Son of Small Fry

chapter five

"Wesley... where are you hiding... I have cookies..." Cordelia's voice sing-songed through the lobby, and Wesley winced.

"Honestly, Cordelia. I'm not hiding, I'm sitting at my desk."

She walked over. "Oh. I just couldn't see you over that stack of books. I have cookies-- you want some?"

"I'm not a child, Cordy," he began. Then he blinked. "What kind of cookies?"

She set the plate down on top of his Concordance to the Gallegian Chronicles. "Oatmeal-raisin. And I *know* you're not a kid. Yet. I just thought you might like a cookie."

Wesley caught himself giving her a dirty look, and smoothed out his displeasure into a polite nod. "Thank you, Cordelia." He took one, then stopped. "Er, did you bake them yourself?" He saw Gunn walk up behind her, and make waving motions. Wesley kept himself from staring at him, until Gunn began gesturing towards his throat and sticking his tongue out. "Are you trying to say you've been bitten by Angel?" Wesley asked him.

Gunn gave *him* a dirty look as Cordelia whirled around. "Gunn! You want another cookie?"

"Er, ah, no thanks, trying to watch my figure." He patted his stomach.

"What figure?"

"I'll watch it for you, if you like," Wesley offered.

"Eeew, stop it, that's creepy." Cordelia wrinkled her nose. Wesley gave her his most withering stare.

"Just because I *look* like a child..."

"No, it's always creepy," she said, snatching the plate of cookies away. "Fine. You two don't appreciate my attempts to make this place friendly and homey, it's your problem."

Gunn mouthed the word 'Homey?' over Cordelia's shoulder, and did a gangsta rap gesture. Wesley chuckled, which somehow came out as a giggle.

"Laugh at me. See if I care. Angel will eat my cooking."

"I'll what?" Angel asked, stepping into the office. Cordelia grinned and held out the plate. He smiled, a bit forcedly. "Cookies. How...I don't eat, but otherwise I'd--"

"Have one," Cordelia told him.

"I'll have one," he repeated, taking a cookie. Wesley and Gunn watched him, Wesley wondering if he'd actually bite into it, or try to distract them all while he got rid of it. "Gee, these look yummy," Angel began.

Wesley noticed that no one was looking at him -- so he took his own cookie and slid it underneath a book.

"I saw that, Wesley."


Angel eyed him warily. "Since when were we on the same side? I still have bruises, you know."

Wesley watched him palm his cookie, and magically disappear it into his leather jacket. "Saving it for later?" he asked sweetly.

Cordelia turned to look at Angel, who spread his arms wide, and made munching noises. "Mmm. Dewishus." He fake-chewed a bit more, then asked, "Can I get the recipe?"

"It's the tollhouse recipe," she replied, sounding doubtful. "On the side of the tube of cookie-dough."

"You mean the tube of 'cut 'em and bake 'em' cookie dough?" Gunn asked, and Wesley could see him reaching for the plate. He considered warning him -- but refrained. There were some things a man had to learn on his own.

She frowned at Gunn as he took another cookie, but waited until he'd actually taken a bite before saying, "I always make my own dough, of course, but I use the tube of dough to tell me what temperature to put the oven on."

Gunn stopped chewing. Then he made the ultimate mistake-- one that Wesley had made himself, on at least one occasion. He tried to swallow what he still had in his mouth, without chewing.

"Does someone want to help him?" Wesley asked after a few seconds. "I would, but I'm not really equipped to do the Heimlich maneuver any more." He wasn't *really* choking, just coughing and making funny faces, but it was enough to make Cordelia glare at them all, and Angel rush over to Gunn, face stricken with guilt.

"I'm so sorry I didn't warn you, Gunn," Angel began, and started to put his arms around Gunn's waist.

Wesley watched, amused, as Gunn yanked himself away, still coughing. "The last time you tried that, you broke three of my ribs. Back off!"

Cordelia had her hands on her hips, now, and was glaring at Angel and Gunn. Both men started giving her sheepish, what'd we do we didn't mean it aren't we cute don't kill us looks.

"Angel, don't forget to remove the cookie from your pocket before your coat gets laundered." Wesley sat back in his chair -- scooting on the copy of Truncale's Wisdom. Serving as a booster was the best use he'd found for the book, yet. Angel turned his expression onto Wesley, and it became a 'don't forget I could kill you a thousand different ways' look. Wesley flipped open a book at random and glanced down at it. "Last time it took the cleaners forever to get the chocolate out."

"Last time?" Cordelia asked. "What last time? My chocolate chip fudge cookies?!"

Angel shook his head, rapidly. "No, no, those were great. He's talking about..." Wesley looked up to find Angel glaring at him again.

"Yes? What was I talking about?"

"Getting outside in the fresh air and sunshine?" Angel suggested. "I mean, don't you want to go play in the park, or something?"

Wesley had to grin. "Are you offering to take me? In the fresh air and sunshine?"

"Well, no, But I'm sure Gunn and Cordy would love to get out of the office. You could go ride on those bouncy things with the pelican heads." Angel sounded like he'd got quite familiar with bouncy playground equipment, during his extended tour as nanny for mini-Xander-and-Spike.

Wesley raised an eyebrow. "Need I remind you that I am *not* in fact a child?"

"Didn't stop Spike and Xander." Angel shrugged.

"Yes, and my mental state is so much like theirs, I can see why you assumed I would enjoy behaving like a moron for entertainment." Wesley tried turning his attention back to his books. It wasn't that he expected them to leave, but he did hope they would get the hint. He was *still* an adult, in all respects save the one.

"You don't have to act like a moron," Cordelia pointed out. "But you *should* get outside, have some fun."

"I assure you, I am quite--"

"You're gonna spend all day behind those books," Gunn interrupted. "I think you need to get out. Relax, enjoy yourself."

Wesley placed his finger in the book he had been studying, then closed it, so everyone would have a clearer view of his disapproving scowl. He thought he did a fairly decent job of hiding the wince, when he discovered that either his finger was much smaller than he was used to, or the book was much heavier.

"I'll have plenty of time to do all of those childish things you're all so keen on seeing me do, and undoubtedly taking pictures of to use against me for the rest of my life, after I've succumbed to the regression bit of the spell. When I won't particularly *care* how idiotic I look, or how much actual work there is to be done in the meanwhile." He opened the book again, and very carefully did *not* put his finger in his mouth to suck on it.

"Would we do that?" Gunn asked, not even trying to sound sincere in his objection.

"I've already bought extra film," Cordelia said.

"I have tapes for the camcorder," Angel added.

Wesley wondered if he shouldn't have made arrangements to stay the month with Rupert. Even if Rupert were staying with Buffy and Dawn -- surely those two wouldn't They would. Wesley sighed.

Picking up one of the smaller tomes, he slid off his chair. Now shorter than the desk, he couldn't see the three watching him -- and wasn't particularly keen on seeing their expressions. What he wanted was to find some quiet spot where he could read.

"Wes..." Gunn began, and Wesley cut him off.

"Please, Charles? Just let me be, for now?"

Gunn walked over and pulled his chair back. "I was just gonna say, maybe we should grab some books, and read in the bedroom? If you want to."

Wesley looked up at him. He appeared to be utterly serious, holding out a hand for Wesley to take. Wesley grinned, after a moment, and placed a book in it. Then another, on top of that.

Gunn didn't say a word until Wesley had five books stacked. Then he only said, "How long you planning on being upstairs reading?"

Wesley looked up, and went for an innocent expression. It seemed to be working much better for him now, as a child, than it ever had before. "All day?"

Gunn muttered something which Wesley couldn't quite make out, then he looked over at Angel. "You got cable in that room, right?"

Angel's brow furrowed for a moment, then his mouth twitched, as if he were afraid that smiling more than once during the same week would confuse the natives. "There's rope in the basement, I guess, and you know where we keep the chains, but do you really think you shoul--"

That was all he managed to get out before Gunn was smacking him on the back of the head. "I *know* you did not just say that. He's *four*!"

"I am *not*--" Wesley shook his head, and piled another book atop the stack in Gunn's arms. "Forget it. Come on, I want to get *something* accomplished today, while I still have a working brain."

Gunn, still glaring at Angel, headed for the stairs, and Wesley followed.


Gunn patiently flipped the page of the book Wes was reading. They were settled in a chair, Wesley on his lap -- because Gunn *could* and he was gonna take every opportunity to hold Wes, no matter what the squirt thought about it.

He was patiently flipping pages -- not because he read faster than Wesley and had finished the page five minutes ago. He was patiently flipping because he'd tried reading it, and gotten bored by the third page. He hadn't told Wesley, because watching Wes read was...all right, fine. He was gob-smacked, and he finally understood what that phrase meant. He liked watching his lover read.

They'd been doing a lot of it the last couple of days -- no matter how hard they tried to get Wesley to go *out* and do stuff, be a kid, he still preferred to stay indoors and read. Gunn thought he was hiding, rather than just being really into his books. Once his emotions caught up with the age of his body, that would change. He hoped.

It had already started, though. The book on Gunn's lap wasn't an obscure academic treatise on dead or evil things. It was Nero Wolfe. Still adult reading, but, in Gunn's opinion, a step forward.

Gunn was so engrossed in looking down at the top of Wesley's head, watching it move slightly from side to side every so often as Wes glanced back at the previous page like he was checking to see if he'd missed a clue, that he didn't notice Wes tapping him on the arm until the small face was turned up and looking at him. "I'm ready to turn the page," Wesley told him with a small grin. "Unless you're still reading."

He coughed softly and shook his head. "No, I'm about done." He faked finishing the last paragraph, then he turned the page.

"I was wondering-- do like you this one better than the last? I've been told that the Robert Goldsborough books are written just as well as the Rex Stout, but I've always thought they were missing something, somehow."

Gunn just looked at him. "Wes, the last one was a Sherlock Holmes novel. I'm not *that* spaced."

"So you're saying you noticed the re-appearance of the woman from the cafe?"

Gunn opened his mouth to say 'of course', then he realized that Wesley was just as likely to be making it up. However, he couldn't call him on it, because then Wes would either laugh at him, or pout.

"But you *are* 'spaced'. Else you wouldn't have denied being 'that spaced'," Wesley continued. He sighed. "If you don't want to read--"

"Hey, man, I never said I didn't want to read with you."

Wide eyes narrowed at him, and Gunn had to control the laughter which threatened to annoy Wesley even *more*. Four year olds just couldn't pull off the 'die, street scum' look. "Then you also noted the arrival of Justin Pierce? And the policeman's reaction?"

Gunn thought for a moment, then stuck his tongue out. "Anybody ever tell you you're a mean little kid?"

"If I were a mean little kid," Wes replied, "I would have grabbed your tongue and pinched it. Or something equally Spike-like. I'm just a poor innocent waif whose caregiver doesn't want to take an interest in his intellectual stimulation."

"I'm down with the intellectual stimulation, Wes. I like to watch you get stimulated, trust me." Wesley raised an eyebrow, and Gunn decided he really needed to pull out his own tongue and cut it off with the nearest sharp object. "I mean, normally. When you're the right size."

Wesley's eyebrow went higher, and Gunn decided it was maybe time to go yell at Angel some more about not putting in cable TV. Or getting a dish. Heck, a *radio* would be nice. "Why don't you just read your book, and let me get back to what I was doing?"

"And what *were* you doing, since you weren't reading?" Wesley asked, his young voice deceptively challenging. Teasing him.

Gunn smiled. "Watching you read."

At that, Wesley flushed, and turned his face. He fingered the page for a moment, staring at it as though he were just going back to reading. The red crept up to his ear, until even the tips were bright pink. Gunn reached up and flicked it, lightly.

"Stop that," Wesley ordered. Trying to sound like he was really annoyed, but Gunn could tell the difference.

"What, this?" He flicked Wesley's ear again, and one thin shoulder rose up, as Wes tried to turn his head and rub his ear against it. "Why, you ticklish or something?"

"I thought you wanted to watch me read?"

"Oh, I do. Please. Go about your business." Gunn tried hard to keep a straight face as Wes frowned suspiciously at him, then turned back to his book.

Gunn sat quietly for a moment, keeping his hands in full view, perfectly innocent places, not doing a thing here, officer. He moved one hand an inch, and Wesley placed his on top of it.

Like he could hold Gunn's hand down. He grinned. Moved his hand another inch. Wesley pushed down on his hand, but there was no strength there at all. He could easily overpower-- Gunn froze.

He sat still for seconds, then, staring at his hand underneath Wesley's. Then he leaned forward and gave that short brush of sandy-brown hair a kiss. Wesley turned his head, giving him a look that said he knew Gunn had lost his mind.

"What was that for?" It was for wondering if Wes had any idea how much power he really had, but Gunn wasn't about to say that, so he just smiled. "Stop that." He kept smiling. Wesley's eyes narrowed. "You're frightening me. I'm going to go tell Cordelia you're trying to scare me. She'll probably feed me ice cream, and shout things at you."

"Uh-huh. And that's different from last week, how exactly?"

Wesley's face screwed up in concentration for a moment, before he said thoughtfully, "I doubt I shall be able to eat more than two bowls."

"With caramel sauce and those little sprinkle things?"

"And whipped cream."

Gunn and Wesley stared at each other, neither one moving nor speaking, then in one smooth move Wesley closed the book, Gunn set him on the floor and stood, then they took each other's hand and headed for the door.

When they got to the lobby, they found Cordelia sitting at the computer, muttering words at it that Gunn used to think a high-maintenance chick like Cordy wouldn't know. Or at least have been brought up to say in public.

"Hey, watch the language, lady. You wanna scar Wes for life?" Gunn walked around the counter and looked over her shoulder. "What's the prob?"

"I think Cordelia's said most of those things in my presence before," Wes told him, as he tried to peer over the desk, and failing that, shrugged, and walked around behind Gunn. "Never *about* me, of course."

Cordelia must have been really frustrated, because she didn't even respond to that, just clacked a few more keys, clicked the mouse twice, and let out a word that had Gunn blinking, even though he'd learned a lot more about Cordy's vocabulary over the past couple of years than he might have wanted to.

"I'm trying to do an online funds transfer-- pay the electric bill on this place, since you-know-who can't seem to remember to-- but it doesn't want to recognize our bank account number."

"Are you sure you have the correct password?" Wesley asked, peering up towards the computer screen.

Cordelia glared at him. "Of *course* I have the correct password. And I typed the number correctly!"

"Let me see," Wesley leaned forward, reaching for the mouse. He paused, and glanced at Cordelia. "Do you mind?"

"No, by all means, fix the stupid thing." Cordelia said generously. Then Gunn was fighting laughter again as she picked Wes up and plopped him down on her lap.

"Cordelia!" Wesley sounded scandalized.

"What? There was a time when you would've tripped over your own tongue to sit on my lap," she said, scooting forward so that a still-glaring Wes could reach the keyboard. "If it makes you feel any better, I promise not to enjoy it too much."

"There was a time when I thought that the Pet Shop Boys were the epitome of modern music, too, but that doesn't mean I haven't come to my senses since then." Wes tapped on the keyboard for a while, frowning at the screen in such studious concentration that Gunn had to fight the urge to reach under the counter and grab Cordy's camera.

The only thing that stopped him was the sight of Angel walking towards them from the back hallway, one finger in front of his lips, holding the camcorder in his other hand.

"Pet Shop Boys?" Gunn asked, grinning, trying to keep Wesley distracted. "Like, How Much Is That Doggie In The Window?"

"I was quite young at the time," Wesley said severely, glancing up at Gunn.

He grinned. "Yeah, and now that you're *all* grown up..." he replied in his best 'aren't you a cute widdle boy' voice. Wes' severe look grew more severe.

Wesley turned back to the computer screen. "There, I've accessed the account. I don't know what you did," he began, as if he were thinking 'but it was probably just typing in the number wrong'. He was smart enough not to say so aloud, especially when there was no way he could get out of range in time.

"Thanks." Cordelia reached around and began typing again, one-handed. Wesley tried to slip off her lap, and found her arm in his way.

"Excuse me, but if you don't have any more need of my services..." he tried. Cordelia didn't even look down at him.

"Oh, no. You're not going anywhere until this thing goes through. I want a *witness*, the next time it gives me that 'you're a total airhead, please bank somewhere else' message."

"It really said that?" Gunn asked.

"No, but I can read between the lines," she muttered.

Wes wasn't amused. "I can certainly witness just as well standing on the floor."

"Yeah, but then I wouldn't get the free lap-dance," Cordelia said. Wes squirmed, not lowering himself to answer that one, and she finally let him slide down. "Geez, Wesley. Relax. Take a joke."

"Perhaps when I'm sufficiently brain-dead to find it amusing," he replied, but Gunn could tell he wasn't as upset as he was trying to sound. At least, he *thought* so, but then Wes turned to face Angel, and placed his hands on his hips. "I assume you have enough video?"

"Er, uh." Angel lowered the camcorder -- Gunn wondered if he turned it off, or if he was trying to be sneaky. "Yeah, for now," he managed in a forced-casual tone.

"Fine. Now, if you will excuse me?" Wesley walked away from Cordelia's desk -- back straight and one foot in front of the other, very clearly *not* stomping, no tantrums here, but he was definitely off-balance. Except -- he was heading for the kitchen. Gunn was about to follow, when Wesley looked back over his shoulder. "Are you coming? Or shall I break my neck climbing onto the counters?"

"Yeah, I'm coming. Chill." Gunn followed him into the kitchen, and opened the freezer door. "What's your pleasure? Chocolate chocolate chunk, chocolate fudge ripple, or chocolate brownie supreme?"

"Don't we have vanilla? I remember putting some in the cart." Wesley was leaning against a chair, his arms crossed.

"Yeah, I just thought you might be in a chocolate kinda mood," Gunn answered, pulling out the carton of plain vanilla anyway.

Wesley frowned. "I'm not upset. And I'm certainly not Cordelia."

"I was just sayin'--"

"That I needed to be placated? Fed chocolate until my brain shuts down?"

"When you put it that way -- yeah." He opened the carton of ice cream and grabbed two bowls still sitting by the sink, where they'd been left to dry from the last ice cream raid.

Wesley's lips tightened, but he said nothing. Gunn began scooping out ice cream, and considered how much chocolate syrup, caramel sauce, and whipped cream he'd need to get Wesley to admit he *was* upset. "They don't mean anything by it," he said quietly.

'I know that," Wesley said. "If I thought they were really trying to annoy me, I wouldn't put up with it at all."

Gunn paused in reaching for the chocolate sprinkles, and grinned at Wes. "Well, I didn't say they weren't trying to *annoy* you. But how's that different from any other day?"

"I--" Wesley shook his head. "It's not. I understand that."

"But it still bothers you." Gunn had finished with Wesley's bowl and was handing it to him, before he got a response to his statement.

"I didn't say that it bothered me."

"Didn't have to. It's written all over your 'polite, not showing a damn thing' face." He grabbed the bottle of chocolate syrup and began drowning his ice cream.

"Very funny," Wesley retorted, mildly.

Gunn waited until his bowl was almost full of syrup, before answering. Some things required concentration. "Yeah, I just got too good at translating that lack of expression." He glanced sideways at Wesley, and was pleased to find him look briefly guilty. Not because Wes ought to have been feeling guilty -- even though he *should* have been -- but because Wesley was that much closer to letting that mask drop, when it was just them. "They're being a little freer with the 'let's embarrass the English British guy,' though, aren't they?" he added, knowing that what Cordelia had done was at least three levels up from what she would normally ever do.

Of course, it was *easier* to put Wes on your lap, now that he was small enough for it. Gunn figured they were all indulging in repressed Wesley-affection. Wesley just hadn't gotten used to it, yet. Either that, or it was just that now he was so darned *cute*, none of them could help themselves.

"Something in that question was redundant," Wes answered, staring at his ice cream, but not actually doing anything with it. "Possibly the entire question. Yes, all right, it bothers me. You *know* it bothers me, so why are you bothering to ask?"

"Because it bothers you?" Gunn grinned. Wesley dug his spoon into his ice cream and looked for a second like he was seriously considering flinging some at Gunn, but he didn't.

"Yes, well I can't *help* it, you know. If I could just turn my reactions on and off like Cordelia's computer, it would probably be more helpful for all concerned, but it doesn't work that way."

Gunn set down his bowl on the counter and walked over to Wesley. "Nobody's askin' you not to react, or think or feel or do whatever you wanna do, Wes. That's you and your damn English British whatever. But I bet there's some kinda middle place between kicking anybody who picks you up, and pretending it doesn't bug you."

"I didn't kick Cordelia." Wesley looked down at his bowl. "At least not intentionally. And I haven't kicked you all morning. Despite your deserving it."

Gunn gave him a quick smile. "Yeah, well, how about this - 'please don't pick me up'?" Wesley didn't answer, swirling his spoon around in the melting ice cream. Gunn waited, then, "Wes?"

"That never used to work," he said so quietly Gunn was surprised he heard it at all.

For two seconds Gunn resisted the urge to give him a hard hug. Then he set his and Wes' bowls aside, ignored Wes' look of astonishment, and knelt down to gather him up. Hugged him as hard as he could, and not because *Wesley* needed it.


chapter six

It was a simple assignment. Anya had *stressed* that it was a simple assignment. Which meant, of course, that they were sure to mess it up. "Your mission, Spike and Xander, whether or not you choose to accept it: drive to the Safeway, take the little witches with you, and buy food that all of us can actually eat. Since you've devoured everything else in the apartment during my absence. I'll be home from the Magic Box at nine, to accept your field report."

Or something like that. Spike had actually been paying more attention to the new blouse Anya was almost wearing. After two weeks of not being able to properly appreciate the female form, it was nice to have one around again that he wouldn't be slapped for staring at. He hadn't been worried-- what, after all, could go wrong in a simple trip to the market, with Xander and two pint-sized friends who still had all of their adult faculties?

He supposed that maybe his brain cells hadn't recovered from being a fourth their normal size. Or something.

"Maybe we should go to Albertson's," Willow was saying. Spike thought she might be right -- they'd only been in this grocery store for ten minutes, and already the manager was saying something about kicking them out or he'd have security escort them.

"I think he's over-reacting," Tara said quietly, and Spike agreed with her. He looked over at the tipped-over display of fruit juice and crackers. It wasn't anything that couldn't be fixed with a mop -- grocery stores had lots of those things, right?

"I'd agree with you, normally," Willow replied, and the store manager was giving her a surprised and confused look. "But I think once the beef jerky display started the domino effect, we lost all claims at it being a simple accident."

"But it *was* an accident!" Spike added -- again. He doubted anyone would believe him this time, either.

Willow looked up at him. "True. But I don't think it qualifies as 'simple' any longer."

Xander, meanwhile, was giving him that 'I'm gonna thump you good, when we get home' glare. And not the good sort of thumping. "You realize this narrows down the places in Sunnydale where we can shop without being asked to leave before we even get in the door, to *three* ?" he growled.

Spike sniffed. "The incident at the Farmers' Market was *not* my fault."

"You jumped up and down on a pallet of fresh watermelons until the whole center aisle was covered in melon guts," Xander accused. "How was this 'not your fault' again?"

"I thought they were Horkwroth eggs! They were *moving*, like they were about to hatch. I was just saving your skinny human arse."

"There was an *earthquake*, Spike. Everything was moving."

"Right, so why pick on me? They wrote it off as natural disaster damages, anyway."

"You *are* a natural disaster. Or an unnatural one." Xander was moving closer to Spike in a way that usually meant he was about to get thumped. Good sort or not-good sort, he wasn't sure; these sort of arguments could end either way.

"Look, if sprite number 2 there hadn't squealed when she saw the wicker chair display--"

"I wasn't squealing about the wicker chairs," Tara objected.

"You'd blame all this on a *four* year old child?" Xander interrupted them both, loudly as he gestured at the mess.

Spike looked around. "Um, yeah. Haven't you ever been around four year olds before?"

The manager was starting to move towards them menacingly -- Spike debated if a good scare would be sufficiently amusing to counter how *unamused* Xander was likely to be.

"If. You. Vamp. I. Will. Stake. You. Slowly." Xander hissed, low enough for only Spike to hear.

"That a promise?"

Xander gave him a look that could congeal blood. The manager was just getting close enough for Spike to hear his high-blood-pressure rising a notch, and Xander's was sounding like it wanted to join the competition, when Willow and Tara surprised everyone, Spike most of all. They burst into loud sobs.

He looked down to see both little girls screwing up their faces, and what sure as hell looked like real tears falling down their cheeks. Without even thinking about it, Spike found himself bending down to pick up Tara, while Xander grabbed Willow and lifted her up. "What're you up to?" Spike tried to say, but all that came out as he stared at the tow-headed girl in his arms, who was sobbing as if her heart would break, was "There, there..."

The store manager looked like he was about to faint, or have a heart-attack, or run and hide. Spike ignored him for the moment, as he looked over to see if Xander could tell him what was going on. Maybe they'd regressed really fast, or something, and Spike would have to offer to eat the scary man who'd scared them. Hopefully the scary man was Xander. He liked eating Xander, and it wouldn't set his chip off.

He patted Tara on the back, and found himself watching a confused Xander hugging Willow and telling her everything was all right. He was obviously as clueless as Spike.

Finally Willow began hiccuping and sobbing words, and they both leaned in to hear: "Is he gonna arrest us? We didn't do it! I didn't touch anything!"

Spike hid a smile as the store manager went from flushed, to pale in the space of a second. He looked positively vampiric when Willow turned her eyes on him, with the tears still spilling over the edges, so they seemed magnified to about twice their actual size.

"You're not gonna take us to jail, are you?" She was still making little choking noises, and after her question, she buried her face in Xander's shirt, as if that had been the extent of her four-year-old bravery.

"I don't wanna go to jail. I want Mommy!" Tara cried, taking over center stage. By now, Spike was having to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from grinning, and he would have traded round three of the 'Welcome Home, Anya' party, to have a camcorder in his hands, right now. Well, no, he wouldn't. But it was close.

The manager was shaking his head. "Oh. Ah. No, little girl. Nobody's going to jail. I'm sure this was all an accident, and we can..."

Willow commenced wailing even harder. "I want my mommy, too!"

"What am I, chopped liver?" Xander muttered. Probably only Spike heard him, since Tara turned her own sobs up a notch, so that the two of them seemed to be playing 'Dueling Hissyfit' in D Minor.

" please, go on with your shopping. We'll have this cleaned up in no time," the manager was saying. The girls paid no attention. He was turning blue, now-- Spike was impressed. Where had all his blood drained away to? If he wasn't using it, there were plenty of deserving vampires in the immediate vicinity, after all.

"Come on, let's go buy groceries so we can go home and see Mommy," Xander was saying to Willow.

Spike opened his mouth to add a bribe to buy cookies and cake mix, then stopped. Then mentally smacked himself for second-guessing buying junk food for not-really-four-year-olds. He turned to Tara and said, very deliberately, "Would you like some pudding? We can make Daddy buy pudding, and some cool whip."

Tara stopped wailing and looked at him -- her eyes wide and clear, despite the amount of tears that had been pouring out of them. She nodded, slowly, as if the very idea was a strange and precious one. Like they hadn't all spent most of the last two weeks eating ice cream.

"Sure, if *Uncle* Spike remembers that it's his turn to do the dishes," Xander said as he plopped Willow into the seat in the front of their mostly-empty cart.

Tara got an evil gleam in her eye, and Spike had to blink at her for a second, to make sure he hadn't suddenly started reflecting, or something, because she looked just like him, for a moment. "I wanted to sit in the seat," she wailed, and the store manager backed away. Desperately trying to look as much like the man-height wall of extra-fluffy Charmin he was standing in front of, as possible.

"Here, mate, could you grab us an empty cart? Somebody hasn't had her nap today, and..."

The balding man had disappeared, and reappeared with another cart, before Spike even managed to get the entire sentence out. He also had something else in his hand-- grape lollipops, which he handed to a still-pouty Willow and Tara. The two girls looked suspiciously at him, before gleefully ripping the plastic covers off, and popping the candy in their mouths.

Xander waited until they'd both pushed their carts round the corner, before grinning at Willow and holding out a hand for her to high-five him. Spike rolled his eyes, and jealously watched the two mini-sprites suck on their treats. "I wanna know why *they* get lollies, and I don't," he said.

"Because you're a grown-up," Xander explained in a patient voice.

"So? I could have been four again. Let what's his name off the hook."

Willow looked smug. "It's because we throw better tantrums. No one can resisting a hysterical little girl."

Spike growled, and loomed over her. "Oh, yeah? I ever tell you how many hysterical little girls I've eaten?" Then he blinked and grabbed his head. His hand found the sticky grape lollipop that Tara had thrown at him. Pulling it -- and several hairs -- free was less painful than the chip-shot he got when he growled at her, for real. At which point Tara began wailing, again, that she'd lost her lolly.

Spike stared at her, waiting her out. *He* knew she wasn't regressed yet, so she was just messing about with him. He *knew* it. And he could wait...

At least another five seconds, until the high-pitched noise started to hurt his over-sensitive ears, and the smug look on Willow's face started to hurt his over-sensitive pride, and Spike himself started having these strange feelings, something like indigestion, whenever he looked at Tara's disappointed little face...

Growling again, he pulled a packet of lollies off the shelf above his head, ripped it open, and handed one to Tara. Then, since it was open anyway, pulled one out for himself, unwrapped it, and popped it in his mouth.

Xander just stared at him. "You're not supposed to open things before you pay for them..." he said sternly.

"Good thing I'm not paying for them, then, innit," Spike mumbled around his lollipop.

Xander gave him a glare that said he was in trouble, but the kind that might get him spanked, later. Then Xander reached over and took the opened bag of lollipops out of Spike's hand, removed a green lollipop, and set the bag down in the cart. Then he began pushing the cart away, towards the fruits and vegetables.

"Xan?" Spike called after him, once he was far enough away to justify Spike raising his voice. "Where are you going? We don't need any more cucumbers. Or zucchini. Or bananas."

A woman pushing her own cart past stopped, gave them both a dubious glance. Then she snickered when Willow asked, "Why do you and Uncle Spike buy so many zucchini?"

Xander blushed a delicate shade of rose, while Spike waggled an eyebrow at Willow, ignoring the woman, or rather, pretending to. "Because veggies are *good* for growing boys."

"Then why don't you eat them?" she shot back.

"Cos they taste like crap," he said honestly. "But your Dad likes 'em." Xander was moving towards tomato coloured, now. "Don't you, Dad?"

Xander took a deep breath, then turned a truly *nasty* glare on Spike. "Yes. I like melons, too, though. In fact, at the moment, I like melons so much better than zucchini, that I may never buy zucchini again."

Spike blinked at him, then pouted. "But melons like zucchini. Melons like watching zucchini."

Tara raised her hand, timidly. When all three were looking at her, she said, "I want popcorn." Spike blinked at her, and glanced over to find that he wasn't the only one who had no idea how she'd gone from sex-talk-in-public, to popcorn. She blinked at them, incredulous. "Or carmel corn. I don't mind which."

Spike and Xander exchanged glances, then Spike looked at a perplexed Willow. "Up to you, Red. She's your girlfriend."

Willow nodded, seriously. Then she asked, "Tara? Honey? Why do you want popcorn?"

Tara explained by reaching over towards one of the endcaps, and grabbing a package of salami. Spike was astounded that the shy little witch was joining in the fun -- when she threw it at him. Then she said, "Because it flies better?"

The woman with the cart had moved away by now, after shaking her head and blinking repeatedly.

Xander rolled his cart back to Spike's, and glared at him again. "Someone's going to take them away, if they hear us talking like that, and get the wrong idea."

Spike stared at him, perplexed. "What wrong idea?"

"The idea that we weren't talking about fruits and vegetables."

"But we *were* talking about fruits and vegetables. Well, *I* was. Dunno what *you* were talking about."

Willow giggled, and Xander turned his glare on her. "You weren't helping, either, young lady."

"Oh, relax, *Daddy*. Nobody thinks a four-year-old is making sexual insinuations-- except you, because you're a big perv." She said it quietly, while fishing for another lollipop from the bag in the cart below her.

"I am *not* a perv!" Xander objected, then snapped his jaw shut as if realizing that yelling such a claim in the middle of the grocery store was probably not the best way to convince anyone that he wasn't talking about kinky sex in front of two little kids. He scowled, and snapped, "Let's get the groceries so we can go home."

Spike nodded. Then, as Xander began pushing his cart towards the spinach, said casually, "Yeah, otherwise Mommy will spank us *all*." Xander stopped, and bowed his head. Spike gave him a thoughtful look, even though he was staring at his shoes. Or his eyelids. "Wait, or would she *not* spank us?"


"Yes, love of my unlife?" Spike gave the two giggling girls a wink.

"Go get the milk. And the cereal, bread, cheese, and lunch meat. I will meet you at the checkout line."

"Okay." Spike nodded agreeably, and Xander pushed his cart off into the wilds of the supermarket.

Tara goggled at Spike. "Just like that?"

"Just like... oh, you mean, why didn't I give him a big argument?" Spike asked, scanning the shelves above Tara's head.

"Yeah. It seems kind of...well... un-Spike-like."

He bent down to grin in her face. "That's because you're missing the point. Xander trusted me -- on my own -- to do the shopping. Well, half the shopping."

She blinked, then smiled. "Awwww. That's so sweet. And you're all proud..."

Spike raised an eyebrow. "Well, yeah. Of course." Then he pushed the cart over to the opposite side of the aisle. "Now-- you grab as many bags of candy as you can reach, and I'll concentrate on the ones you can't get to. Let's see-- Goobers, Raisinettes..."


"Of course -- oh, we'll hit the cookie aisle next. Oi, don't forget the mints. Anya's favorite." It wouldn't be enough, of course, but Spike had nearly perfected the art of hiding behind Xander and saying 'but I'm evil! what d'you expect?' whenever Anya yelled at them for doing the grocery shopping.

Why she continued *sending* them to the store, Spike didn't know. He wasn't sure she did, either.

This time they managed to get home with two sacks of candy, some zucchini, two melons, and three pints of ice cream. As they unpacked, Willow and Tara ran into the living room and pretended they were only four, and hadn't had anything to do with the shopping.

Anya squinted at the black licorice laces, and placed them neatly aside on top of the stereo. That made Spike's eyes light up, since that was the place for 'Hmm.... I bet we can use this somehow' things. They got the appropriate oohs and ahhs for the chocolate, and the ice cream, as expected. It was only when she got to the bottom of the bags, and found that there wasn't anything *under* the sweets, that the Wrath of Anya (tm) was invoked.

"What am I supposed to cook with three medium-sized zucchini, two melons, and four pounds of chocolate?" she asked them, hands on hips.

Xander looked at the items she'd laid out on the counter, and frowned, slightly. "You don't consider those *large* zucchini?" He looked at Spike. "I thought they were large. Don't you think they're large?"

"Yeah, definitely."

Anya looked at them as if they were both crazy, which, well... But she dutifully studied the vegetables. "I've seen larger. Not that it really matters, if you're going to slice them up and put them in a casserole." She looked back at the two men. "Not that I can slice them up and put them in a casserole, since you didn't buy any of the other things that would have to go in the casserole to make it a casserole, instead of just a big pile of hot, mushy zucchini."

"Which won't matter, since Xander broke the casserole dish," Spike added, helpfully.

"Xander broke the casserole dish?" Anya folded her arms, and gave Xander a hurt, almost-angry look. Xander pointed at Spike. Again.

"Because I threw it at him! I mean, to him! I-- Oh, hell. Yes, Anya, I broke the casserole dish. I haven't bought a new one, since I spent two weeks being four and couldn't get to the store."

"But you broke it three weeks ago," Spike reminded him. Again, helpfully.

"Spike? Do you *ever* want to watch me spanking Anya, ever again?"

Two loud cries of "eeew!" came from the living room.

"Oh, like you two never do it," Spike shouted, on a hunch. There was sudden, suspicious silence from the other room.

Anya had picked up two of the zucchini, meanwhile. "I suppose I could boil them..."

Spike really had to admire the range of color that could play over Xander's face. He wasn't sure whether this was ecru, or eggshell- he'd have to go get the paint samples from the closet, to be sure.

"Honey, how about we order pizza. Then Spike and I will go out and get some real groceries, later tonight? Even a new casserole dish."

Anya looked dubious about the proposition. "I don't think so, somehow. How about we order pizza, and *I* go out later tonight and buy groceries. And *you* can put the girls to bed."

Xander looked relieved -- for nearly a split second. Then he looked towards the living room like it was full of Neru demons. They heard the two girls laugh.

Spike turned to Anya. "I was good -- can't I come to the store with you?"

"Ha!" Xander pointed an accusatory finger at him. "Who started this whole mess in the first place?"

Spike opened his mouth to deny having had anything to do with it, then he stopped. He *hadn't* started it, but, really - who had? "Er, whoever sent Rupes the statue in the first place?"

Anya narrowed her eyes, then shrugged and picked up the phone to order the pizza. While her back was turned, Spike and Xander quietly snuck into the living room. A few minutes later, she followed them. "Pizza's on its way. Now, about whose fault this is..."

Spike and Xander immediately pointed to each other, and the witches both pointed to Spike, the ungrateful little brats. Anya rolled her eyes.

"I mean, about who sent the statue in the first place. Giles hasn't found anything out from *his* sources. It wasn't on the original shipping manifest-- we found *that* buried under a pile of packing peanuts that somebody had apparently been using as an indoor playground."

Four innocent faces looked back at her. Well, mostly innocent. Willow and Tara were innocent, anyway. Of this particular offense.

"I tried to trace the shipment on the net, but there didn't seem to be anything out of the ordinary. No weird stops in Zimbabwe or Katmandu," Willow piped up.

"Actually, that would have been normal," Spike put in, then realized his mistake in drawing their attentions to him just as his hand had been about to get ahold of Xander's zipper. Xander slapped his hand away as Willow glared.

"Don't make me make it disappear, Spike. I may not be four, but I *am* too young to be seeing things like you mauling Xander."

"Actually, it can be quite fun," Anya corrected her. "Especially when they pretend to be--"

"Okay! Back to the statue, shall we?" Xander interrupted. Spike saw the looks on the witches' faces, and resolved to tell them, someday when Xander wasn't around to dangle him out the window at noon, for doing so.

"There's not a lot *about* the statue," Willow said, still glancing at Spike's hands as if they might get up to something naughty, quite on their own. Which they might, if Willow would stop glancing at them. "It's old, it's tall, it's funky. It was last seen in Brussels in the seventeenth century, back when most of the books that describe what it does hadn't been translated yet."

"Oh, hey, that's what we forgot!" Spike exclaimed.

"What-- you figured something out about the Urdeku, that we missed?" Willow asked excitedly.

"No, we forgot to buy brussel sprouts. To go with the zucchini and the melons."

"We forgot to buy popcorn to throw at Spike, too," Tara said.

Xander shook his head. "No, we got carmel corn-- it's under the Oreos."

"Oh. Could we have some?"

"With *pizza*?"

"Sorry. Oreos with pizza." Willow ducked her head as if she'd been scolded.

Anya raised her hand, then waited until everyone was looking at her. When she still didn't speak, Xander asked cheerfully, "Yes, you in the front? Mrs. Harris?"

"You're paying for the pizza, right? Since I distinctly said you should buy real food, and now I have to go shopping with my own money since all you've bought is junk food? Good junk food, granted."

Xander turned and pointed at Willow. Willow protested, "I'm only four! How am I supposed to pay for pizza?"

"What, your money shrunk, when you did?" Spike asked, before he remembered he was trying not to annoy the powers-didn't-shrink witch.

"No, but..." Tara gave her a look, and Spike narrowed his eyes. The witch-telepathy thing *still* worked, even when they were four. Great. Willow smiled craftily. "There's the matter of two weeks worth of ice cream and french fries and pizzas and trips to the zoo, and the stuff you guys broke at the Magic Box that we *didn't* tell Giles about..."

"He was *there* for most of it," Spike protested. Xander sketched the shape of a Wachallaian funeral urn in the air, and Spike winced. Then wondered why he was wincing-- after all, *he* wouldn't have to pay for it. Unless Giles decided to take the payment out of his hide, of course.

Xander was pulling his wallet out of his pocket, though. "Fine. You win. But if the pizza boy asks for a tip, I'm telling him to swear off women for life."

"You swear off 'em. Leaves more for me." As Anya turned to look at him, Spike added quickly before it could turn into a glare that could kill, "More of *you* for me. Not 'more' as in more women. More *woman*. More chances to lick you off in the shower. More cuddles without birdbrain getting in between."

Anya was starting to grin, and Xander -- yup, whapped him in the head with the wallet. Spike turned back to Anya, because Anya grinning was more fun than being beaten by Xander -- at least as long as there were spectators who'd ruin the fun by yelling "eew" and "gross". He gave her a gallant smile. "So, I promise to be good, if you let me go to the store with you."

"Oh, please," Xander replied. "You're not gonna fall for that? Let him get out of helping me get the two monst-- adorable little girls to bed who aren't really four so *why* do I have to put them anywhere?"

"You just don't want us making out in the supermarket parking lot," Spike accused.

Xander didn't deny it. "Um, duh? The whole point of the 'only three places left we can shop, now' speech?"

Anya was glaring at both of them, now, instead of grinning. "What did you two do now?"

"Nothing!" they chorused.

Meanwhile Spike was wondering why it was bad for *them* to do things that got them barred from retail establishments, but if *Anya* was involved... He was, however, wise enough not to voice that thought. Besides, really, who banned you from grocery stores for snogging a girl? Almost nobody. It was only when he tried unzipping Xander's jeans that they got yelled at.

"The second display really wasn't their fault," Tara piped up.

"Yeah, and the thing with the deli counter would have probably happened anyway." Willow gave her girlfriend a thoughtful look.

"We never *touched* the deli counter," Xander said quickly.

"But you had good aim," Tara replied.

Spike saw which direction this was going -- and walked over to the front door. He glared at the pizza delivery boy on the doorstep. "One veggie, one kill-me-now meat special?"

The kid nodded, a bored look on his face, and held out his left hand for the cash. Spike shook it firmly, and grabbed the pizza boxes from him while he was still gawping. Spike sniffed. Some people had no concept of proper manners. He tightened his grip on the pizza boxes, and made a running jump over the back of the sofa, using his free hand to complete the vault.

Luckily for all concerned, Willow and Tara managed to catch the pizza boxes before they joined him on the floor, where he was rubbing his head and calling the coffee table all sorts of names.

Xander shook his head, walked over, and paid the delivery guy, who was looking at Spike with some concern. "Is he gonna be okay?"

"Define 'okay,' " Xander said dryly. "Hey, you want a tip?"

The kid nodded.

"Swear off men for life."

"Yeah, thanks," the kid stammered, then Spike heard his tone change. "I'll keep that in mind."

Spike was on his feet and back at the doorway, growling in full vampiric regalia. "Mine. Er, ours. Git!" The kid ran, and Spike found Xander laughing at him. "What?" he demanded.

"You look sooooo scary," Xander began, and Spike would have preened if he hadn't had a suspicion something was up. It was confirmed when Xander rubbed Spike's head, and added, "Especially with your hair sticking up!"

Spike gave him a 'grr', decided to ignore the insinuation that he cared about that sort of thing, and stomped back to grab a piece of pizza. Only to find two empty boxes, and three pairs of innocent-looking eyes blinking up at him.

There was no *way*... Well, yes, there *was* a way. Anya had been known to consume an entire cheesecake merely by *looking* at it. But still... No way the little witchlings could have eaten it all that fast.

Spike sniffed the air, then lowered his head. Following the trail...

"Oh cool! He's tracking the wily pizza!"

"You know how to catch a tame vampire? Stand very, very still, and make a noise like a pepperoni," Tara said.

Spike was following the scent into the kitchen, but he heard Willow ask doubtfully, "What kind of noise does a pepperoni make?"

He called back over his shoulder, "Depends what you're using it for." He stopped in his tracks for a second, and added, "And I'm *not* tame!"

"That's not true," Anya said. "I find that I rarely have to discipline him, any more." She sounded like she was talking to the two girls -- verified when they giggled and 'eewed'.

"I think the word you're looking for is 'domesticated'," Xander put in. "Where's the pizza-- ah. Cool!"

Spike stopped. How the hell had Xander found the pizza? He was still in the living room with the empty pizza boxes, and the witch-- The witches. He headed back to the living room and frowned as Xander took the last of three bites of a slice of pizza. The *only* visible slice of pizza.

Spike folded his arms. "Right, so, it's tease the vampire night, is it?" *Four* sets of innocent eyes blinked back at him. "Guess it's a good thing I don't need pizza, innit?" And he vamped out again, and dove for one of his two favorite snacks. Xander-neck.

"One of these days, I'm gonna get the pizza with the garlic crust," Xander mumbled. "Just to teach you a...mmm... lesson."

"I can think of better ways to teach me a lesson," Spike purred into his neck. The giggles were louder than the 'eewwws', this time.


chapter seven

The giggles were nowhere to be found, a few hours later, as the final shots of 'Nightmare on Elm Street 3' faded into the credits. Spike, of course, was applauding loudly, but the teenywiccas seemed a bit subdued.

"Maybe it's just me, but Freddy's face seems a lot bigger, now that we're little," Willow said, as she dug around in the bowl of carmelcorn.

Spike glanced at the television. "Well, we do have a bigger telly than you two..."

"I'm kinda surprised we never got a Freddy Krueger here in Sunnydale," Xander said cheerfully, as he grabbed a handful of carmelcorn from the bowl he'd hidden from Willow. Spike, Willow, and Tara all glared at him. He paused in mid-carmelmunch. "What?"

"How long have you lived on the Hellmouth, buster?" Willow gave him a stern glare which was not appreciably diminished by coming from a four-year-old face.

"Um, this is a trick question, right?" Xander shot Spike a confused look, but Spike didn't feel like helping him out. Not since Xander hadn't told him where the pizza had been hidden. Not that Spike *minded* having to slurp a half-pint of blood from the happily wriggling man, but there was a principle of sorts.

"You've jinxed us," Tara said softly. "Now he'll show up."

"See? She's only been here a couple years, and already *she* knows you don't say things like that!" She leaned over and wrapped her arm protectively around Tara's neck.

"Oh, don't be silly," Xander said, though his expression fell somewhere between 'you're kidding, right?' and 'you do know a sleep-protection spell, right?' He leaned forward and pressed the rewind button on the VCR. Which had nothing to do with any vampires having broken any remote controls while trying to see if they could bounce the laserbeam off a mirror while standing on one hand. "We've had our full quota of dream things already, what with that kid with the nightmares, and the First Slayer. Oh, and der Kindestod, who wasn't really a dream thing, but everybody thought he was just in those kids' imaginations, so he kinda counts." Xander turned around to look at them, when Willow levitated a pillow at his backside. "What?"

Spike almost clapped when he saw the expressions they were giving Xander. Not as good at the puppy-eyes thing as Xander was, even as an adult -- but Spike suspected that had more to do with the fact he'd do anything Xander asked him to, anyway. Eventually. After a fashion. "Where are we gonna sleep?" Tara asked.

"On the couch, remember?" Xander answered in a patient tone. Sounded almost fatherly, in fact.

The eyes went wider, and Spike had to revise his opinion. "We have to sleep out here alone?" Willow asked.

Xander sighed. "Freddy Krueger is *not* coming to Sunnydale--"

The two girls burst into wails. "Now you've *really* done it! Xander Harris, you big meanie! I can't believe you'd say that!"

Xander looked helplessly at Spike, who was coming ever closer to applauding. Except... were those real tears, trickling down Tara's face? He leaned over and took a good look.


Spike blinked, and looked around for the hand that had whapped him on the back of the head, but there wasn't any. Instead, he found himself cuddling a four-year-old girl who was looking up at him with watery blue eyes, through a tangle of corn-colored hair. "Hey, now," he heard himself say in a soft voice, the sort he used to use with Dawn before she got old enough that it made her giggle more often than not. "Anybody comes sniffing round here, I'll tear 'em up good."

Tara looked doubtful.

"What, you don't think I could take that Krueger bloke?" Spike vamped out and gave her his best grrrr...

She giggled, but softly. Her eyes were still wide, and she glanced over at Willow. Then she looked at the window, as if checking for possible monsters. Willow, who was in Xander's arms, looked as wide-eyed and subdued as Tara. From the stunned look on Xander's face, Spike figured he wasn't the only one got whapped in the head by invisible paternal instincts.

"Look, Willow, you can do a spell to keep him out of the apartment, can't you?" Xander asked, patiently.

Willow nodded slowly, then said, "But that won't stop him from coming *near* the apartment. And what if he shows up *inside* the apartment? Since you're the one who jinxed us?"

"Will, Freddy Kruger is *not*--" He stopped because a hand was covering his mouth. Spike's.

"Look, why don't you just *stop* saying it, and let's get them settled someplace they'll feel safe?"

"Like where? Buffy's?"

Spike paused for a moment, then jerked his head in the direction of the only logical choice. Their bedroom. Their bedroom with the super-double-ultra-emperor-sized bed, specially designed for today's most hedonistic menages a trois. Or so the mail-order advert had claimed.

Xander shook his head wildly. "No. Nononononono... Bed. You. Me. Anya. First night back..."

Willow gave him a pointy stare. "Like you'd do anything in there, with us out here, anyway?"

Xander looked torn. "Uh... um... well... Maybe. I mean, if you'd asked me two weeks ago, no. But that long without a woman, a man can make a lot of changes in his life."

"If you'd rather have sex with Anya, and leave us out here," Tara began, and the torn sound of her voice *seemed* authentic.

Spike couldn't be sure. But there was Anya-and-Xander sex to be had, and these two *were* witches. Competent, powerful, even if only three feet tall. He opened his mouth, and heard himself saying, "Right, we'll all share the bed, and no boogymen will be able to get us. Sex can wait 'til morning." He blinked. Looked over at Xander, whose mouth was hanging open. "Xan? Have I been possessed?"

Xander shook his head slowly. "Um, I don't think you *can* be. It didn't work on Angel, anyway."

"Ah. Hmm. Are *you* possessed, then?" Because Xander was standing up, teenywillow happily wrapped in his arms, and walking in the direction of the bedroom.

Xander stopped, as if he'd only now realized what he was doing. He cocked his head. "I don't *think* so. I mean, I've been possessed a few times, and this doesn't *feel* like that. But if I start laughing hysterically and running around on all fours, you should probably chain me up until Giles can get over here."

Spike blinked away an image of Xander, on all fours, in chains. It was *not* a good thing to be thinking about with a not-really-four-year-old in your arms. Willow giggled, and pointed at Spike. He looked down reflexively, but no, he'd managed to blink it away in time.

When he looked back up at Willow, she was still giggling. "Spike's thinking he'd wait at least a day to call Giles."

"Was not," Spike muttered.

"Was," Tara retorted. Spike glared at her -- for a second. Hadn't she been the timid one, once?

"Spike? Why don't we put the wee ones to bed?" Xander interrupted his glaring.

"Right." Spike nodded, and led the way to the bedroom. He plopped Tara down, and stepped aside as Xander plopped his own giggling burden beside her. They bounced for a moment, then looked up again. Puppy eyes. Spike tried to growl back.

"Is that it? We get spooked by Freddy Krueger coming to get us, and you don't even tuck us in?" Willow demanded.

"I *knew* they were faking. Come on." Spike grabbed Xander's arm, tugging him towards the living room.

"Um-- if they're faking, why are we leaving them in our bed?"

"So's we can shag on the couch!"

Xander gave a questioning look at the girls, but Spike could feel his resistance dwindling. He gave in inward cheer. Not an outward one-- that would be bragging. Wait-- Spike *loved* to brag! He gave an outward cheer.

Which was Willow's cue to put her arms around Tara, then look up at both of them. "Okay," she said bravely. "We'll be fine, I guess. Right, baby?" Tara murmured something even Spike couldn't hear, and Willow planted a kiss on her forehead. "Nope. Won't let anything getcha."

Spike sighed, and closed the bedroom door. With all four of them on the inside.

He wasn't sure how much later it was when he opened one eye and saw Anya standing by the bed. She was looking down, a sort of odd happy smile on her face. Spike raised his head -- feeling the pillowcase unstick itself from his cheek -- and looked at what she was looking at.

Willow and Tara were curled up around each other, bookended by him and Xander. Apparently they'd all fallen asleep in the same position they'd been telling stories in. Stories designed to amuse and distract the are-they-aren't-they-scared girls. Spike blinked and looked up at Anya again. Blinked again when she mouthed 'I'll be right back' and left the room.

He considered crawling off the bed and following her, but Tara's head was on his arm, and if he moved he might wake her. Not that he cared about that sort of thing, he reasoned. But...well, he didn't *have* to get up. He could hear Anya heading for the bathroom, then he heard her undressing. Spike looked down at the sweet face resting on his arm.


He sighed, and waited, listening to the little sounds of running water. A clock ticking out in the living room. The sparse three a.m. traffic outside. Finally Anya re-appeared, dressed in plaid flannel pajamas. *Xander's* plaid flannel pajamas. The top part, anyway, which came down to her knees.

"If you're trying to look not-sexy, it's not working," he whispered very quietly as she slid into his side of the bed.

She smiled, then frowned, then blinked and whispered, "Oops-- forgot something!"

As she slid back out of bed and left the room again, Spike spent a moment enjoying the receding view before wondering what she could have forgot. Surely nothing that they'd *usually* bring to bed, not with the witches there.

He was waiting, eyes open in the dark, when she reappeared in the doorway. She was making some sort of hand motions, pointing at his head, then at the pillow. She wanted him to do *what* with the pillow? Finally she put one hand on her hip, and mouthed, very slowly, "Put your head down and close your eyes, stupid."

Just to be sure, he glanced over at Xander, who was fast asleep. Well, she didn't see all that well in the dark, Spike decided. She must have mistaken him for Stupid. He complied anyway, rolling his eyes, then closing them, and resting his head back on the pillow. The room flashed red outside his eyelids as he heard the click-whirr of the camera. *Then* Anya slipped back into bed.

He thought about growling at her -- quietly -- but decided it wasn't worth the effort. Not since he'd have plenty of chances to growl at folks snapping pictures of him with one or more of the kiddies. And the only way he'd be able to swap for photos of his Sire being beset by Wesley, was to have a few of his own.

That thought amused him for the two seconds it took to fall back asleep, the comfortable weight of a small head on his arm, and the slow, gentle breathing of his human lovers filling his ears.


"I don't *want* to go." Rupert glared up at her, but he could see he wasn't getting through. Not yet -- he knew he could wear her down, though. The benefit of being four was boundless energy. Which, when devoted towards annoying his Slayer, was a precious benefit indeed.

She frowned back at him. "You know you haven't regressed, yet. You can't throw a tantrum."

Rupert suppressed a sigh. "I am *not* throwing a tantrum. I am merely expressing a desire for the fifth time today which you obviously aren't listening to, hence my need to speak louder so you *will* hear me."

"I can hear you!" Buffy protested. "I'm just saying--"

"You're saying that if I don't go into the shop, terrible tragedies will occur. I promise you, Buffy, I shan't destroy your home during the three hours it takes you to go to class."

"For one thing, it's Wednesday, so I have to go to Willow and Tara's classes too, and take notes. For another... I just don't *like* leaving you home alone. I thought they did this routine already, the last time, and we all agreed that none of us kids were safe on our own?"

"Yes, but that was before we were used to being in four-year-old bodies. I'm perfectly capable of climbing up and down stairs, I know what I can and can't lift, or move, or reach. In short, I know what I'm doing, Buffy."

He gave her his best 'I'm your Watcher, and I'm just being reasonable, not trying to lay down the law' look. The one that sometimes actually worked. She almost appeared to be wilting under pressure. Rupert stared suspiciously at the uncertain blue eyes. Buffy *never* wilted under pressure.

'What's wrong with you?' he felt like shouting. 'I taught you better than this! You're strong, you're intelligent, you're the woman they invented strong-enough-for-a-man-but-made-for-a-woman for. Don't fall for a pair of big blue-green eyes and a fetching pout!' Rupert blinked, and thumped his metaphorical Watcher-self on the side of the head. Shut up, or she might hear you.

Finally, Buffy seemed to have made up her mind. "Um... in short?" she repeated, then giggled unceasingly.

Right, this called for some serious pouting. He looked down at the floor, so she wouldn't see it coming, wouldn't think he was probably doing it deliberately. He counted to five, slowly, waiting for her giggles to quiet.

Then he glanced up, face still tilted down, and found her watching him, still grinning. "Sorry, Giles, but you *did* say it."

"You're going to leave me at Spike and Xander's mercies, aren't you?"

"Oh, come on," she said breezily, though there was a hint of something in her eyes. Worry? Sympathy? Didn't matter, he'd got her hooked. "They'll" She tilted her head. "Huh."

"I just want to stay here, alone, while I still can. Soon I *shall* be regressed enough to warrent being minded. But not yet." His voice was calm, not quite any hint of pleading in it.

"Giles, you know I--" Rupert pouted at her. "Stop it," she said sternly. He pouted harder. "I am *not* falling for that."

"You don't love me," he said quietly.

Buffy blinked at him. Repeatedly. He saw her face about to slide into that 'aww, no, don't be like that' expression, and could hear Spike and Xander shouting 'Score!' in the back of his head. God knew he'd heard it aloud enough times, when they'd managed to convince him to let them do something dangerous with something valuable, by dint of their... er...

It occurred to Rupert that he'd actually heard Spike use the 'You don't love me' line, as well. To Rupert? It couldn't have been. It must have been Xander who had fallen for it. Or possibly Dawn. Never Rupert. Nor Buffy, he recalled a moment too late, as her face set into another expression entirely.

"Nice try, Mister. But as a matter of fact, I *do* love you. Which is why I'm not leaving you alone in the house to explain to the firemen why your babysitter let a four-year-old stay by himself while she toddled off to class."

He pouted a bit more, but when that didn't change the expression on her face, he finally asked, "Which firemen?"

"The same cute ones who came last week to get Spike down from the roof. The ones with the bulging muscles. And I'd miss seeing them and it would be all your fault, so you're going to the shop." She picked up her bookbag, and the bag that contained his books, and the *new* pirate cove Lego set he'd found sitting next to his pillow this morning. "We're going," she said with a disheartening tone of finality. Then she yelled, "Dawn! Get your butt down here, we're leaving!"

There was a second's pause, before they heard Dawn shouting back, "I'm coming! Geez, keep your shirt on!"

Rupert crossed his arms, and glared up at Buffy.

"I will pick you up and *carry* you to the Magic Box," she informed him. "Don't think I won't."

It was on the tip of his tongue to say 'you wouldn't dare' except he knew that saying it would guarantee that she would. That didn't mean he was quite ready to give up. "Buffy, please, this is the only chance I'll have -- have had in two weeks - to be *alone*. I assure you I'll take every precaution. I swear I'll sit and read, all day."

"Yeah, you'd do it, too," she said, sounding reasonable. But she shook her head. "You're coming with us."

"I could stay home with him," Dawn offered. "I'll stay in my room and won't bother you a bit," she said to Rupert.

"And that trigonometry test you were studying for all night?" Buffy asked. "That would what-- be cancelled for the whole class on account of Dawn Summers has to babysit?"

Dawn shrugged. "It could be. You never know. Stranger things have happened..."

"Yeah, like you having a math test without whining about it. I don't know why you bother trying to avoid them-- you come home with A's every time." Buffy rolled her eyes. "Out-- go. In the car. Now."

"Ja, wohl, mein Kommandant! Sig heil..." Dawn saluted, grabbed her bag, and walked out the door. Buffy frowned at Rupert.

"That was German, right? I haven't forgotten more French than I thought. Right? Giles?" He smiled kindly at her. "Are you teaching her to speak Sumarian?" Buffy narrowed her eyes at him. "Because I warned you about that when she was ten."

"What if I promise to *stop* teaching her German, in exchange for you letting me stay here today?"

Buffy seemed to consider it -- for half a second. "I'd say you aren't the one teaching her German. Now, let's go before we're late!"

Rupert pouted at her, one more time. Then he was flying into the air and being held, quite firmly, under Buffy's arm. She switched off the lights as she headed for the door.

"Buffy, put me down this instant!"

"Nope. Don't make me enroll you in kindergarten." She plopped him down in the back seat of the Range Rover, the door having been helpfully opened by Dawn, who had apparently switched sides. "I'll do it, too. The neighbors have already asked about it. I told them you were too young -- but I can change my mind."

"You're a very cruel mummy, you know that, right?" he asked, in a normal, adult tone, if not an adult pitch. Since he'd lost the war, he wasn't about to keep the battle going. Not until he could find something else to torment her with, at any rate.

"That's me, the evil bitch-monster of death," she agreed as Dawn pulled the vehicle out of the drive and onto the street.

"Nice to hear you finally admit it," said her sister. "It's the first step towards getting help, you know. The next step is where we commit you. Just for evaluation."

"You know Giles, if I did enroll you in kindergarten, it wouldn't be so bad. You and Dawn could play together."

"I don't think so, somehow. I believe there's some sort of social stigma attached to playing with the girls. Er... " Rupert scratched his head, trying to come up with the proper word. "Cooties?"

"Cooties," Buffy confirmed. "The bane of childhood. Once you're marked--"

"You grow up to be Buffy," Dawn finished.

Buffy waited until Dawn paused at a stop sign to give her sister a pinch. Rupert wondered just who among them was the four year old, as Dawn squealed and hit her back. "Oh, yes, I can see why you wouldn't want immature little me to stay home alone while you two mature persons attend to your schooling."

"Don't make me pull over," Buffy warned.

Rupert blinked at her, while Dawn began laughing. He had to stifle a laugh, himself. "How can you, since I'm driving?" Dawn asked.

"Well, it always worked for mom," Buffy replied.

"Oh, yeah, and 'Your face will freeze like that...' " Dawn said, still laughing.

Yeah..." Buffy smiled softly, then burst into a grin. "And 'you'd better eat that-- there's starving children in Africa...' "

"We kept *telling* her the starving African kids could *have* our lima beans," Dawn told Rupert.

"She even put hers in an envelope and addressed it to the United Nations, one time," Buffy said sincerely.

"Hey, it worked-- I didn't have to eat the ones in the envelope, since they got all squished."

Rupert sat quietly in the back seat as the two of them reminisced about the sort of things they'd gotten away with in their --snort-- long ago childhoods. He didn't let out a peep. It wouldn't do, after all, for them to realize he was taking notes. Not that he hadn't been told to eat his own sausages, as a child, because there were starving children in Poland. But he'd never actually tried to post his breakfast to them.


chapter eight

Finally -- or 'all too soon' -- they pulled up in front of the Magic Box. Buffy began giving Dawn her usual morning 'go directly to school, do not hit any trucks, be right back here *right* after school' speech. Rupert unbuckled his seltbelt and opened the door, and jumped out.

Discovering that yes, he was as short as he felt. The ground was a bit farther away than he was used to -- but since no one saw him stumble, it didn't count. He headed for the front door to his shop, thinking that he might simply lock himself in his office. Alone.

As he reached the front door, Buffy caught up with him and grabbed the doorknob. "So, short stuff, you looking forward to a day of fun?" she asked, maliciously.

He looked her square in the eye. "You mean, am I looking forward to spending the day with Spike and Xander, asking them for ideas on how to use my youthful energy to its most effective...yes, I should say I am. Aren't you going to walk to class, now?" he added, as he stepped through the open front door, past her.

"Xander--" she shouted as the door shut behind him, leaving her out on the street. "Don't give him any ideas..."

"What'd she say?" Xander asked, looking up from the countertop, where he was -- dear God, really? -- reading something that wasn't a comic book.

"I've no idea. Something about you buying me breakfast, because she didn't have time to feed me, I think," Rupert lied smoothly.

Buffy was already stalking in the direction of campus, likely to have just enough time to get to her first class, so he didn't expect her to come running back to correct him. He did, however, get a knowing look from Spike. He wasn't worried-- the expression was also admiring, and possibly even proud.

Xander was closing his book. "Right, I can go next door and get some muffins, and coffee. Er -- you want juice?" Xander asked him, and Rupert was forced to give him a stern look.

"Tea shall suffice, thank you."

Xander nodded, and looked around the room. "Anyone else want anything?" Rupert almost told him he didn't really need a second breakfast -- but the shop next door made really excellent apple strudel muffins.

"Chocolate chip cookies!" Willow cried out, from the stairs. Rupert saw her sitting with Tara, both of them looking at a book set across their knees.

"I'm not feeding you two any more sugar," Xander told her. When Willow pouted, Xander said, "Spike?"

Who looked uncomfortable. "Er, Xan's right," he began, but he was obviously falling prey to The Willow Face. Rupert, however, was simply astounded. Any other day Spike and Xander would have already been out the door, counting the money Anya handed over, to buy a dozen cookies and muffins. Now he was watching Xander look almost...stern.

Of course, any other day, Rupert himself would have been looking sternly at Anya -- in vain -- for taking the money out of the cash register. But that was neither here nor there. It was *Xander's* strange behavior that was worrying him. Not only did he look at the Willow pout, and, after a moment where it seemed he might cave, shake his head resolutely, but he actually shook a finger at Willow and Tara. And not his middle one, either.

"You know if you keep making that face, it'll freeze that way." When everyone in the shop began laughing, Xander turned around. "What? What did I... Oh my God. I didn't."

Spike nodded, grinning. "Yup. Complete with finger-shake."

Xander buried his face in his hands. "Help me, Mr. Wizard. I don't want to be a grown-up anymore..."

Anya walked up to him, and patted his shoulder. "Here's money. Go buy chocolate -- you'll feel better." Xander nodded, and took the money -- Rupert sent Anya a belated stern glare, but she didn't pay him any attention. Rupert *did*, however, see the thoughtful expression on Anya's face as she watched Xander leave the shop.

Oh, dear.

Not that having children -- real ones -- around wasn't nice, in theory. But Anya and Xander? *Anya* and *Xander*? These were the genes the world wanted to pass on?

He turned his attention quickly to something else, and discovered Buffy had kept his bag. "Where the bloody hell is my..copy of Druher's Halcyon?" He managed to not say 'pirate cove', out loud.

"Watch your--" Rupert looked up at Spike, in disbelief. Spike looked shocked, himself, and turned to Anya. "Somebody stake me?"

"Right now? Xander's not here. I suppose I have something in my bag that we could use, if you wanna go in the back room and--"

Spike shook his head. "Not what I meant. But keep it in mind for later, love."

"Spike, are you quite all right?" Rupert blinked, disbelieving again at the sound of his own voice, asking. Almost as if he cared.

"He's turning into a dad-- it's eerie," Willow said from the steps. "This morning, he made me finish my eggs and toast before he let me have a donut."

"Did not!" Spike protested. When Anya turned to look at him, he shrugged awkwardly. "Well, it was her *second* donut."

Rupert just watched, as Tara scooted out from under the book, walked up to Spike, and took his hand. Looked up at him with a hopeful expression. "Would you get the Demon's Necromicon down from the top shelf for me?"

"Course, luv," Spike said, leaning down and scooping her into his arms. He was halfway to the bookcase, when he stopped and glared at Anya and Rupert. Rupert hid his smile quickly. Anya was looking thoughtful again. With a shudder, Rupert crossed quickly to his office. He had books in there he could read, and he'd just have to remember his Legos tomorrow.

Once safely behind his door, he tried to put out of his mind all the disturbing images he'd been subjected to. Studying up on the Urdeku should distract him, for a hour or so. He began looking around for the books he'd left on the desk, and discovered one was missing. Frowning, he tried to recall where he'd seen it last. It was an English translation of a book, so it was reasonable to think one of the others had borrowed it. It wasn't the one Willow and Tara had been reading, however.

No, he realized, it was the one *Xander* had been reading. He went back out and found it sitting upon the counter, and had to ask Anya to fetch it down for him. "Xander was actually reading this?" he asked. "Voluntarily?"

She nodded. "Yes. He asked me to find him something that he could read that wouldn't put him to sleep, and since I left all the erotic literature at home today..." She smiled. "Actually, Xander wanted to do something to help trace down the Urdeku, so Willow and I looked around for an English translation to any of the books you and Wesley were using. I thought maybe he'd pick up something that you people missed-- just because he doesn't speak Sumerian, doesn't mean he isn't a good thinker."

Rupert nodded, and took the book from her. He'd never thought Xander *wasn't* a 'good thinker' -- it simply surprised him to find Xander using his thinking skills on what was, at best, a fairly dry reference work. With no colour illustrations. He caught himself smiling, and quickly stifled it, lest anyone actually see him and assume he was feeling...proud, or something.

"Saw that," Spike whispered in his ear.

"Nothing to see," he said smoothly. Lying to Spike was simple enough to be ridiculous. He slipped the book under his arm...and promptly dropped it. Right -- large book, small body. Rupert sighed and started to crouch down to pick it up. Then stood up. Crouched down again, stood up again, then lifted his left leg and bent it a few times.

"Er, problem?" Spike asked.

"No, no problem at all. I never even *noticed* the first time. My god...."

He looked up to find Spike smirking at him. "Knee works again, does it?"

Rupert glared. "It *always* worked." Then he allowed, "But perhaps a bit...better, now."

Anything either might have said was cut off by a squeal from the back of the shop. Rupert looked over, but Spike was running. Rupert smirked. He followed Spike, albeit at the much slower pace that his short but fully-functional legs allowed him. When he got there, he found Spike scooping a sprawled-out Willow off the floor, and babbling inanely.

"You all right... course you're all right, no blood. Er, no blood, but you could have a concussion. Damn, Rupes, you're always getting bonked on the head, what's a concussion feel like? Hell, if she's got a concussion, should I have picked her up?" Spike was running one hand through Willow's mop of copper hair -- so at one point that colour had been natural, Rupert thought absently -- and paying absolutely no attention to the perturbed looks that Willow and Tara were giving him.

Finally Willow said, "Spike, what are you doing?"

"Checking for bumps."

"I'm not a vampire, and even if I were, they'd be on my forehead, not the top of my skull."

"What?" Spike paused in his search of her skull. "What are you babbling about?"

"What am *I* babbling about?" Willow demanded. "Spike, let go of me - I didn't get my bracelet!"

"Your what?"

Rupert sighed -- again, thinking maybe he would look forward to regressing this time, so he wouldn't feel quite so...old. Which was amusing, because it was *Spike* that was making him feel old, right now. Then he got down on the floor and looked under the bookcase. Yes, there it was, lying in the dust. He reached under and grabbed it, and pulled it out. Willow squealed again -- exact same squeal, and surely Spike could tell the difference, now?

Rupert handed the bracelet over, and Willow took it. She began to put it on, then grinned. "Oops, gonna be too big. Do you have pockets?" she asked Tara, as her own shorts did not. Tara looked down, and shook her head.

"Does any the stuff you bought have pockets?" Tara asked, sounding doubtful. It made Rupert take a second look.

"Tara, aren't those the clothes Willow bought for herself?"

Tara coloured, slightly. "Well, yeah. Um... The clothes we bought for me are kind of all too big." Even the shirt of Willow's that she was wearing was a bit loose, Rupert noticed.

Willow giggled. "She kept saying 'No, we have to get the bigger ones-- I was a fat little kid...' We even ended up getting different sizes, because she wasn't sure which ones would be big enough. And they're all too big!" She started laughing again, and Tara stuck her tongue out.

"Well, I remember my brother calling me a big pig all the time..."

"He was a boy. Boys are dorks. Duh..." Willow pointed a finger at Spike's nose, then actually tapped it, since he was still holding her. "Case in point..."

Spike made huffing noises, and put her down. "Well, how was I to know? You're all quiet back here, then I hear screaming-- you could've fallen off that stool and broken your head."

Willow was giving him an amused look -- which Rupert was able to interpret all too well. He almost felt sorry for Spike, except that he remembered everything he and Xander had done over the last two weeks. Not to mention the century of evil. It would do him some good, Rupert thought, to be wrapped around the pinkies of a pair of four-year-old little girls.

Spike was still protesting, in response to the look that Willow was continuing to give him. "You *might've*! You could have been dead and then Xander and Anya wouldn't let me anywhere near you."

Rupert laughed. Then he went over and sat down at the table, to watch. This was proving to be more entertaining than staying at Buffy and Dawn's house to watch Passions.

"What wouldn't I have done?" Anya said from the doorway between the front and back sections of the shop.

"Let me near the--- and where were you, I might ask, when this one was making noises like her head had got smooshed?"

Anya blinked at him. "She was obviously happy, not bleeding. Couldn't you tell that? And people say *I* have no understanding of children, just because I haven't been one for eleven hundred and twenty three years. You were a kid last *week* and you don't know the difference between a happy scream and a head-smooshed scream?"

Spike looked suitably mortified at his own behaviour, which made Rupert chuckle. Only it came out a giggle. The vampire glanced around the room, obviously looking for a easy escape route, and at last responded with, "And the other one's got no clothes!"

Anya frowned, and looked at Tara. "Spike, she obviously has clothes. She's wearing clothes right now." She sounded remarkably patient -- Rupert reminded himself that she had been living with Spike for.. how long, now? And none of them had driven the others insane, yet. Truly, amazingly remarkable.

"Not those! Those're Red's. She hasn't any clothes of her own, that fit. And will *someone* please stake me before I say she'll catch her death of cold if she's not properly dressed?"

Rupert reached over to pick up a pencil. "I shall. Hold still, please?" He held up the pencil as if to throw it.

"Put that down before you put his eye out." Rupert looked up at Anya, shocked. She didn't even look fazed. But then, she was used to scolding Spike and Xander all the time.

"Muffins for all!" Xander called out.

Before anyone small and fast could get over to relieve him of his burden, Spike was at his side. "Let's go drive real fast and drink beer and tear the heads off parking meters."

Xander looked at him for a moment, then nodded, slowly. "Ah...o-kaaayyyy.... I'm driving, of course, since you'll have turned into dust, considering that it's ten a.m., and who put the LSD in his breakfast cereal *this* morning?"

"He's disturbed because he's been acting all parental, and he doesn't understand why," Willow snickered, coming up to take a bag of muffins from Xander's hand.

"You realize you could've just stopped before the 'because' and I would have accepted the explanation," Xander said. "Although...truthfully, I *have* been noticing an alarming tendency to remind people to brush their teeth, this week. You suppose it's a side-effect of the spell? All the adults around the shrunk-kids suddenly start acting like grown-ups?"

Spike looked relieved. 'Yeah, good thought. That makes sense. Whew."

Rupert opened his mouth to point out that Buffy hadn't been saying those things -- when he realized that she had been. But admitting so would reassure Spike and Xander.... "Buffy hasn't been acting like that, at all." Spike and Xander looked over at him, expressions of horror warring with stubborn disbelief on their faces. "Not to mention there is absolutely no evidence of any lingering effects of the spell, in any of the literature. Some of which you yourself read," he reminded Xander. "And may I add, it's nice to see you showing an interest in real research."

He had to struggle to keep from laughing -- though from the sound of it, Tara and Willow weren't doing more than pressing their hands over their mouths. He tried to think of one more thing to say, to push them completely over the edge.

Then Anya said it for him. "I think it's good that they're learning to be parents." Then she smiled. Widely.

Spike and Xander screamed.

"I take it back, let's go rip the heads off parking meters. Um, and put stink-bombs in people's mailboxes. And... uh... leer at women on the street," Xander babbled.

"Spike does that one now," Willow pointed out.

"So does Xander; he's just more subtle about it," Anya said. "But that doesn't make them immature, it just makes them men." She paused. "There was something wrong with that statement, wasn't there?"

"You know, Willy's is open," Spike said, glaring at everyone in the room, but talking to Xander. "If you run out and open the car doors, I'll throw m'coat over my head, and..."

"Way ahead of you," Xander replied, heading for the door.

"Hold it right there, busters," Anya said. Both men froze, then they exchanged a look. Rupert accepted a bottle of orange juice from Willow, who was crawling into the chair beside him. Tara was opposite him, already kneeling in the seat, eating a muffin -- all of them watching the Spike and Xander show with avid interest. Rupert took a cookie out of the bag, trying not to rustle the paper as he did so. Spike and Xander were giving Anya identical cute looks.

"You're staying here to help me run the store, and do research, and keep an eye on them." She pointed towards the table, and the three not-kids looked at each other as if asking who Anya meant. None of them said anything aloud, though, in order not to miss the next line.






Anya pointed again. Xander looked at Spike. Spike looked at Xander. Identical expressions of despair in their eyes. Finally Spike said, "Can't really stand Willy's these days, anyhow. The line dancing was bad enough, but when he put the country kareoke machine in..." He shuddered, somewhat convincingly, and moved to snatch the bag away from Rupert, to remove a cookie. Xander hesitated, then nodded.

"I guess... It's a little early in the morning for the whole Tears in My Beer scene. Go over much better if we went out tonight."

"Oh no, you don't," Anya said firmly. "Tonight we're going to the drive-in, remember?" Xander looked elsewhere. "Xander?"

He muttered something that sounded suspiciously like 'yes, dear' -- but Rupert couldn't be entirely sure, as Xander was shoving a muffin in his mouth as he said it.

Willow waited at least ten seconds to make the whip-cracking noise. Rupert wouldn't have been so kind, except he had a cookie in his own mouth, so she beat him to it.

Xander gave her a dirty glare, then he grinned. "Actually, when she uses the whip it's a lot more fun." Willow turned red.

Spike was snickering as he stole a cookie from the bag...which he then carried over to Anya and presented it to her, as if he'd tracked the thing down and killed it, himself.

Anya took it, but said, "If you think presents of chocolate are going to get you out of trouble...." Rupert couldn't see the expression on Spike's face, and suspected he didn't want to. Anya grinned. "Well, it wasn't *much* trouble. For you two. And the cookies are good." She took a bite, and nodded. "All right."

"What about me? I bought them!" Xander put in.

"Yes, and where did you get the money?" Rupert interrupted.

"Um. From Anya," Xander said brightly, then immediately realized he'd just put the blame on the person he was trying to placate. He picked up a chocolate chocolate-chip muffin and held it out to Anya.

"Hey, I didn't know those were in there!" Willow grabbed the bag, and began digging through it.

"I thought we were trying *not* to give them any more sugar?" Anya said, though she didn't exactly rush over to the table to stop them from eating the goodies, Rupert noted.

Xander shrugged sheepishly. "Well, I thought deeply about that. And I thought about the lengths Buffy and I went to, in our quest for chocolate, and..." he did the boyish grin thing again, and damned if Anya didn't seem to be falling for it. Shame on her. "You know, just to keep them all out of trouble, I thought I'd head off any escape attempts."

Anya smiled, then her eyes narrowed. "Yes. That. You still haven't been punished for that little stunt, have you."

Xander shook his head, eagerly. Rupert felt the sudden need to bang his head against the tabletop.

"Hey, I was the lookout man-- I deserve to be punished too!" Spike protested.

"You ratted us out to the authorities!" Xander told him.

"Yeah, so? I'm evil! How does that make me any less deserving of punishment?"

"It means you couldn't help getting into trouble, and being punished won't teach you anything!" Xander countered. "Me, I'm an impressionable human mortal, and should be taught the error of my ways."

He looked hopefully at Anya. Rupert dropped the last bit of his cookie. "Suddenly, I've lost my appetite."

"Actually, from a socio-psychological view-point, it's really quite fascinating," Tara said, still munching her first cookie. Rupert wondered if Xander had bought anything even remotely non-sugar laden, at all. "At first, they appear to be just as...well, chaotic and immature as they appear. But when you realize the group dynamics of their threesome...." She trailed off, looking from Willow to Rupert. "What?"

"Give her another cookie," Rupert said, handing the bag to Willow. Willow took the bag, peered inside, and pulled out a huge peanut butter cookie. She handed it to Tara.

"Oo, peanut butter!" Tara sounded like a four-year old.

"Is there another?" Rupert asked.

Willow looked deep into the bag. Frowned. Rattled the paper inside. Looked again. "Hmm. I don't *see* any..."

Rupert gave her a look, which she blithely ignored. She was going to make him do it, wasn't she. Of all the... Fine. Rupert opened his mouth. "Anya, Willow won't share..."

Willow giggled obnoxiously and tossed the bag at him. "I knew I could make him whine."

"Am *I* being punished for something terrible that *I* did in a past life? Because I don't recall ever having done anything to *you*," Rupert remarked as he reached into the bag and pulled out his own peanut butter cookie.

"Um, like the cookie raid in the middle of the night at Buffy's place? Like waking us up at three a.m. because you'd snuck downstairs to watch 'Mr. Bean' on cable? Or what about..."

"I was regressed then. Those things don't count."

"Well, I'm regressed now," she said matter-of-factly.

"You are not," he countered.

"Am too."

"Are not."

"Am too."

"You are not." She opened her mouth to say 'am, too' again, and Rupert rolled his eyes. "For God's sake, we are *not* regressed. Last time it took nearly four days before showing any real signs of regression. Which not only means that you are *not* emotionally a four-year-old, but you have no excuse for having just stolen my peanut butter cookie, Tara."

Tara looked innocent.

"Give it back," he demanded, trying to sound as adult as he could -- but the content of his demand rather precluded much maturity.

"I don't have it."

"Yes, you *do*," he responded, feeling rather idiotic. But on the other hand...letting her get away with it meant having to pout at Spike to get another one purchased for him.

"I..." Tara quivered her chin. "How could you think I'd do something like that? When have I ever done anything remotely dishonest?"

Rupert was about to bring up a certain 'no-see-um-demons' spell from a few years back, which really *was* the only thing he could think of, when Willow got into the act. "Really, Giles, how could you accuse Tara? That's just... mean. Plain old mean. Rotten. Spike, Giles is being mean to us."

Spike broke away from the threesome's continued mumblings about who deserved to be punished more, and stepped over to the table. "What was that, love?"

Tara looked up at him, chin still quivering, and Rupert groaned. "Giles says I stole his cookie!" Her face was the picture of aggrieved innocence.

Spike scowled at Rupert, who didn't bother resisting the urge to stick his tongue out at Tara, since it was obvious he wasn't going to win this one. "It's not nice to pick on little girls, Rupert," Spike said, just as if he hadn't eaten more of them than he could count, in his day.

"Oh, yes, because they're perfect little angels," Rupert said. "So ask Angel Number One why she has an uneaten peanut butter cookie in her hands."

"Because Willow gave it to me!" she said. Angelically.

"You ate that one," Rupert pointed out, though he was beginning to think he might as well go to his office and read. With Anya no longer twisting Spike and Xander around her little finger, there was little entertainment to be had. No more peanut butter cookies to be had, either.

Tara quivered her chin some more, and looked up at Spike. Who said seriously, "Rupert, perhaps you should go stand in the corner."

Rupert gaped at him for a second, then turned to Willow. "Have we got a video camera? Set up?"

"There's the security cameras," she said, nodding. "They must have got a shot of that."

"Excellent. Let's be sure to send copies to Angel. I did promise." She nodded eagerly. Spike, on the other hand, was giving them an outraged look. Which they ignored. Rupert held his hand out. "May I?"

Tara grinned, and returned his cookie. With a bite missing.



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