George Thurgood led his friend into the ballroom, with a laugh. "Ladies, William!" he cried. "The fairer sex! Man's better half! Surely, you haven't forgotten them."
William Foster stepped into the ballroom.
And there they all were. An array of some of the most beautiful women in the British Isles, all twirling about in their finery, eyes sparkling and curls bobbing beneath the candlelight. Their limbs swaying in time to every beat of the music.
And still others, on the sidelines, their blushing faces hiding behind fans, their gloved hands slender and delicate.
"Surely one of these ladies could be enough to stir up even your passions!" George said.
William felt his hands shaking, as his eyes searched through the ladies. Searched, in vain, for the one face he knew he wouldn't see. Ears desperately hoping for the one voice he knew he wouldn't hear.
She wasn't here.
She wouldn't be here.
She lingered only in his memory, burning there as brightly as the day he'd met her, six long years ago. Six long years of trying to move on, trying to find someone else, and knowing… there was no one. No one else.
Back in the days when he'd been aloof. Detached. The mild-mannered, 20-year-old accountant who'd let the world pass him by. He'd been walking home from a rather late business meeting, papers and business account books tucked beneath his arm, when he noticed two ruffians lurking in the shadows.
He walked a little faster.
They matched pace.
He began to run, and they raced after him. Chased him into an alleyway, where their yellow eyes seemed to pierce through the darkness, and their visages morphed to be something truly terrifying and monstrous.
Then one of them seemed to start back, in alarm. And dusted in the night air.
A woman stood behind him. Flowing locks of brown hair, pinned back behind her head, radiant blue eyes, her skirts pinned up like britches and a smile dancing on her lips. She held a wooden stake in her hands.
"I forgot how much I totally missed vampires," said the woman. "One stake through the heart, then — whoomp! Dead."
A small laugh. "Dawn," said a musical, lyrical voice, from just behind the woman. "We're supposed to be questioning them, remember?"
"Yeah, getting to that part," said Dawn, turning on the second ruffian, stake raised as she backed it against the far wall. "Okay, fang-face. Where's the alien warp engine?"
And the moment Dawn moved out of the way, William could see… just there, such a short distance away… the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen.
An angel, in a world of demons.
"See that lady, in the green frock?" said George, nodding to a tall lady standing not far away. "Miss Julia, of no small estate. Her dowry alone would be enough to make you a very rich man, indeed. And," leaning in closer, "between you and me, she is wilder than she appears, if you catch her in private."
"A lady of the lower gentry," William sighed.
George raised an eyebrow at William. "Well, of course!" He laughed. "Don't tell me you're looking to snatch up an aristocrat!"
William said nothing.
George's laughter stopped. "You're serious?" He shook his head. "Listen, William, be realistic. Marrying a lady is one thing, but to aim higher than—"
"But I must," said William. His voice shook with the suppressed passion he felt, as he uttered the words. "The most beautiful woman alive. The most vibrant, wonderful lady I have ever met. A lady whose birth surpasses everyone in this room. A lady whose domain is Time itself. I must aim for that."
Her clothing was plain, ordinary, lower class. Her blond hair lying flat and unremarkable against her shoulders, her face not done up, and no effort made to disguise the dirt beneath her fingernails.
But she shone through the darkness.
Her eyes so bright, sparkling even when no light was cast upon them. Her every movement fluid, graceful. Her face sculpted with the features of a goddess, yet kindness, caring, and compassion flowed through her every action.
She had called him "Billy."
They had run together. Raced through the streets of London, her laughter and enthusiasm infectious, words and phrases William couldn't understand bursting from her lips in abundance, her determination and bravery so focused, so intense.
They had battled monsters. Demons and monsters and terrors William had never imagined even existed. And she had protected him, even when he was frightened. Had gathered him up, given him courage, given him strength. Let him feel…
Then, when they'd been chased by a horror from a distant planet, one whose language only this beautiful lady could speak, she'd reached over to him.
And had taken his hand in her own.
And William had known… at that moment… that he was lost.
"You're an accountant, William!" said George. "Rich, wealthy, with an estate of your own, yes. But not particularly charming or handsome or even of high birth. If this lady you speak of is… an aristocrat—"
"Higher than that," said William. "Of more noble birth than even the Princess Charlotte."
"—then you can't possibly hope for this Lady of yours to return your affections!" said George.
William was silent for a long moment. A very, very long moment.
"But… she did," he whispered.
They had just saved the world. And they were laughing, laughing and crying out in celebration and triumph! Her face so brilliant and shining, her eyes dancing with cleverness, her hand still clutching his, so very tightly…
He had grabbed her up, in his joy, and kissed her.
She had kissed him back.
For a few seconds, they separated. Staring at one another.
Shocked at the barrier they'd just crossed.
Then they'd begun, again, more in earnest, their every movements fueled by love, relief, passion and a deep sense of need and longing. Her skin so soft and cool against his own. Her every movement driving him onwards. She had stepped inside his mind, and he — not even knowing what he was doing — had stepped inside of hers, and for a few blissful minutes, they were united. Body. Soul. And mind.
Remembered the way he'd held her, afterwards, looked deep into her eyes. Those lovely, large brown eyes of hers.
"I've never felt this way before," he'd confessed. "With you, I feel… so… alive. So… passionate. I can barely control myself."
And she had returned it with a smile so dazzling, so radiant, it burned away any ounce of self-control inside of him, and he grabbed her to him, once more, pulling her close, kissing her and never wanting to let her go…
But she had gone.
Six years, she had been gone.
The first year, William had hoped that she'd come back. Prayed that he would see her again. Hold her again. Feel the racing of her hearts beneath him, the luminosity of her mind as she drew him to her, the way her lips parted for him…
But she wouldn't.
He'd read the legends of her through the pages of history. She was the bright burst of sunlight that appeared in times of darkness, shone to burn away the evil that lurked in the night, before disappearing, once more, and never returning. She didn't just travel through time, as she'd said. She lived in it. Breathed it. Let it be the very essence of her soul.
And, at the end of that first year, William had realized.
She was a goddess.
He was an accountant.
She would never return for him. Because, in the end, he had nothing he could possibly offer her.
"I've tried to move on," William confessed. "I've tried to forget her. But…" He shook his head. "I have loved a goddess, George. An immortal, a drop of perfection — a Lady of Time, with two hearts racing in her chest. When you've loved a lady like that — how can any other even begin to compare?"
George stared at his friend. Jaw falling open.
"The legends say that a river of time flows through this city of Cardiff," said William, unfolding the note he'd written, upon his arrival here. "If she dwells in time, then this is where I will find her, again. I'm certain."
"You're mad," said George.
William checked the clock. Then the time he'd written on the note. His hands were shaking with… was it fear? Excitement? Worry?
He had to do this.
If only to see her, one more time. To look deep into her eyes, and say the words he'd been a fool not to, six years ago. The words he wished he'd said, the words he felt deep within his soul.
I love you, Seo.
"I have to go," said William, pushing past the ladies and other gentlemen surrounding him. His eyes still fixed on that address, on the page. The home where the river of time came through into this world. William's last desperate hope to see her, again.
He left the ballroom.
And stepped into the night.
"I… don't know about this," said William, when he was led into the basement, where the rest of the cult had gathered. He could feel himself trembling. Hesitation flooding through him.
"Our order seeks to harness the energies of time itself," the cult member explained. "We use the binding force of magic to uncover its full potential."
An even greater hesitation ran through William.
The cult member led him closer to the tendril of time that crept into their world. William could see it, glowing there, in the middle of a circle of chanting cult members — a golden burst of energy spiraling through the air.
And deep down, in its depths… deep in the darkness…
"Can you feel it?" the cult member whispered. "Can you feel it moving down there?"
William tried to speak, but his tongue was stilled by the sudden strong hesitation flowing through him. Had this been a mistake? Should he never have come? Was all this worth it, just to show one woman that he loved her?
"What is it?" William whispered.
From the circle of chanting, a voice rose up above the others.
"Abaddon," said the voice. "The Great Devourer!"
"Cast out before Time!" came another. "Chained in rock!"
"He feeds on life!" came a third. "Will feed on all!"
William stepped back, away from the cult members. He hadn't known about this. Hadn't known about Abaddon. Hadn't known about the Great Devourer.
"You said," the cult member reminded William, "that you knew someone who tread in time's pathways. One with supernatural powers — who lived and breathed Time itself."
"Yes," said William, trying to decide whether to race for the door, or remain here. "But… when we spoke, before, you never mentioned anything about this… beast!"
"It is the price for bringing her here," the cult member replied. "Through us… she will return to you. But in returning, she must first open the gates of Hell."
Such a price!
"No," William decided. Turning on his heel, and marching towards the door. "No. I… I can't go through with this. I've changed my mind."
His way was barred by five large men, each with mystical power radiating from them. Each with muscles far larger than William's own. And William realized… that just by entering this place, just by grasping at the opportunity that had been offered to him… he'd already surrendered himself to his fate.
"No backing down, now, I'm afraid," said the cult member.
William looked back at the mystical time energy, from the center of the circle. "No backing down," he breathed. His eyes fixed on that spot of darkness, deep inside. That flicker of movement in its depths.
They shoved him forwards, onto his knees, by the circle of chanters.
"Oh, my beautiful Seo," he muttered. "Please understand — it's what I have to do."
And it began.
Seo, where she stood in the middle of her time ship, turned her head, sharply. "Dawn?"
"Yeah?" said Dawn. She clambered down the nearest staircase and into the console room, half-eaten brownie in hand. "What's up? You found Gray, yet?"
Because trying to hunt him down had been the most fun activity ever over the past few weeks.
"No, I just… thought I heard someone call my name," said Seo.
Dawn raised her eyebrows. "Wasn't me."
Seo's brow furrowed. She turned back to Oliver's controls, adjusting them and redirecting them, trying to figure out what she had felt. What she had heard.
Dawn's eyes lit up. "Ooh! Maybe it's a monster!" she cried, racing over. "Like, going all super-psychic projection on Oliver!"
Seo grinned, despite herself. Glanced over at Dawn. "I thought you were supposed to be keeping me 'out of trouble'."
"Like that's ever worked," said Dawn. She took another bite of the brownie. "At this point, I've decided — what your mom doesn't know won't hurt her."
Seo's eyes went back to Oliver's control panels. She flipped a few more switches. "1826."
Dawn paused. Then walked forwards, seeing Seo's face turn very pale, her breath coming shallow, her eyes going unfocused.
"What?" said Dawn.
Seo turned to Dawn, her hands still gripping the console, behind her. "The psychic signal," she said. "It's coming from… 1826. When… Billy is."
That William guy.
Yeah, Dawn remembered Billy. The guy they'd run into, in 1820, who'd helped them get rid of those vampires, disarm a really dangerous device, and stop a massive alien invasion from taking place. He'd been young, cute in a kind of geeky Georgian accountant kind of way, and surprisingly brave and noble when they'd needed him to be.
Seo had totally fallen for him.
And Dawn had liked him, too. Primarily because he wasn't a nutcase.
Nope! Unlike Seo's other recent boyfriends — as far as Dawn could see, this Billy guy was totally sane and normal. And, actually, a pretty nice person!
"I've… been thinking…" Seo said, turning back to the controls of her ship. A blush spreading across her face, as she refused to look at Dawn. "It's a big ship for just the two of us. And we could use the company. So I just thought… maybe… if you don't mind… we could…"
"You wanna ask him to come with you, huh?" said Dawn.
Seo's blush deepened.
Dawn sighed. "Okay. How many people has he massacred?"
Seo put her hands on her hips. "Excuse me!" she retorted. "You were the one who fell for Gray!"
Dawn had to admit. That one… had been a mistake.
"And we still haven't found him, yet!" Seo continued, turning back to the controls. "Somewhere out there is an innocent, unsuspecting, and probably pretty heart-broken older brother, who's about to get a not-so-happy reunion with Gray — and — and — that's our fault, Dawn. All our fault!"
"You don't think… Billy's actually Gray's brother, or something?" asked Dawn.
Seo opened her mouth to speak again, when Oliver suddenly bucked, wildly, in the vortex, knocking both Seo and Dawn to the floor. The ship shook, rattled, and groaned, warning lights and alarms flashing.
"What was that?" Dawn shouted over the noise.
Seo tried to race over to the control console, poking and prodding at buttons. "It's coming from 1826," she said. "The Cardiff rift. Time's… splintering. Fracturing. Unstable."
The ship shook, again, and Seo only just managed to grab onto the console before she was thrown against the back wall.
"Brace yourself!" shouted Seo, trying to steer the ship, as the vortex energies slammed down against it. "This isn't going to be a smooth landing!"
The ship heaved, once more, and Seo tried to turn it against the time eddies, steering it past the waves and right into the center of the storm.
"I told you to install seatbelts!" shouted Dawn, clinging to Oliver's side.
"I learned French!" Seo shouted back. "What more do you want from me?"
And then they crashed.
Seo patted the side of her ship, with a pout. "Poor Oliver," she said. "It's just a lash of rift energy. You're going to be all right."
Oliver didn't look all right.
The ship looked pretty beaten, battered, and banged up. It was also smoking, in places, but apparently that was okay, because Seo had installed some self-healing steam system deep inside the inner mechanisms that was kicking into life. Dawn didn't get how that worked. But… considering she didn't get how any of the ship worked… that wasn't exactly surprising.
Seo spun around, at the voice, and a suddenly delighted smile lit up her face. "Billy," she breathed, as she began to sprint for the young man in the distance. Laughing, as she swept him into a tight embrace.
Dawn bit her lower lip.
Maybe she should just get on with saving the world while the two lovebirds got reunited.
Then William whispered something to her, and Seo pulled out of the embrace. Staring at him. "What do you mean, this is all your fault?"
Before William had scarcely said another word, Seo was dragging him back over to Dawn, telling him to go slower, explain to them what happened, explain to them exactly what was going on with the rift.
William hesitated. Looked up into Seo's eyes, gathered up his courage. And told them.
"I had no choice," he said. "It's been six long years since I saw you last. I thought… you might never return. I only wanted to see you once more. I only…"
"Yeah, that's great," Dawn cut in. "You don't have a murderous younger brother that was stolen by evil 51st century pain-feasting vulture aliens, right?"
William blinked. "I'm sorry?"
Dawn could see, in his eyes, that he didn't have the first idea what she was talking about. Which didn't discount the possibility that Gray was here, but meant William probably wasn't involved with whatever Gray was planning, if that was the case.
"Okay, just… go from the beginning," said Dawn. "What happened?"
William nodded, gravely. "There were these… people," he explained. "An order of persons with mystical powers. They wished to harness the power of time itself, control its river's flow. I heard about them. Came to Cardiff to discover how their secret worked. But they… they weren't…" William shook his head. "They were evil. Monstrous, evil users of black magic. They wished to sacrifice you, Seo, in order to raise a monster, a beast of unimaginable horror. One they called… Abaddon."
"Abaddon," muttered Seo, almost too softly to hear. A sudden intense pain swept across her face, as she brushed a lock of hair back behind her ears. Her eyes squeezed shut, head dropping. "Oh, that's just brilliant."
"But the energies they tried to control were too powerful," said William. "It all went wrong. I took advantage of the distraction and ran. Raced out to find you, in the hopes I could warn you the moment you arrived."
"And meanwhile," said Dawn, "across Cardiff, time's gone all weird mega-flashback on you?"
William nodded. "Vikings have attacked the ballroom, and an order of medieval knights has stormed the factory along the shore. Visions of tall buildings and metal, horseless carriages have appeared not far from here."
Dawn glanced over at Seo. Seo looked back up at Dawn. The two met eyes, and Dawn gave a pointed look.
"The people opening the rift…" Dawn started.
"No," Seo cut in. "It's not him."
"You sure?" Dawn checked. "Because you said you thought he was heading for Cardiff. 51st century technology would probably seem pretty much like 'magic' to someone in 1826. And I can think of a number of reasons Gray might be very happy to sacrifice you to an evil hell demon."
"I told you, vortex manipulator or no, he's almost certainly sticking to the 51st century," said Seo. "He might come back in time for whatever twisted purposes he has in mind, but ultimately, he wants his brother. And his brother's going to be in the 51st century."
"And what if Gray came here to get the hell demon out of the Cardiff rift, so he could bring it to the future and use it against his brother?" said Dawn.
"Sorry, whom, precisely, are you talking about?" asked William.
"No one," said Dawn and Seo, together.
William nodded, slowly.
"All right," said Seo. "All right! Fine. I'll look into it, before you and I close the rift. Just to make sure he's not around, trying to lure us into a trap."
"Any trap!" Seo said. She turned to William. "Do you remember where this magical group of yours was meeting? That spot the rift opened?"
William hesitated. His eyes flicking over to Dawn. "I… well, I suppose… it might be best… if this were… private, so to speak, and…"
Dawn sighed. "Yeah, thanks, I can take a hint." She pointed at the two of them. "Tell you what," she said. "You two find cult HQ. I'll just go do some… rift-activity… investigation-type-things somewhere else."
An excited grin spread across Seo's face. Her eyes glowing at the thought of being alone, again, with William.
Dawn went over to William. Clapped him on the shoulder. "Just bring her back by ten. Okay?"
William seemed confused by this. "Ten?"
Seo gave an irritated sigh. Grabbed up William by the arm, and tugged him away from Dawn. "Ignore her. She thinks she's being clever."
"You two have fun!" Dawn called, as she watched them race off into the night.
The moment they were out of sight, her mask dropped. And a look of deep concern spread across her face.
She looked down at the wallet she'd managed to pick out of William's pocket, a few seconds earlier. And opened it.
"So, William," she muttered, fumbling through the wallet's contents, "I've seen no evidence of any rift instability. And, second — you raced out here to warn Seo about a dangerous cult out to kill her, even though now, you want to get her alone. And lead her right back to them."
She picked out an address card for some rooms in Cardiff, and began heading off in their direction. "Call it a hunch," she said to herself, "but I think you've been up to something that you're not telling us about."
The moment William and Seo were alone together, their lips met, and they shared a long, passionate kiss. Seo on her tip toes, as he bent down, the two sharing in the passion and excitement that had characterized the end of their last adventure together. Seo let the kiss linger, wanting to extend the moment, wanting to remain close to him.
"Six years," William whispered, when they broke apart. "You have no idea how much I missed you."
Six years. She'd never meant for it to be that long.
"It's only been a week or two for me," Seo admitted.
He stepped away from her, his hands on her arms, his eyes staring into hers. His face soft, gentle, intense, looking at her as if she were everything in the world to him. As if she, alone, could make him crumble.
"You left," he said, very softly. "Before I awoke. You left and never even said goodbye."
"I... got scared," she admitted. Had woken up, realized what she had done, what line she had crossed with someone she'd thought of as a friend, and had completely freaked out. Raced back to Oliver, found Dawn, and left 1820 behind, trying to cover it up like nothing had happened at all.
But it had happened.
She couldn't forget that.
"I was always planning to come back," said Seo. "If I hadn't crashed in 1826, I'd have come back sooner."
"I've never stopped thinking about you," William said. "I can't. I've tried. I…" He took a deep breath, then pulled her closer to him, his arms around her waist. "I can't stand to be away from you, again."
Seo looked up into his eyes. Gave him a small smile. "Well, maybe you don't have to be."
His eyes seemed to glow with anticipation.
"I—" Seo began, but he got in, first.
"Then… you feel the same way!" William cried. "You feel…" He pulled away from her, his hands shaking a little, as he spoke. "I've thought about this for six years. Six long, lonely years." Leaning in closer. "Seo. Will you marry me?"
Seo froze. For a moment, she just stared at him, her eyes wide.
What the hell?!
"You… want me… to marry you?" Seo confirmed.
"I love you, Seo," said William. "With all my heart. Please. Live with me. Be my wife."
He leaned in to kiss her, again, but Seo pulled herself away from him.
"But… but…" Seo spluttered, "but we've only known each other for two days!"
"And those two days were the happiest I've ever had," William said. "Enough for me to know that I want to spend the rest of my life with you."
Seo stepped back. Her cheeks turning red.
"Billy," she said. "You're… brilliant and brave and heroic, and… I like you. Really, I do. But… I… just… can't marry you." She gave him her best sympathetic look. "I'm sorry. Really."
William's face fell. Shattered. Like someone had dropped him across the pavement and smashed him into a thousand pieces.
"It's nothing to do with you!" said Seo. "But marriage is a big step, and—"
"There's someone else," said William, his voice low, glum, dejected. "Someone from the future. Someone you love more than you love me."
"No, it's just… Billy, I'm not even completely human," said Seo. "The way I live, the things I do — it isn't for everybody. You've been exposed to a tiny droplet of my life, and based on that, you're prepared to drown yourself in it."
"So then… you think I'm not up to your standards," William said. "Because I am a human accountant. And you are a Lady of Time."
Seo felt her head spinning. "That's not what I meant!"
"Seo," said William, very quietly, "I've given up everything for you. Given up all I had so we could spend the rest of our lives together." He extended his hand to her. "Please. Spend it with me."
"We can't spend the rest of our lives together!" Seo said. Feeling a wave of utter desperation run through her. "Billy, just listen to me! I'm not human. Do you have any idea what that means?"
William said nothing. Didn't waver. His hand still extended, his face still determined.
"I don't think like you!" said Seo. "I don't act like you! I don't see the world the same way you do! And I don't live like you! You and me… we'll never be able to spend the rest of our lives together! Do you understand? Because you are a human being, with a lifespan of a hundred years or less, and I am an alien, who will live for thousands and thousands of years, changing bodies thirteen times along the way."
"Seo," said William, very quietly. His eyes stared at her, as he stepped forward, grabbing her up towards him. "I've given up everything for you. Don't you see? Everything I have. And everything I am."
Seo felt herself yanked towards him with a strength he should never have had. And stared, her mouth dropping open, as she realized… something was wrong. Something was very, very wrong.
"What's happened to you?" she whispered.
His grip loosened, as he saw the terror in her eyes. "There was… an accident. It's hard to explain." He draped a gentle hand across her shoulders, trying to reassure her, trying to comfort her, as he led her down the street. "Come. Let me show you."
The first thing Dawn saw, when she broke into William's rooms, were the clocks.
Dozens and dozens of clocks. Clocks on the floor. Clocks on the bookshelves. Clocks everywhere, all chiming out a different hour, all set to a different time.
And the face of every single clock was pointed towards a portrait hanging on the wall. One drawn from memory, possibly by William, himself. A portrait… of Seo.
"Okay," said Dawn, closing the door behind her. "That's kind of creepy."
But not nearly as creepy as the books she found, rummaging through his bookshelves. The many volumes of books on the dark arts. Books that Giles, himself, had told Dawn should never be opened. That Willow had always made a point of destroying, back at the Slayer Institute, whenever she happened to come across them.
Dangerous magic books.
Containing spells that should never, ever be used.
And every single one of these spell books had a special focus. A certain, particular kind of magic that it used. A certain magical energy it sought to manipulate.
"Time," breathed Dawn.
She stumbled back, then ran to the next room over. Grabbed up a journal, leafed through the pages. Every single page was filled with words about Seo. Every single line fixated on her. On time. On magic and the manipulation of energies.
"Oh, my God," said Dawn, "he's become obsessed."
She stopped, as she arrived at the final page of the journal. Read the final entry.
Every day I am without her, my heart breaks anew. I have nothing to offer her, nothing she might want. So it is up to me to become the man she most desires. To change myself for her.
Dawn snapped the book 'd just made a really big mistake. Really, really big mistake. Not only had Dawn seen no evidence, so far, of rift instability; she'd left Seo alone with some complete nutcase who was also a powerful telepath, had spent the last five years learning the world's most dangerous magic time spells, had finally arrived at the site of a major rift in space-time, and was completely and utterly obsessed with making sure Seo stayed with him forever.
This was a setup. For Seo.
And that meant whatever William wanted to do to Seo, it sure as hell wasn't going to be limited to lovemaking and a few stolen kisses.
This was way over there in crazy-stalker-land, now.
Dawn jumped to her feet. Sprinted, as fast as she could, out the door. She needed to figure out where Seo had gone, fast. Before it was too late.
Death still lingered in the house.
The house itself was immaculate. Scrubbed top to bottom. But Seo still smelled the traces of decomposing bodies in the air. Still felt the crackle of rift energy surrounding them, violent and fierce. Still saw the harsh lash of timelines chopped short, potentials snuffed out, lives lost and never regained.
Seo looked back at William.
Who turned a gentle, warm smile on her.
"The… group," said Seo. "That opened the rift. Everyone here. Did… did you kill them?"
"Yes," he said, very simply. Plainly. As if it didn't even matter.
Seo wrenched herself free from him.
"They wanted to use you to summon a monster," said William. "Feed your life essence to him, to fuel his power. He would have killed you, Seo. Then the world. I had no choice."
Seo looked around herself. Trying to block out the psychic traces and time distortion left in this place. "I could have stopped them without killing them," she insisted. "I could have found a better way."
William went up to her. His hand on hers. "And what if you hadn't?" he asked, his voice soft. "What if… I'd lost you? Forever?"
Seo couldn't answer.
"I can stop the monsters, too, now, Seo," he told her. "I can save the world. Keep you safe."
She jerked her hand away from his. "I don't kill people," she hissed, her eyes dark.
"I never intended for this to happen," William told her. "I only wanted to see you, again. To get one last chance to kiss you, hold you. To tell you I loved you. But they were going to destroy you. Destroy everything. They required a sacrifice. And so… I sacrificed… myself."
Seo felt a deep chill run over her. "What are you talking about?"
"The rift is not unstable," said William. "Not anymore. I've stabilized it, Seo. Locked the monster away from the rest of the universe. I've become the rift, and the rift's become me."
Seo stared at him. Trying to see past his exterior, see the trace of him through time, the arc of his time-stream and the flow of the universe around him. But… he was just normal William. He seemed as if he'd never changed a bit.
"I don't understand," said Seo. "How…?"
"You are a Lady of Time," said William. "And I, to save you, have become Time's master. I can see the twists and swirls of time as it makes its way around us. Feel the flow of the rift that runs through this house. And so many possibilities! Probabilities! I can see it all, Seo, the vast infinity of time and space, all of history at my fingertips."
Seo didn't answer. Backed away, a little farther.
"Marry me," William pleaded. "We can rule the universe together. Govern the domain of time with—"
"Rule the universe?!" Seo cried. She gave a sharp, incredulous laugh. "You think I want to rule the universe? Change around time and space on a whim?" She gritted her teeth, clenching her fists. "What the hell is wrong with you?!"
William's face fell. His eyes drifting to the ground. "I thought… you wanted everything. I thought…" He nodded, slowly, then turned away. "But I see, now," he accepted. "You want the universe. But you don't want me. Now that I am this way, now that I've been forced to give up my very humanity, just so you could survive…" He began to walk off. "Just remember. I love you. I'll always love you."
Seo felt her hearts break. Chased after him. "No, wait!"
He turned, looked at her, as she approached him. His eyes glum, desperate, lonely.
"Just… tell me what happened, here," Seo said. "What did they do to you?"
"They restrained me," William said. "Forced me into their ceremony. I could feel them… inside my mind. Trying to use me to target you. Release the evil monster upon the world." He looked away, into the distance, as if reliving the memory. "They worshipped Abaddon. As their god. Their salvation."
"But the energies they channeled went out of their control," William continued. "I didn't know what to do. I hoped that… if I stepped into the center of their circle… the beast might eat me and leave you. But instead… I became like this." He looked down at her. "Do you believe me?"
Seo hesitated. "How did they know?" she asked. "That I could open the rift? How—?"
"I don't know," said William. "I don't know very much of anything about magic, really. I'm sorry." He reached out to her, inviting her to his side. "Please, Seo. You're all I have left, now. Don't leave me."
She thought. Thought through everything he'd just said and everything that, given the physical evidence, might have happened here. She couldn't figure it. Couldn't quite get the story to work, inside her mind. The pieces kept… not quite fitting together.
But when she looked up at William, she felt her hearts crumbling, anew. Her every thought thrust aside, as he brought her closer to him. As he wrapped an arm around her, kissed her, kissing away all fears and doubts, letting her be close to him. And he lead her down the stairs, to the cellar.
Where the rift glowed, shimmered, and shone.
It was beautiful, like this, Seo thought. Letting her eyes fall into its energies. A sea of time, a swirl of potentials, a burst of anything and everything, happening all at once.
And he was beautiful, too.
The way his face shone against the side of the rift. The way he drifted along the ground, as if drifting through the streams of time itself. The way his tall, lean body seemed to yearn for her, draw her closer to him, with a gentle yet determined hand that traced the line of her jaw.
He kissed her again. Really kissed her, this time — his mind entering hers, stepping past barriers and locks and seals, arriving deep inside her mind and echoing across four dimensions.
She shivered beneath him.
This was how it was supposed to feel. This was what happened when you did it properly. And she felt herself unfolding before him, letting him claim everything from her, trusting him fully. Because she did love him. Loved him with all her hearts.
And he went down deeper.
Deeper and deeper within her, to the heart of all that made her her. And she let him, let him pleasure her, let him desire her, let him spark that little spark inside her mind that made her gasp and moan and beg for more.
The connection broke, as William stumbled backwards, under the impact of a blow. Seo was pulled away from him by an angry, enraged Dawn.
"You stay the hell away from Seo!" Dawn warned.
Seo tried to get herself away from Dawn. To run back to the poor Billy, lying on the floor, overwhelmed by energies he didn't understand.
"Dawn, he's given up everything for me," Seo tried to explain. "To hold back Abaddon. To stop the rift from collapsing. To stop the evil men in this place from hurting me. He gave that up just for me, and as a result, he's been trapped like this, accidentally stuck as—"
"Accidentally?" said Dawn. She scoffed. "Seo, he's been planning this for the last five years."
"No!" Seo insisted. "The ceremony went wrong. He—"
"He drained the power from them," Dawn said. "Stole their magical energies, just as they opened the rift, so he could control time itself. Seo, I know this trick! This is like Willow going all evil-magic all over again! Except Billy's doing it, specifically, with time!"
William got up from the other end of the room. An evil smile on his face. "You went to my rooms," he said. "Saw my work." He shook his head. "Stupid, ignorant girl. You saw the full extent of the power I'd built up over the past five years, and really thought you could stop me?"
Seo's eyes were still fixed on William. As she kept struggling. Kept trying to break free and get to him. Kept reaching out, as if he were all she had left.
"Seo, he's evil!" Dawn said. "Can't you see it?"
"No," said Seo. "I love him, Dawn. I love him more than anyone else in the world. In the universe." She managed to shove Dawn away from her, in a burst of strength, toppling her to the ground as Seo ran towards the man at the other end of the basement. "He is everything to me."
Dawn pried herself up off the floor, glaring at William. "What did you do to her?"
"Nothing she didn't want," said William. He put his arms around Seo, giving Dawn a cold, calculating smile. "She kissed me. Opened herself, inside her mind. Granted me access to the very depths of herself. Everything that she is." He looked down into the adoring eyes of the bewitched Seo. "So I took her. For myself."
Dawn leapt out at him. "You bastard!"
But froze, in mid-step. For no reason. Unable to get herself to move, as if some powerful force was holding her back.
"She's mine, now," said William, with a cool, calm, detached voice that seemed unaffected by anything around him. "I'm taking her away with me. Somewhere you can never reach. And if you have any sense at all, you'll let me. Walk away from here. And forget all about Seo."
"Yeah, fat chance!" said Dawn.
William stroked Seo's long hair, gently. "The sooner you accept it, the better it will be for everyone. You'll never see her again. I love Seo, and she loves me."
"That isn't love," Dawn said. "What you're doing now, your love spell whatever thing, it's… force!"
"Oh, there is no 'love spell'," said William. "Seo let me into her mind. So I made her love me. Honestly love me. More than anyone or anything else. Just the same way I've made sure that, whenever I speak to you, Dawn, Seo can't hear us." He turned Seo around, so she faced him. Looked deep into her eyes. "Seo," he said, in a quiet, affectionate voice. "Will you marry me?"
She gasped in honest joy, then threw her arms around him, tears in her eyes. "Yes," she breathed. "Forever yes."
William's eyes flicked over to Dawn. "See? She is a being of Time, Dawn. And when I performed my magics, I gained mastery over this rift. Gained mastery over Time. And so… gained mastery over her."
"You've turned her into a puppet," Dawn said. "A slave."
"A wife," William corrected. "The perfect wife." He released her embrace, and tilted her face up to him. Her bright, shining face. "So beautiful. So spirited. So passionate. And she'll do absolutely anything I want."
Dawn struggled to free herself from William's influence. "Seo!" she shouted. "Think this through! Why aren't you asking questions? You always ask questions! You—"
"She can't hear you," William said. A smile on his face. "She won't ever hear you. Not unless I want her to."
Then turned to Seo, his warm smile looking almost creepy in the light of the rift.
"Come, Seo," he said, as he took her hand in his and tried to lead her towards the spiral of rift energy. "Walk with me. Walk through the mists of time. And we'll be married."
Seo pulled her hand away. A suddenly concerned look on her face. "No."
William froze. "No?"
"I'm not leaving Aunt Dawn," said Seo, crossing her arms. She glanced over at Dawn, then back at William, stubbornly. "She's my travelling companion. You don't leave behind your travelling companions."
Dawn felt a grin tug at her lips. Oh, thank you, Doctor-genetics, for implanting a seriously fierce determination to make sure that Seo never left a friend behind! The one thing, it seemed, William couldn't override.
"I'm your travelling companion, now," William explained, trying to take her hand, again.
Seo stepped back. "I'm not leaving Dawn," she said, again, a little more pointedly. "Not here. Not in 1826. I won't force her to stay stuck in the past forever."
William flicked his eyes between Seo and Dawn. Taking in Dawn's increasingly happy expression with only a minor nod of his head, his air still mildly aloof, as if he were not bothered by the change in Seo at all. But… Dawn could tell… he was.
Then he shot Dawn a sneer. And turned to Seo, his arms encircling her in a warm embrace. "But she wants to stay here," William explained. "She believes she can do more good by staying in 1826 than in returning to the future. Didn't you hear her saying so?"
"That is such a lie!" Dawn shouted.
But Seo looked at Dawn as if she'd just said exactly what William had claimed she'd said. Seo's eyes filling up with sorrow, a sad acceptance, a resigned understanding. She muttered to William to please let her say goodbye, then raced forwards and swept Dawn into a tight hug.
"I'm… going to miss you," Seo whispered. She withdrew from the embrace, looking deep into Dawn's eyes. "But I know you'll be brilliant. You're… you've always been twice the Dawn I ever was."
"Seo, he's manipulating you!" Dawn said, trying to reach out and grab her back. But still being unable to move. "Don't listen to him. I don't want to stay here!"
Seo stepped back, sad eyes lingering on Dawn for a few seconds longer. "Goodbye."
Then she turned, rushed over to William. Taking his hand in her own.
"Seo!" Dawn shouted, as she watched the two figures step into the rift. Vanishing in a trace of brilliant energy. All rift energy sealing itself away, behind them.
And Dawn realized, as she was able to move, once more, that she might never see Seo, again.
It felt like a dream.
Seo and William, walking together, hand-in-hand, through the mists of time. They wandered for days, weeks, maybe even months. It was hard to tell. Her senses were all giddy with love, and her time sense more than any of the others. Seo didn't care. Just let the love wash over her, as the two of them ran together through the eras.
He loved her.
And she loved him.
She loved him so much. Could feel it, burning through her. The love. The desire. That need to always be near him. The strong need to touch him, hold him. No, more than that. She was insatiable around him. Unable to stop herself from drawing him nearer and nearer, unable to stop herself from wanting everything.
She didn't just want him, though.
She wanted to be his.
Wanted him to tell her what to do. Wanted to rush out and do it, make it happen, being just as clever and brilliant as she always was to show him how well she could do his bidding. When he wanted a convenience, she wouldn't just go to the store and buy any old thing. She'd do the research, work out the most ingenious way to build a machine or gadget that would do exactly what he wanted, and then show it to him, with pride.
When he wanted amusement, she did her best to make him laugh. When he wanted society, she did her best to trick everyone else into believing they were the most sophisticated, elegant, important people around.
But most of the time, they just kept to themselves.
Were happy and content with just the two of them. Together.
There was a game they often played. William would chase her around, trying to catch her, while she, laughing, would attempt to outrun him. Before one of them gave in, and it turned wild and passionate, turned to love and desire.
Today, they played that game. And Seo could feel it turning to that passion, as she looked over her shoulder and admired the way the sun spilt across William's fair hair, the way his slender body moved along the grass…
Oh, he was handsome. The most handsome man she'd ever seen. Seo wanted him to catch her. Wanted him to hold her, kiss her, cuddle her and bring her closer and closer, until…
Seo froze. In place.
Every single emotion draining from her, in a single instant.
Here… standing in this one spot, felt… different. Odd. She couldn't put her finger on why or what it was. Everything in her head suddenly felt so hazy. Fuzzy. It was as if, trying to understand this spot, she was reaching for something just out of her grasp. As… if…
William swept her up, tackled her to the ground. Rolling across the grass, kissing her neck.
Then looked up, as he realized she wasn't responding.
"You're happy," William told her. "In love with me. Don't you remember? You can't wait for me to touch you. Nothing makes you happier."
Seo's forehead bent into a frown. "Something's… wrong," she muttered.
William's eyes widened. And the next thing Seo knew, the world was spinning around her, and she felt dizzy, tired, sleepy.
She drifted off.
Not remembering anything, when she awoke. Remembering only that she loved William, wanted to hold him, be with him, do anything he asked her without question.
Wanted to travel with him forever.
"Can we go to Roald Dahl Plass, early 21st century, next?" Seo asked him.
William gave her a smile. Brushed some hair from her face, tracing her jaw with his fingertips. He always loved it when she made suggestions about what time period to visit. When she used her brain to pick out those really incredible bits of Cardiff history, so that they could have anything they desired.
"What's there?" asked William.
"My Torchwood friends," said Seo.
William suddenly went stock still. Staring at her, with suddenly intense eyes. "Your… friends," he repeated.
William shook his head. "No. No, we're not going there." He tilted her head up, gently, so she looked right at him. "You don't want to go there."
No. No, of course she didn't. She didn't want to visit her friends. She wanted to spend all of her time with William, and William alone. Nothing and no one but William, all day, every day. There was no one else worth talking to. No one else worth being near.
She felt something drip down her cheek.
And only when she raised up a hand to her face did she realize… she was crying.
And couldn't understand why.
Nor could she understand why she crept away, that evening, after William was asleep, and searched for... something. A spot. One place, in Cardiff, that Seo had found by accident — which had stuck in her mind, despite everything.
She found it.
Stood upon that Spot, in the middle of the moonlit grass. The wind tumbling through her hair.
Seo loved William. Would do anything he said. Wanted nothing more than to please him. Be with him and only him, no one else. Dote upon him every second of the day. She wanted nothing more than to run back to him, right now, and cuddle into him, kiss him, be intimate with him.
She knew that.
But… for some reason… standing here, upon this Spot… she couldn't stop the tears from rolling down her cheeks.
Seo and William were walking around Cardiff, in 845 AD, when they heard a series of screams and shouts and desperate pleas, nearby. Seo spun on her heels, raced out towards the yelling, but William had grabbed her. Pulled her back.
"They're in trouble," Seo said. "We have to help."
Seo heard the screams, again, and tried to wrestle herself out of William's grasp. But found herself completely unable to do so.
William leaned down, looking deep into her eyes. "Seo," he said, very softly, "you could die. I could lose you forever."
"I could not!" Seo insisted. "I could save someone!"
"No," said William, holding her even tighter. "I can't take that risk."
"It's not your risk to take!" shouted Seo, struggling even harder. Trying, desperately, to run out and help. "It's my life, Billy! My risk! My choice!"
"I said no," William reiterated. "You're mine. And I won't let you."
Seo snapped her eyes to him, her entire body suddenly going still, a blaze of anger and fury and rage suddenly lashing out from deep down inside, a blaze Seo hadn't known was there before now.
"I am not yours," she warned. "I will never be yours. I am mine."
A flicker of fear appeared in William's eyes. A flicker of hesitation and doubt and worry. Then it went away, as Seo suddenly felt the world spin around her, for no reason, felt the sudden darkness of sleep tumbling across her mind, and she fell… fell deep down… fell into dreams…
When she awoke, she couldn't remember where she'd been or what had happened, before she fell asleep.
Just went out, and found it, again. 'The Spot'. Still here, even as early as this period of Cardiff history. And Seo sat there, staring into the distance.
Trying to understand why she felt she needed to be near it.
William hated 'the Spot'.
But Seo loved it. With everything she had in her. It was hers. Seo's. Her Spot, that one place across Cardiff's history that she always came back to. The one place she sought out, every time she could.
Sometimes, she would just sit there, in 'the Spot', with her eyes closed, until William found her and grabbed her away from it.
"Your solitude makes you miserable," said William. "You should stop thinking of yourself. I'm your husband, now. Your life revolves around me, and me alone."
But she still always visited 'the Spot'.
"It doesn't make you happy," said William. "Not like I do."
"You're right," Seo admitted. "It doesn't." A pensive expression on her face, as she looked over her shoulder at it. "It makes me… sad. So sad."
"Then why do you keep going there?" William demanded.
Seo's eyes were just fixed back on that spot. "I don't know. Maybe… I secretly love being sad," she mused.
It was all she could think of, through the stream of love and happiness and euphoria pouring through her, at all times. She didn't understand why, but she needed 'her Spot'. Sometimes, if she lay on top of it, she thought she could feel… something… deep down below the ground.
Something she thought she should remember.
Like a light that kept flickering, on and off. On and off.
"What are you, down there?" Seo whispered to the ground, one day. "And why do you keep flickering?" She tried to stretch out her senses and feel deep down into the soil, understand it better and place why she felt it was so familiar. But her senses kept spiraling out of her control, like she couldn't get a good grip on them.
That was odd.
She didn't know what was below the ground. Why it kept flickering. Or why she felt so drawn to it. But whenever it flickered, every time that beautiful little light extinguished — Seo felt a horrible, intense sadness inside of her.
She was determined to make the flickering stop.
It took her a lot of trial and error, but eventually she discovered that — if she focused very, very hard, and used every ounce of energy she had — she could make the flickering stop. Shift part of this thing beneath the ground into a pocket side-dimension, so it could stay illuminated.
Seo liked that.
It made her happy — a kind of happiness deeper than what she felt when she was around William. But keeping the light illuminated like that was difficult. Insanely difficult. Seo could only keep it up for a minute at a time, before it sapped her strength completely.
Once, she managed to keep the light illuminated for a full two minutes. And, as a result, had wound up unconscious for two days.
William was furious with her for that.
Shouted at her that she was an idiot, trying to get herself killed for nothing, and the moment he worked out what made that Spot so special to her, he'd wipe it out, completely. For her own good.
Seo stopped visiting the Spot so much, after that.
Just snuck off, whenever William wasn't looking, or when he'd been distracted with something else. Sat in that Spot. And tried to stop the flickering.
"I want to see Mom and Jack," Seo told William, one day — when he'd caught her visiting the Spot, and had physically struck her.
"No, you don't," William insisted. He repeated it, slowly, as if trying to train a very stupid pet. "You want to be with me. And only me."
"But I don't," Seo insisted. She rubbed her red cheek, just where he'd hit her. "I want to visit Mom and Jack. And Aunt Dawn. I miss them."
William grabbed her up by the shoulders. Staring into her eyes. "Why are you making this so difficult?" he demanded. Shook her. "Why are you being so stubborn? So selfish? Why can't you just be happy?"
"I am happy," said Seo.
"It's this… Spot!" said William. "That's what's doing it to you! That's what's making you doubt and question and fight."
"I don't understand," Seo said. Trying to think it all through, but losing her focus too quickly. Every thought fading away into a haze. "I'm not fighting anything. I love you."
"And the Spot?"
"I love it, too."
That night, she dreamed she was with Torchwood.
Fighting off a specter, in the distance. A shadow, looming in the darkness. But that didn't matter, because… here… she was with friends. Her friends. And they were all chatting and talking and laughing together. And Seo was part of a team, again, a real team, like she and Dawn had been. And they ran around Cardiff, saving people right and left, saving everyone, saving the world…
Seo woke up.
Found her Spot. And lay on top of it. Trying to stretch out her senses to sooth it, keep it bright, keep it illuminated.
This beautiful, wonderful something buried down deep enough below her that William couldn't reach it. This light that shone, always came back, even when darkness kept trying to smother it.
"Safer down there," Seo whispered to it. "Where Billy can't find you and snuff you out, forever."
She kept it illuminated as long as she could.
Before she passed out, exhausted.
Dawn was familiar with the idea of leaving messages through time, in the hopes that someone from the future would pick them up and help.
She could chisel it into the stonework of Cardiff castle, maybe. Send the Torchwood team a note, let Buffy and the others know that Seo had been kidnapped, and that she was in trouble, and…
What would they be able to do that Dawn couldn't, here?
They didn't have Oliver — couldn't travel back in time to 1826. Okay, yeah, they had a rift manipulator, and could probably do something super smart with that so they could use the rift to pick Dawn up and return her to the future.
But that wouldn't help. While she was on Earth, she was stable, but Dawn knew she couldn't time travel without Seo. If the rift ever opened, to get her back to the future — it was Dawn's duty to stay behind, so that the universe wouldn't fall apart.
Just like it was Dawn's duty to save her niece.
Dawn knew she was the Key. A master-key that could open any dimensional lock. Unlock any part of a rift. If William was controlling Seo by using the rift, then Dawn should be able to release her. Unchain Seo, set her free. If anyone could do it, Dawn could!
Which meant… Dawn was on her own on this one.
She had to get Seo out.
She just hoped, with every fiber of her being, that when she found Seo, it would only be a few hours that had passed for her.
Because if that Billy Foster had actually used magic to force Seo to sleep with him — well, that was Dawn's niece he was dealing with. And if you messed with Dawn's niece, then Dawn was going to make your life a living hell.
"Can we visit Torchwood?" Seo asked William, one day, as they were admiring the sunset over Cardiff bay, in the early days of the city.
"For the last time, no!" he said. Flicked his eyes over to her. "What is Torchwood, at any rate?"
"I told you, they're my friends," said Seo. "From Cardiff. In the future."
His eyes rested off into the distance. "Forget your friends."
"You don't want me to see my friends, ever again?" asked Seo.
"All we need is us," William said, bringing her closer to him.
Seo let him wrap his arms around her, her eyes still fixed on the sky. Not hugging back. Not engaging him, not pushing him away. Watching the sunset, the way they always watched the sunset, in every time period. The sunset…
But never the dawn.
"I wish Aunt Dawn hadn't left," Seo whispered. Her eyes never straying from the beautiful orange-yellow sky.
William spun her around to face him, his face suddenly red with anger and irritation. "Would you stop talking about your friends and your aunt!"
"But Dawn isn't just my aunt," Seo said. "She's…" She stopped. Hesitated. "…my travelling companion."
She didn't know why she didn't want to tell him the truth.
That Dawn… was her.
"But you don't travel with Dawn, anymore," William reminded her, tipping her chin up to him, gazing into her eyes with love and adoration on his face. "You travel with me."
"Why?" asked Seo.
William seemed a little taken aback by this. "What do you mean… why? You shouldn't be asking why!"
"Why not?" asked Seo. She quirked an eyebrow at him. "Can't you answer?"
William fished for an answer. "Well… it's… because… you love me," he said. "Because you're my wife."
"But why?" Seo asked, again. "Why do I love you?"
William's eyes went dark. "Because… you do. Because you'd follow me without question. Because you'd do anything I ask. Because—"
"But those are rubbish reasons!" Seo insisted. She shook her head. "I love you. I can feel it. In every single cell of my being, I love you. I just don't understand why!"
His eyes grew that much darker.
"You're not nice to me," Seo explained. "You boss me around. Treat me like I'm your personal slave. Won't let me speak to anyone unless it's some manipulation to get you something you want. You won't let me see my friends. Won't let me see my family. Won't let me help others when they're in trouble, or defend the world when it needs defending. And half the time we sleep together, you're just doing it to please yourself, and fall asleep without even caring whether or not my needs have been satisfied."
William glared at her.
"So why do I love you?" Seo asked. "Why do I keep bending over backwards to please you? Why do I always feel like I want to sleep with you, when it does nothing for me? Why am I not running away, the first chance I get, so I can visit my friends and family? And why…" She felt a lump in her throat. "If I'm so in love with you, why does being around you make me miserable?"
"You're not miserable," said William. "You're happy."
"But why do I feel happy?" Seo said, looking deep into his eyes. "When you say I feel happy, I feel happy. Just like when you say I love you, I feel like I love you. But the feelings don't make sense! They don't come from anywhere!" She analyzed him, carefully. "Are you controlling me, Billy Foster?"
He grabbed her up by the arms, his hands boring into her arms, his eyes murderous and angry. "That's not possible," he growled. "How… how are you doing this?!"
"See, and that's another thing," said Seo, glancing down at her arms. "I'm stronger than you. But you still keep pushing me around. You hit me, last week — and again, the week before that — when I asked if I could visit Mom and Jack. And I just accepted it. That doesn't sound like me. That doesn't sound like me at all."
"You can't break the conditioning!" he snarled at her. "It's supposed to be foolproof! You're supposed to drop off to sleep whenever you get like this."
"What, you mean you have a system for this sort of thing?" Seo quirked an eyebrow at him. "How many times have we played this through, Billy?"
He threw her to the ground, and she smacked, hard, against the dirt. Trying to climb to her hands and knees, but realizing, with some alarm, that although the request had been made by her brain, her hands and knees hadn't gotten the message.
She glanced back at him, over her shoulder.
"What have you done to me?" she demanded, in a dark voice.
"I've trapped you," William said, his voice light, unaffected, distant. "Chained you to the rift. Enslaved you to its powers. And to mine."
"You are controlling me," Seo hissed. She tried, again, to get up, but couldn't. "I really hate it when people control me."
"Don't struggle," William warned her. He put his hands into his coat pockets. "Or you might break free."
"That's the point," said Seo, pushing harder with her mind against the mental block.
William looked off into the growing twilight. "I wasn't lying when I said the rift was stable," he explained. "But I'm not what's making it stable. You are."
Seo stopped struggling. "What?"
"There is a monster, deep in the depths of the Cardiff Rift," William explained, with a shrug. "He should have gotten free when that magical cult opened the rift. But I called you to me. Summoned you, bound your energies to the rift. You're what's keeping him from escaping, Seo."
Seo went very still. Very quiet.
"Free yourself," said William, "and doom the world. The universe. Everything."
Seo nodded, very slowly. "Can we get a divorce?"
"You'll love me, again," said William. "Eventually. We have eternity together. You can't fight back forever."
"I heard the 1990's was a great time for divorces," Seo offered. "We could go there." She grinned. "Ooh! Can we have a divorce party? That'd be brilliant! And we can invite Torchwood and have cake and iced cream and—"
"Would you be quiet?!" William demanded.
"No!" Seo screamed, a flood of fire and anger racing through her, as she finally managed to sit up, on the ground, and turned to face him. Still unable to climb to her feet. "I can't move without your permission! Can't feel without you telling me how to feel! Can barely think without you manipulating my mind! All I can do freely is talk." Her eyes narrowed, her jaw trembling with suppressed rage. "So I'm damn well going to talk."
"Be—" William commanded.
"How could you do this to me, Billy?" Seo interrupted. "How could you look me in the eyes and say you love me, while doing something like this?!"
William tried to answer. But words failed him.
"You used to care about people," said Seo. "Six years ago."
"Six and a half, now," William corrected. Upon seeing her disapproving stare, he looked away, began pacing, seemingly aloof, detached, uncaring. "And I'm not the man I was, six years ago. I'm not the man you left and rejected."
"No," said Seo. "The you back then would never have forced me to sleep with him so he could control my mind."
"I only did what I had to," William explained. "To make you love me."
"Love?!" Seo shouted. She gestured between them. "This has nothing to do with love! You imprisoned me, enslaved me, made me sleep with you, cut me off from all social contact, used me as a tool to trump up your own vanity, and you made me leave…" Her face suddenly turned pale, her eyes wide. "Aunt Dawn. I… I stranded Aunt Dawn..."
"She isn't important."
"What have you done to her?" Seo screamed. Wanting to jump up and throw him against something very hard. No, wanting to jump up and beat the hell out of him. "Where is she? What did you make me do?!"
"She's safe," said William, not pausing in his walk, his voice unaffected by her anger.
"Where?!" Seo demanded. "Take me back!"
"Exactly where you abandoned her," William replied. "And you can't go back there. Not ever. I've put a block on that entire time period." He regarded her with cold, beady eyes. "Only one person in all of time and space knows where you are and what's happened to you, Seo. I have to get rid of her, somehow." He shrugged. "She'll have a long, full life, trapped in the past. She'll find a way to make herself happy. And I've been making sure she can't tell your fate to anyone in the future."
Seo said nothing for a long moment. A very, very long moment. Just staring at him, a little shocked.
"You're mine, Seo," said William. "Whether you like it or not. Mine forever."
"You… kept Aunt Dawn alive," Seo said, very quietly.
And Seo knew — that it would have been so much easier for William to eliminate the problem by just killing Dawn, flat out. Making sure Dawn couldn't release Seo. Couldn't send any messages to the future. Would never manage to find some way to ensure that Seo escaped.
But he hadn't.
He'd kept Dawn alive.
"Why?" Seo asked.
William spun around, to face her, a sudden passion overtaking him. "Because I love you!" he said. Threw up his hands in the air. "Don't you understand? I love you, Seo! I don't ever want to hurt you — and killing her, that would hurt you! It would crush you. So I can't." He gestured around himself. "Everything I've done, everything I'm doing — it's all for you! Your sake! I gave you happiness, joy and love. Because I can't bear to see you sad. I can't bear to see you leave me. I can't bear not having you touch me — not having you want to touch me, and—"
"I can't believe it," said Seo. "You actually think you're helping me."
"Of course I am," William insisted. "I've married you, Seo. It's my duty, as a husband, to mold and shape you into the perfect wife." His hands bunched into fists. "But you're just… so… difficult to control!"
Seo shook her head. Not even sure what to say to this.
"You race into danger to help others, as if your life means nothing!" said William. "But it's not yours anymore. It's mine. You're my wife, and I have to protect—"
"Your wife?" Seo cut in. She shook her head. "I'm many things. Your slave. Your exotic pet you show off to the neighbors. Your puppet. But I'm certainly not your wife."
"You are my wife," said William. "I love you. I've done this all for you." He stepped forward. "And I know, deep down inside, you love me, too. That you want this."
And he was just mad enough to actually believe that. Actually believe that what he'd done to her — the way he'd manipulated her — was his sacrifice for her.
"Bit of advice, Billy," said Seo. Crossing her arms. "In general. If the only way to make a woman stay with you is to trap her in a prison that will destroy the world if she ever leaves it — that's a pretty good indication…" leaning forwards, "that she's not interested!"
William put his hands into his pockets. "You left me, six years ago. I couldn't bear to watch you leave me, again."
Damn. Stupid Seo, mucking things up by leaving him six years ago.
She'd liked him, back then.
Not so much anymore.
"You're going to be here forever, Seo," William told her. "It's either you, or the rest of humanity. And we both know you'll never choose yourself."
"I'll find another way," said Seo.
"There isn't another way," said William. "Not even for someone clever as you. I've made sure of it."
Seo said nothing.
"You can choose to be happy, here," said William. "To accept my generosity, my sacrifice, and become the loving and devoted wife I deserve. You can make this river of time our happy home together. Or you can choose to think of this place as a prison. Shove me away. Spend your days in isolation, solitude, and misery. Feeling sorry for yourself and unable to ever escape."
"And what's… going to happen to Aunt Dawn?" Seo asked, in a half-whisper. "If I don't follow you?"
"I have no interest in your aunt," said William. "No interest in anyone except you."
Seo's eyes fell to the ground.
"It doesn't matter what you choose," said William. "Dawn's fate will remain the same. She is trapped in the past. It's up to her to find her own way in life — make her own decisions."
"Lucky her," Seo muttered.
"If she behaves herself and forgets you," William continued, "nothing bad will happen to her. If, on the other hand, she attempts to release you…" He shrugged. "You already know. The release of Abaddon. The destruction of the world. The splintering of time."
And Dawn wouldn't risk the end of the world.
Or the universe.
Seo knew that.
Thing was… Seo also knew, with both hearts, that if it were her in Dawn's position, if Dawn were the one snatched away inside a trans-temporal rift and enslaved to a madman who was degrading her on a regular basis — Seo would literally tear apart the walls of the universe to save her.
And that was the biggest problem of all.
Because Dawn wasn't just her aunt.
Dawn… was her.
Basically, after spending a month going through every single magic book in William's study, Dawn had come to one conclusion.
She had to suck it up.
And open the damn rift.
It wasn't a good thing to do — no, wait, scratch that. It was a terrible thing to do! One of the most irresponsible, stupid, insane things Dawn could ever even think of doing!
"But he's making her sleep with him," Dawn muttered. Collapsing over the book. "Every second I delay… he's making her…!"
Oh, God, did Dawn wish she still had access to some serious firepower.
"I am so going to kill you when I find you, Billy," Dawn muttered, plucking up the book she needed from the shelf. Opening it to the page she wanted. A magical spell. To open the rift. Collect the right ingredients and… she'd be good to go. "And you better hope, when Seo gets free, that I find you, first."
She tucked the book under her arm, and went out to go ingredient hunting.
"Because between me and Seo," she muttered, locking the door behind her, "I'm the nice one."
Seo sat in 'the Spot', her head bent, curled up into herself. Unwilling to move. Unwilling to do anything. Unwilling to even acknowledge the man before her.
"You've been like that for days."
Seo didn't respond to him. Didn't answer.
"I hate seeing you miserable."
Still, no answer.
William came over, closer to her. "I can make you stand up," he pointed out. "I can make you speak to me. Make you sing for me. I can even make you feel happy."
Seo looked up. Her eyes dark. Biting.
"You've already imprisoned me forever," she snapped. "Isn't that enough?"
William didn't answer.
"I want," Seo said, "to go home. Visit Mom and Jack."
"Why not?" Seo demanded. "What threat could they be to you? What threat could any of my friends be to you? I'm not going to risk killing everyone just to escape."
"Oh, I doubt you'll be able to escape," William said. "But you still can't visit your friends from the future. Because the future won't be there for very much longer."
Seo jumped to her feet, advancing on him, eyes blazing. "What?!"
"It appears your Aunt Dawn," said William, "doesn't want to leave well enough alone after all. She's about to open the rift. In 1826."
Seo felt a sense of dread well up in her hearts.
"Of course, opening the rift won't release you," said William. "But it will release Abaddon. He will wander the Earth, draining the life from everyone on this planet. All will die. And the future will cease to be."
"Oh, you thick, thick man," Seo said.
William didn't seem terribly concerned. Or upset. "It won't matter — you exist outside of time," he said. "You'll remain, even if the future gets destroyed." He shrugged. "I don't delight in destroying humanity's future. But if it's between humanity, and losing you… I'm not giving you up."
Seo felt herself shaking — with fury, fear, horror, she wasn't exactly sure. "Billy," she said. "Listen to me. Very carefully. If you want this universe to survive, you have to let me go."
"No," said William.
"Don't you get it?" Seo shouted. "If Dawn opens the rift, it won't just be the future that will end! It will be everything! Absolutely everything!"
William scoffed. "I've seen the rift open," he said. "It doesn't—"
"I'm the Key," Seo interrupted.
William stopped. Frowned. "You're… the… what?"
Seo stepped forward, her eyes dark, as she grabbed him by the shoulders. Shook him. "Listen to me. You didn't imprison a Time Lady. That's the disguise my creators used to hide what I really am, inside. I'm a trans-temporal, trans-dimensional, trans-universal Key that can unlock and destabilize any portal I'm in. You've trapped me at the intersection point between the rift and the real world. Which means the moment Dawn opens that rift, everything everywhere will collapse."
It was a lie. But not much of a lie. Everything everywhere would collapse if Dawn opened the rift — that part was true. But only because it was Dawn, specifically, opening the rift, while Seo, specifically, was the one stuck inside it. The combination of their two energies, without Seo's mind in full control?
Biggest boom in history.
"Do you understand, William?" Seo demanded. "You have to let me go to 1826. Talk to Dawn. Convince her not to do this. Or everything is going to end. Everything everywhere."
William thought this over. Then laughed. "I don't think so."
"I'm not as stupid as you take me for," William said. "You're not getting in touch with your aunt to save the world. You're just trying to be clever. Trying to escape. You have a plan."
Seo, in desperation, spread open her arms. "Read my mind!" she said. "Go on! I don't care how!" Actually, she knew how he'd do it. Either he honestly didn't know how to read people's minds without having telepathic sex with them, or he just liked rubbing it in her face. Either way, the moment he entered her head, that was what he was going to be doing. "Just read my mind and see that I'm telling you the truth!"
His eyes went dark. Intense. As he looked at her with an animalistic desire.
Seo shuddered. Her arms lowering, as she backed away.
Realizing… when she wasn't bewitched… when he wasn't manipulating her… she couldn't do this. Just couldn't. Couldn't stand the thought of him in her mind, invading, reaching his grubby little fingers into the essence of everything that was her. Couldn't stand the idea of him wrenching open the center of her psychic essence and stealing her for himself, again. Taking her over… as his puppet… once more…
"On second thought," Seo said, turning on her heels, "never mind!"
She ran. Raced forward, fast as she could, struggling against the gnawing lethargy still clinging to her from his psychic influence. Her mind reached out for the energies of the rift. She could see them, now, clearer than ever before — her chains, what he'd done to her, how he'd bound her to the edges of the rift.
She grabbed hold of the chains, balancing herself between inter-dimensional energies, and used them to launch herself deep into the rift's heart.
"Seo, don't you dare—!" she heard William shout.
But she never heard him finish. As she entered the rift.
If she was lucky, she might not end the world. If she was lucky — extremely, insanely lucky — she'd manage to pull off her plan in a way that allowed her to avoid the world-ending catastrophe she was about to begin, just by escaping from this prison in the first place.
There was a 95% chance that, if she did this, she'd destroy the world.
But… compared to Dawn opening the rift… end of the world wasn't looking so bad.
"Oi! Easy there, Harkness!" Alison said, grabbing a large alien gun out of the Torchwood van and checking it over. "Moment I finish university, my soul belongs to Torchwood. But until then… it's all mine." She waggled a finger at him. "So hands off my soul."
Buffy, nearby, tried to stifle a laugh.
"Jack?" came Gwen's voice, through the headset. "The aliens — they've scattered."
"All right — Yan, go east, Gwen, go west," said Jack. "Rest of us are on our way." He turned to Alison and Buffy. "Sounds like it's time to split up."
"First I sell you my soul," said Alison, charging up the gun, "and then you split up with me." She gave Jack a grin. "You know, I'm sensing some relationship issues at Torchwood already." Then turned and raced off into the distance.
Jack and Buffy looked after her.
"You've been training her, huh?" said Jack.
"Yeah, well, you didn't, and it got her stuck in the 1970's," Buffy replied. "So I took over." A look of pride spread across her face, as she watched Alison skillfully pursue and then round up the aliens, nearby. "She's good, isn't she?"
"Good at the fighting," Jack said. "And good at the banter. My kinda gal."
Buffy sighed. "Just don't lose her again," she said, as she pushed past him, and off to pursue the aliens in the opposite direction. "Because next time, I really am going to kill you, Jack Harkness. Several times. Don't forget that."
Ianto skittered to a stop. Stared at the apparition before him.
It was an apparition, this time.
Faint, like something trying to break through into this reality, but… just… not able to do so. But the ghost's features were all clear enough for Ianto to recognize. The face exactly what he remembered.
"Ianto, listen, I don't have much time," Seo's ghost said. "And I know this is going to sound mad, but you have to open the Cardiff Rift."
"You must be joking," said Ianto.
"No, really!" said Seo. "Find Tosh, get her to input settings 568-Z-alpha-4, and tweak the calibrator five clicks to the left…" She tilted her head. "Or was it… the right…? No, wait, left. Definitely left."
Ianto felt his mouth go dry. Tosh…
"Tosh will know what to do!" Seo insisted. "Just find her, tell her I'm stuck in…"
Seo stopped. Looked around herself.
"Uh oh," she said. Waved at Ianto, calling out, "Got to go!"
Then vanishing completely.
For a moment, Ianto couldn't even speak.
Then a furry, fuzzy, yapping alien thing raced by Ianto's feet, and Ianto rushed after it, full pelt, once more.
Gwen jumped. Spun around, to find Seo standing there, just behind her, looking insubstantial — translucent and ghost-like.
"Gwen, listen," said Seo. "I don't have much time, so just let me talk fast."
Gwen crossed her arms. Giving the apparition a hard, cold stare.
"I'm trapped in the Cardiff Rift," said the ghostly form of Seo. "And you have to use the rift manipulator to open it to get me out. I told Ianto how to do it, but didn't tell him the risks. Truth is, there's going to be about a 95% chance that, when you open the rift, you'll end the world. But that's all right — because if you don't open the rift, there's a 100% chance that you'll end everything else. Any questions?"
"Yeah," said Gwen. "Why'd you think I'd actually fall for this, again?"
"It's true!" Seo's ghost insisted. "Gwen, look at me! I shouldn't be able to get through to you at all. He's locked me out of this entire time-zone. But the walls of reality… right around here and now… they're too thin. Far too thin. Something's about to happen, Gwen — and it's going to destroy everything. Everywhere!"
"Nope," said Gwen. "Not buying it."
The ghostly form of Seo cursed beneath her breath. Then froze. Looked around herself, her eyes terrified. "Got to go!" she shouted, as she faded out of sight.
Jack spun around. And immediately pointed his gun at the ghostlike image of Seo, standing just in front of him.
Seo's ghost put her hands in the air.
"Jack, listen to me," the ghost-Seo said. "Please. I'm stuck in the Cardiff Rift, and—"
"Nice try, Bilis Manger," said Jack. "But she's been asking me to open the rift since she got here."
Seo froze. Her mouth dropping open. "Bilis…"
For a few seconds, she said nothing. Sudden realization spreading through her.
"I knew," she breathed. Stumbled back, a little. "Right at the beginning! The moment he mentioned Abaddon, I knew… Billy… Bilis…" She shuddered. "That was the moment I worked it all out. The moment I knew exactly what was going to happen to me. And what it meant." She looked deep into Jack's eyes. "And I couldn't stop it. It had already happened, in my past. So I locked everything about Bilis Manger out of my memory… so he wouldn't see it when he invaded my mind." She put a hand up to her head. "And now… it's all happening. Just the way Bilis said it would."
Jack still didn't seem impressed.
"Change of plans," said Seo's ghost, dropping her hands. "Don't open the rift. Don't touch the rift manipulator. If Billy's going to turn into Bilis, then I need another plan. I need to…" Seo paused. Her eyes going wide, as something struck her. "Oh, God, Jack — he's going to kill it," Seo muttered. "Bilis wouldn't hesitate. That means the moment William gets desperate, works out it's something under the ground, and not on top of it — he'll find my Spot. Make the flickering stop. Dig it up, so he can destroy the brightness, forever."
Jack lowered the gun. "Your… Spot…"
"There's something… no, someone," said Seo, her teeth gritted. "Buried beneath Cardiff. Been buried for about 2,000 years, now. I don't know who, or why, and Billy's screwing with too many of my senses to figure it out, but… whoever is buried there… they freed me, Jack. They made me remember who I really was. Remember you. And I need you to dig them out, before Billy destroys them."
Jack stared at her. A sudden chill coming across him. "Seo," he whispered. "How… why are you in 1820? Buffy said… you were looking for someone…"
Seo instinctively reached up a hand, to pat down her bangs. "Not important."
"Who?" asked Jack.
"Just someone from the 51st century out to kill his brother," said Seo. "He hooked up with a Time Agent and ran away when I put him on time out for killing a bunch of people. But I'll deal with him, later. After I save the universe."
She looked over her shoulder. Grimaced.
"Got to go," she said. "Mom and Alison have to be in 1826. I remember that. I just have to work out some way to get them here."
Then she raced off, and faded out of existence.
Buffy turned a corner, to discover…
"Seo?" Buffy asked. She tiptoed around the apparition, not sure if this was real or just some weird psychic whatever thingy.
"Mom," said the ghostly form of Seo. "I need you and Alison in 1826. Right now. Dawn's about to open the rift and I need you to stop her."
"Dawn's… what?!" Buffy shouted.
"It's not her fault!" insisted Seo. "I got trapped in the rift, and she's trying to rescue me. But the end's coming, Mom. I can feel it, around this time zone. Whenever I punch through. It's like… everything's falling apart."
"Maybe it's some… paradox, from Billy interfering with my past," said Seo. "Or reality leaning towards a probability in which the universe has already ended. I don't know. But I need you in the past. And to do that, I'm going to find some way to manipulate Cardiff history so that you and Alison can get here and stop Aunt Dawn."
"Seo, what—?" Buffy started.
"No time!" said Seo. "Just… remember. If you never see me again. I… love you. And…" She gave Buffy a long, sad stare. "Tell Jack I love him, too."
As she faded out of existence.
"So… you're saying… that wasn't Seo," Buffy double-checked.
"Absolutely not," Ianto said.
"It's Bilis Manger," said Gwen. "Trying to manipulate us. Again. I don't know why he thought it'd work a second time, though."
Buffy thought the matter over. Then buried her head in her hands. "But what if you're wrong?" she muttered.
"We're not wrong," said Ianto. "This is exactly what happened last time."
Gwen came over, sat beside Buffy. Put an arm around her. "Listen, I know you're worried about her," she said. "But she's probably out there having the time of her life. This is just Bilis Manger playing on your sense of love and devotion."
Buffy sighed. "You're right," she said. Sitting up straight. "I know you're right. It's just…" She tried to force the pain off her face. "I forgot how real it feels, having this kind of thing happen to you."
"Having what kind of thing happen to you?" asked Alison, approaching them from the right. She threw down her alien-hunting gun into the trunk of the van, then examined all of their glum faces with a frown of concern. "Something wrong?"
Buffy looked at Alison, a little surprised. "You didn't see her?"
"See who?" asked Alison.
"Seo," said Gwen. "She's been appearing to us. As a ghost. Saying she's been imprisoned inside the rift and we have to get her out."
Alison froze. A look of utter shock on her face, as she stared at all of them. "So… what are you waiting around for?" she shouted, rushing to the side of the van. "Let's get her out!"
"It's not really her," Ianto said. "It's Bilis Manger. Trying to make us open the rift."
"Bilis…" Alison paused. Digesting this. Her eyes going wide. "Wait. Wait, wait, wait a tic. She's not in 1809, is she?"
"She said 1826," Buffy muttered.
A look of horror washed across Alison's face. "Then… this is when it all starts," she said. "Everything that happened last year. This is the beginning."
"Alison, it's not—" Gwen began.
"Did she know about Tosh?" Alison asked. "When she asked you to open the rift? Did she know that Tosh had died?"
Ianto shuffled awkwardly. "Well… no," he said.
"Then it's not Bilis," said Alison. "It's Seo. Bilis would know; Seo doesn't."
She looked out at the sea of incredulous faces around her. Then stopped, as she noticed that Jack wasn't there. Not anywhere.
"Hang about," said Alison. "Where's Jack?"
They found Jack back at the Torchwood Hub. Bent over his desk. Looking distressed, his head in his hands.
Ianto gestured at them to stay outside. Then ventured into the office. "Sir?"
Jack looked up. A smile touching his face, as he saw Ianto, there. "Yan," he said. Then shook his head, appearing severely rattled. "I never knew. It was her, that whole time. And I never even knew."
"What was her?" asked Ianto.
"I was buried alive," said Jack. "For two thousand years. Spent two thousand years dying on my first gasp back to life. Over and over again."
Ianto fidgeted. Wishing, with all his heart, that he could have stopped what had happened. Feeling almost like… it should have been his duty to prevent what had happened.
A burst of brightness illuminated Jack's expression, as his eyes fixed off into the distance. "And then, sometimes, it… stopped," he said. "I didn't have to breathe. Wasn't being crushed by the weight of the soil. Didn't have to die. For… maybe a minute or so… I was at peace." He turned back to Ianto. "And I never knew why."
"But you do now?" Ianto asked.
"It was Seo," said Jack. "While she was trapped in the rift, and floating through Cardiff history. She just appeared, in front of me, just now. And told me."
"That wasn't really Seo," Ianto assured him. "Bilis started appearing, again, and—"
"No, it was Seo," Jack cut in. "I didn't get the rift visions, from Bilis… but I still saw her, this time. Idon't know how or why, but… this was the real her." He laughed. "She asked me to dig myself out of Cardiff."
"I… see." Ianto shifted, nervously. "You know… Alison thought so, too. She believed… Bilis Manger and Seo had a history. That everything that took place last year was some kind of effect, while the cause is what's happening to Seo right now."
Jack shot up to his feet. "Does she really?"
Then raced out of his office.
"Yes — Bilis Manger knew Seo, last year," said Alison. "Even though she didn't know him. He said he was invading her past, from before she'd met him in the first place. It's why he was so determined to get back at Torchwood. Why he knew all Seo's secrets. And why he was very eager to make the lives of all her friends a living hell."
Gwen looked thoroughly confused. "What?"
"Did Bilis say what happened, when Seo first met him?" asked Jack.
"According to Bilis, 200 years ago, Seo was the one enslaved to the Cardiff Rift," said Alison. "Not Bilis. She was stuck in the rift for all eternity, and he — out of the kindness of his own heart — valiantly and nobly switched places with her. Sacrificing himself to save her life." She crossed her arms. "But I never believed it. I think, 200 years ago, Bilis did something unspeakably evil, and Seo purposely trapped him there."
Gwen, Ianto, Buffy, and Jack all looked at one another.
"Furthermore," said Alison, "I think releasing Abaddon, last year, wasn't his actual goal at all — he was trying to release himself, but Seo did something clever, and he couldn't get free."
"Bilis could have been lying to you about knowing Seo, in his own past," said Gwen. "This whole thing could just be some… new manipulation. To get us to open the rift, again."
"He wasn't lying," said Alison. "He met Seo while she was time traveling. I know."
"How?" said Gwen.
Alison turned to Buffy. "Because… Bilis Manger," she said, very quietly, "knew what Dawn really was."
Buffy met Alison's eyes with her own. A suddenly horrified look spreading across her face.
"Seo," Buffy whispered. "She said Dawn was about to open the rift. In 1826."
Alison cringed. She still didn't exactly get what 'the Key' was, but she was guessing that the reason Seo had wanted Torchwood to open the rift was because… if Dawn, specifically, was the one to open it… more than just the world was at risk.
"We've got to go back," said Alison. "Whatever's going on, in 1826, we need to be there."
"I need to be there," Buffy argued. "You don't…"
"Last year, Bilis recognized me, too!" Alison snapped. "I'm just as much a part of this as you, Dawn, and Seo." She turned to Jack. "How can we get back in time?"
"Not by opening the rift," Gwen said. "I'm not doing that one again."
Jack said nothing for a long moment. His eyes fixed into the distance. "I… do still have that time machine," he admitted. "The DeLorean that sent you back to the seventies."
"Oh, not this, again!" Buffy sighed. "What have I been telling you, Jack? What's the one thing I've insisted on, more than anything else? There will be no more throwing Alison into time machines that are actually just excuses for monsters to eat people!"
"Time machines… created a scientist," said Ianto, slowly, "who was visited by a mysterious someone who wanted to fix his experiments so they actually let people travel through time. Someone with complex dimensional knowledge."
"Yeah, but he didn't listen, did he?" Buffy snapped. She turned to Alison. "You said yourself. To make that time machine thing actually work, you'd need a dimensional stabilizing whatever to—"
"An iPhone," said Alison. "I'd need an iPhone! Because I know how to modify one to make the dimensional stabilizer I'd need. I watched Seo do it, back with the Celestial Toymaker!"
And because of that, Alison knew exactly how to tinker with it. Exactly how to make sure that part of the time machine worked.
Alison turned to Jack. "All right, Harkness. You better start an iPhone budget at Torchwood. Right now. Because these things aren't cheap!"
"Okay, okay, but… that's not all you need!" Buffy insisted. "You also need… some… super stasis whatever thingamajig, like Jack said. A box or something that can…"
"Something like this?" Gwen asked, holding out the box they'd gotten from the rift, right around the time they'd randomly lost the last 48 hours of their memories.
The box that had been filled with nothing but sand.
Alison snatched it up. Her eyes dancing, as her brain worked overtime, and Alison understood what Seo had done. Why Alison had been sent back to the 70's, watching the Doctor trying desperately to fix his TARDIS. Why so many odd items had fallen through the rift that seemed to correspond to Dawn and Seo's travels.
"I know how to build a time machine," Alison breathed. Then raced off to the Torchwood archives, fast as she could. "That's what Seo did! She didn't just save the Doctor! Didn't just save the world! Seo taught me how to build a time machine!"
Seo glanced behind herself. She knew William was close on her tail, but she'd been darting and dodging and flying through time. Masking herself behind evil monsters and looming specters and anything she could find. Throwing up whatever barriers she could manage, in his way.
She went back in time to the boy who'd grow into Professor Feldman. Inspired him with Back to the Future, planted the seeds of the idea that he might be able to build a time machine of his own, when he grew up.
She found Alison falling through the Cardiff Rift, and shielded her from the monsters. Brought her to safety.
She left an unopened iPhone lying just beside the Torchwood computers, an hour before the earlier-her and Alison called Jack from the realm of the Celestial Toymaker.
She guided the stasis box containing Adam through the rift and straight to Torchwood, so they'd discover it.
Seo knew she needed to guide each object and person in precisely the right way. At precisely the right time. Needed to pluck the items and events out of history and sear them down into the deepest depths of the rift. Or she'd never be able to construct her trap.
And just when she was nearly done creating the trap, just when she only had to finalize it all and use her Key energies to sear it into place…
She saw John Hart, appearing in the rift — seemingly out of nowhere — following a drugged-up blowfish. They disappeared. Something else was thrown in, an object that was circular and blinking…
And then Seo was thrown back, violently, as the entire rift exploded around her.
"There!" said Alison, grinning and stepping away from the machine. "One actual time-traveling DeLorean, at your service!"
"Set for 1826?" Buffy asked.
Alison had no idea when it was set for. Or how she should even set it in the first place. But she was betting that Seo had already done something manipulative and clever, to make sure they got exactly when and where they needed to be.
Jack stepped forward. "Okay, then, ladies. Let's—"
"You're not coming," said Buffy and Alison at the same time.
Jack froze. His eyes fixed on them, steadily.
Buffy went over to him, giving him a sympathetic look. "Jack, I don't know what's happening in 1826," she said. "But I need you three here, monitoring the rift. Seo said she felt the end of everything happening, here and now. And… when I was a kid, in Sunnydale, I remember…" She frowned, deeply. "Someone else told me that. That in 2009… the stars are going out."
Gwen and Ianto exchanged a look. Neither of them had seen any stars going out.
"Seo is part-Glory," said Buffy, softly. "She can flip into Evil Hell Goddess Mode. And if something happens with Bilis Manger to make her flip out like that… and she starts tearing apart the multiverse and stuff…" She looked deep into Jack's eyes, taking his hands in hers, "I trust you to stop her."
Jack met her eyes with his.
"Promise?" asked Buffy.
"Promise," said Jack.
Buffy nodded. Then stepped away. Turning to Alison and the DeLorean in the archives of the Torchwood Hub.
On the count of three, they both raced forwards.
And jumped into the rift.
"Back with me, then?"
Seo opened her eyes. Jolted upright, her breath heaving, a frisson of fear spreading through her as she faced down the man who'd kept her captive and delirious for half a year.
She tried to push him away, as he grabbed her up and kissed her. But couldn't. Couldn't even struggle against him, her body forced to follow his every desire.
But her mind was a fortress. And she was guarding it with everything she had, now.
William pulled away. Looking at her, annoyed. "You still remember finding out the truth." His irritation grew. "That explosion in the rift should have rolled time backwards! I set up the chain reactions myself! The bomb, John Hart, everything was according to my design!" He turned an angry glare on Seo. "So why didn't it roll back time for you? What did you do to stop it?"
What did she do?
She'd nudged the bomb along a side trajectory. So it rolled back time in the real world. Instead of her personal timeline.
"I don't know what you're talking about," Seo lied. "I didn't do anything."
William got back to his feet. Pacing in front of her, his hands running through his hair, his face bent in concentration. Then sighed, as he reached his conclusion.
"I didn't want to do this," William told her. He turned back to her, looking almost… disappointed. "I never wanted to hurt you. But you've left me with no choice."
Seo tried to scoot back from him, as fear crept through her. "What are you talking about?"
William grabbed her up by the wrist, dragging her to her feet. "I'm going to expose you to the nothingness," he said. "Let you see how much better it is to be with me. I'm going to show you why you should be mine and only mine."
"You're what?!" Seo cried. She tried to kick. Tried to struggle. Tried to fight. But he'd wrapped his chains too tightly around her, and she couldn't move without his allowing her to.
"Please, understand," he told her. "I'm only doing this to help you."
"You're going to torture me!" Seo screamed. "How's that helping me?"
"You're so beautiful, inside," William explained. "There is so much sunlight in you, Seo. So much warmth and compassion. You're too good to be true. All I ever wanted." He cupped her cheek in his hand. "But I can't expect you to truly be mine, when you're so… willful and impulsive."
"I'm not yours!" Seo shouted.
This was going beyond mad, now.
"Once I've made you obedient and dutiful, once more," William promised, "we will be together. Forever. Everything will be perfect."
"Billy, please," Seo urged him. "Don't do this!"
But he was done listening to her. Done listening to reason. His logic was as twisted as her own time sense, as he grabbed her up, and shoved her sideways through time, so she was on the very edge of the rift.
Exposed to the full horror of the void, while being torn apart by the searing blaze of rift energies.
Trapped in a living hell, Seo began to scream.
And her scream rang through eternity.
Gwen looked up, in the Hub at Torchwood Cardiff. "Did you hear that?" she asked Ianto.
"What?" said Ianto, still typing at the Torchwood computer, working on his own project.
Gwen shuddered. "I thought… I heard someone screaming…" Then shook her head. "But… no. No, it's nothing. Sorry."
Suddenly, the entire ground shook. Furniture flew across the Hub, as Gwen and Ianto were flung to the ground, scrambling to duck for cover.
Jack peeled himself up from the ground, in his office. "Woah," he said, looking around himself, surprised. "What happened? Was it the rift?" He jumped to his feet, raced into the main Hub. "Gwen, Ianto? You okay?"
Ianto and Gwen were both picking themselves up from the ground.
"No broken bones," said Ianto, rubbing his head. "Slight loss of dignity. No change there, then."
"The whole city must have felt that!" Gwen cried. "The whole of South Wales."
Jack hesitated. Remembering what Buffy had told him.
The end of everything.
Jack spun around, raced out of the Hub. "I'm going to go take a look outside."
He'd expected to come face-to-face with angry-hell-goddess Seo, splitting apart the fabric of reality with her mind. Or a maelstrom of rift energy blazing through Cardiff.
What Jack hadn't expected… was this.
Staring up into the sky.
And seeing those 26 planets, hanging there, just above Earth.
"But that's… just…" Jack shook his head. "That's impossible!"
Alison emerged into 1826, and staggered, all the breath sucked out of her. Buffy reached out and caught her before she could fall.
"I thought… I heard something," Alison said. "Someone. While we were traveling here." She shivered. "I heard her screaming."
Buffy said nothing. But the look on her face said she'd heard it, too.
"And I've heard it, before!" Alison continued. "Back in the 70's." She put a hand up to her head. "It's like… everything that's happened over the last year both happened then, and is also happening now. It doesn't make any sense! It's…"
Alison stopped. As she notice the DeLorean they'd both used to get here, shimmering into place just behind them. Now devoid of rift energies, looking like an empty shell.
"Wait, how'd that come back with us?" asked Alison. "It's not supposed to do that, is it?"
"No idea," said Buffy. She headed off. "Leave it. We've got to find Dawn."
Alison raced after her. "But isn't someone going to notice a DeLorean parked out in the middle of 1826 for no apparent…?"
"Yeah, same way people freak when see a 1960's police box!" Buffy shouted back. "Now forget it, and get moving! It'll probably wind up locked up in the archives of the British Museum or something."
History, far as Buffy had decided, could take care of itself.
Buffy and Alison had to save the universe. Stop Dawn.
And save Seo.
Dawn had laid out all the magical items she needed. Spell book open in her hand, as she recited the words that would open the rift.
She sprinkled the grass onto the ground before her. "What begins must end," she recited. "What time controls shall always—"
The doors burst open, and Dawn felt herself tackled to the ground by a frantic blond blur.
"Were we in time?" came a voice just behind the blond blur. "Did we stop her?"
"Yes!" came a very familiar voice, now holding Dawn down onto the ground.
Dawn stared at the person who'd just stopped her. Someone she'd honestly never expected to see in Cardiff in 1826.
"Buffy?!" Dawn cried.
Buffy gave Dawn a hard, pointed stare. "What the hell," she said, "do you think you're doing? You're supposed to be the responsible one!"
Alison came up from behind, picking the spell book up off the ground, then kicking the magical items so they were scattered across the floor, unusable.
"I had to," Dawn insisted. "Buffy, it's… this guy. William Foster. He's totally brainwashed Seo, and—"
"The Cardiff Rift!" Buffy cut in. "You know what could happen! You were there when the Hellmouth opened in Sunnydale! And you still just decided to tear open the—!"
"He's making her sleep with him!" Dawn shouted.
Buffy froze. A look of utter disgust washing over her.
Then got to her feet, helped Dawn up. "Okay," Buffy confessed. "On second thought, I could see blowing up the universe for that."
William stood on the sidelines, in 1826. Watching what was happening. Watching the patterns of time Seo had manipulated play out, before him.
"So," said William. "These are your friends and family, Seo."
Then clapped his hands.
"But not for much longer," he said. His hands surging with magical energy.
As he altered the course of time.
Professor Feldman grinned, as he turned back to his team. "A blueprint, for me to build my time machine!" he cried. "Sent by the future of humanity." He raised up the papers. "This will work!"
"But… we've been working on our own time machine," Felix said. Looking at the pieces they couldn't quite get to fit together. "The one you've designed is completely different from the blueprints you've just obtained."
"That load of rubbish is just… a childhood dream," Professor Feldman dismissed, waving off the prototype time machine he'd constructed. "Inspired by someone who couldn't really exist. Dismantle it." He laid out the plans given to him by (as he would later find out) trans-temporal creatures trying to eat people and break out of the rift. "These are the plans we'll use."
Tosh typed at her computer, trying frantically to find a pathway to the realm of the Celestial Toymaker. She frowned.
She thought she had something, she just needed an object to test… out…
Tosh spun around, recalling an item that had randomly appeared, an hour before, just beside the computer. She could use…!
But it wasn't there.
On the world where Adam had been Emperor, Dawn finally understood what she'd done. How she'd drained Seo's soul, completely. Wiped out any way to get her back…
"It was that final wave that did it," said Adam. "You started by erasing everyone's memories of Seo, so she'd be safe. But then… you just couldn't stop, could you? You had to keep fiddling. Keep using that magic." He gestured at Seo. "You did that. Murdered her. She isn't even breathing anymore."
Seo's face looked like death.
And it made every bit of fury rage inside of Dawn.
"I might be part-Seo," Dawn gritted through her teeth. "But I'm also Dawn." She fiddled with the stasis box, altering its makeup and its purpose. "And I'm going to make sure you're dead."
Then threw the box at him.
Shattering both Adam, the box, and any memory of him left in the universe.
Dawn managed to revive Seo, somehow. By some miracle she didn't exactly understand.
But Adam and the stasis box were gone, forever.
All because she hadn't stopped.
Trapped in the Cardiff Rift, her friends and family arriving in 1826, while Seo herself was exposed to the full horror of the void — Seo could feel Billy altering time. Felt the changes swimming across the rift, around her. The timelines branching off in different directions.
She felt her plans to get Mom and Alison to Cardiff… fading away.
As William altered Feldman. Altered Adam. Altered the iPhone…
But he didn't stop there.
He wasn't content with stopping her plans. He was going after her friends…
"But she won't come," Drusilla pouted, dangling the seven-year-old Alison above the ground, in Prague Castle. "Not for poor little Drusilla."
Seven-year-old Alison struggling, trying desperately to get free.
"So I've decided to break apart her favorite toys," Drusilla explained.
Then bit down, and drank deep.
Until Alison Korjensky was dead.
The moment Buffy heard the Doctor was in town, she hopped into her car and began to drive towards UNIT, so she could meet up with him, again.
But then her car had locked itself down.
Buffy found her lungs filled with gas. Unable to breathe. Unable to think. She was dying, inside her car, unable to even think up a way to get free, her brain was so oxygen-deprived, and she'd never see the Doctor again, never…
Buffy, stuck in traffic in London, died inside her car.
Within Captain Hart's space ship…
"Right! Come along, then, Dawn and Seo," the Doctor said. "Hart can chase us, lock us up, threaten us with guns and pointy sticks and all sorts of nastiness, but he won't kill us!" He spun around, raced towards the door. "So, really, there's nothing to worry about."
"One of you isn't worth a dime, though," said Hart. Gun shifting to Dawn. "The lover."
And squeezed the trigger.
Dawn was shot squarely in the chest. The last thing she saw, alive, was Seo screaming, and the Doctor looking horrified and guilty beyond belief.
"It's… not your… fault…" Dawn tried to say.
As she died.
Seo, trapped in the rift, watched the timelines play out. Watched the people she trusted to rescue her, as they all died.
"No!" Seo shouted.
Looked back through time at 1826, expecting to see Alison, Dawn, and Mom all vanish…
Except they didn't.
They were still there. Still hanging about, just as alive as ever.
"Mom's a Line-Hopper!" Seo realized. Relieved. "A complex person in time and space. She must be shielding the rest of them! Making it take a while longer to make all those timeline alterations actually catch up."
And while those alterations were still working themselves out… they were in flux.
Seo could fix them!
She looked through history, again. Trying to think of some way she could make them all live, again. Watching as Mom died in her car, as Alison was murdered by Drusilla, as…
Seo scrutinized that moment a little more carefully. It hadn't taken place in Cardiff, true — wasn't touched directly by the Cardiff Rift — but… the person whom Seo could see as the Voice, at that moment with Dawn being killed… was someone Seo didn't recognize. Not Jane at all, just some… random…
Seo forced a laugh through the pain she felt. "Oh, Billy, I've worked it out," she hissed. Focusing her mind as much as she possibly could. "Think you can change around my past? Well. Change this!"
Buffy felt the whole world swim around her. Felt the entire landscape ripple and the ground tremble, as events and people and places buzzed past her.
Buffy looked around herself. Where once there had been a room filled with books and clocks and things, there was now just a field. And Dawn and Alison, not knowing things had changed at all.
"Look, the point I'm trying to make," Dawn was saying, a knife blade in her hand, "is I had no choice! I mean, I'm the Key, just like Seo. But I can't control it. So I use my blood, open the rift, hope Seo can close it without me having to kill myself, and—"
Alison snatched the knife blade out of Dawn's hand.
"It's not like I had books or magic or anything to help me!" said Dawn.
But as she said it, her hairstyle had already changed. Alison's clothes were different than they'd been a few moments ago. Time was changing around them, just like it had been changing around Buffy back in Sunnydale, with that Zen 12 bomb, and...
Buffy snapped her head around. She'd thought… she heard something. Behind her. Getting closer and closer. Like the stamping of horse's hooves…
"Are you all right?" Alison asked Buffy.
"You seriously can't see it?" Buffy said. "Like… any of it?" She shuddered. "It's like… history's changing, around us." A sharp headache tore through her mind for a second, then was gone. "Like someone's reaching in and…"
Dawn's jaw fell open. "Billy," she whispered. "He said he'd taken control of time. He must be reaching in and screwing around with it, because he's afraid we'll get Seo back."
"And if he mucks about with it too much… Buffy and I won't ever have arrived?" Alison guessed.
"And Dawn opens the rift, making the universe go boom," Buffy agreed. Wincing at another headache. She grabbed up her sister and Alison. "Which means we've got to find Jack. Stay near him until this blows over. Jack's a fixed point in time. Back with that Zen 12 bomb… he made all the timeline-changing stop."
"Jack?" cried Alison. "But he hasn't even arrived in Cardiff...!" She stopped, as Buffy took a tracking device out of her pocket. A tracking device designed to find a very particular ring. Alison shook her head. "Oh, you've got to be kidding."
"What?" said Dawn, following the others. "Is either of you going to tell me what's...?"
Buffy stopped. Spun around. "Jack's buried under Cardiff," she explained, "for about 2,000 years. Because when he was very young, he lost his brother. Let go of his hand while fleeing a race of aliens…"
"Pain eating vulture aliens," Alison agreed.
"…and his brother took revenge by sending him to the past via Time Agent and Vortex Manipulator," said Buffy. "And burying him under the city. There. Happy?"
Dawn's eyes went wide. "Oh my God," she breathed. "No. No, no, no, no, no! Gray so totally can't be…!"
But the look on Buffy's face said it all.
"In a short while, Torchwood will trace the signal emitted by the ring buried with Jack and dig him out," Alison said, as they kept following Buffy's tracker — down streets and past buildings, racing through the night. "But in the meantime, Jack's part of Cardiff history."
"And the reason Seo overcame this… love spell thing," Buffy muttered.
The entire landscape hesitated around them, and the tracker popped out of Buffy's hands. As if it had never been there in the first place.
But they no longer needed it.
Because they could hear something, now, echoing through the trees. A voice she'd recognize anywhere…
She raced forwards, fast as she could possibly manage…
Seo was curled up, on the ground. She looked beat-up. Horrible. Her face too pale and her eyes red swollen and her entire body trembling. Scrapes and burns and cuts riddled her skin.
"I hurt," Seo said, addressing the ground. "I hurt so much. So much pain. So much fear. Don't let him touch me. Not again. Just… help me. Please. Someone. Help me."
Buffy knelt down by her, throwing arms around her, trying to comfort her. "It's okay," she shushed. "It's me. It's Mom. I'm here."
Which was when Buffy realized…
The Seo she was holding… didn't have a pulse.
She was breathing. Alive. Warm. But her hearts weren't beating.
Seo didn't seem to notice Buffy or the embrace. Just continued speaking to the ground, as if Buffy weren't even there.
"Billy wants me," said Seo. "No one else. If he has me, he'll leave the others alone. None of the rest of it has to happen. Abaddon. The rift. Ethan Rayne. I could stop…" She shuddered. "Help me. Please! I just want to go home!"
Alison and Dawn emerged, staring at Buffy and the fallen Seo. Then raced over, trying to help. Trying to grab up Seo and help Buffy move her. But the moment they reached out to her, Seo's body seemed to fade out, into the air, becoming ghost-like.
Seo curled up into herself, crying softly into her arms. "Please, help me go home."
"It's not really her, of course," came a voice from behind the group.
They all spun around, to discover a tall, thin man — young, with wispy blond hair, an angular face, beady black eyes.
Alison jumped back to her feet. Eyes wide. "You…"
"She's been creating these with her own mind," said William. Gesturing at the sobbing Seo. "Replicas of herself. Or of others. 'Rift-visions.' When she concentrates, she can even make them fully corporeal. Although... they never have a pulse."
Seo froze. As she heard William's voice. Spun around, sitting up on the wooded spot where she'd found sanctuary. Her entire body flooded with tension. Her lower lip trembling.
She said nothing.
"She can project them anywhere touched by the rift," William continued, "and throughout the past year or so of her personal timeline. Rather an amazing talent, really."
Still, Seo said nothing.
William walked towards her, his every step making her stiffer and more terrified, frozen more and more in place. "None of you should have come here," he told the others, gathered around Seo. "Seo is trapped in the rift. Couldn't leave even if she wanted to."
"So you distorted my history," Seo said. "Tried to hurt my friends. My family. And I sent an army to fight you. An army created from my mind."
Buffy caught Seo up in her arms, feeling her solidify beneath her touch. But William was right. This wasn't Seo. Aside from the lack of pulse, her skin felt… wrong, somehow. And something about her didn't look quite right.
"I remembered Jane," said Seo. "Don't you remember, Aunt Dawn? Jane Howard. Except… she wasn't. She was me. And not me. Just a rift-vision I conjured up. Then implanted into the timeline. To make sure she was around… to save your life."
Dawn's eyes widened.
William squatted down, in front of Seo. "So that's the other projections. But what about this one? What were you planning to accomplish with this little rift-vision of yours?" He pointed at her friends. "Trying to make them feel sorry for you? Use your little visions to play on their sense of love and devotion, so you could manipulate them to do whatever you want?"
"Don't hurt them," Seo whispered.
"I told you — my only interest is in you," William replied. "As long as you're with me, I'm not planning to hurt anyone."
"But you're torturing me," Seo said. Huddled into herself, sobbing, again. "You're hurting me so much. Please, make it stop. Please!"
Alison snuck up from behind, and surged forwards, leaping at William to tackle him to the ground. But William blinked out of existence. And re-emerged, a short ways away, standing up. A stern expression on his face.
"Building blocks," muttered Seo. "Built on Marty and Doc. Empires shattered and reformed. I told you landing on any October 1st makes it my birthday."
Dawn blinked. A little alarmed. "Oh."
"I think it's time," said William, "I put this tortured little phantom of her psyche out of its misery."
Dawn's eyes widened, as a pistol appeared in William's hands. "No, don't…!"
But too late.
The shot — expert and precise — pierced right through Seo's chest. Seo collapsed, on top of Buffy. Gasping for air. Her entire body growing less and less tangible.
"Not back to the future," she breathed. "Just back to where this all began."
And then vanished into the air.
"I don't know what any of that nonsense meant," said William, pointing the pistol at the party in front of him. "But for your own sakes, I'd advise you to leave us alone. Seo and I are happy, together. And I'll kill anyone who tries to get in between our happiness."
Then he vanished.
Dawn got to her feet. "You guys came here in that DeLorean, right?" she asked. "And brought a stasis box with you?"
Buffy and Alison nodded.
"Then we need to get it," said Dawn racing off. "That's what Seo's message said. To get the box and head back to where this all began. The basement where those magic guys cast their rift spell!"
Seo felt herself yanked free from the hurting and pain and misery, dragged back to solid ground. To a basement, in a Cardiff home. In William's arms. She gasped, rasping for breath.
He'd pulled her through.
Past the time barrier she couldn't cross. Pulled her through into just the right time and place.
"Psychic facsimiles," William said. "Little people you created, to run around history. I've been watching."
Seo gave a tired smile. "Well. I am… a bit… brilliant."
"A copy of yourself in 1939, just outside the Ritz," said William. "A newspaper vendor in Prague, 1997. A vision of a future-human appearing in Professor Feldman's labs. The car salesman who convinced Alison's father to buy a car with ATMOS, to make sure your mother was sent away when the Sontarans attacked. Appearing to your aunt as Martha, so she'd send that stasis box! And then, of course, there was the Lady Jane Howard."
Yep. Seo had certainly been brilliant.
"And one last vision — a crying, pathetic-looking little Seo replica," said William. "In 1826. Sobbing in front of her friends, playing on their sympathies so you could manipulate them into doing your dirty-work."
Seo looked up at him through tired eyes. "Not… manipulate… them."
William frowned. "Manipulate me," he realized. "You played on my guilt. My sense of love. Made me want to remove you from your punishment, early. You played me like your puppet, so I'd drag you into the here and now, past all the locks and defenses." Shook his head. "I suppose you think that's clever."
He held her a little more firmly. "If you could just surrender yourself to your fate, this could all stop," he told her. "Don't you see? We can be together."
Seo's brow furrowed, her eyes closing, as she struggled for breath. "What… do you see in me?" she asked him. "What makes you do it?"
"I love you," said William.
"You say that," Seo said, "even though you want to change everything about me."
"I don't…" William shook his head. "It's not about that. I'm improving you. Bringing out your best traits. Your caring. Your compassion. Your selflessness—"
Seo gave a small laugh.
William bit back his frustration. "You're not the only one making sacrifices!" he said. "I knew you needed to travel through time. I knew you'd never be happy without a strong, temporally aware individual. Someone who could live almost forever. I transformed myself for you." He rocked her in his arms. "I'm only asking you to transform yourself for me."
She opened her eyes. Large, brown eyes. Staring so deep into William's beady black ones.
"No," she said.
William's face grew red. "What?"
Seo yanked herself so she was sitting upright, free from his grasp. Her breath still ragged. But her eyes burning. "I'm through with being selfless," she said. "Through with being miserable. Tired of being tortured. And fed up with being a prisoner! It's me or the world, you say?" Her eyes flashed. "Well, hang the world. I'm leaving."
The cellar door burst open, three figures racing in, a stasis box in Dawn's hands.
William sprung to his feet, trying to transport himself and Seo through time — make them disappear. But Seo had already predicted this. Already planned for this.
It was what the stasis box was for.
The box flickered into life, whirring and grinding, freezing both Seo and William in this exact place in time.
They couldn't disappear.
William, suddenly terrified, unable to slip away through time, stumbled back, shoving himself between Seo and the others. Planting a look on his face that challenged anyone to fight back against him.
Mom punched him in the gut.
As Alison raced forwards, dragging Seo away from him, helping her stagger free.
"You still can't get her out of the rift!" shouted William. "I've chained her there. Only I hold the key to her bonds. Only my consent can release her."
Seo turned back to William.
"You're trapped, Seo," said William. "Enslaved to both me and the rift forever. Even if you don't care about the fate of the world… you'll never find a way to get out."
"Won't I?" asked Seo. A twinkle appeared in her eyes. "You remember back when I told you I was the Key? Well, funny thing. Turns out… I lied. Partially. True, I am 'the Key' — a master key to open any lock in the universe." She gestured at Dawn. "But… so is she."
William's eyes widened.
"Individually, we're a bit useless," Seo continued. "But the two of us together… the moment we touch hands…"
She reached out towards Dawn, who reached back towards her.
William's eyes went even wider. "No!" he shouted, racing towards them and trying to tear their hands apart.
A gigantic spark, as the three pairs of hands met. And the cellar glowed with an unearthly light, golden rift energy rippling across every surface, pouring through every person, colliding in layers upon layers of dimensional chaos.
Alison shut her eyes against the light.
When she opened her eyes, again, Seo looked perfectly normal. Standing beside Dawn, completely phased into the reality around her, nothing odd about her at all.
William was caught up in a swirl of slowly dissipating golden energy.
"What… what did… what is…?" William shouted.
Seo snapped her fingers, and the golden energy around William dispersed, leaving just the hints around his legs and arms — to reveal manacles and chains — before it all puffed away into nothing.
"You're a little bit thick, aren't you?" Seo asked William. She put an arm around Dawn. "Aunt Dawn and I held hands, before, remember? Didn't do anything back then. Wouldn't have done anything, now, either… if you hadn't gotten in the middle, of course."
William's face exploded into a fit of anger. "What?!"
"I routed our Key energies through you," Seo explained. "And a stasis box. Trapped you exactly where you'd trapped me. Inside the rift." She winked. "Only… I was a bit more thorough with the lock on your prison, Billy. Might need a little more to leave than just 'obtaining my consent'."
"Welcome to your life from now on," Alison agreed. "Flitting about from one time to another. And never able to belong anywhere. Ever again."
William surged forwards, lashing out at Seo, but Buffy grabbed him up and shoved him back before he could grab her.
"You can't do this to me!" shouted William. "I only wanted what was best for you. It was all for your own good! So I could turn you into the perfect—"
"But I don't want to be perfect," said Seo. She shrugged. "I'm done with trying to kill myself. Done with trying to fix psychopaths. Done with screwing myself over to save the world. I might have a penchant for shoving myself into danger to save others, but… honestly?" She flipped some hair back over her shoulder. "I want to live."
"You shouldn't want to live without me!" said William. "I'm the only meaning in your life."
Seo laughed. "Oh, Billy. Look at me! I'm 101 years old and a genius, I've got a brilliant time machine, a family who loves me, and a lot of really good friends." She beamed. "Of course I don't need you! I never have!"
She turned on her feet, and marched towards the door of the cellar. Buffy, Dawn, and Alison all trailing behind.
"You're just leaving me?" shouted William.
Seo stopped in the doorway. Glanced over her shoulder at him. "I'll be back," she promised. "In the future. Just to check and see if your madness has worn off." She frowned, a little. "Oh. And hands off Rhys Williams!"
And left the cellar.
Don't worry, this story goes on! But if you're at all interested, I figured I'd let you know that this is where Seo leaves 1826 and heads to 2008, the moment Abbadon was released. Hence, in between this chapter and the next chapter, the entire story of "The Revenge of Bilis Manger" takes place.
The "elder Seo" mentioned in chapter 11 of that story is the very Seo we're seeing, now.
"You couldn't have been more subtle about it?" Alison asked, as they all piled into Oliver. "I mean, you practically told him that Rhys was part of your master plan!"
Seo's self-confidence had worn down, quite a lot, since she'd left William. Her face had settled into a frown, as she paced around the central console, adjusting and changing and turning.
"Not… master plan, so much," said Seo. "More of a… backup plan."
She'd already heard the news, from Dawn, about who Gray's brother was. What it meant. And why she'd sensed Jack Harkness buried under Cardiff for about 2,000 years.
She rested her hands on the top of the console. "Thing is… we all know how this ends," she said. "We've already seen it happen. Eventually, Billy turns into Bilis Manger."
"Invades your own past," Alison agreed.
"And makes Torchwood open the rift, while killing all my friends and family," Seo said. "But, of course, he's going to make one very big mistake." She turned around, eyes focused on her aunt. "He's going to kill you."
Dawn pointed to herself. "Me?"
"And if he kills you," said Seo, "none of the rest of this could ever have happened! Paradox." She shoved a lever up, and Oliver jolted back into life. "Which means… remember, with Bilis Manger, when everyone died, and then time got reversed and we all came back to life for no reason?"
"Yes," said Buffy and Alison.
"No," Dawn admitted.
"Well, turns out, we're about to cause that reversal to happen," said Seo, "by flying Oliver along the rift fractures, and letting Aunt Dawn ride out her paradox."
The ship juddered and jolted, as Dawn curled up, her head swimming, eyes watering. She sucked in a gasp of pain and confusion, before…
It all stopped.
Seo sprung forwards. Opened the doors.
To reveal a very confused-looking, one-year-younger version of Dawn, staring down at herself in bewilderment.
"Hang on," said younger-Dawn. "I think I'm supposed to be dead, or…?"
Then she caught sight of the inside of the ship. And met elder-Dawn's eyes.
"Oh, my God!" shouted the two Dawns.
"This isn't like in Harry Potter, right?" said elder-Dawn. "Where seeing yourself time traveling makes you go insane?"
"What the hell am I doing time traveling, anyways?" younger-Dawn cried. "The Doctor said doing that would make the universe go boom!"
"Calm down — everything will be fine," Seo assured the two Dawns. Turned to the younger one. "But you need a nice dose of retcon." She produced some from her pocket, and held it out to the younger Dawn. "Sorry. But elder-you remembers none of this."
Younger Dawn hesitated.
Then sighed, and swallowed down the retcon — slumping down in place, as she drifted off. Buffy and Alison dragging the sleeping younger-Dawn back inside Oliver, just to keep her safe.
Then the ground shook.
They all looked up into the sky, to discover a gigantic horned beast emerging above the city of Cardiff. Its shadow draining the life from all beneath it. Its eyes cruel and cold and deadly.
"Abaddon," Mom breathed.
"I couldn't chain Abaddon down there as tightly as I wanted," Seo admitted. Shook her head, sadly. "After all. I remembered that he was released, in my own past. I had to make that happen, again."
"But why is Billy releasing Abaddon at all?" Dawn shouted. "Billy didn't care about destroying the world! He only cared about you, Seo! So why would Billy release a monster who…?"
"It's Jack, isn't it?" said Alison. "Bilis said he'd kill anyone who came between you two, and Jack, buried beneath Cardiff, was the one who freed you from Bilis' clutches. Jack — the man who can't die."
"You think Bilis knew releasing Abaddon would make Jack sacrifice himself to stop it?" said Dawn.
"Bilis was able to predict everything else," Mom muttered. "I don't get why this would be any different."
"It's Billy's ultimate revenge," said Seo. "His ultimate plan. He wanted to enslave me to the rift, again. And he wanted to kill Jack for good."
"But if Jack's killed forever, a year back," Alison said, "he'd never have been buried beneath Cardiff in the first place!"
"Another paradox," said Dawn.
"Which is why I needed Billy to kill Rhys," Seo agreed. She gave a small grin. "We resolved Bilis Manger's paradox with the rest of us when we came forwards in time. But Jack's death is still in the future, relative to now."
"So that bit didn't get undone, when we came forwards in time," Alison realized.
"Jack's still going to die," Dawn agreed. "And he'll stay dead."
Mom turned to Seo. "You did something really smart with Rhys, didn't you?"
Seo's eyes twinkled. "Rhys was stabbed by Billy," she explained. "But when we came forward in time, that got reversed. Rhys was resurrected."
"I remember," Mom said.
"Except that Rhys is also Gwen's boyfriend," Seo continued. "Which means his resurrection will leave a lot of temporal residue on his lips. And, when he kisses her, Gwen's lips." She bounced on her toes. "Moment Gwen kisses Jack…"
"The paradox-reversal catches up with him!" said Dawn.
"And Jack springs back to life," Alison agreed. Shook her head. "Genius. Just genius!"
Mom nodded, slowly. "So… anyone here for tracking down Bilis Manger and kicking his ass?"
Seo put an arm on Mom's shoulder. Gave her a warning stare.
This was her fight. She was the one who'd been wronged. And she was the one who was going to make sure Billy got what was coming to him.
Bilis Manger, older, more worn and weary and clearly imprisoned in the rift for a very long time, appeared before them, a short time later. Looking even more insane than he had, 200 years ago.
"'Bilis Manger'," Seo mused. "Billy. Whom I met on Manger Street." Quirked an eyebrow at him. "I suppose you think that's clever."
Bilis' eyes went dark. Glaring. "I should have released myself and trapped you," he said. "I had it all worked out! I stole Alison's iPhone from the Doctor, in the 70's. Killed Dawn. Killed Rhys. Obtained your consent. Got Torchwood to open the rift." He stepped forwards, his entire body seething in fury. "So what am I missing? What?!"
Seo held up a box in her hand. That wooden-looking box in which she and Dawn had stashed that memory-altering entity — now filled with nothing but sand.
"I took it with me," Seo explained. "When I came here, from the past. That's why you couldn't find it." Then, tossing it to him, "Catch!"
Bilis caught it. Greedily grabbed at it, tearing it open, throwing both sand and box into the golden energies of the rift, where the whole thing burned away.
They all waited, with baited breath, for something to happen.
"It didn't work!" shouted Bilis Manger. "What…?!"
"It's a stasis box that I converted into a stabilizer field using a dissected iPhone," sighed Alison, from where she stood behind Seo. "All you've done, by letting the rift consume it, is to set what she's done to you in stone." Her eyes shone. "You're trapped in the rift forever, now. Sorry!"
Bilis struggled to break free from his prison. But failed.
He stared at Seo, horror flooding across him.
"As if I'd require you to kill my friends and family in order to release yourself!" Seo scoffed. She shook her head, almost disappointed in him. "The lock on your prison is empathic, you dolt. It doesn't just require you to gather items and people and have them do certain things. It requires the correct feelings behind those actions."
"What?" shouted Bilis.
"A drop of Dawn's blood — supposed to be given freely, as she forgave you," said Seo. "Alison's iPhone — a sign of trust. Torchwood's opening the rift — an expression of harmonious teamwork. Obtaining my consent — well, that goes without saying, doesn't it?"
"And Rhys?" demanded Bilis.
Seo's eyes flicked over to Abaddon, who'd noticed something in the distance. No. Some… one. Someone with more life energy than anyone else.
"Insurance," said Seo, bitterness edging her voice. "In case you worked out who actually saved me, all those years ago. And came after him." She glanced back at Bilis. "Which… looks like… you did."
Seo shot him an icy glare.
"Oh, don't bother threatening me!" said Bilis. He laughed. "Your friend Alison's already said you tricked me into keeping myself locked up here, forever. There's nothing more you can do to me!"
"That's what she said," Seo replied. A twinkle in her eye. "Not what I actually did."
Bilis' cheer fell away from him, in an instant. "What do you mean?"
Seo glanced around herself. Then leaned in, a little closer. "See, I've heard 'I think therefore I am'," she said. "But I've also heard the saying… 'if a tree falls in the forest and no one's around to hear it, does it make a noise?' Which one will win out, you think?"
Bilis started back, in alarm, as he noticed his whole body going more and more transparent. His eyes suddenly growing terrified. "No…"
"Being non-corporeal is a bit rubbish," said Seo. "Especially the way I'm doing it to you. You'll still be able to think. Still be self-aware. But no one and nothing in the outside world will ever be able to hear you, see you, or interact with you, again."
Bilis' eyes grew even more horrified. "You can't!"
Seo stepped back from him. "Imprisoning you in the rift wasn't torture, Billy," she said. "That was my way of being kind." Crossed her arms. "Not feeling so kind anymore."
Bilis' voice began to grow more and more hollow, as his body faded out of existence. "You selfish ego-maniac!" he shouted. "You torturing, murdering, lying, manipulative spoiled brat! You think you're so wonderful? You're ripped from the darkest pits of Hell, Seo! You…"
And then he disappeared.
Seo turned back to her ship, hands in her pockets. As the beast Abaddon died, in the distance, sucking the life out of a one-year-ago version of Jack Harkness, and overloading on a massive burst of life energy.
Nothing more Seo could do for him, now.
Time to get younger-Dawn back to where she belonged.
And return to Cardiff, 2009, to face everything she'd been avoiding.
It took Seo and the others five tries to actually land back on Earth. For some reason, every time Seo landed at the correct coordinates for Earth, all they saw was empty space and stars.
"But this is Earth!" Seo tried to insist. "Cardiff, 2009!"
Alison gestured out the window, at the star-scape around them. "Yeah. Looks just like it, Seo."
"Try about 20 million light years to the right," Dawn suggested. "And several million years forwards."
Seo stomped her foot. "It's Earth!" she insisted. "I landed in the right spot!" She turned back to the controls. "I… think."
"Back off, you two," said Buffy, standing beside Seo, defensively. "I mean, she's got all of time and space to navigate, here! It's okay if she gets kind of lost. And after the Sontaran thing, there's no way I'm letting her use a GPS to find her way to the…"
A stabbing pain shot through Buffy's head.
Then vanished, in an instant.
"…right planet," Buffy concluded.
What the hell were the headaches about?!
Seo tried again.
With limited success.
It was only when she made a minor temporal jump into the near-future that she managed to actually land on a planet. And the four of them arrived in Cardiff.
Buffy felt another headache, as she stepped out of Seo's ship.
But brushed it off.
Time to make sure Seo got the help she needed. Time to let Seo speak to Jack.
Time to wrap it up!
Hurray! Let's end Season 2 on a high note!
Now I'm going to take a little posting break, because I'm crazy busy at the hotel, and I... kind of... haven't finished writing the next Season, yet. Oops!
Hope you leave lots of reviews to let me know how you liked this Season, and if you're planning to read on for the next, after New Years!
(See the preview in the next chapter of this story.)
Enjoy! Happy New Years!
Seo stood, in the Torchwood Hub, staring at the frozen body of Gray, down in the freezers. Her lower lip trembling.
"Thanks," said Jack, coming up beside her. Leaning a hand against the other freezers. "For rescuing him."
Seo brushed down her bangs, instinctively. Not answering.
"You remember all of it, huh?" Jack asked, his voice lower. "Everything that happened during that Year on the Valiant. You've always remembered."
For a very long time, Seo was silent. Her hands tensing on the sides of the freezer. Her entire upper body seized as if with sudden panic.
"Why did you pretend you didn't?" said Jack. "We could have helped you."
"If I do admit that I remember… something about that year," she said, in a very small voice. Looked up at him, terror in her eyes. "…would… you hate me?"
Jack stared at her, a little taken aback. "Why would I?"
"Because I gave in," said Seo. "Because you were tortured as a result of my standing up to the Master, and… after all that… I still surrendered, anyways. Became evil." She swallowed, hard. "Killed you."
"That wasn't your fault," said Jack. "The Master broke into your mind. Changed around your thoughts. You…"
"No, Billy changed around my thoughts," Seo countered. Shook her head. "That wasn't what the Master did. He…" She shuddered.
Jack waited for her to go on.
"He tapped into something horrible, inside of me," Seo confessed. "I got scared, Jack. I gave in. In that moment, I'd have given him anything!" She struggled to hold back her emotions. "I… did give him everything."
"I agreed to kill Martha," said Seo. "Agreed to be the Master's servant! Was ready to destroy any world he told me, kill anyone he asked me to, done anything at all — just to make sure he didn't tap into that horrible something, ever again! I'd have handed him the universe itself, to stop…" Her eyes drifted down to the frozen body of Gray. "I'm just like Gray, really. Deep down inside."
Jack put a hand on her shoulder. "Seo. You're not like my brother."
Seo shrugged. "I am," she said. "You haven't seen it. Mom and Alison have. Sarah Jane and Luke. Every psychopath wants to have the power of life and death over the universe — and I do. I'm like those psychopaths."
"My brother never wanted that."
"No, he wanted you hurt," said Seo. "And I did that, too. I'm the reason you got buried under Cardiff. I'm the reason you got tortured on the Valiant. I'm the reason you all got your memories zapped by some memory-altering creature, and that you and Alison were nearly eaten by Feldman's trans-temporal rift monsters. Billy… Bilis… was right — there's nothing anyone could do to you that's worse than what I've already done."
Jack shook his head.
"So… yes," Seo concluded. "I remember the Master and the Valiant. And… after what happened, with Billy… I've proved that I'm still that same Seo who betrayed everyone on the Valiant. The same Seo who gave in." Looked up at him, scared. "Do you hate me, now?"
Jack gave a small sigh, then turned Seo around, hands on her shoulders, looking down into those deep brown eyes. "Seo," he said, in a very low, completely sincere voice, "you want to know what I really think of you?"
"I think," said Jack, "you're one of the bravest people I know. And one of the kindest people I know. I think what you did for Martha and her family onboard the Valiant was amazing. What you've done across the universe is inspiring. And I think — if my being buried under Cardiff was what set you free… then by all means, bury me again."
Seo looked away.
"Tosh and Owen are still dead because of me," Seo said. "Because I released Gray from that spaceship. Let him find you." Her face turned even glummer. "You should hate me for that, at least."
"Seo, you braved creatures from my worst nightmares," Jack told her — feeling the hints of tears in his eyes — "to bring my little brother back to me. You saved my family — just like you saved Martha's, up on the Valiant." He leaned down, gathered her up in his arms, hugging her to him with all the love he really felt for her. "How can I ever hate you for that?"
She hugged him back.
For a few minutes, they said nothing. Just wrapped up in that never-ending embrace, both feeling so much comfort and warmth from the other.
"I… could have sacrificed myself, in the past," Seo muttered into his shoulder. "Stayed with Billy forever. Been miserable forever. You'd never have had to stop Abaddon, last year. I could have saved you that. Saved all those people caught in Abaddon's shadow from dying. But I just… couldn't." She shook her head. "I think I'm a very selfish person, inside, Jack."
Jack pulled away, with a smile on his face. "You know… it's not a crime to enjoy being alive."
Seo stared at him. Shocked. "It's… not?"
"Of course not!" said Jack. "Why? Who convinced you otherwise?"
"Just… when I was a little girl," Seo admitted, "and even when I was an older girl — I heard this… voice inside my head. I always just assumed it was my conscience." She grimaced. "The voice kept telling me I was a selfish, spoiled brat who should stop making everyone miserable by surviving and just kill myself, already."
Buffy had said there'd been an entity inside Seo's head, when she was younger, trying to convince her to kill herself. So the entity could steal Seo's body and use it for its own ends.
No wonder Seo felt ashamed for wanting to live.
Seo looked back down at Jack's frozen brother. "Gray wanted to die," she said. "Said I knew how he felt." She turned back to Jack. "But I don't."
"I want to live," Seo told him. "I want to love. I want to wander around the universe being brilliantly clever, and then come home and be with my family at the end. I want to live long enough that my father stops trailing after me so he can swoop in and save me when I get into trouble, long enough that I get to see Oliver grow up and become a real TARDIS, long enough that I get to understand who I really am, inside, and have fun doing it!"
Jack laughed. "Good."
Shutting up his frozen brother back into the freezers.
Seo took Jack's hand in hers. "I'm Seosyrae," she said. "I love my family. I love my friends. And I love the fact that you're going to live forever, so I'll never be alone! I'm not a weapon. I'm not anyone else's property or body or revenge tool. I'm mine! I'm me! And I'm never going to change."
Jack squeezed her hand.
"You and me, kid," he said, with a wink. "We're forever."
And here's your preview!
Sorry there are no titles in this. I keep changing around my titles, so I'm reluctant to put them in. But I think it's still a pretty good preview.
I'll list out the titles I have, so far, at the bottom. I don't know if they'll stay as those titles, but... here's to hoping!
See you all next year!
(In the meantime, while you're waiting for the next update... why not explore the absolutely breath-takingly beautiful area of South Lake Tahoe? Hint hint hint!)
"An enemy will rise," Drusilla said. "One who pushes you to your limits. I can see… you." She frowned, in thought. "Your life so intricate. Family gained… and family lost."
"You will be many and one, Seo — reflections through shards of broken glass," Drusilla continued. "Every reflection different. Every face unique. All gathered together to fight a great evil. To rise to your biggest challenge."
Seo's eyes widened.
Drusilla leaned in. A twinkle in her eyes. "Beware, little Seo," she said. "Beware the Sunglasses."
THIS IS THE STORY OF TWO SISTERS…
"That's why all this happened," Seo realized. "Because we're… sisters."
"I have… a sister," the girl breathed. Looked like she couldn't believe it. "I have a sister."
It wasn't possible.
But it was true.
They could both feel it.
A group of black-robed people with hoods drawn up over their heads suddenly dropped down on the trio — as if from nowhere — throwing a device onto the pavement that exploded into a thick gas.
Jenny, Alan, and Seo all began coughing, violently, as the gas obscured their vision, and Seo was wrenched from Alan's grip.
Alan collapsed to the ground, unconscious in an instant.
"Stop it! Get off me!" Seo shouted.
The sounds of a scuffle broke through the now-nearly-opaque gas.
Jenny darted forwards into the worst of the gas, holding her breath for as long as she could. She already felt the gas boring into her, as if through osmosis, trying to make her drowsy and dizzy and sluggish — but Jenny stubbornly put that aside.
And struck out.
Fighting hand and foot, with every ounce of strength and stubborn willpower she had in her. Punching and striking and hitting, as she made out Seo's figure in the middle of the smoke, already limp and unconscious.
Grabbed her out of the reach of the thugs, and turned to run…
A shot rang through the air.
"I'm going to help her," Jenny said. "I have to. She's my sister." She rewired a device. Then checked the readings again. "But first, I have to get her back here."
"And… if you can't?" said Dawn.
"Then I'm taking you up on your offer." Jenny's eyes darted over to Dawn. "You're going to send me there, too."
"I'm not leaving her," Jenny insisted. "Seo needs me."
…THE PEOPLE THEY LOVED…
Jenny, pain visible on her face, bandaged Aychron up, carefully. Making sure to get even the injuries Aychron was too proud to admit hurt.
"I told you," said Aychron, with a tired smile. "I didn't let them take me without a fight." He swallowed back the pain, as she disinfected one of the wounds on his back. "And what a fight it was."
"You can stop pretending," said Jenny, quietly, looking at his back. "These are electric burns. They weren't made in a fight. They were made… after you were caught."
Aychron covered up the next flinch of pain with a gruff laugh.
"Clever," he said. "I always said you were. I just… never knew why."
Jenny kept her eyes focused on her work.
Her jaw kept trembling. Half with utter rage, half with desperate terror and worry.
Seo raced past the others and threw her arms around Buffy. Tears running down her cheeks, as she hugged her mom tight as she possibly could.
Buffy looked horrified. "You… know?"
"I'm not letting you die," Seo said. She stepped away, brushing tears from her eyes. "I won't. There has to be some way to fix it. There has to…!"
…AND THE ENEMIES THEY FACED.
"Who are you?" Leah demanded, closing her datapad. "What are you doing here? You need a badge to get into this building."
The woman with the sunglasses perched on the top of her head laughed. Leaned over the desk, and whispered, "I'm God."
Then blinked again.
"Wait, you're… a god?" Leah said.
"No, I'm God," said the woman with the sunglasses. Pointed to the ceiling. "You know! Big guy upstairs. The one and only! King of Kings, Lord of Lords, the Almighty, Blessed-are-you-Lord-Our-God, Burning-Bush-No-Sandals-Holy-Ground — the whole deal!"
"The one you damn when you stub your toe and the one you bless when someone sneezes. Impressed?"
"I guess that explains the connection between Sunglasses and Dawn's niece," said Deborah Raykins. "This whole thing with the Daleks must have been a trap."
"To get this… 'Seo' out of the way," Hrequor guessed, "before pursuing…?"
"You heard Dawn," Raykins muttered. "Seo can kill God. What else do you expect from Sunglasses?"
"No," Seo breathed. Jumped to her feet, as she looked out at her surroundings. "No! This can't be happening!"
Because she knew where she was, now.
"We heard you were trying to come here to take revenge," came a voice from the darkness. A huge, booming voice, reverberating through the chamber. "So we brought you back first. When you were at your weakest. So we could have our revenge on you, instead."
She knew that voice. Had heard it echoing through a thousand, billion nightmares. Had felt it creeping through her bones in her worst possible hours.
She tried to jump to her feet, but found herself restrained.
The person turned her around.
And faced her.
FOR AS DAY FALLS TO NIGHT…
"She can face down Daleks, vampires, aliens, her sister dying, and the end of the world," Alison mused, "but a public model 3D printer on a shopping spree is enough to break her." She looked over at Seo. "I think that says a lot about the universe, actually."
Dawn gave the machine a vicious kick, accompanied by a blood-curdling scream.
So much for catching some rest and relaxation on a future-style shopping spree!
Seo spun around, just in time to see the warrior bringing down his scimitar upon her head…
And was stopped as a hand caught his single arm, and shoved him around.
A taller, frizzy red haired woman, who ducked the warrior's next advance, dancing to avoid kicks from his legs, then darted in at the last minute, grabbed him up by the torso, and twisted him around so he flipped, head-over-heels, through the air. Scimitar flying from his hands.
The red-head turned to Seo. Grabbed her by the wrist. "We have to go," she said, in a crisp English accent.
"What…?" Seo began.
"Yes, yes, it's a philosophical impossibility!" the woman replied. "We'll deal with that when we meet back up with the third. Now hurry, or we'll…!"
They were interrupted by a second warrior running forwards, his face a sneer, his single arm thrusting the scimitar at the blond girl.
"One thousand lives to be lost!" he shouted. "One thousand be the cost! A thousand years, a thousand pains, a thousand cheers, a thousand—"
"Hey, Shakespeare!" shouted an American voice from not far off. "Try this for a rhyming dictionary!"
The warrior looked up.
And was struck, right in the face, by a hard-cover anthology of the Complete Works of William Shakespeare.
…AS ONE YEAR FALLS TO THE NEXT, ONE DECADE TO THE NEXT, ONE CENTURY OR ONE MILLENIA TO THE ONE THAT SUPERCEDES IT…
"You're alone," Seo said.
"I don't need anyone," Jenny put in, hurriedly.
The First Seo
"I'm bullet proof?" Seo gasped, stumbling from the impact of the shot, but staring in amazement as a gold light shimmered around the wound and completely repaired her body. She paused in her run, to watch. "Is that who I am, now? Someone who can't be killed?"
"Only for the first 48 hours of a new body," Jenny insisted, grabbing Seo's arm, and tugging her along behind. She ran faster. "Trust me. I got shot the day I was born, and I know — it doesn't last."
The Second Seo
"Please," said Jenny. "Leave this place with me. Get away from here. Please, I'm begging you!"
"You can leave," Seo said. "I'm staying." She beamed. "I like it!"
"Please!" Jenny said, grabbing her by the shoulders and shaking her. "Please! Please! Please!"
"Quit it!" Seo said, squirming out of Jenny's grip. "Go leave, then! Do what you want! It doesn't have anything to do with me."
The Seventh Seo
"You killed him."
The words were like a slap across Seo's cheeks.
"You killed him!" Jenny had shouted, jumping up and grabbing Seo by the shoulders. Shaking her, violently, like she wanted to break her in half. "How could you?! How could you?!"
"It wasn't him!" Seo insisted.
"Traitor!" Jenny had screamed, striking out at Seo with both fists. "Murderer!"
The Eighth Seo
ALL PEOPLE, ALL TIMES, ALL LIFE MUST FALL…
"Aunt Dawn?" came Seo's worried voice. "What… what's wrong? What happened, during the times I can't remember?"
"I need a break," said Dawn. "Just… take me back to Cleveland."
Seo stared. Said nothing.
"I saw some stuff, Seo," Dawn said. "For now… I think it would be better for both of us if we… stayed apart."
A black van that pulled up. Kevlar vested people pouring out of it, opening fire on Buffy.
Buffy jerked up the flat-board-looking alien device as a shield. Instinctively.
Felt the rumble of bullets bouncing off its surface.
As she turned. And ran.
Struggling to keep this alien gizmo between herself and whatever goons wanted her dead. Didn't think about why the alien whatever-she'd-dug-up couldn't be destroyed, didn't think about how she'd known it would protect her, or why it was suddenly so windy and noisy outside, or why she could feel vibrations in the air and flowing through the device… just run, RUN…!
Then someone, from just above her, shot a high-impulse energy beam at the black van.
And the van exploded.
Buffy stared, as she suddenly made sense of the increase in wind, noise, and vibrations. A helicopter she hadn't noticed… was landing just in front of her.
And Ria Maria Hiskaloph, President of the Slayer Institution, stood just inside the chopper. Gun at her shoulder.
"Get in," Ria said.
General Darren mounted his horse, as the portal cracked open in the distance. He pointed to it with his sword. "Look forth! The Beast is gone. The Key has turned within its lock! The gateway is open, and it heralds the end of time!"
He kicked his horse, who whinnied into life.
"The link must be severed!" General Darren cried. "The madman stopped! The four knocks never sounded!"
"Destroy the link!" the others chorused, with him. "Close the gateway!"
"Such is the will of God!" General Darren shouted, his horse racing forwards.
"Such is the will of God!" the others cheered, their horses following.
As the thunder of horses' hooves roared through the rain of the storm, and the Knights of Byzantium approached their finest battle, in the crater that had once been Sunnydale.
…BUT SOME THINGS ENDURE FOREVER.
"We are coming," the children recited, in a monotone, all across the Earth. "We are coming. We are coming. We are coming… back."
And one solitary voice… added…
"And so am I."
SO BEGINS… THE FALLS.
(STARTING AFTER NEW YEARS, 2014: CHILD OF BALIME, SEASON 3: "THE FALLS.")
The Totos and the Vanguard
The Ten Seos
Four Five Six
Untitled (at the moment)
Untitled & Still Being Written (at the moment)