Xander pulls on his gown over his clothes in the halls of Sunnydale High for the last time ever. They’ll be marched outside to where the chair are in a few minutes, and he’s feelin’ a lotta dread… and a lot of sadness as he stares down at the cap in his hands. More than the pain from knowing The Mayor is going to try and kill them all in an hour or so. It’s the pain of being let down by his parents, again, because neither of them are showing up. He didn’t even have to send them away like Buffy did her mom. They didn’t even know what day it was gonna be and Tony woulda never wanted to come. And it’s also the pain of knowing that this is another milestone he’s not crossing with Jesse. Graduation. They had plans. They talked about it a lot when they hung out, and now...
He turns his head, just in time to spot Cordy, still looking angry about the gown colour.
“Hey, Cordelia. You ready?” He asks, trying his best to grin at her.
“As ready as I can be to maybe die,” Cordy says, rolling her eyes. But then she softens, slightly. “Listen, I just wanted to ask… you’re not still planning on dying, are you?”
“I don’t know,” Xander says, laughing without any real humour. “It’s not really up to me, is it?”
“Well… I hope you don’t.” She says, darting off when she sees a friend and leaving Xander staring after, bemused.
“...Yeah.” He says, after a minute. “Me too.”
The Mayor shakes Snyder's hand and steps up to the podium, smiling as he takes out some cue cards. He clears his throat and surveys the students, and Xander gets the sinking feeling that he’s looking for the easiest kills already.
"Well. What a day this is! - Special day. Today is our centennial the one hundreds anniversary of the founding of Sunnydale, and I know what that means to all you kids: not - a darn thing. Because today something much more important happens: today you all graduate from high school. Today all the pain, all the work, all the excitement is finally over. And what's a hundred years of history compared to that? You know what kids? …"
“Is he doing the whole speech?” Xander asks, nudging Cordelia, who just groans.
"… for all of you, it may be that there is a place in Sunnydale's history, whether you like it or not. It's been a long road getting here. For you… for Sunnydale. There has been achievement, joy, good times,… and there has been grief. There's been loss. Some people who should be here today… aren't. But we are. - Journey's end. And what is a journey? Is it just… distance traveled? Time spent? No. It's what happens on the way, it the things that happen to you. At the end of the journey you're not the same. Today is about change. Graduation doesn't just mean your circumstances change, it means you do. You ascend… to a higher level. Nothing will ever be the same. Nothing."
He looks up and Xander mirrors him, just in time to see the sun being totally blocked. Oh, god. This is happening. This is really, really happening. The Mayor flinches in pain then swallows and continues his speech.
"And so as we look back on… on the events that brought us to this day. We…”
He stops, again, twitching and everyone is staring at him. Xander’s tensed in his seat, ready to jump up at the first sign of that demon emerging. The mayor finally stops twitching and looks at all of them, suddenly eerily calm. Oh, shit.
“It has begun. My destiny.” He says, smiling broadly. “It’s a little sooner then I expected. I had this whole section on civic pride. But I guess we’ll skip to the big finish.”
The Mayor’s suit shreds into pieces as he starts to stretch and grow. And then he EXPLODES upward, stretching and growing until the demon is there, a huge, snake-like creature with clawed mandibles surrounding its mouth. It keeps growing, keep stretching, and teachers start running.
Xander stands, then, feeling oddly calm. There’s a sea of red around him and he knows that his entire class is standing, now too. This is it. This is what they were waiting for. The suspense was the worst part. It’s always the worst part. Now, it’s time.
He can see parents and teachers running for their lives, panicked. And he can hear the snarls of vampires that are approaching. Hold it… hold it…
“NOW!” Buffy shouts.
All together, they whip off their caps and gowns, revealing crosses, axes, crossbows, and other weapons. This is it. They’re not going to be another group of hapless victims to the terror of this Hellmouth. Not this time. And Xander suddenly feels fierce, visceral anger at the reminder of everyone they’ve lost along the way - everyone who died before them. He’s not going to die, today. He’s gonna kick ass and live to see tomorrow.
“Flame units.” Buffy calls and several students rush forward.
Xander sees Larry at the front and he grins, widely, watching as they point flamethrowers at the mayor and light him up. The Mayor sways above the students screaming in agony and Xander turns his head to catch Buffy’s eye. She nods and he inhales.
Alrighty, Soldier Boy. Wake up and make some noise.
He straightens his back and shouts. “FIRST WAVE.”
The next group lunges forward, led by Willow, crossbows loaded with lance points at the mayor.
The Mayor screams and sways then lunges down and swallows a student in the first row. Someone screams and the other students back away, immediately.
“This… this is simply unacceptable.” Xander hears Snyder’s voice and he has to resist the urge to roll his eyes. Figures, even faced with the biggest demon that Sunnydale has seen in recent years, he's still scrambling for order and control.
Three students bail. They run and the screams that sound out make it clear that the vampires got them. Xander swallows hard, resisting the urge to swear. He told them, they couldn’t falter or… Oz looks over at him, and Xander nods. He can’t lose focus.
"Xander?" Oz presses.
"Arm bowmen!” Xander calls, pushing forward with the plan.
Oz and some others pick up longbows and arrows. The vampires slowly move up the steps as the kids lit their arrows on fire and take aim.
The students let fly a mass and several vampires are hit and turn into flaming dust. Xander looks back at the students in front of the Mayor. Jonathan comes flying through the air and lands on top some students knocking them down. But he leaves Buffy to deal with them, his focus still on the bowmen.
“Fire!” He says, again, watching with satisfaction as several more vampire are hit and then grinning a feral grin as they turn to run, only to get hit by the second wave of students, led by Angel. They fall in on the vampires and hell breaks loose. The Mayor writhes on the stage, his tail flinging Larry through the air and Snyder’s still standing near the Mayor, screaming at him. Screaming about order and discipline… until whoops, no more Snyder.
"Fall Back! Get back!” Buffy gets down from her chair and turns to Willow “Go! Xander take 'em down."
Xander reaches back and pulls his stake out of his back pocket, and shouts again. “Everyone! Hand to hand! Everyone! Let’s go! MOVE, MOVE!”
He dives into the fray, stabbing his stake into the chest of the first vampire he sees and then swinging at the next one. Soldier’s out in full motion, the chaos is just background noise. He kicks the feet out of vampire out from under him before he’s tackled and dropped to the ground by another.
"Right flank close in. Close!” Xander shouts, flinging the vampire off of him. “Jason and Paul, you guys are right flank!"
He stakes the vampire that’d been on him and kicks the dust, looking over to see Buffy going at the Mayor with the direct, emotional attack. Good. That part of the plan is a go. He swings at the next vampire that lunges at him, landing a satisfying punch into the side of his face, and turning away as the Mayor lunges after Buffy. He can’t focus on her, right now. If he does, a lot of people are going to die and he might be one of them. Just has to trust that everything is going according to plan.
The explosion rocks the world.
Really rocks it.
Everything shakes and Xander looks up from kicking a vampire’s fangs in to watch the fire and smoke erupt from the school.
… They graduated.
He meets Buffy after when the police cars and ambulances show up. There’s already cover-up talk in the air. Gasoline leaks destroyed the school, and the gas leak made them all hallucinate… even though they were outside… it doesn’t make sense, but all the parents swallow it like the spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down.
They didn’t all survive.
Xander watches as bodies are hauled off, and wraps his arms around himself. He did his best - tried so hard to help everybody, but there were too many and he had to watch so many of them die.
He sees Buffy, then. Wandering around, looking lost. And he already knows that she’s looking for Angel. He walks over to her.
"We got off pretty cheap… considering." He says, gesturing around the carnage. Most of them did live and that’s something to be proud of.
"Seems like we did."
They walk a few more steps then Buffy stops still looking around. Xander stops beside her his hands buried in his pockets. He sighs.
“He made it through the fight.” He tells her, nodding when she whips around to look at him. “Guess maybe he took off after.”
Buffy blinks and looks down. She doesn’t say anything else, so Xander grimaces and walks off to help calm down some of the frantic survivors.
No one’s ever going to forget today. That’s for sure.
Once there’s nothing else Xander can do to help - no one else to comfort, or to help find the paramedics, Xander finally lets Willow and Oz drag him away from the front of the still-smoldering school, where it’s quiet and deserted. They sit in silence, just absorbing the day.
Cordelia approaches, "Well, that’s the most fun you can have without having any fun."
"How about the part where we kicked some demon ass,” Willow suggests, while Oz strokes her hair. “I didn't hate that."
Now, that was a good part. Xander’s still having a hard time getting the Soldier to shut back up and return to the recesses of his mind… but, yeah. There was something very therapeutic about killing all those vampires. “Hear, hear!”
Buffy comes up, then, still somber, but less… sad than she had been, earlier. “You guys want to take off? I think we’ve done pretty much all we can.”
“I’m for it.” Cordelia agrees, nodding eagerly.
Willow looks up at Buffy. "Are you okay?"
Buffy nod, but her voice is small, "Yeah… I'm okay. - I could use a little sleep though."
Buffy sits down on the bench next to her: "If someone could just wake me when it's time to go to college, that'd be great."
That puts a weird feeling in Xander’s stomach and he looks down. Luckily, Oz speaks up for him.
“Guys, take a moment to deal with this: We survived.”
Buffy smiles and nods. “It was a hell of a battle!”
"Not the battle. High school."
They all look quietly at the school and listen to the crickets chirping.
"We're taking a moment…” Oz says, as Willow and Buffy get up from the bench. “and we're done."
For now, Xander thinks and he smiles to himself. This is still a Hellmouth.