Lost In The Middle
Title: Lost In The Middle
Disclaimer: I don't own any of it. They belong to someone else. I'm only borrowing them.
Distribution: whoever wants it.
Spoilers: Don't have a clue.
Feedback: It is my muse!! Thank you all for all the great feedback, it's kept me writing as much and as quickly as I have.
Notes: indicate thoughts. ^ ^ indicate Elvish
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The night grew dark and deep around her and she knew that she shouldn't be out at night by herself. But Willow just couldn't bring herself to care. She wandered home from the Bronze after having been ditched by her so-called friends for the last time. Willow understood how dangerous it was for her to be lost in her thoughts as she sauntered through the deserted park. If she had been paying closer attention, she might have noticed the vampire stalking behind her. As soon as the fledgling grabbed her from behind, she panicked. Even though Buffy and Giles had taken to training her, none of her training was coming to mind. The only thing that Willow knew she could trust was her magic. She had been experimenting with teleportation spells, and thought that now was as good a time as any to try it out.
"Hilae mara lotas telcotas!" She screamed.
The flash of light was momentarily blinding. Willow tried to regain her senses, to determine if her spell had worked. Oh, it had worked. A little well.
"Hilae mara lotas telcotas!"
"Hilae mara lotas telcotas!"
Not having any clear destination in mind, Willow just started in the direction of the nearest tall hill.
After what seemed like hours, she spotted what looked like an old ruined watchtower. As she started up the base of the hill, she suddenly found herself with a sword in her back. She froze.
"Who are you?" A rough male voice questioned her.
"I . . . I'm . . . Willow Rosenburg. Please don't kill me." She meekly replied. She knew she could probably take him, he sounded human, but she wanted to see what she was facing first.
"What are you doing here? How long have you been following us?" He grew more insistent, pressing the sword farther into her back.
"Following you? I'm completely lost. I don't have any idea where I am. I swear. I'm not following anyone. I didn't know that there was even anyone around to follow. I was looking for a hill so that I could see which direction I should start walking. This was the first real hill I saw, plus it looked like it would provide a good shelter for the coming night. I swear. Please don't kill me." Willow wasn't aware that she knew how to babble and plead all at the same time. She was now hesitant to attack, because the man had mentioned ‘us' which translated to more than one. She wanted to see all of her opponents first.
"You expect me to believe that?"
"Only because it's the truth. You probably wouldn't believe the how I got lost in the first place part, so let's just leave it at that." Willow was starting to get upset. Her assailant had yet to reveal himself to her, and the sword was seriously starting to not feel good in her back. "Do you think you could ease up on the sword in the back? It's really starting to hurt. Not to mention, do you think you could be man enough to actually face me?"
"What!? You do know that I could kill you where you stand?"
She nodded. "But you won't. You want to know what I know about you and why I'm here. That means no killing of the new girl." She said gaining more courage.
"Cleaver, but correct. I'm not going to kill you. YET! So, start talking."
"Let me see your face first."
There was a moment of silence as he thought about it. Finally he agreed. Willow held her hands out to the side, palms open so that he knew she wasn't brandishing a weapon, and slowly turned to face him. What she saw nearly took her breath away. The man in front of her was ruggedly handsome, but looked like something from a different time. He looked almost nomadic. But there was something is his eyes. His eyes betrayed that he was older than he looked. Not to mention, like her's, that he had seen more in his life than anyone should have too. But, he didn't look evil, far from it. He almost looked scared. Not for himself, but whomever it was that he was trying to protect. He had the look of someone that would kill to protect his friends. And she admired him for that.
"Okay, you know my name. What's yours?" She asked trying to alleviate some of the tension that was rolling off this man in waves.
"In these parts I'm known as Strider."
Willow had to stifle a smile as she thought of her friend. Unfortunately, she didn't hide it well enough.
"What's so funny?" He demanded.
"I'm sorry. Your cryptic routine just reminded me of a friend of mine back home that I haven't seen in awhile. That's all." Willow hoped that he understood.
Strider's posture relaxed slightly. He was still curious as to why this mortal woman was out by herself, in such strange clothing. Curiosity getting the better of him, "Why are you dressed so strangely?"
Willow glanced down at her outfit. She had been feeling a little daring when she was getting ready for the Bronze, so she had chosen to wear black leather pants, a blood-red halter top that set off her hair, a black mid-thigh length leather jacket, and black doc martin-type boots. "What's wrong with my outfit?" She asked slightly put off by his question.
"Nothing, I suppose. It's just that women in these parts normally wear dresses. That's all." He replied.
"Oh. Sorry. I'm just a little bit of a wreck. Like I said, I'm lost, and I have no idea where I am, where I'm going, or most importantly, how to get home. Do you think you could at least tell me how to get to the closest town?"
"You are in Eriador, in the northwest of Middle Earth. The closest city is Rivendell, the house of Lord Elrond. My companions and I are on our way there, would you like to join us? The path may not be easy, but at least you wouldn't be wandering out here alone."
"That would be wonderful. Thank you so much." Willow was so excited, she nearly hugged him. At seeing her genuine happiness and smile, he couldn't help but smile back.
"Let's get back up to my companions and I'll introduce you." Strider led Willow up to the top of Weathertop, and introduced her to the four cutest creatures she'd ever met. She could tell that there was something that they weren't telling her, but she let it slide seeing as she was new to the group. Then she felt it. Evil. Pure, unadulterated evil.
"Strider, something's here and it's not a good something." She whispered to the Man.
"What do you mean?" He looked around suddenly.
"There's something very evil nearby, I can feel it. Do you know what it is?"
"Naz-gul." He muttered under his breath.
"Naz-what? Never mind. All I know is that it's bad news, and the hobbits are in trouble if they stay here. Is there some place safer than this ledge?"
"Everyone up top, now." Strider stated authoritatively. Everyone scrambled up after Strider. With their backs to each other, they scanned for the Naz-gul. Willow could tell they were getting closer, the evil was stronger the closer they got. Then, they were there. Five figures dressed in black. Willow almost laughed.
Willow called upon all her powers, and felt the magic gathering within her. She stepped in front of the hobbits, coming to stand next to Strider, her eyes going black with power. Magic was crackling at her finger tips.
"Be gone." She stated.
In some hiss-like sound that she supposed passed for a language she got the impression that they weren't leaving.
"Don't say I didn't warn you." Then she did laugh, menacingly and the black figures. The magic shot out of her fingertips like lightning, striking each of them, setting them ablaze. They all ran. Once they left, she began to let go of her magic and let it seep back down into her. Her eyes returned to their normal green, and she turned to face her companions. They all stared at her in disbelief, and not a little fear.
"What?" She asked innocently.
"What the hell was that?" Strider demanded.
"Magic." She answered, it was her turn to be cryptic.
"You're not going to hurt us are you?" Sam asked, almost pleading.
"What? No, of course not. In case you just missed it, I just protected you all." She reminded. They were all silent for a moment trying to absorb this new turn of events. It was Strider that broke the silence.
"Down on the plain, when I had my sword in your back, you could've killed me, couldn't you?"
"Yup, and I most likely could've done it without magic, too." She said proudly. Strider was taken aback by her smugness.
"I don't think so, little girl."
"Oh really, old man. You want to go a few rounds and find out?"
"I wouldn't want to hurt you!"
"You couldn't even if you tried!"
"STOP IT!!" Frodo screamed at the two yelling people, afraid that they were about to try and kill each other. "That's enough. I think she could've killed us by now if she really wanted too, but she hasn't. Strider, I trusted you when no one thought I should, and I was right to trust you. And now, I trust Willow too. And that should be good enough for the rest of you."
"Works for me" Merry and Pippin chimed in.
"Fine" Sam grudgingly agreed.
"Strider?" Frodo prodded.
"Fine. Now, let's try to get some sleep. We leave at first light."
Early the next morning, the six headed off toward Rivendell. The trip was quiet and uneventful, thankfully. By the afternoon of the third day, they had arrived, safe and unharmed.
"So, when can I talk to this Lord Elvis?" She asked, anxious that he could help her get home.
"Lord ELROND. And soon enough." Strider retorted.
"Fine, just so long as we can part ways. Your cheerful attitude is more than I can stand." She replied sarcastically. As he stomped off, she could've sworn she heard him growl. She laughed, thinking of Spike. Soon, she had wandered off to explore the city, the hobbits having followed Strider.
Willow's thoughts of home were interrupted by an old grey bearded man.
"Good evening Willow. My name is Gandalf. You're not from here are you?" Willow was a little shocked at his blunt question, but she recovered quickly.
"Nope, not that I know where here is?"
Gandalf smiled at her, "You're lost. But I think that you're coming here was of good fortune for us."
"Sheesh, is one of the requirements to live in Middle Earth to be as cryptic as possible, cuz I gotta tell you that it's starting to get on my nerves. I didn't ask to come here, and all I want is some answers so that I can figure out a way to get home." She stared at him, daring him for a confrontation, she was just itching for a good fight. That's when she felt it. Magic. "You! You're a wizard. Can you help me? Can you send me home?" She was near begging.
"Unfortunately my dear, I cannot. Like you, I don't know how you came to be here, and therefore I wouldn't know how to send you back."
Willow was finally beaten. For the first time since arriving in Middle Earth, she cried. Gandalf simply held her like the child that she was, compared to him anyway. Once her sobs had subsided, he asked her to join him the next morning for the grand counsel that was about to take place. As least then, she may be able to get some answers.
She agreed and asked if there was some place she could stay the night. He led her to a room in the palace. It was beautiful. On the bed was something to change into, and on the table was food and drink. She greedily ate all that was there, feeling better than she had in some time. She saw a bath and cleaned herself up. She also did her best to clean up her clothes. Then she drifted off to sleep. Dreaming of home.
Willow woke early the next morning, feeling refreshed and ready to face whatever the day might throw at her. She dressed in her leather outfit again and made to leave her room. When she opened her door, she noticed a tray of food set just outside. She picked up the tray and walked back into her room. Just as she was finishing her breakfast there was a knock on the door. Knowing better than to just yell ‘come in' Willow walked over to the door and opened it to a less than happy Strider.
"Good Morning." Willow said flatly.
"If you say so. Look, Gandalf asked me to come get you for the counsel, not that I understand why you're even invited, but whatever, it's not my place to say. So if you want to come let's go." Strider turned on his heel and quickly walked away. Willow barely had time to close her door before she lost sight of him.
Willow quietly followed Strider, having to nearly jog just to keep up with him. He led her out to a courtyard where a group of men were milling around.
Willow saw Frodo, and went and sat down next to him, relieved to see a familiar and friendly face. She glanced over the group. Shocked, she leaned over to Frodo, "Who are those guys?"
"Those are the Dwarves." He answered as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
"Dwarves?" She squeaked. "Do those blonde guys have pointy ears?" Almost afraid to know the answer.
"Of course. They're Elves." He answered so matter-of-factly that Willow almost fell out of her chair. Luckily, the meeting started and she didn't have to think about it. Except that the guy in charge had pointy ears too. She quickly scanned the other men in the room, including Strider, and breathed an audible sigh of relief when she noticed that they had normal human ears.
Willow had tuned out until Frodo got up and placed a gold ring on a table at the front of the semicircle of chairs. The evil that Willow could feel coming from the ring was almost tangible. How had she missed it before? No wonder she and Strider were fighting so much. It was the ring. It was enjoying it. She tore her eyes away from the ring as Frodo sat back down. She glanced over at him, only to see him look like the weight of the world had just been lifted off his little hobbit shoulders.
"It is a gift. Let us use this ring." Willow's head snapped up to the man talking. She was appalled that someone would willingly use it. Couldn't they sense how evil it was?
"Excuse me?" Asked the man that had been speaking. "And why not?"
"It's pure evil. All it would do it work evil through whoever used it. Don't you understand that?" Willow pleaded.
"As much as it pains me to admit it, she's right." All eyes focused on Strider. Willow was sure her jaw just hit the floor. He had agreed with her? Yup, definitely a Hellmouth thing. "None of us can wield it. The One Ring answers to Sauron alone. It has no other master."
"And what would a Ranger know of this?" The man asked defiantly.
"This is no mere Ranger." A gorgeous blonde elf defended Strider. "He is Aragorn, son of Arathorn. You owe him your allegiance."
"Aragorn? THIS is Isildur's heir?"
"And heir to the throne of Gondor." The elf continued.
"Gondor has no King. Gondor needs no King." The man turned and say down.
Willow had been zoned out again, until she heard what almost sounded like a small explosion. She saw one of the dwarves land on his back, his axe shattered around the ring.
"The Ring cannot by destroyed by any craft that we here possess. It must be taken deep into Mordor and cast back into the fiery chasm from whence it came. One of you must do this."
"One does not simple walk into Mordor. It's gates are guarded by more than just Orcs. There is evil there that does not sleep. The Great Eye is ever watchful. Not with ten thousand men could you do this. It is folly."
"You do like to argue, don't you?" "What? If it's not your idea it's wrong. Is that it?" The man had the decency to look abashed. "Ten thousand men would draw way too much attention to get it done. But a small group could sneak in, without anyone noticing. Did you ever think of that?" Willow was almost seething.
"It won't work." He retorted.
"Have you heard nothing Lord Elrond has said?" Hottie elf to the rescue. "The ring must be destroyed."
"And I suppose you think you're the one that should do it. I would die before I saw the Ring in the hands of an Elf." The dwarf argued. Soon nearly the entire counsel was on their feet yelling back and forth at each other. The only one's that remained seated and quiet were Willow, Frodo, Lord Elrond, and Aragorn. Willow glanced down at Frodo. He was starting to sweat and squirm in his seat, his eyes fixed on the ring. Willow looked at the ring, and could've sworn she heard it laughing. Willow shuddered as it continued.
"I will take it." Frodo's voice was almost unheard in all the commotion. "I will take it!" The voices quieted and turned to the little hobbit. "I will take the ring to Mordor. Though, I do not know the way."
"I will help you bear this burden as long as it is yours to bear." Gandalf walked over to Frodo and placed his hand on Frodo's small shoulder.
"If by my life or my death I can protect you, I will. You have my sword." Strider knelt in front of Frodo.
"And you have my bow." Hottie Elf chimed in.
"And my axe." The dwarf offered.
"You carry the fate of us all little one. If this is truly the will of the Counsel, then Gondor will see it done." The arrogant man supplied.
"Hey, Mr. Frodo's not going anywhere without me." Sam came out from his hiding spot in some nearby bushes.
"In deed. It is hard to separate you two. Even when he is summoned to a secret counsel and you are not." Sam at least had the good sense to look embarrassed.
"Hey, we're coming too. You'll have to tie us up in a sack to keep us from coming." Merry and Pippin dashed up the stairs on the other side of the Counsel.
"So be it. Nine companions, you"
"Excuse me?" Elrond asked.
"There's ten companions. I'm going too. I'm not letting an apocalypse come and not try to help stop it, just because this isn't my home." Willow stated standing and walking over toward the other companions.
"But Willow," Elrond went on "This will be dangerous. I wouldn't want you to get hurt."
"I grew up on a Hellmouth. As in the literal mouth of Hell. In fact, I went to high school on it. I've helped stop more apocalypses than I care to count. I'm not as fragile, nor as naive as everyone seems to think I am. Just because I'm a girl doesn't mean that I can't take care of myself. I think to some here, I've already proven that. So, with or without your approval, I'm going with Frodo. Period. End of discussion." Willow crossed her arms across her chest and almost dared anyone to defy her. No one did.
"Very well. TEN companions. You shall be known as the Fellowship of the Ring."
"Great." Pippin chimed in. "Where are we going?"
The Fellowship started out for Mordor the following morning. Willow fell back to talk to Aragorn, who was bringing up the rear. Being nervous and uncomfortable, she wasn't quite sure where to begin this conversation.
"I think we should start over, or at least call a truce for the good of the fellowship." She blurted out. Aragorn looked at her like she had grown another head.
"Are you serious?" His voice betrayed him. In it there was scepticism and a small amount of hope, but surprisingly no sarcasm like Willow expected.
"Yes, I'm serious. I think we both misjudged the other, and I for one would like a chance to start again, and get to know the REAL you." She said honestly. "And, I'd like for you to get to know me, so that you don't think I'm the weak link of the group, just because I'm female. Where I'm from, women are just as good as men, sometimes better. But I want you to be able to come to that conclusion on your own."
They walked on in silence for a few minutes as Aragorn pondered on Willow's words. "I think I'd like that too." He finally replied. Willow held out her right hand.
"Hi, I'm Willow Rosenburg. Wicca extrodinaire." She smiled warmly at the Ranger.
"I'm Aragorn, son of Arathorn. Heir to the throne of Gondor, and Ranger of the Dunedain, known by the folk of the North as Strider. It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance." He took Willow's offered hand and shook it.
Willow smiled and walked back up to her place in the line. On her way, she passed the hottie elf, who's name she found out was Legolas Greenleaf, Prince of Mirkwood.
"That was a brave thing you did." He whispered to her. She turned to face him and he smiled at her. She was surprised she could still walk, her knees got so weak when he smiled at her. She could stare at him all day and never get bored, she decided.
"I heard about how the first meeting with you and Aragorn went, and the fact that you wanted to put the good and the safety of the Fellowship above your disagreements is a rare trait. To be that selfless. It's a beautiful thing. Almost as beautiful as you." He gazed deep into her eyes, as if searching her soul. She couldn't hold his gaze for long. She turned her head and blushed.
"Thank you." Was all she was able to mumble. But to her credit, and her surprise, she didn't walk away. She stayed next to him as they walked.
"We must hold our course west of the Misty Mountains for forty day, and hopefully the Gap of Rohan will still be open to us." Gandalf announced.
The days came and went. They walked on and on. Willow and Aragorn had begun to not only get along, but also become friends. Things with Boromir and her were not as good. She had tried the same approach with him that had worked with Aragorn, but Boromir was having none of it. Apparently, the fact that she was a girl, and had thoroughly embarrassed him at the counsel, was too much to get past. But at least they agreed to try to be civil.
Legolas was a different story all together. Willow and Legolas never didn't get along, so they started out friends, and things were quickly escalating from there. They would find reasons to be next to each other, they'd find anyway to touch that they could, they even slept next to each other at night. It was obvious to everyone in the Fellowship that the witch and the elf were falling in love. Now, if only the witch and the elf realized it.
About two weeks into their trek down the Misty Mountains, they had stopped for lunch on a slight rocky cliff. Boromir was teaching Pippin and Merry swordplay, and Aragorn was watching. Frodo and Sam were busy cooking lunch, while Gandalf sat apparently contemplating something or other. Gimli was grumbling to Gandalf about something called Moria. Willow walked over to where Legolas was standing.
"Remind me never to get Merry and Pippin mad at me." She said.
"Why is that?" He asked inquisitively.
"Check ‘em out. They're practically beating up on poor Boromir." She giggled.
"Let's go watch the show, shall we." He slipped his arm around her waist and led her over to the two hobbits and the two Men. Boromir glared up at them. "We're just here to watch the training." Legolas defended. Boromir simple skulked as the others chuckled at the fact that the man was bested by two child-sized hobbits.
"I seem to recall someone telling me they could beat me in a fight." Aragorn intoned, raising his eyebrow to Willow. All present, minus Willow, couldn't help but laugh at her thinking that she could actually take Aragorn in a one-on-one fight. Willow was seething - they were laughing at her.
"Yup, I did say that. And I hold to it. What of it?" She stated completely straight faced, with a touch of annoyance.
"While we have a minute, and now that I know that you're not going to try to kill me, let's have a little sparring match. Just me and you, no magic." Aragorn suggested.
"Sure." Willow stood falling into a fighting stance. Aragorn also stood. "And who said that I'm not going to try to kill you?" She teased.
Aragorn was a little thrown by her comment, and missed her swing. It landed squarely on his jaw. He literally flew back about three feet, hitting a large boulder behind him. The men around her were instantly quiet. Willow was in shock.
Aragorn recovered quickly and stalked back to the red head. He managed to land a few good punches, but they didn't even phase her. She was liking her new strength. He was getting more and more frustrated with the girl, and more with himself. Willow knew that if she would just be patient, he'd mess up and give her an opening. And there it was. He had lunged for her, she sidestepped, and he was now off balance. She landed a solid kick to his back, sending him face first into the boulder that he had hit at the beginning of the match. Before he could recover, Willow was behind him with her hands on either side of his neck.
"And this is where I snap your neck. Snap. You're dead." She released him, and turned to go sit by Legolas again, giggling the whole way. They heard her mumbling something about faith and slayer, but had no idea what she meant. All they knew what that this slip of a girl had defeated their best fighter in hand to hand combat, with no weapons, and no magic - that they could tell anyway.
"How did you do that?" Aragorn asked, not sure whether to be embarrassed or impressed.
"I told you. I grew up on a Hellmouth. What I didn't tell you was that my best friend was The Slayer. She taught me how to fight. If it weren't for her, I'd be dead by now. I guess technically I'd be undead, but that's another story." Willow answered, remembering her vampire double.
"What's a slayer?" Boromir asked, suddenly not feeling like such a fool for this girl mouthing off to him. At least she hadn't beaten him up.
"The Vampire Slayer. The one girl in all the world chosen to keep the vampires, demons, and all other evil forces at bay. She gifted with the strength of like ten men, super healing, speed, better senses, stuff like that. She's my best friend. Or was, until I came here." Willow stared off into space, thinking of her friend. Would she ever see Buffy again? Or Xander?
"Okay, that explains why she can fight, but that doesn't explain how YOU could fight like that. You tossed me around like I was nothing. You took my hits like they were bug bites. If I didn't know better, I'd say that you were this Slayer thing." Aragorn squirmed, trying to get comfortable, but it wasn't working to well. He was really sore, but he'd never admit that to anyone.
"Well, apparently there's a loophole in the whole there's only one Slayer at a time theory. During a rather nasty apocalyptic fight, Buffy was drowned. Our friends Xander and Angel brought her back to life, but she was dead long enough for her replacement to be called. Well, Kendra, Buffy's replacement was killed during another apocalyptic fight, and Faith was then called. Well, Faith went all psycho and evil. She and Buffy fought. Buffy won, but Faith ended up in a coma. As near as I can guess, Faith died either right before I got here, or right after. I'm actually gonna go with right before. I'd venture to guess that the slayer has to be in her own dimension to get called. I had no idea that I was the new one until the first punch. Sorry. If I would've known, I would've back out of the match."
"Why?" Aragorn asked.
"I wouldn't have wanted to accidently hurt you, any worse than I already did. I'm not sure what my own strength is yet. I could've seriously hurt you. But see, I'm not the weak link anymore. So, yeah for me." She smiled nearly bouncing on the rock. She was so excited that she wasn't a liability, that the others couldn't help but smile at the overly happy red head. Legolas just wrapped his arms around her waist and she leaned back into his embrace, happy that he had mad the first official move.
The group sat around talking for a few minutes, about nothing in particular, when Legolas stood up so quickly that he almost knocked Willow over.
"What is it? What do your Elf eyes see?" Aragorn asked Legolas.
"It's nothing but a wisp of cloud." Gimli argued.
"It moving quickly, against the wind." Boromir chimed in.
"Spies from Dunland!" Legolas yelled.
"Hide quick!" Aragorn ordered.
Legolas grabbed Willow and all but threw her under a large rock. He laid himself over her to cover her from the bird-spies. He had never seen her looked frightened, but she was now. He assumed it was the evil that was rapidly flying toward them, he could feel it and he knew that she could too. He softly tucked a stray piece of her fiery tresses back behind her ear, the feeling of her skin like electricity. She glanced up into his eyes and she found herself drowning in them. He gazed deep into her eyes, nearly into her soul. He glanced down at her lips, as she darted her tongue out to moisten her suddenly dry lips.
Her eyes looked toward his waiting lips.
He looked back to her widened eyes. He slowly lowered his mouth to hers. His lips gently, almost imperceptibly, grazed hers. Then he let his lips find hers again, more insistent this time. Willow wanted nothing more than to pull him deeper into the kiss, but she knew that she couldn't risk moving or the spies might see the movement, so she remained still. Instead she used her lips and her tongue to coax him in to deepen their first kiss. It worked. She could've stayed like that forever, but the rest of the Fellowship had other plans.
"They're gone." Aragorn said.
Legolas sighing, rolled off her and out from under the rock. He offered her his hand to help her up. She took it, but neither dropped the other's hand as they made their way to the rest of the group. Aragorn, Frodo, and Gandalf all smiled, the rest just looked at them curiously.
"The path South is being watched." Gandalf broke the growing silence.
"We must face the mountain then." Aragorn stated.
"Excuse me? Mountain? What mountain?" Willow asked, not sure she wanted to know the answer.
"Caradhras." Gandalf said, turning and pointing at the largest mountain peak Willow had ever seen.
"Well then," She replied, "I guess we better get started. That mountain's not going to climb itself."