Son of Small Fry

chapter fourteen

Cordelia tried not to sigh with impatience. She'd voted to stop for supper, as well. She just hadn't had any idea it would be this difficult.

"I don't *want* a kid's meal," Wesley was saying. For the fortieth time. She didn't understand why Gunn didn't just buy him what he wanted. Who cared if they threw half of the food away?

"But it has everything you're asking for," Gunn pointed out. Again. If this is how it usually went between them, Cordelia was no longer surprised why they only ever went out to eat to the same one of three restaurants. If you could call an English pub, a pancake house, and Denny's, restaurants.

"You think this will take much longer?" Angel asked her, leaning against the counter beside her.

She nodded. "Oh, yeah. Taco Bueno is open 24 hours -- we'll be here."

"Why didn't we go through the drive through, and just order the first thing on the menu?"

Cordelia gave him a look that communicated clearly just what a dumb question that was. "Because Wesley said 'I want to go inside'."

"Ah. Good point."

Wes was sitting on the counter, his chin stubbornly stuck in the air. "I don't want my nachos in Pokemon shapes. I want nice, normal, non-animated nachos."

Cordelia leaned over, inspiration striking. "So why don't you get the kid's meal, and I'll trade nachos with you? I don't mind Pokemon-shaped chips."

Wesley started to argue with her, then stopped. "Er--" He frowned, like he was desperately trying to come up with something wrong with the arrangement, but couldn't. "I suppose," he said at last.

Cordelia felt like cheering. And it would be a damn fine cheer, given how good she was at it in high school. But she wasn't quite dressed for it, and Wes might take it the wrong way, so she settled for smiling.

"But I want an adult-sized drink," he told Gunn, sternly.

"You got an adult-sized stomach to hold it?" Gunn asked.

"Gunn, for god's sake, just buy him a regular soda," Cordelia said.

"I don't want soda, I want iced tea. Not that it's anything like real tea, but it's better--" He'd stopped, because Angel was holding out a cup. Regular adult-sized, with tea in it. Wesley smiled. "Thank you. Now, will someone help me down?" Gunn grabbed him under the arms, and lifted him down. Wesley strode over to the napkins and straws were kept, and looked over at them. "Would someone please get me a straw?"

Cordelia walked over and grabbed four straws, and held one out to Wesley.

"You two are gonna spoil him rotten," Gunn said.

"Excuse me?" She turned on him. "Since when is handing a straw to a *polite* young man, spoiling him?"

"And who took him to Hawley's Museum, three days in a row?" Angel put in.

"That wasn't spoiling him-- I was practicing my dinosaur wrangling," Gunn protested.

"Which accounts for Day One, but since you brought three remote control dinobots home with you that afternoon, Days Two and Three land you smack in the spoilers' club," Cordelia put in.

"Day Two was 'cause I forgot to take enough money with me to buy the marble sets, on Day One," Gunn said firmly, sitting Wesley in the booth next to him. Wesley's chin was only a few inches above the top of the table, but *nobody* had the balls to suggest a booster seat. Not even Cordelia.

"And Day Three?" Angel asked smugly.

"Day Three was... help me out here, Wes."

"You were spoiling me," Wesley replied, picking up a perfectly normal nacho and putting it in his mouth.

"I was *not*!" Gunn said, giving Wesley a glare like he thought Wesley was looking. Wesley was looking at his child-sized burrito, and picking at it.

"What's wrong, now?" Cordelia asked.

"It has lettuce on it," Wesley said, sounding disappointed.

"Did you ask for no lettuce?" Gunn pointed out, making no move to get out of the booth to allow Wesley to carry it up to the counter to complain. Or do so himself, which was what Wesley was obviously hoping for, given the pitiful look he was giving Gunn.

"Lettuce is good for you," Cordelia told him. Then she decided she needed some fresh air, because Wesley was *not* really four, and knew perfectly well how sadly lacking in nutrition the iceburg lettuce was.

Wesley just picked at the burrito, pulling off tiny strands of lettuce, one at a time. No one moved to do it for him. Cordelia glanced at Angel, then Gunn, and saw them very determinedly not watching. Wesley got a piece of lettuce stuck to his finger, and tried to shake it off. Once, twice, then three times -- still stuck to his finger.

"God! Here, geez!" Cordelia reached over with a napkin and wiped the lettuce off. When she leaned back, she found Gunn and Angel smirking at her. She opened her mouth to yell at them, then thought better of it. All she had to do was wait a few minutes, after all, and they'd do something even more Wesley-whipped, and she could prove that she was the bigger woman. By laughing her ass off.

So she simply smiled at Wesley again, and bit into her taco. A few minutes later, sure enough, Wes was leaning forward, trying to drink out of his straw, which was about level with the top of his head. He said nothing, simply craned his neck and tried to tilt the cup without putting so much weight on the top that the lid came off. After the second time he almost poked himself in the eye, Gunn sighed, and shifted Wesley onto his lap, where Wes was almost tall enough to eat like a normal person. Cordelia raised an eyebrow.

"What, I'm gonna let him lose an eye at Taco Bueno?" Gunn said defensively.

"Did I say anything?"

"Yeah, you raised an eyebrow. In Cordelia-speak that means 'nyah, nyah, told you so'."

Cordelia was tempted to explain otherwise, when Wesley suddenly lost his grip on his burrito, and it slid sideways. "Be careful!" Cordelia was saying, reaching forward to stop the food from sliding onto the floor. Not that she'd had a chance of stopping it...unlike some vampires, who were now holding a burrito in their hands and setting it back on the table.

"I've had a lot of practice catching Cordy," Angel explained with a shrug.

"It wasn't my fault -- my seat moved," Wesley explained, craning his head upwards. Cordelia wondered if he could glare, from that position.

"Sorry," was all Gunn said. Cordelia waited a moment, to make sure nothing *else* was going to happen, then resumed eating her taco.

She got one bite in, before Wesley sighed. When he looked up from his lettuce-picked burrito, he found three pair of eyes watching him. He seemed startled by the attention, which made Cordelia want to snort. Yeah, right. "Is there something fascinating about my burrito?" he asked.

"You sighed," Angel explained.

"Is there something fascinating about my breathing? Aside from the fact that you don't do it anymore?"

" Guess not."

Wesley nodded, and went back to staring at his burrito. Then he sighed again.

"Wesley, is there something you need?" Cordelia asked tentatively. Gunn crossed his eyes at her, over Wesley's head.

"Oh, no. I was just thinking that this might be nice with cheese on it."

Gunn looked down at him. "Then why didn't you order the cheese burrito?"

Wes frowned. "They had a cheese burrito?"

"Wes, you can still read the menu," Gunn reminded him. Cordelia wondered if being with Wesley nearly 24 hours a day, for the last seven days, had numbed Gunn's brain.

Sure enough, Wesley countered with, "I couldn't *see* the menu. You sat me down on the counter facing away from it."

"And you couldn't turn around?"

Wesley started to argue, then just nodded. "You're right. I should have ordered the cheese burrito. But as I'm stuck with this, I shall have to eat it."

"Don't look at me," Cordelia said. "I'm not getting up to buy him another burrito."

"Did I ask you to?" Gunn asked her. It didn't stop him from making that 'pleasepleaseplease' face, but he didn't do it as well as Wesley did. Four-year-old Wesley, at any rate. Cordelia was suddenly glad they hadn't both decided to become four year olds.

"No, no, Charles is right. It would be a waste to purchase another burrito, when this one is perfectly...fine...." He pulled another strand of lettuce off his burrito.

"They should put you in a commercial," Cordelia told him. "You really do look pathetic." Wesley glared at her -- then smiled in surprised delight when Angel came back to the table and handed him a wrapped burrito. "Wimp," Cordelia told him. "Didn't sitting for Spike and Xander teach you anything?"

"Taught me when to give in," he said simply.

Gunn said, "Which was whenever one of them blinked at you, I bet."

Angel was giving Gunn his 'not going to dignify that with an answer' face-- which meant he was gonna hold out another two seconds, then say something dorky. "So what. They were cute, and I love 'em," he said after two point five seconds. All three of them stared at him in shock. "Um, I may have been possessed when I said that," he said after another second.

They were still staring at him.

"What?" Angel growled.

"You're eating Cordelia's taco," Gunn said.

Angel looked down and registered that he had, in fact, picked up Cordelia's taco and was about to bite into it. He put it down quickly. Cordy snickered. "No, be my guest. You want something to shove in your mouth besides your foot, go for it. I can always get Wes to give you the big puppy eyes and make you go get me a new one."

"No, that's okay--"

"I insist. After all, you got your undead germs all over it. Not like *I* want it anymore. Or were you just picking it up because you were *nervous* ?" Cordelia challenged.

Angel scowled, and picked the taco back up. "Fine. I'll try it. Can't kill me, after all."

He had just bitten into it when Wesley looked up and asked innocently, "Does this mean you love *me*, too?"

It was to Angel's credit, Cordelia thought, that he didn't even hesitate before saying "Of course, Wes." He took another bite of taco -- probably to keep from saying anything else. Cordelia was glad, because she'd been perfectly ready to stomp on his foot if he'd done anything to ruin the look that had appeared on Wesley's face with those words.

Wesley rubbed his nose, and picked up his cheese burrito. "I need some hot sauce," he said a moment later, sounding a bit subdued, as if he weren't really just saying it in order to make someone jump when he said 'frog'.

"Here," Cordelia said, handing him over a couple of packets she'd gone to fetch. Then she gave Gunn a dirty look. "What?"

"Welcome to the club. You want a membership card with that?"

"How is hot sauce *spoiling* him?" she demanded, and tried to go back to eating, then realized no one had gone to buy her another taco.

She glared at Angel, who said around a mouthful, "This isn't bad. I think I wanna try some hot sauce." He reached over to pick up one of the packets in front of Wesley, and Wesley looked at him, stricken. Angel's hand froze. "Um. I'll go get...."

"Get me another taco while you're up there, huh?" Angel looked back at Cordelia as if to say 'and your legs got broken when?' -- but he obviously decided to err on the side of his own continued existence, and simply nodded. As he walked away, Cordelia stuck her tongue out at his back. "Cha-ching," she said with a smile. "Ba-da-bing."

"Is that supposed to mean something?" Wesley asked curiously.

"Yeah, it means you're too old and too British to get it, so eat your burrito, gramps." She thought he was going to protest for a moment, then he suddenly smiled, like he'd figured out that for once, no one was teasing him by saying he was too young for something.

Angel returned to the table with three more tacos, a handful of hot sauce, and a large order of cinnamon crisps, the last of which he placed in front of Wesley. They all looked at him. "What?"

"Did we say anything?" Cordelia asked, reaching for two tacos. "Er, unless two of them are yours?" She'd been teasing, but Angel's sheepish expression said that yes, they had been. "Oh, my, god. Angel! You like cheap greasy tacos? Your first human food in forever, and it's *tacos*?"

"Maybe it's just an association," he said, as he picked one up.

"Association?" Cordelia narrowed her eyes. Angel looked too guileless to be trusted.

"Well, they make me think of you," he said.

She told herself it was a line and she ought to be annoyed. But she couldn't make herself stop smiling long enough to say so. She was able to when she heard Wesley and Gunn snickering. "What?" she demanded of them.

They didn't say a word, just grinned and ate their food. Until she turned her attention back to her own taco, which didn't taste all that greasy, to be honest. Then she heard Wesley sing, "Cordy and Angel, sitting in a tree...."

"You are so dead, mister, if you finish that phrase." Wesley gave her the big, 'who me?' eyes. She shook her head. "I'm not falling for it. You keep your mouth shut and finish your burrito -- and *don't* tell me that's logically impossible. Do it, so we can get out of here."

The 'who, me' eyes went away -- and were replaced by kicked-puppy eyes.

"Oh, god, I never thought I'd beg for a vision...."

"Speaking of," Angel said, looking up from his taco. "You didn't get any that you might have forgotten about, right? About whoever sent Giles that statue in the first place, or..." He shrugged, stopping short of mentioning recent events. "Anything like that?"

Cordelia looked at him like he was an idiot, which he was. "Like I'd ever *forget* a giant freakin' migraine-inducing vision?"

He had the grace to look sheepish. "No. Of course not. That was stupid. It's just bugging me. All the supernatural firepower we have on our side, and we know *nothing*."

"We know whoever's behind it doesn't mean us any permanent harm," Wesley said. He had the last bit of burrito in his mouth when they all started staring at him, so his 'what?' came out as "Whadb?"

"Don't talk with your mouth full," Cordelia said automatically. Then she blinked. "How do we know that?"

"Well," he said after dutifully swallowing his food. "I should have said 'immediate harm,' I suppose. But it seems to equal out to the same thing. Of all the things anyone would send to Rupert and his group, there could have been many more dangerous objects. Why send something that, at worst, simply resulted in a bit of insanity, and at best, a great deal of enjoyment for most of the parties involved?"

"A 'bit' of insantiy?" Cordelia asked. "Who's insane, who wasn't before?"

"I simply meant, there was the possibility of someone touching the statue who wasn't able to cope." He closed his mouth and seemed to be trying not to say something. Then he got that Eureka look on his face. "We should look into the path the statue took, as it was being shipped to Sunnydale, to find out if there were any peculiar incidents--"

"Already done," Cordelia interrupted him. "We finished that this morning, while you and Angel were playing with the marble things."

"You were playing with my marbles?" Gunn demanded. Then, "That didn't sound right."

Wesley laughed, and Cordelia forgot what else she'd been about to say. It wasn't that she'd never heard him laugh, before. He'd laughed a lot, since he'd become friends with Gunn. But he'd almost stopped laughing entirely, once he'd become a kid again. Until today, when she'd heard him laugh twice. She found Gunn watching her, with a knowing look on his face.

"Yeah, he's adorable," Angel said, in the thickened Irish brogue he hardly ever used. Wesley suddenly realized they were all watching him. He scowled.

"Shouldn't one of you have a camera, or something?" he said bitterly, though it sounded to Cordelia to be mostly faked. Another improvement.

"Actually," Cordelia said, as she reached into her purse.

"I was joking!" Wesley dove under the table with his cinnamon crisps.

She laughed. "So was I, sucker." He peeped his head tentatively back above the table after a few seconds, and she showed him the stick of sugarless gum she'd retrieved from her purse. "Hey, you guys may want to have bean-breath all night, but some of us are going to be minty-fresh."

"For sitting in a tree?" he asked, wide-eyed. She stuck out her tongue at him, and he laughed again. "No thank you, I only french-kiss my boyfriend."

"And you thought 'playing with your marbles' sounded wrong?" Cordelia said to a suddenly-choking Gunn.

"I didn't mean it sounded wrong *that* way. I meant it sounded wrong in an 'I'm insane' kinda way." Gunn looked around, then frowned at Wesley. "You're not trying to get us thrown out, are you?"

Wesley looked back at him with the wide, innocent eyes Cordelia was so glad she had on film. It meant she could sit back and enjoy the sight, now, without diving for her camera. "Get us thrown out?" Wesley repeated.

"Everyplace I've taken you, you've told some stranger that I'm your boyfriend."

Cordelia laughed. "He has not!"

Gunn turned to her. "He *has*! I swear, I'm waiting for social services to show up on the doorstep and arrest me for child abuse."

"You're exaggerating, Charles," Wesley said in that stern voice that made Cordelia want to giggle.

"You told the museum docent," Gunn said. "And that lady on the bus, the cashier at the grocery store, the telemarketer who called the hotel...."

Wesley was looking innocent again. Cordelia dug into her purse, anyhow. Who cared if she already had that expression on film a thousand times? It was just too cute to pass up.

"But I can't ever say it when I'm an adult," Wesley explained. "Don't you ever feel like being able to tell people?"

Gunn opened his mouth to argue, and didn't say a word. Instead, he reached into his pocket, pulled out his wallet, and handed it to Cordelia. "What's this for?" she asked.

"He's gonna ask me to buy him a pony. Don't give me back my wallet, when he does."

"I am *not* going to ask you for a pony," Wesley protested, the poster-child for aggrieved innocence. Cordelia smirked, and started to hand Gunn back his wallet. Gunn put up a blocking hand.

"Uh-uh." He glanced down at the top of Wesley's head, and waited.

Wesley waited. Cordelia waited. Angel wisely shoved his other taco into his mouth, and pretended he wasn't waiting. Finally Wesley said, "I could eat another order of cinnamon crisps, perhaps. A small one."

Gunn glared at Wesley's skull, then at Cordelia, who was still holding out his wallet. Finally he reached to snatch it back, but Cordelia pulled it away. "No, you're right. I shouldn't let you give in..."

The look on his face was enough to send her scrambling for her camera, if her hand hadn't already been full with his wallet. She caught the look on Wesley's face, next, and she returned the grin. "You aren't even pretending to be doing this on accident, are you?" she demanded.

Big eyes. God, those things were dangerous. "Doing what?"

"'Doing what'," she repeated, then laughed. "Wesley, you're being spoiled."

Still with the big eyes. He slowly shook his head, and somehow that made the eyes-thing even more...eyey. "No, I'm not."

"Oh, right." That sarcastic comment was from Angel. The big-eyes turned on him, and he added quickly, "Not that there's anything wrong with that."

Cordelia sniffed. For a vampire, he had *no* backbone. "You *are* being spoiled. Admit it."

"I'm not," he insisted. "If I were being spoiled," and he swung that deadly gaze on Gunn, "I'd have another bag of cinnamon crisps."

Gunn looked guilty, then looked guilty for looking guilty, then looked helplessly at Cordelia, who just snickered. Finally he said "If I get you cinnamon crisps, I'll have to put you down." Wesley just looked back up at him with the eyes of doom. Gunn turned the pleading look back at Cordelia. "God. Cordelia, would you *please* get Wesley another bag of cinnamon crisps? And never let me have my wallet back?"

Cordelia shook her head. When Gunn turned his *own* big-eyes on her, she laughed. "Won't work, buddy." Granted, it would only not work because she was on the *inside* of the booth, trapped by Angel, the taco-eating vampire.

Which was where Gunn turned his eyes next. "Hey man, you owe me."

Angel looked up at him, taco paused halfway to his mouth. "I owe you for what??"

"Not telling Cordelia that you hide her cookies in your pockets and pretend you ate them?" Wesley offered.

"I don't do that!" Angel sputtered. "I tell her right up front that I don't eat, and..." He looked down at his taco. Then he snatched Gunn's wallet out of Cordelia's hand and hurried away.

Cordelia watched him go, and wondered what sort of torture was best to use on a 250 year old vampire who used to torture people for amusement. Bake him more cookies, perhaps? Stand there and make *sure* he ate one? "Stupid vampire," she muttered. "My cooking isn't *that* bad." When she turned her glare away from the pretending-he-doesn't-know-he's-being-glared-at vampire in line at a Taco Bueno, she found Wesley looking at her, uncertainly.

But he turned to Gunn and asked, "Was I not supposed to tell her?" He sounded sincerely uncertain, not like he was still teasing them.

"She knows," Cordelia answered for him. "She's still annoyed, though. He told me he *liked* my cookies." She gave Angel's back another glare, and could tell he was pretending he didn't have vampiric hearing.

Wesley looked back up at Gunn, again, who said, "Don't worry about it." He pressed a kiss on Wesley's forehead, and Cordelia had to stifle the urge to whip out her camera. Stifle it, only because the kiss was already over and any photo she got now would be of the two of them flipping the bird, or something worse.

She opened her mouth to say something, and Wesley looked at her. She closed her mouth again. "Maybe we could make him wear sunglasses?" she suggested to Gunn. Wesley looked hurt, so she hastened to add, "Hey, you'd look cute. Sort of that mini-rebel look. Have you ever seen those posters of babies on Harley's?"

Which made the Wesley-eyes swing back in Gunn's direction. "Speaking of which..."

Gunn shook his head. "No. Absolutely no way on earth."

Cordelia raised her eyebrow, now that she was safely out of Wesley's firing line. "What?"

"I am *not* gonna take him riding on the motorcycle."

The look of sheer superior logic on Wesley's face was priceless. "But it's *my* motorcycle."

"But you're *four*, and it's not safe."

"They make motorcycle helmets for four year olds."

"They make nipple-rings for four year olds too, but I'm not gettin' you one of those, either."

Wesley blinked up at him. "They do?"

"NO!" Gunn said. "No, no, no, no no."

Cordelia shook her head, and accepted the wallet back from Angel, who was sitting down with a tray -- with a bag of cinnamon crisps and two tacos. Wesley was still staring at Gunn, reaching out a hand and accepting the crisps Angel handed over, without even looking. "Please?" Wesley asked.


"But I *want* one."


Cordelia watched as Wesley wriggled, a little. Pushed his face closer to Gunn's, and said, "Please?"

"Why didn't we bring the video camera with us?" Angel whispered in Cordelia's ear.

"Because Wes pouted when we tried," she whispered back.

"Man, he's gonna be dangerous when he's fully regressed," Angel whispered.

"I think he's regressed enough," she whispered. Which they all already knew, after the phone call from Sunnydale. They'd decided not to tell Wesley about it, when Gunn had had to spend half an hour calming Wesley down after he'd missed a documentary on Ancient Italy on the Discovery channel.

So Wesley's suppositions about Bad Guy X not having done anything really dangerous were true-- as far as he knew. Trying to kidnap Willow and Tara in the middle of the mall went beyond the 'bit of insanity' Wes had described, but they weren't about to scare him with that news. Instead, they were just being careful. They'd agreed that keeping him at the hotel at all times would be just too mean -- whether to themselves or Wesley, Cordelia wasn't sure.

They couldn't deny him the pleasures of being a kid-- going out and playing, visiting all the places any kid would want to see in L.A., just when he'd finally relaxed enough to be able to enjoy them. And they couldn't deny themselves the fun of seeing him enjoying things -- though if it had been just that, vs. keeping Wesley safe, he would have been in the Hyperion under lock and key right now, instead of sitting in Taco Bueno pretending he wanted Gunn to buy him a nipple ring.

The compromise was simple-- safety in numbers. They all went out together. Wes wouldn't notice anything weird, since he was expecting them to all want to fuss over him anyway. And with one vampire, one insanely protective lover, and one dead-shot with a tossed high heel as his bodyguards, Wes would be as safe on the town with them as he would cooped up in the hotel.

Whether *they* would be safe from those big, blue eyes...well, they could always make Wesley pay them back, once he grew up again. She settled back in the booth to eat Angel's fourth taco, and watch Wesley try to wheedle a bike ride and nipple ring out of Gunn. It really was more entertaining than the movies.


chapter fifteen

Dawn watched as Giles sat on the small horse, and it moved slowly back and forth. The look on his face was priceless -- or rather, it would cost about 5 cents to develop the picture she'd just snapped, and 2 cents a print for copies... It wasn't a typical four-year-old 'wheee! I'm riding the horsie!' look. It was a 'someone just stuck a lemon in my mouth and told me it was ice cream' look. When he caught her watching him, the look deepened. "This is it?" he asked.

"Well, yeah. What'd you expect for a quarter -- the Kentucky Derby?" She sucked on her raspberry slushee and smirked. Giles frowned, then slid off the horse as it came to a stop.

To the next three children in line, he announced firmly, "That experience is vastly overated." The two girls and a boy looked up at their mother, who gave Dawn a peculiar look. She just grinned and shrugged, and handed Giles his slushee back.

"You wanted to ride it," Dawn reminded him as they walked away. She could hear the other kids clamoring 'me, next!' so apparently Giles' warning hadn't any effect.

"Because whenever I saw children riding one of those things, they appeared to be having a great deal of fun." He glanced back, with a thoughtful look on his face. "Do you think it would make a difference if I tried it again in a few days?"

"You mean, after you've regressed some more?" Dawn shook her head. "You're as regressed as they get." She took a slurp of her own slushee, and wished again that she'd gotten the grape. And it wasn't like she could guilt Giles out of *his* grape slushee, even without Buffy nearby to scold her for it.

"What is that supposed to mean?" Giles demanded. His lips were purple.

"I think your sense of adventure is more experienced than a regular four-year-old's. Nothing short of a real horsie ride will make you think you're riding a horsie."

"You do know you needn't use the word 'horsie', Dawn."

Dawn giggled. She knew she shouldn't, but his lisp *was* adorable. "You want a Dawnie ride?"

"Ex-CUSE me?" Giles' eyes got bigger than the dogs' in that fairy tale Buffy had read to them last night, about the ones with eyes as big as saucers. Dawn had to giggle again.

"On my shoulders, silly. God, you're a worse pervert than Xander and Spike!"

"I am *not*. And I wasn't thinking anything...perverted. I was just wondering where you wanted me to shove the quarter," Giles said, straightfaced. Dawn stuck her tongue out at him.

"Who's shoving what where?" Buffy asked, coming up behind them with her arms full of shopping bags.

Giles didn't answer her when Dawn pointed the finger of guilt at him. He was too busy jumping up and down. "Oh! Can we go over there?"

"Where?" Dawn looked. All she saw were a bunch of tables, all scattered around a section of the parking lot.

"A *book sale*?" Buffy said. "Giles, you're *four*; you're supposed to be having fun."

Giles gave her a stern look. "I *like* books. A book sale *is* fun."

"Are you sure you wouldn't rather go to the Lions Club carnival?" Buffy asked.

"No. I'm likely to get grabbed, or something. Here there is plenty of space for you to keep an eye out for any suspicious-looking people."

"The only thing suspicious-looking is a four-year-old boy who wants to look at books," Buffy countered. But she was letting Giles drag her towards the book sale. Dawn followed, wondering if they could go to the carnival next, anyhow. Surely a *Slayer* could prevent one small child-like-person from coming to any harm?


She looked over, and saw Giles sprawled on the asphalt -- after having tripped over a curb. Buffy was on it, though. She grabbed Giles up and was looking at his hands and knees, checking for massive bleeding, apparently, given the look on her face. "Giles, are you okay?"

The first thing Dawn noticed was that those kid-eyes looked twice their actual size when filled with tears, which weren't quite spilling over. "I think I broke my...patella," he said slowly. Looking up at Buffy to see if she believed him. It was all Dawn could do not to applaud. Even though it was mean to take advantage of somebody who hadn't studied in her anatomy classes because she was busy saving the world. Or that was the excuse Buffy usually gave for *most* missed classes.

"Really?" Buffy asked. "Left or right?" She carefully tickled his knees, and Giles giggled in spite of himself. Dawn revised her estimate of her sister's intelligence upwards-- which was unusual. Maybe she was coming down with something? She didn't *feel* sick.

"Well, perhaps it's not broken. Just bruised. It might be difficult to walk on."

Dawn rolled her eyes. "I *offered* you a ride, you know."

"As I recall, I didn't refuse. I merely got distracted." Giles' hand went towards his nose, as if trying to adjust glasses which weren't there. Dawn just held out her hands, and Giles jumped up and took them. She pulled him up, then around onto her back. After a moment to get settled, she gave her sister a smile. " sale, or do we sneak off to the carnival?"

"Book sale," Giles said sternly.

"I think if his patella really *is* broken, we should take him home. Put an ice pack on him and leave him on the couch all day." Buffy sounded serious. It was only because Buffy had used this same tone on *her* more than once, that Dawn knew she was kidding.

"It's not that broken. I want to look at the books." Giles didn't seem to believe her, either.

"I don't know..." Buffy began.

"Dawn, I'll give you ten dollars if you head over towards the book sale."

"Deal!" Dawn walked away from Buffy, towards the books.

Buffy followed, casting stern glances at Dawn. "You know you shouldn't let him bribe you."

Dawn blinked at her sister. "Why not? He does it all the time when he's old."

"I'm not old!" Giles said loudly into Dawn's ear.

"Say it, don't spray it, Giles," Dawn replied calmly, wiping her ear off. "You were born before the Super Nintendo was invented, therefore, you're old. It's okay. Buffy's old, too."

Giles seemed to consider this for a minte, as he leaned down and pointed at a book he wanted. When Dawn handed it to him, he studied it for a minute, then said, "I don't bribe you all the time."

Dawn kept her mouth shut, though she rolled her eyes. Sure he didn't. Which was why her savings account was twice as large as it should have been based on the pitiful allowance Buffy gave her. He'd *never* said anything like 'Dawn, if you pretend you never saw that, I'll give you ten dollars and drive you to the mall...'

Then she realized Buffy was still watching the two of them, with narrowed eyes. Too late, Dawn tried an innocent smile. Buffy folded her arms in front of her, and said, "*You* are buying his books. All the books he wants."

Dawn gaped at her, then quickly took the book Giles was holding, and checked the tag. Only fifty cents. She gave it back and shrugged. "Fine." The way Buffy smiled, though, made Dawn suddenly doubt she'd get off as scot-free as she hoped.

She knew she wouldn't, when, half an hour later, Giles was telling Buffy to go fetch a basket, or something, and stop complaining. "You've the strength of a Slayer, one would think you could hold a small stack of books easily enough."

"*Small*! Giles, I didn't read this many books in my entire four years in high school."

Dawn could just imagine the look Giles gave Buffy -- she couldn't see it because he was still clinging to her back, and demanding that she pick that book up, or that one, or what about that one over there? She'd realized he was going to spend her entire ten dollar bribe on fifty cent books. Which, if he hadn't grabbed two she wanted to borrow, she'd have started complaining about.

She did almost cheer when he announced that he'd seen everything he wanted to see, and they could pay for the books now. Because by that time, they were heading into the red zone, meaning she was spending her own money on it. Giles waved one hand in front of her face, in Buffy's direction. "I want to hold them."

"You'll just drop 'em on my head," Dawn told him. Then it occurred to her that such might have been his intention in the first place, and she pinched his leg, lightly. "Brat."

"Buffy! Dawn's being mean to me," Giles called.

Buffy turned around, the stack of books in her hand. Dawn rolled her eyes. Buffy looked uncertainly at Giles, and Dawn groaned. He was doing the pout. He had to be. Little middle-aged brat. "Dawn, are you being mean to Giles?"

"Yes, Buffy. I live to torment your Watcher. I have nothing better to do in my life than make Giles cry." She was being sarcastic, of course. Tormenting Giles was a hobby, not a career.

"She pinched me. Hard," Giles put in.

Now Buffy was staring at her again, in that 'watch me be a Mom' way she'd adopted. Still not anywhere good at it as their real mom had been, but Dawn had to give her credit for trying. Of course, if Buffy *really* wanted someone to do the Mom stare at her, she should ask Spike. Not that Dawn was planning on telling her that, of course.

"Dawn, you shouldn't be mean to Giles."

"*What*? You mean you believe him? I didn't do anything!" She considered dropping Giles, but if she did he'd probably *really* break a patella - or his head. "Buffy, if you say 'because he's littler than you' I'm going to tell everyone about that package you got in the mail from Frederick's of Hollywood."

Buffy's eyes went wide.

"Frederick's of Hollywood?" Giles was asking.

"You're too young to know," Dawn told him.

"How dare--" Buffy hissed. "I did not--! It wasn't for me!" she finally managed.

Dawn blinked. "Who are they for, then? Have you got a girlfriend, now, too? Or a boyfriend with tastes I *really* don't wanna know about?"

"I am not telling you anything. You are going to pay for these books and we are *leaving*."

Dawn just watched her for a moment, then nodded. "Yup. Classic mom- maneuver. Skip logic, and go directly for the 'because I said so' orders." She waited until Buffy looked like she'd worked up a delicious, crunchy retort, then added, "Of course, Mom didn't use that move to distract anybody from asking why she was shopping at Frederick's of Hollywood."

Buffy looked positively evil when she grinned and replied, "Actually..."

Dawn stared at her, wide-eyed. "Really?"

"I was looking through her purse for a breath-mint, and found a receipt. She about turned purple."

"Damn! And I missed it? Where was I?" Dawn asked. Then she looked down. "Oh. Stupid question."

"You were at Monica's," Buffy said, with a shrug. "It was the day you two gave her poodle a home perm."

Dawn blinked at her. Then she said slowly, "Sometimes I wonder about the people who came up with my backstory."

"Actually, you had a fairly typical childhood," Giles put in. "If you ignore all the times you encountered demons, vampires, werewolves, and fairies."

"Fairies? I don't remember fairies -- that would have been neat!"

"He means Xander and Spike," Buffy told her.

"Oh." Dawn pouted.

Then she pouted more when Buffy set Giles' stack of books next to the cash register and said to the woman, "She's paying."

"I can't reach my purse," Dawn said, holding onto Giles' legs.

"I can get down," Giles offered.

"You'll fall again," Dawn told him, not letting go.

In a dry voice, Giles said, "I think I can manage to stand still while you purchase my books, and not injure myself."

"I don't have any money," she tried again. "You haven't given me my bribe, yet."

"What about the one I gave you this morning? You haven't spent that all, have you?"

And now Buffy was looking at her like she'd done something evil, again. "What?" Dawn demanded.

"What did he bribe you to do?"

Dawn grinned. "You'll find out. When you least expect it."

It involved Buffy's underwear drawer and putting a big ol' cheesy picture of Spike and Xander grinning into the camera, with Buffy's room as a backdrop, in it. Under her set of days-of-the-week undies. It didn't really matter that Spike and Xander hadn't put it there, and would get in trouble for nothing. Heck, that was kind of the point. Dawn had to hand it to Giles -- his brilliance could be astounding.

Buffy glared at her, and held out her hand. "Money. Now."

Reluctantly, Dawn reached into her purse-- then grinned. "Um... I really *don't* have it. I left my wallet in the car."

"Fine. You can pay for supper." Buffy pulled her own billfold out, and paid the cashier.

"But we're going to Chuck-E-Cheese's for supper," Dawn protested. "We're meeting the rest of the gang and having pizza and playing video games for hours... I don't have that much in my bank account, much less my wallet!"

Buffy gave her half a smile. "Relax. You only have to pay for me, Giles, and yourself. And if you watch *us* play Pac-Man, you'll save money, right?" Dawn tried the little-sister pout, again. It still wasn't working. Maybe she was getting too old.... Buffy was cheerfully accepting a bag of books from the cashier, then gave them a bright smile. "Now, who wants Dawn to buy us ice cream, to spoil our dinners with?"

"We just had slushees!" Dawn felt herself blanch. "Did I just say that?"

"I want pistachio," Giles said, leaning sideways and reaching for the bag of books. Buffy held it out of his reach. "And I want my book on the solar system."

Buffy rolled her eyes, but that didn't stop her from digging through the bag and pulling out the book Giles wanted. "I don't know why you want it now," she complained. "You'll just get carsick if you try to read while we're moving."

"I'm not going to read," Giles announced with much dignity. Dawn noticed that he didn't try to deny that he'd get carsick. Which was a wise move, since they'd already seen the results of him trying to focus on a Latin manuscript while the Range Rover jumped and bounced down the road. It hadn't been pretty.

"Then why do you want the book?" Buffy asked, as she opened the door and Dawn let him down into the back seat.

"I want to start putting the stickers in place," he answered, jutting out his chin. Buffy shot Dawn a grin, and handed Giles the book.

"Are you sure we should be going to Chuck-E-Cheese tonight?" Dawn tried as she slid into the driver's seat. "I mean, taking everybody out in public, someplace crowded like that.... and we still don't know any more about that freak who tried to snatch Willow and Tara."

"I know -- but we can't lock everyone in the basement for the rest of the month." Buffy glanced at Giles, as though thinking they might try. "I'm pretty sure I can keep an eye on Giles at a pizza place well enough, and I challenge *anyone* to get past Spike and Xander, to get at Willow and Tara again."

Dawn giggled as she checked the rear view mirror. "They're such dads."

Buffy laughed with her. "Did they tell you that the papers Angel sent to Spike, that prove he's William Harris, also had adoption papers for Willow Harris, and a birth certificate for Tara Harris?"

"Tell me? I thought Spike was going to burst something, the way he was strutting around. Oh! We should buy them Father's Day cards." Dawn laughed again. "I feel sorry for their kids, if they ever have *real* ones. Any daughter they raise will be spoiled rotten, but *never* get to go out on a date."

"Please, stop," came a pitiful voice from the backseat. Dawn stopped the vehicle, and they both turned around.

"You weren't reading? Giles, are you sick again?"

They saw Giles sitting there, belted in with a child's adapter-seatbelt, holding his planets-and-moons sticker book in front of him. "No. But the thought of Xander and Anya having children..."

"Think of it this way -- Angel will be a grandpa!"

"Technically, I think he'll be a great-grandpa," Buffy corrected her.

Dawn pulled the car back onto the road, and waited until Giles was fully immersed in his book again, before adding, "Of course, you'd be a grandpa, too."

Giles spluttered. "What? I would not. How do you figure that?"

"Well, you think of all of us like your kids, right? So our kids would be your grandkids."

Giles looked at her in the rear-view mirror. Or rather, she looked at him, and he made a face. "I do *not* think of Anya and Xander as my children. Well, possibly Anya. Xander was left on my doorstep by trolls."

"Uh-huh. And what about Spike?' Buffy asked, getting in on the action.

"Spike is old enough to be *my* great grandfather," Giles argued.

"Only chronologically."

"The fact remains, I make no claims on Spike as being any sort of relation of mine. Except possibly an alley cat one's neighbors have fed and one cannot be rid of."

"Which explains why you bought that behind-the-scenes tell-all Passions book for him last Christmas?" Buffy asked.

"It was the cheapest thing I could think of," Giles retorted.

"Cheap would have been buying him cigarettes," Dawn pointed out. "Or a book of matches."

"Except that Anya doesn't let him smoke in the apartment, so he's barely going through a pack a week, now." There was silence from the backseat, then Giles said, "Or so I gather."

"Uh-huh." Buffy gave Dawn a wink. "You've never once called their place to see if Spike made it home before sunrise okay?"

"I never! I was only doing it because Anya was busy and couldn't get to the phone."

Dawn had to clamp her jaw down on her giggles -- she couldn't drive and laugh hysterically at the same time. She knew, she'd tried. Never with Buffy in the car, of course, because she wanted to maintain her driving privileges. And Xander was sworn to secrecy....

When Buffy just kept smirking at him, Giles asked, "Are you certain it's a good idea to go out to Chuck-E-Cheese's?"

"Ah, the classic Watcher-technique," Dawn observed. "Distract them by asking if something mildly potentially dangerous is really a good idea."

"Plus there's the 'repeat a question someone else asked and hope everyone's forgotten about it by now' gambit," Buffy added. "Actually, Giles was never into asking whether it was really a good idea. That might have actually worked. He was more like 'Buffy, I absolutely forbid you to do this.' Which as we know is like a red flag for Slayers."

Giles looked up, an evil expression on his face. "Buffy, I absolutely forbid you to shut up about any of you ever having children, and what relationship I might be to them if you did."

Buffy opened her mouth, then closed it again. Dawn smirked. Buffy pouted-- and Dawn was quickly thankful that Buffy *wasn't* still four. "I want ice cream," Buffy said, in a voice as high and childish as Giles'. It was all Dawn could do not to run off the road.


chapter sixteen

"I don't think it'll work," Tara told her girlfriend, with a shake of her head.

"Oh, it will too! Come on, Tara."

"Yes, it's really an excellent plan," Giles put in. The three of them were sitting together at one end of the table, eating pizza and breadsticks and drinking enough soda to float the Enterprise. Either version.

"But if we try to walk off without at least two adults with us...." She glanced over at the adults at the table, who were also eating pizza and breadsticks and drinking enough soda --and that only between Spike, Xander, and Dawn -- to float two battleships. Any time any one of them had tried to move from the table, one to three adults had jumped up and grabbed the four-year-old's hand and said 'where are we going?'

At first it had been fun, when Spike grabbed Willow's hand and she said 'bathroom', then when Giles did the same thing to Buffy. But the older...taller set had caught on, so now the kids were trying to come up with something new.

"It isn't like we're trying to give them the slip," Willow explained. "I don't wanna get grabbed by some stranger, and I don't wanna get lectured again by Spike for getting out of eyesight for all of two seconds."

"So why don't we just *ask* them?" Tara asked.

"Because they're too bloody big to get into the maze," Giles explained.

"Are you sure?" She eyed the colorful tubes, then looked back down the table at the adult adults. Then she looked at Giles, and saw the twinkle in his eye. He *did* want to give them the slip. She gave him a look -- the same look that he usually gave her and Willow when they were trying some new spell, as a matter of fact.

He didn't bother trying to look innocent at her, just rolled his eyes. "All right. Look, *no* adult can get into those tubes, so we'll be perfectly safe from harm. I don't want to be snatched any more than you do-- I just want a bit of breathing space -- and breathing in the men's room is not at the top of my to-do list."

Tara thought for a millisecond, then nodded. "Okay! Let's do it!" They counted to three under their breaths, then Tara ever so accidentally knocked her soda over onto the table-- and started wailing.

None of the adults at neighboring tables even looked up -- this was Chuck-E-Cheese, after all -- but Xander and Spike came to her rescue in an instant -- which gave Willow and Giles the chance to slip off to the tubes while everyone fussed over Tara. Then, when they were all looking around and going 'Where's Willow? Where's Giles?' Tara used her secret super Pepsi-power (five caffeinated sodas in two hours) to zoom over to the tubes herself.

Spike almost managed to grab her, but she zipped past him, trailing cola-particles in her wake, and giggling. She slipped inside the entrance to the tube-maze, losing her shoes in the process somewhat near the sign that said "take off your shoes here", and began scrambling upwards to where Willow and Giles were.

At least, where they'd been a moment ago. She stopped at a junction where she'd seen them, and looked around. A bunch of kids she didn't know were headed up one way, and a little girl who looked lost, was sitting down along the other tube. Tara hurried over to the unoccupied tube and slid down, squealing as she went. As she hit the bottom, and exited the tube maze briefly, she peeked out -- and saw Xander standing just beyond the maze, watching her. She stuck her tongue out and hurried back up before he could catch her.

She caught sight of Giles, and scurried after him, managing to grab his ankle before he climbed up another tube. He glanced down. "Oh! Good lord, I thought you were Dawn."

"Dawn? She can't get in here...can she?" Tara looked around. Nothing but under-seven as far as she could see.

"I'm not sure. But she was waiting for us when we tried to give you the slip -- er, I lost Willow, ducking back in here."

Tara squeaked. "They got Willow? Oh no!" She had to go rescue her poor girlfriend. Tara began to shuffle back down the tube, but Giles grabbed her wrist.

"No, Willow got into the other tube. I think she's up there, over our heads."

Tara looked up through the big clear bubble at the top junction of their tube, to see, sure enough, Willow looking down at her through the bubble in the bottom of the overpassing tube. Grinning, sticking out her tongue, and waggling her fingers in her ears. Which was universal sign language for "Nyah-nyah, nyah nyah, can't get me!" Tara pursed her lips, narrowed her eyes, and scrambled up the tube, climbing right over Giles.

"Ooh-- you just wait! I'm gonna get you, Willow Rosenbooger!" She could hear Willow giggling somewhere above her as she climbed.

"Hey! Wait up!" Giles called, behind her. She didn't, of course, but if he helped her catch Willow, all the better. They chased her through three tubes, somehow never managing to get into the same tube at the same time. At one point Tara and Giles climbed out into a crow's nest, and looked around. On the ground level, looking up at them, were Anya and Spike. "You know, I don't think we quite gave them the slip," Giles observed.

"Well, they still can't get *at* us. We can play in here as long as we like."

"Until we get kicked out when the restaurant closes."

"Which isn't until ten p.m.! Come on, there she is!" Tara leapt for another tube, and slid halfway down -- and landed on Willow's head. "Haha! Gotcha!" Then Tara said, "Ow!" as Giles landed on *both* their heads. "Watch it!" She thumped him on the arm.

Then she found all three of them sliding the rest of the way down the tube. They landed in a heap at the bottom of four tubes. They all leapt up, as one, stuck their tongues out...and hurried off in different directions.

This time, when Tara looked out a bubble window, she saw Buffy standing with her arms crossed, grinning, directly below her. Buffy waved, and Tara made the universal sign-language gesture. When Buffy made as if to dive for the opening of a nearby tube, Tara laughed hysterically, then squirmed away. Just in case Buffy had long arms.

She over-squirmed, though, and found herself once more sliding down a tube, to land against Willow. Who was pushed into Giles. Who popped out onto the floor. The two girls just stayed there laughing, braced too far up the tube for an adult to reach, while Giles scrambled for another entrance, running as fast as his little legs would carry him, Xander hot on his tail.

"Hey, quit pushing me!" Willow said suddenly.

"I'm not!"

"Yes you are. I'm slipping-- I'm gonna fall out. Stop it!"

"Oh, you are not. Baby!"

Willow looked up and stuck her tongue out, waggling it. "Bottle blonde!"

"Not now, I'm not. Neurotic homework highlighter!"

Wilow crossed her eyes, obviously concentrating hard. "Goyim!"

Tara stared at her. "I'm a what?" She leaned her head past Willow and called out "Xander! Willow called me a mean name!"

"It's not a mean name-- it just means you're not Jewish," Willow said.

"Well, duh!" Tara thought for a second, then pouted. "I don't know any special words for 'not ex-Southern-Baptist' "


"That works."

"You know, if you two can't play nice--" They both 'eeped' and jumped away from Xander, who was crouching at the mouth of the tube...and was only inches away from them. Tara shoved Willow ahead of her, trying to get them out of reach before he could grab them. She thought she heard him laughing, but didn't stop to find out.

They ran around the tube maze, dodging strange kids, adults they knew all too well, and, at various points, each other. Finally Tara landed at the bottom of a tube beside Willow and Giles, who were sitting down and breathing hard.

"You two aren't wimping out, are you?"

"I'm considering the necessity of ingesting more pizza, before racing around for another hour," Giles replied.

"Yeah. And I'm thirsty," Willow added.

Tara peered through the blue plastic of the tube's walls. "If you go out there, you're gonna get grabbed."

"What?" Willow and Giles sat up, alarmed.

"Buffy, Dawn, Anya, Spike, and Xander -- they're all standing there. Watching us." She pointed.

Giles peered over his shoulder, and made a face. "Everywhere we turn, one or more of them is right there. Watching."

"Mad because watching's your job?" Willow asked.

"No, merely annoyed because we did this in order to get out from under their overly-protective gazes."

"It's kinda nice, though," Tara pointed out, even though she felt more like racing through the tubes, some more, than sitting here and talking. When Willow and Giles looked at her with expressions of disbelief, she said, "Well, in case something *did* happen. They'll be right there."

"Like if someone grabbed us," Willow said, nodding. Then her eyes lit up. "Or if someone stuck her head out of the tube and said she was thirsty?"

Tara looked at her skeptically. "Um, if you wanna try it...."

Willow grinned. "Nope, I was thinking maybe you would!" Tara felt herself being grabbed by both Willow and Giles, and being pushed so that her head stuck out the bottom of the tube.

"Help!" she shouted between giggles. Then thought better of it, since she didn't want to be rescued and dragged out. "Um... Willow wants Pop! Lots of pop! I do, too!" Her message delivered, Giles and Willow yanked her back up to safety, and Tara whapped Willow on the head, lightly. "Geek!"

Giles pouted. "You didn't ask for my pizza."

They all watched the opening of the tube, and eventually, Xander's head poked its way inside. "You want soda, you have to come out. No food or drink in the play area."

"Boo!" they yelled. It echoed in the tube, and Xander put his hands over his ears.

Tara giggled, and couldn't seem to stop. Xander looked at her for a minute. "Right, and only diet soda for Tara."

*That* stopped the giggles. She couldn't believe he would be so mean! "Willow, Xander's saying I'm a fat little kid!"

"No, sweetie, he's saying you've had more than enough sugar for one night."

"You should know," Giles put in. "You fed her three of your regular colas, after Xander tried buying her only diet ones, before."

"I did not!" Willow protested.

"Willow?" came a foreboding, very authoritarian voice. They all looked at Xander, then Tara and Willow looked at Giles.

"When did you teach him to sound like that?"

"What? *ME*? I never did anything of the sort. He got it from...from Spike, I imagine. Er, actually, I don't want to imagine..." He sighed. "Too late. I've imagined it. Someone shoot me, please?"

"We have a fresh pizza, at the table," Xander said. "And breadsticks."

Tara watched as Giles actually moved an inch towards the mouth of the tube. She grabbed his arm. "Don't go!"

"But they have more food," he said, not even looking back at her. He moved another inch, and she let go.

"Fine. Go, see if we care. Willow and I will play without you." But Willow was inching towards the exit, as well. "Willow!"

"I'm *thirsty*," she whined.

"I can't believe you'd leave me," Tara sniffed. "After I've given you the years of my life! Over Root Beer!"

Willow looked at her, then said softly, "The best four years?"

"Well, duh!"

"Cool!" Willow said, then slid out of the tube, running for the table.

Tara looked after her in dismay, then shrugged. Fine. She could still have fun by herself. She took off for the farther reaches of tubeville, clambering in and out of the Amazon Jungle, playing Tara, Queen of the Ape People. She even noticed that if she used the little anti-static spell she and Willow put on the dryer in the apartment building when they were doing laundry, it made the slidey tubes *really* slippery.

Of course, every time she did that, it made her kinda tired for a second or two, but she wasn't worried-- she had plenty of energy to spare. Finally she made it up to the highest point, and sat down for a rest. Just a little one, where she could watch everybody down below, and make faces at them through the bubble. A little while later-- she wasn't sure how much later, because she'd closed her eyes, just for a second, she heard voices in the tube.

"Hey, watch where you're going, lummox!"

"You're the one who stopped, Spike. What's the matter-- afraid of heights?"

"No-- but you pinched my arse!"

"Er, and this is bad why?"

"Because we're in a kiddie tube, and you nearly made me slip. I'd have landed on your face," Spike explained. Tara looked around, confused. Why could she hear Spike and Xander so clearly, from here?

"Yeah, butt-first."

Tara crawled to the edge of the bubble, and looked down the tube. Right there, less than four feet away, was Spike. "How'd you get in here?" she asked. Wasn't he supposed to be too big?

Spike turned around, and smiled at her. "Awake, then, are you? Come on." He held out one hand. She crawled towards him to take it, and shook her head.

"You can't get in here. It's for kids-only. You're too big."

Spike just grinned in that way that made her want to cuddle him. Or be cuddled, which when she was awake and adult, was the sort of thought that was worrisome. Right now, she slid down into his arms.

"You got her?" Xander asked.

"Yeah. Back up, now -- hey! No pinching!"

Suddenly Tara was sliding in Spike's arms, all the way down the tube. She, Spike, and Xander, landed in a heap on the rubber playmat at the bottom, Spike's arms still wrapped around her. "You pinched, didn'cha!" she asked Xander, who was grinning unashamedly at Spike. One arm unwrapped from around her shoulder to whap Xander on the head. Xander whapped him back.

"You know, if you two can't play nice..." came Anya's voice from the table.

"Yes?" they both chorused.

"You won't get to play naughty when we get home!"

The whapping stopped instantly. Spike stood up and carried Tara over to the table, Xander following. "Anybody want this, or you think I should keep her?" Spike asked the group, holding Tara out over the table like she was a pizza that somebody forgot to pick up.

"Is that the prize that came with all the skeeball tickets?" Buffy asked.

"Yeah. They were all out of stuffed monkeys, so I got the little girl. 500 tickets this thing was!" Tara laughed, and poked him in the ribs. Spike frowned at her and added, "I think I got ripped off."

"We can hang her in the living room, with Mr. Fluffy and Frankenporker." Xander was putting slices of pizza on plates, and passing them out to Spike, Tara, and Giles, before keeping one for himself. Tara grinned, then looked really, really hungry at him. He passed her his plate, and reached for another.

"Sneaky," Spike whispered in her ear.

She looked over. "Can I have something to drink?"

At least three people said "No soda!"


chapter seventeen

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

"Why do I do what, Wes?"

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

"No, it's a fashion choice."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What about insanity?"

"That would be *your* family, dude."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wesley made a face. "I want tacos."

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

"And more cinnamon crisps."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Angel glanced at him. "What?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gunn glared at him, too. "Wesley?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"You got me." Gunn shrugged.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"They do?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"We swear," Gunn and Cordelia said together.

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

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

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

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

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

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

"So? Share!"

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

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

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

"Can I call Lorn?" Wesley asked.

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

"Details?" Cordelia asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"It's in English," Wesley scolded.

"If you say so."

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

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


chapter eighteen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Good. Be mean back to her."

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

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

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

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

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

"Mini-Wes, the Tiny Terror?"

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

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

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

"Head-first," Cordelia added immediately.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Your hair-dresser," Wesley reminded him.

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

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

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

"Why would Wesley be reading--"

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

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

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

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

"Hooked on what?" Angel was asking.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Not for years, now."

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

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

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

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


"To pay for the food."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"You were not! Liar!" Wesley shouted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"*I* like Casablanca," Lorn said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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