“Miss McShane, could you assist me in finding those items?”
“Of course, Mr. Giles. I believe they may be in the closet of the choir room.”
“I think you’re probably right.”
They walked into the choir room. No one was about.
The petite dark-haired woman giggled as Giles pulled her into the closet and shut the door, kissing her. “I’m not sure this is what the vicar meant when he asked us to help with the jumble sale.”
“Then the vicar is a blind old fool.” Giles kissed her again. “I’m afraid we aren’t fooling anyone, Dorothy. Perhaps it’s time we came out of the closet.”
She punched him on the arm. “That’s terrible. And a lot less fun than sneaking about with the village librarian. Think of your reputation.”
“I should think it would improve it. Stuffy old man and beautiful young woman.”
“I’m not young.”
“Younger, then. You’re not denying the beautiful.” He ran his fingers through her brown hair, bending down for another kiss.
“Naw, I’m gorgeous.” She gave his bum a squeeze. “So are you, you old man.”
“Ahem!” The loud exclamation from the other side of the door gave them pause. “I do wonder where Mr. Giles and Miss McShane have gotten to. I’d hate for anyone to walk in on them while they were searching for decorations.” The sound of exaggerated footsteps retreated into the distance.
“Oh, yes,” Dorothy smiled. “We are so fooling the vicar.”
She ran through the field, feeling the wind against her face. The pure joy of the run, the hunt. The ecstacy of freedom. The smell of blood in the air, hers for the finding.
And then even better. Horses. Hard muscles rippling between her legs. Now she could fly.
Dorothy leaned over the library counter, her head resting on her hands. She looked up at the librarian. “Any good books about erotic goings-on in small English villages? Something spicy?”
“Sorry.” Giles stared at the poster he was holding. “Did you say you wanted a cookbook?”
“What are you looking at?” She snatched it out of his hands. “God.”
“She’s in my archery class. Good student.”
“She comes in here all the time. Voracious reader. Her sister brought that in. That’s the second teenager gone missing this fortnight.” He took the poster back and attached it to the library message board. “This is not the type of girl to just run away. Her sister is frantic.”
“What do you reckon, then? Serial killer?”
He took off his glasses and pulled a cloth out of his pocket to clean them. “Vampires?” he muttered under his breath.
“That’s not funny.” She gave him a concerned look.
“No. No it isn’t.” He looked out the window. “It’s getting dark. I’ll walk you home.”
“I can take care of myself. Besides, I thought you were afraid for my reputation. People might talk.”
He took her hand and pressed it to his lips. “I know you’re a very capable woman. And at the moment, I don’t care what people think. It would make me feel better.”
She stepped through the door, and he locked it behind them. She smiled when he took her hand again. “Lead on, MacDuff.”
She could smell it. One of the herd separated from the pack. She leaned down from the back of the horse and swept her prey into her arms. The child struggled for a bit, then slumped in silence.
The blood was warm.
“Did you hear that?” Dorothy paused at the door of her cottage.
“Sounded like a wolf, perhaps?”
“Something like that. Something ... familiar.” Dorothy lead him around the back and through the gate. “It’s coming from this direction.”
They could see it in the distance, a shape upon the back of a horse. The cloud obscuring the moon passed, illuminating the rider. The horse reared, and the creature howled again.
“Good lord,” Giles exclaimed. Before he could move towards it, horse and rider disappeared into the forest.
Dorothy went inside, too distracted to realize that he hadn’t asked to come in.
Giles dialed the London number. “Buffy, can you get here a day early?”
“Sure,” she answered. “What’s up?”
“There’s some sort of cat demon. I’ve never seen the like before. It’s been picking off young people here in the village. I could try to have a go at it...”
“Nope. You stay put. I’m still the Slayer. Well, a Slayer. Be there ASAP. And Giles?”
“I thought this was going to be my vacation?”
Dorothy took her cellular from the living room table and hit speed dial. It went to his voice mail. “Professor? How quick can you get here?” she said. “It’s the Cheetah People.”
Dorothy had gone to bed, since she had no idea whether he’d even received the message. She tossed and turned, sleeping fitfully. Memories of a time twenty years before, running like she could run forever. Running with her sisters. “Good hunting,” she mumbled in her sleep. She was looking into a stream, her eyes glowing yellow in her reflection, when the sound of the water grew louder, more like a rushing torrent. More like the living pulse of something mechanical. More like ... “Doctor!” she exclaimed, sitting up straight in the bed. There it was in the corner of the room, top grazing against the ceiling. A big, blue, beautiful box. The box that used to be her home.
The door opened, and a tall, thin, brown-haired young man stepped out, face in a wide grin. “Hello, Ace.”
He sat beside her on the sofa, cradling the hot mug of tea. She curled up against the corner of the other side, knees drawn to her chest. Her tea sat on the coffee table. “So where’s Rose?”
He looked down into the mug. “You said Cheetah People. Back on Earth. The Master can’t be involved, because he’s dead, for all intents and purposes. Their planet was dying. So how did they get here?”
“We can’t do anything about it tonight. It’s pitch black in the woods, and we know they hunt in daylight. We’ll figure it out tomorrow.” She lay her hand on his arm. “Where’s Rose?”
“Rose is gone.” He sipped at the tea, avoiding her gaze. “She’s gone.”
“What, you just let her go? Dumped her somewhere?”
“I did not,” his voice was louder, heated, “Dump her. She’s gone.”
“No, she’s fine.”
“I don’t understand. When you brought her here to meet me, I could tell there was something different about her. She’s special to you.”
“You’re special to me,” he said softly.
“Not like that. What happened?”
“She’s trapped somewhere that I can’t reach her. The TARDIS can’t go there. I’d rather not talk about it, if you don’t mind.”
She squeezed his arm with affection. “Sure, Professor.”
“How about you? Have you tired yet of your experiment in mundanity? Ready to head back to the stars, fight the monsters? You could come with me again. I’ve missed you.”
“I can’t say it’s not boring here, living the simple life. People in town are nice enough, and they think I’m living on an inheritance from my uncle. I teach some of the local kids archery, and I tinker in my back shed.”
“Naw.” She smiled at him. “Nitro-Twelve.”
“You naughty girl.”
“I’m not ready to leave yet. But when I decide, you’ll be the first to know.” She picked up her mug and took a sip. “There are some benefits to the small town life.”
His eyes lit up. “You’ve met a man, haven’t you? I can always tell.”
“Yeah, maybe. Yeah.”
“So, what’s he like? Young warrior god?”
“More like middle-aged librarian.”
“Doesn’t sound your type.”
“You’d be surprised. Oh, and when you meet him? No tales of travels in time and space.”
“Afraid his heart couldn’t take it?” the Doctor asked, raising his eyebrows.
“Afraid he’d turn and run. You should have seen his face when that Cheetah Person showed up. He’ll probably convince himself his eyes were playing tricks, or something.” She stared at the Doctor with a serious expression. “I mean it, Doctor. Don’t blow this for me. Rupert Giles is a wonderful man, but his feet are firmly planted on this planet.”
“A Portkey? Really? Fascinating. Which text did Willow find it in?” Giles asked.
“Harry Potter.” Buffy put down the book she’d been flipping through. “Nope, no cat demons.”
“Here’s one that looks promising. The grak’n’gre. Oh, no good. Dog demon.” Still holding the text in his left hand, he took off his glasses with his right and pinched the end of his nose. “You would think with all the experience we’ve had, finding a simple cat demon would be...”
“A bowl of Friskies?”
Giles looked at her with confusion.
“You know,” she elaborated. “Friskies. Like a piece of cake, only catish. Hmmpt.” Buffy started to wander around the room. “I like what you’ve done with the place since the last time I was here. Nothing.” She stopped and picked up a picture frame. “Hey, who’s this? She’s pretty, in a tomboy pushing forty sort of way.”
He took the photograph from her hand. “That’s Dorothy. I’ll introduce you later.”
“Ooh, you’ve gone all misty. I think Giles is in loooove.”
“And I think you’re right.” He smiled at the surprised expression on her face. “I never thought I’d meet someone at this stage in my life. It’s rather remarkable.” He put the frame back, his eyes narrowing. “Mind you don’t mention Slayers or Watchers to her. As far as Dorothy is concerned, I’m a semi-retired librarian who pops into London often to administer a family trust.”
“Some family,” Buffy said. “All girls. Lots of them.” She lay a hand on his arm. “But if she’s really this important to you, don’t you think you should be honest with her?”
“I’ll tell her. Eventually, when the time is right. I think Dorothy has led a rather sheltered life. “You should have seen her when that demon showed up on horseback. I feared she might faint.”
“Then what are you doing here talking to me? You go check on her and see if she’s okay, and I’ll head out and snoop around. Who knows, maybe I can get rid of the demon and be back before lunch. Or elevensies. Whatever.”
The front door was unlocked, and Giles stepped into the cottage. “Dorothy? Good morning,” he called. “How are you? You up?”
She was in the living room, sitting on the sofa in her bathrobe with an attractive young man. “Oh,” he sputtered, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt.” Face red, heart breaking, he turned towards the door.
“Rupert!” She flew off the sofa and into his arms. “You silly thing. Of course you didn’t interrupt.” She took his hand and gestured to the other man. “Rupert Giles, this is the Doctor.”
“The Doctor.” Giles looked down into her eyes. “Darling, are you ill? I should never have left last night. I should have known... I’m so sorry.”
She laughed. “I’m fine. The Doctor is an old friend.”
The Doctor held out his hand. “Very nice to meet you, Rupert.”
Giles shook it without enthusiasm, which the Doctor more than made up for. “Old friend, you say.”
“Oh, yes.” The Doctor kept pumping his hand. “Ace and I go back years. Centuries, sometimes.”
“Ace.” Giles looked confused. “Who’s Ace?”
“Nick name.” Ace shot the Doctor a withering look. “Why don’t I get you both some tea?”
“No, I’m fine. I’m sure you want to catch up with your friend, and I really should be getting back to Buffy.”
“Buffy?” Dorothy asked. “Who’s Buffy?”
“Look at the time,” Giles exclaimed, glancing at his wristwatch. Which wasn’t there. “Oh. Where did I leave my watch? I had it the other night.”
“Didn’t you take it off when we...?” Dorothy asked.
“Ah, yes. I’ll just run and get it.”
“I think it’s on the bed stand,” she called after him. “Oh, bollocks.” She started after him. “Wait.”
“Blast!” The Doctor followed after her.
Giles stood in the middle of the bedroom, staring. “You have a police call box in your bedroom.”
“That’s mine, actually,” the Doctor said.
“It’s not what you’re thinking,” Ace added.
Giles pushed open the unlocked door. “My word!” he exclaimed.
“Don’t have a heart attack,” the Doctor said. “Ace will never forgive me.”
Giles stepped into the console room, staring up at the vastness of the inner TARDIS. “This is some sort of trans-dimensional portal, isn’t it? Fantastic.”
“How did you...”
“Rather obvious. It’s bigger on the inside.” Giles circled the console. “This is amazing. Just beautiful. What’s the purpose?”
“Traveling through space and time.” The Doctor said. “It’s a type-40 TARDIS.”
“You knew about this?” Giles asked Ace.
“Yeah. He’s redecorated, but I used to live here. Actually. Traveling through, well, time and space. Having adventures. Saving the universe.”
“You’ve been keeping things from me.”
She knew it had been too good to last. All her boyfriends were either killed, or had bolted because they couldn’t handle who she was. Why should Rupert be any different, as much as she had hoped otherwise. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t think you could handle it. I’m not exactly your average little village girl.”
To her surprise, Rupert was smiling. He looked relieved. “In that case,” he said, “I have a few things to tell you, too.”
“So,” Giles said as they walked through the forest, “you’re an alien. That is fascinating. I’d only encountered one before, an alien demon actually, and it looked nothing like you.”
“He has two hearts,” Ace added.
“That I do,” the Doctor said.
“There she is.” Giles waved . “Buffy! Over here!”
She saw the three, and ran towards them. “Hey. You must be Dorothy. I’ve seen your picture.” She pulled Giles aside, whispering, “Why is she here? I thought you wanted to keep her out of this. And who’s he?”
The stranger leaned in from behind her, whispering in her ear, “I’m the Doctor. I’m here to help. So’s Ace.”
Dorothy raised her hand. “That would be me. And stop whispering. It’s bloody rude.”
The Doctor smiled. “I hear you’re a vampire slayer. Bit violent as a line of work, isn’t it?”
“I’ll show you violent when I catch this cat demon.”
“It’s not a demon. It’s an alien.”
“Yeah, right.” Buffy pulled a long blade from the scabbard in her boot. “Tomato/Tomahto. It kills people, it’s not human and I’m taking it out.”
“I used to know someone like you,” the Doctor said. “She preferred to talk with a knife. I’m sure we can come to some other solution.”
“Sure. We’ll talk it to nicely, and it will say it’s sorry and go home. How many vampires have you slain, *Doctor*? That can’t be your real name.”
“Just one, but it was a very, very big vampire.” His voice raised in anger. “Now put that blade away.”
“Would you two stop arguing?” Giles interrupted. “We have work to do. We can decide how to deal with the creature when the time comes, but we have to find it first.”
Buffy rolled her eyes and sheathed the blade. “Whatever.” She led them a few yards to the right, into a clearing. “I haven’t seen the thing, but a horse has been through here. The tracks are still fresh.”
“Professor.” Ace’s voice was shaky. “Come and look over here.” She knelt by the body of a young boy. Flesh was torn from his chest and arms. “He’s still warm. I think we interrupted its meal.”
Giles put his hand on her shoulder. “Perhaps it would be best if you went home.”
“I’m fine.” She stood up and faced him. “I’ve seen the Cheetah People before. I came very close to being one myself. You needn’t try and protect me.”
Giles spoke with concern, but not a small measure of admiration. “You’re a remarkable woman, Dorothy McShane.”
“I really don’t think this is the time,” Buffy said.
“Let them be,” the Doctor told her, leading her away into the wood. “Best if we keep them out of the middle of it. Now, by the depth of the horse’s tracks, I’d say it was riderless. Which means the Cheetah Person could well be in the area.”
“Yeah, thanks CSI.” Buffy crossed her arms. “Who are you again? Giles’ girlfriend’s boy toy?”
“I don’t think you could begin to understand who I am. Your world-view’s too small.”
“Too small?” Buffy stood straight, fists clenched. Her head came up to his chest. “Who the hell do you think you...?”
With a feral roar, the creature dropped from the tree onto Buffy’s back, raking its claws deep into her shoulder. The two struggled, rolling as Buffy yelled, “Grab the knife! Doctor! My boot!”
“Hold it down!” the Doctor exclaimed. “I want to talk to it!”
“Hold it?” Buffy wrestled the creature, the pain in her shoulder throbbing, but she finally had it on its back. Buffy held it against the ground, her hands around its wrists, as the creature tried to break free.
“There’s a good Slayer. I knew you could do it.”
Giles made a lunge for the knife, but Ace held him back. “She’s got it. Let him at least try.”
“Sister,” the creature hissed. “Let me go.”
“God, it does talk.” Buffy held even more firmly.
The Doctor knelt beside them. “You are from the planet of the Cheetah People. I thought it was destroyed.”
“One by one, my sisters fell. Our world fell. I fell through a crack in the world and came here. I want to go home.”
“A rift.” The Doctor looked at Ace. “ Somehow in the planet’s death throes, a rift opened between the worlds, probably because there had been traffic between them.”
“But that was twenty years ago,” Ace said.
“Funny things, rifts. There one minute, the next...”
“Doctor? What’s wrong?” Ace feared for him. So much pain in his expression.
“Could you hurry this up?” Buffy grimaced. “I’m the one with the big gaping wound. And this thing isn’t weakening. Can I kill it already?”
“You can’t go home,” the Doctor said to the creature, his voice full of sadness. “There’s no way. You’re trapped here.”
“I am alone.” The creature stopped struggling. Buffy reached for the knife, prepared to plunge it into the furry chest, and stopped. The creature’s face was wet with tears. “Please. End me.”
Buffy let out a frustrated sigh. “I can’t. I must be getting soft.”
As she released her grip, the creature pushed her aside and ran.
“Stupid Doctor,” Buffy yelled, giving chase. She followed the Cheetah Person to the edge of a gulley. It stopped, looking down at the rocks below. Buffy pulled out her knife and raised her hand.
But before she could strike home, the creature had propelled itself over the edge and onto the rocks below.
“You’re telling me this thing travels through time and space.” Buffy walked around the blue box again. “This is a wooden crate.”
The Doctor opened the TARDIS door and held it for her as she stepped inside.
She exclaimed, “Holy Sh...”
“You like it?”
“It’s freaking amazing. Whoa.”
“I could take you for a spin, if you like. Any where, any when.”
Buffy looked at Giles, holding Dorothy’s hand. “I could go back to LA. Save Spike and Angel.”
“No,” the Doctor said. “You can’t. It doesn’t work like that.” He could see by her expression that she was going to argue. He cut her off before she could start. “If that were possible, there’s so many things I would have changed. So very many people...” He stroked the console top. “But I could show you things. Marvelous things. Fantastic things.” He turned to Ace and Giles. “You could come too. I wouldn’t mind the company.”
“I have things to do here,” Ace said, “But thank you.”
“Tend your garden? Contemplate your navel? That’s not you, Ace.”
“She’s going to help me with the Watchers’ Council,” Giles said. “I think she’d be perfect at training young Slayers.”
“Yeah. Would you believe they know diddly squat about explosives? Pathetic, really.” She put her arm around Giles’ waist. “I may have a few other reasons.”
“What do you think, Giles,” Buffy asked. “Should I take a shot?”
“You don’t even know if your powers would work out there. They may be tied to this planet.”
“Might be interesting to find out,” Buffy said.
“What about Dawn?”
“Dawn?” the Doctor asked.
“My little sister. She’s made it clear that I’ve been crowding her. She wants some space. But I can’t just leave her.”
“We’ll come back. She can even come with us for a bit if she’d like.”
Ace raised her eyebrows. “Really?”
“I’ve learned to do domestic. So, Buffy, what do you say? See the worlds?”
She looked at Giles. She looked at the Doctor. She looked at his amazing machine. “Yes.”
Buffy ran to Giles and hugged him. “You’ll be okay?”
“I’ll be fine.”
Buffy gave Ace a hug too. “Yeah. You will.” She looked at the other woman. “Take care of him.”
Giles watched as the TARDIS wheezed and groaned out of view. “My.”
“Impressive, isn’t it?” Dorothy asked.
“Not as impressive as Willow’s magic, perhaps, but quite the thing.”
“You’ll miss her.”
“I will.” He kissed her then pointed to the framed photo beside the bed. A little man with wild hair peaking beneath his hat brim and a question-mark handled umbrella grinned back at him. “So, if that’s not your uncle, who is he?”
Dorothy led him to the bed. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”