Wesley glances down at his grubby jeans and slightly less grubby t-shirt. They’re going to need to find laundry facilities soon. Actually—
“Maybe we should do laundry first,” Wesley suggests.
Dawn sits cross-legged on the motel bed. They’d sprung for a cheap but clean room for a couple of nights, at least until they figure out what they’re going to do next. “You’re just saying that because you’re worried about seeing your aunt.”
“Do you blame me?” Wesley asks, sprawling back on the bed.
“They say blood is thicker than water,” Dawn replies.
Wesley snorts. “You know, there are differences of opinion as to what that phrase actually means. In some cultures, it means that a blood oath is stronger than the bonds of blood kinship.”
“Okay,” Dawn says, drawing out the word. “I have an idea.”
“We can swear blood brotherhood or whatever,” Dawn suggests. “That way you know, no matter what happens, you’ll have me.”
Wesley wrinkles his nose. “That’s rather unhygienic.”
Dawn rolls her eyes. “Well, do you want to or not?”
“We’d probably better not exchange blood, but I have a better idea,” Wesley says, sitting up. Comingling blood can be done externally without risking passing disease—or other blood borne illnesses, and Wesley has no idea what properties Dawn’s blood might have. Or his own, given the curse.
He grabs an ashtray and quickly cleans it out, then fills it with water. “There’s a ritual that a particular demon clan uses to swear loyalty. The water represents the original body of water they believe they emerged from, and the blood is probably self-explanatory. By comingling our blood in the water, we bind ourselves together from the beginning of time to the end of it.”
Wesley pauses. “At least, that’s what they believe.”
“I like it,” Dawn says enthusiastically. “Do you have a knife?”
“Of course,” Wesley replies. He sets the ashtray down on the small, rickety table and glances at Dawn. “I can go first.”
Dawn nods, her expression serious and solemn. “Okay.”
Wesley rummages in his bag and comes up with his jackknife. He sits down across from Dawn and opens the knife. Holding out his left hand, he draws the blade across his palm, watching as his blood drips down into the water, clouding it.
“I swear my loyalty to you by my blood, my strength, and my—” Wesley stops, thinking that last bit of the oath probably doesn’t apply, since it has to do with the sexual organ of that demon species. “—heart.”
Dawn raises her eyebrows. “Uh, huh. Give me the knife.”
Wesley wipes the blade off with his thumb and hands it to her.
Dawn holds her hand over the ashtray, and she’s just about to cut her hand when the door flies open. “What the bleeding hell do you two think you’re doing?” Spike demands, looking absolutely enraged.
Dawn gulps audibly. “Um, swearing a blood oath?”
Wesley clenches his hand into a fist. “Is everything okay?”
“I smelled the blood,” Spike snaps, slamming the door and dropping a greasy bag on the bed. He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. “Fuck. You two are lucky I just ate.”
Wesley and Dawn share a look. “Sorry,” Dawn says contritely.
Spike waves his hand. “Well, go on then.”
“What?” Dawn asks.
“Finish it,” Spike says impatiently. “It’s not an oath if it’s only half-done. So, go on.”
Wesley flushes, a little embarrassed to be doing this in front of Spike, and surprised that Spike is willing to let them continue.
Dawn sets her jaw, cutting her hand and letting her blood drip down. “I swear my loyalty to you by my blood, my strength, and my heart.” Her voice is steady, and she holds Wesley’s gaze as she says it.
“Powerful oath,” Spike murmurs and plucks the knife out of Dawn’s hand. “Since we’re all swearing.”
Wesley’s eyes go wide as Spike makes a deep cut in his palm and lets his blood drip from a clenched fist. “I swear my loyalty by my blood, my strength, and my heart.”
Spike looks at Dawn while he’s saying it, but then he looks at Wesley as the last words leave his mouth, and Wesley is speechless. He knows that Spike is loyal to Dawn, but he hadn’t really thought that feeling extended to him.
“There,” Spike says, shaking his hand over the water. “Now you know we’re both serious, pint-size. Come on. You two need to eat.”
Wesley had packed bandages, and he quickly wraps his own hand and then Dawn’s. Spike has already wrapped his own hand with a rag pulled from the pocket of his duster.
Spike had picked up burgers and fries for them, and they’re lukewarm now, but it’s been hours since Wesley last ate, so he doesn’t care.
“Wesley wants to do laundry,” Dawn says between bites of her burger.
Spike steals one of Wesley’s fries. “Is that right?” he asks.
Wesley shrugs uncomfortably. “I’m out of clean clothes.”
“So am I,” Dawn inserts.
Spike sighs. “You do realize that if this ever gets out, my image will be completely ruined, right?”
Dawn snorts. “Like it isn’t already.”
“No one is going to hear it from me,” Wesley says, used to dealing with a vampire’s ego by now.
“Then I guess we’ll go find somewhere to do laundry,” Spike says, sounding a little put out, but Wesley suspects that it’s mostly an act.
It turns out that Dawn’s experience mostly involves tossing everything in a machine and hoping for the best, although Spike seems to know his way around a Laundromat.
But Spike mostly lounges around looking bored while Wesley shows Dawn the best way to separate clothes and choose the appropriate temperature.
“How do you know how to do this?” Dawn asks as they sit on the folding table and watch the machines work. Spike is outside smoking, probably trying to reassert his image as the big bad.
“How do you think I got clean clothes in the past?” Wesley asks.
Dawn grimaces. “Sorry. I guess I really didn’t think about it.”
“It’s fine,” Wesley replies. “I didn’t have the money to pay for cleaners, or to have someone do it for me.”
“Yeah, but I should have known,” Dawn insists. “You were alone all last summer. The laundry had to get done. Everybody else underestimates you, but I don’t want to do that.”
Wesley bumps her shoulder with his own. “You don’t.” He hesitates. “Were you surprised earlier? With Spike?”
“Spike always surprises me,” Dawn replies. “But yeah. He keeps his promises, though.”
Wesley looks down at the dirty tile floor. “I figured that out.”
“It’s going to be okay,” Dawn promises him.
Wesley’s beginning to believe it.
“Okay, so your aunt has a night class,” Dawn says, looking at the computer screen. “I think we should try to catch her right after that so Spike can go with us.”
Wesley raises an eyebrow. “Us?”
“We’re going, too,” Dawn says, matter of fact. “What if she calls the cops right away? You might need a getaway driver. Besides, if Spike shows her he’s a vampire, then maybe she’ll believe the bit about you being a kid again.”
Wesley thinks she’s being a little too hopeful, but then he’s cynical these days. He’s not sure he trusts anybody not to let him down, no matter what kind of oaths they’ve taken.
“Okay,” Wesley says. “That’s probably for the best.”
They’re at the library, finalizing their plans for that evening, and how to approach his aunt. He and Dawn had taken public transportation since the sun is still up, and the library is quite cool and comfortable, far better than their motel room with its wheezy, ineffective window unit.
It’s unusually warm for Seattle, but Wesley can see himself staying here, or maybe in Oregon—at least in the Pacific Northwest, where the weather is a little more temperate and the clouds and rain would make it easier for Spike.
Wesley wonders when his future plans had changed to include Spike and Dawn in all things, but he supposes that’s part of the oath he’d sworn. No matter what happens with his aunt, he’ll have Dawn and Spike, and their promises.
“You want to read for a while?” Dawn asks. “We have some time before Spike is due back.”
Wesley feels a desperate longing for a few hours of respite, time spent in another world that’s not his own. “Yes,” he says quickly. “Absolutely.”
Dawn grabs the first Harry Potter book, and Wesley snags a copy of The Hobbit, which is an old favorite of his, when he could sneak it past his dad. Or past his instructors at the Academy, who were under orders from his father and took a dim view of pleasure reading.
The library has been outfitted with some squashy chairs, and the children’s section is particularly comfortable. To anybody who looks at them, they probably look like two friends, or maybe relations, spending a companionable afternoon reading together at the library.
The stains on their clothing haven’t been completely eradicated, so they probably look like they don’t have much money, and might want to read a book in a comfortable spot in an air-conditioned library.
Spike strides into the library and finds them when Wesley is about six chapters in, and Dawn is at least a quarter of the way through her book. He smells of cigarette smoke and leather and something that’s uniquely Spike. Wesley is beginning to associate that scent with safety.
There’s a small part of Wesley that wonders what Angel’s reaction would be if Wesley told him as much.
“You lot ready to go?” Spike asks.
“Just a few more pages,” Dawn murmurs.
Spike rolls his eyes. “If you two want to eat before we take on the world, now would be the time to leave.”
Wesley stays where he is, preferring to watch the show.
“We still have time,” Dawn says placidly.
“Dawn,” Spike mutters in a threatening voice.
Dawn smiles beatifically. “I want to finish this chapter. It won’t take long.”
“You know, Wesley doesn’t cause me this kind of trouble,” Spike says.
“We all know that Wesley is a goody-two-shoes, and I’m a delinquent,” Dawn replies. “A few more pages won’t make much difference, because Wesley’s aunt’s class doesn’t start until six, and we’re catching her after.”
“Oh, we are, are we?” Spike asks, but he flops down in an empty chair. “Fine, whatever. I’m just here for protection, right?”
“We value you for all your varied abilities,” Dawn replies without looking up from her book.
Spike snorts. “Yeah, whatever.”
Wesley peeks over his book to see that Spike had found a book and is reading, too. He smiles and focuses on The Hobbit. He’s just getting to the good part.
Another hour passes, and Wesley immerses himself in the story. He’s on the chapter with the spiders when Dawn says, “Okay, I’m ready to go now.”
Wesley replaces his book with care, and a bit of wistfulness. He would have liked to see Bilbo’s story through tonight, although he knows that he has his own path to walk.
They stop for fast food, and Wesley wolfs down his chicken sandwich and fries, wishing he could linger a bit, but knowing they’re on a timetable.
“Okay, so I think we need to talk about your approach,” Dawn says around a mouthful of fries.
Spike raises an eyebrow and glances at Wesley, who quickly swallows. “What approach? I walk in, I tell her I’m her nephew, and either she believes me or she doesn’t.”
“What about the point in time where we bring Spike in?” Dawn asks. “Have you thought about that?”
Wesley shrugs. “I have to explain how I got here somehow. You’re a friend, your cousin gave me a ride.”
“Cousin?” Spike asks.
Wesley shrugs. “I’ve been working on our cover story if we need one, if the thing with my aunt doesn’t work out.”
“Let’s hear it,” Spike challenges.
“My mother was an American,” Wesley points out. “But my father was British.”
“Okay…” Dawn prompts. “And?”
“We’re orphans,” Wesley says simply. “And our only living family member is an older cousin who was kind enough to drop everything to take care of us. He’s been looking after you for the last few months, after your older sister died, and he’s been looking after me for the last few weeks after my mother died.”
There’s a moment of silence, and then Spike lets out a low whistle. “Okay, that’s good.”
“It really is,” Dawn agrees. “How did you come up with that?”
“We needed a plausible story, and I came up with one,” Wesley replies dismissively. “If this doesn’t work out, I say we go down to Portland, enroll in school, and get on with our lives.”
Spike nods. “I like your plans, half-pint.”
“Good enough for me,” Dawn agrees. “Let’s go. We need to hurry if we’re going to get there on time.”
Wesley sighs and then crams the rest of his fries into his mouth.
Dawn gives him an exasperated look. “Really?”
Wesley shrugs, unable to talk right then, although Spike claps him on the back in an expression of solidarity.
They’d printed off a map of the university at the library, and they find the building where his aunt is teaching her night class without any trouble.
“Do you want to go in by yourself at first?” Dawn asks quietly.
Wesley nods, his mouth dry with nerves. “I think it’s for the best. Either she recognizes me or she doesn’t.”
“What if she doesn’t?” Dawn asks softly.
“Then I walk out of there, and we head to Portland,” Wesley replies, standing as the students begin leaving the classroom.
When the flood slows to a trickle, Wesley wipes his sweaty palms on his jeans and slips inside. There are two students still talking to his aunt, whom he recognizes immediately. Her hair is short now, which is flattering to her angular face. She looks a bit like his mum, but her features are strong and sharp, whereas his mum’s face is softer and a little vague.
Wesley fidgets awkwardly in the back of the room, watching as his aunt talks to the two students, trying to become invisible. The students seem to get what they need and leave, and his aunt begins gathering her things into a leather backpack.
He moves towards the front of the classroom on silent feet, and then stops a few feet from the podium, shifting from foot to foot.
When she’s finished putting her things away, his aunt glances up and startles. “Oh, shit. I’m sorry, you startled me.”
“Sorry,” Wesley says immediately. “Really sorry. I just—”
“My god,” she murmurs. “You look just like Wesley, my nephew, as a child.”
Wesley swallows. “Um, I am Wesley. Wyndam-Pryce. The same one. Not his son or anything.”
Aunt Abigail frowns and looks him up and down. “No, you’re too old to be Wesley’s son.”
Wesley shifts uneasily. “There was a, um, curse. I look twelve, but I’m not.” He might actually look thirteen by this point, but he’d been a bit of a late bloomer.
One eyebrow goes up. “Well, that must be positively dreadful.”
“You believe me?” Wesley blurts out.
“Let’s just say that I’m entertaining the notion, since the evidence fits,” she replies.
Wesley hesitates. “My friends are outside, and Spike can show you that the supernatural is real.”
“Oh, that goes without question,” Aunt Abigail replies, then rests one hip on the corner of her desk. “You may not realize this, my boy, but your mother and I were raised by a woman well-versed in the supernatural. Our mother was an accomplished witch, and I followed in her footsteps, whereas my sister chose to marry a member of the Watcher’s Council.”
“Roger Wyndam-Pryce is my father,” Wesley says, a little desperately. “When I was about ten, you visited but you didn’t get on with him. You brought me a t-shirt that said ‘I <3 New York,’ but I wasn’t allowed to wear it.”
“I didn’t know that last, but it doesn’t surprise me,” she replies. “Since I’ve never told anyone about that t-shirt, that’s a point in your favor. Call your friends in.”
Wesley sighs and pokes his head out into the hall. “Hey. You guys can come in.”
Dawn scrambles to her feet, while Spike follows more slowly and gracefully. “How’s it going?” Dawn whispers.
Wesley shrugs. “Good, I think. It turns out my grandmother was a witch.”
“What?” Dawn demands. “Seriously?”
“Come on,” Wesley says. “Spike, Dawn, my Aunt Abigail. This is Spike and Dawn.”
His aunt is sitting on the desk in the front of the room, her legs swinging like a girl’s. “Well, not quite what I was expecting. You are certainly not your father’s son, Wesley.”
Wesley looks around. “What?”
“Friends with a vampire?” Aunt Abigail smiles. “I had certainly hoped you would break out of the Watcher’s mold.”
Wesley sits down at a desk, his legs giving way. “What?”
Aunt Abigail smirks at him. “One of these days, you really should visit your grandmother.”
“I thought she was dead,” Wesley blurts out.
“Your father’s doing, no doubt,” his aunt replies.
Wesley grimaces. “Well, he was a right wanker, so that doesn’t surprise me at all.”
His aunt’s smile broadens. “Let’s see what your friend has to show me. We can get it over with, put all of our cards on the table, so to speak.”
Wesley looks at Spike and shrugs. Spike hitches a shoulder and puts on his game face.
“Hm, well, that certainly is interesting,” Aunt Abigail says. “I’ve never seen a vampire up close. I assume that, since he’s your friend, he’s not going to start eating me or anyone on campus.”
“I’m reformed,” Spike says, his tone dry as the desert.
Aunt Abigail laughs. “Oh, I like this one.”
Spike preens a bit. “A lady of discriminating tastes.”
“Oh, my god!” Dawn says. “It can’t be this easy! Wesley was hit by a curse that de-aged him. I’m a magical key that’s technically millions of years old, or a year old, depending on how you look at it. Spike is a vampire with a government chip in his head that prevents him from eating people! No one should just accept that!”
Aunt Abigail looks at Dawn. “To be frank, I don’t know what half of that meant, and I imagine it’s a part of a very long story that I hope you’ll tell me someday.”
Wesley glances at Dawn. “But?” he prompts.
Aunt Abigail looks around, and then she opens her hand and a small point of light floats above her palm. “You see, I’m no stranger to the supernatural, and there are curses that will do all manner of things, including returning someone’s body to a younger state.”
This whole confrontation has gone far better than Wesley could have anticipated, and he has absolutely no idea what to do next.
“I think this calls for a cup of tea,” Aunt Abigail says. “Come on. We’ll go back to my office. I have an electric kettle.”
Her office is in a building nearby and they all troop over, Wesley still reeling. An entire branch of his family has just been rearranged and reopened, and Wesley has no idea what to do with that.
There are only three chairs in the small office, but Spike solves the problem by perching on the windowsill, leaving Spike and Dawn the chairs across from the desk.
Aunt Abigail grabs the electric kettle. “I’ll just go fill this.”
When they’re alone, Dawn hisses, “It can’t be that easy!”
“She wasn’t lying,” Spike says. “Her heartbeat stayed steady once she recovered from the surprise of seeing Wes.”
Dawn frowns. “Okay, but why is it that everybody in Sunnydale maintains their willful ignorance, but your aunt, a stranger, seems to know all about it?”
“That probably has something to do with the fact that I was raised to know about the supernatural,” Aunt Abigail says as she comes back into the room. “That will happen when your mother is a powerful witch and the head of the local coven.” She turns the kettle on. “Isn’t there anybody you know who was raised with the supernatural?”
There’s a long silence, and Dawn mutters. “Yeah, there was.”
“I’m sorry,” Aunt Abigail murmurs. “How long have you been cursed, Wesley?”
Wesley frowns. “About six months or so.”
“And what caused you to seek me out?” his aunt asks. “I assume you had somewhere to stay before this.”
Wesley shifts. “I was staying with friends of mine, but circumstances changed.”
The kettle beeps, and Spike says, “I’ve got it.”
“The tea and mugs are in the cupboard just above,” his aunt says. “Thank you, Spike. Now, Wesley, I think you had better explain.”
Wesley hesitates. “I’d been living in Los Angeles after being let go from the Watchers’ Council,” he begins.
Slowly, in fits and starts, he tells the story, or at least the bare bones of it, and about the curse, and going to Sunnydale, about Angel’s abandonment and the slow loss of his friends. He tells her about how Spike and Dawn had come to him for help, and how it had been too risky to stay in L.A., and how they had found her.
“I see,” Aunt Abigail says when he’s finished. “So, you couldn’t trust your friend Angel with the lives of your new friends, and they weren’t treating you like an adult besides. Your parents believe you’re dead, and no one is looking for Dawn.”
“Giles might be,” Dawn pipes up. “But he won’t have any idea where we are.”
“Dawn needs to go to school, and Wes here needs a protector,” Spike says. “If it’s not you, it’ll be me.”
“Say I hadn’t believed you,” Aunt Abigail says. “What would you have done?”
“Gone down to Portland, found a place to stay, and figured it out,” Wesley admits. “That was Plan B.”
She nods. “Not a bad plan.”
“So, do we need to go to the backup plan?” Dawn asks impatiently.
Aunt Abigail leans back in her chair. “Oh, I think not. I’m not set up for company, I’m afraid, but I can help you find somewhere to stay and get set up. Do you have documents?”
“No,” Wesley admits. “Or I have my passport and driver’s license, but they won’t help as they’re for a man in his thirties.”
Dawn shakes her head. “A student ID, but that’s it. I don’t know where Mom or Buffy kept my other documents.”
Aunt Abigail nods. “Not to worry. We’ll figure it out.”
Wesley slumps in his chair. “Really?”
“You are my nephew,” his aunt says briskly. “I’d hardly turn you away, and I won’t leave you to the tender mercies of your father now that I can do something about it. You’ve presented me with quite the interesting situation, Wesley, and I would be happy to help.”
For so long, Wesley has felt as though he’s alone in all this. Even with Dawn and Spike, he’s been the one who planned their escape from Los Angeles, the one who planned their next steps if this didn’t work out. He had been alone all summer, and he’d been alone before that, too, as the head of the agency.
To have another adult willing to help, another adult to help plan, it lifts a weight that Wesley hadn’t even realized was present.
“Thanks,” Wesley says belatedly. “Thank you.”
His aunt snorts. “Good god, Wesley. Did you really think I would turn you away?”
Wesley shrugs. “My friends abandoned me, and I thought they were family. My father—it’s probably better left unsaid.”
“Probably for the best,” his aunt says. “It may be a misuse of the phrase, but in this case, blood is thicker than water.”
Wesley thinks of the blood oath he’d sworn with Dawn and Spike the previous day, and maybe his aunt is right about this.
In this case, both covenant and kinship seem to be holding fast—the bonds of kinship between him and his aunt, the voluntary oath he had made with Dawn and Spike. For now, at least, those bonds will see him through.