Fandom/Genre: Community, fusion with Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Pairings: Ensemble, Jeff & Shirley friendship, Britta/Troy established relationship, Dean/Jeff unrequited
Word Count: 15,404 words
Warnings: : Like the Buffy-verse, it gets dark for the Greendale Seven. Unlike it, there is no major character death.
Beta: The awesome blithers ♥
Also at: AO3
Art link: Art Masterlist (click for full size - and leave some feedback! ♥)
Summary: Greendale has a new night school program – and questions abound. Why are actual classes offered? Why is Troy enrolled in a class he never signed up for? Why does Jeff Winger want to join the Study Group? Will the Dean ever run out of ways to try to get close to him? It’s up to Shirley and her friends to find the answers before it’s too late.
Author's Note: Another story in the Buffy/Community fusion universe of Shirley the Vampire Slayer. It’s not necessary to read that one, if you haven’t. As long as you know the character breakdown you’ll be okay: Shirley=Buffy, Annie=Willow, Abed=Giles/Watcher, Jeff=Spike, Troy=Xander, Britta=Anya, Pierce=Cordelia. Other non-Study Group Community characters mostly appear as themselves. :)
“Are you sure you want to try to watch Doomswhen again?” Abed was asking Troy as the Study Group walked down the hall from Study Room F.
“I’ve got to make it through somehow,” Troy answered. Shirley could hear his voice break a little as he continued, “Why does the Inspector have to change Constables anyway... at least tell me that Reggie gets a happy ending?”
“No. No spoilers. If you want to know, you have to watch...” He turned down a left-hand corridor toward the parking lot.
Britta put her hand on Troy’s shoulder. “Do you want me to come? We just covered the Companioning Model of Bereavement and I need practice.”
Troy frowned and shook his head, then shrugged and nodded. They both hurried to catch up to Abed.
Shirley shifted her books in her arms and turned to Annie. “So, any big plans for tonight?”
Pierce answered instead. “I’m going clubbing. See you losers later!” He pretended to see someone up ahead, and called out, “Megan! Need a ride?”
Shirley shook her head as they watched Pierce hop to catch up to his unseen friend. “I’m glad that man has a chauffeur...” She turned back to Annie. “Anyway, what about you?”
Annie looked after where the boys had gone with Britta. “No, not really. I’ve already seen that episode – don’t tell Troy – so I might study up on this spell I’ve been wanting to try.”
“Okay, good luck!”
Annie nodded cheerfully and peeled off toward the rare documents section.
Shirley double-checked her new class schedule for the room number, and kept going down the hall. As she walked, her happy demeanor slowly shifted into nervousness. Now that everyone had gone their separate ways, she had a niggling feeling that something was wrong, something was... off.
And she had learned not to ignore these feelings when they came. For a Slayer, it could mean the difference between life and death.
Greendale itself seemed normal as far as she could tell – that is, as normal as Greendale ever got. Shirley was almost certain that Greendale would be the weirdest community college on earth – even if it weren’t directly above the Hellmouth.
She checked the time on the hall clock. 6:55. She still had plenty of time to get to her class, claim a seat in the back, and stay alert for whatever was making her senses ping like a double-reinforced cookie sheet.
“Evening, Shirley,” a voice said from behind just as she reached the classroom door.
She froze, and turned toward the voice. ”Evening... Jeffrey.” Jeff Winger, the vampire pain in her ass. He seemed to be finding more and more reasons to run into her lately. What was he doing here, out in the open, in the middle of the hallway?
He smiled, teeth glinting preternaturally white in the fluorescent lighting. “Looks like we’re classmates.” He fluttered his own class schedule at her.
“We’re...?” She glanced through the windows to the outside. Completely dark, as it should be at almost 7pm. In a quiet voice, she asked, “They let vampires take classes now?”
“Of course.” He nodded at one of the posters tacked to the wall outside the classroom. “‘You’re Already Accepted,’ right?”
“So that must be the natural progression. Traditional students... then students who will transfer to bigger schools later... then dropouts... then retirees... then drug addicts... then bums off the street... then vampires, I suppose,” she said, mock-thoughtfully. “What’s next? Werewolves? Ghosts? Zombies? Slime Monsters? That’s really scraping the bottom of the barrel. Oh, wait... that already happened when they let you in,” she tossed off as she made her way into the room and to the back row.
“I promise I will make this class more interesting,” Jeff said, adding an air kiss. He took a seat in front and one row over from hers.
When Shirley was registering for classes this term, she’d been annoyed that the only time one of the classes she needed to graduate was offered was at night. It cut into both family time and Slayer time. In fact, a whole slew of new classes, actual classes, had been added to Greendale’s night school program – to help shore up the budget, she had assumed.
Glancing at Jeff again, she shook her head and mentally kicked herself. How could she forget what the Dean’s interest in revamping the evening classes would mean? She wondered how many other vampires were sitting in the room right now – or sitting in any of the other night classes.
Professor Whitman breezed through the doors at exactly 7:00. “Good evening, ladies, gentlemen.”
“Monsters,” Shirley whispered, knowing Jeff would pick it up with his vampire hearing.
He smirked back at her.
“Welcome to Business Law,” Whitman said, gesturing grandly.
Shirley wondered what this class would be like – she remembered the last class she’d taken with Whitman. But it was a requirement for her business major, and she needed the credits. If Whitman spent the whole term sending them on nature walks or leading them in meditation, she planned to learn the subject anyway. She had been carrying around the textbook in her handbag, reading it in snippets when on graveyard duty, just in case.
What use could Jeff possibly have for the class? She glanced over at him again. He was texting someone on his cell phone. She rolled her eyes.
Whatever the reason was, he was here. Ever since the night the Twilighters struck Greendale a few months ago, hardly a week had gone by when he hadn’t shown up. He would be in the graveyard, ‘just passing through,’ or ‘having a coffee’ with a different girl at the diner she liked to grab a bite from before heading home, or passing on tips about where vampire mischief might be going down, 'you know, just to be friendly.’
She had no idea why a vampire would be trying to score brownie points with the Slayer – unless it was to save his own skin.
As class went on, the odd sense that something was off faded slightly, and she settled in for an hour and a half of trading life stories and snapping their fingers whenever someone shared an inspirational comment. Finally, fifteen minutes before the end of class, Whitman announced, “It’s time to pair up for your first assignment!”
Except Jeff, who turned in his seat to whisper, “I wonder if we get to choose our own partners?”
“Yeah, I wonder...” she said, eyes flashing around the room to see if she recognized anyone from her other business classes. She tapped her chin. “Who will I choose?” she asked the air breezily.
He laughed, but not confidently. Let him squirm.
“We shall choose our partners randomly,” Whitman announced. “How better to get to know your classmates!” Whitman began walking around the classroom, passing out small slips of paper. ”Write your name down, and place it in the fishbowl, or as I like to call it, the luck-bowl!”
Shirley gave Jeff a look. His smile was suddenly a lot more confident.
At the end of class, Shirley left the classroom as quickly as possible and headed toward the parking lot. She whirled at Jeff’s touch on her shoulder, her trusty stake, Alpha, spinning into her hand without conscious thought. ”What?”
Jeff took a step back, raising his hands in surrender. “Whoa, Slayer.”
She lowered the stake. “Sorry. Force of habit.”
He kept his eyes on the stake until she put it safely away. “You left before we could work out our schedules.” He raised one eyebrow in mock-reproach. “Now that we’re partners...”
Shirley harrumphed. He had obviously rigged the drawing, using vampire speed. She should never have let him choose first. Now she was going to have to spend more of her precious evening hours working on a project – with a vampire. She could almost feel all her Slayer predecessors rolling in their graves.
He continued, nonplussed. “...I think we should...”
And it was already starting. “Can it wait? I have a family to get home to.”
“Give me a chance to make my proposal.”
“Proposal? I am a married woman, Jeffrey.”
“And you never let me forget it,” he said smoothly. He did his best to project a harmless expression, but Shirley knew well what a lady-killer he was. Literally. “We should take advantage of all that time you have blocked out in the study room.”
“Not now. If I don’t get home before nine, I’ll miss reading the boys their bedtime story. Call me later.” Shirley simply turned and continued on her way. She was not surprised to hear the click of his Italian-leather shoes as he followed after her. Now he was crossing out of pain in the ass territory to... well, she couldn’t very well dust him out here in front of God and everyone. Not without more cause than being an annoying son of a b–
“Whoa, there! You almost knocked me over, Ms. Bennett!” The Dean reared back as she almost plowed into him.
“Pardon me,” she said, sidestepping him.
It gave Jeff ample time to get right in front of her. “C’mon, Shirley. It won’t take long.”
The Dean appeared in Shirley’s way again. ”What’s this? Is there some sort of student conflict I could help settle?”
“No,” Shirley and Jeff said at the same time. Shirley gave him an odd look. Jeff added, “Just a disagreement between friends, Craig.” Dean Pelton preened at the use of his given name. Shirley’s look turned even odder. Did they know each other?
“If we’re going to work on this project together,” she said sweetly, but letting a dangerous edge seep through, “you’re going to have to respect my boundaries. Family time is sacred.” She fingered the stake in her purse idly, to keep from blowing up.
“Fine,” Jeff answered. “When’s your next Study Group meeting? If it’s late enough, I could sit in...”
The odd anxious feeling came back full force. She narrowed her eyes. “Why...?”
He failed to look innocent. “No reason.”
“Uh uh, forget it. No v–” She suddenly remembered the Dean was standing right there. “None of your kind gets near my Study Group.”
The Dean’s face lit up in surprise. ”None of...?” Oh, Shirley...” He shook his head in disappointment. “I thought you all were more inclusive than that. Don’t forget our school’s motto!”
“The school may accept everyone, but my group has standards,” she said dismissively, backing away from them. Better that the Dean was kept in the dark about the presence of vampires on his campus. She could just imagine the panic that might ensue.
The Dean let out a tiny affronted gasp. “Reject Jeffrey? How could anyone reject this marble perfection?” He placed a hand gingerly on Jeff’s arm, giving it a tiny squeeze. “Don’t worry, I’ll find you a...”
But Jeff slipped out of the Dean’s grasp, getting in front of her again. She was tired of these games. She pulled Alpha out again where Jeff (but no one else) could clearly see the stake, and let him take it in. She tapped it a couple of times in her palm.
“Aw, come on, no need for that, is there?”
“Are you gonna let me go home?”
“What is with you?” he asked. “Usually it’s all witty repartee with a side of ‘go to hell,’ and suddenly ‘go to hell’ is the main course.”
“And yet you don’t.”
“Seriously? Is that a setting you have?”
He waited patiently long enough that she gave in.
“Okay, for starters, the fact that you’re so insistent about talking right this minute is making my...” She looked around at the faces of the passing students, and at Dean Pelton, who was pretending not to eavesdrop as he adjusted a bulletin board. She tapped a finger to her temple. “...intuition go crazy.” The Dean inched his way closer. She sighed. She might as well give in – she could handle one pretty-boy vampire. “Fine. Come with me.”
She grabbed him by the arm and started pulling him toward the study room.
“That’s better. I knew you could work things out!” Dean Pelton called after them.
After they turned the corner, just short of the study room, she let go of him with a shake of her wrist. “What are you up to?”
He lifted his hands in surrender. “Nothing!”
“Okay. I’ll tell you my dastardly plan...” He took a step closer, looming over her. She met his gaze, unflinching. “I want to get enough credits to actually finish that degree I started back before...” He let his incisors pop out for an instant, and then retracted them. “And what better person to help me navigate the twisted hallways of Greendale than the Slayer herself?” He waggled his eyebrows.
She smacked him on the arm. ”Enough of this, Jeffrey! Tell me the truth!”
“Hey, that is the truth, Shirley. I may be a master at spreading the bull, but I’m not lying.”
There was a lot more to it than that. The odd feeling in her bones wasn’t going away. ”So you put the Dean up to offering actual classes in the evening. What did you do to him?”
“Believe it or not, I didn’t have anything to do with the night school program. But I am taking advantage of it.” He smiled.
“Convenient. You and how many vamps, Jeff?”
He shrugged. “There might be a few. I don’t really keep up with the local population, you know.”
She kept her eyes on his, looking for signs that he was lying, but it was useless. Vampires rose from the grave liars, and she suspected Jeff had been a master long before he turned. The only way she could find out his real plan would be to keep an eye on him. Pretending to relax, she put away her stake. “Fine. First this project, then we’ll see about more. And no vampire funny-business,” she warned.
He lifted a hand to his non-functional heart. “Undead’s honor.”
She poked a finger into his chest. “I’m holding you to whatever slight amount of honor that is.” With a sigh, she turned and walked through the opening to the study room.
“I wouldn’t expect anything else, Sl–” His words cut off with an oomph.
Shirley set her bag on the table and turned toward him. He stood in the doorway, just on the other side of the threshold, perplexed. He lifted a hand to push at the air in front of him, and then took an unwilling step back.
“You can’t come in?” This was as much a surprise to Shirley as it seemed to be to Jeff.
“No,” he said with a frown. “I thought when we became project partners this would stop...”
She blinked a couple of times. “You mean... you’ve always been blocked?”
He frowned at the invisible barrier, then nodded.
Shirley felt a slow smile creep over her face. Sometimes the universe threw her a bone. “Imagine that.” She pulled her phone out of her purse and opened the calendar app. “How about tomorrow at six in the cafeteria?”
He gestured at the doorway in disbelief. “You’re not going to invite me in?”
“You want into my group? Consider this a trial run.” She hoped by the end of term he would either prove himself trustworthy... or dust-worthy.
“Britta, if you keep peeking out of the blinds, someone is going to notice,” Annie chided in a whisper. She blasted through another password-protected file on the computer. She was entering each member of the study group into a different night class. The group had talked, and they all agreed that there was something fishy going on with the new night school program. They could keep a sharper eye (‘and stake’ Shirley had been quick to point out) on things if they were all enrolled.
“If you would just set up a ward...”
Annie gave Britta an annoyed look. “I’ve already used more magical energy than I wanted to blocking the security cameras. We don’t know who or what is behind this, so better safe than sorry.”
Troy nodded in agreement, penlight in his teeth, then bent back down to fiddle with the safe in the corner of Dean Pelton’s office. It was a basic combination lock, so he should be able to crack it pretty easily. His magically-provided handyman powers were... well, they came in handy a lot. Not removing the light from his mouth, he said, “It’s a good thing the doors were just simple locks then.”
He heard Britta huff in frustration. ”Great. Stuck with guard duty, but not allowed to do my job.” She went back to riffling through files in the cabinet.
“You’re doing great, babe,” Troy encouraged, then smiled when the lock gave a satisfying click. ”I got it.” He opened the door and pulled out several photographs and documents. He laid them on the desk.
“Let’s see,” Annie said, and the crew gathered around.
Troy spread his findings across the surface. ”We got... pictures of people in Dalmatian outfits, with and without the Dean in them...”
“Nothing we didn’t know,” Britta said.
“Nothing everyone doesn’t know,” Troy added.
“What’s this?” Annie asked, picking up one of the photos. “That’s weird.” They focused on the photo. In it, Dean Pelton was standing in the hallway, green holiday elf hat on his head. His arm was arched at a strange angle, and he wore an adoring smile on his face as he looked upward and to his right.
“It’s like he has...” Troy began.
“...his arm around someone,” Britta finished. “But there’s no one there.”
“Totally,” Annie agreed, then turned the photograph over. “Only there is someone there...” In festive red and green ink, the Dean had written: Me and Jeffrey, Christmas 2011.
“Ahhh...” they said in unison, as understanding dawned.
Britta folded her arms. “So he definitely knows Jeff Winger is a vampire.”
“Was that a...” Troy scrunched up his face. ”...secret?”
“I don’t think it’s commonly known. People are pretty good at ignoring things they don’t want to believe. But it might explain why vampires are suddenly openly walking the halls and taking classes.” Annie put the photo back down and sifted through the other photos and documents.
Troy couldn’t see anything really worth keeping in a locked safe in the pile. It wasn’t like he was protecting collector’s edition Inspector Spacetime action figures. “I have got to get me a safe.”
Britta and Annie helped clean up the desk and Troy put everything away. “Well, that was mostly a bust,” Annie said, disappointed. “And we’d better get out of here soon. Are you done with the files?” she asked Britta.
Britta looked over at the piles she had made all over the floor. “Um?”
“I’ll help you put them away,” Troy offered, kissing her on the cheek.
“I only need to get you registered, Troy, and then I’ll be done.” Annie’s fingers flew across the keys.
A few moments later, Annie made a sound of frustration. Troy looked up from re-alphabetizing the files and handing them to Britta to replace. ”What?”
“Nothing. I must have typed something wrong.”
Troy shrugged and kept working.
Annie made the sound again.
“Annie...” Britta said. ”Tell us.”
“It’s just...” She readjusted her hair band unnecessarily and frowned at the screen. “It won’t let me register you, Troy.”
“Huh?” He came to look over her shoulder.
“Yeah. I’ve tried five different classes, and I get an error every time.”
She punched Troy’s name into a class list as he watched. A window popped up. Error: Student ID conflict, it read.
“It didn’t do that with anyone else.”
“Conflict with what?” Britta asked, coming around to the other side.
“Schedule? I guess?” Annie said. “None of the override codes are working.”
“Can’t you just...” Britta wiggled her fingers in the air around the screen.
Annie gave her another annoyed look. “Is that your answer for everything? Besides, why use magic when hacking works just fine?”
“I’m not taking any night classes,” Troy said, still focused on the screen. “What does my schedule say?”
Annie clicked over to Troy’s class schedule. Everything looked normal, his classes as they should be. “Huh.”
“Let’s get out of here. The office is going to open in a couple of hours.” Annie typed a couple more codes into one of the windows and then logged off. ”Maybe there’s another way to get you signed up.”
“I didn’t sign up for this.”
Jeff shifted his shoulders awkwardly, face screwed up in distaste.
Shirley looked like she was thoroughly enjoying it. “You said you wanted in the group, right?”
Britta stepped right up to him, unafraid. “This is where you show you deserve to be part of the team. You claim you don’t have any secret vampire agenda, so prove it.”
Annie, Troy and Pierce took a step forward, too. Annie lightly fondled the pendant around her neck as she added, “Everyone has a job on this team.”
Abed stayed back. Maybe he wasn’t as confident about the anti-glamour charms Annie had made for all of them as she was? Troy tugged at the magical cross around his neck and took a step back to stay even with Abed again. “Even though our group has always functioned fine before now, we have been missing an anti-hero archetype,” Abed told Jeff calmly.
“Missing? What have I been then?” Pierce complained.
“Comic relief,” everyone, including Jeff, answered.
Pierce thought for a minute, then shrugged.
Jeff looked over at the Dean’s office. Hours had been extended to accommodate the much larger number of night school students. “Still... Where’s your vaunted moral high ground, Slayer?”
“You’d be surprised how much wiggle room there is up there.” She pointed toward the Dean’s office. “Now do it.”
“All right,” he said, and lifted a finger to run gently across her jaw line. ”I’ll do it. But for you, sweetness.” He winked and moved out of reach before she could smack him.
Jeff swaggered into the office, Troy following, though not too closely. Shirley and the others stood out of sight, but hopefully not out of hearing distance.
“Heyyyy, is the Dean in?” Jeff asked Natalie, the Dean’s secretary, laying the charm on thick. “I know I don’t have an appointment, but...”
The door to the Dean’s office slammed open. “Jeffrey!” he said, nearly tripping over the trash can beside Natalie’s desk to reach the courtesy counter. “What can I dean you for?”
“It’s for my friend, here, Troy.” Jeff put an arm around Troy’s shoulders, and Troy willed himself to remain calm.
The Dean took in the arm with a look of pure jealousy and folded his hands neatly in front of him. “I see. And what does your new... friend... need?”
“He wants to register for a night class. He knows it’s past the deadline, but it was all a biiiiig misunderstanding.”
“Oh, past the deadline? I’m not sure...”
“But Craig,” Jeff said, “isn’t there anything you can do... as a friend?”
The Dean’s skin flushed, right up to the top of his gleaming bald head. “As a friend? Well...” He gave Troy an uncomfortable glance, and then moved over to the computer terminal at the edge of the counter. ”I might be able to find a spot for him somewhere...” He typed for a moment. “What class would you like to register for, Troy?”
“American History II,” Troy answered. He’d been avoiding his history requirements, and since they were actually offering regular classes at night, he might as well bite the bullet and take one. He was sure Abed could find enough good movie adaptations to
“Alrighty, then... friend...” He glanced at Jeff, and then Troy, “...friendsss... let’s get you... oh, sorry. I’m getting an error.”
“What kind of error?” Jeff asked, as if he’d not heard the story from Annie just fifteen minutes ago.
“Student ID conflict. That’s odd.”
“What’s odd, Craig?” It was sort of amazing how sincere Jeff could sound when he wanted to.
“Are you sure you’re not signed up for any night classes, Mr. Barnes?”
Troy shook his head.
“Hmm. Now let me just pull up your schedule...” He clicked a few times and then turned the screen toward Jeff and Troy. “See – you are signed up for a night class.” He tapped the screen.
At the bottom of the list of classes he had been attending was a different category, one that hadn’t appeared on his schedule during the break-in last night: Basic Refrigeration Principles.
Troy’s face slackened in confusion.
The Dean went on. “It seems you’ve missed the first few classes but I’m sure we can waive those absences if you have a good reason,” the Dean prompted, patting Jeff’s hand instead of Troy’s.
“He has a fantastic reason,” Jeff assured Dean Pelton, pulling his hand away gently.
“Yeah, the best reason,” Troy answered, brow furrowing, “I didn’t sign up for that class.”
“Are you sure?” the Dean asked, tilting his head. ”Maybe it just slipped your mind?”
“The same way all of the letters from the Air Conditioning Annex have slipped into the trash?” Troy was tired of the constant barrage of mail, and stopped reading them after the third week of daily letters. “No, I’m positive I never registered for that class.”
Jeff leaned in close, locking eyes with the Dean. “So how did he get registered then, Craig? By mistake?” The pitch of his voice lowered hypnotically. “Or by design?”
“Oh, Jeffrey, I don’t know what you mean...”
Jeff reached out a hand to stroke the Dean’s and got a little closer. ”Sure you do, Craig.”
“Okay, okay,” Dean Pelton said, his voice dreamy, “Vice Dean Laybourne made me enter Troy’s name into that class.”
“Why?” Troy asked angrily, but the Dean never took his eyes away from Jeff’s.
“Why?” Jeff repeated.
“Because he, you might say, has me caught between a rock and a hard place. He wants Troy, and he’ll do anything to catch him.”
“That...” Troy fumed for a moment, trying to think of an appropriate insult. “...cold-blooded bastard.”
Jeff stepped back, removing his hand from the Dean’s, who looked absolutely bereft. “Thank you, Craig. You’ve really helped us out.”
“As a friend?”
Jeff smiled. “As a friend.” He turned and walked out of the office.
Troy chased after him, catching him as he joined the group. “You had him eating out of the palm of your hand! Why didn’t you get him to remove me from that class?”
He spread his palms. “Why? Don’t you want to get to the bottom of it?”
“Jeff’s right,” Shirley said, looking surprised that Jeff was right. ”We have to find out why you were registered in that class against your will.”
“And if you make Vice Dean Laybourne think you changed your mind and you want to be there, maybe you can find out what he’s up to,” Annie said.
“I guess...” Troy wasn’t convinced.
Britta laid a hand on his shoulder. ”Plus, haven’t you ever wondered if you really would be good at Air Conditioning Repair... the way I rock at Psychology?”
Everyone let that dubious truth slide. ”I guess...” Troy could only repeat.
“You could be like Batman, taking down Mr. Freeze,” Abed said.
Troy brightened immediately. ”Now that sounds like fun. But like the animated series, not like the movie.”
“Which shall not be named,” they intoned in unison.
“Now I wanna take that class,” Pierce grumbled.
“So?” Jeff asked the group. “Did I pass?”
“You passed...” Shirley said, “... the first test.”
Jeff’s triumphant look faded immediately. ”Only the first?”
“Your talents are duly noted. Quite impressive,” Abed said.
“But it’s going to take more than one case of glamouring for a good cause to show us you can be trusted.” Shirley’s face was impassive.
“Glamouring? Please. This,” He framed his face with his hands before sauntering away, “don’t need no glamour to get what I want.”
Note: This fic was written in April 2012, before the end of the Air Conditioning Annex arc at the end of season 3. Any discrepancies are due to this! :)
Troy stared at the building for several long minutes, gathering his courage..
“Remember, you’re just there to gather information.” Shirley had said.
“Like a spy,” Abed said.
“I thought I was Batman,” Troy said, confused.
“You are. Batman was one of the best spies. Think about Bruce Wayne. Affable billionaire playboy on the outside...”
“Why am I not playing this part again?” Pierce asked.
“...World’s Greatest Detective on the inside,” Troy had finished.
He’d felt a lot more courage then than he did now.
Britta’s words came to him again, “Haven’t you ever wondered if you would really be good at it?” He could do this.
He closed his eyes and imagined a Bruce Wayne-style suit coming over the top of his hoodie and jeans. His shoulders straightened, a cocky smile replaced the nervous expression on his face, and he affected a swagger as he approached the building. When he was close enough, he saw a man in a workman’s uniform standing at attention just inside the door. Like a... guard?
Troy reached for the door handle, giving the man his best Wayne smile. The door stayed shut. Troy gestured to the handle. “Could you...?”
The guard, unaffected by Troy’s manner, pointed at a card reader mounted on the wall beside Troy. “Gotta use your student ID.”
“Oh, okay, yeah, thanks, man.” He pulled the ID card out of his wallet and ran it through the card reader. The red light turned green, and with a click, the door was unlocked. After Troy went through, the door clicked shut behind him. Troy fought to remain calm, his eyes only widening slightly. ”Uh, hey... where is room 5?”
The ‘guard’ pointed down a hallway to the left. Troy smiled his thanks and headed off down the hallway, smiling at every person he passed. He was going to wear out his smiling muscles before class was over. To conserve, he let it fade to a warm grin.
As he did, he began to notice things other than how uncomfortable it was to pretend to be someone else in a possibly-actually-dangerous situation. Almost everyone he passed was in one of two types of clothing: a workmen’s uniform, or a button-down shirt and tie, even the ladies. His casual ensemble was more out of place than his false swagger. He dropped it as fast as Abed made pop-culture references, and hurriedly jogged to his classroom.
He cautiously peeked his head into Room 5. Blindingly white, walls free of decoration except the latest multi-touch LCD smartboard at the front, neat rows of desks, all occupied with a varied collection of crisply-dressed students, save one empty desk, dead center of the room. The professor, Mr. Jackson, was gathering his notes at the front, his navy-colored repair uniform pressed like dress blues. Troy had no more time to process it all before every head turned in his direction.
He lifted a hand. “Hi?”
“Mister Barnes, I presume.” The professor’s voice was deep and soothing, uncannily similar to Vice Dean Laybourne’s.
“That’s me.” He stepped fully into the room. “Am I late?”
“Not at all, you are perfectly on time. We simply expect a higher standard than the rest of Greendale.” He gestured toward the empty seat. “Please.”
Troy made his extremely awkward way to his seat. He tried to smile at the people in the desks to either side. If they looked at all, most dismissed him with a glance, and turned their attention forward. Tough room.
“If you would turn to Chapter 2 in the textbook... you have done the reading, so we’ll skip to a demonstration of the BTU formula.”
Troy had done no reading at all, as he’d only bought the book a few hours ago. He pulled it from his bag – it had just fit in with his napping pillow – and tried to turn to the correct page. He glanced at the books of the people around him but he couldn’t seem to match it...
“You’ll find it on page 56, Mr. Barnes,” the professor said in a condescending voice.
Troy thought he heard a chuckle, but he ignored it. He gave the professor a cheery thumbs-up. “Thanks, man.”
Professor Jackson tapped at his pristine white laptop, and the smart board at the front of the room suddenly displayed three models of air conditioner, each with a column of facts and figures below. ”Now please calculate: which unit would be suitable for a 2400 square foot home, with a standard-size kitchen and four occupants?”
The students around him started scribbling furiously. Troy peered at the words in the textbook. It was just a bunch of words like ‘emissivity,’ ‘thermal conductivity’ and ‘heat gain,’ with numbers and charts. It made no sense at all, and Troy had never been good with math anyway. So he looked up at the smartboard, studied it for a second and said aloud, “It’s the second one.”
The scribbling all around him stopped. He thought he heard a tiny affronted gasp that he had dared speak out of turn.
“That’s correct, Mr. Barnes.” Professor Jackson said, the condescension absent from his voice. “Could you share with the class how you arrived at that answer?”
“Go ahead,” he encouraged, “did you use the square feet method, Manual J or Manual J plus psychrometric, comfort and duct sizing charts?”
“I...” He shrugged uncomfortably. ”I just... knew.”
Jackson frowned. ”You just knew.” He folded his arms in consternation. “A lucky guess?”
“No. It’s the second, I’m sure of it. Just like the first one would be best for a facility of 10,000 square feet, and the third for a one to two room apartment, like the one I live in.” His eyes widened as he talked – he couldn’t believe what was coming out of his mouth any more than the professor could. It felt different than when he was using his magical handyman powers. This knowledge was just... there. “Though I’m positive the building where I live needs an upgrade, because there’s no way our north-facing TV room should be that warm.”
A murmur started up, and Troy could actually feel the stares of others burning into the back of his head. Jackson unfolded his arms and leaned back against his desk. ”I see that Vice Dean Laybourne was not overestimating your natural talent, son.”
Whispers of ‘Laybourne’ swept the room. Suddenly all of those disinterested and dismissive stares changed – some looked jealous, others impressed.
Troy just nodded in acknowledgement. It was so strange to be lauded for something other than athletics, but he knew how to take a compliment.
“No coasting, though. I expect you to catch up with the reading by the next class.” He raised an eyebrow to punctuate his point.
“Yes, sir.” After almost three years of barely passing every class he took, he might be getting his first ever ‘A.’ Wouldn’t Annie be proud?
When Troy left an hour later, his swagger wasn’t faked at all.
“Status update: Week 2,” Annie announced. “Who wants to go first?” No one immediately responded, so Annie shrugged, and went on. “I tried a couple of simple spells in my Public Health class, and either there are no vampires in the class, or... they didn’t work.”
Shirley patted her shoulder gently. “Aww, sweetie, I’m sure they were perfect.”
Annie’s smile was small. She didn’t like to fail, even though she was great at anything she tried. “Anyway, I haven’t found anything worrisome... yet.” Then her face brightened. “But can I say? I love this new night school curriculum. Greendale is offering classes I’ve needed for a couple years and never been able to work into my schedule before!” She visibly reined herself in. “Sorry. Next?”
Shirley’s phone buzzed on the table. Jeff. She looked at it briefly. ‘I <3 night school 2. Making so many new friends.’ She ignored it. “Pierce?” Shirley asked, deliberately turning to her left. ”What have you heard through the grapevine?”
“Well,” Pierce said, leaning forward. “Amanda has gone missing, and Emily is very worried. She suspects there might be foul play.”
Everyone leaned forward. “Vampires?” Shirley asked.
Pierce straightened up with a laugh. “Oh, no! Not in the Hamptons!”
“Pierce,” Abed said, “report on what the cheerleaders are talking about – not on your Revenge marathon.”
“That is what the cheerleaders are talking about!” At the slew of annoyed stares, he defended, “Hey, I have to keep up with what the girls like to stay ‘hip.’“
“So no vampire sightings, no supernatural skuttlebutt.”
Pierce shrugged amiably. “Oh, hell no. It’s been quieter than usual, if you ask me.”
“Agreed,” Abed said. “The most exciting thing happening in my literature class is the professor’s complete refusal to accept the conspiracy plots in A Pilgrim’s Progress.” A beat. “No imagination at all.”
“My professor is a total killjoy, too,” Britta said.
“Aren’t you taking that therapy class?” Annie asked.
“Yes – ‘Cognitive Behavior Theory: Become Your Own Therapist!’ It sounds fun, right? But instead it’s dry as dust theory, and none of the fun stuff, like analysis and application,” she grumbled. “I sort of wish there were a vampire in class. I know what I’d apply in that situation...”
“I know what you mean.” Shirley sighed. ”It’s about the same in Business Law. I never thought I’d be unhappy to say this, but even Whitman’s unpredictability is completely predictable.”
The phone buzzed on the table again. She picked it up to read, ‘Except the hottie in the third row.’ Is this what he meant by new friends?
“Ugh, Jeffrey.” Turning her head, she looked out the study room window to where Jeff sat on a bench, phone in hand. He’d tried to convince her to let him in the room tonight, but she refused. With his enhanced hearing, he didn’t need to actually be in the room to participate. He was apparently getting back at her via annoying text message. “Do you have anything useful to add to this conversation?”
He smirked and shook his head.
“So yeah, a big fat zero for us, too. I have a lot more time to read the textbook than I expected.” Shirley nodded over at Troy, who had been silent most of the session, nose buried in his Air Conditioning Fundamentals text. “Looks like I’m not alone.”
He didn’t respond.
Still no response.
“Troy.” Abed tried. He frowned when he got no response as well.
Britta touched Abed’s arm gently. “I got this.” Leaning as close as she could, she whispered in a sultry voice, “Chocolate caaaaake.”
His head popped right up. ”What?”
Britta leaned back with a smug expression.
“Troy, are you okay?” Shirley asked. ”You’ve been so distracted lately.”
“Yeah, I’ve never seen you get so into a role outside of the Dreamatorium,” Abed added.
“Oh, I’m just trying to... get ahead on the reading for class.”
“Get ahead?” everyone asked with concern.
“Troy, you don’t like to read unless it’s comic books,” Annie said.
“Are there pictures in that?” Pierce asked, reaching out to turn the book in his direction.
Troy smacked his hand away. “Yes, there are pictures, like diagrams and stuff. It’s just...” Troy looked down in embarrassment. “...it’s interesting, okay?”
“Okay? That’s more than okay, Troy!” Annie said, beaming. ”It’s awesome that you might have found your calling!”
“Didn’t I tell you?” Britta said, a touch smugly.
“But don’t forget the reason why you’re taking the class in the first place,” Shirley warned. “Anything odd going on over there?”
Troy shrugged. “Not really. Like I told you, it’s beautiful, it’s clean, the air caresses the hair on your arms like a tiny Swedish message...”
“With or without the happy ending?” Pierce asked.
Troy ignored him. “...they have the latest technology in the classrooms, and everyone clearly wants to be there. It’s not what I thought at all. Sure, there’s a dress code, but...”
“No vampire activity?”
“Not that I can tell,” he said. He glanced at his watch and rose from the table. ”I better get going. Class starts in thirty minutes. Professor Jackson likes his students to be extra punctual.” He pointed at Britta. ”Meet you at D Bar later? I haven’t forgotten the cake.”
“It’s a date.” He unzipped his red hoodie and slipped it off, revealing a handsome blue shirt, dark gray tie and black slacks.
“Whoa,” the ladies said. Britta’s hands fluttered at her throat.
The cell phone buzzed. ‘Where does he shop?’
“What?” Troy asked when he noticed the entire group staring open-mouthed.
“It’s your Pygmalion/My Fair Lady transformation.” At Troy’s blank look, he tried, “She’s All That?”
“Ah! That movie was gooood!” He and Abed did their best friends handshake. “It’s my ‘Bruce Wayne’ disguise. Gotta blend in, you know? Otherwise, they might suspect something.” He folded the hoodie neatly and placed it in his backpack. He waved to everyone, then left the room, humming.
“That’s not Daybreak,” Abed commented, gathering his books to go to class.
Shirley was starting to suspect something herself, but she would give Troy the benefit of the doubt. She remembered well how exciting it was when she found her calling as the Slayer.
Speaking of slaying... She shouldered her purse and grabbed her phone off the table to meet Jeff. It buzzed immediately. ‘Wanna skip class and go for a drive?’ the text read. ‘I know some scenic routes.’
“Jeffrey!” she scolded, going out into the hall. “Do you want in this group or not?”
He looked at her, then down at his phone, and cringed. ”Oops. Meant that for the hottie.” He started to type it out again. “Let me just...”
Bless God and all his angels that texting while being dragged down the hall wasn’t a vampire skill.
“Here are your quizzes from last time,” Jackson said as he walked down the aisles. When he got to Troy, a sticky note was placed over the grade which read, ‘See Me.’
Troy looked up quickly to catch Jackson’s eye. He nodded, but didn’t explain.
Troy peeled back the note to see ‘100% - A’ written in bright red ink. He hadn’t missed any? Dope. Then... Troy looked back at the professor. Why did Jackson want to see him? In his experience, a teacher only wanted to see you if you were in big trouble.
The rest of class passed in a blur of worry, but even without his full concentration, Troy understood the material, answering questions correctly when asked.
As everyone stood to leave, the guy behind him nudged him with an elbow. “Troy Barnes, right? I’m Brian.” He held out his hand to shake.
Troy shook it, though his mind was on the impending meeting more than this one. “Um, nice to meet you, man.”
“Meeting with Jackson, huh?”
That brought his attention back, and fully. “Uh...” Troy swallowed. “Yeah.”
“I didn’t get asked to see the professor until the end of the first class I took here at the Annex.” He rubbed absentmindedly at his collar.
“No, Reyes. But they only ask the best.”
Troy glanced back at Jackson, who was talking with another student. He swallowed again. ”What if they never ask?”
“I don’t know.” Brian shrugged. I guess you get kicked out of the program. We never see them again.” He smiled and put on his backpack. ”Good luck! Not that you’ll need it.”
“Thanks,” Troy said quietly.
He watched Brian leave, talking to one of the female students, who looked back at Troy with envy. Brian patted her back consolingly, and as they left, Troy overheard, “Don’t worry, there’s still time...”
“Mr. Barnes,” Jackson called to him jovially once the room had fully cleared. “Let’s go to my office.”
Troy nodded. ”What’s this about? Did I do something wrong?”
Jackson laughed. ”Oh no! Quite the opposite.” He put his arm around Troy’s shoulder and led him into the hallway. ”I just want to talk to you about our accelerated program.”
“Normally the Air Conditioning program takes our students two years to complete.” He unlocked the door to his office and turned on the light, letting Troy enter ahead of him. ”For our most talented students, we find we can shorten the time to a year or even less.”
“Really? I could be graduating at the same time as I would have with my general education degree?” The worry he had been feeling was dissolving into excitement. No staying longer at Greendale while the rest of his friends graduated and moved on (well, except maybe Britta, who had chosen her major late. And Pierce, who would leave when death took him).
“Or even sooner.” He gestured for Troy to take a seat.
Troy took the chair in front of Jackson’s desk. “What do I have to do?”
“Well,” he said, coming to lean on the wood in front of Troy’s chair. ”In addition to my class, you’d start one-on-one training with me a couple of hours a night.” He looked Troy directly in the eyes, and his voice slowed and dropped in pitch. ”Would that be okay with you?”
“Hmm. I don’t know.” Giving up so much time in the evening would really cut into his time with his friends. Homework was only an afterthought. “It wouldn’t conflict with my other classes?”
Jackson paused before answering, giving Troy an odd look. “It shouldn’t, unless you have another evening class?” he asked, his voice back to normal.
“Nope. Yours is the only one.”
“Then you should be fine.” He continued in the slower, lower tone, “You may want to drop all of your other classes completely...”
Troy thought for a moment then shook his head. “Nah, if it’s okay with you, I want to finish out the semester – especially Biology. It’s the only one my friends and I take together.”
“Sure...” Jackson said, frowning. He shook his head suddenly, as if clearing it, and held out his hand. “Congratulations, Troy, you’re accepted into the Accelerated Program.”
The man had an iron grip. Troy tried not to wince as they shook hands. Jackson put a hand on Troy’s shoulder and leaned in. “We could start tonight, if you–”
The office door opened suddenly. “Professor Jackson.”
Troy turned to see Vice Dean Laybourne filling the doorway. Jackson stepped away so quickly Troy could still feel the weight of his palm on his shoulder.
“Vice Dean,” Jackson said with deference.
“Remind me...” Laybourne said, still in the doorway. “What did I tell you concerning young Mr. Barnes?”
Jackson turned pale, well paler than he already was. “That you had a personal interest in him.”
“Yes.” He paused. “With such a personal interest, why did you think it best that you put yourself in charge of...” He stepped fully into the room, towering over both Jackson and Troy. “...his ‘tutoring?’“
Jackson shrank back. “I–I’m sorry, sir, I meant no disrespect–”
Troy looked back and forth between the two, feeling like they were two wolves, and he was a piece of meat. He held up his hands to keep them apart. ”Don’t worry, Vice Dean,” he forced a laugh to lighten the mood. “...we haven’t started yet.”
Laybourne looked down quickly, sizing Troy up in a moment. “Hmm. I see that you haven’t.”
Jackson laughed nervously. “Yes, I would never...”
Laybourne turned cold eyes on the professor. “You’re right, you would never.” He stepped back into the hall. “Ever again.” Gesturing in front of him, Laybourne said, “Troy? Take a walk with me?”
The office suddenly felt stifling. Troy wasted no time in getting into the hall. “I’m sorry...” Troy said, “I promised my girlfriend I’d meet her tonight. Can we talk tomorrow?”
Laybourne smiled, stepping aside to let Troy pass. “Why, of course! We wouldn’t want to keep that girlfriend waiting, now, would we?”
“Haha, no.” Troy relaxed slightly as he headed for the door. “You have no idea what vengeance she’d wreak on me if I bailed.”
“I remember well what that was like in my younger days,” he said wistfully. ”And now?” He reached out to pull the door open for Troy. ”Now my soul belongs to the Annex.”
Troy nodded his thanks and took the handle... and it stayed unmoving in the Vice Dean’s grip. Troy looked up into his face, confused. Laybourne’s gaze nearly froze him with fright.
“And yours will, too, one day.” His voice slowed as Jackson’s had done. “Perhaps it can begin today after all.”
Troy realized with a start that both men – or not men, it was pretty clear now that he was dealing with the undead – had been trying to glamour him. Annie’s anti-glamour charm was around his neck, below the button-down shirt – Troy had forgotten about it completely, he had been so absorbed with possibly finding his calling.
He had to act as if he were being compelled! He willed himself to nod in agreement. “Yeah, perhaps it can...”
Laybourne put his arm around Troy’s shoulder and led him away from the door. ”Why don’t you just text your girl, and tell her you can’t make it tonight?”
“Okay...” he said, fluttering his eyes. He pulled the phone from his pocket in slow motion. ‘Can’t make it tonight,’ he typed. ‘Stuck at the Annex. Sorry, babe. Would you record Inspector Spacetime for me?’ He pressed Send. He could only hope his message got across.
“Very good, Troy. Do you mind if I...?” He held out his hand for the phone.
Troy handed it over without question, what else could he do?
“Thanks,” Laybourne said, and then crushed it in his palm like it was paper.
Troy couldn’t stifle a gasp.
Laybourne smiled. ”Nice try, Mr. Barnes, but do you really think a vampire of my talents wouldn’t be able to tell when a person is resistant to glamouring?”
“Especially someone in the Slayer’s inner circle. I wonder how you’re managing it?” he asked, as curious as a cat – or a lion – playing with its food. “Well, no one will be looking for you right away. We have plenty of time to find out.”