Title: The Cold Cage
Author: Robyn the Snowshoe Hare
Part: 1/1
Disclaimer: Joss, WB, Rat-Bastards at FOX.
Author's Notes: A where-has-Oz-gone thing. Depressing. *sigh*

Dedication: To the Powers That Be, that they send some snow to my area. If I don't break out my skis soon, I'm going to go completely insane.


I wanted solitude, and I got it.

The only sound is the hiss of my skis against the snow as I weave my way down the slope and the soft wail of the wind in the woods. The sky has been a heavy gray all day - the promise of yet more snow. The branches of all the trees are lined with ice, which makes me feel like I'm in a cage.

A cold cage. So cold, in fact, that in the last hour I've only seen about twelve other skiers. On days like this, most people stick to the lower trails, keeping away from the harsh chill of the upper mountain face. My breath rasps in the cold, and I can feel the warm moisture on my scarf. It's annoying, and I want to take it off, but I know better than to do that. If I took it off, than I'd be inviting frostbite on my nose, and the air I'd be breathing into my lungs would be even colder than the stuff I'm breathing now, which is filtered through a layer of warm fleece.

I'm sweating, which is also a danger. With the cold sweat on my body, the danger in stopping grows greater. The moment I stop, my body temperature will drop, inviting hypothermia and worse. But the effort of keeping my body balanced and quick, and of sliding around moguls and ice is taking its toll. Some of the trails I've been skiing haven't even been broken in yet. I'm an idiot for going on them - an even bigger idiot for going on them alone. If I get hurt, I'll be stuck on the trail until someone finds me. With the weather the way it is, that could be hours.

All these warnings are flying through my head when I stop at a fork in the trail. The left branch continues the trail I've been skiing, Long Run, while the right branch begins a new trail, Whiplash.

All I can hear now is my own panting breath and the sharp creak of ice in the woods. The trees on this mountain are mostly birch, which break easily under the weight of the ice on their branches. Whiplash hasn't been cleared in a few days, and by now there's a danger of branches in the trail. There was even talk down at the base lodge of closing Whiplash for a few days, until the weather got better.

It's getting hard to see, so I remove my goggles. The snow has started, and I know that my best choice is to whip my way down Long Run and make it to the base lodge before the full storm breaks. Looking behind me, I can see that the chair lifts have stopped. The ski patrol will probably be along in an hour or so, trying to make sure that everyone is off the higher trails.

But I've skied all day, and all I can think of is the way she used to smile at me.

I push off with my poles quickly, speeding quickly onto Whiplash. Within seconds, I know that this trail has been avoided by every other skier foolish enough to venture beyond the lower trails today. The snow is soft, sliding easily under my skies, making it harder to dig in for my turns. I swerve barely in time to avoid a rock that was half-covered by the snow that's just now drifting down from the angry gray sky.

Whiplash was a good choice, today. Because I want to be tired to the point where I won't dream about her. Where the cold of the snow and the mountain will fill my bones so that I won't think about the warmth of the sun when I was with her. Maybe the cold beauty of the ice and wind will make me forget about her brilliant smile.

When I get back to the lodge, the rest of the ski bums will be impressed that I went on Whiplash. They'll buy me drinks in tribute until all I can taste is the hard burn of the alcohol, and then maybe I'll forget the way her mouth used to taste on mine. I'll go back to the ratty apartment I share with two other skiers, where cereal stocks the cabinets and the only pieces of furniture are three cots and three chairs. I don't want to remember the way her room used to look, cluttered with textbooks and stuffed animals.

I don't want to remember how happy she made me, or how much I loved her. Or think about how much I hurt her when I left, or what the expression of pain on her face must've looked like when she found out that I sent for my stuff. Because then I know I'll go back to her, and I can't do that yet.

She didn't understand why I had to go. Neither did Giles, or Xander. And it isn't really something that I could put into words. I gave reasons, but they weren't the right ones.

Buffy understood. I saw her once before I left, and looking into her eyes, I knew that she understood. She did this once too.

"Come back when you've healed." she said. Nothing else.

This is the place I'll stay until then. This is where I'll lick my wounds in solitude until all that's left is a scar. Among the ice and the wind, in my cold cage. This is the best place for me right now.

But I miss Willow.