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
Closure the Future: Buffy
"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."
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 her 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. Soundheim. '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.
"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.
"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?"
"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.
"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.
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."
"You have no idea." Buffy cleared her throat and began the story. "Once upon a time…"