Chapter Twenty Three
: I know that a whole bunch of you wanted me to kill Elizabeth, but this is actually kind of a lot worse. I don't think UNIT would have made it comfy for her. Besides, I couldn't kill her, because she's linked to Buffy. And I sort of implied in "Don't Be" that Elizabeth lived a long time.
Thank you MarcusSLazarus for the idea of shoving Tibet into this section. It actually worked pretty well this way.
A note about the next bit: The Coda.
I'm a musician (a cellist, actually). A Coda is a section in a piece of music where you go at the end of the piece. It often brings back a lot of themes with some variations on them. It also brings the piece back into the correct key so it can end. The last part of this story is the Coda for this reason. The resolution to the story, getting you back onto steady ground, and helping to resolve the discordant key.
The Doctor heard a knock on the door of his TARDIS. He shouted at the person to come in, and the doors creaked open.
He poked his head out from the central console, and was surprised to find Angel standing in the doorway.
"Oh, hello," said the Doctor. "Didn't expect you."
"A few years ago," said Angel, "you told Buffy that you'd forgiven me. For what I did in Romania."
A half grin lit up the Doctor's face. "I suppose I did."
"It took you fifty years, but you forgave me."
"Well, fifty-ish," said the Doctor. "Bit hard to tell, what with time and space falling apart. Could have been more around 500. Or could have been negative time. Maybe I got younger. That'd be a bit of a change, wouldn't it?"
Angel ignored the Doctor's rambling. "I just wanted to let you know," he said. "It's taken me one hundred years. But I forgive you. For Elizabeth."
The Doctor's grin fell off his face. "Ah." He scratched the back of his neck. "You shouldn't, you know."
Angel shrugged. "You shouldn't have forgiven me, either."
"Yes, well, thing is, that one wasn't exactly your
fault," said the Doctor. "What with… soul and all that. But this one… well, turns out, pretty much my fault."
"And the Master's," said Angel.
The Doctor said nothing for a moment. "The Master destroyed her," he said, carefully. "But I'm the one who let her be destroyed."
Angel gave a slow nod. "You… are sure your TARDIS translation circuits are functioning correctly, right? Because either you're not understanding anything we've been saying, or you really need to see a psychiatrist."
The Doctor put on a false grin that didn't reach his eyes. "What, you think I don't know how to speak English?" he asked. He pointed to his own chest. "Five billion languages. Complete and utter genius. Absolutely brilliant." His eyes strayed to the central console, and he ducked down again, to do some more repairs.
"You're never going to come back to Sunnydale, are you?" asked Angel. "Now that Buffy's gone?"
"Don't have to," said the Doctor. "Sunnydale's fine. Perfectly fine. Safe and dandy."
"Aside from being right on top of the Hellmouth," said Angel.
The Doctor glanced over at Angel. "You're
Angel faltered. "I have… prior commitments," he said. "In LA. And… Tibet."
The Doctor waved the sonic screwdriver at the central console. "Prior
commitments?" he asked.
"Well, commitments," Angel confessed.
Brought about by this meeting. By this particular incident. And as the Doctor checked the TARDIS monitor, for the thousandth time since last evening, examining the graphed biosignature throughout all of time and space, he knew that he, too, had 'prior' commitments. Perhaps not in Tibet or LA, but 'prior' commitments all the same.
"As do I," the Doctor told him.
Angel nodded, slowly. "And Dawn?"
"Safe," said the Doctor. "Throughout her life. Checked up on her already. Before… all this." He gave a small sigh. "Suppose I should double check, now that I know that the future's changed. Now that I know I…" He trailed off.
"You didn't kill Buffy," Angel told him. "The portal, Glory, none of that was you. I heard what happened, and it wasn't your fault. Buffy… wouldn't have wanted you to blame yourself."
The Doctor didn't answer. What was the point? It wasn't about what Buffy wanted, it was about responsibility, facing up to the consequences of your own actions. And the Doctor had to take responsibility for this.
Because he knew there was only one being left in all of time and space that could change a fixed point in time. And that fixed point — with the portal — had been changed, somehow. It had to have been. Buffy had been alive in 2005 — back in his own past. In his own past, Buffy had jumped into that portal and survived. And now, in his present — she hadn't. That entire stretch of future had been erased.
The Doctor didn't understand how or why or what he'd done, but he couldn't deny the facts. Every time he checked the TARDIS monitor, it told him the same thing. Now, in 2005, and forever. Buffy Anne Summers was dead.
And the Doctor had killed her.
He kept looking down at the central console. Unable to meet Angel's eyes. Because he knew that Angel was wrong. Wrong about Buffy, wrong about Elizabeth, wrong about all of it.
By the time this was over, Angel would hate him again.
(And he would hate himself a little bit more.)
It was over far quicker than Willow had imagined.
Yes, they'd had to wait a bit, and Elizabeth had gotten impatient and started knocking on the TARDIS door, and then there'd been a shouting match where Elizabeth called the Doctor a monster and a murderer and told him that he was the origin of all evil in the universe, but when the actual sending-back process happened, it was really quite quick.
One moment, Elizabeth was there, and then — a flash of blue light, and a rush of wind that tore through the living room — and Elizabeth was gone. Back to her own world. Back to her own future.
Back to change her future. Because the accidental wiring thing she'd done wasn't going to happen anymore. Those people didn't have to die. Everything would work out okay. They'd changed the future. They'd saved the other Sunnydale.
The Doctor leaned back against the TARDIS. He didn't look like a man who'd just saved an entire town of people. He had a terrible weariness about him, a terrible guilt, a terrible hopelessness in his eyes.
(One that Willow recognized.)
"Are you okay?" Dawn asked him.
The Doctor looked down at her. "I just killed 38,000 people," he said.
"No, you didn't," said Xander. "Remember?" He spoke the next words slowly and precisely, as if speaking to an infant. "Not your fault. In English, that means you didn't do it."
The Doctor gave a small shake of his head. "I did it. Just now. You saw me."
"Just now?" asked Giles. "You mean, sending Elizabeth back to her own world?"
"That wiring fault," said the Doctor. "I found it. In 2003. In the other timeline. I was working from a diagram she'd drawn before she built the device, and I found it. When I reversed the polarity, I compensated for it." He glanced over at Willow. "But she remembered. She remembered this. She fixed it. Which meant, when I rewired the system, I didn't get rid of it. I added it in again — backwards. The machine was supposed to control everyone who travelled through time. I fried the brains of everyone in Sunnydale who hadn't
. 38,000 people."
"But… Elizabeth's traveled through time," said Willow. "Wouldn't that mean… she survived?"
"She did," said the Doctor.
"Elizabeth said you killed her," said Angel. "Her future self."
"She thought so," said the Doctor. "Past her, I mean. I didn't… have the heart to tell her what really happened. To her future self. Turns out, she lived a long time. Long, long time. Locked up in a UNIT prison cell, charged with crimes against humanity."
"But she wasn't trying to control the world," said Xander. "Or even kill any humans. There were no crimes against humanity!"
"I didn't know that then," said the Doctor. "And now that I do, I can't change it. Timeline's locked. Back then, I was sure it was a trap — that she wanted me to kill everyone. I mean, looking at the people who survived — they were friends of hers, the only people she'd want
to survive. But, well. I suppose all of them had travelled through time, at least a little bit." He stared straight ahead, into the distance.
"But if that all happened because she fixed the fault… why didn't you just tell her not to fix it?" asked Dawn. "She was right here, and you knew. If you just said something…" She trailed off, as she saw the dour expression on the Doctor's face. And she realized, all of a sudden. "You wanted to make sure it happened. You wanted to make sure they all died."
"You just killed 38,000 people," said Dawn.
"Why?" Dawn cried.
"Because I had to," said the Doctor. "Because Elizabeth's personal timeline has to be stable, or this one falls apart. I have to keep that consistent. That's how time works."
"But Buffy wouldn't have—" Dawn started.
"She's gone," said the Doctor. "Elizabeth isn't her. I'm certainly not her. If Buffy were here, she would have made me stop 2003 from happening. Made me fix Elizabeth."
"Fix…" Angel trailed off, mounting horror in his eyes. "You could have saved Elizabeth? Stopped the mental conditioning? And you didn't?"
"I told you you shouldn't have forgiven me," said the Doctor.
"Why?" Angel demanded. "Even if you thought you had to make 2003 still happen, even if you thought 38,000 deaths was okay — why would you do this? Elizabeth was suffering! She was in so much pain and torment! And you just left her like that for the rest of her life!"
The Doctor took a deep breath. "Elizabeth may be brilliant," he said, "but she doesn't know how to create a device that runs off temporal radiation."
"But… she built one," said Willow.
"Yes, she did," said the Doctor. "And by 2003, she will build one as big as the town of Sunnydale. One that will kill 38,000 people. There's only one person I know of that would have that kind of temporal engineering knowledge and would be that obsessed with mind-controlling me. So… I couldn't fix her. I had to make sure she had the knowledge to build that future device."
"Elizabeth was right all along," Giles realized. "You have an idea of what history should be, and you ensure it stays that way. Regardless of the number of innocents you slaughter."
"The Big Bad in Elizabeth's 2003," said Xander. "It's you. Not past you. This you. Right now."
The Doctor didn't answer, but the intense sorrow in his eyes spoke volumes.
"Hang on," said Anya. "Why's it okay when you
screw over your ex, or wipe out a small town, but when I
do it, it's evil and wrong and you have to stop me? What's the difference?"
The Doctor said nothing for a few long minutes. His eyes were dark, unfocused, staring into the distance.
"There is none," he said, at last.
He turned, and unlocked the door to his TARDIS.
"Wait! Where are you going?" asked Dawn.
"To stop myself," said the Doctor, as the doors slammed shut behind him. The TARDIS wheezed into life, the light flashing as the Police Box faded out of sight.
"Um," said Xander. "He's not… really going to shove himself into a black hole or anything, right?"
Everyone shuffled their feet, guiltily. If he had, they all knew they probably should have stopped him. They'd wanted him to feel upset, not suicidal.
"He's not," said Willow, staring at the spot where the Police Box had disappeared. "I know where he went."
Everyone looked over at Willow, confused.
"Where?" asked Tara.
Willow's eyes flicked across at the others in the room — at Giles, Angel, Dawn, Xander, and Anya, all looking at her with curious, worried eyes. Her friends. Her entire world. Minus one person.
"Exactly where any of us would go," said Willow, "if we had a time machine."