Chapter Twenty Four: Coda
December 1, 1999
From her right, Buffy noticed the vampire, darting in and striking at her side. She feinted left, then dove into the punch, knocking the vampire back. She punched him in the jaw, and he swung back at her, dislodging her and flipping her over. She somersaulted through the air, landing on her feet, and staked the vamp through the heart.
Another one to her left, just rounding the mausoleum. She ducked his blow, then tried to strike out at him, but he charged at her, knocking her back into a gravestone, which tumbled down to the ground. Buffy jumped back onto her feet, faking the vampire out and darting in for the kill. He dusted beneath her stake.
Movement behind her. Buffy swung around, and stopped herself two inches from the guy's heart. She pulled the stake behind her back, and dropped it onto the ground. "Oh, um. Hi, Doctor."
The man she was facing was tall, skinny, with spiky brown hair and a pinstripe suit. He raised an inquisitive eyebrow at her. "Busy night?"
"What? Me? No, of course not," said Buffy. She sighed. "Okay, yeah, I was killing vampires. But you know what? They're evil, soulless things and I don't have mythical, magical blood that will turn them human again. I'm just trying to protect innocent people."
The Doctor said nothing.
"And I don't have to justify myself to you, anyways," said Buffy. "I mean, it's not like I'm doing anything wrong, and it's not like you're my Watcher. You're just some alien who pops into my life, every so often, and starts lecturing me about how vampires are people and I have to give them a chance before I drive a stake through their hearts, or I'm going to go nuts and get all evil and kill-happy, and — you're not at all okay, are you?"
The Doctor tried to paste his best innocent look on his face. "Course I am."
"Usually by now, you're going on at me at about five hundred words per second, either about how killing things is wrong or about how you definitely were trying to land here and not in the year five million AD," said Buffy. "But you're just standing there, staring at me. So what's wrong?"
The Doctor's eyes darted around, as if trying to find the best avenue for escape. Then they fixed on Buffy. He grinned — almost convincingly, Buffy thought. "Nothing!" he said. "Just here to see you. Very good to drop in. How are you?"
Buffy frowned. "You… dropped in?" she asked. "To see me? You're not lost, or trying to stop some evil monster, or trying to save the universe?"
"Well, thought I'd catch up, spend some time with friends," said the Doctor.
"Oh, my God," said Buffy. "You're… you're dying or something!"
"No!" said the Doctor. He raised his hands. "Absolutely fine. Told you."
Buffy hesitated, but touched his hand. It felt normal. Cool to the touch. So no regenerative energy. She felt for his pulse at his wrist, and that felt normal, too. She brushed some hair out of her eyes, and looked up at him. "You're not dying."
"Course not!" said the Doctor. "No one's dying. Absolutely no one. No one at all." He grinned at her, but it seemed like a smile that had been cut out of a magazine and pasted on. "And how have you been?"
"Okay," said Buffy. "I mean, not cave-womanny or anything. I… um, you have gotten to that part, right?"
"Right," said Buffy. "Then, just… forget about that. Or, actually, when you get there, then you can forget it, too, because it was a mistake and, um… can we forget I even brought it up?"
And, oh, no, because the Doctor was usually the one rambling and trying to get her off of awkward topics, and instead he was just looking at her as if everything terrible had just crashed on top of his head. This was taking not okay to a new level. Buffy was now considering stealing his TARDIS key and making sure he stayed put for a little while, just to ensure he didn't do anything stupid like throw himself into a supernova.
The Doctor, faster than Buffy could even register, turned and swept her into a tight hug. Buffy could feel his two hearts beating rapidly in his chest. What the hell had happened to him? And why had he come to Sunnydale — of all places — to get past it?
After a few seconds, Buffy pulled away. She looked up into his eyes, and she knew that whatever was going on, she had to fix it. She had to make him better. Because watching him like this — this shattered and broken — it was killing her.
"Stay," she said.
And she knew things were very, very wrong, because he agreed.
: Stay tuned, there is way more of this Coda!