Chapter Fourteen

 

Angelus and Xander. Oil and water. All four things were in essence the very same. They never mixed; rather, at one point, they met briefly, trying hard not to touch one another. But they always did, in just one spot, and in Angelus and Xander’s case, that one point was the slayer, Buffy. And in the end, after their initial collision, one always came out on top.

“Thirsty,” Xander said in a hoarse whisper.

Angelus paced nervously. He was running out of time here. Buffy was close, so close he could almost feel her gentle breaths on the nape of his neck. He had to finish Xander now, physically, no time for emotionally, as he had planned. Angelus was furious with Buffy. How did she know exactly where to go? Was this some sort of new slayer tracking power he’d never witnessed before? Damn her! She was always messing up his best-laid plans, coercing his schemes to go haywire. Now Angelus really wasn’t going to be able to torment the nasty little rodent.

Xander. Ooh, Angelus was enraged with him, too. That damned kid had somehow taken the grisly sight in front of him and digested it; it no longer seemed to bother him. Not to mention, he was still reluctant to obey Angelus even after the vampire had dealt out numerous blows to the devastated teenager’s body. Angelus realized this was probably due to Buffy’s powerful influence and the emotional hold she had on him. If he weren’t so in love with the accursed blonde, this most likely would have been more fun for Angelus. What the demon wanted to do over everything else was to grab the boy by his hair, jerk his head to the side, dig his fangs into Xander’s neck and exsanguinate him so slowly that Xander could actually feel his blood being sucked from his very veins. Would it really matter all that much if he did? Would the world stop turning if he prematurely killed the Harris kid? Hardly. His plan had already gone awry, so there wasn’t much point in trying to salvage a sinking ship. At least he’d have fun going down with his vessel! Maybe, if he were so lucky, finding Xander’s lifeless corpse stretched lackadaisically beside Miss Calendar’s own would terrify the slayer even further, at least enough so he would have the element of surprise. Maybe finding her brand new lover dead would push her far enough over the edge of insanity so that killing her would be nothing but a cakewalk.

No! He had to fight the urge to kill him right away. Beat Xander fist, kill him later. Where would the fun be if in fighting a slayer with no bite left? Very well. With the crowning of his new plan, Angelus raised his foot in the air and kicked the slayerette forcefully in the stomach. Xander groaned, but reacted little otherwise. “Please,” he begged, “just a little water.”

“You’re in no place to be making requests, boy,” the demon spat angrily, pissed at the fact that the child would still have enough gall to be asking for water, asking for anything, for that matter.

Angelus tilted Xander’s head and pierced the tender flesh of the neck of youth with the extreme tips of his wickedly pointy fangs. “You think you’re thirsty. I’m so dry, I feel like I’m gonna wilt like a flower in the desert sun.” Two little pools of blood formed from the tiny punctures in his skin, and Xander saw Angelus’ mysterious eyes glowing brilliantly with anticipation, the inky creature within them oozing excitedly around his blackened irises. Angelus lifted a finger in the air and swiped it across the holes in Xander’s neck, picking up some of the gooey red liquid, which the vampire then licked gently off his fingertip, savoring every flavorful blood cell with his reptilian tongue.

Xander wanted to cry, but didn’t. He ached all over and his throat stung with a fire; plus, he was unbelievably parched. His neck throbbed along with his steadily slowing heartbeat and his tongue, thick with wont of water, was plastered to the roof of his parched mouth. Xander was giving up what faint glimmers of hope he’d managed to cling to. At least if he died, the pain would go away, both the mental and the physical. Xander wouldn’t have to worry anymore about Buffy not loving him, or giving a damn about him otherwise. He wouldn’t have to suffer through her wasting away because of a ridiculous fairy-tale love that could never become more than a dream or a wish.

Just close his eyes and feel the pain, pure and unrefined; wait for the icy tides of a somehow heavenly death to wash over his sin-soaked remains and carry his tainted soul out into the freezing waters of a sea murky and without a basin. And everything would be all right. Simply relax and accept what death was, a shining lighthouse beacon off in the distance, and wait for it to signal him to come forth into the great beyond; that was all he had to do to be free: close his weary eyes…

@~~`~~~

Suddenly, Buffy fell to her knees and started chanting, “No! Please don’t!”

“Buffy! Buffy! What’s wrong? What is it?” Faith cried concerned. Her friend kneeled there on the floor rocking back and forth, reaching out to an invisible someone that she saw before her eyes. Faith dropped her crossbow and sat down next to her fellow slayer. She put a reassuring arm around Buffy’s shoulders and kept interrogating her as to what was wrong. For such a hardened woman, Faith was truly afraid for her newfound friend. The poor girl had gone through so much in her life, seen so many friends die, watched as they perished before her very eyes—and Faith knew well what that was like. Still more, now her best friend was missing as a direct result of her former lover, and there wasn’t much hope in finding him alive. “Buffy?” She patted her back gently, trying to wake her from her nightmare.

Buffy regained her composure at the sound of her name, and turned to look into Faith’s eyes; hers were dry, while Buffy’s were wet and red-rimmed. What had just happened? She remembered collapsing on the cold, wooden floor; remembered crying into the emptiness around her; remembered thinking Xander wanted to die. Whoa! What was that last thing? She had no reason to assume Xander would to kill himself. But there was something inside her that was telling her that that’s exactly what he was doing. “We have to hurry,” Buffy insisted, “We’re almost out of time.” She grabbed Faith’s hand roughly, yanking her along the corridor.

They raced from room to room and upon finding nothing but cobweb-covered machinery and dusty piles of plastic wrap, they moved on from the third floor, clamoring down the dilapidated staircase, to the second floor. Still nothing. “Last floor,” Faith stated as the pair stared at the doorway of the stairwell that read: “First Floor.” Buffy nodded, and they slipped through the door and down the steps as quietly as slayerly possible.

Stake in front of her, Buffy came to the last door on the bottom floor and placed her trembling hand on the knob. She was having her doubts now. They had all thought that this was the place Xander had to be, they all knew it. However, this was the very last door in the building that had gone unchecked—Buffy and Faith had even thought to look in the janitor’s closet—and if Xander weren’t behind it, they were back at square one. Tentatively, the slayer turned it slowly and the door swung inward. Her rapidly adjusting eyes searched the blackness with a mad rampage and found this to be yet another hallway. “Great,” she muttered sardonically. “Faith!” she whispered to her friend.

Faith turned and looked at her funnily. Buffy pointed down the hallway, and Faith covered her. They were going in.

Cautiously, Buffy flicked on the lights. The glowing pears overhead flickered and threatened to throw them back into darkness, but eventually the sputtering bulbs steadied and sent a stream of reassuring light down upon them. Buffy’s eyes darted left and right, up and down, seeking out anyone or anything that might attack.

Finding nothing to worry them yet, the slayers noticed there were only three doors left to check behind: two on the left, one on the right. Faith took the last on the left, Buffy the first on the left; they’d do the one on the right together.

As she was making her way to the last door, Faith noticed a small, black Radioshack radio sitting simply on a worn wooden table, viciously scarred by years of meat being chopped on it. On closer inspection, she found it to be plugged in, completely ready-to-use. “Some naughty little boy’s been here,” she uttered to herself, “and I’m willing to bet the nasty demon’s still here.” Her immense grin of excitement only grew bigger as she approached the grimy, time-weathered portal. Faith was growing more and more anxious for this big showdown at the O.K. Corral with every passing second. With practically unmatched strength, the dark-haired slayer almost ripped the door off of its hinges, her excitement was so great. Buffy, naturally, frowned at Faith, but the rogue girl just smiled cutely and bowed her head in embarrassment.

Following her spunky friend’s example, Buffy opened her door as well, finding the same as Faith had… nothing.

They closed in on the middle door together. Buffy went first, as she often did: stake in one hand, door handle in the other, love in her heart. Ever so stealthily, Buffy pulled down the handle and shoved the door open, praying it wouldn’t create too much of a squeal so as to alert the person or thing (whichever) inside to their presence. Luckily for those two, it didn’t.

Yes, they were lucky that the door didn’t make a noise; however, they quickly rethought their luck.

There he was, just like in the horrible sketch: lying there stretched out on the floor, hand and feet tied, blood spattered all over him, eyes jammed tightly shut against the cruel world. And next to him kneeled her ex-lover, Angel, or rather, Angelus, as he preferred to be called now. Why, just a few short days ago he seemed like his old, normal self. How had he become this monster again: the monster that had murdered Miss Calendar, the monster that had aided in killing Kendra?

Very briefly, like a flash of lightning outside, a few of Giles’ words appeared within her mind. It was awhile ago, approximately right before she had slain Angelus that he had told her of the sufferings Angel would encounter in Hell. Buffy remembered wanting to desperately to weep about him as she’d done so many times before, but she coerced herself into listening. “It’s unlikely anyone can stand that much pain for so long and still walk out as themselves.” So, Buffy deduced from that quote, that when Angel had returned, he’d never really been the Angel that she knew, but rather Angelus in Angel’s clothing. God, she’s almost fallen for him again! The very thought was appalling; to think, she kissed the embodiment of everything she hated and toiled so laboriously to destroy. And Buffy hadn’t even seen it coming, hadn’t even thought of the possibility, she’d been so blinded by love. And in doing so, she had endangered her friends. She felt so absolutely stupid!

Well, now it was time to fix her problem. Buffy would risk her life for Xander as he’d done so many times for her, and she would save him.

There was Angelus, licking Xander’s blood off of his filthy fingers, obviously enjoying it, probably even more so because of the simple fact that it was the blood of one of her cherished friends.

Buffy choked back a sob as she observed Xander spasm with disgust at every touch from Angelus. His revolted countenance displayed a look of absolute repulsion. He whimpered, and the sound tugged roughly at her heart.

Time to fight.

“Hello, lover,” she spat mockingly as she took two steps into the room, her marching feet the very sound of death.