Son of Small Fry

Part Four

"Why do you do that?" Wes was asking. Angel sighed the most patient sigh Gunn had heard since his Grandma Nannie got asked 'Why is the sky blue' for about the five thousandth time, when he was a kid.

"Why do I do what, Wes?"

"Comb your hair straight up like that. Is it so things won't hit you on the head so hard?"

"No, it's a fashion choice."

Gunn was very proud. Wes just stood there watching Angel continue to comb his hair, and didn't say a word. For at least ten seconds. Then, of course, he started laughing hysterically, to the point where he actually fell down on the ground and began to roll around. And point. "Fashion... choice... heeheeheeheehee..."

Gunn was proud of Angel's newfound social ability, too, though he'd never tell the vamp. Angel was just waiting patiently while Wesley laughed at him. Of course, from the look on Angel's face it seemed he was just happy to see Wesley laughing so freely, that he didn't mind it being at his own expense. Then again, maybe Spike and Xander really had softened him up, and putting up with one human kid was nothing.

Gunn waited for Angel to ask Wes why he was laughing, but after a couple more minutes it seemed pretty clear that Wes wasn't gonna stop laughing for a while. As long as he didn't pass out from lack of air, Gunn figured it was a good thing. Meant he'd finally regressed enough to relax.

He wasn't all the way, yet, Gunn knew. A couple times he'd caught Wes trying to act like he was still an adult, like he still cared about what everyone thought of him and how he appeared to strangers. Gunn deliberately hid all Wesley's matching socks that morning, just to help him along. Of course, today they'd been at the hotel all day, so Wesley was going around barefoot.

Angel looked up at Gunn. "Do you think he's gonna hurt himself?"

Gunn considered the giggling child sprawled on the carpet. "Not unless he starts turning blue."

Angel looked back down at Wesley, then asked in a serious tone, "Think we should tickle him?"

That started Wesley off on a fresh round of hysterical laughter. Gunn gave Angel a grin. "You think we need to?"

Wesley was still rolling. Angel brushed the top of his hair, as if considering something. "Well... if I make him turn blue, I'll never find out what he thinks of my hair."

Gunn blinked. Then he pointed. "I think we know what he thinks of your hair."

"He could be laughing about something completely unrelated." Angel crossed his arms. "He might even be having a seizure."

"No history of epilepsy in his family." Which Gunn actually knew, since Wes had told him that his parents had wondered if his breaking things were the result of 'fits', or if he did it on purpose. He blinked the memory away.

"What about insanity?"

"That would be your family, dude."

Angel gave him a slightly pained look. "Drusilla isn't actually related to me, you know."

"Uh-huh. And your excuse for you?"

Angel blinked. "Me?" It was clear he didn't know if Gunn was referring to the Angelus portion of his personality, or the 'I am indirectly responsible for Spike's existence' portion.

"You gotta be insane to go around with your hair looking like that." Gunn shook his head. There was a happy shriek from the floor, and Wesley was off, again. Gunn almost started laughing, himself, just from hearing it.

"What's wrong with my hair?" Angel muttered. Then Cordelia yelled for him to take the phone, and he walked away towards the office. Gunn crouched down beside Wesley, and waited for him to open his eyes.

When he finally began to wind down, he looked up and Gunn said, "Boo." Like a shot, he was off again, fourth round. Gunn shook his head, and wondered where Wes got the energy. Maybe he should take a page from Xander's book, and stop giving the kid sugar. But sugar smacks cereal didn't have that much sugar... did it? "Wes? How many bowls of cereal did you eat this morning?"

Wesley somehow managed to stop laughing long enough to answer coherently. "Four."

"Four? You had four bowls of sugar? I mean cereal? Where did you put it all?"

Wes rolled his eyes. "With the three slices of cinnamon toast and two glasses of chocolate milk -- it was only a part of my complete breakfast, you know."

This from the kid who couldn't eat a whole Taco Bueno kid's meal just a few days ago. Of course, if you added up the bits and pieces stolen off someone else's plate, and the extra cinnamon crisps, and the oh, can we get one to eat in the car on the way home... Dear God. His lover was a four-year-old eating machine. He couldn't remember the grown-up Wesley scarfing down that much food -- even the time they'd hit Ling's All-Night Buffet after spending 36 hours trapped, waiting for the Mekrak demons to leave, with only a granola bar between them.

Then again, the grown up Wesley didn't run around the hotel screaming "Help! The Zombie Cheerleader is after me!" at the top of his lungs, either. So maybe this version needed all the energy he could get. Which didn't explain why Gunn wasn't scarfing down the sugar smacks -- after spending the last two weeks chasing after being-chased-by-zombies-Wesley, he needed all the energy he could get, too. At least he had the benefit of foisting Wesley off onto Angel or Cordelia for a few hours each day.

Speaking of whom -- "Who fed you that much cereal?"

Wesley looked up at him from the floor, still sprawled in a completely un-self-conscious way. Cordy was right, he realized. They needed to put sunglasses on this kid. "Angel."

"Angel, huh? Then maybe I oughtta give you back to Angel until the sugar's worn off." He smiled as he picked Wes up, to avoid sending him into a major sulk. That was the disadvantage of having Wesley sharing his emotions freely. He went into funks as easily as he laughed.

"But by the time the sugar's worn off, it'll be time for lunch!" Wesley protested.

"Uh-huh. You ever hear of peanut butter sandwiches, and carrot sticks?"

Wesley made a face. "I want tacos."

"Tacos?" Gunn settled Wesley on his hip, and carried him towards the office, listening for any signs that Angel was discussing things Wesley didn't need to know about.

"And more cinnamon crisps."

"Wes, you know those things are just sugar and styrofoam."

The eyes again. Damn. If his wallet weren't up in the suite, he'd be dialing Taco Bueno delivery right about now... and they didn't have regular delivery service. He tore his eyes away, to see that Angel was motioning him into the office. Gunn lifted an eyebrow and nodded his head down at Wes, but Angel just nodded and continued with the 'c'mere' gesture.

"It's for you," he said to Wesley, with a somewhat perplexed expression.

"For me? Really? But I can't talk to them like this." Wes went from excited to downcast in two seconds flat.

"Yeah, you can. It's Spike."

Angel held out the phone, and Wesley looked commandingly up at Gunn. "Down, please."

Gunn set him down on Angel's chair, and Wes immediately started to chatter into the phone -- almost faster than the human ear could follow, turning the chatter into jibberish. Then Gunn realized -- he couldn't understand it because it wasn't English. He glanced over at Angel, who shrugged.

"Don't ask me -- some demon language that Spike speaks, obviously. He was always better at the non-human ones than me. And French, which Spike swears is a demonic language, too."

Wesley undoubtedly had a good reason for picking a language that Angel didn't parley-voo, Gunn thought. He wondered if he should be worried, or amused. He saw Wesley glance up at them as he listened to something Spike was saying. His gaze flickered to Angel, and he smiled. It was the most mischievous smile he'd seen on Wes' face since... well, yesterday. But this time Angel was the target, so he relaxed.

Wesley nodded at the phone, then chattered something demonic -- or possibly French. He listened for a moment, still staring at Angel. Then he laughed. It wasn't the hysterical Angel-has-funny-hair laughter. This was worse. This was mischief, and amusement -- and it was courtesy Spike. Gunn suddenly recalled Spike's offer to tell Wesley some things to do to Angel while he was four. Gunn stepped away from Angel, just in case.

Angel glanced at him. "What?"

"Nothing." Gunn waited, then took another step away.

Angel gave him another paranoid look. "Do you know what they're saying?"

"Nope." Gunn shook his head. "Don't have to. Spike, evil laughter... all add up to 'I don't know you, I ain't within firing distance'." Wesley was chattering again, interspersed with laughter. Gunn had the feeling he was telling Spike what was going on.

Angel suddenly said, "You know, this is a long distance call. I think you should say good-bye." He reached for the phone in Wesley's hand.

Wes pulled it back and glared at him. "I'm not through talking to Spike, yet."

Angel backed away from the Wes eyes, and groaned. "I should have killed him years ago..."

Gunn glared at him, too. "Wesley?"

"No, Spike. I should have picked up a stake the minute Drusilla looked up at me and said 'look what followed me home, Daddy-- can I keep it?' and said no. And poof, all my troubles would have been gone. But nooooooo, I had to actually look into those big damn eyes of hers..."

Gunn was too busy laughing, then, to voice his suspicion that it might have had something to do with Spike's big damn eyes, too. Or big damn anything else.

Wes was nodding now, just as if Spike could actually see him shake his head over the phone. Not that they didn't all have that habit of course, but there was something adorable about how serious Wesley was when he did it. It was the visual equivalent of 'Yes, I understand that the safety of the world depends on this, Mr. President.' when he was probably agreeing that the new Honda commercial was silly. Then Wesley said, "I will," in plain English, followed by, "Then you should thump her," in that same serious tone. He hung up without actually saying goodbye.

He jumped up onto the desk and leapt at Gunn. Gunn caught him, mostly through sheer reflex and having been practicing this catch a thousand times in the last few days. Which reminded him... He glared at Angel. "Next time you feed him sugar cereal, I'm handing him over to you and I'm taking the morning off."

Angel looked immediately innocent, which meant Angel had known what he was doing. Of course he had -- he'd probably watched Xander consume just as much sugar cereal then spend the day zooming off the walls. Which meant... Gunn watched as Angel looked at the clock. "Oh, I almost forgot, I have an appointment. Downtown. Gotta head for the sewers, excuse me." He tried to brush past Gunn, who was holding a now-wriggling Wesley.

"Appointment? Someone doing your hair?" Gunn demanded.

"Um-- actually, no. It's work. Work-related. We have a case." Angel was still trying to get past Gunn and out the door. Gunn just kept stepping sideways, back and forth, so that the Evil Eyes of Doom were always within range to gaze at Angel.

"Case? We have a case? Do you need me to look anything up?" Wesley asked. He sounded eerily like his older self.

Angel looked down at him, and stammered, "Uh, no, it... um, it isn't that kind of case. Yet. Maybe there will be something later? Right now I'm just... meeting a guy."

Wesley blinked at him. Then his eyes widened (if that was possible), and the most incredibly demonic smile appeared on his face. "You're meeting a guy? Really? Angel, that's wonderful!"

Angel's turn to blink, then look disturbed. "No, that's not what I meant--"

But Wes was reaching out and tugging on his arm. "What's his name? What's he like? Is he cute? Oh god, it's the Host, isn't it. I always knew he had a thing for you."

Angel was shaking his head wildly. "What?! No. No, no, that's not what I-- you think the Host has a thing for me?"

"Are you blind, man? How many times has that man pinched your arse?"

"It's just his way of being friendly. He does it to everybody," Angel protested.

"Not to me, he don't," Gunn told him.

"And he stopped pinching my arse after we stopped sleeping together," Wesley said blithely. "Angel, surely you--"

"WHAT!?" Gunn turned Wesley around, and held him up so he could glare at him in the eye. "Slept together? Slept together? Wes, you better be about to tell me it was completely platonic when you didn't have anywhere else to go."

Wesley just looked at him, his expression a tad miffed, at first. Then he began looking more innocent than Angel had.

"Damn. Damn, damn -- you gotta promise me never ever to tell me any details. I do not wanna know." Gunn settled Wes back on his hip, where he wouldn't have to look over at his boyfriend's face, and stepped hurriedly back into Angel's way. "Excuse me? Where are you going?"

"Hey, obviously you two need to... discuss some issues. I'll just go out and see of Cordy needs a hand with the filing."

"I thought you had to go meet a guy," Gunn reminded him.

"Er, I do. I thought I'd help Cordy after I got back, though, so I need to tell her not to do all the filing before I get back." From Angel's expression, even he knew that one was lame.

"He's green all over," Wesley said.

"His mother has a beard," Angel responded, looking frightened.

"See! He took you home to meet his mother. And you don't think he has a thing for you?" Wesley crowed.

Gunn was closing his eyes and not thinking about green-all-over people. Not thinking about their mothers. In fact, he was thinking about Mother Teresa, just to focus on an image as far removed from this conversation as possible. Except now he was seeing Mother Teresa with a beard. He opened his eyes quickly and glared at Wes. "I said I didn't want to hear any details!"

Wesley looked hurt. Really hurt. Gunn was just about to do the whole down-on-my-knees-what-color-pony-do-you-want thing, when the corner of Wesley's lip twitched. "That wasn't a detail. It was merely an anatomical curiosity that I thought Angel might find interesting. A detail would be something like the fact that his--"

Gunn put his hand over Wesley's mouth before he found out anything more about the Host's anything. Then, hand still over Wesley's mouth, he handed him over to Angel. Angel took him, reflexively no doubt, and Gunn started to leave the office. "I'm outta here. I'll go meet this guy, while you two help Cordelia with the files."

"Oh, uh, actually," Angel hurried up behind him, still holding Wesley -- and holding his own hand over Wesley's mouth. "Actually, uh..." Gunn stopped, and glanced back at him. "It isn't work. I'm meeting my hairdresser."

Wesley pulled Angel's hand away. Some vampire strength, Gunn scoffed. "You're dating your hairdresser?" Wesley said.

"I'm not dating him!" Angel glared, and put his hand back over Wesley's mouth. Which Wesley then reached up and removed.

"But you're meeting him, that's very good."

Angel glared at Gunn, in consternation. "How is he doing that?"

"You got me." Gunn shrugged.

Angel put his hand over Wesley's mouth. Wesley rolled his eyes, and pushed it away. "I swear I was holding it in place that time!"

Wesley started to grin, then wiped all traces of smugness from his face, and said piteously, "They're being cruel to me!"

Before either man could react, Cordelia stepped between them and grabbed Wesley from Angel's arms. "What are they doing to you?" She gave them both evil, mother gorilla glares. Which Gunn knew he had better never let on he'd compared Cordelia to, even in his head, if he wanted to live to ever maybe have a real kid for her to spoil rotten when they brought him to the office. Which he hadn't just thought, no he hadn't. Nope.

"They're talking about sex, when they know I can't enjoy it for at least another two weeks," Wesley said pathetically.

Gunn looked at him. "At least two weeks?"

Angel looked at him. "We were talking about sex? Mr.'He's green all over'?"

Cordelia looked over at Angel. "Who, the Host? Duh, everybody knows that."

"They do?"

"Haven't you seen the picture he has of him in speedos, at the beach? It's on his desk in his office. Along with the one of you and him onstage singing 'Ebony and Ivory.' "

Angel winced. "I was drunk." Then he blinked. "He's got a picture of me on his desk?"

"See?" Wesley said proudly. He told Cordelia, "Angel's just getting a clue that the Host likes him."

Cordelia grinned. "Think we should invite him over to dinner sometime?"

"No!" Angel said. "We can't... we can't, anyway, while Wesley's... like this, right?"

"Somehow I don't think he'll mind," Cordelia said. She looked at Wesley, enquiringly. "Wes? Do you care if Lorne sees you?"

Wesley thought about it for a moment. Then, in a serious voice, he said, "If it will help Angel... I'll do it."

Gunn exchanged a grin with Cordelia, as Angel tried to think of some way to convince them all that this really wasn't necessary. "Why don't you go get your hair done," Gunn finally told him, "And we'll call and invite him over."

"No, really--" Angel tried again. "Wesley, won't you be embarrassed?"

"He's seen me naked, unshaven, and before I've had my tea, Angel. I hardly care if he sees me three feet tall."

Gunn gave him a quick glare. "I said I didn't want to hear any details."

"Those weren't details," Wesley retorted. "Details would be 'he's seen me naked after peeling me out of a pair of grey speedos'."

Over his own groaning, Gunn could hear Cordelia saying, "You took that beach picture, Wes?"

Then somehow there was Angel calling from the lobby, "Bye! Going to get my hair done! In Bangkok..."

When Cordelia stopped tittering, Gunn looked at Wesley. Who looked so innocent you could stick construction-paper wings on his back and sell him in a Christian bookstore. "Okay -- he's gone now. Spill. What did Spike tell you to do to him? Details, kid."

Wes looked haughtily at him. "What makes you think Spike told me to do anything to Angel?"

"Oh, right -- this is Spike we're talking about." That came from Cordelia.

Gunn gave Wesley a 'you're my homey, ain't ya?' look. "Come on-- who helped you set up that photo-on-the-mirror trick? Who stood lookout while you slipped Aretha Franklin CDs into all his Manilow cases?"

Wesley simply raised an eyebrow. "What makes you think Spike told me to do anything to Angel?"

"Because you were looking at him when you laughed."

But Wesley just looked at him, not quite doing the innocent face. This was more like a 'not my fault if your logic is faulty'. Which, OK, Gunn had seen dozens of times before -- most often over a pente board.

But that meant it was fair to resort to treachery. "Come on, Wes -- don't we deserve to have some fun at Angel's expense, too?"

There was a softening of Wesley's expression, and he fidgeted a bit in Cordelia's arms. Then he sighed. "All right. I'll tell -- but you can't let on you know."

"We swear," Gunn and Cordelia said together.

"Cross your heart, hope to get painted purple?"

"Wes! Just tell us, already!" Gunn wasn't about to swear, because he'd seen what happened when you did. Somehow, he'd end up purple.

"All right, all right. He told me... to look at Angel, and laugh."

Gunn stared at him. "Uh... would I be perpetuating a cultural stereotype if I said 'Watchoo talkin' about, Wesley'? "

"No, just perpetuating a really crappy sitcom," Cordelia answered. "Just look at him and laugh? Really? But we do that all the time!"

Wesley looked smug. "It's not the fact of laughing. It's how you do it. Spike gave me detailed instructions."

"So? Share!"

"No. Sorry. It only works for children. And childer." Wesley looked so happy about that -- made Gunn wonder how many times he'd been told 'No, Wesley, only adults can do that.' Some of which, like chasing demons down blind alleys and swinging a double-bladed longsword, they were perfectly right about, of course.

"You mean, only stuff kids can do? Like get held upside-down?" Gunn grabbed him from Cordelia, and held him upside-down. Wesley shrieked, and giggled -- then shrieked again when Cordelia tickled him.

Gunn held him until his face turned red, then flipped him upright. Wesley was breathing hard, but still grinning like a loon. Or like a four-year-old. "So, whadya say we go make dinner plans?"

"Can I call Lorne?" Wesley asked.

Gunn opened his mouth to say 'yes', then stopped. "Is this gonna involve me knowing any more details?"

"Details?" Cordelia asked.

"About him and that green whosit. Doing things I don't wanna know about."

Wesley was doing the innocent-eyes thing, again. "Who, me?" Then there was a hand over his mouth.

He reached up to remove it, but Cordelia didn't budge. The eyes above that hand got bigger. Then they bulged out a bit, as if she were suffocating him. The pitiful help-me-you-love-me-don't-you look Wesley was giving Gunn was almost too much to bear. So it was a good thing Gunn was heading out of the office to the lobby where he didn't have to look at that look.

A few hours later, Gunn was overjoyed that he'd been the one to give Wesley his lunch. He'd managed to resist the insinuations that not letting him have ding-dongs and ice cream for lunch constituted some form of subtle child abuse, and they'd all had tacos, as originally requested. With no cinnamon crisps.

So now Wesley was winding down, though lack of hyper-ness didn't remotely diminish the power of the huge eyes staring at Gunn now. And staring. And staring. It was like one of those creepy pictures where the eyes follow you around the room.

Add to that, Wesley wasn't saying anything. He was just sitting there in Gunn's lap, the book open on his knees, and looking up at Gunn. Looking. He couldn't take it!

"I am not falling for this." Look. "I'm not!" More look. "No way. No how." Tiny bit of guilt in that look maybe, which was the straw that broke the camel's back. Or the boyfriend's heart. "Aw, dammit, Wes! What color pony?"

But what he heard was, "You're not rocking."

"I'm not what?" The words slipped out; Wesley turned back to his book and didn't repeat the request. Gunn smiled, though. He'd seen the uncertainty in Wes' eyes, that maybe he didn't know if he ought to be asking, despite the recent ease with which he begged for anything he wanted.

Gunn leaned back in the chair, and pulled Wesley back, as well, settling him against Gunn's chest. He propped the book up on Wesley's lap, and held it so Wesley could arrange himself however he liked. Then he slowly pushed against the floor and began rocking.

After a moment there was a soft whisper. "You don't have to."

"You think I'm gonna make you ask Angel? For an ancient undead white boy, he has no rhythm. Best you let me do it." He felt the tiny tremor of Wesley's silent laugh, then Wesley was laying his head back, wriggling down a bit, and flipped the page of his book. "Is this the Sumerian Big Book of Bedtime Stories?" Gunn asked.

"It's in English," Wesley scolded.

"If you say so."

"Read to me," came that imperious voice, and Gunn didn't know that the Eyes Thing worked without there even being any eyes involved. He frowned at Wesley, and wondered if he would lose this power when he grew up, again. Probably not. Gunn began reading.

"To Sherlock Holmes, she is always the woman. I have seldom heard him mention her under any other name..."

The comfortable, relaxed look on Wesley's face was enough to remove any fear Gunn might have had that he'd get bored with reading Victorian mystery stories out loud. All he had to do to keep Wes smiling was keep reading, and actually sound like he understood what he was talking about. That was worth a hundred pages of chicks in long skirts putting one over on the Great Detective who didn't seem all that bright when it came to falling for a brilliant mind behind a pair of pretty eyes -- but who the hell was Gunn to judge.

It was easier to pay attention to the book when he was doing the reading -- when Wes read out loud, Gunn tended to get lost in the sound of that choirboy voice, so terribly concentrated and serious, rising and falling, and the look on Wesley's face. That always got him pouted at when Wes looked up and caught him zoning, even though the brat knew why he was losing track of the storyline. Because he'd told Wes, in great detail, just to watch his ears turn pink.

"It's Eye-ree-nee," Wesley corrected him at one point. Gunn stared at the letters, wondering how 'Irene' could possibly be intended to be spoken that way. But then again, these were people who went out of their way to invent Worchestershire Sauce, just so they could laugh at Americans trying to pronounce it. Gunn shook his head, but repeated the woman's name, the certified-correct-by-Wesley way.

He continued reading, hesitating once or twice over every proper noun to see if Wesley was going to correct those, as well. After the third time Wesley simply poked him and said, "It's pronounced the way it's written."

"Uh-huh. I told you this wasn't in English." Wesley poked him again, but let him continue. Gunn read, trying occasionally to figure out the plot. It was hard, though, when most of his attention was on the child in his arms.

Gradually, though, the book drew him in. Which was why it surprised him to glance down and see Wesley's eyes closed and his face completely relaxed. Gunn realized he'd felt Wesley relaxing as he read, but hadn't noticed him falling asleep until now. But that wasn't what made him stare. What made him stare, and try very hard not to smile even though Wesley wasn't awake to see -- was the small thumb stuck in Wesley's mouth.

Gunn couldn't remember the last time he'd seen Wesley look so utterly relaxed, awake or asleep, other than the time Gunn had spent three hours rubbing the adult Wesley's back then fucking him senseless. Of course, Gunn hadn't been in much condition to enjoy the sight, that time.

He had half a mind to think real loud -- since he couldn't yell without waking Wesley up -- for Cordelia to come upstairs with the camera. But he knew Wesley wasn't ready; as of this morning he was still trying to prevent Gunn from discovering that Wesley had been sucking his thumb in his sleep. It had almost been more than Gunn could stand, the past few days, to lie there quietly with his eyes slitted open, peering at Wes through his own eyelashes and waiting for his lover to wake up.

Not that the view wasn't wonderful, just that the temptation to reach out and stroke his hair, or kiss his forehead, was so overwhelming. But if he did, Wes would wake up and take his thumb out of his mouth, and feel all self-conscious, so Gunn had learned to simply watch and wait.

Eventually, Wesley would wake up on his own, and blink sleepily. Realize where he was and what he was doing. Look furtively around as he popped his thumb out of his mouth, then give a sigh of relief that he hadn't got caught. Gunn always let Wesley 'wake' him up, putting on a big show of yawning and stretching and grumbling, when he'd been awake for half an hour or more, just watching.

Now, though, he could sit and watch all he wanted to, without peeking and without needing to be ready to feign sleep at the slightest movement that meant Wesley might be waking up. Even if Wesley were embarrassed when he woke, he couldn't think that Gunn hadn't seen him. Gunn was willing to not say a word about it... but he was glad to get the chance to just sit back and watch.

He reached up, very slowly so as not to jostle anything, and stroked Wes' hair. Leaned forward, just as slowly, and placed a soft kiss on his forehead. Wesley didn't wake. Maybe there were good reasons to feed him four bowls of sugar for breakfast.

Gunn wasn't quite sure how long he watched Wesley sleep in his arms. It couldn't have been longer than half an hour, though -- not nearly long enough -- before the thick eyelashes eventually fluttered open. Gunn looked down, prepared to try to forestall any uncomfortable reaction on Wesley's part, with his most neutral, not-worried-about-it expression.

Wesley just stared at him for a second, eyes opened impossibly wide -- as usual -- then smiled, shyly. He did pull his thumb out of his mouth fairly quickly, but he obviously wasn't trying to hide it, nor did he seem too upset at having been caught out. Gunn gave him another kiss on the forehead, and picked him up as he stood.

"You think we missed dinner?" Gunn asked, setting the book aside for tomorrow.

"Cordelia wouldn't have dared let us miss this dinner," Wesley asserted with confidence. Then, "But perhaps we should get downstairs, in case Lorne is already here."

Gunn felt Wesley wriggle, wanting to be let down. He considered ignoring it as he usually did -- but if the Host was already here, Wesley might feel less self-conscious about greeting him on his own two feet. Rather than in the arms of his current boyfriend. Gunn glared at Wesley. "I'm not gonna be getting any more details, over dinner am I?"

Wesley looked surprised. "Why Charles, I do think you doth protest too much!"

"What! You're saying--" But Wesley was wriggling out of his arms; this time Gunn let him go so he could chase Wesley out of the room and down the hallway. It occurred to him as he hit the bottom of the stairs, Wesley a good ten feet ahead of him, that maybe he should start thinking about a four-bowl-of-sugar breakfast, too, if he was gonna try to keep up with the scandalously younger man that he was dating.

Gunn was looking down to make sure he didn't trip on that loose edge of the carpet-runner that he kept meaning to fix, when he heard Wesley give a sudden "Eep!" He glanced up to see that Wes had run straight into a pair of legs in white linen pants -- that were attached to a torso draped in a matching jacket and an expensively hideous Hawaiian shirt. Which was attached to a head that could be detached and still survive, as long as you didn't mutilate the body. That knowledge might come in handy, if Wes supplied Gunn with many more unwanted details like the green-all-over thing.

"Well, hey! Who do we have here?" The Host bent down to give Wesley the once-over, and Gunn blinked at his smirking lover. "You know, you look a lot like..." The Host's eyes narrowed, then his face smoothed over into a surprised, shocked, neutral smile. "At least I know I won't be getting the paternity suit," he said, and Gunn realized he was going to have to tell Lorne about the 'no-details' policy, too.

Gunn glanced down to see Wesley doing the eyes thing. Gunn sighed and shook his head. "He isn't gonna buy you a pony, either."

But the Host looked up at Gunn. "Well, of course I will! If he wants one." He grinned at Wesley, still obviously clueless, as he asked, "Where's your daddy, short stuff?"

"England," Wesley said simply. Gunn wasn't sure if that meant he was going to try to pull the joke on throughout dinner, or not. Could be fun...

"England? Is that why I haven't seen him in two weeks? Then why are you here, if he's--" He suddenly snapped his mouth shut, as if realizing the explanation might involve a dead or in trouble mother.

Gunn saw Wes realize it too, and frown, then grin, then let his face slip into a truly phenomenal pout, all in the space of a couple of milliseconds -- fast enough that the Host most likely caught none of it. "He's a horrible daddy. He took off to go see some sort of all-nude bathing competition at Brighton Beach, and left me here with all these strangers."

"Wes went all the way to Brighton for a nude beach? There's one right down near La Roca, just off the freeway. I know he's been there..." Then the Host clammed up, as it dawned on him that he was talking to a four-year-old kid about nude beaches.

Gunn glared at Wesley. "What did I say about details?"

"I didn't say it," Wes protested. "The big green man said it!"

"You made him say it," Gunn said sternly. Well, as sternly as he could ever manage when Wes was giving him the innocent choirboy look. He usually folded when faced with the adult version -- so why was he even remotely surprised he was falling for the mini-'Who, Me'?

"For that matter," Lorne said, as if he wasn't listening to Gunn's and Wesley's exchange, "Why aren't you at the beach with him, Charlie?"

"Don't call me Charlie." It was a reflex, and Gunn hated how it made him sound like Angel telling Xander not to call him 'Dadboy'. Gunn thought it was better than 'Deadboy', but nobody asked him.

Wesley tugged on Lorne's hand, and asked, "Is Uncle Angel here?"

Gunn watched as the Host tried to recover from the infusion of cuteness, before responding, "I haven't seen him. Cordelia said something about roaming the sewers, and that he'd be back later."

Then, and Gunn should have known this was coming so he could videotape it and show to Angel, later, Wesley said, "He went to get his hair done. He likes you."

The Host blinked, and seemed --for once in the entire time Gunn had known him -- to be at a loss for words. "Uh... He does? I mean, he is? Getting his hair done?"

"Yes. He goes to Madame Foo-Foo's." Gunn knew damn well Wes had just made up off the top of his head, and he couldn't help snickering.

The green demon still seemed a little thrown by Wesley's earlier comment, but he grinned at the name of the alleged beauty parlor. Guy probably knew every hairdresser and clothing store in L.A. -- even the ones Cordelia didn't know about. "Madame Foo-Foo's, huh?"

"Uh-huh. She charges him fifty dollars to stick his finger in a light-socket. That's what my dad says."

The Host laughed. "You probably shouldn't say things like that... but your daddy's probably right. I think Angel's brave to wear his hair that way. It shows his individuality."

Gunn looked sharply at Lorne. Was that a note of sincerity? Was Wesley right? Wesley, who was even now holding his arms out to Lorne in a classic pick-me-up gesture, which Lorne then did. He rested Wesley on his hip and looked tickled green to have been accepted by the small boy. Gunn was tempted to tell him, just to see if he'd drop Wesley. On his head.

"Can I have a Pergeron?" Wesley asked. "I want a white one."

"A what? Dearie, don't you think a Shetland would be more your speed?"

Wesley made a face. "Shetlands are for babies! I want a Pergeron. Gunn won't buy me one."

"Yeah? Where you gonna keep it," Gunn asked, knowing there was no way Wesley would waste the buy me a pony eyes at him, when he had the Host to torment.

"We can put it in Uncle Angel's dungeon. He never uses it anyway, and there's all kinds of saddles and bridles in there already."

The only reason Gunn didn't choke on his own tongue was that he was too busy watching to make sure Lorne didn't drop Wes while he choked on his tongue. Of course, Gunn's stifled laughter soon gave way to the disturbing realization that Lorne liked that kinda thing, judging from the speculative look that was creeping over his face. And that Wes knew he liked that kind of thing...

He decided to concentrate on his admiration for Wesley's ability to keep a straight face while saying it, though Gunn made himself a fervent promise to do something extremely rotten to Wes the minute he grew up again. Or at least an hour or so after he grew up again.

"Oh, good, you found Wesley and Gunn!" Cordelia's cheerful voice interrupted his thoughts of revenge.

He looked over and said quickly, "Yeah, me and Wesley, Junior, are entertaining Lorne until Angel gets back." Cordelia stopped, and mouthed 'Wesley, Junior?' before glancing at the Host and a delightedly grinning Wesley. In a somewhat lowered voice, Gunn said, "We've told him Wes went to Brighton Beach, so don't tell him the truth about him being in the hospital to get those polyps removed."

He looked over to see Wes giving him a dirty glare. Gunn didn't react -- after all, if Wes was gonna drag him into playing a joke on Lorne, then Wes deserved getting dragged into whatever popped into Gunn's head to provide cover for it.

But the light had gone on in Cordelia's head, and she was smiling and nodding. "That's right. We're stuck baby-sitting this little rugrat until he gets back."

"I'm not a rugrat," Wesley protested.

"Are too," Cordelia informed him. When Wesley stuck his tongue out at her, she simply responded in kind.

"She's being mean to me!" Wesley protested, giving Gunn a pitiful look.

"Good. Be mean back to her."

The Host smiled. "I can tell someone has baby-sat before."

He did hand Wesley over to Cordelia, who took him, grinning evilly. "I think someone should come help me with dinner."

"You're cooking?" Wesley asked, doubtfully.

"No. I ordered Chinese. But we have to set the table." From Cordelia's expression, Gunn guessed that somebody had just been volunteered to do the dishes, too. And that Cordelia would make sure they used lots of plates...

"So, um," Lorne said, as they watched Cordelia taking Wesley towards the dining room. "Wesley never told me about...?"

"Mini-Wes, the Tiny Terror?"

"I am not tiny!" Wesley shouted back over Cordy's shoulder.

"I'm not sure whether he's got really good hearing, or he just has the place bugged," Gunn told the Host.

Wesley stuck out his tongue, then assumed a very haughty expression. "If you're asking where I came from, my daddy says the angels dropped me on his doorstep."

"Head-first," Cordelia added immediately.

"My daddy says you're a razor-tongued harpy," Wesley told her.

"That's cause your daddy keeps forgetting who does that direct-deposit thing with his paycheck, and has access to all his bank account numbers," she responded.

Wesley opened his mouth, paused, then closed it. Very carefully, he said, "I don't think I'm old enough to know what that means."

"Uh-huh," Cordelia kept glaring at him. "It means that somebody is gonna get spanked and sent to bed before dinner with Uncle Angel and Uncle Lorne."

Wesley immediately turned on the eyes. Like a switch, he was begging and pleading and promising to be the bestest ever and if someone spanked him could it be Gunn because he never spanked very hard? That made Cordelia turn red, and Gunn reconsidered waiting until Wesley grew up again, before doing something extremely rotten.

Wesley ignored them both, and went back to his story, calling loudly over Cordelia's shoulder back at Lorne, until Cordelia sighed and let him down so he could walk back over.

"My daddy says he wasn't 'specting me, but that the angels knew he wanted me a lot. That's why they dropped me -- not on my head," he added with a glare to Cordelia. "And daddy says I look just like the angel that brought me here, that I'm the handsomest little kid he ever saw and that I don't look a thing like him and that I'm the smartest and funniest and bestest kid ever."

Wesley was hanging onto Lorne's hands, talking up to him, while the Host smiled and listened. Gunn listened, as well, but had to force the smile out.

"And daddy says he wouldn't ever ever trade me for anything, not even a new motorbike because Uncle Gunn is gonna buy him one with a sidecar. Daddy thinks I'm gonna be the cleverest Watcher ever, even though he doesn't think I should be one, he says he's not gonna make me. And he says that I'm the best present he's ever had, and that I'm perfect!"

Lorne laughed. "You are, I can tell. I can see your daddy thinks the world of you."

Wesley nodded, smiling and solemn. Gunn wondered if Wes had told himself those things when he was a kid, because he knew Wesley's 'daddy' hadn't ever said them. He wondered as well if what he'd been doing for the last couple of weeks was enough to convince Wes that it was all true -- or if there was always gonna be that little kid in there who had to say it out loud like it was a lie, because he didn't believe it in his heart of hearts.

He wanted to pick Wes up right now, and tell him his 'daddy' wasn't the only one who thought he was perfect, and damn straight he could have a sidecar for the motorbike, and a fucking team of Clydesdales, if he wanted one. Even if it meant blowing the whole 'fool the Host' gag. Then Wes looked up at Lorne, with eyes suddenly shadowed and uncertain, and said softly, "Uh-huh. My daddy loves me."

Gunn leaned back against the wall behind him for a second, and closed his eyes. Tightly.

"Oh, Wes, everyone loves you," Cordelia said softly. Gunn opened his eyes to see her kneeling beside him, and hugging him tightly. Wesley looked a little confused, accepting her hug with one arm wrapped around her neck.

He was looking at Gunn, though, so Gunn pushed away from the wall and went over and picked him up. Kissed him hard on the cheek, and whispered, "I love you, too."

"What's going on?" Angel asked. They all turned around, and Angel's curious expression faded. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing. We're ordering Chinese," Cordelia explained. "You entertain our guest while I go order." She waved absently at Lorne.

"Um, okay?" Angel watched her head for the phone, and looked at Gunn. "Is Wes okay?" He was glancing towards the Host, apparently making the wrong connection as to what had upset him.

"Yeah, he's fine. He's miffed because Lorne won't buy him a Pergeron."

"I never said I wouldn't!" Lorne objected. "I just think maybe I should ask his father, first. You know, see if his apartment takes pets."

"His father?" Angel repeated. "What does Wesley's father have to do with this?"

"You know -- his father? Who's makin' us babysit him?" Gunn tried to sound as casual as possible while still speaking to Angel on a 'Practical Jokes For Dummies' level.

"Well, I wouldn't exactly put it that way," Angel said, frowning. "I mean, maybe at the beginning it was touch and go, with the whole rogue demon hunter gag, but now..."

"Now he's more of a family man, yeah," Gunn said agreeably.

"Family man? Wesley's father?" Angel was looking at Gunn like he'd just said he wanted to get a nose job and a skin-bleaching and change his name to Biff, and did Angel think it would be covered under the company medical plan. Which they still didn't have.

"Oh for god's sake," Wesley muttered under his breath. "Uncle Angel, you didn't cut your hair! You said you wanted to look good for dinner."

Angel's mouth froze in the 'catching flies' position. He tried to give Wesley a glare while looking clueless for Lorne. He managed a sort of half-laugh, half-shrug, all 'I'm going to kill them later, don't mind me' look.

"Madame Foo-Foo couldn't see you, huh?" Lorne sounded amused, and flattered. Gunn realized that Wesley better know what he was doing, or the Host might see if Wesley's head could be removed from his body without inflicting permanent damage.

"Huh? Who?" Angel looked from Lorne to Gunn to Wesley.

"Your hair-dresser," Wesley reminded him.

"I told you, I wasn't getting my hair done. I was... hell, I was meeting a guy about your book of Casters."

There was a silent pause. Gunn tried to figure out how to say 'You mean Wesley's father's book,' without making Angel blow everything. He figured Wes was doing the same thing, only distracted by the discovery that Angel might be able to replace one of the rare books that had been destroyed when their old office had exploded.

"You're up to that already?" Lorne was asking. "I would have thought you'd still be reading Mother Goose."

"Why would Wesley be reading--"

"He likes to pretend, you know. Be like his dad." Gunn interrupted Angel.

"Am I missing something, here?" Angel asked. "Why are you pretending that Wesley can't read?"

"Of course I can read." Wesley rolled his eyes. "Hooked on Phonics, remember?"

"Yeah, but you're not quite up to the book of whatzamajigger, yet," Gunn reminded him. Well, tried to clue-in Angel, while pretending to remind Wes. He was starting to lose track.

"Hooked on what?" Angel was asking.

"Who wants egg drop soup?" Cordelia called from the office.

"That's disgusting, and if anyone puts it in front of me, I shall be sick. Loudly," Wesley promised.

"Check, no egg drop soup for the rugrat."

Lorne was looking at Wes, now, grinning. "Your dad doesn't like egg drop soup either. I bet he's happy he's corrupted you too."

Angel frowned, then stared at the Host. "You know Wesley's father?"

Gunn groaned. Lorne turned around and blinked at him. Then he suddenly smiled. "Oh, don't worry. Just 'cause I know what he likes to eat, doesn't mean I know him in the biblical sense, honey."

"Um... I guess that's good..."

"Not for years, now."

Angel's eyes looked like they might just roll completely back in his head.

"And it really didn't mean anything. Well, not anymore -- not that I would kick him out of bed, but he's taken," Lorne gave Gunn a sly smile, and Wesley grinned triumphantly.

"You mean you really did sleep with him?" Angel squeaked, staring at Wesley.

Gunn could tell Wesley was considering a baldness spell, and spoke quickly, "Angel, why don't you go see if Cordelia needs help finding your wallet?"

"Huh?"

"To pay for the food."

"She's got the number memorized. What? Why are you all looking at me like that?" Then he blinked. "Oh! Are we pretending that Wesley is Wesley's son? Um, why are we doing that?"

Wesley thumped himself on the forehead. "Thank you, you moron. I had Lorne utterly convinced otherwise. Now he'll never buy me a Pergeron."

Lorne was gaping at him. After a minute he seemed to figure out, and believe, what was going on. "Wes?"

"Magic spell. Be reversed in two weeks. Physical regression only, though they tell me it affects my emotions as well. I don't believe them." He stuck his tongue out at Angel. Then he gave the Host a bright, totally guilt-free smile.

Lorne narrowed his eyes. "I seem to recall someone saying you needed a spanking."

"You can't! Not anymore, anyway."

Gunn put his hand over Wesley's mouth. "What did I tell you about details?" Two round, wide, innocent pony-eyes stared at him above his hand. He'd be a complete idiot to remove that hand, right?

"You told me I shouldn't tell you things like Lorne's very good at that sort of thing. But I'm not telling you. I'm telling Angel. Since he was asking earlier." All heads turned towards the sputtering vampire, although only the Host's was turning out of surprise -- the rest of them just wanted to see how he'd react. Gunn put his hand back over Wesley's mouth, even though it resulted in Wes biting his finger reasonably hard.

"I was not asking about any such thing. I was asking about--" Angel stopped. "I don't remember what I was asking about. If I go out and come back in again, will this conversation not have happened?"

"No, we'll just have time to think of better questions." Everyone turned to the Host, who seemed to have regained his composure, and his sense of humour, at least as far as 250 year old clueless vampires were concerned. The way he scowled at Wesley made Gunn think Lorne was gonna be standing in the 'extremely rotten once he's grown' line.

Wesley just looked back, and about two seconds later Lorne was a big tall, green, pile of Wesley-controlled mush. "Did you really get me a new copy of the book of Casters?" Wesley asked Angel excitedly.

"Er, uh, yeah... maybe. I don't have it, the guy said he might not sell it." He tried to look casual.

Wesley frowned. "You're saying that to get back at me for telling Lorne you like him."

"I am not! And I don't-- er, I mean, I don't not like you," he said to the Host, who looked entirely amused. "As a friend. I like you."

"Which is why you're wearing navy blue instead of black?" Cordelia asked, pointing to his shirt.

"I was wearing navy blue this morning," Angel protested.

"You were not! Liar!" Wesley shouted.

Angel looked abashed. "Well... Maybe not the shirt. But I was wearing navy blue... Oh, never mind."

"You were wearing navy blue neverminds? For me?" The Host winked at him, and Angel turned around to bang his head against the wall.

"If I say I'm not playing this game, you'll all just deny that there's any game," Angel said slowly, thoughtfully.

"What game?" Wesley asked. Gunn choked slightly, but kept his mouth shut.

"The 'try to convince Angel he's still in Hell' game. I've been going about this all wrong -- thinking that I was safe because I'm back home, away from Spike and Xander. But I should have realized everyone's in on it. Spike was calling to get the latest update, of course." He sounded terribly, terribly logical. And utterly insane.

Gunn seriously considered taking a step backwards. Grabbing Wesley and running. But he knew Angel was only faking it, in order to get back at them all for messing with his mind. Except -- and he had to sometimes remind himself of this -- a two hundred and fifty year old vampire had a lot of experience to draw on, for the 'how to play mind games' event. Maybe he should grab Wesley and run to San Diego.

"Angel?" Wesley had walked up and pulled on Angel's pants leg. Stared up at him, and Gunn wondered if he thought the eyes thing would counter Angelus' decision to show them who was boss.

Angel looked down, and his logical, insane, thoughtful expression didn't change. "Yes?"

Wesley pointed to his elbow. "I've got a boo-boo." Which was true -- there was even a glow-in-the-dark band-aid on it. Angel was crouching, halfway down towards Wesley's elbow, his face wiped clear of everything except concern -- when he stopped, and cursed. At least Gunn thought it was a curse, as it wasn't in English. Wesley laughed. "Evil vampire, nyah nyah!" He stuck his tongue out at Angel, and Angel, who had been glaring at him, laughed.

"Heh, you got me, Wes," Angel said. Then he stooped down and picked Wesley up. The logical, insane look was back. Gunn peered at him, trying to decide whether there needed to be comments about someone's bipolar undead ass getting staked if anything bad happened to Wes while Angel was holding him. But Angel just smiled at Wesley, and asked, "Hey -- you wanna watch cartoons after dinner? They're having a Thundercats marathon."

Wesley gave him a disgusted look. "As if I'd watch trash like that. Besides, you're going out to a movie with Lorne after dinner."

Angel and the Host both replied with, "Excuse me?"

"Casablanca's playing at the Regal Cinema on Lower Sunset. Eight-thirty. Tickets are on Cordelia's desk," Wesley said smugly. "Now take me into the dining room, please. It's my turn to help set the table."

Angel and Lorne exchanged helpless looks, while Gunn put a hand over his face, attempting to hide his own look of overwhelming pride. "Just how long have you been planning this, you... Bad Seed," Angel asked.

Wesley looked like he was about to go into serious pout-mode, then he laughed. "The specific movie? Since Monday. You two going to one? Oh... years. Lots and lots of years." Gunn was impressed by the guy's daring. To say that to Angel, to his face -- while Angel was holding him... spoke either of Wesley's stupidity, or great faith in his ability to look too cute to kill.

"That would imply you were setting us up when you and I started sleeping together," Lorne pointed out, and Gunn couldn't tell if he therefore didn't believe Wesley, or was amused, or... what. The Host sounded casual enough to have been talking about sporting events he knew nothing about.

"Why do you think I wanted to know if you liked--" Wesley stopped, and tried to look down his nose at the hand covering his mouth.

"Since I don't like Casablanca, why don't you and Gunn use the tickets?" Angel asked.

"I like Casablanca," Lorne said.

Angel just opened his mouth, then closed it. "Er," he finally said.

Wesley tapped on Gunn's hand. Gunn didn't move it. Wesley raised an eyebrow. Gunn left his hand where it was. Wesley pushed his hand away, and said to Angel, "Be sure to buy popcorn with lots of salt, no butter-flavoured oil."

"I like salt, what can I say?" Lorne shrugged.

Angel turned his pained look on Gunn, who raised his hands and shook his head. "No way am I helping you get out of this one. After what you and Cordy pulled to get me and Wes to start talking to each other again after Wes wrecked my truck?"

Wesley gaped at him, and looked hurt, shocked, and angry all at once. Which was how he always looked whenever Gunn mentioned the truck wreckage -- but seeing it on a four-year-old face was much, much worse. Gunn held his hand over Wesley's face. Aha. A new, working defense. Except for the tongue sliming his hand.

"You mean the locking you in the bathroom together, or the spell to dissolve your clothes? Because the clothes thing was Cordy's idea," Angel said.

"Uh-huh. Cordelia? Destroyed clothes? Try again, bubba."

Cordelia's voice floated out of the dining room. "Those clothes? Trust me, they needed dissolving. You were all covered with Brujala Demon guts."

Wesley chose that moment to bite Gunn's hand. Hard. Ish. As Gunn was sucking on his finger and glaring, Wes said, "Which demon I finally had to run over with that damned truck, because it kept healing. And is it my fault the thing exploded on contact?"

"No, but it's your fault you were in the truck when it exploded. You coulda been killed. Then I would've been out a boyfriend and a good truck."

"I think this has the makings of the perfect country and western song," the Host intervened with an air of thoughtfulness. "All it needs is something about somebody's mother..."

"Your momma," Gunn obligingly replied. Then grinned.

"I'm sorry-- have you met his mother?" Angel shook his head. "Not a country and western type."

The Host nodded. "Can't see her ordering Numfarr to do the Dance of Achey-Breaky Heart, somehow."

Angel was saved, suddenly, by the bell. Ring, rather, as the phone rang. Gunn felt it an unfair use of vampiric speed to drop Wesley into Lorne's arms and run to the phone before it could ring a second time. "Angel Investigations, we hope the... er, hello?"

Lorne was grinning at Wesley in a way that made Gunn uncertain if he should rescue his lover, or leave him to the consequences of his actions. As long as it didn't cross the 'details' boundary, he was tempted to leave him where he was.

"Wes?" Angel called over, and his tone of voice told them the jokes were over.

"Yes?"

"Do you want to talk to your mother?"

Wesley didn't reply, immediately. Then he shook his head. "Best tell her I'm out. I don't--"

But Angel interrupted with, "She knows."

Wesley stared at him for a moment, dumbfounded. Then he grinned. "Good one, Angel. I didn't think you'd be able to really pull a joke off -- now we need a train, and jail, and rain -- was there something else in that verse?" He asked Lorne, only semi-seriously.

"Wes," Angel said again, holding the phone with one hand over the mouthpiece quite firmly. "It really is."

Wesley went back and forth between a worried frown and a strange little smile, before he finally nodded, and held out his hand for the phone. Lorne shot Gunn a look -- which told Gunn all he ever needed to know about how close they'd been. Close enough for the look to almost match the one on Gunn's face.

Then he let Wesley down. Gunn was expecting him to do what he usually did when he had to speak with one of his parents -- head for Angel's office and shut the door. Instead, he stood there uncertainly in the lobby for another few moments, before finally lifting the phone to his mouth.

"Hello, mother." A pause, then a nod -- the same kind of nod he'd given Spike over the phone earlier today. This time he caught himself nodding, though, and shook his head, frowning. "Yes, it's me." Then the frown deepened. "No, I-- No, nothing's wrong. It was... er, well, it was intended. Part of a spell to--" He nodded again, then glared at no one in particular, in a way that let Gunn know it was himself Wes was angry with. "Yes. No, I'm sorry, you and Father were never supposed to be bothered with this..."

Gunn was walking over to him, now. He didn't want to interrupt -- but he didn't like the look on Wesley's face. The anger that shouldn't be there, and then, as Wesley said, "Of course, yes, I understand" there was no emotion on his face at all. Wiped clean.

Gunn was to him and picking him up, before he could decide it was a good idea. Angel picked up the receiver as Wesley dropped it; Gunn saw him bring the receiver to his ear, listen for a moment, then his face clouded over and he hung up without saying a word.

"Wes? Man, what--" Gunn broke off his question. He could see Wesley's eyes -- wide, staring at nothing, and his face so tightly controlled Gunn knew it was taking all of Wes' will to hold it steady.

"Come on," Angel said quietly, and Gunn looked over to see him leading Lorne out of the room, towards the dining room. Gunn took Wesley over towards the stairs, intending to get him up to the privacy of their room.

"She said they received a phone call from a man saying I'd been turned into a child. That they needed to come fetch me and take care of me..." His voice was inflectionless. Gunn brushed his finger across Wesley's cheek, wondering what she'd said to do this to him. "She was rather upset at the suggestion. She explained she and father were entirely too busy to drop everything and come to California to rescue me."

"You don't need rescuing," Gunn said, feeling totally bewildered. His mother had said all that? Besides who had called her -- what sort of mother reacted that way to hearing that her son was in trouble?

"She--"

Gunn held Wesley close, hugging him tightly. "She what?" He could feel Wesley's hands clinging to his shirt, feel the tension in his entire body. But he didn't answer. "Wes?"

There was a small intake of breath, and a tiny shudder, then Wes said very carefully, "She said it was an upperclass Englishman. That at first she'd thought it was Rupert Giles, because the accent was so similar, but the voice was different, and Rupert would never participate in such a stupid, childish prank. That no real Watcher would spend his time playing infants' games, actually, is what she said."

"Funny, 'cause I seem to remember him being pretty short, the last time I saw him. And just about to stick a flag on a Lego castle."

Wesley didn't respond to Gunn's comment. He was disappearing somewhere, behind his eyes, and Gunn didn't know how to reach in and pull him out -- his big, manipulative eyes were flat and expressionless now. Very, very quietly, Wesley spoke. "She said... she said... that she hoped I'd someone here to deal with whatever mess I'd gotten myself into, because they certainly weren't about to take care of a child at their age." His voice dropped. "Because once was enough."

Then Gunn was hugging him too hard for Wesley to have said more, if he'd been going to. Wrapping his arms tighter around Wesley's back, hand pressed against the back of his head -- as if he could push hard enough to force him inside Gunn's body where he could feel what Gunn couldn't bring into words: I love you, love you so much you don't need them.

Of course that wasn't true. It didn't matter what Gunn felt -- it didn't change the look in Wesley's eyes when he explained that his parents didn't want him. He felt a shudder pass through Wesley's body, heard a gasp of air that preceded a sob -- which didn't come. Instead Wesley buried his face harder against Gunn's chest.

Gunn went faster up the stairs, towards their room. Towards their room and the chair where he could sit and hold and rock and tell Wesley that when it stopped hurting enough to look around again, someone would be there, loving him. He heard Wesley gasp, again, and choke back a cry. "Wes, don't -- just cry all you want, baby. Ain't nobody here to hear you but me."

"No... doesn't... doesn't matter. Stupid. Don't need them to take care of me. Don't... want them... to." So why was Wes having to take a deep breath before each word? Why was he shuddering in Gunn's arms as the door shut behind them?

Gunn carried him over to the rocking chair and sat down. Shook his head, and wondered which of them was gonna break down first. Seriously giving odds that it wouldn't be Wes. "Yeah, you do. It's okay. It matters. It matters, and it's wrong, and... damn. "

Gunn put his head down against the top of Wesley's skull, lips pressed to soft tousled hair, because he couldn't let Wes turn his face up and look at him or he might do what Wesley wouldn't do. So he rocked them both, slowly at first, then as his anger and hurt demanded he do something, he found himself pushing against the floor harder. Told himself not to tip them over, but he couldn't sit here and be gentle about it.

Not until he heard the first escaping cry -- then all his emotions rushed out of him and left only the need to be tender and solicitous, and cradle Wesley as tenderly as he could. Hold him close as his small body began shaking, like the first tremors of an approaching earthquake. He kissed Wesley's head again, pressed his lips against every part of Wesley's head and face and shoulder that he could reach, while Wesley finally let go of what Gunn knew was a lifetime of held-in pain.

They sat there for what felt like an hour, or more. It was, at times, loud and wailing, other times stifled and shuddered, but Wesley didn't stop crying in Gunn's arms until he was gasping for air and too exhausted to keep his tight grip on his lover. Gunn continued rocking, continued stroking Wesley's back and wiping tears from his face, and continued leaning down and pressing his lips to Wesley's forehead and telling him to let it all out, let it go, I'm here and I've got you.

Wesley finally looked up at him, with eyes so red Gunn knew they had to be hurting as much as anything else. He traced his fingers along Wesley's cheek, down across his chin, up again to trace the line of his eyebrows. He wasn't entirely sure why he was doing it. He just felt a need to touch everything he could, as if reminding himself that Wesley was in there, somewhere.

"I..." Wesley's voice sounded like he had laryngitis, or had been walking out in the desert for a few hundred years. Gunn looked at him, waiting. "Could I have a drink of water?"

"Yeah." He started to get up; realized he was still rocking, and had to put out a foot to stop himself, he'd become so used to the motion. When he stood up, it was like the room was still moving, and he was half afraid he would drop Wes. Gunn's legs ached, too, whether from rocking for so long, or sitting in the same position, he didn't know. When he'd poured Wesley a cup of water from the bottle on the bureau, he sat down on the bed, Wesley still in his arms, and stretched out his legs.

Wes drank as if he'd cried out every drop of water in his little body, and maybe he had. When the cup was finally empty, he set it down on the bedspread next to them, but didn't say anything for a moment. Then he lay his head back against Gunn's chest, and whispered, "Thank you."

"Love you," Gunn replied.

There was a light squeeze, and Wesley said, "I know. I... appreciate it. Especially now. I love you, too," he ended in a softer tone. They sat there quietly, for a bit, and Gunn thought he might be willing to lean back and curl up with Wesley and sleep the rest of the day away. Angel-baiting aside, it hadn't been all that restful of a day.

Wesley was toying with one of the buttons on his shirt, and when Gunn looked down, he could see the worried expression that generally preceded a complex conversation that involved things one normally never discussed. He just waited, holding Wesley and making sure he didn't say out loud any of the uncharitable things he was thinking about Mr. and Mrs. Wyndham-Pryce.

"Is... this is going to sound dreadfully childish, but... could I please have Rupert?"

It took Gunn a moment to realize Wesley meant his bear, and not his fellow-four-year-old countryman. "Of course," he said calmly, and tried to remember where they'd left him. He finally saw the bear up by the headboard of the bed, and leaned sideways towards it. He grabbed Rupert by a foot and pulled him over, handing him to Wes.

Wesley immediately held the bear in his arms, resting his chin on top of its head. "It's nice, being bear-sized again," Wesley whispered.

Gunn settled his arms around Wesley, and actually felt a small chuckle escape his lips. "Yeah. You make a good bear." He rested his chin on top of Wesley's head. After a moment, Wes let out something that might have been a very tired attempt at a laugh. Or just a yawn.

"No one did this with me, when I was little. The first time, that is," he said, snuggling back against Gunn. "Well, no, my Aunt Sarah used to, sometimes, when she came over. But Father didn't really approve."

"He was stupid. All kids need to be bear-hugged. It's in the Parent Handbook."

"I don't think they got their copy. Or perhaps they didn't think it was appropriate reading material, if it wasn't written in Latin." Wesley was playing grown-up again, but it seemed to be a pretty big effort for him, and finally, he sighed. "Why don't they want me?"

"Because they aren't parents," Gunn replied. "Not everyone is. Makes you think there ought to be an application process, before you can conceive a kid." Another hug, another kiss to the head. "Not everyone knows how to be a parent. Not everyone wants to. Doesn't stop the bodies from making more."

There was a pause, then in a tone once more too-adult, Wesley said, "I think that's the most understandable explanation I've heard."

"Yeah. I thought that one up for Alonna when mom decided she couldn't handle us anymore." He shook his head -- Wesley knew all his stuff, already. How it had been the drink and the drugs she couldn't handle, or the wild-ass boyfriends who spent more time driving and hanging, than noticing that their woman had a couple of babies, already.

Wesley's voice was softer, when he said, "I like it. It makes it sound as though it were their fault." As if it had never occurred to him that it might have been. Gunn squeezed his eyes closed.

"Wes, babe, you... man, you know you were brought to me by an angel. You are the handsomest man I have ever known. You are the smartest and funniest and best person I know, the cleverest and the most perfect damn man I have ever had the honour to fall in love with."

He heard Wesley sniffling, and reached over for another tissue. After Wesley had wiped his face and blown his nose, he said, "And you'll buy me a new bike, I presume?"

"Maybe just the sidecar for your old one. And you find a place to store the horses, and I'll get you as many as you want." Wes shook his head slightly, and Gunn assured him. "No, really. Might take a paycheck or thirty, but hell, it's worth it. Plus I think Angel's just about to cave."

Wesley gave a small laughed. "No, it's just I don't really want a pony -- I can't ride."

"You gotta be kiddin' me. I thought all proper little English boys got taught that at their proper little all-boys prep schools."

"Didn't say I don't know how to. Just can't. I must have tumbled off every horse in the stable before they finally despaired of me and sent me to go write a paper on equine anatomy during equestrian studies period." Gunn was silent, picturing Wesley sitting alone in the library, watching the other kids outside through the window... After a moment, Wesley nudged him. "You can laugh, you know."

"Why would I wanna laugh?"

"Because it's funny. There I was, being sent in disgrace away from something I couldn't stand, to be punished by having to do something I loved..."

This time Gunn did chuckle. Then before he could stop his mouth from opening, he was saying, "But you ride really well." His mind screamed 'Four-year-old! Bad mouth!' at him, and he groaned inwardly. "Uh, the bike, I mean." Among other things.

"Well, of course -- a motorbike doesn't know when you're afraid of it." Wesley paused for a moment, then added, "Nor does it decide to defecate on your foot when you're braiding its tail." Gunn mostly stifled his snicker. But Wesley just smiled up at him. "As for other riding, it helps when your mount is as distracted as you are."

Gunn sputtered for a moment, before snapping, "Don't be saying shit like that when you're four! What am I supposed to do, go make a pass at Angel? Uh -- I didn't just say that, did I?"

Wesley blinked, looking innocent enough that Gunn knew he ought to set Wesley down... and run. "I can pretend to be Angel, again, if you like. Role-playing--"

"Please, please, can we have the conversation when you're bigger? Older? Can we not have this conversation at all, I mean?"

"Do you really think Angel would let me get a horse?" Wesley asked, throwing Gunn completely off-track as his expression changed from amused and lecherous -- which just looked wrong -- to thoughtful.

"Wes, right now, you could get Angel to do anything." Among other people. God help him if Wes made the logical leap away from the pony he didn't really want, and started asking Gunn to buy him a Harley. Again. "Um, if you hadn't set him up on a date with the Host. Maybe you should hide for a while."

"Yes, I could stay in here for a day or two. You could bring me breakfast in bed and I could pretend I'm all worn out and want to hide under the covers and not see anybody but you."

The tone of his voice was asking something more, and Gunn answered, pulling his arms closer around Wesley's body. "Yeah, we can pretend that."

Wes rested his head against Gunn's arm, then went on. "And you can wait on me hand and foot. And bring me lime jelly because my throat hurts, and bring the tv in here and let me watch cartoons all day."

"I thought that stuff was trash?"

"No, Thundercats are trash. I'm talking about the Tex Avery Hour. And I want tea with peppermint. And lots of sugar."

Gunn just hugged him again, and closed his eyes. He had Wesley entirely wrapped up in his arms, pressed against his chest, legs dangling over the side of his lap. Almost completely encased within the borders of Gunn's body. "Yeah, we can do that. But lime jelly? Wes, man, that stuff is so gross."

"Won't matter," Wesley said, in a tone that said he was winding down, would be asleep soon if they both stopping talking. "Since you won't be kissing me... not with tongue, at any rate."

Gunn smiled. "Good point. You can eat all the lime jelly and raspberry flavoured junk you like." Wesley shifted, a bit, on Gunn's lap. He felt Wes yawn, again. "How 'bout we crawl into bed?" he asked, trying not to startle Wesley in case he was already dozing.

Wes responded by burying his face against Gunn's chest, and reaching up with one arm, to grab onto Gunn like he was doing to the bear, with the other. Gunn sighed, weighing the benefits of actually getting ready for bed and sleeping perfectly comfortably, against hearing Wes make those little sleepy noises of protest that always sounded to Gunn like he was being viciously abused by a tall, rude man with absolutely no care for his comfort or well-being.

In the end, he kicked off his own shoes, then carefully slipped Wesley's off, resisting the urge to tickle the small feet as he did so. Mostly resisting. After the first accusatory squeak from Wes had him promising to buy a new sidecar, and wear the pink helmet for a week, he resisted harder.

Then he leaned sideways, resting his head on the pillows as best he could, and drew the blankets over them, wrapping them up like a Wes-and-Gunn taco. Minus the spice. Then he was on his back again, with Wes curled up against his chest, eyes closed, smiling slightly, as Wes slipped his thumb into his mouth.

Gunn gave Wes, then Rupert, one last head rub, then he lay back, one arm under his head and the other wrapped tight around Wesley so that no one and nothing could get to him.

~~~~~

"Hey..."

Wesley looked up from his book and shot Gunn a small glare. When that produced no effect, he poked his head out of the small cave he'd made of the bedclothes and looked around, so he could give his lover a proper glare for disturbing him. "What?" he asked perfectly clearly despite the presence of his thumb in his mouth.

"They're doing the Wolf and Red episodes next. You know, those Droopy ones, where..."

Wesley glanced up at the television that Gunn had dutifully carted up the stairs and installed in their room. "I know that."

"Oh. You just looked kinda into your book, and you said you like Red Hot Riding Hood, so I didn't want you to miss 'em."

"I like when the wolf's eyes pop out of his head. I've seen you do that. Complete with the whistles and the steam coming out the ears. But I'm perfectly aware of what's happening on the television, thank you. They just finished off the Pioneer Droopy cartoon, and the bullfighting one before that."

Gunn was sitting alone in the rocking chair, devoting his full attention to the TV, which still made Wesley's mind boggle. Especially when Gunn shook his head and said, "I still don't see how you can read and watch TV at the same time. Freaks me out."

"Obviously, you read during the adverts and the boring parts."

"Yeah, but how do you know the boring parts are over?"

Wesley rolled his eyes. "You just do. Because it stops being boring, of course."

Gunn just gave him one of those 'I know you're not speaking English, because I don't understand a word' looks that he used so often. Wesley just returned his attention to the TV, in time to see a few moments of non-boring cartoon, then burrowed back into the blankets to read.

He felt the bed dip as Gunn sat down behind him. A few seconds later, Wesley said, "Do it and I'll tell Cordelia you want her to make us lunch."

"How the hell can you tell I was gonna do anything?" Gunn sounded aggrieved.

Wesley had to stick his head out of the cave of blankets, again, and looked back at him. "Charles -- if you were wrapped in blankets, reading and watching TV, and I had sat down behind you--"

"Yeah, yeah, all right. Caught." Gunn leaned on his elbow, and laced his fingers together as if to show that he wasn't going to do anything. Wesley knew he was, but he also knew he didn't mind. He simply couldn't let Gunn get away with not being as clever as possible.

He went back to his book, once more, and began reading about centuries old techniques for ridding villages of ghosts, and how those techniques could not be used on towns with populations greater than ten thousand. It was fascinating socio-economic-paranormal theory, really. "Eep!" He squealed, dropping his thumb and jumping into the air.

Someone had put a cold teaspoon of lime jelly against the back of his neck. Someone who must now die, especially since it had almost landed on Wesley's book. Wes opened his mouth to protest, loudly, and Gunn inserted the spoonful of gelatin. It also had whipped cream on it. It was hard to scowl with whipped cream in one's mouth.

Rather difficult to plan the murder of one's smirking lover, as well. Wes licked his lips. Then scowled. "You're not going to let me concentrate, are you?"

"On which -- Droopy, or the book?"

"Both. Either."

"Just didn't want you to get bored."

"Ah. I appreciate that." He turned back to his book -- and closed it, and leapt out of the tangle of bedclothes onto Gunn. The cartoon was going to be in boring parts for several minutes, anyhow.

They wrestled on the bed, tickling each other -- for which Gunn most unfairly used his superior size and strength to hold Wesley out of reach -- until Wesley was shrieking so loudly and laughing that he was afraid he'd pass out from lack of oxygen. They only stopped when someone knocked on the door; Gunn sat up, letting Wesley go free, and Wesley crawled up onto Gunn's lap, again, so he'd be within range should Gunn need tickling some more.

"Yeah?" Gunn called out. The door opened, and Cordelia poked her head in.

"Are you two killing each other?"

"Um... shall I plead the fifth?" Wesley asked, looking up at his boyfriend.

"You can't, you're not a U.S. citizen."

"Ah." Wesley nodded, and leant back against Gunn. He was still breathing hard, and he felt better than he had, all morning.

Despite that, as Cordelia asked what their plans for lunch were and Gunn tried to tell her 'tacos' without letting her think he was agreeing that she should make lunch, he let his thumb slip back into his mouth. He knew Gunn wouldn't say anything, and he also knew Cordelia had caught him at it twice, this morning, already. No one had said a word, to tease him or chastise him, or even ask him about it. Most importantly, it kept him from crying, so he did it. He felt Gunn's hand on his head, and looked around to see if he could spot Rupert. The bear had lost the tickle war, some minutes previously.

"So, I can make tacos," Cordelia was saying in a false-bright tone of voice.

"No, make Angel go buy some," Wesley spoke up. "He'll buy too many, and we can eat them all afternoon."

Cordelia's smile got a little more genuine, as she considered his suggestion. "Hmm. Less work, more food, and I get to make Angel get out of the hotel and stop looking all smug and mysterious about how his date with Lorne went... I don't see a downside here."

Wesley looked at her. "He did go, then?"

"I made him. You didn't want him hanging around here brooding all night, did you?"

Wesley shook his head. "No. I just think maybe I should stay in here for a few more days, then."

She grinned for a second, then frowned. "He's not mad at you, Wes. You know that, right? Nobody's mad at you."

"Well, I did rather ruin dinner."

"Pfft. They went out to get something before the show, and I got to pig out on all the Kung Pao chicken I wanted, with nobody stealing my eggrolls for a change. Now... I can't say Angel's not planning revenge -- he did mention something about owing you one. Or eight."

"Eight?! He can't possibly owe me eight. I barely did six things which he... er, four that he knows about and two of which I won't claim credit for and can I go back to hiding under the blanket, now?" He asked that last of Gunn, trying not to consciously look too pitiful.

"It won't help. Vampires can detect humans even through cotton."

Wesley looked over at the doorway, where Angel was now standing behind Cordelia. He hoped, for a moment, that Cordelia would bar his way long enough for him to get someplace safe -- behind Gunn, for example. But she simply stepped to one side.

Wesley summoned up his best cute look, but Angel held up one hand. "I actually just came up here to... um, I wanted to find out what...." He sighed, and looked apologetic. "Buffy called, and I was telling her about the phone call last night. She wants to know about the man who called your mother -- they think it might be related to the woman who tried to grab Willow and Tara."

"Someone tried to grab Willow and Tara?" Wesley asked. Cordelia gave Angel a sharp look.

Angel looked sorry, but firm. "We had to tell him sometime. Yeah, there was a weird... incident, I guess you could call it. A woman tried to take the two of them in a department store, and claimed they were her kids. Not just a random crazy -- she had papers, and she knew their names. She caused quite a bit of trouble with the management, before Willow finally got desperate and threw a whammy on everybody so Spike and Xander and the kids could sneak off."

Wesley blinked, not sure what to say. "So that's why you were contacting Bertie Rodgers about papers for Spike. I thought it was a weird time to worry about it -- now, after he's grown up again. I just figured you'd suddenly started feeling fatherly."

Angel looked uncomfortable. Actually, everyone looked uncomfortable -- but Angel's at least had an edge of humour to it, as he tried to decide whether he wanted to deny that was part of his motivation, or not. "Yeah, we got papers for all of the kids -- you and Giles too, though only Buffy knew about the ones for Giles. Just in case. But Spike has really needed some decent ID for a long time, and Xander asked, so..."

Wesley waved the rambling explanation away. "Why didn't you tell me?"

Angel didn't reply right away. Cordelia finally sighed and said, "We didn't want you worrying. You're a kid! Or mostly. You're supposed to be enjoying yourself, not worrying about kidnappings."

Wesley frowned.

"If we'd needed you to help us figure out what was going on, we'd have told you," Gunn said. "Like now," he added, sounding proud as he realized that they had, in fact, told Wesley because they needed his help. As if Gunn had been in on the decision.

It was difficult to be too upset with them, because Wesley understood why they'd done it. It still rankled, and -- "That's why all three of you have been staying with me, at all times, isn't it? Why we haven't left the hotel unless all three of you are there to chaperone."

This time Cordelia looked sheepish, too. "It wasn't so bad, though, was it?"

No, in fact it had not been. It had been nice, being watched over -- and spoilt -- by his friends. Instead of admitting it, however, he said, "She said it was a man with an upperclass London accent. He knew me, knew them... she thought at first it was Rupert, but she knew he wouldn't-- er, have called." He frowned, though, as he realized, "It might have been Spike. Playing a joke."

Angel's expression turned dark. "He wouldn't have any problem doing the accent -- that's for sure. If it was him, trust me, I'll start feeling a lot more parental. In that 'I get to kick your ass because you're my kid and I can't believe you'd act that way' kind of way. If he really did do it." He shook his head. "What am I saying -- he's evil -- of course he'd act that way."

Wesley felt the need to stick up for his partner in Angel-tormenting. "He isn't, really. I mean, not on any kind of global scale, not anymore. He wouldn't have done something like that if he'd known about-- if he'd known what my family are like. If anything, it would've been him saying 'Wesley, have you called your mum lately?' So he could watch me hem and haw about not being a mother's boy."

"You're not a momma's boy," Gunn told him.

"Thank you."

"You're my boy."

Wesley was hoping Cordelia couldn't see his ears turn red from where she was standing, though he knew bloody well that Angel could tell without even looking. "Thank you again. Remind me to bite you later."

"You bite him now," Cordelia pointed out. "Why let the fact that we're watching, stop you?"

If she couldn't have seen his ears turn red, she surely couldn't miss the way his face, neck, and possibly entire body blushed. He tried glowering at her, and she smiled like he'd done something adorable. Bloody hell. He would be glad to be grown, again. Mostly.

"We'd better call Deadboy, Junior, and see what's up," Gunn said blithely, as though Wesley weren't eyeing his hand, for biting. If Cordelia wanted to watch, he could accommodate her.

"I'll call," Angel told him. "I want to talk to Spike."

"Perhaps someone else should ask if he rang my parents?" Wesley wasn't all that fond of Spike, and normally wouldn't mind seeing him get in trouble with Angel. But he felt somehow responsible, for this.

"Why don't I call?" Cordelia offered, giving Angel a slightly worried look. Angelus he might sound, but surely the chance to righteously thump Spike didn't make him that happy.

"I told Buffy I'd call her back," Angel objected. "She's expecting--"

"She's expecting someone to talk to her, not to yell for Spike to get his dead ass on the phone so you can scold him."

Angel -- dear lord, was that a pout? Wesley blinked. Angel backed off, and let Cordelia use the pizza-ordering-device (as Wesley had dubbed it when Gunn pointed out that such was all they ever used it for) to ring the Magic Box.

She waited for a moment, then said calmly, "Hey, Buffy. Tell Spike to get his dead ass on the phone, NOW." After a pause during which Cordelia wrinkled her nose and said "Ewww! -- no, not literally, and thank you for that image," she launched into a tirade that made Wesley feel quite justified in having called her... er, having his imaginary father have called her, a razor-tongued harpy. He was just glad she was his harpy. If Spike got a word in edgewise, Wesley would have been flabbergasted, because Cordelia didn't even stop to breathe.

"And how could you do that to a little kid -- I mean, there's evil, and there's evil!" she finished off. She finally did stop, but only, Wesley suspected, because Spike was yelling at her. He could hear it from where he was sitting.

She looked confused, then asked, "What do you mean, you didn't call anyone's parents?" Wesley was surprised -- he hadn't realized she'd managed to get the details out of Spike's offense, during her rant. Rather, he wasn't surprised she had -- but was surprised Spike had been able to decipher it. "Well, if you didn't, who did?"

But Angel took the phone from her, before she could get an answer. "Spike, did you call Wesley's parents and tell him about the Urdeku?" Another pause, and Angel's thunderous expression grew into a more familiar slightly confused one. But he still sounded angry when he said, "Spike, if you're lying..."

Wesley could picture Spike rolling his eyes, and saying 'yeah, yeah, if I'm lying you'll thump me. Shaking in my boots.'

"Um, no, she said... it was a man with a London accent. We thought... no one else but you and Giles could have... well, no, we didn't think he had." There was a pause. "Because he would have sounded like a four-year-old, Spike." Another pause. "Yes, all right, because it's the kind of thing you'd do, dammit." Then Angel looked slightly more confused. "You're welcome."

Wes almost giggled, in spite of the seriousness of the subject. Only Spike would be worried about whether his father-figure still thought of him as evil enough to torment a small child for the sheer joy of it -- even if he wasn't that evil anymore.

Angel listened for a moment longer, interjecting a 'but' or a 'look, I'm sorry' every so often, then held the phone away from his face and turned back to look at the rest of the people in the room. "Spike is insane. He's complimented by the fact that I suspected him of doing this, then he tears my scalp off for thinking he'd let anything happen to one of the kids, without somebody's innards steaming on the floor in front of him first. I paraphrase."

Wesley didn't want to know what Angel hadn't said, if that was the paraphrase. Cordelia, however, was laughing. "Oh, god! Spike really has turned into a dad!" She collapsed against the doorframe, laughing.

"Oh, and you're any better?" Gunn demanded.

"Me? What did I do?"

"'Don't let go of Gunn's hand while we cross the street, Wes,'" Gunn said. "Don't talk to any strangers, Wes. Don't--"

"Look! That was just so he wouldn't get kidnapped!"

"That was the first day he was a four-year-old."

Wesley watched the two, like a tennis match, and wondered if he ought be offended. Angel was watching, as well, looking like he wanted to be amused but was afraid Spike would misinterpret his amusement and start harangueing him all over again.

Wesley leant back against Gunn, stuck his thumb back in his mouth, and wondered if they'd be done and clear out before the Powerpuff Girls came on.

~~~~~

Spike was still protesting that of course he hadn't called Wesley's parents. The only trouble was, no one was listening to him except Rupert, and he was about to bitch-slap Spike if he didn't shut up. Because they all knew he hadn't, that in fact he'd been sitting on the couch with Willow, a grape lollipop on his lap and a giant bowl of popcorn in his mouth -- or so he'd sworn on the third repetition of his story -- when the call had happened.

So he was just blathering on about it to get attention, which was utterly unfair, because it was Rupert's turn to get attention. At least everyone was ignoring Spike and looking at him, which was good. It was just that the distracting whining Spike-noise in his ear was making it hard for Rupert to concentrate on what he'd been trying to say.

"Spike! Shut up! Now!" he ordered. Spike looked up in surprise, then grinned.

"Right away, Little Master Ripper, sir."

Rupert said something quite nasty in Fyarl.

"Watch it!" Spike snapped back. "Or somebody will get his mouth washed out with soap!"

"Can we please get on with this?" Rupert said in an aggrieved tone -- which, he was sorry to see, actually worked. Sorry, because it meant he'd never be able to do it again once he changed back. "Now, this could be quite serious. Whoever is doing this knows a great deal about us."

"Giles is right," Buffy said. Rupert wished he'd had a tape recorder. "We have to find out who's doing this. So they haven't done any permanent harm--"

"Except for getting my ears chewed off," Spike groused.

Rupert sent him a nasty look. "Like that's new."

"But I didn't do it, this time! That hurts my feelings." Spike gave them all a pout. Only Xander and Anya seemed to notice, though. Unfortunately that meant they had to see both Anya and Xander giving Spike a kiss.

Luckily, Rupert was feeling young enough to not mind saying, loudly, "Eeeeeeeew!" He was joined by Tara, who wrinkled her nose.

"Heh. You won't mind so much when you're older," Xander teased her.

She looked straight at him and shook her head. "Nope. Parents aren't supposed to kiss. It's gross."

Xander nodded. "Well, yeah, it was when my -- Oh, ewww. Thank you for that image. Hey, waitaminute! What parents?"

She walked over, held out her arms, and Xander automatically picked her up and put her on his knee, still waiting for an answer. She just looked at him, grinning. "Hi, Papa."

"I say again, eeeeew!" Rupert commented. "If we could get back to the topic at hand? To whit, who's trying to mess about with us? As Buffy said, no major damage has occurred -- but it could have. All sorts of havoc could have happened just from us being turned into children the first time, when we didn't know what was going on. Spike could have been arrested, at the mall -- not that that's a rare situation, but still. And now this call to Wesley's parents. Who are the only set of parents among our group who are still around, and would be likely to believe a stranger who said their child had been turned into a... child. Whoever is behind this knows too much."

"Do you think they meant for Willow and Tara to get taken? I mean, were they trying to get Spike arrested, or trying to get ahold of Willow and Tara?" Buffy asked. "And maybe they were trying to kidnap Wesley, too?"

"But then they would have simply impersonated his parents, or something. We don't know," Rupert sighed.

"If they wanted to kidnap Willow and Tara, they would have just grabbed them. Most children who disappear are simply taken off the street, enticed with promises of sweets or a ride home, and they climb into the car on their own. If they aren't taken by their own relatives, in which case--" Anya stopped, and looked at the group, who were all staring at her. "What? I saw a documentary on the Lifetime channel. It was very informative."

Rupert saw Xander and Spike both turn a little paler.

"She does have a point, though. I don't think the woman was trying to actually get Willow and Tara. All they would have done was get them put into foster care while the cops tried to sort everything out." Buffy looked at Willow and Tara, a worried expression on her face.

"Do you think whoever it was, knew how Wesley's parents would react?" Xander asked. "It must have been pretty bad -- Cordelia was pretty upset. If she'd been here, Spike would be wearing a new look -- dust to dust."

"Edgar Wyndham-Pryce is an arsehole," Rupert said succinctly. "I don't know his wife very well, but if she's anything like him at all, I imagine it's them whom Cordelia really wants to stake."

This time there were no comments about mouth-washing-out from Spike. Just a glance at Xander, then a nod back in Rupert's direction. "Guess I won't eat her this time, then."

"Errrgh!" Dawn said, slamming a book shut. "This is useless. Worse than Calculus."

Rupert looked at the volume. "The Kelin Grimoire? I should say so; it was written by a group of students in the nineteen thirties, as a practical joke. I keep it around as a curiosity piece."

"No," she said, the frustration evident in her voice, as it was in everyone else's. "This whole meeting conversation brainstorming thing. We're just going in circles. It's like whoever this is just wants to cause as much trouble as possible in our lives."

"Yeah, but it's not all bad. Most of it's kinda fun. Except for the kidnapping part. That was scary," Willow said, shuddering.

No one responded at first. Then Buffy said, "So -- we're looking for a guy who knows us, speaks in an English accent, and just likes causing trouble."

"Oh, bloody hell." Rupert rubbed his eyes. The group was staring at him when he looked up, and he made a face. "Ethan."

"But how would he..." Willow began. "Oh, no, that part would be easy. But then how would-- no, he could do that, too. And he knows most of us. He probably knows *about* all of us, considering how much time he's spent sneaking around Sunnydale."

"Why, though? Why send us a statue that turns us into kids? And why didn't he do anything the first time around?" Buffy didn't sound fully convinced.

But Rupert, who knew Ethan better than any of them, had a sinking feeling in his stomach that had nothing to do with a lunch of potato chips and ice cream. "Perhaps because he was hoping the effects of the Urdeku would cause sufficient havoc on their own."

"And when it didn't... he decided to take a more active part in the chaos-having?" Buffy nodded. "Yup, that sounds like him. So -- I guess we start looking for Ethan, then."

"What do we do with him, once we've found him?" Tara asked. Then she giggled. "Make him stand in the corner!"

Willow joined in the giggling. "Nope. The Initiative tried putting him in time-out. He just went poof and disappeared. He doesn't play fair. I think we should spank him."

Rupert glared at his friends. "I have no idea why you're all looking at me." He sniffed. "I'm not big enough, anyway."

"I am," Buffy said grimly. "Not that I'm gonna... do that to him. Exactly. So, aside from going out on the front steps and yelling 'Hey Rayne, we're onto you, come out with your hands up,' any suggestions for finding him? I don't suppose we'd be lucky enough for him to have checked into a hotel under his own name."

"We could do a locating spell," Tara suggested. "Those are simple enough... oh, but I guess we'd need something he owns." She frowned. "I suppose that wouldn't work, then."

Rupert thought very hard about keeping his mouth shut. But if they didn't find Ethan, chances were the next thing he tried would be dangerous -- intentionally so or not. "How long ago must he have owned it?"

Well, he certainly had everyone's attention now. Tara glanced at Willow, who said, "I think... as long as it was his -- and not something that, you know, he sold or something, it should work. Well enough to narrow down the search, anyway."

"Um, Giles? Why?" Buffy looked like she didn't really want to know.

"Because I have something that belonged to Ethan." Rupert stopped there. Then sighed, because they were all still looking at him. He ought to just tough it out... except Willow was looking at him. Wasn't that look not supposed to work on other four-year-olds? "I have a pair of his pants. They have sentimental value, and it's not what you're thinking."

Some of them looked confused -- but Spike laughed. "You've a pair of his unmentionables? What'd you do, steal 'em and run 'em up a flagpole?"

"Unmentionables?" Xander asked. Then he looked at Rupert, eyes wide. "You have a pair of his underwear?"

"If someone will take me home, I can get them and we can get on with the locating spell."

"You have a pair of his underwear?" Buffy asked.

Rupert sighed. "Look, it's important we find--"

"You have a pair of Ethan's underwear?" Willow asked, scrunching up her nose like she was imagining that he hadn't washed them, either.

Rupert looked around at the rest of the group, daring them to comment. He glanced up at Dawn, who looked utterly innocent. "Who, me? Why would I care that you have a pair of your alleged worst-and-most-annoying enemy's underwear, which you keep for sentimental reasons?"

"Xander used to be my enemy, back when I was a vengeance demon and Cordelia was my client, and I keep all his underwear for sentimental reasons," Anya offered helpfully.

"Thank you, Anya," Xander said, without even a trace of sarcasm. "Except you don't -- you threw away my He-Man Underoos."

"They were twenty years old, Xander. They had moth holes in them!"

Rupert had never in his life thought he would ever be grateful for a conversation about Xander's delicate-washing items in his presence. Too bad it couldn't have lasted longer. Xander shook his head, apparently aware that he couldn't win an argument with Anya, and turned back to look at Rupert. "You've been holding out on us, Mister."

Rupert blinked, astonished. "You don't... actually think I... I was forced to borrow them when he turned me into a Fyarl demon. Once I turned back, it was wear his clothes or go about naked." He glared, daring them to suggest he have done so.

"And you kept them for sentimental reasons?" Buffy asked.

"It's a very fond memory -- watching the Initiative manhandle him into the car, taking him away..." Rupert smiled, remembering. That part had made it all worth-while.

"Yeah, but -- you were still wearing pants. Trousers. And pants. I thought you just borrowed a shirt?" Buffy asked.

Rupert fumbled with the book he was holding, and muttered, "My own were quite stretched out of shape."

"Oh, yes," Anya said brightly. Rupert considered hiding under the table. "Fyarl genitalia are quite large and impressive." She looked at Xander and Spike. "Not more impressive than human or vampire sized ones."

"Not threatened," Xander assured her.

"Yeah," Spike agreed, but looked over at Rupert with a devious expression. Rupert considered spelling a hole in the ground, to disappear into. "But only when aroused, dear Rupert. Otherwise they're quite tiny."

Rupert didn't reply. He was trying to remember a suitable spell to inflict on Spike. Or a teleportation spell, to send himself someplace else. Like Essex.

"Spike? How do you know what they look like?" Xander was asking.

"Well, they're textbook demons, aren't they. Don't tend to walk about in trousers like some of your more anthropomorphic types."

"Yeah, but how did you know the bit about impressive versus tiny?"

"Hey, not my fault if everyone who sees me wants to shag me. That doesn't mean they did shag me, mind. I've got some standards. Never boff anything with an IQ under 60. Which means you just made the cut, monkey-boy." Spike grinned and thumped Xander on the head.

"No foreplay! No foreplay!" The cry came from Willow and Tara, and was swiftly echoed by Buffy and Rupert. Dawn was suspiciously silent, and Anya was grinning happily.

"That was not foreplay," Xander complained. "He insulted me and I'm not speaking to him for the rest of the night."

"Are, too," Spike cajoled.

Rupert looked for something to throw. Light enough he could pick it up, and heavy enough it would hurt Spike. He couldn't find anything suitable.

"There are children present," Willow snapped.

"Look, Red, just because you're going a month without, doesn't mean the rest of us should suffer," Spike told her.

Rupert nearly opened his mouth to say 'Can we please get back to finding Ethan' -- then realized they were no longer talking about his underwear, and kept quiet.

"But aren't they used to it? I mean, don't lesbians stop having sex after the first year or so?"

Everyone stared, or gaped, at Anya. Willow stomped her foot. "That is not true! Lesbian bed-death is a myth! We have sex all the time... just not when we're four!"

While it was nice they weren't talking about Ethan's underwear, Rupert wasn't sure he preferred the current topic any more. He wondered if he shouldn't just call a taxi to take him home to fetch the garment, and leave everyone else here.

"Oh. See, Xander? You were wrong -- they still have sex. So when they grow up, we can invite them to--" Anya's words were cut off by a large hand over her mouth.

"You actually believed that?" Willow looked up at him.

"No, I just wanted Anya to," Xander whined. "Did you really want her inviting you over for swing night?"

Rupert did not want to hear the answer to that. Desperately. "Stop! Dawn, take me home so I can pick up Ethan's... things, and while we're gone, the rest of you can talk about whatever you like. Preferably the introduction of saltpetre as a regular part of your balanced breakfasts."

"Oh, that's definitely a myth," Anya started in. "I don't see why anyone ever even bothered trying it, when it's so much easier to cause a man to lose interest in sex by making his parts fall off."

"Wonderful. Fine. Feel free to discuss it in detail, while we're gone." Rupert climbed down off his chair, and walked over to Dawn. "Once we leave the shop, may we drive very slowly?"

Dawn smiled. "What if we just stop for ice cream on the way?"

"Excellent."

"Rupert! Naughty boy," Spike chided.

"Er? What?" Willow and Tara were giggling, and Spike and Xander were grinning like they were up to something. "Never mind, I don't want to know. Come on, Dawn."

"Hang on -- Buffy, can I have some money?"

"Why don't you just get some from Giles?"

"Because he already bribed me once, today. It's your turn."

"Then why don't you use your bribe money to pay for it?" Buffy asked her.

"D'uh! Because I already spent it."

Buffy frowned. "What am I supposed to be bribing you for?"

Dawn rolled her eyes. "So I don't tell them what you told me about how much you saw when Ethan turned Giles back into a human, and those pajama pants fell off..."

"That's not bribery, that's blackmail." Nonetheless, Buffy dug into her purse, while Rupert covered his ears and considered whether or not to throw a tantrum.

"Maybe we should invite Buffy to swing night," Anya suggested. "Since Giles won't accept my offer. Then she can tell us stories, and-- "

Willow was glaring up at Xander. "I don't see you objecting to that invitation."

"Well, no. I'm always up for stories about Giles and his underwear."

"That's not what I--"

He'd had quite enough of this. Rupert swung his head around to look at the adults in the room, narrowed his eyes, and began the mental preparations necessary to cast the ancient Lithonian spell of silence on them. Then he thought of a better idea-- and pouted.

Everyone just looked at him, momentarily speechless. Then Spike began applauding. "Oh, very nice. Love it--" Rupert looked directly at Spike, who stopped clapping. Then he stopped smiling. Then he fidgeted in his chair. Finally he said, "Oh, what do you want, already?"

Rupert held out his hand. Spike reached into Xander's pocket for his wallet before Rupert could even say, "So we can stop for french fries."

"Wimp," Xander taunted Spike.

"S'your money, isn't it?"

"Yeah, Xander. Why aren't you yelling at him for stealing your wallet?" Willow asked, as Spike brought Rupert a couple of five dollar bills.

"Oh, right," Xander said. "Spike, don't ever grope me in front of my friends. Bad Spike."

Rupert narrowed his eyes. "Just for that, I'm not bringing you any fries." Then he turned and walked out of the shop.


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