liz_marcs (liz_marcs) wrote,
liz_marcs
liz_marcs

FIC: Whisper, 12/12 (PG-13; BtVS; Ensemble)

Continued from Part 11

Title: Whisper, Part 12
Author: Lizbeth Marcs
Fandom: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Rating: PG-13 for violence, mild language, and some implied situations. Any similarities to a certain scandal that has rocked a certain religion in the Greater Boston Area is purely coincidental, even if it did originally provide the spark for this idea.
Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and related characters are owned by FOX, written and produced by Mutant Enemy. The song ‘No More’ is from the Original Broadway production Into the Woods, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and is therefore not owned by me, either. Dolly, however, is mine.
Summary: A demon is stalking the streets of Sunnydale and driving the residents into horrific public displays of suicide. The key to solving the mystery is locked in the mind of one Scoob who is unable to remember a part of his troubled past.
Pairing: None.
Warning: Spoilers for early S7 Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Author’s Note: This takes place immediately after ‘Him,’ but before ‘Conversations with Dead People. There is a slight AU element in that the Magic Box has been rebuilt in this story. This is the first novel-length story in a series that includes Living History (takes place four months after ‘Chosen’) and Water Hold Me Down (takes place seven months after ‘Chosen’).

 

Closure the Past: Willow

Walk any path in Destiny’s garden, and you will be forced to choose, not once but many times. The paths fork and divide with each step you take…you make a choice; and every choice determines future paths… and even in Death there is not an ending to them.
--Sandman: Season of Mists, Neil Gaiman

 

“Ever think of giving this up?”

“Hunh?”

Willow sighed. “‘Hunh?’ That the best you can do?”

“I don’t follow,” Xander replied.

“I mean this,” Willow waved her hand around the car’s interior. “Scoobyage. You don’t have to be here, you know. You’re the only one in the gang that could walk away today and head for Chicago, Toronto, Boston, hell, anywhere but here, and live a nice normal life.”

“You understand that I have no idea what a ‘nice normal life’ actually is, right?”

“You know what I mean,” Willow replied. “You don’t have to be here. I used to wonder why you stayed.”

Xander shrugged, not taking his eyes off the road. “I’ve thought about walking away off and on,” he admitted. “I think that’s partly why I went on my road trip after graduation, not that I got very far.”

“So?”

Xander pulled up to the red light. “I know if I was smart I’d leave. I know that. But no one’s ever accused me of being smart.”

“I’m being serious.”

“Fine. Why’d I get involved? I think it was a combination of ‘Buffy is hot’ and ‘I killed Jesse,’” Xander said, tapping his finger absently on the steering wheel.

Willow started. Xander almost never mentioned Jesse. She certainly didn’t expect to hear Xander to say Jesse’s name in a distracted tone. “You didn’t kill Jesse. You know—”

“Yeah, I know. I killed the demon that killed him, yada, yada, yada. I got the memo, Wills,” Xander said. “But then there’s Angel. And Spike. And the soul-having. And sometimes, just sometimes, I really resent the fact that Jesse never got the same chance.”

“So do I,” Willow admitted.

The light turned green and Xander urged the car forward with a chuckle. “I can’t believe we’re discussing Jesse now.”

“Seven years too late.”

“Par for my course, that’s for sure,” Xander agreed.

“I just sometimes used to wonder why you stayed,” Willow said.

“What’s known can’t be unknown. What’s seen can’t be unseen,” Xander muttered.

Willow started. “What?”

“Nothing. Just something I heard once. It’s nothing important,” Xander said.

Willow studied Xander’s side profile and took a breath before saying, “I know that sometimes the rest of us tend to overlook what you do contribute simply because you don’t have superpowers.”

Xander tightened his jaw and said nothing.

“I’m glad you are here,” Willow quickly added. “Believe me. If it wasn’t for you I wonder if things wouldn’t be a lot worse and I’m not just talking what you did for me on Kingman’s Bluff.”

“Don’t—”

“Let me finish,” Willow said. “As much as it would break my heart if you walked away, I would understand if you did.”

“But you can’t understand why I stay?” Xander asked. He sounded a little hurt; more than a little, actually.

“I didn’t say that. Well, maybe I did say that,” Willow fumbled. “What I meant to say is that I used to wonder that.”

“‘Used to wonder’? What changed?” Xander asked.

“I think what I’m trying to say is that I get the why now. I didn’t before but now I get it,” Willow quietly said as she looked out the passenger window. She blinked in surprise. “Hey! I think you made a wrong turn if you’re driving me to school.”

“I’ve gotta run an errand. Won’t take me long.”

She blinked again and sat up in the passenger seat. “Are we heading for—”

“Yes.”

She turned to look at him. The grim set of his features meant that he was not going to answer any questions. Not that it was going to stop her. “Are you sure you want me to be here?”

“Please.”

Please don’t ask or please understand? Willow thought as she watched Xander pull up to the Harris homestead. Please don’t say anything or please I need you here?

Xander cut the engine and ducked his head so he could get a clear view of the house through the windshield, teeth worrying his bottom lip. He nodded once before glancing at her and saying, “Stay in the car. I’ll only be a minute.”

Willow watched him as he opened the driver’s side door and got out. He walked around the front of the car, carefully measuring his paces to the foot of the walk. He paused and looked at the house. Willow rolled down the window and tried not to be obvious when she slightly leaned through the opening. She saw that his posture was stiff, but that he seemed to radiate uncertainty while his head tilted slightly to the right, as if studying the run-down landscape. She wondered if that uncertainty was reflected in his face.

He hunched his shoulders as if walking into a stiff wind and finally placed a foot on the walkway after hesitating a few painful moments.

“Well look who’s come crawling home.”

Willow jumped slightly at the voice. She had been so intently studying Xander that she didn’t notice that Tony Harris was standing on the porch. Xander seemed equally startled by the relatively sudden appearance of his father.

Xander gave Willow a quick look over his shoulder before he turned back to the glowering man on the porch. “Ummm, no, I just—”

“We’re not letting you move back in,” Mr. Harris firmly stated.

Xander acted like he’d been slapped. “I wasn’t here to ask.” His voice was tight. “I just wanted—”

“What? Wanted what? You always want something.” Mr. Harris unsteadily stepped off the porch and meandered his way to his son.

Willow uncharitably wondered if Mr. Harris was already drunk before eight o’clock in the morning. Knowing what she now knew, she wouldn’t be surprised if that was the case.

Xander cleared his throat. “I just wanted to ask why.”

“‘Why’ what?” Mr. Harris demanded.

Xander took a tentative step back as his father stepped a little too close for comfort. “Why don’t you like me?” his voice was surprisingly strong considering the question.

Mr. Harris looked at the young man in front of him with something akin to surprise before breaking into a roaring laugh.

A half-dozen words of power that would set Mr. Harris on fire floated through Willow’s head. She clenched her hands in anger and willed her temper to settle before she went all black-eyed and vein-y on the man’s ass.

“I’m not making a joke,” Xander quietly said.

Mr. Harris clapped a hand on Xander’s shoulders with an air of bonhomie. Willow couldn’t help but notice that Xander startled a little at the contact.

“It’s a stupid question, boy,” Mr. Harris cheerfully said. “You’re blood, right? I have to like you. That’s how it works.”

“You have to—” Xander seemed to choke. “Why don’t you act like it?”

“What are you talking about?” Mr. Harris seemed genuinely confused. “Put a roof over your head, didn’t I? Let you rent the basement when you came crawling back broke and hungry. When you wanted to have your annual Christmas Eve camp out, no one stopped you, right?”

“You can’t seriously believe…You do understand that…” Xander seemed to be at an utter loss for words. “You get I only slept outside on Christmas Eve because you and mom were drunk and throwing things, right? You get that?” He seemed to be building up a head of steam fueled by frustration with the wobbly creature in front of him. “You do understand that when you…the way you’ve treated me….dogs get better treatment…”

“Hey, don’t get all righteous on me,” Mr. Harris snapped. “Who saved you from the clutches of the state? Me, that’s who.”

Willow flinched.

Xander greeted the statement with stunned silence.

“That’s right. Conveniently we forget. You were headed to juvie in a hand basket if I didn’t save your worthless ass.”

“And let me think,” Xander growled. “Why was I in the hands of the state? Why, look!” He swept his arm out to indicate his father. “Here’s half the reason why I was there. If mom were here, I’d have the other half.”

“Didn’t stop you from coming home, did it?” the elder Harris asked. “You should be grateful we accepted you back after all those lies you told about us.”

“Lies?” Xander’s voice was loaded with disbelief.

“Telling people we beat you. We did not beat you. We disciplined you when you got out of hand, which ain’t against any law.”

“Disciplined.”

Willow could hear Xander’s fury pounded into that one word.

“What, like you didn’t deserve it,” Mr. Harris snorted.

“So I had it coming.”

Willow desperately wanted to see the look on Xander’s face as he made this statement.

“Acting up, acting out, never could sit still, never did do what you were told,” Harris mumbled. “You were a demon child alright. You needed discipline.”

“Demon child.”

Willow winced at the fact that Xander chose precisely those two words to repeat. Some part of her wondered what, if anything, Xander’s father knew about the Sunnydale his son faced after dark.

“Not that it did any good,” Mr. Harris growled. “Lookitchya. You threw your future away because you couldn’t keep it together in high school. Flunked all of your classes. Ran around all hours of the night with those two chippies of yours.”

“You noticed?” Xander’s voice notched on the question.

“Knew you were involved in something fishy. Don’t look so surprised. Your mother noticed blood on your clothes and the foul-smelling shit that ruined more than one shirt. You think putting clothes on your back was cheap?”

“Since you got my clothes at Goodwill, yeah.”

Xander didn’t even see the right cross coming. Xander fell to the ground with a hard thump. He quickly scrambled to his feet while his father glowered.

Willow could see the senior Harris was working himself up to a towering rage and prepared to shoot out of the passenger side door. Xander held up a hand in a wave that telegraphed ‘stay put’ without sparing her a glance. Willow fought the urge to leave the car and grasped the edge of the open window in a claw-like grip. She was pretty sure her fingers would leave indentations in the silver chrome.

“That was uncalled for,” Xander said.

Willow was shocked that her friend’s tone was so calm. She expected something more like anger or hurt.

“And you pissing on your mother and me is uncalled for,” Mr. Harris retorted. “We did the best we could with what we had, but you just don’t want to see that.”

Xander hung his head. “I know it wasn’t easy.”

“Damn straight. We did everything for you. We gave up everything for you,” the elder Harris seemed to settle in for a long berating rant. “And what do we get in return? Nothing. Despite everything we did to keep a roof over your head and clothes on your back, you’re still a screw-up.”

“What?” Xander choked. “I’m the only one with a problem here? For the record, I think I’m doing pretty damn good for myself, all things considered.”

“Really.” Mr. Harris had a dangerous glint in his eye.

“I have a nice apartment and you do see the car, right?” Xander asked. “I have a good job, hell, I love my job and it pays pretty damn well. I haven’t been arrested, well, not arrested often. So all and all I really don’t see how I’m this big failure that you think I am.”

“Get laid recently?” the elder Harris interrupted.

Excuse me?”

Willow felt as shocked as Xander sounded by the question. She was ready to sell just about everything she owned to see the look on Xander’s face.

“Word gets around when a man leaves his intended at the altar and sticks his parents with the bill,” Mr. Harris said in a matter-of-fact tone.

“Fine.” Willow wanted to cry when she heard the defeated tone in Xander’s voice. “You’re right. When you’re right, you’re right. I shouldn’t have stuck you with the bill. So, I am paying you back every cent you paid for the wedding that wasn’t.”

“Which you’ll pay, when? After your mother and I are dead?” Mr. Harris snorted.

“Which I’ll pay now,” Xander firmly replied, pulling an envelope out of his back pocket. “It’s all here, plus interest, and in cash.”

Willow saw Xander hold the envelope out as a peace offering to his father. Said father snatched the envelope out of his hands and began counting the money with shaky hands.

“I want things to be right between us,” Xander quietly said. “So, are we square? Did I pay you everything that you believe I owe you?”

The elder Harris nodded. “Covers the wedding bills,” he agreed. “But you owe me a lot more than this.”

“You’re right again.”

Willow wanted to scream at Xander for caving in to his father so quickly.

“Glad you see it my way,” Mr. Harris said.

“I didn’t say what I owed you,” Xander sharply answered.

The tone forced Mr. Harris to blearily focus on his son and made Willow sit up and take notice. Something tells me this conversation is gonna get really interesting, she thought.

“I won’t get into what I owe you, but I will tell you what you owe me,” Xander continued. “You owe me a life without you in it, but thanks to genetics, history, and my last name I’ll never be rid of you completely. I’ll settle for you never making contact with me again.”

“What?”

Willow thought the shocked looked on Mr. Harris’s face as he asked the question was priceless.

“Here are the ground rules: I am out of your life, starting with the second I get into that car,” Xander calmly said. “You and mom are not to call me for any reason. I don’t care how bad your life gets. I want both of you to stay the hell away from my home. You see me on the street; you ignore me like I’m a stranger. I’m done with you, I’m done with mom, I’m done with your fighting, and I’m done with your drinking. I wash my hands of the pair of you. Neither one of you are worth the grief you give me.”

“Like you’ve never caused us grief.”

“Not saying I’m perfect boy, here,” Xander allowed. “I don’t wish me on anybody, but then again, I don’t wish you on anybody either. Hell, I can’t think of anyone who deserves the pair of you as parents.”

Willow jumped when she saw Mr. Harris swing again. She wondered if in his anger he had forgotten that his fist was holding the envelope full of money.

She strangled a cheer when she saw Xander catch his father’s wrist and hold it. Judging by the look on Mr. Harris’s face and the fact that he dropped the envelope, Xander’s grip probably hurt like hell.

“Right now, I want very, very much to show you what you’ve taught me about ‘discipline,’ but I won’t,” Xander gritted between his teeth. “Instead, I will thank you for being the fine example of being a husband and father that I will never, ever forget. Took me awhile to get it, but as you’ve pointed out on numerous occasions, I’m not the sharpest pencil in the box.”

Willow was pretty sure Xander must’ve squeezed his father’s wrist because Mr. Harris began clawing at Xander’s hand as he slowly sank to his knees.

“Are we done here? Because I feel like we’re done here,” Xander continued in a conversational tone. “The money is yours. Keep it. Consider it payment for that college-level education you gave me. Do with it what you want. Fix this dump, buy a car, move out of Sunnydale, hell, you and mom can drink yourselves to death for all I care. The important thing is, and I can’t stress this enough, stay away from me.”

Willow tensed when she saw Xander crouch down, still holding his father’s wrist in that iron grip. He bent into his father’s face, as if what he wanted to say was for the man’s ears alone. Willow concentrated to catch what Xander would say next.

“If it’ll help, you can pretend you didn’t drink that abortion money after all,” Xander quietly said in his father’s ear.

Willow winced in sympathetic emotional pain. She was pretty sure Xander didn’t mean for her to hear that.

Xander suddenly let go of his father and was on his feet. He paused a few seconds to look down on the stunned man before turning on his heel to head for the car. When he got to the front of car, he paused again and turned around. He watched a few moments while his father scrambled on the grass, chasing after the fluttering bills.

Willow felt a tickling in the back of her head and frowned as she tried to place it. The feeling wasn’t threatening, but it seemed, familiar? Half-forgotten?

She startled when the car door slammed and turned to face Xander, already reaching to put his keys in the ignition. The tickle turned into an electric buzz. “Hey, Xand. You okay?”

He gave the key a twist and favored her with a relieved smile.

Willow thought that she should be a surprised, given what she just witnessed. The surprising thing is that she wasn’t surprised.

“Yeah, Wills. I’m good.” Xander looked beyond her and the smile drained from his face while he witnessed his father staggering back to the house. The look wasn’t the cold mask of she saw a million years ago on the face of a 12-year-old boy; the barely contained rage of a 22-year-old trying to figure himself out; or the devastated expression of someone who had their defenses ripped away.

It was an expression that showed that somewhere, somehow, Xander had simply moved on. Good for him, Willow fiercely thought. Better for us.

Willow’s buzz turned into an electric current and that’s when it hit her. That’s when she knew what it meant.

It meant power.

She tightly focused her attention on Xander, trying to see something that simply couldn’t be seen. There was something going on, although she couldn’t be sure if it was a good thing or a bad thing. “Are you sure?” she ventured.

He startled out of his reverie and his face relaxed into characteristic smile. “Yeah,” he softly replied. He gave a last look at the weathered house of his teenaged years, the seedy lawn, and the ancient car parked in front. “Let’s go. There’s nothing left for me here,” he quietly added.

Willow felt the electric current fade to a buzz and then a tickle.

If you pushed—really, really pushed—Willow to describe the feeling as Xander pulled away from the curb and drove away she would admit this: leaving felt something like walking through a crossroads.

***

Closure the Present: Anya

“…I give you your faults.”
“My faults!” Meg cried.
“Your faults.”
“But I’m always trying to get rid of my faults!”
“Yes,” Mrs. Whatsit said. “However, I think you’ll find they’ll come in very handy…”
--
A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle

 

Xander sat on a bench in the park, enjoying the sunshine as he idly watched a group of kids play tag on the grass. Nothing like the daytime, even if sunlight didn’t always mean safety.

Out in the park, one boy tackled another in an effort to make his playmate ‘it.’ The pair rolled around on the grass, engaging in a playful wrestling match. Xander started giggling as he watched the two boys try to get the upper hand, only to have a girl march over and forcefully separate them by threatening to give them girl cooties.

He’d never seen two boys separate so fast or look so contrite. Well, it is a dire threat, Xander allowed. Boys, the day’s gonna come when you’re gonna want girl cooties, unless one or both of you prefer the company of men. Notthatthere’sanythingwrongwiththat.

A Frisbee sailed in the middle of the trio, nearly bonking the threatening girl on the head. She turned to glare at a younger boy chasing the disc. He shrugged a careless apology and clumsily threw it to a man before tearing after the airborne toy.

The Frisbee came nowhere near the adult, even though he dove in the direction of the disc in the effort to catch it. The disc landed and aimlessly rolled on the grass while the man laughed and shouted, “Good shot! Going to get an arm on you yet!”

Xander knew the grin on his own face could never match the boy’s bright smile at this complement. Heh. Note to self: Make sure to play Frisbee with my own kids someday.

The grin quickly disappeared. “Where the hell did that thought come from?” Xander whispered.

{i’d say it came from inside your head} the whisper dryly commented.

But I don’t want kids! Do I? The whole fatherhood thing kinda freaks me out.

{helloooooo, 22, remember? the fatherhood thing should freak you out right now.} Xander could swear he could hear the whisper chuckling. {but at least you’re allowing for the possibility, and that’s a fine start.}

“The line ends with me,” Xander whispered as the breeze ruffled his hair. “I don’t have the heart.”

{you of all people know that everything can change.} the whisper cheerfully scolded. {personally, i think you’ve got the makings of being a good father.}

Which seems to be as rare in Sunnydale as a living mother in a Disney kiddie cartoon. Xander sighed. Still, wouldn’t be so bad, having a family of my own. I think, well, I think I could do it. All I have to do is think of my own parents and do the exact opposite.

{that’s the spirit!} the whisper cheered.

“My, Great One, we are in a cheerful mood today,” Xander mumbled. “What’s the cause? My embracing the possibility of continuing the luckless Harris line shouldn’t be giving you the big happy.”

{oh, but it does} the whisper said.

“Why?”

{because it means that you’ve figured out that you’re not your father, or your mother for that matter.} the whisper happily sighed.

“As long as you’re around to guide me,” Xander teased. He was struck by the strangeness of his situation. He could swear the whisper was having fun with him, something that had simply never happened in his lifetime.

He was surprised by the answer. {no.}

Xander sat up. “No?”

{no. i have to go away now}

“Go?”

{because you don’t really need me anymore.}

“What?” Xander almost fell of the bench in surprise. “But…but…who’s going to help me? If it wasn’t for you—”

{you’re going to help you.} the whisper interrupted. {just like you always have.}

“Hunh?”

{god, you really are dense, aren’t you?} the whisper seemed to grin. {want to know what i look like? look in the mirror, kid.}

“Not possible. No way. You’re smarter than me,” Xander quietly protested. He panicked. What the hell was he going to do without his whisper?

The whisper sighed. {time will prove me right. trust me on this. have i ever steered you wrong?}

No. “But why?”

{you don’t need me anymore, so i have to go.} the whisper was silent. {you’ll be fine. now you have to learn to trust yourself.}

And with that, the whisper was gone. Xander didn’t know how he knew it. He just knew.

He blinked in the sunlight, uncertain about how he felt.

“Hey, Harris. Seat taken?”

Xander startled and saw Anya standing next to the bench. She coolly regarded him. Xander gestured without a word to the empty space next to him.

The ex-vengeance demon gave him a relieved smile and plopped onto the bench. “I needed to get out of the shop for lunch and saw you sitting here,” she explained. She casually added, “So, how are you doing?”

“Fine, I think.”

“Yes, it was a very difficult night last night, wasn’t it?” Anya sighed, putting a book on the bench next to her. Xander noted the title: Grimm’s Grimmest. “The past few weeks have been difficult.” She slyly looked at him. “Although I’m beginning to suspect it was a walk in hell for you.”

Xander convulsively swallowed. “What do you know?”

Anya waved her hand. “No worries. Willow didn’t tell me your little secret and whatever Buffy knows, she’s not sharing, but I think I can make one or two educated guesses.” Anya studied him a moment and quietly asked, “Why didn’t you tell me?”

Xander looked away, sightlessly watching the kids playing on the grass. He could hear Anya’s lunch bag rustle. After a brief pause, a half of a sandwich was thrust under his nose. “Have you eaten?” she asked.

Xander took the food and muttered, “Thanks.” He took a bite out of it and slowly chewed.

“You don’t want to talk about it,” Anya said. “Fair enough. I just want you to know that if you do ever want to…well…talk about it, I mean, you can talk to me.”

“It’s hard to explain, Ahn.” Xander focused hard on the food in his hand. “I don’t know if you’d really want to understand.”

“I understand a lot more than you think.”

Xander whipped his head around to face her and met with Anya’s bird-bright eyes. She seemed to be studying him with something akin to professional interest. She gave him a half-smile. “I don’t know if we’ll ever be friends, Xander, but I’m willing to go for cordial. We’ll see where it goes from there. Deal?”

Xander let out a relieved smile. “Best deal I’ve had in my entire life,” he sincerely replied.

***

Closure the Future: Buffy

MORPHEUS: Oh, but it is true. Things need not have happened to be true. Tales and dreams are the shadow-truths that will endure when mere facts are dust and ashes, and forgot.
--Sandman: Dream Country, Neil Gaiman

 

“Buffy! Ya here and without my favorite customer,” Dolly greeted.

“I’m actually waiting for Xander, but I wanted to talk to you alone first,” Buffy replied.

Dolly put the cup on the table and looked at Buffy expectantly. “Fire away.”

Buffy took a deep breath. “Did you ever wish you make a difference? I mean, really make a difference?”

“Wishes are funny things,” Dolly mused as poured coffee into Buffy’s cup. “When I was a kid, I wished that somewhere, somehow I could help people. I wanted to give people happy endings.”

“Well, you sort of help people,” Buffy replied. “You’re kind of a psychotherapist. And you really were an angel of mercy in helping us out. Plus, lots of demons real and personal have been defeated, so, see? Happy endings all around.”

Dolly grinned. “Are you offering me a job?”

“Kinda. Sorta,” Buffy allowed. “Not in a fighting evil capacity. More like a listening for evil capacity.”

“Oh?”

Buffy took a breath. “You said yourself that almost everyone in town comes in here sooner or later. Now that you know the score, you could discreetly give us the heads up if you hear anything that sounds off.”

“You don’t strike me as someone who invites people into her club just willy-nilly. Why do I suspect Xander came up with that little idea?” Dolly seemed amused.

“It was Xander’s idea,” Buffy admitted. “But it’s a good one. It’ll keep you out of the line of fire. I mean, Xander’s in here almost every day, so you could discreetly drop him a note or whisper in his ear without anyone really noticing. At the same time it gives us another way to gather information about anything new or weird.”

“Because bad things are a comin’,” Dolly mused. “From beneath you it devours and all that. I’ve seen the signs and heard the rumors.”

Buffy raised her eyebrows in surprise. “How do you know about—”

Dolly cut the Slayer off with a wave of her hand as she suddenly sat down across the table from the blonde. “I’m tempted to take you up on your offer, but I’m committed to another cause.”

“Are you?” Buffy’s voice was hard.

“I know what you’re thinking, but you’re thinking wrong,” Dolly said. “I’m not for apocalypses. I think they’re a bad idea because it never means anything good for humans or for us.” She sighed. “Too bad D’Hoffryn is taking such a short-sighted position, but he’s the boss, so what can you do?”

“D’Hoffryn,” Buffy repeated, blood running cold. She desperately wished she had weapons with her.

“I won’t tell you my real name and I won’t show you my real face,” Dolly said. “And don’t think to attack me, because I’ll teleport myself out of here before you solve the final mystery in this particular story.”

“Mystery? What mystery?”

“Like I said, wishes are very funny things,” Dolly said, ignoring Buffy’s question. “One of my favorite musicals is Into the Woods. Sondheim. ‘Careful the things you say…Careful the tale you tell…Careful the wish you make…Careful the spell you cast…’ Pure genius. Man knows how the world works.” Dolly grinned. “My favorite part of the play is the Cinderella part. He even got the ending of the story right at the end of the first act with birds pecking out the eyes of the stepsisters and stepmother. I love that kind of attention to detail. Shows the man did his research.”

“We’re talking about a play?” Buffy was incredulous. “What does this have to do with anything?”

“It has everything to do with everything,” Dolly chided. “Stories are important. Stories are always important. It doesn’t matter where you find them, whether it’s in fairytales, plays, movies, television, or comics.” She happily sighed again, eyes dreamy as she inwardly focused happy memories. “But my favorite story always was and always will be Cinderella.”

“Why? It’s just another chick getting rescued by a handsome prince,” Buffy huffed. She couldn’t believe that she was getting into a debate over freakin’ fairytales with a vengeance demon.

Dolly shook her head and grumbled, “Disney has sooooo much to answer for.” She refocused on Buffy, smile playing around her eyes. “People miss the point of Cinderella. Cinderella wasn’t looking for her prince charming. Cinderella wasn’t looking for rescue. She only wanted to go to the ball. She wanted to be seen and accepted for who she was.”

“I don’t get it.”

Dolly sighed as if she were dealing with a particularly obtuse child. “The point of Cinderella is that Cinderella’s wish was to change herself into someone who was strong, clever, and courageous. Once she did that, everything finally fell into place. Do you understand?”

“I’m not sure.”

Dolly shook her head and chuckled. “It doesn’t matter, really. The point is I do. Cinderella is one of my favorite clients.”

“Client?” Buffy asked.

“Client.” Dolly answered. She gave Buffy a knowing wink. “The problem with other vengeance demons is that they fail to understand the importance of stories. And the wishes! Half the time when a vengeance demon grants a wish they kill the people they’re trying to help. I like to root for a happy ending when it comes to my people.”

Buffy blinked. Dolly the vengeance demon as fairy godmother. It just did not compute. “Does D’Hoffryn know you’re doing this?”

Dolly waved her hands dismissively. “D’Hoffryn doesn’t care, just so long as wishes are creative, violence is involved, and blood is shed.” Dolly smiled and Buffy shivered as the not-a-waitress added, “And blood is always shed.” She sat back and impassively regarded the Slayer before adding, “Doesn’t matter who or what bleeds, by the way. D’Hoffryn’s an equal opportunity pain enjoyer in that way. Plus, if tales of your deeds make it to the human world you get mucho brownie points.”

“Are there other stories that involve you?” Buffy asked.

“There are many others, some of them very old school Grimm,” Dolly nodded happily. “Won’t tell you where you can find them. I’ll just let you guess. Think of it as a game.”

“So why are you here?” Buffy swallowed hard. “Why did you help us?”

Dolly shrugged. “Why not? I was in town to help a client and it just happened to be your luck that helping you served my purposes. Not all wishes can happen at the snap of a finger, you know. When you get a Cinderella wish, the kind of wish where someone wishes to change himself, those wishes take time. Years even.”

Buffy’s ears perked up at something Dolly said. “Himself?”

Dolly regarded Buffy. “No harm in telling now since it’s over. Imagine, if you will, a 6-year-old boy—”

“Sounds like the beginning of a Twilight Zone episode,” Buffy remarked. Her eyes narrowed. “Another hint about where I can find stories about your adventures?”

“Maybe,” Dolly chuckled. “Pay attention. This is important. This 6-year-old boy had just gotten a beating on his birthday because—and get this—because he was afraid of a clown.”

“Afraid of a—” Buffy stopped. Her eyes widened. “Xander.”

Dolly happily grinned. “Awww, you guessed the surprise ending. I guess you don’t want to hear the rest, then.”

“Tell me,” Buffy spit. “Tell me what you did to him.”

“Calm down. I didn’t do anything.” Dolly regarded Buffy with amusement. “But since you asked so politely, I’ll give you the highlights. After this beating, the worst he ever got by the way, the useless drunks fell in with some friends that insisted on a lot of bar hopping. That meant they needed a cheap babysitter. For cheap, read ‘free.’”

“And you were that babysitter,” Buffy deadpanned.

“New teenage girl just moved into the neighborhood offering free babysitting samples in hopes of eventually getting hired for pay, at your service.” Dolly mimed a curtsey while remaining seated.

“Clever.”

“I thought so,” Dolly said. “Anyway, the cheap bastards jumped on the chance, so I got to baby-sit a certain boy for a solid week.”

“Which you used to trick him into making a wish.”

“There was no trickery involved,” Dolly countered. “I just brought up the possibility that if he made a wish that wish would come true. Then I asked that if he could ask for anything, anything at all, what he would wish for.”

“What did he say?” Buffy found herself sitting on the edge of her seat.

Dolly became thoughtful. “His initial answer was, well, interesting. He asked if he could think about it. Apparently his class the week before had read about King Midas. What he got out of that story was that wishes had to be carefully worded to get what you want.”

“How frustrating for you,” Buffy remarked with a wicked grin.

“Not at all,” Dolly said. “I like wishes that are well thought out. They tend to be so much more creative. Needless to say, I figured that just like any kid he’d wish to change his parents, or wish for new ones or, hell, simply wish them dead. Wishes like that? I only get to paint the town blood red and that’s simply no fun.” She stopped, a small smile tugging at the corner of her lips. “What I actually got was a pleasant surprise.”

“Xander made a wish.” Buffy felt sick.

“You knew that going into the story, so stop acting all disappointed. Besides, you haven’t even heard the wish,” Dolly snapped.

“Go on.”

“The next night I asked him if he thought about and he said he had.” Dolly practically vibrated with excitement. “Do you know what he wished for? C’mon. Guess.”

“I can’t even hazard a one.”

“Awww, you’re no fun.” Dolly fake-pouted. “He wished, and I quote, ‘When I grow up, I don’t want be someone like my parents and drink a lot and hurt people on purpose.’”

Buffy’s jaw dropped. “Cinderella.”

“Cinderella. Now you’re getting it,” Dolly happily nodded. “Granted it wasn’t the most precisely worded wish, but the intent was pretty clear. It also meant that I had a lot of work to do. Plus, I had to let time pass so he’d actually forget making the wish in the first place. Waiting to set things in motion is always the hardest part.”

“You caused the fire that got him out of the house,” Buffy said with wonder.

“That was me!” Dolly cheerfully volunteered.

Buffy’s eyes narrowed. “You put him in the path of the suicide demons.”

“Yup, me there, too,” Dolly said. “Unlike Anyanka and all the others, I wasn’t willing to take their disappearance at face value so I did some investigating because you never know when little-known-truths can serve your cause.”

“He could’ve died!” Buffy exploded.

“Shhhhh. Keep your voice down,” Dolly warned. “You’re not thinking over the long term. If Xander never crossed paths with the deChantals, he never would’ve been willing to believe in vampires.”

“But he forgot.”

Consciously he forgot. Subconsciously? Don’t bet on it.”

“Wait, wait. Anya said that you wouldn’t grant the wishes of children who willingly went back into the arms of their abusers,” Buffy frowned. “Xander did that. Twice. So why stay involved?”

“All part of the plan.”

“The plan?” Buffy had a feeling she wasn’t going to like hearing about the plan.

“Why, Buffy, my dear, he had to come home to Sunnydale so he could meet you.”

“To meet—” Buffy stopped. “Are you responsible for me coming to Sunnydale? Are you responsible for everything that ever happened to us? How much did Xander’s wish alter reality anyway?”

“So many questions, so little time,” Dolly laughed. “Don’t worry, Buffy. I did no altering of reality. Your story is your story. You were meant to become the Slayer and come to Sunnydale and so you did. Willow’s story is Willow’s story. She was meant to befriend you and she was meant to become a very powerful witch and so she did. Anyanka’s story is Anyanka’s story. She was meant to loose her powers at least once because of carelessness and so she did. The only difference is that it wasn’t supposed to be Sunnydale. I just whispered the right words into Halfrek’s ear so Anyanka would be tempted come here.”

“So what did you do?”

“All I did was made sure that Xander’s story intersected with yours and stayed connected with Willow’s. Any and all reality-altering was done because all of you and the people with whom you came in contact made their own decisions, good and bad. Xander didn’t have to volunteer to join your fight. You didn’t have to befriend both Willow and Xander. Anyanka didn’t have to grant Cordelia’s wish or fall in love with Xander. See?”

“So you did no major meddling in reality, then,” Buffy was suspicious. “You just made sure he was in the right place at the right time or the wrong place at the right time.”

“Almost everything I did involved just a little tweaking here and there, like making sure Xander came across the deChantals, Xander being in the library to overhear your conversation with Giles about being the Slayer your first day at school, things like that,” Dolly said. “I just made it easier for him to hear or see certain things. Any decision he made, any action he took, he did of his own free will with no help or manipulation from me.”

Dolly paused and thoughtfully looked at Buffy. “I like you, girl. So I’ll admit one thing. I did interfere directly with his life last year. It was the only time I did it outside of the fire when he was twelve and my helping you with the deChantals.”

“What was it?”

“Remember the wedding?”

“The wedding? Xander’s wedding?”

“I sprung Anyanka’s former victim from his hell dimension and gave him the glass bauble so Xander could see the not-so-false future in store for him.”

“What did he see?” Buffy pressed. “What lies did you—”

“Not lies. Reality. A future where Xander really did become his father.”

Knowing what she now knew, Buffy wanted to cry. “Why?”

“Because he wasn’t ready yet,” Dolly explained. She sadly sighed. “At first I thought I screwed the pooch there. I almost lost him in the aftermath. He started drinking heavily and he was resorting more and more to violence as a first resort. I was almost certain he was going to fail. I hate it when my people fail, but what can you do?”

“What changed?”

“Willow turned it around, bless her screwed up psyche,” Dolly chuckled.

“You didn’t cause Willow to go bad, did you?” Buffy’s tone had taken on that hard edge again.

“Free will. Remember? What Willow did, she did all on her own. I just watched.” Dolly was cheerful as she delivered this news. “My boy pulled through in the end and that’s what counts as far as I’m concerned.”

“Are you saying Willow going bad saved Xander?” Buffy’s head was beginning to spin.

“Nope, despite what he did, getting his wish wasn’t a lock. Not by a long shot.” Dolly nodded. “It just put him back on the right path to finally face his fears about himself.”

Buffy shook her head. Dolly had given too much information. She wasn’t sure if she could process it all. Then a thought struck her. “Wait, wait. I just thought of something. You do realize that you’ve just contradicted yourself, don’t you?” Buffy asked.

“How so?”

“First off, you’ve basically said that even though Xander made the wish, the wish might not come true,” Buffy said. “Secondly, if you weren’t directly interfering in Xander’s life, well, not interfering much, he could’ve been killed at any time, which negates your whole ‘I want a happy ending for my people’ mantra.”

“True and true,” Dolly quietly admitted, a hint of sadness in her voice. “If vengeance is all you want, then vengeance is all you’ll ever get. When someone dares to hope for something better and they turn that wish on themselves, the rules change. There’s no magic wand, no snap of a finger, no word of power, no twitch of a nose, and certainly no demon that can grant that kind of wish. I can hint, nudge, poke, and prod, but the ending, good or bad, do or die, is up to them. They have to be willing to face danger, bloodshed, and death. That’s the rules of any story. I mean, what’s the point of getting a happy ending if it’s easy?”

Buffy looked down the street, not terribly certain about how she should react. If Dolly was telling the truth, all she did was manipulate events to give a certain 6-year-old boy a chance to avoid his most likely fate. Said boy did the rest.

“Hey! Some of my favorite women are here!”

Buffy startled. She looked over her shoulder to see Xander standing behind her and smiling his broadest, goofiest, happiest, ain’t-life-grand grin.

“Xander! So glad to see ya back to your fine self,” Dolly exclaimed. Buffy turned to face the not-really-a-waitress. The disguised vengeance demon had that bright smile, the kind that could light up rooms, guide airplanes down runways, and bring ships lost at sea into safe harbors.

Xander cocked his head, his grin not dimming one jot. “So, did Buffy ask you?”

“She did, hun,” Dolly nodded. “But, I can’t take up the mantle, much as I wanna. See, I gotta move on.”

Xander’s expression faltered. He was clearly disappointed. “Oh, I’m sorry. Is it because—”

“No, no. Don’t blame yourself,” Dolly waved her hand cheerfully. “It’s a planned move, just happened sooner than I expected.”

“Good things?” Xander asked.

Dolly stood up, straightened her apron, and said, “Great things. My promise to you.”

Buffy watched this exchange through wondering eyes. Clueless Xander was simply being Xander, chatting up the waitress he’d come to know and like. Dolly? Well, she seemed to express a certain fondness for a client that somehow became a friend. Buffy wasn’t sure, but she was willing to bet that Cinderella was going to get a run for her money in the favorite client category.

Dolly stopped fiddling with her apron, took two steps up to Xander and lightly brushed her lips against his cheek in a sweet kiss.

Xander blinked in surprise as he regarded Dolly. “What was that for?” he asked.

Dolly smiled her blinding smile. “Alexander LaVelle Harris? Wish granted.”

She turned, walked away, and disappeared into the crowd.

It’s not giving anything away by saying that Xander and his descendents never saw her or her like again.

“What just happened?” Xander asked.

“Xander, I think you better sit down,” Buffy quietly said.

“Why?”

Buffy thought a moment. “I have a fairytale that I have to tell you, but I think it’ll take awhile.”

Xander dropped into the chair Dolly vacated. “Oh?”

“I think you’ll like this one because I think it ends with happily ever after, well, maybe not happily, but happier ever after.”

“Okay,” Xander slowly said, uncertain about what would next come out of Buffy’s mouth. He had a feeling that his day was going to get even stranger.

A warm happy smile began to form on Buffy’s face. She wanted to laugh. She wanted to shout. She wanted to throw her arms around Xander in a bone-crushing hug and tell him that fairytales were real and that fairy godmothers come in the most surprising packages.

That sometimes the blood and pain between the beginning and the end of the story really is worth the heartache.

“Buffy?” Xander prompted, worry etched on his face.

“There are some really cool things in this fairytale,” she began. A cool breeze cheerfully whispered in Buffy’s ear and she fought the urge to giggle. “It comes complete with all the classics: vengeance, assorted monsters, villagers in distress, perilous missions, unlikely allies, a wise man, a gypsy, a queen, a changeling, witches, werewolves, a key, a superhero or three, and—this is the most important part—a white knight tilting at windmills and beating the odds.”

“Sounds complicated.”

“You have no idea.” Buffy cleared her throat and began the story. “Once upon a time…”

 

For author’s notes go here.

END

 

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