My twentieth birthday is approaching, and I feel much, much older

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My twentieth birthday is approaching, and I feel much, much older. I remember back to when I was a little girl, eight or so, going around in my Power Girl costume, pretending to be a superhero. I loved the fantasy. I never dreamt being a superhero could be so difficult.

I never dreamt it could take so much out of you. I've been slaying for four years, and it feels like a lifetime. I feel older than my friends, because although they've experienced much of the same horrors that I have, they can't understand what it is to be the Chosen One.

The Chosen One. Trapped into a destiny that I never wanted or asked for. The only escape - death.

Death is an old friend. At first I considered him an enemy, but experience has shown me that is not the case. I have died before, and come back - and I resented being brought back. That, I realized, was what I had actually felt. Death had been a way out. A new slayer was called when I died - I was meant to leave this world by the Master. That was part of my destiny, and although I did want to embrace it at first, I began to understand that it was the only way.

I slay and try to stay alive for my friends, for the ones I love. Angel, my mom, Giles, Willow, Xander, Riley - I fight to protect them. I have been selfless for so long, not allowing death to take me because I know they needed me.

Now it is time for me to think of myself. I can't go on like this much longer. My body may escape relatively unharmed, but the slaying is slowly killing me, infecting me, like a poison. The responsibilities and duties of a slayer have been weighing heavily on me for four years, crushing me.

I need to escape.

I have considered for a long time how to go through with this. One of my more cruel thoughts was to make love to Angel again, give him his moment of happiness, and allow Angelus to kill me. Then I thought of the remorse he would feel if he regained his soul. I can't do that to him. His burden is as heavy as mine. I understand the torment he goes through. I love him too much to hurt him that way. He will feel enough hurt when he learns of my death.

I must hide my tracks carefully. The last thing I want is for anyone to suspect I was planning to die. They must think it was a natural occurrence. It will make the grieving process easier for them. Consider it my last favor to them.

I wander around the graveyard late at night, alone. I know I will encounter at least one vampire tonight. Sunnydale has never seen a night without vampires.

Yes, I see one. He is tall, with red hair, and approaching me.

"Slayer," he growls.

"That's me," I reply, not attempting to fight back as he grabs me.

"I always wanted to drink the blood of a slayer," he says. I feel his sharp teeth pierce my neck, and begin to feel dizzy…then there is nothing.