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"I don't think I can eat," Xander told the group as they gathered in the dining room and sat down around a massive oak table. Esme set a plate of cheese, meat, and crackers down in front of him. Faith raised an eyebrow and exchanged a shocked look with Angel. Xander was always hungry. It was a proven fact.
"Dude, not you too," the dark haired woman stated bluntly. She pointed a stern finger in his direction. "You are going to eat, no matter what. The painkillers will make you hurl if you don't. Do you really want to puke when your head feels like that?"
"Good point," Xander said, considering, then reached for a cracker. "Puking is never of the good."
"Truer words never said," Carlisle said with a half-smile. He sobered and asked, "Might I ask what happened with your eye? If it isn't too personal."
"Insane, inhuman, murderous super priest," Xander stated, suddenly very interested in breaking the sliced cheese into smaller pieces. His heart seemed to pound in his head as the preacher's face popped into his mind. The hands that had looked so huge reaching for his face, then blinding, sickening pain that never seemed to end. Even now, months later.
"I wrote to you about the First Evil Buffy and her friends were facing," Angel said solemnly, his dark eyes taking in the tense line of the other man's shoulders. He knew Xander had changed, had seen alot of the evidence through the last few weeks since the Sunnydale crew had descended on the Hyperion. But this was like a slap in the face. There were no jokes, no avoiding. No exaggerating to get more sympathy. No elaboration. In fact, it looked like he would rather the floor swallow him alive than discuss what happened with Caleb.
"The preacher was The First's right hand," Faith said, her hand finding Xander's in an uncharacteristic move. "Fucker got ahold of Xander before I- Before we could get to him."
Xander looked at her for a moment, his expression unreadable. Then, as the meaning behind her words clicked, he told her simply, "It wasn't your fault, Faith."
She looked down at the table top, shifting uncomfortably. Angel smiled slightly, Xander wasn't the only one who had changed. "I wasn't much good in the long run, huh? Might not have been my fault, but I wasn't fast enough to stop it. I wasn't fast enough or strong enough to stop Anya from being gutted, or from stopping the uber-vamp from crushing Robin's scull." Her voice broke and she stood up abruptly. She left the room quickly, running her hand through her dark hair. "Gonna check on Red."
Xander looked up, locking gazes with Angel. He smiled without humor, "Looks like Willow's not the only one who got all screwed up."
There was a moment of awkward silence before Faith came running back into the room. "Red's gone."
"Sam," Jacob's alarmed voice brought the alpha wolf out of his slumber quick. He came through the living room, pulling on a pair of cotton shorts to cover his nakedness. He didn't care about anyone seeing him nude, but it could be rather awkward for whoever was at the door.
"Jake? What-," Sam stopped, frozen at the sight of the skinny redheaded woman in his friend's arms. "What the hell?"
"She found me on the cliffs," the younger wolf looked shell-shocked and worried, an interesting combination. "Her name's Willow and she's sick. Really sick and I don't know what to do."
"Lay her down on the couch, Jake," Emily, Sam's fiance`, came out behind him and rushed forward when she saw the woman. Healer instincts kicking in, she ordered, "Sam, I need the kit and some clean towels."
Jacob and Sam moved to obey without question. Her gentle hands reached for the woman's face to feel for fever, frowning at the intense heat coming off the pale skin. She was too pale- fever this high would usually show in flushed, sweaty skin, but Willow's flesh was still paper-white and very dry. "Willow, sweetie, can you tell me what's wrong?"
Willow looked at the young woman, her green eyes taking in the heavy scars on the side of her face. She could feel the goodness radiating off the Native American woman, the inner peace that shone out of her dark eyes. Whatever scars she bore on the outside, she'd come to terms with it a long time ago. Willow smiled and reached out a hand, covering the old wounds, gentle but firm. Emily froze, dark eyes wide as the heat sank into her skin. A tingling started and she wanted to retreat, to move back but the woman's intense green eyes kept her still.
"What the hell is this? What are you doing," Sam demanded, responding to Emily's fear with a warning growl. He came forward, big hands reaching for his girl's shoulders to pull her back. Emily whimpered and closed her eyes. Whatever the other woman was doing didn't hurt, but it wasn't exactly pleasant either.
It didn't take long before Willow pulled her hand back and deflated into the couch. Emily touched a hand to her tingling cheek and gasped in shock, feeling the smooth skin where there used to be deep, furrowed scars. She turned to Sam, a sob in her throat as she touched farther up, where the scars had gone into her hairline. "Sam?"
Sam froze, his heart stuttering once, then squeezing hard in his chest as his eyes took in the sight of his love, her face unmarred for the first time in years. Whole and unharmed. The awful reminders of his lack of control was gone, the beautiful line of Emily's face was perfect again. He hit his knees, pulling Emily down with him, his huge hands cupping her face in awe.
Tears fell as he reverently pressed his lips to hers, then kissed the line of her jaw and the smooth curve of her cheek, her hairline. Then her eyelids. By then they were both laughing and crying at the same time. Willow closed her eyes, feeling weak but still too full. Her stomach was burning and the cold was creeping back in. She clutched a hand to her chest, gasping as the sharp pain started.
Tears leaked out the corner of her eyes as she squeezed them shut. "Angel," she whispered, wanting the coldness her friend offered. She was so warm on the outside, her skin feeling like it was going to burst into flames or creep off her flesh. She looked up at the young man she'd found on the cliffs, green eyes locking on black. She whimpered and arched her back as pain knifed through her.
"Willow," Jacob said, the panic in his voice making Emily and Sam come back to reality. Emily sprang into action, barking orders for Jacob to wet one of the towels with cold water and for Sam to draw a cool bath. She went into the kitchen and started brewing a tea to bring the fever down. A sick feeling in her stomach made her realize that there was more to it than just a bad fever.
When Sam came back, she told him softly, "We're going to have to call the elders. A fever this hot we might need to call for the hospital."
Sam nodded and looked over at where Jacob was gently pressing the cold towel to the woman's face. It looked like his second had finally found his other half. If it all worked out, Jacob could finally forget Bella Swan ever existed. The young woman's back arched off the couch with a half-scream of pain that ended on a whimper. "Angel," she cried out, her voice almost a hoarse sob. "Oh, goddess, help me."
Willow grasped Jacob's hand, pulling it away from her face. She could feel herself slipping, the heat burning away at her consciousness. Faces swam through her mind and her heart felt like it was shattering. Anya. Spike. Kennedy. Robin. The little blonde girl from Germany that had been so scared going into the battle. Elena. Still reeling from her first real kill, the young woman had been mowed down by the same blade that had just killed Anya. Words she didn't realize she was saying out loud spilled, "I'm sorry. So, so sorry. What could we do? We were going to lose. So many- they never stop. They keep dying. I sent them to die."
Jacob looked horrified at the words spilling from Willow's lips. She was delusional. She had to be. He looked at Sam, who was frozen, the cordless phone held against his ear as his sharp hearing picked up what the strange woman was saying. She was whimpering again, shaking her head. "No, no. Please, no. Spike. I'm sorry, so sorry. The soul burned going in, burning so hot at the end when we could have found another way. Burned to ashes to save us all. Ashes. Nothing but light and ashes." She sobbed, her tears squeezing out behind eyes shut tight.
"Willow, sweetie, we're gonna put you in a cool bath," Emily told the babbling girl gently, motioning at Jacob to pick her up. "It'll help the fever."
"Nothing will help," the redhead told them solemnly, whimpering again as Jacob picked her up gently. The heat of his body mingled with hers, making it almost unbearable. He felt nice, the strong muscles protecting her, keeping her safe. The earthy, almost musky scent of his skin surrounded her, making her want to bury her face in his chest. The beast she could feel just under the surface soothed her a little, the protective spirit enveloping her, loving her in a way she'd never felt before.
"This is going to be cold, honey," Emily warned her soothingly as Jacob lowered her into the cool water, fully clothed. The pale woman drew in a shuttering breath and let it out in a low wail that made the three wince.
"Angel," she cried out, her hands grasping at Jacob. "Please, Angel understands. I gave him his soul, but Buffy can't know. She can't know that I still feel him inside my head. That he can never go back. Oh, Goddess."
Her eyes were glazed over and it was obvious she didn't know what she was saying. "Oh, Goddess," she repeated, babbling even as she started to tremble. Despite the cold water, she was burning up, inside and out now. "Buffy can't know. Don't tell her. Faith knows. Faith knows more than anyone. She's been in his head. Begged to die and survived when others didn't."
"Shh, Willow," Jacob soothed, pushing her hair back from her face in a tender gesture. His own instinct was growling at him, telling him he should be jealous of the reverence his mate held for these people. This Angel. The logical part of him said that he was being stupid. Despite imprinting, he'd just met the girl and didn't know how deep the connection between the man Angel and Willow went.
"Connection soul deep," the redhead answered his unasked question, her purple-tinted lips trembling. "I am his soul, the one that keeps the demon at bay. He doesn't know that I know. I am the cage that keeps Angelus inside." She screamed out at another wave of intense pain centered in her chest, hands gripping the grounded strength Jacob and Emily offered. Sam came inside behind them with the tea, crowding the medium sized bathroom.
"He's coming," she whispered, eyes half-closed. Some of the tension eased out of her shoulders. "Angel's coming. He won't hurt anyone. Not on purpose. He feels guilty about not being there."
"On not being where, Willow," Sam asked, taking Emily's place next to the bathtub. He had a feeling things were going to get worse rather than better. This Angel person was coming, and as alpha, it was Sam's job to make sure it wasn't going to hurt his pack.
"Sunnydale," she whispered, hazy green eyes pinning his. "The Mouth of Hell." She giggled and it was bordering hysterical. She shook her head, sobering quickly, a breath escaping in a half-sob.
"Lived there all my life, went to school and hung out in the library- right over the barely closed gate to hell. Vampires, demons, literal hell spawn that erupted from time to time to drag innocents into the fire. I almost got drug in once, when the Master opened the Hellmouth for just a moment. Tentacle thing wrapped around my leg. Giles saved me." She gasped and clawed at her neck, making Jacob reach for her hands so she wouldn't harm herself. "No one saved Kennedy. The same tentacle snapped her pretty little neck. I wasn't there, but I saw it. I felt it. The bones were strong, but it was stronger."
Sam and Jacob exchanged horrified looks, but she wasn't done. "The sound of grinding, shattering bones won't go away. Anya died almost as quick. A blade longer than my arm sliced her almost in half. Xander didn't see. He had his back turned, fighting something else. Thank the Mother for small miracles. The same blade whirled and cut down three more before Faith took it down."