Willow Rosenburg stared out over the empty field, waiting for something to happen. Something did, though not quite what she expected.
"It's not out there."
The voice from behind her did not startle Willow - she only smiled faintly and turned her head. "I know."
The speaker came to stand next to her - a young woman who superficially, looked younger than Willow herself, but by bearing and stance and by her eyes, she was older. Though her face and her body and her long, dark hair showed no signs of age, her eyes were of a green muddied by time and life and pain. It was not something most people noticed - but then most people did not have frequent contact with the First Guardian of Earth.
"So; you're going back?"
Willow nodded, turned back to the view. "Giles thinks I'm ready."
"But you don't?"
The witch turned and looked up at Areahannah. "I don't know what I think," she said. "It's all... it's really fast. I'm not sure. I don't..."
"You don't trust yourself?"
Willow let Arrah hold her eyes as she sat down next to her. "If you're reading my mind," Willow said uncertainly, "I wish you wouldn't. It's kinda creepy."
"Well, then," said Arrah, "I won't show you with mine what I planned to."
There was a brief silence, while Areahannah stared thoughtfully out over the field. "Do you know how old I was when I found out what I was, Willow?"
Willow shook her head.
"I was fifteen."
The other girl stared, wide-eyed. "You were... you were *fifteen*? But how did you... I mean, how did you keep from..."
"Losing it?" Areahannah smiled wryly. "I almost didn't. But... I adapted. I had no other choice. Suddenly I was the custodian of something a thousand times bigger and more important than I was. It wasn't a responsibility I would have *chosen*, but it was mine anyway."
She laced her hands together, looked down into her lap. "You have every reason to be terrified, Willow."
Willow quirked one eyebrow. "Oh, that's uber-reassuring. I feel much better now."
Areahannah shook her head and gave a serious look. "I'm not going to lie to you - I don't believe in it. Look - I know you're scared. I can't help but know it. But you have every reason to be. Power is always frightening - and in your case, it's especially justified. I know what it feels like. At the risk of sounding egotistical, I'm probably the only one who does."
Willow stared at her, brows drawing together. "If this was supposed to be a pep talk, it needs some work."
Areahannah smiled again. "Sorry. I just mean... the fear, that's natural. And since it's natural, accept it. Don't fear it."
Willow grinned mischeviously. "Don't fear the fear? Isn't that awfully Martin Luther King for a mythical construct?"
The Guardian shook her head. "Fear... it's like pain. It's only information. It's just... something smarter than you telling you something that without it, you wouldn't know. That you wouldn't let yourself know, because you're all caught up in the outside world. Fear, in this case, reminds you that it isn't easy. Reminds you that when it's hard that doesn't mean it's impossible. That fear is what keeps people in power from going crazy - from going... bad."
The grin faded from Willow's face. "I guess that makes sense. Real fear that the Universe is going to hit you on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper if you go too far..."
Arrah shrugged, looked out over the field again. "Power is very tempting, Willow. That, you know. It's just as tempting, sometimes, with *that* much power, to just... take whatever you want - regardless of whether you *should*, whether you deserve it. Whether it's right. Even by your own standards. It makes it hard to remember things you thought you'd never forget - like that you're human. Not that you're *only* human, but that you're *still* human. And... there's a difference."
Watching the Guardian's profile, Willow nodded, slowly. "That... that makes sense."
She saw the Guardian smile, then. "I'm glad you think so," she said, looking sideways at Willow. "I thought I was babbling. I usually do."
"Nah. Lots of sense." Willow tilted her head to one side, considering the woman who sat next to her.
"I think..." She trailed off, waited until Areahannah turned to look at her, quizzically.
"...I think," continued Willow, "That people who... help people, people who are just... like that... when they do their thing, it maybe kinda feels like it doesn't have anything to do with *them*. Like something else is just sort of telling you what to say, or you're letting it do its thing, and you're just letting your mouth run. But... maybe that's just instinct. Maybe that's what it means."
Willow saw something change in the Guardian's eyes - something shift, something smile. Areahannah smiled, accordingly, albeit faintly.
"You help people. It's what you do. I can tell. Even if you can't."
The smile didn't widen, but it seemed a little warmer - a little more like she was smiling instead of letting herself smile. There was a difference, after all.
"Good luck, Willow," was all she said, and when Willow looked again, she was gone.