The Cruciamentum Test was yesterday.
It was a test that all Slayers went through when they turned eighteen, a test where they were stripped of every power they had (using muscle relaxants and sedatives) and locked in a room, alone, with a vampire. For Buffy, it'd gone even worse than expected. The vampire, Kralik, had broken loose, kidnapped her mother, and nearly eaten her. Buffy had killed him, in the end. She'd won. She'd passed. That didn't make her feel any better.
Buffy was still weak. It wasn't as bad as it had been the previous day, but she was certainly not feeling herself. She'd spent so long wishing she were just a normal human, and the moment she'd become a normal human — it'd been terrible. She'd just run around, screaming for someone to help her.
Was that all she was, underneath? If she wasn't the Slayer, was she just the damsel in distress?
Now, it was night, and she was perched on the couch at home, staring vacantly at the TV and trying not to think about the fact that she should be patrolling right now. She should be fighting back the forces of darkness, not huddled up, alone and afraid, unable to defend herself. Unable to defend her friends. Helpless. Desperate. Scared.
The doorbell rang.
Her mom answered it, and Buffy let her. Useless. She was so useless like this. It depressed her to realize that, underneath her Slayer self, she was really just a coward. She hoped the sound of the TV would drown out whoever her mom was talking to.
The moment she heard the voice, Buffy shut off the TV.
"—Doctor John Smith, from the Watchers Council," said the chirpy English voice. "Just popping by to see your daughter, Elizabeth. Urgent matters and whatnot."
Buffy was on her feet in a second, sprinting towards the door. Her mom stood there, holding the door open and examining the battered leather wallet that the man had presented to her. The man standing outside looked just the way he had the last time Buffy had seen this incarnation — tall, lanky, brown pinstripe suit, red converse trainers, spiky brown hair. Same tie, even. The Doctor noticed her, and gave her a bright smile and a wink.
"So you're Buffy's new Watcher?" asked Buffy's mom. She sounded guarded. Suspicious. Well, yeah, of course she was. Buffy would be suspicious, too, if she hadn't known the Doctor. Giles had been fired just that afternoon — there was no way a new Watcher would be here already.
Buffy opened her mouth to negate it, come up with a better story, but the Doctor chimed in first.
"Yes, that's right," said the Doctor, snapping the wallet closed. "John Smith, new Watcher. Absolutely. Hope you don't mind, but it's really quite important that I see—"
"Buffy," Buffy cut in, giving him a pointed look.
The Doctor faltered, his eyes darting back to Buffy's mom. He seemed to notice his mistake. "—Buffy right now. You know. What with the Slayer Watcher business and all that." He scratched the back of his neck, awkwardly.
"Mom, it's okay," said Buffy. "Let him in."
"Buffy, I don't—"
"Mom, trust me. I know what I'm doing," said Buffy. She took the Doctor by the wrist, his familiar double pulse thudding against her fingertips, and pulled him inside, shutting and locking the front door behind him. She noticed the bruised scarring on the underside of his wrist, and a glance at the Doctor's neck revealed the same. The remains of two puncture wounds, where he'd been attacked. Where he'd been bitten. These injuries — she'd seen them before. They were the ones he'd received back in England, three months ago. The last time she'd seen him with this face.
The Doctor seemed to notice where Buffy was looking, because he used his spare hand to cover up the side of his neck. Buffy looked into his eyes and saw — was that fear? Yeah. It was. That was definitely fear. Buffy couldn't believe it. The Doctor was afraid of her mother. The Doctor! She'd seen this guy get nearly killed three times without so much as a scream. And he was standing there, giving her mother the 'please don't hurt me, I'll do anything you want' look.
That actually made Buffy feel a bit better about her own frightened freak-out yesterday.
Buffy nodded, pointedly, at the stairs, and the Doctor noticed the gesture. He gave her mom a bright smile that didn't quite seem to cover the fear and awkwardness. "Right, well, lovely to meet you, Mrs. Summers. But I believe Eliz—Buffy and I have some intense… Slayer… Watcher… things to attend to. In that sort of direction."
"Alone," said Buffy, as she yanked him up the stairs.
"Buffy," her mom called after her, "are you sure—?"
"Don't worry, Mom!" shouted Buffy, as she dragged the Doctor towards her room. "We'll be fine!"
The moment she and the Doctor were inside, Buffy shut and locked the door. "Right," said Buffy. "First. Are you afraid of my mom?"
The Doctor shuffled from foot to foot. "She might have… yelled at me a bit," he admitted. "In, you know. The other timeline. Sort of… accidentally got you back about three months late this one time." He made a face. "I never get along with people's mothers."
"Okay," said Buffy. "Second. New Watcher? You realize that's the least believable fake identity ever, right?"
The Doctor blew a breath out of his cheeks. "Wasn't my first choice," he admitted. "But, well, that's what it said on the psychic paper."
The Doctor fished the leather wallet out of his pocket, and showed it to Buffy. She opened it, and found a business card for "the Doctor: Tardy Time Lord Extraordinaire."
"Psychic paper. Shows people whatever they expect to see."
Buffy handed the wallet back. "Yes. Right. Got that. Third — and this is the most important one, here — what day do you think this is? Because if you really were aiming for today and not yesterday, you better prepare yourself for extreme makeover regeneration style."
All traces of cheer melted from the Doctor's face. "Not January 5th, then?"
"Try January 12th," said Buffy.
"Ah," said the Doctor. He looked down at the leather wallet. "New Watcher," he muttered. He tucked the wallet into his suit pocket, and looked up at Buffy, his eyes worried and concerned. "Are you all right?"
"I survived," said Buffy.
The Doctor fished around in his pocket, and brought out the sonic screwdriver. "Better check you over, just in case." He scanned its blue tip across her body, frowning.
Buffy couldn't take her eyes off his wrists — those bruises from the vampire bites. "How long has it been, for you?"
"Since the last time you saw me? Oh, few days, maybe a few weeks…."
"Less than an hour?" Buffy guessed.
The Doctor cringed. "Fifteen minutes," he admitted. He checked the sonic, and breathed a sigh of relief. "Cyclobenzaprine, fluticasone propionate, triamcinolone acetonide, and a dash of orphenadrine. No salicylic acid. Should be back to normal in a few days."
"Salicylic acid. Aspirin," the Doctor clarified. "Just wanted to check. Bit fatal to certain… Time Lord genetics. Probably won't kill you in small quantities — what with you being mostly human and all. But, well, just to be safe. Lay low on the aspirin."
"I thought it was just muscle relaxants and…" she trailed off, as she made the connections in her head. "Wait, why were you checking for aspirin in my system? You thought… don't tell me you thought the Watchers Council would actually poison me?"
"Not intentionally, no," said the Doctor. "Least, I hope not. But it is what they used to do. Administer salicylic acid — willow bark, spiraea, that sort of thing — just before the test. Stopped the Slayer abilities right well, that did. Also tended to kill the Slayer shortly thereafter. Thing is, when you lock a girl in a room with a deadly vampire and find her dead the next day, you hardly think to check if she's been poisoned."
Buffy's eyes went wide. "You're kidding me."
"They're not bad people, the Watchers," the Doctor said. "Just… a bit misguided. Like Xander and that thermo-nuclear device he was playing with, back in the library. Just silly humans who didn't know what they were doing. Well, not until I came to sort them out."
"That would be 1547?" Buffy asked.
"Thereabouts," said the Doctor. "Had a bit of a chat. No killing innocent girls, no harming Elizabeth, fate of the world's in your hands so you'd better shape up and take it seriously, that sort of thing. I don't think they liked me very much."
"But I'm okay, right? Not poisoned or anything?"
The Doctor tucked the sonic screwdriver back into his pocket. "Yep. Nothing fatal, nothing permanent. Soon be back to normal."
"That's what Giles said," said Buffy, dejectedly. She didn't want to think about Giles.
The Doctor hesitated. "Giles. Is he…?"
"He survived, too," said Buffy. "He just… got fired from the Watchers Council. Apparently, Giles cared too much about me, and they don't like that."
The Doctor's eyes grew dark. "No, they don't," he said. He paused. "They're not still here, are they?"
"Hope not," said Buffy. "Most of them are dead, anyways. The main guy, Travers or whatever, he might still be around."
"Quentin Travers," said the Doctor.
"Friend of yours?"
"Wouldn't put it quite like that."
"Well, I don't mind if you want to dump him down a black hole," said Buffy. "You've got my blessing."
"Suppose you're entitled to that opinion," said the Doctor. "Not about to say he's a nice guy. What with his threatening your life to get me to cooperate. But he isn't a monster. He really does believe he's doing the right thing. Anyone trying to save the Earth — I can't object to that. Well, long as they don't create massive holes in space-time that let in armies of Daleks and Cybermen."
Threatening her life to get the Doctor to cooperate? Oh, you've got to be kidding…
"Don't tell me he's the one who locked you up in that tiny cell!" said Buffy. She hadn't really thought it was possible to hate Travers even more than she already did, but apparently, she was wrong. There were whole undeveloped levels of hate and anger in her psyche that she didn't even know about, yet.
The Doctor put his hands on her shoulders, and looked deep into her eyes. "Elizabeth," he said. "He's misguided, but he isn't one of your Big Bads. He's trying his best. He just needs someone to help him understand the value of life."
Buffy pulled away. At the moment, the Doctor was strong enough that he could have kept her in place, but he didn't. Buffy was grateful for that. "Could you just let me be angry for a little bit longer?" she asked. "During that test, I got stuck in a house with an evil, sadistic, masochistic vampire who wanted me to kill my mother! I've never felt so lost and scared and hopeless in my whole life before! You can't possibly have any idea what that's like."
The Doctor looked down at the floor. "I do."
Buffy paused. "What?"
"I know what it's like," said the Doctor. "I had a friend, once. She—" He stopped himself. "No, never mind. It's not important."
"She what?" Buffy asked. "She was kidnapped?"
"Something like that."
The Doctor said nothing, but Buffy was sure the answer to that was yes.
"Was this… this wasn't Rose, was it?" asked Buffy.
"Not Rose," the Doctor said. "Long, long before Rose. Nadezhda, that was her name. Brave, brilliant Nadezhda. Oh, and she was wonderful. Not a bit like Rose. Not a bit like you, either. Nadezhda — she was quiet, reserved. Spent most of her days with her head in the clouds, just thinking. Her family always believed she was a bit thick. Oh, but she was so brilliant. Never seen aliens before in her life, not until she met the Lifonuldor. Large, scaly, lizard-like beings from half-way across the galaxy, with guns that could turn a person to ash in a single shot. They took her clan hostage, took me hostage, tried to destroy all life on Earth. Nadezhda was small enough, quick enough on her feet, that she managed to escape. And she was scared. Oh, she was so, so scared. She couldn't stop shaking, couldn't stop trembling. She had to bite her lip to keep from screaming, sometimes. But she did it. She saved all our lives. She saved the entire world." His shoulders slumped, and a desperate, angry sorrow shone in his eyes. "I've never forgiven myself for letting her die the way she did."
"She died?" Buffy asked.
The Doctor said nothing, but perhaps nothing needed to be said. Buffy could see, in his eyes, that it had been just like what she'd faced last night. Some brutal, psychotic vampire kidnapping his friend, this brilliant girl who'd saved the world. No, not just kidnapping her. Killing her. And not pleasantly, either. Buffy could see that in the Doctor's face.
"At least tell me you got the bastard who killed your friend," said Buffy.
The Doctor raised an eyebrow. "You could say that."
Buffy figured this was Doctor-speak for I caught him, but I decided to give him a lecture and let him go. Seriously, after seeing how bad vampires could be, why was the Doctor so insistent that they shouldn't be killed? He should understand!
"If it were me," said Buffy, "I'd have torn the bastard apart."
The Doctor gave a sad little smile. "No, you wouldn't," he said. "Trust me."
Buffy felt a bite of irritation raging inside her chest. Oh, she so didn't need this, now. "Are you going to start on the whole, 'you're better than this' thing again?" asked Buffy. "Because if you just came here to lecture me, you can leave. This has been a sucky enough birthday already without you making it worse."
The Doctor looked a bit guilty. He thrust his hands into his pockets. "Yes, sorry. Birthday. Forgot." He tried to smile at her, but his smile was half-hearted. "Anything I can do to make it better? I could sing, if you want. Happy Birthday, in every language I know. Course, might take a while, what with my knowing five billion languages and all. But with the Tardis to translate, they'd all sound like English, so you wouldn't be able to tell the difference—"
"The only thing I really want, right now, is to get my abilities back," said Buffy, annoyed. "And that's obviously not going to happen any time soon."
The Doctor's eyes lit up. "Oh!" he said, a grin on his face. "But that's eas…" he trailed off, and his happiness faltered. "Ah. Yes. Right. Never mind."
"You can get my abilities back?" asked Buffy.
The Doctor tugged at his earlobe. "I… it's really not a good idea."
"But you could?"
"Well, yes. Easily."
"Like, right now?"
"In about an hour."
That sounded pretty good to Buffy. "Great! What do I have to do?"
The Doctor faltered. "It's really, really not a good idea."
"If it's some magic space cure from the future, I promise I won't tell anyone or reveal it to any scientists or anything," pleaded Buffy. Seeing that her assurances weren't helping, Buffy decided to go with the guilt-trip tactic. She'd used that successfully on Giles a number of times. She gave the Doctor her best pouty, puppy-dog look. "Please? It's my birthday."
The Doctor ran a hand through his hair, making it stick up at all sorts of crazy angles. He sighed. "Oh, all right."
Buffy grinned. Yes! Now Buffy was really happy that she'd met a super-smart, time-traveling alien who had a guilt complex the size of a planet. "So?"
"Time Lords have this… trick," he explained. "To super-speed the metabolic process. What with the Slayer consciousness being… Gallifreyan, you could probably do it as well."
"Okay, cool," said Buffy. "How do I do it?"
The Doctor winced. "That's the bit you're not going to like. You can't initiate it yourself. Too human."
"Oh," said Buffy, feeling a little disappointed.
"I could do it for you," the Doctor said, "but you'd have to trust me. Completely."
Buffy perked up at this. "Sure!" she said. "As long as I get my Slayer powers back, I'll trust anyone."
The Doctor ran his hand through his hair again. "No, Elizabeth," he said. "You don't understand. It's not enough to say it. You really have to trust me. To do this, I'll have to… go into your mind."
Buffy felt a chill run up her spine. She remembered facing off against the Master, the terrible feeling that she wasn't in control of her own body. The feeling that he was inside of her, that she could feel his presence invading even her dreams. Could she let someone else do that to her? Could she risk someone else getting inside her head like that?
But this was the Doctor. He'd trusted her, hadn't he? And sure, she'd broken that trust over and over again, but he still trusted her. And she was pretty sure he didn't want to hurt her. This was the same guy who had caved in at the Watchers Council because they threatened her. The same guy who had waltzed right out of a near-death experience, and immediately flown his time machine to her eighteenth birthday, to help her. And yeah, he'd gotten the timing a bit off, but he really did seem to care.
(Besides, if he wanted to kill her, he'd probably have done it by now.)
"Do it," said Buffy.
The Doctor still hesitated, but eventually, he did as he was asked. He placed his fingers on her temples, and closed his eyes.
"I'm not going to go into any of your memories," he told her, in a soft, soothing voice. "But if there's anything you don't want me to see, just put it behind a mental door, and shut it. I won't look."
Buffy pictured thousands of tiny doors in her head, all slamming closed. Then — okay, that was weird. Like there was someone else, inside her head — but it wasn't like when the Master had done it. No, this was like a nice, relaxing warm fuzzy thing was flowing through her thoughts. It made Buffy feel all cozy, like she was sitting right next to a gently crackling fire, a mug of hot chocolate in her hands. True to his word, the warm fuzzy that was the Doctor shot right past all the doors and memories, zeroing in on something else. And Buffy could feel something shift inside her head, something she didn't think was supposed to shift. And she started to feel better, all at once. Before she knew what was happening, the warm fuzzy was gone, and the Doctor withdrew from her mind.
Buffy blinked, readjusting to the real world. She still had a happy, warm feeling in her head, even though she was sure the Doctor was gone. She looked at the Doctor, who took his hands away from her temples and stuck them in his pockets.
"Is it fixed?" Buffy asked. "Am I better?"
The Doctor gave a friendly smile. "Should be, in a bit," said the Doctor. "Got to give your body a chance to work the drugs out of its system, but you should be back to normal in, oh, hour at the most."
Buffy felt a genuinely happy smile crawl up her face. She could already feel something in her body, some change, as if she were regaining her inner strength. She didn't have to be afraid anymore. She could go back to being the Slayer, the person she knew. She could be herself again!
Buffy couldn't stop herself. She threw her arms around the Doctor and hugged him. "Thanks for making this a slightly less-sucky birthday."
The Doctor, at first, seemed to find the hug extremely awkward and uncomfortable, but eventually gave in and hugged her back. That was a bit weird, Buffy thought. Had other-her never hugged him?
There was a ring from the doorbell, and Buffy broke away. Downstairs, she could hear the door open, and her mother greet a familiar voice.
"Giles!" she whispered to the Doctor. Oh, of course her mom had called Giles. It was the only logical thing to do. And Giles, naturally, would have dropped everything to come and rescue her. She definitely should have explained this better to her mom before she'd scampered off with the Doctor. But what was she supposed to say? 'Mom, this is my friend, "the Doctor". He's a time-traveling alien who's apparently destroyed entire planets, but it's okay because he says he did it for the right reasons and he's really, really sorry about it, and oh, by the way, turns out I have a slice of a baby alien consciousness inside my head.' Yeah, that wouldn't have gone over well at all.
"I came as fast as I could," said Giles. "Did you manage to keep him here?"
"He's in Buffy's room," said Buffy's mom. "I don't know what he's been doing to her, though. The door's locked."
Buffy thanked her lucky stars that she'd locked the door. If her mom had walked in on them doing the Vulcan mind meld thing, Buffy was pretty sure the Doctor would be on his next regeneration by now.
"I knew something was wrong with this man the moment he called her Elizabeth," came Buffy's mom's voice, as they walked up the stairs. "That's not even her name."
"Should have thought of that," the Doctor muttered. He turned to Buffy. "Think it might be time to make an escape?"
"Probably," Buffy agreed.
The Doctor scanned the room, then darted, silently, to the window. He yanked it open, and crawled outside onto the roof. He poked his head back inside. "Oh, and by the way. Happy birthday." He smiled, winked, then disappeared.
Buffy ran over to the window, and looked out. The Doctor was trying to lower himself down from the roof as gently as possible. She watched as the Doctor's fingers released the edge of the rooftop, and there was a rustle of leaves and an annoyed, "Ow!" as the Doctor tumbled into the hedge below.
The door to Buffy's room rattled, as her mom tried, but failed, to open it. She banged on the door. "Buffy!" she called. "Buffy, sweetie, please open up!"
Buffy closed and latched the window.
"It's no good," said Giles. "She might already be injured or restrained. There's no telling what the Doctor might have done to her. We should find some way to force the door open."
Buffy sighed. Adults could really be stupid, sometimes. Buffy went to the door, and opened it. She found herself looking into the distressed faces of her mother and Giles.
"Hi," she said.
Her mother swept her into a tight hug. "You're all right," she breathed.
"Mom, I'm fine," said Buffy. "I told you, I knew what I was doing." She extracted herself from her mother's embrace.
Giles, meanwhile, had walked into her room, looking under the bed, in the closet, anywhere he thought someone might be able to hide. Like a detective looking for clues. "The Doctor's gone," Giles said, as he came to the window. "He must have escaped out the window." He turned to Buffy. "Buffy, do you have any idea where he might have—"
"I'm not telling you where he is," said Buffy, crossing her arms. "I'm not going to let him get captured and used as some kind of computer database for your precious Watchers Council. He's my friend."
"Buffy," said Giles, "you're allying yourself with a very dangerous and highly unstable—"
"Unstable? Dangerous? Giles, you don't work for the Watchers Council anymore. You don't have to believe their lies."
"They are!" said Buffy. "The Watchers Council brainwashed you. The Doctor isn't a monster or a demon. He's just like a normal person. He's got feelings and emotions and stuff. And he cares about people. He cares about life. And you know what? He cares about me, too. He nearly died about fifteen minutes before he showed up here. He came because he wanted to make sure that I survived this test thing. He just… missed the date."
"Buffy, think about this calmly and rationally," said Giles. "The Doctor owns a time machine. If he'd actually cared about you, he would have shown up earlier and stopped this test before it started."
"He was aiming for January 5th," said Buffy. "I don't know. Maybe he got lost and didn't ask for directions."
Neither Giles nor her mom found this particularly funny.
"In which case, he would have gone back to his time machine, travelled back to yesterday, and gotten it right," Buffy's mom put in.
"I don't think time travel works like that," said Buffy.
"Buffy, this isn't Angel we're talking about," said Giles. "The Doctor is someone very dangerous and highly manipulative. A killer with a soul is far worse than a killer without one. The Doctor knows what he's doing, he understands the moral implications, and he doesn't care. He just does it anyways."
"Doesn't care?" cried Buffy. "If you'd talked to him for any extended period of time, you'd know he cares. He cares too much. If you'd seen him, earlier, talking about his friend, Nadezhda — she was murdered, Giles, brutally murdered shortly after she saved the world, and the Doctor blames himself for not being able to save her. I don't think he even killed the vampire who did it."
Giles paused at this. "Sorry, did you say… Nadezhda?"
Buffy hesitated. Had she said something wrong? No, that was definitely the name. "Yeah," she said, uneasily.
Giles took off his glasses, and wiped them. He said nothing for a few moments. "You haven't, by any chance, happened to mention the Doctor to Angel, Buffy?"
"I might have," said Buffy. "Why?"
"Well, it's just a supposition," said Giles. "Seeing as the Doctor is a time traveler, and the circumstances do seem curiously similar—"
"Giles," Buffy interrupted. "What is it?"
Giles looked up at Buffy, a pensive look on his face. "Nadezhda," said Giles, "is a Kalderash name."
Buffy couldn't speak for a moment. She just kept running the conversation she'd just had with the Doctor over and over again in her mind. If it were me, I'd have torn the bastard apart, she'd said. And the Doctor had just given her that enigmatic smile of his and told her she wouldn't.
"Angel?" she said. "That… that terrible guy who killed the Doctor's friend. That was Angel?"
No, it didn't make sense, it couldn't—
Buffy stopped her interior ramble.
Actually, it did make sense. It made a lot of sense. A lot, lot, lot of sense. That entire weird dynamic she'd been sensing between the Doctor and Angel, for one. And the way that Angel was terrified of the Doctor, truly terrified. Angel had warned her to stay away from him, hadn't even wanted her to talk to him. And that odd thing Angel had said to her — you'll never forgive me if I let you kill him. Then, there was the Doctor's insistence that everyone deserved a second chance. His stubborn determination to help the vampires instead of killing them, his desire to give them back their humanity. Even the fact that the Doctor had purposely not given Angel the cure for vampirism. Yeah, this was making way too much sense in Buffy's head, right about now.
But that meant… that meant that everything that had happened last year… that entire thing with the moment of happiness…
Buffy pushed past her mother and Giles with newly regained Slayer strength. "I've got to go."
"Buffy, please! Don't seek the Doctor out!" Giles called after her.
But Buffy was planning to do just that. Either the Doctor, or Angel. She had to speak with one of them, right away. She just… needed to know.