Gunn stayed right behind Wes the whole time. Not just because he got to see Wesley's ass, which wasn't pansy but was nice, but mostly because he was half-convinced Wesley would chicken out if he could.
Threats against the Royal Doulten whatever or not, they were spending way too much time, in his opinion, getting prepared to undergo the spell. Wes was just using the failure to find anything acceptable as an excuse to weasel his way out of it. He hadn't said anything out loud, but Gunn was used to seeing those gears turn inside Wesley's head. He could see them turning now, and he knew it wasn't a good thing.
They'd given in to Giles' suggestion that before they touched the statue again, they take some time to prepare. Gunn had thought it was gonna be some magical mystical stuff, but as it turned out -- Giles wanted to go shopping. Apparently stuffy British men had a thing about wearing Winnie the Pooh and Mojo Jojo.
All stuffy British men, because Wesley cheered his suggestion on like a tall, skinny, male Laker Girl. Rah, rah, go Giles. Except Gunn happened to know for a fact that Wesley owned three pair of Pooh-related boxer shorts: classic Pooh, Disney Pooh, and Rabbit eating carrots. True, he didn't wear 'em in public, but it was enough to tip the 'Wesley doth protest too much' scales in Gunn's head.
"Are you absolutely sure you want me to do this?" Wesley was turning around and whispering to him now.
"What, wear size 3T hip-hugger flares with rhinestones on the back pocket?" Gunn took the offending item out of Wesley's hand and stared critically at it. "No, you don't have the funk for it. Even as a four-year-old." Wesley gave him a look that would curdle demon's blood. Gunn just hung the pants on the rack. "Here, this'll look good." He really had no idea, and didn't care -- they were khaki coloured, looked a bit loose in the hip. But he didn't want to give Wes any more of a chance to say--
"I meant go through with the spell! What if something were to happen? If we come up against some Crogorian demons, and someone has to be able to translate?"
"You think you won't be able to read Crogorian demon notes because your head'll be smaller?"
Wesley glared again, and Gunn knew it was just nerves, and not actual anger. Which meant there was no way on this earth Gunn was letting Wes back out of this. And not only because he had to see the look on Cordelia's face when they got home.
"What size did you wear, anyway?" Gunn glanced over at where Giles was shopping rather easily -- who knew they made stuffy clothes for four-year-olds? Willow seemed to be having no trouble; Gunn could hear her jabbering about baby clothes her mother had kept. Tara wasn't saying much, but Gunn could see her smile every so often.
"I was very small as a child," Wesley replied, quietly.
"Yeah? You hit that growth spurt at sixteen, like Dawn?" Gunn nodded over to the teenager, who was helping Willow and Tara pick out clothes. He didn't think about a tiny four-year-old Wes, living in that house, with that father. Didn't think about it, really hard.
Wesley shook his head, picking up a really small pair of brown cords. "Twelve. In the space of six months, I went through three trouser sizes, and four shoe sizes. Mum had a fit. Not that we couldn't afford it, she just didn't like to shop."
Gunn did think about a twelve year old Wes suddenly springing up like a stringbean, and being dragged out to the stores by his... "You had a nanny?" He grinned. "Mom send you out to English Kids Gap with Mary Poppins?"
Wesley glared at him, but that faraway 'I'm little and four and scared' look was gone from behind his eyes, so Gunn chalked one up in the 'Go Gunn, Go Gunn' column. "No, I did not have a nanny." He looked around like he was afraid somebody would hear him. "Mother had a private fitter come in. Other kids were wearing Calvins off the rack, I was wearing Harrods' made-to-measure."
"So maybe we do need to get you the rhinestones." Gunn looked back at the pair of hideously goofy pants he'd hung up. "And those shirts up front, with Pokemon and Barney on 'em--"
"I shan't even dignify that with a remark."
"You just did." He grinned when Wesley just shook his head and went back to searching for something 'decent' to wear. But Gunn knew - if ever there was a guy who needed to wear silly cartoon shirts.... He'd have to go ask Willow to grab a couple and pretend they were for her. "Come on - just think how much your old man would hate it." He saw it -- he knew Wesley didn't want him to, but as Wesley stared down at the selection of jeans and slacks, there was the slightest twitch in the corner of his mouth. "We'll even send 'em a picture," Gunn offered, and saw that -- oops -- one step too far. Wes shook his head and opted for the boring blue Dockers.
"That won't be necessary," Wesley said, his distracted tone telling Gunn that the 'Go Gunn' column was scored against. Damn.
Still, he was shopping, and even picking out the boring stuff meant that he hadn't managed to squirm his brain into a position where he could back out of his agreement to go through with the kiddifying.
Or maybe not, since Wesley turned to him, holding up a small polo shirt, and saying, "I don't know..."
"Wes, what's to know? You'll be a kid for a few weeks, get to ride all the rides you're too big to go on now, and you'll be back to normal before Antiques Roadshow finishes up its re-run season."
"I meant that I don't know if I should go for the blue or the aqua," he said mildly. Then the eyebrow went up. "Rides?"
"Sure, I figured you, me and the dead guy could swing by Disneyland on our way home. Or maybe on our way back here? Would you rather go as a real kid, once your brain goes all rugrat on ya?"
The brow furrowed, now. "Disneyland isn't on the way to Los Angeles. Nor, strangely enough, on the way back here from Los Angeles."
"So? You got someplace else to be?"
"I--" Wesley stopped, and glanced over towards the other soon-to-be children. "There isn't any reason why we should do anything...out of the ordinary."
Gunn nodded. "Uh-huh. What you mean is, it wouldn't be fair to go have fun without inviting the other rugrats. That's cool, we can all go." Wes gave him a sharp look -- which meant he knew it would be impossible to beg out of, once the other children were invited. 'Go Gunn' was once again winning. Before Wes could re-word his 'no, no, we needn't', Gunn raised his voice. "Hey, guys, you wanna go to Disneyland with us?"
Wes tried the 'die evil demon' glare on him, again. Still didn't work.
"Hell, yeah!" from Spike, who, to Gunn's surprise, had offered to pay for Willow and Tara's clothes, since they'd paid for his and Xander's. It was only when Wes had pointed out that Spike didn't have a job, so he was actually volunteering Xander's money, that it made any sense. Weird sense though, since Gunn still didn't understand why Spike would want to go shopping for kids' clothes.
"Why do you wanna go to Disneyland? You're not tall enough to go on any of the rides anyway," Xander said from behind him, standing on the bottom rail of a clothesrack to loom over his lover's shoulder. Trouble was coming, and it didn't take a vampire-hunter's instincts to sense it. Sure enough, the whole rack started to wobble, and Xander jumped off just in time, before it fell over on them both.
"You two are gonna let those guys raise you?" Gunn asked Willow and Tara, who were backing away from the SpikeandXander sprawl that had resulted from Xander's death-defying leap to safety.
"Oh, I'm not worried," Willow said blithely. Gunn wondered if she had a spell up her sleeve. "Anya will be home soon, and she'll keep...." Her brow furrowed. Gunn could see her thinking it: Anya had already had how many months to get these boys in line?
"Uh-huh. You wanna come down to L.A. with us? Cordelia can go nuts playing babysitter."
Willow smiled. "That's OK. They don't look like much," she sent a dubious glance towards the two guys who didn't seem to be trying hard enough to actually disentangle themselves and stand up, despite the saleswoman who was standing over them, scolding and shouting and asking if they were all right in that 'please don't sue us' tone of voice. "But they clean up nice."
"If you say so." Gunn took a step back from the mess, as Giles, Tara, and everyone else in the whole store, had already done.
"Maybe you two should wait for us at the food court?" Willow was saying, grabbing Spike by the ear and hauling him up.
"Ow! Bloody hell, woman, only Anya's allowed to do that. You're not our mum anymore."
She blinked at him. "You mean I was, before?" Spike muttered something too low for Gunn to hear, and Willow burst into laughter.
"Do I wanna know?" he asked, before his brain had the chance to pop out of his skull and smack him upside the head.
"He said they were playing lost babes in the wood, and we were the nice ladies who took them in and did spells in front of them." She snickered again. "Did I ever tell you what a good imagination Spike has?"
"Did I ever wanna know?" Gunn asked, wondering for the first time this hour, why he'd let himself fall into this kind of life. He coulda been a drug dealer, or a pointman, or something normal. No demons, no vampires, no Spikes trying to convince Wesley that pink was his colour. He had to put a stop to that, if only to prevent Wes from copping out just to avoid looking that silly. "I kinda like him in pink," he said. When Wesley turned an astonished look on him, Gunn leered, nice and slow, up and down Wes' body. "Nothing but pink...."
"Are we done yet? I wanna go into Neiman's and look at real people clothes." Buffy walked up, holding a small purple shirt in her hands, like she couldn't not shop even if nothing fit.
"We can't afford real people clothes at Neiman's," Dawn reminded her.
"That doesn't mean I can't look at them. I have a good imagination too, you know."
Spike, meanwhile, was looking Wesley up and down as well, and appeared to be exercising his own imagination about 'nothing but pink'. Gunn was afraid he'd have to step up and do some vampire or other some serious damage, but Xander kindly stepped up and did it for him, smacking Spike on the butt.
"What, I can't look?"
"You're supposed to be imagining me, naked, not Wesley."
"I am, trust me. It's been two bloody weeks stuck in that body, though. Right now I'm imagining Maury Povich naked." There were several, loud, "eeew!"s, and Xander hit Spike again.
Gunn turned back to Wesley, feeling triumphantly sure that now nobody would be weaseling his way out of a trip to Disneyland, and not afraid to let his smug satisfaction show. He noticed that another shirt had found its way into Wes' hands.
"Excuse me, are you...ready to purchase those?" A timid saleswoman stepped up beside him. Apparently the large black man was the least scary looking customer in the suburban white-bread mall store.
"Yeah, we're ready," Gunn told her, since Wes had enough to get him through a couple days, and he was pretty sure Cordelia would purchase the rest as soon as she saw the Tot N' Tiny version. The look of relief on Wes' face almost matched the one the saleswoman's face. When Wesley reached for his wallet, Gunn put a hand on his arm. "No, it's on me."
"That's not necessary-- I can pay for my own clothes, you know."
"Yeah, but I know you had to be talked into this. I'm not gonna make you spend your own money on it too. Chill out." The saleswoman was giving them a confused look-- the 'my own clothes' comment, Gunn supposed. "We like to role-play," he said with a straight face.
"Oh, thank you, Charles," Wes groaned, as his face once again showed off the fact that yes, he did look good in pink.
"What? I'm supposed to tell her you're getting ready to undergo an obscure, ancient ritual where you get turned into a four-year-old?"
Wesley glared at him. "You could have said they were for my nephew, or that we've adopted a child, or that we're making a donation to a children's shelter." He handed the clothing over as he talked, ignoring the way the saleswoman's hands faltered as she accepted them.
Gunn smiled at her. "They're for our adopted son."
The woman half-smiled, and glanced at the tags. Clearly she was figuring out if the commission was worth it, or if it was suddenly time for her break. "Will that be cash, or charge?" she said, attempting to widen her smile. Good try, but now it looked like her face was gonna break in half.
"Charge," Gunn replied, digging out his credit card as she began to swipe his purchases across the scanner. Behind him, he could hear Willow and Tara still fussing over sizes, and Spike generously offering to buy one of everything Tara wanted in several sizes.
"Yeah, but, you've been off work for two weeks, Xander," Tara was saying.
"Don't worry about it. We've always got plenty of cushion, what with Anya's investments paying off like they do," Xander answered.
"Oo! Enough cushion to buy the double fudge ice cream mocha sundaes?" Willow asked. Gunn shivered. Why anybody let that girl consume caffeine and sugar was beyond him.
Gunn had assured him nearly a dozen times. Possibly more, but Wesley had stopped counting around '9'. Even as he'd been about to step forward and touch the statue, Gunn had been there. Saying it again.
Wesley blinked. Stared at his hands. Smaller than they'd been in years. He felt a flutter of something in his stomach, and knew it was time to find out if Gunn really meant it. He looked up, and said resolutely, "I want a pony."
Gunn glared, as he'd promised. "I ain't gonna buy you every--- damn. Damn, damn. Somebody take my wallet?"
"Not me!" Spike protested loudly.
"I meant, would somebody take my wallet," Gunn said. Wesley giggled. Dear God, he had giggled.
"Oh, in that case, sure." Spike made as if to dip into Gunn's back pocket to get it, and Wesley slapped his hand. "Mine, thank you."
He didn't mean the wallet, and Spike knew damned well he didn't mean the wallet. The vampire just rolled his eyes. "Oh, please, like I'm that desperate."
"You are that desperate," Xander told him. "If what you tried to do in the car is any example."
"Excuse me, there are children present," Rupert spoke up. "Far too young to hear about that sort of thing."
"I didn't do anything!" Spike protested, but he walked away from them, towards Xander -- and began demonstrating what he hadn't done. Wesley averted his gaze, quickly -- and heard Willow chant something.
"Hey! You little pint-sized witch, leave my boyfriend's bits where they belong!" Xander yelled, then Willow giggled and Spike shouted something and Tara said something quietly.
Wesley just looked at Gunn. "Shall we go?"
"Yeah -- just don't be doing the eyes thing at me until we get back to LA, you hear me?" Wesley gazed up at him, looking as innocent as he possibly could. "Yeah, that thing."
"I have no idea what you're talking about." Well, he had some idea, since it worked for him as an adult, to an extent. He just hadn't tried it in the mirror yet, to see its apparently devastating effects when it came from his smaller version.
Gunn shouldered Wesley's bag of clothes, and turned to the Sunnydale natives. "Two weeks, right?"
There was some nodding, then a small voice said, "Um... oops?"
"Oops?" Gunn repeated. "Is that like 'oops, I can't get Spike's bits to come back down,' which really don't bother me much, or 'oops, there's something I forgot to tell you about how long y'all are gonna be kids?"
Willow looked up innocently at him, and Wesley began to get an idea about the power of the 'Eyes Thing'. "Well, it's not two weeks, it's 'under the waning moon.' "
"Yes, and that's two weeks. We have until the new moon," Wesley said, not sure what Willow was trying to tell them.
She carried the large book she was holding over to him, and handed it to him. Pointing at the lower right corner of the page, she said, "I think...um...maybe not?"
He read it over carefully, and shook his head. "Under the waning moon, is what it says. What am I missing?"
"When first the round moon begins to shrink, then the child becomes the man," she read aloud.
"Yes, so it's poetic. They were ancient Mesopotamians; they couldn't resist it. If you think this is bad, you should read the Epic of Gilgamesh."
"I have. But I don't think it's being poetic, here. I think it means..." Willow gave him the Eyes. "The first day of the waning moon."
The entire room went silent. Xander turned to Spike and said, "You know, those two sound exactly the same."
Wesley gave him a dirty glare. "I sound nothing like Rupert. And why didn't anyone mention that if we changed now we'd have to wait an entire month to change back? Who found this spell in the first place?" He had to pause and take a breath, trying to control himself. He'd been barely willing to do this for two weeks. He was not going to remain a child for an entire month.
"Um, that would be me," Rupert admitted, raising his hand. "Sorry."
"You don't sound sorry. You sound delighted to have the chance to play 'lego-maniac'. Isn't there another spell for this?" He began flipping the pages of the spellbook.
"Hey, easy, Wes." Gunn put his hand on the page, preventing him from turning it.
"I didn't figure it out until just now..." Willow said a bit sulkily.
"So you're not even sure? Damn it, I knew this was a mistake..." Wesley tried again to turn the page again, but Gunn's hand was planted firmly.
"Don't, you'll rip it. Look, it's no big deal. So we have to wait until...what, the day after the full moon?" he asked.
"Or, um.. we could turn him back today," Willow offered.
That sounded like a fine idea to Wesley, and he was about to say so, when he felt an arm on his shoulder. Surprisingly, it wasn't Gunn's-- it was Angel's. "I'll see what I can do about that pony..." he said teasingly.
Wesley shrugged his shoulder, trying to dislodge Angel's hand. He turned to Willow. "I would prefer to be...um." He looked around the room. "Who is going to perform the spell?"
Willow blinked at him. She turned towards Tara, then Giles, then back to Wesley. The four magic-users among them. All of whom were now under the geas of a spell.
"Oh, just splendid. I'm going to be fucking four years old forever!" Wesley slammed the book shut, Gunn pulling his fingers away just in time.
"Hey, it's a simple spell. I could do it," Angel protested.
"Or Anya could when she gets home," Xander offered.
"I can," Buffy piped up. "I've done a spell before." She smacked Xander on the arm when he leered at her. "Not that kind of spell, Xander."
"I suppose you'll all yell at me if I say I could do it," Dawn said.
"Yes!" everyone yelled at her.
"Geez, turn one pair of Gucci shoes into an aardvark, and you're banned for life from ever trying another spell..." she grumbled.
"It was a man-eating aardvark!" Spike protested.
"Oh, just because it bit you on the butt...."
"That's not where..." Xander began, and Spike clapped a hand over his mouth.
"We have plenty of candidates, so just calm down, Wesley." Rupert said smugly.
"Fine. Then one of them can perform the spell now. I--" And he suddenly found himself rising up in the air, and in Gunn's arms. "What are you--"
"Calm down, relax, chill, man."
Wesley glared at him. "I will calm down, once I'm six foot one, again."
Gunn just glared back at him, with that know-it-all look of his. Normally it made Wesley want to kiss it off him, but right now he felt more like...ignoring him. Violently. He turned and tried to get down out of Gunn's arms, but the frustratingly annoying man wouldn't let him go.
"I ain't puttin you down."
"Charles, I don't want to be a child for a month," Wesley said, in what he hoped was a reasonable tone. "And you're not going to make me. I know you wouldn't take advantage of the fact that you're bigger and stronger than I am, right now, to force me to do something against my will."
Gunn didn't relax his hold, though he said quietly, "That was low, Wes."
"Did it work?"
"You really want to be changed back now, I ain't gonna stop you, and you know it. I'm just not putting you down until you can tell me why, without it sounding like bullshit."
He wriggled uncomfortably, knowing that he could bullshit his way, if not out of it, at least long enough for Gunn to decide it wasn't worth fighting over. That usually worked. Well, sometimes. Once. It had worked...no, actually that time had been Cordelia's fault, for interrupting their discussion with a vision. He sighed, and lowered his voice, despite the nosy vampires in the room that would overhear him anyway. "I'm going to look stupid."
There was a pause. "So?" Gunn sounded surprised. "In a few days you'll be almost like really four -- you won't care."
"I will care. I do, and I-- how ridiculous do I look now?" Being held as if he were a child, talked to and placated as if he were having a tantrum?
Gunn turned him around and looked him in the eyes-- and smiled. "You look like a four-year-old Harry Potter," he said.
"You're adorable, stupid."
There was a soft kiss on his forehead, then he was being set down. "I'm not sure I want to look stupid and adorable," Wesley said, over the sound of Buffy and Dawn going 'Awwwwww....' "Be quiet," he added. He didn't even need to look over at Xander and Spike to know they were elbowing each other, and preparing to say something not remotely funny. "You too," he ordered.
"Ain't he just the cutest little..."
"You're not too big for me to bite you on the arse," Wesley warned Spike.
Spike's hands flew to the fly of his jeans, and Xander whapped him on the head. "Not in front of...um...." He looked around the room.
"You don't look stupid, Wes," Gunn said. Wesley looked up, not sure he believed it, and not sure either that he wanted to be talked out of changing back. He didn't want to be teased for an entire month -- or beyond, if they took pictures the way they'd done for the first four. "Man, you look like a poster boy for kicked waifs," his lover added in an unrepentant tone.
"That's ever so much better." Wesley folded his arms, and considered whether it would be out of character to kick Gunn in the shins, or if he should just hand the spellbook over to Angel. Or Buffy. Or...perhaps he could call Stuart, once they returned to LA.
There was a sigh. "All right." Startled, Wesley looked over at Angel, only to find the vampire leaning down and picking up the spellbook. He began flipping through the pages, looking for the spell.
Angel looked over at him. "What?"
"Well..." Wesley looked up at Gunn. "If I stay a child..."
"Will you buy me a pony?"
"Will it annoy you if I ask repeatedly, all the way back to Los Angeles?"
Gunn glared at him. Wesley widened his eyes. Angel snickered. "I wouldn't get so cocky, fang-boy," Gunn told him. "Don't think I won't make you babysit. By yourself."
"Hey, after Pointy-Head and Puppy Breath over there, Wesley will be easy."
"That's Puppy Head and Pointy Face," Xander objected.
Gunn was just snickering back at Angel. "Easy, huh? That's it - you get to babysit every Wednesday and Thursday. By yourself. Cordy and I'll go slay demons or something."
"Excuse me? What if I don't want Angel minding me?"
"When does he mind you, now?" Gunn asked.
Wesley sighed, and shook his head. "I mean, watch over me. Not that I need--"
Gunn gave him a surprised look. "You passing up the chance to drive Angel nuts? Man, you feel all right?"
He stopped and considered that for a few seconds. Then a few seconds more. He was fairly sure he managed to squelch the grin that was trying to spread across his face, and keep the stern, thunderous look he'd been trying for earlier. Mostly sure. From across the room, Spike mimed putting a telephone to his ear, grinned evilly, and mouthed 'Call us...'
Angel was making a valiant effort not to blanch any paler than he already was, Wesley noted. "We'll see," was all he said. Then his hand, all by itself, with no orders from Wesley whatsoever, slipped into Gunn's. "Can we go home now?"
"Yeah, we can go home, now."
Buffy spoke up, before they could head for the door. "Can I get a picture, first?"
He managed to avoid any picture-taking, though he knew it was only temporary. Wesley hoped they would, at least, wait until his emotional state caught up to his physical one and he no longer cared. Assuming he would no longer care -- he'd been rather reserved and self-aware even as a child, and he doubted he would be any different during this artificial childhood.
And artificial it might be, but the feeling he was getting simply from trying to look out the window as they drove was disturbing. He was small.
"You sure he doesn't need a car seat," Angel joked. Wesley hoped he was joking. He'd hate to have to slay the vampire before he had the chance to drive him nuts.
"Three and under," Gunn replied, looking at the highway ahead of them.
"Yeah, but he's awfully..."
"Close to parts of you that you probably don't want kicked?" Wesley finished. He was pressed up against the passenger side door so that he could be in the seatbelt, and Angel, who wouldn't be all that injured if he went flying through the windshield, sat next to Gunn.
Small, was what Angel was going to say. Smaller than the average four-year-old, even. Wesley found himself having to resist sticking his tongue out at the vampire for being so bloody tall, as if he just had to make the comparison even more obvious.
"Don't make me pull over," Gunn warned.
"I was just saying--" Angel began. Then he said, "Ow!" because Wesley kicked him.
"Wanker. I barely touched you," Wesley said immediately, but only because he knew he couldn't possibly have hurt the grown vampire. He couldn't kick that hard, now, if he tried.
"I'll pull over, I mean it. You'll both be walking."
"He started it."
Wesley stared up at Angel, astounded. "I certainly did not! You made an unkind and uncalled-for remark about putting me in an infant's car seat--"
"I would have used a toddler's carseat," Angel interrupted.
"Yes, that's much better," Wesley snorted, kicking him again.
"You know, I could just tie you to the gun rack..." Gunn warned.
"Hey, whatever equipment you two have in your apartment, I don't want to hear about it," Angel said quickly, rubbing his shin.
Wesley blinked, then felt himself blushing as he pictured what Angel undoubtedly didn't really mean. Handcuffs were one thing-- actually buying something besides the bed, to cuff Charles to... Was something he'd have to think about when he was once again fully able to appreciate the idea.
"Gun rack of the truck?" Gunn was saying, not appreciably embarrassed by Angel's misinterpretation. Or Wesley's.
"Is that like 'Tarzan of the Apes'? Because I never understood the deal with-- Wesley? Do you mind?"
"I didn't kick you on purpose," Wesley told him, still wriggling in the seat. "It isn't my fault your bloody hulk takes up too much room."
"What are you doing?"
Wesley wriggled, then frowned. "Nothing."
"Did you drop something?" Angel had leaned over a bit, and was looking at where Wesley's hand was down between the seat and the door.
Wesley pulled his hand free. "No."
Angel raised one eyebrow, and reached one of those freakishly long arms across Wesley, and down to the floor where he'd been fiddling. In a moment, he pulled out the small figure that Wesley had been trying not to let anyone see in his possession.
"Dracula?" He grinned. Wesley wondered if he'd fall for that 'photo of himself on the mirror' trick again, or if --how sad-- he'd have to think up something new. Something involving pink glitter nail varnish and Angel's best leather jacket, perhaps.
"It's not mine," he said quickly, as Angel held up the toy and showed it to Gunn. "Rupert had some insane idea that I might want it, and I couldn't very well turn him down."
"Isn't this the one they were all fighting over?" Angel asked, still eyeing the figure. Wesley made no attempt to take it back. It wasn't as if he'd asked for the thing. He'd only been attempting to fish it out where he'd dropped it, because Rupert would want it back, later.
"Perhaps he thought I would keep it safe from the others," he suggested. He found Angel giving him a bizarre look, then Angel was holding the toy out to him. Wesley took it, and leaned forward to stuff it into the glove compartment where it wouldn't be lost.
He couldn't reach the compartment. Angel opened it without a word, and dropped the figure in. Stared at the other contents for a moment. "I didn't know the raspberry flavor came in twelve packs," was all he said before clicking the cover shut.
Wesley breathed a sigh of relief that Angel hadn't rooted about in there to see what else he could find. He wasn't sure, quite, what they'd left in there, from their last road trip to Mexico.
"It was on sale, too," Gunn said easily.
"Pardon me," Wesley said, as he leaned over Angel's lap. It was a stretch, without undoing his seatbelt -- but with Angel pressing himself backwards out of his way, Wesley was able to reach Gunn.
"Ow! Damn, you're a mean little kid." Gunn rubbed his arm, where Wesley had just pinched him.
Well, they'd wanted him to be a child, right? Wesley just sat back and folded his arms in front of him, and let himself feel smug. Gunn was going to get every second of everything he could think of...
"I just missed a golden opportunity, didn't I?" Angel asked. Wesley raised an eyebrow, pictured the position he'd just been in, and glared at Angel.
"Try it, and you'll never have to worry about that Shanshu prophecy coming true," he said through gritted teeth. "I don't care how bloody valuable you are to the end-of-the-world fight."
"Right, no pony for the kid with the death threats," Angel noted. He pulled a little notebook out of his top pocket and wrote something down. Wesley craned his neck to see what it was, and Angel lifted it higher.
"You're deliberately trying to annoy me," Wesley pointed out.
"I learned from the best," Angel said, almost cheerfully. Then he flashed the notebook to Gunn, who looked at it for a second, laughed, then returned his gaze to the road.
Wesley sat back, arms still folded. They were being prats, just because they knew it would wind him up. Well, he would show them. He wouldn't need to ring Spike and Xander to do it, either.
Just because he was small, didn't mean there was anything wrong with his mind -- and he knew he was more clever than either of these two. After all, the month they'd spent sneaking in and adding or removing bags of blood each morning from Angel's fridge had been his idea. It had only taken a week and a half before Angel had asked if anyone thought he was losing his mind again.
He started thinking about all the things he might do -- most of which involved getting them to take him someplace public. The 'help, I'm being kidnapped' was crude, but asking kindly looking, older gay men if they wanted to be friends with his daddy...
"Buffy, Tara's hogging the popcorn," Willow shouted from her spot on the couch. Tara gave her a grin, and tossed a piece of popcorn at her. Willow tossed it back.
"Anybody would think you guys had been kids for a week, instead of a few hours," Xander said. He managed not to break his straight face when they both looked at him, agog.
"Excuse me? Mr. Standing In The Corner Half An Hour After I Got De-Adulted?" Willow shot back.
He scooted a bit further out of popcorn range. "I was just keeping Spike company."
"In the opposite corner?"
"You wouldn't let us stand in the same corner," Spike reminded her. Xander grinned, and leaned back against Spike's shoulder. A brief trip out by themselves to pick up ice cream had taken the edge off some of that 'haven't shagged in two weeks' tension. Enough to last them through the movie, at least.
And once seven o'clock came around, and Willow and Tara and Giles were dead to the world...maybe they could sneak into the bathroom and take another edge off. Since it was a sure bet that if they did anything in Buffy or Dawn's bed -- no one had told them whose bed they got, tonight -- they would both be dust in the morning. Buffy had mentioned knowing a way to grind up human body parts and dry them out -- informing them of this when he had suggested that if Dawn wanted to sleep alone, he and Spike would be happy to bunk with Buffy.
He and Spike would be keeping the miniature witches at their apartment for the rest of the month, but no one wanted to split up the first night. There was too much 'slumber party havoc' waiting to be had. Hence the movie and popcorn night, although Giles was sitting next to the Lego castle. Every once in a while Xander would catch him sneaking another Lego into place.
"You know, I don't know that 'Die Hard' is actually any more fun to watch as a kid," Tara said thoughtfully.
"Maybe it's just a guy thing," Willow said, looking at Xander. He shrugged.
"Big boom? Yippee ki yay, mother--" Spike began animatedly, and Xander slapped a hand over his mouth at the appropriate spot. Spike stared at it for a moment, and Xander had to stare at it as well. What, the parenting stuff was built-in? Either that, or he'd been taken over by an evil undead hand, like the one in the Wolfram and Hart horror story Angel had told them a few nights ago.
Tara was staring at the screen. "In fact, as a four-year-old, I find a shirtless Bruce Willis much less interesting."
"You found shirtless Bruce Willis interesting, before?" Willow asked, with an intrigued, very adult tone in her voice.
Xander grinned as Tara ducked her head and stammered, "Well, no, but, um, n-now I find him even l-l-less..."
Xander took pity on Tara, and whapped his best friend with a pillow. She whipped her head around, and narrowed her eyes. Suddenly two pillows flew up and hit him. "Hey!" He jumped up off the couch, and leant down. Willow laughed, then squealed as Xander picked her up.
He started to carry her out of the room, and Tara called out, "Where are you taking her?"
He stopped. Reconsidered. Tara was a witch, too.... "Just taking her into the kitchen so she can help carry the ice cream."
He smiled guilelessly, and headed for the kitchen, ignoring the happy cries of "Ice cream!" from everyone in the room. Including Spike, which he still was not used to. Vampires were supposed to eat blood, and only blood. Not get excited at the thought of frozen sugar.
"You can put me down now," Willow told him when he'd gotten to the kitchen and was standing in the middle of the room trying to figure out how to scoop out seven bowls of ice cream while carrying a witch under one arm. Not to mention the fact that Spike would want Magic Shell. Spike always wanted Magic Shell. He said that breaking through the chocolate to get to the ice cream reminded him of breaking through somebody's skull to get to the brains. Which Xander knew was a big fat lie, because Spike didn't even like brains. Livers, yeah, but not brains.
"Oh, yeah. Put you down. Right." He made absolutely no move to do so, and started about the process of pulling bowls from the cupboard with one hand.
"Don't make me turn you into a frog, mister!" Somehow the threat sounded less threatening in a little girl voice. Xander didn't figure he should tell her that, though. She'd probably take it as a reason to actually try to turn him into a frog.
He started digging around the cupboards looking for chocolate syrup, Magic Shell, or sprinkles. He knew he'd find one if not all three -- he'd trained Dawn well. Er, the monks had.
"Xander Harris! I mean it, put me down!" There was a pause, then a tiny wavering voice said "All the blood is rushing to my head."
"Silver balls? Coloured sprinkles? Or both...hmm...." He got everything down and set it on the counter. He had to adjust his grip on a squirming child before she made him drop her, then considered whether to get down the marshmallows, too. Not quite marshmallow creme, but close.
Then again... he did want everyone else in the house besides himself and Spike to fall asleep eventually.
"Xander, if you don't put me down I'm gonna yonk on your shoes," Willow warned him.
"I'm not wearing shoes." He lined up seven bowls on the counter.
"I'll tell you where Buffy hid your G.I. Joe..."
"It's in the medicine chest, stuck in the Vaseline canister. Like a girl could figure out a decent hiding place," he said scornfully as he tried to open the freezer door. Okay, so maybe a little of his four-year-old-ness hadn't worn off yet.
He heard Willow chant something, and a whooshing noise, before a cutting board flew off its wall-hanger and smacked him on the butt.
"Don't make me drop you, Miss Rosenburg," he said in his best Ms. Murtle, kindergarten teacher, voice. It was frightening that, even now, he could still imitate her voice.
He did, however, suddenly discover he was going to have to put her (Willow -- not Ms. Murtle) down. He had the ice cream out of the freezer, and had the ice cream scoop - but there was no way he could scoop the ice cream one handed. On the other hand, his butt was stinging. And not in a good way. While he tried to decide if he wanted to call Spike in here to a) take Willow or b) scoop ice cream, he reached around with his free hand, and tickled Willow.
She screamed loud enough to wake the dead; however, no one came in from the living room to see what was happening. "Poophead," she said after a few seconds of trying to get her breath back.
"Dogbreath," he answered easily.
"Tara doesn't think I have dogbreath," she said as he thought deeply about whether he could brace the ice cream carton against something and scoop one-handed after all.
"Tara wasn't around when you ate a Milk Bone on a dare from Aura Masterson." He couldn't see her face, but he would bet his next month's paychecks that she was sticking her tongue out at him. God, this was fun.
"Sometime while I'm still young and beautiful, please?" echoed in from the living room.
"Who said you were beautiful?" Xander called back to Spike. He tried pushing the carton up against the side of the fridge and scooping. It worked as far as that went -- but then he was holding the scoop the wrong way to tip the ice cream into the bowl.
However, as predicted, Spike came storming into the kitchen. "Who says I'm not beautiful?" he demanded.
Xander looked over his shoulder. "Can you hold the carton?"
"Eh? Oh, sure. Like a holding the tiger's tail, innit?" Spike sauntered over and held the carton out away from the fridge-side, so that Xander could scoop from the other side of it - and thus not have to turn his wrist backwards to drop the ice cream into each bowl. "Um, this isn't enough ice cream for me, much less the rest of you lot."
"There's three more gallons in the freezer. But one of them is pineapple sherbet." The gagging noise made Xander grin. "Willow, does that mean you'd like some? A huge bowl of pineapple sherbet with no toppings?"
"Keep in mind that I'm gonna be living with you for the next month," she said. "I can make sure you guys have as few opportunities to 'go out for ice cream' as possible."
"We already went out for ice cream, nyah nyah."
"Where'd you go, Alaska?"
No, to the parking lot behind the A&P, with the big dark carport. Which was utterly beside the point. Little witches shouldn't know about such things. Xander put two more scoops in his own, Spike's and Buffy's bowls, and one more in Dawn's. Then, out of the generosity of his heart, he gave Willow an extra scoop too. It had nothing to do with hoping they ran out of ice cream and had to go out for more.
"You wanna give Wendy and the Mini-Ripper some of the pistachio?" Spike asked, as he put the first carton of ice cream away.
"Yeah -- and put the caramel sauce on Dawn's." Xander grinned when Spike gave him a 'duh, do I look like I haven't been stealing bites from Dawn's bowls of ice cream for the last year or what?' look.
"Can I have silver balls?" Willow asked.
"Um, I hate to be the one to tell you this, Wills, but when you grow up you're gonna have boobies, not balls." A moment later he added "Ow!"
He looked up at Spike in shock. Spike was looking at his own hand, as if it, too, had been taken over by the evil spirit of Parenthood. Xander used his free hand to rub his butt, and refrained from sticking his tongue out at Spike. Not Spike's fault he'd managed to hit exactly the same spot Willow had gotten. But then Spike smirked, and said smugly, "Shouldn't talk like that in front of the kiddies," and Xander didn't bother refraining.
"Are you saying I don't have balls?" Willow said in a voice that had a totally different kind of warning in it than the 'yak on your non-existent shoes' warning.
Xander sprinkled silver balls over Willow's dish of ice cream. "You do now."
"Good answer," Spike told him, a relieved tone in his voice. Xander raised an eyebrow at him.
"Don't tell me you're afraid of a little witch?" He turned slightly, so he could dangle said little witch in front of Spike.
"I am when she can do things to you that mean I won't have any more ice cream for a month! Er, not counting when Anya gets home."
"Weenie." Xander sniffed in disdain. He should have handed Willow off to Spike, and done the ice cream by himself.
"Not if you don't put me down, Mr. Harris."
He picked up her bowl of ice cream and handed it to her. "Here, hold this." Should keep her hands occupied for a few minutes, anyway. Spike grinned approvingly, then managed, somehow to balance four bowls in his own arms. Xander grabbed Tara's, then realized that his own was still on the counter. "Um... Willow?"
"Dream on," she said smugly, already digging a spoon into her own bowl-- and how she managed to balance it while being carried under someone's arm, without having her eyes turn black from the major mojo, he'd never know.
"Fine, I'll leave it." He followed Spike back into the living room, handed Tara her ice cream, and, finally, plopped Willow back on the couch. Then he turned around and headed back for the kitchen.
"Going out for ice cream by yourself?" Willow asked snottily.
Spike jumped up and came after him. "Nope, I'm gonna go along and watch."
"You're going to watch?" Giles looked up at them from where he'd been re-building one of the turrets, having given up all pretense at watching the movie.
"Yeah, Xander shouldn't have to go for ice cream by himself, not when I'm around." Spike slung his arm around Xander's shoulders, and grinned.
Giles simply stared at them for a moment, then he sighed and shook his head. "I don't know why I make the attempt to understand a word you say."
"Because you love us," Xander replied. "Especially when we tell you we left the pirate cove Legos at our apartment." Giles gave him a dirty look. Xander laughed and went back to the kitchen to rescue his ice cream before it melted.
"Look, I just want to get a few things. I'll be out in a trice." Wes was arguing very earnestly that he should be allowed to go into his apartment by himself. It might have been more convincing, Angel thought, if he could even get his seatbelt off by himself.
"A trice? Do real people in England actually say that, or do you just make that shit up cause you know I don't know?" Gunn asked Wesley. "Never mind," he said, before Wesley could do more than open his mouth. "Point is, you're not going out of this truck alone, so deal with it. Hell, you can't even reach the door lock on your place, now."
"Not to mention your keys are in Gunn's pants," Angel reminded him. While Wesley had changed into his new clothes, Gunn had pocketed all of Wesley's stuff -- wallet, keys, a few things Angel hadn't caught clear sight of as Gunn palmed them quickly and his heartrate accelerated.
Wesley sighed. "I don't need assistance. I can--" He broke off, and Angel could see that he was displeased with the facts his brain was giving him. There was no way he could reach the lock on his front door. Mind of a grown man or not, his body was that of a four-year-old.
Or three year old, Angel told himself silently. Again -- he'd figured out that it pissed Gunn off, to say it out loud. Why Gunn cared that Wesley was an extra-small four-year-old, he didn't know. "Come on," he said, reaching down to unlatch the seatbelt -- and grabbing Wesley by the back of the pants when he tried to scramble for the door.
"Do you mind?"
"Not if you don't mind falling out of the truck onto your head, no," Angel replied calmly. He'd had to be helped up into the truck-- so he'd either forgotten about that during the two hour drive, or he was in some serious denial. Angel was betting on the second one.
He shifted over and was about to grab Wesley to lift him down, when Gunn gave a curt shake of his head, unbelted, and opened his own door. In a few seconds, he was opening the passenger door and lifting Wes up in his arms.
Angel tried not to smile. Tried really hard. He didn't want to scare anyone, after all. But it was about as easy not to smile at four-year-old Wes as it had been not to smile at four-year-old Spike. With bubbles in his hair. Which, of course, made him picture four-year-old Wes with bubbles in his hair, and---
"Stop that!" Wes commanded.
"Looking at me like that. It's eerie."
"I wasn't looking at you," he denied, though he didn't really expect anyone to believe him.
"And you can put me down, thank you," Wesley said to Gunn.
Angel noticed that Gunn seemed to be having some trouble not smiling, himself. "Look, English, there ain't no way I'm not carrying you up to your place. I'm doing it because I can, and you're not ruining my fun." Gunn turned towards the building and headed towards it. Angel followed, and heard Wesley sighing.
Then Wes gave him a glare. "You needn't come with us, you know."
"I know," Angel replied easily. And kept following. There was no way he wasn't watching as much of this as he could get away with. Wes was gonna make him pay for it, anyhow, so he might as well enjoy it while he could.
When they reached Wesley's floor, they were met by a friendly-looking woman in a blue housecoat, just coming out of the apartment next to Wesley's. "Oh, hello, Charles. How've you been?"
"Hey, Mrs. Jackson. Not bad." Gunn nodded his head back at Angel. "You know Angel, right?"
She smiled. "Yes, of course. But who's this little guy?" Angel twisted his lips to keep from smirking when she walked over and pinched Wesley's cheek.
"I'm--" Wesley stopped, and suddenly acted shy, ducking his head against Gunn's shoulder. Mostly, Angel figured, because he hadn't expected to meet his neighbor, and so hadn't come up with a plausible story for who he was supposed to be.
"My nephew, Reginald," Angel said quickly. "He's gonna be staying in town for a few weeks while his parents visit Bermuda." Angel smiled calmly as Wesley gave him a disbelieving look, and Gunn tried to stifle laughter he wouldn't be able to explain to Mrs. Jackson.
"Reginald?" She pinched Wes' cheek again. "Aren't you the cutest thing? Do you like visiting your Uncle Angel?" Wesley managed to nod.
"He's a little shy, but he's really a sweet kid," Angel explained, while Gunn fished the keys out of his pocket.
"Well, he's simply the cutest thing I've ever seen." Mrs. Jackson gave them a measuring look. "Now, if you boys have any trouble with him, you just call me. I've raised three kids of my own, and I know everything there is to know about bringing up boys."
Angel wondered if she knew how to get a four-year-old vampire down from off the top of the refrigerator, while his equally four-year-old boyfriend was hanging on to your knee and yelling at you that you were ruining the Great Cookie Jar Robbery and you were a Big Mean Doofus With Perpendicular Hair. Angel did. It mostly involved waiting.
"We'll keep that in mind," he promised as he followed Gunn into the apartment. Once inside, with the door shut behind them, Gunn set Wesley down. The diminutive demon hunter whirled on Angel. And just about tripped over his own shoelaces, because he'd insisted on getting the lace-up ones instead of the velcro. Angel had warned him that four-year-old feet had the magic power to make any shoelaces come untied within ten minutes of putting them on, but would he listen?
"Reginald?" Wes asked as he struggled to maintain his balance.
"It was the first thing I thought of," he said, as if it really had been, and he hadn't spent half an hour on the drive home thinking up good names. Wesley continued to glare at him, as if he thought it just might have an effect. Heh. He'd been the Scourge of Europe, and he'd babysat Xander and Spike for several hours at a time. This was nothing. "Besides, it's a good English name. Um, isn't it?"
Wesley didn't seem to care to dignify that with an answer. He sat down and began re-tying his shoes, while Gunn headed for the bathroom. Angel watched as Wesley tied his laces, and wondered if the four-year-old would appreciate Angel pointing out how adorable he looked with his face all screwed up in concentration like that.
Maybe he should have taken the disposable camera Buffy had offered him. After a moment's thought, he grinned, and pulled his pen and notebook from his pocket. Turning two pages past the one he'd shown to Gunn, on which he'd written 'No pony, right? We agreed, no pony' -- he began to sketch.
The short hair-- which had stayed short, unlike Spike's sudden mop of curls -- framed a thin, pale face, filled with a very adult sort of determination, as the small fingers doggedly looped the laces into a lopsided bow. Angel had finished the sketch, absently added his habitual Celtic A signature, and had been thinking deeply for at least thirty seconds about what to call the finished painting, before Wesley looked up at him.
"What are you doing?"
"Nothing..." Angel said, pocketing the notebook with a particularly Angelus-like smirk.
Wesley walked over and, with his fists on his hips, looked up at Angel with the most innocent expression Angel had ever seen...in the last half hour. "Angel?" he asked, very sweetly.
"Hey, I got your toothbrush and every-- Angel? What are you doing?" Gunn stood in the doorway with a small bag in his hands.
Angel blinked. "What am I doing?" Wesley was the one looking innocent.
Gunn gave him a 'yeah, right' look. "Wes? What else you want besides your toiletries?"
"I'd like to take some books. I'm in the middle of Durst's Compendium of Demon Arts." He dropped the innocent look and went over to his bookshelf, then muttered and went over to the couch. Then over to the chair, then into the bedroom.
When he came back out again, looking frustrated, Gunn asked, "Uh, is that a little blue book, about this thin? Gold letters on the cover?"
"Yes, why? Do you have it?" Wesley walked over and took the bag from Gunn's hands.
"No, I think it's at my place." Gunn grinned. "You know, that night when we got back from fighting that banshee? And you said you were too tired, and you just wanted to read, and you got maybe through half of a chapter before--" Wesley kicked him in the shin."Damn, I'm gonna haveta start callin' you MLK, ain't I."
Wesley gave him a curious expression. "Doesn't that usually stand for Martin Luther King?"
"Yeah, but in your case, it's Mean Little Kid."
Wesley shrugged. "You were warned."
"When was I warned?"
"In the truck. You don't learn from experience?"
Gunn gave him a look like 'I bet I'm gonna have a hell of a learning experience this month' -- and Angel couldn't help but agree with him. "Yeah, maybe. Those shoes hurt though. What, they got steel toes?" Wesley sniffed, obviously having decided that wasn't worthy of an answer. "You got everything else you want?" Gunn asked. Wesley nodded, then frowned.
"I..." He looked distrustfully at Angel, then beckoned to Gunn, who walked over with a grin and leaned down. Wes whispered, "Rupert" in Gunn's ear, then blushed, as it hit him that Angel could hear what was going on outside in the hall, much less something whispered a few feet away from him.
Gunn just smiled. "That's at my place too, remember?"
"So it looks like we're stopping by your place, next," Angel said, trying to look like he wasn't thinking of drawing a picture of Wesley, sleeping with his teddy bear.
"Stopping at...? Angel, I'm staying there. Not stopping by." The four-year-old version of Wesley was as good as the adult version at looking at Angel like he'd done something inexplicable.
But this time at least Angel knew what he was talking about. "No, you're staying at the hotel. Gunn, too," he added.
Wesley got a stubborn frown on his face. "There is no reason--"
"I promised Cordy," Angel explained. It was sort of true -- Gunn had figured that if Wes stayed at his place, Wes would stay at his place, the entire time. Hide under the bed or something. If they were at the hotel...where Angel, and Cordelia, and anyone else who wandered by could get at him, they might stand a chance of making Wesley enjoy his second childhood.
Wesley challenged him, arms crossed over his little overnight bag. "And I should care if Cordelia kicks your arse for making promises that aren't yours to keep?"
Gunn stepped in and saved Angel from having to come up with any further excuses. "Come on, Wes. We stay at the hotel, you can sneak up and shove shaving cream under the door to Angel's room. And do that thing with the lights that--"
Wes cut him off. "Yes, all right, don't spoil everything. A man has to have some secrets." After double-checking that he really did have everything else he wanted, they shut and locked the door-- and Gunn grabbed Wesley again. "You don't have to do this, you know," Wes said.
Gunn grinned. "Yeah, you're right. Here," he said, handing Wesley to Angel, who grabbed him despite the well-timed kicking. He'd been expecting it sooner or later, and knew when to duck. Besides, Spike kicked harder than this when he wasn't serious.
Cordelia looked up as the front doors opened. She'd been waiting impatiently ever since Dawn had called and said they were on their way back to LA. She'd already bought all the film she needed. It looked like she needed some now -- Angel was carrying Wesley, who was kicking Angel in the stomach, over and over. From the look on all their faces, Wesley had been doing so for awhile.
Then she blinked. "Oh my god! You are so cute! Is this what your kids will look like? Because if so, have some. Have lots." She grabbed Wesley out of Angel's arms, and held him up for inspection. Wesley rolled his eyes.
"I am not a side-show attraction. Would you please set me down?"
"Are you gonna run off and hide as soon as I do?"
"Of course," Wesley replied, sounding offended that she'd even asked. She giggled.
"Can I get one picture first?"
"I don't see why you're asking. You're all going to do your best to make this as uncomfortable and awkward as possible--"
"Uh-huh. That's why you keep kicking and pinching anyone who gets within arm's reach?" Gunn asked.
"He's not kicking Cordelia," Angel pointed out.
She snorted. Mini-Wes looked at her, and she stared right back at him. "That's because we understand each other. That is, he understands that if he kicks me, I'll make damn sure he regrets it, three and a half feet tall or not."
"I should think you'd know that I wouldn't hit a woman, whether you, or anyone else," Wesley said, sounding insulted.
Cordelia snorted. "Considering the number of women you know who could kick your adult-sized ass, it's a pretty smart philosophy. Now, I did ask politely-- can I get a picture?"
She could see in his face that he was about to agree -- put up a fuss, no doubt. But as he opened his mouth, Angel said, "That doesn't seem fair."
Cordelia looked over at him, setting Wes onto her hip as she did, before her arms gave out. "I don't believe this," Wesley muttered.
"What isn't fair?" Cordelia asked.
"Well, that he wouldn't hit women, but he'll hit -- and kick -- men. That doesn't seem fair."
Cordelia narrowed her eyes. "You think he should hit women?"
"No, I think he shouldn't be allowed to hit men, either. Or do things to their favorite black sweater."
"You're the one who insisted we stop for ice cream, so you could watch me eating it, and make hideous cooing noises," Wesley said. "It's your own fault, and besides, club soda will take that strawberry syrup right out."
"That still doesn't explain why you're using me as a walking punching bag," Angel complained.
"It's not as if you can't take it," Wes shot back.
"That's not really the point." Gunn's voice was quiet, and Cordelia looked up at him, startled to hear him sound so serious in the middle of what she thought was pretty much the usual snappy banter, more or less. "He's hittin' and pinching 'cause he hates bein' little, and he's afraid everybody's gonna take advantage of it. Which I guess we have been, kinda."
The blank look on Wesley's face said everything, if you knew him. Cordelia slowly set him down onto his own two feet. He adjusted his shirt slightly, then nodded his thanks to her. "I don't get it; if you don't wanna be four, why'd you touch the statue?"
Wesley glared at Gunn. "Blackmail." There was a pause, then Angel snickered. Cordelia joined him, even as Wesley frowned again. "It isn't amusing."
"Oh, of course not, Wes," Cordelia assured him. Then she snickered again, and she heard what sounded a lot like a snicker from Gunn.
"I might not hit women, but I think I could possibly bring myself to pinch one," Wesley said to her.
She bent down and looked in his face. "I'll pinch you back. Goes both ways, buddy-- you don't want us to push you around 'cause you're little and do stuff we wouldn't do when you're a tall skinny dork, you don't get to do stuff the tall skinny dork couldn't get away with, just 'cause you think I won't do anything, 'cause you're little."
Angel looked like his eyes were about to roll in opposite directions as he tried to figure out what she'd said, but Wesley got it, and nodded, finally. "That seems fair. To a point."
"Meaning you're still gonna kick Angel every chance you get."
"Well, of course."
"Good. Maybe I should have taken a turn; then I'd get to kick him, too." Cordelia gave Angel a thoughtful look. Angel looked scared. She smiled. It was good to keep Angel from getting too complacent.
Although she suspected that Wesley would be doing a good enough job of that, especially once he started really regressing. She thought about some of the things Willow had told her Spike and Xander had done, and decided that Angel should be uncomplacent enough to last a year.
"So how are the others? Did you get any pictures of Willow and Tara?" She remembered Willow at four, of course -- if vaguely. It wasn't that she really cared if those two were cute -- but asking would distract Wesley while she grabbed the camera.
"Dawn promised us copies of everything, if we give them copies of everything," Angel said, sending a guilty look to Wesley.
"Marvelous," was the only thing that came from that direction. Then, "No, actually, it is. There's some shots of you in...what was it? Care Bear boxer shorts, that Xander made you buy?" Wesley sounded thoughtful, now. "Do we have to trade picture for picture, or just a full swap?"
"I think I should get to go through them first," Angel tried. There were snorts all around.
"Doesn't matter, Willow will still have the negatives," Wesley said smugly. "And I believe she was talking about scanning them and creating a website?"
"Oo, really? That would be great. We could link to it right off the Angel Investigations page," Cordelia said as she pulled her camera out and snapped a picture of Angel, looking pained, and Wesley, smirking like all get-out. She snapped another quick picture of him, then held the button down and let the auto-wind capture his image as he went from smug, to annoyed, to pouting. When she put the camera down, she just smiled sweetly. "Thanks."
"You're not welcome."
Cordelia set the camera aside, and regarded the mini-Wesley. "You know, you really are grumpy."
"Yeah, why don't we...." Gunn came forward, and held out his hand. Wesley hesitated a moment, casting Gunn a doubtful look, before he took it, and let Gunn lead him out of the hotel lobby.
Cordelia watched them go. When they disappeared up the stairs, she turned to Angel. "So. You think we can make him loosen up and enjoy himself? Before we strangle him?"
"Before?" Angel looked thoughtful. "Maybe," he finally said.
"You think..." She stopped, not quite sure what she was going to say. "With the kicking, and the hitting, and the pinching... That's not Wesley's style, afraid of getting taken advantage of, or not."
The look that Angel gave her was one that she hadn't seen in a while, not since they'd had the telekinetic staying with them, and Wes had tried that damn fool stunt with bringing up her father. "I don't think he could get away with kicking anybody when he was really four," Angel said.
"You're saying he's been harbouring a secret desire to kick people?" she said, not believing for an instant that Angel had a clue what he was talking about. No big surprise there.
But Angel shook his head. "Not want to -- just being able to. Like last year when Spike's chip malfunctioned for an hour after he got zapped by the television? He spent 56 minutes hunting down people to bite...and didn't actually bite any of them."
"Because Anya would have kicked his ass." Angel sighed, and Cordelia thought about what he was trying to say. "You think he's just...letting himself do it, because he can?"
"Maybe not consciously," Angel replied. Cordelia gave him a look, until Angel gave her a paranoid one, back. "What?"
"You know, for a two hundred and some year old vampire, you're getting pretty good at the human pysche thing."
"Just...I'm gonna get struck by lightning if I say 'practicing,' aren't I?"
She made her face as blank and innocent as possible. "For having your own four-year-old?"
The look on Angel's face was better than a double hot-fudge sundae with chopped nuts and bananas and whipped cream and somebody rubbing her feet while naked men wrestled in oil in front of her. Well, almost. It was really fortunate she'd been anticipating it, and had raised the camera in time.
When he scowled, she put the camera down. "Because, I just gotta say, I've already done my pregnancy bit." Then she turned and walked away, smirking to herself at that expression.
Wes went upstairs with Gunn, not saying a word. He held Gunn's hand readily enough, but Gunn knew somehow that if he tried doing as he'd been doing at every opportunity -- carrying him -- he would get a fireball up his ass.
They headed for the room he'd asked Angel to set aside for them, having anticipated needing to bring Wesley here, rather than his own place. Partly for the strength in numbers thing -- he figured it would take three adults to control Wesley once he got into the kid thing. But partly to get him into the kid thing. He wouldn't unless he knew he was safe. And that meant safe emotionally as well as physically, and that was what Gunn had forgotten til now.
Somewhere in the middle of looking at Wes in his four-year-old body, in the BabyGap cords and the plain black Keds because he didn't want any shoes with cartoon characters or lights that go off when you run, thank you, he'd gotten caught up in going 'awww,' and he'd forgotten that Wes had some major issues going on.
It wasn't like Wes ever minded playing the idiot if he had to, or looking like one accidentally, as an adult, so it hadn't really sunk in how serious Wesley was about them drawing attention to his kid-size body. His brain might know that the three of them would not only not hurt him, but would protect him from anything that even looked like it was gonna sneeze at him, but that wasn't all there was to protect him from.
He turned on the light, and set Wesley's bag down on the dresser. It was a low one that even squirt-Wesley could reach, which was a nice touch. He'd have to thank Angel. He turned around to find Wesley surveying the room, wandering over to touch the chair, then the dresser, then the bed. Like he was learning how to navigate a room where the furniture was suddenly all taller than he was.
Gunn watched for a moment, taken aback at how he looked. Not just 'isn't he adorable,' though it was tough getting past that one. The serious expression on his face and the careful way he moved made Gunn want to catch him up and hold him tight. Give him a raspberry in the middle of his stomach, just to see if he could make Wes laugh.
But there was also the hint of other things in his eyes, on his face, in every motion he made. Hesitant, and worried, the way no four-year-old should look. It might just have been because Wes wasn't four.
Gunn held out his hand, when Wesley looked over and found him watching. His young face darkened briefly, before he walked over. Gunn picked him up, then, ignoring for the moment Wes' immediate objection. He stepped backwards, towards the chair, and sat down, arranging Wesley in his lap.
"Really, Charles, I--"
"I'm sorry, Wes," he said. Wesley was trying to squirm down, and Gunn tightened his arms. Just tight enough to say 'Stop it now, let me talk to you for a minute.' Just loose enough, he hoped, that Wes wouldn't freak out and start squirming even more. "I know this stuff scares you. Forgot for a while, cause I got all caught up in how cute you look."
There was a sniff, or maybe it was a snort, from the little body in his arms, but the squirming had died down. Maybe it was what he said, maybe it was the fact that he'd started the chair rocking, very slowly.
"You should be used to it, you know," Wesley said casually.
"Huh? Oh - you looking cute? I am, I mean, you are. I just...." He stopped as Wesley giggled. Gunn grinned. Giggled. Damn. He'd have to make Wes do that more often. He pressed a kiss against Wes' temple, and heard a sigh.
"You realize you needn't keep doing that. I'm fine." Wes didn't sound as if he expected his lover to believe him, but felt obligated to assert it anyhow.
"You realize I don't care? For once I can hold you and kiss you as much as I want, even in public, and the only dirty looks we'll get is from people who think a fine young black man like myself shouldn't have a white boy for a son."
"I thought I was to be Angel's nephew?"
"Ain't like we're gonna hang a sign around your neck. Every time we go to the Discovery Zone, or Dave and Buster's, or the park, or Disneyland--"
"We aren't going to just stay home?" Wesley tilted his head back to look up at him, his voice serious and with a hint of pleading, but his eyes were dancing.
"For a month? Even you can only watch so many re-runs of 'Keeping Up Appearances' before you start throwing things when Hyacinth comes onscreen."
"I can't help it; she reminds me of my aunt Millicent. She used to sing at me, too." The shudder Wes gave him was mostly faked, he could tell.
"Yeah, well I can guarantee we're not gonna spend every day inside while you throw popcorn at Mrs. Bucket. You and me, we're goin' places."
Wes pursed his lips thoughtfully. "Can we go to the aerospace museum? They have a lunar lander that you can crawl into. If you're small enough."
Gunn smiled. "Yeah, we can go to the aerospace museum. Hey - we only have to pay half price for you." Wesley poked him in the ribs, and Gunn laughed. "Hey! And think of all the places where they have cool children's menus."
"Like Burger King?" Wesley asked, snidely. They'd once had a large debate about whether they could stop at the fast food place that was right next door to where they'd finished slaying some demons, or if they ought to go two miles over to a place where Wesley claimed he could get real food.
"You can get a paper crown."
Wes snorted. "I think not."
"Do that again."
Wesley looked up at him, raising one eyebrow. "Do what again? Insult your taste in alleged eating establishments?"
"Make that noise. The one where you... um... or hey, we could go to the barber shop and pretend it's your first haircut, and you can throw a big fuss and they'll all give you candy to make you shut up..."
Wesley snorted again.
"Yeah, that noise."
"Why?" Wesley demanded, glaring up at him.
"Because," Gunn replied calmly, "If I don't tease you, you'll think I've been taken over by a burrower demon." Wesley regarded him for a moment, his glare softening into something else. He sniffed. Gunn glared at him. "You better be yanking my chain with that poor me pout."
There was silence for a moment, before Wes said quietly, "Well, possibly," in a very normal tone of voice.
Gunn smiled, and they rocked quietly for a while. It was actually nothing they hadn't done before; Cordelia had found him a beat-up old glider loveseat at Goodwill, a year or so ago, back when she'd taken one look at his apartment, declared it not fit for man or demon to live in, and gone on a redecorating spree. He'd thought it was kind of old-granny looking, but it had grown on him, especially late at night when he and Wes would stay up talking in front of the TV, softly gliding back and forth, neither one of them even noticing who was pushing against the floor with a sock-footed toe, to keep the thing going.
"You feel like I bullied you into this?" he asked eventually. Wes looked up, seeming startled, and Gunn cursed inwardly-- Wesley had almost been about to fall asleep, and now he was blinking and flattening his lips. Like it couldn't have waited until tomorrow.
But Wes' eyes cleared quickly, and he shook his head slowly. "I admit, I wouldn't have done it if you hadn't...persuaded me. But I could have said 'no' - I am a grown man, and have--"
He stopped as Gunn lost control of his grin. Wesley's gaze held steady, one beat, then two, then Gunn lost all control and laughed. He tried telling himself that he'd decided not to laugh at Wes, at least not until his lover was more secure in his four-year-old state. But to see that little face and hear that high-pitched voice assuring him that he was quite grown up....
"I am a grown up, Charles," Wesley repeated, sounding quite stern. But he was very obviously fighting a smile of his own.
Gunn just pulled him close -- mostly so he wouldn't have to look Wesley in the face -- and hugged him tight. "I know you are. But -- damn! You're adorable. I can't help it."
"Well, of course you can't," Wesley replied, smugly. After a few seconds he added, "You can, however, loosen up a bit. I've been de-aged, not vampirized; I still have to breathe."
"Yeah, yeah. 'Cause you're talking with what, now-- your amazing mind powers?" Gunn didn't loosen his hug, not one bit.
"My mind isn't amazing? That's not what you told me last week."
"Last week you figured out a way to use a socket wrench as... Damn, I can't say this stuff to you when you look like this. Somebody's gonna arrest me." Wesley looked up at him with wide, guileless eyes. Gunn wanted to poke him in the nose to see if he'd deflate. "Yeah, like that." Gunn nodded. Then he realized something -- "Damn! I'm gonna get no sex for four weeks!"
Not unless he cheated on Wes, which would involve a lot more than being guilted by adorable eyes. Suddenly he understood what Spike had been whining about. It wasn't like he'd never gone that long, or longer, without -- but never when he'd been in a relationship like this one. It would be like before, when they were still just friends and playing around, and he was stuck with fantasizing. Only this time he'd know what he was missing.
Wesley laughed-- or, no, giggled, really. Which was gonna take some getting used to. Gunn glowered at him, purposely hiding the smile that the high, innocent sound was teasing out of him. "Oh, fine for you-- you ain't gonna miss it."
Wesley shrugged, his eyes twinkling. "And how exactly is that my problem?"
"It's--" Gunn had the sudden urge to stick his tongue out, but he didn't give in.
"Ain't it past your bedtime or something?"
"Hardly." Wesley settled back against Gunn, wriggling a little until he was snuggled in. Gunn snickered, but adjusted his hold on Wes so he'd be comfortable. They sat that way for a while, slowly rocking again. It was, despite all the weirdness attached, the most comfortable thing he'd felt in a long time.
Made him wonder if he should be thinking about kids. His own -- if he thought for a minute he could keep them safe from the evils of the world, long enough for them to grow up and join the war. Bad enough you had to protect them from germs and bullies and guns at school. He wasn't so sure he could have his kids running around while daddy was off killing vampires.
He looked down at the small figure in his lap, hearing Wes' breathing evening out again and feeling him grow steadily more limp. Wondering, not for the first time tonight, or even the tenth, how his lover had ever managed to survive being this small, this fragile, in the world in which he'd grown up. Which didn't have guns in the schools or vampires on the streets-- at least not until he'd become a Watcher-- but had been just as dangerous. How had he managed to grow into the man he'd become?
Gunn wondered what that man would look like, holding a child. He grinned, and was happy nobody else in the room was awake to ask what he was grinning about.
Xander let his head fall against the wall, panting hard. He was careful not to let it thump -- didn't want to wake up any Slayers sound asleep upstairs, or any four-year-old witches asleep on the couch. Xander had tried to convince Spike to go a little farther than right outside the door on the back porch -- but that had lasted until Spike started unzipping his jeans. Now, he was just concentrating on not falling over.
After a moment he had more air, and he said, "Spike? If we ever go more than two weeks without sex...I think it may kill me. Not the not-having sex," he clarified quickly. "The having-of-sex, afterwards."
"Sissy," Spike accused. "That wasn't even remotely rough. You've done more athletic stuff with Anya, before I even came into the picture." Said the guy who didn't have to try to breathe and think at the same time.
"Not after abstaining for two weeks," Xander reminded him. Spike gave a little chuckle, then a 'huh' sound.
"What's the longest you actually went without, back when it was just you two?"
Xander tried to think. And breathe. "Um... utterly without? Couple of days, I guess."
Spike raised an eyebrow. Xander sighed, and waited. "I'm impressed," Spike finally said. "Two whole days. My, how ever did you--"
Xander slapped a hand over Spike's mouth. "Do you want to be invited to round three of the 'Welcome Home, Anya' party?" Spike just blinked at him, over his hand. Then he nodded. "Then shut up and go inside before I wonder why it is I'm still standing. Because I don't know why I'm still standing. I wanna go to bed." Spike waggled his eyebrows -- and looked ridiculous, since Xander still had his hand over the vampire's mouth. Then he pulled his hand back with an exaggerated "Eeew!" He wiped Spike-saliva off his palm, then grabbed Spike by the jacket-sleeve. "Inside, buster."
As he manhandled, or rather, vamphandled, Spike through the back door and tried to push him quietly through the darkened kitchen, Spike was grumbling under his breath. "Why the hell do I let you push me about like this, again, peabrain?"
"Something about how I can kick your chipped ass if you don't?" Xander pulled him up short when they got to the kitchen threshold, and covered Spike's mouth again, over whatever answer he'd been about to make. "Shut up, ass-chip," he hissed. "Gotta make it back upstairs without waking up the perimeter guards."
"What perimeter guards?"
Xander slowly turned and looked over at the doorway. There, in a adult-sized t-shirt nightgown, stood a sleepy little Willow.
"Um, hi, we were just--" Xander began.
"Sneaking in after finally getting a good boff in," Spike said,
Xander hit him. He wasn't sure exactly why - it wasn't like Willow didn't know he had sex. Even sex with Spike. But still... Of course there was the simple fact that hitting Spike was fun. Xander hit him again.
"Oi! Not in front of the children," Spike chastised. Then he moved forward, crouching down to scoop up the fake-child. "Do you need a glass of water, little one?" His voice was all talking-to-a-kid, and it made Xander roll his eyes. Willow gave him a suspicious look.
"No, actually I wanted more ice cream."
Spike didn't do very well at hiding his snort. Xander couldn't blame him-- Willow had walked right into that one. "I think you tots ate it all. But we'll pop out and get some. Anything for you, Will," Spike oozed sweetly.
"We will not pop out and get some. I want to go to bed," Xander said, hauling Spike up by his collar.
"Well, all right. Bed's as good a place as--"
"To sleep, peroxide-breath." Xander looked down at Willow. "You really want some more ice cream? I think there's Neapolitan left." She nodded, after sticking her tongue out at Spike. "You do know," Xander said as he released Spike and swooped Willow from his arms in a move that used up every last bit of energy that his body possessed, but was worth it, "that I can't make ice cream without a witch under my arm. Right?"
She squealed, then settled down to wriggling and thumping him with her fists, as he fixed her a bowl of ice cream. He did let her start to 'slip' once, so that she was dangling head down-wards. It would have been a bad move had she had the strength to pummel him well. As it was her fists bounced off his butt with little enough force that he could pretend not to notice.
"You do know that's my butt you're hitting?" he heard Spike say -- after about the fiftieth strike.
"So? You weren't hitting it," she said in a reasonable tone.
"I can fix that--" Spike began.
Xander whirled around, pressing his back up against the counter and letting Willow drop to her feet. "You are not, no way, no how, in any way shape or form hitting me in the butt in the kitchen in front of Willow."
Spike smiled. "Wills, darling, here's your ice cream. There's a good girl." He handed her the bowl, then nudged her towards the door.
"You didn't say anything about behind Willow's back," Spike protested as Xander marched him through the living room with one hand yanking up the beltloop at the back of his jeans, so that Spike was forced to either walk on tiptoe or suffer the dreaded Xanderwedgie.
Xander yanked Spike's jeans up higher, and rubbed his own butt with his free hand. He seemed to be doing that a lot, tonight. "You know, even Anya's finally figured out when it is and isn't appropriate to smack somebody on the ass," Xander said as he nudged Spike up the stairs. "Why haven't you?"
Spike snickered. "I know when it's appropriate. I just don't care."
"Gee, just like you were evil, huh?"
"Yeah! Grr!" Spike sounded proud of the fact.
Which was what Xander was aiming for. "Which explains you tucking the blanket around Tara after she fell asleep earlier, how?"
Spike didn't say anything as Xander steered him up the rest of the stairs. Xander let go when they reached the second floor, and Spike took a step towards Joyce's room. "Hey." Xander stopped him.
"What?" Spike gave him a suspicious look.
He grinned, and pointed towards Buffy's's room. Spike was still looking confused, then the lightbulb blinked on, and he followed Xander over to the doorway. They both peeked in, to see a small figure tucked under the covers of Buffy's bed.
"Looks an utter innocent, don't he," Spike whispered. "Like he never called up demons or played electric bass or told anybody who might not know otherwise that he toured with Pink Floyd."
"He told you he toured with Pink Floyd?"
"Nah, told Anya that, when she was flippin' through his LP collection."
Xander looked at the sleeping four-year-old, and grinned. "She thought Floyd was some kind of pink demon, didn't she."
Spike just grinned evilly.
"He seems awfully...." Xander trailed off, but waggled his eyebrows.
Spike frowned. "Awfully evil?"
Xander whapped him on the head. "No. Well, yes, but not what I meant. What I mean, is, he's all alone in there. Who's he gonna wake up snuggling?"
Spike slowly grinned. He shot a look at the sleeping-unaware Giles, then nodded. "It'd be a shame, him waking up all lonely and the like. Poor bugger'd probably have a fit."
They exchanged grins, just like they did right before they snuck into Giles' office or bathroom or bedroom or kitchen with a jar of plastic bugs. Once it had been real ones that they'd spent hours collecting, but Giles had simply squashed them. Then he'd told Anya on them, which, of course, was half the fun. The other half was the fact that he had to know by now that she wouldn't do anything to them that they didn't like, so it was kind of one step away from...
Xander couldn't even finish the thought, looking as he was at the itty bitty version of Giles. They tiptoed into the bedroom, Spike with one eyebrow raised an a finger to his lips, and Xander carefully pulled back the covers. "You want left or middle?" he whispered.
Spike looked at him. Looked at the sleeping Giles. Frowned. Xander could see him trying to work out the logistics of who would wake up snuggling who, and what would embarrass Giles more, vs. a certain vampire's unadmitted addiction to hanging onto Xander at night like he was a giant stuffed teddy boy. Um, teddy bear. "Don't suppose we could all just sleep in a big pile, like we do at home?"
"We'd squish him," Xander whispered back. "He's little, and he still has to breathe." He slipped off his shoes and slid into the bed, carefully moving Giles over towards the wall, and making a space beside himself for Spike.
"What if we put him on top of you, and I grab you both?" Spike suggested.
"Hmm." Xander realized the idea had merit. Giles was small and light enough that he wouldn't get squished, and it had all the benefits of embarrassing him when he woke, and letting Spike sleep soundly. Xander carefully laid down and pulled Giles on top of him. Giles mumbled a little, stirred slightly, then latched onto Xander as tightly as Spike usually did.
Spike grinned, nodding in approval, then slid into bed next to them. "Right, then. Say 'goodnight, Xander'."
"Kiss me, and I'll consider it," he whispered back. Then he had a tongue in his mouth, and couldn't say anything.
Buffy stretched as she crawled out of bed, and accidentally-on-purpose whapped Dawn in the side of the head. "Hey... watch it, buttface," Dawn muttered without even opening her eyes.
Buffy stuck out her tongue at her sister, and walked down the hall towards the bathroom, still yawning. A quick peek into the room that had been her Mom's had her blinking. Xander and Spike couldn't have gone out for ice cream again, could they? Nah-- it was a bright, cheery morning, and even Spike wasn't horny enough to risk being turned to ash for a backseat quickie. Well, not usually. She glared at the empty bed.
They'd better not be doing it in the bathroom. It was her house, and she was not going to stand in the hallway doing the Peepee Dance while Pointy Face and Puppy Head got it on in the shower. All right, so she could go downstairs and use the toilet. Except flushing it wouldn't affect the water temperature in the upstairs shower, darn it, so there wasn't much point.
But a quick recon told her there were no young-adult delinquents in the bathroom. So - where were they? Making breakfast? Sheyeah, right. Buffy shook her head and decided to cheat. She closed her eyes and used her Slayer senses to locate the nearest vampire. Who was apparently in her bedroom. Buffy narrowed her eyes. If they were desecrating her bed, they were dead men-and-vampires.
She stomped -- quietly, so she wouldn't wake any four-year-olds -- up to her door, and got her best glare ready. And stopped. Then ran back to grab Dawn's camera.
"Hey, m'tryin' to sleep here," Dawn protested as Buffy threw clothes left and right, trying to find where Dawn had left her camera.
"Oh, God, get up; you have to see this." She used a little unfair Slayer advantage to haul Dawn bodily out of bed, stopping to grab the camera when she spied it among the mess that covered the top of Dawn's dresser.
"What the--" Dawn said huffily, and Buffy put a finger to her lips, pointing in the direction of her own room. Dawn gave her a quizzical look, but followed her over to the doorway, and peeked in.
Dawn's hands flew to her mouth, stifling whatever squealing noise she would have made. Buffy just raised the camera and started snapping off shots.
All three were sound asleep -- though Xander might have been faking, and who cared as long as he didn't move and wake the other two. He was on his back, one arm around Spike, at his side, and one arm around Giles. Who was lying partly on top of Xander, snuggling him, and partly on Spike. Snuggling him.
Buffy took several more pictures, just in case the photo-mart ruined five of them. These photos were going to get her out of interfering-with-her-life training bouts, for years.
"What's going on?" came a little voice behind her, and Dawn leapt down to slap her hand over Willow's mouth. Buffy pointed to the bed, and Willow, after prying Dawn's hand away, shrugged. "So?" she said, quietly enough that Dawn didn't try to shush her again. "Xander and Spike sleeping together. We've seen it before. Okay, not usually with this many clothes on..."
Buffy lifted her up, so that she could see Giles, lodged between/on-top-of them. Willow shrugged again. Buffy stared at her.
Dawn grinned, however. After Buffy put Willow back down, Dawn knelt down and patted her on the head. "Someday, when you become a woman, my child," she intoned, "you'll understand."
Willow just rolled her eyes. "You two have obviously never seen the two of them sleeping on the floor after being up all night watching movies."
Buffy gave the threesome-in-bed a doubtful look. "Cuter than this?"
Willow nodded. "Much."
Buffy gave the threesome another look, then shook her head. There was no way. But she shooed Willow and Dawn out of the room, to let Giles wake up and find himself snuggling two men he'd swear he'd rather see dipped in demon-attracting goo, than admit he'd ever snuggled. Hence the incriminating photos.
Of course, a virtuous person would follow her best friend and her sister down the hall, towards showers and other things that bathrooms could be used for, and leave the boys to deal with that precious moment, when it came, in relative privacy. Good thing I'm a bitch, she thought happily, as she stood in the hallway and peeked back around the doorframe. Then she took a deep breath.
"Spike, put down that book-- it's really old, and I don't think Giles would want you to use it for a coaster."
Three pair of eyes shot open-- Xander's faster than the other two, which confirmed, at least for Buffy, her suspicion that he'd been faking.
"Spike, get your blood-soaked paws off my-- " Giles trailed off as he looked around and realized where he was.
"Hey, I've not got my paws anywhere it's not proper to have 'em, and I washed my hands after dinner, like a good lad," Spike protested, grinning.
"What the bloody hell are you two doing?" Giles demanded in what would have been his most imperious voice, had he been older than four.
"Sleeping," Spike replied, sounding innocent.
"We fell asleep on our side of the bed," Xander added, though Buffy suspected that was a huge bald-faced lie. She could see Giles glaring at them, then he crawled off them -- causing Xander to yelp. "Watch those feet!"
Giles simply muttered, and crawled off the bed and stomped towards the bathroom. Buffy had to duck into Dawn's room to avoid being seen.
A minute or so later, Xander poked his head around the door. "I assume you got pictures of that," he said.
Buffy rolled her eyes. "Duh..."
"I didn't see a flash," he said suspiciously.
"I turned it off-- how dumb do you think I am?"
Xander opened his mouth -- to tell her, undoubtedly -- and she threw a pillow at him. She quickly snapped another picture as the pillow fell. Then she grinned, and ran.
She headed for the bathroom, because by now the just-woken-up-gotta-go dance was becoming the get-the-hell-out-of-my-way-Slayer-on-a-mission boogie. She was annoyed, but not surprised, to find the bathroom door shut.
She knocked, and Dawn answered. "In a minute, jeez..." Which meant another five, at least. Buffy headed down the stairs. She reached the landing and sped around the corner towards the hall bathroom, only to skid to a halt.
Giles was standing in the doorway, asking patiently -- but loudly -- if someone was going to be out soon. Buffy hurried up behind him, intending to cut in line. After all, he might be her Watcher but she was the Slayer, and the Council and the world would go downhill without her. If she couldn't use that to pull rank and get into the bathroom first, then what use was being the Slayer?
She paused when she saw Tara sitting on the counter, leaning towards the mirror but looking back over at Giles, and laughing. "You sound so silly, being all stern, in that voice!" she said.
"Yes, well, you look rather silly, sitting on the countertop in shorty pajamas," he responded. "Especially since your shorts are falling down again."
Tara quickly re-arranged her shorts, and frowned at Buffy and Giles in the mirror. "I could have sworn I was a chubby little kid." Then she frowned at herself. "I don't look anything like me. This is so weird."
She was a little on the small side. Not as small as Wesley had become, but smaller than Willow and Giles. Buffy gave about three seconds' thought to the fact that poor Willow and Tara would have to go shopping with Spike and Xander again, to buy Tara some clothes that were small enough. Then she was once again reminded that the world was depending on a Slayer who had a fully functioning bladder.
"Of course you look like you-- who else would you look like?" she asked, then pulled Giles out of the doorway. "And can you two continue this conversation somewhere else? Some of us actually want to use the bathroom for not-mirror-looking things."
Both Tara and Giles looked at her blankly, as if they hadn't any idea what else a bathroom could be used for. Then Giles frowned at her. "I believe I was in line next."
"Yeah?" Buffy reached down and picked him up, then set him down -- behind her. "Now you're next after me!" She turned a stern, vampires run from me, look at Tara.
Who had turned back to the mirror. "I don't understand. Could I have gotten a different body? Giles, do you look like yourself?"
"Yes, actually. And according to the photographs of Xander, he regressed exactly, as well. Tara, I'm sure you just mis-remember--"
"Could we please continue this conversation somewhere else?"
"Yes, why don't we talk about it in the kitchen? You could run ahead and make us some breakfast, Buffy. We'll meet you." Giles' face was utterly serious, except for the little tic at the left corner of his mouth.
"If you guys don't skedaddle, the only breakfast I'm gonna make is pancakes out of both of you. Does that qualify?" Buffy threatened.
Tara laughed. "Skedaddle? I thought only my Grandma said that."
Buffy felt herself smiling a little, in spite of the seriousness of the issue. Which was very serious. "No, my mom used to say it, too. Now do it. Please?"
"But I have to use the bathroom," Tara said, with a shy duck of the head.
"As do I," Giles said, sounding deceptively patient again.
"Argh!" Buffy seriously considered tossing them both down the hall. "Tonight you and Willow are at Xander and Spike and Anya's and you guys can fight over the one bathroom to your hearts' content, but right now--"
"I'm out," Dawn called down the stairs.
Buffy ran. "Slayer speed, Slayer strength, Slayer muscle control..." she was chanting as she sprinted up the stairs to the other bathroom. She skidded to a stop in front of the closed door. "Dawn, I thought you said you were out?" She was not whining. Not yet, anyway.
"I am," Dawn said from behind her.
"Then who's in there?"
"I am," called Xander. "Just be a second-- I've gotta shave and get off to work. They're not all that happy about two weeks' vacation with no warning, to start with. I show up late my first day back, I'm in deep third-shift."
"I can't believe this! This is my house, and I can't even use a bathroom!"
"Hey, if you need to take a shower, you're welcome to come on in," Xander replied through the door.
Buffy glared at the door. "Don't make me slay you, Xander."
"Hey! Nobody slays Xander except me. Or Anya." Spike stepped up behind her. When Buffy glanced back to give him a glare, she stopped. Spike was still barely-awake, eyes half-open and his hair... Buffy giggled. Spike opened his eyes briefly, then narrowed them. "What?"
"Bed hair! Spike has bed hair!" It was Willow who said it, jumping up the last stair into the hallway, inserting herself in the middle of the gaggle of grown-ups. Buffy grabbed her as she jumped too near the bathroom door.
"I beg to differ," Spike said, crossing his arms.
Buffy blinked at him. "Don't tell me you have to use the bathroom. I'm a Slayer-- I know these things."
Spike blinked back, harder. "Oh. Thought you meant Xander."
"I am Xander, the Free," came the resounding voice from behind the bathroom door, over the sound of an electric razor. "I belong to no man, no woman, for I am--"
"About to get your ass kicked if you don't get out of the bathroom now," Buffy finished.
"Gee, who's a little grumpy in the mornings?" Xander asked. Buffy ignored the comment because he'd opened the door as he said it, and was stepping out.
Buffy started to hurry past him, then heard, "Um, Buffy? You think you might put me down first?"
She stopped and looked down at the four-year-old she was holding. "Oops." She let go-- and Willow laughed and dashed into the bathroom. "That's it. I'm moving into a hotel." Buffy raced after her, and caught her before the door shut. "Uh-uh," she said, grabbing Willow under the arms and depositing her firmly outside the door.
"But I'm your best friend," Willow said.
"I love you, Wills, but if it comes down to a choice between you and my duty as a Slayer..." Buffy was shutting and locking the door as she said it.
"What does your duty as a Slayer have to do with getting into the bathroom first," Willow asked.
"It's complicated. I'll explain later."
"Nice towel, Xander," Dawn said loudly from the hallway.
There was the sound of shuffling, and running, and Spike laughing, while Buffy blinked repeatedly and wondered how she'd managed to miss what Xander was wearing -- or wasn't-- in her mad dash for the Holy Grail.
She tried not to think about it as she finally --finally!-- got to use the bathroom. Thinking of Xander and towels was not conducive to relaxed muscles. Mostly because it made her think about the time she'd accidentally walked in on Spike, Xander, and Anya, all playing snap-the-towel as a form of foreplay. She shivered, flushed the toilet, then washed her hands vigorously, as though washing her brain out, as well. Xander and towels.
When she opened the door, she found Willow standing there, looking up at her looking as pathetic and matchstick girl as she could. Buffy smiled. "All yours!"
Willow grumbled something under her breath and marched past Buffy. Buffy ignored her, and instead turned her attention to Dawn, who was staring at Buffy's bedroom door, her expression one slightly akin to shock.
Buffy tapped her on the shoulder. "What? You've never seen Xander in a towel before?" She frowned. Thought. Hmm. Maybe she hadn't; with the number of times Xander and Anya had babysat her, you'd think, but Xander had always been really insistent that Dawn wouldn't end up seeing anything she shouldn't, so...
Dawn gulped. "I've never seen Xander without a towel before." Her eyes were almost as big as the four-year-olds' eyes. "I mean, not as a grown-up."
Buffy's eyes, on the other hand, narrowed, and she stormed up to her bedroom door and pounded on it. "Xander Harris!"
Dawn shook her head. "Spike did it."
"Spike Harris!" she yelled.
There was a laugh, then an innocent-sounding vampire called, "What?"
She started to yell back that he was a dead vampire, when she suddenly realized - Spike and Xander were in her room. And Xander was naked. "I'm going to kill you both! Get out of my room right now! And you both better be fully dressed!"
There was no immediate reply. Then Xander asked, "Er, which would you prefer? Out of your room, or fully dressed?"
"Both, in reverse order. And Spike can come out now, since he is fully dressed."
There was a chuckle, then Spike said, "You heard the lady," and he opened the door. He was fully dressed, in the jeans and rumpled shirt he'd slept in, bed-hair still in place, lips suspiciously redder and puffier than they'd been a few minutes ago. Beyond him, in the middle of the room, however...
Buffy covered Dawn's eyes-- then her own. "Great, I'm blind. How am I gonna kill vampires, blind?" Buffy complained.
"Oh, like you've never seen it before," Xander said.
Buffy gasped. "I have not!" At least no one was supposed to know she had. It wasn't like she'd told anyone. Other than Willow.
"What are you guys doing?" Willow asked, and Buffy felt something brush her leg. She peeked through her fingers and saw Willow staring into her bedroom.
Buffy found herself starting to yell something like "not in front of Willow!" when she stopped, took a deep breath, and turned around. Pushing Dawn ahead of her, Buffy decided that today, right now, she really really wanted to be in class.
"Wesley... where are you hiding... I have cookies..." Cordelia's voice sing-songed through the lobby, and Wesley winced.
"Honestly, Cordelia. I'm not hiding, I'm sitting at my desk."
She walked over. "Oh. I just couldn't see you over that stack of books. I have cookies-- you want some?"
"I'm not a child, Cordy," he began. Then he blinked. "What kind of cookies?"
She set the plate down on top of his Concordance to the Gallegian Chronicles. "Oatmeal-raisin. And I know you're not a kid. Yet. I just thought you might like a cookie."
Wesley caught himself giving her a dirty look, and smoothed out his displeasure into a polite nod. "Thank you, Cordelia." He took one, then stopped. "Er, did you bake them yourself?" He saw Gunn walk up behind her, and make waving motions. Wesley kept himself from staring at him, until Gunn began gesturing towards his throat and sticking his tongue out. "Are you trying to say you've been bitten by Angel?" Wesley asked him.
Gunn gave him a dirty look as Cordelia whirled around. "Gunn! You want another cookie?"
"Er, ah, no thanks, trying to watch my figure." He patted his stomach.
"I'll watch it for you, if you like," Wesley offered.
"Eeew, stop it, that's creepy." Cordelia wrinkled her nose. Wesley gave her his most withering stare.
"Just because I look like a child..."
"No, it's always creepy," she said, snatching the plate of cookies away. "Fine. You two don't appreciate my attempts to make this place friendly and homey, it's your problem."
Gunn mouthed the word 'Homey?' over Cordelia's shoulder, and did a gangsta rap gesture. Wesley chuckled, which somehow came out as a giggle.
"Laugh at me. See if I care. Angel will eat my cooking."
"I'll what?" Angel asked, stepping into the office. Cordelia grinned and held out the plate. He smiled, a bit forcedly. "Cookies. How...I don't eat, but otherwise I'd--"
"Have one," Cordelia told him.
"I'll have one," he repeated, taking a cookie. Wesley and Gunn watched him, Wesley wondering if he'd actually bite into it, or try to distract them all while he got rid of it. "Gee, these look yummy," Angel began.
Wesley noticed that no one was looking at him -- so he took his own cookie and slid it underneath a book.
"I saw that, Wesley."
Angel eyed him warily. "Since when were we on the same side? I still have bruises, you know."
Wesley watched him palm his cookie, and magically disappear it into his leather jacket. "Saving it for later?" he asked sweetly.
Cordelia turned to look at Angel, who spread his arms wide, and made munching noises. "Mmm. Dewishus." He fake-chewed a bit more, then asked, "Can I get the recipe?"
"It's the tollhouse recipe," she replied, sounding doubtful. "On the side of the tube of cookie-dough."
"You mean the tube of 'cut 'em and bake 'em' cookie dough?" Gunn asked, and Wesley could see him reaching for the plate. He considered warning him -- but refrained. There were some things a man had to learn on his own.
She frowned at Gunn as he took another cookie, but waited until he'd actually taken a bite before saying, "I always make my own dough, of course, but I use the tube of dough to tell me what temperature to put the oven on."
Gunn stopped chewing. Then he made the ultimate mistake-- one that Wesley had made himself, on at least one occasion. He tried to swallow what he still had in his mouth, without chewing.
"Does someone want to help him?" Wesley asked after a few seconds. "I would, but I'm not really equipped to do the Heimlich maneuver any more." He wasn't really choking, just coughing and making funny faces, but it was enough to make Cordelia glare at them all, and Angel rush over to Gunn, face stricken with guilt.
"I'm so sorry I didn't warn you, Gunn," Angel began, and started to put his arms around Gunn's waist.
Wesley watched, amused, as Gunn yanked himself away, still coughing. "The last time you tried that, you broke three of my ribs. Back off!"
Cordelia had her hands on her hips, now, and was glaring at Angel and Gunn. Both men started giving her sheepish, what'd we do we didn't mean it aren't we cute don't kill us looks.
"Angel, don't forget to remove the cookie from your pocket before your coat gets laundered." Wesley sat back in his chair -- scooting on the copy of Truncale's Wisdom. Serving as a booster was the best use he'd found for the book, yet. Angel turned his expression onto Wesley, and it became a 'don't forget I could kill you a thousand different ways' look. Wesley flipped open a book at random and glanced down at it. "Last time it took the cleaners forever to get the chocolate out."
"Last time?" Cordelia asked. "What last time? My chocolate chip fudge cookies?!"
Angel shook his head, rapidly. "No, no, those were great. He's talking about..." Wesley looked up to find Angel glaring at him again.
"Yes? What was I talking about?"
"Getting outside in the fresh air and sunshine?" Angel suggested. "I mean, don't you want to go play in the park, or something?"
Wesley had to grin. "Are you offering to take me? In the fresh air and sunshine?"
"Well, no, But I'm sure Gunn and Cordy would love to get out of the office. You could go ride on those bouncy things with the pelican heads." Angel sounded like he'd got quite familiar with bouncy playground equipment, during his extended tour as nanny for mini-Xander-and-Spike.
Wesley raised an eyebrow. "Need I remind you that I am not in fact a child?"
"Didn't stop Spike and Xander." Angel shrugged.
"Yes, and my mental state is so much like theirs, I can see why you assumed I would enjoy behaving like a moron for entertainment." Wesley tried turning his attention back to his books. It wasn't that he expected them to leave, but he did hope they would get the hint. He was still an adult, in all respects save the one.
"You don't have to act like a moron," Cordelia pointed out. "But you should get outside, have some fun."
"I assure you, I am quite--"
"You're gonna spend all day behind those books," Gunn interrupted. "I think you need to get out. Relax, enjoy yourself."
Wesley placed his finger in the book he had been studying, then closed it, so everyone would have a clearer view of his disapproving scowl. He thought he did a fairly decent job of hiding the wince, when he discovered that either his finger was much smaller than he was used to, or the book was much heavier.
"I'll have plenty of time to do all of those childish things you're all so keen on seeing me do, and undoubtedly taking pictures of to use against me for the rest of my life, after I've succumbed to the regression bit of the spell. When I won't particularly care how idiotic I look, or how much actual work there is to be done in the meanwhile." He opened the book again, and very carefully did not put his finger in his mouth to suck on it.
"Would we do that?" Gunn asked, not even trying to sound sincere in his objection.
"I've already bought extra film," Cordelia said.
"I have tapes for the camcorder," Angel added.
Wesley wondered if he shouldn't have made arrangements to stay the month with Rupert. Even if Rupert were staying with Buffy and Dawn -- surely those two wouldn't ...no. They would. Wesley sighed.
Picking up one of the smaller tomes, he slid off his chair. Now shorter than the desk, he couldn't see the three watching him -- and wasn't particularly keen on seeing their expressions. What he wanted was to find some quiet spot where he could read.
"Wes..." Gunn began, and Wesley cut him off.
"Please, Charles? Just let me be, for now?"
Gunn walked over and pulled his chair back. "I was just gonna say, maybe we should grab some books, and read in the bedroom? If you want to."
Wesley looked up at him. He appeared to be utterly serious, holding out a hand for Wesley to take. Wesley grinned, after a moment, and placed a book in it. Then another, on top of that.
Gunn didn't say a word until Wesley had five books stacked. Then he only said, "How long you planning on being upstairs reading?"
Wesley looked up, and went for an innocent expression. It seemed to be working much better for him now, as a child, than it ever had before. "All day?"
Gunn muttered something which Wesley couldn't quite make out, then he looked over at Angel. "You got cable in that room, right?"
Angel's brow furrowed for a moment, then his mouth twitched, as if he were afraid that smiling more than once during the same week would confuse the natives. "There's rope in the basement, I guess, and you know where we keep the chains, but do you really think you shoul--"
That was all he managed to get out before Gunn was smacking him on the back of the head. "I know you did not just say that. He's four!"
"I am not--" Wesley shook his head, and piled another book atop the stack in Gunn's arms. "Forget it. Come on, I want to get something accomplished today, while I still have a working brain."
Gunn, still glaring at Angel, headed for the stairs, and Wesley followed.
Gunn patiently flipped the page of the book Wes was reading. They were settled in a chair, Wesley on his lap -- because Gunn could and he was gonna take every opportunity to hold Wes, no matter what the squirt thought about it.
He was patiently flipping pages not because he read faster than Wesley and had finished the page five minutes ago. He was patiently flipping because he'd tried reading it, and gotten bored by the third page. He hadn't told Wesley, because watching Wes read was...all right, fine. He was gob-smacked, and he finally understood what that phrase meant. He liked watching his lover read.
They'd been doing a lot of it the last couple of days -- no matter how hard they tried to get Wesley to go out and do stuff, be a kid, he still preferred to stay indoors and read. Gunn thought he was hiding, rather than just being really into his books. Once his emotions caught up with the age of his body, that would change. He hoped.
It had already started, though. The book on Gunn's lap wasn't an obscure academic treatise on dead or evil things. It was Nero Wolfe. Still adult reading, but, in Gunn's opinion, a step forward.
Gunn was so engrossed in looking down at the top of Wesley's head, watching it move slightly from side to side every so often as Wes glanced back at the previous page like he was checking to see if he'd missed a clue, that he didn't notice Wes tapping him on the arm until the small face was turned up and looking at him. "I'm ready to turn the page," Wesley told him with a small grin. "Unless you're still reading."
He coughed softly and shook his head. "No, I'm about done." He faked finishing the last paragraph, then he turned the page.
"I was wondering-- do like you this one better than the last? I've been told that the Robert Goldsborough books are written just as well as the Rex Stout, but I've always thought they were missing something, somehow."
Gunn just looked at him. "Wes, the last one was a Sherlock Holmes novel. I'm not that spaced."
"So you're saying you noticed the re-appearance of the woman from the cafe?"
Gunn opened his mouth to say 'of course', then he realized that Wesley was just as likely to be making it up. However, he couldn't call him on it, because then Wes would either laugh at him, or pout.
"But you are 'spaced'. Else you wouldn't have denied being 'that spaced'," Wesley continued. He sighed. "If you don't want to read--"
"Hey, man, I never said I didn't want to read with you."
Wide eyes narrowed at him, and Gunn had to control the laughter which threatened to annoy Wesley even more. Four-year-olds just couldn't pull off the 'die, street scum' look. "Then you also noted the arrival of Justin Pierce? And the policeman's reaction?"
Gunn thought for a moment, then stuck his tongue out. "Anybody ever tell you you're a mean little kid?"
"If I were a mean little kid," Wes replied, "I would have grabbed your tongue and pinched it. Or something equally Spike-like. I'm just a poor innocent waif whose caregiver doesn't want to take an interest in his intellectual stimulation."
"I'm down with the intellectual stimulation, Wes. I like to watch you get stimulated, trust me." Wesley raised an eyebrow, and Gunn decided he really needed to pull out his own tongue and cut it off with the nearest sharp object. "I mean, normally. When you're the right size."
Wesley's eyebrow went higher, and Gunn decided it was maybe time to go yell at Angel some more about not putting in cable TV. Or getting a dish. Heck, a radio would be nice. "Why don't you just read your book, and let me get back to what I was doing?"
"And what were you doing, since you weren't reading?" Wesley asked, his young voice deceptively challenging. Teasing him.
Gunn smiled. "Watching you read."
At that, Wesley flushed, and turned his face. He fingered the page for a moment, staring at it as though he were just going back to reading. The red crept up to his ear, until even the tips were bright pink. Gunn reached up and flicked it, lightly.
"Stop that," Wesley ordered. Trying to sound like he was really annoyed, but Gunn could tell the difference.
"What, this?" He flicked Wesley's ear again, and one thin shoulder rose up, as Wes tried to turn his head and rub his ear against it. "Why, you ticklish or something?"
"I thought you wanted to watch me read?"
"Oh, I do. Please. Go about your business." Gunn tried hard to keep a straight face as Wes frowned suspiciously at him, then turned back to his book.
Gunn sat quietly for a moment, keeping his hands in full view, perfectly innocent places, not doing a thing here, officer. He moved one hand an inch, and Wesley placed his on top of it.
Like he could hold Gunn's hand down. He grinned. Moved his hand another inch. Wesley pushed down on his hand, but there was no strength there at all. He could easily overpower-- Gunn froze.
He sat still for seconds, then, staring at his hand underneath Wesley's. Then he leaned forward and gave that short brush of sandy-brown hair a kiss. Wesley turned his head, giving him a look that said he knew Gunn had lost his mind.
"What was that for?" It was for wondering if Wes had any idea how much power he really had, but Gunn wasn't about to say that, so he just smiled. "Stop that." He kept smiling. Wesley's eyes narrowed. "You're frightening me. I'm going to go tell Cordelia you're trying to scare me. She'll probably feed me ice cream, and shout things at you."
"Uh-huh. And that's different from last week, how exactly?"
Wesley's face screwed up in concentration for a moment, before he said thoughtfully, "I doubt I shall be able to eat more than two bowls."
"With caramel sauce and those little sprinkle things?"
"And whipped cream."
Gunn and Wesley stared at each other, neither one moving nor speaking, then in one smooth move Wesley closed the book, Gunn set him on the floor and stood, then they took each other's hand and headed for the door.
When they got to the lobby, they found Cordelia sitting at the computer, muttering words at it that Gunn used to think a high-maintenance chick like Cordy wouldn't know. Or at least have been brought up to say in public.
"Hey, watch the language, lady. You wanna scar Wes for life?" Gunn walked around the counter and looked over her shoulder. "What's the prob?"
"I think Cordelia's said most of those things in my presence before," Wes told him, as he tried to peer over the desk, and failing that, shrugged, and walked around behind Gunn. "Never about me, of course."
Cordelia must have been really frustrated, because she didn't even respond to that, just clacked a few more keys, clicked the mouse twice, and let out a word that had Gunn blinking, even though he'd learned a lot more about Cordy's vocabulary over the past couple of years than he might have wanted to.
"I'm trying to do an online funds transfer-- pay the electric bill on this place, since you-know-who can't seem to remember to-- but it doesn't want to recognize our bank account number."
"Are you sure you have the correct password?" Wesley asked, peering up towards the computer screen.
Cordelia glared at him. "Of course I have the correct password. And I typed the number correctly!"
"Let me see," Wesley leaned forward, reaching for the mouse. He paused, and glanced at Cordelia. "Do you mind?"
"No, by all means, fix the stupid thing." Cordelia said generously. Then Gunn was fighting laughter again as she picked Wes up and plopped him down on her lap.
"Cordelia!" Wesley sounded scandalized.
"What? There was a time when you would've tripped over your own tongue to sit on my lap," she said, scooting forward so that a still-glaring Wes could reach the keyboard. "If it makes you feel any better, I promise not to enjoy it too much."
"There was a time when I thought that the Pet Shop Boys were the epitome of modern music, too, but that doesn't mean I haven't come to my senses since then." Wes tapped on the keyboard for a while, frowning at the screen in such studious concentration that Gunn had to fight the urge to reach under the counter and grab Cordy's camera.
The only thing that stopped him was the sight of Angel walking towards them from the back hallway, one finger in front of his lips, holding the camcorder in his other hand.
"Pet Shop Boys?" Gunn asked, grinning, trying to keep Wesley distracted. "Like, How Much Is That Doggie In The Window?"
"I was quite young at the time," Wesley said severely, glancing up at Gunn.
He grinned. "Yeah, and now that you're all grown up..." he replied in his best 'aren't you a cute widdle boy' voice. Wes' severe look grew more severe.
Wesley turned back to the computer screen. "There, I've accessed the account. I don't know what you did," he began, as if he were thinking 'but it was probably just typing in the number wrong'. He was smart enough not to say so aloud, especially when there was no way he could get out of range in time.
"Thanks." Cordelia reached around and began typing again, one-handed. Wesley tried to slip off her lap, and found her arm in his way.
"Excuse me, but if you don't have any more need of my services..." he tried. Cordelia didn't even look down at him.
"Oh, no. You're not going anywhere until this thing goes through. I want a witness, the next time it gives me that 'you're a total airhead, please bank somewhere else' message."
"It really said that?" Gunn asked.
"No, but I can read between the lines," she muttered.
Wes wasn't amused. "I can certainly witness just as well standing on the floor."
"Yeah, but then I wouldn't get the free lap-dance," Cordelia said. Wes squirmed, not lowering himself to answer that one, and she finally let him slide down. "Geez, Wesley. Relax. Take a joke."
"Perhaps when I'm sufficiently brain-dead to find it amusing," he replied, but Gunn could tell he wasn't as upset as he was trying to sound. At least, he thought so, but then Wes turned to face Angel, and placed his hands on his hips. "I assume you have enough video?"
"Er, uh." Angel lowered the camcorder -- Gunn wondered if he turned it off, of if he was trying to be sneaky. "Yeah, for now," he managed in a forced-casual tone.
"Fine. Now, if you will excuse me?" Wesley walked away from Cordelia's desk -- back straight and one foot in front of the other, very clearly not stomping, no tantrums here, but he was definitely off-balance. Except -- he was heading for the kitchen. Gunn was about to follow, when Wesley looked back over his shoulder. "Are you coming? Or shall I break my neck climbing onto the counters?"
"Yeah, I'm coming. Chill." Gunn followed him into the kitchen, and opened the freezer door. "What's your pleasure? Chocolate chocolate chunk, chocolate fudge ripple, or chocolate brownie supreme?"
"Don't we have vanilla? I remember putting some in the cart." Wesley was leaning against a chair, his arms crossed.
"Yeah, I just thought you might be in a chocolate kinda mood," Gunn answered, pulling out the carton of plain vanilla anyway.
Wesley frowned. "I'm not upset. And I'm certainly not Cordelia."
"I was just sayin'--"
"That I needed to be placated? Fed chocolate until my brain shuts down?"
"When you put it that way -- yeah." He opened the carton of ice cream and grabbed two bowls still sitting by the sink, where they'd been left to dry from the last ice cream raid.
Wesley's lips tightened, but he said nothing. Gunn began scooping out ice cream, and considered how much chocolate syrup, caramel sauce, and whipped cream he'd need to get Wesley to admit he was upset. "They don't mean anything by it," he said quietly.
'I know that," Wesley said. "If I thought they were really trying to annoy me, I wouldn't put up with it at all."
Gunn paused in reaching for the chocolate sprinkles, and grinned at Wes. "Well, I didn't say they weren't trying to annoy you. But how's that different from any other day?"
"I--" Wesley shook his head. "It's not. I understand that."
"But it still bothers you." Gunn had finished with Wesley's bowl and was handing it to him, before he got a response to his statement.
"I didn't say that it bothered me."
"Didn't have to. It's written all over your 'polite, not showing a damn thing' face." He grabbed the bottle of chocolate syrup and began drowning his ice cream.
"Very funny," Wesley retorted, mildly.
Gunn waited until his bowl was almost full of syrup, before answering. Some things required concentration. "Yeah, I just got too good at translating that lack of expression." He glanced sideways at Wesley, and was pleased to find him look briefly guilty. Not because Wes ought to have been feeling guilty -- even though he should have -- but because Wesley was that much closer to letting that mask drop, when it was just them. "They're being a little freer with the 'let's embarrass the English British guy,' though, aren't they?" he added, knowing that what Cordelia had done was at least three levels up from what she would normally ever do.
Of course, it was easier to put Wes on your lap, now that he was small enough for it. Gunn figured they were all indulging in repressed Wesley-affection. Wesley just hadn't gotten used to it, yet. Either that, or it was just that now he was so darned cute, none of them could help themselves.
"Something in that question was redundant," Wes answered, staring at his ice cream, but not actually doing anything with it. "Possibly the entire question. Yes, all right, it bothers me. You know it bothers me, so why are you bothering to ask?"
"Because it bothers you?" Gunn grinned. Wesley dug his spoon into his ice cream and looked for a second like he was seriously considering flinging some at Gunn, but he didn't.
"Yes, well I can't help it, you know. If I could just turn my reactions on and off like Cordelia's computer, it would probably be more helpful for all concerned, but it doesn't work that way."
Gunn set down his bowl on the counter and walked over to Wesley. "Nobody's askin' you not to react, or think or feel or do whatever you wanna do, Wes. That's you and your damn English British whatever. But I bet there's some kinda middle place between kicking anybody who picks you up, and pretending it doesn't bug you."
"I didn't kick Cordelia." Wesley looked down at his bowl. "At least not intentionally. And I haven't kicked you all morning. Despite your deserving it."
Gunn gave him a quick smile. "Yeah, well, how about this - 'please don't pick me up'?" Wesley didn't answer, swirling his spoon around in the melting ice cream. Gunn waited, then, "Wes?"
"That never used to work," he said so quietly Gunn was surprised he heard it at all.
For two seconds Gunn resisted the urge to give him a hard hug. Then he set his and Wes' bowls aside, ignored Wes' look of astonishment, and knelt down to gather him up. Hugged him as hard as he could, and not because Wesley needed it.
It was a simple assignment. Anya had stressed that it was a simple assignment. Which meant, of course, that they were sure to mess it up. "Your mission, Spike and Xander, whether or not you choose to accept it: drive to the Safeway, take the little witches with you, and buy food that all of us can actually eat. Since you've devoured everything else in the apartment during my absence. I'll be home from the Magic Box at nine, to accept your field report."
Or something like that. Spike had actually been paying more attention to the new blouse Anya was almost wearing. After two weeks of not being able to properly appreciate the female form, it was nice to have one around again that he wouldn't be slapped for staring at. He hadn't been worried-- what, after all, could go wrong in a simple trip to the market, with Xander and two pint-sized friends who still had all of their adult faculties?
He supposed that maybe his brain cells hadn't recovered from being a fourth their normal size. Or something.
"Maybe we should go to Albertson's," Willow was saying. Spike thought she might be right -- they'd only been in this grocery store for ten minutes, and already the manager was saying something about kicking them out or he'd have security escort them.
"I think he's over-reacting," Tara said quietly, and Spike agreed with her. He looked over at the tipped-over display of fruit juice and crackers. It wasn't anything that couldn't be fixed with a mop -- grocery stores had lots of those things, right?
"I'd agree with you, normally," Willow replied, and the store manager was giving her a surprised and confused look. "But I think once the beef jerky display started the domino effect, we lost all claims at it being a simple accident."
"But it was an accident!" Spike added -- again. He doubted anyone would believe him this time, either.
Willow looked up at him. "True. But I don't think it qualifies as 'simple' any longer."
Xander, meanwhile, was giving him that 'I'm gonna thump you good, when we get home' glare. And not the good sort of thumping. "You realize this narrows down the places in Sunnydale where we can shop without being asked to leave before we even get in the door, to three ?" he growled.
Spike sniffed. "The incident at the Farmers' Market was not my fault."
"You jumped up and down on a pallet of fresh watermelons until the whole center aisle was covered in melon guts," Xander accused. "How was this 'not your fault' again?"
"I thought they were Horkwroth eggs! They were moving, like they were about to hatch. I was just saving your skinny human arse."
"There was an earthquake, Spike. Everything was moving."
"Right, so why pick on me? They wrote it off as natural disaster damages, anyway."
"You are a natural disaster. Or an unnatural one." Xander was moving closer to Spike in a way that usually meant he was about to get thumped. Good sort or not-good sort, he wasn't sure; these sort of arguments could end either way.
"Look, if sprite number 2 there hadn't squealed when she saw the wicker chair display--"
"I wasn't squealing about the wicker chairs," Tara objected.
"You'd blame all this on a four year old child?" Xander interrupted them both, loudly as he gestured at the mess.
Spike looked around. "Um, yeah. Haven't you ever been around four-year-olds before?"
The manager was starting to move towards them menacingly -- Spike debated if a good scare would be sufficiently amusing to counter how unamused Xander was likely to be.
"If. You. Vamp. I. Will. Stake. You. Slowly." Xander hissed, low enough for only Spike to hear.
"That a promise?"
Xander gave him a look that could congeal blood. The manager was just getting close enough for Spike to hear his high-blood-pressure rising a notch, and Xander's was sounding like it wanted to join the competition, when Willow and Tara surprised everyone, Spike most of all. They burst into loud sobs.
He looked down to see both little girls screwing up their faces, and what sure as hell looked like real tears falling down their cheeks. Without even thinking about it, Spike found himself bending down to pick up Tara, while Xander grabbed Willow and lifted her up. "What're you up to?" Spike tried to say, but all that came out as he stared at the tow-headed girl in his arms, who was sobbing as if her heart would break, was "There, there..."
The store manager looked like he was about to faint, or have a heart-attack, or run and hide. Spike ignored him for the moment, as he looked over to see if Xander could tell him what was going on. Maybe they'd regressed really fast, or something, and Spike would have to offer to eat the scary man who'd scared them. Hopefully the scary man was Xander. He liked eating Xander, and it wouldn't set his chip off.
He patted Tara on the back, and found himself watching a confused Xander hugging Willow and telling her everything was all right. He was obviously as clueless as Spike.
Finally Willow began hiccuping and sobbing words, and they both leaned in to hear: "Is he gonna arrest us? We didn't do it! I didn't touch anything!"
Spike hid a smile as the store manager went from flushed, to pale in the space of a second. He looked positively vampiric when Willow turned her eyes on him, with the tears still spilling over the edges, so they seemed magnified to about twice their actual size.
"You're not gonna take us to jail, are you? Um...um..." She was still making little choking noises, and after her question, she buried her face in Xander's shirt, as if that had been the extent of her four-year-old bravery.
"I don't wanna go to jail. I want Mommy!" Tara cried, taking over center stage. By now, Spike was having to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from grinning, and he would have traded round three of the 'Welcome Home, Anya' party, to have a camcorder in his hands, right now. Well, no, he wouldn't. But it was close.
The manager was shaking his head. "Oh. Ah. No, little girl. Nobody's going to jail. I'm sure this was all an accident, and we can..."
Willow commenced wailing even harder. "I want my mommy, too!"
"What am I, chopped liver?" Xander muttered. Probably only Spike heard him, since Tara turned her own sobs up a notch, so that the two of them seemed to be playing 'Dueling Hissyfit' in D Minor.
"Just...er... please, go on with your shopping. We'll have this cleaned up in no time," the manager was saying. The girls paid no attention. He was turning blue, now-- Spike was impressed. Where had all his blood drained away to? If he wasn't using it, there were plenty of deserving vampires in the immediate vicinity, after all.
"Come on, let's go buy groceries so we can go home and see Mommy," Xander was saying to Willow.
Spike opened his mouth to add a bribe to buy cookies and cake mix, then stopped. Then mentally smacked himself for second-guessing buying junk food for not-really-four-year-olds. He turned to Tara and said, very deliberately, "Would you like some pudding? We can make Daddy buy pudding, and some cool whip."
Tara stopped wailing and looked at him -- her eyes wide and clear, despite the amount of tears that had been pouring out of them. She nodded, slowly, as if the very idea was a strange and precious one. Like they hadn't all spent most of the last two weeks eating ice cream.
"Sure, if Uncle Spike remembers that it's his turn to do the dishes," Xander said as he plopped Willow into the seat in the front of their mostly-empty cart.
Tara got an evil gleam in her eye, and Spike had to blink at her for a second, to make sure he hadn't suddenly started reflecting, or something, because she looked just like him, for a moment. "I wanted to sit in the seat," she wailed, and the store manager backed away. Desperately trying to look as much like the man-height wall of extra-fluffy Charmin he was standing in front of, as possible.
"Here, mate, could you grab us an empty cart? Somebody hasn't had her nap today, and..."
The balding man had disappeared, and reappeared with another cart, before Spike even managed to get the entire sentence out. He also had something else in his hand-- grape lollipops, which he handed to a still-pouty Willow and Tara. The two girls looked suspiciously at him, before gleefully ripping the plastic covers off, and popping the candy in their mouths.
Xander waited until they'd both pushed their carts round the corner, before grinning at Willow and holding out a hand for her to high-five him. Spike rolled his eyes, and jealously watched the two mini-sprites suck on their treats. "I wanna know why they get lollies, and I don't," he said.
"Because you're a grown-up," Xander explained in a patient voice.
"So? I could have been four again. Let what's his name off the hook."
Willow looked smug. "It's because we throw better tantrums. No one can resisting a hysterical little girl."
Spike growled, and loomed over her. "Oh, yeah? I ever tell you how many hysterical little girls I've eaten?" Then he blinked and grabbed his head. His hand found the sticky grape lollipop that Tara had thrown at him. Pulling it -- and several hairs -- free was less painful than the chip-shot he got when he growled at her, for real. At which point Tara began wailing, again, that she'd lost her lolly.
Spike stared at her, waiting her out. He knew she wasn't regressed yet, so she was just messing about with him. He knew it. And he could wait...
At least another five seconds, until the high-pitched noise started to hurt his over-sensitive ears, and the smug look on Willow's face started to hurt his over-sensitive pride, and Spike himself started having these strange feelings, something like indigestion, whenever he looked at Tara's disappointed little face...
Growling again, he pulled a packet of lollies off the shelf above his head, ripped it open, and handed one to Tara. Then, since it was open anyway, pulled one out for himself, unwrapped it, and popped it in his mouth.
Xander just stared at him. "You're not supposed to open things before you pay for them..." he said sternly.
"Good thing I'm not paying for them, then, innit," Spike mumbled around his lollipop.
Xander gave him a glare that said he was in trouble, but the kind that might get him spanked, later. Then Xander reached over and took the opened bag of lollipops out of Spike's hand, removed a green lollipop, and set the bag down in the cart. Then he began pushing the cart away, towards the fruits and vegetables.
"Xan?" Spike called after him, once he was far enough away to justify Spike raising his voice. "Where are you going? We don't need any more cucumbers. Or zucchini. Or bananas."
A woman pushing her own cart past stopped, gave them both a dubious glance. Then she snickered when Willow asked, "Why do you and Uncle Spike buy so many zucchini?"
Xander blushed a delicate shade of rose, while Spike waggled an eyebrow at Willow, ignoring the woman, or rather, pretending to. "Because veggies are good for growing boys."
"Then why don't you eat them?" she shot back.
"Cos they taste like crap," he said honestly. "But your Dad likes 'em." Xander was moving towards tomato coloured, now. "Don't you, Dad?"
Xander took a deep breath, then turned a truly nasty glare on Spike. "Yes. I like melons, too, though. In fact, at the moment, I like melons so much better than zucchini, that I may never buy zucchini again."
Spike blinked at him, then pouted. "But melons like zucchini. Melons like watching zucchini."
Tara raised her hand, timidly. When all three were looking at her, she said, "I want popcorn." Spike blinked at her, and glanced over to find that he wasn't the only one who had no idea how she'd gone from sex-talk-in-public, to popcorn. She blinked at them, incredulous. "Or carmel corn. I don't mind which."
Spike and Xander exchanged glances, then Spike looked at a perplexed Willow. "Up to you, Red. She's your girlfriend."
Willow nodded, seriously. Then she asked, "Tara? Honey? Why do you want popcorn?"
Tara explained by reaching over towards one of the endcaps, and grabbing a package of salami. Spike was astounded that the shy little witch was joining in the fun -- when she threw it at him. Then she said, "Because it flies better?"
The woman with the cart had moved away by now, after shaking her head and blinking repeatedly.
Xander rolled his cart back to Spike's, and glared at him again. "Someone's going to take them away, if they hear us talking like that, and get the wrong idea."
Spike stared at him, perplexed. "What wrong idea?"
"The idea that we weren't talking about fruits and vegetables."
"But we were talking about fruits and vegetables. Well, I was. Dunno what you were talking about."
Willow giggled, and Xander turned his glare on her. "You weren't helping, either, young lady."
"Oh, relax, Daddy. Nobody thinks a four-year-old is making sexual insinuations-- except you, because you're a big perv." She said it quietly, while fishing for another lollipop from the bag in the cart below her.
"I am not a perv!" Xander objected, then snapped his jaw shut as if realizing that yelling such a claim in the middle of the grocery store was probably not the best way to convince anyone that he wasn't talking about kinky sex in front of two little kids. He scowled, and snapped, "Let's get the groceries so we can go home."
Spike nodded. Then, as Xander began pushing his cart towards the spinach, said casually, "Yeah, otherwise Mommy will spank us all." Xander stopped, and bowed his head. Spike gave him a thoughtful look, even though he was staring at his shoes. Or his eyelids. "Wait, or would she not spank us?"
"Yes, love of my unlife?" Spike gave the two giggling girls a wink.
"Go get the milk. And the cereal, bread, cheese, and lunch meat. I will meet you at the checkout line."
"Okay." Spike nodded agreeably, and Xander pushed his cart off into the wilds of the supermarket.
Tara goggled at Spike. "Just like that?"
"Just like... oh, you mean, why didn't I give him a big argument?" Spike asked, scanning the shelves above Tara's head.
"Yeah. It seems kind of...well... un-Spike-like."
He bent down to grin in her face. "That's because you're missing the point. Xander trusted me -- on my own -- to do the shopping. Well, half the shopping."
She blinked, then smiled. "Awwww. That's so sweet. And you're all proud..."
Spike raised an eyebrow. "Well, yeah. Of course." Then he pushed the cart over to the opposite side of the aisle. "Now-- you grab as many bags of candy as you can reach, and I'll concentrate on the ones you can't get to. Let's see-- Goobers, Raisinettes..."
"Of course -- oh, we'll hit the cookie aisle next. Oi, don't forget the mints. Anya's favorite." It wouldn't be enough, of course, but Spike had nearly perfected the art of hiding behind Xander and saying 'but I'm evil! what d'you expect?' whenever Anya yelled at them for doing the grocery shopping.
Why she continued sending them to the store, Spike didn't know. He wasn't sure she did, either.
This time they managed to get home with two sacks of candy, some zucchini, two melons, and three pints of ice cream. As they unpacked, Willow and Tara ran into the living room and pretended they were only four, and hadn't had anything to do with the shopping.
Anya squinted at the black licorice laces, and placed them neatly aside on top of the stereo. That made Spike's eyes light up, since that was the place for 'Hmm.... I bet we can use this somehow' things. They got the appropriate oohs and ahhs for the chocolate, and the ice cream, as expected. It was only when she got to the bottom of the bags, and found that there wasn't anything under the sweets, that the Wrath of Anya (tm) was invoked.
"What am I supposed to cook with three medium-sized zucchini, two melons, and four pounds of chocolate?" she asked them, hands on hips.
Xander looked at the items she'd laid out on the counter, and frowned, slightly. "You don't consider those large zucchini?" He looked at Spike. "I thought they were large. Don't you think they're large?"
Anya looked at them as if they were both crazy, which, well... But she dutifully studied the vegetables. "I've seen larger. Not that it really matters, if you're going to slice them up and put them in a casserole." She looked back at the two men. "Not that I can slice them up and put them in a casserole, since you didn't buy any of the other things that would have to go in the casserole to make it a casserole, instead of just a big pile of hot, mushy zucchini."
"Which won't matter, since Xander broke the casserole dish," Spike added, helpfully.
"Xander broke the casserole dish?" Anya folded her arms and gave Xander a hurt, almost-angry look. Xander pointed at Spike. Again.
"Because I threw it at him! I mean, to him! I-- Oh, hell. Yes, Anya, I broke the casserole dish. I haven't bought a new one, since I spent two weeks being four and couldn't get to the store."
"But you broke it three weeks ago," Spike reminded him. Again, helpfully.
"Spike? Do you ever want to watch me spanking Anya, ever again?"
Two loud cries of "eeew!" came from the living room.
"Oh, like you two never do it," Spike shouted, on a hunch. There was sudden, suspicious silence from the other room.
Anya had picked up two of the zucchini, meanwhile. "I suppose I could boil them..."
Spike really had to admire the range of color that could play over Xander's face. He wasn't sure whether this was ecru, or eggshell- he'd have to go get the paint samples from the closet, to be sure.
"Honey, how about we order pizza. Then Spike and I will go out and get some real groceries, later tonight? Even a new casserole dish."
Anya looked dubious about the proposition. "I don't think so, somehow. How about we order pizza, and I go out later tonight and buy groceries. And you can put the girls to bed."
Xander looked relieved -- for nearly a split second. Then he looked towards the living room like it was full of Neru demons. They heard the two girls laugh.
Spike turned to Anya. "I was good -- can't I come to the store with you?"
"Ha!" Xander pointed an accusatory finger at him. "Who started this whole mess in the first place?"
Spike opened his mouth to deny having had anything to do with it, then he stopped. He hadn't started it, but, really - who had? "Er, whoever sent Rupes the statue in the first place?"
Anya narrowed her eyes, then shrugged and picked up the phone to order the pizza. While her back was turned, Spike and Xander quietly snuck into the living room. A few minutes later, she followed them. "Pizza's on its way. Now, about whose fault this is..."
Spike and Xander immediately pointed to each other, and the witches both pointed to Spike, the ungrateful little brats. Anya rolled her eyes.
"I mean, about who sent the statue in the first place. Giles hasn't found anything out from his sources. It wasn't on the original shipping manifest-- we found that buried under a pile of packing peanuts that somebody had apparently been using as an indoor playground."
Four innocent faces looked back at her. Well, mostly innocent. Willow and Tara were innocent, anyway. Of this particular offense.
"I tried to trace the shipment on the net, but there didn't seem to be anything out of the ordinary. No weird stops in Zimbabwe or Katmandu," Willow piped up.
"Actually, that would have been normal," Spike put in, then realized his mistake in drawing their attentions to him just as his hand had been about to get ahold of Xander's zipper. Xander slapped his hand away as Willow glared.
"Don't make me make it disappear, Spike. I may not be four, but I am too young to be seeing things like you mauling Xander."
"Actually, it can be quite fun," Anya corrected her. "Especially when they pretend to be--"
"Okay! Back to the statue, shall we?" Xander interrupted. Spike saw the looks on the witches' faces, and resolved to tell them, someday when Xander wasn't around to dangle him out the window at noon, for doing so.
"There's not a lot about the statue," Willow said, still glancing at Spike's hands as if they might get up to something naughty, quite on their own. Which they might, if Willow would stop glancing at them. "It's old, it's tall, it's funky. It was last seen in Brussels in the seventeenth century, back when most of the books that describe what it does hadn't been translated yet."
"Oh, hey, that's what we forgot!" Spike exclaimed.
"What-- you figured something out about the Urdeku, that we missed?" Willow asked excitedly.
"No, we forgot to buy brussel sprouts. To go with the zucchini and the melons."
"We forgot to buy popcorn, to throw at Spike, too," Tara said.
Xander shook his head. "No, we got carmel corn-- it's under the Oreos."
"Oh. Could we have some?"
"Sorry. Oreos with pizza." Willow ducked her head as if she'd been scolded.
Anya raised her hand, then waited until everyone was looking at her. When she still didn't speak, Xander asked cheerfully, "Yes, you in the front? Mrs. Harris?"
"You're paying for the pizza, right? Since I distinctly said you should buy real food, and now I have to go shopping with my own money since all you've bought is junk food? Good junk food, granted."
Xander turned and pointed at Willow. Willow protested, "I'm only four! How am I supposed to pay for pizza?"
"What, your money shrunk, when you did?" Spike asked, before he remembered he was trying not to annoy the powers-didn't-shrink witch.
"No, but..." Tara gave her a look, and Spike narrowed his eyes. The witch-telepathy thing still worked, even when they were four. Great. Willow smiled craftily. "There's the matter of two weeks worth of ice cream and french fries and pizzas and trips to the zoo, and the stuff you guys broke at the Magic Box that we didn't tell Giles about..."
"He was there for most of it," Spike protested. Xander sketched the shape of a Wachallaian funeral urn in the air, and Spike winced. Then wondered why he was wincing-- after all, he wouldn't have to pay for it. Unless Giles decided to take the payment out of his hide, of course.
Xander was pulling his wallet out of his pocket, though. "Fine. You win. But if the pizza boy asks for a tip, I'm telling him to swear off women for life."
"You swear off 'em. Leaves more for me." As Anya turned to look at him, Spike added quickly before it could turn into a glare that could kill, "More of you for me. Not 'more' as in more women. More woman. More chances to lick you off in the shower. More cuddles without birdbrain getting in between."
Anya was starting to grin, and Xander -- yup, whapped him in the head with the wallet. Spike turned back to Anya, because Anya grinning was more fun than being beaten by Xander -- at least as long as there were spectators who'd ruin the fun by yelling "eew" and "gross". He gave her a gallant smile. "So, I promise to be good, if you let me go to the store with you."
"Oh, please," Xander replied. "You're not gonna fall for that? Let him get out of helping me get the two monst-- adorable little girls to bed who aren't really four so why do I have to put them anywhere?"
"You just don't want us making out in the supermarket parking lot," Spike accused.
Xander didn't deny it. "Um, duh? The whole point of the 'only three places left we can shop, now' speech?"
Anya was glaring at both of them, now, instead of grinning. "What did you two do now?"
"Nothing!" they chorused.
Meanwhile Spike was wondering why it was bad for them to do things that got them barred from retail establishments, but if Anya was involved... He was, however, wise enough not to voice that thought. Besides, really, who banned you from grocery stores for snogging a girl? Almost nobody. It was only when he tried unzipping Xander's jeans that they got yelled at.
"The second display really wasn't their fault," Tara piped up.
"Yeah, and the thing with the deli counter would have probably happened anyway." Willow gave her girlfriend a thoughtful look.
"We never touched the deli counter," Xander said quickly.
"But you had good aim," Tara replied.
Spike saw which direction this was going -- and walked over to the front door. He glared at the pizza delivery boy on the doorstep. "One veggie, one kill-me-now meat special?"
The kid nodded, a bored look on his face, and held out his left hand for the cash. Spike shook it firmly, and grabbed the pizza boxes from him while he was still gawping. Spike sniffed. Some people had no concept of proper manners. He tightened his grip on the pizza boxes, and made a running jump over the back of the sofa, using his free hand to complete the vault.
Luckily for all concerned, Willow and Tara managed to catch the pizza boxes before they joined him on the floor, where he was rubbing his head and calling the coffee table all sorts of names.
Xander shook his head, walked over, and paid the delivery guy, who was looking at Spike with some concern. "Is he gonna be okay?"
"Define 'okay,' " Xander said dryly. "Hey, you want a tip?"
The kid nodded.
"Swear off men for life."
"Yeah, thanks," the kid stammered, then Spike heard his tone change. "I'll keep that in mind."
Spike was on his feet and back at the doorway, growling in full vampiric regalia. "Mine. Er, ours. Git!" The kid ran, and Spike found Xander laughing at him. "What?" he demanded.
"You look sooooo scary," Xander began, and Spike would have preened if he hadn't had a suspicion something was up. It was confirmed when Xander rubbed Spike's head, and added, "Especially with your hair sticking up!"
Spike gave him a 'grr', decided to ignore the insinuation that he cared about that sort of thing, and stomped back to grab a piece of pizza. Only to find two empty boxes, and three pairs of innocent-looking eyes blinking up at him.
There was no way... Well, yes, there was a way. Anya had been known to consume an entire cheesecake merely by looking at it. But still... No way the little witchlings could have eaten it all that fast.
Spike sniffed the air, then lowered his head. Following the trail...
"Oh cool! He's tracking the wily pizza!"
"You know how to catch a tame vampire? Stand very, very still, and make a noise like a pepperoni," Tara said.
Spike was following the scent into the kitchen, but he heard Willow ask doubtfully, "What kind of noise does a pepperoni make?"
He called back over his shoulder, "Depends what you're using it for." He stopped in his tracks for a second, and added, "And I'm not tame!"
"That's not true," Anya said. "I find that I rarely have to discipline him, any more." She sounded like she was talking to the two girls -- verified when they giggled and 'eewed'.
"I think the word you're looking for is 'domesticated'," Xander put in. "Where's the pizza-- ah. Cool!"
Spike stopped. How the hell had Xander found the pizza? He was still in the living room with the empty pizza boxes, and the witch-- The witches. He headed back to the living room and frowned as Xander took the last of three bites of a slice of pizza. The only visible slice of pizza.
Spike folded his arms. "Right, so, it's tease the vampire night, is it?" Four sets of innocent eyes blinked back at him. "Guess it's a good thing I don't need pizza, innit?" And he vamped out again, and dove for one of his two favorite snacks. Xander-neck.
"One of these days, I'm gonna get the pizza with the garlic crust," Xander mumbled. "Just to teach you a...mmm... lesson."
"I can think of better ways to teach me a lesson," Spike purred into his neck. The giggles were louder than the 'eewwws', this time.
The giggles were nowhere to be found, a few hours later, as the final shots of 'Nightmare on Elm Street 3' faded into the credits. Spike, of course, was applauding loudly, but the teenywiccas seemed a bit subdued.
"Maybe it's just me, but Freddy's face seems a lot bigger, now that we're little," Willow said, as she dug around in the bowl of carmelcorn.
Spike glanced at the television. "Well, we do have a bigger telly than you two..."
"I'm kinda surprised we never got a Freddy Krueger here in Sunnydale," Xander said cheerfully, as he grabbed a handful of carmelcorn from the bowl he'd hidden from Willow. Spike, Willow, and Tara all glared at him. He paused in mid-carmelmunch. "What?"
"How long have you lived on the Hellmouth, buster?" Willow gave him a stern glare which was not appreciably diminished by coming from a four-year-old face.
"Um, this is a trick question, right?" Xander shot Spike a confused look, but Spike didn't feel like helping him out. Not since Xander hadn't told him where the pizza had been hidden. Not that Spike minded having to slurp a half-pint of blood from the happily wriggling man, but there was a principle of sorts.
"You've jinxed us," Tara said softly. "Now he'll show up."
"See? She's only been here a couple years, and already she knows you don't say things like that!" She leaned over and wrapped her arm protectively around Tara's neck.
"Oh, don't be silly," Xander said, though his expression fell somewhere between 'you're kidding, right?' and 'you do know a sleep-protection spell, right?' He leaned forward and pressed the rewind button on the VCR. Which had nothing to do with any vampires having broken any remote controls while trying to see if they could bounce the laserbeam off a mirror while standing on one hand. "We've had our full quota of dream things already, what with that kid with the nightmares, and the First Slayer. Oh, and der Kindestod, who wasn't really a dream thing, but everybody thought he was just in those kids' imaginations, so he kinda counts." Xander turned around to look at them, when Willow levitated a pillow at his backside. "What?"
Spike almost clapped when he saw the expressions they were giving Xander. Not as good at the puppy-eyes thing as Xander was, even as an adult -- but Spike suspected that had more to do with the fact he'd do anything Xander asked him to, anyway. Eventually. After a fashion. "Where are we gonna sleep?" Tara asked.
"On the couch, remember?" Xander answered in a patient tone. Sounded almost fatherly, in fact.
The eyes went wider, and Spike had to revise his opinion. "We have to sleep out here alone?" Willow asked.
Xander sighed. "Freddy Krueger is not coming to Sunnydale--"
The two girls burst into wails. "Now you've really done it! Xander Harris, you big meanie! I can't believe you'd say that!"
Xander looked helplessly at Spike, who was coming ever closer to applauding. Except... were those real tears, trickling down Tara's face? He leaned over and took a good look.
Spike blinked, and looked around for the hand that had whapped him on the back of the head, but there wasn't any. Instead, he found himself cuddling a four-year-old girl who was looking up at him with watery blue eyes, through a tangle of corn-colored hair. "Hey, now," he heard himself say in a soft voice, the sort he used to use with Dawn before she got old enough that it made her giggle more often than not. "Anybody comes sniffing round here, I'll tear 'em up good."
Tara looked doubtful.
"What, you don't think I could take that Krueger bloke?" Spike vamped out and gave her his best grrrr...
She giggled, but softly. Her eyes were still wide, and she glanced over at Willow. Then she looked at the window, as if checking for possible monsters. Willow, who was in Xander's arms, looked as wide-eyed and subdued as Tara. From the stunned look on Xander's face, Spike figured he wasn't the only one got whapped in the head by invisible paternal instincts.
"Look, Willow, you can do a spell to keep him out of the apartment, can't you?" Xander asked, patiently.
Willow nodded slowly, then said, "But that won't stop him from coming near the apartment. And what if he shows up inside the apartment? Since you're the one who jinxed us?"
"Will, Freddy Kruger is not--" He stopped because a hand was covering his mouth. Spike's.
"Look, why don't you just stop saying it, and let's get them settled someplace they'll feel safe?"
"Like where? Buffy's?"
Spike paused for a moment, then jerked his head in the direction of the only logical choice. Their bedroom. Their bedroom with the super-double-ultra-emperor-sized bed, specially designed for today's most hedonistic menages a trois. Or so the mail-order advert had claimed.
Xander shook his head wildly. "No. Nononononono... Bed. You. Me. Anya. First night back..."
Willow gave him a pointy stare. "Like you'd do anything in there, with us out here, anyway?"
Xander looked torn. "Uh... um... well... Maybe. I mean, if you'd asked me two weeks ago, no. But that long without a woman, a man can make a lot of changes in his life."
"If you'd rather have sex with Anya, and leave us out here," Tara began, and the torn sound of her voice seemed authentic.
Spike couldn't be sure. But there was Anya-and-Xander sex to be had, and these two were witches. Competent, powerful, even if only three feet tall. He opened his mouth, and heard himself saying, "Right, we'll all share the bed, and no boogymen will be able to get us. Sex can wait 'til morning." He blinked. Looked over at Xander, whose mouth was hanging open. "Xan? Have I been possessed?"
Xander shook his head slowly. "Um, I don't think you can be. It didn't work on Angel, anyway."
"Ah. Hmm. Are you possessed, then?" Because Xander was standing up, teenywillow happily wrapped in his arms, and walking in the direction of the bedroom.
Xander stopped, as if he'd only now realized what he was doing. He cocked his head. "I don't think so. I mean, I've been possessed a few times, and this doesn't feel like that. But if I start laughing hysterically and running around on all fours, you should probably chain me up until Giles can get over here."
Spike blinked away an image of Xander, on all fours, in chains. It was not a good thing to be thinking about with a not-really-four-year-old in your arms. Willow giggled, and pointed at Spike. He looked down reflexively, but no, he'd managed to blink it away in time.
When he looked back up at Willow, she was still giggling. "Spike's thinking he'd wait at least a day to call Giles."
"Was not," Spike muttered.
"Was," Tara retorted. Spike glared at her -- for a second. Hadn't she been the timid one, once?
"Spike? Why don't we put the wee ones to bed?" Xander interrupted his glaring.
"Right." Spike nodded, and led the way to the bedroom. He plopped Tara down, and stepped aside as Xander plopped his own giggling burden beside her. They bounced for a moment, then looked up again. Puppy eyes. Spike tried to growl back.
"Is that it? We get spooked by Freddy Krueger coming to get us, and you don't even tuck us in?" Willow demanded.
"I knew they were faking. Come on." Spike grabbed Xander's arm, tugging him towards the living room.
"Um-- if they're faking, why are we leaving them in our bed?"
"So's we can shag on the couch!"
Xander gave a questioning look at the girls, but Spike could feel his resistance dwindling. He gave in inward cheer. Not an outward one-- that would be bragging. Wait-- Spike loved to brag! He gave an outward cheer.
Which was Willow's cue to put her arms around Tara, then look up at both of them. "Okay," she said bravely. "We'll be fine, I guess. Right, baby?" Tara murmured something even Spike couldn't hear, and Willow planted a kiss on her forehead. "Nope. Won't let anything getcha."
Spike sighed, and closed the bedroom door. With all four of them on the inside.
He wasn't sure how much later it was when he opened one eye and saw Anya standing by the bed. She was looking down, a sort of odd happy smile on her face. Spike raised his head -- feeling the pillowcase unstick itself from his cheek -- and looked at what she was looking at.
Willow and Tara were curled up around each other, bookended by him and Xander. Apparently they'd all fallen asleep in the same position they'd been telling stories in. Stories designed to amuse and distract the are-they-aren't-they-scared girls. Spike blinked and looked up at Anya again. Blinked again when she mouthed 'I'll be right back' and left the room.
He considered crawling off the bed and following her, but Tara's head was on his arm, and if he moved he might wake her. Not that he cared about that sort of thing, he reasoned. But...well, he didn't have to get up. He could hear Anya heading for the bathroom, then he heard her undressing. Spike looked down at the sweet face resting on his arm.
He sighed, and waited, listening to the little sounds of running water. A clock ticking out in the living room. The sparse three a.m. traffic outside. Finally Anya re-appeared, dressed in plaid flannel pajamas. Xander's plaid flannel pajamas. The top part, anyway, which came down to her knees.
"If you're trying to look not-sexy, it's not working," he whispered very quietly as she slid into his side of the bed.
She smiled, then frowned, then blinked and whispered, "Oops-- forgot something!"
As she slid back out of bed and left the room again, Spike spent a moment enjoying the receding view before wondering what she could have forgot. Surely nothing that they'd usually bring to bed, not with the witches there.
He was waiting, eyes open in the dark, when she reappeared in the doorway. She was making some sort of hand motions, pointing at his head, then at the pillow. She wanted him to do what with the pillow? Finally she put one hand on her hip, and mouthed, very slowly, "Put your head down and close your eyes, stupid."
Just to be sure, he glanced over at Xander, who was fast asleep. Well, she didn't see all that well in the dark, Spike decided. She must have mistaken him for Stupid. He complied anyway, rolling his eyes, then closing them, and resting his head back on the pillow. The room flashed red outside his eyelids as he heard the click-whirr of the camera. Then Anya slipped back into bed.
He thought about growling at her -- quietly -- but decided it wasn't worth the effort. Not since he'd have plenty of chances to growl at folks snapping pictures of him with one or more of the kiddies. And the only way he'd be able to swap for photos of his Sire being beset by Wesley, was to have a few of his own.
That thought amused him for the two seconds it took to fall back asleep, the comfortable weight of a small head on his arm, and the slow, gentle breathing of his human lovers filling his ears.
"I don't want to go." Rupert glared up at her, but he could see he wasn't getting through. Not yet -- he knew he could wear her down, though. The benefit of being four was boundless energy. Which, when devoted towards annoying his Slayer, was a precious benefit indeed.
She frowned back at him. "You know you haven't regressed, yet. You can't throw a tantrum."
Rupert suppressed a sigh. "I am not throwing a tantrum. I am merely expressing a desire for the fifth time today which you obviously aren't listening to, hence my need to speak louder so you will hear me."
"I can hear you!" Buffy protested. "I'm just saying--"
"You're saying that if I don't go into the shop, terrible tragedies will occur. I promise you, Buffy, I shan't destroy your home during the three hours it takes you to go to class."
"For one thing, it's Wednesday, so I have to go to Willow and Tara's classes too, and take notes. For another... I just don't like leaving you home alone. I thought they did this routine already, the last time, and we all agreed that none of us kids were safe on our own?"
"Yes, but that was before we were used to being in four-year-old bodies. I'm perfectly capable of climbing up and down stairs, I know what I can and can't lift, or move, or reach. In short, I know what I'm doing, Buffy."
He gave her his best 'I'm your Watcher, and I'm just being reasonable, not trying to lay down the law' look. The one that sometimes actually worked. She almost appeared to be wilting under pressure. Rupert stared suspiciously at the uncertain blue eyes. Buffy never wilted under pressure.
'What's wrong with you?' he felt like shouting. 'I taught you better than this! You're strong, you're intelligent, you're the woman they invented strong-enough-for-a-man-but-made-for-a-woman for. Don't fall for a pair of big blue-green eyes and a fetching pout!' Rupert blinked, and thumped his metaphorical Watcher-self on the side of the head. Shut up, or she might hear you.
Finally, Buffy seemed to have made up her mind. "Um... in short?" she repeated, then giggled unceasingly.
Right, this called for some serious pouting. He looked down at the floor, so she wouldn't see it coming, wouldn't think he was probably doing it deliberately. He counted to five, slowly, waiting for her giggles to quiet.
Then he glanced up, face still tilted down, and found her watching him, still grinning. "Sorry, Giles, but you did say it."
"You're going to leave me at Spike and Xander's mercies, aren't you?"
"Oh, come on," she said breezily, though there was a hint of something in her eyes. Worry? Sympathy? Didn't matter, he'd got her hooked. "They'll be...um...." She tilted her head. "Huh."
"I just want to stay here, alone, while I still can. Soon I shall be regressed enough to warrent being minded. But not yet." His voice was calm, not quite any hint of pleading in it.
"Giles, you know I--" Rupert pouted at her. "Stop it," she said sternly. He pouted harder. "I am not falling for that."
"You don't love me," he said quietly.
Buffy blinked at him. Repeatedly. He saw her face about to slide into that 'aww, no, don't be like that' expression, and could hear Spike and Xander shouting 'Score!' in the back of his head. God knew he'd heard it aloud enough times, when they'd managed to convince him to let them do something dangerous with something valuable, by dint of their... er...
It occurred to Rupert that he'd actually heard Spike use the 'You don't love me' line, as well. To Rupert? It couldn't have been. It must have been Xander who had fallen for it. Or possibly Dawn. Never Rupert. Nor Buffy, he recalled a moment too late, as her face set into another expression entirely.
"Nice try, Mister. But as a matter of fact, I do love you. Which is why I'm not leaving you alone in the house to explain to the firemen why your babysitter let a four-year-old stay by himself while she toddled off to class."
He pouted a bit more, but when that didn't change the expression on her face, he finally asked, "Which firemen?"
"The same cute ones who came last week to get Spike down from the roof. The ones with the bulging muscles. And I'd miss seeing them and it would be all your fault, so you're going to the shop." She picked up her bookbag, and the bag that contained his books, and the new pirate cove Lego set he'd found sitting next to his pillow this morning. "We're going," she said with a disheartening tone of finality. Then she yelled, "Dawn! Get your butt down here, we're leaving!"
There was a second's pause, before they heard Dawn shouting back, "I'm coming! Geez, keep your shirt on!"
Rupert crossed his arms, and glared up at Buffy.
"I will pick you up and carry you to the magic shop," she informed him. "Don't think I won't."
It was on the tip of his tongue to say 'you wouldn't dare' except he knew that saying it would guarantee that she would. That didn't mean he was quite ready to give up. "Buffy, please, this is the only chance I'll have -- have had in two weeks - to be alone. I assure you I'll take every precaution. I swear I'll sit and read, all day."
"Yeah, you'd do it, too," she said, sounding reasonable. But she shook her head. "You're coming with us."
"I could stay home with him," Dawn offered. "I'll stay in my room and won't bother you a bit," she said to Rupert.
"And that trigonometry test you were studying for all night?" Buffy asked. "That would what-- be cancelled for the whole class on account of Dawn Summers has to babysit?"
Dawn shrugged. "It could be. You never know. Stranger things have happened..."
"Yeah, like you having a math test without whining about it. I don't know why you bother trying to avoid them-- you come home with A's every time." Buffy rolled her eyes. "Out-- go. In the car. Now."
"Ja, wohl, mein Kommandant! Sieg heil..." Dawn saluted, grabbed her bag, and walked out the door. Buffy frowned at Rupert.
"That was German, right? I haven't forgotten more French than I thought. Right? Giles?" He smiled kindly at her. "Are you teaching her to speak Sumarian?" Buffy narrowed her eyes at him. "Because I warned you about that when she was ten."
"What if I promise to stop teaching her German, in exchange for you letting me stay here today?"
Buffy seemed to consider it -- for half a second. "I'd say you aren't the one teaching her German. Now, let's go before we're late!"
Rupert pouted at her, one more time. Then he was flying into the air and being held, quite firmly, under Buffy's arm. She switched off the lights as she headed for the door.
"Buffy, put me down this instant!"
"Nope. Don't make me enroll you in kindergarten." She plopped him down in the back seat of the Range Rover, the door having been helpfully opened by Dawn, who had apparently switched sides. "I'll do it, too. The neighbors have already asked about it. I told them you were too young -- but I can change my mind."
"You're a very cruel mummy, you know that, right?" he asked, in a normal, adult tone, if not an adult pitch. Since he'd lost the war, he wasn't about to keep the battle going. Not until he could find something else to torment her with, at any rate.
"That's me, the evil bitch-monster of death," she agreed as Dawn pulled the vehicle out of the drive and onto the street.
"Nice to hear you finally admit it," said her sister. "It's the first step towards getting help, you know. The next step is where we commit you. Just for evaluation."
"You know Giles, if I did enroll you in kindergarten, it wouldn't be so bad. You and Dawn could play together."
"I don't think so, somehow. I believe there's some sort of social stigma attached to playing with the girls. Er... " Rupert scratched his head, trying to come up with the proper word. "Cooties?"
"Cooties," Buffy confirmed. "The bane of childhood. Once you're marked--"
"You grow up to be Buffy," Dawn finished.
Buffy waited until Dawn paused at a stop sign to give her sister a pinch. Rupert wondered just who among them was the four-year-old, as Dawn squealed and hit her back. "Oh, yes, I can see why you wouldn't want immature little me to stay home alone while you two mature persons attend to your schooling."
"Don't make me pull over," Buffy warned.
Rupert blinked at her, while Dawn began laughing. He had to stifle a laugh, himself. "How can you, since I'm driving?" Dawn asked.
"Well, it always worked for mom," Buffy replied.
"Oh, yeah, and 'Your face will freeze like that...' " Dawn said, still laughing.
Yeah..." Buffy smiled softly, then burst into a grin. "And 'you'd better eat that-- there's starving children in Africa...' "
"We kept telling her the starving African kids could have our lima beans," Dawn told Rupert.
"She even put hers in an envelope and addressed it to the United Nations, one time," Buffy said sincerely.
"Hey, it worked-- I didn't have to eat the ones in the envelope, since they got all squished."
Rupert sat quietly in the back seat as the two of them reminisced about the sort of things they'd gotten away with in their --snort-- long ago childhoods. He didn't let out a peep. It wouldn't do, after all, for them to realize he was taking notes. Not that he hadn't been told to eat his own sausages, as a child, because there were starving children in Poland. But he'd never actually tried to post his breakfast to them.
Finally -- or 'all too soon' -- they pulled up in front of the Magic Box. Buffy began giving Dawn her usual morning 'go directly to school, do not hit any trucks, be right back here right after school' speech. Rupert unbuckled his seltbelt and opened the door, and jumped out.
Discovering that yes, he was as short as he felt. The ground was a bit farther away than he was used to -- but since no one saw him stumble, it didn't count. He headed for the front door to his shop, thinking that he might simply lock himself in his office. Alone.
As he reached the front door, Buffy caught up with him and grabbed the doorknob. "So, short stuff, you looking forward to a day of fun?" she asked, maliciously.
He looked her square in the eye. "You mean, am I looking forward to spending the day with Spike and Xander, asking them for ideas on how to use my youthful energy to its most effective...yes, I should say I am. Aren't you going to walk to class, now?" he added, as he stepped through the open front door, past her.
"Xander--" she shouted as the door shut behind him, leaving her out on the street. "Don't give him any ideas..."
"What'd she say?" Xander asked, looking up from the countertop, where he was -- dear God, really? -- reading something that wasn't a comic book.
"I've no idea. Something about you buying me breakfast, because she didn't have time to feed me, I think," Rupert lied smoothly.
Buffy was already stalking in the direction of campus, likely to have just enough time to get to her first class, so he didn't expect her to come running back to correct him. He did, however, get a knowing look from Spike. He wasn't worried-- the expression was also admiring, and possibly even proud.
Xander was closing his book. "Right, I can go next door and get some muffins, and coffee. Er -- you want juice?" Xander asked him, and Rupert was forced to give him a stern look.
"Tea shall suffice, thank you."
Xander nodded, and looked around the room. "Anyone else want anything?" Rupert almost told him he didn't really need a second breakfast -- but the shop next door made really excellent apple strudel muffins.
"Chocolate chip cookies!" Willow cried out, from the stairs. Rupert saw her sitting with Tara, both of them looking at a book set across their knees.
"I'm not feeding you two any more sugar," Xander told her. When Willow pouted, Xander said, "Spike?"
Who looked uncomfortable. "Er, Xan's right," he began, but he was obviously falling prey to The Willow Face. Rupert, however, was simply astounded. Any other day Spike and Xander would have already been out the door, counting the money Anya handed over, to buy a dozen cookies and muffins. Now he was watching Xander look almost...stern.
Of course, any other day, Rupert himself would have been looking sternly at Anya -- in vain -- for taking the money out of the cash register. But that was neither here nor there. It was Xander's strange behavior that was worrying him. Not only did he look at the Willow pout, and, after a moment where it seemed he might cave, shake his head resolutely, but he actually shook a finger at Willow and Tara. And not his middle one, either.
"You know if you keep making that face, it'll freeze that way." When everyone in the shop began laughing, Xander turned around. "What? What did I... Oh my God. I didn't."
Spike nodded, grinning. "Yup. Complete with finger-shake."
Xander buried his face in his hands. "Help me, Mr. Wizard. I don't want to be a grown-up anymore..."
Anya walked up to him, and patted his shoulder. "Here's money. Go buy chocolate -- you'll feel better." Xander nodded, and took the money -- Rupert sent Anya a belated stern glare, but she didn't pay him any attention. Rupert did, however, see the thoughtful expression on Anya's face as she watched Xander leave the shop.
Not that having children -- real ones -- around wasn't nice, in theory. But Anya and Xander? Anya and Xander? These were the genes the world wanted to pass on?
He turned his attention quickly to something else, and discovered Buffy had kept his bag. "Where the bloody hell is my..copy of Druher's Halcyon?" He managed to not say 'pirate cove', out loud.
"Watch your--" Rupert looked up at Spike, in disbelief. Spike looked shocked, himself, and turned to Anya. "Somebody stake me?"
"Right now? Xander's not here. I suppose I have something in my bag that we could use, if you wanna go in the back room and--"
Spike shook his head. "Not what I meant. But keep it in mind for later, love."
"Spike, are you quite all right?" Rupert blinked, disbelieving again at the sound of his own voice, asking. Almost as if he cared.
"He's turning into a dad-- it's eerie," Willow said from the steps. "This morning, he made me finish my eggs and toast before he let me have a donut."
"Did not!" Spike protested. When Anya turned to look at him, he shrugged awkwardly. "Well, it was her second donut."
Rupert just watched, as Tara scooted out from under the book, walked up to Spike, and took his hand. Looked up at him with a hopeful expression. "Would you get the Demon's Necromicon down from the top shelf for me?"
"Course, luv," Spike said, leaning down and scooping her into his arms. He was halfway to the bookcase, when he stopped and glared at Anya and Rupert. Rupert hid his smile quickly. Anya was looking thoughtful again. With a shudder, Rupert crossed quickly to his office. He had books in there he could read, and he'd just have to remember his Legos tomorrow.
Once safely behind his door, he tried to put out of his mind all the disturbing images he'd been subjected to. Studying up on the Urdeku should distract him, for a hour or so. He began looking around for the books he'd left on the desk, and discovered one was missing. Frowning, he tried to recall where he'd seen it last. It was an English translation of a book, so it was reasonable to think one of the others had borrowed it. It wasn't the one Willow and Tara had been reading, however.
No, he realized, it was the one Xander had been reading. He went back out and found it sitting upon the counter, and had to ask Anya to fetch it down for him. "Xander was actually reading this?" he asked. "Voluntarily?"
She nodded. "Yes. He asked me to find him something that he could read that wouldn't put him to sleep, and since I left all the erotic literature at home today..." She smiled. "Actually, Xander wanted to do something to help trace down the Urdeku, so Willow and I looked around for an English translation to any of the books you and Wesley were using. I thought maybe he'd pick up something that you people missed-- just because he doesn't speak Sumerian, doesn't mean he isn't a good thinker."
Rupert nodded, and took the book from her. He'd never thought Xander wasn't a 'good thinker' -- it simply surprised him to find Xander using his thinking skills on what was, at best, a fairly dry reference work. With no colour illustrations. He caught himself smiling, and quickly stifled it, lest anyone actually see him and assume he was feeling...proud, or something.
"Saw that," Spike whispered in his ear."
"Nothing to see," he said smoothly. Lying to Spike was simple enough to be ridiculous. He slipped the book under his arm...and promptly dropped it. Right -- large book, small body. Rupert sighed and started to crouch down to pick it up. Then stood up. Crouched down again, stood up again, then lifted his left leg and bent it a few times.
"Er, problem?" Spike asked.
"No, no problem at all. I never even noticed the first time. My god...."
He looked up to find Spike smirking at him. "Knee works again, does it?"
Rupert glared. "It always worked." Then he allowed, "But perhaps a bit...better, now."
Anything either might have said was cut off by a squeal from the back of the shop. Rupert looked over, but Spike was running. Rupert smirked. He followed Spike, albeit at the much slower pace that his short but fully-functional legs allowed him. When he got there, he found Spike scooping a sprawled-out Willow off the floor, and babbling inanely.
"You all right... course you're all right, no blood. Er, no blood, but you could have a concussion. Damn, Rupes, you're always getting bonked on the head, what's a concussion feel like? Hell, if she's got a concussion, should I have picked her up?" Spike was running one hand through Willow's mop of copper hair -- so at one point that colour had been natural, Rupert thought absently -- and paying absolutely no attention to the perturbed looks that Willow and Tara were giving him.
Finally Willow said, "Spike, what are you doing?"
"Checking for bumps."
"I'm not a vampire, and even if I were, they'd be on my forehead, not the top of my skull."
"What?" Spike paused in his search of her skull. "What are you babbling about?"
"What am I babbling about?" Willow demanded. "Spike, let go of me - I didn't get my bracelet!"
Rupert sighed -- again, thinking maybe he would look forward to regressing this time, so he wouldn't feel quite so...old. Which was amusing, because it was Spike that was making him feel old, right now. Then he got down on the floor and looked under the bookcase. Yes, there it was, lying in the dust. He reached under and grabbed it, and pulled it out. Willow squealed again -- exact same squeal, and surely Spike could tell the difference, now?
Rupert handed the bracelet over, and Willow took it. She began to put it on, then grinned. "Oops, gonna be too big. Do you have pockets?" she asked Tara, as her own shorts did not. Tara looked down, and shook her head.
"Does any the stuff you bought have pockets?" Tara asked, sounding doubtful. It made Rupert take a second look.
"Tara, aren't those the clothes Willow bought for herself?"
Tara coloured, slightly. "Well, yeah. Um... The clothes we bought for me are kind of all too big." Even the shirt of Willow's that she was wearing was a bit loose, Rupert noticed.
Willow giggled. "She kept saying 'No, we have to get the bigger ones-- I was a fat little kid...' We even ended up getting different sizes, because she wasn't sure which ones would be big enough. And they're all too big!" She started laughing again, and Tara stuck her tongue out.
"Well, I remember my brother calling me a big pig all the time..."
"He was a boy. Boys are dorks. Duh..." Willow pointed a finger at Spike's nose, then actually tapped it, since he was still holding her. "Case in point..."
Spike made huffing noises, and put her down. "Well, how was I to know? You're all quiet back here, then I hear screaming-- you could've fallen off that stool and broken your head."
Willow was giving him an amused look -- which Rupert was able to interpret all too well. He almost felt sorry for Spike, except that he remembered everything he and Xander had done over the last two weeks. Not to mention the century of evil. It would do him some good, Rupert thought, to be wrapped around the pinkies of a pair of four-year-old little girls.
Spike was still protesting, in response to the look that Willow was continuing to give him. "You might've! You could have been dead and then Xander and Anya wouldn't let me anywhere near you."
Rupert laughed. Then he went over and sat down at the table, to watch. This was proving to be more entertaining than staying at Buffy and Dawn's house to watch Passions.
"What wouldn't I have done?" Anya said from the doorway between the front and back sections of the shop.
"Let me near the--- and where were you, I might ask, when this one was making noises like her head had got smooshed?"
Anya blinked at him. "She was obviously happy, not bleeding. Couldn't you tell that? And people say I have no understanding of children, just because I haven't been one for eleven hundred and twenty three years. You were a kid last week and you don't know the difference between a happy scream and a head-smooshed scream?"
Spike looked suitably mortified at his own behaviour, which made Rupert chuckle. Only it came out a giggle. The vampire glanced around the room, obviously looking for a easy escape route, and at last responded with, "And the other one's got no clothes!"
Anya frowned, and looked at Tara. "Spike, she obviously has clothes. She's wearing clothes right now." She sounded remarkably patient -- Rupert reminded himself that she had been living with Spike for.. how long, now? And none of them had driven the others insane, yet. Truly, amazingly remarkable.
"Not those! Those're Red's. She hasn't any clothes of her own, that fit. And will someone please stake me before I say she'll catch her death of cold if she's not properly dressed?"
Rupert reached over to pick up a pencil. "I shall. Hold still, please?" He held up the pencil as if to throw it.
"Put that down before you put his eye out." Rupert looked up at Anya, shocked. She didn't even look fazed. But then, she was used to scolding Spike and Xander all the time.
"Muffins for all!" Xander called out.
Before anyone small and fast could get over to relieve him of his burden, Spike was at his side. "Let's go drive real fast and drink beer and tear the heads off parking meters."
Xander looked at him for a moment, then nodded, slowly. "Ah...o-kaaayyyy.... I'm driving, of course, since you'll have turned into dust, considering that it's ten a.m., and who put the LSD in his breakfast cereal this morning?"
"He's disturbed because he's been acting all parental, and he doesn't understand why," Willow snickered, coming up to take a bag of muffins from Xander's hand.
"You realize you could've just stopped before the 'because' and I would have accepted the explanation," Xander said. "Although...truthfully, I have been noticing an alarming tendency to remind people to brush their teeth, this week. You suppose it's a side-effect of the spell? All the adults around the shrunk-kids suddenly start acting like grown-ups?"
Spike looked relieved. 'Yeah, good thought. That makes sense. Whew."
Rupert opened his mouth to point out that Buffy hadn't been saying those things -- when he realized that she had been. But admitting so would reassure Spike and Xander.... "Buffy hasn't been acting like that, at all." Spike and Xander looked over at him, expressions of horror warring with stubborn disbelief on their faces. "Not to mention there is absolutely no evidence of any lingering effects of the spell, in any of the literature. Some of which you yourself read," he reminded Xander. "And may I add, it's nice to see you showing an interest in real research."
He had to struggle to keep from laughing -- though from the sound of it, Tara and Willow weren't doing more than pressing their hands over their mouths. He tried to think of one more thing to say, to push them completely over the edge.
Then Anya said it for him. "I think it's good that they're learning to be parents." Then she smiled. Widely.
Spike and Xander screamed.
"I take it back, let's go rip the heads off parking meters. Um, and put stink-bombs in people's mailboxes. And... uh... leer at women on the street," Xander babbled.
"Spike does that one now," Willow pointed out.
"So does Xander; he's just more subtle about it," Anya said. "But that doesn't make them immature, it just makes them men." She paused. "There was something wrong with that statement, wasn't there?"
"You know, Willy's is open," Spike said, glaring at everyone in the room, but talking to Xander. "If you run out and open the car doors, I'll throw m'coat over my head, and..."
"Way ahead of you," Xander replied, heading for the door.
"Hold it right there, busters," Anya said. Both men froze, then they exchanged a look. Rupert accepted a bottle of orange juice from Willow, who was crawling into the chair beside him. Tara was opposite him, already kneeling in the seat, eating a muffin -- all of them watching the Spike and Xander show with avid interest. Rupert took a cookie out of the bag, trying not to rustle the paper as he did so. Spike and Xander were giving Anya identical cute looks.
"You're staying here to help me run the store, and do research, and keep an eye on them." She pointed towards the table, and the three not-kids looked at each other as if asking who Anya meant. None of them said anything aloud, though, in order not to miss the next line.
Anya pointed again. Xander looked at Spike. Spike looked at Xander. Identical expressions of despair in their eyes. Finally Spike said, "Can't really stand Willy's these days, anyhow. The line dancing was bad enough, but when he put the country kareoke machine in..." He shuddered, somewhat convincingly, and moved to snatch the bag away from Rupert, to remove a cookie. Xander hesitated, then nodded.
"I guess... It's a little early in the morning for the whole Tears in My Beer scene. Go over much better if we went out tonight."
"Oh no, you don't," Anya said firmly. "Tonight we're going to the drive-in, remember?" Xander looked elsewhere. "Xander?"
He muttered something that sounded suspiciously like 'yes, dear' -- but Rupert couldn't be entirely sure, as Xander was shoving a muffin in his mouth as he said it.
Willow waited at least ten seconds to make the whip-cracking noise. Rupert wouldn't have been so kind, except he had a cookie in his own mouth, so she beat him to it.
Xander gave her a dirty glare, then he grinned. "Actually, when she uses the whip it's a lot more fun." Willow turned red.
Spike was snickering as he stole a cookie from the bag...which he then carried over to Anya and presented it to her, as if he'd tracked the thing down and killed it, himself.
Anya took it, but said, "If you think presents of chocolate are going to get you out of trouble...." Rupert couldn't see the expression on Spike's face, and suspected he didn't want to. Anya grinned. "Well, it wasn't much trouble. For you two. And the cookies are good." She took a bite, and nodded. "All right."
"What about me? I bought them!" Xander put in.
"Yes, and where did you get the money?" Rupert interrupted.
"Um. From Anya," Xander said brightly, then immediately realized he'd just put the blame on the person he was trying to placate. He picked up a chocolate chocolate-chip muffin and held it out to Anya.
"Hey, I didn't know those were in there!" Willow grabbed the bag, and began digging through it.
"I thought we were trying not to give them any more sugar?" Anya said, though she didn't exactly rush over to the table to stop them from eating the goodies, Rupert noted.
Xander shrugged sheepishly. "Well, I thought deeply about that. And I thought about the lengths Buffy and I went to, in our quest for chocolate, and..." he did the boyish grin thing again, and damned if Anya didn't seem to be falling for it. Shame on her. "You know, just to keep them all out of trouble, I thought I'd head off any escape attempts."
Anya smiled, then her eyes narrowed. "Yes. That. You still haven't been punished for that little stunt, have you."
Xander shook his head, eagerly. Rupert felt the sudden need to bang his head against the tabletop.
"Hey, I was the lookout man-- I deserve to be punished too!" Spike protested.
"You ratted us out to the authorities!" Xander told him.
"Yeah, so? I'm evil! How does that make me any less deserving of punishment?"
"It means you couldn't help getting into trouble, and being punished won't teach you anything!" Xander countered. "Me, I'm an impressionable human mortal, and should be taught the error of my ways."
He looked hopefully at Anya. Rupert dropped the last bit of his cookie. "Suddenly, I've lost my appetite."
"Actually, from a socio-psychological view-point, it's really quite fascinating," Tara said, still munching her first cookie. Rupert wondered if Xander had bought anything even remotely non-sugar laden, at all. "At first, they appear to be just as...well, chaotic and immature as they appear. But when you realize the group dynamics of their threesome...." She trailed off, looking from Willow to Rupert. "What?"
"Give her another cookie," Rupert said, handing the bag to Willow. Willow took the bag, peered inside, and pulled out a huge peanut butter cookie. She handed it to Tara.
"Oo, peanut butter!" Tara sounded like a four-year old.
"Is there another?" Rupert asked.
Willow looked deep into the bag. Frowned. Rattled the paper inside. Looked again. "Hmm. I don't see any..."
Rupert gave her a look, which she blithely ignored. She was going to make him do it, wasn't she. Of all the... Fine. Rupert opened his mouth. "Anya, Willow won't share..."
Willow giggled obnoxiously and tossed the bag at him. "I knew I could make him whine."
"Am I being punished for something terrible that I did in a past life? Because I don't recall ever having done anything to you," Rupert remarked as he reached into the bag and pulled out his own peanut butter cookie.
"Um, like the cookie raid in the middle of the night at Buffy's place? Like waking us up at three a.m. because you'd snuck downstairs to watch 'Mr. Bean' on cable? Or what about..."
"I was regressed then. Those things don't count."
"Well, I'm regressed now," she said matter-of-factly.
"You are not," he countered.
"You are not." She opened her mouth to say 'am, too' again, and Rupert rolled his eyes. "For God's sake, we are not regressed. Last time it took nearly four days before showing any real signs of regression. Which not only means that you are not emotionally a four-year-old, but you have no excuse for having just stolen my peanut butter cookie, Tara."
Tara looked innocent.
"Give it back," he demanded, trying to sound as adult as he could -- but the content of his demand rather precluded much maturity.
"I don't have it."
"Yes, you do," he responded, feeling rather idiotic. But on the other hand...letting her get away with it meant having to pout at Spike to get another one purchased for him.
"I..." Tara quivered her chin. "How could you think I'd do something like that? When have I ever done anything remotely dishonest?"
Rupert was about to bring up a certain 'no-see-um-demons' spell from a few years back, which really was the only thing he could think of, when Willow got into the act. "Really, Giles, how could you accuse Tara? That's just... mean. Plain old mean. Rotten. Spike, Giles is being mean to us."
Spike broke away from the threesome's continued mumblings about who deserved to be punished more, and stepped over to the table. "What was that, love?"
Tara looked up at him, chin still quivering, and Rupert groaned. "Giles says I stole his cookie!" Her face was the picture of aggrieved innocence.
Spike scowled at Rupert, who didn't bother resisting the urge to stick his tongue out at Tara, since it was obvious he wasn't going to win this one. "It's not nice to pick on little girls, Rupert," Spike said, just as if he hadn't eaten more of them than he could count, in his day.
"Oh, yes, because they're perfect little angels," Rupert said. "So ask Angel Number One why she has an uneaten peanut butter cookie in her hands."
"Because Willow gave it to me!" she said. Angelically.
"You ate that one," Rupert pointed out, though he was beginning to think he might as well go to his office and read. With Anya no longer twisting Spike and Xander around her little finger, there was little entertainment to be had. No more peanut butter cookies to be had, either.
Tara quivered her chin some more, and looked up at Spike. Who said seriously, "Rupert, perhaps you should go stand in the corner."
Rupert gaped at him for a second, then turned to Willow. "Have we got a video camera? Set up?"
"There's the security cameras," she said, nodding. "They must have got a shot of that."
"Excellent. Let's be sure to send copies to Angel. I did promise." She nodded eagerly. Spike, on the other hand, was giving them an outraged look. Which they ignored. Rupert held his hand out. "May I?"
Tara grinned, and returned his cookie. With a bite missing.
Gunn looked down at him with that same concerned expression he'd been wearing for the last few days. That 'how long is it going to take him to regress, so I can get him to do embarrassing things on film' expression. Of course, the 'not yet' wasn't directly in response to that expression, but to 'Do you wanna go out and hit the playground, today?' Still, it was the same answer, to essentially the same question, voiced or unvoiced.
"Ya know, you don't actually have to be regressed, to hang out on the swingset or the jungle gym. The others had fun doing it, even when they were still grown-up in the head. Got pics, and everything."
"Spike and Xander--"
"Yeah, yeah, act like kids all the time. But Buffy and Giles don't, and they got into it."
"I am neither Buffy, nor Rupert. I--" He stopped himself from saying that he didn't want to do this. Because, true as it might be, he knew...it really wasn't entirely true. He'd have been happy to avoid the experience all-together. But there had been a few nice things.
Being held, for one. Suddenly being able to demand and receive as much physical affection as he'd always been taught was improper and unnecessary for boys. For men, for Englishmen who were meant to grow up to be Watchers. Now, just because he was small, he only had to raise one hand and someone -- well, Cordelia or Gunn -- was hugging him. It made him nervous; but it felt nice.
"I simply don't wish to make a fool of myself," he finally said.
"Man, ain't no one gonna know you're a old guy in a four-year-old body."
Wesley snapped his mouth shut, and glared as hard as he could. "I am not old."
"You're way old," Gunn replied. "You're like, over thirty."
Wesley had to resist the urge to respond in any number of ways which would only prove Gunn's belief that he ought to be acting like a four-year old. He didn't find it any easier than he did every other time Gunn started calling him his 'old man'. Normally he proved his youth by proving his...vitality. That wasn't going to work, this time.
"That's not old," he finally responded. "That's mature. The magical point beyond which it's no longer necessary to drink milk from the carton and put it back in the refrigerator, in order to prove one's manhood."
"Hey, I don't do that to prove my manhood-- I've got other ways of doing that. I do it 'cause it beats washing another glass."
"How exactly does this not prove my point?"
"That you're not too old to go to the park and sit in the sun and play on the swings?"
Wesley frowned at him. "That was not my point." Although he was having difficulty remembering what his point had been. Other than the simple 'No, don't wanna,' which he suspected wouldn't do much for his argument that he was still an adult, thank you. "I simply..." he paused, trying to come up with a reasonable answer. "...don't feel ready to do that. And don't really feel like arguing about it."
Gunn opened his mouth, then closed it. He walked over to the window in the suite that Angel had prepared for them, and looked out, silently. Finally he said, "Okay. Not gonna push the kid-stuff. But can't we go out somewhere together? You're gonna make me think you don't wanna be seen with me."
Wesley looked up at him. "But I don't," he said as guilelessly as he could. Then he had to leap backwards to avoid being grabbed, and, no doubt, tickled mercilessly.
Gunn advanced on him, though, and he yelped. Much to his chagrin it sounded like a high-pitched squeal, and it stopped him from running away, as he'd intended. He stood firm, trying not to appear as embarrassed as he felt -- and Gunn reached for him. Wrapped an arm around him, and just squeezed him for a second.
"So where do you wanna go? Please don't say the art museum."
"Actually, I was going to say the library, but the art museum is a good idea." Gunn whimpered, and let his forehead fall onto Wesley's shoulder. When Gunn couldn't see him, Wesley grinned.
"I can see you grinning." Gunn didn't raise his head.
"You can not."
"I know you're grinning."
"That is not the same thing. Look, do you really want to...go somewhere?" He'd much rather stay at the hotel. But staying at the hotel meant making Gunn remain cooped up, as well, since he hadn't been able to convince the man to leave his side in five days.
Gunn glanced up, and gave him a pleading expression. "Please? Please can we go -- someplace at least halfway cool, sorta fun, which doesn't involve me saying 'huh?' all day and doesn't involve you getting pictures taken of you?"
Wesley blinked. "No pictures? Are you sure you won't go into withdrawal?"
"I'll make up for it later, trust me."
"No doubt." He couldn't quite give the words that guilt-inducing twist that they'd had a few days ago; Wesley wondered if he was losing that ability, as he moved towards the regression that he both dreaded and looked forward to, or whether the fun had simply gone out of it. Surely not?
He pursed his lips as he tried to come up with an appropriate place. Somewhere that he and Gunn could go, that they would both enjoy, yet would welcome children. Or apparent children, and their apparent parents.
"There's the Hawley Science Museum," he offered. Before Gunn could groan at the word 'museum,' he added, "It's really a sort of interactive thing. Sound experiments, walk around inside the giant human body, remote controlled dinosaur skeletons."
"You mean one of those places you go and play with the exhibits, and learn stuff?"
Wesley smiled, and nodded. "I wouldn't use the word 'play'--"
"Yeah, that's the problem. Yeah, sure, sounds good," Gunn said quickly. "Do we need to steal Angel's wallet before we go?"
Wesley pretended to think about it for a moment. "Well, admission isn't expensive, as such...."
"But the food is, and if we go into the science store...."
"You know you can't buy that chemistry set you've been after, looking like a four-year-old."
"How did-- what chemistry set?"
But Gunn was standing up, and holding out his hand. "Come on, we better get going. If I stay in this hotel one more hour, I'm gonna start...brooding."
Wesley laughed, and had to clamp his jaw shut again. It sounded wrong. He did, however, take Gunn's hand, and tried not to worry about the quick look his lover gave him. If he did, they'd get into a long discussion about things he didn't want to think about, and it would simply delay their leaving.
As it was, it took them half an hour, what with Gunn's disappearance into a back room to 'discuss' something with Angel-- presumably the 'give us popcorn money, Dad' conversation, and Cordelia's fussing over both of them.
"Do you have enough money? Do you know not to let go of Gunn's hand in the museum, because somebody could come along and snatch you, I'm not kidding, it's happened, and I don't care if you're actually thirty-two years old, there's not a damn thing you could do about it, are you listening to me, Wesley Wyndham Pryce?" Et cetera.
And another half an hour in the truck, on the way to the museum. With the expected 'you wanna stop at Mickey D's?' and the obvious 'I'll eat that slop when I'm dead and in hell, not before.' Which was actually a bit more comforting than Cordelia's well-meaning big city horror stories, since he and Gunn had the fast food conversation almost every day, as normal adults. 'Normal' being a relative term, of course.
Finally, though, they pulled into the parking garage. Wesley tried to remember how long ago he'd last been here -- the first time had been after he'd lived here almost a year, and had finally got actual, disposable income. He'd managed a visit once or twice that year, then only once the year after. Recently he'd spent most of his free time with Gunn...and he hadn't ever thought to invite him here.
He was, however, mortified to discover he was bouncing ever-so-slightly in his seat as Gunn found a parking spot. He held himself still, until the engine was off. Then he undid his seatbelt and climbed out with as much decorum as he could muster. He was looking about for the stairs, when Gunn came around the truck and held out his hand again. "I don't actually--"
"How many drivers in this garage are gonna see you to not drive over you?" Gunn demanded.
Wesley blinked. He heard the reply in his head, felt it worm its way into his mouth.... To hell with it. "Then perhaps I shouldn't be walking, at all." He raised his hands, ready to stammer an explanation that he'd only been kidding. Gunn grinned, and scooped him up. "Remember where we're parked," Wesley said, craning his neck to see any signs nearby.
"Yes, dad," Gunn replied.
They made it through the admission counter without anyone staring at them, which made Wesley breathe a sigh of relief as they walked into the main lobby. Then he had to pause, and wonder why he'd been expecting that.
It wasn't as if he and Gunn didn't draw the odd look, every now and then, when they walked into a restaurant on the wrong side of some invisible line, and one of them was obviously out of place. Or in one of those neutral sorts of places, like the shopping mall, or the grocery store, when they did something that broadcast 'yes, we're together' without saying it aloud. All of which was fine. They were past worrying about that sort of thing, as far as he knew.
He realized as they walked --or rather, Gunn walked, for Wesley was still being carried-- towards the dinosaur exhibit, that he was expecting people to be staring at him. Expecting them to know, as Gunn had teased him earlier, that Wesley wasn't what he appeared to be. He also realized that by trying to watch for anyone staring at them, he was giving the impression of a young child on his first visit, who wanted to see everything. Now.
He pointed towards the mathematics hall. "There's an exhibit there that talks about the history of math, and how different cultures arrived at the same conclusions about the nature of numbers independently of each other."
"Oo, that sounds like fun," Gunn replied. "You sure I can't just put bamboo under my fingernails?"
Wesley thumped him on the head. "You do know you can put me down now," he said, as they drew nearer the Stegosaurus. There was only one child at the controls, which meant he could take a turn, sooner than later.
"Nuh-uh," was the unexpected response. "If I put you down, you'll get to the controls ahead of me."
Wesley gaped at him, despite the fact that Gunn was staring ahead, at the dinosaur. They'd reached the control panel, and Gunn was standing behind the seven year old boy who was making the Stegosaurus try to eat its own foot.
"You must be joking," Wesley finally said.
Gunn glanced at him. "I ain't joking. You've been here before, I haven't. It's only polite to let me go first."
"Yes, but..." Wesley could see where this was going-- he could get to go first, without any arguing, if he said the five magic words: 'But I'm smaller than you.' Or possibly 'younger.' Which would win him the battle, but lose the war. If indeed it was a war. There had to be another alternative... He frowned at Gunn. "Yes, but I have to show you how to do it. Otherwise you might end up...er...breaking something."
Gunn grinned and raised an eyebrow. "I think I got the hang of it. Jonny Quest here seems to know what he's doing." He nodded his head at the boy in front of them, who was now trying to make the Stegosaurus re-enact Riverdance, it appeared.
"He's probably been here before, too," Wesley said, unruffled. "He's got that jaded look in his eye."
"Don't make me tickle you to get the first turn at this thing. 'Cause you know I will..."
"Just because we're someplace public? Oh, believe me, I will. I might not get to when you're taller'n me, but now, nobody will even look twice."
"I'll--" Well, 'I'll scream' wouldn't be an effective threat. "How do you propose to operate the controls with only one hand, if you don't set me down?" He saw the reply on Gunn's face, and felt himself go bright red. "You shouldn't think such things around children," he chastised, quietly.
"Me? I didn't think a word. You're the one with the evil mind." Gunn leaned down to the control panel, and grabbed one joystick. Wesley sighed. He wasn't going to demand a turn -- it wasn't as if Gunn weren't perfectly justified. He had been here before, and Gunn hadn't -- and he wasn't really four years old and unable to share. And he wasn't remotely pouting, or thinking that it wasn't fair, and he should get to go first because he was the one who'd enjoy it more. Because, why would he? They were both grown men. In spirit, anyway.
Wesley was making that extra effort to suck in his bottom lip, and try to look interested-but-not-jealous, when Gunn tapped him on the arm. "Hey, you want this, or what?"
He blinked, to see a joystick in front of his face. Gunn had knelt down, and placed Wesley on his knee, while Wesley was contemplating not pouting. He blinked again at the control, then shook his head. "No, of course not. I wasn't trying to get my own way, you know."
Gunn snorted. "Of course not." His mock-English accent hadn't improved with age. "Like I'd let you. There's two controls, or didn't you notice? We can make him bop himself in the head."
"What fun. And after that, we can stop at Toys R' Us and pick up a pair of Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots."
"See, I knew you'd get into the swing of things." Gunn twitched his control, and the Stegosaurus skeleton attempted to flip Wesley the bird. It failed badly, since it didn't have any fingers, but Wesley got the message.
He narrowed his eyes at Gunn, and reached out to grasp the other control -- which was a bit further away than it usually was when he was six feet tall. "Er, could you..."
Gunn leaned closer to the counter, and Wesley grabbed the joystick. Executing a move he'd once practiced for half an hour, since the museum had been closing and most of the children were gone, he twirled the control-stick around so that the skeleton whapped itself in the head with its own tail.
There was a pause. Then, "You did that on accident."
"I most certainly did not!" Wesley straightened up, feeling righteously indignant, and tried to spin around to glare at Gunn -- and nearly toppled himself off Gunn's leg. He was saved from falling by Gunn's quick grab of Wesley's shirt.
"You break something and Cordelia won't let me take you anywhere, ever again," Gunn warned him.
"What if I break your arm?" Wesley asked, torn between sounding perfectly innocent and grumbling about the injustice of the world in general, and snarky lovers in specific.
"Then she really won't let me take you anywhere -- because your pansy ass will be grounded for a month."
Once again settled on Gunn's knee -- though not because he hadn't tried to climb down, and been held captive -- Wesley glanced over his shoulder. "Why exactly would that be a bad thing?"
There was another pause, before Gunn said, "Because then I'd have to pout at you." Then he did so.
Wesley was about to tease him, when he caught a woman watching them, with a huge 'aren't they adorable' smile on her face.
Which they were, of course, but why did it take him being the size of a pre-schooler to elicit looks like that? They never got 'aren't they adorable' when they teased each other like this in public as adults. At best they had been politely ignored. At worst-- well, things could have been worse. They'd never been threatened. They had been the target of a few not-so-veiled insults, which they had chosen to politely ignore. The most common reaction was a curious stare in their direction before civility reared its helpful head and the gawker turned away. Which Wesley really was past caring about. Mostly.
But the smiling woman, who apparently wasn't bound by the same sort of politeness conventions as prevailed with adults, was still staring at them. At him. What was it about being three and a half feet tall that made it polite for people to gawp at you? He was frowning at her, which a real four-year-old probably wouldn't do. Would one? He wouldn't have dared, when he was four, of course. Then again, when he was four, he'd have been in England, and she wouldn't have stared.
He felt Gunn nudge him, and he turned halfway towards him, not quite letting his eyes leave the woman... Which meant, he realized, that he was gawking back at her, which was equally as rude. He sighed inwardly, and turned his attention fully to Gunn.
"You gonna play or you gonna worry about women thinking we're cute?" Gunn asked in a low voice.
"How long has she been standing there?" Wesley reached for the joystick again, and half-heartedly raised the Stegosaurus' tail and waggled it.
"Dunno. Come on, Wes, don't worry about her. Worry about the fact that the T-Rex is about to chomp us."
Wesley immediately looked over towards the Tyrannosaurus Rex robot, where another child was trying his best to reach their Stegosaurus...and chomp it. He'd seen kids doing this to each other, of course, but they'd never bothered him when he was playing. When he'd been an adult.
He tried to wallop the T-Rex in the face with the Stego's tail. It wouldn't quite reach high enough, so he changed his strategy, and went for the back legs. Didn't quite knock the thing over, but the King of the Carnivores wobbled quite a bit. The other boy grinned, and made his T-Rex roar. Or at least open its jaws as if it were roaring, and scrabble its little front arm/legs. Then the toothy skull dove for the Stego again.
"Get him, Wes. You can't let him eat us. Strike a blow for vegetarians everywhere," Gunn encouraged him.
"We're not vegetarians," Wesley said as he manipulated his control so the the Stegosaurus ducked its head to avoid the T-Rex, then readied another tail-assault.
"No, but the Stegosaurus is. Says so right here." Gunn pointed to the legend on the console.
"I'm glad one of us is having a learning experience," Wesley replied, landing a solid whap to the Tyrannosaurus' skull as it tried to chomp them again. The T-Rex wobbled, but didn't quite fall. It rallied, and headed for his tail...his Stegosaurus' tail, once more. Wesley gave it another hard wallop before it could draw too near.
"Excuse me," said a polite voice behind and above them. Wesley glanced up, and as he saw the bright yellow shirt of a docent, he heard a crash. He turned back in time to see his dinosaur lying on its side and a triumphant Tyrannosaurus stalking away.
"You made us lose!" he snapped, before realizing what he was saying.
"Is there a problem?" Gunn asked.
"We prefer you treat the exhibits with more care," she replied, pointing to a sign that said "Please Keep Robot Dinosaurs In Their Own Play Area." It meant, as Wesley well knew, 'Don't play fight with the robots.'
"Sorry, ma'am," Gunn was saying, standing up and picking Wesley up with him. Wesley frowned -- was he ever going to let him go? It wasn't like he was going to run off and get lost. "Didn't see the sign."
Well, that was half true. Wesley had seen the sign. On more than one occasion. He just hadn't felt the need to point it out to Gunn, on this particular occasion. As the docent raised an eyebrow at Gunn, Wesley replaced his petulant frown at having lost, with a wide-eyed, innocent, I'm-too-young-to-read-so-it-can't-possibly-be-my-fault expression.
She looked down at him, and smiled back. Right, so perhaps there was something to the whole cuteness-factor. Wesley wasn't above using whatever weapons he had in his arsenal, so he widened his eyes a bit, and said, "You're not mad at us, are you? We won't do it again." He could feel Gunn trying to hold back a chuckle. He didn't even have to be looking, to know it was happening.
The young woman shook her head, and said, "No, honey. I'm not mad. These guys are made tough, just in case they decide to get rowdy, you know. We just don't want them getting too excited before feeding time."
He looked back at the robots, wondering if four-year-olds were supposed to think robots ate real food. Before he could decide to say something, Gunn was telling her, "We'll be sure to read the signs from now on, thanks. It's my first time here," he added, as if his being cute was going to affect the docent in any way.
Wesley decided to assist him. "I've been here seven times, so I'm showing him around."
"Have you, now? My, I bet you know everything there is to know about the place." The docent was looking from him, to Gunn, and back. "You're going to show your...." Here she faltered, clearly at a loss to guess why they were here, together.
"He's my boyfriend," Wesley said, with a straight-face. Gunn burst out laughing.
The docent gave Wesley another 'isn't he cute' smile, though she was now getting ready to walk away. "I hope you enjoy the rest of your visit. Just be nice to the dinosaurs -- they were here first."
"What are you laughing at?" he asked Gunn, as the woman walked over to talk to the T-Rex operator, who, as a ten-or-so-year-old, had definitely seen and read the signs.
"I think I'm too young for you," Gunn replied through his chuckles. "Man, that was masterful."
Wesley lifted his chin. "I have no idea what you're talking about," he replied.
"You sure you don't wanna go back to the admission desk and see if you can cute 'em into giving us our entry fee back?"
"I'm sure they see plenty of children who are as cute or cuter than me. At least... six or seven, per year. I doubt I'd have any luck." Gunn laughed, and started carrying him away from the exhibit. "Where exactly are we going?" Wesley asked, having given up on ever being put down.
"Feeding time, didn't you hear the nice lady?"
Wesley rolled his eyes. "Yes, but I don't expect they're actually taking the fiberglass dinosaur skeletons round the back to feed them their daily meal of attic insulation."
"Not for them-- for us. Cafeteria's this way."
"It's barely ten thirty," Wesley pointed out.
"So? You turning down junk food?"
Wesley narrowed his eyes. "Of course I'm turning down junk food." Not that he was, precisely. It was just....
Gunn stopped walking, and craned his head around to look where Wesley had been glancing. "What's over there?"
"Nothing, really." He kept himself from looking over, again. Which was pointless, because Gunn started walking that direction, reading signs out loud.
"Electronics, lights...sound? There something in the sound exhibit you wanna see?"
"If you're hungry...." Wesley began. The sound wing was rather packed -- then he saw that the keyboard was free and he wriggled, urgently. "Let me down!"
Gunn did, though Wesley suspected it was from surprise, more than anything else. Wesley ran as fast as he dared, ducking around adults and other kids who obviously didn't know an excellent exhibit when they saw one. He leapt, and landed on the 'C' square. The speakers overhead sounded a loud, organ's tone. Wesley grinned, and jumped to the 'E'.
Gunn caught up with him in a moment, looking a little worried. "Hey, Wes, don't do that, okay? Not in a big crowd like this."
"You're as bad as Cordelia," Wesley replied, stepping over to the E-flat, then jumping to the 'C' again. "I'm perfectly all right."
Gunn frowned for a moment. "I just don't wanna lose you, okay?"
Wesley landed on two notes right next to each other, and covered his ears at the cacophonous sound. Then he turned to Gunn, who began to repeat himself. "I heard you," Wesley said quietly. "I'm not about to disappear, you know. Just because I can run faster than you..."
"You slip through crowds easier than me. You ain't faster."
"Am, too," Wesley replied, jumping over to hit a third, and not quite making it. "When I say 'now', would you step on those two keys?" He pointed them out, to Gunn. Gunn gave him a frown, which meant the lecture wasn't over, but he moved into position. Wesley bent his legs to jump, and said "Now!" A perfect chord. He grinned. Then he turned to Gunn to reiterate that he wasn't going to get snatched, and faltered. Stared, instead, at the look on Gunn's face. "What?" he demanded, after a moment.
In a quiet voice, Gunn said only, "Love you."
Eventually, Wesley was able to look back up at him, and faked a pout. "You don't play fair."
"Nope. Gotta use every advantage I have, in the Man's world," Gunn said, straightfaced. Wesley snorted.
"You do realize, don't you, that I'm 'The Man' ?"
Gunn was laughing at him again, damn it. "Uh, that's right, Wes. You da man."
"Not what I meant." Wesley shifted from one foot to the other, which happened to recreate the theme from 'Jaws' rather nicely.
"Yeah, so. You're The Squirt, then."
"You're asking for it."
"I am, huh? And you're gonna give it to me?"
"If I must." Wesley pushed his sleeves up, getting ready. He moved his feet into a fighting stance, which Gunn recognized. A confused look appeared on his face.
"What are you gonna do, kick me in the shins?"
Wesley shook his head, and stage-whispered, "I'm going to scream for my mother."
Gunn blinked. "Nah, you wouldn't."
"Thought you didn't want to be embarrassed?" he asked, but he didn't sound completely convinced.
"Face embarrassment, rather than let you get one up one me?"
"Good point. How about I buy us ice cream sandwiches, and you pay -- because you're da Man?"
"How about you jump on the 'D' and the 'G' so I can play another chord?" Gunn rolled his eyes, but complied. The man had good timing, Wesley had to admit. The sound rang out nicely.
Gunn looked at him. "If you're thinking we're gonna do the Pachelbel Canon, I'm telling you right now, forget it."
"Are you saying you can't dance?"
"No, I'm saying I can't play the piano. If I try to break it down on this thing, they'll kick us out of here for disturbing the peace."
Wesley pictured it, and couldn't help giggling. "Then why don't you just step down two notes, and play harmony for me? The 'A' and the 'C'. Back and forth."
"You're a weird little kid, you know that, right?" Gunn said as Wesley began hop-playing the melody line. Gunn burst out laughing when he finally figured out what the song was. "I Wouldn't Normally Do This Kind of Thing?" he chortled.
"Better than 'How Much Is That Doggie In The Window," Wesley replied, sticking out his tongue. "And when exactly did you listen to the Pet Shop Boys?"
Gunn never stopped shifting from one foot to the other, playing his limited harmony line. "Yesterday afternoon, while you were watching tv with Cordy. Looked 'em up on the net. Downloaded some mp3's."
"You're a strange, large man, you know that, right?"
"Thought you liked 'em large and strange."
Wesley faltered on the next note, and took the moment as a time-out to glare at Gunn. Again. With its usual lack of success.
"What?" Gunn looked at him, surprised.
Before Wesley could respond with a musical raspberry, two girls jumped onto the keyboard. They obviously had no musical talent, but Wesley surrendered the board, regardless. He was about to head for the listening tubes, when he found himself being lifted into the air. "Charles, really. This is getting quite absurd."
"What? Since when don't you like being taller than most of the crowd?"
"Since most of the crowd is under the age of twelve. I can walk, you know." He tried wriggling out of Gunn's grasp, again, but Gunn was holding him firmly.
"So can I. I can walk and carry you at the same time." He proceeded to prove it, by walking towards the microphone exhibit -- thereby proving he had no clue what passed for a cool exhibit.
"You could simply hold my hand, as I walked along beside you," he pointed out.
"Yeah, but then you wouldn't see anything."
Yes, and people wouldn't see him, which was the point of the exercise. Or at least, people wouldn't see him being hoisted above his boyfriend's head like a sack of potatoes. "I would so. I'd have a lovely view of... knees. Lots of knees."
"'Cause God knows, you need to do some more research on kneecaps, otherwise you might accidentally kick somebody where it didn't hurt," Gunn said, shifting him slightly, so that he could, in fact, see the exhibits better than before.
"That's right. I need to practice my aim," Wesley agreed. Gunn carried him toward the microphone exhibit, and Wesley tugged on his ear.
"What're you doing?" Gunn laughed.
"Steering. I've never driven one of these contraptions before, so it may take me a moment to get used to it." Wes tugged on Gunn's other ear.
"That's not tr---" Gunn started, then stopped. "Um, not gonna finish that thought."
"Charles! What did I tell you about thinking such things around children?" He sounded shocked -- and perhaps a bit too loud. He received a very peculiar look from a man who didn't appear to think that all was right with his world. Or Wesley's, or Gunn's, or something. But that was all right, Wesley was used to those sorts of disapproving looks. He grinned -- then stuck his tongue out at the man, who blinked then hurried away.
"Where are we going?" Gunn asked, trying to head in whatever direction Wesley was steering.
"Over there." He pointed, then thumped Gunn on the head. From up here he could see quite well, and he could see something he'd forgotten about. "No! There, this way!" He tugged on Gunn's ear, again.
"You know, you could use that fancy vocabulary of yours to tell me where to go." There was a pause. "Forget I said that, OK?"
"You could use those hands of yours to put me down and I could show you where I want to go," Wesley reminded him. There was silence for a moment. "Er, Charles?"
"Thinking not-around-kids thoughts again. Uh, this way?" He walked in the right direction, but Wesley pulled on his ear again. Just for the hell of it. "Wrong way?"
"Mean Little Kid."
Finally they reached the shadow box display, which Gunn was examining curiously. "You have to put me down, for this to be any fun," Wesley informed him. Gunn did so, after a dubious look, and Wesley pulled him into the box, which was actually the size of a rather small room. Several other people, adults and children, were standing about waiting. Gunn raised an eyebrow. Then the flash of light went off.
"Uh, so the point of this exhibit is to blind people?" Gunn asked, blinking. Wesley pointed at the wall, where there was a perfect shadow of a tall man, holding the hand of a small boy. "Dam-- uh, man, that's cool!"
Wesley laughed, and tugged on Gunn's hand. "When you hear the beeping, get ready."
"Ready for what?" Gunn was still watching the walls, which were adorned with shadows from all the occupants.
"For the light to flash! Honestly, Gunn, pay attention."
Gunn tore his gaze away from the wall, and began to give him one of the 'don't dis me, man, I know where you're ticklish' looks. Then the alarm sounded, and Wesley jumped into the air. Right before Gunn caught him, the light flashed. Wesley spun around to look at the shadow before the white light had even completely faded. There was a small shadow-him, in mid-air.
They managed to kill an hour, playing in the shadow box. Then Wesley dragged Gunn - by the ear - to the sound tubes, then the earth science wing, then the mathematics wing where Wesley demonstrated that it was much more fun than bamboo under the fingernails. Gunn agreed, especially when he happily sat for a half hour staring at the Marble Race, trying to predict which pathways the marbles would take as they tripped the various traps, switch-tracks, and gizmos.
Then they finally made it to the snack area, and spent much of Angel's money on junk food. They walked around outside, looking at the agriculture displays and gardens, and Wesley amused himself by whispering to Gunn about historical, magical, significance of some of the plants they saw. Afterwards they debated the engineering wing versus the science store, and finally the science store won out.
"Hey, check this out," Gunn said, dragging him over to one of the logic-toy displays. Gunn had finally put him down, when his shoulder had obviously started to get tired, but he was still holding Wesley fast by the hand. "They got little mini-marble races."
"Yes, they've been around for years-- it's actually the large ones that are the novelty," Wesley explained.
Gunn was busy studying the back of one of the packages, a contemplative look on his face. Wesley spotted a robotic construction set, basically a miniature version of the dinosaur skeletons, across the aisle. He reached for it, but couldn't quite make it without getting Gunn to let go of him. "Charles?"
"Hmm?" Gunn was still rolling the marble around the box.
He strained against his lover's hand, but couldn't get free. "Charles, let me go."
"Why? Hey, you know you can buy a bunch of these sets, and hook 'em together! We could make a huge track, in the middle of the hotel lobby."
"I don't care; I want to look at the robotic models." He tugged again.
"Where are they?" Gunn set the marble race track down, and took a step towards the models.
Wesley sighed. "You do know you can let me go. I'm going two feet away -- surely even you can keep an eye on me."
Gunn looked down at him, raising an eyebrow, but only said, "You wanna get one of them? Stegosaurus?"
"I don't wish to buy it, I simply want to see how they're constructed." They were near enough to the models, now, that he could reach forward and grab a box. Only he didn't quite get his hand on it, and the front three boxes fell onto the floor. He sighed, and crouched down to pick them up.
Gunn bent down to help, and said, "You know we can get one. Two, maybe, so we can have fights without docents scolding us."
"I don't want one," he repeated, patiently. "I only wanted to know how they were made. I know, now, after having read the box, so now I would like to go look at the bookracks."
Gunn shook his head, slowly. "Not unless they're picture books. You're not supposed to be able to read. Come here and help me pick out some marble sets."
Wesley didn't want to look at marble sets. Wesley had seen the marble sets at least seven times already, and they remained marble sets, no matter how many times one stared at them. The bookracks, on the other hand, were periodically changed in order to reflect new exhibits and current events in science. He shook his head.
"No, I want to go look at the new books. I'll just be a minute." He darted over to the bookshelves, and began eyeing the new large-format coffee-table book on the differences and similarities between dinosaurs and fantasy-art dragons.
It was one shelf above his head, so he could read the cover well enough, but couldn't reach it to pull it down and open it. He stepped forward onto the bottom shelf, resting his foot on it just enough so he could raise himself up an inch or two, and reach for the book. And found his hand being grabbed by Gunn's. He twisted around, glaring at him. "What?" he snapped.
"You know you aren't supposed to be climbing on the bookshelves. This ain't the Magic Box."
It was on the tip of Wesley's tongue to respond that he knew what he was doing, and didn't weigh enough to bring the shelves down. He could tell by the set of Gunn's expression that it wouldn't faze the other man, so instead he simply said, "Fine. Hand me that one."
Which, for some reason, despite being what Gunn wanted -- that he not fetch the book, himself -- didn't work. "Let's go grab some marble sets. You can look at the books when you're old enough to read."
As if it mattered that suddenly he was supposed to act like the child he appeared? Wesley didn't understand, and didn't care. "No, I want to look at that book."
It was, as a matter of fact, a picture book, in its own way, and not one that a four-year-old would be completely out of place in looking at. He frowned up at Gunn. Who frowned back at him for a moment, then threw up his hands. "Fine. You wanna look at the books, look at the books. Let 'em think you're some kinda kid genius. I'll be over looking at the marbles, with the rest of the four-year-olds." He walked back over to the toys, though Wesley could see that Gunn was still keeping one eye on him.
Wesley rolled his own eyes, and stepped back up to grab the book. He got a good grip on the spine, and was lifting it over the lip of the shelf, when his smaller-than-usual fingers slipped on the slick jacket. He caught the paper covering, but the book itself slid straight through the unfastened jacket, and landed smack on Wesley's head, with what sounded like a rather loud bonk, to his biased ears. To add insult to injury, the paper cover ripped along the spine, as the book slid out.
Wesley _rubbed his forehead, and blinked back tears that were completely justified by the smarting pain in his head, but might be misinterpreted by outside observers as childish pique. He carefully placed the book back in its jacket, examined the tear for a moment, then, with a sigh, carried it over to Gunn.
"If you say a word," he began. Gunn simply held out his hand for the book, putting down the marble set he'd been holding. Wesley frowned at the marble set. "Surely you have enough to get both?"
"Be a squeeze to get all of it. I didn't steal Angel's credit card, just his cash."
"Oh." Wesley looked at the book, which he didn't have any choice about buying now, then at the marble sets that had so captured Gunn's interest. Then he blinked at the dinosaur robots -- which Gunn had apparently gotten off the shelf again. He pointed at them. "Put those back, then, and get your marble sets."
"It's okay, Wes. We can come back, right? I'll get the marble tracks then." Gunn sounded like he really didn't care. Which, of course, made Wesley feel worse, because he knew better -- and while the robots were interesting, Wesley really didn't care about buying them. He'd told Gunn that, but Gunn had chosen to believe -- what, that Wesley was covering up his desire to play, so he wouldn't have to admit to being childish? Did everything have to revolve around that? Couldn't something just be about him having a preference, like wanting a book instead of a toy?
Even if he didn't necessarily want this book. Wesley sighed, not wanting to get into it. "No, we don't need to get the robots. You said you wanted to set the marble races up in the lobby." He took the dinosaurs, intending to carry them back to the display and set them back up. One slipped out of his arms, and he bit off a word not even thirty-two-year-olds were supposed to know.
He bent to pick it up, and the first box slid out of his arms. In a fit of pique, he kicked the box. Then he did mutter a word he shouldn't have known, but at least it wasn't in English. He crouched down, picked up one box, and carried it carefully over to the display. When he came back for the next one, Gunn was holding it. "How about we get two of the marble sets and one dino? And the book."
"And you'll put what in the fuel tank of the truck on the way back? Water? Come on, just give me the model. We can get it later, if you insist."
Gunn shook his head. "Don't worry about it, Wes. I've got enough." Which meant he was going to dig into his own pocket for it, instead of using the 'let's amuse ourselves with mini-Wesley' fund. Wes narrowed his eyes and reached for the dinosaur box. Gunn held it out of his reach.
"Charles, stop it."
"Look, it isn't like they're gonna sell out of these things by the weekend."
Wesley put his hands on his hips. "Which means we can very well get the robots later, and get the sets which you want, now. I don't care about the stupid robots and I'm sorry I ripped the fucking book and will you please just get the--"
He cut off, as Gunn was kneeling down in front of him, looking worried. "Wes? Come on, let's put them both back and buy the book and go home."
Fighting back the urge to tell Gunn to get the marble sets anyway, Wesley nodded. He reached for the dinosaur robot Gunn was holding, but Gunn placed it on the shelf, himself, then wrapped an arm around Wesley, and hugged him. Wesley felt himself sniffle, and whispered, "I'm sorry."
"Missed his nap, huh?" a woman's voice said.
Wesley frowned. He was saved from answering by Gunn standing up and facing the woman -- thereby facing Wesley away from her, as he was resting against Gunn's shoulder. "Um, yeah. We've had kind of a busy day, today," Gunn was saying, a little awkwardly.
"I don't need a nap," Wesley said quietly. Only to Gunn, since it wasn't any of her business.
"That's what they all say, kiddo," she said, not unkindly. Wesley stuck his tongue out at her anyway, though of course she couldn't see it. All he ended up doing was getting a tongueful of fuzz from Gunn's sweatshirt. He wiped it off quickly with his hand, making a face.
Gunn nodded, and carried Wesley up to the counter, where he let Wesley down for a moment, while he paid for the book. Wesley looked back at the woman, who was pushing her own child, a two or three year old, in a stroller. She waved at him, and he resisted the urge to stick his tongue out at her again. He did not need a nap. Even if, right now, the pillow that the little girl was leaning her head against looked awfully comfortable.
Instead he wrapped his arm around Gunn's leg, and leaned his head against that. Not exactly restful, but he wasn't tired. Just...well, he wouldn't say 'no' to them leaving, and maybe finding a quiet spot to sit for awhile. Maybe they could look at the book he'd forced them to buy.
Then Gunn was picking him up again. "I can walk," he reiterated, not sure it would do any good. Not sure he liked the fact that he sounded as if he were whining.
"I know." Gunn settled Wesley on his hip, and wrapped the handles of the bag around his other wrist. "Let's go home," he said again, and this time Wesley just nodded. He let his head fall onto Gunn's shoulder, again, not caring that the woman was still staring at him. He closed his eyes so he wouldn't have to see it.
And opened them, an entire nap later, to find himself being carried into the hotel lobby.
Cordelia was giving him a look he'd come to know all too well in the last few days. He scowled at her.
"Don't scowl, you'll ruin the shot," she told him.
"You're taking photographs again?" he snapped, suddenly feeling extremely irritated. He pushed against Gunn's chest, so he could be let down and be able to go over and... Well, he'd promised to stop kicking people, but he was about to make an exception. He'd start with a video-camera-wielding vampire who healed fast.
Except he wasn't being let down. He squirmed a bit, to no avail. Cordelia gave Gunn a quizzical look, which Wesley caught, thank you very much. He hadn't suddenly become blind, as well as short. Although he was still blinking at her, trying to make things come into focus. He felt rather as if he'd been woken up at three thirty in the morning, and he was still stumbling around the flat trying to find his socks.
Whatever expression Gunn sent her in return which Wesley couldn't see, it got the aww-isn't-he-cute look off Cordelia's face, and made Angel put down the camera. "So, did you guys have fun?" Cordelia asked. Which was a perfectly reasonable question, so Wesley bit off the reply he was about to snap at her, and blinked some more, allowing Gunn to answer.
"Oh yeah-- that place is a blast. They have this water clock in the lobby, that goes through all these different tubes and scale things, so you can see just when it's gonna hit the hour and go off. And the robot dinos are awesome."
"Which got us yelled at," Wesley added, still feeling as if he'd rather be still asleep. Except he wasn't tired, hadn't been tired, so how had he slept the entire drive home?
"Yelled at?" Angel asked.
"We got eaten by a Tyrannosaurus Rex," Wesley explained, knowing full well it wasn't an explanation. But it was better than yelling at them to leave him alone. He looked back over at Gunn.
"You wanna go upstairs and read?" Gunn held up the bag, but made his question sound like they'd actually chosen to buy it, rather than otherwise. Wesley nodded. Gunn said to the others, "Don't hold dinner for us -- we're gonna order pizza later."
"We are?" Wesley was feeling a bit more awake, now. As well as hungry.
"Maybe more 'sooner' than later," Gunn amended. "Didn't you say something about anchovies and green peppers?"
Wesley blinked. "I said they were the two most disgusting pizza toppings on the planet."
"Oh, and here I thought you liked 'em." Gunn was heading for the stairs, still carrying Wesley - but he no longer minded so much. He did glance back over Gunn's shoulder at Angel and Cordelia, and saw that the camera was still safely aimed at the floor. He stuck his tongue out at Angel, quickly.
The moment they got in the door to their room, Gunn reached for the telephone. "You can put me down, you know," Wesley informed him.
"Well, yeah, I could, but why start now?" Gunn proceeded to order pizza, while still holding Wesley, who simply rolled his eyes, and corrected him loudly when he tried to order one with extra green peppers and anchovies. "You sure?" Gunn asked, with a patently false expression of confusion on his face. Wesley pinched his ear as he confirmed that yes, he was bloody well sure. "Okay, I guess he's sure." Wesley was close enough to the phone that he could hear the cashier's laughter.
Gunn was grinning, by the time they'd hung up, and Wesley looked sternly at him. "You know you probably confused the hell out of that poor woman," he said as Gunn carried him over to the chair. "We're likely to get three small pepper and anchovy pizzas with an order of calimari on the side."
"I don't think Pizza Hut has... what was that?"
"Deep fried squid. I was trying to think of something more disgusting than anchovies."
Gunn made a face. "Congratulations. You did." He settled Wesley on his lap, and slid the book out of the museum store bag. "Dinosaurs and Dragons, huh? You sure this book isn't too advanced for your reading group level?"
With an absolutely straight face, Wesley replied, "Hooked on Phonics worked for me. Would you care to open it?"
"Just a second. I'm looking at the cover."
Wesley was trying to avoid looking at the cover, and the large rip down the spine, but he sighed, and waited, while Gunn studied the colorful painting of a Pterodactyl swooping down on a large and anatomically incorrect Wyvvern. Finally, Wesley reached out a finger, and traced the rough edges of the tear.
"Didn't you want the book anyway?" Gunn asked quietly, still staring at the drawings.
"I didn't have a chance to find out." Wesley knew what Gunn was after - it was a book, how could he be too upset about owning it? Unless it was utter trash, but DK didn't tend to publish trash.
"It's just a rip in the dust cover, Wes. You woulda bought it if you'd been yourself, six feet tall and too big for his britches, and tore the cover."
Wesley shook his head, though not because Gunn was wrong.
"You wouldn't have left it on the shelf," Gunn began, with a hint of Cordelia-esque scolding in his voice.
"No, it isn't that. I just...don't like being reminded what a clumsy child I was. Am."
Gunn squeezed his shoulders for a second, then said, "You are not clumsy. Any more than any four-year-old kid is. You ever looked at a four-year-old?"
Wesley shrugged. "In passing. And the others, of course. Rupert didn't seem to have any trouble operating his body."
"In the what, two hours you actually spent with him? Mostly with him sittin' on your lap? Wes, kids fall and they pull things down on top of them, and they get bumped on the head, and it happens every day. Their heads are too big for their bodies, they all think they're taller than they really are, and they got more energy than something your size can hold. My sister..." His voice got quiet for a moment, then he gave a soft laugh, and continued in a normal tone. "She used to be climbing on things all the time, when she was little. No matter how often me or somebody else yelled at her to get down 'cause she'd fall on her head, you'd turn around and two minutes later there she was, halfway up a fence, or a fire escape. And sure enough, she fell, most of the time. On her butt, more than her head, lucky for her. And us."
In this case, Wesley wasn't about to make his habitual protest about him not being whichever child or adult-child he'd just been compared to, so he sat silently for a second or two. "I seemed to be breaking things all the time," he finally said. "Oh, not myself. But things. Expensive things. It wasn't as if I meant to be clumsy. Just the opposite; I remember trying to walk as slowly and carefully as I could. But I still broke things." He looked at the book cover again, and frowned.
Gunn closed the book and set it down on his lap, and reached forward to take Wesley's chin. After a token protest, Wesley let him turn his head so he was looking up at his lover. Gunn's expression was sad, and determined, and he said, "Wes, I don't care what you break 'cause I don't own nothing that's worth too much. Talk to Angel before you try breakin' the chandelier."
Wesley blinked. Stared at Gunn for a moment, waiting for him to smile or laugh or say 'gotcha!'. He didn't.
What he did do, after another moment passed, was say, "Breaking things is what kids do. It ain't your fault they didn't understand that."
"But I tried not to," he repeated, not sure Gunn understood what he was saying.
But perhaps he did. Gunn pulled him close, and held him, and said, "But you couldn't help it -- like you couldn't help being small, or couldn't help using five syllable words when you were eight, and like you can't help it now that you whistle in the mornings after you've been fucked through the mattress the night before."
Another blink. Then, "What did I tell you about saying such things in front of a four-year-old?"
"You said 'better jerk off in the shower, because I ain't growing up for another three weeks."
Wesley shook his head. "I don't think I said that. It wouldn't be proper." At Gunn's raised eyebrow, Wesley twitched his lip. "What with the 'ain't' and all." He ignored the chuckling, and snuggled in a bit closer. Then he looked again at the book cover. It really was an interesting subject, and yes, he probably would have bought it on his own, but... "I am sorry. That I was such a...a prick, earlier."
Gunn laughed. "Now who's with the inappropriate vocab, huh?" He opened the book again, and turned the pages, stopping on a picture of a Stegosaurus. "You gonna freak out if I say I think it wasn't you?"
Wesley peered up at him. "As in, you think I'm the victim of a routine possession, demonic subclass 17A, stroke 12, paragraph 32?"
"You made that up-- it sounds too much like something outta the Real Ghostbusters. No, I think it wasn't you, as in, it was you, but not your fault. Just you bein' worn out. Because your body's four, and you'd been out all day, which you hadn't yet before, and maybe..."
"You think I'm starting to regress."
Gunn turned a page, and nodded. "Could be. The timing's about right, ain't it?"
"I--" Wesley frowned. Wasn't this what he'd wanted? To reach the point where he wouldn't mind looking silly, or being small, or... all those things he still seemed to be worried about, today. But now he wondered. To be under the control of his body, his hormones and enzymes all telling him to run about and do things he normally wouldn't think of doing-- wasn't it a sort of possession?
When he was truly emotionally regressed, the way he had seen Rupert, Buffy, Xander, and Spike acting, he obviously wouldn't care about that. It was just this transition period that was...uncomfortable. He was starting to act like a child despite his best intentions, but was able to notice it. Worry about it.
"Hey-- maybe you are possessed. By Angel. Were you gonna quit brooding and read to me anytime soon?" Gunn asked.
Wesley jerked his head up, then found a smile, somewhere. "I thought you were going to read to me?" he protested. "This is above my reading group level, remember?"
"Uh-huh." Gunn gave him a look, then just pulled the book towards them again, and opened it. Wesley halted him long enough to get comfortable, wriggling a bit and trying to get his elbows in just the right place -- so he could let Gunn know if he were reading too fast. Or too slowly. "You do remember I know where you're ticklish, right?" Gunn asked.
"You do remember I can tell Cordelia you've been mean to me," he responded.
"Like she would blame me?" But Gunn flipped past the title page, and began reading aloud.
It was nice, Wesley reflected, as he laid his head back and listened to Gunn reading. The sound of his lover's voice stumbling over the Latin names of dinosaurs, the anticipation of greasy, hot pizza, and the not-completely-recovered feeling of tiredness since he'd woken from his nap, after a long, full day of nothing but fun. It had been a very long time since he'd felt this good.
It would have been nice, as well, if they'd been rocking. He'd fall asleep within minutes, however, so perhaps it would be best if he didn't ask. As he watched Gunn turn another page, his four-year-old head resting against Gunn's chest, he decided it was just as well they weren't. But it'd have been nice. "Eustreptospondylus," he corrected, absently. Gunn repeated the word, and continued reading.
Willow gazed at the main galleria of the Sunnydale mall with undisguised glee, and tugged at Spike's hand. Geez, for a guy with supernatural speed and reflexes, he could be so slooooow. "Come on! They have a sale at Gymboree. Tara would look so cute in those little overalls with the elephants on the pocket. Hurry up!"
"Would somebody like to explain to me, slowly, again, how we got roped into this?" Xander was asking.
"You said you'd take care of us if we got little, duh," Willow told him.
"No, I meant, how did Spike and I get roped into taking you two to the mall, by ourselves. You'd think Anya would have learned, after the supermarket incident. And the bookstore. And the Toys R' Us."
"Yeah-- we got sent for one book on day trading, and came back with the entire Louisa May bloody Alcott section," Spike grumbled.
"Well, Tara hadn't read them. It's classic literature, from your generation. I don't see what your problem is."
"It's sniffly girly books from my generation, is what it is."
"Anyway, we didn't do anything to you in Toys R' Us-- you bought more toys for you than you did us," Tara pointed out innocently.
"Which is another reason why Anya should have known better than to let us loose with you two," Xander riposted. "Anyway, I think two hundred bucks' worth of software comes out about even with Spike's and my Lego sets."
Willow had to admit, they had a point. Anya had told them, each time they'd gone off somewhere, not to spend too much. She'd given them lists. The first time she had given the list to Spike, then she'd given it to Xander, then finally to Willow -- a list of approved purchases from whatever store they were being sent to. They invariably had failed to get less than $100 over the cost of the approved list.
Did Anya think her boys would eventually learn how to shop properly? Through rote repetition? If so, surely she would have realized that it hadn't worked thus far. Maybe she simply didn't like to shop, and felt that letting Spike and Xander go nuts was a small price to pay to avoid the mall and shopping centers. Anya definitely liked pretty things, but that didn't mean she was a shopaholic like Buffy or Cordelia; her shiny things were usually showered upon her by one or more guilty-acting men.
Then again, who cared why she'd let them loose with money to burn? Anya had given Xander her credit card this morning. Which meant -- "Oo! Spike, look, they've having a sale!" Willow tugged on his hand, wishing she could risk a small levitation spell because a certain vampire was acting like his feet were made of lead.
"That's not the Gymboree," Xander pointed out. Willow rolled her eyes -- like she'd forgotten how to read?
"But we need shoes," she pointed out, stopping in front of the store, and looking up at her oldest best friend with her very best pleading eyes.
"Should I just give you the credit card, and Spike and I can wait out here on the old man benches?"
"Don't be silly-- we need you to hold things for us!"
Spike groaned. Xander shot him a commiserating look, as if Willow was actually asking them to do something difficult, or horrible, or embarrassing. "It could be worse, I guess," Xander said as they walked into the store. "We could be shopping with Willow as an adult. 'Here, just hold my purse for me while I look at this rack of absolutely identical skirts, to find the one that goes just right with the hat that looks like a squished pumpkin'..."
"Summer squash. But thanks for reminding me-- here-- hold this." Willow shoved her little pink vinyl Powerpuff change purse into Spike's open hand, then wiggled out of his grasp, heading for the kids' tennis shoes. When she peeked back around the corner, Spike was still holding the purse up, staring at it as if she'd put a live aardvark in his hand. She giggled, and pointed him out to Tara. "Suuuure, he was willing to wear Mojo Jojo, when he was four, but look at him now. Poor manly baby."
"I heard that," Spike shouted. Which just made her giggle harder, since, of course, he'd been meant to.
Then she heard a quiet "Oops," followed by what sounded like a dozen shoes falling onto the floor. She turned around to where Tara had been standing, to find her girlfriend standing by what had been a lovely display of children's footwear. Now in a pile on the floor.
Tara looked up at her, eyes wide -- as if that sort of expression worked on fellow-four-year-olds, Willow thought. For a second, then she was beside Tara, holding her hand. "It's all right, honey, you didn't mean to."
"I wanted to see the Winnie the Pooh shoes," Tara explained. "They were on top."
"Maybe you should ask Xander to get them next time," Willow began. But Tara was already moving away, towards the display of shoes on the walls.
"Oh, look! They have Batgirl shoes. Can I have Batgirl shoes?"
"Don't ask me, Tara. Ask the fatherly-types with the credit card."
Tara ran over to Xander, who was trying to pretend he was interested in cheap work boots, and didn't really know the kid who'd made a mess of the display.
Willow watched as Tara tugged on Xander's arm, trying to get him to come look. She knocked them both into the stand-up 'sale sale sale' cardboard sign, which fell over with a soft whomp. Tara looked up at Xander, and there was that "Oops..." again. While Xander was busy picking up the sign, though, Tara was already tugging at Spike. "Come see, please. I want these shoes." Spike was still doing his molasses-walk, so Tara was practically hanging off his arm, dancing.
He transferred the aardvark-in-my-hand expression from Willow's purse, to Tara, but allowed her to drag him down the aisle. Which thought made Willow giggle again, as she tried to picture anybody managing to drag Spike down the aisle.
"Er, which ones?" Spike was saying, and Tara rolled her eyes.
"These-- right here!" She pointed at the ones that were several shelves above her and Willow's heads, and when Spike didn't immediately get the box down, Tara began to scramble up the shelf, climbing first onto the fitting stool, then the shelf proper.
"Um, Tara, maybe you shouldn't--" Willow started to say, before Tara looked questioningly back at her, slipped, and started to fall from the fourth shelf up.
She squealed loudly. Willow ran toward her, though what she thought she was going to be able to do, aside from have another four-year-old land on her head, was anybody's guess. Spike beat her to it by a mile, anyway, proving that his vampiric speed was still working when he wanted it to. He turned around with an armload of Tara, and they all three looked up to face Xander, who had raced down the aisle with a worried look on his face at the sound of Tara's shriek.
"That was a real scream, right? Not a found-my-bracelet-aren't-these-shoes-cute-isn't-it-a-pretty-day-outside-just-remembered-I-like-ice-cream scream. Wasn't it?"
"Yes," Willow replied, absently -- still staring in relieved amazement that Tara had almost fallen, almost really busted her head open, and was only not bleeding because they'd brought a vampire along with them. She was trying to get up on her tip-toes to see if Tara was really really all right, though from the sound of the babble, she guessed Tara was.
"Thanks, Spike, can you hold me up to reach those shoes? Aren't they cute? They have Batgirl on them -- real Batgirl, not new-replacement-fake-Batgirl. Aren't they cool?"
Spike seemed a bit disconcerted, as he shifted Tara so he was holding her - right-side-up - in front of him, from which she reached over for the shoes. "Er, Tara, you-- Yes, they're nice. But you--"
"Willow! Do you want a pair? We can match!" Tara leaned over Spike's arm, looking as though she'd over-balance and fall again to her head-splatting, if it weren't for the supernaturally strong grip on the back of her shirt. And around her middle -- apparently Spike was taking no chances.
Willow was about to scold her for scaring them all like that over shoes. Then she realized what Tara was talking about. "Batgirl! Those are real Batgirl shoes! Those haven't been out since the movie came out!!" She leapt forward and took the shoe from Tara. "Do they come in our size? What am I saying, of course they come in our sizes!" She held it up to Xander. "Two of these, please."
"That is so not fair," Xander muttered. "Do they make Batman shoes in my size? I don't think so."
Spike snorted at him. "Well, if you didn't have feet the size of the Batmobile, they might." Tara was squirming in his arms, and he set her down, after giving her another peculiar look.
"Excuse me, but why should the size of my feet have anything to do with my options in buying superhero footwear and Tara, where are you going?" Xander reached out and almost snagged Tara by the back of the shirt as she raced past all three of them, heading for the brightly colored display of purses and bags on the far wall. Willow blinked and followed, a bit more slowly, the boys right behind her.
Tara was pointing at the row of Powerpuff purses. "Look, they have the whole set. I can get the Bubbles one, since they didn't have it at Carsons. Then we'll really match." She giggled. "And I'll have a purse to make Xander carry."
Xander was looking fearfully at the bright electric blue purses. "Are you sure you don't want a nice, manly, leather briefcase, Tara?"
Tara put her hands on her hips, non-existent as they were -- and shook her head. "No, Xander. I want that one." She pointed.
Xander started to reach for the purse, and stopped. He looked at Spike. "Did we torture them this much?"
Xander sighed as Spike nodded. Then he brightened. "But only for two weeks! We're gonna owe them two weeks of torture, once this is over."
"You're assuming we'll survive?" Spike asked, then scowled at Willow. She blinked at him, shocked and hurt that he would dare suggest such a thing as that she would ever be misbehaved. Spike snorted. "Right. I think I'm becoming immune to that look, Red."
"Then why are you still holding my purse?" Willow asked.
"Er--" Spike stared at it, then shoved it at her. "Take it, then. I'm gonna go look at the...um... Actually, there's nothing here I would wear, dead or alive."
"These! You can wear these!" Tara came running up, holding a pair of bright yellow running shoes. Willow was impressed -- she hadn't even seen Tara leave to get them.
Spike stared at them in actual horror. He backed up slightly, still holding Willow's purse, and moved behind Xander. "Help me, Xan -- those things are evil !"
Xander snorted at him. "Spike, you're evil."
"Yeah, but there's evil and there's evil. Those're like... Darla's level of evil. Fact, I think she had a pair that color."
"Of running shoes?"
Spike just gave him a 'you're a twit' look -- though Willow noticed the vampire didn't move out from behind Xander.
Tara jumped up and down as she held out the shoes. "Come on, try 'em on, Spike. I bet you haven't bought shoes in a hundred years."
"These boots are from nineteen sixty-nine, I'll have you know," Spike protested.
"Yeah, but you didn't buy 'em, you stole 'em," Willow said. It was a guess, but the look on Spike's face proved her right.
"Wasn't like the fellow I took 'em from would be needing 'em anymore," Spike retorted. "Anyhow, they're perfectly fine, and I'm not trying on those lace-up bananas. They might be radioactive!"
Tara's eyes got, if possible, bigger than Spike's had been when he was four. Her lower lip stuck out, and even trembled a little. The whole picture might have been a bit more convincing if she hadn't still been bouncing, but Willow had to give her points for effort. Spike looked impressed, anyway. "If you loved me, you'd try them on," Tara said.
Spike laughed. "Who said I loved you?"
"But you need new shoes," Tara pointed out, skipping the chance to really go for the pitiful me routine. Maybe she was trying to get Spike and Xander off-balance, Willow thought.
Tara bent down and started unlacing Spike's boots. Spike stepped back, away from her. "I do not need new shoes. I don't need any, Xander doesn't need any, you don't need any, nobody needs anything--"
He stopped, because Tara was looking up at him, her face the very picture of shattered hurt. Willow could tell the second before she did it, that she was going to scream. Loudly.
Spike had his hand over her mouth a split-second later, but it didn't really help. Willow held her hands over her ears, and went over to give Spike a stern look. "You're going to buy us Batgirl shoes," she said clearly, knowing Spike's sensitive hearing was probably just ringing, right now. Spike nodded. "And Tara's Bubbles purse." Spike nodded again. "And the running shoes," she said.
"Fat chance," Spike mouthed at her.
"I want Batman shoes," Xander added.
"You can't even wear them!" Spike said, his hand still over Tara's mouth, though she'd begun to quiet down.
"Maybe the statue won't be completely out of power," Xander said with a shrug. "I'll have them just in case. Besides, they're on sale."
"Well, there is that. Sales are good. Anya likes it when we buy things on sale." Spike walked over to the boys' shoes racks, and grabbed a pair of the Batman shoes, while Willow laughed, not even bothering to suppress it. He still had his hand over Tara's mouth, and was dragging her along with him.
He finally had to remove his hand, in order to pull the Batman shoes out of the box and show them to Xander-- which was when Tara made her move. She held up the running shoes. "These are on sale too..." she said cheerfully, all trace of upset wiped from her face.
Willow could see the options being ticked off in Spike's head. Argue, and risk permanent eardrum damage if Tara decided to scream again. Say yes, buy them without trying them on, get yelled at by Anya when they got home, and stick them in a closet somewhere, forever. Or -- and she could see the light go on in his head -- possibly mail them to Angel.
He grabbed the shoes from Tara. "Fine. I'll buy 'em. Not wearing 'em, but I'll buy 'em." Willow thought it was a good choice. It wasn't as if he wouldn't end up getting yelled at by Anya for something anyway.
"You should try them on," Tara said.
Willow giggled as Spike sighed. She could see he was considering it all over again. Screaming Tara, or the mortification of wearing yellow shoes, even for a second. Xander didn't seem to be helping much, by laughing behind his hand. Spike gave him a death-to-infidels scowl, which made Xander stick his tongue out at him. Willow rolled her eyes; she'd seen this before. It usually lead to 'Why don't you two girls go watch TV, loudly, for a couple hours?'
"Try them on, Spike, come on," Tara repeated, oblivious to the fact that she was losing Spike's full attention.
"Tara, why don't we just get our shoes and your purse, and we can go try on every pair of overalls that Gymboree has?" Willow suggested.
"Oh! What about this one?" Tara dropped the shoes, and jumped over to grab something else. Willow watched her, slightly worried. Tara hadn't ever been this flighty as an adult, and hadn't said anything to make them think she had been as a child.
"Spike, remind me never ever to give Tara sugar, again," came a weary sigh from behind her.
"You think the ice cream was too much?"
"Well, no. But possibly the cotton candy."
"Nah-- that can't have much sugar in it-- it's mostly air, right?"
Xander looked doubtful. "Well... Yeah, but the part that's not air is all sugar. Or maybe it was the fudge?"
"Or the gummi bears," Willow offered, watching Tara bounce with another pair of shoes in her hand.
Spike turned to her. "We didn't buy you Gummi Bears!"
Xander looked sternly at her. "Where did you get the Gummi Bears, young lady?"
"A nice strange man gave them to us," she said brightly. At Xander's horrified look, she burst into laughter. "Dork-head. I bought them for her, from the gumball machine."
"They were good," Tara said. "Here, Spike, try these!"
Spike absently accepted the shoes from Tara, looking at her rather as if she were a suspicious package left on a seat in the airport-- might have somebody's tasty treats from Grandma in it, might be an unexploded bomb. Then he brightened. "Yeah, okay, I'll try these on."
Willow blinked, and looked to see what kind of shoes he was actually willing to consider. When she saw why he was trying them on, she laughed. They were black runners, with a small Tony the Tiger tastefully embroidered on the tongues, and a long striped tiger tail running all the way around to the back of the shoe.
By the time they'd purchased everybody's shoes and accessories and impulse-buy-at-the-counter-oh-please-can-we-get-those-glow-in-the-dark-laces, Xander and Spike were looking suitably broken in. Which meant it was time for the real shopping to start.
"JC Penney!" Tara sang as she pulled Spike along. He seemed to be too shell-shocked to actually answer. Or maybe it was the fact that he was still carrying Willow's purse, and he didn't want to draw any attention to himself. At least Xander now had a matching one, in electric-powder-blue, which Tara had insisted he take out of the bag and give to her -- only so she could rip the tags off and hand the thing back to him to hold.
He'd been holding it for almost two minutes before he'd pointed out there was no reason to carry it, since it was empty. That had got him pouted at until he'd pulled some change out of his pocket and put it in the purse. Willow wasn't sure Spike and Xander would ever learn. But it was fun driving them nuts, in the meantime.
They got to the department store, and Willow had to try to remember exactly where the kids' sections were. Second floor? First? She craned her head looking for a sign, and heard Tara saying, "Come on! It's this way."
She was tugging on Spike's hand, again, managing to pull him along through sheer willpower and enthusiasm. Spike looked a bit frightened, but Willow supposed it might have been the florescent lighting.
"I thought we were going to Gymboree?" Xander asked.
"JC Penney's is first," Willow told him. Silly men didn't get it -- they were on their way to Gymboree, which meant they had to stop every place along the way.
"Willow, you do know that...ah, hell with it. Fine." Xander sighed.
Willow gave his hand a tug. "Hurry up. And don't say 'hell' in front of me. I'm young and impressionable."
"Be nice, or I won't forge Anya's signature on the credit slip."
"I'll pout," Willow countered. They were slowly catching up to Tara and Spike -- but just barely. Willow reminded herself never to give Tara this much sugar...without Spike and Xander around to foist her off onto.
"I'll hold you upside down 'til you puke," came Xander's counter.
"Not in public, you won't. Cause I'll scream. And it'll hurt Spike's ears. And he'll glare at you." Which, come to think of it, wasn't much of an argument, since Spike glaring at him almost always ended happily for Xander, as far as she could tell. He seemed about to point this out, when Tara squealed.
"Willow! Look!" She was jumping up and down and pointing with her not-Spike-holding hand at a rack full of fuzzy footy pajamas. "They have glow in the dark witchy stuff on them!"
Willow came up close and looked at the pj's -- which came in blue, green, and yellow. Sure enough, they had little suns, moons, and stars on them in greenish glow-in-the-dark paint. She looked up at Xander. "We don't have any pj's, you know. Except for t-shirts."
"You said you didn't want any," he argued.
"Duh-- that was before we saw these!"
Tara was still bouncing up and down. "Let's go try them on!" She ran for the dressing rooms -- two steps, before she was being held by Spike, again.
"What part of 'slow down' don't you understand?" he asked, sounding a bit exasperated.
Tara wrinkled her forehead at him, as though thinking real hard. Then she smiled. "Spike, do you want to help us try them on?"
He let go of her as though she'd been doused in Holy Water. "Ugh! No, don't want to, thanks." He grabbed another set of pj's off the rack and held them out to Willow. "You keep an eye on her for a while."
Willow stuck her tongue out, knowing she was perfectly safe from making Spike think those kinds of thoughts. She took the pajamas and ran after Tara, who was already halfway to the dressing rooms. They'd give the boys a few minutes' respite, while they tried on the pj's, then they could go back out for round two. Or three. Willow caught up to Tara outside the dressing rooms, where Tara was trying to convince the salesclerk that they could try on clothes without parental supervision, thank you.
"Our dads are right outside the door, there," Willow said, pointing in the general direction of Xander and Spike, who were standing about in the women's underwear section, trying not to look suspicious. They'd better not think of picking out anything for Anya at JC Penney's, not a with a perfectly good Victoria's Secret just a few shops away. She'd kill them.
Willow shrugged and followed Tara into one of the little curtained changing rooms, ignoring the dubious look the salesclerk had given them. Willow was about to help Tara off with her shirt -- or rather, Willow's shirt -- when she felt a hand on her arm. She looked up to see the salesclerk, who had her other hand on Tara's arm. "Shh, honey. Come with me, quick."
Before Willow could think enough to say 'What the hell are you doing?' or try to come up with a four-year-old version of the phrase, the woman was hauling them out of the dressing room and out a side door, marked 'Staff Only'. "Hey, let go of me..." she said as they were pulled through a dark storage area. The woman, who, now that Willow looked at her, wasn't wearing any kind of uniform or nametag at all, bent close to her.
"Just be quiet, little girl, or you'll be sorry-- and so will your friend," she hissed in Willow's ear. Then they were being pulled out into the store proper, quite a ways away from the women's clothing section. Willow and Tara both struggled; Willow tried to think of a spell that would turn this woman into a mushroom or something.
"Let us go!" Tara shouted. "Help, we're being kidnapped!"
The woman stopped, and bent down to threaten them again -- Willow glared at her, knowing that in about two more seconds Spike and Xander would be there to rip her entrails out.
"What's going on?" came a voice from behind them -- male, but not Spike nor Xander. Willow twisted around in the woman's grasp, to try to explain, but the woman spoke first.
"Oh, sir, you have to help me! My ex-husband kidnapped my two babies and I've only just found them. You have to help me get away!"
Willow turned her glare on the woman. "You are not our mother! Help! Help, daddy!" she screamed.
"What the bloody hell is going on, here?" she heard a familiarly accented voice barking. Willow was grabbed suddenly, and she found Xander behind her, on his knees with his arms wrapped around her. Spike had done the same with Tara, only he'd been able to get her out of the woman's grip.
"Who the fuck are you and what are you doing?" Xander demanded.
"Please, help me!" the woman said to the JC Penney's employee who'd stopped her, retaining her hold on Willow's arm. Until Willow bit her. She let go of Willow with a small shriek, and Willow found herself folded in Xander's arms. After a moment of rubbing her hand, the woman knelt down. "I know you don't remember me, sweetie. It's been a long time. But I really am your mom."
"You're crazy!" Willow said loudly. "You're not our mother."
The Penney's clerk was looking more and more worried and confused, and reached over to the red courtesy phone near them, calling for a manager. Xander was sputtering at the woman. "Who are you? I've never seen you before in my life, and you're certainly not their mother."
"And if you ever lay a finger on either one of 'em again, I'll happily rip it off at the shoulder," Spike growled.
After a few minutes of the two men fussing over Willow and Tara, and the woman still insisting insanely that they belonged to her, the manager showed up. He brought along a security guard, just to make the party complete. Willow was torn between wanting Xander and Spike to get them out of there as fast as possible -- because being almost-kidnapped was still way too scary, even now that she was safe in her best friend's arms -- and finding out what on earth was going on.
That was what the manager wanted to know, too. "Somebody start explaining now, please. Before I decide whether we need to call the police."
"Fine, call the police!" the woman said, sounding desperate. "They can arrest Alex for kidnapping!"
Willow looked up at Xander, to find him exchanging a confused look with Spike. Had this woman mistaken them for someone else? Surely if Xander had two kids, he'd have mentioned it? Even if they weren't her and Tara.... Willow shook her head, and kept quiet while the store manager tried to calm their would-be-kidnapper down.
"Look, no one is going anywhere with these two children until we know who they belong to," he was saying.
"They belong to us!" Xander snapped. "They're ours -- they do not belong to her. We don't even know her." Willow, Tara, and Spike all glared at the woman, with nearly identical expressions of 'so there'.
"Can I have your names, please? And some identification?" the manager asked.
"Xander and William Harris," Xander said promptly, indicating himself and Spike. He hauled his wallet out of his jeans, without loosening his hold on Willow. "These are Willow and Tara Harris."
The managed took the license Xander handed him, and studied it carefully. Then he stammered, "And who...that is, which of you is the... um... natural father?"
What happened next was a bit breathtaking for Willow-- because she'd thought only she and Tara could do the 'read each other's minds without actually wasting the magical energy to do real telepathy' thing. She'd never expected that in a real emergency, Xander and Spike were capable of it as well.
Xander gave Spike one quick look, and Spike lifted Tara all the way up and settled her on his hip. Proudly. As if he really would have tried on the yellow running shoes, if Tara had just pouted for a few more seconds. "Willow's mine, and Tara is William's," Xander explained.
"They're the same age. They look like twins to you?" Spike raised one eyebrow at the man, as if encouraging him to see the obvious-- which wasn't true, of course, but looked pretty good. Tara and Spike had the same colouring, down to Spike's not-yet-re-bleached waves.
"Of course they're twins," the woman said. "And Alex is their father. He is just the man who helped my ex-husband kidnap our children."
"Your ex-what?" Xander said, at the same time as Spike was saying, "Excuse me? If I'm gonna be accused of a crime, I'd like to have had the pleasure of committing it!"
"Can either of you prove any of this?" was the manager's next question.
The woman promptly pulled out some papers from her purse. Willow couldn't imagine what they were -- nor how Spike and Xander could prove that she and Tara belonged to them. Since they didn't, really. The woman handed the papers over. "I've been searching for so long...I carry these with me, in case...I've been hoping to find them...." She broke down, then, sobbing brokenly for a moment. The salesclerk awkwardly reached over to pat her shoulder, while the manager read the papers.
"A marriage license for one Debbie and Alex Harris. Birth certificate for twin girls, Willow and Tara Harris." He glanced over at Xander and Spike.
"Those are fake," Xander insisted. "Willow and Tara's mothers... They were together, and wanted kids. William and I agreed to be the fathers. When Elisabeth and Dawn were killed a couple years ago, William and I got custody." Willow stifled a laugh at their 'mothers' names, and looked suitably woe-be-gone at being reminded of her moms' deaths. Xander never used to think this fast when they were trying to get out of trouble. Maybe Spike was actually a good influence on him -- by getting him into trouble more often, so he could practice.
"I miss my mommies," Tara said quietly. She had her arms around Spike's neck, looking as though she might have been choking him, if Spike had had to breathe.
Willow could tell the store manager didn't know who to believe. Despite the faked certificates, it was obvious she and Tara didn't know and didn't like this woman claiming to be their mother. And who was she? Where had she gotten that paperwork, and why? Those were questions to be answered not in the middle of a store, where crowds might gather, and police might come, and they all might have to deal with the fact that Spike didn't actually possess any ID of his own, as far as Willow knew.
"Look, my husband-- ex-husband, has had the girls for two years. He's obviously told them all sorts of lies, just in case I ever managed to find them. They were two when they last saw me, and they don't remember me. It doesn't make any more sense that they'd remember these imaginary women who died that long ago, either."
Willow saw Spike frown slightly, as if thinking, then he gave another of those brief telepathic looks to Xander. Or, more specifically, at Xander's wallet. Xander opened it again, also frowning, then smiled, as he thumbed through its contents. He pulled a picture from one of the little plastic sleeves, and handed it over to the manager.
"These are the girls' mothers," he said, with a fond little smile that Willow was going to have to give him a kiss for, sometime later. Because the picture he had handed over was one of her and Tara. Adult her and Tara, sitting in the magic shop, no more than a week ago, leaning against each other and smiling.
He didn't try to explain who the two boys were in the background, holding something which looked like a big water balloon. It reminded her why she maybe wouldn't give him a kiss, later. The manager dutifully took the picture and compared the images to her and Tara.
"They do look very much like these women," he allowed. Well, duh, Willow wanted to say.
"That's a photo of my sisters," the woman explained. "He must have stolen it."
Willow stared at her. She was way too prepared for this. Willow tightened her grip on Xander's arm, which in turn made him tighten his grip. It made her feel safer, knowing that nothing would wrestle her away from him, nor Tara from Spike. "She knows who we are," she whispered to Xander. He gave her a blank look, then his eyes cleared and he nodded.
"The statue?" he whispered back.
She mouthed the word 'later' to him, then turned back to the store manager. They had to get out of this, first, so they could go back to the Magic Box and figure out what was going on. Preferably after they'd also bought the glow-in-the-dark pj's.
"Could I see some ID, Mr. Harris?" the manager asked, of Spike. Willow didn't have to be telepathic to hear the collective 'Oh, shit' that was ringing in the minds of the 'Harris' party.
"Don't carry it," Spike said fairly smoothly. "Don't drive. House husband, so I don't need it for work."
Well, the part about not driving was true, if it was supposed to be a rating of how good he was at it. Willow had to stifle more than one giggle at the image of Spike in an apron, being a house husband, though. "Daddy stays home with us, and Papa goes out and builds big houses. All by himself," she said helpfully.
"Well, with a little help from a crane, a wrecking ball, and an entire construction crew," Xander said, playing along.
The woman shook her head. "He" -- pointing at Spike -- "doesn't even have a green card, which I'm sure the INS would be happy to hear."
The manager put up his hands. "I think I've heard enough. I have no idea which one of you is telling the truth, and this is way too complicated for store security to sort out. I'm calling the police, and social services, and they can deal with this." As if suddenly realizing what he did for a living, he added, "I hope this doesn't ruin your shopping experience. Er, whichever set of you doesn't end up being arrested."
"Oh, thank you," the woman said, with loud, apparent gratitude. Spike and Xander only glared.
"You're a bad lady! I don't like you!" Tara yelled at the woman, who responded with such a perfect expression of heartbreak that Willow wondered if she were a professional actress, or actually insane.
It didn't look as though they were going to learn anything more from her, and the longer they stayed the more chance there was of the police arriving in time to make things harder. Willow wriggled her fingers and chanted a spell, and the woman, store manager, security guard and clerk, all froze. After a moment's concentration and a muttered acknowledgement of the fact that yes, she owed a minor goddess of theft a major favor, a security camera tape appeared in her hand.
There was silence for a moment. Then, "Er, Red, why didn't you do that earlier?"
"I wanted to know who she was, so we can find out who's behind all this," she explained. "But it will only hold for a few minutes, so we should--"
"Already escaping," Xander said, standing up and hurrying away. Spike was on his heels, with Tara in his arms, who was again leaning sideways to catch up the two pair of pajamas.
Spike wrestled them out of her hands. "Calm down," he said when she started to pout. "I'm not leaving them behind. Just have to--" and he crushed the theft-detection devices.
"So that's how you do it!" Willow exclaimed.
"Yeah, and if you ever tell anyone," he looked around. "Er, um, I'll probably be spanked. Tell anyone you like. Tell Buffy!"
Xander whapped him on the head, and they continued out of the store, moving quickly but as inconspicuously as possible. As they exited the store into the mall proper, he said, "We'd better get out of here before the cops shut down all the exits, again." He looked over his shoulder. "You realize this is another store we can never come back to?"
Willow looked at him closely. "What do you mean 'again'?"
He turned bright red. "Um, there might have been some nakedswimminginthefountain. Last year. But I was under the influence, dammit."
"Influence of what-- naked Spike?" Willow retorted as he carried her swiftly towards the exit to the parking garage.
Xander glared at Spike. "Pixie dust."
"Uh-huh. Sure." Then Willow blinked. "Wait, Spike knows where to get pixie dust?" Neither of them would answer, but Spike was still snickering by the time they found the car.
"Spike, get in the trunk," Xander said, and he made it sound like a punishment rather than a 'so you don't turn into ashes.'
"Nope. Sitting in the backseat with a blanket over my head."
"Can you stay that way always?" Xander asked.
"In the back seat?"
"With a blanket over your head."
Spike whapped him, and Xander glared, and Willow gave Tara a smile. "Isn't love grand?"
They were all seated around the table at the Magic Box, with the phone in the center. Books were scattered about, and Willow was sitting at the laptop, still typing away. Tara listened as Giles explained the last of what they knew to Angel and the rest of the LA group over the speaker phone. She yawned.
"Yes, that's right. Willow's looking through the police mugshot databases now, and she's set up a program to search the internet for any sort of picture of this woman, as well. We've no idea if we'll find anything that way, since she may never have been in trouble with the law, but every bit helps."
Tara could hear Cordelia's voice saying something in the background, then Angel came over the speaker, much more clearly. "Do you think we should come back down there, all of us?"
"Eggzinabasket," Tara murmured. Anya looked at her.
"What did you say?"
Tara blinked, and sat up straight in her chair. "Sorry. Um. Eggs. Basket. If they're there and we're here, we've got lots of people in different places." Anya was still looking bewildered. Well, it made perfect sense to Tara. Then again, so did a lot of things that got that look from everyone except Willow.
"Tara means, if whoever was behind this tries to do something to us again, it's better that we're not all in one place, where they can strike at us all at once," Willow called from the computer.
Yeah. That's what she'd meant. Tara yawned again.
"Finally coming down from your sugar rush, sweetie?" Willow asked. Tara nodded, and opened her eyes again. She hadn't realized she'd closed them.
"Yes, the sugar rush you two inflicted on her," came Anya's accusation. Tara didn't have to look over to know she was scolding Spike and Xander.
"Hey! Willow gave her the Gummi Bears!" Xander protested.
"I did not!" came Willow's protest, and Tara looked at her, confused. Willow winked, and went back to her typing.
"You did so!" Xander began.
Everyone stopped, and stared. Tara giggled. "That's so funny, when you say that. I mean now. Since you're a kid, too," she told Giles.
"Yes, and I'm a child who would like to prevent the world from ending, or whatever plot it is that's the point of all this."
"I don't think it's another apocalypse," Buffy said. "Usually we get a memo when it's an apocalypse, and we didn't get one this time. Must be something else."
Tara gave Buffy a confused look, but Buffy didn't see it, and no one else was asking her to explain. Tara yawned again, and wondered if there was a good spot she could lie down. She saw one, and crawled down from the chair and walked over. It took a moment of tugging, but Spike finally sat down on the floor, cross-legged, so Tara could curl up on his lap.
Angel had said something, but Tara missed what it was. She heard Spike's answer, though, which was, "Looked pretty real. Somebody's got some connections, to pull off that many fake docs. Think it's your friends, the evil ambulance chasers?"
"They've been pretty quiet lately, but it's a possibility," Angel said.
Xander was shaking his head, Tara noticed between slow blinks. "Yeah, maybe. But that stuff wouldn't have mattered much, after a couple of weeks when the girls get big again. We could always have just kidnapped them back and stashed them somewhere until we could do the restoration spell. It was more like this woman was trying to get us in as much trouble as possible, right there and then. She knew Spike wouldn't have any ID, which could really have screwed up our lives royally. Speaking of which, Dad -- think you can do something about that? I know you've got kennel club papers. Can you get some for Spike?"
There was no immediate response. Then Tara heard Angel stammering, "Xander, I'd rather you called me 'Deadboy'." Then he sighed. "But yes, I can get Spike some ID. Probably take a couple days, so until then try to stay out of trouble."
"Oi! I always try to stay out of trouble." Tara opened her eyes, again wondering when she'd closed them, and found everyone staring at Spike. "Well, I didn't say I was very good at it."
She giggled, and shifted a little, trying to get comfortable. This time she meant to close her eyes, and she listened to the conversation. It felt weird, being held by a room-temperature body with no heartbeat. Nothing at all like snuggling with Willow, or like her memories of being held by her mother, when she'd really been four. But it was nice, in its own way, if primarily because she knew everyone else in the room was snickering at how easily Spike was accommodating her. That would teach him to use her favorite sweater as a superhero cape.
"It's odd, though," she heard Angel's voice again. "Wolfram and Hart have never bothered Sunnydale before. Why would they start now?"
"That we know of," Buffy corrected. "Who knows what else they've been doing?"
"Still, we should look into the other possibilities," Giles said. "It could be anything."
"Biker Mice," Tara said.
"What's that?" Spike asked her, his voice quiet.
"From Mars," she explained. "Biker Mice from Mars."
"What's she saying?" Xander asked.
"Don't think it's helpful, Xan." Spike replied.
"Couldn't be much less helpful than 'it could be anything' " Dawn pointed out. "No offense, Giles."
"Well, if you have any suggestions, I'm sure we'd all be happy to hear them," Giles said in his funny, stuffy, preschooler voice. Tara giggled.
Dawn shrugged. "No, not really. Um... we could make a list of everyone who's ever tried to mess with us, and isn't dead."
"Oi!" Spike said, startlingly loud in Tara's ear. She jerked a little, and tried to tell him to shut up and let her sleep, without actually expending the energy to open her mouth. Didn't work. "Dead people can mess with you just fine, you know. I've done it, on numerous occasions."
"Okay, fine, deceased weirdo. Everybody who's ever messed with us and is still out there roaming around somewhere. I mean, they seemed to know a lot about us, or at least some of us-- so it wasn't just random Hellmouth badness."
"Not unless the random Hellmouth badness is getting much better organized," Giles observed. Tara giggled again. She felt something brush her nose, and she pried one eye open. She found Spike diverting his gaze away from her face.
"Do you really wanna make that list? We'll be here all night," Buffy said.
"Should we narrow it down to people who have been in Brussels recently? Since that was where it was last seen, albeit in the 17th century. We don't know where it was shipped from -- it wasn't on the packing manifest."
Tara closed her eyes again, and a moment later felt the same sensation of something brushing her nose. She opened her eyes and found Spike watching the planning meeting with great interest.
"Like...well, no one I know of," Willow admitted. "This stupid website won't give me any information!" She thumped the keyboard, then muttered something Tara didn't know she knew how to pronounce.
"If you turn the laptop into a salamander, it won't give you any information," Giles pointed out.
"What are we looking for? I can help," came Cordelia's voice over the phone.
"The usual - hotel reservations, airplane reservations. Anything. Look for a name you recognize," Willow replied, and Tara thought that maybe she wasn't the only one who needed a nap.
"That could take days!" Cordelia protested.
"Well, if anyone can come up with something better...." Willow repeated Giles' words.
"I have one," Xander spoke up. Tara prised one eye open again. Everyone was looking at Xander expectantly, and with varying degrees of surprise.
"Anya can do some of the web-surfing, as can Cordy. You," he had gone over to Willow, and was picking her up, "need a nap."
"I do n--" Willow started to say, then she looked over at Tara, who smiled sleepily. "Sure. Why not."
Xander moved to sit beside Spike, and settled Willow in his lap. Tara squirmed around in Spike's arms until she could lean against both Spike's chest, and Willow's shoulder, then shut her eyes again, perfectly content. She heard several people chuckling, but she couldn't imagine what could possibly be funny.
Then there was Giles' voice saying "Oh, someone must get a picture of that."
Tara didn't particularly care what they got pictures of, as long as no one tried to make her move from where she was, to do it. She wondered if they could get Anya to make more brownies, after the meeting was over. Then she fell fast asleep.
Cordelia tried not to sigh with impatience. She'd voted to stop for supper, as well. She just hadn't had any idea it would be this difficult.
"I don't want a kid's meal," Wesley was saying. For the fortieth time. She didn't understand why Gunn didn't just buy him what he wanted. Who cared if they threw half of the food away?
"But it has everything you're asking for," Gunn pointed out. Again. If this is how it usually went between them, Cordelia was no longer surprised why they only ever went out to eat to the same one of three restaurants. If you could call an English pub, a pancake house, and Denny's, restaurants.
"You think this will take much longer?" Angel asked her, leaning against the counter beside her.
She nodded. "Oh, yeah. Taco Bueno is open 24 hours -- we'll be here."
"Why didn't we go through the drive through, and just order the first thing on the menu?"
Cordelia gave him a look that communicated clearly just what a dumb question that was. "Because Wesley said 'I want to go inside'."
"Ah. Good point."
Wes was sitting on the counter, his chin stubbornly stuck in the air. "I don't want my nachos in Pokemon shapes. I want nice, normal, non-animated nachos."
Cordelia leaned over, inspiration striking. "So why don't you get the kid's meal, and I'll trade nachos with you? I don't mind Pokemon-shaped chips."
Wesley started to argue with her, then stopped. "Er--" He frowned, like he was desperately trying to come up with something wrong with the arrangement, but couldn't. "I suppose," he said at last.
Cordelia felt like cheering. And it would be a damn fine cheer, given how good she was at it in high school. But she wasn't quite dressed for it, and Wes might take it the wrong way, so she settled for smiling.
"But I want an adult-sized drink," he told Gunn, sternly.
"You got an adult-sized stomach to hold it?" Gunn asked.
"Gunn, for god's sake, just buy him a regular soda," Cordelia said.
"I don't want soda, I want iced tea. Not that it's anything like real tea, but it's better--" He'd stopped, because Angel was holding out a cup. Regular adult-sized, with tea in it. Wesley smiled. "Thank you. Now, will someone help me down?" Gunn grabbed him under the arms, and lifted him down. Wesley strode over to the napkins and straws were kept, and looked over at them. "Would someone please get me a straw?"
Cordelia walked over and grabbed four straws, and held one out to Wesley.
"You two are gonna spoil him rotten," Gunn said.
"Excuse me?" She turned on him. "Since when is handing a straw to a polite young man, spoiling him?"
"And who took him to Hawley's Museum, three days in a row?" Angel put in.
"That wasn't spoiling him-- I was practicing my dinosaur wrangling," Gunn protested.
"Which accounts for Day One, but since you brought three remote control dinobots home with you that afternoon, Days Two and Three land you smack in the spoilers' club," Cordelia put in.
"Day Two was 'cause I forgot to take enough money with me to buy the marble sets, on Day One," Gunn said firmly, sitting Wesley in the booth next to him. Wesley's chin was only a few inches above the top of the table, but nobody had the balls to suggest a booster seat. Not even Cordelia.
"And Day Three?" Angel asked smugly.
"Day Three was... help me out here, Wes."
"You were spoiling me," Wesley replied, picking up a perfectly normal nacho and putting it in his mouth.
"I was not!" Gunn said, giving Wesley a glare like he thought Wesley was looking. Wesley was looking at his child-sized burrito, and picking at it.
"What's wrong, now?" Cordelia asked.
"It has lettuce on it," Wesley said, sounding disappointed.
"Did you ask for no lettuce?" Gunn pointed out, making no move to get out of the booth to allow Wesley to carry it up to the counter to complain. Or do so himself, which was what Wesley was obviously hoping for, given the pitiful look he was giving Gunn.
"Lettuce is good for you," Cordelia told him. Then she decided she needed some fresh air, because Wesley was not really four, and knew perfectly well how sadly lacking in nutrition the iceburg lettuce was.
Wesley just picked at the burrito, pulling off tiny strands of lettuce, one at a time. No one moved to do it for him. Cordelia glanced at Angel, then Gunn, and saw them very determinedly not watching. Wesley got a piece of lettuce stuck to his finger, and tried to shake it off. Once, twice, then three times -- still stuck to his finger.
"God! Here, geez!" Cordelia reached over with a napkin and wiped the lettuce off. When she leaned back, she found Gunn and Angel smirking at her. She opened her mouth to yell at them, then thought better of it. All she had to do was wait a few minutes, after all, and they'd do something even more Wesley-whipped, and she could prove that she was the bigger woman. By laughing her ass off.
So she simply smiled at Wesley again, and bit into her taco. A few minutes later, sure enough, Wes was leaning forward, trying to drink out of his straw, which was about level with the top of his head. He said nothing, simply craned his neck and tried to tilt the cup without putting so much weight on the top that the lid came off. After the second time he almost poked himself in the eye, Gunn sighed, and shifted Wesley onto his lap, where Wes was almost tall enough to eat like a normal person. Cordelia raised an eyebrow.
"What, I'm gonna let him lose an eye at Taco Bueno?" Gunn said defensively.
"Did I say anything?"
"Yeah, you raised an eyebrow. In Cordelia-speak that means 'nyah, nyah, told you so'."
Cordelia was tempted to explain otherwise, when Wesley suddenly lost his grip on his burrito, and it slid sideways. "Be careful!" Cordelia was saying, reaching forward to stop the food from sliding onto the floor. Not that she'd had a chance of stopping it...unlike some vampires, who were now holding a burrito in their hands and setting it back on the table.
"I've had a lot of practice catching Cordy," Angel explained with a shrug.
"It wasn't my fault -- my seat moved," Wesley explained, craning his head upwards. Cordelia wondered if he could glare, from that position.
"Sorry," was all Gunn said. Cordelia waited a moment, to make sure nothing else was going to happen, then resumed eating her taco.
She got one bite in, before Wesley sighed. When he looked up from his lettuce-picked burrito, he found three pair of eyes watching him. He seemed startled by the attention, which made Cordelia want to snort. Yeah, right. "Is there something fascinating about my burrito?" he asked.
"You sighed," Angel explained.
"Is there something fascinating about my breathing? Aside from the fact that you don't do it anymore?"
"Um...no. Guess not."
Wesley nodded, and went back to staring at his burrito. Then he sighed again.
"Wesley, is there something you need?" Cordelia asked tentatively. Gunn crossed his eyes at her, over Wesley's head.
"Oh, no. I was just thinking that this might be nice with cheese on it."
Gunn looked down at him. "Then why didn't you order the cheese burrito?"
Wes frowned. "They had a cheese burrito?"
"Wes, you can still read the menu," Gunn reminded him. Cordelia wondered if being with Wesley nearly 24 hours a day, for the last seven days, had numbed Gunn's brain.
Sure enough, Wesley countered with, "I couldn't see the menu. You sat me down on the counter facing away from it."
"And you couldn't turn around?"
Wesley started to argue, then just nodded. "You're right. I should have ordered the cheese burrito. But as I'm stuck with this, I shall have to eat it."
"Don't look at me," Cordelia said. "I'm not getting up to buy him another burrito."
"Did I ask you to?" Gunn asked her. It didn't stop him from making that 'pleasepleaseplease' face, but he didn't do it as well as Wesley did. Four-year-old Wesley, at any rate. Cordelia was suddenly glad they hadn't both decided to become four-year-olds.
"No, no, Charles is right. It would be a waste to purchase another burrito, when this one is perfectly...fine...." He pulled another strand of lettuce off his burrito.
"They should put you in a commercial," Cordelia told him. "You really do look pathetic." Wesley glared at her -- then smiled in surprised delight when Angel came back to the table and handed him a wrapped burrito. "Wimp," Cordelia told him. "Didn't sitting for Spike and Xander teach you anything?"
"Taught me when to give in," he said simply.
Gunn said, "Which was whenever one of them blinked at you, I bet."
Angel was giving Gunn his 'not going to dignify that with an answer' face-- which meant he was gonna hold out another two seconds, then say something dorky. "So what. They were cute, and I love 'em," he said after two point five seconds. All three of them stared at him in shock. "Um, I may have been possessed when I said that," he said after another second.
They were still staring at him.
"What?" Angel growled.
"You're eating Cordelia's taco," Gunn said.
Angel looked down and registered that he had, in fact, picked up Cordelia's taco and was about to bite into it. He put it down quickly. Cordy snickered. "No, be my guest. You want something to shove in your mouth besides your foot, go for it. I can always get Wes to give you the big puppy eyes and make you go get me a new one."
"No, that's okay--"
"I insist. After all, you got your undead germs all over it. Not like I want it anymore. Or were you just picking it up because you were nervous ?" Cordelia challenged.
Angel scowled, and picked the taco back up. "Fine. I'll try it. Can't kill me, after all."
He had just bitten into it when Wesley looked up and asked innocently, "Does this mean you love me, too?"
It was to Angel's credit, Cordelia thought, that he didn't even hesitate before saying "Of course, Wes." He took another bite of taco -- probably to keep from saying anything else. Cordelia was glad, because she'd been perfectly ready to stomp on his foot if he'd done anything to ruin the look that had appeared on Wesley's face with those words.
Wesley rubbed his nose, and picked up his cheese burrito. "I need some hot sauce," he said a moment later, sounding a bit subdued, as if he weren't really just saying it in order to make someone jump when he said 'frog'.
"Here," Cordelia said, handing him over a couple of packets she'd gone to fetch. Then she gave Gunn a dirty look. "What?"
"Welcome to the club. You want a membership card with that?"
"How is hot sauce spoiling him?" she demanded, and tried to go back to eating, then realized no one had gone to buy her another taco.
She glared at Angel, who said around a mouthful, "This isn't bad. I think I wanna try some hot sauce." He reached over to pick up one of the packets in front of Wesley, and Wesley looked at him, stricken. Angel's hand froze. "Um. I'll go get...."
"Get me another taco while you're up there, huh?" Angel looked back at Cordelia as if to say 'and your legs got broken when?' -- but he obviously decided to err on the side of his own continued existence, and simply nodded. As he walked away, Cordelia stuck her tongue out at his back. "Cha-ching," she said with a smile. "Ba-da-bing."
"Is that supposed to mean something?" Wesley asked curiously.
"Yeah, it means you're too old and too British to get it, so eat your burrito, gramps." She thought he was going to protest for a moment, then he suddenly smiled, like he'd figured out that for once, no one was teasing him by saying he was too young for something.
Angel returned to the table with three more tacos, a handful of hot sauce, and a large order of cinnamon crisps, the last of which he placed in front of Wesley. They all looked at him. "What?"
"Did we say anything?" Cordelia asked, reaching for two tacos. "Er, unless two of them are yours?" She'd been teasing, but Angel's sheepish expression said that yes, they had been. "Oh, my, god. Angel! You like cheap greasy tacos? Your first human food in forever, and it's tacos?"
"Maybe it's just an association," he said, as he picked one up.
"Association?" Cordelia narrowed her eyes. Angel looked too guileless to be trusted.
"Well, they make me think of you," he said.
She told herself it was a line and she ought to be annoyed. But she couldn't make herself stop smiling long enough to say so. She was able to when she heard Wesley and Gunn snickering. "What?" she demanded of them.
They didn't say a word, just grinned and ate their food. Until she turned her attention back to her own taco, which didn't taste all that greasy, to be honest. Then she heard Wesley sing, "Cordy and Angel, sitting in a tree...."
"You are so dead, mister, if you finish that phrase." Wesley gave her the big, 'who me?' eyes. She shook her head. "I'm not falling for it. You keep your mouth shut and finish your burrito -- and don't tell me that's logically impossible. Do it, so we can get out of here."
The 'who, me' eyes went away -- and were replaced by kicked-puppy eyes.
"Oh, god, I never thought I'd beg for a vision...."
"Speaking of," Angel said, looking up from his taco. "You didn't get any that you might have forgotten about, right? About whoever sent Giles that statue in the first place, or..." He shrugged, stopping short of mentioning recent events. "Anything like that?"
Cordelia looked at him like he was an idiot, which he was. "Like I'd ever forget a giant freakin' migraine-inducing vision?"
He had the grace to look sheepish. "No. Of course not. That was stupid. It's just bugging me. All the supernatural firepower we have on our side, and we know nothing."
"We know whoever's behind it doesn't mean us any permanent harm," Wesley said. He had the last bit of burrito in his mouth when they all started staring at him, so his 'what?' came out as "Whadb?"
"Don't talk with your mouth full," Cordelia said automatically. Then she blinked. "How do we know that?"
"Well," he said after dutifully swallowing his food. "I should have said 'immediate harm,' I suppose. But it seems to equal out to the same thing. Of all the things anyone would send to Rupert and his group, there could have been many more dangerous objects. Why send something that, at worst, simply resulted in a bit of insanity, and at best, a great deal of enjoyment for most of the parties involved?"
"A 'bit' of insantiy?" Cordelia asked. "Who's insane, who wasn't before?"
"I simply meant, there was the possibility of someone touching the statue who wasn't able to cope." He closed his mouth and seemed to be trying not to say something. Then he got that Eureka look on his face. "We should look into the path the statue took, as it was being shipped to Sunnydale, to find out if there were any peculiar incidents--"
"Already done," Cordelia interrupted him. "We finished that this morning, while you and Angel were playing with the marble things."
"You were playing with my marbles?" Gunn demanded. Then, "That didn't sound right."
Wesley laughed, and Cordelia forgot what else she'd been about to say. It wasn't that she'd never heard him laugh, before. He'd laughed a lot, since he'd become friends with Gunn. But he'd almost stopped laughing entirely, once he'd become a kid again. Until today, when she'd heard him laugh twice. She found Gunn watching her, with a knowing look on his face.
"Yeah, he's adorable," Angel said, in the thickened Irish brogue he hardly ever used. Wesley suddenly realized they were all watching him. He scowled.
"Shouldn't one of you have a camera, or something?" he said bitterly, though it sounded to Cordelia to be mostly faked. Another improvement.
"Actually," Cordelia said, as she reached into her purse.
"I was joking!" Wesley dove under the table with his cinnamon crisps.
She laughed. "So was I, sucker." He peeped his head tentatively back above the table after a few seconds, and she showed him the stick of sugarless gum she'd retrieved from her purse. "Hey, you guys may want to have bean-breath all night, but some of us are going to be minty-fresh."
"For sitting in a tree?" he asked, wide-eyed. She stuck out her tongue at him, and he laughed again. "No thank you, I only french-kiss my boyfriend."
"And you thought 'playing with your marbles' sounded wrong?" Cordelia said to a suddenly-choking Gunn.
"I didn't mean it sounded wrong that way. I meant it sounded wrong in an 'I'm insane' kinda way." Gunn looked around, then frowned at Wesley. "You're not trying to get us thrown out, are you?"
Wesley looked back at him with the wide, innocent eyes Cordelia was so glad she had on film. It meant she could sit back and enjoy the sight, now, without diving for her camera. "Get us thrown out?" Wesley repeated.
"Everyplace I've taken you, you've told some stranger that I'm your boyfriend."
Cordelia laughed. "He has not!"
Gunn turned to her. "He has! I swear, I'm waiting for social services to show up on the doorstep and arrest me for child abuse."
"You're exagerating, Charles," Wesley said in that stern voice that made Cordelia want to giggle.
"You told the museum docent," Gunn said. "And that lady on the bus, the cashier at the grocery store, the telemarketer who called the hotel...."
Wesley was looking innocent again. Cordelia dug into her purse, anyhow. Who cared if she already had that expression on film a thousand times? It was just too cute to pass up.
"But I can't ever say it when I'm an adult," Wesley explained. "Don't you ever feel like being able to tell people?"
Gunn opened his mouth to argue, and didn't say a word. Instead, he reached into his pocket, pulled out his wallet, and handed it to Cordelia. "What's this for?" she asked.
"He's gonna ask me to buy him a pony. Don't give me back my wallet, when he does."
"I am not going to ask you for a pony," Wesley protested, the poster-child for aggrieved innocence. Cordelia smirked, and started to hand Gunn back his wallet. Gunn put up a blocking hand.
"Uh-uh." He glanced down at the top of Wesley's head, and waited.
Wesley waited. Cordelia waited. Angel wisely shoved his other taco into his mouth, and pretended he wasn't waiting. Finally Wesley said, "I could eat another order of cinnamon crisps, perhaps. A small one."
Gunn glared at Wesley's skull, then at Cordelia, who was still holding out his wallet. Finally he reached to snatch it back, but Cordelia pulled it away. "No, you're right. I shouldn't let you give in..."
The look on his face was enough to send her scrambling for her camera, if her hand hadn't already been full with his wallet. She caught the look on Wesley's face, next, and she returned the grin. "You aren't even pretending to be doing this on accident, are you?" she demanded.
Big eyes. God, those things were dangerous. "Doing what?"
"'Doing what'," she repeated, then laughed. "Wesley, you're being spoiled."
Still with the big eyes. He slowly shook his head, and somehow that made the eyes-thing even more...eyey. "No, I'm not."
"Oh, right." That sarcastic comment was from Angel. The big-eyes turned on him, and he added quickly, "Not that there's anything wrong with that."
Cordelia sniffed. For a vampire, he had no backbone. "You are being spoiled. Admit it."
"I'm not," he insisted. "If I were being spoiled," and he swung that deadly gaze on Gunn, "I'd have another bag of cinnamon crisps."
Gunn looked guilty, then looked guilty for looking guilty, then looked helplessly at Cordelia, who just snickered. Finally he said "If I get you cinnamon crisps, I'll have to put you down." Wesley just looked back up at him with the eyes of doom. Gunn turned the pleading look back at Cordelia. "God. Cordelia, would you please get Wesley another bag of cinnamon crisps? And never let me have my wallet back?"
Cordelia shook her head. When Gunn turned his own big-eyes on her, she laughed. "Won't work, buddy." Granted, it would only not work because she was on the inside of the booth, trapped by Angel, the taco-eating vampire.
Which was where Gunn turned his eyes next. "Hey man, you owe me."
Angel looked up at him, taco paused halfway to his mouth. "I owe you for what??"
"Not telling Cordelia that you hide her cookies in your pockets and pretend you ate them?" Wesley offered.
"I don't do that!" Angel sputtered. "I tell her right up front that I don't eat, and..." He looked down at his taco. Then he snatched Gunn's wallet out of Cordelia's hand and hurried away.
Cordelia watched him go, and wondered what sort of torture was best to use on a 250 year old vampire who used to torture people for amusement. Bake him more cookies, perhaps? Stand there and make sure he ate one? "Stupid vampire," she muttered. "My cooking isn't that bad." When she turned her glare away from the pretending-he-doesn't-know-he's-being-glared-at vampire in line at a Taco Bueno, she found Wesley looking at her, uncertainly.
But he turned to Gunn and asked, "Was I not supposed to tell her?" He sounded sincerely uncertain, not like he was still teasing them.
"She knows," Cordelia answered for him. "She's still annoyed, though. He told me he liked my cookies." She gave Angel's back another glare, and could tell he was pretending he didn't have vampiric hearing.
Wesley looked back up at Gunn, again, who said, "Don't worry about it." He pressed a kiss on Wesley's forehead, and Cordelia had to stifle the urge to whip out her camera. Stifle it, only because the kiss was already over and any photo she got now would be of the two of them flipping the bird, or something worse.
She opened her mouth to say something, and Wesley looked at her. She closed her mouth again. "Maybe we could make him wear sunglasses?" she suggested to Gunn. Wesley looked hurt, so she hastened to add, "Hey, you'd look cute. Sort of that mini-rebel look. Have you ever seen those posters of babies on Harley's?"
Which made the Wesley-eyes swing back in Gunn's direction. "Speaking of which..."
Gunn shook his head. "No. Absolutely no way on earth."
Cordelia raised her eyebrow, now that she was safely out of Wesley's firing line. "What?"
"I am not gonna take him riding on the motorcycle."
The look of sheer superior logic on Wesley's face was priceless. "But it's my motorcycle."
"But you're four, and it's not safe."
"They make motorcycle helmets for four-year-olds."
"They make nipple-rings for four-year-olds too, but I'm not gettin' you one of those, either."
Wesley blinked up at him. "They do?"
"NO!" Gunn said. "No, no, no, no no."
Cordelia shook her head, and accepted the wallet back from Angel, who was sitting down with a tray -- with a bag of cinnamon crisps and two tacos. Wesley was still staring at Gunn, reaching out a hand and accepting the crisps Angel handed over, without even looking. "Please?" Wesley asked.
"But I want one."
Cordelia watched as Wesley wriggled, a little. Pushed his face closer to Gunn's, and said, "Please?"
"Why didn't we bring the video camera with us?" Angel whispered in Cordelia's ear.
"Because Wes pouted when we tried," she whispered back.
"Man, he's gonna be dangerous when he's fully regressed," Angel whispered.
"I think he's regressed enough," she whispered. Which they all already knew, after the phone call from Sunnydale. They'd decided not to tell Wesley about it, when Gunn had had to spend half an hour calming Wesley down after he'd missed a documentary on Ancient Italy on the Discovery channel.
So Wesley's suppositions about Bad Guy X not having done anything really dangerous were true-- as far as he knew. Trying to kidnap Willow and Tara in the middle of the mall went beyond the 'bit of insanity' Wes had described, but they weren't about to scare him with that news. Instead, they were just being careful. They'd agreed that keeping him at the hotel at all times would be just too mean -- whether to themselves or Wesley, Cordelia wasn't sure.
They couldn't deny him the pleasures of being a kid-- going out and playing, visiting all the places any kid would want to see in L.A., just when he'd finally relaxed enough to be able to enjoy them. And they couldn't deny themselves the fun of seeing him enjoying things -- though if it had been just that, vs. keeping Wesley safe, he would have been in the Hyperion under lock and key right now, instead of sitting in Taco Bueno pretending he wanted Gunn to buy him a nipple ring.
The compromise was simple-- safety in numbers. They all went out together. Wes wouldn't notice anything weird, since he was expecting them to all want to fuss over him anyway. And with one vampire, one insanely protective lover, and one dead-shot with a tossed high heel as his bodyguards, Wes would be as safe on the town with them as he would cooped up in the hotel.
Whether they would be safe from those big, blue eyes...well, they could always make Wesley pay them back, once he grew up again. She settled back in the booth to eat Angel's fourth taco, and watch Wesley try to wheedle a bike ride and nipple ring out of Gunn. It really was more entertaining than the movies.
Dawn watched as Giles sat on the small horse, and it moved slowly back and forth. The look on his face was priceless -- or rather, it would cost about 5 cents to develop the picture she'd just snapped, and 2 cents a print for copies... It wasn't a typical four-year-old 'wheee! I'm riding the horsie!' look. It was a 'someone just stuck a lemon in my mouth and told me it was ice cream' look. When he caught her watching him, the look deepened. "This is it?" he asked.
"Well, yeah. What'd you expect for a quarter -- the Kentucky Derby?" She sucked on her raspberry slushee and smirked. Giles frowned, then slid off the horse as it came to a stop.
To the next three children in line, he announced firmly, "That experience is vastly overated." The two girls and a boy looked up at their mother, who gave Dawn a peculiar look. She just grinned and shrugged, and handed Giles his slushee back.
"You wanted to ride it," Dawn reminded him as they walked away. She could hear the other kids clamoring 'me, next!' so apparently Giles' warning hadn't any effect.
"Because whenever I saw children riding one of those things, they appeared to be having a great deal of fun." He glanced back, with a thoughtful look on his face. "Do you think it would make a difference if I tried it again in a few days?"
"You mean, after you've regressed some more?" Dawn shook her head. "You're as regressed as they get." She took a slurp of her own slushee, and wished again that she'd gotten the grape. And it wasn't like she could guilt Giles out of his grape slushee, even without Buffy nearby to scold her for it.
"What is that supposed to mean?" Giles demanded. His lips were purple.
"I think your sense of adventure is more experienced than a regular four-year-old's. Nothing short of a real horsie ride will make you think you're riding a horsie."
"You do know you needn't use the word 'horsie', Dawn."
Dawn giggled. She knew she shouldn't, but his lisp was adorable. "You want a Dawnie ride?"
"Ex-CUSE me?" Giles' eyes got bigger than the dogs' in that fairy tale Buffy had read to them last night, about the ones with eyes as big as saucers. Dawn had to giggle again.
"On my shoulders, silly. God, you're a worse pervert than Xander and Spike!"
"I am not. And I wasn't thinking anything...perverted. I was just wondering where you wanted me to shove the quarter," Giles said, straightfaced. Dawn stuck her tongue out at him.
"Who's shoving what where?" Buffy asked, coming up behind them with her arms full of shopping bags.
Giles didn't answer her when Dawn pointed the finger of guilt at him. He was too busy jumping up and down. "Oh! Can we go over there?"
"Where?" Dawn looked. All she saw were a bunch of tables, all scattered around a section of the parking lot.
"A book sale?" Buffy said. "Giles, you're four; you're supposed to be having fun."
Giles gave her a stern look. "I like books. A book sale is fun."
"Are you sure you wouldn't rather go to the Lions Club carnival?" Buffy asked.
"No. I'm likely to get grabbed, or something. Here there is plenty of space for you to keep an eye out for any suspicious-looking people."
"The only thing suspicious-looking is a four-year-old boy who wants to look at books," Buffy countered. But she was letting Giles drag her towards the book sale. Dawn followed, wondering if they could go to the carnival next, anyhow. Surely a Slayer could prevent one small child-like-person from coming to any harm?
She looked over, and saw Giles sprawled on the asphalt -- after having tripped over a curb. Buffy was on it, though. She grabbed Giles up and was looking at his hands and knees, checking for massive bleeding, apparently, given the look on her face. "Giles, are you okay?"
The first thing Dawn noticed was that those kid-eyes looked twice their actual size when filled with tears, which weren't quite spilling over. "I think I broke my...patella," he said slowly. Looking up at Buffy to see if she believed him. It was all Dawn could do not to applaud. Even though it was mean to take advantage of somebody who hadn't studied in her anatomy classes because she was busy saving the world. Or that was the excuse Buffy usually gave for most missed classes.
"Really?" Buffy asked. "Left or right?" She carefully tickled his knees, and Giles giggled in spite of himself. Dawn revised her estimate of her sister's intelligence upwards-- which was unusual. Maybe she was coming down with something? She didn't feel sick.
"Well, perhaps it's not broken. Just bruised. It might be difficult to walk on."
Dawn rolled her eyes. "I offered you a ride, you know."
"As I recall, I didn't refuse. I merely got distracted." Giles' hand went towards his nose, as if trying to adjust glasses which weren't there. Dawn just held out her hands, and Giles jumped up and took them. She pulled him up, then around onto her back. After a moment to get settled, she gave her sister a smile. "So...book sale, or do we sneak off to the carnival?"
"Book sale," Giles said sternly.
"I think if his patella really is broken, we should take him home. Put an ice pack on him and leave him on the couch all day." Buffy sounded serious. It was only because Buffy had used this same tone on her more than once, that Dawn knew she was kidding.
"It's not that broken. I want to look at the books." Giles didn't seem to believe her, either.
"I don't know..." Buffy began.
"Dawn, I'll give you ten dollars if you head over towards the book sale."
"Deal!" Dawn walked away from Buffy, towards the books.
Buffy followed, casting stern glances at Dawn. "You know you shouldn't let him bribe you."
Dawn blinked at her sister. "Why not? He does it all the time when he's old."
"I'm not old!" Giles said loudly into Dawn's ear.
"Say it, don't spray it, Giles," Dawn replied calmly, wiping her ear off. "You were born before the Super Nintendo was invented, therefore, you're old. It's okay. Buffy's old, too."
Giles seemed to consider this for a minte, as he leaned down and pointed at a book he wanted. When Dawn handed it to him, he studied it for a minute, then said, "I don't bribe you all the time."
Dawn kept her mouth shut, though she rolled her eyes. Sure he didn't. Which was why her savings account was twice as large as it should have been based on the pitiful allowance Buffy gave her. He'd never said anything like 'Dawn, if you pretend you never saw that, I'll give you ten dollars and drive you to the mall...'
Then she realized Buffy was still watching the two of them, with narrowed eyes. Too late, Dawn tried an innocent smile. Buffy folded her arms in front of her, and said, "You are buying his books. All the books he wants."
Dawn gaped at her, then quickly took the book Giles was holding, and checked the tag. Only fifty cents. She gave it back and shrugged. "Fine." The way Buffy smiled, though, made Dawn suddenly doubt she'd get off as scot-free as she hoped.
She knew she wouldn't, when, half an hour later, Giles was telling Buffy to go fetch a basket, or something, and stop complaining. "You've the strength of a Slayer, one would think you could hold a small stack of books easily enough."
"Small! Giles, I didn't read this many books in my entire four years in high school."
Dawn could just imagine the look Giles gave Buffy -- she couldn't see it because he was still clinging to her back, and demanding that she pick that book up, or that one, or what about that one over there? She'd realized he was going to spend her entire ten dollar bribe on fifty cent books. Which, if he hadn't grabbed two she wanted to borrow, she'd have started complaining about.
She did almost cheer when he announced that he'd seen everything he wanted to see, and they could pay for the books now. Because by that time, they were heading into the red zone, meaning she was spending her own money on it. Giles waved one hand in front of her face, in Buffy's direction. "I want to hold them."
"You'll just drop 'em on my head," Dawn told him. Then it occurred to her that such might have been his intention in the first place, and she pinched his leg, lightly. "Brat."
"Buffy! Dawn's being mean to me," Giles called.
Buffy turned around, the stack of books in her hand. Dawn rolled her eyes. Buffy looked uncertainly at Giles, and Dawn groaned. He was doing the pout. He had to be. Little middle-aged brat. "Dawn, are you being mean to Giles?"
"Yes, Buffy. I live to torment your Watcher. I have nothing better to do in my life than make Giles cry." She was being sarcastic, of course. Tormenting Giles was a hobby, not a career.
"She pinched me. Hard," Giles put in.
Now Buffy was staring at her again, in that 'watch me be a Mom' way she'd adopted. Still not anywhere good at it as their real mom had been, but Dawn had to give her credit for trying. Of course, if Buffy really wanted someone to do the Mom stare at her, she should ask Spike. Not that Dawn was planning on telling her that, of course.
"Dawn, you shouldn't be mean to Giles."
"What? You mean you believe him? I didn't do anything!" She considered dropping Giles, but if she did he'd probably really break a patella - or his head. "Buffy, if you say 'because he's littler than you' I'm going to tell everyone about that package you got in the mail from Frederick's of Hollywood."
Buffy's eyes went wide.
"Frederick's of Hollywood?" Giles was asking.
"You're too young to know," Dawn told him.
"How dare--" Buffy hissed. "I did not--! It wasn't for me!" she finally managed.
Dawn blinked. "Who are they for, then? Have you got a girlfriend, now, too? Or a boyfriend with tastes I really don't wanna know about?"
"I am not telling you anything. You are going to pay for these books and we are leaving."
Dawn just watched her for a moment, then nodded. "Yup. Classic mom- maneuver. Skip logic, and go directly for the 'because I said so' orders." She waited until Buffy looked like she'd worked up a delicious, crunchy retort, then added, "Of course, Mom didn't use that move to distract anybody from asking why she was shopping at Frederick's of Hollywood."
Buffy looked positively evil when she grinned and replied, "Actually..."
Dawn stared at her, wide-eyed. "Really?"
"I was looking through her purse for a breath-mint, and found a receipt. She about turned purple."
"Damn! And I missed it? Where was I?" Dawn asked. Then she looked down. "Oh. Stupid question."
"You were at Monica's," Buffy said, with a shrug. "It was the day you two gave her poodle a home perm."
Dawn blinked at her. Then she said slowly, "Sometimes I wonder about the people who came up with my backstory."
"Actually, you had a fairly typical childhood," Giles put in. "If you ignore all the times you encountered demons, vampires, werewolves, and fairies."
"Fairies? I don't remember fairies -- that would have been neat!"
"He means Xander and Spike," Buffy told her.
"Oh." Dawn pouted.
Then she pouted more when Buffy set Giles' stack of books next to the cash register and said to the woman, "She's paying."
"I can't reach my purse," Dawn said, holding onto Giles' legs.
"I can get down," Giles offered.
"You'll fall again," Dawn told him, not letting go.
In a dry voice, Giles said, "I think I can manage to stand still while you purchase my books, and not injure myself."
"I don't have any money," she tried again. "You haven't given me my bribe, yet."
"What about the one I gave you this morning? You haven't spent that all, have you?"
And now Buffy was looking at her like she'd done something evil, again. "What?" Dawn demanded.
"What did he bribe you to do?"
Dawn grinned. "You'll find out. When you least expect it."
It involved Buffy's underwear drawer and putting a big ol' cheesy picture of Spike and Xander grinning into the camera, with Buffy's room as a backdrop, in it. Under her set of days-of-the-week undies. It didn't really matter that Spike and Xander hadn't put it there, and would get in trouble for nothing. Heck, that was kind of the point. Dawn had to hand it to Giles -- his brilliance could be astounding.
Buffy glared at her, and held out her hand. "Money. Now."
Reluctantly, Dawn reached into her purse-- then grinned. "Um... I really don't have it. I left my wallet in the car."
"Fine. You can pay for supper." Buffy pulled her own billfold out, and paid the cashier.
"But we're going to Chuck-E-Cheese's for supper," Dawn protested. "We're meeting the rest of the gang and having pizza and playing video games for hours... I don't have that much in my bank account, much less my wallet!"
Buffy gave her half a smile. "Relax. You only have to pay for me, Giles, and yourself. And if you watch us play Pac-Man, you'll save money, right?" Dawn tried the little-sister pout, again. It still wasn't working. Maybe she was getting too old.... Buffy was cheerfully accepting a bag of books from the cashier, then gave them a bright smile. "Now, who wants Dawn to buy us ice cream, to spoil our dinners with?"
"We just had slushees!" Dawn felt herself blanch. "Did I just say that?"
"I want pistachio," Giles said, leaning sideways and reaching for the bag of books. Buffy held it out of his reach. "And I want my book on the solar system."
Buffy rolled her eyes, but that didn't stop her from digging through the bag and pulling out the book Giles wanted. "I don't know why you want it now," she complained. "You'll just get carsick if you try to read while we're moving."
"I'm not going to read," Giles announced with much dignity. Dawn noticed that he didn't try to deny that he'd get carsick. Which was a wise move, since they'd already seen the results of him trying to focus on a Latin manuscript while the Range Rover jumped and bounced down the road. It hadn't been pretty.
"Then why do you want the book?" Buffy asked, as she opened the door and Dawn let him down into the back seat.
"I want to start putting the stickers in place," he answered, jutting out his chin. Buffy shot Dawn a grin, and handed Giles the book.
"Are you sure we should be going to Chuck-E-Cheese tonight?" Dawn tried as she slid into the driver's seat. "I mean, taking everybody out in public, someplace crowded like that.... and we still don't know any more about that freak who tried to snatch Willow and Tara."
"I know -- but we can't lock everyone in the basement for the rest of the month." Buffy glanced at Giles, as though thinking they might try. "I'm pretty sure I can keep an eye on Giles at a pizza place well enough, and I challenge anyone to get past Spike and Xander, to get at Willow and Tara again."
Dawn giggled as she checked the rear view mirror. "They're such dads."
Buffy laughed with her. "Did they tell you that the papers Angel sent to Spike, that prove he's William Harris, also had adoption papers for Willow Harris, and a birth certificate for Tara Harris?"
"Tell me? I thought Spike was going to burst something, the way he was strutting around. Oh! We should buy them Father's Day cards." Dawn laughed again. "I feel sorry for their kids, if they ever have real ones. Any daughter they raise will be spoiled rotten, but never get to go out on a date."
"Please, stop," came a pitiful voice from the backseat. Dawn stopped the vehicle, and they both turned around.
"You weren't reading? Giles, are you sick again?"
They saw Giles sitting there, belted in with a child's adapter-seatbelt, holding his planets-and-moons sticker book in front of him. "No. But the thought of Xander and Anya having children..."
"Think of it this way -- Angel will be a grandpa!"
"Technically, I think he'll be a great-grandpa," Buffy corrected her.
Dawn pulled the car back onto the road, and waited until Giles was fully immersed in his book again, before adding, "Of course, you'd be a grandpa, too."
Giles spluttered. "What? I would not. How do you figure that?"
"Well, you think of all of us like your kids, right? So our kids would be your grandkids."
Giles looked at her in the rear-view mirror. Or rather, she looked at him, and he made a face. "I do not think of Anya and Xander as my children. Well, possibly Anya. Xander was left on my doorstep by trolls."
"Uh-huh. And what about Spike?' Buffy asked, getting in on the action.
"Spike is old enough to be my great grandfather," Giles argued.
"The fact remains, I make no claims on Spike as being any sort of relation of mine. Except possibly an alley cat one's neighbors have fed and one cannot be rid of."
"Which explains why you bought that behind-the-scenes tell-all Passions book for him last Christmas?" Buffy asked.
"It was the cheapest thing I could think of," Giles retorted.
"Cheap would have been buying him cigarettes," Dawn pointed out. "Or a book of matches."
"Except that Anya doesn't let him smoke in the apartment, so he's barely going through a pack a week, now." There was silence from the backseat, then Giles said, "Or so I gather."
"Uh-huh." Buffy gave Dawn a wink. "You've never once called their place to see if Spike made it home before sunrise okay?"
"I never! I was only doing it because Anya was busy and couldn't get to the phone."
Dawn had to clamp her jaw down on her giggles -- she couldn't drive and laugh hysterically at the same time. She knew, she'd tried. Never with Buffy in the car, of course, because she wanted to maintain her driving privileges. And Xander was sworn to secrecy....
When Buffy just kept smirking at him, Giles asked, "Are you certain it's a good idea to go out to Chuck-E-Cheese's?"
"Ah, the classic Watcher-technique," Dawn observed. "Distract them by asking if something mildly potentially dangerous is really a good idea."
"Plus there's the 'repeat a question someone else asked and hope everyone's forgotten about it by now' gambit," Buffy added. "Actually, Giles was never into asking whether it was really a good idea. That might have actually worked. He was more like 'Buffy, I absolutely forbid you to do this.' Which as we know is like a red flag for Slayers."
Giles looked up, an evil expression on his face. "Buffy, I absolutely forbid you to shut up about any of you ever having children, and what relationship I might be to them if you did."
Buffy opened her mouth, then closed it again. Dawn smirked. Buffy pouted-- and Dawn was quickly thankful that Buffy wasn't still four. "I want ice cream," Buffy said, in a voice as high and childish as Giles'. It was all Dawn could do not to run off the road.
"I don't think it'll work," Tara told her girlfriend, with a shake of her head.
"Oh, it will too! Come on, Tara."
"Yes, it's really an excellent plan," Giles put in. The three of them were sitting together at one end of the table, eating pizza and breadsticks and drinking enough soda to float the Enterprise. Either version.
"But if we try to walk off without at least two adults with us...." She glanced over at the adults at the table, who were also eating pizza and breadsticks and drinking enough soda --and that only between Spike, Xander, and Dawn -- to float two battleships. Any time any one of them had tried to move from the table, one to three adults had jumped up and grabbed the four-year-old's hand and said 'where are we going?'
At first it had been fun, when Spike grabbed Willow's hand and she said 'bathroom', then when Giles did the same thing to Buffy. But the older...taller set had caught on, so now the kids were trying to come up with something new.
"It isn't like we're trying to give them the slip," Willow explained. "I don't wanna get grabbed by some stranger, and I don't wanna get lectured again by Spike for getting out of eyesight for all of two seconds."
"So why don't we just ask them?" Tara asked.
"Because they're too bloody big to get into the maze," Giles explained.
"Are you sure?" She eyed the colorful tubes, then looked back down the table at the adult adults. Then she looked at Giles, and saw the twinkle in his eye. He did want to give them the slip. She gave him a look -- the same look that he usually gave her and Willow when they were trying some new spell, as a matter of fact.
He didn't bother trying to look innocent at her, just rolled his eyes. "All right. Look, no adult can get into those tubes, so we'll be perfectly safe from harm. I don't want to be snatched any more than you do-- I just want a bit of breathing space -- and breathing in the men's room is not at the top of my to-do list."
Tara thought for a millisecond, then nodded. "Okay! Let's do it!" They counted to three under their breaths, then Tara ever so accidentally knocked her soda over onto the table-- and started wailing.
None of the adults at neighboring tables even looked up -- this was Chuck-E-Cheese, after all -- but Xander and Spike came to her rescue in an instant -- which gave Willow and Giles the chance to slip off to the tubes while everyone fussed over Tara. Then, when they were all looking around and going 'Where's Willow? Where's Giles?' Tara used her secret super Pepsi-power (five caffeinated sodas in two hours) to zoom over to the tubes herself.
Spike almost managed to grab her, but she zipped past him, trailing cola-particles in her wake, and giggling. She slipped inside the entrance to the tube-maze, losing her shoes in the process somewhat near the sign that said "take off your shoes here", and began scrambling upwards to where Willow and Giles were.
At least, where they'd been a moment ago. She stopped at a junction where she'd seen them, and looked around. A bunch of kids she didn't know were headed up one way, and a little girl who looked lost, was sitting down along the other tube. Tara hurried over to the unoccupied tube and slid down, squealing as she went. As she hit the bottom, and exited the tube maze briefly, she peeked out -- and saw Xander standing just beyond the maze, watching her. She stuck her tongue out and hurried back up before he could catch her.
She caught sight of Giles, and scurried after him, managing to grab his ankle before he climbed up another tube. He glanced down. "Oh! Good lord, I thought you were Dawn."
"Dawn? She can't get in here...can she?" Tara looked around. Nothing but under-seven as far as she could see.
"I'm not sure. But she was waiting for us when we tried to give you the slip -- er, I lost Willow, ducking back in here."
Tara squeaked. "They got Willow? Oh no!" She had to go rescue her poor girlfriend. Tara began to shuffle back down the tube, but Giles grabbed her wrist.
"No, Willow got into the other tube. I think she's up there, over our heads."
Tara looked up through the big clear bubble at the top junction of their tube, to see, sure enough, Willow looking down at her through the bubble in the bottom of the overpassing tube. Grinning, sticking out her tongue, and waggling her fingers in her ears. Which was universal sign language for "Nyah-nyah, nyah nyah, can't get me!" Tara pursed her lips, narrowed her eyes, and scrambled up the tube, climbing right over Giles.
"Ooh-- you just wait! I'm gonna get you, Willow Rosenbooger!" She could hear Willow giggling somewhere above her as she climbed.
"Hey! Wait up!" Giles called, behind her. She didn't, of course, but if he helped her catch Willow, all the better. They chased her through three tubes, somehow never managing to get into the same tube at the same time. At one point Tara and Giles climbed out into a crow's nest, and looked around. On the ground level, looking up at them, were Anya and Spike. "You know, I don't think we quite gave them the slip," Giles observed.
"Well, they still can't get at us. We can play in here as long as we like."
"Until we get kicked out when the restaurant closes."
"Which isn't until ten p.m.! Come on, there she is!" Tara leapt for another tube, and slid halfway down -- and landed on Willow's head. "Haha! Gotcha!" Then Tara said, "Ow!" as Giles landed on both their heads. "Watch it!" She thumped him on the arm.
Then she found all three of them sliding the rest of the way down the tube. They landed in a heap at the bottom of four tubes. They all leapt up, as one, stuck their tongues out...and hurried off in different directions.
This time, when Tara looked out a bubble window, she saw Buffy standing with her arms crossed, grinning, directly below her. Buffy waved, and Tara made the universal sign-language gesture. When Buffy made as if to dive for the opening of a nearby tube, Tara laughed hysterically, then squirmed away. Just in case Buffy had long arms.
She over-squirmed, though, and found herself once more sliding down a tube, to land against Willow. Who was pushed into Giles. Who popped out onto the floor. The two girls just stayed there laughing, braced too far up the tube for an adult to reach, while Giles scrambled for another entrance, running as fast as his little legs would carry him, Xander hot on his tail.
"Hey, quit pushing me!" Willow said suddenly.
"Yes you are. I'm slipping-- I'm gonna fall out. Stop it!"
"Oh, you are not. Baby!"
Willow looked up and stuck her tongue out, waggling it. "Bottle blonde!"
"Not now, I'm not. Neurotic homework highlighter!"
Wilow crossed her eyes, obviously concentrating hard. "Goyim!"
Tara stared at her. "I'm a what?" She leaned her head past Willow and called out "Xander! Willow called me a mean name!"
"It's not a mean name-- it just means you're not Jewish," Willow said.
"Well, duh!" Tara thought for a second, then pouted. "I don't know any special words for 'not ex-Southern-Baptist' "
"You know, if you two can't play nice--" They both 'eeped' and jumped away from Xander, who was crouching at the mouth of the tube...and was only inches away from them. Tara shoved Willow ahead of her, trying to get them out of reach before he could grab them. She thought she heard him laughing, but didn't stop to find out.
They ran around the tube maze, dodging strange kids, adults they knew all too well, and, at various points, each other. Finally Tara landed at the bottom of a tube beside Willow and Giles, who were sitting down and breathing hard.
"You two aren't wimping out, are you?"
"I'm considering the necessity of ingesting more pizza, before racing around for another hour," Giles replied.
"Yeah. And I'm thirsty," Willow added.
Tara peered through the blue plastic of the tube's walls. "If you go out there, you're gonna get grabbed."
"What?" Willow and Giles sat up, alarmed.
"Buffy, Dawn, Anya, Spike, and Xander -- they're all standing there. Watching us." She pointed.
Giles peered over his shoulder, and made a face. "Everywhere we turn, one or more of them is right there. Watching."
"Mad because watching's your job?" Willow asked.
"No, merely annoyed because we did this in order to get out from under their overly-protective gazes."
"It's kinda nice, though," Tara pointed out, even though she felt more like racing through the tubes, some more, than sitting here and talking. When Willow and Giles looked at her with expressions of disbelief, she said, "Well, in case something did happen. They'll be right there."
"Like if someone grabbed us," Willow said, nodding. Then her eyes lit up. "Or if someone stuck her head out of the tube and said she was thirsty?"
Tara looked at her skeptically. "Um, if you wanna try it...."
Willow grinned. "Nope, I was thinking maybe you would!" Tara felt herself being grabbed by both Willow and Giles, and being pushed so that her head stuck out the bottom of the tube.
"Help!" she shouted between giggles. Then thought better of it, since she didn't want to be rescued and dragged out. "Um... Willow wants Pop! Lots of pop! I do, too!" Her message delivered, Giles and Willow yanked her back up to safety, and Tara whapped Willow on the head, lightly. "Geek!"
Giles pouted. "You didn't ask for my pizza."
They all watched the opening of the tube, and eventually, Xander's head poked its way inside. "You want soda, you have to come out. No food or drink in the play area."
"Boo!" they yelled. It echoed in the tube, and Xander put his hands over his ears.
Tara giggled, and couldn't seem to stop. Xander looked at her for a minute. "Right, and only diet soda for Tara."
That stopped the giggles. She couldn't believe he would be so mean! "Willow, Xander's saying I'm a fat little kid!"
"No, sweetie, he's saying you've had more than enough sugar for one night."
"You should know," Giles put in. "You fed her three of your regular colas, after Xander tried buying her only diet ones, before."
"I did not!" Willow protested.
"Willow?" came a foreboding, very authoritarian voice. They all looked at Xander, then Tara and Willow looked at Giles.
"When did you teach him to sound like that?"
"What? ME? I never did anything of the sort. He got it from...from Spike, I imagine. Er, actually, I don't want to imagine..." He sighed. "Too late. I've imagined it. Someone shoot me, please?"
"We have a fresh pizza, at the table," Xander said. "And breadsticks."
Tara watched as Giles actually moved an inch towards the mouth of the tube. She grabbed his arm. "Don't go!"
"But they have more food," he said, not even looking back at her. He moved another inch, and she let go.
"Fine. Go, see if we care. Willow and I will play without you." But Willow was inching towards the exit, as well. "Willow!"
"I'm thirsty," she whined.
"I can't believe you'd leave me," Tara sniffed. "After I've given you the best...um...four years of my life! Over Root Beer!"
Willow looked at her, then said softly, "The best four years?"
"Cool!" Willow said, then slid out of the tube, running for the table.
Tara looked after her in dismay, then shrugged. Fine. She could still have fun by herself. She took off for the farther reaches of tubeville, clambering in and out of the Amazon Jungle, playing Tara, Queen of the Ape People. She even noticed that if she used the little anti-static spell she and Willow put on the dryer in the apartment building when they were doing laundry, it made the slidey tubes really slippery.
Of course, every time she did that, it made her kinda tired for a second or two, but she wasn't worried-- she had plenty of energy to spare. Finally she made it up to the highest point, and sat down for a rest. Just a little one, where she could watch everybody down below, and make faces at them through the bubble. A little while later-- she wasn't sure how much later, because she'd closed her eyes, just for a second, she heard voices in the tube.
"Hey, watch where you're going, lummox!"
"You're the one who stopped, Spike. What's the matter-- afraid of heights?"
"No-- but you pinched my arse!"
"Er, and this is bad why?"
"Because we're in a kiddie tube, and you nearly made me slip. I'd have landed on your face," Spike explained. Tara looked around, confused. Why could she hear Spike and Xander so clearly, from here?
Tara crawled to the edge of the bubble, and looked down the tube. Right there, less than four feet away, was Spike. "How'd you get in here?" she asked. Wasn't he supposed to be too big?
Spike turned around, and smiled at her. "Awake, then, are you? Come on." He held out one hand. She crawled towards him to take it, and shook her head.
"You can't get in here. It's for kids-only. You're too big."
Spike just grinned in that way that made her want to cuddle him. Or be cuddled, which when she was awake and adult, was the sort of thought that was worrisome. Right now, she slid down into his arms.
"You got her?" Xander asked.
"Yeah. Back up, now -- hey! No pinching!"
Suddenly Tara was sliding in Spike's arms, all the way down the tube. She, Spike, and Xander, landed in a heap on the rubber playmat at the bottom, Spike's arms still wrapped around her. "You pinched, didn'cha!" she asked Xander, who was grinning unashamedly at Spike. One arm unwrapped from around her shoulder to whap Xander on the head. Xander whapped him back.
"You know, if you two can't play nice..." came Anya's voice from the table.
"Yes?" they both chorused.
"You won't get to play naughty when we get home!"
The whapping stopped instantly. Spike stood up and carried Tara over to the table, Xander following. "Anybody want this, or you think I should keep her?" Spike asked the group, holding Tara out over the table like she was a pizza that somebody forgot to pick up.
"Is that the prize that came with all the skeeball tickets?" Buffy asked.
"Yeah. They were all out of stuffed monkeys, so I got the little girl. 500 tickets this thing was!" Tara laughed, and poked him in the ribs. Spike frowned at her and added, "I think I got ripped off."
"We can hang her in the living room, with Mr. Fluffy and Frankenporker." Xander was putting slices of pizza on plates, and passing them out to Spike, Tara, and Giles, before keeping one for himself. Tara grinned, then looked really, really hungry at him. He passed her his plate, and reached for another.
"Sneaky," Spike whispered in her ear.
She looked over. "Can I have something to drink?"
At least three people said "No soda!"