B t V S / A t S
L W AY S
As still as the statues lining the piazzas, Buffy stands hidden from the bustle of the villa in a secluded corner of the gardens. She makes a solemn Venus in dirty, tatty jeans and skinny pink tee. No one knows why her head hangs low as she seems to stare into some invisible abyss, but Dawn is determined to find out.
By the time she joins her, Buffy hasn't moved in ages. She approaches with slow steps that crunch on the gravel paths. They're not so quiet that she'll shock Buffy from her silent reverie when she speaks but they're respectful of her sister's mood. She innocently tucks her hands into the pockets of her jeans. She's acting casual, as if she isn't a special Scooby envoy on a fact-finding mission.
Their friends are worried. The need to know that moving to Rome hasn't triggered a relapse of Buffy's resurrection malaise. They came here to start again, this city is too pretty, too vibrant for dwelling on past sorrows. The warm sun celebrates life and happiness; it doesn't hanker after the maudlin embrace of the grave. Yet, despite the sublime architecture that makes them sigh, the fantastic shopping that entices them to max out their credit cards and the gorgeously tanned Italian men that call after all the girls, Buffy has been acting majorly weird the past few days, staring at the same flowerbed for hours and sitting in stony silence in front of the TV with a thousand yard stare.
Dawn is sure Italian TV isn't really that bad, even if their language skills aren't quite up to following all of it yet.
"What's up?" she asks the zombie that replaced her sister sometime in that past few weeks.
Buffy says nothing. Doesn't even turn her head.
"Buffy? Hey!" Dawn waves her hand in front of her sister's face.
Finally, there's a response. Buffy looks her. There are tears starting to bead in the corners of her eyes and they glisten in the intense afternoon sun.
"Are you okay?" Dawn whispers, shocked. "We're kinda worried about you."
Buffy doesn't offer an explanation and turns back to her championship staring competition with the neatly regimented ornamental border.
Dawn waits. The silence stretches on.
Eventually it's obvious that Buffy isn't going to give anything away. Dawn gives up and heads back to the villa with just a dash of a snotty teenage flounce. It's abundantly clear that Buffy will speak when she's ready, not when the people who love her actually need to know. Buffy is always so closed off and that irritates Dawn so much sometimes, like she'll never be trusted enough with Buffy's inner thoughts. But if there's one thing she's sure of it's that her sister will never change. She's always been like this.
"I've buried so many people," Buffy says with a heavy sigh as Dawn reaches the small terrace with its delicate fountain. "I wanted to remember them."
Dawn stops and drifts back to Buffy's side. An opportunity like this isn't to be missed. "And staring at dirt will help?"
Buffy folds her arms. It's a tight and defensive gesture, as if she wants to keep these emotions private, but she's already opening up. "Dawn. I planted flowers. Something for everybody."
"Huh?" Dawn doesn't see the why. What do they need flowers for?
"The people we lost," Buffy explains. She must have noticed her puzzled frown. "Sunnydale's gone forever and there's no graves anymore. I thought…"
Dawn gets it. Suddenly. Like a kick in the teeth she wasn't expecting. "Mom?" she asks quickly. Her heart is pounding. She never knew she needed this, but she does. Oh god, she does.
"Over there. It's mom's favourite." Buffy points to a small, immature rose bush in the sunny centre of the border. "It'll be beautiful one day. I put it in the nicest spot."
Indeed, the thorny shrub is already reaching for the bright sun, its spartan leaves swaying softly in the gossamer breeze, half a world away from where their mother rests. It's not perfect yet, but it will be.
Dawn can feel her own lip start to tremble. She doesn't think she can speak. Not about mom anyway. She needs to deflect this away from the raw ache of loss that's gripping her heart. She points down to the uninspiring collection of small green leaves in front of them. Beauty will take time to blossom it seems. "So who's who?"
Buffy hunkers down. Dawn follows, sitting herself cross-legged on the crunchy gravel as Buffy reels off her roll call of the fallen. There's Anya - a tendril of honeysuckle wound round the bottom of a wooden lattice frame; there's Tara, a small thicket of witch hazel; there's Jenny, Jesse, Amanda, Kendra, a dozen potentials - some nameless even, but all with their own small memorial…
Dawn thinks it's wonderful, there's someone missing. She almost doesn't dare mention him. "So where's Spike?"
Buffy hangs her head low and turns back to the primrose in front of her - Chloe - and absently strokes a broad leaf. She says quietly. "He isn't here."
Dawn goes to reply, but the sadness that takes over her sister's expression, leaves her with little to say. "Why?"
Buffy looks like she doesn't want to answer. More secrets then. There's a surprise that's not. Buffy wipes her hands on her jeans and stands. Dawn looks up at her. She's crying. Big tears this time that roll down her cheeks in rivulets and drip unattractively from the end of her nose.
"I couldn't. It didn't seem right somehow. I can't sum him up like that."
Buffy's fiddling with something around her neck; her hand clasped over something doesn't want Dawn to see. It's on a necklace, that much Dawn can tell, maybe a locket or some other keepsake she's not aware of, and that makes some sort of sense. Buffy's always kept her feelings for Spike close to her chest. Her relationship with him was ultra-private, even at the last, and apparently her grief will be too.
There'll be no public memorial for their vampire hero it seems. It's clear that Buffy still needs to lay some ghosts to rest before she can move on, but she doesn't realise that others want to remember him also.
Dawn leaves Buffy to her tears. She hopes she finds what she needs in all this, but if Buffy can't honour Spike yet, then she will have to do it for her. She owes him that much at least.
Because she'll always remember him as her friend.
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