Chapter Thirty One
: Ready for some answers?
Buffy ran for the exit, but it was locked with a steel door, and even her Slayer skills couldn't budge it. He was advancing towards her, and he had the Scythe, and… Buffy had no idea if it was specifically a Slayer
weapon, or if any Time Lord could use it. So she did the next best thing, and ran the other way.
Through a corridor, and into the nearest room she could find. Hiding in one of the corners.
She saw his shadow just outside the door, as it paused, listening. Feeling out. Thinking.
Then he turned, and slammed open the door, entering the room that Buffy was in. The lock sealed behind him, and Buffy knew there was nowhere to hide.
"Nowhere to run," the Doctor announced. "Nowhere to go. No one to save her. And no weapons."
Buffy sprung to her feet, and got into a fighting stance. "I don't need weapons to kill you."
He ignored her. "I've got your little Oblivion Scythe replica," the Doctor continued. "And I'm planning to kill her with it. Full deal. Hack her to pieces. End of the road. Bury the body. Six feet under." He stopped in the center of the room, and glanced around. Then, a little louder, he added, "And you wouldn't want that, would you? You didn't want her dead in the vineyard, and you don't want her dead, here. So if you want Buffy Summers to live, you'd better come out and stop me!"
He stood there, not doing anything, his eyes wandering around the room, a look of increasing annoyance spreading across his face.
"Oh, fine," the Doctor muttered. "If you want a job done right…" He lunged forwards, swiping at Buffy's head with the Scythe. Buffy ducked out of the way, rolling across the ground.
"There!" the Doctor announced to the air. "See? That might have actually hit her! And then where would you be?"
Buffy stared at him, as she got to her feet. "What are you doing?"
"At a guess," came the Northern accent of the apparition that appeared just behind the Doctor's back, "he's trying to summon me."
The Doctor spun around, the Scythe dropping from his hand, as he stared at the entity that had just appeared in the room. "Ah." He scratched the back of his neck. "Now, that wasn't what I was expecting."
The man in the leather jacket glanced over at Buffy. "Wouldn't worry," he told her. "He was never planning to hurt you. Just knew if he threatened you enough, I'd pop by to make sure you were all right."
The Doctor pointed at the man in the leather jacket. "You're not me."
"Who are you?"
The man in the leather jacket gave a little laugh. "Me? Nothing, really. Just a mistake. An accident. Something that shouldn't have happened."
"You can travel through time," the Doctor pointed out. "You can pluck an object from the future, change its purpose, and bring it into the past with no justification for its being there in the first place. And — more importantly — you're far, far more powerful than the First."
The man in the leather jacket shrugged. "In here, yeah. But only in here."
"So who are you?" the Doctor demanded.
The leather jacketed man crossed his arms, and grinned. "Nope! Wrong question! What you should be asking is..." pointing at Buffy, "who's she?"
The Doctor glanced back at Buffy. "Someone you brought into the real world," he said, turning back to the leather jacketed man. "From some other dimension. Or some alternate timeline. Someone you knew would change events, just by being here. She's your… well, your spanner in the works."
"Ah," said the man who wasn't the Ninth Doctor. "Good guess. But wrong way round."
Every trace of warmth drained from the Doctor's face, as he heard those words. "What are you talking about?"
"Wrong way round," the man in the leather jacket confirmed. He nodded over at Buffy. "She's from the real world. I just brought her here for a visit."
"But… but Anya said this is the real world!" Buffy cut in. "And everyone else agreed! They said all the other timelines disappeared."
"Not disappeared, exactly," the man in the leather jacket replied. "They're all right where they're supposed to be. Problem is…" glancing over at the Doctor. "…you're not."
The Doctor was staring at the man in the leather jacket, open-mouthed. "No."
"Worked it out, then?" asked the leather-jacketed man.
"But that's… that's just…" The Doctor shook his head. "That's impossible!" He looked around him, then pointed to the ground. "This! This, here! This is the Axis?"
"Yep," said the man in the leather jacket. He gave a grimace. "Sorry 'bout that."
"What's the Axis?" Buffy asked them.
"The Axis is like a… quarantine system," the Doctor said, spinning on his trainers to face Buffy. "A vast quarantine system for sick timelines. Looks sort of… like a wheel! With the Axis Hub at the center, and every sick timeline a spoke reaching out from it. But the timelines have to play out — otherwise the system falls apart! So they loop. Round and round and round, over and over again, these sick timelines play out, where the world ends and everyone dies and catastrophe occurs. Everything that should never have happened, repeated forever. And no one inside the timeline remembers." He paused a moment, his face growing somber and sad. Then forced a grin, his previous emotion gone in a second. He gestured over at the man in the leather jacket. "And all this is overseen by a Universal Guardian calling itself… well, the Overseer." He dropped his hand. "Except… the Universal Guardians fled at the end of the Time War." He put his hands in his pockets, and stepped towards the man at the other end of the room. "Which means you're not the Overseer."
"Nope," agreed the man in the leather jacket.
"And as far as I can tell," said the Doctor, continuing forwards, "you're not stark raving mad, either. Which discounts the possibility that you're Jarra To."
"Not Jarra To," the man in the leather jacket confirmed. "Told you. I'm an accident. A mistake. Not important."
"No, no, no," the Doctor said. "You're very important. The most important one of all! You're immortal, eternal, omnipresent and probably omniscient — although who knows how far that goes, these days — but…" he peered at the man, analyzing him. "…you're not like the rest of that immortal, eternal lot."
"You can feel
, can't you?" the Doctor asked. "Emotions. Caring. You feel sorry for me." Glancing at Buffy. "You feel protective towards her." Back at the man. "You feel disgust towards Toby."
"A pan-dimensional being," agreed the man, "with the soul of a human."
The Doctor's enthusiasm faded a hair. "Oh, you poor, poor man."
Buffy looked between the two. "Huh?"
"Eternal, omniscient, omnipresent," the Doctor said. "He can see every death that ever happened, ever will happen, ever could happen — and he feels them all."
Buffy glanced over at the man in the leather jacket, and she could see in his face… a sorrow deeper than any she'd ever seen before. A sorrow deeper even than the sorrow she'd seen in the Doctor. There was suffering in that face — an eternal suffering of one who continually sees too much pain, and cannot shut his eyes.
"I can't stop it all," the man in the leather jacket said. "Try. Do my best. But there's always a price. Clear up a war in the future, and lives are lost in the past."
"Oblivion War," the Doctor said. He picked up the Scythe from the ground, and swung it through the air a few times. "Explains this, then. What were you trying to do? Pick up where I left off?"
The man in the leather jacket gave the Doctor a dark look, but said nothing.
"Oh, come off it!" the Doctor protested. "If you can really see the future, you know as well as I that the Oblivion War is an inevitable conflict, whose origins span back millennia. There's only one way to prevent the Oblivion War — and that's to completely wipe the Slayer Line, the Watchers Council, and every one of its customs and traditions from the face of history."
The man in the leather jacket looked over at Buffy. "Or change the future."
The Doctor glanced at Buffy. Then back at the man in the leather jacket. "Ah," he said. "You've worked out something awfully clever, haven't you?"
"She asked me for help," the man in the leather jacket said, glancing over at Buffy. "I decided to do it. Give her a hand. Looked back through her timeline, to try to do what she asked…"
"And while you were looking, you noticed one little thing you could change," the Doctor concluded. "One tiny little event you could switch around. And, in doing so, you'd stop one of the most devastating intergalactic wars of all time."
The man in the leather jacket sighed. "She's right, though," he said, nodding at Buffy. "Didn't just stop a war. Started one, too. Let innocents die. Let evil gain a foothold." He looked away from Buffy, his eyes etched in sorrow. "Ruined her life. Again."
The Doctor looked at the man in the leather jacket with a glimpse of that sympathy he once had. But it was gone in a flash, and he was back to springing around the room, talking animatedly, hands flying through the air as he spoke. "So! How'd someone like you wind up somewhere like the Axis? If that really is where we are—"
"It is," said the man.
"—even though it's utterly impossible," the Doctor continued.
"I found it," the man in the leather jacket replied. "Abandoned, after the Time War. No people, no timelines, no Overseer, no nothing. Just a hub, and a bunch of empty spokes. So I moved on in. Thought it'd work. Suit my purpose."
"And that purpose would be…?" the Doctor asked.
The man in the leather jacket said nothing.
"No, right, course you wouldn't tell me," the Doctor replied. "They never do." He ran a hand through his hair. "So, if this really is the Axis, then why am I stuck in here?"
"You're always in here," the man in the leather jacket said.
"After all, I'm a Time Lord," said the Doctor. "Time Lords never wind up stuck in the timelines in the Axis. We're the ones changing the timelines in the first place."
"You're always in here," the man in the leather jacket repeated.
"And even when we've mucked something up, the quarantine procedure should cut me out, automatically. Temporal beings are always…" The Doctor trailed off, and frowned. "What do you mean, I'm always in here?"
"The Axis once quarantined timelines that threatened the main timeline of the universe," said the man in the leather jacket. "Now, it quarantines timelines that threaten the main timeline of one individual."
The Doctor's eyes widened. "Who, me?"
"You're always in here," the man in the leather jacket said. "And by the end of the timeline, by the point time loops round again, you always work out where you are. What's happening. Why. Every single version of you." He gave a sad laugh. "Even the one where Buffy decided not to restore your memories."
"The Axis is sequestering different versions of me
?" the Doctor asked. "My personal timeline? All the what-ifs and never-happeneds of my personal life? Everything I might have done or could have done or never should have done that would drastically change the outcome of my life?"
"But… why?" the Doctor asked.
"'S my job," said the man in the leather jacket. "My purpose. Why I was created. You get into danger; you love getting into danger — can't change that. But when it all goes horribly, horribly wrong, can always splinter the possibilities, and quarantine the ones that don't work."
The Doctor stared at the man in the leather jacket, his eyes half-way between horror and curiosity. "Who are you?"
The man looked into the distance. "The First once had a body," he said. "But lost it when he was defeated on Krop-Tor." He glanced back at the Doctor. "Once had a corporeal existence, myself. Gave it up voluntarily. That's who I am." He shrugged. "Can only become substantial for a short time, now."
"Gave it up?" the Doctor asked. "But that's a miserable existence! I've seen entities destroy entire planets — entire galaxies — even entire universes, just to gain some semblance of a corporeal existence! Toby's prepared to unlock the Time War just so he can use the power of the Key to get back his body. Why in the Seven Systems would you give yours up?"
"Question for you," the man replied. "When you have a timeline chopped out of time, sequestered in the Axis, in which the people are sentenced to eternally loop their lives round and round — does that make them any less real than the people out there? Does that make you any less real than Buffy, over here?"
The Doctor didn't answer.
"Asked myself that a lot," the man in the leather jacket said. "As I watched them die. Over and over again. You. Rose. Martha. Donna. Buffy. So many others." He glanced back at Buffy. "Angel's died a thousand deaths a thousand times, every one of them brave. Noble. Every one of them showing how good he really is. But outside the Axis, he's still alive. That make any of these Angels less than the real one? That make those thousands of deaths meaningless?"
Buffy wasn't sure how to answer this.
"I live in a land where people die over and over again," said the man. "Doomed to eternal death, eternal struggle, eternal destruction. Can't change the timelines, substantially — would destabilize the Axis itself. Can't get rid of them without blowing time apart. Can't let them go, for fear they'd infect the real timeline. But there is one thing I can do." He gave a small, sad smile. "Can give up my corporeal existence, allow myself to be in more than one place at more than one time, then enter each of the fractured timelines, and make sure that no one has to die alone."
The Doctor's jaw dropped. "Oh."
The man in the leather jacket grinned, and nodded at the Doctor. "You worked out who I am, yet?"
"But that's not… you can't possibly be…" the Doctor paused. Then his eyes lit up, as his mind finally worked it all out. Made sense of everything.
"She said she wanted me safe," the Doctor muttered.
The Doctor gave a small laugh. "She really couldn't control the energy at all, could she?"
"Not one bit."
Buffy just stared on at the two Doctors, trying to figure out if they were ever going to explain this to her, or if she should just assume that they were on some Doctor-Super-Brain-Off and weren't planning on explaining anything.
"What are you talking about?" Buffy tried.
The Doctor spun around, remembering Buffy. He sprung towards her. "So, if that's your origin and your purpose, what's with her? Buffy Anne Summers? She's not part of your job. Got nothing to do with your origins."
The man in the leather jacket gave a toothy grin. "Call her a hobby." He sighed. "And I seem to have a hard time saying no to her."
"Okay, seriously," said Buffy, "what's going on?"
The man in the leather jacket looked over at her. "At the moment," he said, "the Doctor's about to realize what he always realizes, at this point in the timeline."
And sure enough, the Doctor's face suddenly transformed into one of horror. He turned to the man in the leather jacket. "Toby. He's in my head. Reading all my thoughts. Everything I know, he knows. Everything I see, he sees."
"Yep," said the man in the leather jacket.
"You're shielding it right now," the Doctor said. "I can feel you. But you can't shield me forever. The moment you leave, Toby's going to find out. About the Axis. About you. That this timeline is a trap."
"And he'll find out about Jarra To," the man in the leather jacket agreed. "The one entity you encountered, before, that escaped the quarantine. That managed to get into the real Axis, and use it to her own advantage."
"Why did you tell me?!" the Doctor shouted. "Why did you let me know? If I know, Toby knows! He'll escape! And the moment he escapes the quarantine, he'll be stronger than you."
"I told you because I always tell you," said the man in the leather jacket. "Every single version of you. Every single time the timelines loop. I always try to make sure no one dies alone, and I always try to make sure you know the truth, by the end. Because you have a right to know."
"The moment Toby finds out, he'll do everything in his power to escape!" the Doctor insisted. "He will
The man in the leather jacket put his hands in his pockets. "Course he won't. Because you know what that would entail."
The Doctor said nothing for a long moment. "No," he said. "No! That's not fair! I don't want to…"
"But you always will," said the man in the leather jacket. "To save a friend. That is your nature."
The Doctor didn't answer.
The man in the leather jacket stepped past the Doctor, and went over to Buffy. "Sorry about the deception," he said. "Had to make you think this was all real. Or you'd never take it seriously."
"I've still got absolutely no idea what the hell you guys have been talking about for the last five minutes," Buffy said.
"You will," the man in the leather jacket informed her. "Eventually." He nodded back at the Doctor. "Go easy on him. He's one of the more disturbed versions of him in the Axis, but he's still the Doctor. I trust him."
Buffy glanced at the Doctor, then leaned in closer to the man in the leather jacket, and whispered. "I don't get why. He ended the world!"
"He saved a child," said the man. "A baby girl he should never have saved. Gave her a future she should never have had." He gave a small smile. "Can't condemn him for something I've done myself."
Buffy blinked. "Wait, what?"
The man in the leather jacket stepped back, and turned to address the Doctor and Buffy, his large grin back on his face, his clear blue eyes still sad-looking, but determined. "Right, then!" he said. "Better get going. Got timelines to sort out. People to look after. And a few more impossible requests from a certain Slayer—" winking at Buffy, "—to take care of. Some of which require me to take on corporeal existence — in the real world. Outside the Axis. So, best be getting on with that!" His smile dropped, and he turned to the Doctor. "You know what you have to do."
The Doctor said nothing, but gave a small nod.
"Fantastic," said the man in the leather jacket, as he faded away.