The Devil's Best Trick
Joss owns them, and after "The Gift", we must trust that he knows what he’s doing. Oh, and the sharp-eyed among you may recognize characters owned by DC Comics, and created by Neil Gaiman.
This is my alternate take on how things go after the season five cliffhanger from Hell. Spoilers for "The Gift". Duh. Shout out to Mad-Hamlet for advice, inspiration, and one kick-ass epilogue.
Want, take, have.
Yes please. JDMeans@aol.com
The Slayer’s final sacrifice was just the end of Act 1.
The Devil’s Best Trick
"The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist."
—Kevin Spacey, "The Usual Suspects"
She remembered standing on the scaffold.
Her enemy was defeated, but the damage had been done. Her sister’s blood had been spilled. Her enemy had used that blood to unleash Hell. The portal her enemy had opened threatened all creation. There was only one way to stop it.
She looked at her sister one last time. She knew what was going to happen, what she had to do, and she prayed that Giles would be there to look after her. The realization that she would never see her again tore at her heart, but there was no other way.
Her death was her gift to her sister. To her friends. To the world.
She said a final goodbye to her sister. She thought of Willow. She took comfort that her beloved would survive.
She dived off the scaffold, and plummeted into the portal.
She held onto the power, and let it course through her, until her body couldn’t stand another jolt. And still she hung on. All the pain in the world wracked her frame, fried her synapses, stopped her heart, but still she held on. She held on for a few seconds, a few moments.
She held on for the rest of her life.
And she fell...
And she fell...
There is a world where we spend a third of our lives. It is the world where we live when we are asleep. It is the realm of the Dreaming. Dreams are born here, and dreamers venture on the shores of the Dreaming every night.
It was here where Dream, alias Morpheus, held his power. But even the lord of the Dreaming was on occasion disturbed from his sleep.
"Morpheus!" a slim, pale skinned young woman dressed in a white silk tank top and leather pants shouted as she barged into the palatial home of the lord of the Dreaming. "I need some help here!"
Dream strode down the stairs of his ever-changing main hallway, inhumanly thin and regal, his skin chalk white, his eyes like obsidian spheres. "What brings you here, my sister?" he greeted the interloper.
"I’m sorry, bro," the goth-chick answered hastily, fingering the large silver ankh pendant she constantly wore around her neck. "But I need some help here. Someone’s soul is out there, untethered from her body."
"What is it to me?" Morpheus brushed his sister’s statement aside. "The souls of the departed are your domain, not mine."
Death shook her head, trying to explain her plight. "She wasn’t meant to die at this time. She is a powerful force for good in the world, and her time hadn’t come yet."
Dream turned and regarded his sister with a jaded yet concerned eye. "You have never requested my help in restoring a lost soul, Death. This one must be important indeed. What do you want of me?"
"I can locate the soul, and anchor it to the world somehow," Death answered, "but her desire to live must be restored. All I need from you, brother, is a dream..."
"Wake up, Ice Princess," a hand jostled her from her sleep, and she opened her eyes reluctantly. "You’re already in the doghouse with Coach Stevens about being late for rehearsal." Buffy Anne Summers roused from her bed, stretched herself, and vaguely tried to recall that bizarre dream that had disturbed her. Something about a madwoman named Glory. And a Key.
She dressed, selecting the red satin unitard for her routine. She smiled at her roommate, saying, "Let’s do it, Tara."
"Right behind you," her colleague answered. Buffy hadn’t really made friends with the others in the skater’s tour, but that didn’t bother her. They respected each other, that’s all that mattered. That, and the show.
The dress rehearsal began, as the skaters prepared for their trial entrances. She assumed her pose, as the P. A. announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, presenting the heroines of the 1998 Winter Olympics at Nagano, Japan, Bronze medallist Michelle Kwan!" The Asian-American glided out onto the rink. "Silver medallist Tara Lipinski!" The sprightly blond teen took her place beside Michelle. "And Gold medal winner, Buffy Anne Summers!" Buffy skated out with speed, grace and confidence, finishing with a neat double axle before standing between her two teammates. "Show off," Michelle commented acidly.
The rehearsal went off without a hitch, until Buffy glanced at the almost-empty stands. She saw someone, a dowdy young woman in a gray sweater and faded jeans. The red of her hair caught her eye, stirring a strange memory. Something about that hair, those sad green eyes, a presence that haunted the Skater...
She lost her concentration and collided with the wall. Coach Stevens threw his hands up in defeat, as he cut the rehearsal short and called for Buffy to meet him.
Buffy glared hard at her coach, who wanted nothing more than to take her down a peg. "Summers," he said gruffly, "I want you off the program tonight. You’ve obviously got something else on your mind, I won’t have you endangering yourself in front of an audience. Get yourself killed on your own time."
"What are you talking about, Stevens?" Buffy said angrily. "I’m the top draw for tonight’s show, you know that. You can’t just take me off the line-up!"
"Can and did, Buffy," he answered. "Check your contract, you’ll find I can do that. Besides, your star’s been falling ever since that little snafu with your clothing line for Wal-Mart."
"How the hell was I supposed to know the company was using slave labor?" she shouted.
"You put your name on the product, Summers," he chuckled mirthlessly, "you should have found out something about the company. You’re not as loved as you seem to think you are. Not by the public, nor by your fellow stars. In fact, once this leg of the tour is over, I want you to clear out your things. You’re finished with this tour."
Buffy’s eyes bored into him, but he remained unmoving. She had been aware of her waning popularity on the skating circuit, but hadn’t thought it was that bad. She gave Stevens her middle finger, hissing, "Why wait for this leg to finish? I’ll clear out now! I quit, asshole!"
"I have no problem with that," Stevens answered tonelessly. He had taken his fill of that primadonna’s bellyaching. And from the complaints that her fellow skaters had filed against her, he wasn’t alone. Buffy wasn’t even the star draw anymore, as the more personable Michelle and Tara had taken the spotlight.
Buffy Summers’ star had faded. Her fifteen minutes were up. She would not be missed.
When Buffy emptied her locker and grabbed her things, she glanced around the stadium one last time, looking for the woman in the stands. The stands were now empty, save for janitors and stadium security. She glanced back at Michelle, who was rehearsing a new routine with Scott Hamilton. Her fellow skaters didn’t even have time to say goodbye. If they did, she realized, they wouldn’t make the effort.
The now unemployed skater couldn’t shake that image of a red haired woman in the stands out of her head. She felt that she should know her, that this woman was important to her in a primal way that she couldn’t understand. The redhead had stirred something deep in her, something that she didn’t understand.
But she didn’t have time to deal in abstracts. She had to call her agent. She pulled a cell-phone out of her purse and started to dial. As she walked with the phone in her hand, she didn’t pay attention, and neatly tripped over a homeless man sitting on the sidewalk.
"HEY!" the homeless man shouted at her. "Watch where you’re frickin’ goin’!" Buffy turned around to say something nasty to the stranger who shouted drunkenly at her. She was about to tell him off, to shout back at him, when she looked at him for the first time. Really looked at him.
The chocolate-brown eyes, the wavy black hair, the face that was meant to laugh, to smile.
A name came unbidden to her mind. Xander. Xander Harris.
And the red-haired woman she saw running from the arena. Willow Rosenberg.
She stumbled backward, trying not to faint, flailing desperately for something to hold her up. This wasn’t right. This wasn’t her world, it couldn’t be. She never met these people before, she didn’t live her, but she knew who these people were. She knew that the homeless man was a capable construction worker and a friend who would defend her with his last breath. And the timid young woman was a powerful witch with a strength that few could imagine.
But the redhead was a mousy woman, scared of her own shadow. And the young man a homeless wretch. This wasn’t right, a voice in her head screamed. This isn’t who you are, Buffy Summers!
Buffy ran. That’s all she could manage somehow. She had to get away from the homeless man, from the mousy woman. She ran. Unheeding of her surroundings she ran. She ran until her legs threatened to give out, until her lungs almost burst from the exertion. She ran until she literally couldn’t run any further. She then collapsed, her arms over cold marble, her breath in short gasps. Having the strength for nothing else, she wept.
"What the hell are you doing here?"
The voice shouting at her stirred her from her anguish. She looked around, surveying her surroundings. A cemetery. She glanced back to the marble she had been leaning against. A tombstone. She found herself reading the inscription on the stone, and blanched at the sight;
1961 -- 2001
"Mom," she whispered, as she staggered to her feet. "My God, Mom!"
"I’m sure she’d be flattered that you remembered," the angry voice behind her spat out at her. Buffy spun on her heel to see her accuser. Dawn Summers stood there, a rose in her hand. Buffy wanted to hold her in her arms, to assure herself that she wasn’t going insane. But the cold glare from Dawn’s eyes made it clear that she would not allow Buffy to touch her, now or ever.
"Where the hell were you when they buried her?" Dawn asked as she bent down to place the rose on the grave. "Hell, where were you when she was dying? She cried out your name on her deathbed, but you weren’t there!"
"Dawn!" Buffy cried out, "I’m sorry, I had no idea!"
"Yeah, well too damn late!" Dawn shot back at her. "You wanted to be rid of her, of all of us! You weren’t there for any of us, not when Mom and Dad broke up, not when we moved her to Sunnyhell! The only thing that mattered to you was your damn Olympic skating! Yeah, well congratulations, Buffy! You got your damn medal, your ice shows, your name up in lights!"
"That’s not what I wanted, Dawn," Buffy wailed as she tried to take her sister’s arm. "I want what we had, what we were. I’m sorry, Dawn. For everything."
Dawn stood before Buffy for five seconds, the only sound heard being the rustling of poplar leaves around the cemetery. Dawn then glowered at Buffy, and her hand flew hard into Buffy’s face.
"All I want out of you, Buffy Summers," Dawn yelled, "is to know that you will never contact me as long as I live. You got out of my life, Buffy. Stay out!" Dawn ran away from Buffy, and all the former medallist could do was watch her leave forever.
Buffy stood alone in the cemetery, her desolation consuming her. Her mother was dead. Her sister despised her. Her career as a professional skater was, for what little it was, over. And she had not the slightest idea who she was.
"Well, well, well," a mellow voice intoned around her. "Isn’t this just lovely?" Buffy lifted her head, her cheek red from her sister’s slap, and beheld the figure standing before her. An attractive woman with chestnut hair, wearing a silken red dress. Her bearing and her manner spoke of a sense of superiority, and the gleam in her eyes spoke of a strange form of madness.
"Who are you?" Buffy asked the stranger.
The stranger laughed heartily at the sad young blond. "Who am I? Why don’t you start with figuring out who you are, then work your way up from there?"
"What are you doing here?"
"I’m just watching you fall apart, little skater," the woman smiled. "So this is how a celebrity falls. You strive hard, sacrificing family and friends, all that ever mattered to you in life, to achieve the highest honor you can aspire to, then bang, your fifteen minutes are up and you spend the rest of your life trying to recapture your former glory."
Glory. That one word stirred something in Buffy’s memory. She glared at her nemesis, for she knew that’s what this strange woman was, and smiled. "You’re Glory. You’re the one who tried to kill my sister! You used her blood to open a portal to Hell, to open the Hellmouth!"
Glory cast a puzzling look at Buffy. "Hellmouth? Oh, yes, that little delusion of yours. You think I’m real, you think I’m standing right in front of you. Got a secret to tell you, Buffy," she giggled. "It’s all in your mind, Buffy. I’m not here."
"But you are here," Buffy denied the woman feebly. "I can’t be imagining all this!"
"Oh but you are, my child," Glory scoffed the disturbed young woman. "I mean, how else do I know you so well? I’m just a part of your little delusion. That’s all this is, after all. Your little fantasy world where you no longer have to look at the miserable person you are. You’re not just a former athlete, a struggling talent on the professional circuit, but a great hero. The Chosen One, the Slayer. Trust me, dollface, no one would have chosen you for anything!"
"Look at yourself," Glory continued, taunting the fallen young woman, "a twenty-year-old woman who achieves success for a short period, but now struggles to relive that moment where you actually succeeded in life. A woman who gave up family and friends to make it to the Gold, only to find that they moved on without her, that she is no longer welcome in their lives. The day your mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor, you were giving a press conference discussing your joining the Stars On Ice tour. The day she went under the knife, you were making arrangements to sell clothes with your name on them at Wal-Mart. The day she died, you were in court, denying that you knew about the slave labor that was making your clothing. You’ve become nothing but a shallow, spiteful person, living on your former fame. And you hate that. You hate the loneliness, the solitude, the knowledge that no one would miss you if you died right now." Each hateful word cut into her heart, for she knew that they were the truth. She had accomplished nothing, and now she never would.
"You still have that knife in your purse, don’t you?" Glory asked soothingly. Buffy nodded blankly, taking the razor sharp knife out of her purse. "No one will care, you know. Just one quick swipe over the wrist, and it’ll be all over." Buffy dumbly took the knife’s handle in her right hand, and held the blade over her left wrist. She closed her eyes, and felt a strange peace steal over her. Soon, there would be nothing. No one would really mourn, no one would remember her. And Dawn would finally put her hatred behind her.
Dawn. Her sister.
A child who only existed because of magic.
Buffy slowly let go of the blade, letting it clatter to the ground. She looked at the dark form of Glory, taking a grim satisfaction at watching the triumphant smile fade from her face. A thousand memories flooded her mind, assailed her soul. Dark and light, joy and sorrow, all revealed themselves in Buffy’s mind. And all these memories, Buffy knew to be true, and with that knowledge came epiphany. There was only one reaction that Buffy could envision.
She laughed almost hysterically. "Oh, hohoho, nice try, Glory. You almost had me there. But this world, this is the lie. My world is the truth. And in my world, Glory," Buffy shouted out at her enemy, "you’re dead!"
Glory snarled at Buffy, shouting back at her, "Well, so are you! Remember, you died to shut the portal I created!"
"I can live with that," Buffy stated simply.
Glory screamed with rage, her final effort to destroy the Slayer’s soul ending in failure. She raised her arms over her head, her hands balled into fists, and the ground shook. The distance seemed to shimmer, to crumble away, as Glory’s created reality crashed down around them. "Too late, Slayer!" Glory screamed. "I may be going down, but I’ll take you with me!" The ground beneath them split in two, leaving an enormous crevasse between Buffy and Glory. The mad goddess laughed, as Buffy struggled to regain her footing under the shaky ground beneath her.
Buffy looked into the abyss that formed near her feet, the endless descent into blackness, into-- she didn’t know what. She raised her head, regarding the defeated Glory with a serene smile. "It’s a leap of faith," she said simply.
And she stepped forward into the abyss.
And she fell...
And she fell...
"Good dream, bro," Death nodded, smiling happily. "Her soul has been refreshed, now her life will continue."
"May I ask how, sister dear?" Morpheus asked, lifting his eyes from his dream window.
"It’ll be tricky, that’s all I can tell you," Death shrugged her shoulders. "As of now, it’s out of my hands. All I know is that she’ll survive. And hopefully she’ll be better prepared for living the second part of her life." Death and Dream sat silently, contemplating Buffy’s future. There was no guarantee that her life would be easy, or that she would survive the ordeal of her second birth. But knowing her spirit, and knowing that she would fight against the darkness every step of the way, the two Endless would be more than willing to place their bets on Buffy Summers.
"Your death was your gift, Buffy," Death stated solemnly. "Now it’s my turn to give you a gift. A gift I almost never give anyone else. A second chance."