Dawn watched, helpless, as her mother crumpled into a heap on the floor.
The mother who didn't know who she was.
Dawn could feel herself slipping away, could feel herself becoming more and more unreal with every passing second. She tried to fight it, tried to hold on, but it wasn't working. My mom doesn't know who I am.
Dawn tried to step forward, to check to see whether Joyce was alright. She didn't manage it.
Instead, Dawn had the sensation of stepping sideways. Not physically, not in her body. But dimensionally.
Suddenly, Dawn could see glimpses of everything
. Worlds beyond counting. Heavens, Hells, nearly-Earths and not-Earths. She could see them all at once.
Dawn realised, just as she had realised the last time she had reverted to being the Key, that the human mind couldn't possibly contain such knowledge. But that was alright, because just then she wasn't human. Should she become Dawn again, then she would forget everything she had seen, everything she had done as the Key.
But right now, she needed to warn someone, tell them that Joyce was in trouble. Dawn didn't know how long it would be before she stopped being the Key and became Dawn again.
Unfortunately, Dawn didn't want to reveal to anyone that she was the Key. It was difficult enough communicating in any case (contacting Sam had been a freak chance, she wasn't sure she could do it again. She wasn't entirely sure how she had done it in the first place.) so her only option was to appear on front of someone and give communicating a go.
Then again, Dawn could visit Caelus. He knew what she was. He would understand what it meant, if she appeared before him in as this ball of energy. After that, she could go away, go and hover over the ocean somewhere and hope that nothing came through the dimensional rifts she inadvertently opened. And that she stabilized soon.
Buffy tsked exasperatedly when Caelus told her that Dawn had hung up. She had wanted to talk to her sister about the fact that her eyesight was failing and she hadn't told Buffy about it.
This concern was overshadowed when the glowing ball of green energy appeared in the centre of the lab.
Dawn could hear everything. Buffy's heartbeat speeding up as she appeared. Jolinar's, too, although not nearly as much. And Caelus', remaining steady, albeit muffled by the miniature heartbeat of his symbiote.
Dawn heard Buffy call for everyone to get out. Dawn heard her footsteps as she did just that, followed by Jolinar's.
But quieter than that, meant for her alone, she heard Caelus mutter "Stop it, Dawn. Hold on. Be human."
Dawn watched his lips as he said it (as much as it was possible for her to do so. As a ball of energy, other senses were available to her, but commonplace sight wasn't one of the most acute). She could tell that that wasn't actually what he was saying - the lip movements were different. He was probably speaking in Ancient. But she understood him anyway. And she tried.
Dawn tried to remember things from her life. Buffy and Joyce, how much she loved them, even though they treated her like a child. And Xander, who she had crushed on because he didn't. And-Dark blue eyes peering concernedly into hers even as his hand held a knife to her throat. The world of sensations suddenly opening up to her where only the fog of her fading eyesight had been before.
The memory exploded into Dawn's mind like an explosion, all the more powerful because those same eyes were looking at her with that same expression now. The only one who hadn't run away.
Dawn remembered how she had felt then, how alive she had been.
And then Dawn was back in her room, no longer the Key, not remembering any of what had just happened. Just Joyce, collapsing, demanding to know who Dawn was.
"It's alright." Caelus called after the Key had gone. "It's gone."
Buffy, who had quickly realised that Caelus hadn't followed and had sent Jolinar on ahead and gone back to see why the Goa'uld wasn't behind them, heard the call.
"What the hell! Didn't you know that thing's dangerous?" Buffy exclaimed.
"In case you hadn't noticed" Caelus said mildly "with this limp I can hardly move quickly. I'm in no position to run away from anything."
"What was that thing, anyway?" Buffy asked. "Is it something to do with the Gemini Fairy?"
Caelus winced at the mangling of device's name, but he was more concerned with not revealing Dawn's secret than correcting Buffy. "I could give you a whole variety of theories, but I doubt any of them would be correct." Caelus said. It was true. He knew what the Key was, and he couldn't tell Buffy, so any other theory he gave would be incorrect. But he knew Buffy wouldn't interpret what he was saying that way.
"It's probably some side effect. Like Dawn's eyesight." Buffy mused to herself.
Caelus seized the idea. "That's as good an explanation as any. I suspect that it will go away once I've finished here."
"And just how long will that be?"
"I'm still in the early stages." Caelus answered. "But may I suggest you contact your family?"
"Why?" asked Buffy suspiciously.
Good question. Caelus knew that Dawn had reverted to being the Key before, and this was just another instance of that. It could be nothing more than that, or it could be something else. Something more worrying. It probably wasn't a good idea to take the risk.
But how could Caelus explain that to Buffy without her becoming suspicious? "To the best of my knowledge" Caelus said slowly "that ball of energy has appeared only around you. Assuming that it is a side effect of the Ferula, one might think that it would visit those directly affected by it. Given that it has visited you and you alone, which would suggest that the ball has links with someone who would turn to you. Which would be your sister. So I suggest calling to see how she is."
Buffy mulled it over. It made sense, or as much sense as anything related to this business did. So she decided to call home, see of everything was alright.
"Dawn?... Alright, calm down. Tell me what happened... God. Have you called an ambulance?... Okay, do that now. I'll be there as soon as I can. See you soon." Buffy said into her phone.
Seeing Caelus' questioning appearance, Buffy said shortly "Mom collapsed. Dawn's calling an ambulance now. Come on."
"Come where?" asked Caelus, puzzled.
"To the hospital. You can't seriously expect that I'd leave you here all by yourself, after everything you've done?" Buffy answered.
"May I remind you that what I am doing here is vital for the safety of the entire universe? If you are concerned about leaving me alone, I would suggest you contact someone else." Caelus said coldly.
"I don't have the time
. My mother's just collapsed. I'm not going to sit around and wait for someone else to get here!" Buffy said.
"Ask Dawn." Caelus suggested.
"Ask Dawn. What I'm doing here directly affects her. And Joyce is her mother, too. If she wants me there, I'll go. If she doesn't, then just wait for someone else to come down here." Caelus expanded.
"Fine." Buffy spat, then called Dawn's mobile, hoping that she was done with calling the emergency services by now. She was. And she didn't mind Caelus coming.
Walter rushed into Hammond's office, which was an unusual enough event even when the Stargate was working. It generally indicated an emergency. However, with the Stargate shut down and having been given only three weeks to get it working again before the program was shut down for good, Hammond didn't know what could possibly be so important.
"Sir, we're receiving a radio transmission. It's the Tok'ra IDC." Walter said, words tumbling over themselves in a rush.
The Tok'ra! SG-1's mission, before the Stargate had failed, had been to contact the Tok'ra. Evidently, they wanted to find out what had happened to prevent SG-1 from completing that mission. And had sent a ship to do so. Hammond wondered if their 'gate was down too.
"Can we contact them?" Hammond asked.
Walter nodded. "We can. I've already set it up."
As it turned out, General Jacob Carter and Martouf had taken a cargo ship and flown to Earth as fast as they could when they had found that, not only had SG-1 not made it through the Stargate, but that it wasn't working.
No Stargate was working, anywhere. Reports (what few reports were capable of being sent without Stargates) indicated that it was chaos. Of course, the Tok'ra suspected that it was probably a Goa'uld ploy, and one would emerge more powerful as a result. However, given that the galaxy-wide Stargate network failure had come soon after a scheduled visit from Earth had failed, the Tok'ra High Council hadn't ruled out that it may be due to Earth.
Hammond told them all that he could, hoping that they might be able to help with events in Sunnydale. Jacob assured them that not only could they, but they would and they could get to Sunnydale in about a minute.
Hammond decided to call Jack before they did that. While the Initiative had collapsed, there were still plenty of unsavoury characters in Sunnydale. Hammond didn't want to know what a vampire could do with a cloaked ship capable of inter-stellar travel.
After Dawn finished her call with Buffy, she called Willow, hoping that she would be able to bring as many people to the hospital as possible. Willow assured her that she would be there promptly, and bring the others too. As Dawn didn't have SG-1's numbers to confirm this, Dawn then called Xander, who said that Willow had just told him all about it, and Riley, who hadn't. He forcefully declared that he would get there immediately, if not sooner.
Still, Dawn was forced to wait by herself whilst Joyce was whisked off to have tests performed on her. One of the doctors kindly gave her a stethoscope (if somewhat patronizingly, she was fourteen after all) which Dawn used to listen to her own heartbeat.
It was fast, which Dawn had expected. She was worried about her mother, after all.
What worried her even more were the moments when her heart didn't beat at all. Dawn assumed that she was once again somewhere between being fully human and fully Key. She wondered how long it would be before she became either.
Buffy, Caelus, Riley and Jolinar (who Buffy and Caelus had met on their way out of the Initiative complex) all arrived at the same time. Dawn quickly told them everything she knew about Joyce's collapse, which was admittedly not much.
While Buffy expressed her worry to Riley, who listened sympathetically, Caelus asked Dawn "Are you alright?" in Ancient.
"I suppose so." Dawn answered with a shrug.
"English, please." Buffy snapped.
"It's okay. He was just asking how I was." Dawn replied.
Buffy looked at her sadly for a moment before enveloping her in a hug. "I'm sorry, I should've asked that. I'm just so... stressed, what with everything that's going on at the moment. Sorry, Dawnie."
Dawn shrugged again. "It's okay. I understand." Dawn said thickly. To cover her distress, she placed the stethoscope over Buffy's heart. It was fast, nearly as fast as Dawn's own.
She moved over to Jolinar, whose heartbeat was slightly elevated but not much. Honestly, Dawn suspected that that was mainly to do with having an unfamiliar teenager taking her heartbeat.
Dawn moved to Caelus next, somewhat warily. At first, she couldn't find his heartbeat at all, until he gently took her hand and moved it slightly further to the right and lower down that where she had placed it. There, she could hear his heartbeat, slow and comfortingly steady, and the faint echo that was his symbiote.
Then Dawn moved to Riley, and was shocked to discover that his heartbeat was so much faster than everyone else's that she was surprised it didn't just tear itself apart.