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Where Else Can I Turn

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Here's the thing about death: it's lonely. Doesn't matter if your the killer or the victim; at the end of the day, regardless of whose blood is staining the ground, the steel, the fingers--one's alive. One's dead. They're both alone, and nothing can change that.

*

When they come for her the first time, she says no. Actually, she just laughs, and then she screams, and then she says fuck no like that'll make her new stalker go away. (It doesn't.) Then there's a boy she loves and nightmares that drip-drip-drip with blood that isn't hers and a fire that taints the air with ashes; there's a move and a new school and a new wave of bodies.

She looks at them and turns away, but it's no good. Death is surrounding her on all sides and no amount of tears on an unforgiving pillow or quick shots snuck away from the Bronze can make that vanish.

Everyone knows the Summers women have spines of steel.

(Here's something everyone forgets: steel isn't born; it's forged.)

*

So, yeah. She says no. A lot, actually. No, she won't fight. No, she doesn't feel the call of the chosen one. No, she had no interest in risking her life for the greater good, thank you very much; she has a manicure to get to. (She has a life, and now, 16 and teetering on the edge of something so massive, she wants to live it .)

Later, she says no to other things. No, she doesn't need help. No, she hasn't been missing sleep. No, Mom, everything's fine.

(It's not. It's not fine and she's so fucking tired, scraped and worn down to brittle bones, and she needs more help than she will ever admit.)

The worst lies are the ones she doesn't get to tell: no, it isn't blood staining all my clothes. No, I'm not struggling with the fact that my long-time boyfriend just murdered my teacher as a perverted love letter after we screwed up and fucked. No, I haven't been crying.

She doesn't lie. She doesn't say anything at all, because no one asks.

*

At some point, she stops saying no. She stops fighting it because she's already fighting everything else in her life and she's so fucking tired, okay? She just wants to rest. She just wants... something. It doesn't matter what, anything to soothe this itch under her skin and steal her breath away before she can use it to sob.

She loses herself, a little bit. She's so fraying and exhausted and she finds solace in the chaos that is Faith: a storm cloaked in flesh and blood, a void that echoes with reckless laughter, long limbs and dark hair and a voice like lightning. They hunt together and it is something different, something more; for the first time she can remember, the night isn't to be feared. Darkness is theirs and they are its, all tangled up like wet hair and broken glass and stolen grins.

(No one ever knows about the kisses. They are feral and passionate and they burn, burn so hot and bright it's like they stave off the death that coats her.)

Except then Faith is gone, is falling falling falling and her face is caught, snagged behind her eyelids, eyes widening in shock and pain and betrayal. Nothing is okay. She doesn't talk about it.

The blood crusts under her fingernails and it takes her a week to get it all out.

*

A long time later--years have passed, and she's older and more scarred and more desperate--Spike says that all Slayers have a death wish.

She thinks of vampires, of crawling out of the dirt and ripping off nails against unforgiving topsoil and an endless, infinite dark. She thinks of all the blood that's stained her hands, thinks of how many demons and vampires and people have left her behind with nothing more than rotting corpses.

She thinks of death, dancing around her and past her and brushing her skin but never quite taking her.

All Slayers have a death wish, he says.

Yeah , she thinks, wouldn't you?

*

In a desert, with the first slayer and the sand and bones that quiver beneath her feet, with a legacy too wide to grasp, she learns that death is her gift. She scowls and argues and knows it's all pointless.

The desert trip was a fucking waste of time.

She's always known death is her gift.

*

For a little while, she escapes. She throws herself off a tower and into the mouth of a portal, a willing sacrifice to a goddess demanding Summers blood.

They mourn. She rests. It's okay, for once.

Then they bring her back.

*

The cold is everywhere, ceaseless and permeating and as infinite as the horizon. During the day, she withholds shivers through pure willpower; at night, she buries herself under as many blankets as she can.

She thinks about reaching out, for a while. Pictures Willow's face, Xander's smile lines, Giles' soft, unconditional embrace. She reaches for the phone and pulls away. How the fuck is she supposed to say that? How does she ask for help dealing with a situation when it's her friends who put her there?

In the end, she doesn't call. She watches the shadows play on the bedroom wall and drags herself out at the crack of dawn.

Keep going, Summers, she thinks. You don't get to rest yet .

*

So. There's a cult. There's a cult and a shape shifting thing (creature?) and she's not ready for this, okay, not so soon after losing Tara to some human asshole with a gun and loosing Willow to Tara. It's not okay. It's just not .

And then, before she really knows what's going on, she's watching a group of girls train in her back yard, an army growing beneath her careful watch. She thinks this might be okay. She thinks that it could be worse. She hopes maybe, for the first time in a long time, she won't be facing death alone.

(She's wrong; she'll be just as alone as ever, just with more lives to lose sleep over every night.)

*

The loneliness is like an actual, physical thing that's clawed its way into her gut, like a parasite she's too afraid to remove. It makes her stomach hurt and her palms sweat and her fingers tremble. She can feel the ache around her, phantom limb pain where she wishes there was someone to hold her afloat.

Everyone is crumbling around her and she knows it's stupid, knows it's selfish and petty and mean.

(It doesn't stop her from wishing there was someone to help her pick up her own pieces.)

She almost asks, a couple of times. But people are always busy and she just feels smaller and smaller, sinking in on herself until she's hardly even breathing anymore and no one notices .

She sucks in a breath. Pulls it together.

Whatever. It's fine. She didn't have time to heal, anyway.

*

Things settle, eventually. There are missions and romances and so many fucking mistakes. It hurts her head, a little, thinking about all the places she went wrong. Still. She's lived and fought and bled and breathed hope into so many tiny, broken bodies.

She looks around, her family creeping up on all sides with sad smiles and loving looks. She thinks she can live with this kind of legacy. Can die with it.

Death comes and takes her by the hand, contact of the kind she hasn't had in a long, long time. She looks up at him, smiles with bittersweet relief.

It's different, she muses, than the death she's used to. She's used to big things, to things that change the world or the universe or the course of history. She's used to quick and gritty and violent, to bloodstains and mud stains and back alley smells that saturate her clothes.

She thinks of this death, quiet and peaceful and home . She thinks she'll be okay.

"I'm ready," she says, and leaves.