Cordelia Chase, the embodiment of popularity, sauntered down to the library during the middle of her second period class. She’d received a hall pass half way into the class with the orders to head directly to the library, “ASAP, Miss Chase.” She knew something was up, that this was going to be about some demon, or vampire, or evil prophecy; it always was. Cordy knew because she was on her way to the library, which meant Giles, and where there was Giles, there was Buffy, and wherever there was Buffy, there was mayhem right behind her, nipping at her unfashionable heels. Of course, if Buffy were there and in any sort of danger, there would be Xander, Cordy’s boyfriend, there to watch Buffy’s back and eager to lend her a shoulder to cry on.
Actually, Cordelia didn’t even know why she was wound so tight every time Xander was with the slayer. Before, she’d really had a reason to complain about her boyfriend hanging all over the beautiful blonde, for he usually did just that. But after Buffy had killed Angel and fled Sunnydale, he’d sort of given up his dream of one day rescuing his fair maiden and being rewarded with a long-awaited kiss and the promise of her undying love for him. He’d finally come to realize that she’d left because she loved another, and his vision of this fairy tale life with her was exactly what it was, a vision, and an empty hope. Though it had hurt Xander very deeply, gradually, he’d come to accept the fact that Buffy wasn’t to return, and Xander had finally warmed to Cordelia.
Now, whenever Xander would spot Buffy off in the distance, he wouldn’t go charging off like a fearless knight, waving his sword and shield in the air. Quite the opposite. Now he’d stand by Cordelia, just kind of watching the slayer out of the corner of his eye. After Buffy had returned, Xander was also pretty quick to argue with her, and Cordelia presumed that it was due to the fact that he’d had to keep so much anger and sadness inside when she’d left. And when the two would meet, there was always this tense atmosphere that floated low around them and never really seemed to lift. Their entangling past had become the proverbial pink elephant in the room—everyone noticed it, but no one ever mentioned it, and they all tried to ignore it.
As Cordelia approached the school library, she switched gears and thoughts. She waltzed in with that special air that always preceded Cordelia Chase: the air of sophistication and class. Inside, she spotted Willow and Oz huddling in the corner of the room, Giles with his usual mile-high stack of books, and Faith with her arm around Buffy’s shoulder as she attempted to console her. Where was Xander in the midst of all this sadness? Probably hasn’t gotten here yet, Cordy thought.
She marched over to the table where Faith and Buffy sat and took a seat with them. That’s when she noticed Buffy was crying. Her face was wet with fresh tears, her eyes bright red and appearing glassy, with a far away look to them. Nothing made Buffy cry, ever. Something bad had happened, something incomprehensibly despicable.
Xander slipped in and out of quick fits of troubled sleep filled with nightmares of Buffy dying before him. He could never really recall much from them, only that they terrified the hell out of him and that they’d always leave him screaming, “No!” He’d be sweating bullets and whipping about like he was in the grips of a seizure until the tidal waves of pain washed over him, leaving him moaning in agony. And as he’d lie there in the aftermath of his nightmare, little clips of it would flash behind his eyelids—fluttering butterflies of lights and images, their paper wings dazzling palettes of color.
Xander would be standing there—nothing but unending blackness spanning the area, covering all traces of light and color—and suddenly, she’d magically appear before him, running toward him with her arms wide open, chanting his name, and all the fantastic hues would flood back into the scene. Buffy would be racing to him; however, he’d just stay where he was, staring at her, despite what everything inside him told him to do. Then Buffy would halt, cock her head and lower her arms to her sides.
Shaking his head violently, Xander cried, “No more!” He was now back in reality, or was he? Xander wasn’t really sure anymore. If Angel could just mystically return from Hell, then anything could happen; all was within the realm of possibility. No, he was sure he was back in the dark room—the smell of the rotting meat remained clinging to the air, its invisible hooks latched deeply into the hollow emptiness of space.
For the next few minutes, Xander composed himself. He had no desire to remember his dream. If it could produce such strong, lingering effects such as screaming and hard sweating, then he sure as hell didn’t want to know why. No dream in his past had ever had such an effect on him, and he frantically prayed that no other one ever would again.
To prevent himself from drifting off again, Xander attempted to open his eyes all the way. Though it took all of his remaining strength and a good bit of self-discipline to ignore the sharp pinching sensation in the back of his skull, his eyes flittered open and darted around the room, inspecting it strictly. Directly in front of him was a huge steel door with monstrous bolts jutting out around its perimeter and the simple letters “A.M.F.” imprinted plainly in its center. The initials provoked the boy into pondering their meaning and into pondering what lay outside the ominous portal. And there, standing right next to the way out, was the fan Xander had heard earlier that morning, stirring the foul-smelling air like a witch’s brew in a cauldron.
At the base off the door, he saw a shadow jump and move, resembling a demon in manner, and for all he knew, it was one. As it turned out though, the dancing shadow was nothing more than one of the twisted, fiercesome-looking rats Xander heard scuttling about earlier. The gruesome thing was huge with dark brown fur and fire red eyes so small they looked like scabs on its filthy skin, and its disgusting yellow teeth poked out obscenely over its invisible bottom lip. The tiny beast hissed with rage at Xander and scurried off hurriedly to another corner, making sure the boy followed it with his eyes.
Xander wondered why the rats hadn’t attacked him yet. They should have been swarming over him by now, yet strangely, they weren’t; they practically showed no interest in him at all. He was fresh meat, there for the taking, smelling of blood, with no way to defend himself, and still they refused to attack. Not that Xander minded any since he preferred there be something left of him when it came time to say goodbye to Buffy—if there came a time to say goodbye that is (he was really hoping that there wasn’t ever going to be a need for that.).
His eyes pursued the foul creature of darkness to the far corner that it’d run to, and when he saw what the beast was standing on, he shrieked. “Lord no! Oh God! Oh God! Oh God…” he repeated over and over as Xander frantically tried to get away from the vile heap in the corner. The traumatized boy pulled himself into a sitting position, resting his head on his knees, squeezing his eyes shut so tightly that colored dots danced hypnotically behind them. Xander prayed for sleep, he prayed for the horrible nightmare to return, he prayed for anything to erase the gory sight now branded in the back of his mind. He now understood why the room possessed that vicious rank.