Sun rays of a bright but sweet afternoon were shining through the half-drawn curtains of Buffy’s bedroom. She was lying on her bed, eyes half-closed. She had just come back from the doublemeat palace a little earlier and had settled here after taking a good shower to get rid of all the grease and maybe all those other things that seemed to crawl under her skin these days. Things she could never wash herself off enough to get away from. Anger, pain, regrets, guilt.
She heard a little noise, probably too low for her to hear if she was not the slayer. But she was. She opened her eyes and looked up to see Dawn standing in the doorway.
Buffy immediately rose on her elbows. There was something changed in her sister. No. Not exactly changed. But there was something a little different. But she could not clearly see what at first sight. She intently looked at her and suddenly realized: Dawn’s lips where slightly pursed into something that could possibly be the ghost of a smile.
But she could not be completely sure. It seemed to her that Dawn had ceased to smile too long ago for her to remember what it looked like.
And she was looking at HER.
Buffy’s heart started pounding loudly in her chest. There was too much time that Dawn was just avoiding her. Days. Weeks. Even months now. Since the funerals, Buffy remembered. And her heart twisted painfully at the thought.
At first, Dawn had been so angry. Angry at Warren for being that bastard. Angry at Willow for loosing herself the way she had. Even angry at Tara for dying.
And she so deeply needed to express that anger.
But at the funerals, she could not be angry at Tara anymore. It was her funerals after all. She could not be angry at Warren, because he was dead and Willow had taken care of him already. She could not be angry at Willow, because she was not even there.
So she had been angry at THEM.
Buffy remembered all too well that night before the funerals, just after Giles and Willow had left for England. Dawn had found her and Xander in the living room, crying harder than Buffy could remember having seen Xander crying and harder than she could remember herself crying.
They immediately had tried to dry their tears and Dawn had asked why they were crying. The first understandable word that had left Buffy’s mouth had been ‘Willow’ and it had ignited such a rage in her sister. She had begun to yell that they did not care, that all they could think about was Willow when Tara was the one who had been murdered.
Buffy had known that this anger was boiling in her veins for hours, maybe for days. She had tried to explain, to soothe. But Dawn just did not want to listen and had just yelled louder until she left to her room, slamming the door so hard that Buffy had thought it might be broken.
But it was not.
And the door had remained closed for what felt days.
She had tried to talk to her. She was worried to see her sister staying so alone. Dawn had not returned to school after… after the wreckage that had become their life since that fateful 7th May. She had met the principal and the woman had assured her it was not a problem if Dawn did not return. The school year was nearly over and Dawn was a brilliant student.
So after the funerals, there had just been silence. Between them. In this house which had once been so full of noise, of joy, of life.
It was so present, so heavy, that sometimes Buffy thought she could actually HEAR it. Which just did not make any sense.
How could this house where Willow had lived be so silent?
Just thinking her name had become painful.
Just after the whole try-to-end-the-world thing, the pain she felt was so real. Her body had suffered for days of the treatment given by the Wicca. Buffy was sure that she would still feel it if it was not for slayer healing.
But there was a good thing at feeling actual pain. It just hid the other kind of pain for some time. Prevented her to think about it.
The pain she felt tearing her heart each time Willow’s name echoed somewhere in her mind.
Where had her friend gone? Where had she – Buffy – allowed her to go? They had lived under the same roof for months and she had seen nothing coming.
Just like when they were living together in the dorms, in happier and more innocent times, and she had not seen her falling in love with Tara.
Where had her friend gone? Was actually something left of her friend in the broken thing Giles had taken to England? Buffy had not been able to see it when they had fought.
She had not and Xander had.
He had made her come back. At least enough for them to dare calling her Willow again.
Buffy had failed. Again.
And Tara was dead. And Willow was gone. And Dawn so alone, ripped this way from the people who had really cared about her all those months.
Buffy suspected this was part of the reasons why Dawn just did not talk to her anymore. Anger. Loneliness. Hurt. Loss.
All those things Buffy wanted to protect her from.
Sometimes, she just wanted to take Dawn in her arms and cry on her shoulder and promise that everything was just a bad dream, that it never happened. That Willow and Tara were there. That they were making love in their room and Buffy would just not care that Dawn could hear ‘cause hearing them doing so would just mean they were alive and happy.
But THIS was just a dream. The dream Buffy had nearly every night where she was strong enough to kick Warren’s ass before he could shoot Tara.
How much she wanted it to be real did not change anything: it was just a dream. And each morning, she was left with that sickening sense of cold, hard, sad reality.
She had failed her friends, she had failed Dawn. Again.
So when she saw Dawn at her door on this July afternoon, Buffy could not quite hide her surprise.
“Xander called,” said Dawn in her monotonous voice Buffy was so used to by now. “He wants to pick me up for an ice-cream afternoon. May I go?”
Buffy was not sure she had clearly heard the words. Or understood them. She remained there, jaw agape, looking at her sister in surprise for what felt eternity. But it probably lasted only a few seconds because Dawn did not grow impatient.
But Dawn did not grow ANYTHING lately, thought Buffy. So maybe it was eternity.
Buffy could not really believe it. Xander had offered to take Dawn out for an ice cream like a million times. She remembered the first time only too well too.
Xander had offered and Dawn had refused in the angrily way they were used to with her at the time. She had said nothing at first, until the anger took over her and she had yelled.
Buffy had understood why, even before Dawn had said it: ice-cream afternoon was a Tara thing. And Dawn did not want anyone to take Tara’s place. She wanted to miss ice cream as she missed Tara.
And after all, none of them had ever bothered to take time to take her for an ice cream before. Why bother now? It was just too late and ice cream was a Tara thing.
She had screamed all of this in a much much more aggressive way, had left and slammed her door AGAIN.
But Xander had offered again two days later. And then two days later. And again. And again. Until now.
Buffy tried to smile to her sister but she was not sure to succeed because it had been such a long time since her last smile that she was pretty sure she had forgotten how to smile.
“Of course, you can,” she said, sitting on the bed. “He’s on his way?”
Dawn nodded and just stood there, now not really looking at her but not really looking anywhere else either.
Buffy got up from the bed and stood to face her sister from where she was.
“Maybe… maybe I can come along?” she asked, nearly unsure.
“Yeah, sure. Xander said it would be good to go all the three of us. So, if you have nothing else to do…”
She had almost snorted the last part and Buffy winced at the reproachful voice. It was true she had not been really there for her sister lately. And it was also true that Dawn had done anything for her not to be there. Maybe.
“Sure. I’m coming”
They both made their way down the stairs and remained silent until Xander arrived. He greeted them cheerfully. Or at least tried to sound cheerful. Buffy felt it forced. But he was trying so hard. She smiled in response and took him in her arms and he returned the welcome hug with affection. Then, he hugged Dawn the same way and the teenager let herself go in Xander’s arms.
After Buffy locked the house’s door, they left in Xander’s car. The ride to the town’s center was short. Xander parked his car and they walked in the streets, searching a good ice cream café. The weather was hot but not too hot, and the walk was fine, even if silent, at least on Buffy’s part. Xander was walking between her and Dawn, his arm around the teenager’s shoulders.
Buffy’s eyes were slipping from time to time to her sister’s face and she did not quite listen to the chit-chat she was sharing with Xander. As usual, the young man was trying to joke, and seeing the expression on Dawn’s face, he was almost succeeding.
They finally sat at a café table, warmed up by a generous sun. Xander and Dawn ordered an ice cream so big that Dawn would have probably earned a severe look from her sister in others circumstances. But due to ACTUAL circumstances, she let her do so. And she even did as her friend and sister. Which got them an odd and amused look from the waitress when she put down the three giant ice creams on the table.
They began trying to overcome their order and thanks to Slayer’s appetite, Buffy was the first to succeed when Dawn and Xander had not even eat half of theirs.
Automatically, Buffy leaned back in her chair and went back to reverie mode, not really paying attention to Xander and Dawn.
“Hey !” protested Dawn some time later.
Buffy looked up and saw Xander stealing some ice cream from Dawn’s plate. Her sister’s expression was angry at first and soon softened at Xander’s goofy grin.
“I always wondered how ice cream of that color would taste,” he said pointing to the deep blue ice cream in his spoon.
“Well, I’m not really sure,” answered Dawn; “If you have an idea, tell me”
Xander swallowed said ice cream and appeared to think about what it might be.
“What said the menu about it ?”
“Don’t know,” Dawn answered sheepishly. “I asked for the blue I saw in that guy’s plate”
She gestured somewhere behind Xander’s back but he did not bother to look.
“Well, I have to say… I have no idea,” he admitted, leaning back in his chair in his turn. “Maybe it’s some kind of demonic ice cream”
“Blah !” said Dawn with a wince. “I really have to erase the image you just brought to my mind!”
She then punctuated her sentence by planting her spoon in Xander’s plate and took a large portion of vanilla ice cream.
“Hey ! That’s just vanilla!”
“You take, I take,” grinned Dawn.
Xander grinned back and put his spoon again in her plate so quickly that she did not have time to take her plate away from him.
“You take, I take” Xander repeated.
Dawn frowned and stole some more of Xander’s ice cream.
The game lasted again and they finally finished each other’s ice cream instead of their own.
Buffy stared at them, first in disbelief, then with amusement and finally with fondness. She couldn’t help but smile while looking at them and suddenly realized she was feeling the sun’s warmth on her skin. It was a while now that she was sitting there in the sun and she had not noticed before.
She saw and heard Dawn laugh at something Xander had said and shivered. She had somewhat thought that Dawn’s laugh was lost forever. Just as Xander’s jokes. Just as the smile that was plastered on her own face.
“Buffy, maybe Xander can come over for dinner?” asked suddenly Dawn after swallowing the last mouthful of the carpenter’s ice cream. “We can order pizzas and have a movie? All three of us?”
Buffy suddenly felt tears forming at the corners of her eyes, and she did not quite know why. She just nodded, unable for a second to form a sound.
“Sure.” She finally said after a silence. “Great idea. But I choose the movie, ‘cause Xander’s taste on that matter sucks and…”
She wanted to add something about that one time she had a movie evening with Willow and Xander and Xander had chosen the movie. Willow and herself had just screamed in horror for the whole film and promised that Xander would NEVER get to choose the movie again. It felt like a million years ago and it nearly brought some tears and a smile on her face at the same time.
She fought back the tears and just smiled.
“Well, maybe just for this time, you can choose”
Xander leaned back in his chair and grinned at Dawn after putting his arm around her shoulders.
“Let the kiddo here choose” he said.
“I’m not a kid,” Dawn answered defensively. “Something fun” she added quickly.
“Something fun,” repeated Xander. “I’m in. Buff?”
“Works for me”
Buffy got back in silent observation mode while Dawn was doing a list of movies she would be fine to watch in the evening and for the first time in weeks, she felt -not really happy- but content, satisfied.
Eating an ice cream on a July afternoon and listening to her sister and Xander planning what she felt would be a really nice evening was enough to give her that reassuring feeling of living she had been desperately searching for months in Spike’s cold embrace.
That thought made her remember something Spike once told her about life: ‘Life is like this: it’s living’.
And yeah, she now knew it was just like this: living of small things, taking joy and will in those kind of things life had to offer.
And Buffy knew that when she would sit on the sofa with Dawn and Xander tonight, none of them giving voice to the painful lack of Willow and Tara, Buffy would just wish she had understood that way sooner.