Rated t for teen
Disclaimer: All characters from BtVS belong to Joss Whedon and his writers - which do not include me.
Distribution: by permission, which is granted to PEJA, Mental Wanderings.
Notes: Set in s4 BtVS - and happy belated birthday Moira!
Graham Miller had always considered himself to be a practical guy, the sort who liked simple answers to life's issues and dramas. Need money, then get a job. That person you're dating driving you crazy, then stop dating them. Vermin infesting your house, then get an exterminator. Demons and vampires are real and want to eat you, then join a military organization trying to kill them.
Though there did seem to be an awful lot of 'bring it back alive so we can study it' and not enough 'this is how to kill the next one you meet' for his tastes. It wasn't that he wanted to argue with the chain of command, but he did wonder what was going on. Not that he'd said anything. One of his practical rules for life was that you couldn't get in trouble for asking unwelcome questions if you kept your mouth shut. Don't ask, and they won't descend on you like an angry tornado.
Except that this trouble was here, and he didn't know why. Somehow, there was a flag on his credit cards, not that there were that many of them. Things had been moved in his room, and while that could have been Forrest looking for something, he wasn't certain. Files kept disappearing from his computer, among them homework and Initiative reports. Most worrying, he kept feeling like he was being followed, being part of it was paranoia, possibly most of it. But now that he knew that there were dangerous things out there that might want to eat him, he wasn't going to just dismiss everything out of hand. And even if there wasn't anybody watching him, what was going on with his computer and his credit cards?
As much as he wanted to fix this himself, Graham had to admit that it was beyond his ability. Which meant that he'd have to look for help, because things like this didn't just stop if you ignored them. If it involved demons, 'just ignore it' could result in your half-devoured mangled corpse being found, and your pals being called in to identify your remains. He didn't want to become a half-eaten mangled corpse, or even an unmangled corpse. He'd rather remain alive and healthy, thank you very much.
"So, somebody to fix the computer," he murmured. "But not just anyone, can't let just anyone see what's on there…"
He didn't pay too much attention to the other students on the campus, though he was aware that they weren't part of the Initiative. That most of them would have no idea what was out there in the darkness. That they'd assume anything he didn't want people to see on his computer was either porn or bad fanfics. Then again, he wasn't certain he'd feel comfortable to admitting it if he wrote any fanfic, even if it was good, which he doubted. There were reasons why he wasn't pursuing a degree in English or Journalism.
As his mind wandered a little, he remembered something that Riley had mentioned. The cute, if a bit flaky, blonde that Riley was dating had turned out to be some sort of amateur vampire hunter. Rather than operating with a team of backup and radio communication, she'd had a couple friends help her. One of them had looked up 'icky but suspicious bodies' on the computer. And considering that Riley couldn't lie to save his life and he doubted that Buffy could keep secrets from her best pals… her vampire hunting pals probably knew that Riley was also hunting HST's. Which meant that if her friend could help him with his computer, she wouldn't have her view of the world shattered.
As he recalled, the pal with the computer skill was also a cute and perky redhead. And the redhead was also the one who'd threatened to beat Riley to death with a shovel if he broke Buffy's heart, so she wasn't a complete pushover. This might not be all bad. Grinning, he made his way to the University library, hoping to find a cute redhead. Now, what was her name again? Some sort of tree…
She was sitting by one of the library windows, curled in the chair with a thick book on her lap. The sunlight made her red hair show up, reminded him a bit of fire. It was just the brightest part of her. She was wearing a faded maroon shirt with the Sunnydale High logo in cracked gold letters, and a pair of dark jeans. Which could have been fine, except that she had dark circles under her eyes, as if she hadn't been sleeping well.
Hoping that he'd remembered the right name, Graham tried to look friendly, and called, "Willow? I wanted to ask you for a bit of a favor…"
She looked at him, one eyebrow rising a little. "You're one of Riley's friends. Graham Miller, right?"
"Yeah. Some of the things I've heard… you're supposed to be pretty good with computers, right? Could I talk you into taking a look at mine? It's been acting up on me," He had his hands shoved into his pockets. For a moment, he wished that he was as smooth as Forrest, who never had trouble talking to pretty girls.
For a moment, she looked at him, and Graham felt like he was being measured. Compared to something, some unknown set of standards.
With a half shrug, she murmured, "I guess I could. The distraction might be good for me."
Grabbing a faded green backpack, she slid the heavy volume inside, and gave him a little grin that didn't reach her eyes, "So tell me what your computer's been doing and what you've done so far…"
Graham explained about the unexpected delays and missing files as they walked towards Lowell House. How his knowledge of proper computer care and security were fairly limited. Not wanting to look like a complete idiot, he mentioned that he did have a firewall and antivirus program that one of his friends had recommended.
"Is this friend another one of the group that you and Riley are in? The one that plays paintball?" Her expression as she repeated Riley's lame excuse made it clear that she knew very well that they weren't playing paintball. That she knew there were more of them than just a couple guys. And that she didn't feel like talking about the real details as they walked through the campus.
"Yeah," Graham nodded. "He said it was a pretty decent set up, but… I'm taking his word for that. Something's still got to it, and I don't know what. I don't know if it's parts going bad, something in the programs… I just know that isn't right, and I'm not qualified to fix it."
"Well, it could be worse. Sometimes, when people don't know how to fix things but they don't want to admit it, they can make things worse. A lot worse," she paused, and seemed to droop a bit before whispering, "and not just with computers."
Graham nodded. He didn't need to take a psychology class to know how true that was. He'd seen ruined cars and appliances from that, seen people go from having had a fight to having ruined a relationship because they screwed things up instead of fixing them. And don't even let him get started about the nightmare-relationship disasters on the daytime talk shows. But if he had to make a guess, something bad had happened for her lately. He didn't know if it was a mechanical issue or a health concern or a relationship problem, but something was clearly bothering her.
He led her to his room, feeling his face grow warm at some of the looks and comments that a couple of the other guys were making. It was obvious that they had their own ideas about why he was taking a pretty girl to his room, and it had nothing to do with his computer. "Sorry about them. They're…"
"Not your fault," she was blushing, and gave him a sideways glance, "I'm probably not really your type anyhow."
Hell, that meant it was some sort of relationship problem that was depressing her. A corner of him wanted to run far away, shouting 'don't entangle me in your relationship mess!' but he kept silent. He was asking her to fix his computer, not have sex with him, and he didn't want to make whatever was going on worse. "Forrest has sex on the brain, and as for Dave… Dave's a pervert."
Willow shrugged, "Let's take a look at your computer."
She began by turning the computer on and running a few tests, making thoughtful hmmms at the results. She then shut his computer back down and started opening up the side of it.
"Umm?" Graham looked at her, wondering just what she was planning to do and what all she had in the depths of that backpack.
"There are two options. Either your memory chips are having issues and need replaced – which would be a problem as the files wouldn't transfer. It definitely isn't a normal virus. It almost…" She paused, and then gave him a worried look. "Have you been getting any private messages or attempted chats or emails from someone that you don't know?"
"There were a few messages from someone called Molly. But I don't know anyone named Molly… and she seemed… I'd call her a stalker except it was online," Graham shook his head. "Cyber-stalking?"
"Molly? I guess that would work better than Malcom," she sighed.
"So I'm being cyber-stalked by a guy? What does that have to do with my files? Is this Malcom some sort of hacker, or maybe he's sent me a virus?" Graham looked at her, trying to figure out why she was frowning so much.
"If only it were that simple. He's supposed to be dead, but…" she went pale, and whispered, "automated file back-up! Oh no…"
"And why is an automatic file back-up a bad thing?" Graham was wondering why she looked so upset. Whatever had been bothering her before seemed to be completely set aside due to whatever was so upsetting about automated file back-ups. Either she had some serious mood swings, or there was something very significant that he was missing.
She closed up his computer and stood up, shaking her head. "Not here. I think… well, you are the one being stalked, I suppose you should know. But not here."
Graham Miller found himself towed back out of his room, out of Lowell house, and right off the campus. In fact, she towed him a few blocks away and into a cemetery, settling on a stone bench near a large mausoleum with the name Talbot. She still had his hand clutched in hers, and was biting at her lip as she wrestled with her unhappy thoughts.
Several weird thoughts crossed his mind. He hadn't even known there was a cemetery this close to the college. Anyone who saw them would think they were visiting mourners. And why would she take him to a cemetery for a private discussion anyhow?
"Willow? Please explain," he didn't even know what questions to ask.
"It can be really dangerous to mix magic and technology. Especially when that magic involves curses and confinement," She shook her head, mumbling something he didn't entirely catch about old traditions, dusty books and someone being right.
"Magic?" He'd been briefed on vampires. They'd talked about demons, though they insisted on calling the Hostile Sub-Terrestrials, or HST's. Nobody had said anything about magic. Though it wasn't that much of a stretch considering what he'd already seen. If vampires were real, why not magic?
"It's real. I can give you a longer explanation about magic later, but that isn't the point now. It's real, and it can do a lot. Like trap a demon in a book. A book that later got scanned onto a computer and escaped into the internet," she sighed. "We thought that we'd killed him. See, he'd built himself this robot body, and…"
"This is going to be a crazy sounding story, isn't it? Can you give me the high points now and the details later?" Graham suspected that those details would give him a massive headache.
"Demon into book, book into computer and then the internet. While in the internet, he started sending me messages, pretending to be a boy named Malcom. He said he wanted to be my friend. Except he turned out to be that demon, and sort of a crazy stalker type. He had a robot body built, we found out, and Buffy fought him. The body was dismantled and we thought he was done for," She sighed. "But there must have been some sort of back-up. Does that make this one two point oh, or a derivative program, or did he just copy himself like a virus… and that's for later. How'd this one get fixated on you?"
Graham shrugged. "The first message from Molly was after… well, there was a fight by a warehouse. I think there might have been a security camera. I got a message from someone who identified themselves as Molly. Molly claimed to know someone who knew me, but then said she was too shy to name names or talk to me in person."
"But she'd heard good things about you. Wanted to get to know you better. Maybe suggested a bit of a crush," Willow shook her head, "Same methodology, different victim."
"So, my cyber-stalker is a demon? Or a back-up copy of a demon that got onto the internet." Graham scratched his head, "Did that sound as weird out loud?"
"Yeah. Twilight Zone weird. We'll need to do a system purge on your computer, and it might be good for the Initiative network. Call it the possibility of a new and dangerous computer virus that may have infected your computer, that's close enough," Willow shook her head. "Moloch the Corrupter to Molly the cyber-stalker to a computer virus."
"Sounds like a demotion to me," Graham smiled.
Willow giggled and nodded, "Lots of demons get very touchy about things like that. Reputations are big deals for them."
"So, this system purge. Can you do it?" Graham looked at her, noticing that her eyes seemed a bit greener, a bit less sad.
"Sure. I guess you'll have to talk to whoever you guys have keeping your secret base's computers running take care of it on their end, but… It's important. Knowledge is power, and if this one's even a little like the first version, no more power is needed. Even aside from the whole power corrupts thing. Blame the probably virus on a cyber-stalker, tell them you're getting yours taken care of, and suggest that the virus may have some sort of trojan back door program to let the maker into their files and database and they'll probably be all over a full system sweep and purge. Any sensible IT team would insist on it," her smile was gleeful, "Though I have to wonder how much access the system has. Will Molly know they're after him, or her, or… What is the right pronoun for a thinking bunch of data anyhow?"
"Good questions. Internet connections are limited to reduce the chances of picking up a virus, the IT squad's pretty serious, and I have no idea what pronoun you'd use for a former demon turned computer virus," Graham smiled.
"Okay then. I guess we go back to the campus, I need to pick up a few things from my dorm, we go back to your dorm so I can purge your computer, and meanwhile you call your secret IT squad and set them on the big system. It should work, especially if they can get to theirs immediately," she was still smiling.
As they walked back to the campus, he called Max in IT and told him about his cyber-stalker and his suspicion that she'd given him a computer virus. In between the teasing about his bad luck with women, and could he be sure that this stalker was actually a woman anyhow and that there were reasons for basic virus protections, he passed on to Max the suspicion that the virus may have gotten into 'the main system' and that the computer expert he'd asked to take a look at his suggested a full system purge for his computer and any that it had regular contact with, which meant their main system. No, he didn't know that the system had a virus, but did they really want to ignore that possibility?
All the comparisons to computer viruses and sexual diseases left him feeling horribly embarrassed and very glad that Willow couldn't hear Max. But a little embarrassment was a small price to pay for getting rid of a demon cyber-stalker, or a demon-virus on the system. And nobody else had to know the details.
Graham considered that this was Sunnydale, and glanced at his watch. It was still several hours before it would be sunset, but he had no idea how long it would take for Willow to do her stuff with the computer. "Maybe I could walk you home, when things are done."
"Maybe. If you still want to after…" she was blushing, but had a small smile. "That might be nice."
He almost didn't mind the speculative looks when he met her at the door to Lowell House after she'd got whatever she had gone after in her dorm. Willow had been interesting company, and it was such a relief to be able to mention some of the things that happened even if he couldn't talk about the Initiative details. This might be the start of a good friendship. Maybe more than just friends, once she'd dealt with whatever had been bothering her before.
The full system purge didn't take terribly long, though he wasn't certain what he'd expected. The tedious part would be making sure that all his operating programs were still intact. Graham was very glad that Willow offered to stay and help him sort through some of those programs, and any reinstallations that he needed.
By the time they'd finished, she was smiling. He'd even offered to meet her Thursday between classes for lunch and longer versions.
"That had to be one of the easiest demon defeats ever. Well, as long as your IT guy believed you," she whispered.
"Fear the power of the IT people," Graham countered. "They have vast powers beyond the understanding of mere mortals."
Willow giggled, "We are a bit awesome like that."
As he walked her back to her dorm, Graham decided that it was worth it. This had to be one of the strangest ways of finding someone else to help with his computer, or a new friend. And he liked seeing her smile.
Maybe there was a good side to being here in Sunnydale.
End Graham's Computer Woes.