Back in the changing area, Wesley knocked on the door of the cubicle he knew Fred was in. “It’s just me,” he told her before opening the door just enough to squeeze through, then shutting it and locking it behind him. “Everything okay?”
She set the last top she was getting in the “To buy” pile and nodded. “I think I’ve figured out what I wanted.” She looked over at him, giving him a smile. “I was just thinking all this as well. We’ve been a real family today, and I’m finding that I can’t help but think of Connor as anything else but our son, and I’m realizing how lucky we all are and how much I love Rupert, and how much I love you, and how we’re going to be married soon, and I can’t wait for that. It’s...amazing, to say the least.”
He smiled, drawing her into his arms. He was being constantly amazed how well things had turned out so far. His heart began to race, loving how excited Fred seemed at the idea of them being a family.
“I’ve been wanting to do this all morning,” he confessed, kissing her temple. “You really do look breathtaking in your new clothes,” he added, pulling back to look into her dark eyes. “Of course, you’re stunning in anything.”
Fred grinned, looking up into Wesley’s eyes. “Even a burlap sack?” she asked lightly, knowing that she couldn’t have looked stunning in those rags she had first been wearing when they had found her in Pylea. Nobody could look stunning in those. Well, maybe Cordelia, but then again, Cordelia had the ability to make anything look stunning. “Anyway, these aren’t actually my
new clothes yet. Gotta buy them first.” She chuckled again and leaned up to kiss Wesley, enjoying the fact that she could share moments like this with him.
Wesley hummed happily when her lips caressed his. “Well, considering we have several mouths that need to be fed, we should probably go pay for them then,” he whispered against her lips, not really wanting to leave the dressing room. “I believe a Slayer is owed ice cream for tolerating this little trip. Although Rupert’s ingenious purchase of the suede jacket earlier might have bought us some time. I do, however, shudder to think of the trouble can develop with Connor at the food court. If memory serves, there’s a Godiva’s Chocolate Shop as well as a Kay Bee’s Toy store, both within clear sight. We might be in for it.”
“We were in for it from the moment we became parents to a four-year-old,” she told him with a laugh. “But you’re right – with the double whammy, we’ll probably never hear the end of it.”
Pulling back reluctantly, Wesley gave her one last kiss before letting her go and picking up a large pile of clothes in his arms. “If you get the door, I volunteer to haul this pile to the register.” Once she had the door open, he stopped briefly before exiting the dressing room, giving her a genuine smile. “Oh, and Fred....you definitely looked stunning in a burlap sack. It was where I began to realize what a remarkable woman you are.”
Without waiting to see her reaction, he headed toward the register, unable to completely see. When he ran into someone, he started to apologize but then grinned when he realized it was Rupert, trying to relieve him of half his load.
“Come on, pack camel,” Rupert teased, laughing when Wes harrumphed in reply. “Well, she needed this. We both know it. So let’s go get this paid for, then we can get the natives fed.” Dumping what he had taken from Wesley on the counter next to Dawn’s choices, he reached back to take what Wesley was still holding and add it all to the pile. Perhaps they might want to drop off the bags at the jeep before lunch.
Over by the dressing rooms, Fred had stopped short at Wesley’s comment about her Pylean sack outfit, watching after him in shock. He had actually thought...? She hadn’t thought that anyone could have been looking at her that way – not with Cordelia around in her regal dress. Looking down at herself, she smiled. She had two guys now who loved her. Why should
she be surprised?
Hurrying after him, she reached the register as he and Rupert put all her purchases on the counter. Now that she saw it all there, it seemed way too much and she was about to open her mouth to say something when Wesley reached over and shushed her with a finger. Grinning, she looked down when she felt a hand pulling at the hem of her top to see Connor standing there.
“Giles said we’re going to eat and then shop for me!” he said happily.
“Well, if that’s what Giles said, then he’s right,” she told him, taking his hand.
Once everything was paid for, everyone took some bags – even Connor, who wanted to help carry something of Mommy’s – and they took everything they had purchased so far out to the SUV, stowing it in the back underneath the protective tarp. With the first round of shopping out of the way for the older members of the family, they all trooped back inside, heading toward the food court, where Wesley groaned . It seemed as if his memory was just fine. In plain sight were indeed a Godiva Chocolate and a toy store. They were going to have their hands full.
“Well, I’m in the mood for Thai food,” Giles commented as he passed a twenty to Buffy and readied another one in case anyone wanted something else. He gave his Slayer a pointed look, offering a little smirk. “We can get ice cream afterwards.”
“Thai is fine with me, Rupert,” Wesley replied, scooping Connor up and setting him on his shoulders.
“What’s Thai, daddy?” the curious little boy asked.
“It’s a kind of food, Connor. You can try some of mine. If you like it, we can get you your own. If not, we’ll get you something else.”
“Okay, Daddy,” he grinned, bouncing happily on his father’s shoulders.
Fred smiled at the excitement on their little boy’s face and at the way he wanted to try everything. “Thai food is fine with me, too,” she said.
Dawn, however, made a face and stuck out her tongue. “I just want Chinese,” she said.
“That sound good to me,” Buffy said, holding up the bill Giles had given her. “Come on, Dawnie. First food, then ice cream.”
The two sisters hurried off to the nearby Chinese counter while Fred, Wesley, Giles and Connor went over to the Thai counter. As they were deciding what to order, Connor suddenly chirped up, “Mommy, are you going to eat more than Buffy?”
Blushing, Fred looked over at him. “I...uh...well...”
Both Giles and Wes grinned widely at Connor’s innocent question. Then Wes had to brace his leg when he felt Connor lean forward. It took him a moment to realize that it was toward the Chinese counter.
“Better get a lot of food, Buffy!” he called out to the blonde Slayer with a smirk on his little lips and his blue eyes sparkling. “’Cause Mommy is gonna eat lots more than you! Right, Mommy?”
Fred turned even redder at Connor’s not so much throwing down the gauntlet as hurling it directly at Buffy on her behalf. She really wasn’t sure if an eating competition was a good idea in the middle of a mall of all places.
“No way,” Dawn piped up. “We covered this last night – there’s no way your mom can beat my sister. She’s a Slayer.”
“Mommy, you can eat more than her, can’t you? I know you can.”
“Connor,” Fred started to say, casting a glance at Buffy for a moment. When she saw the Slayer give her a smile, she broke into a grin of her own. “Well, of course I can.”
Buffy chuckled, glad that the other woman had gotten her meaning when she had smiled at her. “Don’t think so. Dawn, get me some Fried Rice, Chow Mein, Sweet and Sour Chicken, Chicken and Cashews...and double it. Also, three orders of Egg Rolls and Crab Rangoon.”
Fred had to bite back a laugh. “Wesley? You know what I like.”
Giles and Wes shared a grin, Giles so proud of the little boy sitting on his lover’s shoulders. His innocence was a tonic to them all – he hadn’t seen Buffy smile so much in a very long time. It made him adore the boy even more. Arching an eyebrow in amusement when Fred and Buffy seemed to pick up on the little boy’s games, he looked at Wes and saw a grin split the other man’s handsome face. After placing his own order and an order of fried rice for Connor, he stepped back to let Wesley order for Fred and himself.
“I’ll take four orders of Fried Rice, two orders of Almond Chicken, an Order of General Tso’s Chicken, two bowls of Tom Yum Soup, and an extra large Sour Papaya Salad. And we’ll take four Jasmine Teas, two Green Teas and an Earl Grey. And one coke,” Wesley ordered, smirking at Giles. “And before you ask, she can
finish all this with room to spare.”
“Well,” Giles laughed, looking over toward the chocolate shop before passing over his credit card to pay for the bill. “Let’s make this truly interesting. Winner of the contest gets a thirty-count box of truffles from Godiva Chocolate over there.” He decided enriching the pot like that would get all three of his ladies eating well.
“Godiva chocolate?” Dawn asked. “Okay, if there’s Godiva in this, I’m so getting involved. Double that double order.”
Buffy snerked as she crossed her arms, looking her sister up and down. “Ohhhhh, Dawnie. Don’t even try. There’s no way you’re going to come close to beating me. In fact, Fred, you might want to just give up now.”
“Ohhhhh, no. Not when there’s Godiva on the line, I don’t,” Fred told her.
“That Godiva is mine. No way you’re going to outdo the Slayer.” Buffy turned to pay for the food and then picked up two trays that the counter clerk had set out for her and Dawn, taking them over to a group of several tables pushed together for a large group.
“Oh, you’re so on now!” Fred shot back.
Giles and Wes were thoroughly enjoying the show between the women. Wes thought it was a stroke of genious to throw the offer of Godiva chocolate into the mix – the women in their lives would be unable to refuse. Looking over at Buffy, he gave her a warm smile, part of him glad to see the light in her eyes. She was having fun, that much was clear. Connor’s innocent game, an attempt to show pride in his mother, had put a spark of life in the traumatized girl. For that, he was immensely proud of the boy. Standing off to the side, he waited for Rupert to proceed him with two trays that were piled high with food and drinks.
Giles set the trays down on the table and looked over at Wesley, seeing him lifting Connor off of his shoulders. He took the boy from him, placing him between himself and Wesley, allowing the ladies to take the other side since apparently he and Wesley were the judges. Once everyone sat down, they doled out the food, placing the individual orders in front of everybody.
“Well, have at it ladies,” Giles chuckled, passing Connor a plastic fork. He saw the little boy wrap his fist around the handle while watching Wesley closely, looking for the proper way to use the utensil. It took several tries, but eventually, he figured it out and began to eat his rice. When he felt more comfortable with it, he looked up and grinned. Everyone else was diving into their lunches.
“Go Mommy!” Connor yelled.
Fred grinned briefly at her son before digging back into her fried rice. She could see Buffy out of the corner of her eyes, keeping up with her, bite for bite. Soon, they were moving on to their next plates, both of them taking a sip of drink at almost the same time. Dawn saw this and burst out laughing, immediately falling behind.
“I wasn’t gonna win anyway,” she said when she sufficiently recovered enough to pick up her fork. She resumed eating at a more leisurely pace while still smirking at the sight of her sister and Fred trying to eat the most.
Buffy dug into her egg rolls while Fred started on her chicken. “C’mon, Fred, you know I’m going to win the Godiva.”
Giles sat eating quietly, looking across the table from under his eyebrows as he watched Buffy and Fred stay pretty even the entire way. It was a surprising revelation about his lover. He had been hearing Wesley talk of Fred’s voracious appetite, but now he was seeing it for himself. It was an impressive feat, especially given that she didn’t have Buffy’s Slayer metabolism to call upon. Opening the bottle of coke, he passed it to Connor.
“Thanks, Giles,” the boy grinned. Looking up at his mom and Buffy, he was a little concerned seeing how close they were in the contest. The corners of his little lips turned up mischievously as he looked up at his father. He saw the understanding in his daddy’s eyes. Ducking his head, Connor forced Buffy to meet his gaze. Turning on the puppy eyes, he pouted slightly, not liking the idea that Giles’ blonde friend was going to beat his mommy. “Hey, Buffy?” he called her, smiling when she paused to see what he wanted. After staying silent for nearly an entire minute – while his mommy kept eating – he giggled. “Nothin.’”
When Buffy realized what the little boy had done, her eyes widened. “Why, you little...” This kid was smart
– something he obviously got from his parents, based on what she knew about Wesley and what the others had said about Fred. Racing to catch up, she started eating a little more quickly and was soon caught up again.
“Connor,” Wesley chastised his son gently. He really couldn’t be angry. The boy just wanted his mother to win. He smiled when the boy threw his head back and giggled loudly. His own smile grew in response. There was something so pure about the laugh of a child. It brought a lightness to one’s spirit. He also had to commend the boy. The move had been smart, brilliant for a boy so young. However, the tactic of a diversion was a necessity in hunting and surviving on Quor’Toth, so it wasn’t surprising to see Connor had mastered it already.
“Hey, Fred,” Dawn called out.
“Nu uh!” Fred said in the middle of spooning up some soup and continued eating. She wasn’t falling for that one.
Pretty soon, they had reached the last plates of food. Buffy looked up with a grin – they might very well draw. But then, she saw Connor’s face. He really wanted his mother to win. It meant the world to him that she did.
Slowly, she set the last egg roll down. “I can’t eat anymore,” she said as Fred finished her last bite, causing Connor to cheer loudly.
Giles realized what Buffy had done and looked at her proudly. She had conceded, for the sake of a small boy. Connor’s pride in his mother was more important than the chocolate. He held her gaze, smiling when she did. She knew him well; she knew he would get everyone something from Godiva’s. Besides, the “contest” had been more for Connor’s benefit than for the prize. He gave her a nod before finishing his own dinner.
Buffy felt a warm feeling run through her when she saw him nod, knowing that he had understood what she had done. In the last few days, for the first time since she had been brought back, she was honestly feeling alive and like she would be okay, and it was because of all of them. Maybe she’d get through this after all.
Especially if she got some ice cream at Godiva’s.
“Giles?” Connor looked up at the man his parents loved. When he looked down, the boy looked over at his nearly empty food container. “What was that?”
“Chicken fried rice,” the older man replied.
“I like it a lot!” he bounced excitedly before something occurred to him. He stopped, his little face sobering immediately. “Giles, can I have chocolate too?”
“That would be up to your mum and dad, Connor.” He laughed when the boy’s head immediately swung to Wesley.
“Since you finished your lunch, you may have half a candy bar. If you finish your dinner, you may have the other half,” Wesley replied, knowing the Godiva chocolate was a lot richer than the bar Rupert gave him on Quor’Toth. He looked over at Fred and Giles. “Why don’t we all get our desserts? Then Connor needs a haircut after which we can finish his shopping and head home.”
Everyone stood up from the table, and as the others threw their trash away, Fred turned to Buffy, placing a hand on the younger woman’s shoulder. “Thank you. That...it meant a lot to Connor.”
“Hey, it was a fair match. We would have tied even if I hadn’t stopped eating, so I figured why not. And where on earth do you put all that? I mean, I know I burn it thanks to the Slayer metabolism, but what’s your excuse?” she asked with a laugh.
“Lucky genes, I think. I’ll probably pay for it when I’m older.”
“You sure you’re not part demon or something?”
“Nah, that was Corde—.” She trailed off for a moment, no knowing how much Buffy knew about what had happened to Cordelia. Probably nothing, she realized, given how long Buffy had actually been back
“Cordelia?” Buffy asked in disbelief. “How did Head Cheerleader Cordelia end up part-demon?”
“Loooooooong story. I’ll tell you about it after we go to Godiva’s.”
“I so want to hear this one.”
Once they have finished clearing the table, the six of them headed over to the Godiva store where Giles purchased the promised box of chocolates for Fred. He also got a pint of ice cream for Buffy and a small box of truffles for Dawn. Connor got his chocolate bar. As they walked out of the store, Buffy immediately opened her ice cream to eat it, drawing looks from Giles and Dawn.
“Hey, gotta before it turns to soup.”
Giles, meanwhile, grinned when he saw Wes hand Connor the entire bar of chocolate they had purchased for him, knowing that the younger man would realize his mistake in a moment. He should have just broken the bar in half.
Just as expected, Connor took the bar and bolted, Wesley immediately running after him. Once Buffy and Fred caught up, he walked with them, Fred standing between he and Buffy. He just listened as they talked, already knowing about Cordelia having to become half demon in order to carry on receiving with the visions. It was a decision that couldn’t have been easy. And he respected her for it. But again, he believed Angel didn’t deserve her loyalty. He sighed softly, wondering what that loyalty would cost her.
Dawn ate a few of her truffles, listening with interest to the story of Cordelia. When Fred finished telling it, she opened her own box and held it out to Giles.
“Figured we could share,” she said.
Shaking his head and looking away, he smiled wryly and waited for Fred to reach for a truffle for herself. When she did, he captured her wrist in his strong hand. Lifting her hand to his lips, he closed them around the treat, allowing his tongue to brush her fingers as he drew the treat into his mouth.
Down the way, Wesley finally caught up to Connor with a laugh, amused at his own foolishness in how he had handled giving him the chocolate. Swinging the boy up in his arms, he smirked and looked into his eyes, which were hard to see past his unruly mane. He ran his fingers through the hair, brushing it away from his forehead as he inhaled the treat.
“First order of business, we get this cut.” Spotting a stylist across the way, he made his way over there, knowing the others would follow. As he stepped up to the desk, a young woman smiled at him.
“Good afternoon, sir, can we help you?” she asked, clearly wanting to offer Wesley something more than a haircut.
“Yes, my son needs a trim,” he explained.
“Want it like Daddy’s!” Connor said, his voice both excited and determined. The girl’s eyes lit up at both of them. “Daddy” was certainly a
hottie. Kid had good taste wanting to look like that.
“Well, aren’t you just the cutest!” she exclaimed. “We can give you a cut like your daddy’s. What’s your name, handsome?”
“Why don’t you and your daddy come over here, and we’ll see what we can do.”
Outside, Fred gasped a bit in surprise when Giles grabbed her hand and ate the truffle she was holding. The light touch of his tongue on her skin made her shudder a bit as well. Giles smiled smugly when he saw her brown eyes darken. Buffy and Dawn just looked at each other and rolled their eyes at the display. Looked like they were just going to have to get used to the fact that Giles was going to be a lot more demonstrative now.
When they moved over to look at something in one of the windows and give two-thirds of the lovebirds some room, Buffy pushed Dawn’s hand away when crept over to her ice cream container. “Nu uh – you have your own chocolate.”
Fred, meanwhile, looked up at Giles as he still held her wrist between them. A smile crossed her lips. “You know, if you wanted me to feed you, you could have just said.”
He chuckled. “Now where is the fun in that?” he asked, his voice carrying an innocent tone though they both knew better. Lifting her hand, he drew her fingers into his mouth once again, cleaning the melted chocolate off them. “Chocolate can have many uses, luv, but my favorite is to coat a body in it and clean it off with tongue and teeth. Save some of those truffles. I have plans for them, and you, later.” His own pupils dilating in arousal, he stepped closer and ducked his head, his mouth right next to her ear. Tracing the shell with his tongue, he whispered, “I adore your wanton need. Keep this in mind for when we get home. I want you naked, Fred. Lying on your back, long luscious legs open. This is where the chocolate comes into play. Sliding a truffle into your channel while Wesley and I take turns devouring the candy. You want that, luv?”
As if him sucking on the ends of her fingers weren’t enough, when he whispered that
in her ear, Fred felt herself go weak and that familiar ache spreading through her. God, Rupert knew exactly what to say to her, how to arouse her with simple words, with simple touches.
“Yes,” she whispered. The things they did to her. She could practically feel the sensations within her already.
A smile crossing his face at that, his arms tightening around her, he looked over her shoulder, green eyes narrowing when he saw Wesley sitting in a chair next to Connor. Two people, one male, one female, were eying their lover like he was a last meal. “Uh, Fred, we should probably get over there before those two abscond with what is ours.” He tipped his head toward the stylists shop.
However, the moment he mentioned getting over to the saloon, she looked over, her eyes widening at the sight of the women making eyes at Wesley while the man watched from a bit farther away though there was definitely no disguising the want in the way he was standing. Quickly, closing the box, Fred looked up at Giles with a determined expression in her eyes.
“No way we’re going to let them do that. We have chocolate to play with later.”
She could hear him chuckling under his breath as they walked into the hair saloon together. The man and woman didn’t even seem to notice them at first, they were so interested in Wesley.
Jace was fanning himself with a towel – God, Susan was a lucky bitch. Son or not, that piece of man flesh sitting at her station was a work of art with blue eyes that nearly made him cum in his shorts. He waved his hand when Susan looked his way. He glared, hating her for claiming that delicious customer before he could. He watched her pick up a spray bottle, and the little boy ducked.
“Daddy? What’s that?” Connor asked, eying the bottle suspiciously.
“It’s all right, Connor. It just sprays water. This nice lady needs to wet your hair before she cuts it. It’s safe, I promise,” Wesley told him, smiling softly when the boy seemed satisfied and sat still.
“Hey, there are my guys,” Fred said with a big smile, trying not to shoot death glares at the two stylists. Heading over to Wesley, she wrapped her arm around him and gave him a kiss.
Giles grinned, loving it when Fred got territorial over both of them. It gave him a warm feeling to know that such an amazing woman believed both of them were worth fighting for. He stood back, shooting the male stylist an amused glance. He supposed it might be age, and knowing both of his lovers as well as he did, but the pair of stylists open admiration of Wesley made him smile. Any fool with eyes could see that the man was beautiful, but what made him even more so was his obliviousness to his own allure. Leaning his hip against the counter, he folded his arms over his chest, just enjoying the show.
Wesley had felt the demand in Fred’s lips when she kissed him. She was in territorial mode, and it was more than just the girl cutting Connor’s hair. Looking around, he noticed a man standing across the shop, looking at him hungrily. Not far from him, Wesley observed his other lover, wearing an amused expression. Getting up from the chair and walking over to Giles, he leaned forward and kissed him deeply. Rupert might enjoy having fans, but Wesley wanted to make it clear. He was devoted to his lovers and wasn’t interested in fending off unwanted advances. He smiled when the other man reached up and ran his thumb over his lower lip.
Fred almost burst out laughing at the way the faces of the stylists fell in succession. First, the woman’s when she and Wesley kissed. Then, the man’s when Wesley kissed Rupert. Both of them almost seemed to have blinking lights
over them with the words “lucky bitch”.
Of course, she definitely had to agree with that. They were definitely lucky.
Acting oblivious to the stylists’ upset, she looked over at Connor as the woman spritzed his hair with the spray bottle a times, the sound almost a punctuation of her disappointment. “You ready to get your hair cut like Daddy there, Connor?”
“YES! Like Daddy’s, mommy!” Connor replied, excitedly.
“I think we may have created a monster,” Giles teased Wesley softly, looking over at the small boy bouncing in his chair. “Good choice, young man!” he added loudly.
Crossing over to both of them, Fred leaned against Wesley and casually wound her arm around Rupert, grinning as Connor contined to bounce up and down excitedly in the chair.
“Sweetie, you need to stay still for the stylist. If you move too much, she won’t be able to cut your hair right.”
“‘Kay!” Connor stopped moving and looked up at the woman, waiting for her to make his hair look like Daddy’s. “I’m ready now.”
He was ready up until the moment she picked up the silver weapon and held it over him.
“It’s all right, Connor,” Giles said softly when he saw the panic in the boy’s eyes at the sight of the scissors. “Those are called scissors, and the nice lady is going to use those to cut your hair.” He saw the little boy nod, trusting him to not steer him wrong. “It won’t hurt at all as long as you hold still.”
It actually didn’t take long for the woman to finish the initial haircut, the overhang falling away quickly to reveal the boy’s face. They were becoming so accustomed to treating Connor as Wesley and Fred’s son, it didn’t occur to Giles that the blue eyes staring back in the excited face were Darla’s, not Wesley’s.
Wesley tensed, however, when he saw the woman withdraw the clippers from the drawer. Since the scissors had bothered Connor, he suspected the small device might cause a bit more of a problem. Sure enough, as soon as she turned them on, Connor turned abruptly, trying to curl himself back into the chair.
“No!” he yelped, eyeing the clippers as if they were a demon.
“Connor, it’s all right, son. This won’t hurt you. It’s to clean the excess hair off of your neck,” Wesley explained before looking over at the girl. “May I?” Taking the clippers from her hand gently, he held it on his own neck to show him there was no pain. “See? Doesn’t hurt. As a matter of fact, it rather tickles. Turn around, I’ll show you.” Placing a hand on the top of the boy’s head, he tilted it forward, as he passed the clippers back to the stylist. “Now close your eyes, son. Just a few more minutes and you’ll be all done.” Once he saw the little boy’s eyes slip closed, he looked at the woman and nodded for her to go ahead.
Fred smiled at Wesley’s ingenuity in dealing with the problem. Connor didn’t even notice that his father didn’t have the clippers anymore. The stylist worked fast, getting rid of the hair on the back of his little neck, and soon enough, he was done.
“Finished,” the young woman said.
Connor opened his eyes and looked up. “Do I look like Daddy now?”
“Yes, you do,” Fred said, stepping forward to help him down of the chair once the stylist had taken off the protective bib and towel she had draped around him. Standing there, the two of them, they really did look like they could be father and son, all spiky dark hair and blue eyes. “Just like him.”
She smiled at both Rupert and Wesley as she took Connor’s hand. “I’ve definitely got the three handsomest guys in the state.”
Once they paid for the haircut, the four of them exited the saloon to find Dawn and Buffy sitting on one of the benches in the middle of the walkway.
“Show over?” Buffy said, finishing off her ice cream and tossing the carton away. “We would have come in but decided to avoid the smoochies.”
Giles laughed at Buffy’s comment. “There was only a small one. A couple of the stylists were looking at Wesley like they wanted to devour him. Fred took exception and staked her claim.”
“I didn’t stake anything. I was just making sure they knew it was already ours,” she responded with a grin.
“This is your fault, you know. Both of you,” Wes countered. “You insisted on the haircut, the jeans...” He arched an eyebrow in amusement, almost daring Giles to counter him. He stood still while the other man approached him, brushing nimble fingers through his spiky hair.
“We just dressed up the package, luv. What’s inside is your
fault,” he teased, catching Buffy and Dawn squirming out of the corner of eye. He bit back a laugh, the blush coloring Wesley’s face drawing his attention back away from the Summers women.
“I feel so objectified,” Wesley replied, rolling his eyes. He looked at his lovers, his blue eyes lit with amusement.
“Buffy, look!” Connor called out, pulling free of his mother’s grasp and running up to the slayer. “Look like Daddy!” Giggling, he bounced on the balls of his feet.
She looked down at him, almost laughing at how excited the little boy was about his haircut. He certainly did almost look like a mini-version of Wes – the stylist had done a great job.
“You look great. Very daddy-like,” Buffy told him. She stopped for a moment at what she had said, not sure that had been the best way to put it, but Connor seemed happy enough. Reaching down, she ruffled his hair a bit, causing him to giggle and duck away, running behind his mother’s legs.
“Watch it, Buffy – I think you have an admirer,” Dawn said in a teasing tone.
Buffy looked at her sister with wide eyes. “He’s only four. He’s just excited.”
“Yeah, yeah. Sure.”
Twisting around, Fred took Connor’s hand again. With his other one, he grabbed Wesley’s. “Clothes now? I think I saw a Kids ‘R’ Us when we came in earlier.”
As they started toward the other end of the mall, Wesley felt a warmth surround his heart when the little hand slipped into his. He had been a little concerned that Connor might be bothering Buffy a little but relaxed when he saw her smile warmly. The boy seemed attached to her, which in itself made him feel better. She had been through so much, not only as a Slayer but in also being ripped from heaven. Connor’s “pestering” was being accepted for what it was, though – innocence and curiosity. And it seemed to put the girl at ease, which was something she desperately needed.
“Buffy, would you and Dawn like to pick out an outfit for Connor?” he asked, his lips turning up into a smirk. “Since those two over there seem to think I am incapable of dressing myself, perhaps it would be better if I pass off the dressing of my son to someone more qualified,” he added with a mock hurt tone, biting back a laugh when Giles rolled his eyes.
“We don’t think you incapable of dressing yourself, but letting Buffy and Dawn choose his clothes might not be a bad idea. Connor is liable to get thrashed in pre-school if he’s wearing three-piece Italian suits or khaki slacks and button downs,” he teased. He didn’t notice the face Dawn made, not realizing that he should have quit while he was ahead – especially in the company of the three women that knew him best.
“Ummmm...Giles? Just how long has Buffy wanted to burn that ugly grey sweater of yours?” Dawn asked in a completely innocent tone. She barked a laugh when Giles blushed profusely. She loved him like a father, but this time, he had been out of line.
Fred found herself trying not to giggle at the look on Rupert’s face. Glancing over at Buffy, she arched her eyebrows. “Grey sweater?”
“Oh, believe me, burning that sweater would be a gift to humanity,” the younger woman said with a completely straight face.
“That grey sweater happens to be very comfortable,” Giles harrumphed, causing Wes to chuckle and think that his lover was adorable when he pouted.
“Well, I like the dress sense of everyone here, so it’d be nice to have everyone’s help in choosing clothes. That way, Connor’ll get a nice assortment.” Fred looked down at the little boy. “What do you think? Would you like everyone to help pick out some new clothes for you?”
Connor nodded. “C’mon! Let’s go!”
As they entered the store, Giles surveyed the many racks laid out before them. Connor was going to be the best dressed four-year-old in Sunnydale. Thinking of the wear on his wallet, however, he groaned inwardly. “Everyone just remember, he’s still growing. So try and pick a few things with a little room,” he reminded the others. He didn’t want to be back here in two weeks to buy more clothes.
Further in among the clothing racks, Wesley found his gaze moving toward the swim trunks. It was nearly April, so Connor would need one or two pairs for the coming summer. Heading over toward the nearest display, he drew a pair of dark blue Billabong surfer shorts off a hanger and stooped down. “Connor, come here, son,” he instructed, holding the shorts in front of his hips. “How about these?”
“Oh, those are adorable,” Fred said with a grin, feeling all motherly at the sight. She looked over at the others and saw that Buffy and Dawn also approved. So the surfer shorts were the first thing to go into Connor’s shopping cart.
Connor jumped excitedly at all the fuss being made about him as everyone started looking through the racks for clothes for him. Buffy was eyeing everything critically – she didn’t want to pick out just any old thing for this little boy. She wanted something really nice. Dawn, meanwhile, was giggling over some of the cartoony shirts, and Fred was absolutely amazed by the selection that there was for kids. She couldn’t remember any of this sort of stuff being available when her mother used to take her shopping for clothes as a kid.
As she looked through one of the racks, she saw something that caught her eye and pulled it out, almost squealing with delight. It was a little leather jacket. She knew both Giles and Wesley had jackets of their own, and the sight of this one in miniature was just too good for her to pass up.
“Connor, come here for a moment,” she said, kneeling down and taking the coat off the hanger to slip on him.
Wes and Giles’ eyes met over the racks with a smile. They knew why Fred had picked that particular item for Connor. Giles squatted down behind Connor, putting large hands on thin shoulders. “You know, your daddy and I have jackets just like this,” he chuckled when Connor practically beamed.
“Mommy, we gotta get this!” Connor looked up at his mother, his blue eyes shining in excitement.
She nodded in agreement. “Oh, we’re so very definitely getting this for you.”
Wesley came over from the other racks, depositing a few pairs of jeans, and slacks into the basket. “We should probably get some summer attire for him as well. Connor, how about we put your mum in charge of footwear?” he suggested, figuring it might be easier to help keep the boy coralled. “Then we can go pick out your bedroom set. Given that we’re unlikely to get Connor away from the toy store, why don’t we save that for last.”
“Footwear?” Connor asked, looking back and forth between his parents and Giles.
“Shoes, sweetie,” Fred told him as she lifted up his foot. “Like these.”
“Oohhh! Can we get more that do what these do?” He bounced up and down a few times to show what he meant, causing Fred to laugh as she caught him in her arms and extracted him from the jacket, which she handed to Wesley to put in the basket.
“We’ll have to see what’s available first. C’mon. Let’s go look.” She smiled at the two men as Connor led her away.
Buffy, meanwhile, pulled out a small suit jacket and couldn’t help but laugh, thinking about how much he would look like a mini-Watcher Wesley in it. Of course, Wesley didn’t look anything like that now. It was quite a change. She put it back. No...she would keep looking.
Dawn grinned to hearself as she pulled a few more pairs of shorts into her arms. She had at least ten shirts, and half as many pairs of shorts. She was starting to see little Connor kind of as a surrogate little brother. And if she had anything to say about it, he would be the most stylish little boy in Sunnydale, even in his summer clothes. Dumping the clothes in the basket, she went back to the shorts racks to pick out a few more.
Wes was at the underwear racks nearby and pulled out four or five bags of boxers. The ones he picked up at Wal-Mart seemed to fit him well enough, so he went with the same size, leaving Rupert to grab socks.
“How are you doing over there, Buffy? Almost done?” he asked, smiling up at the slayer before dumping the bags into the cart.
“Just a...” she said, flipping through a rack of shirts, “min—a ha!” With flourish, she pulled out a little dark blue formal shirt and held it up with a pair of black trousers. The blue was the perfect color for the little boy’s eyes, and she knew he would be a total heartbreaker wearing the outfit. Especially if they got him a tiny pair of black shoes to go with it. “Simple yet stylish. My contribution to the ‘Making Connor Look Good’ fund.”
“Is that for me?” Connor asked as he and Fred wound their way back to where the others were standing, Fred holding several boxes of shoes in her arms.
Turning around, Buffy nodded. “Yep. Just for you. You’ll be the best-looking guy on the block.” She glanced over her shoulder at the two men behind her. “Present company excluded, of course.”
“It’s a great choice,” Fred said with a wide grin, knowing that her little boy would look wonderful in the outfit. She indicated the shoe boxes in her arms. “Guess it’s a good thing we found him a pair of black dress shoes. Also got him another pair of sneakers and a pair of rainboots.”
Giles smiled looking at his family. It was a family, whether it be his heart-heavy Slayer and her sister or his lovers and their child. Six people who all wanted the same thing – to make each other happy, and to be happy themselves. I hope this meets with your approval, Joyce,
he thought to himself. He had meant what he said at the house. He believed Joyce Summers would have adored the fact that her home housed a family once again, especially knowing her daughters were in the center of that family.
It didn’t take long for them to get everything rung up and paid for with him and Wesley carrying the bulk of the bags while the ladies kept Connor nearby. During a quick stop at the furniture store, Wesley picked out a bedroom set with a car bed. Giles could tell the decision was made because of the way the little boy’s eyes lit up when he saw it. Wes added a rather large toy box and a stepstool Connor could use in the bathroom. After adding shelves, Giles arranged to have the things delivered to Rovello Drive on Monday morning.
“All right, last stop....toy store,” Giles announced softly, biting back the groan as he saw four pairs of eyes practically dance with excitement. He followed the excited group quietly, knowing he was in trouble the moment they stepped into the store.
“WOOOOOOOOOOW! Daddy, look
!” Connor exclaimed, excitedly pointing everywhere. Giles sighed when he heard the other customers by the door chuckle at the little boy’s enthusiasm.
Fred, however, just laughed then looked around the store in amazement, at the computerized toys and the stuffed animals and everything else that was on display. Connor hurried over to the nearest display, grabbing a soft ball off the shelf and looking at it for a moment. Then he looked down the aisle, and before they knew it, the ball was hurtling through the air, hitting a stuffed lion at the end.
“Wow. Great shot,” Buffy said. “I don’t even think I can hit something like that.”
Raising her eyebrows, Fred took another ball and gave it Connor. “Can you hit that again, baby?”
Connor took the ball and threw it again, knocking the lion’s head in almost exactly the same place. “Oooh...can I have some of those?” he asked, pointing at the balls remaining.
Fred looked over at Wesley and Giles. “Well, at least they’re soft.”
Wesley had watched in amazement as Connor’s aim was true twice in a row. He was starting to realize that he had undoubtedly inherited some of his father’s abilities and turned his head to meet Giles’ concerned gaze. They knew if that were the case, they would have to make allowances for those abilities. Reaching down, he picked up another nerf ball and pressed it into Connor’s hand.
“Son,” he whispered, “I want you to do something for me.”
“Okay, Daddy, what?” Connor whispered back, and Wes resisted the urge to smile.
“We’re going to do a little hunt. I want you to sneak up on Buffy and hit her right between the shoulders with this,” he instructed, still keeping his voice low enough for only Connor to hear. He wanted to see if even at four, Connor could sneak up on a Slayer virtually undetected.
“Dawn, why don’t you and Buffy choose a couple of games for us to keep at the house,” Giles suggested, suspecting what Wesley was up to when he noticed Connor move off from their group.
Buffy smiled and nodded and headed with Dawn to the game aisle. Noticing Connor sneaking off, Fred turned to Wesley with a questioning glance.
“Just what are you two up to?” she asked.
In the game aisle, Buffy searched through what was available, trying to find something that looked like fun. She found Candyland but wondered if that might be too babyish even for Connor. Even though he was still little, he seemed to be smart for his years and would probably be bored to tears with it in just a little while.
“How about this?” Dawn said, holding up Chutes and Ladders.
“That for you or for Connor?” Buffy asked.
“I like Chutes and Ladders. I used to beat you all the time.”
“All about luck, Dawnie.”
As they argued over whether luck or skill had allowed Dawn to ever beat her sister in games, Connor snuck around silently, the soft ball gripped in his hand. He smiled mischievously when he moved around behind Buffy. His blue eyes narrowed as he aimed for the exact spot his father instructed. Then he let the ball fly and started giggling when he heard the solid impact of the ball.
Gasping when suddenly felt something hit her squarely in her back, she jumped and spun around. “What the...?!”
Clutching his stomach, Connor felt the giggles claim his little body. “Daddy was right!” he gasped out.
Walking up the aisle, Wes looked up sheepishly. “Sorry Buffy, I wanted to see if he could sneak up on you. Connor is presenting with some abilities he seemed to have picked up in his time on Quor’Toth. There may come a time when we need your particular brand of help to gauge exactly to what extent he has been altered,” he explained, letting her know it was her Slayer abilities they may need to fully understand things with the little boy, especially as he got older and stronger.
Buffy reached up to rub her upper back and nodded, impressed by the fact that Connor had managed to sneak up on her without her hearing. Usually, she heard everything, even if said thing trying to sneak up on her didn’t breath. Instead, there were usually footsteps or other tell-tale sounds she would pick up.
Connor had none of those. She had never run across that before.
“Well, wherever he got them from, he’s a talented shot. Good job, Connor.”
The little boy grinned widely, obviously quite pleased with himself. “Mommy, I got Buffy!”
“I saw,” Fred said, understanding now what Wesley had been doing by asking him to do that. Connor has obviously picked up certain traits from his parents – they would have to watch that, see how far they developed. She looked over to the younger woman in concern, noticing her arm bent back to press her hand against where she had been hit. “He didn’t hit you too hard did he?”
“Nah, just a slight sting. More unexpected than anything. I’ll be fine.”
Giles allowed the corners of his lips to pull up into a small smile at the sound of the boy still giggling with pride. One really couldn’t help it, Connor’s happiness was contagious. Reaching over to the shelves, he pulled down a copy of Chutes and Ladders and dropped it into the basket. He saw Wes add Monopoly and smiled. Leave it to Wes to think of something they all could play.
“Why don’t the rest of you each choose a game,” he suggested before going back to the door and grabbing another cart. He turned, suprised to find Wes standing at his elbow.
“I know you know why I did what I did,” the younger man mentioned, his voice soft but full of obvious concern.
“I do. And I think you handled it brilliantly. Buffy’s help in this will be absolutely necessary.” Giles started down the aisle with the sporting goods. “Wesley, as long as we raise him to respect his abilities, he should be fine,” he assured him while tossing various items in the cart.
Looking at what the other man was buying, Wesley chuckled. “Perhaps we should consider buying stock in Nerf?” he teased.
“I thought it might be wise to stick to the softer toys given what we just saw,” Giles smirked. “How about this?” He picked up the box with the nerf crossbow on it and turned to show it to Wes.
“Fred will love that,” he grinned.
“I think we have enough here, so I’ll head to the checkout if you can round up the ladies and our little hunter,” the older man suggested before making his way to the queue while Wesley headed the other direction.
Up at the front, Giles considered the wisdom of getting a game system. It would be fun for Connor and Dawn, but they ran the risk of never getting rid of Spike and Xander. Oh well. “I’ll take the Playstation 2,” he told the cashier. “And the five newest games.”
Back in the game aisle, everyone was still looking through the stacks for something they liked. Dawn finally found a Harry Potter game, which she pulled out and held up.
“Hey, Connor! What do you think?”
“Harry!” he cried with pleasure, jumping up and down.
“I think I know what you two are going to be playing every chance you get,” Fred noted with a laugh as she continued looking.
There were so many new games, ones she had never heard of before. She wanted to find something that she knew, but she had noticed Wesley and Giles had picked the two she had thought of first. Then suddenly, she grinned and pulled out Simpsons Operation.
“Aha!” Different from the one she had played as a kid, but good enough. She walked over to Buffy. “Hey, find anything?”
“I’m not sure. I’m thinking Trivial Pursuit? Not so trivial with you and Wes and Giles around. You’d clean the floors with us. And Trouble would be just that since at least one of us would have to sit out everytime...oh! Here!” She pulled Pictionary off the shelf.
Buffy grinned and as they turned to walk down the aisle, she looked at the game then over at the other woman. “Hey, Fred?”
“Thanks...for making Giles so happy. You and Wesley. I haven’t seen him this way in a long time.”
Fred blushed a bit and reached up to tuck her hair behind her ear. “I...I think this has been good for all of us, actually. You, Dawn, Giles, Wesley, Me, Connor. After everything that’s happened to all of us, for once we have something good.”
Buffy nodded. “Yeah. Something very good. Something family.”
They smiled at each other as Wesley appeared at the end of the aisle and motioned at them that they were waiting, so they snagged Dawn and Connor and headed to join Giles at check-out where they added their game choices to the basket.
“Ohhh!! A Playstation!” Dawn crowed with excitement.
“Which you may may play when your homework is finished and not before,” Giles replied pointedly. He knew it was something the girl had wanted for some time, but he would not allow her to let the system harm her education.
Wesley, meanwhile, picked up the nerf crossbow from the cart, turning it to show the others. “I think Rupert believes Connor should learn with this first,” he teased.
Fred grinned broadly at the sight of the crossbow and looked down at Connor, who was craning his neck to try to see what his daddy was holding up. “I learned on something like that when I first met your father. I’m sure you’re going to be very good with that.” It was a good idea – less chance of injuries if he learned to fire a nerf crossbow first. Although there was still likely to be things knocked over.
When Giles recieved the total, and everything was bagged, he handed over his credit card, passing some of the bags out to everyone, leaving Fred free to deal with Connor. He and Wesley had the bulk of the packages.
“There should be some
room in the boot of the tramp. We can put the rest in the jeep,” he suggested, breathing a sigh of relief. They were finally done, and could escape. “Everyone ready?”
They all nodded though Connor couldn’t do much but stare at all the bags the others held. He seemed overwhelmed with everything that he was getting after not having much for so long. Fred just hoped they weren’t overdoing it though it was nice to be able to give him things, let him have some normalcy in life. As they went out to the car, she picked him up and held him close.
“You okay, little guy?”
He nodded. “Is all that stuff really for me?”
“Most of it. But you’ll have to share with the rest of us, too. Especially the games. We all want to play with you.”
“Yes,” she told him, realizing that he had never played with anyone before, most certainly not with Holtz. She hoped that he would be able to share. If not, they would show him how.*****