As always, thanks soooooo much for the reviews!!! *hugs* This chapter is short and another cliffhanger, but I will post another tonight when I get home from work ;o)
Alice stared out of the window at the blackness, her sharp eyes not taking in any of it. She wasn't looking at the peaceful landscape that played out like a painting. She was looking into a small clearing not too far away, the three figures kneeling in the grass and dirt. Not questioning how she was seeing the wolf that normally evaded her visions, she watched things play out. She smiled, relaxing back into Jasper's gentle grasp.
"The three are one. The tree grows and evil falls. Enemies are friends when cold meets hot." Alice blinked and brought herself out of the vision that had taken over her senses. She shook herself and smiled a small, genuine smile. Everything was going to be all right. Then her nose wrinkled as she realized she was going to have to get used to the stench of dogs. Oh, well. There was such a thing as deodorizer. She drew the line at fleas, however. The mongrels had better be well-kept if she was going to accept them in her life in any capacity.
They weren't on the reservation anymore. Jacob looked around at the playground with interested eyes. It looked like they were in a city park, but not one he recognized. There were trees, but nothing like they had in and around Forks. The air was warm and dry, almost hot compared to the thick coastal air he was used to. He turned at a sound and saw Willow sitting on one of the swings, her long legs pushing it back and forth slightly.
She looked better. Not as thin, for one. Her face was gently rounded and her curves, though still not generous, showed through the green summer-dress she wore. Her red hair was brushed back into a simple pony-tail, shiny strands falling to frame her face. Her eyes were clear and solemn as she stared at him.
Another sound brought his attention to the vampire, who was walking straight for Willow, an unreadable expression on his face. "Will-," Angel said, his voice tight with controlled emotion.
She smiled crookedly and it transformed her pretty face into a vision. Jacob's heart gave a funny little twist at the sight of it. "Angel. I'm sorry you got roped into this. You too, Jacob. I didn't-"
"We want to be here," Jacob rushed to assure her, closing in on her other side. "Unexpected on my part, but I wouldn't- won't change it." He reached out and took one of her hands. The feel of it was cool, not hot or cold. Just normal. Wherever they were, the dangerous fever was gone.
"We're back in Sunnydale," she whispered, answering his unasked question. Her face turned sad as she looked back at her older friend. "Remember, Angel? You used to watch over me, Xander, and Jesse here, before Buffy. Before we knew better than to be out after dark."
"You knew I was there?" Angel asked her, not too surprised. He'd had a connection to the redheaded girl since long before he started helping the slayer. He'd been drawn to her when he'd first arrived in Sunnydale, a good five years before Buffy had made her way to the hellmouth. When Xander and their friend Jesse were eleven and she was eight. He still found it odd that she was so much younger than the others in their little group. She was definitely smarter than the other two, and the two girls were of the same size. But then once the girls reached a certain age, things evened out. Xander had always been very protective over the younger girl, actually getting into fist-fights with the other children for making her cry.
"Of course I knew you were there, silly," Willow giggled, rolling her eyes. She sounded so much like the old Willow that Angel wanted to drag her into a hug. "Genius, remember? Even then I knew things I shouldn't. I didn't know who you were, but I knew someone was watching out for us. I was just too young to really comprehend how or why."
She sighed suddenly and looked around, amusement leaking away to leave her incredibly sad. "All of this is gone now. Nothing but dirt, rocks, and rubble. Wonder if my parents are worried about me? I haven't tried to call them yet to tell them I'm okay. Well," she amended after a pause, "Alive anyway. Because, honestly, I'm far from being okay."
"Not that I'm complaining, but why are we here," Jacob asked, looking around with more curiosity once he realized this used to be a part of Willow's home.
"I brought you to a more... familiar and calm place," a new voice spoke and all three of them turned to look at the older dark haired woman that had appeared out of nowhere.
Willow gasped and stood up abruptly, taking a couple steps before stopping herself. "Jenny?"
The dark haired woman shook her head with a gentle smile, "No, Willow. You know who I am. I took this form because it is, again, familiar and safe." She turned to Angel, who had turned an even whiter shade of pale. His dark eyes were hooded and his jaw was clenched against the pain seeing the gypsy's form was causing. "She has forgiven you, Angelus. A long time ago, I might add. Unlike her clan, Janna wasn't the kind to hold grudges. She was wise enough to know the difference between the demon and the man."
The words eased a bit of the hurt, but he found it difficult to look directly at her. Willow's small, cool hand reached for his and gripped it tight. "Mother," the redhead greeted the being simply, bowing slightly in respect. "You honor me."
The goddess acknowledged the greeting with a smile. She turned to Jacob and the weight and beauty of her gaze made his inner wolf whimper with contentment. He felt at peace for the first time since he'd started the change. All the complications in his life fell away at the intense but gentle love he felt directed at him. "Jacob Black, your tribe has been invaluable to us. The balance your people strive for has not been unnoticed."
"Why-," Jacob blurted out before stopping, thinking about his words for a moment before spitting the rest of it out. "Why me? No disrespect, but why was I chosen for this. And what is
"You are to protect my chosen," the goddess replied. "Willow is to take on my earthly duties. It has been nearly six hundred years since my last chosen, and I believe it is time."
"What is it you require of me, Mother," Willow asked, confusion drawing her eyebrows down. "I don't understand. How was I chosen? Among all the other possibilities, why me?"
"You have passed my tests, Willow. One after another, without fail. The last one was harsh, I know, but the most important." Willow looked down at her feet, guilt settling in the pit of her stomach. A warm, soft hand lifted her chin and she found herself looking into the familiar dark eyes of her former teacher. "You are to guide and lead my warriors, Willow-child. Give them homes, love them, teach and protect them. They will die, yes. As is the nature of the cycle. But they are not gone, nor are they forgotten. Honor them as they are deserving."
"I killed them," Willow whispered, tears threatening, clogging her throat so it was hard to speak. She was thinking about the ones that had already fallen defeating The First and the hell-spawn called out of the hellmouth. "I brought them into something they didn't choose for themselves."
"They chose, Willow," the goddess told her softly, the words firm. "We gave them a choice, and they chose to fight. They could have denied the power given to them. They could have stayed in their world of ignorance. But they didn't deny what they were. There are rules. Rules that will be followed." The dark-eyed gaze turned to rest on Angel.
"You are to be the enforcer," she told the vampire firmly, the soft voice commanding even in it's gentleness. "The executioner if needed. There will be troubles, dear ones. There is no balance without it. For every good there must be evil. Without it, the cycle will be broken and I will be forced to start everything anew."
"How will we know what the rules are? And if someone breaks them," Jacob asked. Being a teenager, he knew exactly what rules meant. But you couldn't follow them if you didn't know them.
"When you awake, you will know. Willow," she turned her gaze back on the redhead in front of her. "The bond you three share cannot be broken. You may travel apart, but not for long before it is painful. I do not regret putting this burden on you three. I trust you to maintain balance. You, my dearest, will feel the same connection to me and my earth as you did before. It will ease after a while, but you will feel a compulsion to stay near nature. As with your mates, it will be rather uncomfortable for you to be away from me for too long."
She turned to Jacob, a fragile hand reaching up to touch the wolf's strong jawline. "You shall be the heart, my wolf," she told him softly, brown eyes meeting brown. "The conscience of the three. They will be your protectors as much as you are theirs. Accept the vampires, the Cullens as well. They have gone against their very nature to help and protect the humans they call friends. They are mine as much as you and your people are."
Something inside Jacob eased at her words, even as he wanted to deny them. His bias against the vampires went soul deep, it was ingrained in his very genetic makeup to hate them for their natures. After a brief internal battle, he nodded. "It will be hard, Mother," he told her honestly, using Willow's endearment for her. It felt right to address her as such. "But I will try."
"Good enough for now," she told him, then pressed a kiss to his temple. "Go with love and know I am with you."
She moved to Willow and repeated the process, kissing her gently. It left a cool tingling that wasn't unpleasant. When she came to Angel, she whispered, "Claim them both as your kind does true mates. They will forever be yours." She kissed his temple and they were gone.