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Defender of the Night

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Summary: Challenge response- Xander dresses as something inhuman for Halloween

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Cartoons > GargoylesMMcGregorFR1817113,296109119175,72010 Feb 0521 Jul 08Yes
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Part Fourteen

Defender of the Night Part Fourteen

***

Cordelia grit her teeth and spun the wheel, sending her cherry-red convertible skidding around the corner, tires squealing and smoking. Beside her, Buffy was grasping her seatbelt, her knuckles white. Cordelia knew that the look of fear on her face was not as a result of Cordelia's reckless driving, and had, in fact, demanded Cordelia go faster more than once. No, her knuckles were white because the two most important people in her life were likely in trouble.

The roar of the engine seemed to echo in Cordelia's ears, reminding her of Xander's inhuman battle cry. She could almost imagine hearing his deafening roar in the distance.

"There!" Buffy suddenly shouted as they came over the hill to Revello Drive. Cordelia slammed on the brakes, the car skidding to a perilous stop. Joyce Summers was slumped in the middle of the street, kneeling listlessly. Cordelia could make out the stains of dried blood on her.

Buffy didn't wait for the car to come to a complete stop, and instead nearly tore her seatbelt off, springing out of the convertible and landing in an impressive somersaulting roll. She was at her mother's side in an instant.

"Mom!"

Joyce's eyes were glassy and distant as she turned her head to her daughter. She blinked, as if she thought her a hallucination. "Buffy?"

"Mom, oh my God. What happened?" Buffy dropped to her knees in front of her mother, putting her hands on Joyce's shoulders. Gingerly, she reached out to examine the puncture wounds on her neck. Joyce winced, but didn't move away. "Oh God, Mom. I'm so sorry. I should have been here." She clutched at her mother, hugging her tightly.

Cordelia swallowed and undid her seatbelt. The street looked like a war zone. Body-sized dents were visible in several cars, and the sidewalk was cracked in web-like fractures in several places. A car door, nearly bent in half, was left strewn in the middle of the street. It shimmered as the street lamps reflected dully off the dark stains of blood that coated it.

And there was Joyce. Just Joyce. It made the fine hairs on the back of her neck stand on end. What happened here?

Buffy was lost in her relief over her mother's mostly unharmed state. Cordelia watched the two Summers women for a moment. A twinge of jealousy shocked through her, followed by a surprising feeling of sympathy. She let the embrace go on for a few more moments before she couldn't wait any longer.

"Where's Xander?" she asked.

Buffy sniffed and pulled back from her mother, wiping her eyes. Joyce stiffened and seemed to tremble slightly.

"Mom?" Buffy asked, frowning with concern. "What happened?"

"Buffy," Joyce rasped, voice hoarse and small. She lacked the confidence and strength that Cordelia had so often equated with Joyce Summers. "This...This can't be real."

Buffy sighed, and brushed a strand of hair out of her mother's face. "It is, Mom. I'm sorry. But it is. You need to understand that."

Joyce shook her head. "No. It just can't be."

"Mom," Buffy said, and Cordelia was shocked to hear that same confidence and strength now reverberating through Buffy's voice. "What happened?"

Joyce's eyes darted back and forth, as if witnessing the events in her own mind. "They, they were monsters. It was a monster. A demon."

"Xander," Buffy said, her tone insistent. "He's Xander, Mom. You know Xander."

Joyce shook her head like a petulant child. "No. No! You don't understand, Buffy. He's-It's- It's not human."

"Just tell me what happened."

"They were looking for you," Joyce said, distantly.

"Who, Mom? Who?"

"An Angel," she whispered. "A Demon. None of them...None of them were human."

"Angel," Buffy breathed. "He was here? What happened? What did he do?"

"They fought over me," Joyce said, trembling. "Fought over who could get me."

Cordelia's brow furrowed. "What?"

"One bit me," Joyce whispered. "I...Was it the demon?" She seemed confused, desperate for someone to return order and structure to her life.

"Mom," Buffy said, her hands on Joyce's shoulders. "You have to stay focused. What happened?"

"They fought. They beat him, Buffy. Thank God, they beat him. They took him away so...So he couldn't hurt me. Couldn't hurt you."

Cordelia stopped breathing. She stared at Joyce in wide-eyed shock.

"What?" Buffy whispered. "Where did they take him? What did they say?"

Joyce continued to speak distantly, obviously in shock. "They said they would take me or they would take him. I told them to take him. They did. They...Saved me. Didn't they?"

Buffy's face screwed up in anguish. "Oh my God. No."

"Was he alive?" Cordelia managed to ask. Joyce's eyes slid to Cordelia's.

"I hope not," she whispered, frightfully.

Cordelia struck her before she realized she was moving, a hard, staggering blow across the face. Joyce toppled over, clutching the side of her face. A second later, Buffy was holding her by the wrist, keeping her from attacking again.

"You had better be in shock right now," Cordelia hissed at Joyce, glaring at her. Joyce's vacant gaze told her that she most definitely was.

"Cordy," Buffy warned. "Calm down. It's...It's not her fault, okay? She can't handle this."

"If he's dead, Buffy..." Cordelia began, but her breath hitched in her throat and she couldn't continue. Buffy's controlling grip turned into a comforting touch, and she squeezed Cordelia's hand gently.

"He's not," she assured her. "He's Xander."

"What do we do?" Cordelia asked. Buffy was the pro at this stuff. She would know what to do.

Sure enough, she could almost see Buffy slipping into Slayer mode, taking charge and making decisions. Even when Cordelia was more antagonist than friend, she was always able to respect Buffy when she got into this persona. You didn't argue with Buffy when she was the Slayer, you obeyed, and you lived.

"We bring Mom to Giles's. Call Willow on the way; have her meet us there. I don't want her staying at her house anymore, not until we get an anti-invitation spell. They can stay with Giles or they can go home with you."

"Right," Cordelia nodded.

"Giles has locator spells. You guys research the most useful ones while I try to track them down. If they took Xander, it means he's still alive, and they want him for something. He's unique, so there's no telling what they might use him for. Maybe something no one's ever thought of before, or maybe they just want to...Whatever. They won't get a chance to do it. I'll kill them first."

Buffy released Cordelia and went to help her mother up. Joyce held the side of her face, and stared at Cordelia with a look of absolute horror. She turned to Buffy.

"Buffy, you can't. H-He's a monster. They're all monsters. You can't get involved in this."

"I already am involved," Buffy said with stony resolve. "And Mom? I think you need to shut up until you've calmed down."

Joyce opened her mouth to protest, but at the hard look in her daughter's eyes, she closed it, and was silent. Cordelia had the distinct impression that Joyce Summers was only just beginning to realize how utterly wrong she truly was.

***

Tightness around his chest alerted Xander that he was in a strange situation. Wracking pain through his entire body was his second clue. A low-throated groan escaped his lips. His body felt like it was a giant slab of tenderized meat. Tiny cuts and gashes all over him burned like fire, and his head throbbed with excruciating pain at each beat of his heart.

Cold fingers pressed against Xander's chest, tracing the proudly defined muscles. He became aware of the thick steel chains around his midsection when the fingers brushed against them, leaving his skin. He attempted to move his arms, and realized that the pain in his shoulders came from his wrists being manacled. He tugged weakly, the chains clinking, but he could accomplish no more than that.

"Do you like the melody?" a soft, feminine voice whispered in his ear. "The clankity clank of the chains? Will you play a tune for me?" The fingers traced down his side lovingly. Then there came an animalistic hiss, and fire burned across his abdomen.

Xander's eyes snapped open and he roared as Drusilla clawed his stomach, revealing a thin line of dark red blood. He grit his teeth and held his breath, squeezing his eyes shut again, trying to block out the pain.

"Beautiful," Drusilla whispered, stroking the side of his face. He twisted his head away angrily, but she gripped his chin with powerful fingers. "My beautiful monster."

"Flatterer," Xander coughed. "I bet you say that to all the gargoyles."

She scowled at him and slapped him across the face. Compared to the clawing gash she'd left on his abdomen, he was almost glad for the blow.

"Naughty!" she scolded. "We must always be mindful of our manners."

"Oh I get it," Xander groaned. "You're crazy. You know, you really shouldn't be so secretive about that."

He had no idea why he was goading her. It just seemed like the right thing to do. If he could crack jokes, he could pretend he wasn't scared out of his mind. He tried to tug himself free again, but he could do no more than hang limply in his bonds. Long, thick chains shackled his wrists to the ceiling, and another thick chain had been looped around his chest and wings several times, binding them tight to his body. His ankles were likewise shackled, and judging from the dull pain that flared into bright fury whenever he tried to move, he suspected his tail was actually nailed into the floor.

So it was safe to say things were not looking up.

Xander's eyes searched the room, and although it spun dizzyingly around him, he managed to get a good look at the place. They were in what appeared to be a once-elegant and spacious room. A crackling fireplace provided the room's only illumination. Marble columns and gothic archways gave the room a cold, sinister appearance. Wrought iron gates covered paneless windows, and he could feel the cool evening breeze wafting in. He was in some kind of mansion, maybe even an old castle or church. It was hard to tell exactly.

His chains were secured to thick beams. They were heavy and very durable, and given his weakness, he had no doubt they'd hold him with no trouble. Maybe if he could gather some energy, recover a little, he might be able to pull himself free.

He shuddered slightly as Drusilla smiled dreamily at him, running her hands up and down his body. During the day he would be defenseless. They could do whatever they wanted to him. Kill him in an instant.

Which was no different than his current predicament. Drusilla could kill him any time she wanted, stone or no stone.

He forced himself not to think of it. Buffy would come for him, and she'd bring the cavalry with her, long before he turned to stone. Long before they decided to kill him.

At the thought of Buffy, Xander suddenly tensed. What about Joyce? He swung his head from side to side, trying to spot some sign of her. Drusilla grinned at him.

"Where is she?" he demanded.

"Who?" She ran her fingers through his long black hair.

"Mrs. Summers," he growled.

"Do you want her, my monster? Are you hungry?"

Xander stared at her in disgust. "What? No! What did you do with her?"

Drusilla shrugged, spinning around his body. He twisted his neck, trying to keep her in sight. Her cold palm pressed against his back, tracing the length of his spine. He roared when she dug her sharp nails into the base of his tail.

When she was again before him, she was licking his blood from her fingers. Breathing heavily, he glared at her, cold sweat dripping down his skin, burning where it came into contact with one of his many cuts.

"We're going to have such fun, my pretty monster." She swayed back and forth, hands held at head height, clutching at invisible strands of nothingness. "It wafts from you, like spider webs and smoke."

"Hey, he who smelt it dealt it," Xander rasped. Humor supplants fear. He tried to ignore the sickening pain in his tail. How could a limb he shouldn't have hurt so much?

Drusilla shivered pleasurably and strode up to him again. One hand stroked his upper thigh, while the other touched the side of his face. Her eyes seemed to call to him.

"Look at me," she whispered. He did. His ragged breathing slowed. The pain began to not matter so much anymore. Her soft fingers touched him gently, cold and soothing. Beautiful darkness danced in her eyes. "Be in me."

Xander blinked, gazing into her eyes. He was dimly aware that something was going on, but he couldn't focus on it. She smiled at him, and he felt himself smile back. She was very pretty. Darkness engulfed him.

His life was the dark. The sun was robbed from him. She was that darkness, there for him. There to claim him. His life. Her eyes held his future, his dark and terrible existence. She was darkness and pain. Her smile held no hint of warmth, yet it touched him deeply, coldly. Icy tendrils gripping at his soul.

Drusilla's eyes were drowning him, and he was sinking with a smile on his face. She swayed, and his chains rattled as he attempted to follow, swinging back and forth with her. Then she had her arms over his shoulder, pulling her face close to his. He'd been in a position like this before.

Buffy, her arms around his neck, holding him, being held by him. Her sparkling blue-green eyes full of pain, joy, love, and sorrow. The warmth of her body, the warmth of her skin, the warmth of her soul. Buffy, her body against his, each the other's protector, each the other's support. Buffy, with him in the darkness, fighting to pull him through. Buffy, her lips against his, begging him to be alive. Buffy, his lips against her, begging her to be alive.

The sun had been robbed from him, but it has been replaced with nights of Summers. He had pledged himself to walk beside her in the darkness, even when he could have been in the light. And now that he was doomed to the dark, she was there with him. Buffy. They were linked. Warriors of the night. She would protect him. She was protecting him.

With a roar, Xander lurched forward, slamming his bony forehead into Drusilla's face. She cried out as her nose was crushed, and she fell off the steps behind her, tumbling to the floor. She wailed and clutched her face.

"Stay out of my head," he growled. Drusilla had no answer for him, and instead held her bloody face, whimpering softly. A few moments later Spike came rushing into the room, Angelus on his heels. Spike slid to his knees beside Drusilla.

"Dru!" he cried, putting his hand against her back. "Dru, what happened?"

"Spike," she whispered, trembling. "Oh, my Spike. He's a monster."

"Takes one to know one," Xander sneered. Spike roared, his face slipping into the deformed visage of a vampire, and he flew towards Xander, his powerful fingers gripping Xander's thick neck.

"You think you're funny?" Spike hissed, and his voice was low and dangerous. His demonic yellow eyes shone with a protective anger that sent chills down Xander's spine. He'd never seen that kind of look in a vampire before. "You know what would be funny? Your head all lolled to one side when I snap your neck in 'alf. How's that for a joke?"

Xander's eyes bulged as he stared back at Spike, unwilling and unable to offer a reply. The two inhuman creatures glared at each other as Xander's vision began to waver.

Angel gripped Spike's wrist, and tore his hands free from Xander's throat.

"Play nice," he admonished. "You don't want to break Dru's new toy before she has time to break him in."

"I should just kill the prat right now," Spike growled, pulling his hand away from Angel. He pointed an angry finger at Xander. "You touch Dru again, and you'll be screamin' for days."

Xander had no response for him, and instead gasped for air, eyes stinging and throat burning. What was he supposed to do? How was he supposed to act?

They were going to torture him. Scratch that, they already were torturing him. He wasn't built for that kind of thing. He wasn't Buffy; he couldn't stare death in the face and dare it to make a move. He couldn't grit his teeth and hold in his screams. He wasn't a hero. He was just some dumb kid who got turned into a freak.

He hurt everywhere. Hurt in places he didn't even have just a few short weeks ago. They would hurt him more. That's what vampires did. They enjoyed pain and suffering. Even as he struggled to regain his breath, he could see Drusilla's shocked expression turning to one of sickening amusement.

This wasn't his place. He wasn't supposed to get tortured.

From somewhere deep in his mind, a voice asked a question.

Who was?

It was the voice of a warrior with experience Xander did not have. It was the voice of memories that existed as shadows within his mind. It was the voice of Goliath, speaking to him across the void between reality and fiction.

No one was supposed to endure something like this. No one was prepared for it. Yet this was his place, this was the life he'd chosen. If he was the focus of the vampires' attention, then they weren't focusing on the others. Wasn't that what he'd hoped for, wasn't that the hope that drove him? His curse might mean he could lessen their burdens. Lessen her burden.

Only nobody told him there would be torture involved.

Was he a coward, that he wanted to be away? That in that moment, he wished for nothing more than to be free, to be safe? It sent a wave of disgust rolling through him.

Would he want to be free if it meant one of his friends took his place?

The answer did not come immediately. There was no flash of insight, no obvious realization. It seeped into him, slowly but inexorably. He knew the answer before he'd fully considered it, but the simple fact that he had to think about it made him hate himself.

For them, he would endure it, if he could. He would try to be like the girl who was his hero, and try to survive. Maybe he wouldn't do it as gracefully, maybe he wouldn't do it with a quick pun or scathing quip, but he would try.

So Xander turned his eyes to Spike, and met the vampire's gaze. He hoped his trembling didn't cause his chains to shake audibly. If they were going to do this, he was going to fight every step of the way. The idea of begging came to his mind, but he dismissed it at once, the shadow of Goliath flaring with fury at the very idea. If they weren't vampires, he might try, but Xander knew there was no mercy from a vampire.

All he could do was endure, and pray that Buffy could save him.

***

The doorbell chimed its insistent call once more, and Giles hurriedly made his way down the stairs, half of his face still covered in shaving cream. He and Jenny were to have dinner later that evening, and he had been in the process of preparing when the doorbell began ringing. He had turned away from the sink without a second thought. Such was the duty of a Watcher.

He'd been suspecting Buffy, Xander, or even Willow. He was not expecting Cordelia Chase and Joyce Summers. A very pale, very frightened looking Joyce Summers.

"Cordelia? What- My god, Joyce? What's happened?" Buffy's mother looked about to fall over, and he could clearly make out the puncture wounds on the side of her neck. Cordelia nudged her into the room with what might have been a push. Joyce stepped inside without protest.

Cordelia spoke one word. "Angel."

With a sharp intake of breath, Giles cursed inwardly. He quickly grabbed a dishtowel and wiped his face clean, before pulling his first aid kit out. He ushered Joyce to the couch, and began to examine her neck.

"Is everyone all right?" he asked as he carefully inspected the wounds. She was still alive, so there was no danger of turning, and although she was pale, she didn't seem in danger of permanent damage.

"No," Cordelia replied, tone unreadable.

Giles looked up at her. Cordelia seemed almost like another person. She too was pale, although not as pale as Mrs. Summers. Her eyes were red, and her nose was slightly puffy. She stood with her arms at her sides, an unnatural looking stance of false casualness. She seemed to alternate between letting her eyes roam blankly around the room, and glaring angrily at Mrs. Summers.

"What happened?" Giles pressed. "Where's Buffy?"

"Out looking. For Xander."

"What? For Xander?"

Cordelia nodded, a shaky movement that revealed how frayed she was. "Angel went after her," she pointed to Joyce. "Xander- He saved her, not that she cares. I can't believe I ever called her cool."

Joyce said nothing. Indeed, seemed not to hear her in the first place. She stared distantly across the room. It was a look Giles knew well. Most people did not handle the realities of evil as well as these remarkable children he'd surrounded himself with. There was the possibility Joyce would snap out of it, and Giles in fact suspected it was more likely than not. Joyce was a strong person, but even the strong could be blindsided by such things.

"Um," Cordelia continued, looking upwards. "Buffy says um, that she has to stay here with you until we find an un-invitation spell. Willow too."

Giles nodded. "Yes, that would seem prudent. You've contacted Willow?"

"Yeah, on the way here."

"Good," Giles dabbed at Joyce's neck carefully.

"We're supposed to find tracking spells. Locator spells. Anything to find him. She's out trying to follow their trail."

He nodded solemnly. The chances of Buffy successfully tracking them were slim. Angelus was one of the craftiest vampires to have ever existed. He was glad Buffy had recognized that they might need other means.

For a moment he allowed himself to think about Xander's situation, but he forced it out of his mind. That way led the madness of giving in to despair, and that was not something he could allow. He couldn't think about what Xander would be put through by three of the most vicious vampires to ever live. Vicious vampires that held a personal grudge against him.

"We'll head to the library as soon as Willow arrived," Giles said as he bandaged Joyce's neck. He looked at her face, trying to catch her attention. "Joyce? Will you be all right here?"

"She'll be fine," Cordelia growled. "She's not the one getting- Not the one who's going to be-"

Cordelia was nearly shaking, although whether from fear or rage, Giles was unsure. He stood, frowning curiously at her. "Cordelia?"

Her jaw clenched as her eyes met his. Pain and worry were etched within. He could not imagine that Willow or Buffy could best that look. It suddenly occured to him that Xander had lived with Cordelia for several weeks. He was suddenly aware of all the time she'd spent in the library since then, researching cures for him.

Surprisingly, it was not Giles who offered the words of comfort. She spoke before he was able to, in a clear, powerful voice that could brook no argument.

"He's going to be okay," she swore. Her eyes blazed, daring anyone or anything to defy her. Giles would not. Could not. Instead, he nodded his head once.

"You're right," he whispered. Cordelia nodded back at him, jaw clenching tighter, and her resolve began to melt away. She hugged her arms, trembling softly.

Unsure of what else to do, Giles stepped closer to her, and took Cordelia into a close, comforting hug. It was awkward and stiff, both from his own discomfort with that sort of thing, and Cordelia's shocked reaction.

"It'll be all right," he assured her, in as professional a voice as he could muster.

She didn't hug him back, but she didn't pull away. Giles held her for a few more moments before clapping her on the back and stepping back. He cleared his throat, and pulled off his glasses.

"Right then," he said, blinking rapidly, and feeling rather foolish. "We should get ready to leave. I need to call Jenny, tell her to meet us at the library."

"What about her?" Cordelia asked, gesturing to Joyce. The sneer was evident in her voice.

"She should be safe here," Giles answered.

"I think they made her crazy."

With a slight smile, Giles shook his head. "No, but she's quote obviously in shock. I'm afraid we simply don't have the time or the resources to help her through the ordeal at the moment. The best thing to do for her is let her work through it."

It was strange to talk about such a bright, strong, and vibrant woman in such a way, as if she were a child, or simply not there at all. He was worried about Joyce, but his worry for her was far overwhelmed by his worry for Xander and even Buffy.

"I hit her," Cordelia admitted suddenly.

"I beg your pardon."

"Slapped her." She shrugged. "Maybe I shouldn't have."

"You struck her?"

Cordelia's eyes fixed on his again. "He saved her life, Giles. He's a hero, just like Buffy, but she doesn't care. She didn't even want Buffy to go save him." Her face began to burn red as she spoke, and she exhaled sharply. "On second thought? Maybe I should have hit her again."

"I think perhaps remaining calm would be the best course of action, Cordelia. Whatever Joyce may have said, I can't say she's in the proper state of mind to be held accountable for them. It's the rare mind that can handle such horror."

"Buffy handles it. Xander handles it. You and Willow and Ms. Calendar handle it."

"And I can assure you that each of us has reacted poorly to certain situations."

Cordelia sighed, and shifted her weight to one foot. She stared at Joyce. "I liked it better when everything was simple."

Giles snorted. "When was that, exactly?"

She looked at him for a long while before answering.

"I liked it better when I was simple."

Giles gave her a serious look. "I'm afraid," he said. "That I can't recall a time such as that, either."

She smiled, and then she screwed up her face. Her hands came up, covering her face. This time, when Giles stepped to her, she sank into his arms. This time, he held her until Willow showed up.

***

It always surprised him. Each time she came at him, he thought he was spent, thought there was no more energy left. Each time, he fully expected to hang limply in his chains, unable to even scream.

Yet each time she burned his flesh, tore his skin, or pierced his hide, Xander roared, pulled weakly at his chains, and struggled to fight back. If he was still able to think about such things, he might be kind of proud of this reaction.

For once, he was glad for his gargoyle physiology. Dawn was surely coming soon, as evidenced by the soft red hue in the sky he could make out through the window. Of course, his eyes were stinging with sweat and blood, and everything seemed covered in a blurry red haze, but he was pretty sure it was almost dawn. And when it was dawn, he would rest. One way, or another. Even Drusilla could not stop his transformation into stone. It would be his minor victory. She couldn't hurt him while he was stone.

Kill him? Yes, that she could do, but at that point, he wasn't so sure he cared. All he wanted was for the pain to stop. He wasn't Goliath. He wasn't able to endure proudly and strongly. He was just Xander. He was done.

Stone sleep would come soon, and with it would likely come his death.

Who protects her, when you're dead? came the distant thought.

Shut up.

You're her protector. She dies without you.

She's the Slayer. She's better than me. She'll survive.

Like Kendra survived? Like Buffy survived the Master?

Shut up. You're just a Hellmouthy shadow of a cartoon character lodged in my brain. I'm not Goliath.

But you are a gargoyle.

Again with the Hellmouthy magic.

What is the gargoyle code?

Who cares?

WHAT IS THE GARGOYLE CODE?

And I thought the Hyena was pushy. Fine. To protect the castle and defend all those who dwell within.

What's your castle?

I don't have a castle. I live in a poolhouse.

You protect them. You protect her. What is your castle?

I don't know. Sunnydale? The library?

Your friends are your castle. You protect them. You live by the code, human or not.

What is this? A pep talk from the Disney character stuck in my brain? Or did Drusilla just torture me until I was nuts?

You tell me.

You mean me tell me., Xander thought, wryly. Oh yeah. He was definitely a little unhinged.

You're more than this. She'll die without you. You know it.

So? What am I supposed to do about it? In case you haven't been in my brain, I'm being tortured. Am I supposed to magically get away?

When hope is lost, so too is the battle.

Thanks, Yoda. What's that supposed to mean?

There was no response. Xander wasn't sure if it had even been there in the first place. There were times he thought he could feel remnants of Goliath within his mind. Certainly the memories were still there, sometimes brighter than other times. He could feel how those experiences sometimes colored his responses. Sometimes it made him wonder how much Xander was still left inside of him and how much was Goliath.

Goliath would figure out a way out of this sort of thing. That's what he did. He was the hero of his show, the main character and leader of the gargoyles. Xander always figured it was because he was big and strong. After all, when you could bend steel, it was easy to be a hero.

Not so much.

Buffy would figure out how to escape. She seemed to do it all the time. Getting captured and getting away was child's play. She was a hero. If their life was a show, she would be the main character. The Slayer: Starring Buffy Summers. Probably get cancelled after three episodes. Too dark. Have to air it on HBO.

He wasn't the main guy. He was just the sidekick guy who suddenly got big and strong, and thought he was going to be the hero. Turned out real life didn't work that way. Heroes were heroes, and sidekicks were sidekicks, and he was a sidekick.

When hope is lost, so too is the battle.

What a crock.

And then...

Then he thought of Buffy. Thought of her dark, defeated expression the night of the Master's escape. Thought of how she walked down into the Master's cave all by herself, without a hope in the world.

But he'd had hope. It was all he had, sometimes. Hope that she would win, hope that he could somehow help her. And hadn't he? Hadn't she lived, and defeated the Master? Hadn't he been Buffy's hope?

Couldn't she be his?

Xander groaned, and managed to look to the window. Drusilla was busy singing to her various implements of torture, and paying no attention to him. The sky was indeed growing lighter. Soon, he would be stone.

He didn't want to think about it, but he forced his mind to do it anyway. What if they didn't kill him while he slept? What if Drusilla wanted to keep him around for days, weeks, even years of torture?

He was so tired. Everything hurt beyond the ability to describe. He just wanted it to be over. There was no strength within him anymore. Big strong gargoyle can't even snap his chains. He knew he could do it, but not when he was so exhausted. If he was rested, maybe. If he was rested, he co-

The realization slammed into him with such force that he was sure Drusilla would notice, thanks to the sudden thumping of his heart.

Did they know? His mind raced. Only Angel would know, and Xander didn't think he'd ever told him. Cordelia knew. Buffy knew. Willow and Giles and Ms. Calendar knew. But had anyone told Angel?

Had anyone told Angel that stone sleep healed Xander?

Buffy would come, that he knew for certain. He just didn't know when. Now though, a slime hope was shining. If they didn't kill him during the day, he would awaken, strong and ready to fight back. Without the constant, searing pain that was tearing through his entire body.

He had to make sure they didn't kill him. Suddenly it was the most important thing he could think of. He had to stay alive. How could he have ever thought otherwise? He had to be with them, to help them, to help Buffy. Buffy, who needed him now more than ever. Not Xander the gargoyle, but Xander the friend. She needed him to be there for her. Not a sidekick, not a hero, just Xander.

That was what had made her such a hero. She'd been there for him from day one of his gargoyle transformation. They all had. Buffy, Willow, Giles, Cordelia, even Ms. Calendar. Heroes all, because they were by his side, not because they had muscles or magic or a keen fashion sense.

They were with him. She was with him. Protecting each other, protecting the castle they had built for themselves. They were each of them gargoyles, they were his clan.

And there was no way he was going to let them fight alone.

So he did what he knew he must, to make sure he made it to the next day.

"Kill me," he croaked. His voice was barely audible, but Drusilla turned just the same. She smiled at him, brandishing a wickedly curved blade. She cocked her head to one side. He repeated it. "Kill me, please."

Her smile widened, and she strode towards him languidly. She cupped the side of his face, and gazed at him.

"Is it mercy you want?"

He nodded his head, trying to look as pitiful as possible.

"You're not having fun?" she asked in a sad pout.

He shook his head.

The knife was suddenly before his face. She pressed the edge of it against his cheek, just enough to draw some blood. Moaning softly, she licked the point between blade and flesh, tasting his blood.

"I am," she cooed. "I've always wanted my own monster. Spike says I can keep you forever and ever. Won't that be fun?"

"No," he pleaded, half of him forgetting this was a ploy. He worked with it. The more desperate he sounded, the more she'd want to hurt him. That's how vampires were. "Please don't. Just kill me."

"You're hardly a proper monster," she scolded. "You're ever so far behind in your lessons." A delighted grin spread on her face. "Shall I teach you?"

"No," he whispered, shaking his head. "Please, no."

Her pleasant, innocent face morphed into the hideous face of the demon within her. Drusilla ran her tongue along the tips of her fangs, and kissed him hungrily, biting down hard on his lip. He let out a deep-throated growl that was almost a scream. She pushed him back, making him swing away, tearing a good chunk of his lip with her. Blood poured down his chin, but he ignored it.

Xander summoned every ounce of despair within him, every dark, cowardly thought. For once, he was glad he wasn't like Buffy or Giles or even Angel. He was glad that he was always so scared in fights, he was glad that he always feared the others would recognize his cold sweat. For once, he was glad he was such a coward.

He met Drusilla's eyes, and tried to beg silently for mercy.

Her eyes glittered with passionate desire, and she kissed him again, his shredded lip burning in pain.

"We'll have such fun," she whispered, hotly. "Forever and ever."

The change began to overcome him, spreading up his body, turning him to stone. Drusilla put her lips to his ear, and spoke softly.

"I'll be here when you wake up."

As Xander's body turned to stone, his face was frozen in an expression of fear. It made Drusilla smile.

Because she didn't know that his fear was that she'd realized how easily she'd just played into his hands.

Vampires were so predictable.
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