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This story is No. 14 in the series "Shadow and Light". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: Dawn asks Xander and Willow to help a new friend save a loved one.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Dr. Who/Torchwood > Dawn-CenteredphoukaFR715,7120255,14917 Jun 1217 Jun 12Yes
Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, its characters, setting, and all other details are the property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, and 20th Century Fox. Doctor Who is the property of the BBC, its affiliates, distributors, Stephen Moffat, and other executive producers and writers. This is purely an amateur work intended solely for the entertainment of others. No profit will be made. No infringement is intended.

Author's Notes I've been catching up on my Doctor Who, and I've completely fallen for the 11th Doctor. I'd already seen River Song in “Silence in the Library” and “Forests of the Dead”. Now, knowing her history better, I've decided I want to be her when I grow up. This story is something of an offshoot that appeared as I plotted out Dawn's time away at university in Ruritania. It was a surprisingly short, quick write. I hope you enjoy.

“So?” Dawn asked, curious.

“Part of the reason I agreed to be your tutor,” the Doctor continued, “was because I wanted the opportunity to ask you a favor. I don't do that very often, but you're special, Dawn.”

He looked at her from under a mop of brown hair, bangs hanging in his eyes. He stood, leaning against the railings around the TARDIS console, tall and gangly limbed, as if he needed his joints tightened with a screwdriver.

“Ask away,” Dawn answered.

“It's dangerous,” he warned.

“So's swimming after eating,” she replied. “What is it?”

“You remember the Library and what I told you about it?”

“Of course. How could I forget the largest library in the universe?” she asked.

“There's a person there who's very dear to me. She's . . . well, in a manner of speaking, she's trapped there.”

“You want help rescuing her?” Dawn asked. “Sign me up.”

“Actually, I want to visit her and see if rescue is a possibility,” he answered.

He was gazing at her from beneath raised eyebrows, and he'd gone very still. Dawn realized, looking at him, that his face was drawn, and he looked really, really stressed.

“Doctor, of course, I'll help,” Dawn said. “But what is it about this that you need me? You've got friends through space and time who'd be willing to help.”

“Yes. Well. This one's a bit tricky.” He paused for a moment, looked down, and then back up. “You see, Dawn, this all happened after the Vashta Nerada spawned and took over the Library. The woman I want to see is River Song, and she's my wife. She's also dead. She died rescuing both the Library's core and over four thousand people saved to it. I didn't know who she was at the time, but I knew she was special. I managed to upload her living consciousness to the Library's core, but I don't know how well the transference went and what kind of shape her mind is in.”

She stared, her heart contracting in pain for him.

“I haven't seen her since the day we were married – and that was in an alternate timeline that didn't actually happen,” he continued. “And for me, she died nearly three hundred years ago. Our timelines have always been sort of . . . mixed up. Jumbled. I'd very much like to know how she's doing and if there's any way I can see her again.”

Dawn swallowed against a throat gone dry. He watched her with all the trusting earnestness of a child, even though – by what she'd been able to figure – he was more than a thousand years old.

“You want me to figure out a way to get around the Vashta Nerada?” she asked.

He shook his head. “I'll deal with them. I need you to figure out a way to communicate with CAL, the command node of the Library's hard drive and access the virtual reality she's created for herself and, I think, River Song. From there, we'll see.”

We'll see, thought Dawn. We'll see if your wife still actually exists as anything resembling a human soul. We'll see if it's possible to interact with her. We'll see if she's happy, if she's whole, if she remembers you. We'll see if there's any way to pull her out of there and restore her to life. Oh, and along with all that, we'll see if we can't survive an entire planet infested with the Vashta Nerada.

“I'll help, Doctor,” Dawn answered. “Of course, I'll help. And, if it's okay with you, I can think of some other people who'd be really good to have along.”

He smiled in sudden relief, exhaling a huge gust of air.

Their first visit was only reconnaisance, and the Doctor landed the TARDIS more precisely than he had in his life.

“Now, we've got to be in and out,” he said. “The earlier version of this TARDIS isn't far away, and it's always a bad idea to bring two of the same TARDIS in close space-time proximity.”

“What about the Vashta Nerada?” Dawn asked.

He shook his head. “There's a twenty-four hour truce on while the Library teleports all the survivors to transport in orbit. We've got nearly four hours left.”

He pulled down the scanner and flipped it on. An image appeared of two people, a man and a woman, talking on one of the many balconies.

“Why? Why would I give her my screwdriver?” the man demanded, holding it with both hands. “Why would I do that? That gave the future me years to think about it! All those years to think of a way to save her, and what he did was give her a screwdriver. Why did I do that?”

“Is that you?” Dawn asked.

The Doctor nodded silently, never taking his eyes off the screen.

The man they watched – the Doctor, only not the Doctor – pried a tiny panel off the side of the sonic screwdriver and exhaled sharply.

“Look at that,” he said. “I'm very good!”

“What have you done?” the woman asked.

“That's Donna Noble,” the Doctor told Dawn.

The man, the earlier Doctor who looked nothing like the Doctor standing beside her, held up the screwdriver for Donna to see.

“Saved her!”

And he took off running as if his life depended on it.

“Wait,” the Doctor said, putting his fingertips on Dawn's arm.

The woman, Donna, watched her Doctor race off for a moment, shrugged, and followed, though at a much slower pace.

When she had reached the top of the stairs, gone through the foyer, and into the office behind, the Doctor sprinted for the doors, and Dawn went after him.

Outside, on the stone balcony rail, was a worn, leather bound book in TARDIS blue. For a moment, the Doctor stared at it, and then he picked it up with reverence and held it, a hand flat against each cover, as if he could absorb something from it if he only had enough skin contact.

“What is it?” Dawn asked.

“River's diary,” he said, shifting his hands so he held it more like a normal book, but pressing top of the front cover against his forehead. “She kept it so that when we met, we could figure out where we were in each other's timelines. She . . . saved my entire existence with it once, when Amy Pond got married. I gave it to her after she saved my life. It was the first time she'd ever met me. Well, as a grown up. I'd gotten to hold her when she was only a newborn.”

She tried to piece together the chronology of what he said, and it made her head hurt.

“Someone's got to figure out proper verb tenses for time travel,” she muttered.

“Oh, the Time Lords did,” he replied, recovering himself. “That's why most of the documentation of time travel and memoirs of time travelers are in Gallifreyan, even if the writer wasn't a Time Lord. Let's get back to the TARDIS.”

Once there, and once he'd set the next coordinates and dematerialized the TARDIS, he turned towards Dawn and handed her the diary.

“I want you to read it,” he said, holding it out.

“Me?” she asked. “You don't want to?”

He shook his head. “There's still a very small chance of spoilers, which would affect you much less than me. Besides, I don't go around reading other people's diaries.”

She gave him a look.

“All right, my wife's diary,” he amended. “She'd be very cross if she found out, and she always finds out.”

She took the diary and held it up.

“Okay, what do I look for?” she asked.

“Anything regarding the Library,” he responded. “Anything about the Vashta Nerada, though I don't think there will be. Anything you think might help you reach her, wherever she is in the data core.”

“What about spoilers?” Dawn raised an eyebrow at him.

He paused in thought. “I don't think there will be any regarding me. Do try not to take anything she says about Earth too seriously. The timeline of an entire planet is always in flux, and Earth more than any other planet.”

“There's a fate that shapes our ends,” Dawn quoted. “Rough hew them though we will.”

The Doctor made a noise. “Weeellll . . . yes. That too. But again, try not to take it too seriously.”

“Can we go to that coffee house?” Dawn asked. “Great place for studying, and you do like their scones.”

“A bit out of the way, isn't it?” the Doctor asked, archly.

She punched his arm, playfully. “I finally get a grasp of the implications of travel through time and space, and you get grouchy because I have a favorite cafe?”

“Well, I suppose you have a point,” he conceded.

“And you can wear that incredibly silly red hat thing with the tassel,” she added.

“It's a fez,” he corrected her. “And fezzes are cool.”

“Just keep telling yourself that.”

“This is your idea of a Spring Break?” Willow asked. “Have you even said 'hi' to Giles?”

“I can't,” Dawn told her. “We're keeping to a pretty tight schedule.”

She glanced up at the Doctor, who'd been given a chair at the table but had been unable to sit in it for more than ten seconds and was now pacing back and forth in the kitchen.

“This is the house?” the Doctor asked, looking up at the beams across the ceiling, the copper panels, the huge stove, the pots and pans hanging above it, and the cupboards filled with enough food to keep dozens of young Slayers in fighting trim. “This is the house? Chataigne's home?”

“He knows about Chataigne?” Willow asked, sitting straight up.

“I met Chataigne,” the Doctor said, pivoting on a heel to look at Willow.

“Spoilers!” Dawn hissed. “Anyways, I don't think she recognizes you. It's been a fairly long time.”

“Oh, she recognizes me,” he said, looking around again. “Hello, darling. How's tricks?”

The house purred.

“And . . . you're the Doctor?” Willow asked. “Giles's Doctor?”

“Yes,” he answered.

“You don't look anything like what Giles said. You're not even old enough to have been born when he met the Doctor,” Willow pointed out.

“I beg your pardon! I'm older than I look.”

“Where's your scarf and your fedora?” she asked.

“I traded them in. I do that sometimes,” he answered.

“You're wearing a bow tie,” Willow stated.

“Bow ties are cool.”

Willow shot Dawn a look.

“Don't get him started,” Dawn answered. “Anyways, we could really use your help on this. Yours and Buffy's.”

“What exactly do you need me for?” Willow asked, cautious.

“I've been researching this place, and the Library's drive uses quantum storage for the command node, which is where the Doctor stored River Song. That means she can't be downloaded, because-”

“Any duplication would necessarily lose a bit of information for every electron involved due to the Heisenburg principle,” Willow finished for her.

The Doctor's head snapped up, and he stared intently at her.

“Hey, I was a geek before I ever went occult,” she told him.

“Right,” Dawn answered her previous statement. “She can't be duplicated or even downloaded by any technological means. But I was thinking that maybe there was an answer in magic.”

Willow sighed. She leaned on her elbows and pressed her hands together, palm to palm. Then, she put her lips to her fingertips.

“I can't promise anything,” she said. “I mean, if you're serious, and this really is another world – not a plane or an adjacent dimension, but another world – you're talking about an entirely different version of gaea, the synthesis of the biosphere. I don't even have a name for what that would be on another planet, and names are important. And you're telling me the entire planet is infested with a shadowspawn predator swarm that makes piranha look like a herd of sloth?”

“Basically,” the Doctor answered.

“I may not be able to tap into that planet's version of gaea,” Willow answered. “I may not be able to do any magic at all, let alone an extremely high level, ordered spell that pretty much amounts to a resurrection. And even if I can, the presence of the Vashta Nerada as the primary species of the biosphere might twist the spell. They're obligatory predators, Dawn. You could end up with a person with the mind of a psychopath.”

“River Song was a psychopath,” the Doctor said. “She got better.”

“What?” Willow asked, looking up at him.

“Not her fault,” the Doctor answered, clipping his words precisely. “Stolen as a baby, brought up as a weapon. She actually managed fairly well. Only killed one person – me. Twice. I don't hold it against her.”

“And . . . you married her?” Willow asked.

“Well, seemed the sensible thing to do,” the Doctor said.

Dawn looked between the two, sensing that Willow's ability to accept what she heard and saw was close to the breaking point.

“It's complicated,” she said. “And we really need your help. Will you do it?”

Willow gazed at Dawn, and then turned that quiet, frightening look on the Doctor, who met it.

“Another planet,” Willow repeated. “Three thousand years in the future. A library the size of a planet.”

“Yes,” the Doctor answered.

“Are you kidding me?” Willow asked. “Of course, I'll do it!”

“No,” Buffy said.

“What?” Dawn demanded.

“She's dead,” Buffy said, softening the statement with a flick of the eyes towards the Doctor. “She died, and you may have somehow saved a copy of her consciousness-”

“Not a copy,” the Doctor corrected. “Her actual conscious self.”

“Worse, then,” Buffy answered. “She's dead, she has no corporeal form, and you uploaded her mind or her soul or whatever you want to call it into what sounds like a pretty good version of heaven. And she's been there for several hundred years? No.

“See, I know a little about what you're talking about, Doctor,” Buffy continued. “I died. My body was buried. My friends mourned me. And, as far as I can put it in words, I'm pretty sure I was in heaven. And then my friends yanked me out and stuffed me back into my body.”

“Buffy,” Willow started.

Buffy stopped her with a glance.

“I came to terms with that,” Buffy said. “I know my friends acted out of love, and I don't hold any grudges. I'm not in any hurry to die again, but I live every day remembering what it was like, and that it's gone. I won't do that to someone else. Not even for Dawn.”

Dawn flinched.

“I will,” a new voice said, and Xander stepped into the room.

He gave Buffy a stare that was just as even, just as grim, as what she'd given Willow and the Doctor.

“You think Anya wouldn't literally kill for the chance to live again?” he asked. “Or Joyce? There isn't a single person in this house who hasn't lost someone to an untimely death, a death that robbed them and the rest of the world of someone they needed.”

He glanced at the Doctor, frowning in momentary confusion.

“Besides, no one's yanking this lady out of anything without her permission, right?” he asked.

“Exactly,” the Doctor said.

“We have to find her inside CAL first, see what shape she's in, if we can even take a chance,” Dawn said. “And then we ask her if she wants to.”

“I'm no Slayer,” Xander said, “but I've helped them, trained them, protected them, and put up with them for the last eight years. I'm also a pretty good strategist and tactician. And, it sounds like maybe I owe you for helping Chataigne at some point. So, if you want me, I'm in.”

“Oh, Xander,” Dawn cried, getting out of her chair, running over to him, and hugging him.

He hugged her back, picking her up. Then he set her down, released her, and took her by the shoulders.

“You know, you could have called from the airport. Either airport. I'd have picked you up,” he said. Then he stopped and looked more closely at her. “What the hell kind of courseload are you taking, Dawn? You look like you've aged a couple of years.”

“Yes! Well!” the Doctor interrupted. “I'm very grateful for you volunteering, Xander. It will be dangerous.”

“So's getting between the girls and the pizza delivery man,” Xander said, waving that aside. “What do we need?”

The Doctor glanced at Dawn and Willow.

“Pretty sure we're going to need a vampire,” Willow said. “A fresh one, still kicking.”

The hammering of the Vashta Nerada against the sealed doors of the Core was a nonstop, deafening cacophony, like standing in the middle of an artillery barrage. Thanks to Xander, though, everyone had hearing protection and was able to carry on, even though the ground trembled beneath them.

“Can't you exile the Vashta Nerada before you cast the spell?!” the Doctor yelled at Willow.

She only got the question because she was reading his lips.

“No!” Willow yelled back, kneeling in the center of a very large pentacle. “They're pretty much the whole biosphere. No piranha, no spell!”

“But what about the books?” the Doctor shouted.

“What about them?” Willow asked.

“Can't they be a . . . a bibliosphere?” the Doctor yelled. “There are a million million of them! Almost as many as the Vashta Nerada!”

Willow stared at him, her mouth hanging over. Her next words were completely inaudible, but if you were staring at her lips, it was possible to see her articulate “that . . . might actually . . . work!

She scanned the circle, doing some fast thinking and consideration. Then she looked back up at the Doctor.

“We only get one chance at this!” Willow yelled. “If I send the Vashta Nerada away from here, and the books won't work, we're done! There's no bringing them back!”

The Doctor nodded. “I understand! Let's do it! Xander!”


Xander had been standing guard over Dawn while she stood at the command node terminal, entranced in the virtual reality world she'd entered.

“Xander, get the swarm and the vampire over to the airlock,” the Doctor shouted. “Close the door behind them and triple lock it!”

Xander slung his rifle over his shoulder, glanced at Dawn, who was still animatedly talking with someone even though they couldn't see the other side of the conversation, and went for their two prisoners.

The vampire had come from an abandoned building near the lake, an older fledgling who'd managed to flee a weak sire. She'd been living off of homeless people and runaways for nearly a year and had finally gotten the nerve to turn someone. Except, that was the night Dawn, Willow, and Xander had captured her.

The swarm had been the first one drawn to their presence in the Core. The Vashta Nerada was livid. They'd been promised the entire planet for the rest of its existence, and here was the Doctor violating that treaty. That first swarm had been ready to devour each and every one of them, except for the trap the Doctor had sprung on it. Now it was neatly bottled up.

Xander grabbed the vampire and hauled her to the air lock they'd created. Once locked, the first swarm and the vampire would be isolated in there, though the other swarms could sense their sister. Once the other door was released, the first swarm could rejoin its sister swarms, but they'd have less than an hour to get out of there if the Vashta Nerada refused the Doctor's offer.

And it was a simple one.

Trade the Library and the hunger of living in among its million million volumes with no real prey for the right to hunt vampires on any planet where they existed. No humans. No sentient species that were still alive. Just the possessed bodies of once living people.

Xander locked each of the wheels to the hatch, checking the magnetization. As he returned, the hammering of the Vashta Nerada, each swarm trying to physically batter their way into the Core, went still. The sudden silence even caused Dawn to look up from her work.

“I hope you don't mind me saying so, Doctor,” Xander said, taking a stance beside him. “But even though I've been fighting vampires at Buffy's side for almost ten years now, this seems . . . pretty damn cold. I kill vampires. I don't feed them to bone stripping swarms.”

The Doctor looked sad, tired, and angry.

“Xander, how many people have the vampires on your world killed?” he asked.

“Willow tried to do the math once, figuring that it started with one vampire killing a person every week on average, and siring another vampire every ten feedings. When it reached the millions, she killed the program,” Xander answered.

The Doctor nodded in agreement. “The Vashta Nerada has killed fewer than ten people on this planet, and on their original home worlds, the worlds which supplied the trees turned in to paper, they almost never hunted sentient species unless an individual was separated and wandering alone in the dark. If the Vashta Nerada accept this . . . well, it seems . . . fitting to me to set one predator against another.”

He took out his sonic screwdriver.

“Dawn, we need you,” he called.

“Just a second,” she answered. “I'll be right back, okay? I need to talk to him, and then I'll bring him on. Just hang in there.”

She took off the headset the Doctor had fashioned for her, dusted herself off, and joined them.

“You put them both in there?” she asked.

The Doctor nodded.

She pulled her iPad out of her backpack, woke it up, and started the relevant app. It showed the remote video of the airlock. The vampire stood, her face in full vamped out mode, and she scanned the five foot by five foot space back and forth, seeing only the magnetic bottle with its moving cloud of dark.

Dawn pressed a few more keys and brought up something resembling a keyboard but with symbols that bore no resemblance to any human alphabet.

“What's that?” Xander asked.

“It's how I'm going to talk to the Vashta Nerada. The Doctor's seen them animate a human skeleton before, but that was contained in a pressure suit,” Dawn explained. “The vampire will dust as soon as it's stripped, so I have to communicate with them directly, and there just isn't any compatibility between their communication and what human vocal cords can do.”

“What the hell kind of classes are you taking?” Xander asked.

She looked up, smiling. “QFU doesn't offer classes, Xander. There are lectures, and I've been to some lulus.”

He looked back at the airlock, shaking his head in amazement. “Just remind me never to tick you off.”


The Doctor held his sonic screwdriver out to the airlock, pressed an activation button, and the tip opened up and glowed red. It emitted a high pitched whine.

On the screen, the magnetic bottle deactivated and disappeared. The swarm was free. It moved so fast, the whole thing was over in less than a blink of an eye. The vampire went from something vaguely human looking to a cloud of dust settling out of the air, and the shadow swarm of Vashta Nerada moved back into the farthest corner from the light to digest its meal.

“Now, Dawn,” the Doctor instructed.

“On it,” she replied.

Her fingers flickered over the screen, and the speaker outside the airlock began to issue noises. Her iPad's speaker made the same noises, and every human being in that room felt their hair stand on end.

Go outside at night to the most abandoned place you can think of, some place no person has stepped foot in years. Stand there and tell yourself that no one knows where you are, but – really – you're perfectly safe. Nothing bad can happen to you, because there's no one else to hurt you. Then, listen to the sounds in the night and keep telling yourself that.

That's the language of the Vashta Nerada.

“I think I'll turn up the lights,” Xander whispered.

“Good idea,” the Doctor agreed.

It got so bad that each of them was constantly looking over his or her shoulder or up over their head to check the ceiling above. After a moment, though, the sounds dropped off to almost nothing, and they each breathed a sigh of relief.

Dawn looked up from her screen, almost dizzy with relief.

“They said yes,” she told them. “They accept.”

“Willow,” the Doctor called. “How long?”

“Give me about fifteen minutes to tweak the spell so I can release them first,” she answered, leaning over and smudging out symbols written on the marble floor tiles.

“Doctor,” Dawn asked. “Do you want to talk to her?”

A brief flicker of some expression – pain, hope, maybe joy – crossed his face.

“Oh, yes,” he whispered.

Imagine your version of a literal heaven. For a little girl of ten some three hundred years ago – or three thousand two hundred years from now, depending on your point of view – it was all the stories ever written in books on any planet on any date, collected there in the library both in bound copies and electronic copies.

Imagine dying and waking up in another person's heaven and realizing that the man you'd spent the large majority of your life loving, saving, being saved by – an exasperating, impossible, delicious, and incredibly wonderful man – had saved you after you'd died and put you in that heaven, because he couldn't bear the thought of you being gone.

Imagine your relief that you weren't alone in this heaven. That there were four other adults who'd died and been saved to this heaven as well as a ten year old girl and the two child programs she'd created.

Now, imagine living in that world for several centuries.

In the first five years, they'd learned each other inside and out, as well or better than any other people had ever come to know anyone else. In the first ten, they'd come to unspoken agreements about where to draw the lines in their constant relationships. In the first twenty, they'd started taking turns going off alone into the world Charlotte Abigail Lux's mind lived in, exploring all the stories ever written. And they'd managed since then – returning to favorite stories, trying out new ones, and occasionally coming back to stay with Charlotte and the twins while the others took their turns elsewhere.

River Song was currently watching Odysseus make a fool of himself over Circe. She'd decided to play the part of Athena and tweak the nimble-witted one, see if she couldn't get him to be a little less focused on philandering and a little more focused on getting home to his wife. Ten year voyage her foot.

“I suppose the classics never grow dull,” the man behind her said.

She whirled around, and there he was – impossible, exasperating, wonderful, and so sad, she wanted to cry for him.

She whispered his name, and he smiled. The grief covering his face cracked and melted away, and joy overtook him. They hugged, and when she let go, he kissed her.

And this time, the world didn't end.

When they broke, she was already crying.

“I never thought I'd see you again,” she managed, wiping her tears away.

He took over the job for her.

“I'm sorry,” he told her. “When I uploaded you to the command node, there was no time to stay, and the Vashta Nerada had the entire planet. I couldn't risk coming back if I didn't have an answer. Did Dawn explain everything to you?”

“Dawn?” she frowned in confusion. “I thought I was talking to the Moirai. They were cryptic, as usual, but I got the general idea that things were going to change.”

He took her by the shoulders, rubbing his thumbs over the points of her bones, and inhaled.

“I thought originally there was no way to bring you back, River, no way even to see you. I had to be happy with the idea that you still lived somewhere, somehow. Then, I met a Key, and-”

“A key?” River demanded. “But . . . that's just myth. Legend.”

He smiled. “Oh, no. They're very real. I could have told you before this, but it never came up. Anyway, long story short – thanks to Dawn and her friends, I can bring you back into the real world. Whole. Intact. You as you are. But you have to say yes.”

“What about the others? Proper Dave and Other Dave, Evangelista, Anita, and Charlotte?” River asked. “They're still here too.”

The Doctor lost his smile. “Dawn met them, probably the same way she met you – appearing to them as characters from the stories they're currently in. She queried the node, even talked to Doctor Moon, but . . . they weren't uploaded from my sonic screwdriver. Their conscious minds weren't captured the way yours was. Their neural impressions were caught in the Library's wifi, and CAL filled in all the gaps. She did a good job extrapolating, but . . . I'm sorry, River. Your friends can only exist here.”

“What about Charlotte?” River asked. “She was direct upload as well.”

“We could,” the Doctor admitted. “But Charlotte is the command node. If we take her away the entire CPU would fault and die. Everything in the Core would be lost, including your friends.”

“We have to give them that choice,” River said.

“And what about you?” the Doctor asked. “I'll do whatever you ask, but tell me what you want.”

She stared at him, almost unable to say the word. To live again, to face the Silence, to see the Earth, to see her parents, to work and teach and . . . love. Oh, yes. To love.

“Of course,” she said simply. “Yes. Always.”

He kissed her, and he took his time about it.

“Dawn, shut that tub down,” the Doctor ordered.

“Are you sure?” Dawn asked. “You take the Flesh offline, it loses all of its programming.”

The Doctor glanced at Willow, and she nodded.

“Yes, I'm sure. Willow's answer is better, far more workable. The Flesh can be deprogrammed – killed – with a simple electrical pulse. If there's any alternative, I'll take it.”

Willow worked on redrawing yet another section of her spells. The Vashta Nerada was gone, and the entire Library echoed with true silence.

“I don't get this,” Xander whispered to Dawn. With the Vashta Nerada gone, he'd put his weapons away.

“Willows using the books to power her spell instead of the totality of biological life,” Dawn explained.

“Yeah, I got that part,” Xander agreed. “I don't get how you skip from that to 'and we don't have to provide a body for River' though.”

“It's kind of mind-bendy,” Dawn whispered back to him. “Biological life fades away. It always does. It has an outer limit, even if the individual entities replace themselves with offspring. Books? Stories? Once a story is told, especially once it's published, there's pretty much no destroying it. And it propagates every time it's told. This library has stories that are nearly six thousand years old – all of human civilization that ever made it into print, video, audio, or any other method of recording. Nearly all of these stories exist in one way or another on other planets, in other people's minds. The worst that'll happen is that people forget some of the stories they've read, but they can always read them again for the first time.

“Once Willow grokked that,” Dawn continued, “it was a pretty simple jump. There are a million million books here. The entire planet is covered in shelves and stacks, archives, catalogues, everything. In a way, it's an even bigger power source than the Dreaming. The power's not the upper limit; Willow's ability to control it is.”

Xander watched Willow work for a long moment.

“So, does he know about how she occasionally gets all dark and scary, and how when she says 'bored now', people wet their pants in fear?”

“Yeah,” Dawn said, nodding. “I told him all about you guys.”

Xander looked at her askance.

“Any particular reason?” he asked.

“Well, first, because he believed every word,” Dawn said. “I don't think I've ever had that happen. And second, because he knows everything about me. Third, I'm pretty sure we're going to be seeing a lot more of him.”

“Strangely,” Xander said, “that doesn't make me feel any better.”

“It shouldn't,” Dawn answered. “He's pretty amazing, but there's no getting around the fact that if he shows up, you were already screwed. You just didn't know it.”

When the spell took, it was almost as fast as a Vashta Nerada attack. The lifeforce of the library and its books was a golden, glowing cloud that spun and coalesced into a person-sized nebula, grew dense, shrank, and took on form.

For a split second, the form of River Song stood, made entirely of energy, and then all the light in the room poured into it. It transformed from energy to the flesh and blood of a living woman in a pulse of blinding light that knocked everyone down.

And River Song stood in the middle of the spell circle, Willow's collapsed body at her feet.

“Will!” Xander yelled, getting up and running to her.

Dawn joined him, and the two gently turned her over.

The Doctor got to his feet as well.

“Is she all right?” he asked them.

“She's fine,” Xander said, looking up. “Just knocked for a loop.”

“She's okay, Doctor,” Dawn added.

“Wow,” Willow managed.

Relieved, the Doctor slowly turned to the last person in the room and raised his eyes to her.

She stood there, smiling. Smiling and completely naked.

“Hello, sweetie.”

The End

You have reached the end of "Hello, Sweetie". This story is complete.

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