Birthday Girl

Author's Note: This was inspired by Joss Whedon's scrapped idea to bring Tara back from the dead at the end of Season 7. The episode would have centered around Buffy being granted one "life-altering" wish. Buffy would have struggled the whole episode trying to decide what she wanted to do with the wish. The episode would have ended with Buffy telling Willow that she'd just gotten a great new pair of shoes, and when Willow asked her if she used up her wish on new shoes, Buffy would have said, "No, silly!" and stepped aside to reveal Tara.

This story takes that idea to a different place. It's pretty bleak, but it does involve Buffy getting a life-altering wish... so without further ado, here we go.

19 January, 2011

Buffy put the brown paper bag down on the table and stretched, wincing at the pain in her back where the vampire had kicked her before she managed to stake him. I'm really getting too old for this shit. She locked and bolted the door before turning on the light, illuminating her small LA apartment just enough so she wouldn't stumble over anything; she hadn't bothered to clean up in a while. She kept her worn-out boots on – there might be broken glass somewhere – and brought the bottle and a glass with her to the couch, switching on the radio to drown out the sounds of the city. She never drank before going on patrol, but afterwards it had become necessary... She'd gotten used to the hangovers, and they were certainly better than the dreams she had whenever she tried for a normal night's rest. As long as her conscience was as drunk as she was, she could at least sleep. And so she poured the bourbon like every night, toasting her reflection in the bottle. "Happy birthday, me." She emptied the glass in one gulp, relishing how it burned its way down her throat, and then poured herself another.

Halfway through the bottle, she got up to go to the bathroom. She smiled dryly at how good she was getting at the drinking thing; a year ago she would have been out cold by now, but she barely even felt dizzy. Practice makes perfect, I guess. But still, she was drunk enough that when she came back, she had time to sit down and grab the bottle again before she noticed the bearded figure sitting opposite her... and the birthday cake with thirty lit candles on the table.

"Happy birthday, Buffy."

At first, she didn't answer him. Her hand shook as she put the bottle down and stared at the man who had gotten her into this mess in the first place. "OK, you're dead. You died in my arms 15 very long years ago. And I'm not that drunk yet. So either I've fallen asleep way too soon and my mind has found another fun way to torment me, or..."

"Oh, I'm dead alright. But I am here. Cheers." Merrick grabbed the bourbon and took a healthy swig straight from the bottle. "Apparently, as your first and original watcher I have one more duty to perform. A slayer turning 30, that's a pretty big deal." He handed the bottle to her, and grinned when he noticed her unease at sharing a bottle with him. "Go on. You've done things a lot more intimate than that with people just as dead as me. So, how are you doing?"

She shrugged and drank. "Peachy. So, what's the deal? 'Cause I'm guessing you didn't come just to give me a cake and get a free drink." She hadn't thought about Merrick for years. When she first came to Sunnydale, she had felt bad about letting her watcher die... but after a while under Giles' care, she'd more or less forgotten about him. Great, one more thing to feel sorry for.

"Well, Buffy... actually, I have a birthday gift for you. One I think you've been wanting ever since you first saw me. See, this is the end – if you want it."

"The huh?" She passed the bottle back to him.

"It's not a well-known fact, even to the Watchers, seeing as how it's almost never happened before. But it seems a slayer who makes it to 30 gets... let's just call it a freebie from whatever you choose to call the powers that rule us." Merrick held up his right index finger. "One wish, Buffy, one chance to change something, anything, in your life. Most of the slayers who made it this far – a total of eight, I'm told, in thousands and thousands of years – have simply chosen to get out, to have their powers taken from them. Have a chance at a 'normal life', as I believe you'd put it. But of course it's up to you: you can choose whatever you want; make someone you loved and lost come back, give yourself or someone you love something they've always wanted, transport yourself anyplace in this world or another..." He drank, and grimaced. "Or even a bottle of decent scotch instead of this dog piss. Anything, with one exception: what's happened has happened. You cannot change the past."

Buffy took the bottle from him and drank deeply while she stared at him. Then she slammed the bottle down and spoke with cold fury – or as close as she could get to it with this much alcohol in her. "How dare you? You know better than anyone how long I've been doing this. Do you know how much I've lost? How much I've given up? Look around you, this is it. And you give me one lousy wish and that's supposed to make it alright?"

Merrick shook his head. "It wasn't my idea, Buffy. I'm just a messenger. If you don't want it, no one can force you to use it. But you're obviously hurting, and if there's any way you can ease the pain, I say use it. Of course, as I recall, you never did take my advice. But you know the deal; just make a wish, and blow out the candles." Merrick pointed at the cake as he stood up. "It was good seeing you again, Buffy. I mean it. And I'm sorry." He turned and walked towards the door, fading into nothing before he got there.

And she was alone again, the bottle dangling in her hand as she watched the candles burn. i One wish. And it's not like my life couldn't use some improvement. /i But where would she even start? He'd talked about bringing back people she'd lost... boy, there were a few of those, weren't there? How about patching things up with Willow, who had never forgiven her for Xander's death...

("He had no business being in that fight, and you know it."
"He knew what he was getting himself into, Will. He always knew..."
"BULLSHIT. He trusted you. He would have followed you into hell if you'd asked him – just as he would have sat it out if you'd told him to. You knew he was close to breaking, you knew that you'd be up against something a lot stronger than all of us, but he trusted you, and you failed him. You ran."
"Will, please, don't do this... you're all I have left now..."
"Then I guess I'd better get out before you get me killed, too.")

Or with Dawn and Giles, whom she had never been able to forgive for reinstating the watcher's council and everything that went with it... especially since she knew they were right. After the destruction of Sunnydale they'd tried it her way for a while, and so many had died. Now, they did their thing and let her carry on as she always had, fighting alone, and except for the money they sent her they stayed out of each other's way. And they all seemed happy with the arrangement.

Bring someone back to life... oh God, there were so many. Xander, obviously. Anya, Tara, Cordelia, the dozens of slayers who had died under her command in the Hellmouth and in the two years following that, up until the last battle where she'd messed everything up... Angel. Spike. Mom. The nameless baby she herself had lost to a kick in the gut two years ago. Probably for the best, she thought like many times before, knocking back another drink. Fighting vampires while nine months pregnant would have been iffy. And besides, bringing people back to life usually works out REAL well, doesn't it?

She poured the last of the bourbon and stared into the glass, seeing her own reflection in the amber liquid. God, how she hated that face. The lines around her eyes seemed a little deeper, the scar across her cheek from her last big fight
(You ran)
just as deep as ever. She became aware of something playing on the radio.

"And when you reach the broken promise land
Every dream falls through your hand
And you know that it's too late to change your mind
'Cause you've paid the price to come so far
Just to wind up where you are
And you're still just across the borderline..."

Angrily, she shut it off. We fight. We die. Wishing doesn't change that. She emptied the glass and blew out the candles.

Buffy woke up with a start. Her back hurt even worse from sleeping on the couch, but her headache was giving it a run for its money. Through the blinds, she saw the red light of the setting sun; she'd slept through the whole day again. Just as well. She went to the bathroom, splashed some water in her face and swallowed a couple of Aspirin. She needed coffee... and to kill something.

She slipped on the brand-new pair of combat boots she found on her coffee table next to the empty bottle. They fit perfectly, just like she had known they would. Then she loaded up on stakes and left the apartment.