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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 > GargoylesMMcGregorFR1817113,296109119172,09110 Feb 0521 Jul 08Yes
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Part Six

Defender of the Night Part Six

***

A young girl was tied to a chair in an abandoned factory in downtown Sunnydale. There wasn't a single living soul within half a mile, and no one to hear her muffled screams for help. Her arms were tied tightly behind her back, and were bleeding from her attempts to pull them free.

Drusilla sniffed the girl's neck, inhaling the intoxicating scent of fear and innocence. Her baby boy would have only the best for his first meal. The girl was a flower, ripe and beautiful. Her special boy would drink deeply of her, and grow strong for his mummy.

A dead body lay prostrate on the cold ground, slumped and unmoving. Two pencil-sized holes at the side of his neck marked him as one drained by a vampire.

"He's takin' for-bloody-ever," Spike's apparition snapped before taking a drag on his cigarette. She thought it a beautiful trick that the smoke had no smell to it at all. She waved her hands at the wisps of gray, trying to inhale it.

"Oh Spike," she cooed. "It's empty."

He just smirked at her, a knowing smirk that told her he was glad she appreciated his trick. She smiled adoringly at him. He sneered back at her, showing his fangs, and she shivered with her want for him.

"Soon, luv," he assured her. "I'll come back to you. You'll bring me back. But first this ponce has got to wake up."

Drusilla moved languidly, spinning slowly through the trails of empty smoke from Spike's cigarette. She sank down to her knees beside her special boy, running her fingers through his short hair. Then she gasped, her head snapping up. Her face broke into a wide smile, and she turned to the girl.

"He's hungry," she told her in a whisper. It was a secret, although she forgot why that was. That didn't matter. She liked telling secrets. Drusilla grinned mischievously and decided to tell the girl another. "Mummy's brought him breakfast, and he'll be very pleased."

"Give him a slap," Spike suggested. "Maybe that'll hurry him up. Been nearly a day since you drained him."

Drusilla scowled at the girl. "Mummy mustn't hurt her special boy." She rose to her feet, stalking towards the girl. Tears streamed down her face and she shook her head from side to side, pleading in muffled tones. Drusilla shook a finger at her. Then her hand flashed out, slapping her hard across the face. The girl screamed in pain, and Drusilla's eyes rolled back into her head as she groaned at the delightful chorus she produced.

"Here he comes," Spike whispered in her ear, suddenly right beside her. Drusilla squealed in anticipation and delight. She moved around the girl, putting her hands on her shoulders and kneeling beside her. She brought her mouth to the girl's ear.

"It's time to wake up."

The girl shook her head and cried harder, straining against her bonds. Drusilla hummed along to the sound.

Ford's eyes snapped open. His face morphed instantly to the hideous demonic visage of a vampire. His eyes glowed a soft yellow and his fangs extended as he rose to his feet. He heaved wordlessly, a low growl issuing deep in his throat. Her special boy was hungry.

His eyes flicked to the girl, and Drusilla curled her finger at him, enticing him closer. He shambled forward, still unsure of himself. That would not do for her baby. So she drew her finger up the girl's supple neck, tracing up the side of it. Then she grinned hideously and pierced the side of the girl's neck with her sharp and pointed fingernail. The girl screamed horribly, and Drusilla wrapped her palm around her mouth, silencing her and exposing her neck as she pulled her head to the side. Ford's nostrils flared at the scent of the blood, and he sprang forward, snarling like an animal.

Drusilla smiled approvingly and stroked his hair softly as his fangs pierced the girl's neck. He began to greedily suck at her life's blood. She cooed words of encouragement into his ear. She was one step closer to having her Spike back. Her special boy would help her.

And since he could never see his reflection ever again, she doubted he would ever notice that his short hair had been bleached shockingly blond.


***

The bright lights at the gate helped to relieve Willow's fears of vampires lurking in the shadows, but they did nothing to rid her of her nervousness. It had been nearly two weeks since Xander had been changed, and aside from a few times when he'd stopped by her house to talk before she fell asleep, she only ever saw him in the library or on patrol. This was her first trip to his new home.

With Cordelia.

Her stomach seemed filled with kamikaze butterflies as she pressed the button that buzzed the poolhouse. Everything was so different now. Xander wasn't human anymore. He didn't hate Cordelia anymore. He didn't live at his familiar old house anymore, and she didn't get to spend time with him like they used to.

Part of that was her fault. She hated seeing him so defeated. He already looked nothing like Xander anymore, and when he stared off into the distance with his shoulders slumped, she couldn't bear to look at him. All she wanted to do was fix him, cure him of the horrible curse he'd been given.

Through all the websites, she'd found no answer. Through all the research, there was no lead. Not even Giles's hidden stash of books he'd deemed "too dark" for her had held any solution. At best, she might someday be able to fashion a kind of glamour for Xander to wear which would give him the illusion of appearing as a human. But nothing could ever truly change him back.

It was that failure that hurt her so much whenever she looked at him. There was nobody she loved as much as Xander, and if she couldn't fix him...Then he was doomed. Doomed to a life of darkness and estrangement. A life of loneliness. At least they'd always had each other, but now it felt like that was slipping away. She couldn't be with him all during the night.

Instead, he spent his nights with Cordelia, probably doing his best to stay quiet and unobtrusive while she spewed her venom at him. She hated that he'd been forced to come live with her. She knew Xander would have to hate her having that kind of power over him.

After a few seconds, a staticy voice came over the intercom. "Willow?"

She pressed the button and spoke. "Um, yeah. Hi, Cordelia." She waved sheepishly at the surveillance camera. Willow heard the tail end of Cordelia's laughter as she spoke again.

"...Dork," she said, before addressing Willow. "I'll buzz you in, you know how to get to the poolhouse?"

Willow told her she did, and soon the heavy iron gates were swinging open. She quickly made her way onto the stone marble path that led to the poolhouse. It was hardly surprising that Cordelia Chase's poolhouse put must homes to shame, including her own. At least Xander wasn't living in squalor, unless Cordelia made him stay in the basement or something.

Cordelia's guffawing laughter could be heard even through the door, and Willow frowned as she rang the bell. A few heavy thumps came in response, followed by the clicking of the locks as they were turned. Then the door swung open, revealing Xander, standing tall, his wings slightly open behind him. He grinned at her, and stepped aside.

"Hey, Will," he said in that rumbling voice that seemed almost as if stone that had learned how to speak. "I dunno if invitations work on vampires if they're from a gargoyle, so I'm playing it safe."

Smiling nervously, Willow stepped through the doorway and looked up at him. He was so tall; it made her feel so small sometimes to stand near him. He put a gentle hand on her back, leading her inside, and gestured to entrance room with his other hand. The touch was so casual, so natural, that she almost forgot what happened to him.

"So this is it," he said, grinning down at her. "Pretty nice, huh?"

"It's big," Willow replied. It was true. The ceilings were high, and the rooms large and spacious. Xander didn't have to be careful about stretching his wings in here.

"Yeah I guess it is. Now that you mention it, this is the only place where I don't feel like everything shrunk. Want to see my room?"

"Okay."

He nodded his head towards the carpeted stairs, and she followed after him as he trudged up them. She found herself staring at his thick tail swaying behind him as he walked. It must be so strange to suddenly have a new appendage. She wondered if he had to concentrate on it as he walked, or if it just helped him balance unconsciously.

He led her down a hallway and through a large set of double doors. They opened into a very large room that seemed made entirely of glass. The half-moon was clearly visible overhead.

"Nice, huh?"

"Wow," she whispered, looking around before looking up again. Nice didn't quite describe it. Her eyes slowly took in the room, and stopped on a large screen television against one wall. On the screen was a cartoon version of Xander, fighting some kind of stone creature. She knew the episode; it was one of her favorites, where Goliath and company encountered the creature of Jewish legend, the Golem.

"Me and Cordy have been watching a couple of episodes a night," Xander explained. "We're on the whole world tour part now, and Cordelia's really getting into it."

"I still don't understand why they don't just book a flight from Berlin or wherever and fly back to New York," came Cordelia's voice. Willow realized that the small white lump sticking out from behind the couch was Cordelia's socked foot. Willow and Xander moved closer, finding Cordelia sprawled out on the couch, the remote in one hand. She lacked the refined fashion she always wore in school, dressed in an old pair of shorts and a t-shirt. Her hair was tied into a simple ponytail, and she wore thick white socks on her feet.

"Can't really put Goliath, Angela and Bronx on a plane," Xander said. "Besides, if Avalon is sending them to different places, it's because that's where they need to be, remember?"

Cordelia snorted. "Please, why would you do what some stupid island wants you to do?"

"Cause it's magic!" Xander replied.

She raised an eyebrow at him. "Yeah, cause if anyone knows why magic should be trusted, it's you, right Papa Smurf?"

Willow gasped, eyes going wide at the brash insult, but Xander just grinned and reached over the couch, grabbing Cordelia around her waist with one large hand. She screamed as he lifted her over his head. "Papa what?"

"Xander!" she squealed. "Put me down!" She tried to give him a cold look of anger, but it was clear she was struggling not to laugh.

"See Wills, I finally figured out how to deal with Cordelia. When she starts getting all uppity, you just pick her up and hold her over your head for a while." He put his hand by his mouth and whispered to her as if relating a secret. "Cordelia doesn't like heights." To demonstrate, he tossed Cordelia in the air a foot or two, and she screeched as he caught her.

"Xander, you are a dead man if you don't put me down!" she snapped, trying to kick at his arm ineffectually. He pulled her closer to him, so they were face to face.

"Say you're sorry."

She glared at him for a moment, and then sighed. "Fine. I'm sorry."

He nodded triumphantly.

"That you look like Papa Smurf!" she continued smugly. Then she screamed again as Xander lifted her over his head.

"Unfortunately," he said, while Cordelia laughed and screamed, kicking at his arm. "I don't think you could actually get her over your head. Still, it's an effective technique."

Willow just stared at the two of them, unsure of what to say and what to do.

Xander cocked his head to his side, pretending to think carefully. "Also, you have to be careful not to try such a thing with a Slayer. Buffy doesn't take kindly to being held off the ground, no sirree bob."

"Buffy?" Willow asked.

He nodded seriously, and looked up at Cordelia, who had stopped kicking and screaming, and instead crossed her arms, glaring at him. He grinned up at her and tossed her over the couch where she landed with a cushioned thump.

"If you keep doing that, I'm never going to watch Gargoyles with you again," she said sulkily. Xander rolled his eyes and turned to Willow.

"Last three nights, she's the one bugging *me* to come watch. Don't listen to her."

"Oh," Willow said, a little bewildered. "Okay."

"So it's a good show," Cordelia huffed as she got off the couch. "What's wrong with that?"

"Nothing," Xander shrugged, letting his wings cloak around his shoulders. Then he clapped his hands together and rubbed them gently. "So, you wanna watch, Will?"

"Gargoyles?"

"No, Designing Women," Cordelia quipped.

"With you guys?" she asked, but she meant Cordelia.

"Yeah. It's the nightly ritual. Gotta get it done before Cordelia has to go out and get called an ice princess by whatever musclehead she's dating this second, and before I go meet Buffy at the library."

Cordelia snorted. "You're calling my dates muscleheads? Have you looked in the mirror lately?"

"I'm not a musclehead," Xander said, shaking his head seriously. He turned to Willow. "You know what I am?"

Willow wasn't sure what to say. Inhuman? A Gargoyle? Xander?

Her friend?

"Um, what?"

His serious look slipped away, replaced by a grin that was so familiar; she could actually see Xander in Goliath's face. "I'm a stoner!"

Cordelia groaned in pain, but let out a few chuckles. Willow just stared at the giant blue monster that stood before her. Then, ever so slowly, a smile crept onto her face. Before she knew it, she was giggling in the way that only Xander Harris could ever induce within her.

***

The police tape kept him from entering the library through the back, so Xander was forced to show off his new stealthier side to get in. He darted swiftly from shadow to shadow, wings pressed close to his body and moving with far more grace than his form would suggest. His dusky blue skin blended well into the darkness. Despite his slight reptilian appearance, his movements were distinctly catlike.

Cordelia told him about Giles being questioned by the police that afternoon, but hadn't bothered to actually get any of the details. While Cordelia seemed to delight in giving him the daily gossip of what went on in school, it was rarely related to anything he actually cared about.

"Ooh, Harmony wore a blabbity-blobbity knock-off."

"The scandal of it all."

"Can you believe it? Sandy Turner got dumped and now her dad's buying her new breasts to make her feel better."

"Amazing."

"Oh my gosh, you'll never guess! Jackson Granting totaled his Mustang and now he's driving his mom's minivan!"

"I can fly."

Okay, maybe he hadn't said that last bit, but really, when Cordelia went into her long tirades over the various social upheavals of the day, it was all he could do to keep his brain from focusing on the pure freedom he felt when he was soaring in the clouds. Maybe he'd have been paying more attention if Cordelia had mentioned that someone had been killed. Unless someone had put up a chalk outline at the back door of the library as a goof, which was a little farfetched, even for Sunnydale.

"Thought the giant blue monster with wings," Xander muttered to himself.

"Gah!" Buffy screamed, her pencil gripped in her hand like a stake. She sighed when she looked up from her seat at the table. "Do you have to keep doing that?"

"Doing what?" he asked, innocently.

"The whole sneaky thing!"

"Well yeah, kinda. Otherwise the janitor might chase me with a pitchfork or something."

She rolled her eyes, spinning the pencil delicately between her fingers and looking back down at her homework. "Guess you couldn't come in the back, huh?"

"Yeah, on account of the bloody crime scene," Xander replied, casually taking a seat across from her. In the nearly two weeks he'd had his new body, he was becoming much more adept at moving with it. He found that battle situations where he could rely on instinct was always much easier, but he still whacked his head on low objects, and sometimes sat on his tail by accident.

"It's sad how that's just barely a blip on my radar," Buffy remarked, scribbling something in her notebook. "Random dead guy is so not a stop-the-presses for me."

"Yeah, besides, that's Giles's forte. He finds the baddies, and then Xander and his Slayer sidekick go and kick their butts."

"His Slayer sidekick?" Buffy asked with an incredulous tone of annoyance. "How come I'm the sidekick?"

"Cause I already did my time as sidekick," Xander replied haughtily, grinning at her. "Besides, I'm bigger and stronger, so that makes you the sidekick."

"I'll give you a side kick," she grumbled good-naturedly.

"Okay, okay, I can see that sidekick is causing some PC issues, that's okay. I'm open to suggestions. Heroic Assistant?"

"How about Buffy the Vampire Slayer and her pet gargoyle?" Buffy suggested with an evil grin.

"Ha ha ha," he deadpanned. "So really, what's the deal with RDG?"

"RD what?"

"RDG. Random Dead Guy."

"Oh, him," Buffy shrugged. "I dunno, I guess Giles is working on it. I don't think it was a vampire though."

"Darn," Xander muttered.

"Feeling sorry for the denizens of pure evil?" Buffy inquired with a raised eyebrow.

"Denizen?" Xander asked, bemused. Then he leaned over and nodded when he saw what she was working on. "Ah, you're doing vocabulary homework."

She grinned back at him. "You like how I worked it in there?"

"Very smooth. And no, I'm not feeling sorry for them. I'm feeling sorry for me. Ultra boredom is the name of the Xander game, especially after about midnight or so. I was hoping for a little vampire smacking to keep me busy."

Patrol with Buffy was one of the few things Xander had a keen interest in these days, or rather, these nights. It meant doing something besides reading or flying for hours at a time. At this rate, he was going to have to come up with a *lot* of hobbies.

He supposed he could always go on patrol on his own, but he didn't feel quite comfortable with his abilities yet. Better to have Buffy around just in case something went wrong. So far it seemed he was more than a match for a single vampire, but in Sunnydale the vampires usually traveled in packs. Xander would more than likely be just as effective as Buffy in the long run, but since he was still getting used to his body, it was better to have the Buffy safety net around, just in case.

"Don't know about past midnight tonight," Buffy said, pencil scribbling away as she spoke. "But Giles wanted me to meet him at the hospital tonight at 8:30."

"Hey, great. We can visit Sandy Turner and wish her good luck with the whole boob thing."

"Boob thing?"

"Uh, never mind. So why with the hospital, nice lady?" he said in his best Jerry Lewis voice. A voice that had never been all that good to begin with, and was now positively atrocious with his James-Earl-Jones-Eat-Your-Heart-Out voice.

Buffy rolled her eyes and slid her pencil behind her ear. "Blood delivery day," she informed him. "Gotta make sure the hospital gets it okay."

"Vampire Meals-On-Wheels," Xander quipped. "Okay, well that sounds like a plan. Uh, I am invited to come, right?"

"No, I'm inviting my other gargyole friend," she replied sarcastically. Xander gasped in mock astonishment.

"You have other gargoyle friends?" he asked breathlessly, bottom lip quivering. Buffy just shook her head wistfully and gazed at him with an odd look on her face. He frowned. "What?"

"Nothing," she shrugged. Then she hopped off her seat and gave him a friendly backhanded slap on his bicep. "You want to head out?"

"Lead the way, Buffster."

***

Buffy sighed and shook her head in annoyance, as she walked back into the shadows. A moment later the leathery flutter of wings and a brief blur of darkness announced Xander's presence beside her. Buffy had to consciously keep herself from startling ever so slightly, despite knowing he'd be dropping in on her. Xander moved so fast sometimes, especially when flying was involved.

"Still nothing?" he asked.

"Nada," she pouted. "I'm starting to get worried. Giles and lateness?"

"Not exactly chocolate and peanut butter," he agreed. Xander was doing his best to stay blended with the shadows. A single girl waiting in front of the hospital wasn't suspicious. He couldn't say the same for a gargoyle. So when Buffy did her quick sweeps of the area, Xander ascended to the roof, bounding quickly from ledges, windowsills, and fire escapes. Buffy had him beat for speed when they were talking about good old fashioned horizontal running, but when it came to vertical movement, Xander was one of a kind. Literally.

"I think I'm going to try and call him again," Buffy said, eyes scanning the front of the hospital.

"Okay, I'll keep my eyes open."

"Thanks."

Another fluttering of wings, and she caught only the briefest glance of Xander springing up the side of the building before he was at the top, disappearing into the shadows. She shook her head at the impressive feat, and at just how weird her life was sometimes. She was spending her nights protecting bags of blood with a winged monster instead of dancing at the Bronze or smooching with her boyfriend.

Not that smooching with her boyfriend was all that normal either. Most people didn't have boyfriends that were over two hundred years older than they were, or boyfriends that lacked heartbeats. Buffy the boyfriend trailblazer, that was her.

She made her way to the payphone across from the entrance, and put the receiver to her ear, cradling it between her head and shoulder as she ran her fingers through her hair, dialing with her other hand. At the same moment, a medical van pulled up to the entrance, and two doctors in medical scrubs came out to meet them. They waved at the driver, both giving friendly greetings and smiling. Buffy gave them an appreciative look.

"All's well that ends with cute ER doctors, I always say," she remarked to no one in particular, admiring the two twenty-something doctors as they took the special coolers from the delivery guy, making small talk all the while. Then her brow furrowed, and she came to a realization.

"Since when do doctors take deliveries?"

Sure enough, the moment the van had pulled away, a large convertible car turned on its headlights and drove up to the two doctors. The first doctor put the container on the ground and opened it up, pulling out one of the packets. He bit into it.

"Hey! No sampling the product!" his companion shouted. Buffy rolled her eyes. Yeah, these guys were masters of disguise. As the first doctor hissed angrily at his friend, she raced forward. Her foot connected with the first's face, sending him sprawling onto his back just as the lid of the container closed. She kicked swiftly at the second, and then spun into a roundhouse kick when the driver jumped out to attack. The first struggled to his feet, and when Buffy attempted to kick him again, he grabbed her legs and threw her bodily onto the hood of the car. She grunted and lashed out at his neck, causing him to stagger backwards and collapse. She quickly got back to her feet, a stake spinning almost magically into her hand as she did.

A fourth vampire came darting out of the shadows, and she turned to attack, barely arresting the momentum of her arm in time.

"Angel!" she cried, recognizing him.

"Buffy! Look out!"

Instead, they all froze at the horrible rending scream that could make even the undead's blood run cold. The three vampires all looked up in shock and fright as the glowing white eyes of the world's only gargoyle swooped down at them. His massive wings were completely outstretched, giving him the momentary illusion of being perhaps three or four times his actual size.

Xander grabbed the first by the neck as soon as he landed, and threw him violently across the lot, where he impacted with a bone-shattering thud against the concrete wall. Buffy recovered from the startling roar first, quickly elbowing the driver in the face and spinning around to stake him. Xander dove forward, tackling the final vampire. They rolled, grunting, and soon Xander was back on his feet, holding the vampire a few feet off the ground, dangling by his neck. Xander's powerful talon-like fingers gripped the vampire's neck fiercely, and for a moment Buffy could see just how gentle Xander had been when he'd held her off the ground in a similar, but far less neck-holdy, fashion.

Then Xander turned his head to clumsily pull an over-large stake from the belt around his waist.

"Hold still!" he boomed as the vampire tried to struggle free. He shook the undead creature almost comically, causing him to go limp. Finally he worked the stake free, twirled it close to decently in his fingers, and plunged it into the vampire's heart. And through his back. And out the other side. As the creature dusted, Xander stumbled slightly forward, his wings flapping open to help him keep his balance. "Oops. Little strong on the staking there."

Buffy rolled her eyes, grinning. "You might want to practice getting your stake out too. Or at least get some pockets."

"And put them where, exactly?" Xander asked, holding his arms out to his side, revealing his mostly nude form. His only clothing was the animal hide loincloth, a wide black leather belt, and his own wings when he draped them around his body.

"Maybe we could trick the home ec class into making you some clothes," she suggested, teasingly.

"Yeah, cause every kid needs to know how to put wing-holes in a dress shirt."

Angel cleared his throat, and Buffy turned to him. She frowned briefly. "Oh yeah. How did you know about this?"

Angel looked at her like she was crazy. "It's delivery day. Everybody knows about this."

"It's the hippest, swingingest day in all vampire land!" Xander said in mock cheeriness. Buffy stifled a grin.

Rolling his eyes, Angel stepped forward and opened the container. He looked inside. "Looks like they only ruined one bag."

"You think you could make sure the hospital gets the rest?" Buffy asked. Then she seemed to realize whom she was asking. Angel just nodded at her, unoffended.

"Thanks. I'm worried about Giles. He was supposed to meet us here."

"Maybe he's late," Angel shrugged.

"Maybe he's having a wild blood delivery day party with his wife-swapping friends," Xander quipped.

"Yeah," Buffy agreed. "This is Giles. He counts tardiness as like, the eighth deadly sin."

Angel nodded. "Right. You should go."

***

They arrived at Giles's less than minutes later, engaging in an unspoken and impromptu race. Buffy sprinted down the streets as fast as she could while Xander soared overhead. He beat her, but not by much. When it came to pure speed, Buffy had him beat, but where she had to go around obstacles, Xander simply went over them. He touched down smoothly and silently, giving her a little smirk as she skidded to a halt beside him a few seconds later. She returned the smirk, but when he turned his back, she put her hands on her legs and took a deep but silent breath.

It was much harder to ignore Xander's massive bulk when they were together in the courtyard of Giles's home. He seemed larger than life, and sometimes she found herself forcibly quelling her Slayer instincts when she looked at him. A few weeks ago, had something looking like Xander jumped out at her in the dark, she'd have clobbered him without a thought.

At least, she'd have tried to. Buffy was no fool when it came to personal combat, and while she had full confidence in her abilities as a Slayer, she knew Xander was a wild card. He was untrained and unfocused, but his strength and stamina surpassed even her own. She wasn't sure if she should be happy or sad that no other gargoyles existed. Happy because it meant she'd never have to fight one, or sad because she'd never have one to fight by her side.

Except for Xander.

"What?" he grumbled. Then again, he always grumbled these days. His voice was far too serious for the personality that existed beneath it. He frowned at her, and Buffy realized she'd been staring.

"Sorry," she blushed, turning away and walking towards Giles's door. How long was it going to take before she was used to the way her friend looked? How long before her eyes lingered on him every time he happened across her vision? How long before part of her no longer wanted to jump in fright, another part no longer wanted to attack, and a third, quieter part no longer wanted him to scoop her up and hold her tight, protecting her from all things?

Buffy shook her head. Stupid noblewoman. The legacy of her Halloween costume seemed to be a quickly fading affinity for French, and a not-so-quickly fading wish to be protected by the big, strong hero that was her friend.

Sighing, she rapped her knuckles lightly on the heavy oaken door of Giles's home. A few moments later a barred porthole swung open with a quick squeak, and Giles's face peered at her. He blinked in seeming confusion, and then moved away. They heard the clicking of locks, and he opened the door partway.

"Buffy. I-it's late," he said, sounding weary and looking more so. "Uh, are you all right?"

Buffy gave him a light scowl. "I was gonna ask you the same thing."

"Yes, I'm fine. Fine. Look, I'm, uh, I'm rather busy a-at the moment, so, uh, I'll see you on Monday at school." He nodded at her with finality, and made to close the door. Buffy's hand shot out to keep it open, and she was only mildly startled to see Xander's thickly muscled blue arm above her, holding it open as well.

Giles swallowed nervously, exhaling slightly. "Xander. I-I didn't see you there."

"The wonders of natural camouflage," Xander joked in that deep and resonant voice of his.

"Giles," Buffy said sharply, getting his attention. "Did you forget? The hospital? Vampires? Handy carry-out packets of blood?"

His eyes widened slightly. "Oh! Yes, uh, are you all right? Were you hurt?"

"No," she admitted. "I mean, my feelings a little. What's wrong?"

"Yeah," Xander said. "Cause no offense Giles, but this is really weird. And that's coming from a seven foot tall monster with wings."

"Nothing. Nothing's wrong. I-I'm just in the uh, middle of something extremely important, and uh, I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to say good night now." He tried to swing the door closed, but he couldn't budge their arms. He glared at them both, and they slowly removed their hands. He swung the door firmly shut, leaving them standing bewildered out in the courtyard.

"I'm going with pod person," Xander said.

"Huh?" Buffy asked distantly, still frowning at the door.

"He's a pod person. It's the only explanation."

Buffy shrugged and turned away from the door. "Maybe he's just tired."

"Hey Buff?"

"Yeah?"

"How good's your nose?"

Buffy sighed. Apparently at least as good as Xander's. She knew what he was talking about.

"So maybe he had a few drinks," she sighed as they walked slowly out of the courtyard. "He's an adult."

"Rupert Giles is sitting home alone and boozing it up when he could be doing Watcherly things? That's the kind of sense making that doesn't."

"Maybe that guy getting killed outside the library shook him up more than it shook us up," Buffy suggested.

"Or maybe the cops spooked him when they questioned him about it."

Buffy stopped in her tracks and stared at him, frowning. "The cops questioned him?"

"Well yeah. Guy gets killed by the library, so they talk to the head librarian. Makes sense, right?"

"I guess," she said skeptically.

"That's not a sense-making face. What're you thinking?"

"People get killed all the time around here. Isn't this like the fifth guy to get killed near the library in the last couple of months?"

"Well the Hellmouth is right underneath it, so yeah. Lots of vamp activity."

"And the cops don't show up at all for those people," she said, nodding now. "That doesn't click. Why would they question him for this but not for that?"

"Tit for tat," he rhymed. Buffy gave him a goofy grin

"Thanks, Fezzik."

"No problem, Buffycup," Xander grinned back. He accompanied her back to her house, the night sufficiently late that nobody human would be on the streets. She promised to check in with him tomorrow and let him know if she figured out anything about Giles's strange behavior.

***

"And nobody called me?" Xander asked, incredulous.

"You were sleeping," Cordelia shrugged, flopping down onto the couch.

"It's been dark for two hours!"

"Well you should have come to the library then."

"But tonight's Star Trek night." Somehow he managed to get a whine into his voice, despite its deep baritone.

"It's my fault you're a giant nerd? Don't blame me that you missed out on fighting some gross sleep-demon."

Xander growled softly, his glowing faintly white. Cordelia had just arrived home a few minutes ago, tired and bearing a tale of some demon Giles had summoned in his youth. Apparently it had taken over Ms. Calendar that afternoon. Everyone was so busy researching and fighting that no one had thought to call him. Angel had saved the day when Willow figured out to let the demon take him over, where Angel's vampire demon was able to destroy it.

"Don't you growl at me," Cordelia snapped. "I've had a rough day. Willow just about held me hostage to make me help her research."

"I can't believe nobody called me," Xander sighed, the couch creaking as he fell into it. "I should be second on the list after Buffy now. I could have helped."

"How? You don't have a demon inside you."

"I just could have, that's all." He hugged his wings around his body and crossed his arms petulantly. "I knew this was going to happen. Stuff happens in the daytime and I'm completely out of the loop."

"I wish I was out of the loop if the loop involves demons that jump into your brain and make you all gross looking. I swear, Ms. Calendar still looks a little green, and she didn't have such great skin to begin with. There's no way she moisturizes properly, and with her complexion she shou-"

Xander got up while Cordelia was still in mid-sentence, and stalked towards the balcony.

"Hey, where are you going?" she asked.

"Out."

"What about Gargoyles? We're supposed to watch that three-parter you were telling me about."

Xander shook his head. "I don't feel like watching cartoons right now." Then he swung the doors open, and quickly bounded into the air, wings snapping open as he soared out over the Chase estate. Cordelia frowned sadly as she watched him go.

"I could have gone to the Bronze tonight," she muttered, throwing the remote control against a reclining armchair. Then she grabbed a pillow, hugging it to her chest, and sighed as she lay back, staring up at the stars.

What was she doing? For days now she'd been canceling her night plans and staying at home with Xander so they could watch TV together. She, Cordelia Chase, purposely staying home and vegging out in the front of the television when she could be getting hit on by football players and show off her new outfits.

And now that she was faced with the prospect of being able to go back out and do those things, she found that a part of her really didn't want to. She looked forward to relaxing at night with Xander. They had fun together, trading barbs and quips. It reminded her that Xander was still Xander, despite his appearance. She thought he had fun with her too, but now she wasn't so sure.

She sighed and turned off the TV before leaving his room. After the stressful night of demon researching, she'd really been hoping to relieve some tension with a nice little mini-marathon with Xander. Instead, she was going to take a nice hot bath and try and get some sleep. Maybe Xander would be over his funk at being left out by the next night.

***


Soaring high over Sunnydale, Xander's thoughts were dark and angry. This was exactly what he'd been afraid of. They didn't think of him during the day, so they didn't think of him at night. This was just the first step to his eventual isolation from everyone.

Could he really be a monster and maintain regular friends? How? He'd been trying his best to see Willow since his transformation, but if they got together for a few hours a week, he considered himself lucky. It wasn't like he could go to the Bronze and hang out with her like they used to. Spending time with his friends meant being somewhere private, and he couldn't force them to give up their social lives just to keep him company.

He lived with Cordelia, and he still only saw her for a few hours every day, usually watching television early in the evening. The beginning of his day was the end of hers. Noon for him was midnight for her, and Cordelia often was asleep by ten. School began at seven-thirty after all.

Really the only ones he got to see on a regular basis were Cordelia and Buffy. Cordelia he saw simply because she lived in the same house as he did, and Buffy he saw most evenings on patrol.

But despite patrolling with her on a more regular basis, Buffy hadn't thought to call him for help with this Eye-Gone thing. Even after he'd been with her the night before, noticing Giles's suspicious behavior right alongside her.

His fists clenched into tight balls, and he shook slightly with his frustration. He tried so hard to remain upbeat, especially with the others. He kept up the jokes, kept up the smiles, and generally tried to act like it was no big deal.

The truth was, he was lonely. Reading in the library might interest him, but it wasn't something he could do all night, every night. Patrolling alone was a possibility, as he was sort of doing at that moment, but even that offered no refuge for him. For Xander, the most important part of his life was his friends, and in many ways, they had been taken from him.

Taken from him by the man that Buffy had just saved that night. Ethan Rayne, former no-goodnik pal of Giles, and the sorcerer that had bewitched the simple blue cloth that Xander has used as part of his homemade Goliath costume. It was because of him that Xander's life had been taken. If they'd called him, maybe he could have at least confronted Ethan. The part of him that was Goliath added to his own base desire to get revenge on the man that had ruined him.

Another opportunity lost because of his stone sleep and gruesome appearance.

And of course it was Angel who had saved the day. Angel who could be awake during the day. Angel who could blend in with a crowd. Angel who Buffy called whenever there was trouble.

Xander growled, his eyes glowing softly as he gazed out at the landscape below. Tiny twinkling lights winked on and off below him like man-made stars. People were turning on lights to see in the darkness, or turning them off as they went to sleep. The streets were empty, an instinctual habit of any citizen with half a brain. The things roaming the streets at this hour blended into the darkness with a supernatural flair, and moved with a silence that was inhuman.

He was there before he'd even realized the direction he'd been flying. There had been no thought to it, he was simply following currents and letting them guide his flight. His brain was too busy being depressed.

Without a sound, he gently touched down outside her room. How many times in the past had he come here? How many times when he wanted to escape his problems, had he retreated to this sanctuary of one of the few people who actually cared about him?

Was it fair to her to do it now? Even without being a gargoyle, things were different now. They were growing up, beyond this kind of thing. You didn't sneak into a teenaged girl's room at night just to hang out and hide from your troubles.

At least, you didn't when you were a teenaged boy. Which he wasn't. Not anymore.

So he carefully tapped on the glass of the sliding door, and tried to look as gentle as possible when Willow, clad in a soft pink terrycloth robe, came to inspect the noise. To her credit, she didn't react with surprise at Xander, or his appearance. Instead she slid the door open quickly.

"Xander? What's wrong?" She stared up at him with concern and worry in her eyes. Xander swallowed and shrugged.

"Nothing," he lied. "I was just wondering if I could hang out here with you for a while."

Her eyes glistened as she looked up at him. It was what he'd always said, back then. That he was just there to hang out, and not because he desperately didn't want to go back home for the night. She'd never said anything about it, and he'd never said anything more. He hoped that tradition would remain for just one more night.

"Sure," she whispered, stepping away from the door. Gargoyle or not, her habit was to not invite someone in. Xander smiled and ducked under the door, pressing his wings tightly around his body as he entered her cramped room. It seemed smaller than he remembered, but he knew it was he who was bigger.

"So," he rumbled, aware of his large presence.

"Yeah," Willow replied.

"I, uh, I just thought I'd come by."

She nodded, as if he'd told her some great truth. "Th-that's good."

I wish you'd called me, he didn't say. I wish I saw you all more, wouldn't escape his lips. I wish I could explain how terrible I feel.

And then Willow stepped towards him, staring up at his face, and put her arms around him, pressing her cheek against his chest. Xander's eyes clenched shut, and he struggled to swallow the lump in his throat. Her tiny hands tried to encircle his waist, and he let his wings unfurl, cloaking around her.

"I'm sorry, Xander," she whispered sadly. He never had to tell her, and she never had to say what she was sorry for. It was enough that someone cared, that someone was brave enough to tell him.

Maybe they could always be Xander and Willow.
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