Chapter Twenty Nine
Buffy was right in the middle of mowing down a set of vampires, when her cell phone rang. She swore under her breath, then chopped the vamp's head off, letting him dust in the air, before she flipped the phone out of her pocket and answered.
"Psych ward transfer," came Dawn's voice, on the other end.
Buffy ducked just before one of the TBVs could strike her from behind. Cradling the phone between her head and shoulder, she rolled forwards, jumped to her feet, then slashed at the vamp with the Scythe. Damn. No pure-iron bullet in this one.
"Yeah, I was kind of expecting a sudden rush of people claiming to see vampires and getting locked up in insane asylums because no one believed them," Buffy said. "Just transfer them to the Institute's hospital wing like you usually do, and we'll debrief them."
Buffy lopped an arm off — not that it did much good, since it just grew back — and ducked to avoid the vamp's next blow.
"Actually, I think you should pay attention to this one," Dawn continued. "I didn't get major details or anything, but… seriously. Buffy. See this one in person."
Buffy just barely managed to jerk out of the way of the vamp's next attack. "Sure. Fine. Whatever! I'll just let the vampires go on eating people, while I go visit a psych ward in—"
She stopped, catching the vamp's next punch in her free hand, glaring at him. "Do you mind?" she shouted at the TBV. "I'm on the phone, here!"
A thwack from behind the TBV, and from the way it jerked on impact, Buffy guessed that this particular vampire had just been pure-iron-ized. One swipe from the Scythe, and the vamp was dust.
"Where is the patient?" Buffy asked Dawn.
"Her name is Audrey," the nurse told Buffy, leading her down the corridors. "That's all she's told us, so far. No identification on her, nothing to establish who she is. The police haven't been able to help, either. No missing person's reports. No leads. No nothing. She's just… Audrey." The nurse glanced back at Buffy. "Your associate said you could help with that, at your own Institution. That you could find her family. Let them know."
"Yeah, we're pretty much pros at vampire-related things," said Buffy. She paused, then added, "I mean, psychiatric conditions in which people claim to have seen vampires." She cleared her throat, then continued. "And we'll do everything we can to find her family. Promise."
The nurse smiled at Buffy, then continued to lead Buffy down the corridor.
"So," Buffy continued. "That's what the police do with anonymous people who come in, raving about vampires? Ship them off here, and let them get locked up?"
The nurse gave Buffy a reprimanding look. "Audrey admitted herself, here. Voluntarily. And her accounts of 'vampires' are the least of her concerns. She's here, primarily, because she knew she couldn't deal with the psychiatric trauma of her abduction and escape without professional help."
Buffy hesitated. "Abduction and escape?"
"There's a police investigation underway," the nurse replied. "I've already supplied your Institution with the full information and contacts they need to cooperate with that — should Audrey actually be transferred to your care. But, from what we can tell, the experience very nearly killed her, and she was lucky to escape at all. The physical injuries will heal soon. But the emotional trauma… seems to have caused a split personality. And that will take far longer to overcome."
Great. Thanks, Dawn. So this special someone Buffy was visiting was a schizophrenic vampire-abducted person who escaped. Which meant basically zero on the intel.
Couldn't Xander have taken care of this, or something?
"Whoever her captors were, they were cruel, violent, and malicious," the nurse continued. "Audrey cannot accept the things that happened to her, so she assigns them to someone else. A fictional personality generated by her own mind. She calls this other someone simply, 'Doctor'."
Buffy jumped a mile high. "What?"
The nurse glanced back at Buffy. "Audrey wants to get better," she said. "Why else would she name a personality something like that?"
"Doctor," Buffy repeated. "Like, Doctor Some-Other-Name? Or just Doctor? What did he look like? When did she last see him? What did…?"
She trailed off, as she realized the nurse was now starting to regard Buffy as if she
might need some serious psychiatric help, too.
"You'd better speak to Dr. Hankolin," the nurse said. "He's been treating Audrey since she came in. Perhaps he can explain it better."
"Actually, I'd kind of rather just see Audrey," said Buffy. "I mean, first-hand accounts are always better, and everything."
The nurse's expression grew a touch sadder. "It would be better if you didn't, at the moment," she said. "Audrey's wary of strangers, and we're trying to keep her in a calm, supportive environment. It's the only way she'll eat anything."
Buffy frowned. "What do you mean, eat anything?"
They stopped, just in front of an office door, and the nurse gave Buffy an apologetic smile. "Dr. Hankolin will explain," she said, opening the door for Buffy, and gesturing for her to go in.
The office was small, but neat. Sunlight poured through the windows behind Dr. Hankolin's desk, as the short, professional-looking man stood up to shake Buffy's hand, then invited her to take a seat.
He proceeded to explain Audrey's condition to Buffy using only words containing five or more syllables. Which lasted right up until the moment that Buffy decided she'd had more than enough of this, and wanted to figure out what the hell was going on.
"Look," Buffy cut in, "I'm not a psychiatrist. I just run an Institution that happens to have a psychiatric department as part of it. So I've got no idea what you're talking about."
Dr. Hankolin raised an eyebrow at her. "You have no experience with this sort of thing?"
Oh, good going, Buffy. Way to get this guy on her side. "I… started this whole thing as a way to help people," Buffy said. "My Institution has investigators, medical doctors, and psychiatrists all working together." Which was true — except that their
specialists all dealt almost exclusively with the paranormal. And happened to be experts in weird stuff. "I'm in charge of the whole thing, and more on the investigator-y side. Sort of an… all-around do-gooder. So just… act like I'm an idiot. And explain it to me, again."
Dr. Hankolin thought this over, and seemed to accept it. He sighed. "Audrey has gone through a very traumatic experience. And, as is the case with all who come through an experience like this, she's had a hard time coping with the memory of what happened."
"So she created this… alternate personality," Buffy said. "Called 'the Doctor'."
"That is our current theory," Dr. Hankolin agreed. "At first we believed there was actually someone else abducted alongside her, but… well, after speaking with Audrey quite a bit, it became fairly obvious that there wasn't. You'll see for yourself, when you converse with her. 'The Doctor' seems to be, very much, a part of her."
Great. Thanks, Mr. Incompetent.
"The 'Doctor' of Audrey's imagination is almost a… mythical, magical super-hero," Dr. Hankolin continued. "Undergoing tortures that would be fatal to a human being, but surviving them as if they were nothing. Solely to protect her. And… from the hints I've gathered about the biological makeup Audrey seems to have created for him, he is, quite frankly, impossible."
Damn. That was the Doctor, all right.
"So what's Audrey… I mean, did she say anything about… I mean…" Buffy held her head in her hands, and took a few deep breaths. Trying to get her thoughts together.
"Do you know her?" Dr. Hankolin asked.
Buffy snapped her head up. "Huh?" Then realized that her reactions were probably not the kind of thing you'd expect to see in an impartial third-party observer. "Oh. Audrey. Not… exactly. I just…" She shook her head. "Keep going. What else? Why…?" Buffy swallowed, her mind catching on the first thing it could think of. "Why won't she eat anything?"
Dr. Hankolin examined Buffy, carefully. Trying to determine what possible connection she could have, in all of this. Then, in a softer, gentler voice, "I'm very sorry if you know her, Miss Summers. And there's no easy way to say this. But we believe that, during her abduction, Audrey was fed just before she was… sexually abused."
Buffy felt her blood run cold. "Audrey…"
She couldn't imagine the Doctor just sitting by and letting that happen. He must have tried to stop it. And failed — because he wasn't as magical and supernatural and all-knowing as he liked to seem.
(Was this what Joanna had meant, when she said Razor liked to 'break' his victims? Was this what they were doing? Proving to the Doctor that they could kill and slaughter and rape, and he could do nothing to stop them?)
"It's a negative association that's been driven into her mind," Dr. Hankolin continued. "It's hard for her to overcome. But Audrey is a fighter. She wants to get better, Miss Summers. And I promise, she will. Whether she remains here, or is transferred to your Institution, Audrey will recover."
Yeah, Dr. Hankolin definitely thought that Buffy knew Audrey, personally. And that would be useful right until the moment that Audrey showed up and had no idea who Buffy was.
"It's not… I'm looking for someone," Buffy said. "Not Audrey. Someone else. A Doctor. And I think… Audrey might have seen him."
Dr. Hankolin stared at Buffy. "Your… Institution believes that this 'Doctor'… exists?"
But he didn't seem nearly as startled or unnerved as Buffy had imagined him to be. It was almost as if Dr. Hankolin… had known already.
"You're not surprised about that," Buffy pointed out.
"I've… had this… feeling… almost as if…" Dr. Hankolin paused. "But, no. Of course, it has to be impossible. Speak to her for five minutes and you'll see. The Doctor doesn't exist outside of her mind."
"But… you've got some gut instinct," Buffy said, "telling you… he does
Hankolin hesitated a brief moment. Then pulled out the keyboard to his computer, typed on it, and turned the monitor for Buffy to see.
There, lined up in the file folder "Audrey Therapy Sessions", were a list of audio files, all featuring date and time.
"You recorded them all?" Buffy asked. She glanced back at Hankolin. "Aren't there confidentiality things to deal with?"
wanted them recorded," Dr. Hankolin explained. "Just like she's been trying to remember how she got here, and where she was held during her captivity. Just like she's been drawing the faces of her captors, over and over again. For the police."
Dr. Hankolin opened up a file cabinet, beside him, and produced a bundle of papers, all featuring crudely drawn pictures of vampires. He handed them to Buffy, who hesitated only briefly before accepting them, and flipping through the images.
"She wants everything she says and does here to be recorded," Dr. Hankolin continued, "because…" He hesitated, then, in a softer voice, "…when she ran away, this… 'Doctor'… didn't make it out with her. And the guilt of leaving him behind is tearing her apart."
Buffy paused, at a picture that had been scribbled out. It looked like she'd attempted to draw a map, but hadn't gotten very far, before she'd given up in frustration.
"She doesn't remember where she escaped from?" Buffy asked. "Or how she got here?"
"She remembers nothing," Dr. Hankolin confirmed. "Someone must have dropped her off at the police station, but she doesn't remember how she got to Cleveland, and the police didn't get the license plate of the car that brought her."
Not that that would have told Buffy anything too important, she guessed.
"I… just…" Hankolin shook his head. "No. I'm sorry. What she's described to me… what she can remember, escaping… wouldn't even make sense with the geography around Cleveland. I'd like to… anything I can do…"
"It's okay," said Buffy. "You didn't believe Audrey when you should have. I mean, yeah, if you'd worked it out sooner, that would have been great, but… you know. You're only human."
Dr. Hankolin leaned over his desk, his eyes on Buffy. And Buffy suddenly had the thought that maybe… Hankolin's unease wasn't completely due to professional incompetence.
"Miss Summers," said Dr. Hankolin, very quietly, "if everything that Audrey has told us is true… and this 'Doctor' really exists… then I think your friend is in far more trouble than you believe."
Buffy felt her breath catch in her throat. "What… what do you…?"
Dr. Hankolin clicked on one of the sound files on his computer. "If you're an investigator, Audrey will want you to hear this," he said, and played the recording.
"Just to verify," Dr. Hankolin's voice said, across the recording, "Audrey has given express, written permission for this to be recorded, in order to help the police with their investigations. Is that correct, Audrey?"
A timid, frightened, feeble voice came through from not far away. "Have to," Audrey muttered. "To find him. Let people… know… what happened. Is still happening."
"You said that you wanted to talk about the Doctor," Hankolin said. "What happened to him."
Silence, save for the sound of panicked breathing.
"Would you feel better if I turned off the recording?" Hankolin offered.
"No, no, I…" Audrey swallowed. "The… vampires. They… I don't know… hated him. So much. I don't… understand… never even thought you could hate someone… that
A shaky breath.
"You told me they hurt him," Hankolin prompted. "Tortured him."
"Mhm." The sound of uneasy shifting from Audrey, on the recording. "Always. He… let them. Goaded them. Said… better they hurt him… than me."
"They threatened to do the same to you?" Hankolin asked.
"They… liked… hurting people," Audrey said. "Tried… almost…" She gave a whimper. "Did, sometimes. To show… the Doctor… he couldn't stop them."
"You—" Hankolin started, but Audrey cut him off.
"Not about me," Audrey said. "He's… I left him. All this… it's still… they're still…" She gave a few panicked breaths. "…still doing it."
"We will find him, Audrey," Hankolin assured her. "We will reunite you two. I promise."
"The Doctor says… it wasn't hate," Audrey continued. "Not personal. Says it was… fear… hunger. The vampires. They… wanted to bite him. Couldn't. I don't know why. But they… couldn't bite. Couldn't… satisfy… that need…" She gave an audible shudder. "Hunger… turned to lust."
Outside of the recording, Buffy stopped breathing.
"Wanted… to see him… sad," said Audrey. "Crushed. It was… a turn-on. Then they gave him… food…" Her breath sped up, and she started hyperventilating. "And then they… had… sex."
"With him?" asked Dr. Hankolin.
"Usually," said Audrey. "Or… on him. Like… he was furniture. His scent… was… their aphrodisiac. They liked it better… when… he
did things… to them
. When they… threatened me… to make him…" She shuddered. "No. No! I can't… don't want to remember…" She gave a small whimper. "Couldn't block it out. Closed my eyes. Covered my ears. Couldn't block it out."
"This must have been very upsetting for him," said Dr. Hankolin.
"He says… he had to," said Audrey. "Protect me. Make them happy. He says… it didn't matter." A strangled sob. "Easier to steal things, while they were distracted."
"But you know that it mattered a great deal," Dr. Hankolin said.
A rustle of cloth. "Worse… when they killed," said Audrey. "While doing it. Once, saw them… killing…" frightened breathing. "...while they… with him…" A soft sob. "They just… laughed!"
"You know it wasn't his fault," Dr. Hankolin soothed. "Everything that happened wasn't his fault."
"Mine," said Audrey. "He did it for me. It was my fault."
"No," said Dr. Hankolin. "It was neither of your faults. Remember that, Audrey. You did nothing wrong."
"Ran away," said Audrey. "Left him behind."
"But you're going to get him back," Dr. Hankolin soothed. "With enough help from us, I promise, you'll get the Doctor back. You two will be together, the way you're supposed to be."
A rustle of cloth. "He'll be mad," Audrey whispered. "At me. For abandoning him."
"Audrey," said Dr. Hankolin, "is the Doctor really angry at you for abandoning him? I thought you said he did this because he wanted to protect you."
Audrey said nothing.
"Can you check with the Doctor, now?" Dr. Hankolin asked. "Can you ask him if he blames you?"
A pause. "He… he says he doesn't," Audrey said, a hint of pain and distress in her voice. "For any of it."
"You went through a very traumatic experience," said Dr. Hankolin, "but you're safe, now. You escaped. And we want to help you. Both you and the Doctor."
A much longer pause.
"Hurts," Audrey whimpered.
"I know," said Dr. Hankolin. "I know. It always hurts to remember these sorts of things. You've been very brave, Audrey. Very…"
"Can't!" Audrey shouted, and it was a shout of sheer frustration this time, imbedded deep inside the panic. "Too much! Can't block it out! Just… keeps coming. More and more! Over and over! Can't think! Can't… get past…" A small sob. The rustle of clothing. "Help me."
Buffy jumped, as the door to the office creaked open, and the nurse poked her head in. "Audrey is awake."
"Did she eat anything?" Dr. Hankolin asked.
"A bowl of oatmeal," the nurse confirmed. "So far, she's managed to keep it down."
Dr. Hankolin looked relieved. "Good. Very good. I think she's making progress." He turned to Buffy. "I'll send your own psychiatric physicians a list of the foods she seems willing to eat. But you'll have to fight an uphill battle to get her to eat anything at all."
Yeah. Buffy thought she could tell why.
"Can I see Audrey?" Buffy asked.
The nurse opened her mouth to reply in the negative, but Dr. Hankolin stood up at his desk, and crossed the room in a few steps. He spoke to the nurse in quiet tones, the two consulting with one another. Then he turned back to Buffy.
"Miss Summers," he said. "I know you're concerned about finding your friend, but… Audrey is very fragile, at the moment. Please understand. I can't allow you to see her if I think your visit will harm her."
"How could I—?" Buffy started. Then stopped. Oh, right. Obviously. She could walk right in, get in Audrey's face, and demand that Audrey tell her everything about where she'd been and what had happened, right away. "I just want to see her. So she knows she'll be safe, when she gets transferred."
she gets transferred," the nurse put in.
Dr. Hankolin gave Buffy a sympathetic smile. "We won't force Audrey to do anything she doesn't want," he explained. "If she feels she would be safer here… I can't, in good conscience, make her leave."
Buffy opened her mouth to snap something back, but closed it. And nodded.
"Yeah," she said. "Of course. No problem."
The girl was young, black-haired, with red-stained eyes, sitting in the middle of her bed, shaking all over. She winced at the sound of the new footsteps, and shuddered away from Buffy.
Dr. Hankolin walked forwards, his entire posture radiating amiability and good-heartedness. "Audrey," he said, "I'd like to introduce you to Buffy Summers. She believes that she can help you."
Audrey didn't look placated. She seemed suspicious, her eyes roaming across Buffy with a hard coldness that seemed to scream at Buffy to get back.
Buffy tried to imitate Dr. Hankolin's warmth and comfort, but she wasn't doing a very good job. In her line of work, it was more important to radiate hostility, threat, and self-confidence. Amiability and love weren't really good vampire-hunting techniques.
"Hey, Audrey," said Buffy. "You don't have to worry. I'm not here to hurt you. I'm here to help."
Audrey didn't say anything, but huddled into herself as Buffy approached. Buffy stopped, not wanting to make the girl too uncomfortable. She hesitated. Was there anything she could say to make the girl more at ease? Hi, I'm a Vampire Slayer, and I'm raising an army against the people who captured you, so you don't have to worry about me being one of them!
No, that wasn't going to work. We've got a place full of people who'll take you seriously about vampires and the Doctor, even though you don't know them and most of them will probably secretly be armed with garlic and a few pointy sticks, just in case there's another attack…
Yeah, that'd work worse than the other one.
"I'm a friend of the Doctor's," Buffy told Audrey, a look of complete seriousness on her face. "I've been looking for him for the last four months. And with your help, I promise, I'll get him out." Buffy extended her hand to Audrey. "Shake on it."
Audrey hesitated. Then reached out.
And shook Buffy's hand.