Dawn is the Key.
This is unquestionably true, and correct in all ways. However, dear reader, it is not necessarily so that the Key is in fact Dawn.
Dawn is merely part of the Key. A small, miniscule, annoying little speck of existence that occurs momentarily during the eons long existence of the Key. She means nothing, and in the very, very long run her efforts and those of her sister mean absolutely nothing.
At least, that’s what the Key keeps telling itself.
Why, o sage ones, why does it keep finding itself coming back to the brief life span of this annoying mayfly? What is it that so captivates the attention of a being that can move across time and space without causing a single ripple?
Presently (in so far as one can describe the moment) the Key is watching Dawn Summers at a critical junction point in her existence. Enveloped in her arms is a sobbing Kennedy, recently dumped by yet another girlfriend-that-wasn’t-Willow. And for the first time in her life, Dawn is now getting those special tingly feelings about another girl.
Tense moment, you’d think.
So, naturally enough, the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-clueless Key jumps straight in with great enthusiasm and zero sense of tact.
Suddenly, from Dawn’s viewpoint, all of space and time open up before her. Timelines appear before her, splintering off left, right and centre depending on her next move.
Does she kiss Kennedy now? Two hundred and forty seven different timelines spring into place (Two hundred and six, Kennedy pushes her away in shock. One hundred and eighty-six of those have Kennedy dying, distracted, in an ordinary vampire fight the week after.).
Does she say nothing; just cuddle the crying Kennedy closer? Seven hundred and twelve timelines, six hundred and eight of which Dawn never gets the courage up to say anything after that night.
Call Willow? Five timelines, three of which Willow never even picks up the phone.
Get Kennedy drunk? Two thousand, four hundred and sixty four timelines all depending on which bar they choose, the respective hotness of the other girls in there, and just how pissed off Dawn gets when Kennedy makes a move on one of them.
At this point in the Key’s happy enumeration of Dawn’s possible futures, there is what can only be described as a metaphorical cough and polite clearing of the throat from behind it.
And when that doesn’t get the Key’s attention, what occurs can also only be described as Dawn’s metaphorical boot meeting the Key’s equally metaphorical posterior.
“Oi!” says the clearly metaphorical and visibly annoyed Dawn Summers, “Stop that!”
The all-knowing Key was not expecting this. “Um...” it manages to come out with, displaying an unexpected mastery of verbal communications.
There is a slight tapping of one foot and a narrowing of the gaze that even the most experienced Slayer has been known to quail at in response to that. “I mean it. Stop with the mojo at once or you’ll be in sooo much trouble,” snarls Dawn.
The timeline multiplications stop, although the Key is starting to have a nasty suspicion that its own personal timeline is rapidly heading towards disaster-ville. Metaphorically, it blinks at the unexpected imagery it finds itself using and offers up a weak smile towards Dawn. “I was... trying to help...?”
“Uh-huh. Right. Because sudden fugue states of consciousness expansion while you’re consoling a close friend, and not so incidentally having a sexual orientation crisis at the same time, are always of the good.”
“Um... sarcasm, right? I’m not with this verbal communication very good yet.”
If anything, Dawn’s glower increases. “Communication in general not very good yet – or ever I’d bet,” she snaps, “Now, what the hell were you trying to do?”
“I’m the Key.”
“I know that. You’re me. So?”
“I’m not you. I could be, but I’m not you. But you won’t go away!” The last part of that sentence seemed to just burst out of the Key in a wail. The Key blinks again. So does Dawn.
“Oooookay,” Dawn says slowly. “You’re not-me at the moment, but you just decide to spring open all the doors to time and space in my head at that point for any particular thing? Or am I just having a psychotic break after suddenly realising I might like girls?”
“Oh, no no no!” the Key says hurriedly, “I’m real, you’re real and you do like girls or at least one certain one.”
Dawn pulls a sad face. “Am I real? I do wonder at times... But I suppose if the voice in my head is telling me I’m real....”
And in a feat previously unknown in history, dear reader, the Key is speechless. “But I... but you... the whole... we...real! Real!” Metaphorical babbling is not a pretty sight.
And in a way that feels oddly familiar to both Dawn and the Key, the Key finds itself glowering back at Dawn. “You! You’re just playing Devil’s Advocate again!”
Dawn smirks. “Call that a little payback for what you just put me through. Which, by the way, you still haven’t explained.”
“You were hurting and confused,” the Key says sulkily, “So I decided to show you your options.”
Dawn considers it for a moment. “That was unexpectedly kind, though you took it way, way too far,” she eventually says, causing the Key to fall on its metaphorical ass in surprise.
Somehow, the all-powerful Key finds itself being loomed over by the puny mortal mayfly. “However well-intentioned,” Dawn begins, “don’t even think about doing that to me again or I will find you somehow and bring along my big old metaphorical stick for company. Comprendez?”
And just like that, Dawn finds herself back in that ordinary flat, in an ordinary world with an extra-ordinary girl in her arms, and just knows the whole thing has been over and done in a millisecond.
And elsewhen, the Key picks herself up, dusts herself off and stomps off into the metaphorical distance of space and time, muttering darkly to herself. How long will it be, o sage ones, before the Key realises she now thinks of herself as female?
And as for Dawn and Kennedy, let us eavesdrop one last time upon them.
“*sniff* You okay, Dawn-y? You seemed a million miles away for a moment then.”
“Heh. Closer than you think, honey. I was just... arguing with myself.”
“Oh? Who won?”
“Oh, I did. Naturally. But you know what, I think I’m gonna take option E – none of the above.”
“The one option that never, ever came up.”
“You’re losing me, Dawn-y.”
“Oh, I really hope not, Ken but... there’s something I’ve got to tell you about my past. About why Buffy and the Scoobies treat me like they do at times.”
“But we all know about the whole Key-stuff.”
“Not all of it. I think I need you to know the whole truth about me.”
“Once upon a time, there was a little girl who wasn’t there....”