Disclaimer: I own no things.
Hope everyone's fine with this uploaded all in one giant chunk! Thanks for reading and I'd love a review.
"Be brave," Buffy said, looking into Dawn's eyes. In them, she could see the reflection of the portal, a lake of ice and electricity opening up underneath the high platform on which they stood. It crackled with energy, impossible to contain, terrifying even as a tiny reflection in her sister's eyes. But she knew what she had to do. "Live. For me."
And then she ran. She dove. At long last, peace.
The peace faded into darkness. Not the infinite darkness she might have imagined, but a familiar darkness hinting at closed eyes. There was breathing, too - her own breath. In, out. As soon as she was aware of the in-and-out of her breath, the pain followed. The pain was everywhere, although she could not quite remember what parts of her existed or what else there might be, apart from this in-and-out and this darkness and this pain.
In and out, time passed. She slowly became aware that she had legs, and arms, and sides, and a head. Still. All of these parts of her filled with an ache that was too dull and throbbing not to be, to be corporeal, to be real. Eyes still closed, the darkness slowly turned red; first a dull red, then brighter, and brighter still. Heat followed. Buffy couldn’t bring herself to wonder where she was just yet. But she was. She existed, her consciousness firmly in tact. Red heat, all around her, and tiny pin pricks all over her skin. Was this hell? It hadn’t been so hot, last time...
Memory, then, was returning. With it, a bone-deep need to know... Where she was, where home was, where Dawn was. Her eyes opened, then closed against the hot, bright, painful sunlight.
The world, existing. That had to be good. Even if she was in a desert, just after sunrise - and not in Sunnydale, not on the rough ground underneath the shaky platform where she had jumped. She pulled herself into a sitting position, unable to stifle the grunt of pain that escaped her as her body protested to being jostled. She looked around. The desert was familiar - a road lay in the distance, a road where she had once seen Giles leaning against his car, waiting for her after her vision quest. This stretch of sand felt unfamiliar, though, even as she recognized it visually. It had felt mystical to her, before - always a shimmering just under her skin, a subtle, subconscious phosphorescence. This third time in the desert felt empty, blank. But she knew it, she recognized the road, and the dune, and the fire pit where Giles had shaken his gourd.
That meant she wasn’t far from Sunnydale. She needed to get home, to get to her friends, to Dawn, and explain that her gift - her gift - had not only been received, but her efforts rewarded.
Pulling herself upright too quickly, she doubled over, hands coming out underneath her as she fell, digging into the hot sand. Redoubling her efforts, she pulled herself first onto all fours, taking deep breaths as pain emanated through her, almost like pleasure in its tingling from limb to torso and back again. Taking a moment, she pushed herself backwards onto her legs, haunches beneath her. The effort and the increasingly hot sun left beads of sweat falling into her eyes, but her next push upward got her - finally - into a standing position.
Stumbling in the sand, Buffy made her way to the familiar, two lane desert road, somehow managing not to fall back onto her hands and knees. As her feet hit asphalt, walking became easier, her feet remaining where she put them instead of shifting, sinking into sand. She stood on the shoulder of the small street, waiting for a car - any car - to take her home.
Exactly seventy two belaboured in-and-outs later, a brown and white station wagon stopped and Buffy got inside.
The man in the driver’s seat was older, perhaps sixty, and had a stetson on his head, heavy white stubble on his chin, and a weathered, lined face. His flannel shirt showed some wear, particularly around the middle buttons, and hung unflatteringly over his round stomach. A silver, round belt buckle marked the line between torso and legs and well worn, light denim jeans covered his legs. He smelled like cheap cigars and cologne. His face was kind, but unconcerned - decidedly not threatening - particularly to a slayer, albeit an injured one.
“Kind of an odd place to pick up a ride,” he remarked and went silent again for a moment, evidently hoping that she’d fill in some details. When she failed to, he started again: “Any place in particular?”
“Sunnydale.” Her tone was quiet, but victorious. Pain continued to radiate through her, but was dulled considerably inside the air conditioned cabin of the station wagon, no doubt aided by her slayer healing. Now, she could focus. Home. Dawn. Giles. Willow. Xander. Home. Her gift - not just death, but now life.
“And where’s that?” the man asked.
Narrowing her eyes, Buffy thought. She didn’t drive, and paid less attention in cars than those who did - particularly when Giles was driving, always so sure of his route.
“About 30 miles south of here, I think,” Buffy estimated. “There’s a train station. And a beach. Factories.” Not sure what else to say, she summarized, “...Sunnydale.”
His tone was certain. “Honey, I drove a route from Los Angeles to San Jose in my truck for years, and road tripped with the family down the Pacific Coast Highway every summer. I know every coastal town for four hundred miles. Never heard of Sunnydale. Are you sure you’ve got the town’s name right? Not Sunnyvale?”
“No,” Buffy responded. “Sunnydale. It’s two hours north of L.A. - on the coast - about half an hour out from Santa Barbara.”
“I lived in Santa Barbara for ten years, darlin’. I’m out of L.A. now that the kids’ve moved out, but - there’s no Sunnydale anywhere near Santa Barbara. I can take you to a train station - get you to Sunnyvale - if you want. I’m headed down south to L.A.”
“You’re wrong. It’s - it’s here - off highway one - exit--” damn, what was it - how long had it been, since she’d been on that highway? “Exit on Canyon Road! What do you mean, it’s not here, where would it be?”
“Canyon Road -- darlin’, there’s nothing out there. No town. Just desert and forest and coastline.”
He must be wrong. Had to be wrong. Evil, maybe - working for Glory - working for the Initiative - for someone who had it out for her. Maybe the Gorches. There was something familiar about his style of dress, even if the sun pouring into the car proved without a doubt that he was not a vampire.
“Who are you?” she asked, voice low.
“My name’s Joe,” he replied, pleasant as can be, no hint of curiosity about her confusion or awareness of the threat in her tone. “Darlin’, we’re going to pass Canyon Road on my way to L.A.. I’ll show you, if you like.”
She let her eyes slip closed, and a word that did not come easily to her passed softly from her lips.
Canyon Road did not lead to the “Welcome to Sunnydale” sign that Buffy had grown to know and love, or hate, depending on when she saw it... It led to, well, very little. A gas station. A quick stop. A trucker shower station somehow sharing quarters with a porn shop, which would have horrified her if horror could be summoned for anything less than the complete disappearance of everyone and everything she knew and loved.
After these limited amenities, Canyon Road had ... a dead end. Forest, desert, and coast line, completely unremarkable. Nothing more than a vista off the gas station’s hillside pumps. Her eyes filled, the pain back full force in the summer heat. Joe pumped his station wagon full of gas and didn’t so much as watch her as her heart climbed into her throat, turned to rock, and suffocated her.
He was right.
She was devastated. There was no gaping crater where Sunnydale should have been. Not that she wanted there to be, but at least that would mean that Sunnydale was here - should be here. Instead, there was empty land. She recognized the line of the coast where she had watched her high school’s swim team, transformed into fish monsters, wander into the ocean - where she had barbecued and played ball with Riley and her friends in the sun last summer. She recognized the line of transition from coast into woods, where she had found Angel, savage, naked, and without a hint of recognition for her. She recognized the flatlands where her house, and Willow’s house, and the charred remains of Sunnydale High once stood (never stood). All nature. No crater, no destruction. Never here. Where was she.
“Somewhere else to be, darlin’?”
“Los Angeles will be fine.” Someone had to be there. Angel, her dad -- hell, Cordelia, even. Someone would be there even if there was no Sunnydale.
They climbed back into the station wagon. He drove, and she willed her tears away. Some reward.
At her request, he dropped her off at Angel’s office. The old one. The original one. There was no one there. Just a dusty, empty, old building, nary a lobster-like logo on the door.
She forced the lock on the door and let herself in. She knew he had set up shop in some old hotel recently, but had no idea where it was and, apparently, had no one to ask. It didn’t matter, anyway. This office had not been occupied in a long time. The reception area had no mini-fridge, no desk, and no Cordelia. The back office, where Angel had sat once as she berated him for showing up to Sunnydale without telling her, was empty and covered in a thick layer of dust. No furniture. No lightbulbs, even. No Angel.
No Sunnydale and no Angel.
“Are there any shrimp, I wonder,” she said aloud to the empty office, giving a bark of near-hysterical laughter before collapsing to the floor, resting her head in her hands.
She made herself at home in his apartment. Well, not his apartment. The vacant, dusty, empty apartment where Angel would be living - or would have lived - or maybe used to live - if or when he existed. A stained mattress lined the floor in his bedroom, not far from where she and Angel had exchanged blows over Faith. Where they had never exchanged blows, or met, for that matter.
She found an old phone book on the kitchen counter, dated 1995. A time when she and her family had definitely lived in Los Angeles. Opening it made her cough, which made her ribs ache and doubled her over for ten in-and-out breaths that just made her cough worse before her breath finally eased. At last under control, she flipped the phone book to her own last name.
She found what she was looking for - Summers, Hank. Just one Summers, Hank, in all of Los Angeles. No Summers, Joyce though - nor was her mother listed under her maiden name. She jotted Hank’s number on her arm with a dirty pen lying on the countertop and exited the apartment in search of a payphone. Calling her dad rankled, but -- no Sunnydale, no Mom, no Angel - who else was there to call?
Finding a phone not far from the office, she searched through her pockets, managing to find a lint-covered quarter. No keys. No identification. A quarter, and a bobby pin. Not exactly a great foundation to start a new life in a new dimension. She dialed. Ringing, ringing, and finally a click.
“Hello?” a man answered.
“Hello,” Buffy said, trying to hide the urgency in her voice. “Is this Mr. Summers?”
“Yes, who’s speaking?” Mr. Summers asked. The man did not sound familiar.
“Mr. Hank Summers?”
“Yes, miss, speaking. Can I help you?”
Buffy hung the phone up, leaning against the wall of the pay phone. “No.”
It’s not like she’d never started a new life for herself in Los Angeles before. Last time she had been living in a studio apartment and waiting tables - doing her best to live a normal (respectable, pathetic, sad, broken) life in the face of losing everything. This time was much the same. Lacking clothes, food, and money, she’d had no choice but to find a job. She found one. The same job, really - waiting tables again in that shoddy, dirty little diner. She went back because she knew the manager would hire her based on her pigtails without any identification or references. She went back before she realized that he probably didn’t exist, but it turned out that she was right - he did hire her. The same manager! He didn’t know her.
A month passed. She had no one. There was no Lily (or “Sister Sunshine” or “Chanterelle” and especially no “Anne”) - there was no Rickie. There was no Ken, even. She’d checked. She’d be relieved to find a Ken right about now. At least his was a hell she could escape from.
She spent her mornings carving stakes from broken floorboards in not-Angel’s abandoned apartment. She spent her days waiting tables. She spent her nights patrolling. There was no evil afoot. She hadn’t seen a vampire or a demon in Los Angeles since she had arrived. In her world, Los Angeles was active enough to keep Angel and his gang constantly busy - but here, her spidey senses hadn’t tingled. Not once. She kept patrolling every night, anyway.
She slept in her ex-boyfriend’s used-to-be, never-was apartment. She didn’t bother to buy food or sheets or anything that might make the place bearable. She ate fast food and diner food and felt wretched. Worse, the pain she experienced when she first landed in this dimension never fully disappeared. Her ribs and arms and legs always tingled - inward and outward - pain, radiating like heat, like tickling. She tried to meditate the way Giles had taught her - always the in, out, in, out. Doing this every hour helped. Sometimes she would stop doing it on purpose, just to let herself feel the pain.
She found out on her first shift at the diner, picking up a discarded newspaper, that it wasn’t 2001. It was 2009. She should have figured it out, she supposed, if she had been paying attention. The cars, for one thing. Not super different, but newer. Smoother contours. She’d seen a few with television screens in the back seats, playing Spongebob or cartoons she had never seen before. She’d seen others with a screen near the dashboard, designed to be viewed by the driver. Still others looked like they’d had a screen near the dashboard that had been ripped out.
Also, the sheer number of Starbucks was a dead giveaway. There hadn’t been nearly so many the last time she’d been to L.A.
This was the sort of development that would be worthy of research, if she had any way of doing said research.
Her first week at the diner had introduced her to some interesting coworkers, particularly in the back of the house. One bragged openly about selling fake IDs to underage college students. Buffy bought an ID from him with a week's worth of tips. It was quite good, really. Using it, she got a library card - a real one - and spent her days off searching online for family, friends - for anyone she might know. The internet was a lot faster in her new universe, though maybe that was just because it was also the future. She found Willow - alternate-Willow. She was a tenure track associate professor of physics at Georgetown. Her bio said she was from New York. She was married, to a woman, and she was 27. Buffy was still 20. She couldn’t imagine contacting her. She couldn’t find Xander, Giles, or herself. No human obituaries for Angel or Spike. No record of her mom or dad.
She thought often of trying to find the Council, but had no way of knowing whether they existed. They certainly hadn’t had a homepage in her own universe. And without any evidence of supernatural … stuff .. there was really little reason for the council, altogether.
She tried to hope that her friends would find a way to get her back, but she couldn’t work up the emotion. She had left with joy - with peace. She might want to see her friends, her sister, again, but more than that she wanted them to live - out of danger. She tried to hope for home, and could only realize that they were better off without her, thinking she was at peace, and leaving her where she was.
No vampires. No demons. No Sunnydale. Hadn’t she always wanted a normal life?
On her fifty third day in her new world, Buffy was leaving a coffee shop with her usual breakfast (a medium black coffee - since when was nutrition her thing, let alone alternate world nutrition designed to fuel a pointless existence) when her shoulder bumped into the shoulder of another woman, spilling a few drops of coffee onto an immaculate, tall, patent leather, red slingback.
“Ugh! Watch out, much?”
Harmony Kendall. A twenty seven year old Harmony Kendall, by the looks of it, who glanced at Buffy up and down with disdain. “‘Heroin chic’ is so out, and I’ll have you know that if you ruined my Jimmy Choos, you will be paying for them, even if it comes out of your tiny, pathetic--” she struggled for a suitable occupation “--fast food! -- salary for the next five years.”
Before she could stop herself, Buffy’s mouth quirked. “Harmony.” Was her tone fond? Surely she wasn’t fond of Harmony Kendall, even if she hadn’t seen anyone she recognized in nearly two months.
“I’m sorry, do I know you? Or do you just think it’s acceptable to stalk celebrities and ruin their shoes and - and - be all creepy doing it? Know what might help, creepo? It’s called concealer. The circles under your eyes are not working!”
"Celebrities?" Buffy repeated, incredulous. And how was she creepy?
"Oh, I see. What, like I'm not A-list enough for you? I don't suppose you'd spill coffee all over Angelina's shoes and stand there smirking like an ugly - fish!"
"I don't think fish smirk," Buffy remarked, just to annoy her. "No lips."
Harmony started moving again, walking toward the exit of the coffee shop. "Consider yourself lucky! You could be hearing from my lawyer." She vanished through the doorway.
Shaking her head, Buffy carried her coffee out with her, walking in the direction of the apartment that wasn't quite hers or Angel's. "It's gotta be a desperate time in Buffy-land when I'm suddenly wishing Harmony Kendall hadn't stormed off."
Walking through a deserted back alley downtown, Buffy twirled a pointless, pristine stake in her hand, staring up at the smoggy-non-stars and trying not to hum. She knew she should stop patrolling. Why bother? Except that it felt nice to twirl a stake in her hand. And who knew when she might find some evil to fight, no matter how human or low stakes? Make that no stakes, really. But she had stopped three muggings in the seventy two days that she’d been in her new universe. No friends, no family, nothing at all to do but work and sleep... but she could still save a person or two on patrol.
A yell - really, more like a yelp - sounded from around the corner and Buffy took off - pain in her limbs and torso receding as the adrenaline kicked in.
She found a thin, dark haired man pinned face down to the hood of an old black convertible by a... something. A demon maybe? Whatever it was, it was clad from head to toe in leather, with an enormous, way-bigger-than-human head obscured by a helmet-like mask. The man was pinned facing away from her, obscured by a long, brown overcoat. The creature stood over him, talking in rapid mono-syllables that were nothing like English. The man’s arm was held at what must have been an uncomfortable angle behind his back and he frantically shouted mono-syllables right back at the thing.
Approaching them quickly, Buffy grabbed the leather-clad arm, twisting it so that the man was freed while the demon’s own arm was pinned against his back.
“You’re gonna want to not do that,” Buffy remarked, holding the demon’s right arm in her hand, grabbing his left shoulder with her other hand, and slamming him into the front passenger door of the car. Sparing a glance at the man, who was, currently, gaping at her, she advised, “Run!”
“Wait - you can’t -” the man exclaimed, pushing himself off the hood of the car and rubbing his shoulder, eyebrows knit into an expression of confusion as she restrained the demon. “Hold on.. ‘Run--?’ Who are--”
The leather-clad demon started struggling, twisting back and forth, trying to throw Buffy off his back. He was strong, but she was stronger. She found it kinda nice throwing a bit of weight around again. She didn’t even need to lean fully on the demon to immobilize him. Hello, superpowers. Thanks for sticking around.
“You impede Judoon in apprehending his prisoner and carrying out the punishment. Your sentence is death!”
“Your prisoner!” the man repeated incredulously, a baffled, annoyed look on his lightly freckled face. “You have no jurisdiction here! What’s more, I haven’t done anything in need of ‘punishing’ recently, thankyouverymuch!”
Getting a better look at him, she noted pinstripes - brown pinstripes. A suit. With that brown overcoat and Converse sneakers, of all things. His hair stuck out in all directions, lighter than she realized at first, but still quite.. brown. His face looked confused and sort of irritated and worried but fascinated, all rolled together in a way that just looked -- well, silly, actually.
And, he was English. The accent wasn’t quite like Giles’, though, and definitely nothing like Spike’s. Really, the whole package reminded her a little of Wesley - skinny, slim fitting suit, goofy face, and all. Except there was something about him that wasn’t quite... human. Some kind of power radiating off of him. Not a physical power, something deeper than that, tickling the edges of her senses. Still, spidey senses or not, he didn’t feel evil, or anything, and he hadn’t been the one attacking Leatherface, here.
“You lie! You are wanted in five galaxies!” The words were growled in short bursts.
“Weell.. That may be, but I’d have to argue that any and all ‘crimes’ were merely the most efficient manner of saving-- Anyway, as I said, you’ve no jurisdiction here, Judoon! Your kind promised to stay away from Earth!”
“Jurisdiction is irrelevant. Human, unhand me so I may dispense the sentence of execution.”
Buffy interjected. “Like that’s going to happen. Listen, not that I’m not thrilled to mediate this demon-on-demon argument - really, I am, it’s been a while -- but I did not especially miss leather-clad-demons issuing death threats, so I’m just going to--” She reared her arms back, pulling the Judoon with her, and smashed him headfirst back into the car, hard, knocking him unconscious.
“Hey!” The man exclaimed, dragging out the word and sounding irked. He rushed over to the fallen ‘Judoon,’ kneeling beside him. He pulled a silver and blue glowing pen from his pocket and hit some button that triggered a low buzzing noise, running the pen along the head and chest of the leather-clad demon like some kind of Star Trek scanny thingy.
“What do you think you’re doing, knocking people out, like some sort of... knocker outer!”
Folding her arms, Buffy raised an eyebrow. “In case you hadn’t noticed, ‘The Gimp’ over here was trying to execute me and take you prisoner. I think a little less ‘hey!’ and a little more ‘yay!’ is in order here.”
“A little less...” He repeated, suddenly amused. He pocketed his pen and turned to her, all focus redirected in a sudden burst of energy. “Right, then. He’s fine! I’ll have to take him with me, of course! Can’t have a Judoon wandering around Earth - no jurisdiction, as I said. But, look at you! How did you restrain him?” He glanced down at her arms, eyes narrowing slightly, mouth barely pausing. “Can’t be steroids... Must.. be.. alien. Sylvanian enhancement injections? Oooh, a ring of strength purchased from the markets of Hyspero? Whatever it is, you really shouldn’t have it on early 21st century Earth.”
Narrowing her eyes and raising her eyebrows at him in utter confusion, she replied intelligently: “Huh?”
“No, no. You’re right, of course. We’ll get him back to his ship - well, a ship, anyway. A Judoon ship! Yes! Wait, no! I know just the place. Drop him off - back in a flash - then we talk.” He stood over the Judoon and tentatively lifted one heavy, broad shoulder, pausing contemplatively and dropping it down again gently. “Well. D’ya think - as long as you’re so strong and all - maybe you give me a hand, get this fellow in my ship. Quick spin, drop him off, and I’ll have you back here five minutes ago? I mean that literally, of course.” Her face hadn’t changed its expression. “Hello, by the way! I’m the Doctor. Who are you?”
“Um. Buffy. Is me.”
Seventy two days of ‘More coffee?’ and ‘How ‘bout some pie,’ wasn’t doing much for her higher cognitive functioning. Did he say ship?
“Hello, Buffy! Buffy, Buffy, Buffy. Derived from ‘Elizabeth,’ which is itself Greek sprung from Hebrew - Elisheva - but popularized by none other than Queen Elizabeth herself! Though she went by Bess, of course, not Buffy - and wanted me dead, once, for reasons I do plan to investigate, sooner or later. Have to get back to you on the ‘why’ of that. So, Buffy! Mind giving me a hand?” He gestured broadly to the Judoon.
"Yuh-huh," she replied, charming and not at all dumb struck.
Bending forward, she wrapped one thick, leather clad arm around her shoulders, grabbed its wide waist line, and heaved. Big and awkward? Yes. Too heavy? No.
Seemingly impressed, the Doctor smiled broadly. "Oh, look at you! Really, well done. He might weigh a ton! I’m talking, literally, a ton! Well, half a ton, anyway! Five hundred pounds, at least."
"Where am I taking--"
"Right! My ship. This way, just follow me - 'round the corner. Need any help with that? I can get his legs, if you like."
She started walking, following the Doctor. Her gait was awkward, due to the Judoon’s size, but held no evidence of muscle strain. Big leather legs dragged gently behind her as she pulled him along.
"Yes, you certainly are, and we will discuss why, just as soon as we get to my ship and bring him back where he belongs."
"When you say ship, are we talking, you know - comma space?"
"Well, we're hardly going to get him to the moon on a big boat. Don't be silly, Buffy! Ah, here it is!” He stood several feet away from what looked like a blue wooden phone booth. “Oh, you won’t be able to see-- Hold on, let me just -” He reached into his pocket.
“What,” Buffy commented, nonplussed, “That blue thing? That can’t possibly be a ship. Could be a nice place to change into some red and blue spandex, though.”
“Not just a ship! She is the ship, more like. Trust me; I’m a man who knows his definite articles. Wait - just how are you looking at her - I haven’t disabled the perception filter yet.”
“What do you mean, how? ‘She’s’ right there.” Buffy replied cheerfully, hauling the Judoon towards the door as the Doctor forgot about whatever he had been reaching for, stuck his hand into another pocket, retrieved a key, and unlocked the ship. “Y’know, this is a lot more ‘Superman’ and a lot less ‘Han Solo’ than I’d personally expect. But - hey - if you wanna cuddle with the leather daddy in the bitty blue box, I’m not going to judge! It’s 2009. Apparently.”
Knocking the blue door further open as she dragged the Judoon along with her, she followed, mumbling to herself, “You could hold the door.” She shook her head. “Kinda rude.”
She stepped through the door and into a large, round room. The walls reached up into a high sphere, reminding her of a planetarium, if a planetarium were gold and orange and decorated with a pattern of flat circles like unlit pool lights, framed in thick hexagons. The floor was a harsh, metal grating, several short platforms raising from lower to higher as the circle of floor moved inward to its center. What looked like tree trunks were growing out of the grating, reaching high and meeting with the curved ceiling. Regularly placed, curved columns like support beams stretched from floor to ceiling along the wall every few feet, joining at the center, and merging with the trees, all designed to draw the eye to the center of the room, where a console rested, round and large. Near the floor, it was metal, glowing with some sort of backlight, and wrapped in more of the tree-like surface. It was covered in buttons and levers and flowed all the way to the ceiling, transitioning into glass and bright green light, a cylinder emitting a tangible energy - humming. Humming hello. Up near the ceiling, thick black tubes dangled, resting near the trees. What could generously be described as a captain’s chair, beige and leather and beaten, sat near the console.
Not a hint of Superman or Han Solo. Nothing she had seen - in sci fi or Sunnydale - was quite like this.
“I know! Bigger on the inside. Neat, right?” He bounced on his toes, grinning. “My cuddling with the Judoon will therefore be out of affection and not necessity.” He raised his eyebrows in a manner that could only be described as cheeky and gave a little wink.
“I was going to say, ‘humming at me,’ actually. But, now that you mention it... Ooh, buttons!” She released the Judoon, laying him gently on the metal floor, and walked over the console, leaning over it and walking in a slow circle.
“Careful!” He exclaimed, stepping closer to her.
She raised her hands in front of her, quirking her eyebrows. “No touchie. I know. I wouldn’t want to send us to planet Vulcan, or suck us into a wormhole or something. Just... looking.” Quieter, she continued, “I have a friend who would be really jealous of me right now. If he exists. And is still a nerd.” She turned away, walking back to the Judoon and nudging him with a worn boot tip.
“So, you’re saying this moon is secretly populated with bigheaded leather-clad doms? Didn’t read that on the internet...”
“Of course I’m not saying that. The Judoon don’t live on the moon. And it’s not leather, it’s more like a latex, blended with miocarbic armor.” He walked over to her quickly, narrowing his eyes, pulling out that silver pen, setting it to, apparently, the ‘buzz loudly’ setting and holding it mere inches from her forehead. “I just happen to know the Judoon were on the moon in 2008, looking for a Plasmavore. We’ll just pop by and leave him where they’ll find him before they go.”
“There are more of them? I thought ‘Judoon’ was his name. And what do you mean, the moon in 2008? It’s 2009. I would also accept 2001. But definitely not 2008.” She crossed her eyes to look at the glowing blue light. “I’m just gonna trust that you have a good reason for doing that.”
Funny, how trusting she could be when all she had in life was an endless stretch of soul-crushing, diner-coffee-fueled boredom. Basically: why not?
“Oh, yes. Loads more.” He said, confusing her for a moment until she realized he was answering her first question. Slipping on a pair of tortoise shell glasses, he looked at the pen, continuing to speak as he evaluated. “Intergalactic police force. No jurisdiction on Earth, though, as I said. Don’t come here often. So, it’s really the best place to leave him. I’m certainly not headed back to the Shadow Proclamation anytime soon. Hmm.” He put the pen away suddenly, turning back to the console. “Better get to it, then. Be easier before he wakes up.”
The matter seemingly settled, the Doctor began hitting buttons and pulling levers. The entire ship - well, the room, really - gave a lurch and a deep whooshing noise began.
“It’s called the TARDIS,” he informed her, somehow in three places at once around the metal console. “Time and Relative Dimension in Space. So, yes, it was 2009. It will be 2008. It can be anywhere, anywhen. That’s why she’s the definite article. Also, you might want to hold on.”
Dropping off the Judoon went without incident. The Doctor landed his TARDIS right next to the Judoon ship. On the moon. Where it was, apparently, safe to step outside without an astronaut's suit on because the TARDIS has a forcefield of breathable air, or something, and sure! Nothing weird about that. Oh, and look! There's a hospital over there. Cause, this is apparently a universe where there's a hospital on the moon. Neat!
"Where are the rest of them?" Buffy asked, lugging the unconscious Judoon out of the TARDIS by his armpits, backing out in little steps onto the moon rock and pulling him with her. "Thought you said there were 'loads.'"
"Inside," the Doctor replied, indicating the hospital behind him with an impatient gesture of his head and eyebrows. "They won't be out for a while. Scanning people. There we are- just leave him leaning against the door. Don't worry! He'll be able breathe in that brilliant suit of his when we've gone."
She wasn't, really. Worrying. She was more preoccupied with the fact that she was on the moon, breathing freely, leaving an alien propped up against the door of a spaceship. Maybe she'd snapped. Maybe she was just sitting in not-Angel's empty apartment, staring at a wall. Seventy two days of normal, and now this. The pain, particularly in her sides, began to flare up again. She forced herself to breathe slowly, in and out, and to think.
Why not, though? Why not the moon? Why not aliens? Not really much weirder than demons, when you got right down to it. Plus, her world had at least one type of alien - the Queller demon - so, really, on the weirdness scale of 'eh' to 'eegads!' this was really more in the 'vaguely nauseating' realm than 'may actually be hallucinating in an empty apartment.'
"All right, then?" he asked, watching her carefully.
"Yeah. Peachy keen. Peachy keen on the moon. No big."
"Oh, that's the spirit. I like you, Buffy! Off we go, then! Time for a talk. Allons-y!" He turned around, walking briskly back into the TARDIS.
Following, Buffy frowned and muttered, "Who's Alan?"
She stepped back through the blue wooden doors into the round room, and he hurriedly shut the door behind her, ushering her down the ramp in the entryway and onto the worn captain's chair.
"You're clearly human," he said, as though it needed saying, "so, I thought you were out of your native time stream. Thought you were from sometime after strength enhancements became available in the 25th century. But anyone living in post-25th-century Earth wouldn't blink twice at a spaceship. Or a hospital on the moon."
He reached into his pocket again, extracting the silver and blue pen and switching it on. The whirring noise and blue light resumed and he waved it in broad strokes across her head, arms, and torso.
"Not to mention, you see through my perception filter. You hear the TARDIS. Perhaps just a human with a particularly strong-willed mind, or a proclivity for telepathy?" He turned off the blue light, suddenly intense, and squatted in front of her, staring at her like Giles would a particularly revealing portent in a musty old book. The pen was still pointed at her face, apparently beyond his notice as he pondered. "But no. That's not it, either. None of it fits. You .. don't .. fit."
Annoyed, she lightly smacked his hand, and his gadget, out of her face. She stood, folded her arms over her chest, and started pacing.
"Oi, watch the sonic!" he cried, pulled out of his concentration.
"I was. I couldn't not watch it, it being in my face and all. Yes. Right. I don't fit. I'm not from around here. You wanna know why I'm so strong? I'm the slayer. The chosen one. The one girl with the 'strength and skill to fight the vampires, demons, and the forces of darkness...' If your stupid world had any. As for your percepto-thing, I don't know! You walked up to a blue box, I saw a blue box. And I'm not sure how anyone could miss the humming in here!"
"The slayer? What do you mean, the slayer?"
Her face screwed up in concentration. "How do I - Look, okay. Let's say there are lots of worlds - parallel worlds. You could have a world without shrimp, for example-"
"I'm familiar with parallel universes."
"Right! Good. So. In my universe, we have magic - many, many vampires, and demons, and lots of other baddies, and... me. The slayer. The chosen one. One in every generation- usually -and she fights them. And protects the world. And, occasionally, she dives into a giant portal to another dimension to save the world from a rampaging hellgod. Why, is that not a thing here?"
"No," he replied, quiet. "When did you arrive?"
"Of all the naysayers, your nay is a nay of hypocrisy."
"Just - when."
"June. June 19th 2009, your time. Or, May 22nd 2001, my time. Either way, it's been seventy two days. Or - well, sorta. Right now it's a year ago, isn't it? We're back in 2008."
"That's it!" He answered, running a hand through the back of his hair as though he was under some sort of distress. "Your portal was a corresponding, parallel event, a dimensional linkage to the reality bomb. Sure, all the walls were crumbling, but the parallel events put your wall right up next to this wall. Down they go, in you came."
"The major difference being that your world has been invaded by Plasmavores, or Saturnyn, or some other blood-consuming race. Do they have wings, your vampires? No. Nevermind. And your world - breeds - little strong women in response to the occupation and tells them they're the chosen one." He spat the words.
"No, you're not listening. Not women. Woman. Me. No blood consuming aliens. No moon hospitals. No space ships. Vampires. Demons. Hundreds of kinds - more. My world has the forces of darkness, magic. It has a hellmouth! It's different."
"Do you really think they'd stop at one if they could breed slayers? One dies and another is called. It's not science - or military - it's destiny."
"It's all science. You don't know that you're the only one. Who knows how many are actually out there? You only know what you've been told."
"Actually, I do know that. First hand, thanks." Frustrated, she threw her arms down at her sides. "How can you say vampires and demons are impossible? You're some time traveler guy in a transdimensional phone booth. You're human - but you accepted aliens at some point. What's the diff?"
"I am not human!" he exclaimed, momentarily distracted. "Time Lord. And the 'diff' is simply that I don't believe in magic." He said the word like it was dirty, absurd. "Everything has an explanation. Your 'vampires' and 'demons' are species you haven't explained yet. This universe has races that call themselves vampires, too. It's not magic. It's just another biological code."
"So, they're that! Fine. Call them whatever you want - demon, vampire, hostile subterrestrials - it's the same thing. They exist, and I exist to fight them."
"Have you thought that maybe - just maybe - these creatures don't deserve to be 'slain?' They're not monsters. They're another species, trying to cohabitate on your Earth. You're a killer. It's right in the title!"
Heated, she marched closer, raising her chin to look him in the eyes.
"You really don't know what you're talking about. What do you think, that I hunt down and kill innocent creatures who just want to be left alone? I don't. I save people. I stop their killing, the only way I can. Without me, the world would be overrun. Not to mention ended, outright, five times over. If there was even a chance that they'd live peacefully among us - they don't. They kill. They take - everything - over and over again. What I've sacrificed... and you think you can puzzle out what it means to be a slayer in my world with five seconds of parallel universe technobabble? You have no idea-"
She stopped suddenly, gasping for breath. The dull ache blazed to life, all around her, down her arms, in her head. Fire raced through her, inwards and outwards again, too much to bear. She fell forward, onto her hands and knees, crying out. Her hands dug into the grating, fingers in between slats of metal, grabbing unconsciously out of tension.
"Oh god. What's happening to me?"
Quickly, he crouched in front of her, gripping her shoulders and staring at her with wide eyes. "I have no idea."
His grip on her shoulders was firm. "Buffy! Buffy, get up."
Gone was both the foreboding and the hyperactive humor. Now, he was gentle, but in control. Good in a crisis. She struggled to stand as he helped support her shoulders.
"There's an infirmary. Just a few steps away. C'mon, there's a girl. Easy. I'll help you. Good."
One leg in front of the other, she walked, following with eyes closed and trying to slow her breathing. Finally, he led her to an exam table, helping her up onto it. Her legs dangled over the edge, too short for the footrest. Looking up, the room was bright - a blur. She couldn't focus. Instead, she curled forward, resting her forearms on her upper thighs and leaning her head down. Breathing slowly, the pain subsided.
"The sonic did display some abnormal readings as I scanned you, but sort of a - cellular sunburn. Interesting, but nothing indicating injury. How long have you been in pain? Your breathing has been labored intermittently since we met."
"Seventy two days? Not like this, though. Trust me when I say, it takes a lot to wipe me out."
"Where does it hurt?" He lifted her chin with a finger and pointed a light into one eye, then the other. His glasses were back, sliding down his nose as he alternated looking above them and through them, eyebrows knitted, and the tension in his jaw causing a dimple to show.
"Basically, everywhere. Arms, legs, head, torso. I woke up in pain in the middle of the desert back in June and it's never gone away completely."
"Sharp? Dull? Aching? Stabbing?"
"Yes. Yes. Yes. And yes. Also, burning."
"And this wasn't happening, back in your universe?"
"Hmm. Can you think of anything that might have caused this?"
"Well, there was the swan dive into the electrically charged dimensional gateway."
He looked into her eyes from above the rim of his glasses and raised an eyebrow with an expression that said, 'Obviously.' It was so Giles that it made her stomach flip. "I meant besides that."
He turned around, rummaging through the futuristic medical equipment on a nearby table.
"No, nothing. I really haven't done much since I got here. Waiting tables, surfing the web, pointless patrolling. Until today."
"Well, you're not injured, in the traditional sense. The sonic would've picked up on it. It must be something at the molecular level. We'll have to do a full molecular scan."
He returned with a shimmering, silver device that resembled a megaphone, a screen on the end where the mouthpiece should be. He aimed it at her and quickly pulled the trigger, then turned away again.
"Quick and painless! The results take a few minutes to process, though. Which reminds me - I need to get us back into the Time Vortex before the Judoon get back from their mission. Just a moment! Don't move." He walked briskly out of the room, leaving the scanner propped up on the table.
Buffy put her elbows on her thighs and her head in her hands, focusing on her breath.
She heard his steps in the hall before he reentered the room. Looking up, she left her chin in her hands, tilting her head as she studied him.
"You look human."
He stepped over to the megaphone, glancing at it before turning to her with an appraising look on his face. "No. You look Time Lord. We were here first."
She rolled her eyes. "Maybe in this universe."
"In all universes," he said with finality, turning back and studying the screen. "Time Lords used to travel between the universes. Before."
"Now I travel. I help people, when I can. On Earth, all over. Anywhere and anywhen." He went quiet, reading the results on the screen.
"We're off the moon, now?"
"Yes. We're in the Time Vortex," he muttered distractedly. "Sort of a neutral zone in space and time."
"No bumps this time?"
"There were bumps. The TARDIS insulates the infirmary from turbulence." He got quiet again for several minutes, finally raising his eyes to look at her, expression closed. "Your molecular structure is like nothing I've ever seen. Not just different, even... It's wrong. So very, very wrong. Nothing but impossibility, contradiction... paradox woven through every atom. Your every cell must be rebelling. It's like the fabric of your existence is sewn together with a different thread."
"It is. It must be. You said there's no such thing as magic here. But me - my power - is rooted in magic."
"What else can it be?"
"I don't know."
"What does this mean? I can't exist here? I'm not made from the same... stuff? What happens? Do I fade away?"
He placed the instrument down on the counter with a loud clang. "I don't know!"
She went silent for a moment, then attempted to perk up. "Well, at least you taught the megaphone a lesson. It was looking kinda shifty." He was silent. Okay, perk bad.
More serious, she continued. "Look, it's fine. I'm better, now. And I know I don't belong here anyway. I wanted them to be safe, without me, and to think of me at peace, but.. I'll just have to find a way back."
He ran his right hand through his hair, twice, turning his careful 'do wild. He turned his back toward her for a second, then faced her again, walking to her and stopping right in front of her. His eyes were intense.
"Tell me more about how you got here."
"It's kind of a long story."
He huffed impatiently and opened his mouth to speak again, but she interrupted, raising her hand, palm out in front of her. "Hold on. I'm just trying to figure out where to start."
She thought for a moment, then began. "I was called as the slayer when I was 15. For years, I dealt with my world's problems. I fought vampires, and stopped the world being sucked into hell by a really bad ex, and blew up a giant snake demon, and stopped a human demon cyborg thing from massacring a military base to build himself a super army, and a thousand other things... But this was different. There was a god, from another world. Her name was Glory. Glorificus. She was so strong. She was exiled, to my world, and was trying to find a way back. She needed 'the key.' But getting back would open the doors to every world, and getting home for her was apocalypse for us."
"And what was 'the key?'"
"Energy. It had always been energy. But these monks learned about Glory's plan. They shaped the key into a human form, gave her life, shaped her from me. They altered my memories, my mom's, my friends'... They sent her to me, so I could protect her. The key was my sister. To me, she's always been my sister. Dawn."
He studied her, somber, no hint of the babbling energy she'd first encountered. She took a deep breath before continuing.
"Glory found out, eventually, and took her. There was a ritual, to use 'the key' - to, y'know, unlock the door. Her blood opened the portal, and the portal would remain open until the blood stopped flowing. I got there too late. The ritual was started, little cuts all over her body. The portal opened. It was destroying everything. She was going to jump. There was no way I could let her- But I realized. The monks made her from me. Her blood, my blood - it was the same. So I jumped, instead. This world's still here; mine must be too. I landed in a desert near where I'd lived, but my whole town was gone - not gone. Never was. I guess in this world, Richard Wilkins was mortal and never founded Sunnydale." She raised her eyebrows, thinking aloud. "No need to, without aspirations of demonhood. So, that's how I got here. Questions?"
"Yes. Many. None of which, I'm sure, you're capable of answering."
"How could your blood possibly be the same as hers? How could you seal the portal by jumping if she was still there, bleeding?"
"All I can tell you is that there's kind of a logic, to magic. A symmetry. I knew, when it was time. I'd been told what was coming... A prophecy. 'Death is your gift.' I knew what I had to do."
"None of this makes any sense."
"Well, only if you think about it too much," she reasoned, her tone lighter, eyebrows raised ironically.
"And why blood? Dimensional rifts are opened through pinpointing and exploiting weak spots between worlds with spatial and temporal energy. Blood has nothing to do with it."
"In my world, it's always blood."
He crossed the room and stood in front of the table, leaning forward to rest his forearms on it, his body at an angle. Hands touched opposite elbows, and he crossed his legs at the ankles. He studied her, fierce and silent and serious.
"Look - you said your people cross between universes. You can help me get back before my molecules fry, or whatever."
"But you said-"
"Travel between parallel worlds is impossible."
"I'm here. You said your people can do it."
"I said, before. My people crossed between universes before. My people are gone. I'm the only one left. And I can't. It's impossible. I'm sorry - I'm really, very sorry - but I can't bring you back and I can’t do anything for your pain short of drugging you. There's nothing wrong with you, not really. You're just wrong, for this universe. There's no way to change that."
"You don't know that."
"I'm the Doctor. I always know." His voice was like a door slamming. "I'll take you home, to Los Angeles."
"Home?" Her voice caught in her throat. "What home? I have nothing here. No one. I've been squatting in an empty apartment. Waiting tables. Wandering, at night. If you can't help me get back to my world, could I at least stay with you - for a while? You're alone, too - you travel, you help people - I-I won't slay anything. I could help you."
His shuttered expression ground her to a halt. "I'm sorry. I travel alone."
He walked out of the infirmary.
Buffy exhaled, blinked. Finally, she followed. "You don't have to! This ship is huge. I wouldn't get in your way. You saw how handy I was to have in a crisis!"
He was at the console, back facing her. He rested his hands on the console, arms wide. His shoulders were tense, but his tone regained some of its feeling. "I've lost too many people, Buffy. I can't. I'm so, so sorry, but I can't. I'm taking you back to Los Angeles. You can build yourself a life there."
"Wait. It doesn't have to be L.A., right? Anywhere - anywhen, that's what you said. Just answer me one thing, first."
He turned to look at her.
"Have you ever heard of the Watcher's Council?"
His expression darkened.
"I'm familiar with the Watcher's Council, yes." That note of foreboding crept back into his voice. How could someone so damn bouncy get scary so fast? Was she that menacing? She could do a pretty good 'menacing,' but maybe she should take some notes.
"Great! You can drop me off wherever they are."
"No. Absolutely not. Under no circumstances."
"Look – If you don't want to help me, that's fine. And I totally get your reaction! I've dealt with them. I know they only work to serve their own agenda. That's why I quit the council, in my world— Wait, hold on. Just what are the watchers watching here?"
"Aliens," he said, as though it were obvious.
"We need to make a chart, or a Venn diagram, something. It's compare and contrast time. I'll start: Watcher's Council. Ancient. Haughty. British. Tons of stuffy watchers. They operate in the shadows but they're extremely powerful. They're not above sending out assassins, or pulling strings to get someone deported, but they'd never get their hands dirty. They have connections across world governments and a truly awful moral compass. How am I doing?"
His face grew speculative, and he touched the tip of his tongue to his top lip as he thought, looking up at nothing. She suddenly had the sense that, despite his strong reaction to the council, he liked this game.
"Yes, to all of it."
"Okay, your turn, now." She crossed her arms and looked at him expectantly.
"Those 'tons of stuffy watchers,' are dispatched worldwide to classify and control other species living peacefully on earth. They've deep roots in England, but have been based out of Washington, D.C. since the emergence of Torchwood – that's an organization run by the British government. They have a tendency toward torture and experimentation on particularly interesting species, or individuals who disobey them. They're focused on pulling strings in the United States and they'd exploit peaceful species living on earth to do it." He raised his eyebrows as if to say, 'Well?'
In the context of a slayerless world where aliens existed, it kinda made sense, even if it sounded a bit Initiative. Still, Washington D.C.?
"No. No to all of that. The council from my world exists for the slayer. They train her, guide her. Ultimately, most of them want to control her. Every slayer gets a watcher when she's called. It's hit or miss, but I was lucky. My watcher, Giles, is brave, kind, and smart… The rest sit around in London, eating scones and congratulating each other on how fantastic their tweed is. Most of them are cowards, afraid to actually face vampires or demons. They spend all their time reading musty old books on demon lore and prophecy, but they hold information ransom if it's actually useful. Their leadership is conniving and ruthless. They sabotage every slayer on her eighteenth birthday, putting her into a situation where she's physically powerless and setting a monster loose on her to see if she can figure out a way to win without her strength. They fired my watcher for telling me about the test. I quit not too long after. I haven't taken an order from them since."
He ran a hand along the back of his neck, looking simultaneously disturbed and relieved. "No to almost all of that. Except for the part where they're conniving, ruthless cowards." Shifting gears, he asked, "Buffy, what's your last name?"
She tilted her head and narrowed her eyes at him, curious. "Summers. Why?"
"Buffy – Summers! Oh, that's lovely, isn't it? Like a 1970s beach bunny, you are," he exclaimed, giving her a wide smile. Walking towards her, he gently grabbed her shoulders, his eyes beseeching. "Why, Buffy Summers, would you want to go to them? They won't help you, even if they could. You can find a place to live, make friends, have a normal life! Make the best of things."
Oh. "I wanted one. For a long time. But even if I finally have a shot at a normal life, what kind of life would that even be without the people I love? I know the council is bad news – in any world. But I've dealt with them before. If there's even a chance they can help me find a way home – I have to take it." He released his grip on her, lowering his arms to his sides. "And who knows how much time I'll have here, if this pain keeps getting worse? You said it, my very existence here is wrong."
"Travel between parallel worlds is impossible, Buffy. There's nothing they know about it that I don't, I promise you that."
"I have to try. Please, just take me to them and then I'll be out of your hair."
He pursed his lips, dimple showing on his cheek. "I'll take you near them, in D.C. I'll tell you how to get to them from where I land the TARDIS. But I won't go with you. They're dangerous to me. And to you. Have I mentioned you really, really shouldn't go? I should mention that. You really, really shouldn't go."
She let out a breath she didn't know she'd been holding. "I'm going. Thank you."
He walked toward the TARDIS, throwing a look over his shoulder. "Any 'when' in particular?"
"May as well stay in 2009. There's no particular 'when' I'm attached to."
He gave a tight nod and turned toward the TARDIS console. "I'll see what I can do."
He hit several buttons, and began his manic movements around the dashboard as the TARDIS whirred to life. Buffy sat on the metal grating next to a beam supporting a hand rail and wrapped her arms around it, holding on.
A whooshing noise, several minutes of jostling flight, and they landed with a big bump that may or may not have left Buffy with a grate shaped bruise on her butt.
"Here we are, then. Same day we left from in Los Angeles, only now we're in Washington D.C. Approximately half a mile from the council headquarters, I believe. I'll just pop out with you and tell you the route. The city's on a grid. You should find it easily- if you follow my instructions - and as long as you stay away from streets named after states. Those go diagonally, but they tend to disappear and reappear altogether to accommodate the buildings. Stick to letters and numbers."
He walked over and held a hand out for her, which she took, pulling herself up. Letting go, they walked toward the door.
"It's actually a really brilliant design, the streets of the District of Columbia. But they're meant for the political leaders to have as many routes out as possible, not for ease of navigation within, particularly with cars. Part of the original design was completed by a French designer named Pierre L'Enfant. Not a bad city planner, though he was considered a failure during his lifetime. Nice fellow, too. He won a watch off me in a pub in Maryland in 1823. Died in poverty, unfortunately. Still, they named one of the metro stations here after him!"
"Neat," Buffy offered, trying to be charitable.
He opened the door and stepped outside, Buffy following closely. They were in what looked like an urban garden. The ground was concrete, stretching out into a large square, with small rectangular planters filled with flowers along each wall and weather-resistant tables with benches scattered throughout. It looked like a place someone might go eat lunch if they were trying to get out of the office. A nice little lunch patio with flowers – a good way to feel a little less claustrophobic in your cubicle by stepping out into a slightly bigger square. Buffy started walking toward its middle, letting her hand drift gently over the flowers as she passed them. The Doctor stood a few feet away from the TARDIS, facing Buffy, and rubbing his ear.
"That's a bit odd. We were supposed to materialize at 4th and C." He craned his neck, looking around. "I'll just go see what intersection we're nearest." He paused. "Hang on. D'ya see an exit?"
Buffy turned around to look back at the Doctor just as the hammer of a gun sounded, a loud click disrupting the air. A tall, white-haired man dressed in a very smart black suit stood behind the Doctor in the entryway to the garden and pointed a gun at his back.
"I think it might be behind you."
Turning around, the Doctor raised his hands up, exclaiming, "We're not armed. Don't shoot!" just as the man shouted, "Stand still, don't move!" in a brisk Wesley-ish accent.
Three more men followed, one restraining the Doctor, grabbing his arms and pulling them behind his back, while the other two approached Buffy.
As they drew near, she jumped up into a spin kick, knocking them both onto the ground, unconscious, in one motion. Startled, the white-haired man fired a shot at her, missing only because she landed in a low crouch instead of standing up.
"Buffy, don't!" the Doctor cried. "Just—stop!"
She stood, holding her hands up and looking at the white-haired man. "Okay! Don't get all Tarantino! I won't kick anyone else."
Responding to the commotion, another two men rushed in, and this time Buffy let them restrain her as the white-haired man trained his eyes and his gun on her. They pulled her bodily towards the garden's exit, the Doctor's captor dragging him along as well.
Through the doorway was a long hallway leading into a grand lobby. The floors were marble, flecked with gold. A large front desk in dark granite was empty, but had enough room for three or four receptionists. There were four elevators along the far wall of the lobby, sleek and modern in flawless chrome. There was no visible exit. The space was mostly empty, designed to look spectacular, but without much practical purpose beyond serving as a point of entry. Apart from their captors, the lobby was deserted. It was very 'council' meets 'extremely high end law firm.'
An elevator opened from across the room and just one man exited, walking towards them with a serious expression on his face. A serious, familiar expression on his seriously familiar face.
"Quentin Travers," Buffy and the Doctor said simultaneously, identical tones conveying identical threat and distaste. They looked at each other in surprise. They'd forgotten to include that on their Venn diagram. Quentin looked only at the Doctor.
"Hello, Doctor. Welcome."
"Hello, Quentin," the Doctor said, boisterously polite. "How have you been? Me, I've been great. Just in town for some sightseeing. My friend Buffy here's never seen the Capitol. Can you believe it? Lived in America her whole life, never seen it. Thought to myself: What kind of friend would I be if I didn't show her the Capitol? Got a bit turned around, though. Didn't mean to wander into your garden, beg your pardon. We'll just be leaving, then, eh, Buff?" He jerked his head to the right, indicating the hallway and, beyond it, the garden where they left the TARDIS.
"Don't call me Buff."
Quentin remained at a distance. "Doctor, you've made it clear that you don't approve of our methods, yet you intrude upon Council property." Raising an eyebrow, his voice grew sarcastic. "You must understand what that looks like. I'm afraid we cannot tolerate alien hostility."
"Quentin," Buffy said, before the Doctor could reply, "My name is Buffy Summers. I asked the Doctor to bring me to Washington so that I could talk to you, but we didn't mean to land on your property. He's not hostile. Just let him go. I have some information I think you'll be interested in."
"You, Buffy Summers, are human. A young, reckless, stupid human. You do not interest me." Quentin said, simply, eyes still fixed on the Doctor. "The Doctor, however, interests me greatly."
"Section 5, paragraph 3 of the Council-UNIT Interoperational Agreement stipulates that you mustn't interfere with any UNIT activities, or the activities of any authorized UNIT personnel. I'm still a UNIT consultant. Got my ID card and everything. Let us go." The Doctor's eyes were intense, threat creeping in, but Quentin seemed unimpressed.
"I'm aware of Section 5, paragraph 3, thank you." Quentin smiled, eyes cold. He looked at the white haired man. "Take them to the Potomac facility. The TARDIS, as well. We'll run some tests."
White hair took a step forward.
Buffy smiled at the Doctor. "Sorry."
In the span of five seconds, she accomplished several things. First, she smashed her head back into the skull of her captor, his arms releasing her as they moved to grasp his face, stifling a nosebleed. The second of her personal captors drew his gun and stepped toward her, but Buffy was already twisting his wrist, forcing him to drop it. Using his arm to pull him closer, she elbowed him, hard, in his stomach, grabbed his upper arm, and flipped him over her. He landed on his back in front of her with a grunt. White hair drew his weapon again, but Buffy managed to somersault at him before he could fire it, aiming her landing so that a kick hit him from face to chest, dropping him onto the floor, where he clutched his head. Now next to the Doctor, she tapped the remaining captor who restrained him on the shoulder even though he was already gaping at her.
"Hiya!" She punched him in the face. He fell to the floor, still conscious.
The only man left standing, now Quentin looked at Buffy.
"I know I'm just a young, reckless, stupid, human, but I sure am spry, aren't I? And I'm just getting warmed up." She glanced at the Doctor. "Also, I'd like to just point out that I was going really, really easy on the goons."
The Doctor stretched his arms in front of him, shaking them out a bit. He regarded Buffy. "I completely disapprove of everything you just did." Scrunching his nose, he shook his head back and forth quickly three times and opened his mouth, tongue sticking to its roof. Appearing conflicted, he finally gushed, "That was brilliant."
Buffy raised and lowered her eyebrows saucily.
Quentin spoke up. "What do you want?"
"Let the Doctor go on his merry way, and then you and I have a chat. I really wasn't here to go all Chuck Norris on you. I just want to talk. But, as it happens, my incredible grace and martial art skills are actually relevant, so – consider that a demonstration. I need your help."
"And why would I help you? You just injured four of my associates."
"Either you help, or I walk out of here right now and you never learn how a bitty thing like me just disarmed four of your men in five seconds. And I think you want to know."
Quentin regarded her for a moment. When he spoke, his voice was triumphant, his face more pleased than it had any right to be. "You're right. I do."
He pulled a tranquilizer gun from his pocket and shot her twice in the neck in one fluid motion. Letting out a gasp, she started to fall, but the Doctor caught her, gripping her shoulders as the world started to spin.
"Buffy!" the Doctor cried. "Buffy, you're okay. It's just a tranquilizer. I've got you."
Quentin smiled, pointing the gun at the Doctor, totally calm. "Doctor – I know you'll be reasonable. It's time for you both to come with me."
Her vision went black.
When she came to, she was lying on a medical table set at a 45 degree angle. Two metal chains were wrapped around her; one was wrapped snuggly three times around her legs, ankle to calf, and another around her torso, pinning her arms against her sides. An IV stuck out of the back of her right hand and a heart rate monitor was clipped onto her index finger.
The room was white, buzzing with fluorescent lights. Steel counter tops lined the wall in front of her, littered with small and large unidentifiable metal tools. Several flat screen monitors were mounted against the far wall. Two screens displayed vital health signs, one heart rate twice as fast as the other. She wasn't sure which was hers.
She turned her head to the right and found the room's entrance, then to the left and found the Doctor, looking at her. He lay on a similar table, three or four feet from hers. One arm was handcuffed to the frame of the medical table so that his arm was lifted up and behind his head, but he was otherwise unbound. There was no IV in his arm, though he had a heart rate monitor clipped onto to the index finger of his cuffed hand. The heart rate monitor, cord, and handcuff all shook as he wiggled his fingers in a little wave. "Hello!"
His silly greeting didn't quite mask the concern in his face.
"Hi," Buffy responded, turning her head toward him more fully. She raised an eyebrow ironically. "I respectfully concede that they are not going to help me." Then she winced. "My head feels weird. Like it's full of puffy cotton balls."
He looked at her hand. "I'm sorry. They're drugging you."
She nodded, or tried to. "Makes sense. Not you?"
"I came peacefully. At any rate, they're a little intimidated by my superior Time Lord biology. They know enough to know that they wouldn't know what they're doing, if they tried."
"You said 'know' a lot, just now." She gulped. "Where are we? How long was I out?"
"Their Potomac facility. You've been out for an hour and a half. We're about 20 miles from where we were." He pulled a face. "They're not exactly going for a secret location, giving it a name like that. Guess they don't feel they need it. After you passed out, they put us in a truck, brought us here, and tied you up. You should really still be asleep. I'm not sure how you're awake. They shot you with five milligrams of etorphine hydrochloride. That's enough to put a small rhinoceros under."
"Superior slayer biology."
"Are you feeling okay? Any pain?"
"Just a little fuzzy. Whatever they gave me actually seems to be helping with the cellular sunburn pain. Gotta love a good backfire." She wiggled a little in her chains, then bucked one shoulder forward. The table creaked. "I can definitely get us out of here. These guys have no idea how to chain up a slayer."
"What do you propose you do after that, Buffy? This is a huge facility. I thought that the downtown office was their headquarters, but this place is massive. It must be new. They're all armed, and there are hoards of watchers and special operatives. You can't just fight your way out of here."
"Pretty sure I can, actually."
"No. We'll reason with them. Get them to release us. They may be ancient and haughty, but they have to cooperate with the other major alien research agencies and I've got friends at UNIT and Torchwood. I'll talk to them. That's how I do things."
She narrowed her eyes. "Fine. We can try it your way. But I reserve the right to break out of these chains and kick ass if that doesn't work."
They went quiet for a moment.
"Is it just me, or do you think they're about to get a little ‘Mengele’ on us in here? I'm not at all reassured by the wall of pointy stabby tools."
"I told you they have a tendency for experimentation."
"Yeah, yeah, you told me so. Well, no one said you had to come along."
"Except the TARDIS, apparently."
"And you want us to stay and get dissected, cause punching is bad? Have you ever considered that you might be taking non-violence past its reasonable limit?"
"I always give them a chance.”
"I don't know what kind of chance you mean. As far as I'm concerned, they used up their chance the first time they shot at me." She pursed her lips, feeling exposed by the bindings and the screens and the cords. "Being helpless doesn't come naturally to me, Doctor."
He gave her a soft smile. "You have all the power, Buffy Summers. But you may not always have to use it."
She sighed. "Well, it was nice of them to imprison us together, anyway."
"Yes, it does make things easier, doesn't it? We'll be fine. You and me? They have no idea what they're up against."
The door opened, and the sound of footsteps entering echoed through the room, followed by the distinct snap of a donned rubber glove. Facing the door, the Doctor reacted to the visitor first, recognition lighting up his eyes. "Hold on—"
Turning her neck to face the entryway, a gasp caught in Buffy's throat at the man entering the room. Relief and hope and anguish all pooled in her stomach. "Giles!"
Giles smiled, but it didn't reach his eyes. "My reputation precedes me, does it? Isn't that nice."
This wasn't her Giles. It was immediately obvious that this man was nothing like her Giles. For one thing, his face was more heavily lined, on his forehead in particular. The long slowly receding hairline had also made more progress. But it was the look in his eyes, all electricity with something still deeper underneath, that was truly different. Against her will, her eyes filled, and she closed them, turning her head and leaning it back against the table.
The Doctor spoke. "It's 'Giles,' then, is it? Not Finch? Brother Lassa of the Krillitane?"
"Oh, I see. No, not Brother Lassa, though my form was his personal favourite and I lent my image gladly." He approached the Doctor, ignoring Buffy. "I had heard about your interference at Deffry Vale. It was of no consequence. While the Skasis Paradigm would have been very useful to the Council, we've got other plans."
"You've got…The Council was in on the Krillitane's plan?"
"In on it?" Giles mocked. "We created it. We enlisted them. Brother Lassa reported directly to Quentin Travers. Don't think the involvement of you and your… assistants escaped our notice. You're a tricky one to find, though, Doctor, in your blue box. It was nice of you to come to us."
Buffy opened her eyes and watched Giles approach the counter filled with tools, his back to them. She looked at the Doctor and he looked at her, indicating Giles with a jerk of his head and mouthing, 'Giles? Giles, Giles?'
She nodded, her face grave.
Eyes concerned, he shook his head and mouthed, 'He's not your Giles.'
She let out a long shaky sigh and mouthed, 'I know.'
Giles turned back toward them, still standing at the counter.
"You, though," he said, regarding Buffy with a look of keen interest. "You knew my name. You're time travellers, so maybe you know me already while I don't yet know you. But the Doctor didn't."
"I know you. I know you're a good person. I know you don't need to follow their orders."
"Do you? And how's that?"
"Ah, ah-" The Doctor interjected, but Buffy was already answering.
"I'm a friend."
"Oh, but that's not all, is it?"
He smiled, removing a handkerchief from a pocket inside the jacket of his expensive looking three piece black suit. He took off his glasses and wiped them, thinking, in a gesture so familiar and yet so wrong. She swallowed, hard. He placed his glasses back onto his face and replaced his handkerchief.
"You knew Quentin's name, as well. He had no memory of you, either. You disarmed six of our special operatives without breaking a sweat. What do you weigh, a hundred pounds? No. There's something else about you, Miss… Summers."
"Giles, this isn't you." Her voice broke.
"And just how would you know that? Tell me, I'm quite curious."
"You're not some council pawn."
"No, I think you'll find I'm more of a rook. How do you know me?"
The Doctor waved again. "Hello, hi, yes, still here! The Doctor - intriguing, Time Lord – right here, hello. Buffy can't be revealing your own future to you, of course. Self-fulfilment and paradoxes. Tear the universe apart. You understand. No hard feelings."
"I'm from a parallel world," Buffy interrupted, still staring at Giles.
"Oh, now you've done it."
"I know you, there. For years. I know you. You're a good person. You can help us."
Giles stepped toward her, intrigue sketched clearly across his face. His eyes narrowed just slightly, scanning her face. "A parallel world," he repeated, sounding more like himself. "Fascinating."
"Betcha wanna consult some books."
He looked at Buffy, the Doctor, and back again, then walked briskly out of the room.
"Thought so," she quipped.
"Buffy." There was warning in his tone, but he wasn't angry. She could feel his eyes on her, but she kept her chin straight.
"Buffy, this is bad. We should go. Try and sneak out of here. We'll find the TARDIS – I can find the TARDIS - and we'll go."
"Buffy, he's not your Giles. You can't trust him. He's gone off to find Quentin and tell him where you're from and it's very not good."
"I thought you wanted to stay and negotiate. We'll talk to him."
"Buffy," the Doctor repeated, exasperated. "I wanted to negotiate, before. When I didn't know that the Council was pulling strings to try and control all of reality. Not to mention, you saying, 'Hello, I'm from another universe, please experiment on me and try to figure out how to punch a hole in existence.' Now, I don't want to negotiate. Now, I want to run."
"Well, I want to talk."
"Buffy, I'm sorry, but-"
"No 'Buffy!' He's not some evil Council goon. He's my watcher. He's Giles. Deep down, he'd want to help us. I can talk to him – convince him."
"You can't," the Doctor said, keeping his tone gentle. "You have no idea who he is. He looks like your watcher, sounds like him – but this world is different. Everything that made him who he was, to you, never happened here."
"You don't know that."
"Isn't it obvious? You said your watcher was kind. Brave. Smart. You saw him. He's just like Quentin."
The Doctor reached up, fiddling with his handcuff with his free hand, muttering something that included the word 'overcoat.'
"They have my coat. And my sonic. I like that coat. Janis Joplin gave me that coat."
Buffy let out a little bark of laughter. It sounded like something Spike would say, if he hadn't pulled his coat off of a dead slayer.
Soft and serious, the Doctor continued, "Buffy, I can't get us out of here without my sonic screwdriver. You need to get us out. I know this is difficult for you, but that man is not your watcher."
"No," Buffy said, stubborn.
"Doctor." she said, mocking him with the same tone, and turning her head to look at him. His face was open, sympathetic. It made her just a little bit angry.
"This is your approach. Anyway, I thought you help people. You said the Council is getting too big for their britches and you want to just run away? I haven't seen anyone I love in seventy two days. If there's a chance that I can help Giles be Giles... And stop the council's evil plan? I have to. I have to, Doctor. I don't give up on my friends, in any universe." She raised her eyebrows. "And it's not like I have anything else to do."
He sighed, deeply, and she knew she had him. "Do not, under any circumstances, tell them what you are." He rubbed his earlobe with his free hand. "This is a very bad idea."
Giles came back. Alone. Plan A, then. Which was good, because plan B had been 'just deal with whatever and whoever shows up, silently, until Giles comes back alone and then commence plan A.' Plan C was 'break out of here and kidnap Giles for a forced un-brainwashing involving a Christmas Carol TARDIS journey through his life.' Plan E was, 'I don't know what else, why don't you think of some MacGyver stunt, you're the brainy one with the free hand and the magical phone booth.' Plan D was something else altogether.
Giles proceeded to the table and retrieved a tool that looked like a barcode scanner. Turning back, he walked toward Buffy, pointed it at her head, and hit the trigger, letting it 'scan' her for several seconds, just like the Doctor had done with his megaphone for his molecular scanny thing. The Doctor remained silent. That was part of the plan – her game plan. She didn't think he could hold out, quiet, all day, given his totally over-the-top hyperactivity and need to be clever, but he was doing better than she'd expected, so far, even if 'so far' was only going on about thirty seconds right now.
Giles had focused on Buffy, she'd reasoned, so Buffy needed to take the lead. She was determined to save whatever version or facsimile of Giles' soul resided in this body. Not in an Evangelical TV preacher way.
The Doctor might have been skeptical about her ability to reach him, but he knew her well enough already to give her a chance. To not interfere.
Apparently waiting for a reading of her molecules, or brainwaves, or, hey, maybe a barcode somewhere on her person that she wasn't aware of, Giles looked down at her with inquisitive eyes and quietly asked, "Who are you to me, in your world?"
Good. He was curious. Better, still, that his energy was far more 'Giles' than 'Ripper.' His tone was familiar, and he looked at her like he'd look at a text he'd waited weeks to receive by mail order, only to realize it needed translating into a dialect that was two shades away from familiar.
"Your middle name is Edmund," Buffy answered, looking into his eyes.
"I'm aware," he said, absently, dismissing her response and reading the scanner. He turned back to the table, and picked up something like a blood pressure cuff, except it was covered in tiny metal sensors inside, and it hooked right into an outlet on the wall next to her when he returned to her.
She heard a quick intake of breath next to her, the Doctor evidently experiencing some sort of alarm over this piece of equipment, but he managed to keep from talking, apparently with great effort. She could see the Doctor facing her in her peripheral vision, watching both of them, arm still cuffed behind his head, posture attempting casual, poorly. He was writ with tension, foot propped up on the table awkwardly, shoulders pointed slightly upward, face serious. It was clear that, apart from keeping quiet, being helpless did not come naturally to him, either.
Holding the cuff, Giles leaned over Buffy and brushed her hair away from her neck, glancing down at her. His eyes fixed on her scar, from the Master and Angel and Dracula, and she could practically feel his curiosity ratcheting up further. He hooked the cuff around her neck gently. She didn't resist, or inquire. She was focused.
"What happened to your neck?"
"You went to public school," Buffy responded. "You pretend you're not defensive about it, but you call them all 'ponces' behind their backs when the others swap boarding school stories you can't contribute to."
His mouth tightened, just barely, but his eyes were still shrewd. He flicked a switch on the wall that triggered a light humming noise in her ears, close as they were to her neck, but otherwise she couldn't tell what it was doing. He glanced above her head, by a substantial margin, and then down at her hand where the IV still poking out. He adjusted something on the controls above the bed. Goody, more drugs.
He walked back to his table of tricks, this time selecting a long metal instrument that most unfortunately resembled a small cattle prod.
"No," the Doctor ground out.
Buffy shushed him at a volume she intended Giles not to hear from across the room.
"Yes, Doctor, I think that Miss Summers is correct. You were doing much better when you weren't talking." He walked back over, the prod in his hand. "Don't be alarmed. Just trying to see what you are, measuring your reactions against a human's from our universe. Or, you could just tell me."
"You watch Jeopardy on boring afternoons even though you complain about how daft the American contestants are. Then you get all flustered when they know an answer you don't." She smiled, despite herself, remembering his comical, irritated bewilderment, sputtering defensively, when a student from the University of Nebraska on a college special got a Stones question right that he missed.
"Very well," he replied, and prodded her in the rib cage without any further hesitation, though he didn't look precisely pleased about it, either.
It wasn't bad. It was sort of a shimmering jolt that started that spread outward; dispersing at her fingers and toes as though the current had literally exited her body. Given her relatively recent experience with a much stronger cattle prod and a psychotic – make that two psychotic – vampires, she knew this was not a super proddy prod. That, coupled with the expression on his face - careful, without a hint of hostility - She was suddenly certain that he didn't want to hurt her.
Giles glanced up above her head at something, studying (was there a screen up there, too?) and then looked at the Doctor, his face becoming annoyed. "It was three amps and fifteen hundred volts, Doctor. Do stop gaping at me. She's fine."
Yeah. He definitely didn't want to hurt her. Was he supposed to? Hurt her? Want to hurt her? He wanted information; that was clear. But he appeared to want information about who she was, to him, just as badly as he wanted the 'how's' and 'why's' of the parallel universe. Maybe worse.
"Are the people in your universe all more than human, or are you special?" He was still looking at whatever output for the equipment was above her head.
"You listened to 'Loaded' by the Velvet Underground on repeat for the first half of 1971, but you still get twitchy if someone touches your copy of it, even though it's not original."
"That's very irritating." He took off his glasses, holding them up to the light to check for dust or spots. "And it's not working."
But she wasn't wrong. No corrections or refutations so far. She was pretty sure he'd gloat if she got one wrong, nettled as he was.
He replaced his glasses with one hand and, placing the prod back on the counter with the other, he selected another instrument. This one was like a handheld black light that newscasters sometimes used to investigate on television specials about unsanitary hotel conditions. It glowed green, though, not purple. Next to her, the Doctor exhaled, appearing to deflate a little from her peripheral vision, and she knew that whatever this instrument was, it wasn't going to do anything too terrible.
Giles returned to her, object in hand, and passed it over her, from head to toe and back again, slowly, several times.
"Are you aware that your molecular structure is quite unique?"
She got the feeling that he was pressing on with questions only to hear what else she'd say.
"You hate eggplant, but you like moussaka. And for some ungodly reason, you like mushy peas."
His eyes shuttered a bit, this time and he walked away again. She could see he was less impressed by that little tidbit, or maybe she was a bit off on the eggplant part – though she had never seen him eat it except when he cooked moussaka. And sure, not deep dark secret-y, but it still represented quite a nice little slice of inside info. You had to know someone pretty well to know how they liked their peas. She tried not to take it personally, like – well – everything else that was happening.
He returned with yet another scanner, one that actually looked like a Star Trek scanny thing, and held it over her heart. Other Giles would find these toys fascinating, could probably spend weeks researching their inner workings, but this Giles was taking them for granted. He probably already knew everything about them.
Still, it had to be good that he was going for scanners, when there were many sharp, gleaming objects on the countertop. That he looked at her with open interest, hostility gone. That he was asking questions just for more information about what she knew about him or what she was to him.
"Doctor, you're not taking very good care of your patient." The scanner beeped out three short beeps, then a longer pulse. "Your molecular structure appears problematic. There's a fair amount of cellular radiation and swelling. Have you been in any pain?"
“You say Halloween is overblown in America, but you dress up and give out candy to kids the first chance you get. You buy more than you need - not because you want to eat it yourself, but because you hope you get more trick-or-treaters than you ever do.”
The arm holding the scanner drifted down to his side, momentarily forgotten.
"Who am I to you?" he asked, voice rapt, as though that silly, innocuous fact about him was his deepest, darkest secret. This Giles seemed like a man who might have deep, light secrets.
She tried to think of something else, but one piece of Giles trivia, not so trivial, kept pushing itself to the front of her mind. It was too intimate. She was trying to get him interested, make him realize she was precious to him somewhere, and worth helping, here, vicariously. Something else, something else.
What else. Think. That was just too precious and painful, too close to her heart for the Doctor and the wrong Giles to hear.
Ripper and leather jackets? Ethan Rayne? No. Not super sentimental and, anyway, who knew whether any of that stuff happened here, with no Eyghon and no magicks. She could tell him he was like a Stevedore again, but that would give absolutely the wrong idea, was pretty uncomfortable the first time and, anyway, that comment really made no sense without the whole telepathic-aspect-of-the-demon incident and no - oh, there it was again. Not that. Think.
Her smile faded. She had so many memories of Giles, so many little tidbits about him. But she couldn't think of anything else. It all kept leading back to... She gave up and said the thing she didn't want to say.
"You helped me plan my mother's funeral five months ago."
He looked at her, intensely, his expression doing… something. Changing. Giles had never spoken about his mother, but she'd often thought about his hug in her living room, fierce and immediate, understanding. About the way he'd known, without her asking, what she needed him to do and how to do it. At the hospital, and after. She continued, willing her eyes to stay dry even as her voice got quieter.
"You helped with the paperwork at the hospital, after she..." She trailed off, unable to finish that sentence. "You were the first person I called when I found her. You rushed over. I don't know what I would've done, if you hadn't come."
The Doctor's face was still in her peripheral vision, looking mildly stricken, but her focus wasn't on him.
Giles, though, was looking at her like - like he had so long ago, when he had spoken of a prophecy foretelling her death. Like when she had asked him to lie to her. Like when she had been helpless and he had admitted lying to her, that time for real. Like when he'd stormed in, guns figuratively blazing (crossbows, more literally), after Sunday was already defeated, Buffy's 'Class Protector' award broken, but recovered, her shoulder tender. Like when she had told him she needed to understand whether she was losing her ability to love. Like a thousand other moments when he definitely, absolutely, without a doubt, cared.
Her breath caught, at his look. She didn't know what to do or say next. She had to make sure that expression – that subtext – never, ever left his face, any version of his face, again.
He solved her dilemma for her, springing back into action. He leaned over her again and gently took the cuff from her around her neck, unplugging it. He crossed the room and returned it, along with the Star Trek scanner. He approached her again, this time removing the IV gently from the back of her hand - as she realized that her head had actually been clear for a while, now. Next, he removed the heart rate monitor clipped to her finger. His face was trained, with effort she thought, to a neutral expression. But his eyes were as expressive as she'd ever seen. He spoke.
"I'll return. One moment." He walked past her, out of the room.
Buffy exhaled shakily, staring straight ahead, instead of where Giles had just exited, or at the Doctor, who she could feel staring at her.
She hoped the Doctor would continue his astonishing, record-breaking, totally inconceivable quiet streak and give her time to compose herself before Giles returned.
"Buffy," he said, apparently unable to stop himself. So much for that. "That was… unbelievable."
"Please don't." In no world, literally, was that his business.
"Right, of course. I'm sorry," he said, obviously meaning more than the previous comment.
They lapsed into silence for a moment.
When keeping quiet any longer was evidently too much for the Doctor to bear, he spoke up again, injecting much needed energy into the room.
"Remember, we must keep all the plans in mind, even though your fantastic Plan A was an A plus." He took a breath and she sensed a babble coming. "A... levels! You don't have those here, do you? You Americans have a rich tradition of liberal arts education! We do, too, of course, but, we've got A levels. Well, I say 'we,' but I mean 'them,' over in Great Britain. Can't help feeling a bit attached, after all this time. But you! Technical education, vocational education, community college, liberal arts college, university—so many educational paths in early 21st century America, open to all in some form, at long last. It's brilliant, that's what it is. Have you been to uni, Buffy Summers? I think you'd make a spectacular psychology major."
She huffed. Distracting, though he was, he was edging too close to what had just happened.
"Yes to college, no way to the major. Psych was awful," she replied, aiming to distract him with her answer. "The professor tried to kill me."
"Well, now that's just rude. And not very conducive to learning." She turned to look at him now. He looked indulgent, brown eyes warm.
He was distracting her by letting her distract him, she realized. Sort of roundabout, but she appreciated that he could roll with her emotional diffidence. Most people had a problem with that kind of thing. It seemed like he might be in the same boat.
"Yeah, total drag. She trapped me in a sewer with a faulty weapon and set some demons loose on me. Which, actually, was kind of a piece of cake. In the end, she got kabobbed by her own Frankenstein's monster, who then animated her corpse into kind of a zombie servant…thing, which also tried to kill me, and which was ultimately destroyed by her favorite student. So, really, she got the raw deal, not me. It did ruin psych for me, though."
"Your life sounds interesting," he said brightly.
She chuckled. "That has to be saying something, coming from you." Looking for some other distraction, she asked, "So, are you more like 'The Edge,' where your title doesn't actually mean anything and you're just trying to be cool, or are you like 'The Maestro,' where you're so obsessed with your title that you're demanding to be called that all the time?"
"Are you asking me whether I'm a real doctor?"
"Oh, sure. Loads of times over. Medical doctor, dentist, psychiatrist, doctorate holder in history, philosophy, physics – the whole of it, not just what you lot know here – and that's just a few… I've even got a doctorate degree in UFO-logy from the University of Melbourne. Got that one in 2001. Enrolled to see how much they knew – nothing, all wrong, total rubbish – and stayed for a lark. But I got very, very good at photographing weather balloons. Donated the prints to an art museum in Calufrax Minor. They're big fans of my work."
"But that's not why you're called that."
"No. Weell… Actually, doctors are called doctors because of m—"
The door opened again, and Giles stepped through it. The Doctor stopped what he was saying, looking up, and Buffy turned her head, as well. Giles looked serious, his face conveying a sense of exigency. He held a bundle of brown fabric in his arms – the Doctor's overcoat – and tossed it to its owner, who caught it one-handed.
"Oh, brilliant!" Setting it on his lap, he reached into one pocket and retrieved his sonic screwdriver, whirring it on several settings experimentally.
Giles, meanwhile, removed a key ring from his pocket, approaching Buffy. He unlocked the lock securing the chains around her legs, then moved up to the one securing her arms and torso. He unwrapped the chains from her top half, leaving her to unwrap her legs. Switching one key for another from the ring, he moved to unlock the Doctor's handcuff, but the Doctor had beaten him to it.
"I've disabled the security protocols and the CCTV. It's 2:15AM. There won't be anyone between here and your ship, I've seen to it. Follow me."
Not waiting for a response, Giles began walking towards the door again, before seeming to catch himself and pausing. He turned, and Buffy realized he was checking on her. She'd just gotten the chains off of her legs, but was tenderly shifting her body off the medical table. The Doctor, noticing too, beat Giles to the punch, hopping off his table with gusto. He stood next to her, ready to assist.
"I got it. I'm just achy. Take it down a notch with the chivalry. It's weird." She stood.
Giles rolled his eyes, and resumed walking, leaving the room. Buffy and the Doctor followed.
The corridor was white and well lit, like the room they had just left. Sleek tile lined the floor, but the walls were bare. Doors lined the hallway on each side, but none were marked. The entire space seemed devoid of distinction, perfect for getting people lost. However, Giles navigated them with ease and precision, revealing the amount of time he must spend here.
The Doctor followed easily, anticipating turns and keeping pace. 'I can find the TARDIS,' he'd said… Clearly, he had a beacon or something, maybe the sonic or some high-tech alien connection.
Between the two of them keeping such a rapid pace and turning frequently, the walk was confusing. Soon, she lost track of where she had come from and focused only on keeping from falling behind.
"How much did you tell them?" the Doctor asked, an edge to his voice.
Giles didn't respond.
"I need to know what they know. How much they'll be able to figure. Whether they're likely to follow."
"Nothing? Not even about her origin?"
Puzzled, the Doctor made a facial expression the rough equivalent of a shrug, and continued walking, in perfect sync, but paying no attention to where Giles was going.
Finally, they entered a large room, all chrome and white, which looked like a bigger version of the one they'd been imprisoned in. Large equipment lined the walls, mysterious and intimidating, but powered off. The TARDIS sat in the middle of the room, humming hello.
"Oh, you beauty! Hello to you too. Knew they wouldn't be able to experiment on you. The assembled hordes of Genghis Khan!" He pulled the key from his pocket, unlocked the ship, and stepped inside, giving Buffy a quick look on his way in that seemed to indicate he'd give them some space.
Giles approached Buffy before she could follow, reaching a hand out toward her upper arm but deciding not to touch her at the last minute.
"You need to leave."
"That was the plan," Buffy joked. "You better believe I won't be staying here again, and I'll be having a word with my travel agent…"
"Buffy. I know you both heard me when I said the Council has plans. They're not content to operate in the shadows, anymore. I know he's going to want to play the hero, but they're anticipating him."
His eyes weren't ice and electricity anymore, but fire, stripped bare. He had been hiding behind the will of the council, but not anymore.
"You didn't tell them, about me."
"No, I didn't."
"But that was before… Why not? You left, you left for a while.” She narrowed her eyes at him with a grin. “Wait, did you actually consult some books?"
He looked a little embarrassed. "I needed to know more, before I decided."
"I know. Because you're not a pawn, and you're not a rook. You're Giles. You might have been working with Quentin, but you operate under your own rules. That'll always win when you care. In my world, you disobey the council and leave them, because you have something to fight for, something that matters to you, and you don't let them stand in your way."
"And that's you?"
"Not just me. Friends, sometimes lovers. But, really, you fight for the world. To protect it. And you do."
He looked like a man who'd just realized there might still be hope left for him, like he was scared to believe it.
"Who am I to you?" he asked, one more time.
"You've saved my life more times than I can count, but I save yours right back. You're a friend. A- father." Her voice caught on the word. It was something she'd never openly expressed to her Giles. "In my world, you're my watcher."
"You're my slayer," he said, breathless, eyes wide. She knew the tone, it was the sound of a theory, a farfetched solution, confirmed against all odds. "Of course. There's lore… ancient stories of the shadow men, who tried to create a slayer and failed… who spread across the earth, instead. But no one even knows about it, not anymore-I've just always taken a particular... Your strength, your agility. Your origin. Mystical. It doesn't exist - can't exist - in this world. That's why the shadow men failed.”
"So you understand. Between the Doc and me, you can appreciate why we feel a need to play the hero up against the council."
"Fighting for the world.”
"It may be time to give that a try. Goodbye, Buffy."
He turned, but she grasped his upper arm. "Wait. This big plan. What, when, and where?"
"An orchestrated invasion. Here. Above. One week."
"And what about now? What will you tell Quentin?"
He smiled all the way to his eyes. "I don't precisely know."
He turned again and Buffy let him go. She walked through the open door of the TARDIS, closing it behind her and pausing by a handrail.
The Doctor looked up at her from the jump seat, admiration plain on his face. It was too much; she needed a distraction. Luckily, she had a doozy.
"It's time for Plan D."
Plan D was "Suspend All Other Activities and Stop Big Evil That's Afoot." Otherwise known as "save the world." Plan D was, really, Buffy's typical Tuesday. And while it gave her a thrill to have that sense of purpose again - a world to fight for, as it were - this particular big evil, not to mention this whole universe, placed her just a little bit out of her element.
From the look of enthusiasm on the Doctor's face, though, it appeared that he might disagree.
The Doctor threw a lever on the TARDIS, dematerializing them from the Council property before exclaiming: "Plan D, Buffy Summers! Y'don't say. Love plan D. I thrive on Plan D."
"Do you wanna maybe hear what I know first?"
"Yes! Wait, no! Let me guess."
Humoring him, Buffy gave him a look that said, 'go for it.'
"The council's ready for a power play. They're moving into the light!" He jumped around the console, grabbing onto it with three limbs, and doing some kind of something with his left foot that made the TARDIS' whir grow louder. "But they've been burned before, Buffy. Alliteration! I do like alliteration." Refocusing, he pulled a lever. "Burned! With the Krillitane, and with me - mucking up their plans. They'll want to plan for every," he hit a button, "single!" he turned a knob, "variable! This time around." He hit another button with a flourish, then stepped away from the console, and the TARDIS grew still and quiet.
"Which means, whatever they're planning, it will be firmly under their control. Staged." He stood in front of her. "How am I doing so far?"
"I don't actually have that much to go on, but I think you're right. Giles said: 'orchestrated invasion, above the facility, in one week.'"
"Oh, Buffy," the Doctor exclaimed, tone growing low and serious, more ardent than emphatic. "Your Mr. Giles has already said it all. Orchestrated. Like I said, staged. What did I tell you about the council? They have a penchant for experimentation. I've known for ages they tend to take prisoners and... tinker, but the interoperational agreements prevented me going in and stopping them without toppling the balance between the Council, UNIT, and Torchwood. Without those agreements, the safety of every person on Earth - human and otherwise - is in jeopardy. But now... if they're doing this... No."
Narrowing her eyes, Buffy pondered his words. This council had seemed, from the start, a lot more Initiative than tweed and research and lore.
"You think they've built an army."
"Clever girl!" the Doctor praised, a flash of delight in his eyes even as his tone remained serious. "I know they have. They want to stage - but ultimately stop - an alien invasion. Use that to manipulate the public into putting them in control. Say they're the only ones who can protect the human race. Only way for them to do that is to use aliens they can control. Literally."
"What about - I don't know - the President? The Pentagon? Don't they know about aliens? They'd never just let this happen."
"Oh, yes, the President knows about aliens. And you're right, he would not let that happen. Good bloke, President Obama. Michelle and the girls are quite nice, too. Oh, but you don't know about him, do you? The first black American president, Buffy! Assumed office this year - well, relatively speaking. Historic! And what an inauguration! I cried."
The Doctor continued, his voice growing low and serious again. "It's safe to assume that the Council are ready, willing, and able to seriously damage the American government before they 'save' America from the invasion."
"So, we've got a time machine. Let's just hop back to six months ago and, I don't know, grab pre-scheme Quentin Travers and drop him off on a faraway planet." She grew thoughtful. "A planet where the only food is rice slurry and the temperature is always five degrees too warm and everyone has permanent athlete's foot."
"I'm not dropping him off on Amphibios 9," the Doctor said, giving her a look like she'd suggested stopping the Council with nothing but a vat of bean dip. "Going back and changing things would create a paradox, which could destroy the universe. Once events have happened, particularly when they've happened for me, they can't be rewritten."
"And paradox bad. Fine. But don't look at me like that! Just how was I supposed to know? For all I know it could be like 'Back to the Future.' They change the past without imploding the space-time continuum. It's not like I've done this before."
Ignoring her, he turned back toward the console, placing his hands down and thinking aloud. "There will be a central control device. They'll have no choice about that. Destroy that before the invasion's started, and - molto bene! Day is saved."
"Then let's go." Buffy stepped over to where he was leaning on the console, facing him. "The night before the invasion would make sense, right? Six days from where we left. Pieces in place, but before the action's started. Sneak in - the place seemed pretty empty around 2am. Find the central control device and--" She mimed a karate chop.
"Not a bad plan, that." Leaning one elbow against the console, he looked at her from the corner of his eye.
"Well, I do a lot of day-saving too, y'know." She said, attempting to casually lean on the console as well, clumsily losing her arm's purchase on the rounded surface and coming close to hitting a rather large red button.
"No, no. Don't- don't do that." He looked mildly alarmed.
"Sorry." Buffy cringed. "I'm guessing that's not the button for the radio."
"More like the gamma radiation actuator. I'm sure you have a very interesting skeleton, possibly even unique, but any and all radiation-based experiments should be postponed until after we prevent the Council's coup."
"Right. Definitely. No Buffy Banner today. Could be useful, but I'm already strong and green's not my color." She folded her arms, feeling a little awkward, and rubbed the skin above her left elbow absently. "So, do we go now? No need to wait six days. That's kinda nifty. I hate waiting."
"Weell, we could..." the Doctor said, rubbing the back of his neck. "But it's been a long day - for you, I mean. Or it would be, if there were days and nights in the TARDIS. Which there aren't. How about a bit of kip - again, for you, I mean. Shower. Change of clothes. Maybe a meal, too? It's been twenty three hours and twelve minutes since the Judoon and you haven't eaten a thing."
"Yeah," Buffy agreed. "Food, shower, and sleep... All of the good. Then, world saveage. Sign me up."
"Right this way, then! Got a magnificent kitchen on the TARDIS. Well, several, actually. We'll see which one she leads us to. I hope it's the one with the milkshake machine!"
The Doctor headed down the hallway and Buffy followed, walking in silence until they reached the kitchen. 'Magnificent' was a stretch, though she had a feeling the Doctor might be a bit generous when it came to his TARDIS. What it was, was a moderately large eat-in galley kitchen. There was a white refrigerator, which looked a little bit beaten up, and an olive green oven that did not match at all, but looked surprisingly new considering its dated color. Several other appliances were placed along the wall, stainless steel or something alien-but-similar, and evidently beyond Buffy's current knowledge of kitchenness. There was no obvious milkshake machine. The hum in here was softer, giving the room a homey sort of feel. She sat at the table.
"Ah, this'll do. How about something simple - early twenty first century American cuisine? I've been told I make a mean grilled cheese sandwich."
The Doctor worked, gathering ingredients from the refrigerator. Seated and quiet for the first time in what felt like forever, Buffy felt a hint of pain returning, and practiced her breathing exercises until it was only a tickle of discomfort at the edge of her consciousness. Soon, she had a perfect, golden brown sandwich in front of her, cheese oozing out of the edges. He'd also given her a big pile of shoestring french fries, a bowl of tomato soup (steaming, a sprinkle of parmesan on top), and a glass of light pink liquid. The Doctor set a similar plate in front of himself and sat down across from her.
"Pink lemonade. The TARDIS thought you would like it."
"Thanks, both of you." The TARDIS' hum intensified. She got the sense that the 'she' was happy to see them tucking into a good meal. She wondered how often the Doctor ate, and how that lined up with how often he should be eating.
"This is really good." Buffy smiled, then narrowed her eyes as a question occurred to her. "Do you have to grocery shop, or does the TARDIS stock the food for you?"
"Oh, a bit of both. She'll make sure we've got food, stock up on our favorites if she's in a good mood. But, for something in particular? Might need the Tesco."
"Did I say we? I meant I. Me."
"No you didn't."
His mouth tightened, his dimple showing. He took another bite of his rapidly diminishing sandwich, and Buffy was suddenly concerned that he might disappear if she let him finish his food without undoing whatever she just did. She went for a rapid subject change, hoping he'd regain a bit of perk.
"What were you doing, when I first saw you? With the Judoon. I mean, sure, he was there chasing a prisoner or crash landed or something, but why were you wandering around Los Angeles in the middle of the night?"
"The TARDIS. She has a mind of her own, sometimes. I was trying to get to a planet called Deva Loka. Lovely planet, practically a paradise. Peaceful. Spent some time there, a long time ago. I just needed..." He trailed off. "Anyway, downtown Los Angeles is about as far as you can get from that. Stepped outside and the Judoon found me. Then you did."
She took her last bite of sandwich. “Seems kind of silly to have a time-and-space machine if you can't control where it- sorry, she goes." Buffy looked at the Doctor and then around her, a little nervously. "No offense."
"Oh, none taken!" the Doctor replied, picking up their empty plates and bowls with an exaggerated wink, perk restored.
He led her out of the kitchen and down the hall into what he called the wardrobe. Really, it was less like a wardrobe and more like a department store run by Willy Wonka, all large and round and filled with swirly spiral staircases. She examined the racks of clothing that he estimated were near enough her size, finding a pair of jeans that looked like they'd fit. She grabbed some pajama pants, too, less discerning about what size they were. As she looked through the tops, she saw a cute and comfortable looking purple t-shirt with a crown stitched onto it and was about to pull it off the rack when he beat her to it, snatching it away like it was a live grenade.
"Not that one." He left the shirt in his hands, rubbing the material absently. Knowing he wouldn't answer, she didn't ask.
When she found two acceptable shirts (as he watched, carefully, to be sure he didn't need to snatch away another), he turned, starting to leave. She found some underpants, new in the package, in a nearby dresser, and - fully equipped for a shower - she followed.
Back in the hallway, he led her wordlessly a few doors down, and opened a door, gesturing inside at the plain bedroom he revealed. Through the doorway she saw a double bed with a brown quilt, a small dresser, and absolutely no personality of any kind. Still, it was the nicest bedroom she'd seen since Sunnydale. She was suddenly very, very tired. The thought of a real bed and hot running water was enough to tighten her throat just a little bit.
"You can use this room," he said, the shirt still dangling from his hand. "It's got a bathroom attached. Get some rest. I'll come knock in about nine or ten hours and we'll head to the Council. Good night, Buffy." Without waiting for a response, he turned and headed back in the direction of the control room. She stood and watched until he was out of sight.
"And they say I'm emotionally unavailable."
The next morning, or some reasonable facsimile thereof, Buffy found her way back to the control room, clothes changed, tail just a little bit bushy and eyes brighter than they'd been in what felt like forever. The wonders of hot running water and a quilt-covered mattress with real, genu-ine pillows!
The TARDIS hummed a good morning and Buffy placed a palm onto a strut in greeting, noting for the first time that, though the shape had reminded her of a tree trunk, it looked and felt a lot more like coral.
The Doctor was nowhere to be found and, based on what she'd seen so far of the ship, it didn't seem like it would be super easy to track him down, particularly if he weren't in the mood to be found. Shrugging, Buffy headed back into the hallway. May as well eat again before things got cookin'.
She found her way back to the kitchen, but this one was different. It was all stainless steel - the refrigerator boasted a large touch screen and a sticker that read '22nd Century Appliances, London.' In the corner there sat an industrial grade milkshake machine and a bunch of ripe bananas. Grabbing a banana and finding a lovely assortment of breakfast pastries that had to be care of the TARDIS, Buffy sat down at the nearby table, thinking of Dawn and pancakes in funny shapes. Action packed though her time had been in the last day or so, it all felt kinda wrong without the Scooby Gang and Scrappy Doo helping her out. Now, going against the council and an army of alien automatons, how was she supposed to-
A hand touched her shoulder from behind and, before she could think, Buffy had already grabbed an arm and pinned the torso of the Doctor onto the table in front of her, his face narrowly missing the half-eaten banana laying next to her Danish-filled-plate.
"Hey!" His voice was muffled by the table. "Gerroff!"
Letting him go, she rolled her eyes.
"C'mon, Doc. You have to know better than to sneak up on a slayer like that. Lesson numero uno."
Standing up and rubbing his arm, then his face, he muttered something under his breath that sounded like, "Violent, stroppy she-beast.”
"Look, I didn't mean to. It's instinct. I've been attacked from behind too many times. Did I hurt you?"
"I was trying to give you this." He held out his hand, in which a small object that looked just like a nicotine patch sat rather innocently.
Joking, she shook her head, affecting a bad American Southern accent. "I've been good'n'quit for a year, now. Had a wake up call one day when I realized I couldn't even keep up, playin' with my kids. No Nicoderm for me, thanks." He stared at her. "Okay, I admit, that was not my best. What's that?"
"Hydromorphomone. It's quite similar to hydromorphone, which is what the council was using to drug you. Hydromorphone is a very potent opioid - an analgesic with sedative properties. It's stronger than morphine, but it has side effects, and it's addictive. This is a derivative created in the late 23rd century. Non-habit forming, non-drowsy, but all of the pain relief. This patch will last you three weeks. It should make certain you don't have another episode. I thought it might be useful."
"Aha." Buffy said. "And so I would be the ungrateful one to, say, slam your face into a table when you stayed up making that for me."
She looked up at him sheepishly and rolled the sleeve of her t-shirt up. He stuck the patch on the inside of her forearm, maintaining eye contact for several seconds with a clinical air, presumably to make sure she was reacting correctly to its application.
Seemingly satisfied, he looked at her seriously and said, without a scrap of joy or enthusiasm left over from the night before, "It's time to go."
The TARDIS materialized exactly six days after their conversation with Giles, at two fifteen in the morning, approximately a quarter mile from the Council's facility.
If not exactly eager for the stealth operation, Buffy was eager to save the world. She threw the door open as soon as the Doctor declared the TARDIS safely landed.
The sight that greeted her was definitely not 'before the action started.'
A large ship loomed overhead, silver and rectangular in the night sky, shooting lasers into the residential Potomac neighborhood. Several other ships in the distance behaved quite similarly. Four houses were on fire, that Buffy could see, though smoke rose in the distance, as well.
Screams from residents running in a panic through the streets blended with a droning alien battle cry until it was nothing but white noise, filtering into the TARDIS. Buffy stood in the doorway, frozen.
"We came too late," Buffy whispered. "It's already started."
The Doctor was suddenly standing beside her.
"One week - that was what Giles told you?"
"I double checked the date of arrival on the TARDIS, we're early. If this has already started... His intelligence was bad. They planted it. Suspected he'd tell us something, or made him tell us, or started the plan early because we escaped..."
"And shutting this door to come back a night earlier wouldn't be an option."
"Seeing this means it's happened. We’re part of events now. To go back and prevent it would create a paradox."
From her view in the doorway of the TARDIS, Buffy saw a ship's laser take aim at a car where a woman was fumbling with her keys, facing the driver's door, completely unaware that she was about to be blasted into a pile of dust, or a fireball, or some other terrible thing. Without consciously deciding to, Buffy bolted from the TARDIS, ignoring the Doctor's yell, and tackled the lady, managing to land their weight on her own side in some soft grass. The car, meanwhile, was blasted and reduced to a smouldering metal shell.
Getting up, Buffy extended her hand to the woman, who had braced her arms below her in an effort to push herself up.
It was only when Buffy reached her hand down to the woman that she noted the bright red hair that flared out just slightly at about ear length; the long denim skirt embroidered with several decorative patches; the chunky, bright, scuffed sneakers; and the soft yellow cardigan layered over a silly t-shirt with a cat's face on it.
It wasn't until the woman accepted her hand and pulled herself up in a very familiar action, muttering her thanks, that Buffy even considered the possibility.
And it wasn't until she saw the wide-eyed face of impressed surprise, of lingering shock, that it truly sunk in.
It was Willow.
Luckily, the Doctor caught up with them before Buffy could do something stupid (like hugging Willow and murmuring her name over and over into her hair, then bursting into tears), brazenly grabbing Buffy by the shoulders, looking at once worried and delighted.
"You utterly brilliant madwoman! Don't wander off! We need to stick together." He noticed Willow. "Hi, I'm the Doctor and this is Buffy. She's quite sprightly, isn't she?"
"Yuh huh," Willow practically squeaked. "Hi. I'm Willow."
Apparently missing the way Buffy was still gawking at Willow, the Doctor extended a hand. "Willow, hello. You must live nearby, if you were going to your car."
Slowly shaking his hand, Willow nodded.
"That's my house." She pointed at a modest, contemporary single story home not far from the car.
"May we please inconvenience you for just a moment and pop into your home to turn the news on?"
"Yuh huh," Willow said again, turning back towards her house, her face blank in that way that Buffy knew meant she wasn't really seeing either of them as she led the way.
Buffy followed, a similar expression on her face. Shrugging, the Doctor trailed behind them, scanning the air with his sonic.
Inside the house, the entry led right into a living room, decorated with comfortable, modest furniture that was a little bit too shabby and lived in to fit the neighborhood. The Doctor found the remote easily, turning on the television. Buffy and Willow sank onto opposite sides of the couch, leaving a space for the Doctor in the middle, but he opted to lean tensely against the arm of the sofa instead.
A soap opera starring none other than Harmony Kendall was on the air for exactly four seconds, until an emergency broadcast message interrupted what was, apparently, a very tender (if over-acted) moment between her and a man in a full body cast.
"Aliens are invading across the District and the greater metro-D.C. area," a newscaster named Lesli said, her professional disposition ready to crumble under the rising fear in her voice. "The Pentagon is reporting firefights between ships and military and paramilitary forces across Arlington, Alexandria, and southwest DC. Stay indoors, in a windowless room or a basement, if possible. Do not attempt to leave your home, or any indoor location. We now go live to government security organization The Council for a status update on fighting the insurrection."
Suddenly, Quentin Travers was on the television, calm and serious. Completely unflappable. He stood in front of a podium in a plain white room, like so many rooms in that council headquarters, marked with a spiffy, sleek logo that read, "The Council." Apparently, they were dropping the 'watcher's.' Buffy got the distinct feeling that they'd hired a market research team for a re-branding.
"Hello. My name is Quentin Travers, Chief of Security of The Council. The President has entrusted the safety and security of the American people during this trying time to us. The Council has been protecting Americans - and the world - from the alien threat for centuries. We are confident that we will stop this alien force. Please stay calm and remain indoors. Do not be afraid, and do not interfere. The Council will protect you."
The Doctor switched the TV off before Quentin could continue, then tossed the remote onto the carpet for good measure.
"No, no, no, no no!" he exclaimed, then ran both hands through his hair.
"But that's good news, right? It's still local to DC. We just need to get to the council's headquarters and dismantle that central control device. Like, now."
He leapt up from where he'd been leaning on the arm of the couch. The combination of what he'd done to his hair and his sudden burst of energy gave him the distinct impression of someone who had been electrically shocked.
"Willow, thank you very much for your assistance! Allons-y, Buffy Summers!"
He began his dash out of the room, turning only when he realized Buffy wasn't following him.
"Willow," Buffy said, turning toward the redhead, emotion clear in her voice. "Please stay safe. Don't try to leave again."
"I know. I just wanted to get to my wife, Tara - she was still at the library, she can't leave - we only have one car - and she was scared-"
Buffy couldn't help smiling. That was a nice similarity between her universe and this one.
"She'll be okay, Willow. She's so strong. You are too. Just keep yourself safe. Promise me you'll stay here. Get to the basement, if you have one. We're going to stop this. You'll see her again soon."
"Okay. Yeah. I promise."
Before she could talk herself out of it, Buffy hugged her, surprised and touched when Willow returned the hug just as fiercely.
"It was so nice to see you." Buffy confessed, ardent. "Thank you."
She let Willow go and walked toward the Doctor.
"Let's do this."
Half a block away from Willow's house, the Doctor pulled out a metal, rectangular device, equipped with an antenna and a bright blue, blinking light. He held it in front of him and appeared to shift course based on the pattern of light it was producing.
At her inquisitive look, the Doctor explained. "Sort of a .. central control device detector.. thing. Whatever that device is, it needs a massive amount of electromagnetic energy to remotely control the ships and the automatons on board. That facility is so large we'd never find it if we had to look room to room. This," he held up the device, "will lead us to the energy source."
Buffy raised her eyebrows briefly, impressed. "So, like, a super high-tech metal detector."
"Yes! Precisely. Well, not exactly. But close enough."
The Doctor stopped suddenly, eyes trained on a large but otherwise nondescript office building, just around the corner from a bank and a gas station. He looked down at his device, and up again.
"Right. That's the Council facility. The front door, so to speak."
"Huh. Are you sure it's not an H&R Block or something? If my council saw this, they'd be tutting into the next century." She frowned. “Well. Not my council...”
Eyes still on the building, he whispered, "It's only small above ground. Let's have a look."
He walked closer, deep in concentration, but occasionally looking back to check whether she was following.
They approached the building, the Doctor operating with a stealth and intensity that seemed a little silly to Buffy, given the relative quiet of this particular suburban street corner. The closest overhead ship was at least a mile away, its lasers audibly firing but easy to tune out. The street was deserted, traffic lights changing from green to red and back without a single car passing through.
"No, no, no!" the Doctor whispered, ducking behind a blue public mailbox. "There are guards," he whispered, indicating the building with a nod of his head.
Two totally non-threatening watcher types stood in front of the glass entrance to the office building. Faces serious, they looked, maybe, formidable for a human. These guys appeared far more Council than Initiative. Though it was always a good idea to remember the potential for guns, where humans were concerned.
She raised an eyebrow. "Those guys? Please. They're librarians. Possibly literally. Hold tight."
She walked right up to the building, ignoring the Doctor's harsh whisper of her name. The two men turned to her.
"Hi." She smiled, then socked one in the jaw, knocking him out easily.
The other reached for a weapon in his pocket, but Buffy popped him in the side of the face before he could reach it. He grasped his cheek in pain.
"I was hoping you could help me with my tax return. I saved all my receipts, but I just don't know which deductions I qualify for." She paused and he stared at her. "No? Okay, well, I'll just self-file!" She backhanded him, and he went down like a befuddled sack of potatoes.
Reaching down, she rifled through the watcher's pockets, pocketing an ID card. She heard the Doctor approach from behind.
"That really wasn't necessary."
"They're fine. I didn't hit them that hard." Buffy grabbed the gun from the man's pocket.
"Oi! No guns!"
She rolled her eyes, triggering the magazine release, pulling out the ammunition, and throwing it as far as she could. She put the gun back in the watcher's pocket and did the same to the other unconscious man.
Returning to the Doctor, she handed him the other watcher's ID card.
"For security scanny things. You know."
"Still. No need to litter." He looked into the distance where she'd thrown the magazines.
"They wake up, they're charging in after us. I'm not super keen on getting shot from behind. Or at all."
She marched ahead, using the ID as a keycard to open the door. The Doctor followed, detector out again, and led them to the elevators in the lobby. He hit B2 - once, twice - but the button wouldn't trigger, lighting up only briefly. Unable to stifle a smug grin, Buffy swiped the ID card against a sensor below the buttons and tried again. The doors closed and the elevator lurched into motion.
She smiled at the Doctor brightly. He avoided her eyes, embarrassed.
Walking through the tenth identical looking hallway, paying closer attention to his device than the twists and turns in front of him, the Doctor asked, "Who was the ginger? Willow. To you, I mean."
"My best friend," Buffy replied, simply, then grabbed the back of his duster and pulled him behind a corner.
"Watch the coat!"
She rolled her eyes, shushing him. Men and their coats.
"Unless you want me to knock out some more goons, we're gonna need to wait for those guards to clear out."
"Good. Right. Can't have that." He looked at the device, then craned his neck to see the guards around the corner. "We're almost there; it's not much farther."
He leaned in closer, whispering, "This should also detect the energy frequency needed to shut down the central control. Might need to input the frequency code into the apparatus, but there shouldn't be any guesswork about which frequency will work. It's brilliant, really. Even for me."
Scrutinizing him, Buffy wondered how he could possibly expect her to believe he traveled alone. Clearly the man loved to talk, and share, and brag. There was just no way. Whoever he had lost, it had been recent. He hadn't been alone for long. But bringing that up would probably shut him down all over again and now was so not the time. Plus, it's not like she was little miss overshare, so pretending he was isolation guy was totally his prerogative.
Craning her neck as well, she saw a set of large, metal double doors just a little farther down the hallway.
"Through there?" She indicated the doors with a jerk of her head.
The Doctor looked at the device, then nodded.
"They're not going to be leaving their post anytime soon if they're guarding the central control device. I think the stealth option's out," Buffy reasoned, moving back around the corner and toward the guards.
"Wait, wait, wait! Hold on!" he whispered frantically, grabbing for her arm just a little too late.
Buffy managed to sneak behind one guard, but the other saw her, pulling out a small gun and aiming at her. Before he could act, she grabbed his arm, adjusting his aim as he fired the trigger several times. He hit the other guard in the shoulder and himself in the thigh.
The Doctor yelled out an impassioned objection from behind her, running out into the hallway, face ferocious.
The watchers fell, unconscious, but not bleeding. Buffy untangled the gun from the man's hand, holding it up to the Doctor.
"Tranq gun. No bullets."
"You didn't know that."
"I made sure that whatever it was, it wasn't going to be lethal. That's as good as they should get, as far as I'm concerned."
"You don't get to decide that."
"What, and you do?"
"Yes. I do. I'm a Time Lord. And I'm the Doctor."
She folded her arms. "And I'm the Slayer! Who made you boss? They're not innocent. I'd never kill a human, and I will always do my best to protect lives, but I'm not going to sit here.. wigging out that they might accidentally shoot one another when their guns are aimed at me. When you sign up for the 'let's be evil and take over all of humanity' club, that's what you get."
His scowl faltered. He was, apparently, unwilling to admit that she had a point.
Instead, he scanned his ID card at the sensor next to the metal door, and stepped inside, leaving her in the hall.
Letting out a huff of breath, Buffy followed.
Buzzing loudly like an electric fence, the central control device looked... central. And control-y. Really, the Doctor had chosen a fitting title for the thing.
The room itself was large, about the size of a school gymnasium, but its sole contents was the device. The machine was the size of a half basketball court, stretched to the ceiling, all glass and steel.
As Buffy approached it, she could see that the central control had an inside and an outside. The actual controls for the central control were located inside. Large panes of glass formed walls and a door with a steel handle. The interior was large enough to fit three or four people and boasted several panels filled with buttons and levers.
The Doctor touched one huge pane of glass, looking into the interior of the central control with a look of concentration. Shrugging as if to say 'why not,' he touched the ID card to a sensor next to the handle and the door popped open. He looked down at the ID card, up at the doorway, and back again. Turning down the corners of his mouth, he pulled the door open and walked through.
Seeing him in there, through the glass, something occurred to Buffy.
This was wrong.
She followed him in, grasping him by the elbow and trying to lead him out without using any strength behind her hand. He looked down at her hand on his arm, then back at her, confusion evident.
"We need to get out of here. Way out. The ID cards unlocking every single thing - the gun with tranquilizer darts and no bullets - the tiny number of totally incompetent guards... This is way too easy. Something's wrong."
Eyes widening in recognition, the Doctor turned with Buffy back toward the open glass door.
Naturally, it slammed shut.
Buffy gave the glass a hard pound with her fist. A tiny crack formed, spreading up and down from where she'd struck, settling once it was a foot long. Ooh. Good.
"I'm sure there are security protocols in place activated by breaking the glass," the Doctor murmured, focused. He held the detector over the control panel in concentration, pushing buttons rapidly.
"You're probably right. But it's good to know if I can break us out of here by force, if I have to. Not everyone is a super genius with an energy modulator thingy."
He spared a glance at her, lips twitching. "Oh, but you're clever, though. And being a mystical superhero isn't half bad, either."
"True." Folding her arms, she peered over his shoulder, watching as he hunched above the panel. "Don't you get the feeling that they're still pulling the strings? The central control is a jail cell. They led us right here and locked us in. I'm thinking: there's no way the controls in here are capable of actually turning the thing off. Wherever that is, it's where we're not."
"Oh, you're absolutely right. This is a decoy; just a regular computer. But you're forgetting how clever I am," the Doctor said, typing on a keyboard in the control panel. "I should be able to access the mainframe from here, circumventing the firewall and activating the bootstrap program. Then, Bob's your uncle, the energy frequency will calibrate and shut down the device. Oh, I am brilliant."
"I understood some of those words. Like 'should,' and 'uncle.'"
"Yes!" the Doctor exclaimed, startling her. He jumped up like he'd started himself as well. "Only a matter of time, now." His detector was blinking wildly, the blue light alternating between fluttering and emitting long pulses. "Let me show you. Look. It's accessing the mainframe now. It's already calibrated the frequency. Once we're in the network, we'll input the frequency – 32 Hertz. That's important. We'll shut down the device and be out of here. Ten, maybe fifteen minutes."
The metal double doors creaked, opening.
"Are you sure you don't mean 'right now'?" Buffy asked, looking at the door apprehensively. "Right now would also be good."
The Doctor placed a hand on her shoulder.
"Look at me," the Doctor said, seriously. She met his eyes, tense. "I will get us out of here. I promise. But if I can't? I know you will. Nothing to worry about."
Her expression softened. "Darn skippy. Yay team us."
Quentin Travers entered through the door and Giles followed.
Buffy's breath caught in her throat at the sight of Giles. He met her eyes, face unreadable. Quentin, on the other hand, was completely readable. He might as well have been a gigantic neon sign with the word ‘DELIGHTED’ flashing in hot pink. There was no way anything good could come from Quentin Travers looking that happy.
"Look who it is," he remarked, a cool smile lighting his features into something that made Buffy a little queasy. "The Slayer… and the Doctor."
How did he – Did Giles -
"Huh-boy," Buffy muttered.
"What do you know about 'the slayer'?" the Doctor asked, sounding genuinely curious.
"'The Slayer' is part of our lore, Doctor. The failure of the Shadow Men to create a slayer resulted in the spreading of the watchers across the world." He spread his hands in front of him in imitation. "And here we are. Some of us still have a taste for the ancient tales, and all of us are familiar with multiverse theory." He narrowed his eyes at Buffy, speaking slowly. "A tiny waif of a girl with super-human strength seeks out the watcher's council mere weeks after a dimensional rift opens the walls between worlds? It was obvious." Quentin's tone was smug, his expression like a bratty child who'd figured the perfect argument to get the toy he wanted. Maybe Giles wasn't responsible.
The Doctor scrunched up his nose, wobbling his head back and forth in scrutiny. "Weell. It wasn't really the rift that weakened the dimensional barriers…"
"I also know," Quentin continued, speaking over the Doctor, "that a slayer, while impossible in this universe, and of no real use to the Council in light of current… circumstances, should nevertheless make a fine supplemental power source for my machine."
"Power source?" the Doctor echoed. "Of course! Thick, I am! Thick, thick, thick! And now we're both in here – Buffy. I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry."
"Anyone mind explaining the techno-babble in a way that makes sense? As long as the bad guy is monologuing, I mean."
Giles approached the glass door, facing Buffy, and placed a palm up against it. "I built this." His voice was quiet. "Think of it as… a battery compartment. The 'electronics' are the ships, the aliens. You're the battery cells… After all, the Doctor is quite unique. His regenerative energy is an excellent source of fuel, under the right circumstances, if it can be collected. He'll expand our reach across the entire east coast. We've got fleets just waiting for the power. And you – Buffy – you're unique, as well." He stared at Buffy, eyes careful, but she got the impression that he was trying to tell her something.
"That can't be good," Buffy muttered, unsure of what she was supposed to be getting from Giles' subtle look.
"Oh, I daresay not," Quentin agreed, pleased.
"Your invasion's already started!" Buffy cried. "You don't need batteries! Just let us go."
Quentin laughed. "And you'll, what, forget all about this? Disappear in that blue box? It's not in your nature. Either of your natures; that much is obvious. You should thank me. You'll be much happier dying in here than watching yourselves fail above ground."
"No," the Doctor replied. "I think I'd be far happier fighting to stop this, even if we failed - which, I should mention, we won't - than helping you grow your invasion. If it's all the same to you, then, you'd better just let us out of here. Ta!"
“Why do you want to grow your invasion, anyway?” Buffy asked. “You’re just going to stop it yourself.”
Quentin rolled his eyes. “Stepping in to save the day only works if the threat is substantial. We’ll turn the machine off, in good time. For now, though...” He threw a switch hidden behind a steel panel on the exterior of the machine. The buzzing intensified and, next to her, the Doctor cried out in pain, doubling over.
"Doctor!" Buffy cried out, concerned. She leaned toward him and placed a hand on his shoulder. His face scrunched up in agony, he didn't, or couldn't, answer.
Quentin spared one last glance at them and began walking toward the metal doors, apparently satisfied. Giles followed, watching Buffy pointedly, eyes like laser beams, but he said nothing.
Worried about the Doctor, it took Buffy a moment to realize that she, herself, was not in any pain. Which was really a welcome change, actually. Was the patch hindering whatever pain the machine was inducing, or was it-?
Oh. Oh. It was her.
"Doctor," Buffy said, crouching down next to him where he gripped the sides of his head in pain. The machine's buzzing had become a howl and between the noise, the placement of his hands, and the expression on his face, she wasn't sure whether he could hear her. "It doesn't work on me. Giles made it so it doesn't work on me! Did you hear? He said I'm unique!"
"Of course," he croaked, the pain evidently not stopping his natural inclination to deduce. "It must sap the cellular structure. But yours is different." He smiled weakly. "Brilliant."
"Stop Sherlocking and focus on moving. I'm going to get us out of here." She moved to the glass, about to start smashing it.
"You can't. Not yet." He lifted his head with clear effort, looking over at his detector, which was still fluttering with blue light. "It needs to finish."
"It can finish with us out of this thing!"
"No," the Doctor responded, voice strained. "If you break the glass, security protocols might override the access point. We can't take the chance. We have to wait."
The Doctor stood, attempting to walk towards the panel and his detector, but the pain was too strong. He collapsed. The howl of the machine was the only thing Buffy could hear.
"Doctor! Are you okay?" Buffy grabbed the detector, bringing it to him and crouching over him, ready to assist.
"Nope, definitely not," the Doctor said, with a touch of detached amusement. "Buffy – listen to me. When the light turns solid blue, input the frequency. Remember, 32 hertz. On the keyboard."
"I'm not sure how—"
"Just type 32 into the keyboard when the light turns solid!"
"Okay. Okay. I can do that."
"Buffy –" he choked out, "If I start to glow golden, get as far away as you can."
Instead of answering, he unhelpfully passed out.
"Doctor!" Buffy pulled him upright, leaning him against the closed glass door in what she hoped was a comfortable position.
Mumbling under her breath, she said, "C'mon Giles. If you're gonna go all double agent on us, could you maybe rig things up so they're not fatally harmful to my friend here?" She looked at the Doctor, who lay limp on the floor, looking a little pasty. It occurred to her that it was the first time she'd thought of him that way. She directed her words at him. "You'd better not die." She exhaled. "You're kinda my best friend in this universe." She paused. "Purely by default."
The device in her hand alternated between one long pulse of blue and one short.
Five minutes passed. The Doctor remained still and quiet, slipping just slightly from where she'd placed him against the wall.
Finally, that stupid blue light was staying solid.
"This had better work," Buffy muttered.
She ran to the keyboard in the control panel, carefully watching the monitor as she input the '32' into a dialog box that was waiting for her. She hit enter. Easy enough!
A load screen popped up, a progress bar filling little by little, entirely unconcerned with Buffy's urgency. Of course. Reflexively, she checked on the Doctor again, then gasped.
He wasn't glowing golden, exactly. It was more like a golden energy was being drawn out of the top of his head, sucked up through the top of the machine. Features totally slack, he did not appear especially likely to wake up. If she were inclined to take notice of additional alarming things she couldn't control, she might note that he was taking on a bit of a grey hue, as well. She wasn't sure whether she needed to 'get away' or somehow try to siphon the energy (his life force?) that was leaking freely out of him.
"Come on, come on!" Buffy shouted at the progress bar, half filled. "Work already!" She looked at the Doctor. "And you! Don't you give up. I know you have people you care about, fight! Fight for something! So help me, if you fade away, I will kick your ass!"
After what felt like forever, the progress bar filled, and the machine around her shuttered to a halt, the howl quieting until the room was eerily silent. It was over.
The golden energy stopped leaking from the Doctor, but he did not wake.
"Sorry, Quentin. Your toys are out of batteries, and you are grounded, mister. Ha. Get it? Grounded?" Not expecting an answer, she shifted the Doctor gently and pushed at the door. Still locked.
"Oh, come on."
Lifting his arm over her shoulder and dragging him to the opposite side of the small room, she settled him again gently. Then, she launched herself at the door, kicking it as hard as she could. The entire thing shattered, leaving an empty, rather neat rectangular space for them.
"Kicking!" Buffy said brightly, grabbing Doctor's arm and looping it over her shoulder, supporting his body weight, and leading him slowly out of the machine. She stopped to grab the device he'd built, just in case. "Way more effective than fist pounding. Adding that to my 'things I learned in the alternate universe,' journal."
Leading them through the metal doors, Buffy tried to remember which way they'd come in. Luckily, the guards still lay on the floor, unconscious, and she pictured where she had stood in relation to them, then hobbled the two of them down the hall.
Although the Doctor was heavier than his thin frame looked, Buffy supported his weight easily. Her movements were somewhat awkward since he was so long, but she fixed that by letting his Chucks drag heavily against the floor, toes pointing behind him. They were already scuffed; he'd have to deal.
Turning a corner, Buffy was somewhat alarmed to see that Quentin Travers stood about fifty feet in front of her.
She quickly became concerned about several issues. First, her arms were filled with energy detector device and unconscious Doctor, making quick, safe movement only a very remote possibility. Second, Quentin's face looked a lot more 'crazed' than 'delighted' right now. He appeared to be trembling just slightly. Finally, and worst of all, he held a gun, which was pointed right at her. Probably not tranquilizer darts this time.
The Doctor gasped suddenly, jerking his head, eyes opening wide.
"Oh, good. You're up. Just in time to get shot to death."
She had expected more monologuing, or maybe being forced into another prison cell, or some kind of last minute power play. That was what bad guys did, right? Threats and world domination and then she foiled their plans and that was that, except for those very rare times when she died.
Gunshots rang out.
She knew where two of them landed right away, and she wasn't pleased. So much for not getting shot. One bullet hit her underneath her right collarbone, in the hollow of her shoulder. The second grazed her right outer arm. She threw herself down, bringing the Doctor – who was still leaning on her – down with her, and shielding him from Quentin out of instinct. Someone shouted her name.
As the shots ceased and Buffy dared to raise her head, she realized she'd definitely never get to hear Quentin's monologue of impending Buffy-death, nor his monologue of defeat.
Quentin was dead. Shot through the forehead rather cleanly (from the front, at least), and lying on his back right where she had first seen him in the hallway. She'd never seen someone shot through the head, before, let alone someone she knew. Even if he was someone she hated, the sight of it mixed with the burning in her shoulder froze her in place. She stared, moving off of the Doctor. He moved, too, rustling behind her, saying something she couldn't make out.
Giles appeared in her line of vision, eyes worried, and face serious. She was brought out of her stupor when the Doctor's face appeared next to Giles'. The two faces blurred, then cleared. The Doctor pulled a handkerchief from his suit jacket and pressed it firmly against the wound on her torso, securing his grip with his other hand on her back. The sharp pain helped her realize that their lips were moving in the shape of her name. Sounds were also happening.
Something clicked back into place.
"I'm fine," Buffy panted, assuming they must be asking her whether she was okay.
"You're not," Giles replied, and she could hear him. "You've been shot. Can you stand?"
She rolled her eyes, about to inform him that she was well aware that she'd been shot thanks to the pretty darn painful pain in her shoulder and her blood-drenched shirt. Standing darkened her vision and both men reached forward to support her before she could fall over. She let out a hiss when the movement jostled her, but the Doctor did not release his grip on her. Giles moved to support her left side.
"Careful," the Doctor reminded, and she wasn't sure whether he was talking to her or to Giles.
"I've had worse," Buffy said, distracting herself from the pain and the blurring of her vision. "I've lost way more blood than this, before. This one time, my ex was poisoned and the cure was my blood, so…" She stopped, breathing rapidly, suddenly a little bit lost. "Wait, what was I saying?"
"She's going into hypovolemic shock,” the Doctor said.
"That doesn't sound like me," Buffy replied.
"We'll take her to my laboratory," Giles suggested. "It's closer than your TARDIS. You can treat her there."
"And what about your Council Special Operatives? What of Quentin's backup? It's safer to take her to my ship."
"Quentin was playing his cards close to the chest, so to speak," Giles said. Buffy's legs buckled and he scooped her up with minimal effort, without breaking stride. The Doctor continued to press his handkerchief against her shoulder, keeping pace with Giles easily. Fuzzy, she listened, struggling to latch onto their words. "There are very few who knew that he was behind the invasion. They'll know, now. I've left open the access to the central control device, and soon everyone will see he was behind it – that was his classified area. At any rate, with him gone, I'm in command. No one will dispute her presence if it's under my authority."
"So that was what, then, a coup?" the Doctor's voice had grown cold.
"Of course not," Giles dismissed, casual. "That was protecting my slayer, on behalf of both me and my parallel self. Not to mention saving your life."
"Only after your machine stole years of my regenerative energy. Just how was that necessary?"
"I had a week to change things so Quentin would fail. Less, once he moved his plans up a day in anticipation of your return. I did what I could when I made sure Buffy was immune."
"Hey, Giles?" Buffy interrupted, looking up at his blurry face, bouncing with each step.
"Why are you still British?" Conspiratorially, she added, "We're in America."
Giles turned, sharply, entering his laboratory, and setting Buffy very gently onto a medical table.
"Watchers are born and bred in England. We conduct fieldwork across the globe. Only a select number are ever assigned to headquarters."
"Oh. Also, ow."
The Doctor's face drifted into view again. Something about it reminded her of Angel. Specifically, Angel not long before he'd left her - after she'd been released from the hospital, a bandage on her neck attracting his eyes even as he had ducked his head down every time they'd spoken. Oh, right. Guilty face.
She felt an urge to console the Doctor. She used her left hand to pull her shirt up just slightly, exposing the very faint scar from where she had been impaled by her own stake. "I'm a very quick healer. Look, see. I got staked, and I'm fine." She regarded him seriously, and explained, "Stakes are much bigger than bullets."
He glanced down at her abdomen briefly, but said nothing. He didn't seem cheered.
Giles returned from the other side of the room with a push cart of medical tools. Without waiting for permission, the Doctor pulled the cart closer to him, turning back to Buffy. Evidently respecting the Doctor's decision to play first chair, Giles stood back and watched, arms folded.
"It's rather remarkable she's still conscious."
Ignoring Giles, the Doctor spoke, examining Buffy's shoulder and scanning her with the sonic.
"Hemoglobin level is at 12 grams per deciliter… That's within normal range, for a typical human, at least. She shouldn't need a transfusion. The bullet missed the brachial artery and brachial plexus... Missed the clavicle entirely, and left a small fracture on the right scapula. Oh, and, the bullet exited your body. Isn't that brilliant, Buffy?"
Apparently feeling she needed an explanation, he continued, "A bullet that exits the body will cause less tissue damage, as it retains some of its kinetic energy to exit, rather than dispersing all its energy in your body. Oh, you did get lucky!"
Now he looked cheered.
"And this!" He indicated a packet on the cart. "Will help clot that wound. Stop you up nicely and you'll heal on your own. I'm sorry, but we'll need to get this off of you-" He removed his hand from her shoulder and quickly used a nearby pair of scissors to cut a large hole out of her borrowed t-shirt. Her right side was exposed, shoulder to sternum. He placed the scissors back on the cart and moved toward her again to sanitize her wound, then paused. "Wait a second. It's already stopped bleeding."
The corners of the Doctor's mouth turned down in impressed surprise and Giles appeared next to him, an identical expression appearing on his face. It looked so ridiculous that Buffy had to stifle a laugh and let her head lean back on the table.
"I do feel a little better. Kinda woozy. Probably not ready for an apocalypse just yet. Maybe some light sparring."
"Probably best to avoid violence altogether, I always say. Not that you ever listen," the Doctor joked. He applied bandages to both sides of the wound as well as where the second bullet grazed her, then stood back. "All done. Try not to move your right shoulder for the time being. I'll check how it's healing soon – since it looks like it might not take all that long. Any pain, weakness, faintness?"
She sat up, slowly, and stretched her left side.
"Actually, not so bad. I really have had worse. Gimme a day and I'll be back to form." She paused. "Now I believe you're a real doctor. Thank you." She looked at Giles, too. "Both of you."
"Of course," Giles responded. He glanced at the door. "I should go, now."
"Not yet," the Doctor responded, curtly.
"Ooh, right," Buffy interjected, smiling. "I came here to ask, originally: can you help me get home? To my universe?"
"No. I'm sorry, Buffy. Travel through parallel worlds necessarily leaves holes behind… Holes which could cause the destruction of the multiverse altogether. There's no such thing as safe travel between parallel worlds." He offered a small smile. "As much as I care about you, that's not something I - or any of us - can risk."
Her smile faltered, then reappeared. "I understand."
"No, actually, not what I meant - " the Doctor interrupted, "although, naturally, I was completely right about what I told you about parallel universes, Buffy, you should write that down – the Doctor was right – But what I was saying was that there is still the matter of the Council. What becomes of the Council?"
"Giles takes over," Buffy suggested, as though it were obvious.
"Yes, see, well," the Doctor continued, posture and tone tense, "Then what? How long until this happens again? How long until the experimentation resumes – if it ever even stops?" He shook his head. "No. The Council needs to be dissolved."
"I can change it."
"And will you?" The Doctor said heatedly, stepping into Giles' personal bubble. "I'm still not sure I didn't just see a coup out there. No. It's better – safer – to dissolve it."
"The Council can be used as a force for good," Giles suggested, remaining calm in spite of the Doctor's fervor. "To help. A return to the basics. We'll dismantle all experimentation and imprisonment. Focus on diplomacy and integration. You have my word on that."
"And how do I know I can trust your word?"
Buffy eased her way off the medical table and stood between them. "You always give them a chance."
"They've had a chance. Look at what they've done. I am not a man who gives second chances."
"So give Giles his first chance, then," Buffy said, raising her left arm to the Doctor's shoulder. "He's a good man. He saved my life. We couldn't have stopped this without him. Give him a chance, to change the world for the better." She looked at Giles, who stared back at her, a familiar fond look on his face.
"This wouldn't have happened without him."
She nodded. "I get that. And I am so not the Council's number one fan. But don't you think they could do some good, if they wanted to? With the right person in charge?"
The Doctor struggled silently for a moment. Then, all at once, the heat and ferocity drained from him. It was like watching a balloon deflate. Finally, he said, "I will be checking up on you, never mind the interoperational agreements."
"I wouldn't expect any less." Giles smiled, really smiled, and clapped the Doctor lightly on his other shoulder in a parting salutation. "Now. Are you able to find your way back to your ship? I should really..."
The Doctor rolled his eyes. "Go."
Nodding, Giles turned to Buffy, preparing to say goodbye. He hesitated and, against her more fundamental instincts, she took the opportunity to give him a fierce, one-armed hug. He let out a small chuckle, returning the hug while being careful of her right side. After a second, he released her and, giving her a small smile, he left.
Raising her eyebrows, Buffy turned to the Doctor. "I guess that's that."
"You don't want to stay here? With him? No doubt you could."
She shrugged, then winced just slightly at the movement in her right shoulder. "He's Giles, but also not. I don't see that getting any less weird. And I wasn't lying when I said I'm not the Council's number one fan. I do think he can make a difference, do some good, but... I'm bad at taking orders. From them, especially. I'd rather make my own way."
Heading toward the room's exit, she turned back to him.
"Speaking of: Mind dropping me off somewhere that isn't Los Angeles? I really hate that city. Nothing but death, divorce, air pollution, and bitchy girls from high school. Maybe somewhere... subtropical, instead. As long as I'm waiting tables, might as well hang out where I can have a piña colada at the end of my shift."
"Dropping you off?" he echoed, sounding speculative. "Could do. But I thought, maybe, if you were still interested..."
Oh. No way she was letting him off the hook with this. She raised an eyebrow and waited for him to finish.
"You could come for a trip. Or two. In the TARDIS. If you'd like. If not, that's fine, too."
She screwed up her face in thought for a second, pretending to consider it, just to enjoy his awkward discomfort. She broke into a big grin.
"Yeah. That sounds good."
An infectious, goofy grin spread across his face, which she couldn't help but returning. He jerked his head in the direction of the exit and she nodded in response. Without another word, they left the room and headed back to the TARDIS.
She cried at weddings. Not that she’d been to many, around the vampires and Hellgods, but it surprised her, to feel emotional at cliched vows and ugly bridesmaids dresses, when most of the time she was anything but.
In her life as The Slayer, she’d become so cold, so deeply indurate, that it had been priority number one, even over keeping Dawn safe and defeating Glory, to make sure she wasn’t turning to stone. The answer had surprised her, but maybe it shouldn’t have. In moments where her Slayer world, her otherness, were stripped away, she could always feel the stone crumbling not long after.
So she cried at weddings. And now she learned that her eyes also welled at magnificent views of literal purple mountains majesty, taller than she’d ever imagined mountains could be, set against a deep turquoise sky and a setting red sun. Sitting down, she spread her fingers against the soft, lime green grass, and smiled.
“What’s it called, again?” Buffy asked, as she heard the Doctor approach. He’d set the coordinates after she’d unequivocally stated that she had no idea where she’d like to go. He’d mentioned mountains and a sunset but once the TARDIS started jerking back and forth, she’d stopped paying attention to his rambling.
He sat next to her, fanning his overcoat around him. The red sun hung low in the sky.
“Roob,” he responded. “This is the Bukid mountain range. Most beautiful in the galaxy. And I’d know.”
“It makes me feel so small,” she said softly.
“Oh, but you’re not! You - humans - none of you are small. You’re here, too, on Roob. Just beyond the horizon, a human settlement. Brand new, right now. They came here because it was beautiful, and they stayed for twenty millennia. They built a new home. They thrived. The universe is teeming with life, but it’s teeming with humanity most of all. That could never be small.”
“Small is good,” Buffy clarified, throwing a smile over her shoulder at him. “I’ve had enough feeling important. Five years of being ‘the Chosen One’ and sitting on a world that is not my responsibility to save feels... kind of amazing.” She paused. “But that was a nice speech.”
He studied her for a second, then turned to look at the mountains. His voice was quiet. “I feel I should warn you: Stay with me, you’ll end up doing a fair amount of world saving. Could be universe-saving, even.”
She narrowed her eyes at him ironically. “Thank you. For the warning.” Laying back onto the grass, Buffy continued, “But that’s different: saving the world because you can. I’ve only ever done it cause I’m the only one who can.”
“What do you mean?” the Doctor asked, glancing at her.
“You can zip away in your magical blue box and let the world save itself - goodbye and good luck. You choose to stay.”
“So do you. You may have the power, but you choose whether or not to use it. And it’s not a choice, not really, helping people who need it. Not to mention: when the universe tries to end, there’s reeally no alternative but to stop it.”
“But there is. You are who you are because you choose to be. Last of your kind, traveling the universe and saving people - whether a country or a planet or the whole universe. You could be sitting on a beach somewhere, drinking mai tais. I was just handed a destiny. Could’ve been anyone - well, any girl. Fate of the world: slayer’s hands. I tried to run a couple of times - couldn’t. Do or die, only the ‘or’ part always ends up an ‘and,’ before long.”
“Not much of a drinker, me. And anyway - I may not believe in destiny, but there’s no one else who can do what I can. If I didn’t save the universe, there’d be no universe left.” He plucked a piece of grass and tore it. “It’s self-preservation, really.”
She sighed. “I’m saying this wrong. I’m not saying -- I’d always save the world. Of course I would. But I’d like to do it because I’m Buffy. Not because I’m the slayer, and it’s my job, and there’s no one else. Not when I always have to decide between the fate of the world and the people I--” She stopped, then tried again. “I’m not saying you don’t have to make tough choices.”
“You’re Buffy and the slayer. They’re the same. I’d be willing to wager you couldn’t run because it meant putting others at risk.” He glanced at her and, at her reticent look, nodded. “Above all - you save the world because you’re a hero. And, again, I’d know.”
She raised her eyebrows in a hopeful gesture. “So, maybe it’s just better with two, then.”
The Doctor went silent.
“I mean, I think it would be nice to have a co-hero. Save the day, inspire friendship and teamwork all across the galaxy. Two sets of hands.” She paused, thoughtful. “Which, really, shows how much I’ve grown.”
He stayed silent. She tried again.
“Hey, maybe that’s why there’s us. If the universe is a harsh place, and the day needs saving, maybe we’re just here to show that somebody can. Somebody will. Somebodies. Maybe that’s all there is.”
Still nothing. She’d been just about to ask what his deal was (when was he ever quiet for so long?) when he spoke.
“I’ve lost.. everyone.”
She sat up, glancing over at him for a second before staring straight ahead at the mountains. Direct eye contact and emotional confessions were unmixy things in the world of Buffy.
“Old news, really.” He pulled another blade of grass out of the ground and fiddled with it. “My people, my planet... But for a while, it was better. I had friends. They’re gone now. Everyone’s moved on.”
She let his words sink in for a minute. They applied to her, too, but she couldn’t find it in her just then to mourn her people, her planet.. Her friends... Not when she knew they were safe from Glory, safe from the danger her slayerness represented. Spike and Willow would watch after Dawn, and maybe they’d all get off the Hellmouth before it tried to swallow them all again next May. Let the next slayer deal with it. It was hard to miss her life in this moment, watching the deep red sun sink lower against the turquoise sky. It would be behind the mountains, soon.
“Tell me about them,” Buffy suggested. She looked over at the Doctor as he frowned, thinking. “If you want.”
The frown melted off of his face, quicker, even, than it had appeared. He looked at her, eyes bright.
“How about a swap? Always liked a swap. I’m known on seven star systems for my bartering skills.”
“Well, you first, Buffy Summers! Tell me about your best friend.”
“Two for two?” she suggested, not wanting to pick between Xander and Willow for the title - even if it didn’t matter.
“One and a half!” the Doctor haggled.
“Bartering skills, my ass. That doesn’t even make sense.” She raised an eyebrow.
“Sure it does,” the Doctor argued, dragging out his words in cheerful petulance. “I could tell you about one friend, and then tell you about another friend of mine who was, at certain times, nothing but a giant, disembodied, telepathic head. Not sure how he became telepathic, mind, so that wouldn’t be in the half-story -- oh -- telepathic mind. Ha! Or I could throw in the bit about an extra hand I once had lying around. I’m sure I could find the body parts for another half a story, no problem.”
“Well, what are you waiting for, Buffy Summers? Tell me about Willow and...?” he prodded.
Now that he was ready to share, he’d somehow traversed the path from Angel level brooding to Dawn level hyper in seconds, flat. She dug her shoes into the grass.
“Fine. But you’re telling me two, too.” She ignored his bark of laughter. “I met them in high school. Tenth grade, when I moved to Sunnydale. Willow was -- so smart, and so shy, and so sweet, and brave, too. Xander was, too, minus the shy. They’ve known each other since they were kids, but they treated me like one of the gang as soon as I met them. They found out I was the slayer almost instantly even though it’s this big secret. And they helped me. They kept helping. The Willow you saw - I think she’s a lot more like the girl I met than the girl I left behind. My Willow’s so strong. When we were fighting Glory, she was the only one who could hold her back. She’s brilliant with science, computers, chemistry.. Anything she puts her mind to. And she’s gotten to be a powerful Wicca. Like, really powerful.” She raised her eyebrows, pondering for a second. “And Xander... he’s so brave. We have this whole supergang - slayers, watchers, witches, vampires, werewolves, ex-demons, and he’s just a guy. A regular guy. Only he’s not regular, at all. He’s the heart of all of us. He’ll be the first one to tell you the thing that’s hard to hear, and he won’t spare your feelings, but.. he might be the bravest person I know.” She smiled. “They’ll both be happy, I think.”
She let him gather his thoughts, watching the sunset.
“My best friend is a ginger, too,” the Doctor offered, as though that were a particularly enviable quality. “Her name is Donna. And she’s... brilliant. Strong, and... Loud.” He laughed, weakly. “Dead clever, too. Doesn’t give herself enough credit. She appeared in the TARDIS - just appeared, like that! Huon particles dragged her in. Got her sorted, sent her home, but then she found me again. We traveled all over. Saved the universe a few times. And then, one day -- well, she had to forget it all ever happened. She doesn’t know me anymore. And I can’t see her ever again; it’d kill her.”
His eyes shined as he looked into the distance. Buffy reached out, hesitating just slightly, but pushed through her general ineptitude at comforting others, laying her hand on his forearm. The sun was behind the mountains, now, casting a deep maroon light that made the grass around them look almost brown.
“I’m sorry,” she said, narrowing her eyes.
“Yeah,” he agreed, then let out a deep breath. He looked down at her hand on his sleeve and gave her a smile. “So! That’s one. Let’s see about the remaining half..” She opened her mouth to point out that she’d asked for two, but he continued. “Well. I know a rakish bloke named Jack, originally from the fifty first century -- you’d like him, he’s very charming and very quick to resort to violence.”
Buffy removed her hand from his sleeve, folding her arms, and rolling her eyes. He continued.
“Anyway, he became immortal - properly immortal. He spent some time saving the world, the universe, you know - the usual. At some point he obtained a severed hand that used to belong to me, which later became a part-human-not-quite-clone of me - a story for another day - and then, much later than that, millions of years later, in fact, he aged into a large disembodied telepathic head.” He wrinkled his nose. “I’m not quite clear on how that happened, actually. There. That’s me, then. One and a half stories.”
“I asked you to tell me about your friends, not to describe the plot of a David Lynch movie that apparently only exists in this universe.”
“Oooh, Inland Empire wasn’t out yet in your time, was it? Wait’ll you see that one. Makes the Face of Boe seem positively ordinary.” He grinned at her, melancholy dispersed. Standing, he adjusted his jacket carefully and ran a hand through his hair, peering at the sky. “Come on, then. It’ll be dark, soon. We’ll want to get back to the TARDIS before the Triffids come out. Unless you want to stay and watch - they spring up right out of the ground, eight feet tall in thirty seconds! Highly venomous, though. Might be best to head back.”
She stood, too, brushing bits of lime green grass off of her jeans, and looked around. “What, really? Like the book?”
“Nah! Only joking.” He bounced, heading toward the parked TARDIS. Buffy followed, rolling her eyes. “Thought you might enjoy another pop culture reference, is all. ‘Sides - Don’t be silly. Triffids aren’t nocturnal. Everyone knows that.”
Closing the TARDIS door behind them with a flourish, the Doctor asked, “So! How d’ya feel about the past, then? Earth? Maybe - Victorian era?”
She shrugged, but couldn’t hold back a smile. “I dunno. What year was indoor plumbing invented in this universe?”
Buffy emerged after what felt like hours from the TARDIS wardrobe, wearing an authentic Victorian-era dress. Light blue and long sleeved with a high ruffled neckline, it bustled in the back in a way that gave her the illusion of a much larger backside than she’d ever had or wanted. Her hair was in an elaborate updo, pins and combs holding it into place - which had been a real bitch to do, actually, but looked kind of awesome, particularly with the cute little hat perched on top.
The overall effect reminded her of that one Halloween, even though she knew that she was at least a hundred years off in the fashion. To her, all poofy skirts and bustles and bodices sort of felt the same - though this one was admittedly even more modest with its high neckline. Victorian era - total prigs. Still, the dress was different enough not to stir unpleasant memories of helpless crying on Cordelia’s shoulder. (Which was, with several years’ hindsight, the worst part of that night.)
She’d donned a pair of sneakers under the full skirt instead of the elaborate, laced leather boots the TARDIS had produced. When it came to women’s fashions of the past, Buffy figured there was only so much dress up that could be considered fun and not downright oppressive. She did enjoy the little gloves, though.
Walking into the control room, Buffy plopped herself onto the jumpseat, letting her sneakered feet dangle over the grating.
The Doctor, meanwhile, was dressed in the same suit.
“Don’t you ever change?” Buffy asked. “Not that it’s not a nice suit. But I’m not sure it really screams ‘Victorian’ so much as ‘moderately stylish accountant.’” She raised her eyebrows. “Factoring in the trench coat, it’s not even that. Really, it’s a little.. Gambit, actually. Either way, not so much of the 1800s.” She paused in thought. “Though every guy I know who was around in the 1800s loves trench coats.” She shrugged. “Hey, maybe I’m wrong.”
The Doctor studied a screen on the console.
“Then again, all the guys I know who were around in the 1800s are vampires. Are you going for ‘vampire’?" No response. The TARDIS was still and she was pretty sure they’d landed, but she wasn’t exactly the expert. "Helloooo. Are we there, yet?” Buffy asked, kicking her legs back and forth just to watch the skirt swish. He didn’t answer. “I feel very Jane Austen. Do you guys have a Jane Austen in this universe? Was she alive during the Victorian era? When is the Victorian era? Victoria’s the queen, right?”
He pulled out his glasses, putting them on, and tapping the screen rapidly.
“Hey!” Buffy tried. Nothing. She considered getting up and doing a back handspring just to see if he’d notice, then remembered she was wearing perfectly normal twenty-first century undergarments. Maybe yelling would help. “Ground control to Major Tom!”
He looked up, pocketing his glasses in one smooth movement, and began speaking rather quickly.
“Yes, I change-- I also have a blue suit. No, I’m not going for ‘vampire’ with the trench coat, which is both timeless and highly fashionable. While we’re at it, my suits are far more stylish than your everyday accountant could ever dream of. Yes, we’re here. Yes, this universe has a Jane Austen. No, she was not alive during the Victorian era - she died 20 years before it began. The Victorian era lasted - well, lasts. Is lasting, currently, as we speak - from 1837 to 1901, which, as you properly surmised, corresponds exactly to the rule of Queen Victoria.” He paused. “We also have a David Bowie, in case you’re interested. Come on, then! Stop keeping me waiting.”
“Me keeping you--”
“Yep! Only started tinkering cause you were taking so long getting ready. We need to hurry before we miss all the fun!”
“Miss all the-- How, exactly? It’s a time machine! I’ll have you know it’s not exactly easy to get a Victorian dress on! Not to mention this hair.” She indicated the updo with one gloved hand.
She hopped off the jumpseat and he ushered her out as she continued to rant. “Don’t think I didn’t see all that product of yours -- I used pins. I’m going for realism. Hey. Are you shushing me?”
“Me? Wouldn’t dream of it. Come on! Out!”
Finally getting them both out of the TARDIS, the Doctor locked the door behind them. Buffy, meanwhile, stared unabashedly around her, a hand quickly coming up to cover her nose. Yikes.
It was day, late afternoon by the looks of it, and the city was bustling. That was an appropriate word. Bustling. It was small, in a way, by Buffy’s 1990s Los Angeles standards - high rises not being the norm just yet, but it was busy. People, and horses, and carts, and noise. The road was paved, although clearly not with asphalt. Paved roads existed before cars? Neat. Who knew? There were streetlamps (currently unlit and topped with round shells - gas or electric? she wondered). Sidewalks, too. Narrow, low, and probably somewhat jeopardous, given the sheer number of people walking, running, pushing, ducking… Maybe she’d just been in Sunnydale for too long, but wow.
“London! The year is 1880!” the Doctor announced, gesturing in a wide arc around them with his arm. “Brilliant year, 1880. The city is still feeling the effects of the Industrial Revolution and railway transportation is booming! The population of London has grown from one million to four million in a mere eighty years - which is why it’s so....” He indicated the commotion around them with a shrug, then continued. “Some very important developments in 1880. Brand new rudimentary electric lights on main streets like this one - those’re called Jablochkoff candles. The first tube tunnel just opened, from the Tower of London to Bermondsey. Piezoelectricity was just discovered - though it won’t be fully utilized before the rise of sonic technology. And, most importantly, the first successful shipment of frozen mutton was recently sent from Australia to London.”
“Why is the mutton thing the most -- hey, is that a horse drawn bus?” Buffy asked, pointing at a large cart filled with people with the hand not covering her face.
“What else would it be?” The Doctor raised an eyebrow, setting off on a walk away from the TARDIS.
Buffy followed, lifting her skirt to keep it from trailing in some questionable looking puddles and thanking her lucky stars that her sneakers were water resistant. Avoiding the puddles required uncovering her nose, which was arguably almost as disgusting as just walking in the dirty water, but she began acclimating to the smell as she forced herself to breathe normally.
“Where exactly are we?” Buffy asked, to distract herself.
“They call this area of London ‘The City.’ We’re not far from the Thames. Near Billingsgate and the London Bridge, more precisely.”
She shrugged. “I’m not sure why I asked. I don’t actually know anything about the layout of London in my time and universe, let alone here.” She looked around at the men, couples, and pairs of women walking around them. “Hey. Are women not allowed to walk around alone here?”
“Er. Well. No. Not as such. Not normally, at least. But the women’s suffrage movement is really picking up speed.” He seemed to ponder that statement further, bobbing his head back and forth. “Although, women were only banned from voting in the first place forty-eight years ago. And they won’t be granted the same voting rights as men for.. another forty-eight. Look at that, halfway through, not bad! Anyway, I hope you won’t let that tarnish your opinion of 1880. Just look at all this progress!”
She let out a snort. “Calm down, Nostradamus. It was just a question.”
“Nostradamus! There’s an interesting fellow. Did you know that, apart from his prophecies, which were nearly all rubbish, he once wrote a highly lauded book of jam recipes? The cherry’s my favorite. Well, it would be - I helped create it.” He grinned at her as though he thought that was supposed to be impressive.
She laughed, really laughed, marveling at the ridiculousness of it all and not caring in the least where exactly they were walking. The Doctor’s latest story was the icing on the absurdity cake. Apparently pleased, the Doctor laughed as well.
She wondered: was that the first time either of them had genuinely laughed since they’d met? They’d have to do it more. And why shouldn’t she, exactly? As long as she was stuck away from her friends and family, she might as well laugh at the time traveling alien talking about cherry jam in Victorian London. She thought she was past being wowed, but this whole situation was beyond wow. Maybe they could go to Rome next...
“So!” the Doctor announced as they rounded a corner, “First I think we should see the Tower of London -- oh, memories.” He sighed, smiling. “I’ve got a few stories I could tell - and then I think we should catch The Pirates of Penzance over in the West End. You like comedy, right? Gilbert and Sullivan. Classic! And then--”
“What, not an opera fan? Not even comic opera? In English, no less? You really have no excuse. You should give it a chance - it’s fantastic. Still around in your time! Will be for ages, after, too, but there’s nothing like seeing it in its original run--”
“Doctor,” Buffy repeated. “I’m not one hundred percent sure, but doesn’t that seem a little off?”
Buffy pointed at an alcove off the street where a man pinned a woman against the wall of a building, his hands on her shoulders. The woman was struggling, jerking her shoulders and trying to kick him. He remained out of her reach through the constriction of her skirt. All of that was bad enough. What was worse was the blue-green substance pouring out of the man’s mouth and eyes. It looked like vapor, except it was crackling with energy, white sparks jumping off of his skin and surging into the air around them. The blue-green began into sink into the woman’s eyes and mouth, her screams giving it an easy point of entry.
“Hell no, I don’t think so.”
“Oh. It’s an electrotransmogrification--” the Doctor began, reaching into his pocket, but Buffy sprang into action, not waiting for the cliffsnotes version. “Buffy, don’t! Wait!”
She didn’t wait. Running at them, she jumped lithely over the curb, turning a somersault (oh well to the undergarments) into downward kick directly to the man’s side. Right on target. Which would’ve been a lot more heartening if it hadn’t sent an utterly uncomfortable, tingly jolt into her leg that spread into her hips, torso, and head like ripples on a pond. Her legs couldn’t cope with the shock and gave out beneath her, sending her sprawling onto the wet dirt floor of the alley.
The blue-green, crackling vapor was gone. The woman ran. The man crumpled next to Buffy. Forcing herself up onto her hands and knees, she scooted towards him and grabbed him, restraining him before he could run away.
Finally, it seemed, though it could only have been a few seconds, the Doctor caught up, kneeling next to them.
“Are you okay?” he asked, screwdriver in his hand. He scanned her, then the man, then her again.
“I think it was electricity. Sorry. Just give me a sec and I’ll try to stand. I got a little shocked.”
“That’s what I said.” The Doctor put his glasses back on for good measure as he scanned the man next to her, who was unconscious. “I told you to wait. You could’ve been -- nevermind.”
“Yeah, yeah. Big danger. But I knocked out the bad guy. Yay me.” She poked the bad guy with her toe and it sent another jolt up her leg, like spiderwebs, like lightning.
“No. You didn’t.” the Doctor corrected, visibly frustrated. “You can’t just kick first and ask questions later!”
“I’m fine. What’s the big?”
“Buffy. The bad guy ran off. He,” he gestured the unconscious man next to her, “is its previous victim. Was, anyway. He’s gone, now. Every electrical impulse, drained from his brain. That blue energy - that’s the creature. It’s an energy being. It’s possessed that woman and it’s going to to do the same thing to her, next.”
Her eyes widened. “What does it want?”
“I don’t know! We could’ve followed-- asked-- tried to stop it moving into someone else-- saved that woman before it drains her, next, if you’d just waited, like I said. Now it’s gone.”
“Oh.” She wasn’t sure what else to say. “Oops?”
He gaped at her.
“Oops?” he repeated, gaping some more. “Oops?”
“Look - I get where you’re coming from. Really, I do. And I’m so not on board with the electric-whatsit draining people of their brainpower. It’s awful. Beyond awful. And we’re going to stop it. But as far as I could tell, that man was attacking that woman. There was no time to wait for an explanation!”
Still crouched over Buffy and the unconscious man, the Doctor dropped the hand holding the sonic and stared, expression floating somewhere between exasperated and flat-out angry. “This isn’t your world.”
“You think I don’t know that? I got the memo, thanks.” Shocks cascaded through her legs, but the feeling, though disconcerting, didn’t prevent her struggling to her feet. She brushed some dirt off of her side, shuddering as the movement caused spidery jolts down her arm.
“You don’t, not really. You think you know the rules here, but you don’t. I need you to trust me. I need you to listen.” He looked down at the unconscious man and back up at Buffy, standing up from where he’d been crouched. “I know you’re used to everything falling to you, but there are things I know that you don’t. If we’re going to work together, we need to listen to each other. Got it?”
She met his eyes. “If it’s so dangerous, why didn’t you go after her?”
“She ran past me. I could chase after her, or I could make sure you were--” He stopped, expression darkening and softening all at once. “You got lucky. You have no idea how lucky. Touching an energy being during an electrotransmogrification - an energy transfer - should have killed you. You shouldn’t be conscious, at least, even with what I understand of your physiology. I had to be sure you were okay.”
“Oh.” She sighed, chastened. For the first time in a long while, she thought of Kendra, with a pang. She had sprung into attack mode at the sight of Angel, Xander, and even Willow (not to mention Buffy, herself). “Look, I’m sorry. You’re right. I can’t be Little-Miss-Likes-to-Fight when I don’t understand what we’re up against. I know I’d be making sure you weren’t... waving your sonic screwdriver around and explaining - I dunno - where cheese comes from, in the middle of a vamp nest, if you were in my world.”
“Why would I be explaining where cheese comes from?”
“That was just an example!”
“Do you want to know where cheese comes from?”
“No. The answer is ‘cows.’Thanks, though.” She realized a little too late that he he was messing with her. “So, I’ll try to tamp down my urge to attack anything that looks dangerous. You make sure to be very clear about dangers I don’t understand. If we’re going to be co-heroes, we’re going to need to respect each other’s areas of expertise.”
“Good. Right… The vampires in your world build nests? Did you say they were winged?” the Doctor asked, looking curious. At least his anger at her had dissipated.
“It’s an expression. Doctor, that thing is still out there. Now what?”
“Now, we track it.”
They alerted a constable about the unconscious man and headed back to the TARDIS. The Doctor rummaged through piles of wires and parts absently, seeking out supplies, glasses falling down his nose.
“Everything humans do is controlled and enabled by electrical signals running through the body,” the Doctor explained, and Buffy was overcome with the thought that he should be standing in front of a chalkboard. “Electricity carries messages from cell to cell. It's key to survival, in fact - much faster than chemicals and hormones. The energy being feeds off of electricity, but it also is made of electricity. Like how you’re 53 percent water but still need to drink it. But on 1880 Earth there's very little electricity. Oh, sure, there's lightning, and electric eels.. Both of which generate far more electricity than a human body. A single eel produces about 600 volts, while humans only produce about 100 millivolts. But humans are still the best option for it. Lightning is incredibly difficult to harness. It's too quick. Not to mention--” He craned his neck, looking toward the opaque windows in the TARDIS doors. “--Not here, at the moment. And as far as possessing a form, bouncing from human to human is going to be a lot more useful to the energy being than swimming around as an eel. But the energy being doesn't have many other options. Electricity is still in the beginning stages. It’s going to hop from person to person, draining them more and more quickly, until its own ‘battery,’ so to speak, is drained. And it’s not supposed to be here. One wrong person, drained - doesn’t live the life they were supposed to, and we could have a paradox on our hands. Could threaten the fabric of reality itself.”
“Phew. Talk about intense. My monsters-of-the-week don’t threaten the entirety of existence. Usually. What do we do when we find it?” Buffy asked, leaning over him to watch him rummage.
“Contain it with this.” The Doctor pulled a small box from the pile of parts. It was about the size of a cigar box and looked to be metal. It was otherwise unremarkable.
“How are we going to get it into a box?”
“Weell. I’m hoping it just wants to go home. Maybe its ship crashed - we found it right by the Thames, after all. If it refuses, I can use electromagnetic energy to draw it into the box, but it might not be pretty.”
“So, if not, we’ll deal. Got it. Really, swap a few of your big science-type words out for things like ‘demon’ or ‘spirit’ or ‘chaos-worshipping-cult,’ and you’ve got a regular Tuesday for me. Let’s do this.”
An hour later and they were tracking the energy being, on foot, using the sonic screwdriver. The Doctor held it unabashedly in front of him even though it was clearly completely out of place (time?) in Victorian London. He looked at her like she’d drooled on herself when she asked if someone might notice.
“Look at the street lights,” the Doctor suggested, pointing up at one with the sonic. It was beginning to get dark. “Those Jablochkoff candles? They've all been drained. I'm getting no live readings from them and they should be on by now. The energy being has been draining them. I think we must be getting close.”
They fell into silence. As they walked, Buffy could see what she was pretty sure was Buckingham Palace in the distance.
Noticing it too, the Doctor mused, “You know, better be careful we don’t run into the Queen. I was banished from the British Empire, ohh, almost exactly a year ago, relative time.”
“Right, because the Queen is someone we’re likely to run into.”
“You’d be surprised.”
“Hold on. Banished?”
“Yep! Just after I was knighted, actually.” The memory seemed to cheer him.
“Knighted, then banished? How does that even happen?”
“I credit my rakish, daring attitude in the face of danger.” He flipped his hair off of his forehead grandly with a grin and a jerk of his head.
“You gotta give me more than that.”
“Fine, fine. Knighted, because we saved the day from a Lupine Wavelength Haemovariform.” At her confused look, he clarified, “Werewolf. Alien in origin. And… We were banished because - well, maybe we were being just a little too cheeky that day. Rose was dressed in this denim overall skirt and tights - totally scandalous, but we were aiming for 1979, where it would’ve fit right in - anyway, off on the wrong foot almost immediately. She kept trying to get the Queen to say ‘I am not amused,’ - bet me ten quid she could get her to say it - and I lost, too. Never did pay up. We were laughing at everything.” He smiled wistfully. “It really was terribly disrespectful.”
“Why wasn’t the Queen amused? Should she have been?”
He gave her an odd look. “Don’t they teach you anything in America?”
“Hey, who says it’s my fault? Maybe she was amused in my universe.”
“Could be, I suppose.”
“Why did you insist on coming here now if you were banished a year ago? You have literally every single time and place at your disposal. And it’s not like I expressed any particular desire to come here over, say, Rome - or -- ooh -- Tahiti.”
Defensive, he grumbled, “I like London. You said you’d never been.”
“Seems like it. Who’s Rose?”
The Doctor glanced at her and, looking vaguely uncomfortable, focused more fully on the screwdriver in his hand. “I used to travel with her. She was… special. To me.” He coughed, launching into rapid speech. “Anyway, she’s living in a parallel universe now with that part-human-not-quite-clone of me. M’sure they’re doing lovely.”
“They traveled between universes?” Buffy asked, taking the bait.
“Sorry. They traveled when the walls between worlds were damaged. When you came through. Walls’re sealed now. Couldn’t do it again without tearing the multiverse apart.”
“Right,” Buffy sighed. “Okay, sure, can’t have two Doctors in the same universe, may as well send the clone off into another one if the opportunity presents itself. There’s some sort of logic in there, somewhere. But why’d she go? She could’ve stayed here, right?”
He pursed his lips, tense, before answering. “He was me, too. All my memories. Same man. Only he could give her a life, with a normal lifespan. I’m over nine hundred years old, and a Time Lord. He was part-human.”
“Ugh.” Buffy blurted, rolling her eyes at him.
“What?” He asked, head darting towards her and expression changing from tension to curiosity in that mercurial way he’d all but perfected.
“Believe me. I get it. Ending a relationship over a lifespan disparity and this notion of a ‘normal life’? Which - for the record - may or may not be attainable for all people. Read the book, seen the movie, wrote the review.. and.. ugh.”
“Do tell. I think it’s time for another swap.”
“Shouldn’t you be paying attention to your scanny-readings or whatever?”
“Oh, yes. But my gigantic Time Lord brain is exceptionally talented at sophisticated multitasking. Go on, then.” He grinned, apparently heartened by their shared misery. How nice.
“Fine. Angel, is his name. We were together for three years. He’s a vampire. He was one of the worst, for centuries... But he was cursed with a soul and he started doing good. I met him when I got to Sunnydale. He helped me a little, at first, all cryptic warnings and riddles, but at some point he sorta became one of the gang. Then we found out a little belatedly that he could lose his soul, and he went on an evil rampage that ended with me sending him to hell.” She raised her eyebrows ironically. “Didn’t take. He came back, and he was good again, but things were different. We knew we couldn’t be … close anymore. And Angel decided he could never give me a normal life, with babies and picnics in the sun and PTA meetings, and so he left. And here I am, with my normal life. So, really, it all worked out.”
“He’s in L.A., in my universe. That’s why I went there. When I got here... when I saw there was no Sunnydale.. before I knew where I was, I tried to find him. I slept on a dirty mattress in his empty apartment for two months. But I guess if this universe had an Angel, he lived and died about a hundred and fifty years ago relative to where we are now.”
He regarded her shrewdly, then focused his attention back to the screwdriver, speaking casually. “If he were human, wouldn’t you have wanted to be with him?”
She had a split second of deja vu. “I wanted to be with him either way. I’ll never have a normal life. I was always going to live like a slayer - bright and violent and short. I wanted it to be with him, even if that was selfish.” She sighed. “Look, I’m a bad example. If Angel had been human - or part-human - or had a not-quite-clone who was part-human - I’d still be the slayer. I needed him strong. I tried the regular guy thing, and that doesn’t work out either. But if we could’ve both been normal? Then yes. I’d have chosen a normal life with normal Angel over basically anything.” She frowned. “I still would.”
Satisfied, the Doctor nodded.
"That said, if I had a non-slayer-Buffy clone and then Angel showed up as a human, I'm not sure I'd have it in me to let them frolic off into the sunset. Yikes." She scrunched her face in pained sympathy. "Definite kudos."
“If there were a spare human Angel sitting around in need of cuddles and I was, you know, retired… I’m sure vampire Angel would be very happy for us. Though not too happy for us.” She let her mind wander. “Or, maybe sharing me would mean he could never really be truly happy in our relationship…”
“Yuh huh?” Buffy replied dreamily.
“That’s her.” He pointed at a woman walking confidently ahead of them. The stride was not very Victorian-woman-wandering-alone-at-dusk.
“What do we do?”
The Doctor lowered his head to the screwdriver, listening carefully for a moment. “The readings are getting less stable. She’ll transfer again soon. We need to get her alone and talk to her before she drains someone else.”
The energy being suddenly stopped walking, as though it had seen something intriguing. It turned around and the Doctor spun, knocking Buffy clumsily against the wall of a building. He leaned against the brick, obscuring Buffy and keeping his back to the energy being.
“You’re jabbing me with your knee,” Buffy commented. “Just so you know, we are not pretending to make out.”
“It’s Victorian London.” The Doctor rolled his eyes. “Pretending to make out would not help us blend in. What is she doing?”
Peeking around his shoulder, Buffy gasped. The energy being had found its next target. She stood in front of a young, bespectacled, curly-haired man, pulling at his sleeve to lead him away from the main thoroughfare. Although he looked dorky and befuddled, there was no mistaking those cheekbones.
“Oh, good gravy, it’s Spike.”
Buffy jerked away from the wall, almost rushing forward, then, with effort, stopped herself. Took a breath. Met the Doctor’s eyes. He smiled at her, apparently noticing her restraint.
“A friend.” She furrowed her brow. “Kind of. Well. More of an enemy. A frenemy? You know what? Nevermind. Just - we need to stop her.”
“Right! No time for portmanteaus! She’s going to transfer any minute.” Despite his proclamation, he paused, looking at her oddly. “How do you know him? This is 1880.”
“He’s a vampire in my world.” She rolled her eyes as if to say ‘duh.’ “Doctor! This is me, waiting, and not resorting to violence. What do we do?”
“We need to get her away from him. We should be able to touch her safely as long as the electrotransmogrification hasn’t begun.”
“So?” Buffy asked, looking over the Doctor’s shoulder anxiously.
Spike - no, William - was blinking rapidly from behind his old timey spectacles. He wasn't walking off with her, not yet, but he looked positively bewitched by the woman - or the possessed facsimile thereof, at least.
Buffy tilted her head, evaluating. She had long brown hair, falling down her back, coming loose from its coiffed up-do now that the body’s inhabitant was likely unconcerned with keeping her appearance proper. She was thin - skinny, really. She was talking to him, with her hand on his sleeve. At him, more like, since it looked like she wasn’t meeting his eyes, instead staring into the distance with a dreamy, abstracted air about her, probably from the pressing need to suck the electrical energy out of the body she was inhabiting. Altogether, it was definitely some kind of Drusilla vibe.
Oh, he was totally going to wander off with her and let her suck his brain out. No question.
“Well, let’s ask her to come with us. And if that doesn't work, I suppose you’ll have to resort to violence.”
“Naaah! Might have to haul her off to somewhere more secluded, though.”
She shrugged. “Kay!”
In a synchronous motion, they sprang from the wall, surging towards Spike and the woman.
From what she could tell, the Doctor tended to fly by the seat of his pants and, no surprise, sometimes ended up pinned to the hood of a car by a giant leather-clad alien, or trapped in a cage designed to zap him of his life force, as a result. Buffy might also be a little impulsive - maybe, a little - but Riley’s influence hadn’t fully worn off, either. A bit of strategy was in order.
“You go ahead,” Buffy suggested, voice low. Steps in sync, she felt no need to check he was listening, sensing that his attention was keyed to her. “She might not have noticed you before, but she’ll recognize me. I’ll come from that alley over there.” She jerked her head in the direction the woman had been trying to lead Spike a moment ago. “Close enough to get over to you if she attacks, far enough to keep her from running if she tries.”
She glanced his way as she headed toward the alley and he nodded tightly, eyes still focused on the woman, jaw tense.
Buffy effortlessly blended into the crowd, then settled in the secluded alley, keeping the Doctor, the woman, and Spike in her sights.
The Doctor walked boldly up to the woman.
“Hello, I’m the Doctor!” he said brightly. “I noticed you might be after some electricity. Got lots of it, if you’re interested.”
“Oh, yeah, that’s gonna work,” Buffy muttered to herself.
The woman turned her large, dreamy eyes to the Doctor, seeming to forget Spike’s existence altogether in an instant. She began stalking toward him in a manner that could only be described as threatening, eyes wide and intense, but somehow absent.
“Yes, hello, right this way,” the Doctor said, beginning to back away from her and towards Buffy's hiding spot in the alley. The woman walked towards him with wide steps, her head tilted in an eerie and unnatural angle, “I’ve got this lovely little box for you, very conductive, and it’ll keep you safe until we can get you transport home.”
Her singular focus on the Doctor was beginning to wig Buffy out. Maybe humans didn’t generate a lot of electricity, but what about Time Lords? Someone had recently tried to use him as a battery and it certainly looked like the energy being was interested in finding out. She wasn’t running, for one thing, so there was no point in hiding anymore. Whatever she was doing, it was making Buffy’s spidey senses tingle.
“Bad. This is a world of bad, and he’s just going to sit there, babbling, until she possesses him and eats his brain.”
Spike, meanwhile (no, William -- that was his birth name, right? Not some other adopted vampire name given to him for being just that extra amount of bloody, even for a vamp?) stood where the energy being had abandoned him, watching the woman approach the Doctor with a dumbstruck expression.
Breaking away from her shadowed vantage point, Buffy sprang into a run, quickly joining the Doctor’s side as he continued backing towards the alley.
“Okay, so, she’s definitely about to possess you instead of Spike.”
“Oh, yes. It does seem that way. Hi, again,” he said to the woman, smoothly avoiding her menacing approach in just the right way to lead them into the deserted alley. He gave a little wave. “This is my friend, Buffy. We have offworld transport. Just leave that woman’s body, and we’ll take you home. My ship has plenty of electricity for you to consume. You’ll be able to regain your strength. If you keep moving from human to human, you’re going to die. Come with us and we’ll get you home.”
“I require a vessel,” the energy being said, narrowing her eyes at them. “You would make an exceptionally fine one.”
From behind her, William spoke up. “I beg your pardon. What is happening? Is this woman ill? Should I call for a physician?”
His voice was quiet, hesitant. His accent different - proper, not brash. And his expression was so confused it bordered on stupefied, but it was also kind; so far from the leer she was used to.
For a split second she doubted that this could be the same Spike she knew. Though of course he wasn’t, was he? Spike was a demon, not a man - no matter how many times he fought for her, or took a beating for her, or protected her sister. This human was a different person altogether. Right?
“Already got one,” Buffy quipped, then paused, looking past the woman and into William’s concerned gaze. Whoever he was, in this universe he did not have to be Spike. No matter the moral shades of grey Spike represented, that had to be a good thing. William needed to get to safety.
“On second thought? Yes. Do that. Great. Thanks! Bye!”
“Sir?” William asked, then stepped forward, shadow eclipsing him as he crossed into the alley from the street. “She was telling me the most fantastical tale, about travel across the stars, and I knew she must be ill. My family’s physician is close, only a mile away, I could--”
“Oh, that’s nice,” Buffy complained. “My word’s not good enough? How ‘bout you do what I tell you, for old universe’s sake.”
His eyes drifted past her and met the Doctor’s, expression beseeching.
“Yes, a physician, good,” the Doctor said, exasperated and concerned and warm all at once, his eyes still on the woman.
Finally reaching him, the woman stopped in front of the Doctor, staring, and the hairs on the back of Buffy’s neck began to stand up. It felt like energy, crackling somewhere. The woman’s eyes were so wide. She was definitely about to pour blue, crackly energy out of her eyes. Definitely.
William turned to go and the Doctor interrupted.
“Wait, no! We need a doctor, but yours won’t do. We need a specialist. There’s an expert in Lambeth. The Royal Hope Hospital. Doctor Jones. Go now, please. Find that doctor.”
“And you’ll look after the ladies.” Didn’t Spike say he’d ‘always been bad?’ Not in this universe, apparently.
“Yes!” the Doctor exclaimed, as Buffy yelled, “Just GO, Spike!”
“I beg your pardon?” William asked, eyes darting to Buffy.
“The physician, please,” the Doctor reminded him, urgent.
“Right. Right, of course.” William stared at Buffy curiously for a few more awkward seconds, and then he ran.
“Doctor Jones?” Buffy asked under her breath, eyes trained on the woman.
“Oh, sure. She's in Lambeth, like I said. But… in 2008. Can’t have him coming back, though, can we?”
“Boy howdy. Yay for the wild goose chase.”
“He doesn’t really look like a Spike.”
“Doctor? Energy being. I’m pretty sure she’s… energizing.”
“And you’d call this hostile behavior, wouldn’t you?”
He shook his head back and forth once, contemplatively, without answering.
“Right. And she hasn’t started the electro-whatsit? So I’m okay if I touch her?”
“Er, hasn’t started yet, but she’s preparing for it. Feel that in the air? Any second now. Let me --” the Doctor reached into his pocket, pulling out the small metal box.
“Yeah, that’ll be great,” Buffy said. “You get that thing booted up, and I’ll just..”
Buffy took two bold steps toward the energy being.
“Hey, Surge! You require a vessel? How ‘bout me? You can start... with my fist!”
Buffy backhanded the woman, putting her full slayer-strength into a hit for the first time in what felt like forever.
She fell, unconscious.
“Not my best quip. Still, I wasn’t sure that was gonna work. Never know if you can knock someone out when they’re possessed.”
A blue spark crackled, coming from somewhere in the vicinity of the woman’s ear.
“Well,” the Doctor said, approaching Buffy with the cigar box in his hand and kneeling next to the woman. “Blow to the head, force against the brainstem… She was using that brain, after all…”
He held the sonic to the woman’s head, the box open on the floor next to them. Crackling blue-green energy gathered around her, pouring from her ears, her closed eyes, her slightly opened mouth, until it was a cloud around her. The Doctor guided the energy with the screwdriver like a conductor directing an orchestra, moving it without touch into the box. After several moments the crackling energy slowly faded, then stopped.
“It does need a vessel on a planet like this,” the Doctor said, quiet. “It didn’t understand. Couldn’t leave the vessel in a hostile environment; the survival instinct was too strong. Once it’s home, it can exist on its own plane without possessing a body.”
“Can it get out of there?” Buffy crouched next to him, gesturing with one hand at the box.
“Not until I open it,” the Doctor said, closing it gently and somehow slipping it into his pocket.
“Will she wake up?” She trailed her fingers along the woman’s cheek, where a vivid purple bruise was already forming.
“No. It was too close to the transfer. Too much damage done already.”
Buffy sighed. “And now?”
“Now we tell the police so they can notify her family, and we take the energy being home.”
Buffy stood, smoothing her dress and brushing off her hands.
They’d just started walking when it hit her. Pain, worse than she’d felt since arriving, shooting through her chest and out into her limbs and torso, throbbing so intensely she could suddenly see the pulse behind her eyes. Pain, like Olaf’s hammer slamming into every part of her body at once. Pain like a backhand from Glory. Pain like being shot, being staked. Like all the pain she’d ever felt, combined. Suddenly, it was impossible to stand, impossible to keep her eyes open. She fell; first onto her knees, and then onto her arms and stomach. Then, everything went black.
Eyes fluttering, opening slowly against harsh light, Buffy awoke, disoriented.
“Dawn?” She struggled to sit up, growing dizzy, and flopping unsuccessfully onto her back.
Wires tangled around her, round plastic sensors hanging off them, stuck along the insides of her arms. An IV poked out of the back of her left hand, cold and painless, but mentally intrusive. There was something on her head - she reached her right hand up to pat whatever it was, dislodging a sensor from the crook of her arm in the process, and felt dozens more resting atop her head, knitted into some sort of cap.
Groaning in protest, Buffy pulled the cap from her head and grabbed at the sensors along her arm, pulling them off in a long row, and grimacing at the feel of dozens of round, plastic stickers coming off of her skin in a series of snaps. They brought her attention to the pain lacing through her: dull, throbbing, and disorienting.
Pulling the sensors off had triggered some sort of beeping nearby, creating a pounding in her head like a tiny construction worker trying his damndest to break through her cranium with a jackhammer. She couldn’t quite remember where she was, but she knew this hadn’t been where she’d fallen asleep. Something was wrong.
Someone rushed into the room, hovering over her. He tried to stick a sensor back onto her arm and she flailed, crying out in pain even as she successfully batted him away with a solid thud to his chest. He said her name, first soothingly, then with greater urgency, and gripped her shoulders firmly but gently.
She forced her eyes to focus on her surroundings even though they seemed to be having some trouble focusing at all. She saw a blur of brown above her.
“Where’s Dawn,” she asked fuzzily as she tried to take in her surroundings. White. Metal. Hospital? No, not quite.
“Safe,” said the brown blur, adjusting something to her left. “Home. Please try to relax.”
Home? Where’s home--? Where was this, if not home?
It all came rushing back. The parallel world, the Doctor, the TARDIS, dorky human parallel Spike, the energy being, and everything going black as pain like she’d never felt in her life threw her to the ground.
“Oh.” Buffy stopped struggling. The pain receded. Frowning, the Doctor released her shoulders and, seeing her relax, repositioned the sensors along her arms.
“What do you remember?”
“Everything,” Buffy said, voice hoarse. “I’m sorry. I didn’t -- I was disoriented. Did I hurt you?”
“Please,” the Doctor dismissed, sticking a sensor onto the inside of her right wrist. “You should still be sleeping, letting the anti-inflammatory take effect.” His expression darkened. “I’m always just a little bit off on your physiology. And I’m never off.”
“What happened? Did that transmoggy-thing start, after...?” Buffy pushed herself into a seated position, letting out an impolite grunt.
“No,” he said quietly, frowning in concentration, or maybe deflection.
“So… Did you take it home? The energy being?”
“Yes. It was thrilled to be home; its family was waiting. Lovely reunion. Job well done all around, except for the part where you were unconscious in the med bay the whole time.”
“Okay. Good,” Buffy looked down at her arms, confused. “Do I really need all these sticker things? What can this even be reading?” She fiddled with the cap thingy. “Or is it just a fashion statement? Thirty-first century chic? I think I’d prefer a trip to Bloomies.”
“It’s an electrode sensor net. It measures brain activity.” His voice was terse as he tugged the cap back onto her head and turned away, studying something on a medical cart nearby.
“Why are you measuring that?” She pulled at the cap, trying to get it centered on her head and stifling a giggle as she imagined what she must look like.
The Doctor looked up at her sharply. “Stop fussing with it.”
“What knocked me out?”
He didn’t answer.
“Is this because I punched her?” He continued to ignore her. Defensive, Buffy continued. “She was going to start that brainsuck any second. I waited as long as I could! You didn’t say it was going to knock me out like that.”
“Are you in pain?” He shined a light into her eye, craning towards her with his mouth half-open, studying her with narrowed eyes and furrowed brow. She swatted his hand away. Without speaking further, he moved back to the cart.
“Did I do something?”
“What?” He looked up at her from the cart, glasses halfway down his nose, projecting an air of irritation.
“You seem… mad.”
He looked down again, rummaging through the medical supplies on the cart, his raised eyebrows hinting at some unspoken irony.
“If I did something that made this happen -- I was just trying to protect you from the energy thing. I didn’t know--” Voice raspy, she stopped, struggling to gather her thoughts. She cleared her throat and tried again. “I’m sorry that you had to bring me back here and take care of me. But thank you.”
He didn’t look at her as he spoke, words clipped. “It wasn’t the energy being. It’s nothing to do with that.”
“Oh. So what’s wrong?” She narrowed her eyes at him and he became a little bit blurry again.
He swallowed, letting out a sigh and rubbing at the back of his neck.
“I don’t know.”
It suddenly occurred to her that he was lying.
She looked down at her arms again - at the IV sticking out of her, and the dozens of round sensors. But something else was missing.
“The patch. It stopped working?”
“No,” the Doctor replied, turning back to her suddenly, expression bordering on desperate, eyes wide. “It was still working.”
“But it wasn’t enough anymore,” Buffy deduced, knowing she was right by the way his expression shuttered. “My cellular sunburn’s - what? Peeling?”
He laughed hollowly, throwing the flashlight onto the cart with a thud. “Could say that.”
“So, what, then? I just get to be in pain from now on? Or do I fade away?”
“I don’t know,” he said again, roughly swinging a monitor mounted on the wall towards him and staring closely at it.
She gnawed at her lip for a moment, at a loss. Honestly, he seemed more upset than she felt. The pain earlier was majorly crappy, but there was no need to get all worked up over it. At the moment she felt kinda... relaxed, even. She wasn’t sure how to console him, until his earlier question echoed in her mind.
“It doesn’t hurt much, now. Just a headache,” she said, pleased when he met her gaze. “That said, I feel a little loopy. Like being drunk, or under a spell. Hmm. Or both,” She paused, tilting her head just slightly and enjoying the slight vertigo it caused, even though her head still hurt. “Minus the cave Buffy. ”
“Cave Buffy?” He peered at her from over the monitor.
“Mmhm. This one time, I drank some bewitched beer that turned me into a caveman. Cavewoman. Cave Slayer?”
“Cave Buffy,” she agreed. “So whatever you have me on has the pain down to a bad headache and a bit-o-loopy as a Buffy bonus. That’s all.”
He smiled at her, but it didn’t reach his eyes. Apparently satisfied with the readout on the monitor, he pushed it back towards the wall and approached her again. This time, he assisted her with removing the cap and sensors along her arms, peeling each one gently and lightly smacking her hand away when she started trying to pull them off in a row again.
“Careful, that’s 62nd century technology right there. Hold still.”
“I thought you wanted the scanny dealies on me?” Buffy asked, watching as he removed the last sensor.
“You were mid-scan, before. We’ll do another one in a few hours, but there’s no point keeping you.. plugged in, like this. Are you hungry?”
“A world of no. There is no part of me that wants to eat right now.”
He frowned again, and fiddled with the equipment to her left.
“Adjusting the medication. It’s hard to tell how much you need. I’m trying to minimize the pain without causing appetite loss or nausea.”
“But I don’t usually have an appetite. And I never get nausea. Not even that time with the mama bezoar. And that was gross.”
“There was slime,” she said, leaving it at that. “How long was I out?”
He pursed his lips, evaluating her. She got the impression he was trying to judge how cogent she was. She rolled her eyes.
“I said a little loopy, not incompetent. Just tell me.”
“Whoa. Talk about a good night’s sleep.”
“Hardly. You almost --” He stopped himself, running a hand through his hair. “You’re stable now. The anti-inflammatory infusion seems to be working, and you say your pain is under control?” She nodded. “But I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what’s causing this. It’s like -- the cellular radiation is increasing, somehow. But you’ve been here for months, I don’t see why this would be changing now--” He rubbed the back of his neck again. “The patch didn’t even last a week, and I ran the calculations when I created it! I’ve run every scan I could think of. I don’t know what--” He grabbed at his hair in frustration, jaw clenched, dimple showing in his cheek.
“Calm down,” she said, poking his arm. “We’ll figure this out.”
“I don’t understand,” the Doctor complained, sitting on the edge of the bed.
“So we’ll figure it out.”
“No - you don’t get it. I’m the Doctor. This doesn’t happen! I don’t look at readouts and reports and not understand.”
“Welcome to the rest of the world.” Buffy smiled at him with an eyebrow raised. “It’s not so bad here. We have pasta, and swimming pools, and color comics on Sundays.”
“No.” His eyes flashed. “I’m a Time Lord. And I’m the Doctor. I fix things. This --” He grabbed the monitor again, swinging it so Buffy could see. Her heart rate and blood pressure were the only recognizable displays, the rest of the screen flashing rapidly in complicated graphs and equations. “doesn’t happen. Not to me.”
“I get it. Really. Control freakism is a thing I truly understand. Ask anyone! I mean, you can’t, actually, but take my word. I promise, though - whatever it is, it’s no big. We will figure this out. And either we’ll find a way to fix this, or I’ll get to be little miss loopy from now on. Trust me, I’ve faced worse.”
“Fix it how?”
She furrowed her brow in thought. “If this were my gig? In Sunnydale? I guess it’d be about time for research and donuts.”
“Research,” he repeated, skeptical.
“How are we supposed to research this, exactly? You are utterly unique in this universe.”
“Well, we need to know what this has to do with my universe, right? So we just need to find an expert on multiverse theory.”
“Yeah, that’s me. Genius, here. Unparalleled knowledge of multiverse theory. And I don’t understand what’s happening with you, as I said.”
“Okay,” Buffy said, an idea shaping in her mind. “So, someone who knows about multiverse theory and slayers. I mean, I know a little about slayers.” She raised her eyebrows thoughtfully. “I could probably tell you the average shoe size of the last three of us. And I know approximately how long one slayer needs to be technically dead before the next one is called. But I mean... slayer lore.”
Crossing his arms and looking up at her, he asked, “And just where are we supposed to find someone who knows about that?”
“I say we treat this just like a Sunnydale problem. When in doubt? Consult Giles.”
The Doctor’s eyes flickered between the IV in Buffy’s hand and her face. He cleared his throat. Ran a hand across his brow and then through his hair. Stood and walked back to the monitor, one hand planted restlessly on the back of his neck.
Sensing an argument, Buffy continued, “You said you wanted to check up on him. We can time it for a while after we left. Might as well make sure the Council’s still going to their Evil Anonymous meetings, staying off the juice.”
The Doctor met her eyes again, but didn’t respond.
“He knew a lot. Right? About slayers. I mean, nowhere near as much as my Giles, but...” He stared at her some more. She trailed off.
He cleared his throat again, furrowing his brow slightly, finally lowering his arm.
“No,” he said, then swallowed. “It’s a good idea. Brilliant idea.”
“So then what’s with the dire?”
“Nothing.” He looked away. “I’ll just .. go, lock onto his signature. Won’t be long.”
He turned, beginning to walk away.
“Hey! What am I supposed to do? I’m all.. attached.” She gestured to the IV in her arm, the wires around her.
He turned back, stared at her again, his face unreadable. “Stay there. I’ll rig up some kind of mobile medication administration system once we pick him up.”
She studied him. When she spoke, her voice was quiet. “Is it really that urgent?”
He swallowed again, turned, and left.
Alone, Buffy raised her hand in front of her, studying the needle poking into her skin. It didn’t hurt, but it was cold. She could relate.
She fell asleep, again, at some point. It was hard not to, drugged as she was. She awoke slowly to the sounds of voices somewhere nearby. This time, she knew where she was, and the sting of hearing Giles’ voice in the distance, and knowing he wasn’t her Giles, had her struggling to ignore a slight tightness in her throat.
The voices grew closer. She kept her eyes closed, moderating her breathing until it was the slow in-and-out of near-trance that her Giles had taught her. Her headache receded and she felt her pulse slow as she drifted into a meditative state, but that was merely a positive side effect. The Doctor had not been telling her everything. Morally-ambiguous-parallel-universe-Giles was probably not going to be much better.
“So you’re saying the cellular swelling has increased,” Giles said, a slight echo following his words. She knew by his tone that he was deep in research mode already, heavy on the analysis and light on the emotion.
“Density, too. I took a soft tissue sample. It’s gone from 108 to 400 Hounsfield units in a week.”
“That’s not very promising.” The echo dissipated. He must have stepped into the room, then. Footsteps sounded, growing closer until she was sure he was hovering just above her. “Has she awoken?”
Buffy thought she could hear him cleaning his glasses.
“She was awake, before.” the Doctor said, and his voice - farther than Giles’ - sounded like he needed to clear his throat. “She’s on two milligrams of hydromorphone per hour and 14 milligrams of dexamethasone per day. I need to see how she reacts, how quickly she develops a tolerance... Her physiology is just so fast at metabolising everything.” Something squeaked loudly, maybe a chair, and she heard a soft sigh come from the other side of the room. “It all burns out of her quicker than human… Than Time Lord, even, and if I can’t keep her stable…”
“That’s quite a lot of both,” Giles said, gently brushing a strand of hair away from Buffy’s forehead. She kept her breaths measured, fighting any sign of a reaction.
“It’s probably still not enough.”
“And if it’s not?”
“You tell me.”
“Honestly?” Giles turned away from Buffy. She could sense him moving across the room. “I’m not sure it matters one way or another. I told you - the molecular structure is problematic. She doesn’t belong here.”
“Well, she’s here. How do we fix this?”
“You’re treating a symptom, Doctor.”
The chair squeaked again and the Doctor’s voice suddenly rang out much nearer to Giles’, a loud shock in the quiet room. “You think I don’t know that?”
As abruptly as he’d raised his voice, he was silent.
A beat, and Giles responded. “Magic can’t exist here. The Watchers learned that aeons ago. Magic is the source of her power. Magic was always meant to be the source of the slayer’s power; that’s why we failed. It’s stitched into her every molecule. She’s made of magic, fueled by magic. She can’t exist here. No amount of … corticosteroids is going to change that.”
“Either she goes home, or she dies. And you can’t send her home.”
Buffy waited for the words to sink in, waited for some reaction from herself. Some emotional upheaval. Some inability to hold back a scream. Some desperate plea bubbling up through her lips. Some desire to throw something. Nothing came.
“No. I’m going to fix this. If I can’t do that.. then what’s the point of me?” Eyes still closed, Buffy sensed him moving closer, and suddenly the room filled with the buzz of the sonic screwdriver, hovering over her head. “There has to be something.”
“I assure you there’s not. You know there’s nothing we can do. I’m certainly… pleased to see Buffy again. But I’m not sure how you expected me to help. It’s not a matter of finding a solution.. There isn’t--”
The Doctor interrupted. “She wanted.. Don’t you even --?” The buzzing stopped. “The way she speaks of you… This you, her you. Both. I’d have thought--”
“Of course I care,” Giles shot back. “The impact she’s made on… And if there were any way -- but there’s nothing we can do. We can’t send her home. She’ll stay here and she’ll die, as everyone must.” She heard him step closer to the Doctor. “And no, it’s not fair. But she made a difference while she was here. That has to be enough.”
“No.” The Doctor’s voice was a mere grumble.
“You can treat the pain, but the swelling’s going to come back once she develops a tolerance for the dexamethasone. And with her biology, it’s going to happen quickly. Maybe you delay the inevitable, for a while.. Try other drugs, other treatments… but you can’t pull the magic out of her molecular composition. And you can’t take her home.”
Buffy felt a whoosh of air hit her face as the Doctor abruptly turned away.
“You need to tell her what’s happening.”
“Shut up a minute!” The room went silent and Buffy imagined the annoyed look on Giles’ face - narrowed lips and eyes, small huff of breath out of his nose, crease in his forehead showing. There was no doubt he was making that face. The thought of it caused a tiny flare of amusement, drawing her attention again to the dearth of other emotion. “We can’t send her home.” The Doctor’s voice was suddenly animated.
“No. We can’t.” Giles agreed, and she could imagine the eye roll easily.
“Because our means of opening walls between worlds is physical. Scientific. And impossible to do, without ripping the multiverse apart.”
“I’m not seeing your point, Doctor.”
“What if they could bring her back?”
“Her universe. Magic. What if magic could bring her back?”
“What difference would that make?” Giles asked, voice drifting farther away from them again as he moved across the room. “We don’t have magic. There’s no way to access it and no way to reach her universe to tell them to try.”
“What if her universe is already trying?” The Doctor stood over her, placing a hand on her shoulder. “Buffy.” He shook her gently, and she let herself stir, trying to portray a convincing waking-from-drugged-sleep.
“Wha--?” Buffy groaned, sitting up and blinking her eyes open. The Doctor looked at her eagerly, but Giles met her eyes from across the room, where he leaned against the clean, white wall, and raised an eyebrow. Feeling caught out and a little ridiculous, she asked, “What’s up?”
“How many people have you seen?”
“Ever? Gosh, I don’t know. Do you have a really big abacus handy?”
“Since getting here,” he said, rocking from his heels to the balls of his feet, hands in his pockets, eyes trained on her.
She looked at Giles, hoping for some kind of guidance, but he was studying the Doctor, face as blank as a mask. “Well, there was you two - and Quentin - and--”
“No.” The Doctor crouched down so he was at her eye level, eyes bright. She scooted back a little bit, sitting up more fully, leaning away from his sudden energy and proximity. “Your people. Your universe’s people. Alternate versions.”
“Oh. You know, you’re not really the best communicator.”
She looked around the room, focusing her eyes on the far wall. Somehow, the Doctor’s hope and excitement hit her harder - felt worse - than hearing she was going to die.
Swallowing, she said, “Well, there was Harmony. She was, um, a classmate-turned-vampire, in my universe. I ran into her in a coffee shop.”
The Doctor nodded, still crouched beside her. Giles watched evenly from across the room.
“Then there was Quentin. And…” She nodded her head towards Giles. He nodded back in acknowledgement.
“Right, good. Who else?”
“Well, Willow.” She looked at Giles. “A friend, from my universe. You’d like her.”
“And the nefarious ‘Spike,’” the Doctor added, exaggerating the k. “Anyone else?”
“No, don’t think so. Oh, wait! This, um, manager. Of the diner I was working at, in L.A.. I knew him, in my world. Same diner. Same manager.”
“And did it ever occur to you that it was highly unlikely to meet so many duplicates from your world?” He stood quickly, spinning around to meet Giles’ eyes. “Really very unlikely. Impossible, even! Or it should have been.”
“It’s not like I’ve done this before,” Buffy said.
“I have! Recently, even. Met a few duplicates. But they were all connected, and we sought them out. Didn’t meet them on the street, everywhere we went, across thousands of miles and hundreds of years.”
“So you’re saying that’s her universe, reaching out to her?” Giles took off his glasses, looking at the Doctor with unbridled interest.
“Could be! Could take months of establishing traces, links to our side… Strengthening that connection, before it finally takes hold. Maybe this is how it’s manifested. When I sent a message to another world, it took me over three months to get through, and I was just sending a projection.”
“And is someone likely to be sending a message, or trying to get her back?”
“Willow.” Buffy said, voice hushed. “Willow would. If she thought I wasn’t really.. gone, or knew I was in another dimension...I told you. She’s been getting so powerful.”
“Magic!” the Doctor answered, meeting Giles’ eyes with a nearly manic expression.
“That doesn’t change the fact that we can’t utilize magics ourselves, or contact this... Willow through the void.”
“One problem at a time!” The Doctor jumped over to the monitor, swiveling it toward him and tapping the screen rapidly.
“Look, no offense to the sudden gung-ho, but I really don’t think Harmony Kendall was trying to reach me from beyond the void.”
“Of course not. That’s not the point.” the Doctor dismissed, focused on the monitor. “It’s in the traces. Traces of your universe, reaching out to you. People you know. Sights you’d seen. You said you woke up somewhere familiar. You settled somewhere you knew, in Los Angeles. You saw people from your world, even before you and I met. It started right from the beginning. That’s your universe, calling you.”
Giles stepped toward the Doctor. “So that means…”
“Maybe magic can pull you back. And maybe magic can get beyond the void without shattering the walls between the worlds. It doesn’t behave the way science does. It has a symmetry to it.” He smiled at Buffy. “Could be, it doesn’t force the walls open at all. Maybe you just get pulled right back through - like a magnet. Like gravity.”
Some sudden awareness flashed in Giles’ eyes. Before Buffy could ask what had given him that look, he’d stepped forward, cleared his throat, and addressed the Doctor. “In light of this… additional information, I believe I have some books that might be of some assistance in learning more about trans-universal travel.”
“Get them!” the Doctor yelled gleefully. Giles turned quickly, exiting, and leaving Buffy alone with a wide-eyed Doctor, who was running his hand through his hair until it looked like a rat’s nest.
“Might have a few things in the library, as well,” he mumbled to himself. He turned to Buffy. “You a fan of libraries, Buffy Summers?”
She raised her eyebrows in consideration. “Spent most of high school in a library. Though I did a lot more aerobicizing than reading.” She paused. “Ooh, did I not mention? Giles was my high school librarian.”
“That is.. not at all surprising.” The Doctor bent down next to her and began to set aside the wires. “Come on, then. Let’s get you mobile.”
She turned and looked at him, holding still until he met her eyes, and clasping a hand over his forearm. “If I don’t get pulled home… I heard, before. I know there’s not much time. And I’ll be okay. I was ready to go, when I jumped. It’s not your fault.”
He held her gaze for only a second before his eyes dropped down, and he began detaching wires again. When he was finished, he looked up at her.
“How about those donuts?”
“Mmm, that’s quality jelly,” Buffy murmured, holding up a piece of her donut thoughtfully. She sat on what she’d immediately dubbed the ‘comfy couch’ in the (really freaking huge) TARDIS library, rigged up to a portable IV drip thing, but otherwise pretty darn comfy herself. They’d been there for hours. She’d been trying her best to ignore the intense research vibes coming from just behind her, where the Doctor and Giles sat reading and writing rather intensely; she’d decided to let the brainy types dwell on her imminent demise without her. Her main life concern, from now on (probably literally): donuts.
“Is it possible this universe has better donuts than mine?”
“Could be,” the Doctor responded, not bothering to look up at her, “but I’d guess it’s just the TARDIS that has better donuts.”
“So? That’s still a yes.”
He looked up at her, raising his eyebrows in careful consideration. “Huh. S’pose it is.” He returned his focus to the table, jotting down what Buffy had assumed were completely incomprehensible equations, but what looked like (from what she could see from the comfy couch, if she craned her neck a bit) big, circular doodles. Hey, how he liked to work was his deal.
“Look at this,” Giles said from the other end of the table, standing and walking over to the Doctor with a heavy, musty-looking tome in his hand. “I have every reason to believe this may prove problematic, indeed.”
Buffy turned her attention back to her donut, sucking the jelly out of the remaining piece. Yum.
The Doctor let out a frustrated sigh. “My equations have been indicating the same. It’s almost like--”
“Exactly, same principle,” the Doctor agreed. He threw his pen on the table, standing up, and beginning to pace. “Where did you get that book, anyway?”
“Watcher’s archives. Interdimensional travel and magics have always been a particular.. niche interest among a subset of watchers, even if the study has been purely theoretical.”
“But why? Why bother?” The Doctor grabbed at his hair. He was beginning to look less attractively unruly and more flat-out crazed.
Giles shrugged. “We always assumed that there were parallel worlds where magic could, and did, exist. It was an ambition of the Council to cross over, if the opportunity ever presented itself, so we did our best to estimate what ramifications would occur, if we did. We base our assumptions around foundational quantum physics coupled with the original summoning texts used by the Shadow Men, and go from there… See?”
Giles pointed at the page in his big, old, dusty book. The Doctor paced over to him, looked for a short moment, and paced back. “And the source of the texts used by the Shadow Men?”
“Thought to be derived from an interdimensional traveler with access to magics - a dimension with a slayer. According to lore, this wanderer’s information sparked the decision to try to create a slayer here.”
“Of course. So not just theoretical. Theory derived from actual magical texts. You’ve combined the ‘physics’ of magic, and the ‘physics’ of interdimensional travel, and, well, physics.”
“Precisely, which is why I feel fairly confident in saying--”
“Are there any with sprinkles?” Buffy interrupted, turning her upper body towards them while making sure not to dislodge the IV in her arm.
The Doctor stared at her, hair askew, the very picture of anxiety.
Giles, meanwhile, shot her an icy cool look. “Aren’t you even a little interested in this? It should concern you far more than... sugary treats!”
She knew it would just peeve him further, but she couldn’t help the grin that spread across her face. “Whoa. Do that again! That was just like my Giles. It was uncanny, really. Now you just need to tell me I’m not taking my sacred duty seriously and make that really annoyed-Giles-face at me.”
He pursed his lips at her, crease standing out in his forehead.
“Ooh. There it is! You know, you’re still the only person in the world who can look that annoyed at me. Universal truth. Make that multi-universal truth.” She toasted him with the remaining bite of her donut, then popped it into her mouth.
“If you’re quite done, you might want to listen to what else we’ve found.”
Buffy chewed thickly. Swallowed. “‘Kay. Shoot.”
Giles approached her, placing his hands on the back of the couch a couple of feet from where she was seated and leaning forward, meeting her eyes seriously. The Doctor, meanwhile, began pacing again. “We have reason to believe that, even if your people are able to successfully pull you back into your universe, your time here may have… tainted you.”
“But I can fix it,” the Doctor added, tone fierce and certain.
Giles raised an eyebrow at him in an expression Buffy recognized plainly as ‘be quiet,’ before continuing. “Now, what I mean by that is that, as we mentioned, your universe and our universe are fundamentally incompatible. You’re going to… continue to face difficulties, if you remain here, but now that you’ve spent time here, the same might hold true back, well, back in your home universe.”
“So, what’s the deal, then? Damned if I do, damned if I don’t?” Out of donut, Buffy tangled her fingers, twisting them in idle tension.
“It seems---” Giles started.
“Weell, no.” The Doctor stopped his pacing abruptly in front of Buffy. “I can fix it.”
“And just how is that, Doctor?” Giles stared at him in clear skepticism.
“Erase every trace of this universe from her,” the Doctor replied, eyes trained on Buffy. His voice was quiet, serious, but his tone somehow reflected a sense of desperation that Buffy was had observed growing steadily worse since they left Victorian London. Did he really care about her this much? It didn’t make sense. It was like she wasn’t the thing he was reacting to, not really. Like he was losing his cool on some deeper level.
“It’s not physical -- it’s, it’s metaphysical. It’s not nearly that simple! How on earth do you propose to do that?”
“No, no, it is. It’s more than physical; you’re right. In fact, her physical form is irrelevant.”
“How do you figure?”
“Well, it’s far more likely that she left her original body in her universe than that she’s wearing the same one she used back home.”
“‘Scuse me?” Buffy asked. “What body is this, then?” She poked herself in the leg. “I’m not a robot, am I?”
“No, it’s identical, most likely generated the moment you emerged here. But if they pull you home, it won’t be physical. Can’t be, with the walls as they are. It’ll be metaphysical. Your consciousness. Not your body. Have to figure, you left a body vacant back home.”
“They better not pull me back into a decomposing Buffy corpse,” Buffy frowned, but Giles spoke over her.
“And it’s those traces of this universe upon the consciousness that cannot be removed!” He indignantly pulled off his glasses in a smooth motion. “I refuse to allow you to give her hope where none exists. It’s cruel.”
“Two points - two small points - miniscule, really, but important nevertheless, so pay attention.” The Doctor shoved his hands in his pockets with a fair amount of force, staring at Giles with a fierce glower. “One: there is always hope; there is nothing wrong with reminding someone of that and, two - I believe I mentioned this earlier, but I’ll just reiterate: I can fix it.”
“Time Lord, remember? I’m telepathic.” For some reason, he wiggled his fingers in illustration.
“Oh. I see.”
Buffy raised her hand. “Guys? You’re sorta becoming less and less understandable. Or I’m feelin’ the meds again.”
“Sorry,” Giles muttered, rubbing his eyes and replacing his glasses.
“Right,” the Doctor agreed.
“I think it may have been both,” Buffy added.
“Understandable,” Giles said, a faint smile on his lips. “So this universe and your universe are incompatible, as I said. Your time spent here means you are now incompatible for your home universe, as well.”
The Doctor piped up. “It’s like… imagine a mermaid.”
Buffy raised her eyebrows at the Doctor. “I already was.” She narrowed an eye at him. “How’d you know?”
Giles let out a faint, annoyed snicker, folding his arms and evaluating them silently. The Doctor continued, gesticulating enthusiastically as he spoke.
“A mermaid belongs in the water, right? Can’t live on land. Now suppose she’s left on land, and somehow adapts her breathing to the air. Her system changes. Can’t go back to breathing underwater, now.”
“That is a terrible metaphor,” Giles said, rolling his eyes.
“No, no, I liked it,” Buffy argued. “I like any metaphor that gives metaphor-Buffy a clam shell bra and a crab for a best friend.”
“Flounder was her best friend. Not Sebastian.”
“Crap, you’re right. Sebastian was the one all, like, ‘oh you can’t go up to the surface, stay here with your mean sisters; the humans are bad.’ He was the .. the.. Zazu.”
“Don’t you start, too,” Giles muttered, rolling his eyes.
“So, that’s you. The mermaid. But I’m.. the…”
“Ursula?” Buffy offered.
“No!” the Doctor exclaimed, affronted. “Absolutely not. I’m the helpful marine biologist who makes sure you can breathe underwater again when you’re ready to go home.”
“Does no one else hear that this is a truly terrible metaphor?” Giles shook his head. “Buffy. You can’t return home with traces of this universe remaining upon your consciousness, or you’ll die once you’ve returned. I believe the Doctor is trying to say that he can erase those traces using telepathy.”
Buffy looked between them. “Okay, what do you mean, traces?”
“It’s complicated,” the Doctor sighed, tugging at an ear. “Imprints. Awareness. Other... stuff. But memory’s one of the major components.”
“So you erase all my memories of this universe? What, right now?”
“No, no, I wouldn’t do that at all unless it was clear they were pulling you home.”
“And how will we know if they start pulling me home?”
The two men exchanged an uncomfortable look.
“We can’t be sure,” the Doctor said, just as Giles stated bluntly, “Medically, it will likely look a lot like slipping into a coma and dying.” Then they glared at each other.
“Boy, this just keeps getting better.” Buffy looked down at her lap, at the needle sticking out of her arm, up at the men - strangers, practically, weren’t they? Nice strangers. Caring strangers. But not family.
Suddenly, something clicked. This sucked.
“So, this is it, then? I die unless, somewhere out there, Willow’s working what is probably very dangerous magic quickly enough to suck me back into my old life? Do you have any idea how unfair this is? ‘Death is my gift?’ To give, and give, and give, apparently! It’s not enough that I die when I’m sixteen, that I had to kill the love of my life, that I had to choose between killing myself or my little sister,” she glared at Giles, “and some help you were with that.”
“Buffy--” Giles interrupted, confused.
“Shut up! I know you’re not him! It’s not the point!” She stood, yanking the IV out of her arm. The Doctor stepped forward in alarm and she held up a hand in warning. “No, that’s not enough. So I get here and, sure, I’m alone for months, and I think, well, maybe they’re better off without me. And maybe I get a little peace, even if I have no one. Then, oh, great, even better! I make a friend.” She threw her arm out in a wide gesture at the Doctor before crossing her arms over her chest. “Maybe I can actually do some good here, without being the ‘chosen one’ for once in my life. Maybe this time I can just be… me. Not the slayer. Just Buffy. But no, of course not. Now I get to fall into a coma and die, either way, and maybe, if I’m lucky, I’ll actually wake up in a decomposed Buffy-corpse back in my old life and have a few more months or years--” Her voice broke. “--of endangering the people I love before yet another baddie gets to kill me.”
She sat down again, leaning her elbows onto her knees and covering her face with her hands.
“Buffy, you need to let me put the IV back in.” The Doctor approached her quietly, sitting next to her, and placing a hand tentatively on her shoulder. Giles remained standing, watching silently.
“No. I’ve had enough.”
They sat in silence. The Doctor removed his hand from her shoulder, dropping it in his lap, no longer meeting her eyes. Giles stood and watched them for a long beat, finally walking over and sitting next to Buffy on her other side.
“It’s understandable, the way you feel.” He spoke softly, hands folded in his lap. The tone, the posture, was nearly identical to the man she’d left behind. It didn’t cheer her. “Of course it’s not fair. Of course a lot has been asked of you.”
Her voice was quiet. “I’m not used to sitting around and waiting to die. Diving in is more my style. Literally.”
“Buffy, there’s a very real chance--”
“You don’t know that. You can’t.”
“Everything points to your universe pulling you back. It’s only a matter of time.”
“And who says I’m better off? Who says they’re better off? Do you know how many times they’ve nearly died because of me? The other you -- I could shut him up with one name.” She turned to look at Giles. “The woman you loved was killed because of me. They always come for my family. My friends. Do you know how many times they’ve-- you’ve -- nearly died? Do you have any idea how often my people were targeted because they were close to me?”
“And how many have you saved?” asked the Doctor, still looking ahead. “Thousands? A thousand thousand? No. More. The whole world, several times over. The whole multiverse, when you defeated Glory.”
“Someone else will do it if I’m gone. Angel, or the next slayer. I just told you: I’ve had enough. Weren’t you listening?”
They were all silent for a moment.
“We’re not your family,” the Doctor said, voice harsh. “We’re not the friends you’ve had since sixteen. But even we can see you don’t give up. Saving the world, living in it. It’s worth it.”
“Maybe to you.”
“Right. Because it has to be! Someone has to stand up, and fight, and keep fighting even when you wonder if the whole world might be better off without you. Because the very real possibility exists that it won’t be. That the world needs you. That the sum total of your actions leaves the world, the universe, much, much better off.”
“So maybe I’m just tired of owing it to the universe!” Her voice grew louder, sharper. “ Maybe the idea of living a life for myself was actually really appealing. Maybe I don’t love the idea of Willow filling herself with enough dark magic to drag me back into a world where all I do is fight for the greater good.” She spat the words.
“And have you thought about leaving your world defenseless without you? Not just the world, no. The people who love you. Your sister.”
“She’ll be safe.”
The Doctor turned towards her, eyes dark, angry. “You had a life, here. Brand new. Started right from scratch. And what kind of life did you choose, Buffy Summers? Peace and rest? A boyfriend, eventually a husband, maybe a family? Piña coladas on the beach?”
He waited, but Buffy didn’t speak.
“No. You signed up for a fair bit of world saving, with me. But even before that, what did you do? You wandered, at night. Before you knew there were no vampires here, you patrolled. You looked for evil to fight. You knew you were in another world, and you kept at it. Because being the chosen one isn’t some burden you made do with in your world. It’s who you are. You will always choose a life of doing good over a normal life. So go back and do some good for the people who matter to you.”
She pursed her lips, silent, letting the seconds tick past. Finally, she held out her arm. Meeting her eyes for just a second, the Doctor held the sonic screwdriver over the needle, then the back of her hand.
“Re-sanitizing. It’s going to pinch.”
“I think I’ll manage.”
He stuck her with the needle.
A week passed. On day two, Giles voiced some concern about getting back to the Council, which was quickly dismissed by Buffy, who pointed out the obvious and refused to hear any argument to the contrary. (“This is literally a time machine, Giles. He’ll get you back right after you left.”) She didn’t consider that it still might be too painful to lose a slayer, even if she wasn’t, technically, his.
The Doctor wanted to show her a few more sights before she headed home. Rigged up to the mobile IV unit as she was, there was some difficulty in really enjoying travel, but he insisted.
“Why bother, when I’m not going to remember?” she’d asked him, fiddling with the IV line, sitting on the jump seat in the console room and letting her legs dangle.
He’d been setting coordinates, but looked up when she spoke; sad, distant. He didn’t meet her eyes when he responded,. “Just because you won’t remember doesn’t mean it wasn’t important.”
So they traveled. And when they weren’t traveling, the Doctor and Giles spent their time working and reworking rather complex equations pertaining to what Buffy could only hope was her imminent departure (and not demise). The Doctor seemed convinced she’d be leaving any day. Buffy wasn’t so sure.
He took them to the plains of Laranxa, where orange trees and a mauve sky cast an eerie glow all around them. That was cool enough, but when he handed her a pair of infrared sunglasses, it looked like the entire landscape was consumed in a rainbow of undulating wind.
He took them to the planet Batu, where three moons encouraged sentient plant life to grow vertically from the cliffs - which were higher than the highest Earth skyscraper. He’d explained why the plants reacted to lunar wavelengths instead of the light cast by the large, green sun (both were in the sky at once). Giles had stayed close, gently touching the low leaves on the vines, clearly listening, and had asked questions Buffy hadn’t begun to think of, about the role of chlorophyll, about the consumption of carbon dioxide. She didn’t really care about inverse-photosynthesis, but she imagined climbing the vines on the cliffs and touching the great, purple clouds, and for a moment she almost forgot that she was tethered to the ground via four milligrams of hydromorphone per hour administered intravenously.
He even took them to view (though not to walk on, of course) Ice-Ten, a planet covered in burning ice. It was white and blue and small. He and Buffy sat with legs dangling over the entryway of the TARDIS as they looked down on the planet. Giles stood silently behind them.
“Not dry ice,” he told them. “Burning ice. It’s 426 degrees.” He turned his head, looking at Buffy. “That’s 800 degrees fahrenheit. The only reason it stays ice is because the gravity is so strong that it compresses the water vapor into a solid state.”
She smiled, resting her head on his shoulder lightly, and forgetting, momentarily, about what Willow must be doing. About what the magic might do to her if she succeeded.
Buffy had to admit that, even if she only got to experience this right now - no possibility that she’d remember it in a few weeks, and a real chance she wouldn’t even be alive - it was worth it. It was incredible. It would be enough, just seeing these worlds. It would be amazing, seeing them with a friend who truly understood the burden of being a hero, who pushed her to accept she was one, too, regardless of her calling. But it was absolutely staggering, seeing worlds of beauty, with her co-hero, and a man who was (despite all differences, despite all impossibility) the essential essence of her mentor and closest ally.
At the end of every trip, she’d find the Doctor waiting at the entrance of the TARDIS, face solemn. She’d grasp his upper arm fondly, narrow her eyes at him slightly, and pause, just for a second. It wasn’t easy for her, ‘thank you’-s, and ‘it means so much’-es, and ‘I couldn’t have done it’-s. But he’d nod back at her, and she knew he understood.
One day, after a week of beautiful planets, and after her second checkup of the day in the infirmary, the Doctor presented Buffy with some sort of small sensor, designed to attach to her mobile IV unit. Giles watched, silently and closely from where he stood, arms folded, on the opposite side of the room.
“It’ll alert us to any changes in your vitals or other important indicators,” the Doctor explained, “particularly with respect to your conscious mind.”
Giles stepped closer, letting his arms relax at his sides. “It’ll make sure we have enough time, in case it all starts while we’re … elsewhere.”
“Took a while to figure, is all.” The Doctor shrugged, then threw a bashful smile at Giles. “It was Rupert who twigged it, in the end.”
“Rupert,” Buffy repeated, looking between the two.
“Why, isn’t he called Rupert in your universe? Not -- Not ‘Mupert,’ by any chance, is he?”
Buffy just furrowed her brow, giving the Doctor an odd look. Giles mirrored her expression.
Shrugging, the Doctor clipped the sensor to the unit, giving it a little pat and watching a read out on the monitor for a moment after it was attached.
They needn’t have bothered. It was obvious, when it started.
She’d been in the media room, anxious for a bit of alone time after their day, watching some old Bollywood movie and allowing herself, for once, to miss her friends. Going subtitle-free just wasn’t the same without Willow and Xander’s interpretations.
That day, the Doctor, Giles, and Buffy had visited the planet Hayalet, where wispy gas creatures the color of amber, which the Doctor called the Buhar, and which Buffy thought resembled apparitions, had sung the most beautiful, joyous, unearthly songs. Giles had harmonized, and the whole moment was so surreal and so beautiful that Buffy wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry.
Now, she could do neither, as a scream was wrenched from her throat.
The metaphor of being ‘pulled’ was perfect. Dead on. It felt like every tiny part of her was being forcefully separated. Or maybe she was just dying. But this pain was different than what she’d felt since entering this universe. It was being pulled apart at her very seams. Like she was magnetized, like she was being pulled into a black hole and set on fire at the same time.
The Doctor burst into the media room a second later. He stood over her, and she looked up at him, and he asked her something, and she tried to concentrate on his words, but she couldn’t, all she could do was burn, and she could see Giles behind him, still in the doorway, face serious, so serious in a way her Giles had been, too, but that this Giles had perfected.
The Doctor’s mouth continued to form words, and Buffy forced herself to concentrate.
“...Get you to the infirmary, so we can monitor…”
She tried to nod.
He lifted her, and it didn’t hurt worse, but didn’t ease the pain either, and he brought her down the corridor and laid her back on that exam table she’d almost become possessive of since she’d first laid on it, that first day on the TARDIS when they yelled at each other for no good reason.
“You need to…” Giles started, but he wasn’t talking to her, and soon Buffy couldn’t focus on his words very well, not over the urgent beeping of the heart rate monitor and the persistent sensation of imploding and being sucked down a drain simultaneously.
The Doctor stood over her again. He spoke, loudly, and slowly, and she tried very hard to listen.
“Buffy, I need you to focus. They’re bringing you back. You’re going home. I’m going to erase all the traces of this universe, now.”
He paused, looking down at her, and for a second the pain faded enough for her to really concentrate. He looked sad, and scared, and so distraught, like he was reliving his worst nightmare. Somewhere around the pain and the cacophony, she remembered something he’d told her, back on the purple planet: “She had to forget it all ever happened. She doesn’t know me anymore.”
He’d done this before. And she was making him do it again.
“Hey,” she said, grabbing his forearm. “It’s okay. Thank you.”
He clenched his jaw, dimple showing, and his eyes shone with a new resolve. His words were fuzzy, but she heard him say, “...something good, instead, this time...” She attempted a smile, then looked behind him, at Giles, and mouthed ‘thank you,’ again. Silent, Giles met her eyes, and gave her a nearly imperceptible nod. She met the Doctor’s eyes, lifting her jaw just slightly. She was ready.
The Doctor swallowed hard, took a deep breath, and put his fingers to her temples.
It took forever, but it was instantaneous, too. All gone. The desert, and Los Angeles, and the Moon, and Washington D.C., and Roob, and London, and all the planets since, gone. Everything, gone. Never was, never would be. Instead, it was replaced with warmth and completion. A feeling so safe and secure that Buffy felt no sense of time, no sense of anything but love. It was instant, and it was forever. Eternity. Her reward.
Then, she woke up in her grave.