Son of Small Fry
It was a simple assignment. Anya had stressed that it was a simple assignment. Which meant, of course, that they were sure to mess it up. "Your mission, Spike and Xander, whether or not you choose to accept it: drive to the Safeway, take the little witches with you, and buy food that all of us can actually eat. Since you've devoured everything else in the apartment during my absence. I'll be home from the Magic Box at nine, to accept your field report."
Or something like that. Spike had actually been paying more attention to the new blouse Anya was almost wearing. After two weeks of not being able to properly appreciate the female form, it was nice to have one around again that he wouldn't be slapped for staring at. He hadn't been worried-- what, after all, could go wrong in a simple trip to the market, with Xander and two pint-sized friends who still had all of their adult faculties?
He supposed that maybe his brain cells hadn't recovered from being a fourth their normal size. Or something.
"Maybe we should go to Albertson's," Willow was saying. Spike thought she might be right -- they'd only been in this grocery store for ten minutes, and already the manager was saying something about kicking them out or he'd have security escort them.
"I think he's over-reacting," Tara said quietly, and Spike agreed with her. He looked over at the tipped-over display of fruit juice and crackers. It wasn't anything that couldn't be fixed with a mop -- grocery stores had lots of those things, right?
"I'd agree with you, normally," Willow replied, and the store manager was giving her a surprised and confused look. "But I think once the beef jerky display started the domino effect, we lost all claims at it being a simple accident."
"But it was an accident!" Spike added -- again. He doubted anyone would believe him this time, either.
Willow looked up at him. "True. But I don't think it qualifies as 'simple' any longer."
Xander, meanwhile, was giving him that 'I'm gonna thump you good, when we get home' glare. And not the good sort of thumping. "You realize this narrows down the places in Sunnydale where we can shop without being asked to leave before we even get in the door, to three?" he growled.
Spike sniffed. "The incident at the Farmers' Market was not my fault."
"You jumped up and down on a pallet of fresh watermelons until the whole center aisle was covered in melon guts," Xander accused. "How was this 'not your fault' again?"
"I thought they were Horkwroth eggs! They were moving, like they were about to hatch. I was just saving your skinny human arse."
"There was an earthquake, Spike. Everything was moving."
"Right, so why pick on me? They wrote it off as natural disaster damages, anyway."
"You are a natural disaster. Or an unnatural one." Xander was moving closer to Spike in a way that usually meant he was about to get thumped. Good sort or not-good sort, he wasn't sure; these sort of arguments could end either way.
"Look, if sprite number 2 there hadn't squealed when she saw the wicker chair display--"
"I wasn't squealing about the wicker chairs," Tara objected.
"You'd blame all this on a four year old child?" Xander interrupted them both, loudly as he gestured at the mess.
Spike looked around. "Um, yeah. Haven't you ever been around four-year-olds before?"
The manager was starting to move towards them menacingly -- Spike debated if a good scare would be sufficiently amusing to counter how unamused Xander was likely to be.
"If. You. Vamp. I. Will. Stake. You. Slowly." Xander hissed, low enough for only Spike to hear.
"That a promise?"
Xander gave him a look that could congeal blood. The manager was just getting close enough for Spike to hear his high-blood-pressure rising a notch, and Xander's was sounding like it wanted to join the competition, when Willow and Tara surprised everyone, Spike most of all. They burst into loud sobs.
He looked down to see both little girls screwing up their faces, and what sure as hell looked like real tears falling down their cheeks. Without even thinking about it, Spike found himself bending down to pick up Tara, while Xander grabbed Willow and lifted her up. "What're you up to?" Spike tried to say, but all that came out as he stared at the tow-headed girl in his arms, who was sobbing as if her heart would break, was "There, there..."
The store manager looked like he was about to faint, or have a heart-attack, or run and hide. Spike ignored him for the moment, as he looked over to see if Xander could tell him what was going on. Maybe they'd regressed really fast, or something, and Spike would have to offer to eat the scary man who'd scared them. Hopefully the scary man was Xander. He liked eating Xander, and it wouldn't set his chip off.
He patted Tara on the back, and found himself watching a confused Xander hugging Willow and telling her everything was all right. He was obviously as clueless as Spike.
Finally Willow began hiccuping and sobbing words, and they both leaned in to hear: "Is he gonna arrest us? We didn't do it! I didn't touch anything!"
Spike hid a smile as the store manager went from flushed, to pale in the space of a second. He looked positively vampiric when Willow turned her eyes on him, with the tears still spilling over the edges, so they seemed magnified to about twice their actual size.
"You're not gonna take us to jail, are you? Um... um..." She was still making little choking noises, and after her question, she buried her face in Xander's shirt, as if that had been the extent of her four-year-old bravery.
"I don't wanna go to jail. I want Mommy!" Tara cried, taking over center stage. By now, Spike was having to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from grinning, and he would have traded round three of the 'Welcome Home, Anya' party, to have a camcorder in his hands, right now. Well, no, he wouldn't. But it was close.
The manager was shaking his head. "Oh. Ah. No, little girl. Nobody's going to jail. I'm sure this was all an accident, and we can..."
Willow commenced wailing even harder. "I want my mommy, too!"
"What am I, chopped liver?" Xander muttered. Probably only Spike heard him, since Tara turned her own sobs up a notch, so that the two of them seemed to be playing 'Dueling Hissyfit' in D Minor.
"Just... er... please, go on with your shopping. We'll have this cleaned up in no time," the manager was saying. The girls paid no attention. He was turning blue, now-- Spike was impressed. Where had all his blood drained away to? If he wasn't using it, there were plenty of deserving vampires in the immediate vicinity, after all.
"Come on, let's go buy groceries so we can go home and see Mommy," Xander was saying to Willow.
Spike opened his mouth to add a bribe to buy cookies and cake mix, then stopped. Then mentally smacked himself for second-guessing buying junk food for not-really-four-year-olds. He turned to Tara and said, very deliberately, "Would you like some pudding? We can make Daddy buy pudding, and some cool whip."
Tara stopped wailing and looked at him -- her eyes wide and clear, despite the amount of tears that had been pouring out of them. She nodded, slowly, as if the very idea was a strange and precious one. Like they hadn't all spent most of the last two weeks eating ice cream.
"Sure, if Uncle Spike remembers that it's his turn to do the dishes," Xander said as he plopped Willow into the seat in the front of their mostly-empty cart.
Tara got an evil gleam in her eye, and Spike had to blink at her for a second, to make sure he hadn't suddenly started reflecting, or something, because she looked just like him, for a moment. "I wanted to sit in the seat," she wailed, and the store manager backed away. Desperately trying to look as much like the man-height wall of extra-fluffy Charmin he was standing in front of, as possible.
"Here, mate, could you grab us an empty cart? Somebody hasn't had her nap today, and..."
The balding man had disappeared, and reappeared with another cart, before Spike even managed to get the entire sentence out. He also had something else in his hand -- grape lollipops, which he handed to a still-pouty Willow and Tara. The two girls looked suspiciously at him, before gleefully ripping the plastic covers off, and popping the candy in their mouths.
Xander waited until they'd both pushed their carts round the corner, before grinning at Willow and holding out a hand for her to high-five him. Spike rolled his eyes, and jealously watched the two mini-sprites suck on their treats. "I wanna know why they get lollies, and I don't," he said.
"Because you're a grown-up," Xander explained in a patient voice.
"So? I could have been four again. Let what's his name off the hook."
Willow looked smug. "It's because we throw better tantrums. No one can resisting a hysterical little girl."
Spike growled, and loomed over her. "Oh, yeah? I ever tell you how many hysterical little girls I've eaten?" Then he blinked and grabbed his head. His hand found the sticky grape lollipop that Tara had thrown at him. Pulling it -- and several hairs -- free was less painful than the chip-shot he got when he growled at her, for real. At which point Tara began wailing, again, that she'd lost her lolly.
Spike stared at her, waiting her out. He knew she wasn't regressed yet, so she was just messing about with him. He knew it. And he could wait...
At least another five seconds, until the high-pitched noise started to hurt his over-sensitive ears, and the smug look on Willow's face started to hurt his over-sensitive pride, and Spike himself started having these strange feelings, something like indigestion, whenever he looked at Tara's disappointed little face...
Growling again, he pulled a packet of lollies off the shelf above his head, ripped it open, and handed one to Tara. Then, since it was open anyway, pulled one out for himself, unwrapped it, and popped it in his mouth.
Xander just stared at him. "You're not supposed to open things before you pay for them..." he said sternly.
"Good thing I'm not paying for them, then, innit," Spike mumbled around his lollipop.
Xander gave him a glare that said he was in trouble, but the kind that might get him spanked, later. Then Xander reached over and took the opened bag of lollipops out of Spike's hand, removed a green lollipop, and set the bag down in the cart. Then he began pushing the cart away, towards the fruits and vegetables.
"Xan?" Spike called after him, once he was far enough away to justify Spike raising his voice. "Where are you going? We don't need any more cucumbers. Or zucchini. Or bananas."
A woman pushing her own cart past stopped, gave them both a dubious glance. Then she snickered when Willow asked, "Why do you and Uncle Spike buy so many zucchini?"
Xander blushed a delicate shade of rose, while Spike waggled an eyebrow at Willow, ignoring the woman, or rather, pretending to. "Because veggies are good for growing boys."
"Then why don't you eat them?" she shot back.
"Cos they taste like crap," he said honestly. "But your Dad likes 'em." Xander was moving towards tomato coloured, now. "Don't you, Dad?"
Xander took a deep breath, then turned a truly nasty glare on Spike. "Yes. I like melons, too, though. In fact, at the moment, I like melons so much better than zucchini, that I may never buy zucchini again."
Spike blinked at him, then pouted. "But melons like zucchini. Melons like watching zucchini."
Tara raised her hand, timidly. When all three were looking at her, she said, "I want popcorn." Spike blinked at her, and glanced over to find that he wasn't the only one who had no idea how she'd gone from sex-talk-in-public, to popcorn. She blinked at them, incredulous. "Or carmel corn. I don't mind which."
Spike and Xander exchanged glances, then Spike looked at a perplexed Willow. "Up to you, Red. She's your girlfriend."
Willow nodded, seriously. Then she asked, "Tara? Honey? Why do you want popcorn?"
Tara explained by reaching over towards one of the endcaps, and grabbing a package of salami. Spike was astounded that the shy little witch was joining in the fun -- when she threw it at him. Then she said, "Because it flies better?"
The woman with the cart had moved away by now, after shaking her head and blinking repeatedly.
Xander rolled his cart back to Spike's, and glared at him again. "Someone's going to take them away, if they hear us talking like that, and get the wrong idea."
Spike stared at him, perplexed. "What wrong idea?"
"The idea that we weren't talking about fruits and vegetables."
"But we were talking about fruits and vegetables. Well, I was. Dunno what you were talking about."
Willow giggled, and Xander turned his glare on her. "You weren't helping, either, young lady."
"Oh, relax, Daddy. Nobody thinks a four-year-old is making sexual insinuations-- except you, because you're a big perv." She said it quietly, while fishing for another lollipop from the bag in the cart below her.
"I am not a perv!" Xander objected, then snapped his jaw shut as if realizing that yelling such a claim in the middle of the grocery store was probably not the best way to convince anyone that he wasn't talking about kinky sex in front of two little kids. He scowled, and snapped, "Let's get the groceries so we can go home."
Spike nodded. Then, as Xander began pushing his cart towards the spinach, said casually, "Yeah, otherwise Mommy will spank us all." Xander stopped, and bowed his head. Spike gave him a thoughtful look, even though he was staring at his shoes. Or his eyelids. "Wait, or would she not spank us?"
"Yes, love of my unlife?" Spike gave the two giggling girls a wink.
"Go get the milk. And the cereal, bread, cheese, and lunch meat. I will meet you at the checkout line."
"Okay." Spike nodded agreeably, and Xander pushed his cart off into the wilds of the supermarket.
Tara goggled at Spike. "Just like that?"
"Just like... oh, you mean, why didn't I give him a big argument?" Spike asked, scanning the shelves above Tara's head.
"Yeah. It seems kind of... well... un-Spike-like."
He bent down to grin in her face. "That's because you're missing the point. Xander trusted me -- on my own -- to do the shopping. Well, half the shopping."
She blinked, then smiled. "Awwww. That's so sweet. And you're all proud..."
Spike raised an eyebrow. "Well, yeah. Of course." Then he pushed the cart over to the opposite side of the aisle. "Now-- you grab as many bags of candy as you can reach, and I'll concentrate on the ones you can't get to. Let's see-- Goobers, Raisinettes..."
"Of course -- oh, we'll hit the cookie aisle next. Oi, don't forget the mints. Anya's favorite." It wouldn't be enough, of course, but Spike had nearly perfected the art of hiding behind Xander and saying 'but I'm evil! what d'you expect?' whenever Anya yelled at them for doing the grocery shopping.
Why she continued sending them to the store, Spike didn't know. He wasn't sure she did, either.
This time they managed to get home with two sacks of candy, some zucchini, two melons, and three pints of ice cream. As they unpacked, Willow and Tara ran into the living room and pretended they were only four, and hadn't had anything to do with the shopping.
Anya squinted at the black licorice laces, and placed them neatly aside on top of the stereo. That made Spike's eyes light up, since that was the place for 'Hmm... I bet we can use this somehow' things. They got the appropriate oohs and ahhs for the chocolate, and the ice cream, as expected. It was only when she got to the bottom of the bags, and found that there wasn't anything under the sweets, that the Wrath of Anya (tm) was invoked.
"What am I supposed to cook with three medium-sized zucchini, two melons, and four pounds of chocolate?" she asked them, hands on hips.
Xander looked at the items she'd laid out on the counter, and frowned, slightly. "You don't consider those large zucchini?" He looked at Spike. "I thought they were large. Don't you think they're large?"
Anya looked at them as if they were both crazy, which, well... But she dutifully studied the vegetables. "I've seen larger. Not that it really matters, if you're going to slice them up and put them in a casserole." She looked back at the two men. "Not that I can slice them up and put them in a casserole, since you didn't buy any of the other things that would have to go in the casserole to make it a casserole, instead of just a big pile of hot, mushy zucchini."
"Which won't matter, since Xander broke the casserole dish," Spike added, helpfully.
"Xander broke the casserole dish?" Anya folded her arms and gave Xander a hurt, almost-angry look. Xander pointed at Spike. Again.
"Because I threw it at him! I mean, to him! I-- Oh, hell. Yes, Anya, I broke the casserole dish. I haven't bought a new one, since I spent two weeks being four and couldn't get to the store."
"But you broke it three weeks ago," Spike reminded him. Again, helpfully.
"Spike? Do you ever want to watch me spanking Anya, ever again?"
Two loud cries of "eeew!" came from the living room.
"Oh, like you two never do it," Spike shouted, on a hunch. There was sudden, suspicious silence from the other room.
Anya had picked up two of the zucchini, meanwhile. "I suppose I could boil them..."
Spike really had to admire the range of color that could play over Xander's face. He wasn't sure whether this was ecru, or eggshell-- he'd have to go get the paint samples from the closet, to be sure.
"Honey, how about we order pizza. Then Spike and I will go out and get some real groceries, later tonight? Even a new casserole dish."
Anya looked dubious about the proposition. "I don't think so, somehow. How about we order pizza, and I go out later tonight and buy groceries. And you can put the girls to bed."
Xander looked relieved -- for nearly a split second. Then he looked towards the living room like it was full of Neru demons. They heard the two girls laugh.
Spike turned to Anya. "I was good -- can't I come to the store with you?"
"Ha!" Xander pointed an accusatory finger at him. "Who started this whole mess in the first place?"
Spike opened his mouth to deny having had anything to do with it, then he stopped. He hadn't started it, but, really -- who had? "Er, whoever sent Rupes the statue in the first place?"
Anya narrowed her eyes, then shrugged and picked up the phone to order the pizza. While her back was turned, Spike and Xander quietly snuck into the living room. A few minutes later, she followed them. "Pizza's on its way. Now, about whose fault this is..."
Spike and Xander immediately pointed to each other, and the witches both pointed to Spike, the ungrateful little brats. Anya rolled her eyes.
"I mean, about who sent the statue in the first place. Giles hasn't found anything out from his sources. It wasn't on the original shipping manifest-- we found that buried under a pile of packing peanuts that somebody had apparently been using as an indoor playground."
Four innocent faces looked back at her. Well, mostly innocent. Willow and Tara were innocent, anyway. Of this particular offense.
"I tried to trace the shipment on the net, but there didn't seem to be anything out of the ordinary. No weird stops in Zimbabwe or Katmandu," Willow piped up.
"Actually, that would have been normal," Spike put in, then realized his mistake in drawing their attentions to him just as his hand had been about to get ahold of Xander's zipper. Xander slapped his hand away as Willow glared.
"Don't make me make it disappear, Spike. I may not be four, but I am too young to be seeing things like you mauling Xander."
"Actually, it can be quite fun," Anya corrected her. "Especially when they pretend to be--"
"Okay! Back to the statue, shall we?" Xander interrupted. Spike saw the looks on the witches' faces, and resolved to tell them, someday when Xander wasn't around to dangle him out the window at noon, for doing so.
"There's not a lot about the statue," Willow said, still glancing at Spike's hands as if they might get up to something naughty, quite on their own. Which they might, if Willow would stop glancing at them. "It's old, it's tall, it's funky. It was last seen in Brussels in the seventeenth century, back when most of the books that describe what it does hadn't been translated yet."
"Oh, hey, that's what we forgot!" Spike exclaimed.
"What-- you figured something out about the Urdeku, that we missed?" Willow asked excitedly.
"No, we forgot to buy brussel sprouts. To go with the zucchini and the melons."
"We forgot to buy popcorn, to throw at Spike, too," Tara said.
Xander shook his head. "No, we got carmel corn-- it's under the Oreos."
"Oh. Could we have some?"
"Sorry. Oreos with pizza." Willow ducked her head as if she'd been scolded.
Anya raised her hand, then waited until everyone was looking at her. When she still didn't speak, Xander asked cheerfully, "Yes, you in the front? Mrs. Harris?"
"You're paying for the pizza, right? Since I distinctly said you should buy real food, and now I have to go shopping with my own money since all you've bought is junk food? Good junk food, granted."
Xander turned and pointed at Willow. Willow protested, "I'm only four! How am I supposed to pay for pizza?"
"What, your money shrunk, when you did?" Spike asked, before he remembered he was trying not to annoy the powers-didn't-shrink witch.
"No, but..." Tara gave her a look, and Spike narrowed his eyes. The witch-telepathy thing still worked, even when they were four. Great. Willow smiled craftily. "There's the matter of two weeks worth of ice cream and french fries and pizzas and trips to the zoo, and the stuff you guys broke at the Magic Box that we didn't tell Giles about..."
"He was there for most of it," Spike protested. Xander sketched the shape of a Wachallaian funeral urn in the air, and Spike winced. Then wondered why he was wincing-- after all, he wouldn't have to pay for it. Unless Giles decided to take the payment out of his hide, of course.
Xander was pulling his wallet out of his pocket, though. "Fine. You win. But if the pizza boy asks for a tip, I'm telling him to swear off women for life."
"You swear off 'em. Leaves more for me." As Anya turned to look at him, Spike added quickly before it could turn into a glare that could kill, "More of you for me. Not 'more' as in more women. More woman. More chances to lick you off in the shower. More cuddles without birdbrain getting in between."
Anya was starting to grin, and Xander -- yup, whapped him in the head with the wallet. Spike turned back to Anya, because Anya grinning was more fun than being beaten by Xander -- at least as long as there were spectators who'd ruin the fun by yelling "eew" and "gross". He gave her a gallant smile. "So, I promise to be good, if you let me go to the store with you."
"Oh, please," Xander replied. "You're not gonna fall for that? Let him get out of helping me get the two monst-- adorable little girls to bed who aren't really four so why do I have to put them anywhere?"
"You just don't want us making out in the supermarket parking lot," Spike accused.
Xander didn't deny it. "Um, duh? The whole point of the 'only three places left we can shop, now' speech?"
Anya was glaring at both of them, now, instead of grinning. "What did you two do now?"
"Nothing!" they chorused.
Meanwhile Spike was wondering why it was bad for them to do things that got them barred from retail establishments, but if Anya was involved... He was, however, wise enough not to voice that thought. Besides, really, who banned you from grocery stores for snogging a girl? Almost nobody. It was only when he tried unzipping Xander's jeans that they got yelled at.
"The second display really wasn't their fault," Tara piped up.
"Yeah, and the thing with the deli counter would have probably happened anyway." Willow gave her girlfriend a thoughtful look.
"We never touched the deli counter," Xander said quickly.
"But you had good aim," Tara replied.
Spike saw which direction this was going -- and walked over to the front door. He glared at the pizza delivery boy on the doorstep. "One veggie, one kill-me-now meat special?"
The kid nodded, a bored look on his face, and held out his left hand for the cash. Spike shook it firmly, and grabbed the pizza boxes from him while he was still gawping. Spike sniffed. Some people had no concept of proper manners. He tightened his grip on the pizza boxes, and made a running jump over the back of the sofa, using his free hand to complete the vault.
Luckily for all concerned, Willow and Tara managed to catch the pizza boxes before they joined him on the floor, where he was rubbing his head and calling the coffee table all sorts of names.
Xander shook his head, walked over, and paid the delivery guy, who was looking at Spike with some concern. "Is he gonna be okay?"
"Define 'okay,' " Xander said dryly. "Hey, you want a tip?"
The kid nodded.
"Swear off men for life."
"Yeah, thanks," the kid stammered, then Spike heard his tone change. "I'll keep that in mind."
Spike was on his feet and back at the doorway, growling in full vampiric regalia. "Mine. Er, ours. Git!" The kid ran, and Spike found Xander laughing at him. "What?" he demanded.
"You look sooooo scary," Xander began, and Spike would have preened if he hadn't had a suspicion something was up. It was confirmed when Xander rubbed Spike's head, and added, "Especially with your hair sticking up!"
Spike gave him a 'grr', decided to ignore the insinuation that he cared about that sort of thing, and stomped back to grab a piece of pizza. Only to find two empty boxes, and three pairs of innocent-looking eyes blinking up at him.
There was no way... Well, yes, there was a way. Anya had been known to consume an entire cheesecake merely by looking at it. But still... No way the little witchlings could have eaten it all that fast.
Spike sniffed the air, then lowered his head. Following the trail...
"Oh cool! He's tracking the wily pizza!"
"You know how to catch a tame vampire? Stand very, very still, and make a noise like a pepperoni," Tara said.
Spike was following the scent into the kitchen, but he heard Willow ask doubtfully, "What kind of noise does a pepperoni make?"
He called back over his shoulder, "Depends what you're using it for." He stopped in his tracks for a second, and added, "And I'm not tame!"
"That's not true," Anya said. "I find that I rarely have to discipline him, any more." She sounded like she was talking to the two girls -- verified when they giggled and 'eewed'.
"I think the word you're looking for is 'domesticated'," Xander put in. "Where's the pizza-- ah. Cool!"
Spike stopped. How the hell had Xander found the pizza? He was still in the living room with the empty pizza boxes, and the witch-- The witches. He headed back to the living room and frowned as Xander took the last of three bites of a slice of pizza. The only visible slice of pizza.
Spike folded his arms. "Right, so, it's tease the vampire night, is it?" Four sets of innocent eyes blinked back at him. "Guess it's a good thing I don't need pizza, innit?" And he vamped out again, and dove for one of his two favorite snacks. Xander-neck.
"One of these days, I'm gonna get the pizza with the garlic crust," Xander mumbled. "Just to teach you a... mmm... lesson."
"I can think of better ways to teach me a lesson," Spike purred into his neck. The giggles were louder than the 'eewwws', this time.
The giggles were nowhere to be found, a few hours later, as the final shots of 'Nightmare on Elm Street 3' faded into the credits. Spike, of course, was applauding loudly, but the teenywiccas seemed a bit subdued.
"Maybe it's just me, but Freddy's face seems a lot bigger, now that we're little," Willow said, as she dug around in the bowl of carmelcorn.
Spike glanced at the television. "Well, we do have a bigger telly than you two..."
"I'm kinda surprised we never got a Freddy Krueger here in Sunnydale," Xander said cheerfully, as he grabbed a handful of carmelcorn from the bowl he'd hidden from Willow. Spike, Willow, and Tara all glared at him. He paused in mid-carmelmunch. "What?"
"How long have you lived on the Hellmouth, buster?" Willow gave him a stern glare which was not appreciably diminished by coming from a four-year-old face.
"Um, this is a trick question, right?" Xander shot Spike a confused look, but Spike didn't feel like helping him out. Not since Xander hadn't told him where the pizza had been hidden. Not that Spike minded having to slurp a half-pint of blood from the happily wriggling man, but there was a principle of sorts.
"You've jinxed us," Tara said softly. "Now he'll show up."
"See? She's only been here a couple years, and already she knows you don't say things like that!" She leaned over and wrapped her arm protectively around Tara's neck.
"Oh, don't be silly," Xander said, though his expression fell somewhere between 'you're kidding, right?' and 'you do know a sleep-protection spell, right?' He leaned forward and pressed the rewind button on the VCR. Which had nothing to do with any vampires having broken any remote controls while trying to see if they could bounce the laserbeam off a mirror while standing on one hand. "We've had our full quota of dream things already, what with that kid with the nightmares, and the First Slayer. Oh, and der Kindestod, who wasn't really a dream thing, but everybody thought he was just in those kids' imaginations, so he kinda counts." Xander turned around to look at them, when Willow levitated a pillow at his backside. "What?"
Spike almost clapped when he saw the expressions they were giving Xander. Not as good at the puppy-eyes thing as Xander was, even as an adult -- but Spike suspected that had more to do with the fact he'd do anything Xander asked him to, anyway. Eventually. After a fashion. "Where are we gonna sleep?" Tara asked.
"On the couch, remember?" Xander answered in a patient tone. Sounded almost fatherly, in fact.
The eyes went wider, and Spike had to revise his opinion. "We have to sleep out here alone?" Willow asked.
Xander sighed. "Freddy Krueger is not coming to Sunnydale--"
The two girls burst into wails. "Now you've really done it! Xander Harris, you big meanie! I can't believe you'd say that!"
Xander looked helplessly at Spike, who was coming ever closer to applauding. Except... were those real tears, trickling down Tara's face? He leaned over and took a good look.
Spike blinked, and looked around for the hand that had whapped him on the back of the head, but there wasn't any. Instead, he found himself cuddling a four-year-old girl who was looking up at him with watery blue eyes, through a tangle of corn-colored hair. "Hey, now," he heard himself say in a soft voice, the sort he used to use with Dawn before she got old enough that it made her giggle more often than not. "Anybody comes sniffing round here, I'll tear 'em up good."
Tara looked doubtful.
"What, you don't think I could take that Krueger bloke?" Spike vamped out and gave her his best grrrr...
She giggled, but softly. Her eyes were still wide, and she glanced over at Willow. Then she looked at the window, as if checking for possible monsters. Willow, who was in Xander's arms, looked as wide-eyed and subdued as Tara. From the stunned look on Xander's face, Spike figured he wasn't the only one got whapped in the head by invisible paternal instincts.
"Look, Willow, you can do a spell to keep him out of the apartment, can't you?" Xander asked, patiently.
Willow nodded slowly, then said, "But that won't stop him from coming near the apartment. And what if he shows up inside the apartment? Since you're the one who jinxed us?"
"Will, Freddy Kruger is not--" He stopped because a hand was covering his mouth. Spike's.
"Look, why don't you just stop saying it, and let's get them settled someplace they'll feel safe?"
"Like where? Buffy's?"
Spike paused for a moment, then jerked his head in the direction of the only logical choice. Their bedroom. Their bedroom with the super-double-ultra-emperor-sized bed, specially designed for today's most hedonistic menages a trois. Or so the mail-order advert had claimed.
Xander shook his head wildly. "No. Nononononono... Bed. You. Me. Anya. First night back..."
Willow gave him a pointy stare. "Like you'd do anything in there, with us out here, anyway?"
Xander looked torn. "Uh... um... well... Maybe. I mean, if you'd asked me two weeks ago, no. But that long without a woman, a man can make a lot of changes in his life."
"If you'd rather have sex with Anya, and leave us out here," Tara began, and the torn sound of her voice seemed authentic.
Spike couldn't be sure. But there was Anya-and-Xander sex to be had, and these two were witches. Competent, powerful, even if only three feet tall. He opened his mouth, and heard himself saying, "Right, we'll all share the bed, and no boogymen will be able to get us. Sex can wait 'til morning." He blinked. Looked over at Xander, whose mouth was hanging open. "Xan? Have I been possessed?"
Xander shook his head slowly. "Um, I don't think you can be. It didn't work on Angel, anyway."
"Ah. Hmm. Are you possessed, then?" Because Xander was standing up, teenyWillow happily wrapped in his arms, and walking in the direction of the bedroom.
Xander stopped, as if he'd only now realized what he was doing. He cocked his head. "I don't think so. I mean, I've been possessed a few times, and this doesn't feel like that. But if I start laughing hysterically and running around on all fours, you should probably chain me up until Giles can get over here."
Spike blinked away an image of Xander, on all fours, in chains. It was not a good thing to be thinking about with a not-really-four-year-old in your arms. Willow giggled, and pointed at Spike. He looked down reflexively, but no, he'd managed to blink it away in time.
When he looked back up at Willow, she was still giggling. "Spike's thinking he'd wait at least a day to call Giles."
"Was not," Spike muttered.
"Was," Tara retorted. Spike glared at her -- for a second. Hadn't she been the timid one, once?
"Spike? Why don't we put the wee ones to bed?" Xander interrupted his glaring.
"Right." Spike nodded, and led the way to the bedroom. He plopped Tara down, and stepped aside as Xander plopped his own giggling burden beside her. They bounced for a moment, then looked up again. Puppy eyes. Spike tried to growl back.
"Is that it? We get spooked by Freddy Krueger coming to get us, and you don't even tuck us in?" Willow demanded.
"I knew they were faking. Come on." Spike grabbed Xander's arm, tugging him towards the living room.
"Um-- if they're faking, why are we leaving them in our bed?"
"So's we can shag on the couch!"
Xander gave a questioning look at the girls, but Spike could feel his resistance dwindling. He gave in inward cheer. Not an outward one -- that would be bragging. Wait-- Spike loved to brag! He gave an outward cheer.
Which was Willow's cue to put her arms around Tara, then look up at both of them. "Okay," she said bravely. "We'll be fine, I guess. Right, baby?" Tara murmured something even Spike couldn't hear, and Willow planted a kiss on her forehead. "Nope. Won't let anything getcha."
Spike sighed, and closed the bedroom door. With all four of them on the inside.
He wasn't sure how much later it was when he opened one eye and saw Anya standing by the bed. She was looking down, a sort of odd happy smile on her face. Spike raised his head -- feeling the pillowcase unstick itself from his cheek -- and looked at what she was looking at.
Willow and Tara were curled up around each other, bookended by him and Xander. Apparently they'd all fallen asleep in the same position they'd been telling stories in. Stories designed to amuse and distract the are-they-aren't-they-scared girls. Spike blinked and looked up at Anya again. Blinked again when she mouthed 'I'll be right back' and left the room.
He considered crawling off the bed and following her, but Tara's head was on his arm, and if he moved he might wake her. Not that he cared about that sort of thing, he reasoned. But... well, he didn't have to get up. He could hear Anya heading for the bathroom, then he heard her undressing. Spike looked down at the sweet face resting on his arm.
He sighed, and waited, listening to the little sounds of running water. A clock ticking out in the living room. The sparse three a.m. traffic outside. Finally Anya re-appeared, dressed in plaid flannel pajamas. Xander's plaid flannel pajamas. The top part, anyway, which came down to her knees.
"If you're trying to look not-sexy, it's not working," he whispered very quietly as she slid into his side of the bed.
She smiled, then frowned, then blinked and whispered, "Oops-- forgot something!"
As she slid back out of bed and left the room again, Spike spent a moment enjoying the receding view before wondering what she could have forgot. Surely nothing that they'd usually bring to bed, not with the witches there.
He was waiting, eyes open in the dark, when she reappeared in the doorway. She was making some sort of hand motions, pointing at his head, then at the pillow. She wanted him to do what with the pillow? Finally she put one hand on her hip, and mouthed, very slowly, "Put your head down and close your eyes, stupid."
Just to be sure, he glanced over at Xander, who was fast asleep. Well, she didn't see all that well in the dark, Spike decided. She must have mistaken him for Stupid. He complied anyway, rolling his eyes, then closing them, and resting his head back on the pillow. The room flashed red outside his eyelids as he heard the click-whirr of the camera. Then Anya slipped back into bed.
He thought about growling at her -- quietly -- but decided it wasn't worth the effort. Not since he'd have plenty of chances to growl at folks snapping pictures of him with one or more of the kiddies. And the only way he'd be able to swap for photos of his Sire being beset by Wesley, was to have a few of his own.
That thought amused him for the two seconds it took to fall back asleep, the comfortable weight of a small head on his arm, and the slow, gentle breathing of his human lovers filling his ears.
"I don't want to go." Rupert glared up at her, but he could see he wasn't getting through. Not yet -- he knew he could wear her down, though. The benefit of being four was boundless energy. Which, when devoted towards annoying his Slayer, was a precious benefit indeed.
She frowned back at him. "You know you haven't regressed, yet. You can't throw a tantrum."
Rupert suppressed a sigh. "I am not throwing a tantrum. I am merely expressing a desire for the fifth time today which you obviously aren't listening to, hence my need to speak louder so you will hear me."
"I can hear you!" Buffy protested. "I'm just saying--"
"You're saying that if I don't go into the shop, terrible tragedies will occur. I promise you, Buffy, I shan't destroy your home during the three hours it takes you to go to class."
"For one thing, it's Wednesday, so I have to go to Willow and Tara's classes too, and take notes. For another... I just don't like leaving you home alone. I thought they did this routine already, the last time, and we all agreed that none of us kids were safe on our own?"
"Yes, but that was before we were used to being in four-year-old bodies. I'm perfectly capable of climbing up and down stairs, I know what I can and can't lift, or move, or reach. In short, I know what I'm doing, Buffy."
He gave her his best 'I'm your Watcher, and I'm just being reasonable, not trying to lay down the law' look. The one that sometimes actually worked. She almost appeared to be wilting under pressure. Rupert stared suspiciously at the uncertain blue eyes. Buffy never wilted under pressure.
'What's wrong with you?' he felt like shouting. 'I taught you better than this! You're strong, you're intelligent, you're the woman they invented strong-enough-for-a-man-but-made-for-a-woman for. Don't fall for a pair of big blue-green eyes and a fetching pout!' Rupert blinked, and thumped his metaphorical Watcher-self on the side of the head. Shut up, or she might hear you.
Finally, Buffy seemed to have made up her mind. "Um... in short?" she repeated, then giggled unceasingly.
Right, this called for some serious pouting. He looked down at the floor, so she wouldn't see it coming, wouldn't think he was probably doing it deliberately. He counted to five, slowly, waiting for her giggles to quiet.
Then he glanced up, face still tilted down, and found her watching him, still grinning. "Sorry, Giles, but you did say it."
"You're going to leave me at Spike and Xander's mercies, aren't you?"
"Oh, come on," she said breezily, though there was a hint of something in her eyes. Worry? Sympathy? Didn't matter, he'd got her hooked. "They'll be... um...." She tilted her head. "Huh."
"I just want to stay here, alone, while I still can. Soon I shall be regressed enough to warrent being minded. But not yet." His voice was calm, not quite any hint of pleading in it.
"Giles, you know I--" Rupert pouted at her. "Stop it," she said sternly. He pouted harder. "I am not falling for that."
"You don't love me," he said quietly.
Buffy blinked at him. Repeatedly. He saw her face about to slide into that 'aww, no, don't be like that' expression, and could hear Spike and Xander shouting 'Score!' in the back of his head. God knew he'd heard it aloud enough times, when they'd managed to convince him to let them do something dangerous with something valuable, by dint of their... er...
It occurred to Rupert that he'd actually heard Spike use the 'You don't love me' line, as well. To Rupert? It couldn't have been. It must have been Xander who had fallen for it. Or possibly Dawn. Never Rupert. Nor Buffy, he recalled a moment too late, as her face set into another expression entirely.
"Nice try, Mister. But as a matter of fact, I do love you. Which is why I'm not leaving you alone in the house to explain to the firemen why your babysitter let a four-year-old stay by himself while she toddled off to class."
He pouted a bit more, but when that didn't change the expression on her face, he finally asked, "Which firemen?"
"The same cute ones who came last week to get Spike down from the roof. The ones with the bulging muscles. And I'd miss seeing them and it would be all your fault, so you're going to the shop." She picked up her bookbag, and the bag that contained his books, and the new pirate cove Lego set he'd found sitting next to his pillow this morning. "We're going," she said with a disheartening tone of finality. Then she yelled, "Dawn! Get your butt down here, we're leaving!"
There was a second's pause, before they heard Dawn shouting back, "I'm coming! Geez, keep your shirt on!"
Rupert crossed his arms, and glared up at Buffy.
"I will pick you up and carry you to the magic shop," she informed him. "Don't think I won't."
It was on the tip of his tongue to say 'you wouldn't dare' except he knew that saying it would guarantee that she would. That didn't mean he was quite ready to give up. "Buffy, please, this is the only chance I'll have -- have had in two weeks -- to be alone. I assure you I'll take every precaution. I swear I'll sit and read, all day."
"Yeah, you'd do it, too," she said, sounding reasonable. But she shook her head. "You're coming with us."
"I could stay home with him," Dawn offered. "I'll stay in my room and won't bother you a bit," she said to Rupert.
"And that trigonometry test you were studying for all night?" Buffy asked. "That would what-- be cancelled for the whole class on account of Dawn Summers has to babysit?"
Dawn shrugged. "It could be. You never know. Stranger things have happened..."
"Yeah, like you having a math test without whining about it. I don't know why you bother trying to avoid them-- you come home with A's every time." Buffy rolled her eyes. "Out-- go. In the car. Now."
"Ja, wohl, mein Kommandant! Sig heil..." Dawn saluted, grabbed her bag, and walked out the door. Buffy frowned at Rupert.
"That was German, right? I haven't forgotten more French than I thought. Right? Giles?" He smiled kindly at her. "Are you teaching her to speak Sumarian?" Buffy narrowed her eyes at him. "Because I warned you about that when she was ten."
"What if I promise to stop teaching her German, in exchange for you letting me stay here today?"
Buffy seemed to consider it -- for half a second. "I'd say you aren't the one teaching her German. Now, let's go before we're late!"
Rupert pouted at her, one more time. Then he was flying into the air and being held, quite firmly, under Buffy's arm. She switched off the lights as she headed for the door.
"Buffy, put me down this instant!"
"Nope. Don't make me enroll you in kindergarten." She plopped him down in the back seat of the Range Rover, the door having been helpfully opened by Dawn, who had apparently switched sides. "I'll do it, too. The neighbors have already asked about it. I told them you were too young -- but I can change my mind."
"You're a very cruel mummy, you know that, right?" he asked, in a normal, adult tone, if not an adult pitch. Since he'd lost the war, he wasn't about to keep the battle going. Not until he could find something else to torment her with, at any rate.
"That's me, the evil bitch-monster of death," she agreed as Dawn pulled the vehicle out of the drive and onto the street.
"Nice to hear you finally admit it," said her sister. "It's the first step towards getting help, you know. The next step is where we commit you. Just for evaluation."
"You know Giles, if I did enroll you in kindergarten, it wouldn't be so bad. You and Dawn could play together."
"I don't think so, somehow. I believe there's some sort of social stigma attached to playing with the girls. Er... " Rupert scratched his head, trying to come up with the proper word. "Cooties?"
"Cooties," Buffy confirmed. "The bane of childhood. Once you're marked--"
"You grow up to be Buffy," Dawn finished.
Buffy waited until Dawn paused at a stop sign to give her sister a pinch. Rupert wondered just who among them was the four-year-old, as Dawn squealed and hit her back. "Oh, yes, I can see why you wouldn't want immature little me to stay home alone while you two mature persons attend to your schooling."
"Don't make me pull over," Buffy warned.
Rupert blinked at her, while Dawn began laughing. He had to stifle a laugh, himself. "How can you, since I'm driving?" Dawn asked.
"Well, it always worked for mom," Buffy replied.
"Oh, yeah, and 'Your face will freeze like that...' " Dawn said, still laughing.
Yeah..." Buffy smiled softly, then burst into a grin. "And 'you'd better eat that-- there's starving children in Africa...' "
"We kept telling her the starving African kids could have our lima beans," Dawn told Rupert.
"She even put hers in an envelope and addressed it to the United Nations, one time," Buffy said sincerely.
"Hey, it worked-- I didn't have to eat the ones in the envelope, since they got all squished."
Rupert sat quietly in the back seat as the two of them reminisced about the sort of things they'd gotten away with in their -- snort -- long ago childhoods. He didn't let out a peep. It wouldn't do, after all, for them to realize he was taking notes. Not that he hadn't been told to eat his own sausages, as a child, because there were starving children in Poland. But he'd never actually tried to post his breakfast to them.
Finally -- or 'all too soon' -- they pulled up in front of the Magic Box. Buffy began giving Dawn her usual morning 'go directly to school, do not hit any trucks, be right back here right after school' speech. Rupert unbuckled his seltbelt and opened the door, and jumped out.
Discovering that yes, he was as short as he felt. The ground was a bit farther away than he was used to -- but since no one saw him stumble, it didn't count. He headed for the front door to his shop, thinking that he might simply lock himself in his office. Alone.
As he reached the front door, Buffy caught up with him and grabbed the doorknob. "So, short stuff, you looking forward to a day of fun?" she asked, maliciously.
He looked her square in the eye. "You mean, am I looking forward to spending the day with Spike and Xander, asking them for ideas on how to use my youthful energy to its most effective... yes, I should say I am. Aren't you going to walk to class, now?" he added, as he stepped through the open front door, past her.
"Xander--" she shouted as the door shut behind him, leaving her out on the street. "Don't give him any ideas..."
"What'd she say?" Xander asked, looking up from the countertop, where he was -- dear God, really? -- reading something that wasn't a comic book.
"I've no idea. Something about you buying me breakfast, because she didn't have time to feed me, I think," Rupert lied smoothly.
Buffy was already stalking in the direction of campus, likely to have just enough time to get to her first class, so he didn't expect her to come running back to correct him. He did, however, get a knowing look from Spike. He wasn't worried-- the expression was also admiring, and possibly even proud.
Xander was closing his book. "Right, I can go next door and get some muffins, and coffee. Er -- you want juice?" Xander asked him, and Rupert was forced to give him a stern look.
"Tea shall suffice, thank you."
Xander nodded, and looked around the room. "Anyone else want anything?" Rupert almost told him he didn't really need a second breakfast -- but the shop next door made really excellent apple strudel muffins.
"Chocolate chip cookies!" Willow cried out, from the stairs. Rupert saw her sitting with Tara, both of them looking at a book set across their knees.
"I'm not feeding you two any more sugar," Xander told her. When Willow pouted, Xander said, "Spike?"
Who looked uncomfortable. "Er, Xan's right," he began, but he was obviously falling prey to The Willow Face. Rupert, however, was simply astounded. Any other day Spike and Xander would have already been out the door, counting the money Anya handed over, to buy a dozen cookies and muffins. Now he was watching Xander look almost... stern.
Of course, any other day, Rupert himself would have been looking sternly at Anya -- in vain -- for taking the money out of the cash register. But that was neither here nor there. It was Xander's strange behavior that was worrying him. Not only did he look at the Willow pout, and, after a moment where it seemed he might cave, shake his head resolutely, but he actually shook a finger at Willow and Tara. And not his middle one, either.
"You know if you keep making that face, it'll freeze that way." When everyone in the shop began laughing, Xander turned around. "What? What did I... Oh my God. I didn't."
Spike nodded, grinning. "Yup. Complete with finger-shake."
Xander buried his face in his hands. "Help me, Mr. Wizard. I don't want to be a grown-up anymore..."
Anya walked up to him, and patted his shoulder. "Here's money. Go buy chocolate -- you'll feel better." Xander nodded, and took the money -- Rupert sent Anya a belated stern glare, but she didn't pay him any attention. Rupert did, however, see the thoughtful expression on Anya's face as she watched Xander leave the shop.
Not that having children -- real ones -- around wasn't nice, in theory. But Anya and Xander? Anya and Xander? These were the genes the world wanted to pass on?
He turned his attention quickly to something else, and discovered Buffy had kept his bag. "Where the bloody hell is my... copy of Druher's Halcyon?" He managed to not say 'pirate cove', out loud.
"Watch your--" Rupert looked up at Spike, in disbelief. Spike looked shocked, himself, and turned to Anya. "Somebody stake me?"
"Right now? Xander's not here. I suppose I have something in my bag that we could use, if you wanna go in the back room and--"
Spike shook his head. "Not what I meant. But keep it in mind for later, love."
"Spike, are you quite all right?" Rupert blinked, disbelieving again at the sound of his own voice, asking. Almost as if he cared.
"He's turning into a dad-- it's eerie," Willow said from the steps. "This morning, he made me finish my eggs and toast before he let me have a donut."
"Did not!" Spike protested. When Anya turned to look at him, he shrugged awkwardly. "Well, it was her second donut."
Rupert just watched, as Tara scooted out from under the book, walked up to Spike, and took his hand. Looked up at him with a hopeful expression. "Would you get the Demon's Necromicon down from the top shelf for me?"
"Course, luv," Spike said, leaning down and scooping her into his arms. He was halfway to the bookcase, when he stopped and glared at Anya and Rupert. Rupert hid his smile quickly. Anya was looking thoughtful again. With a shudder, Rupert crossed quickly to his office. He had books in there he could read, and he'd just have to remember his Legos tomorrow.
Once safely behind his door, he tried to put out of his mind all the disturbing images he'd been subjected to. Studying up on the Urdeku should distract him, for a hour or so. He began looking around for the books he'd left on the desk, and discovered one was missing. Frowning, he tried to recall where he'd seen it last. It was an English translation of a book, so it was reasonable to think one of the others had borrowed it. It wasn't the one Willow and Tara had been reading, however.
No, he realized, it was the one Xander had been reading. He went back out and found it sitting upon the counter, and had to ask Anya to fetch it down for him. "Xander was actually reading this?" he asked. "Voluntarily?"
She nodded. "Yes. He asked me to find him something that he could read that wouldn't put him to sleep, and since I left all the erotic literature at home today..." She smiled. "Actually, Xander wanted to do something to help trace down the Urdeku, so Willow and I looked around for an English translation to any of the books you and Wesley were using. I thought maybe he'd pick up something that you people missed-- just because he doesn't speak Sumerian, doesn't mean he isn't a good thinker."
Rupert nodded, and took the book from her. He'd never thought Xander wasn't a 'good thinker' -- it simply surprised him to find Xander using his thinking skills on what was, at best, a fairly dry reference work. With no colour illustrations. He caught himself smiling, and quickly stifled it, lest anyone actually see him and assume he was feeling... proud, or something.
"Saw that," Spike whispered in his ear."
"Nothing to see," he said smoothly. Lying to Spike was simple enough to be ridiculous. He slipped the book under his arm... and promptly dropped it. Right -- large book, small body. Rupert sighed and started to crouch down to pick it up. Then stood up. Crouched down again, stood up again, then lifted his left leg and bent it a few times.
"Er, problem?" Spike asked.
"No, no problem at all. I never even noticed the first time. My god..."
He looked up to find Spike smirking at him. "Knee works again, does it?"
Rupert glared. "It always worked." Then he allowed, "But perhaps a bit... better, now."
Anything either might have said was cut off by a squeal from the back of the shop. Rupert looked over, but Spike was running. Rupert smirked. He followed Spike, albeit at the much slower pace that his short but fully-functional legs allowed him. When he got there, he found Spike scooping a sprawled-out Willow off the floor, and babbling inanely.
"You all right... course you're all right, no blood. Er, no blood, but you could have a concussion. Damn, Rupes, you're always getting bonked on the head, what's a concussion feel like? Hell, if she's got a concussion, should I have picked her up?" Spike was running one hand through Willow's mop of copper hair -- so at one point that colour had been natural, Rupert thought absently -- and paying absolutely no attention to the perturbed looks that Willow and Tara were giving him.
Finally Willow said, "Spike, what are you doing?"
"Checking for bumps."
"I'm not a vampire, and even if I were, they'd be on my forehead, not the top of my skull."
"What?" Spike paused in his search of her skull. "What are you babbling about?"
"What am I babbling about?" Willow demanded. "Spike, let go of me -- I didn't get my bracelet!"
Rupert sighed -- again, thinking maybe he would look forward to regressing this time, so he wouldn't feel quite so... old. Which was amusing, because it was Spike that was making him feel old, right now. Then he got down on the floor and looked under the bookcase. Yes, there it was, lying in the dust. He reached under and grabbed it, and pulled it out. Willow squealed again -- exact same squeal, and surely Spike could tell the difference, now?
Rupert handed the bracelet over, and Willow took it. She began to put it on, then grinned. "Oops, gonna be too big. Do you have pockets?" she asked Tara, as her own shorts did not. Tara looked down, and shook her head.
"Does any the stuff you bought have pockets?" Tara asked, sounding doubtful. It made Rupert take a second look.
"Tara, aren't those the clothes Willow bought for herself?"
Tara coloured, slightly. "Well, yeah. Um... The clothes we bought for me are kind of all too big." Even the shirt of Willow's that she was wearing was a bit loose, Rupert noticed.
Willow giggled. "She kept saying 'No, we have to get the bigger ones-- I was a fat little kid...' We even ended up getting different sizes, because she wasn't sure which ones would be big enough. And they're all too big!" She started laughing again, and Tara stuck her tongue out.
"Well, I remember my brother calling me a big pig all the time..."
"He was a boy. Boys are dorks. Duh..." Willow pointed a finger at Spike's nose, then actually tapped it, since he was still holding her. "Case in point..."
Spike made huffing noises, and put her down. "Well, how was I to know? You're all quiet back here, then I hear screaming-- you could've fallen off that stool and broken your head."
Willow was giving him an amused look -- which Rupert was able to interpret all too well. He almost felt sorry for Spike, except that he remembered everything he and Xander had done over the last two weeks. Not to mention the century of evil. It would do him some good, Rupert thought, to be wrapped around the pinkies of a pair of four-year-old little girls.
Spike was still protesting, in response to the look that Willow was continuing to give him. "You might've! You could have been dead and then Xander and Anya wouldn't let me anywhere near you."
Rupert laughed. Then he went over and sat down at the table, to watch. This was proving to be more entertaining than staying at Buffy and Dawn's house to watch Passions.
"What wouldn't I have done?" Anya said from the doorway between the front and back sections of the shop.
"Let me near the--- and where were you, I might ask, when this one was making noises like her head had got smooshed?"
Anya blinked at him. "She was obviously happy, not bleeding. Couldn't you tell that? And people say I have no understanding of children, just because I haven't been one for eleven hundred and twenty three years. You were a kid last week and you don't know the difference between a happy scream and a head-smooshed scream?"
Spike looked suitably mortified at his own behaviour, which made Rupert chuckle. Only it came out a giggle. The vampire glanced around the room, obviously looking for a easy escape route, and at last responded with, "And the other one's got no clothes!"
Anya frowned, and looked at Tara. "Spike, she obviously has clothes. She's wearing clothes right now." She sounded remarkably patient -- Rupert reminded himself that she had been living with Spike for... how long, now? And none of them had driven the others insane, yet. Truly, amazingly remarkable.
"Not those! Those're Red's. She hasn't any clothes of her own, that fit. And will someone please stake me before I say she'll catch her death of cold if she's not properly dressed?"
Rupert reached over to pick up a pencil. "I shall. Hold still, please?" He held up the pencil as if to throw it.
"Put that down before you put his eye out." Rupert looked up at Anya, shocked. She didn't even look fazed. But then, she was used to scolding Spike and Xander all the time.
"Muffins for all!" Xander called out.
Before anyone small and fast could get over to relieve him of his burden, Spike was at his side. "Let's go drive real fast and drink beer and tear the heads off parking meters."
Xander looked at him for a moment, then nodded, slowly. "Ah... o-kaaayyyy... I'm driving, of course, since you'll have turned into dust, considering that it's ten a.m., and who put the LSD in his breakfast cereal this morning?"
"He's disturbed because he's been acting all parental, and he doesn't understand why," Willow snickered, coming up to take a bag of muffins from Xander's hand.
"You realize you could've just stopped before the 'because' and I would have accepted the explanation," Xander said. "Although... truthfully, I have been noticing an alarming tendency to remind people to brush their teeth, this week. You suppose it's a side-effect of the spell? All the adults around the shrunk-kids suddenly start acting like grown-ups?"
Spike looked relieved. 'Yeah, good thought. That makes sense. Whew."
Rupert opened his mouth to point out that Buffy hadn't been saying those things -- when he realized that she had been. But admitting so would reassure Spike and Xander... "Buffy hasn't been acting like that, at all." Spike and Xander looked over at him, expressions of horror warring with stubborn disbelief on their faces. "Not to mention there is absolutely no evidence of any lingering effects of the spell, in any of the literature. Some of which you yourself read," he reminded Xander. "And may I add, it's nice to see you showing an interest in real research."
He had to struggle to keep from laughing -- though from the sound of it, Tara and Willow weren't doing more than pressing their hands over their mouths. He tried to think of one more thing to say, to push them completely over the edge.
Then Anya said it for him. "I think it's good that they're learning to be parents." Then she smiled. Widely.
Spike and Xander screamed.
"I take it back, let's go rip the heads off parking meters. Um, and put stink-bombs in people's mailboxes. And... uh... leer at women on the street," Xander babbled.
"Spike does that one now," Willow pointed out.
"So does Xander; he's just more subtle about it," Anya said. "But that doesn't make them immature, it just makes them men." She paused. "There was something wrong with that statement, wasn't there?"
"You know, Willy's is open," Spike said, glaring at everyone in the room, but talking to Xander. "If you run out and open the car doors, I'll throw m'coat over my head, and..."
"Way ahead of you," Xander replied, heading for the door.
"Hold it right there, busters," Anya said. Both men froze, then they exchanged a look. Rupert accepted a bottle of orange juice from Willow, who was crawling into the chair beside him. Tara was opposite him, already kneeling in the seat, eating a muffin -- all of them watching the Spike and Xander show with avid interest. Rupert took a cookie out of the bag, trying not to rustle the paper as he did so. Spike and Xander were giving Anya identical cute looks.
"You're staying here to help me run the store, and do research, and keep an eye on them." She pointed towards the table, and the three not-kids looked at each other as if asking who Anya meant. None of them said anything aloud, though, in order not to miss the next line.
Anya pointed again. Xander looked at Spike. Spike looked at Xander. Identical expressions of despair in their eyes. Finally Spike said, "Can't really stand Willy's these days, anyhow. The line dancing was bad enough, but when he put the country kareoke machine in..." He shuddered, somewhat convincingly, and moved to snatch the bag away from Rupert, to remove a cookie. Xander hesitated, then nodded.
"I guess... It's a little early in the morning for the whole Tears in My Beer scene. Go over much better if we went out tonight."
"Oh no, you don't," Anya said firmly. "Tonight we're going to the drive-in, remember?" Xander looked elsewhere. "Xander?"
He muttered something that sounded suspiciously like 'yes, dear' -- but Rupert couldn't be entirely sure, as Xander was shoving a muffin in his mouth as he said it.
Willow waited at least ten seconds to make the whip-cracking noise. Rupert wouldn't have been so kind, except he had a cookie in his own mouth, so she beat him to it.
Xander gave her a dirty glare, then he grinned. "Actually, when she uses the whip it's a lot more fun." Willow turned red.
Spike was snickering as he stole a cookie from the bag... which he then carried over to Anya and presented it to her, as if he'd tracked the thing down and killed it, himself.
Anya took it, but said, "If you think presents of chocolate are going to get you out of trouble..." Rupert couldn't see the expression on Spike's face, and suspected he didn't want to. Anya grinned. "Well, it wasn't much trouble. For you two. And the cookies are good." She took a bite, and nodded. "All right."
"What about me? I bought them!" Xander put in.
"Yes, and where did you get the money?" Rupert interrupted.
"Um. From Anya," Xander said brightly, then immediately realized he'd just put the blame on the person he was trying to placate. He picked up a chocolate chocolate-chip muffin and held it out to Anya.
"Hey, I didn't know those were in there!" Willow grabbed the bag, and began digging through it.
"I thought we were trying not to give them any more sugar?" Anya said, though she didn't exactly rush over to the table to stop them from eating the goodies, Rupert noted.
Xander shrugged sheepishly. "Well, I thought deeply about that. And I thought about the lengths Buffy and I went to, in our quest for chocolate, and..." he did the boyish grin thing again, and damned if Anya didn't seem to be falling for it. Shame on her. "You know, just to keep them all out of trouble, I thought I'd head off any escape attempts."
Anya smiled, then her eyes narrowed. "Yes. That. You still haven't been punished for that little stunt, have you."
Xander shook his head, eagerly. Rupert felt the sudden need to bang his head against the tabletop.
"Hey, I was the lookout man-- I deserve to be punished too!" Spike protested.
"You ratted us out to the authorities!" Xander told him.
"Yeah, so? I'm evil! How does that make me any less deserving of punishment?"
"It means you couldn't help getting into trouble, and being punished won't teach you anything!" Xander countered. "Me, I'm an impressionable human mortal, and should be taught the error of my ways."
He looked hopefully at Anya. Rupert dropped the last bit of his cookie. "Suddenly, I've lost my appetite."
"Actually, from a socio-psychological view-point, it's really quite fascinating," Tara said, still munching her first cookie. Rupert wondered if Xander had bought anything even remotely non-sugar laden, at all. "At first, they appear to be just as... well, chaotic and immature as they appear. But when you realize the group dynamics of their threesome..." She trailed off, looking from Willow to Rupert. "What?"
"Give her another cookie," Rupert said, handing the bag to Willow. Willow took the bag, peered inside, and pulled out a huge peanut butter cookie. She handed it to Tara.
"Oo, peanut butter!" Tara sounded like a four-year old.
"Is there another?" Rupert asked.
Willow looked deep into the bag. Frowned. Rattled the paper inside. Looked again. "Hmm. I don't see any..."
Rupert gave her a look, which she blithely ignored. She was going to make him do it, wasn't she. Of all the... Fine. Rupert opened his mouth. "Anya, Willow won't share..."
Willow giggled obnoxiously and tossed the bag at him. "I knew I could make him whine."
"Am I being punished for something terrible that I did in a past life? Because I don't recall ever having done anything to you," Rupert remarked as he reached into the bag and pulled out his own peanut butter cookie.
"Um, like the cookie raid in the middle of the night at Buffy's place? Like waking us up at three a.m. because you'd snuck downstairs to watch 'Mr. Bean' on cable? Or what about..."
"I was regressed then. Those things don't count."
"Well, I'm regressed now," she said matter-of-factly.
"You are not," he countered.
"You are not." She opened her mouth to say 'am, too' again, and Rupert rolled his eyes. "For God's sake, we are not regressed. Last time it took nearly four days before showing any real signs of regression. Which not only means that you are not emotionally a four-year-old, but you have no excuse for having just stolen my peanut butter cookie, Tara."
Tara looked innocent.
"Give it back," he demanded, trying to sound as adult as he could -- but the content of his demand rather precluded much maturity.
"I don't have it."
"Yes, you do," he responded, feeling rather idiotic. But on the other hand... letting her get away with it meant having to pout at Spike to get another one purchased for him.
"I..." Tara quivered her chin. "How could you think I'd do something like that? When have I ever done anything remotely dishonest?"
Rupert was about to bring up a certain 'no-see-um-demons' spell from a few years back, which really was the only thing he could think of, when Willow got into the act. "Really, Giles, how could you accuse Tara? That's just... mean. Plain old mean. Rotten. Spike, Giles is being mean to us."
Spike broke away from the threesome's continued mumblings about who deserved to be punished more, and stepped over to the table. "What was that, love?"
Tara looked up at him, chin still quivering, and Rupert groaned. "Giles says I stole his cookie!" Her face was the picture of aggrieved innocence.
Spike scowled at Rupert, who didn't bother resisting the urge to stick his tongue out at Tara, since it was obvious he wasn't going to win this one. "It's not nice to pick on little girls, Rupert," Spike said, just as if he hadn't eaten more of them than he could count, in his day.
"Oh, yes, because they're perfect little angels," Rupert said. "So ask Angel Number One why she has an uneaten peanut butter cookie in her hands."
"Because Willow gave it to me!" she said. Angelically.
"You ate that one," Rupert pointed out, though he was beginning to think he might as well go to his office and read. With Anya no longer twisting Spike and Xander around her little finger, there was little entertainment to be had. No more peanut butter cookies to be had, either.
Tara quivered her chin some more, and looked up at Spike. Who said seriously, "Rupert, perhaps you should go stand in the corner."
Rupert gaped at him for a second, then turned to Willow. "Have we got a video camera? Set up?"
"There's the security cameras," she said, nodding. "They must have got a shot of that."
"Excellent. Let's be sure to send copies to Angel. I did promise." She nodded eagerly. Spike, on the other hand, was giving them an outraged look. Which they ignored. Rupert held his hand out. "May I?"
Tara grinned, and returned his cookie. With a bite missing.
Gunn looked down at him with that same concerned expression he'd been wearing for the last few days. That 'how long is it going to take him to regress, so I can get him to do embarrassing things on film' expression. Of course, the 'not yet' wasn't directly in response to that expression, but to 'Do you wanna go out and hit the playground, today?' Still, it was the same answer, to essentially the same question, voiced or unvoiced.
"Ya know, you don't actually have to be regressed, to hang out on the swingset or the jungle gym. The others had fun doing it, even when they were still grown-up in the head. Got pics, and everything."
"Spike and Xander--"
"Yeah, yeah, act like kids all the time. But Buffy and Giles don't, and they got into it."
"I am neither Buffy, nor Rupert. I--" He stopped himself from saying that he didn't want to do this. Because, true as it might be, he knew... it really wasn't entirely true. He'd have been happy to avoid the experience all-together. But there had been a few nice things.
Being held, for one. Suddenly being able to demand and receive as much physical affection as he'd always been taught was improper and unnecessary for boys. For men, for Englishmen who were meant to grow up to be Watchers. Now, just because he was small, he only had to raise one hand and someone -- well, Cordelia or Gunn -- was hugging him. It made him nervous; but it felt nice.
"I simply don't wish to make a fool of myself," he finally said.
"Man, ain't no one gonna know you're a old guy in a four-year-old body."
Wesley snapped his mouth shut, and glared as hard as he could. "I am not old."
"You're way old," Gunn replied. "You're like, over thirty."
Wesley had to resist the urge to respond in any number of ways which would only prove Gunn's belief that he ought to be acting like a four-year old. He didn't find it any easier than he did every other time Gunn started calling him his 'old man'. Normally he proved his youth by proving his... vitality. That wasn't going to work, this time.
"That's not old," he finally responded. "That's mature. The magical point beyond which it's no longer necessary to drink milk from the carton and put it back in the refrigerator, in order to prove one's manhood."
"Hey, I don't do that to prove my manhood-- I've got other ways of doing that. I do it 'cause it beats washing another glass."
"How exactly does this not prove my point?"
"That you're not too old to go to the park and sit in the sun and play on the swings?"
Wesley frowned at him. "That was not my point." Although he was having difficulty remembering what his point had been. Other than the simple 'No, don't wanna,' which he suspected wouldn't do much for his argument that he was still an adult, thank you. "I simply..." he paused, trying to come up with a reasonable answer. "...don't feel ready to do that. And don't really feel like arguing about it."
Gunn opened his mouth, then closed it. He walked over to the window in the suite that Angel had prepared for them, and looked out, silently. Finally he said, "Okay. Not gonna push the kid-stuff. But can't we go out somewhere together? You're gonna make me think you don't wanna be seen with me."
Wesley looked up at him. "But I don't," he said as guilelessly as he could. Then he had to leap backwards to avoid being grabbed, and, no doubt, tickled mercilessly.
Gunn advanced on him, though, and he yelped. Much to his chagrin it sounded like a high-pitched squeal, and it stopped him from running away, as he'd intended. He stood firm, trying not to appear as embarrassed as he felt -- and Gunn reached for him. Wrapped an arm around him, and just squeezed him for a second.
"So where do you wanna go? Please don't say the art museum."
"Actually, I was going to say the library, but the art museum is a good idea." Gunn whimpered, and let his forehead fall onto Wesley's shoulder. When Gunn couldn't see him, Wesley grinned.
"I can see you grinning." Gunn didn't raise his head.
"You can not."
"I know you're grinning."
"That is not the same thing. Look, do you really want to... go somewhere?" He'd much rather stay at the hotel. But staying at the hotel meant making Gunn remain cooped up, as well, since he hadn't been able to convince the man to leave his side in five days.
Gunn glanced up, and gave him a pleading expression. "Please? Please can we go -- someplace at least halfway cool, sorta fun, which doesn't involve me saying 'huh?' all day and doesn't involve you getting pictures taken of you?"
Wesley blinked. "No pictures? Are you sure you won't go into withdrawal?"
"I'll make up for it later, trust me."
"No doubt." He couldn't quite give the words that guilt-inducing twist that they'd had a few days ago; Wesley wondered if he was losing that ability, as he moved towards the regression that he both dreaded and looked forward to, or whether the fun had simply gone out of it. Surely not?
He pursed his lips as he tried to come up with an appropriate place. Somewhere that he and Gunn could go, that they would both enjoy, yet would welcome children. Or apparent children, and their apparent parents.
"There's the Hawley Science Museum," he offered. Before Gunn could groan at the word 'museum,' he added, "It's really a sort of interactive thing. Sound experiments, walk around inside the giant human body, remote controlled dinosaur skeletons."
"You mean one of those places you go and play with the exhibits, and learn stuff?"
Wesley smiled, and nodded. "I wouldn't use the word 'play'--"
"Yeah, that's the problem. Yeah, sure, sounds good," Gunn said quickly. "Do we need to steal Angel's wallet before we go?"
Wesley pretended to think about it for a moment. "Well, admission isn't expensive, as such..."
"But the food is, and if we go into the science store..."
"You know you can't buy that chemistry set you've been after, looking like a four-year-old."
"How did-- what chemistry set?"
But Gunn was standing up, and holding out his hand. "Come on, we better get going. If I stay in this hotel one more hour, I'm gonna start... brooding."
Wesley laughed, and had to clamp his jaw shut again. It sounded wrong. He did, however, take Gunn's hand, and tried not to worry about the quick look his lover gave him. If he did, they'd get into a long discussion about things he didn't want to think about, and it would simply delay their leaving.
As it was, it took them half an hour, what with Gunn's disappearance into a back room to 'discuss' something with Angel-- presumably the 'give us popcorn money, Dad' conversation, and Cordelia's fussing over both of them.
"Do you have enough money? Do you know not to let go of Gunn's hand in the museum, because somebody could come along and snatch you, I'm not kidding, it's happened, and I don't care if you're actually thirty-two years old, there's not a damn thing you could do about it, are you listening to me, Wesley Wyndham Pryce?" Et cetera.
And another half an hour in the truck, on the way to the museum. With the expected 'you wanna stop at Mickey D's?' and the obvious 'I'll eat that slop when I'm dead and in hell, not before.' Which was actually a bit more comforting than Cordelia's well-meaning big city horror stories, since he and Gunn had the fast food conversation almost every day, as normal adults. 'Normal' being a relative term, of course.
Finally, though, they pulled into the parking garage. Wesley tried to remember how long ago he'd last been here -- the first time had been after he'd lived here almost a year, and had finally got actual, disposable income. He'd managed a visit once or twice that year, then only once the year after. Recently he'd spent most of his free time with Gunn... and he hadn't ever thought to invite him here.
He was, however, mortified to discover he was bouncing ever-so-slightly in his seat as Gunn found a parking spot. He held himself still, until the engine was off. Then he undid his seatbelt and climbed out with as much decorum as he could muster. He was looking about for the stairs, when Gunn came around the truck and held out his hand again. "I don't actually--"
"How many drivers in this garage are gonna see you to not drive over you?" Gunn demanded.
Wesley blinked. He heard the reply in his head, felt it worm its way into his mouth... To hell with it. "Then perhaps I shouldn't be walking, at all." He raised his hands, ready to stammer an explanation that he'd only been kidding. Gunn grinned, and scooped him up. "Remember where we're parked," Wesley said, craning his neck to see any signs nearby.
"Yes, dad," Gunn replied.
They made it through the admission counter without anyone staring at them, which made Wesley breathe a sigh of relief as they walked into the main lobby. Then he had to pause, and wonder why he'd been expecting that.
It wasn't as if he and Gunn didn't draw the odd look, every now and then, when they walked into a restaurant on the wrong side of some invisible line, and one of them was obviously out of place. Or in one of those neutral sorts of places, like the shopping mall, or the grocery store, when they did something that broadcast 'yes, we're together' without saying it aloud. All of which was fine. They were past worrying about that sort of thing, as far as he knew.
He realized as they walked -- or rather, Gunn walked, for Wesley was still being carried -- towards the dinosaur exhibit, that he was expecting people to be staring at him. Expecting them to know, as Gunn had teased him earlier, that Wesley wasn't what he appeared to be. He also realized that by trying to watch for anyone staring at them, he was giving the impression of a young child on his first visit, who wanted to see everything. Now.
He pointed towards the mathematics hall. "There's an exhibit there that talks about the history of math, and how different cultures arrived at the same conclusions about the nature of numbers independently of each other."
"Oo, that sounds like fun," Gunn replied. "You sure I can't just put bamboo under my fingernails?"
Wesley thumped him on the head. "You do know you can put me down now," he said, as they drew nearer the Stegosaurus. There was only one child at the controls, which meant he could take a turn, sooner than later.
"Nuh-uh," was the unexpected response. "If I put you down, you'll get to the controls ahead of me."
Wesley gaped at him, despite the fact that Gunn was staring ahead, at the dinosaur. They'd reached the control panel, and Gunn was standing behind the seven year old boy who was making the Stegosaurus try to eat its own foot.
"You must be joking," Wesley finally said.
Gunn glanced at him. "I ain't joking. You've been here before, I haven't. It's only polite to let me go first."
"Yes, but..." Wesley could see where this was going-- he could get to go first, without any arguing, if he said the five magic words: 'But I'm smaller than you.' Or possibly 'younger.' Which would win him the battle, but lose the war. If indeed it was a war. There had to be another alternative... He frowned at Gunn. "Yes, but I have to show you how to do it. Otherwise you might end up... er... breaking something."
Gunn grinned and raised an eyebrow. "I think I got the hang of it. Jonny Quest here seems to know what he's doing." He nodded his head at the boy in front of them, who was now trying to make the Stegosaurus re-enact Riverdance, it appeared.
"He's probably been here before, too," Wesley said, unruffled. "He's got that jaded look in his eye."
"Don't make me tickle you to get the first turn at this thing. 'Cause you know I will..."
"Just because we're someplace public? Oh, believe me, I will. I might not get to when you're taller'n me, but now, nobody will even look twice."
"I'll--" Well, 'I'll scream' wouldn't be an effective threat. "How do you propose to operate the controls with only one hand, if you don't set me down?" He saw the reply on Gunn's face, and felt himself go bright red. "You shouldn't think such things around children," he chastised, quietly.
"Me? I didn't think a word. You're the one with the evil mind." Gunn leaned down to the control panel, and grabbed one joystick. Wesley sighed. He wasn't going to demand a turn -- it wasn't as if Gunn weren't perfectly justified. He had been here before, and Gunn hadn't -- and he wasn't really four years old and unable to share. And he wasn't remotely pouting, or thinking that it wasn't fair, and he should get to go first because he was the one who'd enjoy it more. Because, why would he? They were both grown men. In spirit, anyway.
Wesley was making that extra effort to suck in his bottom lip, and try to look interested-but-not-jealous, when Gunn tapped him on the arm. "Hey, you want this, or what?"
He blinked, to see a joystick in front of his face. Gunn had knelt down, and placed Wesley on his knee, while Wesley was contemplating not pouting. He blinked again at the control, then shook his head. "No, of course not. I wasn't trying to get my own way, you know."
Gunn snorted. "Of course not." His mock-English accent hadn't improved with age. "Like I'd let you. There's two controls, or didn't you notice? We can make him bop himself in the head."
"What fun. And after that, we can stop at Toys R' Us and pick up a pair of Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots."
"See, I knew you'd get into the swing of things." Gunn twitched his control, and the Stegosaurus skeleton attempted to flip Wesley the bird. It failed badly, since it didn't have any fingers, but Wesley got the message.
He narrowed his eyes at Gunn, and reached out to grasp the other control -- which was a bit further away than it usually was when he was six feet tall. "Er, could you..."
Gunn leaned closer to the counter, and Wesley grabbed the joystick. Executing a move he'd once practiced for half an hour, since the museum had been closing and most of the children were gone, he twirled the control-stick around so that the skeleton whapped itself in the head with its own tail.
There was a pause. Then, "You did that on accident."
"I most certainly did not!" Wesley straightened up, feeling righteously indignant, and tried to spin around to glare at Gunn -- and nearly toppled himself off Gunn's leg. He was saved from falling by Gunn's quick grab of Wesley's shirt.
"You break something and Cordelia won't let me take you anywhere, ever again," Gunn warned him.
"What if I break your arm?" Wesley asked, torn between sounding perfectly innocent and grumbling about the injustice of the world in general, and snarky lovers in specific.
"Then she really won't let me take you anywhere -- because your pansy ass will be grounded for a month."
Once again settled on Gunn's knee -- though not because he hadn't tried to climb down, and been held captive -- Wesley glanced over his shoulder. "Why exactly would that be a bad thing?"
There was another pause, before Gunn said, "Because then I'd have to pout at you." Then he did so.
Wesley was about to tease him, when he caught a woman watching them, with a huge 'aren't they adorable' smile on her face.
Which they were, of course, but why did it take him being the size of a pre-schooler to elicit looks like that? They never got 'aren't they adorable' when they teased each other like this in public as adults. At best they had been politely ignored. At worst-- well, things could have been worse. They'd never been threatened. They had been the target of a few not-so-veiled insults, which they had chosen to politely ignore. The most common reaction was a curious stare in their direction before civility reared its helpful head and the gawker turned away. Which Wesley really was past caring about. Mostly.
But the smiling woman, who apparently wasn't bound by the same sort of politeness conventions as prevailed with adults, was still staring at them. At him. What was it about being three and a half feet tall that made it polite for people to gawp at you? He was frowning at her, which a real four-year-old probably wouldn't do. Would one? He wouldn't have dared, when he was four, of course. Then again, when he was four, he'd have been in Engl and, and she wouldn't have stared.
He felt Gunn nudge him, and he turned halfway towards him, not quite letting his eyes leave the woman... Which meant, he realized, that he was gawking back at her, which was equally as rude. He sighed inwardly, and turned his attention fully to Gunn.
"You gonna play or you gonna worry about women thinking we're cute?" Gunn asked in a low voice.
"How long has she been standing there?" Wesley reached for the joystick again, and half-heartedly raised the Stegosaurus' tail and waggled it.
"Dunno. Come on, Wes, don't worry about her. Worry about the fact that the T-Rex is about to chomp us."
Wesley immediately looked over towards the Tyrannosaurus Rex robot, where another child was trying his best to reach their Stegosaurus... and chomp it. He'd seen kids doing this to each other, of course, but they'd never bothered him when he was playing. When he'd been an adult.
He tried to wallop the T-Rex in the face with the Stego's tail. It wouldn't quite reach high enough, so he changed his strategy, and went for the back legs. Didn't quite knock the thing over, but the King of the Carnivores wobbled quite a bit. The other boy grinned, and made his T-Rex roar. Or at least open its jaws as if it were roaring, and scrabble its little front arm/legs. Then the toothy skull dove for the Stego again.
"Get him, Wes. You can't let him eat us. Strike a blow for vegetarians everywhere," Gunn encouraged him.
"We're not vegetarians," Wesley said as he manipulated his control so the the Stegosaurus ducked its head to avoid the T-Rex, then readied another tail-assault.
"No, but the Stegosaurus is. Says so right here." Gunn pointed to the legend on the console.
"I'm glad one of us is having a learning experience," Wesley replied, landing a solid whap to the Tyrannosaurus' skull as it tried to chomp them again. The T-Rex wobbled, but didn't quite fall. It rallied, and headed for his tail... his Stegosaurus' tail, once more. Wesley gave it another hard wallop before it could draw too near.
"Excuse me," said a polite voice behind and above them. Wesley glanced up, and as he saw the bright yellow shirt of a docent, he heard a crash. He turned back in time to see his dinosaur lying on its side and a triumphant Tyrannosaurus stalking away.
"You made us lose!" he snapped, before realizing what he was saying.
"Is there a problem?" Gunn asked.
"We prefer you treat the exhibits with more care," she replied, pointing to a sign that said "Please Keep Robot Dinosaurs In Their Own Play Area." It meant, as Wesley well knew, 'Don't play fight with the robots.'
"Sorry, ma'am," Gunn was saying, standing up and picking Wesley up with him. Wesley frowned -- was he ever going to let him go? It wasn't like he was going to run off and get lost. "Didn't see the sign."
Well, that was half true. Wesley had seen the sign. On more than one occasion. He just hadn't felt the need to point it out to Gunn, on this particular occasion. As the docent raised an eyebrow at Gunn, Wesley replaced his petulant frown at having lost, with a wide-eyed, innocent, I'm-too-young-to-read-so-it-can't-possibly-be-my-fault expression.
She looked down at him, and smiled back. Right, so perhaps there was something to the whole cuteness-factor. Wesley wasn't above using whatever weapons he had in his arsenal, so he widened his eyes a bit, and said, "You're not mad at us, are you? We won't do it again." He could feel Gunn trying to hold back a chuckle. He didn't even have to be looking, to know it was happening.
The young woman shook her head, and said, "No, honey. I'm not mad. These guys are made tough, just in case they decide to get rowdy, you know. We just don't want them getting too excited before feeding time."
He looked back at the robots, wondering if four-year-olds were supposed to think robots ate real food. Before he could decide to say something, Gunn was telling her, "We'll be sure to read the signs from now on, thanks. It's my first time here," he added, as if his being cute was going to affect the docent in any way.
Wesley decided to assist him. "I've been here seven times, so I'm showing him around."
"Have you, now? My, I bet you know everything there is to know about the place." The docent was looking from him, to Gunn, and back. "You're going to show your..." Here she faltered, clearly at a loss to guess why they were here, together.
"He's my boyfriend," Wesley said, with a straight-face. Gunn burst out laughing.
The docent gave Wesley another 'isn't he cute' smile, though she was now getting ready to walk away. "I hope you enjoy the rest of your visit. Just be nice to the dinosaurs -- they were here first."
"What are you laughing at?" he asked Gunn, as the woman walked over to talk to the T-Rex operator, who, as a ten-or-so-year-old, had definitely seen and read the signs.
"I think I'm too young for you," Gunn replied through his chuckles. "Man, that was masterful."
Wesley lifted his chin. "I have no idea what you're talking about," he replied.
"You sure you don't wanna go back to the admission desk and see if you can cute 'em into giving us our entry fee back?"
"I'm sure they see plenty of children who are as cute or cuter than me. At least... six or seven, per year. I doubt I'd have any luck." Gunn laughed, and started carrying him away from the exhibit. "Where exactly are we going?" Wesley asked, having given up on ever being put down.
"Feeding time, didn't you hear the nice lady?"
Wesley rolled his eyes. "Yes, but I don't expect they're actually taking the fiberglass dinosaur skeletons round the back to feed them their daily meal of attic insulation."
"Not for them-- for us. Cafeteria's this way."
"It's barely ten thirty," Wesley pointed out.
"So? You turning down junk food?"
Wesley narrowed his eyes. "Of course I'm turning down junk food." Not that he was, precisely. It was just...
Gunn stopped walking, and craned his head around to look where Wesley had been glancing. "What's over there?"
"Nothing, really." He kept himself from looking over, again. Which was pointless, because Gunn started walking that direction, reading signs out loud.
"Electronics, lights... sound? There something in the sound exhibit you wanna see?"
"If you're hungry..." Wesley began. The sound wing was rather packed -- then he saw that the keyboard was free and he wriggled, urgently. "Let me down!"
Gunn did, though Wesley suspected it was from surprise, more than anything else. Wesley ran as fast as he dared, ducking around adults and other kids who obviously didn't know an excellent exhibit when they saw one. He leapt, and landed on the 'C' square. The speakers overhead sounded a loud, organ's tone. Wesley grinned, and jumped to the 'E'.
Gunn caught up with him in a moment, looking a little worried. "Hey, Wes, don't do that, okay? Not in a big crowd like this."
"You're as bad as Cordelia," Wesley replied, stepping over to the E-flat, then jumping to the 'C' again. "I'm perfectly all right."
Gunn frowned for a moment. "I just don't wanna lose you, okay?"
Wesley landed on two notes right next to each other, and covered his ears at the cacophonous sound. Then he turned to Gunn, who began to repeat himself. "I heard you," Wesley said quietly. "I'm not about to disappear, you know. Just because I can run faster than you..."
"You slip through crowds easier than me. You ain't faster."
"Am, too," Wesley replied, jumping over to hit a third, and not quite making it. "When I say 'now', would you step on those two keys?" He pointed them out, to Gunn. Gunn gave him a frown, which meant the lecture wasn't over, but he moved into position. Wesley bent his legs to jump, and said "Now!" A perfect chord. He grinned. Then he turned to Gunn to reiterate that he wasn't going to get snatched, and faltered. Stared, instead, at the look on Gunn's face. "What?" he demanded, after a moment.
In a quiet voice, Gunn said only, "Love you."
Eventually, Wesley was able to look back up at him, and faked a pout. "You don't play fair."
"Nope. Gotta use every advantage I have, in the Man's world," Gunn said, straightfaced. Wesley snorted.
"You do realize, don't you, that I'm 'The Man'?"
Gunn was laughing at him again, damn it. "Uh, that's right, Wes. You da man."
"Not what I meant." Wesley shifted from one foot to the other, which happened to recreate the theme from 'Jaws' rather nicely.
"Yeah, so. You're The Squirt, then."
"You're asking for it."
"I am, huh? And you're gonna give it to me?"
"If I must." Wesley pushed his sleeves up, getting ready. He moved his feet into a fighting stance, which Gunn recognized. A confused look appeared on his face.
"What are you gonna do, kick me in the shins?"
Wesley shook his head, and stage-whispered, "I'm going to scream for my mother."
Gunn blinked. "Nah, you wouldn't."
"Thought you didn't want to be embarrassed?" he asked, but he didn't sound completely convinced.
"Face embarrassment, rather than let you get one up one me?"
"Good point. How about I buy us ice cream sandwiches, and you pay -- because you're da Man?"
"How about you jump on the 'D' and the 'G' so I can play another chord?" Gunn rolled his eyes, but complied. The man had good timing, Wesley had to admit. The sound rang out nicely.
Gunn looked at him. "If you're thinking we're gonna do the Pachelbel Canon, I'm telling you right now, forget it."
"Are you saying you can't dance?"
"No, I'm saying I can't play the piano. If I try to break it down on this thing, they'll kick us out of here for disturbing the peace."
Wesley pictured it, and couldn't help giggling. "Then why don't you just step down two notes, and play harmony for me? The 'A' and the 'C'. Back and forth."
"You're a weird little kid, you know that, right?" Gunn said as Wesley began hop-playing the melody line. Gunn burst out laughing when he finally figured out what the song was. "I Wouldn't Normally Do This Kind of Thing?" he chortled.
"Better than 'How Much Is That Doggie In The Window," Wesley replied, sticking out his tongue. "And when exactly did you listen to the Pet Shop Boys?"
Gunn never stopped shifting from one foot to the other, playing his limited harmony line. "Yesterday afternoon, while you were watching tv with Cordy. Looked 'em up on the net. Downloaded some mp3's."
"You're a strange, large man, you know that, right?"
"Thought you liked 'em large and strange."
Wesley faltered on the next note, and took the moment as a time-out to glare at Gunn. Again. With its usual lack of success.
"What?" Gunn looked at him, surprised.
Before Wesley could respond with a musical raspberry, two girls jumped onto the keyboard. They obviously had no musical talent, but Wesley surrendered the board, regardless. He was about to head for the listening tubes, when he found himself being lifted into the air. "Charles, really. This is getting quite absurd."
"What? Since when don't you like being taller than most of the crowd?"
"Since most of the crowd is under the age of twelve. I can walk, you know." He tried wriggling out of Gunn's grasp, again, but Gunn was holding him firmly.
"So can I. I can walk and carry you at the same time." He proceeded to prove it, by walking towards the microphone exhibit -- thereby proving he had no clue what passed for a cool exhibit.
"You could simply hold my hand, as I walked along beside you," he pointed out.
"Yeah, but then you wouldn't see anything."
Yes, and people wouldn't see him, which was the point of the exercise. Or at least, people wouldn't see him being hoisted above his boyfriend's head like a sack of potatoes. "I would so. I'd have a lovely view of... knees. Lots of knees."
"'Cause God knows, you need to do some more research on kneecaps, otherwise you might accidentally kick somebody where it didn't hurt," Gunn said, shifting him slightly, so that he could, in fact, see the exhibits better than before.
"That's right. I need to practice my aim," Wesley agreed. Gunn carried him toward the microphone exhibit, and Wesley tugged on his ear.
"What're you doing?" Gunn laughed.
"Steering. I've never driven one of these contraptions before, so it may take me a moment to get used to it." Wes tugged on Gunn's other ear.
"That's not tr--" Gunn started, then stopped. "Um, not gonna finish that thought."
"Charles! What did I tell you about thinking such things around children?" He sounded shocked -- and perhaps a bit too loud. He received a very peculiar look from a man who didn't appear to think that all was right with his world. Or Wesley's, or Gunn's, or something. But that was all right, Wesley was used to those sorts of disapproving looks. He grinned -- then stuck his tongue out at the man, who blinked then hurried away.
"Where are we going?" Gunn asked, trying to head in whatever direction Wesley was steering.
"Over there." He pointed, then thumped Gunn on the head. From up here he could see quite well, and he could see something he'd forgotten about. "No! There, this way!" He tugged on Gunn's ear, again.
"You know, you could use that fancy vocabulary of yours to tell me where to go." There was a pause. "Forget I said that, OK?"
"You could use those hands of yours to put me down and I could show you where I want to go," Wesley reminded him. There was silence for a moment. "Er, Charles?"
"Thinking not-around-kids thoughts again. Uh, this way?" He walked in the right direction, but Wesley pulled on his ear again. Just for the hell of it. "Wrong way?"
"Mean Little Kid."
Finally they reached the shadow box display, which Gunn was examining curiously. "You have to put me down, for this to be any fun," Wesley informed him. Gunn did so, after a dubious look, and Wesley pulled him into the box, which was actually the size of a rather small room. Several other people, adults and children, were standing about waiting. Gunn raised an eyebrow. Then the flash of light went off.
"Uh, so the point of this exhibit is to blind people?" Gunn asked, blinking. Wesley pointed at the wall, where there was a perfect shadow of a tall man, holding the hand of a small boy. "Dam-- uh, man, that's cool!"
Wesley laughed, and tugged on Gunn's hand. "When you hear the beeping, get ready."
"Ready for what?" Gunn was still watching the walls, which were adorned with shadows from all the occupants.
"For the light to flash! Honestly, Gunn, pay attention."
Gunn tore his gaze away from the wall, and began to give him one of the 'don't dis me, man, I know where you're ticklish' looks. Then the alarm sounded, and Wesley jumped into the air. Right before Gunn caught him, the light flashed. Wesley spun around to look at the shadow before the white light had even completely faded. There was a small shadow-him, in mid-air.
They managed to kill an hour, playing in the shadow box. Then Wesley dragged Gunn - by the ear - to the sound tubes, then the earth science wing, then the mathematics wing where Wesley demonstrated that it was much more fun than bamboo under the fingernails. Gunn agreed, especially when he happily sat for a half hour staring at the Marble Race, trying to predict which pathways the marbles would take as they tripped the various traps, switch-tracks, and gizmos.
Then they finally made it to the snack area, and spent much of Angel's money on junk food. They walked around outside, looking at the agriculture displays and gardens, and Wesley amused himself by whispering to Gunn about historical, magical, significance of some of the plants they saw. Afterwards they debated the engineering wing versus the science store, and finally the science store won out.
"Hey, check this out," Gunn said, dragging him over to one of the logic-toy displays. Gunn had finally put him down, when his shoulder had obviously started to get tired, but he was still holding Wesley fast by the hand. "They got little mini-marble races."
"Yes, they've been around for years-- it's actually the large ones that are the novelty," Wesley explained.
Gunn was busy studying the back of one of the packages, a contemplative look on his face. Wesley spotted a robotic construction set, basically a miniature version of the dinosaur skeletons, across the aisle. He reached for it, but couldn't quite make it without getting Gunn to let go of him. "Charles?"
"Hmm?" Gunn was still rolling the marble around the box.
He strained against his lover's hand, but couldn't get free. "Charles, let me go."
"Why? Hey, you know you can buy a bunch of these sets, and hook 'em together! We could make a huge track, in the middle of the hotel lobby."
"I don't care; I want to look at the robotic models." He tugged again.
"Where are they?" Gunn set the marble race track down, and took a step towards the models.
Wesley sighed. "You do know you can let me go. I'm going two feet away -- surely even you can keep an eye on me."
Gunn looked down at him, raising an eyebrow, but only said, "You wanna get one of them? Stegosaurus?"
"I don't wish to buy it, I simply want to see how they're constructed." They were near enough to the models, now, that he could reach forward and grab a box. Only he didn't quite get his hand on it, and the front three boxes fell onto the floor. He sighed, and crouched down to pick them up.
Gunn bent down to help, and said, "You know we can get one. Two, maybe, so we can have fights without docents scolding us."
"I don't want one," he repeated, patiently. "I only wanted to know how they were made. I know, now, after having read the box, so now I would like to go look at the bookracks."
Gunn shook his head, slowly. "Not unless they're picture books. You're not supposed to be able to read. Come here and help me pick out some marble sets."
Wesley didn't want to look at marble sets. Wesley had seen the marble sets at least seven check times already, and they remained marble sets, no matter how many times one stared at them. The bookracks, on the other hand, were periodically changed in order to reflect new exhibits and current events in science. He shook his head.
"No, I want to go look at the new books. I'll just be a minute." He darted over to the bookshelves, and began eyeing the new large-format coffee-table book on the differences and similarities between dinosaurs and fantasy-art dragons.
It was one shelf above his head, so he could read the cover well enough, but couldn't reach it to pull it down and open it. He stepped forward onto the bottom shelf, resting his foot on it just enough so he could raise himself up an inch or two, and reach for the book. And found his hand being grabbed by Gunn's. He twisted around, glaring at him. "What?" he snapped.
"You know you aren't supposed to be climbing on the bookshelves. This ain't the Magic Box."
It was on the tip of Wesley's tongue to respond that he knew what he was doing, and didn't weigh enough to bring the shelves down. He could tell by the set of Gunn's expression that it wouldn't faze the other man, so instead he simply said, "Fine. Hand me that one."
Which, for some reason, despite being what Gunn wanted -- that he not fetch the book, himself -- didn't work. "Let's go grab some marble sets. You can look at the books when you're old enough to read."
As if it mattered that suddenly he was supposed to act like the child he appeared? Wesley didn't understand, and didn't care. "No, I want to look at that book."
It was, as a matter of fact, a picture book, in its own way, and not one that a four-year-old would be completely out of place in looking at. He frowned up at Gunn. Who frowned back at him for a moment, then threw up his hands. "Fine. You wanna look at the books, look at the books. Let 'em think you're some kinda kid genius. I'll be over looking at the marbles, with the rest of the four-year-olds." He walked back over to the toys, though Wesley could see that Gunn was still keeping one eye on him.
Wesley rolled his own eyes, and stepped back up to grab the book. He got a good grip on the spine, and was lifting it over the lip of the shelf, when his smaller-than-usual fingers slipped on the slick jacket. He caught the paper covering, but the book itself slid straight through the unfastened jacket, and landed smack on Wesley's head, with what sounded like a rather loud bonk, to his biased ears. To add insult to injury, the paper cover ripped along the spine, as the book slid out.
Wesley rubbed his forehead, and blinked back tears that were completely justified by the smarting pain in his head, but might be misinterpreted by outside observers as childish pique. He carefully placed the book back in its jacket, examined the tear for a moment, then, with a sigh, carried it over to Gunn.
"If you say a word," he began. Gunn simply held out his hand for the book, putting down the marble set he'd been holding. Wesley frowned at the marble set. "Surely you have enough to get both?"
"Be a squeeze to get all of it. I didn't steal Angel's credit card, just his cash."
"Oh." Wesley looked at the book, which he didn't have any choice about buying now, then at the marble sets that had so captured Gunn's interest. Then he blinked at the dinosaur robots -- which Gunn had apparently gotten off the shelf again. He pointed at them. "Put those back, then, and get your marble sets."
"It's okay, Wes. We can come back, right? I'll get the marble tracks then." Gunn sounded like he really didn't care. Which, of course, made Wesley feel worse, because he knew better -- and while the robots were interesting, Wesley really didn't care about buying them. He'd told Gunn that, but Gunn had chosen to believe -- what, that Wesley was covering up his desire to play, so he wouldn't have to admit to being childish? Did everything have to revolve around that? Couldn't something just be about him having a preference, like wanting a book instead of a toy?
Even if he didn't necessarily want this book. Wesley sighed, not wanting to get into it. "No, we don't need to get the robots. You said you wanted to set the marble races up in the lobby." He took the dinosaurs, intending to carry them back to the display and set them back up. One slipped out of his arms, and he bit off a word not even thirty-two-year-olds were supposed to know.
He bent to pick it up, and the first box slid out of his arms. In a fit of pique, he kicked the box. Then he did mutter a word he shouldn't have known, but at least it wasn't in English. He crouched down, picked up one box, and carried it carefully over to the display. When he came back for the next one, Gunn was holding it. "How about we get two of the marble sets and one dino? And the book."
"And you'll put what in the fuel tank of the truck on the way back? Water? Come on, just give me the model. We can get it later, if you insist."
Gunn shook his head. "Don't worry about it, Wes. I've got enough." Which meant he was going to dig into his own pocket for it, instead of using the 'let's amuse ourselves with mini-Wesley' fund. Wes narrowed his eyes and reached for the dinosaur box. Gunn held it out of his reach.
"Charles, stop it."
"Look, it isn't like they're gonna sell out of these things by the weekend."
Wesley put his hands on his hips. "Which means we can very well get the robots later, and get the sets which you want, now. I don't care about the stupid robots and I'm sorry I ripped the fucking book and will you please just get the--"
He cut off, as Gunn was kneeling down in front of him, looking worried. "Wes? Come on, let's put them both back and buy the book and go home."
Fighting back the urge to tell Gunn to get the marble sets anyway, Wesley nodded. He reached for the dinosaur robot Gunn was holding, but Gunn placed it on the shelf, himself, then wrapped an arm around Wesley, and hugged him. Wesley felt himself sniffle, and whispered, "I'm sorry."
"Missed his nap, huh?" a woman's voice said.
Wesley frowned. He was saved from answering by Gunn standing up and facing the woman -- thereby facing Wesley away from her, as he was resting against Gunn's shoulder. "Um, yeah. We've had kind of a busy day, today," Gunn was saying, a little awkwardly.
"I don't need a nap," Wesley said quietly. Only to Gunn, since it wasn't any of her business.
"That's what they all say, kiddo," she said, not unkindly. Wesley stuck his tongue out at her anyway, though of course she couldn't see it. All he ended up doing was getting a tongueful of fuzz from Gunn's sweatshirt. He wiped it off quickly with his hand, making a face.
Gunn nodded, and carried Wesley up to the counter, where he let Wesley down for a moment, while he paid for the book. Wesley looked back at the woman, who was pushing her own child, a two or three year old, in a stroller. She waved at him, and he resisted the urge to stick his tongue out at her again. He did not need a nap. Even if, right now, the pillow that the little girl was leaning her head against looked awfully comfortable.
Instead he wrapped his arm around Gunn's leg, and leaned his head against that. Not exactly restful, but he wasn't tired. Just... well, he wouldn't say 'no' to them leaving, and maybe finding a quiet spot to sit for awhile. Maybe they could look at the book he'd forced them to buy.
Then Gunn was picking him up again. "I can walk," he reiterated, not sure it would do any good. Not sure he liked the fact that he sounded as if he were whining.
"I know." Gunn settled Wesley on his hip, and wrapped the handles of the bag around his other wrist. "Let's go home," he said again, and this time Wesley just nodded. He let his head fall onto Gunn's shoulder, again, not caring that the woman was still staring at him. He closed his eyes so he wouldn't have to see it.
And opened them, an entire nap later, to find himself being carried into the hotel lobby.
Cordelia was giving him a look he'd come to know all too well in the last few days. He scowled at her.
"Don't scowl, you'll ruin the shot," she told him.
"You're taking photographs again?" he snapped, suddenly feeling extremely irritated. He pushed against Gunn's chest, so he could be let down and be able to go over and... Well, he'd promised to stop kicking people, but he was about to make an exception. He'd start with a video-camera-wielding vampire who healed fast.
Except he wasn't being let down. He squirmed a bit, to no avail. Cordelia gave Gunn a quizzical look, which Wesley caught, thank you very much. He hadn't suddenly become blind, as well as short. Although he was still blinking at her, trying to make things come into focus. He felt rather as if he'd been woken up at three thirty in the morning, and he was still stumbling around the flat trying to find his socks.
Whatever expression Gunn sent her in return which Wesley couldn't see, it got the aww-isn't-he-cute look off Cordelia's face, and made Angel put down the camera. "So, did you guys have fun?" Cordelia asked. Which was a perfectly reasonable question, so Wesley bit off the reply he was about to snap at her, and blinked some more, allowing Gunn to answer.
"Oh yeah-- that place is a blast. They have this water clock in the lobby, that goes through all these different tubes and scale things, so you can see just when it's gonna hit the hour and go off. And the robot dinos are awesome."
"Which got us yelled at," Wesley added, still feeling as if he'd rather be still asleep. Except he wasn't tired, hadn't been tired, so how had he slept the entire drive home?
"Yelled at?" Angel asked.
"We got eaten by a Tyrannosaurus Rex," Wesley explained, knowing full well it wasn't an explanation. But it was better than yelling at them to leave him alone. He looked back over at Gunn.
"You wanna go upstairs and read?" Gunn held up the bag, but made his question sound like they'd actually chosen to buy it, rather than otherwise. Wesley nodded. Gunn said to the others, "Don't hold dinner for us -- we're gonna order pizza later."
"We are?" Wesley was feeling a bit more awake, now. As well as hungry.
"Maybe more 'sooner' than later," Gunn amended. "Didn't you say something about anchovies and green peppers?"
Wesley blinked. "I said they were the two most disgusting pizza toppings on the planet."
"Oh, and here I thought you liked 'em." Gunn was heading for the stairs, still carrying Wesley -- but he no longer minded so much. He did glance back over Gunn's shoulder at Angel and Cordelia, and saw that the camera was still safely aimed at the floor. He stuck his tongue out at Angel, quickly.
The moment they got in the door to their room, Gunn reached for the telephone. "You can put me down, you know," Wesley informed him.
"Well, yeah, I could, but why start now?" Gunn proceeded to order pizza, while still holding Wesley, who simply rolled his eyes, and corrected him loudly when he tried to order one with extra green peppers and anchovies. "You sure?" Gunn asked, with a patently false expression of confusion on his face. Wesley pinched his ear as he confirmed that yes, he was bloody well sure. "Okay, I guess he's sure." Wesley was close enough to the phone that he could hear the cashier's laughter.
Gunn was grinning, by the time they'd hung up, and Wesley looked sternly at him. "You know you probably confused the hell out of that poor woman," he said as Gunn carried him over to the chair. "We're likely to get three small pepper and anchovy pizzas with an order of calamari on the side."
"I don't think Pizza Hut has... what was that?"
"Deep fried squid. I was trying to think of something more disgusting than anchovies."
Gunn made a face. "Congratulations. You did." He settled Wesley on his lap, and slid the book out of the museum store bag. "Dinosaurs and Dragons, huh? You sure this book isn't too advanced for your reading group level?"
With an absolutely straight face, Wesley replied, "Hooked on Phonics worked for me. Would you care to open it?"
"Just a second. I'm looking at the cover."
Wesley was trying to avoid looking at the cover, and the large rip down the spine, but he sighed, and waited, while Gunn studied the colorful painting of a Pterodactyl swooping down on a large and anatomically incorrect Wyvvern. Finally, Wesley reached out a finger, and traced the rough edges of the tear.
"Didn't you want the book anyway?" Gunn asked quietly, still staring at the drawings.
"I didn't have a chance to find out." Wesley knew what Gunn was after -- it was a book, how could he be too upset about owning it? Unless it was utter trash, but DK didn't tend to publish trash.
"It's just a rip in the dust cover, Wes. You woulda bought it if you'd been yourself, six feet tall and too big for his britches, and tore the cover."
Wesley shook his head, though not because Gunn was wrong.
"You wouldn't have left it on the shelf," Gunn began, with a hint of Cordelia-esque scolding in his voice.
"No, it isn't that. I just... don't like being reminded what a clumsy child I was. Am."
Gunn squeezed his shoulders for a second, then said, "You are not clumsy. Any more than any four-year-old kid is. You ever looked at a four-year-old?"
Wesley shrugged. "In passing. And the others, of course. Rupert didn't seem to have any trouble operating his body."
"In the what, two hours you actually spent with him? Mostly with him sittin' on your lap? Wes, kids fall and they pull things down on top of them, and they get bumped on the head, and it happens every day. Their heads are too big for their bodies, they all think they're taller than they really are, and they got more energy than something your size can hold. My sister..." His voice got quiet for a moment, then he gave a soft laugh, and continued in a normal tone. "She used to be climbing on things all the time, when she was little. No matter how often me or somebody else yelled at her to get down 'cause she'd fall on her head, you'd turn around and two minutes later there she was, halfway up a fence, or a fire escape. And sure enough, she fell, most of the time. On her butt, more than her head, lucky for her. And us."
In this case, Wesley wasn't about to make his habitual protest about him not being whichever child or adult-child he'd just been compared to, so he sat silently for a second or two. "I seemed to be breaking things all the time," he finally said. "Oh, not myself. But things. Expensive things. It wasn't as if I meant to be clumsy. Just the opposite; I remember trying to walk as slowly and carefully as I could. But I still broke things." He looked at the book cover again, and frowned.
Gunn closed the book and set it down on his lap, and reached forward to take Wesley's chin. After a token protest, Wesley let him turn his head so he was looking up at his lover. Gunn's expression was sad, and determined, and he said, "Wes, I don't care what you break 'cause I don't own nothing that's worth too much. Talk to Angel before you try breakin' the chandelier."
Wesley blinked. Stared at Gunn for a moment, waiting for him to smile or laugh or say 'gotcha!'. He didn't.
What he did do, after another moment passed, was say, "Breaking things is what kids do. It ain't your fault they didn't understand that."
"But I tried not to," he repeated, not sure Gunn understood what he was saying.
But perhaps he did. Gunn pulled him close, and held him, and said, "But you couldn't help it -- like you couldn't help being small, or couldn't help using five syllable words when you were eight, and like you can't help it now that you whistle in the mornings after you've been fucked through the mattress the night before."
Another blink. Then, "What did I tell you about saying such things in front of a four-year-old?"
"You said 'better jerk off in the shower, because I ain't growing up for another three weeks'."
Wesley shook his head. "I don't think I said that. It wouldn't be proper." At Gunn's raised eyebrow, Wesley twitched his lip. "What with the 'ain't' and all." He ignored the chuckling, and snuggled in a bit closer. Then he looked again at the book cover. It really was an interesting subject, and yes, he probably would have bought it on his own, but... "I am sorry. That I was such a... a prick, earlier."
Gunn laughed. "Now who's with the inappropriate vocab, huh?" He opened the book again, and turned the pages, stopping on a picture of a Stegosaurus. "You gonna freak out if I say I think it wasn't you?"
Wesley peered up at him. "As in, you think I'm the victim of a routine possession, demonic subclass 17A, stroke 12, paragraph 32?"
"You made that up-- it sounds too much like something outta the Real Ghostbusters. No, I think it wasn't you, as in, it was you, but not your fault. Just you bein' worn out. Because your body's four, and you'd been out all day, which you hadn't yet before, and maybe..."
"You think I'm starting to regress."
Gunn turned a page, and nodded. "Could be. The timing's about right, ain't it?"
"I--" Wesley frowned. Wasn't this what he'd wanted? To reach the point where he wouldn't mind looking silly, or being small, or... all those things he still seemed to be worried about, today. But now he wondered. To be under the control of his body, his hormones and enzymes all telling him to run about and do things he normally wouldn't think of doing-- wasn't it a sort of possession?
When he was truly emotionally regressed, the way he had seen Rupert, Buffy, Xander, and Spike acting, he obviously wouldn't care about that. It was just this transition period that was... uncomfortable. He was starting to act like a child despite his best intentions, but was able to notice it. Worry about it.
"Hey-- maybe you are possessed. By Angel. Were you gonna quit brooding and read to me anytime soon?" Gunn asked.
Wesley jerked his head up, then found a smile, somewhere. "I thought you were going to read to me?" he protested. "This is above my reading group level, remember?"
"Uh-huh." Gunn gave him a look, then just pulled the book towards them again, and opened it. Wesley halted him long enough to get comfortable, wriggling a bit and trying to get his elbows in just the right place -- so he could let Gunn know if he were reading too fast. Or too slowly. "You do remember I know where you're ticklish, right?" Gunn asked.
"You do remember I can tell Cordelia you've been mean to me," he responded.
"Like she would blame me?" But Gunn flipped past the title page, and began reading aloud.
It was nice, Wesley reflected, as he laid his head back and listened to Gunn reading. The sound of his lover's voice stumbling over the Latin names of dinosaurs, the anticipation of greasy, hot pizza, and the not-completely-recovered feeling of tiredness since he'd woken from his nap, after a long, full day of nothing but fun. It had been a very long time since he'd felt this good.
It would have been nice, as well, if they'd been rocking. He'd fall asleep within minutes, however, so perhaps it would be best if he didn't ask. As he watched Gunn turn another page, his four-year-old head resting against Gunn's chest, he decided it was just as well they weren't. But it'd have been nice. "Eustreptospondylus," he corrected, absently. Gunn repeated the word, and continued reading.