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Methos has met slayers before.

When you’ve live das long as he has, you’ve run into just about everything at least once. But more than that, slayers are the supernatural equivalent of a nuclear deterrent and have been since long before the term was ever coined.

Most supernatural, and a lot of immortals, know to stay the hell away from a slayer’s territory. The chances of getting your head chopped off by those little girl weapons is too high, even if you’re perfectly peaceful and only looking to live your life.

Intentionally sticking around slayers seems counterproductive, then, but Methos has always hidden where he would least be expected. Turning himself into a watcher was just the latest of a long row of unexpected hideways.

And if you’re as good at staying unnoticed as the oldest immortal, then a slayer’s home turf is the perfect place to go to ground for however many months or years she’ll last.

The trick is to find where the new slayer is stationed and get there in time to get some use out of her mayfly lifespan.

A time or two, when the girl wasn’t Council raised, was more person than killing machine, he befriended them.

It never lasted, of course, of course, they die too quickly, and getting close to them in the first place was always stupid, but sometimes even Death gets sentimental.

Little girls like lambs to the slaughter are an easy thing to get sentimental about.

So, yes, Methos has met slayers before.

But never one quite like her.

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It’s been a few centuries since he last hid in a slayer’s shadow when he sees her, in Rome of all places, only a stone’s throw away from the Holy City.

The last place on earth anyone would station a slayer. If there’s any one place she’d be obsolete, it’s here, with the Vatican’s armies defending the city.

But here she is, no doubt about it. The way she moves, the way she tracks a Corinthian demon in his human guise across the square. The look of her eyes, too old for her face, a thousand lives and deaths behind them.

Anyone else might mistake her for a well-trained human, or even a supernatural of some kind, but Methos has seen more slayers pass than any other on this earth, and he knows.

The demon sits a few tables down from Methos’ own, picking up a newspaper, ordering an espresso and a slice of cake, unaware that death is looming across the square.

She sits on a bench, occasionally kicking at a pigeon that demands to be fed, and watches as he sips his drink, eats his cake, takes a call that involves a lot of shouting in Italian, then sighs, hangs up and goes back to his newspaper. After half an hour, a young woman appears and they greet each other with kisses and hugs before the demon pays and they wander off together.

Methos turns his head to see if the slayer is following the harmless monster, only to find himself meeting her gaze head-on. She’s made him.

She stands, crosses the square, weaves between the tables, all without ever taking her eyes off him.

Sits across from him without invitation and up close she’s old. There are fine lines around her face and mouth, skin starting to lose the first glow of youth. Scars on her neck, her knuckles, her hairline, hairfine and almost invisible, but there. Empty holes pierced in her ears, like she stopped wearing more than two earrings at a time a while ago.

She looks like a woman instead of a child. Like someone who has lived, who has grown up, and no slayer before her has ever done that.

She has to be almost thirty. For a slayer, she’s ancient.

Her greeting is Italian, her accent painfully American.

“Hello to you, too,” he counters, in English. “What brings you my table, Miss?”

Her lips quirk at his play at confusion. She doesn’t believe it a moment. Somehow, he thinks, she recognizes him the same way he recognized her. The same way, perhaps, she picked the Corinthian out of the throngs of tourists and natives, despite the fact that he looked completely human.

He always thought that a slayer with more than a year or two to grow into her powers would be a terrifying creature.

He was right.

“I remember your face,” she tells him, suddenly, without any more preambles or games.

“That’s a shame, because I can’t remember yours.” Because he’s never met her.

She taps her temple, leans back. The waiter interrupts and she orders a coffee in her atrocious accent, the same cake the demon had. Smiles at him and watches him go only to make sure he’s out of earshot.

“I don’t know if you know this, but we dream. My kind, I mean. We dream of the ones that came before us.” The wording sounds wrong for her mouth, off. Like a quote.

Since he doesn’t know how to react, he doesn’t at all, just watches her steadily. She smiles like she can read his face anyway. “At first, it’s just the bare bones, what you need to not die before the Council finds you. But the longer you live, the older you get, well.” She shrugs. “I remember your face. Iskra remembered your face.”

Shock races through him, hot and painful, at the name. Iskra. Tall, blonde, sweet-faced and Viking-hearted Iskra who bested him at swordplay two times out of three, smiled with her tongue in her cheek and made him stupid.

Stupid enough to leap into the path of a blade meant for her.

Stupid enough to climb off his pyre and, instead of disappearing, go back home to her.

Iskra.

How long has she been dead now? A hundred times longer than she was ever alive, surely. Iskra. He’d forgotten all about her, until a moment ago.

The slayer, blonde like her, wicked like her, delightfully alive like her, goes on, “It’s you, isn’t it? The man she loved? The man who came back from the dead for her. It’s kind of hard, to pierce it together, because it’s mostly snippets and there were so many of us. It’s a huge mess of every slayer who ever lived, all shouting over each other, and I think she didn’t want me to hear her. I think she might be trying to protect your secret.”

Torn between horror at knowing that a part of her still suffers, is still trapped in the cycle of the lives and deaths of a slayer, and joy at knowing she still cares, Methos only shakes his head.

The slayer’s expression goes from gleeful to something softer. “How, though? I never got the explanation for how you came back. How are you here? Because you’re not a demon, but I can’t tell what you are.”

No-one. Just a man. A stranger. He has so many excuses, so many lies at the ready, but here is a slayer who must have survived a decade, at the least, a warrior with pieces of all those lost girls inside of her, whispering to her, and he has always respected slayers.

Others called them prey, called them victims, but they obviously never watched those girls. Never saw them get beat down and get back up, time and again, knowing perfectly well that they would die and still refusing to go gently.

Whatever they are meant to be, whatever the Council tried to make of them, these girls have always been warrior queens.

“I can’t die,” he tells her.

He never told Iskra. There wasn’t time. Three days after he almost burned on a premature pyre, the thing that murdered him came back for her. And because she was distracted by him, by grieving and rejoicing for him, she died.

He stayed away from slayers for almost five centuries after Iskra. Just like he did after Ona, after Maria.

What was that about old dogs and new tricks? He never learned well.

“How long-?”

“Since Iskra?”

She nods. Her coffee has arrived while he was lost in thought. She sips it, takes a bite of her cake, nudges a second plate toward him. When did she order that? Sloppy, old man.

“Close to two thousand years, I think.” It’s weird to say that out loud. Besides Mac, Amanda and Joe, there’s no-one else he ever speaks to like this. Truthfully. And even with them, he lies at least half the time.

“But you’re older than that,” she concludes and now that he knows they are all connected, a mass unconscious of ferocious little girls, it’s not a stretch to think that she might have seen his face through other eyes. They must have caught sight of him in a crowd, on a random street, a hundred times over the years, not counting Ona, who was before Iskra, or Maria, who was after her.

So many eyes and all of them saw the same thing.

Sloppy.

She nods to herself and they eat their cake, silently. He’s not sure what she wants from him, what drove her over here besides idle curiosity, but he finds he can’t make himself leave.

He should.

He should.

But she’s every bit as fascinating to him as he must be to her. He, the man who lives forever. She, the slayer who survived.

“Doesn’t it suck?” she asks after a good while.

“What?”

“Being immortal and hanging around slayers? I mean, our life expectancy makes goldfish cry.” There is a bitter smiles tagged on to her statement, old and hungry.

He shrugs. “Twenty years, two hundred. It doesn’t really make that much of a difference.” Humans all die too easily, too quickly. Their definition of ancient is his definition of a moment.

“What’s it like? Living forever, I mean.” Leaning back in her chair, she turns her head to people watch, avoiding his gaze.

It’s the mayfly asking the turtle to describe eternity.

“Terrible,” he answers, promptly. “Everything loses meaning. Without endings, nothing is precious. Mortality is a gift.”

He head shoots back around, green eyes meeting his. “Liar,” she accuses.

Of course it’s a lie. Of course. He wouldn’t have lived as long as he has as a nihilist. Survival demands hunger, demands drive, demands a complete, overwhelming need to not die. Every new language, every new culture and invention, every new island and continent discovered, every fashion, every fad. He loves them all, adores them, hungers for them, craves them. He’s a black hole trying to fill himself up with experiences and until he’s full, he’ll run from death until the end of the world.

But he can’t really tell her that. She may be older than all her forebears ever were, but she’s still going to die within a heartbeat or two.

Before he can try and justify himself, she shrugs and smiles. “Whatever. I get it. It’d be like explaining color to a blind person, I guess.”

No, no, not at all. Hunger and drive. She must understand those. After all, she’s still here, twice as old as many of her forebears. But he lets it go.

Silence falls between them again, until he asks, “So what now? Are you going to tell your watcher about me? Should I run for my life?”

She snorts. “The Council doesn’t exist anymore. It’s gone. My friends and I are in charge now, and things are different. No more one girl in all the world. No more dying before you finish high school.” Her smiles turns feral. “There’s an army of us now and as long as you don’t hurt us, we don’t hunt you.” Another shrug. “So, no. You’re good.”

An army? An army of slayers?

And this one, this one leads them? Oh, he thinks. Oh. Iskra would have loved this. All of them would have loved this. Sisters. Companions.

A chance to not be alone.

A chance to live.

“Then we go our separate ways?”

“We can. Or, you know, I can give you my number and you can maybe call me if you want to help out. We could use a guy like you. Most of the archives went the way of the dodo when the old Council blew up. You probably know more than all our libraries taken together.”

Recruitment. Of course.

“Just work?”

She smiles again. “Or maybe you can ask me out for coffee. Tell me what it was like to be a Viking.”

“I was terrible at it, I assure you.”

“Liar,” she repeats. “I’ve seen you handle a sword.”

He wonders if she notices the slip, the way she speaks of Iskra as herself. He wonders if it’s an actual slip, or just fact. How much of the girls he loved is in her?

“Maybe,” he echoes and when she asks for his number, he gives it, feels his phone vibrate against his thigh a moment later.

She throws a few Euros on the table, waves at him. “See you soon, Thorsten,” she tells him, using the name Iskra had for him.

Then she’s gone.

Methos watches her leave, then pulls out the phone. Text from an unknown number.

It says, Hello, my name is Buffy.

Buffy.

Ona, Iskra, Maria, and now Buffy.

He saves her number to his contacts an finishes his cake.

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Methos has met slayers before.

But never one quite like her.

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