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Time passed slowly, here. Concepts such as day and night did not exist. Ideals such as a body, friends, school...did not exist, here. "Here" didn't even exist. Here wasn't a place. It was a state of mind. A state of being. Of consciousness.

It was here she existed, in her pure form. Her true form. She had no body; no fingers or toes. No eyes with which to see. No ears to hear. No mouth.

She was energy. Unchecked, she could destroy the barriers between worlds. She knew her power. She controlled it. She knew, without being told, what her purpose was. She could sense it, as she could sense everything.

Idle flashes of memory stirred within her, but were allowed to pass unnoticed. Glory was no longer a threat to her, but Another was waiting. She could never be truly free as long as Others desired her power. There was no peace. No rest. Unending vigil to keep the balances in check between the worlds. The demons and the gods. The living worlds and those who would obliterate them. She would wish them gone, but that would upset the balance. It was not her place. She kept the balance; she did not destroy it.

The Other was coming. She focused her thoughts, but found them returning to the other place. The other time. The Life.

The battle was long and fierce. The assembled army was no more than children, weakened by the one Glory touched. But determined. They would not lose their world to Glory. They would not see their decent to darkness. The Chosen One was badly damaged, as were the others. Curious that demons and creatures would join the fight against Glory, but all seemed centered around the Chosen One. All were willing to die for her; to die with her, if it meant saving their world. The Key was protected at all costs. The Key was everything. The Key was...not everything.

As she watched the battle; the battle to save her, she saw love, determination, fear, and passion from the little army. They would not fail. They could not fail. The battle was joined, and the little army looked like they might win. Then one by one, they fell. The man-boy. The ex-demon. The vampire. The Watcher. The vampire with a soul. The werewolf. The witch. Then, the Slayer.

She watched it all through impassioned eyes. In this form, she had not harmed another. As she walked toward Glory, she bent to take an axe out of the vampire's hand. It was slick with his own blood, but she did not notice. She hefted it; testing its weight. The goddess limped toward her, weak but still powerful.

At the first swing of the axe, she dug deep into the goddess' torso. Glory screamed as the Key tore the axe out and swung again. Bright, streaming light burst from the deep wound and surrounded them. She lifted the axe high above her head and swung down as hard as she could on the goddess' head. The light intensified as Glory's skull was penetrated. The air seemed to wrap around itself, and the goddess screamed her fury as she was returned to her own world.

Stillness.

A dull thud as the axe slipped from her nerveless fingers onto the dirt.

A low moan.

Dawn blinked and turned toward the last sound. Her eyes swept over the broken bodies of her friends, but focused on her sister, lying closest to her.

Blood soaked the blonde hair and streaked her face. Dawn sank to her knees by her sister's side, tears spilling down her cheeks. She couldn't believe what they'd just done to protect her. She'd watched the whole fight, terrified to move from her slight protection in the RV. Called herself every terrible name she could think of. She cowered, while they fought for her. Maybe even gave their lives for her.

Against her will, she turned her eyes toward Oz and Willow. They'd stood side by side, no more awkwardness between them. Only the battle was remembered. Xander and Anya lay in some twisted parody of a cuddle. Xander - her first crush - ran to get to Anya in time, but he was too late. Glory's fist stopped both of them. Giles managed to get a choke hold on Glory, but she shook him off like water droplets, then slammed her heel into his stomach. He didn't move after that. Angel, who appeared literally out of thin air, joined the battle unasked to do some serious damage with Spike, but even two vampires couldn't compete against Glory's power. And Buffy. Buffy, who fought with the last ounce of strength. Buffy, who promised everything would be all right. Promised that she would be protected. But didn't promise she would be alive at the end of the battle.

She squeezed her eyes shut, took a deep breath, and screamed.

Dawn gasped as her eyes flew open. All she saw was a dirty wall, and she scrambled away from it.

"You all right, Bit?"

She spun around, wild-eyed, at hearing Spike's question. He was dead. She'd seen him crumpled and broken among the others, with only an hour until sunrise. She didn't have the strength to pull him inside. She didn't have the strength to do anything. Yet there he sat, crouched next to an unconscious Buffy.

She licked her dry, cracked lips. "Is she all right?"

Spike settled back against the wall, wincing as he stretched out his leg. "Yeah, she'll recover. Took a nasty bump when the bitch tossed her. Slammed pretty good into a rock. I don't think anything's broken, though."

She nodded and stood up. She didn't tell him about her dream. It wasn't the first she had like it. They all said the same thing; that she was evil, and had to be destroyed to save the world. She didn't want to believe they were true. Couldn't believe they were true. She didn't want to be something evil. She didn't want to be the cause of everyone else's death.

Her voice shook a little as she asked, "Xander? Giles?" She grabbed a candy bar out of Anya's knapsack to hide her nervousness.

Spike wouldn't have noticed anyway; his eyes were closed. "Xan and Anya are sleeping. Giles is resting in the other room. He finally quieted down." His eyes opened and locked on hers. "He should be fine, Little Bit," he assured her softly.

She nodded again, too busy eating to answer. She pointed the Snicker at his leg, and he shrugged.

"Bitch remembered which knee she messed up before, and hit it again. Hurts like hell, but I'll be good to go in a few hours." He took a swig out of a plasma bag. "The real stuff helps, too." His blood-reddened lips parted in a smile, and Dawn found herself smiling back.

Her smile faded as he added, "We'll all head out at sunset, back to Sunnydale."

Her eyes widened in fear. "Back? We can't go back. Glory's waiting for us there."

He tilted his head at her curiously. "We just sent the bitch back to her dimension. You're safe."

She shook her head slowly. It couldn't be that easy. You don't dispense of a god by beating her up a few times, witch or not.

Before she could form a protest, a breach in her energy slammed her back to the current threat. The Other wasn't as strong as Glory, but it was strong enough. Energy pulsed and flickered, but did not disappear. She would not disappear. Too many lives had been lost in her protection. She would not fail.

She finished the candy bar and went to stand by Xander. The desert shimmered in the distance, just like she remembered from trips with dad when she was younger. Only she wasn't younger, and he wasn't her dad.

"Anything happening?" she asked to avoid her own thoughts.

"Hey, munchkin," Xander murmured as he put his arm around her shoulders. "Not a thing so far. Willow's spell must have sent Glory to the other side of the world. By the time she gets back, we'll be in Canada."

She didn't remember a spell. Didn't really remember the fight. She studied his profile, marred only by a scratch across his cheek. Fear coiled in her stomach as she asked, "Xander, how badly do you think we hurt her?"

"We kicked her ass," he quipped, but without a smile. "We barely mussed a hair out of place. Not even Willow..." His arm tightened around her, and he didn't finish his sentence. "We'll find a way to kill her. Buffy always knows how to kill the bad guys."

A visible shudder went through her. In all her dreams, everyone else died except Glory. Glory was the one left standing at the end of the fight. Glory was the one that stood above the broken bodies, relieved that it was over.

Only in her last dream, Dawn stood among the dead, relieved the fighting was over. Mourning the losses. Killing Glory.

Was it up to her? Did she have to be the one to kill Glory? How could she do that, when not even Spike and Buffy, two of the most powerful people she knew, could even cause a scratch on the goddess? The worst damage they'd done so far was ruining a few of Glory's clothes.

Pain. She was not supposed to feel pain. The Other was stronger than she realized. Her protectors were doing the best they could, but they were losing. Energy pulsed and flickered, but did not disappear. She would not disappear. Too many lives had been lost in her protection. She would not fail.

Dawn sank to her knees by her sister's side, tears spilling down her cheeks. She pushed the blood-soaked hair off the bruised face, but didn't touch her more than that. She couldn't tell if Buffy was still breathing or not. She didn't want to know. Didn't want to think.

She cowered while Buffy fought for her. While they all fought for her. Maybe her dreams were right. Maybe she was evil. Maybe she was a curse. She didn't deserve to live if she let things like this happen.

She heard a noise, and looked around. Through tear-blurred eyes, she saw the form of Glory standing up from the remains of the building she had been tossed into, courtesy of Willow's magic. They stared at each other, across the broken bodies of Dawn's family. Then Glory was moving.

Dawn slowly stood up. Her back straight. Her head high. Her gaze fierce. She may look fourteen years old, but she was a fucking Key with the power to open the doors to all the dimensions. She had the power to destroy everything that existed. She could stand up to one goddess.

As she walked toward Glory, she bent to take an axe out of Spike's hand. It was slick with his blood, but she didn't notice. She hefted it; testing its weight. The goddess limped toward her, weak but still powerful.

At the first swing of the axe, she dug deep into the goddess' torso. Glory screamed as the Key tore the axe out and swung again. Bright, streaming light burst from the deep wound and surrounded them. She lifted the axe high above her head and swung down as hard as she could on the goddess' head. The light intensified as Glory's skull was penetrated. The air seemed to wrap around itself, and the goddess screamed her fury as she was returned to her own world.

Stillness.

A dull thud as the axe slipped from her nerveless fingers onto the dirt.

A soft thump as Dawn's knees hit the same dirt. It was over. Glory was gone. All her friends were gone. Her family was gone. Buffy was gone.

She squeezed her eyes shut, took a deep breath, and screamed.

Her energy danced and sparked, furious at the Chosen One's fate. She did not ask for the Key, yet she protected it with her life. No motives; no expectations. Just protecting the one she loved. Protecting her sister. Even when the Chosen One knew she wasn't her sister, and their friends found out, they still protected her. Not the Key, but her. The human form. Dawn. The sacrifice touched her. Made her feel, even though she didn't feel in this form.

She cried out as pain lanced through her. Glory smirked and hit her again, blood smearing her hand. The goddess licked it, and her smirk blossomed to an unholy smile.

She scrambled away from Glory, though she had nowhere to run. She watched Glory slaughter her friends one by one. She had no one left to save her. Her jaw and cheek hurt where Glory punched her. Her tears stung the wounds. Who would create such a thing as her, with the power to destroy worlds? What kind of evil controlled her? Whatever happened to the concept of free will? What happened to choices? If she'd been a rock, okay, she wouldn't be having this discussion with herself. But the monks made her human. That had to mean something.

You cannot use me. Why that thought popped into her head at that moment, she didn't know, but she repeated it. You cannot use me. She set it up as a chant in her head, and when Glory advanced on her again, she glared up at the goddess and said out loud, "You cannot use me."

Glory just laughed. "You're my ticket home. Of course I'm going to use you."

Dawn pushed herself to her feet. Everything within in her screamed the chant, and she started saying it aloud in an unending litany.

She heard Glory's words, but they didn't mean anything. "Listen, you little bitch, you're my Key, and I'm using you to get home. And there's nothing you or anyone else in this pathetic dimension can do to stop me."

Dawn closed her eyes and continued chanting.

"Shut up!" Glory screamed, and grabbed Dawn's arms.

Dawn's eyes flew open, a thousand suns blazing from their depths. She was no longer the teenager Dawn, but the Key, and she knew her destiny. "I sever your ties with this dimension." She reached up and tore the cross she always wore from around her neck, and slammed it into the goddess' chest. "I imprison thee for eternity inside this vessel. Your power is no longer absolute. Restore that which does not belong to you, and be banished for the rest of your existence."

Her entire body trembled, and sweat poured down her face. She stared up at Glory, whose expression didn't change.

"Did you honestly think that little speech was going to do something? I'm a god. You can't stop a god. No one can."

Dawn wiped her free hand across her face, smearing blood across the palm. She placed her hand over the cross on Glory's chest and smiled up at her. "Oops, I forgot something. Think it will work now?"

Glory screamed her fury as her body contorted. "You can't do this to me! I'm a god! I am an idol to be worshipped!"

Wind kicked up and swirled around the goddess, drawing her into a tighter and tighter space. "You're my Key! You're supposed to send me home! No, you b-" Her tirade was cut off as the last of the goddess' energy faded into the cross Dawn how held.

She no longer sensed the Other's presence. Her energy was weak, but steady. She did not disappear. She did not fail.

Dawn sank to her knees by her sister's side, tears spilling down her cheeks. She pushed the blood-soaked hair off the bruised face and called her sister's name.

The head underneath her hand stirred, and Dawn choked on her sobs of relief. Gray eyes filled with pain tried to focus on hers.

"Dawn?" Buffy's voice was weak and raspy.

She stroked Buffy's hair, not caring about the blood. Nothing mattered except her sister was alive. "I'm here. You're going to be okay now. Glory's gone. I took care of her."

Her sister's eyes focused, then. "You?"

Her voice shook. "Later. Right now I have to get an ambulance. I don't know - I don't know," she couldn't say it. She didn't want to check everyone else to see if they were alive or not. She wanted to hold onto her fantasy for a little while longer. "Will you be okay if I leave you to find a phone? I don't want to leave you, but I need to get you help."

"Go," Buffy whispered. Her eyes closed and she sighed brokenly.

Dawn made a move to leave, but something stopped her. Something made her ask, "Buffy, will you be here when I get back?"

The eyes didn't open this time, and the answer was weaker than the other three. "Promise."

Tears rolled down Dawn's cheeks as she bent her head to kiss her sister's forehead. Too late, she noticed the spreading pool of blood from underneath Buffy's body. The awkward twist of her back. The unnatural bend of her legs. She ran her hands down Buffy's hair, just like she used to do for her. Like mom used to do for both of them.

A very soft, "Bugger all in hell," drifted on the wind, but she didn't stop petting Buffy's hair. As long as she did that, she was fine. She didn't have to think. Didn't have to feel. Didn't have to believe.

She knew Spike was watching her. She could feel his eyes on her. Her and Buffy. She couldn't look at him just yet. If she did, then she would remember that he would survive this no matter how badly hurt he was, but the rest might not. The rest were only human.

A broken, aching cry filled the air; one that echoed the tightness in her chest. More tears spilled down her face. Spike's wail only brought it to the surface. Made it more real.

She jumped as a shaking, bloody hand joined hers on Buffy's head. She'd long stopped petting her hair, instead just letting her hand rest on the once blonde locks.

She turned enough to see Spike's face; bruised, cut and wet with blood tears. She never saw a vampire cry before. Somehow, bloody tears seemed appropriate. Blood was everywhere, from everyone. Why not blood to express grief? Right now, to her, the only things that existed were blood, her and Spike. All she had left in the world. All that was left of the world.

"Buffy." The name was dragged from a strangled throat, and came from neither Dawn nor Spike. "Oh, God, Buffy..." Angel's hand joined theirs on Buffy's head, the flesh rent to expose most of his bones.

It was her undoing. Dawn yanked her hand back and ran to throw up somewhere that wasn't covered by her friend's bodies. Then the screaming started. Long, loud, anguished sounds she couldn't stop. Couldn't control. She stayed on her knees for an eternity; for a split second, before an arm draped over her and pulled her back against a solid chest. She accepted the comfort only because she was too exhausted to protest. She had no energy left. No will to live. Nothing.

Spike's words washed over her, but didn't have any meaning. They were just words. "You're coming with us to LA. There's - there's nothing left for any of us here. Angel said he's got a hotel, big enough for us to stay in. I'll protect you. We'll be your family from now on."

Family. Against her will, she turned her eyes toward Oz and Willow. Someone was kneeling at Willow's side, cradling her head in her lap. Tara. Tara, with her shattered wrist and shattered mind, both of which were Dawn's fault. Dawn was the Key. Glory wanted the Key. Glory killed everyone standing between her and the Key. Dawn killed Glory. Dawn wounded Tara.

She pulled out of Spike's embrace and walked over to Tara. She knelt and tried to choke out, "I'm sorry," but her throat closed up.

Tara was murmuring and rocking back and forth slightly. It sounded like nonsense to Dawn, but she had a feeling it was something important.

Then Tara's head snapped up and she locked gazes with Dawn. "Thank you for saving me from that hell," she whispered brokenly.

Dawn felt nausea coursing through her again. "What? How can you thank me? Willow..."

Tears streaked Tara's dirty face, but she attempted to smile. "Willow is...gone. But I'm whole again. I heard your chant. I heard your command. Part of me wanted to stop you, the part that was connected to Glory, but the rest of me sent you every last bit of strength I had. And I felt - I felt Willow, too. She helped with the binding spell. It should hold for eternity. Willow's last gift to me." Her hand stroked Willow's hair, just like Dawn did for Buffy.

"I'm so sorry," Dawn whispered. "I never wanted this to happen. I can't - I can't..."

Tara shushed her. "Dawn, it's all right. We did what had to be done. We wanted to protect you. We wanted to do this."

"You wanted to die?" she blurted out.

"We wanted you to live," Tara corrected gently. "Now I think it's time for you to go."

Dawn followed Tara's line of sight. Spike was holding onto Angel, barely able to stand. They were both looking at her expectantly.

"I don't want to leave," she whispered. "This is my home." Her gaze drifted to Buffy's body. "This is my family."

"Your family is who you make it. They can protect you," Tara stated matter-of-factly. "With Glory gone, your existence should remain secret. Glory's minions disappeared when she did, and her victims were restored with your incantation. No one here would harm you."

She bit her lip, trying to stop her tears. "Then why can't I stay?"

Tara's voice was gentle; soothing. "Because this is not your home. Your home is where your family is."

"My home is here. My family is here," she whispered. "I exist here."

You exist where you wish.

It wasn't spoken, but felt. So she repeated, "I exist here."

Stillness.

It was over.

She stood and walked over to the vampires, and put her arm around Spike's shoulders to help him walk.

Others would not bother her for her lifespan here. Others would not be able to locate her. She would be safe, here. She would create a new family with Angel, Spike, Cordelia, Wesley and Gunn.

She would live and honor her other family's memories.

But she would live.

The End