Alignment Of Forces
The character of Clarence Odbody is borrowed from the film It’s A Wonderful Life
; all other characters are borrowed from Buffy The Vampire Slayer
.Xander Harris, This Is Not Your Life26. Alignment Of Forces
‘This is somewhat unprecedented.’
‘Somewhat?’ said Ms Calendar. ‘Either there’s a precedent or there isn’t.’
‘Very well, then, this is unprecedented.’
‘There’s no such thing as a good vampire?’ asked Willow.
‘He didn’t say he was a good
vampire’, Jonathan said. ‘He said he was cursed.’
‘I never heard of a curse like that.’ Amy looked to Ms Calendar. ‘Do you think it’s possible?’
‘Well’, said Marcie, ‘Angel has given us some useful information, a lot of useful information, even. And if he hadn’t shown Jesse the way to the Master’s lair, Jesse wouldn’t have been able to save Buffy’s life.’
Jesse interrupted. ‘That’s true, he could have just grabbed me and sucked out all my blood instead. Hey, if he’s a vampire, I guess that would explain why he never learned CPR.’
Marcie resumed. ‘And if Buffy’s life hadn’t been saved, there would have been nobody to defeat the Master and he would have succeeded in opening the Hellmouth. How do we make sense of that, a vampire helping to prevent the apocalypse? We’ve seen him help fight other vampires directly, too. Is that a normal vampiric way to behave?’
‘I’m afraid I’m somewhat at a loss. Vampires are demonic, vicious, and violent, hunting and killing—that’s always been my understanding as a Watcher. A non-demonic vampire, well …’
‘He said he still had his vampiric nature making him want
to bite my neck. But he protected me.’ Jonathan looked at Giles. ‘If the story he told me is true, he wasn’t just trying to make himself sound good. He said he didn’t want you to know about it.’
Marcie held up her hand. ‘That’s a good point. He won’t know what Jonathan’s told us. We could talk to him about the other things that happened last night, not mentioning anything about his—status—and maybe pick up some clues from his reactions. It might be handy to get his comments on Spike anyway. Mr Giles, can I use your phone?’
‘Yes, yes, of course.’ Giles gestured in the direction of his office door and Marcie went through it.
Jonathan picked up again where he’d left off. ‘Angel’s story would explain the evidence as far as we have it. His human soul could be there, somehow, inside him, fighting against his demonic nature and holding it back. I mean, do we have any other way of explaining things?’
Amy looked thoughtful. ‘The only other thing I can think of would be his maybe running some kind of complicated bluff. If the whole point was to get total trust, setting up for some huge double-cross …’
‘I told you what happened between him and Spike. If it’s a bluff, either Angel has been running it since way before he met Buffy, or more likely Spike has to be in on it.’
Buffy finally broke silence. ‘It would have to be something really big to make it worthwhile, even for the most vicious, devious demon, let alone two of them. It just doesn’t fit with the vibe I pick up off Angel. It actually does feels like something’s driving him to get involved and something else is driving him to keep clear—just like his soul wants to help but always feels guilty about his demonic side.’
‘Certainly, Slayer instincts are not to be taken lightly. They are an important component of the set of powers with which you are gifted to perform your task.’
Buffy continued. ‘And otherwise it’s like Jonathan said, we don’t have another explanation. He didn’t even do anything when I invited him into my house, which is the one place a vampire couldn’t get to without winning my trust first—Giles … If I invited him in that once, does he need another invitation to come in another time, or is it a good-for-unlimited-entries kinda deal?’
‘The, ah, the latter, I would say.’
Giles gave a small shake of his head. ‘I’m sorry. What I meant was that a vampire, once given an invitation to enter, can enter again at any later time without requiring a fresh invitation.’
‘Mom!’ Buffy stood up. ‘He could be getting into my house right now! And my mom’s met him, she thinks he’s a community college student who tutors me in history, she wouldn’t suspect anything was wrong—that could be the whole point of the bluff, to get into my house, get at my mom—’
Ms Calendar took a step towards Buffy. ‘You did say he’d already been in your house, and nothing happened then.’ After a moment’s hesitation, Buffy nodded.
‘Well, he’s not at your house now, anyway.’ Marcie had come back into the room unnoticed. ‘I just spoke to him on the phone, at his place.’
‘He couldn’t get to your house during daylight hours in any case’, said Giles. Buffy nodded again and slowly sat down.
‘Okay’, she said, ‘but can we find out whether there’s some way to, like, cancel that invitation? Some way to make it so that Angel can’t get into my place any more? Can we get a research team on that?’
‘I’ll make it a priority. If there is any such mechanism, it would obviously be useful to know about it.’ Giles’s words were followed by nods from around the room.
Willow changed the subject by asking Marcie what Angel had said.
‘He thinks Spike must have quarrelled with the Anointed One after the failure of his attack on the school. He’s set up his own base somewhere else, but he hasn’t had much luck building support. Most of the Sunnydale vampires are still loyal to the Anointed One and the Order of Aurelius.’***
‘I guess at some point there must have been a whole “explaining to Jonathan” session, but that wouldn’t tell me anything I don’t already know. It’s funny how Jonathan showed up right at the beginning of this whole deal and I thought he was going to take my place, and I thought that would be really bad, and then he mostly faded out of things, which didn’t exactly change my mind. Clarence, I thought you said that after the attack on the school failed, Spike destroyed the Anointed One.’— ‘Do you remember when the Order of Aurelius kidnapped Rupert Giles, Jenny Calendar, Cordelia Chase, and Willow Rosenberg, to use them in their attempted revivification ritual?’
‘To bring the Master back? Sure, of course I remember that.’ Xander didn’t understand the point of Clarence’s question. ‘Buffy stopped that. But in this hypothetical world it happened differently.’— ‘When Buffy stopped the revivification ritual, she destroyed a number of the vampires of the Order of Aurelius.’
‘So that’s the difference. Without that, the Order is stronger.’— ‘Instead of their ranks having been depleted, they have been increased.’
Now Xander got it. ‘Instead of concentrating on trying to get the Master back, they’ve been on a recruiting kick. I remember that one vampire who was in charge of that revivification ritual, the black one with the particularly ugly vampire face—’— ‘His name was Absalom.’
‘—he sounded like the preacher type, he could have got into organising the vampire version of missionary work. That would help to explain why that zoo-keeper guy—’— ‘Dr Weirick.’
‘—got turned to a vampire. Of course, his not being already dead helps to explain that too. I wonder whether other people I knew are going to turn up as vampires as a result.’ Xander paused for a moment, thinking, and then continued. ‘Well, I’ll see, I guess. In the meantime, the point is that even after Buffy killed those vampires at the school, the Anointed still had a group of supporters strong enough to defend himself against Spike, when the real Anointed didn’t and that’s how Spike was able to destroy him.’— ‘Yes.’
‘Hey, looks like I’m not going to see any more of that discussion in the library. I know where this is, this is Willow’s place.’***
‘It’s for you, Buffy. It’s your mother. She sounds worried.’
‘Thanks, Will’, Buffy said as she took the phone, and then, ‘Hello, Mom?’— ‘Buffy? Are you okay?’
‘Of course I’m okay, Mom. I’m just hanging out here at Willow’s place with Willow and her friend Amy. What’s wrong, Mom?’— ‘Do you remember those people who attacked the school on Thursday night? Those gang members crazy on PCP?’
‘That’s what the police said they were, but I don’t know that I believe it. Anyway, why are you asking?’ Buffy was getting more and more worried.— ‘I think there are some of the same people outside the house right now. I want you to stay right where you are while I call the police.’
‘The police? I really don’t think you want to rely on them, Mom. Everybody I know says bad things about the Sunnydale police. Remember what you said after we got out of the school?’— ‘I was very proud of the way you handled that situation, Buffy, but then we didn’t have the option of calling the police, or anybody else. This time we do. Buffy, I don’t want you putting yourself in unnecessary danger. Whatever faults they have, they are the police, and this is their job.’
Buffy took a deep breath and steadied herself. ‘Mom, remember how I said I knew what was going on then and I knew how to stop it? Wasn’t I right about that? Didn’t the way things turned out prove that trusting me was the right thing to do?’— ‘Well, yes, but …’
‘Please, Mom, I don’t have time to argue about this. I just have to ask you to trust me again. I know about this stuff, more than even the best police force in the world. Please. Have they tried to break in at all?’— ‘There was some banging at the door, but—you know, it’s a funny thing, even if they couldn’t break the door down, they could easily have smashed through a window, and they haven’t. It’s almost as if they want to make it look as if they’re trying to get in, but they’re only pretending. They’ve been moving around out there all this time, making a lot of noise, but that’s all.’
Buffy nodded to herself. ‘Okay, Mom, here’s what I want you to do. Make sure all the doors and windows are securely fastened, then stay indoors. Whatever you do, don’t let anybody but me into the house. Don’t open up, don’t even mention the idea of coming in to anybody. Then wait for me to find a way to deal with the situation. If you don’t hear from me, or if anything else happens, call here and talk to Willow or Amy. Okay? Tell me you’ll do what I say?’
There was a long pause at the other end of the line before Buffy’s mother finally agreed.
‘I love you, Mom.’— ‘I love you too, Buffy. You take care now.’
‘I will, I will. Gotta go.’
Buffy hung up and turned back to Willow and Amy. ‘I guess something is going down for the night of Saint Vigeous after all, even after that bloody nose I gave Spike two nights ago.’
‘Vampires get bloody noses?’
‘Metaphorically, Will. There’s a gang of them outside my house. Sounds like they can’t get in, but I guess neither can I while they’re there. I was right to be worried about my Mom’s being a target.’
‘You mean Angel is involved?’ said Willow. ‘He was working on some plan like this all along?’
‘I don’t know. Mom would probably recognise him if she saw him, and she didn’t mention him, but I just don’t know. It doesn’t make any difference, anyway, I have to get there as fast as I can.’
Willow put a hand on Buffy’s arm. ‘But it’s obviously a trap.’
Buffy gave a fidgety shrug. ‘I know, but so what? I can’t just leave Mom there. I wish I had more than one stake with me, though.’
‘I’ve got a cross here, and some holy water.’ Willow started opening a drawer.
‘Thanks, Will. I guess it’s better than nothing.’
‘Giles has weapons’, said Amy. ‘He has some at the library, and so maybe he has some at his home as well. We could call him.’
‘I can’t wait for him. I have to go.’
‘We could get him to meet you on your way. He has a car, he can get there faster than you.’
‘I’ve got his number’, said Willow, as she handed Buffy a cross and a bottle of holy water. ‘I’ve got everybody’s numbers.’
‘Good. You should warn everybody. If they’re using my mother as bait, they might try doing the same with my friends. And if my mother calls, pass on whatever she tells you to Giles.’
‘We won’t be able to do that if he’s on his way to the drop-off point to deliver weapons to you.’ Amy bit her lip. ‘Look, don’t worry about that. You just get started. Don’t waste any more time. We’ll figure out the other details.’***
Buffy slowed down from full Slayer speed when she got to her own block. She was hoping she’d be able to scope out the vampires before they realised she was there. Then she heard a familiar voice hissing her name from behind her. She looked round and saw Giles leaning out of the driver’s window of his car, which was standing by the curb, engine idling. She crossed to it silently. Giles unlocked the door behind him and she hopped in. A battleaxe, two loaded crossbows, and a few stakes were laid out on the back seat.
‘I just got here two minutes ago’, he said in a low voice. ‘I didn’t drive any closer, I didn’t want to put them on their guard without knowing anything about your plans.’
‘I’m going to kill them before they can touch my mother. That’s my plan.’
‘Yes, all right, good plan. Would you like me to drive you a little closer, maybe into crossbow range?’
‘Okay, but don’t hang around after that. Vampires could pop open this toy car of yours like tinfoil, and if there’s a gang of them I’ll have my hands full.’
Giles just nodded and started the car moving slowly forward. Buffy picked up one of the crossbows and then rolled down her window so she could aim out of it. As they got closer to her house, a vampire came out of some bushes towards them. Buffy told Giles to stop and, as the vampire started to react to seeing them, squeezed off a shot. She was sure the vampire had been posted as a sentry and was about to give the alarm, but luckily her aim must have been good, because a moment after the wooden bolt went through its chest it disintegrated into dust.
‘Straight through the heart!’ Giles exclaimed quietly. ‘Good work, Buffy.’
Buffy set down the crossbow she’d just fired and picked up the rest of the weapons. ‘One down. Okay, Giles, this is where I get out and you leave me.’ She opened the door quietly, slid out, pushed it shut behind her, and started moving quietly towards the house.
Behind her, she could hear the sound of Giles’s car turning round and driving away. A moment later, she heard a voice coming towards her saying, ‘I’m sure I heard something from this direction.’
‘Jane was watching that way’, said another, gravellier, voice, from further off.
Buffy ducked behind the same bushes from which ‘Jane’ had emerged a moment earlier, crouched down in a prepared brace position, and waited. A vampire came round the bushes and started to say something. ‘J—’
Before it could finish the name, Buffy launched herself into a prepared move, her most powerful kick connecting with the vampire’s jaw. Its head snapped back and it toppled away from her, sprawling. Before it could recover she had snatched up one of her stakes and finished the job.
‘Two down’, she muttered to herself as she picked up the weapons she’d set down under the bushes a moment earlier. She came out again at speed. She figured she’d used up the advantage of surprise.
Three vampires were coming across her front lawn towards her. She paused for a moment to fire her second crossbow, balancing the battleaxe leaning against one shoulder as she did so—another accurate shot. ‘Three down.’ She lifted the battleaxe in both hands and charged.
‘The girl! The Slayer! She’s here, she’s here! Kill her!’ shouted the vampire with the gravelly voice, a particularly ugly one, pausing for a moment while the other came on at Buffy, to be met with a decapitating sweep from her battleaxe.
‘Enough!’ shouted the ugly vampire, moving in to attack even before the additional vampires running from near the house had joined him. ‘This ends here. On this most profane of nights, dedicated to utmost depravity, you die! By my hand!’
‘You got one part right. This ends here.’ Buffy readied her battleaxe again. ‘You made a mistake when you messed with my mother!’ She took a swing at it, but it leaped back in time. Then she saw that there were four vampires altogether surrounding her. They circled her cautiously; each time she took a swing at one with the battleaxe, it danced backward, while the others circled closer. Even her Slayer strength would tire of this game eventually.
Before that could happen, one of the vampires decided it was close enough to risk rushing in at her from behind. Her Slayer reflexes were still too good for it. She turned in time to bring the axe round and take its head off—‘Five down’—but the move held her attention for just an instant too long. Before she could recover, another vampire crashed into her from behind. The battleaxe flew out of her hands.
She was able to twist as they fell so that she didn’t land face down. It was the leader, the ugly talkative one, that had grabbed her. On the ground she had one of his arms pinned underneath her, but his other hand, gripping just above her collar bone, held her fast as he brought his face in close to bite her. She jammed her right arm hard against his throat prising him a little away from her, which gave her just enough free space to land a series of punishing blows with her left. He shifted to push his knees hard into her hips, and as she bent under that pressure he forced his face in close in another bite attempt, but this time she managed to punch him right in the eye. Before he could recover, she had pulled out a stake and driven it home.
‘Six down’, she gasped as his dust settled on her, but when her vision cleared she saw another vampire above her poised to strike down at her with her own battleaxe.
Then, even as she gathered herself to dodge to the side, something that looked like a branch broken off a tree burst from the vampire’s chest, and it disintegrated. The battleaxe, left unsupported, began to fall, and then was caught by—Angel, appearing out of nowhere.
By Buffy’s reckoning, seven down still left at least one vampire, which meant figuring out where Angel had come from—and what he was doing here, apart from helping her defeat the vampires—could wait for later. She came to her feet ready and took the battleaxe as Angel handed it to her, while he lifted his improvised tree-branch stake in both hands again.
One vampire was backing away from them towards another three that had appeared from somewhere since she’d last had a chance to check. It called out to them.
‘She killed Absalom! She killed them all! I saw!’
Buffy and Angel formed a line to face them, weapons at the ready.
They turned and ran.
Buffy looked at Angel. He was wearing the demonic face of a vampire. After another moment, she said, ‘Not all. I can’t take the credit for your kill.’
‘I came as soon as I heard what was happening.’ Angel looked away from her, towards her house. ‘I didn’t want anything to happen to your mother.’
‘Saving my life was just an accidental bonus?’
Angel looked at her again. His face had returned to the form she was used to seeing. She stepped closer to him and looked into his eyes.
‘You weren’t doing so badly when I came up’, he said. ‘I think you could have fought your way out of it.’
Buffy shrugged. Then she said, ‘Was one of those vampires running away that zookeeper?’
Angel nodded. ‘I think it was.’
Buffy shrugged again. ‘Well, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in this business, it’s that there’s always one more vampire.’
Angel flinched and turned away again. Buffy reached out and held his elbow, just for a second.
‘You didn’t know how to tell me.’ She dropped her hand from his elbow. ‘We’re good now.’ She swallowed to change her voice back to normal. ‘But we’d probably better pick this up later. I’m going to have enough trouble making explanations to my mother without you around.’