Son of Small Fry
Gunn looked down at him with that same concerned expression he'd been
wearing for the last few days. That 'how long is it going to take him to
regress, so I can get him to do embarrassing things on film' expression. Of
course, the 'not yet' wasn't directly in response to that expression, but
to 'Do you wanna go out and hit the playground, today?' Still, it was the
same answer, to essentially the same question, voiced or unvoiced.
"Ya know, you don't actually have to be regressed, to hang out on the
swingset or the jungle gym. The others had fun doing it, even when they
were still grown-up in the head. Got pics, and everything."
"Spike and Xander--"
"Yeah, yeah, act like kids all the time. But Buffy and Giles don't, and
they got into it."
"I am neither Buffy, nor Rupert. I--" He stopped himself from saying
that he didn't *want* to do this. Because, true as it might be, he
knew...it really wasn't *entirely* true. He'd have been happy to avoid the
experience all-together. But there had been a few nice things.
Being held, for one. Suddenly being able to demand and receive as much
physical affection as he'd always been taught was improper and unnecessary
for boys. For men, for Englishmen who were meant to grow up to be
Watchers. Now, just because he was small, he only had to raise one hand and
someone -- well, Cordelia or Gunn -- was hugging him. It made him nervous;
but it felt nice.
"I simply don't wish to make a fool of myself," he finally said.
"Man, ain't no one gonna know you're a old guy in a four-year-old body."
Wesley snapped his mouth shut, and glared as hard as he could. "I am
"You're *way* old," Gunn replied. "You're like, over *thirty*."
Wesley had to resist the urge to respond in any number of ways which
would only prove Gunn's belief that he ought to be acting like a four-year
old. He didn't find it any easier than he did every other time Gunn
started calling him his 'old man'. Normally he proved his youth by proving
his...vitality. That wasn't going to work, this time.
"That's not old," he finally responded. "That's mature. The magical
point beyond which it's no longer necessary to drink milk from the carton
and put it back in the refrigerator, in order to prove one's manhood."
"Hey, I don't do that to prove my manhood-- I've got other ways of doing
that. I do it 'cause it beats washing another glass."
"How exactly does this not prove my point?"
"That you're not too old to go to the park and sit in the sun and play
on the swings?"
Wesley frowned at him. "That was *not* my point." Although he was having
difficulty remembering what his point *had* been. Other than the simple
'No, don't wanna,' which he suspected wouldn't do much for his argument
that he was still an adult, thank you. "I simply..." he paused, trying to
come up with a reasonable answer. "...don't feel ready to do that. And
don't really feel like arguing about it."
Gunn opened his mouth, then closed it. He walked over to the window in
the suite that Angel had prepared for them, and looked out, silently.
Finally he said, "Okay. Not gonna push the kid-stuff. But can't we go out
*somewhere* together? You're gonna make me think you don't wanna be seen
Wesley looked up at him. "But I don't," he said as guilelessly as he
could. Then he had to leap backwards to avoid being grabbed, and, no
doubt, tickled mercilessly.
Gunn advanced on him, though, and he yelped. Much to his chagrin it
sounded like a high-pitched squeal, and it stopped him from running away,
as he'd intended. He stood firm, trying not to appear as embarrassed as he
felt -- and Gunn reached for him. Wrapped an arm around him, and just
squeezed him for a second.
"So where *do* you wanna go? Please don't say the art museum."
"Actually, I was going to say the library, but the art museum *is* a
good idea." Gunn whimpered, and let his forehead fall onto Wesley's
shoulder. When Gunn couldn't see him, Wesley grinned.
"I can see you grinning." Gunn didn't raise his head.
"You can not."
"I know you're grinning."
"That is not the same thing. Look, do you really want to...go
somewhere?" He'd much rather stay at the hotel. But staying at the hotel
meant making Gunn remain cooped up, as well, since he hadn't been able to
convince the man to leave his *side* in five days.
Gunn glanced up, and gave him a pleading expression. "Please? Please
can we go -- someplace at least halfway cool, sorta fun, which doesn't
involve me saying 'huh?' all day and doesn't involve you getting pictures
taken of you?"
Wesley blinked. "No pictures? Are you sure you won't go into withdrawal?"
"I'll make up for it later, trust me."
"No doubt." He couldn't quite give the words that guilt-inducing twist
that they'd had a few days ago; Wesley wondered if he was losing that
ability, as he moved towards the regression that he both dreaded and looked
forward to, or whether the fun had simply gone out of it. Surely not?
He pursed his lips as he tried to come up with an appropriate place.
Somewhere that he and Gunn could go, that they would both enjoy, yet would
welcome children. Or apparent children, and their apparent parents.
"There's the Hawley Science Museum," he offered. Before Gunn could groan
at the word 'museum,' he added, "It's really a sort of interactive thing.
Sound experiments, walk around inside the giant human body, remote
controlled dinosaur skeletons."
"You mean one of those places you go and play with the exhibits, and
Wesley smiled, and nodded. "I wouldn't use the word 'play'--"
"Yeah, that's the problem. Yeah, sure, sounds good," Gunn said
quickly. "Do we need to steal Angel's wallet before we go?"
Wesley pretended to think about it for a moment. "Well, admission isn't
expensive, as such...."
"But the food is, and if we go into the science store...."
"You know you can't buy that chemistry set you've been after, looking
like a four year old."
"How did-- what chemistry set?"
But Gunn was standing up, and holding out his hand. "Come on, we better
get going. If I stay in this hotel one more hour, I'm gonna start...brooding."
Wesley laughed, and had to clamp his jaw shut again. It sounded
*wrong*. He did, however, take Gunn's hand, and tried not to worry about
the quick look his lover gave him. If he did, they'd get into a long
discussion about things he didn't want to think about, and it would simply
delay their leaving.
As it was, it took them half an hour, what with Gunn's disappearance
into a back room to 'discuss' something with Angel-- presumably the 'give
us popcorn money, Dad' conversation, and Cordelia's fussing over both of them.
"Do you have enough money? Do you know not to let go of Gunn's hand in
the museum, because somebody could come along and snatch you, I'm not
kidding, it's happened, and I don't care if you're actually thirty-two
years old, there's not a damn thing you could do about it, are you
listening to me, Wesley Wyndham Pryce?" Et cetera.
And another half an hour in the truck, on the way to the museum. With
the expected 'you wanna stop at Mickey D's?' and the obvious 'I'll eat that
slop when I'm dead and in hell, not before.' Which was actually a bit more
comforting than Cordelia's well-meaning big city horror stories, since he
and Gunn had the fast food conversation almost every day, as normal adults.
'Normal' being a relative term, of course.
Finally, though, they pulled into the parking garage. Wesley tried to
remember how long ago he'd last been here -- the first time had been after
he'd lived here almost a year, and had finally got actual, disposable
income. He'd managed a visit once or twice that year, then only once the
year after. Recently he'd spent most of his free time with Gunn...and he
hadn't ever thought to invite him here.
He was, however, mortified to discover he was bouncing ever-so-slightly
in his seat as Gunn found a parking spot. He held himself still, until the
engine was off. Then he undid his seatbelt and climbed out with as much
decorum as he could muster. He was looking about for the stairs, when Gunn
came around the truck and held out his hand again. "I don't actually--"
"How many drivers in this garage are gonna see you to not drive over
you?" Gunn demanded.
Wesley blinked. He heard the reply in his head, felt it worm its way
into his mouth.... To hell with it. "Then perhaps I shouldn't be walking,
at all." He raised his hands, ready to stammer an explanation that he'd
only been kidding. Gunn grinned, and scooped him up. "Remember where we're
parked," Wesley said, craning his neck to see any signs nearby.
"Yes, dad," Gunn replied.
They made it through the admission counter without anyone staring at
them, which made Wesley breathe a sigh of relief as they walked into the
main lobby. Then he had to pause, and wonder why he'd been expecting that.
It wasn't as if he and Gunn didn't draw the odd look, every now and
then, when they walked into a restaurant on the wrong side of some
invisible line, and one of them was obviously out of place. Or in one of
those neutral sorts of places, like the shopping mall, or the grocery
store, when they did something that broadcast 'yes, we're together' without
saying it aloud. All of which was fine. They were past worrying about that
sort of thing, as far as he knew.
He realized as they walked --or rather, Gunn walked, for Wesley was
still being carried-- towards the dinosaur exhibit, that he was expecting
people to be staring at *him*. Expecting them to *know*, as Gunn had teased
him earlier, that Wesley wasn't what he appeared to be. He also realized
that by trying to watch for anyone staring at them, he was giving the
impression of a young child on his first visit, who wanted to see
He pointed towards the mathematics hall. "There's an exhibit there that
talks about the history of math, and how different cultures arrived at the
same conclusions about the nature of numbers independently of each other."
"Oo, that sounds like *fun*," Gunn replied. "You sure I can't just put
bamboo under my fingernails?"
Wesley thumped him on the head. "You do know you can put me down now,"
he said, as they drew nearer the Stegosaurus. There was only one child at
the controls, which meant he could take a turn, sooner than later.
"Nuh-uh," was the unexpected response. "If I put you down, you'll get
to the controls ahead of me."
Wesley gaped at him, despite the fact that Gunn was staring ahead, at
the dinosaur. They'd reached the control panel, and Gunn was standing
behind the seven year old boy who was making the Stegosaurus try to eat its
"You must be joking," Wesley finally said.
Gunn glanced at him. "I ain't joking. You've been here before, I
haven't. It's only polite to let me go first."
"Yes, but..." Wesley could see where this was going-- he could get to go
first, without any arguing, if he said the five magic words: 'But I'm
smaller than you.' Or possibly 'younger.' Which would win him the battle,
but lose the war. If indeed it was a war. There had to be another
alternative... He frowned at Gunn. "Yes, but I have to show you how to do
it. Otherwise you might end up...er...breaking something."
Gunn grinned and raised an eyebrow. "I think I got the hang of it. Jonny
Quest here seems to know what *he's* doing." He nodded his head at the boy
in front of them, who was now trying to make the Stegosaurus re-enact
Riverdance, it appeared.
"He's probably been here before, too," Wesley said, unruffled. "He's got
that jaded look in his eye."
"Don't *make* me tickle you to get the first turn at this thing. 'Cause
you *know* I will..."
"Just because we're someplace public? Oh, believe me, I will. I might
not get to when you're taller'n me, but now, nobody will even look twice."
"I'll--" Well, 'I'll scream' wouldn't be an effective threat. "How do
you propose to operate the controls with only one hand, if you don't set me
down?" He saw the reply on Gunn's face, and felt himself go bright
red. "You shouldn't think such things around children," he chastised, quietly.
"Me? I didn't think a word. You're the one with the evil mind." Gunn
leaned down to the control panel, and grabbed one joystick. Wesley
sighed. He wasn't going to demand a turn -- it wasn't as if Gunn weren't
perfectly justified. He *had* been here before, and Gunn hadn't -- and he
*wasn't* really four years old and unable to share. And he wasn't remotely
pouting, or thinking that it wasn't fair, and he should get to go first
because he was the one who'd enjoy it more. Because, why would he? They
were both grown men. In spirit, anyway.
Wesley was making that extra effort to suck in his bottom lip, and try
to look interested-but-not-jealous, when Gunn tapped him on the arm. "Hey,
you want this, or what?"
He blinked, to see a joystick in front of his face. Gunn had knelt down,
and placed Wesley on his knee, while Wesley was contemplating not pouting.
He blinked again at the control, then shook his head. "No, of course not. I
wasn't trying to get my own way, you know."
Gunn snorted. "Of course not." His mock-English accent hadn't improved
with age. "Like I'd let you. There's *two* controls, or didn't you notice?
We can make him bop himself in the head."
"What fun. And after that, we can stop at Toys R' Us and pick up a pair
of Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots."
"See, I knew you'd get into the swing of things." Gunn twitched his
control, and the Stegosaurus skeleton attempted to flip Wesley the bird. It
failed badly, since it didn't have any fingers, but Wesley got the message.
He narrowed his eyes at Gunn, and reached out to grasp the other control
-- which was a bit further away than it usually was when he was six feet
tall. "Er, could you..."
Gunn leaned closer to the counter, and Wesley grabbed the joystick.
Executing a move he'd once practiced for half an hour, since the museum had
been closing and most of the children were gone, he twirled the
control-stick around so that the skeleton whapped itself in the head with
its own tail.
There was a pause. Then, "You did that on accident."
"I most certainly did not!" Wesley straightened up, feeling righteously
indignant, and tried to spin around to glare at Gunn -- and nearly toppled
himself off Gunn's leg. He was saved from falling by Gunn's quick grab of
"You break something and Cordelia won't let me take you anywhere, ever
again," Gunn warned him.
"What if I break *your* arm?" Wesley asked, torn between sounding
perfectly innocent and grumbling about the injustice of the world in
general, and snarky lovers in specific.
"Then she *really* won't let me take you anywhere -- because *your*
pansy ass will be grounded for a month."
Once again settled on Gunn's knee -- though not because he hadn't
*tried* to climb down, and been held captive -- Wesley glanced over his
shoulder. "Why exactly would that be a bad thing?"
There was another pause, before Gunn said, "Because then I'd have to
pout at you." Then he did so.
Wesley was about to tease him, when he caught a woman watching them,
with a huge 'aren't they adorable' smile on her face.
Which they were, of course, but why did it take him being the size of a
pre-schooler to elicit looks like that? They never got 'aren't they
adorable' when they teased each other like this in public as adults. At
best they had been politely ignored. At worst-- well, things could have
been worse. They'd never been threatened. They had been the target of a few
not-so-veiled insults, which *they* had chosen to politely ignore. The most
common reaction was a curious stare in their direction before civility
reared its helpful head and the gawker turned away. Which Wesley really was
past caring about. Mostly.
But the smiling woman, who apparently wasn't bound by the same sort of
politeness conventions as prevailed with adults, was still staring at them.
At him. What was it about being three and a half feet tall that made it
polite for people to gawp at you? He was frowning at her, which a real
four-year-old probably wouldn't do. Would one? He wouldn't have dared, when
he was four, of course. Then again, when he was four, he'd have been in
England, and she wouldn't have stared.
He felt Gunn nudge him, and he turned halfway towards him, not quite
letting his eyes leave the woman... Which meant, he realized, that he was
gawking back at her, which was equally as rude. He sighed inwardly, and
turned his attention fully to Gunn.
"You gonna play or you gonna worry about women thinking we're cute?"
Gunn asked in a low voice.
"How long has she been standing there?" Wesley reached for the joystick
again, and half-heartedly raised the Stegosaurus' tail and waggled it.
"Dunno. Come on, Wes, don't worry about her. Worry about the fact that
the T-Rex is about to chomp us."
Wesley immediately looked over towards the Tyrannosaurus Rex robot,
where another child was trying his best to reach their Stegosaurus...and
chomp it. He'd seen kids doing this to each other, of course, but they'd
never bothered *him* when he was playing. When he'd been an adult.
He tried to wallop the T-Rex in the face with the Stego's tail. It
wouldn't quite reach high enough, so he changed his strategy, and went for
the back legs. Didn't quite knock the thing over, but the King of the
Carnivores wobbled quite a bit. The other boy grinned, and made his T-Rex
roar. Or at least open its jaws as if it were roaring, and scrabble its
little front arm/legs. Then the toothy skull dove for the Stego again.
"Get him, Wes. You can't let him eat us. Strike a blow for vegetarians
everywhere," Gunn encouraged him.
"We're not vegetarians," Wesley said as he manipulated his control so
the the Stegosaurus ducked its head to avoid the T-Rex, then readied
"No, but the Stegosaurus is. Says so right here." Gunn pointed to the
legend on the console.
"I'm glad one of us is having a learning experience," Wesley replied,
landing a solid whap to the Tyrannosaurus' skull as it tried to chomp them
again. The T-Rex wobbled, but didn't quite fall. It rallied, and headed
for his tail...his Stegosaurus' tail, once more. Wesley gave it another
hard wallop before it could draw too near.
"Excuse me," said a polite voice behind and above them. Wesley glanced
up, and as he saw the bright yellow shirt of a docent, he heard a
crash. He turned back in time to see his dinosaur lying on its side and a
triumphant Tyrannosaurus stalking away.
"You made us lose!" he snapped, before realizing what he was saying.
"Is there a problem?" Gunn asked.
"We prefer you treat the exhibits with more care," she replied, pointing
to a sign that said "Please Keep Robot Dinosaurs In Their Own Play Area."
It meant, as Wesley well knew, 'Don't play fight with the robots.'
"Sorry, ma'am," Gunn was saying, standing up and picking Wesley up with
him. Wesley frowned -- was he *ever* going to let him go? It wasn't like
he was going to run off and get *lost*. "Didn't see the sign."
Well, that was half true. *Wesley* had seen the sign. On more than one
occasion. He just hadn't felt the need to point it out to Gunn, on this
*particular* occasion. As the docent raised an eyebrow at Gunn, Wesley
replaced his petulant frown at having lost, with a wide-eyed, innocent,
She looked down at him, and smiled back. Right, so perhaps there was
*something* to the whole cuteness-factor. Wesley wasn't above using
whatever weapons he had in his arsenal, so he widened his eyes a bit, and
said, "You're not mad at us, are you? We won't do it again." He could feel
Gunn trying to hold back a chuckle. He didn't even have to be *looking*, to
know it was happening.
The young woman shook her head, and said, "No, honey. I'm not mad. These
guys are made tough, just in case they decide to get rowdy, you know. We
just don't want them getting too excited before feeding time."
He looked back at the robots, wondering if four year olds were supposed
to think robots ate real food. Before he could decide to say something,
Gunn was telling her, "We'll be sure to read the signs from now on,
thanks. It's my first time here," he added, as if *his* being cute was
going to affect the docent in any way.
Wesley decided to assist him. "I've been here *seven* times, so I'm
showing him around."
"Have you, now? My, I bet you know everything there is to know about
the place." The docent was looking from him, to Gunn, and back. "You're
going to show your...." Here she faltered, clearly at a loss to guess why
they were here, together.
"He's my boyfriend," Wesley said, with a straight-face. Gunn burst out
The docent gave Wesley another 'isn't he cute' smile, though she was now
getting ready to walk away. "I hope you enjoy the rest of your visit. Just
be nice to the dinosaurs -- they were here first."
"What are *you* laughing at?" he asked Gunn, as the woman walked over to
talk to the T-Rex operator, who, as a ten-or-so-year-old, had definitely
seen and read the signs.
"I think I'm too young for you," Gunn replied through his chuckles.
"Man, that was masterful."
Wesley lifted his chin. "I have no idea what you're talking about," he
"You sure you don't wanna go back to the admission desk and see if you
can cute 'em into giving us our entry fee back?"
"I'm sure they see plenty of children who are as cute or cuter than me.
At least... six or seven, per year. I doubt I'd have any luck." Gunn
laughed, and started carrying him away from the exhibit. "Where exactly are
we going?" Wesley asked, having given up on ever being put down.
"Feeding time, didn't you hear the nice lady?"
Wesley rolled his eyes. "Yes, but I don't expect they're actually taking
the fiberglass dinosaur skeletons round the back to feed them their daily
meal of attic insulation."
"Not for them-- for us. Cafeteria's this way."
"It's barely ten thirty," Wesley pointed out.
"So? You turning down junk food?"
Wesley narrowed his eyes. "Of course I'm turning down junk food." Not
that he was, precisely. It was just....
Gunn stopped walking, and craned his head around to look where Wesley
had been glancing. "What's over there?"
"Nothing, really." He kept himself from looking over, again. Which was
pointless, because Gunn started walking that direction, reading signs out
"Electronics, lights...sound? There something in the sound exhibit you
"If you're hungry...." Wesley began. The sound wing was rather packed
-- then he saw that the keyboard was *free* and he wriggled,
urgently. "Let me down!"
Gunn did, though Wesley suspected it was from surprise, more than
anything else. Wesley ran as fast as he dared, ducking around adults and
other kids who obviously didn't know an excellent exhibit when they saw
one. He leapt, and landed on the 'C' square. The speakers overhead
sounded a loud, organ's tone. Wesley grinned, and jumped to the 'E'.
Gunn caught up with him in a moment, looking a little worried. "Hey,
Wes, don't do that, okay? Not in a big crowd like this."
"You're as bad as Cordelia," Wesley replied, stepping over to the
E-flat, then jumping to the 'C' again. "I'm perfectly all right."
Gunn frowned for a moment. "I just don't wanna lose you, okay?"
Wesley landed on two notes right next to each other, and covered his
ears at the cacophonous sound. Then he turned to Gunn, who began to repeat
himself. "I heard you," Wesley said quietly. "I'm not about to disappear,
you know. Just because I can run faster than you..."
"You slip through crowds easier than me. You ain't faster."
"Am, too," Wesley replied, jumping over to hit a third, and not quite
making it. "When I say 'now', would you step on those two keys?" He pointed
them out, to Gunn. Gunn gave him a frown, which meant the lecture wasn't
over, but he moved into position. Wesley bent his legs to jump, and said
"Now!" A perfect chord. He grinned. Then he turned to Gunn to reiterate
that he *wasn't* going to get snatched, and faltered. Stared, instead, at
the look on Gunn's face. "What?" he demanded, after a moment.
In a quiet voice, Gunn said only, "Love you."
Eventually, Wesley was able to look back up at him, and faked a pout.
"You don't play fair."
"Nope. Gotta use every advantage I have, in the Man's world," Gunn said,
straightfaced. Wesley snorted.
"You do realize, don't you, that *I'm* 'The Man' ?"
Gunn was laughing at him again, damn it. "Uh, that's right, Wes. You da
"Not what I meant." Wesley shifted from one foot to the other, which
happened to recreate the theme from 'Jaws' rather nicely.
"Yeah, so. You're The Squirt, then."
"You're asking for it."
"I am, huh? And you're gonna give it to me?"
"If I must." Wesley pushed his sleeves up, getting ready. He moved his
feet into a fighting stance, which Gunn recognized. A confused look
appeared on his face.
"What are you gonna do, kick me in the shins?"
Wesley shook his head, and stage-whispered, "I'm going to scream for my
Gunn blinked. "Nah, you wouldn't."
"Thought you didn't want to be embarrassed?" he asked, but he didn't
sound *completely convinced.
"Face embarrassment, rather than let you get one up one me?"
"Good point. How about I buy us ice cream sandwiches, and you pay --
because you're da Man?"
"How about you jump on the 'D' and the 'G' so I can play another chord?"
Gunn rolled his eyes, but complied. The man had good timing, Wesley had to
admit. The sound rang out nicely.
Gunn looked at him. "If you're thinking we're gonna do the Pachelbel
Canon, I'm telling you right now, forget it."
"Are you saying you can't dance?"
"No, I'm saying I can't play the piano. If I try to break it down on
this thing, they'll kick us out of here for disturbing the peace."
Wesley pictured it, and couldn't help giggling. "Then why don't you just
step down two notes, and play harmony for me? The 'A' and the 'C'. Back and
"You're a weird little kid, you know that, right?" Gunn said as Wesley
began hop-playing the melody line. Gunn burst out laughing when he finally
figured out what the song was. "I Wouldn't Normally Do This Kind of Thing?"
"Better than 'How Much Is That Doggie In The Window," Wesley replied,
sticking out his tongue. "And when exactly did *you* listen to the Pet Shop
Gunn never stopped shifting from one foot to the other, playing his
limited harmony line. "Yesterday afternoon, while you were watching tv with
Cordy. Looked 'em up on the net. Downloaded some mp3's."
"You're a strange, large man, you know that, right?"
"Thought you liked 'em large and strange."
Wesley faltered on the next note, and took the moment as a time-out to
glare at Gunn. Again. With its usual lack of success.
"What?" Gunn looked at him, surprised.
Before Wesley could respond with a musical raspberry, two girls jumped
onto the keyboard. They obviously had no musical talent, but Wesley
surrendered the board, regardless. He was about to head for the listening
tubes, when he found himself being lifted into the air. "Charles,
*really*. This is getting quite absurd."
"What? Since when don't you like being taller than most of the crowd?"
"Since most of the crowd is under the age of twelve. I *can* walk, you
know." He tried wriggling out of Gunn's grasp, again, but Gunn was holding
"So can I. I can walk and carry you at the same time." He proceeded to
prove it, by walking towards the microphone exhibit -- thereby proving he
had no clue what passed for a cool exhibit.
"You *could* simply hold my hand, as I walked along beside you," he
"Yeah, but then you wouldn't see anything."
Yes, and people wouldn't see *him*, which was the point of the exercise.
Or at least, people wouldn't see him being hoisted above his boyfriend's
head like a sack of potatoes. "I would so. I'd have a lovely view of...
knees. Lots of knees."
"'Cause God knows, you need to do some more research on kneecaps,
otherwise you might accidentally kick somebody where it *didn't* hurt,"
Gunn said, shifting him slightly, so that he could, in fact, see the
exhibits better than before.
"That's right. I need to practice my aim," Wesley agreed. Gunn carried
him toward the microphone exhibit, and Wesley tugged on his ear.
"What're you doing?" Gunn laughed.
"Steering. I've never driven one of these contraptions before, so it may
take me a moment to get used to it." Wes tugged on Gunn's other ear.
"That's not tr---" Gunn started, then stopped. "Um, not gonna finish
"Charles! What did I tell you about thinking such things around
children?" He sounded shocked -- and perhaps a bit too loud. He received a
very peculiar look from a man who didn't appear to think that all was right
with his world. Or Wesley's, or Gunn's, or something. But that was all
right, Wesley was used to *those* sorts of disapproving looks. He grinned
-- then stuck his tongue out at the man, who blinked then hurried away.
"Where are we going?" Gunn asked, trying to head in whatever direction
Wesley was steering.
"Over there." He pointed, then thumped Gunn on the head. From up here
he *could* see quite well, and he could see something he'd forgotten
about. "No! There, this way!" He tugged on Gunn's ear, again.
"You know, you could use that fancy vocabulary of yours to *tell* me
where to go." There was a pause. "Forget I said that, OK?"
"You *could* use those hands of yours to put me *down* and I could
*show* you where I want to go," Wesley reminded him. There was silence for
a moment. "Er, Charles?"
"Thinking not-around-kids thoughts again. Uh, this way?" He walked in
the right direction, but Wesley pulled on his ear again. Just for the hell
of it. "Wrong way?"
"Mean Little Kid."
Finally they reached the shadow box display, which Gunn was examining
curiously. "You *have* to put me down, for this to be any fun," Wesley
informed him. Gunn did so, after a dubious look, and Wesley pulled him into
the box, which was actually the size of a rather small room. Several other
people, adults and children, were standing about waiting. Gunn raised an
eyebrow. Then the flash of light went off.
"Uh, so the point of this exhibit is to blind people?" Gunn asked,
blinking. Wesley pointed at the wall, where there was a perfect shadow of a
tall man, holding the hand of a small boy. "Dam-- uh, man, that's cool!"
Wesley laughed, and tugged on Gunn's hand. "When you hear the beeping,
"Ready for what?" Gunn was still watching the walls, which were adorned
with shadows from all the occupants.
"For the light to flash! Honestly, Gunn, pay attention."
Gunn tore his gaze away from the wall, and began to give him one of the
'don't dis me, man, I know where you're ticklish' looks. Then the alarm
sounded, and Wesley jumped into the air. Right before Gunn caught him, the
light flashed. Wesley spun around to look at the shadow before the white
light had even completely faded. There was a small shadow-him, in mid-air.
They managed to kill an hour, playing in the shadow box. Then Wesley
dragged Gunn - by the ear - to the sound tubes, then the earth science
wing, then the mathematics wing where Wesley demonstrated that it was much
more fun than bamboo under the fingernails. Gunn agreed, especially when
he happily sat for a half hour staring at the Marble Race, trying to
predict which pathways the marbles would take as they tripped the various
traps, switch-tracks, and gizmos.
Then they finally made it to the snack area, and spent much of Angel's
money on junk food. They walked around outside, looking at the agriculture
displays and gardens, and Wesley amused himself by whispering to Gunn about
historical, magical, significance of some of the plants they
saw. Afterwards they debated the engineering wing versus the science
store, and finally the science store won out.
"Hey, check this out," Gunn said, dragging him over to one of the
logic-toy displays. Gunn had *finally* put him down, when his shoulder had
obviously started to get tired, but he was still holding Wesley fast by the
hand. "They got little mini-marble races."
"Yes, they've been around for years-- it's actually the large ones that
are the novelty," Wesley explained.
Gunn was busy studying the back of one of the packages, a contemplative
look on his face. Wesley spotted a robotic construction set, basically a
miniature version of the dinosaur skeletons, across the aisle. He reached
for it, but couldn't quite make it without getting Gunn to let go of
"Hmm?" Gunn was still rolling the marble around the box.
He strained against his lover's hand, but couldn't get free. "Charles,
let me go."
"Why? Hey, you know you can buy a bunch of these sets, and hook 'em
together! We could make a huge track, in the middle of the hotel lobby."
"I don't *care*; I want to look at the robotic models." He tugged again.
"Where are they?" Gunn set the marble race track down, and took a step
towards the models.
Wesley sighed. "You *do* know you can let me go. I'm going two feet
away -- surely even you can keep an eye on me."
Gunn looked down at him, raising an eyebrow, but only said, "You wanna
get one of them? Stegosaurus?"
"I don't wish to buy it, I simply want to see how they're
constructed." They were near enough to the models, now, that he could
reach forward and grab a box. Only he didn't quite get his hand on it, and
the front three boxes fell onto the floor. He sighed, and crouched down to
pick them up.
Gunn bent down to help, and said, "You know we can get one. Two, maybe,
so we can have fights without docents scolding us."
"I don't want one," he repeated, patiently. "I only wanted to know how
they were made. I know, now, after having read the box, so now I would
like to go look at the bookracks."
Gunn shook his head, slowly. "Not unless they're picture books. You're
not supposed to be able to read. Come here and help me pick out some
Wesley didn't *want* to look at marble sets. Wesley had seen the marble
sets at least seven check times already, and they remained marble sets, no
matter how many times one stared at them. The bookracks, on the other hand,
were periodically changed in order to reflect new exhibits and current
events in science. He shook his head.
"No, I want to go look at the new books. I'll just be a minute." He
darted over to the bookshelves, and began eyeing the new large-format
coffee-table book on the differences and similarities between dinosaurs and
It was one shelf above his head, so he could read the cover well enough,
but couldn't reach it to pull it down and open it. He stepped forward onto
the bottom shelf, resting his foot on it just enough so he could raise
himself up an inch or two, and reach for the book. And found his hand being
grabbed by Gunn's. He twisted around, glaring at him. "What?" he snapped.
"You *know* you aren't supposed to be climbing on the bookshelves. This
ain't the Magic Box."
It was on the tip of Wesley's tongue to respond that he *knew* what he
was doing, and didn't weigh enough to bring the shelves down. He could
tell by the set of Gunn's expression that it wouldn't faze the other man,
so instead he simply said, "Fine. Hand me that one."
Which, for some reason, despite being what Gunn wanted -- that he not
fetch the book, himself -- didn't work. "Let's go grab some marble
sets. You can look at the books when you're old enough to read."
As if it *mattered* that suddenly he was supposed to act like the child
he appeared? Wesley didn't understand, and didn't *care*. "No, I want to
look at that book."
It was, as a matter of fact, a picture book, in its own way, and not one
that a four-year-old would be completely out of place in looking at. He
frowned up at Gunn. Who frowned back at him for a moment, then threw up his
hands. "Fine. You wanna look at the books, look at the books. Let 'em think
you're some kinda kid genius. *I'll" be over looking at the marbles, with
the rest of the four year olds." He walked back over to the toys, though
Wesley could see that Gunn was still keeping one eye on him.
Wesley rolled his own eyes, and stepped back up to grab the book. He got
a good grip on the spine, and was lifting it over the lip of the shelf,
when his smaller-than-usual fingers slipped on the slick jacket. He caught
the paper covering, but the book itself slid straight through the
unfastened jacket, and landed smack on Wesley's head, with what sounded
like a rather loud bonk, to his biased ears. To add insult to injury, the
paper cover ripped along the spine, as the book slid out.
Wesley rubbed his forehead, and blinked back tears that were
*completely* justified by the smarting pain in his head, but might be
misinterpreted by outside observers as childish pique. He carefully placed
the book back in its jacket, examined the tear for a moment, then, with a
sigh, carried it over to Gunn.
"If you say a *word*," he began. Gunn simply held out his hand for the
book, putting down the marble set he'd been holding. Wesley frowned at the
marble set. "Surely you have enough to get both?"
"Be a squeeze to get all of it. I didn't steal Angel's credit card, just
"Oh." Wesley looked at the book, which he didn't have any choice about
buying now, then at the marble sets that had so captured Gunn's interest.
Then he blinked at the dinosaur robots -- which Gunn had apparently gotten
off the shelf *again*. He pointed at them. "Put those back, then, and get
your marble sets."
"It's okay, Wes. We can come back, right? I'll get the marble tracks
then." Gunn sounded like he really didn't care. Which, of course, made
Wesley feel worse, because he knew better -- and while the robots were
interesting, Wesley really *didn't* care about buying them. He'd *told*
Gunn that, but Gunn had chosen to believe -- what, that Wesley was covering
up his desire to play, so he wouldn't have to admit to being childish? Did
everything have to revolve around that? Couldn't *something* just be about
him having a preference, like wanting a book instead of a toy?
Even if he didn't necessarily want *this* book. Wesley sighed, not
wanting to get into it. "No, we don't need to get the robots. You said you
wanted to set the marble races up in the lobby." He took the dinosaurs,
intending to carry them back to the display and set them back up. One
slipped out of his arms, and he bit off a word not even
thirty-two-year-olds were supposed to know.
He bent to pick it up, and the first box slid out of his arms. In a fit
of pique, he kicked the box. Then he *did* mutter a word he shouldn't have
known, but at least it wasn't in English. He crouched down, picked up one
box, and carried it carefully over to the display. When he came back for
the next one, Gunn was holding it. "How about we get two of the marble sets
and one dino? And the book."
"And you'll put what in the fuel tank of the truck on the way back?
Water? Come on, just give me the model. We can get *it* later, if you insist."
Gunn shook his head. "Don't worry about it, Wes. I've got
enough." Which meant he was going to dig into his *own* pocket for it,
instead of using the 'let's amuse ourselves with mini-Wesley' fund. Wes
narrowed his eyes and reached for the dinosaur box. Gunn held it out of his
"Charles, stop it."
"Look, it isn't like they're gonna sell out of these things by the weekend."
Wesley put his hands on his hips. "Which means we can very well get the
robots later, and get the sets which you want, now. I don't *care* about
the stupid robots and I'm sorry I ripped the fucking book and will you
*please* just get the--"
He cut off, as Gunn was kneeling down in front of him, looking
worried. "Wes? Come on, let's put them both back and buy the book and go
Fighting back the urge to tell Gunn to get the marble sets anyway,
Wesley nodded. He reached for the dinosaur robot Gunn was holding, but
Gunn placed it on the shelf, himself, then wrapped an arm around Wesley,
and hugged him. Wesley felt himself sniffle, and whispered, "I'm sorry."
"Missed his nap, huh?" a woman's voice said.
Wesley frowned. He was saved from answering by Gunn standing up and
facing the woman -- thereby facing Wesley *away* from her, as he was
resting against Gunn's shoulder. "Um, yeah. We've had kind of a busy day,
today," Gunn was saying, a little awkwardly.
"I don't need a nap," Wesley said quietly. Only to Gunn, since it wasn't
any of *her* business.
"That's what they all say, kiddo," she said, not unkindly. Wesley stuck
his tongue out at her anyway, though of course she couldn't see it. All he
ended up doing was getting a tongueful of fuzz from Gunn's sweatshirt. He
wiped it off quickly with his hand, making a face.
Gunn nodded, and carried Wesley up to the counter, where he let Wesley
down for a moment, while he paid for the book. Wesley looked back at the
woman, who was pushing her own child, a two or three year old, in a
stroller. She waved at him, and he resisted the urge to stick his tongue
out at her again. He did *not* need a nap. Even if, right now, the pillow
that the little girl was leaning her head against looked awfully comfortable.
Instead he wrapped his arm around Gunn's leg, and leaned his head
against *that*. Not exactly restful, but he wasn't tired. Just...well, he
wouldn't say 'no' to them leaving, and maybe finding a quiet spot to sit
for awhile. Maybe they could look at the book he'd forced them to buy.
Then Gunn was picking him up again. "I can walk," he reiterated, not
sure it would do any good. Not sure he liked the fact that he sounded as
if he were whining.
"I know." Gunn settled Wesley on his hip, and wrapped the handles of
the bag around his other wrist. "Let's go home," he said again, and this
time Wesley just nodded. He let his head fall onto Gunn's shoulder, again,
not caring that the woman was still staring at him. He closed his eyes so
he wouldn't have to see it.
And opened them, an entire nap later, to find himself being carried into
the hotel lobby.
Cordelia was giving him a look he'd come to know all too well in the
last few days. He scowled at her.
"Don't scowl, you'll ruin the shot," she told him.
"You're taking photographs *again*?" he snapped, suddenly feeling
extremely irritated. He pushed against Gunn's chest, so he could be let
down and be able to go over and... Well, he'd promised to stop kicking
people, but he was about to make an exception. He'd start with a
video-camera-wielding vampire who healed fast.
Except he wasn't being let down. He squirmed a bit, to no avail.
Cordelia gave Gunn a quizzical look, which Wesley caught, thank you very
much. He hadn't suddenly become blind, as well as short. Although he *was*
still blinking at her, trying to make things come into focus. He felt
rather as if he'd been woken up at three thirty in the morning, and he was
still stumbling around the flat trying to find his socks.
Whatever expression Gunn sent her in return which Wesley couldn't see,
it got the aww-isn't-he-cute look off Cordelia's face, and made Angel put
down the camera. "So, did you guys have fun?" Cordelia asked. Which was a
perfectly reasonable question, so Wesley bit off the reply he was about to
snap at her, and blinked some more, allowing Gunn to answer.
"Oh yeah-- that place is a blast. They have this water clock in the
lobby, that goes through all these different tubes and scale things, so you
can see just when it's gonna hit the hour and go off. And the robot dinos
"Which got us yelled at," Wesley added, still feeling as if he'd rather
be still asleep. Except he wasn't tired, hadn't been tired, so how had he
slept the entire drive home?
"Yelled at?" Angel asked.
"We got eaten by a Tyrannosaurus Rex," Wesley explained, knowing full
well it wasn't an explanation. But it was better than yelling at them to
leave him alone. He looked back over at Gunn.
"You wanna go upstairs and read?" Gunn held up the bag, but made his
question sound like they'd actually chosen to buy it, rather than
otherwise. Wesley nodded. Gunn said to the others, "Don't hold dinner for
us -- we're gonna order pizza later."
"We are?" Wesley was feeling a bit more awake, now. As well as hungry.
"Maybe more 'sooner' than later," Gunn amended. "Didn't you say
something about anchovies and green peppers?"
Wesley blinked. "I said they were the two most disgusting pizza
toppings on the planet."
"Oh, and here I thought you liked 'em." Gunn was heading for the
stairs, still carrying Wesley - but he no longer minded so much. He did
glance back over Gunn's shoulder at Angel and Cordelia, and saw that the
camera was still safely aimed at the floor. He stuck his tongue out at
The moment they got in the door to their room, Gunn reached for the
telephone. "You can put me down, you know," Wesley informed him.
"Well, yeah, I could, but why start now?" Gunn proceeded to order pizza,
while still holding Wesley, who simply rolled his eyes, and corrected him
loudly when he tried to order one with extra green peppers and anchovies.
"You sure?" Gunn asked, with a patently false expression of confusion on
his face. Wesley pinched his ear as he confirmed that yes, he was bloody
well sure. "Okay, I guess he's sure." Wesley was close enough to the phone
that he could hear the cashier's laughter.
Gunn was grinning, by the time they'd hung up, and Wesley looked sternly
at him. "You know you probably confused the hell out of that poor woman,"
he said as Gunn carried him over to the chair. "We're likely to get three
small pepper and anchovy pizzas with an order of calimari on the side."
"I don't think Pizza Hut has... what was that?"
"Deep fried squid. I was trying to think of something more disgusting
Gunn made a face. "Congratulations. You did." He settled Wesley on his
lap, and slid the book out of the museum store bag. "Dinosaurs and Dragons,
huh? You *sure* this book isn't too advanced for your reading group level?"
With an absolutely straight face, Wesley replied, "Hooked on Phonics
worked for me. Would you care to open it?"
"Just a second. I'm looking at the cover."
Wesley was trying to *avoid* looking at the cover, and the large rip
down the spine, but he sighed, and waited, while Gunn studied the colorful
painting of a Pterodactyl swooping down on a large and anatomically
incorrect Wyvvern. Finally, Wesley reached out a finger, and traced the
rough edges of the tear.
"Didn't you want the book anyway?" Gunn asked quietly, still staring at
"I didn't have a chance to find out." Wesley knew what Gunn was after -
it was a book, how could he be too upset about owning it? Unless it was
utter trash, but DK didn't tend to publish trash.
"It's just a rip in the dust cover, Wes. You woulda bought it if you'd
been yourself, six feet tall and too big for his britches, and tore the cover."
Wesley shook his head, though not because Gunn was wrong.
"You wouldn't have left it on the shelf," Gunn began, with a hint of
Cordelia-esque scolding in his voice.
"No, it isn't that. I just...don't like being reminded what a clumsy
child I was. Am."
Gunn squeezed his shoulders for a second, then said, "You are *not*
clumsy. Any more than any four-year-old kid is. You ever *looked* at a four
Wesley shrugged. "In passing. And the others, of course. Rupert didn't
seem to have any trouble operating *his* body."
"In the what, two hours you actually spent with him? Mostly with him
sittin' on your lap? Wes, kids fall and they pull things down on top of
them, and they get bumped on the head, and it happens every day. Their
heads are too big for their bodies, they all think they're taller than they
really are, and they got more energy than something your size can hold. My
sister..." His voice got quiet for a moment, then he gave a soft laugh,
and continued in a normal tone. "She used to be climbing on things all the
time, when she was little. No matter how often me or somebody else yelled
at her to get down 'cause she'd fall on her head, you'd turn around and two
minutes later there she was, halfway up a fence, or a fire escape. And sure
enough, she fell, most of the time. On her butt, more than her head, lucky
for her. And us."
In this case, Wesley wasn't about to make his habitual protest about him
not being whichever child or adult-child he'd just been compared to, so he
sat silently for a second or two. "I seemed to be breaking things all the
time," he finally said. "Oh, not myself. But things. Expensive things. It
wasn't as if I *meant* to be clumsy. Just the opposite; I remember trying
to walk as slowly and carefully as I could. But I still broke things." He
looked at the book cover again, and frowned.
Gunn closed the book and set it down on his lap, and reached forward to
take Wesley's chin. After a token protest, Wesley let him turn his head so
he was looking up at his lover. Gunn's expression was sad, and determined,
and he said, "Wes, I don't care what you break 'cause I don't own nothing
that's worth too much. Talk to Angel before you try breakin' the chandelier."
Wesley blinked. Stared at Gunn for a moment, waiting for him to smile
or laugh or say 'gotcha!'. He didn't.
What he did do, after another moment passed, was say, "Breaking things
is what kids *do*. It ain't your fault they didn't understand that."
"But I tried not to," he repeated, not sure Gunn understood what he was
But perhaps he did. Gunn pulled him close, and held him, and said, "But
you couldn't help it -- like you couldn't help being small, or couldn't
help using five syllable words when you were eight, and like you can't help
it now that you whistle in the mornings after you've been fucked through
the mattress the night before."
Another blink. Then, "What did I tell you about saying such things in
front of a four year old?"
"You said 'better jerk off in the shower, because I ain't growing up for
another three weeks."
Wesley shook his head. "I don't think I said that. It wouldn't be
proper." At Gunn's raised eyebrow, Wesley twitched his lip. "What with the
'ain't' and all." He ignored the chuckling, and snuggled in a bit closer.
Then he looked again at the book cover. It really was an interesting
subject, and yes, he probably would have bought it on his own, but... "I
*am* sorry. That I was such a...a prick, earlier."
Gunn laughed. "Now who's with the inappropriate vocab, huh?" He opened
the book again, and turned the pages, stopping on a picture of a
Stegosaurus. "You gonna freak out if I say I think it wasn't you?"
Wesley peered up at him. "As in, you think I'm the victim of a routine
possession, demonic subclass 17A, stroke 12, paragraph 32?"
"You made that up-- it sounds too much like something outta the Real
Ghostbusters. No, I think it wasn't you, as in, it *was* you, but not your
fault. Just you bein' worn out. Because your body's four, and you'd been
out all day, which you hadn't yet before, and maybe..."
"You think I'm starting to regress."
Gunn turned a page, and nodded. "Could be. The timing's about right,
"I--" Wesley frowned. Wasn't this what he'd wanted? To reach the point
where he wouldn't mind looking silly, or being small, or... all those
things he still seemed to be worried about, today. But now he wondered. To
be under the control of his body, his hormones and enzymes all telling him
to run about and do things he normally wouldn't think of doing-- wasn't it
a sort of possession?
When he was truly emotionally regressed, the way he had seen Rupert,
Buffy, Xander, and Spike acting, he obviously wouldn't *care* about that.
It was just this transition period that was...uncomfortable. He was
starting to act like a child despite his best intentions, but was able to
notice it. Worry about it.
"Hey-- maybe you are possessed. By Angel. Were you gonna quit brooding
and read to me anytime soon?" Gunn asked.
Wesley jerked his head up, then found a smile, somewhere. "I thought you
were going to read to *me*?" he protested. "This is above my reading group
"Uh-huh." Gunn gave him a look, then just pulled the book towards them
again, and opened it. Wesley halted him long enough to get comfortable,
wriggling a bit and trying to get his elbows in just the right place -- so
he could let Gunn know if he were reading too fast. Or too slowly. "You do
remember I know where you're ticklish, right?" Gunn asked.
"You do remember I can tell Cordelia you've been mean to me," he responded.
"Like she would *blame* me?" But Gunn flipped past the title page, and
began reading aloud.
It was nice, Wesley reflected, as he laid his head back and listened to
Gunn reading. The sound of his lover's voice stumbling over the Latin
names of dinosaurs, the anticipation of greasy, hot pizza, and the
not-completely-recovered feeling of tiredness since he'd woken from his
nap, after a long, full day of nothing but fun. It had been a very long
time since he'd felt this good.
It would have been nice, as well, if they'd been rocking. He'd fall
asleep within minutes, however, so perhaps it would be best if he didn't
ask. As he watched Gunn turn another page, his four-year-old head resting
against Gunn's chest, he decided it was just as well they weren't. But it'd
have been nice. "Eustreptospondylus," he corrected, absently. Gunn
repeated the word, and continued reading.
Willow gazed at the main galleria of the Sunnydale mall with undisguised
glee, and tugged at Spike's hand. Geez, for a guy with supernatural speed
and reflexes, he could be so slooooow. "Come *on*! They have a sale at
Gymboree. Tara would look so cute in those little overalls with the
elephants on the pocket. Hurry up!"
"Would somebody like to explain to me, slowly, again, how we got roped
into this?" Xander was asking.
"You said you'd take care of us if we got little, duh," Willow told him.
"No, I meant, how did Spike and I get roped into taking you two to the
mall, by ourselves. You'd think Anya would have learned, after the
supermarket incident. And the bookstore. And the Toys R' Us."
"Yeah-- we got sent for *one* book on day trading, and came back with
the entire Louisa May bloody Alcott section," Spike grumbled.
"Well, Tara hadn't read them. It's classic literature, from your
generation. I don't see what your problem is."
"It's sniffly girly books from my generation, is what it is."
"Anyway, we didn't do anything to you in Toys R' Us-- you bought more
toys for *you* than you did us," Tara pointed out innocently.
"Which is another reason why Anya should have known better than to let
us loose with you two," Xander riposted. "Anyway, I think two hundred
bucks' worth of software comes out about even with Spike's and my Lego sets."
Willow had to admit, they had a point. Anya had told them, each time
they'd gone off somewhere, not to spend too much. She'd given them lists.
The first time she had given the list to Spike, then she'd given it to
Xander, then finally to Willow -- a list of approved purchases from
whatever store they were being sent to. They invariably had failed to get
less than $100 over the cost of the approved list.
Did Anya think her boys would eventually learn how to shop
properly? Through rote repetition? If so, surely she would have realized
that it hadn't worked thus far. Maybe she simply didn't like to shop, and
felt that letting Spike and Xander go nuts was a small price to pay to
avoid the mall and shopping centers. Anya definitely liked pretty things,
but that didn't mean she was a shopaholic like Buffy or Cordelia; her shiny
things were usually showered upon her by one or more guilty-acting men.
Then again, who cared *why* she'd let them loose with money to burn?
Anya had given Xander her credit card this morning. Which meant --
"Oo! Spike, look, they've having a sale!" Willow tugged on his hand,
wishing she could risk a small levitation spell because a certain vampire
was acting like his feet were made of lead.
"That's not the Gymboree," Xander pointed out. Willow rolled her eyes
-- like she'd forgotten how to read?
"But we need shoes," she pointed out, stopping in front of the store,
and looking up at her oldest best friend with her very best pleading eyes.
"Should I just give you the credit card, and Spike and I can wait out
here on the old man benches?"
"Don't be silly-- we need you to hold things for us!"
Spike groaned. Xander shot him a commiserating look, as if Willow was
actually asking them to do something difficult, or horrible, or
embarrassing. "It could be worse, I guess," Xander said as they walked into
the store. "We could be shopping with Willow as an adult. 'Here, just hold
my purse for me while I look at this rack of absolutely identical skirts,
to find the one that goes just right with the hat that looks like a
"Summer squash. But thanks for reminding me-- here-- hold this." Willow
shoved her little pink vinyl Powerpuff change purse into Spike's open hand,
then wiggled out of his grasp, heading for the kids' tennis shoes. When she
peeked back around the corner, Spike was still holding the purse up,
staring at it as if she'd put a live aardvark in his hand. She giggled, and
pointed him out to Tara. "Suuuure, he was willing to wear Mojo Jojo, when
he was four, but look at him now. Poor manly baby."
"I *heard* that," Spike shouted. Which just made her giggle harder,
since, of course, he'd been meant to.
Then she heard a quiet "Oops." She turned around to where Tara had been
standing, to find her girlfriend standing by a pile of what had been a
lovely display of children's footwear. Now in a pile on the floor.
Tara looked up at her, eyes wide -- as if that sort of expression worked
on fellow-four year olds, Willow thought. For a second, then she was
beside Tara, holding her hand. "It's all right, honey, you didn't mean to."
"I wanted to see the Winnie the Pooh shoes," Tara explained. "They were
"Maybe you should ask Xander to get them next time," Willow began. But
Tara was already moving away, towards the display of shoes on the walls.
"Oh, look! They have Batgirl shoes. Can I have Batgirl shoes?"
"Don't ask *me*, Tara. Ask the fatherly-types with the credit card."
Tara ran over to Xander, who was trying to pretend he was interested in
cheap work boots, and didn't really know the kid who'd made a mess of the
Willow watched as Tara tugged on Xander's arm, trying to get him to come
look. She knocked them both into the stand-up 'sale sale sale' cardboard
sign, which fell over with a soft *whomp*. Tara looked up at Xander, and
there was that "Oops..." again. While Xander was busy picking up the sign,
though, Tara was already tugging at Spike. "Come see, please. I want
*these* shoes." Spike was still doing his molasses-walk, so Tara was
practically hanging off his arm, dancing.
He transferred the aardvark-in-my-hand expression from Willow's purse,
to Tara, but allowed her to drag him down the aisle. Which thought made
Willow giggle again, as she tried to picture *anybody* managing to drag
Spike down the aisle.
"Er, which ones?" Spike was saying, and Tara rolled her eyes.
"These-- right here!" She pointed at the ones that were several shelves
above her and Willow's heads, and when Spike didn't immediately get the box
down, Tara began to scramble up the shelf, climbing first onto the fitting
stool, then the shelf proper.
"Um, Tara, maybe you shouldn't--" Willow started to say, before Tara
looked questioningly back at her, slipped, and started to fall from the
fourth shelf up.
She squealed loudly. Willow ran toward her, though what she thought she
was going to be able to do, aside from have another four-year-old land on
her head, was anybody's guess. Spike beat her to it by a mile, anyway,
proving that his vampiric speed was still working when he *wanted* it to.
He turned around with an armload of Tara, and they all three looked up to
face Xander, who had raced down the aisle with a worried look on his face
at the sound of Tara's shriek.
"That was a real scream, right? Not a
found-my-bracelet-aren't-these-shoes-cute-isn't-it-a-pretty-day-outside-just-remembered-I-like-ice-cream scream. Wasn't it?"
"Yes," Willow replied, absently -- still staring in relieved amazement
that Tara had almost fallen, almost really busted her head open, and was
only not bleeding because they'd brought a vampire along with them. She
was trying to get up on her tip-toes to see if Tara was really *really* all
right, though from the sound of the babble, she guessed Tara was.
"Thanks, Spike, can you hold me up to reach those shoes? Aren't they
cute? They have Batgirl on them -- real Batgirl, not
new-replacement-fake-Batgirl. Aren't they cool?"
Spike seemed a bit disconcerted, as he shifted Tara so he was holding
her - right-side-up - in front of him, from which she reached over for the
shoes. "Er, Tara, you-- Yes, they're nice. But you--"
"Willow! Do you want a pair? We can match!" Tara leaned over Spike's
arm, looking as though she'd over-balance and fall *again* to her
head-splatting, if it weren't for the supernaturally strong grip on the
back of her shirt. And around her middle -- apparently Spike was taking no
Willow was about to scold her for scaring them all like that over
*shoes*. Then she realized what Tara was talking about. "Batgirl! Those
are *real* Batgirl shoes! Those haven't been out since the movie came
out!!" She leapt forward and took the shoe from Tara. "Do they come in our
size? What am I saying, of *course* they come in our sizes!" She held it
up to Xander. "Two of these, please."
"That is so not fair," Xander muttered. "Do they make Batman shoes in
my size? I don't *think* so."
Spike snorted at him. "Well, if you didn't have feet the size of the
Batmobile, they might." Tara was squirming in his arms, and he set her
down, after giving her another peculiar look.
"Excuse me, but why should the size of my feet have anything to do with
my options in buying superhero footwear and Tara, where are you going?"
Xander reached out and almost snagged Tara by the back of the shirt as she
raced past all three of them, heading for the brightly colored display of
purses and bags on the far wall. Willow blinked and followed, a bit more
slowly, the boys right behind her.
Tara was pointing at the row of Powerpuff purses. "Look, they have the
whole set. I can get the Bubbles one, since they didn't have it at Carsons.
Then we'll really match." She giggled. "And I'll have a purse to make
Xander was looking fearfully at the bright electric blue purses. "Are
you sure you don't want a nice, manly, leather briefcase, Tara?"
Tara put her hands on her hips, non-existent as they were -- and shook
her head. "No, Xander. I want *that* one." She pointed.
Xander started to reach for the purse, and stopped. He looked at
Spike. "Did we torture them this much?"
Xander sighed as Spike nodded. Then he brightened. "But only for two
weeks! We're gonna owe *them* two weeks of torture, once this is over."
"You're assuming we'll survive?" Spike asked, then scowled at
Willow. She blinked at him, shocked and hurt that he would dare suggest
such a thing as that she would *ever* be misbehaved. Spike
snorted. "Right. I think I'm becoming immune to that look, Red."
"Then why are you still holding my purse?" Willow asked.
"Er--" Spike stared at it, then shoved it at her. "Take it, then. I'm
gonna go look at the...um... Actually, there's nothing here I would wear,
dead or alive."
"These! You can wear these!" Tara came running up, holding a pair of
bright yellow running shoes. Willow was impressed -- she hadn't even seen
Tara leave to get them.
Spike stared at them in actual horror. He backed up slightly, still
holding Willow's purse, and moved behind Xander. "Help me, Xan -- those
things are *evil* !"
Xander snorted at him. "Spike, *you're* evil."
"Yeah, but there's evil and there's evil. Those're like... *Darla's*
level of evil. Fact, I think she had a pair that color."
"Of running shoes?"
Spike just gave him a 'you're a twit' look -- though Willow noticed the
vampire didn't move out from behind Xander.
Tara jumped up and down as she held out the shoes. "Come on, try 'em on,
Spike. I bet you haven't bought shoes in a hundred years."
"These boots are from nineteen sixty-nine, I'll have you know," Spike
"Yeah, but you didn't buy 'em, you stole 'em," Willow said. It was a
guess, but the look on Spike's face proved her right.
"Wasn't like the fellow I took 'em from would be needing 'em anymore,"
Spike retorted. "Anyhow, they're perfectly fine, and I'm *not* trying on
those lace-up bananas. They might be radioactive!"
Tara's eyes got, if possible, bigger than Spike's had been when *he* was
four. Her lower lip stuck out, and even trembled a little. The whole
picture might have been a bit more convincing if she hadn't still been
bouncing, but Willow had to give her points for effort. Spike looked
impressed, anyway. "If you *loved* me, you'd try them on," Tara said.
Spike laughed. "Who said I loved you?"
"But you *need* new shoes," Tara pointed out, skipping the chance to
really go for the pitiful me routine. Maybe she was trying to get Spike
and Xander off-balance, Willow thought.
Tara bent down and started unlacing Spike's boots. Spike stepped back,
away from her. "I do *not* need new shoes. I don't need any, Xander
doesn't need any, you don't need any, nobody needs *anything*--"
He stopped, because Tara was looking up at him, her face the very
picture of shattered hurt. Willow could tell the second before she did it,
that she was going to scream. Loudly.
Spike had his hand over her mouth a split-second later, but it didn't
really help. Willow held her hands over her ears, and went over to give
Spike a stern look. "You're going to buy us Batgirl shoes," she said
clearly, knowing Spike's sensitive hearing was probably just ringing, right
now. Spike nodded. "And Tara's Bubbles purse." Spike nodded again. "And the
running shoes," she said.
"Fat chance," Spike mouthed at her.
"I want Batman shoes," Xander added.
"You can't even wear them!" Spike said, his hand still over Tara's
mouth, though she'd begun to quiet down.
"Maybe the statue won't be completely out of power," Xander said with a
shrug. "I'll have them just in case. Besides, they're on sale."
"Well, there is that. Sales are good. Anya likes it when we buy things
on sale." Spike walked over to the boys' shoes racks, and grabbed a pair of
the Batman shoes, while Willow laughed, not even bothering to suppress it.
He still had his hand over Tara's mouth, and was dragging her along with him.
He finally had to remove his hand, in order to pull the Batman shoes out
of the box and show them to Xander-- which was when Tara made her move. She
held up the running shoes. "These are on sale too..." she said cheerfully,
all trace of upset wiped from her face.
Willow could see the options being ticked off in Spike's head. Argue,
and risk permanent eardrum damage if Tara decided to scream again. Say yes,
buy them without trying them on, get yelled at by Anya when they got home,
and stick them in a closet somewhere, forever. Or -- and she could see the
light go on in his head -- possibly mail them to Angel.
He grabbed the shoes from Tara. "Fine. I'll buy 'em. Not *wearing* 'em,
but I'll buy 'em." Willow thought it was a good choice. It wasn't as if he
wouldn't end up getting yelled at by Anya for *something* anyway.
"You should try them on," Tara said.
Willow giggled as Spike sighed. She could see he was considering it all
over again. Screaming Tara, or the mortification of wearing yellow shoes,
even for a second. Xander didn't seem to be helping much, by laughing
behind his hand. Spike gave him a death-to-infidels scowl, which made
Xander stick his tongue out at him. Willow rolled her eyes; she'd seen
this before. It usually lead to 'Why don't you two girls go watch TV,
loudly, for a couple hours?'
"Try them on, Spike, come on," Tara repeated, oblivious to the fact that
she was losing Spike's full attention.
"Tara, why don't we just get our shoes and your purse, and we can go try
on every pair of overalls that Gymboree has?" Willow suggested.
"Oh! What about this one?" Tara dropped the shoes, and jumped over to
grab something else. Willow watched her, slightly worried. Tara hadn't
ever been this *flighty* as an adult, and hadn't said anything to make them
think she had been as a child.
"Spike, remind me never ever to give Tara sugar, again," came a weary
sigh from behind her.
"You think the ice cream was too much?"
"Well, no. But possibly the cotton candy."
"Nah-- that can't have much sugar in it-- it's mostly air, right?"
Xander looked doubtful. "Well... Yeah, but the part that's not air is
all sugar. Or maybe it was the fudge?"
"Or the gummi bears," Willow offered, watching Tara bounce with another
pair of shoes in her hand.
Spike turned to her. "We didn't buy you Gummi Bears!"
Xander looked sternly at her. "Where did you get the Gummi Bears, young
"A nice strange man gave them to us," she said brightly. At Xander's
horrified look, she burst into laughter. "Dork-head. I bought them for her,
from the gumball machine."
"They were good," Tara said. "Here, Spike, try these!"
Spike absently accepted the shoes from Tara, looking at her rather as if
she were a suspicious package left on a seat in the airport-- might have
somebody's tasty treats from Grandma in it, might be an unexploded bomb.
Then he brightened. "Yeah, okay, I'll try these on."
Willow blinked, and looked to see what kind of shoes he was actually
willing to consider. When she saw why he was trying them on, she laughed.
They were black runners, with a small Tony the Tiger tastefully embroidered
on the tongues, and a long striped tiger tail running all the way around to
the back of the shoe.
By the time they'd purchased everybody's shoes and accessories and
Xander and Spike were looking suitably broken in. Which meant it was time
for the *real* shopping to start.
"JC Penney!" Tara sang as she pulled Spike along. He seemed to be too
shell-shocked to actually answer. Or maybe it was the fact that he was
still carrying Willow's purse, and he didn't want to draw any attention to
himself. At least Xander now had a matching one, in electric-powder-blue,
which Tara had insisted he take out of the bag and give to her -- only so
she could rip the tags off and hand the thing back to him to hold.
He'd been holding it for almost two minutes before he'd pointed out
there was no reason to carry it, since it was empty. That had got him
pouted at until he'd pulled some change out of his pocket and put it in the
purse. Willow wasn't sure Spike and Xander would *ever* learn. But it was
fun driving them nuts, in the meantime.
They got to the department store, and Willow had to try to remember
exactly where the kids' sections were. Second floor? First? She craned
her head looking for a sign, and heard Tara saying, "Come on! It's this way."
She was tugging on Spike's hand, again, managing to pull him along
through sheer willpower and enthusiasm. Spike looked a bit frightened, but
Willow supposed it might have been the florescent lighting.
"I thought we were going to Gymboree?" Xander asked.
"JC Penney's is first," Willow told him. Silly men didn't get it --
they were on their way to Gymboree, which meant they had to stop every
place along the way.
"Willow, you *do* know that...ah, hell with it. Fine." Xander sighed.
Willow gave his hand a tug. "Hurry up. And don't say 'hell' in front
of me. I'm young and impressionable."
"Be nice, or I won't forge Anya's signature on the credit slip."
"I'll pout," Willow countered. They were slowly catching up to Tara and
Spike -- but just barely. Willow reminded *herself* never to give Tara
this much sugar...without Spike and Xander around to foist her off onto.
"I'll hold you upside down 'til you puke," came Xander's counter.
"Not in public, you won't. Cause I'll scream. And it'll hurt Spike's
ears. And he'll glare at you." Which, come to think of it, wasn't much of
an argument, since Spike glaring at him almost always ended happily for
Xander, as far as she could tell. He seemed about to point this out, when
"Willow! Look!" She was jumping up and down and pointing with her
not-Spike-holding hand at a rack full of fuzzy footy pajamas. "They have
glow in the dark witchy stuff on them!"
Willow came up close and looked at the pj's -- which came in blue,
green, and yellow. Sure enough, they had little suns, moons, and stars on
them in greenish glow-in-the-dark paint. She looked up at Xander. "We don't
have any pj's, you know. Except for t-shirts."
"You said you didn't want any," he argued.
"Duh-- that was before we saw these!"
Tara was still bouncing up and down. "Let's go try them on!" She ran
for the dressing rooms -- two steps, before she was being held by Spike,
"What part of 'slow down' don't you understand?" he asked, sounding a
Tara wrinkled her forehead at him, as though thinking real hard. Then
she smiled. "Spike, do you want to help us try them on?"
He let go of her as though she'd been doused in Holy Water. "Ugh! No,
don't want to, thanks." He grabbed another set of pj's off the rack and
held them out to Willow. "*You* keep an eye on her for a while."
Willow stuck her tongue out, knowing she was perfectly safe from making
Spike think *those* kinds of thoughts. She took the pajamas and ran after
Tara, who was already halfway to the dressing rooms. They'd give the boys a
few minutes' respite, while they tried on the pj's, then they could go back
out for round two. Or three. Willow caught up to Tara outside the
dressing rooms, where Tara was trying to convince the salesclerk that they
could try on clothes without parental supervision, thank you.
"Our dads are right outside the door, there," Willow said, pointing in
the general direction of Xander and Spike, who were standing about in the
women's underwear section, trying not to look suspicious. They'd better not
think of picking out anything for Anya at JC Penney's, not a with a
perfectly good Victoria's Secret just a few shops away. She'd kill them.
Willow shrugged and followed Tara into one of the little curtained
changing rooms, ignoring the dubious look the salesclerk had given them.
Willow was about to help Tara off with her shirt -- or rather, Willow's
shirt -- when she felt a hand on her arm. She looked up to see the
salesclerk, who had her other hand on Tara's arm. "Shh, honey. Come with
Before Willow could think enough to say 'What the hell are you doing?'
or try to come up with a four-year-old version of the phrase, the woman was
hauling them out of the dressing room and out a side door, marked 'Staff
Only'. "Hey, let go of me..." she said as they were pulled through a dark
storage area. The woman, who, now that Willow looked at her, wasn't wearing
any kind of uniform or nametag at all, bent close to her.
"Just be quiet, little girl, or you'll be sorry-- and so will your
friend," she hissed in Willow's ear. Then they were being pulled out into
the store proper, quite a ways away from the women's clothing section.
Willow and Tara both struggled; Willow tried to think of a spell that would
turn this woman into a mushroom or something.
"Let us go!" Tara shouted. "Help, we're being kidnapped!"
The woman stopped, and bent down to threaten them again -- Willow glared
at her, knowing that in about two more seconds Spike and Xander would be
there to rip her entrails out.
"What's going on?" came a voice from behind them -- male, but not Spike
nor Xander. Willow twisted around in the woman's grasp, to try to explain,
but the woman spoke first.
"Oh, sir, you have to help me! My ex-husband kidnapped my two babies
and I've only just found them. You have to help me get away!"
Willow turned her glare on the woman. "You are *not* our mother! Help!
Help, daddy!" she screamed.
"What the *bloody* hell is going on, here?" she heard a familiarly
accented voice barking.
Willow was grabbed suddenly, and she found Xander behind her, on his
knees with his arms wrapped around her. Spike had done the same with Tara,
only he'd been able to get her out of the woman's grip.
"Who the fuck are you and what are you doing?" Xander demanded.
"Please, help me!" the woman said to the JC Penney's employee who'd
stopped her, retaining her hold on Willow's arm. Until Willow bit her. She
let go of Willow with a small shriek, and Willow found herself folded in
Xander's arms. After a moment of rubbing her hand, the woman knelt down. "I
know you don't remember me, sweetie. It's been a long time. But I really am
"You're crazy!" Willow said loudly. "You're not our mother."
The Penney's clerk was looking more and more worried and confused, and
reached over to the red courtesy phone near them, calling for a
manager. Xander was sputtering at the woman. "Who *are* you? I've never
seen you before in my life, and you're certainly not their mother."
"And if you ever lay a finger on either one of 'em again, I'll happily
rip it off at the shoulder," Spike growled.
After a few minutes of the two men fussing over Willow and Tara, and the
woman still insisting insanely that they belonged to her, the manager
showed up. He brought along a security guard, just to make the party
complete. Willow was torn between wanting Xander and Spike to get them out
of there as fast as possible -- because being almost-kidnapped was still
way too scary, even now that she was safe in her best friend's arms -- and
finding out what on earth was going on.
That was what the manager wanted to know, too. "Somebody start
explaining now, please. *Before* I decide whether we need to call the police."
"Fine, call the police!" the woman said, sounding desperate. "They can
arrest Alex for kidnapping!"
Willow looked up at Xander, to find him exchanging a confused look with
Spike. Had this woman mistaken them for someone else? Surely if Xander
*had* two kids, he'd have mentioned it? Even if they weren't her and
Tara.... Willow shook her head, and kept quiet while the store manager
tried to calm their would-be-kidnapper down.
"Look, no one is going anywhere with these two children until we know
who they belong to," he was saying.
"They belong to us!" Xander snapped. "They're ours -- they do *not*
belong to her. We don't even *know* her." Willow, Tara, and Spike all
glared at the woman, with nearly identical expressions of 'so there'.
"Can I have your names, please? And some identification?" the manager
"Xander and William Harris," Xander said promptly, indicating himself
and Spike. He hauled his wallet out of his jeans, without loosening his
hold on Willow. "These are Willow and Tara Harris."
The managed took the license Xander handed him, and studied it
carefully. Then he stammered, "And who...that is, which of you is the...
um... natural father?"
What happened next was a bit breathtaking for Willow-- because she'd
thought only she and Tara could do the 'read each other's minds without
actually wasting the magical energy to do *real* telepathy' thing. She'd
never expected that in a real emergency, Xander and Spike were capable of
it as well.
Xander gave Spike one quick look, and Spike lifted Tara all the way up
and settled her on his hip. Proudly. As if he really *would* have tried on
the yellow running shoes, if Tara had just pouted for a few more seconds.
"Willow's mine, and Tara is William's," Xander explained.
"They're the same age. They look like twins to you?" Spike raised one
eyebrow at the man, as if encouraging him to see the obvious-- which wasn't
true, of course, but looked pretty good. Tara and Spike had the same
colouring, down to Spike's not-yet-re-bleached waves.
"Of course they're twins," the woman said. "And Alex is their father.
*He* is just the man who helped my ex-husband kidnap our children."
"Your ex-what?" Xander said, at the same time as Spike was saying,
"Excuse me? If I'm gonna be accused of a crime, I'd like to have had the
pleasure of committing it!"
"Can either of you prove any of this?" was the manager's next question.
The woman promptly pulled out some papers from her purse. Willow
couldn't imagine what they were -- nor how Xander and Spike could prove she
and Tara belonged to them. Since they didn't, really. The woman handed the
papers over. "I've been searching for so long...I carry these with me, in
case...I've been hoping to find them...." She broke down, then, sobbing
brokenly for a moment. The salesclerk awkwardly reached over to pat her
shoulder, while the manager read the papers.
"A marriage license for one Debbie and Alex Harris. Birth certificate
for twin girls, Willow and Tara Harris." He glanced over at Xander and Spike.
"Those are fake," Xander insisted. "Willow and Tara's mothers... They
were together, and wanted kids. William and I agreed to be the
fathers. When Elisabeth and Dawn were killed a couple years ago, William
and I got custody." Willow stifled a laugh at their 'mothers' names, and
looked suitably woe-be-gone at being reminded of her moms' deaths. Xander
never *used* to think this fast when they were trying to get out of
trouble. Maybe Spike was actually a good influence on him -- by getting him
into trouble more often, so he could practice.
"I miss my mommies," Tara said quietly. She had her arms around Spike's
neck, looking as though she might have been choking him, if Spike had had
Willow could tell the store manager didn't know who to believe. Despite
the faked certificates, it was obvious she and Tara didn't know and didn't
like this woman claiming to be their mother. And who *was* she? Where had
she gotten that paperwork, and why? Those were questions to be answered
not in the middle of a store, where crowds might gather, and police might
come, and they all might have to deal with the fact that Spike didn't
actually possess any ID of his own, as far as Willow knew.
"Look, my husband-- ex-husband, has had the girls for two years. He's
obviously told them all sorts of lies, just in case I ever managed to find
them. They were *two* when they last saw me, and they don't remember me. It
doesn't make any more sense that they'd remember these imaginary women who
died that long ago, either."
Willow saw Spike frown slightly, as if thinking, then he gave another of
those brief telepathic looks to Xander. Or, more specifically, at Xander's
wallet. Xander opened it again, also frowning, then smiled, as he thumbed
through its contents. He pulled a picture from one of the little plastic
sleeves, and handed it over to the manager.
"*These* are the girls' mothers," he said, with a fond little smile that
Willow was going to have to give him a kiss for, sometime later. Because
the picture he had handed over was one of her and Tara. Adult her and Tara,
sitting in the magic shop, no more than a week ago, leaning against each
other and smiling.
He didn't try to explain who the two boys were in the background,
holding something which looked like a big water balloon. It reminded her
*why* she maybe wouldn't give him a kiss, later. The manager dutifully
took the picture and compared the images to her and Tara.
"They do look very much like these women," he allowed. Well, duh, Willow
wanted to say.
"That's a photo of my sisters," the woman explained. "He must have
Willow stared at her. She was *way* too prepared for this. Willow
tightened her grip on Xander's arm, which in turn made him tighten *his*
grip. It made her feel safer, knowing that nothing would wrestle her away
from him, nor Tara from Spike. "She knows who we are," she whispered to
Xander. He gave her a blank look, then his eyes cleared and he nodded.
"The statue?" he whispered back.
She mouthed the word 'later' to him, then turned back to the store
manager. They had to get out of this, first, so they could go back to the
Magic Box and figure out what was going on. Preferably after they'd also
bought the glow-in-the-dark pj's.
"Could I see some ID, Mr. Harris?" the manager asked, of Spike. Willow
didn't have to be telepathic to hear the collective 'Oh, shit' that was
ringing in the minds of the 'Harris' party.
"Don't carry it," Spike said fairly smoothly. "Don't drive. House
husband, so I don't need it for work."
Well, the part about not driving was true, if it was supposed to be a
rating of how good he was at it. Willow had to stifle more than one giggle
at the image of Spike in an apron, being a house husband, though. "Daddy
stays home with us, and Papa goes out and builds big houses. All by
himself," she said helpfully.
"Well, with a little help from a crane, a wrecking ball, and an entire
construction crew," Xander said, playing along.
The woman shook her head. "*He*" -- pointing at Spike -- "doesn't even
have a green card, which I'm sure the INS would be happy to hear."
The manager put up his hands. "I think *I've* heard enough. I have no
idea which one of you is telling the truth, and this is way too complicated
for store security to sort out. I'm calling the police, and social
services, and *they* can deal with this." As if suddenly realizing what he
did for a living, he added, "I hope this doesn't ruin your shopping
experience. Er, whichever set of you doesn't end up being arrested."
"Oh, thank you," the woman said, with loud, apparent gratitude. Spike
and Xander only glared.
"You're a bad lady! I don't like you!" Tara yelled at the woman, who
responded with such a perfect expression of heartbreak that Willow wondered
if she were a professional actress, or actually insane.
It didn't look as though they were going to learn anything more from
her, and the longer they stayed the more chance there was of the police
arriving in time to make things harder. Willow wriggled her fingers and
chanted a spell, and the woman, store manager, security guard and clerk,
all froze. After a moment's concentration and a muttered acknowledgement
of the fact that yes, she owed a minor goddess of theft a major favor, a
security camera tape appeared in her hand.
There was silence for a moment. Then, "Er, Red, why didn't you do that
"I wanted to know who she was, so we can find out who's behind all
this," she explained. "But it will only hold for a few minutes, so we
"Already escaping," Xander said, standing up and hurrying away. Spike
was on his heels, with Tara in his arms, who was again leaning sideways to
catch up the two pair of pajamas.
Spike wrestled them out of her hands. "Calm down," he said when she
started to pout. "I'm not leaving them behind. Just have to--" and he
crushed the theft-detection devices.
"So *that's* how you do it!" Willow exclaimed.
"Yeah, and if you ever tell anyone," he looked around. "Er, um, I'll
probably be spanked. Tell anyone you like. Tell Buffy!"
Xander whapped him on the head, and they continued out of the store,
moving quickly but as inconspicuously as possible. As they exited the
store into the mall proper, he said, "We'd better get out of here before
the cops shut down all the exits, again." He looked over his
shoulder. "You realize this is *another* store we can never come back to?"
Willow looked at him closely. "What do you mean 'again'?"
He turned bright red. "Um, there might have been some
nakedswimminginthefountain. Last year. But I was under the influence, dammit."
"Influence of what-- naked Spike?" Willow retorted as he carried her
swiftly towards the exit to the parking garage.
Xander glared at Spike. "Pixie dust."
"Uh-huh. Sure." Then Willow blinked. "Wait, Spike knows where to get
pixie dust?" Neither of them would answer, but Spike was still snickering
by the time they found the car.
"Spike, get in the trunk," Xander said, and he made it sound like a
punishment rather than a 'so you don't turn into ashes.'
"Nope. Sitting in the backseat with a blanket over my head."
"Can you stay that way always?" Xander asked.
"In the back seat?"
"With a blanket over your head."
Spike whapped him, and Xander glared, and Willow gave Tara a
smile. "Isn't love grand?"
They were all seated around the table at the Magic Box, with the phone
in the center. Books were scattered about, and Willow was sitting at the
laptop, still typing away. Tara listened as Giles explained the last of
what they knew to Angel and the rest of the LA group over the speaker
phone. She yawned.
"Yes, that's right. Willow's looking through the police mugshot
databases now, and she's set up a program to search the internet for any
sort of picture of this woman, as well. We've no idea if we'll find
anything that way, since she may never have been in trouble with the law,
but every bit helps."
Tara could hear Cordelia's voice saying something in the background,
then Angel came over the speaker, much more clearly. "Do you think we
should come back down there, all of us?"
"Eggzinabasket," Tara murmured. Anya looked at her.
"What did you say?"
Tara blinked, and sat up straight in her chair. "Sorry. Um. Eggs.
Basket. If they're there and we're here, we've got lots of people in
different places." Anya was still looking bewildered. Well, it made perfect
sense to *Tara*. Then again, so did a lot of things that got that look from
everyone except Willow.
"Tara means, if whoever was behind this tries to do something to us
again, it's better that we're not all in one place, where they can strike
at us all at once," Willow called from the computer.
Yeah. That's what she'd meant. Tara yawned again.
"Finally coming down from your sugar rush, sweetie?" Willow asked. Tara
nodded, and opened her eyes again. She hadn't realized she'd closed them.
"Yes, the sugar rush you two inflicted on her," came Anya's
accusation. Tara didn't have to look over to know she was scolding Spike
"Hey! *Willow* gave her the Gummi Bears!" Xander protested.
"I did not!" came Willow's protest, and Tara looked at her,
confused. Willow winked, and went back to her typing.
"You did so!" Xander began.
Everyone stopped, and stared. Tara giggled. "That's so funny, when you
say that. I mean now. Since you're a kid, too," she told Giles.
"Yes, and I'm a child who would like to prevent the world from ending,
or whatever plot it is that's the point of all this."
"I don't think it's another apocalypse," Buffy said. "Usually we get a
memo when it's an apocalypse, and we didn't get one this time. Must be
Tara gave Buffy a confused look, but Buffy didn't see it, and no one
else was asking her to explain. Tara yawned again, and wondered if there
was a good spot she could lie down. She saw one, and crawled down from the
chair and walked over. It took a moment of tugging, but Spike finally sat
down on the floor, cross-legged, so Tara could curl up on his lap.
Angel had said something, but Tara missed what it was. She heard Spike's
answer, though, which was, "Looked pretty real. Somebody's got some
connections, to pull off that many fake docs. Think it's your friends, the
evil ambulance chasers?"
"They've been pretty quiet lately, but it's a possibility," Angel said.
Xander was shaking his head, Tara noticed between slow blinks. "Yeah,
maybe. But that stuff wouldn't have mattered much, after a couple of weeks
when the girls get big again. We could always have just kidnapped them back
and stashed them somewhere until we could do the restoration spell. It was
more like this woman was trying to get us in as much trouble as possible,
right there and then. She knew Spike wouldn't have any ID, which could
*really* have screwed up our lives royally. Speaking of which, *Dad* --
think you can do something about that? I know you've got kennel club
papers. Can you get some for Spike?"
There was no immediate response. Then Tara heard Angel stammering,
"Xander, I'd rather you called me 'Deadboy'." Then he sighed. "But yes, I
can get Spike some ID. Probably take a couple days, so until then try to
stay out of trouble."
"Oi! I always try to stay out of trouble." Tara opened her eyes, again
wondering when she'd closed them, and found everyone staring at Spike.
"Well, I didn't say I was very good at it."
She giggled, and shifted a little, trying to get comfortable. This time
she *meant* to close her eyes, and she listened to the conversation. It
felt weird, being held by a room-temperature body with no
heartbeat. Nothing at all like snuggling with Willow, or like her memories
of being held by her mother, when she'd really been four. But it was nice,
in its own way, if primarily because she knew everyone else in the room was
snickering at how easily Spike was accommodating her. That would teach him
to use her favorite sweater as a superhero cape.
"It's odd, though," she heard Angel's voice again. "Wolfram and Hart
have never bothered Sunnydale before. Why would they start now?"
"That we know of," Buffy corrected. "Who knows what else they've been
"Still, we should look into the other possibilities," Giles said. "It
could be anything."
"Biker Mice," Tara said.
"What's that?" Spike asked her, his voice quiet.
"From Mars," she explained. "Biker Mice from Mars."
"What's she saying?" Xander asked.
"Don't think it's helpful, Xan." Spike replied.
"Couldn't be much less helpful than 'it could be anything' " Dawn
pointed out. "No offense, Giles."
"Well, if you have any suggestions, I'm sure we'd all be happy to hear
them," Giles said in his funny, stuffy, preschooler voice. Tara giggled.
Dawn shrugged. "No, not really. Um... we could make a list of everyone
who's ever tried to mess with us, and isn't dead."
"Oi!" Spike said, startlingly loud in Tara's ear. She jerked a little,
and tried to tell him to shut up and let her sleep, without actually
expending the energy to open her mouth. Didn't work. "Dead people can mess
with you just fine, you know. I've done it, on numerous occasions."
"Okay, fine, deceased weirdo. Everybody who's ever messed with us and is
still out there roaming around somewhere. I mean, they seemed to know a lot
about us, or at least some of us-- so it wasn't just random Hellmouth badness."
"Not unless the random Hellmouth badness is getting much better
organized," Giles observed. Tara giggled again. She felt something brush
her nose, and she pried one eye open. She found Spike diverting his gaze
away from her face.
"Do you really wanna make that list? We'll be here all night," Buffy said.
"Should we narrow it down to people who have been in Brussels
recently? Since that was where it was last seen, albeit in the 17th
century. We don't know where it was shipped from -- it wasn't on the
Tara closed her eyes again, and a moment later felt the same sensation
of something brushing her nose. She opened her eyes and found Spike
watching the planning meeting with great interest.
"Like...well, no one I know of," Willow admitted. "This stupid website
won't give me any information!" She thumped the keyboard, then muttered
something Tara didn't know she knew how to pronounce.
"If you turn the laptop into a salamander, it won't give you *any*
information," Giles pointed out.
"What are we looking for? I can help," came Cordelia's voice over the
"The usual - hotel reservations, airplane reservations. Anything. Look
for a name you recognize," Willow replied, and Tara thought that maybe she
wasn't the only one who needed a nap.
"That could take days!" Cordelia protested.
"Well, if anyone can come up with something better...." Willow repeated
"I have one," Xander spoke up. Tara prised one eye open
again. Everyone was looking at Xander expectantly, and with varying
degrees of surprise.
"Anya can do some of the web-surfing, as can Cordy. You," he had gone
over to Willow, and was picking her up, "need a nap."
"I do n--" Willow started to say, then she looked over at Tara, who
smiled sleepily. "Sure. Why not."
Xander moved to sit beside Spike, and settled Willow in his lap. Tara
squirmed around in Spike's arms until she could lean against both Spike's
chest, and Willow's shoulder, then shut her eyes again, perfectly content.
She heard several people chuckling, but she couldn't imagine what could
possibly be funny.
Then there was Giles' voice saying "Oh, someone *must* get a picture of
Tara didn't particularly care what they got pictures of, as long as no
one tried to make her move from where she was, to do it. She wondered if
they could get Anya to make more brownies, after the meeting was
over. Then she fell fast asleep.