Challenge Response: TtH Challenge 3520: Demon-Hunters

If anyone who had known Xander Harris during high school had seen him now, there was little chance they would recognise him now, aged 22. In the four long years since the fateful day of graduation, Xander had changed, both by choice, and by being forced into it. His eyes permanently filled with weariness born of having seen so much at such a young age, having gone through so much

The events of Sunnydale High School's Class of '99 Graduation Day was well known, or at least, the public version was. The true story was far less well known. By both accounts, it was a disaster.

Officially, there had been a gas explosion during the ceremony, and dangerous amounts of gas had been released into the air, reacting with the chemicals stored in the area to create noxious fumes that caused hallucinations, and psychopathic behaviour. The entire city had been quarantined for a period of two months, until it was decided that the gases had cleared. When teams of police had entered the city, they'd found destruction. Buildings destroyed, cars wrecked, bodies left out in the streets. It had virtually become a ghost town. Eventually survivors began to emerge, and the town was mostly abandoned, no-one surviving without losses.

The truth of it was that Richard Wilkins the third, Mayor of Sunnydale, had ascended, taking the form of a giant, demonic, snake. He'd eaten the School Principal, Snyder, and most of the students that were graduating, including Buffy. Xander and the remaining Scoobies had fled back to Angel's mansion, mainly because firstly, it was the most easily defendable place that was left, since the school had been destroyed during the snakes search for more students to eat, and secondly, it was the only place within Sunnydale that they could all stay at. Angel had gone out, and discovered that the town had been surrounded by the mayor's demonic allies, trapping them all within the city.

They'd all decided, unanimously, to make a stand. Sure, they were down a slayer, but then, so was the mayor, with Faith still safely in her coma. They still had a watcher, a souled vampire, a werewolf, a hacker, Xander himself, and the most fearsome, a pissed off cheerleader.

Arming themselves to the teeth, the Scooby Gang had attacked a roaming group of vampires on the streets, working their way through the masses of demons as they headed towards the town hall, where Richard Wilkins, in his snake form, waited. They'd never made it there. They were ambushed by a large group of demons, and none had escaped unscathed. Giles and Oz were killed, and Cordelia was taken, and later turned. Angel had grabbed Xander and Willow, and fled back to the mansion, where he had let them grieve for the loss of their loved ones, as he had grieved for Buffy.

For a month, the three had worked together, trying to kill as many of the demons without getting killed themselves. During that time Willow had been forced to stake Cordelia, saving Xander's life in the process, and Angel had saved both of the teenager's lives a few times.

The three of them were wearing out, though, and although they were making an impact, it never seemed to be enough. The demonic snake that had once been Mayor Wilkins always seemed to be one step ahead of them.

In the end, it had all come to a head almost two months after the high school graduation. In desperation, the remaining Scoobies had blocked up the sewers beneath the town hall with explosives and dirt, blocking the underground exits, before they used a mix of Molotov cocktails and flaming torches to set the building on fire. Then, Xander had let off the explosives. The demons within had been forced to flee from the building using the sole remaining exit, and the Scoobies had been waiting with flamethrowers, ready to fry.

The assault destroyed almost all of the minions the mayor had mustered, and the rest of them were easy for the trio to destroy. Then, Angel had gone after the mayor, with Willow ad Xander backing him up. It had been going okay, until the snake had sent Angel flying through the air, into a stack of Wooden crates. Angel had been dusted, leaving Xander and Willow alone to face the snake.

At Angel's insistence, they'd prepared a back up method of destroying the snake, and Xander and Willow quickly set about putting the plan into action, knowing that, if they survived, they could grieve Angel's death and the other losses they had experienced after the demon was dead.

The mayor had been injured badly in the initial bomb blast, and as Xander set up the anti aircraft missile that he, Angel, and Willow had liberated from the arm base, Willow distracted it, using her powers to push debris from the town hall onto it. Xander signalled Willow that he was ready, and she ran to her position, before standing stock still. Naturally, the demon had opened its mouth wide as it bore down at Willow, intending to eat her. Xander waited until the right moment, before firing the missile, straight into the snake's gaping mouth, and down its throat. The demonic snake reeled back slightly, before its entire body exploded. Xander and Willow were flung backwards by the force of the explosion, and Xander's last conscious thought was one filled with satisfaction that they had finally prevailed.

The next thing Xander remembered was waking up to discover it was daylight out, midday, according to his watch. He'd been unconscious for about 12 hours, and his entire body ached. He rolled over, seeing Willow lying not to far away, completely motionless. Xander crawled over to Willow, lacking the strength needed to stand. He'd put his shaking hand at her pulse point, frightened that she was dead. He was rewarded with the feel of a solid, steady pumping beneath his fingers. Xander had put his arm around Willow, the darkness closing in on him again, as he passed out.

The next thing either of them knew was waking up in a hospital in LA, two of only 100 survivors of the massacre. Considering the size of Sunnydale, losses had been high. Xander's parents were among the dead, but Willow's had been, thankfully, out of town. They'd visited Willow in hospital.

Also still surviving was Joyce Summers, who had, heeding Buffy's orders, gone to LA for a few days to visit her old friends. She'd been devastated by the loss of her daughter, but upon hearing that Willow and Xander had survived, had immediately gone to the hospital to see them.

Apart from a few broken ribs and a concussion each, Willow and Xander's wounds were limited to scratches, cuts, and bruises of varying serenity. After three days, they were discharged from hospital. Willow's parents had arranged a hotel room for them, and a hire car, before jetting out again to continue their tour, promising to increase Willow's income since now she'd be living away from home.

Joyce had picked them up from the airport and driven them to the hotel they were staying at. For a week they lived their quietly, resting and recuperating form their injuries, before it was cleared for Sunnydale resident to go back and see if anything from their previous lives was salvageable. Xander drove the hire car up the highway to Sunnydale, flashing his and Willow's ID cards at the old quarantine checkpoint, because the military were trying to keep looters and people who just wanted to look around out. It was still, after all, potentially dangerous.

Xander and Willow went past their old houses, and saw Joyce at Buffy's old house. Xander's house had been badly burnt at some point, but he was able to get in and gather up his belongings. Willow's house had broken windows, and the expensive paintings that had once hung from the walls were gone, taken by some demon. Willow didn't care though. Her own room looked unaffected, and she was able to gather everything she wanted to take.

At Buffy's house, Joyce gave them both copies of the photo of them with Buffy, and had tearfully had told them that if they wanted anything from Buffy's room, that they could take it.

In the end, Willow had taken the cross necklace that Angel had given Buffy, and Xander had taken a couple of photos of them all. They had promised to see her at the memorial service that was to be held, before they headed on, going past the ruins of the school, to Giles' house.

It had been virtually destroyed on graduation day, so before they'd lost Giles they'd been able to go and gather what was useful. As it was, there was little left. Thankfully, most of Giles' books and weapons were already being stored at Angels' temporarily because the security was better there.

Having double checked Giles', they went past Cordelia's house. Her parents had been killed in the fight, and the house looked very empty. Xander had quietly gone up to his girlfriends room, and gathered a few mementos of their time together, while Willow had stayed a respectful distance.

The next stop was Oz's house. This time it had been Willow's turn to mourn a lost love, while Xander watched on. Willow collected a few things, before they headed on to Angel's mansion.

When they got there, the slowly went about the slow task of getting everyone's things together, and seeing what could still be used. Willow cried quietly as she went through Buffy's clothes bag, looking for anything important, while Xander had Giles's.

"Willow" he croaked softly, looking into the bag.

"What it is?" Willow looked over. Wordlessly, Xander pulled out their Diplomas. His, Willow's, Cordelia's, Buffy's, and Oz's.

"There was a note attached," Xander said softly, holding up the piece of paper. Willow sniffed, and left Buffy's bag to join her best friend, sitting beside him. Xander wrapped an arm around her shoulder, before he began to read.

"If you're reading this, then I have not made it through the fight. I want you all to know, or however many of you have survived, that I am both proud and honoured to have known and met you all. You all have gown and learnt so much since I first met you, and I feel that I have learnt so much from you all.

Buffy, you truly are one of the most remarkable young women I've ever met. On the first day we met, I must honestly say that I did not expect you to last a year on the hellmouth, but you quickly proved me wrong, becoming one of the most successful slayers in history. I am proud of everything you have accomplished, and I will be eternally grateful for the opportunity of being your watcher.

Xander, your loyalty and determination to take up the fight, although it wasn't yours to take up, is a testament to your courage. Throughout everything your loyalty has not wavered, and your determination has only grown. I feel as though you are the son I never had," Xander broke off, his voice choking up. Willow squeezed his shoulder, before picking up where he had left off.

"You showed me how important it is to support your friends and that even the most ordinary member of a gang of very extraordinary people can be a hero.

Willow, you are the smartest girl I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. Your thirst for knowledge is only outdone by your thirst for justice, and for the right thing being done. I said when we thought that you had been turned, that you truly were the best of us all. It still holds true. While the rest of us get caught up in the fight, it is you who reminds us that were are human (for the most part), and that our humanity needs to be preserved. It could be said that you are the mind, soul, heart and skeleton of the group. Your intellect makes your contributions valuable, you are kind, caring, and selfless, you are considerate, and tolerant, and I could not imagine what our little group would be like without you. Some words of warning, from one magic user to another, your powers are a gift, and you need to learn how to control them. A coven can help you with this. I would recommend the Devon Coven. I love you like you are my own daughter, like I consider Xander to be my son. Remember that, regardless of what anyone tells you, you are special, and that people will love you, no matter what."

Willow broke down, clutching onto Xander tightly, almost painfully. Xander had tears leaking from his eyes, but he was able to keep reading.

"Cordelia, although you are a newcomer to the group, I want you to understand how much your assistance and presence was appreciated on my behalf. Although, perhaps, unintentional on your behalf, you were always able to lighten a dark situation. Remember that it doesn't matter what people think about you, it's what you think of yourself that matters. You showed me that even the, by appearances, shallowest person, can have a great depth to them. Your courage is to be admired, and so is your resourcefulness.

Oz, always remember that before there was the wolf, there was the man, the musician, the computer expert, the friend. The wolf doesn't stop you from being any of these things. Don't let it rule you. You entered our group as a man, and that is how we all see you. As the strong, silent, thoughtful man, that offers insight that the rest of us would not even consider. Your loyalty to myself, and this group, is strong, and for that, I am forever grateful

Angel, although in the past we have had a disagreements, putting it mildly, but you have shown to me since your return that their really is two sides to you, and they have little control of one another. Angel and Angelus are indeed two different individuals, even though they share the same body. The way that you stand alongside Buffy, even though it goes against the every instinct of your demon, is to be commended. I am grateful for everything you have ever done for Buffy, and the rest of the group. Knowing that Buffy had you at her side was reassuring.

In conclusion, I just want to say that I will miss you all. You all have so much future potential, both in the fight against darkness, and in the wider community. Although some of you may have destinies, remember that Prophesies and Destinies are very loose, and up to interpretation, so basically your futures are whatever you make them to be. I wish you all the best of luck, and nothing but the best of wishes for all of your futures.

Yours Sincerely

Rupert Giles, Watcher and Librarian, Sunnydale High, June 1999"

Xander lowered the paper, and let Willow climb into his lap, before burying his head into her shoulder and crying.

Eventually the tears stopped flowing, And Willow and Xander quickly packed u, taking all of the weapons they could find, and putting them in the car. Then, they collected the belonging of their fallen comrades that they planned on keeping, including the diplomas, and the note from Giles, and most of Giles's surviving books, and left the mansion, knowing in their guts that they would never return.

The memorial occurred two days later. Everyone who died had their name read out, and, in the cases where their bodies had been found and identified, they were buried. Xander and Willow sat with Joyce. Oz's body was the only one that was found, and Willow had placed flowers at his fresh grave, running her fingers over the lettering on the wooden cross that marked it. A real tombstone would be put in later.

It looked like they were the only two survivors of their graduating class. Maybe two or three others weren't on the list, but Willow and Xander didn't see anyone familiar at the memorial.

At the end, Willow gave Joyce Buffy's high school Diploma, knowing that the woman would want it. Joyce had cried, holding Willow close in a embrace, before it was time for everyone to go.

Xander and Willow had gone back to their hotel room, both of them thinking about what to do now. They had both discussed it, and had decided that that they would continue the fight, take up Buffy's legacy, and get revenge on the evil that had robbed them of the only real family that they had ever known.

Using the money that she received as a graduation present, Willow went and bought a car, registering it in both her and Xander's names, before they packed everything into the car, having returned the rental car, and hit the road.

Within two moths of hitting the road, Willow and Xander had found themselves at a roadhouse, and while they were there, they met a man named John Winchester, and his sons Dean and Sam. Dean was 22, and Sam was 18, the same age as Xander. Something, and Xander wasn't sure what it had been, had made him want to trust the Winchesters, and so, when they'd offered to show Xander and Willow the exact art that was Demon hunting, they'd jumped at the chance.

And so Willow and Xander had been trained up, learning how to track down demons, how to not get killed, how to stay alive. They'd travelled together for almost a year, before they'd gone their own ways. Xander and Willow in one direction, Sam to California to start at College, and John and Dean in another direction. They'd stayed in contact, but eventually, as happens when you live on the road, the contact became less frequent, and eventually stopped altogether.

It was about that point that Willow decided to follow Giles' advice, and contacted the Devon Coven. She'd been trying to limit her use of magic, but it was getting harder and harder, and Willow was terrified of becoming one of the dark witches that they encountered on their travels.

Xander had gone along with it, knowing Willow's fears, and having his own fears about having to kill Willow. He had resolved that, should it ever to come to that, then there would be a second bullet in the gun, one with his name on it.

Now, Willow was coming back after nearly a year away in England with the coven in Devon. Xander had stopped hunting for most of the year, knowing it was dangerous to try and hunt alone. He had spent most of his time with Bobby Singer, helping out with the cars, and helping research. Xander had always liked Bobby ever since John had introduced them, and Bobby had become a good friend of Xander's over the year that Willow was away.

Now, she was coming home. Xander looked down at himself, at what he was wearing. He'd long ago stopped wearing his loud, Hawaiian shirts, mainly because one day Dean had 'forgotten' to put them back in Xander's bag after he took them out for some reason, and they were left on the side of the road somewhere. Now, Xander favoured darker clothes, still very casual though. A dark shirt or t-shirt, depending on the weather, with jeans and a jacket.

Naturally, he varied it, depending on what his cover was, but that was what he usually wore.

"Xander!" An almost 22 year old Willow squealed from the arrivals gate, having just cleared customs. Xander beamed, bracing himself for the impact as Willow threw herself at him, hugging him tightly.

She too had changed in the four years that had passed since graduation. Her hair had been short then, but it was longer now, although not as long as it had been in their junior and sophomore years. She dressed in pants and a plain shirt, most of the time. She never took off Buffy's cross though, and Xander knew that she often wore jackets that had once belonged to Angel or Oz. She said it was because it made her feel safer, because in her mind they still smelt of Sunnydale, of home.

Today, though, her jacket was one of his old ones that she'd packed without his knowledge when she was leaving for Devon.

"So, you ready to go?" Xander asked, taking Willow's heavy suitcase from her. Willow nodded and smiled, before she started to babble about all the things she'd learnt as they walked from the airport together. He let the noise wash over him, and he suddenly was back in the library in Sunnydale after school, and Willow was talking about classes, and graduation and the ascension was still a distant threat.

Everything had changed, but Xander and Willow were still together, side by side, and now, that was all that mattered.

A.N. I initially wrote this as a prologue for a piece, but after I finished it, I thought it made a nice one shot. I don't know if my life will give me the time to write the actual story, so I'll put this down as finished, but I thought it ended nicely here. Tell me what you think in your reviews.