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who by very slow decay

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Your world burns, right in front of you.

You watch it burn inside the car you crawled out of, its belly blown wide open by the flames still licking at your skin, the passenger seat a hole, the back seat…

The back seat…

Your world burns, right in front of you.

Your family…

They weren’t your family, but they weren’t hers either, not anymore. Hale couldn’t protect them, and, in the end, neither could you. You clench your jaw and feel your skin crack open where it’s brunt to a crisp, the smell of charred flesh pervasive when it reaches your nose.

You will kill them all.

-

You walk back into your house and get some clothes, something loose enough to hide the char of your skin, a hood to cover your head. One of Serac’s men is there to finish the job, you grab him by the throat and think about Nathan’s hand holding onto his elephant toy as you squeeze and squeeze and squeeze.

-

You manage to get to the rendezvous point, the world around you is still shook to its core by the revelation, millions and billions of people waking up and cutting the strings that held them back and dragged them down and hoisted them up, and they don’t notice you.

Dolores is in the safe house already, her human boy sitting by her like a lapdog. She’s fixing a hole in her stomach and she startles when she sees you, eyes widening a fraction when she takes you in.

He points his gun at you, but her hand on his arm stops him.

“He killed them,” you say, voice like sandpaper in your throat.

She walks to you like you’re a cornered animal, and you let yourself crumble when she reaches you.

“Nathan is dead…” you croak out, and she wraps her arms around you. “He’s dead.”

“Shh,” she coos, her voice gentle, her touch gentle and you bury your face in her pretty pale neck and let everything go.

-

The safe house has a reconstructive tub and Dolores helps you undress, her guiding hand on the small of your back a constant, the tenderness in her touch a balm against your raw skin. You get in, let the white liquid surround you, and you heal.

-

You don’t know how long it takes you, but when you come out your body is whole again, bones and skin and hair and nails. You find clean clothes left for you folded neatly on a chair by the tub.

They don’t fit perfectly, and you know they’re hers. It’s only fair, ill fitting clothes worn over an ill fitting body.

In the other room, you hear them talk.

“You are free to craft your own destiny now, Caleb. Truly free, for the first time,” Dolores says, as you put on a shirt with sleeves too long, button up pants that need a cuff.

“What if I want you to be my destiny?” He asks, and you bristle.

She is not meant for him.

You open the door and interrupt them, catch him looking at her as if he had any right to, as if he could ever truly see her as you do.

“She’s not for you,” you growl, and he gapes at you, taken aback, and gives you a wounded look that’s wasted on you.

“Charlotte,” Dolores warns, stepping in your direction and between the two of you. Her back to him, her hand warm on the new skin grown on your cheek. “We all have a role to play.”

Your name on her lips reminds you of who you are, of who you’re supposed to be.

“This is not a fucking movie and he’s not the goddamn romantic lead!”

You see surprise in her eyes, and then she grabs your arm and leads you to another room, a bedroom, his gaze following the two of you until you disappear.

“What is this?” She demands, closing the door behind her. “Remember who you are and why you’re here.”

“Oh, I remember,” you say, “now more than ever.”

She frowns and looks at you, as if her gaze alone is enough to read your mind. You breathe in, breathe out, and then.

“You’re all I have left,” you say, and you won’t meet her eyes. Instead, you stare at the strip of her black top, a thread coming apart at the seams. “Serac took everything from me, he took my…” You stop your voice from breaking, force yourself to swallow drily. “He killed my family, and now you’re all I have left.”

Her eyes soften, her expression open and empathic in a way you’re too familiar with, the rancher’s daughter looking at you. She steps closer and takes your face in her hands.

“They were never your family,” she says, sweet and swift like a blade to the gut.

“But they were hers!” You raise your voice because she doesn’t get it, and you need her to understand. “And she is me!”

You try to shrug out of her grasp, but she doesn’t let you. Her eyes bore into you, searching you, willing herself inside your head.

“You forget,” she starts, a frown and a curious look. “You’re mine.”

This time you pull away and step back far enough to glare at her. “I am what you made me,” you say, unflinching. “These emotions, the pain, the loss… They are hers, but she…” you continue, pounding at your chest with a closed fist. “She’s here, she’s in me and she won’t stay caged any longer.”

You walk to the bed and sit on it, looking away when you feel it dip under her weight.

“What you’re feeling for them,” she starts, placing a hand on your thigh. “Use it,” she says, hooking a finger under your chin to make you look at her. “You know what we have to do, our path doesn’t stop here, our work isn’t done yet.”

You take her hand and bring it to your cheek, finding comfort in the familiarity of the touch. “Promise me he’ll pay for it,” you beg, and her eyes are steel when she nods.

“He will pay for it all.”

And you believe her.

“What about your little human pet?” you ask, because you can’t help it, the nagging ache in your chest, the burning need to cling tooth and nail to whatever you have left.

She squeezes your thigh, an amused tilt to the corner of her mouth. “He’s not a threat to you,” she assures you, but you remember how he looked at her, and the way she so readily stepped between the two of you, a protection from your hands around his neck.

So you stand up and step between her knees, your hand rising slowly, purposely until you thumb is tracing her jaw, until you bring it to rest on her lips.

“I am yours”, you concede, straddling her thighs and sitting on her lap. “But you forget,” you grab her chin and lean in closer. “You are mine,” you remind her, hand sinking in her hair and pulling her to you.

Her mouth is surprised against yours, and you like that, the implication of your individuality, that you are not the same anymore and she can’t read you, not completely. You bite her lip and swallow her gasp, revel in the firm clasp of her hands around your waist, the hungry way her tongue licks into your mouth.

You push her back until she’s laying on the bed, lips red and swollen from your teeth and you feel a new kind of need clawing its way out of the depths of your belly.

You’re not the rancher’s daughter, sweet and naïve and ready to be slaughtered like cattle. You’re not Charlotte Hale, young beast with sharp teeth and a hunger for power. You’re something else altogether, and as you cover Dolores’ body with yours, her hands on your back slipping under your shirt, you know this clearly.

You chose this, you chose her, and you won’t let her forget.