, lecturing the janitor on the proper means of disposing of the remains. She wondered if he would have done the same for her, if the monster had left her body on school grounds. Keeping out of the harrassed janitor's way, she moved to her desk, and sighed. The disk was there... smashed. "Damn," she said, softly.
Snyder interrupted her, shoving a stack of papers at her. "Fill these out. Insurance forms," he said, curtly. "I want them by the end of the day. Classes are cancelled." He stalked out, muttering about hormone-fuelled juvenile delinquents who belonged on wildlife preserves, not in educational institutions, and why didn't they bring back thumbscrews, because *that* might teach them some respect for authority, although he really doubted it.
Jennie was glad to see his total indifference to others' reactions. She didn't feel like fielding any more questions. A police officer had come out to survey the damage, and chalked it up to vandals; although he'd asked several questions about the possibility of someone who had a grudge against her. Snyder had echoed the questions, adding his own special Inquisition-brand touches to it until the officer had retreated with Jennie to the teachers' lounge.
For a wild moment, Jennie had considered saying, You know, as a matter of fact, there is. He's about two hundred years old, he's this vampire, two centuries old, yeah, and he's kind of a psycho. He's trying to kill off his girlfriend-- she slays vampires, see. Well, he's going to kill her, but he's going to kill all her friends, first. He's kind of over dramatic, and -- did I mention he's a vampire?
Several faculty members had expressed their sympathy, and asked her the same basic questions. She'd shrugged, and said, Must be vandals. Must be. Yeah.
It hadn't escaped her notice that Rupert's apartment had been set up in a parody of a seduction scene. Not really her style, roses and opera and champagne and dim lighting. Well, maybe the lighting. She idly wondered how Angelus had meant to display her. Naked, between the sheets, maybe? Throat cut, in a bubble bath? Nailed to the door-- she cut her thoughts short, grabbed her purse, and fled for the shelter of the library.
If she was going to indulge in morbid fantasy, she was damned well going to do it with company...!
Buffy was having an impossible time paying attention. Somehow, Charles Dickens didn't get the attention as vividly as Angelus did. *Homicide has a way of grabbing your imagination.* Not to mention, she was going to spend the next seventy eight years trying to live down his little confession to her mom. *I mean, of all the times to go honest. What was he -thinking-? Oh, right, I forgot. 'He was thinking, Let's destroy Buffy's life.' Silly me. I'm going to join a convent.*
Xander was barely pretending to listen to the teacher. He wasn't a big fan of Classic Literature at the best of times, and this wasn't. *Pip. Oh, man. Couldn't he give these people normal names? Why can't we just watch the movie?* He snuck a peek at Buffy, who was watching the teacher with an expression of interest. *I bet she doesn't have any idea what he's saying. Well, okay, me, neither. Angelus. Geez. She's thinking about him, I bet. She's always thinking about him. He's all she thinks about. Angel, Angel, Angel. Oh, god. Now she's got -me- doing it....*
*Poor Estella,* Willow thought. *She never had a chance, living with someone as nuts as Miss Havisham.* She didn't have to look at Buffy or Xander to know that her friends weren't paying any attention. *I know what -that- means. Cram session before the exam, again. Oh, well. I wonder if I should tell Oz. No, probably not. This is a real girl thing.*
"Jennie!" Giles was surprised to see her. "Classes--"
"Cancelled due to technical difficulties." She handed a piece of yellow plastic to him.
"Yes, of course," he said, taking it from her. He regarded it with confusion. It looked like one half of a computer disk, label more or less intact. "The ceremony...?"
"Yeah. Lost. We'll have to start over," she informed him, moving past him, up the stairs.
He started to toss the disk in the trash, but the writing on the label caught his eye-- his own name, written in slightly shaky block capitals. He looked at Jennie, as she moved through the stacks. She hadn't expected to live; but she had tried to make her last act count. He was suddenly very cold. They might well be able to 'cure' Angelus-- but could they manage it before one of them died? He was terribly afraid that the answer was no.
"You're sure you'll be all right?" Rupert asked her, for what seemed the hundredth time, as they were leaving the building.
"I'll be fine," Jennie asserted. "I never invited Angel into my place, so he can't get in."
"You know, you're-- you're welcome to stay with me," he offered, diffidently.
"I know. Thanks," she said sincerely. "I just need some time to... I don't know. Decompress? Whatever. Hey, anyway, help is only a good, loud phone call away, right? I've got you on my speed dial."
"How, ah, gratifying," he said, uncertainly. "May I call you, later, then? For my own peace of mind?"
*Well, when you put it -that- way....* "I'd like that."
Rupert was quiet until they reached her car. He held the door for her as she got in. "Have a good evening," he said, ever-so-slightly wistful.
"I will. You, too. If you talk to Buffy...."
"Yes?" Now his expression was guarded.
"Tell her it's gonna be okay. We're not done, yet. Tell her... this wasn't her fault. It's Angelus who's to blame."
He smiled for real, then, his eyes crinkling at the edges. "I'll tell her. Thank you, Jennie."
"Bye," she said, and pulled off.
Jennie drove home in utter calm and relaxation, just enjoying the moment. She stopped at the grocery and bought some milk and bread, and chatted with the cashier cheerfully. She got home, locked the door, put away the milk, and fell apart.
*Really* fell apart, this time, no fooling around, no holding back.
*You're having an anxiety attack. Just ride it out,* said a little voice in her head.
*Forget -that-,* she retorted, *I've been waiting to break down all damn -day-.*
After years and years, she managed to breathe again. After centuries, she managed to stop crying. Her muscles relaxed from the almost unbearable tension. She flopped over onto her back and stared at the ceiling, stars dancing at the edges of her vision. *You know, most people just have brief crying jags. Of course, most people don't almost get iced by the undead. Oh, man.*
She closed her eyes.
The alarm went off, and she slapped at it. "Dammit, Rupert! Get an electric clock!" It kept ringing, and she slapped at it again, vaguely aware something was wrong. Rupert had a nice, soft, warm bed. This bed was hard as a... floor.
She opened her eyes. She was crashed out on her living room floor. And her phone was ringing still.
Reluctantly, she pulled herself up, wincing as her ankle pained her, and grabbed the receiver up. "What?" A semi-panicked man's voice answered her.
"Jennie? Jennie, is that you? Are you all right? Jennie--!"
"I'm here, Rupert."
"Thank god! Your phone kept ringing-- I was about to drive over."
"I'm okay, Rupert. I was asleep."
"Oh! I'm sorry, then."
"No big deal. Uh-- hell. It's not even nine o'clock."
"Yes, quite. Well, I'll let you get, ah, back to sleep."
"You were really going to drive over here?"
"I was worried," came the soft reply.
"Wanna drive over, anyway?"
Pause. "I'll bring my pyjamas."
"You do that. See you in a few." Jennie hung up, smiling.
*BREEEEEP BREEEEEP BREEEEEP*
"Dear god! what *is* that?!"
"Get a grip, Rupert. It's my alarm."
"Dear god. I'm buying you a wind-up."
"Come on. We've got a long day ahead of us."
Rupert looked at her blearily, hair sticking up, eyes unfocussed. He wasn't quite a vision from GQ, but Jennie didn't think she'd ever seen anything so appealing. She leaned over and kissed him, once.
"So-- good morning?" she asked.
"Better than most," he admitted, reddening slightly.
Pow. Pow. Pow.
With each strike at the combat dummy, Buffy felt herself grow calmer and calmer. She was going to have to kill him. There wasn't any other way.
A quick series of trip-hammer blows followed, just restrained enough to not pulverise the dummy. She had no intention of showing any such restraint, when it came to the end.
She could feel Willow's eyes on her as she worked. "Wanna take a shot, Will?" she asked, pausing briefly.
"Maybe later," Willow demurred.
"Okay. So, what's wrong?"
"Uh, I don't know. Oh, wait-- yes, I do-- *everything*. Buffy, you heard Giles and Ms Calendar. They have a cure--"
"Might have a cure, Will."
Buffy stopped, resting her hands on the dummy's shoulders. "He tried to kill her, Will. Do you know what that would've done to Giles? He loves her."
Willow looked around; to her relief, the adults were bent over a stack of books. "I know he's missed her--"
"Trust me, Will. I know these things."
Willow blinked. *I guess she does.*
"Anyway, he's going to keep trying. All of us have to be lucky forever. He only has to be lucky *once*. So I'm gonna make sure his luck runs out." Abruptly, she turned away and went back to her practice.
Willow watched for another moment, then turned away. Buffy was going to do something bad, she just knew it. Something Buffy would regret. But what was she going to do about it?
*Stop it, is what I'm going to -do- about it. Somehow.*
"In theory, it makes perfect sense," Giles said. "But in practice--"
"--it sucks!" Xander finished. "She's supposed to just walk up and stick a *bottle* in his face?"
"No, I'll do that," Calendar said evenly.
"And if it doesn't work, he'll kill you," Giles replied, less calmly.
"What's the theory, anyway?" Willow asked, innocently.
"Theoretically, this ceremony will call the spell of the individual named, and trap it in a bottle. When the bottle is broken over the body of the individual--" Giles began.
"Now, that part sounds good, especially if we can jam the sharp edges into his--" Xander interrupted.
"--when the bottle is broken," Giles continued, raising his voice, "the soul is released again."
"Usually, the person must be present in order to collect the soul, to begin with. But, since it's Angel... well...."
"We can try, I suppose, simply try and invoke it, as one might a demon," Giles said thoughtfully.
"He's not going to like it," Calendar said. "He wasn't enthusiastic about the idea last night...." Giles rested his fingers lightly on the back of her chair.
Buffy watched as they continued the discussion, wondering about logistics, planning strategies, and bickering. She smiled, once. And then she slipped away.
*If you're blue and you don't know where to go to why don't you take a life or three? Sure sounds good to me.
*Not playing with a full stack. Spike sweetie you don't know the half of it the fourth of it. Buffy. Oh yeah.
*Jennie. Lucky bitch. Well you're gonna wish I'd just finished you off last night. When I'm done with you.... Well you won't know how lucky you were last night. You're gonna wish.
*The Watcher. Ran right to him didn't you? Wish I could've seen his face when he saw the little love nest I made. I really wish I could've seen his face when he found you dead in the middle of roses but we don't always get what we want sometimes though we get what we need and what
*is to take care of Buffy. Oh yeah.
*Fire in the hole cuckoo in the nest Spike aren't you sorry I'm back back back honey I'm home sunny came home here's johnny? And you poor you you're not much good are you? Can't hunt can't hurt only sit in impotent rage while I do whoever oh sorry I meant whatever I want and what I want
*is to take care of the Slayer's friends and man oh man am I going to. Big fish little fish swimmin inna water finish off Rosenberg's redhaired daughter ooooh it rhymes. And Xander jealous Harris boy hated Angel all along bet he likes it better this way I bet I bet. No competition for Buffy now but oh wait I forgot he's ballin the jack isn't he? Good taste man I approve hey I'll even give the bride away at least pieces of her Cordelia Cordy yes I will.
*So who first?*
"Yes, Spike?" She looked away from where Angelus was sitting, gazing into a candle flame.
"I think maybe Angelus is showin a little *too* much enthusiasm for this project of his."
"He must have his fun, Spike."
"Well, let him have it somewhere else. Not here. All this playin around is gettin just plain boring."
"He'll kill her, luv, really, he will."
"But not before she gets a few more of us."
*The only way everyone I love will be safe, is if I kill him. Including Angel. He's in there, somewhere, I just know it. If I kill Angelus, it's over. Everyone's safe again, or, anyhow, as safe as it ever is around here.*
"Willow, we're ready to begin-- where's Buffy?" Giles asked.
"Maybe she went to the girls' room?" Willow hedged. "I'll tell her you need her--"
"It's all right," he said. "I thought she might-- might want to see this. But let her have some privacy, if she needs it."
"Good idea!" Willow exclaimed, relieved. "I'll just... uh, keep her company."
Before Giles could say anything, the hacker was on her way. *It's good to know the Slayer has such devoted friends,* Giles thought, then turned to his work.
Willow ran out the front door of the school. She knew exactly where her friend was going.
"She's comin, Spike. I can feel her...."
"Oh, lovely. Uninvited guests. This is all your fault, Angelus."
*Kiww the Swayer! Kiww the Swayer!*
Giles was chanting something in Latin. Herbs smouldered in a copper dish in the middle of the room, sending a strange, aromatic smoke spiralling up. His voice rang off the high ceiling with a weird echo.
"I really hope that isn't happy weed. I'd love to explain that one to Daddy," Cordelia muttered. Xander poked her in the arm.
Jennie held a little glass bottle, over the dish, in the smoke. The chanting got louder, and louder. And then he just stopped.
Jennie waited, eyes shut, praying to every deity she could think of, plus a few she wasn't sure about. *Let this work.* "I can feel him-- something, anyway."
"Angel, are you with us?" Rupert said, clearly, hands clenched into fists.
*Adsum.* The single word reverberated through them all; Jennie felt it all the way into her bones. The bottle in her hands blazed with light.
"He's here," Rupert whispered, eyes alight.
"Angel, we're going to re-curse you--" Jennie said, barely able to speak.
*Si dis placet.*
"Like, in English, okay?" Cordelia demanded, irritated.
"Not *now*," Rupert said. "We have to get Buffy, and Willow-- Cordelia--"
*She is safe?*
"She's fine, Angel. She's just fine," Rupert said.
Cordelia crashed back into the room. "They're gone!"
"The warehouse," Xander said, horrified.
"But Willow wouldn't go," Jennie objected.
"Oh, yeah, she would!"
"Hurry!" Giles snatched up the bag of weapons he always had ready, and raced out. Jennie, clutching the soul bottle, was close behind, with Xander and Cordelia on her heels.
Buffy moved like water flowing, into the open area of the warehouse. She saw Spike and Dru standing, off to the side, from the corner of her eye. Candles were lighted in a hundred places, but the face of Angelus shone brighter than any of them.
"Kill her," Spike snarled.
Angelus laughed. "I told you, not yet. Pretty soon, though. Patience, grasshopper."
Spike rolled towards him, smiling. "Do it now. Or she'll kill *you*."
"Get real. She isn't going to touch me. She can't do it. She doesn't have the nerve."
The fair-haired vampire smiled even more. "So you're not gonna do it?"
"Your call. Do it."
Two huge, muscled vampires loomed up out of the darkness. Buffy braced herself. To her shock, however, each of them grabbed one of Angelus' arms.
"You heard me," Spike said again, turning to Buffy. "Do it."
"You gotta be kidding."
"He's gonna kill your family, your friends. So that's your motive. He's pissin me off. That's mine."
"Spike, come on. Cut it out," Angelus said. He tried to yank away from his captors, but they held him still. Spike rolled closer. He leaned forward, and ripped Angelus' shirt open. The rattle of tiny buttons falling echoed in the warehouse.
"Sorry, Angelus. But you just won't see reason."
"Spike... let him go," Dru said, in honeyed tones. "He's our family."
"Yeah, he is. Oh, well. Come on, Slayer. Do it."
Buffy swallowed. She hadn't been expecting this, at all. She had planned to kill Angelus in a fair fight. But could she do it in cold blood? She looked at him. He drew her like a magnet. There was no-one home in those big, dark eyes, though.
"Yeah. I can do it," she whispered.
Dru snarled, almost a scream, hands curled into claws. She grabbed Buffy by the arms and threw her across the room.
"Dru! Dammit, don't you go interferin!" Spike ordered.
Dru made that terrible sound in her throat, again, and started forward. And then, a single crossbow bolt slammed into her shoulder, knocking her backward.
Willow Rosenberg stepped forward, fitting another bolt in the crossbow. She kept it pointed at Dru. The vampire yanked the stake from her shoulder, eyes blazing and maddened, but didn't make another charge.
"Nice shot, girl," Spike applauded. "Usually, I'd kill someone for even tryin somethin like that. Right now, though, I'll let it slide. C'mere, Dru. It's time this was over." Unwillingly, Dru backed up, glaring at the hacker, submitting to Spike's will. "Clean up when you're done," Spike added, as he rolled out, keeping a grip on Dru's wrist.
"Dru!" Angelus begged. His captors dragged him to one of the concrete pillars supporting the roof. With dumb indifference to his threats and pleas, they shackled him to it, from ankle to waist, and binding his arms behind him, leaving his chest exposed.
"Sorry, Angel. I'll remember you...."
Willow helped the Slayer stand. "Thanks, Will."
"Don't mention it." Willow was shaking, but her finger was still on the crossbow trigger.
"Lemme have that, would you?" Buffy asked. Willow handed the weapon over.
Slowly, Buffy levelled the tip of the bolt at Angelus. And for the first time, she saw fear in his eyes. Real, or feigned? Did it matter? No, not really.
"You'll kill us both," the monster snarled.
"That's what I'm counting on."
"There's another way." A woman's voice broke the heavy stillness.
"Get out of here," Buffy said.
"Not this time." Jennie stepped forward, the bottle blazing in her hand.
"They're going to let me kill him."
"Buffy...." Jennie moved to stand next to the Slayer. "It's here-- his soul, it's here."
Angelus snarled something incomprehensible, and again tried to free himself. But his captors had used chains unbreakable even by older vampires than Angelus. "Spirit in a bottle, gipsy? It won't work. Wrong kind of spell."
"Maybe, maybe not. Maybe just having the soul itself is enough."
"Giles? is she right?" Buffy asked.
"There's a good chance it will work, Buffy," Giles said, unable to lie, even now.
"Chance isn't good enough." And the Slayer pulled the trigger.
Jennie flung the bottle.
The crossbow bolt found its mark, first.
*Spiritu in situ.*
Angelus burnt, as the bolt pierced his heart.
*Is this how it ends?*
Before him, he saw a brilliant light. It called him, beckoned him. But in between him and the light, stood a great crowd of people, some familiar, some barely remembered. His sisters stood at the front of them.
*Is this how it ends?*
"I'm not sorry I did it!" he howled. "I'd do it again, and I'll do it now, when I can!"
*Is this how it ends?*
They reached for him. And he screamed, as they tore him to pieces. As they ripped him to shreds. As they devoured him whole.
*When does it end?*
And as he burnt, in agony living and burning, Angelus heard the answer:
It never will.
His head ached, everything ached.
"Is he-- is he dead?" *Willow? If that's Willow, then I can't be--*
"I've been dead," he said aloud. "This isn't it."
"Return of the night of the living dead," Xander intoned.
"Living's an exaggeration," Angel groaned, sitting up, slowly. He suspected that, were he to move too quickly, the top of his skull would fall off. He blinked hard, trying to make his eyes focus. They did. On Buffy.
"Hey," she said.
"Hey." He pulled himself to his feet, awkwardly.
" 's good to be back."
She reached out, and stroked his lips with her fingertips, just once.
"*Is* it permanent?" Giles wondered, as they left the warehouse.
"I don't know. Probably not. I'm surprised it worked as well as it did," Jennie admitted. "But it'll work for now. We'll have to try and find something stronger, just in case, anyway. I'll send to the old country. Maybe we can find something there. And I'll start trying to reconstruct the orb ritual."
"We're, uh, all going home," Willow said, stopping to talk to them.
"And Angel?" Jennie asked.
"He's going back to his apartment. I think they both need some space. Guess I'm having a sleep- over at Buffy's again," she said, with a tiny smile.
"Well, we'll see you in the morning, then," Giles said.
"Okay. Bye." She hesitated, then just smiled again, and hurried to catch up with the others. Giles and Jennie watched as the teenagers headed for Cordelia's car, piled in, and drove off. Angel glanced behind him, raised his hand to the adults, and was gone.
"Give you a lift home?" Jennie asked.
They didn't speak on the drive to his house.
"Good night," she said, as they pulled up.
"Good night." He didn't make any move to get out.
"Rupert...?" she raised a questioning eyebrow at him.
"I've still got that extra pair of, ah, pyjamas." He couldn't make himself look at her. In the streetlamp light, she could see his face reddening.
"So who needs pyjamas?" she asked, tentatively.
And he turned to her.
Much later, Jennie lay against him, very comfortable, position, with her cheek resting on his heart, her arm around his waist. He settled his own arm around her shoulders, holding her close and warm.
"I didn't say it," he murmured in her ear, "just because you did."
"Really. I love you."
"This isn't going to be easy."
"Nothing ever is. Sleep well."
"Yes, I set the alarm."
"Okay. 'Night, Rupert."
"Good night, Jennie."
--Will you never learn? Love knows no bounds....
--It's never too late.
-- "Never Too Late", Alison Moyet
Oh, come on. Of course there're loose ends. That's life, remember? Right.
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