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Lost Girl

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 It is many years before Emma sees her father again. Or – she’s pretty sure it’s years. Though she’s never really been the best judge of time. It’s difficult when you’re only alive for three days (during which you’re rapidly aged to become a teenager capable of inflicting life-ending violence) before you’re killed by your own uncle and left to spend the rest of eternity in the realm of the dead.

 Dead monsters, to be specific. It’s all monsters here. You could say that at least she’s among friends. Though truth be told, none of them are particularly friendly.

 Mostly, she keeps to herself. Staying… well, not alive, but present. Fighting when she has to. There’s not much else that has to be done, to survive – not when you’re dead already. There’s no need to eat, or drink, or sleep… resting is not a thing that is done, in purgatory. So she… fights, and her soul stays present, and time probably passes, a lot of time, though it’s difficult to tell and it’s not like she ages. She just exists.

 It becomes routine pretty quickly. Fighting and existing. That’s all there really is to it.

 Until.

 

 Emma happens upon her father. It’s so strangely casual, as if he was always supposed to be there, in purgatory. She’s out stretching her legs, walking in the shadows where the monsters won’t bother her, and she comes to the top of a slope where there is a view, and there he is, her father, down at the bottom, leaning against a tree, talking. Talking out loud to nobody. Or… is it nobody? Nobody visible, nobody present that Emma can see with her own eyes. A spark in her mind lights up and informs her that her father is praying. That’s what it’s called, when people speak into thin air, to some higher being.

 She gets these sparks sometimes. They are where almost all the information she posesses comes from. It’s not like it is for humans, or the beings she’s encountered that were once human – vampires, werewolves and the like. Emma knows that humans get their knowledge from real places. They see it, or hear it, or are taught it. Most of them are taught their knowledge by other humans, humans who are older and wiser and have time and patience to lend to the younger, still ignorant ones.

 That is what mothers and fathers are for, when you’re a human.

 Emma isn’t a human. Not really. She was supposed to kill her father, and it was supposed to be done quickly, without all the years that it takes for human children to be taught. And so she never was a child. She was never told her knowledge. Not by her father, not by her mother. She just… grew, and all her knowledge appeared inside her brain, until she was old and strong and wise enough to be a killer.

 And she tried. She tried to be the killer she’d been grown to be. But she failed. And instead, she was the one who was killed.

 And now, many (she’s not sure how many, but a significant number of) years have passed, and suddenly her father is here, where only dead monsters are supposed to be, and he is praying. He is speaking to thin air and looking in the other direction, and he hasn’t seen her, won’t see her, because if there’s one skill she’s had plenty of time to perfect it is hiding, and it suddenly occurs to her that now would be a prime time to kill him.

 She could do it, right now. Slide her knife out of her pocket, creep up while her father is still occupied with the nobody he is praying to, come at him from behind. Slit his throat before he even knows she’s there.

 Slit his throat, and slice off his hands and his feet, go through the whole ritual that amazons are supposed to. It’ll come to her, when the time is right. It is another thing that Emma has never been taught, but the knowledge is in her, in her very nerves and muscles. She’s wired to kill him.

 And after… well. She’ll still be dead, but she’ll have done it. She’ll have proved herself. She’ll no longer be weak, a failure, a permanent half-grown child. She’ll be a proper amazon.

 It would be nice – and it’s a miracle that she even has the chance, gift-wrapped, right in front of her. She never thought she’d get to have that. She never thought she’d even see him again, her father, Dean Winchester. And yet here he is.

 She should kill him. She should.

 She will. Any minute now. The knife is already held tight in her hand.

 It’s just that it’s slightly fascinating, this talking-to-thin-air that her father is doing. It’s just that she’d quite like to hear, first, what he has to say that’s so important that he isn’t even looking around for danger. And it’s not like she’ll get a chance, once she’s killed him.

 He won’t be able to do any speaking at all, after she’s done the killing. Ever.

 And she won’t get to learn anything about him.

 So it’s curiousity. It is. That’s the deciding factor, that’s what makes her hesitate, pause for a while to listen. Of course she’s curious. Why would she not be? She’s only… well. Emma’s not sure how old she is, but she’s still young.

 She’s allowed to be curious. Probably.

 Well. There’s no-one who’s going to tell her what to do, anyway.

 So she slinks herself behind a cluster of trees, just out of sight. She’s good at that by now – camouflaguing herself, making herself disappear. Her father has his back to her anyway, and there’s no reason for him to turn around if she doesn’t make a sound. And staying completely silent is basic – beginner-level skills. Paired with the added factor of not even having to breathe, thanks to being dead, it’s ridiculously easy.

 So that’s where Emma finds herself, somehow, all these years later. Still and silent as a stone, not moving forward, not leaving, just… watching. Watching as her father prays to thin air.

 “You’re my best friend,” he says to someone out there. “But I just let you go. Because it was easier than admitting I was wrong.”

 Emma knows what a best friend is. It’s another piece of knowledge she’s never been taught, never experienced, but that falls conveniently into her mind now, as she hears the phrase for the first time.

 Best friend. It’s like a friend, which is an ally who you choose, who you genuinely care about. She’s seen allies – it’s not unusual for monsters to travel around in packs. But they generally end up turning on each other sooner or later. It’s difficult to keep an allyship going for eternity when fighting is the only real way to pass the time.

 And “best”… that’s a friend who’s extra special. The very most important one.

 It’s common knowledge. Or at least, something a sixteen-year-old girl should know. Which is the only reason Emma possesses this knowledge.

 It’s obvious that her father cares about this person, whoever it is he is praying to. He’s speaking earnestly enough that he probably means it. So he does care. He cares enough to have someone he calls a “best friend”, someone he apologises to when he’s in the wrong. Someone he regrets letting go.

 Even if Emma did make a noise now, or shifted enough to make herself visible, Dean Winchester still wouldn’t notice her right now. He’s absorbed in his praying, in whoever it is that he’s addressing. Nothing else matters right now. She could probably practically dance in front of him and he wouldn’t even notice her.

 Even if he did, who’s to say he’d recognise her? Emma’s pretty sure she doesn’t look any different to the way she did that day, the day she died. She still feels sixteen physically, still moves in the same way she has the whole time she’s been here.

 But it’s been so long. Years. And she only ever knew her father for half an hour or so.

 He’s probably forgotten what she even looks like.

 She hasn’t forgotten his face. But then, she hasn’t seen anywhere near as many humans as he must have done in his lifetime. There are monsters that look like humans, but there’s a difference. His is the only real human face she’s seen since she died.

 It can’t just be a coincidence. It’s too lucky. It must be some sort of fate. She’s supposed to kill Dean Winchester, right now. Kill her father. Finally achieve her objective.

 It’s so easy. She could do it – just go and do it. She should do it. Do it, Emma!

 It’s like she’s been turned into a tree herself, and she feels as peaceful as one, routed to the spot, as her father prays and time, nonexistent time, goes by.

 Her father tells the no-one he is praying to that he doesn’t know why he gets so angry. That it’s something that’s always been in him; that it’s something that he can’t control.

 He doesn’t sound angry now. His face is soft, like it was the last time she spoke to him all those years ago, when he stared her down and couldn’t shoot her. Weak, that part of her brain from which her knowledge always appears supplies. She should accept it, take it as fact, and prove that she’s different, go and finally make her kill.

 Emma doesn’t move. Maybe she’s the weak one. Maybe it runs in the family.

 Her father tells the no-one that he should have asked them to stay. He says that he hopes they can hear him. And… and she can’t tell for sure, because she’s still watching from the distance, far enough that she can’t be detective, but she’s pretty sure he’s crying. Weak, the helpful little voice in her head supplies.

 And then her father gets up abruptly and he’s walking away and Emma still hasn’t killed him. He was there, by some miracle, after all these countless years, and now he’s walking away and she’s missed her chance. Weak, weak, weak.

 She’s not used to this anymore – to time being something that can run away from you, to chances being something you have to grab at. Here, everything stays the same, day in, day out, and nothing really has consequences. You kill something, it’s out of the way for a bit, then it comes back. She’s died a few times herself – and it’s not exactly a pleasant experience, the searing tear of pain that rips through her as she’s pulled apart, the nothingness that surrounds her until she’s smothered, unable to see or hear or even think for a good while. But she’s always popped back into existence sooner or later, good as new, able to think and feel and hurt just like always.

 There aren’t any lasting consequences around here. Only pain.

 Except for now. Here he is, her opportunity, her last chance, her father, and he’s walking away and she hasn’t done anything but watch.

 And now, finally, she panics. Listens to that voice in her head from which the knowledge comes, the voice that tells her that she is supposed to kill. It urges her to unfreeze. It urges her to reach for her knife. It urges her feet to unroot themselves, guides them into the right rhythm to prowl, the way animals do, predators in the wild who are wired for killing.

 Her father walks, steps heavy and desolate, still searching for the whoever he was praying to.

 Emma follows, just out of sight, weaves her way through the trees, feather-silent. Just a few metres behind. Just far enough away to stay out of sight.

 Soon, Emma will creep forward, the way the voice tells her that a cat does when the time has come to pounce. Soon, she’ll raise her knife, the one that’s already in her hand, cold and sharp, sharp enough to draw blood, sharp enough to mutilate. And she’ll do it. The killing. The mutilating. She’ll do it, and it’ll come to her the way breathing does, the voice will guide her and it’ll be easy because it’s instinct, because it’s what she was always supposed to do.

 And then he’ll be dead, her father, Dean Winchester. And Emma… well. She’ll be dead too, of course, but she’ll be complete. She won’t be weak anymore. She’ll be strong. She’ll be what she is supposed to and maybe, finally, she’ll feel whole.

 She just has to get through the last hurdle, the blood barrier.

 Her knife is in her hand.

 Her father is still walking, and soon he’ll have reached his destination, but there’s still time. She still has a chance. She does.

 She should move. She should get closer, she should pounce, she should kill. She should do it now. Now. It’s time.

 Her steps are still small, cautious. She’s still just background, unseen background. He has no idea she’s there. She’s made absolutely no impact on him yet.

 He plods on, faster now, as if time does matter to him. As if he’s running out of it.

 She follows with steps that are too small.

 And he plods, and she follows, too far behind, and then, suddenly, he stops. Freezes.

 It’s so sudden that Emma stumbles; has to grab a nearby branch to stop herself feeling. It makes a noise, a loud rustle. But it doesn’t even matter. Her father doesn’t hear, or care.

 Because he’s saying, “Cas?”, and then someone stands up, steps into view, and the No-one that Emma’s father was praying to is no longer a No-one.

 He’s a man, or at least a being in the form of a man, and he takes a step forward, and then Emma’s father is stepping forward too, and he’s wrapping his arms around him, tight and secure. And they are holding each other, and Emma supposes that that is a thing that best friends do. People who care about one another.

 It looks like a comforting thing, a hug. A hug, because the voice in her brain where knowledge comes from tells her that that is what it is. It also tells her that now would be the perfect time to make her move, now, when Dean Winchester is at his most vulnerable, at his weakest.

 She should.

 She can’t, she can’t, she can’t.

 Emma was lifted up sometimes, by her mother, on that one first day of her life when she was a baby. Lifted out of her cot, and into it; had clothes pulled on and off her, her arms and legs teased through sleeves, her chest fastened into the straps of a high-chair so she wouldn’t fidget as she was fed. Once, just once, her mother held her close to her chest – that very first night, the one night she was still small enough to be held, carried, rocked and lulled to sleep.

 Maybe that’s a bit what a hug feels like.

 The memory, and the feelings it drags up, distract her for a moment, a few moments, too long, and already her father is stepping back. Already he is speaking to his friend, to Cas, who is no longer a no-one.

 And Emma does absolutely nothing except watch, and then they are walking again, and then they are gone.

 Gone.

 And that is that.

 She’s missed her chance. The knife is still clean in her hand; still gleaming from the last time she washed it, metal shining in its purity, clear of blood.

 And she… She is weak. She is alone. She is a child, just like she always has been. Just like she always will be.

 And somewhere, in the real world, the world of the living, Dean Winchester, her father, is still walking with those same plodding steps; still breathing the air that alive people do; still caring for Cas, for all the people that he must care for.

 She’s missed her chance. All over again.

 She doesn’t deserve to be exhausted; hasn’t done anything to warrant it, anything worthwhile. But she can’t fight the urge to fall back once she gets to that tree, the same tree by which her father stood as he prayed. So she gives in; leans against it, lets herself sink to the ground.

 When the tears come, it’s not even a surprise. Weak. Of course she is. It probably runs in the family. It’s probably his fault.

 So she sits there, being weak, because it’s all that she can do, now, and the ground is dry against her fingers, dry with brittle leaves and deadness. Dry, apart from one small slither of cold, solid against the very edge of her palm.

 She looks down. Feels for it – that same cold metal feel as the flat of her knife.

 It’s nothing much. Just a coin, weathered and tiny and probably not even worth a packet of sweets. But she picks it up; lets its coolness rest in the palm of her hand, traces the little details etched into it. Tells herself it might just have fallen out of a certain coat pocket, because it’s a nice thought, somehow.

 Emma’s not sure how long she stays there, just sitting. But it’s not really important, anyway. Time doesn’t matter anymore.