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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 > GargoylesMMcGregorFR1817113,296109119171,99010 Feb 0521 Jul 08Yes
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Part Fifteen

Drusilla stared forlornly at the cold stone, longing to run her fingers across its pained, frightful expression. Burning sunlight shone against her perfect sculpture of monstrosity, causing it to almost sparkle luminously. It was so beautifully hideous. The sweet expression of darkness that Drusilla had for so long wished to gaze upon.

Inside her was that same luminous shadow, weighing over the core of her, making her mind spin with thoughts so terrible, so horrifying, and oh-so wonderfully monstrous. She was a wicked, naughty girl, and in such a role had she found beauty beyond measure. Here now, in front of her, was that most perfect expression of that which was within her.

"My gorgeous monster," she whispered, and reached a trembling hand towards his face.

"You mustn't," Spike whispered in her ear. He was the trick Spike, made of odorless smoke. He told her things, spoke to her. Sometimes he was the stars, singing glorious melodies that she could never hum properly. Sometimes he was Miss Edith, whispering dark, dirty secrets that she was to tell no one. Sometimes he was the dying gasp of her victims, a thrilling fear of pain and death that made her weak with desire.

Drusilla's hand stopped just before the shaft of sunlight, and she could almost feel its pure, holy light. She shuddered, and recoiled.

"The sun is strength," the whisper said, breathing between her ears, her mind, her dark and empty insides.

"It mocks me so," she pouted. "Stealing him away from me when I was so hungry for more."

"Stone is strength."

"It locks him away from me, hides him from my touch."

Spike was in front of her then, in the pure, brilliant sunlight. He grinned at her knowingly, arms spread wide. He spoke in a low, melodious voice, chanting as if a nursery rhyme. "Sun is strength. Stone is strength. Soul is strength. You've none of these things, my love, my love. None of these things, my love."

"Sing it again," Drusilla asked, a childlike smile forming on her face. The smoke-Spike's grin widened, and he twirled gleefully in the sun. How she wished to join him, to dance forever in the pure, painful light.

"Sun is strength!" he crowed. "Stone is strength! Soul is strength! You've none of these things, my love, my love! None of these things, my love!"

Drusilla hugged her arms, swaying from side to side. "Do you love me, my Spike? Do you truly?"

He stepped up from behind her, his cold arms around her middle. She purred softly against his touch, and when he whispered in her ear, it was without breath. The smoke-Spike continued to dance gaily in the sunlight, as her true Spike held her possessively.

"Always, pet. From here to hell an' back again."

"You loved me in death, true death and oblivion?" She closed her eyes, and they swayed to the music only she could hear, the soundless tune of the smoke-Spike's song.

"Came back to you, didn't I? You brought me back, luv." He kissed her neck, and she cooed softly. The kiss became more urgent, a growling, animalistic lust. She squealed happily as he spun her in his grip, and at once he'd pressed her up against a pillar, standing between her legs. "You an' me, Dru. You're my everything."

"My Spike," Drusilla gasped happily as his hands touched her, his mouth tasted her, and his shadow danced silently in the sunlight.

Spike spoke in between passionate kisses. "Been in here all mornin'. Come to bed with me, luv. Play with yer toy at nightfall."

Drusilla's eyes rolled back into her head and she groaned as Spike's touch grew more insistent. He was back, in cold flesh and dark temperament, and his shade had stayed as well. The pained, darkened desires inside of her rejoiced for the having of them. Her wondrous William, a monster of her making. Full of the beautiful horror that so captivated her. So special, her Spike. So different from all, save her chiseled monster of stone.

She gasped when the smoke-Spike was suddenly before her face, standing directly behind Spike. His face was twisted in a grin of such sinister insanity that she trembled with the glorious evil of it. It was a grin borne of the dark, corrupted remnants of her soul, those tiniest of threads that remained within her. It was the insanity borne of her beloved tormentor, the beast that had shown her the seductive terror of pain and horror. It was Angelus's hand; passing through the prism of her mind and self, and reflected off the mirror that was the smoke-Spike.

When he spoke, his voice was no longer melodious. When he spoke, it was the voice of a thousand children's screams. She shivered violently at the overwhelming nature of it, and shrieked in fright and ecstasy.

"None of these things, my love! You have none of these things!"

She screamed as he laughed, trying to cover her eyes. The vision persisted, and she saw the smoke-Spike twist and spin, the terrible screeching melody bringing tears to her eyes. Miss Edith was there, smiling so benignly, whispering through the screeching laughter.

"I can't hear you," Drusilla pleaded. "I can't hear you!"

Distantly, through the shadowy fog of her dark visions and darker insanity, she could feel the real Spike, shaking her insistently, words of worry and concern spilling from him. Yet there he was, dancing and singing, screeching and laughing, darker and more beautiful than ever she remembered him.

Her head snapped to one side, and tried to make out the form she saw through the haze. The sunlight glittered off of her sculptured monster, and each twinkle was a star. The stars sung their glorious music, adding to the cacophony of the smoke-Spike's laughter.

A hand slapped her across the face, and she smiled dully at the true Spike, who shouted something at her, his hand against her cheek. His eyes held concern. That was her Spike, so different from all. That was her Spike, love without soul. That was her Spike, unique to the world. That was her Spike, her beautiful monster.

"None of these things," whispered Miss Edith. "None for him, and none for you."

"I've no need of them," Drusilla tried to explain. "Not when I've Spike. Not when I've my monster."

"Have you him, or has he you?" Miss Edith wondered, smiling ever so sweetly.

"I hadn't thought on it," Drusilla remarked. "Perhaps I should." One must always be polite around a lady. Mummy had always taught her that. Mummy with the vacant, dead eyes, and the second red smile beneath her chin. Always polite, save for screaming in death. The screams echoed with the sounds of the smoke-Spike's wailing.

This all seemed too terribly important.

Daddy's voice - her true Daddy, the man who gave her life and brought her into the darkness - cut through the screeching, the screaming, the whispering, and the soft chiming melody of the stars-that-were-not-stars.

"What's going on?" Angelus demanded.

"She's havin' a bloody vision," her Spike snapped back, and she felt his powerful hands on her shoulders, holding her down. She squirmed beneath him, writhing pleasantly. "Or a bloody fit."

"Vision of what?" Daddy asked, her Daddy, sweet Daddy. Always so strict to punish a naughty little girl like her. She purred and turned her head to gaze at him.

"Are you cross, Daddy?" she whispered in secret.

"What do you see, Dru?" Angel asked, kneeling beside her. "What are you seeing?"

The smoke-Spike popped up behind him, making foolish faces and causing her to giggle. He laughed right along with her, that hideous laughter of beautiful agony. The cry of every child she'd ever killed in slow misery echoed within her ears, a soothing lullaby for a dark child.

"You mustn't tease," she scolded. "That's hardly polite."

Smoke-Spike winked at her and continued dancing about the room, occasionally breaking out into his song again, but always laughing and screeching.

"She can't hear you, mate," Spike admonished. "She's lost to it. Happens sometimes."

"She'd better un-lose herself soon and tell us what she saw. I want to know if she saw anything about Buf- about the Slayer."

"The Slayer," Drusilla gasped. Her eyes turned to the stone figure in the middle of the room, face etched in horror, locked in the primal fear of the tortures to come. As she watched, the stone began to move, the horror turned to a grin, and her monster winked at her. The Slayer's fist emerged from his chest, stone molding from stone as she seemed to flow from deep within him. The statue changed, twisting and forming, the sunlight still reflecting false stars at her.

Then the Slayer was there, with him, with her monster, two figures etched in stone and forever unmoving. Frozen together, in stone and sun, the Slayer stood before her monster, staring meaningfully at Drusilla. Her monster's hands went around the Slayer's middle, holding her to him as they both stared at her. Stone wings draped around them both.

"Sun and stone," Drusilla whispered. "She has it. He has it."

And as she watched, it seemed to flare within them. Drusilla cried out, turning her gaze away from the light of their souls.

"Sun is strength!" smoke-Spike chanted. "She bathes in the sun. Stone is strength! She's held by the stone. Soul is strength! She's his pledged to hers. All of these things she has, my love, my love."

The screeching stopped, and smoke-Spike turned to face her. His horrifying grin slipped away. His face was a mask of nothing. Unmoving, unblinking, she watched him turn to purest glass. His voice came distantly, echoing dully through her mind.

"She has all of these things," he whispered. "And you have none."

Drusilla stared, and began to understand.

"Not if I take them away from her," she whispered back. "I've got him now. Not her."

The Spike of glass looked sadly at her, and shook his head slowly. As he moved, the screeching rose again. He kissed the tips of his fingers, and blew her a kiss. Without breath, it was icy. Without breath, it was nothing.

Then he shattered, and all was silent once more.

Drusilla looked up, into the eyes of the true Spike.

"Dru?" he whispered. "You all right, luv?"

"You're a wonderful dancer," she told him. "Will you dance for me again, sometime?"

"Whenever you want, pet. Here, sit up." He put a hand behind her back, helping her to sit. She blinked, and looked around the room. Her monster was back in his cage of stone, face frozen in terror. The Slayer was was gone, Miss Edith was silent. There were no shards of glass along the floor. Even the stars had ceased their soft tune.

Spike's hand brushed the side of her cheek; she closed her eyes and melted against him. "Feeling better?"

She nodded, smiling at him, and held his hand to her face. A hundred years, and he was hers. Her monster. She looked to the gargoyle, and tried to determine which was more beautiful.

Angel was suddenly there, staring intently at her. "What did you see?"

"Stars," she said, a little frightened of the anger in his eyes. "The stars sung for me, and he danced so beautifully. His voice is like death, my Angel. Like every babe's death. Like every child's scream for mercy."

"Whose?"

"My William's," she sighed, looking back into his eyes. Spike grinned at her.

"Don't she just say the nicest things?" He kissed her hotly on the lips, despite the cold of his skin.

"What else did you see?" Angelus asked, shooting Spike a glare.

"Sun and stone," Drusilla answered. "The Slayer."

"The Slayer," Angelus breathed. "What about her?"

Drusilla grinned. "She thought she had him. But now he's my monster. I've stolen him from her."

"What else?"

"We have the stone," Drusilla told him. "We have the sun. We have the strengths, and we've stolen them from her!"

Angel's face broke into a wide, satisfied smile. "Good. Then we can draw this out for a long time. Make her suffer until she breaks." He turned to look across the room, at the gargoyle statue frozen in fear and locked in chains. "And to make her suffer, we make him suffer."

"Yes," Drusilla whispered, too low for the others to hear her. "I've got the strengths. Not her. No. Not her."

Miss Edith smiled at her with sad, disapproving eyes.

***

The library was quiet. Of course, libraries were supposed to be quiet, but the Sunnydale High School library had never been like most libraries. It was quiet sometimes, but never like this. Never so eerily silent when nearly all of them were gathered around the table, pouring over stacks and stacks of books.

Willow looked up from her book to take in the others around the table. They all looked tired and ragged, most of them having been up since late the previous night. Giles seemed the least affected by the long hours, probably since he had more experience with staying up all day and night to do research. Or maybe it was because he was drinking so much tea that he could have run a marathon at the drop of a hat. Caffeine was a useful drug.

Buffy was seated at the far end of the table, looking paler than Willow could ever remember seeing her. Her clothes were wrinkly, her hair was limp, and there were heavy bags under her eyes. Giles had asked her several times to try and get some sleep, but she refused, insisting on helping with the search for the proper spell.

It was slow going. Locator spells for human beings were a dime a dozen. Most needed only something simple like a hair or a personal belonging. Some were vague, and some would lead you directly to the person you were searching for. None of these spells worked on a creature that was, up until a few months ago, completely fictional. They'd tried a few anyway, but always the spell went haywire, unable to do so much as give them a compass direction.

Buffy had searched for hours on her own, until well into the morning. By then, Willow, Cordelia, Giles and Ms. Calendar had already been searching heavily for quite some time. Willow had been only slightly surprised by how ragged Buffy had looked when she arrived in the library.

Only slightly surprised, because Cordelia looked just as bad. The both of them had been up since yesterday, with no sleep at all. Willow had at least had a few hours before being woken up by the news of Xander's abduction. It wasn't much, but she'd learned how to function on only a few hours of sleep.

There was another reason for her lack of surprise over Buffy's appearance, and that was that she was too busy being surprised about Cordelia. When Willow had arrived at Giles's in the early hours of that morning, she'd found Cordelia crying in Giles's arms. Crying over Xander.

It swirled around in her head, like some logic problem she just couldn't solve. Cordelia Chase crying over Xander Harris. Cordelia Chase didn't cry. Especially not over Xander.

Yet even as she sat in the library, Willow could see Cordelia's red-rimmed eyes and the puffiness that surrounded them. The queen of the school sat hunched over her own book, turning pages every half a minute, sometimes muttering the words under her breath as she read. Willow had noticed her fingers sometimes trembled softly, and her breath sometimes hiccupped quietly.

That was what had Willow surprised. Cordelia Chase felt just as bad about Xander as Willow did.

That was a life altering realization.

Because Willow felt awful in a way that she'd rarely felt in the past, although not as rarely as she'd like. Once, when her childhood friend Jesse was killed, and again when she happened upon a group of students in school, slaughtered mercilessly by the Master's minions. Those two terrible events were now joined - surpassed - by Xander being caught by Angel, Spike, and Drusilla.

He'd been in their clutches for hours now, and helplessly turned to stone for most of that time. They could do anything to him. They could kill him. They probably already ha-

Willow squeezed her eyes shut, and refused to think about that possibility. It wasn't a possibility. She refused to let it be one. Xander would live, because Xander had to live. He was too important to do otherwise. Xander was her greatest friend in the world. For a long time, her only friend. No one accepted her like Xander accepted her.

She could always count on him. That's why she loved him so much.

Willow sniffed, and had to lower her head so the others wouldn't see her start to cry again. Most of them had done similarly since they'd begun; the soft gulp of air, the shaking of shoulders, or the quiet whimpering always gave them away.

Willow loved him, but more and more she was seeing that for her and Xander, friendship would be all they ever had. It hurt, she couldn't pretend it didn't. There wasn't anyone she knew that Willow loved as much as Xander. Therefore, she was in love with him.

Wasn't she?

As horrible as it made her feel in that moment, she knew she'd been enjoying the attention she was getting from that senior, Oz, who she'd met during the career fair. And she knew that Buffy and Xander were definitely dancing around something much deeper for both of them, something that Willow could see so clearly in the both of them.

She loved him, but the kind of loving acceptance she felt for Xander seemed different from the strange, almost frightening bond she was watching form between Buffy and Xander. Willow had begun questioning precisely what she felt for Xander.

She loved him.

He was her brother. More than a brother, he was her twin, her partner. Xander was a friend unlike any she would ever have. Maybe she wasn't in love with him, not the way that...That Buffy seemed to be. What she and Xander had was different. Was almost more. Beyond that kind of love. They were family.

And if he died, Willow wasn't sure she could handle it. She squeezed her eyes shut, leaking tears onto the ancient grimoire open before her.

Then she felt a gentle hand against her back, and Willow looked up. Cordelia had moved her chair closer to her, and looked at her with sad, red-rimmed eyes. Willow's face screwed up in sorrow as she saw her own pain mirrored in Cordelia's expression.

Without a word, she turned to a girl she'd always hated, and held her as close as she possibly could. Willow Rosenberg, nerdiest girl in school, cried against the shoulder of Cordelia Chase, Queen of Sunnydale High. If she hadn't been so upset, she might have been in awe of the total unreality of it.

"He's going to be okay," Cordelia whispered in her ear. "He has to be."

Willow squeezed her eyes shut, and hugged Cordelia tighter. Cordelia's voice was soft and weak, with so much fear and worry in them that Willow was momentarily overcome with empathy. It served to deepen her own worry, but it also gave her hope, like it wasn't possible for them to fail when there was so much caring involved.

The embrace ended after a few minutes, both girls drawing strength from the other. They both returned to their books without another word, and no one else had anything to say. Indeed, nobody had even seemed to notice, as they were all too busy checking their books. Willow sniffed, wiped her eyes, and spared one last look at Cordelia.

How had she never known Cordelia Chase could be such a human being?

***

The last bell had rung some time ago, not that Buffy or any of the others had actually gone to class that day. With every minute that passed, Buffy became more and more desperate to find some way to save Xander. He was out there, somewhere; all she had to do was find him. What kind of hero was she supposed to be? How could you be a hero when you couldn't find the person that needed to be saved?

She hated them, all the spells. Who decided what was human and what wasn't? Some musty old book? Xander was as human, was *more* human than any of them. Just because he didn't look it on the outside didn't mean anything.

She needed to be out there, fighting and protecting him, not sitting in the library reading some old book in a language she didn't understand. She wasn't helping here, but she'd lost the trail. They could be anywhere. She'd searched the old factory, searched Angel's apartment, even tried to find Willy and get him to cough up some information. None of it had worked. It was like they'd just vanished with Xander.

All because he'd been there for her mom, just like he'd always been there for her. The lump in her throat that had been there since the night before seemed to swell, and she swallowed as tears formed in her eyes.

He'd made her feel so much better, just two nights ago, when she'd showed up at Cordelia's door. He'd held her all night long, until just a few moments before sunrise. They hadn't talked much, but there wasn't much that needed to be said. She'd been utterly distraught over her mother's harsh words, so mostly she just cried while Xander had held her. Eventually she'd ended up dozing against him, luxuriating in the comforting safety of his arms, knowing that at least she'd always have him there for her. Xander never let her down.

Instead, she'd let him down. Instead, she was the one who wasn't there for him.

How could she ever face her mother again, if Xander was dead? How could she ever face another sunrise?

It didn't surprise her, to suddenly be aware of how much he meant to her. For weeks it had been building, slowly and surely, that rock solid trust and belief in Xander. The things they shared on a quiet, unspoken level had finally come clear to her.

All she wanted to do was be with him again, and this time she would put her arms around him and be his protector. She would be his defender, just like he was hers. Together.

She could talk with him, make him laugh and smile the way he always could for her, even in the darkest of times. They could tease and joke with each other, all while she watched that wonderful glimmer in his eye that told her he didn't ever want to be anywhere else. She could stand by his side the way he always stood by hers, and make sure nothing ever hurt him. He needed her.

She needed him.

So she leaned back over her book, and kept reading.

Buffy wasn't really aware of it when the others began to murmur amongst each other. She wasn't aware of much of anything but her despair and the stark, silent words on the page. So she was slightly startled when Giles put his hand on her should.

"Huh?" she gasped, jumping slightly. Giles held an old leather book in his hand.

"We think we've found something," he said solemnly.

"You did. What is it?" she sat up, her heart racing with renewed hope.

"It's a spell," Giles answered. "But not a locator spell. Not truly."

"Will it help us find him?"

Giles paused. "That's the hope."

"Then I don't care. What is it? What do we need to do?"

"It seems relatively easy to cast, but it's," he paused, sighing. "It's a risk, Buffy."

"Risk for who?"

"That depends. The spell is best translated as 'The Embrace of Souls'. It was, well, it was used as kind of binding ceremony in several ancient cultures." Giles cleared his throat, looking away for a moment. "It's, ahem, somewhat akin to, um, marriage."

Buffy blinked at him. "How does it help us find him?"

"Well, um, there is a subject to the spell. They, um, picture their beloved in their mind when the spell is cast. If that love is mutual, their souls are, I'm not sure if this is the right translation, 'brought into closer proximity.' The effects of the spell are sketchy at best, but there are references to a constant awareness of the other."

Buffy stared up at him, breathing evenly. "Will it work on a gargoyle?"

"Therein lies some of the risk," Giles replied. "Supposedly it works purely on the soul, something which is very difficult. If the two subjects are not, um, in love enough...There could be unforeseen consequences. Eternal consequences. Affecting a living soul is nearly impossible, so we do believe Xander's soul is still intact despite his transformation, but whether that will change the spell, we have no idea."

She glanced to the others. Willow and Cordelia were watching her with worried, hopeful expressions. Ms. Calendar looked troubled, and watched Giles with trepidation.

Giles cleared his throat again. "Willow a-and Cordelia both feel, that you should be the subject of the spell, Buffy. It would be your risk."

"What about Xander?"

Frowning, Giles cocked his head. "What do you mean?"

"I mean it's his risk too, isn't it?"

Giles shook his head. "No, it doesn't seem that way. You would be the subject of the spell, you take the risk. O-or rather, your soul does."

She paused, swallowed, and licked her lips. "What happens if it doesn't work?"

"We're not sure. Death, perhaps. Um, damnation could be, a, uh, possibility. Although that seems unlikely. Damage to the soul is erratic and unpredictable."

"But if it works, we can find him?" Her knuckles were white, and her heart was pounding in her chest. Just say yes.

"Yes. I think so."

"Then we do it," Buffy said. "As soon as possible."

***

All she had to do was think about Xander. Think about him, and think about...How much she loved him.

It felt kind of strange, kind of frightening. Buffy had never really focused on her feelings; never let herself believe they were there. There had been Angel, there had been the issues with her mother, and there had been Xander's transformation, all distracting her, keeping her from believing that maybe her feelings were as deep as she knew, somewhere, they had to be.

Now finding Xander depended on those feelings. She had to believe, had to know that she loved Xander, and had to pray that he loved her back.

That, at least, was no real challenge. Buffy knew Xander loved her, and that feeling made her heart swell. Xander, that broad-smiled boy that had made his way into her life. Xander, just a friend, nothing more, even as he risked his life and returned her own. Xander, watching over her without her even being aware of it. Xander, her partner in darkness, her defender of the night.

Xander, who held her close, kept her safe, and would never let her down. Xander, who could say the wrong thing, make the silly mistakes, and still make her smile. Xander, who had given her his heart before she'd ever asked for it.

Buffy sat in the middle of the intricate design on the library floor, while Giles chanted softly in some ancient language. Tears came to her eyes as she thought of the boy who had meant more to her than she'd even realized. She only wished it hadn't taken the tragedy of his transformation to make her realize how deeply he cared for her, how gallantly he watched over her. She was the Slayer, the chosen one, destined to fight the forces of darkness.

And she would have been dead for months if not for that immature boy that had loved her from the first moment he met her. If not for the man's heart that lurked inside the boy's body, a heart she hadn't seen until the body was changed to reflect the strength of his heart.

She couldn't lose that now that she'd found it. Not when she'd lost everything else. First her old life, then her father, then her life, Angel, and now her home and her mother. Xander was one of the few things she had left. He'd lost just as much, been just as distraught as she was feeling now. Together, they could get through it. Because she knew, that even if Xander had never been changed, he would always be there, by her side, making sure she was okay.

Now it was up to her to do the same thing. For Xander, and the allies and friends that stood by them both. Willow, Cordelia, Jenny and Giles were all counting on her to save him. Their family.

"Our family, Xander," she whispered.

Giles, the man who was more father to her than anyone else. Willow, more of a sister than she could ever imagine having. Ms. Calendar, who was somewhere in between young-aunt and cool-stepmother territory. Even Cordelia, who was so obviously the older sister. All of them together, a family, an army, and a force against the worst the Hellmouth could throw at them.

Buffy loved the people he loved, and knew, without a doubt, that she was in love with Xander Harris. Not the boy, not the gargoyle, but the heart. The heart of him was for her, and her alone. She just hadn't realized he'd given it to her already.

A rush of hot air blasted through the library, and Buffy gasped at the sudden explosion of feeling within her chest. She arched back, arms at her side as she stared up at the ceiling, her body jerking with a spasm of energy. A loud crack of thunder exploded above her, and she spasmed again.

It pulsed. Once, slow and strong. Again. Slow and strong. Buffy breathed heavily, her hands against her chest, clutching, feeling. It was there. Warm and diffused, she could feel him. Alive. It was incredible. It was so beautiful.

Buffy's face split into a wide smile as she felt him, felt Xander with her, felt that aching comfort she always felt when he had his arms around her. He was alive, and part of him was with her, part of her was with him. She began to laugh softly, even as tears slid down her cheeks.

"Buffy!" Giles called, dropping down beside her. "Are you all right?"

"I can feel him," she whispered in astonishment. "I feel him, Giles. He's alive."

Giles grinned back at her. "You're all right then?"

She nodded slowly. "Yeah. Yeah, I am."

He sagged noticeably in relief. "Thank God."

Buffy swallowed a sob and let out a quick gasp of laughter, and then barreled forward into Giles, hugging him tightly around the neck. He seemed startled at first, but then returned the heartfelt hug.

"I'm glad for you, Buffy. I'm glad for us all."

She laughed, and gestured for the others to join them, pulling them all into a large hug, and smiled all the wider as she felt Xander's presence there with them.

It took her a few minutes to calm down from the exquisitely right feeling of knowing he was with her for Buffy to realize she could almost make out where Xander was. A soft, pulsing feeling of *Xander* seemed to be pulling her gently in one direction.

Buffy pulled away from the others, and wiped her face. Nodding resolutely, she reached down to pick up a small battleaxe, and looked to the others.

"Let's go save Xander."

***

It was not the first time the Scooby Gang had used magic to aid them. It was a useful and often necessary tool in the battle against vampires, demons, and other various evils. Later, perhaps, Buffy would think of the consequences of a spell designed to forever tie her to another, and worry about the consequences. Later, perhaps, she would have a moment of doubt, and wonder what it meant that she'd allowed her desperation and fear to drive her to what might be considered an irrational decision.

Now was not that time, and as Buffy led the others purposefully through the streets of Sunnydale, there was not a doubt in her mind that she'd done the right thing. She could feel Xander, could feel him as that strong and comforting presence that was strong as stone and bright as the sun. Whatever else the spell meant, it would allow her to find him, and allow him to live.

Determination filled her, combined with a strength of will that she'd felt only once before. Months ago, upon awakening deep in the cave of the Master. Never before had Buffy questioned the sudden influx of inner strength that she seemed to develop upon waking up, upon returning to life. When the Master had attempted to pull the mind-whammy on her, it was like a soft breeze buffeting against...

Against stone. Where before the Master was an unstoppable force, afterwards, he was nothing. Just a vampire. Beneath her. At the time, she hadn't questioned that feeling, had just ridden it for everything it was worth, and soundly defeated arguably one of the most powerful vampires of all time.

Now that feeling filled her once more, and she was able to recognize what it was. It was the confidence of knowing she wasn't alone. It was the strength that came from her friends, from her family, from those who loved her. It was the strength that had come from the very breath of her best friend, the boy she'd never realized she could love.

Buffy Summers was the Slayer unlike any to ever come before. Were she to fall, they would pick her up. Were she to stumble, they would help right her. Were she to fail, they would be there to fix her mistakes. With them, she could not fall, could not fail, and could not stumble. Nothing was getting in her way.

The others more than lived up to her confidence in them, as she approached the old gothic mansion where she felt Xander's presence pulsing in slow rhythm. Armed with crossbows, holy water, and swords, the Scooby Gang made short work of the sentries and patrols surrounding the mansion.

Buffy stayed only long enough to be sure the others would be safe, before moving deeper into the mansion. The others would stay outside, maintain the perimeter and make sure the way remained clear. She could count on them, but she wouldn't risk them unnecessarily. She made her way into the mansion alone, but never in spirit.

The sun was slowly setting, and the interior of the mansion was dark and cold. Dust lined cold stone architecture, swooping swirls of marble, and wrought-iron framework. Here and there she saw the telltale stains of blood that she'd long since grown hardened against.

Wind whispered softly through the halls, and she could no longer hear the fighting going on outside. That was good, it meant Angel and the others might not know they were here. If she could get Xander out without confronting them, so much the better.

If that was not a possibility, however, then she was more than willing to make quick work of anyone and anything that got in her way. Maybe she'd failed Angel, but she was not going to fail Xander. She owed that to both of them.

Although she could sense Xander's general direction, it was still a task to find him. The hallways twisted and turned, feeling more like a maze than a home. She moved as swiftly as she could, while still maintaining her silence.

Finally she arrived at a set of double doors, and opened them carefully to reveal a large room with a domed ceiling. A fireplace was off to one side, and large pillars dotted the room. Several stone arches gave it the feel of an ancient castle, and there were a few statues lining the walls.

Buffy gasped when she spotted him, spotted the statue in the middle of the room. A soft tugging feeling in the pit of her stomach told her this was Xander even before she'd fully focused on him in the dim red light of dusk.

Trembling in pain, horror, and fury, Buffy stepped around the statue of the noblest, bravest person she had ever known. The size of him continued to shock her, and even now he seemed larger than life. She had to stifle a choking sob when she saw the thick iron chains lashing him to the archway above, and nearly fell over when she saw the thick spike that had been driven through his tail. Her fingers reached out to touch it, and her face split into a furious expression of anger as she clasped the top of the spike, wrenching it free in one angry pull.

And as she staggered back from the momentum of pulling the spike free, she found herself staring at his face. Staring at the pure, unadulterated horror that seemed carved there. Her breathing ceased, and she stared in utter shock. A sick feeling of nausea swept over her as she noticed the deep cuts and gashes that were etched into his stone form.

They'd tortured him, and he had been afraid. Oh God. She hadn't gotten there in time.

Buffy stepped closer to the statue that was her friend, that was her love, and brought her fingers up to his face. The stone was cold, but she could feel the life pulsing inside of it. Tears filled her eyes as the traced the lines of his face, staring at that expression of naked horror.

"I'm so sorry," she whispered. "It's all my fault."

She cried out when a thick boot cracked across her face, and Buffy stumbled off the dais. Blinking in confusion, she grunted loudly as an elbow fell sharply against her back, and she fell to the floor.

"Funny," came the sickeningly teasing voice of Angelus. "You should have said the same thing to me." He shrugged, as if there was little he could do about that, and swung a punter's kick into Buffy's face. Her slim form arced into the air before crashing back against a pillar with nearly enough force to crack it. She coughed loudly and slid down to the ground, the undefended blows hurting her greatly.

"Like what we did with your pet?" Angelus asked as he strolled towards her, hands behind his back. "Looks like he had, fun, doesn't it? And in a couple of minutes, he's going to wake up and watch as I do the same to you."

Buffy glared at him. "In your dreams."

He had the gall to laugh. "My dreams! Shall I tell you about my dreams, Buffy? Do you want to talk about them?" He put his hand over his heart, and stared at her sadly. "I dreamed of you, Buffy. I dreamed of taking you out in the sun, of a perfect white wedding in glorious sunlight. I dreamed of loving you forever, of giving you the best life possible."

He snarled, and snapped a kick across her face. Buffy managed to raise her hands in time to deflect it partially, but she was still sent sprawling across the floor.

"And how do you repay that dream? You trade in your half-monster for a real monster, and you condemn me to an existence as a soulless demon." He grinned at her, holding his hands out at his sides. "Congratulations, Buffy! I am the monster you made me."

Angel brought his index finger to his chin, and looked at her thoughtfully. "Of course, those were the dreams of the old me, back when I had that soul clouding my judgment. But hey, thanks to you, I don't have to worry about that anymore!"

Buffy struggled to get to her feet, managing to get to hands and knees. She spat out a mouthful of blood, and looked up at Angel.

"I'm sorry, Angel." She breathed, panting heavily.

"Oh, how sweet. You're sorry." He shook his head sadly. "Really, Buff. What do you see in him? What are you expecting? Kids? Sorry, can't have a kid with something that's not even your species. Marriage? How do you get married to something that looks like it belongs in a haunted house? Is it the sex? If his front tail is as big as his back tail, I'm surprised you could even handle him."

He walked slowly towards her as he spoke, his head swaying from side to side. "Face it, Buff. You went to him because he was even more pathetic than I was. I wasn't dark enough for you. You traded in your corpse for an animal."

"That's not true," Buffy whispered.

"Oh, it's not? Funny, you didn't seem to care about Xander back when he was a good ol' American boy. Didn't care about him when he's out there risking his life for you, not when you had me, your sad little Angel to comfort." He put on an expression of mock pain. "'Oh Buffy! It's so hard, living in the darkness! It's so hard living with the memory of all the people I killed! Woe is me! Woe is me!' You sure ate that right up. Much more interesting than some punk kid who thinks he's going to be your white knight."

Buffy shook her head angrily, tears in her eyes. The act made her unprepared for Angelus surging forward to kick her hard in the stomach. She grunted out a whoosh of air, and flew backwards into the pillar, her back crunching against it painfully. She collapsed to the ground, coughing and gasping for air.

"But then he's got an even bigger sob story. 'Boo hoo, I turn to stone during the day. Boo hoo, I'll never see the sun again. Boo hoo, I'm a hideous freak.' How am I supposed to top that?"

Fingers twined into her hair, yanking Buffy's head back. She choked for air as a thin arm circled her neck, yanking her to her feet. Her feet flailed as Drusilla pulled her back.

"Little girls shouldn't play with monsters," whispered the insane vampiress, directly into Buffy's ear. Buffy struggled weakly, but she could hardly breathe, could hardly think. The image of Xander's tortured expression was burned into her mind. "A good little girl played make-believe with her monsters, but now they've gone away. My monsters now, baby Slayer. My monsters now."

Buffy grunted and drove her elbow back into Drusilla's gut, then doubled over, throwing the vampire over her shoulder. Drusilla shrieked and hissed as she tumbled to the floor. Buffy sprang up, ready to fight, but was blindsided by a heavy fist as Spike leaped out of the shadows. She cried out, stumbling across the floor.

"Evenin', Slayer," Spike drawled. "Remember me? 'Bout time we had a rematch, me an' you. Only this time the odds are three against one."

Buffy staggered to her left, shaking her head to clear the cobwebs, and blinked rapidly. This wasn't good. She had to regroup, had to regain her strength, a strength that had seemed to drain out of her at the look on Xander's face. A look that remained frozen as the dim light of the sun slowly seeped away.

Angel's fist connected with her face, and Buffy spun in midair as she fell to the floor. "Oops. Gotta watch your sides, Buffy. What would Giles say? Maybe I'll ask him when I torture him to death."

She screamed wordlessly and launched herself at Angel, and for an instant she saw fear in those cold, arrogant eyes. Buffy's fingers wrapped around his throat and she slammed him against the pillar with enough force to shake the room. Dust puffed out all around them, and the soft cracking of stone accompanied the thin spiderwebs that traced up the pillar. Then Angel's forehead cracked down against her nose, and Buffy lost her grip. Drusilla was suddenly there, and clawed her across the face, leaving three burning gashes across her cheek. Spike kicked out the back of her knee, and Angel uppercutted her under her chin.

Buffy managed to stay on her feet, and spun a back kick into Spike's face, knocking him backwards, but she stumbled with the momentum of it, and Angel grabbed her leg, using it to whip her into another pillar.

"Maybe," Angel said, as if nothing had happened. "I'll have some fun with your Mom while I let Giles watch. I always figured he had a thing for your mom. Of course, he's probably got a thing for you too. Maybe I'll have fun with the both of you." He paused, and frowned. "Of course, I'll have to get rid of old Xander before that. Wouldn't want Mommy to be scared when we play."

He spoke in a mock whisper, the back of his hand to the side of his mouth as he gave Buffy a sideways glance. "She was real happy for us to take him off your hands. Practically begged us to kill him. Said she didn't want her daughter getting fucked by an animal."

"Liar!" Buffy screamed, and tried to launch herself at him again. Angel laughed as Spike grabbed her by her hair, yanking her backwards into stiff-armed clothesline. Buffy was wrenched off her feet, and fell hard against her back. She reacted at once, kicking up at Spike's face and flipping backwards to elbow Drusilla across her jaw. Her punch was weaker than it should have been, and her thoughts were slow and sluggish. Righteous rage would power her for only so long.

Buffy got two more good shots in on Spike before Angel was back, throwing a powerful punch into her side, devastating her kidney. She fell to the ground, clutching her side in pain, leaving her face unprotected. Spike kicked her hard in the side of the head, before clutching her throat and pulling her to her feet. Her eyes were wide with pain and lack of air as he slammed her back into the pillar, causing cracking threads to trace up and down its length. With a grin, he crushed his lips against hers, biting her fiercely on the lips. She let out a muffled scream and tried to push him away, but Drusilla grabbed one of her arms, pulling it back around the pillar. Spike pulled back, licked his lips and wrenched her other arm back behind the pillar as well. They pushed her up its length, and held her there, feet off the ground and arms pressed painfully around the pillar.

Angel's face wore the deformed visage of a vampire as he walked up to her, grinning wickedly. "Is this better, Buffy? Not quite as human, this way. I guess that's your kink. You don't go for the people. You go for the monsters."

She cried out as her shoulders were nearly wrenched from their sockets. A thick iron chain was wrapped around her arms, lashing her to the pillar. She tried to kick at them, but to no avail.

"If you go down in the woods today, you'd better not go alone," Drusilla sang happily as she helped Spike chain Buffy to the pillar, dancing around it like a maypole as she dragged a chain around Buffy's middle. "It's love to go down in the woods today, but safer to stay at home."

Buffy shut her eyes, unable to believe what was happening. Her earlier confidence was gone, shattered the moment she saw that terrible look on Xander's face. A cold hand slapped across her face.

"Hey!" Angel yelled. "Eyes open, otherwise I'm going to have to slice off those eyelids." He glanced out the window. "Lover boy should be waking up any second now, and then the real fun begins. What do you think, should I torture you first and make him watch, or torture him first and make you watch? Ooh! I know! I can torture you both together!"

Drusilla clapped happily. "Yes! Pick that one!" She bounced up and down in glee.

Spike stepped out in front of her, now that Buffy was secured to the pillar, unable to move and forced to face Xander's bound and unmoving form. He pulled a cigarette from inside his jacket, and placed it in his mouth as he eyed her.

"Maybe we oughtta just kill 'er," he suggested.

"No," Angel said firmly. "She has to pay."

Spike snorted. "For what? Dumpin' ya?"

Angel snarled and grabbed Spike by the lapels. "For making me feel."

Spike snarled back and pushed him violently away. "Keep yer hands off me, ponce."

The two master vampires glared at each other for a moment, before Drusilla began whimpering.

"Families mustn't quarrel," she said pitifully. Spike's features softened and he turned to her, hugging her head to his chest.

"There there, luv. We ain't quarrelin'. Just a difference of opinion, is all."

Drusilla looked up at him hopefully. "Can we make them scream now, my Spike?"

Spike sighed, and stroked her hair. "Yeah, all right. Just as soon as that one wakes up." He nodded towards Xander.

Drusilla cooed and kissed him passionately. When they broke apart, she put her forehead against his. "When the sun's away, your naughty girl will play."

"Like always, pet," he grinned, kissing her again.

Angel grinned wryly, walking up to Buffy. His cold hand stroked down her face, and she twisted her head violently to try and keep him from touching her. He growled and grabbed her by the hair, staring up at her. "You made the wrong choice, Buffy. Now you get the suffer the consequences. And trust me, I'm going to make you suffer for a long, long time."

The first crack was ear splitting, echoing in the large room like distant thunder. Drusilla gasped, and squealed happily.

"Time to play!"

Buffy shut her eyes, not wanting any of this to be true. Suddenly she felt Angel's fingers clasping either side of her face as he stood slightly behind her. His voice whispered seductively in her ear.

"Eyes open. I want him to know there's no more hope. I want you to see that in his eyes when he wakes up. Call it my parting gift. You get to see him the instant before the very last hope he has vanishes forever."

She didn't want to, but her eyes opened anyway, staring at Xander through watery tears. She wanted him to know, before anything else, that she loved him. She hoped he could read it in her eyes, hoped that at least would give them one brief moment of happiness before it was all torn away, forever.

No longer could she comprehend the others coming to save her. That look of complete and total horror on Xander's face had wiped her of her strength even before the battle had begun. She'd lost before the first punch was thrown.

The cracking sounds continued, and Buffy watched as the stone exterior of Xander's body began to break and shatter, threading all over his body. His arms, bound high over his head, tensed powerfully, his talon-like fingers clenching, causing shards of stone to break free, crumbling all around him. His eyes snapped open, shining with pure white light, and a deep echoing roar issued from his mouth.

It shook the room, that terrible, inhuman roar. That cry of battle and fury that Buffy had come to know so well. It was the sound she'd come to equate with hope. With victory. With strength.

Suddenly she was staring at those shining white eyes, and she could feel Xander's hope swelling within her. She could see the way his muscles rippled as he awoke from his stone slumber, see the way his body undulated with anger and strength as stone shattered all around him. Could feel that deep, rumbling cry within her chest, rousing her spirits and empowering her soul.

This magnificent creature of strength and legend was the complete opposite of the terrified statue of frozen stone she'd seen just moments before. This was the truth of Xander's heart, strong, furious, and without knowledge or care of surrender. Buffy's breath was caught in her throat as she stared, wide-eyed and ever hopeful, at the warrior that had always been there, but had only recently had the body to match the spirit.

The Slayer's face turned slowly to a bright, hopeful smile of awe. Her entire being felt suffused with invigorating energy, and she clenched her fists. How had she ever thought that it was over? As long as they were together, as long as he was there to protect her, they were unstoppable.

Angel and the others didn't seem to recognize what was happening. Didn't seem to realize that Xander wasn't weak and broken, afraid or pained. Didn't seem to realize, even as his body relaxed after bursting from the stone, that something was terribly, wonderfully wrong.

Then Drusilla whimpered, and took a step back.

"Welcome," Angel said, grinning broadly. "To the first night of the last of your life."

Xander was breathing heavily, and blinked as the light faded from his eyes. He sagged in his chains, letting them hold his body up. He looked at Angel, and then to Buffy. Their eyes locked. With the vampires watching Xander, she gave him a soft smile. She saw it reflected in his eyes, and could feel him with her, part of her. His strength in her, her strength in him, together and invincible.

Then Xander's eyes slid to Angel's. His great chest swelled with heaving breaths, and a low, rumbling growl issued from his throat. Angel's brow furrowed, and he glanced back at Spike and Drusilla. Spike watched on with a slightly curious expression, but Drusilla looked absolutely terrified. She whimpered again and stepped backwards, bumping into Buffy on the pillar. She recoiled from her like she'd been shocked, and fell over in her haste to get away from the bound Slayer.

"Dru?" Spike asked, frowning. "What's wrong?"

"Sun and stone and soul," she whimpered. "Sun and stone and soul!"

"What's she talking about?" Angel asked, his eyes still locked with Xander's.

"I ain't got a bloody clue!" Spike moved to Drusilla's side, trying to help her up, but she was flailing around, covering her eyes.

"Then get her out of here," Angel spat. "She's ruining the moment."

"If you think that's bad," Xander said, his voice low and ominous. "Check this out."

The gargoyle's powerful body seemed to swell with strength as his muscles bulged, his large hands circling around the thick chains that held him to the ceiling. With a paralyzing scream of deafening fury, he pulled down as hard as he could, his body curling up against the chains that held his legs to the floor. A terrible wrenching screech echoed along with his scream, the sound of steel and iron being torn by a force stronger than both. Stone and dust exploded around them as Xander tore free of his bonds and dropped to the floor with the agile grace of a gargoyle.

Eyes burning with fire, Xander exploded forward, tackling Angel off his feet, still the thick manacles still circling his wrists and ankles. He rolled with Angel, coming up in a half crouch, his large hands on Angel's collar. He threw the vampire away with savage fury, where he slammed into Spike and Drusilla, the three vampires tumbling amongst each other.

Xander whirled, and sprang behind Buffy's pillar. She felt his warmth and strength as he stood so close to her, and grinned as she began to pull mightily against her bonds. The steel began to scream and snap as she pulled. Then she felt Xander's hands on her wrists, and his strength pulling with her. An instant later, the chains broke off, hissing hotly as they exploded across the room. She landed gracefully on her feet, and rolled her shoulders.

"Are you okay?" they asked together, both grinning as they did so. Buffy nodded happily, staring up at Xander, who grinned back down at her. As one, they turned their heads to look at the three vampires, struggling to get to their feet.

"Hey, you know what I'm tired of?" Xander asked casually, as if he were asking about the weather.

"No. What?" She smiled back up at him, and couldn't imagine ever feeling better in her entire life.

"Getting the snot kicked out of me," he answered. "What do you say that this time, just for a change of pace, we're the ones that do the kicking?"

Buffy glanced at the vampires, then back at Xander. Her grin widened, and she gave a short little hop up towards Xander, pecking her lips against his. He blinked at her in mild surprise.

"I think that's the best idea I've ever heard," she said, smiling brilliantly. His stunned expression gave way to a broad smile of his own, and she nearly laughed at the utter Xander-ness that seemed to somehow exist in that gargoyle face. Then she squealed happily as he scooped her up around the waist, pulling her up to his height. His lips touched softly against hers, warm, wet, and beautiful. She closed her eyes, breathing inward against him. When she opened them, his eyes were sparkling at her.

"They're getting up," he said.

"Don't know why," Buffy sighed, eyes lost in his. "They're just going back down again."

He grinned, and let her slip back down. Then he cracked his knuckles with several loud pops, and turned to the vampires. Buffy stood close to him, their bodies touching slightly. God, she felt so alive.

"How's your mom?" Xander asked, eyes focused on Angel and the others.

"She'll be fine."

Angel and Spike were both on their feet, and stared defiantly at the two of them. Angel smirked.

"We'll continue this another time," he said, adjusting his leather jacket. Spike nearly dragged Drusilla towards the door, and Angel moved slowly backwards as he glared at Buffy and Xander. Angel hopped up on the step leading away from the room, and grinned at them.

"Be seeing you, lo-"

He never got his parting taunt off, as a crossbow bolt whizzed across the room and thudded into his upper shoulder. Angelus spun back into the wall, snarling as he pulled at the bolt. Spike hurriedly retreated, ushering a distraught Drusilla along with him. Angel pulled the bolt free and threw it to the floor, and quickly raced after them.

Except a gargoyle sized obstruction now stood in front of the door.

"Nice shot, Giles," Xander said, glancing back over Angel's shoulder to the other entrance. Giles lowered his crossbow as he loaded another bolt.

"I was aiming for the heart," Giles answered as the others, Cordelia, Willow, and Jenny entered behind him.

"You can't kill me," Angel said, staring up at Xander. "You made me. She abandoned me for you."

Xander swallowed, blinking down at Angel. His fingers curled into fists.

"They can't," a voice said. The bolt was loosed, and Angel gasped as it pierced his chest. He blinked at Xander in confusion before spinning around, and his jaw dropped open.

Cordelia Chase lowered her crossbow, and glared at him. "I can. Go poof now."

He went poof.
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