Chapter 1: Previously, on Adventures of a Line Hopper...
….from Don't Be….
"The day we met, you saved me from a horde of Daleks," the Doctor told Buffy. "Remember? I burned down your gym, and you got blamed for it."
"The Daleks were unwritten from history at the end of the War," the Doctor realized. "A whole new timeline. A timeline where you never met me."
"Buffy's a trans-temporal bilocational anomaly," said the Doctor.
Jack blinked. "Wait, Buffy's a Line-Hopper?" asked Jack.
"Probably better to call her a Line-Twister," said the Doctor. "Basically, Buffy is temporally important in two independent timelines, in two completely different ways. Remove her from either time stream, and the result is, well, unpleasant. Because of this, the two timelines are linked. Woven together."
"You lost me," said Buffy.
"Think of it like… drawing two different pictures, in marker, on one sheet of paper," the Doctor explained. "You draw one picture on the front, then another on the back. Both equally vibrant, but both completely different. With so many vibrant colors being used on both sides of a single, thin sheet of paper, the ink starts to bleed through the paper. You can see traces of one picture, even when you're looking at the other. Eventually, if you keep drawing, the pictures will both wind up with the same basic features, even if they look a bit different on the other side. Same events, different causes. That sort of thing."
"Oh," said Buffy. "You mean like — at Hemery. The gym still burned down, even though the reason it got destroyed was a little different. All the big milestones in my life stay the same, but the way I get to them is different depending on the timeline."
"Exactly!" said the Doctor.
….from Don't Be….
"It's not Elizabeth, it's Buffy," snapped Buffy. "Why do you keep calling me Elizabeth?"
"Because you told me to," said the Doctor.
….from Don't Be….
"If you don't stay away from the Doctor, Buffy, he will destroy you," said Angel. "I've seen it happen before."
"So I do have to kill him," said Buffy.
"Don't," said Angel. "If I let you kill the Doctor, you'd never forgive me."
"You want me to tell you if the Doctor is a good guy or a bad guy," Angel said to Buffy.
Buffy shifted from foot to foot. "Well, yeah," she confessed. "That would help."
"I can't," said Angel. "It's not as simple as that."
"The guy who killed your friend," said Buffy. "It was Angel, wasn't it?"
"I told you, you wouldn't have killed him," said the Doctor, quietly.
Buffy stepped forwards, then hesitated. "So that whole… soul thing. That was you?"
"One moment of pure happiness and he flips out and turns evil again?" said Buffy. "That sounds like a curse to me."
"That wasn't me," said the Doctor. "I didn't know that was in there."
"Why?" asked Buffy. "Why didn't you just kill Angel? I was going to, when he lost his soul last year. And you couldn't have known what he'd be like with a soul."
"I didn't know," said the Doctor. "But I believed."
"In… someone else. The person who stopped me from killing him."
….from Don't Be….
"I'm the only other person in the universe who remembers what you did to Elizabeth," Angel told the Doctor. "You want to make sure I don't tell Buffy what happened in the other timeline."
"It's… not about that," the Doctor said.
"Then why?" Angel demanded. "Elizabeth told me, Doctor. Back in 1905. She told me what you did."
"I… didn't…." The Doctor scratched the back of his neck. "I never meant to hurt her."
"But you did," said Angel.
….from Don't Be….
"The Doctor's home world is gone," Jack told Buffy. "I don't know the whole story, but I know it's because of something he did."
….from Don't Be….
"I know how this works," said Angel. "If Elizabeth had never met you, if she'd never gone with you to Romania, she'd never have stopped you. You'd have killed me for what I did to your Kalderash friends. I've somehow wound up in a timeline where Buffy never met you. That means I should be dead."
"Oh, that," said the Doctor. He gave a shrug. "Bit of a temporal misalignment never hurt anyone. Not sure how you wound up in this timeline, but I suppose that's a mystery for another day."
Buffy sat up in the middle of the night, a cold sweat dripping down her face. She wasn't dreaming, she was sure of that. It was just — something was happening to her. It felt as if someone else were slipping on her skin, shoving her aside to make room. Seeping into her mind, trying to absorb her thoughts, fiddle around with them, manipulate them, change them. Buffy tried to scream, tried to struggle, tried to claw at the other person so she could get out. But she couldn't move. She couldn't get out. There was someone else inside her, someone else making her breathe, making her move, making her think, and she couldn't…
The light turned on, and her mother walked into the room. "Buffy, sweetie, what's wrong?"
Buffy stared at her mother. "I… I…" She looked down at the bed, where she realized she had struggled her way out of the covers. Her throat was hoarse from screaming. She tried to move her arm. It moved, just the way it was supposed to. She tried to take a deep breath, and yes, that worked, too. She could control her own body. She was still her.
"Did you have a bad dream?" asked her mother. She hesitated. "It wasn't… a prophecy dream, was it?"
"No, I…" Buffy faltered. What had she just had? The feeling that part of her was being taken over, stripped away. Like she was being hollowed out to make way for someone else. Except she hadn't been. She was fine. Still herself. "Sorry," she said. "It was just a bad dream."
"It wasn't a dream," Buffy told Giles in the library the next day. "I'm telling you, I was wide awake. I know what happened. Something tried to possess me."
Giles wiped his glasses, frowning in concentration. "Yes, well, it is possible," he said. "Possession. Such a thing is not uncommon."
"Possession which would take over the body, but not the mind," Wesley cut in. "What Buffy has described is a full possession, one in which a demon or other entity drains her very soul in order to control her. Body, mind, and spirit."
"Yes, thank you Wesley, I was getting to that," said Giles.
Buffy stared at Giles. "Something's trying to drain my soul?"
"Unlikely," said Wesley. "The process would require an item of enormous power, known, in a bygone era, as a Maer'Isa. No Maer'Isa has been seen since the 16th century. They have been lost to time."
"That's… been said before," said Buffy, "about things that Angel's found."
Giles frowned. "Angel?"
"Yeah," said Buffy. She hugged her arms. "He gave it to me. Sort of right after we met. It's a small, white glowy cube thing with demonic writing on the outside. He… he said it was my name."
"And at the moment," said Giles, "this cube is…?"
Buffy looked down at the ground. "I sort of… threw it away," she admitted. "I just… I got really angry at Angel, what with the break up and everything, and I didn't know it was important. But it's gone."
Wesley hesitated. "It couldn't be a Maer'Isa," he decided. "When I say these demons have been lost to time, I mean that every single thing about them has been lost. The demons who created them are gone. The Maer'Isa are lost. The rituals required are no longer known. Even what's left of their language is meaningless."
"If Buffy says she had one," said Giles, "I think it's safe to say she had one. Particularly if she's felt the effects of the possession."
Wesley frowned. "Yes," he said. "Curious…."
"I'm not possessed," Buffy insisted. "Whatever the spell did, it didn't work." She threw her arms up into the air. "Look! See? Still me."
"It would be impossible to tell," said Wesley. "Possession using a Maer'Isa allows the possessor to adopt the memories, personality, and speech patterns of the person they are possessing. You might appear to be Buffy Summers, but there would be no way to tell for sure."
Buffy crossed her arms.
"Perhaps… the spell really didn't work," Giles proposed. "A Maer'Isa requires the name of the individual it is controlling to be inscribed on the outside of the box. I don't see how anyone would have known Buffy's name and significance as early as the…" he trailed off.
Buffy gave Giles a pointed look.
"Oh, dear," said Giles.
"What?" asked Wesley.
"Giles showed me this book, a while back," said Buffy. "From the sixteenth century. Under the entry on Time Lords, the Watchers decided to warn every Tom, Dick, and Harry that the Doctor was never supposed to meet me. By name. There's my name and my significance, spelled out in black and white for everyone to see. Bet your precious Watchers Council didn't think of that when they printed their propaganda, huh?"
"And, come to think of it, there have been prophecies about Buffy dating back from before that time," Giles continued. "The Peragmum Codex, for example, dates back to before the rise of Western Civilization."
"The Peragmum Codex did not mention Buffy by name," Wesley pointed out.
"Neither did the Watchers Council," said Willow.
Giles, Wesley, and Buffy all turned, to find Willow standing, awkwardly, behind them.
"Willow, how long have you been there?" asked Giles.
"Just a little while," said Willow. She looked down at the floor, embarrassed. "Okay, basically for the whole thing, but it's not like I was trying to be a snoop or anything. It's just, you know, I came in here trying to help out, and you guys were all in here talking and it seemed really important, and I thought maybe it was better if I just let you guys work it out on your—"
"Willow, what do you mean, the Watchers Council didn't mention me by name?" asked Buffy. "You read it yourself. It was in that book Giles showed us, when he told us about the Doctor."
"'Under no circumstances is the Doctor allowed near Miss Buffy Anne Summers'," Giles quoted.
"But it didn't say that!" said Willow. "They didn't call you Buffy in that book, remember? I always thought that was a little funny, and then when the Doctor showed up, he didn't call you Buffy either, and that was kind of funny, too. I mean, not in a ha-ha kind of funny, but you know, a quiet funny."
"Sorry, are you claiming that the Doctor showed up here, in Sunnydale, and you actually listened to his voice?" asked Wesley.
Buffy looked over at Giles, a desperate expression on her face.
"We restrained him immediately afterwards and suffered no long term effects," said Giles. "He was in our custody for only a few hours, at which point he was handed over to the Watchers Council. None of us have had anything to do with him since."
"Yeah, it was a little disappointing," said Willow. "Not that I'm upset or anything, because I like it when things go to plan, it's just, you know, I was expecting a whole big thing after that. Like, maybe the Doctor gets loose, Buffy chases after him, we all wind up nearly dying, and then Buffy saves the day by staking the Doctor through the heart and whoomp! Dust."
"Yeah," said Buffy, flatly. "Dust."
"You do realize the Doctor escaped from the Watchers Council shortly thereafter?" asked Wesley. "And rumor has it that Buffy, here, was the cause of that escape."
"Well, that's just silly," said Willow. "Buffy was here in Sunnydale the whole time. Weren't you, Buffy?"
"Have you ever considered," said Giles, "that perhaps the Doctor simply bewitched you into thinking it was Buffy who helped him escape?"
"I suppose it's a possibility," said Wesley.
"Could we stop talking about this?" asked Buffy. "It's over. Let's move on."
"It's just, my point is, that book from the 16th century didn't say Buffy, it said Elizabeth," said Willow. "And we all accepted it at the time, because it was pretty obvious it was talking about Buffy, and it made sense that the Doctor would be all weird, with that whole bewitching thing. But if this Maer'Isa is supposed to be controlling you, wouldn't it need your real name? I mean, I don't know what it says on your birth certificate, or anything, but the name 'Elizabeth' isn't really you at all. You're just… Buffy."
Buffy's eyes lit up. "That's why the spell didn't work!" she said. "It's never going to work. It's not my real name." She breathed a sigh of relief. Then stopped. "Unless that whole Line Hopper thing means I'm actually part Elizabeth."
The others stared blankly at Buffy.
"Nothing," said Buffy. "It's just… ignore me."
The others all looked at one another, then tried to take a discrete step back away from Buffy.
"Guys, it really is still me in here," said Buffy. "I can tell."
"Yes, Buffy, no one is doubting that," said Giles. He leaned back against the desk behind him, slipping some notes on the Ascension into the desk drawer and locking it.
"The question we have to ask ourselves now is who wants to control Buffy, and why?" asked Wesley.
"It's the Mayor," said Buffy. "It's got to be the Mayor. With two Slayers on his side, there'll be no one around to stop him."
"He could very well be the one behind it," said Giles. "But he's been known to outsource those sorts of jobs to other local demons in the past."
"Like the thing with the babies," said Willow.
"And others schemes of his," Giles agreed. "Yes, I think that's very likely. In which case, seeing as the Mayor is impervious to any physical harm, I believe it would be more strategic to go after any third parties first, on the off chance that our mysterious assailants try the spell again with more success."
"Excuse me!" said Wesley. "I believe I am Buffy's Watcher. I make the decisions!"
"I don't have time for this," said Buffy. She began to walk out of the library. "I'm going to find this Major Rizza before whoever it is tries to take me over again."
"Buffy…" Wesley began.
"What?" Buffy demanded, swinging around. "Whoever it is could try to take me over again any second, now, and when they do, none of you will know. None of you will be safe. So if you have anything important to say, Wesley, go ahead. Otherwise, I have to go."
"Buffy, Wesley's right," said Willow. "Let's think about this a little bit. I mean, I've seen this Maer'Isa of yours, before. That script is ancient and demonic and untranslatable. How do you know it's really your name?"
"Angel said it was mine," said Buffy. "When he gave it to me."
"And she did feel something last night," said Giles. "That certainly wouldn't have happened if it weren't her name on the outside."
"Maybe she has some connection to the artifact, after having it for so long," Willow proposed.
"No, there are reports of people who have held Maer'Isa for far longer with no ill effects," said Giles. "Even when magics were performed upon the Maer'Isa, the holders felt nothing. It's the name that gives it its power."
"Well, what if it was Angel's name?" asked Willow. "I mean, Angel had it for a really long time, right? And Buffy's been pretty close to him, you know, in the past, so she might have felt something when he got taken over."
"Angel?" asked Buffy, a hint of fear in her voice.
"I suppose it could be Angel," Giles mused. "Yes, very likely, in fact. The Mayor has tried to strip Angel of his soul before, and considering Angel was the one to give the Maer'Isa to Buffy in the first place—"
"But Angel said," said Buffy, "when he gave it to me. He said it's always been mine, and he was just returning it as a sign of trust."
"Aw, that's sweet," said Willow. She paused. "But doesn't that work with his name as well as yours? I mean, he could be saying that he's always loved you, and his heart's always been yours or something."
Buffy said nothing for a moment, digesting this. "Oh," she said. She grabbed her stake off the table and thrust it into a pocket. "I've got to go."
"Buffy, stop!" insisted Wesley. "You cannot merely storm off whenever there's danger without first constructing a well thought-out and organized plan."
Buffy swung around and glared at Wesley. "I have a plan," she said. "We've gone through this before. If Angel's turned evil, it's my responsibility to stop him before he does something worse. If he's still good, but in trouble, then I have to protect him."
"And if he is bad, we could just do that spell again, like we did last year," said Willow.
"If Angel is under the influence of this Maer'Isa, I'm afraid no magic in existence would be able to bring him back," said Giles. "I'm sorry."
"What do you mean?" asked Buffy. "Isn't this just like last time?"
"Draining a soul using a Maer'Isa is not the same as turning into a vampire," Wesley explained. "The demons who created the Maer'Isa were unspeakably evil. They felt disgusted by the fact that they could kill a person's mind and body, but that the person's soul would still live on after death. These demons sought some way to kill the soul as well. This was the closest they ever got. Once the Maer'Isa activates, it drains the soul from the host body and traps it inside the cube, where it is unable to be touched or accessed in any way. No one has yet discovered a way to unlock a Maer'Isa, and believe me, many have tried."
"But there has to be some way to open it," said Buffy.
"There isn't," Giles concurred. "Even the most powerful dark magic in the world could not open it, nor could the most sophisticated technology. Once a soul is trapped inside, there is no way to get it out again."
"So you're saying that… if Angel really was taken over, he's… dead," said Buffy. "I killed him for good this time."
"If Angel is under the influence of this Maer'Isa, then, for all intents and purposes, he is dead," Wesley agreed.
Buffy squeezed her eyes shut, and took a few shaky breaths. Then, all of a sudden, she froze. Her eyes popped open, and the grief washed off her face. As she looked back up at the others, the hint of a smile danced across her lips. "Actually, you know what?" asked Buffy. "Wesley's right. Plan and strategize. That's the best thing right now. Willow, why don't you go strategize… somewhere else?"
Wesley clearly looked pleased with himself for having so brilliantly convinced Buffy to stay and formulate a logical plan of attack.
Willow, however, just looked at Buffy, uneasily. "Buffy? What's wrong?"
"Nothing!" said Buffy. "Nothing at all. I just think the whole Angel thing can wait."
Willow's fingers trembled, and she stepped back, away from Buffy. "You… you're not Buffy."
"What?" said Buffy.
"Whatever you are, you're not Buffy," Willow insisted. "You're that… that thing that took her over." She swallowed. "Who are you?"
Buffy put her hands on her hips. "Willow, it's me. I promise."
"Buffy would care about Angel," said Willow. "She'd run off and help him, even if he was a total dick to her during the prom. That wouldn't matter, because she's Buffy, and she'd still do anything to help Angel. She'd still care."
"I do care!" Buffy protested. "Willow, I can't stand the thought of anything happening to any of you. I just… I need you to trust me." She stepped forward, and looked into Willow's eyes. "Please, Wills. I promise. Just let me handle this."
Willow flinched away from Buffy. "Prove that you're Buffy," she said.
Buffy frowned. "Okay," she said. "Um… I know that you once fantasized about being in Florence Italy, with a rented scooter, eating Ziti with John Cusack. You never told anyone else that."
"Well, yeah," said Willow. "But if the demon's taken over your mind, as well as your body, then it'd know that, too."
Buffy frowned. "Oh, yeah," she said. "I hadn't thought of that." She sighed. "Willow, trust me, I really am worried sick about Angel. I just… need some time alone. Just me and Giles."
"Excuse me!" said Wesley. "Watcher! Right here! Not Giles!"
Everyone ignored him.
Willow shifted from foot to foot. "Buffy, this isn't like you," she said. "Well, I mean, it is, but only when you're being really secretive and stuff and I don't like that."
"Tell you what," said Buffy, handing her stake to Willow. "Come back in twenty minutes, and if it turns out I really am a demon, I give you full permission to stake me through the heart."
"Buffy!" said Willow, irritated.
"Willow, I'm fine," said Buffy. "I just really, really need you to go. Now."
Willow eyed Buffy suspiciously. "Well, okay," she said, and started gathering her books to leave the library. "But I don't like this."
"Everything will be fine, Willow, I promise," said Buffy, shoving her friend out the door to the library. "Twenty minutes! You'll see!"
Willow lurched out of the library, the door swinging shut behind her. Then Buffy turned to Wesley. "Okay. You. Out."
"Me?" cried Wesley. "I'm the one you're supposed to be strategizing with!"
"You couldn't strategize yourself out of a paper bag," said Buffy. "Out."
"Buffy, what are you…?" Giles trailed off, as he noticed Buffy's raised eyebrows. "Oh. I see. You're saying your… friend is in town."
"Is he nearby?"
"If he wasn't, I wouldn't get that little itch in my head," said Buffy. "Trust me. He's nearby. And I'm pretty sure he's headed right here."
Giles considered this a moment, pacing slowly across the library floor. He took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. Then he looked back at Buffy.
"Of course, you do realize that he only arrives when things are seriously wrong," said Giles.
"No, really?" said Buffy. "I'd never have been able to guess. The Mayor's Ascending, Angel's been taken over by no one knows what, Faith's gone bad, and I'm never going to graduate from high school. I'd say things are seriously wrong."
"Well, yes, I suppose they are," said Giles. "But they could always get worse."
Giles put his glasses back on his face. "I… I'm not sure, exactly," he admitted.
"He'll fix things," said Buffy. "That's what he does. Trust me, he'll show up, and all this craziness will be over in less than a day."
"I somehow doubt that," said Giles. "Buffy, while it is true he knows… a truly extraordinary amount… that doesn't mean he'll be able to fix all our troubles. As far as we can tell, it's impossible to stop the Ascension, it's impossible to get through to Faith, and as for Angel — well, if he's already under the Maer'Isa's influence, I don't think there will be anything that even your friend can do for him." He walked over to her, and gave her a sympathetic look. "I'm sorry, but things aren't going to turn out fine just because he's turned up. He can't do the impossible."
"But… he's the Doctor," said Buffy. "That's what he does."
Wesley started at the name. "The Doctor?"
Buffy and Giles swung around to find Wesley still standing nearby, listening in. Buffy sighed. "I thought I told you to get out of here."
"So the rumors were true after all!" said Wesley. "I knew things were out of control in Sunnydale, but I had no idea it had gone so far. First Faith, and now you…" Wesley nervously clenched his fists by his side. He straightened, tall and proud. "I must go and alert Quentin Travers of this development before—"
"Oh, give it a rest, Wesley," said Giles. "I can provide you with the evidence necessary to prove that the Doctor is not evil later. For the moment, you just have to trust that the Doctor is an ally, and not an enemy."
"It must have been very strong evidence," said Wesley.
"It was… sufficient," said Giles. "And there were some… circumstances."
"The Doctor yelled at Ethan Rayne," said Buffy. "I think that was what finally convinced Giles."
"That might have been a minor factor," said Giles. Buffy gave him a pointed look, and he caved in. "Possibly more than a minor factor."
Wesley resumed his proper, straight-spined stance. "The Doctor is, undoubtedly, one of the most evil beings ever to walk the face of the Earth," he said.
"Yeah," said Buffy. "He's one of those really evil bad guys, you know? The kind that devotes his life to saving innocent lives and defending planets, while demanding no reward or monetary compensation. I mean, the evil level is off the chart."
"It is clear that both of you have been bewitched," said Wesley. "The Doctor is a danger and a menace and should be destroyed at once. And if you two won't do it, then I'll have to do it myself."
Buffy looked Wesley up and down. Then she just laughed. Giles tried to hold in a snicker.
"I will!" said Wesley.
Buffy laughed harder.
"Fine! Fine! You don't take me seriously! There's a lot you don't know about me! I can do all sorts of sorcery and black arts, as well as—"
The door to the library opened, and Buffy turned to find a tall, lanky figure in a brown pinstripe suit and red trainers striding through the door of the library, a grin on his face and a bounce in his step. It was the Doctor. He paused by the door, a twinkle in his eye. "Sorry to barge in, but is anyone here in any sort of imminent danger?"
Buffy smiled at him. "It's like you read my mind."
"Ah, yes, funny you mention it," said the Doctor, walking towards her. "Was just in the TARDIS, trying to figure out where to go next, when I discovered this on my psychic paper." He fished the leather wallet out, and showed it to Buffy.
Help me! Someone please help me!
The Doctor snapped the wallet shut. "So! Traced the psychic emission source, figured out when and where the signal was coming from, and voila!" He grinned at her, putting the psychic paper away. "Brilliant, don't you think?"
"Who sent that?" asked Buffy.
"Not a clue," said the Doctor. "Actually rather hoping you knew. But seeing as we're at a bit of a loss, let's put our heads together. What do you say?"
"Sounds good," said Buffy. "When are you?"
"Oh, at the end," said the Doctor. "Very end. Nothing you can tell me about my future that I don't already know. What with — you know — dying soon and all that."
"You never know," said Buffy, with a half smile. "Maybe I've met your next incarnation."
The Doctor's smile seemed to waver at this, just a hair. "Doubt it," he said.
Buffy frowned, and took his hand. In a low voice, she asked him, "Are you okay?"
He grinned. "Course I am," he said. "Why wouldn't I be?"
Buffy looked at the way his suit hung on him — as if he hadn't eaten in weeks. She noticed the hint of bruises across his face, the bags beneath his eyes. She brushed a finger over a partially healed cut on his hand, gently. It looked as if it had been a fairly deep gash, once. "You don't look okay," she said.
The Doctor pulled his hands away, tucking them into his trouser pockets. "Always okay. Nothing to worry about."
He strode over to the table. "Well, now, better get down to work. Plenty to do, no time to do it! So, tell me, Elizabeth." He leaned over the table. "The Ascension. What do you know about it?"
"Who told you about the Ascension?" asked Giles.
"No one told me, really," said the Doctor. "I'm just brilliant."
"We'll get to the Ascension later," said Buffy. "Right now, I'm worried about Angel."
The Doctor frowned, and straightened. "Why? Is something wrong with him?"
"We think he's in trouble," said Buffy.
"Or, if he isn't already, we believe he's going to be fairly soon," said Giles.
"Something's trying to possess him," said Buffy. "I felt it last night."
The Doctor raised an eyebrow. "You felt it?"
"Yeah," said Buffy. "I mean, why shouldn't I? It's Angel."
"Well, for a start, because it's impossible," said the Doctor. "Completely and utterly impossible. Vampires are psychic blanks; their minds might emit delta waves, but they do so along an altered frequency. Humans can't pick it up. At least, not like this." He brushed a hand through his hair. "Which begs the question, why did you feel anything at all? What triggered your reaction?"
The Doctor started pacing the room, head bent in thought. Before he had even gone five seconds, Wesley jumped out of Giles' office, armed with crosses and amulets, which he began waving at the Doctor.
"Get back!" shouted Wesley. "Leave this town, and all who live in it!"
"Oh, honestly," said the Doctor. "I went over this last time you lot locked me up in here. I'm not planning on hurting anyone. I'm not planning on hurting you, I'm not planning on hurting Giles, and I'm certainly — certainly — not planning on hurting Buffy."
And that was when Buffy knew that things had just gotten worse.
It had been fifteen minutes since she left. Willow was trying to keep to the shadows and remain unobserved, as she skulked around the mansion where Angel lived. Or maybe she should be staying in the sunlight, because the shadows were where evil vampires usually skulked, and if Angel was evil, she wanted to be somewhere where he couldn't touch her.
"You're not very good at sneaking up, you know," said Angel.
Willow turned, and found Angel standing there, in the shade of the mansion, looking just as normal as he ever was. Willow backed out into the sunlight.
"I… I'm prepared," said Willow. "If you try anything…"
"Look, if this is about Buffy, I'm sorry," he said. "I really am. But I've got to let her live the life she deserves. I know it's hard. I'm just trying to do the right thing."
Willow relaxed. "You're… you're not… evil?"
"Evil?" asked Angel. "No. Am I supposed to be?"
Willow felt her breath coming faster. Oh, she'd been right all along, back at the library! When Buffy had changed her mind about Angel, that was when the evil demon possessy thing had happened. The spell might not have worked the first time, but that wouldn't have stopped the demon from trying again.
"Angel, I think Buffy's in trouble," said Willow.
Angel straightened, suddenly. "The Mayor?"
"Yes," said Willow. "I mean, no. I mean, maybe? She's just, okay, so, remember that cube thing you gave her, the one with her name on it? Well, she was really mad at you so she threw it away, and now some evil meanies are trying to possess her and I think they might have succeeded, because she was acting all weird and wanted me to get out of there right away and—"
"What?" asked Angel. He seemed suddenly panicked.
"I knew she wasn't herself," said Willow, "even though she said she was, and now she's evil and her soul is gone and why did you give her something like that, anyways, when you knew what it could do? You were supposed to be protecting her, and you just went and put that name on that evil cube thing and gave it to Buffy, like you wanted to purposely let some demon—"
"We don't have time for this," said Angel. "Look, I have to find Buffy before she gets killed. Where is she?"
"The… the library," said Willow.
Angel darted back inside the mansion, towards the tunnels that would lead him to the library. Willow hurried after him.
"Wait, what do you mean, before she gets killed?" asked Willow. "I thought the Maer'Isa kills whoever it controls."
"It only kills and controls the person whose name is inscribed on the cube," said Angel.
"And that's Buffy," said Willow. "She said, when you gave it to her, you told her it was her name."
Angel looked back at Willow. "I told her it was a name," said Angel. "I never said it was hers."
"Who are you?" asked Buffy.
"Elizabeth," said the Doctor, "you know who I am."
"Say it again," said Buffy.
"Not that," said Buffy. "My name. Say my name again."
"No. Buffy. Say it."
The Doctor quirked an eyebrow. "Why?"
"Please, just, say it," Buffy asked him.
"Buffy," said the Doctor.
That was it. That was enough to be sure.
Buffy grabbed a crossbow off the table, and pointed it at the man in front of her. "What did you do with the Doctor?" Buffy demanded.
The Doctor stuck his hands up in the air. "Always with the weapons," he muttered. He beamed at her. "Told you. I am the Doctor."
"No, you're not," said Buffy.
"Well, pretty much," said the Doctor. "Got myself the whole package, really. His knowledge, his body, his voice. Oh, and his soul! Got that, too. Nearly forgot about that one. All sealed up in a nice little cube, where no one can ever touch it. Bit of a nasty way to go, but, well. All for the greater good."
Buffy felt her entire world stop, as she realized what this meant. "You killed him."
"It might not be too late," Giles said to Buffy. "It could be a bluff. Some sort of illusion spell or possibly a shape-shifter. Perhaps it's not really his body."
Buffy reached out with her Slayer senses, and felt that familiar warm fuzzy tingling sensation in her head. "No," she said. "It's a Time Lord body. I can tell."
"Yep," said the Not-Doctor. "So! Doctor's dead. Not much you can do about it. We all up to date? Brilliant! Now, let's stop waving pointy sticks in the air, and get back to work."
Buffy's hands shook. "No."
"No?" asked the Not-Doctor. He seemed to realize something. "Oh. You're upset about the whole… trapping the Doctor's soul in an eternal prison of misery and torment thing." He shrugged. "Honestly, you shouldn't get so worked up. No way to get him out again. Best just forget it and move on." He beamed. "Now! Let's talk Ascension."
"What about the Ascension?" asked Wesley.
"You lot want to stop it," said the Not-Doctor. "So do I. That's why I'm here. To help."
"Maybe we don't want your help," said Giles.
"What? Really? Why not?" asked the Not-Doctor. "Heard you were at a bit of a loose end. Thought I could help you out. What's wrong with that?"
"You killed the Doctor," said Buffy.
The Not-Doctor gave a long, weary sigh. "If it makes you feel any better, we weren't trying to kill him," he told Buffy. "That was an accident. We were actually trying to kill you."
"Sorry, did you say you were trying to kill Buffy?" asked Giles. "If you really do want to stop the Ascension, why on Earth would you do that?"
"Ah, well, you see," said the Not-Doctor, "thing is, the Doctor can be very stubborn unless you threaten the people he likes. And the Doctor quite likes Buffy. That's how we got him here in the first place. Infected your Slayer with a bit of telepathic enhancement, made sure she was in enough pain that he'd get the psychic message. When the Doctor arrived to save the day, we swooped in and picked him up first."
Buffy froze. She'd brought the Doctor here?
"But that was two and a half… weeks… ago…" said Giles, suddenly noticing the Doctor's less-than-perfectly healed body. "You tortured him. For two and a half weeks."
"Bit longer for him," said the Not-Doctor. "Sealed him off in a pocket dimension for a few months. Got a few temporal demons in the Concurrence — they're brilliant handling a Time Lord. You ever wondered how much pain a Time Lord can feel when you muck about with time? We got him to scream until he lost his voice once. And, well, it's quite hard to get him to scream like that." He winked at Buffy. "We had some fun with that bit."
Buffy just glared at the Not-Doctor, anger simmering through her veins.
"What's the Concurrence?" asked Wesley.
"Oh, that's us," the Not-Doctor waved. "Hello!"
"And you want, what, exactly?" asked Wesley.
"Told you," said the Not-Doctor. "Stop the Ascension. Save human lives. All that."
"I don't believe you," said Buffy.
The Not-Doctor sighed. "Should have known you'd be trouble," he said. "Look, I'm not going to say we didn't enjoy what we did to the Doctor, because — well, to be honest, it was the best fun we've had in centuries — but, for the moment, can we put aside the whole torture and death and eternal torment thing? Let's face the facts. The Doctor is good as dead. No power in the universe will get him back. But we've still got his brain. And that's worth far more than his soul. So, tell me, Buffy Summers. Really. What are you going to do?"
Buffy stared down at the floor. When she spoke, her voice was a quiet, low, and dangerous growl, one so icy and venomous that it sent a chill down the spines of every person in the room.
"I'm going to kill you," said Buffy.
The Not-Doctor gave a long, weary sigh. "I knew this wasn't going to work," he said. And faster than anyone could see, the Not-Doctor whipped a small hand-gun with a silencer around the muzzle out of his pocket, and fired it at Buffy. The crossbow exploded in her hands.
Giles tried to come forwards, but the Not-Doctor glared at him. "Any closer, and she dies."
"She's the only one who can stop the Ascension," said Giles. "If you really wanted it stopped, you wouldn't kill her."
The Not-Doctor shrugged. "So far, the Slayer's track record for stopping Ascensions is zero. We've got all the tools we need. We just have to convince them to function correctly." He gave her a pointed stare. "Now. This Slayer could still be a valuable asset. So, Buffy. Agree to cooperate, and no one will get hurt."
Buffy gave a dry, humorless laugh. "I think you missed the point," she said. "I'm not going to cooperate. I said I'm going to kill you. That wasn't a suggestion. That was a promise."
Buffy leapt out at the Not-Doctor, swinging her foot to dislodge the gun from his hand. It skittered across the ground, and they both dove to grab it. He was faster, but Buffy was stronger, and managed to wrestle it out of his hands, but not before he clicked the safety back on. She got to her feet, and aimed the gun at the Not-Doctor. The Not-Doctor stood up and put his hands in the air.
"Shoot me," said the Not-Doctor, "and you're killing anything that's left of your friend. This isn't my body, after all. I'm just wearing it."
"He won't die if I shoot him," said Buffy. "He'll just regenerate. Maybe that'll be enough to bring the real Doctor back."
"You think he'll regenerate without a soul?" asked the Not-Doctor. "You really don't understand how Time Lords work. Can't regenerate without a soul. Ever. If you kill this body, the regeneration energy will just eat it up. Burn it to bits. Nothing will replace it. I'll wake up, back at the Concurrence headquarters, alive and well. With a fully functional and unspeakably powerful time machine, I might add. And you'll go to your grave knowing you just lost your last chance to get the Doctor back."
Buffy hesitated. "I can get him back?"
"He's lying," said Giles. "The Doctor is dead. His soul is trapped forever, and no power on this Earth would be able to free it. All that you're seeing here is an animated corpse."
"An animated corpse with all the Doctor's knowledge," corrected the Not-Doctor. "Everything he knows, I know. The answer could be somewhere in this brain. But you'll never find it if you force a regeneration."
Buffy's hand tightened around the gun. "I don't believe you," said Buffy.
"But you still won't shoot," said the Not-Doctor. "Because right now, there's an itty bitty sliver of hope inside you, some itty bitty voice that keeps saying, 'maybe, just maybe, I can get the Doctor back. Maybe, just maybe, he's not really dead.' And for that reason alone, you're not going to shoot. You're never going to shoot." He grinned. "I'm perfectly safe."
Buffy clicked the safety off the gun.
The Not-Doctor froze, a momentary flicker of fear appearing in his eyes. It was gone in a second.
"Oh, come on," said the Not-Doctor. "That's not the Doctor's style. What happened to 'there's always a better way'? What happened to 'you have to give them a chance'?"
"That's him," said Buffy. "That's not me. I don't do chances. I don't do better ways. I'm the Slayer; I kill the bad guys. Maybe you should have thought of that. Maybe, if you wanted a bit of compassion, you shouldn't have murdered the only person in the universe who might have convinced me to give you some!" She practically screamed this last bit at the Not-Doctor. Death was too good for whatever had done this. She didn't just want to kill it, she wanted to hurt it. She wanted to make it suffer, to make it beg for its measly existence of a life. Anything heartless enough to kill the Doctor and enjoy it, to trap the Doctor's soul in an eternal Hell — had to die. Her finger trembled on the trigger, as she realized she'd already squeezed it half way down.
Buffy calmed herself, easing her finger off of the trigger. This wasn't helping. She needed to find out where the Concurrence were meeting, so she could kill them. This animated corpse was the only lead she had. Buffy forced back her blind anger into determination.
"Now," she said to the Not-Doctor, "you may have the TARDIS, but I know you can't fly her without a Time Lord body. And you've got the only one in existence. So either you tell me where your headquarters are, or you lose all of time and space. You got that?"
The Not-Doctor tilted his head to the side, considering. Then, he shrugged. "Nah," he said. "Don't think I will. Oh, and quick tip. Never threaten someone with a gun, when he's got a sonic screwdriver."
And out of nowhere, the Not-Doctor produced the sonic screwdriver, which made the gun fall apart in Buffy's hand.
Buffy watched the Not-Doctor's deft hand motions, as they shifted settings on the sonic. She darted forward, rushed at him, hoping to dislodge him before he had a chance to use it, but she was too late. He'd already buzzed it at one of the bookcases, which dislodged from the wall and fell towards Giles. Giles just barely got out of the way in time, but a particularly heavy book clunked down on top of his head, and knocked him to the ground. Buffy rushed to Giles, checking his pulse. He was still breathing, but unconscious. Buffy breathed a sigh of relief. She turned, to find Wesley pleading for the Not-Doctor to spare his life.
"Leave Wesley alone," Buffy demanded.
The Not-Doctor raised an eyebrow. "Yes, Ma'am," he said. He gave her a cold smile. "More interested in you, anyways. Good calibration test. What with you being the Slayer and all." He stood, a challenging gleam in his eye. "So go on," he said. "Slay me."
Buffy rushed at him, aiming a flying kick into his ribs. But she felt herself turning, twisting in the air, as a cool hand reached out and grabbed her ankle — not blocking her, but helping her, pushing her forward, gathering her momentum and forcing it towards the nearby wall. Buffy crashed into the wall, and heard a splintering sound from where she'd impacted. What the hell was that? She flipped back to her feet, and punched at him. He dodged the punch. Then dodged the next. Then caught her third punch and used it to toss her over his head and onto the floor.
"Not bad," said the Not-Doctor. "I'd have expected a bit more, honestly, but it's a nice start."
"I'm just warming up," said Buffy, getting back to her feet.
"Oh, sorry, didn't mean you," said the Not-Doctor. "Meant, you know. This body. Bit too dependent on the defensive moves for my taste, but, well, suppose that's just what happens when you possess a pacifist." His eyes lit up. "Oh, but he does know how to snap someone's neck," said the Not-Doctor. "Sort of wish there was something left of him, now. It'd be sort of brilliant, don't you think, making him watch as he snapped your neck?"
"You're sick," said Buffy. She grabbed a sword, unsheathed it, and ran at the Not-Doctor. The Not-Doctor seemed vaguely amused. He kicked a fallen book out, and before Buffy could stop herself, she'd tripped over it, the sword tumbling out of her hands and slamming into the wall, about two inches from Wesley's head.
The Not-Doctor frowned. "Forgot to carry the one," he muttered. "Vector equations. Mental math's a bit different in this brain."
Buffy didn't even bother to dignify this with an answer. She was too angry, too upset. She dove at him, then, at the last moment, stopped and kicked out at his legs, trying to trip him up. He crashed to the floor, where she kicked him twice in the stomach before he managed to catch one of her feet and toss her forward. Buffy turned the fall into a flip, and yanked the sword out of the wall.
The Not-Doctor popped back to his feet. He pointed the sonic screwdriver at the bookshelf nearest Buffy, and it wobbled, and smashed down onto the floor, as Buffy dove out of the way. She tripped over a (no doubt carefully placed) chair that wasn't where it had been a minute ago, and slammed onto the floor.
She only noticed the sword as it came crashing down, and wasn't quite fast enough to get out of the way. It ripped across Buffy's shoulder, and she gritted her teeth, turning her cry into an angry growl.
Just having the Doctor do this, something like this, was enough to prove to her that he was dead, really and truly dead. And she wouldn't rest until the jerk who'd done it was in pieces.
She leapt to her feet again, and faked out the Not-Doctor so that he thrust the sword into an electrical outlet. Then she pulled him by the arm and flipped him onto the ground. As he tumbled through the air, he grabbed her, and they crashed to the floor together. Buffy punched out at him, but a sharp shot of pain surged through the shoulder where she'd been slashed. The Not-Doctor took advantage of the distraction, and dragged her to her feet, throwing her against a corner of the library, so that she was jammed between him and the wall. He wrapped his hands tight around her neck.
"Say goodbye, Slayer," he said, and squeezed.
Buffy felt the world spin around her, as she gasped for air. She peered into those familiar, always-friendly brown eyes, now staring at her with such cold determination. Her vision blurred, and she wondered if this meant she was dying or crying.
"Goodbye, Doctor," she gasped out.
The hands loosened, all at once. Buffy heard a sharp intake of breath. A sudden spark of horror appeared in those deep brown eyes. "Buffy?"
The entire world seemed to freeze around Buffy, as she heard her name.
"Buffy Anne Summers," he said. "Please—"
And then his eyes rolled up in his head, and he dropped to the ground, Angel standing behind him. Buffy felt Angel's ice cold hands gently helping her to a nearby chair, noticed Willow as she started bandaging up the gash on Buffy's shoulder. They were talking to her, Buffy noted mildly. She didn't know what they were saying. She didn't care.
Her eyes never left the pinstripe body on the floor.
Because the moment he had said her name, her full name, her real name, it was like the rest of the world had gone silent around her. It was as if no one else existed except for her and him. And just for a second, just for one little moment, as he said her name, she could feel the warmth of two suns on her face, could taste the red dust of a planet she'd never been to, could smell the rich scent of alien flowers. And even though the sensation only lasted a moment, Buffy knew what it meant. Somehow, somehow, she knew.
The Doctor was still alive.
"She's in shock," Angel said to Willow. He shook Buffy. "Buffy. Buffy! Can you hear me?"
Buffy blinked. "Angel?"
As his face swam into focus, Buffy felt that terrible, gut-wrenching sadness strike her again. She was so alone, so very, very alone, and why was Angel tormenting her like this, showing up in her life over and over again when he wanted nothing more than to get out of it?
"She's okay," Angel said to Willow. "You make sure Giles is all right. I'm going to take care of the Doctor."
There was something in Angel's voice that Buffy didn't like. Angel picked up the fallen sword, and stalked towards the Doctor, a dark anger radiating through him. Buffy darted forwards, and swiped the sword from Angel's hand.
"Don't," Buffy insisted.
"It's not him anymore," said Angel. "The Doctor's dead. This is just some… thing inhabiting his body."
"And you would know that how, exactly?" Buffy challenged. She stared at Angel, her desperation and heartbreak turning into rage. "You knew! You knew it was his name when you gave me that cube! You knew it was the Doctor's name all along!"
Angel said nothing, but he couldn't meet her eyes.
"Did you know that it could do this to him?" asked Buffy. "Did you know what kind of power it had?"
"Yes," Angel admitted. "I always knew."
Buffy felt a chill run down her spine. Angel knew. And Angel had been the Doctor's enemy, once. "Why did you have that cube, Angel?" Buffy asked. "What were you planning on doing with it?"
"I was protecting it," said Angel.
Buffy dropped the sword on the library table. "Is that right?" she asked.
"I didn't use it," said Angel. "Not even when I should have."
Buffy glared at him. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"You still don't understand," said Angel. "The Doctor isn't a person, Buffy. You can't treat him like one."
"He isn't a monster, either!" Buffy insisted. "Monsters kill people. He doesn't." She looked down at the unconscious Doctor. "He doesn't even like to kill monsters."
"I never said he was a monster," said Angel. "I just said he wasn't human."
"And that's why you'd condemn him to something like this?" Buffy demanded. "To a fate worse than death? He's trapped inside a body that he can't control while someone else takes possession of everything that makes him him! He's watching through his own eyes as he kills his friends and can't stop it! That isn't just death, Angel! It's Hell!"
"He isn't trapped in his own body, Buffy," said Angel. "That's not the way it works."
"But it's what happened," said Buffy. "I know what I saw. The Doctor's still in there, Angel. This — whatever it is — it didn't kill him. It's taking his body and using it to destroy him."
"Then maybe that's what he deserves!" Angel snapped.
Buffy took a sharp, angry breath. "No one deserves that," she said.
Angel sighed. "Look, Buffy, I'm sorry," he said. "I didn't mean it. I just… I can't stand the thought of him hurting you."
"He wasn't the one who hurt me," said Buffy.
"He had his hands around your…" Angel trailed off. "Oh. You're talking about that."
Buffy glared at him.
Angel got very quiet. "Buffy, I'm—" he started.
"When you gave me that cube, you said it was a symbol of trust," said Buffy. "So why didn't you trust me?"
"I trusted you," said Angel. "Always."
"You gave me a weapon that could kill someone," said Buffy. "And you didn't even tell me. If you'd just explained what it was and what it did back when you gave it to me—"
"Then what?" asked Angel. "You would have run and told Giles, and he would have told the Watchers Council, and they would have done this to the Doctor, instead."
Buffy faltered. That was true. That's exactly what would have happened. She could still remember the way the Watchers had talked about finding some way to bypass the Doctor's moral code, and simply obtain his knowledge. Buffy hadn't met the Doctor, back when Angel had first given her the cube. She would have condemned the Doctor without even knowing what she was doing.
"I guess," said Buffy.
"I'm sorry," said Angel. "I shouldn't have given it to you at all. I just thought it was better in your hands than in mine. I thought, if he ever found out… he'd trust you more." He glanced at the unconscious Doctor. "I probably should have told you what it did, after you met the Doctor."
"Yes," said Buffy. "You should have."
She waited for Angel to explain himself, but he didn't seem to plan on doing so.
Buffy sighed. "We better get him secured," said Buffy. "When he wakes up, I want to make sure it's really him before I let him free." She fished the sonic screwdriver out of the Doctor's pocket, and tucked it into her own. Then she turned to Willow. "How's Giles?" she called.
"He was just knocked out," said Willow. "He seems okay, although we probably should get a medical opinion about that."
Buffy came over, and took Giles' hand in hers.
Giles gave her a weak smile. He still seemed a little dazed. "Buffy?"
"Hey," said Buffy. "Looks like you survived to mourn your fallen books."
"Forget the bloody books," said Giles. "They're Wesley's."
"Where is Wesley?" asked Willow.
Buffy scanned the library. No Wesley. That was weird. He'd been there during the fight. "Willow, go and see if you can find Wesley," said Buffy. "And if he's calling the Watchers Council, stop him."
"Buffy, I think I deserve an explanation—" Willow started.
"You'll get one," said Buffy. "Just… go."
Willow gave an officious nod, and went off to search for Wesley.
Giles' eyes flicked over to Angel, who was busy securing the unconscious Doctor. "I'm sorry, Buffy. I wish there was something we could have done."
"There is!" said Buffy. She took Giles' hand. "Giles, it's not too late. He's still alive!"
Giles nodded. "I suppose that will be somewhat useful for interrogation purposes," he said. "But you know it's not really him. It's just an animated corpse. A particularly dangerous animated corpse. You'll have to destroy it. Believe me, the Doctor would have wanted it that way."
"No, Giles, I mean the Doctor's alive," said Buffy. "Not just his body. Him! He's in there. I'm sure."
"Buffy, his soul is in the Maer'Isa," said Giles. "It is impossible to get it out. For all intents and purposes, he is dead."
"But what if he's not?" asked Buffy. "What if the ritual to put him in there went wrong, and missed something?"
"I suppose it's a possibility, albeit a remote one," said Giles. He scratched the side of his head. "What happened, exactly?"
"Basically, the Not-So-Doctor whooped my butt and nearly killed me," said Buffy. "Fingers around my throat, life flashing before my eyes, the whole thing. And then he just… stopped. He snapped out of it." Buffy swallowed a lump in her throat. "The Doctor came back."
"Just like that?"
"Just like that."
Giles considered this for a moment. "These things always have a reason, a trigger," he said. "You remember, last year, with Angel. Souls don't just… return simply because you want them to."
"I didn't sleep with the Doctor," said Buffy, irritated.
"No, no, I'm not suggesting…" Giles rubbed his forehead, confused. "Sorry, I'm a bit… out of sorts. Listen, Buffy. There's nothing you can recall that might have assisted the switch? Perhaps the act of actually killing you was enough to reverse some of the mystical energy?"
Buffy frowned, thinking back. "I… I spoke to him," she remembered. "I said something. It's sort of hard to remember, what with the, you know, choking and everything. But I…" Buffy hesitated, as something occurred to her. "This happened before," she realized.
"Did it?" asked Giles.
"Yeah," said Buffy. "Back when I first met the Doctor. I was driving, and he was losing his soul to this demon named Toby, and I thought he was gone — just, completely gone, drive-a-stake-through-his-heart dead. And I spoke to him, and he just… snapped out of it. Omega said I was the only one who could do that."
"Sorry, Omega?" asked Giles. "Who is—?"
"It's a long story," said Buffy. "But my point is, Giles, that's the trigger. It's talking. Words. My words. My words make him get his soul back."
"You were speaking to him for quite a while beforehand," said Giles.
"Yeah, but I wasn't speaking to the Doctor, I was speaking to the thing controlling him," said Buffy. "Remember?"
"Before that," said Giles. "Before you discovered it wasn't really him. You were certainly speaking to him, then."
"It's not that I don't believe you, Buffy, it's simply that what you're describing is… well, impossible," said Giles.
"He's right," Angel chimed in. "You can't restore someone's soul just by talking to them. You know that."
"But maybe, if I had some sort of deep connection with the person who—"
"It didn't work with me," said Angel.
"This is different," said Buffy. "The Doctor and I have this thing. Inside our heads." She shivered. "That spell, last night. I felt it. I felt it like it was happening to me."
"He can send telepathic messages," said Angel. "It's something his people do. You can't send them back. It doesn't work that way."
"A one-way connection," said Giles. "You… you told me that once. You said you can feel something in your head when he's around, but he doesn't, not even when you're around."
"Yeah," said Buffy. "My Slayer senses sort of pick him up. But his don't pick me up."
"And are your Slayer senses picking up anything now?" Giles asked.
"They're picking up… just what they were picking up before," said Buffy. "It's a Time Lord body. That's all they're telling me."
"Buffy, I'm very sorry," said Angel. "But whatever you saw, it wasn't the Doctor. It was just a trick. A trap. Whatever was controlling him was trying to gain your sympathy."
"It wasn't a trap," said Buffy. "It was him. I could tell."
"She does seem to be able to tell," said Giles to Angel. "She knew it wasn't him before any of the rest of us picked up on it. She was the first to know that it wasn't really the Doctor." He looked back to Buffy. "How did you know that?"
"It was something about the way he said my name," said Buffy. "I just knew. It sounded all wrong and empty."
"Ah, yes," said Giles. "That's right. He called you Buffy instead of Elizabeth."
"But it's not just that," said Buffy. "He's called me Buffy before — when he's angry or feeling particularly guilty. And he usually does when he's trying to hide something and get me to play along. I was sort of expecting it today, when he started going on about always being okay. I thought maybe he needed to tell me something in private. But when he said my name, that first time he said it, it sounded… empty. Soulless." Thoughts whizzed through Buffy's head at a hundred thousand miles an hour. "Giles, you said it's the name on the Maer'Isa that gives it its power. Do all names have some kind of super secret power?"
"In some instances, names can hold great power," said Giles. "Particularly with ancient, legendary creatures of great importance."
"Like the Doctor."
"Well, yes. Quite possibly."
"What about me?" asked Buffy. She felt her breath coming fast. "Giles, say my name."
"No, my full name."
"Buffy Anne Summers." Giles examined her. "Anything?"
Buffy shook her head. "Nothing."
"Well, I suppose that makes sense," said Giles. "After all, people call you Buffy all the time with no effects."
"The Doctor doesn't," Buffy realized. "He never calls me Buffy, not when he can help it. He calls me Elizabeth."
Angel muttered something annoyed-sounding under his breath.
"And whenever he does call me Buffy, it's… weird," said Buffy. "In my head, I mean. It always feels weird. Like I'm picking up emotions that aren't mine. I don't know. Usually, it doesn't come up, because the Doctor calls me Elizabeth. It's probably nothing, but—"
"On the other hand, perhaps he's doing it on purpose," said Giles. He thought about this. "Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that the Doctor isn't human. Perhaps he cannot call anyone by their true name."
"He called Martha by her real name," said Buffy. "And Amy. And Rory. And Rose — well, I don't know if he actually called her by her real name when he knew her, but he definitely uses it now. But, yeah. The Doctor calls others by their real names all the time, and nothing weird happens. It's just… me that's different." She thought for a moment. "I said his name," she realized.
"I said his name," Buffy said. "At the end. I called him Doctor. That was when he snapped out of it. And in the car. That time, too. Maybe it's all got to do with names."
"His name isn't really 'Doctor,'" Angel said.
"Yeah, but it still worked!" said Buffy.
Angel shook his head. "I very much—"
The door burst open, and Wesley stomped into the library, followed by a smug-looking Willow.
"Will you please stop following me?" asked Wesley. "I am trying to get some assistance."
Willow held up a pair of wire-cutters for Buffy to see. "He was calling the Watchers Council," she said.
"Good work, Wills," said Buffy.
"I don't think you all quite understand the danger you're in," said Wesley. "The Doctor nearly killed—"
"That wasn't really the Doctor," said Angel.
Wesley suddenly noticed Angel. "And how would you know? Are you a friend of this fiend as well?"
"I wouldn't use the word friend," said Angel.
"Angel and the Doctor are more like… enemies who no longer want to kill each other," Buffy offered. She faltered. "As much."
"Buffy, what is going on?" Willow asked. She glanced over at the Doctor, still unconscious in the cage. "I mean, last time he was here, he was trying to open the Hellmouth, and now—"
"He wasn't trying to open the Hellmouth," said Buffy.
"Well, he wanted to do something to it," said Willow. "For someone who had nothing to do with Hell, he was certainly very Hellmouth-oriented. Just being all, let me out of the cage with Buffy so we can go look by the Hellmouth, and stuff. I thought he was going to throw you in."
"It wasn't like that," said Buffy. "He's a good guy, Wills. I promise."
"But what about the choking and the nearly killing you and stuff?" asked Willow. Then she glanced back at Angel, and suddenly realized what Angel had meant, and why they had rushed to the library. "Oh!" She frowned. "Why does Angel have a mystical cube thing that is specifically designed to kill the Doctor?"
Buffy crossed her arms, and gave Angel a pointed look. "That's what I want to know."
"I told you," said Angel. "I wasn't going to use it. I didn't even keep it."
"You gave it to Buffy," said Willow. She frowned. "But something like that would need a real name, not just a title. How do you know the Doctor's name, Angel?"
"I don't," said Angel.
"But you put it on that little cube thing," said Buffy.
"The carvings were there when I got it," Angel said. "I was protecting it so no one would use it against him."
"Oh, yeah," said Buffy, "because you and the Doctor are such good friends!"
"I wasn't doing it out of friendship," said Angel. "I was doing it because I had to."
"Buffy, Angel may have a point," said Giles. "That sort of knowledge could be very dangerous in the wrong hands. What we've seen today is evidence enough of that."
"And it's going to get worse," said Angel. He looked into Buffy's eyes. "I know it's hard, but you have to let me get rid of him, once and for all. Your friend is already dead. Doing this — it's no different than killing a vampire."
Looking into Angel's eyes, like that, Buffy almost said yes. She almost gave in. But no. She couldn't. If it had been hopeless, if there really wasn't any way to get the Doctor back, then Angel would be right. She knew that. But Buffy had seen him! The ritual hadn't worked — the Doctor was still alive. And while he was still alive, Buffy wasn't going to let anyone kill him.
"You're not killing the Doctor," Buffy insisted. "I don't know what the Concurrence want with him, but I'm not letting the Doctor die because of my mistake."
"What's the Concurrence?" asked Willow.
"We're not sure, exactly," said Giles. "We know they're the ones who have the Maer'Isa. Aside from that, we don't know much else. From the sound of it, I'd say they're a group of demons that have bonded together to do… something with the Mayor's Ascension."
"They said they wanted to stop it," Wesley chimed in.
"Yes, they did say that," said Giles. "I'm just not sure I believed them."
"Why not?" asked Angel.
"Well, for one thing, they seemed unusually eager to kill Buffy," said Giles. "And seeing as Buffy is, essentially, our only hope of defeating the Mayor, I believe that would be a fairly large indication."
"And they tried to kill the Doctor," said Buffy. "Which makes them bad."
"Yes, that was another thing," said Giles. "They did seem unusually… eager to cause the Doctor pain, suffering, and eternal torment."
"And usually, when demons torture people that are on our side, that means the demons are not on our side," said Willow. "I think that's perfectly reasonable."
Angel just shook his head, with a small laugh.
"What?" asked Willow.
"I keep telling Buffy, the Doctor isn't on your side," said Angel. "He's not on anyone's side. He isn't human. He doesn't think like that."
"You're not exactly human yourself," said Buffy.
"I'm not agreeing with Wesley that he's evil," said Angel. "He's not. And he didn't deserve to die the way he did. But if you think the Doctor understands the world based on human moral concepts, you're wrong."
"I don't know," said Buffy. "He seems to understand the basics. Dead people equals bad, saving the world equals good."
"And what about all the times he didn't save the world?" asked Angel. "What about all those times when he didn't show up to save your life? You were almost burned alive at the stake. You were nearly devoured by that Hellmouth creature. And no Doctor! Did he save you from Faith? Did he save you from Spike? You nearly died so many times in the last few months, and the Doctor never showed up to save you."
Buffy seethed, because, as usual, Angel knew her better than she knew herself. He had managed to hit upon the one thing about the Doctor that really bothered her. It didn't matter that the Doctor, when he did try to show up to certain events (like her birthday) was atrociously late — okay, it did matter, but it didn't matter as much. What really mattered was the fact that there were certain near-fatal events in Buffy's life that the Doctor seemed to be purposely avoiding. And if he did turn up, he'd be in the background, behind the scenes. Slipping a bit of information into a book that Giles had in his library. Secret deals, secret arrangements. Everything secret.
Buffy remembered that one time when she'd been captured by a cult of vampires that wanted to sacrifice her to — something or other, Buffy couldn't remember what, now. And the Doctor — not the one who was here, now, in her present, but the next one, the one with the tweed jacket and bow tie — had marched right in and done something clever and noble and heroic all at once, and then pretended that he didn't know her. And it was only when she told him she recognized him that he tried to take it all back, tried to make it seem as if he hadn't done anything at all.
"I know the Doctor's your friend," said Angel. "But I've known him for a lot longer than you have. And I know this about him. He'll always do what he thinks is right and good and just — that's clear. But his opinions on 'right' and 'wrong' don't always match up with ours. Sometimes, the Doctor does the wrong thing."
"Name one time he ever did the wrong thing," said Buffy.
"He doesn't like to kill vampires," said Angel.
Buffy faltered. "That doesn't—"
"Count?" Angel gave her a pointed look. "How many times has he stopped you from staking a vampire while you were on patrol? And how many times has that vampire then gone on to kill countless other humans?"
"That… it's not…" Buffy hesitated. Then she glared at Angel. "Well at least the Doctor didn't dump me right before the prom!"
"Buffy, this isn't about—"
"Yes, it is!" said Buffy. "Is this why you broke up with me? Because I became friends with the Doctor? Is your petty rivalry really worth destroying a relationship over?"
"This isn't about that."
"Then what's it about?" asked Buffy. "That I want more from life? I love you. That's enough for me."
"It's not going to be enough," said Angel. "At some point, you're going to want more."
Willow, Giles, and Wesley all began backing away out of the library. They decided that this was definitely not a discussion they wanted in on.
"I'm just going to check on… some stuff," said Willow, as she darted out the door.
"Yes, stuff, certainly… very important," agreed Giles, exiting the library.
Wesley tried to come up with an excuse, but decided on, "I have to go." And rushed out the door.
Buffy and Angel ignored them.
"Who are you to say that?" asked Buffy. "Who are you to decide that for me?" She stared at Angel. "I don't think I even know you anymore."
"Buffy, I just—"
"No," said Buffy. "First you dump me and say you want to move to LA. Then I find out that you've been entertaining some elaborate revenge fantasy for the last a hundred years. What's wrong with you?"
"Buffy," said Angel. "That wasn't about revenge. It was about the Doctor. He isn't safe. You can't—"
"Trust him," Buffy continued. "I know. I've heard it all before."
"But you never listen."
"Because it doesn't make any more sense now than it did the first time you said it," said Buffy. "And what does that have anything to do with us? You don't think… oh, my God, you didn't just break up with me because you thought he and I…?"
"Angel, there's nothing going on there," said Buffy. "He's my friend. End of story."
"I know. It has nothing to do with that."
"Because I've seen what happens with this sort of thing," said Angel. "I can't let that happen again."
"Again?" asked Buffy. "What do you mean again? What are you talking about?"
"It's not important," said Angel.
"Of course it is!" Buffy retorted. "It's the most important thing right now! Why can't you understand that?"
"Oi! Keep it down. Busy being unconscious over here," came a cheerful English-sounding voice from their right.
The caged Doctor leapt back to his feet, beaming at them through the wire meshing. He appeared just as happy and normal as ever.
"Doctor?" Buffy asked.
"Nope, sorry," said the Not-Doctor. "Doctor's dead. Told you." The Not-Doctor frowned. "Which reminds me." His eyes fell on Buffy, a cold, icy malevolence shining in their depths. "You. What are you?"
Buffy felt unnerved by the question, although she wasn't sure why. "I'm the Slayer."
"No, that's not it," said the Not-Doctor. "You're not just the Slayer. You're… impossible."
Buffy blinked. What? She glanced over at Angel, but he didn't have any idea either.
"We stole the Doctor's soul," said the Not-Doctor. "We've got it, sealed away in a tiny little box. Just now, I stepped back out and looked at it. Felt it in my hands. His soul is definitely still in there. It can't get out." He peered at Buffy. "But you got the Doctor back. And that makes you very special."
Buffy didn't want to know what he meant by 'special'. But she knew what she had to do. She leaned forward, and yelled at the Not-Doctor: "You can come out, now, Doctor! I know you're in there!"
For a few seconds, no one said anything.
The Not Doctor gave a little shrug. "Well, that didn't work," he said. "Wonder why. How'd you do it last time? How'd you manage to get the Doctor back?"
"I don't know," said Buffy. "I didn't do anything."
"But that's the thing," said the Not-Doctor. "You did. The Doctor's soul is trapped. It can't get out. And it can't be in two places at once. So, what me and the others want to know, Buffy Summers, is why you seem to have a copy?"
"Now you're just making things up," said Angel. "You can't have a copy of someone's soul. It's insane."
"Oh, no," said the Not-Doctor. "It's quite clear. We have his soul. And so does she."
Buffy felt her cheeks burning.
Angel crossed his arms. "She's not the Doctor," he said. "Stop wasting your time."
"Actually, never said that," said the Not-Doctor. "Did I? Didn't mean to, at any rate. No, see, thing is, Buffy's got her own soul. She just seems to have a spare one of his lying around inside her, too."
"I don't—" started Buffy.
"You could be quite useful to us, you know," said the Not-Doctor. "We've been looking for someone like you."
"Leave her alone," Angel demanded.
"What happened between her and the Doctor?" asked the Not-Doctor, leaning against the wire meshing of the cage, his arms crossed. He gave Angel a challenging look. "You and she don't share a soul, and you're in love. So why do she and the Doctor share one?"
Angel's hands bunched into fists by his side.
The Not-Doctor's eyes flicked down to Angel's hands. "Oh, is that bothering you?" he asked. "Does that hurt? Knowing she can bring back the Doctor's soul on a whim, but she couldn't bring back yours?"
Angel just glared at the Not-Doctor.
"You know what's interesting," mused the Not-Doctor. "I've seen you, a few times now, in my normal demon body. And I've never seen you afraid of anything. But you're terrified of the Doctor. I can tell." He pondered this. "Is it because he gave you back your soul? Oh, no. That's not it. Ah!" The Not-Doctor grinned. "You haven't told her, have you?"
Angel froze. "She… doesn't need to know."
Buffy looked from the Not-Doctor to Angel, and frowned. "What don't I need to know?"
"It's not important," said Angel.
The Not-Doctor just kept grinning, and winked at Buffy.
"Don't tell her anything," Angel warned.
"Oh, I think she can work most of it out on her own," said the Not-Doctor. "She knows the two timelines are fused. The big events stay the same, but the details change. She knows what happened last year in this timeline. The question is, can she work out what happened in the other timeline?"
Buffy crossed her arms. "Enlighten me."
"Aw, but it's so much more fun to guess!" complained the Not-Doctor. "Come on. In this timeline, Evil-Angel distracted you while his gang attacked your friends. In the other timeline…" He gestured for her to continue.
"That's enough!" Angel snapped, slamming his fist against the cage.
The Not-Doctor didn't even flinch. "Of course he's angry," said the Not-Doctor. "Because he knows. And you should, too. The Doctor's dropped enough hints that you should be able to figure it out."
Buffy crossed her arms, about to retort that she wasn't going to play these games, but all at once, little tiny details started coming back to her. When the Doctor had been struggling against Toby, he'd mentioned something about what she'd told him, in — Romania, wasn't it? Yeah, Romania. In 1898. He said she'd told him to 'be the Doctor'. And then Buffy remembered, on her eighteenth birthday, the way the Doctor had insisted that she wouldn't have killed Angel if she'd been in 1898 — even though he knew she'd been fully prepared to kill Angel when he didn't have his soul last year. She thought back to what the Doctor had told her about the story of Angel regaining his soul — the scant few details he'd dropped. He'd mentioned someone else, there, with him — another friend. A friend who reminded him of Rose. A friend who had stopped him from killing Angel.
A friend who had told him to 'be the Doctor'.
And suddenly, a lot more things started making sense to Buffy. The way that Angel had specifically set out to ruin her life once he had turned evil. The fear in Angel's eyes, when she'd told him that the Doctor had told her about Romania, the relief when Angel had heard exactly what the Doctor had actually said. Even the parallel situation — her running back to find her friends severely injured and Kendra dead, while, in the other timeline, Elizabeth must have run back to discover her Kalderash friends attacked and Nadezhda missing, later dead. And that was when Buffy knew it was true.
"I was there," said Buffy. "In Romania."
"It wasn't you," said Angel. "It was Elizabeth."
"But I am Elizabeth," said Buffy. "She's me. If she'd been in my shoes, if I'd been in hers, we would have done the same thing. Which means…." Which meant that Buffy could think of only one reason she wouldn't have killed Angel. It was because she'd want to do something worse.
"Oh, yes!" cried the Not-Doctor. "That's what Angel doesn't want you to know. It wasn't the Doctor who cursed Angel. It was you! You're the reason last year happened."
Buffy felt her breath catch in her throat. "I… I put in the thing about the moment of true happiness?"
"No," said Angel.
"But I would have put it in," said Buffy. "I was willing to kill you last year, Angel, and that was even knowing how good you could be with a soul. In the other timeline, what other reason would I have to stop the Doctor from killing you?"
"Fear," said Angel.
"Of you?" asked Buffy.
"Of him," said Angel. "Elizabeth was afraid of the Doctor."
Buffy gaped, unable to say anything. Too many questions circled around in her head, most of them amounting to 'huh?'
"Why?" she asked, at last.
"I keep telling you, he isn't human," said Angel. "You can't treat him like a human. He's dangerous — far more dangerous than me, even back when I was evil. Elizabeth could see that. She was scared of how far he might go, if he took that first step. He was so angry, so upset, she was afraid that, if he started, he'd never stop."
"Never stop what?" asked Buffy. "Killing vampires?"
"Killing everything," said Angel. "Humans and vampires alike."
Buffy gaped at Angel. "That's not even remotely the same thing!" she said. "How could you even think that he'd start with vampires and then move on to—?"
"Because Elizabeth told me so," Angel said. "Do you really think he wouldn't, Buffy? Do you really think he couldn't destroy an entire planet if he wanted to?"
And that was when Buffy realized that he had destroyed an entire planet, once. His own. And that had been shortly after he'd travelled with other-her. It had been shortly after Elizabeth.
She'd never found out why.
"Yep," said the Not-Doctor. "Might want to think about that, before you try to bring the Doctor back. Do you really want the Doctor? I'm guessing you don't. I'm guessing if he were around, you'd wish we'd stuck around instead."
"That is the stupidest thing I've ever heard," said Buffy.
"Bet it's not," said the Not-Doctor. "When you learn the truth about the Doctor. When you learn what a monster he really is."
"That's enough!" Buffy shouted.
The Not-Doctor eyed Angel. "He thinks so," he said, nodding at Angel. "He knows. See, your problem, Buffy, is that you've never really seen the Doctor. You've seen the mask — the human-façade he wears to try to blend in. But you've never really seen what lies beneath." He leaned in closer. "And it will devour you."
Angel started at the words. Buffy noticed.
"Angel, what's wrong?"
Angel said nothing.
Buffy turned to the Not-Doctor. "What did you say?"
The Not-Doctor seemed just as curious about Angel's reaction as Buffy. "No idea," said the Not-Doctor. "Odd, that. Very odd indeed." He looked back at Buffy. "Oh, come on. Think about it. Would it really be terrible to find a replacement for the Doctor? Might be better for you if we stuck around. Maybe the Doctor deserves this. I know Angel believes he does."
"He doesn't deserve it," said Buffy.
"Not even for what he did to your other-self?" asked the Not-Doctor. "Angel's never forgiven him for it."
Buffy glanced over at Angel. "What's he talking about?"
"Oh, you didn't even tell her that?" cried the Not-Doctor. "You rejected the cure because you wanted the right to tell her this secret yourself, and in the end, you couldn't even get up the courage!"
"I told her I'd seen the Doctor do it before," said Angel. "I just never said he'd done it to her before."
Buffy felt her world spinning. "Do what before?" she asked, even though she knew what the answer would be before she asked it.
"Destroy you," said the Not-Doctor. "The way the Doctor destroyed Elizabeth."
Buffy blinked. "I… I don't believe you," said Buffy. "He wouldn't. He doesn't do things like that. You're lying."
"He did," said Angel.
"Then you didn't see the whole picture," said Buffy. "You were mislead. A lot of people tell bad stories about the Doctor, a lot of people accuse him of things that weren't his fault. You didn't know—"
"Buffy," said Angel. "I watched it happen. He did it. I'm sure."
"Yep," agreed the Not-Doctor, grinning. "Destroyed her completely. Sunnydale, 2003. That was when it all came out in the open. That was when Elizabeth finally realized what the Doctor had been doing to her, all that time."
"Why?" asked Buffy. "What happened in 2003?"
The Not-Doctor winked at her. "Wouldn't you like to know?"
"What are you looking so happy about?" Buffy demanded. "You're not going to live much longer. As soon as you tell me what I want to know, I'm going to get rid of all of you at the Concurrence."
"I think you want to know a lot of things," said the Not-Doctor. "A lot of things the Doctor knows."
"All I want to know," said Buffy, "is where to find this Concurrence of yours, and what size machete I need to bring to kill you all."
"The Doctor knows how to stop the Ascension," said the Not-Doctor.
Buffy froze. "What?"
"Oh, you're interested now," said the Not-Doctor. "Yep. The Doctor doesn't just know what the Ascension is, what it's going to do, and what's going to happen as a result — he knows how to stop it. He's stopped one before."
Buffy and Angel looked at one another. There was a spark of hope in their eyes.
"Okay," said Buffy. "How do we stop the Ascension?"
The Not-Doctor just winked.
Buffy growled. She wanted to run in there and beat the guy to a bloody pulp, but this was still the Doctor, and she was still going to try to get him back.
"Tell you what," said the Not-Doctor. "Leave these friends of yours behind, and come with me. I'll introduce you to the Concurrence, explain all our plans to you, and then you can decide what to do."
"I've already decided," said Buffy. "I'm getting the Doctor back."
The Not-Doctor shook his head. "No, you really don't want to do that," he said. "Trust me. You don't want the Doctor here. You just want what he knows."
Buffy gaped at the Not-Doctor. It was too stupid a comment to even deserve an answer.
"Oh, vampy here gets it," said the Not-Doctor. "He's finally worked it out."
Angel didn't say anything. He stepped back, away from the cage, just staring at the Not-Doctor.
Buffy went to the cage, and took a look at the Not-Doctor. She looked into his eyes, those normally friendly, sweet brown eyes, that now appeared so hard and cold and malicious. Somehow, she was the one who could get the Doctor back, she just had to figure out how.
And then she realized how she could do it.
"Okay," said Buffy. "If you promise not to kill me, I'll let you bring me to your secret headquarters."
The Not-Doctor grinned. "Brilliant!"
Buffy got the key, and opened up the cage. Then she stepped inside, and took the Not-Doctor's hands in both of hers. Physical contact. Skin on skin. That was the bit she was missing. She stared deep into his eyes, and in her softest, gentlest voice, Buffy whispered, "Doctor, it's me."
And as she looked at them, she saw the eyes change. Shift. The malice died away, and there was a spark that appeared, a spark that Buffy recognized as uniquely Doctor. The Doctor gave a sudden, sharp intake of breath.
He wavered on his feet, clutching at Buffy's arms to hold himself steady. "Buffy," he said, and she knew it was him, because it finally sounded right. Even if his voice was so much weaker than last time. His eyes flicked over to Angel. "Alone?"
"It's just Angel and I," said Buffy.
"Brilliant," rasped the Doctor.
Then he stopped breathing. And collapsed.
Buffy just barely caught him before he hit the floor. "Doctor? Doctor! Wake up!"
"His hearts have stopped," said Angel.
Buffy checked the Doctor's pulse, and sure enough, there was none. Oh, God, the Concurrence was trying to kill the Doctor for real, now! But no. It wasn't the Concurrence. Buffy knew that. It had been him, just before he'd collapsed. The Doctor was doing this on purpose. He had a plan. "What did he mean by alone?"
"I think," said Angel, "he wants you to revive him."
Buffy blinked. "But I don't know…." She stopped. She didn't know CPR — not on humans at least — but the last time that Martha had come to Sunnydale, she'd been taught how to administer CPR to the Doctor. Apparently, Martha said, this came up all the time. (And then there'd been this whole weird tangent about vampires who drank blood out of plastic bendy straws, and that was when Buffy had decided to humor Martha and learn it.)
So she laid the Doctor down on the floor, and began to revive him. Breathe into the mouth. Then one heart. Then the next. Then the mouth again. Then one heart. Then the next. Then the mouth…
Buffy felt something… happen, something she couldn't define or understand, and the Doctor gasped, and opened his eyes. For a few moments, he said nothing, just stared at Buffy.
He sat up, and clutched her by the arms, looking deep into her eyes. "Are you all right?"
"Doctor?" asked Buffy, tentatively.
"It's really me," he said, "Buffy Summers."
And when he said her name, it finally sounded right.
Buffy threw her arms around him, and hugged him. Her eyes welled up with tears, as she tried not to cry. "I thought you'd died," she muttered into his shoulder.
"Well, I did," said the Doctor. "Sort of. Actually, still not exactly myself, at the moment. I'd say that, technically speaking, I'm still in that box. Can't get me out. What you're seeing now is all a bit of… wibbly wobbly, timey whiminess."
Buffy gave a small laugh, as a tear rolled down her cheek. "I've got absolutely no idea what you're saying."
"That's all right," said the Doctor. "From a bit of a ways into your future, to put it simply. Probably shouldn't have come back this far, but I got a rather odd message on my psychic paper. Worked out it was from you, rushed off to Sunnydale, then fell into the hands of a couple of really nasty inter-dimensional types that I've been tracking for a while, now. So that's the body and the mind. Soul, of course — that's where the timey whimey comes in." He grinned. "Always seem to meet you out of order, don't I? Bit like River, apparently. You met River? Just met her, myself, a few weeks ago. Brilliant girl. No idea who she is, of course, but she says she's from my future. I think we might wind up being fairly close. After all, she knows… my…" He trailed off, his eyes resting on Angel. "Name," he finished, his voice losing that cheerful tone, and growing suddenly dark and angry.
Buffy pulled away, and she knew now that it really was the Doctor, because only the Doctor could make Angel that scared with just a word.
"You!" said the Doctor, getting to his feet and surging towards Angel.
Angel backed up against the far wall of the library as the Doctor approached. He opened his mouth, but no words came out.
"What, nothing to say for yourself?" the Doctor demanded.
"I'm not ashamed of what I did," said Angel. "I'd do it again."
"Do it again?" the Doctor cried. "Do you even know what could have happened?"
"And yet, you did it anyways!"
"Elizabeth asked me to."
"Oh, well, that makes everything all right," said the Doctor. "Destroy all of time and space, why don't you? Write yourself out of time, even! But as long as Elizabeth asks you to do it, it's fine."
The Doctor stepped forwards, again, and Angel backed up further against the wall. Buffy leapt in between them, pushing the Doctor away.
"Okay, that's enough," said Buffy. "From now on, either one of you tries to kill the other, and I start removing body parts. Got that?" She turned to the Doctor. "What's this about?"
"The paradox," said the Doctor. "Angel's nice little paradox, ready and waiting to swallow the world whole."
"It didn't do anything," said Angel.
"You got lucky," said the Doctor. "Oh, and you have no idea just how lucky you got, Angel. If there hadn't been another timeline for you to jump into, if Elizabeth hadn't been a bilocational trans-temporal anomaly, this whole planet and possibly this whole universe would have crumbled into dust by now."
"I don't regret doing it," said Angel.
"Of course you don't!" said the Doctor. "You'd have done anything for Elizabeth!"
"The way you should have," Angel said.
"Hold on," said Buffy. "What paradox? Just… what are you guys fighting about?"
The Doctor sighed, and put his hands into his pockets. He turned to Buffy. "When did you first meet Angel?" he asked her.
"In 1997," said Buffy. "I think it was February."
"February 7," Angel muttered.
"Right after you moved to Sunnydale, yes?" asked the Doctor.
"And, if Angel had stayed in the other timeline where he belonged," said the Doctor, "that would have been before our second meeting, when I asked other-you to come with me. That would have been before other-you started travelling with me, before other-you met Angel, before any of it! He was trying to meet you before you met him." The Doctor ran a hand through his hair. "Still, at least he didn't run and introduce himself when you were still at Hemery. That's what I thought he'd done."
"I wasn't trying to make sure she never met you," said Angel. "I wouldn't have gone through with the plan if I thought it would destroy the universe."
"Then why are you in this timeline?" asked the Doctor, turning on Angel. "Somewhere, at some point, you made a choice. A choice that, if you'd been in the original timeline, would have led to a massive, universe-ending paradox. That's how you wound up in this timeline, and you know it."
"I saw Buffy getting Called at Hemery," said Angel. "That's when I knew the timeline was different. That's when I knew I'd flipped. If it had been Elizabeth, and not Buffy, I wouldn't have told her anything. I'm not trying to hurt people."
"What did you tell her?" asked the Doctor. "When you first met Buffy, in Sunnydale, 1997, what did you say? To stay away from the nasty Doctor? Watch out for any evil blue police boxes?"
"Doctor, stop!" Buffy shouted. "Angel didn't do anything. When I first met you, Angel was the one person who told me not to kill you."
The Doctor stepped away, his eyes still fixed on Angel. "What did you tell her in 1997?"
"He warned me about the Master," said Buffy. "That was all."
The Doctor sighed. "Oh, of course he did! The Master, whom neither Elizabeth nor myself knew was still alive until the very end. And that's the paradox. Angel tried to change history, but by changing it, he would never have known how to change it in the first place. That's a universe-destroyer, right there."
"If he hadn't warned me, a lot of innocent people would have died," said Buffy. "And I probably would have died, too."
"You weren't there, Doctor," said Angel. "Someone had to protect her. Besides, I found out about the Master on my own. I didn't just tell Buffy the information I got from Elizabeth. I do have some common sense."
The Doctor raised an eyebrow at Angel. "Say I believe you. Say you weren't trying to create a universe-destroying paradox by ensuring that Elizabeth never met me. Say you really were just trying to do the right thing all along. You saw that the timeline had changed, you saw that I didn't show up, and you decided to protect her yourself. So, if all that's the case, then why'd you still give Buffy that Dalek weapon?"
Buffy recognized the word. Dalek. The Doctor had mentioned them a number of times — soulless, entirely evil beings, his mortal enemies.
"I figured you'd rather she have it than me," said Angel.
"What Dalek weapon?" Buffy asked.
"The cube that started this mess," said the Doctor.
"It's not a Maer'Isa," said the Doctor. "It's a Type 1 Dalek Infiltration Device. It's supposed to look like a hypercube — a Maer'Isa — to fool the Time Lords. Of course, it being a Dalek invention, they tested their prototype on me. That was back before the War."
"And you found a way to get your soul out of that cube?" asked Buffy.
"Well, if by found a way, you mean that the cube didn't work, then yes," said the Doctor. "The Daleks didn't have my real name, and just inscribing 'Doctor' on the outside didn't really do the trick. I got free, stole the device, and took it with me so I could warn the Time Lords." He glanced over at Angel. "Only, by the time I made it back to Gallifrey, the Dalek Infiltration prototype had disappeared. And until a few days ago, I never knew who'd stolen it."
"You know I didn't take it," said Angel. "I couldn't have. It was in your TARDIS, your home. You'd have to invite me in."
The Doctor said nothing for a long while. "It wasn't Elizabeth," he said, at last. "It couldn't have been."
"The device has your name on it," said Angel. "Your real name. Who else would have known enough to put it there?"
The Doctor took a long, slow breath. "Didn't realize she hated me that much," he said.
"She was terrified of you," said Angel. "And she had every right to be, after what you did."
"That's why she carved your name on that weapon," said Angel. "She wanted to stop you. By any means possible. But, in the end, she couldn't go through with it. Even if you deserved it. That's why she gave me the device. To make sure she wouldn't use it. She was better than you, Doctor. She was always better than you."
"I told you I was sorry," said the Doctor. "I'm sorry about what happened to Elizabeth."
"But you still haven't left Buffy alone," said Angel.
"I've done nothing to her," said the Doctor. "I would never—"
"That's what you said last time!" said Angel. "And it didn't stop you, then, did it? I don't care if you didn't mean to, I don't care if you're sorry. You have to face the facts. You destroy people. Consciously or unconsciously, that's what you do. And I'm not letting it happen to Buffy!"
"Angel!" Buffy reprimanded, but neither the Doctor nor Angel paid attention to her.
The Doctor looked down at his feet. "I know."
"If you had any compassion at all," said Angel, "you'd make sure that Buffy never—"
"I said I know!" snapped the Doctor.
The door to the library creaked open, and Willow, Xander, Oz, Wesley, and Giles crept in.
"We heard shouting," said Willow. "And not the boyfriend-girlfriend-breaking-up kind of shouting, but, you know, the angry-threatening-going-to-eat-your-children shouting."
"The Doctor's back," Buffy explained.
"And you're saying that's a good thing," said Oz.
"As long as we keep these two away from sharp pointy sticks, I think it should work out okay," said Buffy, nodding at the Doctor and Angel, who were still glaring at one another.
"Oi!" the Doctor protested. "Don't carry weapons."
"And I suppose that gun you had earlier just slipped your mind," said Wesley.
The Doctor frowned. Then his eyes widened. "Oh," he said. "That's not good."
"You can remember that?" asked Buffy.
"Still my brain," said the Doctor. "Just have to process all the bits I wasn't around for…" A look of horror spread across his face, as he flipped through the memories. He looked over at Giles. "Are you all right?"
"Well, yes, I suppose," said Giles. "About as all right as is possible, considering the circumstances."
"I'm sorry," said the Doctor, to Buffy. "I am so, so sorry."
"It wasn't you," said Buffy. "Stop apologizing."
Xander pointed at the Doctor. "Am I the only one wondering why he's not tied up and being shipped somewhere overseas by now?"
"We're not shipping him overseas," said Buffy. "We're going to have him hel…" she glanced at his emaciated body. "No. First, we're going to get him something to eat. Then, he's going to help us."
"Something to eat, or someone to eat?" asked Xander. "Just… so that we're clear."
"Bananas would be brilliant," said the Doctor, bouncing on his feet. "Haven't had one of those in ages!"
Buffy faltered. She didn't think he'd had much of anything to eat in ages. Tortured and starved for months, then nearly killed — and all because he'd wanted to help her. Buffy felt horribly guilty about that.
"What makes you think the Doctor will be able to help us?" asked Willow. "I mean, does he even know what the Ascension is?"
"Considering how much he knows, I'm guessing…." Buffy stopped. "The Concurrence," she realized. "They said." She turned to the Doctor. "They said you didn't just know about the Ascension. They said you'd stopped one before."
The Doctor froze.
"Really?" asked Giles.
The Doctor didn't say anything.
"You mean, he actually knows how to stop the Ascension?" asked Willow. "Does that mean we can, you know, graduate and actually live to see the next day? Because that would be super cool."
"If he defeats Evil Mayor Guy, I think I might be okay with the whole not-locking-him-up-thing we have going on," said Xander.
"The Mayor is impervious to any physical harm," said Wesley. "It's impossible."
The talking all began to blur as voices poured, one across another, filling the library with a cacophony of exclamations, cries of joy, and general excitement. The Doctor didn't move — barely even breathed — and Buffy noticed.
She frowned. "Doctor?"
He blinked. "Yes, sorry," he said, with a grin that didn't reach his eyes. "You said something about food, didn't you? Snack? Bananas?"
The room fell quiet.
"Or… not," said the Doctor.
"Doctor, how can we stop the Ascension?" asked Buffy.
The Doctor didn't answer.
"He doesn't know," said Wesley. "It's clear he doesn't know."
"He knows," said Angel. "He's just not going to tell us."
The Doctor stuffed his hands into his pockets, rocking back and forth on his trainers.
"Why not?" asked Willow.
"Because he's not on our side," said Angel. "I keep telling you."
"He's right," said the Doctor. "I'm not."
Buffy just stared at him.
"I'm sorry," said the Doctor. "I am so, so sorry. But I'm not here to stop the Ascension. I'm here to make sure it happens."
"So," said Xander, once the Doctor was back in the cage again. "Let me see if I have this right. You're saying the Doctor isn't an evil alien. He's a good alien, who makes sure that evil things happen."
They were all standing around in the hall just outside the library, where Giles and Wesley were interrogating the Doctor. Buffy was still trying to come to terms with it all.
"He's not evil," said Buffy. "He's just… confused."
"Oh, I think he's pretty clear about the whole thing," said Oz.
"He knows all about the Ascension," said Willow. "What it is, what's going to happen, what it means—"
"And how to stop it," Xander added.
"And how to stop it," Willow agreed. "And he's not telling us any of it."
"He's been tortured for months," said Buffy. "It's not his fault he's acting weird. Just give him time."
"But we don't have time!" Willow cried. "Graduation day is only a week away, Buffy, and it's not going to get pushed back another month just because you say so."
"Time won't help," said Angel. "If the Doctor's been standing up to torture for months, now, he knows exactly what he's doing. He feels it's right, and he feels it needs to be done. He's never going to tell you anything."
"I've got an idea," said Xander. "If he won't talk, why don't you make him talk? Beat a bit of sense into him?"
"He's my friend," Buffy protested.
"If he really was your friend, he wouldn't be helping someone who was trying to kill you," said Willow. "Is this one of those not-human-moral-value things that Angel was telling me about? Because I'm pretty sure letting lots of people die is immoral on any scale, human or otherwise."
"He's never acted this way before," said Buffy. "He's usually the one going around rescuing people. I don't know what's gotten into him. He must have a reason for not helping us stop the Ascension." She sighed. "I just wish he'd tell me what it is."
"Of course he has a reason," said Xander. "He's evil. That's all—"
"What Xander means," Willow cut in, "is that the Doctor might think he has a really good reason, Buffy, but that doesn't change the fact that he's still trying to kill us all."
"He's not trying to kill us all!" Buffy insisted.
"He's helping the Mayor and Faith," said Xander. "I think it's pretty safe to say that involves turning the Mayor into something that wants to eat us."
"But… the Doctor has to be doing the right thing. I trust him," said Buffy. "I mean, I don't trust him to actually tell me the truth, but I trust him with, you know. The big things."
Xander, Willow, and Oz all looked at one another. Angel just gave a small sigh.
"You trust him, but not to tell you the truth," Oz mused.
"No, I don't mean—" Buffy started.
"Buffy, everything you've told us about the Doctor is a contradiction," said Willow. "You trust him, but you don't. You think he's a good guy, but he's also evil. You say he has a soul—"
"He has a soul," said Buffy.
"But not a human soul," said Angel.
"Great," said Xander. "Hear that, Willow? In the Doctor's soul, killing innocent people is the right thing to do."
"Just stop!" Buffy demanded. "It's not all about being human or not being human. Angel's a vampire, Oz is a werewolf — neither of them are human! And that doesn't make them bad guys!"
"Buffy, that's not why we're worried," said Willow. "It's less about the fact that the Doctor isn't human, and more about the fact that he's trying to help the Mayor."
"He's not going to help the Mayor," Buffy insisted. "I'll talk to him. Once he understands—"
"He won't change sides," said Angel. "If the Doctor thinks he's right, there's no way to convince him otherwise. And if he's not on our side, then that's it. Nothing in the world can stop him. Nothing in the universe can stop him. Not even us. It's always been that way. In the end, the Doctor always wins."
"Well, what about this Concurrence?" asked Willow. "I mean, it's not that I like working with demons, or anything, but they did seem to be able to stop the Doctor before, and Buffy admitted that they nearly killed him. If we want to get rid of him, maybe the Concurrence is the best way to do that."
"We're not killing the Doctor!" Buffy snapped. "We're the good guys. We don't do that to people. We don't do that to my friends!"
"You were all gung-ho to kill Angel last year," said Xander. "What's the difference?"
"He's got a point," said Angel.
"It's… I just…" Buffy buried her face in her hands. "I don't know what to do."
"Here's a thought," said Oz. "What if the Doctor doesn't know anything?"
Everyone stared at Oz. "What do you mean?" asked Angel.
"Well, I'm not saying I've looked inside the guy's head or anything," said Oz, "but I'm pretty sure the Concurrence has."
"Hey, yeah," Willow realized. "And Buffy said they were still trying to find out information when they were snooping around the library. What if this is just a bluff?"
Angel considered. "It would be the kind of thing the Doctor would do," he said.
Buffy sighed. She wished she could believe them. "It's not a bluff," Buffy admitted. "The Doctor really does know how to stop an Ascension."
"How can you be sure?" asked Willow. "I mean, if he did know about it, the Concurrence would know about it, too, right?"
"I don't know why they don't know about it," said Buffy. "But once I heard it, I knew it had to be true. The Doctor's dropped hints before. And I don't think he was talking about this Ascension. I think he was talking about a different one. One he'd stopped, before it happened."
"What did he say?" asked Oz.
"I don't remember," said Buffy. "It's not like we had a heart to heart. They were just little tidbits he dropped, while we were in the middle of preventing apocalypses or stopping evil monsters. But I'm sure the Doctor knows. I'm sure he really has done this before."
"It doesn't matter," said Angel. "The fact that he knows only makes our job that much harder — because he'll know exactly how to stop us, when we figure it out for ourselves."
"Buffy, you've got to go to this Concurrence thing," said Willow. "You said they wanted you to work with them. They could help us. And if the Doctor really is against us, it might be the only chance we've got."
"Willow, they're demons," said Buffy. "I'm the Slayer. Demons plus Slayer isn't usually a recipe for friendship."
"What does Slayer plus Mr. Alien-Psycho-Killer equal?" asked Xander.
"You've seen already; there are all sorts of demons who don't want the Ascension to happen," said Willow. "Maybe we finally found the good ones."
"They tortured the Doctor," said Buffy.
"Like Willow said," Xander chimed in. "Good ones."
Buffy gave Xander a death-glare. He hesitated.
"Right. I'm going to stop now," he said.
"Good plan," Buffy agreed.
"Look, I'm not saying you shouldn't hack the Concurrence into little tiny pieces when you're done," said Willow. "I'm not even saying that you shouldn't hack them into little tiny pieces before you start. I'm just saying maybe you should listen to their point of view before you go all Slayer-y on them. I mean, if you could give one life to save — who knows how many people — wouldn't you do it?"
"But… maybe I'm wrong," said Buffy. "Maybe I'm the one on the wrong side. I mean, if the Doctor wants it to happen… maybe the Ascension is a good thing. Maybe it's…" Buffy looked around at her friends. "I'm grasping at straws, here, aren't I?"
"Buffy," said Angel. "I'm sorry, but you have to face the facts. The Doctor is your enemy, now. He's stood up to months of brutal torture, and was even willing to condemn his own soul to an eternity inside a Dalek prison — simply so that he could make sure the Ascension happened. There is no way he will end up being on your side. You have to start treating him like the enemy, because if you show him any kindness or offer him any friendship, he'll use it against you."
"Like you did last year, you mean?" asked Xander.
Angel sighed. "Yes."
"Maybe Giles and Wesley have figured something out," said Buffy. "Maybe they've…" She looked down at the ground. "They won't."
"No," Angel agreed.
"The Doctor isn't going to change sides," said Buffy. "I… this is just the way it is. When the Doctor is himself, when he has a soul, he is my enemy. And when he loses it — when he loses all his morals and beliefs — that's the only time he'll ever be on my side."
And it hurt even more to admit it out loud.
Giles unlocked the door to the cage, expecting to be rushed by an angry pinstripe Time Lord. He wasn't. The Doctor looked up at him, taking a break from his pacing. His eyes lit up when he saw the sandwich.
"Brilliant!" he said.
Giles handed him the plate, and the Doctor took it, trying not to let on how hungry he really was. Giles stepped back, and locked the cage, staring at the Doctor as he wolfed down the sandwich. Buffy had been right. The Concurrence really had starved him.
Perhaps, considering the situation, Giles and the Scoobies should be doing the same.
"Why?" Giles demanded.
The Doctor froze, sandwich in hand. He said nothing.
"Buffy insists that you're one of the good guys," said Giles, "and I tend to believe her. So, if you really are her friend, why would you possibly let something like this happen? You've stood up to months of torture and pain simply to ensure that countless numbers of innocent people are slaughtered. There is no moral compass in existence that would make that good."
The Doctor didn't answer.
"What do you have to say for yourself?" asked Giles.
"I'm sorry," said the Doctor.
"That's all?" asked Giles. "You're sorry? You're going to condemn an entire town to death, and you're sorry?"
The Doctor said nothing.
"Tell me this," said Giles. "Could you stop the Ascension? Do you have all the knowledge necessary to make sure that the Mayor never ascends?"
The Doctor faltered. "Yes," he admitted.
"But you're not going to," said Giles.
The Doctor said nothing.
Giles stepped forward. "Listen. Buffy may be above it, but I'm not. If I have to beat the answers out of you, I will."
The Doctor sighed, but said nothing.
"You won't get anything out of him like that," said Wesley, striding out of Giles' office, a big, thick book of spells open in his hands. "What we need is a truth spell. That will force him to talk." He handed Giles a burning stick of incense, and looked at him, challengingly.
"Yes, well, it's certainly worth a try," said Giles, taking the incense from Wesley.
The Doctor finished off his sandwich, as Giles began waving the incense in front of him. Wesley pried open the book, and began to recite:
"Elobe, enemy, be now quiet. Let your deceitful tongue be stopped, let no untruths be spoken, let all questions be answered and all knowledge sought uncovered."
The air rippled with mystical energy, then went back to normal. Giles stopped waving the incense. Wesley snapped the book shut, and tucked it under his arm. He stared at the Doctor, a cold determination in his voice.
"How do we stop the Ascension?" Wesley asked the Doctor.
"Well, I'd think that would be obvious," said the Doctor. "Best way to stop an Ascension is to stop the person or persons in question from Ascending."
"And how do we do that?" asked Wesley.
"Redirect the lift, I'd think," said the Doctor. "Let him descend. Instead of ascending."
"You're not answering my questions!" Wesley said.
"He is answering," Giles pointed out. "He's just purposely misinterpreting your words."
"How do we stop the Mayor?" Wesley demanded.
"Hold an election. Good campaign management. That sort of thing."
"How do we stop the Mayor from Ascending?"
"Hold an election on a broken lift!"
Giles glared at the Doctor. "Is this some sort of game to you? Thousands of people are going to die, and I don't think that's a laughing matter!"
The Doctor straightened. "No, quite right," he said. "Perfectly serious. See?"
"Now," said Giles. "Why won't you help us stop the Mayor's Ascension?"
"Because I can't," said the Doctor.
"Because it's impossible to stop him?" asked Wesley.
"It isn't impossible to stop him," said the Doctor. "I can't stop him."
"Ah, you see?" Wesley said, turning to Giles. "It's a blood thing. I knew all along it was a blood thing! Blood of the Slayer to cleanse the Earth."
The Doctor raised an eyebrow at them.
"Does it have anything to do with blood?" asked Giles.
"No," said the Doctor.
Giles gave Wesley a pointed look. Wesley frowned.
"Why can't you stop the Ascension?" Wesley asked the Doctor.
"Not going to answer that one," said the Doctor. "Next."
Giles dumped the incense into the trash can. "Oh, well that's bloody brilliant," he said to Wesley. "You've gone and messed up the spell."
Wesley waved his finger at the Doctor. "You're supposed to be answering all of our questions," he snapped. "It's supposed to be impossible for you to lie or not answer."
"Oh, honestly," said the Doctor. "You think the Concurrence hasn't tried this sort of thing a hundred times already? The spell doesn't work on me."
"Why not?" Wesley demanded.
"Time Lord," said the Doctor, as if this answered everything.
"If the spell isn't working, then why are you answering any of our questions?" asked Giles.
"Just trying to be friendly," said the Doctor. "What? Don't look like that! There are plenty of questions I can answer. You just have to know which ones to ask. Go on. Try another one. Ask me why the Mayor's invulnerable."
"Why's the Mayor invulnerable?" asked Giles.
"He's channeling certain vortex energies through the morphic field of this planet," the Doctor explained. "Vortex energies he's stealing from a friend of mine, actually, which is causing a shift in the Earth's morphic field which should be problematic in about… oh, 12 years or so, I should think."
"Is any of that supposed to be even remotely useful?" asked Wesley.
"Of course not," said the Doctor. "If it were useful, I wouldn't be able to tell it. Told you. I'm just being friendly. Ask me something else."
"Have you ever purposely caused the deaths of thousands of innocent people before?" asked Wesley. "Or is Buffy correct in her assertion that you are a 'good guy'?"
The Doctor looked down at the floor. "I'm not a good guy," he admitted. "She's wrong about that."
"So you admit that you've been bewitching her!" Wesley accused.
"I've not," said the Doctor. "No, really, I haven't. She's just… brilliant like that. Always trying to see the best in people. Even me. A truly amazing human being, she is."
"And yet you are helping someone who is trying to kill her," said Giles.
"I'm not helping anyone," said the Doctor. "That's not why I'm here."
"You're here to make sure the Ascension happens," said Wesley. "You've mentioned that before."
"And I believe it is safe to say that the Concurrence are trying to find a way to stop it," said Wesley.
"The Concurrence shouldn't be here," said the Doctor.
"Of course you would say that," muttered Giles.
"They shouldn't!" said the Doctor. "They're a group of demons and extra-terrestrials who have banded together in a drifting pocket dimension, and somehow wound up in Sunnydale. They only want to stop the Ascension because they've got a bit of a grudge against the demon the Mayor's turning into."
"As long as they're willing to save innocent lives—" Giles began.
"They don't give two stuffs about innocent lives," said the Doctor. "Aren't you listening to me? The Concurrence aren't your friends!"
"Neither are you," said Wesley.
The Doctor said nothing. He started pacing the tiny cage again.
"Perhaps Buffy didn't really release the Doctor's soul from the Maer'Isa," said Giles. "Perhaps she was wrong."
"Of course she didn't," said the Doctor. "My soul is still in that cube. It's impossible to get it out. I do keep trying to explain this."
"Then you're not actually the Doctor at all," said Giles.
"I'm still the Doctor," said the Doctor. "Just because I don't have the soul I'm supposed to doesn't mean the soul I have isn't mine."
"I beg your pardon?" asked Giles.
"I've got a spare," said the Doctor.
"You have two souls?" Wesley asked. "That's ridiculous."
"If you were to travel back in time, and meet yourself," said the Doctor, "there would be two of you. But there's still only one Wesley."
"Your soul travels in time?" asked Giles.
"I'm a Time Lord," said the Doctor. "I'm born to travel through time. It's what I do."
"So why does Buffy have your spare soul?" asked Giles.
"That is a very good question," said the Doctor. "And one I actually am rather upset to work out the answer to."
Wesley and Giles looked at one another. "Why?" they asked.
The Doctor had a terrible sad look in his eyes. "You don't want to know."
Chapter 16: Stop Me
Buffy entered the library, at the end of the day, after school was already out. The sun shone through the windows, splashing sunbeams across the tiled floor.
The Doctor stood, in his cage, his fingers entwined with the wire meshing. He stared out at the areas where the sunlight shimmered along the floor. "Haven't seen the sun for months, now," said the Doctor.
Buffy stepped forward, tentatively.
"That's the thing about the undead," said the Doctor. "They live for all eternity, but they can never see the world in sunlight. It's a terrible price to pay. Well, that and the whole… soul thing."
"Stop me," said Buffy.
The Doctor turned. His large brown eyes met hers, a soft sorrow shining inside of them. Buffy took the key to the cage, and unlocked it. She opened the door, and stepped back.
"I said stop me!" Buffy cried. "Go ahead. Stop me! If I'm doing something wrong, if I shouldn't be doing what I'm doing, then stop me!"
The Doctor didn't move.
"You don't want people to die," said Buffy. "I know that. So why aren't you helping me stop the Ascension?"
"Can't or won't?"
The Doctor faltered. "Won't," he admitted.
Buffy took two steps forward. "Then stop me."
"I won't stop someone from doing the right thing."
"And I'm doing the right thing?"
"Then you should do the right thing, too," said Buffy.
"That doesn't make any sense," Buffy protested. "I want the Ascension to stop. You want it to happen. One of us is right, and one of us is wrong."
"What's the alternative?"
"Another point of view."
Buffy crossed her arms. "What point of view?" she asked. "Explain it."
"Because if I explain it, I'll be changing it," said the Doctor.
Buffy ran her hands through her hair. "Okay, okay. You're not going to tell me. You think you're right, and you think I'm right. And you said you're from my future. Which means… the reason you can't tell me about the Mayor's Ascension is because everything you've heard is about the actual event, after it happens. If you told me what you know, I'd change history, and you'd never have been able to tell me the information in the first place. You'd be creating a paradox."
The Doctor said nothing.
"You're not telling me I'm right," said Buffy.
"I can't tell you anything," said the Doctor. "I'm sorry."
"Because if you explain it, you'll be changing it," said Buffy. "I remember." She gave a long, desperate sigh, then met the Doctor's eyes. "Okay, how about this. You stopped another Ascension, one that doesn't have anything to do with this one. How did you stop that one?"
The Doctor said nothing.
"If you tell me about the other one, it won't be changing history," Buffy said. "Please. Just tell me."
The Doctor closed his eyes. "I can't," he said. "I really, really can't."
"I just… can't." He shook his head. "It's… it was… I can't."
Buffy said nothing for a few moments. Then she slouched against the wire meshing of the cage. "I'm going to the Concurrence."
"The demons who tortured you," said Buffy. "The demons who nearly killed you. I'm going to see what they want."
The Doctor looked at her. "Are you going to kill them?" he asked.
"I don't know," said Buffy.
The Doctor nodded, slowly. "Don't," he said. "I don't want anyone else to kill for me. I never wanted anyone to kill for me."
"Then help me," said Buffy. "I promise, if it was me who told you about the Ascension in my own future, I'll lie to you. I'll keep time the same. Just help me now."
"I'm sorry," said the Doctor. "I can't help you."
"So… if you're trying to make sure the Ascension happens," said Buffy, "that means it has to happen. That means it's already happened. I can't stop it. I'm going to die trying. That's why you travelled back to this time and place. To see me one last time, before I die."
"The Concurrence shouldn't be here," said the Doctor. "They are trying to stop the Ascension. I shouldn't be here, either, so I have to counterbalance them. That's all my arrival means."
"So your being here gives me zero information about the future?" asked Buffy.
Buffy paused. "I'm still going to the Concurrence," she said. "I'm still going to find out what they know."
The Doctor didn't reply.
"I shouldn't go, should I?" asked Buffy. "You said the Concurrence shouldn't be here. Which means I shouldn't go and see them, and I shouldn't know what they're going to tell me."
Buffy strode towards the door of the library. She paused, glanced back over her shoulder, then took another step. She glanced over her shoulder again. The Doctor hadn't moved.
"You're not stopping me," said Buffy.
"No," said the Doctor. "I'm not."
Buffy swung around. "If this is about you sticking up for time and stuff, then you should be stopping me," she said. "We should be engaged in an all-out fight to the death, right now! You should be doing everything in your power to stop me, because I'm going to do everything in my power to stop you!" She rushed towards him, eyes blazing. "Don't you get it? I'm going to mess up your precious Web of Time, I'm going to create a universe-destroying paradox, I'm going to tear apart time and space and destroy the world! Are you listening to me?"
Buffy faltered. "What?"
"You don't want to destroy the world," said the Doctor. "I know you."
"No," Buffy admitted. "I don't."
"Then why should I be worried?"
Buffy stared at him, for a few seconds, not able to say anything. "Leave," she said, at long last. "If you're not going to help me, and you're not going to stop me, then just leave. Get out of Sunnydale, get out of 1999, get into your TARDIS and go."
"I can't," said the Doctor. "I'm sorry, but I can't leave this time and place."
"Why?" asked Buffy.
"Because I have to give back what you leant me," said the Doctor, "and I can't. Not yet."
"I don't understand," said Buffy. "What did I lend you?"
The Doctor gave a sad smile. "I think you know that already."
"My soul," the Doctor corrected.
"Why do I have your soul?" asked Buffy. "We haven't… this isn't something that happened in the other timeline, is it?"
"Then why do I have your soul?"
"You don't," said the Doctor. "Not exactly. You have… a spark. A potential. It's… hard to explain."
"Is this because of other-me? Because of Elizabeth?"
"No," said the Doctor. "It's because of this you. Current you. It's because of your future."
"What do you mean, my future?" asked Buffy. "Is this something you've seen?"
"Something I've worked out," said the Doctor.
"Something you're not going to tell me."
"Because you don't trust me?"
The Doctor took her hand. "I trust you," he said. "I trust you with my life. I trust you with the universe. I trust you with all of time and space. You're my friend. I'll never stop trusting you, Buffy Anne Summers. I promise, I will never stop trusting you."
And her name sounded so beautiful the way he said it.
Buffy jerked her hand away, and then flew at the Doctor, picking him up by his suit jacket and hoisting him against the far wall of the cage. "Stop being my enemy!" she shouted into his face. "I hate having you as my enemy. I can't…" she trailed off, and released him. "I don't want to hate you."
"Do you hate me?"
"No," said Buffy. "That's the problem. Why can't I hate you? I should hate you. You're trying to kill all of my friends."
"I'm really not."
Buffy squeezed her eyes shut. "Elizabeth hated you."
The Doctor faltered. "I… might have deserved that."
"Because you destroyed her."
Buffy opened her eyes. "I don't believe that."
"Angel saw. He can tell you it's true." The Doctor ran a hand through his hair. "He's never forgiven me for it."
"What does that even mean, destroy her?" Buffy asked. "Did you ruin her life or something?"
"Not just her life," said the Doctor. "Everything."
"Like Angel did to Drusilla?"
"No! I never wanted to," the Doctor told her. "I never tried to hurt Elizabeth like that. I wouldn't… ever."
"I don't even know." He stared off into the distance, sorrow seeping into every corner of his face. "It just… happened. And it was my fault."
"If you don't even know what happened to destroy her, then how was any of it your fault?" asked Buffy. "What if it wasn't you? What if it was something else?"
"It was me," said the Doctor. "I'm sure."
The Doctor's eyes grew dark. "Because that's what I do!" he retorted. "That's what I always do. I pick up companions, and I destroy them! Ruin their lives! Kill them! Turn them into weapons! And one day, if you continue to be my friend, I'll…" He stopped himself.
For a moment, they just stared at one another.
Then Buffy took the Doctor's hand in hers. "No, you won't," she said.
"If you knew what—"
"Trust me," said Buffy. "That's what you said, right? You said you trusted me to do the right thing. Well, being your friend, even with all the risks — I'm doing the right thing." She flashed him a smile. "And you already said you wouldn't stop me from doing the right thing. Remember?"
The Doctor gave a small laugh. "I ever tell you you're brilliant?"
"More brilliant than you, Mr. Fifty-one-percent-is-so-a-passing-grade," said Buffy.
"Oi!" said the Doctor. "There is nothing wrong with passing a test with 51%. I did it, and look where I am now."
"Unemployed, homeless, broke, and living in a phone box," said Buffy. "You know, you should consider being a motivational speaker. With lines like that, you could really change kids' lives."
"Motivational speaker?" asked the Doctor. "Really?"
"As career choices go, it's not a bad one," said Buffy. "And it's not like you have a real job."
"I mean, you wander around saving Time, space, the universe, et cetera, et cetera," said Buffy. "That's not exactly a job."
"Was a physics teacher, once," said the Doctor. "Course, that didn't last long — what with my blowing up the school and all. Turns out, there were these—"
The door to the library opened, and Buffy quickly skittered out of the cage and locked the door — but not before sneaking the Doctor's sonic screwdriver back into his pocket. Now he could leave any time he wanted, and no one would be any the wiser. Buffy tried to look innocent. Giles and Wesley stood by the checkout desk, harsh expressions on their faces.
Buffy looked from the Doctor to her Watchers. "I was just—"
"Beating me up for answers," supplied the Doctor.
"Yeah," said Buffy. "You know. Being mean and stuff."
"Need I remind you," said Wesley to Buffy, "that you have a sacred duty to the Council to eliminate—"
"Buffy, would you please refrain from flirting with the dangerous alien prisoner until after we've stopped the Ascension?" Giles cut in.
"Flirting?" Buffy protested. "I wasn't flirting. I told him he was broke and homeless and living in a phone box."
"Buffy, that… thing," said Wesley, pointing at the Doctor, "is your enemy. You should not be socializing with it."
"Him," Giles put in, hastily, before Buffy launched into an all-out fist fight.
Buffy unclenched her fists, and sighed. "I forgot," she admitted. "He's… it's really hard to hate him."
Giles came up to her, and spoke in a soft voice. "I understand this is hard. It was hard when Angel lost his soul, too. You simply have to understand that this isn't the same person you thought you knew."
But that was the problem. Because when Angel had lost his soul, he'd become a different person — a monster. When the Doctor was her enemy, he was himself. It was only when he wasn't her enemy that he became a different person.
No, Buffy. Just remember. Alien morality. Alien soul. Right and wrong don't match up.
(Why was that concept so hard for her?)
"You're right," said Buffy. She looked over at Wesley. "Both of you. He's my enemy. He's on the other side. I shouldn't… I'm sorry."
"She can beat me up if it makes you feel better," the Doctor offered. "I don't mind."
Buffy turned around. "You," she said. "Stop doing that! You're supposed to be the enemy. Start acting enemy-ish."
"What?" asked the Doctor. "Time Lord body. Mends itself up in no time at all. Go on! Haven't had a good beating for at least a few hours, now."
Giles sighed. "You deserve one."
"Probably," said the Doctor.
"No one is beating anyone else up!" Buffy shouted. "Not even if certain aliens with certain guilt complexes seem to be asking for it." She turned to Giles. "Did you find the Concurrence?"
"Yes," said Giles. "We've had a message from one of their agents. It appears that they are very eager to meet you in person."
"Good," said Buffy, going over to the weapons cabinet. "I'm looking forward to meeting them."
"They also requested that you meet them alone, and unarmed," Wesley added.
Buffy turned. "So, this is a trap?"
"I think you should prepare yourself for that possibility," said Giles.
"It's not a trap," said the Doctor.
Wesley and Giles snapped their necks around to stare at the Doctor. They both seemed overawed that the Doctor would actually tell them something useful.
"Then why do they want me?" asked Buffy.
"They want to make you an offer," said the Doctor. "One they're sure you won't be able to refuse."
"Why? What are they offering?" asked Buffy, feeling a little uneasy.
The entrance to the Concurrence Headquarters was in an abandoned warehouse. Buffy stepped through the gloom, and found a red-faced evil demon guy ready and waiting for her.
"Slayer," he greeted.
"Demon Guy," Buffy greeted back.
"It's Karklothmanticothic," said Karklothmanticothic.
"Right," said Buffy. "You demons never have nice easy names, do you, Karky?"
Karky took a yellow orb out from his cloak, and shouted a word that Buffy was pretty sure wasn't English. The hidden dagger around her ankle glowed red hot.
"Ow!" she said, shaking it to the floor.
"No other weapons," Karky said. "I have to say, I'm surprised. I believe the last time we spoke, you expressed an intense desire to kill us."
"Maybe that had something to do with the fact that you showed up at my school and said, 'hi, I just tortured and killed your friend and really enjoyed it, how about an alliance?'"
"But you see, now, that we had no other choice," said Karky. "You and I are on the same side. The Doctor is not."
"Yes," Buffy admitted. "We are on the same side. You're just on the dirty, scummy part of it."
"If you did not wish to associate with us, then why did you come?"
"I came for one thing," said Buffy.
"To discover how to stop the Ascension," said Karky.
"Okay, then I came for two things."
"You'll soon find they are one and the same."
Buffy frowned. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Karky smiled, enigmatically. "Come and see!"
He waved her forwards, towards one of the warehouse walls. He snapped his fingers, and a doorway of shimmering vapor appeared in the wall. He gestured to her. "Ladies first."
Buffy took a deep breath, bracing herself for an ambush, then stepped inside.
The inside of the Concurrence headquarters looked a bit like the demons had taken their parents' basement and pimped it out to look less losery than it was supposed to. It was a squat, low-roofed room with wooden walls and a dirty red shag carpet. The central feature was a foosball table, where two gnarly, nasty-looking demons were playing. Another few were scattered around, cheering them on. There was also a sofa and a TV to Buffy's left, where another few demons were perched. To Buffy's right was a walk-in freezer that, Buffy thought, she really didn't want to walk into.
"What's this?" asked Buffy. "Someone's basement?"
"This is a drifting pocket dimension," said Karky. "You have officially left planet Earth. Congratulations!"
Buffy grimaced. "Thanks," she muttered.
"Hear ye, all my brethren," Karky announced. "This is Buffy."
The demons grunted in greeting.
"The Slayer," Karky added.
The demons' eyes all snapped up to Buffy, and Buffy felt, unnervingly, like the main course at a banquet. Or maybe that was just the walk-in freezer talking.
"Is she the one you found?" asked one of the demons.
"Is she the one that's going to help us?" asked another.
"Yes, and I hope so," said Karky. He turned to Buffy. "Let me give you the grand tour. This is our recreation area."
He led her through a door — not the one to the freezer, thank God, but a smaller one next to it — and down a flight of stairs. Buffy felt her heart sink as she realized what she was seeing.
"And this is our main headquarters," Karky announced.
It was a massive room, filled with red-tinted light, and the walls were made of harshly chiseled rock. A black, sleek conference table sat at one end of the room, surrounded by large posters and diagrams all written in a weird, demonic script that Buffy couldn't read. A number of the posters seemed to be referencing the cube weapon thing that Angel had given her — the Dalek weapon, that's what the Doctor had called it.
But at the other end was a sight that made Buffy's blood run cold.
Dangling from the ceiling were manacles, chains, and other restraining devices. They were all caked in a reddish-orangey blood that Buffy knew too well. Beside this were a number of steel tables, some with restraints, some simply lined with evil-looking tools. The tools were coated in the same blood.
"That's our torture and containment area," said Karky, casually — as if he were announcing to Buffy where the living room was. He noticed that Buffy was eyeing the torture implements, and smiled at her. "Some of those tools are genuine antiques, but most of them are reproductions." He beamed and ran over, producing something that looked like an egg whisk, except that it was rusty and worn, and looked — somehow — far more sinister. If egg whisks could look sinister.
"This is the crowning glory of our collection," said Karky. "They say it came from a real Dalek. Of course, we had to dial down the voltage a little, so that it wouldn't actually kill. But it still does the same thing. One shot makes your whole nervous system flair up in pain, all at once."
"What?" asked Buffy.
"There are legends that say that death by a Dalek took only seconds, but the pain was so intense that it felt like a hundred years," mused Karky. "I'd believe it, with this baby. It really is something."
The more Buffy heard about Daleks, the happier she was that they didn't exist anymore.
Karky put away the Dalek death-egg-whisk thing. "And this," he said, running over to the conference table area, "is where we are working on stopping the Ascension."
"Very… postery," said Buffy, trying to put aside her disgust long enough to get what she wanted. "So… any soul-containing cubes lying around that you might want to get rid of?"
"All in good time," said Karky. "Don't you want to see what information we've gathered so far?"
"I told you I came here for one — sorry, two things," said Buffy. "And I want them."
Karky grinned at her. "Down to business!" he said. "I like that in a girl. I eat businesswomen all the time. The stockings get snagged in my throat sometimes — that's a little bit annoying. But usually—"
Buffy cleared her throat, to interrupt Karky.
Karky hesitated. "Right," he said. He pulled out a chair for Buffy.
"I'll stand," said Buffy, crossing her arms.
"Suit yourself," said Karky. He pulled down a projector screen, and snapped his fingers, so the lights lowered. The screen sprang to life, and Buffy was vaguely amused to find that it was a normal PowerPoint presentation. "The Ascension," said Karky, as the words, in English, rolled across a bright red background.
He clicked to the next slide. "The Mayor's Ascension will transform the Mayor into a demon," said Karky, as the words appeared on the screen. "Normally, you'd say, bad for you, good for us! But the thing is, we have sort of a thing against" — he made a sound that Buffy imagined would be the sound of him swallowing a cat.
"Ola-whatsitwhosits?" asked Buffy.
Karky repeated the name, which really, really didn't help.
"Okay, skip the name," said Buffy. "What's so bad about that? I heard these Ascensions were supposed to swallow towns whole."
Karky clicked to the next slide. "The Ascension leads to dead humans," said Karky, as a picture of dead human stick-figures appeared on the screen. "You don't like dead humans. Therefore, you'll help us stop it. By any means possible."
"Right," said Buffy. "Because I've never gone up against a demon before."
"You have not!" said Karky. "An Ascension is the transformation of a being who exists on a lower plane of existence into a being that exists on a higher one. The process creates a monster capable of destroying all who cross its path. Every Ascension we've uncovered across history has resulted in the complete annihilation of at least one major civilization center."
He clicked to the next slide.
"This, for example, is a parchment of the Ascension of Luttie the Pickler into the demon Arkonatholigun," said Karky. The drawing featured a city overrun with blood, the buildings all rubble and ruin. Buffy was starting to get the idea.
"Okay," said Buffy. "Towns destroyed, lives lost, evil demon comes into existence. I think I get it. So, what happened, specifically, when Luttie the Pickler Ascended? How did the town get destroyed?"
"All who know perished," said Karky.
Which didn't really help. "Do you have any information that I don't, besides a totally unpronounceable name?" Buffy asked.
"We know that, before the Ascension, the being who is to ascend is impervious to any physical—"
"Yeah, yeah, I got that," said Buffy. "Anything else?"
Karky clicked past a few slides that told Buffy, basically, what she already knew.
"We searched high and low for records of someone who could stop an Ascension," said Karky. "And, at long last, we found a record. A record of indisputable origin." He clicked, and a white, glowing cube appeared on the screen — this one free of markings on the outside.
"That's the… weapon thing you stole from me," said Buffy.
"This," Karky corrected, "is a hypercube. A communications device. When we discovered how to play it, we uncovered its final message."
He clicked, and the message played over the speakers.
"…help us," said a frightened-sounding voice, "for today is the Day of Ascension, and the Moment is at hand. We are lost, all are lost. The Doctor, it's the Doctor, he's the only one who can stop…"
The voice cut off. Buffy felt a chill run across her spine, as the desperate raw, burning fear of the person on the recording bled through the air.
"Indeed," said Karky. "So, you can see, we must discover how the Doctor stopped this other Ascension. We must replicate his methods, by any means possible."
"Well, if you couldn't get any information out of the Doctor, I know I can't," said Buffy. "I mean, you guys have all sorts of evil demon stuff and I just have… you know… pointy wooden sticks…"
Karky clicked to the next slide, which showed Buffy's cube-weapon thing. "This is the Maer'Isa that you have provided for us," said Karky.
"That you stole from me," Buffy corrected.
"You threw it away," Karky told her. "We simply picked it up."
Buffy grumbled, but she had to admit he was right.
"The Maer'Isa has provided access to the Doctor's deepest, darkest secrets," said Karky. "Everything we need to stop the Ascension is tucked away in his brain. And believe me, we have spent a fair amount of time working through his brain. It's not easy to break into a Time Lord mind, what with the mental defenses. So many walls to tear down, so many barriers to rip apart. It really did take forever."
Buffy recalled the many times the Doctor sifted through her own mind, helping her to metabolize poisons or harmful drugs. The way he was always so careful, the way he tiptoed around her thoughts and memories. It sounded like these demons had just taken a sledgehammer and started in.
"The problem is, he locked away certain thoughts and memories in a way that ensures that we can't access them," said Karky. "The only key to unlocking these memories is — well, his soul." Karky shrugged. "And that's no longer accessible."
That sounded like exactly what the Doctor would do. Make the evil villains foil their own plans by killing him.
"So you screwed it up," said Buffy. "Good for you. Can we skip to the part where you explain to me why I shouldn't kill you, now?"
Karky snapped his fingers, turning off the projector and brightening the lights. "We thought that the Doctor had beaten us," said Karky. "But then we met you."
"What do you mean?" asked Buffy. "You mean that you want me to stop the Ascension? Because, yeah, I'm pretty much counting on doing that."
"You don't understand," said Karky. "The knowledge the Doctor has withheld from us is only available to those with the Doctor's soul." He gestured to Buffy. "Therefore, the knowledge is available only to you."
And that was when Buffy realized. "You want me to break into the Doctor's mind."
Karky smiled. "Indeed."
Buffy just gaped.
"We will teach you the rituals required," said Karky. "And then you will enter his mind, and know all that he knows. Once you do, we will know how to stop the Ascension."
Buffy waved her hands in front of her face. "No, no, hold it," she said. "You want me to… what? Destroy the little soul spark I gave the Doctor and lock it inside the cube, too? You want me to kill the Doctor again?"
"The procedure will not destroy what you have given him," said Karky. "Because you carry his soul inside of you, you will be able to give it back. You simply must destroy his mental barriers, and give us the results."
"So you don't want me to kill the Doctor," Buffy clarified. "Just look inside his head."
"Indeed," said Karky. "It is in both our interests to gain the knowledge found therein."
Buffy didn't say anything for a moment.
"You are the only one who can do this," said Karky. "You hold the key to our victory."
Buffy thought about this. Karky still wasn't offering her what she had come here to get, but… well, maybe she could find it, anyways. The beginnings of a plan were hatching inside her head, but she needed to play her cards correctly, or it wouldn't work.
"Who says I need the Doctor, anyways?" asked Buffy. "I could come up with a plan on my own — something that would defeat the Mayor just as well, or better, than what the Doctor could do. Or what if I convinced the Doctor to tell me what he did without your little project?"
Karky considered. "Well, there are other… perks to the arrangement," he said. "Besides you saving your entire town from the Mayor."
Buffy gave him an innocent-looking smile. That was exactly where she wanted Karky to go. "Such as?"
"Have you ever thought," Karky said, "that perhaps the life of a Slayer is not the life you were born to lead? You live so short a time, and every day, you realize more and more that you lack the knowledge to really protect the ones you love. And the only one with that knowledge seems to conveniently… well, miss the mark. Over and over again. An alien soul, with alien morality. Morality that you don't agree with. But what if that could change?"
The smile dropped off Buffy's face. "What do you mean?"
"Imagine what you could do," said Karky, "with a Time Lord body and a Time Lord mind. A human soul, in control of all that power, all that knowledge. Do you understand the potential that exists with that combination? You wouldn't need to slay vampires one at a time. You could destroy them all at once — just like that. It would be child's play. If the Doctor had had a human soul to begin with, he would have done it ages ago."
Buffy opened her mouth to protest, but couldn't think of anything to say.
"Think of all the people you could save," said Karky. "All the people you could protect. Your friends. Your family. Your loved ones. You'd never have to worry about them again. The Mayor's Ascension might cause Sunnydale to run with blood, but yours — your Ascension into the Doctor — yours could make it safe again."
"My…" Buffy's jaw dropped. "You… you can't be… I wouldn't do something like that."
"Why not?" asked Karky. "The Doctor's soul is gone—"
"It's not gone!" Buffy exclaimed. "I gave it back to him."
"What you gave him is a copy," said Karky. "It won't last. You have to admit it — the Doctor, the real Doctor, is gone. But the knowledge he has stored in his mind does not have to be lost. You could use it."
"That's insane," said Buffy.
"Perhaps not as insane as you might believe," said Karky. "Have you ever thought that perhaps — just perhaps — there is a reason you have his soul? That this was meant to be? The Doctor will not tell you about your own future, but I'm sure you've wondered about it. What if this is your future? To become him?"
Buffy remembered the discussion back in the library. When the Doctor had told her that she held his soul because of — something she was going to do. In her own future. Was this it? Was this what she was going to do?
"Why would you even want me to do this?" asked Buffy. "You're demons! I'm the Slayer! The last thing you want is for someone like me to have control of all of time and space."
"We… might have made a tiny mistake," Karky admitted. "We weren't trying to kill the Doctor — as I've mentioned before. We were trying to kill you. You save the Earth, and, well, we don't really care what happens to the Earth. The problem is, while we loved torturing the Doctor and would certainly not be averse to murdering and eating his friends in front of him, we sort of would… prefer it if the Doctor was still alive. He's useful. If you understand my meaning."
"Not at all," said Buffy.
"You see, the Concurrence is, at its core, a group of demons and extra terrestrials who enjoy wandering around in an extra-dimensional fold of the universe, mucking about with time and space," said Karky. "We thrive in chaos and mayhem — it's what we do. But the only reason we're able to do it without the universe collapsing around our ears is because the Doctor is around to… fix things after we're done destroying them."
"And if the Doctor's not around, your Concurrence is going to have to behave itself," Buffy realized. "No more nearly destroying the universe."
"And that isn't nearly as much fun," Karky agreed. "But if you took his place, then we could continue to mess around with time and space. We could go back to being reckless and irresponsible, the way we always were."
"Um, yeah, about that," said Buffy. "This whole… me being the Doctor thing… that's not going to happen. I still want to stop the Ascension, and if the only way to do that is by entering the Doctor's head, I'll do it. But after that, I'm going to find a way to get the Doctor's soul back into his body. I'm getting the Doctor back."
Karky smiled at Buffy, a twisted smile full of sharp, spiky teeth. "Ah, but the moment you enter his mind, you won't want to get him back."
Buffy frowned. "What—?"
"You'll see," said Karky. "All you need is a little nibble, just a little taste, and you'll be hooked. All that wisdom and knowledge, all that power — once it's truly at your fingertips, you'll never give it up. I told you. You have no idea who or what the Doctor really is."
"He's my friend," said Buffy.
"He is an entity so powerful, all tremble at his name," said Karky. "The last of a dead race — one that could move stars and shape the universe at a whim. Some say he is older than Time itself."
"He's nine hundred years old," said Buffy.
"So he claims," said Karky. "And yet… perhaps he is lying. Or perhaps he doesn't really know himself. But, in terms of everything else, he is the ultimate authority. He is the ultimate power in the universe. He decides right and wrong, and all those who disagree perish. It might as well be a law of the universe — the Doctor always wins. In the end, he always wins."
"So do I," said Buffy.
"Until you die," said Karky. "No Slayer has ever lived past 30. Some day your luck will run out. But the Doctor's never will." He folded his hands in front of him. "Believe me, once you enter his mind, you won't be able to stop. You'll want to become the Doctor. You'll need to become the Doctor." He tapped a finger on the desk. "You might even be prepared to kill him for it."
And that terrified Buffy, possibly more than anything else. Was that what other-her had done?
"Can I think about this?" asked Buffy.
"You have only until the Ascension," said Karky. "By that time, I'm certain you'll see what is right for all. By that time, you shall join us!"
"I'm sorry, what, exactly, is the problem?" asked Wesley. "You're not being asked to kill the Doctor, you're not being asked to hurt him, you're simply being asked to take a look into his mind. It seems like a straightforward solution to me."
"It's going to hurt," said Buffy. "The weapon was designed by his mortal enemies, the Daleks. The Doctor's basically their version of the Devil, and they built this thing specifically for him. Anything involving that weapon is going to hurt him."
"Much as I understand your reluctance to hurt your friend," said Giles, "I'd think as long as this… Dalek weapon doesn't do any lasting damage, it might be worth using it. There are lives at stake."
"And if it works, can you imagine what you could find out?" asked Willow. "I mean, there are probably all sorts of things that we don't even know about in the Doctor's mind. Maybe he has some super secret way to kill all the vampires or something, and he's never told you."
That made Buffy's blood run cold, because it sounded so much like what Karky had told her. "I don't know," said Buffy, pushing a pencil around on the desk.
They were sitting in an empty classroom, so that the Doctor would not overhear their conversation. Buffy sat at one of the desks, rolling a pencil across the tabletop, unwilling to meet anyone else's eyes. Xander sat on top of another desk, his feet on the chair. Oz was slouching in a third desk, Willow was seated right beside him, and Giles was leaning against the table at the front of the room. Wesley was hovering, as usual.
Angel wasn't around. He was standing guard, in the library, ensuring that the Doctor was safe and didn't escape. And wouldn't Buffy love to be a fly on the wall for that conversation!
"What's the dilemma?" asked Xander. "You go in, you get the information, you get out. Everyone's happy, everyone's alive—"
"I just don't know if I want to do that to someone," said Buffy.
"It's not really that big a deal, Buffy," said Oz.
"I think it is, though," said Buffy. "I mean, when the Doctor goes into my mind, he's always really nice about it. He asks permission first, and if I'm not comfortable, he never insists, and then he makes sure that he doesn't look at anything I don't want him to look at—"
"The Doctor's been in your mind?" asked Willow.
Buffy froze. She hadn't actually meant for that to slip out. "Just… once or twice," she said.
The rest of the Scooby gang stared at her, open mouthed.
"Maybe more than once or twice," she admitted.
"And the sexual tension goes up another notch!" said Xander.
Buffy gaped at him. "It's not like that!" she protested. "He was just… fixing some things. In my head."
"Buffy, how long has this been happening?" asked Giles.
"Since my birthda… look, it's not important," said Buffy. "My point is, you don't just go barging into other people's minds. It's not right."
"Well, you did, when you had that telepathy thing from the demon, right?" asked Willow. "I mean, yeah, you couldn't help it, but you still heard all our innermost thoughts and secrets. It'd be the same thing, here."
"I'm afraid it's not quite that simple," said Giles. "What the Concurrence is asking Buffy to do is break into the Doctor's mind. That's quite different from Buffy's brief telepathic abilities."
"How?" asked Willow.
"It's the difference between looking through a window at a house," said Giles, "and, well, burning the house to the ground and then sorting through the ashes in order to unlock one single fireproof safe in the center."
"Oh," said Willow. "Actually, that doesn't sound so good."
"Yeah," said Buffy.
"What's wrong with trashing a building?" asked Xander. "If the Doctor's not going to save our lives, I think he deserves a little trashing."
"You just want to find out dirt on Angel," said Willow to Xander.
Xander considered this. "It might be about that," he admitted. "But it's about other things too. Maybe I'm just feeling a little worried about someone who pressures Buffy into having unprotected mind sex."
"It's not — what is everyone's obsession about this?" Buffy demanded. "Everywhere I go, today, that's all I hear about. I haven't slept with the Doctor — not mentally, not physically, not even as in sleeping in the same room sleeping! We're not romantically involved in any way, shape, or form. Why is that so hard to believe?"
"Well, you've got to admit, the whole 'having his soul' thing is a bit on the romantic side," said Oz.
"And there's the way Angel keeps acting around the Doctor," added Xander.
"And you've let the Doctor inside your head," said Willow, with a smile. "I mean, what did it feel like? Was it, you know, nice?"
Buffy looked down at her hands. "It feels… yeah, it feels nice," Buffy admitted, a smile creeping across her face. She glanced up at Willow, who was raising her eyebrows. The smile dropped, and Buffy straightened in her seat. "But not like that."
"Can we get back to the matter at hand?" asked Wesley. "I believe that we have the key to solving the problem of the Mayor's Ascension in our hands. All we have to do is unlock it."
"If Buffy wishes to," added Giles.
"As her Watcher, I command her to—"
"You can't command me to break into my friend's brain," said Buffy. "That's not a simple straightforward thing. I need… I have to think about this."
"It seems like you're pretty much set against it," said Oz.
"Yeah, I mean, if you're not comfortable, you don't have to, Buffy," said Willow. "Sure, it could save all our lives and the lives of pretty much everyone else in Sunnydale, but if you don't want to, it's still up to you."
"Thanks for the peer pressure, Wills," said Buffy.
"It's not peer pressure," protested Willow. "It's… I-really-don't-want-to-die-while-I'm-still-in-high-school pressure."
"I don't think you understand how serious this is," said Buffy. "I know you're asking me to do this for the right reasons, but what would that make me? What if I can't stop? I mean, Faith started with killing vampires, then she started killing humans, and now look at her! What if I turn into something terrible because of this?"
Giles frowned at her. "Buffy, I think it's hardly likely—"
"Other-me did!" said Buffy. "Other-me started off just like me, and by the end, she wound up being the kind of person who would purposely fix a Dalek weapon designed to kill the Doctor, and carve his name on the outside."
"Other-you?" asked Xander.
Buffy waved a hand dismissively. "It's nothing," she said. "Look, just… consciously breaking into someone's mind, invading their inner thoughts — it's violating. I don't know if I could do that to someone. And if I could, I don't know what kind of person I'd be afterwards."
"We could always stick to conventional methods of interrogation," said Giles. "Wesley believes he might have a truth serum that would work."
Buffy sighed. "It doesn't matter. I have to say yes to the Concurrence."
"Why?" asked Willow.
"It's the only way I'll ever get that Dalek weapon back," said Buffy. "They're never going to let me see it unless I say yes. And I have to get it back. The Doctor's soul is in there. I can't just forget about that."
"His soul might as well be dead," said Wesley. "You cannot open the box. If you have a copy of his soul, then that's very fortunate for him, but his real soul is gone."
"I'll get it back," said Buffy. "I'll find a way. I mean, everyone said that—"
The door opened, and Cordelia walked in. "Wesley," she said. "I know that you and I had fun at the prom, and I just wanted to let you know that you looked really good in that tux."
"And it's good to see you too, honey!" said Xander.
"Yes, well, Cordelia," said Wesley, as Cordelia edged far too close for comfort, "as much as you are a very charming lady, I am rather in the middle of something."
Cordelia paused. "Oh, yeah," she said. "What's going on here? I just got nearly knocked over by Faith and this thin guy wearing the most ugly suit I could imagine, running around outside. And he was wearing red trainers, too! I mean, what kind of idiot would wear red trainers with a brown suit? I swear, if there really was a fashion police, he'd be locked up for life."
"By Faith?" Buffy cried.
"Yeah, maybe she didn't like the suit, either," said Cordelia. "I mean, it was a really terrible suit. Someone needs to take that guy to a Men's Warehouse or—"
Buffy jumped out of her seat, and ran to the door. She flung herself outside, racing down the hall. The others all tried to follow suit. Cordelia frowned.
"I'm pretty sure the shops aren't open now!" she shouted after Buffy.
"No offense or anything," said Xander. "But I don't think she cares."
The Doctor leaned against the rightmost wall of the cage, hands in his pockets. Angel paced the room, trying very hard not to look at the Doctor.
"So," said the Doctor. "Have you been shadowing me every time I've arrived in Sunnydale, or just the times I know about?"
"I was trying to protect Buffy," muttered Angel.
"Because you don't trust me."
"If it helps, I don't trust you either," the Doctor offered. "What with you hoarding a very dangerous Dalek weapon that was specifically designed to kill me."
"I wasn't planning to use it," Angel told him. "I was protecting it. Saving your life. I was doing the right thing."
"See, you say that," said the Doctor, "but the right thing would have been returning it. Do you know what happened, because I didn't have the Dalek Weapon prototype? When the Time War started, the Daleks had developed that Infiltration Prototype into a fully operational and nearly undetectable weapon, one that the Time Lords were, unknowingly, letting into the Citadel on a regular basis. The Daleks stole massive amounts of Time Lord knowledge very early on in the War, and none of us knew enough to stop it. You might not have caused any death on Earth, but your folly caused massive amounts of death and destruction on a cosmic scale."
"I wasn't the one who stole the weapon from you," said Angel. "I did what was right."
The Doctor sighed. "I'm just saying that you need to look at the cosmic implications, sometimes," said the Doctor. "I mean, you humans have such a narrow view—"
"I'm not human."
"Close enough," said the Doctor. "Oh, don't deny it. You put all of time and space in jeopardy just because a woman asked you to."
"And you wouldn't?"
"Absolutely not!" the Doctor protested. He hesitated. "Well, I certainly wouldn't do it again."
"That's what I thought," said Angel.
The Doctor folded his arms, and laid his head back against the wall. "So," he said. "What did Elizabeth actually want you to tell her in 1997?"
"Exactly what I told Buffy," said Angel.
"And that's all?" the Doctor asked. "Nothing else? Because, really, if it was just the Master, I'd be astounded. Elizabeth might not have liked him, but he was long gone by the time you came around."
Angel said nothing for a moment. Then, after a long while, he admitted, "She did ask me to tell her something else."
The Doctor's lips quirked into a grin. "I knew it."
"But I didn't tell Buffy." Angel glanced back at the Doctor. "It didn’t come up in this timeline."
"What was it?"
Angel shook his head. "It doesn’t matter."
"No, really, what was it?" the Doctor asked.
Angel paused a moment. "Elizabeth told me… 'from beneath you, it devours,'" he confessed. "I was supposed to tell her that the moment I met her in Sunnydale. She said it was important."
The Doctor stood up straight. "What?"
"You know what it means?" Angel asked.
"No, I've… I've never heard it before." The Doctor frowned. "Why in the seven systems would she tell you something like that?"
"As I said," said Angel. "It didn't come up in this timeline."
"If it had, I'd assume it would be referring to the Hellmouth," said the Doctor. "Except the Hellmouth didn't exist in the other timeline. I wonder what Elizabeth could have been referring to?"
"I have my theories," said Angel, staring pointedly at the Doctor.
The Doctor ignored him. He slumped against the side of the cage. "Humans," he sighed. "The things I'd give to try to figure out how your heads work."
"And what did you give Buffy?"
The Doctor stiffened. "Sorry?"
"You've been in her head a few times, now," said Angel. "I saw. How did you convince her to do something like that? Or did you just not tell her what you were doing?"
"That… wasn't…" The Doctor scratched the back of his neck. "It's not what you think."
Angel went very still. "So… you weren't trying to hurt her or manipulate her…" he said. "You were just… what? Tickling her neural pathways? Stimulating certain nerve centers?"
"Ah," said the Doctor. "And it's not like that, either."
"Then what was it like?" Angel demanded. He strode forward, and fixed the Doctor with a steel gaze. "What were you doing in there?"
"Mainly helping her metabolize poisons," said the Doctor. "She seems to get drugged, poisoned, or stabbed on an incredibly regular basis. I just helped speed up the healing process."
"I don't believe you," said Angel.
"You wouldn't," said the Doctor. "You don't trust me."
"I have every right not to trust you," said Angel. "You, who allowed countless numbers of people to die in the other timeline, in 2003—"
"And you," said the Doctor, "who allowed the Daleks to gain a stronghold early into the Time War!"
They spent a minute, just glaring at one another. Angel was the first to look away.
"I think I'll be better help protecting you outside the library," he said. "Where we can't talk."
"Suit yourself," said the Doctor.
Without a second look back, Angel pushed his way out of the library doors. For a few moments, there was silence. The Doctor started humming. Then he stopped. He'd heard something. A very soft sound, and one that human ears would have been hard-pressed to detect. But the Doctor thought he could identify it. It was… a crow bar?
A crack! And the splintering of wood as the window to the library slammed open. A tallish looking human girl, with brown hair and too much makeup, dropped through into the library. She was wearing dark clothing, and carrying a very sharp-looking knife.
She rolled onto the floor, and braced herself for a fight. When the fight didn't happen, she stood up, her eyes darting around the library. She seemed a little puzzled that there was no one there. The Doctor just examined her, curiously. He thought she looked vaguely familiar.
Then their eyes met.
And the girl smiled — an angry, determinedly cold smile. That was when the Doctor knew he was probably in a bit of trouble.
"You know, I knew Buffy was fickle, but this is something else," said the girl, striding towards the Doctor. "I try to sleep with her boyfriend, she gets another one."
The Doctor kept peering at her. "Sorry, do I know you?"
"Well, that's flattery for you," said the girl. "Tell you what? All you need to know about me is that I'm the girl who's gonna kill you. Got that?"
"Oh, you're Faith!" cried the Doctor. "Faith Lehane! You're working for the Mayor! Oh, that's brilliant, it is." He paused, then frowned. "Sorry, did you say you were here to kill me?"
"That was the idea," said Faith.
"Ah," said the Doctor. "Actually, that's less brilliant." He slipped out the sonic, but Faith's back was to him, and that wouldn't do at all. "I should probably start running, now, shouldn't I?"
"No point," said Faith. "You're all locked up." She charged forwards, key in hand, and unlocked the cage. "And I'm blocking the only exit."
On second thought, maybe he should have run while he'd had the chance.
She lunged at him, and the Doctor thrust a book in the way of the knife. He tried to dart out the door to the cage, but Faith slammed a fist into his ribs, and he fell against the ground. Faith yanked her knife out of the book, and stalked towards him.
"You really don't want to do this," said the Doctor.
"You know, everyone keeps saying that," said Faith. "But that doesn't make it true."
She slashed down, but the Doctor activated the sonic screwdriver and buzzed it at her hand. The knife turned red hot and she dropped it. The Doctor popped back to his feet.
"You're better than this," the Doctor urged. "You can always choose a better way."
Faith glared at him, then kicked out, striking him back against the wall. The Doctor didn't have enough room to dart out of the way. She jumped out, pinning him against the wall, so she could hit him better.
"Don’t want to," said Faith. "I'm having too much fun the way things are right now."
She punched him in the gut, and he crumpled. As he fell, he pushed out at her legs, and she tumbled to the ground, right on top of him. That hadn't actually gone exactly the way he'd planned.
"You know, you are kind of cute," said Faith. "I wonder if you're as good a kisser as Angel?"
The Doctor blinked. "Sorry?"
Faith winked at him. "Want to find out?"
"What?" asked the Doctor. "No! Absolutely not! Aside from the fact that we severely dislike one another, Angel isn't even—"
That was when Faith kissed him. Oh. Oh. So that was what she meant. Phew. No, not phew. Because the Doctor had to admit, even though this was far better than what he thought she'd been suggesting, it wasn't exactly pleasant. Faith was not so much kissing him as she was… launching a violent military offensive against the inside of his mouth.
Still, better make the most of it. While they were touching, the Doctor could get into her mind. Faith pulled away, suddenly, as the Doctor sent her a psychic jolt. "What was that?" she demanded.
"A very polite reminder about personal space," said the Doctor.
Faith smacked him across the face.
"Ow!" the Doctor complained. "That wasn't very nice."
"I'm not a nice person," said Faith, pulling a stake out of her pocket. "In fact, I'm a pretty mean one."
The Doctor looked deep into her eyes. "Nonetheless, I am very, very sorry about this," he said.
And as Faith thrust the wooden stake towards him, the Doctor caught the hand that she was using, pulling and redirecting her momentum, using her own strength against her, as he flipped her over his head and against the metal grating of the cage. Then he bolted out of the cage, and out the window of the library. He paused, and looked back in. Below, Faith got to her feet, looking slightly dazed. Then she scanned the room. She couldn't see him.
That could change.
The Doctor slammed the window, then darted off into the night air. He had a goal in mind, and he needed to make sure he reached it before Faith caught up with him.
Buffy raced down the hall, and almost ran into Angel.
"Why aren't you in the libr…?" she asked. Then she sighed. "No, don't tell me. You two got into a fight, and you stormed out."
Angel didn't answer.
"What happened?" asked Buffy.
"Did you stop her?"
"She was already crawling out the window by the time I arrived," said Angel. "The Doctor was already gone."
"And you didn't follow him?" Buffy cried.
"He used the window," said Angel. "If he'd wanted me to know he was leaving, he'd have used the door."
Buffy ran into the library, and looked around. Oh, this was just great. The Doctor had run off, with a plan, and left Buffy in the dark. The best way to find him was to figure out what his plan was, but aside from the fact that Buffy knew it would be incredibly clever, she didn't have a clue what it was.
Buffy glanced out the window, but of course, the Doctor and Faith were long gone.
"We have to find him before Faith kills him," said Buffy.
"Anyone else here confused about why Faith is trying to kill an unbeatable alien who happens to be on her side?" asked Xander.
Willow and Oz raised their hands. Wesley and Giles looked at one another, then raised their hands as well.
"I'm guessing that the Mayor found out there was someone around who could stop the Ascension, and didn't want to take any chances," said Buffy. "Listen. We have to find the Doctor. You all know what he looks like now, but if we're too late — if Faith actually kills him — we're looking for a skinny guy, a bit younger-looking, with floppy brown hair and green eyes. And you're not allowed to tell the Doctor I know that."
"What are you talking about?" asked Willow.
"Nothing! It shouldn't matter," said Buffy. "Because we're not going to let him die." She turned to Angel. "You. Sit this one out."
Angel stood his ground.
"If the Doctor regenerates, you turn to ash," said Buffy. "I'm not letting that happen."
"Then I'll find him before he regenerates," said Angel.
"You're not going!" Buffy insisted.
Angel stood his ground.
"Buffy, there's no use arguing," said Giles. "As we've seen earlier today, the Doctor is more than capable of taking care of himself — even faced with a Slayer."
"Only when he's actually trying to cause physical harm," Buffy muttered. She knew that most of the time, the Doctor didn't fight. He didn't like fighting.
"Our primary objective is to recapture him," said Wesley. "To do that, we must find some way to discover where he went."
"I have no idea where he could have gone," said Buffy.
"Maybe he went to your house?" Oz suggested.
"No," said Buffy. "He wouldn't. He's afraid of my mom."
"Hang on," said Xander. "Evil alien boy is afraid of Buffy's mom?"
"Well, maybe he went to a really populated place," said Willow. "Like the Bronze. There are a lot of spots to hide, there, and he can use the humans as shields."
"No," said Buffy. "He would never do that. He wouldn't risk letting anyone else get hurt."
"Buffy's mom?" continued Xander. "Buffy's not-even-remotely-scary likes-to-make-milk-and-cookies mom?"
"If he's trying to distract Faith, he'd go for the cemetery," said Giles. "There's no better place to distract a Slayer than the cemetery."
"There's no way a smart alien would go into vampire central," Willow said.
"He's not afraid of vampires," Buffy said. "But I don't think he'd risk letting any of them get hurt, either. He sort of has this weird obsession with wanting to save them."
"Once again," said Xander. "Not afraid of vampires, but afraid of Buffy's mom?"
"You don't think… he wouldn't go to the Mayor's office, would he?" asked Angel. "See the man in charge?"
"Yeah, if Faith wanted to kill him," said Willow, "he'd probably try to go over her head. Convince the top guy that he'd be a valuable asset. I mean, he does want to work for the Mayor."
And that was when Buffy had a startling revelation. "Except he doesn't," said Buffy. "He's not working for the Ascension. He's working against the Concurrence. And the one way to make sure he takes out the Concurrence is…" Buffy began to run, full pelt.
"Is what?" asked Willow, trying to keep up.
"Is for the Mayor to find out about it!" shouted Buffy. "He's leading Faith to the Concurrence!"
Buffy ran. Why hadn't she thought of this right away? It was an absolutely ingenious plan, with the one fallback of causing the Doctor extreme physical pain and quite possibly death. The Doctor would lead Faith to the Concurrence. The Concurrence, needing the knowledge inside the Doctor's head, wouldn't let Faith kill him. They'd rescue him from Faith, at which point Faith would either try to fight all the Concurrence at once, or would retreat and ask for backup. Either way, the Mayor would find out about the Concurrence, and come in with his armies and get rid of them. In the meantime, the Concurrence would continue to torture the Doctor. Still, in the Doctor's brain, that was not so much a problem as an advantage. If the Concurrence tortured and caged him, he'd have plenty of time to think of an escape plan before the Mayor could find him. And if the Mayor found him, and he didn't have a plan, then the Doctor would die.
Angel caught up with Buffy, and stopped her. "Buffy, you can't just run off. You need a plan."
Buffy hesitated, but Angel was right. She couldn't just run to the Concurrence, with Faith around. She turned back to Wesley, Giles, Willow, Oz, and Xander. "Okay," she said. "Giles, Willow, and Wesley. You three try to find some way to open the portal to the pocket dimension where the Concurrence meets. If I do wind up needing to go in, I'll need a way out again." She turned to Oz. "You're good with tracking scents. You can make sure we're heading in the right direction." She turned to Angel. "And you. If the Doctor starts to regenerate, you run for the hills. Got that?"
"Good," said Buffy. "Let's go."
By the time that Buffy arrived at the abandoned warehouse she'd visited earlier that evening, a full-on demon fight was already in progress. Buffy spied Faith, at the far end, making a valiant effort to fight back against them. But Buffy wasn't here for Faith.
Buffy scanned the room, and located the Doctor, not far away. Two squishy, yucky-looking demons had grabbed him, and were holding him tightly, to make sure he wouldn't escape. The Doctor — of course — didn't even try to strike out or fight back. Although that might have less to do with the fact that he was a pacifist, and more to do — at the moment — with the fact that Karky was facing him, holding a very large and extremely lethal looking gun.
Karky snarled at the Doctor, leaning in so that he could get right into his face. Then he slashed at the Doctor's face with his claws, leaving three deep gashes across his cheek. Buffy felt a surge of anger well up inside of her. She bolted forward, into the warehouse. Karky was leading the two demons restraining the Doctor back towards the portal. She had to get to the Doctor now, because the moment he disappeared into that portal, he'd be at the mercy of the Concurrence. And she wasn't going to let them do anything else to him.
A demonic howl and a human grunt of pain from Buffy's left distracted her, and she turned, to find Faith had been edged against the wall, a bright red demon with twisted horns tearing his talons into Faith's side. It was obvious, from the smile on his face, that the demon was going to tear Faith apart. He was relishing it.
Buffy looked back over to the Doctor. She could only save one of them, and Angel and Oz hadn't arrived yet. Oh, she was going to hate herself for this later. Really, really hate herself. But she knew what she had to do.
The Concurrence wasn't going to kill the Doctor. But they would kill Faith.
And Buffy couldn't give up on Faith. It wasn't just because Faith had a soul, it wasn't just because they'd once been friends. No, it went deeper than that. Because they were both the Slayers, the only two in the world, and that was a connection that Buffy could feel in every fiber of her being. No one else understood that connection; no one else understood exactly why it was that Buffy couldn't kill Faith. Why it was so essential, to Buffy, that she help her.
Well, there was one person who had seemed to understand. And he was currently being hauled off by the Concurrence.
She gave a silent apology to the Doctor, and then jumped into the fray. She tore the shiny red demon away from Faith, then managed to kick out at and unbalance a thin orange creature with wiry hair. As she kept fighting, she could see Faith laughing at her, cruelly.
"Got yourself a bit of a messiah complex, have you, B?" Faith asked. She held her side, and tried to make it seem like she wasn't in any pain. "You really are Miss Goody-two-shoes."
"I'm just trying to make sure you don't die," said Buffy, as she punched out at another demon.
"This your heroic guilt thing again?" Faith asked Buffy. "Because, you know, we are enemies. You shouldn't be trying to save my life."
"I don't want to be your enemy, Faith," said Buffy. "Why can't you see that?"
"Oh, I see it," said Faith. "I just don't care."
Angel arrived, and immediately rushed into the fray. Together, Buffy and Angel managed to get the demons away from Faith. Buffy turned to Faith, hoping to talk some sense into her, hoping to make her see reason, but Faith punched her in the jaw before she could say anything, and kicked Buffy back against the wall of the warehouse.
"You really are a sucker, you know that?" Faith asked, with a laugh, as she ran off.
Buffy just stood, her back to the warehouse wall, a little dazed, as Faith left. She should have known that was going to happen. She did know that was going to happen. And she'd done it anyways. How stupid was that?
The moment Faith left, the demons stopped fighting. Not just that — they actually seemed to retreat, as fast as they could, back through the portal. Buffy, realizing what was happening, shook off her daze and tried to chase after them, but she was too late, and ran right into the no-longer-portally wall.
She backed up, and stared at the wall. She'd just assumed that she, at least, would be able to get inside. But nope. Apparently not.
"Where…?" Angel asked.
"They took him," Buffy said. She kicked at the wall, which continued — quite stubbornly — to remain a wall. She slumped against it. "It's my fault," she said. "I chose to save Faith instead of him." She buried her face in her hands. "I'm such an idiot."
"You're not an idiot," Angel said. "Faith is just… strong willed. You'll get through to her eventually."
"First she hurts Xander," said Buffy. "Then she tries to get rid of your soul. Now she tries to kill the Doctor. I don't know how many more times I can take this before I snap. Before I…." She didn't even want to think about that.
"Killing Faith is not going to turn you into Faith," said Angel. "No matter what she says."
Buffy took a deep breath, and looked up. "I don't have time for this," she said. "I can worry about Faith later. Right now, I have to find out how to save the Doctor."
"With Faith gone, it's only a matter of time before the Mayor finds out about the Concurrence," said Angel. "And you know how he reacts to threats to his Ascension. If you're in there when the Mayor strikes—"
"I know," said Buffy. "That's why I'll have to hurry." She shooed Angel and Oz away. "You two, keep watch outside, and try to keep the Mayor's army of evil undead things at bay until I can get out. I'm going inside."
Oz looked at the non-portally wall, then back at Buffy. "How?"
"By being really loud and annoying," said Buffy. She started jumping up and down, shouting at the top of her lungs and waving her arms. Oz and Angel looked at one another, then left the warehouse. The moment they stepped outside, the portal swirled to life in the wall, and Karky emerged. He looked at Buffy, and spread his hands in invitation.
"Back so soon?" he asked.
"Yes," said Buffy. "I'm… taking you up on your offer." Buffy took a deep breath. "I've decided to help you break into the Doctor's mind."
There was no one in the recreation room, this time. The TV was off, the foosball table was abandoned. Karky led the way over to the door.
The moment the door opened, Buffy knew why no one was in the recreation room. From below, she could hear the jeers and taunts of demon voices, as they all cried out, laughing their terrible, malicious laughs. Then came a sharp cry — a voice that Buffy recognized. It appeared that the demons had found a new form of recreation.
She burst through the door, and stood at the top of the stairs, looking out at the large, cave-like room. The demons had all gathered around the interrogation area, the mass of scales and fangs and creepiness blurring together around the solitary chained figure.
"Oh, no," Buffy breathed. She ran down the stairs, and pushed her way through the demons. One with blue tentacles coming out of its head tried to push her back, but she kicked it in the stomach and flipped it over her shoulder. She didn't even bother to look twice at it, as she approached the Doctor. There was a fire burning inside of her — she could feel it, and so could the demons around her.
The demon pointing the Dalek gun was a large, lumbering creature, with wrinkly bronze skin and pale, beady eyes. Buffy watched, with horror — too late to stop it — as the demon fired the gun, the light beam striking the thin, chained figure of the Doctor, illuminating his skeleton as he dropped, panting, to the ground, supported only by the dangling manacles.
Buffy ran over to the bronze-skinned demon, kicking the gun out of his hand and twisting his arm behind his back. "That's enough, buddy," she said. "Show's over."
Another demon picked up the gun, and pointed it at Buffy.
Buffy just gave the demon a tired, annoyed look.
"Oh, come on," said Buffy. "What are you going to do? Shoot me? Is that how you're going to get me to cooperate?" She looked at the demons surrounding her. She gave the bronze-skinned demon one final yank on his arms, then released him. She turned to the crowd. "Now. Listen. If I'm going to do this, we play by my rules. Do you understand?"
"Or what?" asked one of the demons from the crowd.
"What do you think?" asked Buffy. "You asked me to do you a favor. You're the ones with everything to lose." She looked over at the Doctor. She'd only been out there a little while, but time moved faster in this pocket dimension. It looked like the demons had been going to town on him for some time. "All right. First thing. Get the Doctor out of there."
Karky snapped his fingers, and the manacles fell away from the roof. Buffy swooped in, but she was too late to catch the Doctor as his body crashed to the ground. She ran over, and helped him up. He breathed, heavily, his eyes meeting hers.
"It's okay," said Buffy. "I'm here."
The Doctor clutched at her arms. "You… can't…" he said, through gritted teeth.
"Don't worry," said Buffy. "You're going to be fine. I'm here to get you out."
"Hey!" said the demon with the wrinkly bronze skin. "She can't take him away. We were just starting to have some fun with him."
Buffy gave the demons a death glare, and got up, shifting into a fighting stance.
"Come on, Karklothmanticothic," whined another demon. "Can't we just kill her already?"
"Kill me? I think you didn't get the memo," said Buffy. "I'm the only one who can do what you want. And you're not going to kill me until I hold up my end of the bargain. Now. Let's talk terms."
"What do you want?" asked Karky, vaguely amused.
"I want the Doctor alive, in one piece, and not tortured," said Buffy. "I want all of you to leave Sunnydale immediately, and never, ever, ever come back. And I want the Dalek Infiltration Weapon you stole from me."
"And if we give you all those things, you'll break into the Doctor's mind and tell us everything we want to know?" asked Karky.
Buffy took a deep breath. "Yes."
"Buffy," the Doctor called, and the name sent a tremor of fear through her whole body — a tremor that had not originated in her own mind. She turned to look at the Doctor, his large brown eyes pleading with her not to do this.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I have to."
"Okay," said Karky. "You've got a deal."
Buffy's eyes didn't stray from the Doctor's. She'd thought she'd find nothing but anger and pain and betrayal in those eyes, but what she found instead was a hopeless terror, a pleading desperation — all directed at her.
"I have to make sure he's okay," said Buffy, running back to the Doctor.
"Karklothmanticothic, she can't—" began one of the demons.
"Oh, you never know," said Karky. "She might just get something out of him."
Buffy knelt down beside him. "You have to trust me," she whispered. "I know, it's going to be terrible, but you have to—"
"Please," said the Doctor. He sat up, and clung to her arms, staring into her eyes. "They can't know. You can't… it wasn't the same. They can't treat it like it's the same."
"What are you—?"
"If you go inside my mind, you'll find out," said the Doctor. "And if you find out, they'll find out. And they'll do the same thing. It'll happen again." He clutched her arms a little more tightly. "I can't let it happen again."
"I'm not going to let the Ascension happen," said Buffy. "Don't worry—"
The Doctor swept her into a tight hug, so that he could whisper right into her ear. "The Time Lords. It was the Time Lords."
Buffy froze. "What was?"
"The other Ascension."
Buffy felt her breath catch in her throat. "A Time Lord — one of your own people — was trying to ascend?" she asked.
"All of them," said the Doctor. "Ten billion. All at once."
She pulled out of the hug, just staring at him, hands on his shoulders. Ten billion times the destruction she was about to face from the Mayor — maybe even more destruction than that, what with Time Lords being so complex and everything. Something like that, happening all at once, that could split the universe apart. But it made sense. Oh, so much sense! Because Buffy had known — she'd known that the Doctor had destroyed his own planet, that he'd obliterated his world and wiped it out of time as if it had never existed. She hadn't realized why.
And then it occurred to her that this was how you could stop an Ascension this late in the game. That this was the information the Doctor was trying to keep secret. Best way to stop the Ascension of the Mayor? Wipe out the planet, make it so that none of it ever existed.
The Doctor didn't want to. It wasn't the same situation. The consequences weren't as drastic if the Mayor's Ascension succeeded. Everyone in Sunnydale would die, but it wasn't worth destroying the world over. But the Concurrence didn't care about people. They just cared about stopping the Ascension. If the Concurrence found out what the Doctor had done…
Then the Concurrence would destroy the world.
That was why the Doctor was really here. That was why he'd stood up to brutal torture, that was why he'd held his tongue. Because he'd been trying to make sure things didn't get any worse.
"I knew you weren't evil," Buffy breathed. "I knew it."
"You can't let them—" the Doctor cried out, and Buffy let go as the Doctor pulled out of her reach, curling in on himself and breathing heavily. She thought she could see a wisp of something coming out of his mouth. "Time is catching up," he said.
"What do you mean?" asked Buffy, leaning over him to hear him better.
"I'm not going to be me for much longer," said the Doctor. "It's already starting to fade away."
"What? No!" said Buffy. "You can't — if your soul is going away, again, I'll just give it back. I did it before."
"What you gave me isn't really mine," said the Doctor. "Not yet. It's a spark. A potential. Time's catching up. You have to take it back. It belongs in you. It has to stay there."
"But you accepted it before," said Buffy.
"I was borrowing it," the Doctor told her. "I had to make sure I got rid of the Concurrence. I've done that, now. It's time I gave back what isn't really mine."
"Then… we'll get the real you back," said Buffy. "Your real soul."
"Real me… is gone."
"You're not gone," said Buffy. "You're in that cube."
"As I said," said the Doctor. "Gone. I'm dead. Worse than dead. I'm in the Hell the Daleks created for me. Stuck there for all eternity. That's this soul's future. And what a one to look forward to."
"But we can open it!" said Buffy. "You have to know a way to open it. You know everything!"
"Nothing can get it open," said the Doctor. "It's impossible. The Daleks knew me too well." He clutched her hand. "I just… before I leave, I wanted you to know. I trust you. I trust you to do what's right. Don't let them find out."
Buffy tried to hold back tears. "I don't want to lose you," she said. "Not again. Please, there has to be something, there has to be—"
"Buffy, I'm sorry," the Doctor interrupted. "I am so, so sorry. There is nothing you can do."
And it was only because the Doctor had accidentally said her name that Buffy realized he was lying.
Buffy got up. New plan. No need to go into the Doctor's mind, anymore — in fact, probably better that she didn't. He'd implied that the moment she looked into his mind, they'd be able to get whatever she knew. She wasn't sure how, but he was usually right about these kinds of things. And Buffy didn't want the Concurrence to know how the Doctor had stopped that Ascension. But she had to get the Doctor's original soul back. She needed that Dalek cube thing.
So, time to do some acting.
"Okay," Buffy said to Karky. "I'm ready."
"What has he told you?" asked Karky. "He seemed to be revealing some great secret to you. As a sign of trust, you must tell us what this secret is." His yellow eyes bore into hers. "And if you don't tell the truth, we will know."
So Buffy told them the truth.
"He told me what Ascension he stopped," said Buffy. "But nothing about how he actually stopped it. That's all."
Karky looked back at a silver-skinned alien-looking guy, who nodded at Karky. Karky turned back to Buffy.
"Very well," Karky said. "In which case, you must discover how the Doctor stopped that Ascension, so that we can replicate his actions and prevent the rise of" — he made the garbled cat-swallowing sound again.
"That's the plan," said Buffy. It wasn't her plan. But it was definitely a plan.
Karky turned, waved his hand and shouted, "Arrive!"
Out of nowhere, Buffy found herself facing… a tall, blue phone box. The TARDIS. They had mentioned it was here, hadn't they? Buffy had forgotten about that.
The TARDIS was hooked up to an array of gizmos, gadgets and wires — powering them up, Buffy thought. The machinery all encircled a reclining dental chair. It all looked a bit too technological for a 'magical ritual' dealing with soul transference, but who was Buffy to argue?
Buffy glanced around the room. All the posters were now in English, every letter of demonic script translated. All at once, she was assaulted by information about the Ascension — stuff that she hadn't known before, stuff she'd been looking for. The demon's name. Where he'd been encountered in the past. What had stopped him before. She almost couldn't breathe.
Then she had a weird thought. If everything was being translated, now — maybe the Doctor's real name would be translated, too. Buffy wondered what it was, and why it was such a big secret.
But when Buffy looked back at the lash up around the TARDIS, she found that there was no cube thing. The Doctor's soul was somewhere else.
"So, no cube soul thing?" asked Buffy. "I thought that was part of our deal."
"It shall be revealed in time," said Karky. "But first, you must sit down on the chair. We must begin the ritual."
Buffy hadn't actually planned on taking things this far. She'd been hoping to find out where they were keeping the cube, and then attack them and take it. But, apparently, these demons weren't stupid enough to fall for that.
Of course they weren't. They had been keeping both the TARDIS and the Doctor here for months. If they'd been even remotely stupid, the Doctor would have escaped by now.
Buffy swallowed, then tried to make it seem like she wasn't worried in the slightest. She'd just lie to them, afterwards. Or be stoic. She hopped up into the seat, and gave them a smile. Then, with the snap of Karky's fingers, a large number of thickly twined ropes encircled her, tying her to the chair. She struggled, but the ropes bound her fast.
"Hey!" Buffy shouted.
"We are merely taking precautions," said Karky. He growled at the demons around him, "Secure the Time Lord!"
A number of demons went off to re-chain the Doctor.
"I thought we had a deal," Buffy said.
"We do," said Karky. "And once you uphold your end of it, we will uphold ours. Nothing will change that." He gave a large, toothy smile. "Of course, we must make sure you do not lie to us. Hence the mind probe. While your soul is in his body, your original mind will be in telepathic conference with his. Which means all we have to do to gain the knowledge you acquire is use the mind probe on your original mind. Puny human minds have so few defenses. We can easily tear through yours and discover the information we seek."
"What?" Buffy shouted. "That's my brain!"
"Not for much longer," said Karky. He put a clawed hand on Buffy's shoulder. "You shall Ascend. This little human body — it can remain in the TARDIS, in temporal stasis, while your soul inhabits its new form. And after we've stopped the Mayor's Ascension, and after we've gotten far enough away that we don't think you'll destroy us all, we will release your new form into the universe. Everything will go according to plan."
"I never agreed to become the Doctor!" Buffy said.
"But you see," said Karky, "that was never negotiable." He turned to the remaining demons. "Now. Bring me the Maer'Isa."
The demons grumbled, but went off to fetch it. Seconds later, they were back — holding the small, white, palm-sized cube in their hands, the one with the familiar markings etched on the outside. There was the normal circles and squiggles at the bottom, but on the top, she found that the demonic script had been translated to, "Doctor."
As the cube advanced towards Buffy, the English letters seemed to slide away, fading back into the demonic script. Buffy looked over at the TARDIS. She knew that the loss of translation meant something important, but she wasn't really sure what.
The demons gave the cube to Karky, who gave Buffy a cold smile. He placed the cube in a black cradle to Buffy's right, and it seemed to glow a little brighter. He then gave a demonic growly shout that was also not translated. But from the way that the demons headed towards her, Buffy was guessing it was either, "Eat the girl" or "Start the ritual."
Neither of which Buffy was a fan.
Buffy struggled once again, but she knew that this was it. She'd just failed. And now the Mayor's Ascension was the least of her problems.
The demons hadn't even had time to hook up any of the equipment, before the door to the large cave-like room slammed open. Buffy glanced over to the stairs, and saw a number of familiar faces pouring into the room. It was her friends! Giles, Oz, Willow, Xander, and Angel.
Why were they here? She hadn't told them to come and rescue her! Didn't matter. Good for her that they had. Angel's eyes went immediately to Buffy, and she watched as his face changed into a vampiric snarl. He shouted something to the others, and their eyes all fell on her. Then Angel roared, and leapt at the group of demons. The others all began to get into the fray, as well, cornering and trapping demons, using crosses and amulets to ward them off.
Buffy looked over, at the Doctor, who had collapsed onto the ground. His eyes were open, but lifeless, staring straight ahead. Everything had drained from him — he was empty, just a shell where there had once been a person. Buffy squirmed, trying to free herself from the bonds, but they held her fast.
Willow was the first to sneak over to Buffy, and cut through the ropes. Buffy hugged Willow, then jumped out of her seat.
"Stay here," she said. "I'll be right back!"
She rushed over to the unresponsive Doctor, and fished around in his pocket for the sonic screwdriver. She used it to unlock the chains, then slipped it back in his pocket and took his hands in her own. "Doctor?"
A spark of life appeared in his eyes. He sat up, still clutching her hands. "You can't keep doing this," he said. "It's not right."
"How do I open the box?" asked Buffy.
The Doctor froze. "You… can't."
"No, really, you can't," said the Doctor. "The only thing powerful enough to open that box is something… you can't know about yet. Something from your future."
"What sort of thing?" asked Buffy.
"It's… a wish."
Buffy frowned. "You mean like the kind that vengeance demons pick up on?"
"It's not a wish of vengeance," said the Doctor. "Never a wish of vengeance. This is something stronger, something more powerful. It's not just a wish; it's the paradox that sustains the universe."
"I'm sorry," said the Doctor. "What you need to know is in your future. I can't tell it to you."
"Okay, so let's get into the TARDIS, track down my future self, and have her open the box," said Buffy.
The Doctor just shook his head. "Goodbye," he said, "Buffy Anne Summers."
And he let go of her hands, and slumped to the ground.
"Buffy!" Willow cried.
Buffy leapt to her feet and spun around, to find that a demon had caught Willow in a chokehold. Buffy surged forwards, knocking the demon to the ground. She grabbed a fallen sword, and ran the demon through. She then turned back to Willow.
"Are you okay?" she asked.
"Yeah," said Willow. "We're trying to lock all of the demons in that recreation room at the top — you know, just until you can do whatever you have to down here and then kill them all — but we're not doing a very good job."
Buffy looked around. They were actually doing a pretty good job, she thought. It looked like they'd managed to get most of the demons into the room, and were just struggling with a few stragglers.
"Did you find out what the Doctor did to stop the Ascension?" Willow asked.
"It wasn't the same situation," said Buffy. "It doesn't matter. Listen, Willow. I need you to do something for me."
"Sure," said Willow. "Anything."
"I need you to help me break into the Doctor's mind," said Buffy.
Willow frowned. "But I thought you said—"
"This isn't about the Ascension," said Buffy. "It's about him. I need to open that box, and in order to do it, I need to know something from my own future. Something he's seen. Something he's worked out. And if he won't tell me, I'll get the information myself."
"Buffy," said Willow. "I don't know if that's a good idea."
"If I don't do it, he's going to die," said Buffy. "I know that it's violating, I know it'll hurt him, and I know that I'm going back on his trust, but I have to. He'll forgive me."
"He's not the one I'm afraid of," said Willow. "It's you."
Buffy was taken aback.
"It's one thing to break into his mind to find out stuff about him," said Willow. "But you're breaking into his mind to find out stuff about you. And yeah, I know you've had prophecy dreams and stuff, but this is different. He's been to your future, he's seen your future self. If you go in, and see your own future — what if it drives you crazy? What if you find out that something really, really bad happens and you can't change it?"
Buffy faltered. Doubt and concern rose up in her mind. But she shook it off. "It doesn't matter," she said. "I have to do it."
"If it were me," said Buffy, "if I were the one trapped in an eternal hell, presumed dead with no way back, what would you do?"
Willow's eyes fixed on Buffy, and her face fell. "If it were you," said Willow, "I'd do everything possible to bring you back."
"Then help me do this," said Buffy.
Willow took a deep breath, and nodded. Buffy smiled.
Willow went over, and looked at the lashup. "I think I can make this work," she admitted. "But once you're connected in, once you enter his mind, you'll have very limited access to your original body — if you have any access at all. You're going to be lying here, on this chair, looking like an all-you-can-eat Slayer Buffet. And I don't know if we're going to be able to protect you."
"The demons won't attack me while I'm hooked up," said Buffy. "They still want me to break into the Doctor's mind. As long as I'm doing what they want, they won't try to stop me."
"But you're not doing what they want," Willow whispered.
"But they think I am! All you have to do is make sure that they don't hook me up to any mind probes." Buffy handed Willow a sword. "Here. Go to town."
Buffy put her hands on Willow's shoulders. "Willow. Please. I can do this, but I can't do it without you."
Willow seemed reluctant, but after a few seconds, she nodded. She motioned for Buffy to sit down on the reclining dentists chair, and Buffy did so. Willow then placed a wire skullcap over her head, and plugged a few needles into her arms. Then Willow went off to work somewhere out of sight, futzing around with the machinery surrounding Buffy. Buffy felt a jolt of pain slice through her body, and then…
She opened her eyes, but she wasn't where she had been before. Oh, of course not, she wasn't really Buffy anymore, she was inhabiting the current incarnational representation of the Doctor, Time Lord of the planet Gallifrey, of the Constellation of Kasterborous. And where did that thought come from? Well, clearly, it had come from this brain — after all, just because the essence of a person was removed, that didn't remove or restructure the neural pathways, not unless it was a vampire, and that was only an evolutionary biological defense mechanism born from a diet that required the consumption of fresh blood from other living beings.
Oh, God, she was thinking like the Doctor.
And the thing was, it was amazing. She was watching the world in terms of vector equations and little bitty factoids from a million different times and places, and it was beautiful. She could see things before they happened, every possibility of the future, everything that could happen, should happen, and must never happen. And she could change it. She could see what she could do, so clearly, how she could shape events, how she could travel through time and space and ensure that a particular outcome occurred. In this body, with this knowledge, Buffy could do anything.
She closed her (Doctor's) eyes. No. Don't do this. It was not an Ascension — she wasn't here to become the Doctor. There was a line she wouldn't cross. A line she couldn't cross. These weren't her thoughts, they weren't her memories, and the power wasn't her power. She was here for one thing, and that was to get the Doctor back.
So she sifted through the Doctor's mind.
She was assaulted, over and over again, by memories and thoughts, by worlds and places she'd never been to, by events that would take place far enough in the future that she'd never see them. She wanted so much to see them. She wanted so much to know, to see and understand and use that information. So many little tidbits kept flooding through her head, ways to make the world better, ways to protect her friends forever, ways to fix Faith, to get Angel back, to stop the Mayor, to get rid of all of the monsters, and she could do it, she could do it, the knowledge was all there and reachable and…
Buffy forced herself past the memories and stray thoughts. The Doctor was always respectful of her privacy, always brushed past her own thoughts and memories. She had to do the same thing. There was only one reason she was here, one ambition she was driving for.
And that was when she found it.
At the very bottom of the Doctor's mind, locked up in an iron safe, was the way to open the Type 1 Dalek Infiltration Device. All his thoughts on her future, on why she had his soul and why that would let her open the cube. Everything he'd worked out.
And beside it, leaking out of a busted-through iron safe, was something that made Buffy hesitate. Something she really, really wanted to know about. Because there, in that safe… was the Doctor's memories of Elizabeth. Her counterpart.
She reached out her hand to unlock the safe and examine the memories, but hesitated. She wanted to know. She so, so, so wanted to know. But she couldn't. She shouldn't. It wasn't her head. It was the Doctor's head. To look at those memories would be an invasion of his privacy, a terrible invasion. But what had happened in 2003? What had the Doctor meant when he said he'd destroyed Elizabeth? What had made Elizabeth want to kill him? Buffy's curiosity burned, enhanced by the natural curiosity that characterized this brain, and she felt her hand edging closer and closer to the memories.
And then, like a gust of cool air running across her face, came a memory of her own. A memory from her own mind.
The Doctor, his eyes so gentle and kind, her own hand in his, the sunlight casting grating-shaped shadows across the side of his face. The way her name sounded on his lips, full of hope and admiration and sunlight, the way the words had glided through her soul as he told her: I trust you.
In the mindscape, Buffy pulled away from all the Doctor's thoughts, all his memories. She pulled away from the safe that held his memories of Elizabeth. The Doctor trusted Buffy. He trusted her so much. The emotions flooded this brain she was in, until she was almost overwhelmed by them. That emotion of complete and honest trust in her, an emotion strong enough to cut through every logical thought he had.
How could Buffy live with herself if she violated that kind of trust?
She turned back to the safe she needed — the one with the soul-lock, the one that told her how to open the Dalek weapon. Her objective. Her way to save the Doctor. She wasn't going to make any more mistakes, she was just going to get the information from his head and leave.
(She knew she'd never, ever, ever be able to give up what she'd learned in here already.)
She put her hand on the safe's door, and it swung open at her touch. All the Doctor's memories about her own future lay inside, everything he had seen, smelled, touched, tasted, as if Buffy had been the Doctor herself. Everything that the Doctor had figured out, that would allow her to open the cube. Buffy stepped inside the memories.
And that was when Buffy realized that this might have been the worst mistake she'd made so far.
There was so much smoke.
It drifted across the console room like a living, breathing organism, trying to swallow him whole. And it was — he realized — it was swallowing him whole, and there was pain and heartache and loss and the sounds of a million, billion screams all echoing inside his head. Flames lapped against his skin. He tried to breathe, tried to call out, but why bother? This was the end, the end of everything, there was no way to come back from this. This was the Fall of Gallifrey.
This was when the Doctor gave his life for the universe.
But it was more than that, to Buffy's consciousness. Because if this was when he'd gotten rid of Time Lords and Daleks alike… he wasn't just destroying, he was creating. A new timeline, a new universe. Her timeline. Her world. This was when it happened.
This was the moment Elizabeth had been swept aside, and Buffy was born.
But the Doctor didn't know that. Not in this memory. No, his head was filled with terrible things, terrible visions. And a few thoughts of… well, of friends. Human friends, friends on Earth. And of Elizabeth — her other self — because he'd destroyed her, and he was so very sorry about that, he'd wanted to find some way to make it right and now he never could. And there were so many regrets, so many things he wished he could have done, before he died. Because he knew he was going to die. He knew he was going to wipe himself out of time along with all the others (and he didn't know that would fail, as well). And he was so scared, so very scared, that his friends would not survive, that his favorite planet would perish. He needed something, someone, to save it, to protect his friends, to guard his adopted home. And just before the regeneration energy consumed him — for the last time, he thought — he made…
Not a wish of vengeance, but one of desperation and love. A wish that came from the bottoms of both his hearts. A wish that someone would save the people he loved, the planet he loved. That someone would protect his friends.
Buffy's consciousness watched him make that wish.
But it was not just a wish, and Buffy knew that. It was a wish made at exactly that moment, when the timeline had switched. A desperate, last dying wish, from someone who had completely changed the universe. Someone who had given up his life for the universe. And if wishes made at causal temporal nexus points could give vengeance demons that much power, then…
Well, this wish had more power than every vengeance demon combined.
And the moment the Doctor had made that wish, his wish became an idea, and that idea became a word, and that word became a name. And that name rippled through time and space and had landed, on 20th century Earth, where it had become a person.
A person who could battle back the forces of darkness. One girl in all the world. No. Not the world. One girl in all of time and space who could forgive the Doctor for what he'd done. One girl in all of time and space who could redo all the things he regretted.
Buffy Anne Summers.
Buffy's consciousness stepped farther into the locked away memories and thoughts. With every step, the smoky console room grew fainter and fainter, and Buffy began to encounter other things. Thoughts. Fragments of memory. But these memories were weird. The buildings looked familiar, the faces looked familiar, except it was different, somehow…
And Buffy realized. This was her own future. This was what he'd seen.
She saw it, too. Through his eyes. Her own house, and a girl who glowed with green energy. Donna, demanding that he listen to her and not kill the glowing girl. Buffy's own future-self, pleading with him for help. And himself, saying yes.
The memories zipped by Present-Day-Buffy, almost too fast for her to take in, except that she couldn't stop them from seeping into her mind. Because this was her, in the not-too-distant future, and her life was completely unraveling. An impossibly strong, angry woman in a red dress, who fed off brain energy and claimed to be a Hell Goddess. Buffy's own mother, dead. Her boyfriend leaving her. Death was her gift. And Present-Day-Buffy kept watching. Kept seeing as all hope would desert future-her, how desperation would take over, how the laws of the universe would break down and time and space would nearly fall apart.
"I need you, Doctor," she would tell him, at some point in her own future. "I need you more now than I've ever needed you before."
And the Doctor would promise to stay, because changing history wasn't as bad as the alternative, and because even an unstable timeline was better than a universe with no time at all. And he'd tried — oh, how many times he had tried! Present-Day-Buffy could see him, through his memories, trying to stop the Hell Goddess, trying to protect the glowing girl, trying to help future-her. But time didn't want him there. Time didn't want to let him in. At some point, in every one of his adventures, time would freeze around the Doctor, and, in the blink of an eye, he'd find himself inside the TARDIS, with Donna. As if he'd never gone to Sunnydale at all. No, not just that.
"It was as if you'd never existed in the first place," Rose had told him. "I kept getting diverted — something about a fused timeline — and the dimension cannon said you were there. But you weren't. And when I asked Buffy — she didn't even know you. That was when I knew there was a problem. That was when I started looking for Donna."
And the Doctor had thought that was it. He'd thought it was that timeline, the one where Donna had turned left. He'd really believed that, until earlier today. When he'd worked it out. Because Buffy had his soul. No, more than that — she had an early version of his soul. A spark of Doctor, from before he had ever existed. And that was impossible, completely and utterly impossible!
Except with a trans-dimensional, trans-temporal, trans-universal portal.
And that was when the Doctor worked out what must have happened. Why not even he could change the events that led to Glory's portal. Why Buffy was a bilocational, trans-temporal anomaly. Because everything must have gone wrong. Terribly, terribly wrong. The Key must have been activated, the portal must have opened, the dimensions and universes and timelines must have all crashed together, the universe must have begun to collapse, and the only thing that would have been able to stop it was the one sacrifice Buffy would not be willing to make. Except…
There was another way.
And Buffy would have worked that out. A single Time Lord could not close a portal like that. But billions of Time Lords, at the height of their power, could do it in their sleep. It would be nothing to them. All Buffy had to do was make sure the portal opened in another timeline, one where the Time Lords were still around. One where they could close it.
And in that instant, when she'd jumped, she'd linked the two timelines. One with Time Lords, one without. Buffy had fused them together, along a particular individual — her. That was why she was a Line Hopper. The moment she jumped, the moment she fell into that portal, she'd created Elizabeth.
No, more than that.
Because if she had the Doctor's soul…
Present-Day-Buffy tried to run from the memories, from the thoughts, but she couldn't. She was stuck in them. And they were being joined by her own thoughts, from her own brain. These glimpses of her own future were beginning to trigger something in her Slayer side — a premonition, clearer than any she had ever gotten before.
And Buffy could feel her future.
She could see the sunrise, feel the morning air on her face as she ran. Could feel that simple realization that finally, at long last, everything made sense. And then she fell, and the blue energy crackled around her, seeping between her fingertips, crawling beneath her skin and frying her from the inside out. And as she died (because she knew she was going to die, she knew she was never going to come back from this), she was scared, so very scared, that her friends would not survive, that her gambit would fail and the universe, all of time and space, would perish. She needed something, someone, to save it, to protect her planet and her friends, to guard the Key and keep it safe. And just before the energy consumed her — for the last time — she made…
And after a year surrounded by doctors who couldn't fix anything, extra-terrestrial demons falling from the sky, and an evil Hell-Goddess who wanted to destroy not just the world, but the entire universe, all of time and space — that wish became an idea: hero. And that idea became a word: Doctor. And that word became a name…
And Buffy knew what that name was.
And the moment Buffy had spoken that name — the moment she will speak that name, at some point in her own future — it will run back through time and space, along an alternative timeline, a linked timeline, and it will become a person.
And that was when Buffy realized. The Doctor created her, wished her into existence. Just the way that she — Buffy Anne Summers — had created him.
That was the paradox.
Buffy broke free of the memories, surged upwards in the Doctor's mind. She opened her eyes. No. She opened his eyes. The Doctor's eyes. And she made him walk forwards, towards the Dalek Infiltration prototype device. She knew. There was only one thing powerful enough to open the box, to restore the Doctor's soul to him. It was that paradox — that one moment, when they both had changed the universe. If they could both feel it, both relive it, they could draw on its power, redirect it to open up the Dalek Infiltration Prototype Device.
And it was possible. Because Buffy had the Doctor's soul inside of her. She was both of them, at once. Until the day she died, she would be both of them.
Buffy used the Doctor's hand to touch the box, to hold it. She could feel something, through his hands — something tingling and warm and glowing, something inside that box that was struggling to break free. She made the Doctor bring that box over to her own body, her unresponsive body, and place it in her hands as well.
And she forced them to relive the memories, sent those final moments coursing through both of their heads. In both their minds, they fixated on those final moments, redirecting their psychic energy into the cube. Buffy watched as the air glowed around them, the box shaking as the energy of the paradox wove between their fingers, poured into the box and turned it from white to blue to gold.
A blaze of light seared across her vision, as Buffy opened eyes — her own eyes. She was back, back in her own body. She'd done it. She'd opened the Dalek weapon, she'd gotten the Doctor back, she'd…
Seen her own death.
How was she supposed to live with that? She'd enter the hospital knowing that her mom was going to survive the operation, but die a short while later. The moment she met Riley — whoever he was — she'd do so knowing that their relationship was going to fall apart. The moment she met Glory, she'd know that Glory was going to be her undoing. She would know everything, ahead of time — and yet, for the sake of all of time and space, Buffy couldn't change any of it. She'd have to follow in the footsteps of her own future, because if that future did not happen, then…
The Doctor would never have existed. And neither would she. And the paradox would fail, and the universe would collapse.
From her right, Buffy heard a scream — a blood-curdling scream, one that made every hair on the back of Buffy's neck stick up. She looked over to find the Doctor had curled in on himself, his hands on his head, shaking. She got up, and bent over him.
"Doctor?" she asked, softly.
But he didn't respond.
Oh, Buffy should have remembered that this was going to happen. His soul had been trapped in a Dalek weapon specifically designed for him. It wasn't supposed to be pleasant. The soul she'd given him, temporarily, had been undamaged — that spark of Doctor that had not yet been tainted by the outside world. But this soul had been through Hell and back — more than once. It had been tortured in a way that Buffy couldn't even dream of. Buffy gave the Doctor a hug, but she didn't think he could feel it.
"Buffy!" Willow shouted. "Watch out!"
Buffy swung around, expecting some terrible, nondescript demon to be lumbering towards her — but it was just Karky. Willow handed Buffy the sword, and she accepted it, but didn't brace herself for a fight. She had some things she wanted to say, first.
Karky gave Buffy one of his terrible pointy-toothed smiles, and stalked forwards, towards the Doctor. Buffy inserted herself between him and the Doctor.
"I see that you have overcome temptation," Karky said. "And yet, you will not for long. Eventually, you will want to kill him. You will want to destroy him."
Buffy didn't say anything, just crossed her arms.
"What did you find out?" Karky asked her. "Or do we need the mind probe?"
"I found out," said Buffy, "that, in the future, any time I see an organization whose mission statement boils down to, 'we're the pain in the Doctor's ass', I should get rid of them right away."
Karky frowned. "But you see that—"
"I see nothing," said Buffy. "Everyone keeps going on about human moral values and human souls, and how they're somehow superior. But you know what? In the end, it doesn't matter what planet you're from. A soul's still a soul, morals are still morals, and promises are still promises." She brandished the sword. "And when this whole thing started, I promised that I would kill you. Now, what are you going to do about it, Karklothmanticothic?"
Karky growled, his full demon side showing for the first time since Buffy had met him, and Buffy prepared herself to fight.
All things considered, Giles thought, everything was going really rather well. Or, at least, it had been. That is, until the dimension they were all stuck in began shaking.
Xander looked over at him. "I'm guessing that wasn't the San Andreas fault line," he said.
"The Mayor," Giles realized. Of course. Buffy had mentioned that the Doctor's plan was to make the Mayor aware of the Concurrence's presence. The moment the Mayor realized that the only people who could stop him were inside the pocket dimension… "We must leave, now!" Giles shouted.
Angel looked up from where he was fighting. Then he looked over to where Buffy was charging at the main demon — whom she had referred to merely as 'Karky' — with a sword. "I'll go get Buffy," he said.
"You know," said Oz, "we probably shouldn't have trapped all those demons right next to the front door."
Ah. Yes, actually, that was rather a problem. Giles had hoped they'd have a little more time to deal with the demons. He'd mainly been attempting to get the demons out of the way until Buffy had a chance to get rid of them en masse. But it appeared, now, that Buffy and the Scoobies were going to have to make a run for it.
Across the room, Buffy gave a yell and sliced Karky's head off. Then she turned to Angel. Giles could see them arguing, Buffy constantly pointing into the distance, at — a blue police box, it appeared — then at something by her feet, and shouting. Then the room shook again — far more violently — and Buffy seemed to cave in. She tucked a small white cube into her pocket, then hoisted the something by her feet — the Doctor, apparently — up over her shoulder, and ran with Angel and Willow back towards the door.
"We have to get out of this dimensional pocket immediately," said Giles, as Buffy arrived. "If we don't leave now, we could be stuck here forever."
"The problem is, our only way out is through the room that's stuffed with evil demons," said Xander.
"Why don't we just use the TARDIS?" Buffy asked. "The Doctor should be fine, soon, and he can get us out of here. And, in the meantime, as long as we stay in the ship, we'll be perfectly safe."
"Okay, I think you don't exactly understand the concept of 'safe'," said Xander. "Evil alien keeping us prisoners onboard his ship? Not safe."
"We wouldn't be prisoners," said Oz. "He'd probably just push us out an airlock."
"What? No he wouldn't!" Buffy protested. "He isn't trying to kill us."
"Even so, it is a time machine," Angel pointed out. "If we go in, he might wind up dropping us off a few weeks late. By that time, the Mayor would have already Ascended."
Buffy hesitated. "That does sort of sound like something he'd do." She shook herself. "But we can't just leave the TARDIS behind! It's…" Buffy trailed off, as she looked around her. Then she turned back to the spot where she'd just been. "It's gone," she breathed.
"Well, that solves that problem," said Xander.
Buffy looked back at Xander. "No, I mean, it's really gone," she said. "None of it's being translated, anymore. I don't understand how that could even work. How could they—?"
"I'm sorry, Buffy," said Giles, "but we have to leave. The dimension is pulling away. If we don't leave now, we'll be trapped here forever."
They pushed their way through the door, and into a crowd of demons, who were waiting for them. Angel took the lead, attacking demons left and right, while Buffy managed to pull off a series of complex acrobatic movements that would both lash out at the demons, and keep the Doctor (over her shoulder) safe. As they approached the far wall, Giles began to recite the incantation to open the portal.
The ground shook again, but this time, it didn't stop. It simply kept shaking, more and more, as the portal swirled open, and Giles pulled Willow through. The others tumbled out with them, crashing onto the warehouse floor.
Giles opened his eyes, and straightened his glasses. He gave a little yelp, as he found himself jerked to his feet by a vampire — one of the Mayor's goons, who'd been waiting for them. He prepared himself to become vampire-food, but the vampire screamed and turned to dust, revealing Willow, wielding a stake.
"Little help!" Xander cried. He tried to duck out of the way of another vampire, but didn't succeed. The vampire held Xander by the throat, his fangs bared. Willow and Giles rushed forwards, but Angel got there first, throwing the vampire out of the way. A third vampire leapt on Willow's back. Willow gave a little scream, and Giles reached for a cross, thrusting it into the vampire's face. The vampire flinched back, letting Willow go, and he and Willow chased it into a corner of the warehouse, as Angel dusted the vampire that had been attacking Xander. The third vampire, seeing its brethren were dead, pushed past Willow and Giles, and fled.
Silence in the warehouse. Everyone just stood there a second, trying to catch their breaths. Giles glanced back at the wall. Sure enough, the portal was gone. The pocket dimension had left, and they were safe once more. Well, safe for another week, at which point the Mayor would Ascend and destroy all of Sunnydale. But hopefully, Buffy now had enough information to know how to stop that, and…
"Where's Buffy?" asked Willow.
Giles surveyed the area around him. Willow by his side, Angel by the wall that had contained the portal, Xander backed up against the wall at the far side, Oz beside him. And no one else. Giles felt his breath catch in his throat.
He ran forwards, calling out for her, hoping she'd be hiding in the shadows. The others did the same, trying, frantically, to find her. But she was nowhere.
"She was right behind me," Xander protested. "I saw her coming through!"
"We left her behind," Angel said, his voice barely above a whisper.
Willow turned to Giles. "Get her back!" she cried.
"I can't," Giles protested. "The portal only served to link the two dimensions while the pocket dimension was already here. The pocket dimension has left. There is nothing we can do." He could barely comprehend the words that he was saying. He breathed, deeply.
"I'm terribly sorry," Giles said. "But Buffy is gone."
Buffy was halfway through the portal, when she felt herself yanked backwards. The Doctor tumbled off her shoulder, onto the floor, and Buffy dove to catch him, but a demon got her first. The demon was a nasty sort, with red spikes across his head and purple fangs. With every roar from the demon, time seemed to wobble around them. Buffy tried to swing out, but the purple-fanged thing was never where he was supposed to be. He was everywhere and nowhere, and Buffy felt lost and confused.
That was when the shaking stopped.
"Good work, Hrlfulem," said the bronze-skinned demon who had been shooting the Doctor with the Dalek gun earlier. "Secure her."
Buffy struggled, but she was surrounded by demons of all shapes, sizes, and colors, and she couldn't get free. She found herself dragged back to the torture area in the cave-like room, and was soon chained and secured just where the Doctor had been, earlier. She pulled at the chains, but they held her.
"So," said Buffy. "What do you want, now? Because I've got to warn you, it's not that easy to kill me."
The demons jeered. The bronze-skinned one stepped forward. "We're not going to kill you, Slayer," he snarled. "Not until you've paid for what you did to Karklothmanticothic."
The other demons cheered their agreement.
Buffy sighed. "Torture? Seriously? Talk about done to death. Can't you at least come up with something original?"
The bronze-skinned demon made a signal to the others, and they circled around Buffy, their teeth clashing, their eyes filled with rage and murder and revenge. And Buffy knew that this was going to be bad.
The first blow came from behind her. It was a powerful smash to the back of her knees, and she dropped, dangling from the manacles that were supporting her arms. She got back to her feet, and tried to kick out, using the manacles to twirl herself through the air — but one of the demons had his hands on her shoulders, and she could feel teeth sinking into her upper right arm, as claws rammed into her stomach. She was helpless — she hated being this helpless, hated feeling like there was nothing she could do — and this was how it was going to end. She was going to die, and then the universe would be unmade because she hadn't died the way she was supposed to, and she'd tell the demons that, except that they didn't look like they were in much of a listening mood right now.
And worse than that, worse than all of that was the realization that Buffy had failed. She was trying to help protect Sunnydale, help protect her friends, help protect the Doctor. And now she couldn't. The Ascension was going to happen, no one would be able to stop the Mayor, and Faith would be evil forever. And then all of her friends would die, horribly, eaten by the Mayor — except for the Doctor, who'd be tortured alongside her, here. On the plus side, the Doctor might be so traumatized by whatever had happened in that Dalek cube thing that he'd never snap out of it, and then, at least, he wouldn't really feel the torture. But that was a terrible plus side. The Doctor had said — he trusted her. He trusted her with his life, with the world and the universe and all of time and space. And she'd failed him.
She'd failed everyone.
A high-pitched buzzing sound filled the air, and the demons dropped back, clutching their heads. The sound cut off. Buffy looked up, and there, standing on the top of the stairs, just in front of the door to the recreation room, was the Doctor.
He stood, his deep brown eyes fixed on the demons below, his face set in a cold determination, his body standing tall and rigid, and he looked every bit the being of power that Giles' books described him as. This was not the compassionate, forgiving, friendly, bouncy Doctor that Buffy had grown to know so well over the last six months. No, this was the Oncoming Storm, the Destroyer of Worlds, the Bringer of Darkness. Every bit of him radiated anger, every crease of his face was filled with a quiet, simmering rage. He lowered the sonic, and stared out at the demons.
"Let her go," he demanded. His voice, while quiet, still rang out across the cavern-like room, and every single one of the demons — who had been jeering and taunting and torturing him such a short time ago — cowered.
The bronze-skinned demon hesitated. He moved towards Buffy, but instead of unchaining her, he took out the Dalek gun, and pointed it at her.
"One step closer, and I'll kill her," said the bronze-skinned demon. "The gun's calibrated for a Time Lord, and she's just a human. One shot, and she dies. Horribly."
"I said," the Doctor growled, "let her go."
Buffy felt the bronze-skinned demon's hands tremble. She really had to get the Doctor to teach her how to do the boomy voice thing. That was pretty cool.
"No!" the bronze-skinned demon said. "Both of you are our prisoners for the rest of eternity. We can do whatever we like, and there's nothing you can do about it. You can't stop us from hurting her."
"The only reason," said the Doctor, "that I have not collapsed this dimension into a singularity and killed you all by now, is because Elizabeth is here, and she doesn't deserve that. So I would be very, very careful about what you do to her, because right now, she's the only thing keeping you alive."
The bronze-skinned demon hesitated, then turned the gun on the Doctor. "Then we'll torture and imprison you. Once you're out of the picture, we can do whatever we want to the Slayer."
"No, you won't," said the Doctor. "Because I'm the only one who can save you."
The bronze-skinned demon lowered the gun. "What do you mean?"
"I mean that I've sabotaged your directional controls," said the Doctor. "You are careening through time and space to a very specific point, and unless you give me one good reason to save you, none of you will live to see tomorrow." He gave them a cold, angry stare. "And you'd better think of a very, very good reason. Because I've seen everything you lot have done across the universe. You have slaughtered thousands of innocents in hand-to-hand brutality, altered timelines simply to create chaos and devastation, and single-handedly twisted the planet of Scorhandra completely out of reality. That is a death count of millions upon millions of lives."
The spiky headed demon with the purple fangs gave an uneasy laugh. "You think we're fools," he said. "If we don't release the Slayer, you'll kill us. If we do release the Slayer, she'll kill us. We're going to die no matter what. We might as well have some fun while we're still alive."
"I never said I was going to kill you," said the Doctor. "I've aimed this pocket dimension of yours towards a very particular breach in space and time. You are tumbling towards the Void — the gap between universes, the hollow emptiness with no space, no time, no light, no dark, no anything. The Eternals called it 'the Howling'. The Daleks called it 'Hell'. And after the hell you've caused, I think you more than deserve it." He looked back to the bronze-skinned demon. "Now. Let Elizabeth go."
The bronze-skinned demon did as he was told.
Buffy fell to the ground, then got back to her feet in a second. She punched the bronze-skinned demon in his chest.
"Elizabeth," the Doctor warned.
Buffy stopped. She looked up at him. He was descending the stairs, his hard eyes still fixed on the demons surrounding him. They all cowered away from him, as he approached, and even Buffy felt the waves of power washing off him. Even Buffy could feel the anger resonating around his thin frame.
Was this what other-her had seen? Was this why Angel was so scared of the Doctor? Buffy had seen the Doctor angry before, but she'd never seen him like this. If this had been the way he'd looked when Angelus had killed his friend — Buffy could imagine why other-her had been afraid of what he might do. Buffy was afraid of what he might do, now. If she'd actually died, if they'd actually killed her…
Yeah, she didn't know what he'd do, if that had happened.
The Doctor approached Buffy, and his eyes grew kind and sorrowful as they rested on her.
"Are you all right?" he asked, in a soft voice.
Buffy touched her right arm, tenderly. It stung from where the demons had bitten her. "Aside from being slightly taste-tested, I'd say I'm doing just fine," she said.
The Doctor gave a barely audible sigh of relief. Then he spun around, and glared at the demons. He pointed at Buffy's arm. "Who did that?"
The demons all shuffled, but no one would own up.
"No one?" the Doctor demanded. "Not one of you wants to admit that you purposely harmed an innocent girl?"
"She wasn't innocent," one of the demons shouted. "She killed Karklothmanticothic."
"And if she hadn't, the Judoon would have," the Doctor said. "The Slayer Institution is a fully accredited alien peacekeeping taskforce, whose authority is recognized by the Shadow Proclamation. Elizabeth's conduct would stand up in a court of law. Yours would not. Explain yourselves."
"We're evil," said the purple fanged demon. "It's our nature."
The Doctor glared at him. "That's your defense?"
"Yeah," said the bronze-skinned demon. "I mean, we can't help ourselves, can we? We're just evil. Tell him, Buffy."
The Doctor stepped forwards. "I've seen evil," he said. "I've fought in the face of it for so long. But you… you aren't evil." He scanned the Concurrence. "You're nothing."
Buffy stared at the Doctor. He didn't look or feel human anymore. No, he didn't seem remotely human. This was the being that Angel had been telling her about, the one beneath the surface, the one that destroyed people. Buffy had rarely encountered any creature with this kind of power before, and that was saying something.
One of the demons leapt out towards the Doctor, claws and fangs bared, but the others pulled him back. The Doctor noticed.
"That's wise," he said. "Because you know me. You know what I've done. There are many things in this universe that are evil, and I've destroyed them all."
Yeah, destroyed them all — except the vampires, who he insisted on saving. But none of the demons seemed to bring that up, and the Doctor wasn't bringing it up, and Buffy couldn't help but think that was a little weird.
"So tell me," the Doctor continued, "if you really are evil, why should I let you live? What reason have you come up with?"
None of the demons said anything.
"I'm waiting!" the Doctor shouted. "Where's my reason?"
"We didn't harm the Slayer!" said one of the demons. The demon faltered. "Well, not much."
"Not good enough," the Doctor snapped. "Better reason."
"We're… sorry?" tried the spiky headed, purple fanged demon.
The Doctor turned on him. "How sorry?" he demanded. He marched over to the demon, and even though the demon was taller than the Doctor, the Doctor seemed to tower over him. "How sorry are you, really? Sorry enough to make up for the complete annihilation of millions of innocents? Sorry enough to make up for all the damage you have done?" He got right up in the demon's face. "You're not sorry," he said. "You're afraid. That's all you are. Scared little boys huddling in the dark."
"We'll never do it again," the bronze-skinned demon begged. "We promise."
The other demons all nodded in enthusiastic agreement. Buffy didn't believe a word of it.
The Doctor surveyed the crowd. He said nothing for a long stretch, the raspy breath of every demon echoing off the stone walls.
"You get one chance," the Doctor said, at last. "That's all. Now. Bring me my TARDIS."
The demons all hesitated.
"It's the only way to change the trajectory," the Doctor told them. "Do it!"
The bronze-skinned demon fiddled with a few things on a hidden panel on the floor, then said a little spell, and the blue police box appeared, on the far side of the room. The Doctor looked back at Buffy, and held out his hand to her. She took it — with her non-nibbled arm — and, together, they walked to the TARDIS.
"Key?" Buffy whispered to him.
The Doctor held out his hand, and snapped his fingers, the doors flying open at his request. Bright light from the TARDIS shone into the dully lit cave of the Concurrence Headquarters, looking like a ray of sunshine piercing through the darkness. The demons flinched away from it. The Doctor nodded for Buffy to step inside, and began to follow her.
"How do we know that you're not just going to fly off and leave us to die?" asked one of the demons.
The Doctor stopped in the doorway, and turned. "You asked me to trust you," he said. "I suppose you'll just have to trust me."
Then he stepped inside, and closed the doors.
"You're not really going to save them, right?" asked Buffy, as the ship entered the vortex.
The Doctor was poking at the controls, hastily adjusting things. "Have to," he said.
Buffy gaped at him. "What?"
"If I leave the Concurrence in the Void, there's a chance that they'll escape," the Doctor explained. His entire demeanor had shifted the moment he left the Concurrence. He no longer looked as if he were barely containing his rage. Now, he just looked… tired. He glanced up at Buffy. "Don't worry. I'm not just going to let them go."
"Well, that's a relief," said Buffy.
The Doctor looked back down at the central console. "I'm sequestering them in a hidden Time Lord prison system," he said. "One that has its roots in the foundational matrix of the universe." He gave a proud smile, as he flipped the last switch. "Let's see them try to get out of that!"
The TARDIS shook, for a second, then became still. Buffy dropped onto the jump seat, and the Doctor glanced over at her. Their eyes met.
"Are you all right?" they both asked.
The Doctor gave a faint smile. "Always all right," he told her, dropping onto the jump seat beside her.
"So am I," said Buffy.
The Doctor quirked an eyebrow at her. "What? Really?"
"About as always all right as you are," said Buffy. She paused. "Was that stuff about the Slayers and the Shadow Proclamation true?"
"Course it wasn't!" the Doctor said. "Your Slayer powers of authority only cover planet Earth. What you were doing broke nearly every intergalactic law there was."
Buffy fidgeted with the hem of her tee shirt. "Um… oops?"
"Luckily for you," said the Doctor, "what the Concurrence were doing broke more." The Doctor winked at her. "Just don't do it again. Unless you're on Earth."
"So you're saying I'm legally able to beat up aliens and demons as long as they're on Earth?"
"Yep," said the Doctor. "And, well, just in case — if it starts raining upwards, run."
"Are you messing with me?"
"Not at all!"
For a moment, the two said nothing. Buffy just kept watching him, waiting for him to do something — alien, again. Something like she'd seen back when he'd been in the pocket dimension. But he looked normal again. He looked human again.
(But he wasn't.)
"Oh, I… got this back," said Buffy, digging the little cube out of her pocket, and handing it to the Doctor. "It's probably better if it stays with you."
The Doctor took it from her, and shoved it into his trouser pocket. "It would have been better if I'd had it at the start of the War," the Doctor said. "But at least now it won't do any more damage."
Buffy remembered — oh, yeah, the Time Lords and the Daleks had fought a huge war, hadn't they? And this was a Dalek weapon which had been disguised as some sort of Time Lord communications thingy. Okay, yeah, that would suck. No wonder the Doctor was so upset about Angel keeping something like that, even if Angel had never intended to use it. This must be the flipside of the alien morality argument. After all, if Angel hadn't kept that weapon, perhaps things would have been different.
Perhaps the Doctor would never have had to do what he did to his own planet.
"Why didn't you tell us right from the start?" Buffy asked him.
"Tell you what?"
"That the Ascension you stopped was not even remotely the same as the one we're facing," said Buffy. "I mean, I don't know if anyone else would have believed you, but I would have."
The Doctor froze. "I couldn't," he said.
"I just… couldn't," he said. "What I've done, what I am… I never wanted you to see me like that. I hoped…" he sighed. "I hoped you could see me as a person, and not a monster. Just for a little bit longer."
"But you're not a monster," said Buffy. "You did the right thing. You stopped the…."
And that was when it struck Buffy. The real reason the Doctor couldn't tell her about the Ascension of the Time Lords. The real reason he hadn't wanted to mention it. It wasn't because of any time anomaly or paradox. The reason he hadn't told her was because the Doctor didn't want to admit it.
For him, it was easier — far, far easier — to cast himself as the villain, the monster who had destroyed his home world, than it was to admit what the Time Lords had become. Saying it out loud — telling Buffy what had happened — would mean admitting to himself that it was true. And he wasn't ready to do that, yet.
"I don't think of you as a monster," said Buffy. She gave him a small smile. "I'll never think of you as a monster. I didn't back when Giles kept telling me to stay away from you. I didn't when I thought you were working with the Mayor. And I still won't, even though you're not going to help us stop the Mayor's Ascension." She paused. "You aren't, right?"
And that probably really was because he didn't want to change history. Which meant the Mayor had to ascend. The Ascension had to happen. And nothing Buffy could do would be able to change that.
"I guess I really can't stop it," Buffy said. "I might as well give up trying. Put my energies elsewhere. Maybe… I don't know. Evacuate the town."
"Why?" asked the Doctor. "Nice town. Bit… Hellmouthy. But it's no less safe than Cardiff." He considered this. "Well, maybe a little less safe than Cardiff."
"Because you just said that there's no way to stop the Mayor," said Buffy.
"Never said that," the Doctor told her. He gave her an enigmatic smile. "Certainly never said that."
Buffy stared at him. "You mean… there's a way to stop the Mayor that doesn't involve destroying the Earth?"
"Could be," the Doctor told her, with a little shrug. "Dunno. Suppose you'll have to find out on your own."
"Of course I will," said Buffy. "Because if you told me, that would mess up history."
The Doctor grinned at her. "Exactly."
Buffy sighed, and stared down at the ground.
The Doctor noticed. "You sure you're all right?"
"What do you think?" asked Buffy. "My arm's been eaten, my boyfriend broke up with me, you nearly died, Faith's still evil, the Mayor's still Ascending in a week, and the only reason I'm going to survive it is because I have to die about two years later, defending the universe. Of course I'm not all right!"
She only realized she'd said too much when the Doctor didn't answer her.
She looked up at him, and the shock and hurt that she saw in his eyes was almost more terrifying than his earlier anger.
"You looked into my mind," he said.
Buffy jumped to her feet, her jaw trying to form words. "I… had to," she said. "I didn't… you said you were going to die."
"Yes, I did," said the Doctor.
"I wasn't going to let you die," said Buffy. She gave him a defiant stare. "If you'd been in my shoes, you would have done the same thing!"
The Doctor sighed, and got to his feet. He began pacing the TARDIS. "How much did you see?"
"I…" Buffy wasn't sure how to answer this.
The Doctor turned to face her. "How much?"
"Just the part you blocked off," Buffy confessed. "The part about how to open the cube."
"Nothing else?" asked the Doctor, walking towards her. "No other thoughts or memories? No large masses of information flooding your neural pathways?"
"No!" Buffy protested. "I… I didn't even see anything about the Mayor's Ascension. I…" she swallowed. "You trusted me."
The Doctor breathed. "So I did," he said, running a hand through his hair. "So I did." He frowned. "You did say that you broke up with your boyfriend, yes?"
"Yeah," said Buffy.
"Then I'm going to feel far, far less bad about this," said the Doctor.
And he walked right up, and kissed her.
At first, Buffy was too shocked to react. But it was… sort of wonderful. His lips melted into hers, and she felt all lightheaded and happy. His body temperature was low — not cold, but cool — and it was almost enough to pretend…
The Doctor pulled away, and it was only when he did so, that Buffy realized it had been a distraction.
"You slipped into my mind!" she accused.
"I… might have," the Doctor confessed. "But to be fair, I was only removing the bits that you retrieved when you slipped into mine."
"You could have just asked," said Buffy.
"You would have said no," the Doctor told her. "And you're… a bit stronger than I am."
Buffy frowned, because she realized that he was right. That was the thing about the future — it was scary as hell to learn it, but once you caught a glimpse, you didn't want to give it up. But that wasn't the point, she insisted to herself. The point was that the Doctor had purposely screwed around with her because he was tricking her into letting him wipe her mind, and he wasn't getting away with that!
Buffy charged at him, and hoisted him against one of the coral pillars. "That wasn't okay!" she shouted. "You can't just take things away from me without asking. You… you…" She stared at him, and then kissed him again.
She didn't stop until he gently pulled her away.
"We can't," said the Doctor.
Buffy panted a little, trying to catch her breath. "Why not?"
"Well, for one, it doesn't take a telepath to know you're kissing me because I remind you of someone you'd rather be kissing," said the Doctor. "I'm only picking up basic surface thoughts, but your mind is very loudly insisting that I am a 200 year old Irish Vampire." He cracked a grin. "And I may be many things, but a 200 year old Irish Vampire is not one of them."
Buffy looked down at her feet, and backed away. "I'm sorry."
The Doctor took her hand in his. "Elizabeth," he said. "We're still friends. Nothing will ever change that."
Buffy looked up at him, and gave a weak smile. "Yeah."
The Doctor noticed the unease in her face, and sighed. He dropped her hand, and thrust his own into his pockets. "I had to take it away," he told her. "Short time ago, this same sort of thing happened. Donna, she… had too much, too much of my mind. It nearly killed her. The longer I left it in your head, the more chance there was that I'd have to take everything."
"It's probably for the best," said Buffy. "I don't remember what I saw, but I remember realizing it had to happen. This way, at least I'll be surprised."
"I didn't take the information you gathered while you were at the Concurrence," the Doctor said. "Or any of the other things you learned while I was here. Just the things you got from using the Dalek Weapon. Everything else should be intact."
Buffy frowned. "I thought you said I wasn't supposed to know that stuff."
"And you're not worried I'll change…." Buffy's eyes widened. "Oh."
"All of time and space," the Doctor reminded her. "Remember that. All of time and space is in your hands."
"You ever wonder if you're a bit too trusting, sometimes?" Buffy asked.
The Doctor smiled. "Never with you," he told her.
Thank God the Doctor wasn't her enemy anymore. Because after Angel had just spent all that time telling Buffy how she didn't have the ability to decide her own future, and her mom still wouldn't let her get a license, and Wesley still insisted on micro-managing her — it was wonderful to realize that there was still one person out there who trusted Buffy enough to believe she would make the right choice on her own. Her very best alien friend ever.
Buffy wrapped the Doctor in a tight hug.
"Well," she said, when she finally pulled away. "I guess awkward apologizing time is over. Which means it's time for me to go stop Evil Mayor Guy."
The Doctor nodded, but didn't move. He just looked at her, steadily. "You… don't have to," he said, at last.
Buffy frowned. "I thought you said I did."
"Ah, yes, well, you do have to," the Doctor amended. "Just… not right now. Time machine, remember? How about it? As a thank you for saving my life. One trip in the TARDIS, free of charge."
Buffy laughed. "One trip, free of charge? How much does the second trip cost?"
"Five sea shells and a turtle."
Buffy shook her head, a smile still playing across her lips. "I can't."
"Well, we can call trip number two complimentary as well," the Doctor conceded. "And for trip number three, we can start up a tab. And then for trip number four—"
"No, I mean, I can't go with you," said Buffy. "I can't run away from this, Doctor. It's my life. I have to face it. The more I put this off, the less I'll want to go back and do it. I have to stop the Ascension. I'm the only one who can."
The Doctor said nothing for a moment. Then he gave her a gentle smile. "Course you do," he said. He strode over to the central console, and started programming in the flight.
"There is one thing you can do for me," Buffy ventured. "Just… you know. In return for my saving your life and everything."
The Doctor looked up. "I can't help Faith, either," he said.
"No, it's nothing to do with any of that," Buffy said. "It's just… a promise. Just, because Angel's leaving and there's all this uncertainty and I don't even know what's in my future, even though you sure seem to, and…" She took a deep breath.
The Doctor quirked an eyebrow at her.
"Just… promise me you'll come back," said Buffy. "Please. Promise me you'll never stop coming back."
The Doctor's face melted into a sincere smile. "I promise," he said.
Chapter 31: Epilogue
The Doctor had dropped Buffy off at the warehouse, where she'd been greeted by exuberant friends, hugs, and cries of sheer delight. By the time she'd managed to extricate herself from the crowd, she could already hear the sounds of the TARDIS fading away.
There was one face missing from the crowd of friends.
Buffy found Angel outside, beneath the moonlight, its silvery beams gliding across his face. He was so beautiful like this, Buffy realized. And it came with the heart-wrenching realization that this really was the end for them.
"Are you okay?" she asked Angel.
"Always am," said Angel.
"You're just… out here, and not in there, and I thought…" Buffy shrugged, not really sure what to say.
"I thought maybe you never wanted to see me again," said Angel.
He looked up at her, and their eyes met. It made Buffy even sadder, to look into his eyes. Because she still loved him, so much. And all she wanted to do was run over and kiss him, but she couldn't. She couldn't ever again.
"We're… still friends," she said. "Right?"
"Always," said Angel.
"Then I guess that's all I ever wanted," she lied. She leaned against the outside of the warehouse. "I… you knew me, in the other timeline. Elizabeth. The real Elizabeth."
"What was she like?"
Angel said nothing.
"I'm not — I don't want to pry or anything," said Buffy. "I mean, you've already said she wasn't me, but were you two… I mean, did you ever…?"
"No," Angel said. "We were friends. Only ever friends. That was all."
Buffy frowned as she heard the sorrow and pain in his voice. "You loved her," she realized.
"In two hundred years, I've only ever loved one person," said Angel. "I loved her back when she was Elizabeth, and I loved her when she was you."
And then he'd broken her heart right before the prom — but Buffy didn't want to think about that. She banished the thought from her mind.
"And she never—"
"She was in love with someone else," Angel told her. "Someone she shouldn't have been."
Oh, yeah. That was right. Jack had surmised that, hadn't he? Elizabeth had loved the Doctor. The Doctor hadn't loved her back. Talk about a tangled up love triangle. No wonder Angel blamed the Doctor for hurting Elizabeth.
"Tell me about Elizabeth," said Buffy. "How did you two meet?"
"The first time I saw her was in 1898," said Angel. "It was the first time she saw me, too. I'd just gotten back my soul, and I was horrified, terrified, unsure of what to do. And just as I was about to run away, I caught a glimpse of a small, blond haired girl of about… seventeen, I think. Someone had told her to hide — the Doctor, probably — but she was curious, and brave, and wasn't going to take orders. When I saw her, that first time, she was crying. And I knew she was crying because of what I'd done, because of all the horrible things that were my fault, but when she looked at me, I thought…" he gave a small laugh. "It seems silly, but I really thought that maybe, she'd shed a tear for me, as well."
"The next time I saw her was in 1905," Angel said. "It wasn't the next time she saw me."
Oh, of course, time travel got complicated like that, didn't it?
"The next time she saw me, she was scared — I didn't even realize why," Angel continued. "Then she hit me a few times and told me I was a jerk, and I should be ashamed of what I'd done, and I was just lucky she didn't have a stake on her, because I definitely deserved it."
Buffy smirked. That did sound like something she'd do — this her, current-her. Except that the Buffy-her would probably have had a few stakes on her at the time.
"Then I saved her life, and she decided I wasn't so bad after all," Angel continued. "But that was a long, long time later. That first time I talked to her, in 1905, I was the one who was angry. I told her to leave, to get out, or I'd kill her. And… I still remember, all these years later, the way she stared at me, with that determined look on her face, and told me I wasn't going to kill her, because she knew me better than that. She told me I was her best friend — no, more than that. She said I was the only person in the universe she could still trust. And she… called me Angel." He smiled at the memory. "She was the first one to ever do that."
"I thought I was the first one to ever…" Buffy trailed off. "Oh. Right."
"She was just like you," said Angel. "Even at the end, when she saw what was coming, she was still so proud, so wonderful, so determined and brave. She always defended the people she loved, the things she felt were worth defending. And yet — every time I saw her, she was so unhappy, so upset. She once told me we had that in common, that neither of us could ever be truly happy, in the end." He glanced down at the ground, his eyes sinking into shadow. "She didn't deserve what happened to her."
"What happened to her?"
For a moment, Angel said nothing, and Buffy thought he wouldn't go on.
"She died," Angel confessed. "She told me… in 1905, she said she'd been to Sunnydale, 2003, and she'd seen her own future. Met her future-self. She said she saw the entire town overrun by an enemy more powerful, more manipulative, and more devious than any she'd fought before. An enemy who killed everyone she ever knew or loved. An enemy who killed her future-self."
"What enemy?" asked Buffy. "Who… who was it?"
Angel looked back at her, and she could see every ounce of pain in his eyes. Then he glanced back at the spot where the TARDIS had disappeared.
"Guess," he said.