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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 > GargoylesMMcGregorFR1817113,296108119170,09210 Feb 0521 Jul 08Yes
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Part Three

Defender of the Night Part Three

***

Jenny Calendar bounced lightly on the balls of her feet as she pushed open the double doors to the library. She was in a good mood, having had a good night's sleep. Halloween was always so peaceful, and she'd spent the night in just vegging out and watching television. This morning she was feeling very refreshed, and eager to meet the challenges of the day.

As it was her free period between teaching classes, she decided to come to the library and see if Rupert wanted to have lunch with her that afternoon. The two of them were sharing a very tentative romance lately, which was something of a novelty for her. Jenny was no stranger to wild flings, but the sweetly slow build-up of her relationship with Rupert Giles was intriguing to her.

The clear winner of the "hottest teacher" award smiled broadly to herself as she strode confidently across the library. Her smiled turned wistful when she spotted Rupert, leaning back in a chair with a book open across his chest. His head drooped over the back of the chair, and he was snoring quietly.

"Must have been up with trick or treaters all night," she said to herself. She carefully walked over to him and slid his glasses off of his face, folding them up and placing them on the table across from him. She thought about waking him, but if Rupert Giles was sleeping in school, it must be because he was thoroughly exhausted. Hopefully Principal Snyder wouldn't be stopping by the library any time soon. She wouldn't want him getting into trouble.

It was rare that anyone outside of the group of demon fighters actually came to the library. Maybe it was because it was situated directly above the Hellmouth, and most students were sensitive to its energies, and thus avoided it. Maybe it was because it was the library, and students rarely went there without a reason in the first place. And maybe it was because Giles and the others had clearly claimed the library as their own.

Jenny shrugged and gave Rupert a chaste kiss on the top of his forehead. He stirred slightly, but didn't wake up. She smiled, looking forward to teasing him about his nap later. She stood up straight, and turned to leave.

That was when the statue caught her eye. She stared at it open-mouthed, amazed at its size and detail. It was a carving of a powerfully built demon, with a broad chest and massive arms. She stepped over to it. It seemed very familiar. Had they read about this kind of demon before?

Or was it even a demon? Perhaps it was just some artist's conjured fantasy. It surely wasn't as hideous as most demons. There was a subtle nobility to the features. She put her arms on either side of the statue's shoulders, and grinned as she tried to imagine someone with biceps that large.

On closer inspection, she realized that what she thought was a cloak carved onto the statue was in fact a set of wings. She frowned, trying to recall demons she was aware of that had wings. None came immediately to mind.

It was definitely on the big side of huge, that was certain. She wondered how Rupert had moved it into the library in the first place. It had to weigh at least a ton, but there weren't any scuff marks on the linoleum floor. Maybe he'd gotten Buffy to move it for him. She wouldn't be surprised if the Slayer could lift something like this.

On a whim, she put her arms around it, and tried to tug it. It didn't budge at all. She stepped back, and admired it some more. It was as exquisite a work of art as she'd ever seen. Her fingers traced the contours of the carefully defined muscles. The jaw set in cold determination, the brow with its inhuman protrusions that nonetheless lent an air of intrigue to it. The ears were pointed slightly, and the hair was lovingly etched. She could almost see each individual strand flowing down its back.

Whoever had carved this statue was a master of the highest caliber.

She stepped back, taking in the entire view. The legs were bent slightly, and appeared human until they reached the tendon, where they bent back in an elongated ankle, giving it the appearance of some four-legged animal's hind legs. It was solidly built, and if it were real, it would be quite the intimidating sight. It towered over her, and she wondered again if it were based on some real life demon. A part of her hoped not. A demon built like this would be a bitch to put down, especially if those muscles held the kind of strength most demons had.

Her eyes slid down its stone form, and she grinned slightly when she reached its waist. Feeling very naughty, she ran her tongue across her bottom lip as she looked around, making sure she was alone. Then she leaned over, and peeked under the stone loincloth, wondering just how much detail the artist had put into it.

"Darn," she said, looking up from between its legs. The loincloth was formed in such a way as to secure from beneath, and obscured her view of the creature's naughty parts. She grinned and got back up. Sometimes it was fun to just act like a kid.

A kid. She frowned and stepped back again, looking the statue up and down. Of course! Suddenly she realized where she'd seen this creature before.

It was from a cartoon!

What was Giles doing with a statue of Goliath from Gargoyles, a show she used to tape every afternoon? Maybe he'd somehow found out that she kind of liked that show. It had been one of her simpler pleasures during her first few years of teaching.

Her curiosity fully rooted, Jenny decided she just had to wake him up. She crept back over to Giles, and carefully sat on his lap, facing his snoring form. He snorted slightly as she settled her weight down onto him, and put her arms around his neck.

"Rupert," she whispered softly. "Time to wake up."

He snored again. She rolled her eyes and moved in closer. "Rupert."

This time Giles snorted and blinked his eyes open. His head came up, and for a moment their faces were mere inches from each other. "What? Whozza? What?"

"Good morning," she grinned.

"Jenny?" he asked with confusion. He blinked, squinting his eyes at her. Then he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "O-Oh my, was I sleeping?"

"Yuh huh," she said with a grin.

"Um, Ms. Calendar-"

"Jenny," she reminded him.

"Jenny, not that I, that is, your presence is quite...um..."

"Let me guess, not appropriate in the workplace?" she smiled, pressing against his lap. Giles sputtered and nodded his head. Jenny shrugged, and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek before removing herself from him. "Neither is napping, you know."

"Y-Yes, you're right. I thought only to close my eyes for a moment."

"Oh Rupert, don't worry. I won't tell if you won't." She stretched her arms behind her back and nodded her head towards the statue. "So tell me the truth, how much did this thing cost you at Sharper Image?"

She walked over to the statue and put her arm around its shoulder. It was a little difficult, since it was so much taller than she was. "Want to take a picture? Me and Goliath!"

"Oh dear," Giles said, his face going ashen. "Jenny, I'm afraid I've some terrible news."

She raised her eyebrow and frowned at him. "About what? Did you go broke getting this thing? Cause I'll still go out with you, but we won't be able to tell anyone," she teased.

"I-It's about Xander..."

***

Buffy stood in front of Xander's immobile form, frowning sadly. She reached out, and stroked his arm and wing.

"Do you really think he's sleeping?" she asked.

"Yeah," Willow said beside her. "H-He's probably even dreaming."

"You're sure?" Buffy hated the idea that he might somehow be aware of his situation.

"Mostly sure," Willow said, her voice wavering slightly. "It's what they said on the show."

Everyone was gathered in the library. Sunset was only a few moments away, and they all wanted to be there when Xander woke up.

If he woke up.

Buffy had a dark fear that the Hellmouth would find some way to make it permanent. Willow assured her he'd wake up, but really, how would Willow know for sure?

"I still can't believe it," Ms. Calendar said behind her. "That's really Xander?"

"Yeah," Willow said sadly. "I saw him change. It was gruesome."

The sound of high heels against the linoleum floor caused them all to look to the door. Cordelia came striding into the library.

"What are you doing here?" Willow demanded, suspicion in her voice.

"I can come to the library if I want," Cordelia said. She turned to Giles. "He wakes up at sunset, right?"

"So Willow says," Giles told her. It was Willow who knew the most about Xander's situation, aside from Xander himself. Although it seemed like Ms. Calendar had watched the show at least casually.

"That's what happened on the show," Ms. Calendar agreed. "In fact, we might want to stand back. Usually they kind of explode out of the stone. It could be kind of violent."

Cordelia moved over to where Giles and Ms. Calendar stood, and crossed her arms. Willow glared at her, but also moved back, Buffy following her.

"I don't know why *she* came," Willow said under her breath.

"Maybe she's worried about him," Buffy suggested.

"More like she just wants to make fun of him some more."

Buffy shrugged. Cordelia wasn't her favorite person, but she wasn't so sure her motives were sinister. She glanced sideways at the head cheerleader. She could almost see worry in those eyes.

The first sign of it was a slight crunching sound. Then a powerful crack echoed through the room, as Xander's powerful taloned feet gripped the floor, his stone body crunching. Cracks in the stone began to spiderweb all through his body. His fists clenched and unclenched, and suddenly his wings snapped free, expanding as far as they were able, and slamming against the wide of the weapon cage on his right side. The left wing expanded to his full wingspan, stretching out far from his body.

Then he seemed to draw himself inward, his wings closing in tight to his body. He roared an inhuman roar, and shards of stone exploded outward from him as he extended his limbs. They all shrank back, covering their faces as the only true gargoyle on earth returned to life.

A moment later, Xander took a deep breath and looked down at this body. He seemed to sag slightly.

"Not a dream," he muttered.

His head came up, the sadness in his eyes replaced by mild surprise when he realized the others were all watching him.

"Guess I woke up."

Willow suddenly surged forward, wrapping her arms around Xander's barrel chest. His wings snapped back in surprise, surprising himself with his own reflexes. There was a clear part of Goliath still within him, and when a human moved quickly towards Goliath, it was usually to attack.

Xander pushed the reflex aside and managed to stay still as Willow's arms embraced him. It was an awkward feeling, even as it made his heart ache. Her slim arms weren't able to reach around him completely, and her head came up to only the middle of his chest.

"I was so worried!" she wailed. "Are you okay? Was it horrible?"

He carefully put his hand on Willow's back, rubbing it comfortingly. He was acutely aware of how large his hand was compared to her body. The urge to wrap his wings around her protectively was almost overwhelming, but he fought it.

"I'm okay," he said. It wasn't entirely true. He felt like he was coasting, unable to come to grips with his situation. A part of him kept thinking he was going to wake up, and find out this was all a dream.

"I'm so sorry, Xander. I'm so sorry." She cried softly against him while the others all watched on uncomfortably. Xander held her as carefully as he could for at least a minute. Finally, Willow wiped her nose with her sleeve and stepped back. "I'm making you feel terrible, right? I'm sorry."

Xander shrugged, allowing his wings to relax around his body again. "It's not your fault, Willow."

"I swear to you, Xander," Giles said seriously. "That if Ethan ever shows his face again that it will be the last time. I'm only sorry I allowed him to leave."

"Not your fault either Giles, but thanks." He took a deep breath. "So, uh. I guess there's a lot to talk about."

"Indeed," Giles said. He gestured to the table. "Perhaps we should all sit down."

"Can you even sit down?" Cordelia inquired. "With the tail and all?"

Xander glared at her. "What do you care?"

"Well it'll be all weird if you're standing and we're all sitting. Maybe you can use the step-ladder again."

"I don't even know why you're here," Willow said icily. "Is this your juicy gossip or something?"

"Fine," Cordelia snapped back. "I'm just trying to be nice. That's what I get for trying to help you losers." She grabbed her bag and started to leave.

"Cordelia," Giles called. "I think we can all agree that you're welcome if your intentions are pure."

"In English."

"If you're trying to be nice, you should stay."

Cordelia looked from him to Willow, then to Xander. Xander said nothing, instead carefully pulling out a chair and threading his tail through the back so he could sit. It creaked slightly as he settled his weight into it.

She nodded without a word, and pulled a chair for herself, sitting unceremoniously.

"Well then," Giles said as they all took their seats. "The first thing to address would be the basics. Food and shelter. What do gargoyles eat, precisely?"

"Normal human food," Jenny said. "Although someone Goliath's- I mean someone Xander's size is going to need more than usual."

"And I can't exactly go home and raid the refrigerator," Xander said glumly. "Can't even go home at all. 'Hi Mom, I got turned into a winged monster. Can I have a sandwich?'"

"Perhaps," Giles said. "There may be a chance that your parents would understand if we could explain the situation to them. They are your family, after all."

Xander shook his head. "Bad idea. Trust me." He turned to Willow. "Do you think you could get my stuff tomorrow?"

Willow nodded silently. His parents wouldn't question her coming into Xander's room without him around.

"What do you want to tell them?" Jenny asked. "Eventually they'll have to be told something about where you are."

"This is Sunnydale. What's one more disappearance?"

"I should think you wouldn't want to do that to your parents, Xander."

Xander glared at him. "I really don't care."

Giles pursed his lips, but let the subject drop. He supposed Xander was upset about his transformation, and was lashing out.

"Well then, back to food. It will be very difficult for you to acquire it on your own, I'm afraid. I'm sure we'll all help in that regard."

"Might be kind of hard for me," Buffy said. "Mom already thinks I buy way too much food." She blushed slightly. "Slayer metabolism."

"Yes, I can see how that might raise some suspicion. Perhaps the rest of us could just buy a small percentage more each week, and combine it together for Xander."

"Wait a second, I don't want you guys buying me food for the rest of my life."

Giles sighed. "I thought you might have some reservations in that respect. Therefore, I have something of a proposition for you."

"It doesn't involve Robert Redford, does it?"

Jenny snorted slightly in laughter.

"No, it doesn't," Giles said. He took his glasses off and wiped the lenses with his handkerchief. "You are, to my knowledge, a completely unique creature, Xander. You are the first non-demonic non-human sentient creature to exist in thousands of years. From what Willow tells me, gargoyles are a completely biological creature existing as an evolutionary parallel to human beings within the fictitious world of the television show."

"And?"

"And as such, I think the Council would be very interested in learning about you."

Xander's features darkened, and his eyes glowed dimly. "The Council."

"It's possible that I could persuade them to create a regular stipend for your living expenses in return for your agreement in helping us study your physiology and nature."

"You want me to be a lab rat?"

"No, nothing of the sort. I would endeavor to make the entire experience as unobtrusive as possible. From what I've been told of this show, you may be uniquely suited to assist the Slayer in a more direct capacity. In essence, I suppose I would be attempting to be your Watcher as well. The council has several programs in place to help Slayers without a means of support, and I'm confident we could extend them to you."

Xander frowned. It hadn't occured to him that his new form might be able to help Buffy in the Slaying. He flexed his fingers, feeling the strength within them. "You want me to go on patrols and stuff?"

"I should think you would want to, Xander."

He nodded slowly, staring at his hands. Maybe he should be upset at Giles's presumptuousness, but he wasn't. The idea that he might be able to help with Slaying was the first silver lining to appear in this dark cloud that was now his life.

"You promise there won't be kidnappings and scalpels?"

"*I* promise," Buffy said darkly. "Nobody's taking you while I'm still breathing."

"M-Me neither," Willow said resolutely.

"Okay," he said, exhaling. "Okay, I'll do it. Not like I have much choice."

Giles nodded sadly. "Very well, I'll give the Council a call as soon as possible. Luckily there is always someone on duty in the night hours. For obvious reasons."

"I think I'll go out to Doublemeat Palace," Jenny said, sliding away from the chair. "You don't mind if it's my treat for your first meal post-gargoyle, do you Xander?"

"I guess not."

"Great. I'll just get a bunch of stuff; we can all share whatever you don't have. It'll be a good indicator of how much you need to eat."

"Thanks, Ms. Calendar."

Jenny walked around the table and gave him a quick hug. "I know you'll get through this. And I think that as long as you're unable to go to school, you've earned the right to call me Jenny, okay?"

"Um, okay."

She smiled and kissed him on the cheek. "You're lucky you dressed as Goliath. He's very handsome. Imagine if you dressed as Brooklyn!"

Xander chuckled despite himself. Brooklyn was shorter, red in coloring and had a long beak for a mouth that was nearly as long as his forearm. Goliath at least had many human features. Gargoyles seemed to borrow appearances from virtually any animal on earth, from birds, mammals, lizards and occasionally even insects. Jenny was right. If he'd dressed as any number of other gargoyles, he could have wound up with a truly inhuman form.

"So food's taken care of for now," Buffy said after Jenny had left. "What about shelter?"

"A more difficult task to deal with," Giles said. "Finding a place for you to live will be hard."

"I could ask Angel," Buffy suggested. "He probably knows how to get an apartment or something.

Xander scowled. "Angel?"

"If anyone's going to know, it's going to be him."

"Uh, there could be a problem with that," Willow spoke up. "I think Xander's going to need to be outside in the sun during the day most of the time."

"Why is that?" Giles asked.

"Uh, it's a whole energy thing. Gargoyles are a lot stronger and more resilient than humans, in almost every way. But the trade-off is they need to absorb solar energy in stone form during the day. T-There were a few magical instances of being able to live without that, but I don't know if we can duplicate them."

"So I have to actually be outside."

"Most of the time," Willow agreed. "I mean you don't always have to, and maybe if you're like by a window or something that could work too."

"It may be beneficial, particularly if you begin patrolling along with Buffy. If you were outside in the sun while in stone form, vampires would be unable to harm you, assuming they were even aware that your stone form was you."

"Okay, so I have to be outside during the day. I still need someplace to live at night."

"We have gargoyles," Cordelia suddenly said. Everyone turned to look at her.

"What?"

"At my house. There's two of them at the gate, and a couple by the house too, a few on the roof. It's supposed to be gothic architecture, but I say it's just creepy."

"Uh, good for you," Buffy said, frowning. "So what?"

"So no one would notice if there was another one. My mom buys new statues all the time that just seem to pop out of nowhere."

"You're saying I could live at your house?" Xander asked in astonishment. The Chase estate consisted of many acres, and was one of the largest homes in the Sunnydale area. They were very, very rich.

Cordelia shrugged. "I guess so. Nobody stays in the poolhouse, so you could stay in there during the night."

Xander hadn't visited Cordelia's home very often, but he could recall that the poolhouse was just a tad larger than his own home was.

"Wouldn't someone notice that a seven-foot tall gargoyle was living in your poolhouse?"

She snorted. "Are you kidding? Most of the time someone could be living in the main house and no one would notice."

"I don't know," Xander said slowly. There had to be something more to this. It was Cordelia they were talking about, after all.

"What are you too good for the poolhouse?"

"No, but I mean I just don't understand wh-"

"Whatever. It's good enough for Kato but it's not good enough for great big Xander and his stupid wings."

"Hey! My wings aren't stupid!"

"I think they're pretty," Buffy said, mostly to herself.

"Yeah, they're pre- uh, what?"

"Oh," she said sheepishly. "Sorry."

Xander shook his head. "Look, the point is...I don't know what the point is, but it's just a little weird, okay?"

"Fine. Just don't say I never did anything nice."

"I have to admit, Xander, it sounds like the ideal solution. Not only would your stone form not raise suspicion there, but the Chase estate is also fairly secure. You'd be fairly safe during the day, even with no one to watch over you."

Xander sighed and rubbed his eyes wearily with the palm of his hand. He startled himself when he felt the odd bumps and protuberances on his brow. Would he ever be used to his new form?

"I could really stay there?"

"No, I'm playing a hilarious joke on you," Cordelia said sarcastically.

"You're not gonna like, make me be your butler or anything, are you?"

"What? Did your brain get damaged when your skull changed shape?"

"Never mind. Uh, I guess...I guess thanks."

Cordelia nodded seriously. "Okay then."

"Okay."

"Good."

"Yeah."

"Well, I'm glad that's settled," Giles said, slightly more cheerily. "I suppose I'll get the Council on the line and see what I can set up." He got up and went into his office, closing the door behind him.

Cordelia, Buffy, Willow and Xander sat around the table. Buffy and Willow were each doing their best not to stare at Xander. Cordelia, however, was staring openly.

"Do you feel different?" she asked, eyeing his broad and muscular chest. She gave a little smile of appreciation.

"I feel big," he said.

"You look big."

"Hence the feeling," Xander replied. Then he sighed, and gave her a serious look. "Even if the Council isn't going to pay me to get a real-live gargoyle specimen, I'm going to find a way to pay you rent."

Cordelia shrugged, and he once again tried to figure out why she was being so nice.

***

He was very hungry by the time Jenny was back, but he was slightly surprised at how he didn't eat everything in sight. Four double cheeseburgers, two large fries, and a Mega-Sized coke had him pretty well stuffed. Buffy had joked that it was only slightly more food than he used to eat.

At least he wouldn't need to eat an entire cow every day or something like that. According to Willow, much of his energy came from the sun during the day, so he wouldn't need massive amounts of food. He didn't pretend to understand it, and suspected that it didn't even make a lot of sense. It was a cartoon, after all. Some things just worked because that's how they worked. Like turning to stone as a biological function.

He felt a little better after eating. Things were moving now: they were planning and preparing. Yeah, he was still stuck looking like something that should be on top of a cathedral, but at least he wasn't feeling as hopeless as he had the night before. Cordelia must be going through some kind of Ebenezer Scrooge thing, because he now had a place to stay, and he might actually "earn" some money letting Giles poke and prod him for the Council.

And helping Buffy. Xander made a fist, and stared at his new and powerful arm. The one upside to all of this. He could help Buffy so much more now. Accompany her on patrols; maybe even beat some vampires on his own.

Closing his eyes, he recalled Goliath's memories. Memories of clawing through solid steel, memories of crushing guns in his bare hands. Goliath was perhaps the greatest warrior of his world, a fighter with years of experience, and the strength and speed to back it up. Xander could almost grasp the memories, almost make them his own. If he could emulate Goliath's skill, he could really make a difference.

The soft brush of cloth against his thigh made him open his eyes. Buffy sat down next to him. He was seated in the courtyard. He found it helped him to think, to stare at the stars. Another remnant of Goliath, perhaps. The leader of the Manhattan Clan was not the greatest thinker in the world, but he was often introspective, and craved knowledge. One of the first things he'd done upon waking up in the twentieth century was read all the classic literature he could get his hands on. Xander could recall nights spent in the clocktower library, perched on a high stool and reading Shakespeare. Bits and pieces of text floated by his memory.

"Whatcha thinking about?" Buffy asked as she looked up at the stars.

"Goliath," he admitted. "I can still sort of feel him rolling around in my head."

"Yeah," Buffy sighed. "I can still feel the noble lady too. This afternoon I kept thinking of things in French for like half an hour."

Xander chuckled. It was a deep rumbling sound that reminded him of how different he now was.

"I wonder if we'll always have them there," Xander said. "I wonder if it means we're changed forever. I can remember things that never happened. I mean they happened to Goliath, but he's not even real. Sometimes I think that I'm reacting to stuff like he would."

Buffy was silent. She had many of the same worries. Even now, sitting beside him, she yearned to be held by him. That protective feeling called to her, called to the naive and frightened young girl she'd been on Halloween. Was it Buffy that wanted to be held beneath those magnificent wings, or was it the noble lady?

"You're still you," she said after a few moments. She nudged his shoulder slightly. "The packaging doesn't change the person."

"Yeah. I hope you're right."

She stared down at the ground for a moment. The heat of his body made her shiver slightly in contrast to the cool November air. It was strange. He had vaguely lizardlike features, but he was warm to the touch. It was so strange to think of him as a completely unique creature. Not human, not animal, but what?

But he was human, deep inside. His heart was human. He was still Xander.

They were silent for some time, both lost in their own thoughts. Xander stared up at the night sky. It seemed so beautiful to him now. To Goliath, this was all the sky ever was, save for those last few minutes before dawn or after dusk. The stars were the sky, and the sun was just an idea.

Buffy spoke up, interrupting his thoughts. "I'm worried about Willow."

"She's taking it pretty hard," he agreed.

"She's been researching every minute since last night. She was even talking about skipping class so she could spend time in the library or on the computer."

"Are you sure this is Willow we're talking about? Willow tried to go to school with a fever of a hundred and four one time."

"She's worried about you."

Xander sighed. He didn't want Willow burning herself out trying to help him. "I'll talk to her."

Buffy nodded. Another moment passed, and she suddenly rested her head against his shoulder. Or more precisely, against his bicep. His shoulder was a bit higher than her head could comfortably reach. Xander almost gasped at the feel.

"I'm worried about you too."

His heart beat powerfully in his chest, even as a dark gloom cast over him. He had even less of a chance with Buffy now than he'd had before Halloween.

"I'll be okay. I'm a big strong gargoyle now."

"Just...You can talk to me if you need to. You know that, right?" Her eyes looked up at him pleadingly, and they were slightly wet. He thought he might die.

"Yeah," he said, nodding slowly. "I know, Buff. Thanks."

***

Willow scratched her head with the eraser of her pencil, and turned the page of the ancient book. She turned to her notebook and jotted down the specifics of the spell, adding it to her list.

Giles was still on the phone to the Council, and Xander had gone out to think. Cordelia and Jenny had both gone home for the night, Cordelia to prepare the poolhouse for Xander, and Jenny because she needed to get some sleep.

They all needed to get some sleep, except for Xander. And presumably Buffy, who was always up until well after midnight anyway. Willow sighed and turned back to her book. She could sleep after she found more ways to help Xander.

"Hey Wills," a deep voice said as she felt something brush against her shoulder. Willow shrieked and tossed the book up in the air in startled fright. Xander's hand snatched it out of the air, slamming it shut. "Sorry, didn't mean to scare you."

"Oh my God," Willow gasped, clutching her chest. "Y-You snuck up on me." How could such a big creature be so quiet?

"Sorry," he said again. "Guess I should get used to scaring people."

Her stomach clenched. "Oh God, Xander I didn't mean it like that."

He shrugged and pulled a chair next to her, carefully making sure his tail was out of the way before sitting. She looked at him sadly.

"You're not scary," she whispered. "Really, you're not."

Xander smiled at her. "If only the rest of the world was like you, Wills."

She felt tears sting at her eyes and turned away. "I-I've been looking for spells that could help you. I thought maybe we could try to find a glamour that would make you appear human. T-Then you could go to school and everything. And then I thought maybe I could find a way to emulate that spell Puck did, remember? Where Demona turns into a human during the day? Except Janus kind of made it sound like you could di- you could be hurt if you tried to change back to human, so I have to be really careful not to-"

"Willow," Xander said, putting his hand on her knee. "Maybe you should take a break."

"What? Why?"

"Cause you look like you're going to pass out," he said. "I appreciate the research-a-thon, but you don't have to go crazy about it. Besides, if you're tired you're not going to be able to use your brain as good."

"As well," she corrected automatically.

Xander rolled his eyes. "Okay, so maybe tired-brain-Willow is still smarter than freshly-rested-Xander, but you get the point, right?"

"You're smart," she said, in much the same way a mother tells their child they're handsome.

"As smart as tired-brain-Willow?"

She grinned shyly. "Well..."

Xander grinned back at her. "I'm smart enough to know you're wiped."

Willow sniffed. "It's just not fair, Xander. You didn't deserve this."

"That's life," he said sadly.

"Yeah? Well life is...is...Stinky!"

"Life is of the stink," he agreed, smiling. He reached his hand out, and she put her much smaller one in his. He pulled her to him, and she threw her arms around his neck, hanging onto him. Xander held her tightly, wrapping his wings around her instinctually.

Willow cried softly against him, her arms held around his powerfully built neck. Even sitting, he was nearly her height. Xander shushed her in a low voice, stroking her hair. The Goliath part of him reminded him that to gargoyles, stroking one's hair was the equivalent of kissing.

It didn't matter. This was Willow, and she was crying. And he wasn't a gargoyle, not really. So he stroked her hair, and tried to comfort her pain and fear over what had happened to her best friend. To him.

She cried for several minutes, releasing the tension that had built up in her over the last twenty-four hours. His soothing presence, his protective embrace, they allowed her to feel safe, to feel comfortable in really letting go. To Willow, that was the moment that the strange creature that looked like Goliath truly became asserted in her mind as Xander. She cried all the harder for it.

***

Xander stood on the roof of Sunnydale High School, looking out over the street below, his mind going over things.

Giles had finally gotten off the phone with the Council. They were willing, once they'd been provided with some proof, to give Xander a surprisingly generous weekly allowance for as long as he was assisting the Slayer in her quest, as well as a large lump sum in exchange for his cooperation in allowing Giles to study his new physiology. It was a pretty incredible deal, and he wondered just how many strings Giles pulled in order to get it.

The cynical part of him also wondered how he was going to get screwed over by it in the end. At the moment, however, it was the best he was going to get, and far more than he'd figured. So he took it. Giles had already collected a sample of the broken pieces of "stone" that had shed off of Xander upon his awakening earlier, and would be sending it to the Council straight away. Tomorrow he would begin tests of his strength, reflexes, and various other abilities.

Tonight he was going to get settled in his new place, and hopefully tomorrow Willow and Buffy would have collected his most prized possessions from his house. Xander took a deep breath, and looked out over the street again.

The problem was, he couldn't exactly walk down the street. A seven-foot tall blue monster with wings would surely garner some attention, even in Sunnydale, where "I didn't just see that," was the battle cry of the populous.

Cars were out as well. He couldn't imagine trying to cram into one, although Cordelia's convertible might work in a pinch. Of course, Cordelia had already left, so he was on his own.

It wasn't like he didn't have an option. It was just an option he was a little worried about.

Stretching muscles he didn't have two days ago, Xander extended his wings to their full wingspan. It was astonishing just how far they extended. Giles would probably want to measure them. Glancing back, it seemed to him that each wing was just about as long as he was tall, and when fully extended they were half again as tall as he was.

"Jeez," he whispered. If there was anything about him that screamed "inhuman" it was the wings.

Right now though, the wings were his ticket to the Chase estate. An old saying went through his mind.

"If man were meant to fly, he'd have been born with wings."

Did that extend to acquiring wings after turning into a cartoon character? Probably not. There weren't too many sayings that were prepared for the eventuality of turning into an animated character.

He gripped the edge of the short wall and leaned over the side of the building. It was pretty high. Not so high that he thought his new Goliath body would be too hurt if he plummeted to the ground like the stone he slept as, but high enough so he wasn't looking forward to the prospect.

And if this worked, he'd going higher. Riding air currents so he could get as much height as possible and glide all the way to Cordelia's house.

Maybe his brain really had been damaged when his skull changed into Goliath's skull. His brain would have had to change, wouldn't it?

Because he had to be crazy if he was contemplating jumping off the roof and flying to Cordelia's house. He shuddered and let his wings relax, cloaking his body again. He stalked back, the gravel atop the roof crunching under his taloned feet. He rumbled slightly in annoyance and frustration, a habit he realized was Goliath's.

Xander closed his eyes, trying to get a grip on Goliath's memories. He recalled looking down at the glittering jewel that was Manhattan, a city bursting with life. Sailing through the air on his outstretched wings, with no care or worry of falling. To Goliath, it was like walking. Safer than walking, sometimes. You didn't stub your toe while gliding, and if something knocked you out of the air, it wasn't the gliding that was the danger; it was whatever was attacking you.

He took a deep breath and opened his eyes. This was his life now. He had to learn this sort of thing. If he was going to go anywhere, he was going to have to fly there. A big trench coat was not going to hide his massive size. A seven-foot tall man would draw enough attention, but a seven-foot tall guy in a trench coat that was built like Goliath would be like a neon sign. There were professional football players that were nowhere near as powerfully built.

Looking around to be sure no one was watching, Xander made a fist and flexed his bicep, eyes growing large. He almost thought about how unfair it was that gargoyles could be so strong, so built, and so durable as their natural state. Then he remembered the trade-off. He'd never be able to be in his friends' daytime lives. They would live their lives, go to school, go to college, make friends and make love. Sure, he'd be with them at night, sometimes. But night was when they slept.

This wasn't Manhattan, the city that never sleeps. This was Sunnydale, where the only things out at night were the demons.

The demons and Buffy.

And him.

He released the fist and turned his head to stare out off the roof. Yeah. This was his life now. So what was he going to do, brood about it like Deadboy? So what if this was his life? Buffy had a life expectancy that was already in the negative numbers. She was destined to have died months ago, and no Slayer had ever made it past their early twenties. He was complaining about his life?

Gargoyles lived double the lifespan of humans. They didn't age while they slept as stone. There was a great chance he'd live for another hundred years at least.

Willow was working non-stop trying to find a way to help him, and he knew she'd find something. Maybe he wouldn't change back, but she'd find something eventually.

And Buffy would likely be dead before she was twenty-one.

No, he could help her now. What was it that Goliath said so often?

"We are the defenders of the night. We are gargoyles."

There was no we. There was just Buffy. The one girl in all the world that stood against the things in the night. Not anymore. From now on, he was going to be there with her, protecting her, and protecting everyone else.

He wasn't Angel. He wasn't going to sit in his apartment while Buffy did the fighting for him. Maybe he was cursed with this form; maybe his life was changed forever. But maybe not all of it was horrible. If it meant Buffy could live...Wasn't that worth it?

He'd been more than willing to give his life for hers in the past. She was important. The fight was important. He'd fought it as nothing more than an awkward kid with a pretty good tolerance to getting punched in the face. Now he as monst-

No. Now he was a gargoyle.

Xander stared up at the stars and inhaled through his nose, tasting the cool air of the night. His night. His element. Whatever was out there, none of it was half so impressive as he was now. He smiled, feeling something similar to the solid confidence that Goliath carried with him every day. He could do this.

His foot dug into the gravel, and he rolled his neck around his shoulders. This was the first step. The first step of the rest of his life. A life as a gargoyle. Embrace it, or wallow in misery. What was it going to be?

Xander raced forward, gravel kicking up in his wake. He rushed towards the edge of the roof, and placed his right foot against the small wall, launching himself high into the air, his wings held tightly around his body.

As he reached the apex of his leap, his wings snapped out, filling with air. He dove down slightly, instinctively finding the currents. A slight lift told him he'd found one, and he circled around, diving down to gather speed. Then he pulled up, soaring high into the sky.

It was simple.

It was exhilarating. He sped across the sky, the ground far beneath him. He circled the school once, marveling at how much height he'd been able to gain, both with his initial jump and with the riding of the currents. He grinned, and pulled back, hovering in air for a split second before letting gravity spin him around and fall back towards the earth, pulling up again once he'd reversed direction and gained more speed.

Xander spent nearly an hour flying in large circles around Sunnydale, grinning like an idiot and fighting the urge to yell something silly like, "Yippee!"

Yes, his life had changed, and maybe he had every right to be glum and broody about it. Maybe he was still kind of glum and broody about it. Maybe he always would be.

But he'd taken the first step. And it felt good.
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