Chapter Twenty Seven
"Still nothing?" Xander asked, studying Dawn as she hung up the phone.
"Nothing useful," Dawn said. She glanced down at the TARDIS key, hung around her neck. Remembering her promise. Both to herself, and to Buffy. "But I have
figured out that time travel sucks!"
Xander nodded, slowly. "Okay, then."
"Make a thousand inquiries, search a million databases, ask a billion people," said Dawn, "if they've seen some guy calling himself 'the Doctor', who's sick-looking, barely able to walk, running away from some horrible danger, looking totally torn up and raggedy. And you get exactly the same thing!"
Xander waited for her to go on, but she didn't. "And that would be…?"
"Leadworth! Psychiatrists! Amy Pond!" Dawn said. "See? Time travel totally sucks. Here I am, looking for the Doctor that's been kidnapped, and all I can find is some crossed-timeline Doctor from his own future."
Xander frowned. "How do you know it's from his own future?"
Dawn opened her mouth to retort. Then shut it. As she realized she didn't have a good answer to this.
"Do we actually know which Doctor we're looking for?" Xander continued. "We know it's the Doctor. We found the TARDIS. And that's kind of it. This could be way before we ever met him. Or way after!"
"It's not," Willow chimed in, from the corner, where she'd been flipping through magic books.
Xander and Dawn looked up at her.
"The Doctor we're looking for is from before he met Dawn," Willow continued. "But not before he met Buffy. He sent her a telepathic message, so he must know her."
"And… the other thing you said?" asked Dawn. "About this being before he met me. How could you…?"
"Elizabeth told me," Willow said. She looked down at her book, her eyes unfocused. "Back when she convinced me that Buffy was in Hell."
"It's not obvious what happened," Angel insisted.
"Yeah," muttered Spike, looking at the remains of the shattered glass cages where Joanna's vampire-rats had once been. He lit up a cigarette. "Course not. Anything might have caused her to collapse. Rats had nothing to do with it."
Angel didn't answer.
"Suppose that changes our job," Spike continued. "One day, I'm saving the world from evil. The next day, Joanna collapses, and I turn into a glorified rat-catcher."
"Rat catcher," Angel repeated. He shuddered, remembering the days before he'd met Buffy, when he'd been out on the street, living off rat blood and too much of a coward to kill himself. "Now there's something I never wanted to do, again."
"But you're right, mate," Spike insisted. "Her collapse probably had nothing whatsoever to do with being munched on by a horde of hungry vampire-rats. Absolutely, nothing…"
"I was thinking," Angel cut in, before Spike could go on, "that it might have something to do with her psychic link to the Doctor."
Spike paused. Then took his cigarette out of his mouth. "You really think the Doctor's still alive, then? After being Razor's prisoner for this long?"
Angel gave Spike a pointed stare. "You said that Amulet was the same as the one that vaporized you."
Spike cringed. "Right. Yeah."
He took another drag on the cigarette. Because Angel, annoyingly enough, was right. Same Amulet — and Spike, of all people, should know. Same Amulet, earlier point in its own time stream…
"What happens if he does die?" Spike asked. "Free will and all that. Things could change."
"Then the vampires closest to him die," Angel said. "The rest lose their food supply. But keep their invulnerability. Buffy and the Slayers will finish them off, somehow. And Joanna — when she wakes up — will probably murder me."
"Not that," Spike said. "What happens to the Amulet?"
Angel grimaced. Realizing… that if the Doctor died, now…
The Amulet would never make it back in time, to wind up in the Wolfram and Hart archives. It would never wind up in Angel's hands. Angel would never give it to Buffy. Spike would never wind up activating it, or collapsing the Hellmouth. The Final Battle of the Hellmouth might never have been won, in which case the First would have shown up to take over the Earth with an army of Turok Han vampires.
History would change. Everything would be rewritten.
Earth would already have fallen.
need to make sure we save the Doctor," Angel said.
Buffy slashed at the nearest TBV with her pure-iron sword. She'd been lucky. She'd been tracking down a possible lead on where the Doctor was, when she'd wound up in a small town just before the vampires raided it. And this time, Buffy could tell, they were way more desperate than they'd been before.
UNIT was on its way. Buffy didn't need top secret codes or confirmations to know that. UNIT's response teams were usually the first backup troops to arrive on the scene, after any attack. And as for other reinforcements… well, she could only hope that Sam and Riley had gotten her message.
But for now, she knew, she was on her own.
The other vampires nearby, as if simply knowing what was happening, without needing to see or hear, turned and focused their attacks on Buffy, managing to wrestle the sword out of her hand before she could dust another one.
(And, damn it, Faith was right! Pure-iron swords — especially against vampires — were pieces of shit.)
She ducked to the right, then feinted left and punched out. Dodged. Rolled across the ground. Stay alive. Most important thing, right now. A kick out at the vamp to her left. Block over the head. Moves done so fast she didn't even have time to think. No strategy. No plan. Just reactions, instinct, her ability to keep herself alive one second longer.
Movement from her right. She tried to flip out of the way, but too slow. Splitting pain across her shoulder. The ground rushing towards her. Unable to stop it.
She'd kept herself alive, for a second. Then another. And another. And another.
No seconds left, now.
A rush of air, a schwoomping sound, then a thud and a cry from one of the vampires. It stumbled, but remained upright.
"Buffy!" shouted a familiar voice. One that Buffy couldn't quite place, in the swirl of battle and impending doom.
Then a glint of silver and red, and Buffy reached out, catching the Scythe in her right hand. More schwoomping sounds, more cries, more thuds, as the vampires lunged towards Buffy. On instinct, she lashed out with the Scythe, striking at the nearest vampire's head.
And — amazingly enough — the vampire crumbled to dust.
Buffy got to her feet, biting back pain in her shoulder, and charged at the other vampires. Shocked, as they fell. As they turned to dust. Even more shocked, when they began turning away from her. Fixing their eyes on something behind them.
"Dawn," Buffy breathed.
Dawn, carrying a great big, alien-looking gun, shooting it over and over again at the TBVs. Dawn, rushing in at the last minute, to save her sister. Dawn, looking all militaristic and controlled and in her element, when Buffy knew that she was still just a kid — a wonderful, sweet, if sometimes exceedingly bratty and annoying kid.
They were going to kill her.
Buffy's brain cut out. Everything left her. Every thought, every plan, every strategy. Every instinct for self preservation. Didn't care about the mysterious Scythe that now worked. Didn't care what the gun was. Didn't care what was happening.No one
was touching Dawn!
The next few minutes were a blur. A swirl of blood and dust and terror — the horrible, nasty taste of terror, deep in Buffy's throat — as she hacked and slashed and charged, kicking and biting and screaming, tearing the monsters away.
Five minutes later, every vampire in the town had either fled, or died.
"You okay?" Dawn asked Buffy, putting down her gun.
Buffy turned from her spot on the battlefield. Scythe still in hand. Its blade resting against the ground. Turned to face her sister, no emotion in her eyes, no pity or compassion in her stance.
Then, in a flash, Buffy was right in front of Dawn, grabbing her by the shoulders, glaring into her eyes.
"Don't you ever — ever
— do that again!" she snapped.
Then turned, and walked away.