Buffy felt saturated, and being a passenger on a spaceship in the future was only the start of it. Ostensibly here because a planet of time-travelers needed her help against a giant vampire, she had just watched as the starship captain had singlehandedly averted the wholesale massacre of the planet's population. Not really singlehandedly, of course - the crew had all done exactly what he said. That was the point. And now it was her turn, to face the Godzilla-sized bloodsucker in a showdown.
"I'll go," said Buffy. "Just give me a space rowboat, or whatever you've got."
"She's right, Captain," said the Doctor to Picard. "You and your crew have already done your part. But I'll go, as the only representative of the Time Lord race -" Now he had raised his voice, shouting at the ceiling as if he thought the Time Lords were watching. "- with the courage to face up to what they've set in motion!!"
"Us too!" cried Willow, raising her hand.
"It's the party we came for," said Xander. "Kind of."
"Very well." The Doctor ushered them toward the double doors at the back of the bridge, which swished open automatically for them, revealing what was too small to be anything but an elevator.
Buffy moved toward it more slowly than the other three. "You don't really have to come along, Doctor." Suddenly the chewing-out he'd given her, when he learned how reluctant a Slayer she was, had become a source of unease instead of anger.
"No? I suppose your Watcher has seen fit to teach you how to pilot twenty-fourth century shuttlecraft?"
Resignedly Buffy boarded the elevator. But just before the doors slid shut the Doctor blocked them. "Er, captain," said the Doctor sheepishly, "we may borrow one of your shuttlecraft, mayn't we?"
The Doctor had expounded on Time Lord regeneration to Giles, to explain why the descriptions of the time-traveler in Watcher diaries varied enough to be of many different men. His present body was his eighth and, estimating from TARDIS console readings, his past incarnation in the future was his sixth plus-one-or-minus-three. "Hopefully not my sixth personality," he said. "I seem to recall many accusations along the lines of 'boorish' and 'insensitive'."
With this their combined present capacity for small talk was exhausted. The transport spell would automatically return Willow and Xander when this "space-time event" had run its course. So, according to the Doctor, should the Time Lords' temporal anomaly return Buffy. The implications that Time Lord technology and classic Earth magic worked along similar principles would have fascinated Giles at any other time; but after the first subject ran down he was too distracted with concern. And something else.
"You said," said Giles, finally having gathered the nerve to ask, "that 'history needs Buffy to return safely'. Why? What is Buffy to history?"
"I couldn't say," shrugged the Doctor.
"Because of the laws of Time?"
"That too. But honestly I don't know. I didn't research any details before I landed - I saw the strain her absence is causing in the fabric of space-time, I stopped to deal with it." He looked at Giles. "But surely you, Watcher to the Slayer, of all people are aware of the cataclysmic era of history that Earth's embarking on, in this time."
Giles could only nod.
"You know, Buffy," said the Doctor out of the blue, "I wasn't interested in being a hero either, when I was about as old as you are."
Willow, seated behind Buffy in the space shuttle, exchanged a glance with Xander behind the Doctor. Buffy didn't even look up; she sat staring out the starboard window at the stars, and at the Time Lords' duel planetoid as the shuttle skimmed over it. This subject must have something to do with why Buffy and the Doctor'd been giving each other the silent treatment since the four of them got on the elevator for the shuttle bay.
"Relative to Time Lord life expectancy, of course. That means I'd lived several Earth lifetimes already," the Doctor continued. "I was old and cranky, and all I wanted was to sit in one place and have everyone leave me alone. But my granddaughter - she was about the absolute age you are now - Susan taught me that you have to care to live, and you have to act to care. And I, I chose the road less traveled by, and that has made all the difference."
"I'll never be a hero," Buffy said softly.
Xander started to speak but the Doctor, his hand behind Buffy still turned to her window, sharply waved Xander silent.
"Did you see Captain Picard?" she said. "They all do what he says. And not because he's the captain. They do it for him. And that's why he's the captain, you know?
"He's a real hero. I'm just a stupid little girl, and I'm in over my head."
The Doctor's hand, still raised from when he'd shushed Xander, dropped.
"So this captain guy," Xander said, "you 'spose his crew would follow him anywhere?"
"Like for instance," said Willow, "across four centuries and half the galaxy?"
Buffy was groping blindly backwards with both arms on either side of the back of her chair. Willow and Xander were each taking one of her hands, and she was holding on as if she was drowning. Then her grip loosened and let go, after one last quick squeeze, and she sat up from the window. From the back it looked like she was wiping her face with her palms. "Are we there yet?" she asked the Doctor.
"Getting there," smiled the Doctor, but Willow didn't think he was talking about the shuttle. She and Xander grinned at each other and gave each other their fifth grade secret handshake.
But maybe the Doctor had meant the double-entendre both ways. Through the windshield ahead the vampire began appearing at the horizon: first its head, then its shoulders ...
"This planet ain't big enough fer the both of us," said Xander in a movie outlaw's voice. Then, in his own, "Hell, it's not big enough for Kong there by himself!"
"How did the Time Lords kill these things, anyway?" Buffy asked.
"Bow-ships," said the Doctor. "Ships that fired projectiles, the size of Saturn V rockets, through the vampires' hearts."
After a moment Buffy turned to the Doctor. "Are you pondering what I'm pondering?"
The Doctor looked back at her. In the seat behind Buffy, Willow could just see his face, and it sure looked like he was following her line of thought. Willow was clueless, though, and Xander expressed the same predicament: "I think so, Brain," he said to Buffy, "but what's there to keep Colonel Sanders from crossing the road too?"
"You're the pilot," said Buffy.
"You're the Slayer," said the Doctor.
Buffy said, "Go for it."
The Doctor pressed a few touchpads on the control console. There was no sense of acceleration in the shuttlecraft cabin, but through the windshield Willow saw that they had increased speed.
Right at the giant vampire.
Xander was watching too. "Hey woah, isn't this a mach one speed zone?"
Right at the vampire's heart.
"I forgot!" Willow shouted as everyone scrambled for handholds. "Is it too late to mention that the Web of Time needs Buffy to get home after this?"
"Yes!" said the Doctor. "We're committed!"
"Or oughta be!" shouted Buffy in absurd high spirits.
The vampire grew in the windshield. Fortunately, ILM was wrong: something this big was too heavy to move quickly. It tried to swat at them and missed. In another instant they were inside his defenses. In yet another they were inside him.
They definitely felt it in the cabin when they hit the vampire. But at this speed they were through him in less than a second. "Eww," said Willow.
"Got him!" Xander crowed.
"No," said Buffy and the Doctor simultaneously. "Not," Buffy elucidated, "with this little ship, not if it usually takes something the size of a Cape Canaveral special."
"What's that flashing?" Willow asked, pointing at the console.
"We have to make an emergency landing," said the Doctor tensely, working the controls.
"An emergency landing? What is it?"
"It's when you land fast because something's wrong," said Xander, "but that's not important right now. Do we really want to share this tiny planet with a giant vampire who we probably just made real mad?"
"He won't stick around," said the Doctor. "Vampires are a superstitious, cowardly lot. He'll run, and somehow he'll end up - Of course!" the Doctor interrupted himself. He poked at the controls with renewed vigor. "We must land near that power source the Enterprise detected!"
"Because the Time Lords knew I'd want it!"
"Heinlein's in trouble, Captain," said Daniels. Riker could see that from the tactical display on the main screen.
"Enterprise to Heinlein," snapped Picard. "Doctor, prepare for emergency beamout."
"Not yet!" came the Doctor's voice. "I can bring her down! We need the device you scanned on the planetoid's surface."
"Then we'll beam it aboard too."
"All right," agreed the Doctor abruptly. It was so unlike him that Riker could only deduce the Heinlein was in worse shape than the Doctor had initially realized. "Bring us to the bridge, but put the device into the torpedo bay!" Riker was keying the commands to the transporter room even before Picard nodded.
"Data," Picard added, "take remote control of Heinlein, and bring her in for a landing if you can."
"Slaving to you," the Doctor transmitted.
"The vampire's back in his ship," said Daniels. "He's powering up for takeoff. He's off."
"Intercept course, Mr. Hawk." said Picard, "Engage as beaming is complete."
"Plotted, Captain," said Hawk, as the Doctor and the three twentieth-century kids beamed onto the bridge. The kids fell on the floor, having been beamed in sitting positions, but the Doctor kept his feet.
"Engage, Mr. Hawk."
"You must load the Time Lords' device into your torpedo launcher," said the Doctor to Picard without preamble.
"It'll destroy the vampire?"
"It'll put him out of your misery," said the Doctor enigmatically.
"What aren't you saying?"
"I can't say, captain, not till this is over."
"Why didn't you tell me you could do that!" Buffy blurted.
Riker looked over at the kids. They were sitting where they'd landed at beamin, each looking as dazed as at their initial appearances on the bridge. Teleportation must not have been in their regular line. "Sorry," he said. "You asked for a shuttle; we thought it was what you needed."
"As it happens, it was," said the Doctor, smiling at Buffy, and to Riker's surprise getting a smile back. "The great vampire is wounded now and, like the animal he is, is trying to go to ground."
"Back to his home - the way he came?" said Picard.
"Chase is on course back to Bajor," confirmed Hawk. "We are in pursuit."
"The Time Lords' planetoid disappeared again before Heinlein hit it," said Data. "Heinlein's now in a cometary orbit around Gallifrey's sun and should be retrievable at a later date."
"I'm going to examine the Time Lords' device," said the Doctor, heading for the turbolift doors, "just to make sure they have it right."
"If I hear 'a stern chase is a long chase' ever again," said Xander two hours later, "I'll never set foot on the water again." Actually no one had said that.
"Sorry we couldn't be more hospitable," said Picard. "Most of the Enterprise's guests are offered a tour. But Starfleet has some experience in time-travel, and we must minimize what knowledge of the future you take back with you, for our own history's sake."
"I'm sure the Doctor would say the same thing," said Buffy, "if he were here." Despite the cynical words she actually felt quite cheerful. She'd pulled off her part of this operation (if the word 'operation' could be applied to the way the Time Lords had thrown everyone into the deep end) and was sure that Giles could get her home - as he'd gotten Willow and Xander here - if no one else could.
"Speak of the devil," came the Doctor's voice on top of the swish of the elevator door. "Captain, your Space Station Number Nine must allow the great vampire into the wormhole without being fired on. Also I'll need torpedo control."
"Mr. Daniels, notify DS9," said Picard. "Photon fire at the Doctor's command."
And the captain does what the Doctor says, Buffy thought.
But not unquestioningly. "I don't appreciate the air of mystery, Doctor."
"Come now, captain, you know better," said the Doctor. "I'll wager you haven't given our new friends a tour of the Enterprise, have you?"
"Nope," said Xander, not without glee. The captain shot him a put-upon look and dropped the subject.
"DS9 acknowledges," Daniels reported. "Standing by on photon one."
"Stand by," said the Doctor, raising his hand as on the shuttle.
"Chase slowing to sublight for wormhole approach," said Hawk. "We're closing to photon range."
"Quickly!" demanded the Doctor.
"Visual," called Riker.
The main viewscreen changed from a fancy radar screen with transponder readouts to a live 3-D picture of the vampire's ship, flashing past a space station with three curved dual prongs. "Bio-hazard warning," Buffy said. After a moment the Doctor guffawed.
"Wormhole is opening," said Data. So that's what that was.
"Chase approaching wormhole," from Hawk.
"Photon range," from Daniels.
"Chase is in," from Hawk.
"Fire one!" cried the Doctor, bringing his arm down and forward like an umpire calling you out at the plate. It reminded Buffy of Picard's hand motion when giving Hawk orders about the ships' course. Kind of. The way an ostrich reminds you of a swan.
Daniels punched his console. "Torpedo away!"
A bright speck flew away from them on the screen and followed the vampire's ship into the big cloudy hole in space. There was a big flash, which judging from the Enterprise crew's winces and the Doctor's cry of triumph was not a normal effect of the wormhole's closing, even though that's what it immediately did. "Got him!" was the Doctor's cry.
"What did you do?" asked Riker. "Blow him up in the Gamma Quadrant?"
"He never got back to the Gamma Quadrant," said the Doctor. "That radiation, interacting with the wormhole's energies, sent the great vampire to an alternate universe!"
"Like the DS9 roundabout that went to the mirror universe," said Picard, "and Defiant a year after that."
"You sent him to the mirror universe?" Troi asked.
"Nooo," said the Doctor. "I sent him into the negative universe we Time Lords call E-Space - where I myself have already witnessed his final end in the future."
"'Already witnessed' ..." Riker repeated.
"You knew all along he was going to escape us," said Picard.
"The Time Lord's anomaly had a dual purpose," explained the Doctor. "First, obviously, to bring Buffy here. Second, and at least as important, to attract my attention to these events, so that I could set up the great vampire's known final fate, rounded off and whole and done!"
"So the whole adventure's over?" asked Xander.
The Doctor nodded. "Seems to be."
"Because Giles said that, when it was, we'd ..." started Willow - but the sudden fog cut her off.
Before the Enterprise left Bajoran space, Troi received a private signal from DS9. She asked Riker to join her in the ready room. There was only one person who could be signaling.
"Worf!" said Troi. "I'm glad you called. Will and I have something to ask you."
"I too have news," said Worf. "Something I did not wish to say in a taped message." He couldn't help glancing over at Riker, standing behind Picard's chair where Troi sat. But Worf had sent the signal coded private, and he must know that if Riker was there it was because she wanted him there. "Deanna," said Worf, "I have met someone. Jadzia Dax, DS9's science officer." Riker remembered her. "It is ... serious."
"Worf, that's ..." Riker waited to see how Troi would finish. "... wonderful."
"Deanna. I am sorry if ..." Worf paused, searching for words.
"Don't be sorry," said Troi. "Don't worry about me. What Will and I called to say is that we're marrying, in the Betazoid way."
Worf's face relaxed in relief. Another person - even another Klingon - might have smiled, but Worf, a Klingon raised among humans, chose not to bare Klingon teeth as a sign of good cheer, as it had frequently frightened his childhood playmates. "That is good news. The only taint to my happiness has been the fear that you would be angry or hurt."
"Actually we were going to ask you to," said Riker, revising the rest of his sentence at the sudden sharp pain in his shin, "be the best man."
"I would be honored, sir. Inform me of the date and I will request leave." Worf looked offscreen a moment. "I must sign off. Deanna, Alexander asked me to send you his love. He has grown so, you would not recognize him."
"My love to him," said Troi. "And to you and Dax."
"Congratulations to them both," said Riker. "They're a lucky Trill."
"Thank you. Worf out." The screen flipped to the Starfleet seal.
Riker watched Troi stare at it for a few moments before asking, "You all right?"
"No." Troi blinked and tears ran down her cheeks. "I thought I had the perfect solution, but I took too long. Ahhh." She looked at him. "Are you?"
"I'm ..." Riker refocussed from her to himself. "No," he said.
"You're disappointed too," she said, looking into his eyes as if that was how she was reading it. "And it surprises you."
"Yes." Riker wasn't sure which of them was leading the other back to the ready room couch. "I guess I'd been thinking in my head of this only as if you were going to have two husbands - that you'd be in two marriages, one to each of us."
"But I guess what I really expected, and wanted, was ... well, I don't know if there are human words for it. I was looking forward to a spousal intimacy with Worf."
"If not a conjugal one." Troi nodded.
Riker shrugged. "In time, even that might've happened. Who knows?"
"Now it's not going to happen after all."
She put her arms around him, and he her. Then, after a moment, he added, "And I was glad to be going to have a partner for when you went into your Phase."
She jabbed him in the ribs. "I'll try to go easy on you," she said.
Giles looked Buffy over with a smile on his face. Then he said, "You have more than one piercing in your ear."
"Yyyah," said Buffy. "Where have you been for ever?"
"Well, call me old-fashioned and conservative -"
"You're old-fashioned and conservative," said Xander obediently.
"- but it seems to me that one per ear is enough."
"As ritual self-mutilation rites-of-passage in history go," said Willow, "multiple ear piercings are pretty conservative."
"Well, if you're going to bring in primitives like the pygmies and the American aboriginals -"
"Be careful whom you call primitive," said the stranger sitting on the floor, behind someone's art class project. "They may not have had digital watches, but they were civilized. Before the white man came, their Slayers and Watchers were honored public figures."
"If the gang-up-on-the-librarian event is quite over ..."
"Who are you?" Buffy said to the stranger.
"I'm the Doctor."
Buffy dropped her jaw "duh" at him. "No you're not." The only resemblance between this guy and the Doctor was that they were both male and wore frock coats. Oh, and the accent. This guy was much ... cuter.
"Don't judge a book by its cover," he said good-naturedly.
"I'll explain later, Buffy," said Giles. But the stranger's simple self-confidence had done more to convince her than Giles' meager explanations of Time Lord regeneration would do later - much as they explained some of the comments she'd heard on the Enterprise.
(Of course, the fact that he left the library in a disappearing Police Box - after the circle and the wards had been dispersed - was a giveaway, too.)
Ten-Forward was stuffed as it had never been stuffed before. Those who were on duty, or who just wouldn't fit, were watching on screens around the Enterprise. In front of the observation ports Picard stood behind a podium in his dress uniform, smiling. Riker and Troi stood facing him. They, Lwaxana Troi, Worf, and several others gathered both at the podium and among the spectators - as per Betazoid custom - were naked.
"Since the days of the first wooden sailing vessels," Picard started, "all ships' captains have had one happy privilege ..."
This story was first serialized on Usenet and my website in December 1998 - the three chapters respectively December 1, 5 and 11, 1998. Perceptive readers will note that I married Riker and Troi, in a story set just before STAR TREK: FIRST CONTACT, on the very date of the opening of STAR TREK: INSURRECTION, which showed they were still only playing at each other some two years after FIRST CONTACT. Ordinarily I prefer not to deviate far from canon, certainly not as far as marrying two characters in a continuity still open-ended. I thought this one was safe, after some half-dozen years of the characters being left alone by the continuity owners - and then they stuck me with a new development the very day that I originally posted this chapter.
All I could say was, "Heck widdit. Let my story stand."
As for the wedding in STAR TREK: NEMESIS, see More Potpourri Eight.
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