Title: The World to Come
Author: Sam James
Timeline: S6 after “Once More With Feeling”
Disclaimer: Buffy, Willow, Xander and all references to the Buffy universe are owned by Mutant Enemy and 20th Century Fox. I own nothing. Joss owns all things Buffy. No money is being made from this fic.
Note: This is another one of my Jewish Willow stories, but for once not connected to any holiday. Please note that I’m oversimplifying somewhat, Jewish conceptions of the afterlife vary and are somewhat contradictory according to what source is used. But Willow is a college student, not a rabbi or talmudic scholar.
Dedication: To my mother, who died this Sunday, August 7, 2005. As a result, I had some things to work out and used this story to do so.“The World to Come”
“Buffy, I am so sorry,” Willow said, bringing in a pile of freshly baked cookies into Buffy’s room where the slayer sat, yoga-style, silent on the bed. Ever since her resurrection Buffy had been listless, strangely quiet and passive. Then, under a demon’s spell she had been compelled to sing out the truth, admitting that her friends had torn her out of heaven, thrust her from a place of perfect peace to a world that was a hell of suffering and sorrow. And Willow knew it was her fault. She had been the one to insist that she bring Buffy back; she was the one who found the spell, bleed the deer, and served as the “boss of us” as Xander put it.
“Buffy,” Willow tried again. “I didn’t know.”
“You should have known,” Buffy whispered, not looking at her friend, still staring straight ahead at the blank wall.
“I didn’t,” Willow broke down, crying. “I didn’t know. I couldn’t have.”
“You should have known,” Buffy said again, in a flat voice. “I always tried to good, I saved people.” Her voice was louder and she twisted to face Willow. “I saved the whole, entire world. Saved it lots.” She lifted up her head and stared at the girl she once had counted as her closest friend. Her friend, who had done something worse to her than any deed done by an enemy. “How could you have thought I was anywhere but heaven?”
“Glory was a hell-god,” Willow explained, talking quickly. “She was trying to return to her own dimension when she opened up that rift. When you jumped through it, we just naturally assumed you went to the hellworld that Glory was trying to get to.”
“But we had her body,” Xander said as he walked into the room. “It wasn’t like when Angel went to Hell or when Buffy went to that place where time moved at high speed. Those were portals that took the person through to someplace else. This time we had her body but her soul just wasn’t there.”
“And where else could I be but heaven?” Buffy said accusingly. Two sets of betrayed eyes glared at Willow, one set hot, one set cold.
“Buffy, I’m telling the truth. It never occurred to me that you were would be heaven.”
“What! You thought I deserved to go to hell.” Buffy was offended and her anger began to penetrate her uncaring shell.
“Buffy, I’m Jewish.” Willow said in an almost pleading voice.
“Huh,” said a confused Xander. “What does Hanukkah have to do with this?”
Willow dropped the plate of cookies and put her hands on her hips. “There’s a lot more to being Jewish than just Hanukkah. It’s a complete religion with its own beliefs. And those beliefs are not always the same those of Christians.”
“Jews don’t believe in Heaven?” Buffy said in flat astonishment, as if someone had told her that Jews did not believe in Alaska. Perhaps more astonished, after all, Buffy had never been to Alaska.
“Heaven as a symbolic place for God and the angels yes,” Willow explained. “Even though we believe that God is everywhere. But Heaven as a place where people go when they die, no.”
“Then everyone goes to hell?” Xander asked.
“Of course not,” Willow said. “There’s no such thing as Hell.”
Now both Xander and Buffy looked at her as if she was crazy. “Um, Willow,” Xander started. “You remember that little thing under the high school. That thing the town is the mouth of…”
Willow sat down and took a deep breath. She had not anticipated being embroiled in a theological argument. But she long-since had learned to reconcile her religious beliefs with the supernatural experiences of Sunnydale, and the spirits she invoked as witch. “Hell dimensions, yes. Other dimensions ruled by evil forces yes. I’ll even acknowledge that there are places where demons come from. But when Buffy was in that ‘hell’ the summer of our junior year, the only people there were living people who had been tricked into that portal pool. And Angel would have been sucked into the portal he opened even if he had not regained his soul.”
“Then where do Jews go after they die?” Buffy asked, merely pro forma, without any sign of curiosity in her voice.
“It actually doesn’t come up very much,” Willow said, lapsing into lecture mode. “Judaism is really more focused on the here and now. The rabbi really never mentioned any afterlife and I know some Jews have different opinions. But there’s some talk in the Talmud about the world to come. There’s the idea that when the Messiah comes, everyone will be resurrected and live again in peace. So, Buffy, I just sort of sped up what woulda happened anyway.”
Buffy started to get angry again so Xander broke in. “Everyone?”
Willow said, “Well, I’m certainly no Orthodox Jew, but I think so. I remember there’s a line about the righteous of all nations having a share in the world to come. So yes, even non-Jews.”
“But then you don’t believe God punishes people. Murderers, the mayor, those order of tan Yankee assassin guys?” Buffy asked.
Willow sighed. “That always struck me as overly simplistic. Be good and you get a Heaven cookie. Don’t be bad because if you don’t Big Daddy God is going to punish you and make you stand in a corner called Hell. It’s like never advancing beyond a three-year-old’s concept of good and evil.”
“Then why be good?”
Willow thought. “I’ve never really thought about it like this. I guess that good is doing what you think is right, what helps others, and your reward is the knowledge that you did what’s right. And your reward after death is not going to some fairytale Heaven or Hell but in what people think of you after you’re gone.”
“There’s one problem with that,” Buffy said. Willow and Xander looked at her. “I was in Heaven” Buffy said in a voice completely without affect. She then walked out of the room.
Not long afterward, after Willow had wiped everyone’s memories, Xander would look back at this moment and wonder if undermining the source of Willow’s morality was such a good idea.