Fate, Rough HewnDisclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, its characters, plots, and other details are all property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, and 20th Century Fox. No copyright infringement is intended. No profit will be made.
Author's Note: Well, my muse started speaking to me again, and apparently, she hasn't been taking her Ritalin. I'm a little swamped with ideas, and my typing speed of 100+ words per minute is not keeping up. I should be this lucky for much, much longer.
Jenny Calendar was my favorite character of the early seasons of BtVS. She is a smart, skilled, intelligent NORMAL woman (well, comparatively. Shut up.). Her death in Season 2, while dramatically sound and necessary to establish new dimensions in Angelus's, Giles's, and others' characters as well as propel the conflict to new heights, just about broke my heart. I wanted to be Jenny when I grew up. Especially if I got a sexy librarian like Rupert.
The trouble is, I hate it when tv shows, movies, comic books, and other media bring characters back from the dead. It cheapens the original death, removes those previous character dimensions, and is often little more than fan-wanking. Except . . . I love Jenny. Moreover, I love Jenny and Giles. It's rare when two characters have such a genuine click as those two. So, if I'm going to break one of my cardinal rules, I'd better do a damn good job of it.
I hope I have.Fate, Rough Hewn
"There's a divinity that shapes our ends, rough hew them though we will."
- Hamlet, Act V, Scene 2Prologue
He scribbled furiously, pausing only to dip his quill in his ink pot and start with a fresh load of ink. Dots across the parchment dried slowly. His fingertips were soaked. The quill tip was soft and splayed, but he couldn't spare the time to carve a new point.
"Brother, how dost thou fare?" a dark figure asked from the doorway to his cell.
"Fine, fine!" he replied, waving the man away.
"Thou hast had no food in days, brother," the man observed in a gentle voice. "Come, lay down thy burden for a short while. The words will be there when thou returns."
"I cannot," he snapped. "Forgive me, Father, but when the visions bear down on me, I must record them before they are lost."
"Even when thy hemicrain
is upon you? I have a cup of strong poppy tea, sweetened with honey. It will spare thee the pain."
"And I will be unable to finish. When I am done, I promise you, I will drink from your cup. Will you promise me, in turn, to care for these pages while I sleep?"
"I promise, Brother Veritas. Just as I have cared for all the other pages thou hast written."
He nodded and began scribbling again. His visitor stepped back into the hallway and was joined by another of their order.
"Father, why do you indulge him?" the new man asked.
"Walk with me," the abbot said. They walked down the hall towards the chapel. "I do not indulge him, brother. His vocation is true. His fellow Watchers spoke on his behalf, and what few of his visions touch on our times, they have been accurate. So, I am charged with his care and the care of his divine gift."
"But they are doggerel," the brother protested. "Cheap rhymes and filthy ideas. Bad enough he speaks of the Apocalypse, but to define it by such circumstances? To say mankind will be saved by . . . a woman and her act of sin?"
The abbot paused and gazed steadily at his subordinate. The younger man blushed and cast his eyes down.
"Forgive me, Father. I spoke in haste."
"You spoke in great feeling. I ask you to remember, though, what women have done for mankind, and for our Savior. When He suffered on the cross, who abandoned Him? Who stayed with Him?"
"His . . . His disciples abandoned him, Father. The women stayed with Him."
"And who was it who saw and recognized Him first, when He had risen?"
"Mary of Magdelene, Father."
"Even so. Trust God, my son. While there is nothing new under the sun, there are certainly things on this Earth and in heaven that neither of us have dreamt of. I suspect Brother Veritas' visions are shaped by his understanding of the world, and while his words are both true and accurate, they will be so in ways we will not expect and cannot understand."
The storm winds whipped around the tower, causing it to lean one direction, then another. A hundred feet below, Buffy fought Glory, and the sound of the blows caused the tower to shiver like a gong. Dawn pulled desperately at the chains that bound her. A small, tidy man stepped onto the catwalk and walked toward her.
"Doc!" Dawn screamed. "Help me! Please, you've got to help me!"
He gave her a shrug and an expression of regret before pulling a knife. For all that the wind should have blown his words away as soon as they were spoken, she heard him perfectly.
"I am sorry, but this is going to hurt. That's the whole point."
She pulled away as far as she could, standing on tiptoes at the very edge of the platform. Spike made it up the ladder and threw himself at Doc. Doc, moving faster even than a vampire or a Slayer, caught him by the throat, held him up, and for an instant, Spike's and Dawn's eyes met. He had failed. Doc threw him off the tower.
"No," Dawn begged. "No, please. Don't. Please!"
He made the cuts so fast, she barely felt them. She did feel the sudden draft of cold air against her skin, and then the heat of blood, down her stomach, then her legs, then her feet. Drops first, and then a trickle, ran and fell into the air below.
And the world began to tear apart.
"GET AWAY FROM HER!"
The new figure at the top of the ladder stood without weapon or shield of any sort.
" Dawn screamed.
Jenny Calendar strode down the catwalk, her eyes gleaming with fury. Doc broke off his work and headed towards her. Fast as he was in lifting the knife, she caught his wrist in her hand, and had an iron-clawed grip on his throat.
"You touched her," Jenny hissed. "You die."
"I don't die," Doc responded. "Not me."
His eyes went wide with shock, fear, and then pain, as the spells which had bound him to this reality unraveled at her word. Just as the world around them split and tore at its unseen boundaries, so did Doc. His skin tore. Beneath it, the fibers of his muscles unraveled. Cartilage and bone unbound. He came loose, and he felt every moment of it. Screaming, he reeled back. Fingers, ears, and other bits fell off. Then, he collapsed in a stringy heap. One heavy bit slipped off the catwalk, and as it fell, it pulled the other pieces with it. It took a several seconds for all that had been Doc to hit the ground.
Jenny hugged her fiercely, then let go and immediately freed her. Beneath their feet, the tear in reality glimmered and twitched. It stretched, and a wyvern emerged, screaming in fury. It unfurled its wings, and in several strokes, it was half a mile away.
"Come on, baby," Jenny said, pulling Dawn with her.
"Mom," Dawn sobbed. "It's too late. It started."
"Nothing's too late, baby," Jenny answered, her hand tight around Dawn's wrist.
They made it to the platform at the head of the ladder. Dawn collapsed, and Jenny folded her into her arms.
"It's all right, Dawnie," Jenny said, pulling supplies out of her leather jacket. She shook out a bandage and pressed it to Dawn's cuts. "Hold that."
"I have to . . . " Dawn started, swallowed, and tried again. "I have to go back out there and end it. If I don't-"
"That's not going to happen," Jenny answered, wrapping her scarf around Dawn's middle to hold the bandage in place.
She looked down. In the construction site below, the fight had wound down. Buffy stood over the prone, nearly unconscious Ben. Oz, fully wolfed out, guarded Tara, Amy, and Druscilla as they worked the end of their spell. Spike got to his feet, holding himself as though everything hurt.
"I hope to God she has the guts to do what I asked," Jenny muttered. Then she stripped off her jacket and pulled it over Dawn's shoulders. "Dawn, I need you to listen to me."
Below them, at the point where Dawn's blood had opened the rift, more creatures squirmed and spilled out. Buildings burned in a line describing the wyvern's flight. As far up as they were, as windy as it was, they could hear the screams and the sirens.
"Mom, I'm sorry," Dawn sobbed.
"Don't be," Jenny said, and took her daughter's face in her hands. "Just listen."
Dawn cried but held still.
"We knew this might happen," Jenny told her. "And I planned for this contingency, just in case. There is an answer, and it's that you will live. You are my blood, baby girl. Flesh and bone and blood, no matter what your first life was. You are my daughter, and I love you with all my heart.
"Buffy and the others know what to do. There's a file on my desk with everything they'll need. Tara and Oz will take care of you from here on out. Amy, Spike, and Druscilla swore to me they would look out for you. And Buffy . . . Buffy loves you almost as much as I do. She'll be there for whatever you need."
"Mom, no," Dawn sobbed, shaking her head.
"Dawn, listen to me," Jenny insisted. "Listen. I love you. I will always
love you. But this is the work that I have to do. Give the others my love. You have to take care of them now. You have to take care of each other. You have to be strong. Dawn, the hardest thing in this world... is to live in it. Be brave. Live. For me."
Jenny kissed her daughter on the forehead, got to her feet, gently pulled Dawn's hands away, and then ran down the walkway. At the end, above a hundred feet of thin air and a growing tear, she jumped. She fell into the tear, and for a long second, hung there while eldritch energy played over her. Then, the tear collapsed, and a tsunami of reality-binding energy swept from that point like a supernova, knocking everyone to the ground.
Buffy got to her feet, dusted herself off, and looked down at Ben. Her jaw tightened.
"Can you move?" she asked.
"N- . . . no," Ben managed. "I think my back's broken."
Buffy looked at the others.
"Tara, go get Dawn down."
Tara was the only one who might object to what had to come next. When she was gone, Buffy knelt beside Ben.
"The problem is," Buffy explained, "sooner or later, Glory will get out again. And sooner or later, you'll make a deal with her, and she'll come after Dawn."
"No," Ben whispered. "I won't. I promise."
"Don't bother," Buffy answered.
She broke his neck.
Druscilla, Spike, Amy, and Oz – now in human form again – watched her in silence.
"Druscilla, any sign of Jenny?" Buffy asked.
Druscilla, sane and clear-eyed, closed her eyes and took a deep breath, listening. After a long moment, she let her breath out and shook her head.
"The rift is closed," Druscilla whispered. "She's gone, and there's nothing left of her. Not even a body."
"Good riddance," Buffy muttered under her breath.
"You watch your mouth, Slayer," Spike snarled. "The lady was a friend, and she deserved better than what she got."
"And whose fault is that?" Buffy snapped.
"Shut up," Amy snapped. "Both of you."
After a long minute of silence, Tara returned with Dawn, holding the sobbing girl against her.
"What now?" Tara asked, looking at each of them in turn.
"Home," Oz answered.
"Tell me again why we're worried about these guys?" Buffy asked Giles, peering around the corner. "I've seen more intimidating kindergarteners."
"Yes, well, if kindergarteners had gotten their hands on the Magnus Liber Horribilissimi Mortis
, I'd be concerned as well," Giles answered.
A tiny voice squawked in Buffy's ear. She listened intently and put her wrist to her mouth. "Hold everyone in position until I give the signal. We want to see how far these guys go."
Inside the abandoned office complex, a circle of stout, dowdy supplicants surrounded their leader. He was taller than any of them, with an impressive salt-and-pepper beard, deep set eyes, and a hypnotic baritone voice.
"Brothers and sisters," he intoned, raising his hands, "tonight, we come together-"
One of the brothers raised his hand.
"Um . . . is this one going to run late?" the man asked. "It's just there's a new episode of Chuck
on tonight, and I-"
"Didn't you tell me, brother," the leader grated, "that you have a DVR?"
"Well, yeah, but-"
"So schedule it to record the program."
Another hand was held up.
"Did you like the cookies?"
"The ones I baked for you," the woman said, a little hurt. "You said you liked snickerdoodles, so I made a batch just for you, and-"
"Oh, those cookies. Yes, yes, sister, I enjoyed the cookies immensely. Now, if we may return to the matter at hand. WHAT?"
"Oh my god," Dawn whispered to Xander. "I actually feel sorry for him."
"Yeah," Xander replied, "it's getting pretty hard to find decent minions. He must have gotten them from the acting course he teaches at the community college."
"You mean . . . " Dawn gaped at him, "they're trying to destroy the world for extra credit
"Easier than writing a paper, I guess."
After an excruciating period of question-and-answer which had nothing to do with the ceremony at hand, their leader shook out his robe, took his place again and lit the large candle in front of him.
"We begin, brothers and sisters," he intoned, "in darkness. From darkness, we call."
He waited a moment.
"FROM DARKNESS, WE CALL!"
The brothers and sisters snapped upright, belatedly remembering their part.
"From darkness, we call," they answered in ragged unison.
"Guys," Willow spoke on their earpieces, "a protection ward just went up."
"Can you break it?" Giles asked.
"Yeah, but it'll take me a minute to do it so that nobody gets smacked by the whiplash. And the second I hit it, they'll know."
"Get it prepped," Buffy answered. "I'll tell you when."
Behind her stood Giles, and behind Giles stood a handful of the barely trained, newly called Slayers the senior Scoobies referred to as Slayerettes. Arizay, Violet, and Lucy.
"Isn't that the guy who bought out the Phoenix Rising?" Lucy whispered.
"Yup," Violet answered. "And sold all of it on Craigslist."
Lucy frowned. "I don't get it. Why would you buy the entire stock of a pagan supply store, turn around and sell it half-price on Craigslist, and then
cast a spell?"
"'Cause," Arizay answered. "He's an asshat."
"Ari," Lucy protested.
"Well, he is. He acts all Lord and Master of the Universe and dresses like he's from New York and eats drippy cheese. Asshat."
"Yeah," Violet said, rolling her eyes, "because nobody in our group acts all lord and master and thinks she's cooler than God."
"Right," Ari agreed.
"Except you," Violet added.
Ari huffed. "I don't act like that!"
"Girls!" Giles hissed. "Either you stay quiet, or you write me a one-page essay on the tactical advantage of a silent
The girls subsided.
The minions had begun chanting something in Latin, something they clearly didn't understand. One of them hadn't memorized the words he was supposed to, instead substituting 'barata klaatu nikto'.
"I speak your name," the leader intoned, "and summon you by it, Nemesis."
He threw a handful of ashes into the circle.
"I bind you to justice," he continued, and tossed a handful of salt over the ashes. "You will punish the guilty and protect the innocent. You will wipe the slate clean."
Now, he slipped his hand into a large pocket on his robe and brought forth a number of coins. The first one he threw down was silver, tarnished nearly black.
"Punish the guilty!" his followers declared, glad to be done with the chant.
"He isn't following the prescribed ritual," Giles whispered to Buffy.
"He messed up?" she asked.
"Uh . . . no . . . I don't believe so."
Buffy's earpiece squawked again.
The second coin he threw down was bronze, freshly cast and stamped.
"Protect the innocent!" the followers added.
"That was Dawn," Buffy whispered. "She says he's doing a Carpathian variation."
Giles's brows drew together slightly. "But that's . . . useless without a blood sacrifice."
The third coin was carved agate, and he threw it down so hard, it broke into three pieces.
"Wipe the slate clean!"
And then, from his pocket, he brought forth a small, sleepy bunny.
"Hey," Ari demanded in a loud whisper, "what's he gonna do with that bunny?"
"Willow, break the circle," Buffy ordered. "Everybody move!"
From three different points, the Scoobies ran into the space. The hooded followers startled and fell out of formation.
"Okay, Mandrake," Buffy yelled, "put the bunny down and back out of the circle! That's enough ending the world for tonight."
The leader brandished the rabbit, shaking it by the scruff of its neck, and laughed a practiced laugh of evil.
"The spell is set! One drop of blood from this rodent, and the forces of destruction are loosed!"
"You didn't say anything about hurting Baxter!" one of the followers-cum-students protested.
"This isn't in our script," an older woman complained. "Why isn't this in the script? I can't work off-script."
"Willow!" Buffy yelled.
"Almost got it!" Willow called.
The bunny, unhappy now that it was awake, had other plans for the remainder of the spell. Instead of hanging limply from the leader's hand, it twisted, swung, got its hind feet on the leader's wrists, and clawed for all it was worth.
"AAAAH! You worthless vermin!"
"Oh, shit!" Dawn gasped. "Someone get in there and put a Band-aid on that guy!"
The circle broke, the students scattered, and Buffy, Violet, Arizay, and Lucy all jumped for him, but not before he dropped the bunny and several drops of his blood hit the ground – soaking ash and salt and splashing the three coins.
The ground twitched under them, like a rug pulled with exquisite timing. Nearly everyone fell over but the Slayers, and even they staggered. With an instantaneous, deafening clap of thunder, a bolt of lightning pierced the air at the center of circle, flickering over the grains of salt, particles of ash, and the three coins.
"RUN!" screamed one of the students, and the circle's participants, including the leader and Baxter's hapless owner, took to their feet and stampeded out of the building.
"Get that bunny!" Willow yelled, lightning flickering in the air around her.
Arizay and Lucy reversed course and scrambled after the rabbit.
The lightning swirled, condensed, and then expanded into a sphere of blinding light. Within, a form coalesced. A body. The lightning played over it, stinging and biting, and just as suddenly, it stopped, and the person fell to the floor and lay without moving.
"What the hell did he conjure?" Xander asked.
"Oh, this is not
good," Dawn said.
"Violet, go help the others collect that rabbit," Giles instructed. "Willow, are you all right?"
Buffy knelt beside the body, which lay facedown on the shabby carpet.
"I think so," Willow answered. "It's just that the room is off by about fifteen degrees."
Giles helped her to her feet as Buffy took the body by its shoulder and gently turned it over.
"Anything but a Pnak demon," Xander said. "Those smell so b-"
"Oh my god," Buffy whispered.
"What is it?" Giles asked.
"Who," Xander corrected, stunned.
"She's not breathing," Buffy said. "Hang on. I've got a pulse."
"Who is it?" Giles asked, stepping closer in concern.
Buffy tilted the woman's head back and pulled the jaw down, squeezed her nostrils shut, pressed her mouth down, and gave her two rescue breaths. She waited a moment, and the woman coughed violently, her chest heaving.
Buffy put a hand under the woman's shoulders, took one of her hands, and pulled her into a sitting position to ease the coughing. Giles got his first look at her face.
He fell to his knees.
With Buffy holding her up, Jenny's cough eased, and she took several deep breaths. She gripped Buffy's hand and fought to open her eyes.
," she whispered in a cracked voice. "Can't I even die right?"
She looked over from Buffy, saw Giles, and stopped breathing.
"Or maybe I did."
Then she fainted.
The house was in an uproar all evening until Xander ordered all the Slayerettes to gather in the family room.
"But where's Buffy?" one of the girls demanded.
"She's tracking down the leader of that ceremony," Xander answered. "She'll be back when she has more information on him. In the meantime, the rest of you need to quiet down."
"When will Giles be out?" another asked. "And who's that lady he brought in?"
"Look, if you will just-"
"And how come Lucy gets to keep the bunny?"
"I didn't see any of the rest of you with any carrots," Ari snapped. "She caught him. She fed him. She keeps him."
"Thanks, Ari," Lucy murmured.
"De nada. I just want to play with him later, okay?"
"But what about-"
Dawn climbed on the side table, cupped her hands around her mouth, and bellowed. "SHUT. UP. NOW.
They shut up.
"Thanks, Dawn," Xander said, giving her a hand down. "Okay, the lady's name is Jenny Calendar. She used to be a teacher at Sunnydale High."
He told them the story – how Jenny had been born Janna, of the Kalderash clan of the Romani, and how she had been sent by her people to Sunnydale to watch Angel. Angelus had killed a Romani girl, and the Kalderash elders had cursed him with a soul, so that he would always be aware of his sins and tortured by his remorse. For nearly a century, the curse worked. Then, when Angel and Buffy fell in love and he experienced a moment of complete happiness, the curse was revoked, Angel lost his soul, and Angelus returned. He killed Jenny before she could restore the curse. They had buried her and mourned her.
"Wait," Arizay said, her face twisted with unwilling doubt. "If she died, how can she be here again? That guy didn't bring anyone back from the dead. He summoned something."
"That's what Willow's trying to figure out."
He sat at her bedside, resting his chin on his hands. He never looked away from her face.
It wasn't possible, of course. Jenny had died. She'd been buried in Sunnydale, years ago now, and Sunnydale was gone. More than that, with the exception of Buffy, people simply didn't come back from the dead. The spell that idiot had cast was intended to summon Armageddon, the final judgment for humankind. There was no mention in the texts of divine retribution taking the form of a high school teacher.
She slept so deeply, nothing disturbed her. There were lines of exhaustion written on her face, at the corners of her eyes, above her nose, at the corners of her mouth. There were deep shadows under her eyes. And, she was thin. Painfully thin.
Working with Willow, he had stripped her clothes, checked for injuries, and put her into an old, faded set of pajamas. She had far more scars than he remembered, on her hands, her side, her shoulders, and one healed bite on her neck. Her hair was threaded with gray.
But her chest rose and fell with each breath. Her heart beat, slow and even. She had woken once. She would wake again.
Someone tapped softly on the door, and Willow peeked in.
"I brought you some coffee," she said softly.
"Oh, thank you, Willow," he answered, taking the mug from her. "How is everything out there?"
Willow's eyes went wide with suppressed mirth. "None of them can go to sleep. They're all telling each other stories and trying to figure out how it'll work out. Three of them say they want to be in the wedding party."
"The wedding pa-" He broke off and smiled. "Well, that's . . . very . . . trusting of them. I can't say I've had much faith in the future or fate of any sort in quite some time."
"Yeah," Willow agreed. "But . . . it works out, doesn't it? Never how we think it will, but it works out."
She was, perhaps, the only one of them who could have said such a thing to him. She had lost Tara just as he'd lost Jenny.
"We'll see," he finally said, giving her a tiny quirk of a smile.
"Let me know if you need anything."
Willow left the room, pulling the door closed behind her, and he settled in to wait for Jenny to wake up.
Her dreams were confused, scattered, chaotic. The dead walked. The living were gone, wiped from the face of the earth. More, the world was shaped differently. There was a profound shift in the fabric of the universe, like the warp and weft had been subtly reset to form a new pattern. A spell . . .
She was warm. It was fairly dark. It was quiet.
She reached out with her mind, still asleep, to check on all the wards and bounds she habitually drew around the apartment, her bedroom, and her bed.
They weren't there. She was defenseless.
Terrified, she surged into wakefulness, sitting bolt up, breathing hard.
"Jenny? Jenny, it's all right. You're safe."
That voice. She knew that voice. She'd know that voice when she was a hundred years dead. She turned and saw him, sitting beside the bed, sleeves rolled up, hair pointy with sweat, glasses at the end of his nose.
"You son of a bitch!" she screamed, launching herself at him.
She punched him as hard as she could, and he didn't raise a hand to defend himself.
"Jenny! Wait! It's-"
"Not him!" she spat, straddling him and raising her fist again. "You don't wear his face, you bastard."
"WHOA!" Buffy yelled, dashing into the room.
She grabbed Jenny's wrist, restraining her just long enough for Giles to get out from under.
"Sorry, but there's no beating up on the Watcher," Buffy said.
"Dammit, Buffy!" Jenny swore. "That's not Giles. Giles. Is. Dead."
Buffy paused, raised her eyebrows, and looked down at Giles.
"Geez, Giles, you could have sent a card or something."
"This isn't funny," Giles insisted, getting to his feet.
"Listen to me," Jenny said, pulling Buffy towards her. "They'll do this to you until you forgive yourself. It wasn't your fault. Angelus would have killed the first person he could get his hands on. He just found Giles first."
Now Buffy frowned, letting Jenny keep hold of her, but looking back at Giles.
"Uh, you're not dead, Giles."
"No, I'm not."
"Angel didn't kill you," Buffy said.
"No, he didn't."
Now it was Jenny's turn to stare, confused and more than a little uneasy.
"Buffy, your scar . . . "
"The one on your lip," Jenny said. "It's gone."
"Yeah, I never had a scar on my lip."
Jenny stared at her, baffled, and then gasped.
"How do you know about Dawn?" Buffy asked.
"Is she okay?" Jenny demanded. "Glory, did you kill her? You promised
me, Buffy. You promised me you'd kill her. She'll come after Dawn again."
And Buffy and Giles exchanged looks one more time. This time, slower and more concerned.
"Glorificus is dead, Jenny. She can't hurt Dawn ever again," Giles assured her.
"Yeah, that was, like, three years ago," Buffy said. "Dawn's okay. I mean, it really sucked for her when I was dead, but-"
Again with the looks, back and forth – Buffy to Giles, Jenny to Buffy, Giles to Jenny.
"Jenny," Giles said gently, "what is the last thing you remember before waking up here?"
She stared at him, angry, frightened.
"The tower at the construction site. I . . . I killed Doc. He'd started the sacrifice. Dawn was so frightened. I was afraid it would . . . I ended the sacrifice. I jumped into the rift and closed it."
"But . . . " Buffy started. "How could you close the rift? I
closed the rift. I'm her sister."
"I'm her mother
," Jenny insisted.
"Wait, wait," Giles said, fumbling his glasses off. The frames were bent where she'd hit him, and he had a bruise blossoming on his left cheek.
"Giles, what does this-" Buffy began.
Giles held up a hand, and his eyes darted back and forth as he considered. After a moment, he turned to Jenny.
"Jenny, how did I die?"
"What? If you think-"
"Just! . . . Please, answer the question. How did Rupert Giles die?"
Jenny's lips tightened. "Angelus killed him. He was in the library alone, helping me research a restoration spell. Angelus came in, broke his neck, and left him in my living room, like he'd fallen asleep on the couch, a book on his chest, his glasses in his hand."
"And what became of Angelus?" Giles asked.
Jenny trembled with anger and doubt. "We drove him off." She glanced at Buffy. "For a while. He came back. After he killed Xander, Willow-"
Buffy gasped. "He killed Xander?"
"Buffy, wait," Giles said softly. "What did Willow do, Jenny?"
Her lips were white. "She . . . she was such a gifted student. She learned all I had to teach in less than a year, and she just kept learning. By the time we realized Angelus was back, when he kidnapped and tortured Xander, and then killed him, Willow . . . "
She covered her mouth with her hands. "I thought my people's curse was cruel. It was nothing next to what Willow did. She restored his soul, and when he was aware of what he'd done, she . . . she bound him to the Hellmouth with a Prometheus curse."
Giles eyes went wide with shock.
"I'm missing something," Buffy said.
"For his crimes, Prometheus was bound to a rock, and every day, an eagle landed on him, tore open his belly, and ate his liver," Giles explained. "Because he was a god, he couldn't die. Every morning, he grew a new liver, just in time for the eagle to arrive."
"This was worse," Jenny whispered.
"Jenny," Giles said, "there are some people I think you should meet."
The Slayerettes and Andrew were shooed upstairs, protesting all the way. The rest of them – Buffy, Dawn, Xander, and Willow – sat at the dinner table. Giles led Jenny in and held a chair for her. She sat down, shaking all over.
"How . . . " she began.
"You have no idea how good it is to see you, Ms. Calendar," Xander smiled, leaning forward on his elbows.
Willow had pressed her knuckles to her mouth and was an inch away from crying. "We . . . we missed you so much!" she whispered.
Jenny pressed her lips together. Tears, one by one, spilled from her eyes down her cheeks.
"This . . . this isn't possible," she said.
"Well," Giles smiled, "it's improbable in the extreme, but not, apparently, impossible."
Jenny reached out to touch Dawn's cheek.
"You're okay, Dawnie?"
Dawn grinned. "Yeah. I mean, it was awful when you died. Mom must have taken me out for ice cream a dozen times just so I wouldn't hide in my room, crying."
Jenny's fragile smile flickered, but she rallied.
"I can't help but think that maybe I did die," she said. "And this is heaven."
"In a five bedroom house with nearly forty teenage girls, Andrew, and a neighbor who gets pissy about where we park?" Buffy asked. "Not heaven. Heaven was . . . fuzzy on the details, but there were definitely no pissy neighbors."
Jenny swallowed hard and made some noise that sounded like a hiccup. She put her hands over her mouth, and her shoulders shook.
"How can this be real?" she asked no one in particular. "How can this be true?"
The shaking grew worse until it was clear she was sobbing.
"We love you!"
They gathered around her, hugged her, held her hands, and did their best to comfort her while she cried. Finally, Giles gathered her up and took her back to his room to rest.
"What do you think they're doing?" Lucy asked, watching Ari feed the rabbit bits of carrot and broccoli.
"Probably checking to make sure she isn't a pod person," Ari said, focusing on the bunny.
The two were an unlikely pair, both of them located by Xander after Sunnydale had cratered out and the potentials were all activated. Lucy was a thin, pale milkmaid of a girl, bangs in her eyes and still flat as a plank at fourteen. She only came up to Ari's chin. She was reticent to the point of fading into the wallpaper. Arizay, at fifteen, was curves in every direction, skin the color of mocha, flashing brown eyes slightly tilted to show off an Asian grandparent, and hair that fell in ringlets of black and bleached gold. With her alto voice, she spoke with a cadenced Mexican accent. There was very little in the world she didn't think she had figured out.
"It didn't seem like a pod person spell," Lucy said, pondering the matter.
"Yeah, well, it didn't look like a 'bring someone back from the dead only different' kind of spell either," Ari answered.
"At least the bunny's nice."
The rabbit in question woffled his nose in expectation of another piece of carrot and stayed happily within arms' reach of the two Slayers.
"But what about my rabbit?" the stout girl demanded.
"Sacrifices must be made," the teacher snarled.
"You said he'd be a prop!" she continued. "You didn't say anything about using him to invoke some unholy ritual!"
"It wasn't an unholy ritual," the cookie baker corrected her. "It was ad lib, which
you didn't say anything about, Stan. I don't think it's fair for you to surprise us like that. Rehearse a scene, sure. But some of us aren't comfortable ad libbing. You really should have put it in the syllabus."
Weren't comfortable ad libbing? None of them could memorize a line, let alone deliver it with anything resembling proper motivation. God, how he hated this. He should be in the south of France, researching his screenplay. Or in Los Angeles, schmoozing a part. But no, here he was, stuck in godforsaken Cleveland, the land of nowhere and nothing. Hmmm. Good phrase. He should remember it.
"Mother said acting was the tool of the devil," the only young man in the class said, rocking back and forth, his arms wrapped around him. "I should have listened to her."
All he wanted was a nice little disaster, something like a flood or a wildfire, something big enough that the house he'd inherited would surely be destroyed and he could claim the insurance. The antique dealer who'd sold him the book swore that someone had cast the spell in New Orleans shortly before Katrina hit. Of course, they'd sacrificed some missing teenager, making the hurricane far more deadly than expected. But, the substitution of a rabbit should have limited the range and intensity of the spell quite effectively.
Only the rabbit was alive somewhere, he hadn't finished the spell properly, and what was the whole lightshow about anyway?
"And where's Baxter?" the girl demanded. "He's probably lost and terrified. He's white, so you know every hawk in the city will be able to spot him. If he's stuck inside that building, he'll die of thirst."
"To hell with Baxter!" he roared. "I'll buy you another damn rodent!"
The girl looked affronted. "He's not a rodent! He's a lagomorph."
"GAH!" He stomped out of the classroom and slammed the door behind him.
"What about our extra credit?" one of them called.
"I don't see why I have to sleep in the living room tonight," Andrew complained.
"Andrew," Buffy glared at him, "the last time Giles saw Ms. Calendar, he was expecting a romantic evening with her. Instead, he found her on his bed with her neck broken. They deserve a little privacy."
"I've got earplugs if they want to talk," Andrew said. "Besides, Xander sleeps in that room too. You're not letting them kick us out, are you?"
"Yes, yes, I am." Xander nodded, not looking up from the book he studied. "Because, Andrew, I know what a cock block is, and I am not one."
"Score one for the crudemeister," Dawn said, rolling her eyes.
"Some day, you'll appreciate my dedication to the manly art of scoring," Xander told her.
"Some day," she agreed. "Long, long in the future. Probably after menopause."
"Well, where are you sleeping?" Andrew asked.
"With the bunny," Xander said. "And no, you may not join us."
Andrew went to pout on the Playstation.
"Will, what are we looking for?" Buffy asked, taking a seat at the book strewn table.
"I'm not sure. It's just . . . something about today is bugging me," Willow admitted. "Something about the spell he did, and the rabbit, and Ms. Calendar coming back."
"Coming back or coming over?" Dawn asked. "Because it sure sounds like she's not the Ms. Calendar from our version of the universe. Sounds to me like she's a parallel universe Ms. Calendar."
"You've been getting into my comic books again, haven't you?" Xander asked.
"I needed to catch up on Spider-Man," Dawn answered.
"Anyways," Willow interrupted. "I remember it being in middle French, in quatrains, and it was some sort of prophesy."
"French. Middle. Quatrains. Prophesy," Buffy repeated. "Gee, that narrows it down to . . . most of it."
"Let's get started," Xander said.
It took the better part of the evening for Jenny to relax near him.
"You're very guarded," Giles observed.
Jenny choked on a laugh. "Yeah, well, I've had reason. Between Ethan, Willow, the First Evil, and Angelus, I don't go outside without my bag full of tricks."
She glanced up at him.
"It wore your face," she said. "The First Evil. After . . . after Willow turned Sunnydale upside down, the whole town was just a patchwork of dimensional faults and slippages. The First Evil flickered in and out, messed with a lot of people."
"Including you," Giles added.
"Me. Buffy. Dawn. Anyone and everyone who had any connection to the . . . nature of Sunnydale. It took the mayor to straighten things out."
Giles blinked in surprise. "Did he . . . say anything about ascending?"
"Oh, that was the next school year," Jenny said. "At graduation. Druscilla, Kendra, Buffy, and I managed to put a stop to that one. He did eat Snyder. Not much of a loss."
"Oh, yes, he ate Snyder here as well. But . . . Druscilla? Why would Druscilla help?"
"I healed her," Jenny answered. "It's what I did to get Spike's help with Angelus. Of course, he didn't realize that when I said 'heal', I meant the whole shebang. Took him a whole year to get used to the change in her, and he finally asked me to curse him with a soul."
"Amazing," Giles said. "Perhaps you could start at the beginning. Tell me everything that happened after you arrived in Sunnydale."
"You going to return the favor, English?" she whispered.
"French," Buffy announced, after opening another dusty volume. "But no quatrains. Next."
"French, quatrains," Xander said, "but I can't tell if it's old, middle, or modern French."
Dawn looked over his shoulder. "That's middle French. Put it in the accepted pile."
The pile of rejections was actually several piles of books orderly stacked on the floor against the wall of the dining room. The pile of accepted books was much small, only eight books. Willow had the Watchers' copy of Magnus Liber Horribilissimi Mortis
open and was comparing the ritual they'd seen, line by line, with rituals from a Carpathian codex and several scrolls.
"I wish I knew where he'd gotten his copy," Willow muttered. "One of the previous owners must have stuck in the Carpathian bit."
"Well, we've got the coins," Dawn said. "They must have some significance."
They continued going through the books, one by one, for hours. The Slayerettes got a rare treat of pizzas, since no one was up to cooking dinner for fifty. Lucy kept the bunny with her. She and Arizay kept putting random objects on the mellow rabbit and taking pictures, then giggling. Andrew helped a little by running movies in the den.
"That's a history," Willow said, setting aside a small, calf bound volume.
The others worked on putting books back in their correct places on the shelves. It was a daunting task, as none of them had ever quite figured out Giles' filing system. For a former public school librarian, he had an aversion to both the Dewey decimal system and the Library of Congress system.
"Okay, hang on," Willow muttered to herself, leafing through a dusty, flaking folio.
She followed each line with the tip of her finger and mouthed the words to herself, then stopped and stared at the ceiling while she translated in her head. Then she pulled that page over and checked the next.
"I think this may be it," she said, chewing on her lip. "Dawn, can you hand me some of that paper?"
Dawn handed her a stack of college-rule notebook paper. After a few moments, Willow looked up to see the other three staring at her.
"Guys, this is going to take me a while. Why don't you go ahead and go to bed?"
Baxter no longer answered to that name. It was a perfectly good name for a rabbit, but things had changed recently, and the name no longer contained the totality of his existence. So, he sat in the bottom of a cardboard box on a layer of shredded newspaper and chewed quietly to himself as he considered his new family.
The girls were without a doubt, innocents. Even the most cynical and jaded of them were glowing stars of fresh beauty. Even the battle-bloodied were tempered with love and gentleness. His two main caregivers sprawled, limp with sleep, only a few feet away. Each of the bedrooms had twelve bunk beds total, so there was little room for anything else.
In order to escape his pen, he had to hop onto the bottom bunk, where Lucy softly snored. He sniffed her and gave her a quick lick, marking her as one to be protected. Then he slipped back down to the floor and hopped to the door. Downstairs, the red-haired witch sat at a table, studied several books, and scribbled things on a pad of paper. She looked tired.
She was, he observed, guilty of many things and innocent of many others. Her guilt, however, was balanced out by many acts of good, and she had recognized her own evil and conquered it. She was not, then, part of his task. He continued into the kitchen where he found a window ajar and slipped out through that.
In only a few minutes, he'd caught up with the one-eyed man and the woman who'd disrupted the circle. They walked quietly through an alley filled with trash cans, recycling bins, and other refuse. The one-eyed man was as innocent as any of the girls. The woman was a battle-hardened soldier, but she had fought on the side of good every time.
Still, they could certainly lead him to some of his work.
"How many?" Xander asked.
Buffy scanned the cul-de-sac at the end of the alley. "Three, no four. You know, you're pretty short on sleep, Xan. If you want to head home, I can take care of this bunch."
"Are you kidding?" he asked. "I get home, all I'm going to hear is the Pity Party of Andrew and how much he hates sleeping on the couch."
"Yeah, there's that," she agreed. "Tell you what. When we're done with these guys, I'll help you duct tape him."
"Sounds goo- LOOK OUT!"
There was no overall master of vampires in Cleveland. Its Hellmouth was relatively young, and while vampires were certainly drawn to the city, they weren't nearly as organized as the Sunnydale bunch had been.
So, none of the attacking vampires were aware that there was a Slayer, or more than one Slayer in town. Many of them still believed the Slayer was a fairy tale told by old vampires to scare the new ones.
In the next five minutes, three of the four learned differently, and permanently. The fourth learned something different. Something new.
It tried sneaking up on Xander's blind side, but before it could grab him and pull him into a bite, a white blur struck and knocked it over. Arms and legs flailed as the vampire tried to get some leverage on the vicious beast gnawing at its neck, but the rabbit made quick work with its razor sharp incisors and severed the vampire's spine with three hard chomps. The vampire shattered into dust.
The rabbit, no longer Baxter but now something else, shook the dust off his thick, white coat and hopped into the shadows of a recycling can.
"Hey," Xander said, looking up from the vamp he'd just staked. "Did you just see . . . "
"What?" Buffy asked, reverse impaling one vampire and pushing him hard into the last so they dusted at the same time.
"I thought I saw . . . " He paused and looked around. "Uh . . . never mind. I guess I really do need some sleep."
"Head back home?"
Stan was a fairly good character actor, better on stage than on camera. He was a better voice actor, in his own estimation, and best at writing scripts. In order to write a decent script, you had to be willing to do the research, he told his students. They were only acting students, of course, but maybe some of them might blossom some day.
So, he sat and read through the volumes he'd kept from his purchase of the magic store's inventory. He read through the leaves of Magnus Liber Horribilissimi Mortis
, the scrolls, and the other items, and he grew very frightened.
If what he read was true, and he thought it was, the end result of the spell was that the Nemesis would be coming – not for his house – but for him. At first, he wanted to laugh it off, after all, he wasn't guilty of much. Just . . . and his memory flickered past all the times he had done someone else wrong to protect his own interests. Surely that wouldn't matter so much. Everyone did things like that . . .
But he was just bothered enough that he continued to research the matter. In doing so, he came to the conclusion that in order to stay alive, he would end up becoming a lot more guilty of a lot more things.
She slept, exhausted and spent. He lay awake beside her. Her head was pillowed on his shoulder, and he held her hand in his.
He was frightened.
The stories she'd told him, he could only imagine that she'd been through too much. That, in order to protect Dawn and help Buffy save the world time and again, she'd become hard, brittle, scarred over with grief and anger. Yet, couldn't the same thing be said of him? How many times had he sent Buffy into danger, knowing that she might not ever return? How many friends had he lost over the years? How many times had he been betrayed or tortured?
He had so many regrets. He should never have returned to England after Willow resurrected Buffy. He should never have discounted how much they needed him. Perhaps if he hadn't gone, Tara would still be alive. At the very least, he could have helped Dawn. But he'd been so sure that he was no longer needed, that his failures canceled all the use he might have been.
And the other major regret, of course, had been that he'd never told Jenny how he felt. Oh, he was sure she'd known. Just as he was sure that she'd felt something for him. But he'd thought there was time, time for all the little uncomfortable pauses to work themselves out, time to become more comfortable with the idea that there was, finally, someone he might share his life with. But one surrenders hostages to Fate when one loves. Fate, in the form of Angelus, had taken Jenny from him and him from Jenny before either of them had declared a thing.
Après la poussière et destruction, la bouche de l'enfer s'ouvre à nouveau,
Dans une ville des hommes où les bâtiments sont grands et nombreux comme arbres,
Près du fleuve brûlant, de maison de rocher et de pain,
Là où les pères de l'homme en acier étaient nés.
Le vieil homme sale, égoïste, appellera la mort en tant qu'ami,
Et le femme, déchiré du monde, répondra contre elle.
À ses mains ayez d'autres est mort, plus mourra, mourra tout,
à moins qu'elle ait son propre goût d'une petite mort.
Le hâtiment divin s'appelle.
Le hâtiment divin prend la forme.
Le hâtiment divin protège l'innocent, punit le coupable,
et essuie l'ardoise.
Willow rubbed her eyes and tried to get them to focus properly on the pages of scribbled notes she'd put together.
Prophecies were stupid. In all the literature on all the magic and demons and other phenomena in the world, no one had figured out how it was that some people wrote prophecies which came true, and why it was those prophecies always twisted and turned and never worked the way you though they would.
This prophecy in particular read like it was written by a half-drunk madman suffering from a really bad headache and an even worse sense of humor. Cleveland was the home of boulder and bread? It took her hours to realize that was a reference to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The fathers of the collied iron man? She'd had to search through a couple of encyclopedias for that one. Collied referred to something marked with coal. Charcoal. Carbon. Carbonized iron was steel. Man of Steel. Superman. Shuster and Siegel were born in Cleveland.
She'd be both disgusted and furious, except that whoever this drunken prophet was, he wrote all of this seven hundred years before any of it happened.
And Ms. Calendar. According to Willow's most conservative reading of the prophesy, the spell cast had summoned Ms. Calendar to become divine retribution – protect the innocents, punish the guilty, and wipe the slate clean. It stated very clearly that Ms. Calendar had killed, would kill again, and would end up killing everybody unless she herself died. 'Tasted a little death' was just that constipated monk's way of making it sound poetic.
Willow didn't want to tell the others. That would make it real. She wanted to figure out a way around the prophecy – lock Ms. Calendar up in a room or . . . or . . . stop her heart and revive her. Trouble was, in trying to outwit a prophecy, you almost always ended up invoking it to its fullest extent. Just ask Oedipus.
Xander slept on the couch, occasionally muttering something in his sleep. The bunny had selected him as the most comfortable perch in the house and was now stretched out along Xander's chest, its head buried against his neck. Andrew was in the easy chair. Everyone else was in their assigned bedroom. She was too tired to think anymore. Instead, she put her head down on her arms and was asleep within a minute.
He slept, his breathing shallow and slow. She lay against him, awake and still. She'd forgotten what he smelled like, and she kept her eyes closed as she inhaled. There was the clean cotton of his shirt, the detergent he used on his laundry, the very subtle smell of books and wood and leather, and him. Memories flickered past her thoughts, summoned by his scent. Conversations, meaningful glances, and a very few, treasured touches.
If anyone had asked her yesterday morning what she wanted more than anything, her first answer would have been "Dawn's safety". After that, it would have been "time with Rupert". She had the former. He was real. He was alive. He remembered her. In a manner of speaking, she had the former. Here and now, in this world, Dawn was safe. She had grown into a lovely young woman with a striking sense of humor. It was clear she and Xander had a close friendship, and Buffy doted on her.
But Dawn wasn't her daughter in this world. In her world, what had become of Dawn? Had Buffy killed Glorificus as she'd promised? Would Dawn be all right?
Rupert stirred, woke, and pressed his lips against her forehead.
She looked up at him.
"Rupert, would you help me with something?"
Afterwards, she wept. He held her and rocked her and shushed her.
"Jenny, so long as you like," he told her, "you will never be alone. You will always have a home here."
It didn't ease her grief, but he hoped it might help in time.
"I'll never know," Jenny sobbed.
Someone knocked on the door. It was Willow who opened it a crack.
"Giles? Is everything okay?" she asked. "I felt . . ."
"We're fine, Willow," he answered. "Jenny asked my help to see her previous world, even if she couldn't go back, but the spell failed."
"I'm sorry," Willow whispered. "I'm really sorry, Ms. Calendar."
Jenny didn't respond, but held on to Rupert as though he were the only calm anchorage in an angry sea. Giles took a closer look at Willow and frowned.
"Willow, are you quite all right?" he asked. "You look pale."
"Didn't sleep well last night," Willow answered immediately. "Just . . . I'll make some naptime this afternoon."
She closed the door and disappeared.
"Please, please, please," Jenny whispered, "let her be all right. Please."
"I'm sure she is," Giles said, kissing her forehead. "You sealed the rift. Buffy defeated Glorificus, and the others will have rescued Dawn. It will be all right."
She held tight to him, shivering with grief.
He'd cast divination bones. He'd gone through three bottles of tracking powder. He'd consulted one of the few seers in the city who would speak to him. He'd sold a pint of blood to a vampire to get a referral to a locus demonicus
. Now he stood across the street from an undescript house and tried to make out how many people were in there, and which one he needed.
"Yeah," the demon said. "Well, that's it for me. Good luck."
The yellow skinned, multiple horned fellow turned to go, and Stan caught him by the collar.
"Not yet. You're supposed to show me the woman I'm supposed to get ahold of."
The demon stopped, sighed, and turned back.
"Buddy, do you even have a clue as to what you're messing with?"
"I have to do this," Stan answered. "It's my life or hers."
The demon looked downwards in an appeal for help. "You humans never do get it. Look, do you know anything about this town? Does 'Hellmouth' ring a bell for you?"
Stan waved his question away.
"That house," the demon explained, "has been occupied for two months. In those two months, the vampire population of this town has been dropping like flies. Unsolved murders and unexplained disappearances have ground to a halt, and it's all because of the people who live in that house there. You want to mess with a person from that house . . . good luck, but don't bother signing any contracts. You with me?"
"All I need to do is reverse the spell, and I'll be safe!"
The demon sighed again. "You ever see this really good movie from the eighties?"
"It was an homage to the film noire genre. I swear, the only reason I hang out on this plane is because you humans make such good movies."
"I write movies," Stan said. "I could give you my pitch."
The demon stared flatly at him for a moment. "Anyways, this movie, Body Heat
has a guy who thinks he's going to commit a crime to protect the woman of his dreams, and he asks a guy he knows how to go about it. Guy tells him . . . 'there are sixty ways to fuck up a crime, and if you can think of thirty of them, you're a fuckin' genius. And you are no genius.'"
Stan stared at him. "So . . . what, it's a quotable movie?"
"Why do I bother?" the demon muttered to himself. "Look, spells are like crimes, especially when the spell you're talking about includes committing a crime. You're a newbie to both, and you don't look to me like you've got enough nerve to power a carrot, let alone something like this. There are sixty ways to fuck up a spell like the one you're talking about. You following me?"
Stan huffed up a bit. "I can take care of myself! I did the research. I will do what it takes, and I know exactly how to go about it."
The demon, knowing a lost cause when he saw one, nodded. "Yeah, well, mazel tov
. The lady you want is the oldest female human in the house over there, name of Jenny Calendar. Dark hair with a little bit of gray. Brown eyes. Pretty face, kind of skinny. She knows how to fight better than you do. You do anything, you're going to seriously piss off the people in that house, and they are not people you want mad at you. Is there anything I can say to change your mind?"
Stan shook his head.
"Your funeral," the demon said, shrugging. "May your death be quick and relatively painless."
The demon left. He started the walk back to his lair, enjoying the evening air. After a couple of intersections, he saw something standing in the middle of the sidewalk before him that made him freeze. A person, a human person, would have seen only a white bunny rabbit, hardly intimidating, but as a demon, he could see a bit more around the edges than what the shape implied.
"Aw, shit. Look, I was bound by contractual obligations to take him on. I never would have touched him otherwise. I did try to talk him out of it."
The bunny licked its paw and glanced up at him.
"The guy's got a real fixation," the demon answered. "Maybe you can scare him off."
The bunny woffled its nose.
"Be my guest," the demon said.
Satisfied, the bunny hopped past him.
"Hey," the demon called.
The bunny paused and looked at him.
"Are we good?" the demon asked, gesturing between the two of them. "I don't want any bad blood."
The bunny sat back on its hind legs and pawed a bit at the air before turning and continuing on. The demon took a deep breath, held it a moment, and slowly let it out.
"Holy shit. I need a drink."
Jenny had spent most of the day in Giles' bedroom, coming out for meals and to be introduced to the Slayerettes. One of them, a girl named Lucy, had a pet rabbit that was, apparently, recovered from the scene of the spell that summoned her to this particular world. It never did reach the floor, as whenever one girl put him down, another picked him up and cuddled him.
Since she had no clothes but what she'd appeared in, Buffy had run out and spent three hundred dollars on a very basic wardrobe of jeans, blouses, bras, panties, and shoes. Giles promised to take her shopping when she felt up to it. Everyone treated her like a fragile glass flower, especially Willow.
Willow looked almost as bad as Jenny, and everyone seemed to notice. Even Rupert took a few minutes away from Jenny to check on her. He wasn't very satisfied when he returned, but he turned his attention to Jenny when he sat beside her.
It was the fourth to the last week. They were supposed to be working on character development. Instead, he used every ability in his repertoire to bend them to his will and bring them around to his plan.
"Tomorrow night?" the DVR man asked, worried. "That's really short notice."
"Consider it an exercise in extemporanea," he answered.
"But I really don't like ad libbing!" the cookie baker protested.
"Then you may brainstorm and write out lines ahead of time," he told her.
"What about my bunny?" Baxter's former owner asked.
"If he's not there, I will help you search," he said, holding his hands out, palms up. "If we don't find him, I will get you a new bunny."
"Maybe we could just do the new bunny," she said under her breath, considering.
"And, dinner afterwards will be my treat," he offered magnanimously.
"Oh, well, in that case."
"Come on, Will," Xander prodded her. "Spill it."
"Cancer of the puppy?" Buffy asked.
"Worse," Willow said, miserably.
"What's worse than cancer of the puppy?" Dawn asked.
"Cancer of the kitten," Xander intoned. "After it's metastasized."
"We have to kill Ms. Calendar!" Willow wailed.
Everyone stared at her.
"Okay," Xander breathed. "That's worse."
"Willow, are you sure?" Buffy asked.
"I've gone through the prophecy a hundred times," Willow said, pointing at the book she'd come to hate. "I've got every detail referenced and decoded. I even checked with the Devon council, and they agreed with my take. If Ms. Calendar doesn't die, she becomes this divine retribution that was summoned, and she'll end up killing everybody. It'll be a whole Apocalypse."
"Yeah, but," Buffy put her protest together, "okay, I know she was the one who taught you your first magic, Will, but she isn't powerful enough to pull off an entire end of the world, is she?"
"Maybe not our Ms. Calendar," Xander pointed out. "In our world, before she died. But this Ms. Calendar was in a world without Giles for at least four years. She probably picked up some heavy duty skills."
"Do we tell Giles?" Dawn asked.
"Somebody should," Willow whispered.
Just then, killing Jenny was the last thing on his mind. He hadn't started the kissing with any intention other than just . . . kissing. It had quickly gotten out of hand, though. He glanced to make sure the bedroom door was locked. It really wouldn't do to have anyone walk in on them just then.
"Rupert." Jenny tilted her head to his, so their foreheads touched. Her hands paused on the buttons of his shirt. "It's . . . it's been a while, and . . ."
"I completely understand," he managed. "It's been a fair while for me as well. If there's anything you need-"
"You don't understand," she interrupted. With a jerk, she ripped his shirt open. Buttons flew in all directions. "What I'm saying, Rupert, is that I don't think I can be very gentle this time around."
She kissed him, hard.
"Ah, well," he managed when she backed up to take his glasses off. "I'm sure I can manAAAAA-"
In the sweet aftermath, when they were both finally too tired to start things again, Jenny stirred and twined her fingers in his hair.
"I never got to say it, Rupert," she murmured. "I love you."
"As I love you, Jenny," he whispered in return. "I should have told you as soon as I knew it, but . . ."
She pressed a fingertip to his lips. "Uh uh. No regrets, Rupert. Just from here on out, we do it right."
"Now that I agree with," he answered, and kissed her fingertip.
It was late, late at night when Jenny worked up the nerve to leave Giles' room. She was starving, and he'd said something about leftover fried chicken in the refrigerator before he'd fallen asleep. The hallway opened onto the den, where Xander and Andrew slept. She felt a momentary pang of guilt for displacing them, but they looked comfortable enough.
What she didn't expect was for the bunny to be waiting for her in the kitchen. It crouched on all fours, looking for all the world like a sleepy guard.
"You need a snack too?" Jenny asked, opening the fridge. "I'll bet you're not into chicken, seeing as how you're supposed to taste like it. Let's see if there are any vegetables."
But the bunny turned and hopped for the door to the outside. Whoever had come in last hadn't closed it properly, and no one had locked it for the night. So, the rabbit leaned up against it, and when it opened, hopped into the night.
"Oh, hell!" Jenny whispered. "Get back here, Mr. Bun. I am not explaining your disappearance to that little girl."
She dashed out on bare feet, but the bunny had definite plans, and they didn't include going back in. Gritting her teeth against the many pebbles and other sharp things underfoot, she caught up with him near the end of the driveway and bent over to pick him up.Behind you.
She stood up, blinking in surprise. "Did you just . . . say something?"Behind you.
She looked behind her just as a man grabbed her by the throat and clamped a reeking cloth over her face. Another man reached for her hands. Her scream stifled, she kicked as hard as she could, catching the second man at the side of his knee. He hollered, clutching at his knee and hopping in one place.
The world blurred, tilted, and grayed out into a low suffocating buzz.
The manly scream woke him instantly.
It wasn't that people never screamed in pain around there, but he knew what both Xander's and Andrew's screams sounded like, and this was neither. He was up and pulling his pants on in half a second. Jenny wasn't there.
He stumbled into the hall, where Xander was already up.
"That wasn't you?"
"No! Where's Jenny?"
"She's not with you?"
Buffy vaulted past them and out the door, then came straight back.
"Van just took off," she barked. "Two men, and I'm pretty sure one of them was our spellcaster from the other night. I think they've got Jenny."
"Get Willow," Giles ordered. "They'll be headed back to the office building."
The house churned into life as the Scoobies grabbed clothes and gear.
"Has anyone seen Baxter?" Lucy called, nearly in tears. "I can't find him!"
Whatever it was, ether or chloroform, it wore off fairly quickly once the rag no longer covered her mouth. She lay on her stomach in the middle of a freshly scrawled circle of power, and she could feel the flickering limitations against her skin. She was trapped.
"She's another student of yours?" someone asked nervously. "Only she was really limp. You didn't say it was actually going to make her unconscious."
"She's an excellent actress," he snapped, setting out props. "And a stuntwoman. She's also fantastic at ad libbing, which is why I asked her to participate."
Jenny groaned and got her knees under her. This was almost like old times. Between the many different ends of the world, there were always the standard Sunnydale crazies trying a little human sacrifice for fun and profit.
"He's lying," she choked out. "I've got no idea who he is, but he's got to be insane."
"Very good," he replied. "Do you see how well she's using her motivation, class? And she's staying in character."
"We are the children of the night!" the cookie baker declared in a stilted voice. "And we will summon great evil here tonight. With your blood!"
"Hey, that was a good line," one of the others said.
"Thanks," she replied. "See, this is why I want to stay on script. It's so much easier."
"Look," Jenny insisted. "He really did drug me. He really did kidnap me, and I'm pretty sure those knives he set out aren't just props."
"Silence, victim!" Baxter's former owner ordered, pointing imperiously.
"Well done." Their leader smiled.
"Don't you realize you're all accomplices?" Jenny demanded. "If he hurts me or kills me, you're as guilty as he is."
They looked to their teacher, doubtful.
"Stay in character," Stan snapped. "Remember, if she were really scared, she could just walk out of here."
All of them heard the door smash open.
"Her allies," he said. "Stop them, my minions!"
They ran for the foyer.
"Oh, come on!" Jenny yelled. "Your students are about to get creatively pretzeled. You've got half a second before my back-up gets here. There's no time, and there's no reason for this."
She tried to get to her feet as he stepped over the circle's edge, knife in hand.
"Actually, there's a very good reason," he answered, enjoying the dramatic moment. "And that is, it's you or me. So, really, it's you."
He hit her as hard as he could, clumsily, and knocked her to her knees again, then raised the knife.Ahem. Stanley.
Startled, he looked up. There was no one in the room but him, the woman, and . . . Baxter.Remember Paris, Stanley? I do, and it's time for you to pay.
The bunny bared its incisors and jumped for his throat.
It turned out that the locus demonicus
's wish was half-granted. Death was quick, but not very painless.
In the next second, as Jenny got up, fell over, and got up again, Giles, Buffy, Xander, and Willow stormed the room. There was no sign of the bunny. When Jenny spotted the body, she sat down hard.
"Oh, no," Willow whispered. "It's already started."
"What has?" Giles asked, scuffing the circle so Jenny could exit and then stepping through to help her.
He took Jenny's hands and pulled her up.
"Are you all right?" he asked her.
She held tightly to his hands as she pull herself together.
"I survived sealing the rift Glory made," she managed with a weak chuckle, "and nearly get knifed by a has-been and his wannabes on Amateur Night. I may have a black eye, but that's about it."
"Oh, hey, Baxter," Xander said. "How'd you get all the way out here? Lucy's really worried about you."
Xander picked the bunny up and cuddled him.
"What do we do?" Willow begged him and Buffy.
"Will, we've got to tell them," Buffy answered. "Keeping secrets has never worked for us. Besides, maybe Giles or Ms. Calendar can figure something out."
"Tell us what?" Giles asked, holding on to Jenny, who kept looking at the former Stan and turning slightly green.
The Slayer and her two best friends traded glances.
"Willow found a prophesy," Xander began. "About Ms. Calendar's return."
"And," Buffy picked up, "it says specifically that Ms. Calendar's some sort of divine retribution."
"Nemesis?" Giles asked, his eyes narrowing.
"Yeah," Buffy answered. "And she's going to start killing people, which she has-"
"I didn't kill him," Jenny protested. "He was . . . I . . . "
"Shhh," Giles said, kissing her forehead. "You've been through a great deal already. No one expects you to remember all the details after this amount of trauma."
"And," Willow said, picking up the thread, "the prophesy says that she'll end up killing everybody unless she dies too."
No one said a thing in the appalled silence that followed. Baxter kicked a little bit and ground his teeth.
"What . . . what were the exact words, Willow?" Giles asked.
"Well, it was 'at her hands have others died, will more die, will all die, unless she has her own taste of a little death.'"
"What was it in the original language of the prophesy?" Giles demanded.
"Uh . . . "
Willow scrunched her face up and recited the original Middle French.
"Are you sure?" Jenny asked.
"It ended with 'd'un petit mort'?" Giles asked.
" . . . Yeah. I checked my translation with the Devon council," Willow answered.
Jenny broke into nervous laughter and covered her mouth with her hand. Giles, suddenly much more relaxed, bit down on a smile.
"Well, it looks like I may need to review some idioms with Sarah back in Devon," he managed.
Buffy, Willow, and Xander exchanged glances.
"Okay, you guys are way too giggly for a little death," Buffy said.
Jenny broke out into near-hysterical laughter, swallowed it, and managed to stay quiet. Giles took his glasses off and began cleaning them.
"Well, not that our current situation is any less dire," he began, nodding towards Stan's body. "But Jenny's status as Nemesis has been entirely moot since late this afternoon."
"What?" Willow asked. "How?"
Jenny stifled more giggles and pressed her face against Rupert's arm.
"Well, the French have a phrase that describes the peak, or climax if you will, of intercourse. It's based on something women, in general, are known to call out."
Willow was the first to put it together, and she blushed bright red from the roots of her hair all the way to her collar. She made a strangled noise and covered her face with both hands.
"Uh . . . " Buffy glanced at her and then back to Giles. "I don't . . . "
"More than a few women are known to say they're dying as they reach orgasm," Giles managed to finish.
Buffy and Xander exchanged glances.
"I'm dying!" Jenny gasped. "So, the French call it a little death."
Buffy tilted her head, and the penny dropped. "Wait, if that's un petite mort
, and you said it was taken care of this aft-OHMYGOD!"
Xander didn't say a word. He simply held the bunny against him with great dignity, turned on his heel, and left the room.
Community college associate professor Stanley Frobish was reported missing after grades were turned in. None of his students had seen him since he'd announced that he was giving them all As for effort and would be leaving for southern France the next day.
Jenny Calendar remained with the Scoobies, the Slayerettes, and the New Watchers Council, taking up an executive position handling the finances of the organization and creating new procedures for dealing with all the random Slayers in the world. 'Kill them all,' 'end of the world,' and 'save the world' became a series of well-used euphemisms between her and Rupert Giles so they could discuss portions of their private life without fear of being overheard. The first month after Jenny's unusual arrival in Giles' life, they saved the world more than twenty times.
The bunny formerly known as Baxter and now actually Nemesis – the agent of divine retribution, protector of the innocent, punisher of the guilty, and general slate wiper – found that he really wasn't in any hurry to kill everybody or even that many people. He did his work mostly at night, when Lucy slept. It would take much more than a rabbit's standard lifetime to get to everyone, and in the meantime, there were carrots, lettuce, and snuggles.
Seven hundred years previously, Brother Veritas finished his latest prophesy, drank a glass of wine mixed with honey and laudanum, slept for three days, and when he woke, yelled at the monastery scriveners for not taking him seriously. Then, at his abbot's suggestion, he gave up his pen, ink, and parchment for gardening. The Nemesis prophesy was the last one he ever wrote, and later Watcher chronicles commented that he was unseemingly happy not to have any more visions.