: I hold no rights over any copyrighted material. All Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Torchwood characters are the property of their respective owners.
So... yeah. I've had it with this story. It's not bad, but it's not my best. And I've edited the hell out of it way too many times, so I'm sick of it.
Hence, I'm just posting it up here, all at once, and letting people either read or skip it. Whatever they want.
This takes place directly after Happy Endings, before any of the other stories. Just so that you know. Hence, no Alison, no Gwen, and serious angst on Seo's part.
The demon cadre gathered, in their secret headquarters, in Cleveland.
And they were not quiet about it.
Shouting, trying to rush the stage, demanding answers, demanding explanations. Kwatho nodded at the guard-demons, who began beating back the others, in an effort to maintain order.
"Silence!" shouted the yellow-spiked demon, the leader, Oitalistich, raising up his hands, his brown ceremonial robes gleaming in the candlelight. "I have heard your cries. I have heard your protests. And I have decided… that we must contact the First!"
"You've got to be kidding!" shouted Yulch, a short, stumpy demon, close to the stage. "After everything that's happened… that's
"The First will know what to do!" Oitalistich reiterated. "He is the origin of evil! The creator of darkness!"
"So where is he?" cried one of the demons, pushing through. "Why's he abandoned us?"
Oitalistich hesitated. But realized he didn't have a good answer for this.
A snarl-toothed demon named Hngratib stood up on a turned-over crate, addressing the others, nearby. "My friends!" he called out to the crowd, and they silenced, turning to face him. "The losses we've taken from the Cyberman invasion only reinforce what we've been told in the Prophecy of Harkness. The twenty-first century is
where it all changes. And we've got to be ready."
Some of the crowd cheered.
"We all thought alien invaders would be on our side!" Hngratib continued. "But then the Cybermen came. And they took one look at us, and one look at the humans, and decided we
were the bigger threat. That we
should be eliminated, before they could start cyber-converting humans!"
"Then we must summon more armies!" Oitalistich cut in, desperate to pull back in the crowd. "We must open the Hellmouth, destroy the Slayer Institution, and—"
"The Slayer Institution is the only thing standing between this planet and the invading alien hordes!" shouted Izzaphena, a square-faced demon, standing near Hngratib. "Why are we trying to destroy them?"
The crowd went into an uproar over this, half shouting their agreement, the other half roaring in anger and bitterness.
"Blasphemy!" shouted Kwatho.
"You would side with the Slayers
?!" shouted Oitalistich.
"Oh, and what's your
solution, Oitalistich?" Hngratib snarled. "End the world and destroy humanity? Because that worked so well for the vampires!"
"We are demons," snapped Oitalistich. "That is our purpose. As laid down by the First."
Although the Higher Powers had been silent since the Cyberman invasion.
"How many of you," Hngratib called out to the gathered crowd, "actually want
to end the world? How many of you would be prepared to give up indoor plumbing? Alcohol? Internal heating? Cars? TV?"
"You defy the ancient ways!" shouted one demon, from the crowd.
"Then maybe the ancient ways should
be defied!" shouted another.
The demons all began turning on one another, hissing and snarling, their spikes bristling and their claws glistening beneath the candlelight. Gearing up for a fight.
A demon with jet black skin and silver zigzags along the sides of his face vaulted himself onto the stage, shoving Oitalistich out of the way.
It was Voxilocon. A firm believer in the old ways.
"Stop this, now!" Voxilocon shouted. "Demons do not kill demons! That's the rule!"
The demons all growled. Didn't want to back down. But… miraculously… didn't begin fighting.
"We all have to come to a consensus," Voxilocon said. "Fighting each other isn't going to help."
As if in response to this, the entire secret headquarters fell into an uproar, half the demons shouting at the other half, rushing at one another. Kwatho gestured at his guards, who threw the newfangled Tech Demons — waving their brand new iPhones in the air — out of the secret headquarters.
It took a while before there was quiet, again. And only the Traditional Demons were left.
"How do we summon the First?" one of the remaining demons asked Oitalistich.
"By opening the Hellmouth!" shouted Oitalistich.
He waited for the applause for his wonderful plan, but it never came.
"How's that going to help?" asked another one of the demons in the crowd.
"Opening the Hellmouth will provide us with full access to—" Oitalistich began.
"It never has, before," Kwatho pointed out. "The First only ever shows up when it's closed. So he can get us to open it."
Oitalistich hesitated. The problem was… he didn't really know how to contact the First. Or why the First's influence had suddenly disappeared from this world completely.
"Well then, we… must… open the Hellmouth, anyways!" Oitalistich insisted. "Because we're demons, and that's what demons do!"
"We don't know exactly when, or where," said Dawn, over the phone. "But the Hellmouth is definitely starting to open. Major monsters and stuff. And we think there's a group of demons trying to open it, fully."
"The whole demon world's in kind of a panic, right now," Dawn explained. "The only reason the Cyberman invasion didn't completely devastate the human population was because the Cybermen noticed the demons. Decided they had to eliminate the demon threat, before they started converting the humans. And mowed the demons down."
Wow. Go figure.
Cybermen killing demons.
That was something Buffy hadn't expected.
"The demon realm is super desperate, right now," said Dawn. "And I just thought… since you're the world expert on closing Hellmouths and stuff…"
"Yeah, yeah, okay," said Buffy. "I'll be right…" She stopped. Her eyes fixed on the distant figure of her newly adopted daughter, racing around, outside, trying to construct something. A smile crept up her face. "Can I take Seo?"
Jack stood on the Plass, grinning, waiting to meet Buffy and Seo. As always, when they came to Cardiff.
"Hey, there, kid," he said, putting an arm around Seo's shoulder, as they approached. "America. Hellmouths. Travel. You ready for all of this?"
"Yep," said Seo, beaming.
Buffy raised her eyebrows at Jack. "Jack," she warned. "Less on the 'kid'."
She remembered that one from Dawn. Teenagers hated to be called 'kid'. So, logically…
"No, I like the 'kid'!" Seo insisted. She looked up at Jack. "You won't stop calling me kid, right?"
Buffy stared at her. "Wait, you like
Seo quirked an eyebrow at Buffy, as they all got on the invisible elevator. "I'm pretty sure," she said, with a sly smile, "that when you're 98 years old, being called 'kid' is technically a compliment."
As the elevator descended.
"That's what I look like?" asked Seo, standing in the Hub and staring at the fake passport Torchwood had put together for her. She couldn't take her eyes off the photo. "Really?"
"Close enough," said Buffy, glancing over Seo's shoulder. She looked over at Tosh, by the computers. "Thanks for this. We owe you one."
Tosh smiled at them, giving a shrug. "It's all in the job."
It wasn't, to be honest.
But… thing was… Tosh was growing rather fond of Seo. An awkward girl with a knack for computers, who liked math and geekiness, was fascinated by alien tech, and had a long-standing crush on someone she was too timid to confront about it?
How could Tosh not
like someone like that?
"That's what I look like," Seo repeated. A small, amazed grin spreading across her face, as she continued looking at this photo as if… it were the whole world to her. She raced forwards, and threw her arms around Tosh, tears in her eyes. "Thank you."
"You sure you thought this all through?" Jack asked Buffy, leaning against the railing. "Because if you're planning to take her to the States… I think you're going to need a little more help from us than just a passport."
Buffy frowned. "What, is there, like, a top secret alien transit visa I need to get or something?"
Jack grinned. Shook his head. "Metal detectors," he reminded her.
"Not a problem," said Buffy. "Seo doesn't show up on machines, remember? Whatever weird composition her blood has, it won't set off any metal detectors."
Jack hopped up, raced over to where he'd set a wand-type metal detector, and flipped it on, as he made his way back. "Allow me to demonstrate," he said. He scanned the wand across Buffy. It beeped around her belt, the metal on her scrunchie, and the concealed dagger on her leg. Everywhere else… it just flashed a little, but gave no beeps.
Then he scanned the wand across Seo. And the readings all went down to zero. Nothing. Nothing at all.
Not even on the metal on Seo's belt buckle.
"That," said Jack, "they're going to notice."
Buffy cringed. "Oh."
"I can help with that," Tosh offered, extricating herself from the Seo-embrace, and typing at the computer. "The larger metal detectors are all hooked into computer systems. If I can just isolate the feed for those systems… I can imprint a false positive when Seo goes through."
Which made Buffy feel a bit less secure about airport security.
Seo looked back down at her own photo on the passport, studying it, closely. She held it up in front of her, next to Buffy. Eyes darting between the two. "You know, I really do look like Buffy," she realized. "A lot
"Mom," Buffy corrected, gently. "Not 'Buffy'. 'Mom'."
Seo lowered the passport. "Mom," she corrected herself, quietly. She met Buffy's eyes with her own. "You. You're… Mom."
"I'm Mom," Buffy agreed.
"You're Mom," said Seo, pointing to Buffy. Then, pointing to herself, with a proud grin, "I'm 'Kid'."
Buffy gave an uneasy laugh, not really sure what else to do.
Then Seo turned to Tosh, her eyes fixed on the computer screen. Which was now showing a diagram that Tosh had been working out, demonstrating an alien matrix system.
Tosh noticed the interest on Seo's face. Pulled up a chair, and invited her to join.
"I can't believe she likes being called 'kid'," said Buffy to Jack, turning away from the two of them. "My sister's going to die when she finds out."
Jack studied Seo and Tosh, together, their mathematical geniuses working in almost perfect sync, as they delighted in the manipulation of numbers and data.
"Maybe Seo really does think it's a compliment," Buffy proposed. "Maybe she honestly doesn't get it."
Jack shot Buffy a grin. "Oh, I think she knows exactly what she's doing."
At the end of the day, Tosh packed up her laptop. Went over to Seo, who was sitting by herself, still staring at that passport, a small grin on her face, as if she honestly couldn't believe the photo actually existed.
The very first time she'd ever seen her own face.
"Have fun in America," Tosh said.
Seo looked up. Then jumped to her feet, and threw her arms around Tosh in an exuberant hug. "I'll miss you," she said. Then withdrawing from the hug, tucking a lock of hair behind her ear, she added, in a whisper, "And… I'll remember. What you said. About 'seizing the moment'."
Tosh clapped a hand on Seo's shoulder. "Good for you," she said. "Xander would be a fool to say no."
Seo looked off into the distance. At Owen in the medical lab, scurrying around and trying to put everything in order.
Then snapped her eyes back to Tosh.
"I think… sometimes… some of the smartest men are fools," she observed.
"I know opening the Hellmouth and ending the world is supposed to be our purpose," said the snarl-toothed demon, Hngratib, leaning over the bar, beer bottle in hand. "But it's a damn stupid purpose, if you ask me."
"Hell yeah!" Yulch agreed, raising up his own beer in confirmation.
Voxilocon considered, carefully, nursing his own beer. "Opening the Hellmouth could be useful," he offered, "to increase demon forces, in general. In case of another alien attack."
"The Traditional Demons aren't opening the Hellmouth to fight aliens," said Izzaphena. "Or Slayers. They're opening the Hellmouth so they can gather demon forces to fight us
"Allying with humanity would be more useful for fighting aliens than opening the Hellmouth, anyways," Hngratib noted. "Humans are innovative and adaptive. And they have technology."
"But destroying the Slayer and fighting against humanity is our very reason for being!" Voxilocon retorted. "It's what makes us demons."
"Oh, stop acting like this is the Middle Ages, Voxilocon!" snapped Yulch.
"Demons the world over agree with us about this," said Hngratib.
Voxilocon sighed, leaning against the bar. "That's what I'm afraid of," he confessed. "This isn't just a little spat between two demon groups in the Cleveland area. You're starting a civil war, here, Hngratib."
Hngratib, Izzaphena, and Yulch just grinned at Voxilocon. And he had the unnerving feeling that they were well aware they were starting a world-wide Demon Civil War. And they really didn't care.
"You'll never get the Slayers to help you out, anyways," Voxilocon pointed out. "They're Slayers; we're demons. We'll always be their enemy — no matter what. Just… give it up and make peace with the Traditional Demons. It's the only way we'll survive this."
"Hey," said Hngratib, leaning forward. "I'm fine with leaving the Slayers out of this. As long as you can help us. Just tell us where this 'Weapon' the First wanted is located. What it really is."
Voxilocon said nothing for a few long moments. A few very, very long moments.
"I have to think about this," he admitted, getting up and leaving the bar.
"That way!" shouted Lizzy, rushing across the Cleveland street, her eyes fixed on the disappearing specter, in the distance. The stomp of footsteps, as the others in her party rushed forwards to join her, weapons in hand, charging towards the not-quite-corporeal gas-demon-type-thing nearby.
"You found it, Lizzy?" came Ria's voice, over the headset.
"Yep; 47th and Oakley," said Lizzy, as she and the others raced forwards, still pursuing it.
"47th and Oakley, got it," came Dawn's voice, over the headset. "Lizzy, I'm at 46th and Hyde. You herd it over here, and my team can cut it off."
"Yeah, not going to work if it's still vapory!" said Lizzy, into her earpiece.
"Understood on this end," said Ria. "Willow?"
"Working on it!" said Willow, over the headset. "Just give me a second."
Up ahead, Lizzy could see the ghostly figure sweeping towards one of the houses. The Slayers beside her vaulted themselves forward, herding it and ushering it towards Dawn and her group. And… where was Dawn? Where the hell was Dawn?! She had to…
Yes, just there! Just up ahead, there was Dawn! There was her team, all armed, rushing at the ghostly figure with expert precision.
(Amazing how Dawn only ever showed up, these days, just when they most wanted to see her.)
Then the ghostly figure stopped. Juddered. Its body rippling into corporeality with a sudden startled gasp.
"That's it, Willow!" shouted Dawn, grinning, as the creature now looked around, trying to find some way to break free.
Its eyes fixed on Dawn, murderous, angry eyes, and it charged at her.
A flash of silver from the darkness, a blur of movement flipping off the top of a nearby roof, and swooping downwards as if falling from the heavens. The creature stumbled. Then fell. A sword in its back.
Dawn stared. An even wider smile creeping up her face. As she recognized the person who'd just leapt into the fight.
"Buffy!" she said, sweeping her sister into a tight hug.
Seo?" said Kennedy. She looked the girl over, appraising her. "Huh."
Seo shrunk back, her eyes darting around the Institution. The place was buzzing with activity. Everyone, everywhere, was looking at her, whispering, trying to figure out who she was and what she was doing here. And why she looked like Buffy.
There were a lot of people, at this Slayer Institute. Really a lot of people.
Seo sucked in a sharp breath. Forcing herself to be brave.
"I'm… Buffy's kid," Seo offered. She pasted a smile onto her face. "You can call me that, if you want! Just… 'kid'."
Kennedy crossed her arms. "You know, 'Kid'
, you've totally screwed Willow up," she said. "Since your little dimensional separation thing, it's been way harder for Willow to use magic."
Seo's pasted-on smile melted into a real one. As her curiosity overtook her nerves, and a thousand questions flooded through her mind, all at once.
"Has it? That shouldn't happen," she said. She sprung forward. "Can I see?"
Kennedy gave her a long stare. "I thought dimensional separation meant the end of magic."
Seo shook her head. "Of course not! That doesn't make sense," she said. "Dimensional separation just means the Powers that Be and the First can't command huge armies to fight their wars on Earth, anymore. It doesn't close up any dimensional breaches, or stop magic. And—"
"There she is!" shouted a familiar voice.
Seo spun around, and there, walking through the door, was Xander. Sweet, adorable, handsome Xander, with that charming grin on his face, and that slouchy sort of bounce in his step.
All right. You can do this, Seo. Seize the moment. Just like Tosh said.
Seo leapt forward. Seizing the moment. Not holding back. Doing what she always wanted. She grabbed him up by the shirt, pulled him towards her, and gave him a long, deep kiss.
"Can we go on a date?" she asked, as she pulled away.
Xander looked at her, mildly stunned, for a few seconds completely lost for words. He opened and closed his mouth a few times, but nothing came out.
Seo hesitated. Was this not how people asked other people out on dates?
"Uh… yeah," said Xander, at last. "Date. That'd… be very… yeah."
Seo's eyes lit up. "Brilliant!" she cried.
And bounced out of the room.
"I'll try again," said Oitalistich, as his four hundredth attempt to contact the First failed, miserably.
"You've tried it a four hundred times, and nothing!" said Kwatho. "What if the First is actually gone for good, this time?"
"He is," said a new voice, entering the chamber.
They both turned, then fell to their knees before D'Hoffryn, Lord of Arashmaharr. Who had just walked in, his light blue, horned face looking even more grisly and demonic in the candlelight.
"The higher and lower dimensions have been separated," said D'Hoffryn. "We are alone, now. Truly alone."
"Then… the Prophecy of Harkness has
come to pass," Kwatho breathed. "The twenty-first century is here, and all has changed."
"In that case, we open the Hellmouth," Oitalistich said, stumbling back to his feet. "Raise an army to seek out the one who has separated the dimensions, and then destroy humanity and seek revenge."
"Oh, I don't think we
need to seek revenge," said D'Hoffryn. He gave a smile. "I think… we should let her
seek it for us."
When Buffy and Dawn returned, Xander was still feeling kind of stunned.
Kennedy, on the other side of the room, was cracking up.
"Your daughter just asked me out on a date," Xander told Buffy.
"No," Kennedy cut in. "She just went mega-make-out-session on him, then
asked him out on a date!"
Buffy's jaw dropped open.
"Did you say yes?" Dawn asked him.
Xander hesitated for a long time. "I… uh, yeah. I did."
Buffy said nothing for a long time. A very long time. Studying Xander, her entire body tense and twitchy, trying to figure out what to do.
"No," said Buffy. "Just… no. No date." She turned, and marched towards the door.
And was grabbed up and yanked backwards by Dawn.
"Let her," said Dawn.
Buffy swung around. "But… but… she doesn't understand what she's doing!" she insisted. "Dawn, 98 might be old by our standards, but by Time Lord standards, she's a teenager. She has absolutely no—"
"She didn't ask Xander to marry her or anything!" Dawn said. "It's a date
. Let her do this."
Buffy opened her mouth to answer Dawn. But found… she… kind of couldn't.
So she turned on Xander, instead. "Where are you planning to take her? What are you planning to do? How late are you getting her back? How many monsters will be involved, and how many weapons will you be carrying with you, at the time?"
Xander blinked. Then blinked again. "Uh…"
"Oh, no, no, no!" Dawn said, twisting Buffy around to face her, again. "You are so not going to be all over-controlling, boyfriend-beating-up Buffy, this time around. You screwed that up with me, remember? Let Seo figure this out by herself."
"But what if—"
"Think of it this way," said Dawn, crossing her arms. "Sooner or later, Seo's going to figure out how to build a time-space travel machine and take off into the stars. And I know you chased me everywhere, in Sunnydale, keeping me out of serious danger. But you can't chase her across all of time and space."
Buffy's eyes snapped down to the floor.
"Don't be the Mom who chases," said Dawn, squeezing her sister by the arm. "Be the Mom who teaches. The Mom she wants
to return to."
Buffy said nothing for a long moment, absorbing this. Then slumped.
"I… don't know if I can do this Mom-thing," she confessed to Dawn.
Dawn laughed. "Buffy," she said. "You've kicked the First's butt. You slew a Hell Goddess. You came back from the dead — at least three or four times, now. You created a whole army of Slayers, despite 'one girl in all the world'. And, just to stick it to the Powers that Be, you've managed to have a totally impossible 98-year-old part-Time-Lord kid, who was supposed to be written out of the universe." She stepped back, giving Buffy a pointed look. "Being a Mom? This should be the easy
Seo was curious and inquisitive.
Faith had to give her that.
Faith still wasn't sure why Seo was sitting in on her combat class, but if B thought it was a good idea… then Faith guessed it couldn't hurt. Or, at least, those were her initial thoughts.
"But why would we need
to fight?" asked Seo.
"Because when three chaos demons corner you," said Faith, still in the middle of her demonstration of a punch morphing into a flip-kick-duck move, "they're not there to make small-talk."
"Are the demons clever?" Seo asked. "What powers do they have? What weaknesses? Maybe we could outwit them, instead."
Faith sighed, dropped her fighting stance. "Seo," she said. "This is a combat class. The whole point is to learn how to fight."
Seo thought this over, cross-legged, on the floor. "Maybe," she proposed, "the whole point of combat class should be learning to decide when not to fight, and when you have to!"
Faith was starting to understand why Willow had described Seo as "frustrating".
"I mean, what if—" Seo began, again.
"Seo," said Faith, noticing all the other girls, around them, getting antsy. Wanting to get up and try some of the moves that Faith had just been showing them for themselves. "Put a lid on it. Seriously."
Faith instructed the class to partner off, and — as an act of supreme kindness to everyone involved — partnered Seo with herself.
They all spread out across the mats, facing one another.
"Okay," Faith told Seo. "Try it."
Seo stood there, a moment, thinking it through. A pensive look on her face.
"But what if violence isn't
the answer?" Seo proposed.
Faith bit back her rage. Damn. This Seo was like the most obnoxious parts of B all rolled up together. Talk about all preach and no fight!
"It's a combat class," said Faith. "Just do the move."
Seo bent down into a fighting stance. Then… hesitated.
"Couldn't we—?" Seo started.
"No," Faith interrupted. "We can't. Now do the move."
Seo stepped forward. Then, rather tentatively, offered Faith a weak punch, morphing into a sloppy flip-kick.
Faith took advantage of the fact that Seo had entirely dropped her guard, and managed to grab her by the wrist, yank her around, and completely disable her in two seconds.
"Okay, do it again," Faith said. "And actually try, this time. Give it your full strength."
Seo hesitated. Looking very worried. "I don't think that's a good idea."
Faith wanted to hit her head on something.
"I just don't want to hurt anyone," Seo insisted.
"The point of this class is to learn how to hurt someone," Faith snapped. "If you don't want to do the class, leave and stop wasting my time. Otherwise, give me something to work with."
Seo bit her lower lip. Then crouched into a fighting stance.
And tried again.
Faith noted the sloppiness still in Seo's attack, the lack of form and complete inability to keep her guard up. She easily blocked the first weak punch offered to her.
"Give it some effort!" Faith shouted, bringing herself into position to block the kick. "Come on!"
But before she could block the move, Seo slammed the kick into Faith's stomach, throwing Faith through the air so that she barreled through three other students before colliding, sharply, with the far wall.
Sharply enough that her body made a dent in the concrete.
So this was what it felt like to be run over by a bulldozer.
Faith, with some help from her students, eventually managed to get back to her feet. Then almost fell over, again, as her vision swam and wavered in front of her.
How the hell was Seo that strong?
Seo just stood there, her hands over her mouth, her eyes wide. "Oops," she breathed.
One of the other students shrunk away from Seo, suddenly putting her guard up. "What… what are you?" she asked.
The others, around her, also put their guards up. Shifting into fighting positions.
"I'm… I'm just…" Seo faltered. "A kid. I'm a kid. A stupid, immature little kid."
Then she turned, and fled.
Buffy was in a meeting with Ria and the others to try to figure out what to do about the Hellmouth. Dawn had been there, too. Until the ignoring thing started up, again.
Dawn was just starting to get seriously frustrated about it all, when… the door opened, just a bit, and a face peaked in. A face that looked startlingly like Buffy's. But with wide, brown eyes, and freckles.
The girl's eyes scanned the room. Resting on Buffy, who was completely preoccupied with finding out what was going on with the Hellmouth.
Then the girl turned, and zipped off.
Dawn took one last look around the meeting. Decided… screw it! If no one was paying attention to her, anyways, she might as well indulge a curiosity.
She slipped out of the room.
No one noticed she'd left.
"Hey!" Dawn shouted, after Seo.
Seo stopped running down the corridor. Turned. Regarded Dawn with curious eyes.
"You're… Seo, right?" said Dawn. She came over, offered a hand. "I'm Dawn. Your… aunt. I guess."
Wow, that sounded weird.
"Why are you wearing a perception filter?" Seo asked, not taking the hand.
Dawn frowned. "I'm what?"
Seo didn't answer, just tugged at the chain draped around Dawn's neck, pulling out the TARDIS key that Dawn always wore. The one she'd gotten into the habit of wearing, way back when, and… had just found… useful.
"This," said Seo. "It's acting as a perception filter. Making people ignore you." She analyzed the key more closely. "What does it unlock?"
Dawn wasn't even sure where to begin.
First off… huh?! The TARDIS key wasn't
a perception filter. Dawn had been wearing it for years, now, and she hadn't been going all ignored until a few months ago.
Second off… why didn't Seo know this was the TARDIS key?
"It's… the key to your dad's space ship," Dawn offered.
A completely blank look washed across Seo's face. She dropped the key, and stepped back. "My… father," she whispered. "Not… my…"
Her voice cut off, in a choke. As tears began to well up in her eyes.
Then she turned, and ran.
"No, wait!" Dawn said, chasing after her. Racing around a corner, and only catching her by the shirt, when she stumbled and nearly fell. "I'm sorry, I—"
Seo wrenched herself out of Dawn's grip. Turned back to her, with angry, hurt eyes. As if a storm was raging inside of her, and she was just barely keeping it down. "Don't take off your perception filter. Not for a single second. Don't make waves. Don't draw attention to yourself. And don't associate with me."
Dawn stared at her. "You don't want me to—?"
"You're me," Seo said. "Except you remember her. Right? You remember Glory."
Dawn hesitated. "Well, yeah, she tried to kill me. That kind of made an impression."
"And Ben?" Seo asked.
"So that happened in your timeline, too," Seo confirmed. "He tried to murder you. That bastard. Handing a baby over to Glory, just for a chance
at prolonging his own existence."
"What do you mean, a baby?" Dawn said, a little defensively. "I wasn't a—"
weren't," said Seo.
"What if I told you," Seo continued, in a lower voice, "that there was someone else out there who was just like Ben? Who'd get you killed just so she could live a little longer?"
Dawn felt a shudder run through her.
Seo turned back, began to walk off, her head bent down, her eyes fixed on the ground. "I'm a murderer," she said. "A killer. A weapon. I destroy my family." Her eyes narrowed. "And if you don't stay away from me… if you take off your perception filter, or draw attention to yourself… you'll be murdered, too. And it'll be my fault."
Then she left.
Dawn stared out after her. Shocked, as she realized… that Seo had been talking about herself. Comparing herself to Ben.
Dawn wasn't sure where to even start
dealing with this one.
Buffy sighed, bent down over the conference table, her hands clutching a mug of coffee. The meeting had ended, and now, she and Dawn were the only ones in the room.
"Oh, God, does Seo have guilt issues," Buffy confirmed. "Massive guilt issues. Everything that happened, that whole year, with Glory and the Key — I know
she blames herself for it." Buffy spun the mug around on the tabletop. "The only way I can get her not to… is if I remind her that she's also blaming you."
Dawn wasn't sure what to say to this.
"In her world, that portal killed both her parents and shattered her universe apart," Buffy said. "And it doesn't help that, when she learned about what happened, she had an evil entity inside her head that was trying to convince her to kill herself."
"She… doesn't want to blame me?" Dawn asked, in a small voice.
Buffy shook her head. "She doesn't like blaming other people for her problems," she said. "If she screwed something up, she should take responsibility, and fix it. That's how she feels, that's how she operates." She glanced up at Dawn. "She says… it's what her dad taught her."
Dawn grimaced. Remembering her earlier slip-up. "Her dad," she clarified. "Who is… different… from her father."
Buffy said nothing for a long moment. Her eyes dropping down to her coffee.
"I guess what happened with her dad doesn't really help with the murdering-your-parents guilt issues," Dawn said.
"She can't sleep at night," Buffy confessed. "And I know she doesn't need much sleep to begin with, but… she doesn't even get that. She just waits until she thinks I'm asleep, and then curls up and cries." Buffy's eyes closed, in pain. "For hours."
Dawn remembered… how she'd cried, after Buffy died. Cried until she literally had no more tears she could possibly shed. The wracking, heaving sobs that tore through her soul.
She'd blamed herself.
"Her dad wanted her to do it, you know," Buffy assured Dawn. "What she did… was… unspeakably brave. Saved countless numbers of lives. Ended an unendable war. But it still hurts."
Dawn fidgeted with the TARDIS key draped around her neck. The key that Seo had told her was a perception filter. The key Seo had told her not to take off.
Seo blamed herself, Buffy had said. Except… if blaming herself… meant blaming Dawn.
"This is why you wanted to bring her here," Dawn realized. "You thought… I could help. With some of the guilt issues."
"On the airplane, she started referring to you as 'the Good Dawn'," said Buffy. "That's her current little self-blame loophole. You're 'the Good Dawn', and she's 'the Evil…'"
Buffy trailed off. Her finger tracing the pattern of the wooden conference table.
Dawn sat down, opposite Buffy. "I don't know if I can do this for you," she said. "I mean, these are some really serious psychological issues, and I'm not—"
"She won't blame herself," Buffy cut in, "if it means blaming someone else." She reached across the table, took Dawn's hand in hers. "Just… connect with her. Make her see that you're her. Make her understand that if she calls herself evil, she's calling you evil. Please."
Then slumped in place, gave in.
"I'll see what I can do," she said.
Voxilocon took a deep breath. Then knocked on the door to Yulch's apartment.
Yulch opened it. Grinning, when he discovered who'd turned up. "Come in! Join the party!"
Voxilocon had felt almost personally affronted by the entire concept of a demon apartment complex. Demons — real, proper demons — should live in graveyards, and caves, and other dank, dismal places. Not in luxury apartments, like this.
The apartment had a flat-screen TV, a fully stocked bar, a set of iPod speakers, an office area complete with computer, off to the side, and… even an X-box!
Demons should not be using X-box!
"So, you finally decided to join us?" said Hngratib, handing Voxilocon a drink.
Voxilocon sighed. "No," he admitted. "I'm just trying to find some way to avert the oncoming Demon Civil War. Demons do not fight demons. It's against the demon code."
"Times change," said Izzaphena. "Rules change."
"Look, just give us the inside scoop," said Hngratib, "about this… 'weapon' the First was so keen to get its hands on. It's the only way we'll consider not siding with the Slayers!"
Voxilocon hesitated. "Tensions are rising," he warned them. "On both sides. Throughout the world. One word in the wrong place, and fighting will break out."
"Well, at least tell us what
the weapon is," said Yulch. "If you won't tell us where."
"Yeah, I mean, is it a sword?" asked Hngratib. "A charm? An amulet? An incredibly powerful spell?"
Voxilocon was silent a few moments longer. Then… gave in.
"It's a person," he admitted. "She looks human. But she isn't."
Everyone stared at him. Gobsmacked.
"A person?!" shouted Hngratib.
"Her DNA is sculpted from that of the most destructive, legendary powers in the universe," said Voxilocon. "The scope of her powers frightened even the First."
"Who is she?" asked Yulch.
"They say… her name," said Voxilocon, "is Dawn Summers."
Buffy sat, cross-legged, on the hotel room bed. "Are you sure you don't want some help with that?" she called.
"I'm fine!" Seo called back, from the bathroom.
"It's just… most people don't take three hours trying to put on makeup," Buffy offered.
A very long pause.
"Or use up an entire bottle of makeup remover, trying to get it right," Buffy added.
Another very long pause.
Then Seo came out, her face looking a little bit like Herman Munster. Caked on layers of makeup, the foundation way too pale, the eye-shadow making her look like she had a serious hangover, the eyeliner giving the Egyptians a run for their money, and as for the lipstick…
Who even made
bright green lipstick?!
"Did… I get it right, this time?" Seo asked.
Buffy shook her head.
Seo checked the clock. Realizing that her date time with Xander was rapidly approaching. She looked back at her mom, worried.
"Help?" Buffy asked.
"Help," Seo agreed.
Buffy jumped up off the bed, and followed her daughter into the bathroom. Seo had arranged all the various bottles of makeup along the edge of the bathtub, and knelt down, on the floor, nearby, surveying them.
"Asking for help is nothing to be ashamed of," Buffy said, as she wet a washcloth with makeup remover, and began to scrub Seo's face. "Especially when you can't see yourself in the mirror."
"How did vampires used to do it?" Seo asked, as Buffy began selecting makeup bottles that were actually tasteful.
"No idea," Buffy confessed, apply the makeup.
For a few seconds, neither said anything. Buffy biting her tongue to stop all her doubts and fears and second-guesses from spilling out.
"I'll be fine, you know," Seo assured her. "I know all about first dates — I've read a lot of books."
Buffy's eyes widened. "Uh… real life isn't exactly like books, Seo."
Seo frowned. "So you mean… I won't
get ambushed by a group of futuristic zombie-robots, causing me and Xander to run for our lives, then hide in fear until we think up some amazing plan, and eventually wind up saving the world together?"
Buffy honestly couldn't tell, sometimes, if Seo was actually that naïve, or if she was just kidding.
"Probably not," said Buffy.
Seo's face fell. "Well, could I make it that?" she asked. "Because 'dinner and a movie' sounds really boring."
Buffy sighed, grabbing up the eye shadow. "Seo," she said, as she applied it. "Please try not to blow anything up, destroy anything, run into any monsters, or nearly end the world on this date."
A very long pause from Seo.
"Dating sounds like a lot less fun than I thought," she said.
"Look, I'm not going to go all mega-Mom-lecture mode," Buffy said, putting down eye-shadow and reaching for mascara. "Just… remember. You might have been speaking to alternate timeline versions of Xander for 52 years. Blink."
Seo did so, as the mascara rolled onto her lashes.
"But real life Xander's only known you for about two and a half months, now. Take it slow," said Buffy. She shifted to the other eye. "Blink again."
She blinked one more time.
Buffy capped the mascara, and then stepped back. Admiring her work. Seo's face now looked… actually, pretty nice. Kind of glowing, her eyes twinkling, long black lashes pulling in people's attention.
"Perfect," Buffy told her.
Seo leapt to her feet, beaming.
A knock at the door. In a burst of movement, Seo raced out of the bathroom and yanked it open, to reveal Xander, standing just behind.
And so the date began.
"But… she… she is tiny!" Oitalistich protested, staring at the dressed-up girl that was skipping across the sidewalk with Xander Harris. Oitalistich pointed at the girl. "Are you certain she's—?"
"Do not underestimate her," said D'Hoffryn. He was squinting, studying, analyzing in detail. As if trying to make out something he couldn't quite see. "Her father is the Uncreator. Her mother is the First Slayer of the New Order." He glanced at Oitalistich and Kwatho. "And as for what lies deep down inside of her… that's something even more powerful, still. So beautiful and terrifying, every demon would love to possess it."
"Then how do we use this power for ourselves?" asked Oitalistich.
D'Hoffryn grinned. His eyes back on Xander and the Weapon, skipping along past a bookstore, the Weapon tugging Xander back, eagerly, pointing. "We wait until the romance falls apart," he said. "And then… I offer her the one thing she'll desire most." His eyes twinkled. "Vengeance."
"You guys never actually made it to the movies?" Willow asked, the next day. She buried her face in her hands. "Oh, God, Xander. Buffy's going to kill you."
"It wasn't like that!" said Xander. "I mean, I know that when I say 'we spent time in a bookshop', you think that means… something else. But Seo actually just really, really likes books."
"And making out," Kennedy said.
Xander hesitated. "Okay, that part I wasn't
planning on mentioning to Buffy."
Willow just shook her head, not able to look at Xander.
"Hey, when your date comes up to you and starts making out," said Xander, "you make out. Even if it does happen in the middle of the Jane Austen section of the bookstore."
"She likes Jane Austen?" asked Kennedy.
"I… think?" Xander gave a guilty shrug. "Believe it or not, I wasn't actually thinking about books all that much, when it was going on."
"I knew she was a bookworm," said Willow, "but I didn't expect a guy reading aloud to her to be such a turn-on."
"Hey," said Xander, "whatever the first line of Pride and Prejudice
is, I must have read the hell out of it!"
"If this relationship actually goes somewhere," said Kennedy, "you're going to have a serious summer reading list."
Xander raised up a stack of books. "Already got it covered."
Willow frowned. Reached over, grabbed the books out of Xander's hands, and began to peruse them. "Jean-Paul Sartre," she said, putting a book aside. Then analyzing the next. "Kierkegaard." Next book. "Kafka?!"
"Apparently, her latest thing is… 'existentialist literature'," Xander said. He gave a dopey grin. "I don't know anything about it, but after seeing her reaction to books she's passionate about… I'm not arguing."
Willow flipped through the books, the worried expression not faltering from her face. She glanced up at Xander, over the pages. "This is really heavy stuff, Xander," she pointed out. She put the book down. "I don't think she's going to exactly fall all over you reading Kierkegaard the same way she did over Jane Austen."
"As long as he saves Lady Chatterly's Lover
for the third date," said Dawn.
Everyone spun around, their eyes suddenly on Dawn, who they found standing only a short ways away from them, leaning against a chair.
"What?" said Dawn. "You know? DH Lawrence?"
"Dawn, how long have you been here?" Xander asked. He was suddenly starting to feel extremely worried. "Listening in?"
Dawn crossed her arms. "I was in this room first," she pointed out. "You guys were the ones who chose to show up where I already was, and start gossiping."
Xander backed up a few steps. "Oh, no," he said. "Look, Dawn, if you tell Buffy, she's going to kill me."
"Could you stop sneaking around all the time?" Willow demanded of Dawn, with a sigh. "It's weird."
"I'm not sneaking…!" Dawn began. Then paused. Gave a short laugh. "Oh. Wait. Hang on." She took something off from around her neck, and…
All of a sudden, Dawn became a lot more easy to see.
"How'd you do that?" Xander asked.
"Magic," said Dawn, pocketing the object. "So? Come on. I won't tell Buffy. Make with the date-night gossip!"
As far as Dawn could tell… Xander and Seo's relationship wasn't going slow.
Not at all.
Seo had finally begun a relationship with someone she'd had a crush on for pretty much forever, and she was in no mood to wait.
Ria opened the door to the conference room. Then shut it. Turning to Dawn. "Okay. Let's try… somewhere else."
"What?" asked Dawn. "Who was in there?"
"Guess," said Ria. She turned. "And I'm pretty sure they just rounded the next base."
When Dawn did, finally, get a chance to speak to Xander alone, he seemed a little dazed. But not in an unpleasant way.
"She's… got… a lot of energy," Xander confessed. "Energizer bunny kind of energy."
And, apparently, he had a really hard time saying no when she wanted attention. A really, really hard time.
No one at the Slayer Institution actually had that much of a problem with it. They were all used to Xander dating non-humans, and Seo seemed to be one of the nice ones, as far as they could tell.
"I mean, it sure beats that woman who morphed into a slug-monster and tried to eat everyone, six months ago," Amanda pointed out. "She was a nightmare to get rid of."
And as for Seo — at least they all knew Xander actually cared about her. Xander was trustworthy. Non-threat. Non-demon. Non-evil.
Considering that Dawn's first kiss had been with a vampire trying to murder her… this was pretty good.
"And despite the age gap — they both act about the same maturity level," Ria pointed out.
The big issue was trying to figure out how to tell Buffy. Buffy was still very much under the impression that Xander and Seo were at the hand-holding, occasional-kissing stage. And not the getting-close-to-a-full-home-run stage.
"We've got to find a way to tell her," said Dawn. "I mean… she has to give Seo the whole birds-and-bees talk, right?"
"You wanna tell her?" said Willow. "Go right ahead. Me? I'm kind of attached to my major appendages. I don't think I want to start losing them, just yet."
Yulch had decided the best way for the Tech Demons to win this upcoming civil war was to social-network their way to victory.
"We all agree, it's only a matter of time before the fighting begins," said Hngratib. "Yulch is right. We're the demons who've abandoned the old ways, and embraced the new. We have to take full advantage of that."
Izzaphena typed at her computer. "Facebook group, 'Demons For Reform' has over 5,000 likes," she remarked. "And it's increasing every day." She checked the posts. "Looks like the demons in France have started attempting to raid army bases, to gear up. Rocket launchers and high grade explosives will turn the other side into raspberry jam before they can even summon their mystical super-weapons."
"You think we could get our hands on a nuke?" said Yulch.
"If we killed enough people in the right places," said Hngratib. "I'm sure we could. We are demons, you know."
"That'd show all those Traditional Guys," Izzaphena said, smiling. "Clear out our people, beforehand, and we can see just how immortal Oitalistich really is — when he goes through a nuclear explosion!" Then Izzaphena stopped typing. Stared at the computer screen, a little shocked. "Oh. That's… interesting."
"What?" asked Hngratib.
Izzaphena showed them the screen. "See? Right under that whole thread about nuclear weapons… that user, there. That post."
They all read the screen.
The post that read, "Nuclear and mystical weapons aren't necessary. I've got weapons far more useful than that. All you need. Specifically designed to take out demon targets. And I have all the incentive to give them to you."
"User seems to be… just… 'Yana'," said Izzaphena. She clicked on it. "And I can't access his Facebook profile."
"You don't think this is one of those Ex-Initiative guys?" said Yulch. He shuddered.
"I dunno," said Izzaphena. "But I think if this Dawn Summers thing doesn't work out, we should give serious thought to this Yana's offer."
"That's her," said Voxilocon, the next morning. Pointing at the brown-haired, blue-eyed Dawn, who was walking down the street, going to work. "Entering the Slayer Institute. Dawn Summers."
"Wait, that girl still works here?" asked Izzaphena. "I assumed she'd moved away."
"Dawn Summers," Yulch mused. He squinted at her. "You know, she doesn't look all that dangerous."
"Trust me, she's dangerous," said Voxilocon. "Very dangerous." He turned away from them. "Just take her, use her, and win the damn war, already. I don't trust this… 'Yana' of yours."
"Why not?" said Hngratib.
"Because he'll be supplying weapons in a way that will put him in charge of the war," Voxilocon explained. "And if this Yana's human, then you better believe he wants neither
side to win."
Dawn's jaw fell open. "You're kidding. Bridesmaid?"
"You're my best friend," said Ria. She shrugged. "And besides. I'll need someone standing by my side to reassure Mark when the aliens inevitably attack and the entire ceremony erupts into chaos."
"You expecting something?" Dawn asked.
Ria gave Dawn a pointed look. "I'm getting married, Dawn. Me, Ria Hiskaloph. Whenever and wherever the ceremony happens, you know there's going to be at least three alien armies and two demon ones attacking."
"I'll get you a bouquet that doubles as a mace," Dawn assured her.
"Mark's totally fine with this?" Dawn asked.
the one who volunteered to marry me
," said Ria. "He knew from the moment we met what he was getting into. I don't keep secrets from him."
No. Dawn had seen that often enough. Particularly when Mark dropped by to say hello to her, at work, and asked her how her day was, and she explained to him all the intricate ways that the planet he was living on had nearly crumbled into dust. When he'd been none the wiser.
He was a software engineer, designing computer programs that counted calorie intake and recommended diet regimens.
She saved the planet from invading alien hordes and Hellmouth demons on a daily basis.
Match made in heaven!
"Except for Faith's nickname for him," Ria added, after a brief pause. "That secret goes to my grave."
Which Faith had come up with right after Ria had gotten engaged. And everyone at the Institute had met Mark, and decided he was… nice. A good guy. But kind of… mellow. Laid back. Willing to let others take charge. Even willing to take Ria's last name, when he got married.
(Although, in his defense, his name was
At which point Faith had remarked that it was pretty clear who wore the pants in Ria's relationship. And had started calling Mark, 'Mrs. Mark Hiskaloph.'
"So… you'll do it?" Ria asked. "You'll be my bridesmaid?"
Dawn nodded. "Yeah. Yeah, I'd be honored."
The door to Ria's office burst open, and Xander leaned in. His face looked a little pale. And he seemed kind of out of breath.
"There isn't… like… a world-destroying emergency you could send me to, somewhere really far away from here?" Xander checked.
Ria and Dawn exchanged a look. Then turned back to Xander.
"Immediately?" Xander added.
"I've got some alien activity around the Hellmouth in Australia that needs investigating," Ria admitted. She folded her arms on the desktop, and gave him a pointed look. "But if you've done something you regret, now might be a good time to get it out in the open."
"Australia," said Xander. "Good. Really good. Put me on that one. I'll leave soon as possible. No, sooner."
Then shut the door.
Ria and Dawn looked at each other.
"I think this means Xander and Seo's relationship just fell apart," said Ria.
Seo was missing.
They searched for her everywhere. Across the Institution. Around the streets nearby the Institution. Around the hotel she was staying at.
In the end, Kennedy found her at Woodland Hills Park.
Seo was standing in the shade of a few trees. Great big axe in hand — clearly stolen from the Slayer Institute. And was using said axe to repeatedly bash apart a metallic, vaguely humanoid robot.
"Seo," said Kennedy, approaching, carefully. "What are you doing?"
Seo swung the axe, which embedded deep into the robot's back. The robot twitched, spasmed, gears and circuits blowing apart, but didn't die or fall over.
"Killing robots," Seo said, prying the axe out and striking again.
Kennedy nodded, slowly. "Alien robots?"
"No, I made this one," said Seo. She swung the axe, and severed the head, which rolled a short ways away. "Made it so I could destroy it."
"You made it," Kennedy double checked, "so you could hack it apart with a battle axe. Uh… huh…"
Seo glanced over her shoulder at Kennedy. "You sound like Dad." She turned back, and hacked an arm off. "He made me artificial organic life-form people, when I was really young. So I wouldn't get lonely. Apparently, when I was 2, I threw a fit because they wouldn't give me a cookie. And wound up killing them all, by accident." She hacked off a foot, and the robot stumbled against the ground. "I don't remember it. But Dad thought it was safer for everyone if I was alone."
Kennedy wasn't really sure what to say to this.
Seo gave a wild hurl at its midsection, and it twitched, again. "So I built robots. And when I was upset, I blew them up. Or hacked them apart." She kicked it, the metal torso making a dull clang sound against her shoes. "They're not really sentient, anyways. Dad always got mad at me when I destroyed them, though. Bad habit, he said."
"What happened between you and Xander?" Kennedy asked.
Seo bent down, tore the robot's ribcage apart, her teeth gritted, her eyes blazing, as she pulled and yanked and smashed. "Nothing."
"Did you have a fight?" Kennedy asked.
"Dad was right," said Seo, ignoring Kennedy, "not putting me around other artificial people. I probably would have blown them up or something. I did that a lot, back then. Dad always said my room was built from the exploded debris of all previous versions of my room."
"Did you do something to Xander?" Kennedy pressed.
Seo leapt to her feet, and began jumping on the innards of the robot, her eyes stormy.
"Did he do something to you?" Kennedy ventured.
Seo froze. Snapped her eyes up to Kennedy. "I told you. Nothing
happened between us. Nothingwill ever
happen between us."
Kennedy analyzed Seo, carefully. Studying her. The look on Seo's face was the look of a very frustrated closeted lesbian failing to be properly turned on by a guy.
Except… a little different.
"You're not gay, are you?" asked Kennedy.
"I'm telepathic," said Seo. "Xander isn't." She flung the robot hard against the side of a nearby tree. "And apparently, without a mutual telepathic connection, an alien-nothing like me just… can't… be intimate with another person. At all."
Kennedy was starting to understand the problem.
No wonder Xander had run away. Unable to perform in bed? That'd gnaw on a few massive male insecurities.
"Is there a vacant building, somewhere?" asked Seo. Her hands clenched into fists, her entire body shaking. "Because I really, really need to blow something up. Right now."
"You predicted this?" said Oitalistich, a little impressed, as he looked on at the events in the park.
D'Hoffryn nodded. "The girl may be clever, but her self-knowledge is limited," he explained. "She has already begun to descend into the deepest, darkest chasms of her soul. And when she arrives… we will be there. To claim her."
"But I thought Xander had read Seo's mind, before," Dawn said.
"If Seo hasn't done a lot of telepathy, she won't have built up any shields or control," said Willow. She shook her head. "Xander only believed he'd read her mind because she accidently projected her own thoughts into his head. She can reach his mind, but he can't reach hers."
"Geeze," muttered Dawn.
"It's why she gave him regenerative energy," said Willow, "and he didn't pick up any Twilight from her. His brain just doesn't work that way."
Looked like the Xander-Seo relationship was doomed from the very beginning. Doomed to go down in flames.
Because of something neither of them could have prevented.
Dawn tucked some hair behind her ears. "That's gotta suck. Seo's been in love with him for decades."
"Yeah," said Kennedy, a little annoyed. She crossed her arms. "Yeah. It sucks. It also sucks that, apparently, when Seo gets dumped, her go-to activity is destroying everything in sight. I mean, she's torn apart three practice rooms, now!" She glanced down beneath their feet. "Buffy's in the basement, with her, at the moment, trying to convince her not to destroy anything else."
"She's going through some things," said Willow. "Give her a break. She's just a kid."
"Okay, fine," said Kennedy, storming out of the room. "Let's just… wait for her to blow up the Institute. Or the world! Whatever! She's just a kid, so it obviously doesn't matter!"
For a few seconds, after Kennedy left, Willow and Dawn stayed silent. Neither sure what to do. What to say.
"I better go down and talk to Seo," Dawn sighed, heading towards the basement.
Seo was huddled in a corner of one of the practice rooms, in the basement, her arms hugging her knees, her face buried in her lap.
Her body draped in shadow.
The room around her had been utterly destroyed. Weapons snapped apart, walls with paint peeling off of them, the ground littered with holes and scorch marks.
Buffy was sat next to Seo, very clearly trying to play the supportive mom, but also very clearly having no idea what to do.
Buffy looked up, as Dawn entered the practice room. Mouthed the words, 'Help me.'
Dawn knelt down in front of Seo. Sat on her knees, giving Seo her most supportive smile.
"Hey," said Dawn.
Seo looked up at her. Peering over the crests of her knees.
"I heard you were going through some stuff," said Dawn. "And I just… thought maybe I could help. I mean, since I'm the Dawn expert and—"
"You took off the perception filter," Seo said, her voice very low.
Dawn looked down at herself. Oh, yeah, she… had
done that, hadn't she? Then gave a little shrug, turning her attention back to Seo.
"Well, I want you to pay attention to me," Dawn offered. "Because you're hurting, and—"
"Are you thick?" Seo demanded.
Dawn blinked. Then blinked again. "Wait, huh?"
Seo jumped to her feet. "Are you trying to make me miserable? Are you trying to hurt me? There are thousands of evil alien and demon species out there, who've all been told that Dawn Summers is a dangerous and valuable super-weapon! Who do you
think they're going to go after?"
Dawn slowly rose to her feet, a little uneasily.
"But no," said Seo, advancing on her. "You're just… being… selfish
! Waltzing around trying to get yourself killed! Never mind that Seo will hate herself forever afterwards, if you get hurt. Never mind the guilt and pain and torment she'll endure, if you die." She stopped, threw up her hands. "Who cares what happens to Seo?! She's not even real! She should never have existed in the first place! She's just a poorly designed half-breed alien who can't do anything right. A weapon who murdered her own dad
She shouted the last words, right in Dawn's face.
Dawn said nothing for a few moments. Gathering her thoughts. Then, in a quiet voice, "I understand."
Seo's body trembled with suppressed fury. "No. You don't."
"Seo," said Buffy, getting up and trying to put an arm around Seo, "listen to her. She's been through—"
"Get away from me!" Seo shouted, squirming in Buffy's grip. "Just get away
And with a violent shove, Seo threw Buffy back against the wall, hard enough to crack the cement, and knock Buffy out cold.
Buffy slumped to the ground, eyes shut. Body limp.
Seo started backwards, in alarm. Her eyes growing wide, her hands flying up to her mouth, as she saw the damage she'd caused.
Dawn could see real fear inside of her.
And, as other people entered the practice room, staring, in shock, at what had happened to Buffy, Seo pushed past Dawn, and bolted for the door.
Buffy groaned. Opening her eyes.
"Seo, wait!" shouted Dawn, stumbling to regain her footing, then racing after the girl. "Buffy's all right! It's okay!"
Seo didn't stop.
Just sprinted through the lobby, past the people lingering therein, shoved the glass doors open, and burst outside, never stopping an instant.
Dawn yanked at the door, and ran after her.
"I was created, too!" Dawn called. "The guilt. The self-doubt. The loneliness. I know
Seo stopped in her tracks. Her hands clenched by her sides, not looking at Dawn, her jaw set.
Dawn nearly ran into her, skidding to a stop on the sidewalk.
"I'm just saying… I get you," Dawn offered, putting a hand on her shoulder.
Seo spun around to face her. Eyes dark. "You," she hissed, "are human."
"You can go into a normal hospital," said Seo, "and not worry that they'll slice you up. You can go on an airplane without needing Torchwood to hack you through security! Can walk through motion sensor doors, and have them actually open for you! You can have a relationship
with someone — anyone! And not care if they're telepathic. Not care that you're going to outlive them by a thousand years or more. Not have to explain that your face, body, and personality are only temporary."
Dawn opened her mouth to reply, but realized she didn't really have a good answer for this.
"Stay away from me," said Seo, turning. Then ran, again, down the street.
Dawn felt her heart beating even faster. Had she
been like this, too, when she was younger? All running away and giving attitude and not listening to anyone trying to reach out to her? Was this
what Buffy had had to deal with, during that whole thing with Glory?
Geeze, no wonder Buffy had completely lost it.
"Seo, don't—!" Dawn started.
Then she felt something whack her against the back of the head, and a cascade of dots sparked across her vision, as she felt herself falling, and the world faded into black.
"Do you think anyone saw?" asked Izzaphena. She glanced back towards the looming building that housed the Slayer Institution. "We're still pretty close to Slayer HQ."
"If anyone saw, we'll kill them," said Hngratib, dragging the unconscious Dawn Summers away. "Now help me with her. She's heavy."
Yulch looked her over, uncertainly. "I don't know how she's supposed to help," he admitted. "But… here goes nothing!"
Seo, a short ways later, stopped. As she noticed that Dawn wasn't chasing her anymore.
And found herself face-to-face with a light-blue skinned demon, sporting pointy ears and two rows of horns on his head, along with a long white mustache and short white beard. He squinted at Seo, as if he couldn't quite see her, clearly.
Dawn was nowhere in sight.
"Such pain," said the demon. "Such anger. Such torment."
Seo felt her creeping curiosity get the better of her. A small grin spreading up her face. "You're… a demon, right?" The grin broke into a smile. "Are you from the Hellmouth? Have you seen it open? What's it like in there? Who lives there? How does the air feel when it's open? What—"
"Show some respect to D'Hoffryn, Lord of Arashmaharr!" snapped the yellow-spiked demon, behind him.
D'Hoffryn put up his hand, to silence the yellow-spiked demon. Then gave Seo a warm smile.
"What do you call yourself, child?" asked D'Hoffryn, his voice sounding kind. Gentle. Fatherly.
"Seo," Seo replied.
"A fine name," D'Hoffryn remarked. He reached out a hand, put it on Seo's shoulder, gently. "Tell me, Seo, why you persist in remaining in such pain and torment? Why you reflect it back upon yourself? You have such potential. Such power. Reflect your pain outwards, and you could have anything you wanted."
Seo's eyes lit up. "I… could? Anything?"
"Anything," D'Hoffryn confirmed. "Your potential is so vast. Tap into it, and you could command whole armies. Destroy entire—"
"What kinds of armies?" Seo interrupted.
"Any kind you choose," said D'Hoffryn.
Seo tilted her head to the side, thinking this over. "But… any armies in particular?" she asked.
armies," hissed Kwatho, nearby, "which will destroy the demon hordes who oppose us."
Seo nodded slowly. "I see," she said. "So… if I joined you… I'd be killing other demons
. Not humans."
"You would be able to do whatever you wished," D'Hoffryn said. "The universe would be yours to shape. You could rule—"
"What's the Demon Civil War being fought over?" Seo cut in.
D'Hoffryn hesitated. "There is no war. There is only—"
"Yes there is," said Seo. "You're raising armies for it. So what's it being fought over?"
"That isn't important," snapped Kwatho.
"Why not?" asked Seo. She looked at them all, curiously. "Don't you know why you're fighting?"
"We fight against those who defy tradition!" shouted Oitalistich. "Who—"
D'Hoffryn cut in, with another raise of his hand. "Our enemies use modern technology," he explained. "They would provoke a nuclear war on Earth simply to destroy us. Do you want that?"
Seo stared at him. Shocked. "They're prepared to start a nuclear war?!"
"Our powers are fierce," said D'Hoffryn. "Frightening. They fear us, and will crush every human on this planet to take us down." He gestured at Seo. "You, child, could destroy them first. End this war before it begins."
"But… but Twilight's gone," Seo insisted. "I can't stop them. I'm not all-powerful, anymore. I'm just… a weak, useless nothing-person, who—"
"No," said D'Hoffryn, coaxing, gentle. "Don't apply your pain inwards. Apply it outwards. Don't blame yourself. Blame those who put you in this position. The parents who forced you to save them, instead of allowing you to save your own Dad. The aunt that stole your place in the real world. Blame them. Hate them. And use that anger and hatred to destroy them."
Seo's eyes lit up. "You can track down the other-me? Find her?"
"Then… yes," said Seo, eagerly. "Please, let me join you, so I can kill her. I just want to be unique, again."
Dawn woke up, prepared to find herself surrounded by a group of demons or aliens, all bent on destroying her. But instead, she discovered she was lying on the bed of someone's apartment, face-to-face with a group of demons who didn't seem hostile in the slightest.
"Uh… hey," said Dawn, sitting up. She rubbed the back of her head. "Did you have to hit me that hard?"
"You're Dawn Summers?" asked one of the demons, a short one.
Dawn hesitated. "Yeah…"
"I'm Yulch," said the demon. "That's Izzaphena, Hngatrib, and… the one hiding in the shadows is Voxilocon."
Voxilocon scowled. "For the record, I don't like this," he said. "I don't agree with any of these demons. I'm just here to avert a war."
Dawn frowned. "Huh?"
"There's a civil war that's about to break out, in the demon realms," Izzaphena explained. "The twenty first century is when it all changes, and we've got to be ready."
"So says the Prophecy of Harkness," added Hngatrib.
"We represent a new order of demons," said Izzaphena. "An order that wants to work with
humanity, and use modern technology, to fight off the alien threat in this post-vampire world. Our enemies believe in following tradition."
Dawn couldn't quite believe she was hearing this.
Demons. Actual real demons! The world over! Deciding they'd had enough of opening Hellmouths and trying to destroy humanity. And deciding to become humanity's allies.
Wow. That Cyberman invasion must have really
shaken them up.
"So where do I come in?" asked Dawn.
"You are the super-weapon of legend that even the First feared," said Yulch. "That means… you can defeat the Traditional Demons. We just… can't quite work out how."
Dawn's eyes went wide. "Wait, you think I'm…?"
But that was what Seo had said. That the aliens and demons would be looking for a Dawn Summers who was a super-weapon. And if they caught her, instead, and then discovered she wasn't
Dawn was starting to understand why Seo had insisted she wear a perception filter.
"So you want to work with humanity," Dawn double-checked. "To stop demons from opening the Hellmouth." She crossed her arms. "And you haven't asked the Slayers for help, yet?"
"We… wanted to," Izzaphena admitted. "Wanted to break with the old ways completely."
"But the moment we set foot in the Slayer Institute," said Hngatrib, "we'll be massacred. On the spot. Voxilocon is right. We've been against the Slayers so much in the past, they'll never work with us, now."
Looked like she could turn all this to her advantage.
"Here's the thing," Dawn told them. "You got the wrong person. This super-weapon you're looking for — I know her. But she's not me. And she's having a serious meltdown, right now, so if you talked to her, you'd probably get blown up." Her grin widened into a smile. "But it's a good thing you found me, instead. Because I'm the one person who can make sure your side wins."
Everyone stared at her.
"How?" they all asked.
"By giving you your alliance," Dawn said, beaming.
"Open every Hellmouth across the entire world?" Seo repeated. She nodded, slowly. "Well, I can see how that would benefit you. But not how it benefits me."
"For vengeance!" said D'Hoffryn. "To construct armies that will topple worlds, so you can exact righteous vengeance against those who've wronged you."
Seo considered. "That makes sense," she said. She grinned at them. "Yes, all right! I'll do it! Open every Hellmouth across the entire world." The grin fell into something darker. Icier. "But first… the other-me. How do I find her?"
"Kwatho is out looking for her," said Oitalistich. "We will find her, and we will destroy her."
Seo charged up to him, her eyes blazing. "Have you listened to a word I've said?" she demanded. She pointed at herself. "I
want to kill her. Not you. Me
. You bring her here. Right now. And don't harm a hair on her head. That pleasure is all mine."
Oitalistich winced back, at the sheer raw power coming from her, as she said these words. He nodded. Then rushed off to obey her commands.
Seo turned to D'Hoffryn. "In the meantime," she said, "you. You're vaguely higher dimensional, right? Not as much as the First or the Powers that Be, but you're still having a hard time seeing me."
D'Hoffryn conceded the point.
"Which means," Seo continued, "that 'Lord of Arashmaharr' isn't just a title. You actually rule an extra-dimensional plane called 'Arashmaharr'. You can construct portals to it."
"Once," said D'Hoffryn. "Although my powers have faded, as the dimensions sealed. I was trapped on the wrong side of the breach."
"But I'm betting you've still got a lot of dimensional energy," said Seo. "Energy that isn't being used, at the moment. Energy that could open… dimensional portals."
D'Hoffryn's eyes gleamed, as he saw where she was headed with all of this. "Then the ceremonies to open the Hellmouths across the world would not need to be done piece by piece," he realized. "They could be performed all at once. From this location. Cleveland."
Seo grinned. "If there's one thing I'm brilliant at," she said, "it's manipulating dimensions. And with all that energy, from all those different Hellmouths, rippling across the surface of this world… perhaps then I'll have the energy I need."
"To punish those who forced you to murder your dad?" D'Hoffryn asked.
A curious gleam ignited inside her eyes. "Is this what you do?" she asked. "Go up to people in pain and help them get vengeance?"
"Think of it more as… unleashing untapped potential," D'Hoffryn told her. He gave her a kind, fatherly smile. "I can help you, Seo. I can make the hurting stop."
"You can give me vengeance," Seo said, studying him, interestedly. "Allow me to take vengeance — not just on those who've wronged me
. But on those who've wronged others
"Exactly," D'Hoffryn said. "Every child abandoned, forced to become alone and afraid. Every innocent threatened. You can avenge them." He raised up a small, green gemstone, offering it to her. "You can bring them justice."
Seo nodded, her eyes twinkling beneath the candlelight. Then she grabbed up the gemstone, the power blazing through her, as her eyes danced. Her face wrinkled. And she gained her full potential.
"Brilliant," she said.
Voxilocon raced down the street. Out of breath.
Before running right into Oitalistich and Kwatho.
He backed up a few steps. Then raised his hands in the air.
"I was wrong," Voxilocon admitted. "You were right. The old ways are better."
Oitalistich looked Voxilocon over, carefully. "What's changed your mind?"
"The Tech Demons," said Voxilocon. He pointed in the general direction of the Slayer Institute. "They're trying to partner with the Slayers. Our ancient enemies. They're conceding to them."
Oitalistich and Kwatho exchanged a feral look. Growling.
"They have one other being with them," said Voxilocon. "We thought she was the weapon the First feared. But she isn't. Her name… is Dawn Summers."
"And that's all we need to know," said Oitalistich, thrusting a dagger through Voxilocon's chest, making him topple to the ground.
And without another word, Oitalistich and Kwatho left Voxilocon to bleed to death. As they raced off to get Dawn Summers.
The first casualty of the war.
Ria hid her surprise well. Seemed perfectly calm and controlled during the entire negotiation. "If you want our help, of course we're prepared to offer it," Ria told Hngratib. "But you will have to follow our rules."
The demons all hesitated.
"Remember — we Slayers know all the Old-Timer demons, out there," said Ria. "We've got the means to take them down. Dawn's right. The Slayers are the way you'll win this war."
"What… rules?" Izzaphena ventured.
"No killing, hurting, or eating any human being, or any other being currently under the protection of the Slayers or other major world-saving agencies," said Ria. "Any hostile activity will be reviewed by a committee…"
She rapidly listed out a small proportion of the terms, as she slid a formal document over to them. They squinted at it.
"The details are laid out in full, here," said Ria. "We'll win you this war, defend you during any future alien invasions, and even protect you from the rest of humanity. But you can't eat any more people."
"Can't we just eat a few hundred people a year?" muttered Yulch. "We could volunteer our own forces to fight on your behalf, in return!"
"Sorry," said Dawn. "We don't negotiate with the lives of those we protect."
"And if you join us," Ria added, "we won't negotiate with yours, either. Lifetime protection. And all you have to do to get it… is go on a diet. What do you say?"
The door was knocked off its hinges by a gigantic, yellow-spiked demon, his eyes venomous. He looked injured, staggering forwards, but was determined, as he noticed the other demons that had gathered in the room.
"Traitors!" he shouted. Lunged forwards. "You sniveling excuses for—"
He was cut off by a sword thrust deep into his heart. Blood spurting out across the floor, as he toppled over, and crashed to the ground.
Faith stood behind him.
"Sorry," she told the others, yanking the sword out. "Would have stopped him sooner. Needed to get the right kind of poison." Faith turned to Dawn. "Better get out of here, though, Dawn. There's an army coming here. And they're coming for you
Hngratib, a little shaken up, grabbed a pen out of Ria's hand, and signed the contract. "We'll take the alliance."
Dawn's eyes widened on Faith.
As she realized… that Seo had been right. Very, very right.
She'd taken off the perception filter. Let the demons follow her here.
And now, the first battle of the Demon Civil War was about to break out in the headquarters of the Slayer Institution. Fighting over a super-weapon whose identity they'd gotten wrong.
"I can feel them," Seo breathed, as she focused her energy on the crystal D'Hoffryn had given her. Poured her psychic energy across its surface, used the gemstone as a focusing point, and transferred it to D'Hoffryn. "All the Hellmouths, across the entire world."
Oh, yes. The child was powerful.
And D'Hoffryn could feel, even now, the child's pain. Her anger. There was a passion inside of her, a desire for justice which called to him. A need, within her, to destroy and tear apart, in compensation for her every loss.
Normally, D'Hoffryn waited until the first act of vengeance had been taken. But with a case like this, with someone like this poor little neglected child…
vengeance. Even if she hadn't realized it, before now.
"You're right," whispered Seo. "There are so many people out there wronged every day. So many lives that need to be avenged. So many people that deserve to be punished for what they've done. What they've led susceptible, weak-willed, hurt people to do."
"Oh, yes," D'Hoffryn agreed. "No one is innocent."
"You see," Seo continued, "when I was twelve, my favorite doll broke. Because I stepped on it. So I burned my shoes. Then burned down the rest of the room. Then burned anything else I could find. I hurt. I raged. I ached. So I destroyed."
"Excellent," said D'Hoffryn.
"But the thing was… after I was done," Seo went on, "none of that stuff ever came back. It just remained charred and blackened and burned. So… yes. I got my revenge. But… you know what?" She grinned, a little. "That still didn't fix the doll."
D'Hoffryn suddenly felt a sense of unease surrounding him. He tried to break free, but Seo grabbed him by the wrist, and held him fast, her eyes boring into his, as he felt a sudden wave of his own energy yanked free from him.
"Dad asked me what I learned," said Seo. "At the end of it all. You want to know what I told him?" She focused harder on the crystal, forcibly draining the energy from D'Hoffryn. "That the best thing I could have done… was put the doll away. And stop myself from stepping on it in the first place. Because all revenge does is leave you with dust and ash and nothingness."
D'Hoffryn cried out, as the last remaining tendrils of energy were wrenched from him, shattering the crystal in Seo's hands. Her face morphed back into its usual form, her eyes twinkling.
"So... you, D'Hoffryn," said Seo, her face morphing back into its usual, unwrinkled form, her eyes twinkling. "You find people who are hurt and in pain. Mislead them, cajole them, turn them into vengeance demons, instead of giving them the real support and help they need. I thought about it. Thought… I could
avenge them." She let him go. Stepped backwards. "But… really? I'd rather just get rid of the problem. By getting you out of the way. Draining off your energy."
D'Hoffryn attempted to summon his strength and vengeful powers to lash out at her, but found… they weren't there. Nothing was there.
He was weak as a human, now.
"Oh, and in case you were wondering," Seo continued, dropping the shards of crystal onto the ground. "All that energy you had… didn't go towards opening the Hellmouths. It just made every Hellmouth across the whole world infinitely more difficult to open."
D'Hoffryn gritted his teeth. "You tricked me."
"Yep," said Seo, beaming. Bouncing on her toes. "So I did! Brilliant, isn't it?"
D'Hoffryn felt his blood boil. "I'll kill you for this."
Seo shook her head, amused. "You can try. But in this state? You'll never succeed." Then turned, and headed out of the room.
As she passed the threshold, D'Hoffryn, anger searing through him, screamed out, "You don't see your true self! I know you for what you really are! Who you really are!" He pointed at her. "Deep down inside, at your essence, you are not
Dawn Summers! You are a thing of evil
Seo stopped, in the doorway. Glanced back at D'Hoffryn. Hesitated.
"I'm not Dawn…?" Seo began. Then shook her head. "Don't be ridiculous."
Then turned, and left.
"So," said Buffy, rubbing her head, as she saw the eruption of fighting that had broken out just in front of the Slayer Institute. "This is 'dimensional separation', huh?"
Dawn shrugged. She was now back to wearing that TARDIS key perception filter thing. "When Seo said dimensional separation wouldn't mean the end of magic or the end of the Hellmouths, I thought it was kind of lame. I didn't expect anything like this."
"The First's gone," said Buffy. "That means, for the first time, the demons can choose for themselves. Which side they want to be on. What they want to do with their lives."
She watched as Ria led her Slayers on a surprise assault on a group of unprepared demons, hacking and slashing, as Willow conjured up magical defenses, nearby.
"I better go see if I can find Seo," said Buffy, turning away from the fighting. "There's no telling what she could do when she's hurting this much."
Dawn caught Buffy by the arm. "I'll go," she said. "You help with the fighting."
Dawn and Seo ran into each other, on the sidewalk, both heading off to look for the other. The moment they did, they stumbled backwards. Stared. Then hugged each other, babbling at one another, at a thousand words a minute, about what had just happened.
"Wait, wait," said Dawn, when she realized what Seo was saying, long enough to stop babbling, herself. She pulled out of the hug. "You took out D'Hoffryn?"
started a civil war!" Seo said, a little defensively. She dug the toe of her shoe into the ground. "And… anyways… D'Hoffryn said he could help me find you. After you disappeared." She shrugged. "I was worried about you. I even sent some demons to rescue you."
Dawn gave a small laugh. "That yellow-spiked demon!"
"And the lizard-tongued one," Seo confirmed. "They were trying to…" She stopped, noticing the alarm on Dawn's face, and realizing there was a problem. "You… never saw a magenta-colored, blue mouthed, lizard-tongued demon?"
Dawn grabbed Seo by the hand, dragging her forwards. "Come on!"
"Why?" asked Seo. "Where are we—?"
"If that demon never showed up to track me down," Dawn said, "and hasn't shown up to fight in the Demon Civil War, it must be doing something else. And if I know demons in this town, at all, it had already begun opening the Hellmouth before you even did your clever D'Hoffryn thing."
Kwatho turned, as the Hellmouth swirled open. The energies surging up from underfoot, the sounds of monsters and demons and evil creatures all echoing through the salt-mine.
"You were too late, with your deception and trickery," snarled Kwatho, as Dawn and Seo raced into the mine. "This Hellmouth was already opening. It's energies were excluded from your magic."
"It wasn't magic," said Seo, with a sigh. "It was just the proper application of psionic forces passed through the proper amplifiers."
"Traditional Demons will massacre humanity! Massacre the Slayers! Massacre the aliens!" Kwatho snapped. Then turned, and jumped into the pit. "And I die to let them do so!"
Dawn raced forward to stop him, but too late.
The energies flooding from the Hellmouth grew more and more, as the Hellmouth opened even wider.
"Damn it!" shouted Dawn. She turned back to Seo. "He needed a sacrifice to open it fully. So he sacrificed himself!"
Seo just stood there, her eyes fixed on the swirling energies of the Hellmouth. A small smile lighting up her face, as she stepped, dreamlike, towards it, hand outstretch to brush against the rush of blue and purple energies emitted by it.
what it feels like," she breathed.
Dawn sprung out and dragged her away from the energy, fast as she could. "Seo, that's dangerous!" she snapped. "We've got to close this thing, before the monsters get out. And if you've never closed a Hellmouth before, trust me, it's not easy. It's an unstable dimensional tear in reality. To even just stabilize it enough to close the gateway to our world, you need—"
"Two dimensional nodes and a Gallifreyan consciousness, controlling them both," said Seo. "I know."
Dawn stopped. Stared at Seo. "Wait, what?"
Seo blinked. Then, realizing what she just said, plastered a sheepish grin on her face. "Nothing."
"Dimensional nodes?" said Dawn. "You mean… like… dimensional Key type things?"
Seo stepped backwards, her grin looking more like a grimace every second. "No. I… just… never mind."
But she wasn't getting away with that. Not at all. Dawn advanced on her. "Xander said you knew a way to stabilize that portal Glory created, if you'd been able to get to it," she said. "Is that how? By using me, you, and your brain?"
"We're not dimensional nodes," Seo pleaded with her. "We're Keys. It's different."
"But… let me guess," said Dawn. "You can trick the Hellmouth into thinking
we're two dimensional nodes?"
Seo didn't answer. Just backed away, a little further.
Which confirmed it.
"Come on, this is going to save the world!" Dawn said. "Why won't you—?"
"Because it could kill you!" Seo shouted.
Dawn stopped. Paused. "It could…?"
Seo looked down at the ground. "I'd have to tap into the essence of what you are, without disrupting anything else built on top of that essence," she said. "I'm not good at psychic things. If I slipped up, for even a second… I'd erase your personality completely."
That would suck.
But then Dawn heard the screeches and howls of the monsters in the Hellmouth. And knew… if they got out… then the Demon Civil War would be over before it began. The wrong side would win.
And Dawn, herself, would be dead, anyways.
Dawn grabbed Seo by the hand. "Hey," she said. "I trust you." Took a deep breath. Then smiled at Seo. "Let's do it. Let's save the world."
Seo hesitated, a second longer. Then planted a determined expression on her face, and grabbed up both of Dawn's hands in her own, closing her eyes, focusing.
A gasp, from Dawn, as the whole world shifted around her. A stream of energy spiraling around them and through them, as something began to weave its way through them, zigzagging across them, and it felt dizzying and terrifying — like being up on that platform, high in the air, bound and bleeding, as the world fell apart beneath her…
Only there was someone else with her, too. Some other presence, floating nearby. Bolstering her spirit. Some other presence that wouldn't let her sink, wouldn't let her fall, wouldn't let her tumble into that pool of rippling dimensional energies.
And a soothing, calming something, urging her to keep herself together. To please be strong. Be stronger than she'd ever been before.
Dawn gritted her teeth. And focused her mind. Grabbing up every last bit of herself that she could find. Every real memory, every fake memory. Everything she'd ever been, ever done. Every second of her human life. She grabbed it all and hugged it towards her.
And it was only then that she recognized the other presence… as herself.
Her other self.
And then a searing flash spread through them both, and Dawn realized she'd cried out, and so had someone else.
As she looked out at the gravestone for Joyce Summers, through two sets of eyes. One set so small, so confused, trying to figure out why grandma wasn't there... and one set so much older, torn apart by pain and grief and loss, crying into Buffy's shoulder as Mom was lowered into the ground...
Reliving that first moment, when she'd learned she was the Key. Wasn't real. Burning her diaries (blowing up her room
), racing out of the house, trying desperately to escape herself, trying to find meaning in a world she now knew wasn't her own (would never be her own. Had been erased. A made up person from a timeline that never happened
Feeling pain of losing Buffy (Dad
), crying in her bed because she'd killed her (murdered him
), and unable to stop the guilt, the desperation, the need to cling to something out there, anything out there…
With a burst of energy, their hands separated.
The psychic connection broke.
The Hellmouth energies swirled to nothing, as the gateway of the Hellmouth snapped shut.
For a few seconds, both Seo and Dawn stood there, staring at one another. Panting. Trying to catch their breaths.
"We… did it," Dawn began. "We… actually…"
But the effort of speaking had sapped the last bits of energy out of her. And she fell over, onto the ground. And closed her eyes.
"It was Willow, actually, who brought you in," Ria confessed. "She detected a spike in mystical energy. I handed command of the battle over to Buffy, then put a team together and followed the trace. Found you completely passed out, and Seo just barely conscious enough to explain what happened."
Dawn was in the hospital section of the Slayer Institute. Lying in a bed. In the bed next to her, Seo lay, eyes closed, sleeping. Her face looked pale.
"Did we win the battle?" Dawn asked.
Ria nodded. "First battle of the Demon Civil War. And we won. Credit for that goes completely to your sister." She looked off into the distance, pensively. "Although… she then retorted that the credit went entirely to me. Because the strategy was mine."
"Sounds like you two had a real falling out," Dawn remarked.
"Oh, we'll be fighting about it for months," Ria agreed. "Absolutely."
Dawn grinned at her.
Ria grimaced. "I've got some bad news, though," she admitted. "It looks like — after what Seo did — Cleveland's now the only easily openable Hellmouth in the whole world." She sighed. "This war's going to be long, bloody, and hard, Dawn. And it's going to be centered right here. In Cleveland."
Dawn nodded. Her body still feeling sapped and drained.
"Did we do anything, closing that Hellmouth?" asked Dawn. "Anything permanent? Did we at least stabilize it?"
"A little," Ria said. "But the impressive part is — according to Willow, you guys actually managed to permanently close up an entire dimensional corridor of the Cleveland Hellmouth. And that's a heck of a lot of power." She gave a small laugh. "You know, if Seo had been able to hold the connection between you for long enough, we're pretty sure you guys together probably would have had enough energy to close up the Cleveland Hellmouth for good. Seal off the entire dimensional breach."
Dawn's eyes flicked over to Seo. "We could have sealed the Hellmouth permanently? But… then why didn't she let me…?" Dawn paused. Realizing. "She stopped while she could still control the energy. Before she destroyed me."
"Good," said Ria. She put a hand on Dawn's shoulder. "No dying, okay? We've got a Demon Civil War going on, here, and I'm going to need everyone helping out. I'm booked for strategy meetings all afternoon, without you around to help out."
And there was something else in her eyes. Something shining through, from deep down inside. Something that told Dawn… just how panicked Ria must have been, finding Dawn passed out in that salt-mine. Just how relieved she really was that Dawn — her best friend — was still alive.
"Trust me, I'm not dying until I spill the beans about Faith's nickname to your future husband," Dawn assured her, stifling a yawn.
Ria shook her head, a small laugh passing her lips. "You're going to be the death of me, Dawn," she said, getting up, and leaving the hospital room, to get back to her work. "Some day."
For a short time, after Ria left, there was silence. Complete and utter silence.
Dawn felt herself melting further and further back towards sleep.
"What nickname?" came a soft voice, beside her.
Dawn's eyes snapped open, again. Her head turned. And she found Seo, wide awake, her own brown eyes resting on the ceiling.
"You… heard…?" Dawn stopped. Yeah. Yeah, of course Seo had heard all of that. She'd pretended to be asleep, so she could listen in. After all, that's what Dawn would have done. "Faith calls Ria's fiancé, 'Mrs. Mark Hiskaloph.' Because… Ria's kind of… you know. Overpowering."
Seo said nothing to this. Didn't react.
And Dawn wasn't sure if the lack of reaction was because she honestly didn't get it, or because she felt it wasn't quite as funny as Dawn thought it was, or… because she didn't have the energy to expel from reacting.
"I like Ria," said Seo. Her voice clearly trying to sound chipper and happy, but basically just sounding tired. "She reminds me a little of Buffy." She paused. "Mom," she corrected.
"Are you okay?" asked Dawn.
"I'm fine," Seo dismissed. "The Key's woven into my bio-data pattern, not my DNA. I could take a lot more than that." She breathed a little harder. "I'm just…"
"Not very good at psychic brainwashing type things," Dawn recalled. "Yeah, you said."
"That," Seo agreed. "And… the memories. Sort of… got to me. A bit."
Dawn remembered. The memories they'd shared.
"I… didn't remember some of those things," Seo confessed. "Those memories you… triggered, in my head. You… you remember… Grandma dying. Made me remember. Watching all of that, not even understanding why everyone was gathered around, wearing black, and Grandma wasn't…" She shook her head. "I was so young."
"So was I," Dawn agreed.
For a few seconds, neither of them said anything.
"What happened with Glory," Dawn put forward, a little hesitantly. "It wasn't your fault, Seo. You know that, right?"
Silence from Seo.
"I fought back," said Dawn. "I was older. I gave it everything I had. And I still wound up exactly where you were. Tied up, at the top of a platform, watching my sister die."
Seo was very, very still.
"You're not… the Evil Me," said Dawn. "I mean, yeah, you flip out. Big deal. I nearly burned down the house."
"I did that," said Seo.
"I cut myself with a carving knife," Dawn said, "moment I found out I was the Key…"
"…and then tried to run away," Seo added. "When Dad stopped me and took away the knife."
"Decided life didn't matter…"
"Told Buffy the monks should have just implanted all my education into my head…"
"Told Dad he should never have saved someone the monks couldn't even construct properly…"
"I really have no idea why Buffy put up with me," Dawn concluded.
"Don't know why Dad put up with me, either," Seo answered.
They both looked at one another, a moment, the traces of grins on their faces. Musing over their childhoods. Their lost, invented, imagined, stolen childhoods.
The smile slid off Seo's lips, as her face morphed into melancholy. "I miss him. So much." Her lips trembled. "It hurts."
"I know," said Dawn.
Remembering how it had felt, after Buffy had died. Remembering how it felt to lose her own mom.
"But Buffy's right," said Dawn. "You did the right thing. Saved lives." She gave her a supportive smile. "You're a good—"
"Kid," Seo cut in, sharply. "I'm a good kid."
Dawn rolled her eyes, giving a frustrated sigh. "No way! Nuh-uh! I don't care how old you are in Time Lord years, I'm not calling you—"
"A harmless," Seo interrupted, "human-like child. Not dangerous, not threatening, not alien. Just… something people can understand. A 'kid'."
Dawn paused. The truth crashing across her, all at once.
Why Seo wanted to be called a kid.
"It's… manipulation," Dawn breathed. "You're making people think of you as human. As harmless. Something they can understand. So they're not afraid of you."
Seo didn't answer.
"That's… actually… really kind of smart," Dawn noted.
Particularly around trigger-happy Torchwood and Slaying-happy Slayers, both of whom had a tendency to freak out around really powerful extra-terrestrials. Seo could throw people through concrete walls, she could trick D'Hoffryn into sealing up Hellmouths, and she could access Dawn's Key energies without killing her or even arriving at May, 2001.
Seo was dangerous. Really dangerous. That was true.
But if they called her kid enough…
In their minds, she just became… Buffy's kid. That's all.
"Will you call me that?" Seo asked, in a small voice. "Will you call me… kid?"
Dawn thought it through. Thought long and hard. Remembering all the ways that people had looked down on her, shoved her out of the way, told her that she didn't have the right to know who she was or what she was. Because she was a kid.
She shook her head.
"No," said Dawn. "I won't."
Seo's eyes lingered on Dawn. Desperation inside of them.
Dawn reached out, across the space between their beds, and took Seo's hand in hers.
"I'll call you Seo," she said.
After a harrowing adventure with airport security, who'd realized that Seo didn't show up on machines at all, which almost led to various top secret US military agencies sweeping Seo away forever, Buffy and Seo managed to get back to the UK.
"Yeah, Dawn and Ria can fight this Demon Civil War by themselves," Buffy told Jack, the moment they met up, again. "All the demons in the world are going to flock to Cleveland, and there's no way I'm chancing Seo on another airplane. I was that close to losing her forever."
There was terror in Buffy's eyes. Real, raw, biting terror.
Jack put an arm around Buffy's shoulders. "Hey," he said. "We're not letting anything happen to her. Got that? Even if I have to steal her back from the US military myself."
Buffy closed her eyes, and nodded. Wanting so much to believe it.
Jack glanced back at Seo. "So, kid. You spend five days in Cleveland, and the demons are already revolting for freedom." He grinned. "You really are something else, huh?"
Seo gave a sheepish shrug, not looking up at Jack. Her eyes fixed down on the floor of the lift, as she and the others entered the Hub.
And were immediately accosted by a very irritated, belligerent Owen. Who stormed up to Seo, and thrust his mobile in her face.
"Fix it," Owen demanded.
Seo looked up at him, an entirely innocent expression on her face. "I don't know what you—"
"Any call I make," said Owen, "any number I dial, any time I try to reach anyone — this phone connects me to Tosh. And I'm asking you, very nicely, to fix it." He dropped the phone into her hands. "Now."
Then turned, and walked away.
Seo glanced over at Tosh, who was sitting by the computers, pretending to be busy at work. Tosh's eyes darted over to Seo.
"Thank you," she mouthed.