Anyway, I just want to say a huge thank you to everyone who's given me such positive feedback on this - I adore this story, and I'm so glad other people seem to like it! This part picks up directly where Chapter 3 leaves off.
Time seemed to slow almost to a standstill as she took in her options. Moments seemed to stretch into hours as plans of action were considered then dismissed. She had no weapons with her, an error she should never have made – it was a rookie mistake – so she would have to improvise.
The robed Bringer was headed directly for them at full speed but she felt like she had an eternity in which to prevent it.
Her focus narrowed onto her target and she barely noticed Xander turning to see what the commotion was. She missed the shocked recognition on his face; but saw the grim determination and the sheer resolution there as he stood to face the oncoming threat in a potentially futile attempt to protect a near stranger.
She resolved that the attempt would be anything but futile. After all, she wasn’t exactly helpless herself. Squaring her shoulders, she stood to face the latest threat to her world.
Buffy’s eyes widened in shock as she watched the brunette with Xander stand in one fluid movement that hinted at years of training. He too was on his feet, facing the oncoming menace, and she knew instantly that she wouldn’t be able to get there in time to prevent an attack.
Tuning out the shouts around her, she urged an extra burst of speed from her already tired muscles. Too little, too late however and she could only watch in horror as the Bringer got there first. Her focused battle vision let her see in exquisite detail the curved knife being drawn back before plunging straight for its intended target – Xander. Not allowing herself time to think about the implications of that, Buffy launched herself towards the trio, knowing she was still too far away.
Apparently from nowhere, a foot connected with the Bringer’s wrist, knocking the blade from its grasp and forcing the attacker into an uncontrollable spin. Buffy’s vision tracked right to see who’d intervened. The new girl was poised with balletic grace, ready to fight. So she’d been right, this girl was a warrior, and from the force behind that kick, chances were good she was a Slayer.
The Bringer recovered quickly and rushed forward once more. The girl’s foot lashed out in reflex. It caught the Bringer in the solar plexus, doubling it over. She followed up with a knee to the head and her opponent was writhing on the floor by the time Buffy finally arrived on the scene.
Adrenaline was coursing through her system, giving her already heightened senses a further boost. A flicker of movement to her left caused her to spin to face another Bringer. Buffy swore under her breath as she remembered these guys usually appeared in groups of two or three.
Letting instinct take over, she vaulted the table between her and her target, her fist already flying. She winced a little as it connected with his jaw. After all this time, she was well aware that a punch to the face was likely only to result in a broken hand on the part of the person throwing the punch.
Luckily she seemed to have gotten away with it this time. Instead, the robed figure’s head twisted from the blow and he staggered back. Buffy’s foot was moving without any input from her brain and the high kick caught him directly the jaw snapping his head back at an unnatural angle. The accompanying crack sounded deafening to her ears, and before she could follow up the kick, he crumpled to the ground in a dead heap.
Satisfied that he was no longer a threat, she quickly scanned the area for any more likely attackers before turning back to see Xander and the new girl holding their own against one last Bringer.
Buffy stepped forward to help just as the other girl’s hand chopped out in a vicious karate-style blow, catching the Bringer unawares. It stumbled backwards, clutching at its throat and struggling to breathe. Its erratic movements took it straight into Xander’s path and he grabbed for the knife still sheathed in its belt. With a chilling look of determination on his face, he drove the knife deep into his opponent’s chest. Straight for the heart.
Buffy let out a breath she hadn’t been aware she was holding and stepped up to stand beside him. He was shaking and staring at the bloody knife in his hand. Gently, she spoke his name and laid her hand over his.
“It’s okay, it’s over.” She murmured.
He didn’t look at her; all his attention was focused on the prone figure at his feet.
His reaction puzzled her; he’d been in countless fights and killed more than his fair share of vampires and demons over the years and never before had she seen him so shaken by it. At a loss as to what to do now, she stood helplessly at his side. Finally, he took a deep breath and whispered, “this one’s for you, Ahn.”
An irrational stab of jealousy drove into her. She’d only found out afterwards that Anya and Xander had been heading towards some kind of reconciliation. She knew that he still loved his thousand-year old bunny-hating ex-demon. Anya would always have a place in his heart and, truth be told, Buffy wouldn’t have it any other way. Maybe this final act of retribution would help him see it was okay to move on, to live again. Maybe.
Standing in silence, she realised that by focusing on Xander’s pain, her own had quietly faded away. She hadn’t really let herself dwell on the past, she had lost a staunch ally when Spike had sacrificed himself, but she was under no illusions. It wasn’t love, it never had been on her part, and given the fact that he was back and hadn’t found a way to tell her, it didn’t seem to be the case for him either.
What she’d told Angel was still true – Spike was in her heart, his unquestioning support of her had helped her through some pretty dark times. He’d helped her believe in herself again, but even that support paled in comparison. The man standing beside had not always supported her, he had questioned her decisions in the past, he hadn’t followed blindly; she realised now that that was a far more precious thing to her and she wondered yet again why she’d been so blind to it in the past.
Gradually, she realised he’d stopped shaking. Glancing up at him, she saw a faraway look on his face. She wondered briefly what he was thinking, and even whether she had any right to wonder, until he looked down at her and smiled.
“It’s over,” he said simply, handing her the knife and turning away from the slowly cooling corpse of the Bringer. It wasn’t Anya’s killer, there was no way that one had made it out of Sunnydale, but the hive-mind mentality they’d discovered the Bringers shared meant that it was close enough. Anya was avenged.
Buffy watched him walk away and was amazed at how much lighter his steps were. The grief he’d been carrying had obviously been weighing him down far more than perhaps even he had realised.
Taking a leaf out of his book, she made the decision to lay the ghost of her relationship with Spike to rest. It had been something she’d needed at that point in her life but the fire had been too bright and too hot. It had burned its way through two years, destroying a lot in its path; it was time to let it die out. He was back, but that no longer mattered to her, her life was her own now and it was Xander who had helped her realise that.
A few steps away, Xander paused to pick up his jacket from where he’d left it hanging over the back of the chair and Buffy frowned as she saw him tense suddenly and look around.
“Eilidh?” he called out.
The brunette. Buffy suddenly realised she hadn’t seen the girl since Xander had killed the last Bringer. If she really was a Slayer and there were Bringers around, they needed to find her. Fast.
Instantly, Buffy felt the adrenaline burst again and her senses ramped up as she scanned the growing crowd of shocked onlookers gawping at them and the two downed attackers. Two? Damn! The first Bringer must have recovered.
Her keen hearing picked up on a scuffle in a side street off to her left and she sprang into action immediately, vaguely aware of Xander following hot on her heels.
She sprinted down the empty side street in silence, listening for anything that would narrow down her search. There, a muffled scream followed instantly by the thud of a Bringer-sized body hitting a stone wall. Buffy skidded round the corner to see the girl, Eilidh, standing over the prostrate figure of the thing that had tried to attack her. This girl had to be a Slayer; she nodded to Buffy as she drew her foot back to aim a kick at the robed figure. A crash from behind Buffy startled them both and Buffy spun to see Xander extricating himself from a water-seller’s cart. Smirking a little at the typically Xander clumsiness, Buffy turned back to the alley.
The smile dropped from her face instantly as she saw the Bringer had taken full advantage of the distraction to regain its footing. Buffy let fly with the knife she was still holding and barely registered it finding its mark. The Bringer keeled over backwards with the blade buried to the hilt in his throat. All of her attention was focused on getting to the girl as fast as possible. Eilidh was staring at her in shock. The red stain rapidly spreading across the front of her blouse was the only indication the Bringer had gotten near her.
Abruptly, she sank to her knees and clutched at her belly, trying to staunch the flow of blood. Buffy was at her side in an instant and held her steady as she checked the injury. It looked bad.
“Go get help!” She yelled to Xander who immediately ran back in the direction of the main square.
“C’mon, stay with me!” She urged the girl, feeling a deep connection with her. “Don’t give up on me.”
The girl smiled weakly, “Nice to meet you, I’m Eilidh.”
The surrealism of the mundane introduction made her laugh. “Hi Eilidh, I’m Buffy.”
Eilidh choked a little as she seemed to laugh, Buffy tried to hide her shock at the trickle of dark blood that escaped from the corner of the girl’s mouth.
“Buffy? Really? What is this, the weird name convention?” She chuckled a little before gasping in pain. Her eyes glazed over a little. “Thank Xander for me. And Buffy? Thank… thank you…” Eilidh’s head lolled to one side and a long rattling breath escaped her.
Gently, so as not to wake the traumatised girl, Buffy pulled the door closed.
“How’s she doing?” Xander asked in a near-whisper.
“She’s sleeping now. She lost a lot of blood, if she *is* a Slayer she’ll pull through but if not…” she let the sentence tail off. There was no point finishing it, they both knew how it would end.
Absentmindedly she rubbed at her hands, she was still covered in blood, something that was all too often the norm for her. Abruptly she realised she couldn’t move her hands. Looking down in confusion she saw Xander holding her wrists, stilling them. Her eyes widened as she saw the fresh scratches scored deeply on her arms.
“Buffy?” She lifted her head and met his worried gaze; “You’re not going all Lady Macbeth on me are you? You have to know this wasn’t your fault, there was nothing more you could have done.”
“But I…” she began.
“No. No buts, you can’t be everywhere at once, you can’t save everyone.” There was a catch in his throat at that. “You said it yourself, she’s most likely a Slayer and she will get through this. You’ll see.”
She nodded slowly, not wanting to accept it but knowing that he was right – she couldn’t have done anything differently.
“I’m just…” shakily she drew in a deep breath. “I’m just not used to being helpless” she finished in a small voice.
He smiled sadly at her and drew her into a warm embrace. “I know,” he breathed into her hair as she finally relaxed against him. “I know.”
He wasn’t sure how long they stayed like that. What he was sure of was that the last of the sunlight had gone by the time he felt her stir a little and lift her head. Looking into her eyes he could see acceptance there. Gone was the manic glint that had chilled him to the bone as she’d torn into her own skin, oblivious to what she was doing.
“So,” her voice was so quiet but it filled his universe. “I guess we should talk.”
Here it came, the conversation he couldn’t and wouldn’t avoid. “Yeah,” he answered in a resigned tone. “I guess we should.”
She turned away slowly and headed towards the seats in the lounge area. After a moment’s hesitation, she switched on the table lamp and sat in the centre of the wide couch.
The invitation was obvious and he could see the subtle power play going on here. She’d set the ground rules and where he chose to sit would inevitably set the course of the conversation.
Pausing only for a second to allow his sight to adjust to the change in lighting – it seemed to lot longer for that now, ever since… no. Don’t think about that; the past is gone, focus on the present. He followed her across and perched on the coffee table directly in front of her. Close enough that his knee brushed against hers when he let it.
He raised an eyebrow. “Huh? When?”
“Last night. Between us. What happened?” That threw him, of all the possible topics of conversation he hadn’t seen that one coming. He was finding it hard to read her right now and that was confusing. She’d always been an open book, even when she’d kept her secrets he’d known she was doing it. This new inscrutable Buffy was unsettling.
“Um. Did you hit your head or something? ‘Cause amnesia probably isn’t as fun as it looks in the movies you know.”
She smiled a little before forcing her expression into that blank page again. “I know what I think happened, Xander. What I want to know is what you think it was.”
So she was giving him the out he’d thought he wanted. All he had to do was lie and say it was a fluke and they could go back to normal. But he didn’t want that now – if he was honest with himself he never had.
Slowly, deliberately, he spoke. “Buffy, you are my best friend and I never ever want to lose that.” He lowered his gaze; if he was going to lay his heart on the line he didn’t want to her see her reaction until he’d said his piece.
“Last night I was pretty much at my lowest. I was hurting, tired and beaten down and then this amazing vision appeared at my door and I knew I was dreaming because she was here, and she kissed me and it was a moment of bliss. I know I was dreaming because we made love and it was everything I ever dreamed it could be. And then I woke up to find I hadn’t been dreaming.
I know I was pretty messed up last night, but one thing I am sure of. Something changed in me and I fell for you. That’s what happened. I love you, I always have and always will, but last night I fell in love with you all over again.”
Finally, prepared for the worst, he looked up at her. There were tears shining brightly in her eyes and he had the oddest impression that she was glowing. Gently he reached forward and brushed the dampness from her cheek.
She nodded briefly and started to speak, not once losing eye contact. “ A long time ago, a couple of lifetimes back, someone told me they wanted more from me than I could imagine ever giving to anyone. I was too young and too blind and never even gave it a second thought. Until last night.
You are part of me, when I thought I’d lost you it was like I’d lost an arm and then there you were and my heart started beating again. That’s when I knew losing you was more like having my heart torn out. We’ve known each other for so long. You’ve seen the worst of me.”
“And the best.” She blushed a little at the soft interruption and continued,
“And you’ve always been there through it all. We’ve faced a lot over the years…” A bright smile suddenly lit up her face. “Xander? We’ve fought a lot of blood-sucking fiends, and that’s all been a good time, but I want more.”
He rocked back on the table; she was echoing his words from so long ago. Somehow he’d thought she would have pushed that part of her life out of her mind as quickly as possible.
She looked directly at him, “I wanna dance with you.”
For the first time in years, he was lost for words. Feeling like an idiot he leaned forward and took her hand, never once dropping his gaze from her incredibly expressive eyes.
“Are you sure?” He waited for her answer with bated breath, but it didn’t come.
One thing he’d always known about Buffy was that even though she was good with words, she was better with actions. Before he realised what was happening she leaned forward and captured his mouth in a kiss with which she obviously intended to dispel any doubts he may have.
Her teeth grazed lightly along his bottom lip and he parted them in compliance. Almost lazily, her tongue entered his mouth and began to explore the territory there. Not willing to simply let her have it all her way, he actively deepened the kiss and drew her closer to him so there was barely any space separating them.
She moaned into his mouth and a burst of electricity coursed down his spine at the sound. He was lost in sensation; taste, touch. Intuition told him what to do and the appreciative moans and whimpers coming from her told him he should definitely trust that intuition in future. Buffy was giving as good as she was getting and he soon found he couldn’t keep any thought other than ‘Buffy’ in his head.
Eventually, regretfully, the need for oxygen became too great and although his heart would have died happy right there, his body overruled him and forced him to come up for air.
“Wow.” Was it he or she who said it? He didn’t know, maybe they both did.
“Jeez guys, if this wasn’t your place I’d tell you to get a room!”
They looked up in tandem and he took a split-second to wonder exactly when he’d moved onto the couch.
“But since it is your place, want your room back?”
Eilidh was standing in the door of the bedroom, one hand clutched protectively over the wound in her side with a huge smile on her face.
A weight he hadn’t noticed he’d been shouldering lifted when Xander saw the much-recovered state of the newest member of Slayers Incorporated. She looked a little spooked but that was understandable; after all, some eyeless freaks had tried to turn her into an Eilidh-kebab. He’d have been worried if she’d been fine about it all.
“What are you doing out of bed?” Buffy asked, “You should be sleeping! We… we didn’t wake you did we?” He looked down to see Buffy’s face had turned the cutest shade of red as the question tumbled from her lips.
Eilidh shook her head laughing lightly, “No, don’t worry – you were the souls of discretion. I was just thirsty and I didn’t want to interrupt but…” She gestured around, wincing a little as she moved. “I don’t know where anything is so…” She shrugged apologetically and Buffy was on her feet in an instant.
Xander watched as the two girls made their way to the kitchen. Truthfully he was marvelling at how quickly Buffy had fitted into his life here. She’d been in Marrakech for less than a day and already she knew her way around the apartment like it was the back of her hand.
Eilidh was moving a little slowly, obviously still in pain but covering it well. She still had that air of agile grace he’d come to associate with Buffy and Faith, however she lacked a little of the coiled spring alertness that was constant in the longer-serving Slayers.
Something about that thought didn’t sit well with him. He thought back to how she’d handled herself during the fight in the square. She’d moved in the manner of someone who was comfortable with her abilities and knew her limits. That alone marked her out from all the Slayers they’d encountered since the mass activation during the final fight in Sunnydale; those girls carried themselves carefully, in awe of their new strength. Eilidh on the other hand exuded the kind of self-confidence that came from having grown into her abilities.
She’d obviously undergone some training as well, maybe nothing more than self-defence, but she’d definitely developed a style of fighting that took years to master. He wondered what her story was and whether Buffy realised there was more to this girl that a wide-eyed, newly-called Slayer.
A frown creased his brow as he remembered that Eilidh hadn’t been the Bringers’ target – in fact they’d pretty much ignored her until she’d gotten into the fight. Yeah, so she’d been injured, but the cynic in him wondered just how serious that injury actually was.
Whose side was Eilidh on?