Son of Small Fry

Part One

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..."

Wesley blushed.

"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."

"Oh, dear."

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.

"See? I--"

"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.

"Wait!"

Angel looked over at him. "What?"

"Well..." Wesley looked up at Gunn. "If I stay a child..."

"Yeah?"

"Will you buy me a pony?"

"No."

"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.

"Xan?"

"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.

"What?"

"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.

"Yes?"

"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?"

"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.

"Eep!"

"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.

"Mine."

"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.

"What figure?"

"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."

"Traitor."

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 transfe r-- 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.


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