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Sticky Fingers

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“So, your grandmother is going to be here tomorrow?” Dawn asks as they walk from their apartment to the nearby drugstore.


Wesley shrugs. “That’s the plan.”


She can tell he’s ambivalent about the situation, but they’re all in limbo until Wesley’s grandmother shows up. According to Wes’ aunt, his grandmother is the one who will see to their paperwork and make sure everything is in order for Dawn—and probably Wes—to go to school.


His grandmother is also the one controlling the purse strings, and Dawn worries about that in a way she hadn’t when Willow and Tara had been in charge.


But then, Dawn had known Buffy’s friends would take care of her, and she trusts Wes, but she doesn’t know his grandmother. What if the woman insists that Wes dump Dawn and Spike? Wes swore an oath, but if push comes to shove, maybe Wes ends up choosing his family, and not Dawn and Spike.


And what if Wes’ trust fund doesn’t cover their expenses? What if—


Dawn ruthlessly pushes those questions aside. “Are you okay?”


“Well, I know she didn’t care for my father. What if she doesn’t like me?” Wesley asks.


“Impossible,” Dawn declares loyally.


Wesley smiles. “Thanks.” He clears his throat. “Anyway, we need bread, and probably more bandages, especially if Spike keeps going out looking for a fight.”


“That’s guaranteed,” Dawn replies. “Divide and conquer?”


“You get the food, I’ll get the first aid supplies,” Wesley agrees. “But not so many that the clerk asks questions.”


Dawn snorts at that comment, but she doesn’t disagree. It’s for the best if they fly under the radar, and a couple of teenagers buying a lot of bandages could raise eyebrows, that’s for sure. “At least Spike heals fast.”


“I don’t,” Wesley replies. “And if I end up doing my own hunting, I’ll need them, too.”


Dawn wonders what she has to do to get in on that action, but she’s well aware that Spike isn’t going to stand for it, and Wesley would probably back him up.


Sometimes, Dawn feels like the odd person out in their arrangement. Spike and Wesley have so much more experience than she does. Even though Wes looks like a child, they all know he isn’t one. More to the point, Spike knows Wes isn’t a child, and is therefore more likely to listen to him, even if Spike doesn’t defer to him.


Plus, they’re both guys. Before everything went to hell, Dawn’s memories are mostly of her mom and sister. After, Willow and Tara lived at the house, and Dawn had still been surrounded by women. Thankfully, Dawn hasn’t needed to buy “feminine hygiene products” yet, but she can just imagine how well that will go over the first time she does.


It’s going to be embarrassing, and it’s going to suck, and Dawn doesn’t want to think about it.


She and Wesley each grab a basket, and Dawn heads for the aisle with the bread. She grabs the cheapest loaf she can find, and then goes past the refrigerated area and gets cheese and milk, making a face at the prices.


Her mom had never been rich, and Dawn’s never been in a position where money was no object, but she’s never had to worry about paying for things like she does now.


Dawn has to walk past the cosmetics to get to the first aid section, where she assumes Wesley will be lingering, and her steps slow as she passes a display of nail polish. The new fall colors are out—something Dawn knows Buffy would have noticed, and would have cared about.


For a moment, she pauses, thinking of the days when her mom had been alive, and Dawn could have asked for ten dollars to spend on nail polish and makeup. Or when Buffy had been willing to pay for little things like that, just to make Dawn happy for a brief time.


Almost of its own accord, her hand reaches for a bottle of bright blue polish, and she picks it up. “Moody Blue,” the label reads, and it’s not very expensive, really. Plus, the rack is full. If she tucks it in her pocket just right, no one will notice.


Spike and Wesley certainly won’t. They’re boys and won’t know that she’s wearing a new color.


She’s sliding it into her pocket when someone grabs her arm hard, and Dawn has to stifle a sound of surprise.


“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” Wesley demands in a furious whisper.


The fact that it’s Wesley and not a store clerk or someone in authority does nothing to calm her racing heartbeat. “Nothing.”


Wesley pulls the nail polish out of her hand and drops it in the basket. “Let’s go.”


He doesn’t say anything else, and Dawn hopes her face isn’t as red as it feels, because someone is going to know. Someone is going to stop them and ask questions they can’t answer, and they’re going to get into trouble.


But Wesley pays with a few crumpled bills, the cashier bags their things, and they’re out the door a few minutes later.


“Wes, I—”


“Not here.”


Dawn can tell that Wesley is angrier than she’s ever seen him before. He might be angrier than she’d ever seen Buffy, and her heart sinks.


They walk back to the apartment in total silence, a far cry from the easy amiability they’d had on the way there. Dawn braces herself for the onslaught, but Wesley puts the groceries away with carefully controlled movements in absolute silence.


Spike comes wandering out of his bedroom, and Dawn wonders if he can sense the tension in the small apartment. “Store run go okay?” he asks.


Wesley turns to look at Dawn. “I don’t know. Did it?”


Dawn feels herself flush. “Don’t be a jerk.”


“Do you have any idea what would happen if you were caught?” Wesley demands. “Everything we’ve worked for, everything we’ve been trying to do, just gone because you wanted a bottle of nail polish!”


“It wasn’t about the nail polish!” Dawn exclaims.


Wesley glares at her. “Then what was it about?”


Dawn has no idea how to put what she’s feeling into words. “I don’t know.”


“You don’t know.” Wesley’s voice drips with sarcasm. “So, you risked bringing the cops down on us because of an unexplained impulse?”


“It’s so easy for you!” Dawn shouts. “You find your long-lost family, and you have experience, and you think you’re so smart!”


“Smart enough not to shoplift,” Wesley snaps. “Do you know what would have happened if the police had been called?”


The thing is, Dawn knows he’s right. They can’t afford to tangle with the authorities, and stealing a bottle of nail polish would be a really stupid way to ruin everything. “I know,” Dawn mutters.


“Then start acting like it,” Wesley replies.


“Oi,” Spike says. “Wes, take a walk. Let me handle this.”


“Fine,” Wesley replies. “Happy to.”


This time, Wesley does slam the door as he leaves, and Dawn flinches.


“I’ve been known to nick things a time or two, but the important thing is not to get caught,” Spike says. “And if you can’t do that, then you probably shouldn’t steal.”


Dawn stares at the floor. “I didn’t—that wasn’t… It’s stupid.”


“That you wanted some nail polish and didn’t ask Wes to pay for it?” Spike asked with a raised eyebrow.


“He wouldn’t have.”


“You don’t know that,” Spike shoots back. “Especially if you told him why you wanted it in the first place.”


“It’s frivolous,” Dawn objects.


Spike shakes his head. “So what? We all want frivolous things.”


Dawn swallows. “The new fall collection is out. Buffy—” She can’t finish the sentence. “I know it was stupid.”


Spike sighs. “Next time, ask me. I’ll get it for you even if the littlest Watcher won’t. No one’s going to care if I get caught.”


“I’m going to have to apologize to Wesley, huh?” Dawn asks glumly.


Spike shrugs. “That’s up to you. Like it or not, Bit, you’re an adult now.”


Dawn knows he’s right. Whatever childhood she’d been promised—whatever childhood Buffy wanted for her—is gone now. She doesn’t have the luxury of fucking up, because it could land her and Wesley in hot water.


“I really hate this,” Dawn whispers.


Spike gives her a long look, and he says, “I wish I could have saved her for you.”


“I know,” Dawn replies. “It’s not your fault.” She figures she’ll keep saying it until he believes it.


He glances at the balcony, which is in shadow this time of the day. “Think I’ll be out there if you need me.”


She doesn’t reply, staying at the rickety table in the kitchen, waiting for Wesley to return, completely lost in thought.


Spike is right. Before Buffy died, before Buffy’s friends died, Dawn had complained about wanting to be treated like an adult. She hadn’t known what that meant, what she’d lose, but she does now.


Dawn isn’t—can’t be—a kid anymore. She has to be strong and brave and as mature as she can be. She can’t afford stupid mistakes, because Wesley and Spike can’t afford them either.


And she wants to scream and cry. She wants to break things. She wants to howl at the universe because it’s so fucking unfair.


But Buffy died so that Dawn could live, and it’s Dawn’s duty to do just that.


Wesley comes back after an hour or so. Spike is smoking his third cigarette on the balcony, and Dawn is sitting at the table, trying to come up with the words to explain.


“I’m sorry,” she blurts out as soon as the door closes behind him. “I really don’t know why I did it, but it was stupid.”


He appears calmer now, his eyes sad, and he says, “Sometimes I forget that you’ve lost just as much as I have.”


Dawn’s breath hitches in her throat, but she’s proud that her voice is steady as she says, “It won’t happen again.”


And Wesley nods, accepting her promise, and Dawn makes a silent vow that she will make this work. She has to.