Odds are, one of you's going to have to go first. One of them does, and it's Rupert. The funeral's on English soil. They spent the past few years here. Jenny's finally starting – was finally starting – to like it. The service is closed casket; it wasn't a pretty death, and there's not much left to see. It rains. Everyone's dressed in heavy clothes and dark colors. Buffy and Willow and Xander and Dawn are there. Are here to stay, for as long as she needs them around. They're squeezed into the house, (somberly) bouncing back and forth between the spare bedroom and the fold-out couch, and it's kinda funny that the place feels so big now even when all the evidence is seriously to the contrary.
"You okay?" Willow asks one night, knocking on the bedroom door as well as somebody can when they've got a cup of tea in each hand.
"I'm okay," Jenny says, setting the book back down onto Rupert's nightstand: an Ishiguro novel with a bookmark in between pages 124 and 125. She's a page-folder herself, which is one of those little things that always drove him crazy.
"Hey," she adds, all stiff-upper-lip, "by Hellmouth-and-disaster standards, we were together for – what would you say, like three lifetimes?"
"Eleven years," Willow marvels along, climbing onto the bed next to her. "You should get a – a plaque, or something."
"I was hoping for a medal."
"A shiny medal?"
They sit in the quiet for a few minutes. The room is still hers and Rupert's. His clothes in the closet, his books. Her laptop banished to the far side of the room, where she'd catch him sometimes looking things up on Wikipedia and then sputtering out indignant excuses.
She's forgotten how to live without him.
It's going to take some getting used to.
"When Tara ..." Willow begins, and ends. "I don't know what would have happened to me, if you hadn't been— So I'm here, okay? I'm always here."
Jenny's not setting a whole lot of stock in always right now, but she appreciates it anyway. "Oh, sweetie," she says, and rests her head on Willow's shoulder, "I know."
"He was the best man I ever knew." Jenny can hear the tears coming.
"Tell me about it," Jenny says. Closes her eyes.
She wakes up too early in the morning. This never used to be a problem for her. She fishes one of Rupert's sweaters out of the closet and shrugs into it. Coffee is the priority, but when she gets to the kitchen, someone's there already. Buffy's standing in front of the fridge. She's crying. Quietly, so Xander can snooze on uninterrupted on the couch, but the sniffles and the shoulder-shaking is unmistakable.
She spins around, caught. "Oh, um. Hi. Sorry. I."
"Don't apologize," Jenny orders gently. She squeezes Buffy's elbow. They've never been the huggiest.
"Right," Buffy murmurs. She points at a postcard on the fridge. It's got the Parthenon on the front, but the back is what's on display: a short, scribbled note from Buffy with lots of exclamation points and a stick figure drawing of Zeus. "Did you put this up, or, um, did he?"
"He did," Jenny says. She feels strangely merciful, considering all she's telling is the truth.
"I thought so," Buffy says. "Not that you wouldn't, or anything. It's just-"
"You were his little girl," Jenny finishes.
Buffy doesn't say anything to that; just bites her lip and turns a determined eye back to the fridge.
"Would you be able to tell that stick figure was Zeus?" she asks, too nonchalantly. "If it wasn't, ya know, all handily labeled and surrounded by lightning bolts?"
"Um," Jenny says, "sure."
For belonging to two people without any close family ties, it's a pretty decorated fridge. Lots of pictures with lots of smiling faces. We did okay, England, Jenny thinks. And if she wishes she had a reason to say it out loud, someone to say it out loud to, well-
"I'm really glad he met you," Buffy says, interrupting the grieving widow party.
"Zeus?" Jenny asks dryly.
Buffy laughs a little - unmistakable pity laugh - but then she keeps going. "I ... I think he would have been really lonely without you. If it was just All Buffy's Problems, All The Time."
Jenny decides not to touch on that one. "Thank you."
"You want eggs?" Buffy offers, sounding absurdly hopeful. "You guys have eggs in England, right? 'Cause I can make eggs."
"Eggs sound perfect," Jenny tells her.
The call comes at three in the morning; they're in bed, asleep, and normally the phone ringing would lead to a whole lot of grumpy grumbling and muttered swearwords. This time, they both wake right up, and don't say anything. They've been walking on ice since they came to England. Since before they left. He leans over her to reach for the phone. Jenny knows this isn't her call to take. (Of course, that's how she's felt about every call. No rest for the waiting.)
"Yes? ... Yes ... Yes ... of course. I understand. ... Right away. ... Yes. ...All right. ...Yes, g-goodbye for now."
He hangs up. Breathes out slow. She puts a hand on his chest. His heart is pounding hard.
"Buffy's back," he says. And then: "Willow's brought her back."
Jenny thinks of the fifteen year old girl, plaid and tights and headbands, those big sweet eyes. It was impossible not to see her potential; she was always so bright and so quick. But back then, it was never frightening. The thought would never even cross your mind. The sweaters. The stammering.
She thinks of a conversation she had with Tara months ago, before they'd even thought of leaving. Back when Buffy was around to keep them there.
"It scares me a little," Tara had confessed, just the two of them in the storage room, dusting off jars of the parts of small animals, "how strong she's gotten. How— how good, I mean. When we met, I had all this experience that she didn't, and now—"
"You're preaching to the choir," Jenny told her. "I started out teaching her. That lasted, oh, all of six months."
"It makes me wonder sometimes," Tara said, "what she could ..."
She trailed off, which was all right; Jenny already knew the end to that sentence. That thought.
A few days after Joyce Summers dies – after Buffy finds her mother dead – Jenny starts to worry. She doesn't tell Rupert; he's like a father to those girls, and his grief and his exhaustion are all over his face, sneaking into the way he moves. Jenny loves Buffy and Dawn, it goes without saying, but, well. They already had a mother. The highest Jenny can possibly rank is cool aunt.
But speaking of motherhood.
It turns out to be a false alarm. Jenny tells Rupert about it when they're going over the books at the shop one night, because he looks so tired and there's a small nasty part of her that hates that he's so broken down by this thing that has nothing to do with her. Sometimes her life feels like a gigantic game of tug-of-war with Buffy, with Rupert in the middle. And Jenny's not the one with the Slayer strength.
"I can't believe you didn't tell me sooner."
"Tell you about the kid we're not having?"
"I believe a more apt phrase is 'the kid we could have had.'"
"Well, it's nothing," she snaps. "So don't worry about it."
"I wasn't given the chance to worry about it."
"So what, it'd just be something to worry about, for you?"
"I-" He stops.
Oh, she thinks. But it doesn't really come as the surprise she wishes it did.
"We've never had the kid talk," she says, keeping her voice even.
"I always figured it went without saying."
Jenny holds back a sigh. "Buffy's priority number one."
"I don't know how to choose—" His forehead creases in a frown. He does mean it. She wishes he didn't; then maybe she could actually stay mad at him for once. "—to pick myself – my life – over hers. Not right now. Not after this." He takes her hand. "Darling, I wish I did, for your sake."
"I know," she says, squeezing his fingers. "I get it."
He kisses her, then starts shuffling papers. She thinks it's back to the books, but then:
"Could you really bring a child into this world?" he asks the table in front of him. "After everything we've seen? After – after the pain, and the death, and the constant mayhem? After knowing that one day that child could walk into the room and find you dead in it, and have her whole world crumble."
The answer's been no for awhile. For always, maybe. When you're raised on tales of raped and bleeding gypsy girls, it kinda quashes the dream to grow up and have lots of babies.
"I love them too, Rupert," she says instead. It's what he needs to hear.
"I know." He meets her eyes. "Is it enough?"
"Yeah," she promises. He's enough, is what she really means. But that's not so different.
They get married at City Hall on a Tuesday morning, leaving a sign on the front door of the Magic Box that promises they'll be back by noon. Buffy, Willow, Xander, Anya, Tara, Riley, and Dawn are not told about it, but they show up anyway, toting balloons and confetti and those noise-maker things that are totally worth the annoyance factor for the look on Rupert's face. Afterwards, they all go out for ice cream and debate the pros and cons of Jenny keeping her last name. No one really has any cons. Xander suggests Giles switch to 'Rupert Calendar,' on the grounds that it has a way better international super-spy ring to it.
"International super-spies get all the chicks," Xander announces with great authority.
"Damn," Rupert says, eying Jenny fondly, "and to think I settled for just the one."
"Aw," she says, "you're not nearly as cute as you think you are," and kisses him.
"That's so nice!" Anya blurts out. "All your wedded bliss. I'm very happy for you. Now, can we please go back to the money?"
"Anya, this is our wedding day," Rupert points out irritably.
"Yes," Anya agrees, unsympathetic, "but capitalism doesn't take days off for true love."
"Anya," Jenny says, "what do you say you run the shop today while Rupert and I spend some alone time together, hmm?"
"Me? Me run the shop?" Anya's smile is so bright they're all in danger of being blinded. "Xander, I'm going to run the shop."
"I heard," Xander says, smiling that smile of My girlfriend's a loon indulgent affection.
"Please, enjoy all the newlywed sex you'll be having," Anya requests giddily. "If you'd like to spend several days at it, I promise, you can count on me to keep things ship-shape. Don't even get out of bed! Or, you know, off the kitchen table, or the living room floor, or out of the shower—"
"Ahn," Xander groans.
"Ew!" Dawn yelps.
"Oh, dear God," Rupert mutters.
"Anya?" Jenny says.
"Thank you," Jenny beams, "for the wonderful wedding gift."
"I knew it!" Anya cries triumphantly, and adds in an accusatory mumble, "Puritans."
Buffy pouts. "You mean you didn't like the confetti?"
They move in together the summer after the high school goes boom, mostly for reasons of financial necessity on her end. Turns out pissed off Gypsy clans don't exactly take care of their own like the Watcher's Council does (well, did), and don't even get her started on teacher's salaries.
It's weird. Turns out it's one thing to go happily back and forth between each other's places for a year; it's another when it's two people and two lives shoved into one nice-but-too-small apartment.
Rupert throws out all the tweed in his closet, and starts playing classic rock songs on the acoustic guitar at odd hours, and they go through a period where they're biting each other's heads off so often that Spike (who, by the way, is their roommate now, their chained-in-the-bathtub roommate, and that's just peachy) starts shouting that they clearly need to a) try couples' counseling, or b) just bloody kill each other already. Jenny thinks about leaving at least once a day: long, drawn-out fantasies about empty apartments where she can take hour-long baths because the tub's not full of vampire, and burn incense without getting a lecture on how it's interfering with the musty book smell. (How did she ever think that whole 'books smell' speech was charming?) Coffee with Willow keeps turning into Caffeinated Ranting About Rupert To Willow. Jenny knows she should stop, knows she should respect the wide-eyed oh God she's talking about Giles's love life! fear in Willow's eyes, but it's like she's possessed. Well, no. She's been possessed. That was way less stressful.
She gets a part time job at the Magic Box after a couple weeks – Willow's suggestion – and that makes things better. Rupert Giles might be a pain in the ass to live with (especially when he's in midlife crisis mode), but he's pretty nice to come home to.
"Am I really?" he asks when she tells him as much, voice low, arms around her. If they're living on a kiss-or-kill basis, well, this is definitely a 'kiss' day.
"You are—" She makes him breathe in sharp, a sound that turns her knees totally unreliable; "—really."
"I CAN HEAR YOU," Spike yells from the bathroom. "VAMP HEARING, MIND. NOT THAT I EVEN NEED IT, WITH THE WAY YOU TWO CARRY ON—"
Spike is very wicked, Rupert points out. And deserves to suffer a little.
Afterwards, she can never quite remember how she got out. She remembers big noises, things falling over; maybe she knocked something over on top of him, but what? What would it take to keep a vampire down? A vending machine, maybe. She's heard that thing about fear and adrenaline, but she's still pretty sure she couldn't push over a vending machine. Hell, she can barely get the thing to work normally. She always has to kick it a couple of times. Totally undignified. Once, Rupert spent a half hour trying to rescue her chocolate bar.
She trips on her way down the outside steps. It hurts, it hurts, it's dark and she wishes so hard for the sun, she drags herself the hell back up, gotta go, gotta go, gotta move, fast. She makes it to her car and speeds out of the parking lot in a way that would terrify even the most seasoned of driver's ed teachers. She drives until she can remember Rupert's address, remember how to drive, remember anything. All the way there she waits for – the thud on the roof. Hands through metal, dragging her up and out, up and out to break her into pieces, drive, drive, drive-
Rupert isn't home when she gets there. She sits on his front steps and hopes he'll hurry, God, where is he, she needs inside that house. She rests her head against her knees and concentrates on her own breathing. Her right ankle hurts like hell. She doesn't think it's broken, though. She's almost afraid to look, but when she does, it's – normal. All the pain trapped on the inside. It will probably start swelling soon.
She doesn't cry until she hears footsteps that she knows are his, his and not Angel's (Angelus's, she means), because she's been around him enough that she knows the sound. She lifts her head to look up at him.
"Sorry to keep you w—" His smile disappears. She doesn't have to say anything (which is good, she's not so sure she remembers how to talk); she watches the knowledge dawn on Rupert's face.
If I'd died, he would be so sad, she thinks. Stupidly. And this is what gets her crying.
They go inside. The door is shut and locked. Invitations rescinded. He makes tea – of course he does – and she calms down. She's not much of a crier. The last time she was on this couch, there was a demon pulling her strings. They definitely need to get up to some cheerier things on this couch.
She tells him about her ankle. He sits beside her, taking her foot in his lap, careful and a little shaky as he removes her shoe. Cinderella in reverse. His fingers are gentle. It hurts anyway.
"The risk," she says, "of running in heels from homicidal fiends."
Rupert doesn't play along. His eyes shut, like the forced lightness in her voice hurts him. "If you'd died—"
I know, I know, I know.
"Hey." She leans into him, touches his face. "I didn't."
"But you could have," he insists, not looking at her. "And it would be my—"
She puts a finger under his chin and steers his gaze to her. "Actually, it would be my. I'm not some damsel you dragged into this world, Rupert. I was here long before you knew it. I'm here because I choose to be, and I'm not going anywhere."
"You'd better not," he says. His voice breaks a little on the last word.
Tears sting in her eyes. "Where's that stiff upper lip everybody's always talking about?"
"Insufferable woman," he accuses hoarsely. They both laugh, in spite of everything.