FYI, this story is going to have a number of references to "Time Walker". Because I love that story, mainly. Actually, I posted "Time Walker" on this website in the first place, because I knew you'd need it for "Not a Sword"!
And now... the Doctor discovers the true horror of the situation!
(Out of curiosity, do you guys prefer shorter sections, or longer ones? Because I wasn't sure whether to split this into 2 sections, or keep it as one. It is, technically, 2 scenes.)
Oh, by the way, you can tell I'm taking a screenwriting class because I'm pretty sure this story hits almost every single beat (except the opening hook, which comes way too late). Last section was the Opening Image, and Ordinary World.
Here, we get the Inciting Incident (protagonist gets news that destroys his world), and the Mini Crisis (protagonist creates goal). At the end of this section, comes the Point of No Return.
And the Doctor is my protagonist (hurray!).
The Doctor was angry with his toaster. Probably because it wasn't working right. Or because he simply didn't like it anymore. Or maybe he just didn't like toast. Donna couldn't tell. All she knew was that the Doctor kept smacking it, shaking it, and muttering evil-sounding things to it under his breath.
"Oi!" said Donna. "What did that toaster ever do to you?"
"It's not a toaster, it's — oh, never mind," said the Doctor. He gestured for her to come over, and she noticed a series of bleeping numbers appearing on the side of the toaster. He pointed at them. "This is telling me that we're at the locus of the interference matrix already, but I know this town, and there's nothing out of the ordinary. Which means the psychic augmentation detector is giving us faulty readings."
"Oh, well that's just blooming fantastic," said Donna. "We're looking for Excalibur — in California — and your toaster isn't working. End of the world, that is."
"End of the universe, more like," said the Doctor.
Donna frowned. "What, are you serious?"
The Doctor glanced up at her, and Donna could tell, in an instant, that he was.
"So we're looking for a mystical sword that isn't actually a mystical sword, and if we don't find it, the universe is going to end?" Donna asked.
"Could do," said the Doctor. Then he hit the toaster again, and shook it. "It's not working," he said. He sat down on the curb, dug his sonic screwdriver out of his coat pocket, and started buzzing at the toaster. "Why don't you look around and see what you can find?"
"See what I can find?" asked Donna. She crossed her arms. "I've never been here before, Spaceman! How am I supposed to know if something's just popped into existence?"
"Ask someone," said the Doctor, obviously too preoccupied with his toaster to register what he was saying.
Donna gave him her best defiant stare, but it was obvious that the Doctor couldn't understand why this particular brilliant plan of his was doomed to failure. Donna sighed, and marched off to the nearest door in sight, knocking on it with all the professional manner she'd acquired over her many years working in offices.
The door opened, and there, standing behind it, was a petite blond woman wearing a pink halter-top and dark navy shorts. She looked about 20, but her poise and determination spoke of a wisdom far beyond her years. "Hello?"
Donna put on her best smile. "Hi, Donna Noble. You haven't, by any chance, seen a sword that doesn't look like a sword and doesn't act like a sword, have you?"
"Huh?" asked the woman. "Wait, you're looking for a sword?"
"Yes," said Donna.
"But it doesn't look like a sword or act like a sword?"
"So… what does it look and act like?"
The woman nodded, slowly. "Okay. So, this might sound like a dumb question, but if I don't know what it looks like, how would I know if I've seen it?"
"Beats me," said Donna. She looked over her shoulder at the Doctor. "Oi! Spaceman!" she called. "I told you this wasn't going to work!"
His head jerked up, the screwdriver slipping a little in his hands, and there was a loud bang as the toaster exploded, cogs and wires flying through the air. The Doctor emerged from the cloud of debris, putting his sonic back into his coat pocket.
The woman looked over Donna's shoulder, and sighed. "I should have guessed," she said. "This has Doctor written all over it." She waved at the Doctor, and he waved back, a little awkwardly.
"Hello, Elizabeth," said the Doctor, walking towards them. "Thought this street looked familiar."
Donna gawped, her eyes darting between the Doctor and the petite woman. "You two know each other?"
"It's a long story," said the woman — Elizabeth?
"And you're… Elizabeth," said Donna.
The woman offered Donna her hand. "It's Buffy, actually. Buffy Summers. He's sort of the only one who's allowed to call me Elizabeth."
Donna shook the hand. She thought that the name Buffy sounded like something you'd call your cat and not your mate, but who was she to argue? "Donna Noble," said Donna, even as she realized she already had.
Donna," said Buffy. "Huh. Go figure. I always wondered what you looked like." She glanced over at the Doctor. "This is pretty early in your timeline for you, isn't it? You haven't even done the whole Trio of Hell thing yet."
"Nope," said the Doctor.
Buffy leaned against the door frame. "So, why are you in Sunnydale? Is the world coming to an end again?"
"Oh, just looking for something," said the Doctor. "Bit of a quest. Actually, you might be able to help. Temporally aware and all that. We're trying to find—"
"Look who's showed up again," came a teenage voice from inside the house. Donna watched as a skinny teenage girl approached the door. "Your secret boyfriend."
Buffy turned. "Dawn, he's not my boyfriend!"
Donna was more interested in the Doctor, who had frozen right where he was, staring, open-mouthed, at Dawn. There was a trace of something in his face — disbelief? Shock? Horror? Sorrow? — all overshadowed by a sudden, terrible loneliness. Seriously, she'd give a hundred pounds just to figure out how Skinny's brain worked, sometimes.
(Or was he just missing the family he could never have?)
Buffy pushed Dawn away from the door, and turned back to the Doctor. "Sorry about that," said Buffy. "You know how sisters are."
"Sisters," breathed the Doctor. "You… have a sister."
"Yeah, Dawn," said Buffy. She frowned. "Actually, have you met her, yet? I mean, she's met you, but I think she's only met future yous." Buffy hesitated, and glanced back over her shoulder. "I should probably talk to her about the whole not-revealing-personal-future thing before I introduce you." She backed up, and opened the door. "Oh, um, will you come in? It's, I mean, my mom's out, so it's just my sister and me, but I'm happy to help with this quest thing you're on."
The Doctor blinked, a mask of happy indifference crashing across his face. "Help," the Doctor muttered, as he entered the house. "Yes. Could use that. Certainly could use that. Bit of help all around, I should think."
Buffy led them into the living room, gesturing for the Doctor and Donna to sit down on the couch. "So, you said you were looking for something? A sword?"
"What? Oh, no," said the Doctor, sitting down. Donna sat beside him. "Sort of — bit of a wild goose chase. Not really that important, anyways."
Wait, that wasn't right. What about end of the universe? Donna turned on the Doctor. "Doctor, I—"
The Doctor cut her off with a warning arch of his eyebrow. Donna looked back at Buffy, then at the Doctor. And it hit her, all at once, that he'd already found the thing he was looking for.
Donna hadn't seen any swords or anything, though. So she wasn't really sure what the Doctor had found that made him so jumpy.
"Oh, come on," said Buffy. "I'm up for a little seek and discover thing. What are you looking for?"
"Excalibur," said the Doctor. "Just, you know. What with Morgaine trying to detonate an atomic bomb in the English countryside three years ago and all."
"You mean Morgan Le Fay?" asked Buffy. "From the Arthurian Legends?"
"I'm her arch-nemesis," said the Doctor. "Merlin, that's me. Will be me. Bit acausal, but still works."
Merlin?" Buffy laughed. "Willow is going to be so pissed off when I tell her."
"Oi!" cried the Doctor. "I'm going to be a great Merlin someday."
"And your sonic screwdriver is your magic wand!" Buffy cried, laughing even harder. She collapsed onto the couch beside the Doctor — a little bit closer than Donna thought was appropriate for two 'just mates'. The Doctor didn't seem to mind in the slightest — although he did give a theatrical little pout at her laughing at him. "Oh, you have got
to take me to Camelot when you go there. I so want to see you all magicky and stuff with your sonic screwdrivers and your atomic bombs and everything."
The Doctor's mask dropped a hair, and for a moment he seemed very, very sad, and incredibly lonely. A sort of terrible doomed sort of look, as if the Doctor were condemned to die, and merely waiting for the time when it would happen. Buffy was laughing too hard to notice. But Donna noticed. Two seconds later, the mask was back in place, and the Doctor was back to looking at Buffy, indignantly.
"Three years ago?" Donna asked the Doctor. "You mean we're here looking for something you last saw three years ago? Why didn't you pick it up then?"
"It was more than three years ago for me," said the Doctor. "And besides. I was a wee bit busy averting a nuclear holocaust."
"Morgan La Fey, powerful witch and sorceress," Buffy mused, her laughter dying down into giggles. "You know, I can't picture her being all atomic bomby."
"Course she was," the Doctor protested. "I should know; I was there. Demons, bombs, interdimensional bits, the whole nine yards. You think nothing happens outside of Sunnydale?"
"You. Are. Bonkers," said Donna.
"Oi!" said the Doctor. "That's all true, that is. Completely 100% factual. If you don't believe me, you can ask Alistair. He was there, too."
Buffy shot the Doctor a slightly flirty grin. "I could totally see you doing that. Mr. Magic Merlin Guy."
"I think he makes half of it up," said Donna, leaning back against the sofa cushions.
"So, what's Excalibur like?" Buffy asked the Doctor.
"Well, you said it was a sword, but it didn't act like a sword or look like a sword, so what does it act and look like?" Buffy asked.
"Could look like anything," said the Doctor. "And as for what it does, well, that's sort of a bit… technical. Best just say, in the wrong hands, might be a wee bit catastrophic."
"End of the universe?" asked Buffy.
"Something like that."
"You do universe-ending catastrophes like I do apocalypses," said Buffy. "This should be old hat to you."
The Doctor shrugged. "Should be."
Buffy tucked her knees up on the sofa. "So, you're on a quest," she said. "To find Excalibur. And save the universe."
"Yep," said the Doctor.
"And you're looking in California because…?" Buffy examined the Doctor, carefully. "Let me guess. You were aiming for England in the Middle Ages, but for some crazy reason that has nothing to do with the fact that you're a lousy driver, you wound up in California, 2000 instead?"
Donna opened her mouth to negate this, but the Doctor cut in, first. "Yes!" he said to Buffy. "I mean, no! I mean, well, meant to land here all along, really. Nothing to do with faulty navigation."
Buffy laughed. "Admit it," she said. "You're not here for the sword. You're just here to see me, again." She gave him a very wide grin.
And he met her smile with his own. Their eyes locked, almost twinkling as they sat there, far too close together, staring at one another, almost trying to pass some sort of nonverbal communication.
Donna wished they'd stop with the lovey-dovey faces and just start snogging already. Seriously. The sexual tension was so thick, you'd need a bloody chainsaw to slice through it.
"I want to hear about Excalibur," Dawn complained, as she entered the room. "I don't understand what's so secret about this meeting, anyways. It's not like you're talking about anything that important."
Buffy looked away from the Doctor, her eyes snapping over to her sister. A look of complete frustration passed across her face, as she tried to keep calm. "Doctor, Donna, will you excuse me a moment, please?" she asked, getting up from the couch.
She then dragged her sister out of the room, up the stairs, and slammed a door behind them.
Donna turned on the Doctor. "Doctor, I thought you said—?"
The Doctor shushed her, listening carefully. The moment he heard Dawn and Buffy's muffled voices echoing through the household, he whispered to Donna, "I should have known this was going to happen."
"What?" asked Donna.
"Remember, on the TARDIS, I told you that segments of the Key to Time could be disguised as anything, anything at all?" the Doctor asked. "Thing is, that's not entirely the truth. They can be disguised as anything… or anyone."
Donna thought back to the way that the Doctor had reacted to Dawn, the way he'd stared at her. The way he'd asked Buffy about her sister.
"You don't mean…?" asked Donna, but she was sure that was exactly what he meant. "No."
"Elizabeth is an only child," said the Doctor. "She doesn't have a sister. I've seen her in two timelines, and she's never had a sister." He ran a hand through his hair. "Oh, I'm so thick! I should have seen this a mile off. They knew I was going to destroy it. Those monks, they knew that the moment they created another segment, I'd track it down and get rid of it. They were ready for me."
"It's… that girl?" asked Donna.
Donna shook her head in denial. "No, no," she said. "You're wrong. She's just a kid. And you said your toaster was giving you faulty readings."
The Doctor hung his head. "I don't need a psychic augmentation detector or a tracer. I can see it, Donna," he said. "Plain as the nose on your face. The segment to the Key to Time — it's her. Dawn Summers. Those monks transformed the energy into a person — an innocent little girl." His grip on the couch cushions tightened. "Just one more innocent victim."
Donna felt sudden horror wash across her, as she realized what the Doctor was saying.
"Doctor, you can't—" Donna began.
The Doctor's head shot up. "And if I don't, then what?" he demanded. His face was stony, his gaze icy, and he was the same Doctor who'd terrified Donna when she'd first met him. "There are no other Time Lords, Donna. If that energy ever gets loose, if that portal opens, there will be no way to stabilize it. Every wall encircling reality will collapse. The entire multiverse will blend together, every universal law will be overwritten. And if we live through that, if that doesn't mean the end of the universe, then the Time Lock will snap, and the entire time vortex will be destroyed. Do you understand, Donna? Do you understand what's at risk?"
In the background, Donna could hear Buffy and Dawn talking to one another, in stern voices. Donna felt a terrible sorrow, hearing them bicker like that. They sounded so much like normal sisters, it was hard to imagine that they hadn't been that way forever.
"She's an innocent person," said Donna. "She's just a child. Please, Doctor. You can't."
The Doctor massaged his forehead with his thumb and index finger, but said nothing.
"We can take her with us," said Donna. "She'll be safe in the TARDIS."
"She won't," said the Doctor. "She can't leave this solar system, Donna. Dawn Summers is inherently unstable — the seventh segment of a six-segment Key. Any fluctuations in the energy she's carrying, and cracks could appear. And I will not be responsible for letting any more Daleks into this reality. I will not do that."
Donna stared at the Doctor. "Does she even know what she is?"
"No," said the Doctor. "The Princess Astra didn't, not until the preassigned point in space and time when everything converged. Dawn won't, either, and neither will Elizabeth. No one here knows anything about the danger they're in. And if anyone knows, the energy will be unleashed, and the universe will be destroyed."
"So don't tell them," said Donna.
The Doctor shook his head.
"Oi, listen to me, Spaceman," said Donna. "It's not like she could just Orbitz up a flight out of the solar system or anything. And if no one except me and you know what she really is, no one knows enough to unleash the energy."
There was a small flicker of hesitation in the Doctor's eyes. That was a good sign.
"I couldn't," the Doctor decided. "I couldn't take the risk."
"She's an innocent child," Donna insisted. "You can't kill an innocent human child!"
The Doctor just stared down at his hands. His expression was dark, hopeless, thoroughly dangerous and desperate and angry.
"What's one more?" he muttered.
Buffy and Dawn emerged in the doorway, and Donna sprang to her feet. She didn't know what the Doctor meant by that last comment, but she knew she wasn't going to let him do something like this. She hadn't, back in Pompeii, and he'd told her she was right. So she wasn't going to let him do it, now.
The Doctor looked up, a carefree smile back on his face. He got up off the couch, looking so innocent and friendly and harmless, it was… creepy. Spooky.
Neither Dawn nor Buffy seemed to realize anything was wrong.
"Okay," said Buffy, trying to reassure herself more than those around her. She looked over at the Doctor. "Doctor, this is my sister, Dawn. Dawn, this is the Doctor." She then added, in a more pointed tone of voice, "who hasn't met you yet."
"I know," snapped Dawn. She went over to the Doctor, awkwardly, one hand in her jeans pocket. She gave the Doctor a little wave. "Hi."
"Dawn," said the Doctor, giving her a charming smile. "Lovely name. Dawn. Never met a Dawn before. Met a number of Elizabeths, but never any Dawns. Well, almost never." He extended a hand to her. "I'm the Doctor."
"And I'm Donna," Donna cut in. She barged over to the trio, and tried to insert herself between the Doctor and Dawn. "And, no, maybe I'm not an alien, but I'm every bit as important as Skinny, here, I'll tell you that."
"Hi," said Dawn. She seemed less than enthused. Fine with Donna. As long as she didn't get killed, anything she did was fine with Donna. Except that whole blowing up the universe thing. That was less fine with Donna.
"So, Dawn," said Donna, "tell us about yourself. What sort of things do you like?"
The Doctor arched an eyebrow at Donna, but she ignored him. The Doctor didn't kill people — not like this. Maybe if the Doctor saw Dawn as a real person, and not a sword, then the Doctor wouldn't be able to kill her.
"I don't know," said Dawn. "I guess I sort of like magic and stuff. You know, like Willow and Tara do. That's pretty cool."
"What, magic's real?" Donna asked. She turned to the Doctor. "You going to take me to Hogwarts next?"
"Oh, my God, you've read that?" Dawn asked. She looked over at Buffy. "See? I told you they weren't books for babies."
"Are you kidding me?" Donna said. "I loved them. Oh, and that bit where Sirius Black—"
"Donna," the Doctor warned.
Donna swung around and gave him a long, angry glare. The Doctor's calm external mask faltered, just a hair. This time, Buffy seemed to notice. She frowned.
The Doctor put his mask back into place, and stuffed his hands into his pockets. "Nothing past the third book," he told Donna. Then he turned, and strode out of the living room.
Buffy looked from him to her sister and Donna. Buffy had clearly picked up on something. And… well, the Doctor obviously cared about Buffy quite a lot ('just mates?' Ha!). And Dawn was
"You better go after him," Donna told Buffy. "He's in a right snit, now."
Buffy looked over her shoulder, at where the Doctor had disappeared, then back at Dawn. "Don't do anything stupid," she warned Dawn, then ran after the Doctor.