Title: False Witness
Disclaimer: Thou shalt not claim to own these characters.
Notes: My last update to my Older'verse AU series was around two years ago, so I'm not banking on anyone remembering it, but anyway this one isn't a continuation of the main story. Rather, it's a one-shot flashback to an earlier episode not covered by the rest of the fic (which begins at "Surprise"). One of my villains is a canon character turned vamp; this explains how that happened.
The concept of the Older'verse is that everything is the same as in canon, except that Buffy and all of the other characters are one year older; everything else is ripples. That's all you need to know if you're starting here.
“My family moved here. Right in the middle of the school year, can you believe that? Of course, I’m not actually going to school, so that wasn’t so much an issue, but they did disturb my crucial period of waffling on whether I wanted to get a real job or just keep living in my old bedroom until I was thirty.” Ford put his feet up on the student lounge’s coffee table. “I’ve been thinking about U.C. Sunnydale. I might have almost started to think about possibly getting an application.”
Buffy sat beside him, not touching him, but crossing her legs toward him and beaming at him as he spoke. “I can’t believe you’re here!” she said again. She could tell that Willow and Xander, sitting on the couch across from them, were less thrilled - Xander, at least - but she wasn’t ready to start caring about that yet. A new friend in town was just what she needed, considering the downer that she had been getting lately from her relationship with Angel, and oh, how she had missed Ford.
He smiled back at her. “Can’t believe you’re here either. I’m trying to maintain my cool and aloof demeanor, but I probably flubbed it by running straight to the side of the one solitary soul that I know in this town as soon as I moved in.”
“Now you know two more!” Willow exclaimed. She and Buffy shared the smile of two close people mutually accepting the arrival of a third. Xander didn’t share a smile with anyone, but he would have to deal with that on his own, because five minutes later, Ford had been invited to join them at the Bronze that night.
Angel stared intently at Willow’s computer monitor. “Are you sure?”
“This is all I got,” Willow insisted. “He didn’t graduate from Hemery, but there’s lots of reasons he might not have told Buffy that. I don’t think he even said he did graduate, we all just assumed it.”
Angel straightened up and paced the room, shaking his head. “There has to be something we didn’t think to check.”
“You said you wouldn’t make a fuss if nothing weird came up in my search.”
“This is weird,” he said, coming back to stand behind her chair. “If he’s hiding this, he could be hiding something else.” He pointed. “Who’s this other guy?”
Willow indulged him, enlarging the picture. “Just some friend of his. Marvin Rhodes. I already checked him out too, didn’t go to Hemery.”
Angel’s frustrated sigh echoed the way Willow felt, concealing a vampire in her room, lying to her best friend, all for nothing. “I’m sorry, Willow,” he said.
“It’s alright,” she said automatically. “So...what do we do now?”
“Nothing. I’ll tell Buffy about it. Thanks for your help.”
Buffy invited Angel in, but then let him stand awkwardly in the kitchen as she stirred her hot cocoa. He was definitely acting a little more guilty than usual, which only served to make her feel more self-righteous. It was bad enough that he had been out talking to some mysterious woman and didn’t see fit to tell her about it, but finding out that the woman was a vampire, and Spike’s girlfriend at that, was a crushing blow. Buffy had already tried to play down the incident for Xander and Willow, and now Giles and Miss Calendar knew about it too. Angel had humiliated her, and she needed more than an explanation. She needed an apology.
“I owe you an apology,” Angel began, and Buffy stopped in her path to the dining room and whirled to face him, almost smiling.
He followed her slowly into the room. “I thought there was something suspicious about Ford. I had Willow do a search on the computer to check--”
”What?” Buffy put her cocoa down on the table so hard that it splashed. “You went spying on Ford? You made Willow help you?”
Angel bowed his head. “Yes. And we didn’t find anything. I was wrong. I just wanted to tell you that. I don’t want to hide anything from you.”
“Are you kidding me? Is this an incredibly tasteless joke? You hide everything from me! You snoop around in my life, you involve my friends behind my back, and you don’t tell me the first thing about who you really are!” She took a deep breath and held out an accusatory hand. “Now don’t you dare lie to me again. Who’s Drusilla?”
His face dropped. He was so clearly aware of the thin ice he was skating that she could have pitied him in other circumstances, but she held her tongue and waited for him to answer, which he did with great reluctance: “I didn’t tell you about Drusilla because the truth was worse than the lie. I thought...I thought if you trusted me, you wouldn’t need to know.”
Buffy’s voice felt fragile in her throat. “How am I supposed to trust you now?”
“You want to know the truth?” Angel said roughly. “Is that the only thing that matters? Fine. I drove Drusilla insane. I sired her. I did it for fun. All the evil I concocted when I became a vampire, it’s still here, and I can’t stop it and I can’t change it. I didn’t want that to touch you. I wanted to protect you.”
Thunderstruck by his open admission that he was the one responsible for the mad vampire in Sunnydale, Buffy tried to make sense of everything else he was telling her. All the evasion had come from his attempt to keep his own evil roots away from her? Unwillingly she found her mind entrenched in speculation about the details he had left out. How had he brought a woman to insanity? Why Drusilla in particular? What had made it fun? She almost asked, but another part of her had decided she’d had enough. “And Ford?” she asked. “Were you trying to protect me from boys paying attention to me? Or just the one I used to have a crush on?”
“You used to have...? No! No, I swear, I just thought there was something off about him. We looked at his records and he didn’t graduate from Hemery like he said he did, and I thought it would lead to something incriminating, but it didn’t. I was wrong, I told you. I won’t do anything like that again.”
“I’ll say you won’t.” Buffy stared down at the table, and the little pool of brown liquid around her cup. “Well, we had our talk. I’d like to be alone now.”
Buffy walked through the quad the next day wondering if she should call Ford after school or wait until evening, but he found her first. He must have been there solely to look for her, she realized as he hailed her and strolled over, since he had no other reason to be on school grounds. What did that say about his intentions?
The thought made her shake her head and sigh. When had she become so suspicious? On the other hand...considering last night with Angel, maybe she had ample grounds for it. She offered Ford a cautious smile, which he returned with a broad one.
“I had a great time last night,” he said. “Well, an interesting time.”
“Why didn’t you graduate from Hemery?” She had thought about how to ask him, of course, but this seemed to be the most efficient. Angel might prefer the subtle approach to sensitive topics; Buffy just wanted all the facts laid out so everyone could see them.
Ford was taken aback, but solemn. “How did you find out?”
She raised an eyebrow in challenge. “I asked first.”
“Okay. Uh. Okay. Can we sit down?” He pointed to one of the vacant benches near the fountain, and they both walked over and settled on it, leaving the same amount of space between them that strangers would.
“I gotta admit I’m disappointed,” said Buffy. “I was kind of hoping I would ask that, and you would have some kind of super-obvious one sentence answer and we would laugh and go get a soda. But here we are with the sitting down, and here you are with the conspicuous not graduating. What’s going on, Ford?”
“Nothing,” he replied too quickly, and then rubbed his temples and looked away. “Okay, something. But I wasn’t trying to lie to you. A little while after you left LA, well, I got a diagnosis.”
“Diagnosis?” she echoed faintly.
His mouth quirked in a humorless smile. “Brain tumor. They’re giving me another six months from here, give or take. You know how everyone talks about everything they’d do if they knew they only had a little bit of time left to live? Truth is it’s really not that simple. Can’t exactly travel the world unless I take the hospital with me to keep up my treatments. Can’t blow all my life savings in one go, because I don’t have any. Can’t spend every last minute with my dearest loved ones, considering I’m a single guy who fell out with my family. There was a space available at the Sunnydale hospital, and I thought, why not. Play it out, low key, away from the city.” He gave her an almost shy sideways glance. “Maybe a little friendship to keep me going at the end.”
Shamed, Buffy left a long silence before speaking, and then it was only to tell him honestly, “I don’t know what to say. I had no idea. I wish I could help somehow.”
“Well, you can,” Ford offered. “I mean, you can keep me company. Hang out with me like there’s nothing wrong. And, if it’s not too much to ask...”
“Yeah?” Buffy prompted him eagerly.
“...I’d like it if you took me out slaying some more. I mean, I know that blonde one got away from me last night, but it was my first time and all. And it was such a rush, and since I’m kind of at the stage where I don’t have much to lose, I’m feeling pretty invincible.”
“Yeah!” She knew she’d never agreed to letting someone patrol with her so readily before, but obviously this was a special situation. “How about tonight?”
He beamed at her, but shook his head. “I’ve got an overnight at the hospital. I’m supposed to be up and running by tomorrow night, though. Meet you here after sunset?”
She smiled in spite of her certainty that he could see she was already grief-stricken by his revelations. “Bring your own stake.”
Xander shook his head in disbelief. “Six months to live.” He slouched back into the Bronze’s most comfortable couch, where he sat beside Willow, neither of them in much of a mood to party.
“I know,” said Willow. “No wonder she didn’t feel like coming out tonight. I would have stayed with her at her house, but I think she’s still kind of mad at me for investigating Ford with Angel.” She barely flinched when the latter name seemed to invoke the vampire himself, who was suddenly standing beside the couch - apparently she was getting used to this. “Hey, Angel.”
“Hey,” he said. “Is Buffy not here tonight?”
Xander answered. “No, Buffy has elected to spend her evening contemplating the fast-approaching demise of her new friend, the charming and tumor-ridden Billy Fordham.” He raised an eyebrow at Angel’s shocked expression. “News to you, huh?”
Willow cut in before he could reply. “Angel, are you sure you should be looking for Buffy right now? From what she said, the two of you aren’t entirely...speaking.”
He looked crestfallen. “I know. But I wanted to see how she was doing. I’ll be around in case she shows.” He didn’t do his vanishing trick, but he did seem to melt into the crowd much more quickly than most people could.
The night remained as dull and joyless as ever when it was back to the two of them. Willow noted wryly, but with genuine appreciation, that for as long as she and Xander had been friends, neither of them had ever had to be miserable alone. It didn’t matter that minutes could tick by without either speaking a word, or that Xander’s mere presence couldn’t solve anything. They could rest in the certainty that here there were no expectations.
“Wanna go home?” Xander asked, in the wake of a long silence that had followed a conversation about whether there was a specific word for the elastics that fastened a doctor’s surgical mask. Willow was neither disappointed nor relieved that it would be their last conversation of the night. “Sure,” she replied.
As soon as they had risen, Angel appeared again, this time looking rushed and anxious instead of listless and anxious. Willow creased her brow. “Angel? It’s been like two hours. I thought you left.”
“I did,” he said. “I went to the butcher’s for pigs’ blood--”
Xander made a disgusted face. “Fascinating! Tell me less!”
Angel didn’t even seem to hear him, let alone look at him. “Willow,” he said urgently. “They were sold out.”
Something didn’t seem right about this. Was Angel trying to tell her that he was on the brink of starvation? “Well,” she said cautiously, “maybe you can go to another butcher? Or get something else that isn’t human but still has blood in it?”
He shook his head. “You don’t understand. I know their schedule through and through. They always have fresh blood on Tuesdays, gallons of it. Someone came before me and bought out the whole stock. Who needs that much blood?”
Willow was beginning to see the source of his agitation. “Vampires?”
“I asked. The order was placed by one Marvin Rhodes.”
“Marvin...oh God,” she gasped, fingers at her lips. She turned to Xander, who was listening with a befuddled expression. “That’s Ford’s friend. We found him when I did the search. Why would he be feeding vampires?”
“I don’t know,” Angel admitted. “But I think it’s safe to say we missed something.” He slipped a hand into his coat pocket and produced a wrinkled and pungent invoice, the seller’s copy. “This has the address where the blood was shipped,” he said, handing it to Willow. “Get Buffy and meet me there.”
Before Willow and Xander had a chance to question him further, he was off, bursting out of the Bronze’s doors at a near run. Willow took a deep breath. “Xander, I know you don’t really trust Angel and this might end up being nothing, but--”
“Hey,” he said, holding up a hand to stop her. “I’ll launch my objections when there’s proof it’s nothing. Let’s go.”
The Sunset Club’s dim lights flickered over prone figures on its floors, as well as a few upbeat vampires whose laughter cut through the chorus of screams. The sanguine aroma pervading the air was enough to have them in high spirits, though at this point, most had found a victim and were celebrating the inimitable passion heating their veins as they drank. Someone had found a television and turned it on to find that it was in the middle of playing a classic vampire video, so they kept it on as a backdrop of fine comedy for their gathering.
Pale fingers struggled to emerge from beneath a sparkling blue cape. Spike looked down at the crumpled heap of a boy who had called himself Diego, considered the fingers, and sent a boot to crunch down on them. A muted wail came out from under the cape, and Spike nudged it aside with his toe to reveal Diego’s pained face. “Help me,” the boy gasped. “They didn’t complete the ritual. I think I’m dying.”
“Yeah,” said Spike solemnly. “Someone’s been real lax over here.” He raised his voice so that everyone in the bomb shelter could hear him. “Anyone still hungry, mates? This one’s got a bit left in it.”
Diego died in the arms of Julia, that wretched minion who - Spike was sure of it - bleached her hair in an attempt to emulate him. What a pair she made with the boy in the cape, both of them yearning to be the kind of vampire they could never be. He turned away from them to find Drusilla, his only true equal.
She too had a boy in her arms, the one who had brokered the deal to collect all of the fresh young bodies here. He was also supposed to lure the Slayer to the same place tomorrow night, but Spike had some doubt about whether he would be out of his grave and ready by that time. Either way, they should have a few days’ grace period before Buffy discovered that her true-blue friend was now a vampire. Then they could lay the trap, be rid of Sunnydale’s biggest inconvenience, and have no more need for Ford. Spike was already looking forward to staking him.
“How’s it coming along there, darling?” he asked Drusilla gently. She flashed him a red smile and stroked Ford’s cheek with a fingertip, but the limp body didn’t so much as flinch in response. Spike frowned. “You didn’t kill him yet, did you?”
She shook her head. “This one is ours. He must ride along with us in our jolly carriage. But he’s going away now.” She nudged the body toward Spike and implored, “Bring him back.”
“Dru,” Spike groaned. “You couldn’t have had someone else do the siring here? I don’t want a little monkey like this drinking from me. Come, I’ll get Lucius on it...”
Drusilla answered with a silent pout. She wrapped her arms protectively around Ford’s head, then held up her wrist, gazed at it, and held it up to her mouth, lips pulled back and fangs ready to bite down on her own skin.
In a flash, Spike caught her hand in his and knelt down beside her. “None of that, now, love,” he soothed her. “You’re much too weak to be doing it yourself. I’ll be his sire, if that’s what makes you happy. Alright?”
It did make her happy, apparently. She easily relinquished her hold on Ford and left Spike hanging onto him, though she did participate by tearing into Spike’s wrist instead of her own. He kissed the blood on her lips back into his own mouth as he fed Ford, who was finally showing signs of animation with a swallowing reflex. “Just as long as you don’t take a fancy to him,” Spike muttered. “Remember he’s only here to get the Slayer for us.”
Drusilla smiled serenely. “Yes,” she said. “And for all eternity after.”
“What?” Spike tried to sit up straight and look severe, but he was hampered by Ford sucking away at his wrist. “Now, we had a plan to follow here. Tonight was a treat for you, tomorrow is a very important murder, and then it’s over. No surprises, no sidebars, no bloody hangers-on. We don’t need another mouth to feed!”
The screams around them were growing less frequent, and Spike could hear some of his people having relaxed conversations, the way they often did after a satisfying killing spree. Soon he would have to roust them all and leave the premises before witnesses showed up and the story got back to Buffy or Angel. Drusilla didn’t seem like she was going to budge without settling the matter of Ford, though. Her pout had returned in full force. “You said I would have another bird.”
“That’s not a bird, love, it’s a meatbrain. You can’t make a new pet every time we have a good hunt. This one’s with us until he gets the job done, and no longer. That’s final.”
“Good,” she replied, brightening. “Then we’ll keep him.” She stood up, smoothed her skirt with her hands, and wandered off with dainty steps and no glance back at him.
Spike glared viciously at the unconscious boy latched to his arm, but to no avail. “Dru,” he called out, trying to sound stern, but not so stern that he’d look stupid in front of his minions when she inevitably ignored him. “Dru!”
He caught up with her ten minutes later, when everyone was gathering to go and Ford was slumped on the floor with all of the other victims. She was stroking the hair of the first girl that Spike had drained when they came in, a waifish blonde beauty with thick makeup and cheaply dramatic clothing. When Spike offered Drusilla his hand, she kissed the girl’s forehead and laid her down carefully on her back, even taking care to cross her arms against her chest, before accepting his assistance to raise her to her feet.
“You wouldn’t still be cross with me, then?” she asked with an irresistible bat of her lashes. Spike had to laugh. It was as easy as ever to forget their quarrel. For her sake, he could even put up with a nuisance like Ford running about until she got tired of him. He twirled her in a circle, then draped his arm around her shoulders, and side by side they led the procession out of the bomb shelter.
His first sign that something was wrong was when she clutched his arm and stared ahead of her at something he couldn’t see. That in itself was ordinary enough when it came to Drusilla, but her grip was noticeably weaker than usual, and when she swayed deliriously and stumbled a bit, he didn’t think it was because she was distracted. “What is it, my sweet?” he asked, hugging her more tightly to himself.
She pointed with one alabaster hand to where she was gazing. Now that he was thinking of it, she did look whiter than she should be just minutes after drinking her fill of live blood, but she only said, “He’s finished counting and we’ve left the hiding place.”
All of a sudden, Spike could sense what she sensed - a familiar scent, a hurried footfall, a movement of the blood within him calling out to its ancestor. He rolled back his head in exasperation. So much for the element of surprise. And of course Dru would still insist on keeping Ford, even though he was truly useless now.
When Angel rushed around the corner, coat flapping behind him, he found himself facing every one of the vampires who had emerged from the bomb shelter, Spike and Drusilla at the forefront. He halted and sized them up, eyes wide and distressed, and Spike noted smugly that he was also looking past them, at the open door and the carnage that he could, doubtless, smell and interpret correctly.
“Come for a brawl?” Spike mocked him, knowing that a sensible bloke like Angel would never engage a group this size, no matter how noble he fancied himself.
Angel shook his head, evidently too horror-stricken to engage in even a verbal battle. “You’ll pay for this, Spike,” he finally managed, sounding slightly choked.
“Oh, tell it to your leash holder,” Spike grumbled. He looked at Drusilla, who seemed content to watch how this played out without contributing any words of her own. She really did seem fragile since they’d left the club. What was it? Spike tried to push down his concern and focus on Angel. “Right. Well, we’ve had a lovely evening and I don’t want to spoil it with a noise violation, so you’d better run along.”
It was almost worth the interruption, he thought, to be able to flaunt this bloodbath of theirs in front of Angel. The sick souled vampire had certainly spoiled things, insofar as he could run and tell Buffy not to go anywhere with Ford, but seeing the guilt and helplessness on his face was an unexpected pleasure. There was hope yet that they could eliminate him, eliminate everyone who stood in the way of curing Drusilla and ruling the streets of Sunnydale.
As they sauntered past him, Angel looked like he was about to try something, or at least say something, but then he seemed to think better of it. Drusilla blew him a kiss over her shoulder, and Spike flung back a quick smirk before leaving him in their wake. Every vampire that walked by had a derisive laugh or a rude gesture for him, but all followed Spike’s lead and left him unharmed.
Only when they were settled comfortably in the backseat of the DeSoto, Lucius at the wheel, did Spike ask his girl what was causing her fatigue. He spoke to her as gently as possible, but he had a suspicion that needed to be voiced. “Tell me the truth now, love. Did you sire someone tonight?”
She kept herself slouched against him, but answered in her sulkiest tone: “He needed his mate. How can one bird make a nest all on his own?”
Spike tried not to let her feel him sigh. At least she hadn’t lied about it. “That’s that, then. Already forgotten. We’ll get you another treat, put you back to health. How about a nice little puppy?”
Drusilla smiled, and they kissed in the darkness, enveloped in peace.