Rating:  G

Feedback:  Twould be nice, that would.

Spoilers:  This is set post "The Gift" (season 6 finale)

Distribution:  Here.  If for some reason you would like it, please ask me.

Summary:  Willow returns to a place from her childhood to help her through a time of grief.

Author's Note:  "Bargaining" (season 7 premiere) pretty much suggests that this didn't happen, but it seemed in character to me. 

Disclaimer: All characters are owned by Mutant Enemy (Joss Whedon), a wonderfully creative company whose characters I have borrowed for a completely profit-free flight of fancy.  Kindly do not sue me, please, as I am terrified of you.  Thank you.

Aloft

Just as sunset was tinging the sky with tints of russet and gold, Willow reached her destination.  Arduous as the climb up the hillside had been, it was going to be worth it.  In front of her lay a wide, level field of knee-high grass dancing gently in the strong, warm mid-summer breeze.  There was always a wind at the top of the hill.  That was one of the reasons she had chosen to come here.

Looking down the slope she'd conquered, the town of Sunnydale was laid out like a serene postcard:  porch lights had been turned on, the glow of headlights marked the curves of the streets, and the idea that anything evil might possibly live there was absurd.  Two months had passed since Glory's attempt to destroy the world-- a failed attempt, but one that had still succeeded in demolishing the hearts of so many people in the city below.  Gone were the tower she had built, the evidence of other realities that had bled through the portal, and even the bizarre creatures who had worshipped her.  Though no sign visible from this place bore out the ugly fact of the Slayer's death, Willow's spirit was wracked by a draining blight.  She sighed sadly and sat down on the soft grass, catching her breath after the long walk.

Removing her backpack, Willow lay down and stared up at the darkening sky overhead.  She could almost hear Giles telling her that she was being foolish for going out alone at night, especially in the absence of an active Slayer on the Hellmouth.  At the moment, she didn't care.  Patting the ever-present stake in the pocket of her shorts, she reminded herself that she really needed to be here.

It seemed hard to believe that it had been almost five years since the last time she'd visited this place.  It had been one of her favorite haunts when she was little, playing endless games of make-believe with Xander and Jesse in the woods that lined the open space.  Together, they had been rulers of a far off land, or Rebel spies trapped behind the Empire's lines, or the stars of their own TV show.  At least in this one place, having absent or distracted parents was a benefit instead of a drawback.

After Jesse had died, she had come back to the place they had spent so much time together in order to mourn in private.  Willow's gentle nature and compassion for others had kept her from venting her grief over her friend's death too much in front of Xander for fear she might hurt him by bringing up old memories. 

Now, she was faced with a very similar problem.  Her heart ached over Buffy's death, but crying in front of Dawn seemed somehow selfish.  Giles had needed the red-head's support so much as he grieved the death of the girl who had been like a daughter to him that she didn't think it was right to burden him with her own pain.  And then there was Spike.  There was no doubt in her mind that the vampire had loved Buffy with a depth of feeling that she had rarely seen anyone capable of.  The others of the group were still rather leery of him, but she had taken to visiting his crypt on a regular basis, supposedly to see if he had any new information about evil doings in the neighborhood, but they both knew it was really to see if he was okay.  A tentative but decidedly strong friendship was growing between them.  As for Xander, he was leaning heavily on Anya and was rarely around all that much.  Tara had been absolutely wonderful to her, and Willow was grateful for the chance to relax her tightly controlled emotions when she was with her, but the truth of the matter was the other girl simply hadn't been around long enough to share the same memories of Buffy that she did.

Sitting up, Willow carefully unzipped her back pack and took out what appeared to be nothing more than a shapeless lump of cloth, some string, and a few sticks.  As the night breeze began to become stronger, she busied herself in forming together the odds and ends until a glorious kite sat perched on the grass before her.  Patches of buttercup yellow and lilac covered the surface of the diamond shape that was as wide as her spread arms.  Dragging almost majestically behind it was a long tail of emerald green.  In another minute, Willow had tied a skein of string to the kite with a strong, sure knot.   After her work was complete, she gazed up at the newly rising moon and the faint pinpricks of light that would reveal themselves as stars once the sky was truly dark.  The sun had not yet slipped below the horizon.

Willow stood, taking the kite to the furthest end of the field, allowing the direction of the wind to tell her which way to walk.  Slowly, she let out a length of string about ten feet long and allowed the kite to rest momentarily on the ground.  She took a deep breath and began to run, pulling the kite behind her as went, the pounding of her feet echoing the pounding of her heart.  She was aware of the exact second the kite started to rise behind her, catching the breeze and beginning to ride it into the sky.  Quickly, she turned around and let out more line as the strong wind on the hilltop began to take the kite higher and higher into the air.

The diamond of cloth was now hardly more than a speck amid the stars as Willow allowed her mind to drift with the wind, remembering the girl who had been her best friend.  In her memory, she saw once again the fateful day that a girl with the unlikely name of Buffy had entered Sunnydale High at the beginning of her sophomore year.  Was it really only five years since then?  In some ways it felt like yesterday, and yet she could barely remember what life had been like before she came.  The blonde girl from L.A. who could have had her pick of the cliques in the school had chosen her, lowly Willow Rosenberg, the smart girl who tried her best to blend into the woodwork despite of her red hair, as a friend.

Between the two of them, they had shared so many high points and low ones over the years:  first boyfriends and the inevitable loss of them, fears about the future, self-doubt, discovering new and undreamed of abilities.  Through it all, no matter what had happened, they had been friends.  They may not always have agreed with each other or even understood each other completely, but there had been no question that they loved each other as deeply as sisters.

Tears started to flow over her cheeks as she held the string that connected her to the sky.  That same friend who had comforted her and laughed with her and cried with her and been scared senseless with her was gone.  It was hard to fathom that the slayer would never call her again at 1 a.m. to trade gossip or drag her shopping at the local mall to add to her ever-growing collection of shoes.  Dead.  The word was so blunt.  She believed deeply that Buffy's spirit still existed somewhere.  If anyone had earned the right to rest in peace, she had.  But the loss of her presence was so agonizing it was almost physically painful.  Buffy was irreplaceable.

With no one to see her, she began to sob whole-heartedly.  She allowed the restraint she forced on herself to melt away and her grief to rise up, blanketing her with its force.  Unashamed, she wept freely for the death of her friend, for the end of the friendship that had been so much a part of her life.  Through it all, the kite continued to tug on the string she held clutched in her hand.

By the time her tears had stopped, she found a strange peace had filled her.  Her life would continue.  Friends still surrounded her, friends who needed her as deeply as she needed them.  Buffy's final words had demanded of her that she be brave and continue to live:  not merely exist, but truly live.  Looking back, she realized that there was nothing she had to regret about her friendship with her.  They had left nothing unsaid.  In the few years she had been allowed with her, Willow could honestly say that she and Buffy had indeed truly lived.  How many people could say that?

Her eyes rose towards the kite high overhead, hardly more than a dot in the moonlight.  The line attached to it seemed thin as a spider's web, a slender bridge between the earth and the heavens.

"Goodbye, Buffy.  And thank you," she whispered towards the speck that hovered in the eternal vastness above as she let go of the string and allowed the kite to soar freely on the wind, lifting higher and higher into the air until finally it disappeared into the rich darkness of the night.

As Willow carefully made her way back down the slope that she knew as well as the back of her hand, she was unaware of the figure that watched her from the shadows.  Waiting until he was sure she wouldn't see him following, Xander continued behind her until she was safely home.