The Doctor's Gamble
Originally "The Doctor Calls" was a one shot, but a review here, on Twisting the Hellmouth, sparked off a few ideas that have been germinating in the back of my mind for awhile. The end result is this little sequel which is a little bit evil, but the plan is to shed some light on to Tara's Death. Not undo it so much as add an extra dimension to it.
I do not own any of the characters used. Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Doctor Who are owned by Mutant Enemy Inc. and The BBC respectively. I've just put them together into one story and filled in the gaps.
The Doctor poked his head out of the TARDIS. This looked like the place, more than that he could feel it. Tapping his umbrella he strode out and looked around. They'd landed just off what looked like the main street, in a well lit alley way. Perfect, he wasn't going to be here long, but there was no sense in taking chances. Especially not here and not now.
"Where are we professor?" Ace asked following him out. She pulled off her oversized jacket and threw it over her shoulder. "And why is it so hot?"
"We're in California, about twenty years into your future. Give or take." He told her. She was right it was hot. What was it with humans picking such ridiculous climates to thrive in. The challenge of course, he reminded himself.
"Well wicked!" She exclaimed and threw her jacket back into the TARDIS. He had to admit she had a point, still he didn't feel the heat like she did and could adapt. "Professor, I know it's a nice change but what are we doing here?"
"There is something I've got to finish. We won't be here long. Fortunately." He said ominously. It was bait, she'd want to know and he would tell her. The both knew it but she had to ask.
"Why is it good we won't be here long?" She asked the right question. She didn't really need to know why they were here.
Seeing an empty bench the Doctor nodded over to it and closed the TARDIS door. "Remember what I told you about Alternate Realities?" Ace tensed, their trip to the dimension of the Cheetah World was only a few weeks earlier. So far the only characteristics she had retained was slightly more acute vision at night and a pronounced grace to her movements. They both sat down as he left the new question hanging.
"Well," she said eventually. "There's like infinite different realities. Some are just like ours, but with little differences and some are like that cat place. Well evil."
"Go on." He prodded gently.
Ace was a little more confident now she was caught up in the science of it all. "Okay, there's like these barriers between them. Holding them all separate and between there's this vast nothing, but they aren't solid. The barriers. Sometimes there's these cracks and stuff can slide through."
"Exactly, very good Ace." The Doctor congratulated her by tapping her nose. "When these cracks are pulled apart you get rips. Vast gaping wounds in the both realities where both try to coexist. Like the cheetah world some have different rules, both sets of rules try to transpose themselves and the worlds would start to merge." Ace looked at him horrified, as well she should. That sort of merging would shatter a world, but he wasn't finished. "There are dimensions worse than that of the Cheetahs. There the rules are vastly different. What you could call the heavens and hells."
"Mind boggling." Ace gasped. "You mean heaven and hell are real?"
"In a sense." He gave her a moment to let that sink in. "Now we're here because this place is something else."
"Something else, you mean something worse?"
"I didn't say worse, I said else." He corrected her. "You see when two or more cracks meet they don't rip, they become a crossroads. A sort of meeting place where almost all the dimensions meet. This place is one of those crossroads and some very... strange things can happen here."
Ace frowned at him and he smiled "Here, let me show you." He pulled a coin out of his top pocket and gave it her. "Flip it and just let it fall."
Just as she was about to do as she was told he held up a finger. "Heads." he told her and she flipped it.
The coin landed heads. Ace flipped it again and again, all three times the Doctor guessed it before she had even started. "I know you can do that." she smiled at him as she picked the coin up again.
"Ahh but can I do this, edge."
"What?" she blinked at him, coin already in the air.
"Edge." He said again and watched the coin arc into the air and land on the ground. Edge first.
"Okay, how'd you do that?" Ace asked intently, picking up the coin and inspecting it.
"Coincidence." He said simply. "That crossroads I told you about generates all sorts of energy. We just tapped into a small part of it. That energy sends waves of coincidence out like a lighthouse. A warning to some, invitation to others."
Ace caught the tone of his voice instantly. "Who does it invite?"
"Darkness. Things that slip though the wrong cracks. The crossroads we are on sinks through the realities like a stain, plumbing the depths of the blackest evil. Evil unnamed, dredged from the blackest pits."
"Worse than even Fenric?" Ace said, terrified.
The Doctor winced. "He's down there, like a spider in the web. Trapped on the wrong side of death itself." Ace went pail. Fenric, an evil from the dawn of the universe. The Doctor had destroyed it's mortal form, killing it, but death was only a barrier for one of it's power. "It's trapped. Fenric, or whatever name it choses to go by, can not harm us or any other living soul. Now it's nothing more than a shadow, it might be able to manifest illusions for brief periods but nothing more." At least he hoped not.
"So why aren't we leaving?" Ace asked seriously. The Doctor couldn't blame her. Then she had an idea. "Shouldn't we, I don't know, do something about this crossroads thing?"
"No, the energy has to go somewhere. Places like this are like a safety valve. Without them the pressure of all those things slipping between the cracks would build. Eventually this world would boil into the Void." The Doctor told her. "Closing this place must only be an act of last resort."
The Doctor let it all sink in. What he didn't mention was that Earth had one of the largest concentrations of these crossroads in the universe. Drawing coincidence, and all that went with it, to this supposedly insignificant planet. It was also what kept him bouncing back here for all these years.
"So what do you want me to do?" Ace asked. "I mean what are we doing here if not to close this thing?"
"There is someone I have to meet." He said looking away. "She's in the Coffee Shop behind us."
Ace turned around. "Oh, are they coming with us?" There was a catch in her voice, she probably thought she was going to be replaced.
The Doctor shook his head. "No. As much as I want to help I can't change her destiny. You see, for me, it has already happened." With a deep breath the Doctor reached into another pocket. "Think of it as a holiday Ace. I'll see you in the TARDIS in about an hour."
"What?" Ace blinked, not following the conversation.
"Ace." he said with authority. Couldn't she understand he was trying to help her. Of course not even if she knew the stakes she would try to help. He knew the stakes and knew why she couldn't. He couldn't let her pay the price. "Listen to me this time. It's important."
"Alright Professor." Thankfully she knew better than to argue and got up. "An hour, back at the TARDIS."
"It doesn't have to be an hour, just be back before dark." Ace smiled at his warning before it sunk in.
"Sure thing." she nodded and left.
With a practised sigh the Doctor pulled his hand out of his pocket and held it out. Small black bag hanging by it's drawstring. "Ace." he reminded her.
He had every faith the young woman could get what she wanted in other, more creative, ways but he didn't want a fuss.
"Oh, thanks professor." She smiled and took the bag.
Taking up his umbrella and standing up the Doctor took a calming breath as she left. The task ahead of him was moderately unpleasant.
Simply surviving American coffee might even be preferable.
Tara held her coffee in both hands, letting it's warmth seep through her fingers. Willow, it always came back to her. Tara wasn't failing at college but there was no life in her anymore. She could tell it was because of her.
It was why she kept on turning up at the house, as much as she cared for Dawnie and as good a friend Buffy was Willow was why she wanted to be there. She could forgive her, the magic was too much for anyone. Willow needed help with her addiction, Tara left to help her see that. Now, finally, she could. But should she go back?
It was that question that kept Tara's eyes fixed on the coffee cup. She was startled out of her reflection by a polite cough. "Well hello there."
Tara blinked, nobody talked to her. It wasn't the first time she had just sat there, lost in thought until her drink was cold. Looking up she felt her jaw drop. The man standing next to her was so out of place she almost thought she was dreaming. He wore a cream coloured jacket with a red handled umbrella tucked in it's top pocket. Under that he had a dark brown pullover over a white shirt. He raised his hat with a practised smile before saying:- "Would you mind if I sat here?" His accent was almost Scottish, but with an Englishman's crispness. The result was a strange mangling of his R's.
"W...Who, w...why?" she stammered and looked around. They weren't alone, but there were still a lot of chairs left for him to sit at.
"You looked like someone with a problem. You're not here for the coffee so you must want someone too talk too." He said pointedly. "Or are you just here to listen?"
"L... Listen, to what."
"Me." He said, sitting down and taking off his hat. "Because I have something to tell you, Tara Maclay." The way he pronounce her name was terrifying.
Talking to strangers was always dangerous, in Sunnydale it was suicide. "How, how do you know who I am?" Tara asked sitting back. It was daylight and everyone in the Coffee Shop could see them. Not even the boldest demon would attack here.
"Listen to me very carefully, if you don't everyone you care about will be utterly destroyed in the most painful ways you can imagine. In two days your friend, Willow, will be shot."
"S... Shot?" Tara blanched, her question forgotten.
"Her death will be irreversible. Then, in a years time, she will be unable to stop a great evil from rising, without her help neither will Ms Summers."
Tara could feel her world crumbling. There was something in his voice, a sort of earnest honesty. She couldn't help but know he was telling her the truth. "I have to s... save..."
He held a hand up, stopping her. "You can't, not without a terrible cost." Again Tara felt something cold in the pit of her stomach. She recognised the expression on the strangers face.
It was regret.
"Someone must die," He told her. "If you want to save your friend's life you have to sacrifice your own. Nothing less will re-strike the balance."
Tara stared at him, she couldn't understand why anyone must die. Then it hit her. It was balance, the price of Buffy's life. The balance must be addressed. But there was more to it than that and she said as much to him.
"All to true my dear. I wish you were wrong, however that which is coming knows what I do. It wants Willow dead, the Slayer weakened. Your sacrifice will cause great pain, out of that tragedy will come the strength needed to win."
"I'm... I'm going to save the world?" This was all coming too fast for Tara. Ideas and fears just coming out of nowhere.
"In a manner of speaking. Then again the same could be said of everyone you know. You all sacrifice so much. You could always leave."
"What, what?" The sudden right turn in the conversation left her stunned.
"You see that's the great quandary of heroes isn't it. We never even think about do we? Just blunder from disaster to disaster, never worrying about the price to ourselves or to those closest to us. Just helping those we'll never meet. Why is that I wonder?"
Tara thought about that herself, "I don't know. Why do you ask?"
"Because you were about to say you don't have a choice. You do, the balance might be struck another way. All you have to do is leave." he stared into the distance. Tara looked at him. Really and for the first time since he sat down.
It had been months since she'd seen anything like him, but she remembered. A thing of dreams and nightmares. So much power, standing like a light house preceding bad weather. Shining and blinding.
For that moment Tara saw time and space spinning and her place in it. It's power and majesty and her, tiny but not unnoticed. Nothing and everything at the same time, a drop in the ocean and the ocean in a single tear. "I... I... I..." she stammered.
He looked at her, frowning. "Ahh I see." he nodded with a sad smile. "You see it don't you."
Tara nodded. Not trusting herself to speak. "Then I guess there is nothing more to say." He finished his coffee with a wince.
Tara knew that he had been telling the truth. If she didn't do something Willow would die and the world was doomed. "I'll do it." She said. Tears coming to her eyes. "I'll do it. I might have a choice but it would be the wrong one. Remember me, won't you?"
She never would understand why she asked him. It wasn't for fame or recognition. Something else, something simple but beyond reach. Standing up the stranger put his hat back on and said one word:- "Always." Then he left.
Ace found the Doctor sitting in the TARDIS. All the lights were of and he just sat there. A sort of glow was coming from the console in the middle of the room. Giving just enough to see with.
Her first thought was that there was something wrong with the TARDIS, then she saw the look on the Doctor's face. "Professor! What's wrong?" She was at his side. The Doctor had been forced to do some terrible things in the time she'd known him. It was easy to forget he didn't like them anymore than she did.
He didn't answer, just looked into the distance like he was uniting a knot with his mind. "Professor?" Ace shook him, he was never like this. "Professor?"
Finally he blinked and looked at her. "Ahh you're back." he tried to smile but something stopped him. Giving up he tapped her on the nose. "We better get going. There's a few other things we've got to get done." With a burst of speed he jumped to his feet and leaped to the controls.
"Professor, what's wrong? This wasn't just another trip was it. Something happened, tell me."
With a final tapping of a button the lights came back on and he stopped. Looking up from the column in the middle as it softly rose and fell. "Ace, take a seat and I'll tell you a story about one of the most remarkable people I've ever met."
Tara was still awake, it was late at night and her last day was fast approaching but the young wiccan didn't mind. Everything had fell into place for one glorious instant. Her life, everything before and what was to come led to this. For the first time she felt whole, no fear of the future no worries. She was like a bird in flight, soaring high above worry and concern.
It was a feeling she never wanted to end. But it must. Even now, lying in bed with Willow, her warm breath softly sighing above her heart, couldn't last forever. It didn't have to. Just though tomorrow.
One perfect day, a perfect memory. Tara was lucky, so many times she had asked for it and here her dream was. Quiet, peaceful and whole. A family that loved her that she could love and protect with her last breath. No doubt just a simple path.
This was it and she didn't care, Willow was happy and all was right in the world. Smiling contentedly Tara let her eyes drift shut and sleep take her.