Chapter Twenty Seven
"Oh, yeah, Rose and Lily get along really well, in the future," Jack told Buffy, as they wandered through the woods, looking out for vampires and other nasties. Which was a lot harder than either of them had thought, since most of the baddies had fled when they discovered the big evil was coming to town. "There are going to be the usual sibling fights, of course, but in general, they look out for each other." He paused. "I guess that's why Lily and the Doctor never really got along. Lily always resented him taking her sister away. Although… she might just have been jealous that she never got to go along, too." He grinned. "She's a firecracker, that Lily. Great kid."
"Shame none of that's ever going to happen, now," Buffy said. She glanced at her surroundings. "Seeing the state of the world."
Jack said nothing, his silence swallowing a deep plethora of emotions.
"How did you meet the Doctor, anyways?" Buffy asked, trying to stop them both from thinking what they were — inevitably — thinking. "I never got the full story."
Jack gave a charming grin that looked a little too forced. "World War II," he said. "Rose was floating from a barrage balloon, high above London, in the middle of an air raid. I swept her off her feet."
Buffy rolled her eyes. "And the Doctor?"
"I… accidentally… almost destroyed the human race," Jack admitted. "The Doctor stepped in, saved the day, and gave me a piece of his mind. Then he saved my neck when I least expected it." He laughed. "Pulled off a last-minute rescue. That's him all over."
"So where did the 'gas mask zombies' come in?" Buffy asked.
Jack's smile faltered. "He told you about that one, huh?"
"He mentioned it once or twice."
Jack grimaced. "Before you judge, just know that… I was bitter. I'd just got out of the Time Agency and found five years of memories gone out the window. I was a con-man, trying to sell worthless space junk to desperate Time Agents. Except it turned out… one of the bits of worthless space junk had something inside it."
"Let me guess," said Buffy. "Evil alien-demon-type things that started killing people."
"No, just nanogenes," said Jack. "They're little tiny robots designed to analyze the genetic makeup of a creature, and heal any injuries in a second. Except… the first human being they came across was a dead little boy. Killed earlier that evening." A hint of sadness crept into Jack's eyes. "Looking for his mom."
"The nanogenes replicated him," said Jack. "Every human they found, they turned into a little boy searching for his mom. Not just that. An army of soldiers, ready to tear apart the world to find a mother that wasn't even theirs. There just… wasn't enough left of that boy… for him to understand. Change his purpose. Work it out."
A child. Killed. Its remnants scattered across the human race, creating an army. A group of soldiers to fight against the forces of darkness. Even when the essence of what made them who they were might destroy the human race.
Buffy understood that.
"How'd the Doctor fix it?" Buffy asked.
"He found the boy's mother," said Jack. "Used her to reprogram the nanogenes. The nanogenes then zipped around and turned all the humans back to normal, and everything wound up okay. Happy ending!" He gave her a forced smile. "There aren't enough of those."
"No," Buffy agreed. Thinking about her own multitude of unhappy endings.
Jack stopped in his tracks, and put a hand on Buffy's shoulder. Buffy turned around to face him.
"Look, Buffy," said Jack. "That… man in the leather jacket. The one you keep seeing. Are you sure it's not the Doctor?"
"I'm sure," said Buffy. "I get the regeneration thing. And unless the Doctor eventually regenerates into a shape-shifting ghost, it's not him."
"It's just… if this whole thing were to play out," Jack said, "the previous regeneration of the Doctor is still going to show up on Earth in 2005 to defeat the Nestene Consciousness and meet Rose. He'll notice the world is completely different than it's supposed to be, and he'll track down the source of the interference through time, so he can fix it. It makes sense that he'd be here."
"Jack," said Buffy, with a sigh. "I threw a crumpled piece of paper through his body. And he can change shape. Trust me, whoever this is, it's not him."
Jack dropped his hand, his face falling in disappointment.
"Sorry," said Buffy.
"I love that man," Jack confessed to her. He clenched his fists by his sides. "No matter what the face. And whatever's made him like this — evil, remorseless, and uncaring — I want it pulled out of his brain and bludgeoned to death. Slowly and painfully."
"I know the feeling," Buffy muttered.
"Every time I hear what he's done, every time I see the effects of it, it just makes me…" He gritted his teeth, the pain shining through his eyes.
"I've seen good people when they lose their souls," Buffy offered. "Like the Doctor has. You just have to remember — it's not him, anymore. Not inside. Inside, he's a monster."
Jack said nothing for a very long time, his eyes dark, his face grave.
Then, in a voice barely above a whisper, "He still has a soul."
Buffy stared at Jack. "What?"
Jack glanced up at her. "I don't know what happened. I don't know why. But… he can still feel guilt. I've seen him feel guilt. Every single time I die. Even when I'm not around Rose." He took a shaky breath. "And I know. When you lose your soul… the one thing you never — ever
— feel… is guilt."
Buffy didn't know what to say. She shook her head. "No. No! Of course he doesn't have a soul, anymore! He got munched on by vampires! He got taken over by the First!"
"The First's done something to him," Jack said. "I don't know what it's done, or how to fix him. But I'm sure. Deep down inside, the Doctor's still himself."
"Killing people?" Buffy demanded. "Not giving chances? Not caring? Not looking twice after he ended the world? The Doctor would never do that! Not in a million, billion years!"
Jack said nothing for a long time.
"You haven't seen him when he's really, really angry," he whispered. "When he completely loses his temper."
Buffy was about to protest, but then remembered. What happened when the Doctor faced Daleks. How he'd long since lost all hints of pity or compassion when dealing with them, how he could let whole worlds be drained of their life-force energy, or make massive moral mistakes — all in the name of wiping them out.When you fight Daleks, you become Daleks.
"The First's manipulating his emotions," Jack said. "Has to be. Making him always act the way he does when he's really, really angry. That's part of why the Doctor's doing all this, now." He sighed. "But, like you said. It doesn't explain it all." He paused, then muttered, "Even against the Daleks, the Doctor chose to be a coward rather than a killer."
Buffy squeezed her eyes shut, pushing the thoughts from her mind. She couldn't
deal with the idea that this was — really was
— the Doctor. That all that death and destruction and horror might actually exist in some dark part of the Doctor's actual soul.
"But why?" Buffy demanded. "Why would the First leave the Doctor with his soul? It doesn't make sense! There's no reason…" She stopped, as she realized. As it all made sense. What the man-in-the-leather-jacket had told her. What she'd seen of the First. What she knew. "The balance."
"Between good and evil?" Jack asked. "Universal law of the cosmos. What of it?"
"The Doctor's independent from it," Buffy said. "But only if it's him
. Take away his soul, and the First has to adhere to the balance, again."
Jack blinked. "Huh?"
"If the First just takes the Doctor over, completely," Buffy explained, "and destroys his soul, then its actions are limited by the balance between—"
"No, I understand what you said," Jack interrupted. "It's just… impossible. Buffy, the balance is a fundamental universal law, laid down eons ago by forces more powerful than we can even imagine. No one is just… immune!"
"Then why's the First able to do all this stuff?" Buffy asked. "Why's the First able to destroy the Slayer Line without waiting for my resurrection? Why's the First able to nearly kill Rose in revenge for her dumping him down a black hole, way before she ever did it? Why's the First able to destroy humanity before it ever began, with no backlash of good rising up in response?"
Jack didn't have an answer to this.
"I don't get how or why, but the Doctor doesn't follow the same rules we do," said Buffy. "As long as the Doctor is still himself, as long as he has his own soul, the First can do whatever it wants."
"As long as he has his own soul…" Jack repeated.
He glanced over at Buffy, who met his eyes with her own. She knew what he was thinking. Exactly what she herself was thinking, now. If the First was only able to act because the Doctor still had his soul, then the best way to make the First powerless — the one way they could ensure that they stopped the First completely…
They both stood very still.
"No," said Jack.
Buffy felt that familiar horrible aching sorrow inside of her, the dread and misery of realizing that death followed her, everywhere, and she was its creator. The sorrow she was now so good at stuffing behind a cold, stone veneer of grim determination.
Because this was 1998.
Buffy reached into her pocket — the place where she kept it, ever since she'd first arrived back in 1998 — and drew out a small, glowing white cube with alien writing etched into the outside. Its glow faint upon her skin.
Jack stared at it.
"It's a Dalek Infiltration weapon," Buffy explained. "Designed to drain your soul completely. Except… it only works on one person."
Jack looked into Buffy's eyes, horror spreading across his face. "You can't…"
"The Doctor knows the location of the Key to Time," Buffy snapped, her hand closing around the Maer'Isa. "He's the only one that can get it. And if Dawn was that powerful — as a single segment — then I really, really
don't want to see the First gain access to the whole thing."
Jack opened his mouth to protest, but found he had nothing to say.
"The First hasn't found it, yet," Buffy said. "Or it would have used the Key by now. Maybe… only the TARDIS can get to the Key, or something." That would have been something the Doctor would do — make sure Buffy fried the one device that could give the First what it really wanted. "But… if the First ever fixes the TARDIS… if it finds some way to get the Key…" Buffy took in a deep breath, and raised the Maer'Isa up, "…then we use this." She paused, her eyes fixed on the cube. "I use this," she corrected.
At least she could spare Jack that pain.
Jack stared at Buffy. "Buffy…"
His voice appealing to her — begging her for mercy — as if she was still that person she'd been, two years ago. That kind, forgiving, merciful, compassionate Buffy, the Buffy who'd do anything to save her sister.
But that Buffy was dead.
"To save every facet of existence," Buffy told Jack. "Everyone and everything in every universe, past, present, and future. I have to. No matter what the cost to myself, or my best friends, or the people I love. It's my job." She paused, then added, in a softer voice, "And if the Doctor was still himself, he'd want me to."
Jack took a deep breath, his eyes fixed on the ground, his jaw set. He seemed to accept this. "If there's any way that we can do this without… killing him…"
"I know," Buffy said, stuffing the cube back into her pocket. She felt her hardness fall a little, at the misery on Jack's face, and gave a long sigh. "There's a chance. A small chance, but… a chance. Spike got better, and he didn't even have a soul to start with. If the Doctor still has his soul, if he's just being manipulated by the First — then there's got to be some way we can get the real him back."
"Using Rose," Jack said.
Buffy shook her head. "No, no, there's something else! Something I'm missing! I keep feeling like… I don't know. Maybe there's some plan!" Her eyes lit up. "Yeah! I mean, maybe the Doctor had a plan, before he turned evil, and just didn't tell us, and we have to figure out what it is!"
Jack gave a humorless laugh. "I don't think the Doctor ever plans that far ahead."
Buffy dropped her head, the light in her eyes extinguished. "I know."
They said nothing for a few long minutes. The only sound was that of the birds chirping in the trees, and the wind rushing through the air.
"What's he planning, now?" Jack asked.
"Something to do with the Hellmouth," said Buffy. "Don't ask me what. If it was your normal Big Bad, I'd say he was trying to open it. But knowing the Doctor, I think it's pretty safe to say it's probably something worse than that. Like… accessing the hidden pocket system beneath it to get some super artifact that could destroy civilizations, or… inverting it, or… I don't know. Punching through it."
"Or something clever that we haven't even thought of," Jack muttered. He grabbed a stake from Buffy's weapons-sack, slung over her shoulder, and marched off into the forest. "Don't want to think about this, anymore."
Buffy went after him. She knew how difficult it was to deal with stuff like this. It was what had hardened her, over the years. What had turned her into the person she was now.
(If the Doctor she'd known, in her world — the Doctor who'd known her, and loved her — could see her, now, what would he think? What would he say? Would he even recognize her, anymore? Would he just shake his head, walk away, and decide she was a lost cause?)
No point in wondering. That world was gone. This was reality, now.
Movement to Buffy's right. She turned, her weapons raised, ready to pounce on her unknown assailant.
There, standing by a nearby tree, was the man in the leather jacket. Arms crossed. Looking on at her with a somber expression on his face. The man that wasn't the Doctor.
"Buffy?" Jack asked, noticing her distraction.
Buffy blinked, and the apparition was gone. She glanced back at Jack. "You didn't see him?"
Buffy sighed, and shook her head. What did it say about her, that she knew basically all the super-powerful entities in the world, and was seriously pissed off at most of them?
She got back to her patrol.