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Turn to Stone, Part Six
Running On Empty

Buffy slammed into the brick corner of a building and stumbled over her own feet, falling flat on her ass on the sidewalk. The concrete scraped painfully against her palms and she raised her hands, seeing the small droplets of blood welling up. She curled her fingers in, rubbing at the blood, relaxing when she felt its warmth. She ran her tongue around her mouth, tasting nothing but still recoiling from the memory of blood, hot and rich and wanted.

She rolled slowly over onto her hip to ease herself up and grunted in surprise at the sharp pain in her thigh. She glanced down and saw a stake protruding from her pocket and pressing deeply against her leg. She jerked it out from under her and stood, rubbing at the sore spot.

She pocketed the stake and brushed her palms against her hips as she looked around. Night. Empty street. She raised her head and saw that she was standing in front of The Sun, the Sunnydale cinema. The marquee was dark, and red letters spelled out CLOSED with a dangling “E” against its cracked surface. She started to make her way down the darkened street and then stopped, leaning against the brick wall, feeling its roughness press into her cheek. She had no idea where she was going. Even if she did have a destination in mind, moving from this spot would mean confronting whatever twisted reality awaited her. Vampire Giles. Dead Willow. Big Gay Xander.

She laughed at that and heard the hysterical edge to her voice. The laughter choked into a sob and she closed her eyes, pressing her forehead against the wall. She could stay here and wait for the next love lesson to overtake her or she could get a hold of herself and get back in control. She tried reminding herself that none of this was real, that she was actually in the desert somewhere watching all of this happen around her, but the wall beneath her hand was so solid and the pain in her palm as she pressed against it was no illusion. They can’t make me do this, she thought, her jaw clenching.

She swallowed painfully, forcing the tears back. Hiding in a corner and boo-hooing her eyes out wasn’t going to get her home and it wasn’t going to protect Dawn. She pushed herself off of the wall and wiped a hand across her nose, steadying herself. Okay, she could try her house and see what horrors awaited there, or she could…her thoughts broke off as she heard a muffled sob behind her. She turned and walked slowly toward the sound, rounding the corner of a darkened alleyway.

Dark alley. Night. Sunnydale. Swell. She pulled the stake back out of her pocket and stepped cautiously toward the sound. Her eyes darted around as the sobbing grew louder. She skirted the edge of a large, foul smelling dumpster and stopped in front of the crouched figure on the ground next to it. Willow.

Willow sat huddled on the garbage strewn street, a smudged white nightgown falling full around her shaking body and pooling at her feet as she hugged her knees to her chest and sobbed against her crossed arms.

“Willow?” Buffy asked gently as she knelt before her. She reached out a hand and placed it carefully over the other girl’s. “Will?”

Willow raised her head, her hair falling against cheeks that were pale and scrubbed clean, child-like. Her eyes met Buffy’s and her lips quivered. “I’m so lost,” she whispered, her fingers reaching out to take Buffy’s hand.

“Shh, shh,” Buffy whispered, leaning forward to take her into her arms. “It’s okay, I’m here. Buffy’s here.” Arms wound tightly around her neck and Buffy ran her hands soothingly over Willow’s back. God, Willow. Buffy closed her eyes and swallowed hard. Twice Willow had died because she hadn’t been there to protect her. Beneath her hands, she felt the small bones, the thin body as it trembled against her. Even with the magic, Willow was so fragile.

Buffy pulled back, taking Willow by the hand. “No, stay,” Willow whimpered, tugging at Buffy’s arms. “C’mon,” Buffy said, smiling gently. “We can’t stay here. We need to…” her head jerked up, her senses suddenly on overload. She pulled Willow to her feet, wrapping an arm around her waist as the other girl stumbled against her. “We have to get out of here, Will, now.” Buffy tugged Willow along, her gaze whipping around the narrow alley, seeing the dark brick walls looming ominously on either side as her reflexes screamed out ‘vampire.’

“Don’t wanna,” Willow mumbled against Buffy’s shoulder, her heels digging in and slowing Buffy’s determined stride.

“Willow…” sang softly out of the darkness, a hint of laughter in the voice. “Naughty Willow…”

Buffy turned back, one hand pushing Willow behind her as the other tightened on the stake. She watched as a pair of dark boots stepped from beneath the deepest shadows at the back of the alley, rising into black clad legs, the leather whispering with each step. Moonlight dusted blue against dark hair as the vampire stopped a few feet from Buffy, his hand reaching up to rub against his chest beneath his black leather jacket, his nipple a dark shadow against the white tee-shirt as it pulled taut with his movements.

“Who’s your pretty friend?” he asked, his eyes lighting on the cross around Buffy’s neck.

“Buffy,” Willow said with a smug smack of her lips as she shook off the hand on her wrist and circled around to face Buffy with a triumphant smile.

“The Slayer?” Xander asked, a slow smile quirking up one side of his lips. He ran a lewd gaze over Buffy. “She’s hot.”

Willow crossed to him, the loose neck of the nightgown sliding down her shoulder to bare bite marks, old and new, as she pouted at him. “I think she’s kind of butch,” she said, snuggling against Xander’s side and glaring back at Buffy.

“No. Huh-uh,” Xander said, pulling Willow to him as she pressed against his thigh, grinding into him. “Hot. Lara Croft hot.”

Buffy smiled grimly, shoving the stake into the waist of her pants. “Vamp Willow. Vamp Xander. Lovely.” She sighed, crossing her arms. “Well, at least I’ve heard this one before.”

Willow and Xander looked at each other and grinned. “Actually, we just use ‘Xander’ and ‘Willow’,” Xander replied as he shoved Willow aside and edged closer to Buffy, his features shifting into gameface. “The vamp’s kind of implied.”

Buffy raised her arms into a defensive pose, eyeing him warily. He stopped just short of her, running his hand up and down his stomach in a lazy pattern as he continued to smile at her. Buffy found it that it was not at all difficult to completely disassociate him from her Xander. Besides the vampy forehead and fangs, the patronizing smirk and ‘I raided Angelus’ closet’ wardrobe practically screamed soulless killer.

But Willow…she jerked her head toward the dead-on incarnation of her best friend. “What’s with the granny nightie?” she asked.

“Cause I’m the helpless victim,” Willow smiled as she sidled up behind Xander again. “Little girl lost, crying in the alley. ‘Oh, save me from the bad man!’” Willow laughed darkly, sinking her teeth into Xander’s leather clad shoulder.

Buffy nodded slowly. The old bait and switch – and she fell for it. If it had been anyone besides Willow, made she wouldn’t have…

“So, the Slayer’s ridden into town,” Xander said, breaking into her train of thought. “We’ve heard about you, you know. Kind of a combination Amy Yip and the Terminator, right? Unstoppable demon-killing-machine with great tits.” Xander spread his hands wide, stepping away from Willow. “Let’s see whatcha got, Killer.”

Buffy turned away from him and then spun back, arching as her leg shot out to slam hard against his chest. He fell back, laughing, and she was quickly on him, throwing a glance behind her to check Willow’s location. Seeing Willow just watching them avidly, a huge grin on her face, Buffy flung a leg over Xander’s midsection and rammed her knee into his chest, pinning him.

“Oh, yeah,” he breathed, running his hands up her thighs. His grasp tightened on her outstretched leg, jerking it straight. “How wide can you get these to go?” he asked, bucking up to rotate his pelvis against her backside.

Buffy snarled, raising her leg and kicking his hand off her ankle to slam her foot down, crushing his palm beneath her boot. One hand lunged out to squeeze around his throat as she yanked the stake free of her pants and threw her arm back, poising the stake above his heart. She hesitated as his laughter settled into a smile she recognized – Xander’s “oops” grin. The moment lost in seeing her friend behind those yellow vamp eyes was barely a second, but it was enough for the grin to shift back into the demon’s smirk as he knocked the stake out of her hand. It clattered to the ground next to them and Willow snatched it from beneath Buffy’s grasp, twirling it in her fingers.

Willow sauntered around them until she stood over Xander’s head, looking down at him. “You need to stop thinking with your dick, Xan,” she said, the stake sliding through her fingers. “You’d be dust between her legs if I hadn’t been here.”

Xander bucked his hips again, throwing Buffy off of him. “I’m holding my own,” he said, jumping to his feet as Buffy quickly righted herself and faced them again.

“Maybe,” Willow said, stepping between Buffy and Xander. “But she had you by the balls.”

Willow tapped the point of the stake against her lips as she looked at Buffy. “There’s only two ways this can end, you know. The first involves the kicking of your ass followed by feeding.” Willow grinned. “The second also involves ass kicking and feeding but ends with you biting back…in a good way. But either way, you can’t take on both of us.”

“Oh, something tells me she can,” Xander said, his arms wrapping around Willow as he wrenched the stake out of her hand and rubbed it down the length of her body.

Willow jerked away from him, snatching the stake back as she snarled, “Knock it off, Xander. Suck her, fuck her, whatever, but don’t forget who invited you to the party.”

Buffy took advantage of their dysfunctional lover’s quarrel to grab Willow’s arm, pulling her hard against her as she bent Willow’s fingers back and ripped the stake from her hand. With a sudden jerk, Buffy had Willow in a headlock, the stake digging into Willow’s breastbone.

Xander bit his lip and sighed. “Damn, Will, sucks to be you.”

Willow struggled in Buffy’s arms, glaring at Xander. “Grab the stake, you idiot!” she yelled at him. When he backed away from them, shaking his head, Willow’s legs flailed out at him furiously. “I’m your sire, stupid-ass! Now do what I say!”

Xander smiled, shrugging helplessly. “Not much I can do here, Will. Gotta take care of number one first, right?” He clasped his hands in front of himself solemnly. “But by Grabthar's hammer, you shall be avenged!” he quoted with a snicker.

Buffy’s grip tightened around the stake, her palm growing damp as she felt the tip press into Willow’s flesh. She backed away slightly, pulling Willow along with her. Willow thrashed against her and Buffy’s arms tensed as she steeled herself. She looked back at Xander, who watched her coldly as she prepared to dust his sire. Vampires. They were just vampires. The people she remembered, the friends she had loved, had been gone since the moment the demon had risen.

Buffy swallowed hard, looking down at Willow’s familiar face, even with the mouth contorted in a snarl, the eyes yellow and flashing with frustrated rage. She remembered Giles’ words from long ago. She wasn’t looking at Willow, but at the thing that had killed her. Her fingers convulsed and she raised the stake, bracing herself to strike as Willow lurched against her with renewed strength. Buffy closed her eyes as everything slowed – the stake rising, the adrenaline flooding her body, the tears burning in her throat as she heard Willow cry out, “Goddamn it, Xander!”

And then the stake was falling from her hand as she shoved Willow away from her. Xander lunged forward and caught the stake in midair as he jerked Willow to him.

“About damn time,” Willow muttered, rubbing at the place on her chest where the stake had dug in.

“Not me, babe, but thanks,” Xander said, looking at Buffy with a mixture of suspicion and surprise.

Buffy’s eyes widened and she backed away, cursing herself for an idiot as she eyed the stake in Xander’s hand.

“She can’t kill you,” he said, shocked wonder in his voice. He flipped the stake in his hand, catching it as he grinned at Buffy. “What’s up with that, Slayer?”

“I…” Buffy was cut off by the sound of tires squealing, headlights flooding the alley as Willow and Xander hissed and backed off. A dark van screeched to a halt behind Buffy, the cargo door rattling open. “Get in! Now!” a harsh voice commanded and Buffy turned and ran, jumping into the van even as it slammed into reverse and flew back out of the alley, sparks flying as it scraped past the dumpster.

Buffy fell face first into the seat and rolled quickly as she felt a hand grasp her arm. She flipped over, her fists rising as she looked into Giles’ tired, hopeless face. “Buffy Summers?”


Buffy stalled for time in Giles’ bathroom, transfixed by her reflection in the vanity mirror. The last time she had been given the opportunity to really look at herself, the last time she’d had a reflection, in any case, had been at Xander’s. The soft, apple-cheeked Buffy with the wide, frightened eyes she’s seen back then was almost a comfort compared to the stranger who stared back her now. A waist-length blonde braid lashed like a whip behind her and hollowed cheeks framed dry lips made grim by the two-inch scar that cut through them. Her body looked hard and unyielding, her breasts and hips almost a defiance against the lean muscles.

Buffy washed her hands for the third time, trying to gather herself to step through that door and face Giles and the questions and answers he would have this time. He had sat next to her in stoic silence during the ride to his apartment, but she had heard Larry chattering to Oz about her, about the Slayer, as he bounced energetically in his seat. Even Oz had seemed to hum with a quiet excitement, stealing glances at her in the rearview mirror as if she were going to disappear at any second.

Giles had waved the others off at his door, and Buffy had barely batted an eye as Larry skillfully loaded a crossbow and walked back to van, discussing patrol locations with Oz. She had bolted for the bathroom as soon as Giles had closed the door behind them. She had seen many expressions on Giles’ face over the years, but the abject despair carved into it now had never been one of them. Far more frightening was the glimmer of hope that lightened his eyes whenever he had looked at her.

She wiped her hands one last time and opened the door, rounding the corner to see Giles settling a bottle of Scotch back onto the bookcase. He looked up as she walked into the room and waved the glass in her direction. “Drink?”

Buffy shook her head, running her hands up her bare arms and shivering, realizing she had left her jacket in the bathroom. They closed the distance between them until they were separated only by the sofa and the drawn out silence. Giles raised the drink to his lips, tossed back the contents and then lowered it to stare into the empty glass. “I suppose you’re wondering why I called you here.”

Buffy looked past him to the coffee table where, amid the empty glasses and crumpled papers, lay a leather volume, VAMPYR branded into its cover. “I’ve got a pretty good idea,” she muttered.

“We’re dying, Miss Summers.” He gestured widely, turning back to the bookcase to retrieve the bottle of Scotch. “We are standing at the mouth of hell, and it yawns before us – its darkness vomiting forth in a ceaseless stream, drowning all hope, all righteousness as we fall back.” His hand shook as he sloshed more liquid into the glass. “Fall back and rail against the rising tide until it covers us, blocking even the memory of light as we sink beneath.”

Buffy swallowed, her mouth dry. “Wow. Way to work the inspiration, Giles.”

He chuckled bitterly, looking up at her. “Oh, but that’s you, Miss Summers. The sight of you facing down the Master’s chosen two in that alley fuels me with inspiration.” He took a slow, careful drink from his glass. “Or at least the impetus to not finish this bottle tonight.”

“Is it Glory?” Buffy asked tightly. She had already proven to be no match for the god, and with no Willow or Xander, her only ally was this shaking, half-drunken man before her…

“There is nothing left of glory in this place, Miss Summers. Where once we fought to arrest the rise of evil, we now merely battle for survival. There is no longer thought of honor in the fight for good or evil. No champions, no ‘white hats’ seeking to win the day. Now the smallest child knows the power of the stake, the literal salvation given by the cross. We fight because we must, and every day our numbers grow smaller as their legion swells.”

Giles drank down the liquid remaining in the glass, his hand hovering over the bottle of Scotch before he pushed it away. “I called you here too late to be more than the grave keeper, I’m afraid. In my arrogance, I truly believed that evil would keep to the shadows. That by training a few children to sling arrows, to hurl stakes, I would keep us safe. Sunnydale has finally acknowledged its true identity.” He sighed deeply. “Unfortunately, that knowledge came from the mouths of devils when the gates of hell were opened.”

Buffy tried vainly to remember what Giles, her Giles, had told her about the origins of Vampire Willow. He and Willow had been the most intrigued at the time, constantly talking about the possibilities of alternate realities. Anya had been very vague with the details, and even more closed mouthed after she set her sights on Xander. And, honestly, Buffy had more to deal with – Ascension, giant snake, not to mention the Angel-y elements. She’d pretty much pushed it out of her mind once Vampire Willow had poofed out of their reality.

“What has happened here?” she asked faintly.

Giles gestured her toward the sofa and waited until she was seated before settling himself on a chair opposite her. “Approximately 80 years ago, a very old, very powerful vampire came to our shores. He attempted to open the Hellmouth, but…”

Buffy nodded curtly, cutting him off. “Yeah. The Master.”

Giles quirked an eyebrow in surprise, his tired eyes lighting. “You know of The Master?”

“Um, yeah,” Buffy said, searching for a plausible reason, “Slayer studies.”

Giles nodded and continued. “Then you know that he was trapped in the Hellmouth, until a ritual called The Harvest allowed him to rise and build an army of vampires.”

“But I…” Buffy stopped. That was one thing she did remember hearing about the other reality, the vamp reality. She had never come to that Sunnydale. She hadn’t been there to stop the Harvest or rescue Willow from Darla and the Master’s minions…and she realized that Giles was still speaking.

“…two years ago they opened ‘the plant.’” His mouth twisted bitterly and he swallowed. “Mass draining of human blood to sustain their horde and to reduce the need to hunt. They captured hundreds, initially. Many were drained during the opening celebration. Others have been kept alive since that time in a depraved sort of storage. People fled in droves. All but the essential businesses closed. The rest of us scurry about by day and at night huddle in homes barricaded with crosses, garlic and trenches of fire. Waiting for the night we awaken to a home burned to the ground and determined death smiling down at us from a mouth full of blood drenched fangs.”

With the fruitless clashes with Glory and the living nightmare her own life had become, Buffy had all but forgotten the nightly, blood sucking horrors the rest of Sunnydale faced. Dusting vamps had become one of the menial aspects of her job, something done by rote, like filing. “Do you know where this plant is?”

Giles nodded, his gaze on his clasped hands. “Yes. It’s in the warehouse district, near an old, abandoned club they’ve taken as their base.”

Buffy stared at the man who had rallied her into more battles than she could begin to remember. “You know where it is – and you don’t try to take them out?”

Giles raised a wearied gaze to hers. “What would you suggest, Miss Summers? A handful of children and a tired librarian dash in, stakes drawn, torches blazing? These aren’t ordinary vampires.”

Buffy leapt to her feet. “Well, you’ve got to do something!” She threw her hands up, looking around desperately. “Burn the place to the ground while they sleep during the day – or spells! Charms! God, Giles, hand grenades – rocket launchers – something!”

Giles stared at her in astonished horror. “Are you quite insane?” he laughed suddenly.

“Giles.” Buffy said quietly, forcing herself to calm. “You can’t just do nothing.”

“Can’t I?” he replied just as quietly.

“No,” she said evenly. “You can’t. Look, I know this has probably been…more horrible than I can even get a grasp on right now, but there has to be something. And I know you, er, of you, and I don’t believe you can live with this.” She stared at him, her eyes pleading with his to trust in her strength, to trust in his. “I know you’re tired. I know you’re probably sick of this place and everything in it. But you’re still here. Because this is what we do. We fight the unspeakable because it’s all we can do. No matter how awful, how terrifying, no matter how damn hard it is to just get up every day knowing that it’s going to keep coming.” She looked at him and saw his eyes, shuttered and distant. “I fight because all I have is the hope that it will somehow make a difference. Giles, I have to believe in a better world.”

“Go ahead,” Giles said, moving away from her as he reached again for the half empty bottle. “I have to live in this one.”


Lines from BtVS Season 3, "The Wish."
"By Grabthar's hammer, you shall be avenged!" is from "Galaxy Quest."

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