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Dawning Light

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This story is No. 1 in the series "Dawning Light". You may wish to read the series introduction first.

Summary: Dawn fell from Glory's tower and into the portal. Now she's all alone and scared... but sometimes family comes from the strangest places. AB's Danse Macabre spoilers.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Anita Blake > Dawn-Centered(Past Donor)MhalachaiFR1314103,155137348165,89317 Jul 0615 Nov 08No
CoA Winner

Chapter Two: Under the Lights

It wasn't until the ambulance pulled up beside Anita's jeep that it finally sank in that this was really happening. Everyone spoke to Dawn with soft and wary voices, like she was a stupid little kid. She tried to get angry, but was distracted with her hurting feet from the cold. Her sides ached and her wrists burned and everything was wrong.

The ambulance attendants took her pulse and temperature and looked in her eyes with a little light, asking her very carefully where it hurt. Dawn answered them as best she could, feeling the entire time that she was doing something wrong. Whenever anything had gone wrong in Sunnydale, Buffy always saved her and dealt with the aftereffects at home. With the paramedics and the police hovering around, not acting surprised at little girls appearing in graveyards, Dawn wondered if she was in trouble.

Anita's presence in the ambulance was the only thing that kept Dawn from completely losing her mind. The woman didn't say much as she watched the paramedics with sharp eyes. Finally, when the paramedics were finished, Anita wrapped Dawn back up in the coat and sat beside her on the stretcher in the back of the ambulance.

Dawn watched the bustle of activity out of the ambulance doors. The police officers moved around, some casting curious looks at her. Finally, one man with messy black hair and glasses, who reminded Dawn a bit of Giles, came over. "Hey, Blake."

"Zerbrowski."

The man's eyes drifted down to Dawn, and he smiled. "Hi there. I hear your name is Dawn."

Zerbrowski had a really nice smile, but he had jaded eyes. It was a Scooby look, something Dawn had seen far too often when she looked at Buffy and Xander and Willow. It was the look of someone who knew there were monsters under the bed.

Dawn looked up at Anita, who nodded. "Dawn, this Detective Zerbrowski. He's going to help us try to find out what happened," Anita explained.

Indecision gripped Dawn's stomach. One thing she'd learned from Buffy was that the police didn't want to know about demons and vampires, and to avoid the cops at all costs. But this wasn't a normal Scooby situation. For starters, Dawn had fallen through a portal to a strange place, not to mention the fact that she looked five. No one was going to believe her if she said she was really fifteen.

Besides, the cops were already involved.

"Hi, Detective Zerbrowski." Dawn winced at how childish her voice sounded, how her tongue was unable to make the hard 'T' sound, but Zerbrowski just kept smiling at her.

The man hitched up his jacket and sat on the edge of the ambulance floor, keeping a fair distance between him and Dawn's coat-wrapped toes. "Dawn, I know it might be hard, but I also know you're a brave girl. Can you try to answer some questions for me?"

Dawn looked down. Even if the cop was trying to use baby talk to make her comfortable, he'd hit a little too close to home. She didn't feel brave. Buffy was the brave one. "I guess."

"Good." With slow movements, he pulled a small notepad out of his pocket. "What's your last name, Dawn?"

Dawn hesitated. "Where are we?" she asked.

Zerbrowski lost his smile and glanced over at Anita. The woman opened her eyes wide at him.

"Where are we?" Dawn repeated. "And why is there snow in June?"

Anita took a deep breath. "It's not June, Dawn, it's the first week of December," she explained. "And we're in St. Louis."

Dawn squeaked. "Missouri?"

"Yes." Awkwardly, Anita put her arm around Dawn's shoulders. Even though she was confused beyond belief, Dawn cuddled up under Anita's arm without thinking. "Did you think you were somewhere else?"

"Uh huh." Dawn thought hard, frowning at Zerbrowski. Maybe she hadn't been thrown into another dimension. Maybe she'd been teleported across the country to St. Louis... But it was December! What if she'd been gone for over six months? Buffy and everyone would be freaking out. "My last name's Summers," Dawn said.

Zerbrowski scribbled furiously in his notepad. "Can you tell me where you live?"

Dawn worked one hand out of the coat and rubbed her nose. "What are you going to do if I do?"

Zerbrowski wasn't able to hide the tiny hint of surprise that flickered across his face. "We're going to try and figure out what happened to you," he said.

Dawn shook her head, her hair rubbing against Anita's side. "No, what are you going to do? Call the police? The FBI? Do a Google search on me? What?"

"Dawn," Anita said. Dawn tilted her head back to see Anita staring down with a frown on her face. "We want to find out how you ended up in the graveyard, and we need to know how you got there."

"I told you," Dawn said with exaggerated words. "I don't know how I got there, I was just there." She struggled free of the coat and stood up on the stretcher. She was only a tiny bit taller standing than Anita was sitting, and it pissed her off. "I was just there and then I was here and it was cold and there was all kinds of snow! What kind of place has snow?"

"Dawn," Anita said, trying to sound soothing and failing miserably. She held her hands out the way Buffy and Mom used to do when Dawn was freaking out. "It's going to be okay--"

"It's not okay!" Dawn screamed. Her fists clenched and it made her wrists hurt, but everything hurt. Her feet hurt to be standing up, her sides hurt to move, and something in her chest hurt with every breath and she didn't know why. "It's not okay, it's never going to be okay!"

Strong arms reached out and gathered Dawn up in a tight hug. Dawn tried to push Anita away, but the woman was too strong, just like Buffy had always been too strong to fight off.

After a moment, Dawn stopped fighting and clung to Anita, breathing heavily to avoid crying. She dug her too-tiny fingers into Anita's suit jacket and held on for dear life. So far in this strange world, Anita was the only thing that felt familiar to Dawn.

"We're going to find out what happened," Anita whispered against Dawn's hair. The woman gathered Dawn up on her lap and held her safe. "It'll be okay, I promise."

Dawn closed her eyes. She wanted to believe Anita, but she knew that nothing was going to be okay.

~~~

Dawn hated hospitals. Memories of Mom being sick crowded into her head as she sat on the big bed in the emergency room, bundled up in the scratchy blanket from the ambulance. Across the room, a doctor and several police officers were yelling at each other quietly, so Dawn couldn't hear what they were saying.

The only thing that kept Dawn from screaming herself was Anita's hand on her back, as the woman sat beside her on the bed. Several times, Anita bit her lip, and Dawn knew she wanted to say something to the arguing group, but then Anita would glance down at Dawn and give her a smile. It wasn't a happy smile, but right now, a happy smile would have been like a lie.

After she'd recovered from her little tantrum in the ambulance, Dawn hadn't wanted to let Anita go, but in the end she'd forced herself to push away from the woman. As much as Dawn wanted something familiar, Anita wasn't Buffy. Anita didn't have any reason to stay with Dawn. When the cops took her to the hospital, Dawn expected Anita to leave, get on with her life.

But Anita stayed, leaving her bodyguard Claudia out in the waiting room. In fact, when Zerbrowski had suggested that Anita take a few minutes to go grab a coffee, she'd shot the man such a glare that he subsided.

Dawn didn't know why Anita stayed, but she wasn't about to question it. Even if Anita only stayed out of some sense of duty, finders-keepers or something, it was enough that Dawn wasn't alone.

Sniffling, Dawn looked down at her hands. The paramedics had bandaged her wrists before they drove to the hospital. The white bandages seemed out of place against her tanned skin and the purple velvet of her long sleeves. Wiggling her fingers didn't feel as strange as it should have. Her hands were so tiny, little chubby fingers with miniscule fingernails. Dawn made a loose fist, then stretched out her hand again.

She vaguely remembered being this small, of being five when Buffy was eleven and in figure-skating and being excellent at everything. Back when Mom and Dad still seemed happy and everything was okay. Before Buffy was the Slayer and all the lies that made up life had been destroyed.

Only it wasn't real, Dawn reminded herself. Buffy had been perfect, and Mom and Dad had been happy, but Dawn hadn't existed. She'd been shoved into Buffy and Mom's lives like a splinter only a year before, a glowing ball of energy that acted as a Key to open doors to hell dimensions.

Dawn pushed those thoughts and the accompanying panic attack away. Instead, she focused on her hand. What would Buffy do, if she was here and little? Buffy would probably try to figure out how big she really was, what she could do, and how to keep herself safe. Dawn could do that.

Dawn reached out and took hold of Anita's slim wrist. "What are you doing?" Anita asked.

"I want to see something," Dawn said as she measured. Her little hand was only slightly larger than Anita's palm. As Dawn moved her hand away, she saw something on Anita's palm that made her frown. With her unfamiliar fingers, Dawn traced the pink scar on Anita's skin. It was shaped like a tiny cross, the kind Buffy wore on a necklace, but this was carved into Anita's skin.

Anita pulled her hand away. Glancing up, Dawn was surprised at the lurking pain in Anita's eyes. The woman tried to smile it away, but Dawn knew what she had seen. Dawn wanted to say something, about how she knew about scars and what they meant, but it was the wrong place and time, with the loud white chaos of the emergency room surrounding them. Instead, Dawn settled back against Anita's side and went back to watching the police and doctors argue.

The argument went on for so long that soon Dawn developed another problem. She started to squirm.

"What's wrong?" Anita asked immediately.

Dawn tugged on Anita's sleeve until the woman bent her head down. "I have to go to the bathroom," Dawn whispered.

"Oh." Anita looked lost for a moment. "Okay, we can do that."

Dawn wanted to say she wasn't a baby; she could go to the bathroom by herself, but the emergency room was full of tall and loud people, all hurrying about. Dawn didn't want to get lost.

No, Dawn thought, and even the realization made her feel weak and stupid. I don't want to be alone.

"Come on, then, let's get you up." Anita unwrapped the blanket, but seemed at a loss for what do to about the long dress. "Hmm."

"I can walk," Dawn said defensively. Her feet still ached from the cold, but she wasn't going to complain.

"I'm sure you can," Anita said. "But how about I carry you? This floor's not the place you want to walk on without shoes."

Dawn considered this. "Okay," she said after a minute.

Anita got to her feet. "Here we go," she said as she slid one arm behind Dawn's back and the other under her legs, then lifted Dawn effortlessly.

Dawn had a moment's flashback to running from Glory, when Buffy had picked her up like this and ran across Sunnydale. The threatening panic bubbled up, but Dawn refused to let it out. She was Buffy's sister and Buffy never panicked.

The argument across the room broke off, and one of the doctors rushed over. "What are you doing?" he demanded belligerently, glaring down at Dawn and Anita.

"We're going to the bathroom," Anita said.

"You can't do that."

"She's five, she's not making this up. She has to go to the bathroom," Anita said, starting to get angry.

"You can't take her anywhere!"

One of the other cops, a woman with blunt-cut black hair, interjected herself into the conversation. "Marshal Blake, what Dr. Bailey means is that there are other considerations."

"Such as?"

The cop took a deep breath. "Such as there is a process to these things--"

"I want Anita to take me to the bathroom," Dawn interrupted loudly.

The cop looked down at Dawn. "There--"

"Now," Dawn said. It wasn't only that Dawn wanted to get away from these people, she really did have to pee.

"There are considerations to do with living victims, Marshal Blake," the cop continued as if Dawn hadn't spoken.

Dawn felt a thrill of anger shiver up her spine. It was a feeling she had never had before. Why did she feel so furious all of a sudden?

"I deal with the living all the time, Detective Carpenter," Anita ground out.

"Bathroom?" Dawn said, almost at a whine. She squirmed again.

The doctor turned and gestured across the room. A moment later, a nurse hurried over. "We were waiting for Nurse Reed to get here," he said. "She'll go with you."

"Hi Dawn," the nurse said, shifting her armful of cloth to one side. "You can call me Nurse Mary, if you'd like."

Anita made an impatient sound in the back of her throat. "Perhaps we can get a move-on?" she said.

"Of course," the nurse said. She shifted around, so Dawn could see the little basket of vials in the woman's other hand. "We need to take a urine sample," the nurse told Dawn. "Do you know what that is?"

Dawn nodded. "Do we have to?" she had to ask.

"Yes, we do," the nurse said. "We have to see if there is anything in your body that we have to know about, like any sicknesses."

"Are you going to run a toxicology analysis?" Dawn had to ask. She'd watched too much CSI with Willow to be able to stop herself.

The smile on the nurse's face faltered for a moment. Glancing around, Dawn saw similarly stumped reactions on the other adults around her. "Where did you hear that word, Dawn?" the nurse asked.

Dawn shrugged. "TV?" she suggested. She knew she wasn't acting like a kid, but she didn't know what that was. She'd never been allowed to baby-sit, and didn't know what she was supposed to do. Should I act like I'm a little kid, like I don't know math or how to dress myself or anything? What will they do to me if I tell them I'm fifteen?

Anita hefted Dawn a little higher in her arms. "Let's go," she said shortly, cutting off Dawn's spinning thoughts

The hospital bathroom was brightly lit and smelled too strongly of disinfectant. Nurse Mary closed the door behind her, then laid her handfuls on the shelf by the sink. "If you can put Dawn down, Marshal Blake, we can get started," she said briskly.

Anita knelt, but instead of setting Dawn on the floor, she sat the girl on her knee. "Are you okay with doing this test?" Anita asked.

Dawn had to think about that. "I guess," she said slowly. It hadn't occurred to her to refuse, and that realization sent a chill down Dawn's spine. She was a teenager, for heaven's sake! Refusing to do what she was told was like her hallmark.

What if being a kid has changed the way I think? What else is going to change?

"Dawn?" Anita's voice pulled Dawn out of her burgeoning meltdown. Dawn looked up into those worried brown eyes, and tightened her grip on Anita's sleeve.

"I know it might be scary and strange, but we need your help if we're going to help you," Nurse Mary said, kneeling down beside Anita. "I'll tell you about everything we do before we do it, and you can ask any questions you have."

Dawn tried to think her way around that logic. "So I'm helping you to help myself?"

Something very much like a real smile crossed the nurse's face. "Yes, exactly."

After another moment's thought, and the growing pressure on her bladder, Dawn nodded. "Okay, we can do that." She slid off Anita's knee, and tripped on the heavy skirts of the dress. The sudden movement pulled hard on the fabric and somehow the top of the dress slipped off Dawn's shoulders and pooled around her feet.

Someone gasped. Dawn stared down at the dress on the floor and at the underwear that was barely staying up around her hips. The front of the panties and her stubby legs were covered with drying blood from the two large cuts in her abdomen. Anita grabbed Dawn's arms. "Why didn't you tell us you were bleeding?" she demanded.

Dawn tried to take a step back, and the underwear fell down her legs. Standing under the bright uncaring lights, with no clothes and no way to protect herself, so far away from everything familiar, Dawn began to cry.

"Dawn--" Anita loosened her grip on Dawn's arms, but didn't let her go.

"I-- I don't have any clothes," Dawn managed to say around the sobs. "And I don't have anywhere to go."

Anita quickly pulled off her suit jacket and draped it around Dawn's shoulders. The jacket smelled a little bit like Anita's overcoat, rosemary and perfume, and it was so warm. "We're going to take care of you," Anita said vehemently. "We'll find your home and make sure you're safe, I promise."

Dawn gulped, trying to stop crying. The determined expression on Anita's face was so much easier to look at than the barely masked pity the nurse was giving her. "But I don't have any health insurance," Dawn went on. Anita's face went blank. "For the hospital bill." Dawn didn't know much about health insurance, only that it had cost them so much money when Mom got sick, and then after-- afterwards.

"You so do not have to worry about the hospital bill," Anita said, angry again. "All you need to think about is getting better, you hear me?"

"But then who's going to look after me?" The plaintive question slipped out before Dawn could stop herself.

Anita's angry expression faded slightly. "I'll make sure you're safe," she promised.

Dawn nodded. Her crying had slowed, but it was replaced by a much more painful weight on her heart. The promise was too much like Buffy's promises, and now Buffy was gone and Dawn didn't know how to get home.

Without much more fuss, Nurse Mary got her urine sample. After that was done, the nurse changed her latex gloves and began to put Dawn's old clothes in large clear plastic bags. "Marshal Blake, would you be able to help Dawn get into those?" she asked, indicating the small bundle of cloth by the door.

"Um, sure," Anita said, getting up to retrieve the cloth. Dawn watched, wrapped once again in Anita's jacket. Anita unfolded the clothing to reveal tiny bright yellow pajama bottoms and a bright blue pajama top. Anita looked at Dawn over the top of the clothing. "At least we won't lose you in a crowd."

Dawn giggled, a little hysterically, but it did feel good to laugh about something, if only for a minute. She had to let Anita help her into the pants, as her aching feet didn't want to obey her brain. Anita was careful to tie the pajamas below the shallow cuts on Dawn's tummy.

"We'll get the doctors to look at those after we go back out, okay?" Anita said. "Why didn't you tell us that you were hurt?"

Dawn shrugged as Anita tied up the back of the mini-hospital gown shirt. "It wasn't important. There was other stuff."

"What kind of other stuff?" Anita asked, turning Dawn back around.

"The ghoul," Dawn reminded her. "And the police and the stuff. Can I have your jacket back?"

"Huh? Oh, sure." Anita settled the jacket back over Dawn's shoulders, and pulled her hair out. "Dawn..."

"Yeah?" Dawn prompted when Anita fell silent.

Anita blinked. "Nothing. We'll just be a minute and we can go back out to the emergency room."

Dawn made a face, then yawned. It had been a long day. Hell, it had been a long life. I'm only a year old, really, Dawn thought miserably. She lifted her arms up, letting Anita's jacket sleeves flop over her hands. Or maybe I'm really old, like older than Glory.

Something in Dawn's mind wouldn't let her focus too deeply on what had happened with Glory, and Dawn had to think of something else. "What's that?" Dawn asked, pointing at Anita's shoulder and the odd leather rig she had draped around her back.

Anita followed Dawn's gesture. "That's my gun," she said after a minute.

Dawn chewed on her lower lip. "Are you a policewoman too?"

"Not really," Anita explained as she tugged the jacket tighter around Dawn. "I'm a federal marshal, but mostly on preternatural cases." She hesitated. "I guess you don't know what that--"

"Like zombies and stuff?" Dawn interrupted.

Anita raised her eyebrows. "Yes, zombies. And other things."

"Like what?"

"Like vampires," Anita said slowly. "And lycanthropes, and other preternatural beings."

"Cool," Dawn breathed. Anita was really more like Buffy than Dawn had thought. Although, from the explanation, it didn't sound like Anita killed vampires.

While Dawn had been staring off into space, Anita stood up and walked over to the nurse. "Why did they send you?" Anita asked, so quietly that Dawn had to strain to overhear.

The nurse continued to label the bags with a big black marker. "I'm a pediatric nurse but I have experience working with assault victims."

Dawn turned that over in her head for a minute. She didn't understand why they would have sent someone like that down to see her. After all, anyone could see that Dawn hadn't been beaten up.

When realization finally hit her, Dawn's head shot up. They thought she'd been... what made them think that?

Mindless of the pain in her feet, Dawn ran across the bathroom floor to Anita's side. Tugging on Anita's pant leg, Dawn said, "That wasn't it!"

"What wasn't it?" Anita asked.

Dawn held her arms up, thinking vaguely about making Anita bend down, but instead Anita picked Dawn up under the arms and settled the girl on her hip. It was a hundred kinds of strange to be held like this, like a little kid, but Dawn instinctively wrapped her arms around Anita's neck. "Ben didn't do anything like that," Dawn said urgently. Yeah, he'd been Glory, sort of, and he was going to let Dawn be killed, but Ben hadn't wanted to be stuck with Glory. And he had tried to save Giles' life. And he most certainly had not done anything like that to Dawn. "Ben didn't hurt me like that."

Instead of reassuring Anita, the uneasy look in the woman's eyes deepened. "Dawn, do you know what we're talking about?"

That brought Dawn up short. She wasn't stupid, she knew bad stuff could happen to people, but would a normal five-year-old know about sexual assault and stuff? "I guess," Dawn said vaguely.

Anita settled Dawn more comfortably against her hip. "You said there was someone named Ben?" she asked, keeping her voice level.

Dawn didn't know what to say. Every ingrained instinct shouted at her to stop, not to tell these people about Glory and Ben and the end of the world, but... but they'd believed her so far. Or least hadn't been surprised about ghouls and zombies.

Instead of replying, Dawn laid her head on Anita's shoulder. Her whole body was starting to hurt with being awake for so long, but how could she go to sleep in this strange place?

Anita laid a reassuring hand on Dawn's back. "Let's go back to get those cuts in your side looked at, all right?" Dawn made a noise that was supposed to be a yes, but was broken by another yawn.

It was disturbingly easy to let Anita carry her out of the bathroom, to let someone else deal with the problems for a few minutes. Buffy had done this sort of thing for Dawn, but over the last few months, since Mom died, Dawn had wondered if she'd been imagining Buffy's reluctance and weariness at fixing Dawn's screw-ups, at this whole Glory mess.

Buffy... she loved me, Dawn told herself. Glory wasn't my fault. None of this was my fault.

But if I hadn't been made into Dawn, then Buffy might have had a totally different life. Dawn swallowed hard. Maybe Riley wouldn't have left. Maybe Mom wouldn't have... Maybe Buffy would have been happier without me.

~~~

The room in the pediatric ward was much quieter than the emergency room. Dawn sat on the bed, a blanket covering her legs, and blinked tiredly. They were never going to let her sleep.

Anita, Zerbrowski, Nurse Mary and Detective Carpenter all ranged around the edges of the room while a new doctor wrote on his clipboard at Dawn's bedside. While the doctor made notes, Dawn scowled at Carpenter, who had been making snide little comments about Anita all night. The weird thing was, no one else seemed to hear, and the detective's lips didn't move when she said those things. But Dawn heard them all, clear as day.

"You should really come back in the morning, after she's had some sleep," the doctor said.

"We need to talk to her now," Carpenter said. "The scene's growing cold as we speak."

Dawn's glower intensified. She wasn't a scene, she was a person!

"I've made my recommendation," the doctor said, snapping his clipboard closed.

Anita pushed herself off the wall and walked over to sit on the edge of the bed. "What do you say, Dawn?" she asked, drawing Dawn's attention off Carpenter. "Do you think you can answer a few more questions?"

The doctors had examined her belly and put more bandages to cover the shallow wounds, and the tape pulled when Dawn shrugged. "I guess."

The woman quirked up the side of her mouth in a half smile as she laid a warm hand on Dawn's back. "You're doing a great job of hanging in there," Anita said.

"Thanks," Dawn said shyly.

The warm prickling of happiness vanished the next second, when Dawn heard Detective Carpenter said, loud as a bell, "I can't believe that coffin-bait slut's brainwashed the kid, just like she does everyone else."

Dawn jerked away from Anita, throwing her gaze over to Carpenter. Dawn felt as if she had been hit, hearing those horrible words. Once again, no one else had seemed to hear what Carpenter had said.

"Dawn?" Anita said. "What's wrong?"

Dawn only shook her head. Ignoring the pull of the bandages, she leaned over and wrapped her arms around Anita's torso as far as she could, burying her face against Anita's stomach.

Something had to be wrong. Anita had to have heard Carpenter's comment, but she hadn't reacted at all. How can I be the only one hearing these things? Dawn wondered, holding on to Anita for all she was worth. Anita wrapped her arms around Dawn, and it felt safe. Dawn curled around the woman and tried to push away the horrible things Carpenter had said.

Anita's not a slut, Dawn told herself forcefully. She's smart and strong and she didn't leave me alone.

Reciting her new mantra in her head, while being held safe and warm, Dawn began to drift off to sleep. She started awake when Anita tapped on her shoulder. "Huh?" Dawn said, blinking hard as she sat up. A quick peek around the room showed Dawn that Carpenter and the doctor were gone. "What?"

"Are you falling asleep?" Anita asked apologetically.

Dawn nodded, rubbing at her eyes. "It's been a long..." Dawn tried to remember when she last had a good night's sleep. Before Mom died.

"Dawn?"

Dawn pushed her hair back, wondering if her head looked as large as it felt. "Nothing."

Anita shifted around on the bed. "You can tell us anything you want," she prompted. Zerbrowski pulled over a chair and sat down, while Nurse Mary stayed near the end of the bed. "Anything at all."

Dawn sniffled, and the words just slipped out of her mouth. "I miss Mom."

The room was quiet, muffled footsteps in the hallway a million miles away. Zerbrowski stared at his hands, while Anita looked at Dawn with an indecipherable expression.

It was Nurse Mary who spoke. "Can you tell us about your mother, Dawn?"

Dawn gripped the blanket tight in her hands, needing to hold onto something solid. "She had a brain tumor," Dawn said after a minute. Since Mom died, Dawn had been wanting to talk to someone about her, but Xander always panicked and Willow got teary and Buffy just shut down. Only Spike had listened, but it wasn't the same because Spike was Spike and even though he walked around, he was still dead, like Mom.

"She had a brain tumor," Dawn said again, hating how her mouth couldn't pronounce the words correctly. "She had surgery and then she came home and she had an aneurism and she died."

Anita exhaled, and it was loud in the room. "I'm... Dawn, I'm sorry. When did... I mean, how long ago was this?"

"In February," Dawn said softly. "Buffy had to take care of me."

"Who is Buffy?" Anita asked.

"My sister." Dawn made herself let go of the blanket. Looking at her tiny hands, too small to make a difference, she made a decision. She didn't know why, but she trusted Anita. She'd tell Anita about Mom and Buffy, but nothing about Glory and Ben, or Buffy being the Slayer and Dawn being the Key.

They wouldn't have believed her, anyway.

"Your sister takes care of you?" Zerbrowski asked. "Where does she do that?"

Even though she was exhausted, Dawn rolled her eyes at him. "At home," she said witheringly. "In Sunnydale, California."

"What about your father?" Anita asked.

"He was in Spain with his secretary," Dawn told her. "He left a long time ago." Talking about Dad always made Dawn uncomfortable. "But Buffy protected me."

"That's good," Anita said. "That there was someone--" She cut herself off. "Do you know where Buffy is now?"

The memory of Buffy falling off Glory's tower hit Dawn, knocking the air out of her chest. She gulped. "No." It came out as a whisper.

"Do you remember how you got to the graveyard?"

Dawn didn't answer.

"Anita," Zerbrowski said. Dawn watched as Anita and Zerbrowski made gestures at each other in a silent conversation, then Zerbrowski turned to Dawn. "How about you get some sleep, and we'll be here to talk to you in the morning."

They were going to leave her here? Fear of being left alone welled up in Dawn's chest, and she grabbed Anita's hand. "Don't--"

"Don't what?" Anita asked. She didn't pull away from Dawn. "Is something wrong?"

Dawn made herself let go of Anita; made herself sit back on the bed. She was supposed to be strong, she reminded herself. She had to be strong and level-headed, not panicking because she was scared of being left alone. Buffy wouldn't have been clinging to anyone; she'd have been smart and strong and could do this all on her own.

"Dawn?" Something in Anita's voice made Dawn think past her own fears, and she looked, really looked, at the woman. Anita stared down at Dawn with determination, as if someone had dared her to do something and Anita wasn't going to turn away. Dawn wasn't sure what, though. She was so exhausted that nothing made sense. "Would you like someone to stay here with you tonight?"

"Anita, what are you doing?" Zerbrowski demanded.

Eyes flashing, Anita whipped her head around to glare at the detective. "You weren't in the graveyard, Zerbrowski, you didn't see--" She stopped. "Maybe one of us should stay, just in case anything comes up."

"Yes, please," Dawn whispered before she could stop herself. "I mean, if you want to."

Anita smiled at her, a wry expression that seemed sad and angry all at the same time, but not directed towards Dawn. "Yeah, I want to," she said, nudging Dawn's arm.

Dawn let out a breath she hadn't known she was holding. She hadn't known until the danger had passed, how scared she was of being alone in this strange world.
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