(This story begins directly after "Fight or Flight, Pt. 1", and is related to the "Willow Healer Storyline" - see listing for more related stories.)
Willow lifted her head and inhaled deeply. Now that she was close to the springs, the air was warmer, and Willow welcomed that. That slight increase in temperature put a spring into her step that had been missing all morning and hastened her stride. Her boots crunched on the frost-covered ground as she raced forward with an almost cub-like enthusiasm and crested the last little slope that hid the springs from view.
She paused for a moment when the turquoise waters came into sight. The sun was high enough now for its weak light to play across the water's surface. Small little nooks and crevices around the whole of the pools seemed to beckon invitingly.
In the end, she chose none of them. The small outcrop of rock that extended over the water looked the most inviting, especially since it wasn't shaded from the long, low rays of the sun. She made her way there, walked mid-way to the edge, and sat down so the sun warmed her back.
The outcropping was warm, just as she had hoped. She pulled off her mittens, stuffed them into the leather sling-stone pouch she kept at her hip, and placed her palms on the rock. She sighed. That felt good. For the first time all day, the cold started to leave her bones.
Willow closed her eyes. If she tried hard enough and if she ignored the rotten-egg smell, she could almost make herself believe, in this warm place, that it was Springtime; that the cold and the snow were gone, and that there was the hint of new buds just beginning to show on the trees. The catches on her trap lines would soon be getting fat, and the weasels' coats would be turning brown once again. Someone would want those pelts for clothing, she knew. The New Green Bliss would be upon them...
She groaned. Her own thoughts had ruined a rare moment of peace.
She'd have to make sure she was far away when the day came for that celebration. She wasn't sure what excuse she would come up with to make it that way. She'd have to think of something convincing before that time came. Checking trap lines wouldn't do to duck out of something like that.
Anxiety welled in her gut again. It made her stomach knot painfully. She swallowed hard and took a deep breath to try and calm herself. It worked, at least a little bit.
She opened her eyes again and peered down at her hands. Was this what life was going to be like from now on? Was she going to have to spend every waking minute figuring out how to stay out of everyone else's way? How much longer could she keep doing this? She wasn't sure she could keep doing this.
'But I have to,' she told herself as she lifted her palms from the stone. 'It's either this or let what happened before happen again.'
“You're a long way from your traps.”
Willow nearly jumped out of her skin. She had failed to see an elf's shadow fall over her, had failed to sense Blacksnake step behind her at the edge of that outcropping, blocking her only way of escape... unless... she looked at the pale, steaming water in front of her.
“I'd forget about swimming,” Blacksnake added, as if he were reading her thoughts. “It's not a good day to be walking home in wet leathers.”
Willow swallowed, gathering up the remnants of her nerves. Fine, he’d surprised her. She wouldn't give him the satisfaction of anything more than that.
“So, you found me,” came Willow's flat reply. She wondered whether, if she got a chance, she could jump up and bolt to the side of the elder to her freedom. She heard and felt Blacksnake take a step closer, squashing any of that hope. She started to feel nervous and she wrapped her arms around herself lest he get close enough to touch her and make her do something she would regret. However, she tried her best to seem nonchalant. Blacksnake was the last person she wanted to know that she could harm another person. She cleared her throat. “Nothing wrong with coming to the springs on a cold day, is there?”
"No, nothing at all," he agreed.
"...All right... So, I'll warm up here and I'll get to my traps." She reached for her mittens from her sling pouch.
"And then what?" the elder said, provoking, as if all of this was just circling and feinting -- a prelude to the real matter.
"What do you mean?" She stopped reaching for her mittens as she waited for an answer. There was none, and that made Willow all the more uncomfortable. “...I'll go check my traps and go home?”
“Ah yes,” Blacksnake said. His tone became heavy and ironic. “You'll slink back home at dusk-fall, just as the rest of the tribe's waking. Again. Very clever. Really cub, you think we haven't noticed?” His voice told her that he hoped that she didn’t think that he, at least, was that stupid. “You haven't been acting like the dentrees are 'home' for a while now. Home isn't something you're scared of.”
Normally, calling her – someone who was almost 200 turns of the seasons old – ‘cub’ would have irked her. However, that was the least of her concerns at the moment. “I'm not scared,” she blurted, perhaps too quickly. She certainly didn't want to admit to Blacksnake that she was.
“Sure you're not,” he said scornfully. “Send that to me, and I might believe it.”
Willow dodged and tried a different approach. “So... I'll go back to the Holt and spend more time there.” She made no move to turn and look Blacksnake in the eye. “Is that what you want?” She paused again, feeling anger and irritation rise in her. “Don't see where it's anyone's business where I go when I'm up. It's not like I don't go home.”
He shot back, “Not like you act like you're a part of the tribe when you're there, either.“
Those words stung as if he'd slapped her. What would it take to get him to leave? “Maybe I want to be alone.… Maybe I want to be alone now.”
Blacksnake huffed, and she could hear him shift his stance on the crackling frost. “Maybe you do,” he said, though he sounded skeptical. “Maybe you’re not the best judge right now of what’s good for you.” He was trying to press her, circling and jabbing as if he wanted her to charge like a maddened bear.
She couldn’t let him get to her – he didn’t realize how dangerous she could be, if she did lose control. She took a deep breath. “And I suppose you're here to tell me what is?”
“If I thought you'd listen,” he admitted. That itself was a surprise – when had that ever stopped him before? He went on, “But you've never been good at listening, have you? So why don't you tell me, then, what under the two moons you think you're doing.”
Willow scowled. It wasn't like Blacksnake could see it anyway, with her face still turned away from him. “I listen just fine. And I told you. I came here to warm up before I checked my traps.”
“That's not what I mean, girl-cub, and you know it,” he snapped, his irritation plain. “I want to know why you're avoiding your tribemates like they were human hunters. I want to know why you've left those friends and fur-mates of yours pining back in their dens. I want to know why you've been running from everyone.” He didn’t raise his voice, but his demands increased in intensity until it felt as if his words were striking like blows. “Why are you working so hard to be alone?”
She was frustrated, and the stresses she'd been enduring before Blacksnake even came into the picture had already weakened Willow's resolve. She tensed her shoulders and gave in. “Because I don't want to be around the others right now! It's easier this way, for everyone!”
“Is it?” he flung back. “Or is it just easier on you?”
Willow wrapped her arms around herself again. Had Blacksnake taken a step closer? She was starting to feel claustrophobic, as if her spirit was just waiting to leap out of itself and into the older elf. “Everyone. There's less trouble this way.”
“Oh? And what kind of trouble would that be?”
She didn't reply immediately. She didn't want to tell Blacksnake that she was broken and couldn't turn her powers off. She didn't want to tell him that she had hurt Evervale. If she didn't mention those events, she could almost make herself believe they hadn't happened.
In her lap, her hands tightened on her sling-pouch. “Please, just leave me alone!”
“I can't do that,” he told her. “Not now.”
Willow almost growled in exasperation. “What do you want me to do, then? Go back to the Holt? Act like everything is all right? I can't do that. Everything's not all right.” For the first time, she managed to look at him over her shoulder, and the look she gave him was defiant. “I can't go back there. You'll have to tie me up and drag me back first.”
He was standing just behind her, close enough that she had to crane her neck up to look at him. Already the steam from the springs was settling as glittering frost on his bearskin cloak; the sun behind him outlined it and his storm-grey hair in gold. Arms crossed, he stared down at her. The look on his face was almost comforting, it was so familiar – Blacksnake at his superior, sardonic best. “Tempting as that may be, I'll settle for you telling me why you can't go back.” – and at his most tenacious; a wolf with his jaws closed on prey, determined not to let go.
“If I tell you why, will you please let me be?” At this point, she would do anything for him to just step away and to stop assaulting her with all these questions.
“I don't make promises I don't know I can keep, cub,” he said. Then his head tilted to one side, considering what he was willing to bargain with. “But if you tell me why you're in the state you're in right now, maybe I can do something better. Maybe I can help.”
Willow's expression went dark. She turned away. “No. You can't help. You can't make it go away.”
“No, I can't,” the elder agreed, dismissive of that failure, unknowing that Willow was referring to the side effects of her healing power and not her healing powers themselves. “And I wouldn't if I could. High Ones, cub -- do you have any idea what this means?” he demanded.
She gazed out, unblinking, over the steaming pool of water. “I know what it's supposed to mean. But I can't deal with it.”
“Then stop trying to deal with it by yourself!” He sounded more exasperated than angry. “Maybe,” he suggested, “you can't take it anymore because it's not something that anyone should have to deal with alone.”
“And how do I do that? If I go back, like you want... it's just going to be a matter of time before I… make a mistake.” She came dangerously close to blurting out the truth. She wanted to tell him everything now, but fear of what might happen when he learned of her deeds stilled her tongue.
“Or a matter of time before you drive yourself mad,” he pointed out, stabbing a finger towards her for emphasis. “Is that what you're afraid of? Because if not, then you should be.”
“If I go back, I'm going to go mad... or worse! I can't go back there!” Willow spat back.
He shook his head. “You can't not, either. Lone wolves don't survive long, you know that. You need us. And we need you -- now, more than ever.”
She sighed a ragged sigh that threatened to crack the dam of emotions she'd been holding back since Blacksnake had cornered her. She knew the elder was right, but she also knew he didn't understand. She still refused to give in. “I've been all right doing what I'm doing.”
He barked out a short, bitter laugh. “You think I don't have eyes, girl? You're not all right. Look at you! You've lost some weight. Anyone can see how tired you are. And you haven't been doing anything,” he finished, sounding just as frustrated as she felt.
She would not give in. She jumped to her feet, whirled around, looked Blacksnake right in the eye. “What do you want me to do?!? I... I can't go back! If I do go back, something bad will happen! Do you know what it's like just wondering, waiting, knowing it's going to happen?”
“No, I don't know,” he replied, somehow turning it from an admission into a challenge. “I don't even know what it is you're afraid of.” Blacksnake was letting some of his self-control slip, replacing the stern, satiric mask he often wore, letting the raw emotions show through. Now there was desperation in the way he held himself, and it was a shock to see compassion in his expression. “But I do know this -- running scared isn't the answer. What do I want you to do? I want you to stop running, and turn and fight!”
She balled her hands into fists. “I don't know how to fight this! I've tried, and I haven't been able to fight it!”
“I don't mean fight against it,” he argued, waving that away with a short gesture. “I mean fight to control it. You have to stop letting it master you.”
That was close to the truth – but he didn’t know what he was asking. Willow’s voice was strained; the dam was cracking… “I can't fight something that's bigger than I am. You can't control a mad wolf, and that's what this is!”
“You're wrong,” Blacksnake told her flatly. “You can control it. Just like the tribe's other healers before you.”
She felt tears sting at her eyes and fought to hold them back. “How? It's just a matter of time before... before someone touches me, or before I hurt someone! I can't trust that it won't happen again! I'm broken, Blacksnake! And who is to say that I'm not broken for good?”
His head tilted, reacting to her choice of words, and he gave her a narrow-eyed look. “At this point, cub, I'd say that's up to you.” If he thought that was comforting, he was wrong. Blacksnake studied her, and sighed. “We left you alone this long because there's some who thought you just needed to come to accept this in your own way -- but that's not what's happened, is it?” He sounded almost sad, and resigned, as if he’d known this would happen but was hoping he’d be proven wrong. “They were right about one thing, though. You have to accept it. You have to decide to master it. But you don't have to figure it out on your own.”
Willow shook her head. “I have accepted it. I want to master it! But how can I master it when I can't think? I feel cornered when I'm at the Holt, like I've been caught in one of my own snares.” With a frustrated sigh she looked at her feet. She bit back what came to her lips next, knowing that to admit fear would mean Blacksnake had won. But she couldn't deny that what he had been telling her all along was true. She took a deep breath, looked skyward. “I'm afraid.” Then, she looked back at him, suddenly feeling angry he'd beaten that admission out of her. “There, are you happy? I'm afraid.”
He gave her a half-smile. “It's a start,” he allowed, not giving her more than that.
She slumped. “I feel safe out here. I don't feel safe at the Holt.” Now that the dam had been breached, her words started to pour out. “The others are expecting things of me, but I can't do those things yet... I'm tired of people touching me. I can't... take that anymore.”
“I hate to tell you, cub -- but you'll never be done with people expecting things of you. Never again,” he informed her, brisk and uncaring of the impact that had on her and her life. “You're just going to have to accept that. And if you try to go through the rest of your very long life without touching anyone except to heal them -- you'll end up the way your great-grandsire did.” He said that with a knowing sadness, too, that made her recall for the first time that he could remember what Owl had been like before the old healer had gone mad.
“I don't think I can make you understand.” Her expression darkened again. He didn't understand. She’d tried to tell him why she was afraid time and time again, but he didn't get it. Or maybe... he didn't care. That thought alone woke her temper and made it swirl dangerously close to the surface. Why was she even trying to explain? “Why would you want to understand, anyway? Making good, doing your duty, that's all that's ever mattered to you.”
Blacksnake snorted. He didn’t appear moved by the accusation, but he came a step closer, leaning towards her. She fought back the urge to reach out and touch him and to show him what she was capable of doing. Blacksnake, unaware, told her crisply, “You want to know what matters to me? I have two hunters still alive right now, who wouldn't be but for you. That's two deaths I don't have to see over and over again in my dreams, wishing there was something I could have done differently.”
Willow felt slightly puzzled by that admission and felt herself calm for a moment. In all her life, she couldn't remember one time where Blacksnake had ever thanked her for anything -- at least in any way that seemed legitimate and heartfelt. What he just said almost hinted at something with feeling behind it. Maybe she could tell him why she was doing what she was doing and make him understand...
That hope was dashed when Blacksnake continued.
“I was a cub younger than you, the last time this tribe had a healer. I've been waiting for this day almost longer than I can remember.” The look he gave her now was knowing, challenging, and darkly amused. “You think I wanted you to pull your weight before? That's nothing to what I expect from you now, girl.” Willow's brows lowered angrily. No, she'd been wrong... Blacksnake hadn't been thanking her. She'd just misunderstood. Already the conversation had switched back to duty. Duty! Like she should ignore how sick touching someone made her feel because it wasn't important. Like how this affected her didn't matter, because she had something everyone else needed.
“I know!” she blurted. “I know everyone has been waiting for... this.” She tapped her chest, the heart, the place where all those strange feelings and sensations seemed to blossom when she touched someone or someone touched her. Her voice trembled. “And if you think that I don't want this power, you're wrong. I don't regret what I did to either Farscout or to Pathmark. I wish I could have done more. Is that what you think this is? Do you think I want to cast what I have aside like old bones? I'll tell you... I nearly killed myself trying to help them. I broke myself trying to help Pathmark! Isn't that 'making good' enough for you?”
If this was going to be a challenge, she'd rise to it. She scowled again at the very idea of Blacksnake's supposed reasoning and looked her elder straight in the eye. “I guess it's not,” she spat at him, her tone bitter. “So, that’s what this is – let’s have the scared 'girl-cub' run back to the Holt where she can't get a moment's peace. Forget all about how this affects me and what it's making me do. Buck up and take it even though it makes me crazy when someone gets so close. Because 'that's what I have to do.'”
Without warning, Blacksnake reached out and grabbed Willow's shoulders, frustration and determination in his face. And then he sent to her, with frightening intensity, **What this is, is gratitude. What this is, is a brother not lost, and an old friend who might survive now to see his only cub born, because of you! What this is, is me trying to get through your stubborn thick skull that you have a whole tribe behind you, wanting to help.**
His mind-voice was fierce and insistent, its flood of strength and passion and yes, warmth and fear and relief, all of it almost overwhelming. Willow's eyes went wide. Blacksnake had sent to her before, of course; but always sharp orders or gruff reprimands laced with irritation. Nothing like this.
If she had been her old self, she might have had time to be surprised. But his touch triggered exactly what she had been trying these past hands of days to avoid. She felt that place leap alive in the pit of her chest. It reached out to Blacksnake -- eager, seeking, passing through clothing and through skin.
“No... Please,” she pleaded, both with Blacksnake and with herself. Tears pooled in the corner of her eyes as she tried to wrangle that awful sensation back inside. She failed. Panic set in. She grabbed Blacksnake's arms, trying to shake him loose. She struggled against him, struggled against the feeling that she was seeing into him. “Let go of me!” Blacksnake didn’t heed her. Instead, his mittened hands moved from her shoulders to frame her face, and his dark gaze bore into hers. **I'm not hurting you. Be still and LISTEN--**
Overrun, Willow became weak. That feeling of not-here was coming over her too quickly. She closed her eyes, groaned, and felt her knees give as the raw sensations overran her. Blacksnake lunged to catch her to keep her from falling headlong into the surrounding pool.
His mind was still open, caught in mid-send. And Willow, in her panic, could make no attempt to block her thoughts, her emotions, her feelings from that unshielded space.
**Cold... tired... your heart beats faster with the intensity of the conversation... No... I'm tired. Let me go.... can't you realize I can't... stop... this!
**Falling, falling, searching, relentless, dangerous... can't hold it back. Knows you, knows what's wrong with you... Knees... knees... they hurt. Your knees hurt... Achier since the cold's set in. Stiff.. hurts to move them... Not right. Hurt...**
Willow gasped. Beads of sweat formed on her forehead. **Hurts... Can't fight... No, no more, can't control.... this. Can't take this. Breathe... can't... Breathe... I can't breathe! I can't stop this. Let go. Let go NOW!**
That dark part of her that had first stirred on the riverbank with Evervale woke again, as if it were a protector in her time of need. It willingly traveled up her arm and to her fingertips and entered Blacksnake's body.
She heard him cry out from the pain. She felt the pain she caused him. She managed to open her eyes and saw his face twisted in agony. She felt him brace his legs so he'd stay upright and wouldn't let her fall.
He didn't let her go.
Her thoughts were pure, icy fear. What had happened in the past was happening again! **No! Not right, not right. Not again! Don't want... this... Didn't want to hurt you... Have... to... stop!**
She pushed him out of her mind – and pushed her self out of him with a resolve she never knew she had – just as Blacksnake's legs gave out. They both collapsed onto the frost-covered rock of the outcropping.
“I'm sorry!” Willow cried, pent-up tears now flowing down her face. He was still holding her, arms wrapped tightly around her, and he was heaving, almost panting, for breath. “I tried to tell you... I don't know how to make it stop! I've been trying to figure it out, but nothing works! I don't want to hurt anyone else!”
Blacksnake knew her secret. She felt raw, vulnerable... naked next to him. She closed her eyes. She was too horrified, afraid, and ashamed to look at him now. She half expected the elder to kill her right then and there. She half thought she might welcome it if he did.
At length, he shifted, moving his legs to a more comfortable position. His arms slowly released her, though he didn’t straighten all the way. **But you did stop it, cub.**
Willow's eyes snapped open as realization hit her.
She'd made it stop, hadn't she? But it couldn't be that easy. Nothing was ever that easy.
Could she have really made it stop? With trembling hands, she patted Blacksnake's arms. Nothing happened. She moved her hands to his mitten-covered ones, testing again. Nothing. She felt nothing save for her hands touching his. No eerie sensations, no melting into his skin. For the first time in weeks, touching someone felt normal.
Willow looked at Blacksnake. He sat up straighter, holding her at arm’s length but not attempting to scramble away in fear. He was still breathing hard, but he was watching her closely, not yet recovered enough to hide the pain and wariness on his face.
She exhaled, eyes wide. She didn't know how she had done it, but if she could stop it… did that mean there was at least some chance she could keep this thing from surfacing unless she wanted it to? Was there hope she might be able to control this and not have it push her over the edge? High Ones, if it was possible, then she wanted it more than anything.
She'd made it stop!
A disbelieving smile crept onto Willow's lips and she began to laugh. She squeezed Blacksnake's arms. Nothing happened. She could actually touch him and not feel what he was feeling! The implications of her new discovery raced through Willow's mind. Being normal, feeling normal, might actually be a possibility!
She laughed harder. Then, she lunged forward and wrapped her arms around Blacksnake and gave him the biggest hug she had ever given anyone in her entire life.
She felt him recoil in surprise, but after a few moments of hesitation, he wrapped his arms around her again. High Ones, she thought she would never be able to touch anyone again, and it had taken Blacksnake to show her she was wrong. Her laughter turned to more tears, and she squeezed the elder all the more tightly.
But was it too good to be true?
One last test. Leaning back, feeling him watching her, she moved her chilly fingertips to Blacksnake's cheek – the only part of him that was not covered with fur or leather. His lips thinned, but he didn’t avoid her touch. Skin touched skin.
At first, nothing happened. But, moments later, she felt a familiar sensation creep into her fingertips. She tried to push it away, just as she had done before, but her body would not listen – it was swelling inside her, becoming stronger. Quickly, she snatched her hand away and scrambled to her feet, lest any more contact between Blacksnake and herself make her do something she wouldn't be able to halt this time.
“It's still there,” she announced, dejected again. That small candleflame of hope she'd felt before threatened to be snuffed out. “I still can't control it.”
“Yes, you can,” Blacksnake countered, using a tone more gentle than Willow had heard him use before. “You just did.” His breathing was under control now, and he looked up at her with all of his usual confidence. “You've done it once. Now figure out how to do it again.”
She looked at her hands, trying to remember how she had done it, what had worked. "I don't want to hurt anyone," she repeated, still trying to reassure him even though he hadn't reacted as she'd feared he would. He wasn't attacking her. He didn't even seem angry with her.
Blacksnake pushed himself up, his movements slow. He bent towards her, angling his head to try to get a look at her down-turned face. "Who else?" he asked simply.
Willow took a ragged breath. "Evervale. She just put her hand on my arm, and I… "
His eyebrows went up in surprise. "She never told anyone – that I know of. You can't have hurt her badly."
Willow scowled. "I didn't want to hurt her at all." Then she looked up at him, meeting his eyes. "I didn't want to hurt you."
The faintest of smiles quirked his lips. "I'll recover." When she didn't return the smile, his expression changed, grew thoughtful. "There's a big difference, cub, between what you just did, and what happened to Owl all those years ago. If you're not trying to hurt anyone, then believe me, you haven't gone mad… yet. Take it from one who remembers," he assured her, sadly.
His hand moved to squeeze her shoulder, and then rested on the back of her neck. She tensed, bracing herself inside and out, expecting the going-out feeling to rise up again like the steam of the hot-springs… but after a long moment, while they stared at each other, and his mittened hand rested there, Willow realized that it wasn't happening. Not this time.
The moment her expression relaxed, his did, too. He gave her a gentle shake, and then let his hand fall away. "You want to know how you make up for using your power against me? Against Evervale? Use what you learned, and work to control it." She opened her mouth to answer him, and his hand covered her lips, stopping her as he went on, sending again, **There isn't one of your tribemates who's afraid of you. There isn't one who wouldn't jump to help you. Maybe you'll slip again, or make more mistakes along the way. That doesn't matter, so long as you try. No wolfrider is afraid of a little pain – that's just part of living. Ask anyone for help, and trust their answer, cub. Stop trying to do this alone. You don't have to.** And that was in his sending as well, care about you – protect you – help you, as well as his tenacity, and the way he willed her to give in and accept what he demanded of her.
What Blacksnake was sending finally had time to digest. His message mixed in with the hope of her newfound discovery and drove away some of the dread and despair that had taken such a hold on her the past hands of days. She didn't want to live the rest of her life as a lone wolf. She wanted to be back with her family, her friends, and her tribemates that she knew and loved.
**I don't want to be alone. I hate it out here.** Willow's response hinted at what a lonely, miserable experience those past days had been.
"Good," he told her, giving her a rare, full smile. "Then choose not to be, Healer."
That brought her up short – hearing herself called that, hearing it from Blacksnake no less. There was respect in his voice, and in his eyes, when he said it, that brought home to her how much had changed in her status with the tribe.
Willow took a deep breath. Blacksnake catching her out here, alone, where she couldn't run – that had seemed like the worst possible luck. But now, well… the worst had happened, hadn't it? It hadn't been the terrible, world-ending disaster that she'd feared. Blacksnake didn't hate her, and if he could forgive her, then… then she could face Evervale, and her grandmother, and the others as well. She could ask for their forgiveness and their help, too. "I'll try," she promised aloud. And then, when she saw his raised eyebrow, she added firmly, "I will."
"Good," he repeated.
Willow slipped her mittens back onto her hands. “Well, I suppose I should go. The traps won't re-set themselves, and I'm going to be later getting back as it is.” She was tired and wanted nothing more than to sleep, but she also wanted time to think about what had just happened. Her traps would give her that opportunity.
Blacksnake stepped back from her, moving to the side and giving her a way to get past him, to leave. **I'll be looking for your return,** he told her, underlying the simple statement with a short, intense burst of everything he’d tried to convey to her: high expectations and faith-in-her, along with hope-again-after-so-long mixed with patient-waiting-helping for the task she faced, learning to control her powers instead of letting them control her.
It could have been frightening, there was so much in his sending – the hopes of all the tribe, of those in wrapstuff who now might have a chance to live again, of children to be born; but he made sure it was balanced by the strength of the tribe, and the reminder to use that strength, accept their love. The rest of it was just pure Blacksnake, command and challenge, urging her to accept her own value, her, the tribe’s future, to know how much they all loved her and would help her, but she had to ask for it, and she had to trust them.
Willow smiled. Her response, in comparison, was simple. Accepting. **I know you will.**
She turned and walked back into the cold. Going home would not be easy. She knew there would be bumps in the path ahead. She knew the coming days and weeks would be a challenge. But the dread was gone. It had fled back there at the springs; Hope and determination had rushed in to take its place.
She knew now, without a doubt, that she didn't have to face this alone... and that made all the difference. .