Like a black fog, it seeped into Buffy's mind.
But unlike a black fog, it noticed her. Turned on her. Grabbed for her.
Then she realized — she hadn't screamed. Hadn't even moved! Something was in her mind, its fingers deep inside her head, a something that began to absorb her thoughts, fiddle around with them, manipulate them, change them. Buffy tried to scream, again, tried to struggle, tried to claw at the other presence in her mind so she could get free. But she couldn't move. She couldn't scream. 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 jolted upright in bed, a cold sweat dripping down her face.
Then Buffy 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.
"Buffy?" her mother pressed.
"Sorry, just…" Buffy faltered. Then plastered a grin on her face. "Nightmare," she decided. "Definitely a nightmare."
But, of course, nightmares can come true.
You know that, don't you, Yersitraysin?
"Non-Gallifreyan Prisoner 3920," the lift announced, descending through the detention facility. The lift halted, then whirred and clicked with final security checks.
Yersitraysin clutched the note that she'd found, in her room — those few paragraphs about "Buffy". Yersitraysin had never heard of "Buffy", before, but after what had happened, last night, she needed to know more.
"Visitor approval verified," the lift announced, as the doors squeaked open. "You have 1 span before you will be forced to vacate the cell."
The prisoner sat, back to the door, writing at a desk in the middle of a spherical cell with glowing teal walls, an innocuous bookcase at one corner, and an armchair at the far side. The prisoner turned in her own chair, to face her visitor.
Yersitraysin stared. "Oh." She stepped inside. "But you look…"
"Not as alien as you expected?" The prisoner swept back her long hair. "No, I'm not. You're not who I expected, either, though." She rested her hands on the back of the chair. "What have they told you? Do you even know why I'm here?"
"They said… the Doctor," said Yersitraysin. "He's why you're in here."
The prisoner's mouth twitched, at the name. "The Doctor. Yes…" She shook her head, and dismissed the topic. "But enough of that. So, Yersitraysin — I hear that, last night, you thought you were being possessed. Except… of course… you weren't."
Yersitraysin pulled up the armchair, and sat beside the prisoner.
"Please," Yersitraysin begged, "what's happening to me? What do you know about it?" She met the prisoner's eyes. "Tell me about the dream."
"It wasn't a dream," Buffy told Giles in the library, the next day. "I know what I felt. Something tried to possess me, last night."
In a large, circular library in Sunnydale, California, on the planet Earth, Giles (Buffy's mentor) cleaned his glasses against his shirt, as he sat at the table in the center of the room.
Beside him, halfway up a ladder attached to a tall bookcase, the far more clean-cut Wesley — Buffy's officially assigned mentor, who could never really take the place of Giles — was pulling out an ancient book.
"There is a prophecy…" Wesley tried his best to open the book and balance it against the ladder. "…here! 'Before the dawning of the new millennium, the Maer'Isa will open, and a noble soul will be lost to it. As Mars treks through the sky, towards…'"
Wesley lost his grip on the book and the ladder, and both him — and it — crashed onto the floor.
Giles, with a sigh, picked up the book. He glanced at the passage. "Maer'Isa," he muttered. Then shook the book at Wesley. "This artifact hasn't been seen since the 16th century! Honestly, of all the—"
Buffy swooped in and grabbed the book from Giles. Her face went white, as she studied the page — or, rather, the artist rendering of the Maer'Isa that was on the page.
"Or, you know, maybe two weeks ago," Buffy said, putting the book down on the table. "In my house."
Wesley and Giles froze, staring at her.
Buffy swung her arms, nervously. "What? I mean, it didn't look powerful or anything. It was, like… you know… plastic. Tacky. Like an Ikea-style demon charm."
"Buffy," said Wesley, jumping to his feet, "are you telling me that you have this object in your possession? Right now?"
Buffy didn't meet their eyes, as she toyed with a wooden stake, awkwardly. "Not… exactly…"
"You chucked it in the bin, didn't you?" Giles muttered. He pinched the bridge of his nose, with a sigh.
"Hey!" Buffy spread open her arms. "I told you, it didn't look all demon charmmy or end-the-worldy. It looked cheap. And I was kind of angry at Angel, so I…"
"You're saying you received a mystical amulet from Angel, with immense and unknown powers," Giles clarified, "and you threw it away, because you rowed with him and thought it looked 'tacky'?"
Buffy decided it was probably better not to answer this.
How was she supposed to know it was dangerous? Seriously! Her pencils weren't evil, and they looked a lot more valuable and important than that charm.
Although… then again…
Buffy eyed her pencils, suspiciously.
Wesley yanked the book out of Giles' hands. "It says, here, that the possessed's name must, first, be inscribed onto the outside of the Maer'Isa, before it can possess you." He squinted at the small text. "'For the soul is bound unto that name, and must come when summoned. So say the Epoch.'"
"Epoch?" asked Time Lady Yersitraysin.
The prisoner paused, in her story. "You've never run into Irving Braxiatel?"
Yersitraysin shook her head. "I've heard of him, but…"
"Ask him, sometime, about the Epoch," the prisoner prompted. "A fascinating story — assuming he tells you the truth. Quite the adventure."
"What was the name inscribed onto the outside, Buffy?" Giles asked.
Buffy grimaced. "Squiggle-squiggle-circley thing?" She shrugged. "I didn't take 'demon' as my foreign language elective. So… your guess is as good as mine."
Wesley coughed, loudly, trying to draw back their attention. "Upon activation," he continued to read, "the Maer'Isa would make you feel caged within your own mind, as if your own soul were… unable… to control…"
Wesley trailed off.
Then, a little nervously, he backed away from Buffy, raising the book in front of him — like a shield.
"I'm not possessed," Buffy insisted. She crossed her arms, in irritation. "It didn't work."
Giles looked her up and down. "She certainly sounds like herself."
"Another feature of the Maer'Isa, I'm afraid," said Wesley, still backing away. "The possessor will sound and act just as the victim once did. The possessor gains access to every memory and scrap of personality left inside the soul-less body."
Even though Buffy knew she was herself, there was no way to prove it.
"I so don't have time for this," Buffy decided. She spun on her heels, heading out of the library. "The Mayor is going to Ascend in a week and go all with the evil and the killiness. I got stuff to do."
"And then Buffy left the library," the prisoner explained. She lowered her head onto her hands. "To find the Doctor."
Yersitraysin started. "The Doctor?!"
"Of course," said the prisoner, her voice low and pointed. "The Doctor. You remember: the reason I'm here."
Yersitraysin fidgeted with the note in her hand. Was this the story of how the Doctor had imprisoned the prisoner, here? Buffy and the others, of course, couldn’t be the real heroes of the story — after all, they were aliens.
"So… yes. Where were we? Right — Buffy ran off, to find the Doctor, so she could make sure he didn't run into Giles or Wesley in the library," said the prisoner. "They didn’t trust him, see. Watchers' Council propaganda."
"What Council propaganda?"
"Doesn't matter," the prisoner dismissed. "Watchers' Council — a bunch of stuffy non-Gallifreyans, eventually blown up by Caleb. But, as I was saying, a minute later, the Doctor walked into the library."
The door to the library opened, and Buffy, in mid-conversation with Giles, turned around, to find a tall, lanky figure in a blue pinstripe suit and red trainers, striding into the library with a grin on his face and a bounce in his step.
He paused by the doors, a twinkle in his eye. "Sorry to barge in, but… anyone, here, need a bit of help preventing an Ascension?"
"Wait, wait, wait!" cried Yersitraysin. "You said Buffy ran off! She wasn't in mid-conversation in the library!"
The prisoner thought a moment. "Sorry, I must have gotten that part wrong. Buffy remained in the library."
"You're a rubbish storyteller," Yersitraysin said.
"Perhaps," the prisoner replied. She gave a small smile. "But you'll find no one else, on Gallifrey, who knows this story. So how else will you hear it, if not from me?"
Yersitraysin swallowed, hard. She looked down at the note in her hands, remembering last night. The prisoner was an alien — so perhaps they did not have the mental capacity to tell consistent stories?
She decided to let the matter drop.
"Now, where was I?" the prisoner pondered. She raised up a finger. "Ah, yes! Of course! The library. How about we back up, a little, in the story, and start that section, again?"
"I know you consider him a friend," said Giles, "but you do realize that the Doctor only ever turns up when things are… catastrophic?"
"Huh," said Buffy, reflecting. She ticked items off on her fingers. "Mayor’s Ascending. Faith's evil. Graduation day is actually All-You-Can-Eat Demon Buffet day. And Angel’s gone all with the possessy." She threw up her hands, in a shrug. "Nope. No catastrophes that I can see."
Buffy tucked her stake into her pocket, as Giles looked increasingly uncomfortable.
"No, I mean terminally—" Giles began.
The door to the library thudded open, and a man in a brown pinstripe suit and red trainers strolled into the room.
"Sorry to barge in," the Doctor announced, "but… anyone, here, need a bit of help preventing an Ascension?"
Buffy pulled up a chair for him. "Barge away. We could use the help."
Giles coughed, pointedly, and pushed the offered chair back in. "I must admit, I’m rather surprised to see you, here."
"Ah, yes, well," said the Doctor, walking forwards, a bounce in his step. "I was just in the TARDIS, see, having a bit of a head-scratch, working out where to go, next. Then, I thought — you know, there's this bloke about to turn into a demon, back in Sunnydale. Should probably do something 'bout that."
Buffy breathed a sigh of relief. Great! If the Doctor was here, at least she knew she didn’t have to worry, anymore. He’d sort out the whole Ascension thing, in no time!
"Okay, that gives me one less heart attack, this week," Buffy told him, trying to play it way cooler than she felt. "So, what’s the plan?"
"Ah," said the Doctor, scratching the back of his neck.
She wanted to hit her head on something.
"There is no plan," Buffy realized. "You were going to wing it."
The Doctor tugged at his earlobe, shifting awkwardly from foot to foot. "Just… thought we might put our heads together. Work something out." He beamed. "What do you say?"
Buffy sighed. "I'd kind of rather you were all with the planniness… but…"
At least he was here.
"Okay, first things first," said Buffy. She had to work out timelines — so she’d know what she could and couldn’t say. She crept a little closer to the Doctor and whispered, "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. She mimed putting on a bow-tie. "Maybe I've met your next incarnation."
The edges of the Doctor’s lips twitched. "Doubt it.”
Buffy frowned and took his hand in hers. In an even lower voice, she asked, "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 'course I am' to me," she said.
Yersitraysin felt her mind reel. "But… you never mentioned him looking like that, before! And I thought he had a blue suit, not a brown one!"
"If you’re going to interrupt my story this often, Time Lady," the prisoner complained, "we'll never get through it in one span."
The Doctor tugged his hands away, shoving them into his trouser pockets. "Always okay. Nothing to worry about." He strode over to the table. "Now! Best get to it. Ascension!" He hopped up and sat on the tabletop. “What do you know?"
Giles frowned, still guarded. "I think that our revealing our current information rather depends on who told you about the Ascension, in the first place."
Oh, great! Way to go all suspicious-Giles on them!
"No one told me, really," said the Doctor, swinging his feet beneath the table. He beamed. "I'm just a bit brilliant."
Buffy barely restrained herself from laughing. Typical Doctor.
"We'll Ascension-plan, later," said Buffy. "Right now, I'm worried about Angel."
The Doctor frowned. "What, Angel? Why?"
Buffy explained to the Doctor about the tacky-looking plastic cube that Angel had given her, which she'd thrown out, and how Giles and Wesley had said that it was actually an evil mystic amulet.
"And since I'm fine," Buffy reasoned, finishing her explanation, "obviously, the Maer'Isa thing is set up to target Angel."
"He is, after all, the only other one who’s handled it," said Giles. He shuffled, a little. "Besides which, we already know the Mayor is fishing for a way to rob Angel of his soul."
Buffy figured it wasn’t worth mentioning that Wesley had decided Buffy was possessed, right before the Doctor came in, and how Wesley had stormed off, somewhere, to sulk about it.
"Yeah, I'm sure — something's definitely trying to possess Angel," said Buffy. "I felt it, last night. Really vividly. Like… it was happening to me, except it wasn't."
The Doctor quirked an eyebrow. "You felt it?"
"Yeah," said Buffy. "I mean, why shouldn't I? He's my boyfriend." She paused. "My ex-boyfriend."
"Well, for a start, because feeling something like that would be impossible," said the Doctor. "Vampires are psychic blanks; their minds might emit delta waves, but they do so along an altered frequency. Humans can't pick it up. Least, not like this." He brushed a hand through his hair. "But you felt it. Odd, that. Very odd."
The Doctor started pacing the room, head bent in thought. Before he had even been pacing a full minute, Wesley jumped out of Giles' office, armed with crosses and amulets, which he began waving at the Doctor.
"Be gone, man of the magic voice!" shouted Wesley. "Leave this town, and all who live therein, in peace!"
"Oh, honestly," the Doctor snapped, turning on him. "I went over this, last time you lot locked me up. I'm not planning on harming anyone! Not you, not Giles, and certainly — certainly — not Buffy."
She suddenly realized… things had just gotten a lot worse.
"I don't understand," said Yersitraysin. She closed her eyes, trying to banish memories of last night. "Why are you telling me this? I thought you would help me."
The prisoner laughed. "And you think a story cannot?" she asked. "If you'd simply let me finish, instead of constantly interrupting me…"
Yersutraysin sighed. Daft alien! She figured the worst that could happen was that she'd learn nothing.
"All right, go on," said Yersitraysin. "Buffy, without any justification that I can see, just randomly knew that things had gotten a lot worse." She shook her head. "What happened, next?"
Before anyone even knew what was happening, Buffy had shoved Giles away — to safety, on the far side of the library — and lunged at the man in the pinstripe suit, grabbing him by his lapels and slamming him against a bookcase.
"Who are you?" Buffy demanded. "And what did you do to the Doctor?!"
The Doctor gave an uneasy laugh and a dopey grin. "Oh, really, now! You know I'm the Doctor! I'm—"
"When you say my name," Buffy interrupted, "it feels… just… wrong. Like, telepathic weird-stuff wrong." She gritted her teeth, trying to figure out how to describe what she’d felt, when he had used her Buffy-name. A kind of discordant… telepathic weirdness, like something was just… out of place, mismatched…
It had been obvious to her.
This wasn’t him.
"So, let's try this, again," Buffy said, glaring. "Who are you? And what did you do to the Doctor?"
"I am the Doctor!" said the man in the pinstripe suit.
Buffy glared at the man, harder. She wound up her arm, to punch him.
"Or, pretty much, any rate," the Not-So-Doctor amended. He took advantage of the fact that she'd had to let go of him with one hand, and squirmed out of her grip. "Got the whole package, really." He wiggled his arms and legs, to show off. "Body. Knowledge. Voice. Oh! Soul, too — got that tucked away in a tacky-looking plastic cube. Maer'Isa! Nasty way to go, you know. But, well…" He winked at Buffy. "Nothing you can do, now."
Buffy dug the stake back out of her pocket, readying herself to fight.
"Tell me how to get him back," Buffy said, evenly, "or you get a date with Mr. Pointy."
"Ah." The Not-So-Doctor gestured over at Wesley. "You didn't check with your Watcher on this one, first, did you? Bit thick, Slayer. Even for you."
Buffy glanced back at Wesley, expectantly.
"The Maer'Isa… er, well…" Wesley flipped through a random book, so he'd have an excuse not to meet her eyes. "It's one-way. Once the Maer'Isa drains your soul into that cube, the cube locks, and that's it. There's no possible way to get it back.”
"What?!" Yersitraysin shouted.
The prisoner sighed. "You really do feel the need to insert yourself into the narrative quite often."
"But what Buffy felt, that first night — when she thought she was being possessed, but wasn't," said Yersitraysin, in a panic, "I felt that, myself, last night! Does that mean — someone I know is about to die?!"
The prisoner ignored Yersitraysin. Instead, she reflected on her own previous statement. "Or is that just Time Lords, in general?" she mused. "Always inserting themselves into the narrative of the universe. Always trying to barge in on someone else’s story."
That was a rather insulting thing to say about a species that were hiding away, after barely avoiding extinction during the Time War.
Yersitraysin bit her tongue. She wanted to give this alien a piece of her mind, but she needed to hear more. She needed to know what would happen — and what it meant.
"He's dead?" Buffy stared at the Not-So-Doctor, almost dropping her stake.
The Not-So-Doctor bounced on his toes, beaming. "Yep! Doctor's dead! Died while suffering and in pain. Nothing you can do about it. Got that? Brilliant! So, let's all stop waving pointy sticks around, and get back to work." He spun around, and raced back to the table. "Right, then! In terms of stopping that Ascension…"
The Not-So-Doctor barely managed to dart out of the way, in time, as Buffy threw herself at him, stake raised and eyes furious.
"Wait! Wait! Wait!" the Not-So-Doctor said, as Buffy rounded on him, again. He raised his hands. "You really don’t want to kill me. I’m on your side. I honestly do want to stop the Ascension."
Giles analyzed the Not-So-Doctor. “Is that so?”
“Why?” Buffy demanded.
The Not-So-Doctor beamed. “For… reasons.”
Oh, great. Buffy ran at the Not-So-Doctor, again, delivering a kick to his midsection that slammed him into the far bookcase.
“Now, see here, Buffy,” Wesley snapped, rushing forwards and trying to restrain her. “If this… whomever-it-is… is on our side, we should hear him out.”
Buffy tore herself out of Wesley’s grip. “He’s not on our side. He killed the Doctor!”
“Be fair,” said the Not-So-Doctor, regaining his breath. “The Doctor was an accident. We were actually trying to kill you — Slayer.”
Giles stepped forwards, tearing off his glasses. “I’m sorry?”
“You wanted to kill Buffy?” Wesley asked. “But… if you really do wish to stop the Ascension, why on Earth would you kill…?”
The Not-So-Doctor laughed. “Why? Really? You mean you haven’t worked it out?” He pointed at his own body. “The Doctor is really rather brilliant! So we gave him an ultimatum — tell us how to stop the Ascension, or we’ll kill your friend. He stayed silent. So we activated the Maer’Isa, to kill the Slayer.” He paused, looking between himself and Buffy. “Although… in retrospect — not the best plan.”
Buffy prepared to launch herself at the Not-So-Doctor, again — but, this time, both Giles and Wesley held her back.
“Look, we gave him every chance!” the Not-So-Doctor insisted. “He’s been sealed away in a pocket dimension for… oh, about two weeks, now. And he told us nothing! Just that, ‘words have power’ rubbish. So we tortured him, a bit. Still, nothing. So we tortured him, some more.” The Not-So-Doctor beamed, at the memory. “That was great fun. We turned it into a party! Balloons. Music. Pickles. Big banners, reading: Concurrence-1, Doctor-0. Oh, and cake! Don’t forget the torture-Doctor-party cake!”
Buffy tried to surge out and kill him, again.
But, again, Wesley and Giles held her back.
“Sorry — the Concurrence?” Giles asked.
“Oh, yes, that’s us,” said the Not-So-Doctor, wiggling his fingers in a wave. “Hello!”
“And you… Concurrence creatures…” Wesley clarified, “…actually wish to stop the Mayor’s Ascension?”
“Yes, well, I’m not going to say that killing the Doctor wasn’t fun,” the Not-So-Doctor said, “because it really, really was. But we actually just wanted the information.”
Buffy turned on Giles. “This is stupid! There’s no chance in hell that I’m ever going to work with the evil, pickle-eating, Doctor-killing Concurrence guys! No matter what they think about the…!”
“Sorry, can we skip ahead?” Yersitraysin cut in. She glanced down at her watch. “I only have one span, in here — and none of this bit about the Mayor seems to be relevant.”
Yersitraysin didn’t care much about this Mayor — whomever he was. Just some alien, on Earth, threatening other aliens. What did that have to do with her?
The prisoner’s eyes narrowed, her voice edgy. "Is that what you think?"
"Ascensions have no relevance to Time Lord…" Yersitraysin began.
"A story, once stable, breaks apart, once the Time Lords step in," the prisoner accused. "A planet, once destroyed, pops back into existence. A moment, once crucial, no longer happens. Cracks in time. Paradoxes in the universe! And you say it’s not important!"
Yersitraysin didn’t follow. She couldn’t work out what Time Lords had to do with any of this — except for the fact that the Doctor happened to be in the story.
The prisoner, for no apparent reason, then burst out laughing.
“And the universe claims the inhabitants of Gallifrey are smart!” the prisoner chuckled. “If they only knew…”
“The Doctor knows how to stop the Ascension,” said the Not-So-Doctor. “In fact, he’s done it, before.”
Everyone in the library fell silent.
They let the impact of that revelation shower down upon them, like specs of rain.
This impossible thing, stopping the Ascension, that they’d been trying to do for so long, and the Doctor had already…!
“How?” Giles asked, new hope in his eyes.
The Not-So-Doctor sighed. “That’s the thing, see.” Gestured at his head. “He locked the secret up, inside his brain. We can’t get at it — not even with the Maer’Isa. And, believe you me, we have tried.” He waved at Buffy. “So, we’re thinking laterally! If the Doctor’s dead, maybe the Slayer can stop the Ascension, instead.”
“The Doctor doesn’t know anything about the Ascension,” Buffy insisted. “If he’d known, he would have told us. I know he would.”
The Not-So-Doctor beamed. “Yeah, well, we don’t really understand why he hasn’t,” he said. “Perhaps it’s for the same reason that he destroyed your other-timeline alter-ego, in 2003. Or perhaps it’s the fault of that lady running about Sunnydale with sunglasses on her head, calling herself ‘God’. No idea.” He shrugged. “Any rate! Not important! Doctor’s dead. Slayer’s alive. Bit of a mix-up, but we’re making it work.” He threw his hands open, in triumph. “Any questions?”
Buffy shrugged off Giles and Wesley. “Just one.”
The Not-So-Doctor raised an eyebrow.
Buffy hurled herself at him, tackling him to the ground, stake raised. “Where would you like to die?”
Of course, Buffy should have known the Doctor would be trickier to kill than that.
Even if this wasn’t really the Doctor.
A buzzing sound rang out, through the library, and one of the bookcases came detached from the wall. Buffy, without thinking, rolled herself and the Not-Doctor away from it, before it came crashing down.
The action allowed the Not-So-Doctor to gain the upper hand, gaining leverage over her, and allowing him to throw Buffy off of him.
“You really don’t want to kill this body, you know!” the Not-So-Doctor insisted. “Told you. Doctor’s soul is locked up in the Maer’Isa — and this body can’t regenerate without a soul. Whole body would just burn up, replaced with nothing.”
Buffy jumped back to her feet. “Wesley says there’s no way back from a Maer’Isa.”
The Not-So-Doctor winked. “Yeah, but — you know humans.” He wiggled his fingers beside his head. “Tiny little voice, inside your head, telling you he’s not really dead. Tiny bit of hope. All that.”
“That’s why I know you’ll never really do it,” said the Not-So-Doctor. “That’s why I know you’ll…”
Buffy punched him in the chest. He stumbled back, and narrowly dodged out of the way of her next punch and kick.
“Buffy,” Giles said, trying to step in between them, “I know you’re upset — but killing that body won’t kill whomever is possessing it.”
Buffy knew that. But lots of good people, across the world, trusted the Doctor. A demon able to possess his body could play on that trust and use it to wreak havoc across the Earth. The demon could even place all the Doctor’s friends in situations guaranteed to kill them.
If the Doctor really was dead… Buffy had to make sure his body was, too. For his sake.
Buffy flipped herself over both Giles and the Not-So-Doctor’s heads, grabbed the Not-So-Doctor by the shoulders, spun him around, and slammed him against the nearest bookcase. She raised up her stake.
“Goodbye, Concurrence,” Buffy said. Then, in a quieter, terribly sad voice, added, “Goodbye, Doctor.”
She brought down the stake.
The Doctor grabbed her hand, as something in his eyes changed. “Buffy Anne Summers,” he gasped. “Don’t!”
Buffy’s jaw fell open. She didn’t know how, didn’t know why, but… that was him! That was the real him! The moment he said her name, she got this telepathic rush of emotions and stuff… and she just knew…!
Buffy dropped him to the ground, and stepped back.
“But I thought…!” Buffy swallowed, hard. “But they said you were…!”
That was when the doors to the library burst open, and Angel ran inside…
To ‘save’ Buffy.
Buffy sighed. Yeah. Way to pull out the heroics, Angel.
"That's not the Doctor's real name, though," Yersitraysin interrupted. "Just saying 'Doctor' wouldn't be enough to bring him back, like that."
The prisoner sighed. "Are you really just going to sit there, picking plot holes into my story at every turn?"
Yersitraysin bunched her hands into fists. Didn't this alien understand?! "I don't care about the narrative congruity of your story! All I care about is figuring out what I have to do, to stop whatever is about to happen to me! And a poorly told story won't help with that!"
"But what if," said the prisoner, "this story isn't about you, at all? Or the Maer'Isa? What if you've missed the point?"
Yersitraysin didn't understand.
"You Time Lords are so arrogant, thinking you're the center of the universe," the prisoner remarked. "But look at where you are — hiding away, pretending you don't exist! You tried to become everything, and now, you are nothing."
Yersitraysin definitely felt this prisoner was overstepping her place. But she remained silent.
"Now, where was I?" The prisoner thought, a moment. "Oh, yes!"
"Why did you do that?!" Buffy shouted at Angel. She pointed at the Doctor, who was now lying on the floor. "He wasn't a threat, Angel! That was the Doctor! And you just attacked him and knocked him unconscious."
"It's not him," Angel insisted. He grabbed her by the shoulders, and looked deep into her eyes. "Trust me, Buffy. Whatever's gotten its hands on that cube, they're the ones in control of that body. Not the Doctor. The Doctor is dead."
"No, he's not! I got this telepathic stuff from him, when he said my name! I know he's…!" Buffy paused, as Angel's words finally sunk in. Then, looking at Angel, a little more sternly — "Wait, how did you know the Doctor wasn't himself?"
Angel let go of Buffy's shoulders and stepped back. He couldn't meet her eyes.
"You knew about the Maer'Isa," Buffy realized. She charged at him. "You gave me a weapon designed to kill the Doctor, you never said what it was, and — you knew, this whole time!"
Angel struggled to restrain the angry Buffy, as she shouted at him and started trying to throw him across the room.
Giles, meanwhile, advanced towards the doors to the library. When Angel had burst inside, Giles thought he'd seen… someone else, just behind Angel — a lady with high heels, a sleek black dress, and a pair of sunglasses perched in her mahogany hair. But she hadn't entered the library.
Giles pushed open the doors, and looked outside.
No one was there.
"Buffy, listen to me," Angel was trying to tell her, as she hit him with non-Slayer strength, "I didn't want to kill the Doctor! You instructed me to find you, give you that cube and warn you about the Master. You said I shouldn't tell you what the cube did — or it'd create a paradox. I was just doing what you told me!"
"I never asked you to…!" Buffy began.
"Yes, you did," Angel insisted. He faltered. "I mean… not you-you. The you from the other timeline. But it was still you! Other-you gave me that cube and made me promise to give it back when I reached 1996. Even though this is another timeline, with a different you, and I waited an extra year — I thought… perhaps… it could protect you from him. Just in case."
Oh, great. So Angel was talking about Elizabeth.
What the hell was going on in that other-timeline, that'd convince Elizabeth to give Angel a weapon designed to kill the Doctor?!
"He can be dangerous, Buffy," Angel told her. He took her hands in his. "The Doctor doesn't think the same way we do. He doesn't look at the world the same way we do. What if, one day, you need to stop him?"
Buffy pulled her hands away.
Seriously?! This wasn't just a gun or a crossbow or something. This was a weapon designed, specifically, to kill one specific person. What the hell did Angel think the Doctor was going to do to her, that'd warrant using something like that?!
"Well, at least it didn't work," said Buffy, turning around. She walked back over to the Doctor, and knelt down, beside him. Shook him. "Doctor? You still in there?"
Angel raced out, grabbed her by the arm, and yanked her away. "It isn't him!"
"It is, Angel!" Buffy snapped, jumping back to her feet. She pointed at him. "The Maer'Isa didn't work. Don't you get it? He's still in there! He's still himself!"
"That's impossible," Angel insisted.
"Well, not impossible, really," the Doctor muttered, groaning, as he got up. "Just a bit unlikely." He put a hand to his head, wincing in pain. "Blimey, Angel, you got a hell of a right hook on you."
Wesley lunged for a crucifix, which he held in front of him, with shaking hands.
Buffy sat down, beside the Doctor. "You okay? Not demony or muah-ha-ha evil or anything like that?"
"Apparently not," the Doctor said, considering. He tested out his arms and legs, and found they all moved when he told them to. "Interesting. Wonder why that could be?"
"Of course," said the prisoner, to Yersitraysin, "he soon worked it out."
"It seems," the Doctor explained to Buffy, "I'm not exactly… me, at the moment. Which must mean you…" A sudden look of horror sprang into his eyes, as he paused, staring at her. Then, he blinked. And the horror fell away. "Yes! Sorry. What was I saying? Ah, right! Not really me." He gestured at himself. "What you're seeing, now — my being here — is more like… a jolt. A zap. A bit of wibbly-wobbly, timey-whimeyness that I can take advantage of, even when it should be impossible."
"Okay, and now, I'm all with the huh's," Buffy said. She elbowed him. "Explain better."
The Doctor blew a breath out of his cheeks. "Where do I even begin?" He took both her hands in his own, holding them a little too tightly. "This, here — me being myself, I mean — it won't last. I'm not really here, at all, see. My soul is still inside that cube."
"Okay," said Buffy, nodding, slowly. "And, translating into not-Time-Lord…?"
"This — me being here — is a glitch," the Doctor told her. "A wrinkle in time that I'm taking advantage of. Like I said — bit hard to explain." He let go of her hands and got to his feet, grabbing the bookshelf to steady himself. "You've got a copy of my soul, see. A potential. A spark. I'm just borrowing that."
Buffy blinked, getting up. "What?! I have a copy of your…?!"
"Not… romantically!" the Doctor protested, holding up his hands in innocence. "Literally — you have a literal copy of my soul. And you've just leant it to me, for a wee bit, to get the Concurrence out of my head. Got that?"
"All of which means," the Doctor continued, as if she'd said yes, "I've got to sort out this whole mess quick sharp, before I blink out of existence, again, and you're left with the Concurrence."
He wobbled, and Buffy helped steady him. He smiled at her, gratefully.
Thing was, Buffy couldn't stop thinking about Elizabeth. Her other-self. Why did her other-self give Angel the Maer'Isa? And why did the Concurrence believe that Elizabeth was the basis for the Doctor not trusting Buffy with knowledge about the Ascension?
"Doctor — do you still remember the other timeline?" Buffy asked him.
The Doctor quirked an eyebrow. "What about it?"
"What's all this about an 'other timeline'?" Yersitraysin interrupted.
The prisoner brushed it off with the wave of her hand. "Buffy's a Line-Hopper," she said. "She's got a connection with an alter-ego from another timeline. At some point, time shifted and Buffy's past became the dominant timeline, while her alter-ego's wasn't. Elizabeth, I think the alter-ego calls herself."
Yersitraysin had read papers, back in the Academy, hypothesizing that Line-Hoppers might exist. Two timelines fused together by an individual — so that events bled through between both timelines. Yersitraysin had always assumed it was all rubbish.
"The Doctor first met Buffy in the old timeline — back when she was Elizabeth," said the prisoner. "He still calls her that, sometimes, even now. Elizabeth. Force of habit, I suppose. Angel met her in that timeline, too — although Angel somehow wound up flipping into this timeline, instead, around 1996."
"Doctor, tell me about Elizabeth," Buffy implored him, taking his hands in hers.
The Doctor ignored her.
Instead, he looked up. "Oh. Now that's interesting. Who's Yersitraysin?"
Yersitraysin jumped. "What?!"
"Sorry," the prisoner said. "Let's back that up and try again."
"This — me being here — is a glitch," the Doctor told Buffy, sitting against a bookcase, holding her hands in his. "A wrinkle in time that I'm taking advantage of. Like I said — bit…" He stopped. Blinked. Looked about himself, with a frown. "...hard to explain."
The Doctor tried to get to his feet, but toppled over. Buffy helped him sit back down. He really was beaten up and bruised, wasn't he? She rolled up his sleeve, and saw the remnants of more claw marks.
Buffy looked between him and them. "The Concurrence's work?"
The Doctor rolled back down his sleeve. "Nasty sort, the Concurrence. Bunch of demons wandering about the universe in an interdimensional pocket, landing on different planets to cause all sorts of chaos." He gestured at Giles. "I figure they came here because they were summoned by your friend… what's his name? Rayne?"
Giles scowled. "Ethan bloody Rayne!"
"That's the one," said the Doctor. He looked about himself, at the rest of the library, and frowned. Put a hand up to his head. Then, looking back at Buffy, said, "Your friends. Willow, Xander, the wolf-one, and that one with the makeup that's going to be all big and multidimensional someday."
Buffy shot him a weird look. The makeup one that's going to be huh? "What about them?"
"They're not here," the Doctor observed.
Yeah. Thanks, Doctor. Way to prove you've got eyes.
"They're busy," said Buffy. She was kind of glad, actually. Her friends definitely didn't trust the Doctor — so she usually tried to keep them away. "When are you? In your personal timeline, I mean."
The Doctor chuckled. "Little ways in your future," he said. "Past when I met your sister, any rate."
"I don't have a sister," Buffy said.
The Doctor winked at her. "Like I said. Future." He grinned. "Never do seem to run into you in the right order, do I? Bit like River, apparently. You met River? Just met her, myself, a month or two ago. Brilliant girl. No idea who she is, of course. Still, we must get pretty close. After all, she knows… my…" He trailed off, his eyes resting on Angel. "Name," he finished, his voice suddenly dropping into dark, stormy anger.
And, yes, Buffy knew this really was the Doctor.
Because only the Doctor could make Angel that scared with just a word.
"You!" said the Doctor, jumping to his feet and surging towards Angel.
Angel stumbled back against the far wall of the library as the Doctor approached. He opened his mouth, closed it, then opened it again — but no words came out.
"What, nothing to say for yourself?" the Doctor demanded.
"I'm not ashamed of what I did," said Angel. He clenched his fists. "I stand by it."
"Oh, you stand by it, do you?" The Doctor pointed a finger into Angel's face. It shook with suppressed anger. "Do you even know what happened? Do you have the first idea what—?!"
"I know — and I'm very, very sorry." Angel glanced at Buffy, the hints of love in his eyes. "But I stand by it. And I'd do it, again, if she asked me. Every time."
The Doctor sucked in a sharp breath. "Again? You'd do it again?" He clenched his teeth in absolute fury. "What? You mean, once isn't enough, for you?!"
"Elizabeth asked me to do it," Angel replied, returning his eyes to the Doctor. "And if Buffy asked me, in this timeline, I'd do the same thing."
The Doctor stepped back and threw his hands up into the air. "Oh, well, that makes everything all right, then," he said. "Tear apart all of time and space, why don't you? Help the enemy! Write people out of time, even! But as long as Elizabeth asks you to do it, it's fine."
"Elizabeth wasn't an enemy," Angel hissed.
The Doctor stepped forwards, again, eyes livid, a fire burning inside him. "This isn't about her. This is about you. Do you have any idea what I had to live through, because you—?!"
"Doctor, that's enough!" Buffy snapped, as she ran in between them, separating them.
She got why the Doctor would be angry that he'd almost died — and she knew Angel was overly protective of her, sometimes. But she still wasn't about to let her two best allies kill each other.
"Angel, I won't let the Doctor kill you," Buffy assured him, crossing her arms, "but you almost killed him — so I think it's explainy time."
"Oh, I'd say it's fairly obvious what happened," the Doctor cut in, before Angel had the chance. He pointed at Angel. "You took it out of my TARDIS when I landed in 1905 with Elizabeth, didn't you? Stole the cube, properly linked it to me, and hung onto it for years, without telling me, just so you could hand it over to this timeline's Elizabeth — Buffy — the second you met her. To 'protect her' from me." His voice dropped, so it turned icy. "All these years. All that's happened. And that's why."
Angel shot the Doctor a pointed look. "I'm a vampire," he reminded him. "Your TARDIS is your home, and you never invited me in. I couldn't have entered into your TARDIS, even if I wanted to."
The Doctor's face went blank, and he stepped back. "No," he said. "No, no, no! Elizabeth wouldn't have…!" He sighed, then brushed back his hair, as he absorbed this all. "Blimey…"
"She was terrified of you, Doctor," Angel accused. "And it's obvious why!" He plastered on his most intimidating countenance. "I destroyed Drusilla, way back when. And you destroyed Elizabeth. I've owned up to my mistakes. I think it's time that you owned up to yours. Or I'll—!"
"Or you'll what?" The Doctor stepped closer to Angel. In a low voice — almost a growl — he said, "Don't you dare try to threaten me, Angel. I've fought wars that lasted across eternity, faced horrors you can scarcely imagine, made planets burn and Daleks scream and turned stars into black holes… while you stayed on Earth, safe and sound, with that cube. So don't think you can threaten me. Don't ever think you can threaten me."
Angel stepped back, his confidence melting away.
Buffy grabbed the Doctor and shoved him away from Angel, yet again. Wow, this was going all with the melodrama. What did they think this was, daytime TV?
"Look, I know everyone's angry," Buffy said, "but let's just dial down the Oncoming Storm to an Oncoming Tropical Depression. Okay?"
The Doctor didn't look like he was ready to dial down. Buffy could see whole galaxies smoldering in his eyes, as he stared at Angel — and the look on his face was so angry and terrifying, it actually made her shudder.
"I never intended to use it," Angel insisted. "Neither did Elizabeth. She wanted me to have it so I could protect it — in order to protect you."
"Protect me?!" the Doctor shouted. The Oncoming Storm was now surpassing category 5, and was well into category 7 or 8. "Protect?! When I had to watch…!" He sucked in another sharp breath, his body tense with anger. "You know, Angel, I honestly don't know if you're just thick, or if you're actually heartless."
"I don't…" Angel started.
"Protection?!" The Doctor stabbed a finger into Angel's chest. "Tell me this, Angel. When Elizabeth asked you to track her down, before she ever met me, and give her that cube, and then purposely not explain to her what it actually did — what was that? 'Protection', too? Is that the sort of protection you're talking about?" He leaned in, so he was directly in Angel's face. "This has nothing to do with 'protection', Angel! This is about death and destruction on a massive scale — on a cosmic scale. Destruction you have caused." His eyes burned with fire, and his voice dropped to a growl. "You claim you have a soul. But this… was soulless. Evil. Worse than anything Angelus ever did."
Buffy's jaw dropped open.
Angel just bristled. "You're the one who destroyed her, Doctor. Not me. You!" Determination spreading across his features, Angel straightened and met the Doctor's gaze, evenly. "You never understood her. You never believed in her. I did. You made her scared to death of you — scared enough to need a weapon. That's your fault, not mine."
"I needed a weapon, once, too, Angel," the Doctor seethed, his eyes flashing, "to stop the end of time, itself. If it weren't for you, maybe I wouldn't have needed it." He poked his finger into Angel's chest, again. "And you say, you'd do it, again. All the death, the misery, the slaughter you have caused — and you dare…!"
Buffy pushed the Doctor and Angel apart — again. "Okay, seriously! Stop it with the testosterone-off! The Mayor's Ascending, Faith's evil — so stop fighting about the past, and let's try to make sure we all have a future, here!"
The Doctor pasted a facade of indifference and levity onto his face, as he backed away from Angel. "Yes! Fine! Fine! We'll just call it quits and let Angel keep feeling he's in the right. Not like he nearly caused the whole universe to fall apart, or anything." The Doctor raised up a finger. "Just — quick question, first. Why are you in this timeline, exactly, Angel?" The Doctor stuck his hands into his pockets. "Because you didn't start out here. Nothing I know about Line Hoppers would explain how you got here. So why?"
Angel said nothing.
"Wouldn't have anything to do with Elizabeth's 'instructions', would it?" the Doctor prompted. "Meeting her before you were supposed to? Bet you dropped in a few juicy little tidbits about her future, too, while you were at it."
"She asked me to warn her about the Master, and that 'from beneath you, it devours'," Angel said. "Nothing about you. Nothing about anything important."
The Doctor tilted his head, reflecting on it. "Naw, course nothing important! Tiny little universe-shattering paradox? Not important, at all!" His eyes narrowed. "You're lucky you were dealing with a Line Hopper. Instead of destroying the universe, your attempted temporal rewrite just flipped you from Elizabeth's timeline into Buffy's, erasing your alternate version." He threw open his arms. "Don't you see? Doesn't this make a point, to you? You don't have a clue what you're doing, Angel! I'm the Time Lord — you're not. You can't see it; I can. So you don't ever try to do this, again. Not for any reason, not for any excuse! Am I making myself…?!"
The Doctor noticed Buffy's death glare, remembered her instructions not to fight, and pasted a look of levity back on his face.
"Just… something to think about," the Doctor said, stuffing his hands back into his pockets. "Time and space. Whole universe. Cosmic implications. Just… for the future."
Angel still looked ready to tear the Doctor apart for whatever he'd done to Elizabeth in the other timeline. "And how many people have you destroyed for your precious rules of time and space?"
Buffy huffed. What was with the macho-contest? Didn't these two get that there were larger things at risk, here?
"Okay, okay, you know what? Let's settle this, once and for all," Buffy decided, tired to stepping in between these two and separating them, over and over again. "Just tell me, straight up, what happened, with Elizabeth, in the other timeline — and I'll decide who was in the right."
For a second, neither spoke.
"Doesn't matter," the Doctor decided, putting his anger behind him, as he spun around and headed towards the library doors. "Erased, now. Best it stays that way."
"Of course you want that timeline erased," Angel accused, "because you can't live with the guilt of what you did to her."
The Doctor paused, spun back around, and pointed at Angel. "Not one word, Angel. You got that?" He mimed for silence. "Not one word."
"No, you wouldn't want me to warn Buffy about you," Angel snapped, stepping forwards. "That'd mess up everything, wouldn't it? You need her trusting you, just like Elizabeth trusted you. That way, you can twist the knife in her gut after you stab her…"
"Angel, what did I just say about 'not one word'?" The Doctor spread open his arms, gesturing around himself. "Look around you. Think! Buffy brought me back with a word — Doctor. And that's not even my real name! Think that sort of thing is normal?" He lowered his hands. "Words have power, here and now. So, all of you—" He mimed zipping up his lips. "—shut it." He spun back around, heading towards the library doors. "Now, if you lot don't mind, I'm off to find Buffy's friends."
Buffy stepped forwards, confused. "My friends? What do you want with…?"
Wesley raced out, standing in between the Doctor and the doors to the library. "No, wait!" he cried. Pointed his finger in the Doctor's face. "You! The Concurrence said you know how to stop the Mayor! The whole Ascension!"
Angel stared, sudden hope flooding his face. He ran over. "You… actually know how to stop the Ascension?"
The Doctor gave an irritated sigh. "Blimey! Not this, again."
"Know it! He's stopped one, before!" Wesley shot the Doctor his best intimidating glare — although, coming from Wesley, it just made him look slightly gassy. "So, come then, Doctor. Tell us. How did you do it?"
The Doctor pushed Wesley aside, and kept walking towards the doors.
Buffy ran over, standing directly in front of the doors to the library — a far more impenetrable force than Wesley. She shot the Doctor a pointed look. "He's right. You obviously know something. So spill."
The Doctor ran a hand down his face, in frustration. "Do we have to do this, now?" He gestured at himself. "I told you; this is a glitch. Timey-whimey-ness! If I don't work out a solution, soon, I could lose…!"
"Telling us will take two seconds," Buffy cut in, irritated. "Come on. I know you don't want us all to die! So make with the talk-stuff, quickly — and then we can help you go all decapitaty with the Concurrence."
The Doctor ran two hands through his hair, this time. "But your friends…!"
"Willow almost died getting us intel on this," said Buffy. "My friends are in danger from this Ascension, and a little information from you could save their lives. So — come on. Make with the spillyness."
The Doctor said nothing.
For a long, long time.
"He's not going to tell," Angel realized. His eyes narrowed, and his face grew dark. "What was it you said, Doctor? That you're from Buffy's future? Which means — you've already seen it happen." He stepped forwards, his face growing more and more angry. "You're not here to stop the Ascension. You're here to make sure it happens. Aren't you? Because of your precious 'laws of time'."
"Oh, this is useless!" The Doctor tried to push past Buffy, to get out of the library. "As if I haven't been through enough of this, already! Honestly, you humans and your sense of…!"
Buffy grabbed him by the collar and yanked him back into the library.
"Doctor," she said, looking into his eyes. "Tell me the truth. Is Angel right? Are you… pulling a Faith on us?"
"Of course I'm right," Angel snapped. He pointed. "Just look at him, Buffy. He's not going to tell you anything. His Time Lord rules mean more, to him, than all our lives."
The Doctor struggled to break free — but Buffy was too strong, and he couldn't. He took one look into Buffy's eyes… and gave a long, steady sigh.
"All right! All right! We'll go through this, again!" the Doctor said, raising his hands in surrender. As they dragged him off and restrained him, the Doctor looked upwards and shouted, "But this isn't over. Got that? This is far, far from over!"
"And… no one was confused that the Doctor was talking to the ceiling?" Yersitraysin asked.
"Well, perhaps Buffy was, a little." The prisoner shook her head. "But other than her — no. None of them cared."
Buffy let go of the Doctor, stepping back and looking around herself, uneasily.
No one else let go of the Doctor. If anything, they were even more eager to restrain him.
"You're quite right, Doctor! This isn't over!" Wesley said, yanking the Doctor's hands behind his back. "You'll tell us everything before we're through with you."
Giles coughed, pointedly, his eyes skimming over the partially-healed claw marks still evident on the Doctor's skin. "Yes, well, if it's all the same to you, Wesley — I think coerced interrogation isn't our best option, here. The Concurrence tried it, and it got them nowhere."
Wesley yanked the Doctor's arms, even tighter. "We will do whatever is necessary! In the name of the Council!"
"Blimey, you lot!" the Doctor groaned. Then he planted a perky grin on his face. "Right, then! Let's cut to the chase! Bit strapped for time, here." The cheer in his voice faltered, just a bit. "Yes. I did stop an Ascension. No, I won't tell you how. Nor will I tell the Concurrence how. And you lot really do need to stop all this and find Buffy's friends."
"Buffy's friends are currently out researching how to prevent the Ascension," said Wesley, officiously. "If you told us how you did it — perhaps they could stop."
"What reason could you possibly have for not telling us how you did it?" Giles demanded. He gestured at Buffy. "Buffy could die, because of your silence!"
"Well, simple, really — I can't tell you, because you lot told me that I didn't," said the Doctor, with a shrug. He wrinkled his brow, recalling. "I was… annoying and obstructive. Didn't tell you one single useful word the entire time, you said." He beamed. "Something like that, any rate."
Buffy made an "oh" with her mouth. This was starting to make sense! "So — this is just a paradoxiness thing, then? Like, you can't tell us what you did to stop the other Ascension, because we yelled at you, in our own future, about how you were annoying and kept silent?"
The Doctor sighed, his eyes falling on Buffy, a sad look washing across his face. "But that's the thing, you see," he said. "You, Buffy Summers — I've told. Many, many times, over the past two weeks. You just never seem to remember."
A rush of sincerity and sorrow flooded through Buffy, as he said her name. Buffy just stared at him.
There… couldn't really be anything to what he was saying.
Buffy knew where her friends were. She'd just been talking to Willow, right before the Doctor arrived. She'd waved to Xander as he headed off to class.
"Buffy, just think, for a moment!" the Doctor called to her — and she could feel a brush of telepathic worry and desperation, as he said her name. "Does the world feel right to you? Does any of this feel right to you?" He tried to gesture at her, but his wrists were grabbed, again, and restrained by the others. "Your friends! Your Scoobies! When was the last time you saw them? Who told them to go off? What snarky little comment did Xander say, as he left? What book was Willow in the midst of reading, when she headed out of the library? Think of all the little details, and ask yourself — why can't you remember…?"
Wesley shoved a gag into the Doctor's mouth.
"Bloody aliens," Wesley muttered. "Trust this one to spout off about something that isn't remotely helpful, but keep his trap shut about the one thing we really need to know! And for no good reason."
"Yes, well, we all knew there must be some reason that so many books believe he's evil," Giles agreed, as he helped the others bundle the Doctor into a cage area they had, in the library. Then, to the Doctor, added, "For your information, Doctor, we never gave you any instructions to keep silent about the Ascension. You've just dredged that from your own imagination."
Angel grabbed the Doctor's sonic screwdriver out of his pocket.
Then, they locked him inside the cage.
"He isn't on your side, Buffy," Angel insisted. He pointed at the Doctor. "He's an alien. His mind works differently from ours. If he sees a future, no matter how terrible that future is — he has to make it happen." He turned on her. "Do you see, now, why I needed to give you a weapon against him?"
Buffy blinked. She put a hand up to her head.
"Elizabeth told me the truth about him," Angel insisted. "He's like the sun. Get too close, and he'll burn you to death."
The Doctor pulled the gag out of his mouth. "Angel, how many times do I have to tell you — words have power! So stop mouthing off about Elizabeth!"
Angel spun around. "She was perfect — and you destroyed her."
"Yes, yes, fine! If you say so! Anything you want," the Doctor said. "But yapping about a timeline that's been erased from the universe isn't going to get Buffy's friends back, now, is it?"
Buffy stepped back, towards the library doors. "I… I have to…"
"Ignore the Doctor's mad ranting!" Wesley demanded of Buffy. He turned on her, straightening his tie. "I am your Watcher, and I order you to help us detain this alien and interrogate him until he reveals how to stop the Ascension!"
"This alien is an enemy of the Council!" Wesley insisted, pointing at him. "It is your sacred duty, as a Slayer, to extract the necessary information and then ship him to…"
"…get locked up and starved in the Council's basement?" Buffy shook her head. "I've played this track, before. I'm not really looking to put it on repeat."
Giles stepped forwards. "Buffy — I know you trust him. But none of us suspected Faith, either, until…"
Buffy was done talking about this. She grabbed her backpack, and headed to the doors. "None of you touch the Doctor, until I get back!" She shoved the doors open, and stepped out. "I just need to… check on… people."
"Buffy!" Giles began, starting to head off, after her.
The Doctor, through the wire meshing of the cage, grabbed Giles by the sleeve and didn't let him go. "Sorry, but — thought you said you wanted to interrogate me. Not go after her."
Wesley turned on the Doctor, looking like he was nearly frustrated enough to skewer the man, where he stood. "You will tell us everything, by the end of this! I'll make certain."
"Oh, I'm sure you will," said the Doctor. He let Giles go. "So how about I start, first? After all —" glancing at where Buffy had disappeared, "—she's gone, now. So there's nothing to stop you and I from resuming our little discussion… is there, Angel?"
Angel swallowed, hard, as the Doctor turned dark eyes back on him.
"There's nothing more I have to say to you," Angel insisted.
"No? Well, let me get the ball rolling, then," the Doctor continued. "Because, it strikes me that, during our last little tiff, I never got the chance to properly thank you…" the Doctor's voice lowered, growing icy, "...for keeping that cube from the Time Lords, during the Time War. Thank you, Angel. Thank you for the destruction of Gallifrey."
"Meanwhile, Buffy raced down…" the prisoner began.
"No, you can't…!" Yersitraysin interrupted.
The prisoner stopped.
"Don't leave it there!" Yersitraysin begged her. "Please. Tell me what the Doctor said, next! I must find out!"
The prisoner shrugged. "If you insist."
"I wasn't part of any… Time War," Angel insisted. He shook his head, and raised up his hands, thoroughly confused. "I've never been to Gallifrey. Whatever you're talking about, it's nothing to do with me."
Giles frowned. "Sorry, are we still talking about the Maer'Isa? Or… the Ascension?"
The Doctor raised his eyebrows. "Maer'Isa? Oh, is that what you're calling it?" He shook his head. "Right! Well, I could say all sorts about that. But I won't. Instead, I'll just say — whoever you are, Yersitraysin, you're mucking this all up!"
"He didn't say that," Yersitraysin accused. "That's you, having a laugh at me, for interrupting your story to expose all your plot holes!"
The prisoner bit her lower lip, to stop from laughing even harder.
"You're a git," Yersitraysin snapped.
"Well, naturally," said the prisoner. She gestured around herself, at where they were — a prison cell on Gallifrey. "Did you expect me to be anything else?"
"Before the war, the Daleks were testing out all sorts of weapons they might be able to use against Time Lords," the Doctor said. "That little cube was one of them. A prototype. Type 1 Dalek Infiltration Device, they called it — or, in their language…" He said a few words in a foreign language that none of them could understand. One of the words he spoke did sound sort of like "Maer'Isa".
Must be where the name came from.
"It's about the same size as a hypercube — a Time Lord communications device," the Doctor continued, miming the size. "Easy enough to mistake one for the other. Course, if you picked up the wrong one…" He clapped his hands. "Zap! No more soul! Just a Dalek, running about inside your body, pretending to be you."
Wesley turned back to his library, flipping through a reference book. "I've never heard of these 'Daleks' you mention."
"He does seem to mention them rather a lot," Giles muttered, cleaning his glasses, "whatever they are."
The Doctor ignored both of them. "Thing is, when I first encountered the infiltration weapon prototype, back before the war, it didn't work. The Daleks didn't have my real name, and just writing '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." His eyes narrowed at Angel. "Only, by the time I made it back to Gallifrey, the Dalek Infiltration weapon prototype had disappeared from my TARDIS. And, until a short time ago, I never knew where it had gotten to."
Angel didn't look at all remorseful. "I wasn't planning to use it," he insisted. "I was protecting it. Saving your life. Elizabeth told me so. I was doing the right thing."
"Were you really? Just… protecting me?" The Doctor leaned against the side of the cage, arms folded. "I watched my planet burn, Angel. I watched it die. I watched everyone die. We lost intelligence. We lost the war." He gave a hard, bitter laugh. "Was that your 'protection'?"
Angel was sorry that the Doctor had had to deal with that — but still didn't see what it had to do with the cube.
"When the war first started — long before I ever got involved — the Daleks always seemed… a titch too clever," the Doctor continued, noticing that Angel wasn't getting it. "Then, one day, my friend, Romana, found a little plastic cube — a fully developed version of the prototype you hung onto, Angel — inside the War Council. The Daleks had taken over somebody. Many somebodies. The Daleks gained access to the Matrix, to the War Council, to every Time Lord secret on Gallifrey… and stole vital intelligence. Information that we could have used to win the war — and stop the deaths and slaughter and devastation it caused."
Angel tried to form words, but couldn't.
"The planet Erasimulin," the Doctor recalled. "Beautiful planet! Dashing purple skies, peaceful indigenous species — all chamber musicians, actually. A whole planet that bonded over the joys of playing chamber music!" The Doctor's eyes went dark. "They're all dead, now. The whole solar system is a burned-out husk. That's what happened, because you hung onto that cube."
Angel felt a horrible sinking feeling, in his chest. "But I didn't…"
"Countless species were erased from time," the Doctor continued. "Whole worlds were time-looped in the midst of chaos and death. The Daleks slaughtered their way through planet after planet, time zone after time zone. All because the Time Lords lost any advantage we had, at the beginning of the war. All because you, Angel, decided it was better to keep hold of that cube, instead of letting me know and handing it back." He looked out, past the library — looked deep into time. "If you'd given it back, could we have won the war? I don't know. But you didn't — and we lost. Gallifrey burned." His jaw trembled. "And I have to live with that."
For a few moments, there was silence.
"I'm sorry, Doctor," Angel said, softly. "I didn't know—"
"Now, see here, you alien… alien… you!" Wesley snapped, ready to fly into a rage, but not entirely sure how to find the words to do so. "The Mayor Ascends in a week, and you are our only hope of preventing it. Now, I don't understand what all this is about a… Time War… but I know what's right in front of me. Sunnydale is about to be destroyed, and you must help us to stop it!"
The Doctor shoved aside his memories of the war, and glanced over at Wesley. He quirked an eyebrow. "And, if I do, you'll reward me by turning me over to the Watchers' Council, again? Forcing me to become their slave?"
"Quite right, too!" Wesley insisted. He straightened his shirt cuffs. "You are an enemy of the Council, and I refuse to harbor—!"
Giles cut him off, putting out a hand to silence him. "Doctor," he said, meeting his eyes. "If you help us, now — we'll let you go. Wesley will even try to clear your name with the Council. Just, please, tell us — how did you stop the last Ascension? What happened? How can we stop the Mayor?"
The Doctor ruffled his hair, and blew a long, slow breath out of his cheeks. "Oh, Rupert Giles," he said. "I wish I could tell you. I really, really do. But words have power, see — so telling you would only make things worse."
"Did all that about the Maer'Isa and the Daleks stealing secrets at the start of the Time War really happen?" Yersitraysin asked.
The prisoner seemed surprised. "Don't you know?"
Yersitraysin grimaced. She'd been born after the war. She'd asked about it, of course, but none of the other Time Lords had wanted to share details. They just looked… haunted.
"But… the thing is… if all that with Angel and the Maer'Isa is what caused Gallifrey to burn…" Yersitraysin looked around herself, at the planet. "Well… it didn't burn. That didn't happen. So, I mean… perhaps this Maer'Isa isn't exactly what the Doctor thought it was. Perhaps he was mistaken."
The prisoner analyzed the Time Lady, carefully. "Is that why you're really here?" she asked. "Is that the real reason the Time Lords allowed you this visit? So they can learn about the Dalek Infiltration Device?"
Yersitraysin stared. "What? No! I just…"
"Time Lords have a reputation for being deceptive, duplicitous, and infinitely tricky," said the prisoner. "So — why are you really here, Time Lady Yersitraysin? Why speak to me? What are you really after?"
Yersitraysin said nothing, for a short while.
Then, in a shaky voice, "What… what is Buffy doing? Finding her friends?"
"Buffy was never going off to find her friends," said the prisoner. "She might have said that, but she didn't mean it. What she really wanted to do was find the Concurrence, and ask them how to stop the Ascension."
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?"
"Wait, wait, wait a tic!" the Doctor, interrupted, from his spot in the book cage — back in the library, with Giles and Wesley and Angel. He squinted upwards. "Gallifrey. You were talking about Gallifrey!" He hissed, gritting his teeth, trying to make out more of the conversation — but was unable to. "What do you know about it? And who are you? Because, Yersitraysin — that name sounds a bit Gallifreyan. You're from Kasterborous, too, aren't you? Some planet near Gallifrey!"
"What is the Doctor doing, talking from the library, and interrupting a scene about Buffy and the Concurrence?!" Yersitraysin held her head in her hands. "And why is Buffy even at the Concurrence? I thought she was looking for her friends."
"I told you — she wasn't," the prisoner said. She turned back to her desk, and began to write on a sheet of paper. "And as for the Doctor… well… that's a bit more of a problem."
"I don't understand," said Yersitraysin. "Is he… speaking to me? Can he hear us?"
The prisoner finished writing on the paper. Then, with a smile, she turned back to Yersitraysin. "No. He won't be giving us any more trouble, I hope." She chuckled. "Be reasonable, Time Lady. If that really were the Doctor, he'd know that Gallifrey was fine, wouldn't he? He saved it, after all."
Yersitraysin shuddered. She was starting to get the feeling that something, here, was terribly wrong.
"I… I think I should go…" Yersitraysin said, standing up.
She turned to leave — but the prisoner's hand grabbed her by the arm, far too tightly. Yersitraysin looked back, and met the prisoner's eyes.
"Stay, Time Lady," said the prisoner. Her eyes flashed. "Don't you want to hear how this all ends?"
Yersitraysin sat down, slowly, in the armchair — unable to break the prisoner's stare. "I… want to hear… the end."
The prisoner grinned, and let go of Yersitraysin's arm. "You're right, though — I skipped a scene or two," the prisoner conceded. "See, after Giles and Wesley spent a few hours interrogating the Doctor about the Ascension — and Wesley spent at least an hour beating him for not answering—"
"Sorry to cut in, but it didn't sound like Wesley was the sort of person who'd…" Yersitraysin started.
"He was, and he did," the prisoner insisted, in a firm tone. "And Angel and Giles helped him." She scribbled something else down, on the paper at her desk, double-checked it, and smiled. "Yes. No more problems, I think. Isn't that right, Doctor?" She cleared her throat, and turned back to Yersitraysin. "Anyways, after the Doctor had gotten a good pounding for his insolence… Buffy found herself in the depths of despair. She knew the Doctor was her friend — and a good guy. But if he was pro-Ascension… what did that mean?"
"But I thought he'd already told her, many times, how he…"
"He hadn't," the prisoner cut in, sharply. "He had never even tried. He was pro-Ascension, just like Faith and the Mayor. Buffy was having a moral crisis, as a result. That is the plot!"
Buffy entered the library at the end of the day, after school was out. The sun shone through the windows, splashing sunbeams across the tiled floor.
The Doctor, now far more beaten and bruised, stood inside the book cage, his fingers entwined with the wire meshing. He stared out at the areas where sunlight shimmered across the tiles. "Locked up in the Concurrence," said the Doctor, "I haven't seen the sun for two weeks."
Buffy stepped forward, tentatively. Her eyes grew sadder and sadder, as she took in what had happened to him.
"Bit funny, the things you notice when you're trapped," the Doctor reflected. "The things you miss. The warmth of the sun. The laughter of a friend. The trust of nice people. The pull of the vortex."
"Tell us," Buffy pleaded.
The Doctor flicked large, sorrowful brown eyes over to her. Then, with the shake of his head, he looked away from her, fixing his eyes back on that the sunny patch of floor.
Buffy took the key to the cage, and unlocked it. She opened the door, and stepped back.
"If you won't tell us, then leave," she said. She pointed to the library doors. "Just… go. Leave us all to die." She could feel her lower lip shaking. "If Angel's right, and your Time Lord rules mean that much to you… then go back to your TARDIS and leave Sunnydale. I'm not going to stop you."
The Doctor didn't move. Didn't even look at her.
"The Mayor is invulnerable to all harm," said Buffy. "We can't kill him. We don't know what he's going to do, so we can't stop him. We need intelligence. An advantage. Any advantage! If you don't say anything — we will all die, Doctor. Everyone is going to die."
The Doctor still didn't answer. He furrowed his brow, deep in thought.
Buffy ran over to him, grabbing him by the arms and forcing him to look at her. "Don't just stand there, ignoring me! Either help us, or just get out of here and leave!"
Buffy loosened her grip, as she realized she was clutching one of his bruises. She adjusted her grip, so she wouldn't hurt him, and looked into his eyes.
"I can't watch this keep happening to you," Buffy told him, keeping her voice low, so it wouldn't shake. "You're my friend. When you get hurt, it hurts me, too. I thought…" She paused. Then, even more quietly, "I thought you'd feel the same way about me."
The Doctor pried her hands off his arms. "I'm sorry, but I can't. Not now." He turned away. "I need to think."
"Doctor, the Mayor tried to take away Angel's soul, and get Angel to imprison and torture me," Buffy said, "just because the Mayor wants me out of the way. Don't you understand?" She put a hand on her heart. "I'm scared. I'm desperate. I just… I need help." She swallowed, hard. Her voice shook. "Please."
The Doctor said nothing, again. It was like he hadn't even heard her. Like she wasn't even there.
Buffy figured he was tuning her out, to avoid the guilt-trip.
Buffy took a few long, deep breaths. "Okay," she said, waving her hands in front of her. "Okay. I get it. Paradoxiness. It's not that you want to stay silent. You just… have to. For weird… Time Lordy reasons." She thought for a moment. "So… okay. Yeah. We can work with that."
Still, the Doctor remained silent.
"So… you can't tell me what I need to do this time," Buffy reasoned. "And you can't tell me what you did last time… for some reason." She didn't really understand that one. "But… the circumstances of the last Ascension you witnessed — those can't be too paradoxy. Or — if you know a book we could read, to help us — you could give us the name of that. Or maybe…"
Still, nothing from him.
He wouldn't talk.
"Am I… am I wrong to want to stop it?" Buffy whispered. Then, with a shudder, added, "Can I stop it? If I try… is it just going to get me killed? Is that why you won't tell me?"
"Or… maybe… you're taking a moral stand," Buffy guessed. She hugged her arms. "Like, you don't want to tell us because Wesley and Giles and Angel beat you up, and… you think we deserve this, now, or…"
"That wasn't their faults," the Doctor muttered. He shifted his eyes back to Buffy, then he gave a long, desperate sigh, and ran a hand through his hair. "You know… I'm not sure there's any way out of this."
"So… the Ascension's that hopeless, huh?" Buffy asked, trying not to let this get to her. "Like, you've seen the future, and we're all dead, and Sunnydale's all dust?"
"Not that," the Doctor said. "This." He gestured around himself. "This cage. This prison."
Buffy frowned, now extremely confused. The cage was open. She'd let him out! She told him she'd allow him to get back to his TARDIS and leave! What was he talking about?
"Two weeks, I've been trying to find some way out of this," the Doctor told her. "Two weeks, I've been looking for any possible avenue of escape. But every time I think I'm getting somewhere — I find that, suddenly, everything's changed. Everything's different. And I'm right back to square one."
Buffy shook her head. "I don't…"
"I haven't been a prisoner of the Concurrence for two weeks," the Doctor interrupted. "Or, rather, I both have and I haven't. Two sets of memories, two sets of realities, and they're bleeding, one into the other into the third."
"You… haven't been a prisoner of the Concurrence?" Buffy asked. She looked him up and down. "But I thought…"
"I landed here, in Sunnydale, two weeks ago, because my TARDIS detected that something was wrong — both with time, and with the very fabric of the universe," the Doctor explained to her. "But the moment I landed, I got stuck in the trap, alongside the rest of you." He glanced at her. "In a way, you're lucky. You can't see it. But… for me…" He entwined his fingers into the meshing of the cage. "I know. I always seem to know."
Buffy stepped up beside him, inside the cage, placing her hand on his.
"I got close, you know," the Doctor told her. "Thought I'd worked it all out — way to stop the narrative, way to save everyone." He gripped the meshing a little tighter. "But then, reality changed, and next thing I knew, the Concurrence was killing me — and had been, apparently, for the last two weeks." He took a deep breath. "Then, a few minutes ago, I thought I'd noticed some sort of clue about where my jailer is. She didn't like that. So reality changed, again, and I wound up… well…" He looked down at the bruises. "Every time. Same thing. I get clever — then there's a change in plot. A change in narrative. A change in reality." His eyes lost focus, again, as he looked back at that patch of sunlight. "And so, the trap tightens."
"What do you mean, narrative?" Buffy asked. She couldn't figure out how they'd started out talking about the Ascension, and wound up on this really weird and confusing topic. "Doctor, stop Time Lording for two seconds, here! I need to talk to you about the…"
"I've explained what's really going on, to you, before," the Doctor said. "Told you, a thousand times. In great detail! Never made any difference — and you never remembered." His eyes lingered on that patch of sunlight. "You march in here, acting like I'm the one with all the answers. But what happens when I've tried everything, and there are no answers? Just this cage? This prison? This trap?"
A chill ran down Buffy's spine.
She tried to reach for the memories the Doctor said she should have, but couldn't find them in her mind. What was really going on, here? What was this 'trap' thing that Buffy couldn't see?
"So explain it to me, again," Buffy implored him. She turned him around, to face her. "I can help."
The weary look on the Doctor's face told Buffy all she needed to know. Apparently, given the number of times she forgot, if the Doctor re-explained it to her, every single time, he'd never get anything done.
"When I walked into the library, this afternoon," the Doctor said, instead, "where were your friends? Willow, Xander, the wolf-one and the makeup one?"
Buffy shook her head, confused. "Why with the questions? You know where they were. You saw them."
"They were in the library," Buffy snapped. "Remember? Being all with the, 'you're so evil,' and 'you're so alien' and 'why with the no-Ascension-stopping.'" Buffy sighed. She loved her friends, but they really needed to figure out, at some point, that the Doctor wasn't evil. It'd make her life way easier. "Look, I get that there's a whole something moreness going on, here — and that you're really worried about it. And I want to help. But… this Ascension thing… I mean, if there's anything you can tell me… any hint, or…"
"Your friends," the Doctor interrupted, "have been missing for the last two weeks."
Buffy could only stare, for a few minutes.
She felt utterly dumbfounded.
"And I wish I knew what role they played in all this," the Doctor continued. He ruffled his hair, trying to think it through. "But I haven't a clue! Are they hostages? The keys to the cage? Or are they a bunch of tasty snacks, getting eaten alive as the two of us remain trapped, here?"
"No, but… but… the whole thing with the box of Gavrox and Will in the Mayor's office!" Buffy insisted. Oh, God, she had no idea how the last two weeks could have worked, at all, without her friends! "And the thing at the Prom, when Xander…!"
"All that still happened," the Doctor told her, "and didn't happen, at the same time. Same way I've been both running about being clever for the last two weeks, and also have been caged and nearly killed by the Concurrence for the last two weeks. Same way everything's been happening and unhappening and rehappening, written and rewritten and re-rewritten, over and over again, for the last two weeks."
Buffy didn't know what to say.
The shadow of the book cage fell across their skin, as the sun continued to arc the sky.
"We're trapped," the Doctor told her. "Stuck here, while your friends are in danger — and only I ever seem to know about it. I've spent two weeks trying to save them. And any time I say too much or get too close, any time I disrupt things enough that I can stop the narrative, I'm beaten down and punished, and there's nothing I can do to…"
"Look, can you please hurry this story up?" Yersitraysin complained. "I don't see why there are so many weird Buffy-Doctor heart-to-heart scenes."
The prisoner shrugged. "I thought that scene was going long, yes." She gave a small laugh. "That's the problem with telling a story about the Doctor. He never wants to cooperate." She glanced to her right. "Don't you agree?"
"I… guess," said Oz, who was sitting on the floor of the cell, beside Willow. They exchanged a look, and Willow shrugged.
"Can we just skip to the part where Buffy stops the Ascension and kicks serious monster butt?" Cordelia complained, polishing and filing her nails. "I've got things to do, you know." She waved a nail-polished hand in Xander's general direction. "Things besides sitting next to this loser."
"Love ya, too, Cordy," Xander chimed in, scratching his nose with his middle finger, to covertly flip her off.
"Well, since the audience wishes me to move on," said the prisoner, folding her hands against the back of the chair, "I think the only reasonable thing to do… is give you all precisely what you want."
"We've had a message from one of the agents of the Concurrence," said Giles, in the library. "It appears that the Concurrence demons are very eager to meet you in person, Buffy."
"Great," said Buffy. She sprinted over to the weapons cabinet, throwing it open. "And, since they almost killed the Doctor…" She pulled out a sword, and tested its weight in her hand, doing a few lunges and swoops in the air. "...I'm pretty eager to meet them, too."
The Doctor, now locked up in the cage, again, ran a hand through his hair. "And it happens, again. No memory, no idea what's happening — and, once again, refusing to believe her friends are missing. It just… never ends, does it?"
Wesley marched over to Buffy, and grabbed the sword out of her hand. "The request stipulated that you meet them alone and unarmed."
Buffy turned on him. "So… this is a trap?"
"Yes! It's a trap!" the Doctor shouted. "Of course it's a trap! We've been caught in a trap for the past two weeks! And you lot still don't seem to know anything about it." He stepped up to the front of the cage, rattling it, furiously. "Your friends might be dying! Don't you understand? Locking me up in this book-cage of yours won't change anything! All you're doing is imprisoning the only one of you lot who can remember what's really going on!"
Buffy turned, looking at the Doctor, quizzically.
"Ignore him," Wesley told her. "He's known for speaking rubbish. An enemy of the Council. A brainwashing, miserable, immoral…"
"No, Buffy; ignore him." The Doctor pointed at Wesley. "You're brilliant, Buffy Summers. You're the one person who keeps almost working it out. I know you can think through this. I know…!"
"Oh, my God, the Doctor is such an annoying character," Cordelia complained.
The prisoner gave a little chuckle. "He is, rather, isn't he? Annoying and obstructive. Perhaps I should just kill him off. More trouble than he's worth."
"I could go either way," said Xander. He pointed at Yersitraysin. "You know, I meant to ask — what's with the hat? Is it great-big-stupid hat day, or something?"
Yersitraysin put her hand up to her gigantic Time Lady hat, frowning.
She was less concerned with the hat than she was with the other visitors. After all, she could have sworn she'd come here, alone.
Yersitraysin had a horrible feeling that there was a reason the Doctor had locked up this alien on Gallifrey — that this was an alien with special powers, neutralized by Gallifrey and this prison. And that Yersitraysin, by coming in here, had allowed the alien's powers to work, again.
"This may sound like a silly question," said Yersitraysin to the prisoner, "but… why, exactly, did the Doctor lock you up, here, in the first place? Was it because… of powers, or…?"
"Who said the Doctor locked me up?" asked the prisoner. "I simply said he was the reason I'm here. And so he is."
The walls to the prison flickered, revealing a vast cave filled with brilliant machinery that projected swirls of light dancing one around another around another. The machinery soon faded, looking more and more like a bookcase — but the cave remained.
"The Doctor is the reason I picked you up from Gallifrey, Time Lady," said the prisoner. "He's the reason I added you to my growing collection." She gestured at the four Sunnydale scoobies, sitting cross-legged on the ground, to her right.
Yersitraysin felt a shudder run through her.
What had she gotten herself into? What was this? Why were these humans (friends of Buffy, perhaps) here, with her?
"Do you want me to go on?" the 'prisoner' asked. She gave a smile that showed off an extra row — hidden behind the first row — of pointy teeth. "Don't you want to hear how the story ends?"
Yersitraysin realized — yes. She wanted it more than anything!
But she didn't know why.
"Please!" Yersitraysin pleaded.
The 'prisoner' turned her smile to the rest of the audience, in front of her. "Very well, then. On with the plot. And..." she chuckled, "...I'll see if we can't find a way to get rid of the Doctor — once and for all."
The Doctor, still trapped inside the book cage in the library, stopped shouting. "Ah." He backed away, his eyes darting upwards. "Right. I see. Get rid of me." He gave his best boyish grin. "Any chance we could have a bit of a chat? Maybe a cuppa? Come to some sort of arrangement?"
"Who on Earth is he talking to?" Giles asked, looking up at the ceiling, trying to follow the Doctor's line of sight.
The Doctor stuffed his hands into his pockets. "No one on Earth, that's for certain." He looked upwards, again. "Look, tell you what? I'll make you a deal. Let me and the others in Sunnydale go, and give back Willow, Xander, and the other two — and I'll overlook this. Find you a nice planet, far away, where you can live out the rest of your days in peace."
"He's gone utterly mad," Wesley said. He turned to Buffy. "Look, if the Concurrence won't kill him, could you just do us a favor and kill him, yourself? He is… extremely irritating."
The entrance to the Concurrence Headquarters was in an abandoned warehouse.
"Slayer," greeted a red-faced demon.
"Demon Guy," Buffy greeted back.
"It's Karklothmanticothic," said Karklothmanticothic.
"Right," said Buffy. "You demons never have nice easy names, do you, Karky?"
Karky snapped his fingers at one of the warehouse walls, and a portal appeared.
"Convenient," said Buffy, as she followed him through.
The inside of the Concurrence headquarters looked like the demons had pimped out their parents' basement to look less losery than it was supposed to. Dirty red shag carpet, foosball table, the works.
"Our drifting pocket dimension," Karky told her, gesturing at it. "You have officially left planet Earth. Congratulations!"
He then led her through a doorway — into a room with even worse shag carpet (puke orange).
"Doctor torturing is over there," said Karky, waving at a set of bloody chains dangling from the ceiling. "Leftover pizza from the Doctor-torture party." He waved at a stack of pizza boxes smothered by buzzing flies. Then he launched himself towards a poster-filled area, at the back. "And this is our Ascension-stopping headquarters."
"Very… postery," said Buffy. She peered around the room. "So… no Maer'Isa cubes lying around? Or friends of mine? Or… clues on how to find friends of mine… or…?"
Buffy put a hand to her head.
Stupid! Stupid! Why did she say she was looking for her friends? Her friends were fine.
"First, the Ascension!" Karky pulled down a beaten up projector screen, and a PowerPoint presentation appeared upon it — with the title 'The Ascension'.
Karky clicked to the next slide.
"The Mayor's Ascension will transform the Mayor into a demon," said Karky, as a badly-drawn MS paint drawing of dead human stick figures appeared, with blood that was basically just red squiggles. "Normally, you'd say, bad for you, good for us! But actually, 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.
"Yeah, forget it," said Buffy. "So… what? There's some kind of bad demon blood between you two?"
"We just want the demon dead and the Ascension prevented," Karky said. "At any cost. Any cost."
"Uh-huh." Buffy checked her watch. "Can we just cut to the chase, here? You give me the Maer'Isa, tell me where my friends are and how to get to them, and I can go home and be all with the Ascension-stopping-ness?"
Buffy had this weird feeling that the way to get to her friends was somewhere in Karky's basement dimension. Or… wait, no, her friends weren't… were they?
"Those humans who choose to Ascend are terrible mages, filled with darkness and terror!" said Karky, clicking to the next slide. "Like this! Luttie the Pickler, who Ascended to become — the demon Arkonatholigun!"
The MS Paint drawing was of a stick figure holding a bunch of pickles.
"And… how did the pickler guy Ascend, exactly?" Buffy asked, crossing her arms.
Karky clicked to the next slide.
It just showed a lot of question marks, and more pickles.
Buffy marched over, and shoved the projector screen back up. The Powerpoint clicked off, in response.
"Look, unless there's a secret pickle farm in the area, I'm guessing the Mayor isn't planning to Ascend using pickles," said Buffy. She folded her arms. "But the Doctor knows how the Mayor will do it, doesn't he? He's stopped an Ascension, before."
"In all the records, he is the only one we've found who has," Karky agreed. He held up a jar of pickles, as if it were some kind of stealth bomb. "With the Maer'Isa, we should be able to break into every secret the Doctor has, inside his mind. But… well… he's sort of locked that secret away. We can't open it."
Buffy turned away.
This was useless. They weren't telling her anything she didn't already know — and she'd seen enough of this place to know her friends definitely weren't here. She was leaving.
"But the memory of how he stopped the last Ascension can be unlocked," Karky put in, hastily, "by someone who has a copy of his soul!" He grinned. "And we certainly won't eat that person, after they unlock the secret! Absolutely not! Not even if they might taste like pickles."
Looked back, over her shoulder.
What the Doctor had told her, before — that whole thing that hadn't made any sense, to Buffy, about how she had the Doctor's soul — came flooding back into her mind.
"Hang on," she said, realizing why she was really here. "You want me to break into the Doctor's mind?!"
"Why does Buffy have a copy of the Doctor's soul?" Yersitraysin asked.
The creature who had pretended to be a prisoner gave a malicious cackle. "In Buffy's future, an unstable portal will open," she said. "Buffy will jump into it. When she does, she makes a wish. One little wish — so small, you wouldn't think twice about it! But, of course, at certain crucial moments, words have power. And so, with that jump, Buffy will become a Line Hopper — and cause herself and the Doctor to exist."
"Wow, portals," Xander said, entranced by the story. "Cool beans."
Oz shot him a sideways glance. "Are beans cool?"
"I guess when they're in a portal, maybe they are?" Willow shrugged. "I mean, I dunno. Anyone here had any luck with portal-beans?"
The creature who was not a prisoner frowned at her Sunnydale audience's lack of interest. "Forget about portals and beans. Let's return to our adventure with the Doctor and Buffy, in Sunnydale!"
"Sorry, they want what?" The Doctor ran a hand through his hair, as he heard Buffy out. "You? Inside my head?"
"The Concurrence said I could… I dunno… unlock your secret about the Ascension, or something? Because I've got a copy of your soul?" Buffy glanced around herself, just to make sure that Giles and Wesley hadn't caught her sneaking back in, here, to talk to the Doctor — before she had told either of them. "It doesn't make a lot of sense to me. But the Concurrence said I'm why you're still yourself."
The Doctor quirked an eyebrow at her.
They were back in the library. Buffy knew she was supposed to be telling Giles and Wesley what she'd learned, but… she just kept getting this weird feeling that the Doctor was the one she really needed to tell.
Just like she kept getting this weird feeling that she needed to save her friends. Which didn't make sense, because her friends were fine. Right?
"Yeah, like I said, not much with the sense-making," Buffy said. "I mean — I know you said I had a copy of your soul, but I still don't understand how…"
The Doctor waved the question away. "No, no, no — I already know all the why's and how's about that. Nothing baffling, there. Real thing is — why get you inside my head? That's the baffling bit."
Buffy actually kind of thought the Doctor should be explaining this stuff way better. She felt really weird, knowing that she, apparently, 'had his soul'.
Actually, come to think of it, that wasn't the only thing he needed to explain…
"Look, about this Ascension thing," Buffy said. She stuck her hands in her jeans pockets. "I get that you're all with the silent-treatment. And I get that there's a whole paradoxiness thing, going on here, too. But… I mean, you don't need to tell me what I'm actually going to do, next week, or violate any laws of time or anything! If you could just tell me what you did, last time you stopped an Ascension, I could do something similar…"
"As I've been telling you, for the past two weeks, now," the Doctor cut in, "the Ascension I stopped was that of my own people — at the very end of the Time War. Rassilon's Ultimate Sanction." He sighed, running a hand down his face. "Well, let's just say it was a long war and the Time Lords went a bit… mad, at the end."
Buffy blinked. Blinked, again. "Wait, your people wanted to become demons?"
The Doctor shook his head. "An Ascension," he explained, "is a dimensional transformation. Can be into all sorts of things! A demon, an energy creature… even into gods. But to make an Ascension work, it always takes a lot of energy. For a demonic transformation — that translates to appetite. For energy creatures — great big electric zap. And for gods… well…" He spread open his arms. "Whole universe, really. Destruction of time, itself."
The Time Lords were going to do… what?! That sure put the Mayor's Sunnydale plans into perspective.
"So what did you do… to stop…?" Buffy began.
She trailed off. The Doctor said nothing, just looked away from her. His eyes looked terribly sad.
"Oh," Buffy whispered.
Yeah… now Buffy was starting to get why the Doctor had been all with the no-talking, around the others. Imagine Wesley's reaction! Imagine the Council's! Imagine…
"The Concurrence," Buffy breathed, "doesn't live on Earth — or care about humans. They wanna kill the demon the Mayor's turning into, at any cost." She sucked in a sharp breath. "Oh, God — if you'd told them what you did, last time… then the whole Earth would have been…!"
"I know," said the Doctor.
Buffy nodded, slowly. She scuffed her shoe against the floor. "You know, you could have just told me all of this, earlier. Saved me the headache."
The Doctor thudded his head against the wall of the cage. Several times.
If he were to hit his head against the cage, once, for every time he'd told her the truth about the Ascension — he'd probably wind up concussed.
"But… I mean… okay! Whatever! I know, now. So that makes this all easy," said Buffy. She went and grabbed the keys, unlocking the cage for him. "You're not pulling a Faith on us, so I just need to…"
She trailed off, as she realized the Doctor wasn't listening to her, anymore.
"But what does she need inside my brain?" the Doctor mused. He turned back to Buffy. "They didn't say anything else to you, at the Concurrence, did they?"
"Uh… they want to eat me, after I poke around, inside your brain," Buffy offered, uneasily, "because they think I taste like pickles?"
The Doctor's eyes lit up. "That's it!" he cried. "That's the answer!"
"No — paradox!" the Doctor said. "I thought she'd turned the whole town of Sunnydale into a trap to imprison us, but… no! She actually just wants to kill the two of us and then blow up the world!"
Buffy nodded, slowly. Uh… huh…
"And… who's 'she'?" Buffy asked.
"Not entirely sure," the Doctor admitted. He squinted, looking upwards. "I can see the narrative, a bit, but not all that well." He blew a breath out of his cheeks. "At a guess… temporal demon from somewhere in Kasterborous, but still connected to us, here?" The Doctor held out his hands, testing the air. "We're at the right spot for something like that. The energies from the Hellmouth act as a… sort of… conductor! Just of evil, instead of electrons."
"Conductor of Evil," Buffy mused. "I'm pretty sure that's the name of the local community orchestra."
Buffy had definitely seen a whole bunch of entries on temporal demons, recently, in Giles' books. There was this one that Buffy totally wanted to meet, because its name sounded like a kind of pasta.
"But, see? It all makes sense, now!" The Doctor's eyes practically glowed, as he rambled faster and faster, barely stopping to breathe. "She wants paradoxes! No wonder there have been so many, since I landed. Little paradoxes! Big paradoxes! And, of course, most catastrophic paradox of all — your premature death. Because, if you die, now — you won't be around for the next bit! And then…!" The Doctor scratched the back of his neck. "Well, let's just say bad things will happen, and not go into details."
"You know, your explanations are actually less helpful than the first time you say stuff," Buffy pointed out, trying to hide a smirk. "Have you ever noticed that?"
"Right, yes! Sorry," the Doctor said, slowing himself down. "I was just saying—"
The creature pretending to be a prisoner — the one who was actually a Time Demon — sighed. "I'm sorry. I think we've gotten rather sidetracked from the plot, with that last little scene."
"I don't understand," Yersitraysin said. "What…?"
"The plot," said the Time Demon, with a grin. "You know? The one in which the Doctor won't help Buffy stop the Ascension, and she goes to pieces because she thought she could trust him, but couldn't. And then Angel — or maybe Faith, or Giles, or Wesley, or that man who runs the pickle store — lose their temper with him and murder him, in front of her. For good. The Concurrence then breaks into the Slayer's mind to see what the Doctor told her, blows up the Earth to stop the Ascension, and… well, you know the rest. Chaos. Destruction. Time folding and flipping and twisting and writhing."
"No," Yersitraysin said, jumping to her feet. She was in such a flustered state, she didn't even notice as her gigantic Time Lady hat fell to the floor. "No, I… I…" Her brain was finally starting to fight back against the psychic influence. She was starting to remember everything that the demon had wanted her to forget. "I don't want this to happen! I can't allow…!" She lunged forwards, grabbing the page where the Time Demon had been writing, on her desk, and tore it to shreds. "Your words make things happen for real — and the Doctor is a hero of Gallifrey! I cannot let him die!"
"What's her problem?" Xander asked, pointing his thumb at Yersitraysin.
Cordelia sighed. "Probably having to look at your loser face."
Xander shot her a glare. "Thanks, Cordy. I needed that."
Yersitraysin ran to the bookcase, trying to tear every book inside to shreds. "Can you humans not hear the Doctor calling to us, to help him?" she shouted at them. "Don't you realize you're leading your friend, Buffy, to her death?"
The Time Demon stood up, her long black dress trailing behind her, as she stepped towards the Yersitraysin. Now that she'd finally stood up, her scorpion-stinger tail uncurled and raised up, over her head. Her eyes seemed to glow with red fire.
Yersitraysin felt herself breathing, even faster. She needed to get out of here — with or without the humans. Warn the High Council!
She tried to flee back into the elevator, but realized — to her horror — that there was no elevator, anymore. There was nothing around her, at all, except a damp and slimy cave wall.
Made of a stone type that Yersitraysin knew wasn't native to Gallifrey.
"Kasterborous, but with a connection to Earth," Yersitraysin recalled. Her eyes lit up. "The Concurrence dimension! I can hook it up to here as a kind of link! I can get the humans home — and stop all of this!"
Yersitraysin didn't have time, though.
She shrieked, as she dodged the gigantic scorpion stinger now lunging for her. It swooped through the air, never far from her, as she constantly struggled to remain ahead of it.
"You are very stupid, Gallifreyan," said the Time Demon, advancing on her, "if you think you can stop me."
Yersitraysin turned to the Sunnydale scoobies. "Please, humans!" she begged them. "You're in a trance! You must break through the conditioning! Please — help…!"
Yersitraysin screamed, as the stinger finally pierced through her rightmost heart.
The Scoobies, at first agitated, now fell further back into their trance.
"There we are," said the Time Demon, withdrawing her stinger. "Docile and compliant — like a good little Gallifreyan." She caught Yersitraysin, as the girl fell, and carried her back to the armchair. "I was warned that you Gallifreyans had trickier minds than the humans. Fortunately, my mind is stronger than yours."
She sat Yersitraysin in the chair.
Yersitraysin struggled, but halfheartedly. Her mind and body barely functioned, as her immune system devoted everything to fighting off the toxin. Her mental defenses felt shot to hell.
"Story," said Yersitraysin, sluggishly. "Need… to hear… the story."
The Time Demon glanced over at her Sunnydale audience — still listening attentively — and continued. This had gone far enough. It was time to get rid of the Doctor, once and for all.
The sun had set, long ago. Now it was night, the crickets chirping outside the window as a creature walked through the halls, outside the library.
The creature opened the doors, a crossbow in his hand.
"Oh, brilliant! You're sick of insurgency in the ranks — so you've sent an assassin!" the Doctor muttered. He looked upwards, and shouted, at his captor, "You do realize that, as you're trying to punish or kill me, you're manipulating very real people and forcing them to act completely against their nature?!"
"It's a terribly traumatic experience!" the Doctor insisted. "You can ask Jo Grant about it!"
Still, no answer.
The Doctor turned to the creature that approached him, and sighed. He recognized the creature. "Angel," the Doctor said, "listen to me. This isn't like you. You're being manipulated."
The creature — Angel — raised up the crossbow. "Tell Buffy how to stop the Ascension," he said, "or I'll use this."
The Doctor banged his head against the cage, again. "I've told her a thousand times, you dolt! Do you have even the faintest idea what's actually going on?"
Angel didn't lower the crossbow. "I will kill you."
"Yes, and if you do, it won't be because of anything having to do with the Ascension!" The Doctor pointed at Angel. "We both know what this is really about, Angel. If you kill me, it'll be because of what I did to Elizabeth. Your revenge."
Angel hesitated. "I'm not… going to…" He lowered the crossbow, a little. "I just want some indication that you care — in the slightest."
The Doctor sighed. Did they have to do this, now? Honestly! "You think I don't? Think I don't spend every waking moment trying to work out what I could have done to stop it? A bit after I left her, I fought a war against creatures more evil than any demon in your Hellmouth — and I still had nightmares about what happened to her, as I slept in the barracks."
"You should have stopped what happened to Elizabeth," Angel accused. "You were heartless. Cruel. Malicious! All the things you did to her, Doctor! The things you made her do for you! What she saw in 2003!"
The Doctor said nothing. What could he say, to something like that? What should he even say? That timeline was gone — there was no point dwelling on it, like this.
The Doctor met Angel's eyes with his own, steadily.
"Are you going to kill me?" the Doctor asked. "For Elizabeth?"
Angel sighed. Then, a little sheepishly, took the arrow out of the crossbow, and dropped it on the floor. He stepped back.
Unable to go through with it.
The Doctor gave a huge grin. "Well, one thing I'll give you, Angel! You're better than Riley Finn."
Angel, frustrated that the Doctor was not taking this seriously, morphed his face into his vampire visage and stepped forwards. "But that doesn't mean I trust you," he said. "If you do anything to Buffy — I'll tear you to pieces, Doctor. I swear, I'll…"
The Doctor sighed, leaning against the cage. Brilliant. He was being threatened by Buffy's boyfriends. Again! What was it with him and Buffy's boyfriends?
"Well, now that that's over with," he muttered, "I'm assuming she'll bring in someone else, to finish me off…"
"Kill him!" Xander and Cordelia were chanting. "Kill him! Kill him! Kill him!"
Willow and Oz were pounding their fists against the ground, to emphasize their own chants.
"And what do you say, Time Lady?" The Time Demon stepped forwards, drawing a finger across Yersitraysin's face. "Shall I kill the Time Lord and the Slayer?" Her voice lowered. "Shall I murder the Doctor before he saves your planet? Shall I doom your people, forever?"
Yersitraysin opened her mouth.
Then closed it.
Then opened it, again.
"I… I want…" Yersitraysin met the demon's eyes, her brain still sluggish. "I want action. I want plot. I want high stakes. I want…"
"Blood?" the Time Demon asked.
"Death," Yersitraysin said. She bunched up her hands into fists. "Kill him. Kill him, now!"
The Time Demon looked out at her audience from Sunnydale. "And the Slayer? What do I do with her?"
Only Willow gave one second of hesitation. Then, her eyes clouded over, and she joined the others.
The whole audience chorused, almost in unison:
"Kill! Kill! Kill! Kill!"
The Doctor blinked, looking around himself — at the now empty library. Angel had vanished, as if he'd never been there, in the first place. "Right, then," the Doctor muttered. "Suppose this is the next way she'll be trying to…?"
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?
"Not Giles or Wesley, then," the Doctor muttered.
A crack! The sound of splintering wood rang through the air as the (now apparently boarded-up) window to the library was slammed open. A tallish looking human girl, with brown hair and too much makeup, dropped through it and into the library. She was wearing dark clothing, and carrying a very sharp-looking knife.
She met his eyes, and shot him an angry, determinedly cold smile.
"Brilliant," said the Doctor, running a hand through his hair. "Faith Lehane." He gestured at her. "You do realize you've attacked me at least fifteen times, over the past two weeks? Not that you remember any of those, of course."
Faith clearly didn't.
"Wow, B's found herself a real nutcase," said Faith. She tossed back her hair and raised up a stake. "Don't take it personally, Doctor. It's nothing against you. Just don't want you to stop the Ascension."
"Oh, yes, that's right!" the Doctor recalled, irritated. He reached into his pocket and found the sonic screwdriver was back — not that it'd help, much, since Faith was blocking the only exit. "You're trying to kill me because you think I want to stop the Ascension — while everyone else wants to kill me because I won't stop the Ascension."
Faith put her hands on her hips. "Hey, it's a tough life." She raised up a set of keys, and unlocked the cage, stepping in front of the only exit and blocking him from escaping. "But, for you, a very short one."
Then, almost too fast to process, Faith lunged at him — and the Doctor only just managed to thrust a book in the way of the knife. He yanked it away, throwing both book — and knife — over his shoulder, then attempted to dart past her and run out the door.
Faith pivoted around and slammed a fist into his ribs, causing the Doctor to fall against the ground. Faith yanked her knife out of the book, and stalked towards him.
"You really don't want to do this," the Doctor warned.
"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.
"No, really, you don't!" the Doctor insisted. "You're trapped here, same as me. And unless we find a way out…"
Faith glared at him, then kicked out, striking him back against the wire cage. The Doctor didn't have enough room to dart out of the way. She jumped out, pinning him against the cage wall, so she could hit him better.
"Trapped?" said Faith. "Look at me! No more Slayer rules! No more goody-goody B breathing down my neck! I'm more free, now, than I've ever been."
"Something is making you do this," the Doctor insisted. "It's been making you attack me for weeks, now! You, and all the others! If only you lot could remember!"
Faith replied by punching 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. Right. That hadn't gone even remotely as planned.
"You know, you're kind of cute," said Faith. "I wonder if you're as good a kisser as Angel."
The Doctor blinked. "Sorry?"
This certainly hadn't happened during any of the other times she'd attacked him.
Faith winked at him. "Want to find out?"
"What?" asked the Doctor. "No! I—"
Faith shut him up by jamming her mouth against his and sticking her tongue down his throat. In fact, it didn't feel so much like Faith was kissing him, as it felt like Faith was launching a violent military offensive against the inside of his mouth.
The Doctor shoved Faith away from him.
"What was that for?!" the Doctor cried.
"Hey, B doesn't get to hog all the hot guys," Faith said, still very close to him and keeping him in place. "Dunno if you noticed, but B's not the star around here, anymore. I am."
The Doctor stared at her, as his eyes suddenly lit up, and a smile danced at his lips. "But that's… that's… brilliant!"
Faith, figuring this was an affirmation, tried to play coquettish. "Oh, so you liked that, did you?" She started to undo his tie. "Because I can do a lot more to you than just…"
"No, thank you! Not what I meant!" the Doctor said, buzzing his sonic screwdriver in her face. She winced, at the sonic frequency, and the Doctor managed to dislodge himself from her grip and pop back to his feet.
Faith glared at him. Jumped back to her feet, and slugged the Doctor across the face.
"Ow!" the Doctor complained, rubbing his cheek.
"You happy kissing her, but not me?" Faith demanded, smacking him, again. "Think she's better than me?!"
The Doctor dodged her next blow. "Actually, I was about to say that…"
Faith tried to punch him, but he darted out of the way, again.
"…that you, Faith Lehane," the Doctor continued, "might have just saved Sunnydale!"
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.
"Well, sort of," the Doctor said, as he bolted out of the cage, "since… giant snake, and all that. But, still! Saved Sunnydale!"
And, with that, he scaled the bookcase and climbed out the window of the library. He paused, at the top, and looked back in. Below, Faith got to her feet, looking slightly dazed. Then she scanned the room. She couldn't see him.
But perhaps, the Doctor thought, he wanted her to see him.
"You did something different, once," the Doctor muttered, thinking. "Let's see if you can't do something different, again."
The Doctor slammed the window open and then closed, loudly. He knew Faith had heard that. Then he jumped to his feet and darted off into the night air.
He knew Faith would be after him, trying to kill him.
In fact, he was banking on it.
"Oh, yes, Faith Lehane," the Doctor mused, "evil you may be — but I think you might have finally, finally found me a way out of this mess!"
Buffy couldn't quite believe she was doing this. Everything inside of her screamed at her that this couldn't be the right thing to do, and there had to be some better way!
But Karky had said that the Doctor had stopped an Ascension, before.
And the Doctor refused to tell her how.
"It won't hurt him," Buffy told herself, as she headed towards the warehouse, to meet Karky. "I'm just… you know… screwing around inside the Doctor's brain. Nothing wrong with a little Doctor-screwing, right?"
Wow, that sounded not at all like what she'd wanted to say.
She took a deep breath, preparing to enter. She just kept telling herself — she had to do this, she had to do this, she…
Buffy stepped into the warehouse.
And she discovered, to her amazement, that a full-on demon fight was already in progress. The Doctor was behind held by two squishy, yucky-looking demons attired in torn-up jeans and ratty t-shirts — and Karky stood in front of him, pointing a lethal-looking gun in his face.
They'd be leading him to the portal, to the basement-hell-dimension. Buffy ran at them, full pelt. She had to get the Doctor, before he was dragged down there! She had to…!
Someone cried out, to her right.
A human voice.
Buffy spun around — and there, held by three demons and about to be skewered by a gigantic trident (with pickle-looking bumps on it?) was Faith.
"Faith?" Buffy breathed.
The demons raised up the pickle-looking trident.
Before Buffy even knew what she was doing, she launched herself into a roundoff kick, flying through the air and slamming the trident out of the demon's hand. She landed in between the demons and Faith, elbowing one in the gut while she kicked out at another.
The demons lunged for her, again — and Buffy punched out at them, expertly dodging and ducking and attacking, only just realizing she could hear a sound like a trident scraping over concrete, behind her…
Buffy reached backwards and tossed Faith (and the trident Faith held) over her head, before Faith could stab her through the back.
Faith laughed, as she hit the ground.
"You are such an idiot," Faith said, rolling and jumping to her feet. She jammed the trident through the skull of a nearby demon, then launched herself at Buffy. "I'm your enemy, B. Saving me defeats the point."
Buffy dodged out of the way of Faith, then kicked back a demon who was about to slash its claws through her. "I don't want to be your enemy! I want to help you! Why don't you get that?"
Faith laughed, again. "Oh, I get it," she said, rolling out of the way of a demon that was running at her. "I just don't care."
The demon, instead, wound up running into Buffy, fangs bared and ready to devour. Buffy found herself fighting for her life, as Faith took advantage of the distraction, and bolted for the door.
"Sucker!" Faith taunted, as she ran out.
Buffy kept fighting. The Doctor still hadn't been dragged through the portal, yet, and she still could get to him. If she was fast…!
Footsteps echoed to Buffy's left, and she glanced over, in time to see Angel entering the warehouse. The moment he spotted her, he rushed into the fray, trying to help her to fight. Together, they managed to fight through the demons, making a path to the Doctor.
"Doctor!" Buffy shouted.
He looked back — now so close, she could almost touch him. She reached out — but he was just out of reach.
Then, he was sucked into the portal, along with the demons.
Buffy ran at the wall, thudding into it, hard. It was solid, yet again. The portal was gone. The demons were gone. The Doctor was gone. All gone!
She'd blown it.
Buffy gave a loud yell, and kicked at the wall, hard. "Faith!" she cursed. "Why did you distract me?! Why did you have to be here?!"
Buffy figured Angel would say something like — yeah, she shouldn't have tried to save Faith, because that had been really stupid. So what, if Buffy knew the Concurrence wouldn't kill the Doctor (any more than they already had) but would certainly kill Faith? So what if Buffy kept hoping beyond hope that Faith might realize that she didn't have to do this, anymore?
Angel didn't say that to her. He was too nice for that.
"I'm sorry, Buffy," Angel said, instead.
Buffy took several long, shaky breaths, her hand against the wall of the warehouse — the one that, quite stubbornly, continued to remain a wall. "I've got to get the Doctor out."
"Willow should be here, soon," Angel said, examining the wall, carefully. "And Giles. They can do a spell to get us into that demon dimension. I'm sure. We just have to wait for them."
"She's… she's with… Giles?" Buffy asked, hand to her head. "Researching spells in the library? But I don't remember…"
This was wrong.
This whole thing was wrong.
Buffy clenched her hands by her side, and turned on the wall, her eyes blazing. Her mind was spinning, and she kept feeling like she was chasing a memory too elusive to catch — but she was angry.
Angry that she couldn't get through to Faith.
Angry that Angel had given her that Maer'Isa and not told her what it did.
Angry that the whole world seemed to not make any sense, anymore — and yet, she didn't understand why!
"What did the Doctor say that cube was, Angel?" Buffy asked him. "A kind of… soul-sucker charm?"
Angel stared at her, a little surprised. "Don't you remember? You were there, with us, when he told us about the Daleks and their infiltration weapon prototype."
"No, I wasn't…" Buffy started.
Except… that memory was there. Like she'd been there. And that didn't make any sense, either! None of it made any sense!
Like a plot that was unraveling, before her.
Buffy stomped her foot against the ground, and shouted, at the top of her lungs, "Karklothmanticothic!"
The demon appeared, as if from nowhere, his eyes gleaming at her in the dim light.
"Are you ready, Slayer, to finish this?" he asked. He brought out a jar of pickles, and offered it to her. "Are you ready to stop the Ascension?"
Buffy's eyes flashed with fury. "Oh, I'm all with the ready!" she said, advancing on him. She knocked the bottle of pickles out of his hands, so it smashed against the floor, glass and pickle brine flying everywhere. "The lies. The contradictions. The stuff that's being screwed around with, in my life — I want it finished. I want it done!"
Karky didn't seem troubled by this (although he looked a little sad about losing the pickles). "And since the person causing these lies and contradictions in your life is, obviously, the Mayor — that means you will help us!"
"That means I'm going to…!" Buffy shouted, ready to give him a piece of her mind. Then she stopped. Blinked. And put a hand up to her head, feeling… confused, again. "I mean, um… yeah. I guess… I'll be all with the helpiness." She looked down at the smashed pickle jar, and grimaced. "Sorry, I don't know what that whole freak-out thing was."
Angel stepped forwards, to accompany her.
But Karky threw up a hand. "Not the vampire!" he warned. He gestured at Buffy to follow him. "Just you — Slayer. The heart of the paradox. Only you are worthy."
Angel snarled, his face morphing.
But Buffy stopped him, before he could threaten Karky.
"Angel," said Buffy, her eyes on the broken jar, "go to the store and grab Karky some more pickles. I'll be fine."
"Buffy…!" Angel tried.
Buffy grabbed a pickle caked in dirt off the floor, and thrust it at Angel. "Pickles. Now." She pointed at the door out of the warehouse. "Go."
Angel protested, a little, but… Buffy won, in the end.
She always did.
As she watched Angel leave, the moon came out from behind a cloud, shining into the warehouse through one of the extra-secured windows. It shone a pattern of bars across Buffy — the shadows of a prison she couldn't quite see.
"I'll get you free, too," Buffy whispered, to Angel's retreating form. "I promise."
Karky cleared his throat, pointedly, and crossed his arms. "You know, every second you delay, here, you're making me miss the party."
Buffy spun back around. "Party?"
Karky grinned, evilly.
"Oh, my God! You're having another torture-the-Doctor party?!" Buffy felt her entire body flooding with rage. "If I didn't need you, Karky, I'd split your skull in two."
"She… why did she… try to save Faith, when…?" Yersitraysin struggled to ask, through the drugs that were still surging through her body. She was bent in half, reaching out as if struggling to grab for something — even if that something were just a solid fact.
Xander gave a little shrug. "I dunno about all the rest of you," he said, "but I'm really hankering for some pickles, right about now."
Cordelia, with a sigh and the roll of her eyes, handed him a pickle out of the jar she had opened, next to her.
Xander, impressed, took it. "Hey, thanks."
"Yeah — don't talk to me," Cordelia snapped. She turned to Yersitraysin. "And as for you, Miss Big-Ugly-Hat, Buffy's decided to save Faith because she's a loser and an idiot."
Xander just munched on the pickle, happily.
Oz looked between them all. "I think she just really feels like she can get through to Faith. You know? Make her better. Make her see the light."
Xander ignored them all, examining the half-eaten pickle in his hand. "I dunno what pickles have to do with the Ascension — but I'm really looking forward to hearing that part of the story."
The Time Demon surveyed her audience, with a large grin. "All in good time, my dear, sweet little children. All in good time." She noticed Yersitraysin with her hand extended, struggling. The demon took the hand. "First, I shall feed. Buffy and the Doctor shall die. And the Time Lords, once again, shall be no more."
"That sounds pretty cool," Cordelia said, drawn back in by the story.
Willow's lips formed words, but her voice couldn't seem to get up the strength to get them out. There was a frisson of fear in her eyes, as she realized what was happening — but something else had taken her over. And she couldn't stop herself.
"Gallifrey…" Yersitraysin breathed, her mind overloaded by the psychic influence of the demon. "You must… redestroy… Gallifrey…"
The demon pat her head. "As I've said, my children," the demon told them, "it's nearly dinner time."
When Buffy entered the Hell-Dimension-Basement, it was full of bad music and keggers and drinks in plastic cups and balloons and drunk demons trying to dance but stumbling all over themselves. One of the demons was puking in the corner.
"Woo-hoo!" shouted a demon, who ran through the party with a lampshade on his head. "Torture and kill the Doctor! It's frickin' awesome!"
Buffy didn't know if these demons were just on spring break from college, or something, or if this was seriously the most loser group of demons ever.
Then, she heard a scream from one of the other rooms — a scream that pierced through everything, in a voice she'd recognize anywhere. And Buffy forgot everything else.
A group of demons had gathered, in a corner, around the Doctor, who was chained up and dangling from the ceiling, his blood everywhere. A few of the demons were whacking him with sticks like a pinata. A few others were slicing at him with their claws, opening deep gashes across his skin.
"Oh, God!" Buffy breathed. She raced over, slamming the other demons out of the way and throwing them against walls, the ground, anything — as long as she could get them off him.
A blue tentacle demon with a backwards baseball cap tried to grab her — "Hey, chill out! You're messing up the whole party vibe!"
But Buffy kicked it in the stomach and flipped it over her shoulder, slamming it into the foosball table, so one of the foosball sticks was sticking through its chest.
Buffy yanked one of the pinata sticks out of a demon's hand, snapped it in two and then advanced on the other demons, armed and ready to slay the hell out of them!
"Hey, hey, hey!" shouted a bronze-skinned demon, who retreated, with his blood-soaked claws raised. "What's your problem? It's just a little fun."
Buffy stabbed the broken pinata stick through his shoulder.
"All right, all right!" Karky said, clapping his hands in an attempt to settle the others down. "That's quite enough." He pointed at Buffy, advancing on her. "You, Slayer — will break into the Doctor's mind. Now."
Buffy swallowed, hard.
She tore the Doctor's manacles from the roof, and caught him, as he fell to the ground.
"Hurt him, again," Buffy warned, her eyes flicking out across all the demons, "and you're all Slayered. Got that?" She looked down at the Doctor, who was gasping for air. "Are you okay?"
The Doctor struggled to speak — but his voice was very faint. "You… can't…"
"I have to," Buffy told him, softly. Tears sprang up in her eyes. "I'm sorry — but you stopped an Ascension. I need to find out how. If you'd just told me, earlier…!"
The Doctor struggled to sit up, clutching at her arms. "You… have… to know…" he said, through gritted teeth.
"I promise — I won't do anything to hurt you," Buffy told him. "I just need to know how to stop the Mayor." She shot him a smile. "And, after that, I'm getting you out of here."
"Hey!" said a demon with wrinkly green skin and a t-shirt that said 'I'm with stupid'. "She can't take him away. What about our torture-and-kill-the-Doctor party?"
"Yeah!" said all the others.
Buffy gave the demons a death glare, and got up, shifting into a fighting stance.
"Come on, Karklothmanticothic," whined a demon with tusks and a pack of e-cigarettes. "Can't we just eat her early?"
A bunch of other demons agreed. One even called out, "I got dip!"
"Eat me? I think you didn't get the memo," said Buffy, sounding a lot more confident than she felt. "I'm the only one who can do what you want — so you're not gonna kill me until I uncover the Doctor's secrets. 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 Maer'Isa cube thing that you stole from me."
"And if we give you all those things," Karky asked, "you'll break into the Doctor's mind and tell us everything we want to know?"
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, already knowing that he'd be begging her not to do this — to be better than this, to rise above it.
"I'm sorry," Buffy told him. "I have to."
The Doctor raised an arm towards her. "Buffy, please! Just… listen!" he insisted. "You… you need to… know…"
Karky kicked the Doctor in his side, as he walked towards Buffy. The Doctor curled up into a ball.
"Okay," said Karky, sticking out his hand to shake. "You've got a deal."
Buffy was seriously considering breaking Karky's hand instead of shaking it. She schooled herself, and reached out, to shake.
"Please," the Doctor said, again, his voice very weak. "Before you… do this… you have to… have to know…!"
Buffy stopped, just before shaking the demon's hand. She had this horrible feeling, deep down inside, that she was… missing something, here.
"Slayer," Karky snarled, his eyes flashing with threat.
Buffy hesitated, looking between Karky and the Doctor, trying to figure out why she felt this was so wrong. What was she missing? Why couldn't she remember?
"You have… to know…!" the Doctor said, again.
Buffy dropped her hand, and ran back to the Doctor. "I have to check on him, first," she decided. He clearly wanted to whisper something to her, so no one else could hear. Was he finally going to tell her the truth about the Ascension? "Just, you know, to make sure he's okay."
Karky looked like he wasn't completely sure he was okay with this. But — at the moment — was still confident enough that Buffy would help them that he wasn't prepared to kill her. Yet.
Buffy knelt down beside the Doctor, as he grabbed her hands in his, and struggled to sit upright. Buffy looked deep into his pain-strewn eyes.
"You've gotta trust me," Buffy whispered. "Please, Doctor — I know that this is going to be a big mind-invasion thing, but they still have that Maer'Isa, so I have to play along until—"
"There's something very important," the Doctor rasped, hauling himself up, so he could whisper to her. "Vitally… important."
"I'm sorry," Buffy said, "but I can't…"
The Doctor leaned over, and whispered, into her ear, three words — that changed everything.
Buffy yanked herself away from him, suddenly. She stared at him, her jaw dropping. "Wait, what?!"
He leaned in, again. And, again, she heard him whisper, in her ear, those three words:
"This isn't real."
"Buffy blinked, and looked around herself, trying to make sense of the Doctor's words — but… it all seemed real. Well, course it did! I'm brilliant," the Doctor announced, beaming at his audience of Concurrence demons. He was standing in the open-mic area of their Hell-basement, a microphone in his hand, his back to a red brick wall. "But, 'course, it wasn't real. Nope! Not since she walked into the Concurrence. Because, see, I'd worked out — every time I try to get anywhere, in this trap, the narrative just changes things 'round so I wind up beaten down and unable to fight back." His eyes twinkled. "So! If that's where the narrative wants to go, how 'bout I just start my own narrative where I'm already beaten down?"
Buffy blinked, then suddenly took in where she was. She was kneeling on the ground, supporting thin air as if it were a body. The Doctor, standing beside her, looked perfectly fine. Well, aside from all the things that'd been done to him during his first Concurrence incarceration. But not remotely like he'd looked a few seconds ago.
He offered her a hand up, giving her a wink. "Words have power."
"I… was in a story?" Buffy repeated, accepting his hand up. "But it just…! I mean, it felt so… real!" She looked into his eyes. "How…?"
"How?" The Doctor gestured around himself and her. "The cage! The trap! Don't you see? Faith showed me, when she gave me that snog!" He beamed, adjusting his tie and looking quite proud of himself. "She was tired of having you be the protagonist — and desperately wanted to take over the narrative, herself. So she, subconsciously, fooled the trap. Kissing, instead of killing."
Buffy stared at him. "Wait, Faith… kissed you?! After what she did to Angel?!" She clenched her fists. "I'm so going to kill her!"
"Naw — I saw you on the Valiant," the Doctor dismissed. "I know you. You won't kill Faith, if you think there's a chance you can save her. That's why you understood why I couldn't…"
They were cut off by a rotten tomato smacking into the side of Buffy's head.
"Boo!" shouted one of the demons. "You're not funny!"
The Doctor spun around, in time to be hit right in the face by another rotten tomato.
"Get off the stage!" shouted another demon, as the booing began to fill the cavern.
Buffy and the Doctor tried to dodge rotten fruit, as best they could, as the entire Concurrence turned on them.
"You've stalled us long enough, Time Lord," said Karky, with a sneer. "You said you'd stand up here and tell us the story of you and the Ascension. So — either tell us how you stopped it, or the Slayer dies."
The Doctor quirked an eyebrow at them.
Then he sighed, adjusted his tie, and tapped the mic, to make sure it was on. "Ascension! Yes! Right, then." He planted a great big grin, on his face. "Ever hear of a bloke called Irving Braxiatel? Naw, course you haven't. Time Lord. Dead, now — along with everyone else." The Doctor's smile wavered, for a second. Then he plastered it back on, and leapt to the other side of the stage. "He had this plan, see — to end the Time War and stop Rassilon's Ultimate Sanction. No, not just that. Make Gallifrey what it once was, before the war ever started. Undo it all!"
The other demons grumbled. They definitely didn't care about the Doctor's Time War stories.
"Is this going anywhere?" asked a demon who was readying up another rotten tomato.
"Wait! Wait! Wait! I'm getting there!" the Doctor said. "Good ol' Brax, he'd flouted all the laws of time and space and the whole universe, and built an impossible machine. One that needed a colossal amount of energy to operate."
"We don't care!" shouted a demon.
Another one threw his beer at the Doctor. "Get to the pickle part, already!"
Buffy thought she remembered the Doctor mentioning something about this. A power that was bigger than any other — big enough to rewrite the universe.
"The Key," Buffy whispered.
"Doesn't exist!" The Doctor winked at her. "Told you. Still, when Brax and I powered up the machine, we were a bit short. Almost as if a couple magic monks had taken a pinch of energy out of our power source…" The Doctor's eyes rested on Buffy, and he pulled the mic away. "…and made it flesh."
"Why are you looking at me?" Buffy asked, seriously disconcerted.
The Doctor advanced towards her, dropping the mic on the stage. "The Ascension was coming, see. Billions of Time Lords, ready to Ascend and become gods — taking the universe with them. We didn't have a choice. We were frantic. Desperate. Scrambling to find a way to stop it. Brax located the energy that was missing — on the other side of a portal. He linked the machine to that portal."
The demons all perked their ears up, at the word 'Ascension'. They tried to get in, closer, to hear what happened.
"Why are you telling me this?" Buffy asked.
"Because I only just worked it out," the Doctor replied. A deep sorrow sprang up, inside his eyes. "I've spent a whole year telling you I knew what was going on. But I was wrong — I can see that, now. I've worked out what you did, to save your sister. I know why you had to do it. In a way… you could say I was there, the moment it happened."
He placed his hands on Buffy's shoulders, his voice dropping, even further.
"Braxiatel's machine used the technology of an ancient race, calling itself the Epoch," the Doctor told her. "The Epoch created technology that could rewrite and remap everything, in reality. Time! Space! Whole universe! They could demolish a history, and rewrite it — just based on a stray word or thought or wish, said at the wrong time."
"Words have power," Buffy repeated, remembering the last time he said it. She looked around herself. "So you're saying the last two weeks are all because of…?"
There was a sudden, violent jolt that shook the entire basement dimension.
Everyone looked around themselves. But then, it came again — it was a larger shake, and this time, it didn't stop. Instead, it got stronger, as every wall began flashing with alerts and warnings and blaring sirens. Karky sprang at one of the walls, tearing it open to reveal buttons and machinery, below, and began poking and prodding and trying to get the dimension under control.
"Aha! Knew it was only a matter of time!" said the Doctor, with a grin. "Looks like Faith's gone off and told the Mayor all about the Concurrence — so now, Wilkins knows that this lot's a threat to his Ascension. All of which means that, right now, he's sealing off this basement-dimension and flinging it out into space."
Karky, realizing the controls wouldn't respond to him, began pounding them with his fist. He turned, and then spotted Buffy and the Doctor.
"Well, on the plus side," said Karky, "at least we get a free meal out of it." He pointed at her, and commanded the other demons, "Eat the Slayer and the Time Lord."
The Doctor grabbed Buffy by the hand.
"Run!" he shouted.
"But, of course, they weren't fast enough," said the Time Demon. She shook her head. "No one could ever be fast enough to escape the trap. The worst thing was, Buffy and the Doctor found both the Maer'Isa and the TARDIS, right before the end. Buffy was so close to the TARDIS that she could almost touch it. But… too late."
The audience stared at the Time Demon, immersed in the story.
"The Doctor screamed, as a demon tore off one arm, and another demon tore off another arm," the Time Demon explained. "Then, a third demon, with two long, silver claws — stabbed them through his chest, impaling both hearts." The Time Demon almost shed a tear for the loss of her protagonist — truly an adversary worthy of her. But, ultimately, his death was her banquet. "And Buffy, poor young Buffy, only a week away from graduating from high school — her head was ripped from her body, and thrown into…"
A throat cleared, behind the demon.
The Time Demon froze. Then spun around, and stared.
There, directly behind her, was a blue police box — which she hadn't noticed materializing. And, standing beside it, their arms crossed and their faces extremely angry, stood her two protagonists.
"So," said Buffy, "you were saying, about our deaths…?"
"So," said Buffy, "you were saying, about our deaths…?"
The Time Demon stumbled back. "That's… that's impossible!" she cried. She raised up her stinger, threateningly. "You're dead! I killed you! I know I…!"
"Well, not impossible, really," said the Doctor, twirling the sonic screwdriver in his hands. "Just a bit unlikely." He stepped over to Willow, Xander, Cordelia, and Oz — and clapped a hand on Willow's shoulder. Willow was still forming words with her mouth, but giving them no voice. "See, my little trick with the Concurrence was just a proof of concept. Moment I found out it had worked, Buffy and I had a bit of a jaunt back through time — to just a few months ago, and…"
The Doctor buzzed his sonic screwdriver at Willow.
Her voice came back to her, at once.
"...and then," Willow said, "I was like, 'Yeah, sure, of course I trust you, Buffy, I trust you with anything,' and then Buffy was all like, 'I'm going to tell you a story, and then I want you to do the spell thing so you forget it and it gets put into your subconscious. But don't ask me why, because it's got something to do with your future and I can't tell you about it.' So I was like, 'Okay, that's weird, but… sure. I'll do it.' So then Buffy told me about how she and the Doctor ran out of the Concurrence and stole this cube thing that was actually a Dalek Infiltration Weapon prototype, and I got kind of worried because I don't know if I trust the Doctor — but I trust Buffy so I was like, 'Okay, go on.' And Buffy said that they went into his time machine and went back in time, to a few months, before, to tell me this story, and then they were going to go into the future and face the Time Demon down and… yeah. That's the story."
Willow stopped talking, and lapsed back into a trance, again.
"Thanks, Will," Buffy said, with a grin. "Always got my back."
The Time Demon circled around Buffy and the Doctor, her eyes narrowing, her pointy teeth bared. "Congratulations, Time Lord, Slayer — you've broken out of the prison." She backed them both away from the TARDIS, so they had no way to escape. "But that just gives me a chance to kill you, now — in person."
She lunged for the Doctor and Buffy, stinger raised and dripping venom — but Buffy was faster than that. She dodged the stinger, just as the Doctor buzzed his sonic at a bookcase that looked strangely out of place for this cave, and the illusion spell that had made it look like a bookcase fell away. It turned into a machine.
The stinger thudded down into the heart of the machinery, which whined and flashed and erupted into sparks.
The Time Demon shrieked, as electricity ran through her body.
Xander, unbeknownst to the others, had gone over to pick up the fallen gigantic Time Lady hat — which was now beside an empty armchair. No one else was there.
Xander looked between the hat and the chair, trying to think through the mind control and the fog, to figure out why… he felt like someone else should be in that chair. Someone who had vanished.
What had happened to her?
"Back with us, I see?"
Yersitraysin blinked, as she realized… she wasn't where she had been, a few seconds ago. She put a hand up to her hearts — but there was only a scar where she had been stabbed.
She was in an elaborately decorated room, with a window that showed a beautiful view out of the glass dome, at the rest of Gallifrey. She watched as the sun glinted off the silver leaves on the trees, which rustled in the wind.
The Time Lord before her had a long face and dark, dark eyes. He smiled at her, in the way one does while playing five-dimensional chess — analytically.
"You had rather an ordeal, I gather," said the Time Lord. He offered her a glass of water. "Still, it's over, now. Best forget all about it."
Yersitraysin took the glass, still confused. "But… who are…?"
The Time Lord laughed. "Ah! Yes, of course. How remiss of me." He gave her a little bow. "My name is Irving Braxiatel. And, you see, everything you've just gone through — your dreams, the Time Demon, the machine — well, I caused it. All of it."
The Time Demon yanked her stinger out of the machine, as soon as she could. The machine was frazzled — even more than it had been, before. But it was still working… somewhat. A teensy, tiny little bit.
"Is this…?" Buffy asked, putting a hand on it.
"Oh, yes! Brax's machine," the Doctor agreed. Sorrow swept across his face, as he added, "The machine that didn't end the war."
His eyes seemed so sad, as he looked at the machinery that glowed with pulsing green energy, which expanded outwards, before them, to show a dance of universes and words and vortexes, all opening and closing, spinning round and round like ballerinas in a complex ballet — reshaping and rebuilding the universe.
Yet every time a vortex danced, it faded.
The machine was dying.
Just as the Doctor had died, Buffy knew, to end the war and stop the Ascension of his own people.
The Doctor pasted on a grin, for Buffy. "Yes. See? Said it had to be Brax's machine, causing the trouble! A machine that could remap, rework, and rewrite the universe. Take someone and turn them into a completely different person with a completely different backstory! Maybe even… take a few weeks and rewrite them, over and over again, until you got the plotline you wanted."
The Time Demon steadied herself, preparing for another strike. "The power to rewrite even a Time Lord," the demon hissed. "Like you!"
She ran at them, again.
Buffy flipped through the air, above her, grabbing a hidden dagger out from her jeans, and then landing behind her and slamming the dagger into her back.
The Time Demon gave a hollow, empty laugh, and pulled the dagger out — unconcerned. "You fight me with mortal weapons? Toys like this?" Her eyes glowed. "I feed on Paradox! Impossibility! Mortal weapons cannot kill me." She rubbed her hands. "And how could I resist, once I found this machine, using it to trap the Time Lord and the Slayer, and devour their paradox?" She licked her lips. "Imagine what will be destroyed! What will be shattered! Imagine what will…!"
"Except the machine was just ticking over, when you found it," the Doctor said, examining it, yet again. "I remember — last time I was here, it exploded. We lost the control console. I tried to control it using my own psychic matrix, instead, but the machine just picked up my guilt over…"
The Doctor stopped, his eyes falling on Buffy.
Then, he looked away.
"Any rate, when you found it, Madam Time Demon, the machine wasn't nearly powerful enough, any more, to fully effect a Time Lord like me," the Doctor said, turning back to the Time Demon. He buzzed at the machine with his sonic. "Which means I saw through the trap." The power cut out, and the machine fell apart — to dust. "Sorry."
"A long time ago," said Braxiatel, pacing the elaborate room, "I created a machine to end the Time War." He paused. Reflected. "No. Not just that. I created a machine… to save Gallifrey."
"Save Gallifrey from the War?" Yersitraysin asked.
"From ever having fought in the war, in the first place," Braxiatel explained. His eyes went sad, as he looked out, across Gallifrey. "But there was… an accident. Someone had stolen and transmuted part of our power source. I located it past a portal, in Sunnydale on the planet Earth, in one of a myriad of potential timelines — and directed the machine to drain power from that portal."
"But why…?" Yersitraysin asked.
Braxiatel turned back to her. He gave her a small smile. "Well, I knew the portal was unstable," he said. "I knew that, to close it, the transmuted segment would have to jump inside. The moment she did so, her energies would leave the universe and, technically speaking, be in our timeline — at least in part. Therefore, at that one crucial moment, I'd be able to use those energies inside my machine, to undo the Time War." His smile faded. "I never quite understood what happened, next. I believe… someone else jumped, instead."
Yersitraysin took a sip of water, not sure she understood any of this.
"Someone," said Braxiatel, "who had a lot of fears and wishes and regrets, and whose psyche overloaded the machine. It exploded. I planned to fix it, but the Doctor got in, first. He connected his own psyche to the machine — to control it." He sighed, looking away, again, and shaking his head. "He should have known better, really."
"Why?" Yersitraysin asked. "I've heard stories about the Doctor. If there was one person who wanted — more than anything else — to rewrite the universe so the Time War never happened, it was him."
Braxiatel had a far-off look in his eyes, as he remembered those days. "The war… drove the Doctor a little mad, I believe," he said. "For a while, I honestly believed that, if he survived it, he couldn't possibly go back to the way he was. He'd be broken. Mad. Destroyed." He laughed, softly. "But, well… when he hooked himself up to the machine, the paradox happened. He was 'reborn', so to speak."
Yersitraysin remembered the Time Demon saying that. "Paradox."
Braxiatel walked over and sat back down, behind a desk. "One of the Doctor's former companions lived in Sunnydale," he explained. He folded his hands, before him. "He never got over what happened to her, whilst they were traveling together. With my machine connected to Sunnydale, he remembered her — and revived all his regrets, wishes, and fears."
Yersitraysin's eyes widened, as she began to realize… both of those psyches, overloading a machine designed to rewrite reality…
"They didn't rewrite the war at all, did they?" Yersitraysin asked. "They rewrote each other."
Braxiatel gave a long, sad sigh. "I'm afraid so."
The Time Demon howled, as if the destruction of Braxiatel's machine had physically hurt her. She stumbled, her stinger curling up, the venom drying on its tip so it became useless.
"As I thought," the Doctor said, with the quirk of his eyebrow. "You grow weaker, as the probability that you're going to kill us and feed on our paradox grows less and less." He beamed. "So the less we think we're going to die — the weaker you get!"
Buffy grinned at him, as she went to help her friends. "Wow! Power of positive thinking!"
"Oh, yes!" The Doctor ran over, helping Oz get to his feet, and guiding him towards the TARDIS. "Which means… 'bout time we popped off! Brax's machine is gone, the Time Demon's practically helpless, so there's no possible way…"
The Time Demon barked out a hard, evil laugh.
"Helpless, Time Lord?" The Time Demon gestured at the empty chair to her right, where Xander still held that hat. "But that's why I picked up the girl, here. For you."
The Doctor frowned. He saw no girl.
He did see a very familiar hat — that made him remember…
But, no. No use dwelling on the past. They were all gone, now, and that was that.
"The paradox between you and the Slayer, with the portal and the Time War, is a powerful one," said the Time Demon. She pointed, again, at the chair that (she still hadn't realized) was empty. "But that girl, over there, has been part of my audience — helping me remap and reshape your history so you were at the mercy of the Concurrence. That girl helped lead you to your death, Doctor. And yet — if you die, now, she cannot possibly exist." The Time Demon stepped forwards, towards the Doctor, eyes fixed on him. "What was it you told the Slayer, when she restored your soul to you, in the library? That this — you having a soul — was merely a fluke of time? A temporary respite?"
The Doctor staggered, suddenly, letting go of Oz and grabbing his own chest.
"While Braxiatel's machine was up-and-running," said the Time Demon, "you and your Slayer could take advantage of your reality-remapping paradox, and let 'words have power'. While that machine was around, Doctor, you could hop and skip and jump around like you were still alive — but you weren't. That was never real. Just a wrinkle in time that had yet to be straightened out."
The Doctor fell, as all life in him suddenly snapped off.
Braxiatel's machine was gone.
The temporary respite had ended. The borrowed soul flew back to where it had come from. The Doctor was now as he should be — empty, vacant, his eyes staring into nothing.
Just a body. Nothing more.
"The Daleks created a weapon," said the Time Demon, regaining her strength, "designed to hollow out a body and remove its original occupant, forever. I've heard the legends. They say that if you fall victim to the Dalek Infiltration weapon — the Maer'Isa — then there's no power in the universe that can get you back. You are gone. Forever."
Buffy reached into her pocket, taking out the cube she'd gotten from the Concurrence — before she'd left. It felt warm in her hands. Heavy. Like there was something — someone — inside of it.
"But you said you were responsible for what just happened to me, with the Time Demon!" Yersitraysin said, to Braxiatel. "If you built that machine…!"
Braxiatel waved his hand, dismissively. "Rather more than that. The 'Temporal Demon' was, in fact, a creation formed from a number of secrets within the Anomaly Vault. I constructed her several weeks, ago."
Yersitraysin's fingers gripped the water glass, too tightly.
"I also wrote that letter," Braxiatel continued, "to convince you to seek out the Time Demon. And, of course, I was the one to retrieve you, once you'd done your job."
Yersitraysin jumped to her feet, now truly alarmed.
"But… but… why?!" Yersitraysin shouted. "Why trap the Doctor and Buffy? Was it revenge, because they remapped each other instead of Gallifrey, during the war? Is that why you want them dead, now?"
Slowly, Buffy advanced towards Cordelia, as she hatched a plan.
"And so, Doctor, you can see — the paradox with you and your Slayer is irrelevant!" the Time Demon laughed, as she enjoyed gloating (even if it was to a body that couldn't possibly hear it). She turned around, growing stronger and stronger by the second, and gestured at Yersitraysin's chair. "I have a planet's worth of paradox to feed off! All of…!"
The Time Demon stopped laughing.
She blinked, as she realized… Yersitraysin was gone.
"No, but that can't…! Where did she…?" The Time Demon raced over, looking behind the chair, behind the scant furniture, anywhere she thought that Yersitraysin might be hiding. But Yersitraysin was gone.
The Time Demon stopped searching, and schooled herself.
"No, it… doesn't matter," the Time Demon decided. "Whatever has happened to her, wherever she's gone, it's irrelevant. The paradox remains. The Doctor is as good as dead, and Yersitraysin has caused that death to happen. I will feed!"
The Time Demon spun back around, and noticed Buffy, seated beside Cordelia, doing something to a small, white cube in her hands. The Time Demon, continuing to strengthen, stalked towards the little human, as claws extended from her hands.
Buffy looked up, stopped whatever she was doing, and jumped to her feet.
She backed away from the Time Demon, slowly.
"And I'll feed on more than just a planet, won't I?" snarled the Time Demon, advancing towards Buffy. "I can kill you, now. Eat your paradox, as well!"
She swiped at Buffy, with her claw — but Buffy spun out of the way at the last moment. The claw smashed against the cave wall, causing a twinge of pain to flow through the Time Demon, which made her give a small howl.
"Hey, Time Demon!" Buffy shouted, from her right. She tossed something through the air. "Heads up!"
The Time Demon snarled.
This Slayer was trying to kill her, once more, with weapons? A sword or dagger thrown at her head? Oh, what a silly little thing she was!
Before it had a chance to impact, the Time Demon reached up and plucked the weapon out of the air. She laughed at Buffy — such a dumb little human! Waved the weapon at her.
"I've told you, Slayer, your mortal weapons cannot kill me," the Time Demon said. "You cannot throw a sword through my head or…"
The Time Demon froze.
Her eyes fixed on the thing she now held in her hands.
It wasn't a sword, or a dagger. It was a small, plastic-looking cube, with a carved name that had been filed off the surface, using a nail file — and a nail-polish painted name, which had been painted on, instead.
"I knew you looked familiar," Buffy told her. "I know I don't Willow-it-up as much as I should, or be all with the bookiness and the learning-smarts — but I definitely remember flipping through this Giles book and noticing the Time Demon 'Rotini'." She shrugged. "I mean, Miss Pasta-Demon? That's one to remember."
The Time Demon began to scream, as she felt something lurch, inside herself.
"The thing is, when you went on your whole rant-er-tantrum, I realized… this wasn't the impossible-to-break kind of Maer'Isa," Buffy said. "This one's just a prototype. The perfected version may be impossible to escape from — but I think this version has a few kinks in it. Like… what happens if you file off one name and write in another?"
The Time Demon began to writhe.
"And then I thought," Buffy continued, "what if it's not a 'soul' that's in there — just… you know… life force? Because I did the whole Angel thing. Removing a soul doesn't create a vegetable-coma guy, it creates an evil-killy guy. So if the Maer'Isa sucks out life force, and if it only holds the life force of the person whose name is on the cube…" Buffy shrugged and gestured at the Time Demon. "I'm guessing that, when you go in, he's gonna come out."
The Time Demon screamed.
"You silly, stupid little girl!" the Time Demon shrieked, as she felt herself being torn out of her body and shoved into the cube. "The Doctor destroyed the you-from-another-timeline, and he'll destroy this version of you, too. Don't you see? That's why you have his soul — because his rebirth is your death!"
Buffy shrugged, and gave a little wave.
"Bye-bye, Pasta Demon."
The Time Demon flailed and screamed, one last time, before she found herself sealed inside the Maer'Isa. Forever.
"I wanted Buffy and the Doctor dead? Really?" Braxiatel laughed. "My dear child — why would I want them dead? They are rather lovely people, on the whole. And…" with a small smirk, "...quite interesting. For other reasons. But that's neither here nor there." He blinked, and the smirk was gone. He gestured at the sky — as if pointing out past the planet, itself. "It just struck me, you see, that there was a rather nasty machine still ticking away, out there, with enough power to do quite a lot of damage. I wanted the machine destroyed. That's all."
Yersitraysin didn't know what to say.
She didn't know how far she could trust this Time Lord.
"In fact, I pulled a few tricks, and supplied a quite charming man named Rupert Giles with some books," said Braxiatel, "which will give Buffy everything she needs to trap the Time Demon and retrieve the Doctor. It's all rather simple."
"So… you did all of this," Yersitraysin said, "simply to destroy your machine?"
"And to eliminate a nasty Dalek Infiltration weapon that could kill the Doctor," Braxiatel said. "Indeed."
Yersitraysin regarded him, a little coldly.
"You don't believe me?" Braxiatel asked.
Yersitraysin shook her head. "I've seen Time Lords like you. If you wanted the machinery destroyed and the Maer'Isa eliminated, you could have gone about it far more simply. But that wasn't your real goal. You're doing something else."
Braxiatel seemed amused. "Am I?"
Yersitraysin pointed a finger in his face, her voice lowering. "You're trying to get revenge on Buffy and the Doctor for messing up your plan at the end of the War. I know you are. And someday, Braxiatel, I'll be able to prove it."
Yersitraysin turned, and stormed off — out of the room and into the rest of the capital. She didn't know what that had all been about — but she knew Braxiatel was up to no good.
And if she had to devote all her future lives to taking him down… she would.
The Doctor groaned, and opened his eyes.
Buffy was leaning over him, looking extremely concerned. "Are you okay?" Then, with hesitation, "Do you even remember…?"
"Willow, Xander, the wolf-one, and the makeup one!" the Doctor cried, in sudden alarm, jumping to his feet. "Where…?!"
Then he noticed the TARDIS door open, and all the Scoobies passed out, inside.
"They passed out when Miss Pasta-Demon died." Buffy raised up the Doctor's TARDIS key. "Found it in your pocket. Thought I'd get a head start."
The Doctor looked around himself, as his memories of the last day or so caught up with him.
The Doctor took the TARDIS key from Buffy, and beamed at her.
"And do I ever remember!" He jumped to his feet and gave her a hug. "Buffy Anne Summers," he said. "You are brilliant!" He pulled out of the hug. "And — you know what? Your friends and Faith are, too!"
Then he ran into the TARDIS.
Buffy was still trying to get over the burst of telepathic emotions that rushed over her, the moment he said her real name. She didn't know if Braxiatel's machine had started that, or if she'd always had a little of it and this incident had just made it worse — but she was starting to realize that it wasn't going to go away.
"So… um… you know how you sometimes forget and call me Elizabeth instead of Buffy?" Buffy asked, following him into the ship. "Is there any chance you could… just… keep doing that?" She rubbed her head. "Because my name is giving me a serious headache."
Braxiatel sat back, behind his desk, as he watched Yersitraysin go. His eyes drifted from her disappearing form to a mirror that hung on the far side of the room. A face was appearing in that mirror — his own face.
Except a little older.
"I don't think much of her, to be honest," Braxiatel informed the image of his older self. "She seemed quite young and flighty. Will she really become the President of Gallifrey, at some point in the future?"
The image in the mirror nodded. "Unfortunately, yes. Did you do it?"
Braxiatel brought out a small, whirling orb of smoke and energy, which sat comfortably in his palm. "She certainly felt something when I activated it, last night. But I think I covered it up, well enough. Her exposure to the machine and her manipulation by Rotini will have strengthened the orb's grip over her psyche — just enough, so that she won't realize she's being manipulated."
The image in the mirror nodded. "A shame, really. But, then again, I did warn her — the moment she set her sights on abducting and destroying Dawn Summers and her children — that she would regret it."
Irving Braxiatel set the orb down on his desk, studying it, carefully. "Yes. Well. There is an advantage to constantly and flagrantly disobeying the Laws of Time."
The image in the mirror hesitated. "Did you tell Yersitraysin…?"
Braxiatel raised an eyebrow. "That I built a second Epoch machine that's still ready to be activated, out there, somewhere? No. But I'm sure the Doctor suspects."
"I meant did you tell her about the Doctor and Buffy?" his older self asked. "The portal? The Key?"
Braxiatel poked at the orb, testing it. "Yes. I told her." He smiled. "But she'll not be able to do anything about it, when the time comes. That — I've already made sure of."
"Yep, no problems, whatsoever!" the Doctor said, as he finished running sonic screwdriver checks on the last of Buffy's friends. He tucked it into a pocket, then grinned at Buffy, and winked. "Clever thinking, by the by. Nail file and nail polish!"
They were back on the TARDIS, heading towards Sunnydale.
Buffy, sitting on the jump seat, shrugged. "Well, like I told Giles and Wesley — it was plastic. Cheap plastic. And a nail file plus Slayer strength spells death for cheap plastic."
She looked down at the Maer'Isa, where she'd placed it on the jump seat. Figured… she'd just leave it there. It was better the Doctor keep it, anyways.
The TARDIS landed with a thud and a bing.
Buffy headed over to her friends. "I guess I'd better get these guys outside and wake them up," she said. "Cordelia's going to be so mad at me, for using her nail polish." She picked up Willow, in her arms. "How much are these guys going to remember, by the way, about the last two weeks?"
The Doctor ran a hand through his hair. "Well, normally, I'd say I haven't a clue," he said. "But… actually… I remember your friend, Xander, nattering on at me about it, in your future. So I've got a pretty good idea." He leaned over, to help her bring her friends outside. "They'll remember it all as if they were here, the whole time. In fact, they'll have quite vivid memories of my being very annoying and obstructive — and not telling them one single word to help them stop the Ascension."
The Doctor opened the doors, and he and Buffy brought the Scoobies outside, and carefully laid them down, on the grass — in front of the school.
For a second, they just stood there, looking at the school, and reflecting on what they'd just been through, together.
"You know we gotta talk," Buffy said, hugging her arms. "About the whole… 'soul' thing."
The Doctor flicked his eyes over to her. Then grinned. "Or, we could not! Ignore it! Swan off, somewhere brilliant! Start an adventure or two."
Buffy turned on him. "No, Doctor, seriously," she said. She placed a hand on her chest. "I have a copy of your soul… for some reason. Like, me." Her eyes went wide, suddenly. "This isn't a whole Angel-type-thing, right? You're not going to freak out if you have a moment of happiness, or…!"
"Elizabeth," the Doctor said, very seriously, "I am many things, but I am certainly not a 200 year old Irish vampire who'll turn evil after a moment of pure happiness — and who plays loose and reckless with the laws of time." He made a face. "You would not have liked me at 200. Went through a bit of a phase. Not the best time, in my life."
Buffy nodded, slowly. "So… why do I have…?"
"Ermiyator!" the Doctor proposed. He mimed something bobbing. "Great big sentient root beer floats, on Ermiyator. Sea's a rusty red and the fish make mooing noises." The Doctor's eyes glowed, in delight. "Or… Bonolo! Whole planet's just one giant ice skating rink — but with only a third the gravity. They say it's like flying!" He winked at her. "Or, could go flying, on…"
"One week to the Ascension," Buffy reminded him, pointedly. She slouched. "Remember?"
The Doctor raised up his TARDIS key. "Time machine. Remember?"
"Wait, you're not…? I mean, this isn't…?" Buffy put her hand to her head, trying to sort through her thoughts. She thought he was just rambling to change the topic, but… if he was ready to hand her a key, this was serious. "Are you actually asking me to come with you?"
"Course I am!" the Doctor said. He waggled the key, temptingly. "And why not? One trip in the TARDIS — free of charge."
Buffy laughed. "Just one trip, free of charge? How much does the second cost?"
"Five sea shells and a turtle."
Buffy shook her head, a smile still playing on her lips. "I can't."
"Well, let's just call trip two complimentary, as well, then," the Doctor conceded. "And for trip number three, we can start up a tab. And then, for trip four…"
"No, I mean — really," Buffy said. "I can't. I'm sorry." She gestured at the town, around her. "You know. Faith's gone bad. Mayor's gonna eat everyone. Vampires. Demons. Evil-ness. Stuff like that."
The Doctor looked down at his key, then shook his head, and put it away. "No. Course not. Not yet. I should have remembered." He looked back up at her, hands now in his pockets. "Still. Invitation is open-ended. You know, just in case you change your mind…"
But Buffy knew she wouldn't.
"I've got a duty to the world," Buffy said, "you've got a duty to the universe." She gestured at his TARDIS. "So, you know… go do duty-stuff! And when you get lonely, you can land here and find some serious Buffy-style-trouble for you to figure out, and we can fight it off, together."
The Doctor just smiled at her.
Then gave her a hug.
"Course I will," he said. "Always happy to help. Anytime you need it!" He waved his psychic paper at her. "Just think me a message, and I'll pop by. Sort it all out!"
"And, uh…" Buffy pulled out of the hug. "…speaking of help — the Mayor is kind of going to Ascend in a week… so… any tips about that?"
The Doctor sighed, gesturing at Xander. "Annoying and obstructive," he reminded her. "Not one word on how to stop it. Remember?"
Oh, yeah. Right.
And only Buffy would ever remember that he'd actually been really helpful and good.
"I don't have to tell them it was your idea, though," Buffy said. She pouted. "Please! Just a hint?"
The Doctor scratched the back of his neck, trying to work out what he could say. "You do realize I only know how to beat Wilkins because you told me what you did, right? In your own future?" He shook his head. "Telling you, now — paradox. And I've had more than enough of them, today."
It seemed she really did have to work this one out on her own. And even the information she'd gotten on the Ascension of the Time Lords had been different enough that it hadn't actually been that helpful.
"I'll tell you this, though." The Doctor winked at her. "When you come up with the solution — it'll be a great big explosive boom of Buffy-brilliance!" He mimed the Buffy 'Boom of Brilliance', the school visible behind his hands.
Yeah, looked like he wasn't going to tell her anything.
"Okay, I get it — no hints for Buffy," Buffy muttered. She gave him a small eye roll. "Thanks, Mr. 'Annoying and Obstructive'."
The Doctor gave a dopey grin and a shrug.
"Well, time I got going," the Doctor said, spinning around, and heading into his TARDIS. "Places to go! Companions to pick up! Lots of beautiful things to see!"
"And a Concurrence to track down and beat up?" Buffy guessed. "Before they rampage all over somewhere else, in the universe, causing chaos and bad stuff?"
The Doctor unlocked the doors. "Something like that." He slipped inside, and shut them. Outside, a wind whipped up, sending leaves skittering across the pavement, and the TARDIS began to trumpet and roar…
Then, it stopped.
The door creaked open, and the Doctor poked his head out.
"One other thing," the Doctor said. He met Buffy's eyes with his own. "Don't pry into the affairs of other-timeline-you. She's gone, forever. Best just let sleeping dogs lay."
Then he popped back into his time machine.
And vanished, into the morning air.
Buffy grinned, as she watched the TARDIS go. But not half as much as she grinned when she heard Xander, waking up, behind her, and catching a glimpse of the departing TARDIS.
"He's leaving, already?" Xander cried. "Without telling us one word about how to stop the Ascension?!" He bunched his hands into fists. "That annoying, obstructive jerk!"