Chapter Sixteen

 

They started circling each other in a strange dance, neither attacking, yet neither falling back. The two were so close they could smell each other’s breath—one smelled like mint, the other’s like the vile reek of death. Buffy’s eyes narrowed as she focused on the vampire before her, concentrating on his every movement. The air was almost unbearably hot. It pushed her down into the floor—at least it seemed to—and she struggled to breathe under the glare of the single light bulb.

Thunder clanged outside. Lightning crashed in the distance. Rain pitter-pattered on the tin rooftop. Wind exploded through the trees. All while the sun withered away behind the choking onyx clouds. Yet the fracas in the sky was all but non-existent within the room. Just the vampire and the vampire slayer.

To keep the mood lively, Angelus began humming what sounded like "In the Air Tonight", and Buffy’s suspicions were confirmed when he busted out singing the actual words to the song.

"I’ve been waiting for this moment all of my life…"

Buffy listened intently, but her gaze upon him remained unfazed. She continued to watch him strictly as they continued their dance, always waiting for a moment when she could strike with all the ferocity that had built up inside her throughout the course of the day.

Damn him! Why did he have to keep chanting that hideous song? It was really beginning to disrupt her concentration. When had he heard that song anyway? It was then that she recalled the radio in the sterile hallway, all plugged in and ready to be listened to.

She was lost within the moment. For a brief, flittering instant, she imagined she saw the old Angel before, not the actual beast that was hungering for her blood. Buffy saw the demon that had stolen her heart, symbolically, that is to say. His straight-lined mouth curved upward at the ends and softened into the genteel smile of her Angel. There was no maliciousness visible in the warm gesture, at least not any that Buffy could see. It was just her Angel. Loving. Caring. Protecting. She wanted to run to him, leap into his arms and stay there forever, just like in her dreams that so often frequented her nights.

As she was about to take a step forward and dive into him, Angelus returned and moved into full battle mode. The attack was swift and almost caught Buffy off-guard had it not been for her slayer instincts kicking yet again to save the day—and her ass. He lounged toward Buffy and tried to grab her left arm, hoping to wrench it from its very socket. However, expecting this approach, Buffy sidestepped him in time to deliver a vicious kick to his jaw, sending Angelus reeling backwards. Before he could shake it off and get back up, the slayer brought her leg straight up into the air and then down onto the middle of his back, a sickening crack reverberating within the sound-proofed room. Angelus collapsed on the ground in a heap, heavy breathing emanating from his crumbled figure on the floor. Who says cheerleading never pays off? she thought smartly.

This was almost too easy, Buffy snickered. She raised Mr. Pointy above her head and then continued to bring it down, the fiercely sharp tip piercing the air. But Angelus wasn’t as out of it as he seemed. He rolled to the side, just missing the razor sharp end of the stake and used his foot to sweep Buffy’s legs out from under her. She fell down next to him with a clatter and a bang, successfully getting the wind knocked out of her. Angelus was quick to act on the moment of vulnerability in his prey, just as any good hunter, and hopped to his feet, eyes narrowing as he circled the victim. Lifting his foot slowly in the air, the vampire forcefully dropped it onto the center of her chest, gently applying more and more pressure, listening carefully for the distinct sound of bones shattering. As her air supply dwindled, Buffy squealed like a piglet under his weight, screaming painfully idle threat after idle threat. Her face turned a vivid purple, then melted into a burgundy. Because she was so short on air, Buffy lost all the strength she needed to throw off the beast’s foot. Instead, she just struggled like the zebra in the lion’s jaws. Buffy’s legs thrashed about wildly as she slowly died…again. Angelus’ eyes remained fixed on her, while Buffy’s eyes remained fixed on Xander’s. There was no way for him to save her this time.

"Nooo!" Xander’s pained scream filled the room. Her eyes pleaded with him for some release, a release he could unfortunately not provide this time. He struggled with his restraints—a losing battle. He struggled to save her. He struggled to save himself from this sight. Oh God… Xander searched quickly for an idea that could rescue his beloved. Then it came to him. "Faith! Don’t just stand there watching! What the hell’s the matter with you! Go save her!"

On cue, Faith pitched her crossbow for the stake hidden in her jacket sleeve. She removed it incredibly quickly as she leaped across the floor, closing the gap between herself and the demon in no time. The crossbow slammed against the ground, almost shattering like the brittle bone of old age, startling Angelus. His head jerked around and he saw Faith, a gazelle bounding over open prairie, charging at him. The lion reacted. Without thinking, he lifted his foot from Buffy’s chest and did a fancy backward kick, pivoting his other foot so he could maintain better balance. The dark-hair slayer took a direct hit to the stomach and she stumbled back, clutching her belly and croaking like a frog, her face twisted with a look of pain and frustration.

Back on the floor, Buffy clawed the air, trying desperately to bring the air to her, into her so that she might breath normally again. She let out a low moan, but somehow got to her feet. Her ankle threatened to give out, making her fall once more, and if it did, she couldn’t prevent it, for she no longer had her crutches—she ditched them when she’d jumped from roof to roof. But Buffy wouldn’t let herself fall. Inside, she knew that if she did, there was no way she was ever going to be able to get back up again, too much energy gone. She steadied herself with the help of the wall, and while she was leaning against it, she looked Xander’s way. It was funny how, although he was the one in the most pain, the bruised and bloody one, he looked at her with genuine concern in his eyes, not for himself, but for her. Xander ignored his suffering to make sure Buffy wasn’t hurt. She was lucky to have him.

She’d completely forgotten about Faith and Angelus; there was only Xander and herself, just like in her little dream this morning. He began to mouth the words "Help me," just like earlier today. Buffy walked closer to him, and he shook his head vehemently when she did. That was when she realized that Xander wasn’t asking her to help him, but rather Faith.

Instantly, Buffy spun around, lightning fast. Her ankle throbbed with immeasurable pain as she did so, telling her to sit down, but the obstinate slayer refused to obey.

Angelus was giving Faith her money’s worth. Each punch she sent flying he blocked, then returned with one of his own, most of which she managed to deflect. Then the tide changed. Angelus started scoring winning punches right and left, and Faith became slower and weaker as a result. He stopped for but a moment to say, "I expected more from a slayer. Oh well." A sigh, then a sucker punch that was unbelievable. Where did he learn that? Street fighting for demons, a special class taught only in Hell? With his arms moving blurs surrounding her, he grabbed Faith’s hair, spun her around, pulled her into his arms like a lover would, and then tilted her head to the side. "A pleasure meeting you. Too bad we can never do this again." Faith struggled fruitlessly in his grasp, but this only excited the vampire more as he tightened his hold. Angelus growled and went to bite her neck when a fist slammed him from behind. As his head jarred forward, his fangs grazed Faith’s neck, drawing blood.

"Ow! Goddammit!" the other slayer cried, hand instinctually going to her neck. She looked briefly at her hand, and upon finding it stained red, Faith flipped. "I’m bleeding… I’M BLEEDING! Oh, you’re gonna pay for that one!" She let out her battle cry, but Buffy held her back, shaking her head "no" very firmly.

Faith trotted off angrily to the side, planning to pounce on the monster anyway, when Buffy interrupted her idea. "Can you handle me?"

Angelus turned around, bellowing, eyes burning with all the fury Hell had to offer. "Why not? I have before," he managed coolly, fighting back the seething rage Buffy saw rip through his body in waves. With that, Angelus grunted and dove at her. She jumped out of the way, adding her own bit of style with a split in midair.

"You’ve got to be kidding me?" she laughed. "Is that all you’ve got?"

"Nope. Just a little taste of what’s to come."

"If that’s the case," she started between punches, "then," punch, "this," punch, "should," punch, "be easy," kick.

Angelus went down, barely missing a stomp to his chest by Buffy. Instead of hitting his ribs, her foot slammed into the floor, sending ripples of fire darting up her good leg, swimming right down the bad one. As the vampire rolled out of the way, he glanced back at the other slayer he never knew. Faith, that was her name right? It didn’t matter. He knew all he needed to know about her: she was the woman instituted to fill Kendra’s empty slayer shoes, not to mention she was a terrific fighter. The dark-hair girl was back on her feet, dusting herself off and looking really mad. Her eyes narrowed on the demon’s face, flames dancing in their depths. The fragile gazelle he had seen earlier had all but disappeared, only to be replaced by a fellow, rival lion. She looked about ready to strike.

"Faith! Get Xander and get out!"

"No!" she cried. "I wanna stake him! I wanna do the job!"

"Don’t argue, just do!" Buffy insisted, nodding her head toward the exit.

Reluctantly, Faith sidled over to Xander and untied him, helping the poor boy to his feet. "Come on, Xan." Bright red rings formed around his wrists and ankles from the chaffing binds; they were even so far-gone that they bled a little. Xander wasn’t as woozy as he thought he would be. Granted, he was weak and his mouth was parched and his chest stung like a bitch, but he sucked it up, using the last of his strength to steal Faith’s stake, break free from her grasp and go racing over to Buffy. She needed help, and he wanted to be the one who supplied her with it.

@~~`~~~

Buffy observed Angelus skittering away over to the open door, and she didn’t do anything—just waited—for Buffy knew, Angelus was not the type to back down from a confrontation, especially one he’d apparently been waiting to have since a year ago or so. That beast was up to something; he knew something that she didn’t know.

And then she found out what.

Xander screamed a warning to her not to look, but curiosity got the better of her… again. Instantly, she wished it hadn’t. There, lurking in the shadows, where it belonged, was the hideous visage of the once beautiful Miss Jenny Calendar. Buffy felt the vomit rising in the back of her throat; this wasn’t how Giles’ favorite teacher was supposed to look. Half of her flesh on her face appeared to have melted away, bleached white skull bone showing through now. Glowing teeth grinned at her, strangely pearly for the amount of decomposition she had gone through six feet underground. Jenny’s lips hung by threads of skin attached to her cheeks, and a bit of her chin was missing, revealing the hidden jaw.

And worst of all was the awful stink drifting throughout, filling the room. Buffy hadn’t realized it before because the heat of battle and her raging emotions had shut out all senses other than sight and sound. The reek was so powerful it practically knocked the wind out of her. Just to disgust her even further, Angelus inhaled deeply, sighing at the scent he undoubtedly found an incredible turn-on. "You know, you could get me this excited, too, Buffy, if you looked exactly like her. Care to try? I promise to help." She couldn’t even answer, she was so repulsed.

One glaring, lidless eye seemed to watch Buffy’s every move; it observed her take a step back, and it saw her grow furious. Another step back, always staring. Staring. Staring. Staring. Staring. STARING! It was driving Buffy insane.

She threw both hands above her head and screamed like a banshee hungry for violence and carnage. The dangling corpse seemed to vivify Buffy, and she dove gracefully into a front flip, even with the sprain. A second flip and she was in front of Angelus, almost atop him, her stake hanging directly above where a human’s heart would be. "You are gonna pay for this, you sorry son-of-a-bitch," she added, bringing the stake down toward him.

"Xander! Come back here!"

"Faith?" Buffy spun around before she could inflict any damage and saw Xander barreling at her, followed by an irate Faith. It reminded Buffy of a chase scene she had once seen in a movie. Xander eyes were wide with fear, skittering back and forth in their sockets.

"Buffy!" he called. "Behind you!"

Facing Angelus again, she saw his gnarled, vicious hands reaching for her tender throat with the malicious intent to rip her head from her body. As they neared her, her eyes widened when she saw the talons at their tips actually grow right before her very own eyes. Light from the bulb glinted on their shiny exteriors, exaggerating their sharpness, although not by much.

"Noo!" Xander screeched, his voice cracking like the thunder rumbling outside.

And then, everything seemed to move in slow motion.

Xander ran to Buffy, Faith’s stake waving wildly above his head. Buffy turned back to Xander and became transfixed somehow by the spectacle before her, completely forgetting about the demon she was fighting. If she were going to die now, Buffy certainly didn’t want to see Angelus as her last sight, rather someone she loved and held dear—Xander. Faith was racing after the boy, only managing to match Xander’s speed, instead of gaining on him like Buffy would have thought. She kept yelling for him to come back, but he wouldn’t listen. And Angelus, being the beast that he normally was, took advantage of the situation and reached closer for the blonde slayer.

Inch by painful inch, Angelus’ wickedly sharp fingertips neared her slender neck, just millimeters away from tearing the perfect flesh. Angelus was so close he could see the blood racing through her arteries, could smell the fabulous aroma of the coppery liquid, taste her fire-red juices gliding sensually over his tongue. Only a few more seconds…

It was at that moment that Xander leaped, stake readied above his head, strong arms tensed, poised for action. A terrified Xander flew through the stale air, cutting it in half like a hot knife through butter. He prayed he would make it before he could witness his true love’s demise, for if he didn’t, it would be like watching himself die (which was probably going to happen anyway).

The boy gritted his teeth in anticipation as he observed the scene ahead of him while it played in halting frames before his eyes. It was just like watching a movie in very slow motion. No, more like a documentary on the animals of the African savannas, where the lion lurched forth from his hiding place among the grasses and tackled the unknowing zebra. Except it was all in slow motion.

Angelus was only a few centimeters from Buffy, his revolting face screwed up in a look of evil malice, the monster in his eyes slithering for joy that he was about to make the kill. Buffy, on the other hand, looked radiant as usual, even with the wet hair and dirtied face and rain-soaked clothes. None of that stuff mattered anyway; she was his slayer, his queen of the night, his second, better half. Buffy had never needed a spotless appearance to be beautiful, for she was always that and always would be that way.

Come on! Gotta save her!

Closer and closer. As Xander got nearer to Angelus, Angelus got nearer to Buffy. The demon was so close to the slayer, Xander’s hurry seemed pointless; he couldn’t get there in time. The mere thought of failing Buffy made him sick. He just wanted to die, and he was sure if he did fail her, he would.

The world moved impossibly slowly, and Xander took it as punishment for all the times he’d hurt his friends. He’d been the cause of Jesse’s death; he was the reason Angel had been killed in the first place, only to return to this world as Angelus. If he had originally told Buffy that Willow was going to give Angel back his soul, then Buffy would never have killed him. He’d still be good ol’ Angel (as if Xander would ever actually call him that), and Buffy would be ignorant to all this suffering. To put the icing on the cake, if Xander hadn’t wimped out on Angelus last night, not doing anything to fight back, maybe he wouldn’t have been captured at all. Buffy and Co. wouldn’t’ve been brought into this whole mess, and instead of all the fear they felt, they would be in school laughing and making jokes and relaxing. God, life was such a bitch.

Xander watched in horror as Buffy’s eyes shifted to see him drifting through the air, not paying any attention to the bloodthirsty vampire who was seeking to murder her. She stared relentlessly into his dark brown eyes, and as she did so, Xander saw a look of joy and relief evident within them. The connection was back. Xander and Buffy were again on the same level, their minds and bodies as one. He felt some pain leave him when their connection was complete, as if she had taken it away.

Still sailing in the air. Never going to reach the demon in time to save his love. Not going to survive this day. Never going to get the chance to tell Buffy how deeply he felt about her.

Dammit! Angelus was just too close!

Finally, after what felt like ages, Xander reached Angelus and took his best shot, which, naturally, wasn’t very good. He lowered the stake from high above his head. The wooden stick whizzed through the air, screaming as it picked up speed on its way down. Splinters of oak pierced his fingers and numbed them further than a whole day without using them had. As Xander’s altitude declined, he silently hoped that he could score a direct hit to the heart. Unfortunately, the slayerette fell short of his goal by a long shot—he merely nicked Angelus’ shoulder. At least this less serious injury had the same desired effect, and the fact that his body went barreling into the beast’s also helped matters.

Angelus lost his balance and roared with the intensity of all the hounds of Hell baying at once. He stumbled, one disfigured hand clasping his throbbing shoulder, the other waving crazily in front of him with the vicious intention of wounding the slayer.

It completed its mission.

Since Buffy was standing with her left arm facing Angelus, it made it all the more vulnerable. The terrible razors that were Angelus’ nails ripped through Buffy’s tender, milky flesh as though it were simply tissue paper and shredded it just as a chainsaw would do to a piece of wood. Blood and skin flew. Gore everywhere. And so much. Xander didn’t think that there would be anything of Buffy when the proverbial "dust" settled.

Still, the slayer’s facial expressions were evident even through the bloody haze. Her facial muscles bunched and tightened, trying to lessen the swelling pains in her ruined arm. She clasped the gory wounds with right hand and somehow summoned all her strength to grasp her own stake with her free hand. As Buffy released her left bicep, at the same moment, she straddled the vampire lying wounded and dazed on the cement floor. Her eyes narrowed like a lioness’. Now she was the Queen of the Jungle, and Angelus was merely the weak zebra trembling beneath her paws. "You," she spat with a hatred unknown to all others. "You took away all I worked to build. You killed my innocence. You butchered my hope. You… you… you bastard! You will die NOW!" Out of nowhere, Buffy’s stake appeared and stabbed Angelus in the heart, the devilishly sharp piece of wood piercing his soft flesh, ignoring the hard chunks of bone and finding its mark.

Upon contact with the motionless muscle, Angelus howled, remembering his fire-ridden home beneath the Earth. He recalled telling Xander about how someday he’d like to return there and smell the exotic smells and see the exotic sights—little had he known he’d be revisiting it again so soon. And he’d been so sure of a sweeping victory! What had gone wrong? This was not supposed to end this way. Oh well, plenty of time to ponder this when he got back home.

"See you soon, lover," croaked Angelus.

"Not likely."

And with a poof, he exploded into a great cloud of dust, a thunderclap signaling his dramatic exit.