Perchance to Dream | Part Three

Jenny looked up from the portable computer Rupert had borrowed from Willow for her to use. The waiting for him to get home from the school had been interminable, just as it had the day before, and the day before that, and now there was someone at the door. She smiled to herself. If she were really lucky it would be Rupert, without his key.

It wasn't.

She stood, open-mouthed, in the doorway staring at the two people looking back at her. The woman was tall and straight, dressed in black, her blue-grey hair swept up on her head and her aged face bore eyes of such infinite depth it was impossible to tell if they were black or brown. The man wore a peacock blue shirt with a string tie, beneath a black, continental three piece suit, his raven black hair shining and his deep blue eyes regarding her with a combination of admiration and contempt.

"Why are you here?"

"Because you are here." They stepped into the apartment without waiting to be asked.

Jenny reluctantly closed the door behind them and followed them to the sofa.

"What do you want? I asked for help, not a welcoming committee," she snapped nervously.

"What you want is irrelevant," said the old woman as she sat down.

A cold chill went down Jenny's spine. "I've done everything that was ever asked of me, including dying, for the honour of our people. What more do you want from me?"

The old one fixed her with dark, bottomless eyes. "Atonement."

"No!" Jenny cried, alarmed. "I haven't done anything—"

The young man, little older than she, fixed her with an azure stare. "What you have done to our people is beyond measure," he intoned darkly.

"Sascha…" The older woman warned softly. He subsided.

"Before your death, Janna, you failed in your duty to your people. You betrayed the most sacred of trusts…And you placed the needs of outsiders first…you even consorted with one of them."

"What I choose to do, and who I choose to be with in my own time is none of your damn business!" she shouted.

The older woman almost seemed to grow before her eyes. "Silence!"

Jenny quailed. When Zara of the Kalderash people was angry all Romany was angry.

"You have violated a trust, Janna. Not only did your uncle and many innocents perish because you failed to prevent this animal from being freed, you violated the most sacred trust of your people by reconstructing the curse…allowing its power to fall into the hands of outsiders…allowing Angelus to be saved…again."

Sascha sat forward. "His evil was such that your failure almost resulted in the destruction of the entire mortal realm at his hands. If not for you he would still be burning in hell…"

The old woman continued to stare at her fixedly. "Were it not for the courage of the young Slayer all would have been lost…all because you placed individual loyalties above the needs of your people, above your own blood…"

Jenny's dark eyes narrowed again. "The only need my people had of me was as a tool for blind vengeance. You told me nothing! Don't you dare try to legitimise a…a pathological obsession through Buffy and what she was forced to do. There is more courage and honour in that child than in all Romany!" she cried angrily, still raw from the horror of Rupert's recounting of the events that lead up to Angelus' demise and Angel's resurrection.

Zara finally blinked. "And so should it be," she said, unruffled. "She is the Chosen One. Her courage, her truth, is not in question. Yours, however, is. You will face your people, Janna. You will speak. And you will make Atonement. We will not help you to stay here and hide."

Jenny looked away, blinking back the tears that pricked her eyes. The sound of that metaphoric steel door slamming shut reverberated to her very core.

"Why? Why must I go back? Why must there always be more? I died. Isn't that enough?"

The old woman closed her eyes. "Your life has been restored. There is no honour now in your death."

"I died trying to restore Angel's soul…to restore the curse…how can you say that?"

"Because it is the truth. What you did, you did for pity…for love, not for your own people. The curse is a punishment…retribution…not a cure. A cure!" The woman almost spat. "And now Angelus walks among the living again, among friends, almost as one of them…This is not vengeance!"

Jenny dragged a hand through her hair. "Vengeance, vengeance. I'm so sick of that word...!"

Zara rose, her companion following suit. "You will be ready tomorrow morning. Arrangements have been made." She looked around the room. "If you care at all for this one, you will not defy us."

"You're threatening Rupert?"

The old woman shook her head and turned for the door. "You are."

Jenny opened the door numbly and received another shock. Buffy was standing on the porch.

Zara and her companion left with without a word and without turning back, moving past the smaller girl as though she wasn't even there.

"A—Are you okay?" Buffy asked hesitantly. The older woman looked as though she was going to pass out.

Jenny shook her head. "Hello Buffy," she said quietly, and made an effort to smile. "Long time no see."

Buffy swallowed, made just as big an effort to smile back. "I wanted…can we go inside?"

They stopped by Giles' desk, and Buffy began again. "I wanted to see you alone. I—I know we had some problems before…big problems…but I wanted you to know, I don't blame you for what happened…now."

Jenny stood very still, her brow furrowing. "But you…"

Buffy dropped her eyes for a moment. "I know. I blamed you for everything." She looked up. "You should have told me…you should have told him," she said quietly. "But…A lot has happened… and I know now things do happen…things you can't control, things you can't predict. You do what you believe is right, and you live with the consequences."

Jenny turned away. The changes in Buffy were almost painful. She was no longer the child she remembered. There was a depth of cynical weariness and real pain in those eyes, that voice that should never have been in one so young.

"Buffy, you never let me say it before…but I am sorry…sorry about all of it. If I had known exactly what it meant…if I'd known my people were less interested in justice than in satisfying some…some congenital obsession with vengeance, I would have confided in Rupert from the beginning."

"I know," Buffy said softly, believing it, perhaps for the first time. "Who were those people? They looked like—"

"Gypsies. They were."

Buffy looked up when Jenny didn't say more. There was a lost, miserable look on her face.

"What?"

"They want me to go away with them."

The girl's eyes widened. "No…you can't. You can't leave, not again!" she cried. "I won't let you hurt him again."

Jenny closed her eyes and made a noise in her throat. "I don't want to hurt him. I don't want to go…but I don't have a choice."

"You don't understand. You don't know how it was for him…when you died, what Angel did to him. You weren't there…you didn't see how much he missed you, how much he needed you. He doesn't deserve that much pain…nobody does."

Jenny opened her eyes again, blinked tears from them. "Don't you think I know that? I love him so much…I don't want to hurt him…but I don't have a choice."

"What do you mean you don't have a choice? This is the nineties. You need me to fight someone? I'll fight all of them for him…for both of you."

The older woman shook her head. "I wish it was that easy, but you can't fight history, tradition…blood. They can and will hurt Rupert if I stay."

"Not if I have anything to do with it," Buffy said angrily.

"There are a lot of ways to hurt someone, Buffy. Ways that you can't fight with stakes and crossbows."

"So you're just going to go? You're going to leave him alone, and hurting…again?"

Jenny dragged a hand across her eyes. "You really love him, don't you?" she said gently.

Buffy stared back at her. It was something she'd never consciously thought about before, never had to. And now that she did, the realisation that he was one of the most important things in her life…one of the most loved…came as no surprise at all.

"Too much to let anyone hurt him like that again."

"Hurt whom?"

Neither of them had heard the key in the door.

Giles looked from one to the other, the looks of surprise and what…guilt?…on both their faces almost comic.

"We were just talking," Buffy said too quickly.

Giles' eyes narrowed.

"Talking," Jenny agreed. "We've come to terms with a lot of things," she rushed on. "We understand each other a lot better."

Giles sat down on his desk chair and folded his arms. "When the pair of you are ready to tell me what's going on—and it's obvious something is wrong—let me know, won't you."

Jenny and Buffy looked at each other, and knew they were lost.

Jenny faced him. "I had some visitors today."

Giles straightened in his chair. Her expression was enough to set off alarm bells. "Who?"

"Family. They aren't going to help me, Rupert."

"What exactly do they want? They wouldn't come all the way here just to tell you that unless—"

Jenny wasn't looking at him any more.

Buffy looked from one to the other. "They want to take her away," she said sombrely.

"Away? They can't…I won't let—"

Jenny turned miserable eyes to his. "Rupert…"

He looked away and Buffy could see his chest rising and falling way too fast. "They can't have you," he said with quiet vehemence. "I won't let them."

Buffy touched Jenny's arm and indicated the door. And then was gone almost as swiftly and silently as Angel.

"Rupert," Jenny said softly, going to him and laying a comforting hand against his cheek. "This isn't demons and vampires. We can't fight them."

Giles turned the chair. "We can and we will. Jenny, I can't lose you again." He looked up at her with haunted eyes. "I won't."


*******


"I'm really worried about Giles. We have to find a way to get these creeps off Jenny's back…"

Buffy and Xander pushed the library doors open, Willow close behind with an arm full of library books.

"Where is he?" Xander asked, looking around. There were a couple of kids in the fiction section, but no sign of Giles.

"In the stacks, I guess," Buffy offered. "You check, and I'll go look in the office."

Willow, who'd started doing the returns on her own books, looked up. "He's probably on a tea break."

They all ended up in the office.

"He's not here. Giles is never not here. Remember when he had that really bad cold last fall? He still came to school."

Buffy made a face. "Yeah, it was gross. He must've gone through like ten boxes of tissues and the place smelled like nasal spray for days."

"What are you children doing in here?"

They turned.

"Miss Murray? We…ah…we're waiting for Mister Giles," Xander stammered.

"Mister Giles didn't come in today. You must all have better places to be, unless you need books, in which case you'd better go and find them. I'm keeping an eye on the library between my classes, so there'll be no loitering, particularly in teachers' offices."

Buffy shifted agitatedly. "Did Gil…I mean did Mister Giles call in sick? Did he say how long he's going to be away?"

Miss Murray folded her arms. "Personal information about the faculty is not for dissemination to students. Now don't you all have to be somewhere?"

"Don't you all have to be somewhere?" Xander mimicked as they strode up the corridor.

"Somewhere, all right," Buffy said ominously. "Giles' place. Now."

"But…classes," Willow yelped without thinking.

"Not you guys. Just me," Buffy qualified and strode ahead of them. "God forbid you should miss a minute of Mister Beach's weekly trigonometry extravaganza. I mean what's the possibility of Giles being in trouble compared to that kind of fun?"

"That was harsh," Willow complained. "Giles is more important than classes. She knows I care about Giles. I just..."

"She's scared. You'll live. C'mon, she's already got a head start on us."

Buffy ran all the way to Giles' apartment and pounded on the door when she got there. There was no answer. She tried opening it. It wasn't locked.

Everything was still, but one of the lamps was on the floor and some books, and two of the stools were knocked over. Buffy went upstairs just in case but it was deserted too. She was halfway down again when she heard a faint noise in the kitchenette.

Giles was lying on the floor, barely conscious.

Buffy dropped to her knees and slid up to him. "Giles!" There was a new, dark bruise over his left temple, another on his jaw, a fresh cut on his top lip, and he was very pale.

He opened his eyes slowly, wincing with pain. "Buffy…?" Then his eyes suddenly widened, the colour flooding into his cheeks. "Jenny!" He struggled desperately to get up.

Buffy put her hands on his shoulders to stop him. "She's not here, Giles. What happened?"

He sat down, holding his ribs and staring at her with desolate, disbelieving eyes. "She's gone. They came…I tried…I tried to stop them."

She let go and sat back on her haunches. "They didn't hurt her?" she asked softly, trying to ignore the moisture glistening in his eyes.

He shook his head. "The old woman…she did something with her eyes, said something, I don't remember what…it made Jenny compliant. And when I tried to stop them from leaving the young man set upon me."

"It looks like he hit you with a two-by-four…several times."

He sighed. "Martial arts. Aikido, I think."

"Then we go after them. Airports, train stations, bus depots—they won't hurt her, will they?"

Giles shook his head and looked away. "It's no good," he whispered hoarsely. "You won't find them now. They wouldn't risk public transport. I've lost her…again."

Buffy saw a drop of moisture fall from his chin and clamped her mouth into a hard line to stop her lip from trembling, trying not to make it any harder for him.

…Until he made the smallest of noises and lowered his head, his shoulders trembling in spite of his struggle to maintain control. It was more than she could bear.

"No…" she half whispered, half sobbed and put her arms around them, holding him fiercely. At first he neither resisted nor moved. Then, at the sound of her quiet weeping, he choked and drew an arm around her.

Moments later Willow and Xander quietly looked into the kitchenette, unnoticed, investigating the barely audible, but heart-rending sounds coming from it.

"No…" Willow mouthed, and burst into silent tears, grabbed Xander's sleeve and pulled him away.

Once they were outside a frustrated Xander ripped his arm from her grip and rounded on her, only to stop abruptly when he saw her face.

"Would you mind telling me what's going on? I thought we were supposed to be helping?"

She looked at him with haunted eyes. "Xander, shut up."

"Shut up?"

"Yeah. Shut up. Don't you get it? Jenny's gone," Willow said tremulously. "We're too late. Buffy was too late. Again."

Xander opened his mouth to speak, closed it again, his dark eyes glistening in the bright light, tried once more to speak, turned and ran.

She closed her eyes and leaned against the porch wall. A moment later she opened them again. She knew what she was going to do. It was probably a dead end, but this time there weren't even any other roads…


*******


Willow knocked on the big doors.

"It's open," a muffled voice called from somewhere inside. She let herself in cautiously.

"Angel?"

Willow jumped nervously when he emerged wearing only dark jeans. Even his feet were bare.

"Willow?" He looked more closely at her and crossed the floor fast. "Willow, what's wrong?"

She turned her reddened eyes up to his. "They took Jenny. Buffy is with Giles."

"Who? Who took her?"

"The Gypsies…her people."

Angel dragged a hand through his hair. "Don't they ever let go…?"

"I know you know them. I…I thought you might know what to do," she said timidly. Then a little warmth came into her eyes. "What you did…thank you," she added softly.

An answering warmth lit his eyes momentarily, then his expression sobered again.

"I know them. But it's been a long time. I'll take you back, and we'll talk to Buffy…and Giles if he's up to it. There has to be something we can do."

"Then you think we can find her? Buffy said she was afraid, like if they took her we'd never see her again."        

Angel's face set. "I won't lie to you," he said softly. "The odds aren't good. In fact they're microscopic. They're different, the Kalderash people. I didn't know how different until I messed with them. Only they could have found that lost curse and made it work. Only the Kalderash witch, Azzara, had that kind of power. I thought they'd leave Jenny alone, that her death would have been atonement enough for what happened. I should have known. Even for Gypsies they're relentless…obsessive."

"But…but they won't hurt her?"

Angel shook his head definitively. "She's one of their own, a daughter of the clan. They want their pound of—metaphoric—flesh. They want the drama, the histrionics, of making her face the elders, and then the penance. The hurt will be to the spirit. She'll be tied to them for years, atoning for imagined sins. And she'll do it, because she's one of them…and for Giles.

Willow's eyes went like saucers. "They'd threaten Giles? They wouldn't—"

Angel looked at her with eyes so black Willow couldn't tell if it was rage or pain.

"Yes, they would…"

They arrived at Giles' apartment less than an hour later. Willow made a resolution never to set foot near another sewer…at least not unless it was absolutely necessary…

Angel's cloak-covered back was smoking like a Sunday barbecue as he rattled the knocker.

Buffy answered the door. Her face was devoid of make-up, her hair damp and flattened, as though she'd scrubbed her face under a tap. She let them in silently and took Angel's cloak when he shrugged it off.

Giles was sitting on the sofa staring at the cup of tea in his hand. The table in front of him was covered in books, papers, Willow's computer and a hoard of diskettes. He looked up when they approached.

"Oh…hello. The kettle's boiled," he said detachedly. Willow sat alongside him and Angel sat in the chair, Buffy settling on the arm of it, close to his shoulder, as though just being near him might give her strength.

Willow watched Giles lift the cup unsteadily to his lips. He grimaced as he swallowed then took it away again, his hand not terribly steady.

"We wanna help," she said softly. "Angel knows more about Jenny's people than any of us."

He closed his eyes. "Angel, if you have any information that will take me to her…anything that will help me get her back—" he said, his voice vibrating with the effort to control his emotions. "I have to get her back…"

Angel shook his head slowly. "It's been almost a hundred years. I was hoping…together …research," he said softly.

Giles laughed bitterly. Willow's hand instinctively went to his sleeve and rested there as he spoke to the vampire.

"Research?" He indicated the table. "I have all of Jenny's books, the back-up disks from all of her work, her research, her on-line activities. Even she had next to no recorded information about her own people."

"Do you know who they were, the ones who came for her?" Angel asked, not knowing what else to say.

"Only the woman. Jenny called her Zara."

Angel sat back in his chair. Buffy looked at him curiously. "Angel?"

"The Kalderash witch…the one who curse me…her name was Azzara."

"But…but Gypsies, even witches, aren't immortal," Giles objected.

"It's too much of a coincidence," Angel insisted. "Okay, maybe not the same person, but a descendent at least…a relative? And more importantly…another witch?"

"She was old," Buffy said thoughtfully. "Way old. Spooky old."

"Is it possible?" Giles asked hoarsely. "Her eyes…they weren't…they didn't seem human."

Angel sat forward again, his hands folding and unfolding agitatedly. "Anything is possible with witches, especially powerful ones, but if it was her…I'll go underground, ask around…if she's not mortal someone will know."

Giles' back had straightened. Willow could feel his pulse beneath the forearm her hand was resting on, and it was racing. She frowned. He was getting his hopes up, and all her senses warned her that was a bad thing.

"Giles…" she said quietly, her voice echoing with foreboding.

He turned to her and looked down at her worried face, put his other hand over hers. "What's wrong?" he asked gently, forgetting his own problems for a moment.

"I have a bad feeling about this. Don't…I mean…" Tears rose in her eyes from the strain of trying to feel her way, trying not to hurt him. "Don't get your hopes up until we know more. I know I'm just a kid but…."

Buffy slid off the arm of the chair and went to sit alongside her.

"Will," she said gently, "None of us have been kids for a long time. Giles knows that. What's bugging you?"

She closed her eyes. "Everything. It's a feeling…not something I can put a finger on. Deep inside me I can feel…wrongness…like everything about this is wrong."

"But you don't know what exactly? You're sure it's not a reaction to everything that's happened…?" Buffy's voice trailed off.

Willow's hand unconsciously tightened on Giles' arm. She shook her head. "No…no. This is different…like I can feel this energy. Especially here…bad energy."

Giles looked at Angel. "Is it possible they weren't really Gypsies? That they used a…a spell, or hypnosis or something to convince Jenny?"

Angel shrugged. "I can't know that until I ask around. I didn't see them, hear them… even smell them."

"Myrrh!" Giles exclaimed. "I didn't even think at the time…but it's been plaguing me since Jenny first said they'd been here…faint traces of myrrh. First yesterday, then this morning."

"Myrrh…As in frankincense and myrrh? You know what myrrh smells like? Giles, are you holding out on me?" Buffy demanded, half-seriously.

A gleam flickered in Giles' eyes in spite of himself. He knew what Buffy was up to, but it wasn't going to work.

"No…despite your insinuations about my great age, I wasn't at the nativity," he parried obligingly. "It's requisite training for all Watchers to be able to identify any herb or other ingredient used in spells. I happen to dislike myrrh intensely, which makes it easy to remember."

Angel frowned. "That might help, or it might be nothing. I can't guarantee anything, but it's unusual enough to be useful." He swallowed and looked the older man in the eye. "Giles, I'm sorry. I never meant—"

Giles raised a hand. "I know," he said. "But you had no way to know this would happen."

Angel looked away. "Don't. This is as much my fault as…" He closed his eyes. "…As it was the last time. They're doing this because of me. If I live to be a thousand years old without changing again, the Kalderash clan will still be trying to make me pay for my existence."

He stood up suddenly, snatched the cloak off the desk Buffy had left it on and was gone before anyone could speak.


*******


"No. Nobody goes up against Azzara, and that's final."

"But if you know where they are?" Angel demanded.

Whistler threw his hands in the air. "How many times do I have to repeat myself? It's over…finis. You ain't gonna get her back from them. By now they'll have her believing she never left, that her place is with her people. It'll be like she was never here."

Angel's face screwed up. "What? They can wipe people's memories? Since when?"

Whistler shook his head. "No, no…not wipe their memories…just stop them from remembering anything awkward…" He brightened suddenly. "You know that might be the answer: a spell to take away the Watcher's memories of your wish…unless of course you want to leave the poor bastard suffering again?"

Angel made a sound halfway between a roar and a wail, swung around in hunting mode and knocked the little demon to the floor. He got up holding his bleeding mouth.

"You had no call to do that. If you want me to go you should say so," he said, but the look his eyes was knowing.

"I have to find her," Angel hissed, ignoring him.

Whistler shook his head. "I could take you there, now…well, it'd take a couple of days, but the point is they're still in-country. Thing is, it wouldn't make a damn's worth of difference. Azzara won't be there unless she wants to be...which if she did would be very bad for us anyway…and the odds are Jenny Calendar don't exist no more. And Janna won't go with you."

"But…there has to be some way to counter Azzara's magic? To cure Jenny?"

Whistler tilted his head to one side. In spite of his throbbing mouth he was moved by Angel's desperation and frustrated that he had no answers.

"This is the witch who gave you a heart and a soul, remember? The only one who ever managed to do that to a vampire. Where are you going to find a force that strong to counter her power?"

"Willow?" Angel offered desperately.

"And she'd do it too…but the kid would get eaten for breakfast, and you know it."

Angel wheeled in frustration. "Giles…Giles knows magic…he could do it…or at least work with Willow."

"You're not listening," Whistler said softly, pity gentling his tone. "The two of them together couldn't stop Azzara from blowing her nose, let alone counter one of her spells. She's been around longer than the Gypsies have…at least the non-human part of her has."

Angel reverted to his human face. "Immortal? Demon?"

"Worse…think bigger."

"No…" There was only one other answer. "The First? It can't be…"

"Direct line," Whistler confirmed. "Why do you think the Kalderash are all whackos? Except of course, for this Janna, who not only got away from them early, but became a regular person…became this Jenny Caldendar with the life, the education, the career… people who loved her for herself."

Angel closed his eyes. "And now?"

He turned away. "The truth? Azzara wants those people to keep feeding on their hate…keep looking back, to the past. She couldn't afford to bring the future into their midst, to risk showing them what they could be. That's why I don't think you'll see Jenny Calendar again, even if you find Janna. "

Angel's face screwed up for a moment, then he focused on Whistler again. "Are you saying that it's me? That the First has been trying to recruit me all this time? That it may have manipulated me before?"

Whistler shrugged. "You're the one who picked that intellectually absent Gypsy princess. You tell me."

Angel put his head back. "God, I was so stupid."

"Hey, you were Angelus. Stupid was in there. Giving you a soul, that was the interesting part. The First went along with the clan's chosen punishment, thinking if you suffered for long enough you'd be beggin' to be Angelus again, just to stop feeling, no matter whose ass you'd have to kiss to get there. Then hey presto: Angelus, agent for Evil inc. It's a good thing it didn't know what a prodigious talent you turned out to have for brooding. Which also happened to be where I…" he looked up at the ceiling, "…we came in…"

"Then you're saying I can't make it right?"

Whistler sighed. "And here we are back at my original suggestion once again."

"But if I take away his memories of this time with her—"

"Then he's back where he was…healing, slowly. If you don't…he's in a worse place than he was a year ago, with a long way to go to climb out of it. And the others too…"

"How?"

"You have to do it. You brought her back, so you have to be the one who erases her again."

"But I don't have the—"

"Will you stop dithering like an old woman? I'm telling you that you can do it. Doesn't that tell you anything?"

Angel looked up, angry. "Yeah, it tells me you know way too much for a tiny, obnoxious demon."

"Again with the insults. I know what I know. I wasn't sent here for my pretty face, you know. And if you want my help you better start being nice. You want to ease your friends' pain, shut up and…"

"No," Angel retorted. "I know how much he loved—loves her…I know what it is to love like that. If it was Buffy I wouldn't want to lose even a single moment…no matter how much it hurt."


*******


Buffy came into the library with heavy feet, barely disturbing the big doors as she passed through them. By mutual agreement that morning, the guys had elected her to check on Giles at lunch, figuring the less fuss the better, and she'd agreed.

The place was deserted, neat as a pin and silent. She went through to his office and surprised him bent over an open book, his right hand on the back of his neck and his left holding something…a black cord hanging from his fingers.

"Hi," she said gently.

He turned quickly, dropping his left hand to his side. "Oh…hello, Buffy. What can I do for you?"

She shook her head. "Just a social visit…unless you've still got some of those English cookies—"

"Biscuits," he corrected absently. "Scottish shortbread. I think there's one or two left in the tin. Feel free."

"What are you reading?" she asked over her shoulder, turning on the kettle and looking for the tin.

"I had a couple more of Jenny's books in my filing cabinet…one in particular. The last thing she gave me, before…" He clenched his left fist. "I'd forgotten about it."

"Anything good in it?"

"Not yet," he said tightly.

Buffy returned with the tin and a mug of tea for him. "Patrol with me tonight? It's been a while."

He looked up at her fondly. "If you like."

"Cool," she smiled, and demolished one of the rich cookies. "I haven't been over to Blue Sky or Heaven's Rest in weeks. I thought we might check them out. You bring the tea and biscuits and I'll bring the weapons."

"Done," he agreed. "In fact, Heaven's Rest cemetery is quite close to Call's Beach. Isn't there a fire demon nest there?"

"One of several," Buffy agreed. "But let's not make work for ourselves. They've been quiet lately…why stir them up?"

Giles finished his tea and turned back to the book, absently resting his left hand on the desk and fingering the object in it. "Won't hurt to check."

"Okay," Buffy acquiesced, staring at the black cord with its rough-cut, rose quartz stone. "No harm in checking. See you tonight."

She made her way out of the library swiftly, swallowing hard and blinking back the tears she'd barely managed to hold back moments before. She'd seen that necklace before… when Willow had asked her advice about giving it to him.

Willow, Oz and Xander were still eating lunch when she reached the cafeteria. One look at her face and they refrained from asking questions.

"He's okay. Research mode again. He said he found some more books," she told them, sliding onto a chair. "I asked him to patrol with me tonight. It'll take his mind off things for a while."

"Good thinking," Willow agreed. "And you can bring him back to the library after. I've got a list of URLs to go through. They all have something to do with Gypsies and/or mysticism. We'll make it a real research party. Xander can get donuts and I'll bring some of that tea Giles really likes."

"The Orange something or the Lhap-something?" Buffy asked absently.

Willow giggled. "Buffy's actually starting to remember tea. It must be osmosis or something. He likes those, but I meant the one I brought last time…he had six cups."

"Will, we were up 'til four in the morning," Xander reminded her.

"I don't remember that one," Buffy mused.

"That's because it's just tea. Not tea bags. It doesn't have a fancy name. I can't remember the brand, except that it's supposed to be, you know, the best, and its grown in Sri Lanka or somewhere. My mom got it in one of those gift baskets…from her work, you know, with the coffee, the tea, teeny jelly jars and cookies and stuff, for her birthday."

Xander finished his spaghetti and looked at them as though they were nuts. "Why are we spending what little is left of our lunch period discussing TEA?"

Buffy and Willow looked at each other. "Because it's better than the alternative," Buffy said sombrely.


*******


Willow fed her new fish before turning to her computer. She'd missed it while it was away, but she'd have given anything not to have it back yet…

There wasn't much to clear off it, a couple of programs Jenny had installed to run files from her back-up diskettes, some stuff in her browser cache, but very little else. It didn't take long. Which was good. She wanted to get to the library, and get started on what was going to be a long, tedious net search.

She went on-line and collected her email. A hundred and fifty messages. She smiled. A couple of the lists she was on had been busy. A quick scan revealed only a dozen or so personal e-mails. The smile became a frown and she clicked on an unidentifiable one about half way down the list, hoping it wasn't another spam, or nuisance mail.

It was neither. As she read, her mouth fell open and her eyes widened. Her hand trembled as she clicked the mouse to scroll down and continued to read. When she was done she sat for a beat, swallowed and pushed her hair back off her face.

Then she was racing to her phone. There was no answer at Giles' apartment. Buffy's mother didn't know when Buffy would be back either…they were still out patrolling. She swore under her breath and pulled her address book from the side table. She didn't even know if the number would still work. Buffy had given it to her for emergencies three years earlier, in a different time…a different world: the only contact number they'd ever had for Angel. It was disconnected. She made a frustrated noise. Oz wouldn't be finished at the Bronze until about two in the morning…and there was Xander…but what could they do anyway…?

She sat for a moment, then picked up the phone and dialled Xander's number.

The night air was damp and cold. There was a noticeable breeze blowing off the ocean, noticeable enough to detect the tang of sea air in it as she and Xander slipped away from her house.

"Are you sure you want to go up there at this time of the night?" he asked. "I mean…this is important, right?"

Willow nodded, her red hair glinting in the glow of the streetlight they were passing under, then looked up at him. "I'm glad you came," she said softly.

He held her gaze and nodded self-consciously. "About before, I—"

She touched his arm. "I know. It's okay."

He shook his head. "Thanks. But no, it's not. I knew what was going on the same as you, but my mouth just shot itself off, like it always does." He wrapped his arms around himself as the breeze strengthened. "Do you think it could get any colder?" he added sarcastically.

Despite the worry, she giggled, snug in her fur-lined anorak. "There it goes again," she pointed out, and he finally laughed too.

The mansion looked spooky and dark as they climbed up to the entrance and found their way to the stairs that led down to Angel's living chambers.

Willow looked around doubtfully. There wasn't any light visible.

"Maybe he's not here either?"

"It's night…maybe he was hungry."

She scowled. "That wasn't funny."

"Sorry."

They stopped at the double doors and Xander knocked.

"Angel?" Willow called. There was no answer. They looked at each other.

"He must be out. Maybe he's helping Buffy too," she said dejectedly. "I'm going to leave a message…" She paused for a moment. "Funny, I can smell wood burning."

Xander sniffed. "Me too."

Willow tried the doors. They still weren't locked. Angel had a healthy fire going in his fireplace. The two of them made a bee-line for it and pulled up short when they were close enough to see the figure stretched out on the couch.

Angel was asleep, a book open on his grey-shirted chest, jacket on the floor, empty glass standing on the wooden frame of the sofa.

"I didn't think they ever slept," Xander whispered. "If you try to wake him, will he bite?"

Willow elbowed him in the ribs, then went to Angel's side and touched his shoulder.

He roused immediately. "Willow?" He sat up, blinking. "Xander? Something's wrong?"

"Are you okay?" she asked, momentarily diverted by the weariness in his face, the dark circles under his eyes.

He nodded. "I've been busy. I must've dozed off…I haven't slept since…" He frowned. "It doesn't matter. What's wrong?"

"Willow found something on her computer," Xander said, extraordinarily annoyed that her hand was still on Angel's shoulder. Then he frowned at his own childishness as she sat down alongside the big vampire and handed him the print-out of the message. She was as pale as Angel was.

He read carefully, his expression growing very grim. "Do we know where was it sent from exactly?

Willow frowned. "Geographically? I don't know. She used an on-line email account. It would take some time but given long enough I could probably hack into it and find out. It's… not legal, but it is do-able."

Angel nodded his head. "If this message is legitimate and it's true she's in hiding it may be the only chance we'll have of finding her. The important thing is that whatever Azzara did to her, she didn't take away her memory."

"I can't believe she escaped," Willow said softly. "The people who helped her…I thought Gypsies always stuck together?"

Angel nodded again. "They always have. It's part of the code, but you knew her…know her…she's a different generation, a different breed. The ones who helped her, who want to fight Azzara, they're probably her peers, people her age, her generation."

"Makes sense," Xander agreed. "But what do we do? We could be putting her and her whole group in danger by trying to find her, and she says in the message that she feels she has to stay and fight. Do we tell Giles?"

"How can we not?" Willow said softly. "He at least has to know that she's okay and that she's still Jenny."

Angel stared at the sheet of paper. "He has to be told." He looked up at both of them. "He also has to be told what Azzara really is and just how big a battle these people may be taking on."

"We're not going to like this part, are we?" Xander asked tensely.

"Whistler says Azzara is touched by the First Evil."

Willow stood up and faced Angel. "You mean that thing Buffy fought last Christmas? She said it was trying to make you…you know, bad...but I thought it was, well, destroyed?"

Angel shook his head. "Buffy took out the three Bringers it used to focus its powers here, but you can't kill something that isn't alive. It needs agents, familiars, to focus its energy in this dimension, but it's still there."

"But it can be fought…you and Buffy proved that," Xander persisted.

He nodded. "That was different. Neither of us are exactly ordinary people and they weren't exactly ordinary circumstances. These people, Jenny and the others, are putting themselves in grave danger. Just keeping themselves concealed from Azzara is going to be almost impossible."

"She's not coming back is she?" Willow said hollowly.

Xander looked away.

Angel swallowed and looked down at the floor before shaking his head slowly. "At least not any time soon…"


*******


The beach was relatively deserted and surprisingly cold. There was a brisk breeze off the
water and a lot of dampness in the night air.

"Great idea, Giles," Buffy muttered, shrinking into her jacket and thrusting her hands even deeper into her pockets.

"I thought so," he replied. "I must say I can't remember a night as quiet as this one."

"That's because all the vamps and demons are home by the fire, staying warm," she retorted.

He turned his head to look down at her. Her tired face was clearly visible in the moonlight. "Perhaps after we check the nest we should call it a night?" he suggested gently.

"My thoughts exactly," she agreed. "Willow wants us back at the library. At least it's warm there. Ready?"

Giles looked up at the cave mouth in the cliff ahead of them and raised his crossbow.

"Ready."

Buffy dropped her bag and pulled a sword from it before climbing the last few yards to the entrance.

"Come out, come out wherever you are," she called in sing-song fashion, but there was no sign of life. "They're probably all snuggled and warm," she muttered, shivering. "Cover me and I'll check it out."

Giles closed in right behind her. "Buffy, be careful…"

Buffy turned, surprised at the level of concern in his voice and smiled at him. "It's okay, Giles. They're only fire-demons."

"Nevertheless," he insisted.

There were four of them, two asleep near a small fire, which vented through a smaller hole in the roof of the cavern, and two feeding on something unidentifiable.

By the time Buffy had despatched the largest and Giles had taken out the second with a perfectly aimed bolt, the other two were awake and enraged. One of them knocked him off his feet while he was trying to reload, causing him to fall backwards. Then, before he could get up, the same demon charged at Buffy while she was busy dealing with its companion.

"No-o!" he cried as it used its full strength to king-hit her with a large, jagged piece of rock before picking up the sword she dropped as she crumpled in the shadows.

He scrambled to his feet and charged both bright orange demons, his eyes burning with rage. Using the crossbow as a two handed club he swung at Buffy's attacker, pummelling it with blows, blocking its ineffectual swings with the sword and finally knocking it to the ground, unconscious, its companion kept at bay by his frequent swings in its direction. He reclaimed the blade in one smooth movement and swiftly despatched the one that was down before dropping the crossbow and turning to the last demon.

As he expected, it fled the cave before he got within two feet of it. He dropped to his knees on the sandy floor and turned Buffy over. The fire was behind him, and almost out. He could barely see her face in the semi-darkness, but she was terrifyingly cold and limp in his arms. For the first time since he could remember he panicked blindly, adrenaline seizing him and squeezing his chest until he could barely breathe. And then he was groping for a pulse at her wrists, unable to concentrate, and lacking enough feeling in his chilled fingertips to find one.

"No…! You can't die…please God," he whispered, lifting her and carrying her out into the bright moonlight.

Once he could see her face he was able to focus enough to lay trembling fingers against her throat, to find the carotid artery…and a pulse. Unable to stop the sob that rose in his throat, he exhaled jaggedly and closed his eyes for a moment.

Then he was examining her injuries carefully. Her face was very pale, and he could feel a rapid lump forming on the back of her head where she'd been struck and his fingers came away sticky with her blood. Unwilling to take any chances he lifted her again, cradling her surprisingly small form protectively in his arms as he walked back to the car. They were almost there when she stirred, groaning.

He went down on one knee in the sand, but continued to hold her close.

"Buffy?" he said gently. "Can you hear me?"

She groaned again. "Giles? What happened?" she moaned very softly.

"You were hit from behind…I thought I'd lost you."

She turned her face into his shirt, where his coat had dragged open during the fight. "My head hurts."

"I daresay," he said quietly, unable to stop the reaction that was now setting in. "We'll get you home and have it looked at."

"You're shivering," she murmured snuggling closer. "But it's so warm."

He got up again and headed for the car. "It's nothing," he told her, folding her even more tightly in his arms. "I'll be fine."

Only when he slipped her reluctantly into the passenger seat, made her comfortable and did up her safety belt before tucking his overcoat around her, did Buffy really begin to come to her senses.

"Did we get 'em?" she croaked, trying to sit up straight.

Giles started the car. "All but one. How is your head now?"

"Like a watermelon somebody dropped," she complained weakly. "I screwed up, huh?"

He shook his head in the semi-darkness. "I did."

"Oh…that's okay then," she said, groaned and held her head in her hand. "You won't be yelling at me then."

"No." Giles swallowed. "No yelling."

Buffy turned her head sideways gingerly to look at him. He sounded strange. "You're still shivering," she said, surprised.

He turned on the heater and put the car into gear without looking at her.

She was beginning to remember a little, particularly about the fight. "I only got one," she remembered suddenly. "That means you bagged two. Way to go, Giles."

He half smiled without taking his eyes off the road, but it faded quickly. "I should have stopped them before you were almost killed," he said quietly.

Buffy frowned, which hurt even more than the constant throbbing. "I was almost killed? I thought I was only knocked cold…"

Giles' hands tightened on the wheel as the car swung into the main road that would take them back to the school. "You should have a fractured skull. If you hadn't been the Slayer, or if it had struck you any harder, or any lower…"

"Oh…" She sat back, unable to remember being hit at all, but starting to remember tiny flashes of the rest. "Giles, how did I get into the car?"

"You were unconscious. I carried you," he said simply and shifted gears again.

"Oh," Buffy said again, and concentrated on the fragments of memories that were coming back to her. Little things like being warm and protected and secure; faint cologne …a racing heartbeat…trembling arms.

She looked up at his profile again suddenly. "You were scared."

He flicked a startled glance at her, then back to the road. "Of fire-demons? Hardly," he said, deliberately misunderstanding.

"Giles," she said very gently, as he guided the old car into the school car park, slid it to a halt in its usual slot, and turned it off. "I'm not going anywhere."

For a long moment he sat motionless, staring at the windscreen, then he closed his eyes, hands resting on the wheel.

Buffy slid her fingers over his sleeve, squeezed his forearm.

"I'm sorry," he managed, finally. "I thought you were dead…I just…I can't lose you too."

Buffy rested her head against his arm. "I'm not going anywhere," she reiterated. "I've already been dead once. I didn't like it," she added mock-sulkily, and smiled into the fabric of his sleeve when, after a beat, she felt him chuckle.

"I'm glad to hear it. It's not a state of affairs I'm willing to countenance gladly, either," he said, his tone growing more sombre with each word.

"Especially now," Buffy said softly.

He looked down at her, sorrow in his eyes. "Especially now."


*******


"See, I told you it'd be warm in here."

Buffy was trying hard to ignore the continued throbbing of her head as Giles opened the side exit door to the library. He had insisted on the stop at the local ER, which had been pretty much a waste of two hours, but at least her wound was cleaned up and they'd given her something for the headache.

Willow, Xander and Angel were sitting at the reading table. Buffy and Giles could feel the tension right across the room.

"Hi guys," Buffy finally said. "No donuts?" She focused on Willow. "Aren't you supposed to be surfing the net or something?"

Giles put a silent hand on her shoulder. "Something has happened?" he asked them quietly, when Buffy subsided.

Willow nodded. "I found something on my computer…from Jenny."

His breath caught and he was at the table in a heartbeat. Buffy watched Willow hand him the print-out, wishing they didn't all look so miserable. Her gaze flicked to Angel for reassurance but he was staring morosely at the floor.

Finally Giles turned and came back to Buffy, handed her the sheet.

"She's alive, and she's herself," he said, a tremor in his voice.

Buffy finished the message and looked up. "We have to find her, help her."

Angel stood up. "That may not be an option," he said quietly and faced the older man.
"Azzara…she's more than just…Whistler told me…she's touched by the First Evil."

"The First? She's a Bringer?" Giles asked, shocked.

"I'm not sure…but it would make sense."

"Then Jenny is in grave danger."

Angel nodded. "Even with magic, I don't think they can fight the First. I'm not even sure they can fight Azzara alone."

Giles ran a hand through his hair, turned a circle, came back to where Buffy was standing and faced Angel again.        

"Can we…can Whistler find her?"

"I don't know. Whistler said he knew where she was taken. But that was before…she could be anywhere now."

Giles shook his head. "I can't…I can't just do nothing while her life is in danger; while she's fighting something so dangerous."

Buffy moved close to his left shoulder. "Giles is right. We have to do something. We're the experts…we should be dealing with this Azzara, not leaving it to a bunch of amateur Techno-whosits and regular people."

"Techno-Pagans," Giles corrected automatically. "And there is no evidence to suggest there are any others involved in this besides Jenny. Willow, can you trace this message back to some kind of address?"

Willow looked up unhappily. "I'm sorry, Giles. I already did that, while we were waiting for you. She gave a false address…there's no Springfield in Iowa."

"Damn," he said, almost in a whisper.

Buffy shifted so her shoulder was touching his arm, as she spoke. "There has to be something we can do—"

"I'll ask Whistler…and there are a couple of other sources I can go to…but it's going to take a while."

"Then I don't see what more we can accomplish here," Giles said wearily, rubbing his eyes. I think you should all go home and get some sleep and we'll reconvene here tomorrow after sundown."

Buffy walked to the main doors with Angel, behind Willow and Xander. They stopped as the others went through, leaving the doors swinging behind them.

"I'll walk you home," Angel offered.

"I'm not going home yet," Buffy said suddenly. "I'll be fine. Giles can drop me."

Angel looked over her head to Giles' office. "Good idea," he said. "Take care of him."

Giles was sitting at his desk staring at the print out when Buffy found him. He looked up, surprised.

"Buffy…I thought you'd all gone."

She shrugged. "It's warmer here."

He rolled his eyes up to meet hers and smiled wryly.

She smiled back. "So…there's a little mother instinct in me after all. Just don't expect it to last."

He gave a half-hearted chuckle, then grew serious. "Are we up to fighting the First Evil again…?"

Buffy sat on the desk. "We take it as it comes. Like we always have. Taking out the Bringers was only part of it last time. I know I didn't talk much about it…but what happened, with Angel and me at dawn…it was weird."

"The snow," Giles said softly. "Even the earth chilled. The snow didn't melt…"

"Something more powerful didn't want Angel to die, so Evil lost. I'm not sure we can count on that happening again."

He rubbed his hands over his face. "Yes, well, we can't all be destined for a higher purpose."

Buffy swallowed and looked away, the colour receding from her cheeks.

He saw, and regret clouded his eyes for a moment. Then he stood up and picked up the message from Jenny. "I'll take you home. There's no point in moping about here."

She nodded, schooling her expression into one of normality, and slid off the desk. "So you're just going to mope around at home?" she teased.

They crossed the library to the side exit.

"Very likely," he agreed.

"Then I think I'll go home after all," she decided as they stepped out into the night.


*******

Angel looked up at the sound of footsteps on the stairs. He put down the firewood he'd carried in and brushed off his hands, his shirt and straightened.

"Whistler—" he began, then froze when he saw the demon's companion.

"J—Ms Calendar…" he said hoarsely.

The computer teacher eyed him warily. There were lines of tiredness on her face, dark circles under her eyes. She was dressed in black jeans and a black duffel coat with a hood, and her hair was pulled back into a knot.

"Angel," she acknowledged. "Your friend said he could bring me here without being seen. He was right," she said flatly, wearily. "You know why I'm here, and you know why I can't stay."

Angel flashed a glance at the little demon.

Whistler shrugged. "I didn't want to get anyone's hopes up."

Angel nodded and flicked his eyes back to Jenny. "I'm glad you came. They want to help you fight, you know. We've fought the First before."

Jenny's eyes widened. "You…how? It's not possible."

"It wanted me...at least, it wanted Angelus. Buffy took out the Bringers." Angel looked at Whistler. "And I had other help…"

"And you defeated it?"

He shrugged. "All I know is it didn't win."

She shook her head in frustration. "I can't ask them to help. Buffy can't leave here…and the others would just get themselves killed."

Angel's face softened sympathetically. "You mean he'd get himself killed?"

She stared for a moment, then looked away. "How do you do it?" she asked quietly.

He frowned. "Do what?"

Jenny swung back to him, her colour high. "How do you live with it? You're exactly the way you were before…and I still can't look you in the eye, because when I look at you all I see is…him."

Angel stared at her, his expression bleak. "The same way I've lived with it for the last hundred years," he said softly. "Whistler will take you to Buffy's place."

"Why? The more I move the more I risk being seen—"

He stared at her for a long moment. "You can reach it without being seen. And I won't ask him to come back here," he said harshly.

Jenny's eyes widened, then narrowed. "What did you do?"

"He didn't tell you?"

She frowned. "I thought he did. I thought he told me everything. What did you do to him?"

Angel looked away.

"Angelus tortured him," Whistler said quietly. "For a long time." He looked up at his friend for a moment. "I'll take you to the Slayer's house. Angel…Angel will tell him you're going there, call the Slayer."

But Jenny was staring at Angel, pale and not quite steady. "He let you into his house. He helped you…"

Angel closed his eyes and his head bowed.

Whistler caught her by the elbow and eased her toward the door. "Time to go," he said gently, opening it.

"I don't understand," Jenny said miserably as they made their way back to the sewer access that brought them there.

"Don't you? It isn't about forgiveness. It's about your boy. He's something special. Part of him still hates, still hurts so bad…but unlike most people he sees the truth in things as clearly as you see your own face in the mirror. He knows in his heart Angel ain't the guy that did this to him. And for your average Human, it's some heart…"

The sewer was cold and clammy as they dropped into it. Jenny almost overbalanced before righting herself and facing the small demon.

"You can play those games all you want, but I look into Angel's face and I see my killer," she retorted, a part of her knowing she wasn't being logical, another too angry to worry about logic. "That doesn't change just because he's sorry."

Whistler's expression hardened as they began to walk. "You really don't get it do you? Do you understand anything about that curse of yours?"

Jenny turned her head at the deep, resonant note of anger in his otherwise even tone, but withheld the retort on the tip of her tongue when she saw the sadness in his face.

"Have you really thought about what it means to bring back a person's soul and put it in the same body with the demon who took it from him in the first place? To make that soul suffer and pay for everything the demon has done since he took that body? You tell me how the hell Angelus pays for any of it? No, he just sits back and waits for your brilliant curse to get broken then…party time. Nothing…not one damned thing changes for him. A hundred years of torturing a Human soul, and what…? You're left with exactly what you started with."

Jenny turned away, tears pricking her eyes. He hadn't said anything she didn't already know in her heart, but...Rupert's face floated into her mind's eye and she shuddered. He'd suffered so much…they'd suffered so much….

"Is there a reason for this lecture?" she asked bitterly as they turned yet another corner in the labyrinth of tunnels that made up the Sunnydale sewer system. "I mean beyond the morality lesson?"

Whistler laughed without humour. "Is that what you think it is? You tell me, or it's all pointless."

Jenny sighed. "You think the First is going to try to turn my hate in on me…that if I don't deal with it now, it'll destroy me."

Whistler stopped suddenly, the sound of stinking water splashing over his boots echoing in the empty tunnel.

"Now I get it," he said shaking his head. "Now I begin to see why Rupert picked you. You're full of surprises, aren't you?"

"Aren't we all?" she shot back. "I never said what my people did was right, except that it stopped Angelus for a hundred years. Gotta give them points for that. But Angelus is a part of Angel and nothing you can say or do will stop me from seeing him in my nightmares for as long as I live…or stop Rupert from seeing him in his. And neither of us deserve that either."

It was Whistler's turn to fall silent. A short while later they came to an access ladder. Whistler led the way up without further comment.

The Summers house was lit by a porch-light. Whistler saw her to the door, and waited after he rang the doorbell. She had the hood of her coat pulled over her head, her hands in the pockets. By the time the door opened, however, he'd faded into the night.

When Jenny turned back from looking for him, it wasn't Buffy's face staring at her in mute disbelief.

"Rupert…" she said, his gentle, spectacle-less green eyes almost undoing her self-control. "Can I come in?"

He continued to stare, his eyes growing brighter as he took in the reality of her. "Jenny," he whispered. "Are you…?"

She clenched her fists and moved past him into the hallway, ignoring his surprised, hurt look, and waited until he closed the door.

"How? How did you get away?" he asked, leading the way to the living room, then turning to face her again.

"Does it matter? Some of my people have been fighting for a long time to rid themselves of Zara's influence. I was never told. They came for me after she gave me to the Elders." She shrugged. "It's traditional. Any one being judged has to be handed to the Elders three days before the hearing. It gave them the perfect opportunity to rescue me."

"You don't know what you're up against," he said, wanting more than anything to take her in his arms. "You can't do this by yourself. I can help—"

"No, you can't. You know the others won't let you go alone. Do you want to get them all killed?"

He made a frustrated, tortured noise. "Of course not, damn it!" he cried. "But I don't want to lose you again. What more must I do? When is it ever going to be enough?"

She shook her head, withdrawing unconsciously from his hurt, his anger.

He saw and stepped back, sat down hard on the couch, his hands dangling despondently between his knees.

"Don't ask me to watch you walk out of my life again…please."

She closed her eyes, trying to hold together long enough to make him understand. "I can't stay, Rupert, and you can't leave. My people are being destroyed. They have no future, no hope, unless something is done, now. This group, they're not organised. Most of them aren't much more than kids and they have no real concept of what they're fighting. They need me…"

Giles lifted his head and the look in his eyes almost broke her heart.

"I need you," he whispered.

She struggled to stop herself from going to him. "I know," she said softly, beginning to tremble with the effort to maintain control. "But I can't let them be destroyed."

"Buffy," he said, desperately. "Buffy will help. We'll do it together. We've always—"

Jenny was shaking her head, cursing the tears that were blurring her vision. "Leave Sunnydale…for days, weeks, months? You know she can't do that. You know she can't leave the people here any more than I can leave mine, now."

He stood up almost reflexively, dragging a hand through his hair, and stepped toward her.

"Right now I don't give a damn about any one else," he said angrily, tremulously. "I do however give a damn about us. Jenny, I love you…more than I've ever loved anyone or anything in my entire life. I won't…I can't…" He choked. "Oh Christ…" he groaned and turned away.

She went to him, unable to stop herself, took his face in her hands and lifted his bent head until his eyes met hers again.

"I love you too," she whispered, and was almost undone when his eyes suddenly filled.

"It's not fair, Rupert," she told him, feeling the last of her control shatter as the strong, brave man before her wept silently. "It's never fair. I love you so much..." her mouth faltered, barely able to form the words. "But we both know I can't stay…"

Giles swept her into his arms then, both of them clinging to each other as if defying the currents and eddies they both knew were about to sweep them away from each other yet again. He could feel her trembling. He wanted to tell her not to go, wanted to pick her up and carry her to his car, to drive them to somewhere, to nowhere…anywhere away from demons and responsibility and duty…and pain. He wanted…to love her.

He bent his head and rested his brow on her hair, his insides aching, the words she needed him to say choking him.

"Then go," he said finally, wretchedly. "But remember: if you need me…"

But she was raising her face to his, pulling his head down to hers one last time.

He willingly claimed her mouth with a yearning and a hunger that took her breath. Then she was kissing him back, claiming his with the same hunger, the same need, tasting, consuming, plundering each other for what seemed an eternity, until somehow they were apart, only their fingers still locked together.

"Oh, Jesus…" he rasped. "I can't do this again."

She sobbed and covered his mouth gently with her fingers. "You can," she told him. "And you will do it, for me, for her, and for the people it will save."

He kissed the fingers and closed his eyes. "Will you come back…after?" he asked, very quietly, the touch of his lips and his warm breath almost unbearable as they brushed her fingertips.

Jenny trembled and took her hand away. "I don't know," she whispered. "I want to but…"

He opened his eyes again. "Jenny, please—"

But she was almost at the door, her hood raised.

"Jenny, wait!" he cried desperately.

She turned tearful eyes to him as she opened it. "I have to go, Rupert," she replied, and slipped out.

Giles lunged after her but by the time he reached the letterbox she'd vanished into the night. The streets were empty.

His chest was heaving and his fists were clenched into fierce knots, a blood vessel pulsed at his temple and his face glowed fiery red in the dull street light. Rage rose in him like a volcanic eruption, overwhelming, unstoppable, forcing his head back as though someone had struck him.

"N-o-o!" he cried, the sound of his grief echoing up and down the street.

Below ground, in the sewer, where no sound from above was heard, Whistler stopped and closed his eyes for a moment.

Jenny turned a ravaged face when she missed him. "Something wrong?" she asked.

After a beat he opened them again and shook his head, his face pale. "No," he said softly. "I thought I heard something, that's all…"


*******

"It's been hours," Buffy snapped, when Angel asked her to sit down for the fourth time.

The fire had burned low and he was watching her from the hearth, where he'd hunkered down to add more wood.

"Not really. Anyway, is that necessarily a bad thing?" he asked pointedly.

She looked at him. "It feels bad. Really bad," she said and began circumnavigating the room again.

Angel threw the last of the wood onto the now rising flames and dusted off his hands. He'd watched Buffy with Giles for three years now, seen the relationship between the Slayer and the man responsible for her slowly develop into a bond that was beyond friendship, beyond passion, despite its unspoken, often casual, nature. He looked up when she kicked his couch.

"That won't help," he said softly, wondering if she really knew. He thought she did, after the Cruciamentum. And after listening to her near hero-worship after they fought the Hellmouth demon, he was almost certain of it…but now, as he watched her prowl, he wasn't so sure.

Buffy was old in a lot of ways, but when it came to knowing her own heart she was sometimes little more than a child.

"Buffy," he said, raising his voice for the first time. "Come here."

She came reluctantly and sat down between his knees, leaned back against his chest. "What?"

"He'll be okay," he said gently. "And so will she. Whistler will make certain that no-one sees her…and if she chooses to leave, he'll see her out of town again, to where her contact is waiting."

He felt her sag a little against him then, and drew a comforting arm across her shoulders.

"It's not demons or vampires I'm worried about," she whispered. "I'm scared, Angel. I saw what it did to him last time…losing her."

He kissed her hair. "But he survived—"

"He didn't want to. I made him," she said sadly. "I begged him not to leave me, because I needed him. God, I was so…"

"…Young," Angel finished more kindly than Buffy herself was going to. "He knew that. And he knew how much you cared."

"Maybe, but let's face it, there are times when I look back now and I realise that I made Cordelia Chase look like Mother Theresa."

Angel chuckled. "Well, at least you recognise your own flaws, which is more than I can saw for Cordelia. Don't be too hard on yourself. You've had a lot to deal with in three short years and Giles knows that."

Buffy turned and faced him. "Yeah, but I had mom, you, him…what about what he's had to face, what he's had to deal with…alone? I can't believe how much I haven't thought about what it's been like for him. But you, of all people—"

He forced himself to keep looking at her. "Of course I know," he said softly. "And I know he's had to deal with it alone. But that's life. In the end we're all alone."

She looked away. "But he didn't have to be…"

"Maybe not, but he loves you, Buffy…as much as you love him…and that, ultimately, is what got him through."

She turned startled blue eyes back to his. "How do you…how can you—? "

But Angel was looking toward the stairs. Buffy turned swiftly, and was on her feet instantly.

"Whistler? What happened? Is she…?"

Angel, on his feet now, put a hand on her shoulder.

"She's on her way back to her people. You don't need to know where that is. The fewer people who know the safer she'll be."

"And Giles?" Angel asked.

"I don't know," Whistler said quietly, remembering the sound he heard. "But I can imagine."

Buffy looked from one to the other. "So, he's still at my place?"

Whistler shrugged. "She was in a real big hurry to get gone. I didn't see him."

She made a frustrated noise. "I'm going home," she announced and was halfway across the room before Angel caught up.

"I'll go with you."

She turned. "No…not this time," she said, surprisingly gently.

After a long moment he nodded, and she was gone.


*******


Buffy ran down the steps leading to Giles' door breathing hard. She'd been home only to find it deserted and locked up tight. The small porch was in darkness, which in itself was unnerving. Giles normally left the security light on.

She raised a hand to knock on the door, then hesitated, doubt suddenly gripping her. In his position all she'd wanted was to be left alone…to run away…far away. She swallowed, remembering. It had been the loneliest time of her life.

She reached for the knocker.

"It's not locked."

Buffy jumped, not expecting the verbal response to her tapping.

Giles was sitting at his desk, an unopened bottle of scotch and a glass in front of him. He hadn't even taken his jacket off, though his tie-less black collar was open and his hair was windblown.

"Hello Buffy," he said quietly.

"Hi," she said awkwardly, then nodded at the bottle. "You know that's not an attractive look for you?"

His eyes slid toward it. "I know," he whispered. "But it does dull the pain…and the senses."

"So what stopped you?"

He looked up at her with eyes she hoped she'd never see again. "I need…I want to remember. I don't want to forget…anything."

"Then…then you don't think she's coming back?"

He shook his head slowly.

"Giles, I'm sorry," she said very softly.

He cleared his throat and stood up suddenly. "Yes," he said uncomfortably. "Can I offer you a hot drink? Some supper perhaps?"

"Hot chocolate."

Buffy watched him go, her brow furrowed. She didn't really want the drink, but she wasn't about to deny him the escape, either.

When he hadn't reappeared after what seemed an age, and no sound could be heard in the kitchen, concern over-rode instinct and she went to check on him.

He was standing over the tray he was preparing, staring into space. The hot milk for her chocolate was boiling furiously in its pan and the teapot was still waiting to be filled. Buffy shifted the pan and turned off the heat before turning back to Giles.

She gently removed the spoon from his hand and put it down.

He looked down at her slowly. "Buffy…I'm sorry. I…"

"I know," she said softly. "We can do supper later. Right now I think maybe sitting down would be good."

He shook his head. "Let me finish this. It won't be long," he said haltingly. "Please…"

Buffy studied the pale, strained face, the frightening fragility of the normally steadfast features.

"No," she refused gently.

He closed his eyes. "Perhaps you should go home."

"No."

"I mean it, Buffy. Please…just…go home."

Buffy's eyes grew very bright. "Giles, don't make me hit you again."

He looked away. Then, finally, he faced her again, looking more tired and more alone than she could ever remember. "It's all right," he said quietly. "I'm not going to leave you."

"Don't do that!" The words were jerked from her. "Giles, I didn't come here for me."

"Then why?" he asked harshly, his hand trembling as he pressed it to his brow. "Why can't you just leave me be?"

A tear trickled down her cheek. "Because I can't let you do this alone," she whispered, her voice breaking.

"…Because I love you too much."

The hand fell away and the green eyes stared at her until she had to look away.

"I know how many times I've let you down." Buffy dragged more tears away with the back of her hand. "And I don't understand…I don't understand how someone can love someone and still hurt them so much. All I know is I don't want it to happen again..."

Giles remained silent.

She turned warily. He was still staring at her, but his eyes glistened, though not enough to obscure the overwhelming tenderness in them as they found, and held hers.

"Cliché or not, you've always been my hero," she admitted, holding his gaze, unaware of what it allowed him to see in the blue depths. "And always will be…no matter how self-involved, insensitive or ungrateful I've been, and probably will be again."

He chuckled damply, and gently pulled a stray blonde tress. "Very probably," he agreed wryly. "You've just described adolescence."

She smiled back for just a moment then reached up to brush the wetness from his face, as though she couldn't bear it to be there a moment longer.

Giles looked down at her, touched, but didn't move.

"Not a good look for you either, tough guy," she said gently. "But I like it better than all that stuffy English 'if I have a feeling my face might break' stuff."

He made a scoffing noise, but his expression was still tender.

She grew serious, looked into his eyes again and held them.

"I know how much she loves you, Giles, how hard this is for both of you. Been there, remember?" she reminded him. "Whatever she said, whatever she believes right now, when it's over, she'll be back. She needs you as much as you need her."

His face clouded. He tried to speak, shook his head, and dropped his chin to his chest. A moment later Buffy watched him turn and leave the kitchen.

He hadn't gone far. He was sitting on the sofa, head in his hands, trying to collect himself.

She went and sat next to him.

After a beat he lowered his hands. "I don't seem to be terribly tough lately," he observed in a wry, trembling voice, without raising his head.

"Who said you had to be?" she asked.

Surprised, he finally turned and looked up at her, the naked pain in his eyes bringing tears to hers again.

Then she smiled. "I know the old one would have had a heart attack, but does this new, improved Giles of yours have any objection to being hugged?"

He laughed then, his face lit with undisguised affection.

"You're a meddlesome girl," he whispered as she put her arms around his neck and hugged him hard.

After a beat he closed his eyes and returned the embrace.

Buffy rested her head on his shoulder, blinking away moisture. "Expect a lot more meddling from now on," she told him.

"Heaven help me," he retorted softly, not fooling her for a moment.


*******

"I think it's time I took you home," Giles said softly, when Buffy's eyes closed for the fourth or fifth time.

She sat up straight. "I'm fine," she squeaked. "So you were saying about the south of England? Or was that the north of Wales…?"

Giles chuckled softly. "Neither for the last half hour. I'm going to take this to the kitchen and then you're going home to bed."

"A trip down nostalgia lane and suddenly you're all 'take charge' guy again?" she teased sleepily as he deposited the tray on the breakfast bar instead.

"Come on," he said, coming back to the sofa and extending a hand. "You've finished your mothering duties for tonight."

She smiled, took his hand and pulled herself up. He was actually looking a little better, if you didn't count the cuts and bruises, the tired lines around his mouth and eyes, the weariness in his stance.

"Okay, already. But you don't have to drive me. I'm a big girl, I can take care of myself."

Giles raised an eyebrow.

Buffy subsided. "Okay. Fair's fair." She tilted her head to one side. "I mother you, you mother me. Let's go."

He snorted and put his hand in his jacket pocket looking for his keys, then frowned.

Buffy watched him draw them out, and a small envelope.

He stared at the writing on the front of it for a long moment then thrust it back into his pocket and shook the keys.

"Right," he said too briskly and opened the door for her.

Buffy refrained from asking. It was obvious he didn't want her to.

The trip home was quiet. Giles seemed to spend most of it deep in thought. Buffy, watching him, wondered in passing where his glasses had gone. She hadn't laid eyes on them all night, but he hadn't seemed to notice their absence.

Her street was deserted and the house appeared to be in darkness as they drew to a halt.

Buffy undid her safety belt. "Mom's gone to bed."

"It would appear so," Giles agreed as she opened the door. "Buffy…"

She turned.

"Thank you," he said quietly. "I wanted you to know…I…"

She smiled tenderly, reached up to put her arms gently around his neck again, and rested her chin on his shoulder.

"I know," she said and kissed his cheek. "I love you, too."

Then, suddenly she was out of the car. Giles shook his head and watched her wave before crossing the grass and letting herself into the house.

After a beat he cleared his throat, and started the Citroen. He was about to put it in gear when he paused again, turned on the internal light instead, and drew the small envelope from his pocket.

He didn't need his glasses to recognise the writing on it. He turned it upside down, over his other palm. A small metal object fell onto it and a card landed on his lap.

When he saw what the object was his fingers closed convulsively over it for a moment. Eventually he made himself put it in his shirt pocket and picked up the card.

He stared at the writing silently for several seconds. And then he laughed. He was still laughing softly when he turned off the light, put the car into gear and pulled away, his cheeks glistening in the silver halo of the streetlights.

Beside him, on the passenger's seat the words, in black ink, stood out against the plain card:


Dangle this for me…I love you


* * *