Note: This is the final chapter for the story. Usually I include an epilogue in my stories, but this one just seemed to wrap itself up without the need for one. Thanks for all of the reviews and encouragement. This story took a while to write, so thanks for sticking it out with me. Anyway, I will be posting my next story within a couple of days. It's called Night Falls and will focus primarily on the relationships of Willow and a character of my making and Buffy and Faith, set to the backdrop of the seventh season. In order to accommodate my story, the events of season seven aren't necessarily going to happen in the order as they did on the show and they most definitely will not coincide with the events in Angel. I hope you read it and enjoy it. Additionally, I hope you've enjoyed this particular story, as I know I've enjoyed writing it.
"Damn," Faith said in astonishment as the Mayor ascended. Faith looked back at the parents, who had been seated to the side of the students. They had jumped out of their chairs and were backing away from the monster, some of them screaming in panic. A horde of vampires crept up behind the students and Faith smiled, shifting her attention back to Buffy. Buffy rose to her feet with the other students. Faith momentarily lost sight of her and moved closer, waiting for Buffy's signal.
"Now!" She heard the blonde yell and she started running.
The quad erupted into a fury of chaos. The students had leapt to their feet and thrown off their graduation garb to reveal the lethal weapons hidden beneath. The Mayor had ascended into a monstrous snake demon, which loomed high above the student body, taller than even the school itself. The parents had fled in panic, some lingering on the outskirts of the battle in concern for their children. Faith had been skeptical at first about the plan. She did not trust the students to remain after the Mayor ascended. She feared that the sight of a full-blooded demon would overcome any sense of valor they possessed. However, it appeared as though she had been proven wrong. The students stood their ground, diminished by the demon, but possessing a greater courage than both Faith and the Mayor would have awarded them.
"Flame unit!" Faith heard Buffy yell as she fought her way through the horde of students to stand by her sister slayer's side. She and Buffy needed to be together in order for the plan to work. Faith watched as several students rushed forward, carrying flamethrowers. She recognized one boy, Larry, whom she had always suspected harbored a small crush on her boyfriend. A wall of fire shot forward, striking the demon in the center of its chest. It shrieked and stumbled back, but Faith knew that the fire would not destroy it. Despite the pain, the demon had a certain twinkle in its eyes, as if it was merely playing along, allowing them some small victory before it snatched everything away from them.
Faith skidded to a halt next to Buffy. The blonde slayer's eyes were wild, caught up in the moment, and Faith saw, for a fleeting second, something primordial and ancient flash through them. "'Bout time you showed up," Buffy said jokingly.
"You seemed to have everything under control," Faith shot back. Faith searched the crowd, looking for Xander's face. Finally, she spotted him amid a sea of students carrying crossbows. "Xander!" She yelled, capturing his attention. "You're up!"
Xander nodded and turned back to face the demon looming before them. "First wave!" He yelled over the demon's shrieks and the general chaos of the battlefield. Beside him, Willow cradled a crossbow, pointing it directly at the demon.
"This feels a little funny," she muttered to herself.
Xander smiled and bellowed, "Fire!" Dozens of arrows shot by his head. He felt the air parting before them and the whistling of the arrows filled his ears. Though the demon fell back, it quickly recovered. With a ferocious snarl, it stretched itself to its full height and then plummeted down, snatching a student from the first row and swallowing him whole. Buffy and Faith watched in shock as the student disappeared in the demon's mouth, his screams silenced in the cavern of its belly.
"Damn," Faith muttered. "That's a hell of a thing."
"No kidding," Buffy returned. In the back of the group, three students dropped their weapons and fled. Their escape was cut short, however, as they were met by a wall of vampires.
"Hey," Oz said, grabbing Xander's arm. "We got company."
Xander turned in time to see the vampires snapping the necks of the three students who had fled. "Bow men!" Xander yelled. A line of students picked up long bows, loading them with arrows. They quickly lit the arrows on fire, with the aid of Larry and his flamethrower, and waited for Xander's signal. The vampires ran forward. Xander raised his hand. "Steady," he said, waiting for the right moment. The vampires drew nearer. He could see the yellow of their eyes. "Fire!" He yelled, thrusting his hand into the air. The arrows shot forward, piercing the first row of vampires and turning them to dust.
"Fall back!" Xander barely heard Buffy yell. Looking back, he saw a small kid, Jonathon, flying through the air as the demon tossed his out of the way. He landed on several of the bowmen, knocking them to the ground.
"Fire again," Xander said, swallowing the fear and panic that had welled in his heart. Another wave of arrows shot forward, momentarily halting the progress of the vampires. They turned, ready to retreat, when they were confronted by another band of students, who were led by Wesley and Angel. The two groups stared each other down and Wesley could not help but think of the Western movies he had watched as a small boy. He had always been fascinated by the concept of a rogue warrior, a lone cowboy who took the world by storm. A light breeze kicked up, blowing between the two groups and Wesley fancied that he could hear the whistling of a Western tune straining in the wind.
"Ready for this?" Angel asked, looking over at the Watcher. Wesley smiled grimly before nodding.
"As ready as I'll ever be," he replied. Then he added, more to himself than the souled vampire, "If my father could see me now…" Angel charged and the rest of the group quickly followed. Wesley watched out of the corner of his eye as Angel pummeled the nearest vampire, knocking it to the ground. Turning his attention to his own fight, he dodged the first fist thrown at him, charging at the vampire, grabbing it around the midsection, and tackling it to the ground.
Meanwhile, Buffy and Faith had joined Xander and Willow in the center of the pack of students. The flame unit was standing in front of them, shooting fire at every part of the demon they could see. Larry's flamethrower momentarily jammed and while he shifted his gaze down to the weapon to inspect it, the demon's tail whipped around and grabbed his by the legs. The demon tossed him in the air and Larry landed by the podium with a sickening crunch. "Something tells me he isn't getting up again," Faith murmured. The demon wailed and bellowed, causing the students to cower in fear. Even Faith found herself stepping back.
"This is not discipline!" She heard a voice yell over the demon's fading cry. "You're on my campus, buddy," Snyder exclaimed.
"B, you're gonna want to see this," Faith said, grabbing her sister slayer by the elbow and capturing her attention.
The demon turned to look at Snyder, who was jumping up and down, waving his hands in the air. "And when I say, quiet, I mean…" The demons' head shot down, its jaws opened, and it grabbed Snyder by the midsection. Tossing the principal into the air, it opened its mouth and caught the man, swallowing him whole.
"Celebrate later," Buffy said after the initial shock had worn off. "Everybody fall back. Get back!" Buffy yelled.
"We ready to rumble, B?" Faith asked. She had been itching to get into the fight, but sheer will power had kept her by Buffy's side. Buffy smiled over at her, the slayer in her eager to fight as well.
"Yes, we are. Willow," Buffy said, turning to her best friend, "Go."
"Good luck," Willow said, before she turned and ran from the fight.
"You got this?" Faith asked, looking at Xander. He nodded.
"Kick some ass," he said as Faith and Buffy disappeared amongst the crowd. Xander sighed heavily and turned back to the battle. "Alright, everyone," he instructed, "hand to hand."
The students rushed forward, armed with baseball bats and a fool's hope for survival. Harmony was immediately bitten. But Xander watched with something akin to pride as Jonathon and several others leapt into the crowd of vampires, fighting with everything they possessed. Cordelia, in particular, was fighting was a wild abandon. She had been in Angel and Wesley's group, towards the back, and had just made her way to the action. Ripping a stake out of a vampire's chest, she punched another in the face, pausing for a moment to brush vampire dust off her clothes before she slammed her stake into the nearest vampire. She had lost sight of Angel during the fight, but she could see Wesley out of the corner of her eye, struggling with a vampire of his own.
"Wes!" Cordy yelled, tossing him a spare stake that she had slid down the waistband of her jeans. Wesley caught the weapon and rammed his knee into the vampire's stomach. The demon stumbled back, regrouped, and charged. Thrusting the stake forward, Wesley squeezed his eyes closed as the vampire burst into dust, covering his face and shirt.
"That's disgusting," Cordy muttered to herself before turning back to her own battle.
"Hey!" Faith yelled as she and Buffy ran to the broken down stage where the Mayor had been making his commencement speech. "Over here!" She yelled again, waving her arms. The snake demon turned to consider the two slayers.
"You've been trying to kill us for months now, never could. How about you give it one last chance?" Buffy proposed, smiling when she saw the demon's eyes light up. "Pride goeth before the fall," she muttered as the demon began to slither over to them.
"Catch us if you can, Dick," Faith yelled as she and Buffy turned and ran towards the school. The demon howled angrily and charged after them. Crashing through the front doors, Faith and Buffy ran with all of the speed that they possessed, but the demon was closing in on them. As it charged through the hallways, they could hear the building ripping apart to accommodate the demon's size. Chunks of plaster and concrete flew by them, barely missing them as they turned a corner and ran into the library. Vaulting over a banister, Buffy and Faith crashed through a window just as the demon plowed into the room. It looked around for several moments, growling when it found it empty, save for dozens of bags of fertilizer and barrels of fuel.
Faith grabbed Buffy by the elbow and pulled her to her feet. "We gotta get outta here, B," she said, pulling the other slayer along. They ran over to a clump of bushes and dove behind them.
"Anytime now would be good," Buffy said to Giles, who was waiting for her signal to blow up the building. Giles nodded and pushed a button on the detonator. The building lit up in a cloud of fire and ash as explosions ripped through it. They could hear the demon wailing in pain from within the school's walls, but the sound grew fainter as the fire spread, until they could no longer hear it.
"Is it over?" Willow asked, as she crouched next to Giles. Buffy nodded and smiled.
"It's over," she replied.
Fire trucks and ambulances littered the parking lot of Sunnydale High. Graduation had turned into a blood bath. The media was there as well, but most of the students dodged the microphones, and those who did speak told incredible tales that none of the reporters believed. Buffy, Faith, Willow, and Giles wandered through the crowd of people littering the parking lot, searching the faces for their friends. Larry had indeed died when the Mayor grabbed him. Harmony was also dead, bitten by a vampire. Dozens of other students had perished in the battle. Faith felt the weight of their deaths as a burden on her heart and wondered if she could bear the burden of what the First would do to Sunnydale if it had the chance. Looking around, she wondered again if she had made the right decision. All of those people still living and breathing would have lives now because of her. She hoped they made a difference – that the good their lives could produce would negate the evil that the First could unleash.
"Hey," a voice said from behind her. Faith turned to see Xander standing there. His arm was in a sling and he had a nasty gash on the side of his face, but he was alive. Faith leapt forward, pulling him into a tight embrace. "Gotta breathe, babe," Xander said after several long moments.
"Sorry," Faith said sheepishly as she pulled away. "Have you seen the others?" She asked.
"No," Xander said. "I was looking too."
The group began walking again, hearts lighter for having found one of their own. Finally, they located a small group of people standing away from the others, watching the fire trucks desperately trying to quench the blaze that had consumed all that remained of the school. "It's them," Buffy said with relief as they moved over to the group.
"Got off pretty good, I'd say," Oz said as the others joined him, Cordelia, and Wesley.
"Yeah," Buffy replied. "Seems like we did. Has anyone seen…?" She asked, her questioning lingering when she saw the look on Wesley's face. "What?"
"He made it through the fight," Wesley confirmed. "But he left just moments ago. I don't believe he wanted to have to say goodbye."
Buffy nodded, knowing that it was for the best. Angel had been a big part of her life, but that life was over now. She had graduated, it was time to grow up. "Are you alright?" Giles asked, laying a reassuring hand on her shoulder.
Buffy smiled appreciatively and nodded. "I'm just tired," she replied.
"Well, I congratulate you on a good campaign, anyway," Giles responded, glancing around the parking lot. "And, I manage to ferret this out of the wreckage. I'd say you earned it," Giles said, passing her a battered high school diploma. Buffy's eyes lit up when she saw it.
"Thanks," she said, pulling him into a warm embrace. When they parted, Giles cleared his throat and nodded.
"Of course," he murmured. "Well, there's a certain dramatic irony attached to all this. A synchronicity that borders on predestination, one might say," Giles said.
Buffy looked over at him and rolled her eyes, "Fire bad, tree pretty?"
Giles laughed. "Something like that."
"So what are your plans now that you've graduated?" Faith asked Cordelia as the two girls sat on the hood of a smashed car, watching the school burn.
"I was thinking I'd go to L.A. Who knows, maybe I'll be a famous actress one day," Cordelia said wistfully. "But it's good to know that I have something to come back to, if that doesn't work out."
"Well, I'm not going anywhere," Faith replied, smiling when Cordelia reached over and hugged her.
"I am gonna miss my best friend though," Cordy said when she pulled away.
"Not really a long drive," Faith reminded her. Cordy nodded.
"If someone could just wake me up when it's time to go to college, that would be great," Willow said.
"Guys, take a moment to deal with this. We survived," Oz said, shoving his hands into his pockets.
"It was a hell of a battle," Buffy concurred.
"Not the battle," Oz replied, "high school."
The others nodded. "And moment done," Cordelia said. "I say we go home and get some sleep."
"Damn straight," Buffy replied. The group collectively stood and began to walk away. Faith and Xander lingered in the back, walking hand in hand.
"Thanks," Faith said, looking over at him.
"For what?" Xander asked.
"Just thanks," Faith replied, leaning up and kissing him gently on the lips. Xander smiled as Faith pulled away.
"Anytime," he said. Faith glanced back over her shoulder, watching a tower of smoke and fire shoot up into the sky. The battle was over and Faith, for the first time in her life, felt that she could rest. Squeezing Xander's hand, she walked away from the school, towards a new day.