"Statistical Anomaly" by A Gentleman Of Leisure.
Disclaimer: See Part 1.
Part 15: "Our Town".
Fox Mulder was sure he had never in his whole life been as uncomfortable as he was at that moment. He was sitting in a sadly battered shopping trolley, with his wounded leg stuck out in front of him propped up on a pile of coats and jackets, being pushed through Sunnydale's storm drain tunnels back towards the expedition's starting point in Restfield Cemetery. Every time the wheels bumped over any unevenness in the concrete floor, a fierce stabbing pain went through the injury, and it was a hard job to hold back the occasional groan.
It had soon become obvious that he could never walk all the way back with a hole in his leg, even if Scully had been carrying some painkillers to give him (which unfortunately she wasn't), so when someone found the scorched old Wal-Mart trolley in a corner of one of the chambers they'd thrown the grenades into, everyone had simultaneously jumped to the same solution. It had been a lucky find all round, because up until that point they had been discussing taking turns to carry him piggy back style, and he had not been looking forward to that. He knew that it would probably have been even more painful than being trundled back like a week's shopping.
So now here he was, being wheeled along by the young Slayerettes, with Buffy Summers out in front, acting as 'point', and Xander Harris in 'tail end Charlie' position. Everyone else was taking it in turns to push. No one seemed to mind in the least, despite it's irritating habit of veering sideways without the slightest excuse, in the traditional manner of supermarket trolleys all round the world.
The girl they'd rescued, Cordelia Chase, was conducting a desultory quarrel with young Xander, now that she'd got over her narrow escape from the vampires, and her terrifying encounter with the rats. The argument seemed to consist mainly of her complaining, "Why does this sort of thing always seem to happen to me?" It was plain enough to him that there was some strange sort of, as yet undefined, relationship between the two of them, even though they didn't seem to realise it themselves yet.
Mentally he classified her as a vapid little cow, probably with a rich father, and likely enough she was a cheerleader, for whom being the most popular girl in school was the epitome of teenaged achievement. He guessed that she was the type of girl who might possibly end up as a minor soap actress on some local TV channel, if she was extremely lucky and got all the breaks.
Xander Harris, he decided, seemed to be the faithful class clown type, obviously much loved and trusted by the other Slayerettes. 'Not the brainy sort, though. A manual job somewhere in his future, I would guess', Mulder thought. "But with his luck he'll probably end up earning more money at it than all the rest of them put together!" That idea made him smile to himself, unnoticed in the dark.
And Buffy Summers and her tame vampire boyfriend - a girl whose life was dedicated to killing vampires at any opportunity, in an emotional relationship with one? Now there was as strange a situation as he had ever seen. It didn't occur to him that he was now accepting the concept of vampires without any question.
As for Angel, he was still a complete mystery. No one had said anything much about him at all, not even a mention of his surname. Certainly no one had revealed anything like enough information to let him come to any sort of conclusion. Sherlock Holmes himself would have had a hard time deducing anything about this individual!
And what about the sweet, shy redhead, Willow Rosenberg? For him, she was perhaps the most interesting. And puzzling. An enigma. He couldn't quite make her out. She seemed to have some of the characteristics of a possible genius - diffident, earnest, quiet, obviously very intelligent indeed, and yet innocently childlike as well.
She was the psychological type who might go far - perhaps even to working for the FBI one fine day, he thought, though most probably in some back-room, expert capacity - like, for instance, working on X-Files. However, exactly what her field might eventually turn out to be, it was far too early to say - he'd not had sufficient opportunity to study her properly in the short time he'd been here in Sunnydale, and certainly didn't have anything like enough data to work with. He reminded himself he'd somehow been rather busy, what with one thing and another.
And that just left the British librarian, Mr Rupert Giles, he of the black-flagged file. There was obviously a great deal more to him and his position among this merry band than met even the keenest eye.
'Well, one day, one day. Finding out will be an interesting challenge', he told himself.
Then the trolley hit another bump, and his mental analysis of the Slayer and her team was painfully interrupted.
"Left", said Buffy firmly.
"No, straight ahead", Giles said, and pointed at some graffiti on the wall of the tunnel. 'Vampires live for ever!' one read. Another said 'Vampires rule!' A third, much fainter, simply read 'Kilroy Was...' and trailed off.
"I'm almost certain we passed those on the way in, earlier this evening". He took off his glasses to polish them. "I particularly noticed the inaccuracy of the first one". He smiled to himself at his little joke.
Buffy looked at the others to back her up, but mostly they just stood there and shrugged. Even Angel shook his head.
"Can we please make up our minds?" Scully said sharply. "We really need to get Mulder to ER as soon as possible".
"OK Giles, but if you're wrong, I reserve the right to say 'I told you so', and possibly even 'Nyaa nyaa, nya nyaa nyaa!'", said Buffy, and set off down the centre tunnel as chosen by her Watcher. Some fifteen minutes later, a familiar looking metal ladder came into view round the bend, and everyone heaved a mutual sigh of relief.
It took several minutes for them to haul Mulder up it without causing him more than the minimum amount of extra pain - Angel pulling him, and Buffy, last one out, pushing.
Puffing and panting she scrambled out onto the grass and stood up.
"Woo! Agent Mouldy, would the word 'diet' be overly offensive?" she said. Then it registered that no one was paying her any attention - they were all looking at their surroundings.
"Where are we?" Scully asked.
"I don't think we're in Kansas any more", said Willow slowly.
She was quite right - they were standing in the middle of a flower bed in a small area of decorative gardens in the centre of the downtown shopping mall, and a surprised and nervous pair of Sunnydale police officers were illuminating them with the headlights of their patrol car, and pointing shiny shotguns at them.
"Nyaa nyaa, nya nyaa nyaa!" murmured Buffy to herself.
Almost exactly twenty-four hours later, again at about three in the morning, two cars quietly drew up outside 1630 Revello Drive. From one, a shabby old Citroen DS19, a middle aged man and a blonde teenager got out. From the other, a nondescript grey Ford sedan, a tall thin man and a trim red headed woman joined them, the man getting out of the passenger side of the car rather slowly and awkwardly, and walking with a pronounced limp.
"So this is where you live, Miss Summers?"
"Casa Buffy - where I lay me down for a couple or three hours a night, if I'm lucky. Between patrolling, and slaying, and training, and school, that's my life. But I'm OK with that... I guess".
"It's a tough job", Scully observed quietly.
"...But someone's got to do it".
"How's the leg, Agent Mulder? Not so painful now, I hope?" Giles asked politely.
"I insisted he rest up in the hospital for at least 24 hours", said Scully.
"It's OK. The crossbow bolt missed all the important bits, luckily for me", Mulder said with a wry smile.
"I don't suppose my ripping it out to stake the last vampire with helped all that much", Giles said. "Again, I'm really, really sorry about that. It just happened to be the first thing to hand".
Mulder pulled a face and said he thought he would live.
"He hates hospitals, so I let him discharge himself", Scully told them. "At least I was able to assure them he'd be attended by a qualified doctor for his entire journey back to Washington".
"Oh!" said Buffy.
Mulder leaned back and carefully perched himself on the hood of the Ford to take some of the weight off his injured leg. He stared at Giles intently until Giles was impelled to ask him why.
""Well, when I first encountered you, out on the airport road the other day", he said thoughtfully, "I had this strange idea we'd met before, or that I'd seen you somewhere. Unfortunately, I still haven't been able to place the occasion. For some reason I've a definite feeling it was in England, but I've no idea when".
"You said you were at University there", Giles reminded him.
"Yes, but quite a few years after you. I did spend a year in a British public boarding school as an exchange student in my early teens, though. That would have been at around the same time, wouldn't it?" He frowned. "Somehow I associate the memory with music of some sort. Mean anything?"
After a moment, a smile began to spread slowly across Giles' face. He leaned forward towards Mulder, and spoke for a moment in a very low voice that even Buffy's keen hearing could not quite make out. Except for just a couple of words - "Bass guitar".
Then Mulder laughed, and said, "Yes, that must be it! We went up to London one half term - the date's about right". He glanced over at Buffy and added, "Your young friends - they don't know?"
Giles shook his head, and deliberately avoided the Slayer's eye. She mentally pigeonholed the item for future investigation.
"There's one last thing I'd like to check with you before we leave", Scully said. "It's just one of a number of strange anomalies we spotted in the data about Sunnydale before Mulder set out to come here, and that's the question of how many graveyards there really are in this town".
"Oh, just a baker's dozen", said Giles, amused.
"So whoever typed the forty two cemeteries data into our database, that was simply a mistake? A typo?"
"A slip of the keypad I suppose. I believe it's known as 'finger trouble'. That's just one of the many reasons why I hate computers so much - you never know if they've got things wrong until it's much too late", Giles said. "I don't think I'll ever quite come to terms with them. Give me a good reliable card index to cross-reference any day of the week. At least a passing cosmic ray can't alter the information on them while you're not looking".
"Hey Giles - no fair", said Buffy. "I'm no science geek, you'll agree, but even I know that a computer can only work with what it's given. That would just have been human error. We did all about that in computer studies last semester, before the summer break".
"Well, I for one will continue to let Willow use the school library's Devil's Machine. For myself, I shall stick to the old fashioned kind of research - original ancient documents, dusty volumes, and mysterious scrolls. Each to their own, I say".
"Oh yes, talking of 'their own' - that reminds me", Buffy said, and sighed heavily. "You know I reckoned Snyder would find a way to get his own back on me? Right, well he has. This afternoon he appointed me in charge of the arrangements for the parents evening in a couple of days time".
"Oh, I can't wait to see that", Giles said, manfully ignoring her creative grammar. "I'm sure the responsibility will do you a world of good, Buffy. It will give you a very useful sense of perspective, I feel certain". He took off his glasses, checked them for smudges, found none, polished them anyway, and put them back on again.
"That's what you think!" Buffy retorted. "He said that he'd deliberately picked the two worst students in the school, that's me and Sheila - you know, the one that stabbed Mr Green, the horticulture tutor - and that if either one of us screws up she'll be expelled!"
"Oh, I don't think you need worry about that. I'm quite sure you'll do fine, if the last couple of days is anything to go by", said Scully with a smile.
"Really? Say, thanks!" Buffy said, genuinely surprised.
"So", said Giles, "I suppose you two are now off back to your Headquarters on the East Coast? I do hope you've enjoyed your visit to Sunnydale".
"Yeah. Wonderful Sunnydale, not twinned with Sunnybrook Farm. Not so much a tourist resort, more a last resort", Buffy quipped.
Then she added soberly, "I'm really sorry we weren't able to save your two friends".
"You all did your best", said Scully. "No, far more than your best. I've a nasty feeling that if we'd not had your help we might easily have ended up just like them".
"Yes, you definitely would have", said Buffy quietly. "No 'might' about it". She paused briefly, and then asked, "Did you get to collect your bag of dust?"
"Some for each of the widows, and some samples for our forensic labs", Scully replied. "Though I don't know quite what they'll be able to make of it".
Mulder had been listening in silence to this exchange. Now he looked up sharply, scanned their surroundings and said, "Someone's watching us".
"Up there", said Scully, nodding towards an upstairs window looking out over the street. "I'd already spotted her".
Mulder followed her glance and could clearly make out a small, freckled face with long hair in a centre parting, peeping out at them over the window-sill. For a moment his heart skipped a couple of beats, and the image of a different young girl overlaid what he could actually see. Scully discreetly put her hand on his.
Then he heard the Slayer saying wrathfully, "That's my little sister! The brat, what's she doing in my bedroom? I'm going to ring her neck when I get hold of her!"
"Nya-aah! You've got to catch me first!" a clear young voice came floating through the cool night air, and the face promptly vanished.
"Later", Buffy promised.
"Well, Washington's a long way", Scully said, "and I really don't feel like spending any more time here in Sunnydale than I have to".
"Agreed", said Mulder. "I think we'd best be leaving while we're still in one piece, and with no further battle damage, if you see what I mean".
"Can't blame you", Buffy replied. "It was never my choice of home town, anyway". She said this looking sideways at Giles.
"Neither was it mine", he said quietly, "as well you know, but needs must when there are devils driving, if you see what I mean".
"So... er... thank you both for all your help. And your Slayerettes of course. It's been... um... an interesting visit", Scully said. Then she and Mulder soberly shook hands with both the Slayer and her Watcher, and got back into their car.
Mulder put his head out of the window for a moment.
"And please remember, Miss Summers - we were never here", he said.
"OK, Agent Mulder, Agent Scully. I'll hold that thought", she assured them.
Giles, too, indicated his agreement, and the Watcher and his Slayer both stepped back from the car as Mulder rolled the window up again, and Scully started the engine.
"OK, Mulder? Comfy?"
He nodded, so Scully put the car into 'Drive', and they pulled smoothly away from the sidewalk. The last thing either of them saw, reflected in the rear view mirror as they turned the corner at the top end of Revello Drive, was Buffy cheerfully waving goodbye.
"I'm not used to all these late nights. However, I think we should be able to take things easy for a little while, don't you?"
"I wish! Whenever I think that, something unexpected always happens", Buffy said. "It's like it's a law of nature, or something".
"Murphy's Law", Giles told her, getting back into his shabby old Citroen. "And if the world ends before tomorrow, please don't wake me up - I have simply got to catch up on some sleep".
"Huh. It is tomorrow", said Buffy.
"Whatever", said Giles, yawning again. "Dammit, you see what you've done? I'm using American English myself now! Goodnight. Or good morning".
He started his car.
"D'you think we'll ever hear anything of them again?" Buffy asked.
Unable, like most people, to see into the future, Giles shook his head, casually dismissing the idea, and put the Citroen into gear with an awkward grating sound. Buffy said nothing as he, too, pulled away and drove off down the road, leaving her looking thoughtful, standing on the pathway leading up to the front door of her home.
"So, no aliens, at least not this time. Are you disappointed?" asked Scully as they turned the corner into Crestview.
Mulder considered the matter carefully.
"No, not at all, well not really - we got demons and vampires instead, didn't we?" he said after some thought. "They're nearly as good. And then there's this strange sort of inert conspiracy of concealment - by ignoring anything weird - that the whole town is involved in. Very interesting, psychologically, don't you think?"
"We'll find the truth one day", Scully said, "whatever it turns out to be".
"The truth?" Mulder echoed thoughtfully.
"It's out there, somewhere", Scully assured him. "You of all people should believe that - after all it's what you keep telling me".
"Thanks, Scully. I do sometimes wonder, though. Maybe all this chasing to-and-fro across the country is just a complete waste of time". He shook his head, and tried to settle himself more comfortably in his seat for the drive down Highway One to LA to report.
"I know you don't really believe that, Mulder. You're tired, and your leg hurts, that's all. Do you need another painkiller?"
But Mulder didn't reply to her question. Instead he slid the seat back as far as it would go, laid his head against the rest, and closed his eyes, leaving Scully to drive on in silence through the deserted, sleeping streets of Sunnydale.
In fact she secretly felt quite relieved they were about to leave the strange little seaside town. It had been a pretty bizarre few days, all told, and she reckoned they would be well out of it.
Then Mulder suddenly opened his eyes again and sat up. "That 'You Are Now Leaving Sunnydale' sign marks the city limits, doesn't it? Can you pull up a little way beyond it, please, Scully?"
Wondering why, Scully obliged, coming to a halt about forty or fifty yards past a small children's playground, and turned off the motor and the lights. Mulder rolled the window down again to let in the cool night air, and for a little while they just sat and listened to the absolute quiet.
"What is it, Mulder? Why have we stopped?" Scully said eventually. "You've been in a very funny mood ever since you arrived in Sunnydale".
"You're right, but I don't think it's just been me, Scully. For instance, didn't you notice that Buffy Summers took to calling us by a strange version of our names? The two of them mixed up?"
"Yes? So?" Scully said slowly.
"Well, I noticed you were doing the same to her - you kept calling her Fluffy".
Scully looked slightly taken aback.
"Lighten up, Mulder. It was just a joke".
"Hmm. That's not like you, Scully, not like you at all. Still, OK", Mulder said, shaking his head slightly. Then he continued, "I'm just wondering whether there might be something about this place that's been affecting our behaviour".
"Yes. We've neither of us been our usual selves at all the last couple of days. It's almost as if we've been guests visiting in somebody else's reality".
Scully looked at him in utter amazement for a moment; said, "What, you mean like the 'Twilight Zone'?" and actually burst out laughing. But then anything else she might have been about to say was lost as the hush was broken by the noisy approach of another car. It came careering into sight round the bend in the road and swept past them - a scruffy old classic 1958 Dodge DeSoto Fireflite, which smashed straight through the matching 'Welcome To Sunnydale' sign on the opposite side of the roadway, knocking it flat, and screeched to a halt just down the street.
The two agents looked back over their shoulders and watched silently as the driver, a medium height, bleached blond, Billy Idol look-alike, got out, calm as you please, strolled to the kerb, produced an old Zippo lighter from the pocket of his ankle-length, black leather coat, and lit up a cigarette.
Mulder quietly and discreetly rolled his window up again.
"Shouldn't we...?" asked Scully. Mulder shook his head.
"It's half past three in the morning, and as Buffy told us, this is Sunnydale, not Sunnybrook Farm, and we know the town is infested with vampires".
Scully got the point, restarted the car, and they pulled away as gently as they could. The driver of the DeSoto apparently never even noticed them go.
"Home, sweet home", said Spike, and blew himself a perfect smoke ring.
The government issue grey Ford sedan joined Highway One and headed southeast as fast as it legally could, and perhaps a little bit faster. For some time, neither of its occupants spoke.
Then, after a good half an hour, Scully said, "So once again, apart from some samples of dust, we have no physical evidence to back up our reports, Mulder".
"We've still got those unprocessed films..."
"True". The thought of the dissection of the demon head could now make Scully smile, at least slightly.
"Even so, how are we going to explain all this to Assistant Director Skinner?"
Mulder considered this.
"Oh, we'll think of something", he said eventually. "We just have to use our... er... initiative".
[Author's note: The first draft of this story was originally published on ATBSC in 2003. This version is a full rewrite, completed mid-July 2004.]