Chapter Three: Loud Without A Sound
The bed smelled different than at home, and that was what woke Dawn. She looked around the empty hospital room, bright and cheerful in the morning sun, and wasn't sure she could move. Everything ached: her feet, her stomach, her arms, her head.
Struggling to sit up made Dawn light-headed. She took a few minutes to catch her breath before swinging her legs over the edge of the bed. Her head was a whirl of questions. She wondered why she felt so much worse than the previous night, and if she was ever going to see Buffy again, and where Anita was.
When her bare feet hit the ground, Dawn hissed. Her feet really hurt
! She wanted to swear, say those words Xander used when he didn't think she was around, but she pressed her lips together and remained silent.
She might look five, but she was really fifteen, almost a grown-up, and she wasn't going to act like a child.
Dawn took a closer look around the hospital room. It was obviously designed for little kids. The wallpaper had bears and balloons and pretty colors, all to distract the room's occupants from the fact that they were in the hospital. Dawn hated the room. It wasn't real. In Mom's hospital room, you at least knew that you were in the hospital, not hiding the bad stuff, and not lying to you and pretending it was all right.
Maybe that was what separated little kids from the grown-ups. When you were an adult, you knew there was no such thing as a happy ending.
Dawn's stomach twisted, ripping her out of her moping. Somewhere between a growl and a gnawing sensation, it reminded Dawn of a very pertinent fact: She hadn't eaten anything in three days.
Or had enough to drink. Dawn made a slow, limping beeline to the bathroom attached to the room. Everything was at kid-level, so Dawn could easily reach the taps. She reached her cupped hands out to get a drink, but noticed that there were traces of blood and grime on her skin.
She made a face. That's it, I'm making a list,
she thought as she looked around the room. I want a drink. Then food. Then a long bath. With bubbles. Strawberry bubbles. And maybe a rubber duckie.
Finally finding a little plastic-wrapped cup in the cabinet, Dawn drank and drank and drank until she was bursting. The water took the sharp edge off her hunger, leaving the gnawing ache in its place.
Walking out of the bathroom, another worry tickled at the back of Dawn's head. Anita had promised she would stay, but where had she gone? Dawn tried to be reasonable about the whole thing. After all, the woman had only said she'd stay the night. It was morning now. Maybe she'd gone home.
A whisper of a word, far away and close at the same time, caught Dawn's attention. Relief flooded every single nerve in Dawn's body. It was Anita's voice! She must have just left stepped outside of the room for a moment.
Dawn shuffled over to the closed door. If she concentrated very hard on the faint sounds, they seemed to get louder. Dawn pressed her ear against the door and listened.
"You've been here all night, Blake," a man was saying.
"The night was half-gone already, Zerbrowski," Anita said. She sounded exhausted. "I told Dawn I'd stay."
"We could have posted a guard on the door," Zerbrowski said. "The pediatric wards in this city are locked up tighter than Fort Knox."
"Please don't compare children's lives with money," Anita snapped.
"Jesus Christ, Anita, I was just joking." Zerbrowski paused. "What the hell is wrong with you?"
Anita sighed. Just listening to the sound made Dawn sad, and incredibly tired. "You remember reading about what happened in New Mexico?"
"Yeah, I... Oh."
"Yeah. This is just the first time I've been in a pediatric ward in a hospital since then." Anita coughed. "In this job, we keep coming up with new worst-things-ever, but I think I topped out at seeing that skinless zombie eating newborn babies."
Dawn's stomach dropped. An image popped into her head, a tiny, tiny baby lying on the floor like a broken doll, the center of its body eaten away, like the center sucked out of a piece of candy. The water churned in her gut. She tried to breathe evenly. It's just your imagination,
Dawn told herself, refusing to throw up all over the floor. It can't be as bad as you imagine it, skinless zombies eating little helpless babies--
Dawn clutched the handle of the door and concentrated on counting. By the time she reached thirty-seven, the nausea had receded a bit, and she could go back to listening to Anita and Zerbrowski.
"... you found anything on Dawn's family?" Anita asked. "Any news from... what was it? Sunnydale?"
"There is no Sunnydale," Zerbrowski said. Dawn's stomach lurched. "Not in California, not anywhere. No record of Dawn Summers, no Buffy Summers, no woman named Summers dying of injuries related to brain tumors."
"But there has to be something," Anita protested. "Some record of Dawn's birth, something."
"I'm telling you, Blake, there's nothing. It's like the kid popped into being last night in the graveyard!" Then Zerbrowski said something else, but it was sort of a murmur and fuzzy and even though Dawn couldn't hear his words, she knew he was wondering why bad stuff always happened to little kids, and that he wanted to go home and watch his son do his homework instead of dealing with little girls who'd been cut up and left to wander in snowy graveyards.
"Children don't just appear," Anita said, talking over Zerbrowski's muttering. "What about some kind of... I don't know, maybe she just came to this country?"
"In spite of the fact that she seems like the All-American kid? No dice. Perry's running her details through Interpol, and with the RCMP up in Canada, but so far, nothing."
"There has to be something, some kind of... What? What's with that face? What aren't you telling me?"
"Keep it down," Zerbrowski said. His voice went soft, but Dawn could still hear as he said, "You know how RPIT has put a witch on retainer while Tammy's on maternity leave, right?"
"Yes, Larry told me. Get to the point."
"The point is..." Zerbrowski took a deep breath. "This witch, her name's Miranda. She went to the graveyard early this morning with Arnet and Merloni. They found where Dawn landed."
"Landed?" The word might not have meant anything to Anita, but hearing it was like falling all over again to Dawn. "What are you talking about? Did something throw her out of a car? What--"
"Anita, would you let me finish?" Zerbrowski demanded. "Dawn's footprints started in the middle of a clear snow patch, about thirty yards from anything else. It looks like someone dropped her from the sky." He paused. "That's not all."
"What else is there?"
Zerbrowski was quiet for a few moments. "According to Merloni, Miranda said there was a 'miasma of evil' over the whole site."
"Miasma of evil? What the hell does that mean?"
"I don't know, that was all they got out of her before the convulsions started. What the hell am I supposed to do?" Zerbrowski was so angry, but it was like Buffy angry, and it was familiar enough to not scare Dawn.
"Do you want me to go there and see what I can find?" Anita asked. Dawn felt a sour panic in her stomach at those words. Was Anita leaving? Would going to the graveyard put Anita in danger?
"I don't know. You weren't able to use your magical powers to pick up anything last night, right?"
"It's not super powers," Anita snapped. "It's metaphysical powers, and I was inside of a protective circle when Dawn appeared, because of the zombie. It might have protected me from sensing any other metaphysical mess that was happening."
"Yeah, okay. Look, there's another reason you can't leave."
"Which would be?"
"I need to question Dawn again," Zerbrowski said. "I need a female police officer around when I do it, standard rules."
"You don't need a woman cop around to question a child."
"But I do in a suspected case of sexual assault."
Dawn's mouth dropped open. She'd told Anita last night that nothing like that happened! Hadn't Anita told the cops that hadn't happened?
"I'm not trained for this, Zerbrowski," Anita said, sounding a little panicked. "Call in someone from the station who is, if you really think--"
"Dawn hasn't latched onto anyone else," Zerbrowski interrupted. "She wouldn't let you out of her sight last night, and from the fact that you are still here, you're feeling a little protective of her yourself. "
"Anita, we need to know more about Dawn, what happened to her. If it's some kind of cult, if there are others like her, anything to get whatever sick sonofabitch dressed her up in a woman's dress and made two slices right over her ovaries, got it?"
Zerbrowski's anger was so thick Dawn could almost bite it. It was coppery and bent like rubber in Dawn's mind, something that would never break.
Dawn didn't understand how she knew what Zerbrowski was feeling, or why he was so angry. Her hand trembled on the door as she started to turn the handle. She had to go tell them that they were wrong, that bad stuff hadn't happened to her. Then maybe Zerbrowski would stop being so angry because of her.
"Of course, Zerbrowski," Anita said. "What's going to happen to Dawn?"
Dawn paused in opening the door.
"She's going to have to stay here," Zerbrowski replied. "Child services learned about the evil thing, somehow, and they're saying they won't put her into a home with other kids until we can guarantee their safety."
"What kind of bullshit is that?" Anita demanded. "Dawn's not evil! If she had something happen to her, it's not her fault!"
"I know that," Zerbrowski retorted. "But without a place for her, Dawn's going to have to stay here, until we sort this mess out, maybe in a few weeks."
"She can stay with me," Anita blurted out, surprising Dawn to no end.
"What?" Zerbrowski said. "You're not a foster parent, Anita, you can't--"
"If they're worried about something happening to her, metaphysical stuff, then I can protect her," Anita said, stumbling over the words. "And if there's someone after her, then there are enough people at my house to protect her that way, too."
"First off, you've never taken care of a kid, let along a traumatized one," Zerbrowski said. "It's not a cakewalk. Second, Micah and Nathaniel--"
"Don't you dare start about how they're lycanthropes!"
"You can't make this decision for Micah and Nathaniel, Anita!" Zerbrowski exclaimed. "Dawn may seem mature for her age, but she's still only five, she needs someone with her all the time. Micah's working sixty hours a week at the furry hotline, while Nathaniel does whatever the hell it is strippers do all day. You can't disrupt their lives without even asking!"
"They'd understand," Anita said defensively. "It's not forever, just until we get this sorted out. You said a few weeks."
"I said maybe a few weeks," Zerbrowski reminded her.
"Zerbrowski, we can't leave her in this place for weeks on end! She just lost her mother, just had horrible things happen to her, she need someone to look after her!"
Dawn couldn't listen to this anymore. She pushed the door open and looked around for Anita and Zerbrowski, expecting that they were right outside her door.
The hall was empty.
Dawn didn't understand at all. Where were Anita and Zerbrowski? She whirled around and finally spotted them way down at the other end of the hall.
Full-body panic swept over Dawn. How could I hear them if they were so far away?
An idea trembled in the back of Dawn's mind, something too big and too scary, and she made herself push it away.
At the end of the hall, Anita spotted Dawn. The woman plastered a wan smile on her face and started toward Dawn, Zerbrowski in her wake.
Dawn stayed by the door, holding onto the handle like a lifeline. In the last few minutes, everything had been turned upside down and inside out and she didn't know what to do.
"Hey, Dawn," Anita said, kneeling beside Dawn. "You're awake." All Dawn could do was nod. Anita brushed the hair back from Dawn's face. "How are you feeling?"
"Okay," Dawn whispered automatically.
Anita smiled at her. "That's good. Would it be okay if we talked to you for a little bit?"
Dawn nodded. She pried her hand off the door handle and made herself walk back into the hospital room, knowing Anita and Zerbrowski were following her. She reached the bed and tried to climb up onto it, but it was too high and she slipped back to the floor.
"Dawn..." Anita started, coming over to help her, but Dawn pushed her hands away.
"I can do it," Dawn said crossly. She hooked her toes around the metal of the bed frame and hauled herself up onto the bed. Once up, she sat cross-legged on the bed and tried not to scowl at Anita. It wasn't Anita's fault that Dawn was so small.
Anita stood by the hospital bed, at a loss of what to do, as a nurse hurried into the room. The nurse, a stranger to Dawn, gave Zerbrowski and Anita a look before she picked up the chart at the end of the bed. "How are you this morning, Dawn?" the nurse asked.
Dawn transferred her gaze to the nurse. "I'm fine," she lied. It was easier than explaining about things Dawn herself didn't understand. "Where's Nurse Mary?"
The nurse wrote something on the chart, then set the whole thing down and gave Dawn a smile. "Nurse Mary went home while you were sleeping," she said. "I'm Nurse Cindy, and I'm going to be your nurse today. How does that sound?"
Dawn had a moment's impulse to fling herself into a tantrum. She was hungry, she hurt, she was scared and she missed Buffy so much.
Thinking of Buffy helped Dawn pull herself back. Buffy might have flung things around the room and busted some heads, but she never would have done something as childish as thrown a tantrum because one nice nurse went home after the end of her shift.
The momentary burst of energy gone, Dawn slumped down. "That's okay, " she said to Nurse Cindy. The woman's dark face lit up in a smile, and Dawn found herself smiling back.
"We have to ask Dawn some more questions," Zerbrowski said in an aside to the nurse.
"I'll be here for that," the nurse said back.
Dawn bit her lip and looked up at Anita. In the light of day, the woman looked so tired, with dark circles under her eyes and messy hair. "What's up?" Anita asked when she saw Dawn looking at her.
Dawn shrugged. "You didn't have to stay last night.":
Anita gave Dawn a half-smile as she sat on the edge of the bed. "I said I would, right?"
Dawn nodded. Anita had said a lot of things, and Dawn remembered every one of them. "Can I ask you a question?"
Anita's face didn't change, but Dawn found herself suddenly feeling as if she was in over her head, like she didn't know what to do. "Of course," Anita said.
Dawn took a deep breath. She needed to ask about what Anita said in the hallway, about taking Dawn home with her. Dawn had to know. She opened her mouth, and what came out instead was, "Can I have some breakfast?"
"Food?" Anita said. "Yeah, I guess."
"Good," Dawn said. "I'm really hungry." That had to be why her stomach felt so twisted up and unhappy, right?
Anita pushed herself up off the bed and went over to talk to the nurse and Zerbrowski. Dawn tried to listen in, but she was distracted by the mess of hair hanging over her shoulder. Frowning, she took a handful of hair and peered at it. There was dirt and stuff in her tangled hair. Dawn made a face. She hated being this messy.
Anita came back over and sat down. "We'll have you some food in a few minutes, how does that sound?"
"Good," Dawn said. She made herself let go of her hair. "What do you want to talk about?" she asked.
Zerbrowski took out his pad of paper and found a section of wall. "We need to ask you a few more things about your mother and your sister," he said carefully. When he spoke to her, his voice was softer than when he had been arguing with Anita. Everyone had been like that, except Anita, who always seemed to be too intent on what she was doing to remember to talk to Dawn like a brain-damaged child.
"What about them?" Dawn pulled her knees up to her stomach and wrapped her arms around her legs. It helped the growling ache in her stomach.
Zerbrowski turned over a piece of paper in his notepad. "Can you tell me your mother's name?"
The sharp ache at Mom's death stabbed into Dawn's stomach and made it hard for her to breathe for a few moments. After a minute, when she was no longer in danger of bursting into tears, Dawn said, "Joyce Summers."
"Okay." Zerbrowski scribbled. "And your sister, Buffy? Is that her real name, or is it a nickname?"
"Her real name." Dawn sniffled as she stared down at the bandage on her left wrist. "I always told her it's a dumb name, and she always rolled her eyes and told Mom I was bugging her."
"I see," Zerbrowski said. "Thanks, Dawn, you've been a big help." Dawn made an effort to not roll her own eyes. "Now, can we ask you a few questions about where you live?"
Dawn didn't really see the point. Sunnydale didn't exist in this world. Dawn had most likely fallen through a portal, and there was no way she was explaining that
to the police. "What about it?"
Anita shifted on the bed. "What's it like?" she asked. "Does it have a different name, or is it near any big city?"
"It's small and dorky and full of graveyards," Dawn retorted. All the things she'd never been allowed to talk about, about Slayers and vampires and demons, crowded into her mind. "And it's only called Sunnydale, with its Sunnydale Library and Sunnydale Middle School and Sunnydale High and all kinds of Sunnydale things. It's further up the coast from Los Angeles and it's got an airport and stuff. Do I have to stay in the hospital?"
Anita blinked at the change in topic, and looked over at Zerbrowski. "Well..."
Zerbrowski adjusted his glasses. "We'll talk about this later, how does that sound?"
Dawn wanted to make some witty Buffy-like quip, but the apprehension in her stomach was making her queasy. She didn't want to stay in the hospital. She wanted to go home, but there was no one she could talk to about the portal and Glory and Buffy.
A knock sounded on the door, and another nurse came into the room, wheeling a little cart. She placed a covered tray on the table and left just as quickly.
Nurse Cindy brought the tray over to the bed. "What do you think about trying to eat something?" she asked.
With a nod, Dawn unfolded herself and scooted over to where the nurse placed the tray. The food looked boring, some rubbery scrambled eggs, a piece of soggy toast, and a cup with some chopped fruit. But oh, it was food.
Dawn grabbed the toast and crammed as much of it in her mouth as she could fit. Food hadn't ever tasted this good, even if the toast was unbuttered and the eggs were as bland as milk.
Her mouth was smaller now, and it took her longer to eat than she remembered, but soon she had finished all the food on the tray and was licking the fruit cup clean. Her stomach didn't hurt anymore, but it felt strange. Maybe she needed some water.
Without asking, Dawn slipped off the side of the bed. "Where are you going?" Anita asked, springing up.
"Getting a drink," Dawn called over her shoulder as she went into the bathroom. Through the open door, she could hear Anita and Zerbrowski talking to each other, but the sound of the rushing water drowned them out.
Dawn carried a full glass of water back to the bed. The three adults paused in their conversation to watch her set the cup down on the bedside table, then hoist herself up onto the mattress. She settled down against the pillows and took up the cup of water, which she slowly sipped.
"You could have asked us to get you some water," Anita told her.
Dawn took another noisy sip. "I can do it myself. I can do lots of things myself." It wasn't exactly how she wanted to tell Anita that she could take care of herself, but it was what came out.
"I'll bet you can." Anita smiled, but it didn't reach her eyes. Her eyes were worried. "You sure ate pretty fast. You must have been hungry."
"I guess." Dawn stared down into the cup and the clear water. "I hadn't eaten in a while."
She darted a glance at Anita, somehow knowing before looking up that the woman's smile was long gone. "How long?"
"Anita--" Zerbrowski tried to interrupt, but Anita ignored him, instead focusing all her attention on Dawn.
Dawn shrugged, feeling as if she had done something wrong, but knowing that wasn't it. She wasn't a whiner, she wasn't going to mope about the small stuff when things like lives and evil were on the line. Just like Buffy never... Okay, so Buffy whined, but she whined while saving everyone, and that was a productive sort of whine. Dawn shook her head to rid herself of that train of thought. "A few days."
"A few--" Anita's eyes opened wide. "Why didn't you tell us last night that you hadn't eaten?"
Dawn glared right back. "I told you, it wasn't important--"
"Like not telling us about the cuts on your stomach?" Anita demanded. "What else isn't important?"
"Marshal Blake, that is not the best tone to use with a child!" Nurse Cindy interjected.
Dawn set her cup down, sloshing water all over her hand and soaking her bandage. She climbed to her feet and tried to stay balanced on the mattress. "If it's not important, then it's not important!" Dawn exclaimed. "Like not getting eaten by monsters is more important than some stupid cuts! Like falling off a tower is more important than not eating for a while!"
The panic in her head mixed with the churning in her stomach and the pain in her feet and sides and wrists. Dawn suddenly felt like she couldn't get enough air, like she was falling again, so hard and so fast that she couldn't breathe.
Warm hands gathered her up, and Dawn found herself clinging to Anita. "Hey, it's okay," Anita said. "You need to breathe slower, deep and slow, deep and slow..."
Following Anita's voice, Dawn's gasps for air slowed. She stayed where she was, her arms around Anita's neck, her cheek pressed against the woman's shoulder. A hand settled on Dawn's back, just like Mom used to do when Dawn was little and feeling bad, and suddenly Dawn started to cry. Not big tears or sobs, just little tiny stubborn tears that trickled down her cheeks and into the cloth of Anita's shirt. Everything here was just so unfair.
After a while, even the tears stopped. Dawn stayed where she was, feeling tired and old and worn out. She knew without seeing that Anita was staring at Zerbrowski, challenging him about something, and that Zerbrowski was resigned and anticipating a hell of a lot of work because of this, and Dawn didn't know what they meant or how she knew all this, but she knew that whatever was causing it, did not bode well.
Strange things happening to her never did. ~~~
Dawn licked her lollypop slowly, enjoying the bright yellow lemon flavor on her tongue as long as she could. Outside, the air was very cold, but inside Anita's car, the heater was on, Dawn was still wrapped in the blanket cocoon the nurse had insisted upon, and all was comfortable... if Dawn could ignore the dull ache in her stomach and wrists.
"How are you doing back there?" Anita called over her shoulder from the driver's seat.
Dawn removed the sucker from her mouth with a pop. Sure, it was a juvenile thing to do, but it was fun. "I'm okay. Why do you keep asking?"
Anita's shoulders stiffened. "I wanted to make sure you were doing fine."
"I'd tell you if I wasn't," Dawn said, crunching down on the candy. It was sweet and sour in her mouth. "How soon until we get there?"
"Soon," Anita promised. "I was thinking..."
"Thinking is good," Dawn contributed when Anita trailed off. "You can figure out where you're going, or what you're going to wear. I used to think about what I was going to put in my journal at the end of the day when I was bored."
"Yeah, like a diary." Dawn chewed on the end of the lollypop stick, sucking out all the remaining sugar. "I wrote in it like all the time." And when she had learned she was the Key, that she wasn't real, she'd burned all those pages that she hadn't really written. But she hadn't burned the last journal, the one she'd started keeping after Mom got sick. That one was real. Dawn blinked at the lollypop stick. "But I wasn't able to in a while, 'cause things got bad."
The car drifted to a stop. Dawn looked out the window, expecting to see a stoplight, but instead she saw cars on either side of them. A parking lot.
Anita turned around to stare at Dawn. "How old are you?" Anita asked after a minute.
There was no safe way to answer this question. Dawn could tell Anita she was fifteen, and Anita wouldn't believe her. She could say she was five, but that would be a lie, and Dawn didn't want to lie to Anita.
"I'm fifteen." Dawn put the lollypop stick back in her mouth to avoid having to say any more.
Anita's eyes grew wide. "Fifteen?" she repeated. Dawn kept eye contact with Anita, even though it was intimidating, having the weight of the woman's stare on her. "Right."
"Why did we stop?" Dawn asked, anxious to distract Anita from this line of questioning. "Are we there?"
"No, we're not there, but I had an idea," Anita said. "You're going to be with us for a little while, right?"
"I guess." Dawn frowned slightly. "Why?"
"I was thinking, that you'll need clothes."
Whatever else Anita was going to say died on her tongue as Dawn sat bolt upright, ignoring the sharp pain as the seatbelt dug into her stomach. "Do we get to go shopping?"~~~
Dawn's enthusiasm for shopping wilted slightly by the time Anita had carried her into the department store. The food she'd shoveled into her mouth lay heavy in her stomach, and her various aches were mixing up with the exhaustion in the back of her head. Apparently four hours of sleep wasn't nearly enough.
But Dawn was determined to persevere. She'd have to learn how to function in this new world, and watching Anita deal with things would be the best way to do it.
Besides, she couldn't wander around forever in the second-hand clothes they'd given her at the hospital.
"Do you shop here often?" Dawn asked as Anita consulted the store map.
"No." Anita frowned at the map. "And I've never tried to find the children's section."
"We can get adult clothes and shrink them in the wash," Dawn suggested.
Anita looked down at Dawn. Whatever the woman was going to say halted on her tongue when she saw the smile on Dawn's face. "You're just a little joker, aren't you?" Anita said, holding out her hand. "Come on."
Dawn slipped her hand into Anita's, wondering when it would stop feeling weird to be so small. Is there even a way to change this back? Can I go home and not be a little kid anymore?
She made an effort to not let her thoughts show on her face. "What are we going to get?" Dawn asked, going back to her favorite pastime. "Some shoes that fit?"
"Certainly some shoes, it's too cold for you to have your shoes falling off all the time. Plus--" Anita cut herself off. "Yes, you're getting shoes."
They stepped on an escalator, Dawn having to hop onto the moving step. She could barely reach the moving railing with her free hand. "Do you mind?" she asked, craning her neck to look up at Anita.
Anita glanced down, a serious expression on her face. "Do I mind what?"
"Buying me clothes. You don't have to."
Anita's expression flickered slightly as Dawn felt a sudden rush of emotions that didn't really any sense. Then the emotions were gone, and Dawn was just confused.
At the top of the escalator, Anita guided Dawn to the side of the walkway, by a rack of men's suits, and knelt down so she could look Dawn in the eyes.
"Listen to me," Anita said vehemently. "I want to do this, do you understand? Buying clothes isn't a problem."
Dawn dropped her eyes to stare at the top button of Anita's blouse.
"Do you understand?"
Dawn nodded slightly. "But..."
"But what?" Anita asked, her voice softening. "Dawn, what is it?"
"What about Micah and Nathaniel?" Dawn asked.
Anita stared at Dawn for a very long minute. "Where did you hear about them?" she finally asked.
Dawn chewed on her lip while she thought of how to answer. The truth was, Dawn had no idea how she had overheard the conversation between Anita and Zerbrowski that morning in the hospital. "I just kinda did?"
"How-- Never mind," Anita muttered. "Listen to me. You're in a tight spot right now, and you need someone to look after you. That person's going to be me, at least for a little while."
"But Nathaniel and Micah?" Dawn didn't know who they were, if one or the other of them was her boyfriend or her roommate or whatever, but she didn't want to be in a place where no one wanted her.
"Nathaniel and Micah understand how sometimes things come up," Anita said, so confident that Dawn almost didn't feel the tendril of doubt crawling around in her head. "You staying with us... it's going to be okay."
Dawn remembered the last time someone had told her it was going to be okay. Then, it had been Buffy.
But things hadn't been okay at all.
Dawn gulped past the lump in her throat. She wanted to ask Anita something about her house, but what came out was, "Is Buffy ever going to find me?"
Anita looked away, at the row of hanging clothes that muffled footsteps on the carpet in the store, then back to Dawn. She took a deep breath. "I am going to do everything I can to find your family," she said. "I promise."
Dawn sniffled. "Thank you," she whispered.
Awkwardly, Anita placed her hand on Dawn's back and drew the girl into a sideways hug. "How about we get finished here and get you home?"
"Okay," Dawn said. She let herself rest for a minute against Anita, all warm and strong and soft, then made herself stand straight. She was Dawn Summers, Buffy's sister and Joyce's daughter, and she would be able to get through this.