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The Doctor and The Key

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This story is No. 13 in the series "Shadow and Light". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: The first teacher you meet at Queen Flavia University is your tutor. Dawn's tutor doesn't have an office listed in a directory, just instructions to the blue police box outside the cafe.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Dr. Who/Torchwood > Dawn-CenteredphoukaFR15114,8682163,93021 Mar 1321 Mar 13Yes
Disclaimer: Both Doctor Who and Buffy the Vampire Slayer are owned by their respective creators, production companies, and distributors. I am not one of those entities. Therefore, I have no legal right to what I'm about to do. I promise not to make any profit and to put it all back when I'm done.

Author's Notes: Wow. Been a while. And I really am trying to get this series finished up. There are definitely more Doctor/Dawn stories, but as I was re-reading this one, I realized that it works fine as a stand alone, and further plot can be added as separate stories instead of separate chapters. Pardons for iffy formatting. It's late, and I really should be asleep. Enjoy.

The ground was littered with the bodies and parts of bodies of those who had been called – will they or nill they – to battle on Her behalf. She was a poor leader, he thought. Careless, squandering lives the way a spendthrift squandered pennies, but then . . . that was a Hell god for you.

His ankles and knees hurt, and so did his hands. He was getting, quite literally, too old for this.

“Doctor,” Polly hissed.

“Stay where you are,” he barked.

He knew she would be hurt by his tone of voice, and he was learning to temper it when possible, but just now, it wasn't possible at all. Because the cause of all this, Glorificus, was walking towards him.

A man, a human man, probably would have let his mouth fall open. She was lovely, with a slender figure, dancing eyes, and a game smile. She was also, as far as a human might understand it, completely insane.

“That's right, toots,” Glorificus called. “Stay where you are. Once I'm done with this scenario-” and here she indicated both the Doctor and the Key with both index fingers , “- I'll be right over to suck your brains out.”

He watched, only gripping the head of his walking stick. For the year and the fashions, she was exquisitely well dressed. La Belle Dame Sans Merci. Her gown might as well have been painted on, and her sleeves were so fashionably long, they trailed on the ground, the same color as the blood she had spilt. She didn't even slip.

The Key floated between them like a pure, unbroken note of joy.

“You've lost,” he told her. “The Key will not avail you. Leave now before your enemies arrive, and perhaps you'll escape their wrath. I, for one, will not aid you.”

She grinned at him.

“That's cute, Gramps. You know, I've never eaten an actual Time Lord before. Do you taste like chicken?”

When he didn't answer, she shrugged, and a few blond curls fell in her face. She swept them aside, her nails glittering crimson.

“It's all just technicalities, anyways,” she continued. “They may have bound my power and killed my army, but this is what I wanted, and now it's right here. When I devour this pretty little bauble, you can kiss their world and yours goodb-”

She reached for the Key, and just as she would have touched it, it vanished. Shocked, outraged, Glorificus caught her balance and glared at him.

“You,” she said, viciously, pointing a finger at him, “don't change history. It's not your game, old man.”

“This,” he replied, “is not history. Not yet, at any rate.”

“Where is it?”

“Safe,” he replied.

She put her hands on her hips and tapped her foot.

“How about this?” she asked, glaring at him. “How about I take your little friends over there, and I pull them limb from limb and drink their blood while they're still alive. I can make it so they don't bleed out for a long time. How about that?”

“No, thank you,” he answered, his voice level as an execution squad about to fire.

“Oh, and . . . are you going to stop me?” she asked, stepping up to him.

“No,” he said, “I shan't. They shall, though.”

The shadows behind her began to move with intelligence and purpose. Behind him, he heard Polly gasp and Ben utter an oath.

“You should have taken my advice, my dear,” he said, smiling thinly. “You betrayed so many on your rise to power that even you cannot resist them all.”

She turned with a curse only for the shadows to lunge forward and grab her. As they pulled her in, one brushed his cheek, leaving a burning cold scar. Glorificus screamed in rage. And fear. The shadows pulled her in, and the wind picked up, carrying bits and pieces of debris towards the shadows and their victim.

“This isn't over, old man!” she screamed. “The Key is mine!”

“No,” he repeated. “It isn't.”

The shadows swallowed her whole, and the rip between dimensions that her battle had created turned in on itself, puckered, and disappeared. In its place, near the center of the battlefield, among the corpses of men and demons, a baby lay in swaddling cloths, wailing with fear.

He stepped towards it, feeling his joints grip with pain. It was plain what they'd done, the other Hell gods who'd ruled alongside Glorificus. She was bound within this child, unable to touch either her home dimension or this earthly plane. When this child grew and aged and died in the fullness of time, Glorificus would at last be negated utterly. At least, that's what Her enemies thought. A moment spend studying the child made it clear they'd underestimated Her power.

He gazed at the baby, feeling no urge to pick it up or comfort it. If he were a crueler man – or a kinder one – he would kill the child quickly and cleanly. But, there'd be no explaining it to Polly and Ben, and he found he lacked the will, even knowing the likely consequences. This, he thought, was history. And so was his duty to his charge.

Inside the TARDIS, Polly and Ben waited nervously.

“Is everything all right, Doctor?” Polly asked, twisting her fingers.

“No,” he answered, “but it is as close to all right as possible. Come, my friends. We have a job to do.”

The three of them gazed at the glowing light above the console.

“Is this right, Doctor?” Ben asked. “Bottling it up like that? Shouldn't it be free?”

“That,” he told them, “is not a bottle. It is an ionically charged field generated to rebalance the influence the Key has on the TARDIS while she's within its bounds. She wouldn't be able to exist in here, and the TARDIS wouldn't be able to travel, without it.”

“She?” Polly asked, looking it over. “The Key is female?”

“All Keys are, in a manner of speaking, female,” he answered. “Though there are few enough of them. Strange that Glorificus was so obsessed with this particular one. If she'd simply looked elsewhere, she wouldn't have fallen into her foe's trap.”

“So . . . where are we taking her?” Ben asked, leaning on the console.

The Doctor rapped Ben's knuckles with his walking stick. Ben grabbed his hands back and blew on them.

“The Key requires both protection and help when Glorificus returns,” he said. “There is a monastery where both are available, and the monks there owe me a favor.”

“Wait,” Ben said, still blowing on his knuckles, "when Glorificus returns?”

“Yes,” the Doctor replied, tired and a little angry. “When.”

He stood again in the middle of another slaughter. One had escaped Her, but he was being hunted down at that very minute, and the Doctor could spare him no aid.

Leela prowled through the rooms of the tiny monastery. There had been fires, and most of the library was lost. The bodies in the room where Glorificus had made Her entrance were flung about like straws in a hurricane. They'd been lucky enough not to know what had hit them.

Like most medieval buildings, the door lintels were low enough he had to remove his fedora and duck through them, brushing his brown curls on the stones above. He also had to pick up his scarf and throw several more loops around his neck to keep it from trailing in the blood.

There weren't nearly as many bodies immediately outside the corridor. Most of the monks, on hearing their brothers screaming, had taken flight to the chapel. Just outside the chapel, the bodies began again, and most of them showed marks of Glorificus's sense of humor. He looked away from them. Even Time Lords had nightmares.

“What does such things?” Leela asked, her teeth bared in nervous fear.

“A demon,” he told her, his deep voice resonating in the chamber. “Rather, a god of demons.”

Inside the chapel, it was, if possible, worse. When Glorificus had finally gotten around to entering, the Key had been gone. Glorificus had lost Her temper. She'd been angry, and it showed. Leela put the back of her hand to her mouth and recoiled in disgust.

He considered the circles on the stone floor. They were scuffed, but enough was left to read the sigils there. Had Glory even tried? He rather doubted it. If She had, She would have gone directly for the Key, new form or no new form. Instead, she was hunting down the remaining monk, to torture him for information.

So, the Key had a chance.

One glyph in particular caught his attention.

“The Slayer?” he muttered aloud.

“Another demon?” Leela asked. Her hearing was just as good as one might expect from a jungle born huntress.

“On the contrary,” the Doctor answered. “Rather the opposite. Good grief, I haven't spoken to a Slayer in . . . well, a very long time. Even for me. It would appear the Order of Dagon did its research quite well.”

“Doctor?” a voice called. “Doctor, are you i-Christ in His heaven!.”

“In here,” he called.

Two women – aging but still strong and lovely – entered, guns in hand, carefully scouting the room. They both considered Leela, accepted her as a companion of the Doctor, and returned to their scans.

“We received your note,” the brunette said, her voice clipped with the effort to contain her revulsion at the slaughter around her.

“What note?” Leela asked. “You have sent no note.”

“I haven't sent a note yet, Leela,” he corrected her. “I imagine once we're done here, I'll pop back a week or so to post one, so the ladies have a chance to get here. The Czech Republic may be easier to reach than it used to be, but that doesn't mean it's a hop, skip, or a jump from home.”

“What in God's name,” the other woman began.

“A god,” he replied, looking up from the floor. “A Hell god by the name of Glorificus. We met before, a very long time ago for me. Not quite so long for Her.”

“You're going to take on a Hell god?” the blond asked, aghast.

“God's teeth,” the brunette swore, “the stories about you really are true, aren't they?”

“Mostly,” he allowed. “Mrs. Peel, isn't it? How is your husband?”

“Tolerable,” she answered. “When he's intolerable, I send him to the lake country to fish, and I take an assignment or two.”

“And Mrs. Stone?”

“Call me Debbie Sue. Might as well. Everyone else does. I guess I'll call the Sisters,” the blonde said, reaching for a walkie-talkie she carried.

He waved her off. “That won't be necessary. If the monks accomplished what I think they did, they not only saved the Key, but the world as well. More than once. That part is all well and done.”

Besides which, Glorificus' memory block had apparently kicked in now that she had emerged from her human prison. He'd had to explain the Hell god to Leela three times since they'd come through the doors.

“These men can't be six hours dead,” Leela protested. “How is this thing well and done in such a short time? And with the stink of sorcery all over it?”

“I do keep telling you, Leela,” he sighed, glancing at her. “Time is not a linear function. It has a certain . . . wobbliness to it. Hmm, yes, wobbliness. I like that.”

“But what of the survivor?” she demanded. “Why not help him?”

He exhaled, his shoulders slumping. “I can't. This – the moment when the monks transformed the Key into a girl – is a fixed point. If they've done what I suspect – which was no mean feat – then she's safe with the Slayer, and he's the only one left to tell the Slayer what's happened. She's nearly as powerful a time-space nexus as I am. At least this one is. I get too close, and I may well muck up the whole thing.”

“So, you want us to intervene?” Mrs. Peel asked, scanning the room for living threats.

“Oh, no,” the Doctor answered, shaking his head. “It's far too early for your fellow ladies to play their hand. You'll be needed later.”

“Well, if you don't want help with that,” Debbie Sue said, her accent betraying her origin in the deep south of the United States, “then why the hell call us out here?”

“I need help burying them,” he said.

Both women deflated a little bit. Burying corpses wasn't listed high as fun in their books, but it was remarkably better than facing a Hell goddess on a rampage.

“And I need you to inform your Sisters that the Key is in play again,” he continued.

Mrs. Peel's head popped back up, and she stared at him. “That means the prophesy . . .”

“Yes, well,” he said, smiling grimly, “there's always a prophesy, isn't there?”

He studied the readings on the screen, unhappy but unwilling to look away.

“Whu's tha?” Donna asked, coming around the console.

“That,” he answered, “is a problem, and we're going to have to deal with it.”

She looked at the screen and watched the formless colors play across it. “I can't make heads or tails of it.”

“That,” and the Doctor pointed at a point in the screen that the swirls bent around, “is a nexus – a person or lifeform with considerable influence on the space-time continuum. I'm one. You've gained a few characteristics of one from the time you've spent with me. This one is quite powerful. In its own way more than me, and it's in trouble.”

“Wha?” Donna asked, tilting her head to look at the screen. “Is it that swirly, bendy thing there?”

“Mmm-hmmm,” the Doctor answered, nodding his head but not taking his eyes off the screen. “The other one is the sister of the first. Sort of.”

“Sort of?” Donna repeated.

“Kind of,” he admitted.

“How can someone be a sort-of-kind-of sister? You're either related, or you're not.”

“Well, that's just it, isn't it?” he asked, scratching the back of his neck. “And that's why she's in trouble. See, here,” and he pointed to other, much smaller, swirls that danced around the two main ones, “are all the major people connected to them.That,” and he pointed to a dark, horrible blotchy thing, “is what's hunting her. It's getting closer.”

“What is that thing?” Donna demanded. “Why didn't I notice it before?”

“Hmmm? Oh, well, it's a Hell god, if you must know. Not that you'll remember. Humans don't. Like beads of mercury on plate glass, She just doesn't stick to your brains.”

She looked at him, annoyed and a little frightened.

“What do you mean, doesn't stick to my brain?” she asked. “Never mind. What do we do?”

“Well, the spell that translated the Key from a glowing point of energy to a human girl can only do so much, and it's done all of that and more. In order for her to fit in, the monks had to give her and all the people in her life concrete memories – all the way back to the time of her supposed conception. That's a lot of stress on these connections – Key, Slayer, Hell god. We need to take one of the stressors out of the equation.”

“Hell god?” Donna demanded. “What do you mean, Hell god?”

The Doctor gave her a sad, slightly amused smile. “And there you go. I'd rub it in, but it's no fun, since you won't remember that either. At any rate, we need to make a stop in California and talk to a man.”

Hank Summers was packing his car when he heard the sound – a wheezing, grinding noise like an old car engine pushed too far. He stood back up and looked around, trying to place it. It wasn't an actual car. There wasn't a neighbor on this street who would own the kind of wreck the sound implied. There weren't any train tracks nearby. It sure wasn't an earthquake. What on Earth?

“Excuse me, Mr. Summers?”

“Where did you two come from?” he asked, facing the two strangers behind him.

One was a man, medium height, skinny, and a shock of brown hair that looked like it broke combs for breakfast. The other, a woman, looked more reasonable and sensible, if distracted. The man held up a badge.

“California Department of Child Welfare,” he said. “I'm the Doctor. This is my colleague, Miss Noble. We're here to talk to you about your daughter.”

His blood turned cold.

“Buffy? What's happened?” he asked. “What kind of trouble is she in now?”

“Not Buffy,” the man said. “Dawn.”

And an even worse wave of heart shrinking cold washed over him. Buffy got into trouble. That's what she did, and somehow, she always came out all right. But Dawn? His little girl?

“She's all right,” the woman assured him. “Could you not scare the poor man to death? Tell him she's all right.”

“Well, she's . . . ah . . . she's mostly all right,” the man said. “She's currently all right. But I do need to talk to you about a very serious danger to her.”

“What? Of course,” Hank answered. “What is it?”

“Well . . . ah . . .”

The woman glanced at her partner and nudged him. “Go on.”

“Well, Mr. Summers,” the man said, “I'm afraid you are. The danger to her, that is.”


They ended up in his living room, holding cups of coffee without sipping as he paced the floor, occasionally stopping and glaring at them.

“Look, I know this isn't easy-” the Doctor started.

“You go to hell!” Hank yelled at him.

He stopped, ran his hands through his hair, and turned to glare at the bureaucratic official sitting on his couch.

“You don't know a damn thing,” he said. “These are my daughters, my girls, you're talking about. I'm supposed to be in Sunnydale in three hours to take them camping for the weekend. And you tell me I'm supposed to walk away from them? When some . . . some thing is hunting my fourteen year old daughter?”

“If you love them,” the Doctor said, “yes.”

“I'm their father!” Hank roared. “Of course I love them!”

Both of them fell quiet for a long moment.

“Tell me, Mr. Summers,” the Doctor said, “what are your first memories of Dawn?”

“My first . . . what's that got to do with anything?” he asked, frantic.

“Mr. Summers,” Donna said, “please. I know it doesn't make any sense just now, but just do what he asks.”

“Just . . . I talked to Dawn just this last weekend,” he said. “We . . . we talked about school. She likes her art class and Spanish. We practiced talking in Spanish for a little bit. I told her if she got all As, I would take her to Cozumel next summer.”

“Your first memories of Dawn,” the Doctor stressed.

Hank stared, mystified. “Yeah, my first mem- . . . wait. That, that doesn't make sense.”

“No, it doesn't,” the Doctor agreed. “The thing is, Mr. Summers. Dawn isn't really your daughter.”

"Don't you think I know that?!” he yelled at them.

He stopped and covered his eyes with a hand, waiting for his temper to calm, waiting for the tears pressing against his eyelids to retreat.

“You think I don't know that?” he asked again. “I saw Dawn's blood type in her medical records. There's no way she could be my biological daughter. When I confronted my wife, she told me it was over, that he'd disappeared when she'd told him she was pregnant. She honestly thought that made it okay.”

He took his hand down and glared, red-eyed, at this man who'd walked into his life, prying and poking, and dismantling everything that mattered.

“And you know what I did?” he asked. “When my wife was done crying, but never said she was sorry, I left her and went to my daughters' bedroom, and I read them a bedtime story. Because I'm their father, and I don't care what medical tests or my now ex-wife says. Dawn is as much my daughter as Buffy is. Now, do you understand that?”

The Doctor swallowed and looked down into his coffee cup.

“Really put your foot into that one, didn't you?” Donna muttered.

“You humans,” he answered. “Always so complicated! And English is a terrible language for ambiguities, anyways. If you only spoke Gallifreyan, I could have used the same sentence and not have had any misunderstandings over biology.”

“What are you talking about?” Hank demanded.

They both pressed their lips together in frustration. Donna was the first to speak up, though.

“Look, Mr. Summers, you have to have known that there's something different about Buffy, right?”

“She's just . . . she's got some problems, is all.” He shrugged.

“She's got a lot of problems,” Donna agreed, “but not because she's got problems, if you follow me. It's more like a lot of bad things have problems with her.”

He stared at her, as if she had just spelled out the word on the tip of his tongue, but she'd done it in another language, so he couldn't quite put his finger on it.

“Bad things . . .”

The Doctor took a deep breath. “Yes, bad things. I'm afraid we can't go into much more detail, because there is something of a time crunch on, and too much information will only make things worse.”

“Sum it up,” Donna said, nudging him.

“What?” he asked, offended.

“You're always explaining,” she said. “It takes too long. Sum up.”

Now it was the Doctor's turn to scrub his face. “Okay, look: your daughter, Buffy, has a very special role to play. A difficult one, and she's very, very good at it. So good, that when a group of very brave, very doomed men needed to find a safe place for something so precious they were willing to give their lives for it, they sent it to Buffy.”

Hank's eyes narrowed, but he didn't interrupt.

“The thing is, they couldn't just FedEx it to Buffy. Instead, they took this precious, irreplaceable thing – so full of wonderfulness, it would break your heart with happiness just to look at it – and they turned it into a girl. But girls don't just coalesce out of the mists of space and time. They have families. They have memories. They have whole lives.”

“You're . . . are you talking about Dawn?”

“In order for this to work,” the Doctor continued, “those very brave and very doomed men not only translated this precious thing into a girl, they reshaped the world around her so that everyone connected to her had memories that matched hers, so that Buffy and Buffy's family became her family. What they did took so much strength, so much energy, and accomplished so much that it's teetering on the brink of failure. Tiny bits here and there are going plink! and spoing!, and if some of the stress isn't taken off, it's not just going to unravel, it's going to snap, and if it does, the recoil will lead the Hell god who wants to bleed Dawn straight to her.”

“HELL GOD?” Hank yelled.

“HELL GOD?” Donna demanded. “You didn't say anything about a HELL GOD!”

“Yes, I did,” the Doctor insisted, “and it doesn't matter anyways, because in about five seconds, you won't remember that I said any such thing.”

“That's it,” Hank declared. “I'm driving up there. I'll take them to Timbuktu if I have to.”

He grabbed his keys and started for the door. The Doctor was on his feet, blocking his way before he got three steps.

“You do that,” the Doctor said, “and she'll be dead before you reach her.”

"Why?!” Hank cried, grabbing the Doctor's jacket.

The Doctor took his hand and gently pulled it free.

“Mr. Summers, right now, you are the only person who is not in the thick of this but still has every memory, every bit of your life's reality warped around Dawn, in an attempt to make her real. The others will learn. In time. And they'll adjust. It will take the stress off the spell and allow Dawn enough breathing room to be a real girl. But right now, every person the spell has to press against a Dawn-shaped mold is another stress on it.”

Hank Summers stood toe to toe against the Doctor and listened to the words that took his life away.

“Everyone else affected by the spell is in the middle of the fight. They have to be. They can't be spared. You can. Remove yourself from this, Mr. Summers. Leave Dawn's life, and the spell can hold. Stay here, and it'll eventually break. Go see her, and you'll lead the horrors of Hell straight to your daughter.”

“I'm her father,” Hank croaked. “I'm supposed to protect her.”

“I'm sorry,” the Doctor said. “I am so, so sorry, Mr. Summers, but the only way you can protect her is by leaving, by getting as far away as you can. If you don't, Dawn will die, and so will Buffy, trying to protect her.”

“This can't be . . . this can't be real,” Hank said, begging. “You're . . . this is just some horrible prank or a joke. I haven't been the best father. I should have fought harder for custody, but I didn't want the girls to see all that bitterness. I can't just . . . leave.”

“You can,” the Doctor assured him. “And you must.”

“She's my little girl,” he whispered.

“And she's alive,” the Doctor told him. “That's your only real choice, Mr. Summers. Your daughters, both of them alive or both of them dead. I'm really very sorry.”

Hank slumped. “Forever?”

“Probably not,” Donna said. “I mean, at some point, they've got to win, right?”

“I sincerely hope so,” the Doctor said. “It's not something I can fix, and if Buffy and her gang don't, there won't be a universe for me to tidy up.”

“If I leave without telling them why,” Hank said, “they'll think I'm abandoning them.”

“But they'll be alive,” Donna reminded him. “And you can mend bridges later.”

He covered his face with his hands and stood silent for a long moment. When he brought his hands down, he was calmer, but there were tears on his cheeks.

“What do I do?”

“Don't speak to her or Buffy,” the Doctor told him. “Get as far away as you can. Another continent if that's possible. Give it . . . a year, at least. Two years would be better. Buffy has to be completely on her own before you can risk contacting them again. It would be better if Dawn were, as well.”

“How long . . .” he had to stop and clear his throat, “how long has Dawn been here?”

He looked up at the Doctor, and the Doctor's heartbroken expression almost stopped him.

“You said, these men, they sent her to Buffy and changed everyone's memories. How long ago was that?”

“Last week,” the Doctor told him.

“You mean, I've never even met my own daughter?” Hank asked him. “I've talked to her on the phone once, and everything else is just . . . made up? It's not real?”

“Just because it's made up doesn't mean it's not real,” the Doctor told him. “What your wife did couldn't stop you from loving your daughter, and whatever you may think of her, she's a far, far better person than the thing looking for Dawn. Don't let it take your daughter away. She is very real. I swear my life on it. Your memories of her and hers of you are just as real as the certainty of her dying if you don't leave.”

All the fight drained out of Hank Summers. He turned his face away.

“I'll go,” he said. “I promise, I'll go. I won't risk my daughters' lives. Just . . . leave. Please.”

They left.

On the walk back to the TARDIS, Donna wrapped her arms around herself.

“Oy, that was horrible,” she said. “Telling a man he has to walk away from his girls, them knowing nothing, or they'll die.”

The Doctor said nothing, but his jaw clenched.

“And . . . he just took it,” Donna said, wondering. “I mean, you're persuasive, I'll give you that. Most persuasive man in the universe, I expect. But . . . you didn't even have to fight to get him to believe. He never even called you crazy, and everyone calls you crazy. He just accepted what you had to say.”

“His older daughter is a Vampire Slayer,” the Doctor reminded her. “He's seen her come home in the middle of the night bloodied, torn up, and covered in graveyard dust, and he's spent the last five years of his life in denial. He could turn his mind away from it when it was Buffy, but not when it was Dawn.”

“Huh,” Donna said, looking around at the eucalyptus trees. “So, wha? He loves Dawn more than Buffy?”

“Maybe,” the Doctor said, a little bitterly, as he unlocked the TARDIS door, “or maybe knowing what he does, he can be more honest about Dawn.”

“Funny ol' world,” Donna said.

“Yeah,” the Doctor replied, flatly. “Real funny.”

Ruritania was a funny old country. Right up until the end of the 19th century, they'd been just as crazy as all the other little principalities, with their strutting and blustering, their intrigues and their alliances. Then, about the time Queen Victoria started looking very grumpy and after all that business with identical fifth cousins, assassinations, unconsumated love, and noble deaths, Ruritania got downright boring.

Mind you, it was pretty. Having missed out on the trench warfare of the Great War and much of the bombing during World War II, the villages, towns, and cities – especially Strelsau – were quite lovely and very lived in. They'd gotten their architecture figured out, ran all the government computers on Ubuntu, had an average per capita wealth that was less than Switzerland but more than Denmark, an extremely large middle class, an atrophied and slightly embarrassed nobility, almost as many horses as Ireland, thoroughly respectable schools, and the last hereditary absolute monarch in Europe.

The Doctor was already bored. Which should have been a warning to him.

His student, the one he'd agreed to accept as a tutor for Queen Flavia University in exchange for a free pass through the entire country, was due to meet him in less than half an hour. He'd already sent Amy and Rory off for a two week vacay with a charge card courtesy of Her Majesty.

“Doctor,” Rory called, working his way through the crowded cafe, “we've got a problem.”

“I'll say,” the Doctor answered, putting his cocoa down. “You're supposed to be over in Zenda, hunting boars or something.”

“No one hunts boars anymore,” Amy said, joining them. “We've been shopping before we go, so we don't die of boredom while there.”

“They have a spa . . . thingy,” the Doctor protested.

“Doctor, listen,” Rory interrupted. “I just bumped into a girl – an American girl – who recognized me.”

“Oh, well, that was probably my st-what do you mean she recognized you?” he demanded.

Rory took a seat and simultaneously pulled one out for his wife without taking his eyes off the Doctor. He glanced around the cafe and lowered his voice to allow the buzz of conversation to cover it.

“Doctor, she recognized me as the Last Centurion,” Rory said.

"What?” He almost spilled his cocoa. “Did you know her?”

“Yeah,” Rory answered. “That's what's so weird. The British Museum sent the Pandorica on a touring exhibition, and I took a job as an actor, playing the Last Centurion. Only, there was this town in California, Sunnydale-”

“Sunnydale?” the Doctor repeated, looking horrified.

“Yeah,” Rory continued. “Horrible place. Some sort of vampire lord decided he wanted to grab the Pandorica, called himself the Master.”

“Him? Oh, yes, he'd almost certainly try to grab the Pandorica,” the Doctor interrupted. “Go on.”

“Well, I never saw him myself, but he sent a bunch of goons. There'd been a school group in earlier that day, and one of the kids – this girl, the same girl who stopped me in the streets not twenty minutes ago – came back after everyone else had gone home, because she wanted to talk to me.

“Doctor, she couldn't have been more than eleven, and she'd figured out I was the real Last Centurion. She spoke classical Latin fluently. She spoke some Aramaic, for heaven's sake.”

“What did you do?” the Doctor asked.

“We chatted,” Rory answered. “She asked me about life in Brittanica. That's what was weird.” He stopped and considered it. “It didn't throw her for a second.”

“No, I'm sure it didn't,” the Doctor said. “But that can't be all that happened that night. This was Sunnydale, after all.”

“Well, no, actually, it wasn't. While we were talking, a gang of vampires broke in, killed the docent and tried to take the Pandorica. In the middle of the fight, the Vampire Slayer shows up, and she's got a friend with her, a vampire by the name of Angelus. I don't know if you've ever heard of him, Doctor, bu-”

“I have, and it's a good thing you didn't kill him,” the Doctor told him. “”But Dawn, Dawn Summers.”

“Yeah,” Rory said. “How did you . . .?”

“Never mind that. What happened?”

“Oh, well, the three of us won the fight pretty handily. I gave Buffy a talking to for ignoring her little sister. Her Watcher, Giles, forwarded me letters from Dawn up until . . .”

“Giles?” the Doctor asked, looking a little overwhelmed. "Rupert Giles? All tweedy and reserved, and then when you least expect it, breaks bad people into little squishy bits?”

“Ah . . . well, actually, yes,” Rory answered. “He was hell with a cricket bat. Or so I hear.”

“Oy,” Amy said, poking her husband's shoulder. “You go on adventures like that, and you don't even tell me?”

“Amy.” Rory gave her an exasperated look. “I've got two thousand years back history. I didn't even remember it until Dawn bumped into us and recognized me.”

“This is very not good,” the Doctor mumbled to himself.

“Well, I thought it was strange,” Rory admitted, “and that I ought to tell you. Except for you, Amy, and River, no one's ever remembered the Last Centurion.”

“Yes, the whole timeline was wiped when the universe rebooted,” the Doctor agreed and then muttered under his breath, “and Dawn wasn't even in human form yet, which means Rory's memory was affected by her transformation. How do you even create memories of an alternate timeline in two different people anyways?”

“Sorry?” Amy asked. “Human form? What kind of student have you taken?”

And Dawn chose just that moment to show up.

“Entshuldigen Sie, bitte,” she said in flawless Hoche Deutsch. “Sie Sind Herr Doktor? Ich heiße Fraulein Dawn Summers, und Ich bin Ihre Schulerin.”

“Excellent,” the Doctor said, not taking his eyes off Rory.

He stood and pulled out the last empty chair at the table. “Please, take a seat, Miss Summers, and don't fret, I speak fluent English. You can switch back to your native tongue.”

“Wait,” Rory said under his breath, “that was German, really German. How come the TARDIS translation matrix didn't change it?”

“Local color?” Amy asked, shrugging.

The young woman, paused, confused and then extremely aggravated.

“Yeah, I thought I was speaking my native tongue. I am really tired. Hi, Rory. Hi, Amy. Anyways, Doctor, before this whole thing starts up, I need to reschedule for the morning. I've been up for the last thirty hours, and I just got strips pulled off my hide by the Matriculation Board. I still need to find a room to let, all the hotels are booked, and there's no way I'm staying in the hostel.”

“Sit,” the Doctor said. “I'll take care of the room. You should rest.”

“No,” Dawn said. “Seriously, I really need to go do this-”


Both Amy and Rory ducked at the command, but Dawn only riled up.

“Okay, you know what?” she snapped. “I'm pretty freakin' tired of having so-called grown ups treat me like their personal butt monkey. So you can either reschedule our meeting for tomorrow morning, or you can go to hell and die. Mache ich mich auch löschen?”

Amy and Rory turned wide eyes on the young woman. Amy stifled a giggle.

“Oh, I like her, Doctor.”

“Fine,” the Doctor said, putting his hands on his head. “Fine. Miss Summers, give me just one moment. You two,” he pointed at his Companions, “out of here. Out of town. If you can manage it, out of the country. I cannot have the three of you in such close proximity. You're much too timey-wimey to risk it. Go!”

“What?” Amy asked Dawn, “You're not going to storm off? You should really storm off.”

“I can't,” Dawn grated. “The faculty directory doesn't list an office for him, and the directions the registrar gave me don't make any sense.”

“OUT!” the Doctor yelled at Amy and Rory.

The cafe fell silent, and everyone stared at them in polite horror.

“Okay,” Rory said, a little offended. “We're going. I was trying to help.”

“Behave yourself, Doctor,” Amy said, grabbing her things. “And Dawn-”

“Yeah?” Dawn looked up, exhausted.

“Give 'im hell!”

It took a long minute for Rory to grab the rest of their things and usher Amy to the door. Amy kept turning and waving or blowing kisses. Once the happy couple were out the door, the chatter resumed, and the rest of the people returned to ignoring them.

“Now, then,” the Doctor said, clapping his hands together. “Dawn, I know you're very tired-”

“I. Am.”

“But if you'll just grant me a few minutes, I'll straighten everything out for you.”

She glared at him. He met her glare with an intent, yet gentle, gaze.

“Honestly,” he said. “Please.”

He held the chair out for her, and after a long moment, she relented.

“Fine, but if I fall asleep, it's your fault,” she said.

The next morning, he found her at the appointed time, standing in front of the TARDIS, her jaw hanging open in crisp winter air.

“Hello, Dawn,” he said, and handed her a cup of cafe mocha. “We'll need to give the cups back to the cafe there when we're done. How'd you find your new residence?”

She gave him a split-second glance and went back to staring at the TARDIS.

“I have a private bathroom,” she said. "Nobody has a private bathroom. The only reason the student guide doesn't explicitly forbid private bathrooms is because no one can find a room to rent with a private bathroom.”

“Oh?” he asked innocently.

“My rent is an hour a day working in the patisserie, plus weekly Latin lessons for their oldest daughter, plus one evening a week babysitting. And their kids are well behaved. How did you find them?”

“It's just . . . something I'm good at,” he answered, smiling.

She finally tore her eyes away from the TARDIS and faced him.

“You're him, aren't you?” she asked, taking the cup he offered and wrapping her hands around it. “I thought it was a typo. 'The Doctor'. I mean, who calls themselves by just a title?”

“Who, indeed?” he agreed with her.

“But you're really him,” she repeated. “All those bedtime stories Giles told me, about the mad man with the box, the time traveler, with the Sontarans and the Silurians? You're him, aren't you?”

He raised his eyebrows and smiled with embarrassment. “Actually, yes. I am the Doctor. It's very nice to meet you, Dawn.”

“But you don't look anything like what Giles described,” she said, looking him over. “I mean, tall, yeah. But what happened to the curly hair? And the scarf? Do you still eat jelly babies?”

“I'm more partial to Jammie Dodgers these days,” he answered. “As for the rest, it would be pretty silly if I hadn't changed in all the time since I saw Rupert. He was fairly young.”

“He was at Oxford,” she answered. “And he'd gotten over his Ripper stage. And you look younger!”

“Yes, I do that occasionally,” he said. “Now, Dawn-”

“Is that really the TARDIS?” she asked. "The TARDIS?”

He sighed. “Yes, it is, but before I let you in, there are some things we have to discuss.”

She had started to reach for the door handle, but stopped herself and turned back.

“Wait, is this why you're my tutor? Because you know Giles?” she asked.

“As a matter of fact, I didn't know Giles knew you until last night, though it makes a great deal of sense at this point,” he told her. “No, the reason I'm your tutor is because you, Dawn, are the Key.”

And here he'd thought “went white as a sheet” was just a figure of speech when it came to humans.

“Whoops! Let me take that,” he said, grabbing her cup. “Best take a seat. Over here. Come along.”

He juggled the two cups and helped her to a nearby bench. Once seated, she scooted as far away from him as she could.

“Oh, come now,” he protested. “Didn't Rupert tell you I'm one of the good guys?”

She pointed a shaking finger at him. “Look, my sister-”

His manner abruptly changed from solicitous to nearly scornful.

“Really, Dawn? Seriously? You go all the way to Europe to establish yourself as a person without the shadow cast by your sister, and the first time you feel threatened, you pull her out?”

“Hey, this is not the first time I've been threat- and how the hell did you know that?”

“I read your application essay,” he told her.

“No,” Dawn said, “how did you know I'm the Key?”

“I am a Time Lord,” he pointed out.

“And?” Dawn demanded.

“We've met before,” he told her, stretching out his legs and crossing his arms.

“And . . . what, my future self told you?” Dawn asked, baffled.

“No,” he answered. “Strangely enough, all my encounters with you or tangential to you have been in chronological order for both of us, which is a fairly rare occurrence.”

“I . . .what?”

“I met you when you were the Key but not a human,” he explained. “You don't have any memory of that, because glowing balls of wibbly-wobbly transdimensional life energies don't form the neural connections necessary for memory.”

“You . . . you met me . . . you met me before . . .”

“Oh, keep it up,” he said, sourly. “You'll get a whole sentence before lunchtime.”

She stared at him, speechless.

“Honestly, Dawn, you haven't considered the fact that you had an entire existence before you were Dawn? A clever girl like you?” he asked her. “I mean, even aside from the eight hundred years or nearly so you spent under the care of the Order of Dagon, there were millennia before that where you were simply a Key and nothing more complicated.”

“I try not to think about it,” she whispered.

“Try not to think about it,” the Doctor repeated, considering her words. “The Order of Dagon – and they were friends of mine, you know – spent eight centuries keeping guard over you. The last of the order died trying to protect you. I know. I found them after Glorificus killed them. I buried the-”

“Oh my god, please, just stop,” she said, pressing her fingers to her mouth.

“Why do you think Queen Flavia University took you on?” he asked. “Being the Slayer's sister certainly isn't enough reason. For heaven's sake, Hogwarts is easier to get into, and they take more students – oh, wait, that's next millennium. Never mind – No, this university takes on students they believe stand a solid chance of altering the course of history for the good. You may find a lot of tortured souls and troubled minds in the student body, but you won't find a single person who has no idea what it's like to be . . .interesting.”

She stared straight ahead without looking at him.

“But, I'm not the Key anymore,” she finally managed, her tone flat and tight. “That's gone.”

“What?” the Doctor asked, his eyes narrowing. “Oh, no, Dawn. Whatever they told you, they either didn't have enough information, or they were protecting you. You are still very much the Key. There is no not being the Key. You can live your life and never touch that part of who you are, but if you choose that, it should be from knowledge, not ignorance or denial. You have to understand what you are, especially now, especially with what's coming.”

“You know about the prophesy?” she whispered.

“Oh, there's always a prophesy,” he told her. “Besides which, Keys never get to be boring. Something's bound to happen.”

She stared at his face for a moment, emotions warring across her expression. At least she was starting to get some of her color back. He gave her one of the cups of mocha.

“What do you mean 'Keys'?” she asked. “I'm the only one.”

“What? Who told you that?” he asked. “Oh, just because everyone says the Key? No, you're not unique. No more than the Pegasus or the Phoenix.”

“Those are unique,” she said. “Actually, they're mythical. But even in the myths, they're unique.”

She started sipping her mocha, gave up, and gulped it.

“And how do you think they made it into those myths? Besides, they're only unique if you can only see a very small segment of the space-time continuum. Back off a little, and the universe is practically loaded with them. No, people – and Hell gods for that matter – only think you're unique, Dawn, because they've never seen another Key. You're not exactly common, not by any means, but there are a lot more of you than anyone else seems to realize.”

She looked away and stared at the ground.

“Now then, Summers, what exactly is a Key?” the Doctor drawled, stretching out from the bench.

“Do we have to do this now?” she asked, closing her eyes.

“Yes, it's rather important. Need to have this concept down before we go off to our next stop.”

“What kind of key?' she asked.

“Any kind,” he responded. “Every kind. Your kind. What is it? What does the word mean?”

She groaned.

“It's a tool for opening locks. A . . . a reference for translating codes. The table that tells you what all the symbols on a map are. A simple answer to a complicated problem. The list of flats or sharps in a musical scale. The answer sheet to a quiz or a test. The . . . the buttons with letters on a typewriter or the rectangular pieces you press down to sound a note on a piano or the levers or covers that close airholes in a woodwind instrument. The thingie you beat out Morse code on for telegraphs.”

“Oh, you are good,” he said, grinning. “But, you forgot the other half.”

One of her eyes popped open, and she glared balefully at him. “What!”

“If it unlocks,” he prompted her, “then it can also?”

“Lock,” she answered. “If it can decode, it can encode.”

“A key takes what is impossible and changes it to possible,” he told her, pulling his legs back in and leaning towards her. “Or takes the possible and makes it impossible. And what you have to remember, Dawn, is that where English is a sea of ambiguities, this is one instance where it's an advantage. No other language in the universe can encompass the meaning of what a key is quite so well. In fact, in most other civilizations after this one, they still use the English word 'key' to describe what you are.”

“But I can't do any of that!” She answered wildly. “I'm just me!”

“Have you never noticed how completely improbably things constantly happen to you or those around you? How many languages do you speak fluently as well as being able to read and write them? And in how many dialects and inflections? How is it, time and again, you yourself have been the one person who kept everyone else around you in their position relative to others? Which, by the way, is another definition of a key.”

“What?” she asked. “I'm me, okay? I pick up languages like other people pick up colds. I've been skimming ancient texts since I was ten with a Watcher-slash-British Museum curator as a coach. It's called practice. And I've always been the Scoobies' kid sister. Always. Dawn needs to be rescued – oh, it must be Tuesday.”

“That's Buffy talking,” he said, wagging a finger at her. “And I'll wager it's a Buffy who was overwhelmed and frightened of her own life and terrified she'd let her little sister down. As for the rest, bollocks, if you don't mind me saying so. It takes the average human at least a year to hold a barely comprehensible social conversation in a new language. You manage it in a week. I've seen your work samples and AP exams. You speak more languages than Oxbridge's entire foreign language faculties put together. You dance, you sing-”

“I don't sing,” she interrupted. “I never sing.”

“Fine, but you can, and you can read music in multiple clefs. You're not well rounded, Dawn. You're spherical in eight dimensions.”

“DAMMIT!” she swore. “I'm ME!”

“Of course you are,” he answered. “That's what I'm trying to get across to you. You're you, and this is part of who you are, and there's a great deal more. Most of it is wonderful. Some of it will be terrifying. All of it will be you. In order to take hold of that part of yourself, you have to acknowledge it.”

“I'm just a girl,” she said. “There's nothing special about me.”

“Nobody's just anything,” the Doctor contradicted her. “And, yes, you are a girl. And a human. And a Key. And an Earthling. And a great many other things. Nobody can truthfully say you're not a girl, but nobody can truthfully say you're just a girl.”

She didn't look at him. She just folded in on herself and rubbed her arms as if she were cold under her layers of school robes, hooded cloak, mittens, scarf, and hat.

“Right,” the Doctor declared and clapped his hands together, rubbing them. “Let's be off.”

“What?” Dawn asked.

“To the TARDIS,” he said, gesturing.

Numbly, she got to her feet and followed him. At the door, he paused, and she stopped short so she didn't run in to him.

“Now, the last time you were in here,” he said, staring intently at her, “I had to go to a great deal of trouble to keep you from acting like a lump of sodium and the TARDIS matrix from acting like a bucket of water. Not your fault. Or hers, for that matter. Just physics. Mmmmm. Hmmmmm.”

He studied her, looking over her face, getting uncomfortably close, taking her hands and inspecting them, looking into her eyes.

“Mmmm,” he said, apparently satisfied. “You're flesh and blood now, so I don't think it'll be too much of a problem. Still, tell me immediately if you begin to feel like your polarity is shifting.”

“Okay,” she agreed. “Exactly how will I know if that's happening?”

“Oh, the usual,” he said, unlocking the door. “Nausea, a sense of impending doom, possibly blood pouring out of your ears. Here we go!”

“I'm calling Giles when this is done,” Dawn muttered to herself. “He left way too much out of those stories.”

“What's that?” she asked, her curiosity overcoming her trepidation and emotional exhaustion.

“That is High Gallifreyan script,” the Doctor answered. “You haven't seen it before, that I know of.”

She ran her fingers across the carving in the console. “It looks like planetary systems or electron orbits.”

“It is,” he answered. “And any number of other things. Depending on the context, that phrase there gives the mass necessary to ignite stellar fusion, the dark energy quantum flux frequency to enter the Time Vortex, a rather poor recipe for chicken parmigian, and an instruction to stow all tray tables and return all seat backs to their upright position during take off and landing cycles.”

She traced the designs, considering them, memorizing them, and then suddenly snatched her hand away.

“What?” the Doctor asked.

“Is it supposed to go zing!?” Dawn asked.

“Well, are your tray tables stowed and your seat backs in their upright position?” he asked in return. “Gallifreyan doesn't just impart information, Dawn. It imposes it.”

She looked around her for trays or seat backs.

“It's fine, Dawn,” he assured her.

He threw a switch, and a slow, rhythmic grinding noise started, like gears left to run loose while the cyclist went downhill.

“What . . . where are we going?” Dawn asked.

“Mediterranean coast of Spain,” the Doctor answered. “About a week from today.”

“Why are we going there?”

“To meet someone,” he said. “Someone I owe an apology to. Someone you need to see.”

The sky above was a washed out, overcast gray, and from the texture of the sand, it had only stopped raining a few hours ago. It was chilly, but her school robes were more than heavy enough.

“Here we are,” the Doctor said, looking around the deserted beach.

“Who are we meeting?” Dawn asked.

“Him,” the Doctor answered, pointing off towards the sand dunes.

Dawn looked in that direction and froze. He wasn't that close, clambering down a sand dune, cradling something in his left arm. There was still no doubt in her mind, no hesitation of recognition.


“Yeah,” the Doctor confirmed. “I thought it best to get this out of the way as soon as possible. Not much warning. Sorry about that.”

“Sorry about . . . what is this?” Dawn demanded. “Are you just having fun screwing with my head? I haven't even seen my dad since I was fourteen years old. He walked away from us. Never even told us he was leaving until he dropped us a postcard from Spain!”

“Yes, well, there's a good reason for that,” the Doctor said, not looking at her.

“And what could that be?” she asked, bitingly. “He could screw his secretary just as well in LA as he can here.”

“He left, Dawn,” the Doctor told her, “because I asked him to.”

Her mouth dropped open, and it was too late to scream at him or hit him, because her father was now close enough to hear every word, and he just kept coming closer. He was holding, it turned out, a bouquet of flowers, but he didn't say a word until he was less than ten feet away.

He smiled, nervously.


“Dad.” She managed not to say it as a question. It took everything she had not to throw herself into his arms and start crying from relief.

“Mr. Summers, how are you?” the Doctor asked.

“Better now,” Hank replied. “It's so good to see you, Dawn. You're a beautiful young woman now.”

She blushed, hot, and could feel her neck start to prickle with sweat.

“Well, I'll just take a little walk in that direction, won't I?” the Doctor said and made good on his words.

And she was left standing with the father she hadn't seen in four years with the bombshell the Doctor had just dropped on her.

“Are you safe now, Dawnie?” he asked just as she simultaneously asked “What time is it?”

Neither of them laughed. Hank checked his wristwatch.

“It's just after nine in the morning, February third,” he told her. “Are you safe now, Dawnie? I mean, really safe?”

“How . . . what do you mean, Dad?” she asked, her throat tightening painfully.

“I never really understood everything he tried to tell me,” he said, nodding towards the Doctor's retreating figure. “Or I did, but I just couldn't keep the whole thing in my head. I just knew that if I stayed, it would get you and Buffy killed. Something about overloading your protection and letting the . . . person or thing trying to hurt you find you. So I did what he said. I left.”

The Doctor had told her father to leave so that Glory couldn't find her, and he must have done it almost immediately after the monks put her with Buffy, before they'd even known about Glory. Before Mom had died. Before Buffy had died saving her. Before that horrible year when everything had gone wrong, everyone had left, and she'd felt so abandoned, she'd managed to summon a vengeance demon into their lives without even trying.

“Yeah, Dad,” she managed. “I'm safe. Buffy kept me safe. She beat the bad guy. Well, all of us did, together.”

He looked like it was the worst good news he'd ever heard, but he managed to smile.

“You know about Mom?” she asked.

“Yeah,” he said. “Yeah. I heard. I'm so sorry, baby. He told me I had to wait at least a year, better to wait two, and then Sunnydale was gone. I hired someone to track you and your sister, but he couldn't find anything. He even tried to tell me that Buffy had died. But . . .”

“She's okay, Dad, really,” Dawn told him. “It was pretty rough a couple of times, but she's okay. We're in Cleveland now. I mean, Buffy and everyone else is. I'm . . . I'm starting school in Ruritania.”

“That's . . .” He stopped to take a deep breath. “That's really good, Dawnie. It's wonderful.”

Then he remembered the bouquet in his hand.

“I got these for you,” he said, holding them out. “I remember you used to say they were your favorite. I don't know if they still are, but I thought . . . for old time's sake . . .”

They were daisies. Simple, pretty daisies. She'd had a phase where she'd drawn them on everything, including pages of her journal. She'd faxed him copies whenever she could sneak into her mom's office at the gallery.

“Thanks,” she said, accepting them.

She looked up at him, her dad, and his expression of mingled fear and hope, guilt and pain, and she couldn't do it anymore. She took two steps towards him and threw her arms around him. He immediately picked her up and hugged her as hard as he could.

“I missed you so much, Dad,” she whispered, crying.

“Oh, sweetie, I missed you too,” he said.

Dawn stood at the console, clutching her bouquet of daisies and sniffling. The Doctor ignored her and went from panel to panel, tweaking controls.

“You are a complete asshole,” she told him. “I don't care if Giles liked you. I don't care if you saved the world even more than Buffy. You're a jerk.”

He glanced at her, solemn and silent.

“I mean it,” she said. “You could have done this a dozen different ways. Instead you drop bombs on me like you enjoy seeing me twitch, and then you drop me in my dad's lap, and you were the one who made him leave.”

“You're upset,” he stated.

“No shit, Sherlock,” she snapped.

“Hmmm,” he said, studying the controls.

A sudden impact rocked the TARDIS, sending the two of them reeling. The Doctor recovered first and pulled himself back to the console. The hum of the engines had changed tenor to something that sounded imperiled and hamstrung.

“What just happened?” Dawn asked, pulling herself back up.

“I don't know,” the Doctor said, scanning the instruments. “But it's knocked us off course and damaged the inertial dampeners.”

“What does that mean?” she demanded.

“Give me a moment!” The Doctor snapped at her.

He raced to the other side and began throwing switches and turning a crank handle for all he was worth.

“This console makes no sense!” Dawn yelled. “There has to be something I can do!”

“Hush!” the Doctor yelled. “I'm try-”

The console in front of him cracked and released a shower of violent sparks, knocking him back against the railing. He caught himself, his face twisted in pain. He'd been injured.

She raced to him, helping him up.

“What do I do?” she asked.

“Get me over to the next panel,” he told her, hanging on to her shoulder.

He stood a head taller than her but was surprisingly light. When they reached the panel, he twisted several dials, checked a readout, knocked one of the levers down as hard as he could, and then pulled down an old analog screen. It was his turn to go white.

“Primary and backup navigation are corrupted,” he said, grimacing and taking his weight off his left side. “Destination coordinates are wiped, but the TARDIS is still on approach. It'll reach its materialization cycle in less than two minutes.”

“But if it doesn't have coordinates, where will we end up?” Dawn asked, horrified.

“We won't,” he answered. “We'll still be in the Time Vortex, and if the TARDIS materializes there, it'll be destroyed in the blink of an eye.”

“What about us?” Dawn demanded.

“Us too,” he said.

“Well, you've got a back up, right?” she demanded.

He ran through several of the same steps he'd done before, checking and rechecking.

“Doctor, you've got a backup, don't you?”

He broke off staring at the column in the center of the console and snapped his gaze to her.

“Dawn, you remember the ending of Peter Pan, where all the children have to clap to keep Tinkerbell alive, don't you?” he asked.

“What the he-”



“Pick a time and a place you know beyond a shadow of a doubt,” he ordered her. “Picture it in your mind with every detail in place. Picture it, and tell the TARDIS.”

"What?” she shrieked. “Have you lost your mind?”

"DO IT OR WE DIE!” he roared.


He grabbed her by the collar, hauled her halfway up the console, took her hand, and pressed it against the glass of the column, where a pillar of crystalline energy oscillated at the same rate as the grinding.


She shouldn't have been able to do it. It was deafening, her feet couldn't touch the floor, she was panicked and exhausted, furious and terrified, and she had no idea how to do it. But how many times had Willow and Buffy talked about being in similar situations? Something had to be done, and she was elected.

She spread her palm against the glass of the column and realized that it wasn't glass. It was a pressure field, and that pressure field was part of a spinning, breathing life filled with golden light. It took her breath away.

And then it spoke to her, and she nearly lost her grip.

Where? When? Tell me, sister.

Dawn closed her eyes and focused on the first memory that came to her mind. A summer day. The beach. Her parents talking lazily over a picnic lunch while she and Buffy ran up and down the beach. Buffy was thirteen, and torn between keeping an eye on her little sister and watching the cute boys surf. She could smell the rank, old seaweed, hear the chatter of the seagulls, and see the bright patches of swimsuits and towels and beach umbrellas.

The world jarred, and the noise faded, and she was crushed against the console.

“You did it,” the Doctor said, astonished. “Dawn Summers, you did it. You told the TARDIS where to go.”

He'd released her collar, and she slid down until she sat on the floor.

“Southern California,” he read the coordinates.

Dawn's head spun in dizzying circles, and she swallowed, trying to get her stomach to settle. There was something on her upper lip. She brushed at it, and it smeared. She held her fingers up, squinting to see what was on them. It was blood.


“Yes, Da-” He looked over at her and went wide-eyed.

“Oh, hey, there she is,” a male voice said.

There was a terribly bright light in her eyes, and she was baking. She winced and tried to cover her eyes.

“There we go,” the same young man said. He spoke with an America accent.

It was a lifeguard. He moved between her and the sun when he saw her wincing at the light.

“Feeling better?” he asked.

She was lying in rescue position on a beach towel with a bunch of wadded up tissues pressed to her nose.

“That was some nosebleed,” the lifeguard told her. “Did you run in to something?”

“I don't . . .” she trailed off, and tried to get up.

“Whoops, easy does it,” he said, catching her shoulders and helping her into a sitting position.

Someone else supported her back. It was the Doctor, crouched behind her. He'd taken off his jacket and folded it up to be a pillow under her head. He looked very, very worried, and there was a bloodstain on his shirt from her nosebleed.

“Okay, Dawn, right?” the lifeguard asked.

“Yeah,” she managed, feeling loopy and spaced out.

“Dawn, I want you to take it easy for at least twenty minutes. No swimming, no walking around, just sitting and sipping a nice cold drink,” he told her. “I've even got one here for you.”

He held up a soda and put it on the towel beside her.

“Dawn,” the Doctor said, “why don't you take off your school robe?”

That was why she was baking. Out on the beach, even during the hottest summer, it usually stayed cool enough. You could sunburn yourself if you were careless, but few people ever got heat stroke. She shrugged the winter robe off her shoulders, and the Doctor took it.

“Weird school uniform,” the lifeguard noted. “Probably what made you wobbly in the first place.”

“Do I know you?” Dawn asked, trying desperately to place him.

“Nope,” the lifeguard said, patted her on the arm, and stood. “You'll tell me if you need anymore help, sir?”

“Of course,” the Doctor answered, nodding. “And thank you.”

“No problem, sir. Have a great day, and hey, welcome to America!”

And the lifeguard was loping off, float under his arm, back to his stand.

“I swear I know that guy,” she muttered to himself.

“Well, considering that you chose this place and time,” the Doctor said, “I wouldn't be surprised. Would you like to move to the shade?”

She agreed and picked up her tissues, wadding them up to throw away. The Doctor helped her to her feet, and a very sweet lady took her beach towel back. They walked over to a sidewalk bench, fifty yards from the beach, with an overhead shade.

“Are you all right?” the Doctor asked, all earnest concern.

“Yeah,” Dawn managed, touching her nose gingerly. “What happened? Did I reverse polarities or cross the streams?”

“Well, no,” he said, looking a little embarrassed. “From my readings, your nose bleed was caused by the abrupt change in air pressure and humidity. And then you fainted.”

“Oh, that's just great,” she muttered. “Never gonna live this one down.”

“Dawn,” the Doctor started and waited until he had her attention. “Perhaps you don't understand the significance of what you did. The coordinates were completely wiped from the TARDIS's memory banks. Yet you managed to tell her where to go. You brought us safely here.”

“Okay, so I picked up enough from talking to you and being in the TARDIS to communicate with it. Her. Whatever.”

“Dawn, the TARDIS doesn't speak. Not to people. Not even to me – well, except for one memorable occasion when she was pulled out of her TARDIS body and stuffed into a human one. But other than that, there's no way for her to talk. She's a non-linear entity. But you communicated with her. Nobody can do that. Except another TARDIS. Or a Key.”

She brushed her hair back from her face and pulled her sweater off. She was wearing several layers, and she finally just gave up and stripped down to her blouse. She'd have taken her pants off if she could have gotten away with it. Lesson one in time and space travel: dress to adapt to new climates.

“Tell me about where and when we are,” the Doctor said.

Dawn sighed, and a smile tugged at her lips.

“Cabrillo beach,” she said. “It's a week after my eighth birthday. This was the first day Mom and Dad had off at the same time, so we waited to go until today. We went to the aquarium in the morning, and then had a picnic on the beach. It was . . . Buffy went swimming and got caught in a riptide. I was the only one who noticed, so I grabbed my boogie board and swam out to her. She hung on until the lifeguard - that was him! That's why I recognized him. That was the lifeguard that got us back in.”

“Ah, I see,” the Doctor said.

He stared down at his feet.

“I got to be the hero. Mom and Dad said I saved Buffy's life, and boy, did she get a talking too.” She looked up and out at the beach. “I wonder where we are. Mom used to put down this hideous bright green bedspread for a beach towel, so we could always see it.”

“Dawn,” the Doctor called as she got to her feet. “Dawn, wait.”

She went to the edge of the sand and scanned the people on the beach, looking for a family of four. Mom and Dad sitting on the bedspread, her and Buffy playing in the surf. Buffy was wearing a turquoise bikini. She'd had a red one piece with a halter tie. She scanned the crowd.



Mom and Dad were lounging. Mom wore that ridiculous big hat and sunglasses she always did, and Dawn's eyes suddenly filled with tears. Mom was dead, but she was right there, lounging while Dad fished in the cooler for another soda. Buffy sat on the bedspread and waved at people walking by.

“Dawn.” The Doctor's voice was almost a whisper.

“Where am I?” Dawn asked, scanning the crowd.

She would have been told to stay right in front of the blanket if she was playing in the surf, so either Mom or Dad or Buffy could keep an eye on her. No red swimsuit. No bobbing head with two braids.

“Dawn,” the Doctor said very gently, laying a hand on her shoulder. “You're not going to see yourself.”

“What?” She glanced up at him and then went back to searching all the people out there on a summer afternoon.

“Dawn, this took place before the monks transformed you into a girl. You have a memory of that day, so do Buffy and your father, but it never took place that way. You weren't here yet.”

“That's ridi-”

And then she realized, all their things were spread out on the bedspread. There wasn't any room for her or her stuff. She'd always brought her boogie board and a sketchpad with her. If she wasn't playing in the water, she was usually drawing things.

“I'm sorry, Dawn,” the Doctor said very gently.

“But I remember it,” she insisted. “The lifeguard. I remember him. He's the one who brought me and Buffy back in. Why would I remember a real person I've never even met if it didn't happen?”

He gazed down at her, heartbroken on her account. “I don't know, Dawn. If it were science, I could probably come up with a plausible explanation, but what the monks did was magic, a spell so intricate and large and powerful, both of us could spend the rest of our lives trying to puzzle out everything it did and still not find an end. Maybe the spell worked with existing events and embroidered your presence into them. I just don't know.”

“But that's my mom,” Dawn almost cried. “And she's out there reading a trashy romance novel. And Dad broke his cell phone getting sand in it. And . . . my mom's dead.”

“I know,” the Doctor said softly.

“She's been dead for almost three years now, but she's right out there, because it's five years before I existed as a person,” Dawn said, frantically trying to explain.

“I know.”

“I could go up and talk to her,” Dawn cried, “and she'd talk back to me, because that's what Mom did. She was nice. But she's still dead.”

He looked at her, unshaken but terribly, terribly sad, and she realized why.

“Oh my god,” she breathed. “You've done this. You've gone through this. You've . . . talked with people you knew, when you knew they were dead, haven't you?”

He looked away and answered so quietly, she almost couldn't hear it.


She wanted to scream at him, blame him, but . . . she was the one that chose this time and place, even if she did it thinking she was there, and . . .

Something was wrong.

Puzzled, she looked up and around.


“Something's wrong,” she whispered.

“What is it?”

She held up a hand to stop him, and he did. Something was wrong. What was it? She scanned the little park behind them, and the parking lot of the aquarium, and the bea-

Where was Buffy?

Not on the blanket. Not on the sand, cavorting with boys too old for her. The water.

“Oh, no,” she breathed.

Buffy was out by herself, sporting like a dolphin, completely unaware that she was already much too far away from the shore. The riptide.

“Doctor, find the lifeguard, and send him after me,” she said without looking and sprinted for the beach.

She shed clothes on the way. The California Current brought cold water down from Alaska. Even in summer, it was too cold to stay in the water for long, not without a wetsuit, which Buffy wasn't wearing, and her own clothes would weigh her down. She didn't have a boogie board either.

By the time she reached the water, she was down to bra, pants, and underwear. She pulled her pants off and ran into the water. The people around her stared, but there were none of the expected snickers – just surprised concern and people starting to yell.

Dawn kept her eyes on Buffy, who was now trying to swim directly back to shore. From her movements, Buffy was starting to panic. She was a good swimmer and strong, but she wasn't the Slayer yet, just a Potential. And the water was really, really cold.

When she got back to her own time, she was buying Xander the biggest beer stein that could be found for love or money in Ruritania and shipping it overnight to him. Her first summer in Sunnydale, he found out she was afraid of swimming – specifically because she'd seen Buffy almost drown – and he spent every afternoon for six weeks teaching her everything he could about swimming – how to float, the different kinds of strokes, how to get the best splash from a cannonball. But most importantly, he'd taught her how to survive.

As she carved her way through the waves, she could hear him talking to her – the one incredibly awesome high schooler that treated her like a human being.

“The thing is, Dawnie,” he'd explained to her while they floated in the deep end, “water is your enemy. Just like vampires are Buffy's. You absolutely cannot let it know you're afraid. Be the master of the water!”

“Really?” she'd asked.

“Hey, when Buffy goes out on patrol, is she all 'ooooh, I hope the scary vamps don't get me!'?” he asked in falsetto. “No, she's out there, wearing her jacket and her boots, finding a really great place to strike a pose and saying 'let me introduce you to my little friend. His name's Pointy, but it's MISTER Pointy to you!'”

And she'd laughed and let him cajole her into a game of diving for toys.

It took way too long to reach Buffy, and the shock of the cold was starting to eat past her skin into her muscles. She was shivering. Buffy had panicked and tried to swim straight for the shore, against the riptide, a beginner's mistake. Now she was cold and exhausted and terrified, and she couldn't maintain a doggie paddle. When she saw Dawn, her eyes went wide, and she clawed at the water. She went under and inhaled water.

A yard outside her reach, Dawn flipped and dove so she could get behind Buffy and grab her without a fight. Drowning people are crazy, Xander had told her. He knew that all too well, he'd said. It wasn't until Willow had mentioned Xander's dad's idea of swimming lessons that Dawn understood just how well. Then he'd taught her a game called “Shark Attack” and three days later threatened to drag her out of the pool by her braids if she played it while he was trying to look cool in front of Cordelia. The high pitched screams had been a setback.

She jackknifed again and kicked hard, not finding the bottom even as deep as she was. She'd aimed perfectly. As she came up, she bumped into Buffy from behind, scaring the crap out of her, making it much, much easier to put her big sister in a headlock from behind. And what little sister hasn't dreamed of doing that?

But, instead of taking advantage, she used her leverage to pull Buffy's head out of the water, keeping her elbow just under her sister's chin. Buffy flailed, but caught hold of Dawn's arm and grabbed. Then she dug in with her nails, and Dawn almost lost her remaining air screaming.

“Dammit, Buffy! You fight me, and I'll hold you under until you can't!” she yelled.

Buffy went rigid and still with shock. Dawn used it to her advantage, turning on her side – Buffy side up – and striking out parallel to the beach to get out of the riptide. They usually weren't very wide, sometimes only ten or twenty yards across. In less than fifteen yards, she felt the current let go, and the temperature of the water changed.

And the lifeguard had arrived.

“I've got her,” he yelled at her, and he did, prying Buffy out of her arm and putting a float in her sister's place.

Dawn gratefully grabbed on to the float and started kicking for the shore where nearly everyone on the beach had gathered. The lifeguard still beat her. He had Buffy out of the water and was holding her so the seawater could drain out of her lungs, encouraging her to cough. The ambulance arrived next.

The Doctor took her hand and pulled her the rest of the way on shore and threw her woolen school robes over her. Dawn met Buffy's eyes across the clearing as the EMTs helped her climb shakily into the back of the ambulance.

“She's just a kid,” Dawn whispered. “I mean, she just got out of eighth grade.”

“Well, yes,” the Doctor agreed. “We've all been there.”

Most of the people around her were murmuring in amazement or worry. Several of the parents were making some very pointed explanations to their children, who watched wide-eyed and frightened. The lifeguard came over to her.

“Are you okay?” he asked. “Do you need any- hey, you're the girl with the nosebleed, the fainter!”

“Oh, thanks,” Dawn managed, rolling her eyes.

“I told you to take it easy for at least twenty minutes,” he said, glowering.

“Yeah, well, the drowning girl got my attention,” Dawn replied.

And then she heard the shouting and looked over.

She'd honestly forgotten that part until she saw it. Her parents fighting over whose fault it was.

“I asked you to keep an eye on her! I can't even step away for five minutes?” Dad yelled.

“Five minutes? How about five hours!” Mom yelled right back. “This was supposed to be my catch-up day. Do you have any idea how much work I need to get done? But I'm supposed to ignore it because you want a day off?”

“How the hell is a day spent looking at pictures of dead birds more important than spending time with your husband and daughter?” Dad demanded.

Dawn looked back at Buffy, who sat swaddled in blankets, shivering, miserable, and huddled while the EMTs took her blood pressure and temperature.

“Jesus,” the lifeguard muttered.

Dawn didn't mutter.

“What is wrong with you?!” she yelled at the top of her lungs. “SHUT! UP! Your daughter almost died, and all you can do is cause a goddamn SCENE!”

Both her mom and her dad stopped mid tirade and stared at her, stunned. Her mom recovered first.

“Now see here, young lady-”


It was the Doctor, and he didn't even raise his voice. He just cut across everyone else's words, and they did indeed stop.

“Mr. and Mrs. Summers,” he said, his voice mild, but a dangerous glint in his eyes, “your daughter is currently sitting in the back of an ambulance, shaking with fear and reaction, and there is no one to comfort her. I'm sure the reason why you're not in there with her is because you were overcome with relief and gratitude to my friend and were incapable of thinking clearly, so I'll do it for you.

“Stop your petty bickering at once and remember that the life you brought into this world very nearly ended a few minutes ago, just as it might end on any random day after this by any random means this cold and violent universe has in store. I'm sure if anyone asked you what you hold dearest in this world, you would instantly answer 'my daughter'. Well, here's your chance to prove it. Why don't you start?”

And just like that, her parents were looking at their feet like guilty children, shuffling over to the ambulance, pretending that it was their idea all along.

“Hey,” a surfer said, coming up to them, “we gathered up your clothes for you.”

“Oh, uh . . . thanks,” Dawn managed.

She took them from the guy. He was about her age, suntanned and freckled and very well muscled. It was a point of interest to her that even though she was pretty sure she was experiencing mild shock, a little voice in her head said "want!” She told it to shut up.

“That was pretty frakking amazing,” he continued. “Like something out of a movie, the way you just peeled down running to the water. You could be a superhero. And you,” he looked at the Doctor, "man, way with the smackdown on 'rent drama. I am not going to piss you off.”

“Thank you,” the Doctor said, quite solemnly. “Dawn, we should probably go.”

“Is it normal to feel like a freak show from another universe, only the sound's turned down and the commercials don't make any sense?” she asked him.

He thought about it for a moment. “Yes, actually, it is. But you should probably have a nice lie down. Or if that can't be arranged, at least a nice sit down.”

“Can I have another mocha?” she asked, feeling plaintive.

“I'll arrange it presently,” he told her, putting a hand on her back to help her balance.

Presently. Presently?

“Does that mean-” she started.

“At the first non-crisis moment I can arrange.”

They started for the TARDIS.

“Hey!” someone called. “Hey! Wait! Don't go!”

Now that voice was plaintive. And then someone else was yelling.

“Hey, kid! Get back here!”

And Buffy caught up with them, grabbing the sleeve of Dawn's robe. Dawn turned towards her big sister, now just as much younger than her than Dawn was younger than Buffy. When she wasn't time traveling.

Buffy came up to her chin. She was scrawny, barely past the gangly baby bird stage of adolescence. But it was plain what a beauty she would be with her big green eyes and sandy blond hair.

“You saved my life,” Buffy said, pulling a blanket around her shoulders. “You really did.”

Dawn smiled. “Yeah, I did. Totally worth it.”

“Thanks,” Buffy said.

“Don't worry,” Dawn told her. “You'll return the favor about five thousand times over.”

Her sister looked confused.

“Listen,” Dawn said, “your parents are going to spend the next week freaking out over how you almost died. You're going to get hugged to death, and they'll probably ground you-”

“But I didn't do anything!” Buffy protested, shocked.

“Seriously,” Dawn said “almost dying is even worse than borrowing the car without asking. Anyways, just remember, they really do love you, even if they yell at each other too much. And-”

She reached out and tapped Buffy's nose with her finger, something she'd always wanted to do.

“Remember – never swim against a riptide. Swim across it. Okay?”

Buffy smiled, sheepishly. “Yeah, okay.”

Dawn gave her a hug, and Buffy immediately fell into it. They squeezed one another for a long moment. Hug Wars, Buffy had called it. Whoever let go first lost.

“I love you,” Dawn whispered.

She lost, but only because her parents were watching with worried, ashamed expressions. When she let Buffy go, Dawn turned her towards them and gave her a gentle push.

“Go on, milk it for all it's worth,” she told her sister.

Buffy flashed a smile at her over her shoulder and ran back to their parents.

Her parents. She managed to keep her expression composed, but the Doctor wasn't fooled for a second.

“This way, Dawn,” he said, giving her an arm to lean on.

“I get that mocha, right?” she asked. “Oh, and we still have to give the cups back to the cafe!”

“I didn't say when we had to,” he answered. “By the way, when you're recovered, we need to have a little discussion about the concept of 'spoilers'.”

Dawn curled up on one of the upholstered seats which ringed the TARDIS console, wrapped in her school robe and winter cloak. The Doctor had produced a cup of tea and placed it in Dawn's hands, then hustled off with her sandy clothes and returned with another set of dry clothes.

“Do you own anything that was manufactured in late twentieth or early twenty-first century?” Dawn asked, unfolding the jodhpurs, linen blouse with Edwardian ruffles, and black silk waistcoat.

He thought about it for a moment. “Nnnnnooooo . . . I don't believe I do.”

“Besides, I need a shower and a hair wash before I put fresh clothes on,” she pointed out.

“Oh, yes, that's through there-” and he pointed at one of the exits from the control room. “Three rights and a left.”

“How big is the TARDIS, anyway?” she asked.

“Oh,” and he made a thoughtful face, “I never really bother with that sort of question. She's got everything she needs. What I will do is set the TARDIS for wherever or whenever you like.”

Dawn raised her eyebrows and took a sip of tea. It was amazingly good, better than anything she'd ever had. No wonder Giles never stopped complaining about American tea.

“What about almost dying on our way here?” she asked.

The Doctor's head popped into view from behind the console. “Almost dying?”

“Uh . . . kablooey? Big sparks? Getting thrown around a lot? I thought you'd cracked a couple of ribs. Plus the whole 'we're going to materialize in the vortex and die'?”

“Oh. Yes. Well. Hmmm. The TARDIS has already repaired the damage done, so that bit's fine. How are you feeling? Any need to tell me off for being particularly thoughtless?”

“Not right now,” she said, “though I will put it in your evaluation.”


She thought about it for a moment. “Tired. A little shaky. Still absorbing today's events. Has it always happened that way? That before I existed, when Buffy was an only child, she still nearly drowned, but I showed up and saved her? And then, five years later, I exist?”

“You've always existed, Dawn,” the Doctor said, frowning with concern. “You have always been a Key, and so far as anyone, including the Time Lords, have been able to determine, Keys have always existed.”

“I mean as me, Dawn Summers. Dawn Summers hasn't always existed.”

He gave her a steady look filled with unreadable import.

“Yes. Well. The thing is, Dawn, time can be rewritten. Some of it, at least. The more crucial an event or a person is to a particular timeline, the less likely it is. However, it's usually very difficult to do it at all, and the ones who manage it are very aware of what they're doing. So, in all probability, yes, it's always been that way.”

She considered this and got to her feet.

“Three rights and a left?” she asked.

“Three rights and a left,” he answered.

“Can we go to Minoa's golden age? Before the volcano?”

“Why do you people always want to go to a civilization destroyed by a volcano?” he asked. “Do you have any idea how tricky the timing is?”

“Well, anytime before the Thera eruption,” Dawn said. “Say, 1630 BCE.”

The Doctor sighed. “I'll see what I can do.”

“We could go to Herculaneum, if you'd prefer,” Dawn suggested, poker faced.

He raised a finger and pointed it at her. “No,” he said firmly. “Pompeii was quite enough, thank you.”

The End

You have reached the end of "The Doctor and The Key". This story is complete.

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