TITLE: Dark Room (1/?)

AUTHOR: Wicked Raygun

E-MAIL: wicked_raygun@yahoo.com

SUMMARY: Where does a person draw the line between love and obsession?

RATING: R. Just to be safe anyway. Nothing *really* bad is going to happen… Trust me.

SPOILERS: General spoilers for seasons 1 through 6. Any spoilers from season 7 simply happen because they fit with the story I want to tell.

DISCLAIMOR: I refuse to believe this is necessary. Does anyone here actually believe I own this stuff in any way? Well… To the folks who do own a piece of the Buffster and/or her friends and enemies, I mean you no harm. I'm simply borrowing your toys to put on a little puppet show. I promise to bring them all back in near-mint condition. Even Spike.

FEEDBACK: Everyone needs a little love. It makes the world go round and writers post faster.

AUTHOR'S NOTES: If you're expecting fluffy bunnies and cute endings run away in fear right now. I'm writing a mature story, where adult themes such as violence, rage, obsession, stalking and, yes… gasp, even sex are mentioned. If you cannot deal with that, please, go somewhere else. Or better yet, just grow up.

Special thanks must be given to my online friend Lori Bush, who is an amazing writer who for some reason that I cannot begin to comprehend seems to actually want to read my work and help me improve it. Here's hoping her sanity doesn't kick in anytime soon. For those of you who are interested in reading one or ten of her fabulous stories, they can be found here:

http://tedjoxertimandmore.homestead.com/XanderStories.html

Also, for those who are interested in some of my other work, it can be found here:

http://www.fanfiction.net/profile.php?userid=79383

That being said… I'm looking for a place to hang up my coat. If someone is interested in being a home for my stories, I would be extremely grateful and promise to promote your site out the wazoo.

Now, onto the show.



~~~~~~***~~~~~~



He hadn't noticed her yet.


Watching him from the shadows as he laughed and joked with a young brunette - Dawn, she remembered her name was - she was finding herself more and more drawn to him. Simple things that he did in a way so unlike anyone else she had ever met, like the way he spoke to others, the way he laughed, and even simple body gestures, endeared him to her even more.


She had found him absolutely fascinating the first time she had seen him. It was odd, perhaps something out of a dream or one of her romance novels, she mused. He was just peering into the window of one of the local shops, his face the very ideal of deep, focused concentration, when she walked right by him. She likely would have thought nothing of him had he not had this immense aura of pain and betrayal emanating from him almost tangibly. As she got closer, she realized that he was looking into his own reflection in the glass. It was obvious to her that he was looking for something, some flaw in himself that was the cause of whatever had hurt him so much. Having done the same herself many times before, she felt an instant kinship of shared misery.


She didn't think him abnormally gorgeous, but he was definitely attractive. Handsome, in a rugged and beat-down way. He had the look of a man who had stared just a little too hard into his own soul and was absolutely terrified by what he had found, something, she felt, that added to his appeal.


She felt drawn to him instantly and was overcome with an immense need to take him into her arms, rocking him slowly back and fourth, cooing comforting noises in his ear as she protected him from the world that was full of so many awful, hurtful things. But she had never been the type to give into her own desires so quickly, so she just stood there, mesmerized.


After about ten seconds, she realized that it would have looked odd for her to stay, so she was about to say something-which completely went against her shy nature-when she decided that what was happening then was too important for her to get involved with and ruin. So, instead, she took out her camera and took his picture. He hadn't noticed at all. Very few people ever did, she mused self-deprecatingly. She left him there, looking into his reflection on the shop window, hoping that small town odds would be in her favor and that she would see him again.


When she returned to her apartment, without bothering to so much as attempt to get herself comfortable first, she rushed to the walk-in closet that she had converted into her dark room. There she developed her film immediately, not caring that most of it was still blank and that she was wasting a substantial amount of high-quality film. What had been developed humbled her.


She had, of course, heard of the superstition that taking someone's picture robbed them of a piece of their soul. She always thought that was silly, but she did hold to herself the belief that a picture could capture the essence of a moment in time and freeze it forever. She had taken an uncountable amount of pictures in her lifetime, and some, she admitted to herself, were stunningly beautiful, but nothing could have prepared her for what she had developed.


There was her mystery man, staring into his reflection. The shadows, the highlights, the angle, and the reflection in the window had all shown up with amazing clarity, but what had stood out even sharper was his pain, his hurt, his betrayal, and his searching for an answer to a very painful question. She had captured beauty before, but this was the first time she had ever captured raw emotion.


Soul searching, she remembered thinking as she stirred her rum and coke.


He looked so beautiful now. She wasn't sure whether or not he had resolved anything, but he seemed to be healing from his pain, albeit, slowly.


The music picked up just then. Probably for the best, she thought. The softer music was starting to make her feel even more dejected than usual.


She watched as he whispered something into Dawn's ear, and then the smile on her face as she nodded and started to get up from her chair. She felt a pang of longing, when she took his hand and led him onto the dance floor where they started jumping and moving in odd gyrations, in what was almost passably an attempt to keep to the beat of the music. Well, to be honest, Dawn seemed to have a firmer grasp on the actual rhythm, but having taken a cue from her partner's actions, had given up on any pretense of synchronization, and just bounced along with him. It looked like fun.


She sighed.


She imagined herself in Dawn's place, only the mood much more intimate as they danced slowly, enjoying the feel of each other's body pressed into their own. Her body shivered as she imagined the places his hands would touch as they swayed in harmony of soft, enchanting music. For a moment, she actually felt the warmth of his hands cupping her face pulling her to him for a kiss. A moment of uncertainty hanging in the air before they bravely moved in to feel their lips touch.


She sighed again.


It was about time for her to leave. Watching him like this wasn't making her feel any better, and she bitterly knew the chances of him turning to her suddenly and being awestruck by her beauty.


She sneered before ripping the plastic stirrer from her drink and violently breaking it in half in frustration, sending red, plastic flakes allover her table. No one had seen her childish fit, or heard it, either. The loud music had drowned out the snapping.


Taking one last look at her soul searcher, she decided not to take his picture again that night. He looked, for the first time she could remember, content as he danced with Dawn, and the fact that she had not been a factor of that peace hurt her.


The music was really loud, she thought. An urge came over her then, and she didn't feel the need to repress it.


"Xander," she said softly, tasting the word as it tickled its way past her tongue. My Xander, she added to herself, before leaving the Bronze.



~~~~~~***~~~~~~



Despite her fairly depressed mood, as she walked through the streets of Sunnydale heading back to her apartment, even she had to acknowledge the beautiful night for what it was. Without a single cloud in the sky, the full moon shone down on Sunnydale with all its subtle brilliance. The air was cool, with just a hint of a comforting breeze caressing the bare parts of her skin, and brought with it the pleasant smells of a Californian autumn.


The perfect setting, she thought, for a little romance.


A brief fantasy of Xander taking her into her arms and kissing her passionately played across her mental eye.


She sighed again for the countless time that night.


She really wanted to talk to someone about him, but she only rarely spoke to a few people in her classes and she lived alone - didn't even have a pet. Besides, she doubted that anyone would understand just how drawn she felt to him. It went beyond mere physical attraction and she refused to call it anything as petty as a crush - it felt like so much more.


It was need, pure and simple.


She was hopeless to do anything other than think about him, and she didn't feel like she wanted to try. As much as it hurt to have images of him burnt into her retinas when she went to sleep at night, knowing that he wasn't hers, she still craved them because she was sure they might be the only things close to memories that she would ever have of him. He was special, beautiful and, by her standards, unattainable. In all her life, she had never needed anyone the way she needed him, but she was afraid that, if somehow she got too close, he would disappear.


Closing her eyes, she tried not to dwell on those feelings for too long. Then she laughed, thinking it strange how much she wanted him, since, at first, her interest in him had been professional. Well, mostly, she reminded herself. He was, after all, very cute, she thought with a giggle and a content sigh.


After being utterly awestruck by what she had seen in that photo, she was overtaken by a need to find him again, to perhaps see if she could bottle lightening just one more time. So for the next week she had walked up and down that same street that she found him on that first time, camera in hand and ready to try her luck; but, apparently, his presence there had been a one time thing. She was starting to give up hope of ever seeing him again, and had in fact abandoned her search altogether when an expedition out into one of the many graveyards to photograph day shots of a few of the more impressive mausoleums gave her a chance to witness something more.


There he was, but not alone. A redhead-a very attractive redhead-was with him. They were standing in front of a single grave, obviously mourning a recently deceased loved one. The redhead shook, stifled sobs painfully wracking her body, but her Soul Searcher, however, remained stoic, a firm wall of support, lending his strength to his apparent girlfriend.


Seeing how this was as personal a moment as the first time she had seen him and that he seemed to have a girlfriend, she knew she shouldn't interrupt, so she opted instead to take pictures of the two of them.


After the redhead had said a few words, she reverently laid down a flower on top of the grave, before leaving, hugging herself. Her Soul Searcher, walked to the grave marker and gently kissed the top of it,. He lightly swept his fingers over the headstone, said his own goodbye and started off himself.


Despite knowing how inappropriate it was, she couldn't help but going to see the grave. Tara Maclay, it said.


She wrote down the name, knowing it to be important, but important for what, she wouldn't admit to herself.


After a few days of restlessness, she decided to check the newspaper archives on the death of Tara Maclay. Sorting through pages and pages of grueling deaths of all kinds, she eventually found the cause of death: gunshot wound. Researching further with the aid of a slightly illegal use of Sunnydale General Hospital's computer, she was eventually able to come up with a host of other names that had something to do with Miss Maclay: Buffy Summers, Dawn Summers, Willow Rosenberg, and Alexander Harris.


Now, her Soul Searcher had a name.


This group spent a surprising amount of time in hospitals. Fractured and broken bones, blood loss, concussions, various types of cuts, scrapes and gashes, and Tara Maclay herself had even spent the night over there for observation of her mental stability. The deeper she dug, the more intrigue she found.


Throughout all that, she would tell herself to let it go, but something inside her desperately needed to know anything and everything about them, especially, him.


She would watch them, occasionally taking their pictures. Eventually, she discovered something surprising. Whenever one of his friends was around he would wear a mask of smiles and laughter, but as soon as they left him alone, his true face would return. None of the others ever seemed to notice.


She began to hate them.


Well, not so much, Dawn, to be honest. She seemed to be the only one who was genuinely concerned with Xander's well-being.


She shook her head as she remembered when she learned his true name. Yes, legally he was Alexander L. Harris, but to those who knew him well, he was called Xander. It was a very unique name, and she found it to be an oddly fitting one for a reason she could never quite put her finger on. It felt as natural to call him Xander as it was to say that the sky was blue.


She smiled.


Perhaps if she had been less focused on Xander and more attentive of her surroundings, she would have seen the figure in red robes before it came up behind her and dragged her away kicking and screaming into the night.



~~~~~~***~~~~~~



Days? Weeks? Possibly even months, she thought bitterly. Time wasn't something she could easily tell in this dark place. There were no windows-so she very well couldn't tell if it was night or day-and there were certainly no clocks around. The only thing that could tell time was her own wristwatch, but, with her hands bound behind her and tethered to the wall, she couldn't look no matter how much she squirmed about.


Tick-tock.


That didn't, however, stop her watch from ticking incessantly.


Tick-tock.


She shut her eyes, trying not to cry in frustration.


If it wasn't for the things in red robes coming in to force a vile, bitter green sludge down her throat, she wouldn't even have the vaguest notion of the passage of time.


"Drink this," they would hiss. "It will keep you alive."


She didn't know what it was they gave her exactly, but she was sure that it was something meant as much to hurt her as keep her alive because every time she drank she swore she could feel something moving inside her stomach, slithering and sliding, making her stomach lurch and gurgle horrendously. The first few times she panicked and vomited, but that only seemed to agitate whatever was inside her and the lurching and gurgling became even more painful.


What were they doing to her? she thought as a tear ran down her cheek.


This was too much. She didn't want to die, not like this. She wanted to become a real photographer, to be loved, to raise a family.


Oh, God, she begged, please, not like this! Not… alone.


Why didn't she go up to him? Why did she watch him from the shadows, never daring to walk up to him?


One conversation, that was all she wanted. It could have been about anything. Just to have him speaking to her would have been enough.


Why was she always such a damn coward?!? For once, why couldn't she have tried to seize the moment?!? To take what she wanted?!?


Damn everything, she thought angrily. Damn everything to hell.


She cried some more, feeling utterly helpless. Her pride didn't matter anymore; she only hoped that whatever those monsters were going to do with her that it would be quick.


That's when she started to hear noises. At first they didn't quite break her from the trance-like state her misery and crying fit had left her in, but then the distraction became too much and she was able to discern clearly even more sounds. There were rapid footsteps, followed by shuffling, sliding and grinding noises. Dispersed throughout all that were groans, shouts, grunts, swooshing, and the occasionally chiming and clanging of metal on metal.


She dared to hope for a moment.


The chiming and clanging grew louder and more frequent, sounding horrifically violent. Someone screamed, "Look out!" and then there was an "ooof" sound, followed by a heavy thud. One more loud swoosh and then a smaller, wet, splashing thud, this time.


She heard some labored breathing, before, "Willow, I'll get the sacrifice, you go help Buffy."


Willow? Buffy? she thought. Those were names she knew. Was that… Xander talking?


The door to her dark cell opened and her eyes instinctively winced at the bright light that suddenly poured in. Through her blinking eyes, she could only barely make out a large silhouette standing in contrast of the light. More tears flowed from her eyes as the shadowy form neared her.


She was frightened. What if this wasn't Xander? she thought. What if this was another one of them, trying to pour that vile sludge down her throat again?


Panicking, she thrashed around wildly.


"No more," she cried. "Please, no more."


"Shh," the silhouette whispered comfortingly to her. "It's okay. They're not going to hurt you anymore.


She quieted, wanting to trust him. He pulled out a dagger from somewhere behind him, and seeing the glint of metal flash briefly, she began to hyperventilate.


"Don't worry; it's just for the ropes," he said soothingly. She quieted her breathing somewhat, but she still shook miserably.


When he bent down to her, she saw them: his eyes. Those beautiful, warm chocolate-brown orbs, and she knew-she just knew-that Xander had come for her.


It was like a dream. How could he have known that she was in danger?


He unbound her hands and she fell crashing into his arms, wrapping herself around his waist.


"Thank God," she cried. "Thank God. Thank God." She went on and on like that, repeating the words like a mantra.


Xander, on the other hand, had been caught completely off-guard by this outburst of emotion. Eventually, he put his arms around her and rubbed her back soothingly, whispering to her that everything would be alright soon. Her back rose up and down with her rapid and erratic breathing, and then, overcome with emotion and weariness, she fell asleep for the first time in a very long time wrapped around him.


Her last conscious thought was that she would never let go.


Never.



******To*Be*Continued******