[Spoilers for "Oblivion" part 6, DWM 328, and general spoilers for "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" Season Six. Nothing that should spoil S6's ending or S7.]
'Tara? You coming?' Dawn asked.
'Mm?' Tara said. 'Oh, um... in a moment.'
Dawn nodded in understanding, and followed the others in, still talking amongst themselves.
Tara stood there for a while, looking out at the scenery.
She had to admit, it was a bit unusual to have a pub, a high school - Mr Giles had explained that the closest counterpart to a British high school would be an American elementary school, which was a little confusing, but not as confusing as the whole 'crisp/chip' thing - and a day care centre all lined up together; she hadn't thought British people would do things quite like _that_...
Tara jumped, and span around -
- only to find herself looking into her own face.
Except... except it _wasn't_ quite her own face. Where Tara's eyes were blue, the other woman's were amber - a warm, soft yellow - and where Tara's demeanour was that of a woman who preferred to keep her feelings personal, the other woman's face suggested openness, expressiveness.
The crooked smile on her face _was_ Tara's, though.
'Amber?' Tara said.
'That's me.' Amber said.
'Um... is there anything I should call you, or...?' Tara said.
'Amber will do fine.' Amber reassured her.
Tara nodded, then tipped her head.
Amber matched the movement.
'That is... that is how you really look, isn't it?' Tara asked. 'Um... sorry if that's too personal...'
'It's not too personal,' Amber said. 'This is how I look in human form... well, strictly speaking, it's _not_ a human body...'
'...Gallifreyan, right?' Tara said.
Amber nodded. 'My true being doesn't have a face - or not anything you'd recognise as one, at least. This's my form in the physical worlds.'
'Does that mean...?' Tara took a deep breath. 'Does that mean you have two hearts?'
Amber smiled, and held out her wrist. 'Here.'
Tentatively, Tara rested her fingers against the wrist.
Her eyes widened, feeling the double-pulse underneath.
She withdrew her fingers.
'There's another way we could check,' Amber added, 'but I don't think we want to get quite _that_ personal...'
'Um... well, it wouldn't be anything either of us hadn't seen before...' Tara said. '...But... well, it is _your_ body, after all; it'd be... I don't know, like looking at your twin.'
'Mm-hmm.' Amber said. 'Would you mind if I...?'
Tara nodded. 'Go ahead.'
She felt Amber's fingers rest on her wrist, felt the pulse beating underneath... and then felt the light touch disappear.
'...Did you say getting this body was a coincidence?' Tara said.
Amber grinned. 'Sort of. Ana'd taken Dawn's form-'
'...What was that about?' Tara said.
'Danel's a Dawn fan.' Amber explained. 'When Ana first manifested to him, she took Dawn's form - well, a close approximation, anyway.'
Tara glanced at the 'Round, imagining the mutual embarrassment that lay in store. '...Uh-oh.'
'Then, when _I_ reconfigured, I took your form.' Amber went on, the crooked smile playing across her face again. 'I think Ana might have had a little something to do with that, though...'
'Why not Buffy?' Tara asked, curious. 'I mean, she _is_ Dawn's sister...'
'Universal irony, apparently.' Amber said, her eyebrow quirking. 'One meaning of Electra is "amber", so...'
'...Oh. _Oh._.' Tara said. 'Um... reconfiguring?'
Amber thought. 'Well... it's not quite like regeneration... changing bodies is easy for me, just take one off and put one on. Reconfiguration... your very being is reshaped, reconfigured from the ground up. Nothing remains the same - apart from your past. The bodies you take, the way you think, the way you see the world... it all gets reconfigured into a new form - but there's still something that's _you_ about it...
'Am I making any sense?'
Tara nodded. 'Uh-huh. You mean kinda like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly?'
Amber frowned. 'Not quite. Think of it more like a set of building blocks. The blocks stay the same, but you can build a lot of different things with them.'
'Oh.' Tara said. 'Um... sorry if this's too personal, but... The white-haired girl on the screen back there... that was your previous body? Electra?'
Amber nodded, a hint of sadness touching her expression. 'Yes. I used other forms... but that was the one I most favoured.'
Tara took a deep breath, letting it all sink in, and took the plunge. '...Why _did_ you ask me to come? I mean, not that I'm not grateful or anything, but... well, you didn't need to ask me just to explain why my - um, well, _our_ - body...'
'Mm.' Amber let out a little sigh. 'I wanted to ask you something.'
'Um... go ahead.'
'What are you going to do now?'
'Now?' Tara repeated.
'Now.' Amber said. 'After Willow. After what's happened. After everything.
'...You wouldn't have asked me that if you weren't going to suggest something yourself.' Tara said.
'Partly,' Amber acknowledged. 'But partly... I wanted to know what you'd do. What you _were_ doing.'
'Why?' Tara asked. 'Why not Oz? Or Joyce? Why me?'
'Oz is wandering.' Amber said. 'Joyce... Joyce wouldn't leave her daughters. You seemed at a bit of a loose end.'
'Again: why me?' Tara said. 'Why choose me? I mean, we look the same, but...' She trailed off. 'Wait a minute...'
Amber chuckled. 'No. No, I'm not looking for a body double.'
'Or an escort?' Tara said.
That got her another crooked smile from Amber. 'Like you said, it'd be like doing it with my twin. And I'm not quite _that_ self-fixated, thank you.'
'Because...' Amber sighed. 'Because I got curious about the woman - well, wo_men_ - my body was based on - call it a streak of vanity. Because I wanted to get an idea of how they were doing...'
'...And _that_ was when you discovered what'd happened to me.' Tara finished. 'You discovered Willow and me were...' She stumbled over the words. 'Were... apart. That Willow'd moved on.'
Tara met Amber's eyes. 'What do you want?'
'I'd _like_,' Amber stressed the word, 'to suggest a position here, Outside - whether it's at the 'Round, or with me, or elsewhere.
'However... I can't offer you anything you don't already have.'
'You're offering me a... time-out?' Tara suggested.
'Pretty much. A change of scenery, getting away from Sunnydale... some time for yourself.'
'That's all?' Tara inquired.
'That's all.' Amber confirmed. 'If you turn it down, that's fine; you'd just go home, and that'd be it. If you wanted to keep your options open... no problem, let me know when you make your decision, and that'll be fine.'
'...Anything I don't already have?' Tara murmured. 'So... that'd include the basics?'
'All the basics,' Amber said. 'Food, accommodation, the usual. No rent, no fees, nothing like that.'
'Would this be a temporary or permanent thing?'
'Entirely down to you.'
'What about you?'
'About me...?' Amber hesitated. 'I think... it's because I want to help others set things right. Because I've got an interest in second chances, in starting again. In taking a look at things from the outside.'
'I'll take it.' Tara said.
Amber looked into Tara's eyes, then nodded. 'All right. Have you decided where...?'
'Where...?' Tara considered it.
'I've got a space for a secretary, the Super can always use more help around the place, the Proprietor's still looking for more waitpeople, and the head could use a few more teachers - actually, I think he's got a space for a magic teacher...'
'...You're serious?! There're actually magic schools in this country?!' Tara blurted. 'I thought that only happened in "Harry Potter"!'
'Well, it's not a magic school, but magic _is_ on the curriculum.' Amber said, her mouth quirking. 'Mass appeal from the various magical entities in the neighbourhood, I believe. And as I said, they're on the lookout for a magic teacher.'
'Um... do you mind if I think about this?'
'Of course.' Amber pulled a folder out of thin air, and handed it to Tara. 'Job descriptions and application forms. Take them home, have a look through.'
'Thank you.' Tara said, managing to get a grip on it.
Although she suspected Amber already knew what'd be top of her list...
'I should warn you, though.' Amber added. 'If you go for the high school or Look Who's Talking, there's a good chance you'll run into your younger versions... and your parents.'
'Would... would that mean they'd have a younger version of my brother? And, and Cousin Beth?'
'Yes.' Amber said quietly.
'...But it's not like they'd bother coming to a magic class, after all...' Tara murmured, almost to herself. 'No...'
She lifted her head. 'There'd... there'd be a younger Willow, wouldn't there?'
'Yes.' Amber said, her mouth quirking. 'I should also point out that, given the way things tend to pan out, your younger versions would be friends, too - but nothing underage.'
Tara briefly imagined baby Tara and baby Willow looking at each other's "thing", and just as quickly squelched the just plain _wrong_ part of her mind that had come from.
'Thank you.' she said instead.
'And you.' Amber said. 'Let me know how you get on.'
Tara nodded, and turned to go in...
...before realising Amber hadn't followed.
She looked back.
The other woman was still standing where she'd been.
'Um... are you coming?' Tara inquired. 'I mean, it _is_ your party.'
'In a minute.' Amber said.
Tara hesitated, looking back.
Tara inclined her head, and went inside.
Nice one, Boss.
'...Yes,' the Boss said.
Hey, you okay?
'Just thinking.' the Boss said.
'I'd have to agree. That was good work.'
The quirky smile arrived back on the Boss's face. 'Dominic.'
Dominic inclined his head. 'Amber. Narrator.'
Hi, Dominic. Want me to rattle off a quick description? I mean, I know we're pretty in the 'wrap-up' stage of things, but...
Dom looks to be in his mid-forties, with short brown hair balding on top, and a close-cut beard. His blue eyes are set in an oval face, with the skin tone of someone who's spent a good amount of time outdoors. Short, wiry build, long fingers. Looks like the sort of guy you'd nominate 'favourite professor'... even if he does have a tendency to ramble on...
Dominic quirked an eyebrow. 'Well, I've heard worse... Thank you.'
Dominic returned his attention to the Boss. 'That was good work.'
'...Mm. I just... I wanted to help her out.' the Boss said.
'Mm. You've been doing that a lot, I've noticed. Joe, Look Who's Talking, Tara...' Dominic said. 'What about you? Have you been doing anything for yourself?'
'...Getting things set up, getting everything established... Just getting everything going.' the Boss answered. 'The Olympians're still a little wary of me... and of the rest of you, too. Destroying Typhon, when even _they_ couldn't do it... that makes them wary. And jealous, I suspect - Ares and Poseidon, especially...'
Dominic's sigh was unfeigned. '...Not that it's nothing I haven't had experience with already, but still...'
'Already?' the Boss said.
Dominic's smile was humourless. 'I was a History Muse in Calliope's domain. There was a fair amount of suspicion among the Council that I was one of Clio's agents. If I was, it was buried better than even _I_ knew.'
'And if they'd known you were her grandson...' the Boss observed.
'Exactly.' Dominic said. 'And now... we're being watched by the gods, too.' His frown deepened. 'I take it they already know about Ayna and Xeffy?'
The Boss nodded. 'But not Anya - at least, not yet.'
'That's not likely to help much...' Dominic murmured. 'Two Sirens... two _living_ Sirens...'
'And I _suspect_, if they've bothered to look, that Carrie and Verity's past records would only give them more ammunition.'
Dominic sighed. '_If_ they've looked - or decide to.'
'Telling Zeus where to shove it probably didn't go down well, either.' the Boss added. 'He's still a rabid horndog with a libido the size of Olympus - _that_ certainly hasn't changed.'
'No, it hasn't...' Dominic agreed, with just the _hint_ of a smile.
'Of course, he doesn't want to risk pissing off Gaia... and he's just a _little_ concerned about those rumours of a connection to Zaqqum. After all, it _was_ zaqqum-fruit that brought Typhon down...'
'The fact they're absolutely correct doesn't hurt.' Dominic observed.
'Not that I'm about to let him know that.' the Boss said. 'As for Subreality...' Her face darkened. 'Let's just say I'm taking a direct hand in matters, and leave it at that. There are some agencies I would prefer _not_ learn of Nameless.'
Dominic let out a long, deep breath. 'Understood.' He met her gaze. 'And Amber...?'
'Whatever you decide to do there... don't lose sight of who you are now. Electra's path isn't yours, not any more.'
The Boss inclined her head. 'There /are/ other ways to get involved, other paths to take...
'That I know.
'Thank you.' She paused for a moment. 'There's something else I'd like to ask you.'
'Go on.' Dominic said.
'...Would you mind accompanying me for the party?'
Dominic's head snapped up. '/What?!/'
'I don't...' The Boss closed her eyes. 'I'm sorry, Dominic.
'I don't... I don't _know_ anyone enough to ask them, for this...'
'Amber,' Dominic said, more gently. 'Amber, I'm not the man you - Electra - loved. I only have his likeness.
'I was born aeons later, worlds away...
'I'm not him. And I never will be.'
'I know. I _know_... I _have_ known that.' the Boss said, anguish threading her voice. 'That's why Electra hated you - you _looked_ like him, but you would fight her, would stand against her - she, I, _knew_ that, knew it the moment I looked in your mind... she focused on you... a symbol of everything I'd lost...
'But you are not him, and he is gone...'
Her voice trailed off.
'I see, and I see true: you are not him.' she said, more calmly. 'And I would not wish you to be.
'I do not ask to even pretend I have what I lost - it is behind me and gone, in another life, another time.' The Boss took a deep breath. 'I ask because there is none other I would ask, here and now, none other I know enough.'
'And if I were to agree?' Dominic's face was unreadable.
'It would be nothing more than proper. I ask only for a companion for the party.' The Boss's face softened. 'Dominic... I know your wife is first in your mind, and I would not seek to slight her memory. If you feel that it would... or that it would be an affront to your children... then you may decline, and I will accept it.'
Dominic sighed, and met her gaze. 'As you say... Elle is first in my mind, and in theirs. I would not speak for them, but... it would be fair to say they _would_ be uncomfortable seeing us together, no matter how formal.
'While they may have made their peace with you, forgiven what you did as Electra... they still know what Electra did. At _best_... their reaction would be cool.'
'Yes.' the Boss said softly. 'Yes, it would.'
'It is only for the night - for this night, of all nights - and it is only proper... but still, they will be uncomfortable.' Dominic sighed again. 'Given the choice between seeing you go in alone, and choosing to accompany you...
'Given all that has been said... I will accept.'
'This will cost you, Dominic.' the Boss said softly. 'Thank you.'
Dominic closed his eyes. 'I know. And I will have to justify my choice to them.
'But still... I stand by it.'
'Thank you.' the Boss said again.
'Shall we go in?' Dominic inquired.
'Yes,' the Boss said. 'Yes, we shall.'
'Ladies first?' Dominic suggested.
The hint of a crooked smile touched the Boss's face. 'Thank you, sirrah.'
There might have been the glint of something in Dominic's eye. 'A pleasure, milady.'
The Boss quirked an eyebrow, and led the way in.
The Doctor stepped out into the night air, and let out a little breath.
His friends had been waiting for this. For the chance to kick back, relax, celebrate...
For the chance to mark Izzy's leaving story.
Inside, after Oblivion, after Destrii, after everything that had happened, she'd chosen to make her own way, to go home to Stockbridge and set things right with her parents.
And he'd understood.
It was her choice to make, her life... and so he'd taken her back, to the point they'd first met, that snowy December night, watched as they - as the _past_ Doctor and Izzy - set off on their travels, unaware of what lay before them.
He'd told her Stockbridge was hers to look after now, that he'd be back someday. Took her hand, and then let her go.
And then... he'd watched as she ran down the hill, ran home, tears trickling down her cheeks all the while.
And then... he'd left.
With Izzy returned - returned to them, to her rightful body - Fey had returned to her rightful time and place, to the Second World War. He suspected they'd cross paths again, Inside... he didn't get the feeling the conflict between Fey and Shayde had been completely resolved, somehow...
As for Destrii... she'd lured the Horde to Jodafra's secret weapon, lured them to his psionic extractor...
...and it had activated, draining the Horde into itself.
Had drained a gestalt that could pull worlds from their orbits, drained the energy into Jodafra's chronon capsule.
Jodafra had one of the finest scientific minds he'd ever encountered, the Doctor mused, and one of the most devious. He'd have made a fine Time Lord - although whether that was a compliment or an insult depended entirely on your perspective.
Destrii hadn't resisted the extractor - but in doing so, she'd survived, returned to physical form, to flesh and blood.
Free of the power of the Horde, free of Oblivion, free of her mother, she and Jodafra had disappeared into the Vortex, disappeared in the chronon capsule. Whether he'd meet _her_ again, Inside, he didn't know. Didn't know what might happen there...
_That_ was in the hands of the Author Mafia.
And for the first time in a very long time, he found himself alone again.
Would there be a new DWM companion any time soon?
Again, he didn't know - over his lives, he'd spent long stretches of the strip without a companion. Whether this was another of those times, or whether there was another companion in the works... only the Authors knew, and they weren't telling.
Izzy and he had travelled together in real-time longer than anyone else... save perhaps Ace.
Six and a half years they'd been together.
Six and a half years.
While others had come and gone, Izzy had still been there, the constant in his life since he - since _this_ incarnation - had entered the strip.
And now... gone.
Gone home, to make her own way, to lead her own life - a life away from him.
Of course, the others couldn't let that go unnoticed, could they? What was the point of being Outside Continuity if you couldn't do something for your friends? A little something to mark their departure Inside?
Hence the party.
Izzy and Fey, sitting together, a close familiarity between them...
...which was when the Bradleyard, ever alert to the possibility of hot girl-on-girl action, had popped up, only to be met with a complimentary fist in the face from Fey.
The way he kept at this, maybe he should consider reconstructive surgery...
Sam, Stacy, Ssard and Lee remembering old times... they'd been the only ones around when Izzy had joined, after all, remembering those first years together... no, it hadn't been together, had it? Lee hadn't been a part of the group, not then... they'd spoken, but he'd never really been one of them, back then, never really included...
He suspected Lee had originally chosen to stick around Outside because here, at least, he knew someone - knew the Doctor, knew Grace - and because bartending gave him something to _do_, something to occupy his time.
And the others had simply got used to having him around, never really questioning it - until Lee decided to get involved with the rest of his companions...
Destrii sitting off a little ways with Jodafra... none of the others had gone over, though...
He didn't think he - or _any_ of them, for that matter - would ever be at ease around her, except for Izzy. As Destrii herself had said, they were at moral odds - they'd never accept, never fully _understand_, her view of the world, the things she was willing to do, that she did as a matter of course.
But still... she _was_ bound to them, connected... she'd never be a part of them, not really, but he had the sneaking suspicion she'd always be there... not wanted, not that, but perhaps _necessary_.
A dark mirror.
Fitz, Anji, Charley and Compassion, meanwhile, had got sucked into the post-Awards celebration, although he'd have to wait and see whether he needed to pull out the hangover cures - or the holo-camera...
The Doctor chuckled. Fitz holding forth on his baby version being a "chip off the old block", while Anji and Compassion rolled their eyes...
And then, afterwards, back to business...
There was still Sabbath to deal with, in the books...
...and then Zagreus, waiting in the audios - and inside his head.
Waiting for his time... which might be coming sooner than the Doctor hoped.
He closed his eyes, remembering Zagreus's world - the world he had created, had shaped, might yet create, given the chance...
That Zagreus would come again he knew - but what would happen then he did _not_. What would happen, what that would mean...
...but here, now, he was still the Doctor. Would still fight to keep Zagreus shut away until his moment, his time, would fight with every breath in his body.
He let out a long, low shuddering breath.
Carpe diem, Doctor. Carpe diem.
'Brooding again?' said a voice from behind him. 'I swear, you're getting as bad as Seventh sometimes...'
The Doctor chuckled. 'Not _that_ bad, I hope.'
Izzy grinned. 'Nope, never _that_ bad... although there _were_ times...'
The Doctor arched an eyebrow. 'Oh, really?'
Izzy matched him. 'Uh-huh. Remember the time we ran out of tea? Nothing but mope mope mope till we finally landed in India.' She shook her head. 'And I pointed out that all you had to do was nip down the corner shop, but did you listen? Noooo....'
'Hey!' the Doctor protested. 'I'll have you know freshly made Earl Grey is one of the treasures of the Universe!'
Izzy raised her eyebrow again. 'Uh-_huh_.'
The Doctor grinned, before turning to look over the 'Round's back yard.
'Izzy?' he said after a while.
'Yeah?' she said softly.
'Have you considered... going back yet?'
'To Look Who's Talking, you mean?'
The Doctor nodded, but didn't turn to face her.
Izzy sighed. 'Not... not yet. I'm... I'm not quite ready for it again. It's like... well, I'd _like_ to go back, yeah, and I know the Super'd have me... but, well... I'm coming at this from a different angle, now, I'm not looking at it the way I did. Maybe... but not yet.
'Am I making any sense?'
'More than you might think.' the Doctor told her.
Izzy managed a grin. 'Great. Thought I might be babbling again.'
She fell silent.
'Penny for them?' the Doctor said.
'Just wondering...' Izzy said.
The Doctor waited.
'I mean... Destrii, Destrii's got what she wanted, right?' Izzy said. 'She's free of us, free of the Mafia... and I wonder... I'm just wondering... what's she going to do now?'
'The future's wide open.' the Doctor said softly. 'Whether she stays with us or goes elsewhere, whatever she decides to do... for the first time in her life, it'll be her choice.'
Both of them were silent at that.
'...You know,' Izzy said finally, 'I still can't get over the fact that Paul got Destrii to do a presentation. I mean, Peri I could see... but _Destrii_??'
'I'm not sure,' the Doctor said, 'but I think he saw some parallels between them.'
'That and the complete and utter chaos when Destrii pointed that out...' Izzy observed.
'Maybe.' The Doctor's expression was inscrutable. 'But for Paul to get one of the spin-off companions... that's almost unheard of, no matter the reason.'
'You think we can blame Imran for that?' Izzy inquired.
'Maybe. Maybe not.' the Doctor said.
'...We've got to come up with a better term than "spin-off companions", you know.' Izzy said.
'"Tie-in"?' the Doctor suggested.
'"Officially licenced by the BBC"?'
'...I think we'll stick with "spin-off", thanks.' Izzy said dryly. 'Wanna go back in? Fitz's been threatening drunken darts again, and we're sponsoring him for each dart he lands in the board.'
The Doctor raised an eyebrow. 'Uh-oh... Does Anji have the medical kit on standby?'
'You think she'd let him do this without it? 'Course she does.' Izzy said.
The Doctor grinned, and opened the back door. 'After you, Miss Izzy.'
Summary: Beginnings and endings, after the 2002 Adric Awards.
Disclaimer: 'Doctor Who' and the Eighth Doctor are the BBC's, Izzy is Marvel's, Dawn and Tara are Mutant Enemy's, Dominic and the Narrator are mine, and Amber was created in "Goodnight, Sweetheart". I suspect I'm responsible for the introductions of her various incarnations in that story.
As of the end of "Oblivion", the Doctor's travelling alone in the DWM strip - Izzy, Fey, and Destrii have all left. Fitz and Anji are still with him in the books, and Charley's still with him in the audios.
Copyright 2003 Imran Inayat