CHAPTER FIFTY: INVITATIONS
Friday, 15th May 1999
The Scoobies were spread throughout the gym, each of them sitting on opposite sides of the rooms, all of them at the end of the aisles next to the nearest exits. If anyone noticed that none of them were seated together, no one was saying anything.
Xander had pulled aside the less scholarly students and had convinced them to play hooky for the Graduation Ceremony, telling them that the diplomas were sent in the mail, and the piece of paper they received on stage was actually blank. Ten of the seventy graduating students had been convinced to go to the beach for the afternoon, which left the Scoobies with less people to deal with.
The Scoobies own parents weren’t at the Ceremony. Joyce Summers had been convinced to leave town, even though she wasn’t all that happy about it. The Rosenberg’s hadn’t been informed of the Ceremony, and hadn’t bothered to ask Willow about it. They were out of town as well. Xander’s parents hadn’t bothered showing up either and Oz’s parents were laid-back enough to acquiesce to Oz’s request for them to not attend. The Chase’s had put up more of a fight, but Cordelia had talked them out of attending.
The Scoobies were all exchanging glances, each of them nervous about what would happen in just a few moments.
“Well. What a day this is!” the Mayor said from on stage. “Special day. Today is our centennial the one hundredth anniversary of the founding of Sunnydale, and I know what that means to all you kids: not a darn thing. Because today something much more important happens: today you all graduate from high school. Today all the pain, all the work, all the excitement is finally over. And what's a hundred years of history compared to that?”
Buffy groaned inwardly. He was going to do the whole speech! Evil
“It's been a long road getting here,” the Mayor continued. “For you…for Sunnydale. There has been achievement, joy, good times…and now…we’re at the Journey's end. And what is a journey? Is it just…distance travelled? Time spent? No. It's what happens on the way, it’s the things that happen to you. At the end of the journey you're not the same. Today is about change. Graduation doesn't just mean your circumstances change, it means you do. You ascend…to a higher level. Nothing will ever be the same. Nothing.”
Buffy tensed. To everyone else in the audience, Wilkins’ was merely giving a Graduation speech, but to the Scoobies and to the Slayer, there was more to it than that.
“And so as we look back on-” the Mayor tried to continue, but he clutched his stomach as something painful ripped through him. “On the events that brought us to this day.”
Buffy and the Scoobies exchanged glances and sat forward in their seats, Buffy preparing to rid herself of the maroon Graduation gown. She pulled her cap off and straightened out her hair.
“We…” he stopped again. The students in the seats began whispering to each other in concern. Buffy shot a look towards the others, silently telling them with a head movement to begin what they’d prepared.
Some of the students were beginning to panic, and considering that they’d all grown up on the hellmouth, they weren’t completely oblivious to what went on within the town. Xander, Willow, Oz and Cordelia all opened up the different exits they were manning and began encouraging students to file out the doors. Snyder wasn’t happy about the sudden evacuation.
“Sit down! Get back here!” he yelled.
“We must all…” the Mayor stopped and yelled in pain. He gave a small smile and tried to straighten up. “It has begun. My destiny. It's a little sooner then I expected I had this whole section on civic pride…but I guess we'll just skip to the big finish!”
It took less than ten seconds for the Mayor to transform from a regular human into a seventy foot long, purely demon snake. The top of the snake’s head hit the roof of the gymnasium, and it ducked down to strike at the few remaining students. Those brave enough to have stayed suddenly lost their courage and ducked and weaved through the snake’s attacking mouth, racing for the doors and into the sunshine outside.
Angel stepped out from the shadows and threw Buffy the weapons that they’d managed to ‘borrow’ from the army base once again. The Vampire and the Slayer stood back and used flamethrowers on the large snake, the demon screeching in agitation as the flames burnt its scales.
The Mayor, seeing Angel as one of it’s attackers suddenly moved to crash it’s head into the roof, creating a massive hole, the sunlight streaming in. Angel quickly rolled into the shadows. The snake slammed through the roof again, debris falling around the vampire and Slayer. Angel could tell that the Mayor’s next attack on the roof would take out the one exit that he could safely leave through. Buffy saw it too.
“Angel, run! Tell Giles five minutes!”
Angel ran, leaving Buffy alone with the seventy-foot tall snake. The Mayor tried one last attack on the roof, tiles and timber falling throughout the gymnasium. Buffy ducked and dodged, but sighed in relief when Angel managed to leave the gymnasium without turning into a pile of dust.
“Is that the best you’ve got, Dick?!” she yelled angrily at the demon.
The snake roared and struck towards her, Buffy timing it perfectly and hitting the Mayor’s mouth with a jet of fire. It lunged towards her, and she barely managed to throw herself out of harm’s way.
She was starting to regret the plan, and knew that she needed to leave the gym very soon if she wanted to get out of this battle alive. The effort that she’d needed to keep out of the way of falling building debris had tired her slightly, and she knew that the Mayor would easily destroy the building, and make their explosives useless. The Scoobies hadn’t factored in the Mayor’s destructive nature, and Buffy hadn’t expected Angel to be taken out of the game so early.
She sent another stream of fire at the snake, and tried to fire the flamethrower again, but the weapon stopped. Without even trying to get it up and running again, she threw the heavy pack to the ground and made a dash for an exit. The snake was faster though, and cut her off, using its body as a blocker. She turned and raced towards another exit, but the Mayor anticipated her attack and had coiled itself around the building, blocking off all the exits as it circled the room.
He’d effectively trapped Buffy inside the gym with no real weapon except a crossbow and her various other arsenal that would only be useful on vampires.
Her situation could be summed up in exactly one word. “Shit.”
“He’s destroying the gym!” Angel yelled as he neared Giles’ hiding place, a shady area of the quadrangle. Xander, Willow, Cordelia and Oz had all joined Giles there, the meeting place they were all supposed to congregate at.
“Where’s Buffy?” Xander yelled, preparing himself to run to the gym and pull the Slayer out of there himself.
“She’s still inside,” Angel explained. “She said to give her five minutes.”
Giles looked at his watch and noted the time. Five minutes seemed like absolutely no tine at all.
Angel grabbed hold of Xander as the teenager tried to rush past him. “You can’t go back in there!”
“Are you insane!” Xander yelled. “Buffy’s in there!”
“He’s trapped her inside,” Angel said quietly. “She can’t get out. And no one can get back in.”
The Scoobies fell silent. They’d all feared this scenario. Giles swallowed hard, his hand on the plunger. They had one shot at destroying the Mayor, and Buffy had made Giles swear that he would take that shot, no matter what.
“You can’t!” Willow yelled, seeing Giles’ itching fingers. “You’ll kill her.”
Giles closed his eyes, unable to witness the expressions of the others staring at him accusingly. He was a Watcher. And sometimes that meant saying and doing things that other people couldn’t. Things that no one should have to do.
He took a deep breath and prayed that God, and his Slayer, would forgive him. He glanced at his watch. Two and a half minutes.
Buffy knew she was in trouble, that was fairly obvious. She knew that Angel would follow her wishes and give Giles the time limit of five minutes, which meant that she had about two minutes to get the hell out of the gym before it completely exploded. The only problem was, the exits were blocked, and there was no way she could make it out through the roof.
The snake seemed to be quite happy to continue circling her, snapping its jaws in her direction but not really attacking. Buffy aimed her crossbow at the snake’s tail and fired, the bolt embedding itself into the thick scales of the rear-end of the snake. The tail flew into the air as Buffy had planned, but it came flying down faster than Buffy had anticipated. She ducked, but was clipped by the tail, sending her flying across the room and into another part of the snake. She stood, slightly disorientated.
She needed a miracle, and she needed one soon.
Buffy reloaded the crossbow with two bolts and waited until the snake’s tail was in front of an exit. She sent one bolt towards the tail and the tail flew into the air. She lunged towards the exit, but the Mayor shot forward, his fangs tearing into Buffy’s shoulder. She yelled out in pain and twisted sharply, bringing her right hand up to shoot her crossbow bolt into the snake’s mouth.
The snake reared backwards in pain, but left a long fang embedded in Buffy’s shoulder. Her hand clutched at her wound, blood dripping through her fingers. She quickly ripped the fang out of her shoulder, but the venom was quickly making it’s way through her body. The snake hovered above her, and Buffy could tell that the next blow she wouldn’t be so lucky.
With trembling hands and foggy vision, she reloaded the crossbow, wanting to be ready for the next attack.
A loud crack startled both Slayer and snake, but the snake’s attention was brought quickly back to the Slayer, who kept staring at the newcomer to the fight.
Draco Malfoy’s eyes widened the moment he apparated into the gymnasium, wand in one hand, his Nimbus 2001 in the other. He looked up at the snake and tried to overcome his immense fear. He knew that his girlfriend was about to lose this fight unless he helped her out of it. Buffy was staring at him in shock, and he resisted the urge to grin widely at her. There would be time for that later.
He went to call out a warning to her when he saw the snake descend upon her. Instead, he pointed his wand at the girl he loved and prayed she would understand.
Buffy went flying across the gymnasium, hitting the other end of the snake. The Mayor’s fangs clamped around thin air in the exact spot that Buffy had been standing before. She shot Draco a thankful look.
“We gotta get outta here!” Buffy yelled.
“What about him?!” Draco asked.
Buffy shook her head, checking her watch. Thirty seconds. “We gotta go now! This whole place is gonna explode!”
Draco’s eyes widened. He nodded and raced to where Buffy was standing, her hand still clutching her shoulder as blood stained her clothes. His eyes widened as he saw the amount of blood his girlfriend was losing.
“You’re bleeding,” he said frantically.
“Really not the time Drake,” she said through gritted teeth.
Draco pushed past his worry about Buffy’s blood loss and grabbed hold of his girlfriend. He positioned his Nimbus broom beneath them and gripped Buffy tightly around the waist. He glanced up at the Mayor snake and didn’t hesitate for even a millisecond when he saw the Mayor’s fangs descending upon them. He pushed off the ground and the broom flew upwards, through the now open roof. With barely a second to spare, they cleared the gymnasium as the explosives set around the building went off.
Draco swerved to miss flying pieces of either the building or the exploded Mayor and quickly spotted the familiar faces of the Scoobies. He lowered the broom and landed gently, immediately turning to Buffy whose breathing was becoming more laboured by the second.
The Scoobies all cried out the Slayer’s name and Buffy dropped to her knees, Draco barely managing to catch her. He lowered her gently to the ground. The snake’s fang fell from Buffy’s limp hand. She hadn’t even been aware that she was still holding it.
“Oh god,” Willow whispered, tears in her eyes.
Draco pulled off his Hogwarts cloak and screwed it into a ball, pressing it firmly against Buffy’s bleeding shoulder.
“She needs a hospital,” Xander said frantically.
Angel was close to tears. “They won’t be able to save her.”
Buffy blindly reached out for Draco, and he caught her roaming hand and pressed a fierce kiss to her bleeding knuckles.
“You did brilliantly Buffy,” he whispered.
“Pocket,” she whispered.
Draco’s eyebrows knitted together in confusion. His eyes clouded with tears, wishing that his girlfriend was coherent for what he knew would be his last few moments with Buffy.
“I love you,” he whispered.
“Pocket…Drake,” she said frantically.
Draco pulled back slightly. He wasn’t about to deny a dying person a request and he obligingly reached down into the pocket of Buffy’s jeans. His eyes widened as he felt a small glass vial. He pulled it out quickly and grinned widely.
He pulled his cloak away from Buffy’s shoulder and ripped away what was left of Buffy’s shirt, ignoring the Scoobies questions. His hands were shaking, but he breathed in deeply, knowing that this was their only chance. He didn’t even want to imagine what would happen if he accidentally spilt what was in the vial.
He unscrewed the cap of the vial and tilted the jar, droplets leaking onto Buffy’s skin. She hissed in pain, but steeled herself against it, knowing that it would ultimately help her.
The Scoobies watched in wide-eyed disbelief as the red streaks around Buffy’s wounds disappeared, and the open-wound shrank until it had closed itself completely. Buffy took a deep breath and slowly sat up, Draco supporting her so that she didn’t fall down with exhaustion.
“What was that?!” Xander asked, grinning widely.
“Phoenix tears,” Buffy replied. “Never leave home without them.”
“Handy,” Oz said quietly.
The group stared at each other a moment longer, each of them taking stock of what had just happened. As one, they all turned to glance at the destroyed gymnasium. There was no movement from within, and they could tell from the acrid stench filling the air that the snake demon was toast.
They grinned at one another and exchanged hugs. Buffy turned in Draco’s arms, wanting to greet him properly. They kissed deeply for endless moments, each of them feeling a calm contentment rush through their souls as they breathed the other in. They pulled apart and Draco rested his forehead against Buffy’s.
The Slayer suddenly pulled away.
“Y’know, not that I’m not glad to see you or anything, but…what are you doing here?” she asked. “Isn’t your Graduation today?”
Draco nodded. “We’re eight hours ahead, remember?” he reminded her. “As soon as we finished the ceremony, I knew I had a better place to be.”
Buffy smiled, truly touched. She reached up to stroke Draco’s cheek.
“When did you get your apparating license?” she asked.
“Two hours ago,” he admitted. “I took the Floo to the Ministry, passed the test and…well, decided to test the limits of first time apparition. I’ve been studying maps of California for the last few weeks, so I knew where Sunnydale was.”
Buffy laughed a little, but knew that without Draco, she would have been well and truly dead.
“So now what?” Willow asked the platinum haired boy. “You’re not going back to England are you?”
Draco just smirked. “Let’s just say that a certain Slayer convinced me that the muggle world isn’t as bad as I thought it was at first. And from the looks of it, you need all the help you can get.”
Buffy turned to look at him, her eyes sparkling with excitement. “You’re staying?”
Draco turned to smile genuinely at her. There was no sneer, no smirk, no sarcasm. Just a pure Draco Malfoy smile that only very few people ever got to see.
“You once told me that your responsibilities tied you here,” he said. “I don’t have any responsibilities. My mother’s living with relatives, my father’s in jail. The two people I’ve ever been genuinely close to are either going into Ministry employ, or are right here in Sunnydale. And of you and Zabini, I think I’d prefer to be around you.”
“You’d really move to America, to a muggle town at that, just to be with me?” Buffy asked.
Draco smiled and nodded, capturing Buffy’s lips in another kiss. “Just try and get rid of me.” He kissed her again, the Scoobies grinning at the cute display. Angel sighed wistfully but knew that it was better for Buffy this way. He smiled indulgently and joined the Scoobies in their eye rolling when the kiss went on for far too long.
When they finally broke apart Draco finally smirked. “Of course, there’s no way that you and I will be living with your mum.”