A/N: Picks up immediately after Graduation Day, Part 2 (3x22) as Xander, Buffy, Willow, Oz, and Cordelia walk away from Sunnydale High.
Thanks to Jason for giving this a look over!
Xander sighed happily as he walked down the street with Buffy, Willow, Oz, and Cordelia. It was the best day ever
. The Mayor was a crispy critter, the center of his adolescent misery had disintegrated right before his very eyes, and he was about to embark on a cross-country trip, a la Jack Kerouac. Well, except that his Dean Moriarty was a demon assassin.
After Buffy had run away last year, the responsibility of defending the Hellmouth had fallen to Xander, Willow, and Oz, and it had been hard. It wasn’t long before Xander began practicing military hand-to-hand combat exercises – the ones he remembered, anyway. He could only learn so much on his own, though. It didn’t help that only time he got to test his skills was on patrol, and then it had been less about technique and more about not dying.
When Buffy came back, Xander had toyed with the idea of asking her to teach him some stuff, although being pummeled by the Slayer was not exactly his idea of extracurricular fun. It quickly became a non-option, however, because Faith entered the Slayer picture pretty soon after that, followed by Angel and Wesley. And just like that, Buffy’s Slayer Card was full.
Xander found himself pretty busy, too; first with Cordelia and then Willow and then, briefly, Faith. Nope, Commando Xander never made it out of boot camp thanks to the weird and wacky world of teenage angst.
The vamps hadn’t stopped coming just because they were caught in a bad episode of Melrose Place, though. And the yearly Big Bad had been both evil and politically connected; a dangerous combination even without throwing in the giant demonic snake part. The fights had become more intense, more dangerous. Luckily, Buffy was on top of her slaying game, and Willow was becoming super-Wicca. And he, Xander Harris, Boy Wonderless, had become a liability, at least in their eyes.
All anyone could see was his mistakes and his shortcomings. They didn’t see his improvement – okay, it was minimal, but still, it was progress. And no one saw it. They began sidelining him from battles for his own safety
. That’s what really hurt. He had just about resigned himself to a life more ordinary when Jack O’Toole and his goons had changed everything.
Xander had really discovered something about himself that night in the basement of Sunnydale High. He wasn’t useless. No, it was more than that. Xander had felt more confident and self-assured than ever before; he knew that he had something to contribute. He had potential
. And he wasn’t the only one who saw it, either.
That’s when the idea of the road trip had popped into his head. He would finally take Edward up on his offer. Of course, he would have to find him first.
Xander spent the next few months deep in research mode, searching for some clue where Edward could be. Without Willow and Giles to help, however, it was slow-going.
At first, Xander had thought that burning the demons bodies might’ve been Edward’s M.O., maybe even his calling card. He began searching the internet for any unexplained burnt remains, having watched Willow enough to know a few tricks of the trade. He then notated the incidents on a map of the country in his room, color coding them according to the month the remains were found to see if any pattern or trail emerged.
Eventually, his map looked like one of those 3D optical illusion pictures, the ones where if you squinted just right, an image would appear. In desperate moments, Xander had tried doing just that. It was the Hellmouth after all, right? Who knew what could happen? To his disappointment, the most he had ever gotten was a disfigured squid that alternated between winking at him and mocking at him with its beady eye. On a few occasions, Xander could’ve sworn it was mockingly winking at him.
This clearly was a dead end. The country was a big place, and there were just too many cases to establish any kind of pattern. And boy, were people a lot sicker than he thought; he seriously doubted that all those dots on his map were just
After that, Xander had tried scouring the alley where they met, looking for any clues, like shell casings or something like that – not that he’d know what to do with them if he found them. But Edward was a professional; he didn’t leave clues behind.
Next he had tried leaving messages on internet posting boards. Some were subtle, and some all but screamed, “Hey, demon assassin! Remember me? Can I have your address?” After one too many disturbing replies, however, he stopped doing that.
Xander had become really discouraged by all the fruitless searching. So what if his research skills were starting to kick some serious ass? Who cared if his mind was sharper, more alert than ever before? What did it matter if – wait, was Edward trying to Mr. Miyagi him? Was he making Xander learn stuff without knowing it? Ooh, or maybe Xander had to prove himself worthy. If he found Edward, he deserved to be taught. Okay, he was mixing his martial arts clichés, but it helped buoy his spirits and renew his resolve.
He had his breakthrough when Buffy took on the aspect of the demon. He was worried that she would be able to read his mind and see what he was trying to do, but he underestimated the power of the teenage male’s mind. Whenever she came near him, his thoughts defaulted to nakedness, keeping his secret hidden.
That’s when it dawned on him. Who would know best about a demon hunter? The hunted. One of them had to know about Edward, a bogeyman to demon-kind, right? Xander just had to find the right one, and since he couldn’t read minds, one that was willing to talk. And where could he find a large sampling of loose-lipped demons? Willy’s Bar.
How could he listen in, though? Xander couldn’t just walk in there. He didn’t have access to a mystical eavesdropping object, either, which would probably just be detected by the demons anyway. Nope, he would have to rely on good old-fashioned high tech listening devices. He would get a voice activated one, plant it in the bar, and get information until the battery died. It had cost him about 5 years’ of birthday and Christmas money, but it was totally worth it.
He had found the perfect opportunity to plant the bug when they needed to find the demon with the Books of Ascension. Like he did before, Xander went to Willy’s Bar and offered the man some money. This time, however, he had
a plan and slipped the device under the bar while Willy was talking. Xander was banking on the fact that the underside never got cleaned, something which he confirmed when he touched all sorts of nasty things under the bar. His hand didn’t feel clean for weeks.
Xander then spent the next few weeks hanging around the corner from Willy’s Bar with his earpiece and notebook. There were a couple of close calls with both demons and humans, but he didn’t care; the information was pouring in.
Come to find out, demons were just like people; they liked to swap war stories. Xander listened as they bragged about the evil things they’d done - and some of them were really sick – and about the enemies they’d faced. Xander heard Buffy’s name come up many times.
His heart leapt in his chest, however, when the demons talked about a man who was feared just as much as the Slayer. They avoided him at all costs; that even though he only killed for money, why wave a red flag in the bull’s face?
Bingo. Xander had found his man.
Edward’s exact whereabouts were a little more difficult to pin down. No one knew who he really was. A few demons and vamps had tall tales about their near-death experiences with… well, Death, but they probably weren’t true. Edward didn’t strike Xander as the type to let too many of his targets get away.
Others, however, talked about demons and vamps that they thought
were killed by Death. From these stories, a few places kept coming up; Oxnard, for instance. This amused Xander to no end, since he could only think ‘strawberries’ whenever he heard the name of the city, which was located just south of Sunnydale. Not exactly striking fear in the heart of anyone, except maybe some shortcake. Then again, who would’ve thought there would be a Hellmouth in a place called Sunnydale. Okay, first stop: Oxnard.
They had also talked about New Mexico and a few mysterious demon deaths in Santa Fe. Albuquerque had some weird stuff going on, too; something about a vampire that didn’t let any other vamps enter her territory. Well, no one liked to bring work home with them. It would make sense for a demon assassin to make a home base in a demon-free zone. Both cities were worth checking out.
Finally, there was talk of St. Louis, Missouri. Apparently, a few vamps heard that a Master and her fledglings had been killed by the assassin, or so they said. What was interesting to Xander was that it happened over a number of months, which meant that Edward probably went there often. St. Louis made the list, as did a few other cities scattered around the country.
The battery died soon after that, but Xander didn’t mind. He had finally gotten his break in locating Edward. Well, it wasn’t so much of a break as a tiny crack, but it was something. He carefully planned out his route, acquired the supplies he thought he would need, the whole nine yards. All he had to do was survive Graduation Day.Mission accomplished,
Xander thought with a grin.
The grin faded a little as he thought about the charred remains of Sunnydale High. Though he was glad to see it blown to bits, he was also… ‘Sad’ wasn’t the right word. It was just that he had spent the last four years there, however miserable they were. It was familiar. And it was where he had met Buffy, where he and Wills went through some crazy growing pains together. This trip was a big step into the unknown, and he couldn’t share it with either Buffy or Willow.
Xander glanced over at his friends as they continued to walk down the streets of Sunnydale. He felt a little guilty about not telling them what he was planning, but he was afraid they wouldn’t understand or think he was crazy; maybe they’d even try to stop him. Besides, he probably wouldn’t even find Edward. Why worry them over nothing?
Instead he imagined what he’d be able to do if he was
successful, all Army’ed up like Duke from GI Joe. Or better yet, Snake Eyes, but with the talking. Which would make Willow Lady Jaye. Would Buffy be Scarlett then, or Duke?
he wondered to himself.
Xander’s thoughts quickly got derailed as he pictured the Slayer in a yellow leotard holding a crossbow. He snapped out of his daydream-turned-fantasy when he realized that Willow had asked him a question and was looking at him expectantly for answer.
He furrowed his brow in confusion. “Huh?”
“Still basking in the glow of high school’s embers?” she grinned. “I said, are you ready for your big road trip?”
“I just have to pack some last minute things, and I’m outta here first thing tomorrow,” Xander announced with a grin.
“So you’re actually going through with it?” Cordelia asked, wrinkling her nose in distaste. “Only you could think a lifestyle that embraces vagrancy and the lack of personal hygiene is a step up.”
Xander rolled his eyes. “Cordelia Chase, everyone,” he intoned. “The winner and still champion of all things superficial.”
“There’s nothing superficial about smelling like a homeless person,” she retorted. “You just can’t get that smell out of your hair. I don’t care how good your shampoo is.”
Knowing that this was a battle he could never win, Xander decided to change the subject. “And what are your exciting and odor-free plans now that school’s out?” he asked.
He was genuinely curious where Cordy was going, and this was the perfect – and only – opportunity to ask.
“I’m going to LA to become an actress,” Cordelia said confidently. “I’ll be rich and famous and far away from all this freakiness. It’ll be perfect.”
“Right, because vamps and demons steer clear of LA, since nothing weird or freaky ever happens there,” Buffy said dryly, ignoring the stab of pain at the thought of one particular vampire that would soon be there.
Cordelia’s smile faltered a little. “Well, they won’t be in the circles that I
travel in,” she said with a toss of her hair.
“Sure they will. They’re called agents,” Xander quipped.
Cordelia rolled her eyes at his attempt at humor as she came to a halt; they had just reached her street. “Well, this is where I get off this crazy train of non-fun,” she announced.
The rest of the group stopped as well. There was an awkward pause, no one sure of what to say.
“Um, I don’t suppose hugging is appropriate?” Willow asked hesitantly.
Cordelia made a face. “God, no,” she exclaimed.
Willow breathed a small sigh of relief. She wasn’t too keen on the idea, but she was still feeling residual guilt over her smooch-fest with Xander. Besides, Cordelia had
been part of their group at one point.
Buffy felt the same way; minus the smooching part, of course. So much had happened, most of it not good, but still… “Take care of yourself, Cordelia,” she said sincerely.
Willow and Oz echoed this sentiment.
A faint smile tugged at Cordelia’s lips. “Yeah, well, try not to die,” she said airily, though there was the slightest hint of real emotion behind her words. Then she turned to Xander, who had fallen silent during this exchange.
“So, uh, I guess the next time I’ll see you, it will be up on the big screen,” he said with a crooked smile.
Cordelia grinned back. “Damn straight.”
She studied him for a moment longer. Something was different about him. She wasn’t sure what it was exactly, but it was there just below the surface. That much was obvious to anyone with eyes, though she doubted Willow and Buffy had noticed – no comment there.
Xander held her gaze, happy that they were good now. He truly wished her the best. And he wished LA a hell of a lot of luck.
Cordelia straightened and gave everyone one last look. “Well, it’s been real. Unfortunately. When the next apocalypse comes, don’t
call,” she smirked as she began to walk away.
“I’m glad our repeated world save-age is acknowledged and appreciated.” Buffy commented as she, Willow, and Oz resumed walking.
Xander watched Cordelia for another minute before jogging to catch up with them.
“So, you two are just hanging this summer?” he asked Willow and Oz.
“Yeah,” Willow said enthusiastically. Then she wrung her hands a little anxiously. “Well, that and shopping for cool yet non-threatening decorations for my dorm room. I’m really nervous about making the wrong impression on my roommate.”
Oz rubbed her back comfortingly. “It’ll be fine. And if it’s not,” he said with a faint smile. “She’s probably evil and Buffy can just slay her.” He gave her a gentle kiss and she visibly relaxed.
Both Buffy and Xander rolled their eyes at this display of coupledom cuteness.
“How about you, Buffster?” Xander asked.
Buffy shrugged. “Mom’s starting to get that empty bird thing, so we’re going to do some bonding, watch some chick flicks. Chocolate is sure to be involved. Other than that, the same old, same old.”
Xander could see the sadness in her eyes. He slung his arm around her shoulders and gave her a supportive squeeze.
“You fry one demon snake and suddenly all vamps are been there, staked that?” he jokingly admonished her.
She looked up at him with a suppressed smile. “Hey, all I’m saying is that if it doesn’t ascend, I’m slightly less interested,” she sniffed in mock disdain.
Before long, the group came to another stop. They had reached Xander’s place to turn off. He disengaged his arm from Buffy only to catch an armful of Willow as she launched herself into his arms.
“I’m going to miss you,” she exclaimed. She pulled back and looked him sternly in the eye. “Now be careful and drive safe. And always carry a stake on you. And silver, too, just to be safe. It wouldn’t kill you to give us a call every now and then, either.”
“Yes, mom,” he said dutifully, for which he received a whack on the back of his head.
“I seriously doubt your mom warns you about demons,” Buffy said dryly.
“Of course, she does. Just the one inside the house,” he quipped, ignoring the twin looks of worry on Buffy and Willow’s faces. He turned to Oz. “Hey, man.”
“Hey,” Oz nodded.
Buffy rolled her eyes. “God, you guys are pathetic.” She embraced Xander in a bone-crushing hug. “Be safe.”
He nodded and with a half-wave, he began to walk away. It felt like he was saying goodbye to his old life. Which he wasn’t, of course.
Xander threw his last few belongings into his duffle bag. He was two minutes away from the open road.
He checked to make sure he had his maps and his notes. He had never studied so hard in his life. Of course, this was the biggest test ever
He zipped up his bag and headed downstairs. He could hear his parents arguing – no surprise there. He wasn’t even going to bother saying goodbye, not that they would notice or care. Xander slipped out the door and headed toward his car. To his surprise, Buffy and Willow were leaning against the side of it.
He tried to check that his maps and notebook weren’t visible as sneakily as possible. “Hey guys, what are you doing here?” he asked. Then he frowned. “There’s not another apocalypse coming, is there? Don’t the bad guys know they’re only allowed one a year?”
Buffy shook her head. “No world end-age. We just came to say goodbye,” she explained. “You know, a proper send off.”
“Our hankies are ready for some vigorous waving,” Willow grinned. “You didn’t think we’d let you sneak off, did you?”
Xander hugged them both. “You girls are awesome,” he declared. Then he noticed that Willow had her hands behind her back. “Whatcha got there, Wills? A going away present?”
“Well, we thought we’d give you something useful,” Willow began.
Xander was thinking of stakes, holy water, maybe a dagger or two. Therefore, he was completely surprised when Willow brought out a bag full of junk food. His eyes lit up with delight and he engulfed them in another big hug.
Laughing, the two girls pulled themselves away. Xander put his precious bag of goodies in the front passenger seat. Buffy eyed his car suspiciously, which was a graduation present from Uncle Rory. It was a piece of junk, but it ran.
“Are you sure this thing is safe to drive? I don’t know much about cars – okay, anything at all,” she conceded at Xander’s amused look. “But this one just screams ‘lemon’ with no promise of refreshing lemonade.”
“It’s fine,” he assured her, though secretly he had his doubts.
Xander gave them one last hug, at which point Buffy actually did give him a few stakes. Then he got in his car and drove away, glancing at them in his rear view mirror.
As he drove past the city limits, he smiled. He might never find Edward. Most likely he wouldn’t. But maybe, just maybe, he would.