In which the Doctor falls victim to dramatic irony
Thanks again to all you wonderful reviewers. Your feedback warms my soul. TAO, I would be very happy if you updated The Jacket
and I'd imagine a lot of others would be, too.
Willow led them south, cutting mostly across family lawns in a straight-ish line, a confused and frightened girl following her for the promise of safety and the Doctor bringing up the rear. He continued to scan the area with his sonic as they walked. Unfortunately it wasn’t telling him anything that he didn’t already know.
A few blocks later and they reached their destination. It was a modest house, craftsman-style. The door was locked.
“This is Buffy’s house,” Willow said. “But I kinda don’t want to ask her for her key.”
No, he reflected. Probably not. Sonic screwdriver to the rescue, then. A quick shift of the settings and a deft little flick of his wrist and the lock popped open. Then he pushed the door in and peeked inside. “Doesn’t seem to be anyone home.”
“Hello?” Willow called out. “Mrs. Summers?” There was no reply. “Good, she’s gone.” Then she led them inside.
The Doctor shut and re-locked the door – couldn’t be too careful – as not-Buffy asked, “where are we?”
“Your place. Now we just need to—” Willow was interrupted by a sudden banging on the front door. “Don’t open it!”
As if the Doctor was that daft.
Well, sometimes he was. It was a calculated daftness, though – which meant it wasn’t really daftness at all, rather; more a different shade of genius – but that was neither here nor there. Certainly not relevant right now.
“We are very likely about to have company,” he warned them. Out of the corner of his eye he saw not-Buffy pick a framed photograph off a small table and study it intently.
“This… this could be me.”
you!” Willow exclaimed, exasperated. “Buffy, can’t you remember at all?”
“No!” the girl – either Buffy or not Buffy, depending on whom you asked – shouted. “I, I don't understand any of this! Uh, uh, th... this is some other girl! I would never wear this, that low apparel, and I don't like this place, and I don't like you, and I just want to go home!”
home!” Willow told her with equal vehemence, and the other girl was practically in tears. “She couldn't've dressed up like Xena?” she asked him, as though she assumed that he’d know what she meant. Maybe it was a rhetorical question?
Well either way, not-Buffy was rapidly approaching hysterics and Willow’s impatience with her was hardly helping. The Doctor could sympathize. With both of them, actually. He knew firsthand how distorting amnesiatic time-displacement could be. From both sides of the fence.
Then suddenly whatever was outside decided to try for a forceful entry. It punched through the narrow window beside the door and reached a clawed hand inside. The Doctor brought the butt end of his sonic down hard on the appendage, hoping to discourage it. Brute force was inelegant but often quite effective as a last resort.
“This could get interesting,” he declared as he peered out through the jagged hole the creature left in the windowpane. Fortunately it was retreating, likely in search of easier prey.
He’d just turned his back when they all heard a scream from outside. He spun around and peered through the broken window again. A rather terrified-looking individual in a skintight ensemble was running pell-mell towards them, chased by a large, hairy… something. He cursed again and rushed out the door.
“Somebody help me!” The woman – well, it had a human female face to go with its cute little pointed ears – turned to glance behind her at the exact wrong moment and only his superior Time Lord reflexes allowed him to catch her before she plowed into him.
“Xander! Help me!”
Ah. Someone else who’d met his alias, then. Which set him wondering – exactly how many
nubile young women had he surrounded himself with this trip? Did the TARDIS materialize inside the local sorority, or something?
“Come inside.” He ushered her through the doorway, ignoring for the moment what she’d called him – he’d sort that later. He shut and locked the door behind them again.
“Cordelia!” Willow shouted, startled.
His pointy-eared friend – who point of fact was very obviously wearing a cat costume, now he could see it up close and in decent lighting – looked around with a fair bit of confusion. “Wait? What's going on?”
“Well, that’s a bit of an interesting story,” he hedged, even as he wondered why, if she’d dressed as cat, she wasn’t walking around on all fours right now. What had spared her? Not that he was complaining, of course. An unafflicted ally could be dashedly useful.
Willow though obviously hadn’t reached the same conclusions he had. “Okay, your name is Cordelia, you're not a cat, you're in high school, and we're your friends. Well, sort of.”
The girl – Cordelia, apparently; pretty name, very King Lear
– balked at this. “That's nice, Willow. And you went mental when?”
“You know us?” Fittingly, Willow was absurdly happy to be insulted.
“Yeah. Lucky me,” Cordelia griped. “What's with the name game?”
“A lot’s going on.”
“No kidding,” she agreed, same sarcastic tone as before. “I was just attacked by Jo-Jo, the Dog-Faced Boy. Look at my costume! Do you really think that Partytown's gonna give me my deposit back? Not on the likely.”
The Doctor saw she was shivering slightly, though if it was in reaction to the cold or to recent events, he couldn’t really tell. That and beneath the layer of incredulousness and indignation it was obvious there was some very real fear brewing – all the complaining and belittling was probably a defense mechanism, then. How charming. As he didn’t want yet another potentially hysterical female on his hands he shucked out of his jacket and draped it over her shoulders, though he did remember to snag his sonic as he did so. It fit nicely into the cargo patch on his trousers.
“Here,” he said. He hoped he sounded friendly.
“Thanks,” Cordelia muttered, sincerely enough he figured he’d managed it. Sometimes it was the little kindnesses that helped the most.
“Okay.” Willow seemed to be getting her second wind. “You guys stay here while I get some help. If something tries to get in, just fight it off.”
The Doctor was about to protest, only not-Buffy beat him to it. Sort of.
“Well, i-it's not our place to fight,” she stammered. “Uh, surely some men will protect us?”
Cordelia gaped at her. “What’s that riff?”
“It's like amnesia, okay?” Willow explained. “They don't know who they are. Just sit tight.”
! I know exactly who I am,” the Doctor protested. “What I don’t know is what you meant when you said ‘help.’ Help from whom?”
“A friend,” she said. “Giles. He’s, uh, the local expert on – um, on stuff like this.”
“Ah. The one who’ll supposedly ‘have kittens’ when he sees me, then?” Maybe this Giles was familiar with his reputation. At this date and time that meant he was probably affiliated with UNIT somehow. Late 1990s – did they have an American presence yet?
Willow nodded. “And I’m a ghost, remember? Nothing can touch me. It’s better if I go alone.”
Well. He couldn’t exactly argue that logic. Didn’t mean he had to like it, but given the circumstances…
“Be careful,” he admonished. “Just because the rift hasn’t coughed out anything that can affect you yet, that doesn’t mean that it won’t.”
“I will,” she said. “Keep them safe.” Then she was striding through the wall.
“Who died and made her the boss?” Cordelia muttered as Willow disappeared.
“She did,” he answered truthfully. “Now I can’t help but wonder why you’re not considerably smaller, furrier, and purrier right now. Why do you suppose you were spared when the rest of us were not?”
Cordelia blinked. “Luck?” she offered. “Also – who’re you?”
“I should like to know that, too,” not-Buffy added.
“I’m the Doctor,” he said. Just what had his disguise been like if he was acting so very differently now?
Oh, dear. He hadn’t gone mucking about with the chameleon arch again, had he? Surely not.
“Yeah, so says the nametag. I say again – who are you
Nametag? The Doctor glanced down at himself, only to see he wasn’t wearing a name badge of any kind. Confused, he looked up again, intending to ask after what she’d meant, and that’s when he caught sight of the square white rectangle affixed to his jacket. Sure enough, “the Doctor,” was written there in an unknown hand, right below the stock-printed introduction Hello, my name is
. Well, that proved the dressing-as-himself theory, at any rate. As for the rest…
For the benefit of not-Buffy and her eighteenth century sensibilities it was best he kept this simple. “A friend,” he said. “Well, hopefully. But I am someone who can help. You just have to trust me. Willow and I – and possibly the help she named – will get this sorted, I promise. Until then I’ll keep you safe, you have my word as a gentleman.” He doffed his hat and bowed to her, a short little dip at the waist, but it seemed to please her.
“I thank you, kind sir,” not-Buffy said. And she seemed calmer, which was good.
Cordelia, though, was gaping at him. “What the hell kind of amnesia is this?”
The Doctor sighed. With a sudden, sharp pang he remembered Jaime and his wonderful gift of adaptability. It was an old pain though, well worn, and he dismissed it easily.
“It’s not,” he said, “not really. Though that is the simplest explanation.” He tossed his fedora onto the coffee table – he was indoors, and it looked as though he was going to be staying – and plonked himself down onto the sofa. If he
looked relaxed then they might subconsciously decide to follow suit, depending on how much trust they’d already assigned him as default Person In Charge. Funny how often that little trick worked: a little bit of charisma, a few half-truths and maybe a well-placed bluff, and people tended to place way more faith in him than he ever actually deserved.
Anyway it was worth a shot, especially as he wasn’t sure if Willow’s level of knowledge was a suitable baseline or if she’d been ahead of the curve. In his experience rift energies tended to act as a kind of natural perception filter, and humans as a species were uncannily adept at rationalization. Time to find out on which side of the scale young Cordelia resided.
“According to yon Willow, something’s happened that may or may not involve the trans-dimensional rift beneath our feet – a “hellmouth,” I believe she called it, though she claims it’s not at fault. I tend to doubt that, though – in my experience rifts are never not
connected to the unusual events that surround them – but it seems to have quite literally turned everyone into their Halloween costumes. Well, everyone except for the two of us, myself most likely because the extent of my costume was, apparently, a sticky name badge,” he gestured at his coat, “and yourself for reasons as yet unknown. I do hope you have a theory, because I seem to be fresh out.”
Bugger. Still gaping.
“Damn hellmouth,” she said after a moment, which was good because he had no idea what he would’ve said next.
“Indeed,” he agreed, relieved. Then he sighed again. He seemed to do that a lot in this regeneration. Crotchety old man, indeed. “Well, it seems we’re stuck here for the moment, might as well batten down the hatches. Can you secure the upstairs? Make sure the windows are locked and all that? I’ll do the same for this floor.” In his experience people tended to stay calmer when they didn’t feel helpless, and menial tasks often made the best distractions. Besides that, securing their perimeter was actually a prudent thought.
Cordelia nodded at him and departed up the stairs. The Doctor, meanwhile, figured now would be a good time to call his TARDIS to him, out of sight of the one girl who might distract him with questions and in the presence of another who would likely dutifully ignore him, rigid class and gender lines and all that. Thankfully his key was right where he’d left it: stuffed neatly into pocket-within-a-pocket on the right side of his trousers. Hopefully he had the homer on him, else he’d have to cannibalize some of the household electronics. Quint audio-visual equipment, it looked like, along with the ubiquitous telly.
“Surely there's somewhere we can go,” he heard not-Buffy say. “A safe haven?”
Now – where
did he stash that homing device? When was the last time he used it? Come to think of it, did he ever get it back from River after their trip to Venteras?
“Willow told us to stay here,” he reminded her as he started patting down his remaining pockets, one by one. “Best we stay where she left us, yeah?” Hopefully it wasn’t currently upstairs in his jacket – exactly why he finally switched to cargo trousers this regeneration. Age before wisdom.
“You would take orders from a woman? A-are you feeble in some way?” Ah-ha! There
you are. Left side cargo pouch, right below what had to be a truly ancient bag of jelly babies. Some of them had spilled, and were now partially melted to the casing. Yuck. He shrugged off not-Buffy’s question and set about peeling them off with his fingernails.
“When the orders are sensible,” he said as he finished, quite sensibly in fact. Then he slid the yale key into the receiver. One quick zap from his sonic to activate it and the device started warming in his hands, the only outward sign that it was working. If he was right his TARDIS should be close enough he could do this on one charge.
He slipped the whole thing back into his cargo pocket and threw a grin at not-Buffy, except she was standing over by the staircase with her back to him. She was staring at the portraits on the walls with a sort of morbid fascination. The one she’d discarded earlier had fallen to the floor by his feet. Curious, he picked it up – and was quite well and thoroughly shocked
at what he saw. It was a photo of Buffy, Willow, and himself, only not-Buffy was blonde, Willow was wearing considerably more clothing, and he—
was dressed rather like he’d lost a bet with Jack. Not good. Not good at all. He’d only been half serious when he’d pondered the idea of the chameleon arch being at least somewhat to blame. Now he had to seriously consider the possibility it might be true – how else could he explain the obvious camaraderie in the picture before him? He could have called himself Zander to blend in, and then taken his costume idea from the dreams that inevitably bled through. Would explain his amnesia, at any rate.Didn’t
explain how Willow knew who he was, though. Maybe he’d shared something of those dreams with her, and she just presumed he’d been taken over by his costume along with everyone else? How delightfully ironic.
…Unless she’d been his safety, the one he’d asked to make sure he actually looked into the thing at the appropriate time, but surely she would have told him when she saw he’d come back early? Unless he was supposed to come back on Halloween all along, to deal with whatever had caused this. That was a distinct possibility.
Well, hopefully he’d done just that, and whatever happened that turned everyone into their costumes had erased his recent memory when it slammed him inside an advanced construct of – well, of himself, actually. Anything else – this construct interfering with the arch while all his Time Lordy bits were still inside – would be absurdly dangerous for him. If he was lucky the worst that would happen would be he’d revert to Zander again when all was said and done, but then he was so very rarely lucky, these days. Not like that, at least.
sorting,” he sighed, depressed.
Last time it had been Martha with him. Brave, brilliant, beautiful Martha, and better off without him in the end. One of the lucky few to escape his orbit relatively unscathed, and to go on to bigger, better, and brighter things. Late 1990s, yeah? Somewhere in London she was quite probably the exact same age as these girls, here. He took a moment to miss her, truly and fiercely and with both of his hearts, before putting her memory to rest again, beside the rest of his ghosts. At least hers didn’t hurt quite so much as – others.
Ah, not-blonde not-Buffy. He turned to face her. She was reaching for the picture in his hands, and so he handed it to her, watched her gaze into it like an old-fashioned looking glass, and wondered – did she see her brunette reflection superimposed upon the blonde? Or, perhaps, was that the other way around?
“But… how can this be possible?”
The Doctor smiled brightly. “Question of the hour, yeah? What do you think?”
“Think?” the girl demanded, incredulous. “I don’t think. I was brought up a proper lady. I-I wasn't meant to understand things. I'm just meant to look pretty, and then someone nice will marry me. Possibly a baron.”
“Well, there are no barons here,” he informed her. “Just three very confused people.”
This earned him a small smile from the girl. Then suddenly a noise from the back of the house startled them all. Rassilon! I was supposed to be securing the locks!
“Someone’s coming,” he whispered, inwardly cursed himself for his dalliance. Even though calling the TARDIS was very much necessary, he still should have done as he’d said and secured the ground floor first. Or even after, if he’d only skipped the stroll down memory lane. Stupid!
You’d think he was going senile.
Not-Buffy emitted a rather high-pitched squeak and scrambled around to stand behind him. He palmed his sonic, and watched the shadows shift in the room beyond as whatever it was – upright, bipedal, lumbering gate – stalked towards them.
“Oh, good!” a male voice declared, just as the man it belonged to waltzed into the room. “You guys are alright. It's total chaos out there.” Their mystery guest seemed quite relieved to find them unharmed. That meant he knew them. That was – hopefully – a good thing. Hopefully it meant they weren’t the worse off for his mistakes, though—
Three lovely young girls and a slightly older gentleman with a fashion sense straight out of his ninth regeneration? Oh, what had
he been up to, this little arch-y holiday?
And more importantly, the fact the man recognized them meant he, like Cordelia, had somehow been spared. Well, unless he’d also dressed as a ghost, but again, the ghost of what
? Whatever happened to long white sheets? Parents finally grew tired of their kids destroying the linens?
“Who are you?” not-Buffy asked suddenly, because of course she wouldn’t recognize him. Not that the Doctor recognized him either, mind, but at least he had an explanation. Poor not-Buffy was rather hopelessly lost in that regard.
Naturally, her question gave the stranger pause. “Okay, somebody wanna fill me in?”
“Do you live here?” the Doctor asked cautiously. His seeming familiarity with the place, and the way he was staring at not-Buffy…
“No, and you know that,” the stranger informed them impatiently. “Buffy, I'm lost here. You – what's up with your hair?”
Because of course that was the most salient point. Not that she didn’t recognize him or that the rift was belching forth a veritable army of nasties from across the multiverse. No, let’s ask why the girl with acute amnesia and a personality graft suddenly has black hair and blonde eyebrows, because that was so very helpful.
Thankfully Cordelia chose that moment to reappear, before the Doctor could fully lose his patience. Though it was odd how quickly his temper seemed to have frayed since the newcomer had joined them. That was more than just a simple – if wholly unfair – transference of his self-recriminations. More bleed-through, perhaps? Maybe Zander had an issue with him?
Oh, he fairly dreaded
finding out which of their young lovelies was the cause of that.
“They don't know who they are,” Cordelia said as she entered, “everyone's turned into a monster, it's a whole big thing. How’re you?”
Naturally, that’s when the lights blinked out.
“Do you mind?” he heard Cordelia ask. It wasn’t too dark for a Time Lord’s eyes though, and he saw that not-Buffy had grabbed onto her arm. Then abruptly she let go.
“Right,” he said. Time to take charge. “You – do you have a name?”
“Angel? Marvelous. Would you mind locking that door behind you, Angel? Who knows what might come through.” Then he turned to not-Buffy. It occurred to him then that he’d never actually gotten her name. None of them had. “My Lady,” he addressed her instead. Nobility tended to frown otherwise, anyway. Names were deeply personal things, after all. “I think you’d be more comfortable in the sitting room, don’t you?”
“This place is so strange,” she said. She sounded lost.
“I know. But we’ll get you home soon. I promise.” That seemed to cheer her a little. Good. Meant she believed him.
He could only hope events didn’t make a liar out of him.