"Please," came his voice — soft and gentle, as always. As Buffy chained him to the wall, over and over again. In her dream. "Just let me go."
A thousand things that Buffy wanted to say to him, a thousand worries and concerns and… fears… that she wanted to blurt out. But instead, she just reached for another pair of handcuffs, and attached them around his wrists.
"You've changed," the Doctor said, as if reading her thoughts. His eyes so sad, lamenting the loss of her old self. "You're cold, now. Icy." He peered at her. "What happened to you?"
"I lost you," Buffy said. Then looked down at the chains in her hands, and knew it was a lie. "I lost me
," she corrected.
"I can help you," said the Doctor. "I can make you better. I promise. You just have to do the right thing. And let me go."
Buffy stared at him, trying to hold back tears. Because she wasn't the kind of person who cried, not anymore. But she… couldn't
let him go. She just couldn't.
"They hurt you," she said. Raised up her hand, laid it against his cheek. "They are hurting you. Right now. And I can't stop them."
are hurting me," the Doctor said. "Not them. Just you.
"I'm saving you," Buffy corrected, wrapping a chain around his torso. "That's all I ever wanted to do. Just… save you." She dropped the chain, now secured, then stepped in and hugged him to her. "Make sure you never get hurt. Make sure you never leave me."
"Elizabeth," the Doctor pleaded. "Listen to me. They can't reach me. They can't destroy me. You can."
Buffy pulled away. Stared at him. "What are you talking about?"
He struggled against his chains. "You're going to kill me," he told her. "Deep down inside. You're going to destroy everything that's me."
Buffy opened her mouth to speak, but for a few minutes, no words came out.
"But I love you," she whispered, at last.
"Then please," the Doctor pleaded. "Please. Let me go."
Buffy woke up.
"So," said Jack, plopping down beside Dawn. "Little sis with all the answers."
Dawn felt her face flush. Because… Jack was seriously attractive. And he'd been giving her nods and winks ever since he showed up.
"I'm not… sis," Dawn said. Then realized what she'd said. Stupid, stupid Dawn! "I mean, I'm not little!"
"But you do have all the answers," said Jack. He winked at her. "Smart cookie."
Dawn felt a grin spread across her face. "I'm just… you know. Doing my job, and making Earth safe and… stuff." She hit her feet against the floor. "Just… 19-year-old me. Being all responsible."
Because she had to make sure he knew that she wasn't just some teenage high school student or something. That she was… okay, at least over 18.
Jack's grin slid a little. "Nineteen," he muttered. "Smart. Trouble magnet. Likes wandering off." He winced, then got up. "Sorry," he said.
Dawn jumped to her feet. Oh, God! Had she just said something wrong? "No, it's cool!" she said. "I mean, whatever. It's not important. Unless… you want it to be important! In which case, it is, and…" She cringed, as she noticed his vaguely amused expression. "I'm… sounding like a total idiot, huh?"
"Good thing I know you're not one," said Jack. He turned back to her. "You want me to stay?"
Dawn stared at him. "Uh, yeah," she said. "Basically." She hesitated. "I mean, if you want to!"
"I just thought, with my knowing Rose…" Jack shrugged. Then gave a sheepish grin.
. Again. Great. Dawn crossed her arms, feeling all of her frustration well up inside of her. "Yeah, and I
just think," she muttered, "that maybe people should shut up about that."
"I'm sure your sister loves you very—"
"I said shut up!" Dawn snapped. She stared at him. She'd thought… he'd
understand. But, no. Nothing. "Why is everyone so sure that I hate Rose? I mean, come on! I've never even met her! Not really!"
Jack opened his mouth, but words failed him.
"Buffy wants a normal life," said Dawn. "A normal family. And with the Tylers, she can pretend she has one. She totally loves that." She shrugged. "And if Buffy wants to live in a fantasy world, then cool. Go ahead. Whatever. I just…" She took a deep breath. "I just want Buffy to leave
"Leave you alone," Jack clarified.
"No, leave!" Dawn insisted. Why wasn't he getting this? It was so obvious! "You've seen her, in England, right? And you've seen her, here. Notice any difference?"
Jack said nothing.
"She's happy, there," said Dawn. "And here, she's just… bad-tempered, and serious, and cranky, and… you know."
"This place is smothering her," said Dawn. "She's staying, because she feels like she has to, and… everyone else feels like she has to, too, because when Buffy's not around, nothing gets done. But... she's dying
here. It's like… she's chaining herself up to a wall, with more and more chains and padlocks and stuff, and she won't stop. No matter what. Or something." Dawn shook her head. "I just wish I knew a way to show her what she's doing to herself."
Jack nodded. A thoughtful expression on his face.
Dawn blushed. "Sorry," she said, sitting back down again, her hands between her knees. "This isn't how I thought this whole talking-to-you thing was going to turn out."
"Who's Finn?" asked Jack.
Dawn shot her head up. "Riley Finn?" She opened her mouth, then hesitated. "He's… no one."
"Your sister's worried about him," said Jack. He regarded her carefully. "And you don't like him, much."
Dawn made a face. "I don't like people who treat me like a kid," she said. She stared down at the ground, her feet scuffing the floor. "The Doctor didn't treat me like a kid. And, I mean, he's, like, 900 or something. So to him, we're all kind of young and kid-like, right?"
Jack grinned. "You sure don't sound like a kid."
Dawn felt her cheeks go even redder. She glanced up at Jack. "Nineteen," she reminded him.
"Good age to be," Jack confirmed, with a wink.
The thud of the sword inches from his head, as it embedded into the wall, was the first sign to Jack and Dawn that they weren't alone. They looked up, and… oh, great.
"Buffy," Dawn complained. "Couldn't you just let me have some alone-time with a guy without being all trying to kill him and stuff?"
Buffy ignored Dawn. "Jack," she said. "Never, ever — ever
— flirt with my sister. Ever. You get that?" She stepped forwards and yanked the sword out of the wall. "Because next time, I won't miss."
Dawn crossed her arms. "I can't believe this!" she said. "You know
Jack isn't a demon or a vampire or anything. I'm an adult, he's an adult. We weren't even really flirting! What possible reason could you have for being all super overprotective?"
"Dawn," said Buffy, turning on her, and pointing at Jack, "he's about a hundred years older than you."
"Yeah, and Angel was about two hundred years older than you!" Dawn replied. "So, seriously. What's your problem with Jack?"
Buffy advanced on Dawn, anger radiating through her. "My problem," Buffy snapped, "is that you're throwing away your life, obsessing over some… time traveler that's way older than you, and I'm not going to just wait around and watch that happen! I'm not going to see you fall head over heels for some long-lived, impossible, amazing, gorgeous guy that's just going to run away and leave you some day, even though you've spent three years waiting for him, and a part of you is dead inside because you know he's never coming back for you, and then you find out that some vampires are torturing him and there's nothing you can do, and maybe you can't even interfere because of crossed timelines and not-having-met-you and stuff like that, but a part of you doesn't care because you just want him safe, and I'm not letting that happen, Dawn! Do you get that?"
Dawn stared at her sister. "We… stopped talking about Jack a long time ago, huh?"
A horrible pain appeared in Buffy's eyes, but she fought it down, until it had vanished. She turned, instead, on Jack.
"I've got nothing," she said, her voice low and biting. "No home. No family. No one at all. Except Dawn. Do you get that? So you better not even think
about doing anything — and I mean anything
— to her. That clear?"
"Completely," Jack said.
Buffy turned, and stormed off.
Dawn looked over at Jack, and noticed the way he was staring off at Buffy. And realized that this whole thing was happening, all over again. Just the same way it had happened with Spike.
"You know," said Dawn, "I've noticed that Buffy only gets really
pissed off when the guys flirting with me are actually in love with her.
Jack started at Dawn's words. Then looked over at her. "What?"
Dawn gave Jack a pointed look.
Jack cringed, glancing over at the spot where Buffy had just departed. "She… reminds me of someone," he admitted. "Someone I knew, a long time ago." He put his hands into his pockets. "Someone who left me behind. Just like he left her."
Once, he'd been Robin Wood. The boy whose mother had been brutally murdered by vampires. The little boy who swore revenge.
Then he had been Principal Wood. Fighter for justice. One of the warriors who stayed behind, despite the danger and the odds, to defend Sunnydale from evil. One of the good guys.
Now, he was this.
There was a part of his mind that remembered he was supposed to be a good guy. Remembered that he'd gained satisfaction and happiness from fighting for the forces of good. He knew all of that. But it felt like such a long way off.
It hadn't been his fault, of course. They'd sought him out. Cornered him. Known his every move. Pinned him to the ground, helpless and struggling, then explained exactly what they were going to do to him. He'd shouted that he'd rather die.
Not that that had stopped them.
Wood stood in the shadows. Waiting. Looked around himself. Heh. Night. Traditional time for vampires to strike. Like he was constrained by tradition and normality.
"Have they learned anything, yet?" came the voice of the vampire that Wood recognized as Oliver.
"Nothing," Wood said. "They're completely defenseless. Buffy's so scared, she's practically spitting fire at anyone that comes near her."
"And the others?" asked Oliver. "In LA?"
"Same thing," said Wood. "They keep working on it, but they just don't see it's pointless. After all. Nothing and no one can kill us. We're invincible."
Oliver said nothing for a long moment. "We're not," he confessed.
Wood hesitated. "We're…?"
"There's been a change," said Oliver. "The Time Lord's been broken. No more contingency plans. We're destroying the Slayer Institution, once and for all."
Somewhere in Wood's brain, he knew he should be getting angry about this. He should be protesting Oliver's decision to destroy the Slayer Institution — should be fighting back, should be striking out. But when he asked himself why he should protest, he came up with… nothing. Nothing at all.
To hunt. To kill. To destroy. It'd make him feel alive, again.
That was all he really wanted.
"When do we start?" he asked, his face morphing, his fangs showing.
Oliver gave him a serious stare. "Once you destroy the only thing they can use against us."
"And that is?"