Disclaimer: Buffy, the Vampire Slayer is the property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, and 20th Century Fox. No infringement is intended. No profit will be made.
Not-the-Author's Note: This is a stand-alone story written by my younger brother, AKA phoukabro. This is not a part of the "Oh, the places he goes!" series. He actually has his own account, but for continuity's sake, asks that I post his stuff here. Easier to keep track of that way. All feedback will forwarded to him.Lest We Forget
“Alex! Wait up for me!”
I let out an impatient breath as I slowed down. Looking back, I saw Jack shuffling awkwardly towards me, with his cumbersome carry-on bags around his shoulders.
“C'mon, Jack. I really don't want to miss our connecting flight.”
“We got plenty of time.” Jack shot back. “I've never been in Cleveland before. Just give me a moment to soak it all in.”
I shook my head. “We're in Hopkins Airport. That's all of Cleveland we're going to be seeing. And we're not even going to take in the whole airport. Just Concourse C where we landed, and Concourse D where our flight to New York will take off without us unless we get a move on it.”
Jack did not hurry up, much to my annoyance. He kept his slow pace, gazing around the terminal. “Our flight isn't for another two hours. And I thought you hated traveling. What's got you in such a rush?”
I glanced nervously around the terminal. “I just want to get there, attend the workshop, and get home. Do you think if we finish up early, we can catch an earlier flight back?”
“No.” He shook his head. “I called in a lot of favors for this trip. And I plan to take full advantage of my time in New York. Hell, I may skip the workshop entirely. And I expected a little more gratitude from you. I could have taken anyone with me, but I chose you.”
“Maybe you should have chosen someone else,” I muttered.
“What's up with you?” Jack asked, throwing up his hands.
I grimaced at his tone. “I'm sorry, Jack.” I apologized. “I just... You know I haven't left town in a long time. I guess I'm just a nervous traveler. And.....” I trailed off.
“There's... I don't know. There's just something about Cleveland that sets me off. It's on the edge of my mind. Some sort of bad -”
“Memory? Does Cleveland hold the key to our mystery man's hidden past?” Jack asked with a grin.
“I was going to say bad vibes,” I answered. “Besides, this is my first time in Cleveland.”
“That you know of,” Jack intoned ominously. I glared in response. “Oh, c'mon. So you're creeped out by Cleveland. It's Cleveland, that's enough reason to be creeped out. Plus you're surrounded by millions of people who chose to live in Cleveland of their own free will. That would freak anyone out. Tell you what, we'll check to see if there's an earlier flight to New York. If not, we grab seats, buy some overpriced coffee, and plan all the awesome things we're going to do in NYC. Sound like a plan?”
I forced myself to relax as Jack spoke. “I guess we can -”
“Xander?” a voice interrupted us.
I turned towards the speaker. A young, rather attractive woman with chestnut brown hair stood before me.
“Jesus, it is you. Xander, where have you....” she trailed off, staring at me. I could see tears brimming in her eyes. “Oh god, I missed you so much.”
Jack turned to me with a questioning look, but I could only shrug. He turned back to the young woman.
“You know Alex?”
“Alex? I know Xander. We grew up together in Sunnydale,” she looked at me again, like I should back up her story. “Xander Harris, you know it's me. Dawn? Dawn Summers?”
“Um,” I stammered. This Dawn girl was seriously creeping me out. I took a cautious step back. “Look, Ms. Summers, I think you've made a mistake.”
“Ms. Summers?” Dawn asked in disbelief.
“My name's Alex Campbell. I grew up in New Orleans, not this Sunny... place,” I told her in a careful tone. I took another step back from her. “Now if you'll excuse me, I have a flight to catch.”
Dawn pulled out a business card and a pen. “Just give me your address and phone number then. I'm not letting you disappear on me again.”
I was already turning around as she spoke. She reached out to grab my arm, but I shook her off. I could feel my pulse racing, and fought down a panic attack.
“Ma'am, I told you. My name is Alex Campbell. I don't know this Xander. If you keep bugging me, I'll have to get airport security over here.”
I turned and quickly walked away from her. As I loosened my collar, I glanced back and saw Dawn staring at me with Jack standing next to her.
I splashed water on my face and looked in the restroom mirror. I finally got my breathing under control and dried off my face.
“Jesus, what the hell was that?” I asked myself.
I took one last deep breath and let the restroom. Coming out, I spotted Jack down the terminal holding a couple of cups of coffee. I quickly made my way over to him.
“Here, take this,” Jack said, handing me a coffee. “You need it. Let's grab a table.”
I could only nod as Jack maneuvered us to the closest table. As we sat down, he looked around the terminal.
“Relax, she's gone. She, like us, had a flight to catch.” Jack reassured me. “You know, I was joking when I said Cleveland was the key to your past. Didn't think you'd have some mystery lady waiting for you.”
“Not me,” I murmured. “She was talking about some Xander Harris from Sunnydale.”
“So, you're not the least bit interested in what she might have to tell you?” Jack asked.
I shook my head and took refuge in my coffee.
“Moot point. She's gone now. We'll be flying out as soon as possible. Can't talk to her about it even if I wanted to.”
“Weeellll,” Jack drawled out, pulling out a business card with a scrawled number on it. “That's not completely accurate.”
“You got her phone number?” I laughed.
“Don't look at me like that.” Jack protested. “She's hot. Better men than I have used the old 'you may hold the key to my friend's amnesia, so we should keep in touch' approach to getting a girl's digits.”
I smiled for the first time since arriving in Cleveland. I looked at Jack with genuine amusement. Glancing down at the scrap of paper he was offering, I shook my head.
“Throw it out.”
Jack pulled back his hand, but did not put the card away.
“I'm not sure I agree with you one hundred percent on your police work, there, Lou.”
“You think I'm making a mistake?” I asked, finishing up his coffee.
“I think...” Jack paused as he thought about his answer. “I think after five years of being the Jason Bourne of Albuquerque, New Mexico, this is the first hint of someone from your past. That girl knew you. Or at least she knew who you were before the car accident gave you wholesale memory loss.”
“Retrograde amnesia,” I automatically corrected him.
“Whatever. Are you seriously telling me you're not going to talk to her?”
“She... she was mistaken. She thought I was this Xander Harris from where ever,” I pointed out. “Whoever she is, she didn't know me.”
We sat in silence as Jack finished his coffee. After a moment, Jack spoke up. “She knew about the glass eye.”
I looked up at that, but didn't speak.
Jack continued. “She asked me about it. She was going to miss her flight to take off after you, but I convinced her it wouldn't help. I told her I'd talk to you, so she gave me her phone number.”
“Then she mentioned I had a glass eye?” I asked in a quiet voice.
“No, she... she asked if you did, like she wasn't sure it was really you after you took off. Then as she was leaving she asked if you were happy,” Jack told him. “I told her yes. And I honestly think she'll leave you alone as long as she thinks you're happy where you are.” He finished.
He took the empty coffee cups and tossed them in the nearest trash can. Sitting back down, he looked directly at me.
“I'm saying this as your friend. You should call this girl to see what she knows.”
I glanced down at my watch. “Did you check to see about an earlier flight?”
“Alex, listen to me -”
“You've said your piece.” I cut him off. “Now I want you to listen to me. I spent six months after the car crash trying to dig up my past. You know what I found?”
“Just that you grew up in New Orleans, parents were dead, you moved to Albuquerque after Hurricane Katrina, then you had your car accident,” Jack said.
“It wasn't just that. Everywhere I looked was a dead end. I had no family or friends looking for me. Pretty much all records on my earlier life were lost in the hurricane. I couldn't find a single person who missed me. Not a former coworker, not a school friend, not any relatives, no one. So I asked myself, what kind of life did I have that I could just disappear and no one would notice?” I shook my head and continued. “I spent six months trying to figure out who I was, and I had nothing to show for it. So I made a decision, I would focus on building my current life and future than worry about my past.”
“Alex.” Jack started. “I like you. You've been a good friend ever since I met you. And normally I would back up whatever decision you make, but right now I can't do that.”
“Why's that?” I asked him.
“Because of Lisa,” Jack said. “I'm saying this as her brother. I think you're a good guy, and you've been great for her. Believe me, there is no one rooting for you two more than me. But if there's something in your past that could cause problems you need to find out now. If you ignore it, then something comes down the line and Lisa gets hurt, I don't know if I could forgive you,” he told me. “And I don't know if you could forgive yourself.”
“Jesus,” I muttered, rubbing my temple. “You really know where to hit a guy.” I looked up and over to the outgoing flight display. “Just think, if our flight hadn't been delayed we would have missed that girl, and I'd be going to New York,” I looked back at Jack. “I'm really going to have to do this.”
“Sorry, man,” Jack said. He dusted himself off, then got up. “So, good luck with that. I'll give your regards to New York.”
“Oh no,” I told him. “If I'm staying in Cleveland, then so are you. Besides, this whole thing is your idea, so if I suffer, it won't be alone.”
Jack got back from getting a refund on our flight to New York, while I was psyching myself up at the phone banks.
“Yeah, there's this new invention called the cell phone. Most people, including you and me have one.” He snarked.
“Jack,” I addressed him. “Just for a moment indulge me. Let's just say that at certain times, I get these real uneasy feelings. Okay?”
“Okay. Like what?” Jack asked.
I stared at the phone bank. “Little things, mostly. I don't like being outside after dark. I always carry a crucifix with me,” I told Jack. “There are places that I get real nervous about even thinking about going to. Like LA, London...”
“Cleveland?” Jack asked. “You started getting squirrelly when you found out our layover was here.”
“Yeah. And Cleveland,” I admitted. “Now I follow these feelings. Maybe it's just superstition, but I follow them. And right now, I'm getting the feeling that I need to do this very, very carefully. And part of that is not using my own cell phone.” I looked up at him. “You think I'm paranoid, right?”
Jack shrugged. “You're the one with memory loss and a mystery woman popping up. Besides, you're not paranoid if you think the mailman's out to get you. You're paranoid if you think the toaster's out to get you.”
“Okay, I'm ready. Give me the number,” I said, sitting down at the booth. Jack handed me the card he got from this Dawn girl. The line rang once, then the other end picked up.
“Cleveland School For Girls,” a girl's voice said.
“Um...” I fumbled the phone, nearly dropping it.
“Hello? Who is this?” the voice asked.
“HI! Uh, can I please speak with Dawn Summers? Please?” I asked.
“Not here,” the voice said in a bored tone. “On some trip.”
“Oh, right. She was catching a flight. Probably should have figured that out on my own,” I said, under my breath. “Can you tell me when she'll be back?”
“Dunno. Hold on a sec. VIOLET! WHEN'S DAWN GETTING BACK?” the girl yelled.
“DAWN'S NOT IN RIGHT NOW!” I heard the second voice in the background. “SHE'S ON A TRIP!”
“DUH! I KNOW THAT! WHEN'S SHE GETTING BACK?” the girl shouted. “SOME GUY WANTS... Hey, what's your name again?”
“Uh... I'm.... I'm trying to reach Dawn Summers,” I stammered.
“Smooth,” Jack said. “Very smooth.”
“Kay, gonna need a name before I give out information on one of the staff. So... hold on a sec,” the line went silent as I was put on hold.
“What're they saying” Jack pestered me.
“I'm on hold. She asked who I was then....”
I looked down at the phone, then slammed the receiver down, hanging up.
“Um... is the toaster out to get you?” Jack asked.
“They're tracing the call,” I whispered. “I... I thought they were trying to trace the call. Track me down.”
“Ooooooooookay. Look, Alex. You're obviously freaked out. I pushed you to do this, and you need to ease your way into it. That's perfectly understandable. So, new plan. We grab a rental car, find a place to stay for however long we're in town. And we look into this whole thing, nice and slow. Sound good?” Jack offered.
“Yeah,” I accepted. “It sounds good.” We walked over to the car rental stand twenty feet away.
“I'm not paranoid,” I added as we got in line. “There's just not really a protocol for this kind of thing.”
When the man in front of us got his keys, we stepped up to the desk. The agent looked up and smiled at us. “Hi, how can I help you today?”
“One,” Jack held up a finger, “a car. Something sporty, makes me look cool when I drive it. I want it for five days, maybe more.” Holding up a second finger, he continued, “Two, directions to a hotel near the airport. Nothing too fancy, cable TV and internet access are required. Three, directions to the nearest IHOP, Denny's, or local equivalent where we can get coffee and a high carb breakfast.”
The clerk chuckled. “One, I have a Mustang convertible. All the cool kids are driving them these days. Two, there's a Marriot just under ten miles from here on the highway. It's as close as you can get without being woken up in the middle of the night by the takeoffs and landings.” She held up three fingers, “And right next door is CoCo's. I recommend the Denver omelet.”
“You're very good.” Jack glanced at her nametag, “Doris. Did you know that?” Jack asked with a smile.
“I do. I need to see a major credit card and current driver's license,” she said. She took the ID and credit card from him and began to enter the information into her computer. “So you sound a little stressed. Rough day?”
“Me? I'm peachy keen,” he responded. “It's this guy I'm worrying about,” Jack pointed a finger at me. “Be nice to this one. He's...” Jack trailed off as he saw three young women and one man rush through the entrance and head for the phone bank. The man took the lead and marched right up to the phone I had just used minutes before. He pulled out a small object and waved it over the phone and seat. The three women stood around him in a semi circle facing outwards. They gazed at the people walking by, scanning the crowd.
As they did this I slowly shuffled around the side of the desk and sunk down out of sight. Doris the clerk watched me in curiosity, but said nothing. Jack fished out his cell phone and opened it up. “You know, you've just been super helpful. Can you do me a favor and read out the phone number here in case of emergency?”
“Are you actually going to input the number, or are you just using that as cover as you take pictures of the people by the phones?” she asked.
“Ah, Doris. Life is full of mysteries, and this is just one more,” he said, and finished taking the pictures. He snapped the phone shut and turned back to the desk.
“Will you be wanting the insurance coverage with your vehicle?” Doris asked.
“I don't think we'll -ow!” Jack yelped as I poked him in the leg. “Sure, we'll take full insurance. The cost of which I'm sure my dear friend will reimburse me for.”
“Here are your driver's license and credit card back,” Doris said. She handed Jack them back along with the receipt, rental contract, and keys. “And your keys. Your car is in the first lot to the left. It's in space 138.” Doris glanced over. “They're leaving.”
I popped back up and grabbed the keys from Jack. “Let's go.”
“After them,” I said with a smile. “Can't let the toaster get away.”
“Toaster? I thought they were the mailman,” Jack said, following me.
“They're whichever is the one that means I'm not a paranoid nutball.”
“Oh, I wouldn't worry about that. We passed regular paranoia awhile back.”
I sat behind the wheel of the rental car with Jack riding shotgun. The engine idled as we sat parked in the loading zone.
“Over there,” Jack pointed. “The van that just pulled out. It's them.”
I eased the Mustang out into the next lane and began to follow them.
“A van. How serial killer-esque of them,” he said. “So what are we thinking?” he asked me.
“I'm thinking that a sporty Mustang convertible isn't the best choice for tailing someone,” I told him.
“I didn't know we were going to be tailing anyone when I asked for it,” Jack said. “Although you have to admit, we do look pretty cool.”
“That we do.” I agreed. “That we do.”
Keeping at least two cars behind the van, I followed it onto the highway. They stayed on the highway for fifteen miles, before taking an exit.
“If they're so far out, how the hell did they get to the airport so quickly?” I asked myself.
“Do you want me to start writing these questions down?” Jack asked. “Just to keep track? I don't mind. It'll make me feel useful.”
The van led us another few miles before pulling into the garage of a large stone building. I drove down another two blocks before parking. I turned off the ignition and looked around the surroundings, noting the street name and number of the building. Pulling out the card from Dawn Summers, I compared the address on it to his current location.
“This look like a school for girls?” I asked Jack.
Jack studied the building and street. “Not really. Looks more like a prison. Or military compound.”
“Or a fortress,” I said quietly.
“The van's pulling out again,” Jack spotted.
The van pulled out of the garage down the block.
“We still following?”
“We're still following,” I answered, turning the key. I pulled the car out and followed the van once again. The van made its way downtown, with us a discreet distance behind.
“How long are we going to follow these guys?” Jack asked.
“I'll give them two more miles. If they haven't stopped by then, we'll head to the hotel,” I told him. Just as I made this declaration, the van slowed and pulled to the side of the road. The door opened and four young girls hopped out. The van pulled away and made a u-turn at the next light. I drove past the girls at a steady speed. Once we passed them, I took note of the street they were on.
“Okay, that was weird. You want to grab a bite to eat before we check in?”
I shook my head. “It's after dark. I'd rather check in and order some delivery.”
“Of course. You get a bad feeling being out after dark.”
“Right now, I'm trusting those feelings.”
The next morning, we made our way over to CoCo's for breakfast. Both of us brought our laptops and did some research as we ate. I ordered the Denver omelet. Doris was right; it was delicious. As we finished the meal, we compared notes.
“All right, first off is the Cleveland School for Girls,” Jack said.
“What did you find out about them.”
“Not a lot. Almost nothing, really.”
“Too bad,” I said. “Maybe we can find something asking around -”
“No, I don't think you understand. This is supposed to be a private school, but I can't find any information on them. There's no website for them. There's no admissions information on them. They're not listed with an accreditation agency or any prep school guides. They don't even have job listings for staff. What kind of school doesn't have any admissions, accreditation, or job postings?” Jack said.
“The building the School address was at wasn't any kind of campus I've seen. And they sent out those three girls last night in the van. What the hell were they doing in that part of town? Maybe this place is a front for a bunch of streetwalkers?” I said.
“I don't think so,” Jack shook his head. “Those girls were too young and too hot for streetwalking. They'd be with some high price escort service. Not that I know that much about the matter.”
“You find anything on where they were dropped off?” I asked him.
“It's a bad neighborhood. According to the newspaper crime section, a few bodies have been found in the area. Throats were slashed. There's some talk about a serial killer. Also, the homeless population has dropped in recent months,” Jack said.
I shifted in my seat and began looking over my notes. “First up, Sunnydale. This was a small town in California. Interesting thing, there are almost no mentions of it in the mainstream news. But there are some fringe conspiracy websites that mention it quite a bit. Now the really strange thing is that Sunnydale disappeared in the spring of 2006.”
“It disappeared? Like it's a ghost town now?” Jack asked.
“Like there's a huge canyon extending out to city limits where once there was a town. Official explanation called it a fault line meeting a sinkhole. Unofficial explanations range from black ops government experiment gone wrong to the wrath of God going Sodom and Gomorrah on it,” I told him. “Most of the town folk evacuated days before.”
“Any of them turn into a pillar of salt?”
“Nope. Although that's about the only claim that didn't show up. One of the official theories floating around was that Sunnydale was on top of a gas reserve. The gas leaked up, citizens hallucinated all kinds of weird crap, then the reserve ruptured and people evacuated town right before it cratered out,” I finished summing up. “I think that covers everything.”
“Not quite. There's still one person we need to look into,” Jack said.
“You,” Jack pointed his finger at me. “We need to find out everything there is to Alex Campbell.”
I leaned back in my seat. “C'mon, Jack. This is -”
“That Dawn girl was certain she recognized you. Those people we followed came to the airport to look for you. Whatever's going on , you're in the middle of it somehow,” Jack told me. “So let's start at the beginning. What's the first thing you remember?”
“Waking up in the hospital after the crash,” I said with a weary sigh.
“Tell me about it.”
“I... I woke up feeling sore all over. The doctors said I had three broken bones. Along with a concussion from the accident.”
“And a missing eye.”
“Nope,” I said, shaking my head. “Doctors said it had been gone for awhile at that point. And the biggie was, I had amnesia. Couldn't remember anything about who I was or where I came from. So I had to figure out who I really was.”
I shrugged. “I had an ID that said I was Alex Campbell from New Orleans. I had some papers that showed an insurance payout from Hurricane Katrina. And I had a fairly healthy bank account.”
Jack nodded along. “What did you find out about your past?”
“This and that. No brothers or sisters. Parents died a couple years before the accident. I graduated high school, didn't go to college. Worked in construction. And had very extensive insurance coverage. I had just moved to Albuquerque when the accident happened.”
“Right. And how do you know that you're really Alex Campbell?”
“Uh.. The drivers license in my pocket. All the paperwork I had,” I said.
“Did you meet anyone who knew you as Alex Campbell? Did you see a high school yearbook? Old drinking buddies from work?” Jack asked.
“No,” I answered in a quiet voice.
“Buddy, we work in construction. It's full of illegals. You and I both know ID's can be faked,” he pointed out.
I took a sip of coffee as I thought about what he said. “That's the thing. We both can spot fakes a mile away. And these... if they are fakes, someone put a lot of money and effort into making them.”
Jack jotted down some notes while I talked. He looked up at me. “Tell me about these feelings... intuitions you get. You said you carry a crucifix? Maybe you're Catholic.”
“Not likely. I went to mass once. Never knew when to stand, sit, or kneel. Didn't recognize any of the rites or ceremonies. I did find out I could understand Latin though.”
“So, not a Catholic. What else?”
“I don't like being out after dark. There are places, cities I get uneasy thinking about traveling to,” I said. I thought for awhile about what else. “I never invite anyone into my place. Not aloud.”
Jack looked up at that. “What? I hang out at your place all the time.”
“But have I ever actually said the words 'Come in'?” He shook his head in response. I continued, “Um... I don't like bacon or any pork products?”
“I'm sure that's the key to everything,” Jack smiled. “So we've done our research and we're still clueless. What's our next step?”
“More surveillance. We head back to the school. But first we pick up supplies. If something happens, I'd like to be able to defend myself.”
I looked at Jack in disbelief as we left the police supply store. He merely shrugged.
“It could come in handy,” he said.
“You bought a rape whistle. What kind of night are you expecting?” I asked with a grin.
“You got your baton, binoculars, and the last can of pepper spray. I wanted something to give me an edge,” Jack said as we got into the car.
“It'll certainly be a surprise,” I said, starting the car.
As we sat in the car, I looked over the map of Cleveland. I drew a line from the address of the school to the airport.
“How long between when I started the call to the group showing up?” I asked.
“Um... you were on the line for a couple of minutes before hanging up. We walked to the rental desk, stood in line for a bit, then talked to the clerk when they showed up. Let's say... ten minutes, tops?”
“Right,” I studied the map. “There's no way they could get from the school to the airport in that time.” I drew another line from the street the girls were dropped off last night to the airport. “That's even farther.”
Jack watched as I made marks on the map. I drew a line from the closest mark to the airport.
“What are the marks?” Jack asked.
“Cemeteries. If they came from this one, they could get to the airport in under ten minutes.”
“Alex?” Jack asked in a careful tone. “Why would they come from a cemetery?”
“They...” I stopped and thought. “I... I don't know. I just had an idea.”
“Let me try. Dawn Summers was at the airport. Someone dropped her off. So after they drop her off, they start back, but get a call to look for us. They'd be close enough to be at the payphone in just a few minutes.”
“That... makes more sense,” I admitted. I looked out the car window to watch the sunset on the horizon. I absentmindedly patted my shirt to feel the crucifix around my neck. Looking around the car, I began picking up the discarded water bottles and food wrappers. I was about to get out of the car to throw the trash away when the van from the night before pulled out of the school garage.
Jack and I both ducked down as the van turned and drove down the road. I waited until the VAN had turned the corner before starting the engine to the car. I followed a discrete distance behind.
“They're headed in the same direction as last night,” Jack whispered to me, as he crouched in the passenger seat.
“You don't have to whisper. They can't hear you,” I said. “And you probably don't have to crouch down either. Now that we're on the road, we don't have to hide.”
“Sorry,” he said, getting back into his seat. “It's not like I have a lot of experience in this.”
We followed the van to the same are of the city as we had last night. And like last night, four teen girls got out of the van.
Jack watched them through the binoculars. “They're dressed kind of heavy for the summer. They all have jackets on. And some heavy boots.”
“I think we can rule out streetwalkers at this point.”
“Amish streetwalkers, maybe,” Jack offered. “The girls are splitting up into two pairs. Which one do we follow?”
“We're heading west,” I told him. “That's where the last body was found.”
We waited by the curb as the girls walked down the street. Once they turned the corner to head west, I pulled out after them. I stopped the car once we turned. The girls had vanished from sight. I slowly pulled forward.
“There's one,” Jack pointed out. “Pretty fast. She's already a block and a half down the road.”
“What's she doing?” I asked.
Jack looked through the binoculars. “She's just standing there. Wait... she's looking this way. Do you think she noticed us?”
“Yeah, we noticed you,” a voice said, just to my left. I turned my head to see the speaker in my blind spot. The second girl stood by my door, smirking. “You were hanging around down the block all day. And if you're going to tail someone, you should really try a less conspicuous car. I mean, a Mustang convertible? Really?”
“We... wanted to look cool,” Jack feebly explained.
“You're from the School? What kind of School sends girls into bad areas at night?” I asked her.
“What kind of perv hangs outside a girl's school and follows them around?” she shot back.
“Okay, valid questions all around,” Jack said. “Maybe we should just -”
A piercing scream cut him off. We all turned and saw several large figures surrounding the first girl down the street. Two more figures were walking directly towards us. The second girl next to us cursed, then pulled out a short piece of wood from her jacket. I looked back at the figures coming towards us. The face of the closest one was illuminated in the car's headlights. His forehead was jutting and ridged. His eyes, gleamed yellow in the light, and sharp fangs protruded from his mouth.
“JESUS!” Jack yelled. “WHAT THE HELL ARE THOSE THINGS?”
The second girl next to me backed up on the sidewalk, gripping he piece of wood. The figures glanced at me, then stepped towards the girl. I stomped down on the accelerator of the car and . . .
. . . watched the figure crumble into dust, as I gripped the stake in my hand.
“You got him,” I heard a voice gasp to my right. Turning, I spotted first girl sitting down, leaning against the alley wall, clutching her neck as blood oozed from between her fingers. On the street, Jack sat in the Mustang, clutching the dashboard in terror. The second girl ran up to the alley, out of breath.
I looked around the scene. And I remembered
.I'm standing in the high school library trying to process what's been happening that night. “Okay, this is where I have a problem. See, because we're talking about vampires. We're having a talk with vampires in it.”
. . .
Jesse stands with that obscene vampiric face in front of me.. I press the stake against his chest. “You don't have the gut-” Jesse's taunt is cut off as a fleeing patron knocks him onto the stake. I can only watch in sadness as my friend crumbles away.
. . .
Olaf the troll has his arm around my shoulder. He waves his other arm towards Willow and Anya as he speaks, “Anyaka or the witch. One of your women must die.” I shake my head “No. You are one crazy troll. I... I'm not choosing between my girlfriend and my best friend. That's insane troll logic.” Olaf laughs heartily at this answer. “Good for you. You are a loyal man,” Olaf tells me, then takes my wrist and bends it downward. I hear the girls scream as the bones snap.
. . .
The corner has just left the house as Buffy, Dawn,and I discuss what to do now that Willow has gone to kill Warren. “I've had blood on my hands all day. Blood from people I love.”
. . .
I stand at the edge of the crater where Sunnydale once was. I'm still trying to process that Anya was dead. I hear myself make some comment about missing the shops in town, but it's like my mouth is running on automatic. Dawn says something that catches my attention. “Yeah, Buffy. What are we going to do now?” I, along with all the other survivors, turn to Buffy to hear her answer.
I shook my head, as the memories flood my mind. I looked over at the girls. “You're a Slayer, right? What's your name?” I asked.
“Sh.. Shannon. Cindy's hurt real bad,” she said, putting pressure on the Cindy's wound.
I nodded and pulled out my cell phone. I dialed the Cleveland School for Girls and started talking as soon as the line picked up. “You have two Slayers hurt at Madison and 15th. They're in the southwest alley.” I turned back to Shannon. “What's Cindy's blood type?”
“Uh... AB negative,” she stammered.
“Cindy's lost a lot of blood. So have some AB negative ready when you pick them up,” I said.
“Who is this?” the person on the other end asked.
“Xander. My name is Xander Harris,” I answered, then shut his cell phone. “Is she still breathing?” I asked Shannon.
“Yeah. It's really shallow though. Did you say Harris?”
“Keep pressure on the wound. Help should be here soon,” I said. I left the alley and got into the car.
Jack paced back and forth in our hotel room. “Those things had fangs....and you ran two of them down... and the girl stabbed them with the stick....”
“Stake. She staked them.” I corrected.
Jack waved me off as he continued. “And the other girl was bleeding.... you jumped out and that thing jumped at you.... you drove it back with your cross.... then you picked up the....”
“Stake,” I said again.
“And stabbed him.... then HE CRUMBLED TO DUST!” Jack finished.
“Okay, you're freaking right now, which considering the circumstances is more than fully justified. But I'm going to need you to calm down. Please,” I said.
Jack stopped his frantic pacing and looked at me. He gave a tiny nod, then sat down on the bed.
“Breath in and out. Nice and deep. Try some water,” I said, handing him a bottle. “Just relax and let the stress fade away. Sip, don't gulp.” I cautioned as Jack drank.
He put down the now empty water bottle and looked at me. “Those things. Their faces were wrong.”
“They attacked the girls, then attacked you. One of them had blood on its mouth. And they were driven back by a cross.”
“That's all true.”
“You and the girl killed them by... staking them in the heart,” Jack said nervously.
“Put it all together now.”
“Those were... vam... they were...” Jack sighed. “Jesus, I can't believe I'm saying this. Those were vampires.”
Jack sat on the bed and stared at the wall. I decided to give him a little space. I got up and placed the stake I had acquired during the fight on the table, along with my crucifix. I noted that the baton and pepper spray were still in my bag, untouched.
“You said your name was Xander Harris,” Jack said quietly.
I turned and looked at him. “It is. I remembered. I guess the shock of seeing the vampires brought it out.”
“You knew what to do,” he said, now looking right at me. “You didn't hesitate to run them over. Then you just grabbed the... stake and killed it. And the cross you always carry helped out. I guess we know why you don't like going out after dark,” he said with a nervous laugh.
“Yeah. The place I grew up, Sunnydale. They were everywhere. I found out about them, how to survive, even how to fight back. I remember.”
“So you remember how you got to Albuquerque?” Jack asked.
I stopped and thought. Sunnydale was gone. We all looked to Buffy. And then...?
I shook my head. “No. There are still holes.”
“What do we do now?” Jack asked.
I sighed and sat down on the bed. “First off, I'm going to try to get some sleep. In the morning.... I'll have to call the school again. They know I'm in town now.”
“You called the girls Slayers. Because they fight vampires?”
“Yeah. Although there's more to it than that,” I said.
“There's more to the girls. They moved a lot faster than any normal person should. I watched the whole fight. They were beating back the... vampires. They were better fighters than you. If you hadn't run them down with the car...”
“They are better fighters. Both Slayers and vampires. That's why I used the car to run them down. I figured I'd even the odds some,” I said with a little pride. “Don't be afraid to cheat in a fight. Pride will get you killed.”
“The School... must be where the Slayers are centered. They figured the murder victims were killed by... vampires. So the Slayers began hunting them,” Jack figured out.
His cell phone rang, breaking his train of that. He looked at the display, “Lisa. Jesus, what am I going to tell her?”
“Uh... let it go to voicemail,” I told him. “I'd rather figure everything out before telling her anything.”
Jack nodded and put his phone down. A knock at the door made both of us jump. I walked over to the door and looked through the eye hole. Seeing the bleached blond wearing a black duster, I let out a loud groan.
“I heard that, ya bleeding wanker.”
I opened the door and looked at Spike. “I thought you were dead.”
“And I thought you vanished in the mist,” Spike said as he brushed past me into the room. “You got any booze in here?”
“No. And don't touch the minibar. I'm not paying five bucks for a pack of gum,” I said. I closed the door and turned back to Spike. “I guess hotel rooms don't count as official homes for the invite rule.”
“What was your first clue on that?” Spike asked as he plopped down on the closest chair.
Jack looked back and forth between us. “This is another person from Sunnydale?”
“Someone dimmer than old Droopy. He is a find,” Spike said.
“Yeah, he's from Sunnydale,” I answered Jack.
“So you pulled a Jimmy Hoffa and now you're back. Where'd you go?” Spike asked.
“New Mexico,” I said. “I'm still trying to figure out how I got there. Past five years, I didn't even know my real name. Until tonight. And I still can't remember anything after Sunnydale.”
“And you haven't gotten back in touch with the old gang?”
I shook my head. “That's my next step. I'm trying to find out as much as possible before I do that,” he said. “It's just that... I don't know I've been so on edge since I got into town. I just have this bad feeling about everything. Like I don't know if I can trust anyone.”
Spike stood up and looked over the room. He stopped as he spotted the cross and stake on the table and edged towards it. “It's a good idea. That lot haven't been on the up and up for years. You better watch your step with them,” he hesitated, then continued with a gleam in his eye, “although you follow my lead, and things could go very well.”
“Great, Spike has a plan. Why am I not reassured?” I frowned as I looked at Spike. “How did you find me?”
“You never were very bright, were you? Sense of smell. It's much more sensitive than human,” Spike pointed to his nose. He stepped into the bathroom and grabbed a towel. “I caught your scent back by the alley way. Led me straight here. And I could hear you and the rent boy hear blubbering away. Sense of hearing leaves you lot in the dust also.”
“You know my scent?” I asked with more than a little disgust.
“Wait. Why is your sense of smell and hearing better than ours?” Jack asked Spike, but Spike pushed him aside.
Spike stepped back out of the bathroom with the towel. “Wish I didn't. But after staying in your basement, then your apartment, it stuck with me,” he sat down by the desk. “Right now the Watchers are off center. You call them now and set up a meet. But don't mention anything about me.”
“I don't know about this. I wanted to do a little more research before I called them. I think -”
“Leave the thinking to the big boys, Droopy,” Spike cut him off. “Just do this. You owe me for all the times I helped your group out.”
Jack looked at his phone, then at me. He stepped over and handed it to me. As he passed it over, he said, “Your friend's kind of a dick.”
I took the phone and dialed the number to the school. The line picked up and a girls voice answered, “Cleveland School for Girls.”
“Uh, hello. This is Xander Harris,” I said.
“Harris? Uh... just a second, I...,” I heard the phone changing hands. A deep male voice continued, “Harris? Xander, this is Robin Wood.”
“Yeah, Robin. You were the high school principal. You're set up in Cleveland now?” I asked.
“Yes,” he answered. “Dawn mentioned running into you. And tonight you showed up to save two Slayers. What do you remember?”
“Who I was, where I came from. The fact that vampires walk the earth. You know, the big stuff,” I told him.
Spike snapped his fingers and held up a piece of paper with Set up a meeting written on it. I waved him off as I listened to Robin.
“Look, Xander. I'm going to have to ask for some verification you're actually who you say you are. Can you give me any details that wouldn't be public knowledge?” Robin asked him.
“The night my date tried to sacrifice me over the seal in the basement, you came with Buffy to stop her. Then I was stabbed in the side, while Spike was hit and Buffy-” I sighed as I saw Spike smirking at me, “-went to check on Spike first. She didn't look my way until you spoke up. That good enough for you?”
“I think that will do,” Robin said. “I'm glad you're safe. The others will be eager to see you again.”
“You want to meet?” I asked.
Spike held up another note that said Arrange to meet him alone. Don't mention my name.
I stared at Spike, just as a flash of memories hit me.I walk in the science lab room turning on the lights. Spike is behind me and grabs me around the neck. Willow shouts something and rushes at him. He stops her and grabs a microscope. I look up as he swings the microscope down, hitting me in the temple.
. . .
I run to the campus courtyard and see Buffy and Spike fighting in the daylight. I run up to them, but Spike grabs me and throws me into a lightpole.
. . .
I stand watching the monitor as Spike screws Anya. I feel the breath catch in my throat as I'm suddenly aware of Buffy and Willow watching next to me.
. . .
I enter the bathroom carrying Spike's duster. “Is this what you call not seeing Spike anymore...” I stop as I see Buffy crying by the tub. Her robe is torn, and there are bruises on her arms and legs.
I blinked, and saw Spike's smug look. “I don't owe you a damn thing,” I mutter.
“Excuse me?” Robin said.
“Oh, sorry about that. I was distracted. Spike tracked me down and is in the room,” I said, smiling back at Spike. The smile on Spike's face dropped and he shook his head. I turned my back on him. “I don't think he likes you guys that much.”
“SPIKE!” Robin yelled. “Xander, get out of there right now! You're in danger!”
“Relax, Robin. Spike an annoying ass, but he hasn't been a real danger for years.”
“Listen to me! Spike lost his soul! He's been killing people around the city, and we've been trying to track him down! You have to get out of there!”
I turned and saw Spike with the towel in his hands wrapping up the cross and stake on the desk.
“You just had to grass on me. I was planning on turning you tonight, and sending you after Robin, but I'll enjoy killing you just as much.”
Spike’s face transformed into its demonic form. He tossed my weapons under the bed and leapt at me. Spike slammed into me and knocked me to the ground.
“I've been waiting years for this. After all you've done, I'm really going to enjoy this.” Spike spat out as his fist punched my temple. “I'm going to kill you, I'm going to kill your friend, I'm going to kill everyone you care about.”
“Hey, Douchebag!' Jack yelled. Spike turned, then screamed as the pepper spray hit him in the face. He lashed out blindly, knocking Jack back.
I shuffled towards the bed, but Spike kicked me in the chest, throwing me into the desk. The backpack on the desk jostled from the impact and fell to the ground. Spike turned and growled at Jack. He pulled Jack up and headbutted him. As he did so, I grabbed the pepper spray from the ground and the baton in the backpack.
“You're dead!” he threatened. As he leaned in, Jack pulled his rape whistle to his mouth and blew a shrill bleat right in Spike's ear. Spike winced at the sound, and I brought the baton down on his knee.
“So how's that heightened sense of smell and hearing working out for you now?” I asked, spraying another blast of pepper spray in his face. I swung the baton down on Spike's neck. “You're angry at me for what I've done? After all the shit you did to us?”
Spike growled and lunged at me, missing me due to his temporary blindness. I swung the baton, clubbing him in the back of the head. This knocked Spike to the ground. I swung the baton down again and again until Spike stopped trying to get up. I looked over and saw Jack pulling out the cross and stake from under the bed. He handed the stake to me.
“Just so you know, I never liked you,” I said as I plunged the stake into Spike's chest. I let out a long breath as Spike turned to ash. Falling back on the floor, I took in several deep breaths, then spotted the phone on the floor. A frantic voice came from the speaker.
I wiped the blood from my face with the towel then offered it to Jack. He took it without a word. My eye teared up from the lingering pepper spray in the room. I knelt down and picked up the cell phone, “Robin, calm down. Spike's dead. I want to meet, but I'll only talk to Dawn. I want to meet with her alone.”
“He's dead? Are you sure?” Robin asked.
“Yes,” I said with a groan, as I placed a cold water bottle against my temple. “When will Dawn be back in town?”
“She gets arrives in a couple of hours. Look, I'm not going to send Dawn in alone. I need to know she's safe,” Robin said.
“All right, you can come too. Meet me at noon tomorrow outside the main entrance to the West Side Market. Can you do that?”
“I'll see you then.”
I closed the phone and lied down on my bed. I just wanted to rest up after the fight.
“Uh, Alex? Xander? Why did a vampire walk in here and try to kill us?” Jack asked from his bed.
I turned over with a groan. “That is a very long story.”
We spotted Dawn and Robin by the main doors and made our way over to them. Dawn saw us and took a step towards me, then hesitated.
I came up to her and smiled, “Hey, Dawn. Long time, no see.”
Dawn rushed over and hugged me . “I missed you so much,” she said with her voice muffled as she gripped me tightly. Stepping back, she noticed the bruises on my face. “Jesus, are you okay?”
“You should see the other guy. Just a pile of dust flushed down the toilet.” I chuckled, then grimaced in pain. “I think he cracked a rib.”
“Good to see you again.” Robin greeted us. He looked Jack over. “Who are you?”
“Moral support, and occasional punching bag for British vampires,” Jack answered.
“Shall we go inside and grab a table?” Dawn asked. “We can get something to eat as you tell us where you've been for the past five years.”
Inside the main building, we sat at a table, eating our lunch.
“Jack and I have been buying rundown houses and renovating them. We have a small crew we use, so we can do more than one house at a time. It's pretty fun. And I met Lisa through Jack,” I said, smiling at the thought.
“Lucky girl. She treat you right?” Dawn asked.
“Well, she hasn't tried to kill me yet,” I joked.
“That puts her in the lead then. What do you like most about her?”
“Her laugh,” I said after a moment of thought. “She laughs at my jokes. It's kind of a combination of a high pitched giggle and a snort. She hates it, but I think it's cute. What about you? I saw that rock on your finger.”
Dawn blushed and held up her hand to show her engagement ring. “This is from Albert. He was a low level student Watcher with the old Council. He was researching in Slough when Caleb blew up the headquarters. We met in the library. It took him two months to work up the nerve to ask me out.”
“He evil?” I asked. Dawn glared at me, but I just shrugged. “What? It's a valid question.”
“No, Albert is not evil,” Dawn stated. “I checked,” she muttered.
I laughed. Dawn reluctantly smiled at that. “Oh, man. I can't believe I missed out on the shovel speech. I would have loved to do that.”
Robin looked at him in confusion. Dawn explained it for him, “That's when a friend or family threatens any guy that shows the slightest bit of interest in me, that if he hurts me they'll beat him to death with a shovel and bury his body in the woods.”
“Oh. A classic,” Robin observed.
“I gave him that speech,” Jack added, proudly. “Lisa's my little sister.”
“Who I've seen naked many a time,” I shot back with a grin.
“On our first date, Willow and Faith showed up to give him the shovel speech. They ran into a couple of Slayers he worked with that were going to give me the shovel speech about him. While they argued, Albert and I slipped out. It was ten minutes before they noticed we were gone,” Dawn said.
I grinned as I listened to Dawn, then the smile slowly faded from my face. “I missed it. Jesus, I need to find out what happened to me.”
“After I saw you, I almost ditched my flight to go after you,” Dawn said, picking at her salad. “But I had to go to Chicago. There was a translating emergency that could only be done in person. You seemed so adamant about getting away, and your friend said you had a full life. So, I debated whether to tell anyone I saw you.”
“In the end, she called me,” Robin said. “When you called from the airport I sent the nearest team to find you, but they couldn't track you. Even the mage on the team couldn't get anything.”
“I was twenty feet away,” I said. I nodded to Jack and he pulled out his cell phone. He showed them the picture he took at the airport. “See. There they are, looking around in confusion.”
“Interesting,” Robin said, looking at the picture. “You said you were in a hospital in Albuquerque?”
“Yeah. Is that important?”
Robing glanced at Dawn.
She nodded in agreement. “There's a dead zone for supernatural activity in the American southwest. From Midland, Texas to Flagstaff, Arizona. You wound up right in the middle of it.”
“Where are the hotspots of supernatural life?” I asked.
Robin opened his mouth, but I cut him off.
“London, Cleveland, Los Angeles.... um, Rome.”
“That's right,” Dawn said.
“They're places I won't go. I just get an uneasy feeling even thinking about traveling to,” I explained.
“So you unconsciously stay in places you'll be safe,” Robin noted. “And you can't be tracked by magic. Anything else we should know about?”
“I always carry a cross,” I told them. “Plus I took out that vamp in the alley without even thinking about it.”
“He just sprang into action,” Jack said. “The whole thing was over in seconds. I barely had time to react.”
“Was that when you remembered who you were?” Dawn asked.
“Balance,” she said, under her breath. “Sorry, I was just thinking. No one could just wipe out his entire memory. It's too much of a fundamental change. But the memories could be hidden. And if they're hidden, then something could trigger it. It's like the soul spell for Angel and Spike. There's no power that can permanently adhere a human soul to a demon body. So that's why there's a trigger for them to lose their soul. For Angel it was perfect happiness. For Spike, it was utter despair.”
Robin pushed his empty food tray away from him. “We have to think about this logically. We all agree that what ever caused your memory loss was a deliberate action caused by magic. So we need to determine who would benefit from doing so.”
“There was a huge hole in the Council once you were gone,” Dawn said. “In Africa, how many Slayers did he get out of bad situations? There wasn't anyone better at setting someone up with a new life. It took a team of five months to do what he could do in a week. Maybe it was someone trying to throw us off balance.”
“It happened five years ago. The Council recovered from his absence, no offense,” Robin assured me. “There was no follow up to removing him.”
“Maybe someone had a grudge against him personally. Xander's run up against some heavy hitter before. What better way to get revenge than taking him out of the fight?”
“Killing him?” Robin said. “Whoever did this made sure he wouldn't be in physical danger. Maybe they wanted him to resurface later on.”
“What about this Spike guy?” Jack asked. “He seemed to have a personal grudge against Xander last night.”
“Possibly. Xander led the team that dusted Drusilla and Harmony. Spike had more than enough reason to hate him,” Robin said.
“They're evil vampires he used to date,” I told Jack.
“That's why he was so pissed at you,” Jack realized.
“The timeline doesn't match up,” Dawn disagreed. “Spike lost his soul about a month after Xander disappeared. Not before.”
“How long are we going to sit here before someone mentions Willow?” I asked.
“Xander, Willow wouldn't do that,” Dawn said. “She -”
“She wouldn't flay a man alive and try to kill all life on earth, until she did,” I said. “Look, she's my friend, but let's be realistic. Whoever did this wanted me out of danger, had the power to do this, and managed to bypass all the Council safeguards. All she would have to do is feel she knew better than me about how to live my life, and use magic to correct it. Can you honestly say you think she didn't do it?”
Dawn looked uncomfortable, but finally spoke, “Yeah, it sounds like something she might do.”
“So the three of us go and confront Willow and get her to give me back the rest of my memories,” I said, getting up. “We better head out now. She's probably already knows I'm back. I want to talk to her before she can get ready.”
“I... don't think you've considered all the implications about confronting her,” Robin said, not getting up from the table.
“We grab a couple of protective charms, so she can't whammy us. As long as we prepare, it shouldn't be a problem,” I said.
“That's not what I meant. Willow Rosenberg is one of the founders of the Reformed Council. She's the head of Magical Studies branch, and is the main liaison with the outside magical communities. She has very important friends in the Council, and let's not forget she's personally a powerful witch,” Robin explained. “And you want to rush in after a five year absence and start throwing accusations around without any proof?”
“What other explanation is there?” I demanded.
“Maybe it's an effort to discredit Willow,” Robin speculated. “Someone targets you, then when you regain your memory, your first suspicion is Willow. Your accusation could cause serious rifts in the Council. That would benefit a lot of our enemies.”
“Nice theory. But it doesn't work,” I told him. “This is some high level magic that was done to me. Do you really think that could happen to her best friend without her noticing anything? Sorry, but Willow was involved in this.”
“Robin, we should at least talk to her,” Dawn said. “We need to find out if she did this.”
“And if she did?” Robin asked. “What then?”
“Then we make sure she doesn't do anything like that again,” I said. “She can't just make these life altering decisions all on her own.”
“Except that's exactly what the Council asks her to do every day,” Robin pointed out. “Do you want to turn her over to the authorities? Because when it comes to magic, she is the authority. There's no law against magic use, so you can't go to the police. When a serious problem with magic arises, we ask Willow to solve it. How many lives were forever changed when she activated all the Slayers? These are lives of people she never met, but that's what we asked her to do. And in the years since then we've asked her to do a lot more on a fairly regular basis. Now we're supposed to slap her on the wrist and tell her to place nice? Even if she did everything you said, why should I or anyone on the Council take your side against her?”
“Because I'm the guy that killed Spike,” I told him.
Dawn winced at this.
Robin began to reply, then stopped.
As he thought, I continued, “I just bet that when Spike lost his soul, some people argued that the Council should help him, right?”
Robin nodded, but didn't speak.
Dawn spoke up, “Xander, he did help out in Sunnydale. And once he got his soul, he helped close the Hellmouth.”
“But he didn't have his soul anymore,” I said. “That's the point. He was back to being the evil vampire that killed Robin's mom and wore her coat as a trophy. But despite that, and whoever he killed once he lost his soul again, I bet Willow was all ready to re-ensoul him and welcome him back to the fold. Am I right?”
Robin nodded again. “That would be an accurate assessment,” he said tersely.
“Now I'm old fashioned. That means when Spike shows up and tries to kill me, I stake the son of a bitch.”
“I helped with that,” Jack said eagerly.
“Not the time,” I told him. I turned back to Robin and Dawn. “When a person I considered a friend fucks with my mind, I want justice,” I said.
Dawn placed her hand on Robin's arm. “If Xander's right, then we need to start putting in some reforms and safeguards. We can't let any Council member abuse their power.”
“Now I'm asking you, when this goes down which side are you going to be on?” I asked, looking directly at Robin.
Robin looked from me to Dawn back to me. He shook his head sighing. “You know this isn't going to be easy, right?” We nodded in response. “But if you're right, then we better do something about it. I'm in.”
As we got up, Dawn and I made our way over to the cashier. I saw Robin approach Jack.
“You helped stake Spike?” Robin asked. Jack nodded. “Tell me all about it,” he said.
The plan was pretty simple. Dawn and Robin grabbed a few wards and set up a meeting room. They called Willow and said there was a problem they needed her for, and asked that she come over right now. An hour later Willow teleported in and the three of them made their way to the prearranged room.
“So, what's the object you want me to examine?” Willow asked as she entered the room. “We can....,” she trailed off as she saw me seated by the table.
“Hey, Wills. It's been awhile,” I said.
“Xander... you're back,” she gaped. She stood frozen by the entrance, one hand still on the doorknob. “You.... You remember.”
Willow ran towards me and hugged me, just as I was rising from my seat. I stood awkwardly with my arms at my side. After a few seconds, she looked up at me, grinning widely. Her smile faded as she saw my expression.
“Xander, what's the matter? It's been five years. Don't you have a hug for me?” she asked.
As I felt her arms slacken, I stepped away from her. “Willow, we need to talk about the spell you did.”
Willow looked at me, then nodded after a few seconds. “Yeah. I guess we do.”
“So you did cast the spell that gave Xander amnesia?” Robin asked from the doorway.
Willow glanced over to him and Dawn. She had forgotten about their presence in her surprise to see me. “Um, actually, do you mind giving me and Xander some privacy?”
“Xander asked us to be here,” Dawn said. She and Robin came in and shut the door to the room. The wards placed in here prevented any magic from being used. “Willow, when Xander disappeared, you knew what happened. We spent months looking for him. You hid the truth from us.”
“This is very serious,” Robin said as he sat down. He gave a quick glance to the corner of the room, where a video camera was set up and recording this meeting. “The Council will want to know about any unethical behavior on your part.”
“Look, I know that I did some things that may seem unethical. But I had reasons. I knew that a lot of people wouldn't understand, so I -”
“What? You decided to play around with my brain without even telling me?” I asked her in an angry tone. “Jesus, Willow!”
Willow looked at me, shock and pain evident on her face. She glanced at Dawn and Robin, then looked back at me in confusion. “That wasn't...” she stopped, and a sad realization hit her. “You still have holes in your memory, don't you?”
“Thanks to your meddling!” I shouted. “And you just lied to everyone after. You lied to Dawn, you lied to Giles, you lied to Buffy!”
Dawn gasped at this.
Willow cast her head down, not wanting to look me in the eye.
“Oh dear,” Robin muttered softly.
“What?” I looked around the room in confusion.
Dawn put her hand on my arm and looked at me in sadness. “Xander,” she started. “Buffy died. You were there when it happened.”
Buffy died. Buffy was dead. How could I not know that? Buffy died and . . . . . . and I remembered.
I walk into the room, and Willow gets up and hugs me.
“Are you okay?” she asks.
“It's my fault,” I say. “I shouldn't have sent her in.”
“Don't say that,” Willow tells me as she guides me to the couch. “You didn't know it was a trap.”
“I should have guessed. I should have known better. I should have gone instead of her. I should have... I shouldn't have been her Watcher. She died because I wasn't good enough.”
“That's not true. No one thinks this is your fault. Not Giles, not Dawn, not me. And deep down, you know it too.”
She keeps her arms around me as the tears run down my cheek. I moan softly, so she gently rocks me back and forth.
“I can't do this anymore,” I say in a quiet voice.
“Take some time off. You deserve it. No one can keep the pace you've been setting. After a few months we can give you a new assignment and -”
“Another assignment?” I ask in horror. “So I can train another Slayer and watch her die? I can't do it anymore. I can't lose another person I care about. I'm out.”
Willow gives me a sad smile. “You're in pain right now. Just let yourself grieve and we'll work everything out later.”
I shake my head and pull away from her. “I can't do this anymore. Not after Buffy. I've seen too many good people die.”
“I know it hurts,” Willow says. “I lost them too.”
“But you don't want me to quit,” I say in a tired voice.
Willow gently takes my hand. “I want you to have a life free from hurt or strife. But I know you. And you can't not help. Back in high school, we tried to keep you safe that one time. Despite all that you took out a zombie gang and defused a bomb. As long as you know someone needs help, you'll be there. It's just who you are.”
I sit in silence, thinking about her words. It's who I am. I could transfer to some desk job for the Council. But when the first emergency hit, would I really sit back and let the others do all the work? Could I really try to live a normal life, knowing what I know. How long would I be able ignore the danger in the nightlife? How could I ever try to live like that while everyone I cared about risked their lives?
“It's just who I am,” I repeat in sadness, realizing the truth to her words. “What if we change who I am?”
Willow flinches as I say the words, but pretends not to get the implication.
“You can do it,” I say, not even asking.
She shakes her head. “No. It's too much. The balance needed -”
“You can do it,” I repeat. “I need this. I can't last in this life anymore. If I continue, I'll wind up dead. One way or another, it'll happen. If I'm lucky, no one else will die.”
“Don't say that,” Willow orders. “You won't die.”
“Buffy wasn't supposed to die either, but it happened,” I say. I raise my hands to show her the tremors in them. “She didn't deserve to die. A lot of people who didn't deserve, died. And I know I can't last much longer.“
Willow takes my hands in an attempt to soothe me. “We can't just -”
“I CAN'T DO THIS ANYMORE!” I shout, cutting her off. She steps back, but I don't stop. “You owe me,” I tell her. “When Tara died, you cracked under it all. You were prepared to kill your friends. You were prepared to kill everyone. You were prepared to kill me. But I wouldn't let you. I was there for you that day. I saved your life and your soul. Now I'm begging you, please do this for me.”
Willow bites her lip to keep from crying, but the tears still run down her cheek. I collapse back on the couch, sobbing. She takes a deep breath and sits beside me.
“It won't be easy,” she says. “The spell will need a lot of work. I need to know you'll be safe before I do anything.”
I breath a little easier. For the first time since Buffy died, I feel like a weight has been lifted from my chest. “You'll figure it out.”
“And there's a lot I can't do. I can't just set up a new life. There has to be documentation, records.”
“Leave that to me,” I tell her. “I've been setting up foreign Slayers with phony IDs. I can set up a phony past and new life easy.”
Willow hugs me tightly. “Whatever happens, I love you. You know that right? I just have to know you're going to be ok . . .
. . . ay? Xander, are you okay?” Dawn shook my shoulders, trying to get my attention.
I looked up at her in a daze. “Buffy.... Buffy's dead. I remember. I was there and I watched her die,” I said. “I remember. I remember everything.”
“That's... good,” Robin said as he stood on the other side of the room to keep an eye on everyone. “Then you can tell us in detail if Willow acted inappropriately.”
“No,” I said, shaking my head. “It was my idea. She only did what I asked her to. I'll take full responsibility for everything,” I told him. I looked around the room. “Can you guys give me and Willow some privacy? And tell Jack I'll talk to him when I'm done here. I'm sure he's eager to know what happened.”
Dawn and Robin quietly got up and left the room. “And turn off the camera,” I told Robin right before he closes the door. Willow opened her mouth to speak, but I raised my hand to stop her. I waited until the light on the camera turned off before putting my hand down.
“Hey, Willow,” I greeted her.
“Hey,” she returned. “So you got your memory back.”
“So...” Willow started. “What was it? I left some triggers, the spell wouldn't work otherwise. Attack by supernatural, some kind of counter charm or spell, finding out information from your past, running into someone who recognized you.... or just the spell wears off naturally.”
“I ran into Dawn during a layover. That led me to look into my past, which led me into the middle of a vampire attack,” I summed up.
“The perfect storm.” Willow opened her mouth, then paused to gather her thoughts. “Are you... are you happy? Do you have good life?”
I looked over and saw the desperate need in her eyes. “Yes. I have a very good life,” I told her in full honesty. “So what happened after I was gone. I know Spike lost his soul.”
“Officially, you went on sabbatical and never came back. So you had a three month head start before people started asking questions. The Council looked for awhile, but you weren't going under the name Xander Harris anymore, or hanging out in places that would get you noticed. Considering how devastated you were over Buffy, plus the fact that we had our usual semi-annual near-apocalypse, we stopped looking for you.”
“How did the others react to Buffy's death?” I asked.
I saw the sadness written on Willow's face. “Giles retired. Ever since he ran the new Council, he had been working too hard. After Buffy, no one argued when he stepped down. Dawn took the year off from school. She traveled around some, but came back. She's one of the best researchers of the Council. In ten years she'll probably be running the whole Council. Spike... Buffy was the reason he got his soul. Her death was the trigger that lost it.”
“What about you?”
“My friend died,” she said sadly, “and then I helped my other friend leave in order to save him. But I survived.”
“Voodoo style, yes. Romero style, no,” Robin answered.
Jack thought for a moment. “Bigfoot?” he asked.
“There are several subdemonic species that live in the North American wilderness. Occasionally one is spotted, and there's a Bigfoot sighting.”
“Wow. I really figured that would be a hoax. Bigfoot is real,” Jack marveled. “Swamp monsters?”
Robin shook his head in confusion. “Can you be more specific?”
“You know, like the Swamp Thing. Big, mossy, shambling thing...” Jack searched for words, “made of plants and mud. Hangs out in swamps.”
“No, I don't know of any swamp monsters that are real,” Robin told him.
“YES!” one of the junior Slayers yelled from across the room. “They are too real!”
“Julie is mistaken. The Council has found no evidence of the existence of leprechauns, despite what some Slayers think,” Robin said.
“I know what I saw!”
Willow and I came into the room to catch Robin filling in Jack about the world of the supernatural. I smiled at his inquisitiveness. I tried to remember if I was ever that eager. Probably not, I was too worried about the creatures of the night trying to kill me to reflect on how cool they were.
Jack spotted us and waved us over. “Dude! I can't believe you forgot about this stuff.”
“I had my reasons,” I said. “Jack, I want to introduce you.” I turned to Willow, “Willow, this is my best friend Jack. Jack, this is... my best friend Willow.”
Jack looked at Willow nervously. “So, we're not angry at Willow?”
“No, we're not angry. We're very lucky to know her,” I said.
Willow and I sat down at the table. After a moment of silence, Robin spoke up. “Xander, we're going to need you to give an accounting of what happened. You can write up a report, or just give a statement.”
“Yeah. I just need some time to let everything settle in. But I'll give a full report before I head back home,” I said.
“So you are going back?” Willow asked with a sad smile.
“Yeah, I am. That's where my life is now. Besides, this guy,” I point to Jack, “will kick my ass if I dump his sister....” I trail off as it hits me. “Oh, god, what am I going to tell Lisa? This is all -”
Willow placed her hand on my arm, quieting me. “You tell her your name is Xander Harris. You lived in Sunnydale, until the town was destroyed. You had a fiancée that died that day. Later a close friend of yours died. You decided to start over someplace new where you were in a car accident and lost your memory.”
“Wait... that's the truth.”
“Yep. You'd be surprised how often it works.”
“I'd leave out the part on how vampires are real,” Jack added. “I mean, I actually saw them in action and I still have trouble believing it happened. Unless you plan on bringing her into the whole slaying life.”
“That would be a huge no,” I told him. I looked around the room with a sad realization. “That part of my life is over now.”
Willow squeezed my hand, and Dawn stepped over and hugged me. Dawn looked up at me. “Are you sure?” she asked.
“Yeah. I am.”
A chirping ring ended the moment as Jack pulled out his cell phone. He glanced at the number calling. “Speak of the Devil,” he tossed the phone to me. “I think you should take this one.”
I answered the phone. “Hey, Lisa.... Jack and I are both fine.... I found out a lot. I'll tell you all about it.... Jack and I will head back today. I'll see you when I get home.” I ended the call and tossed the phone back to Jack. “C'mon, Jack. We're going home.”