Story notes: Season 3's 'Graduation Day'.
Author's notes: Thanks to nemo gravis for diving in and giving input, and a fluffy shout-out to Ten Mara. And last but not least, this little visit to the good old days of high school was inspired by 'Xander's Job', by ozma914.
Disclaimer: They're like so sweet together and so totally should be together, but these two are characters out of 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' and so they're Mutant Enemy's.
"Right. Good luck, guys. We'll see each other on the other side."
A few of the guys grunt as they file out of the classroom. A couple of others offer him macho grins of solidarity that make them look more like the silly, stupid loons they are, than brave young men destined for that blaze of glory. Most just look completely gob smacked even as they try on their courage faces. He doesn't expect this group to accomplish miracles, but he's sure they'll give it their best. They are Sunnydale High defense, the last stand for Sunnydale, and the world. No pressure.
Damn, they're just so untrained! No time to train them, just no time at all. All that can be done now is make sure every kid has his or her weapon of choice and hope this battalion rank and file will fly their projectiles straight and true. The soldier in Xander Harris hates the idea of going into battle with such a ragtag bunch - feels too much like leading lambs to the slaughter - but when times are dire, you make do with what you have.
He studies the battle sketches on the board. His key battle plans. He knows this can work; if only there's just a bit more time to make sure all the guys are up to speed, if there's just some way to wrangle a couple of magic hours of training, if there's some method to keep the best ones out in the frontline, he'd be much more confident that what he's cooked up here would translate into real victory. He doesn't dare think about the other matter, though. Casualties. Nope. Definitely no time for thinking about that.
"Key guy, huh."
He turns his head. Cordelia Chase in the doorway, determinedly unimpressed with his chalk diagrams on the board. It had started out as a pretty good sketch of every front's respective position, with scaled representation along with legends of the different blocks in school and the fountain square where they would all be gathered for the graduation ceremony, but during his briefing he'd added directional arrows that way, and then more huge arrows indicating possible counter-attack coming at things this way... Okay, to be fair, someone walking in right now won't quite see the brilliance it had been before it became this mess of hither and thither arrows.
Thus ascertaining that he doesn't have a justifiable comeback for Cordy, he opts to keep his peace and tosses his chalk aside. His fingers are powdered white. He absently rubs as much as the powder off as he can, then he picks up another piece of chalk and whirling around, throws it hard toward the far end of the classroom. The chalk cracks into pieces upon impact with the back wall and cascades as clumpy shrapnel to the floor; not a single ricocheting bit of white flying off an angle elsewhere. If that had been a harder substance, a bit of metal, maybe, he bet it would have embedded nicely into the plaster.
He's always wanted to be out front tossing chalk. No particular deep-set reason for wanting to do that; just that he's always figured chalk-tossing has to be fun.
Cordy comes all the way into the room. Standing beside him with arms crossed, looking across the empty tables and chairs, all maudlin and contemplative, she says, "Will you miss this? School?"
"You do know who you're talking to?"
She smacks him on the arm, hard enough that it hurts. "It's our last time in a classroom, on our last day of school, and possibly the last day before another end of the world. Show some heart."
"I am. But this is school we're talking about."
"Newsflash, Harris. You're going to have to start growing up soon."
"Oh, but I have. Look at me now. I'm about to contribute to the complete and utter destruction of this hallowed institution we call our high school. That's one of those very adult actions that you can't undo or abdicate responsibility. And I'll be doing it to save the Hellmouth from itself."
"Do you ever try to even pretend to be civilized?"
"I do queue up when buying movie tickets."
She shakes her head and stares into his face. He waits for her to deliver her next zinging line in the spirit of condescending-ness; actually he's flailing for a reason why she's even here with him. Last he saw her, she'd been all but making googley-eyes at Wesley after that wet-behind-the-ears Watcher slunk back into the library with his tail between his legs, that wimp pipsqueak with gelled hair, begging to be part of the action. What'd Cordy call him, between her breathless drooling? 'Classy'. Classy. Right. If that Wesley is Cordy's idea of class, then he, Xander Harris is...
Wonder of wonders, Cordy's kissing him full on the lips. He knows the right response to that, and kisses her back. And they keep on kissing, not letting go, and they aren't even in a closet.
When they finally surface for air, they just spend the first half minute staring into the other's wide eyes. The question at the forefront of Xander's mind is: 'What the hell was that about?', but the incredibly intense kissing they'd just indulged in hints that he might want to phrase that question in a more palatably romantic fashion. Except that romance sparks between them have long been stamped out, so he really doesn't know what's going on here. Not that he's complaining about what's going on. But he likes knowing if something is going on. And the way that something went, he won't mind if something keeps on going on.
She's nice enough to spare him the awkwardness of asking.
"Xander, I'm going to tell you something, that if you ever repeat to anyone else - that if you even so much as breathe to any other human being, and I find out at some point in the future; know that there will be payback. I will make sure that you will suffer such humiliation as you have never suffered before. I know that can be a challenge. But believe me, I will be up to that challenge and I will relish it."
Cordelia's always had this way of getting into people's faces and threatening them; even if she weren't naturally gifted at always having the most blistering things to say right at the tip of her tongue, she'd still be a force to contend with by sheer fiery feistiness. Depending on who's winning the argument, he's always thought of it as either one of her more endearing attributes, or the very height of frustratation. Since there's no way to tell which way this particular exchange is going to go, he does what he usually does in the face of threats. When he's not running away, that is. He goes for the punch below the belt.
"Cordy, you kissed me."
She scrunches her nose and heaves a melodramatic sigh. "Yes! And that's what I'm going to tell you." She breathes deeply to prepare herself. "In my all years, in all my time in school, and with all the guys I've known, you are - and I don't know how it should be possible - but you are."
He frowns. Okay. So he's going to have prompt her. "I..." He lifts a hand to beckon a response. "Are ... ?"
She's greatly reluctant. "You are the best kisser I know." She pauses, then hurriedly tacks on: "So far."
"Oh," he says, pretty much floored. Actually, what he's feeling is this strange sensation like he's been tricked into stepping on board a raft, and the raft is shoved down stream before he can grab a pole or leap back to shore.
"Unfortunately, you're also a jerk," she says and with that pronouncement, Xander feels like they're back on firm ground again. "But that makes sense. It's not always possible to have all the good things in one package. I think I can say now that I understand Willow wanting what I had. It was nice to have and maybe I wasn't appreciating what I had as much as I should. I think ... I think I will miss it. And I'm only just telling you this because you're the Key Guy and people in such important but merely supportive posts can sometimes be at extreme risk. So I'd like us to be honest with each other before it all ends."
"Oh-kaaaay," he says, taking it all in. With Cordy, it's always important to take the time to digest the words to sieve the sour from the sweet. He's done that. And he's really touched. "Thanks. I'm ... very much appreciating the honesty." He's suddenly overwhelmed with affection, and very much wants to assure her about the million things he felt for her too; still feels for her, sometimes. For once his tongue betrays him and all he can offer is: "Likewise."
She arcs her perfect eyebrows. She's poor, but she's got good maintenance.
"I've never been kissed the way I've been kissed by you," he tells her, although if they were playing the full-honesty card here then Cordy is rightly ranked second to Ampata, his one-night perfect Incan girlfriend before she was reduced to the heap of ancient dust that she really was. But it's not really fair to compare. Ampata was a princess - or maybe not. He's never tried to get the facts straightened out. The point is, Ampata's kisses were the sort that literally took all breath away in what was all life for her and no more life for him, so ultimately that wasn't good, but when talking about breath-taking, life-changing kisses ... ah, he's had that. He's really had that. Which isn't to say that Cordy didn't come close just now. She did. She certainly did.
Still, half-deck honesty wins him a sly smile from Cordy. "I know," she scoffs, blissfully ignorant as she is of the supremacy of Ampata smoochies. He notes, though, that Cordy's eyes aren't quite at happy level. And then she just has to say it. "Better than Willow?"
He groans. "We're not getting into that."
"No, no we're not," Cordy says, and now it's a wistful smile that lingers on her lips. "But you did break my heart, Xander."
He nods. His heart does a bit of that old familiar wrench too - regret, dismay; accepting that he'd been so stupid and there's no passing that buck.
"But you also made sure that I got to the prom."
"What can I say? I believe in justice, Cordy. There can't be justice in the world if you didn't own that dress. To wear. To the prom." He smiles modestly.
She agrees. She pats him tenderly over his heart, beams her full, radiant Cordelia Chase patented smile, then steps back. He licks his lips and tries to push his brain into gear, get it to engage so that he will say something, anything. She's walking away.
She turns, fast enough so her hair flares gracefully behind her shoulders like a silky curtain drawn over an open window on a softly breezy day. Xander loves it when she does that. There had been a time when he and Willow had hated when she did that. Well, Willow had hated it; he'd been obliviously ambivalent. According to Willow that kind of thing was just unnecessarily show-off-ish - did Cordelia think she was living an audition for shampoo advertisements? He kind of sees where Willow's coming from, because sure, it is sort of a Clairol moment, but damn, if Cordy can make such a fine show of bringing sterile shampoo auditions to life, what's the harm in appreciating the show?
He steers his mind back to the matter at hand. "If we somehow prevail and this whole end of the world thing doesn't quite pan out and it's still sunshine and chirping birds and early worms tomorrow - how about I take you out to a movie next Tuesday?"
She considers him for a moment. "Why next Tuesday?"
"Because that's Ladies Night at our very own local Sunnydale theatre, and so that's the night to take a lady to the movies." That's a little too sweet and nice, which doesn't feel quite right, so he adds a little jibe because that's how their chemistry works. Should work. "And because it's twenty percent off the ticket price for the lady."
Her lips twitch and her eyes narrow. Sure she's poor now, but she's still got that streak of mile wide pride. "You're treating me to a discount?"
He smoothly placates her. "Cordy, remember - you taught me. Discounts at the right places can be good. The right discounts bring you some of the most precious, meaningful bargains - some even lasting a lifetime."
Her lips twitch again, but he thinks it's because she's struggling not to smile. "What movie?"
"Does it matter once they turn off the lights?"
She rolls her eyes. "This is stupid," she says. He shrugs; it's not like he's expecting her to play along with him anyway. He is surprised by the deep sinking feeling in his gut, though. Then, because she's Cordy and because that's just what she does, she stuns him with what she says next. "But ... I'll check my calendar and maybe clear my schedule. I'll get back to you."
He's a quick on-his-feet thinker. "You do that. And I'll tell my chauffeur to make sure the car's tip-top."
She's quick to draw the line. "No, no, no, no. I will never get into that piece of junk."
"Junk? Sure, you can call it junk. But allow me to point out that there's the choice of front seats and back seats, and it is a convertible."
She glares at him like the uncultured specimen that he is. Then she waves a dismissive hand and wearily accepts that he'll just be what he is and she'll have to live with it. "Whatever. It's not like it's a date."
"Date? God, no, of course it's not. Why do you even bring up that word?"
"Because it's not happening."
"Please - been there, done that. We've had enough."
"More than enough."
He snorts and waggles his hand at above throat level so she can see the barfing 'enough' he's had.
"And you are not telling anyone about this."
He's wounded that she would even imply that he'd do such a thing. "Will you get over yourself? Like who's there to tell?"
She nods primly. "I'll get back to you."
He taps himself on his chest and opens his arms wide. "Key Guy waiting right here."
"You better be. If the world doesn't end, then the last thing I want is to be stood up by the guy I dumped."
She twirls on her heels and is out the door before he can retort. He chuckles to himself. Let her have the last word. This time.
He reaches his right hand up over his left shoulder and gives himself a pat on the back, for no particular reason other than he thinks he deserves it - whatever 'it' is. Anyway, he will have the last word next time. Because of course there will be a next time. He checks his watch. Right now: key action plan time. Weapons to distribute, followed by ceremonial robe-fitting. He muses for a while, then gives in to the temptation to fire off one last stick of chalk. He aims for the giant map of the United States of America at the back and the chalk, red this time, smashes into California, dead center. Dead on.
He pauses in thought. He was right the first time. That's California.
Well. Onward to graduation. That'll be the end, one way or the other. It'll be nice if it leads to the start of the new beginning to the rest of his life. He looks around the classroom. This was Mrs. Crane's history class. That's his usual table there, third from the back, with Willow to his right, and Buffy to her right. Cordy's place used to be second from the front, then she moved to his left, and then after the dust of flukage had settled, she moved back to the front again.
Come to think of it, Xander does feel kind of sentimental and melancholy about things. Or it could just be a case of pre-battle jitters.
Well. He raps his knuckles once, twice, thrice, on the teacher's desk. Touching wood.
If he's going to use Uncle Rory's car next Tuesday then he'll have to pull some big time favorite nephew cajoling to get the keys this weekend. Survive the end of the world and what's he got to look forward to? Uncle Rory's hangover Saturday. The things he does for that Cordelia.
He strides out of class without a look back.