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To the Last

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Summary: Buffy-HL. The Gathering has come, and it's come to Sunnydale. Xander, the only Immortal resident of the Hellmouth, is one of hundreds who have been drawn to the final battle place. The question is, will there be a Sunnydale left when it's over?

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Highlander > Xander-Centered > Pairing: OtherFlatlanderFR1517,479286,3519 Jul 049 Jul 04Yes
TO THE LAST


DANIELLE FRANCES DUCREST



Disclaimers: Buffy the Vampire Slayer characters/concepts belong to Joss Whedon, Marti Noxon, Twentieth Century Fox Television, Kuzui Enterprises, Mutant Enemy, Sandollar Television, and UPN. Highlander characters/concepts belong to Rysher Entertainment, Davis/Panzer Productions and Gaumont Télévision. Any copyright infringements are not intended. This story was written for entertainment and not for profit.



Spoilers and Timing: This takes place after 'Double-Meat Palace' on Buffy and about a year after Highlander: End Game. Spoilers are for 'Graduation Day, Part Two'. Spike's not in this one. Basically, I forgot to work him in. He's either dead or he left Sunnydale at some point.



Summary: The Gathering has come, and it's come to Sunnydale. Xander, the only Immortal resident of the Hellmouth, is one of hundreds who have been drawn to the final battle place. The question is, will there be a Sunnydale left when it's over?



Author's Note: For those of you who doubt Xander's ability to last so long in the Gathering, here are my reasons: 1) he was trained by one of the oldest Immortals alive. Not only was this Immortal four thousand years old, but she was also a woman, and I am acting under the assumption that female Immortals rarely live over a thousand or so years. 2) Xander has battled supernatural beings for six years - he's used to fighting things that are stronger, faster, etc., and has prior experience using archaic weapons such as crossbows and axes. A sword might not be the same thing, but it's as far of a stretch as a gun. 3) I like Xander. So there.



Thanks as always go to Grossclout for his much-appreciated editing of my stories and to the poster of the challenge that led me to write this story.



This story was written to answer yet another challenge issued at the XanderZone. This one went as follows:



-------


The idea is this.


Giles comes in and informs the Scooby gang that something big is coming this way. And it’s the Gathering. How it started in the East coast and slowly the gathering point has moved west and will soon be on its final battle point the HELLMOUTH. And he tells them al about the Immortals, the Game and their destiny if a good Immortal wins then a golden age of mankind will happen and if an evil one wins. And warns them NOT to get involved in the battle between two Immortals. And right about there is where Xander pulls a sword and says, "Too late G-man, too late…"



The rest is, of course, several big fights and the struggle as the last of the Immies battle until only one remains.



During the story good and bad Immortals will meet and die during challenges and, in the end, only one remains.



Now this IS a STORY Idea and IF a writer would like to write it, DO IT; if a Writer likes it but wants to change things, DO IT. Just have fun :)


-------



Here begins the story.



*****





"From the dawn of time they came, moving silently down through the centuries, living many secret lives - struggling to reach the time of the Gathering when the few who remain will battle to the last. No one has ever known we were Watching them...."





…until now, it would seem.



That passage was taken directly from The Handbook For New Watchers, and no, I don't mean The Watcher Handbook. It would seem that there are two types of Watchers in the world. The resources and collective might of the Watcher's Council seems abysmal next to what I have learned about this Watcher's Society. There are some similarities between our two groups, although those similarities do not go far. One similarity, other than the name, would be that there are Watchers from both groups based around the world. Another would be that the Society of Watchers are made up almost entirely of historians and researchers, and they have several libraries of information on Immortals located around the world. The Watcher's Council also has a library, and most of us would be considered historians in a way, although our area of expertise is limited mostly to the supernatural world.



That is where the similarities end, however. Where the Council has continued the fine and distinguished practice of keeping everything on paper, the Society of Watchers have taken a keen interest in computers. Also, the Council uses magic and "outdated" weaponry to prepare the Slayer to fight. While I am told that the Society has quite a collection of swords and other close-combat weapons, they do not actively train others to use them.



What they do is observe and record the lives and goings-on of Immortal human beings who can't die except through decapitation. It would seem that, with the exception of a few demon breeds, beheading is a weakness for everyone.



A few days ago, I knew very little about the Watcher's Society and the Immortals they Watch. All I did know, I heard in passing during my training. Now, however, my ignorance on the matter has changed considerably. Buffy, Willow, Anya, Tara, and Dawn have also gained a rather unique perspective on the whole thing. It would seem that Xander already knew quite a bit about it all without needing to be told about it from me.



The Gathering has come to Sunnydale, and I fear that Xander, like so many Immortals before him, will not emerge the victor. In the meantime, his friends watch on, hoping for what would appear to be the impossible.



Rupert Giles


Watcher of Buffy A. Summers



*****


A few days ago


Sunnydale, California



It was the time of the Gathering, when all remaining Immortals would fight to the last one standing. This was the time when the phrase all Immortals uttered, 'There Can Be Only One!', took on its true meaning.


Immortals all over the world felt the pull toward the small town near the Californian coast, and none of them could resist. At first, Immortals would have enough presence of mind to sell off their belongings or divide them among their friends and spouses. However, as time went on and the pull became stronger, the Immortals would go to work one day and be gone the next without any warning given to those around them.


The Society of Watchers had never been more alert or busy. Field Watchers were in a frenzy trying to keep track of their assignments. They all knew that every Immortal would get to Sunnydale eventually, but the Watchers still had to record the actions each Immortal took on the way. Although there would soon only be one Immortal left alive to observe and record, there was much more work to be done until then.


For one thing, some Immortals didn’t even make it to Sunnydale. Many fights to the death took place in San Diego, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and the smaller towns around them. Southern California had never seen such a large wave of decapitation murders before in its history. Police Departments swapped notes, tracked down possible suspects, and spent much time trying to determine the ones responsible, but they never got close. After all, none of them ever would have suspected that the one responsible for one murder would be the victim of the next. None of them would have suspected that when Detective Jerome Rodriguez of the San Diego PD went missing that his disappearance could have had any connection to the deaths until his headless body was discovered in an alley in Los Angeles. In effect, the Californian police remained clueless to what was really going on. It was clear that some sort of cult was behind it, but who exactly made up that cult was impossible to determine.


Months passed as this rash wave of murders continued. Finally, the murders seemed to subside before coming to what appeared to be a dead stop in all towns except one, Sunnydale.


By this time, the thousands of Immortals who had all come to participate in the Gathering had been reduced to a mere few hundred, and those few hundred all came directly to Sunnydale. Sunnydale was where the real fighting was to take place, and they all knew it. The wave of murders in other Californian towns had been merely a prelude to the real show. Only the meanest, cleverest, devious, luckiest, and best remained alive.


Of this group there were many famous faces such as Duncan MacLeod, Methos and Amanda. There was also Xander Harris, the sole Immortal who had already been in Sunnydale before the Gathering began. Xander, a young man who had been Immortal for only a few years, had very few heads to his name, but what he lacked in power he more than made up for in experience. He had fought things worse than Immortals for years before his Immortality had come into effect, and he would likely fight those things for many years to come, if he survived. His chances were just as good as the others, for the fights were an equal amount of luck and skill.



*****



He'd lost another shirt. He'd lost another pair of pants, too. Miraculously, his jacket had stayed intact, although that might have been because he'd had enough sense to remove it before the fight started. His shoes had more or less remained intact, too, although he guessed they now had a life span of two weeks. His socks were ruined along with his underwear. Basically, when he got out of his car in his apartment's parking lot, the people he passed by couldn't help but stare. It was Sunnydale. Brutal, mysterious murders happened every night and sometimes during the day, and it was common to see Xander and his friends carrying not guns but swords, crossbows, and stakes around town. Still, despite all of that, it was very uncommon to see someone with shredded clothes step out of a car and enter an apartment building as if he belonged there.


Thankfully, that was still uncommon. Soon, it wouldn't be. Xander had felt it for weeks; he knew, like all other Immortals, that the Gathering was coming very, very soon. It was so near at hand that it could take place in a matter of hours or days.


That night, he'd fought one challenger; two nights ago, he'd fought another. Before then, two weeks had passed in between challenges. Xander knew that the number of Immortals in Sunnydale, normally at a grand total of one, would rapidly increase over the next twenty-four or more hours. Then, it would be a free-for-all. When that happened, Xander would cease caring about anything else, and he knew that his only desire would be to play the Game. His teacher had told him that before she, too, fell in the Game some months back, when the Immortals first started arriving in southern California.


Although he'd been Immortal for two years, he was no novice. His teacher, Virdianée, had been four thousand years old. He'd been taught by one of the best; Immortal women rarely lived over a thousand, and to have survived four millennia as one was astonishing. She'd taught him everything he knew, giving him an edge that Immortals who trained under different teachers didn't have. Still, it hadn't been enough to save her; she'd lost to a forty-five hundred-year-old man. Xander had killed him after the man had absorbed Virdianée's Quickening. Although he'd been lucky that time, Xander was not a fool; every challenge he fought, no matter how incompetent his opponent might be, could be his last.


He was careful in every one. So far, it had kept him alive, and he'd collected many heads to his name. He'd lost count, but he was sure that the numbers of Quickenings he'd taken didn't exceed over a hundred just yet.


Xander was tired of it, although not tired enough to just give up, not that he could if he wanted to. He'd fight his best in each challenge. He didn't know if he'd win the Prize. He wasn't counting on it, but he would live for as long as he could.


With that thought, he entered his apartment. Anya was there, waiting. He shed his ruined clothes before taking a solitary shower to wash off the blood before climbing into bed next to her where they proceeded to be very busy for several hours. Quickenings had different effects on Immortals. For Xander, they gave him increases in stamina and adrenaline. If Xander and Anya couldn't get together after a Quickening, then Xander would be stuck on a Quickening high for days before he could sleep, let alone sit still.


Anya worried about her fiancé. She worried that they wouldn't get married if Xander lost a Challenge, and the chances of Xander surviving the entire way through the Gathering were over a hundred to one. Xander was worried about that, too. For that night, however, both of them forgot all about their fears and just concentrated on each other.



*****



Early the next morning, Xander and Anya were awakened by a telephone call from Buffy asking them to come to Giles' apartment for a Scooby meeting.


Despite their energetic love making during the night, Xander was still feeling very energetic and got ready to go without much effort, despite the slight lack of sleep. Anya, however, was feeling sore from the night's activities, and she was feeling groggy. Still, she also got up and got dressed. She, too, knew that any second might be the last second she had with him. Xander made sure to slip his sword into his jacket and the jacket onto his shoulders before they left.


When they got to Giles' place, they found the whole gang waiting for him. "It's started, hasn't it?" Buffy asked Xander without any preamble.


"Yeah," Xander answered. There was no need to ask what 'it' was; the gang knew he was Immortal. Although they hadn't discussed the Gathering, it would take very little deduction to connect the headless bodies Buffy undoubtedly ran into on patrol the night before with Xander's warnings that the Gathering was coming for his friends to come to the conclusion that it had finally begun.


"We can leave tonight," Buffy suggested. "We'll get you out of town. You can stay there for a few weeks."


Xander sighed, shaking his head. "I can't avoid the Gathering. I want to, believe me I do, but everyday the urge to fight grows stronger. Temporarily killing me and then leaving me that way until there's only two Immortals left in the world won't work, either. The other Immortal would hunt me down…or we would hunt each other."


Xander turned and glanced out Giles' window at a dark night. He couldn't see any figures outside, nor did he feel any buzzes, but he was certain that the body lying at the curb wasn't a drunk or a homeless person.


He turned back around to face the group, regarding them all with tired, resigned eyes. He was tired of the killing, but there was no way out of it. "I have to keep playing the Game until I either win the Prize or I'm dead."


Before he even knew what hit him, Willow's arms were wrapped around his waist and the redhead was squeezing the life out of him. Xander smiled down at her as he felt tears form in his eyes. "Wills, I don't feel like dying of suffocation today."


Willow loosened her hold but wouldn't let go. "I don't want you to die," she mumbled into his shirt. "Promise me you won't die."


Xander's eyes snapped shut in pain. "You know I can't, Willow."


Buffy's arms wrapped around another section of his stomach, above Willow's hold. Both girls held on with all their might and Xander let them. He was only a little surprised to feel Giles' arms join in the hug. He had been, after all, the only father Xander ever had. What did surprise him was when Tara joined in. The two of them weren't the best of friends, but Xander didn't care. This might be the last time he saw his friends, and he wasn't going to spoil it by making quips about Tara's friendliness.


Anya was the only one who didn't join in, which Xander understood perfectly. He knew they would say their own goodbyes in a moment.


For now, though, he was content with the group hug with the rest of his family. They stood there for long moments, none of them wanting to let go. But, eventually, they must, because sooner rather than later, the call to fight in the Gathering would be too strong for Xander to resist.



*****



Block, parry, block, dodge, strike. Strike, swing, feint, strike, block, block, parry.


Panting, Amanda and her opponent kept up the dance of sword striking against sword. Her opponent, the only other female Immortal still alive as far as either of them knew, was also breathing heavily. However, she was panting more than Amanda. Amanda would win this fight; that was for certain. Both of them knew it, but the doomed woman didn’t plan to give up easily.


Several minutes later, Amanda saw an opening; her opponent's guard had dropped considerably, leaving her left side more exposed than her right. Amanda took the opportunity without a moment's hesitation.


A few seconds later, the woman's head lay on the ground several feet from her body. Her body had barely hit the ground when the Quickening struck.


When it was over, Amanda lay on the ground, unable to move for several moments. Before she could regain her breath, however, another Buzz blossomed in her mind.


Shakily yet determinedly, Amanda got to her feet. She wiped the sweat from her forehead and the blood from her healed arm before turning around. A man she didn't recognize stood at the far end of the alley.


Amanda walked toward him, stepping over a second body on her way. Two of her challengers were now dead and rotting in the alley behind her, and she was determined to make this man the third.


Ten minutes later, his body had joined the others. His Quickening was a powerful one, and after it, she collapsed in a heap on the asphalt and couldn't move.


She stayed that way for three hours, ignoring the stench of the bodies and the flies gathering around their corpses. She only got up again when she felt another Buzz.



*****



Across town, Duncan MacLeod had taken up a not-so-permanent position. Instead of waiting for the Immortals to come to him, he found himself wandering away from each fallen combatant until he came across the next one.


At first, he wondered how eerie the citizens of the town would think it would be to come across headless bodies all over Sunnydale. Soon, however, thoughts of that sort had disappeared from his mind as all his concentration turned completely to fighting.


The sun was setting after what had to be ten challenges. He knew what that meant. The lucky Immortals that had made it this far were being flushed out; the real competition was yet to come.



*****



Xander hadn't even left Giles' apartment complex's courtyard. He'd already fought and won one challenge in the enclosed space and was busy fighting a second. His second challenge of the day was much more skilled than any Immortal he'd ever faced, and they were rather evenly matched. The victor in this fight wasn't as clear as with the last one.


Xander's friends watched, worried and tense, through Giles' open door and through the Quickening-destroyed window.


Buffy wanted desperately to jump in and save her friend. However, she knew that both her Watcher and her Xander-shaped friend had made good arguments when they tried to dissuade her from doing just that. Xander had stated, both frequently and firmly, that none of them could interfere. Giles had added to that, lecturing that Immortals were skilled sword fighters. Even without swords, they were very deadly. Normally, Buffy might have stood a chance against them, but with the Gathering here, none of the Immortals were thinking clearly, and were therefore unpredictable. If she got in the way of two Immortals, they might kill her without a second thought in order to get back to the fight. Even Xander might do so without even realizing it.


Not only that, but with Quickenings going off everywhere, they could easily be hurt be their destructive properties.


Therefore, the Scoobies stayed inside, enacting the role another group of people had fulfilled for centuries: they watched. However, they also did one more thing: they prayed.



*****



Six or seven blocks away from Xander, and five blocks away from Amanda, Methos had made slow but sure progress. He'd taken out fifteen Immortals already. Half of them had been extremely lucky to get that far, in his opinion, while the others were much more skillful.


A few blocks away from him was Gerald Hemmings, a headhunter for a thousand years. So far, he'd taken out seven people and was busy fighting an eighth opponent with a female fighter waiting her turn. Gerald's best friend and teacher, an ex-Viking named Nort for short, was only one block away. He'd taken out four people so far, all with exceptional skill.



*****



The day progressed quickly into night. Barely a moment seemed to pass before the sun had risen again, beginning another day. The second day after the second night brought to light headless bodies lying seemingly everywhere over Sunnydale. Their murderers were nowhere to be seen, although if one listened hard enough, one would hear the clang of steel on steel in the background. That background could mean anything from the next street to an alley down the road to a whole neighborhood away.


None of the combatants had gotten any sleep in the last twenty-four hours. None of them needed to; Quickening energy kept them wired enough to fight. However, no Immortal could live off Quickening energy alone. They were great energy sources, but they were poor substitutes for water, food and sleep.


By the time the sun had set on the third night, seventy-two Immortals remained alive.


Their skill levels could be conceived of in two ways. Many would consider them the best of the best; many of themselves would consider themselves just plain lucky. Any of them could die at any time. Having survived so far was nothing close to being a morale booster; they were too tired to think of it as such.


Because of their mutual tiredness, an unspoken truce was declared for the night. Although the urge to keep fighting was strong, the urge for a break was even stronger. Immortals returned to their motels or camped out in their cars, assuming those cars and their hotel rooms were still intact. Some of them broke into restaurants that had closed temporarily when the Gathering began; others ordered room service, while others had the presence of mind to buy food from stores that had remained open that week. Some homes, abandoned because of Quickening damage, had leftover food still in their fridges; some of the Immortals made good use of that food and the rest of the houses.


Xander, the only resident of the Hellmouth, was the only one to go home.



*****



The gang had taken to camping out in Xander's apartment. Buffy, Willow, Tara, Dawn, and even Giles all moved in with Anya. All of them wanted to be there when Xander returned, because Xander would return. He had to.


Anya glanced nervously out of the window, trying to see down into the streets partly obscured by the balcony. She didn't want to go outside, though. The air was so charged with static electricity that her hair stood on end every time she ventured outdoors, and there was always the danger of a Quickening bolt striking the balcony or destroying the windows.


In the last hour or so, however, she hadn't seen any hints of Quickenings anywhere. For days now, the sky had been systemically overrun with blue lightning bolts forming connections between the earth and the sky; now, however, she could see none of those blue tendrils. The others had noticed it, too, and they all feared the worst.


Willow was in the process of doing a spell to determine if Xander was still alive. It was near completion but Anya couldn't help but feel impatient for the spell to be finished. She wanted to know that Xander was safe and alive.


Suddenly, Willow's voice rang out in the too-silent apartment. "I found him!"


Everyone rushed over to crowd around her. Their relief and excitement were palpable.


"Where is he?" demanded Anya.


"I don't know. I only performed a spell to see if he was alive." Willow, like everyone else, looked overjoyed at the good news. "I'll need a map to determine his location-"


Unexpectedly, the door opened. Everyone whirled in its direction to see Xander himself walk in.


Immediately, it was the earlier group hug all over again, only including Anya and Dawn this time. "Hi, guys. It's so good to see you, too," Xander said in a tired, cracked voice. Despite however he felt physically, he was smiling widely.


When everyone let go, the questions began.


"Are you all right?"


"We were so worried!"


"Is it all over?"


"Did you win?"


This last one came from Dawn. Her question echoed everyone's thoughts, but she had been the only one brave enough to voice it. Every one of them felt a sense of foreboding that the Gathering wasn't over, and none of them wanted to have their fears confirmed.


Xander sighed. "No. It's not over. But it will be, soon."


Claiming tiredness, he made his way over to the couch. Anya planted herself next to him and wrapped an arm around him. Meanwhile, the rest of the gang busied themselves in the kitchen area. None of them had eaten dinner, and from the looks of it, Xander needed some real, quality food in his stomach.


He also needed a change of clothes, not to mention a shower. While the others got the food ready, Anya helped Xander into the bathroom and then proceeded to help him take off his tattered clothes.


His jacket was the first thing to be removed. Anya pulled out his sword and examined it. It was coated with blood, not that it mattered to her. She just wished she had her demonic senses back; then she'd know how much of it was Xander's. Immortals regenerated completely from any wound except neck wounds, and although all of his spilled blood would have been regenerated along with his skin and his flesh, Anya still didn't like the thought of Xander getting hurt. She hated the Game and the Gathering because Xander had to fight in it, and she now wished that she had done something about that pesky Immortal culture before she became human. She could have easily persuaded a wronged woman to re-direct her anger at a fringe group of society. But, no. Immortal women never needed her help; they always got their revenges on their own. Besides, the Immortal men as well as the women were always killing each other; why bother getting involved at all?


"Ahh!" Anya jumped back and stared at her shocked fingers. Even after all this time, she still wasn't used to feeling pain, and she'd never been shocked like that before. Her touch had simply strayed onto Xander's now-exposed chest when a stray bolt of Quickening energy had sprung off his skin and into her fingers.


"Ow," she complained. "You're going to have to take off your pants by yourself. I'll get your shoes, but I'm not touching your socks. You know, I’m not even sure if you should get in the bath tub. You could be electrocuted, and that is never a pretty sight." It would, however, keep him out of the Game for a little while. Not that it would help much, Anya knew. She'd suggested several different dimensions where the two of them could go to, but every time she'd brought it up, Xander had shot her down. He wasn't going to abandon his friends. Even if it got him killed, Xander wasn't going anywhere.


"You may be right about that," Xander said, tiredly. He gave her a hopeful grin. "Sponge bath?"


"No way," Anya told him. "You'd probably end up electrocuting me, and I am not letting you do that. Into the tub you go."


Groaning, Xander got to his feet and into the filled bathtub. A few bolts did strike across the water's surface, but they didn’t affect the water whatsoever. Anya glared at the bolts. The water was perfectly safe, but she had to get shocked?





*****



"Hello, Mac."


"Joe," MacLeod greeted the Watcher. Joe Dawson stood in the doorway of Duncan MacLeod's hotel room. He was surprised to see the mortal, although he couldn't fathom why. Joe was, after all, a Watcher, and this had to be the highlight event of all Watchers everywhere.


He moved aside, allowing Joe to enter. "Should you even be here?" he asked, concerned. "What if the other Watchers see you?"


Joe chuckled and gave him a tired smile. "Most of the Watchers are on the streets trying to pick up some of the mess. It'll take them days. Besides, me fraternizing with an Immortal won't matter soon."


Sadness was in his eyes, belying his humorous tone of voice. Duncan regretted that their friendship had to end like this. MacLeod always thought he'd live to see the other man when Joe was an old man in a nursing home, but now, that might not be the case.


"Who else is still-" he couldn't say the word, no matter how much he tried.


"Methos and Amanda, as well as Virdianée's student, Alexander Harris-"


"Virdianée? The woman believed to be almost as old as Methos?"


Joe nodded. "That's the one. Her student's young, but he was taught by one of the best."


"Who else?"


"Many you wouldn't know, Mac. But of the ones you do, there's Nort and Hemmings, Alexandria Bellamorté, Josh Jenkins, and Percius."


MacLeod sighed. All of those people had reputations as being bad Immortals, although Bellamorté had only started hunting in the last couple of centuries.


"Have you gone to see Methos and Amanda?" MacLeod asked as he collapsed onto a chair. He'd taken a powerful Quickening right before the survivors had called a break, and was still hyped up on it, but he was still more tired than he would have been under normal circumstances. He'd already had a shower and a microwave dinner, but he was feeling hungry enough to eat five more of the not-so-tasty packaged meals.


Joe nodded. "They wanted me to tell you good luck."


"And to them, as well," MacLeod said.


"I'll make sure the message gets to them." Joe sighed. "Good luck, Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod."


He turned as if to go, but MacLeod said, "Joe, wait. Please stay."


Relieved, Joe took a seat in the chair across from MacLeod.


They spent the next three hours talking about good and bad times the two of them had shared, and they didn't stop until the Immortal had fallen asleep on the spot.



*****



Evening of the next day approached quickly. The Immortals had resumed the Gathering that morning and had been playing ever since.


Of seventy-two combatants, only seven remained. They were Duncan MacLeod, Xander, Percius, Gerald Hemmings, Nort, Amanda, and Methos. By this point, none of them could think clearly. The unnatural urge to fight, to keep fighting no matter what, had finally overrun all other concerns. None of them were aware of any physical needs such as tiredness, hunger, pain, and weakness. None of them would recognize friend or foe; they saw only opponents and distractions. All of them were determined to win.


If one of the Scoobies had shown up at that point and attempted to end the Game right then and there, they would have found no sympathy from Xander. He wouldn't even realize it was them; he would perceive them solely as barriers from the Prize, and he wouldn't hesitate to do whatever it took to force them out of the way.


From different places all over Sunnydale, the seven combatants traveled steadily forward. Normally, Xander would have found it ironic that the Game was going to end on top of the Hellmouth.


Sunnydale High's library, which sat directly over the true Mouth of Hell, had been where most of a stash of dynamite had been planted during Xander's high school graduation ceremony. The rest of the dynamite had been placed in other rooms in the school, and the collective effect had successfully killed Mayor Richard Wilkins, a man who had just turned himself into a huge, snake-like pure demon. The school was still a burned-out shell and wasn't much to look at. Xander's company was working out the details for a restoration contract and it had yet to be put into effect.


Xander took a short cut into the library and was the first to arrive. He entered the blackened ruins of the library through the back door.


Outside, on the front steps, Methos and Amanda walked into each other's ranges. Both raised their swords and began to fight each other, not even bothering with getting to the finally meeting place. Neither recognized the other, nor even thought of such things of friendship. The Prize was more important. It was their only and ultimate goal; nothing else mattered. Their swords met without any hesitation, and the sound of it echoed for miles through too-quiet streets that were littered with bodies and filling up with Watcher clean-up crews.


Nort and Hemmings, once teacher and student, now merely two Immortals, met in one of the school's halls on its east side, all the way across campus from the library. They, too, began to fight in earnest. Nort won within minutes and, without another look at the body of his comrade, he turned and walked down the hall. Half way there, he heard the fight going on in front of the school. Nort watched Methos and Amanda fight, determined to challenge whichever Immortal won.


Duncan MacLeod, Percius and Xander were the only ones to actually reach the library. Duncan entered through a destroyed window, and Percius walked in from the hallway. For a moment, the three of them stared at each other, not knowing what to do. The instant was broken when MacLeod and Percius faced each other, raised their blades, and charged each other.



*****



Amanda was good to have survived for a thousand years. Methos had survived for five thousand, but much of that time had been spent avoiding other Immortals. He had the advantage in speed and a few tricks; Amanda had the advantage in agility.


Their fight was a lengthy one as the two pulled every stunt and every move they knew to get on top. Sweat gleamed down both of their bodies.


Finally, an opening came. A blade was swung, a head was decapitated and the very powerful Quickening of one of the last Immortals left alive was taken. The Earth shook with the power of it, and whatever glass still remained intact was shattered for miles.


Nort waited only long enough for the victor to rise, grasping his sword, before he moved forward, ready to begin another fight.


Five Immortals still stood.



*****



What little could still have been identified as the remains of the Sunnydale High Library were destroyed in Percius' Quickening. The ground shook even more violently than with the preceding Quickening. The powers making up the Hellmouth knew that the end was near, and so did the Immortals. They could feel it in their very souls. They quaked in anticipation of what was to come, of the bounty that would be theirs with only a few strokes of their swords.


Soon…it will be soon…the Prize will be mine…


Fight for the Prize…The Gathering is ending…


Duncan MacLeod's body shook from the very strength of the Quickening. He continued to shake even as he got to his feet. He didn't notice. All that mattered was the Prize.


His eyes met the determined and feverish ones of his new opponent. Xander Harris, too, was shaking, in both eagerness and in anticipation.


"There can be only one," said Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod.


"Yes," Xander Harris said. It was the only truth. There could be only one, and that one would be him. The Prize was his.


Footsteps heralded the arrival of the third and only other Immortal still alive and fighting. Methos stepped over and around the remains of the library's entrance, not even noticing when the material of his already-tattered pants caught on a board and tore, taking off half of his pants leg before piercing skin and drawing blood.


Duncan MacLeod turned away from Xander Harris and faced Methos, dropping into an offensive stance immediately. No finesse was present in their fight; only brutality prevailed. Every dirty trick they knew was utilized. Xander watched on, emotionless and uncaring.


Even though their bodies quaked from absorbed Quickenings, their stances and moves never wavered. MacLeod was considered the best of the best. Methos was considered the oldest and wisest. They put all into the fight with only one object in mind.


Eventually, one made a mistake. How he did so is left to interpretation; no Watchers were around to witness these last moments. All were within safe distances, despite their desires to be closer; they would know who won afterward, when only one remained.


Despite Methos' many years, despite his age and strength and power, even he knew that Duncan MacLeod was the better swordsman. Even though their abilities to reason had disappeared, and both were suffering from many Quickening highs, that fact was still the truth.


Methos' Quickening completely overtook the sky over Sunnydale. Bolts exploded into buildings, reducing them into piles of brick and wood; the few humans and demons remaining in Sunnydale took cover in basements or whatever shelters they could find with few having success. A thunderstorm broke loose, one so terrible as to completely flood the streets with water for the entire hour that the Quickening lasted. The Watchers scrambled for cover and could only Watch as bodies, heads, and swords surrounded by blood floated over the roads.


When the Quickening subsided, the storm ended but the floodwater remained. Rainwater now lay several inches thick on the library floor, but it was quickly pouring into the deep hole over the Hellmouth.


Harris and MacLeod were out cold on opposite ends of the library. Both had been knocked out by the Quickening.


They stayed that way for hours.



*****



In Xander's apartment, Willow performed the same spell she had the night before. "He's alive," she told the others.


"Yes, but for how long?" Giles muttered to himself. That Quickening had been magnificently powerful; had it been the last, or had it only been a prelude of what was to come?


The apartment building had been placed under several protection spells cast by not only Willow and Tara but also Anya and Giles. The rest of the town lay in ruins. It was still too dangerous to wander the streets. He wondered who else was still in the wasted town, and he hoped that they would be safe. He prayed that Xander would remain safe and alive, also, and that he and the witches' spells lasted through the coming storm.



*****



The next day was breaking when the last Immortals stirred. By this time, the water level both inside and out the skeleton of the building had been drained away as Sunnydale's sewers were, for once, put to their proper use.


They rose and picked up their swords before facing each other. The last Immortal Challenge began.


Virdianée had taught her student excellently. Against the odds, Xander was holding his own, even against MacLeod. He was as good, if not better than MacLeod.


Perhaps it was the state the two were in. Perhaps it had to due with the fact that MacLeod had absorbed the largest Quickening in existence and hadn't recovered from it, putting him at a disadvantage. Perhaps it was whatever skills Xander had picked up from the numerous Quickenings he'd absorbed in only a matter of days. Whatever it was, neither was at a clear advantage or disadvantage.


The fight lasted for hours. Morning crawled to afternoon, afternoon before evening, and evening became near midnight, and still they traded blows. Both were bleeding or had bled from a number of cuts. Their clothes either hung in tatters or rested in pieces on the ground.


Gasping and aching everywhere, the two warriors still continued on. Receiving the Prize was all that mattered; the winner could rest later.


The fight continued until mid-morning before the sound of two bodies collapsing to the floor could be heard throughout the destroyed high school. Only one was headless; the other had collapsed from sheer exhaustion and relief. He was asleep before the Quickening even began.


The usually mist floated out of the decapitated body of Duncan MacLeod toward Xander Harris' form. It flowed into him and he sucked in a breath, gasping in his sleep.


Both bodies rose into the air and continued to rise, higher and higher off the ground until they both floated miles above the Hellmouth and the town.


The ground shook as an earthquake took form, beginning at the mouth of hell and spreading outward throughout the town, toppling everything that remained standing except for the apartment building where the Scoobies' waited. Some of the Watchers were killed; the rest either cleared out of town or took shelter in the same building as the Scoobies. All of those that made it to the building observed the final Quickening.


A storm did not break out this time, but fires did. Quickening bolts struck the buildings and the surrounding woods, catching everything that was dry on fire. Many trees toppled from the Quickening and the earthquake. A horrible wind picked up throughout the town, but it wasn't strong enough to be considered a hurricane.


The strongest winds surrounded Xander, surrounding him in a whirlwind until he was completely encompassed. Bolt after bolt after bolt struck him and wouldn't relent. He woke often only to pass out each time.


The Quickening lasted for five hours.



*****



They found him lying in a heap on the floor of what was once the library. The entire high school had collapsed around him, and it had taken them days to sort through the wreckage. Thankfully, Buffy, Giles, Anya, Dawn, and Tara had help from both the Watchers' Society and the Disaster Relief Crews who'd come from other towns.


They found the floor of the former library completely intact; the hole over the Hellmouth was gone. Spells were performed, and it was determined that the Hellmouth was no more; not only had it been sealed, but it had disappeared completely without a trace.


Sunnydale was destroyed for good. It was never rebuilt. Over time, it became a popular tourist attraction as well as a memorial site for all of the men, women and children who'd been found decapitated by the searchers, as well as a site for those just-as-unlucky ones who'd been caught in the freak storms and earthquakes that had brought about the town's destruction.


Alexander LaVelle Harris was the last Immortal alive and the winner of the Prize. He slept for two whole weeks after he'd absorbed Duncan MacLeod's Quickening. Although he couldn't remember closing the Sunnydale Hellmouth, he nevertheless proceeded to use his newfound powers to destroy the Hellmouth in Cleveland completely and totally.


It had been foretold that the winner of the Prize would bring about a Golden Age for mankind, or an age of darkness. By ensuring that evilness did not continue to be spread and be influenced by the Hellmouth, Xander made sure that the age was a Golden One. Vampires became a minority, and demons destroyed into the far corners of the world or escaped to other realities. Crime still existed, but no Hellmouth could influence it and twist it into something darker any longer.


Faith was the last Slayer to be called for hundreds of years. Life went on, and it still had its ups and downs, but it was all of the human variety. Faith and Buffy, along with the rest of the Scoobies, all died of old age surrounded by their friends, children and grandchildren.


Being the sole possessor of millions of Quickenings gave Xander untold powers that not even he knew the scope of. While he remained Immortal, he now had the ability to have children. He could read the minds of everyone on the planet and all at once if he wished, and, according to Willow, he was connected to the Earth in a way that no witch, not even her, could ever experience. He could influence it however he wished; most of the time, he didn't.


He lived on for thousands of years, watching, protecting and experiencing.


Over the centuries, many speculated as to the scope of his powers, and whether the Immortal phrase, "There Can Be Only One", could be extended to include all of humanity as well. They wondered if he would one day be the last man alive. None knew, least of all Xander.


In the meantime, Alexander LaVelle Harris lived on, watching, waiting and remembering.



THE END

The End

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