"Faith," Giles said, his voice thick with weariness.
"You will watch until midnight. Master Robin will watch until five am, and then I will take over. When she wakes, it will be best if I were here."
"How long will she be staying?" Faith asked, looking in the direction of Drusilla, who was now crooning a strange minor lullaby with a whispered hiss into the ear of the enchanted Tara.
"Until dawn, so Jenny can get some sleep. Then Jenny will relieve her."
Giles started to walk out of the room, still clutching the fetish in his hand. As he passed through the doorway, using the fetish to touch the lintel and the jambs, he heard Faith say, "Willow might never forgive you for this, Giles."
Giles didn't pause to answer her. For some things there are no words.
The house was silent. Even down the hallway he could hear Faith whisk out her switchblade to cut into an apple. All the lights in the house were off; he walked along those marvelous works of art, now shrouded in nighttime and swathed in mystery. Each painting had a special significance for his employer. It was no surprise that further down the hall the paintings evolved into darker, more sinister applications of maleficence and despair.
Willow had acquired them after Buffy's death.
My god, why did this whole Gordian knot revolve around Buffy?
Giles needed no light to navigate this house. Soon he was through the slender walkway connecting the mansion to the servants quarters, where each wing had its own complete apartments with kitchens, baths, and common rooms. Each wing connected at the center where there was a communal kitchen and sitting area; frequently used by Willow's staff who loved each other as they loved her.
Faith was the only one who hung apart, but she was still new.
How Willow managed to lure her away from President Wilkins Giles still had no idea.
His step was quiet, but Jupiter's ears were sharp. The puppy ran down the hallway, couldn't stop on the slightly slippery tile, and crashed into Giles' legs. Despite himself, Giles found himself smiling. "Confound you rascal!" he said, slapping Jupi lightly on the rump to get him going back to the kitchen.
Light was waiting there, and so was Jenny.
Jenny Calendar was seated at the oaken table with a cup of steaming something in her hands. The scent of the cordial was exotic and delightful, with a hint of cumin. She looked up as Giles entered the room, and her face was haggard. She opened her mouth to say something, and then closed it again.
Giles sat on a chair next to her. This close her own scent was just as bewitching. He reached into his pocket for his handkerchief and polished his glasses, giving her a moment to collect her thoughts. When she still didn't speak, he said, "You are safe here, Jenny. Here you can say whatever you wish."
Jenny's jaw was tight. She took another sip of her cordial. Finally she said, "I have never known anyone as stubborn as she. I think I've finally figured her out."
"And?" Giles prompted.
"I think," Jenny replied slowly, staring into her mug,"that she likes being the martyr. Like it is noble, or that it makes all the horrors in her life worthwhile. If she can remember just how dejected she is, she doesn't have to face life at all. She can spend all her time regretting the past."
Giles nodded. Like usual, the Gyptian woman's intuition was impeccable. Jenny looked at him and said, "I never thought I'd live to see the day when I would let Drusilla back into my life. I dare say she was absurdly pleased to discover that I needed her. Even though she swore to behave, I'm still not sure I can trust her. I just hope that she and I are powerful enough to contain Tara."
"I hope Willow doesn't decide to eviscerate us before we can explain," Giles replied, his voice grim. "Right now she can only see what we've done as betrayal."
At his stricken voice, Jenny squeezed his hand, and then abruptly got up from the table to get another mug from the cupboard; pouring more of her cordial into it, she handed the beverage to Giles.
"I don't recognize this," Giles said, sniffing first as he had been taught. The smell of it whispered of ancient oracular magics.
He trusted Jenny with more than his life. He took a sip without waiting for her explanation. The taste of it rocketed through his veins, and caused his skin to pebble in gooseflesh.
"I haven't made it since my initiation," Jenny replied slowly. "It takes a week to mature. I started making it the day I told Willow about Tara."
She wouldn't look at him in the eyes, and Giles suddenly understood. "You sent her on a wild goose hunt, didn't you?" he asked. "You needed time, so you sent her traipsing all over the globe. There was no real need for her to go to Rumania, to Tokyo."
Jenny flicked her eyes up, wary and shameful. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you, Giles. I have no idea how many audio bugs there could be in this house. I didn't want to risk it."
"Jenny, you are bloody brilliant."
Jenny's face went from confusion to relief. "So you don't blame me?" she asked.
"Not at all. We all have our secrets. I could ask what this cordial is for, but then I might not like the answer, so I'm not going to ask at all."
"You have just as many," Jenny agreed. "You still haven't told Willow what you were doing while she was in Rumania rescuing me."
"Why haven't you told her, Giles?"
The kitchen had two sets of lights; both electrical and naphtha. It was naphtha that flooded the kitchen now with its motherly warm glow, and under its influence Jenny looked like the Princess she was. Her soft dark brown hair crested over the slopes of her shoulders, and her olive skin was almost translucent in the winsome lights. It was rare for Giles to see Jenny so open, and so afraid.
"You and I both tried to keep her from the mystical dangers of the world," Giles replied, and he moved his scarred hand over to clasp hers. "I had never known two women more capable of the physical dangers of this line of work. Buffy and Willow were sword sisters in every way. Willow had long ago conquered the logical world; I feared her entrance into this one."
Jenny nodded, so Giles continued. "I think I did what I did because I wanted to protect them. As a swordmaster and a surgeon I knew how to protect them physically. As a shaman, I wanted to protect them from the dangers of the mystical world. If I had my choice, they would never discover it existed at all."
"Then I came," said Jenny, and her voice was lost and defeated.
"Don't you dare think that way," Giles growled, carefully squeezing her hand. "There are enough martyrs in this household already. We certainly don't need another one."
Jenny smiled, but it was painful and wan. The smell of the cordial was still in the air, lending another hint of mystery upon their conversation. For a wonder, Jupiter was already asleep on his dog bed in the corner. He lightly growled and flicked his paws as he dreamed.
Did he chase rabbits in the fields of Asphodel, or try to fly like the birds?
When he dreamed, did the puppy find Buffy?
"There is no use fretting about the past," Giles finally said. "What's done is done. For better or ill there is a djinn under our roof, and it is now obvious that she doesn't hold her own collar."
"Can you play the transmission for me again?" Jenny asked. "There's something I need to be certain of." She drained the last drop in her mug and waited.
Giles reached into his pocket and pulled out his mini-transceiver. Willow didn't know that he had planted a bug in her clothing before she left for the den with only Faith at her side. The little knowledge Jenny had of the adversary they faced in the form of the Apothecary had made him leery.
Willow would never have gone to the poppy den if Buffy were alive.
Buffy would still be alive if they had never gone to Persia.
Buffy died, and now there was a djinn under their roof.
(which bold stroke will sever this Gordian knot completely?)
There were many things he would have to ask forgiveness for.
He swiftly scrolled to the correct transmission and laid the transceiver on the table. From the speaker, Jenny and Giles could hear every word of the conversation that had occurred that morning in the Apothecary's den. As Jenny listened, her face changed from ethnic hatred to resigned acceptance.
Giles knew what Jenny was listening for. When they heard it, it was clear as day.
Willow loved this woman.
Have you come to kill me?
Do you deserve to be killed?
Would you have me be your executioner?
I would have no other.
You hate me that much?
It was here, wasn't it Tara? In the dream?
And do you have nothing to say in your defence?
By all the gods, Tara. What has this world done to you?
"Stop," Jenny choked. "Giles, make it stop."
Giles pressed a button and the transmission stopped.
Then his chair clattered to the ground as he knelt in front of Jenny. His own heart a tripwire in his chest, his whole soul aching for those two lost women in the den, employer and supposed enemy alike, but his heart caving to the immense sorrow and shame written on the face before him, the face of the woman he loved. He wrapped his arms around Jenny and held her.
She burrowed into him, hiccuping and sobbing.
For long moments they embraced, and she was birdlike in his grasp, and every tear that flowed down her cheek seemed to etch his skin like acid. Even through the thin fabric of her shirt he could feel the raised scar between her shoulderblades, the scar she'd never yet allowed him to see. "Rupert," she finally whispered into his ear, "how could we have been so wrong? Will Willow ever forgive us for what we've done?"
He clasped her even tighter, as if somehow he could just meld her to him, and place her inside his heart and soul, and protect her forever.
"I wanted to hate Tara, Rupert," Jenny continued slowly, her voice rocking over the spasms of her tears. "I wanted to blame her for what happened to me. Before today we couldn't be sure that she didn't hold her own collar."
While holding her to him, Giles recalled their reactions as they listened to the battle that ensued in real time over the mini-transceiver. White-knuckled and despairing, they could do nothing as Willow fought for her life. Faith, displaying obedience going a little too far, had obeyed Willow's command and not gone in until Willow summoned her.
This morning Jenny had hated Tara, but with every response the djinn gave to titanic Willow, Jenny and Giles both began to realize that Tara was a slave. And when the sound of swordfight erupted, they both knew that Tara was only a marionette, dancing to another's whim.
That was the only reason they didn't kill Tara on the spot when she arrived at the house.
Did Willow realize how dangerous Tara was?
Jenny pulled away slightly, just enough to look Giles in the eye. She kept her warm hands around him, and he was glad. As he looked upon her, magical and mystical in the creamy light, he saw her eyes change. The scent of the cordial was all around them.
Her mug was empty.
(I haven't made it since my initiation)
Her eyes no longer brown, now the most brilliant violet colour ever conceived, full of far-sighted wisdom and ageless wonder, Jenny said, "Giles, Tara is the key." She removed one of her hands from his back and placed it with her fingers splayed wide upon his chest.
Over his heart.
(It may be that her heart is locked tight, but she doesn't even look for a key.)
Her violet eyes full of amazement and celestial beauty, Janna of the Kalderash, Princess of the Gyptians, continued, "For night has come, and there is no Dawn."
His heart thrummed as the prophecy wafted over them. He could taste the cumin on his own tongue, but the cordial would not do for him what it would do for her.
"She is the key for us all," the Gyptian witch said, finishing the prophecy brought on by the cordial.
Slowly her eyes returned to normal; she gave a single spasm as she came back to herself. She looked at Giles with enough love and trust to make his knees quiver. "I had forgotten how strange that feels," she said. "Now that we know about Tara's part in this, what do we do, Rupert?" she asked softly.
With his callused fingers he caressed her cheek, and she leaned into that hand, her eyes half-lidded and weary. "We wait for dawn," he whispered.
Her velvet brown eyes were still glistening with tears. He touched those tears with his thumb, and then wrapped his hands around her neck. With the gentlest of pressure he guided her lips to his own. As he kissed her, he could feel her warm and bewitching hands encircle his broad shoulders and then run down his spine.
He kissed her, there in the lights of naphtha, and he could taste the elixir on her lips. His heart was a great and yowling beast, and only she could tame him.
He kissed her, and she kissed him.
They could not wait for the dawn.
Mid-kiss Jenny's eyes flew wide open. "Drusilla!" she gasped.
"What is it?" Giles asked.
"She broke her word! I should not have trusted her!"
Jupiter woke up as Jenny sprinted back to the house, and both he and Giles followed her.