Chapter Twelve

 

Xander was sweating profusely in the steamy atmosphere of the once freezing room. He strained to get closer to the fan, to feel the cool, swirling air whirling around him and blowing the chest-tightening stench of decomposing flesh behind him. Oh, how he longed to breath the fresh scent of the outdoors and view the great golden orb of light above him—otherwise known as the sun—instead of the dimly glowing GE light bulb swinging overhead by its frayed, black electric cord.

A fit of rough coughing passed through Xander, and he suddenly gagged on the terrible reek that filled the air. He moaned at the pain, yet also at the silence, the unbearable, unimaginable, incomprehensible, perfect silence. Had a pin dropped three blocks up the street, on the fourth floor of a tenement filled to the brim with chattering Mexicans, Japanese and Russians, he was sure he would still be able to hear it in the blanket of quiet.

It was unearthly silent in the room. If he didn’t concentrate on the fan, then he couldn’t even hear it; plus, all of the rats had scurried off to their homes—probably to digest the bits of flesh they’d torn from their prize on the hook—so there was practically no noise. Unexpectedly, there was a crash outside of the room, and Xander expected to see fractions of the ceiling and walls start falling, the floor shook with such might. Was it an earthquake? Oh, wouldn’t that just be the cherry on the icing on his cake for the day! An earthquake, now? Beautiful! Only in the following moments when he saw nothing move, crack or break, did Xander realize it was merely the storm outside trying to get into the enclosure with him.

A couple of times throughout the duration of Angelus’ and his “session”, he had heard a low rumbling, like that of Indian war drums, outside the building, but thought nothing of it, for he’d never really had the time to do so. Xander supposed the violent weather had risen pretty suddenly, so he prayed that his clue hadn’t been washed away or moved.

To keep from going completely insane, Xander hummed to himself any song that came to mind, usually something slow and romantic. This produced hallucinations. Xander would pretend he was somewhere else with his friends, having fun, never knowing the horror he’d seen within the room and felt within the span of the last half-day. Yes, go somewhere else…

Everything was just dandy that night at the Bronze. He imagined that he was dancing in the Bronze with Buffy, holding her close and absorbing the fabulous feeling being near her produced. They swayed rhythmically to the gentle music of Oz and his band, “The Dingoes Ate My Baby”, because they were the band evidently playing on the stage that night.

Xander wasn’t too sure because he was almost completely lost in his moment with Buffy, but he thought he saw Willow staring up at Oz dreamily like any loyal girlfriend dating a musician would. He also saw Faith dancing with Scott Hope and Cordelia gabbing with all of her friends at the Bronze’s tiny bar. Luckily, Giles was there to observe all of them for Xander, attempting to do it surreptitiously, but failing, for they all noticed his overt staring. He gazed at them with a look in his eyes like a father would possess: protective, yet still trying to refrain from interfering too much. And that’s exactly how they all saw Rupert Giles, as a father. He looked out for them and cared about them with a fatherly love. He worried when they were gone too long, yet he trusted them and all their decisions that they made.

Xander pulled Buffy closer, trying to do it as casually as possible, but failing miserably because of his lack of experience with the whole romance deal. Buffy smiled at his cheesy attempt at flirtation all the while moving nearer on her own. She placed her head on Xander’s welcoming shoulder and snuggled up against it, pressing her cheek into it and sighing lightly—so lightly that it was inaudible above the raucous; however, Xander could feel the breath escape her. Truly this was a dream, for in real life Buffy would never react this way to his touch.

{I can feel it coming in the air tonight, oh Lord.
I’ve been waiting for this moment all of my life, oh Lord.
Can you feel it coming in the air tonight, oh Lord?
Oh Lord.
}

Just when all seemed right with Xander’s world—everything was normal to the acceptable degree in Sunnydale—the strangest music began to blare from the speakers embedded around the circumference of the nightclub. It seemed familiar to Xander, almost like something out of a horror film he’d seen recently, not that that was a good thing. Then the slayerette noticed the peculiar twang of Phil Collins. The moment he discovered who sang it, Xander knew instantly what the song was: “In the Air Tonight.” When Xander lifted his head from resting against Buffy’s to look at Oz and his band, he noticed that the music wasn’t coming from them, but actually just wafting through the air on a unfelt breeze. Xander searched the hazy scene with his scrutinizing eyes and discovered that no one other than himself and the band had noticed the out-of-place music.

The eerie sounds of the guitar and keyboard continued to echo off of the walls and back into their ears like a distant cry in the Alps while the whole scene moved on oblivious.

{Well, if you told me you were drowning,
I would not lend a hand.
I’ve seen your face before my friend,
But I don’t know if you know who I am.
}

Buffy raised her head, curious of the odd song with its dark lyrics; this wasn’t the type of music the Bronze normally played for a slow dance. A few other interested, handsome countenances glanced up, but then immediately resumed dancing, eager to return to their equally attractive partners.

{Well, I was there and I saw what you did,
I saw it with my own two eyes.
So you can wipe off that grin, I know where you’ve been,
It’s all been a pack of lies.
And I can feel it coming in the air tonight, oh Lord.
I’ve been waiting for this moment all of my life, oh Lord.
I can feel it coming in the air tonight, oh Lord.
And I’ve been waiting for this moment all of my life, oh Lord.
Oh Lord.
}

The throng of people disseminated thickly about the dance club slowly stopped what they were doing and began to seek out the source of the song, as it grew steadily darker and more devilish.

Buffy and Xander had since then ceased dancing and looked nervously about with the others, their eyes darting curiously around the room. The mysterious melody didn’t really seem to fit the light, carefree atmosphere of the Bronze, and that made the two extremely uneasy, for the scene was beginning to appear more and more like some of the things with which they normally dealt, with the vampires and the hellbeasts and the evil mojo, etc.

That’s when Xander realized he was imagining the whole Bronze ordeal, however, not the song. After a few blinks of his dry, scratchy eyes, Xander awoke from the picture show playing within his head. When he did, he heard the distant voice of Phil Collins floating through the atmosphere, on top of the odor of death, in the stuffy metal prison cell—that was all he heard.

{Well, I remember…
I remember the worry; how could I ever forget?
It was the first time of the last time
We ever met…
But I, I know the reason why you keep your silence up,
No, you don’t fool me.
Because the hurt doesn’t show, but the pain still grows
So stranger to you and me.
}

The thundering sound of drums rebounded in the air and played around the room, the clattering raucous of an explosion of metal and glass filling every soundless corner with a earth-shattering, ear-piercing type of noise.

Who was listening to Phil Collins? Was a radio being used? It sounded so close Xander thought he could actually reach out and touch the notes, feel their smooth, glossy bodies trembling under his palm. To Xander that signified someone was near enough to perhaps hear his screams of fear and pleas for clemency. “Help!” he bleated though it stung his sore throat to no end. “Please! Help me!” The only answer he received was:

{I can feel it coming in the air tonight, oh Lord.
I’ve been waiting for this moment all a my life, oh Lord.
I’ve been waiting for this moment all a my life.
All my life! All my life!
}

Angelus! He must have been the one listening to the song! Is he taunting me? What if Buffy’s here and that’s who he’s taunting? He fought his restraints as best he could, yelling, “Buffy! Buffy!” I have to warn Buffy! Please God, she has to hear me! Xander lifted his head and ululated into the air, “Buffy…”

@~~`~~~

Out in the banal, barren hall, Angelus listened disinterestedly to Xander’s desperate warning sirens for the non-existent Buffy. The faint moans and wails of anger and frustration were frankly beginning to bore the vampire. And although they tired him, a little smirk had formed on his previously sour face, for what Xander didn’t know was that Angelus had been listening to the radio—scanning for some music to occupy his free time until Buffy’s arrival—when he’d come across the bizarre song. Intrigued from the first few notes, he listened further and found that the words strangely fit the situation at hand. How true it was that Angelus had been waiting for this confrontation for practically all his vampiric existence, and how odd it was that he felt it coming in the air that day.

He found himself entranced—like under the love spells he himself usually cast—as he became more and more engrossed in the emotion-filled lyrics of the melody. The singer, whom he did not know off by heart, sang with a deep passion that filled the snaking labyrinth of hallways in the factory with an anticipation that they’d never experienced before in all their sordid history and never would again. The rich music was like fine Merlot mixed with a few drops of the sweet blood of youth in that Angelus drank it up as greedily as he could.

{I can feel it coming in the air tonight, oh Lord.
And I’ve been waiting for this moment all my life!
All malife!
All malife!
}

On and on it continued, feeding Angelus’ desire for the fight and affecting him like he thought nothing short of delivering the coup de grâcé to Buffy could. The strains of heated drumming and keyboard playing permeated his brain and disillusioned him into thinking that he had already killed the slayer. And, oh, what a glorious killing it had been: her eyes rolling back into her head, her body shriveling as it lost its life blood, her last breath escaping her full, purple lips. Oh, he thought, if it were only true, if it were only true.

Eventually the song ended with a splash of colorful drumming intermixed with a bit of electric guitar—a perfect conclusion to a perfect song. Angelus proceeded to listen to the next few songs, not really enjoying any of them—he hadn’t really been paying much attention anyhow—so he turned the stereo off and slumped down along the wall in silence, straining to hear the last pounding notes of the music still reverberating in the hall. The powerful song had branded its mark on the vampire, however, and Angelus, being the conceited vampire that he was, became convinced that it had been written for the sole purpose of having him hear it.

The hallways resumed their normal silence as the hubbub caused by “In the Air Tonight” faded with Xander’s remaining shouts, but somehow they retained the underlying meaning of the lyrics within their stony cores.

Leaning against the baseboard, Angelus pondered over how such a cursory spattering of music could alter him so much on so many different levels, yet it most definitely had. It had pumped him full of dark energy, the black electricity of evil coursing through his veins, filling his dead, useless heart with an even blacker blood, and invigorated him to the point where Angelus believed nothing short of death itself could defeat him. Angelus had never felt so exhilarated, exuberant, excited, and almost every other word that started with ex. With this new energy, he felt as though he could take on the whole world at once, and it would never stand a chance against the incomparable Angelus. By sunrise the next day, the Earth could be under his control! He could feast whenever and on whomever he wanted! But, of course, that would have to wait until after Buffy’s demise.

Running toward the doorway of Xander’s room, Angelus began to laugh hysterically, not for any real reason, but just because he felt like it. The fact that he hadn’t experienced a real laugh in ages made him cackle all the louder, his deep belly laugh vibrating off of the walls.

The demon threw open the door in one swift movement and entered as fluidly as a bat out of Hell, adding a special little twirl as he spun into the now silent room. Angelus stalked over to the computer teacher’s body and began to swing it around, dancing with it, pirouetting the corpse under his finger, then slipping his arm around it and dipping it. It was quite apparent that the whole scene was making Xander sick by the green appearance of his face and the umbrella shape of his mouth, which stood open in a look of disgust and horror.

Angelus literally skipped over to Xander’s side and patted him gently on the shoulder to wake him up to the gross reality inside the room. The boy used what little energy he had left to shrug the contaminated thing vehemently away and spit at the monster’s feet.

“Fine, be that way,” Angelus said, obviously unaffected by Xander’s rude movements. He began to hum the Collins song, which he now considered his theme, and waltz lightly about the concrete floors with nothing but the air and an invisible counterpart. His booming baritone voice grew fervent and passionate as he started to sing, “I can feel it coming in the air tonight.” Angelus paused to spin wildly in a circle then resumed chanting, “I’ve been waiting for this moment all my life!” conveniently leaving out the “Oh, Lord” part.

Then, the black serpent kneeled down to Xander’s exposed ear and whispered, “Can you feel it coming in the air tonight?” Xander swore he felt a snake-like, forked tongue dart briefly in his ear, intentionally creating an itch that he could not scratch.

Angelus jumped to his feet, his hands never touching the ground, and let out an excited shriek as he announced, “That song was so very...” Then Angelus turned to catch his victim’s far-away gaze, his ghastly disfigured profile outlined by the single light of a bulb dangling precariously over head, then finished, “…me.”

Using his fingers as a method for keeping count, Angelus recited all the reasons why the song was made for him. Xander just observed him silently, not really paying any attention, merely watching the monster’s blood colored lips work up and down in a mechanical sort of way, the rest of Angelus’ motions remaining in sync with the mouth. Mostly, the slayerette was reacting to the imaginary scene that had just played out in his head in lieu of listening to the insane jabber Angelus spouted. Instead of jumping in where he left off, Xander “rewound” his dream to the moment before the queer music had been cued, to the point where he and Buffy were just beginning their slow dance. While Angelus was prancing and whirling crazily around, Xander was holding Buffy close to him, the way he had always wanted to hold her: tight enough against his chest so that he might feel her every breath, with his fleshy cheek pressing gently against her head.

“Hey, Harris!” Angelus barked as he grabbed Xander by the shoulder roughly and shook him into consciousness. “Did you hear me?”

“Yeah, yeah. Waiting for fight. Have been all your life. Big freaking deal! You haven’t even known Buffy that long, so frankly I don’t see how you could have been waiting all that time. And you’re not even that old in vampire years. What, you’re a little over 200? A baby, really, that’s all you are. Heaven knows you whine like one. But go ahead, believe what you want to. Keep on deluding yourself, ya crazy bastard. Who I am ta stop you?” muttered an unconcerned Xander.

“Watch it, kid, or I’ll take off your head. We’ll just see who the baby is when I kill you, so don’t smart-mouth me.

“Now, I’ll call for you in a little bit, and when I do, you’d better be prepared for another one of our fun-slash-pain-filled sessions.” Xander nodded, seemingly unshaken by the vampire’s threats, and returned to his daydream.

Footsteps as heavy as iron rang throughout the air as Angelus crossed to the door and exited, leaving an unconcerned Xander lying in the middle of the floor.

@~~`~~~

Joyce Summers arrived at her home a little earlier than she’d originally expected: 3:08 instead of 4 o’clock. She pulled effortlessly into her smoothly paved driveway and walked up to her front door—as she frequently did—running as quickly as she could to get out of the driving rain. She ducked under the overhang and wiped her face dry of all the water, clearing her vision. Joyce placed her hand on the doorknob and fussed with her keys, jamming it into the lock. To her surprise, yet also dismay, she found it already unlocked. Joyce twisted the knob and the door swung inward ever so slowly, barely creaking on its unoiled joints.

Tentatively, Joyce placed one foot on the foyer and entered timorously, muscles tensed and ready to turn and run should she encounter any threat. “Buffy?” her mother called softly, the richness of her voice reaching every corner in the empty hallway. The only sounds to answer her were of the house settling and the steady whir of their Whirlpool refrigerator.

When no one answered, she stepped into the living room, scanning from left to right rapidly with her eyes, and when she saw no one lurking in the shadows, she headed for the kitchen. Finding nobody there either, Joyce was about to leave to search the rest of the place when a big white slip of paper on the refrigerator caught her eye. She pulled the magnet off and brought up to her face what she discovered to be a note. It was from Buffy, and it explained why the front door had been left unlocked; she had been in a hurry to get weapons.

Joyce still wasn’t sure whether to trust Buffy or not, for she’d run away before and she didn’t see why her daughter wouldn’t do it again, although it did feel rather wrong not to trust her own child. Granted, Joyce hadn’t gone easy on her after the first go-round because she’d tried to impose the idea that running away didn’t solve problems, but only increased their magnitude tenfold; however, she held to the belief that Buffy would flee if things got bad again. And Joyce was afraid.

Nevertheless, she had to get over this fear and obtain an indomitable attitude much the same as that of her daughter’s because Buffy was the slayer, and it was her daughter’s destiny whether she had her mother’s approval or not. Anyway, who was she when it came to the subject of destiny other than the mother of a very good slayer? Buffy would constantly be leaving to save the world and to save others, so Joyce had to trust her, and besides, Buffy was all she had. Trust between a mother and daughter was extremely important, especially if there were no father in the household.

Aside from the fact that she had a daughter who was a slayer, Joyce Summers lead a pretty regular life. She worked, she cooked, she cleaned, she mothered. Now it was time to start fulfilling some of those motherly duties. She decided she would start a delectable chicken dinner with all the fixings. Buffy said in her note she’d be home for dinner, and Joyce decided, this time, to believe her. Maybe she’ll invite Xander to come over with her, providing he feels up to it, Joyce pondered hopefully. He’s just what my daughter needs right now: a good, steady friend.