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
. Some dialogue from ‘Welcome To The Hellmouth’, by Joss Whedon.Xander Harris, This Is Not Your Life3. First Fruits
It wasn’t bad enough that the body from the gym locker had two little holes in its neck and all the blood drained out of it, meaning a vampire had done it.
That was a whole lack of joy by itself, but the librarian was an even bigger one.
It shouldn’t have surprised Buffy. As soon as he’d shown her the ‘VAMPYR’ book she’d crossed him off her list of fun. But now she knew there were vampires on campus she had to vent her anger at somebody without killing her new social life before it started, and who did that leave, really? Obviously he knew stuff. He had stacks of books about every kind of monster and demon, and he was practically in love with the idea that any of them could turn up in Sunnydale because of some mystical something. In fact, he told her, he was her new ‘Watcher’. Just what she needed. Somebody to ‘watch’ while she got kicked out of school—again; while she lost all her friends—again; while she spent all her time fighting for her life and couldn’t tell anybody because she might endanger them—again.
Well, no way! That was over! Forget it! This was not putting-up-with-some-‘Watcher’-tell-her-about-her-destiny Buffy, this was—this was retired-Slayer Buffy, this was moving-on-with-her-life Buffy, this was making-new-friends Buffy, no matter what.
This was going-to-the-Bronze-to-hang-out Buffy, in fact. Or it would be if only there weren’t somebody following her!
At least her experience gave her a way to deal with this situation. Duck out of sight, find a hiding place (turned out to be an overhead hiding place, if it made any difference), get the drop on him, knock him to the ground, pin him there. Wait for the explanation from somebody else who needed to read the memo: Buffy Summers wants to be left alone!
Like the ‘Watcher’ librarian, the tall dark stranger seemed to be having trouble with this very simple message, but after some lame rambling about ‘the Mouth of Hell’ and ‘the Harvest’, at least he went away without trying to argue about it any more.
He tossed her a small jewellery box first. Inside was a small silver cross on a chain. Well, no harm in enjoying things that looked good, was there? She hung it round her neck.
Looking good wasn’t everything, but it was something.
Who was that guy, anyway, and why was he so mysterious?***
‘So that was the way Buffy met Angel for the first time? It’s not changed?’— ‘Exactly as it was.’
‘He was pretty creepy then. And she thought he had something to do with Giles. Huh. Oh, and I guess she hasn’t changed her mind about Giles yet.’ Xander remembered something. ‘Wait, that second time she talked with Giles in the library, that was the time I was in the stacks and overheard them talking about vampire slaying. That’s when I got my first clue. I guess if I’d never been born there would have been nobody in the stacks to overhear that conversation.’***
She couldn’t see Cordelia in the Bronze. She still wasn’t sure about Cordelia. She couldn’t see anybody else she’d met, not that she’d met many people so far. That was okay: for the meeting of people, clubs were good. She moved to the music a little until she saw a guy waving at her. Only after she’d waved back did she realise that he was waving at somebody behind her, who was also waving back. She decided to get off the dance floor and check out the bar.
She couldn’t see anybody she recognised at the bar, either, or she didn’t think so. For one moment she thought she’d seen a familiar face out of the corner of her eye, but when she turned her head and tried to focus she found nothing. The place was fairly crowded. She moved along the row of people at the bar, looking from side to side.
She still didn’t see anybody she recognised, but she did hear bits of what was being said by a group behind her. One sounded like ‘fresh meat!’ and another was definitely ‘I like it!’. The voices came from a bunch of jock types, and Buffy wasn’t sure whether they meant her to hear them or not.
Just then Buffy finally saw somebody she did recognise, in a so-not-good way. Mister call-me-Watcher Librarian was doing his Watcherliness thing from a thing like a mezzanine-type … thing.
At the same moment that she saw the Watching Watcher, one of the big jocks came up to her, looking full of smug. ‘Hey’, he said, ‘you’re new around here, and you look like you could use some new friends.’ He leered at her and looked her up and down before thrusting his hips towards her. ‘And when I look at you I fill up with the friendliest kind of feeling, if you know what I mean.’
Buffy could see his jock buddies watching them and nudging each other. ‘You know what?’ she said. ‘Listening to you makes even talking with a teacher seem interesting.’ She heard a few snorts of laughter as she spun quickly away towards the stairs.
As she started up the stairs two at a time she finally spotted Cordelia sitting at a table with some other girls. The guy she’d called her stalker was there too, and Buffy sensed that Cordelia was shooting him down in flames, again.
This time Buffy felt a little more sympathy with Cordelia, especially what with having her own stalker now in the form of the librarian (she remembered that he’d told her his name was Mr Giles). Giles told her that he’d been expecting her to show up. He’d come to the Bronze for that reason. That was not a surprise to her. The part that was a surprise was that he didn’t know anything about the ‘Harvest’ or about the guy in the alley who’d told her about it. She’d just naturally assumed they were buds; but no.
Watcher-Guy did know about the Slayer’s visions. Well, kind of. He did say, ‘Perhaps there is no trouble coming, the signs could be wrong. It’s not as though you’ve been having the nightmares.’
Buffy did not say, ‘It is as though I’ve been having the nightmares, in the way that I’ve been having the nightmares.’
She did score off him when he told her that she should be able to know whether there was a vampire in the building. That wasn’t hard to pick. He was wearing an outfit that only somebody living underground for ten years would think was still the look. All the same, he’d somehow managed to find a girl who didn’t regard it as totally unacceptable. Poor thing. Actually, she looked familiar. Buffy focussed in hard.
It was that girl who’d introduced her to Willow, what was her name? Marcie! Marcie Ross! And she was about to leave the Bronze with a vampire! Buffy clattered down the stairs as fast as she could but by the time she was back at ground level she’d lost sight of them.
‘Excuse me?’ said a tall girl coming up to her. ‘You don’t know me, but I just want to apologise for my cousin? The big crude doofus who was trying to hit on you before? I just want you to know that not all the Blaisdells are like that.’ When Buffy didn’t answer at once, she said, ‘Sorry if I’m bothering you. I can see you’ve got something on your mind.’
‘I was just looking for a … friend of mine’, Buffy said. ‘I saw a guy talking to her. You couldn’t miss him, he’d dressed in a timewarp. He looked like DeBarge.’
The girl tilted her head. ‘Actually, I did see a guy like that leaving a moment ago. I think he went out the front door and turned right. But I don’t remember noticing a girl with him.’
‘If you didn’t notice her, that sounds like Marcie.’ Buffy thought for a moment about likely areas of vampire activity. She didn’t want to sound like somebody asking weird questions, she wanted to sound purely casual and also like she knew what she was talking about. ‘Out the front door and right? That’d be in the same direction as the cemetery?’
‘The cemetery?’ The girl sounded puzzled by the question, but still anxious to help, as if making up for her cousin’s behaviour. ‘Which one?’
Buffy was starting to get anxious about delay, but if she was going to find Marcie in time she needed direction as well as the speed of the Slayer. If there was more than one cemetery in Sunnydale … there was no help for it, she was going to have to sound like somebody asking weird questions and hope the girl could deal and still felt like she owed Buffy a favour. ‘Listen, I know this might sound crazy, but is there one cemetery which is the creepiest and the spookiest, the kind of place middle-school kids dare each other to walk through in the dark for a bet?’***
‘Okay, don’t tell me, let me see how much of this I can figure out for myself. I know that what really happened is that Willow and Jesse left the Bronze with vampires. I see Jesse was still there … following Cordelia around … but I didn’t notice Willow. Wait, I haven’t finished. I figure Giles would have been there anyway, because that had nothing to do with me. And Larry, too, and it would have been just like him back then to pretend to make a creepy pass at Buffy to show off to his jock buddies. I guess if Marcie hadn’t been turned invisible yet, she might have been there. In fact, I guess the real invisible Marcie could have been at the Bronze that night in reality without anybody knowing. There’s a creepy reminder. That girl who told Buffy she was Larry’s cousin, I don’t know at all. There could be any explanation for her. She could be a vampire, or anything. But she’s not the vampire Jesse left with, because that was Darla. And the vampire who’s leaving with Marcie might be the one who in reality actually left with Willow, whether Willow’s there or not. I think I’m starting to see how this works. I guess from now on there’ll just be more and more changes to events, even to events that wouldn’t have directly involved me.’— ‘Yes. But some of what you’ve just seen does relate more directly to your absence. Do you wish to know more?’
‘Yes, please.’— ‘You didn’t notice Willow Rosenberg at the Bronze because she was not at the Bronze. The reason the Willow you knew came to the Bronze that night, although you never knew it, was because she was hoping she might see you. Without that hope, this Willow did not go to the Bronze. The Buffy you knew arrived at the Bronze just as you have seen, but when she approached the bar she saw Willow sitting there and joined her. That is how she avoided the attention of Larry Blaisdell and his companions. That in turn is why she did not come to the attention of Larry’s second cousin, Nancy Blaisdell. Their grandfathers were brothers, but Nancy often avoided Larry because of his crude vulgarity. However, on this particular evening she had accompanied him to the Bronze. She is not familiar to you because she was in the year behind you at school, but she was an ordinary human schoolmate of yours and no vampire. The vampire Darla is still at the Bronze this night, though, and your absence has no effect on Jesse McNally’s interest in her.’
‘I guess things are pretty much the same, then. Two vampires came to the Bronze and found two Sunnydale High students to take away from it with them, and Buffy’s still hot on the trail. But she won’t meet me when she heads out the door.’— ‘No, the sequence of events which led to her encounters first with one Blaisdell and then with the other mean that her pursuit will follow a slightly different path at a slightly different speed, as you will see.’***
The streets of the town were still new to Buffy, but the suggestions she’d got from the Blaisdell girl made her search a lot easier. Besides, once she was half a block from the Bronze the streets were almost deserted and she was able to crank up the pace to nearly full Slayer speed, although she still had to be a little careful about what people might see.
Finally, from a distance of about a block away, she saw a couple walking through a cemetery gate. It was too far for her to see whether they were Marcie Ross and the vampire who’d picked her up at the Bronze, but sometimes a Slayer had no choice but to trust her instincts.
If only she’d been trusting Slayer instincts earlier, and hadn’t been so focussed on ignoring the pressure from her new Watcher, she might be properly armed for an encounter with a vampire now. She looked around as she moved more cautiously to the cemetery gate and saw plenty of trees over the wall. That gave her an idea. Walking through the gate, she looked all around her. She didn’t see anybody, vampire or otherwise, but she did see a dead-looking stump of a branch sticking out of a nearby tree. It was about the right length and thickness for her needs, so she moved over to it, still scanning cautiously around her, and took hold. It proved to be not quite as dried out as she’d hoped, but it snapped off when she exerted her Slayer strength. Not quite as sharp as she’d have liked, either, she noticed, but it would have to do—if she could ever find a vampire to stake with it. Where had those figures she’d seen gone? She remembered what Giles the librarian had said about honing her Slayer instincts, and what she’d learned under the guidance of her first Watcher about search patterns. If she could trust her instincts, this was almost certainly the right cemetery, and so she set out on her hunt.
She found somebody almost right away, but it wasn’t Marcie. Neither of them was Marcie. One of them was the big-shouldered guy that Cordelia had called her ‘stalker’. She couldn’t see the other one’s face, only her platinum blonde hair, because her mouth was buried in the guy’s neck—just like a vampire feeding, and just like somebody making out and really getting into it. Whichever it was, both of them were totally preoccupied, which was good, because Buffy needed a chance to make sure before she made a mistake in either direction. She closed on them with her makeshift stake gripped and held high in a way any Watcher would have approved of, and neither of them noticed until she was practically on top of them. As she grabbed the blonde female hard by the collar-bone, Buffy was starting to think what kind of excuse she might make in case of mistaken identity, but when the fanged demonic face came loose, exposing the puncture wounds in the guy’s neck, the words evaporated from her mind, leaving behind only thoughts of slaying technique. She took another half-step closer to improve her angle and jolt the vampire off-balance some more, and before it could recover she had staked it hard through the breastbone. Neither it nor its victim had managed to utter a word before nothing was left of it but dust.
The guy, released from the vampire’s grip, staggered backwards. ‘Wow!’ he said, looking around and blinking his eyes. ‘That was … Hey! You’re not Darla. Where’s Darla?’ He seemed confused and dazed, like somebody who’d just unexpectedly lost a lot of blood, as of course he had.
Buffy decided it was best not to give anything away to this guy. She didn’t want to freak him out. She wanted him to get himself to safety while she found Marcie. ‘Who’s Darla?’ she said.
‘We were just … Wow! Look at the hickey she gave me!’
‘Where did you meet her?’ Buffy said, knowing the answer and thinking it could help her.
‘At the Bronze.’
‘Well, maybe, seeing as you two seem to have got separated, you should go back to look for her there.’
‘Um … I guess I could do that. Hey, why don’t you come with me anyway?’
‘I’m looking for a friend of mine’, Buffy said. ‘I think she got lost in here somewhere. Maybe you saw her? Her name’s Marcie.’
The guy shrugged ‘I don’t know any Marcie, and I didn’t see anybody in here except Darla. Hey, what’s your name? Aren’t you that new girl?’
‘Yes, I’m Buffy. Look, it’s pretty dark here and I don’t see Darla anywhere, plus you’re looking … um, is it okay if I say a little unsteady on your feet? If you head back to the Bronze, I can take another quick look around for Marcie and then meet you there, okay?’
He shook his head, trying to clear it. ‘Uh, sure, I guess.’ He took a hesitant step forward.
Buffy took him by the shoulder, turned him around, and nudged him forward. ‘I’ll see you at the Bronze, right?’ She had noticed a door standing open not far from them, the entrance to a mausoleum, and suddenly she had a feeling Marcie and the other vampire might have gone through it, so she moved towards it without looking back at the guy, readying her makeshift stake again as she did so.
‘This place is really creepy, but kind of interesting.’ The voice came from inside the mausoleum, and Buffy thought it was Marcie’s. She must have gone in voluntarily and still have no idea what kind of trouble she was in. At least she didn’t sound as if the vampire with her had given her a hickey. But Buffy knew she couldn’t afford to wait. She’d got lucky finding them in time; now skill would have to take over from luck.
‘Hey’, she said as she came down the stairs, ‘is this a private party or open house? Oh, Marcie, hi! Who’s your friend? I hope I’m not interrupting anything good. By the way, do you know anybody called Darla?’
The vampire definitely recognised that name, and seemed taken aback, but Marcie found her voice. ‘This is Thomas. We’ve just started getting acquainted. It’s nice of you not to want to interrupt. I’m really looking forward to catching up with you some other time.’
‘I understand’, Buffy said. ‘Two’s company, three’s a crowd, right?’ She pointed her weapon straight at Thomas the vampire. ‘But I think you should know, Thomas, that if you’re waiting for Darla she’s not going to be able to make it here tonight. Or anywhere ever again, in fact.’
Thomas said, ‘Who are you?’ and Marcie said, ‘What’s going on here?’
‘I’m sorry, Marcie. Normally I would never dream of cutting in between you and a guy, but in this case it’s strictly business. As for who I am, Thomas, it wouldn’t be much of a secret identity if I just blabbed it to everybody I met, now would it? You’re going to have to find that out the way Darla did. The hard way.’
Buffy was worried that the vampire might try to use Marcie as a hostage, but he seemed to have forgotten about her as he focussed on Buffy. Marcie seemed to be cooperating by fading into the background, as if she sensed this was something she shouldn’t get involved in. Then Thomas roared, his face transformed, and he charged at Buffy with fangs bared. Buffy forgot all about Marcie as her instincts kicked in. It was like riding a bicycle; the techniques came back to her. Strike with the arm; strike with the leg; block, fend, and strike again; bring the vampire down; drive home the stake. Dust.
‘Wow’, said Marcie, drawing Buffy’s attention back to her, and then, as Buffy straightened, ‘I don’t know what’s going on, but I know it’s something big.’
‘No time for chit-chat, we have to book.’ Buffy waved Marcie towards the stairs and Marcie started to move fast.
‘I’m not arguing with the superhero’, Marcie said. ‘I can save my questions.’
Buffy raced up the stairs behind Marcie and they both started running towards the cemetery gates. They hadn’t got far before they found the guy that Buffy had saved from the vampire Darla. He seemed to be trying to head towards the gates, but he was groggy and confused.
‘Hey, it’s Buffy!’ he said as Buffy and Marcie ran up. ‘What’s the rush?’
‘There’s trouble’, Buffy said. ‘We need to get back to the Bronze as fast as possible.’
He turned around. ‘Is this the friend you were looking for?’
‘Don’t you remember, Jesse?’ Marcie said. ‘Don’t you remember writing “Have a nice summer” in my yearbook, just like everybody else?’
Buffy winced at the thought of it, but remembered at once there was no time to spare. Jesse, if that was his name, was still looking goofy, so she’d have to try counting on Marcie. ‘I think Jesse’s having some trouble’, she said. ‘Marcie, do you think you can give him a hand? The time factor is getting totally critical.’
Marcie was getting the urgency vibe even if Jesse wasn’t. She dragged his arm over her shoulders, got her hand in the small of his back, and started to hustle him forward. Luckily he seemed in no condition to resist. Meanwhile Buffy watched their collective back. They were within sight of the gates when she saw figures emerging from the shadows. ‘Company!’ she shouted. ‘Bad company!’
Marcie didn’t need a picture painted for her. She moved forward more quickly with Jesse, Buffy trailing behind and keeping one eye over her shoulder. When she saw that in a moment the two closest vampires would be in position to cut them off, she stopped and yelled, ‘Go! I’ll catch you up!’ before turning round, keeping her stake behind her back.
The two vampires rushed her at the same time. They had no idea about how to coordinate their attacks, and she was able to take advantage of the way they interfered with each other. Kicking and punching she knocked over first one and then the other, and then saw and took an opportunity to drive her stake home and dust one of them before either could react. As she came back to a ready position the second vampire hissed loudly at her and then looked back at the reinforcements still some distance off.
‘That makes me three for three tonight!’ Buffy said. ‘You want to try your luck?’
The vampire backed slowly towards its companions while Buffy backed a little more rapidly towards hers. Then they were out of the gates. Buffy supported Jesse on the other side from Marcie and got him to speed up a little now that the footing and the light were better.
‘What’s going on?’ he said.
‘No time to talk!’ Buffy said, urging them on. She risked a look over her shoulder and saw no vampires following.
Jesse squeezed Buffy’s shoulders. ‘Hey, whatever’, he said, and then, ‘Oh, man, I am so … I don’t know …’
He couldn’t finish the sentence. As he sagged more heavily, Buffy could see that Marcie was in difficulty. Jesse was not small.
‘Jesse’, Buffy said, ‘we need to get you to a hospital, stat! We need to call an ambulance.’ She looked all around and saw nothing that gave her any ideas, but at least no more vampires. Yet.
Marcie followed Buffy’s gaze, then turned and gestured. ‘We could try asking at one of those houses, see if they’ll call 911 for us.’ She looked at the nearest house. ‘Not that one, though, that’s the Harris place. The next one? Can we get there?’
‘You go over there’, Buffy said. ‘I’ll stay here and take care of Jesse.’ She didn’t need to say it twice. Marcie took off. Buffy heaved Jesse upright for a moment, using her full strength, and then half-propped him against a street light.
There were no signs of further vampire pursuit before Marcie got back. ‘Ambulance on its way’, she said. ‘What do we tell the paramedics?’
‘That he seems to have lost a lot of blood, but we can’t say how.’
Marcie nodded. ‘Okay, I can cover that. I’ll ride to the hospital with him if you like, clear the decks for you to do whatever you have to do.’
‘Hey, I don’t need to ride to the hospital’, Jesse said. ‘I’m just a little …’
‘Do it for me, will you, Jesse? Please?’ said Buffy. ‘It’ll just make me feel better to know they’re taking a look at you. If they keep you in the hospital I promise to come visit you, okay?’
‘Well, if you put it like that …’ Jesse trailed off.
Marcie said, ‘Buffy, I’ll meet you at school tomorrow before class, okay? I’ll fill you in on what they say at the hospital, and maybe you can fill me in on some other stuff, now not being the time to talk.’
Buffy nodded. ‘Meet me at the library, then.’***
‘So Jesse didn’t get turned into a vampire.’— ‘No, not on this occasion.’
Xander paused and Clarence continued.— ‘Buffy found her way just a little more swiftly, because you were not there and because of the indirect effects we have already observed flowing from your non-existence. The difference was only marginal, but the result was that she caught the vampires just a fraction earlier.’
‘It looks like a fraction making a big difference.’— ‘Perhaps. Because Buffy had directions from Nancy Blaisdell, she did not waste time searching the Bronze and having a confrontation in which she momentarily mistook Cordelia Chase for a vampire and antagonised her. Because she was making slightly better time, she caught the vampire Darla before Darla could bring Jesse into the mausoleum, and ended up escaping the mausoleum just before the entry of the vampire Luke.’
‘Luke?’— ‘I think you remember him, even if you’ve forgotten the name. The big dangerous vampire who was chosen by the Master to be his Vessel for the Harvest.’
‘Yeah, right. He’s the one Buffy fought in the mausoleum while we were getting away.’— ‘He came there looking for the other vampires, Darla and Thomas, who had gone to find human offerings for the Master. Buffy only needed to get out of there moments earlier to avoid him, leaving him to find no trace there of vampire or human, and with the further results you observed. A small change can lead to large one, and a large one to a still larger one.’
‘Yeah, I see. I still don’t like the way Marcie Ross is getting involved in all this.’