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 ‘Lie To Me’, by Joss Whedon.Xander Harris, This Is Not Your Life32. Being Close
Buffy vaulted from the roof of the building down to the ground. Angel turned, startled.
‘I didn’t want to interrupt anything’, she said, ‘but I couldn’t help wondering who your friend is.’
Angel darted one quick glance over his shoulder in the direction where the pretty dark-haired female had disappeared, before looking back at Buffy.
‘She’s not …’ He began again. ‘I mean, I’m not …’
‘If you don’t want to talk about your personal life, I guess it’s none of my business.’ She was ready to leave.
‘Buffy, wait!’ Angel’s face twisted with emotion. ‘Do you really want to know the worst about me?’
‘You know what I am, Buffy.’ Angel grimaced again. ‘When I say the worst—it’s bad. Unconscionable.’
‘I know what you are. We’ve worked together. I’ve trusted you with my life. I’ve trusted you with other people’s lives. Don’t you trust me with the truth?’
Angel swallowed. ‘Okay.’ He swallowed again. ‘That—that was Drusilla.’ He looked away from Buffy, but kept talking. ‘I was—I was obsessed with her. She was pure and sweet and chaste … I made her insane. I killed everybody she loved, visited every mental torture on her I could devise. She eventually fled to a convent, and on the day she took her holy orders, I’—he paused and looked back at Buffy—‘I … I turned her into a vampire.’ He looked down at the ground.
Buffy swallowed too. ‘And now?’
Angel looked up again. ‘And now? And now she’s still a vampire. There’s no cure for what I did to her. She’s still a vampire, and she’s still insane.’ He hesitated for another moment. ‘She must have come here with Spike. They’re …’
‘They’re a couple?’
Buffy started to ask another question, but halfway through realised it was no question. ‘And they’re dangerous.’
Angel nodded again. ‘Very dangerous.’ He turned his head again.
‘But you’ve got this history with Drusilla. So you couldn’t—just …’
Angel shook his head without looking at her. ‘I told her to leave, to take Spike and get out. But she isn’t going to.’
Buffy took a deep breath. ‘Okay, you trusted me with the truth. You know I can’t just pretend I never heard it.’
‘I know. I’m trusting you to do the right thing. You’ll do what you have to do. Only—remember what I’ve told you.’***
‘Drusilla?’ said Giles. ‘But she was killed by an angry mob in Prague!’
‘You’ve heard of her?’
‘I’ve been researching Spike. She’s mentioned in connection with him.’
‘Yeah, Angel mentioned they were a couple. Are
a couple. Your research may say different, but I saw her with my own eyes, still walking and talking.’
‘With Angel?’ asked Ms Calendar. ‘He wasn’t, well, fighting with her?’
Buffy shook her head. ‘He has history with her. The way he told me the story, I think he feels kinda responsible. Y’see, he was the one who turned her into a vampire. And before that he’—Buffy took a breath—‘well, he tortured her into insanity. He’s not on her side, but what he was trying to do last night was persuade her to leave Sunnydale, with Spike. If we have to deal with Drusilla, I’d say we can’t ask Angel for help.’
‘I see’, said Ms Calendar heavily.
Buffy shrugged. ‘I’ve dealt with vampires without Angel’s help when I had to. I’m
‘So you think that’s Angel’s type?’ Willow said to Buffy, as they walked out of class.
Buffy shrugged. ‘At least it was once. If that’s a type. Dark-haired, pretty, …’
‘I think he likes pretty, anyway.’ As Buffy looked at her, Willow went on, ‘Who doesn’t like pretty?’
‘And he’s not exactly a dog himself, is he? Come on, admit it.’
‘I seem to remember I admitted that to you already.’
said’, said Willow, ‘that he has a certain way of looking at you when he thinks you won’t see.’
‘Even if that’s true—’
‘It is true.’
‘—and even leaving this Drusilla out of it, it’s a complicated situation. He’s—what he is, and I’m who I am, and we neither of us know what we might be risking if we get, well, close. What?’
Willow moved her head to point over Buffy’s shoulder in the direction she’d been looking. ‘I think that boy’s been watching you, and now he’s coming this way. Do you know him?’
Buffy turned her head. ‘Ford!’***
‘Buffy’, said Angel.
‘Oh, hi. Hey, you’ve got a drink! I mean’—Buffy lowered her voice—‘one that isn’t blood.’
‘Yeah. Look, I was hoping I’d find you here.’
‘This isn’t really a good time for me to talk.’
‘Okay.’ Angel ducked his head. ‘I’m sorry.’
‘No, I don’t mean like that. I understand, you know’—Buffy lowered her voice again—‘about Drusilla and everything. I mean, not everything, there must be like, a hundred years of your life or whatever, but I kinda understand, like, the crucial part. I just can’t talk now because I’ve got a friend here.’
Angel looked over Buffy’s shoulder. ‘The new guy, over there with the others?’
‘Yeah, that’s Ford. Billy Fordham. We were at school together for seven years, until I got expelled from Hemery High in Los Angeles and moved here. Now his dad’s been transferred here and he’s finishing his senior year at Sunnydale High.’
‘So you want to hang out with him, catch up on old times? and we can talk some other time?’
‘Okay. Well, I can come over and say hello to everybody, be introduced to your old friend?’
They crossed the floor of the Bronze to the pool table and Angel exchanged greetings with Willow, Amy, and Jonathan. (Jesse had just left the group looking for a dance.) Then Buffy introduced Angel and Ford and they shook hands.
‘Whoa!’ said Ford. ‘Cold hands!’
Amy said, ‘You’re not wrong.’
‘You’re not at Sunnydale High too?’ said Ford to Angel.
Buffy answered for Angel. ‘Angel’s helped me out sometimes. When I’ve been having problems. He knows a lot of history.’
Ford nodded. ‘I hope I wasn’t being rude, but I thought you looked a little old for high school.’
Amy said, ‘You’re not wrong.’
‘I don’t want to seem rude’, Angel said, ‘but I actually have to leave now. Nice to meet you though, Ford. Willow, could I have a quick private word with you before I go?’
‘Uh, sure. Buffy, take over for me in the pool game, okay?’
When he was sure they couldn’t be overheard, Angel said, ‘Willow, do you trust me?’
‘You mean, even though you’re—you know, what you are?’ Willow nodded. ‘I trust you. I mean, we talked about it, and we all decided we can trust you.’
‘Okay. The thing is—I know this Ford guy is an old friend of Buffy’s, and I know she likes him, but …’
‘You think it’s a problem if Buffy likes a boy? Angel, I’ve seen the way you look at her sometimes.’
‘You mean, you think I might be jealous?’ Angel shook his head. ‘I haven’t got time for a long explanation here. Yes, Buffy’s very special, and she’s meant something special to me since the first time I saw her. That’s what made me want to … I want to help her. Apart from anything else, I want to help her with what she does. And that’s what this is about. I have a lot of experience with people, Willow, and there’s something about Ford that doesn’t ring true to me. There’s nothing I can point to, but … That’s why I want you to check. Go online and see what you can find out about him. Just find whatever information you can, see if it tells us anything.’
Willow looked Angel in the eye. ‘If you want me to do this, you have to promise that if I tell you Ford checks out all right then you’ll drop it.’
Angel nodded. ‘Thanks. I gotta go.’***
‘The way I remember it’, Xander said, ‘it was Buffy who left the Bronze first, with Ford.’— ‘That was because she was uncomfortable being around Angel with the issue of Drusilla unresolved between them. Buffy as you remember her was already dating Angel at this point, and so she flinched from confronting Angel when she first saw him with Drusilla. Now you’re seeing things play out slightly differently, so that Angel leaves first and Buffy remains in the Bronze to play pool with Billy Fordham and her friends—and somewhere nearby, because Buffy and Billy Fordham are not walking past, a woman is being killed by a vampire.’
‘Wait, somebody’s dying here who didn’t really die?’— ‘Xander, you didn’t think that the only difference you were seeing was people’s lives being saved, did you? Have you forgotten Mitch Fargo, Cordelia’s boyfriend in sophomore year, who died instead of living?’
‘I sort of figured he died instead of Kevin, and Kevin’s life was saved, so it sort of—balanced out.’— ‘Do you think one human life can be traded for another like that, as if they didn’t individually matter?’***
‘Hi, Giles. Oh, good morning, Ms Calendar.’
‘Ah, Buffy. I was hoping to see you. There was a woman killed last night—’
‘—somewhere near the Bronze’, said Buffy, finishing Giles’s sentence for him. ‘Yeah, I already heard. Marcie rang me this morning to tell me it was on the news. We don’t know yet that it was definitely a vampire, do we?’
Giles shook his head. ‘That’s something we still need to find out. Still—’
‘I was at the Bronze last night. I was just hanging out with my friends, shooting a little pool. I didn’t think … It never lets up, does it?’
Giles was trying to decide how to arrange his face, and Ms Calendar was opening her mouth to say something reassuring, when Willow walked into the library. Buffy turned to her.
‘Hey, Will. I hope you’ve got some good news. I’m about ready for some.’ Then, reading Willow’s face, and her hesitation before speaking, Buffy continued, ‘That’s a no, huh?’
‘Sorry.’ Willow gave Buffy a sorry-face look. ‘It’s good to see you, though. Although I wasn’t exactly expecting to. I came in here to tell Giles something.’
‘Not exactly, I think. It’s—well, it’s about Ford.’
‘Ford? Has something happened to him?’
As Willow shook her head, Giles said, ‘Ford?’
Buffy turned again to Giles and Ms Calendar. ‘Billy Fordham. We were at school together in LA for seven years. He was my—we were friends. Good friends. His dad just got transferred to Sunnydale, so Ford’s finishing his senior year at Sunnydale High.’
‘Well’, said Willow slowly, ‘I don’t know about that. That was my probably-not-good news.’
Buffy stared at Willow. ‘What do you mean, you don’t know? Ford told us himself. You were there.’
‘I know. That’s what’s so weird about it. But if he were enrolled here, that’d show up in the school’s computer system, and it doesn’t. In fact, checking online there’s practically no reference to any Fordhams having anything to do with Sunnydale. The only thing I could track down is a reference to Billy Fordham having something to do with something called the Sunset Club.’
‘Those records just haven’t been updated yet, that’s all.’
‘No, Willow’s right’, said Ms Calendar. ‘I know how this works. If he’s a genuine transfer student there’ll be references to him in school records—and if there aren’t—then he isn’t.’
Buffy ignored Ms Calendar. ‘Will, why were you checking up on Ford? Why were you doing that? He’s my friend, Will.’
Giles intervened. ‘I don’t think that’s the point, Buffy. There may be some completely innocent explanation for what Willow has discovered, but whatever her motives this is something that we have to check on. We have to be sure. You are the Slayer. And we are on a Hellmouth. Mysterious events—well, they may just be coincidences, but we can’t afford to lower our guard.’
‘It’s like what we were talking about before Willow came in’, Ms Calendar said. ‘As you said, it never lets up. That woman killed near the Bronze last night—it may not have been a vampire, it may have been any of the things that lead to people being killed on the street at night, but we have to check. And we have to check this other thing too. We could start with the club Willow mentioned.’
‘I got the address.’ Willow looked at Buffy. ‘We could go there tonight.’
‘Buffy’, said Ms Calendar, ‘I don’t think you should go. I think we want to find out about this Sunset Club when your friend Ford isn’t there. I don’t want to believe there’s a—well, a sinister explanation, but people do keep secrets, don’t they? Remember how long Angel kept his secret from all of us? We could trust him with our lives, but we couldn’t always trust him to tell us the truth. Why don’t you spend some more time with your friend tonight, while somebody else checks out the club?’***
After some discussion, it had been decided that Angel would go to the Sunset Club with Nancy Blaisdell.
The death near the Bronze had been a reminder, if they needed any, of the dangers facing civilians out at night on the streets of Sunnydale. Buffy would be with Ford, hoping to learn more by talking with him while she kept him away from the Sunset Club, so that left Angel to provide the muscle. He would probably attract less attention at a club with a girl than by himself, while a couple would attract less attention than a larger group. It seemed like a good idea if the girl who went with him, who would be seen by anybody Ford knew at this club, was somebody Ford was least likely to see or hear about at Sunnydale High. When the plan was discussed, Nancy was quick to volunteer.
‘This reminds me of a scouting mission’, she said to Angel as they approached the Sunset Club.
He looked at her quizzically.
Nancy ducked her head and then looked at him again. ‘We met on Halloween, right? when I was transformed into a soldier by that spell? Well, that—“Private Blaisdell”—didn’t remember being me at all, but I was inside observing the whole time, and I still remember being her. I mean, everything—all her memories, basic training, the works. What a soldier knows, I know. So I know about scouting missions. That’s one of the reasons I thought I should come tonight, even if this isn’t a normal military scouting mission. I thought this would be a way I could be useful, and I want to be useful.’
‘Nobody else mentioned this about you.’
‘I haven’t told them. I should, shouldn’t I? I haven’t figured out the best way to do it. Don’t you think it would sound odd, telling them that I have military experience? But you were there at the time. It’s like we’ve already worked together, as a team.’ Nancy touched Angel’s sleeve as she said this. He didn’t react, but moved on with his eyes ahead, slightly increasing the distance between them.
‘I didn’t mean it like that’, she said. ‘I know that you and Buffy—I could see the way you looked at her, when you came into her place on Halloween to see whether she was okay. The soldier was in charge of my body then, but I was still watching, and I know.’
‘This is the place’, said Angel, and knocked on the door.
A small viewing port in the door opened and a pair of eyes looked out through it.
‘We’re friends of Ford’s’, said Angel.
The door swung open and they walked through to find themselves behind a railing on a mezzanine walkway above the floor of the club. Nancy felt Angel’s hand on her shoulder, gently steering her to one side, away from the stairs. They moved casually along, looking down at the clubbers.
Gloomy atmosphere, shrouded lighting, lots of shadows, black clothes, pale skin, black and white make-up might easily have been summed up as a pro-vampire thematic statement even without the presence of a coffin standing against the wall with an occupant dressed like a cinematic vampire. Angel nudged Nancy again and they strolled back the other way and down the stairs to get a closer look.
They had been observed by a tallish girl with long blonde hair. Approaching, she told them that she could tell they were newbies.
‘I was hoping we wouldn’t stand out too much’, Nancy said. ‘My friend’—she put a hand on Angel’s sleeve—‘knows more about this sort of thing than I do.’
‘Don’t be ashamed! It’s cool that you’re open to it. We welcome anybody who’s interested in the Lonely Ones.’
‘I’m sorry?’ said Nancy. ‘I don’t think I’ve ever heard—’
‘That’s what some people call vampires’, said Angel.
The girl was impressed. ‘So you do know something about they who walk with the night.’
‘I know more than anybody who talks about them using children’s bedtime-story euphemisms.’
The girl flinched from Angel’s scorn. ‘You don’t need to be so confrontational about it. Other viewpoints than yours may be valid, you know.’ She walked away from them.
Nancy let her go, and then was about to walk further into the club, but Angel checked her. ‘I’ve seen enough’, he said. ‘I’ve seen this type before.’
‘In this case other viewpoints than yours aren’t valid, right?’ Nancy let Angel guide her back up the stairs. ‘So we can go back and make our report. Buffy’s friend Ford has some sort of connection with a crowd who admire vampires, would like to be vampires.’ Angel just nodded.
When they were outside again, Nancy said, ‘What I said before about having military experience, you should know that doesn’t mean I’m eager to rush into combat situations that I can’t handle. Exactly the opposite, in fact, even if I hadn’t had the standard warning for people newly in the secret, the warning about not endangering myself and others. Buffy can fight vampires and demons and monsters, and I guess you can too, and the first thing I can contribute to the conflict is to keep out of your way and let you handle that. This is serious stuff, not something for playing around with.’
Angel nodded again. ‘That’s exactly what those people back there don’t understand. They’re putting themselves in the way of something serious, deadly serious, and they don’t get it.’***
By prearrangement, Buffy met with Giles at the library. Angel was a little late, probably making sure Nancy got home safely, but Giles brought Ms Calendar with him. He explained, stammering more than usual, that they’d been having dinner together, and by the time they realised what time it was, it seemed simpler to come straight to the library together.
‘You were having a good time, then?’ Buffy said.
Giles quickly looked away from Buffy, in the direction of Ms Calendar. ‘Well, ah, I’d say it was definitely better than the time you insisted on taking me to see the monster trucks.’
One of Ms Calendar’s eyebrows twitched. ‘I did tell you we could leave if you weren’t enjoying it.’
‘Well, you wanted me to try something new and you can’t say I didn’t give it a fair go.’
‘I’m glad you like to try new things.’
Buffy shook her head. ‘I’m sorry I asked. Forgetting about your
strange behaviour and returning to the subject of Ford’s
strange behaviour, he knows I’m the Slayer.’
Giles and Ms Calendar both looked their questions at Buffy.
‘He says he found out just before I got expelled from Hemery High, in LA. He said he’s been waiting for a chance to tell me.’
Another voice interrupted them. ‘If he knows about the Slayer, he must know some of the truth about vampires, unlike his friends at the Sunset Club.’ Angel had entered unannounced.
Before Buffy could ask Angel to explain what he was talking about, they were completely taken by surprise when a vampire raced out of Giles’s office carrying a book. Before they could react she had bounded up to the mezzanine, without making any attempt to attack any of them, and escaped through the stacks.
‘A book!’ exclaimed Giles. ‘It took one of my books!’
‘Well, at least somebody in this school is reading’, said Ms Calendar.
Buffy ignored the attempt at humour. ‘The last time we had vampires on school grounds …’ She exchanged a look of understanding with Giles.
‘Yes’, he said. ‘We should assume the situation is grave.’ He looked to Angel. ‘You were about to tell us something.’
‘The Sunset Club caters to a group that reveres vampires. Practically worships them. They’re like children, making up bedtime stories of friendly vampires to comfort themselves in the dark. They have no idea what they’re getting into.’
‘But Ford must’, Buffy said, ‘if he knows about the Slayer. That must be the real reason he came to Sunnydale. He came looking for the Slayer, he came with connections to this Sunset-Club group—he’s got an agenda he doesn’t want me to know about.’ She didn’t like the taste of her words. ‘I don’t think he knows that I suspect him. I should be seeing him tomorrow, here, where he’s still pretending to be a student.’
‘Be careful, Buffy’, said Angel. ‘I know Ford was—is—your friend, but my gut tells me he’s gone wrong somehow.’
Buffy gave him a hard look. ‘Your gut tells you that.’
Angel’s face moved and Buffy could see complicated emotions moving across it. He said, ‘I’m not asking you to trust that. You said yourself he’s got an agenda he doesn’t want you to know about.’
Giles intervened. ‘In any event, there are other reasons to be careful. A vampire on school grounds, stealing one of my books—that killing near the Bronze—and we’re still on a Hellmouth …’
‘We’ll keep researching, see what we can find out’, said Ms Calendar, ‘especially whether we can get more of a line on Spike and Drusilla, and maybe why that vampire was here tonight and why it stole that book.’
‘And I’ll see Ford tomorrow’, Buffy said. ‘And I’ll be careful.’ She turned and walked out, and Angel followed her.
‘What about you, Angel?’ she said as they walked. ‘Do you have an agenda you don’t want me to know about?’
He didn’t look at her. ‘I’m still a vampire, Buffy. I can’t tell you how much you should trust me.’
She put a hand on his sleeve. ‘Willow tells me there’s a way you have of looking at me when I can’t see.’
He halted for a moment but didn’t speak, so Buffy said, ‘Right now I’ve got business to deal with. But maybe when it’s sorted out we should get together and—well, talk about the whole situation. Or, y’know, just hang out or something, maybe have coffee … I don’t know.’
Angel walked on, moving away from her touch. ‘I told you I wasn’t sure it was a good idea for us to get too close.’
Buffy kept up with him, but didn’t try to meet his eye. ‘I know. I’m not sure either. I just thought talking a little might help us to figure it out.’
They walked out of the building together. Angel didn’t say yes or no, or anything, but he didn’t immediately disappear into the night, either.***
‘Oh, hi, Buffy!’
‘Listen—I’m sorry I gave you a hard time about checking up on Ford.’
Willow moved her hand back and forth, dismissing the matter. ‘It’s nothing. I just thought you ought to know.’
‘Well, you were right. He’s definitely up to something. He says he wants me to meet him tonight and he says he has a surprise for me.’
‘And are you going to meet him?’
‘Kinda. I’m planning to show up, but not where and when he’s expecting me. Then we’ll see.’
Willow looked at Buffy seriously. ‘You’re gonna be careful though, right?”
Buffy nodded. ‘Oh yeah. And I’ll have Angel on standby for back-up.’***
‘Hang on’, Xander said to Clarence. ‘This is still at school, at the same table, but suddenly Buffy and Willow are wearing different clothes, and they’re in different seats. Did we jump forward in time? Is this the next day already? Did Buffy not go to the Sunset Club and stop Ford’s plan?’— ‘Are you disappointed at not seeing the “big fight scene”, Xander?’
Xander had never heard scare quotes in Clarence’s voice before. ‘Well, no, I guess not, that isn’t the point, is it? I suppose the same tactics would still work for Buffy.’— ‘She seized Drusilla and threatened her, to force Spike to allow all the people in the club to leave.’
‘Yeah, I remember—I mean, she said. All the people except her friend Ford.’***
‘The very last words he said to me, ever, were “I really did miss you”. He did have brain cancer, and he was dying, and I think that part of him really did want to come to Sunnydale just to say goodbye to me.’
Willow nodded. ‘But let’s not forget that another part of him came here because he wanted to use you as a bargaining chip with Spike to get himself made into a vampire. How exactly was that supposed to work?’
‘The plan was to lure me to the Sunset Club, where he’d had the doorknob removed from the inside of the door. The place used to be a bomb shelter. Once that door was shut, with no doorknob on the inside, there was no way to get out—not quickly, anyway. With enough strength—like vampires, or a Slayer—you could batter your way out eventually, but it’d take hours. Ford was counting on me suspecting him, but not on guessing the exact details, so that I’d turn up at the club and then be trapped there with everybody and with Spike and his gang on their way. And that’s exactly what happened. He was counting on how much he knew me, and he was right. In some twisted way it was all about being close to me.’
Willow nodded again, digesting Buffy’s words. Then she said, ‘I guess he got what he wanted, too, even if his plan didn’t work out totally.’
‘I suppose he read Spike right too, and persuaded him to deliver on his side of the deal even though I got away.’ A far-away look came over Buffy’s face. ‘Down in the grave a demon’s going to wake up in Ford’s body, with his memories, and it’s going to rise up, and I’ll be there to drive a stake through its heart and turn it to dust. But I’ve already said goodbye to my friend.’