Love. Give. Forgive. Risk the pain. It is your nature. — Sineya
... ... ...
Buffy wasn't dreaming.
She wished she was. She wished she'd been dreaming for the last year. Or the last two. But she was wide awake. And so was the stranger in the room with her.
"You poor, silly little girl," came his taunting British lilt. He strolled over to her, past Spike — still sleeping on the cot in the basement — and towards Buffy. The green of his frock coat catching the moonlight, his eyes shining as if they were real. He stretched out a hand as if to lean against a nearby chair, but his hand went right through it.
"The First," muttered Buffy. "Again." She glanced up and down, examining the non-corporeal person who'd just appeared in her basement. "You know, it kind of takes the punch out of it if you appear in the shape of someone I don't even know."
The First's green eyes twinkled. "Don't you know me? Your other-self did. Travelled with me for four years." He leaned forwards. "She thought I was a monster."
A chill ran through Buffy as she realized who the First was impersonating. Her mouth felt dry, and when she opened it to reply, no words formed.
"Of course, there have been other faces," the First continued. He morphed through a dizzying array of people — all men, but of different sizes and shapes and complexions. Some old, some young, one with a long scarf and another with a hideous multi-colored jacket. The apparition flickered when it got to the 9th face — the visage of a tall man with close-cropped hair and a leather jacket — then morphed back into the 8th body once more. "But I'm quite partial to this one."
"You're missing a few faces," Buffy pointed out. "That's only nine you've shown me."
The First ignored her. Instead, he examined the green frock coat, admiration in his eyes. "You could say it's my favorite. The body that condemned billions to death in a single instant. The body that burned his own kind, that slaughtered planets and became known through galaxies as the annihilator of worlds." He met Buffy's eyes. "The body that destroyed your other-self."
"Oh, I see! You can't do it, can you?" said Buffy, with a dry laugh. "You can only transform into dead people. But the Doctor shows up in Sunnydale out of order. Anything past his 9th incarnation — for me, that version of him would still be alive. You can't show up as a him I know, because for me, the Doctor isn't dead."
"Naturally," said the First, with a dismissive wave of his hand. "But what you should be asking yourself is why. Why I would be able to appear to you as the Doctor, when I couldn't manage Tara?"
Buffy said nothing.
"Ah, but you already know that," said the First, his lips tilting into a small smile. "Tara was pure." He spread his arms, to indicate himself. "The Doctor is not."
Buffy gritted her teeth.
"You waited for him, didn't you?" said the First. "Up in heaven? A child's delusion. He knows just as well as I do. When he dies, his soul isn't going to heaven." The smile widened. "Not at all."
Buffy turned away. "Shut up."
"A murderer," the First continued, in that suave British accent. "A destroyer. A manipulator of time and space. One willing to sacrifice anyone or anything to suit his own ends." The First gave a small laugh. "Just like me."
Buffy spun around to face the First, a storm in her eyes. "He is not like you," she growled.
The First crossed his arms, pride in his face. "How?"
"He'd never hunt down and kill innocent girls just because of how they were born," Buffy said. "He'd never even think of it."
The First laughed outright at this. "Your sister might disagree."
Buffy said nothing for a long moment. A very long moment. Then, finally, "He gives them a chance. He gives everyone a chance."
"I gave you a chance," said the First.
Buffy shook her head, and turned away.
"Caleb was a good, faithful servant," the First called after her. "But he wasn't my first choice. He wasn't the one I picked out, five years ago."
Buffy froze in her tracks. She remembered. The first time she'd met the Doctor. When he'd told her about the First Evil — Toby, the Doctor had called him.
I destroyed his body, so he's decided to take mine.
That car ride, the way the Doctor felt as she dragged him back into the TARDIS. The way his skin grew cold, the way his TARDIS key burned him — as the First tried to take over, make the Doctor his willing servant.
"All I want is to destroy the Slayer line forever," said the First. "I don't really care how." He gave a shrug. "If I'd had the Doctor, I might have done it bloodlessly. But, of course, you made that impossible. Snatched the Doctor away from me. Forced me to gather up my Bringers and Turok-Hans and hunt down every potential Slayer throughout the world. Countless innocent girls died, and why? Because of you, Buffy Summers. That choice you made. They died because you were selfish, and saved the Doctor."
Buffy felt a chill run down her spine. All those potential Slayers that had been killed, at the First's hand, all those innocent young girls hunted and murdered — had she really been to blame? Could it be…?
She shook herself. No. This was stupid. Of course this wasn't her fault. This was the First being manipulative. The First trying to plant doubt, guilt, and chaos into her mind.
Buffy didn't even look back at the non-corporeal entity. Just began to walk away.
"But enough talk," came a new voice. A rougher sounding British accent. Northern, kind of. The sound of footsteps behind her, and in a burst of movement, the image of the Ninth Doctor appeared before her, leather jacket and all. "Done with talk. How 'bout I show you?"
"What?" said Buffy.
The Ninth Doctor's eyes gleamed, and he reached out towards her.
"No, wait!" shouted Buffy.
But her words were lost, as he grabbed her wrist, his hand cool against her flesh, and everything happened at once. The world seemed to open around her and swallow her up, as the essence of reality spun and churned and dove, as the air howled and the colors of the world blurred…
A jolt through her brain, as she found herself back in the Watchers Council building, the pinstripe suited Doctor lying limp on the floor, his brown eyes large and desperate. Telling her that the First was trying to possess him. Pleading to bring him back to the TARDIS.
Except the world was moving too fast. Almost too fast to process, events darting around her in super-fast-forward. Buffy and the Doctor were outside and then they weren't. They were in the car, Buffy was driving, the London traffic zipping around her at a terrifying speed. The Doctor grabbed her arm and then let go. His hand burned as he dropped the TARDIS key. Setting 522 on the screwdriver — lock the coordinates. TARDIS will do you no favors.
On and on, phrases and words crashing across Buffy as if drowning her in their ocean.
And then she felt herself running towards the TARDIS, the Doctor draped across her shoulder, and he was dying, dying, and she grabbed for the Vamp-Away, unstopped it, and…
Buffy was slammed into time, once more, the unstopped Vamp-Away vial in her hand, as she was about to pour the contents down the Doctor's throat.
Only, this time, she never got the chance.
His hand flew up and caught her wrist, pouring the liquid onto the ground beside him. The hand felt cold, clammy, lifeless; devoid of that familiar double-pulse.
Then he opened his eyes.
Black, merciless eyes. Bitter eyes. Cold and cruel eyes, boring into her.
"You," he growled. "Who are you? What have you done?"
Buffy shuddered back, instinctively. "No," she breathed. No, this wasn't right. This couldn't be right. This wasn't what was supposed to happen!
In a burst of movement, he was on top of her, holding her down against the grating of the console room, his grasp impossibly strong, his voice venomous. "Who are you? How did you get here? What have you done to time?"
Buffy closed her eyes, and took a deep breath. Then, gathering every ounce of strength she had, she surged out and kicked him off of her, making him collapse onto the floor.
He rolled and emerged on his feet, trainers padding along the console room grating like a cat, his eyes still locked on hers.
"Who are you?" the Doctor shouted. "What are you here for? What did you do?!"
Buffy knew more than felt the knife in her pocket. She knew what she had to do. What a younger-her would be doing, right now, for the sake of time and space and the universe. But… she wasn't younger-her.
She hadn't just met the Doctor. She knew him. She… loved him. Had waited two years, her every breath hoping that he'd come back. Had sent two years worth of psychic paper messages urging him to sweep her away again. Had spent two years… needing him… and learning to live with the fact that she'd never see him again.
But here he was.
And she had to kill him.
"No," Buffy said, again.
The Doctor gave her one last, long stare, then turned away from her, and walked towards the central console. Buffy surged forwards, her hand wrapping around the sonic screwdriver in her pocket. Setting 522. Got it. Just as the Doctor's fingers reached the buttons, Buffy triggered the sonic, and the console exploded into a shower of sparks.
"No!" The Doctor, this time, his face glaring at her through the flames of his ship, as the TARDIS wheezed and groaned and shook around them.
Buffy dove at him, her instincts driving her onwards as her heart shouted at her to stop. She slammed into him and threw him back, but he grabbed her arms and let her fall with him, flipping her across his head and throwing her against a coral pillar. She fell to the ground, and barely had time to comprehend what had just happened before he was on her again, his shadow draped across her body like a blanket.
"What have you done?" he cried. "Where did you come from? Why are you here?"
Buffy flipped onto her feet, facing the Doctor. Except… he wasn't the Doctor, anymore. Couldn't be. Just… a monster. A servant of the First, like Caleb. He was no more the Doctor than Angelus had been Angel.
She threw a punch, and he blocked her expertly. Then twisted her around, but she ducked under his arm and forced him to let her go. A high-pitched buzzing noise, and Buffy realized he'd somehow got the sonic back from her, was pointing it now at the central console of the TARDIS, right where she was standing. The area beside her grew red hot, almost burning her, its light too intense for her to see through.
Don't rely on the TARDIS for any favors after I turn…
A burst of steamed seared past Buffy, and she tried to scuttle away, but ran right into the Doctor's cold hands. He held her by the shoulders, his eyes fixed on hers, but there was no pity in those eyes. No light. No kindness. They were dark, cruel, malicious.
He was going to kill her.
She was sure.
And then, for no reason, he cried out. Shuddered back. Stumbled and fell, his eyes clenched shut, as he curled up on the console room floor.
He gasped out a word that Buffy couldn't pick up. He shook even harder, his teeth gritted, and he curled up even tighter.
Then he screamed.
Hands covering his head, words turning to faint, unintelligible mutterings, face ashy as death. His hands began to tear at his hair as the words grew louder, and Buffy realized they weren't English.
Buffy stopped in her tracks, and realized she'd already begun advancing forwards. Her knife in her hand. She'd been stalking towards the Doctor — hunting, Dracula had called it — acting purely on instinct. The steel blade raised. Prepared to slice through both hearts. Kill him. Like he'd said.
She froze, her breath caught in her throat.
The knife dropped to the grating with a clang.
Oh, God. She'd been about to… had nearly… and she wasn't even aware of her own actions. Hadn't even wanted to do it. Instinct. Hunting. Automatic responses. The Doctor's eyes glanced back at her, those cold, soulless eyes, now shining with a look of desperation, of fear, pleading with her for mercy, for forgiveness…
(The forgiveness he'd given her, over and over again, even when she didn't deserve it. The pride and hope and faith he'd poured into her, even when she betrayed him.)
Buffy stumbled back a few steps, and the doors to the TARDIS burst open, flooding the machine with sunlight. She mouthed a silent "sorry," as she turned and bolted out of the TARDIS. Nearly tripping over her own two feet, as she found herself running as fast as she could, through...
Sunnydale. The graveyard. The way it had been five years ago.
The doors clicked shut behind her, and she spun around to face them. Half of her ready to rush in and finish what she'd started — what he'd asked her to do. Kill him. Save the universe.
The other half knowing she'd never be able to.
"Bit predictable," came a rough Northern voice to Buffy's right. "Lettin' him go like that."
Buffy snapped her head around to find the leather-jacketed form of the Ninth Doctor, slouched against a nearby gravestone, looking smug.
"Still," he continued, "least this time you left the rocket launcher behind."
Buffy turned away, gritting her teeth. Pulling herself together. Of course. The First. What had just happened. It all fit. A pattern.
"You can't fool me," she muttered at the leather-jacketed man, and stalked off.
This wasn't real. None of this. She didn't know what it was, but she knew how the First operated. The First could pull out every illusion in the books, could fiddle with your emotions and make you scared enough to kill yourself, but the First couldn't step inside the world and mess around with it like this. And the First definitely couldn't travel in time.
Buffy pushed aside the sudden flood of thoughts reminding her that the First had managed to do exactly that, with the help of a number of trans-temporal rifts and an insane anti-matter Time Lord, but… no. No, this wasn't real. Couldn't be. If the First could do this, it'd have done it at the start of this mess.
She left the graveyard, and headed home.