At first, Giles thought he was going mad.
The dream was always the same. He was in an abandoned house in what had once been rural northern England, with a few slayers. The house was falling down around them, and the fields around it had long been razed. The stench of rotting meat - human and livestock both - came to them when the wind blew from the south. In the dream, Giles could remember the harrowing journey that had brought them there in excruciating detail, but once he woke, he could only recall vague impressions.
He knew the slayers with him were the last. He knew they were young and untrained, though he could never remember which ones they were, after. He knew that whatever had destroyed the Earth - and it was not just England, but the whole world - was unlike anything they had faced before.
He knew Buffy was dead.
And there was the noise. A light buzzing, sometimes accompanied by high-pitched, childish laughter, of which he lived in fear. He knew that if he heard it again, it would mean the end for himself and for his slayers.
He kept quiet about the dreams at first, though they made sleep increasingly unpleasant. He watched for other symptoms: seeing things that were not there, hearing voices, headaches. A few times he thought he heard the buzzing, and that frightened him deeply, but there was always a mundane explanation. Some of Xander's woodworking tools sounded remarkably similar.
It was late spring when Willow's message about Ethan arrived. Giles read it standing in the foyer of the main house, then handed it wordlessly to Buffy. She snorted. "Figures."
"G-man?" Xander asked, having taken the telegram - strangely old-fashioned for Willow, but her location in Brazil was remote enough that perhaps it had been the only option - from Buffy and read it himself. "You all right?"
He managed to look them both in the eye, if only just. "Yes, of course. Excuse me." He left the house, saddled his horse, and rode for hours, until he thought he could face Xander's vague concern, Buffy's outright indifference.
Grief was so much worse when it was not shared.
The dreams got worse after that, or perhaps it was only that waking no longer saved him from the ache of an echoing, empty space inside his chest. In the dream, it belonged to Buffy; waking, to Ethan. No other symptoms rose beyond those which might be reasonably explained by sleep-deprivation. Xander cast him an odd look once or twice, when he caught Giles drifting off in a meeting, but fortunately late-night patrols granted him the perfect excuse. If Buffy noticed, she said nothing.
A month later, Giles had another, much worse thought as he lay awake in the middle of the night, sheets twisted around his legs from long, restless hours.
What if they are not madness? What if they are prophecy?
The thought was terrible enough to see him on the motorway before dawn, speeding toward Devon. He could not rest until he knew that the dreams would not come to pass. He could not rest, period. Even if the dreams were nothing more than dreams, it was time to swallow his pride and ask for help.
Mary was awake, thank God, when Giles arrived just after eight. He tracked her down in the garden, where she was gathering herbs into a large, woven basket. Kneeling in the dirt, she looked up, studied him, and said, "Good morning, Rupert. I see you've been having them as well."
He stared at her in shock. "How did you know?"
Mary rose and brushed the dirt off her hands. "A few of us have had the misfortune. One starts to recognize the look."
Giles felt a horrible weight settle on his chest. "Are they real? Are they prophetic? My God, Mary, why didn't you contact me when they started?"
"Hush, Rupert," Mary said, placing a hand on his arm. "We need not do anything to prevent them from coming true."
Giles blinked. "Why not?"
Mary drew a deep breath. "Because it seems they already have." Her hand tightened on Giles's arm. "Come inside, Rupert. Let's have some breakfast and I can tell you all about it."
Three hours later, they'd demolished a light breakfast of toast and the coven's specially blended herbal tea. Giles was reeling. The story Mary had told him, which the coven had pieced together from what their members had seen and experienced, was incredible. The apocalyptic scenes of his and the others' dreams had been real - until time, an entire year it seemed, had been re-set. Who had done it, no one knew. It was well beyond anything the coven could have achieved. Not even Willow could bend time to her will. But something clearly had. That, in itself, was disturbing.
Once, Giles might have wondered if Ethan had something to do with it. At the very least he'd have tracked him down and bloodied his nose to find out. Now, of course, there was no need.
Mary added milk to Giles's third cup of tea. "We're not the only ones to remember," she told him. "All around the world, people who are deeply entrenched in magic have been retaining what everyone else has forgotten."
"Why?" Giles managed.
Mary shook her head. "We don't know."
"It shouldn't be hard to find out. Something like this should have left a massive signature."
"It didn't. We think," Mary paused and bit her lip, "we think it wasn't magic. We know it involved Harold Saxon in some way - unsurprising, the coven had been very uneasy about him even before all this happened. And there's a name that keeps coming up. Two, actually, though the second isn't really a name. Martha Jones and the Doctor."
Giles frowned. It was clearly a title - he could hear the capital letters even in Mary's voice - and he remembered it, that name that wasn't really a name. It had meant hope. He had told his slayers they had to hold on and wait for the Doctor.
The waiting had been terrible.
"Do we know who he is?" he asked slowly.
Mary shook her head. "I was hoping you might be able to find out more. I - we - would like to know for sure that there will be no . . . relapse."
Giles shuddered, then nodded. "Of course. The council's influence is not what it once was, but I will do my best."
"Thank you, Rupert. Now." Mary stood. "Let me give you something to help stop the dreams. Don't argue," she added, when he opened his mouth to protest. "They're not useful and you look shattered."
He had come for help, after all. Giles nodded.
It took Giles nearly three weeks of phone calls, old favors, and distasteful forays onto the internet to find out anything. By then he'd discovered whole government organizations he'd never heard of before - UNIT, he'd known about, but Torchwood was a surprise. The man in charge, one Captain Jack Harkness, flirted with Giles over the phone, even as the two of them danced around the whole reason Giles had called to begin with. Finally sick of the man's dreadful innuendoes, Giles heaved a sigh and said, "I need to find the Doctor, Captain Harkness. Can you tell me how to do that?
For the first time in the entire twenty-minute conversation, Harkness fell silent. "I don't think your sort of problem is the kind that he solves," he said at last.
"So I'd assumed, but we have evidence that he recently solved a different problem and we'd like to confirm that there is no chance of it coming unsolved."
"It won't," Captain Harkness said flatly. "When the Doctor fixes something, it stays fixed."
"All the same -"
"I can't help you, Rupert - may I call you, Rupert?"
"Giles, then. I can't help you. I don't know how to contact the Doctor." He hesitated. "But I know someone who does."
That was how Giles came to be buying Martha Jones a cup of coffee. She sipped and watched him warily. Giles, who by now had read everything he could get his hands on about what other people had remembered, thought she did indeed have the air of a young woman who had walked the world for a year. She reminded him of Buffy the summer after the mayor and the summer after Willow, when she had finally been able to breathe, but not yet remembered how.
"How much do you remember?" Martha asked at last, breaking the increasingly awkward silence.
Her mouth tightened. "And how much is that? You shouldn't remember anything at all - no one who wasn't on the Valiant should know anything."
"I have dreams. Others remember more. It's my line of work," he added, before she could say anything. "We are trained to be sensitive."
Her eyes went hard. "Jack said you believed in magic."
Jack had been entirely unsurprised by it. Giles had assumed that he'd simply seen everything in his work with Torchwood, but surely this young woman had seen just as much. He raised an eyebrow at her. "And you don't?"
"Of course not. I believe in science. There's no such thing as magic."
"Just as there's no such thing as aliens?"
She stared. "You really remember."
Her gaze dropped. "Do you remember me?"
So much like Buffy, Martha Jones was. Giles let out a breath. "No," he admitted. "I don't believe we ever met. But others do. There is a whole network of those of us who remember, spread across the globe. Your name was given to me before I ever spoke to Captain Harkness."
"Not much to go on, is it, just 'Martha Jones,'" she remarked with a shrug. "A whole network, you said. Lovely." She did not sound pleased. She looked away, out the rain-smeared window of the London coffee shop. "I've seen what looked like magic a few times. There's always a reason."
"A scientific reason, you mean," Giles said. Martha nodded. "I am a man of learning before anything else. I believe most things have an explanation, if not always one we are prepared to accept."
She looked back at him sharply. "I suppose," she said. Her hands tightened on her coffee cup and she drew a deep breath. "How much do you know?"
"Not very much, beyond what I recall from the dreams. We know it had something to do with Harold Saxon, and that many people died. It went on for a year."
"Harold Saxon was an alien," Martha said bluntly. "He enslaved humanity, murdered whole countries." She stopped, swallowed. "Look, I can't tell you how to contact the Doctor. But . . . I can contact him myself." Giles straightened, eyes going wide. It was so much more than he'd dared hope for. "Just," she added hastily, "tell me why first."
Giles opened her mouth to say the same thing he'd said to Harkness, that he wanted to make sure there was no chance the Doctor's solution - whatever it had been - would come undone. Then he hesitated. The truth was that that was only part of the reason he wished to meet the man. It sounded sentimental and downright bizarre. He'd never have dared admit it to anyone but the woman sitting in front of him. But if the rumors were true, she'd walked the world for a year, subsisting on her faith in the Doctor alone.
"I would like to know that he's well," Giles said at last.
Something in Martha's face . . . cracked. The smile she gave him was bittersweet, the first genuine expression he'd seen thus far. "That makes two of us." She reached into her pocket and pulled out a scrap of paper. "Be at the cafe in the British Museum on this date at this time. Look for a skinny bloke in a brown pinstriped suit, spiky hair, and trainers. If I can get him to show, that's where and when he'll be."
Skinny bloke, pinstriped suit, trainers. Whatever Giles had expected, that wasn't it. He watched as she finished scribbling the directions, then pushed the paper across the table to him. He took it, folded it, and placed it carefully in his pocket. "And what about you?" he asked then, aware that she was not one of his slayers and he was probably crossing a line. "Are you well?"
She drew back a little. "Well enough," she said. She looked at him hard, apparently searching his face for something. Whatever she saw there made her relax, if only fractionally, and add, "Getting better every day."
"Me, too." She stood, gathered up her coat and her bag. "Thanks for the coffee. Take care."
The date on the paper was for two days later, at nine o'clock in the morning. The museum was just opening when Giles arrived, and it was still too early for the tourist rush. Giles bought a cup of mediocre tea and seated himself in the cafe area at a small, out of the way table. He had worked here for years, first during summers home from school and university as a lowly collections minion in the council's private reading room, later as a researcher and curator of the museum's more eccentric collections. Coming back felt a little like going home - uncomfortable and familiar and steeped in memories.
Ethan had visited him here once, though Giles's father had expressly forbidden all contact between them. He'd sneaked down to the restricted area, snogged Giles in the stacks, and left him in a most uncomfortable state for shelving books all afternoon.
Giles sipped his tea. He had chosen a place where he could watch the door for a skinny bloke in a pinstriped suit and trainers. He was, therefore, startled out of his wits when a man matching the description appeared from behind to slide into the seat across from him, paper cup of tea in hand. "Rupert Giles," he said.
Giles managed to recover himself. "Yes. And you are . . . the Doctor?"
They looked at each other. "Thank you for coming," Giles said at last.
The Doctor shook his head. "Martha asked as a personal favor."
"She is an extraordinary young woman."
The Doctor looked sharply at him. "You would know, wouldn't you, in your line of work."
Giles was not quite surprised. "Indeed. Did she tell you why I wanted to see you?"
The Doctor shook his head. "She said you'd explain. She did mention that you remembered things you shouldn't," he added, gaze hardening.
"I and others. Whatever you did that erased the memories of most people doesn't seem to have worked overly well on those of us entrenched in magic." Giles paused, waiting for a reaction. When there was none, he asked, "What did you do, if you don't mind my asking?"
"There was a paradox machine. Once it was destroyed, time on Earth reversed itself. Nothing the Mast - none of it ever happened. Which is why you shouldn't remember it at all."
"Remember might be a bit of a misnomer. I have very vivid dreams. They are remarkably unpleasant."
The Doctor sighed. His posture changed, his gaze lost its sharp edge. He looked tired. "I'm sorry." He gestured towards Giles's temples. "If you want . . . well, I certainly would not blame you if you wanted me to make you forget."
"No!" Giles said, sitting up straight in a mix of alarm and indignation. "No, no - I'm not having them anymore, and I wouldn't want you to, anyway." He paused. "Could you take them?"
"Not take them. Shut them away so you never thought of them again. Some might call that a blessing."
"Some might. I wouldn't. It happened to me - I want to remember it."
"Technically it never happened to you. Or it did, but we reversed the time stream - never mind," the Doctor said. "But if you didn't ask to meet me to see if I could make you forget, then why did you?" He glanced over his shoulder, then shot Giles a wary glance. "It's just you, isn't it? You didn't bring a whole coven or anything? I've never mixed well with your lot. Magic is a part of the world, not much point in denying that, it'd be like denying that oxygen exists, but it's not my cup of tea, as they say. I prefer to leave it to professionals such as yourself. That whole business with the First, for instance - very bad, that was, might've had to step in if the timelines had been disrupted, and that would've been tricky indeed. Fortunately, you took care of it." The Doctor lifted his tea cup, as though in a toast.
Giles didn't quite know what to say to that. He nodded and smiled, though it felt more like a grimace. "Some would call reversing time magic," he remarked, sipping his tea.
"Some would be wrong."
"And there is no chance that it might come undone, is there?" Giles asked.
"No," the Doctor said flatly. "If that's what bothering you, you can put your mind at ease. There is no chance of that."
"Good," Giles said, allowing himself to relax slightly. "I do deal with the occasional - or yearly - apocalypse in my line of work, but this was out of my league. If you don't mind" - and somehow Giles thought the Doctor would, but his curiosity would not let the question go unasked - "may I ask what happened? Martha said Harold Saxon was behind it all, but the how and why of it -"
"You don't need to know how," the Doctor said, voice flat and suddenly very cold. "Or why."
Giles hesitated, suddenly aware that there was nothing keeping the Doctor from getting up and leaving. Unless he wanted him to do just that, he would have to tread very carefully. He let the silence stretch. "I would like to know," he said at last, "for my peace of mind."
"UNIT and Torchwood -"
"Are not the only organizations dedicated to protecting this world," Giles said firmly, "and I do my part with an army of very young women, who are under my personal care. Most of them died during this year that never happened. I owe it to them to do everything in my power to ensure it never repeats itself."
"Harold Saxon is dead," the Doctor said, a strange note of - something - in his voice. "It will not be repeated."
"And there are no others like him out there?" Giles persisted. "He wasn't the first of an invading army? Unlike others, I remember last Christmas, and the one before, for what they actually were."
"The only other one out there like him is me," the Doctor said, gaze gone very hard indeed. "The Earth is scheduled to be invaded by any number of alien species in the next hundred years, but you needn't worry about another Harold Saxon."
And suddenly Giles understood the strange note in the Doctor's voice all too well.
"I see," he said. He hesitated, then decided that if he was in for a penny, he was in for a pound. "Old friends do make the worst enemies, don't they?" The Doctor's eyes widened and the hand that lay on the table beside the Doctor's cup of tea tightened into a fist. For a moment, Giles was certain he would get up and leave. Then, very slowly, he nodded. Giles returned it. "Mine was named Ethan," he offered. "The last time I saw him, I had a moment of weakness and woke up in the morning with horns and a tail. Almost got killed by my own slayer." He looked down at the discarded tea bag, which lay drying on the table top. "I got word a month or two ago that he'd died. I was far more affected than I'd expected."
"My guess is that your Ethan never tried to destroy a whole planet, simply for your benefit," the Doctor said, the dry note in his voice belying, Giles was certain, a deep-seated pain.
"Not quite," Giles admitted. "Ethan was very anti-apocalypse. They tend to cut back on the availability of creature comforts. He caused me problems on a rather lesser scale. Sometimes it was for financial gain. But often it was just to hear me shout his name in sheer exasperation."
The Doctor sighed. "That was how it was with us, once."
Giles nodded. He had worried over the years about what he would do if Ethan were to ever cross a certain line - he had very nearly done so several times. But Giles had always suspected that Ethan left breadcrumbs and trusted that Giles would stop anything he started before it got too out of hand. Then again, the accounts of his death were unclear; perhaps he had finally gone over at the end. But if so, Giles had only learned of it afterward, absolving him of any serious responsibility.
He wasn't sure what to say to the Doctor, truthfully. I'm sorry for your loss was not at all true. But what he'd said to Martha was. It was clear to Giles that the Doctor was not all right, just as Giles had not been all right in the weeks following Ethan's death. It had taken even Xander a long time to realize that; Giles wasn't sure the penny had ever dropped for Buffy.
The museum had begun to fill up around them. Their quiet corner of the cafe was no longer quiet at all, though at least the squalling of unhappy school children ensured no one would overhear anything they said to each other. Both cups of tea were empty. The Doctor had started tapping his foot under the table, betraying what Giles suspected was a chronic impulse to be moving on.
"Why did you want to meet with me?" the Doctor demanded, looking up abruptly. "It wasn't just to make sure things wouldn't go back the way they were. Martha could've told you they wouldn't. What do you want?"
There was a hostile edge to his voice. Giles drew back slightly, wondering if he dared be as honest with the Doctor as he had been with Martha. "I don't know," he said carefully.
The Doctor scoffed. "That isn't true."
"No, it isn't." Giles hesitated, not sure he could explain it even to himself. "For years now, my closest friends have been much younger than myself. When Ethan came calling . . . well, it inevitably resulted in people running screaming through the streets, but at least I didn't need to take care of him. Plus," he added, in a slightly lighter tone, "I've saved the world before. I know how exhausting it can be." The Doctor's lips quirked in an encouraging almost-smile. Giles shrugged. "I didn't know if anyone had bothered to ask if you were all right. I thought maybe someone should."
"Martha asked. I said I was fine."
Giles raised an eyebrow. "And she believed you?"
The Doctor looked away. "We parted ways shortly thereafter. It was easier for us both. Human methods for processing emotion have never worked for me. I don't understand how talking is supposed to make it better."
"I'm a product of the British public school system, and I spent five years living in California," Giles said wryly. "I quite understand." It was startling to Giles just how true this was. He thought of every emotional upheaval he'd gone through in Sunnyvale, and how cut-off he had always felt from his young friends. They meant well, but between feeling the need to look after them and the cultural gap that inevitably reared its head, they had never quite understood each other. The last thing he had ever wanted was to talk about any of it.
Giles paused, dropping his dried-out tea bag into his paper cup. "Have you ever seen the museum's special collections? Not the usual special collections," he added, when the Doctor frowned, "the very special collections. The ones I used to look after, when I worked here."
The Doctor raised his eyebrows. "Can't say I have. Like I said, I'm not much for magic. But," he added thoughtfully after a moment, "perhaps I've simply not had the right opportunity."
"Perhaps not," Giles agreed. "And afterward, I could buy you a better cup of tea. This one was rather disappointing."
The Doctor smiled, and in it Giles caught the barest hint of a grin that could light up a room. "Maybe. I like tea."
Satisfied, Giles stood to toss his cup away. He looked back at the Doctor over his shoulder as he wound through the cafe tables towards the "Authorized Personnel Only" entrance that led to the restricted part of the museum. From what Giles had discerned, the Doctor was a chaos theory unto himself. He wondered if anyone was ever the same after meeting him.
Ethan, Giles reflected with a smile, would have whole-heartedly approved.
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