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No One Left Behind or Forgotten

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“Family means no one gets left behind or forgotten.” ~David Ogden Stiers

 

“How do I look?” Wesley asks, regretting the words immediately. He knows that Dawn is just as nervous about meeting Wesley’s grandmother as Wesley is, and no matter what reassurances Wesley offers, she’s still apprehensive.

 

Truth be told, after a long walk and some reflection, he can understand why Dawn might act out of impulse. Dawn has lost so much, and she’s still a child. From Wesley’s limited knowledge, children who have suffered a great loss or trauma sometimes act out for attention, or just as a cry for help.

 

And if this thing with his grandmother doesn’t work out, they’ll be back at square one.

 

Wesley is just as unsettled as Dawn is, but while he looks like a child, he has the maturity of a grown man. That’s something that he’ll need to remember in the future before getting angry with her.

 

But Dawn just looks him up and down and smiles. “You look good.”

 

Wesley’s wearing his nicest khakis—purchased for him by Cordelia a few months before—and a polo shirt that hasn’t been stained by either food or blood.

 

They’re both going to need new clothes soon. Dawn barely has anything, and Wesley has noticed that he’s grown at least half an inch since he was first cursed. Eventually, he’ll hit another growth spurt and will need a whole new wardrobe. From what Wesley remembers, he’d needed new uniforms at thirteen, so the timing would be about right.

 

“Thanks,” Wesley replies, glancing at the clock. “Aunt Abigail should be here any minute.”

 

Dawn gives him a hug. “No matter what happens, we’re in this together, right?”

 

“Right,” Wesley agrees.

 

“Then you have nothing to worry about,” Dawn insists. “If this doesn’t work out, we go somewhere else, and we’ll figure it out.”

 

He appreciates the brave face she’s putting on, but he knows they have a lot riding on his trust fund. It’s possible that his grandmother will provide him and Dawn with the necessary documents, even if she’s unwilling to go so far as to provide financial support, but she could just as easily give them nothing at all.

 

And if his grandmother takes a dislike to him, she might also forbid his aunt from helping them, and Wesley isn’t sure what they’ll do then.

 

Other than make do, which is what they’ve done so far.

 

A brisk knock on the door brings Spike in from the porch, where he’s been smoking a cigarette. If he’s nervous, he shows no sign of it. Wesley wipes sweaty hands on the legs of his pants and answers the door.

 

He expects to see his aunt, because his understanding is that they’d be meeting his grandmother for dinner. Instead, he sees a woman not much taller than himself, thin as a rail with bright blue eyes the exact shade of his own. She has short, white hair, still quite thick, standing up in messy spikes, with earrings made of feathers, and she’s wearing fashionable jeans and a blouse.

 

In short, she’s absolutely nothing like what Wesley would have expected from a grandmother or the leader of a coven.

 

Not that he had much contact with either in the past. His paternal grandparents died when Wesley was an infant, and the Watcher’s Council had little official contact with any covens, although individual Watchers would sometimes cultivate relationships on their own.

 

Wesley’s father had not been one of those Watchers, and he’d been dismissive of magic, looking at it has little more than parlor tricks. Looking back, Wesley can understand why his father would have blocked Wesley’s access to his mother’s family.

 

Wesley’s surprise must show on his face, because she says, “I couldn’t wait one more minute to see my only grandson,” with a twinkle in her eye.

 

“Oh, um, come in,” he says, and casts a panicked look at his aunt, who’s standing just behind her. Abigail just shrugs in a way that suggests surprising people is something his grandmother enjoys doing, so that’s no help at all.

 

His grandmother looks around the apartment with her hands on her hips. “Could do with a bit of sprucing up, but it’s not bad. Now, Wesley, let me look at you.”

 

Wesley closes the door and dutifully goes to stand in front of her. She laughs and puts her hands on his shoulders. “I don’t bite, my dear. At least, not unless the situation calls for it.”

 

She stares into his eyes, and Wesley forces himself to keep his gaze steady. “Well, you are a surprise,” she murmurs, putting a hand on his cheek. “So much pain, so many scars. I’m so sorry, child. I knew your father was a right bastard, but I had no idea how badly he hurt you.”

 

Wesley blinks rapidly, trying to hold back the tears, but she just pulls him in for a hug. “I don’t understand,” he mutters.

 

“Time for explanations later,” she says. “Introduce me to your family.”

 

Wesley’s eyebrows go up at that, but when she releases him, he says, “Grandmother, this is Dawn Summers and Spike.”

 

He belatedly realizes that he has no idea what her first name is to introduce her, but she just laughs. “You can all call me Aggie, or Nana if you prefer. ‘Grandmother’ is so formal, don’t you think?”

 

Dawn sticks her hand out. “It’s nice to meet you.”

 

Aggie takes her hand and then holds onto it. “You have power running through your blood, Dawn Summers. Power and pain.”

 

Dawn blinks. “Oh. Um.”

 

“Don’t mind me,” Aggie says. “It’s both a blessing and a curse.” She turns to Spike. “And aren’t you a handsome devil.”

 

Spike’s expression is priceless, and Dawn actually giggles when she sees his reaction. “H’lo, Aggie.”

 

Wesley frowns. “Do you two know each other?”

 

Spike hitches a shoulder. “Not as such.”

 

“Hm,” Aggie says. “No, but our paths have crossed before. You’ve changed.”

 

Spike shrugs. “A lot has happened.”

 

“I can see that,” she replies. “I can also see the blood oath you wear like a badge of honor.”

 

Spike nodded. “I made a promise.”

 

Aggie turns back to Wesley, pointing a finger at him. “And you, you surround yourself with interesting people, which suggests that you are just as interesting. You aren’t your father’s son.”

 

Wesley meets her eyes steadily. “My father essentially disowned me several years ago.”

 

“More fool he,” Aggie replies. “But now that I’ve thoroughly discombobulated you, perhaps we should eat.”

 

They end up walking to a nearby, upscale Chinese restaurant, one that serves more authentic dishes next to American ones. “Order whatever you like,” Aggie says, off-handedly. “I’m buying.”

 

Wesley’s glad she said something, because he’d already been doing the math on their dwindling cash and figuring out whether they could afford two meals, let alone three.

 

Spike doesn’t order, but then there are only certain human foods he truly enjoys, although he’ll occasionally eat for the sake of appearances. Wesley orders a mid-range entrée, and Dawn does the same.

 

“I never talk business over dinner,” Aggie says once they’ve ordered. “For one, it can spoil the food, and for another, you never know who’s listening. So, Wesley, tell me what your favorite food is. Granted, I probably should have asked before I chose the restaurant, but we’ll have time to get your favorite as well while I’m here.”

 

Wesley hesitates. “Ah, Chinese, actually. I—I used to fight my friends over the last crab rangoon.”

 

Aggie had ordered a double serving, which they’re still waiting on, and she beams at him. “A man after my own heart. Dawn?”

 

Dawn looks a little overwhelmed, and Wesley can relate. His grandmother has a forceful personality, to put it mildly. “Pizza with anchovies.”

 

Aggie grins. “I’ll bet you don’t have to share your pizza very often.”

 

Dawn offers a hesitant grin. “No, not really, as long as I’m the one ordering.”

 

“And you?” Aggie asks Spike.

 

Spike raises an eyebrow. “I don’t eat.”

 

“I’m certain that’s not true,” Aggie replies.

 

Spike shakes his head, one corner of his mouth quirking up. “I do love a blooming onion.”

 

“Terrible for my figure, but delicious,” Aggie agrees. “Abigail, how are classes this term?”

 

Her interrogation technique is flawless, peppering everyone with questions, the mundane and personal mixed together so well Wesley finds himself answering even when he normally would have hesitated.

 

By the time they’ve demolished the crab rangoon and their entrees have arrived, Wesley has a very clear picture of why his father hated her, and likely why the feeling had been mutual.

 

His father never liked things that were out of his control, and Aggie is clearly a person used to controlling a room and getting what she wants.

 

Wesley suspects Aggie has a slightly more altruistic bent than his father.

 

He likes her, though. In a way, she reminds him of Cordelia with her strong personality and sense of humor. She’s not what he expected, but that just makes him like her more, in a way.

 

After dinner, they repair to Abigail’s cozy apartment, and Abigail invites Spike inside without any apparent hesitation, although that might be because she knows exactly how to disinvite him.

 

Aggie takes the armchair, upholstered in fabric that had been popular in the fifties, her back straight, looking a bit like a queen on a throne.

 

“Tea, anyone?” Abigail asks.

 

“Please,” Aggie replies.

 

Wesley nods, as does Spike, but Dawn shakes her head. “Soda?” Abigail asks her.

 

Dawn brightens. “Yeah, thanks.”

 

“Now, we can get down to business,” Aggie announces once she has a mug of tea in hand. “First, Wesley, to answer your unspoken question, the reason I didn’t visit you was partially due to my own distaste for flying, and partially because your father forbade it. After Abigail’s visit, we were not welcome in your father’s home. Your mother agreed and asked that we not return out of respect for her wishes.”

 

Wesley stares down at his tea. “I see.”

 

“And it was pride on my part,” Aggie admits softly. “I wasn’t happy Rose went against my wishes by marrying your father.”

 

Wesley swallows. “What—what didn’t you like about my father?”

 

Aggie smiles. “I thought he was a pompous blowhard, and I’ve never had a tremendously high opinion of the Watchers’ Council. I think they’re a bunch of cowards who use teenage girls to do their dirty work.”

 

Wesley blinks. “I, uh—did you say that to my father?”

 

“I may have,” Aggie admits.

 

Wesley giggles, trying to imagine the expression on his father’s face when she said that. He wishes he could have seen it for himself. “I’m sure that went over well.”

 

“There was no love lost between us,” Aggie says. “But I should not have let that stop me from checking on you myself.”

 

Abigail clears her throat. “I’m not exactly chopped liver, Mom.”

 

“No, but you also didn’t inherit my knack for seeing under the surface,” Aggie replies, not unkindly. “And I imagine that Roger was quite careful not to let you actually visit with Wesley alone.”

 

Abigail nods. “True, and I assumed Rose wouldn’t choose her husband over her child.”

 

“I would have made the same assumption,” Aggie says. “I’m sorry, Wesley.”

 

Wesley shakes his head. “It’s—it’s not fine, but I—” He falters at Aggie’s expression, both sympathetic and challenging him. “I won’t say I’ve moved past it.”

 

“Good,” Aggie says. “I think it’s important that we’re honest with each other.”

 

“I would agree,” Wesley says.

 

Aggie nods. “Then I think it’s important to tell you that I have been working on reversing the curse. There’s a casting I’ll need to do on you to confirm what I’ve already found. In addition, I want you to know that the trust fund set aside from your mother is yours. There are age restrictions that I can’t get around, but Abigail will ensure that you and Dawn—and Spike—have everything you need.”

 

Wesley let out a breath he didn’t know he’d been holding, relief swamping him. He hadn’t let himself trust that his grandmother would actually come through for him, or for them. “Thank you doesn’t seem to cover it.”

 

“I owe you a debt,” Aggie replies. “And besides, I like you, Wesley. Helping you kills two birds with one stone.”

 

Wesley can guess which two birds she’s talking about: the debt she feels she owes Wesley and tweaking Wesley’s father, even without him knowing about it.

 

“Now,” she continues briskly. “You and your friends are under my protection, and I have the papers you’ll need to enroll in school and move forward with your lives. However, I’ll need privacy for the casting on Wesley. Dawn, Spike, do you mind?”

 

Dawn glances at Wesley, and he nods to reassure her. “Thanks, Mrs.—Aggie.”

 

“Better,” Aggie says approvingly. “Spike, I’m sure you’ll see her home safely.”

 

Spike raises an eyebrow, but he shrugs good-naturedly enough. “All right then, Bit. Let’s leave the witches to their business.”

 

Wesley gets the sense that something is not being said, but after everything his grandmother has done for him, he can respect her request to speak to him privately.

 

Abigail sees them out, and then they rejoin him in the living room.

 

Aggie sits on the edge of her chair. “I must apologize to you, Wesley.”

 

He frowns. “For what?”

 

“I told you that I thought we should be honest with each other, and I was not completely frank with you. I don’t need to do an additional casting to know whether I can undo the curse,” Aggie says bluntly.

 

Wesley immediately takes her meaning. “Whatever you were going to tell me, you didn’t want to say it in front of Spike or Dawn.”

 

“I wasn’t sure you would want them to know the conditions for reversing it,” Aggie counters. “Therefore, I will tell you, and then you can decide what you’d like to do with the information.”

 

Wesley swallows hard, his gulp audible, but he nods. “Go ahead.”

 

“The curse can be reversed, but you’ll lose all your memories of the last few months,” Aggie explains. “You will wake up believing it is the same day the curse was cast.”

 

“Oh,” Wesley says faintly. A few months ago, he would have made that bargain without hesitation, but so much has happened, so much has changed. If he goes back, he’ll forget Dawn, forget Spike, he’ll forget that long, lonely summer, and he’ll go back to Los Angeles.

 

“You understand,” Aggie says gently. “You have sworn a blood oath, Wesley, and forgetting it may be the same as breaking it. At the same time, no one would blame you for not wanting to relive your entire childhood.”

 

Wesley shakes his head. “I’m not, though. I won’t be under my father’s thumb, and I won’t be going to the Watchers’ Academy. I will be living an entirely new life.”

 

“Perhaps,” Aggie replies. “You could certainly look at it that way. You should think about it. Think hard, but don’t take too long. We could do the reversal at any point, of course, but the more time goes by, the harder it will be.”

 

Wesley nods. “I understand.”

 

“There’s something else to take into consideration,” Abigail says quietly, glancing at Aggie. “I think you should tell him, Mom.”

 

Aggie rolls her eyes. “Very well. Then in the interest of full disclosure, you have magical talent that could be trained. I have a magical legacy as well as a financial one, and with the appropriate training, you would be more than capable of taking on that mantle.”

 

“Training that I would need to start prior to puberty,” Wesley says.

 

Aggie nods. “I’m afraid you would have been too old to handle it before this happened. As it stands, we would need to begin your training immediately.”

 

Wesley runs a hand through his hair. “So, to sum up, I can either go back to being an adult and lose all of my memories of the last few months, or I can continue as I am and…” He trails off, uncertain how to sum things up.

 

He can keep his friends, take on a magical legacy—he can have a completely different life than the one he’d envisioned before the curse.

 

“I don’t have to think about it,” Wesley says.

 

Aggie smiles. “I thought that’s what you would say, but I’m going to insist on a 48 hour period where you do, particularly since Abigail will be signing you up for school. You might change your mind after a day among a bunch of actual teenagers.”

 

Wesley grimaces. “Do I have to?”

 

His aunt and grandmother both laugh. “Like it or not, you appear to be a child, and children are required to go to school.”

 

Wesley sighs. “Two days.”

 

“Two days,” Abigail replies. “And if you decide to go with the reversal, we’ll work it out.”

 

Wesley hesitates. “What if I do? What about Dawn and Spike?”

 

Aggie hesitates. “I imagine that will depend greatly on what you do with the information you’re given after the reversal is complete.”

 

Wesley nods. He knows himself to be a person who stands by his friends, but he hadn’t known them six months ago. Would he be inclined to stay here, or would he immediately head back to Los Angeles? He’s honestly not sure. And his friendship with Dawn, at least, would be considered wildly inappropriate as an adult.

 

“I’ll register you and Dawn with the school tomorrow, and you’ll start the day after,” Abigail says. “Spike and I share guardianship of the two of you, but as he’s limited by what he can do during the day, I’ll handle anything that requires being out and about during daylight hours.”

 

Wesley nods. “I understand.”

 

Aggie rises, and he does so as well. She puts her hands on either side of Wesley’s face and kisses his forehead. Wesley closes his eyes, the maternal gesture causing a lump to form in his throat. “You are quite the man, Wesley. I’m very proud you’re my grandson.”

 

“Thanks,” he manages to say. He’s quite certain that no one has ever said those words to him before.

 

Aggie brushes his hair back from his forehead. “I always thought your father was a fool; it’s nice to find out that I’m right.”

 

And Wesley can’t help but let out a watery laugh.

 

~~~~~

 

Spike crossed paths with Agatha Disick just after his capture by the Nazis, when he’d been forced to swim to shore by Angel. He’d been haunting London, planning on catching up with Drusilla, when his path crossed the witch’s. He bumped into her in a café, and she’d given him a strange look.

 

Something about her intrigued him, and he’d felt an odd pull, so he started following her, discovering that she was an American nurse named Agatha Disick—and then she got the drop on him in an alley one night, paralyzing him with a spell.

 

“What you’re sensing is magic,” she says as Spike is pinned against the wall, unable to move. “I’m interesting to you because I have it, but it’s not something you can steal or wheedle out of me.”

 

Spike snorts, because sarcasm is his only weapon. “What? You think I’m interested in you?”

 

“I know you are, just like I know you’re a vampire, and that you’ve been following me since we bumped into each other at the café,” she replies. “But what you don’t know is that I’m a witch, and I could kill you right now. I’ve killed plenty of your kind before.”

 

Spike glares at her defiantly. “So, what are you going to do?”

 

“I’m going to warn you to leave London immediately,” she says. “If you do that, I’ll let you live.”

 

“Why would you do that, if you know what I am?” Spike asks, knowing he sounds sullen.

 

She smiles then. “Because I have a touch of the sight, and I think killing you could have rather disastrous consequences. Sleep now, and if I ever see you again, you’d better be reformed.”

 

He scoffed at the time—at least once he woke up just in time to take shelter from the sun. He hightailed it out of London, telling himself that he didn’t want to be there anyway, that the people were too thin, and already terrified but not of him, which took the fun out of things. He found greener pastures.

 

But that moment when Aggie walked through the door, when she fixed him with her bird-bright stare, he remembered her words so long ago. “You’d better be reformed,” she said, and he is, in a sense.

 

He doesn’t think he had anything to do with saving the world, though. That was all Buffy.

 

When Aggie dismisses them, Spike knows something is up, something she hadn’t wanted to say in front of him—or Dawn, more likely. And anything that affects the littlest Watcher affects Dawn, which makes it his business.

 

Wesley turns up around 9, looking a bit red-eyed. “H’lo.”

 

Dawn is on her feet immediately. “Are you okay?”

 

Wesley smiles. “I’m good. She’s just—she’s great, isn’t she?”

 

Dawn returns his smile. “She’s awesome, Wes.”

 

“That’s what I thought too,” he replies. “I think I’m going to get some sleep if you don’t need me.”

 

“No, you go ahead,” Dawn replies.

 

Wesley pauses at the door to the bedroom and says, “Aunt Abigail is going to register us for school tomorrow, and we start the day after.”

 

“You too?” Dawn asks, surprise evident in her voice.

 

Wesley shrugs. “Something about keeping up appearances. Good night.”

 

“Did he seem off to you?” Dawn asks once his door is closed.

 

Spike shrugs. “Could be he’s off, could be he’s just tired. It was a big day.”

 

“Yeah, I guess,” Dawn replies. “I just—it’s different.”

 

“Maybe.”

 

“Are you going to tell me how you know Aggie?” Dawn asks.

 

Spike considers the question. “It’s a long story for another night.”

 

Dawn rolls her eyes. “You don’t have to spare my delicate sensibilities, Spike. I know you weren’t always a perfect angel.”

 

“It goes a little further than that,” Spike replies.

 

He’s never really thought about it, but there are a lot of things he never wants her to find out about what he’s done over the centuries.

 

Spike is incapable of shame, but he likes the way Dawn looks at him, like he’s a hero; he doesn’t want that to change.

 

“Fine, be that way,” Dawn complains.

 

“There are things I don’t want to touch you, luv,” Spike replies. “And my past is one of those things.”

 

“But Aggie is your past, and she’s touching our lives,” Dawn argues.

 

Spike barks a laugh. “Yeah, and she got the drop on me, told me to get out of her town, and that I had a destiny. Except for that last part, she reminds me of your sister.”

 

Dawn’s expression turns bittersweet. “Yeah, I can see that. Buffy would have been that kind of Nana, don’t you think?”

 

Spike can’t say what he’s thinking, which is “only if she lived long enough, which she did not” so he settles for, “Yeah, I think so.”

 

“Or maybe an aunt,” Dawn says. “If I had kids, you know.”

 

He doesn’t care for the resignation in her voice, but there’s nothing he can say to reassure her. Dawn’s had a rough go of it, and she’s young. How she feels now doesn’t mean that’s how she’ll feel later.

 

“You’ve got us, Bit,” Spike assures her.

 

Dawn gives him a look. “Yeah, but how much do you want to bet that Aggie got us out of there so she could talk to Wesley alone, and probably about the curse? What if she can reverse it, and he goes back to LA?”

 

“Not gonna happen,” Spike says immediately.

 

“You don’t know that,” Dawn objects, keeping her voice low. “He could. If he goes back to his old self, he’d probably want to. Why would he want to hang around me?”

 

Spike’s been getting a little more used to reaching out, and he does so now, pulling her close. “Because you’re great?”

 

Dawn smiles. “You’re only saying that because you have to.”

 

“I don’t have to do anything,” Spike counters. “Point of fact, I’m here right now because I want to be.”

 

“Because you made a promise to my sister,” Dawn says.

 

“But I swore a blood oath to you,” Spike replies. “No one put a gun to my head and made me do that.”

 

A reluctant smile crosses her face. “Yeah.” She sighs. “You know, I’m beat. I’m going to bed.”

 

“Sleep well, Bit,” Spike replies.

 

Once the bedroom door is closed behind her, Spike retreats to the porch. His memories are particularly intrusive tonight, and he suspects if he’s right—if Aggie really did want to speak to Wesley away from their ears—Wesley might talk to him, but won’t say anything to Dawn until he’s reached a decision.

 

And the porch offers the best chance of privacy.

 

Spike’s on his second fag when Wesley slips through the door, opening it just wide enough for his small, lean body. “Hey,” he says, sitting down with his legs crossed.

 

“H’lo,” Spike replies. “Let me guess, Aggie wanted to talk to you without us around.”

 

Wesley smiles. “Has anyone ever told you that you’re not just a pretty face?”

 

Spike snorts. “You’re an arsehole.”

 

“I’ve heard that before,” Wesley admits. “And yes, you’re right.”

 

Spike waits in silence. He’s not a patient sort of man, but he can keep his peace for this.

 

“She says she can reverse the curse,” Wesley finally admits.

 

“But?” Spike prompts, because there’s always a but.

 

“I’ll lose all memories from the time I was cursed until the reversal,” Wesley admits. “It will be—god, it will be six months ago, and everything I’ve been through will be erased as though it never happened.”

 

“Not as though it never happened,” Spike counters. “We’d know. Your friends in LA would know.”

 

“But I wouldn’t,” Wesley argues. “If we’re the sum total of our experiences, I would be giving up—so much.”

 

Spike is quiet for a long moment. “And getting back your old life.”

 

Wesley snorts. “What life? They’ve moved on without me. If I did go back to LA, and I’m not saying I would, everything would be different.”

 

“It would be a burden,” Spike says. “Just like it’s a burden now.”

 

Wesley shakes his head. “What would you do in my shoes?”

 

“Why are you asking me?”

 

“Because I trust you’ll do what’s best for Dawn, and that’s what I want, too,” Wesley replies. “My needs are secondary in this case. She deserves—she deserves people who will watch out for her.”

 

“You’re all right, Watcher,” Spike replies. “You’re more than all right.” He pauses. “You are what you are, you know. You’re who you are. You go back, you won’t be who you are anymore.”

 

“That’s almost poetic.”

 

“Shut up,” Spike snaps. “Never touch the stuff.”

 

Wesley laughs. “Methinks you do protest too much.”

 

Spike glares at him, although it’s half-hearted at best. “Shut your gob.”

 

“Thanks, though,” Wesley says. “I think about the last few months, and they’ve been awful in a lot of ways, but good, too.”

 

“You’re needed,” Spike says. He understands better than Wesley knows what it’s like to want to be needed, to want your presence desired, not just tolerated. “You’re integral. If you left, I’d look after Dawn, and we’d muddle through, but don’t mistake me—you’re important.”

 

He watches as Wesley digests that, a smile playing around his mouth. “Thanks.”

 

“Neither of us would blame you for wanting to go back to what you were before, but the three of us are a team.”

 

“Aggie made me promise that I would take a couple of days to think about it, but I already know what my answer will be,” Wesley says. “I just—I think I needed to hear you say that.”

 

“Don’t know anything about Peaches, other than the fact he’s a ponce,” Spike says. “But he left you, and we won’t. You do this, you go back, we still won’t leave you. Far as I’m concerned, I swore that blood oath to you, whether you remember it or not.”

 

Wesley shakes his head. “That’s just the thing, though. I won’t remember these last few months, and I won’t know what we mean to each other. I won’t know anything. I won’t even know who I am now.”

 

Spike looks at him. “Truth be told, if someone had offered me the chance to have the chip out today, but I’d forget everything that happened, I’m not sure what I’d choose. But I’m not a good man.”

 

Wesley smiles crookedly. “I think you might surprise yourself.”

 

That night is the first that Spike doesn’t dream up a way to have saved Buffy. The next day, they go to the nearest theater, Spike included—although he sneaks in illegally—and catch a double feature. Spike tries not to think about how it feels like an ending.

 

~~~~~

 

Dawn knows something is up. Wes is twitchy and unsettled when Abigail shows up to take them to school, although that might just be first day jitters. Dawn isn’t all that excited about being back in high school, particularly an all-new school where she doesn’t know anybody.

 

Then again, no one here knows Dawn as the girl with the dead mom and freaky sister; she’s just the new girl.

 

“I arranged for you and Wesley to be in the same grade,” Abigail says. “Aggie forged Wesley’s test scores so that skipping a few grades won’t be viewed as odd. We thought that might make things easier on both of you.”

 

Dawn feels relief. “Yeah, it does. Wes, you good with that?”

 

“Let’s hope I remember enough to sell that piece of fiction,” Wesley says wryly.

 

“I also made sure you have most of your classes together,” Abigail adds. “If you’re unhappy with the class selection, you can change next semester.”

 

Wesley stares out the window and doesn’t reply.

 

“I’m sure it will be fine,” Dawn replies. “I have a lot to catch up on, but that would be true of any new school, right?”

 

Abigail glances over her shoulder at Wesley. “Do you want me to walk you inside?”

 

Wesley seems to shake himself out of his reverie and says, “No, thank you. We’ll be fine.”

 

“Call me if you need anything,” Abigail replies. “I’ll pick you up at 3:30.”

 

“Are you okay?” Dawn asks as they trudge up to the school. They’re both wearing new clothes with new backpacks, and Dawn hopes that doesn’t put a target on their backs. “I get being nervous, but—”

 

“Just a lot on my mind,” Wesley replies. “I’m fine.”

 

Dawn nudges him with her elbow. “You can talk to me if you want.”

 

“I will,” Wesley promises.

 

The office is right inside the front door and Dawn takes the lead. In this, at least, she has more experience than Wes does. “Hi, I’m Dawn Sumner, and this is my cousin, Wesley Price. It’s our first day here. I think our aunt sent in our paperwork?”

 

Dawn understands the need for pseudonyms, just in case someone comes looking.

 

The secretary looks up from her computer. “Did your aunt come in with you?”

 

“She had to get to work,” Dawn replies confidently. “It’s not a big deal.”

 

The secretary seems to accept that, and she shuffles through the file folders on her desk. “Ah, yes, here you are. It looks like you’re both freshmen?” She gives Wesley a dubious look at that.

 

“He’s really smart,” Dawn says truthfully. “He skipped a couple of grades.”

 

The secretary flips open one of the folders and reads through the information. “I can see that. All right, let me get one of the student aids to take you to your first classes.”

 

Dawn doesn’t bother correcting her, even though she’s pretty sure they share their first period.

 

The student aid is a bored senior who’s probably taking it as an alternative to study hall. She doesn’t bother introducing herself—she just checks their respective schedules, shrugs, and says, “You’re both in World Literature first thing. This way.”

 

Wesley stares down at the floor as they walk down the hall, and Dawn glances around. “What about lockers?”

 

“Did you bring locks?” the aid asks.

 

Dawn grimaces. “Uh, no.”

 

“Come back tomorrow when you have combination locks, and then we’ll talk,” the aid replies, stopping in front of a door. “Here we are. Have a good day.”

 

“She sounded remarkably unenthusiastic,” Wesley whispers.

 

Dawn shrugs. “Part of the job, I think.”

 

“Once more into the breach,” Wesley says, and Dawn knows that’s a reference of some kind, but she doesn’t know what it’s from. She’ll have to ask Wes later.

 

Abigail dropped them off early enough that they’re in the classroom well before the bell, and the teacher glances up as they enter. He smiles in welcome. “You must be Dawn and Wesley.”

 

“That’s us,” Dawn says, and tries not to think about what it means for Wes to be so quiet. Something is definitely up, and Dawn isn’t dumb. Aggie wanted to speak with Wesley alone, and Wesley has been off ever since.

 

“I’m Mr. Daniels,” he says, his dark eyes warm. “I don’t have assigned seats, and since you’re the first ones here, you can pick.”

 

Wesley clears his throat. “I’d prefer you point us in the direction of the chronically empty seats.”

 

Mr. Daniels laughs. “You’ll be in the front row.”

 

“Figures,” Dawn replies. “We’ll be fine.”

 

“Let me get you both a couple of books,” Mr. Daniels replies. “We’re reading short stories right now, but Of Mice and Men is up next. Have either of you read that one?”

 

Dawn shakes her head. “I’m more of a Harry Potter fan.”

 

“Shakespeare,” Wesley says.

 

“We’ll be reading Romeo and Juliet next quarter,” Mr. Daniels says. “Do you have a favorite play?”

 

Wesley hesitates, and Dawn glances at him, wondering what his reply will be. “It depends,” he hedges.

 

“On what?” Mr. Daniels asks, handing them each a battered paperback.

 

“Whether we’re talking comedy or tragedy,” Wesley replies. “For tragedy, I prefer King Lear. For comedy, Much Ado About Nothing.”

 

Mr. Daniels’ eyebrows go straight up. “Hm. Well, you do have a point, although I prefer Twelfth Night. I agree on King Lear, though.”

 

Dawn wonders if she’d like any of those plays. Shakespeare always seemed very esoteric to her. “If you like those plays better, why teach Romeo and Juliet?”

 

Mr. Daniels shrugs. “Popular opinion is that teenagers are more likely to connect to a story about teenage lovers rather than one of the other plots.”

 

King Lear also has sibling rivalry,” Wesley points out. “I would think that most teenagers would understand that.”

 

“Maybe someday when you’re in charge of the high school curriculum, you can point that out to them,” Mr. Daniels replies, but Dawn doesn’t think he’s saying it in a mean way.

 

Wesley shrugs. “No offense, but I’m not planning on being a teacher.”

 

“You have your future all mapped out?” Mr. Daniels asks with a smile that suggests he’s not taking Wesley very seriously.

 

Wesley’s expression is wry. “No, not really, but I imagine the family business will take up a lot of my time.”

 

“And what business is that?”

 

“Herbalist,” Wesley replies with a straight face. “Literature is more of a hobby.”

 

Mr. Daniels shakes his head, as though he doesn’t quite know what to do with Wesley, and Dawn suspects a lot of their teachers will have the same reaction.

 

By now, the other students have started to filter in, and Dawn can see where the empty desks are. She and Wesley each take a seat, and then they have the dubious pleasure of being introduced to the rest of the class.

 

She can see the speculative looks the other kids send them, especially Wesley.

 

Dawn knows he’s going to get picked on, and also that he’s more than capable of taking care of himself. That could be interesting.

 

She hasn’t read the short story they’re discussing that day, so class is fairly boring. Mr. Daniels makes sure they have a sheaf of photocopies before they leave. Next up is math, which makes Wesley appear vaguely panicked.

 

“I haven’t taken maths in ages, Dawn,” he hisses. “I have no idea what I’m doing!”

 

Dawn hated geometry the previous year, so she’s not sure she’s in a good position to judge. “Your aunt works at a university. I’m sure she could find a tutor for us.”

 

“Let’s hope so.” Wesley doesn’t sound terribly hopeful, though.

 

Their math teacher forces them to introduce themselves to the class with a short explanation about where they’re from.

 

Wesley stands up and says, “Hello, I’m Wesley. Yes, before you ask, I am from England, specifically London. I’ve skipped two grades, so I’m in the same year as my cousin.”

 

He sits down and it’s Dawn’s turn. She decides to embrace the weirdness. “I’m Dawn,. I’m originally from southern California, but my sister died, and I had to come up here to live with our aunt and cousin. It’s incredibly tragic.”

 

Wesley smirks at her, and Dawn knows they’re already setting up an us against them story, which makes it clear that they’re a package deal. For her part, Dawn figures it’s best to just get things out in the open. Eventually, their classmates will find out about their home situation, but Dawn keeps telling herself that it doesn’t matter what they think.

 

If she really buckles down, she can be done with school in a couple of years, and then she can do what she wants, which will probably involve hunting demons.

 

Besides, she and Wes can watch each other’s backs.

 

Algebra passes without additional trauma, and then it’s off to civics, where they have to introduce themselves again. Wesley appears decidedly disgruntled, and Dawn understands. She hasn’t been the new kid in a long time, not since they moved to Sunnydale.

 

She’d been in grade school then, and the teacher had introduced her to the class, rather than the other way around.

 

They have an early lunch period, and it’s raining, which means they have to stick to the cafeteria. “Word of advice, go for the pizza,” Dawn advises. “It’s usually safe.”

 

There’s an empty table in the corner, and Dawn leads the way over. “So, better or worse than what you remember?” she asks.

 

Wesley shakes his head. “No comparison. Once I finished primary school, I was sent to the Watchers’ Academy where all lessons were focused on…” He stops. “Well, my future.”

 

“Is it okay?” Dawn asks anxiously. “I mean, I’m sure it sucks, because high school sucks, but—”

 

Wesley shakes his head. “Let me ask if it helps you to have me here.”

 

“Yeah, it does,” Dawn says. “It’s easier.”

 

Wesley nods, as though he’s making up his mind. “Then that’s what matters.”

 

Dawn frowns. “Why would it matter? I mean, we could still run away, right? We wouldn’t have to stay here, and you wouldn’t have to go to school.”

 

“Aggie has a point about that,” Wesley says wryly. “Sooner or later, someone will notice I’m not in school, and we should try to not draw attention to ourselves.”

 

There’s an odd note in his voice, and Dawn asks, “What did Aggie say to you after we left the other day?”

 

“Not here,” Wesley warns. “I’ll tell you later.”

 

No one comes to sit with them, which is fine with Dawn. She’d rather focus on getting through her first day; they could work on making friends later, if at all.

 

They split up for the next three periods, then finish out the day in gym class. In spite of Wesley’s shorter stature, his training means that he has no problem keeping up with everyone else as they run the required two miles.

 

Wesley could probably run faster, but he sticks doggedly by Dawn’s side, keeping her company, mostly silent.

 

They’re stretching at the end, Dawn just beginning to get her breath back, when one of their classmates approaches. He’s tall and thin, dark hair falling over one eye, and he’s kind of cute.

 

“I’m Micah,” he says. “You’re Dawn, right? We have math together.”

 

She vaguely recalls seeing him. “Yeah, that’s right.”

 

“Where in California are you from?” he asks. “I moved here from Los Angeles last year.”

 

“Sunnydale,” Dawn replies. “Wes was living in LA the last couple of years.”

 

Micah glances at Wes. “Hey.”

 

Wes smiles. “Nice to meet you.”

 

“You guys had a pretty rough go of things, huh?” Micah asks awkwardly.

 

Dawn glances at Wes and shrugs. “You could say that.”

 

“So, uh, look, if you need any notes to catch up, I’m happy to help,” Micah offers. “I was the new kid pretty recently, so I get it. And I don’t know if you guys are interested in any clubs, but I do chess club and Science Olympiad and GSA, but there are a bunch of others.”

 

Dawn smiles. “Thanks. We’re still getting settled, but we’ll keep that in mind.”

 

Micah nods. “Sure, sure. Let me know about the notes.”

 

“I will,” Dawn promises.

 

Micah hesitates, then looks at Wes. “Not to be rude or anything, but if someone messes with you, let me know. I might not be able to do much, but I can look menacing or something.”

 

Wesley’s eyes brighten with good humor, although he doesn’t laugh. Dawn suspects he’s thinking the same thing she is, which is that she can’t imagine Micah menacing anybody. “I appreciate that, but I’ve taken a number of self defense courses. If you’re going to skip grades, it seems the smart thing to do.”

 

“It was really nice of you to offer,” Dawn replies.

 

Micah nods. “Yeah, no problem. There’s a party this weekend, too, so if you’re interested—”

 

“I’ll think about it,” Dawn says, although she has no intention of going. “My guardian is kind of overprotective.”

 

“You could go,” Wesley says in an undertone as they head back indoors. “Spike would stalk you, but you could go.”

 

Dawn shakes her head. “And say what? Do what? I have nothing in common with them.”

 

Wes’ expression is a little wistful, a little sad. “I suppose not.”

 

“Better get changed,” Dawn says. “Abigail will be here soon.”

 

It’s a Thursday, which means they only have one more day in the week, and as first days go, it wasn’t too bad. Still, Dawn’s worried about whatever Wes hasn’t said yet.

 

The rain has cleared up, so they wait outside. There are still a few other students around, but they have more privacy than they did in the lunchroom. “Okay, so what haven’t you told me?” Dawn asks.

 

Wesley sighs. “Aggie can do a reversal.”

 

Dawn feels like she’s been punched in the gut. “What? Then—why did you even come to school today? Why hasn’t she done it yet?”

 

“Because I’m not going to do it,” Wesley replies stubbornly. “The cost is too high.”

 

“What’s the cost?” Dawn asks.

 

“I forget everything that’s happened since it took effect,” Wesley replies. “I’m not willing to do that.”

 

Dawn digests that slowly. “You could—you could go back to LA.”

 

“I could,” Wesley says. “But I would forget you and Spike. I would forget this past summer, and Sunnydale. I’m—I’m a different person than I was, and I don’t want to lose that.”

 

Dawn thinks about the last few months, thinks about what she’d give to go back—but she can’t go back. She could forget it all, but Buffy and her friends would still be dead. Forgetting wouldn’t change anything.

 

“Perhaps, if I could rewind time,” Wesley says. “If I could go back and make it so that it never happened… I don’t know what I would do.”

 

Dawn is quiet. “So, you’re just—going to relive your teenage years.”

 

“I’d say ‘what choice do I have,’ but I know that I do have one,” Wesley replies. “It’s just not a choice I’m comfortable making, which leaves me in the same position I was before. It could be worse.”

 

“Is it just—I mean, if you need to—I’ll be fine,” Dawn insists. “You don’t have to stay just for me.”

 

Wesley raises an eyebrow. “You said it yourself: I make things easier for you. Besides, Aggie is offering me an opportunity I wouldn’t have otherwise, and Angel and the others are fine without me.”

 

Dawn frowns. “Yeah, but—Wes.”

 

Wesley looks at her, clear-eyed and resolute. “Before Aggie made the offer, I didn’t have a choice. Now I do, and it’s my choice. It’s what I want.”

 

Dawn isn’t sure she understands, but Wes is right. It’s his choice, and a lot has happened over the last few months. Maybe, in his shoes, she wouldn’t want to forget either.

 

“Thanks,” she says.

 

Wesley smiles. “Don’t mention it.”

 

~~~~~

 

“We’re having dinner with Aggie tonight,” Abigail says as they slide into her car. “How was your first day of school?”

 

Wesley shoots her a sardonic look. “It was lovely.”

 

Abigail smiles. “I hope it wasn’t too awful.”

 

“It wasn’t,” Dawn says. “I’ve definitely had worse days.”

 

In truth, Wesley might be at peace with his decision, but he’s less than sanguine about the idea of going to an American high school. Still, he understands and agrees with the reasoning behind the decision. It’s the same situation he feared back in LA.

 

If Wesley is out and about during school hours, there’s a good chance someone will eventually call the cops and report him. And if they report Wesley, they’ll find Dawn, and then things will get very uncomfortable very quickly.

 

Wesley wished he looked just a little bit older, old enough to conceivably have graduated. He wishes he didn’t look twelve.

 

On the other hand, matriculating will provide thorough cover, and Wesley can choose what to do with the rest of his life with the benefit of hindsight.

 

It’s not ideal—Wesley liked his life before the curse—but it’s what has been left to him.

 

“Wes?” Abigail prompts.

 

“It’s high school,” Wesley replies. “I didn’t care for it at the Academy, and I didn’t enjoy Sunnydale High as a Watcher. That said, I’ve had worse days. I was shot once, you know.”

 

“Wes,” Dawn begins. “You don’t have to—”

 

“It’s done, Dawn,” Wesley replies. “This is me whinging, which I reserve the right to do as long as I’m going to high school.”

 

“It’s the right of every student and every teacher to bitch,” Abigail agrees.

 

Dawn sighs. “Fair enough. I’m sure I’ll do the same.”

 

“Dawn received an invitation to a party this weekend,” Wesley supplies, wanting to deflect attention.

 

“A party that I won’t be attending,” Dawn insists. “It’s probably going to be stupid anyway.”

 

“Suit yourself,” Abigail replies. “I can’t speak for Spike, but I regard you both as adults and capable of making your own decisions.”

 

Wesley isn’t terribly sure about Dawn, but he believes that most people rise to the level of expectations, or sink to them. Dawn might just rise to the occasion.

 

Neither of them have a choice; there’s no slipping up.

 

And that’s another reason for Wesley to stay as he is. He doesn’t know if Dawn will be stable without him, and he doesn’t want to hurt her. She’s been through enough already.

 

They both have homework—and Wesley enjoys the intellectual challenge far more than he expects. When he’d been in school prior to attending the Watchers’ Academy, he’d done well out of a sense of duty, but had regarded his studies as useless. Classes had been an obstacle to overcome so that he could get to what really mattered.

 

Now he knows that knowledge is never wasted—even if he’s not terribly interested in “The Yellow Wallpaper,” or algebraic functions.

 

Chemistry could come in handy, though, as could computers. He should probably look into taking classes.

 

“Would you teach me demonic languages?” Dawn suddenly asks.

 

They’re sitting at Abigail’s kitchen table while she works on her lesson plan from her office. Aggie and Spike are due to join them later, although Abigail admitted she planned on ordering in.

 

“Which ones?” Wesley asks absently as he puzzles out his algebra problem.

 

“All of them?” Dawn asks.

 

Wesley sits back in his chair. “Well, some are admittedly more interesting and/or useful than others. Some, you would need to learn from a native speaker. Fyarl, for example, is intelligible to the human ear but impossible for the human tongue to mimic except very poorly.”

 

“Start her off with ancient Sumerian!” Abigail calls from her office, clearly eavesdropping. “It’s probably the most useful for spell work.”

 

Dawn’s eyes widen. “Magic? I can do magic?”

 

“That’s what Aggie offered to teach me,” Wesley replies. “You should ask if you can learn, too.”

 

Dawn frowns. “Is that the other part of the reason you didn’t want her to do the reversal?”

 

Wesley hesitates. “It’s part of it. I was only ever really good at two things: hitting what I aimed at and languages. Magic is something I dabbled in, but didn’t have much training for, and I’d like to change that.”

 

There are those, like Willow, who have vast untapped magical potential, who can come to training later, but Wesley is not one of those people. His gift is small, but could be nourished over time.

 

“Aggie is offering Wesley an opportunity not many get,” Abigail remarks, wandering out of her office. “He’s young enough now for the training, but he has the maturity of an adult, which puts him a step ahead of most young apprentices. Mom is offering him her expertise.”

 

“So, Wesley would end up in charge of the coven?” Dawn asks.

 

“The leader is elected democratically, but Wesley’s power would be considerable,” Abigail replies. “And he would be a key participant, particularly for large workings and ward work.”

 

Dawn glances at him. “That’s good, right?”

 

“It’s a big responsibility,” Wesley replies. “But yes, it’s good.”

 

He has no idea if it’s good or not, but it’s an opportunity that he can’t pass up. Hopefully he’d never need to re-ensoul Angel, but what if he could? What if he’d been able to assist Willow in creating a shield against the Knights of Byzantium? In Wesley’s line of work, sorcery is a needed skill.

 

“I want to learn how to fight, too,” Dawn says, her chin set defiantly.

 

“I think that’s an excellent idea,” Wesley replies. “Perhaps we could get Spike to teach us, or maybe take self-defense courses.”

 

“Krav maga,” Abigail says, pouring hot water over her teabag. “You two don’t need anything fancy; you need skills that will keep you alive.”

 

Dawn looks cautiously excited. “Really?”

 

“I don’t see why not,” Abigail replies. “Self-defense skills are important, even if you do eventually give up this life entirely.”

 

“Buffy never…” Dawn trails off.

 

“I’m sure your sister thought she could protect you well enough so that you’d never need that knowledge,” Wesley says gently.

 

Dawn takes a deep breath. “Yeah, probably. We’re really doing this, huh? We’re, like, training to be demon hunters or whatever.”

 

“That is the plan,” Wesley replies, and knows that he needs to keep that in mind. He’s taking a break to improve his skills so that when he does go back into the field, he’ll be better trained than ever. He will have skills he never dreamed of having.

 

Wesley will be a force to be reckoned with, and so will Dawn.

 

A plan is beginning to take shape in Wesley’s mind, a direction for the future. The Watchers’ Council should not have a corner on the market for responding to the supernatural, manipulating girls to do their work for them, discarding them when they’ve served their purpose, making no distinction between harmless demons and dangerous ones.

 

Even Giles had been somewhat guilty of that, considering how easy he apparently found it to leave Dawn in the care of Buffy’s friends. Dawn didn’t fit into his narrative.

 

Perhaps Giles regrets that now, but it doesn’t change the past.

 

“I think this is where we’d have a snazzy training montage,” Dawn says wryly, “and then fast forward about four years.”

 

Wesley grins. “If only life were a movie.”

 

They finish their homework just before Spike arrives, the low sun and heavy cloud cover providing him ample protection from the sun. “You two have a good day?” Spike asks, giving them a once-over.

 

“Fine,” Dawn replies. “It was a normal day, I guess.”

 

Spike nods. “You’ll tell me if you have any problems, right?”

 

“You’ll be the first to know,” Dawn promises.

 

Wesley doesn’t make that promise because he has every intention of taking care of himself and not bothering Spike with petty matters. Dawn needs Spike more than Wesley does.

 

“Same goes for you, half pint,” Spike says, giving Wesley a sharp look.

 

Wesley feels the blush creep up his neck and curses his younger body, but at the same time it’s nice to know he’s not alone as opposed to the previous summer when he’d never felt more alone.

 

“I can handle myself,” Wesley says, unwilling to cede the point so easily.

 

“Never said you couldn’t,” Spike replies. “When’s Aggie getting here?”

 

Wes looks at Spike. “You never said how you two met.”

 

“No, I don’t suppose I did,” Spike says. “You got any beer?”

 

“I have scotch,” Abigail replies.

 

“Even better,” Spike says.

 

Wesley exchanges a look with Dawn, and he can tell she’s just as curious as he is. He wonders if he’ll be able to get the story out of his grandmother at some point.

 

Dawn stares at Spike. “Well? Aren’t you going to tell us the story? We barely know anything!”

 

“It was a long time ago,” Spike replies. “Another time maybe.”

 

Wesley smirks. “She kicked your arse, didn’t she?”

 

“She might have, for a certain value of that phrase,” Spike admits, taking the proffered drink from Abigail. “She’s sneaky.”

 

Spike sounds as though he approves, and Wesley thinks Aggie might just be a prime example of Spike’s penchant for strong women who can hold their own with him.

 

Abigail gives Spike a considering look. “You’re the vampire Mom ran into in London, aren’t you?”

 

Spike chokes on his drink. “She told you about that?”

 

“It’s one of her favorite stories,” Abigail replies. “She likes to use it as a prime example of how a witch can catch a vampire unawares. Paralyzing spell, right?”

 

Spike grimaces. “That’s right. She got the drop on me while I was distracted. Like I said, sneaky.”

 

Dawn looks at Abigail. “Do you think Aggie gives lessons?”

 

~~~~~

 

Spike has always been an outsider—as a human, as the youngest member of the Scourge of Europe, as a chipped vampire. And that’s fine, because it’s not like Spike wanted to be part of the gang anyway. He’s only ever wanted to belong to one person—Cicely, when he’d been human, Drusilla after that, then Buffy.

 

And now, improbably, he belongs to two people, just not in a way he ever expected. Not only that, but Spike finds himself sitting down for the second family meal in two days, included as a matter of course, even though he doesn’t need to eat human food.

 

It’s somewhat disconcerting.

 

“I take it you’ve made your decision,” Aggie says as Wesley starts in on his pizza. “You’ve chosen a difficult path, dear, but one I admire.”

 

Wesley flushes under the praise. “It’s not that big of a deal.”

 

“It’s a huge deal!” Dawn protests. “Wes, come on. Take the compliment.”

 

Wesley turns an even deeper shade of red but doesn’t respond.

 

“So, you’ve decided you want my tutelage in magic,” Aggie continues.

 

Wesley nods, then clears his throat. “Yes, I can think of a number of situations where such knowledge would have saved lives, or might yet save lives in the future.”

 

Aggie turns to Dawn. “And you?”

 

Dawn glances at Spike. “I probably should have talked to you about this first.”

 

“Is it going to keep her safer?” Spike asks Aggie.

 

Aggie spreads her hands. “It could. I can tell you that I am quite demanding, and I insist that everyone who learns from me to adhere to the strictest ethical principles. The goal of my coven is to leave the world better than when we first found it.”

 

“That sounds good,” Dawn says immediately. “I mean, I think that’s what—that’s what Buffy would have wanted.”

 

“You honor your sister,” Aggie says gently. “Have you performed magic in the past?”

 

Dawn shifts and sends a panicked look towards Spike. “Once. I, um, I know it was stupid.”

 

Aggie just regards her with a steady gaze that Spike well remembers from that London alley, and Dawn quickly caves. “It was after my mom died,” she explains. “I just—wanted her back.”

 

“And nothing since?” Aggie asks.

 

Dawn shakes her head. “I knew it was a bad idea, but I just really wanted my mom.”

 

Aggie’s expression softens. “And what happened?”

 

“Buffy found out,” Dawn says miserably. “And she said that what I brought back wouldn’t be our mom. I threw the picture on the fire, and it ended the spell, I think, or maybe the spell didn’t work, but I knew—Buffy wouldn’t want that.”

 

Aggie nods. “Bringing someone back from the dead is the work of a necromancer, and cannot be done without paying a stiff price. You were wise not to try to do so again.”

 

“You’re not mad?” Dawn asks.

 

“If you had been my student at the time, and I had ordered you not to take such action, I would be mad,” Aggie replies. “As you were grieving, and not my responsibility, I will settle for being grateful that you’ve learned a lesson without me having to teach it.”

 

Dawn’s smile is hesitant. “Thanks.”

 

“Don’t thank me yet,” Aggie warns her. “I’m a harsh taskmaster. But if this is a path you wish to walk, then I’m certain Wesley will be grateful for the company.”

 

Wes nods. “Yes, I would be. I am.”

 

Dawn’s smile firms up. “That’s the deal, Wes. I watch your back, you watch mine, and Spike watches the both of us.”

 

“And we watch Spike’s,” Wesley agrees. “Fair enough.”

 

Spike is a little surprised to be included in that, but he appreciates it nonetheless.

 

“Speaking of, I need to speak with Spike privately,” Aggie says. “Once dinner is over anyway.”

 

Dawn looks a little freaked out by that request, but she doesn’t protest, just takes another bite of pizza—with anchovies. Spike’s a little suspicious of Aggie’s motivations, but it’s possible that she just wants to get Dawn on her good side.

 

But Spike has to ask why that would be. Not even the Scoobies went so far as to indulge Dawn’s craving, except maybe right after Buffy’s death when Dawn hadn’t been eating much at all.

 

Dawn finishes her slice and goes back for another. “Thanks for the anchovies,” she says.

 

“Everyone should get to eat their favorite food on occasion,” Aggie says. “That’s a grandmother’s job.”

 

“I’ve never really had one before,” Dawn admits. “A grandmother, I mean.”

 

There aren’t a lot of places for a private conversation in Abigail’s apartment. It’s technically a two-bedroom, but the second bedroom is set up as an office, and there’s nowhere out of earshot, so Abigail offers to take Dawn and Wesley grocery shopping.

 

Everyone knows why Abigail is taking them to the grocery store, but no one protests. Spike figures he’ll probably tell both Dawn and Wesley whatever they need to know later.

 

Aggie pours them both a couple of fingers of scotch, and they sit down in Abigail’s small living room. “I have to say, when I said that killing you might have disastrous consequences, I had no idea you’d end up being instrumental in caring for my grandson.”

 

“I’d say it was the other way around, really,” Spike replies. “He tell you what happened, why we went on the road together?”

 

“No, he didn’t,” Aggie replies. “But I’d like to hear the story.”

 

“Goes like this,” Spike begins. He doesn’t embellish much; the story holds plenty of drama as it is. He briefly covers Buffy’s death, the coming of the demon horde, and the escape from Sunnydale, and then he explains how they’d come to LA for Wesley’s help, and how he’d come up with the plan to get them to Seattle.

 

“Wesley makes plans,” Spike says to sum up. “I go with my gut most of the time, but Wes, he thinks about things.”

 

“Perhaps a little too much,” Aggie comments, “although that’s something I’ll have to see for myself I’m sure.”

 

Spike shrugs. “We make a good team.”

 

“That much is clear,” Aggie says. “What do you know about what was going on in Sunnydale before you left?”

 

Spike frowns. “What do you mean?”

 

“A demon horde may have simply been attracted to the Hellmouth, or there might have been something else going on,” Aggie replies. “Dawn—I didn’t want to say this in front of her, but she has a whiff of dark magic about her.”

 

“For trying to raise Joyce from the dead?” Spike asks. “She was—is—just a kid.”

 

Aggie shakes her head. “That spell was one of desperation. You were with her, weren’t you?” When Spike nods, Aggie asks, “Did she make a sacrifice to raise her mother?”

 

“No, ‘course not,” Spike says indignantly. “Dawn wouldn’t harm a fly.”

 

“I didn’t think so,” Aggie replies. “That taint would have followed her. No, this is different.”

 

Spike frowns. “Her friends were shutting us out at the end, asking me to watch Dawn while they had their secret Scooby meetings. I just—I don’t know what I thought. Thought it was business as usual.”

 

“And when the demons came?” Aggie presses.

 

“I was with Dawn,” Spike says slowly. “We were at her house. I don’t—we were overrun, and we retreated to the crypt. I looked for her friends, but I couldn’t find anybody. There were a couple of bodies in the cemetery, though, near where Buffy was buried, and the Magic Box was burned down.”

 

Aggie nods. “Was one of Buffy’s friends a witch?”

 

“Two of them were,” Spike admits. “Willow was pretty bloody powerful, too.”

 

“Is it possible that they were planning on resurrecting her?”

 

Spike scrubs a hand over his face. “Yeah, I guess? It’s not like they shared their plans with me. What does that have to do with Dawn?”

 

“You carry darkness with you, but it’s part of who you are,” Aggie replies. “Dawn carries a shadow of that darkness, and we’ll need to perform a cleansing ritual. I had hoped that it was no more serious than that, and I’m glad to be right.”

 

“What if you hadn’t been right?”

 

Aggie sighs. “It would have depended on how far the corruption spread. For example, if I’d met the witch who attempted to—or succeeded—in raising the Slayer from the dead, I may not have been able to do much other than contain her magic.”

 

“She might have been too dark to save,” Spike sums up.

 

“That is a possibility,” Aggie replies. “But a moot point at the moment.”

 

Spike frowns. “So, Dawn? Is she in danger?”

 

“She’s an inherently magical being and that energy has to go somewhere,” Aggie replies. “A great deal of that energy was probably expended when the monks inserted her into our world, but she’s a mystical key.”

 

“She has to learn how to control it,” Spike says.

 

Aggie nods. “It’s to our benefit that Dawn wants to learn.”

 

“So, what did you need to talk to me about?” Spike asks. “You just wanted to know if Dawn’s a threat?”

 

Aggie leans forward. “Wesley is a good man, but there are anatomical differences between the brain of a child as compared to that of an adult. Wesley is very mature, but he’s operating at a disadvantage, and he’ll be going through some serious changes as he trains with me.”

 

Spike barks a laugh. “You’re saying that I have to be the adult in this situation.” Aggie is quiet, not replying, and Spike grows serious. “Oh.”

 

“You may not realize this now, Spike, but they do need you,” Aggie says. “It’s more than just the camouflage that an adult living with them provides. They need you, someone who would swear a blood oath without hesitation, someone who will pledge himself to them. I saw your heart sixty years ago.”

 

Spike scowls. “I don’t have a bloody destiny!”

 

“Who ever said anything about destiny?” Aggie asks. “You can be in the right place at the right time without it being fate. Sometimes, you are simply the right person for the job.”

 

Spike shakes his head. “You’re sneaky, and you’re using semantics.”

 

“It’s not semantics,” Aggie replies. “It’s the truth.”

 

Spike looks at her. “The truth is that I loved Buffy, and I ask myself every bloody day why she had to die instead of me. It would have been better if she lived.”

 

“Maybe,” Aggie agrees. “But the fact is that she didn’t, and you protected Dawn. You swore an oath to Wesley, and my grandson’s oath is one I take very seriously.”

 

Spike suddenly realizes that his oath to Wesley ties him to Aggie and possibly to the rest of her coven once she takes Wesley under her tutelage. “What do you want from me?”

 

“Nothing more than you’re already offering,” Aggie replies. “And it may be that I can do something for you, all in the service of helping you help Dawn and Wesley.”

 

Spike’s eyes narrow. “What’s that?”

 

Aggie smiles. “Have you ever wanted to walk in the sun?”

 

~~~~~

 

“Aggie does know that we know that she wants to talk to Spike alone, and he’ll fill us in later?” Dawn asks Wesley. After a trip to the grocery store, then a stop by their apartment to deposit everything, they’re back at the university because Abigail “forgot” something in her office.

 

Dawn is nearly certain that stopping at the university is a pretext, and that Abigail just hasn’t received a phone call signaling the all clear.

 

Wesley shrugs. “It’s different than if we were present, though.”

 

“Like with her telling you that she could reverse the curse as long as you were willing to forget the last six months?” Dawn asks.

 

“Like that,” Wes replies, his arms looped loosely around his drawn up knees. “I’m glad we talked about it privately first.”

 

Dawn still isn’t sure how she feels about it. “I would have supported whatever decision you made.”

 

“That was never in question,” Wesley replies. “But I needed to think about it so I could make a decision not based on emotions.”

 

“Sometimes it’s okay to make an emotional decision,” Dawn argues.

 

“Granted,” Wesley replies quickly. “But I—I was in charge back in LA, before this happened, mostly because I could make the difficult decisions that no one wanted to make.”

 

Dawn thinks about that for a minute. “Wes? Can I ask you a question?”

 

“You can ask,” Wesley replies. “I can’t promise to answer.”

 

“Back when you were in Sunnydale, when things went down, would you have done something differently?” Dawn asks.

 

She’s almost afraid to hear the answer, but she has to know.

 

“There’s no guarantee that it would have changed anything,” Wesley hedges.

 

“I know, but I need to know what you would have done,” Dawn insists.

 

Wesley sighs. “I would have taken you back to LA on the bus with me. Glory had no idea I existed at that point, and she never would have expected it. I could have hidden you in LA until the danger passed.”

 

Dawn hates the fact that it probably would have worked. “Did you—did you suggest that to anyone?”

 

“Hindsight is always 20/20, Dawn,” Wesley replies gently.

 

“So, you did.”

 

“I told Giles about my idea,” Wesley admits. “I knew your sister wouldn’t listen to me, and to be fair, she had no reason to trust me. She believed she was in the best position to protect you, and she wasn’t wrong.”

 

“But if I’d gone with you, and we’d gone to LA, Buffy might be alive.” Dawn feels that truth like a stone in her stomach. If Giles had argued with Buffy, if Buffy had been willing to listen, if she’d gotten on a bus with Wes and went to LA—maybe none of this would have happened at all.

 

Wesley shrugs. “Perhaps. Or perhaps we both would have been killed by vampires, or the demon horde, or maybe the bus would have been run off the road.”

 

“You don’t really think that,” Dawn replies.

 

Wesley looks at her. “What serves you better right now? Grief or anger?”

 

Dawn isn’t sure what he means, and then it hits her. She can be sad for all she’d lost, or she can be angry—at Buffy, at Giles, at Buffy’s friends. She can do both, and be both, of course, but one emotion is likely to serve her better.

 

“Right now, anger,” Dawn admits.

 

Wesley smiles. “I understand. Just—when anger no longer serves, it might be good to find something else.”

 

Dawn nods. “I’ll try, but I’m still angry at Buffy and the others for dying.”

 

“I don’t blame you,” Wesley replies.

 

Dawn bumps his shoulder with her own. “Seriously, Wes. Above and beyond. You’re like the best brother ever.”

 

Wesley flushes a bright red. “I always wanted a sibling.”

 

Dawn leans into him a bit. “I always wanted a brother. I thought it would be way better than having a sister.”

 

“As an only child, I wouldn’t know, but this seems like the best of all possible worlds,” Wesley admits.

 

“Aside from the reliving high school thing?” Dawn asks.

 

Wesley grimaces. “Promise you won’t say anything?”

 

“Swear,” Dawn says immediately.

 

“Other than the part with being around other children who are ostensibly our age but don’t have half our experiences, I actually enjoy the learning part of it,” Wesley says. “Not all of it, but it’s a challenge in the way that languages aren’t.”

 

Dawn glances at him. “You are such a nerd,” she says fondly.

 

“That should probably be on my business cards,” Wesley jokes.

 

“Nerds are awesome,” Dawn says.

 

Wesley’s grin is sweet, and Dawn doesn’t doubt that given some time, he’ll be a real heartbreaker. Of course, it’s probably going to be a long time before he’s in a position where he feels like he can pursue anyone, and then he’ll have to decide how much to disclose.

 

It’s another reminder of how much Wesley is giving up, but even though Dawn feels a little guilty, she’s also grateful. Wes is making a major sacrifice, but it’s to be a part of her life, and that makes all the difference in the world.

 

“All right,” Abigail announces, coming out of her office. “We’re all done here.”

 

“Did Aggie tell you it was safe to go back?” Dawn asks.

 

Abigail gives her a sharp look. “As a matter of fact, she didn’t. I’ve merely completed my business here, and we should get back soon if you two are going to have your first lesson.”

 

“So soon?” Dawn asks, scrambling to her feet. “Not that I’m complaining.”

 

“No time like the present,” Abigail replies. “You both have quite a bit to learn.”

 

When they get back to Abigail’s apartment, Aggie and Spike have pushed the furniture in the living room against the walls and rolled up the area rug. The wood floor is inlaid with a design in metal.

 

“Ah, good, you’re here,” Aggie says. “We can get started. Stick around if you like, Spike.”

 

Spike leans against the wall in a corner of the room, his arms crossed over his chest. “Don’t mind if I do.”

 

“Do you recognize the pattern on the floor?” Aggie asks.

 

Dawn leans in closer. “Is it a protective thing?”

 

Aggie looks at Wesley, waiting for him to answer. “It’s a basic circle for spell work that could spill over. It’s very basic, though. You’d need to augment it for advanced work.”

 

Aggie nods approvingly. “Very good. Both of you must understand that failure to use proper protection can cause magic to spill over to the natural world. It can attract demons and other unsavory sorts, disrupt weather patterns, cause physical distress to those nearby, and so on. The list of potential problems is endless.”

 

Wesley frowns, opens his mouth, and then closes it again. “I understand,” he finally says.

 

“What is it?” Dawn asks, sensing that he’s just connected a couple of dots she hasn’t.

 

Wesley glances at her, then at Aggie. “Do you think that had anything to do with what happened in Sunnydale?”

 

Aggie’s expression turns approving. “You’re a quick study, Wesley. Yes, I do, and the things that Spike has told me support that theory, although I have no proof. Suffice it to say it’s imperative that you follow safety protocols, and if you don’t, I’ll be very angry.”

 

Aggie appears nonthreatening, but Dawn still doesn’t want to see her angry. She has the feeling that Aggie could be quite dangerous under the right circumstances.

 

“I wouldn’t want to do anything that would get anybody hurt,” Dawn insists.

 

Aggie nods. “Good. You’ll both need to have a thorough knowledge of a variety of protective circles and which to use. And I don’t mean rote memorization either, but the theory, so that if you see an unfamiliar spell, you’ll know which protective symbols to use, and you can build your own without relying on others.”

 

Dawn takes a deep breath, realizing just how much hard work this is going to be.

 

“How soon should we have learned this?” Wesley asks.

 

Aggie smiles. “Move at your own pace, because it’s an ongoing process. We won’t be doing advanced spell work until you’ve mastered the theory, though.”

 

“Both of us?” Dawn asks. “What if Wesley picks this stuff up faster than I do?”

 

Aggie shrugs. “I’ve found that teaching works best in a cohort. You will spur each other on, and hold each other accountable. Wesley may learn one piece faster, and you may turn the tables in another area.” She leans back. “Tell me now if this is something you don’t wish to do.”

 

“I want it,” Wesley says immediately.

 

“Me, too,” Dawn agrees.

 

She wonders what Willow and Tara would think about all of this, and she’s pretty sure that Willow would have chafed at the restrictions. Maybe this is stuff that Tara learned from her mom, though.

 

Aggie goes over basic principles for a couple of hours, until it’s nearly ten pm, and Abigail announces that she’d like her living room back so she can go to bed.

 

They walk out with Spike, and Dawn asks, “What did Aggie want to talk to you about?”

 

“She had a few questions about what happened in Sunnydale before we left,” Spike replies. “About what the Slayer’s friends might have been up to. Said there was a darkness.”

 

Dawn frowns. “Do you—what do you think?”

 

“I think there’s a lot they weren’t telling us,” Spike replies.

 

“What do you think about Aggie’s lessons?” Dawn asks.

 

“She knows what she’s talking about,” Spike says. “You learn from her, you’ll learn things the right way.”

 

Dawn leans back in her seat. “How fast are we going to get through this, Wes?”

 

“As quickly as possible would be my preference,” Wesley replies. “But don’t worry about holding me back or anything like that. You won’t. We’ll get through it together.”

 

Dawn thinks about that, about this little family of theirs, bound not by blood but by oath, where they’re all in this together. In five years, they’ll be out of high school and well into their training, both magical and physical.

 

They’ll fight demons and vampires and the forces of darkness. Dawn’s life—her survival—will have meaning. Maybe she’ll find some reason that she’s alive when the others aren’t—why a ball of energy lived when she’s not even a real girl.

 

~~~~~

 

The second day of classes goes much as the first, although the teachers appear more willing to call on them. Wesley hasn’t yet decided how much to participate, or at least how often to volunteer.

 

He’d been something of a swot the first time around, partly because that’s just who he is, and partly because he’d needed glowing reports from his teachers in order to stave off his father’s wrath, if not his disappointment.

 

And, yes, partly because he really had believed he knew everything at the time.

 

On the other hand, Wesley’s supposed to be a prodigy, which means he’d better at least contribute something.

 

“Does anyone else want to speak to the what the narrator experiences?” Mr. Daniels asks. When no one immediately volunteers, he prompts, “Wesley?”

 

Wesley clears his throat. “I believe the author was speaking both to the effects of lack of stimulation on the human brain, and how the brain will create stimulation, such as the pattern in the wallpaper. In addition, the story points out common misperceptions of women, particularly by medical professionals, and how damaging those could be.”

 

He can feel his classmates’ eyes on him, but he keeps his shoulders squared and his back straight. He’s faced worse.

 

Mr. Daniels raises his eyebrows. “Is that from Spark Notes?”

 

“What are those?” Wesley asks, honestly puzzled.

 

Dawn puts her hand over her face. “Oh, God.”

 

The rest of the class erupts in snickers, and Mr. Daniels chuckles. “Never mind, Mr. Price. Excellent analysis. Ms. Sumner, do you have anything to add?”

 

Dawn hesitates, and then offers, “It’s just—sometimes a prison becomes your home, because you don’t think you’ll fit in or be accepted outside of it. The box gets comfortable.”

 

“Very astute,” Mr. Daniels says. “I can see that I’m going to have a couple of Hermiones in my class this year.”

 

Dawn flushes a dull red, and Wesley is grateful Dawn made him read the book, because he understands that reference.

 

Thankfully, they get through the rest of class without being called on again, and Wesley collects his things slowly when the bell rings. He’d learned that trick at the Watchers’ Academy. If you’re last to leave the room, it’s harder for your classmates to cause problems.

 

“Well, we just got made as giant nerds,” Dawn mutters as they leave class.

 

“Is that so bad?”

 

“Depends,” Dawn replies. “But Micah seemed nice. Hanging out with nerds is probably a little safer. I mean, if you tell them that you want to be a great warlock, they’re likely to take you fairly seriously, or at least accept it.”

 

Wesley laughs. “I don’t think I’m going to let that out, but I have no problem saying that I’m a pagan and learning natural medicine, or something like that. What about you?”

 

Dawn makes a face. “I’m probably going to ask you to keep me afloat in a few classes. Between school, self-defense training, and working with Aggie, I’m not going to have much time for anything else.”

 

The teacher in their maths class has a method of calling on each student in alphabetical order. He’s at Zemaitis now, so they have a little time before he gets back around to Wesley and Dawn.

 

The little algebra Wesley remembers is coming back to him, and he follows along well enough, although it’s never going to be his favorite class. He can at least see the use of maths now, for calculating force and speed and the required amount of spell ingredients.

 

Civics is interesting, mostly because Wesley doesn’t know much about American government, and if he’s going to pass as an American, he should probably pay attention.

 

Although, given what he knows about the average American, Wesley could probably remain fairly ignorant and still know as much as the random person on the street.

 

At lunch, Dawn scans the room. “Okay, new strategy.”

 

“What’s that?” Wesley asks.

 

“As awesome as our club of two is, and we are awesome, I think we need some camouflage,” Dawn replies. “Wes, we’re going to be nerds.”

 

“I thought we were already nerds,” Wesley replies.

 

You are,” Dawn replies. “I wanted to be one of the popular kids. The dead mother and freaky sister put me out of the running in Sunnydale, but I can do total nerd. Your aunt put me in art, which is one of those classes we don’t share. I’m thinking that maybe my day job could be forensic artist.”

 

“That could come in really handy,” Wesley says. “Angel could draw, and his reproductions pointed us in the right direction on more than one occasion.”

 

Dawn glances at him. “What’s your language?”

 

“Spanish,” Wesley replies. “I tried to talk myself into Latin, but Abigail wasn’t impressed.”

 

“You already know Latin,” Dawn replies.

 

“Aunt Abigail said the same thing, but that was kind of the point,” Wesley replies, and he follows her through the lunchroom to a corner table where a bunch of kids are crowded together.

 

He’s not sure why they’re approaching these kids, since they’re all wearing clothes that range from quirky to all black. Cordelia would have called them fashion disasters, but he trusts that Dawn has a plan.

 

“Hey,” Dawn says brightly. “Mind if we join you?”

 

One of the girls, a blonde with pink streaks in her hair, wearing a black sweatshirt and a pink and black striped skirt, waves them to the two empty seats. “Feel free. Dawn and Wesley, right?”

 

Dawn nods. “We’re in art together.”

 

“Yeah,” she says. “I’m Jess. I’ll let the others make their own introductions.”

 

The other kids briefly do so. Wesley knows he’s not going to remember all their names, and he’s still not convinced that he wants to do so. These people are their peers only in the most technical sense of the word. Still, he makes a bit of an effort.

 

There’s Michael in the fedora, and Becks in a shirt and tie, and who is nearly androgynous. Kylie is wearing slacks and a cardigan that has cats all over it. He’s not sure if it’s ironic or not. There are a couple of kids who mumble their names, wearing all black and nearly indistinguishable, and Wesley knows he probably won’t recognize them if they pass right by him in the hallway.

 

That’s about where Wesley loses the thread of introductions, and Jess says, “It’s cool if you don’t remember. This is a free-for-all table.”

 

“What’s that?” Dawn asks, digging into her fries.

 

“It means it’s free for all,” Jess says. “The school is actually pretty good about cracking down on bullies, and they’ll be proactive with you, Wes. Prodigies bring test scores up, so they won’t want anything to interfere with your academics.”

 

Wesley blinks. “Okay.”

 

“But just because kids aren’t shoving people into lockers, that doesn’t mean they’re inclusive.” Jess shrugs. “So, this is the table for everybody who wants to eat lunch with other people but doesn’t have a set group. A couple of seniors started the tradition last year, and it’s held.”

 

“That’s kind of awesome,” Dawn says.

 

“Yeah, it kind of is,” Jess replies. “So what about you guys? What are you into?”

 

Dawn hesitates. “Um, art, and Harry Potter, and after what happened to our families, probably self defense? We haven’t started yet, but I think we’ll be pretty busy.”

 

“What did happen to your family?” one of the Goth twins asks.

 

“Gang violence,” Dawn says. “I’m from Sunnydale originally.”

 

There’s a murmur around the table. “Man, that sucks,” Michael says. “I saw it on the news.”

 

They seem to assume that Wesley has the same story, because they don’t ask him any questions, for which he’s grateful.

 

“Well, there’s drama if you want to get involved in something,” Jess says. “We have a good program here. Wes, are you into anything?”

 

“Languages,” Wesley replies. “And well, shooting.”

 

Jess brightens. “Do you do archery?”

 

“I’ve done some,” he replies. “Why?”

 

“We have an archery club,” she says animatedly. “We’re always looking for new members. Would you come?”

 

Wesley glances at Dawn. “I don’t know.”

 

“Dawn can come too,” Jess replies. “We take all skill levels, although we obviously don’t send everybody to competitions.”

 

“That might be cool,” Dawn says. “I’ve always wanted to learn how to shoot a bow.”

 

Jess beams. “Come to practice next week. We practice Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday.”

 

They haven’t checked out self-defense classes yet, and archery will put a dent in their already-busy schedules, but Wesley’s vaguely aware that if they decide to go to college, extra-curricular activities will be helpful.

 

Plus, he’s pretty sure he’s going to be great at it.

 

“Okay,” Wesley agrees. “We’re supposed to be well rounded.”

 

“I’m in, too,” Dawn says. “My sister was amazing with a bow but I haven’t picked one up since she died.”

 

Jess nods sympathetically. “Best to get back up on the horse. We’ll be glad to have you.”

 

“Are we really doing this?” Dawn asks as they leave the cafeteria.

 

Wesley shrugs. “How are people going to respond when they know we can kill them from 100 meters away with a bow and arrow?”

 

Dawn grins. “I like your thinking.”

 

After lunch, Wesley has first year Spanish, which he’s never studied before, but he’s got about a dozen demonic languages under his belt, including a couple where the rules of grammar defy human logic. Spanish is laughably easy in comparison.

 

He also has geography and biology in the afternoon, which means his schedule is fairly rigorous, although he has enough knowledge of both to not have to put in much effort. As he’s supposed to be some kind of genius, he supposes that’s for the best, considering how much he has on his plate at the moment.

 

They’re playing dodge ball in gym class that day, which causes Dawn to groan. Wesley has had time to get used to his body, though, and his aim is still true. His smaller stature helps him avoid getting hit, and he’s the last one standing for the first round and second to last in the next.

 

“No one likes dodge ball,” Dawn complains between rounds. “How are you so good at it?”

 

“Years of practice,” Wesley says dryly. “And exceptional aim. I told you it was one of the few things I’m actually good at.”

 

After class, once they’ve changed back into their street clothes and are waiting outside, Dawn comments, “You seem weirdly okay with all of this.”

 

Wesley thinks about that for a moment. “It’s nice to have something to do, to be working towards a goal. I’ve felt relatively aimless the last six months, at least until you and Spike came along. Things were happening to me, but it felt as though I was merely marking time, waiting to grow up again.”

 

Dawn appears to consider that. “Okay, but you’re back in high school, Wes.”

 

“I’ve always enjoyed learning things,” Wesley comments mildly. “And it gives me something to do during the day. It’s a routine.”

 

Dawn shrugs. “I’m glad you’re okay with all of this. I just—don’t want you to hate me.”

 

“If I thought that was possible, I wouldn’t have made the choice I did,” Wesley replies. He hesitates. “You know, now that we’re settled, maybe you should think about calling Mr. Giles. Cordelia said he was worried about you.”

 

Dawn shrugs. “I’ll think about it.”

 

“Still not going to the party tonight?” Wesley asks.

 

Dawn gives him a look. “Still not interested. Besides, we have another lesson with Aggie.”

 

Since they have all weekend to do their homework—at least in between all of the other things they have to do—Aggie wants to start right away. Spike hasn’t shown up yet, and Abigail has a few meetings on campus to attend.

 

“Tonight is going to be a little different,” Aggie says. “Dawn, the Hellmouth puts off a certain amount of dark energy. It’s important that we do a cleansing ritual before you do any magic. Wesley will be performing the ritual under my supervision.”

 

“Is it bad?” Dawn asks.

 

Aggie shakes her head. “No, dear. It’s not bad, and it’s nothing you’ve done. It’s what has been done around you. Once Wesley has finished, I’ll walk you through a simple spell that will give me an idea of your potential. You have it in spades, but I’d like to get an idea of how strong you might be.”

 

Dawn nods. “Okay. I trust you, and I trust Wes, too.”

 

“Then let’s get started,” Aggie says. “Wesley, what kind of a protection circle would you use for a basic cleansing ritual?”

 

He studies the circle on the floor for a moment. “You wouldn’t need much more than this, not unless someone was possessed. That said, I would shore up the defenses with a basic pentagram, maybe a few protection runes.”

 

“Go ahead,” Aggie says. “Draw it out.”

 

Wesley knows she’s going to be critiquing him, and he feels the stutter of nerves. She’s given him no reason to think she’s going to be cruel, but he can’t help but think of his father.

 

He carefully draws the pentagram, along with the protection runes, and then sits back on his heels. Dawn is studying the pentagram avidly, and Aggie nods. “Good. There are a few options, but we’ll go over them in detail later. This one works well, though.”

 

Wesley nods, grateful for the praise. “Thanks.”

 

“Now, Dawn, step into the circle,” Aggie instructs. “You aren’t going to feel anything at all.”

 

He’s performed a few cleansing spells before, not just the disastrous exorcism, and this one is also in Latin. Aggie has the herbs—mostly sage—ready, and Wesley does the chant, lights the herbs on fire, and blows it towards Dawn, who sneezes.

 

And that’s it.

 

“I don’t feel any different,” Dawn says when it’s over.

 

“That’s not too surprising,” Aggie replies. “You weren’t practicing dark magic. It’s all in your aura. This was merely a precaution. Now, do you remember what I said about using protection circles?”

 

“They’re 100% necessary?” Dawn asks.

 

“Yes, even for small spells such as this one, at least until you’re trained,” Aggie says. “We’ll go over everything, and when you’re comfortable, we’ll proceed. Stay where you are.”

 

Wesley is a bit tired after that, and he lounges in the chair, half-listening as Aggie instructs Dawn on a basic spell to produce light.

 

It’s kind of nice, sitting there, listening to their voices, and he’s not entirely sure when he drifts off.

 

~~~~~

 

Spike smells burnt sage, and it brings back bad memories. The last time he smelled it was in Sunnydale, when Buffy revoked his invitation. He’s not too worried about it, but he still hates the smell.

 

He thinks about knocking but something makes him hesitate. He opens the door and steps inside. Wesley is slumped on the couch, asleep, a blanket thrown over him. Aggie and Dawn are sitting in the small dining area just off the galley kitchen.

 

“But it would be bad,” Dawn is saying.

 

“Tell me,” Aggie says softly. “Where do you think your sister is now? And before you answer, I know for a fact that there’s an afterlife.”

 

“Heaven,” Dawn says immediately. “She died to save the world.”

 

“And if heaven is a place where there’s no pain, no struggle, no sadness, but is a place of perfect peace and contentment, what would happen if you took someone out of such a place?” Aggie asks.

 

Spike suspects that Aggie knows he’s there and hasn’t said anything for reasons of her own.

 

“It would be awful,” Dawn whispers. “It would be cruel. I don’t—I almost did that to my mom.”

 

Aggie reaches across the table and puts her hand over Dawn’s. “You didn’t know, love, and now you do, and you understand what’s at stake. But I need you to understand how powerful you could be, and what you could accomplish. You could raise the dead.”

 

“What about—what about the people who don’t go to heaven?” Dawn asks.

 

“Would you really want to bring those people back from the dead?” Aggie counters.

 

Dawn shrugs. “I would if it’s Spike.”

 

Aggie makes a sound somewhere between a laugh and a sigh. “Spike is a special case, as he would probably be the first to admit. Wouldn’t you?”

 

Spike shrugs unrepentantly when they both turn to look at him. “Don’t know about that. But I wouldn’t want Dawn putting herself at risk for me either.”

 

Aggie pats her hand again. “Now, if Spike is trapped in a hell dimension for some reason, and he hasn’t died of what passes for natural causes for a vampire, we can talk. Spike, why don’t you wake my grandson so we can get something to eat? I feel like a burger.”

 

Spike ends up driving them, and Aggie directs them to a local joint that has a blooming onion on the menu. Spike’s mouth twitches when he sees it on the menu.

 

“Your favorite,” Aggie comments.

 

Spike shakes his head. “You didn’t have to.”

 

“Who says I won’t be stealing a few bites from you?” Aggie counters. “And this is nothing. Remembering someone’s favorite food and indulging them once in a while is a kindness that costs me nothing.”

 

“Costs you the price of a blooming onion,” Spike points out.

 

Aggie smiles, and glances at Wesley. “How does it make you feel?”

 

Wesley blinks at her. “Special,” he finally admits.

 

“Running a coven requires a certain amount of that,” Aggie says, looking at Dawn as well. “You need a good understanding of each member, what makes them tick, and what keeps them happy. You need to know who works well with who, and who needs supervision.”

 

“And how to approach them?” Wesley asks. “If you invite them out, to speak with them individually for whatever reason, remembering their favorite food is a way to disarm them, and to remind them that you care.”

 

“Excellent,” Aggie agrees. “I can teach you magic, but it’s just as important to learn the fine art of making friends and influencing people, to quote that book I don’t much like.”

 

Spike gives her a look. “You mean manipulating people.”

 

Aggie shrugs. “You try leading a coven of no less than 20 powerful witches, and some of them with personalities just as strong as that of your Slayer’s friend. Willow, wasn’t it?”

 

Dawn nods. “Yeah, and I think she and Tara fought over how to use magic.”

 

“You’ll each find your own style in time,” Aggie says. “But showing you care is never a bad way to go.”

 

“What if you don’t care?” Spike challenges.

 

“Then you probably shouldn’t be the head of the coven,” Aggie replies pleasantly, but with a hint of steel in her voice. “Although there are people in my coven I wouldn’t want to get a drink with, to be sure.”

 

Spike shifts. He’s never been the sort of person who cared about more than one or two people at once, even when he’d been human. He loved his mother and Cecily. He loved Dru, and then he loved Buffy.

 

And now, he has Dawn and Wes, although he hesitates to call it love, but maybe it is. The idea of caring for so many—being responsible for so many—makes him uncomfortable. He can’t imagine ever being okay with that, or being good at it.

 

It’s a reminder that this is fleeting, that someday Dawn and Wes won’t need him anymore, and Spike will have to move on. Someday, they’ll go where he can’t follow.

 

“What would have happened if Wesley hadn’t turned up like this?” Dawn suddenly asks. “Would the coven continue?”

 

Aggie raises an eyebrow. “The day a coven becomes completely reliant upon one person is the day the coven becomes a cult. I would have eventually chosen a successor, and passed my legacy onto them.”

 

“The coven must still function, even if the head is lost,” Wesley murmurs.

 

“You were head of your agency at one point,” Aggie comments.

 

Wesley shrugs. “After Angel left, someone had to pick up the reins, and that someone was me. After this happened, no one wanted to oust me, but I knew it was coming. They seem to be doing fine without me.”

 

Spike can hear the hurt in Wesley’s voice, but he figures that Angel’s idiocy is their gain.

 

“Perhaps, perhaps not,” Aggie replies. “Have you called recently?”

 

“A week or so ago, perhaps,” Wesley replies.

 

“Call again this weekend,” Aggie says. “Tell at least one person what you’ve decided. Close the door on that chapter of your life.”

 

She’s speaking to Wesley, but she glances at Spike when she says it, and Spike wonders if she knows that he’s stopped dreaming up ways to save Buffy, at least every night.

 

Spike takes Dawn and Wesley home shortly after. “You staying out?” Dawn asks.

 

“I thought I might,” Spike replies. “That a problem for you?”

 

His tone might be a little hostile, but Dawn just rolls her eyes. “Okay, geez. I was just curious.”

 

“Do you want company?” Wesley asks.

 

“Not tonight, half pint,” Spike says. He tries to modulate his tone slightly, although he knows he isn’t terribly successful.

 

Spike likes them both well enough, but he feels the weight of responsibility, and it chafes. There are nights when all he wants is to drink, fight, and fuck, and tonight is definitely one of them.

 

He waits until they’re inside the apartment, and then he turns, fully planning to find a demon bar to pick a fight, preferably after getting pissed.

 

Aggie is standing right there, and Spike has no bloody clue how she managed that.

 

“So, you teleport now?” Spike asks sourly.

 

“I go where I’m needed,” Aggie replies. “And where I can meddle.”

 

Spike stalks off. “Meddling will do you no good here.”

 

Aggie somehow manages to keep pace with him. “I’ll be the judge of that.”

 

Spike stops. “Look, I’m heading to a demon bar, where you won’t be welcome. I’m going to get pissed, and I’m going to find someone who’s up for a bit of rough and ready, if you know what I mean. You’re not invited.”

 

“Will that help you escape the what ifs running through your head?” Aggie asks.

 

“Maybe,” Spike growls. “Back off.”

 

“I have a vested interest in you,” Aggie says. “Therefore, I’m going to make sure you get home in one piece.”

 

Spike rounds on her. “I don’t need you!”

 

“No, I imagine you don’t,” Aggie murmurs. “You were in love with her, but that doesn’t mean it’s your fault for failing to save her.”

 

Spike throws his hands up. “Why the hell do you even care?”

 

“Because I caught a glimpse of that spark in you many years ago,” Aggie replies. “Dawn looks up to you, and Wesley regards you as a friend and ally. I was truthful earlier; if I had no heir, the coven would continue, but I have grown quite attached to my grandson.”

 

Spike glares at her. “Okay, fine, I like Wes, too. He doesn’t look at me like I’m some sort of monster; it’s why I swore that oath. I promised Buffy I’d look after Dawn ‘til the end of the world.”

 

“But you thought it would be that night,” Aggie says. “You didn’t think you’d survive, and you had no idea what that promise would entail.”

 

“Maybe,” Spike allows. “But it’s not like I mind.”

 

“Then perhaps you should let me go with you, because if you get dusted, it will hurt Dawn horribly, and Wesley will not thank you.”

 

“Just you being there will stir up trouble,” Spike objects. “And if you get killed, Wes won’t thank me for that either.”

 

Aggie smiles. “Oh, I think I can handle myself.”

 

Spike wouldn’t have hesitated to bring Buffy if she’d asked to accompany him. In fact, he would have loved it. He doesn’t particularly want Aggie babysitting him.

 

“If you don’t bring me with you, I’ll just follow you.”

 

“Fine,” Spike mutters, since he has no idea how to get rid of her. “If you insist.”

 

Much to his surprise, no one in the demon bar looks askance at Aggie. It’s like she’s not even there. When he glances at her, she has a look of amusement on her face. “No one is going to bother me,” she insists.

 

“What, you’ve got some kind of invisibility spell?” Spike asks.

 

“Even better,” Aggie replies. “Most of those present know me.” She strolls up to the bar. “Hello, Marvin.”

 

The bartender turns, two of his four hands busy pouring drinks, the two uppermost hands rising in disbelief. “Aggie! It’s good to see you! Where’s your daughter?”

 

“She had class tonight,” Aggie replies, taking a stool. “How’s business?”

 

Spike settles down next to her, feeling awkward and off-balance.

 

“Good, good,” Marvin says. “Your usual?”

 

“And a whiskey for my friend here,” Aggie says.

 

Marvin gives Spike a sharp look. “You’re making friends with vampires now?”

 

“My grandson is,” Aggie says. “But then, Wesley has my discriminating tastes.”

 

“Mazel tov,” Marvin says, producing a martini with three olives and a highball glass with a couple fingers of whiskey. “Didn’t think you had anybody but that professor.”

 

“It was something of a surprise to me, too,” Aggie replies. “I’ll bring Wesley by sometime. I think you’d like him.”

 

“Any family of yours is a friend here,” Marvin says.

 

Spike sips his drink as Marvin turns away. “Seriously?”

 

“The Watchers’ Council holds a dim view of demons; I don’t,” Aggie says. “The proof, as they say, is in the pudding.”

 

Spike realizes that there’s no way he’s going to be able to carry out his plans for the evening, and he glares at her. “You came along so I wouldn’t pick a fight.”

 

“Marvin doesn’t like having his place trashed, and I happen to like coming here for a drink,” Aggie replies. “So, yes, I accompanied you to keep our informants and friends happy, as they will eventually be Wesley and Dawn’s.”

 

“That doesn’t solve my problem,” Spike growls.

 

“No, I suppose it doesn’t,” Aggie agrees. “Which is why when Marvin gets a moment, I’m going to ask him for the location of any nearby vampires’ nests that might threaten my grandson, and he will give me the location, because I’m protecting my family.”

 

Spike relaxes slightly. “And you’re going to let me take out the nest.”

 

“Well, it’s only fair,” Aggie says. “Since I’m doing all the work getting you the location.”

 

And for the first time since Buffy left, for the first time since all this went down, Spike laughs freely and without any trace of sorrow.

 

~~~~~

 

Dawn picks up the phone with trepidation, glancing over at Wes and Spike for support. “Are you sure you don’t want to go first?” she asks.

 

Wesley holds out his hand. “I’ll do it.”

 

Dawn immediately feels terrible. “You don’t have to.”

 

“It’s fine,” Wesley says. “I need to call, and I don’t mind going first.”

 

Dawn hands the phone over. Aggie insisted that they both needed to “close the chapter” in order to move on, which means calling certain people. In Wesley’s case, it’s Cordelia, or whoever answers the phone at Angel Investigations. In Dawn’s, it means calling Giles.

 

Aggie and Abigail are out on the back patio, giving them some privacy, although both offered to get on the line if Giles or one of Wesley’s friends insisted.

 

Wesley dials the phone number with a steady hand and hits the speaker button. Dawn appreciates the gesture, a tacit acknowledgment that they’re in this together.

 

The answering machine picks up, and Wes begins speaking in a steady, clear voice. “Hi, it’s me. I just wanted to let you know that I’m safe, and—”

 

“Wes?”

 

Dawn immediately recognizes Angel’s voice, and Wesley’s eyes widen. “H’lo,” Wesley manages to say, clearly caught off guard.

 

“Where are you?” Angel demands.

 

“I’m safe,” Wesley replies. “With my aunt and grandmother.”

 

“I thought you didn’t want to contact your family,” Angel replies.

 

“I didn’t want to contact my father,” Wesley corrects him. “This is my mother’s side of the family. They have experience with the supernatural, and they’ve offered to help me.”

 

Dawn can tell that Wesley is expecting a fight, and she sees the dejected slump of his shoulders when Angel immediately says, “That’s good. There’s a lot going on right now, and it’s probably for the best that you’re out of it.”

 

“Oh,” Wesley says. “Anything I could help with?”

 

“No,” Angel says firmly. “It’s not safe. I’m just glad that you’re okay. When you called, at first I thought—but he doesn’t know you exist, and I want to keep it that way.”

 

Wesley looks as confused as Dawn feels, but it’s also a shitty thing to say to someone, like Wesley’s existence is better swept under the rug.

 

“Very well,” Wesley says stiffly. “It will probably be some time before I can call again. My grandmother has a vigorous training regimen set out for me. Goodbye, Angel.”

 

And then he hangs up and just stands there, his fists clenching and unclenching.

 

“That was cold,” Dawn comments.

 

“I heard Darla in the background,” Spike says unexpectedly. “And Angel always went a little crazy when Darla was around.”

 

Wesley rubs his eyes. “Yes, well, I was there for the last round, and it was unpleasant. So, perhaps it really is better for me not to be there.”

 

Dawn clears her throat. “I’m really sorry, Wes, but I still don’t have Giles’ phone number.”

 

Wesley nods and dials another number. “Cordelia, please call me back. Dawn wants to call Giles.” He rattles off a phone number and hangs up. “Now, we wait.”

 

Aggie suggests a game of poker while they wait, and Dawn can tell Wesley is distracted, because he loses the first three hands in a row.

 

“I think ice cream is called for,” Abigail announces. “Lucky for all of us, I stocked up.”

 

It’s cookies and cream, which isn’t Dawn’s favorite, but is definitely acceptable. Wesley eats his desultorily, and when the phone rings, he’s half out of his chair to answer it before he looks to Abigail.

 

“Go ahead,” she says.

 

Wesley picks up. “Abigail Disick residence.” He pauses. “Oh, hello, Cordelia.”

 

He goes into Abigail’s study for some privacy, and Dawn looks at Spike. “Are you sure Darla was there?”

 

Spike shrugs. “Hard to mistake that voice. Heard a couple others I couldn’t place, too, but I couldn’t begin to say—” He stops. “Never mind.”

 

Dawn figures he’s listening to Wesley’s conversation, and she waves at him to spill, but Spike shakes his head stubbornly. “Not my tale to tell.”

 

Wesley emerges after about fifteen minutes, when the remainder of his ice cream is almost completely melted. “Well,” he says, with forced cheer. “It turns out that Angel is the subject of yet another prophecy, Darla is pregnant with his child, and some old nemesis from Angel’s past named Holtz is making their lives hell. Cordelia agrees with Angel that I’m well out of it, because she wouldn’t put it past Holtz to kidnap me and hold me hostage and ‘in my current state,’ I won’t pose much of a challenge.”

 

Abigail grimaces. “That sounds perfectly hellish.”

 

“I had heard of several prophecies involving a vampire with a soul,” Aggie muses. “But prophecies are notoriously unreliable and prone to misinterpretation.”

 

“Is Angel going to have a demon baby?” Dawn asks.

 

“Wouldn’t surprise me a bit,” Spike mutters.

 

Wesley cracks a smile at that. “According to Cordelia, they don’t know yet, but are working on the problem.” He hands Dawn a slip of paper. “There’s Giles’ phone number.”

 

Dawn stares at it. “It’s an international number. Maybe I shouldn’t—”

 

“One phone call won’t break the bank,” Aggie says. “Go on now. You can use the study for privacy if you’d prefer.”

 

Dawn shakes her head. “No, it’s—he’ll want to talk to you or Aggie, or maybe both.”

 

Wesley has to explain how to dial the international number, and Dawn checks the time. “Won’t it be too late?”

 

“He’ll want to hear from you, child,” Aggie replies. “And it’s early in the morning. He might not thank you for waking him, but there’s no time like the present.”

 

Dawn dials, knowing that she needs to get it over with. After a few rings, Giles’ grumpy, sleep-filled voice says, “Hello, this is Rupert Giles.”

 

“Hi, Giles,” she says. Dawn doesn’t put him on speaker, but she knows Spike can hear both sides of the conversation. “It’s—”

 

“Dawn!” he interrupts her. “Where are you? Are you all right?”

 

“I’m fine,” she insists. “I’m safe.”

 

“Are you with Spike?” Giles demands. “Cordelia said that you’d gone to find Wesley’s family, but he was adamantly opposed to contacting them, and Roger said they held the funeral.”

 

“It’s a different branch of the family,” Dawn says. “And yes, Spike is with me.”

 

Giles clears his throat. “Dawn, I’m afraid that I must insist that you turn yourself into authorities. I’m sure Spike took good care of you, but he’s hardly a fit guardian for you long term.”

 

“I’m going to let you speak with Aggie,” Dawn replies in lieu of an answer, and hands the phone over.

 

“To whom am I speaking?” Aggie asks, her words crisp.

 

Wesley smirks at Dawn, and Dawn figures they finally found someone who could out-posh Giles.

 

“I see, I’m Agatha Disick, Wesley’s grandmother. Perhaps you’ve heard of me? I run the coven in New Haven,” she says. “I’ve taken charge of Dawn and Wesley’s education.”

 

Dawn can only hear Aggie’s side, but she can follow the gist of the conversation, particularly when Aggie says, “And leaving her with several young people who aren’t much older than Dawn is was the right call?”

 

Dawn winces at that, especially when Aggie says, “In my opinion, Dawn is a young woman who has been forced to grow up quickly. She’s indicated that she wishes to stay here, and as long as she goes to school, gets acceptable grades, and stays out of trouble, I don’t see what your objections could possibly be.”

 

Dawn thinks about her near-miss shoplifting and winces. It’s another reason to keep her nose clean.

 

“Here you are,” Aggie says, handing the phone back to Dawn.

 

“Hello,” Dawn says cautiously.

 

Giles sounds infinitely weary when he asks, “Is this really what you want, Dawn?”

 

What Dawn wants is to rewind time, to somehow save Buffy, to go back to the way things were. She’s not going to get what she wants.

 

“Yeah, it’s what I want,” Dawn says firmly. “Wes and I are looking out for each other, and Spike’s watching our backs, too. And now Aggie is teaching us. I want to stay here.”

 

Giles’ tone softens. “Promise that you’ll call me if you need me.”

 

“I promise,” Dawn replies, although she privately resolves not to need him.

 

Aggie holds out her hand again, and Dawn says, “Bye, Giles. Aggie wants to talk to you again.”

 

“Take care of yourself, Dawn,” Giles replies.

 

Aggie proceeds to take the phone into the study, and Dawn really wishes she could be a fly on the wall.

 

“Mom will set him straight,” Abigail says with confidence. “Don’t worry about it, Dawn.”

 

Dawn makes a face. “I just don’t get it. He left me with Willow and Tara, and it was like he didn’t even care, and now he suddenly does? Like, I should go into foster care to assuage his guilty conscience?”

 

Wesley reaches out and puts his hand over hers. “If Giles wants to do things by the books, there’s no way they’d let him have custody of you.”

 

“I know,” Dawn replies. “But that’s what makes it so stupid!”

 

“Grief does funny things to a person,” Abigail replies. “His way of taking responsibility now is to do what he can to ensure you’re safe. As I said, Mom will set him straight. She’s quite good at that.”

 

Aggie enters the room a few minutes later. “That’s that sorted. Your Mr. Giles has been assured of your safety and well being, Dawn, although I did promise semi-regular updates to set his mind at ease.”

 

“He’s okay with it?” Dawn asks, because she knows that Giles could still make trouble for her. One phone call to the authorities, and he could sic the police on her pretty easily.

 

Aggie offers a reassuring smile. “In this case, my reputation precedes me. I was able to convince him that you would be far safer with me than in foster care, and he had to concede the point. Now, I do believe it’s getting late.”

 

As hints go, this one isn’t subtle, and they pack up to leave. “I’ll see you both tomorrow for lessons. Sleep well,” Aggie says, bussing both of them on the cheek.

 

It’s weird, but Dawn almost feels like Aggie’s her grandmother, too.

 

Neither she nor Wesley is ready to go to bed when they get back to the apartment, and Spike wants a cigarette, so they go out to the balcony. It’s just big enough for the three of them, although it won’t be forever, not when Wesley is full grown.

 

Spike leans against the railing, his lit cigarette a single point of light while Wesley wedges himself into one corner, knees drawn up to his chest, and Dawn sits down cross-legged across from him.

 

“Are you okay?” Dawn asks. “After talking to Angel, I mean.”

 

Wesley sighs. “I’m fine.”

 

“Any regrets?” Dawn presses. “I mean, you could still go back.”

 

“No, I really couldn’t,” Wesley replies waspishly. “Now more than ever before. If I were to lose my memories, I would be walking into a warzone blind, expecting—I don’t know. It’s clear there’s no place for me there. What about you?”

 

Dawn forces a smile. “I got what I wanted, didn’t I?”

 

“Come on, Bit,” Spike murmurs. “It’s not so simple as all that.”

 

“Okay, fine,” Dawn says. “It sucks that Giles doesn’t want me around, but that’s not any different than how it was before. I already knew that.”

 

Wesley makes a noncommittal sound, and Spike gives her a steady look, and Dawn sighs, “But it really sucks that he thinks foster care would somehow be better than staying with you two, and it took Aggie to convince him.”

 

Wesley tips his head back. “Of course. Spike, did you recognize the name of that demon hunter? Holtz?”

 

“Vague recollections,” Spike replies. “He was well before my time.”

 

“Do you think it’s going to be a problem?” Dawn asks.

 

“For Angel and the others, but not for us,” Wesley replies. “Unless, of course, the world ends.”

 

“Way to think positive,” Dawn snarks.

 

Spike snorts. “Given our track record and Angel’s, it’s a fair point.”

 

“It doesn’t matter,” Dawn insists. “We’re like the three Musketeers—all for one, and one for all.”

 

And maybe they’re a weird little family unit, but that’s exactly what they are.

 

~~~~~

 

The weekend passes quickly, and Wesley is grateful for the routine, and the activity. He hadn’t been dishonest with Dawn when he told her that he appreciates having something to do. He’s been in limbo for the last six months, and now he at least has a plan and a structure to his days.

 

Wesley feels needed—his presence helps Dawn—and he has a goal that he’s working towards.

 

And unbeknownst to him, Aggie’s obvious love and pride in him satisfies a desire he’d given up on being met.

 

He and Dawn stay in their gym clothes after class and end up helping Jess set up the targets for archery practice.

 

“We have compound and recurve bows to use,” Jess says. “You’ll have to use a recurve bow for competitions, so if that’s something you want to do, I’d advise starting out with that one, but the compound bow has a lighter draw.”

 

Wesley considers. “I’ll start with the recurve. If the draw is too heavy for me, I’ll switch over.”

 

Jess nods. “It might be. You’re, what? Twelve? Thirteen?”

 

Wesley tries to remember the date on his forged birth certificate. “Thirteen this year.”

 

“Then you’ll be competing as a cub, and Dawn will be cadet class,” Jess replies. “We’ve never fielded anybody at the cub class before, for obvious reasons.”

 

Wesley shrugs that off. “The hazards of skipping grades, I suppose.”

 

“It’s not a big deal,” Jess replies. “I think it’s cool, and I’m sure it helps to not be the only new kid at school.”

 

About a dozen kids show up for practice, most of them freshmen and sophomores, although there are a couple of seniors. There aren’t enough bows or targets for everyone to practice at the same time, so Jess divides them into pairs.

 

“We only get a coach here on Wednesdays,” Jess says as she joins Wesley and Dawn, since there’s an odd number of students. “We share him with two other schools, but we practice on our own even when he’s not here. So, let’s see what you can do.”

 

Wesley hasn’t handled a recurve bow in a while, but he puts the guard on and tests the weight, feeling a calm come over him. He always feels better when he’s got a weapon in his hands, and it’s been too long since he had the chance. He hasn’t been hunting since Dawn and Spike rolled into LA.

 

He breathes in on the draw and out on the release, pleased when the arrow lodged in the ring around the bullseye.

 

“Good job,” Jess says. “Can you do it again?”

 

Wesley fires off four more arrows, and all of them but one land either in the center or the ring around the center. The fifth lands in the next ring out.

 

“Well, I can see that we’ll be sending you to competitions,” Jess says. “Dawn, you’re up.”

 

Dawn’s first arrow goes wide, and Wesley steps in to correct her stance. “Widen your stance and square your hips,” he advises. “Shoulders down, and keep your elbow rotation straight up and down. One finger above the arrow and two below, and pull it back to the same anchor point each time.”

 

He walks her through the rest of the advice he remembers getting while training, and some that he discovered on his own. Dawn’s next shot hits the outer ring of the bullseye. “Good,” he says, “but you’re shifting your weight too much.”

 

“I think you could coach us,” Jess says when Dawn’s third arrow again hits the outer ring. “Where did you learn this stuff?”

 

Wesley hesitates. “My father wanted me to learn, and he—wasn’t the sort to accept anything less than perfection.”

 

“That sucks,” Jess says, apparently understanding what Wesley isn’t saying. “At least you didn’t let him chase you away from the sport.”

 

Wesley shrugs. “It’s one of the few things I’m actually good at.”

 

“You’re good at a lot of things!” Dawn protests loyally.

 

“You and my father would not agree about that,” Wesley replies. “But then, my father is—was an arsehole, so that’s probably for the best.”

 

Jess gives him a look. “I trust your cousin is less of an asshole.”

 

“Oh, no, he’s a total asshole,” Dawn says cheerfully. “But he would take a bullet for us in a heartbeat, and he’s 100% supportive. Plus, Wes’ aunt has been super nice.”

 

“I’m glad you guys at least have some decent relatives still living,” Jess says pertly.

 

“It was a whole thing,” Dawn confesses. “I’m just lucky that Spike survived the hell that was Sunnydale.”

 

Jess looks between them. “So, how are you guys related?”

 

Dawn keeps a pleasant smile on her face, but Wesley can tell that she’s scrambling for answers. “My aunt was Dawn’s mother’s cousin,” Wesley explains. “Spike is the great-nephew of my great-great grandmother.”

 

“That’s very removed,” Jess says.

 

“Spike was close with our family,” Dawn offers. “He was more like a brother to me than anything else. He was the only person I wanted to stay with after everything went down.”

 

“Well, Sunnydale’s loss is our gain, and shooting things with arrows is very cathartic,” Jess says. “See you guys back here on Wednesday?”

 

“We’ll be here,” Dawn promises. “Thanks, Jess.”

 

“Keep showing improvement, Dawn, and you’ll be competing with the rest of us,” Jess says with an encouraging pat on Dawn’s shoulder.

 

Wesley sits with Dawn outside the school, waiting for his aunt to pick them up, and Dawn asks, “So, how bad do I suck at archery?”

 

“Was that the first time you picked up a bow?” Wesley counters.

 

Dawn nods. “I mean, I picked up Buffy’s crossbow a couple of times when she wasn’t looking, but I never fired one.”

 

“Then you don’t suck at all,” Wesley replies. “You’re a beginner. But you have decent hand-eye coordination, and you were at least hitting the target by the end of things. Time will tell whether you’re good at it, but you don’t really have to be.”

 

“But I want to be,” Dawn protests.

 

“Then practice is the only way you’ll get there,” Wesley replies. “And I will work with you until you’re as good as you want to be. And I won’t be an arsehole about it.”

 

Dawn bumps his shoulder with her own. “You’re definitely not an asshole, Wes.”

 

“I’m at least a little bit of one,” Wesley replies. “I wouldn’t have survived this long otherwise.”

 

“Did you want Angel to ask you to come back?” Dawn asks quietly.

 

Wesley sighs. “Yes and no. Yes, for the obvious reasons; no, because I wouldn’t have wanted to turn him down, and I would have had to do just that. Aggie and my aunt aren’t wrong. I don’t doubt the authorities would have ended up insisting I go to school at some point, possibly the next time I got injured.”

 

“I guess it might be kind of nice to get a do-over,” Dawn says. “I mean, if you had to.”

 

Wesley shrugs. “Perhaps things might work out for the best after all. Or perhaps I was in the right place at the right time for once, and this thing that happened to me might allow me to make things easier on you and Spike.”

 

If he can do some small bit of good, then maybe it will all be worth it in the end.

 

~~~~~

 

Spike sits down across from Aggie with a feeling of trepidation. “Okay, you wanted to talk. So, let’s talk.”

 

“I can do this sunlight spell for you,” Aggie says, her hands clasped in front of her. “But there will be conditions.”

 

Spike nods. “I’d expect nothing less.”

 

“I can only power the spell for six months at a time,” Aggie says. “That’s just a fact. It will wane, and I’ll have to renew it.”

 

Spike shrugs. “Fair enough.”

 

“If I find that you’ve killed a human for something other than self defense or the defense of Dawn or my grandson, I won’t renew it,” Aggie says. “And I will know. That’s part of the spell. It requires your honesty.”

 

Spike snorts. “Why would I hide something like that? If I go evil again, I won’t be inclined to hide it.”

 

Aggie shakes her head. “I think you’re more human than you know, Spike. And I think that if something were to happen, if you were to kill someone, you might hide it from Dawn at least.”

 

Spike sets his jaw. “I have a chip.”

 

“Technology fails,” Aggie replies. “And there may come a time when someone pushes you too far.”

 

“I can’t promise that it won’t happen,” Spike says quietly, because he’s thought about it before, and there are things he wouldn’t want Dawn to know or to see. He’s not good, but he’s promised, and he takes that sort of thing seriously. “But I do know what my oath means.”

 

Aggie nods. “Then we will have no problem between us. Wesley will ask you to take him hunting, and I am fine with that. He’s a grown man. I expect you to watch his back, though.”

 

“Yeah, of course,” Spike replies. “Although if I let Wes come along, Dawn’s going to insist.”

 

Aggie shrugs. “Perhaps she should. I realize that Dawn’s sister would have preferred her to stay out of it, but Dawn seems to have her heart set on this path. It might not hurt to have her exposed so she can decide whether it’s for her or not.”

 

“She’s at least going to go to college,” Spike insists. “Buffy would probably manage to resurrect herself if I didn’t make sure of that.”

 

“That is for you and her to discuss, although I’ll be having some words with my grandson about that,” Aggie replies. “I’d prefer him to get at least one degree, although knowing Wesley, he’ll probably get two.”

 

Spike smiles. “That does sound like him.”

 

“And Wesley will likely push Dawn in that direction as well,” Aggie points out. “He’ll want to have a few letters after his name, and I suspect that Dawn will follow his lead.”

 

Spike thinks she’s right about that. Wesley might look physically younger than Dawn, but his maturity means that he’s pushing Dawn to do things she might not otherwise do.

 

Case in point, archery. He’s not sure Dawn would have been willing to sign up for archery club if Wesley hadn’t forged ahead.

 

Maybe they’ll push each other, though.

 

“Do we have a deal?” Aggie asks.

 

“Yeah, we have a deal,” Spike replies.

 

Aggie nods. “I’ll be casting the spell in conjunction with Wesley. He has the additional power, and I imagine that if all goes well, he may well be the one renewing the spell eventually.”

 

“This something you just had to hand?” Spike asks curiously.

 

She shrugs and pats his hand. “Not exactly. Protection spells are part and parcel of what we do, though, and this isn’t terribly different. Something like the Gem of Amara is a different sort of undertaking.”

 

“Why haven’t I heard about this before?” Spike asks. “Why aren’t vampires chasing down witches to do this sort of thing?”

 

“Because the only witches who could fuel a spell like this are those who have my kind of power, and most of them wouldn’t come within ten feet of a vampire without blasting off a sunlight spell,” Aggie replies with raised eyebrows. “But I saw a glimpse of your future once upon a time.”

 

Spike nods. “I appreciate your faith in me. It’s—new.”

 

“I gathered as much from what Mr. Giles said,” Aggie admits. “Which is another reason I’m willing to do this.”

 

Spike frowns. “What? Why?”

 

“People live up or down to expectations,” Aggie replies. “As you’ve proved.”

 

Spike blinks. “I’m not sure whether to be pleased or insulted by that comment.”

 

“I’m proving that the Watchers’ Council is made up of stuffy, hidebound old men who wouldn’t know a new idea if it bit them in the nose,” Aggie replies.

 

Spike shrugs. “Pleased, then.”

 

Aggie grins. “I’m so glad you agree.”

 

The door to Abigail’s apartment opens, and Spike can hear Dawn and Wesley spill inside, Dawn brimming over with enthusiasm. “But what if?”

 

“You’re jumping the gun,” Wesley insists, but Spike detects a note of pleasure in his voice. “I’m not that good.”

 

“Jess was practically salivating!” Dawn protests as they enter the room. “She thought you could be our coach!”

 

“I’ve had about a decade of practice,” Wesley says dismissively. “Firing arrows when no one is shooting at you is easy.”

 

“That’s what I’m saying,” Dawn argues as they enter the room. “You could go all the way. You could go to the Olympics.”

 

Wesley throws up his hands. “What if I don’t want to?”

 

“You totally do!”

 

“I don’t—okay, maybe,” Wesley admits, throwing himself down in a chair, and he looks—like a kid, Spike thinks, and more than just physically. Some of the tension he always carries has left his frame, and his cheeks are flushed. “But wouldn’t that bring too much attention?”

 

He looks at Aggie as he asks that question, and Spike can see the years of being shoved aside, or being told he’s not good enough. He thinks that might be one reason he and Wesley get on so well. They understand each other.

 

Aggie taps her fingers against her lips. “I don’t see why not. The Junior Olympics would be something to aim for, and relatively low exposure. We can test things out once you make it. Besides, they usually shunt everything but swimming, gymnastics, and diving portions to midday. Name one Olympic archer from the last round.”

 

Dawn glances at Spike, who shrugs. “Don’t know, don’t care,” he says. “I’d care more if it were the half-pint Watcher, though.”

 

Wesley’s lips twitch up into a smile. “Thanks, I think.”

 

“Fair point,” Dawn says. “So, Wes should go for it?”

 

“Why don’t you both go for it?” Aggie suggests. “I have always believed that a person only benefits when there’s another person challenging them.”

 

Dawn snorts. “I’m not much of a challenge, but Jess might be.”

 

“I’m not in her class of competition,” Wesley dismisses. “She can afford to be nice to me.”

 

“She can afford to be nice because you have knowledge that she needs, too,” Dawn points out. “Like Jess said, they only have a coach once a week.”

 

Aggie hums. “Well, if you’re serious about that, you’ll need a coach that comes a little more frequently. I’ll see what I can do.”

 

“You don’t have to do that,” Wesley protests.

 

“You enjoy archery?” Aggie asks.

 

Wesley nods hesitantly.

 

Aggie throws up her hands. “Then it’s important to me, too. Being a well-rounded person is important. Spell work is important. School is important, your physical training of all sorts is important. The magic user must understand balance, both within themselves and the world.”

 

“And archery does that,” Wesley says. “My—” He stops, rubs his eyes. “Never mind.”

 

“The Watchers’ Council has no interest in balance,” Aggie says. “They want mindless foot soldiers who grow into sycophantic followers, who then grow into hidebound old men. Balance is anathema to a person who sees the world only in black and white, because such people understand there are shades of gray.”

 

Wesley nods. “I guess that’s true.”

 

“Most of the Watchers I’ve seen have been pretty short sighted,” Spike offers.

 

“Which is why it’s incredibly important that they not know about this particular spell or the fact I can do it,” Aggie says with a significant look at Spike.

 

“What spell?” Wesley asks.

 

“The one that lets me walk around in the sunlight,” Spike says.

 

To their credit, neither Dawn nor Wesley protest, and Wesley just says, “That makes a lot of sense.”

 

“You’re going to help me,” Aggie tells him. “And Dawn, you’re going to watch so you can do this in the future.”

 

They push the furniture back against the walls and roll up the rug, exposing the basic protection circle inlaid into the floor. Aggie takes out a piece of chalk and begins to augment the circle, explaining each marking as she does.

 

Spike tunes out the conversation. He knows how to do a spell or two but has no interest in the theoretical aspects of magic Aggie is teaching Dawn and Wesley.

 

Wesley and Dawn both ask keen questions, showing that they’ve been paying attention at least, and then Aggie says, “Spike, step inside the circle.”

 

Spike shrugs and does as she asks, wondering if this is going to hurt or if it’s going to take long. There’s just enough sunlight left to test the spell, assuming it doesn’t take more than a few minutes.

 

“I’m going to draw power from you, Wesley,” Aggie says briskly. “It may feel a bit uncomfortable at first. If it’s more than you can bear, say the word.” Wesley nods and takes his place in front of Aggie, her hands resting on his shoulders. “Spike, you shouldn’t feel a thing.”

 

He doesn’t, and Aggie begins to speak. Spike can see tension in Wesley’s face, but then his expression smooths out. Aggie is less dramatic about her magic than others Spike has seen in the past. She’s no-nonsense and not given to flourishes. She casts the spell, and that’s the end of it.

 

“How are you feeling?” she asks Wesley.

 

He shrugs and leans into her a bit. “Okay. A little tired, but not bad.”

 

“Spike?” she prompts.

 

“I don’t feel any different,” he admits.

 

She looks out the window. “Well, it looks like there’s enough sunlight remaining to test it out.”

 

Spike hesitates at the door, because he doesn’t care for being burned, but when he sticks a hand out, there’s nothing. Hesitantly, because Spike doesn’t trust this, doesn’t completely trust Aggie, because people don’t do nice things for no reason.

 

Although, in Aggie’s case, Spike knows she’s doing this for Wesley and Dawn’s benefit, so that Spike can take care of them both more effectively.

 

But he’s outside, and there’s still sunlight, and he’s there and not burning up. He’s walking in the sunlight, however diluted, and he can’t help but wish that Buffy were here.

 

She’d never have let Aggie go through with the spell, of course. There wouldn’t have been a need for the spell if Buffy were still alive, but Spike—

 

Spike can’t help but think of some of his last words to her, that she treated him like a man, and he feels more like a man now than he has in ages.

 

He turns to look at Dawn and Wesley, and Dawn launches herself at him. “This is amazing!” she says.

 

Wesley grins as Spike looks over Dawn’s shoulder. “I’m glad it worked,” he says.

 

And Dawn and Wesley’s pleasure at Spike’s good fortune is real, and it leaves him feeling a warmth that has nothing to do with sunlight.

 

~~~~~

 

Dawn can’t quite believe that this is her life now, that she gets to have this. She hadn’t wanted to go back to school for a lot of reasons, namely that she didn’t want to feel alone. She thought the familiarity of school would only highlight how much everything else changed.

 

And it does, but there’s Wesley as a solid, steady presence, and that’s different enough that Dawn feels like her past life was almost a dream.

 

Dawn can draw a bright line between before and now, and in some ways, that’s a good thing.

 

Wesley slides into the seat next to her in the cafeteria, poking at the somewhat rubbery hamburger. “We really should start packing our lunches. Is that a thing?”

 

“I’m going to insist on it,” Jess says, sitting down across from them. “Because the nutrition in this place is sorely lacking, and Wesley at least is in training as of now. Or Monday. You’re eating well enough at home, right?”

 

“I promise, my grandmother is taking very good care of us,” Wesley promises. “I eat all of my vegetables.”

 

Jess rolls her eyes. “You joke, but come on, Wes! We might actually get the school to allocate funding to the archery club if we win a few competitions! We could get a full time coach!”

 

Wesley raises his eyebrows. “I thought I could be your coach.”

 

“You could,” Jess agrees. “But you can’t be your own coach, so we need one, and we have a shot if we’re successful, so you should eat plenty of protein and work on your stamina.”

 

Wesley pulls a face. “I’ll be competing against people my own age. I doubt they’ll have more stamina than I do.”

 

“You never know,” Jess says severely.

 

Dawn snickers. “You do realize that you’re sounding a lot like Oliver Wood right now.”

 

Both Jess and Wesley laugh at that, and Jess holds her hands up in surrender. “Okay, fine, but I’m just saying that we have a real shot to make the archery club an important part of school, and that’s what I wanted to have happen before I left.”

 

Wesley nods, like he totally gets it, and he says, “You’re a junior, right?”

 

Jess nods.

 

“Then we have this year and next to make it happen,” Wesley says, like it’s no big deal. “We can practice other times, too.”

 

Jess beams at him. “Thanks. I thought you would think I was being dumb.”

 

Wesley shrugs. “I don’t have a lot of free time, but archery is fun.”

 

“You have a very busy social life?” Jess jokes.

 

Wesley holds up a hand. “Proving myself as a child prodigy,” he says, raising one finger. “Apprenticing with my grandmother as an herbalist.” He raises a second finger. “And next week we’re starting self defense lessons, so you needn’t worry about my stamina.”

 

Jess gives them both a narrow-eyed stare. “You both have very weird lives, don’t you?”

 

“The weirdest,” Dawn agrees wholeheartedly.

 

Jess shrugs. “Well, if you need a partner in crime, let me know. You two strike me as potentially very badass.”

 

“Really?” Dawn asks. “I really thought that was my sister.”

 

“I didn’t know your sister,” Jess replies. “But if you’re anything like her, then I’d believe it.”

 

Dawn thinks Jess’ smile is soft, and the way she looks at Dawn—

 

Oh.

 

Wesley smirks at her, the jerk, and she knows that he knows, but Jess—

 

She’s pretty, and kind, and Dawn has wondered before if she might not be completely straight. She spent a considerable amount of time around Tara and Willow. She doesn’t have a problem with gay people, obviously, but she’s never quite known where she fell in the divide. She knows she likes boys, but…

 

Well. Maybe she likes girls, too.

 

“Um,” Dawn says intelligently.

 

Wesley smirks even harder, and Dawn is pretty sure he’s been taking lessons from Spike. “What my cousin means to say is thank you.”

 

Jess shrugs. “No big.”

 

Dawn focuses on her own lunch, because she has no idea what to say next, and the others join them—Michael, Kylie, Becks, and the Goth twins, because hell if Dawn can remember their names or tell them apart either.

 

“Are you sure we can’t convince you guys to go out for drama?” Michael asks. “We have sets to build.”

 

Wesley snorts. “As fascinating as that sounds, I have enough on my plate.”

 

Michael looks at her. “Dawn?”

 

“Sorry, Michael,” Dawn replies. “Between archery, self-defense, and lessons with Aggie, I don’t think I’m going to have any extra time either.”

 

“Who’s Aggie?” Becks asks.

 

“My grandmother,” Wesley supplies. “She’s a well respected herbalist, and she’s teaching Dawn and I everything she knows.”

 

Michael frowns. “Is this like hippie stuff?”

 

“Did you know that the use of aspirin—or at least willow or other salicylate-rich plants—were used by the ancient Egyptians and Sumerians? Herbalists were successful in treating a variety of ailments for centuries before the advent of modern medicine,” Wesley insists. “So, no, it has nothing to do with hippies.”

 

Jess exchanges a smirk with Dawn, who hides her smile behind her subpar, rubbery burger.

 

Michael looks a bit huffy, but Becks and Kylie are both giggling. The Goth twins are at least pretending to ignore them, as though the entire conversation is below their interest.

 

“Give it up, Mike,” Becks says. “None of us want to help you build your stupid sets.”

 

“It’s impossible to find good help these days,” Michael mutters. “And I’ve told you that it’s Michael, not Mike. Do I look like a Mike to you?”

 

Dawn gives him a look, taking in the collared shirt and sweater vest. “Definitely not.”

 

Michael nods, somewhat mollified, and the others around the table roll their eyes.

 

“Michael wants to be a great theater director someday,” Kylie explains. “He thinks this high school is where he’ll get his start.”

 

“There are theater competitions, too, you know,” Michael says, still huffy. “If I win one, that could mean a scholarship. The great ones start early.”

 

“Agreed,” Wesley says easily. “If I’m going to be all I can be, I must start lessons with my grandmother now. I’m already starting a bit late thanks to my father’s pigheadedness.”

 

“Your parents, too, huh?” Becks asks. “God, if my folks make one more comment about how I choose to dress…”

 

“I think you look great,” Dawn says. “Your parents should get their eyes checked.”

 

Becks actually blushes at that. “Thanks.”

 

Jess glances at Dawn with a raised eyebrow, and Dawn shrugs. Becks does look good, and it costs Dawn nothing to be kind.

 

“Take it from me,” Wesley says dryly. “If you have parents who disapprove, your best bet is to find people who accept you, wait until you can get out, and then tell them to go fuck themselves. Also, save whatever money you can, because you might need it.”

 

Everybody at the table turns to stare at him, and Wesley raises his hands. “Yes, I might have had an escape plan before it became unnecessary, and no, I didn’t kill my parents, and also, you should make sure you have your vital documents before you run.”

 

They all look at Dawn next, and Dawn shrugs. “He’s right about the last. My cousin and I had to get out of Sunnydale fast, and it took a lot of time to track down my birth certificate and all of that. Having a copy just makes good sense. Also, phone numbers of family members who might let you sleep on their couch so you don’t have to track them down later.”

 

Becks points at Wesley. “You and me, we’re talking later.”

 

“Happy to help,” Wesley says casually. “But I’d rather the authorities not know.”

 

“Vow of silence,” Jess says immediately. “Everybody at the table.”

 

Even Michael nods, and Dawn wonders how much they know about Becks’ home life to make that promise.

 

Dawn would like to make an offer of couch space, but she doesn’t know Becks well, and harboring a fugitive is not flying under the radar.

 

“My grandmother is pretty awesome,” Wesley offers. “If you need an adult to help you with your escape plan.”

 

“Like she helped you?” Becks asks, but Dawn can tell it’s more reflex than anything else.

 

Wesley shrugs. “She would have if I’d told her what was going on, and that was on me.”

 

Wesley hasn’t told Dawn much about his actual childhood, other than he doesn’t like enclosed spaces, and his dad had been a demanding dick. Really, that could mean almost anything.

 

Becks meets Wesley’s eyes and slowly nods, apparently convinced by whatever they read in Wesley’s expression.

 

Their lockers are right next to each other, so Dawn walks back with Wesley to grab their books for the next couple of classes. “Will you ever tell me about it?”

 

Wesley doesn’t bother pretending that he doesn’t know what she means. “Maybe, someday. It’s—there are others who had worse childhoods, and I don’t—no one has ever really cared enough to ask before.”

 

“I care,” Dawn protests. “I’m sure Spike and Aggie do, too. And your friends back in LA.”

 

Wesley shakes his head. “I dropped hints before, but none of us had ideal childhoods, so it’s probably not a surprise that they didn’t care to dig. Angel knew the most.”

 

Dawn thinks about Wes’ raw anger at Angel, and figures the abandonment probably stung that much more for Angel knowing all of Wesley’s weak spots. “Well, if you ever need to talk…”

 

Wesley nods. “Thanks. See you later.”

 

Art is one of Dawn’s favorite classes, even though she associates it somewhat with her mom’s death. She’d been in art when Buffy gave her the news, so maybe it should be tarnished, but her feelings are bittersweet, the class serving as a reminder of both Buffy and her mom.

 

Jess leans in during class and says, “So, I get the feeling that your cousin has gone through some serious shit. Like, gone to war serious.”

 

That’s not far from the truth, but Dawn doesn’t know how to respond. “Yeah, Wes’ parents were really into, um, like the British version of survivalist training? I mean, he hadn’t even read any of the Harry Potter books until this past summer when I made him. He hasn’t told me everything, but I think some of it was bad.”

 

Jess nods. “That would explain why he’s scary good at archery. But not you?”

 

“No, I mostly dealt with normal levels of dysfunction until the biker gang rolled into Sunnydale,” Dawn replies. “You know, single mom, disappearing dad, that sort of thing.”

 

“I know I probably don’t understand, but if I can do anything, or if you just want to talk, I’m open to listening,” Jess offers.

 

Dawn smiles. “Thanks.”

 

“Or, you know, if you have time in your schedule for a cup of coffee, we could grab one sometime,” Jess says tentatively.

 

Dawn ducks her head. “Um, yeah. I’d like that.”

 

She doesn’t know what this is, but Dawn thinks she might be open to it.

 

The rest of her classes pass fairly quickly, and Dawn understands what Wes meant about having a routine. As much as she’d dreaded coming back to school, it does make the time pass a little faster, and she likes the structure.

 

At the end of the day, there’s gym, and today they’re running again. Wesley keeps an easy pace next to Dawn, somewhere in the middle of the pack, and Dawn can’t help herself. “I think Jess might have asked me out on a date.”

 

“Yeah?” Wesley grins. “Are you going to go?”

 

“I think I might,” Dawn replies. “It’s not going to be awkward with archery, is it?”

 

Wesley shakes his head. “Dawn, we both know life is short. If you want to go out for coffee with her, then go. You deserve to be happy.”

 

“So do you,” Dawn replies.

 

And Wesley smiles. “I am happy.”

 

“Really?” Dawn asks.

 

“Really,” he promises. “You?”

 

Dawn thinks about her life as it is now, about how Spike will be waiting to pick them up once the bell rings, about how she has magic to learn and archery and ancient Sumerian. She thinks about their strange little family, and she smiles.

 

“Yeah, I think I am,” Dawn replies.