Jenny was wrenched into the waking world when she felt someone grab her by the hair, and began dragging her towards the mouth of the cave.
Her first thought was that she'd been grabbed by a wild animal, a roving D'arkuur or Drokken beast that decided she was worth a nimble or had claimed the cave as its own.
But then Jenny felt the cold, hard calloused handed around her skull, heard a huff of contempt and then just wished it was a wild animal that had her.
Jenny thrashed wildly. She dragged her hands through the dirt, tearing her nails off just trying to slow the Knight down. She kicked and bucked and screamed but her captor didn't even flinch.
"Stupid half cow," chuckled the red, lizard skinned Honored Scar knight. He dragged Jenny by the roots of her hair out of the cave and into the harsh morning light, "you stumble upon a fully stocked cave and stay? Set traps to let me know you're nearby? Even animals know the best pest traps have bait."
The thought was like a lightning bolt through Jenny's brain. The voice lied. It…she didn't care about her. Jenny remembered once seeing a cat, playing with a small mouse. The cat would chase the tiny thing into a corner, and then stand just far enough away so that the mouse thought it could still slip away.
Jenny realized that her entire life was like that of the mouse. She was just a pathetic plaything for the true masters. Falling into hell, meeting Lorne and Angel, then being flushed back home and into the hands of the enemy to die?
She was nothing more than some cosmic joke.
"We missed the cow that lived there first," the Knight threw Jenny on her back, and then bent down and pressed his knee on her stomach. Barely able to breath, Jenny could offer no resistance as the Knight took her hands, and bound them with rope, "we've caught a few since then, though. You're certainly no smarter than a cow. Hell, you're less than demon and cow from the looks of you."
Hands bound, Jenny could do nothing but cry. The Knight then threw her over his shoulder like she was a Persian Carpet.
Jenny didn't remember much of the ride. There was a horse, some racial slurs and then they came upon a camp of two dozen other Knights.
Jenny had held some small spark of hope to escape this single Knight. When she saw the rest, it died a cold and lonely death.
Jenny was thrown down in the center of the camp, and almost immediately the Knights swarmed, like sharks to blood.
"Too small! She'll barely last an hour!"
"A half cow? Barely worth the effort."
"Can't she even scream?"
Jenny cowered, head in hands as the Knights of the camp strolled by, all eager to see the first real catch in months. They loomed over the little girl, and every single one reveled in the sheer power they held over her. Just a glance was intoxicating to them.
"She might be a good warm up," Jenny watched as the Knights parted as one. Jenny didn't know the rank, but she watched as a blue skinned, horned demon knelt, bent down and cupped her chin. He examined her face carefully, "you are going to help your pathetic kind, child. You are going to be an example, in front of the entire kingdom, of what happens when a cow wanders off. What do you say about that?"
Jenny looked at the man's feet, then brought her head up and spit in his eye.
"Still prettier than you," Jenny managed to force out.
She expected the kick. His foot seemed to smash across her stomach, and she saw stars and threw up all over herself gasping for breath. She lay on her stomach, barely able to move. But her plan worked.
"Stupid, pathetic cow!" snarled the Knight as he looked down at her, while Jenny cradled the small hunting knife she'd liberated from his boot, "you think you're clever! That you could provoke me into killing you! You're not the first to try!"
"And if you don't step away right now, I promise you, she'll be the last."
Jenny recognized the voice, but her heart refused to accept it.
The Souled Vampire came up from behind the Knights, and stood a dozen feet away, axe in one hand. Jenny saw how Angel tightened and flexed his other hand, covered in a spider's web of black veins.
"Excuse me?" said the Captain, "do you know to whom you speak? I am a Captain of the Honored Scars! By what right does a pathetic half cow like you think to threaten me? This waste of meat belongs to me!"
"She belongs to no one," said Angel, "but she belongs with her family, which is me and mine. Hand her over, and I won't do what I really, really want to do to you."
"You should be more respectful, filth."
"Sorry, if I seem disrespectful, it's just because I don't respect you."
The Captain's chest tightened, and then he snarled, "I will never surrender my prey, and if you think…"
The Captain intended to say more, but struggled to speak when Angel's axe crashed into his skull with such force that he was thrown a good five feet back.
The Scarred Knights were stunned by the sudden, abrupt death of their leader. But then, instinct took over, swords were in hand and soon Angel was facing down many, many pointy things.
"Sorry, I was ready to suffer through his stupid ranting, I really was," said Angel, "but then I remembered that he kicked a little girl. So, anyone who doesn't run away, right now, doesn't walk away, at all."
The sky fell.
That was the first thought that went through Jenny's mind as something impossibly large and hot and angry landed around her like a giant cage.
The dragon Cordelia landed like a meteor, and swept aside soldiers with dismissive ease. With a flap of its wings, a dozen Knights were thrown back. A swipe of its tail dispatched even more, and once the Knights saw what they faced, a wave of terror overtook them all.
Jenny somehow kept enough presence of mind to use her stolen knife to cut through the ropes binding her wrist, and scrambled out from the dragon, and into the middle of a warzone.
Faith. Connor. Spike. Kate Lockley. The Groosalugg. Willow Rosenberg.
Those were the big names that Jenny would remember years later. The squad of Slayers not so much, but they tore through the 'Honored Scars' just as easily as everyone else. They were like a tsunami, crashing upon the Knights with the strength of nature and power of moral outrage.
"Hey there, sweetie, you can't go running off."
Jenny heard the voice just…appear behind her, and felt a gentle hand on her shoulder.
Panicked instinct took over and the young girl slashed out with her stolen knife.
Jenny hit flesh, but didn't stick around long enough to see what she'd hit, let alone whom. Jenny could already hear the battle winding down, and knew that this massive force would likely turn on her next.
Her first instinct was to flee, but her chest ached from where she'd been kicked, she could barely take a full breath and she'd vomited up what little food she had managed to eat. With no fuel in the tank, all she could do was stay close and maybe…
Well, Jenny had no idea what she'd do. She couldn't run, couldn't fight, the best she could maybe do was hide and listen. Jenny spotted some bushes in the distance, and scrambled into them like they were a security blanket.
"Everyone accounted for? Connor? Kate?"
"I'm good, dad."
"Same. The movies were right, boom stick does beat primitive screw-heads."
"I'm good too."
"Didn't ask, Spike.
"Right. So, anyone remember the little bird we're supposed to find?"
"I'm tempted to leave her here, she cut me in the boob!"
"I admire her ability to hit such a small target."
"Spike! Not funny! And they're not small!"
"Everyone just take a breath. She's nearby, according to the artifact."
Jenny wrinkled her nose. Artifact? They had magic? Could this get any worse?
"I'll find her, dad."
Connor's eyes scanned the battlefield, starting where he'd last seen the young girl and with casual ease he turned his head towards the bushes where Jenny hid, and his eyes became level with hers.
Jenny scrambled backwards out of the bushes like a startled animal. She broke into a dead run when she heard the crunching of leaves behind her, eyes darting back and forth for some sort of refuge.
Jenny spotted a hollowed out tree stump, and thought her prayers had been answered.
She just barely squeezed through the opening, and turned around, facing the entrance. Gripping the knife, and shivering for no shortage of reasons, Jenny prepared to make her last stand.
"She's in there."
"Jenny?" She recognized the voice as Angel, "we're not here to hurt you. Could you please come out?"
"Go away!" Jenny screamed.
"I could just magic her out of there, ya know. Pop! Like a wet bar of soap, no fuss no muss."
Jenny held her breath, and decided that she truly hated magic.
"I'd rather not have her start her new life by being kidnapped," said Angel.
"Well, we aren't leaving her here after all that bloody hard work, either!"
"Give me a moment alone with her, Dad. I'll see if I can reach her."
"Just trust me. Faith, maybe you can stick around too."
Jenny heard the people marching off, and breathed a sigh of relief. She could tell that two people had stayed, but it was still better odds than a few moments ago.
"Jenny? I'm Connor, and I just want to talk, okay?"
Jenny felt Connor sitting down on the opposite side of the trunk, casually ignoring her request.
"Why?" said Connor, "do you really want to stay here? I haven't been here long, but the stories I've heard make this place sound like no fun at all."
Jenny swallowed, her throat burning dry. She knew what would happen if she got her wish, if they listened to her and just left and went back to their world. But the pain she felt burning in her chest grabbed her like a vice. She felt like she was being torn in two, and no matter what choice she made would just mean more suffering.
"Yes!" Jenny said unconvincingly.
"Before we leave, could you tell us why you don't want to leave?"
Jenny was silent.
"Please? We've come an awful long way. The least we deserve is an explanation."
"…he lied," Jenny growled.
"Angel! He said he was real and I was safe, that he cared and he lied!" Jenny screamed with the pure rage and anger only a child could feel. Just the pain of thinking about it hurt worse than the whips.
"Ah," Connor sighed, "I don't think that's it."
"Can I tell you something about myself, Jenny?" Connor said, "I grew up in a bad place like this. Tough, always fighting for survival. Living with only one person looking out for you, who cares and sometimes not even that. I know what it does to you. Same with Faith here. We only had childhoods in the technical sense.
"See, Angel? I think he did hurt you. Deeply. He never meant to, but he hurt you worse than anyone before. Am I right?"
Jenny nodded, though Connor couldn't see it.
"I know because he did the same to me and Faith. People like us, we build a wall around our hearts without even realizing it. We build it out of our pain and suffering, and after living with it for so long, we just get used to it. We don't even notice it pain after a while, not until anything but suffering, like actually feeling happy, hope, is what really makes us hurt.
And then Angel comes along. And he looks at you, he looks through you, through everything you've done and decides that you're worth it. After struggling every day to convince yourself that you have worth, that you matter, he just glances at you and decides you're worth something. That you have value as a person, and worth fighting for. So you let your guard down."
Jenny shook her head, and wiped away tears. But her throat was too dry to even speak.
"But all the hate, all that anger has to go somewhere. Because when he fails, and he's not perfect and he will fail, you lash out. All that pain comes rushing back, and you think rejecting the person who gave you all that hope will somehow make it stop. That by rejecting him, you can deny everything good he makes you see in yourself."
Faith examined her nails, and tried not to think on her own past. While she would forever be in Angel's debt, she never much cared to really reflect on why she was so damn intent on hurting one of the only people who actually believed in her.
"I've been where you are, Jenny. Believe me when I say it gets better. Angel may not be perfect, but he will always come for you. He will always try to protect you. And he will always care about you. And he won't be the only one."
Connor waited, and prayed that he got through.
"That was pretty sweet," Faith said, finally.
"Tell him I said that and we'll have words."
"Almost went into testosterone withdraw there, huh?"
Connor waved his hand dismissively, "Think I made it through?"
"You aimed a little high. Let me give it a shot," Faith said. She went to the front of the stump, and knelt down until she was eye to eye with the sobbing girl.
"Hey, little green, name's Faith. Don't suppose you want to come out here, do you?"
Jenny shook her head defiantly.
"Didn't think so," Faith sighed, "I've been in the same position as you. Well, not hiding in a stump, but, ya know. Alone, hunted, and surrounded by a world I thought hated me. And then, out of nowhere, like a bolt of lightning, you find people who are willing to fight for you, to die for you. People you barely know, and who barely know you, and are willing to do anything for you. To fight for you, to die for you.
"But all you can think of is if they knew, if they just knew what you had to do to survive, to live one more day, then they'd turn on you. They wouldn't understand, not even try, just judge you, then throw you away like trash."
Faith reached her hand out to the trembling child.
"Well, you're wrong. We want ya, Jenny, horns and all. And whatever you've had to do, whatever you've done to survive, there is nothing that will change that, nothing Angel cannot help you come back from. And we will do everything in our power to make sure you never have to do it again."
Jenny set down the dagger, and took Faith's hand.
"Well hello there Jenny," Faith looked the quivering girl, absolutely filthy, covered in sweat, vomit, snot and dirt while shaking like a leaf. Acting on instincts she didn't even know she had, Faith scooped Jenny up into her arms and into a hug, "today's the first day of the bestening of your life."
"Bestening?" Connor gave Faith a curious look.
"Hey, every word starts somewhere."
Jenny buried her face in Faith's shoulder, still weeping. The Slayer suspected that even though Jenny had managed to reach out to her, she was still terrified of what was going to happen next. The line between hope and despair was a thin one, like a terrifying high wire act.
Connor was absolutely right. Sometimes hope was a fuel for terror.
Faith rubbed Jenny's back gently, like one might do with a baby. Faith knew it was a little silly, but she suspected Jenny wouldn't complain about some basic human contact.
What Faith didn't expect was the mass of scars that made it feel like she was running her hand over old torn leather, or to feel the young girl whimper. Faith moved her hand like she'd just touched an oven eye, and tensed for Jenny's reaction.
But nothing came. The girl still had her head buried in her chest, but she actually seemed to be calming down some.
"Hey guys!" Connor called out as they rejoined the others, "look who we found!"
"Well hey alright! Baby boy isn't so useless after all!"
Spike began clapping, followed by Angel, Groo and Kate. Jenny lifted her head off of Faith's head, and saw how her team of rescuers were divided into two groups. Angel's group was genuinely smiling, while the second group, made up entirely of females, seemed to just be going along with the clapping almost mechanically.
Angel took a step towards Faith and Jenny, but the Slayer gave him a slight shake of the head, with a little 'not yet' look.
"Good job, son," Angel gave Connor a slap on the back, "how'd you do it?"
"I just told her what a big dork you were," Connor shrugged, "she just had to see it for herself."
"Well, now that we're a big happy family again, how about we head home?" Willow suggested.
"Hey Red, how about you give little green a once over before we leave?" Faith put Jenny down, but the girl still clung to her hand like it was a life raft. Faith squeezed back, but held firm in a way that made it clear she wasn't about to let Jenny run.
Jenny didn't possess the refined magical senses that her full demon blooded kin possessed, but she was still able to perceive magic on a conscious but instinctive level.
And to her, Willow was like a nuclear reactor of magic. And with each step the young woman took, the power that rolled off her in waves seemed to double.
"I'm sorry," Jenny said submissively, "this cow never meant…"
"Don't worry about it," Willow said with a warm smile that Jenny could literally feel wash over her, "I figure I owed you one anyway. If I'd been faster getting us into position, that mean man wouldn't have hurt you."
Jenny didn't quite accept the logic, but she nodded anyway.
"Lets give you a little magic make-over, okay? Lets start with the easy stuff first, kiddo. You could use a facial."
Willow tapped Jenny on the head, and all the dirt, vomit and sweat fell from her as if it was a second skin. She looked down at her dress, the one that she liked, one of the few decorative things in her life that was meant for her, and saw that it was as good as new.
"Can I see your hands?"
Jenny, hesitated, but she let go of Faith and held her hands out, and for the first time saw just how damaged they'd become. Her wrists were raw and bruised from where they'd been bound, her nails were just gone, replaced by blood and dirt while there were countless scratches all over her hands and fingers.
The young girl was actually surprised by the condition of her hands, and when she thought about, just how much they hurt.
"This will tickle a little," Willow held her hands over Jenny's.
Faith watched as the blood and dirt removed itself from Jenny's hands, her cuts and scratches changed from jagged flesh to smooth skin and her nails returned to the tips of her fingers flawlessly. Even Jenny's rough and calloused hands became the soft skin it should have always been.
Faith smirked. Willow had been the Slayer Army's self appointed cleric (such a nerd) for so long that this simple act of healing took no more effort than crossing the street, but to Jenny it might as well be a Christmas miracle, and no doubt would go a long way to earning her trust.
The young girl nodded, numb with shock. Her hands were in such good condition that she literally barely recognized them.
"Lets take a look at those ribs, okay?"
Jenny held her breath as she felt the energy flowing over her lower body, and when she breathed out it seemed to dispel all the aches and pain.
Jenny threw her arms around Willow and wept tears of joy.
"Umm, a yes would have sufficed," Willow was about to return the hug, when Faith grabbed her wrist.
"That was just the warm up," said Faith.
"Something wrong?" Angel asked.
"We just got one last thing to address," Faith nodded towards Jenny's back, littered in scars, "then we can get back to LA."
"I…" Willow could only see the top half of the scars, but that was still enough to make her sick, "I need a little privacy to do this."
Faith found them a stump, and sat Jenny down. The little girl trembled, but was as quite as a church mouse.
"We're almost done," Faith brushed the hair out of Jenny's face. Her horns worked well in place of hairclips, Faith decided.
"Okay. Jenny, I'm going to take a quick look before I get started," Willow unzipped the back of Jenny's dress, and only avoided throwing up because it might have upset the little girl she was supposed to be helping.
Angel had told warned her, but there were really no words that could have truly prepared Willow for what she found. To describe Jenny's back as scarred would be like describing the Atlantic Ocean as a body of water.
Jenny's back looked like a lunar landscape after someone used it as a drag strip. There were long longs crisscrossing Jenny's back, and more than a few overlapped. Laying over them were what could only be described as craters, spots were the open wounds had become infected, requiring the boils to be lanced and drained.
"Why …how could anyone do this to a child…?" Willow couldn't help but ask aloud.
"The shock collars become unreliable if a pyrite rock is placed in between the collar and receiver gem," Jenny said, "or so I heard. The whip is seen as a better deterrent, cheap and more cost effective. It's smart."
"That's one word for it," Willow chewed her lip, "okay Jenny, this may feel a little weird, but once I start it will be better if I finish."
"You just squeeze my hand if it hurts," said Faith.
Willow summoned her magic, and began focusing the energy through her hands and into Jenny's back. Though she had no shortage of experience when it came to stitching up wounds, removing and healing scar tissue was another matter entirely. This wasn't flesh that needed to be mended and restored, but removed entirely.
Willow infused Jenny's back with magic until it was as pliable as clay to her, and then went about her work. She smoothed the rough skin back into Jenny's body, while reconnecting nerves that had been severed. The work was more precise than most surgeries, but to Willow the act of healing was intuitive, second nature by now. She was in the zone.
"Ahhh!" Jenny cried out.
"Kid? You okay?" Faith looked at Jenny, then to Willow. The Jewish witch slowly withdrew her magic, taking care not to do more damage.
"It…hurt," Jenny looked at Faith, completely dumbfounded.
"I'm sorry sweetie," said Willow, "I didn't mean to, but…"
"No, it hurt before, and now it doesn't," Jenny blinked back tears, "it hurt so much and I just got used to it and I barely even noticed. How…?"
Willow glanced down at the ground, and saw a sharp, ebony object that had not been there before. She picked up what looked like a shark's tooth, but jagged and serrated.
"Where the hell did that come from?" Faith felt her stomach churn.
"…if I had to guess, Jenny's owners weren't satisfied with a regular whip, and some bits got caught in her…,"
Willow couldn't bring herself to finish her sentence.
"I'm sorry," said Jenny, though she wasn't certain why. All she knew were two authority figures standing next to her were angry because of her, so logically it meant she was in the wrong.
"You ain't got nothing to be sorry for," said Faith, "and she ain't got no owners, Red. Finish the hell up, and lets get the hell out of here before I decide to burn everything that isn't us."
Willow nodded, "I could not agree more, Faith. Okay Jenny, just sit still, and I'll have you like new in a few minutes."
Jenny nodded, unable to believe what was happening. As Willow continued her work, and as she went about repairing the torn flesh, she saw three more sharps things that had no place in a little girl's flesh fall to the ground. Seeing that disgusting sight actually helped Willow keep her focus, and Jenny felt the pain that she'd just grown accustomed to just evaporate like it had never been, and in its place she felt a tingling, static feeling that was soon replaced with almost nothing at all.
Her back had been a map of pain and scar tissue for so long, Jenny didn't even recognize how it was supposed to feel otherwise.
"Okay, done," Willow wiped the sweat from her brow. She'd never tried something as complicated as this before, but the results seemed to speak for themselves.
"Can you feel this?" Willow slowly traced her finger down Jenny's back.
"…yes," Jenny said in disbelief, "how?"
Jenny wiped the tears from her eyes. She loved magic now.
"I..I don't know how to repay this, I…"
"Are you thankful?" Willow stood up and ruffled Jenny's hair.
"Then you've repaid me."
Jenny looked dumbstruck, "That's not a fair exchange of energy and effort for such a major…"
"Is for me. Ready to go?" Willow offered Jenny her hand. The young hybrid, still baffled by the act of compassion, took it eagerly.
The Slayer and the Witch led the little girl back to the rest of their party, and for the first time Jenny realized the enormity of the group that had come for her. The half dozen Slayers, Angel, Spike, Connor and all the rest. Armed, courageous and all intent on rescuing her.
"Okay travelers, hope you visited the souvenir shop," Willow was beyond exhausted, but opening a portal to earth was like crossing the street, "because next stop, earth!"
Faith led Jenny through first, and the rest of the warriors filed behind them single file. Within minutes it was only Willow and Angel who remained.
"Hey, where'd Fabio go?"
"Groo decided to stick around. Something about Knights hunting down mixed bloods gets under his skin, which is good because do you know how expensive dragon food is?"
"Angel? Not a taxi here," said Willow.
"Sorry, just thinking."
The two stepped through the portal.
"About how all this was just the easy part."