Can't Be Worse Than Vampires
By Sam James
TIME: Alternate S3. My universe splinters off from the real Buffy timeline after "Enemies" so "Choices", "Earshot" and "The Prom" never happened. This is my substitute for Graduation I and II (and was mostly written before Grad II aired)
DISCLAIMER: Buffy, Willow, Giles, Xander, Oz, Snyder, and Faith belong to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, and 20th Century Fox. WB just rents them.
"You wanted to see me?" Willow was nervous. Intellectually she knew there was nothing to fear. She had faced down vampires, demons, and angry mobs. Compared to that, a mere high school principal should be nothing. Besides, she already had been, in the principal's own words, 'accepted to every college that had a stamp' for an admissions letter. Yet Willow was still nervous. This was the principal, Mr. Authority Figure, the school's alpha male. Well, if he wasn't such a pudgy toad. That thought made her sit up straight, take a deep breath, and say. "I'm not going to tutor any more members of the football team."
Principal Snyder waved it aside. "That's fine. Football season is over anyway. I have the somewhat dubious pleasure of informing you that you are the class of 1999's valedictorian."
"I am?" Willow was somewhat surprised.
"You wouldn't have been my first choice if it came down to anything other than grade point average," Snyder admitted. "You choose to associate with the most unsavory element of the student body, people on the verge of flunking out or forced to stay back a year. You persecute poor Miss Chase, appear unusually close to a certain librarian I could mention, and always seem to be involved with the various incidents which plague our school's reputation. I was sort of hopping Chris Epps would recover from the slump he got into last year after the science building burned down. I seem to remember you and your friends being the first to arrive before even the firetrucks."
He paused and leaned forward looking into her eyes, "You wouldn't be using your friends' reputation to terrorize your way into the top place, now would you?" Willow recoiled. "I must investigate. Meanwhile, as valedictorian, you will of course give the valedictorian address."
"Yes, I do recall how much you enjoy appearing in public." Willow swallowed, hard. "And the whole town will be there, from the mayor on down." Snyder gave a predatory smile. "You will have five minutes to speak. I expect to see a copy of your speech in one week. And keep it clean. Avoid references to anything that might, um, trouble the community. Our school's reputation is at stake here." By this point Willow's ashen face contrasted oddly with her vivid red hair. "You are dismissed."
Willow walked, stumbling about with a mix of elation and terror. Xander was waiting outside the principal's door, carefully avoiding the portion of the hallway visible from inside. "So what did our lord and master Ferrengi want with you this time? Swim team need a live-in tutor? Oh, I forgot they're all fish."
Willow turned to him and grabbed his shoulder. "I'm valedictorian," she said, with fear audible in her voice.
"And this is bad because?"
"The valedictorian has to give a speech. In front of everyone. In front of the whole school. In front of the parents. And everybody will be ooking at me and I'll have to keep talking and won't be allowed to run and hide somewhere safe but will have to give a speech with everyone looking at me."
"Will, Will," Xander said. "Will you calm down. It can't be worse than vampires."
"Yes it can. Vampires can only kill you." Willow replied, then she thought for a moment. "Although strictly speaking they also can drain your blood and turn you into a vampire."
"That's, right Will," Xander responded. "Think happy thoughts." By this time the pair had reached the library. Xander opened the door and said in his best dramatic voice, "Ladies and Gentlemen, introducing our school's newest valedictorian, Miss. Willow Rosenberg!"
Buffy began clapping and Oz got up from the table to give Willow a big kiss.
"Please Xander," Giles sighed. "This is a library. Does the word quiet have no meaning for you?"
"But Willow," the librarian continued, "Congratulations. I am quite proud of you. A very well deserved honor." He frowned. "Quite frankly, considering his feelings about Buffy I'm surprised he's letting a friend of hers get so much recognition."
"He does have a theory he's 'investigating' about how I'm using Buffy to terrorize others who might rival my GPA."
Buffy laughed. "Yup, I ask all vampires their SAT scores before I slay 'em."
"And he smiled while telling me I'll have to give a speech."
"Of course you have to give a speech," Buffy was surprised. "That's what valedictorians do. Not that I speak from personal experience or anything."
"Come-on Buffster," Xander replied. "You know how much our Willow hates going up on stage. Remember the talent show? She has major stage fright."
"Stage fright?" Oz was puzzled. "Why?"
"The people," Willow answered her musician boyfriend. "They'll be watching me. Looking at me. They give me the willies."
"Focus on the music," Oz said. "Or the speech in your case. The people don't count, they're just spectators, external objects. If you focus on doing the best you can, the audience just vanishes."
"Not for me," Willow shook her head. "Not when they're all looking at me."
"Underwear," Giles said suddenly.
"Um Giles, I'm supposed to be the one with the out-of-nowheresville comments," Xander said.
"It's an old speaker's trick," the librarian explained. "The speaker envisions the audience all sitting there in their underwear. That takes away the stage fright. It's hard to afraid of an audience in their underwear. Or so the books say, anyway."
Buffy looked at Xander. Xander looked at Willow. Willow looked at Oz. The younger generation was in complete unanimity. All adults were weird. As one they sighed and opened more books. They had to find out what the mayor's Ascension was and how they could stop it.
* * * * * * * * *
Across town, Faith was thinking that certain adults could be *very weird* as the mayor vacuumed her dress, with her in it, using a very clean dustbuster.
"That's better. You know how germs like the dirt and dust."
"Yeah, yeah, they have a passionate affair with each other. They breed. Ya told me that awready."
The mayor sniffed. "And I will continue to insist you maintain proper cleanliness as long as you work for me. Which after my ascension will be forever. Now about that red-headed friend of the slayer, why haven't the vampires eliminated her as planned?"
"They were going to, but she somehow turned herself into a vampire and broke their fingers."
"Now that's not supposed to happen."
"And word got out about how it was her who gave Angel back his soul." Faith didn't tell the mayor she was the one who let that slip out. She still wondered if that was intentional or, a, what did they call it? Faustian
slip? "The vampires refuse to go near her now. They'd rather have me stake them than live with a soul."
"Pity. Well the computer people assure me that our system is leakproof. I told them we were up against a computer witch and they said they hired a computer wizard, and I speak literally. So she's no longer a threat; she won't be able to do anything at the ascension. And you, of course can take on Buffy."
"Just say the word, Mr. Mayor," Faith smiled. With the mayor's magic enhancing her reflexes she was faster and stronger than she was as a slayer, faster and stronger than Buffy. "I'll show B who's the real slayer in town."
"That leaves only Angel to pollute our perfect plan. And Snyder was quite willing to move up graduation to start an hour early. The ascension will begin right at sunset. By the time Angel could get there, it will be too late. Too late for Sunnydale. The entire population of this town will fuel my ascension into godhood. And then, well, the world shall know what it means to have a god looking after them."
Faith shivered at the perfectly calm, everyday tone in his voice. The mayor's to-do list for graduation day had just two items on it. "Attend high school graduation." And "Become God."
* * * * * * * * *
Willow banged her hand on the table next to the computer, being careful not to hit any books. "Nothing. He's cheating."
"Cheating?" Xander asked from his position near her, but respecting their post-fluking distance. "Are you and the mayor playing poker? I though you were trying to break into his files."
"I could have sworn that combining a bypass of the password initiation routine with some phone identification trickery would have worked, but no. He's cheating. He's using the Hellmouth too!"
That got everyone's attention. Giles cleared his throat. "You aren't perchance combining magic, which you aren't
supposed to be doing, with computer hacking, which you also
shouldn't be doing?"
Willow grinned. "I did learn from a techno-pagan." She dropped her grin as she saw the librarian's face fall at her inadvertent mention of Giles' lost love. "I'm sorry. I mean, I didn't mean. Well you know she did teach me. I'm sorry. I know I'm not supposed to mention Jen... Ah, Xander, perhaps we should go..."
"Time for a break," he bounded to the exit. "You can tell me how your valedictorian speech is coming along."
"Not all that well," the hacker replied as the two walked out. "I want to do more than just say all the usual platitudes, of today being the start of our new lives and all that. That's just boilerplate. I want to say everything about what this school has meant to me."
"You mean aside from vampires, mummies, witches, and demons." Buffy approached the two and spoke in a low voice.
"No, no. I mean, well. Growing up here, when we were much younger, Xander and Jesse and I would talk about our futures. I was going to be a computer programmer, I had decided very young. Jesse wanted to be a doctor. And Xander..." She smiled. Xander hung his head sheepishly. "Xander, kept changing. 40% of the time it was fireman, 20% pro wrestler, 25% soldier, and 15% movie stunt man."
Xander opened his mouth in horror. "You kept track?" Buffy and Willow exchanged a secret glance. Willow once had told her how much she had kept tabs on Xander, right down to his blood pressure.
"So Xand-man, now that we've almost graduated, what does the adult Xander want to be?" Buffy jabbed her elbow into his stomach, tickling.
"I can't decide between fireman or soldier," Xander said. The two girls groaned.
Willow though quickly returned to the past, her face slightly out of focus. "I remember freshman year. Jesse and I walked up these steps for the first time and looked around. Everything then was so big, and so many more people."
"Well Will, most of them were eaten, vamped, or went way out of town," Xander tried to joke but the pain showed through his eyes.
"I'm doing it again." Willow apologized. "First Giles with Miss Calendar and now you with Jesse. I seem to be focused on the dead today."
"Time then to move on, to the living." Buffy said. No one noticed her own wince at her words.
"Yeah, like Faith. Buffy what are you going to do with her? With her on the mayor's side, can you fight her?"
"Faith's a traitorous rat," Willow began to say but stopped. "Rat." She snapped her fingers. "Set a rat to catch a rat. We need to see Giles."
* * * * * * * * *
"Absolutely not." Giles said when Willow's idea was explained. "The poor girl's been through more than enough already."
"But I'm sure she'd be willing to help." Willow began to plead.
"I ... You can communicate with her?"
Oz walked in, his hair dyed a golden brown and his fingernails coated to match. "Communicate with who or do I mean what?"
"Both in this case," Xander laughed. "She wants to use Amy to spy on the mayor."
"Amy the rat?" Oz asked. Xander nodded. "Hope the mayor doesn't have a cat."
"Not in city hall. There are no pets allowed there. I checked"
"How can you talk with her?" Buffy asked.
"She still understands English fine. And she types on the computer by punching the keyboard with her nose." Willow smiled. "She's so cute when she does that."
"Willow collects Amy's homework and turns it in." Oz said.
"This way she can graduate with the rest of us," Willow explained. "Enough people are repressing the whole witchburning incident that the Hellmouth's 'hear no evil, see no evil' is covering Amy's transformation. I just say she's sick and can't talk."
"If you can communicate with her..." Giles began.
"I can," Willow confirmed.
"And she's retained her human intelligence..."
"Is that more or less than the amount necessary to pass English?" Willow sounded honestly uncertain.
"I resemble that remark," objected Xander, whose own struggles with English class were known to all.
"Then she can decide for herself how willing she is to help on the same basis as you others." Giles continued. "As you pointed out, she is days away from graduation, when all of you become adults."
"Yeah, an adult rat," said Xander. Willow just smiled.
It didn't take much convincing. Amy couldn't cast any spells without hands or voice. But she retained her human personality and her boredom with life as a caged rat was quite evident. After all, there was only so much one can do from a cage. The rat literally jumped at the chance to do something to help. Willow rummaged through her closet and found the remains of a second-place winning science fair entry that she could use to carry Amy. So, early the next day, Oz picked up Willow in his van and the two dropped off the transformed witch in front of the mayor's office. Willow saw Amy's snout twitch and watched as her tail vanished into a rat hole near the building.
"I hope she's careful," she murmured to Oz.
"You know, if the hippo wants pants, shouldn't we get Amy a rat-dress or something," Oz tried to cheer her up.
But Willow's pensive mood remained throughout the day. For once even Willow found her thoughts drifting in school. This wasn't the senior slump so dreaded by teachers nor the fact that since being accepted to the nation's best colleges (all of them!) she had lost some of her tolerance for the school's busy work; she was worried about Amy. The moments ticked off, slowly. In Mrs. Fluxinoy's class, Willow drifted so far afield that when the teacher called on her Willow couldn't just rephrase what the teacher said and had to give her own answer without toning it down into terms the other students, and perhaps the teacher, could understand.
After school Willow wanted to rush off and recover Amy. It took both Xander and Buffy to restrain her.
"Not a good move," Xander explained. "If people see us what do we say, 'Hi, the mayor's hired a new rat catcher?'"
"I never thought the day would come but Xander's right and you're wrong, Willow." Buffy said.
"I am?" both Willow and Xander said simultaneously, with the exact same note of surprise in their voice. Buffy laughed at the stereo sound. Then Xander said "She is?" at the same time Willow said, "He is?" Buffy just laughed harder while Xander flexed invisible muscles. At Giles' scowl everyone quieted down and opened books for research. Since the arrival of Wesley, Giles had developed a harder edge, abandoning his usual tweed jacket and stuttering demeanor. All the slayerettes were forced to take Giles seriously even though he was no longer THE watcher.
By the time the sun set Buffy and Xander decided that enough people would have left work and they could safely pick up Amy. Since it was past vampires' waking hours, Buffy grabbed her slayer supplies and insisted that Willow, Oz, and Xander carry stakes and holy water. The foursome drove to city hall and Willow positioned Amy's carrier near the hole the rat had used that morning.
"Where is she?" Xander whispered after a few minutes.
"Maybe they should make wrist-watches for rats?" Oz laughed at him.
"She can't be late, she's not a girl anymore." Xander laughed back to cover his nervousness.
Buffy glared. "If you can't wait quietly, perhaps you might want to do a bit of scouting, Mr. G.I. Firefighter? Or should I say Nighthawk?"
"I am but your obedient slave," Xander said, walking away cautiously, his face bright red.
Oz lifted his nose up. His wolf-senses were alert but the air around the mayor's office was full of the stench of corruption, lies, and demons. In short, it smelled like any other politician's headquarters. But there was something else in the air too. "Ah, Buffy..." he began but was interrupted by Xander running back, "Vampires," he panted. And there were vampires right behind him.
"Only ten," Buffy's face showed a predatory smile as fearsome in its own way as any vampire's game face, but much, much prettier. She threw a carefully aimed stake. "I meant nine."
Two vampires started moving towards Willow. "Get out of here," Xander ordered.
"I can't, what about Amy?"
"Willow, it's dangerous. There's too many," Oz had joined the fight with a wolfish smile.
"Look out!" Willow cried but it was too late. A vampire had taken advantage of Oz's distraction over Willow's safety and threw him into a trash can. "Oz!" she ran over to him. The other vampire turned toward the delicious looking red-head. "I hope this works," she muttered as she reached into her jacket and pulled out an orb. As she held it up, the orb seemed to glow in the darkness. The vampire stopped moving as he saw this. He had heard stories about the girl, Angel, and the returning of souls. He thought that a ritual needed to be involved but the demon in him decided not to take chances and fled.
Buffy flipped a vampire over her head and into a wall. She jabbed into another one while kicking into a third. She ducked under a punch that went right through her hair and then spun around with a kick. Meanwhile a rat had poked her head out of a hole, scampered around the edge of the fight, and nested in Willow's carrier. She tried to squeak so that Willow would hear her but the vampires were making too much noise.
Buffy continued to fight but was outnumbered. Oz was still on the ground and Xander, although giving it his best effort, wasn't quite able to fight off even a single vampire, let alone a large group. Buffy knocked a vampire down, bent over and staked him, but then was caught by two others who had allowed the first to be destroyed as a tactic to position the slayer right where they wanted her. The two slowly began to crush the slight slayer between their bodies.
"Get away from her," Willow's voice came shakily. She held up the glowing orb. The vampires looked away from the light but continued squeezing.
"Enough," came a voice. It was Faith. "Get away from her," the other slayer said. "She's mine." The two vampires continued squeezing. Buffy was gasping for breath. "I said..." Faith took out a stake. "...Get away from her," Faith stabbed one vampire. Buffy fell on the floor as the vampire holding her up turned to dust. "She's mine," the other vampire turned to dust.
Buffy stood up. "You just saved me." She was surprised. "Why?"
The other vampires flanked Faith. "I'm not going to let just any old vampire get to you before I prove that I'm the better slayer, the real slayer." She frowned. "But first, you and the doofus gang are up to something. And I'm going to find out what." With lightening speed, she grabbed Xander by both his arms. "Miss me lover?" she crooned in his ear and caressed it with her tongue. "Well, B, talk or I'll finish what I started with your friend here."