Disclaimer: Neither Supernatural, nor Buffy the Vampire Slayer belong to me.
The body of fourteen year old Dawn Summers lay dead in the valley that on her own earth would be Sunnydale. In this reality, though, it was just a valley in Southern California. The soul of Dawn Summers lingered nearby, feeling entirely unamused. The Key, for the first time since the Beginning, was aware, and its first awareness was of the demise of the body to which it had been tied. The Key was tied to the body, and the soul was tied to the Key, and the Key was aware through the soul, and the soul was bemoaning the unfairness of being tied to her own dead flesh.
A reaper had come by to try and take her to the afterlife, but they had both discovered that wasn't possible. The reaper had been confused, and thought maybe Dawn had some unhealthy attachment to herself. Said reaper had vanished shortly after being subjected to the full blown temper tantrum.
Her impotent anger had abated swiftly without anything to fuel it. The Key seemed content to observe the world through new eyes, even though spirit-Dawn had control over those eyes, and the constant sense of calm observation kept Dawn's emotions relatively stable. Even so, she was on a roller-coaster of bargaining, anger, and sadness. Denial had played itself out pretty quickly. All the while, she watched clouds and sunsets and stared directly at the sun just because she could, venting her turmoil in fits and bursts.
She wasn't keeping track of time as she pointedly avoided looking at her lifeless body. Dawn and the Key used the time to try and figure each other out, which should have been easier now that they were one being. Instead, it seemed to be an exercise in frustration and mis-communication.
Dawn was contemplating eternity in the valley, more than a little pissed at herself for scaring off the only person who could help her when she noticed lights flickering in the distance. For the first time since she'd died, Dawn smiled. Maybe it was another reaper, or another ghost, or... men with flashlights. Dawn's smile fell as she realized it was the last one. Then she perked up again, maybe they could find and report her body, so she could at least haunt a morgue or a cemetery. As it was, she'd found she was tethered to her body. Stupid monks.
The men got closer. The older unshaven one stilled.
"Do you hear that?"
"What?" The younger, around Buffy's age, asked. "Nothing." Yup, Dawn Summer's Haunted Valley (patent pending) was free of wildlife. She didn't think she was that scary. Sure, the whole key thing meant she was a little stronger than your average ghost, but it wasn't like she was about to start feasting on the bones of the living or anything. Was she? Oh that was a disturbing thought. A few years of this tedium could really do a number on her incorporeal brain. Back to the men, who were her ticket out of said tedium. How did she get them to her body without scaring them off? She hadn't really mastered the whole ghost thing. Mostly because she'd been trying to not be a ghost. After a few seconds of thought, her possible rescuers were no longer headed straight for her. She climbed a tree, or floated up it, and after a few tries, managed to grab a lower branch and point it towards herself. The younger one noticed, and now that he came closer, Dawn saw he was really cute, in an older guy way. They were staring at her. Could they see her?
Dawn smiled and waved. The men started. Dawn dropped her hand and tried to make herself invisible. That backfired as a green glow began to overtake her, which she squashed.
"Great Dawn." She muttered to herself. "Completely freak the only people you've seen since you pissed off your reaper." She heard guns being cocked. "Morons." She said in an undertone as she hopped out of the tree, floating away from the gun-wielding idiots and closer to her own dead self. She turned back to the men with guns and held up her hands in a placating manner. "I'm not gonna hurt you. I need help." The men exchanged a series of looks.
"Listen, uh, Dawn?" The older of the two spoke. Dawn nodded. "You're dead." Dawn rolled her eyes.
"I know that. Being captured and bled dry by a Hell skank isn't the sort of thing people usually survive." Dawn took a moment to reign in her sarcasm.
"The electrical storm." The younger man commented, clearly connecting the two.
"Yes." Dawn smiled brightly at him. "That was me... I hope it didn't do too much damage?" She asked, worrying her lip.
"There was a minor brush fire, but it was contained pretty quickly." The older man told her.
"Well, that's good." Dawn smiled. "I was worried, because, well, there could have been a lot of badness, and I can't exactly check."
"You're trapped here?" The older man phrased it as a question, but didn't seem to doubt his conclusion all that much.
"Yeah. It sucks. I had a reaper come, but it seems I can't even die right." Both men frowned. "I was thinking, maybe if you reported my body and got me to a morgue, I could find another reaper and, you know, be reaped." She smiled hopefully as they looked at her, a little startled. "I mean, I've had time to think, because what else am I gonna do, and I have a few theories on why it didn't work. Plus I can not get mad this time."
"So, you want to, um..." The younger of the two faltered.
"I don't want to be dead." Dawn admitted. "But, it's not like I have a whole lot of choice in the matter. I mean, I can either go on to the other side, or sit here for eternity, spooking the occasional hiker. So far, you two are the first people I've seen, and I don't know how long it's been."
"A week and a half."
"And I'm guessing you're not typical hikers."
"No. We came to investigate a strange electrical storm, followed by sightings of a strange green light." The older man supplied. "You're not a typical ghost."
"Go me." Dawn mumbled.
"You said you were a sacrifice?" Dawn nodded, the older man continued. "Is there an alter or--"
"No. I wasn't sacrificed here. That electrical storm was actually a Hell-God named Glorificus trying to go back to her home dimension and not caring how many dimensions and realities she ripped apart in the process. The giant destructive portal through which dimensions bled into each other would only stay open so long as my sacrificial blood flowed, and, well... The first thing I asked the reaper was how did I get here from Sunnydale. He said there is no place called Sunnydale, and believe me it's not the kind of town reapers wouldn't know about. It seems like the town of Sunnydale was never established in this reality."
"Wait... reality?" The younger one's eyes seemed ready to leave his skull. Dawn was equally shocked.
"I can't believe I just told you that. For all I know you're another Hell Slut in disguise."
"Nobody here is a hell anything." He said slowly. It was as he said this that Dawn felt something, which was odd, because she was disembodied. It was like a tickle, in the back of her head, and she turned sharply, knowing there was something dangerous approaching from the other side of her glade.
"I'm not so sure." She said as she ran towards the feeling, not knowing what she would do when she got to it.
John and Dean Winchester exchanged a look as the spirit retreated.
"Well, that was different." Dean broke the silence. "Have you ever come across anything like that?"
"Let's get to that body while she's distracted." Was John's answer as he followed where the girl's spirit had pointed.
"We sure she gave the right directions? Most ghosts aren't looking to get themselves ganked." Dean said, following his father nonetheless.
"She thinks we're here to help." John countered.
"We are." Dean grinned. "If I had to spend forever trapped in a valley without so much as rabbits to look at, I would be begging for a salt and burn." It wasn't long before they found the body that was easily their ghost. Her body was strewn at odd angles, her glazed eyes wide and staring, and she was even paler in the flesh. Dean tilted his head, the feeling of something being off making him pause before he set to work pouring salt on and around her. Perhaps it was that he usually found old bones, and had only once had to burn a corpse this fresh. That's when he realized, that corpse had been embalmed, and this girl had been left out in the California sun for ten days, and yet, despite the body being broken and bled out, she was in better condition. He glanced at his father, who seemed to be realizing the same thing, but they worked nonetheless, knowing that whatever this was, it couldn't be good. Besides, they couldn't leave her here. They also couldn't do as she asked, and let her haunt some unsuspecting morgue or graveyard.
Despite the liberal application of accelerant, the blaze was short lived and didn't even touch the body, though her dress was charred and the ground was torched. Dean looked startled at the girl, oddly glad that her clothes hadn't burned away completely. It somehow felt indecent to leave her more exposed than she already was. Through an odd compulsion, he reached down to close her eyes. John grabbed his shoulder with a simple 'are you nuts?' look. Dean shrugged.
The girl, Dawn, in all her glowing green glory, was staring at them with wide, uncertain eyes.
"Salt. Fire." She observed. Then smiled sadly. "Purification ritual. A little crude, but thanks for trying." She looked down at herself. "I've been avoiding looking at that. Shouldn't I look deader?" She looked at them, bizarrely un-offended at their attempt to torch her corpse.
"Yes." John answered simply.
"Impervious to harm... that would have been a hell of a lot more useful before I died." She couldn't take her wide blue eyes off her own dead body, cheeks glistening with ghostly green tears. "Wasn't dieing enough? Do I really have to stay here guarding... this is so not fair." She sat down at that, hugging her knees to her chest and crying in earnest, her glow increasing as the sound echoed eerily around the glade, causing both men to shudder.
"I don't blame you kiddo." A soft voice with an Irish accent said from behind them. He had the same almost solid look as Dawn, but lacked the strange green glow. "Honestly, the higher ups were worried you were handling this too well." Both Winchesters drew their weapons, but the man simply quirked an eyebrow. "Now, now, gents, there's no need to waste your ammo on me. I'm Doyle, by the way."
"Angel's friend." Dawn said, peeking up from behind her knees.
"That's right." He said, stepping around the Winchesters to kneel in front of her, blocking her view of the body. "These two, who I don't believe have introduced themselves, are John and Dean Winchester. John 's the older one." Dawn waved at them shyly. "You can trust them." Three sets of furrowed brows were directed at Doyle who shrugged. "Sorry sweetheart, but you're not done needing protection." Dean cocked a brow at the way Doyle had said sweetheart, like he'd really meant it.
"I'm already dead." Dawn pointed out, and Dean and John couldn't help agreeing. Not only was she dead, but her remains couldn't be harmed.
"Yes, but... have you ever seen Doctor Who?"
"I caught Giles watching it once." Dawn answered with a sniffle and a soft smile.
"Oh, well, it might have helped with explanation, but it's not really important." Doyle sighed.
"This is because of--" She stopped herself, realizing something that neither John nor Dean were privy to, but Doyle nodded. He paused and summoned a sheet out of nowhere and covered the body, for which Dawn gave him a grateful smile.
"As I said, they can be trusted. They're used to playing things close to the chest." Doyle told her and looked back at them and gestured for them to sit. They didn't. "You've figured out why you're stuck, haven't you."
"It's the Key." She said softly, and Doyle nodded.
"You're soul can't pass because the Key can't go where you should be headed, at least not yet. You need to start over."
"As in--" Dawn's eyes widened. "I need to be remade."
"That would have been the Doctor Who parallel." Doyle said casually. "The thing is, Dawn, you weren't just created to hold the key, but using the key. Both your body and your soul are permanently tied to that energy."
"But what does this have to do with them?" Dawn asked slowly, a question John and Dean wanted answered.
"We need the blood of a champion, and he seems to be the best this reality could cough up for us." John and Dean abruptly took a threatening step forward, not knowing which one of them Doyle meant, but not liking where this was going. "Calm down. First, we only need a drop. Second, we already have it, since the whole defender gig tends to involve bleeding quite a bit. Third, we can't proceed without permission, so sit, this is going to take a while." He sat down beside Dawn, and laid a comforting hand on her shoulder.
"Now, Dawn here, as you heard, was made to house and hide this Key. This Key has and is a mind boggling amount of mystical energy, the kind that is immensely dangerous in the wrong hands. Dawn crash landed in this reality as an unfortunate by-product of her little jump into oblivion, which, by the way, saved you and everything else in the multi-verse. I can't really go into detail on the Key, because we don't have the time, and by time I mean decades. At least.
"The body and soul of Dawn Marie Summers, by the way, are one hundred percent pure human, as would be her new body. So don't start getting your speciest hackles raised."
"Was the middle name really necessary?" Dawn muttered. Doyle just smiled at her.
"I dunno, they may want to keep your old name."
"I don't get a say?"
"You'll be an infant, love, so you won't be saying anything for a while."
"That plan sounds kinda sucky." Dawn said with a pout, before realizing something that made her stand. "Babies don't remember. Wouldn't I forget everything? Mom and Buffy and... everybody! Home! I don't wanna forget!" Her eyes were once again brimming with green tears.
"I'm sorry, but it will be a while before you're ready to remember." Doyle said, reaching up and grabbing her hand. "You will, when the time is right. I'll make sure of it."
"I don't wanna forget." Dawn repeated softly, once again sitting on the ground and hugging her knees.
"You won't really. Those memories will just be on hold."
"It doesn't matter. I don't see them saying yes to a Key-Baby in the near future." Dawn pointed out, gazing at the Winchester's through her tears. She sounded almost relieved.
"Don't be so sure. After all, they haven't heard the Powers offer yet." Doyle looked almost sad at that. "There's no small amount of emotional blackmail in it."
"Since when is that a selling point?" Dawn asked without surprise.
"It's not, just thought it would be courteous to warn them." Doyle answered casually. "Want to give them as few reasons as possible to shoot the messenger."
"Aren't you also in the 'already dead' club." Dawn said with a wry grin.
"That tends not to stop them." Doyle said through a smile. "You know the type. Anyway the first bit is free: Azazel. That's the name of that demon you want revenge on. A bit of friendly advice, though, you don't wanna be throwing his name around too casually, because when he finds out you know his name, he's gonna start to wonder what else you know. You don't wanna climb too far up his threat meter too fast. That goes double if you have a baby in tow.
"If you want to sit down and hear me out, I'll explain the rest of the deal." Doyle said calmly. John and Dean exchanged looks until they reluctantly sat down on the ground. "Now, the Powers That Be are taking the unprecedented step of offering a monetary bribe. Usually, they wouldn't, because they think it's crass or something, but they aren't the Head Honchos here, so they're limited in what they can offer. Basically, they'll be making Dawn entitled to an unclaimed account." He directed his gaze at Dean. "All you'll need to do is to prove you're her biological father and you've got enough to finance yourselves well into the next century, so long as you don't do anything monumentally stupid with it."
"Wait." Dean's brow furrowed in confusion and concern. "How am I supposed to prove that?"
"What do you think the blood 's for?" Doyle asked significantly, causing Dean to freeze and stare at Dawn like a deer in the headlights. John didn't seem to be doing much better with that news. "As I said, it won't be used without permission. Well, not by our lot anyway. I also can't make any guarantees about any other DNA you leave laying about. Speaking of leaving things laying about, that's something you don't want to be doing with the Key, and anyone or anything made of or for it, if you understand me. You see, other than that Black Dog she just took care of, nobody but us know she's here, but it won't stay like that. There's only so long you can keep a major disturbance in the force under wraps. Not only is that body filled with energy that makes it impervious to harm, it's also made out of a Chosen One, and you haven't had one of those in four centuries. So, witches, demons, and many things not native to these shores, by which I mean not only country, but possibly dimension, are going to be scrambling for their pound of flesh, and, sorry luv, but you can only hold them off for so long. Apparently Azazel and his cronies are the current biggest threat, but I wasn't able to get any more details on that.
"That's the blackmail by the way, but that doesn't make it any less true. We have a small window and a small number of potential donors for hiding her, and if we can't get this show rolling, there's a very real chance that your world, and everyone in it will be royally screwed." Doyle finished. There was silence, before Dawn spoke up.
"That's honestly the best and only plan?" She asked incredulously, crossing her arms over her chest and glaring. "Seriously, that plan couldn't be crazier if it involved humus! Couldn't you turn me into something less..." She searched for a word but threw up her hands in frustration when she came up dry. "Maybe a rock. Rocks are easier to defend, and you can throw them at things!"
"Sorry, but you've been given a human soul, and putting that into anything not human is too complicated, not to mention that you would have human like-awareness the entire time you were a rock, which would be until you figured out how not to be a rock, and that would just be cruel. Do you understand?" Doyle got two definitive 'no's and one thoughtful 'yes'. The yes came from Dawn, and Doyle smiled at her affectionately. Then Dawn's eyes narrowed.
"You said you needed permission to use his blood to remake me, right?" She asked slowly. Doyle sighed. "Whose do you need, mine or his?" His lack of response was all any of them needed. Dean was having trouble knowing how to feel about that. John was much more decisive and was furious.
"I won't give it." Dawn said softly, deflating John. "Not unless you agree."
"That's what we thought you'd say, so it would have been nice for him to have given permission on his own. The problem is, I can't say you'll feel the same way when the wolves are at the door, and neither can you. The moment you say the word, the spell will begin. If you agree now, the trail will be cold before they figure out what was here, and that's if they manage it. If there's a small army of demons to bare witness, then you'll just be making it more dangerous for everybody." Dawn was silent, and staring through Dean while John seemed ready to start shooting.
"Won't it be suspicious if we walk out of here with a baby?" Dean asked.
"You won't." Doyle informed him. "She'll be sent somewhere else, probably a church or orphanage. Maybe do the whole bassinet with a letter on the church steps cliche." In the silence that followed, Dean stood and walked towards the edge of the clearing.
Dean was leaning against a tree, staring into nothing, while John watched him at a safe distance. Doyle sighed. Being a messenger was bad enough when he was alive. Now he had to deal with a whole new kind of headache, and no amount of aspirin could help him.
"For what it's worth," Doyle said carefully. "I'm sorry about all this."
"All what?" John barked at him.
"Well, it starts with the whole guardian of the key thing, and ends with the innocent girl. Or maybe it starts with an innocent girl and ends with the Key. There's a lot of bitching and manipulating by Higher Powers in the middle, that I'm sure of." Doyle frowned. He knew when he got this messenger job that it would involve being shot, and these two had more than their share of guns. He just hoped his being dead and working for the mostly good guys would prevent them from doing too much damage.
"She's going to do it, isn't she?" John growled after a few long minutes of silence.
"One way or another, she'll have to." Doyle agreed. "You can't blame Dawn for this. The only thing she did wrong was not let her older sister die in her place." Oops.
"How was that wrong?" John growled.
"Not wrong, so much as off script, I guess." Doyle corrected, keeping his voice down but knowing the damage was done.
"Did she know?" John said, after Doyle's slip sank in.
"Of course she knew. It's hard to keep that sort of secret around a Slayer, and Buffy is one of the best in centuries. She trusts her heart and her instincts, and they both said sister, magic be damned. How Dawn came to be isn't as important as what she is, and from what I can tell, she's a loving, sensitive child who is too clever for her own good. Who she'll be after the regeneration is another question, though." Doyle added thoughtfully, then resolved to come up with a better parallel than Doctor Who. He resisted the temptation to wax on regarding nature vs nurture and what effect the Winchesters may have either way. He figured John's thoughts would take him there on their own and doubted he'd wish to commiserate with apparitions.
"Which do you think is worrying him more, guarding the Key, or taking care of a baby?" Doyle asked after more heavy silence. John stared at him with an unreadable expression.
"How much do you know about us?" He asked slowly.
"I was given the Cliff's notes." Doyle shrugged. "I don't pretend to know you, if that's what you're wondering." John kept staring.
"You work for a 'Higher Power'."
"The Powers That Be. Concerned with balance and keeping our little universe afloat. Not sure they have a consistent mission statement, as their ranks seem to fluctuate and disagree. Divine beings are not above petty squabbles." Doyle said with a humourless laugh and a deep frown. "They have a bunch of rules about how and when to interfere."
"What kind of rules?" John asked guardedly.
"Don't know, I'm just a dead seer." Doyle said. "They don't give me a lot of extra information. What you don't know can't be beaten out of you, right?" John nodded. "Don't waste a lot of thought on them, you're mostly out of their jurisdiction anyway, and I don't know who's calling the shots at this end."
"You were entirely untouchable before Glory tore a hole through, not everything, but all the stuff in-between. When there's nothing in between, things collide. When Dawn closed it, the Key put everything and the in-between back in its place, except Dawn. Apparently, that gives them the right, or at least an argument, to step in with an assist. Usually they'd just sit with their thumbs firmly up their all-powerful asses anyway, going on about choice and how people need to learn things for themselves, but instead they're pushing the limits of what they can do." Doyle paused.
"You'd better go talk to him." Doyle nodded towards Dean. "He's starting to brood."
"I thought you weren't going to pretend to know us?" John said snidely. Doyle laughed.
"Yes, but brooding I've become something of an expert on. Spent the last few months of my life with a guy who'd spent a century perfecting the art. The longer you left him to stew, the more his plans tended towards the Kamikaze." Doyle shook his head. "Can't say what's going on in Dean's head, but I doubt it's a fun place to be right--" He was interrupted by a wave of information, not as painful as the visions had been, but still knocking him off kilter. John was staring at him. "Seems like I've got things to do." He told the man before leaving.
Dawn had said, simply, that he could put her up for adoption, but she needed to get out of this 'wiggy place' before 'baddies came to get all grr'. It had occurred to her that outside of fertility clinics, nobody gets asked before their genetic material is used for 'person-making'. It just happens. Dean was a little perplexed by her turn around in attitude, but couldn't help conceding the point. He also couldn't help feeling like he'd had the book thrown at him, the one time he was innocent. Which he was. Completely and totally innocent of certain baby making acts. He always used protection, well, almost always... always in recent years anyway. His father had drilled that lesson home. There would be no extra additions to the Winchester clan so long as they could help it. It seemed, though, that this one couldn't be helped.
Doyle was arguing with someone only he could hear. Dean had gathered that when Doyle's image swayed and flickered, the other side was communicating.
"Well, if you're gonna do that, you have to age her up, unless you want the boy arrested for statutory!" Dean cringed. Dawn rolled her eyes. Doyle flickered. "It's illegal to sleep with fourteen year olds in this country!" Flicker. "Of course that's what I mean!" He flickered out entirely for a moment before returning, nodding thoughtfully. "He's not with Wolfram and Hart, is he?" And they were off arguing again, with Dawn throwing in a few sniping remarks.
They'd been dismissed, as there was nothing they could do until Dawn was re-born. But watching them gave Dean insight into the Powers That Be, who had chosen him to guard a baby-shaped key. Why it had to be him, he couldn't fathom, but apparently the fate of the world was at stake, so he would do his best. He just wasn't very confident that his best would be enough. It seemed that the argument had ended, with Doyle suppressing a disgruntled look as he knelt to give a sniffling Dawn a pep-talk, and Dean took that as his cue to leave.
John watched Dean. The police were questioning him one last time, an uniformed officer standing to the side bouncing a fussing newborn in her arms. Dean was unperturbed by the police, but stared at the baby girl with barely disguised terror. Even though he'd expected the call for two days before it came, the news had still managed to be a surprise. It wasn't until the lab confirmed that she was really Dean's that it really hit him. For his part, John was entirely unprepared to be a grandfather. But then the officer was handing Dean the squirming bundle, and she stilled in his arms. Dean's face went from scared to awed, and John smiled softly.