Son of Small Fry

Part Five

"Ahhh... ahhh... choo!" Tara just managed to grab the kleenex that Willow was holding out, in time.

Xander looked up from the TV and blinked at her. "That's the third time she's sneezed in the last half hour," he said to Spike.

"Yeah, I know. I know." Spike was staring at her like he thought she might suddenly dissolve into a big pile of sneeze-goo. Honestly!

"You think we should take her to the hospital?"

Willow looked around at them while Tara wiped her nose between giggles. "Are you guys nuts? She just has a cold."

"Yeah, but... um..." Xander didn't look very well himself, Tara decided. He looked all hyper and freaked-- especially when she sneezed again. "See! There she goes again. What if it's something worse than a cold?"

Tara rolled her eys, then decided that she may as well make the best of what was apparently going to be a hysterical set of pseudo-parents. "I'm sure if I had some tea, I'd feel much better," she said, looking cute and just a tiny bit pathetic.

"Tea? OK, I can make tea. It's just boiling water, right?" Xander jumped up and was heading for the kitchen.

Spike, however, was looking at her with some alarm. "You, er, don't feel well? How sick do you feel? Bugger, I can't-- Red, put your hand on her forehead, tell me if she's got a fever."

Tara tried very hard not to giggle, as Willow did as requested. She pressed her forearm against Tara's head, then kissed her forehead. Then shook her head. "Nope. Fever free."

Spike was giving Willow a decidedly skeptical look. "Thought you were supposed to use your hand?"

"It's more fun my way," Willow replied.

"Hmm." Tara couldn't tell whether he was storing the information for future use, or deciding if he believed Willow. "We got a thermometer around here? Just in case?"

Xander put his own hand on Tara's forehead. "She doesn't feel warm to me. Well, warmer than you, duh. Um... I think there's a thermometer in the medicine chest..."

"Aren't you supposed to be making tea?" Willow asked.

"Please-- Yank-boy couldn't make a decent cup of tea to save his life. Boiling water..." Spike snorted, and headed for the kitchen, still casting worried looks in Tara's direction.

"Great-- by the time he's done, we'll be hip-deep in crumpets," Xander said, glancing after him. Then he looked back at Tara. "Are you sure you don't have any achey joints? It could be the 'flu."

"Xander, I'm sure. I've had colds before -- and influenza. I know the difference."

He didn't look convinced, but Tara figured it would just take her speedy recovery to convince them she wasn't seriously ill. At least Willow wasn't freaking out -- she was sitting beside Tara, looking supportive and smiling, and ready to steal the blanket the moment Tara let her attention stray. Just like always.

"Um, Okay, so-- do you need anything? Besides tea, I think we have cough syrup and aspirin and-- or are you not supposed to give aspirin to kids with colds? Or is it fevers?" Xander jumped up and headed towards the kitchen. "Spike! Hell, why am I asking you?" He began pacing towards the phone. "Maybe I should call... umm... Buffy might know. She never gets sick. Dawn? Would Dawn know? Or--"

"Xander!" Willow threw a pillow, which bounced off Xander's head. "You could ask me. I've had colds before, you know. Or -- here's an idea. You could ask Tara. She's had colds before, too."

Tara gave Willow a grin. Xander just looked marginally less freaked. When Tara sneezed again, Xander jumped for the box, but Willow was already holding another tissue out.

"I knew we shouldn't have let them help," Xander was saying. "When it started raining, we should have brought them straight home."

"Don't be silly -- you needed us to make the spell work right."

"Since the spell didn't work, I don't think Anya's gonna buy that, somehow."

Willow frowned at Xander, then stuck her tongue out at him. "Dorkhead. It's not our fault he wasn't here. It only works if the person's within a mile radius. He could've gone out of town to see a movie, or... um..."

"Gone to Wal-Mart to buy some new underwear," Tara giggled. "That's more than a mile away."

"Anyway, why are you worried about Anya?" Willow asked.

"Because it's another thing we managed to fu-- screw up, on our own. She's gonna think we can't take care of you two." He actually looked like he believed what he was saying. Tara glanced at Willow, and they shared a private giggle. "What?" Xander asked, putting his hands on his hips.

"First of... ahh... ahh... achoo!" Tara took the kleenex that Willow had at the ready. "First of all, it's not your fault it rained. Anya's not gonna be mad at you for me catching some germs, either. And second of all..." She looked at Willow, and giggled again.

"What?"

But they were both giggling too hard to answer Xander's now-whiny question. Oh yeah, Anya was all about thinking Spike and Xander couldn't raise kids! Even Giles had caught those looks she'd been giving them when their backs were turned, and he'd made barfing noises about it to Willow and Tara. Loud, realistic-sounding barfing noises.

Willow reached over and patted Xander's hand. "Why don't you go see if Spike needs help with the tea?"

"Spike's threatened to make me sleep in the utility room downstairs if I ever 'help' with the tea, again," Xander muttered, but he walked over to the kitchen, regardless.

As soon as he was out of earshot, Tara and Willow began laughing, harder. "He doesn't have a clue!" Willow whispered.

Tara shook her head. "I think Anya's gonna spring it on him." The thought just occurred, and she sat up suddenly. "Oh, you don't think she'll... um, do it without warning him, first?"

Willow stopped laughing, and frowned. "I don't think so. It's kinda a big thing to spring on a guy, that you're making him a dad."

"And Anya is all tact and good-planning," Tara said sarcastically.

"Oh. Hmm, good point. Well, we could warn him," Willow began. Then they grinned.

"Nah!" they said in unison.

Tara was just getting out of the early-sneezing phase of her cold -- which never lasted more than a couple of hours, and she'd been sniffling since they got home -- when Spike emerged from the kitchen, carrying a tray of tea things. And yes, when Spike made tea, Spike made tea. He was worse than Giles, which Tara had never thought possible.

"I really think it's 'starve a cold and feed a fever, Spike," Xander was saying. But that was probably only because he wanted all the cream horns for himself. Tara smiled happily as Willow snatched two and handed one to her.

"That's about temperature, moron. Not food. You starve a cold by taking away the cold air, and feed a fever by giving it warmth." Spike handed Tara a cup of hot tea, with lemon and sugar -- no cream. Just the way she liked it. She smiled at him, then dipped the end of her cream horn into it, which got her a look almost as pained as some she'd seen Giles give Anya. Tara stuck out her tongue at Spike and munched happily on her dripping pastry.

Xander snatched one of the cream horns for himself, then frowned. "But that means..."

"Means you do the same thing, yeah."

"How'd you know that?"

Spike rolled his eyes. "I did have a mum once, you know."

Xander shrugged. "Mine wouldn't have known that." Then he looked at Tara. "Hey, doesn't that mean she should have some blankets on her?"

Spike blinked, then nodded, looking distracted. "Yeah, s'pose so. I'll get some."

"I already have one blanket," Tara pointed out.

"Not for long. Willow's already got half of it," Xander pointed to the innocent looking girlfriend snuggled under the blanket beside Tara.

Tara looked sharply at her. "Stop that, I'm sick!"

Willow rolled her eyes. "Yeah, you're dying, I can tell. Move over, I wanna be coddled, too."

"You don't get coddled, you aren't sick."

"I can be! I bet if I kiss you, I'll catch your cold." She moved forward, and Tara saw Xander leap forward and put his hand over Willow's face.

"You're not getting sick, too. And you're not kissing in front of me when you're too young to look anything but adorable. Um, I mean... hell. Spike! Get out here with those blankets!"

"Keep your bloody shirt on!" Spike yelled back. Tara thought he sounded a bit cranky -- could vampires get colds? When Willow got sick, she got cranky, which was a good reason not to try to give Willow her cold.

Even with Spike, Xander, and Anya around to take care of them, they'd put them in bed together and Tara would have to listen to her. She loved Willow, with all her heart and soul, but if she prefered being far away when Willow had a cold. She realized Xander probably knew how Willow got when she was sick -- which explained his quick reflexes.

"Here's the blankets," Spike said, coming back into the living room. Tara stared in disbelief -- it looked like he'd grabbed every blanket in the apartment.

"Spike, I'll suffocate!" she protested. He rolled his eyes, and tossed a fluffy blue blanket on top of her. Willow immediately started tryng to steal it. This time Tara let her, though -- because Spike was already shaking out a quilted comforter and spreading it over her. "That's enough-- really!"

He frowned. "You sure you don't need another?"

Xander studied her, then took the rest of the blankets from Spike and piled them on a chair. "Let's give her the benefit of the doubt. After all, Anya won't be too thrilled if we end up smothering her, either."

"Sure, all you warm-blooded types just stick together," Spike said grumpily. When Tara stuck her tongue out at him, though, he smiled, and handed her another cream horn. Xander suddenly grinned, and grabbed Spike, pulling him close. Trying to, anyway, but Spike brushed him off and gave him a dirty look. "What are you doing?"

"I was trying to stick to you," Xander replied, with a hint of a pout.

Tara ate another bite of her cream horn, and watched, avidly. Willow was right -- this was better than watching soaps.

"I'm not doing anything of the sort, not in front of the kids." Spike glared at Xander, and Xander responded by pouting even more.

"We can go in the other room," he suggested.

"And leave Tara out here all unsupervised, while she's sick?" Spike demanded.

"Hey!" Willow put her hands on her hips and jutted out her lower lip. It would have been more effective, Tara thought, if she hadn't stayed lounging on the couch under two stolen blankets. "I can supervise her just fine!"

"See, Willow can--" Xander frowned. "What am I saying. This is the person who tried to reenact The Cat In the Hat when she was six. And she's only four, now. You're right, Spike."

Spike raised an eyebrow. "Anybody get that on tape?"

"Hey, buddy," Willow protested. "Just who was the one who dared me to do it, huh? Whose summer reading list was that book on? Not mine -- I was reading Huckleberry Finn."

"Yeah, well... Do you do everything I say you should do? If I told you to jump off a -- " Xander stopped, and smacked himself in the forehead. "Help me -- I have become Willow's mother."

Tara looked him over. "Um, no. She has bigger boobs than you."

"Thank you. Much appreciated." Xander looked down at his t-shirted chest and flexed uncertainly.

"Tara, have you been looking at my mother's boobs?"

Tara's jaw dropped, and she tried to think of what she was supposed to say. No? Yes, but not that way? Yes, and I can see where you get yours? Then she sneezed, and Spike was holding her nearly-dropped mug of tea, and she didn't have to say anything.

"Maybe we should call the doctor. Just in case," Xander said.

"Boys!" Willow sighed. "Why doesn't one of you go down to the store and get some echinacea?"

"Echiwhaticha?" Xander asked.

"It'll make her get better, faster, without making her all dopey like regular cold medicine will."

"But I don't like the way it tastes," Tara said hesitantly. She'd been hoping four-year-old Willow wouldn't have remembered the homeopathic cold remedies.

Willow looked sternly at her. "It will make you better."

"Right, then, I'll go to the store," Spike offered. "Er, which one will have it?"

"Yeah, because it has to be one he's allowed to go into," Xander said with an evil smile.

Spike sneered at him, then reached for his jacket. "I'm sure I can manage to act like a grown-up for an hour, without your unsavoury influence. Willow?"

"Just about anywhere with a pharmacy should have it on their over-the-counter shelves. Walgreens, K-Mart, Wal-Mart..."

"Got it." Spike was straightening his collar and heading out the door, while Xander was still blinking at the quickness of his departure.

"You sure you're okay to drive in the rain?" he called out.

"Walking. Not like I'm gonna catch cold." Then Spike was out and the door was shutting behind him. Xander stared at the front door for a few seconds longer. Then Tara sneezed again, and was once more confronted with too much comfort and care.

She wasn't sure how she survived it until the front door opened, again. She'd managed to distract Xander a little by telling him what she really needed was the TV on, so she could relax and not do anything. Robot Wars kept them all amused for nearly an hour, then the door opened and Xander leapt up.

"Anya! You're home."

"Yes, I'm home. You sound disappointed."

"No! I thought you were Spike. He went to get echi... something I can't pronounce. For Tara -- she's sick!"

"Sick?"

Tara looked over the back of the couch, waved, then sneezed again. "I have a cold," she explained.

Anya walked over, and looked down at her and Willow. "Is Willow sick, too?"

"Nope! Just stealing blankets," Willow answered proudly. "And I'm the official tissue hander-overer." She handed a tissue over, as she spoke.

Anya surveyed the scene -- Tara could see her take in the number of blankets, the tray of tea, and the glasses of orange juice Xander had brought out once the tea was drunk. "You did a very good job, Xander. I'm impressed with your parental instincts -- apparently the Harris genes haven't completely obliterated them."

Tara saw Willow wince, but Xander just smiled, like after all this time with Anya, he was able to listen to what she meant, instead of what she said. "Thank you, Mrs. Harris. I'll be sure to call my grandma and tell her."

"Isn't she dead?"

"Good point. I'll call collect."

Anya smiled, and Tara was surprised. She hadn't really noticed, before now, how readily Anya got Xander's jokes, nowadays. Perhaps Anya was just indulging Xander, smiling when she knew he'd made a joke, even though she didn't get it. Tara looked over at Willow. It wasn't totally unheard of thing to do.

"Here, got your echinacea," Spike was saying, handing her a paper bag. Startled, Tara took it, and pulled out a box of echinacea tea, a bottle of alcohol-free essence of echinacea, and a jar of echinacea tablets.

"Um, thanks," she managed, wondering if Spike expected her to take all of this in the next two days.

She hadn't even seen him come in, though it wasn't too difficult to gather from the grin he gave her that he was used to sneaking up on people in that annoying, stealthy vampire way. And that he enjoyed it.

"Take the liquid," Willow was saying in her imperious mommy-tone, which had lost must of its commanding air when she'd become four. Tara stuck her tongue out, and took the bottle of tablets.

"I'm taking one of these."

"But the liquid is absorbed much faster, Tara, and you'll feel better sooner."

"Except for when I'm gagging on the taste. I'm taking these."

"Tara," Willow began.

"Willow, let her be," Xander said. "She'll get well soon enough. For now, why don't we give you some more juice to wash that down with." Willow stuck her tongue out at Xander. "Your face will freeze that way," he warned her. He was grinning, though, so Tara didn't think they were about to be subjected to another round of "Help, I'm a grown-up."

"Oh, is that what happened to you?" Willow asked, snuggling into her corner of the couch. Xander stuck his own tongue out at her, then disappeared into the kitchen.

Anya turned to Spike, who'd been standing there, his hands still in his duster pockets. "Aren't you going to take your coat off?" she asked, as she pulled her own off and hung it up next to the door.

Spike glanced at the girls for a moment, then fished around in his pocket. "Oh -- here, forgot this." He handed Tara a small package.

"Echinacea chewing gum?" She blinked. "Um. Thanks."

"Spike?" Anya was reaching out for his coat, but he shook his head.

"I'm gonna head back out and help the Slayer look for Rayne, some more. Rupes didn't want her to go alone, but if I don't go she'll end up towing Dawn and the mini-Rupert, around." He headed for the front door, with the air of someone who was just stepping out for a pack of cigarettes and a game of pool.

"Here. Drink all of this." Xander was holding out another tall glass of juice. Tara couldn't tell for sure, but she thought he was a little subdued by Spike's leaving. He wasn't saying anything, though, so Tara decided to worry about more immediate problems.

"I can't drink all of that."

"Excuse me?" Xander blinked at her, and was no doubt thinking about the five sodas she had downed in one sitting.

"I'll have to pee all night, if I drink all that, now."

"You'll be up all night, anyway, coughing," Willow pointed out. Tara stuck her tongue out at Willow.

Then she heard, faintly, "Er, yeah. So I'm off. Be back later." She looked over and saw Spike, just now walking out the door. She hadn't realized he'd still been standing there, and guessed, from Anya and Xander's confused expressions, that they hadn't, either.

"Spike seems a little distracted. Do you think Tara being sick made him uncomfortable? It used to make me feel weird, being around sick humans." Anya asked. "Not counting you, of course." She smiled brightly at Xander. "You're sick all the time, so I got used to it."

"Hey, I catch things easily. And so not my fault I got syphillis, I'll remind you."

"I meant in the head." She frowned. "Did I say it wrong? You always laugh when Spike makes jokes like that." Then Anya paused. "Of course, the syphillis could have made you sick in the head. In fact, you could still be suffering from lingering complications. That might explain your bizarre shopping patterns..."

"And that, Ladies and Germs--" Xander stared sternly at Tara, as if the germs in question were hiding under the blanket with her, instead of invading her nose and throat -- "was my wife attempting to be humorous."

"No, it wasn't. Well, only the first part." But Anya was still smiling, looking at Xander expectantly.

"You weren't trying to be humourous?" Xander asked, and Tara giggled, muffling it behind her hand in case she wasn't supposed to be laughing at them.

"I wasn't trying," Anya replied. "It was successfully funny. See? They're laughing." She pointed to Willow and Tara.

"Yes, they are," Xander agreed. He leaned in and gave Anya the kiss she was so obviously waiting for, her reward for making a joke. Even if it wasn't funny. Tara laughed, again, and sneezed once, then coughed. "If he wasn't uncomfortable being around a sick kid, what do you think it was?" Xander glanced at Tara, then Willow. "Did he say anything weird? I mean, for Spike?"

Willow shook her head, a thoughtful expression on her face. It made her look adorable, Tara thought. She watched Willow for a moment, then blinked when someone waved a hand in front of her face.

"Earth to Tara... you can stare at your girlfriend on your own time. Did Spike say anything odd to you?"

"No. Not odd for Spike," Tara admitted. As long as she had known the vampire, she couldn't read him well enough to guess why he'd left. She wasn't worried, though, because Xander and Anya hadn't gone chasing after him.

"He'll tell us when he gets back. Even if we have to have sex with him for seven hours before he tells us." It was freaky, Tara thought, how Anya could make that sound like it was just another household chore. Like stripping wallpaper...

"Um... Anya..." Xander was jerking his head in Willow and Tara's direction, in that universal 'not in front of the children' gesture. Tara recognized it not only from her own childhood, but from the number of times she'd made it herself in the last month.

"Oh. Right. Somebody needs to be able to get up and check on Tara every so often. Plus you have to work tomorrow. So we need something that takes less than seven hours. Hmm." Anya looked thoughtful. "We could spank him. That would take less than seven hours."

Willow sat up straight and made a face like she'd just tasted some of those echinacea drops. "Hello! Children present! Lesbian children present! Don't want to hear about naked male vampire being spanked..."

"I didn't say anything about nakedness," Anya told her.

"Oh. Well. Good."

"I mean, he'd be naked, but I didn't say that. I figured it was understood."

"Anya!" The chorus came from both Willow and Xander. Tara was too busy trying to laugh and cough at the same time.

"What?" she asked, sounding as innocent and confused as she always did. Tara was beginning to suspect it was at least partly put-on.

"Maybe we should just talk to him," Xander suggested, with another significant glance towards the children.

Anya pouted. "Very well. It doesn't seem like as much fun. We're going to have to think of something else, though, when we have kids of our own. I'm not going eighteen or more years without talking about having sex with you and Spike."

Tara tried very, very hard not to cough or sneeze -- drinking in the sight of Xander, eyes as wide as they had been as a magically-turned four-year-old, and mouth gaping like he'd been hypnotized into thinking he was a frog and had to catch flies. He was apparently trying to say something, because she could see his throat working, and his jaw moved, slightly, every so often. Tara glanced over and caught Willow winking at her, then they both went back to watching Xander have a heart-attack.

"You... buhwah... yubuh," Xander finally said.

"Yes?" Anya asked. Again sounding so innocent and guileless that Tara had to wonder if she had ever been truly clueless.

"Please tell me you are speaking hypothetically," Xander managed.

Anya favoured him a small smile. "If you're asking if I'm pregnant, the answer is 'no'. I thought about becoming pregnant without informing you, but I have decided, from watching you and Spike behave as parents, that you will be fine making the decision beforehand. You two will make excellent fathers. I chose well."

Xander was gaping, again, only this time he was starting to grin. Also starting to look at Anya like someone was going to have to remind him there were children present.

"I get to be godmother," Willow declared. "And you have to name it after me." Without removing his gaze from Anya, Xander picked up a pillow and smacked Willow dead-center in the face with it.

"You can't be godmother," Tara said. Willow watched, frowning, while she blew her nose, then said, "I get to be godmother. I'm the one who blew up Spike's crypt so he had to move in with Xander and Anya in the first place."

"Like you did that on purpose, Ms. 'I don't need a measuring spoon, I know just how much henbane to add, poof poof oops' ?"

"The ways of a witch are mysterious and... ah... ah... choo! Not to be questioned by mere... ah choo! " Tara peeped up at Willow, who was trying to look stern, and still looked adorable. "Um... I think maybe I should take the liquid echinacea after ah... ahh..." She caught that last one, and watched the adorable look change to one she recognized all too well -- nyah nyah told you so...

"See what you get for questioning the ways of a witch?" Willow asked. Tara narrowed her eyes, remembering a certain sneezing-powder-in-a-spell rhyme Willow had sworn would be sooo much fun at parties and Scooby meetings...

"I'll tell you what you get," Xander interrupted. "An early bedtime."

"What?!?" they both protested, in identical tones.

Xander nodded at Tara. "You're sick, you need plenty of rest."

"And what about me?" Willow demanded.

"You?" Xander grinned evilly. "You're four. You go to bed at seven."

Tara glanced at the clock, and tried to laugh. She coughed, instead. Maybe going to sleep would be nice, she thought. Wrapped up as she was, she was warm enough and comfortable enough... for the moment... to sleep.

Willow was pouting, though. "I'm not tired. I don't wanna go to bed."

"Then you can lie next to Tara, and be ready to get her anything she needs." Tara gave Willow a pitiful look, and Willow sighed. The mommy expression didn't quite look the same on a four-year-old face, but Tara was happy to see it. She snuggled in her blankets, then reached out one hand towards Willow.

Willow took it, crawling over with her two stolen blankets, and snuggled beside her. "Do you need anything?" she asked.

Tara shook her head. "I'm fine, for now."

"I can get you more juice," Willow offered.

"No, I'm fine."

"Tissues?"

"Nope."

"Another blanket?" Though even Willow looked doubtful, when she asked, that Tara could possibly need more.

"Xander and Anya are sneaking into the bedroom," Tara told her.

"I'm shocked and dismayed," Willow said. "Just think of the children..."

They both giggled, though Tara was getting a little groggy, and the giggling was half slap-happiness on her part. She blinked at Willow and yawned. "Huunnnnh... you really didn't want to hear about naked-spanked-Spike?"

Willow pursed her lips. "Well... not when I'm not old enough to appreciate the image."

"But..." ...yawn... "You can always store it up for later."

Willow opened her mouth -- then closed it, and pouted. "I didn't think of that. Damn."

"Don't talk like that in front of me. I'm a sick child." Tara smiled sleepily as Willow rolled her eyes and tugged Tara's topmost blanket closer to Tara's chin.

"Yup. Very sick."

"I'm going to sleep, now," she said, closing her eyes. She didn't have to wriggle much to get comfy, and she smiled when she felt Willow snuggling under the blankets with her. She didn't hear Willow say goodnight, but was pretty sure she did.

~~~~~

The room was dark, and Willow was sound asleep the next time Tara opened her eyes. She felt sick, her head hurt and she could feel her sinuses clogging and aching. She reached out from under the blankets for more echinacea, and the movement woke the rest of her body up. Specifically, her two glasses of juice and one mug of tea filled bladder awoke.

She carefully crawled out from under the blankets and off the couch, trying not to wake Willow. It was dark in the apartment, but there was a light on in the bathroom, its door shut enough that only a crack of light spread across the hallway floor. She made her way to the bathroom, squinting against the light when she opened the door, and wished she weren't sick. She felt decidedly icky.

When she'd finished in the bathroom, she didn't feel like going back to sleep -- not certain she could fall asleep again, right away, anyhow. More tea, maybe, if she could make it without disturbing anyone. She thought about how high the stovetop was. Maybe she'd get another glass of juice. If she put the echinacea drops in her juice, she wouldn't be able to taste them quite as much. And if she did it while Willow was asleep, she wouldn't have to hear 'I told you so' again. At least until next time.

Thus decided, she padded across to the kitchen in her stocking feet -- extremely thankful that she wasn't wearing the footy pajamas, given the many disasters possible when you combine too much juice and a smaller-than usual bladder with one-piece zippered-up nightwear -- and reached for the lightswitch. Stood on tiptoe to reach for the lightswitch, to be accurate. She just managed to flick it with her fingertips, and the florescent light sputtered and popped on.

"Eep!"

At least she managed to eep quietly, Tara thought as she stared at Spike, who was sitting slouched in one of the chairs next to the little 2-person-3-if-you-squeeze breakfast-table. He blinked at her, looking not so much startled as distracted.

She stared at him as his pupils contracted to pinpoints, and his eyes were all blue iris, for a second. He blinked again. Then his distracted look was replaced with one of concern. "Hey, witchling. Something wrong? You feel sicker? I can make you some tea if you like, or... emergency room's open 24 hours. God knows I've got that place memorized by now -- could drive there with my eyes closed."

Tara continued to stare at him, then grinned slightly. "No thanks. Especially not the eyes-closed part."

"Tea, then?" he asked, already standing up and heading for the tea kettle. She was tempted to say yes, then thought about what 'making tea' meant for Spike. She didn't think he ought to go to that much trouble... but then, she didn't want more juice. She wanted hot tea.

"Thanks," she said, trying to sound as grateful as she felt. It was tricky, when her head was so stuffed up. She couldn't tell if she really sounded grateful, or just tired.

She climbed into the kitchen chair beside the one Spike had been sitting in, and watched as he began to put together the tea making paraphenalia. Tara tried to figure it all out -- again -- but had to admit, secretly, that she agreed with Xander. Boiling water and adding a little bag was easier. She sat there, watching Spike work silently, until she realized he wasn't going to say anything at all. Maybe that was how tea was supposed to be made -- maybe he'd picked up tea ceremony habits or something. But she had a feeling it was just whatever he'd been thinking about, here in the dark.

"Spike? What's wrong?" she finally asked.

"What makes you think something's wrong?" he asked as he measured leaves into a cup. He was paying very close attention to them -- possibly afraid they would suddenly turn into a Lipton's teabag if he took his eyes off them for one second?

Tara rolled her own eyes, not that he was going to catch the visual if he never looked at her. "Xander and Anya are in bed. And you're not. You were sitting in here in the dark, staring at the floor. Which -- unless you were having sex telepathically, in which case please tell me now, and I'll leave and pretend to forget I ever woke up -- seems kinda wrongish to me. Given that you're widely known to be willing to pass up a blood-soaked riot to be in bed with Xander and/or Anya."

"You don't sound very regressed," he pointed out, deftly avoiding the question. So he thought.

"I'm sick and I'm tired and I want my tea and I'm gonna whine at you until you tell me what's wrong and you better not be mean to me or I'll make my girlfriend turn your weewee into a doorknob," she said evenly. "There-- is that better?"

He turned around from his preparations and stared at her for a second, then chuckled. He sounded tired, too. "I remember when you were the shy one."

"I am the shy one. If I were Willow, I'd have used the medical Latin for weewee."

The teapot chose that moment to make its presence known -- by spouting steam, since he'd thankfully taken the whistle out. Spike poured water into two cups, and added the right fixings, then carried them over to the table and sat down, falling back into that same not-quite-relaxed slouch in which she'd found him.

After he'd taken a sip of his own tea, he glanced at her quickly, then looked back down at his cup. "Anya wants to have a baby."

"I know. She told Xander, today." Tara giggled. "You should have seen his face!"

Spike blinked at her. "She told Xander?"

She nodded. Spike didn't say anything. He stared at his tea until Tara began to wonder if she'd ruined her chance to get anything out of him, at all. Was that what was bothering him, then? That he'd missed seeing Xander's reaction? That seemed like a rather trivial thing to be upset about, though. She didn't put it past Spike to be upset about it, but not so badly that he'd stay out of bed. He'd be more likely to be in bed, demanding they make it up to him.

"Spike?" She leaned forward and touched his hand, almost startling his attention back to her, from whatever dark place it had been. "Don't you want to have a baby?"

He snorted. "Not like I can, is it?"

"I don't mean..." Trailing off, Tara began to understand. "Is that it? Because you can't father any of the babies?"

He shrugged, then half-nodded. "Won't be their Dad, will I. I'll be 'Uncle Spike' -- the guy who lives with Mum and Dad and doesn't have a room of his own. Assuming they even want me about anymore."

Tara frowned. "Assuming -- so you haven't even talked to them about it." His refusal -- again -- to look at her pretty much answered that question. "You're just jumping to conclusions. Why wouldn't they want you around?"

"The guy who lives with Mum and Dad and doesn't age? The guy who lives with Mum and Dad and can't go out in the sunlight? Hell, the guy who lives with Mum and Dad -- that's enough, right there. It's one thing now, when they can tell anybody who asks to sod off, we're young, we can do what we want. But bring kids into it..." He shook his head. "Be easier for them if I wasn't here, that's all." Then he looked at Tara, who was shaking her own head, but he wasn't paying attention to that. "They're married. We don't say it much, but they're married. You might remember -- little ceremony in the park, after sunset, lot of horny types on the bride's side of the pews? If I wasn't here, they'd probably have a couple of sprogs already."

Tara frowned. "But... they talked like they want you here. Like you're gonna be the father, too." She did remember the ceremony -- it had been really nice, but she'd wondered ever since why they hadn't ever married Spike, too. They hadn't been a threesome at the time of Xander and Anya's wedding, but since then....

"Talked about me, eh?" Spike was saying, sounding very much like he didn't believe her.

"Anya was talking about how she wasn't going to spend eighteen years not spanking you, just because there were kids in the house."

Whatever Spike's poor me response had been going to be, it apparently got derailed. He gaped at her, mouth open and eyes wide. After a moment he shook his head. "Sorry, you said 'spanking'. Er, what?"

"Anya and Xander were concerned about how to talk about, and actually... um, do things, with kids in the house. They mentioned you by name."

Spike still looked a bit dazed -- or possibly turned on, in which case Tara wanted to end the conversation as quickly as possible. Then his face changed, a bit, and looked a bit like he had when he'd been four. "They really still want me around after they have kids?"

Tara got down from the chair, walked around and took Spike by the hand. She tugged, and he stood up, then let her lead him towards the bedroom. When he got to the door, he stood there for a moment, and she gave a deep, long-suffering sigh. "What? It's your bedroom, you know. No monsters in there."

"You haven't seen Anya at three in the morning with her hair in curlers."

"Yes, I have. She had this bizarre idea that we all had to have a sleepover party, a couple of years ago. Spike, for god's sake, go in there and talk to them."

Just for a second, Tara thought it would actually work. He'd push the door open and go in and she could go back to her tea and then crawl onto the couch and cuddle with Willow and all would be right with the world and there'd be no more offers of trips to the emergency room, at least until the morning. But then Spike put his hand down, and leaned against the wall, and shook his head again.

"They're just... feeling guilty. They're too nice to tell me to just bugger off. And they'll miss the sex."

Tara stared at him, open-mouthed, then wished she was tall enough to whap him on the head. After a second's thought, she let a levitated throw-pillow do the job for her. "Anya's too nice to tell you how she really feels?"

Spike almost looked like he might smile, for a second. "Believe it or not, she does know how to keep her mouth shut, when she wants to."

"And you think they're too nice to tell you to go, but they're sleazy enough to keep you around here just so they can have their own personal undead cabana boy?" Tara asked. "God -- Willow's right -- boys do go to Jupiter to get more stupider."

"I'm not--!" Spike retorted, then stopped -- presumably to lower his voice. Or because he realized Tara was right. Then he just shook his head, and Tara could see by the way his face fell, that he'd decided not to believe her.

She suddenly remembered that Spike had a history of being left behind by those he loved. Maybe Xander and Anya needed the whapping, for letting Spike get this insecure. She opened her mouth to tell him something really wise and convincing, not sure what that was but confident it would come out of her mouth readily enough, when the bedroom door opened. Xander stood there, looking mostly asleep and -- Tara eeped and looked away.

She peeked, though, intending to not look at Xander's naked bits, when neither Spike nor Xander said anything. She saw Xander pulling Spike to him by one arm, then kissing him. She peeked with both eyes when they kept kissing. She could tell that it wasn't a 'we keep you for sex' kiss. Wasn't even really a 'distract him with sex' embrace. This was the sort of kiss that made her need a bowl of chocolate ice cream and her blankets, so she could snuggle up and go 'awwww' to herself. Or to Willow, which would distract her with her own source of love-you-to-the-bottom-of-my-soul.

Spike stared down at the floor, though, when Xander finally released him. "How could you ever think we don't love you?" Xander asked him.

Spike was getting really good at that looking-at-the-floor thing, Tara noted. "I... didn't think that," he said with sudden breeziness. "Everybody loves me, after all. I'm William the Bloody, America's Sweetheart."

Xander shook his head. "No, you're not."

"Yes, thank you. I was being sarcastic. It's where you say something that's exactly the opposite of what you mean, in a snotty tone, in order to make a point?"

"Really? Thank you for clarifying that. I'd been wondering," Xander said in a snotty tone. He put his hand on Spike's arm again. "That wasn't what I meant."

"He meant you're not William the Bloody," Anya said from behind him. Tara looked up, and thankfully didn't have to eep again, since Anya'd had the decency -- or the foresight -- to put on a robe before coming to the bedroom door.

Spike looked up at her too, a hurt expression on his face. "Well, thank you for pointing that out, Mrs. Harris, but I'm well aware I've become William the Domesticated."

Anya rolled her eyes. "Stop being a moron. Well, try to stop being a moron. I wasn't insulting your vamphood." She pushed past Xander and Spike, and walked to the desk that stood against the wall opposite the TV. Willow stirred slightly as she passed, and Anya bent down to tuck the covers back up under her chin, before returning with a handful of papers. "Do you know what these are?" She held them out to Spike.

He nodded, looking perplexed. "Sure. My fake immigration papers. Red and this one's," he pointed to Tara, "fake birth certificates and adoption stuff."

Anya nodded. "And what do they say your name is?"

Spike rolled his eyes. "William Harris. So? They're fake, they don't mean anything."

"They'll stand up in any court of law," Xander reminded him.

"Fine, so I can pretend I belong here, can I?" Spike said, bitterly. Tara could see the ghost of a movement of his hand -- reaching for the cigarette he didn't have, never smoked in the apartment anymore. She wondered suddenly how much he missed it.

Anya just shook her head, and handed over the last paper she'd been holding. Spike took it, read it, then frowned in confusion.

The confusion turned into annoyed anger. "Very funny. Why'd he send this?"

"Because we asked him to," Xander replied evenly. Tara couldn't see what the paper was.

Spike looked at it again, then up at Xander. "Why'd you think I'd need a marriage certificate? It wouldn't stand up in any court of law -- s'fake, says we're all three married. That ain't legal, pet."

Marriage certificate? Tara reached out for the paper in Spike's hands, and began reading. Tired and achy and sick as she was, she still felt like cheering. Just not loudly, so her head wouldn't ring. Xander and Anya were smiling at Spike.

"It isn't fake, Spike. Well, technically you didn't sign it. It is your signature, though," Xander told him. "It's real and it's valid and it means the only way you're getting out of here is by divorcing us. We'd, um, planned on telling you about it after we got Willow and Tara back into their own place. Had dinner and... events planned. Sorry." He shrugged.

Tara glanced up to find Spike looking totally dumbstruck. She showed him the marriage certificate, again. "Look, Spike, who signed it as the officiator."

Spike looked. Looked again. "Angel?"

"Yup. Your Sire married you to us. We own you, now." Anya smiled, and her tone was light, as if she was teasing him.

"It took an extra day or so for him to get the right form," Xander added. "So this thing only showed up this morning."

"You think the bureaucracy's bad on Earth, just try ordering something from the Tribunal of Demonic Affairs on short notice," Anya said. "You don't know how many favors I had to call in."

Spike blinked, and scanned the paper again, studying the letterhead as if it were the first time he'd looked at it. Tara squinted up at it, and realized that the seal was not that of the State of California. Not unless the bear had grown three extra eyes and a set of tentacles.

"But this is... this is real!" he said, looking up at Anya and Xander incredulously.

"Duh, that's what we said," Xander answered.

"No, but-- this thing's legal in at least 13 dimensions. You two get that? You understand you just married yourself off to a demon in the eyes of everybody but the United States of I-Can't-See-You-And-I'm-Pretending-You're-Not-There?"

Anya put her hands on her hips, and tapped her foot, not speaking. Just looking at him. Finally she rolled her eyes, and said, "Excuse me, Junior. Who was a demon the longest, in this room?"

Spike's mouth shut with a silent snap. He looked down at the paper again. "Oh. Er. Right."

No one spoke for a minute. Tara was wishing her cold would vanish, so she could do more than hold back a yawn. And what did you get Spike, Xander, and Anya as a wedding present?

Spike just kept looking at the marriage certificate, and shifting from one foot to the other. Xander waited, leaning against the doorway -- still naked. Tara wondered if he even realized it.

"It's notarized," Spike said, rather numbly. As if that made even more of a difference between fake and real.

"Yes, I believe Angel's new boyfriend witnessed it," Anya said. "He's from another dimension, but he's really quite nice."

"Boyfriend?" Spike stared at her. Then he read the certificate. "Krevlornswath of the Deathwok Clan? Who the bloody hell is Krevlornswath? How long have they been seeing each other? Why the hell didn't anyone mention this before?"

"Relax, blondie," Xander interrupted his rant. "They've been dating for almost two days. Cordelia says he's really sweet -- um, Lorne, that is. She thinks Angel's sweet, too, but she never actually says that out loud."

"Cos we'd gang up and have 'er committed," Spike replied distractedly. Tara wondered if he had an automatic Angel-insulting response system built into his chip, so he didn't even have to think about it anymore. Spike looked down at the paper again. "And... excuse me, Wesley signed as my other Sire? Since when does he own me?"

Anya smiled, then yanked Spike close to her by his collar. "He doesn't own you. I do. They needed another signature, and Drusilla didn't answer at her last-known number, so Wesley volunteered. I think the red crayon adds a festive touch."

"Oh."

"Do you have any other complaints, before you get kissed?"

Spike blinked, and Tara yawned, and so she missed anything Spike might have said during the two seconds before Anya was kissing Spike in that same chocolate-ice-cream-so-glad-I'm-not-a-single-person-having-to-watch-this way. Tara tore her eyes away from it for a second, to glance at Xander's reaction, and managed to hold back another eep.

Note to self, she thought -- when staring at a naked man watching his wife kiss his legal-in-at-least-13-dimensions husband, keep your eyes above neck-level. Well, it wasn't her fault she was only three and a half feet tall!

She diverted her gaze back to Spike and Anya -- and decided maybe she should sneak off and dive under the blankets. Maybe snuggle Willow and think about things they could do a couple weeks from now. Maybe wake Willow up so they could both surreptitiously watch... if they were gonna stay in the doorway -- "ACHOO!"

She grinned, and found Spike, Anya, and Xander looking down at her. Xander made an 'eep' sound and covered himself with his hands. Tara looked at him as if she had no idea what those things were for. It occurred to her that, for the next several years, she was going to get to say "I've seen you naked." How much ice cream would that get her?

"ACHOO!!"

Never mind the ice cream. How soon could she get back under the blankets with some juice and echinacea inside her, so she could sleep through having a cold? She found out -- not long at all, when a vampire scoops you up and carries you to the couch, and an ex-demoness fetches the juice, and a naked man scurries into his room to get a robe.

She tugged on Spike's shirt as he put her down and pulled one of a million blankets up to her chin. "Hey -- when you and Xander and Anya have kids..."

He blinked at her, and his eyes went away somewhere again, but this time it appeared to be a good place. "Oh. Yeah. Er." He smiled the most dopey smile she'd ever seen on a vampire, including the ones that Angel had given Spike and Xander when they were four-year-olds. "Yeah. Kids. Er-- when we have kids, what?"

Tara yawned again, and didn't even have to bother trying to look innocent. She was too tired, and it seemed like a perfectly logical question to her, anyway. "You'll still be my daddy, right?"

Spike looked for a second, between her increasingly-more-frequent blinks, as if he wasn't sure whether she was joking or not. Whether he should be frightened, now, or wait until morning. Finally he leaned over and kissed her forehead. "Got the papers to prove it, don't I?"

"Good. 'Cause I want a pony," she said, as she drifted off to sleep.

She had a dream about vampire ponies which defended her against school teachers. The weird part, was, Willow kept offering her a popsicle.

~~~~~

Angel told himself he wasn't sneaking in on them. He was, but it was for a good cause, so it didn't really count as sneaking. Besides, if no one woke up, there was no harm. No foul. He had the door to Gunn's and Wes' room open, after listening for several minutes to make absolutely sure they were still asleep. Really asleep, not faking it. He'd learned to check and triple check after being sent to wake up Spike and Xander, only to find them leaping at him as soon as he opened the door.

Gunn and Wesley seemed to really be asleep, though, so he stepped into the room. The sun was streaming through the curtains -- not creating a vampire hazard, just lighting the room enough that if any humans were awake, they'd be able to see the big hulking vampire walking on tiptoes into the bedroom. If any humans did wake up, he was even deader than undead. But if he left now, he'd have to face Cordelia.

Angel made sure the video camera was running, stepped up to the bedroom doorway, and focused. Oh, now this was worth engaging the little fisheye button he'd discovered while zooming in on Lorne's mouth while he was singing and mugging for the camera last night. Angel let the iris shrink to spotlight the image of Gunn and Wesley in bed.

Gunn was lying somewhat awkwardly on his side, and cuddling Wes as if he were a combination of precious child, teddy-bear, and heir-to-the-throne-of-Kaskaskia-who-must-be-protected-from-assassins-and-used-car-salesmen-at-all-times. Wesley lay curled up in Gunn's arms, looking utterly relaxed, one arm around his real teddy bear, and the other around Gunn's neck. His right thumb was very plainly in his mouth, with his little finger stroking the fur on the top of his bear's head, in his sleep.

Angel played with all of the camera features he could remember, including the time-date stamp, the photonegative effect, and the little bouncing ball icon that you could get to cross the bottom of the screen in time with the ambient sound, in this case the rhythm of Gunn and Wesley's breathing. Finally that ball started bouncing a little faster, and the fingers on Wesley's teddy bear were pointing towards him in a characteristic V-shape whose meaning Angel had learned long before Spike re-introduced him to its frequent use in the late 1800's.

"Hi," Angel said in a normal volume. He waved one hand. "Could you move a little this way? I wanna get a better angle."

Then he ran.

He heard something hit the door behind him, and hoped it wasn't Rupert -- there would be pouting and look what you made me do, at breakfast, if Wesley had hurt his bear because of Angel. He smiled, though. The film was worth it.

"Did you get it?" Cordelia asked as he came down the main stairway.

Angel held up the camera like a demon's head he'd sliced off and brought home as a trophy. Except he didn't do that sort of thing any more. Maybe like a pizza he'd gone to pick up when the delivery guys weren't working that night. Cordelia squealed and grabbed the camera, hitting the rewind button and peering at the display screen, even before it began to play.

"It was perfect. The best one, yet," Angel told her, sitting down beside her.

"Worth an entire roll of Giles-at-play photos?"

"Are you kidding? This is worth a weeks' worth of Xander and Spike being dads photos."

"So glad to hear we can provide the agency with a decent profit," Gunn said dryly.

Angel looked up at him. He was carrying a pajama-clad Wesley on his hip. Wes was clutching a handful of marble race-track pieces in one hand and what looked like a very large number of marbles in the other. Until one fell out of his hand and landed on the floor, of course, and Gunn rolled his eyes, set Wes down, and got down on his hands and knees to look for it.

"You just do that to prove that he'll drop everything to do what you want," Cordelia teased the amused-looking Wesley.

"No, I knew that already. I do it because I enjoy the view." Wes looked at Angel. "Are we really bartering the photos? I thought it was simply an 'I'll show you mine, if you show me yours' deal."

"I'm not making that offer to Spike," Cordelia said without removing her eye from the video camera.

"We were," Angel told Wesley, for once recognizing that Cordelia's comment was one he should not attempt to address. "That was before Anya called to say she had a photo of Spike frantically trying to find Cheerios."

"Cheerios?" Wesley frowned.

"Tara wanted them."

Wesley nodded, understanding. Then he asked, "Why would she want Cheerios? They're disgusting."

"They're good for you," Gunn countered.

"They're disgusting, unless you fill the bowl with sugar, first. Then the only good part about them is drinking the sugar-laden milk."

"And if you think for one second that's what you're getting for breakfast--" Gunn began.

Wesley looked at Angel. "I'll get breakfast," Angel said. He was three steps towards the kitchen before Gunn grabbed his arm.

"Don't do it, man."

"What? He wants Cheerios, you said they're good for him..."

"Not the way he eats 'em. Unless you're gonna take complete responsibility for him all day."

Angel considered. It wasn't as if there were all that much to get into around here. He'd been perfectly fine the other times he'd watched Wesley, after all. And, dangerous eyes or not, Wes still hadn't managed to be as difficult to control as a sugar-freaked Xander and Spike, trapped in Buffy's tiny house in the middle of the day. Here, Wes would have an entire hotel to exhaust himself in. And there was only one of him.

"I could do that, I guess." He looked down at Wes. "What do you think, Wes? You wanna spend the day around here, eating sugar and driving me nuts?" It was something of a rhetorical question, considering that Wesley hadn't left the hotel since the call from his parents came through. Nor were any of them about to ask him to.

Wes glanced quickly over at Gunn, then shook his head. Angel nodded. He understood -- Wesley was still feeling too insecure to want to spend time more than arms' length away from Gunn. But Wesley said, "I want to go to Bozo Burgers!"

"For breakfast?"

"No. I want waffles and bacon and Super Sugar Crisp cereal and Poptarts for breakfast. I want to go to Bozo Burgers right after."

"Eggs and orange juice, too?" Angel asked, trying to remember if they had any waffle mix. Gunn was gaping at Wesley, then he gave Angel a glare.

"You feed him all that, then take him to Bozo Burgers, then you get to clean up after him."

Angel looked from Gunn, to an innocently-beaming Wesley. "He's gonna make a mess?" What would be wrong with that? It wasn't like he worked at Bozo Burgers, he wouldn't have to clean up everything Wesley could do.

"He's gonna be sick all over the place," Gunn explained. "He only wants to go to Bozo Burgers to play at their indoor playground."

"Oo, is that the one with the swing thing that spins around?" Cordelia asked, cheerfully.

Angel had a vague memory of that playground. Wesley just smiled innocently, some more. "Or we could stay here," Angel suggested.

Which was entirely the wrong thing to say. "I want to go to the playground," Wesley pouted.

"Um..." Angel said intelligently, trying to remember what he'd done three weeks ago when Spike and Xander pouted at him this way... It had all become sort of a strange, disturbingly happy blur in his mind. Rather like being drunk -- if you were a couple of pints of O-negative.

Wesley was looking at the floor and digging one foot into the carpet, now. Gunn was giving Angel the 'Hey, he's all yours' gesture with his arms, and Cordelia had pressed the damned record button on the camera -- Angel could hear the tape whining at him.

"You don't want to take me to the playground?" Wesley asked finally, looking up at Angel. "I see. That's fine. I understand." Wes looked at Cordy, who had moved the camera away from her eye -- but hadn't stopped recording. Angel knew that trick. "He doesn't want to be seen with me," Wes told her.

"Not while you're barfing," Cordelia said with no sympathy.

Angel had, meanwhile, remembered what he did when Spike and Xander had pouted at him like that. "If I don't feed him sugar, you'll watch him?" he asked Gunn.

Gunn grinned, but folded his arms. "Sounds to me like the little guy wants his Uncle Angel to take him to Bozo Burgers."

"Which would be fine," Angel allowed. "If Uncle Angel weren't bursting into flames as soon as he stepped out the front door. He gave Wesley his best apologetic look. "Wes, you know I'd take you, otherwise."

Wesley hadn't stopped pouting. Angel got a bad feeling. It got worse when Wesley said, "You can take me to Bernie's Taco Palace."

"Oo, that has a playground," Cordelia reminded him, brightly. "And tacos." She smiled.

"And it can be reached via the sewers," Wesley said proudly.

"I have an appointment?" Angel tried.

"With Madame Foo-Foo?" Wes said dangerously. When Angel chose not to dignify that with an answer -- his stylist was a perfectly straight man named Mitch, after all -- Wesley fixed him with an accusing stare. "Anyway, you didn't have an appointment when you were offering to spend the day with me, here."

"Ahhh..." Good point. Angel fished around for another excuse. Then wondered, actually, why he was fishing around for an excuse -- he actually liked spending time with mini-Wes. As long as he wasn't reenacting The Exorcist, with Wes in the Linda Blair role. "Taco Palace it is -- but only if you have one bowl of Cinnamon Life, a glass of orange juice, and two slices of toast, for breakfast," he said firmly.

Wesley looked like he was considering the offer, then shook his head. "I want bacon and eggs."

"Okay," Angel agreed readily. Cordelia snickered at him, but he ignored her.

"And I don't want toast," he added. "I want cereal."

"Okay," Angel nodded. "Life? Cheerios?"

"Super Sugar Crisp."

"What about some Wheaties?"

"Super Sugar Crisp."

"We have some cornflakes."

"Super Sugar Crisp."

"Captain Crunch?"

Wesley opened his mouth, then stopped. "Sure!"

"He may be short, but he ain't stupid," Gunn reminded him.

Angel just gave Gunn a pained look. "We were out of Super Sugar Crisp," he mouthed.

"No, we aren't," Wesley declared. He took a hold of Angel's hand, and began leading him towards the kitchen. "It's called Super Golden Crisp, but it's the exact same cereal."

Angel blinked, then sighed. "You want that, or the one with the crunch berries?" he asked as he walked toward the kitchen.

"I want the one with the hologram stickers in the box," Wesley said happily.

Angel tried to remember which one that was. "Wait, isn't that the one that's not open yet?" Wes gave him the 'And?' look. "But there's half a box of the same cereal already open," he protested as he opened the cabinet above the stove.

"But I already have the prize from that box," Wesley said logically.

Angel studied the back of the opened box. Glowing Green Goo, TM. Yes, Wes did indeed already have that. Or rather, the drain at the bottom of Angel's shower had that, since he'd spent most of Tuesday evening getting it out of his hair.

"It's not like I won't eat it all, sooner or later -- that stuff has a sell-by date of sometime after your next sesquicentennial," Wesley said, with some actual logic this time.

Angel turned around and looked at him-- he'd climbed up in one of the high stools that wasn't actually a high chair but was still tall enough that he could reach the table. "Say that again."

"Sesquicentennial?"

Angel got the cereal down, checking the box to make sure the prize was, as Wesley had said, just a sticker. Surely he couldn't cause Angel any... much grief with a sticker. He found Wesley looking at him, sternly. "What?" Angel asked, innocently as he could. Not as good as a four-year-old, but he did have a couple centuries' more experience.

"Did I mispronounce it?" Wesley asked, doubtfully.

"No." Angel shook his head, grabbed a bowl, and gave Wesley the box of cereal.

The stern look became suspicious. "I do not have a lisp."

"Never said you did." Angel got out milk, and orange juice, and the bacon and eggs to begin cooking while Wesley foraged for his sticker.

There was silence except for the rustle of a small hand inside a cereal box. Then, "You're teasing me."

Angel could hear the pout. He had to steel himself against the reflexive apology and offer of Poptarts. "I'm not teasing you," he lied.

Wesley frowned at him. Angel could feel the frown, boring into his back. Finally the small voice said, "Bacon and eggs taste better if you fry them on the gas stove, you know."

Angel glanced over to the second stove -- the nineteen-forties hotel-sized gas stove that Cordelia had been forbidden to use the minute Gunn had gotten it in working order. "I'll take your word for that, since Uncle Angel isn't all that comfortable with open flames."

"Coward."

"Hey, if I burn up while I'm cooking you bacon and eggs, who's gonna take you to Taco Palace?"

"Cordelia."

Angel frowned. "Why don't you ask her, then? She'll take you." He focused on the eggs, and told himself he wasn't sulking. As though it mattered if Wesley wanted him to take him anywhere.

He heard Wesley getting down off his chair. A moment later, a small hand reached up and took his. Angel looked down. "But I want you to take me."

Angel started to smile. It wasn't often that he heard his friends saying they wanted to be with him like this. To kill big things, and carry heavy stuff, sure, they said that all the time. But wanting to hang around with him....

"And I want you to cook the bacon and eggs on a gas-stove."

"Learn to live with disappointment, then." He cracked the eggs into a skillet, and set it on the electric stove top. He glanced down to give Wesley a grin, and froze.

Wesley's huge eyes were staring up at him, with the most solemn expression Angel had ever seen. But that wasn't the problem. The quivering chin was the problem. Because he knew what was coming. He closed his eyes as he heard, "You don't love me."

"I do love you. But I'm not setting myself on fire so you can have a bit of light entertainment with your breakfast."

Wesley sniffed. "Well, I hardly want you to sing during breakfast. I'd rather wait until the playground, to get sick all over you."

"Gunn's right -- you are a mean little kid." The words were out of Angel's mouth before he could stop himself, even as he watched Wesley's face rearrange itself from pouting to predatory, in reaction to them. Angel thought about just how long Wes had stayed on the phone with Spike, a few days ago, and about the fact that Wes had a phone up there in his room. Would it be paranoid of Angel to call the phone company and ask how many calls had been made to Sunnydale from that line in the last few days?

"I can't imagine Gunn ever saying anything like that," Wesley said primly. "I'm a perfect little angel."

More like a perfect little Angelus, Angel thought -- but was wise enough not to say out loud. He reminded himself he had spent several centuries in Hell. He had survived that. He could survive a pissed-off mini-Wes.

"How many strips of bacon do you want?" he asked, hoping to distract Wesley.

"Are you making it on the gas stove?"

"I... er... Wesley, I'm not even sure it works. I don't think--"

"Gunn fixed it. It works perfectly."

"Would it matter if I reminded you I'm bigger than you?" He could always try holding Wes upside down. It had worked with Xander -- he'd started laughing so hard he'd choked, and forgotten all about his revenge on Angel for almost half an hour.

Wesley reached up and grabbed the package of bacon, and headed towards the gas stove. "Fine. Be a big wanker. I'll make it, myself."

And this was bad, why? Angel asked himself. Wes wasn't actually four. He could cook bacon. He was perfectly capable of putting an iron skillet atop a gas stove and standing up on a chair and reaching over to turn the flame on and falling off the chair and landing on the burner and setting himself on fire, all by himself.

Which in no way explained why Angel was sighing, and taking the package of bacon away from him, and doing all of that stuff for Wes. Except for the setting-on-fire part. Well, at least it meant the bacon and the eggs would cook faster, in separate pans, he rationalized. "Go sit down, Wes."

"No. I want to watch and make sure you don't cock it up."

"I've been cooking for two hundred and fifty years, Wes. I won't cock it up."

"You didn't cook while you had no soul," Wesley countered. "And don't use such language in front of me. I'm a mere child."

"You're a smart ass, and I did so cook when I had no soul." He stopped short of saying what he had cooked. Wesley, four or thirty, didn't need to hear that.

"Didn't."

"I did so. Now go sit down."

"Won't. And you didn't, because you didn't eat."

"Fine. I didn't," he pretended to concede. "Sit down and I'll bring you your breakfast."

"It isn't done yet," Wesley pointed out.

"I'll bring it over when it's done," Angel told him.

"Then I'll go sit down when it's done. Did you really cook when you were an evil nasty stupid vampire?"

"I wasn't--" Angel sighed. "Yes, I used to cook. Why don't you help, and go get--"

"What did you cook?"

Angel reminded himself that this was only the beginning. This was the easy part. Wesley wasn't running around, wasn't screaming, and wasn't making Angel pay for things. This was easy. "Um, things. Darla liked to eat, sometimes."

"Eat food, you mean? Because obviously she liked to eat blood, that's what vampires eat. She ate real food? And you cooked?"

Angel was tempted to say he heard Gunn calling Wesley's name. "I cooked," he agreed. Saying nothing, again, about what he had cooked.

"But what did you cook?"

Easy. This was easy. He slid crisp slices of bacon onto a plate, then added two sunnyside-up eggs. "Here. Sit down and eat."

Wesley studied the food. "I want scrambled eggs."

Angel calmly took the plate back, scraped the eggs back into the frying pan -- the one on the gas stove -- and scrambled them. Then he returned them to the plate. "Sit down and eat, Wes."

Wesley looked dubiously at the food, but took it over to the table, while Angel turned the gas flame off. When Angel turned around again, Wesley was cheerfully crunching his cereal. Leaving the bacon and eggs to get cold.

Angel glanced at the plate, but didn't mention it. He knew Wesley was only doing to it wind him up. The only way to get back at him was not to notice. He sat down opposite Wesley, and watched him eat, a very small smile on his face. He told himself over and over again, that Wes looked adorable.

Every time Wesley glanced up at him, he found Angel watching him. Watching him with that expression. The first three or four times, Wesley just rolled his eyes, or gave him a disdainful look. The bacon and eggs were fully ignored, now, as Wesley ate his cereal.

There was a moment when Wesley reached for the cereal box to pour more, when Angel considered stopping him. But he thought about Gunn's comment that after a few hours of running around at high speed, Wesley would get sleepy and fall asleep on just about anything. Or anyone. His 'isn't he adorable' expression got a little stronger.

Wesley threw his spoon down, glared, then shouted. "Angel's being mean to me!!"

Strangely, no one responded. "I think they might've left already," Angel said calmly. He added a dash of the 'Aww, how sweet, he should be in pictures, he really should' expression that the cashier at Taco Bueno had given Wes a few nights ago. From Wesley's disgusted snort, Angel had got it right. Wesley picked his spoon back up and grouchily attacked his cereal. Angel wondered if he should offer Wes a glass of chocolate milk to drink with it, or if that would give the game away.

He was just about to throw caution to the winds and go find the Nestle's syrup, when Wesley looked up at him with an utterly serious expression. "All right, suppose we call a truce for a moment, since Mum and Dad are gone, and you tell me what they've found out about whoever's behind this whole thing. I know you've heard from Buffy since you lot bawled out Spike."

Angel blinked. It didn't sound like a trick. He seemed perfectly sincere. And Angel hadn't been specifically ordered not to tell Wesley anything, now that he knew. He'd just been ordered not to upset him. Talking to him would also allow Wesley time to eat a third bowl of cereal. Angel nodded.

He relayed all the information they'd gotten while Wesley ate. He forced himself not to look smug when Wesley reached over and took a piece of bacon and began munching it as he listened to Angel's account. It didn't take long to tell -- since basically all they knew was that Ethan Rayne might be behind it, and was somewhere in Sunnydale -- so he told Wesley about the Sunnydale crew's plans to find Ethan, and some of their thoughts on why he was doing it and what they might do with him once they found him.

"Giles wants to turn him into a squid, whether or not he sent them the statue. Just on general principle."

Wesley grinned. "He's obviously regressed."

"No, Buffy said he feels like that all the time."

"Do you think they'll find him?" Wesley asked, as he stealthily moved his hand towards the sugar cereal, to pour a third bowl. Angel pretended not to notice.

"Probably. Willow's spell would have worked, if they'd had something owned by Ethan more recently than his underwear."

Wesley blinked. "His underwear?"

Grinning, Angel relayed that part of the story. Wesley listened quietly, until he was halfway into his third bowl of cereal. Then he was laughing too hard to eat. "Don't spit on the table," Angel said, watching as Wes lost all semblance of control. "It's not polite."

Wes just laughed harder.

Angel watched carefully, as Wesley started to turn pink, then slightly bluish. "Um, you know I can't do CPR, right? And if Gunn won't let me do the Heimlich Maneuver on him, I think it's probably not an option for you."

Wesley didn't answer, just kept giggling. Angel began to wonder if Wes hadn't gone and got vamped, when Angel wasn't looking. It would explain the evil behaviour, and the lack of respiratory distress...

"If you choke to death, Gunn is going to stake me," Angel said matter-of-factly. "Do you want to have to go to Taco Palace by yourself?"

Wesley didn't stop laughing. Maybe he knew that Cordelia would take him to play at Bozo Burgers, after Angel had been turned to dust. He was probably right. Angel waited patiently, knowing that even Xander hadn't been able to keep laughing without a break for more than half an hour. Wesley was reaching for his bowl of cereal, though, even though he hadn't stopped laughing enough to continue eating. Angel pulled it out of his reach.

"Not until you're breathing normally, again."

Wesley opened his mouth, probably to insist he was breathing, only he was still laughing and couldn't speak. Then he gasped, suddenly, and Angel knew they were either settling in for round two, laughing hysterically, or Wesley was about to start choking.

Wesley coughed once, and his face screwed up into a little red ball. Angel moved fast enough to be holding him before the next cough came. When it did, he listened. No blockage of the airway. Blood pumping normally towards the brain, if a little fast.

"Not funny, Wes," Angel said, letting his hands unclench from Wesley's shoulders. Taking a breath himself, he wondered if that was why he was still in the habit, after two and a half centuries -- because his friends enjoyed scaring the shit out of him.

Apparently Wesley didn't agree with him, because that remark sent him off into new paroxysms of laughter. Angel sighed, and sat down in Wesley's chair, settling Wes on his knee. At least while he was holding the miniature munchkin from Hell, he could make sure no actual oxygen-deprivation was going on.

Angel glanced down at the table as Wes continued to laugh. With a sudden grin, he reached for Wesley's spoon, and shoved a nice large spoonful of sugared cereal into his own mouth.

"Hey! What're you doing?" The laughter had stopped instantly.

"You weren't eating it..."

"That's mine!" Wesley reached over to grab the spoon away, which Angel held just out of his reach. Wesley glared at him like he'd stolen one of Wes' treasured books. "Give that to me."

"This?" He brought it closer. Wesley lunged, and Angel took it out of reach again. Wesley glared, and pulled back a hand to thump him. Then Wesley's face changed, and he turned around and grabbed the bowl with both hands. Bringing it quickly to his mouth, he tipped it and began swallowing.

Angel had to give him points for determination. He thought about scooting the chair backwards, next time Wesley set the bowl down. Only he didn't set it down. He held it, and continued to gulp -- until he coughed, again, and the remainder of the cereal spilled out, all over Wesley.

Angel grabbed the bowl before it could fall and shatter, and set it on the table. A quick check told him Wesley was only coughing, not no-air-choking. He was looking down at himself, though, and making some other noise in the midst of his coughing. Angel guessed that it had something to do with the milk and super sugar crisp all over his pajamas.

When the coughing stopped, Wesley looked up accusingly at him. "Look what you did! Bad vampire."

It really was amazing how much he sounded like Giles. Maybe it was part of Watcher training. Angel stood up calmly and carried the dripping Wesley out of the kitchen. "I'm not a bad vampire. A bad vampire would suck your blood out and stash you in a closet and tell Gunn he'd lost you at the playground."

"He'd stake you."

"It might be worth it," Angel said contemplatively as he carried Wesley up the stairs.

Wes kicked him lightly in the rib. Not enough to really hurt, just enough to remind Angel that he really needed to hide all of Wesley's shoes that didn't have soft toes. "Where are you taking me?" Wesley asked, squirming.

"This place has lots of closets. I thought I'd pick one, then think about whether I'm a good vampire or a bad vampire."

"You're going to lock me in the closet?" Wesley asked quietly.

Angel blinked, then did his best to pretend he had no idea what he'd just said, or what Wesley might have taken it to mean. "Nah. Not really much fun. I think I should suck out all your blood, then turn you into a vampire."

Wes looked up at him, shocked -- for a second. Then he grinned. "Okay!"

"Then Spike will be your big brother," Angel pointed out.

Wesley's delighted expression fell. "On second thought, I don't want to be a vampire."

"Oh, come on! You and Spike will have such fun. Huh -- I wonder if I change you while you're four, if you'd stay four forever?"

"No. And he would not -- he'd be my nephew. Drusilla sired him, no matter what Spike tries to say." Wesley got a thoughtful look on his face. "That would really bug Spike, wouldn't it? If I were his uncle." He grinned. "Turn me! Turn me!"

Angel obliged. He turned Wesley upside-down, and kept going up the stairs. Wesley squealed, and thumped Angel, but it was with his fists, not his steel-toed shoes, so Angel ignored him. He realized he was going to have to change his own shirt, as well, after holding a milk-soaked Wesley. Briefly, he considered changing into another navy shirt, but not because Lorne said he might stop by. He hadn't, but that didn't mean Angel couldn't take little Wesley out on the town. Right? And if they happened to stop by Caritas...

"Please, please, please!" Wesley was begging happily. Angel grinned, thinking he was gonna get to carry Wesley upside-down all day. Then Wes finished his sentence. "Turn me into a vampire! Please, please, I wanna thump Spike on the head!"

Angel frowned. "But you can do that as a human."

"That wouldn't be fair -- he can't hit back, when I'm human."

Angel paused at the door to Wes and Gunn's room. "You want him to hit you back?"

Wesley laughed. "No, dummy. I'd hit him and run away. He couldn't catch me, if I was a vampire."

Angel was still confused, as he walked over to the bed, and held Wesley out over it. "Then why do you want him to be able to hit you back?"

"Because he wouldn't bother to chase me, otherwise. Stupid bad vampire!"

Angel wasn't sure if Wesley was referring to him, or Spike, but he dumped Wes on his head onto the bed, just for the hell of it. Wesley just laughed, then rolled to his feet and started to bounce.

Angel stifled a grin -- Wes was going to be wearing himself out sooner than expected -- and walked over to the bureau. He pulled open a drawer at random and peeked in. Uh-huh. Gunn's underwear. Interesting fashion choice, he thought as he eyed the tiger-print briefs.

"I bought those for him to wear with the vest," Wesley announced, standing beside Angel.

Angel closed his eyes briefly. He was a fighter of Evil. He regularly did battle with demons, vampires, lawyers, and got covered in all kinds of slimy, muddy, ooey things. But this was a little more than he was prepared to deal with. He most definitely did not want to know what kind of vest, and he was most certainly not imagining possibilities.

"Wesley? How about I make you a deal -- I don't take any more photos of you until noon, and you never, ever tell me about the kind of underwear you buy for Gunn." He glanced down -- carefully keeping his gaze away from the drawer as he closed it, and considered the chances of it being safe to keep searching for Wes' clothes.

He found Wesley looking up at him with a maniacal grin and a gleam in his eye that Angel would have sworn only Spike could do. "Deal! Want to see the non-underwear things I've bought for him?"

Angel groaned. Then he glared at Wesley. "You don't have them here. You would've left them at your place, or Gunn's." Wide, innocent-looking eyes told Angel he was right. Angel glared harder. "We need clean clothes for you to change into."

Wesley started to pout, then he just pointed to another drawer. "My shirts are in there."

Angel went over to the drawer, glad to see Wesley was getting himself out of the splattered pajamas. He pulled the drawer towards him, hesitantly -- and was relieved to see shirts. Normal, unassuming, child-sized shirts. Except-- Angel blinked. Then he grinned. "How about this one?" He pulled out a Rover the Werebat cartoon t-shirt.

"No, I want the other one," Wesley commanded.

"Which other one?" Angel asked as he sorted through the shirts in the drawer. There were a month's worth of t-shirts alone, and that was before he started on the button-downs and... sweaters? It was early May, in California. Wes would be an adult in less than two weeks. Why would he ever need sweaters? Angel shook his head. Apparently someone had gone a little overboard on the 'wouldn't this be adorable.' She'd probably done it with the agency credit card, too. "This one?" he asked, holding up a plain blue T whose general Wesley-ness gave him some sort of forlorn hope that Wes would say yes.

"No." Wesley rolled his eyes. "The Pet Shop Boys one." Angel raised an eyebrow. Wesley raised one right back at him, which was just eerie. "What? Gunn found it for me at the Salvation Army store."

Angel kept his mouth shut, and returned to sorting through the t-shirts. Winnie the Pooh. Tigger, too. Plain. Sugar frosted. Green with purple stripes. But no sign of anything with the Pet Shop Boys on it. "Are you sure it's in here?"

"Of course it's in there. Where else would it be -- in Gunn's underwear drawer?"

Angel could only hope not. "It's just that I don't see it."

"You just don't want me to wear it because you don't want people to think you dress your kid in outdated eighties band clothes."

"I'm almost three centuries old. To me, outdated kids' clothes involve ruffles and velveteen, and breeches that button at the knee. I don't care what kind of t-shirts you wear. I just don't see it in the drawer. Maybe it's in the laundry?"

"It can't be in the laundry. I only wore it yesterday. Or the day before." Wesley headed for the bathroom, though, presumably to look.

"If it's in the laundry, which one do you want instead?"

Wesley stopped and looked back at him. "Why can't I wear the Pet Shop Boys shirt?"

Angel actually had to stop and think of a response to that one. Not because he didn't know the obvious answer -- but because he couldn't decide if Wesley were serious, or not. He couldn't be that regressed, could he?

More likely this was a 'mess with Angel' game. A rather harmless one, if so. It didn't involve anything to do with his hair, or his own clothing, so he could deal. "Um, Wesley, even if you did wear it already, if it were clean, it wouldn't be in the laundry hamper, would it?" he finally tried.

But Wesley shook his head. He looked a little bizarre, frowning sternly and wearing only what Angel suddenly realized were Harry Potter underoos. He had to try very, very hard not to crack a smile. "Gunn puts my clothes in the hamper. He says otherwise we'd be living in a pig sty." Wesley pouted, without warning. "It isn't my fault it's so far from the dresser to the bathroom. When I get undressed in the evenings, I'm too tired to carry my clothes."

"Uh-huh." Angel was glad he hadn't been saddled with baby-sitting four-year-old Wesley, Spike, and Xander. The excuse was a lame one, but he knew where it was going. Or rather where it went, every time Gunn had to get Wesley into bed. Chalk up a point for the vampire who didn't have to put Wesley to bed. "If it's in the hamper," Angel said as logically as possible, "it's got to be dirty. Even if it wasn't dirty before, now that it's been in there with all the other dirty clothes..."

"It isn't dirty," Wesley said just as logically. Except his logic was all in the tone, not in the actual content of what he was saying. His logic was saying 'I'm four years old, and I'm going to pout if you don't do what I want...' Wesley folded his arms. "Just go look in the hamper. I'm sure it's clean."

'But I'm afraid of what I might find in your hamper,' Angel didn't say. Instead, he moved past Wesley -- and when exactly did Wes lose the use of his arms and legs, since he'd been headed in this direction a minute ago? -- and into the small bathroom. After a moment's careful digging through the clothes, uncertain as to what might spring out at him, Angel located the t-shirt, and held it up, examining it. "Wes, it's got spaghettios all over it." He could count the little dried orange pasta rings. One, two, three... there was a constellation of them.

Small arms uncrossed. Small hands went to small hips. Small lower lip jutted out. "Are you saying I'm clumsy?"

Angel blinked. "No, I'm saying it's got spaghettios all over it, therefore it's dirty, therefore you'll have to pick something else to wear."

"But I want to wear that t-shirt." The utterly logical voice was straying towards too logical, now. Angel looked warily at him. It was difficult to gauge Wesley, on some things. Spike and Xander, for instance, would already be throwing tandemized temper tantrums, checking each other out every so often to make sure the other one's kicking and screaming was still in sync.

With Wesley, he was so subtle about it that you never knew when or if he was going to have a tantrum. When he did, you could never be entirely sure it wasn't for real. At least Angel couldn't, and he suspected Cordelia couldn't, either. Gunn seemed to always know -- either that or he was faking it and just coddled Wesley, regardless. If Wesley was just playing the Angel game, it wouldn't really matter if Angel said yes or no -- the fun was in making things as difficult as possible. All of which meant that if Wesley really wanted to wear this shirt... someone was going to have to do laundry.

"Why don't we have Gunn do the laundry, and you can wear it tomorrow? You can wear Tigger, today." Angel thought he sounded reasonable. Wesley's mouth puckered into the ugliest mad-frown he'd ever seen. "Pokemon?"

Two seconds more and Wesley was going to be screaming. It was still uncertain whether Gunn and Cordelia would come check on things, but a vampire's hearing was sensitive. He still didn't know how Spike had managed, when it had been both he and Xander screaming their heads off.

"You have to wear something that's clean," he finally said, as sternly as he could.

"Fine. But I'm not going to wear anything stupid!" Wesley stomped over to the bed and sat down, bouncing a few times, belying his angry mood.

Angel sighed in relief, and went back to the drawer to pull out a shirt. He could hear Wesley bouncing, still, then he bounced hard and landed on the floor. "Which shirt do you want?"

Then he heard Wesley laugh, and heard light footsteps running for the door. He turned around in time to see Wesley streaking out of the room into the hallway. Literally. His underoos were lying on the bed.

Angel sighed. Right. He could do this. He could catch a single, naked child. He'd chased two of them around Buffy's house for a week. He had vampiric speed on his side, and the naked child wasn't a vampire, nor was he being carried by a maniacally giggling naked four-year-old vampire who was shouting, 'You're too slow! Quick! Climb aboard!' He was just naked, four-year-old Wesley.

Who was heading downstairs towards Gunn and Cordelia. Not that either of them would be shocked by the sight, but then they would know that Angel couldn't catch him. They would know that Angel had been manipulated into a situation where he would need to catch Wesley. He took off after the sound of laughter that floated down the hallway.

At the top of the stairs, Angel looked around. No Wesley. No Wesley's naked four-year-old behind bobbing down the stairs. He looked around to make sure no one was watching, then sniffed the air. Wes had stood at the top of the stairs for a second, but hadn't gone down. Clever little bugger. Angel stalked further down the hall, past the stairs. "Oh, Wesley..." he called lightly, trying to inject just the right amount of psychotic-vampire-gonna-grab-you-suck-up-every-last-drop-of-your-blood into his tone.

He heard a stifled giggle, but Wesley didn't move from wherever he was hiding. Angel walked slowly after him, clearly able to hear Wesley's quick heartbeat not too far away. He wondered if he ought to catch Wesley right away, or if 'can't catch me' would wear him out even sooner than otherwise.

He drew nearer the room Wesley had ducked into, and pushed on the door. "Oh, Weeeeeeeesley," he called out. He looked into the room and spotted Wesley easily. The room was one that had never been cleaned up for occupancy, and was full of dust and sheets draped over the furniture. He headed towards the chair Wesley was hiding behind, exaggerating his tip-toeing up to one side of the chair.

Wesley sped away around the other side, and headed for the door. Angel gave him a two-second start, then went after him. "Nothing a vampire likes better than toying with his meals," he called out, and heard more giggles, which were quickly muffled again.

Angel managed to chase Wesley up and down the hallway, up a flight of stairs and around that floor, before he finally had to grab Wesley around the waist or make it entirely too obvious that he was only faking his inability to catch the small but hyperactive human. Wesley screamed that he was about to be eaten, someone come save him, and help, help the bad evil vampire's got me.

Angel didn't have the heart to tell him Gunn and Cordelia had actually left the hotel, ten minutes before. Wait a minute. Not torture Wesley, back? "Wes, they're gone. It's just you and me." He smiled.

"You're lying," Wesley accused.

"No, they really are. I saw them getting into the truck, when I passed the window in Suite 117. Bye-bye, humans. It's just us vamps and pre-vamps, now."

Wes frowned, then his face broke into a wide grin. "Oh, right! I forgot. I'm gonna be Spike's uncle! Okay, I'm ready. Turn me!"

He assumed a vaguely crucified posture, which looked utterly ridiculous when he was being carried down the hall under one of Angel's arms. After Angel had gotten down the stairs and back to Wes and Gunn's room, Angel looked down at Wesley again. Still on his invisible cross. Angel rolled his eyes and dropped Wes on the bed. Wesley rolled over, still playing the martyr, then after a few seconds of Angel not doing anything, he opened his eyes. "You said you'd turn me!"

Angel shook his head. "I'm not turning a naked person. You have to pick some clothes that are good enough to become a vampire in, first."

Wesley frowned suspiciously at him. "Since when? I'll bet Drusilla was naked."

Angel blinked at him. He didn't particularly want to have that discussion with Wes, either, though he assumed the adult version had already known most of the details. But still... "No, she was wearing sackcloth, as a matter of fact."

"Penn?"

"Er..." Angel frowned. "I think he was wearing a hat."

Wesley giggled. "What about Mortimer?"

Angel frowned again. "I never had a childe named Mortimer."

"Yes, you did."

"No, I'm pretty sure I'd remember."

"Spike says you did."

"Spike lies a lot. You might have noticed."

"Spike says you had a childe named Mortimer Snerd. And he was even poofier than you."

"Why would I turn someone named Mortimer Snerd? Remember, I was Angelus at the time, which means I was evil. Evil doesn't turn Mortimer Snerds."

"Does, so."

"Doesn't," Angel said reflexively, then suppressed the urge to slap himself on the forehead.

"Does so!" Wesley exclaimed gleefully. He'd climbed to his feet, and began jumping on the bed again. Angel found it vaguely disturbing. Of course, there was the thought that once Wesley had grown up again, he might be quite embarrassed... Angel found himself smiling. Wesley stopped jumping. "What?"

"Nothing. You wanna get dressed? Something dark, now. Can't be a vampire if you wear bright clothes."

"Xander can. He's said so. If he ever gets turned, he's going to wear neon. And didn't Jay-Don wear bright clothes?"

"None of my childer wear bright clothes," Angel growled.

"But I can still wear my Pet Shop Boys t-shirt, right?" There was a hint of a frown which might have been genuine.

Angel pretended to consider. "We could dye it black, I suppose. But only when it's clean."

"OK!" Wesley bounced off the bed and ran towards the dresser. In about ten seconds he'd pulled out dark clothing, and put it all on. Including underwear, socks, and a belt. Angel blinked. And he had no photographic proof.

Of course, Wesley had no shirt. "Wes?"

"What?"

"Aren't you going to pick a shirt?"

Wesley gave him the most hurt, pathetic face he'd ever seen on a living human. It was the eyes. Even Xander couldn't quite get his eyes to go that wide. If Wes ever taught him how to do it, god help the world. "But... you said I could wear my Pet Shop Boys t-shirt."

Angel shook his head. "Yes. After it gets washed."

Wesley was all smiles again. "Okay!" He walked back over to the bed and sat down.

He looked expectantly at Angel. Who blinked and stared at him for a good thirty seconds, before it dawned on him. "You want me to wash the shirt. Now."

"You will? See, I knew you weren't a lace-wearing Alsatian-faced monkey-sniffer, no matter what Spike says."

"That's very generous of you," he said politely. It was by far nothing like the worst Spike had ever said about him, even in jest. He was about to explain that Wesley still couldn't wear the shirt if washed, because he'd said it should be dyed black. That would only get him heading down to the store to find fabric dye, so he just sighed. He had to do some of his own laundry, anyway.

He took the shirt, and headed for the door, deliberately not asking Wesley if he would be able to stay out of trouble for two hours. When he reached the door, he stopped and looked back. "Um, you have researched this, right? Read the Persivous' Essays on Vampires? It's almost required reading for new vampires."

Wesley blinked slowly. "I've never heard of it."

Which didn't surprise Angel, because he'd made the title up. "Oh, I have a copy of it somewhere in my library. Why don't you go get it, and read a bit while I get this clean?"

He'd barely finished speaking before Wesley was running, again. At least this time he was half-dressed. Angel knew the search for the non-existent book wouldn't keep Wesley busy for two hours. However, the chances were good that he'd find something else interesting, in his search, and get caught up in reading it until Angel was done with the impromptu laundry.

An hour and a half later, Angel was more than impressed with himself. With a little judicious overstuffing of the washer, and understuffing of the dryer due to half of Wesley's shirts being hung up to air dry on the line, he'd managed to cut half an hour off his usual laundry time. Of course, since he hadn't actually washed a single thing of his own, he wasn't sure what he was supposed to be so proud of, but he was studiously ignoring that fact as he walked up the basement stairs and into the lobby.

A trail of knocked-over debris marked Wesley's comet-trail towards the library -- including an overturned potted plant whose scattered dry soil was sad testimony to how often Cordelia remembered to water it. After picking up the pot and replacing it on the front desk, Angel held the basket of garden-fresh (tm) laundry in front of him, and shouted out Wesley's name as he walked towards the library. "I'm in here," came the plaintive response.

Angel poked his head inside the room, to find Wes, still shirtless, sitting atop a large pile of books with a veritable mountain range of them stacked around him. Wesley looked up as Angel entered, his brow knit in frustration.

"What's wrong, Wes?" Angel picked up the Pet Shop Boys shirt, from the top of his neatly-folded laundry pile. "Here you go -- all clean."

Wesley glanced at it, but didn't move to take it from Angel. "I couldn't find it."

"Couldn't find what?" slipped out, before he remembered the book.

Wesley frowned, and even Angel could see that it was for real this time. "Persivous' Essays on Vampires. I've looked everywhere and I can't find it. So I haven't read any of it; I'm sorry."

Angel set the laundry down, and crouched down next to Wesley. He held out the shirt, which Wesley took, reluctantly. "It's OK, Wes--" he began, intending to tell him the joke.

Wesley shook his head. "It isn't OK. I'm supposed to be good at this sort of thing..." He picked up a pad of paper and a pencil, apparently prepared to take notes on his directed course of study. "I'm supposed to be trained for exactly this kind of thing."

Angel knew he'd better act fast to distract Wesley from his perceived failure. Sugar cereal would do it -- but he had something better. He smiled, and said, "That's OK, Wes. I'll still change you."

He changed into his vampire visage and leaned forward, fangs to Wesley's neck.

~~~~~

Gunn pushed open the door and yelled into the lobby. "Hey -- who wants tacos? Buenos, not Bernie's." They'd figured there was an eighty percent chance Angel wouldn't even have managed to get Wesley dressed to go out, by the time they got back from running errands, so they'd stopped for fast food, just in case. There was no answer to his shout, though.

He looked at Cordelia, who shrugged, and walked past him, carrying her own fast food bags. Angel's car was still parked out front, but that didn't mean anything, if Angel had actually succeeded in getting Wesley dressed, and they'd taken off through the sewer tunnels as they'd been talking about.

Still, Wes preferred his tacos hot, not microwaved, so Gunn gave another shout on the off-chance that Wes and Angel were in hearing distance, and just deeply involved in some game or other. Knowing Wesley, it would be something they'd want to take embarrassing photos of Angel doing. "Wes?"

"I'm here." The voice was very quiet, and Gunn had to look around for a moment, before he saw Wesley sitting on a large chair that had been pulled up behind the front desk. His head barely reached over the top.

"Hey, what's up? We brought tacos." Gunn held up the bag in his hand.

Wesley barely glanced up. When he did so, Gunn caught sight of something. "What happened to your neck?" There was a bandage there, taped in place with first aid tape. Right where you'd expect... Gunn shook his head. "Where's Angel?" Probably off getting Wesley some placate-him junk food, or a book to read.

"He startled me," Wesley said quietly.

"Huh?" Cordelia sat her own sack of food on the desk, and leaned against it. "Eew, how'd the office get so filthy?"

Gunn looked at the floor, then back up at Wesley. "English?" he asked slowly.

Wide, horror-struck eyes looked up at him. "We were playing. He was going to turn me so I could be Spike's uncle and order him around. But... he startled me." Wesley held up the object he'd been holding in his hand.

A pencil.

Cordelia gasped, and pointed at the pile of dust on the floor. "Oh my god..."

At which point Wesley burst out laughing.

Gunn stared at him, not sure what to think. Angel couldn't possibly have turned him into a little miniature evil Wesley before... Then Wesley looked up at him, and Gunn saw his eyes. "You have no idea how dead you are, do you?" Gunn asked the giggling child.

"Oh, but you should..." Wesley succumbed to another fit of laughter, then continued. "Should've seen your faces... Especially Cordelia..."

Cordelia was walking towards Wesley with a disturbing look on her face. "Wesley? Where's Angel?"

"Hi. Somebody bellowed?"

Gunn swung his head around and saw Angel standing at the top of the basement stairs, a basket of laundry in his arms. Wes was off on another giggle-fit, so Gunn took a step towards Angel. He looked as clueless as usual -- but then again... "Tell me you had nothing to do with this?"

"Nothing to do with what?" Angel looked from Gunn, to Cordelia, to Wesley, who was giggling obliviously to his impending oblivion. "I didn't make him laugh," Angel said in a doubtful tone.

Gunn could tell that what little ability Angel had at subtlety was not being put into play, here. He really had no idea what Wesley had done. Gunn nodded. "Good. Then you can help us hide the body."

Angel blinked. "What body?"

"That body." Cordelia pointed at Wesley. Angel set down the basket of clothes, and headed towards Wesley. No questions asked. Gunn wondered what kind of morning Angel had had.

"Hey!" Wesley suddenly noticed them advancing on him, and he leapt up and dove for the floor beneath the desk.

"Can't hide from us, Wes," Gunn told him. "We outnumber you, we're bigger than you, and we can grab you without looking at your eyes!" He leaned over the top of the desk and fished around underneath it.

"You'll never take me alive!" Wesley shouted, and Gunn felt something rap his knuckles.

"Ow! Dammit, Wes, I'm gonna--"

"You're gonna what? Wanker!"

"Yeah, you oughtta know." Gunn smirked. Then he got stern, again. "Give up, Wes. Angel and Cordelia have you boxed in. There's no way out." There was no reply. Gunn didn't want to reach in again -- maybe he could get Angel to do it. "Wesley? You surrender?" he asked. There was still no reply. Then, very softly, he heard a sniff. "Wes?"

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to scare you. It was just... Angel left me all alone up here... and I was bored, and I couldn't find the Persivous text, and Tex Avery isn't on until five, and... when you looked at my band-aid like that... I just couldn't help myself. Please don't be mad at me."

The small, high voice sounded sincere, but Gunn wasn't buying it -- not so soon after being called a wanker. No matter how true the accusation might be, considering that he didn't have any other options these days. Still, Gunn didn't have to let Wes know he wasn't taken in.

"I'm not mad at you, Wesley," he said, sighing deeply. "Come on out of there, and have some tacos."

"I don't believe you."

"Really. Fresh tacos. No lettuce. Extra cinnamon crisps."

There was a pause. Then, "I don't believe you." The tone was hesitant, though, if still dripping with poor pitiful me.

"Really, Wes. I won't do anything," Gunn promised. "It was just a joke -- pretty good one, at that." His appreciation of the joke wasn't entirely faked -- it was a good joke. If it hadn't been for the heart attacks he and Cordelia had suffered.

"Really?" came the still-pathetic voice.

"Would I lie to you?" He made it sound as serious and intimate as he could. As though the fate of the world rested on Wesley believing him. He was rewarded by Wesley's head poking out from under the desk. Wesley looked up at him, with his eyes extra-big and 'please mister, may I have more gruel' begging. Gunn grabbed onto his arm and helped him up. Then he tightened his grip. "Didn't say nothing about Cordelia not doing anything, though."

Cordelia smiled, and folded her arms. "You know, Wesley, I don't believe in spanking children." She smiled even more brightly, and Gunn shivered.

"Really?" Wesley perked up. "That's wonde-- I mean, very enlightened of you. Shall I mention I'm not really a child? I'm merely under the geas of a spell although I can't actually be held responsible for my actions, despite my actual status as a non-child..."

Cordelia just kept smiling.

Wesley stared at her for a moment, then he looked up at Gunn. "I'd rather you took revenge, please?"

"Oh, no. I wouldn't break a promise to you."

Cordelia was gently tugging Wesley's arm out of Gunn's grasp. "Of course I don't believe in spanking children. I think only adults should spank." She began hauling Wesley out of the lobby and towards the little parlor that they'd turned into a TV room.

"Angel! Gunn! Help me!"

"What's that? I can't hear you. I'm too busy being a wanker," Gunn responded as they disappeared out of sight.

"And I'm too busy cleaning myself up off the lobby floor," Angel said, grabbing a broom, and setting to work doing just that.

After a minute, Wesley's general cries of "No!" and "Help me!" gave way to louder ones. "Cordelia! Please! I'll be good! I'll never ever do anything terrible or evil, ever ever again! You can't do this to meeeee!"

Gunn gave Angel a worried look. After all, he knew what Cordelia was capable of. She was the one who had masterminded Operation Paint Gunn's Truck Day-Glo Green, for one thing.

Angel was merely smiling. Then, as the screams went on, he began to actually laugh. Hard. Then harder. Then he was almost choking, and it took Gunn a second to remember that Angel couldn't choke, and he didn't have to try the Heimlich maneuver on the vampire, even though he had been eating a taco when he'd started laughing.

It was beyond eerie, and didn't help Gunn get over his fears for Wesley's safety in Cordelia's hands. "Hey, could you please stop that, man? It's freaky."

Angel nodded, but didn't seem to be able to stop, for a few seconds. Then the laughter gradually died down, with a few fits and spurts, every time he seemed to be about ready to talk. Finally, the vampire was silent, and took a deep breath. "Heh... sorry. She's... ha... she's making him watch QVC. The Jewelry and Fashion Hour. She's telling him she wants to call in."

Gunn stared at him in disbelief. Shaking his head, he just said, "Man, she must be pissed. That's just mean."

"You could go rescue him," Angel suggested, with a still-damn-freaky grin on his face.

"Are you kidding? No way am I going in there! The little rugrat can fend for himself." Gunn caught sight of the bag of food from Taco Bueno. It was gonna get cold before Cordelia let Wesley go. But taking his burrito and crisps to him now... Hell, he'd just go buy more, when Cordy was through with him.

~~~~~

Rupert was entertaining himself by thinking of training schedules and routines. Not because Buffy needed to sharpen her skills. He wasn't even thinking of the usual, present-day training handbooks. He was amusing himself by thinking of what had been in some of the older books. What he'd read in the USMC training manuals. Because as soon as he was grown up again, and could make Buffy do as he said, he was going to get her.

She was still laughing, though at least now she was trying to hide it.

He raised his hand, intending to wave it at her and at least sound somewhat threatening. Unfortunately, it was the hand holding the scrap of underwear they'd spelled to attempt to locate Ethan. The one she'd been laughing about in the first place. Again.

She stopped trying to hide her laughter. "Oh god-- get away from me with the dreaded Ethan-butt!" She slid a hand into the pocket of her jacket and pulled out a cross, quicker that Quick Draw McGraw, whom Rupert had been watching on telly this afternoon while he ate his tea and cookies. "Back, foul Ethan-butt demon!"

Rupert tried very hard not to stamp his foot. "Stop that! These are perfectly clean underwear."

"I didn't say they weren't. That was 'foul' as in foul fiend of hell -- not foul as in Dawn hasn't washed her socks in a week again."

Rupert sniffed. "And it could be worse -- we could have drawn the short straw and gotten the part that Spike and Xander are holding."

They'd come up with the bright idea, this time, to cut the underwear up into three pieces and triangulate Ethan's position, keeping in touch with each other via walkie-talkie. Xander had somehow managed a straight face when he'd made the suggestion. Rupert had somehow managed not to throw a tantrum when he'd realized that, utterly perverted or not, it was actually a good idea. Anya, Dawn, and the little witches had gotten the elastic waistband. Buffy and Rupert and gotten the back, leaving Spike and Xander with the obvious remnant. Rupert shivered. Buffy, of course, just wrinkled her nose.

"You think we should get them something?" she asked as they walked down the well-lit sidewalk.

"Spike and Xander? Why ever would I want to buy something for them?"

"No, all three of them. Some kind of no-wedding present. What do you get for today's trendy menage a trois to celebrate them being officially not legally married to the dead member?"

"Involuntary commitment papers? By the way, vampire to your left."

"Thanks." Stake at the ready, Buffy hauled the skinny female vamp out of the shadows and dusted her with a minimum of inane chatter. Rupert was impressed. Of course, then she turned back to him. "No, really, though. Something they could use --"

"I stand by my suggestion of commitment papers."

"I was thinking of a copy of 'What to Expect When You're Expecting...' " Buffy said, jogging a few steps ahead so he couldn't jump up and threaten her with the dreaded underwear, in retaliation.

Rupert settled for glaring at her. "While I admit that thought provides some amusement, it also provides much more of something I can't properly put into English. I shall simply say 'ergk kgick ugic ig' and be glad my mum isn't here to wash my mouth out with soap. Besides, you're wrong."

"I'm wrong?" Buffy looked down at him with her best little girl look -- which, truly, had nothing on the four-year-old's version. Rupert wasn't impressed.

"They are legally married to Spike, now. Not in the human court of law, of course. But legal all the same." He glanced around, wondering where in God's name Ethan was hiding. He wanted to vent some frustration, and kicking Ethan in the shins should do nicely.

"But I thought Angel forged Spike's signature?"

"Doesn't matter. As Spike's Grand Sire, Angel is allowed to... er... marry Spike off to whomever or whatever he wishes. One wonders why he didn't do it years ago, marry him off to a nice toadstool and get him out of his hair."

He felt Buffy whap him on the head, lightly. "Be nice," she admonished.

"Whatever for? Since when are they nice to me?"

"Who bought you the biotechnic Lego robots?"

"They demolished my Lego castle -- again. As adults. It was only fair."

"Uh-huh. And the Batman shoes?"

"Xander bought them for himself, and they didn't fit."

"He thought he could squeeze his Sasquatch-feet into size threes? I don't think so, somehow."

"Oh, well, Xander, fine. But Spike? Since when wouldn't you want Spike married off to the nearest convenient lamp-post, and out of your hair?"

She stopped, and looked down at him. "Um. Well. " Rupert waited patiently. At last, she muttered, "He's... ahem... kinda-cute-now-that-he's-with-Xander-and-Anya-and-isn't-always-bothering-me..."

Rupert slipped his finger onto the 'talk' button of the walkie-talkie in his hand. "Excuse me? Did you just say Spike is cute?"

"I said kinda cute," Buffy corrected. Then her eyes narrowed. "Giles, that walkie-talkie had better not be--" Her eyes widened and she lunged. Laughing, Rupert sped away from her. He knew he'd never be able to run faster than she, but if he angled towards the vampire stalking the next alley, she'd get distracted long enough for him to remind her why they were out here -- reasons which had nothing to do with tickling one's Watcher.

He pointed as he ran by, shouting, "Vampire!" and only stopped when he heard Buffy stop and chastise the poor undead creature for interrupting her pursuit. He looked back to see Buffy standing near a large poof of dust. She turned to him, then, and took a step towards him.

Rupert smiled and took a step backwards, raising the scrap of underwear. "Now, Buffy, we oughtn't get distracted from locating Ethan."

"Oh, I'm not distracted. Not distracted at all." She took another step towards him. "I'm just thinking... maybe we need bait!"

"Er... bait? Buffy, I'm not sure what you're planning , but may I remind you that you promised you'd take care of me, if I went into this affair voluntarily, this time?"

She smiled brightly and twirled her stake in one hand. "Don't worry. I'll take care of you."

Rupert blindly thumbed the microphone button on the walkie-talkie and shouted, "Anya! Xander, Spike, anyone, help!" It hit him as the words left his mouth, how ridiculous they were. As if those three would be willing to help him against--

"What's wrong? Where are you?" Spike's voice came over the speaker instantly.

Followed by a crackle of static, and Dawn cutting in. "Giles? What's wrong? Where's Buffy? Are you okay?"

"Just tell us where you are -- we're on our way." That was Xander's voice, followed by something that sounded suspiciously like a zipper being zipped.

Rupert stared at the little yellow walkie-talkie, wondering if perhaps it had been possessed by unseen spirits. Then it hit him even harder -- they thought he was serious. "Er... well... that is..."

Tara's voice cut in as soon as he lifted the button and played with the 'squelch' feature in order to procure some stalling-time. "Did you find Ethan?"

"Well, no, but..."

"Where are you?" Dawn asked, and Rupert sighed, guiltily. He took note that Buffy was doing an excellent job of stifling her laughter so she couldn't be heard over the walkie-talkie. He appreciated her lack of support, and was determined to remember it.

"It's all right. I just... panicked."

"You what?" Anya asked. Then, in a stage-whisper that was nonetheless amplified by the walkie-talkie, she asked, "Is he there now?"

"No, he isn't. It was just... Buffy. She was threatening to hold me upside-down." He closed his eyes, so he wouldn't have to see Buffy's face turning red as she tried to whoop silently with laughter and breathe at the same time.

There was no immediate response over the walkie-talkie. Rupert thought perhaps if he dropped it down the sewer, he could at least delay hearing what they'd have to say...

"I missed having my orgasm, for that?" came Spike's growl.

Four girlish "eeeeews" followed the comment. Then Willow snapped, "You two are supposed to be looking for Ethan!"

"We were! Er, are! We're searching every alleyway between here and North Avenue!" Spike countered.

"Spike, Xander, get your butts out onto the sidewalk and look for Ethan!" It was frightening how motherly even a four-year old Willow could sound. No one could do 'mad' like a mother. "And they'd better not be naked butts!" she added, and Rupert could hear Tara giggling in the background.

"In this neighborhood?" Xander was saying, but Spike cut him off, speaking over him, apparently directly into the microphone, since his voice was quite loud.

"Was that you coughing, Tara? Damn, I knew we shouldn't have let you come along. You're still delicate -- you should be home on the sofa with a nice hot cuppa."

"Spike, I'm fine. It's been two days. I'm not even a bit stuffy," came Tara's reply.

"Are you sure? Anya, feel her forehead..."

Rupert had the insanity to hope, for a moment, that their continuing diversion into the state of Tara's no-longer-existent illness would distract them from their sadly justified unhappiness with him. No such luck.

"I wanna know how come Giles gets to play with the walkie-talkies, and nobody's yelling at him -- you all yelled at us when we were playing suburban commando," Xander said over Spike's continued kvetching.

"Because I'm four," Rupert said blithely -- then realized he'd had his thumb on the 'talk' button. He moved his thumb and looked up at Buffy. "Please, I think I need to be put down for a nap."

She shook her head, though she didn't appear to be completely unsympathetic. "You got yourself into this, you can get yourself out. You're a highly trained Watcher -- you can deal with anything."

"Yes, I deal with most things by saying 'Buffy, kill it, please.' I'm not sure that will work in this case."

She thought for a moment, then said, "Well, we could always find Ethan. That will make everyone pretty much forget the numbskull things you're doing -- he does much more numbskully stuff, like sending us the statue in the first place."

He wasn't sure if Buffy were complimenting him, or not. He could never really tell, when she said things like this. However, she was right. "Very well. Let's continue looking -- and no using me for bait."

"You're no fun."

"I'm a great deal of fun. I just happen to be -- oo! Look!" He ran over to a store window and peered in.

Train sets. Gloriously huge sets, with tracks running the entire length of the window, around and back along one wall. The train was running now though the shop was closed; the proprietor was still inside.

The train was running through a mock-up of South London, as it had been over a century ago. Rupert noticed he had his nose plastered against the glass when Buffy asked, "Do you want me to hold you up?"

He looked at her suspiciously. "Well... only right-side-up."

There was an evil glint in her eye for a moment, but she merely picked him up and settled him on her hip, so he could see more clearly into the lighted display window. "Look -- right there, where the caboose is passing through? I used to live around there. I had a little bedsitter there, when I was in college."

"In the 1860's?" Buffy asked straightfaced, as she looked at the little card that gave the background information for the setting.

He blew a raspberry at her. "No, in the 1970's, Miss Smarty Pants."

"Back when you were seriously hanging out with Ethan and the rest of the acid kool-aid crowd?"

Rupert nodded. "Yes. You... you might have actually liked him, then."

"Why? Was he less annoying?"

"No, but he was cuter." Rupert slapped his hands over his mouth, but it was a bit too late, as Buffy looked down at him and laughed. He sighed again. "I'm going to be glad to be old, again." He looked harder at the model. Whoever had built it, must have lived in London -- or spent a great deal of time studying accurate photographs.

"Aww, but I like you this age. You're cuter, too."

Rupert gave Buffy a dirty look. She just grinned at him. "We should go look for Ethan," he reminded her, as if it hadn't been his fault they'd got derailed. As it were.

"All right, come on." Buffy walked away from the shop. Rupert looked back at the display. Where on earth would he put one? The training room in the back of the Magic Box? His living room? The rec room at Spike, Xander, and Anya's apartment? Spike would be a useful consultant on the mock-up...

"Er, Buffy, you can put me down, now." They were halfway down the sidewalk, just getting out of sight of the shop. He suddenly realized he hadn't even looked at the store name, to come back later.

"Are you sure? You said you were needing a nap. If you're tired, I can--"

"Buffy, go back." She stopped, probably due to his tone, but she gave him the 'what are you talking about now' look. "There was a black curtain in the window of the bedsit. With a red pattern on it."

"Um, yeah? You wanna know where he got it?"

"It's exactly like the one I had hanging in my window. Ethan used to say they were the ugliest curtains he'd ever seen, especially upon wak--"

He really needed to learn how to shut up sooner.

But Buffy was blinking at him, then looking over their heads at the marquee sign with the store's name on it. "The Rainy Day Toy Shoppe. His originality never ceases to amaze me. I suppose he could've just named it 'Ethan's,' like the costume shop." Then she looked down at Rupert's left hand. "But how come the undies haven't gone off? Or, um... what is it they're actually supposed to do again?"

"Turn pink." He looked down at them as well, then held them up in the light. "Rather like this."

"Pink." Buffy bit her lip for a moment, then gave in to her laughter. "Sorry. It's just... have you noticed that we're just a little bit silly?"

"It never entered my mind."

Just then, the radio crackled, and Xander's voice came over the speaker. "Um... you guys didn't set these underwear to change color in the presence of people who were just harmlessly stopping for ice cream, right?"

"Again?!!!" Willow's voice echoed out of the walkie-talkie, sounding like a cross between Donna Reed, Roseanne Arnold, and the little girl from 'The Bad Seed.'

Rupert wondered what was so wrong with them stopping off for ice cream, aside from the general dereliction of duty thing, but he didn't have a chance to ask, as Anya took the walkie-talkie from Willow, and said clearly, "No. We set them to turn pink in the presence of annoying chaos worshippers."

"Well, they fill at least half of the specs," Dawn said cheerfully. "Hey, wait, our underwear is pink too! I mean, our piece of Ethan's undies."

"As a matter of fact, my underwear is pink," Anya volunteered for no earthly reason that Rupert could think of except to give him one more thing to add to his list of 'must never think about, ever' things.

"The pink satin ones, or the pink ones with little yellow flowers?" Spike asked.

"Anya, if you answer that question I shall send Spike to Burma on an errand which will take him two weeks to complete, and Xander on another errand to Beijing." Rupert ignored the look Buffy was giving him -- presumably because he'd grabbed her by the wrist, as she was still holding the walkie-talkie. "We've found Ethan," he added.

And he knew they had -- not just found his front of operations -- because Ethan was sitting at the counter, now, watching them through the shop's front window. He gave Rupert a cheery wave. Rupert waved back. "Let's go in. I want to look at the train while you beat him up."

"Are you sure I should be beating him up? Maybe we can ask him, first, what he's up to?"

Rupert pouted at her, one of his very absolute best pouts. "I want you to kick him."

She peered doubtfully through the window. "Well... Much as I'd like to, I don't think --"

"No, you're right. You hold him still. I'll kick him."

"Giles..."

"Band candy," he said clearly, looking up at her.

"I'll let Spike hold him still, and we'll both kick him, okay?"

"I don't think that's remotely fair," Spike said as he walked up behind them, flanked by Xander. "Couldn't he be just a little bit not-human, so I can kick 'im too? I mean, he tried to take our girls-- that deserves a right round of killing, in my book."

"I'll kick him for you," Xander said in a tone that normally was used to tell a spouse you loved him and would always and forever do romantic things for him. Which, Rupert realized, Xander was.

"We can all kick him," Anya said, and she went to the front door and pulled it open. Ethan just stayed in his seat and watched them, as they filed in one at a time. Rupert pushed his way to the front, intending on being the first one to kick him. Right in the shins.

"Oh my god, is this Rupert? Little Ripper?" Ethan got off his seat and crouched down. "I don't believe it. It is!"

Rupert scowled. "Stand up so I can kick you properly."

"You've turned into a four-year-old. And you have a lisp -- it's too precious for words. Tell me, can you remember everything? Or do you think you're truly four? The manual said it was just a physical change, but it wasn't entirely clear that it meant only body size would change."

"I mean it, stand up-- manual?"

"Manual?" Buffy echoed.

"Yes, the manual. Came with the statue -- well, when I got it. Forgot to ship it, didn't I? Oh, dear." Ethan shook his head.

To hell with the bad angle. Rupert kicked him.

~~~~~

"He doesn't look like much, does he?" Cordelia asked her as they stood around the chair to which Ethan had been tied for the last several hours. Long enough for the L.A. group to have made it down to Sunnydale in Angel's very large shiny black mid-life-crisis mobile. Anya pondered that for a moment, wondering if it meant Angel would only live to be five hundred, then decided it was just another expression that worked as long as you didn't take it literally.

"No, from the way they've all been talking about him, I was expecting slime and scales, possibly a tail. Horns, at the very least." She studied the slender Englishman in the chair critically, then turned around, intending to find Giles and ask if he'd like to kick Ethan again, since he appeared to be waking up from the sleep-spell Willow had put on him to get him to shut up.

Instead, she was face to face with a lopsided smile and a pair of red eyes that matched the small red horns growing from the forehead above them. "I don't think he could pull off the horny look, somehow," the green-skinned demon said with a grin.

Anya blinked for a moment, having been in the back of the shop when the L.A. people had shown up, and been kept back there by Cordelia to catch her up on the latest gossip. The men had been nowhere in sight by the time they came up front. "You're Angel's new boyfriend. I like you. You're cute. And your bright color complements his excessive pallor quite nicely." Which was one of the reasons she'd taken to buying jewel-toned silk shirts for Spike to wear with his never-going-to-give-them-up-woman-you-might-as-well-stake-me black t-shirts.

Cordelia rolled her eyes, for some reason. "Lorne, this is Anya. The artist formerly known as Anyanka, patron saint of scorned women."

"Oh! Charmed to make your acquaintance, Anya," Lorne said, reaching out a hand. She took it, and let him bring it up to kiss the back of her hand. He winked. "But be careful with using the 'b' word -- I don't think Angel's quite up to hearing that, yet."

"You don't have to do that," Cordelia said. "She doesn't have her powers anymore."

Lorne gave her a look, but Anya just smiled. "I like it. I think everyone should treat women that way. Although it makes it more difficult to devise torments for a man who's polite. Not that they were ever polite while I was tormenting them, of course."

"Of course," Lorne said, gallantly. Anya further approved -- although she wasn't convinced she understood how Angel had managed to land this one. After listening to Spike rant about it for the last two nights, she didn't think she was the only one who was confused.

"Speaking of men, where are ours? Won't one of them want to kick Ethan again, before we determine what to do with him?" Anya asked, looking around the shop.

"Nope. They wandered off to discuss 'strategy' at Cafe Borgia." Cordelia rolled her eyes. "AKA shove ice cream down Wes and Giles' throats so they'll stop arguing over the Dracula doll that Wesley insists Giles gave him and Giles insists he only lent him, and to decide who gets to beat up Ethan, first."

Lorne nodded. "Yeah, the testosterone was getting a little thick in there. So I volunteered to run over and ask whom you ladies thought should get first crack at him."

"Duh? We do." Cordelia turned her attention to Ethan, who was now looking around and blinking, as if not quite awake.

"Cordelia. You're looking lovely as ever."

"Lovely as what ever? I've never been unlucky enough to come face to face with you before, Mr. Slimy."

"Oh, but I've known you since you were sixteen. Such a lovely child. I had the perfect Halloween costume picked out for you. Marie Antoinette."

"Cordelia would have made a horrible Marie Antoinette," Anya observed.

She found Cordelia turning to her with an aggrieved look on her face, and wondered what she'd said this time. It was always something. She shrugged. A few days after he'd moved in with Anya and Xander, long before he'd become their lover, Spike had given her the best advice she'd ever received for living as a human: "Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke." When she'd pointed out that she hadn't been joking, he'd grinned, and said "Fuck 'em anyway, then. You know what you meant."

"You don't think I could pull off playing royalty," Cordelia was asking her.

Ah. That was it. "No, I meant that Marie Antoinette was three inches shorter than you, had buck teeth, and bathed about once every three months."

"Oh." Cordelia turned back to Ethan. "You thought I'd make a perfect short, ugly, smelly woman with no head?" He blinked, and she leaned in close to him. "Think carefully about your response, because I don't like you much to begin with, mister."

"My lovely woman, what did I ever--" He stopped -- though not, Anya thought, because Buffy laughed.

"You called Wesley's parents," Cordelia told him. Anya wasn't sure that counted as an explanation, even though Xander had told her about the phone call. Perhaps Cordelia was simply going to clarify her explanation as she took her revenge -- a bit cliche, but always effective.

"Er, um," Ethan said.

"And tried to get us kidnapped! And Spike thrown in jail," Willow called out.

But Cordelia just shook her head. "I don't care about that. Willow could have turned everyone into frogs before the cops even showed. But what you did to Wesley..." Ethan tried looking bewildered, then innocent, then repentant. None of them worked. "I should rip your eyeballs out."

"Oh, no, don't do that," Anya interrupted. "If you want to pop them out, use a spoon. If you rip them, they get ooze everywhere and it's very hard to get out of carpeting."

"Hmm. Good point. Got a spoon?" Cordelia asked.

"I've got one," came Tara's piping voice, from behind the counter. She popped around the corner with a large red plastic Dairy Queen spoon in her hand. "Will this do?"

Ethan was looking at Tara with more than a little fear, which Anya thought very wise of him. After almost a month with the two little witches living in their apartment, she thoroughly understood the meaning of 'It's always the quiet ones...' Lorne was edging back out the door, looking at all of them with more than a little fear.

"My dear... er... little girl..." Ethan stammered.

Tara toddled over to him, and held the spoon up in the light from the overhead lamp. "You know, Cordelia might not care about us almost being kidnapped, but I do. I don't care if we could've turned them into toads -- I was scared. You're mean, and I don't like you."

At which point, of course, there was a red-headed blur rushing across the room to kick Ethan in the shin. "You scared Tara. I hate you."

Anya resisted the inexplicable urge she was feeling to tell Willow not to say things like that, because it wasn't nice, no matter how true it was. She also resisted the urge to kick him in the shin herself, for scaring not only the children, but Anya's men, as well. They had delicate, fragile egos, and it often took weeks of buttering and fluffing for them to recover from an experience like that. Luckily, their own quick thinking and inborn parental instincts had left them more proud than embarrassed -- but that was no thanks to this jerk. Anya only resisted kicking him because she wasn't four years old. She could think of much more sophisticated things to do to him.

"And you hurt Wesley!" Cordelia was saying; then she stepped forward and kicked Ethan.

"Ow!" Ethan tried to scoot back, but he was rather firmly tied in place. "I was only trying to test the statue," he began.

"Test?" Buffy entered the conversation. Her voice was scary -- her Slayer voice, as Anya thought of it. For a Slayer, it was a nice voice. For a not-scary person, it wasn't nice at all. Anya liked it.

"Should we come back later?" Angel asked. Anya and the other women looked towards the door. The men were standing there, obviously too afraid to interrupt the proceedings. Anya was glad to see such a display of intelligence on the part of the male species.

"Depends. Do any of you want to kick him, too?" Buffy asked, staring at Ethan again.

"Oo! Me, me!" Giles exclaimed happily. "Is this a trick question?"

He ran forward, the others following behind. Anya noted that Spike and Xander still looked like they wanted to kill Ethan a bit -- apparently they'd joined the others for real ice cream, rather than being able to sneak off and get rid of some of their anger. That was fine, Anya could do that for them, later.

"I want to know what he means by testing the statue," Buffy repeated. There were varying degrees of looking put-out, as she disrupted the entertainment of beating up Ethan.

Ethan had gone back to trying to look harmless and innocent. Anya saw Wesley, in Gunn's arms, tug on his boyfriend's shirt and whisper in his ear. Gunn nodded and set Wesley down. The little boy walked over towards Ethan; Buffy and Giles made way for him. Wesley went right up to Ethan, who looked down and started to smile ingratiatingly. Wesley scowled -- and kicked him.

"You'd be Wesley, then," the man said, with a sigh that didn't sound at all genuine to Anya. Perhaps they hadn't scared him enough?

"Rupert's right. You are a weaselly little wanker," Wesley said.

"I'm pleased to meet you, as well," Ethan responded. Looking over at Giles, he grinned. "This one's almost more adorable than you are, Ripper."

"Oh, he is not -- just because he's figured out how to dilate his eyes wider than God intended..." Giles grumped. Somebody hadn't had his nap today, Anya noted. Or somebody was just a little jealous of the only other cute four-year-old boy in the room...

"So you haven't forgotten your vocabulary, at least. The educated part, as well as the section on gratuitous insults."

Anya was impressed -- Giles managed to kick him in exactly the same spot Wesley had. He was going to have a hell of a bruise tomorrow. Assuming he lived that long. Buffy was bearing down on him with that stake-happy look in her eyes.

"Okay, fun as it is, the kicking-period is over. Or at least temporarily suspended. I want some answers from chaos-boy here. What do you mean, you were testing the statue? It obviously works. If you were spying on us all along, you would've known that the first time we used it -- without any kidnappings or calls to anybody's mom and dad."

"Well, I... that is, I just -- all right! All right." Ethan glared at Giles, who had moved into shin-kicking position again. Wesley walked over to Cordelia; Anya missed what he did, but somehow he was being picked up and held without even asking by raising his arms. "I wanted to know how much one's intelligence changed after using the statue. What better way than to provide... challenging situations and observe how the 'children' reacted?" Ethan gave them each a hopeful look -- apparently hoping his answer was sufficient to prevent another kicking.

"That's it?" Buffy asked.

"Essentially, yes. It was also fun." Ethan smiled, briefly.

"Fun?" came several voices, all at almost the exact same level of annoyed.

"Er..." Ethan looked around at the people surrounding him. "Well, perhaps not from your point of view, of course. But they weren't intended to be dangerous. Just challenging."

"I think we should draw straws to see who hits him, first," Cordelia said. Then she shook her head. "Forget it. Tara, I want that spoon."

Spike was standing at the back, and Anya noticed that he was very politely raising his hand. It probably meant he was afraid Cordelia would take the spoon to him if he pissed her off.

Anya spoke up on his behalf. "Could you hold the eyeballing for a minute, Cordelia? I think Spike has something he wants to say."

All heads turned to Spike, who shuffled a bit and looked down at his boots. "Actually... just wanted to say that I hadn't got my turn to kick him, yet."

Ethan looked up, startled. "You can't kick me-- you have a chip in your head. I know all about you."

Xander moved up to the chair and did an excellent job of towering over the seated man. He looked quite large and menacing for a guy who had watched Looney Toons in his boxers just this morning, with a four-year-old girl on either side of him and Spike on the floor leaning against his shins, happily crunching away on bloody Froot Loops. "I get to be his proxy-kicker," he informed Ethan. "Anyplace you'd like me to start?"

"All right, I think maybe we've threatened him enough for the moment." Astonishingly, the voice came from Giles.

"I knew you still cared, old boy," Ethan said smarmily.

"Shut up." Giles kicked him again.

"Does that mean I can kick him?" Xander asked.

"No -- at least, not yet. I want to know why you wanted to test the statue." Giles stared at Ethan in a way Anya recognized. Not because he ever looked at her that way. That she could recall. But he was often looking at Buffy or Xander or Dawn or Willow that way. It was a look that said 'tell me what I want to know, tell me now, and I shall consider the vaguest possibility that I shall cease being angry with you'.

Ethan was looking bewildered and surprised. Giles turned to Xander. Ethan yelled, "All right! For god's sake, you people are vicious."

"You should remember that, next time you decide to stir up trouble in Sunnydale... or California... or anywhere in North America," Buffy said.

"I wanted to test the statue before I used it on myself," Ethan said, with a reluctant air.

There was a stunned silence. Then Buffy laughed. "Oh, my god. A four-year old-Ethan! He'd be cuter than Giles!"

"He would not!" Giles protested.

"Oh, I would," Ethan said.

"Shut up!" Giles kicked him. Again. Anya was beginning to get a little bored with the repetitiveness. "And why wouldn't he be cuter than Wesley?" Giles demanded, pointing at the diminutive ex-Watcher, still in Cordelia's arms. Anya thought he rather looked like the spoiled heir to the throne -- especially with the thumb in his mouth.

Wesley looked at Buffy, who shook her head. "Nope, not cuter than that. God, Wes, you should have given us those eyes when you first came to Sunnydale. We'd have done anything you asked." She chucked him under the chin, and Giles muttered something under his breath.

"I don't think that kind of demon can do that with its own tail," Anya pointed out.

"I'm sure it would find a way if Wesley looked adorable at it," Giles shot back sarcastically.

"Someone needs a na-ap..." Ethan sang, saving Anya the trouble of pointing that out.

"I think Giles is the cutest," she said, instead. What the hell -- she could use a raise. There was a new software company in which she desperately wanted to buy shares, not to mention that they'd probably be needing a bigger place to live, sooner or later. Four bedrooms? Five?

"Thank you, Anya. I think."

"So why does thin, pale, and snarky here want to be a kid again?" Angel's green boyfriend asked, looking Ethan over with narrowed red eyes.

Ethan looked straight back at him. "Do you know what it's like to be a chaos worshipper, when you reach a certain age? All the two-faced gods want are young, bright-eyed boys they can have the pleasure of corrupting." He smiled slyly. "Don't we all, of course. But there's a point, you know, where you've made one too many pacts. Sooner or later, someone's going to decide you're not pretty enough to keep around just for the scenery, and call in the debt."

"You want to use the statue so you can be--" Buffy shook her head. "Tell me he doesn't mean that the way I think he means that."

"He wants to remain in service without paying the price of servitude," Giles explained, with a hint of long-suffering.

"Exactly!" Ethan gave Giles a happy smile. "Granted, I'd rather be a bit older than four, but I'm not picky."

"We can make sure you don't get any older," Cordelia said. Anya decided she needed to spend more time with Cordelia. Girls-only weekends -- they could go shopping and have lunch, and talk about dissecting men.

Ethan appeared a bit disturbed. "That's not exactly the way I meant it."

"Who exactly was going to take care of you, Ethan?" Giles asked. "Or were you going to hire a demon nanny?"

"Well, actually, that seems to be the flaw in my plan. After a week, the emotional maturity of the inflicted seems to regress far past what I need. While your intelligence level appears unchanged, your... ability to use that intelligence is affected." Ethan shook his head, sadly. "It isn't what I'm looking for."

"So sorry to disappoint you," Giles sneered.

Everyone stood around, staring at Ethan, for a moment. Dawn finally broke the silence by asking the obvious next question. "So, what are we going to do with him?"

"Kick him?" Giles suggested.

Anya smiled. Eleven hundred years as a vengeance demon were good for more than just thinking up mutually enjoyable torments for Spike and Xander. "I have a better idea."

~~~~~

"You scare me," Xander was saying to his wife. The scary thing, for Gunn, was that he was saying it the way other men say 'You look like you need to be covered with ice cream and chocolate sauce and chopped nuts and have me licking it off you, slowly.' Anya was looking like that was what she had heard, too.

"Hey, you scare me, too," Spike said, with the biggest display of attempted Wesley-eyes Gunn had seen since Giles had volunteered to be the one to boot Ethan through the portal.

Gunn had shaken his head at the time. Can't beat the real thing, baby, as the Coca-Cola people knew damn well. Wes had given Cordelia and Angel one flash of those sad, pathetic, 'but he called my parents and now I'm going to be traumatized for the rest of my life' eyes, and that was that. Giles had to share the booting privileges.

Well, okay, Wesley had given the eyes to Gunn as well, but it wasn't like he had to. Gunn had been planning on doing the booting for him, until he'd indicated that he'd rather do it himself.

"I can't believe he blubbered so much!" Wesley was crowing, now. "What a pansy-arse!"

"Wesley, you shouldn't be mean about it," Cordelia scolded. When Wesley -- and Giles, and Buffy, and pretty much everyone including Gunn gave her a dumbfounded look, she said, "Not when he isn't here to hear you."

"He won't be back, though, will he?" Tara asked quietly. She was sitting with Willow in a chair, trying not to drink the cup of tea Spike had brought her. Gunn didn't know what was in it, wasn't sure he wanted to know.

"Actually, he probably will," Giles said. He was drinking chocolate milk through one of those plastic swirly straws with the loops in them, and getting such a kick out of it that he'd obviously never go back to plain old bendy straws again. Angel had bought it for him at the Cafe Borgia, which had meant that Wes had to have his own personal swirly straw too. Giles slurped his milk for a second, then continued. "The World Without Chaos is not a world without magic. It's just a place where the force of order is so strong that any disruptive actions, from mischievous to diabolical, get squashed flat by the universe. It will take him some time, and he'll be driven mad in the meantime, but he probably will find a way back."

Gunn thought it a little odd that Giles didn't seem to mind. He even seemed to be smiling, a little. What was weirder, though, was that Wes didn't seem upset by the news. "A few years of order and neatness will do him good," Wesley stated.

Giles snorted. "Hardly. It will make drive him right around the bend."

Wesley grinned. "Well, then, it shall do me some good." He looked around, and spotted Gunn. Brightening, he came over and climbed into the chair beside Gunn. "I want tacos," he said in that 'do for me' tone that Gunn wasn't going to tell him was a waste of energy.

He was glad Wesley had got over his reluctance to indulge himself in being a kid, and if this were gonna last any longer than one more week, Gunn would have some serious problems on his hands. But when Wesley was all grown up again, he'd offer an apology for his outrageous behavior and Gunn would say 'if you wanna make it up to me' -- then hopefully they could stay in bed for three days and let Angel and Cordelia handle the agency and the Fight For All That Is Right.

"Oh, Angel'll go get tacos," Cordelia piped up.

"I..." Angel looked around, desperately trying to avoid Wesley's gaze, Gunn noted with suppressed laughter. "Sunnydale doesn't have an all-night taco place, does it?"

Buffy blinked at him. "You lived here how long and you never heard the expression 'run for the border'?"

"You want me to go to Mexico for tacos?" Then he stopped, considering it. "Hmm. Maybe I should. They'd make the most authentic ones there, right?"

"The Mexican border is six hours away, Angel. Buffy means Taco Bell, which is open 'til one in the morning," Wesley informed him haughtily.

"And you know this how, Mister 'I wouldn't be caught undead in a fast food taco place before I turned into a kid'?" Cordy asked.

"I looked up all the taco places in Los Angeles, to see which ones I could send Angel out to in the middle of the night!" Wesley looked way too proud of himself as the rest of the group laughed, and Gunn was glad again that his boyfriend would be an adult within the week. Not just because the kid-Wesley was three times as evil as the adult one, but because Gunn missed seeing that smile on the adult Wesley's face, just before he kissed it off.

"You want to come with me, Wes?" Angel asked, sounding guileless. "You can help me carry the bags."

Wesley opened his mouth, then stopped. He looked up at Angel, doubtfully, and Gunn had to fight not to laugh. Angel probably wasn't planning anything. But Wesley didn't know that, and wouldn't believe it if he did.

"Since when do you care how authentic tacos are?" Spike asked. Angel looked sheepish, and Spike's eyes went wide. "Oh for fuck's sake!" Spike yelled. Then he glanced at the not-kids standing next to him, and muttered, apparently reflexively, "Pardon my language..." in an accent that frightened Gunn, and made him understand why Angel had thought Spike could have pulled off the phone-prank, if he'd wanted to. Then he turned back to yell at Angel again. "First you marry me off, then you start eating food. Dammit, Angel, you're turning into a... a... a..." Everyone looked at Spike and waited patiently. Spike just looked frustrated, then said, "A goob." Angel blinked at him. "That's a technical term," he added with a sneer.

"A technical term for 'Spike's daddy is a push-over for a pretty face'?" Xander asked.

"Grand-sire," Spike corrected, while Angel protested in more incoherent terms.

Gunn grinned, glancing down at Wesley. He was sitting back in his chair watching the by-play, with his feet sticking out in front of him, barely dangling off the edge of the chair. He was sucking his thumb, and Gunn wasn't sure it was because he needed comforting, or if it was becoming habit. Another reason to want him old, again. If he was developing an oral-fixation...

He seemed to be calming down, finally, which was a good thing. Ever since Anya had first suggested sending Ethan to the World Without Chaos, Wesley had been bouncing off the walls with enthusiasm. Gunn got the impression Ethan was even a little taken aback at how blood-thirsty Wes had gotten. Gunn didn't point out that Wesley had had a three-scoop sundae, at the ice cream shop.

Wesley was now leaning to one side, a little, resting his head against the back of the chair. Spike -- whether he was looking for a way out of having to admit to thinking of Angel as 'dad' even now that he wasn't a fake kid anymore, or just trying to cause trouble -- had backed towards Wesley's chair. Now he reached over and pulled Wesley's thumb out of his mouth with a little popping sound. "You'll ruin your teeth."

The only thing funnier than Wesley's affronted look, and "Not in a week, bell-end," before popping his thumb back in, was the look on Spike's face when he realized what he'd done.

Or possibly the look on Angel's face. "Gee, Spike... you appear to be turning into a..."

Spike whirled on him with a nasty little growl. "Yes?"

"Daddy?"

Spike picked Tara up without even pausing in his glare-fest towards Angel. "Yes, luv, what?"

"Does this mean Angel is my grandpa?"

Spike looked down at her, then around at the grins on all the faces surrounding him. Except for Angel, who was back to panic-stricken, do not pass Go, do not collect 200 packets of taco sauce. Spike grinned widely -- and possibly more evilly than anything Gunn had ever seen. It would be fun to have a contest between Spike, Angel, and four-year-old Wesley, Gunn decided, as long as he got to judge, and not be the victim of the evil.

"Yes. Yes, it does. Although he doesn't like it when people call him that. He likes to be called Poof Daddy." Then Spike was saying "Ow! Ow! Ow!" and trying to kick Angel without setting Tara down. Angel let go of Spike's hair, or ear, or whatever it was he'd grabbed and twisted, and turned to Anya.

"He deserved that," he said, no doubt covering his butt in case she was annoyed with his intrusion on her territory.

But Anya just nodded. "He usually does."

"Hey!" Spike objected, then thought twice about to whom he was objecting, and what he was objecting to. "Er, right. I do. Someone should take me home and--" He stopped, and looked down at the four-year-old in his arms. "Take me out for ice cream."

"Actually, that's raised a good question," Xander said. "We've vanquished the disturbingly-lamer-every-time-we-meet-him Chaos Wizard, and you four have a week left of kiddie-hood. What do we do next?"

At least seven people shouted, "Disneyland!"

"Awesome! But... first, could you all stand together a bit more?" Dawn asked, holding her camera.

At least three people tried to give Angel rabbit-ears, but Gunn was proud to note that Wesley, once again in his arms, was the one who made it there first.


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