AN: So, I realized a slight continuity error in my story...I've been referring to Dawn as being younger than Rose, but Dawn is actually be the older of the two, even if only slightly (if she was 15 by Once More With Feeling she had to have been born sometime in 1986, where Rose was born in 1987...). So ignore previous references, please :)
The Doctor cradled the watch in his hands, his expressive eyes full of sorrow.
"I'm sorry," he murmured. "I'm so sorry."
Dawn stood slowly, her brow furrowing fearfully as she pulled her bag to her chest. "What? Stop looking at me like that!"
"This," he held up the watch. "Where did you get it?"
She paused, blinking a few times. "I dunno," she shrugged, her expression guarded. "I've always had it. Maybe it was my grampa's, he gave Mom lots of weird stuff before he died. It's just a broken watch."
"No, Dawn," he cradled it gently. "This is - this is so much more."
"Stop it!" Dawn backed away, shaking her head. "You're going back to that stupid theory and you're wrong!"
"This," he traced the carving on the back lightly. "Is a part of a Chameleon Arch. Re-writes body chemistry, changes the mind, and gives false memories. Allows you a shot at humanity."
"Okay, so what then? The watch is from some alien thing," Dawn was still slowly moving backward. "It doesn't mean anything."
"It contains the whole of your natural biology, the whole of your mind. It's from Gallifrey, my home planet Dawn - you're a Time Lord."
Rose went white and Donna gaped.
Dawn trembled visibly, the knuckles wrapped around her purse straps turning white. "You read my journal," she whispered, her voice shaking with something not quite anger and not quite terror. "That's the only way you could know that word - I don't let people read my stories, they're mine!"
The Doctor continued as if she hadn't spoken. "I did it once, trying to avoid a killer that was tracking me. Made myself human, hiding in 1913. But I still remembered - I drew pictures and wrote stories of people I had known and things I had seen. And I would imagine the result was pretty similar to what's in that bag of yours."
"That's not possible," she dug in and pulled out a worn leather book. "I've been writing these things down since I was -" she stopped, eyes widening. "I never wrote them before I was fourteen," her voice was thick and her arms were shaking. "Even though I wrote down everything, always have; all my thoughts and dream - those didn't show up until I was fourteen...until I was real."
"Your false memories would have been designed to hide your nature," the Doctor nodded slowly. "Never would have showed up in diaries until you were really writing them."
"Oh. Oh," she rubbed at her cheek and then stared at the dampness on her fingertips. She hadn't even noticed she was crying. "Oh, fuck."
"Dawn," Rose reached out but the younger girl jerked away. She looked at the Doctor helplessly, but he shook his head.
"You know the truth," he said quietly. "It's probably why the TARDIS reacted so strongly to you; helped you summon me here."
Dawn folded in on herself, curling her knees into her chest as she sat on the floor. She shook her head and wrapped her arms around her legs, gripping the denim between her fingers desperately. "It's not fair," she choked. "Every time I get used to what I am, they change the rules on me."
"You have to open it," the Doctor informed her gently. "You have to wake up."
"Why?" Rose laid a hand on his arm, keeping him back. "Can't she stay who she is, will it hurt her?"
"No, it wouldn't hurt her but -" when he looked at her she saw for a moment the brooding, broken eyes of her old Doctor. "I don't have to be the last anymore Rose. There are thousands of girls I knew, and she could be any one of them."
"It's not fair to do that to her," she said softly. "You can't ask her to. You're not alone anymore. You have us, you have her, and someday...maybe she'll be ready. You just...can't ask her to do this, not now."
He straightened suddenly, shaking off an inner torment. "You're right," he stared at the watch for just a moment longer before striding toward her. "Dawn...I'm sorry," he said again. "I shouldn't have tried to force you. Keep it, treasure being human; don't let me ruin things for you."
He was turning to walk away when her voice startled him. "If I did it," she didn't look up. "Could I go back?"
He shook his head sadly. "It doesn't work that way."
Her tear-streaked face lifted from her knees, and he regretted ever taunting her about her nature. "Would I still love them?"
"I don't know," he knelt beside her and took one of her hands. "The Chameleon Arch changes you in every way possible. It made me a coward, the Master a good man, it made you Dawn Summers. The girl you were before could be anyone." He wiped her cheek gently. "I can't tell you, I don't know who you were. But I think there's a good soul in there, and that makes all the difference in the world."
Dawn's face crumbled, and she shook her head tightly. The tears on her cheeks were slowing, but her body still shook with repressed sob. She tried to speak, but she didn't make it past the first sound before she began to cry again.
He squeezed her hand gently, then released her, setting the watch in her palm and curling her fingers around it. "Be who you are, stay Dawn Summers. I've got a newly dimensionally-capable TARDIS to take you home, if you want, or you can travel with us." He stood and smiled down at her. "There's always another adventure!" With a jaunty wave he walked back toward the hall, not noticing the quiet click behind him.
"Oh," Dawn's voice had changed, just a bit in inflection and accent, and he spun around. "Well," she murmured. "That explains that."
He didn't move, but his eyes were wide and locked on her face. "Are you..." he trailed off. "Do you remember?"
"Yeah," she looked up at him sadly. "Doctor. I'm sorry," she bit her lower lip. "You want me to say I'm a regeneration of Lady President Romana don't you? Or your granddaughter Susan?"
His voice was raw. "I know that they're dead, it's all right; I've mourned them. Do I..."
She shook her head and hugged her knees briefly. "No," she stood up shakily. "Oh that feels weird," she pressed her hand against the right side of her chest. "Extra heart. Oh and - weird, very weird. I haven't been in this form as me, so...weird."
"Who are you?" He stepped forward. "Maybe we -"
"You don't know me," she smiled sadly. "The closest you ever came to my life was your TARDIS landing in front of my house and blocking the front door. Broke the front steps and according to my Dad we had to go in and out the window until you moved it. I'm sorry."
"Oh," the grief in that word might not have been tangible to the casual observer, but Rose and Donna silently moved to flank him, each taking one of his hands tightly in theirs.
The girl that had been Dawn Summers chewed her lip and tugged on a long strand of chocolate hair. "I um, I'm not gonna be what you wanted," she hugged her torso tightly. "I'm sorry Doctor."
"It's all right," they all knew it wasn't. "Just...please, who are you?"
"It doesn't matter. My name I mean. My parents are-" she stopped. "Were, I guess now, not very high-ranking, even though Mother was a Cardinal, it wasn't, I mean...they didn't draw attention to themselves. They sent me away, I guess they though that if there was one place in the universe I would be safe it would be the twenty-first century on an alternate Earth."
He breathed deeply and looked at her, tilting his head. "You were just a child," he said slowly. "A little girl sent to hide from the war."
She ducked her head, letting her hair fall in a silky curtain about her face. "Yeah," she replied sadly. A bitter little laugh escaped her. "They just forgot how fucking cruel humans are when they're faced with their own destruction."
Rose and Donna exchanged sharp glances, both tensing ever so slightly. "What did they do to you?" The blonde asked cautiously.
The Time Lady rubbed her arms, shivering a bit. "The Monks of Dagon," she murmured. "I don't know how they knew what they did, but god they..." she winced. "They knew that nothing could take in the Key and live. Even a Time Lady. They needed a body that would...heal itself."
The Doctor's grip tightened on his companions' hands. "They forced a regeneration," his voice held a note of horror, and significantly more fury.
She nodded, hugging herself. "The...process they used made me take aspects of Buffy; they used her blood for it. Then when I was still healing, they added the bits of the Key."
Donna frowned. "What's a regeneration and how do you force one?" She whispered to Rose.
"It's a Time Lord trick," the Doctor answered. "When we're dying, we rewrite our cells to erase injury, but it changes us inside and out. And you force one by making it necessary." He squeezed their hands tightly. "It was a capital crime on Gallifrey."
She nodded. "It doesn't make sense how they could operate Time Lord technology, but they did. They rewrote everyone's memories; put me in the Chameleon Arch...and left me Dawn Summers."
"Oh Dawnie," Rose stopped. "I mean, I -" she looked helplessly at the Doctor but he shook his head slightly. "What do you want to be called?"
"That's just it!" She winced at how shrill she sounded, and began to pace. "It's all wrong - I don't know how to be a grown-up Time Lady, I was just a kid! I grew up as Dawn, I feel like her but at the same time I don't. I've been her for half my life! I remember all her feelings, I want to kill the people that hurt her and hurt Buffy or Xander or Willow, and I want my Mother! I don't even know which one!" She wanted to scream and cry and hit something, and it showed in every movement she made. "I hate this!"
The Doctor released the girls' hands and stepped forward, opening his arms slightly. Not-Dawn threw herself into his embrace, crying again. "It will get easier," he whispered.
"I don't even know who I am," she gasped shakily. "How can I live a life like this? What am I supposed to do now?"
"Who you are is decided by you," he murmured into her hair. "You can be Dawn the Time Lady, or you can be the Key, or whatever you want to call yourself. You aren't alone. I'll help you."
He leaned back and wiped her cheek gently. "You'll be fine," he promised. "Everything's gonna be all right."
"Don't start singing please," she mumbled. "I can't take the Beatles today."
"Oh? I do a fantastic Ringo," he grinned at her and she couldn't help but smile a little back. "Ah see! Glimmer of hope for the future. First thing though, you really must pick a name. I can't keep calling you Not-Dawn in my head."
She pushed him away with a glare. "Pressure much? It's not like naming a cat; I'm picking a new identity for myself. I don't want to end up with something stupid like 'The Doctor'," she made air quotes with her fingers and he looked insulted. "I'd like a real name."
"How about Summer?" Donna suggested suddenly. "Summers was your last name right? You get a bit of a tie without the pressure of who Dawn was. And I get to keep my name without confusion," she added at the last, smiling brightly.
"Summer?" She tilted her head thoughtfully. "Hmm. I like it! It's a real name too," she stuck her tongue out at the Doctor. "Thank you Donna!"
"Alright then, Summer," the Doctor stepped away and stood at the controls. "Where would you like to go first?"
"My dimension?" She sounded hopeful. "Cleveland, preferably around nine AM, February 28th, 2011 would be great."
He grinned at her. "Know how to work the controls?"
Summer raised an eyebrow. "A Type 40? Seriously? That's like going into the fifty-first century and asking if they can drive a Ford Model T."
"That would be a no then," he looked offended. "Well now you're not allowed to try anyway, you've hurt her feelings!"
"She was decommissioned before my great-great-great grandfather was born!" She stood, arms akimbo. "This thing should be in a museum."
"Not while I'm alive!" He caressed the console gently. "This girl has risked herself for me a whole lot more than any shiny new model ever would."
"Whatever," Summer shrugged and turned to Rose. "So, does he happen to keep a well-stocked closet? 'Cause we're both a little...bloody."
Rose looked down at herself, startled. She hadn't even noticed, but all of them had gotten a bit grimy since their arrival, each being at least slightly streaked with blood from getting Dawn on board the ship. She nodded, smiling. "Yeah, I'll take you over. We need to get you a room too, and I think we all," she shot a glance at the Doctor. "Need to shower before we have any more adventures."
As if on perfect cue, the TARDIS shuddered violently. The girls grabbed the rail behind them and the Doctor stared at the controls with eyebrows that were remarkably close to his hairline. "What!" He glanced at them and ran around the other side of the console. "What?!"
Suddenly there were sirens, bells and whistles all screaming in outrage as the TARDIS began tumbling through the void - in and out of dimensions, through time and space with no clear trajectory. Summer found herself clinging to the rail with all of her strength as they were flung out through the multiverse.
The crash was almost anti-climactic after the flight - but they were still knocked off their feet by it. Rose looked decidedly shaky, and Donna had a small gash on her forehead. The Doctor had jumped up almost instantly, checking first Rose and then Donna for more serious injuries with the sonic screwdriver. Summer proclaimed her health from across the room, and after deciding the humans were safe as well he darted back to the console - quickly running checks on his precious ship to be sure she hadn't been too damaged. The monitor flickered a few times before the image settled.
"Alternate Earth," the Doctor said after a pause. "Check. Which one? 'Nother question entirely."
The girls slowly approached the screen, staring at the Gothic castle with trepidation. He grinned at them, his eyes lighting brightly with sudden enthusiasm.
"Ready for excitement?"