Chapter VII: Tangled Lives

On most nights, Buffy Summers was a good driver: sane, patient and in full control of the wheel.

Tonight was not one of those nights.

After receiving the call from the hospital, Buffy hadn't wasted any time in storming out of the house to get to her baby sister – with, of course, the group of people who decided to storm out with her. Kennedy, Willow, Xander, Giles and Faith had all piled into the Summers family SUV before Buffy even had time to protest, and she knew that it would only be a waste of time to argue with them.

Besides, the way she was feeling, it was good having them around - because she knew they were feeling basically the same things: anxiousness, worry, and fear for what might have happened. Even Faith looked grim as Buffy sped down the nearest road to the hospital, weaving in and out of traffic, accompanied by a chorus of honking whenever she narrowly swerved between two cars.

No one spoke during the entire ten-minute drive to the hospital, and as soon as they arrived they burst through the doors and made a beeline for the counter where a nurse was busy typing in files on a computer.

"My name's Buffy Summers – my sister Dawn was brought in here about an hour ago," she said briefly, wanting to waste as little time as possible.

"You were called in by Dr. Horton?" the nurse asked, looking up at them calmly. It bothered Buffy, the way most nurses seemed to handle people like objects.

"Yes," she replied shortly, and the nurse gestured with her arm at a nearby corridor. "Room M125, fourth door on your left. Dr. Horton should be expecting you."

The room turned out to be a waiting room more than a hospital room; there was no actual equipment inside the room and the only furniture was a sofa, a number of armchairs and a few coffee tables. On close examination, Dr. Horton turned out to be a tall, 40-ish woman with graying blonde hair and a clipboard that seemed permanently attached to her arm.

"Miss Summers – it's nice to see you've come," the doctor said, motioning for all of them to sit down. "I tried contacting the relatives of all those involved, but it seems you were the only ones able to make it."

"We still don't even know exactly what happened," Buffy said, fixing her gaze on the woman's face. If anything happened to Dawn… or the girls… she let the thought trail off and tried to ignore the heavy feeling in her chest as Dr. Horton began to explain the details of the accident.

When she broke the news about Chloe, they were all shocked. Dr. Horton explained the circumstances of her injuries, and a heavy silence settled as the reality of it sank in. The mood didn't lighten when Dr. Horton informed them that the rest pf the girls were unharmed, but at least they were relieved that things hadn't turned out any worse.  "Can we see them?" Buffy asked, forcing out the words through the choking knot in her throat.

"Yes, but I also wanted to speak to you about the other accident victims. A total of eleven people were directly involved in the incident, I feel that it might be best if I could speak to all of you personally at one time, to help clear up any doubts or worries."

Buffy glanced at Giles before agreeing, and the ex-Watcher nodded reassuringly. A few moments later the girls walked in, and Buffy leapt out of her seat and electrified Dawn with a tight hug, so relieved she felt as though something inside of her was bursting. "Buffy…" Dawn whispered, clinging to her sister. "It was horrible… And Chloe…" Unable to control it any longer, she sobbed against her sister's sweater, finally letting out all of the emotions that had been building up inside of her.

"I know," Buffy cut her off, her voice muffled by her own tears. "I know, Dawnie. Chloe was a good friend to all of us. But at least you're safe," she added in a whisper. For a few moments, all anyone could do was comfort each other – each of the Potentials and Dawn received more hugs than they could count, and more than one sweater ended up stained with tears that night

The reunion was brought to a pause when the door swung open and three boys – one in a wheelchair – silently entered the room and stood just inside the doorway. Dr. Horton waited for the momentary tension in the room to subside before introducing the newcomers.

No one knew exactly what to say. Small talk was out of the question, and a simple 'hello' just wasn't good enough. Finally, Bryce fixed his eyes – covered by plain green lenses – on the group and broke the silence. "We heard about your loss," he said, and his calm, cool voice carried a sad note, "and we're sorry."

"Thank you," Dawn responded quietly, smiling despite of her watery eyes. "We're all sorry."

And it was as though a ripple of relief moved through the room, breaking whatever ice had existed there, lifting the heaviness that had weighed upon everybody's shoulders. Suddenly, though, Kennedy took a mental inventory of the room – mostly out of habit – and noticed something.

"You said that there were eleven people directly involved in the accident," she commented. "I only count ten."

"Yes, I was getting to that," Dr. Horton said, sighing for the hundredth time that day. "It seems that the girl who was in the third car has just awoken from a coma. She's being examined by a neurologist now, but she seems to exhibiting signs of severe amnesia."

"How severe?" Giles asked, partly out of concern and partly out of curiosity.

"Critical; from what I've been told, she can't even remember her name. We're hoping it won't be permanent, but if it is we're probably going to have to hand her over to the social welfare department."

Dr. Horton went on to tell them that the vehicles had been severely damaged, and would probably never be fully operational again. The boys were especially affected by the news, since it left them with no means of transportation and nowhere to go; and there was still the issue of what to do with the potential Jane Doe.

Buffy was quiet throughout most of the conversation, listening with half her attention and watching the people around her with the other half. Connor, Tyrone and Bryce were talking quietly among themselves, trying to work out the tangle they seemed to have gotten themselves into; the Potentials were sadly reminiscing about Chloe; and most of the adults were discussing the accident with Dr. Horton.

Buffy thought about how lucky Dawn and the others had been to get away basically unharmed; they could have been stranded runaways like the boys or ended up with memory loss, like that girl. If it had happened to Dawn… Buffy didn't let the thought trail off this time, and the full force of it affected her.

If it had been Dawn, I would have given everything to know she was alive and safe, she thought. I wouldn't have wanted her to end up stranded in some strange town, or lying in a coma with no memory of her life.

And it just clicked into place, before she even had time to think it over properly – think over the costs, or the consequences. She realized that right now was not the time to worry about costs and consequences.

Now was the time to help. "So…" she said, turning to the trio of boys. They looked up at her in surprise, obviously wondering what she was going to say.

"We have some extra living space back at the house that we can afford to lend to someone for a few weeks. Interested?"

The End. (Sequel coming soon…?)