Fourteen: Family Hour
This is partly the Family Hour
remix I promised a few years ago. Once it occurred to me to make it part of the narrative, I couldn't unseen it. I actually think this makes the story stronger.~~~~~
That wasn't strictly true; many things happened to Dawn in Anita's house over February and March. The pard came over and repainted Dawn's room with cool blues and crisp purples, Dawn went to kindergarten for a grand total of three hours, and against Dawn's better judgment she let Nathaniel sign her up for swimming lessons at the Y.
Once, Dawn overheard Anita and Micah talking about the forensics reports from Dawn's bedroom when they thought she was outside planting bulbs in the garden with Nathaniel. The blood from the ceiling hadn't been Dawn's (which she knew) but it had been a close genetic match (again, it was Buffy, so duh) but there was no other evidence in the room that anyone had been there.
After hearing that, Dawn had crept outside and not told Nathaniel what she'd heard and had been quiet for two whole days. She didn't know what to think, let alone say to anyone.
But other than that, nothing happened. Buffy didn't come for her and Dawn had no idea what to do.~~~
Dawn surveyed the scene before her, satisfied. She'd piled the couch cushions high enough on the ground to serve as a satisfying landing pad, even as far from the ground as she was on the couch back. All she had to do was jump far enough out, and she'd be set.
This was going to be fun.
She went into a crouch on top of the couch back, knees bent and arms back and all she had to do was spring. With a count of three, two...
, she prepared to fling herself into space.
Until someone cleared their throat from the doorway. Uh-oh
. Dawn froze, hardly daring to look in Micah's direction. Then she slowly straightened her legs, a little wobbly on the couch back. "Hi, Micah," she said to stall for time.
Micah leaned his shoulder against the doorframe and just looked at her. "Hello to you, Dawn." He didn't say anything else, but Dawn knew he couldn't have missed the gigantic mess on the living room floor. Heck, the mess was probably visible from outer space.
But Dawn was not a Summers for nothing. She pasted a huge grin on her face in an attempt to look innocent. Or at least cute. "This isn't what it looks like."
Micah didn't even blink. "It looks like you're bored," he said.
"Oh." Dawn scrambled down the couch skeleton to the carpet. "Then I guess it is what it looks like."
Micah sighed, pushing himself off the wall. "What have we told you about climbing up onto things?" he asked as he picked up a cushion to put back on the couch.
Dawn picked up one edge of another cushion, as they were really rather heavy for her arms, and dragged it back to where it belonged. "That even someone as cute as me is susceptible to gravity and that I might hurt myself?"
"Something like that." Micah accepted the cushion from Dawn. "And do you know why we tell you that?"
Dawn scrunched up her nose to think. "Because skulls weren't built to bounce?"
Because Dawn had been looking directly at Micah when she spoke, she caught his barely perceptible flinch. She'd only been joking, but did Micah know that?
Micah pushed the last cushion into place and sat down. After a moment's hesitation, Dawn ran over to him and jumped up beside him. "I didn't mean it," she said.
"I know." Micah slumped back. "We don't want you to get hurt."
that," Dawn told him. "And you're going to tell me that you've got 'life experience' and so I should listen to you."
For some reason Dawn couldn't figure out, Micah let out a chuckle. "You wouldn't pay any attention to that, would you?"
"I might!" Dawn protested. "It's just boring
"What about your library books?" Micah asked.
Dawn narrowed her eyes at him. "Read them all. And everything else in the house except Anita's books I'm not allowed to look at. And you won't let me watch tv without appropriate 'adult supervision' and Nathaniel's at the gym and Anita's got the thousand-yard stare and you've been ironing all day."
"Hmm." Micah considered that. "What about your schoolwork?"
"Done it." Dawn wiggled around until she could smooth out a wrinkle in her dark blue skirt. "Sixth grade work is so
retro. I'm gonna need to go up another grade."
Micah smiled then, but he quickly wiped the expression away in the face of Dawn's seriousness. "You really are smart," he said. Dawn didn't say anything, because it wasn't a question and besides, she knew
that. "We'll talk to Dr. Sanders about that next week, okay?"
"Okay." Dawn went up on her knees and nudged over so she could reach Micah's tie. "Where's Anita?"
"Still getting ready." Micah pulled off his tie and handed it to Dawn. "You're all set for tonight?"
Dawn shrugged, more interested in playing with the knot in the colorful fabric. "Your family is coming over, we have half an hour of painful small-talk, then we go to the restaurant for two hours of excruciating untruths, and then we come home and thank God we moved out?" She picked up on Micah's sudden stillness. "What? That's why Jason said he left home."
Micah certainly wasn't smiling now. "Jason shouldn't have said those things with you around, Dawn," Micah said. "It's not appropriate."
"Nathaniel was there and he didn't say anything."
"Still, Jason should know better." Micah pulled the tie out of Dawn's hands and undid out the knot. "Do you want me to show you how to tie this?"
"Yes please!" Dawn crawled onto Micah's lap and let him guide her small hands onto tying the long strip of fabric into a tie. "People talk around little kids all the time, it's not a big deal."
"It is a big deal," Micah contradicted. "You are very intelligent and have a high level of language comprehension and Jason should know that you pick up on everything."
Dawn turned to face Micah. "I like you," she said, stepping outside the conversation. "You use big words and don't talk to me like I'm a little kid."
"I use big words because you understand big words." Micah tweaked her nose, which made her giggle.
"And I ask when you say things I don't get," Dawn added. She pulled the tie over her head and dropped on the couch, then slipped down to the floor. "I'm going to tell Anita to get moving, they're going to be here soon!"
Feet flying, Dawn ran down the hall to Anita's bedroom and peeked in the open door. The woman stood by the edge of the bed, staring blankly into the full-length mirror on the wall.
"Can I come in?" Dawn asked, walking into the room. Her words seemed to startle Anita out of her introspection. "You look really pretty tonight."
"So do you," Anita said, her voice a little rough. "That's a very nice dress."
Dawn gave a little twirl, her skirt fluttering out as she spun. "I got dressed all by myself," she informed Anita. "I put on my tights and my dress and all Nathaniel had to do was help me with the zipper because that's in the back and I'm not a squid."
Anita did that weird scrunchy thing with her mouth, like she always did when Dawn said something Anita didn't understand. "Did you want me to brush your hair before Micah's family gets here?" she asked instead.
Dawn examined her reflection in the mirror. New white tights, a sleek and shiny blue dress with a ribbon around the waist, and a head of messy long hair. Dawn made a face. "That's what happens when I try to fight gravity," she grumbled. "Can you fix it?"
"Of course I can." Anita knelt beside Dawn to run a brush over her hair. "Are you all ready to meet Micah's family?"
"I think so," Dawn said. She leaned against Anita, letting the brush smooth out the knots in her hair painlessly. "Tell me about them again?"
"Well, Micah's dad is the sheriff of the town where they live," Anita said. "His mom is a homemaker, and his sister Beth just graduated from college."
"Why would anyone do that?" Dawn asked, clenching her fists as Anita tried to untangle a particularly vicious knot in Dawn's hair.
"Graduate from college?"
"Stay at home all day. It's boring."
"It's different when you're an adult than when you're a kid."
Dawn blew a raspberry at Anita's reflection in the mirror. "Yeah, when you're an adult it's more boring. Because you're old enough to work and get paid for it, or like travel and stuff, and you stay at home all the time."
"Nathaniel stays home during the day," Anita said with the desperate air of losing an argument.
"Nathaniel takes care of me and he makes sure I do my homework and then he goes to work at night," Dawn countered. "He's a nanny and a teacher and personal shopper and housekeeper and
a highly trained naked dancer."
"I know, I know," Dawn interrupted. "We don't talk about the more salacious portions of life in this house. Nathaniel's an entertainer and you don't date vampires and I'm not a trouble magnet."
Anita put down the brush and swept Dawn up into a squishy hug. Dawn squawked and squeaked, but didn't try to escape the embrace. She liked Anita's hugs. "You are not a trouble magnet," Anita murmured in Dawn's ear. "You are an amazing little girl and we all love you very much."
Dawn felt something shift around in her stomach, something dark and twisty, but she ignored it as she hugged Anita as hard as she could. "Will you still love me if Micah's family doesn't like me?" she asked.
Anita made an exasperated sound. "Don't be stupid, of course we will." She kissed Dawn on the cheek, then on the other cheek and on the forehead and all over until Dawn squealed. "Always and forever."
Dawn squirmed out of Anita's grip and checked her reflection. Luckily, Anita hadn't been wearing lipstick. "You're so strange!" Dawn scolded. She decided to ignore the amusement on Anita's face. "I was supposed to come in here to make sure you were ready. Are you ready?"
"I think I'm ready." Anita scooped Dawn up and dropped her on the bed, letting her jump around for a few moments on the duvet. "Clothing and makeup, check."
"Your bruises are almost gone, too," Dawn said. She jumped one last time and stuck her legs into the air, landing on her bum. "From where the bank-robbing evil vampires threw you into a door last night."
"Just in time for dinner," Anita muttered under her breath. She dug through a dresser drawer for a hair clip, and managed to subdue her mass of curls just as the doorbell rang.
Dawn stopped moving. They were here. Micah's family were at the door
and there was no way Dawn was getting out of this one.
Anita shoved the drawer closed with more force than necessary. It took her a moment to turn towards Dawn. The blank expression on Anita's face wasn't exactly reassuring.
Then Anita forced a smile onto her face. She held out her hand to Dawn. "Come on, let's go see who's at the door."
Dawn stayed where she was. Her stomach churned as she thought about what lay outside of the room. Micah's family, his real family. What if they didn't like Dawn?
Then Anita was picking her up and giving her another hug, this one reassuring and calming. Anita was so strong and she wasn't concerned that Micah's family might not like Dawn. Because even if Micah's parents didn't like Dawn, Anita liked Dawn and Micah liked Dawn and they were her foster parents and that was what mattered.
Dawn rested her cheek against Anita's neck for a long moment, pushing her bad feelings down and pulling the good thoughts up, that Anita and Micah and Nathaniel loved her and she could stay here for as long as it took Buffy to find her. Anita and Micah and Nathaniel wanted Dawn to be there, and that was what mattered.
Anita kissed the top of Dawn's head, just like Mom had done when Dawn wasn't feeling good. The similarity made Dawn feel a little bit better.
"Come on," Anita said. "Let's go see what Micah's up to."
"He's probably talking to his family," Dawn said into Anita's shoulder.
"Then we should go meet them. What do you think?"
Dawn pulled back to look at Anita's face. The woman was trying to look reassuring, but Dawn could feel the tiniest bit of apprehension and panic emanating from her.
Sometimes, it really sucked to be psychic.
"It goes for you too," Dawn said. Anita frowned. "That we like you no matter what."
Anita bit her lip, and all of her emotions went away. Dawn was used to that by now, that sometimes Anita just closed off her emotions and it wasn't anything Dawn had done, it was just Anita being Anita.
"Well, thank you," Anita said finally. She touched the tip of Dawn's nose. "Now, little miss sunshine, you ready for this?"
"Stop calling me that, only Jean-Claude gets to call me that. And no."
Anita sighed. "Me either. What do you think, we climb out the window and make a run for it?"
"Micah might notice we're gone. Our shoes are in the hall."
"To the living room it is, then."
Mercifully, Anita let Dawn walk on her own, not insisting on carrying her like some baby. Dawn might look like a little girl, but she was really a teenager and it simply wasn't done that she be carried around while meeting new people.
But Dawn did make sure Anita was half a step in front of her, and she held tight to Anita's hand. Just in case Anita needed the reassurance.
Voices in the living room gave Dawn a little warning, but then they rounded the corner and there were strange people in Dawn's house
. She knew Micah was there, and two strange women, but she barely gave them a glance as all of her attention fixed directly on the very large man towering over Micah.
He was bigger than Merle, almost as big as Richard, tall and wide across the chest and the belly and his shoulders were big and his hands were big and he looked at Anita and Dawn with an unfriendly expression on his face and Dawn really didn't want to be there anymore.
She maintained some level of control, however, and she didn't run away. And if she gripped Anita's hand harder and stepped back to hide behind Anita's legs, that wasn't anyone's business but her own.
Micah broke the stillness. He came over to Anita and Dawn, his face guarded and that didn't exactly make Dawn feel better. "Everyone, this is Anita and Dawn," Micah said. He laid a hand on Anita's arm, just for a moment, then he picked up Dawn and settled her on his hip. Dawn was so intent on watching the large man that she barely noticed the change in her position. She snaked a hand around Micah's shoulders and grabbed a handful of his collar. "Anita, these are my parents, Franklin and Kathleen, and my sister Beth."
Anita said all the right things and shook hands with everyone, while Dawn clung to Micah and tried to understand why she was so tense. Once Kathleen was through with Anita, the woman turned to Micah and Dawn and reached out to touch Dawn's cheek. It was only with a great effort that Dawn didn't shrink back. "What a pretty little girl," Kathleen said in that condescending voice adults used when talking to children. "Micah tells us that you're living in foster care."
She might have meant it as an opening line to a conversation, but Dawn's stomach plummeted. She hated being reminded that living in Anita and Micah's house was only temporary. Her manners held, and she managed to whisper, "Yes, Mrs. Callahan."
At Micah's side, Anita was very still in that way she was just before she exploded. "Dawn's been with us since November," she said abruptly, the words hard against the solid walls of the hallway. "Why don't we all go into the living room?"
Franklin cleared his throat. "When do we have to leave for the restaurant?" he asked as he ushered his wife into the living room after Micah. Dawn turned in Micah's grip to keep an eye on the tall man.
"We don't have to leave for half an hour, Dad," Micah said. He placed Dawn on the ground. "Dawn, would you like to help Anita bring in the snacks?"
Dawn was perfectly aware that Micah was trying to handle everyone in the room without setting off the tensions, just like he did with the pard on bad days, but Dawn didn't really care. She didn't want to be in the living room anyway. She turned and dashed into the kitchen, out of sight of Micah's weird family.
Anita followed her after a minute. The woman was tenser than Dawn had seen in a while, jerking the fridge open and pulling out the things Nathaniel had laid out so nicely. Dawn was very quiet as Anita stormed around the kitchen.
After a minute, Anita rested her hands on the counter and bent her head. In the air, Dawn heard the tiny silent whispers that indicated a telepathic conversation between Anita and someone else. Who could she be talking to right now? Probably not Nathaniel; she seldom talked to him mentally when she was freaking out, although Dawn had only seen Anita's emotional breakdowns from a distance so she couldn't really be sure.
It was before sunset, so Anita couldn't be talking to Damien yet. Richard was so totally out. That left Jean-Claude, and that made Dawn a little less uncertain, because Jean-Claude was really good at handling Anita when Anita was freaking out. Dawn supposed that's what happened when you were a centuries-old master vampire guy.
Anita let out a shaky sigh, almost close to a sob, and that was all Dawn could stand. She went over to Anita and tugged hard on Anita's skirt. The woman looked down, her eyes shiny, and Dawn held out her arms. "Pick me up," Dawn demanded. Anita obeyed, and Dawn wrapped her arms around Anita's neck in a tight hug. "It doesn't matter what they say," she said. "I'm your
foster kid and Micah lives with us
and that's not going to change!"
After a heartbeat, Anita kissed the top of Dawn's head. "You are one of the smartest people I've ever known, have I ever told you that?" she asked.
"But I'm just a kid," Dawn said as she sat up in Anita's arms. The woman's eyes were dry now.
"Well, part of it is being smart up here," Anita said, touching Dawn's forehead. "But a lot of it is here," and she pressed her hand over Dawn's heart. "Does that make any sense?"
Dawn scrunched up her nose, thinking. "I guess it does," she said. "But you're off-topic!"
Anita bit back a smile. "What's the topic?"
"Getting through tonight without a restraining order." Dawn wiggled until Anita put her down. "Even if they're being more deliberately antagonistic than they have been already."
"I don't think they're being deliberately antagonistic," Anita replied. "And now I'm starting to sound like you."
Dawn picked up the handful of paper napkins from the tabletop. "I speak very well for my age, thank you," she said primly.
Anita hefted the hors d'oeuvres tray effortlessly. "I know you do." She gently touched Dawn's shoulder. "So, are we in this together?"
Dawn linked her pinky finger with Anita's. "Always," Dawn said somberly. "All right, let's get this disaster back on the road."
The Callahans had arrayed themselves around the living room, looking remarkably ill-at-ease for a family. Micah had a funny expression on his face, and only belatedly did Dawn realize that he must have heard the conversation in the kitchen with his wereleopard super-hearing.
Dawn set the napkins on the coffee table and crawled onto the couch beside Micah. He helped himself to a few of the hors d'oeuvres from the plate and let Dawn pick the diced olives off the pizza puffs. "Anita, I was just telling my parents about the coalition helpline."
Anita smiled politely, settling herself onto the couch and sandwiching Dawn between the grown-ups. "Micah's done wonders with the concept," Anita said. "The concept of cross-shifter cooperation hasn't really gotten much play in other cities, but it's certainly lowered the rate of crimes attached to accidental shifting."
Franklin's expression was set, and Kathleen glanced between Dawn and Anita in something resembling horror. It was Beth who spoke, however. "Is this an appropriate conversation to have around the..." She made a motion at Dawn.
Dawn certainly didn't appreciating being called "the" anything. She sat forward and said, "Nathaniel said it's like having a friend you can call when you're unhappy and they can help you achieve your calm. It's important for anyone to have someone to talk to, especially when not everyone likes you."
It was more than just trying to defend Micah. Dawn had seen how Buffy had been in L.A. before they moved to Sunnydale, and even though she hadn't known what Buffy was doing with the Slaying, it was slowly killing her. Willow and Xander were more than Buffy's friends, they had kept her alive and focused. They were her lifeline, and that's what the coalition hotline was to a lot of the newer shifters and some of the smaller groups, Nathaniel said.
And Dawn believed Nathaniel because Nathaniel didn't lie to her.
Micah put his hand on Dawn's shoulder and drew her back against his side. She subsided, glowering at the room in general. "Dawn knows what I do, Beth. She also knows what Anita does."
Dawn only had a moment to wonder if Micah meant the federal marshalling or the zombie raising, when Kathleen cut into the conversation by turning to Anita. "You have a lovely house," Micah's mother said. "How do you find the time to be a homemaker while raising a child and keeping your job in law enforcement?"
Anita almost chocked on a canapé. Once she'd avoided suffocation, she managed to reply, "Oh, um... Well, Nathaniel helps-- I mean does, most everything."
"Nathaniel?" Franklin interrupted.
Anita and Micah exchanged glances. Dawn rolled her eyes. Honestly, hadn't they come up with a cover story for that one at least? They really needed to better coordinated on meet-the-parents night. Dawn would help them come up with some pointers for when Micah met Anita's dad. "Nathaniel's like my governess," Dawn said serenely.
"Governess?" Kathleen echoed faintly.
"Uh huh. He makes sure I have appropriate adult supervision and he helps me with my schoolwork and he does cooking and stuff." Dawn felt a small pressure on her arm and stopped talking, even though it only the truth.
"Nathaniel has been invaluable with Dawn," Micah said slowly. "Anita and I both work full-time. We couldn't have done it without Nathaniel."
Franklin made a noise in the back of his throat. "Times certainly are changing," he said slowly, but not in a bad way. More like he was thinking. "Back when you two were kids," he indicated Micah and Beth, "You'd never hear of a male nanny."
Beth, however, wasn't about to be distracted. "Isn't Dawn in school?"
Micah turned his full attention to his sister. "No, Beth, Dawn's not in school," he said. He sounded irritated. "We tried putting her in kindergarten last month, but she's at a more advanced level and until we figure out how we're going to play this, she's being home schooled four days a week and spending one day at the university working with the researchers in one of the early childhood development labs."
"You're sending her to a research lab?" Beth echoed.
Dawn sank back into the cushions, wishing she didn't have to listen to this conversation. It wasn't as bad as Beth made it sound. It started the previous month when Louis Fane, a wererat who was a biology professor at the university, had heard from Anita's bodyguard Claudia that Dawn was too smart for regular school. There was a new research project working on early childhood learning and they were looking for subjects, and since no one at the school board knew what to do with Dawn, Louis had suggested that Dawn might be well-served with the attention.
Dawn had already had three Fridays at the university. Nathaniel drove her there and stayed around while Dawn worked with Dr. Sanders and the other researchers. There were games and puzzles and really cool readings, and Dawn really liked it there. It was strange, having four teachers to one kid, but in a cool way. And since Nathaniel was always there, Dawn felt safe.
But Beth made it sound like Dawn was some kind of lab rat.
Once again, it was Kathleen who saved the conversation. "It sounds like Dawn is a very smart young girl," she said.
"She is," Anita said, unclenching her hands from her lap. "She keeps surprising us with what she knows. This is the best plan we have right now."
"It's working out quite well," Micah added. He shifted his position on the couch so he was facing his family, presenting a united front. "Having Dawn here has been great for us."
Kathleen glanced at Anita, Beth was unconvinced, and Franklin appeared more interested on the snacks than the conversation.
Oh yeah, this was going to be fun.~~~
They took separate cars to the restaurant. Dawn sat in the backseat of Micah's car and sang along with the radio while Anita and Micah were very carefully not speaking.
After a few songs, the advertisements came on and Micah turned down the volume before Dawn could ask. "Thank you!" she chirruped. She let her heels drum a beat on the seat. "Can I have a dessert?"
"You'll need to have dinner first," Micah said automatically. Anita didn't reply, just stared at her cell phone. "But if you'd like a dessert, yes."
"Cool." Dawn let her feet fall still. "Me and Nathaniel had fun at the university last week."
"Dr. Sanders said I should have a lot of 'experience-based hands-on learning opportunities'."
"What on earth does that mean?"
"It means I have a research-directed imperative to play outside more. For optimal mental stimulation."
Anita turned her head. "I wasn't aware you were play-deprived."
Dawn giggled. "I'm not!"
"And it's the middle of winter, how can you play outside more?"
! That's totally spring! And Nathaniel thinks I should spend more time doing fun stuff. There's a kid gymnastics class at the Y on Tuesday afternoons. And I haven't broken anything really badly in weeks. Can I go?"
Micah cleared his throat. "Why don't we talk about this with Nathaniel tomorrow?" he suggested as he pulled the car into a parking stall and killed the engine.
"Okay." Dawn went back to kicking her seat. "Why doesn't Beth like me?"
There was a very intent silence from Micah's seat for a moment. "My sister isn't certain that I'll make a good foster father," he finally said.
"What?" Anita exclaimed, but Dawn was faster.
"That's stupid!" Dawn shouted, suddenly angry. "You're the best dad I ever had!" She undid her seatbelt and climbed bodily into the front seat, stepping on Micah's arm and ending up sprawled Anita's lap. "Everyone else only stayed because of Buffy! Giles and Spike and everyone
! No one ever liked me
until you and I don't care what Beth said 'cause she's wrong!"
Dawn flung herself at Micah as best she could in the front of the car. The startled man caught Dawn as she slipped on the gearbox. "Dawn--"
"Ask Anita!" Dawn urged. "She thinks you're a great dad too!" Dawn didn't have any actual knowledge of this, not in words, but that was the clearest thought coming from Anita. "No one ever wanted
me until you guys! You didn't have to keep me but you did! That's what family's like!"
Dawn had no idea what she was saying, but the words that came out of her mouth were real and painful and right
. Buffy and Mom had loved her, even though she'd been shoved into their lives without any choice. Buffy had loved and protected Dawn, but only because she'd been forced to by the monks. The love had been real, but Buffy hadn't had a choice.
No one had a choice when Glory came, when Glory tore open the universe and Dawn had to jump to save everyone. Dawn hadn't had a choice to land in this world, so far from the sister she loved.
Micah and Anita had a choice, and they loved Dawn and made her a part of their family, and Micah's stupid sister didn't know anything about anything. Family could be blood or it could be made, and Dawn was really better at made-up families anyway.
In the quiet car, Anita cupped Dawn's cheek with her hand. The gun calluses made her touch seem rough, but that was just Anita. "You are a part of our family now," Anita said softly, like she was about to cry. "I mean that."
"I know!" Dawn cuddled up against Micah. "Sometimes you get born into a family, or else you make one up as you go along, and we've made one up. It's the best way."
Micah took a deep breath. "Anita..." he started, then stopped.
Anita also seemed to brace herself. "You think this is a good time?" she asked him.
"Is there ever going to be a good time?"
"I suppose not." Anita sat back, her shoulders straight. "Dawn, Micah and I... we've been talking."
"You talk all the time," Dawn pointed out.
"That's not what I mean... I mean, we've been talking about something. To ask you."
"What Anita's trying to say," Micah interrupted, "Was that we were wondering if... if it would be okay with you if we adopted you."
Dawn blinked. Then again. "You want to adopt me?"
Anita nodded, managing to look hopeful and terrified at the same time.
Dawn craned her neck around to stare at Micah. "You too?"
"Yes Dawn, me too," he said.
Dawn looked between Anita and Micah. After a minute, she put her fingers over her mouth. "What about Buffy?" Dawn asked in a tiny voice. "What about when Buffy comes back for me?"
Anita closed her mouth and Micah hesitated, and they were both shielding their thoughts so hard that Dawn couldn't hear a thing.
Even so, she knew what they were probably thinking. Dawn knew that the police tests on the blood had concluded that the blood on her bed had been so closely related to Dawn, it could only have been Buffy's blood. And Buffy was a Slayer who had survived a fall from Glory's Tower and could survive a little blood loss. But...
But it had been months, and Buffy hadn't even tried to come back for Dawn.
Even if she did try, the only thing that could open portals for real was Dawn's blood, and Dawn didn't know how to open a portal.
Deep down, Dawn knew that Buffy might never come back for her.
Dawn curled up in Micah's lap, her eyes on Anita. "Can I think about it?" she whispered.
Anita sat up with such effort that it looked painful. "Of course you can," she said brightly. "It's completely up to you."
Her cell phone started to ring, but instead of answering, she unbuckled her seatbelt, her hands shaking so hard it took her two attempts. Once free, she was out of the vehicle in an instant, phone in hand.
Dawn felt tears well up in her eyes. "Did I do something wrong?" she asked Micah.
"Of course not," Micah reassured her. He shifted Dawn to the empty seat so he could undo his seatbelt. "You did absolutely nothing wrong, do you understand?"
Dawn nodded. She rubbed at the stubborn tears in her eyes that wouldn't go away. "Can I still stay with you?"
"Of course you can," Micah said firmly. "Forever. As long as you want."
Dawn nodded again. Micah got out of the car and went around to the passenger side to pluck Dawn out of the seat. He hoisted her firmly on his arm as he locked the door.
Anita stood in the dark between streetlights, hunched over the phone. Micah stopped a dozen yards away from the woman waited for Anita to hang up the phone.
"Did I hurt her feelings?" Dawn asked Micah in a whisper.
"Don't be silly," Micah whispered back, which was just another way of saying 'yes'. But what else could Dawn have done?
Finally, Anita hung up the phone and walked across the parking lot. When she was close enough to hear, Micah said, "I was just telling Dawn that nothing's changed. That she's part of our family no matter what."
Anita sniffed, trying to look all adult and collected, but Dawn could hear thoughts and read emotions and she knew Anita was desperately trying to hold herself together.
Well, Dawn might be small, but she could do a few things. Still on Micah's arm, she leaned over and wrapped her arms around Anita. Micah stepped closer to Anita and soon the three of them were all in one big hug with Anita at the center.
After a minute, Anita let out a shaky breath and relaxed more into the embrace. "Family is the most important thing there is," Dawn said in the general vicinity of Anita's ear. "And once you're in a family, there's no getting out." She moved back so she could look at Anita. "So you're stuck with me."
Anita couldn't quite manage a smile at that one. Micah put his arm around Anita's shoulders and pulled her close.
"What did Zerbrowski want?" Dawn asked.
"He wanted to tell me that last night's bad guys were arraigned and are in jail for a while, that's all," Anita said.
Dawn solemnly patted Anita's cheek, careful to avoid the bruises. "Good. Then we can go inside and I can eat my dinner without being interrupted by the Batphone?"
"Never mind. Can we go inside now?" Dawn gave a theatrical shiver. "It's cold and I have a delicate constitution."
This time, Anita really did smile. "Is that what made you gnaw your way through all that junk food at the movie theatre yesterday?"
"Hey." Dawn tried to glare at Anita as Micah turned them all towards the restaurant. "You were enabling me!"
"By wishing for once I could eat my own candy?"
"It was either eat candy or actually have to watch
Princess Persnickety's Puerile Adventures. I only went 'cause Sarah Zerbrowski's my friend and it was her birthday party."
"And thankfully you kept your opinions of the movie to yourself," Anita said, holding the restaurant door open for Micah.
"Better than you. I thought you were going to chew your own arm off to escape the singing unicorns. Luckily you and Detective Zerbrowski got to go chase after real undead bad guys."
Micah shushed them both as they walked through the dining room to where the Callahans were already seated. As they approached, Franklin stood up. He wasn't nearly as intimidating now as he had been at the house. "We were beginning to think you'd gotten lost," he said jovially.
"We were talking, Dad," Micah said, as Anita helped Dawn off with her coat and into a chair. "Sorry to keep you waiting."
"Nothing a cell phone wouldn't have fixed," Beth muttered into her wine glass.
"Two hours," Dawn said pointedly. Micah just sighed.
Dawn had known this was going to suck.~~~
Dinner hadn't lasted quite two hours, but it was still past Dawn's bedtime when the car finally rolled up to the house. It wasn't her fault she kept fading in and out of consciousness.
One moment she was in the car, then she was slung over Anita's shoulder and halfway to the house. Dawn blinked a few time and tried to wake up, but it was a losing battle.
Once inside, she heard Nathaniel's voice and something about being transferred to the late shift, then there was movement midair and she wrapped her arms around Nathaniel's neck and he carried her up the stairs.
"Hi," Dawn murmured sleepily.
"Hi back," Nathaniel said. "How was it tonight?"
"Dumb," Dawn went on without opening her eyes. "Micah's dad doesn't like that he's a lycanthrope and his sister isn't nice at all. And they wanna adopt me and I'm gonna say yes but I can't right now 'cause Anita will think I'm talking in my sleep."
Nathaniel's step faltered. "They're going to adopt you?"
The surprise in Nathaniel's voice was enough to yank Dawn almost fully awake. "They didn't tell you?" she asked, opening her eyes.
"They told me," Nathaniel said quickly. "I hadn't thought... you're going to say yes?" A hesitant smile split his face. "You're going to stay."
"Yeah." Dawn was too tired to really think about what she was saying, but in the back of her mind, she felt as if she was missing something. "Sounds like a plan."
Nathaniel took her into her room and left her there, saying Anita would be up in a moment. After he left, Dawn flopped backwards onto the blankets and stared up at the ceiling. The surface was a creamy white in the glow from the bedside lamp, unbroken by blood or interdimensional portals or anything like that.
As she blinked up at the ceiling, Dawn realized what was missing. She didn't feel bad at the thought of Anita adopting her, which was weird enough on its own. All the panic and grief at losing Buffy, which had been at the forefront of her mind after the ceiling incident, had faded somewhat over the intervening months until now she couldn’t really grasp those sharp emotions anymore.
"I can't keep doing this," Dawn said to the ceiling. "I can't keep waiting for you to come get me because you might never come and that's not fair."
The room was quiet.
Dawn glared at the ceiling until she just couldn't keep her eyes open anymore. Before she fell all the way asleep, Anita came in and helped Dawn change into her pajamas, murmuring nonsense words as she tucked Dawn into bed.
"Tell me a story," Dawn whispered as Anita kissed her goodnight.
"What kind of story?" Anita asked, settling down on the bed.
"One I already heard before."
"If you want." Anita tucked Sigmund the Penguin under the covers next to Dawn. "Once upon a time, in a land far away, there was a little girl named Dawn who liked coffee and sugar..."
It was a very familiar story indeed. Lying there cuddled up with Anita in the quiet warm room, Dawn finally let go of some lingering tension in her head and her heart, and she slept.~~~
In the morning, Dawn would tell Anita and Micah that she should be adopted, wishing all the while that Buffy would burst through the front door and take the decision away from her.
It was a thought that would come back to her often over the next thirteen years.end part one