: You can thank Frontier Airlines for this update, since they were the ones who managed to transfer me onto a flight that came in before midnight! Hurray for them!
And so here we are at the end of another story. Hope people liked this one. Next, I'll be posting "Riley Finn Does Not Hate the Doctor", followed by "Nothing", when the Doctor really does wind up in the Initiative.--000--
A few hours later, Willow took Buffy aside into Giles' courtyard to have a private talk. A long overdue private talk.
"So," said Buffy. "Can you get the memories back?"
Willow fidgeted. She wasn't really sure how to say this, and it had taken her a while to get up the courage.
"I… think I can," she told Buffy. "I just don't think I should."
Buffy stared at her. "What?"
"Buffy, look at him!" said Willow. "He's happy. I mean, really happy! I've never seen him this happy before. You've never seen him this happy before. And if that little snippet earlier was anything to go by, he wasn't even this happy when he was a kid. He's had sort of a terrible life so far. We can give him a better one."
Buffy glanced over her shoulder, at the closed door to Giles' house. "In Sunnydale? With demons and Hellmouths and stuff?"
"With you," Willow said.
Buffy snapped her eyes back to Willow. "What?"
"Buffy," said Willow, calmly, "he's in love with you."
"He doesn't even know who I—"
"He knows enough," said Willow. "He's not brain-damaged. Even if he doesn't have his memories, he's just as smart as he was before. I mean, look at the way he acts around you. He's scared to death he's going to make you mad. When you're happy, it makes him happy. He's finally attracted to you in the same way you're attracted to him. You can be together."
Buffy shook her head. "Riley," she reminded Willow.
Willow gave Buffy a pointed look, hands on her hips. "Buffy, I know as well as you who you'd really rather be hooking up with."
Buffy got a far off look in her eyes. As if she were considering. "I can't do that to him, though," she decided. "He's all blank-slate, yeah, but… that's not just bad stuff wiped away. It's good stuff, too."
"Whenever the Doctor comes around," said Willow, "he acts all chirpy and happy and energetic, but… you know as well as I do that he's only like that because, if he let it all out, he'd completely fall apart. The good stuff can't make up for that." Willow shrugged. "And besides. If he doesn't have his memories, he won't remember how to fly the TARDIS. He'd have to stick around. And I know you'd want that."
Buffy said nothing.
"This might be the best thing that ever happened to him," Willow said. "He's been living in his own personal hell and sea of self-loathing guiltiness. Now he can finally get something back. Have a happy life."
Buffy's shoulders slumped, and she gave a small sigh. "It wouldn't work," she said. "He has to fly off in time and space and save the universe. I can't stop that, or the universe will fall apart."
"He's got a time machine," said Willow, "and he can live forever, barring accidents. You can have a long life with him, and still give him back his memories at the end. Then he can go back to saving the universe. And you can be with the guy you really like."
Buffy said nothing.
"It's up to you," said Willow.
Buffy slumped into one of the outdoor chairs, just staring down through the grating of the wire-mesh table, her head resting in her hand. She seemed to be thinking it over, thinking over every single implication of this, what it would mean, what she'd be taking away.
What she'd be giving him.
A life where rules weren't punished with injuries and broken things. A life where people loved him and helped him, and wanted him around. A life where he didn't have to be lonely and abandoned all the time, where he could be surrounded by friends. A life where he could be heroic and save the world, but still be nursed back to health afterwards. A life with Buffy, both of them loving one another in the way she'd always wanted.
"Cages don't always look like cages," she whispered.
"Huh?" asked Willow.
Buffy looked up at Willow. "That's one of the things he's most afraid of," she said. "Being caged. And there are so many people who want to. So many people who would give anything for him to be sealed away, confined, kept in an eternal prison. I'd be just like the Watcher's Council."
Willow just blinked at Buffy.
"That's why they spread all those rumors about the Doctor being bad," Buffy explained. "So they could force him to work for them, free of charge, locked away forever in their basement, never able to see the sun or feel the wind in his hair. If I keep him like this, how am I any different from Quentin Travers?"
"Well, you'd let the Doctor see the sun!" said Willow. "You wouldn't be taking away his freedom or anything!"
"Travelling through time, helping other people, defending worlds — not just our world, but all those other worlds out there," said Buffy. She looked up at the night sky. "Billions and billions of them. That's what freedom is for him." She glanced back at Willow. "If I take that away, I'm just another person who wants to cage him."
"But you're not trapping him here on Earth," said Willow. "You're just…" she trailed off, as she realized that denying the Doctor knowledge of how to use his TARDIS sort of was trapping him here on Earth. "Oh."
Willow nodded, slowly. "So… you think we should go through with it?"
"Yeah," said Buffy. "I do."
Willow sat down, opposite Buffy. "Here's how this is going to work," said Willow. "900 years of memories — that's a lot. They didn't go away from him all at once, and they're not going to return to him all at once. When they were draining from him, he was too busy building walls around the monster thing in his head to really notice anything. But when he gets them back — he's going to be living through all his worst moments again. Whatever happened to him when he was a kid, every friend he ever lost — even the entire destruction of his planet. He's going to get all that back, with no mental shields around any of it, nothing to keep the memories from tormenting him."
Buffy's head drooped. "I'm starting to get why you thought this was a sucky idea."
"He'll get the memories all back in order, eventually," said Willow. "But… when it first happens, it's going to be a lot of raw, bitter pain, and not a whole lot of happy memories to counter that."
"That's the only way to do it?" asked Buffy.
"Even if there was a way to give him his memories back all at once, I wouldn't," said Willow. "It'd either kill him, or drive him completely insane. This is best."
Buffy nodded. "I'll stay with him," she said. "I mean, it's not much, but… it'll help, right?"
"Yeah," said Willow. She hesitated. "Are you really sure about this?"
Buffy didn't meet Willow's eyes. "I'm sure."--000--
Buffy stayed with the Doctor at Giles', that night, as his memories started coming back. She felt it was the best thing she could do for him — just give him a hand to hold, someone to lean on and be with, as all the worst stuff came back to him. Giles had long since gone to bed, and Buffy would have moved the Doctor to her dorm room — except that with Riley and the commandoes tracking down nonhuman life forms, Buffy decided it was better to keep the Doctor as far away from campus as possible.
"So you are Buffy the Vampire Slayer," said the Doctor. "Which implies that you hunt rather a lot of vampires. All the time."
"Yeah," said Buffy. "I mean, usually. Except when you come, and are annoying about it."
"There has to be a better way," the Doctor said. "They are sentient. There has to be some way we could reason with them."
"They're vampires!" Buffy insisted. "They're evil. They've got no conscience. When faced with a moral dilemma, they're always going to choose the morally wrong option."
"Do you offer to let them go, if they promise to stop doing evil things?" asked the Doctor.
"No," said Buffy. "And even if they promised, I wouldn't believe them. They'd just lie to me."
"But maybe they wouldn't."
"You're always like this!" said Buffy. "Every single time! Stealing my stakes before I can use them. Goading the vampires into drinking your poisoned blood. You don't remember, but there are so many times that I've had to save your neck, because you insisted on giving those vampires a choice!"
"Well, you told me to," said the Doctor, a little offended.
Buffy blinked. "Wait, what?"
"I remember," said the Doctor. "You told me not to kill them. Vampires, I mean. I had to give them a chance. You told me I had to do whatever it took to make sure that they got that chance they deserved."
"No, that wasn't me," said Buffy. She knew exactly what he was remembering, now. "That was Elizabeth. From the other timeline. She was the one who wanted you to give vampires a chance. I never did."
The Doctor mulled this over in his head. "Nah," he said. "It was you. This you. I'm sure. You said I had to remember Spike, what he did when…" He trailed off.
"Wait, wait," said Buffy. "Spike? That's your example of evil vampire turned good? Spike? Just because he can't bite anyone doesn't mean…" She trailed off, as she noticed the look on the Doctor's face.
It was a look of horror, a growing look of utter misery and pain, that seemed to swallow up any lightness or happiness left in him. That terrible, lonely sadness sprung back into his eyes — and, as Buffy squeezed his good hand a little tighter, she recognized the way he watched her. The same way he always watched her, that same desperate sadness that seemed to grow so much deeper when his eyes met her own.
And she knew.
He'd just remembered her dying.
The Doctor clutched her hand a little bit tighter, but the conversation was over. Silence reigned in the walls of Giles' house, and neither of them were going to break it.
And as seconds turned to minutes turned to hours, Buffy watched as, one by one, every memory of loss and devastation flooded over the Doctor, as, bit by bit, all that happy optimism drained away from him. She watched as he relived so many deaths, as he relived every memory of war and bloodshed, as he began to scream and didn't stop until his throat was raw and his voice was gone. Watched as he wept until there were no more tears to shed, watched as that bitter self-loathing crawled back inside his chest and nestled between his hearts. Buffy held his hand, hugged him, told him it was okay. But she wasn't sure he could hear her, feel her, or even knew that she was there. And as the night passed, Buffy kept telling herself she was fixing him.
As she watched him break apart.