Equal Danger
by s.a.

"Fine. Mom, look--fine! Okay, I get it. You can't help me right now. That's fine, I'll figure it out. Okay. Okay. Goodbye." You hit the end button on your cell phone and can feel your teeth grind together. Sonofabitch.

It's midnight and you shouldn't have called that late, but you were desperate. You don't make enough money to cover your tuition, even working thirty hours a week when you're in class for twenty more.

Minimum wage covers jack shit, and while loans work in the short term, you hate to take them out because you know you'll have to deal with them later.

You let out a deep breath and curl up in your favorite chair, watching the play of rain against the window. Your thumb runs against the side of your cell, and you think of a hundred variations on curse words that run through your head like the water against the glass. You hate this. You hate being twenty and still dependent, unable to truly live on your own in a city that will eat you alive if you can't.

You hate living on peanut butter and tuna fish, and having to accept the pitied looks your boss gives you when you take hours-old takeout home for breakfast and lunch the next day. You're sick of bland Americanized food, and of having to sacrifice your time with your barre for extra shifts.

You hate bartending for drunken C-list celebrities on the weekend, and you hate writing papers every night when you could be going over your entrance piece to the ABC. You hate it all, but it's where you're at right now and who you are.

You clench your fist tighter and watch in shock as pieces of your phone crumble to the floor.


Interlude One

"I've got another one," Willow announces at the table Monday morning. They've taken over the Holiday Inn, able to afford it due to a complex series of accounts and funds that technically reverted the entirety of the holdings of the Watcher's Council to the last known Watcher: Giles. They were biding their time, collecting all the Slayers they could find before they'd set up a school in England.

Buffy nods from her chair, her feet propped up on the table. "Location?" she asks.

"Pretty close," Willow replies, sliding a folder with all the details she could get from the Slayer-finding spell she's been using. "Los Angeles. Kinda cute, long brown hair. Really serious. She was doing some dance-y thing when I saw her. Really tense. She looked kind of pissed off. I was thinking we could call Angel, but..."

Buffy shakes her head. "I'll do it. Too close not to. She's freaked. Most of them are." She rubs the heel of her palm against her forehead. "Twelve in a week. This is fucking crazy, Will. I don't know how we're gonna handle them all."

Willow leans back in her chair. "We'll manage, somehow. Lyndepast is looking like a better location, according to Giles. We'll be able to house them all. The hardest part is just making them accept who they are."

Buffy sighs. "Yeah. Like it was so easy for me."

Willow leans over to grasp Buffy's hand. "You were alone. These girls, they're completely not. They're part of something, Buff. Something special. And you get to tell them that, of all the girls in the world, they are truly someone. I'd be pretty excited."

Buffy looks are her, locking her eyes with Willow's. "You say that, Will. Until you know, though, it's a completely different thing."

Willow nods, looks away. She thinks Buffy's wrong, because she's felt the essence of Slayer. It's a burden, but so much lighter when there's hundreds of them, banded together. She smiles softly to herself, and Buffy's fingers tighten around hers.

"I'll leave tonight."


You can't seem to stop shaking.

It's like you can't control your body any more; the flesh that has bent to your will, contorted itself at the command of strict instructors and moved with the grace of years of training has abandoned you and become this other--thing.

You have barely moved from your spot in the center of the floor for three days. You ignored the phone and the knocks at your door, catching your eyes in the wall mirror and refusing to look away for hours. Sometimes your attention drops to the crushed cell phone a few feet away, or you find yourself intently studying your toes.

They were covered in ballerina shoes, once, but now you fear that simply stepping on them will make them dissolve away.

The phrase, "She doesn't know her own strength," keeps pounding a steady rhythm in your head. You don't know why--you can't recall ever hearing it before.

But it keeps a beat to the thump of your heart, the ache in your head, the tension in your limbs. You feel pained and small, curled up in yourself.

After a lifetime of spending all your concentration on your body, you hate it in its betrayal of you. You crushed the cell phone with your bare hands, with the smallest thought driving you towards its destruction.

Your mind speaks in poetry because your father did when you were little; you retreat to it like a frightened puppy to its corner.

Play me, you hear yourself whisper soundlessly, play with me. Turn and stretch, bend and pull your body, make it submit to your will like it did before. You won't hurt anything, you can't hurt anything, you won't you won't you won't.

You unfold yourself from the floor, move your feet into first position, en pointe. You breathe out a shaky sigh of relief when you do not crumple to the floor, your shoes giving way.

You reach for the barre, tentative fingers scrabbling against the well-worn wood, and you pull your right leg up to stretch against your side. Oh, the glory of movement! You are giddy and happy and you tighten your hand around the barre to stead yourself. As your leg comes down, your arm flexes; you now hold the barre in your hand, as though it was light as a feather. You stare blankly at the wall, where huge chunks of the plaster have been ripped out by your unthinking tug. "She doesn't know her own strength," your mind taunts you. You drop the barre and it clatters loudly, sending you skittishly across the room to hunch in a corner. Your head hits the wall, and it seems as though you can feel an indent forming.

You curse your body and your attachment to it, and your head drops to your knees as you sob quietly, tears staining the light pink of your tights.


Interlude Two

Buffy drives now, because she has to. She's okay with it, just goes the speed limit and stays in the right-hand lane at all times. She never passes other cars.

She hums to the radio, singing off-key to Radiohead and drumming her fingers on the steering wheel. In the short time that she's been gone, she's checked in twice; Willow has located two more Slayers, sending Vi and Kennedy out to collect them. Dawn initiated a movie night for most of the remaining Slayers--they're not Potentials, now--and she chattered loudly on the phone to Buffy as the movie was playing, narrating the stupid comments thrown at the screen as a blonde girl takes an axe to the chest and screams her head off. Popcorn, Dawn reports, was thrown at the screen in waves.

She knows this road too well, having driven up and down it for the past seven years.

There's a diner she'll probably stop by on her way back from LA. She hopes this pickup will go easily. Most of the girls had been so confused and frustrated that when someone had come to lead them into sanity, they came with barely a question.

It wasn't true for all of them--she still has to drive back to Las Vegas to grab the Slayer-cum-hooker who had some business she wanted to finish before she came to the hotel. Buffy got chills up her spine when she saw the dark smile on that girl's face.

This one, Willow thinks, is a dancer. It's hard to match names to the faces, even with the resources they have. Most of the information they gather is a quick visual flash, and some point of location that makes it easier to reference where the girls are.

Buffy sips the last of her smoothie with her eyes on the road. She sees the exit and carefully puts on her blinker, turning slowly onto the ramp. Here she goes, again. It never gets any easier to tell them just how fucked up their lives are going to be.


You can't remember when you last ate. Your fingers rattle the water bottle that was lying haphazardly on the floor when you pick it up to take a sip. Your muscles are shuddering, and you've resigned yourself to lying on your side.

Your eyes have roamed over the wood grain in the floor a thousand times. It never changes, the complex pattern imprinted upon your retinas. You feel your toe shoe drag across the floor, and pull your knees up to your chest to keep them from moving.

You have never felt this way before, so utterly helpless in the face of something you simply cannot control. Your body rebels against your every thought. It is as if this Hell were created personally for you, and you would weep but your body has refused you tears.

Your body. Your body--it seems a thing outside of yourself, now. If you close your eyes, you can see yourself from beyond it, crude flesh that demands its own whims. Your eyelashes flutter against your cheeks and your breath runs harsh in your throat.

You think you must be going crazy, and all you can think of is how you still haven't paid your account at school.

The laugh that escapes from your mouth sounds brittle and sharp, rubbing against your teeth and tongue thickly, wanting to draw more hysterical sounds from deep within you.

You refuse to give in, to completely surrender to the crazy. You are more than that.

You hear the door bang again, and you wonder if the superintendent will find you before or after you have died.

The door is forced open, and without you wanting to, your head turns in the direction of the sound. There is a girl, a small blonde girl, standing over you. She touches your arm lightly and you flinch, pulling away. She says words, flings sentences at you, but you refuse to understand.

You want her to leave, but you can't make the words leave your mouth. You try to force them out, but only stuttered sounds echo in your ears.

She picks you up and your limp body is helpless in her arms. You scream from inside your head, telling your body to move, to escape, to test it's newfound strength against this strangely solid woman, but just as before it ignores you and allows itself to be put into a car.

Your head rests against the seat, and you cannot move your arms for your weakness. But with your last ounce of strength you turn your head and meet her eyes. In them, you see something you never expected: recognition.


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