Authorial note: A friend of mine, depressed over much in her life, asked me to rewrite the end of last season to a happier, fluffier ending. I was dubious about this, but hey, anything for a friend...

Authorial disclaimer: As ever, not mine. The characters -- if not this very A.U. story -- belong to Joss and all associted and fiscally interested parties. No profit, no foul, no lawsuit.

Graduation Day
by suricata

The sun was almost directly overhead, making the observers in the stands wilt perceptibly. It seemed as though graduation had been going on for hours. Considering the number of deaths the student body had endured over the years, it was almost surprising that so many of them had managed to make it to this final step before fleeing the environs.

At long last, the superintendent called the last name on the roll, and the valedictorian gave her speech, pausing at all the approriate dramatic moments. It might have been 100 degrees out there in the field, but she wasn't going to let one instand of her glory escape.

Sitting in the middle of the sea of maroon and yellow gowns, Xander Harris nudged his companion. "You would have given a better speech."

"Yeah. Well, it wouldn't have taken much." Willow Rosenberg lifted her hair off the back of her neck, and wished this were over already. After accepting their diplomas, they had managed to mingle enough in line to land seats next to each other, the better to shmooze the speeches.

Seven rows ahead, Buffy appeared to be dozing. Not a surprise there, she'd been up late the night before, patrolling after their pre-graduation-party party. The whole joint families thing, Joyce and Buffy and Oz being shoehorned into the long-planned (and much awaited) Rosenberg/Harris graduation bash. A good time had been had by all... until the unfortunate incident with the party hat and the schnauzer. Poor Oz.

Oz had managed to make it to the ceremonies, barely. Stretching a little, Willow could see him off to their left. It looked like he was writing something. A new song, if the way he kept stopping and staring into space was any indication.

"Think we'll have anyone pass out from heat stroke?" Xander asked.

"No such luck. They would have already. By now, they're all little puddles of goo on the benches, is all."

"Ugh. Okay, nice image. Let's remember where we are, and choose something a little less graphic?"

"Right. Sorry." She grinned up at him. "But no world-endage or otherwise ick monsters today. Giles promised."

"Where was the G-man, anyway? I didn't see him when we did the march-in thing, standing with the rest of the teachers."

"No real reason he would be. I mean, with him leaving now, too... it's going to be weird, thinking of the library with no Giles."

"Library with no any of us," he reminded her. "That's what this whole graduation thing's about, remember? College? Armed forces? Boxing up happy meals?"

"Xan-der..." She punched him on the arm, only slightly in jest, and he winced. Hanging with the Slayer had taught his Willow a thing or two about hitting. "No Happy Meal boxage for you. You're going to do fine."

"Yeah, I guess..."

Before Willow could beat him up further, the last speaker thankfully gave way under the sun, and they all stood to do the recessional thing.

Once into the shade of the trees, the explosion of camera flashes was almost as annoying as the sun glare. Willow and Xander, after escaping their parents, hurried to the line already forming off to one side. There, they made their way to a long folding table, and exchanged their empty diploma holders for the real thing.

"I can't believe Cordelia didn't even hang around for the ceremony," Xander said out of the blue. "I mean..."

"I know," Willow said. She leaned in to give him a buddy-hug, but stopped, seeing Oz head their way. For once, his normally impassive face was split by a wide grin.

"Look. Piece of paper, and everything."

Xander made to grab the parchment from him. "And now we get to find out what your first name really is!"

Willow laughed as the two men in her life tussled playfully. She had long ago hacked into Oz's files, and he knew that she knew, but she didn't see the need to share that information with Xander.

"Man. I can't believe it. Finally, we're free of Sunnydale High. No more Herr Snyder..."

Xander fell silent as the little troll moved past them. His face seemed caught between disgust at being trapped around so many of his former students, glee that they were now =former= students, and an enroaching dismay that this meant he was going to get an entire new class in September.

"I will not miss him," Oz agreed, linking his arm with Willow. The three of them moved away from the crowd, falling into step almost automatically, Xander taking Willow's free hand with almost no hesitation.

"Hey! Hey, Buffy!" Willow spotted their missing friend first, and shouted to get her attention.

But the Slayer seemed oblivious, standing on the edge of the crowds. She was half-in, half out of the sunlight, and seemed astounded by the item in her hands.

Xander would have loped across to join her, but Oz held them both back. "No, wait," he said softly.

Just then, Buffy looked up. But she wasn't seeing them. Giles had stepped out of the full shadows, and was standing there, watching her watch him. A half smile appeared on her face, and she held the piece of paper up as though making an offering. And then, without any warning, she had closed the distance between them, launching herself into his open arms and being swept up in a bear hug.

"Is it just me, or is that..." Xander's voice trailed off.

"Really nice to see?" Oz suggested.

"Yeah. That."

"!" Willow said, but her voice was choked with laughter, not horror. Behind the two, unnoticed, a figure was creeping upon them, hauling a huge barrel that looked suspiciously like...

"Oh no..." Oz echoed, but he was grinning, and Xander had already dropped Willow's hand in order to scramble madly for his camera as Faith lifted the Rubbermaid barrel over her head and dumped the clear -- and very cold -- contents all over her Watcher and fellow Slayer.

There was an instant where all three were frozen in astonishhment -- Buffy and Giles at the drenching, Faith because it had actually worked. In that instant, Xander's flash went off -- and Buffy took off after Faith, wet robe falling to the ground so she could run unimpeded.

But not before she had handed her diploma to Giles for safekeeping.

All together now... awwwwwwww. Okay, enough of that. *suricata shakes herself off briskly* Back to the angst mines...