In a way it’s pretty funny to watch Buffy and Dawn earnestly emptying out their dead mother’s bedroom. Candles and flowers and little loved things: a magical clearance, Buffy tells Dawn, and she gives Willow a look, like, isn’t that right?
That’s right, Willow thinks. She is still having trouble with her mouth. Her body does not seem to touch her anywhere. When she moves, it’s a miracle, the world shunting around her just like it did when she commanded it. And the joke is: a Slayer and a Key want to chase the power from their house.
But Willow wants to get better; she does. She has learned her lesson. Her cheek is fat where Dawn slapped her and every time she catches a glimpse of Dawn’s white cast out of the corner of her eye, it’s like falling in love all over again. So she pretends there is a difference between Buffy’s hand and a divining sphere. She pretends that she couldn’t fill her damn flip-flops with sacred light.
She looks around. There’s something. A little figurine, like flight.
“Bird,” Willow says; it tumbles out of her. Buffy doesn’t understand, which is a real shocker. “The peacock on the table,” Willow explains, almost calmly, focusing on the shape of its wings. Sounds can be made with lips as well as walls. She didn’t learn to talk until late, and she likes to imagine her mother, very calmly speaking to silent baby Willow, fishing for words. “There’s a couple of crystals in it.”
Buffy opens the peacock. Buffy was a great one for opening boxes even back in high school. In its stomach the stones nestle like babies, or oxygen canisters. “They’re Tara’s,” Willow knows. “She left them.” No, actually. Willow hid them. Tara wondered where they were while she was packing up her things, but she didn’t voice the question. She was too afraid that Willow would change her mind about letting her go. Willow almost did. Instead she watched her moving boxes and imagined being inside the hollow metal belly of the bird, imagined nestling in the cold curve of its little peacock womb, her cheek pillowed on quartz.
Even up to a day ago she could have done it. She could have made herself that small.
Now Willow sits cross-legged on her bed, her hands limp on her knees. Joyce slept in this place for five years and never owned it like Willow does, because Willow took what Joyce left behind and used it. Willow turns her head and the air cleaves to her neck like armor, like skin.
Today Buffy is doing Barbie. Buffy’s hair swings in solid sheets of gold. Buffy’s mouth is a coral ring. She’s downstairs; they both are. Going through the couches, trying to see the world through the eyes of an addict. Anything you could use as a weapon, Buffy. But that’s everything, and Buffy herself is most of the list.
She opens her eyes, although they are already open, and then shuts them very quickly.
Buffy comes back up after awhile. Dawn, too, sullen as a real teenager. Willow doesn’t know why she’s so surprised. Did she really think it was possible to destroy a person without destroying their trappings, piece by piece? Xander has nightmares where he’s naked; Willow has nightmares where she’s wearing plaid, and dead.
“I think that’s it,” Buffy says, hefting cardboard. Dawn folds her arms. Buffy looks flickeringly guilty. It’s like watching someone play with a lighter; her mouth, her eyes.
Dawn has to go to school.
Willow misses her before she’s closed the door: misses the smell of green things, like grapes and jasmine and just a hint of chalk. She wants to keep apologizing to Dawn, to watch how Dawn flinches. She wants to see Dawn tremble with anger. But Dawn-the-girl has to sit in a classroom all day with no one to touch her hair and no one to stick bare fingers into her power, and there’s nothing that Willow can do about that.
Buffy sits down next to Willow on the bed.
If she had to do it all over again, Willow thinks, she would have brought Buffy back blonder. Buffy is always happiest when flaxen, although the heavy gold of her long death suits the softness of her skin. The first time she died, in high school, she came back the next year with the cutest blonde bob. And a chip on her shoulder the size of Montana, and some moves fresh from the LA dance floor which, really, Xander was so not equipped to appreciate, but none of that mattered, in the end. Willow changes her mind. If she had to do it again she would have dug up Ben’s skeleton from wherever Giles buried it, and brought it to Buffy for her to smash. Sure, there was probably still meat on the bones, but after a summer spent in a shallow grave, male and female aren’t so different. Buffy could have pretended Ben’s sad sunken nose was Glory’s nose, that Ben’s scalp was Glory’s shorn of curl.
“Are you okay?” says Buffy, sounding so relieved to be able to be the one asking that, finally, her nose scrunched up and her eyes wide as sockets. Maybe all Willow needed to do was have an affair with Xander. It’s so hard to tell, with Buffy. Whether she’s waiting for the chance to be dangerous or kind.
“You know me,” says Willow. Buffy looks down. She has her hands folded neatly in her lap, her knuckles pink and smooth. Willow really does regret not bringing shovels to the resurrection. Not that they would have had a chance to use them, but still. Shovels. A gesture of good faith, a little, yes, we wanted you back, not just the snakes and the deer and the lightshow. The summer after Buffy died the first time, Giles buried the Master. He chanted and poured water over the earth, but first he buried him, grunting as he moved spadefuls of black dirt, the bruise on his jaw faded greenly in the sun.
“You can make it,” says Buffy. “I know that.”
“There’s never been an druggie in my family,” Willow says. “I should call my mom. I bet I could get a gift basket out of it, and ooh, maybe a card.”
Buffy laughs. She used to be so awkward when Willow and Xander talked about their families, so gentle and hurt for them. But they’ve finally taught her what it’s like: to be dragged backward by love.
Willow’s pretty sure she got it right after all.