Chapter Twenty Five
They walked back to the campus, Buffy not really sure what to say. If she had some idea of what the problem was — but he wasn't ever going to tell her something like that. He was never going to tell her anything like that. In a way, the Doctor never really told her anything at all.
"I… have a new boyfriend, now," she said, mainly because she didn't know what else to say.
The Doctor didn't answer her.
Buffy tucked her hands into her jeans pockets. "Yep," she said. "He's… Riley. That's his name. His name's Riley."
Buffy looked over at the Doctor. "You've met him?"
"Day I met him," said the Doctor, "he tried to kill me."
Buffy's eyes grew wide. "Wait, what?"
The Doctor glanced over at her. "Don't worry," he said. "He'll have a good reason." He frowned. "An extremely good reason. You'll think so, too, when it happens."
"Okay, seriously, what is wrong with you?" Buffy asked.
The Doctor said nothing, just looked down at the ground.
Stupid Buffy. She'd just gone and screwed it all up, hadn't she? Because now, the Doctor had this look on his face that said, Everything's wrong with me, I'm the worst person in the world and you should hate me
. Buffy hated it when he got like that. She had enough people in her life telling her that the Doctor was evil, without her having him lay it on himself. She liked him better when he was in one of his good moods, when he was bouncing off the walls and trying to convince her that tricking vampires into killing themselves was completely different from staking vampires through the heart (Buffy didn't believe a word of it), or explaining to her the different ways to bake in zero gravity, or something or other. But he'd never shown up looking quite this bad, before.
"Was it the Daleks?" Buffy asked. Because usually, bad things in Doctor-land had Dalek written all over them.
"No," said the Doctor. "Well, yes, but that was… a while back, for me."
The Doctor glanced up at the sky. "It's your birthday, isn't it?"
Way to change the topic. Buffy hugged her arms. "In about a month," she said.
The Doctor considered. "Almost got it right." He glanced over at her. "Happy birthday."
"You could drop in for my actual birthday, too," Buffy offered. "That way, when the annual birthday calamity happens, you can help me clear up the dead bodies."
The Doctor raised an eyebrow.
"And… and you'd get to be all heroic and stuff!" Buffy added. "That's something you like."
The Doctor's face fell.
"Or I could do the heroics!" Buffy said. "And you could just sit around drinking banana daiquiris or something. I just… please come. Please. Everything's always better when you're around."
"The moment I show up, death and destruction follow," the Doctor warned her. "The worst monsters. The most terrible tragedies. The end of the world."
"That stuff happens all the time in Sunnydale, whether you're here or not," said Buffy.
"I make it worse."
Okay, that was actually sort of true. Because the Doctor usually wound up unearthing some terrible thing that no one had ever noticed, and then the badness just piled up around him. A world-ending disaster turned into a universe-ending disaster. Normal Big Bads tried to use the Doctor to become time-travelling Big Bads. And Buffy knew she should probably care about that.
If it was anyone else, maybe she would.
Buffy took the Doctor's hand in hers. "I guess… it's not everything that's better, when you're around. Just me." She looked up at him. "But that's enough."
The Doctor stopped walking. His eyes were fixed straight ahead, but there was a look on his face, as if he were not looking with his eyes at all, as if his brain were reaching out and trying to touch something. Buffy looked around, and spotted two guys strolling along the sidewalk, some ways away. The Doctor's head snapped towards them, his eyes following their every movement. He seemed wary, guarded.
Which meant they were either monsters, aliens, vampires, or former companions that he didn't want to run into.
The Doctor took Buffy's hand, and started to walk away, at a hurried pace. Okay, that would probably mean former companions. Buffy didn't really know all that many of the Doctor's companions, but she knew that, usually, if he was avoiding someone, it was for a reason.
The two guys were following them.
The Doctor began to walk faster, his hand squeezing hers. His eyes were fixed forwards, his jaw set. Okay, maybe they weren't companions. Maybe they were student loan officers or something. Because if they were vampires, the Doctor would be doing his usual thing of playing them up so that they did something stupid. And he wasn't doing that.
Then he started to run.
They ran about three blocks, before Buffy managed to stop him. She yanked him by the arm, and made him face her. "What is going on?"
The Doctor didn't say anything, for a second. Then: "Don't kill them."
The two guys approached, skulking through the shadows towards them. Their faces morphed into evil, wrinkly vampire faces, their eyes fixed on the Doctor. They were sniffing, and Buffy realized they could probably smell him a mile away. Vampires sometimes went crazy when a Time Lord was around — Buffy knew that.
"I have to—" Buffy started.
Buffy tried to charge forwards, but the Doctor caught her by her stake-holding hand, and twisted her out of the way. Buffy tried again, but he caught her arm and flipped her, heavily, against the brick wall to her left. It actually stung a little bit. He'd… hurt her. Not a lot, but… it was the principle of the thing that mattered.
The Doctor stepped forward, and faced the vampires, a dark, dangerous expression on his face.
"Leave," he told them, in a quiet, yet deadly voice.
The vampires just laughed at him. They started taunting him, jeering at him, but it was as if he didn't even hear them. He let their comments wash over him.
And then, time seemed to blur around her, and something happened — something so quick, so crazy, so out-of-time-ish that Buffy couldn't actually figure out what — and, next thing Buffy knew, both vampires were dust, and the Doctor was standing where they had once been, Buffy's own wooden stake in his hand.
Buffy got up, and walked over to where he stood, in the moonlight, his shoulders slumped and his face completely blank.
She put a hand on his shoulder. "You… didn't give them a chance," she said. "You didn't let them kill themselves."
"No difference, anyways," he said, without facing her. He stared at the stake in his hand. "No reason to bother doing things right. Not after what I've done. What I'm going to do."
"What are you going to do?" asked Buffy.
"Wonder what sets me off this time," said the Doctor. "Now that everything's different. Now that the future's changed. Wonder what'll make me do it. Wonder…" He glanced over his shoulder at Buffy, and as his eyes met hers, she could see a chasm of empty sadness in their depths, a longing sort of sorrow that ate away at him from the inside out.
Buffy wasn't sure how much longer she could meet his eyes before she broke apart as well.
"I'm through with feeling guilty," said the Doctor, his voice barely above a whisper. "I'm through with second chances. I'm…" He dropped the wooden stake onto the ground, and turned to face Buffy. "I'm through."
And Buffy had been worried, before, really and truly worried. But this was the first time this evening that Buffy felt scared.
"He's just staying for a little while," Buffy told Willow. She handed her a small, Yale key on a string. "Hold this."
They were out in the hallway, trying to talk in hushed voices so that neither the Doctor nor anybody else would overhear.
Willow raised up the key. "But isn't this—?"
"I can't risk him running off," said Buffy. "Something is seriously wrong with him. I think… I think he's given up."
Willow was new to the whole Doctor-being-the-good-guy thing, but she knew it was important to Buffy, and anything that was important to Buffy was important to her, too.
"Given up what, exactly?" asked Willow.
"Everything," said Buffy. "Nothing. I don't know. I just… he's broken, Will. I have to fix him."
"Well, what if you can't fix him?" Willow asked. "I mean, you said his home planet was destroyed and he's the only one of his species left in the universe. I don't think an Intro to Psych class is going to be enough to fix that kind of psychological trauma!"
"He came here for a reason," said Buffy. "He wouldn't be here if he didn't think there was something we could do for him."
"What, you mean, like, magic stuff?" Willow asked.
"I don't know," said Buffy. "Usually when he's all guilt-trippy and depressed, he looks for some big evil monsters to outsmart, and that makes him feel better, but… he ran away from those vampires on the way here. And when he did face them, he didn't try to outsmart them or make them better, he just… dusted them." Buffy brushed some hair out of her face. "I don't think he's here for monsters or magic or anything. I think he's here for something else."
"You?" asked Willow.
"What? No! Of course not!" Buffy said. "I… if he'd wanted to, you know, take any of that further, he wouldn't have come while I was still in a relationship. Maybe he just needs a friend."
That wasn't what Willow had meant, of course. Because Buffy couldn't see it, but she was more than just another girl. She was Buffy. She was like a shining light of hope to those who could see it. She was the inspiration, the determination, and everything that was good and true in the world. Willow could see that, and she thought the other Scoobies could as well. And if the Doctor could see it — well, that would explain why he'd come to Buffy, specifically, when he was in trouble.
"Maybe he's lost faith in humanity," Willow clarified. "And he wants to see someone really, really good to show him that humanity's worth it, again."
Buffy scoffed. "And he came to Sunnydale, center of all things evil and Hellmouthy?" she asked. She shook her head. "No, it's something else. I just… I have to work it out. Work out what happened." She stared down the hallway. "What could possibly make him shut down like that?"
"It's probably nothing," said Willow.
Buffy gave her friend a pointed look.
"Or it could be the end of the universe," Willow amended.
Buffy sighed. "I better go make sure that Riley doesn't drop by. I think that would be a really bad idea right now."
"You afraid Riley's going to get jealous?" asked Willow, with a little smile.
"Apparently," said Buffy, "the day the Doctor meets Riley, Riley's going to try to kill him."
The smile fell off Willow's face. "Really?"
"So he says."
Willow glanced back at the door to their dorm room. "Okay, seriously," she said. "What's with him and your boyfriends? This is the second time, now, that you've had a boyfriend that tried to kill the Doctor."
"At least with Angel, the Doctor didn't think he deserved to be killed," said Buffy. "This time… I'm pretty sure he thinks Riley was right. Will be right. Whatever." She sighed. "Just… I don't know how suicidal he is right now, but don't give him Aspirin, even if he asks you for it. It's poison for him."
"Buffy, I'm not the best person to be all cheerful and talking-out-of-suicide and stuff," said Willow. "I mean, I'm sort of… you know. Damaged goods."
"You're not… Willow, you're wonderful and amazing," said Buffy. "Just because Oz was a jerk doesn't make you damaged goods."
"I'm not asking you to cheer him up," said Buffy. "Just keep him here, and make sure he doesn't kill himself."
Willow fidgeted with the hem of her t-shirt, staring at the ground. "I can try," she conceded.
Buffy smiled, then ran off to make sure Riley stayed far, far away.