Xander, Xander, Xander…oh God. Xander was gone and Angelus was back, but how? When she’d seen him but two days ago, he was still the sweet, loving Angel she’d fallen for so long ago. What had happened since then to change that?
The world spun around her in wild circles. The air was a thick, woolen blanket smothering her, refusing to let her breathe. Since she’d read the horrifying letter and viewed the frightening sketch, the temperature in the school had jumped up one hundred notches in the last few minutes, and soon Buffy was sweating bullets. Salty tears cascaded down her flawless face and dripped steadily onto the cold ground, each landing with a resounding plop! and Buffy heard the sizzle of water colliding with the hot surface. From the sidelines, a group of people gathered like birds, forming a tight semicircle to watch the show—none of them bothering to help her up or console her in any way, simply staring at her with dozens of lifeless dolls’ eyes.
Buffy made a vain attempt to stand up, using the row of lockers for support. Her ankle burned with fire when she shifted her weight onto it, but the pain slowly faded into the background, along with everything else. All became nothing within an instant. The staring people ceased to exist in her world, as did all else. Suddenly, there was only she, Xander and the darkness.
He lay stretched out before Buffy on what she imagined to be the ground, though she didn’t actually see any. His face was bruised and swollen with dozens of ghastly lesions, all oozing a dark red liquid. Purple and black blotches ringed the area around his beautiful eyes, stealing all of the emphasis away from the swirling chocolate pools of emotion. Xander’s once richly brown and shiny hair looked dirty and unkempt, and it glistened with tiny beads of sweat. His clothes were a rumpled mess and they clung so loosely to him that Xander appeared as if he were made entirely of jeans and a T-shirt. All of these things scared Buffy—he looked deplorable—but that wasn’t the worst of it.
The expression on his face screwed up in the look of severe pain: he was biting his lower lip so hard that he drew blood; his eyes were closed tightly to fight back the agony that he was experiencing; and his facial muscles were drawn taut like they would snap at any second.
Suddenly, his muscles spasmed, his entire body tensed up, his eyes flew open, and he stared straight at Buffy. His chest rose and fell like ocean waves on the shoreline, almost hypnotic, as he watched her with steady eyes. Xander’s gaze was unbreakable as he stared deep into her, scanning her soul, and, try as she might, she could not severe the connection. His pleading eyes conveyed a message of unimaginable pain that was too much for Buffy. Their dark brown irises quivered like the brewing seas during a hurricane, they were filled with so much emotion.
She turned her gaze to his mouth to avoid his crying eyes. She could no longer bear to see them because it was like looking at his soul; they were so sad and empty, as if they were missing something. A perpetual stream of blood trickled revoltingly from the self-inflicted wound on his mangled lip. Once Xander had possessed some of the softest lips Buffy had ever seen, but now they had deep, bloody gashes in them, and the repeated abuse by his gnawing teeth had severely shredded them.
Then his tender lips trembled. The tortured boy mouthed a few simple words to her: “Help me, Buffy,” followed up with a heart-wrenching, “I need you.” Buffy felt the onslaught of her dammed up tears begin to break free when Xander tried to reach for her. She could tell it caused him tremendous pain, but he needed her, and that thought ripped her apart because she couldn’t help. His fragile figure shuddered as bolts of electricity raced through him, and he shed a lone tear for Buffy, not for himself, as the slayer assumed. Buffy stretched her arm in front of her and tried to grab a hold of his ghostly white, shaking hand, but he was just out of reach, like so many other things in her sordid life. She took a step closer when, without warning, he flew backwards and farther away from her. She started running for him, but he kept slipping away into the hungry darkness that had been waiting for him. All the while he mouthed: “Please.” Over and over, relentlessly pleading. Please. Please. Help me. Please.
“Xander!” she hissed after him through gasps. “Xander! Don’t go!” Buffy kept racing toward the desperate figure, watching as he kept drifting away, out of her life. Another help me, followed by still another please.
“I’ll find you, Xander! I’ll save you! I promise. I promise…” She finally broke down completely and began sobbing miserably. Her arm was still outstretched in front of her and the darkness was back because her single light, Xander, was gone. Buffy stood alone, crying till her eyes grew red and puffy and still chanting “I promise.” Her only wish was that she could save him.
If he dies, I die.
Gradually, the lockers faded back into view; she was still clinging to them for support. The perplexed onlookers returned, as did the throbbing in her leg and the incredibly bright fluorescent lights in the hallway. The tears and the anguish had never left.
Buffy’s locker door wobbled, and she lost her balance. Before she had a chance to hit the floor, someone grabbed her and lifted her up gently, lovingly. His arms encircled her and hugged her reassuringly as he pulled her to her feet. Buffy had a flashback to the last night at the cemetery—as she’d done so many times that day already—when she stumbled and fell right into Xander’s strong arms. Xander…
Buffy smiled and wrapped her arms around the person holding her. “Oh, Xander!” she cried and buried her face into his shoulder, pulling him closer at the same time. She felt Xander shrug the shoulder she sobbed on, and she glanced up at him. Sure enough, there he was, but he didn’t appear happy like she’d expected; in fact, he looked concerned. “Buffy?” His voice sounded strange, not at all like his normal jocular self. Buffy looked at him again—really looked—with a hint of curiosity in her eyes and did a double take. It wasn’t Xander Harris after all; it was her ex-boyfriend Scott Hope.
“Scott? Where’s Xander. Where is he?” she demanded, taking him by the collar and giving him a good shake. “Where?!”
He stuttered, unsure of how to respond, “I… I don’t know where. I h…haven’t seen him today. Maybe he’s home sick.
“Buffy, are you feeling all right? I think you should go to the nurse. Here’re your crutches. I’ll take you there, come on.” Scott tugged her arm to urge her onward.
Buffy shook her head vehemently and snatched the crutches from his hands. “I need to go to the library. I need to see Giles.”
“Later, Buffy. I really think you should go to the nurse,” Scott urged.
Buffy ignored him and pushed the boy to the side coldly, using her crutches as a makeshift plow. “Get out of my way,” she spat.
“Wait, Buffy!” Scott shouted after her. “You forgot these!”
The blonde slayer whirled around and saw Scott waving the letter and the sketch in the air. Racing back at lightning speed with pain flashing in her ankle, Buffy ripped the papers from his hands so roughly that she sliced the delicate skin of his fingers. “Where’s the ring?” she spat out nastily. Scott looked around him and announced he hadn’t seen any ring. “You lie! Where is it?”
“Honest, Buffy, I didn’t see any ring.”
Without hesitating, she threw aside her supports and fell to the ground searching frantically for the one thing of Xander’s she had left to treasure. “Move!” she growled to Scott and the rest of the observers. After several minutes of unsuccessful, thorough seeking, Buffy collapsed and wept on the cold ceramic floor.
“Is that it over there?” offered one of Buffy’s classmates, an onlooker. Her head jerked up and Buffy looked in the direction where the girl’s finger was pointing. Off in the distance, under a heater, something gold glinted. The ring. She sighed with relief and crawled on her hands and knees over to it. Ignoring the dustbunnies and the old, crumbling cobwebs, Buffy thrust her hand under the heater and groped for Xander’s class ring, then let out a squeal when her hand closed around it. “Thank god!” she muttered as she held the ring lovingly in the palm of her hand. She slipped the chain she’d been wearing through the finger hole and fastened the necklace around her slender neck. From now on she was planning on keeping it close to her heart, where it belonged.
The bell finally rang for the start of second period after what had seemed like eons. The crowd that had gathered to watch her had dissipated and she was left alone again, just like in her dream. Or premonition. Or omen. Or whatever it had been.
Buffy crept back over to her crutches and slowly managed to pull herself up onto them. She hobbled over to the library and found Giles still reading the same novel as he’d been reading earlier that morning.
This time he immediately noticed her and the tragic mist that accompanied her in. Her bloodshot eyes and tear stained face brought him instantly to her side. “Buffy? What happened, what’s wrong?” he interrogated in a fatherly voice. She handed Giles Angelus’ presents to him and he glanced at them quickly, scanning their contents. His face contorted with fear and a look of nausea as he whispered, “Oh my God.”