Disclaimers: Not even close to mine.
Spoilers: Vague ones up through Chosen and Home.
Summary: Dawn is (still) the Key.
Ratings Note: R.
Author's Note: Trog tossed a first line at me. I couldn't stop myself.
Acknowledgments: To Trog for audiencing, and Molly and Jenn for much needed reassurance.
Feedback: Adored. firstname.lastname@example.org
Seven different personalities locked in there and he only wants to make love to three of them.
Which is either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how you look at it, but there are certain facts to help put things in order:
One: it was an accident. Everyone agreed that no one could have possibly foreseen *all* the repercussions of Willow's spell, especially since no one really noticed anything for quite a while. Not even Dawn herself.
Two: the options they have at the moment are limited. Keep her in one place, keep her in the one place where unpredictable magic can be controlled, if not understood. The alternative was... messy.
Three: Somewhere, there are six women of varying ages, empty of intellect and soul. Lost.
Four: They're right here for everyone to see, behind Dawn's wide, wild eyes.
The facts may not be, precisely, useful, but Wesley holds on to them before entering the iron-bound chamber. Holy relics of the orderly world outside.
He finds Dawn curled in a corner. The computer is shut down, and she's biting her nails. He can see the broken skin and blood on her knuckles from here.
She narrows her eyes at him and snarls something in an incomprehensible version of German. Kara.
He speaks slowly, knowing the dialect he's using probably doesn't exist at all where Kara's body waits to die a full death.
She answers -- only rarely -- in monosyllables and curses that cross the language barrier quite well. Kara believes she has been imprisoned, and when Angel visits she sniffs the air as if Dawn's human body could tell her what Slayer instinct is hinting at.
She'd tried to kill Lorne with her bare hands.
Really, it's a fascinating study into the Slayer nature. Sometimes Wesley watches, from beyond the two-way mirror (broken, to date, seventeen times), and takes notes.
He lifts his hand and mutters a spell that puts the girl into something like an hypnotic state. It's the only thing they've found that can effect the... changes.
Dawn's body slumps against the cot, limbs loose and easy, a frown line evening out between her eyebrows as he watches.
After approximately three minutes, she takes a long, shuddering breath and blinks slowly, focusing on nothing at all before turning to Wesley and smiling.
It's a slow, sly smile, and her eyes are half-lidded and knowing. She licks the blood from her knuckles, and watches Wesley from beneath the fringe of her lashes.
"Mm. If I was in my *real* body, you wouldn't have to ask."
Wesley crosses his legs and remembers the facts. One, two, three, four. "If you were in your real body, I could recognize you quite easily."
A mock-pout. "You never want to play."
"I'm trying to reach Dawn."
A *real* pout, and the girl rolls into a stretch designed to show off, perhaps, far more natural assets than Dawn herself actually has. She runs her hands over her chest. "Couldn't I have wound up in a *good* body?"
Wesley represses the urge to defend Dawn's lithe athleticism, the graceful curve of her throat, the long, coltish legs. "We need Dawn --"
"Dawn, Dawn, Dawn. Christ." A glare. "Find her yourself."
Wesley whispers the charm before she can look away.
Wonders what sort of Slayer Melanie would have made, if her world missed her. If they knew her name.
Dawn's body wakes up with a tension Wesley can feel, even from across the bolted down table they have as a desk for Dawn's calmer tenants.
The growl is flat and purely animal, echoing off the walls of the chamber. Wesley gets up and out as quickly as he can, and listens, for a moment, to the sound of Dawn's body slamming against the padded walls.
Trying to get to him.
To get out.
They still don't know this one's name, or anything about her beyond her impressive rage. She could be from a universe where humanity didn't quite evolve. She could be a madwoman, activated by the same arbitrary power that has three quarters of *this* world's slayers hunting down the last quarter.
She could be anything at all, but she isn't Dawn.
He watches from behind the two-way mirror, and doesn't say a word when he feels Angel join him.
"Kara, Melanie, and the raving lunatic."
"Any ideas on how to get the others to keep her under control?"
Wesley shakes his head.
For a moment, Wesley considers telling a gentle half-truth, but then the nameless one picks up the laptop and throws it at the wall. And kicks it. And stomps on it. And screams -- soundless out here, but still vivid. Tendons showing on Dawn's throat, eyes closed and streaming angry tears. "I'm not altogether sure she's still in there."
Angel nods. "I'll tell Buffy we're still working on it."
And then he's gone, and Wesley waits.
The nameless one curls in on herself, gnawing at a bit of plastic casing before falling asleep.
Wesley retrieves a simple lunch from the cafeteria, and when he comes back, Dawn's body is slumped on the cot. She's gnawing at her fingers.
Wesley opens the door and the girl's eyes widen with something like raw need.
"Please, *please* tell me you have cigarettes. I will fucking blow your dead father for a cigarette. I will dye my hair *pink*. I will dance fucking naked --"
Wesley smiles despite himself. There's no question who this one is. "Beryl, my father's still alive."
"I will *kill him for you* --" And she's patting him down with an only partially exaggerated thoroughness.
Wesley pulls the pack of Camels from his shirt pocket, and tosses it to her. She makes an utterly unclassifiable noise and runs the cigarette over her upper lip, breathing dip and shaking a little.
He wonders about the passage of time inside Dawn's head.
He's a little afraid to ask how long it's been for Beryl, subjectively.
"You're a *god*," she says as he lights her cigarette, and then she flops back onto the bed and Wesley sits on the chair and watches her enjoy the cigarette with unselfconscious sensuality.
When she's halfway through, she blows a series of impressive smoke rings. Leans back and stretches her legs up against the wall, wiggling her toes.
Beryl is, of all of them, the most natural in Dawn's body. She said her own had been very similar.
"So. You want Dawn."
She winks at him. "Don't look so shocked. You *always* want Dawn. None of us are really talking to each other in there."
"But you're aware of each other."
"Yeah, but it's like..." She waves her hand, cigarette smoke painting patterns in the air. "It's like being in this big bunkhouse, and everyone works different hours. You see that chick's book, and that chick is always leaving her underwear on the floor, and *that* one never cleans up her dishes, but you don't actually *see* anyone."
Wesley nods. He'd suspected as much. "Do you think you could... leave a message for her?"
She frowns, and Wesley remembers a little girl wandering into the library after her sister, sent by her mother, face screwing up in frustration when Buffy hadn't introduced her, just shooed her right back out again.
"I can try," she says.
She helps him gather the pieces of the broken laptop.
Later, they play blackjack until Beryl starts getting sleepy.
She smiles at him ruefully, lifts her hand as if she wants to stroke his cheek, before curling it into a loose fist. "Wish I could tell you who it'll be next."
"I appreciate the sentiment."
She laughs. "You're cute." Yawns and passes out with the suddenness of a blow to the head.
Wesley waits, and when Dawn's body wakes up again, it's... the other one.
He's not even sure of its sex, much less its species.
As usual, it moves Dawn's body and stretches it and *studies* it like something truly alien.
The French is low and oddly accented, but Wesley can follow it easily enough.
What are you, why are you here, where am I...
Dawn's face crumples and her eyes weep. Wesley pulls the body into his arms and holds on.
This, too, is nothing new. Hot, damp skin pressed against his throat, long, slim fingers clutching at his clothes.
"I don't even know what you *are*..."
He doesn't ask about Dawn.
Eventually, he injects her body with a mild sedative. There's nothing he can learn here.
He stays close this time, stroking her hair away from her face, wondering if he'll be able to convince the next one to eat.
Beryl never wants to. Kara refuses to be poisoned. Jules only weeps. The nameless one... no one tries to get close enough to her to offer food.
Soon, they will have to find a way to feed her through an IV, and pray that the nameless one doesn't sabotage their efforts.
For now, Dawn is a loose-limbed sprawl of heat and muscle and bone, pared down to something like perfection.
He wishes he were an artist.
Her eyes open normally, and her mouth yawns.
"Hey, I know you."
Wesley's heart hammers in his chest. "Dawn? Are you...?"
She grins, young and easy and open. "Yeah. I guess it's been a while, hunh?"
Wesley hears himself laugh, and the sound is cracked. Shameful. "It... I should get the others."
She grabs his wrist. "No, stay. There's something you need to know."
"Dawn?" He remembers the way she'd walked into Wolfram and Hart, the smile on her face, the smile she had for Wesley and the frank appraisal. ("Faith *said* you got hot on us, but damn...") He remembers the way she'd been bleeding, *sweating* power. The way her body was periodically wracked with the pain of an unnatural birth trying to happen, another Slayer trying to force its way into the world through the body of the Key.
Pared down to nothing, and promising something like salvation, redemption with her eyes. With all of her.
When he comes back to himself, she's looking at him with nothing but solemnity. Her face much too young for that sort of thing, but the lives they led demanded it. She is nothing but herself, and Wesley can't stop staring. "Tell me."
She looks away for a moment before squeezing his wrist a little tighter. "This isn't going to work, Wes."
"You're here now, we can use this, find a way for you to get control --"
"Wes..." Her eyes are too sad to look at.
"Dawn, you have to know we can't just let you... fade."
"It's beautiful in there, Wes. You have no idea. It's like... falling into a well of power that just goes on and on and on. It's like looking into a thousand mirrors. It's like... I can't describe it. I am the doorway. God, it sounds so cheesy, but... I *am*. And if I just let go..."
He covers her hand with his own. "Dawn, don't."
"If I just let go, then everything falls into place. Maybe not back to where everything *comes* from, but back to where it all belongs. These iron walls... they're meaningless. All they're doing is stopping me from shaking apart."
"You say that like that's a *bad* thing."
A warm smile. "It's not. It's good. Here, I have the control I need to do what I have to do."
And he doesn't have the words for this, not even close, but he's terrified to leave her now. Of what will happen if he steps outside the wards for even just long enough to call Angel. He shakes his head, mute and helpless.
"You know why I spend so much time... away, Wes?"
"The others are afraid. All of them. When I'm not in control, they have this body, and even though it isn't theirs, it's still something familiar. They're afraid of what will happen when I set them free.
"When I set us all free."
He closes his eyes. Swallows. Focuses on something like control. "You can't know what will happen if you do, Dawn."
She giggles like a child. "I know."
And at first, it seems like nothing has changed. But then the hand beneath his own is abruptly insubstantial as smoke, and her eyes are shot through with green, and the air is full of voices and screams and shouts and laughter.
There's something pulling him, closer to the smoke of Dawn's form, yes, but also somewhere beyond. Into the green, into the power.
Into whatever life the Key thinks he should have.
Wesley lets go.