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The cheerleading statue in the case next to Xander was staring at him, so he shifted his sword to the other shoulder and stuck his tongue out at it.



Dawn had her sword, but wasn't completely positive she was ready to use it. Except this was Xander, and nothing else was going to happen to him if she had anything to say about it.

"What's with the statue?" she asked, noticing the tongue thing. As a junior Watcher, she was way with the observy like that.



"It's got creepy eyes. You never noticed?" Xander turned his back on it, looking instead down the hallway towards the library, where Willow and Kennedy had disappeared with Buffy's shiny red axe and a bag of spell components, and then the other way, towards the lounge where Giles and Principal Diamond-Stud Wood blocked the only other exit to the sewers.



"Huh." Dawn looked at the statue, because that was easier than thinking of Buffy's insane plan, hinging on Willow. "Um, sorry you got stuck babysitting."



"Hey, no stealing my lines." Xander pointed his sword at her.



She smiled and leaned on her own sword. "Sorry. Lost my script, and your lines were all highlighted in the copy I borrowed."



"See, lose one measly little eye, and your understudy starts thinking they're gonna get the job on opening night." Xander glanced towards the lobby. "Wonder who Buffy was gonna have guarding the atrium if I actually took you out of--"

His pocket buzzed twice, and he fished his phone out. He'd turned off the rings that he probably wouldn't hear anyway, if someone tried to reach him in the middle of the fighting. "Dawn and I are in position," he said, guessing before he heard the voice on the other end who it would be.



"I can tell that; you're aqua and she's pink," Jonathan answered.

"Buffy's dot's pink," Andrew's voice corrected him faintly from somewhere in the schoolbus parked outside, away from Jonathan's headset microphone. "Dawn's more like orchid."



Xander would've head-sworded, but he figured a concussion on top of the loss of peripheral vision wouldn't make for a great defensive maneuver. "If you know we're ready then what do you want?"



That was possibly the sound of someone kicking someone else; Xander neither knew nor cared as long as the two of them didn't kill each other while they kept track of where everyone else was. "Just wanted to let you guys know that the Slayers and the girls made it down to the basement," Jonathan said. "We're just waiting on Willow."



"Roger that," Xander answered. "Thanks." He closed the call on the sound of Andrew complaining mildly that really he was supposed to say 10-4.



"Took me out of where?" Dawn asked, frowning.



"Of, um. She didn't tell you?" Oops.



"Nooooooo. Xaaaaaaaaandeeeeeeeeer..." Dawn knew her whine was still her earliest and most powerful weapon.



"She wanted me to get you out of here the night before last. Go to L.A."



"L.A.? With Angel?" Dawn was really starting to question her sister's sanity.



Xander shrugged. "Just out of Sunnydale. Probably she meant we should go to Angel's, but I didn't really let her get that far."



"She's stupid," Dawn said, more as an accepted fact at this point than anything else. "How come you didn't listen?"



"She's not stupid; she just wanted us both out of danger."

Xander scouted down the hall towards the library again and noted a soft white glow seeping from under the double doors, faint but steadily increasing in brightness.

"But it'd just end up with me in pain and you driving back to Sunnydale, and if I'm gonna get whacked over the head with something I'd rather it be fighting off monsters, y'know?" He grinned, but his face twitched. He rubbed at his cheek under the edge of the patch, though it didn't really itch.



"And who was she going to put here instead?" Dawn asked, rolling her eyes, trying to listen for incoming vampires, "The girls she desperately needs doing what they're going to hopefully be doing?"

"Thanks for teaching me to drive, by the way, in case I forget. And, y'know, for pretending. As long as I'm thanking you for stuff."



The soft light swelled up in the library hallway, sweeping across the bottom of the lockers and dancing for a moment on the floor of the atrium before it faded away. Xander stared at the dingy tiles that had been bright just a moment before, then lifted his sword. "Pretending?"



"That you remembered me," Dawn said simply, raising her sword as well. "You were nice, when you didn't have to be. So...thanks."



Xander opened his mouth to answer -- to lie, because it was reflex now -- but Kennedy came running past them towards the basement stairs, scythe-axe in hand, faster than he'd ever seen any human move who wasn't Buffy, Kendra, or Faith.



He grabbed his phone and punched speed-dial 2. "It worked," Xander said to Jonathan. "Get Willow out of here."

When he turned back to Dawn again, he just asked, "When did you figure it out?"



"A while ago," she admitted, tense and ready to fight. This was really going to happen. "Lots of little things here and there, like the fact that I never got within blocks of Willy's place."



"I am occasionally," Xander said as if admitting something that wasn't printed under his picture in the dictionary, "a dumbass."

From below the school he could hear a rumbling, and he knew it was the sound of two armies meeting. Larry barreled through the front doors, heading for the library to get Willow, almost as fast as a Slayer but not quite.



"You are not," Dawn said stubbornly, chin set. "You're the go-to guy, Xander. The one who stays. I want to be you when I grow up."

She took a deep breath, and released it as she heard approaching footsteps. "Here's hoping I get the chance."



Xander shook his head as he turned to meet the oncoming vampires. "You don't want to be me; I snore and I eat too many twinkies. Grow up to be you. Trust me, she'll be awesome."

He swung his sword, knocking one of the creatures away, though claws scraped sharp across his cheek.



Dawn raised her own sword the way Buffy and the other girls had showed her, but instead of using it against the vampires, swung as hard as she could and sliced through a rope tied to the wall.

The sandbag fell to the ground, and with it the sheet covering the skylights in the hallway. Daylight streamed in, and the Uber-Vamps dusted, just like any other kind.



"She kind of already is," Xander said after catching his breath -- just before another vampire tackled him from the side.



"Xander!" Dawn shouted, and just that quickly she was swinging the sword over her head and landing it hard across the vampire's neck, slicing its head off its shoulders and stumbling forward as it dusted.



Xander rolled back to his feet with barely time for a nod before several more vamps were upon them. For long minutes it was just hack, stab, and duck, no breath to do anything but grunt.

Then what had been the rumble of fighting below became something else entirely. The ground shook.



The school shook, and the sound of rushing and crumbling came from the direction of the library. The hallway outside it filled with a brilliant blue light, a million times as bright as the soft glow of Willow's spell.



"Willow!" Xander yelled, coughing on the dust of the last vampire in the atrium. He and Dawn started for the hall as the school continued to shake, but Larry came stumbling down it, Willow leaning on him. Kennedy burst out the basement doors to join them seconds afterward, followed by a torrent of battered, bruised, limping but living Slayers. Fewer of them than had gone in, though, and the two faces Xander was searching for weren't the only ones missing.



"Where's Bu--" he started to yell to Kennedy, but then he felt his pocket buzz again, and grabbed the phone as the ceiling crumbled above them. "Buffy?"



"No." Jonathan's voice was strained. "What the hell's happening? Even the parking lot's shaking. Old Faithful just blew out the top of the school, and it's right on top of Buffy and Faith's tracer signals. Can't get either of them on the phone - their dots keep fritzing in and out!"



Giles and Principal Wood came from the lounge, leaning on each other as they rushed out the doors. Xander didn't even answer Jonathan, just turned to run for the basement through the falling dust and plaster, shaking loose of Dawn's hand on his sleeve.



He didn't make it -- Spike shoved the basement doors open and grabbed him by the upper arm. "They're coming, Harris." Xander made to push past him, but he was no match for a vampire's strength as Spike tugged him down the hall towards the school entrance. "Buffy said go, we go!"



By the time they got to the doors, Xander was moving under his own steam, the words having penetrated, and Spike was covering his head with his coat and rushing through the sunlight to the bus, Xander close behind him.



The second they were on board, there was a boom like the whole planet had hiccuped. Smoke and dust came pouring out the front doors of the school. Robin Wood slammed the bus door shut and threw it into gear before Xander had even found a seat. Out the windows as they sped away, he could see the building collapsing in on itself.



"Well, we finally blew up the high school," Xander muttered to that other Tara, the first one he'd met. He wasn't thinking - wasn't letting himself think, though he couldn't help counting the faces in the seats around him and knowing the names he could list that weren't there - Amanda, Casey, Chao An - weren't even half of those that were missing.



Dawn was glued to the back window watching something, and Xander let her watch, let her be his hope and do his thinking, while he pressed a cloth to a wound on the neck of one of the world's newest Slayers and the schoolbus rumbled down the road.



He could glimpse enough out the windows near him to see that they weren't speeding just to get out of range of the school; the whole town was bucking and crumbling behind them.



Then from the corner of his right eye Xander saw Dawn stand, pressing her hand to the window, and there was a thud on the roof of the bus. A person-sized thud.

Just the one.



They slowed for just a second, and for just a second, the world stopped, even if the bus didn't.

Then Xander closed his eye and breathed, and everything sort of... rebooted. The bus picked up speed, the voices of the people around him, Andrew and Jonathan chattering, Vi yelling at one of the other Slayers to stay awake, they all got loud again. Xander felt his way to an empty seat, but didn't open his eye.



The rumbling of the earth grew to a roar and then faded, and so did the voices, until it was easy to hear Giles saying quietly, "We're safe, Robin. You can stop."



Xander sat there, just listening, while the bus shuddered to a stop. The front and back doors opened. Voices swelled and faded as people stumbled out into the sunlight - people who weren't Spike, he assumed, but Xander did hear that leather coat swish past him, shitkicking boots pounding to the back of the bus.

He just waited. A long time, until he felt a hand on his shoulder.

"Hi, Buffy." He opened his eye and turned to look at her.



"Xander."



It's not like she picks flowers as a hobby... "I know. You're lighter, and Faith didn't wear pointy boots." Xander shifted into past tense without letting out the clutch and was distantly surprised that he didn't stutter. He gave her a tiny smile as he rose from his seat.



"The amulet. That's what the light was. Wiped out most of the vamps and made the Hellmouth go boomy on the rest." Buffy smiled back at him, quick but bright, voice rising on boom. "Faith..."



"Pinned her where she stood and ran that lightshow through her like she was a magic lantern," Spike said from the blanket-fort he'd made in one of the seats near the back doors.



Buffy reached out to take Xander's hand and he let her, moving with her to the seat across from Spike. Through the open back doors, they could see the others gathered near the edge of the giant hole that used to be their home town. Together, the three of them watched the Welcome To Sunnydale sign fall into it with one last creak.

"Faith did that," Buffy told them.



"Sure, steal my schtick but don't stick around to get called on it," Spike grumbled except not really.



Xander laughed except not really.

The bags they'd packed were stacked in the last pair of seats, Xander noticed, focusing on everything and nothing. Jonathan had left Xander's laptop sitting on the green duffel, headset still attached to it. He picked it up, unbuckling the bag to slide it inside.

"I forgot to pack the frog," he said when he had the bag open and was staring blankly at the clothes on top.

He could see it, sitting on the end of Buffy's couch where one of the girls had kidnapped it for the night, see himself walking past it to the kitchen and thinking he'd get it on the way back, and then he hadn't. Something had distracted him. Jonathan asking where the GPS software was filed? Or Chloe had wanted a twinkie, too, because there hadn't been any when they looted the supermarket, and he'd stopped to pull out his phone...



Buffy's hand was on his again. "Did you get the message?"



"Huh?" He blinked, because it was blinking, no matter what it looked like from the outside, and focused on her.




"Your phone." Buffy pointed to his other hand, in which he now held his cellphone.



He didn't remember pulling it out, not now. Xander stared at the blinking envelope on the display as blankly as he'd stared at the duffel bag.



"There was so much static, we didn't know if it would go through. Faith's phone crapped out completely and she had to use mine." Buffy held up her hands, both empty. "She said..." Her voice cracked a bit on the chuckle. "She said you owe me a new one."



Xander pressed the buttons on instinct, which was good because he couldn't have told you his own phone number right now if you held a gun to his head, and waited.



Crackling; the static was bad, and Xander could hear the walls of the Hellmouth shaking like thunder. Then Faith's voice, almost steady in comparison, cutting through the interference. "Guess you're checking in, huh? Well, if they don't tell you before I do, time to bug the hell out."

Buffy, nearby, close enough to tell she was holding the phone, but yelling away from it. "Spike, go!"

"'Less you're in the mood for a tan." Faith laughed, or choked, or both, then raised her voice. "You make sure he doesn't come down here or so help me I'll kick your cold dead ass from here to Cleveland."

"Tell them we're coming." That was Buffy, sounding like she wanted to mean it.

Then a pause, then Faith, into the phone. "Buffy's coming. I'm kinda stuck. Not a bad day, though. Got to play with that wicked cool scythe for a while. Wanted to say--" A loud rumble and the sound cut out completely for a second, leaving Xander afraid that was all, but then it cleared. "B, scram! Stairs are goin'. Just gimme the damn phone. Tell Xander I said buy you a new one."

"Faith..." The phone crackled and Buffy's voice was fainter, like she'd done what Faith had asked, but then it came close again.

"I said leave!"

"I am. Just... don't be scared."

"Bitch, please." That was definitely a laugh. "Case you hadn't noticed, kinda dying here."

"...I know." Buffy was right next to the phone, just for a second, then moving away again. "Been there, done that."

"Keep forgetting. Everyplace I go, you always gotta get there first."

The static surged, blocking out whatever she said next, and presumably Buffy leaving. When Faith's voice broke back in it was strained, hoarse over the background noise.

"---orta pretty when it shines. Wanted to say, gonna miss you, Xander. That's all. You're the first guy I ever ate breakfast with, y--" More crackling on the line, then, "The hell? Cheapass plastic piece of shit! I want a goddamn twinkiephone in the next frakkin' life! And a puppy while we're at it, you hear me, God? Son of a scum-suckin' mother fu--"

Silence, and a beep.



And Xander laughed, because he couldn't not. He hit Save Message, and he laughed, and he closed his eye and he laughed, and he opened it again to Buffy watching him nervously, and he laughed, and he wiped the back of his hand across his face, and he laughed, and he leaned over and rested his head against hers, and he laughed.



"Xander?"



Something came flying at him from his blind side and bounced off his head. Xander stopped laughing and turned to look at Spike as he leaned into the aisle to pick up-- a green stuffed frog, wearing a badge.

"Was on the other seat," Spike said with a shrug, shifting his blanket again to block the sunlight streaming in the windows.



The top bag on the other seat was a red and gold Sunnydale high sports duffel, and Xander stared for a second, then laughed again. This time it did eventually stop without anything getting thrown at him, though.



Buffy eyed him like she wasn't sure if their next stop should be the closest emergency room or the closest psych ward. "You okay?"



"We made it, Buff," Xander answered her. "We saved the world. I think that qualifies as okay."



"We changed the world." Willow joined them, hopping up to sit inside the back door, her feet dangling out of the bus next to Dawn, who still stood on the ground. "There's new Slayers waking up all over it." Willow smiled, her eyes wide and bright. "I can feel them."



Dawn crossed her arms and leaned against the bus. "Guess we'll have to find them all."



"We'll need to rebuild the Watchers' Council," Giles said, coming back from the mouth of the sinkhole. "There may be notes on some of the Potentials in their computer system if Willow can access it, and the coven in Devon should be able to help as well. If we can adapt that identification spell to work over a wide range... perhaps tie it in to the--" He made a face. "--web, somehow? We should--"



Dawn rolled her eyes. "Could we maybe have some lunch and a nap first? The internets'll still be here tomorrow, Giles. Promise."



"Tomorrow," Buffy repeated, a smile spreading across her face.



"Yeah." Xander leaned his head against hers again. "I like the sound of that."



__


To: aeryn.sun, alanna.trebond, alex.krycek, angela.chase, belthazor, bridge.carson, callisto, cameron.mitchell, charlie.kawalsky, conner.mcknight, d'anna.biers, dawn.summers, elizabeth.delgado, hamlet.dane, isabel.evans, jake.gavin, jaye.tyler, jenny.calendar, john.crichton, m.parker, marty.blank, nadia.santos, peter.parker, peter.pevensie, phoebe.halliwell, rory.gilmore, samantha.carter, samuel.anders, veruca.cally, willow.rosenberg, zero.hopelesssavage, zoe.washburn ///@fandomhigh.net, veronica.mars@hearst.edu, cchase@nyu.edu, hotsauce@yahoo.com

From: purplefrog@yahoo.com
Date: 3/18/2003

In case you guys heard about Sunnydale going under (or hell, maybe it happened years ago for some of you), just wanted to let you know we came through. Most of us, anyway. The world's not getting taken over by vampires, at least not this week. Faith saved us.

(That's a name; I didn't like, join a cult or something. Like Faith who used to be in Fandom, just this one was ours.)

Got to go. We're on our way to LA, just stopped for gas and the truckstop has wifi so I dragged out the keyboard since it's easier than typing on the phone. So anyway. I'm still here. Hope you're still there, wherever there might be these days.

~Xander


__

[OOC: No, I didn't make Parker write this with me either. I did draft [livejournal.com profile] lilpunkinbelly to fight by Xander's side, though, for which I squish her. Cut for length, images, spoiler, and more length. OOC comments both loved and feared. ]

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