Chapter Seventy Two: Final Chapter
Buffy looked at Tara. "Can you tell? Is it really Dawn or is it something from the Hellmouth trying to fool us?"
"Something!" said Dawn. "I'm not a something, I'm me!"
"I think..." began Tara uncertainly as she stared intently at the new arrival. To her Whitelighter enhanced witch-sight Dawn seemed to be surrounded by a mist of some sort. But as Dawn stood in front of them the mist quickly thinned and disappeared, giving Tara a clear view not just of the young woman stood in front of them but of her individually distinctive aura.
"Yes, I'm sure. It really is Dawn, our Dawn," said Tara with a big smile.
Buffy waited no longer. She stepped forward and embraced her sister. Dawn of course hugged her sister back. A few moments later Buffy stepped back and stared into Dawn's eyes, searching for any indication that there was something wrong.
"Are you alright?" asked Buffy. "Are you yourself? You're not going to be magicked away again by this Key business are you?"
"I'm fine," said Dawn. "I think my connection to the Key's finally over. I don't think I'll be going anywhere again. The Key's done its job and it's shut down again."
"You think?" queried Buffy. "But you don't know?"
"No, I don't know for sure," said Dawn. "You're the one with the prophecy dreams, you and some of the others. Me, I don't even know what I'm gonna have for dinner this evening. But since the Key is only generally active at intervals of several centuries and the current crisis has passed I think we're pretty safe in assuming that everything will remain quiet for a long time to come.
"Do you know what happened to the Hellmouth, the new Hellmouth?" asked Anya. "Is it going to open up and send out lots of new demons to kill us all?"
"Do you know if anything has already gotten out of the Hellmouth?" asked Amy. "And if so what?"
"How did you get back here sweetie?" asked Tara. "Did you come through the Hellmouth yourself?"
Giles held up his hands in an effort to quiet the gathering hubbub. "Perhaps we can all go upstairs and give Dawn a chance to tell us her story without everybody speaking at once," he said. "That is if it's safe to leave this place unguarded," he added with a look at Dawn and a glance down at the floor where the opening to the Hellmouth had been.
"It'll be OK," said Dawn. "Nothing's gonna come out of that Hellmouth now."
"Before we do anything else I think we should show our visitors off the premises. We don't want to give them any information or let them overhear anything," said Faith with a nod towards the Wolfram and Hart gathering. This was still in animated discussion about its own concerns.
Such was the nature of Wolfram and Hart that every one in that group, including most definitely Lilah Morgan, was personally concerned to make sure that no part of the blame for failure fell upon them. From the Wolfram and Hart point of view a plan which had consumed enormous time and resources seemed to have completely failed.
But before Faith could put into practice her intention to evict the unwanted guests Xander came down the stairs into the room.
"Hey Captain," said Xander to the officer in command of the SGC team as he reached the bottom of the staircase. "You'd better go topside. There's a big kerfuffle going on out there between your General Hammond and that Colonel Maybourne."
"Kerfuffle?" said Kennedy. "Is that a word?"
Buffy walked towards Xander. "What exactly is happening..." she began but Xander put his finger to his lips to indicate quiet.
"I'll explain in a minute," he said quietly.
"I'd better go outside and report to the General," said the Captain. "With the Stargate gone there doesn't seem to be any reason for my team to stay here." He signalled to his men and women and they followed him up the stairs.
Buffy watched the military unit depart then turned to Xander with raised eyebrows.
"The Stargate's gone?" asked Xander. "What happened?"
We'll explain all that upstairs," said Buffy. "There's a lot of explaining to do once we've seen the back of Wolfram and Hart. Until they're gone we're not going to discuss anything."
"I'll take care of them," said Wesley who went over to speak to Lilah Morgan.
Eventually everybody was upstairs in the meeting room. Everybody that is except the Wolfram and Hart people and the SGC unit who had now left the premises. Giles had gone outside and spoken briefly to General Hammond and agreed to a meeting two days later to discuss what had happened. Having been assured that all danger was past and there was no longer a Stargate to protect the General had agreed to arrange for the departure of all of the military from Sunnydale including those under the command of Colonel Maybourne.
"I just thought it was a good opportunity to get shot of the military," said Xander. "It was so funny watching that Colonel and his men try to get past Willow's protections. Every time they tried something they got turned around and went the other way, or that's what it looked like. So sending out the General's men to join him means they're locked out as well unless we let them in again. We have our own place to ourselves again."
"Sounds like you've got a really good warding spell on this place," said Phoebe to Willow.
"It must be if it keeps out ordinary humans," said Paige. "A warding spell doesn't generally do that."
"We based it on the way things work for vampires," said Willow with a smile for Tara alongside her which Tara returned. "Anybody can come in, but only if they're properly invited. Otherwise they can huff and puff as much as they like, they won't get in. Not unless we open things up because we want to trap them like we did for a few 'visitors' a while back. If they're not invited they just get messed around until they don't know if they're coming or going."
"But it's better than the vamps," said Tara. "If they're not on the approved list like everybody who's here now they need a new invite every time."
"Anyway, Maybourne and his people were having a lot of fun until the General and his people arrived in helicopters. Like he did last time," said Xander. "He really doesn't like that Colonel Maybourne does he?"
"Nobody likes Colonel Maybourne," said Phoebe remembering back to when she had met the man. "And for good reason."
"OK, that's the soldier boys and Wolfram and Hart taken care of," said Anya. "But what about the Hellmouth? Are we gonna get an invasion of demons up from below to kill us all in our beds one dark night? Is it properly shut down? Does anybody know what's happening?"
"And has anything or anybody got out already while we were all in stasis?" asked Fred nervously.
Dawn looked around the group as they fell silent and looked to her for answers. "OK, this is what happened, or what I know about what happened anyway."
Dawn explained about her appearance on another Kallistien after she had disappeared from their Kallistien. She told them what had happened to her and about the time and space jumps to other wheres and whens and how, with Vala she had finally broken out of the sequence.
"Did you have a picture painted for a book or something?" asked Buffy. "Because we saw a picture of you in this old book. We thought you'd gone back in time and left the picture as a message to us."
"I don't remember that," said Dawn. "If somebody put a picture of me in a book I didn't have anything to do with it."
"But does all this mean you're not the Key after all," asked Willow. "You're just one of the Keepers of the Key?"
"I don't know," said Dawn. "When I was right there in the mix I think I understood all that. I knew all about the Key, what is was for, where it came from what had happened to it. But I don't any more. Right now I'm Dawn and nothing and nobody else. As far as I'm concerned that's the way I want it to stay."
"Anyway after I got back to our Kallistien everything seemed to be working out right. The Key expanded its energy so that the witch planet was protected and hidden from the Goa'uld. The Gate network was being put back in its proper position," continued Dawn. "But there was one problem."
Dawn explained about their Earth being connected to the wrong hell dimension through the new Hellmouth. "I don't know how it happened but somebody or something caused a change, an important change."
"Wolfram and Hart," said Angel. "It must have been."
"Always with the double-cross," said Gunn. "I knew Lilah Morgan was up to something. All that agreement about working together was just another scam."
"But what do you mean a different hell dimension?" asked Xander. "Does it mean we get a better class of Demon? Monsters who wash their tentacles after eating people?"
"It might have meant a merger of the Earth and the hell dimension," said Leo. "There could have been some sort of cosmic imbalance and one or the other or even both could have been destroyed. But even if the Earth survived and the hell dimension was destroyed we would almost certainly have had to deal with a whole host of unfamiliar types of demon invading our world."
"Like Satan," said Dawn. "The demon in charge called himself Satan."
"Satan!" said Anya. "You mean we're linked to Satan's Hell-world. We can't survive that."
"Actually we can, we are," said Dawn. "The link is there, we're still OK and I think we'll stay OK."
"Perhaps you'd better continue your story," said Giles to Dawn.
"When I was in the mix with the Key and the other Keepers I knew a lot more, so sorry if this is all rather incomplete," said Dawn. "Anyway I decided I had to do something so I sort of jumped across to the new Hellmouth as it linked up, don't ask me how."
"Was it you who pulled the Stargate into the Hellmouth?" asked Fred.
"I don't think so," said Dawn. "Or if I did it wasn't deliberate. I think it was just some sort of energy attraction thing. But it was handy for me that it was there. I don't think I could have done what I did without it. The energy it supplied was a uh..."
"A godsend?" suggested Jenny.
Dawn shrugged and looked at the Whitelighter. "You're the angel. You'd know more about that sort of thing than me."
"But what exactly did you do?" asked Kennedy. "Come on. For goodness sake get to the point. What happened?"
Dawn smiled. "What did I do? I put a plug in the Hellmouth to block it up."
"How do you plug a Hellmouth?" asked Faith.
"And how long will the plug stay put?" asked Buffy.
"Buffy, Giles, you remember how the Master was stuck in the original Hellmouth when you first came to Sunnydale?" said Dawn. "He sort of blocked it up like a cork in a bottle."
Giles and Buffy nodded. "Uhuh," said Buffy.
"That's what gave me the idea," said Dawn. "I figured I needed to find somebody powerful like the Master to act as a cork. I thought I'd have to be the cork myself but then I saw Satan on the way to the Hellmouth and I just knew he'd be perfect."
"When you say Satan," began Xander. "Do you mean the actual Satan as in Devil, Beelzebub and so on?"
"There are a lot of Demon Lords who use the name Satan," said Leo. "Or one of the other names for the Devil. They think it makes them more powerful. But of course it doesn't. I'm pretty sure this can't be the original Satan."
"So you explained what you had in mind to this particular Satan and he kindly agreed to act as a cork," said Giles.
"Well not exactly no," said Dawn. "That wasn't what he had in mind. He was gonna come up here and do all sorts of nasty demon things I suppose. I sort of drafted him into becoming the cork. It was all a matter of timing. The Master got trapped because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I just had to distract Satan for long enough to make sure he arrived at just the right place at just the right time and then it all happened."
"The power of the Hellmouth, the power of the Key coming through the Stargate and all that. It just seemed to be the exact right moment," said Dawn. "But don't ask me for more details because I don't have any. It all made sense at the time but I can't explain it any better than that."
"I never really understood how the Master was trapped," said Buffy. "Don't worry about it."
"Can you explain how you ended up on our side of the Hellmouth if you were on the other side with Satan when it was all blocked up?" asked Prue. "Are you able to orb now?"
"I don't know how," said Dawn. "I just wanted to be here and I was here. Something to do with my link to the Key I guess. I don't know about orbing, but I don't think it was the same thing. I just knew how to do it but I can't seem to remember now the Key's shut down again."
"But are you sure, really sure, that nothing got through before the Hellmouth was plugged?" asked Anya.
"Quite sure," said Dawn. "I distracted Satan by talking to him. I tried to get him annoyed with me."
"However did you manage that?" said Buffy sarcastically.
Dawn stuck out her tongue at her sister who smiled back at her. "Anyway I know he hadn't let anything go into the Hellmouth ahead of him. He wanted to be the first through."
"So it's come full circle then," said Giles. "When we first came to Sunnydale the Hellmouth was blocked by a powerful demon. Now we have another Hellmouth blocked up by another powerful demon. Quite neat really."
"Almost as if somebody designed things that way," said Tara quietly to Willow alongside her.
"Somebody like..." asked Willow just as quietly.
Tara shrugged. "I've no idea. But Wolfram and Hart tried to pull a double cross. That might have enabled somebody high up on our side to intervene quietly. Who knows? I'm just guessing. I don't expect we'll ever know."
"So how long will this cork in the bottle stay there?" asked Xander. "I'm thinking big bad Satan is gonna be trying to break through, just like the Master did. Is there some sort of time limit like there was for the Master?"
"He can try but he won't succeed, not for oh, thousands and thousands of years," said Dawn. "One day in the far distant future he might just break out. But if he does it won't do him any good and it won't be a problem for whoever is living here then."
"Why not?" asked Buffy.
"That's where the Stargate comes in handy," said Dawn. "It's something extra that wasn't part of the Hellmouth when the Master was trapped. If Satan eventually breaks free he can only go back the way he came or he has to go through the Stargate. There's no third alternative. The Stargate is now part of the Hellmouth. Anybody opens the Hellmouth they open the Stargate."
"And going through that Stargate would take him where?" asked Buffy.
"Right back to his old hell dimension, although he doesn't know it," laughed Dawn. "But anyway as I said he won't be going anywhere for a very long time. He's a lot more powerful than the Master and that means he makes a much better cork."
"I hope the General appreciates that the Stargate has gone for good," said Xander. "We don't want anybody trying to dig it up."
"That wouldn't be possible anyway," said Dawn. "As it is it's no longer part of our dimension."
"I get the impression from the General that the sooner his world of science and high-tech is completely separated from our world of magic and demons the better he will like it," said Giles. "There's no need for us to tell him about a trapped Demon Lord."
At a meeting two days later at Stargate Command Giles, Buffy and Prue explained to the General and the SG-1 team what had happened. Or rather they gave an edited version of what had happened. To make sure that neither the SGC nor anybody else decided to come looking for the Sunnydale Stargate they explained that it had been destroyed and no longer existed, which for all practical purposes is what had happened. The SGC accepted this since all their computers told them that there was no longer any such Stargate.
Buffy insisted that Dawn and her abilities and connections not be mentioned at all so the explanation was somewhat different to the actual events. The SG people realised that the explanation was not complete but they wanted to minimise or avoid references to magic, witches and demons in their reports so they did not press. All concerned agreed to go their separate ways unless the SGC encountered something that seemed to be in the domain of the magic users or vice versa.
"What about the witches who were captured by the Goa'uld?" asked Prue. "Don't you need help to get them free or to fight them if they're now working for the other side?"
"Hopefully not," said Sam Carter. "We have received information that they've freed themselves and are on the way back here in a captured Goa'uld ship."
"Well give us a call when you know their arrival time. We'll standby in case the Goa'uld are trying to pull a Trojan Horse on you," said Prue. "That is if you want our help?"
"We've already taken precautions with that in mind," said General Hammond. "But your assistance would of course be very welcome just in case."
In the event the return of the captured witches went off smoothly, without the need to deal with any sort of Goa'uld plot. The biggest headache for the SG people was making sure that the returned witches did not reveal the secret of the Stargate programme.
"OK grandma," said Dawn to the elderly woman sitting at the table across from her in the cafe. "That's the whole story as far as I can remember it. Now perhaps you can tell me what all this has to do with the Guardians."
"You must have felt us and our connection to you when you needed help?" said Grandma. "I definitely had reports from a number of places while you were away."
"That was you guys?" asked Dawn. "You really did help me to keep separate from the Key and all the others?"
"We didn't know exactly what was going on," said Grandma. "But we know you needed help and we used our own power sources to provide it."
"But I thought the Guardians were meant to help the Slayer," said Dawn. "I'm not a Slayer, or at least not any more."
"But you are a Guardian," said Grandma. "And we help our own. How could we do any good if we didn't stick together? But I'm astonished to hear that we were able to hear you and reach you so far away."
"Good job you did," said Dawn. "I hope you never need to do something like that again."
"I'm sure we won't," said Grandma. "I expect the next Apocalypse will be much worse."
For an instant Dawn became very worried, but then she saw that her Grandmother was smiling.
"But even if it is I'm sure we'll rally round and deal with it," said Grandma. "But for now how are you getting on back at school..."