Title: Forgotten Love
Rating: Nothing worse than the show.
Summary: Just as Xander's personal life takes a nosedive, his professional one takes a turn for the better when he's given an offer he feels he cannot refuse. Will he be given a reason to stay, or will he leave Sunnydale forever? Only Buffy has the answer, but she can't even remember why.
Disclaimer: I do not claim to own the characters depicted in this story, nor do I claim to own the show this story is based upon. I am not making any money from the writing of this story. Please do not sue; I'm just not worth it.
A/N: This is AU, set during the second half of season six. Buffy didn't die at the end of season five, as I didn't have to switch networks to write this. Spike died during the final battle saving Dawn, his head ripped off by Doc. Anya had been killed before the season finale by Olaf, when she threw herself in the path of his hammer as he went to hit Xander a second time. Everything else will (hopefully) be explained in the story.
A/N 2: The Voices, in their divine wisdom, thought that instead of helping me with one of my numerous existing stories, they'd whisper to me the beginnings of another. However, while annoying, when The Voices talk I listen and humbly obey, so here is the first part. Enjoy!
When Xander had been called into his boss' office, he'd been worried that his recent depressive mood had gotten him in trouble with the brass, and his worries only increased when he entered the office and noticed that not only was his boss there, but both the area manager and the district manager were also present.
"Am I being fired?" was the first thing to come out of his mouth the moment he'd gotten the handshakes out of the way and sat down, figuring that if he were being dismissed that he wanted to get it over with as soon as possible.
"Of course not," his boss, Claude Greengrass, assured him with a small laugh, "quite the opposite in fact. You've been working for Jameson Construction for two years now and in that time you have risen from an inexperienced labourer to assistant manager of the Sunnydale office with the respect of those who work under you, which is no small achievement."
Xander knew that it wasn't purely down to hard work that had allowed his almost meteoric rise through the ranks. Oh, he had worked had and showed a dedication that many thought him incapable, but there were other factors to be taken into account.
The heavy turnover in staff due to people leaving town or, well, dying, had meant that he'd been afforded more opportunities than he might have had otherwise. The heavy turnaround in manpower might have been investigated in any other part of the world, but it seemed that the Sunnydale Effect that allowed the general populace remain blissfully unaware of the supernatural extended to anything that would bring more attention to the town than was necessary.
Of course he wasn't too proud to do a little ass kissing when the need arose either. "I wouldn't have gotten to the position I have had you not given me a chance when you did."
Had anyone who knew him outside of work heard the way he was speaking, they would be checking him for possession in a heartbeat. Xander had learned from an early age how to fit in, and when he had met Claude and found that he had decided to take him under his wing, he began to modulate the way he spoke to do just that, emulating the way Giles would speak to better ingratiate himself. He didn't change what he would say, just the way he would say it, so he didn't feel guilty about it, especially as he knew that Giles' natural accent wasn't the cultured tone he currently used.
"Flattery will get you everywhere Alex," Claude told him with a smile, Alex being the name Xander used at work to make him feel more adult. "I have been singing your praises to Nicole and Michael here," he continued, indicating the two people seated next to him, "and they finally decided to come down and see what all the fuss is about."
"I certainly hope that I pass muster," Xander replied, starting to feel more relaxed now that he knew that his job was safe, at least for the immediate future.
"I'm sure you will," Nicola, the district manager, replied.
Realising that the upcoming conversation could very well be beneficial to his career, Xander turned up the charm whilst chatting with Michael and Nicole, finding that it was half getting to know him and half testing him to see if he was as good as Claude had said he was.
As the conversation began to wind down, Xander decided to bite the bullet and broach the subject at the forefront of his mind at the moment. "I might not be the sharpest tack in the box," he began, "but there must be more to this than a simple meet and greet session."
"Indeed it is Alex," Michael responded with a smile, his tone indicating that he like the fact Xander was intuitive and that he had the courage to speak up. "We have come to make you an offer that we hope you cannot refuse."
"Claude has been giving us nothing but high praise about you ever since you became foreman last year," Nicola continued, "and now that we have been able to see why, we would like to offer you a promotion."
"You're not leaving are you?" Xander asked Claude worriedly, having become quite fond of him during his time here, likening him as another father figure alongside Giles, just without the extensive knowledge of the occult.
"Heavens no," Claude assured him, "I have worked in Sunnydale all of my life, and I have no intention of working anywhere else."
"Then forgive me for sounding obtuse," Xander went on, "but how could I be offered a promotion when there is no position to be promoted to?"
"While it's true that there is no position available in Sunnydale," Nicola agreed, "there is one open in Portland."
"I didn't even think we had a presence in Oregon," Xander said, half out of genuine curiosity and half to show he kept up on current events. He quickly realised where this was going, and was stunned by what he was about to be offered.
"We have been giving a lot of thought to expanding our business into Oregon for a while now, and we decided to start in Portland. It will be a low key affair to begin with, allowing you time to get your bearings, but Claude has always been an excellent judge of character and we feel that you will help us to become as successful there as were are in California."
"I have no idea what to say," Xander said after a while, finding himself in unknown territory; completely speechless.
"You don't have to say anything right now," Claude assured him, knowing that it was a big decision to make, "but we can't give you a lot of time to decide either, as they want the office opened as soon as possible. It's Thursday now; we really need to have you answer by start of business Monday. I know it will mean a lot of changes for you Alex," he went on, "but opportunities like these do not come around very often, and I cannot think of a better person for the job than you."
"I'm happy you have so much confidence in me," Xander told him sincerely, although he still felt a little uneasy whenever someone praised him, having been so unused to it during his childhood. "I won't let you down."
"Don't say yes because you think I want you to," Claude advised, "say yes because you want to. To help you make your decision, you can have the rest of the day off, and I won't expect you in until Monday."
"I doubt I'll be thinking of anything else," he assured them, standing and shaking their hands before making his way out of the office.
As he made his way to his car, Xander thought that had they had offered the position to him a months ago he would have said thanks but no thanks, but now it just maybe the one thing that will help him start over, because he sure as hell can't stay in Sunnydale any longer.
When Xander got back to his apartment, Dawn was waiting for him in the living room, which surprised him as he'd left work three hours earlier than usual. "Hey Dawn, what are you doing here?" he asked warily, knowing that she rarely turned up on his doorstep without there being something wrong, or more accurately without her doing something wrong.
"I came to see how you are, given that you haven't been round for nearly a month," she groused, wincing as Xander's expression hardened and cursing herself for being so tactless.
"Well, we both know why, don't we?" he snapped, feeling guilty a moment later for taking his anger out on her.
"Sorry," she mumbled, "it's hard to remember sometimes."
"Yeah, it seems to be a family trait," he said with a sigh, slumping down on the couch next to her. "How did you know I'd be here?"
"I called you at work, they said you'd been given some time off. Is everything okay?"
"No," he told her truthfully, "but it will be. I've been offered a promotion at work."
"That's great!" Dawn beamed. "What would you be doing?"
"I'd be the manager of the Portland office."
Dawn looked at him dumbly for several moments before speaking. "There isn't a Portland in Sunnydale."
Despite the situation Xander smiled at that. "No, but there is one in Oregon."
"Oh." Dawn continued to stare blankly at him, and after a while it began to unnerve the young man. "You did say no didn't you? Tell me you said no, that you're staying here?" she asked her voice rising with every word. "Tell me!" she screamed.
"I can't tell you something that isn't true Dawn," he told her honestly, keeping his voice level. "I haven't said yes yet either, hence the time off to make my decision," Xander went on, ensuring he put enough emphasis on 'my' to hopefully forestall what he knew would be Dawn's next statement. It didn't work.
"Tell them you're staying!" she demanded, sounding like some monarch ordering a servant to bring her more food.
"Why should I?" he asked her, still not raising his voice or showing any of the anger he felt towards her at that moment. He couldn't blame her for feeling the way she did, but no one got to tell him what he would do with his life.
It was his lack of anger that got to Dawn more than anything else, enough to stop her next sentence before it left her lips. A lot had changed for Xander in the last month, and she had seen it take its toll on him, knowing that it would get a whole lot worse before it got even a little better. He had gone through so much and this last thing had been the straw that broke the camel's back; maybe his best chance to recover was to make a life for himself away from the source of his pain, especially as he had been told that he was not allowed to fix what had happened.
She knew all that, and she really did want what was best for him, but a larger part of her wanted him to stay, despite how selfish it made her. "Please don't leave," she whispered, tears coming to her eyes at the thought of another person leaving her.
"I haven't decided anything yet," Xander told her, "but right now, even though I don't want to leave you, it isn't enough reason for me to stay."
"Why not?" she sniffled, causing Xander's heart to fracture even more, something he hadn't thought possible.
"I can't stay and watch as she gets on with her life, witness her go out on dates with other men, falling in love…"
"She can't help it!" Dawn cried desperately. "She doesn't even…"
"I know Dawn," he said resignedly, cutting her off before she could get a good head of steam going, "but that doesn't change the fact that it will happen, and I can't be here when it does."
Dawn looked at him for a few moments, tears streaming down her face, before she jumped up off the couch and ran to the door, exiting his apartment before Xander had a chance to catch her. Xander considered chasing after her, but instead sighed brokenly and went back to his new favourite past time; staring at the wall and remembering what used to be.
By the time Dawn got home, she had cried herself out but was still in a foul mood, proven by the way she threw the door open and stormed inside, slamming it shut behind her. Ignoring the looks she was receiving from Willow and Tara in the living room, she trudged her way up the stairs and ensured that every step could be heard throughout the house.
Buffy came out of her room and glared at her younger sister as she reached the top of the stairs. "Why are you causing so much racket?" she asked/demanded.
Dawn wanted to explain exactly why she was so upset, and whose fault she felt it was, but knew it would be pointless. "Nothing," she grumbled, walking past her sister and going into her room, making sure to slam it shut to further get her point across that she was one unhappy lady.
Buffy considered going in and having it out with her, having already argued with Dawn about the amount of noise she made, but instead slumped her shoulders and sighed, knowing that she wouldn't get anywhere even if she tried.
Ever since she'd been attacked by that Tempus demon last month, everyone had been acting strangely around her and she couldn't tell why. She knew that something had to have happened to her, given the worried looks she had received soon after, but whenever she tried to find out exactly what had happened, they would either find some excuse to leave the room or blatantly change the subject. Even when they were talking about things completely unrelated to that night, there would suddenly be pauses in conversation, as though they were going to say something and then change their minds.
Those times were especially hard for Buffy as she knew she was the only one in the room who didn't understand what was going on, and also knew that they wouldn't explain to her if she asked.
Other things had caught her attention, like the lack of photos on display around the house when she knew there had been some before, or the half empty photo albums she had gone through. The biggest thing was that she felt like she wasn't complete, as though something had been taken from her, but she had no idea what that was. Knowing that there was little she could do about it at the moment, she went back in her room and continued getting ready for her date, only to realise that she didn't in fact have one.
'Weird,' she thought, feeling as though she should know what was going on, but finding it just outside of her grasp.
Willow & Tara's Room.
Willow was worried, and when Willow was worried she was hyper. Okay, Willow was always hyper, but even more so when she was worried, which was why she was pacing around her room muttering to herself whilst valiantly trying not to bite her nails.
Tara, who was sitting at the foot of the bed watching her girlfriend trading a hole into the carpet, was also worried about what had been going on recently, but couldn't think of what could be done to solve it.
They had both been trying to keep Xander as occupied as possible the last month or so, inviting him round for dinner and generally did whatever they could to keep his mind off of what happened, but both knew that their efforts were in vain. They had watched as Xander became more and more introverted and sullen, flying off the handle at the slightest thing and generally acting like a bear with a sore head.
They couldn't blame him for it given the circumstances, and sympathised with what he was going through, but it was really starting to become draining to be around the young man and then knew that if something wasn't done soon he might never be reachable.
Things had only gotten worse for Willow's state of mind after Tara informed her of her chat with Dawn, who had explained the job offer Xander had received and the fact he was seriously considering it. The prospect of her oldest friend leaving had devastated the redhead, and had been the catalyst for her current attempt to wear out the carpet.
"Honey," Tara began, "you need to calm down before you give yourself a heart attack."
"I can't calm down!" Willow cried, although she did stop pacing and instead flopped down beside her love. "We were losing him slowly but surely before, and now he's got this new job to go to he's going to leave and I don't know what I can do about it!"
"All we can do is be there for him," Tara said soothingly, rubbing Willow's back gently.
"No, that isn't all we can do, but Giles won't let us," she grumbled, her face darkening as she thought of the Watcher.
"You know that Giles only has their best interest at heart," Tara said in defence of the man, even if she wasn't happy about his decree herself.
Willow nodded reluctantly. "Doesn't make me feel any better though. I don't want to lose him Tara," she whispered, moving into the mousy blonde's loving embrace.
"None of us do," Tara agreed, knowing that she would miss Xander dearly also should he leave, "but as you said, there isn't a lot we can do about it, and the only one who can isn't aware there's a problem."
"It isn't fair," Willow sobbed into Tara's shoulder, finally allowing her emotions to get the best of her.
"We live on a Hellmouth, there's no such thing as fair," Tara replied, her eyes sad.
Wilkins Memorial Cemetery,
Xander was out on patrol, the first time since the incident, and he was loaded for war. He had moved on from misery and now found himself firmly in the pissed off category, and was going to deal with it the way he had done for years, take it out on the nocturnal population of Sunnydale.
His time at work hasn't only been beneficial for his career; the hard labour he'd been put through in the early stages of his job had helped fill him out and allow him to finally see that getting in shape was something to strive for. Now while he wasn't a powerhouse, he was definitely stronger than most people his size, and having to fight things much stronger and faster than he was had helped to maintain a more muscular physique. Also, the training that Giles had finally begun to provide him the last year or so had helped improve his fighting style tremendously, so instead of the barroom brawling he had used before he had a more refined, but no less effective, fighting style.
Tonight though wasn't about style, it was about venting the excess emotions that had been bottled up inside of him the past month.
Xander had already despatched three vampires so far, his lack of fear or common sense at the moment being enough to tip the odds in his favour, and was now looking for more. So far he had stayed clear of Buffy's usual patrol route, but he was running out of places to look and hadn't wound down enough to return home, so he had little option but to do so.
It was lucky that he had, as he soon came upon Buffy in a fight with at least seven vamps, and she was on the losing end of the equation. She wasn't looking very steady on her feet, and was bleeding from the head wound that had obviously given the septet the upper hand. Knowing that time was off the essence, Xander ran as stealthily as possible towards the group, and at the last minute activated a road flare and slammed it into the back of the nearest vampire.
Using the advantage given to him by its hellish screams as it incinerated, Xander grabbed the buzz saw blades he had inside his jacket and threw them with towards the vamps furthest away from the Slayer, catching one in the neck and dusting it instantly, removing the arm of another and catching a third square in the chest. Still moving as quickly as he could, he staked the now one-armed vampire and went to do the same to the other one when his luck ran out and was kicked in the ribs by one of the remaining demons.
The wind was knocked out of the young man, and Xander was unable to recover in time to block or dodge the second kick to his head, which sent him flying and crashed into a tombstone. Shaking his head clear of the cobwebs, Xander managed to pull out the water pistol from his pocket and sprayed it into the eyes of the advancing vampire, causing it to stop dead in its tracks. Ignoring the searing pain in his chest, Xander managed to get up and stake the vampire and put it out of its misery, before making his way over to Buffy to deal with the remaining vampires, although now with things a bit more even she didn't need a lot of help.
A couple of minutes and three more dust piles later, Xander and Buffy were the only ones standing, although Xander knew Buffy was standing through sheer force of will. He kept his distance and stood under a nearby tree, knowing that after a fight like that her personal bubble expanded by a factor of ten, and under the present circumstances he wouldn't stand a chance against her, head injury or no head injury.
Eventually, Buffy seemed to gather herself enough to realise that there was someone close by, and that they weren't a threat to her, and her eyes locked onto Xander's for several long moments, despite the fact the his face was completely obscured from sight, before she spoke. "Who are you?" she asked.
Even though Xander had been expecting the question, it still cut through him like a hot knife through butter and he took a halting step back as he lost his balance. "A friend," he replied softly, knowing that she would hear him despite the quietness of his voice.
"Well, maybe I don't want a friend," she told him.
"I never said I was yours," he replied unthinking, finding it creepy that his 'first' conversation with Buffy would mirror the first one she had with Angel so closely.
He remembered Buffy telling him about her first meeting with the ensouled vampire, and how if she'd had that conversation with him now instead of back in High School, she wouldn't have given him a second thought. He hadn't believed her at the time, but then it had been at the beginning of their relationship and he still had a lot of insecurities about them. He chuckled bitterly when he realised he'd only just gotten over those insecurities when the Tempus demon had struck.
Tempus demons strike at you temporally, so Giles informed them as they had sat around a sleeping Buffy after the fight, removing the most important person from your life by removing your memories of them. Everyone had been consoling Dawn, believing that it would be the memories of her that would be removed, knowing how hard the girl would take it after having finally gotten over the fact that she had been created only the year previous and that the memories they had of her before then had been implanted.
No one had been more shocked than Xander when the only one in the room she hadn't recognised was him. He couldn't remember much more of that night, but he had been told by Giles the day after that they had made some excuse about him being an innocent bystander who got caught in the crossfire. When he had asked, quite rightly in his opinion, why they hadn't told her who he was, Giles had gone on to explain that if Buffy discovered who he was other than by working it out for herself, the shock to her system would be too severe and she'd slip into a coma and die.
Almost a month later, here he was only feet away from the woman he loved, who didn't know his name, and could never know if he wanted her to live. He would do anything and everything to ensure that she did live, and that included leaving. Before Xander had a chance to move however, Buffy was already standing in front of him, staring at him as though she were trying to figure out a complex puzzle.
"I remember you; you're the guy who helped us out last month."
He just nodded, finding himself speechless. She didn't know who he was, but the fact that she recognised him at all had made him feel ten feet tall.
"I can't remember your name though," she told him, her tone indicating that she expected him to fill in the blanks.
"Alex," he told her eventually, forcing himself not to call himself Xander just in case.
"Buffy," she said in kind. "Listen, Alex, while I can't say I didn't appreciate the assist there, this is dangerous and unless you have a death wish you'll stay inside after dark."
It would be funny if it weren't so annoying; it seemed Xander would have the same type of discussions with Buffy whether she knew who he was or not.
"While I appreciate your concern," he replied, his tone hardening slightly, "what I do or do not do is none of your business. This isn't a new thing for me; I have been doing this a long time and apart from the occasional concussion or broken bone I do quite well."
That was something Buffy couldn't help but agree with; while she hadn't been completely with it during the fight after hitting her head on the tombstone, she did notice herself going from seven to one odds to three to one in quick succession. He'd been able to use surprise and distraction to his advantage, but anyone who entered a situation like he had and survive had a lot more than luck going for them.
"I can see that," she agreed, "but this is my duty, not yours."
"I might not get the quotation right, but the best way for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing," he retorted, once again finding it odd that they were having a conversation that so closely resembled another one.
During senior year, when Xander had felt that he was being excluded from the group, he and Buffy had a similar conversation, and it had been one of the few times that he felt that he had been able to get his point across. It had helped that she actually seemed to listen to his side of things, instead of only hearing what she wanted to hear.
Buffy sighed and her shoulders slumped slightly. "Fine, do what you want, but don't blame me if you get killed," she told him tiredly, Xander noticing that she was finally coming down from the adrenaline rush that had sustained her throughout the battle.
"Don't worry, if I die I won't be blaming anyone, given that I'd be dead."
"Good," she sighed before Xander saw her eyes roll up into her head and pass out, just able to catch her before she hit the ground.
"My tough little fighter," he whispered into her hair, before shifting her into a more comfortable position and making his way towards the Magic Box..
The Magic Box,
Giles had always been a night owl, and in his profession it had been a blessing rather than a curse… mostly. While it was beneficial to be awake during the night to help research and combat the forces of darkness, it also meant that he was sometimes left alone with nothing but his thoughts and the fear that the charges he had sent out to battle would never return.
His training with the Council had prepared him for the fact that Slayers died, and died frequently. His youth had taught him that the moment you thought you were invincible, the Fates would prove you wrong.
Nothing had prepared him for what would happen if he began to think of his charge as a daughter, and nothing had prepared him for what would happen if she had friends who would also become like children to him.
This last month had been especially hard on him, as he could see one of his 'children' slowly coming apart at the seams, and he had absolutely no way of help, and in fact he was certain they believed him to be a hindrance. Xander was his only 'son', and just like his father and his father before him, he had always expected more of him than the others. Happily however, he had never been disappointed in the young man, unlike his father who would have disowned him had he lived long enough to do so.
Giles would be the first to admit that Xander had made mistakes, but then he was young and the young had to make mistakes to truly learn how to become an adult. Each time Xander faltered, he learned something from the experience and grew from the knowledge, something that some people his age, or any age for that matter, never did.
Something Giles had ever been good at was dealing with emotional problems; give him a demon to research or an apocalypse to thwart and he was in his element, but outside of that and he was floundering like a fish out of water. He had certainly been floundering recently, and had felt helpless as he watched Xander grow steadily fall deeper into despair.
The hardest part had been when he had to explain that there was nothing they could do to help solve the situation, going so far as to forbid Willow and Tara from trying anything to 'help' the situation along, unable to take the risk that whatever they tried would backfire and ultimately kill Buffy.
Watching Buffy go about her everyday life as though nothing had happened often made Giles angry, although he was always careful to conceal it. He knew that it was not her fault that she was unaware of what she had lost, but it still galled him to see her acting completely normal, an irrational part of him upset that she didn't feel that something was missing from her life.
For Xander to have been the target of the curse, he must have been viewed by Buffy as the most important person in her life, family not withstanding, and despite that fact that she no longer remembered anything about him, he would have thought that his absence should be felt, even if she didn't know why.
His inner monologue was interrupted when the ding of the bell indicating that someone was entering the shop, and was shocked to see that it was Xander carrying a barely conscious Buffy in his arms.
"Hello Mr Giles," Xander said before Giles could say anything further, "I'm not sure if you remember me, but I'm Alex, the guy that got caught in the crossfire last month?"
Noticing Buffy's still groggy state, Giles simply mouthed a thank you to Xander for reminding him before saying anything. "Ah, yes, Alex. What happened to Buffy?"
"She got hit on by a bunch of guys and took offence," he told the older man with a slight smile, gazing fondly at the young woman in his arms. "I'm not sure how a slip of a girl like her did it, but she soon made them regret it."
Giles smiled at the comment, knowing it had been more for Buffy's behalf than anything else. He indicated that Xander place Buffy down on the table, quickly moving the books had he'd been perusing to accommodate the young Slayer. He knew how difficult the situation must be for the young man right now, having to look after the woman he loved who barely knew his name, but still had to get more details concerning how she had gotten into the state she was.
Another thing that penetrated his mind was that, while Buffy wasn't really in any state to complain, she had seemed perfectly content in Xander's arms. No matter how badly she was injured, Buffy had a strong dislike for people helping her get back home or the shop, allowing only the most perfunctory support even when she was barely able to walk. There had only ever been one exception to that rule as far as he knew, and that was the man standing in front of him. That it was still true gave Giles hope that she did sense something was missing from her life after all.
"Mmm… pigheaded… foolish…" Buffy muttered as Xander released her and stepped back so Giles could tend to her.
"I presume that those comments are directed at you?" Giles enquired, smiling slightly as he turned to look at the young man for a moment before returning his attention to his charge.
"Probably," Xander replied with a shrug. "I decided to ignore the better part of valour and waded in, and while it probably saved her life, it also got her pissed at me."
"I have noticed that women in general, and this woman in particular, do not appreciate someone assuming they need help," Giles told him, "even when it's true. I think we can both agree that having her alive and angry at you is a far better prospect than the alternative."
Xander didn't answer, but Giles didn't need to hear it to know what it would be. Xander had already shown he would go to any length to ensure Buffy's continued existence, no matter what it cost him in the process.
"I better go," Xander said eventually, turning to leave when a voice stopped him.
"Wait," Buffy asked softly, feeling better now that Giles had administered the healing balm that complimented her own Slayer healing. "Thank you."
Xander had to turn away to hide the tears that sprung to his eyes. It was a small thing, and wasn't something he thought of often, but he could count the times Buffy had thanked him for his help on the fingers of one hand with enough left over to hitch a ride and flip someone the bird. Even though it shouldn't, it hurt that she could so easily thank 'Alex' for his help, when she had found it so hard to thank 'Xander'.
After a couple of moments, he was confident enough about his control over his emotions to turn and respond. "You're welcome." He turned to Giles. "It was nice to see you again Mr Giles, I hope that we might get to do so under less arduous circumstances."
Giles was able to see the question in Xander's eyes and knew that at the moment he would not, could not deny him. "One can only hope, Alex, one can only hope."