“Blood Ties,” by Michael Gershman
Holey Hellmouth, Vampfans, Buffy’s twenty! That’s not quite a Slayer record—I think Nikki Woods lived to be twenty-two—but it’s still very impressive, don’t you think?
Joyce totally does. She is basking in the warm glow of no longer being seriously ill, and naturally enough wants to throw her hard-working eldest a party. Buffy, on the other hand, isn’t sure it’s a good idea to take any focus away from the Glory hunt. She expresses this concern to the gang. They wisely advocate partying hard and working smarter, by homing in on the thing that would seem to be their one potential tactical advantage when fighting a deity.
Which is? Beating Glory to the nifty-sounding Key thing she’s after.
Giles and Buffy try to distract everyone from this juicy if obvious topic, but when that doesn’t work, they ’fess up about having the Key all handily tucked away in the care of the public school system. Maybe truth’s not such a good idea, but Buffy’s not willing to keep lying to her friends-slash-team about who they’ll be risking their lives for this spring.
At this point, despite having apparently heard Joyce, Giles and Buffy talking about her being said Keylike object, Dawn hasn’t quite come ’round to the truth. She knows something’s up, and has been lurking about trying to overhear more. Now, when she turns up at the Magic Box and the newly clued in XandAnya act discomfited by her mere existence, she decides enough is enough. Time to go into active sleuth mode!
The Knights of Byzantium also have the Key on their collective tiny minds, and are praying to find it and kill it (praying, as opposed to searching for and attacking it) when Glory’s minions show up to help them practice their kickin’ sword moves. And then die. This goes awry, because the knights are all brawn and the minions are... well, are they all brain? They’re not fighters, by any stretch. But they have Glory, and she’s happy to come mop up the victors. She kills everyone but Orlando (whose name is Middle Byzant for “defeated by everyone”) and drags him off to her place for torture. When it turns out he knows nothing, she sucks out the part of his consciousness that binds his sense of self. Or something like that. It’s what Giles said she’s been doing to the easily captured minimum-wage earners of Sunnydale.
Against Buffy’s better judgment, the birthday celebration occurs, and to her surprise it’s mostly enjoyable. Nobody turns evil, nobody turns to a Fiorl demon and the Watcher’s Council, having recently been put in their place, sends an empowering bundt cake instead of the usual deadly ritual. In fact, it’s all very down to earth, though Anya is practicing her advanced coveting skills on Buffy’s gifts and Dawn is trying to work out why everyone’s still acting odd. It doesn’t help that her present to Buffy is a picture of the two of them, sourced from the past they don’t really share. It’s an awkward moment, and soon she’s flouncing off to her room, cooly considering her options, and shimmying down the nearest tree to the yard, where she runs into the dark masterlurker himself.
Ah, Spike. He has that same battered box of chocolates as previously, and he doesn’t quite dare give it to Buffy. He decides in a split second to give the Slayer what she really needs for her birthday, which is to serve as bodyguard on Dawn’s proposed expedition to go steal stuff from the Magic Box. This is, I feel, pretty thoughtful. Having your sister not-killed on your birthday is a pretty good present by Slayer standards.
They go, they break in, and with almost no effort at all... Spawn! Spike plus Dawn is Spawn! Now I must jump around the apartment giggling and scaring the cats... okay, where was I?
Spawn finds the Giles diary entry on the monks, the Key, the Slayer, the whole damned situation. He didn’t write in code, Sumerian, or use coy euphemisms. He also didn’t take the diary home, tucked in his hard-to-pick jacket pocket.
So the two of them puzzle out the truth.
Not surprisingly, Dawn reacts like an emotionally high-strung teenager. She zooms home, opens a vein, and effectively kills the party by bleeding on it. The guests flee and she has a mini-showdown with Buffy and Joyce about their having been a pair of overprotective fibbers.
A contrite Buffy hits the Magic Shop next day to see what she can learn, with the idea that knowing about her origins will console Dawn. In the process, the gang realizes Spike was in on the break-in. Buffy confronts him, but in his usual Spike way, he just lays out some hard truths for her: Buffy’s the one who lied, he didn’t know there was anything to hide from the kid, she and Giles are terrible at keeping secrets and anyway he’s busy painting his nails, so go away. That part is what passes for hilarity at this point in the seven-season arc. By which I mean, it’s pretty funny, but it’s not a gut-buster.
Meanwhile, back at the hospital, Ben is busy discovering that Orlando is the latest brainhoovered victim of Glorificus the Magnificently Scented. Jinx seems to think this is a good reason for Glory and Ben to call truce, and makes unconvincing threat noises. Ben points out that Glory can’t touch him.
Really, Ben? This is interesting... ish. It’s mysterious, anyway.
Dawn spends her day making Joyce feel guilty as all git out, getting suspended from school, burning her diaries, and finally slips off out of the house to feel grief-stricken and woeful in private—this time without a Spikey escort.
The Scoobies respond to her disappearance by scampering all over Sunnydale in pairs, speaking in a fairly normal tone of voice to each other (and anyone who might care to overhear) about how OMG, Dawn’s, like, not a real person. And hey, it’s a big secret! In a town packed full of minions, mages, deities, vampires, generic enemies of Buffy and homicidal Byzants. I think this is silly.
But instead of being exposded by her nearest and dearest, Dawn remembers that the population of the hospital psych ward may have some insights into the nature of her existence. Orlando cheers her up considerably by shrieking “Destroyer!” at the sight of her, and follows up with a rousing performance of the Byzant ‘Kill the Key’ litany, which as silly knight songs go is vaguely rhythmic, but doesn’t hold a candle to even the weakest tunes in Spam-a-Lot.
Paging Doctor Ben! He comes bearing hot chocolate and attempts to console her, basically being the mensch he pretends to be when he’s not summoning Queller demons to kill helpless madmen or beating the crap out of Jinx. Dawn tells him she’s not real and he puts it together.
“You’re the Key?” He then goes into a panic so intense he turns into Glory in scrubs. Which, I admit, I wasn’t expecting the first time. Were you?
Glory doesn’t remember Ben’s big discovery, fortunately, and the conversation that follows is tense but delicious: she wants Dawn to help her with the Key search, and Dawn delicately pumps her for info—on herself! I call that intrepid girl sleuthing. It works pretty well right up until the moment that Glory reverts to her pattern of deciding that Dawn knows nothing but might be good for a little sanity-slurpage.
Fortunately, the thing about going to the hospital in search of information is that’s the next place the Scoobies go to seek Dawn. A fight breaks out—Buffy and Spike don’t come anywhere close to defeating Glory, but they try hard and entertain her a bit—us too—and that gives WillTara time to teleport her into the sky. This makes Willow faint, which is pretty much the first time she keels as a result of doing powerful magic, unless you count the restoring Angel’s soul spell, which I think caused some swoonage. She did have a concussion at the time, though.
During the fight, Buffy gets the sharp end of a tire iron in the chest. Once Glory’s gone, she appeals to Dawn using the gory wound: this is Summers blood, she says, and you have it too. Basically: you’re a part of me and I love you. She tactfully doesn’t add: “So chill already, willya? You’re making this all much harder.”
Dawn, who has to be emotionally exhausted by now, caves in, calls off the identity crisis and gives her a hug.
So who doesn’t know Dawn’s the Key now? Basically, Glory, her underlings, Harmony, the editor of the Sunnydale Gazette and the still-surviving hordes of Byzantium. The whole Scooby gang, Joyce, Spike, Ben and Dawn herself are now in on the secret.
Do we have a term for an episode that’s emphatically not a wheel-spinner?
Maybe it’s a plow. This episode is so very focused on the main storyline that it has no real B story: no great attention is paid to any of the Scoobies. Instead, we just get the barest reminder that Spike Luvs Buffy 4Evah, Anya is newly human and strangely acquisitive, and Willow’s overreaching with the magic. This lack of subplot is one of the things that happens more and more as we get further into the latter half of Buffy—there’s less other story to shift our attention to and from the big events. This, when combined with the muting of the humorous bits, is another contributor to the overall doleful tone building up, like mildew, on the last few seasons.
But for now Dawn and Buffy are reconciled, there’s no more dancing around the gang to be done because everyone’s in the know, and the big thing we viewers have all learned is that not only does Ben share a body with Glory, but he comes with an extra-handy Confuse-O-Matic so that nobody remembers and exploits the beauteous one right in her Achilles high heel.
Does it seem unfair to anyone that his confuse ray, unlike Dawn’s, works on the psych patients as well as healthy people? ’Cause they’re not freaking out when he walks by.
Next time: Crushing, crushing on you...
A.M. Dellamonica has kaboodles of fiction up here on Tor.com! Her ‘baby werewolf has two mommies,’ story, “The Cage,” made the Locus Recommended Reading List for 2010. There’s also “Among the Silvering Herd,” the first of a series of stories called The Gales.