Polished Stones

Summary: She couldn't stay away. Not forever. As much as she dreaded it, a small part of her – a vicious, masochistic part – looked forward to the visit.

Disclaimer: Joss owns them. If I owned them, the following character would not be so sad.

The wind blew another cool gust towards the girl, whipping her hair about her face and causing her to pull her sweater tighter against herself. It didn't get very cold where she lived, but today, it seemed, was different. The world around her was darkening as the sun gradually dipped lower in the sky, but the early evening and twilight hours were the only time she was able to slip out unnoticed.

Silently she approached the black, wrought iron fence that blocked her from her destination. As she reached a hand to open the gate the cold metal stung her palm, biting into her skin with frozen teeth. The gate, having been opened and closed many times before, did not creek when she disturbed it. Quickly, she slipped through the small gap and then closed it behind her.

Once on the other side of the fence her pace slowed; she dreaded where she was going. It was inevitable, she knew she had to come, but she wasn't looking forward to the visit. She wasn't sure her heart was ready for the visit.

Yet at the same time something drew her in, tugging her closer. She couldn't stay away, not forever. As much as she dreaded it, a small part of her –a vicious, masochistic part – looked forward to the visit. Her heart had broken, but the pieces still belonged to who she was going to visit. The pieces would always belong to them.

The girl followed the winding path, taking her time to memorise the scenery. She was aware that she was stalling. Around her there were large, healthy trees with branches that reached up towards the sky, a wooden bench placed every so often along the path, and she spotted a few scattered flowers that offered colour amongst the greens, browns and greys. Despite her sombre mood, the girl could still appreciate the beauty around her.

The wind blew another burst of cold air, causing the leaves in the nearby trees to rattle. The girl tapped her pocket, checking to make sure the stones were still there. It was an old Jewish tradition, bringing the stones, but it was one she couldn't break.

All too soon she had reached her destination. She hesitated, unsure how to approach.

Taking a silent, deep breath the girl mentally gathered her nerve and took the last few steps forward and off of the path. "Hey," she whispered.

There was no response from the person she addressed.

The girl sighed and quietly sat down on the grass, folding her legs under her; her partner was already on the ground waiting for her. Again she hesitated, unsure how to begin the conversation. But the other person made no move to speak, so the girl tried again. "I, um… hi," she began again, "I'm sorry it took me so long to come here… to visit you.

"I just got back yesterday, from England," the girl continued. "You knew I was in England, right?" Her partner remained silent, so she carried on, "Well, that's where I was, in case you were wondering. I-I don't know if any one told you, that I went away I mean."

Her hands began to fidget where they rested in her lap, absentmindedly picking at the hem of her sweater. With a shaky breath she continued, "I needed it, to go away for a little while. It was all too much, after what happened. The accident. I… I just kept picturing it in my head, over and over again. So they thought it would be better for me to go away, they found a place where I could get better. Where I could study and learn to be me again.

"I wasn't really involved in the decision though; it was made for me. If I had known what was going on, I probably wouldn't have left. But… at the time I was kind of… trapped inside myself. I shut down after the accident. I didn't want to see you; I didn't want to see anyone. So they thought it would be better for me to get a way for a little while. And as much as that probably hurt you, it was. It was good for me to get away."

This was harder than the girl had expected, much harder. She was opening up, exposing herself to the hurt all over again. She didn't like feeling the vulnerable feeling it gave her, but she knew her partner deserved the explanation.

And her partner remained silent the whole time, simply listening to what the girl had to say.

"I've been having nightmares lately," she continued. "Well, no, not lately. I've had them since… since it happened. I haven't been able to sleep through the night. I just keep seeing it happen all over again inside my head.

"But there's nothing I can do to change it. I know that now. There's no way to fix what happened. I can only try and get better and wish that my heart will stop hurting so much…"

Holding back a sob the girl ran a trembling hand through her wind-blown red hair. It was longer now, and faded, duller. She hadn't really cared for it while she was in England. In fact, she hadn't taken care of any of her body while she was in England. She wondered if the other person could see how much thinner she was or the bags under her eyes. The girl hoped her partner didn't notice; she didn't want to make them feel worse. This wasn't supposed to be a pity party about herself. It was supposed to be an explanation; a hello and a goodbye at the same time.

"So… so I'm not sure what else to say," the girl said, fighting back the lump forming in her throat. "The psychiatrist in England – well, I'm not sure if she was a real psychiatrist or if they just wanted me to talk to somebody – anyway, she thinks I'm doing better. She thinks I have better control now, which is good. You always worried about that. I-I'm sorry I didn't listen."

There was no response to her apology.

"But like I said, I'm getting better now. I… I learned a lot while I was away. A lot about myself, things I didn't know or didn't want to acknowledge. And there were some really nice people there, teaching me and helping me and looking after me. There were lots of looks though. You know, like pitying looks; everybody feeling sorry for me. But I, I tried to ignore them. And yeah, not everyone there was nice. Some of them told me to get over it, that I was being selfish. That what I did-"

The girl looked up suddenly, "Sorry… I'm babbling, aren't I?"

She sighed, "Right… where was I? Um…" A tear broke free of her lashes and slid down the girl's cheek, "I miss you. A lot. Every time I close my eyes I see you and I think about wh-" she stopped herself, not wanting to go there.

"I miss you," she said honestly, "I miss you and I'm sorry it happened like this. I'm sorry everything fell apart.

"I know, too little too late. But you need to know how sorry I am. This, none of this was supposed to happen. We were supposed to be happy, to grow old together," her last words could barely be heard above the wind, "you were my everything.

"And now we can't be together," her voice grew harsher, "Now I'm stuck, trying to put the pieces of my life back together because… because… because my heart broke."

Angrily, the girl wiped the dampness from her cheeks with the back of her hand, "But I know it's my fault we're n-not together an-anymore. If-f I hadn't… a-and i-if you…" A shuddering breath, heavy with tears, cut off her sentence, forcing her stop.

She took a moment, trying to compose herself. A deep breath, and then another. When she had regained minimal control over the body betraying her with its tears she tried speaking again, "I love you." It was more of a sob then a confession.

With another deep, calming breath she reached into her pocked, removing the small, polished rocks. With great care, she placed them on the large stone in front of her, positioning them into a staggered line. She hoped the wind wouldn't blow them down.

Once the pebbles were settled, she pressed her palm flat against the stone, running her hand the length of its smooth surface. Down the side and then across the front, she let her fingers brush over the words engraved there. A name, and below it a date.

Her knees shook slightly, but the girl managed to climb to her feet. Out of habit, she dusted the bits of grass that clung to her clothes. Then she ran a hand through her hair again, wishing things had ended differently.

And finally, as the sun slipped below the horizon, Willow turned, making her way out of the cemetery. She closed her eyes against the cool wind, this time not bothering to wipe the tears that descended down her pale cheeks.