"No," said Buffy.
"Just for a short time. I can have you back the moment you left. Before."
That gave Buffy pause. She had no idea whether leaving the planet would initiate a new Slayer, the way her surprisingly temporary death a year ago had initiated Kendra. Kendra who was dead now. In fact she had no idea whether Kendra's death had passed the torch to yet another - it depended on whether the trigger was the death of a Slayer, or the lack of a Slayer. She wished she could ask Giles ... but she'd never see him again. All she was sure of was that she would not pass this cup to someone else if she could help it.
Not that she was going to exercise the office any more. Not when even a moment's wavering, a moment's consideration of temporarily acting on her good ole Chosen One status, only got her yelled at.
But even if leaving the planet was a trigger, it didn't matter when the Doctor's time machine could bring her back before any time had passed.
"All right," she said.
"Wonderful," grinned the Doctor. He spun and disappeared like a rabbit into a bolthole through the doors of the TARDIS, which had materialized in her dingy, lonely efficiency apartment while Lily's accusations were still echoing off the walls. Buffy fairly ran after him into it. Unseen by Buffy, just before the TARDIS dematerialized, it rematerialized on the other side of the bed ... the side where the sun shone.
Buffy was sitting on the bed in her room in the TARDIS reading a July, 2002 People article about Leonardo and popping Frango mints, when the Doctor poked his head into the room.
"I don't know how much exploring of the TARDIS you've done," he said, "but there is a weight room where you can continue your Slayer training."
Buffy rolled her eyes. "I thought I was on vacation! Can't I go three days without hearing about this?"
The Doctor cringed. "Sorry, sorry," he said, retreating on tiptoe backwards.
"No, I'm serious!" Buffy went on. "Is it so all-fired important that ..." She trailed off, realizing that such opposition as may have existed at all had vanished under her first assault.
Buffy contemplated the complete lack of victoriousosity she was feeling. She reached for another Frango, but then put it back, and set off for the weight room which she had in fact already located.
"So," said Buffy, as the Doctor worked his controls and the TARDIS departed the Robotic Renaissance era of Menelith IV, "how about that Quolt guy, huh? Pretty hunkomatic."
"Didn't notice," the Doctor murmured.
"Not your orientation, okay. I noticed. You and Raston seemed to hit it off. You two really spend all last night rewiring only her androids?"
"Buffy, we went over this when we learned that you're my mother." Instead of being smug or chagrined, or protesting too much, or anything, the Doctor was barely annoyed. "Time Lords reproduce in the lab."
"You don't ..."
"No we don't. No point."
"You personally have never ..."
The Doctor shook his head. "Pure as the driven snow. Strength as of ten men. Unicorn bait."
"In a thousand years?"
"Never missed it," the Doctor grinned. He abandoned the console now that the time machine was in flight and plopped into his chair, picking a dogeared paperback copy of The Mote in God's Eye off of the end table and opening it to a bookmarked place. Instantly Buffy could tell he was outside of space and time for an unspecified duration; or she was.
She wandered into her own room and sat at the vanity. "Well," she asked the mirror, "what do you think - Joey or Jen?"
"You take the holographic projector, and I'll carry the ionizer," said the Doctor, suiting action to word. "There. Are you ready to foil Lord Trixol's evil scheme for taking over the Yorstenic Interplanetary Empire?"
"I'm ready to kick some ass," Buffy said.
"As it were," the Doctor said, starting off. Buffy followed, but with a disarming sense of deja vu.
"'Kick his ass'," Buffy murmured. "Willow wouldn't say, 'Kick his ass.'"
"Probably not," agreed the Doctor. "And this is relevant to our current concern because ...?"
Buffy didn't answer for a long moment. When she did it was a wail: "He lied to me!"
"Who lied?" The Doctor turned to face Buffy, having to turn because she had come to a stop.
"Xander knew Willow was trying the curse again! That's what she wanted him to tell me - and he lied!"
"Buffy - Buffy -" The Doctor was trying to calm her down. Part of her realized that now was the wrong time for this, with the palace guard keeping Trixol's troops busy for them, and that made the rest of her listen to him. "It wouldn't have made any difference. Angelus had to be destroyed if the vortex was to be sealed forever. You know that, you told me."
"Xander didn't know that! He never trusted Angel. Neither did you!"
"Buffy, think! Angel was an artifact. He existed only as a result of the gypsy curse on Angelus." Later Buffy would realize that the Doctor had already thought this all through, sometime since she'd told him the end of the story. Maybe the instant he'd heard it. "What if Willow had worked fast enough for her curse to ensoul Angel before Angelus opened the vortex? What if Angel's destruction hadn't been an immediate necessity to save the world? You and Angel could still never have picked up where you left off! That was how the curse was lifted in the first place!
"You and Angel could never have been together, not without dooming him again."
Buffy hated the Doctor right now. Hated him for saying out loud what she had known all along.
"Now tell me," the Doctor continued, "- when you told Willow to attempt the spell the first time, the day before - was it for your own personal reasons?"
"No. I was just setting up a Plan B for keep Angelus from waking Acathla." It was true too, whether anyone believed it or not. It just didn't work. Either.
"Of course." The Doctor believed it. He'd known she was going to say that, because it was what he would've done. "Now tell me - if you had had the time to explain, don't you think that Angel would have willingly given himself up to defeat Angelus' plan?"
"But ..." Emotions roiled through Buffy like stormclouds. "But ... it's so hard!"
"And that," said the Doctor, "is what Xander was trying to spare you. Do you see that?"
"I guess," Buffy sniffled. "Yes."
"Good," said the Doctor. "Then do you suppose we could get on with saving this star system from megalomania?"
"Good girl. Come along."
Buffy entered the space station's bar and went right to the counter. "You serve minors?" she asked, having no idea whether there was a legal drinking age in the future.
"Miners, pilots, high-ranking church prelates, thieves." The bartender wasn't human, with huge ears and no hair and straggly teeth and worse clothes sense than the Doctor's. He was ogling her unabashedly.
Buffy had been suffering a craving, and this was the first TARDIS stop for weeks on end that looked like a possible save. "Give me a root beer. I'm good for it; I'm with the Doctor."
"Root beer." The bartender's ogle wavered. "Loss!" He said it like a curse. "I should have known." But by the time he was back with Buffy's order his composure had returned. "So what's the story with this Doctor?"
Buffy sipped and reveled before she answered. "He's a Time Lord. He travels in time. I thought you all knew him here."
"Well, there's knowing and then there's ... knowing." The bartender settled on his elbows across the counter from Buffy and leaned toward her in slimy intimacy. "After all, the Doctor seems to attract only the most ... attractive traveling companions."
Buffy smiled at him. "What are you suggesting about ... us?"
"The two of you cooped up in that tiny time capsule. Of course, travel is supposed to be broadening - but only if you're open to all sorts of ... experiences. Hey!"
Buffy had taken hold of the front of his collar and pulled, until she was fairly certain his feet were off the floor on the other side of the counter. This put them nose to ridged nose.
"I'm his mother," Buffy said sweetly.
"Really?" The bartender succeeded in the main in keeping his calm.
"Everything is possible with time travel."
Buffy let go of him suddenly and he regained his feet with a thump. "Nothing will be said about this slur on myself and the Doctor if this root beer is free of charge."
The bartender sputtered. Buffy seemed to have hit him right where he lived. "A free drink? I hardly know you!"
"The Doctor and I are seeing the station commander in -" She looked at her watch.
"All right!" The bartender put up his hands in assent and walked away. Too quietly for normal human ears he muttered, "I knew that girl was trouble the moment I saw her."
Buffy felt the heat radiating from the burning building as she and the Doctor rushed up to the door. "Prince !sntr is in there?"
"Yes, and the door's locked!" answered the Doctor, pulling on the release to no avail. "Sonic screwdriver," he said, starting to empty his pockets into Buffy's hands.
"You've lost it again?" Buffy yelped, trying to hold onto the various interplanetary currencies and sundry unidentified objects being piled on her. Not that forgetting which pocket contained the sonic screwdriver really constituted losing it - but in the past three months this had happened every time he wanted it.
"Here!" He came up with his technological skeleton key and bent to the door catch with it.
"These are my formative years!" Buffy grumbled, attempting with moderate success to dump the Doctor's stuff into her bag instead of on the ground. "I need order and consistency! I need a role model who's dependable, and stable!"
"Yes, Mother," said the Doctor distractedly just before the door opened.
Buffy woke up suddenly, in her room in the TARDIS. She stared at the ceiling for ten minutes, then changed into the clothes she'd brought with her and went to the console room, where she found the Doctor fiddling with the controls.
"I have to go back," said Buffy.
The Doctor grinned. "I know." He went to the materialization coordinate controls and reset the tumblers. "Next stop, Sunnydale."
"No, there's something I have to finish first." The Doctor nodded and reset the tumblers again, while Buffy tried to be annoyed with him. "Smartass. You knew all along, didn't you?"
"Yes. But you -"
"'Had to figure it out for yourself'," she said with him.
"The people we love are why we do what must be done, but also what keeps us going. You know that. You just needed some space to listen to yourself long enough to hear it." As he spoke the time rotor of the central control console stilled, meaning the TARDIS had landed.
"Where are we?"
"Your apartment. September, 1998. Wait a minute," he cautioned her as she reached for the door control, "or you won't know whether you're coming or going."
Buffy obediently turned away from the console door lever, toward him. "Thanks, Doctor."
"My pleasure." He grinned at her for a moment - then, after glancing at his watch, ushered her back into her life.
To this story's companion piece, Summer Knight.
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