Rupert Giles, Jenny Calendar, Angel, Buffy et. al. belong to Joss Whedon and the WB; I'm just playing with them. No copyright infringement intended.

The End of Innocence

by Jeanne DeVore

The job vacancy notice appeared on the board in the faculty lounge. He read it and went cold.

He headed straight for her classroom. She was sorting papers.

"You're leaving."

She looked up at him, and the pain on her face was terrible.

"Not much for me to stay for," she said quietly. "My 'duty' is over. The curse has been broken, my uncle is dead, all the people I-" her voice broke. "All the people I care about here seem to want me dead. It's time for me to move on."

He was dumbstruck. He'd been angry, certainly. Not with what she'd done but that she'd never told him. He'd told her his deepest, darkest secrets. But she hadn't been honest with him. But he certainly didn't want her dead. He realized he didn't even want her gone.

Buffy was still upset, naturally. Somehow, she'd laid the responsibility for what had happened on Jenny's shoulders. Easier to do that than to admit no one was to blame. But it still hurt. And care of Buffy had to be his first priority. It had to come before Jenny's feelings, even before his own feelings.

And right now, spending time with Jenny would hurt Buffy.

"Why didn't you tell me?" he asked quietly. It wasn't what he'd intended to say, but he realized it was what he needed to know.

"Tell you what? That I was supposed to keep an eye on Angel, make sure he remained miserable? And you'd have believed me, of course."

"I believe a great many things which are outside the norm," he reminded her.

"And what was I supposed to do then? They never told me what would happen. All they said was not to let him become content. They didn't tell me why! I thought they just wanted him to suffer for the sake of suffering.

"And once I got to know him.... My God, Rupert, he saved my life! He saved all of our lives at one time or another. What could I do, say sorry, fella, you have to break up with your girlfriend because my people wouldn't like it?"

She shook her head miserably. "I tried to tell my uncle, but he wouldn't listen. He kept going on about vengeance. I thought he was being a stubborn old fool. I had no idea what would happen. I swear I didn't know!"

He sighed. Her deception hurt, still. But after all, he hadn't told her about the dark secrets in his past until after they'd almost killed her. How could he blame her?

"I believe you," he said quietly.

She looked away, closing her eyes, swallowing back some emotion probably too painful to let rise to the surface.

"Not that it does any good now," she mumbled. "The curse is lifted. He's back to his old ways, everybody's miserable, Buffy hates me, and you...." She looked at him fearfully.

"I don't hate you," he answered. "I suppose I'm disappointed...that things didn't work out differently. But my primary responsibility is to Buffy and...and she needs me right now. My allegiance must always lie with her, before anything else." Now it was his turn to look away. "I know that's not what you wanted to hear."

She shrugged sadly. "It's better than it could have been."

They stared at each other for a long moment, at a loss.

"Where will you go?" he finally asked.

She shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe I'll travel. Maybe I'll go to the land of my people. I've never been there before."

He frowned. "Never?"

She shook her head. "Tribal beliefs and allegiances cross the oceans intact. Doesn't matter that I was born and raised here; in my soul I'm one of them." She sighed. "I'll want to accompany my uncle's body back home. Maybe I'll stay there for awhile." She looked at him. "Maybe I can look into ancient curses."

"You said that kind of magic was gone."

"I don't have it, and none of my people that I know do. But there are old ones in the old country. I don't know what they have." She brushed the hair out of her face. "They're the ones who put the curse on in the first place. If it can be restored, they'd be the ones who could do it."

She laughed humorlessly. "God. He was cursed originally to punish him-to make him suffer. Now the curse is lifted and he's back to being what he was supposed to be all along, and we're scrambling desperately trying to figure out how to curse him again to make it all better. This is sincerely twisted."

"Is it?" he asked. "Or is it seeking to help a friend?"

"He's a vampire, Rupert. A demon. Since when are they friends?"

"Since he had a soul and since he proved, time and time again that he was on our side. Since my slayer fell in love with him. And he fell in love with her. Perhaps a vampire with a soul is twisted. But I cannot believe he's better off now-now that he has reverted to his true form."

"What...what does Buffy think?" she asked tentatively.

"We don't...discuss Angel, if we can help it. She's terribly hurt. Feeling guilty. But every time he does something unconscionable, or does something to hurt her or someone she cares about, she learns to hate him just a little more. If it came down to a battle between the two of them, at the moment I wouldn't want to take bets. But eventually, I believe she'll be able to kill him. Not without hesitation, certainly not without regret. But she knows her responsibility. And she knows the threat he poses. He knows too much about her, he can use her weaknesses against her."

She nodded glumly, then sighed. "I...I feel responsible. I know, intellectually, that there was nothing I could have done-I didn't know the full extent of the situation. They never told me. But Buffy blames me and so does everybody else. And I guess I blame me, too. I swear, if I'd known...." She swallowed. "I could have at least warned them. But I didn't even know they were that serious."

He shook his head. "Nor did I." He looked at her again. "And I don't blame you. I just wish.... I just wish you'd been more honest with me. If not early on, then at least when your uncle arrived. We could have spotted the danger...."

"I was so angry. He was trying to heap all this family guilt on me. I thought he was full of it; I didn't want anybody involved."

He smiled in spite of himself. "Where have I heard that before?"

She tried to smile, too, but the expression failed miserably. "Well, nothing we can do about it now. It's done. We get to live with it."

He nodded and watched her gather up the rest of her papers.

"Um, when will you go?"

"End of the week."

He went cold. "That soon?"

"I have to deal with my uncle's body."

He nodded. He couldn't bear the idea of her leaving and his never seeing her again.

"What if you...take a leave of absence?" he asked.

"What?"

"Don't leave. I mean, don't leave permanently. Take a break, take your uncle's body back home. Give it some time, three weeks, a month or so.... Then see how it goes. Buffy ought to settle down and-"

"Nope, not on that count she won't," she shook her head. "I'll always be the enemy. In her eyes, I killed her boyfriend." She swallowed. "In my eyes, too." She turned away, trying to hide the emotions which threatened to overwhelm her. "I'm just not sure it's worth it to stay." She looked at him again. "You are. But-but I'm not sure that's enough."

He nodded, understanding. He wished to God he didn't understand. But the scary part was, he did. "I can't make any promises," he said, "but don't burn all your bridges. Please."

They stared at each other again for a long time. He didn't know what she saw when she looked at him. For himself, he saw all those unfulfilled promises, the moments, the sweet pleasures. He knew it was probably impossible. Too much had happened between them. But he wasn't prepared to give up. Not yet.

Finally, she looked away. "I don't know," she shrugged. "I'll have to think about it."

He nodded. That was about the best he could hope for. And after all, he couldn't expect her to bend to his wishes-especially not when he couldn't even promise her that things would be different. So much depended on Buffy....

The bell rang and she looked down guiltily. "I'd better get set up for my next class."

"Yes, of course," he agreed. "I'll let you go."

She nodded and he turned to go, but an odd chuckle made him turn back. Tears glittered in her eyes.

"Maybe that's my punishment-for failing," she said softly. "My curse-is to have to stay. To watch everything be destroyed because of me."

He couldn't answer that. As far as he was concerned, there ahd been too many curses, too much suffering as it is.

"I-I don't know what to say."

"It's all right. You don't have to say anything. I understand."

He looked into her eyes. Saw the pain there. Felt it reflected in his own. "So do I."

Then he turned and left her classroom just as the first students started arriving.

He stood outside the door for a moment, listening to her chat with the students as they came in, her tone almost normal.

And once again he was struck by the vagaries of fate that could tear him and Jenny apart yet again. Hadn't they paid enough?

With a heavy sigh, he turned away, heading for the library. Buffy would be waiting for him.

~End~