So yeah, I'm grateful to those who de-lurk (even if it's just once). Sometimes, the feedback even goes to a deeper level. Besides just getting that nod of "read it, enjoyed it," the reader's response will prompt thoughts of my own. But perhaps the most interesting case of reader's feedback informing me on the reader comes from my most recent one-shot "No Happy Ending."
I've realized "No Happy Ending" is like a Canon Rorschach test. I left the story ambiguous, presented both worlds as being "real" and finished on an ironic note that leaves the reader uncomfortable and forces them to decide which part is real and which part is the dream. And I believe this aligns with what they believe to be canon. Or what they prefer to be canon, what they choose to believe is real. If the reader views Season 8 as crackfic or if they don't really put much store in Season 8, they're going to see the beginning of the story as the dream and that Buffy's awoken in Rome.
Here's the three main interpretations I've encountered:
1) Season 8 is a dream and Buffy wakes up in Rome after having a nightmare about the comics. She was having tingly feelings for Xander? She was in Tibet without her powers? Madness! Of course it's a dream. And this is also the most attractive option - it removes Buffy from emotional pain and the threat of imminent danger. TGIQ canon rules here.
2) Season 8 is the reality and Buffy feels the need to run away from it. She's lost her powers, she lost Xander to her sister and now she's cut off from humanity and her friends who represent humanity within her group, she's about to be attacked by Twilight and everyone she's leading is in mortal danger with no magic to protect them. So she breaks down into a dream world where she's the girlfriend of the Immortal (not alone) and she has no greater responsibility to save the Slayers or the world. Season 8 is canon here.
3) Season 8 is reality for Buffy, but Season 8 is also the dream because the Decoy is dreaming of Buffy's life in Tibet through the Slayers' joint subconscious. So when 'Buffy' awakes in Rome, it's actually the Decoy awakening with her boyfriend, the Immortal. She awakens from a dream of Buffy's desperate circumstances in Tibet. Season 8 is canon.
For me personally, I go with #2 first, then #3 because I believe Season 8 is canon in terms of how I understand Buffyverse canon to be defined (Joss says so; just as we use the disclaimer on our fic "Joss is boss"). And it's also my canon.
It's interesting that most of the comments hinted that people were relieved at the ambiguity that enabled them to relegate Season 8 to dream status. Besides myself, there were only two others who showed a clear preference for believing that Season 8 was real and Buffy had escaped her circumstances by retreating into a dream world. I just find that fascinating.
And on Season 8-related note, I was reading the paper today and got to the page with the weather stats. Twilight occurs when the sun's light is refracted below the horizon, both as it rises and as it sets. Civil Twilight began at 6:16 am and lasted until the sun rose at 6:42 am. Then Civil Twilight occurred again this evening after sunset at 5:23 pm and lasted until 5:50 pm. Periods of transition, of a liminal space to be explored without. The morning Twilight is the herald of the dawn - it's the beginning of the period of light. The evening Twilight is the like the slow mourning of loss of light, leading you into an age of darkness.
I'm left wondering, which is Twilight in Season 8? Is he the heralder of the dawn or the bringer of darkness? Is he a symbol of birth or of death? Can he be both? Would a world without magic be a world without the darkness of demons? Or would a world without magic be a world without light? Fray's future is a world without magic, but it is far darker than the present of Buffy's world. A part of me believes that some level of duality will be at play here. Joss seems to enjoy playing with duality of meaning. So if Twilight's outer costume is dark, could that mean that unveiling the masked figure would lead to revealing his light side?
Another thought occurred to me for why Twilight would wear a mask. If he were a future character, like Xander or Angel for instance, he would be revealing his Achilles' heel to his enemies. His enemies cannot touch Twilight - he's too all powerful. But his present day incarnation is vulnerable. It's like the Terminator's goal - kill young John Connor and stop the Resistance from ever being. Perhaps Twilight wears the mask so that his past self doesn't become a target or even used to manipulate him. After all, he's the manipulator. He's the one who plays everyone, not the other way around.