Thanks to everyone reading this. And hugs to those that took the time to review! Just knowing that it doesn't suck really, really bad is enough to keep me posting. ;D
Willow was silent on the drive in from the airport. Her green eyes were fixed on the darker green shadows outside the window, her lungs filling with the clean, damp air. The fever hadn't gotten any better in the week it had taken to get things in order. It hadn't gotten any worse, either. She still wasn't hungry, but Faith and Xander had teamed up to bully her into eating. They just didn't realize it made her kinda sick when she did eat. They worried enough without her telling them that, so she kept it to herself.
She reached out a hand and pressed it against the window, sighing at the coolness. Her forehead followed suit. She had no idea how she could be burning up and still be freezing cold. It seemed so much worse since she hadn't been able to touch the earth in a couple days. She felt weaker, colder without the connection. Her skin outside was burning, but her inside was like ice.
"Can we stop for a few minutes," she asked, the longing in her voice catching Xander's heart. He reached for her hand, frowning at the lingering heat. Angel had explained that his friend they were going to stay with was a doctor. One that was well-versed in the supernatural. Whatever was killing his best friend wasn't natural. Well, not natural as in a disease. He'd picked up enough wiccan knowledge along the way to know that it had something to do with the goddess connection she hadn't been able to close off.
"We're almost there, Will," Angel said from his spot behind the wheel. It was full dark, and the timing hadn't been an accident. It had been tricky, but they'd managed to get the right flight, arriving at the nearest airport right at dusk, giving them plenty of time to get to Forks and a safe shelter long before dawn.
Willow whimpered and closed her eyes. The longing was a burning ache deep in the pit of her stomach, branching out through the rest of her body. The trees were whispering to her as they passed through, whispering without words. She could feel the ocean pulsing just beyond the cliffs, the wind pushed gently at the small SUV Angel had rented at the airport, urging her to open the window to it. Xander gathered her up into his arms and pulled her in tight. He rested his chin on the top of her head. "Hold on just a bit longer, Willow-mine. We're almost there."
Half and hour later, they pulled up in front of a massive stone and glass house that seemed to be a part of the mountainside. It was a beautiful creation, more windows than walls. Every light was on inside, burning through the night. Willow wasn't interested in the house. She opened her door and nearly fell out. She stumbled towards the side of the driveway and collapsed into the base of one of the massive trees. Frantically, she pulled off her shoes and jacket, burying her hands and feet into the wet earth. She burrowed in as close as she could to the tree, feeling the comforting embrace of the living wood. The empty, cold feeling eased to just this side of bearable.
Angel went to the front door to greet his old friend while Faith unloaded the car and Xander went to stand guard over his friend. Carlisle and his wife, Esme, were both waiting for him in the front hallway, the front door open behind them.
"Angel, my friend, it's been so long," Carlisle moved forward to embrace the souled vampire, genuinely glad to see him. Angel had come across the Cullen family about eighty years ago, before Whistler and Buffy. The souled vampire had taken refuge with the unusual vampires, learning about them and their kind. He had shared his story, and they had explained the Volturi and that they were different from the majority of their brethren. He'd stayed with them for about forty years. Until the pull of California had urged him away.
"Too long," Angel agreed, pulling away to grin over at Esme, who moved in for her own hug. "Esme, you look as beautiful as ever."
"Duh," Faith interrupted as only she could, rolling her eyes as she gracefully navigated the steps loaded down with as much luggage as she could grab with two arms. "Woman's a vampire. She'll never be ugly, Fang. One of the few benefits of being a blood-sucker."
"And this must be Faith," Esme said, her smile making her amber eyes shine. She reached out and took one of the heavier bags. She was genuinely happy to meet the dark slayer Angel had written to her about. It was refreshing to know that this one wasn't kill-kill-kill with no questions. From what Angel had told her in his letters, the girl had tasted the dark and had turned her back on it. After a very painful rehabilitation, she was much less likely to judge on sight. "Nice to meet you, dear."
"Ditto. Someone should probably try to pull our witch out of the dirt. The girl hasn't eaten in a day and a half. We got her to eat a few bites here and there, but I think it's making her sick. Xander's gonna pull his hair out in worry if we don't have the doc here have a look-see soon."
"Good idea." Carlisle turned to the tiny black-haired girl that had appeared behind them, "Alice, would you mind showing Faith where to put their luggage? And could you find Edward for me?"
"Right here, Father." Edward appeared just as suddenly as Alice, his hand touching his mother's arm gently. He towered over the women, his shoulders slightly hunched in the typical teenage heart-throb way. He'd worked against years of training to imitate the slouched posture of the teenagers today. He still moved too smooth and too gracefully to truly fit in if you were paying attention. But he tried. Faith smirked and allowed her eyes to take in the lean, muscled body. Damn. This was going to be much more interesting than she thought.
"I might need your help." Carlisle motioned for Angel to lead the way, then followed him silently. Esme followed along after handing Alice the suitcase she'd picked up, feeling the need to see this child that needed them so desperately. Her Angel wouldn't have brought the human here if there was any other option. He was very protective of the little witch that had saved his soul. He'd confided once that Willow hadn't just returned his soul- she was his soul. How literal that was, she had no idea.
Willow was huddled on the ground, already nearly buried in leaves and dirt. Her bare feet were muddy and pale with cold, and her hands trembled against the rough bark of the tree. Her face was incredibly pale, her features all sharp angles from the weight she'd lost. Red hair she hadn't bothered to brush was tangled and fell to her shoulders in a dull mess. She looked like a lost orphan that had been abandoned to the wild- far younger than her actual age.
Xander stood back and watched as Carlisle and Angel both knelt down next to Willow, worry churning in his gut. He was going to lose her. One way or another. They might be able to save her life, but he had the horrible feeling that her mind might not be strong enough to take the strain. Whatever happened with her spell to activate the potential slayers had done something that wasn't going to be easy to fix. It was beyond his understanding, and that terrified him.
"Willow," Angel was saying gently, brushing her hair away from her forehead, frowning again at the heat that singed his fingers. "This is Carlisle, he's going to look after you."
Willow turned shiny green eyes on the doctor and shivered. Tears fell silently down her face as she asked, "What's wrong with me?"
"She's malnourished, dehydrated, and should be in a hospital right now," the blonde doctor said bluntly a couple hours later when he joined them in the massive lower living room. Alice followed behind him quietly. "Her fever is running at a dangerous level, one that would normally put a human adult into delirium or a coma."
"So..." Xander drew the word out slightly before continuing, "Why aren't we taking her to the hospital?"
"It wouldn't do any good," the auburn haired vampire that had been introduced as Edward chimed in quietly matter-of-fact from his perch on the arm of the chair Alice had settled in. "There is no human cause for the sickness."
"Then what the hell is it," Xander demanded, his tone frustrated even though he'd been expecting them to say something like that. He ran his hands through his hair, tugging at it a little.
"The goddess is taking her," Alice responded for Edward, her voice dreamy and a little faded. "But not forever. She's been chosen. Chosen to become an incarnation of the goddess. In the flesh. Think powerful and immortal. After this, the only way for her to die is to be called home by The Mother herself. But in order for that to happen-"
"Her mortal body has to die," Angel finished when Alice trailed off. He looked stricken. He'd heard of this happening. It didn't occur often, but enough to be recorded in the histories. His girl was going to burn from the inside out and become something else. He turned his back on the room and moved to stare out the window. It was going to be a painful process, one he wished Willow didn't have to endure.
"Woah, wait a second," Faith burst in, jumping up to stand with her feet apart, her hands clenching and unclentching. She went over to Angel and put a hand on his arm, her dark eyes troubled. "How do we know this is true? Who the hell are these people? Do you truly trust them to know what the fuck they're talking about?"
"It's true, Faith," Xander told her before anyone else could cut in. He closed his good eye and rubbed his aching forehead tiredly. "Remember what happened with Cordy and her visions? They were killing her a little at a time, the power too much for her human body. So the powers made her a half-demon to save her life. It makes sense. The link Will made wasn't closed when the spell was done like it was supposed to. Her human body isn't strong enough to handle it."
"Sit down, slayer," a snobbish voice ordered and everyone turned to see a tall blonde girl enter, followed by a huge dark haired brute with a devil-may-care smirk. "My father and siblings know what they're talking about."
Edward rolled his eyes and stood smoothly. He stretched slightly, only because he knew it would distract Faith a little. "On that note, I have a date. I will be home soon."
"Of course, dear," Esme said and accepted the kiss he pressed to her cheek as he passed by her chair. "Say hello to Bella for me."
"And can this get any weirder?" Faith muttered, shaking her head. But her lips twitched at the irony. "Our witch is gonna turn into a goddess and a teenage vampire is going on a date, like it was a normal Saturday night."
"How do you guys know this?" Xander looked up, rubbing at his temple now. His near constant headache was getting worse, almost migraine level. Since his eye was taken, he lived with a splitting headache at best and a knock-you-out migraine at worst.
Faith frowned over at him and grabbed a bottle out of her jacket pocket. He hated pills but since she'd threatened to force them down his throat- and meant it- he took them when she handed them to him. She turned to Esme and asked, "Before we go into this, can I get a glass of water?"
"Absolutely. Why don't we move this into the kitchen," Esme offered. "I'm sure we can put something together for a meal. And there's plenty of seating."
"And I would like to look at that eye for you, Xander," Carlisle said, sharp amber eyes taking in the obvious pain the young man was in. "There might be something I can do to help."