Dawn struggled with the ropes holding her hands, trying not to cry out as the knife sliced into her sides. Her blood was hot as it poured down her sides and over her toes and dripped down into the air.
The portal opened.
Dawn struggled harder.
Then Buffy was there, bleeding and wild, grabbing at the Doc. The man was caught off-guard, but as Buffy flung him off the tower, his knife flashed out and dug into the Slayer's shoulder, dragging Buffy over the side with him.
Dawn screamed. She pulled at the ropes harder, so hard the fibers tore into her wrists and blood went everywhere, but it didn't matter because Buffy had bled for her and Dawn wasn't going to let a little pain stop her. She was the Slayer's sister and that meant she had to be stronger than she knew.
Evil things flew in the air, making the tower shake. As Dawn finally freed her hands from the bindings, a dragon tore itself out of the portal and winged off towards Los Angeles.
Dawn fell to her knees. The portal that her blood had made was growing, just as Glory had wanted. Far below, small figures fought. Was Buffy down there? Did she survive her fall? How abut Spike? Willow? Xander?
How many more people were going to get hurt because of the portal of her blood?
Far away in the east, the sun began to drift over the horizon.
Dawn closed her eyes, but only for a moment. She was the Slayer's sister, and that meant she had to be strong, she thought as she pulled herself to her feet. She was the only one who could close that portal.
She stepped to the edge of the platform, the grating made slippery with her blood. She was so scared that the air tasted like a knife on her tongue... but she was strong. She had to be strong.
She jumped, and let gravity take her.
Rushing light everywhere and wind and cold and light and cold and light and cold so cold cold COLD!
Dawn hit the ground. She lay still, trying to figure if she was supposed to be hurting or not. Was this dead?
She didn't feel dead. At least, she didn't think she felt dead. The ground underneath her was covered in grass, the air freezing, the darkness pressing in on her. It was so quiet.
Dawn tried to sit up, but she got tangled in her dress and collapsed back down. Giving it another go, she managed to get to her feet, surrounded by yards of loose fabric. At some point, her dress had grown far too big for her.
Her eyes slowly adjusted to the darkness, and she could make out several large shapes around her. She had lived in Sunnydale long enough to know what sort of place this was.
Dawn tried to swallow the rapidly rising wave of panic. She wasn't dead, being in a graveyard was only a coincidence. Only... there were patches of white on the frozen ground, amongst the tombstones. Snow. Was there snow in heaven?
Was this heaven? Dawn began to tremble. She hadn't been bad enough to go to the other place, had she? She hadn't meant to open the portal. They couldn't make her go to hell for that. Right?
"Buffy?" Dawn whispered. There was something wrong with her voice, but she pushed that thought away. "Buffy, where are you?" She gathered up her skirts and started walking, trying to be alert to danger just as Buffy had taught her. "Willow? Xander?" There was no answer, no movement in the graveyard. "Spike?"
Her sides hurt, her wrists burned, and the snow hurt her feet as she walked. She knew she shouldn't have been in a graveyard at night, all kinds of vampires and demons would think she was a tasty nibble, Spike had said so himself. She had to find a way out of here. She had to find Buffy, tell her that she survived the fall and everything was going to be okay.
Tears swelled up in her eyes and fell down her cheeks, cold against her skin. She reached up with an impatient hand to rub them away. When she pulled her hand back, she almost screamed.
Her hand was too small.
Everything was too small, Dawn realized as she pulled up the hem of her dress to look at her feet. Baby hands, baby feet... what had happened to her?
This isn't happening! Dawn thought, breathing speeding up hysterically. I'm not a little kid! I'm almost sixteen! I'm Dawn Summers and I'm not dead and I'm not a little kid!
Mindless of the danger of running through an unfamiliar graveyard, Dawn bundled up the fabric of her too-large dress and ran, trying to find a way out. The only sounds in the graveyard were her ragged breathing and the crunch of the snow under her numb feet.
Eventually, waves of dizziness caught up with her, and she stumbled to a stop near a large stone angel. Her sides hurt worse than ever. Dimly, Dawn wondered if running with two big cuts in her sides was such a great idea. As she contemplated falling over, a voice ghosted across the graveyard, freezing Dawn in place.
"Simon Edwards, arise!" With the words came a terrifying rush of power, sort of like Dawn had felt from Willow when the witch was doing simple spells, but so much more powerful and hard and cold.
Wanting Buffy more than ever, Dawn peered out from behind her angel. Ten graves down, a loose knot of people stood around a headstone. Dawn's eyes were drawn to one woman at the foot of the grave. The woman held a long silver knife in her hand, which she was pointing at the grave.
As Dawn watched, the grave opened and a zombie shot out.
Dawn bit on her too-small hand to stop herself from screaming. The woman was raising a zombie! And everyone was just watching her do it! Were they evil witches? What would they do to her if they found her?
The zombie grabbed the woman's offered hand, and pulled it up to his mouth. No one moved to stop the creature. Then, after a minute, the zombie pulled back, and the woman lowered her arm. "Are you Simon Edwards?" she asked.
The zombie nodded. "I am Simon Edwards," it said in a gravelly voice.
Why did she care who the zombie was? Dawn took her hand out of her mouth and watched, frowning.
One of the men behind the lady stepped forward. "Mr. Edwards, I am a lawyer for Hillside Insurance, and we have some questions for you with regards to the division of the trust fund for your grandchildren as set out in your will."
What? Lawyers were talking to the zombie? Dawn tugged at her lower lip and frowned. Maybe they were like evil lawyers or something.
The questions from the lawyer continued for a while, long enough for Dawn to get bored of watching that and turn her attention to the rest of the people. The woman who had raised the zombie was standing at the side of the grave, arms crossed. In the faint moonlight, she looked bored too. She was beside the tallest person Dawn had ever seen, a woman with dark hair pulled back into a ponytail. Maybe she was half-giant, like Hagrid in the Harry Potter Books, Dawn mused.
The rest of the people in the circle looked like the evil lawyer, so Dawn focused back on the zombie. He was all desiccated and gross-looking. Uneasily, Dawn remembered trying to bring her mother back, and her mother's death was still so fresh in her mind that the tears came back. Would Mom have looked like that, all dead and gross?
The tears came more freely. Dawn missed Mom so much, and she missed Buffy and everyone and she was so cold and so scared but she didn't know what to do, other than to wait for Buffy to find her.
The evil lawyer by the zombie stepped back. "Ms. Blake, we're through."
The short woman moved in front of the zombie. "Mr. Edwards, do you understand what will happen now?"
The zombie nodded. "You will put me back in my grave, and my grandchildren will receive their proper inheritance."
"That's right," Ms. Blake said. She touched her silver knife to the man's lips, then threw a handful of something at him. The zombie laid down and was swallowed up by the earth, just like that.
Dawn was beginning to feel a little fuzzy around the edges. The ground wasn't as cold as it had been before, and her sides didn't hurt so much. She watched as the evil lawyers left, leaving the two women at the grave. Ms. Blake began to walk in a circle around the grave.
"This is the last one for the night, Claudia," Ms. Blake said as she walked. "Want to go grab something to eat before we head back?"
The really tall woman scanned the graveyard, and Dawn ducked back behind her gravestone. "If you want, Anita."
"What I want, Claudia, is a long shower and a cup of coffee," Ms. Blake, Anita, said. "Maybe even a night off. I..."
"What?" Claudia asked.
Had they heard her? Dawn huddled behind her stone angel, turning away from the zombie grave. She blinked her tired eyes at the graveyard.
Something in the shadows moved.
Panic stole Dawn's breath away. A large grey thing stalked toward her on silent feet, tatters of clothing hanging off it. Its pale silver eyes gleamed in the moonlight as it gathered its legs under it to pounce on her.
The creature roared, then impossibly loud gunfire sounded over Dawn's head. The creature squealed and ran off. More shots followed it, then two people ran past Dawn's gravestone.
"What the hell would a ghoul be doing out here?" the woman Anita demanded, staring after the creature. "This graveyard was re-consecrated last year."
"Don't know," Claudia said. "Are we going after it?"
Anita, holding a gun in both hands, shook her head. "Not the two of us. We'll get an exterminator team down here. There are too many things that could go wrong with just the two of us." She turned slowly, surveying the graveyard. "We should--" She broke off with a startled gasp and took a step backwards as she spotted Dawn huddled against the gravestone.
Claudia whirled around, putting herself between Anita and Dawn, and aiming her gun at Dawn.
Dawn stayed frozen. The terror was back with its knife-blade against her tongue. She knew, now, that she was going to die. Does getting shot hurt?
"Claudia, no!" Anita shouted. She skirted around the woman, one hand held out. "Just... no. Who are you?" she asked Dawn.
Dawn blinked. The woman stepped closer, but Claudia held up her hand. "Anita..."
"She's not a vampire or a lycanthrope," Anita said, never breaking eye contact with Dawn. "She's not a zombie either. She's just a little girl." Anita put her gun away and knelt beside Dawn. "Why are you out here?"
It took a lot of concentration for Dawn to follow Anita's movements. "Where am I?" she whimpered.
"You're in the Green Oaks cemetery in St. Louis," Anita said, inching closer. "What's your name?"
Dawn had always been told never to give her name to strangers, but she was too cold and too scared to care. "Dawn."
"Dawn," Anita said. It was hard to tell in this moonlight, but the woman looked very spooked. "Why are you here?"
"Anita," Claudia said in a sharp voice. "She's bleeding."
Anita frowned. "Dawn, are you hurt?" she asked, voice suddenly urgent. Her hands settled on Dawn's shoulders, on top of the too-large dress. "Shit, she's ice-cold. Claudia, call an ambulance."
Dawn tried to protest, to say she would be fine, but the cold made her tongue too heavy. Anita eased Dawn away from the tombstone, the woman's hands almost hot. A low trembling started in Dawn's chest, spreading to the rest of her body as some of the warmth chased away the numbness of the cold.
"Here, you just hold on and we'll get you all fixed up," Anita said, pulling off her jacket and wrapping it around Dawn. The jacket was warm and soft and smelled like rosemary.
"I'll get your coat bloody," Dawn said through chattering teeth. Anita didn't pause in tucking the ends of the jacket around Dawn's bare bloody feet.
"Don't you worry about that," Anita said, trying to smile reassuringly. When Dawn was just a tiny bundle in the cloth, Anita lifted the girl up. It was only then that Dawn realized how small she really was. No one had lifted her like this since she was in kindergarten. How can I be this small when I feel like me?
"Anita," Claudia said. "The ambulance will meet us at the road."
"Good," Anita said.
"That's not all." Claudia pointed back in the direction Dawn had come. In the faint illumination, Dawn could see tiny bloody footprints leading right up to Anita's feet.
"Mary, mother of God," Anita said with feeling. A strange warm feeling settled over Dawn, making her feel almost safe. "Call Zerbrowski at RPIT, will you?"
"You think this has to do with the preternatural?"
"I don't think finding a bleeding child in a graveyard after midnight is an accident," Anita said. She held Dawn a little too tight, but it made Dawn feel safe, like how Buffy used to hug her too tight with Slayer strength.
Dawn began to cry again. She wanted to be strong, like a Slayer's sister should be, but she was so tired and so scared and so cold that she couldn't be strong anymore.
"Shh, Dawn," Anita said. "You're safe now. It'll be okay."
It wasn't going to be okay, but as Anita carried her back to the road, Dawn didn't know how to explain that. Anita carried Dawn to a jeep parked by the side of the road. Once there, Claudia opened the back to let Anita put Dawn down, and switched on the light, making Dawn blink hard.
"All right, then," Anita said, putting another blanket around Dawn. "Dawn, I'm Anita."
"I know," Dawn sniffled, pulling the blanket tight to her neck.
Claudia turned around and gave Dawn a hard look. "How?"
"Claudia, now is not the time for this," Anita said, in a Buffy-no-joking tone.
Dawn was beginning to get angry. "Because you called her Anita!" she exclaimed. She rubbed at her face with her hand to get rid of her tears, but the blanket rubbed on her rope-burned wrists and she let out a tiny whimper.
Anita caught Dawn's hand with gentle fingers. "Can I see that?" she asked. Dawn hesitated, looking up at Anita. The woman had big brown eyes, like Xander, all soft and nice and friendly. With a nod, Dawn held out her hand.
Anita looked carefully at the marks on Dawn's wrists. "Are you hurt anywhere else?" she asked in a neutral voice.
Dawn nodded her head as she pulled her hand back under the blanket.
A faint wail of an ambulance broke the night silence. Anita's eyes never left Dawn's face. "Dawn, do you remember what happened to you?"
Dawn remembered watching Spike fall, watching Buffy being dragged off the tower. She bit her lower lip as she nodded again.
Anita's gentle fingers pushed the hair off Dawn's face. "Do you know how you got here?"
There was a debate in Dawn's head on how to answer that one. If she wasn't in heaven or hell, then she had to have gone through the portal to a different dimension. How she had gotten to this place, though, she didn't know. "No."
Dawn wasn't sure if Anita believed her. Hell, Dawn wasn't sure if she believed it herself.