I'm yanked out of my sleep in a jolt of fear so strong I can feel cold sweat rolling down my spine. I don't yell or scream, but my gasp is loud enough to wake Kyra from a dead sleep. She turns over in her bed to look at me across the room. She doesn't say anything, just watches me. She knows I'll tell her when I can breathe properly again.
I met Kyra a while ago. I was patrolling, twirling my stake in my hand, when I heard a fight on the other side of the cemetery. When I got there I stopped dead, my jaw hanging open and my eyes popping outta my head.
There were three vampires facing off against a midnight black panther, with eyes so blue I could see them clearly from where I stood. And I knew that wasn't a normal panther. It was bigger, more muscles moved under the fur. With a sudden flurry of movement I watched as the panther ripped those vampires into dust, and then it turned its eyes to me. It started padding softly towards me, and as it moved, it shifted. When it got to where I was stood it was a woman. A buck naked woman, who was eyeing me up as she took her sweatpants and t-shirt from over the back of a grave marker and put them on, shoving her feet into a pair of sneakers.
"What's up Slayer, never seen an Amari before?"
Turns out the Amari are kinda like werewolves; can shift into an animal. But that's where the similarities end. They're born Amari, you can't be turned. And they have complete control over their panther, at all times. Means they can shift at will, that the moon doesn't control them, and even when they do shift, they're still all there.
We've become best friends, me and Kyra. We work well together and we understand each other. Like now. She doesn't press me, she knows I'll tell her when I'm good and ready.
"It was a huge cave." I reach to my nightstand and grab my smokes, lighting one and throwing the pack to her before I keep talking. "Filled with vamps and slayers. But the lead one had the slayer scythe. And I woke up as he swung it, just before he took her head clean off."
I don't have to tell her who I'm talking about. We've been friends long enough for me to have told her the sordid details of our scarred past. Shaking my head I reach across and pick up the phone before it even finishes its first ring.
"We're going to Scotland, I know. We'll meet you at the airport." I wait for Giles' answer before hanging up and ashing out my smoke. I rub my face with the palms of my hands as I get myself mentally geared up for seeing her again.
"Come on Slayer, time to go." I look at Kyra and muster a weak smile before getting out of bed and heading to the bathroom.
It might be a four hour flight, but I get the feeling it's not gonna be long enough.
Scotland's a cold place. I forgot that and didn't shove a jacket in my bag. Lucky for me Kyra's a smart girl. She hands me my denim coat as we walk to the big black SUV waiting on the tarmac for us. Giles opens the door for us and it's not long after that that we come to the castle. Giles tells me they know we're coming, but I'm not holding out any hope that they'll be happy to see me, especially as the last time I tried to drown her.
We're ushered into a conference room the minute we get out of the SUV, and everyone I know and who hates me, is already there. But I don't get the glares I'm expecting. No one seems to want me dead for what I did the last time I came face to face with their golden girl.
I don't sit, just stand at the back of the room leaning against the wall as the whole thing's laid out. How the scythe got taken, how Willow's working with the coven to find them, how she plans to stop the vamps from shifting form while we fight. How it'll mean that Kyra can't shift either. She's not too bothered 'cause she's stronger and faster without needing her panther to come out and play.
"Two teams of eight then."
"Gonna need more than that." My voice is rough and gravelly. Haven't used it for about eight hours. B just lifts her eyebrows questioningly at me. "Had a dream. There's gonna be at least forty of 'em. Maybe closer to fifty."
My shock makes me swallow deeply when she just takes what I say on trust and rearranges the plan to fit. Might be the first time she's ever knocked me that far off kilter before.
Makes me infinitely glad Kyra's stood next to me, offering her silent strength without ever needing to be asked.
The room's empty now. Just me and B as we sit and look at each other. Don't know why she asked me to stay. It's not like we've got anything to say to each other. She didn't trust me, I tried to drown her. That's all she really needs to know.
"Why?" obviously it's not all she needs to know.
"Did you see that Roden guy?" she shakes her head, never taking her eyes off my face. This'd be easier if I still lied. Easier if she just assumed and didn't care why. "He was about ready to take your head off with some serious mojo. Had ta think fast."
She just nods as if that was the answer she was expecting. I may still be a killer, but I won't have Buffy's death marking me forever.
"I thought that was why." We don't say anything else, we don't need too. She didn't just assume the worst of me, she understood what I needed to do, and she played her part perfectly. Why couldn't it've been this easy back in the day? I need to find Kyra and I need a smoke.
I need her calming presence so I can try and remember how to breathe.
"You ever gonna start breathin' right while we're here?" me and Kyra're walking around the castle grounds just smoking. Talking occasionally. We don't really need to talk much. We understand the comfortable silences that hang between us. Maybe 'cause we're both killers. She's not the same kind as me though. Not psychopathic. She killed to protect some young Amari cubs. It saved their lives but the deaths of innocents got her tossed outta the Amari world.
I shrug, taking another drag before flicking the butt away.
"It's still the same, no matter how much it might look like it's changed."
"She'll never remember unless you tell her. She's got no reason to."
"Goin' down that road's what led us here in the first place." I shake my head as I pull open a door that'll let us inside the castle. "Don't think we should go that way again."
"So take a different road. Tell her this time." I don't say anything to that. I wouldn't know what to say to that. All I know is that I can't. Not again.
Not that words were used last time.
The training room's empty except for me and Kyra. We've been sparring for the last two hours. Working up a good sweat. We were trying to get me to the point where thinking wouldn't be an issue so I could try and sleep. So far it wasn't working too well, but we kept at it. Wasn't like we had anything else to do.
We take a break, sitting down against a wall and drinking from a bottle of water that we pass between us.
"It working yet?"
"Kinda. Less thoughts than before."
"S'not like I need much sleep."
"Good, 'cause we're gonna be here a while."
"Drippin' exhaustion?" I nod, looking towards the door before pulling out my smokes and offering her one. Don't know why I'm checking. It's four in the morning, not like anyone's gonna be awake now. "I'm gonna have to carry you back to our room when we're done, aren't I?"
I smirk as I lean my head back against the wall and blow out a plume of smoke.
"Didn't think you remembered the way back." I'm sat next to Xander, leaning against a tree at the edge of the castles property, hidden from view by the trees. I came out here with Kyra and one of the new slayers. Turns out she's Amari too. Xander caught us as we were leaving through the front doors. He's looking at the grass between his legs as he rips out some blades. I'm watching as Kyra teaches the girl a few things she might need to know.
Like the way her body moves when she's shifted. That's why we're so far from the castle. Shifting causes the clothes you're wearing to be ripped off in tatters. So they aren't wearing any. Nudity isn't a problem where the Amari're concerned. They're in a full shift now, doing a kind of panther version of sparring. Looks like an over enthusiastic game of tag. With hitting.
"Knew the way back Xander. Wasn't sure how happy people'd be to see me." Without looking up a frown crosses his face.
"I know it sounded bad, when Buffy came back dripping wet and told us what'd happened. But she explained it to us. Slowly, with small words." I smile as he rips out a few more blades of grass. "We got it. Sounds to me like you saved her life. That makes me wanna buy you a beer. Or ten. Not hate you."
We don't say anything else. I give him a light punch on the shoulder and he smiles, still looking at the grass between his legs. I just watch Kyra and the slayer in the clearing of trees.
Her ability to shift at will should scare me, but it doesn't. I know she'd never hurt me if she could help it.
It's something I didn't know I needed until she gave it to me without a second thought.
"You shouldn't have left." Kyra's gone wandering around the castle. She's got an amazing sense of direction. Once she walks somewhere she can always remember how to get there. I'm sat in the room we're sharing, sharpening up my favourite stake. Buffy's stood in the doorway, leaning against the jam with her arms folded across her chest.
She's talking about after Sunnydale. The day after we arrived in L.A. I'd split off and went to find my own way.
"Buffy," I put the knife and stake on the bedside table and lean back against the wall, never taking my eyes from her face. "that was so long ago." She unfolds her arms and crosses the room, climbing onto the bed and settling herself astride my lap. My whole body tightens in response to her closeness, the heat radiating from her as she cups my face in her hands. Making damn sure the only place I have left to look is directly in her crystal clear, green eyes.
"No," she whispers, just a few scant inches away from my lips. I can feel her breath tickling against the skin of my cheeks and I have to concentrate really hard on not just pulling her against me, tight. "it was just a moment ago."
And then she bridges the gap and all I can taste is her lips, all I can smell is her golden skin, and all I can feel is the rough denim of her jean clad thighs, as I hold on for dear life.
I hear Kyra pulling the door softly shut as she leaves us alone.
Strangely, it's been a really sunny day in Scotland. It's almost over now, the sun's just barely touching the horizon in the distance. Me, Kyra, Xander and Shelly are sat on the front steps of the castle, enjoying the last of the days heat.
Shelly's the Amari slayer that Kyra's been training for the last day. Turns out she has the same gentle quietness about her that Kyra does. Maybe it's an Amari thing.
A cold bottle of beer floats into my line of sight and I look at who brought it as I take it. Buffy's arms are full and she passes a bottle to everyone before sitting next to me and taking a sip from her own.
No one says anything, we let the comfortable silence linger between us all.
The calm before the storm.
I wince as I shift my shoulder a little too quickly and Kyra smirks at me. We're both sat in our room, the big fight less than an hour gone. My shoulder got dislocated and I broke the thumb on the same side. Kyra got a knife to the heart, but it wasn't silver so it didn't do much but turn her into a funny looking coat rack for a while.
"Dunno what you're laughin' at chuckles. Last I remember I coulda hung my coat off ya." The smirk doesn't come off her face, just widens as she lifts a smoke to her lips to light it. She's healing fast. Pretty soon she'll just have a red mark where the knife slid into her flesh.
For a split second, when the knife went in, I felt a yell building in me. But just until I remembered that she wouldn't die from it, not if it wasn't silver. A fact I remembered when she let loose a kind of growl and yelp of pain mixed together. A split second before she ripped the vamps head clean off.
I look down to the bed beside me and tuck a loose strand of hair behind Buffys ear. She didn't even pretend she was going back to her room. Just made sure everyone was ok, then followed me and Kyra. She didn't get any major injuries, but her face's peppered with little scabs, from all the little cuts she got in the fight.
But it was her head being lopped off I was trying to avoid, so job well done.
It's been two months since the battle for the scythe. Me and Kyra never went home, we just decided to travel around, saving the slayers we could. Not such a happy story for the ones we couldn't. It's a job that only we seem to be able to do.
Because us and that crawling darkness? We're old friends.
Every time we finish a job though, we head back to Scotland. That's where we hang our hats now. Where we belong. I have Buffy, and Kyra's got Shelly. Not the way I have B, but kinda the way someone has a kid.
It's a place neither of us ever thought we'd get again. A home.
I groan as I roll over, jostling the body beside me. Buffy snuffles slightly before rolling on top of me and stares me straight in the eye.
"When's your plane leave?"
"Ten." Her eyes shift to the bedside table and look at the clock.
"Four hours until you're leaving. How long's this one gonna last?"
"Coupla weeks." Her eyes glint in the darkness as a smirk curls up the corners of her lips.
"Better make sure you don't forget me." My eyes roll into the back of my skull. I didn't even notice her hand moving.
Forget her? As if I ever could.