Pomp and Circumstances
(the Battleground Reverb)
Fandom(s): Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Word Count: 3,259 words
Genre: Gen, F/M
Note: High school (and the apocalypse) may be over, but life goes on.
Remix of Echoes from the Battleground.
Guys, take a moment to deal with this. We survived.
That was a hell of a battle.
No, not the battle. High school.
Buffy leaned back on her hands and looked around for a long moment. All that was left of Sunnydale High School was a pile of rubble and a terrible smell. Firetrucks and ambulances were parked on the quad, charred diplomas and bloody tassels littered the ruins, and clouds of smoke drifted from what used to be the library.
After everything that had happened, she could hardly believe shed made it out alive, with her friends by her side.
The mortar boards cheap elastic itched against her skin, and Mayor Wilkins droned on about growth and change and lifes journey. Willows pulse raced, and she shifted on the hard folding chair. She tried not to think about Ozs hands and his mouth, about what theyd done last night in her room or two minutes ago in his van.
At least she wouldnt have to die a virgin.
Willow took a deep breath and wrapped her hand tightly around the handle of the knife concealed beneath her maroon gown. She braced herself for the ascension theyd read about for darkness to overtake the daylight, and for the Mayor to begin his transformation, but instead he just kept talking. And talking. And talking.
My God, muttered Buffy, horrified. Hes going to do the whole speech.
Just ascend already, Willow agreed. This day would be bad enough without enduring a boring speech, too.
Evil, Buffy said, nodding.
Despite everything she knew about the Mayor and his plans, Willow found herself listening to his speech. High school was over, and just as he said, nothing would ever be the same. Shed gotten through boring classes and pop quizzes, the Bronze and the cafeteria food and the vampires and the demons, fashion disasters and love spells and drivers ed. It was the end of an era.
When the sunlight in the courtyard began to dim, Willow suddenly remembered what shed almost managed to forget.
Fear washed over her, sharp and bitter in her mouth. She was frozen in place as the Mayor convulsed and started to transform. This was it.
One by one, the senior class rose to their feet, watching in horror as the Mayor grew into a demon the size of a dinosaur. His body stretched and lengthened into an enormous snake, winding through the courtyard. His face looked like the bearded Chinese dragons that danced in parades, but those were friendly dragons, and the Mayor was definitely not.
The demon let out an earsplitting roar, so loud it was actually painful. Willows legs shook, and her palms started to sweat, but she stood firm. Despite the enormous, hungry creature towering over them, the students in graduation gowns all stood their ground.
Now! yelled Buffy from beside her, and the senior class pulled off their graduation gowns and raised their weapons. Willow lifted her crossbow and held it steady as she aimed straight at the demon.
High school was over, but the battle had just begun.
Did you bring it? Cordelia demanded, standing in the open door with her arms crossed.
Yeesh, Xander said, Just using me for my crossbow, huh?
Exactly. She smiled at him with a total lack of sincerity. Lets just get this over with.
Xander got out of the car and walked around to open the hatchback. He pulled out the crossbow and handed it over to Cordelia, then reached back to get the long-handled pike wedged across the tiny backseat.
Cordy didnt even look up as she pulled back the whipcord string and secured it, then loaded a bolt on top of the crossbow. This is what youre driving now?
Price was right. He patted the Gremlins bile-yellow fender with one hand. This baby and I are hitting the road next week, looking for America, getting our kicks on route
Yeah, whatever. She rolled her eyes. Kerouac summer, I get it. Time to get the hell out of Sunnydale.
Aint that the truth, Xander said. Hed lived in this town for so long that he sometimes forgot what normal was. He knew what wasnt though: a demon devouring your classmates at graduation, thats what. And speaking of demons What are we dealing with here?
Upstairs, Cordy said. Some kind of demonic ugly in the walk-in closet, but I need to get my McQueen dress out of there.
She stepped inside and Xander followed, noticing the torn sticker on the door that read BANK-OWNED PROPERTY. The rooms inside were dark and dusty, and the air had a stale taste to it. In the dim light filtering through the windows, Xander could see empty places where some of the furniture had been removed, leaving behind gaps in the decorator-appointed space.
Uh, demon? he asked after a minute, trying to avoid asking about the obvious.
About the size of a cocker spaniel, Cordelia said with a shrug. No biggie. Not like the 60-foot long snake theyd fought off together last week, she meant.
See, that right there is the attitude that Im pretty sure normal people dont have, Xander said, following her up the stairs and into an empty bedroom.
Cordelia ignored his comment. Its small but its fast, and it took a bite out of my Ferragamo boots yesterday, the little bastard.
She opened the closet door and the delicate scent of cedar wafted out, mixed with something decidedly less appealing. Xander stepped inside slowly, wielding the pike in front of him.
Oh yeah, it can climb the walls, she said, sounding bored. Watch out.
That wouldve been good to know in advance! he yelled, not looking back at her.
He heard a wet sound from the ceiling and jabbed blindly upward, never quite connecting. The thing skittered across the top of the doorframe and into the bedroom, and Cordy raised the crossbow to her shoulder and fired, nailing it just off-center. The creature looked like a giant spider with five legs, one bulging yellow eye above each leg and now, a crossbow bolt sticking out of its abdomen, dribbling goo onto the carpet.
Ugh, Cordy said, turning her back on it and stomping into the closet. If there is goo on the McQueen the dry cleaners will have a fit.
Xander shrugged and went to finish the creature off with the pike. That dress must be pretty important to go to all this trouble, he said, stabbing the demon until its eyes went dim.
Im moving to L.A., Cordy said. If I want to be an actress, I need to dress the part. She emerged from the closet with an armload of dresses and three pairs of high-heeled shoes.
You really are getting out of town, Xander said, surprised.
Arent you? Cordy asked. Thats why you bought the rust bucket out there, isnt it?
Well, yeah, he said, following her back down the stairs and into the once-elegant foyer. He didnt bother to defend the Gremlin; she wasnt wrong. Cordys boot heels echoed strangely off the empty walls. I pretty much figured wed all be demon kibble by now, so I didnt make a lot of plans.
She set down her armful of clothes on a sofa near the door and turned to face him. Always have a backup plan. Wasnt it you that said that, soldier boy?
Xander shrugged. The backup plan was not being eaten. So that worked out.
Cordelia just looked at him for a long moment, long enough that Xander started to feel uncomfortable. He was just about to make up some kind of awkward excuse and run away when she said softly, I really did love you, you know.
Yeah, he said, meaning me, too. Im still sorry for how
I dont anymore, she said, cutting him off.
That was made abundantly clear, yes.
Just so were on the same page, she said, then stepped close and pressed her lips to his in a molten kiss. As crazy as it seemed, theyd been good together for a while there, and all of that heat and passion and crazy senseless awesomeness was packed together in that one kiss. There was something bittersweet too, something that tasted like goodbye.
Angel stood against the wall in a dark classroom off the courtyard, waiting. The door was propped open about two inches, casting a beam of sunlight across the linoleum floor. Slowly, the light began to fade away. Just as the prophecy had said, day became night.
Wilkinss amplified voice paused and then talked again, then finally stuttered to a halt. Shouts of surprise rang out from the crowd, and then changed quickly to screams of fear.
It was a familiar sound. Angel relaxed his jaw and let the fangs slip down into position as he stepped through the door to the dim courtyard.
The demon that used to be Mayor Wilkins towered over the school, roaring with hunger and rage. Parents in their Sunday best ran for their lives, programs and flowers and cheap folding chairs scattered everywhere.
An organized mob of the Mayors hired vampires cut off their escape, standing ready to herd the panicked crowd back toward the hungry demon. It was clear that all their focus was on the demon, and the crowd of victims. They werent expecting resistance to come from outside the school.
Angel looked to his left and then to his right, where a silent group had assembled. They were younger students, mostly, or recent graduates who knew the dangers of Sunnydale High better than most. Their faces revealed dread, excitement, anger and worry, but their weapons were steady in their hands.
Now! Buffys voice echoed clear and strong across the courtyard, and Angel stepped forward in a silent signal to begin the counterattack.
Before he left Sunnydale, he had one last job to do for Buffy. He wouldnt fail her again.
Willow opened the bathroom door, releasing a cloud of steam into her bedroom. She stood in the doorway for a moment, enjoying the feeling of clean pajamas on her skin and damp hair on her neck, scratchy carpet under her toes.
Hey. Oz was sitting on her bed, wearing a pair of her old lavender pajama pants and a thin white tee. Better?
Willow looked down at her hands. The soot and blood that had stained them before was finally washed away. So much better, she agreed.
She took two steps to the desk and then stopped. Oz had been in her bedroom dozens of times, but now that theyd had sex, it felt strange and different to have him here.
Um, she said, looking around for something else to talk about, something besides the sex that they could be having or the blood shed just washed out of her hair. You should call your parents, let them know youre okay.
Already did, Oz said.
Willow was quiet for a moment, envying him that easy communication with his family. My mom and dad are at a conference in Denver. I dont think they even knew graduation was happening today.
He stood up and walked over to her, laced his fingers through hers and squeezed firmly. She held on to his hand tightly with both of hers.
Well, since theyre gone and all you could sleep over, she offered. You know, if you want.
Oh, I want, Oz said immediately, and his usually cool voice was marked with a heat she was beginning to recognize. He pressed a kiss to her lips, but it was soft and dry, not like the were-about-to-die kisses of last night, or this morning. This was sweet.
Only, Id like it if we could just sleep, he said.
She closed her eyes and breathed in the fresh, clean smell of him and the feeling of his warm skin, so close to hers. Is that are you sure? Once theyd had sex, shouldnt they be having more? Wasnt that what guys wanted? Was there something wrong
Im sure, Oz said, and his voice sounded so calm that it soothed her immediately. We did the impending-doom sex thing. I dont want our next time to be survival sex. More like youre-the-one-I-want-to-be-with sex. He wrapped his arm around her shoulders and held her close. Since, you know, youre the one I want to be with.
Willow breathed out a sigh, her lips catching on the cotton of his t-shirt. Well, okay then. But I should warn you, Ive never slept with a man before.
Me neither, he said. We can figure it out together.
The Mayors voice sputtered as he started to shake, and his face turned gray and then green before his skull changed shape, stretching and growing until his face was gone and his body had completely transformed into a huge, snaky dragon with pincers on the side of his mouth and huge T-Rex teeth.
Xander tried not to freak out.
He took a deep breath, remembering Buffy saying, Youre kind of the key figure here. He could do this. He had the military training (sort of), and Buffy was depending on him.
On the edges of the courtyard, parents and teachers were screaming in panic, and running for their lives. Around Xander, though, the graduating seniors proved the value of a Sunnydale High education and did not panic.
The dragon towered above the roof of the school, roaring and baring its enormous teeth. Xanders heart thudded loudly in his chest as he waited for the signal, and then finally
Now! Buffy shouted, and he ripped off his robe. All around him, the kids hed passed in the halls and struggled with in chem lab, run laps and served detention with lifted their weapons and got ready to fight for their lives.
He looked across the crowd to where Buffy stood, strong and confident. She nodded to him, and he took a breath.
First wave! he called, and all the kids who hed seen every day for the past four years actually listened. He could do this. He, Xander Harris, could actually lead his classmates against a demon.
Xanders heart raced and his stomach tightened, but he felt his mind relax as the seconds ticked by. He knew exactly what needed to be done, when to deploy the bowmen and when to move to the next phase.
Take em down, Buffy called, and Xander nodded. It was time to move out.
There was a pile of rubble where Sunnydale High School had been only hours before. Smoke and flashing lights filled the air, along with the unmistakable stink of roasted demon flesh.
Buffy stood in the middle of it all. Alive.
Angel watched her, as hed been watching her for years. Her blonde hair shone in the glow from the streetlights. She was still, and around her was nothing but frantic activity, but she remained a vital part of that world. The world that had never been his.
Hed wavered in the weeks before graduation, knowing he had to leave but agonizing over the temptation to stay. To stay near Buffy, to watch over her and protect her as he had for so long the desire was almost enough to change his plans. But Faiths poisoned arrow had shown him the truth.
The poison, and Buffys own reaction to it.
She still cared for him. Despite every horrible thing hed done, despite the evil inside him and the curse that damned him, she still cared. And because of that, shed risked her own life to help him, her own blood to cure him when nothing else could.
Buffy deserved better. She deserved someone who could walk in the light with her. And as long as Angel stayed in Sunnydale, hed be keeping her from that bright future.
Through the smoke and the blood, the rescue workers and decaying demon and ash and fire, Buffy turned and met his eyes. She didnt speak, didnt reach out to him, just stood and looked at him.
Neither of them could say the words, but they knew that this was goodbye.
Angel watched Buffy for one last time, and then he turned and walked away.
As it should be. Not for himself, but for Buffy.
He walked past the sandstone steps that now led to a smoking ruin, past fire trucks and weeping parents, until he saw something that made him pause.
The faculty parking lot.
The science wing had collapsed beside the lot, sending broken glass and stone across the blacktop, and a beat-up Toyota was caved in beneath a fallen palm tree. Otherwise, the lot was empty except for a single car parked in the back corner. Long and lean, large and muscular, this was a vintage piece of Detroit steel. And if Angels suspicions were correct, its owner wouldnt be needing it anymore.
He turned left and made his way around the fallen palm tree to the car. The door was unlocked, and inside the glove compartment the registration was made out to Richard Wilkins III.
Angel slid behind the wheel and flipped down the visor, sending a set of keys tumbling down into his lap.
He smiled. Leaving Buffy was hard nearly impossible. But the journey had just gotten a little better.
Remember this? Buffy asked, raising Faiths knife. The rest of the students were gone now, and she was alone with the demon.
Snyder hadnt been much of a principal, but still the demon had devoured him the way Buffy ate buttery popcorn. And her plan was to taunt him?
For a split second, she wondered if it was too late to revert to Ozs plan of attacking him with hummus.
No, she was the slayer. And despite all her flaws, so was Faith. Nobody knew the Mayor better. Human weakness never fades, shed said. Even his.
The blade was still covered with Faiths blood. Buffy held it up so the demon could see it clearly. You want to get it back? she asked. Come and get it.
And then she ran.
The demon was huge, and incredibly fast. This was the flaw in the plan: she didnt know exactly how fast it would be. But Buffy had Slayer speed and familiar terrain on her side. She raced through the narrow halls of the high school, her steps pounding against the worn floor as the walls crumbled behind her.
She gasped for breath as she ran down halls and around corners, taking the most direct route to the library.
Halfway there, she glanced back over her shoulder to make sure she was still being followed. Yes, the monster was right behind her, being led like a gigantic green lamb to the slaughter.
The demon burst through the librarys double doors, and Buffy vaulted over the upper railing and flung herself out of the second-story window. She tucked and rolled, springing to her feet beside Giles.
Okay, she said as soon as shed found her breath.
Giles pushed down the plunger to detonate the explosives, and before Buffys eyes the library and then the whole school exploded, taking Mayor Wilkins and his demon aspect with it.
It was over. High school, graduation, the ascension: all of it, finished in one huge explosion.
Congratulations, Class of 1999, Buffy said softly, as Sunnydale High School collapsed in flames behind her.
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