elgrey: Artwork by Suzan Lovett (PoorBaby)
[personal profile] elgrey
Other parts can be found here:

Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six, Part Seven, Part Eight, Part Nine, Part Ten, Part Eleven, Part Twelve, Part Thirteen, Part Fourteen, Part Fifteen, Part Sixteen, final part


New All Over, Part One

Training had been so much more fun when it had been with Giles. She really hadn’t ever appreciated enough how unannoying Giles was by comparison with...other people. Buffy gritted her teeth as Wesley continued to breathlessly pontificate at her in between telling her to improve her muscle tone and kick height. This from a guy who had tottered out of yesterday’s training session with Faith looking as if he was going to need an adrenaline shot. One would have thought that after completely falling apart when being questioned by the first demon who captured him and then screwing up over Faith that he might have been a little less inclined to tell people who had been successfully guarding the Hellmouth for years how it was done and a little more inclined to – well…shut up!

Her anger spiked and she lashed out harder than usual, her heel catching him hard in the ribcage. As he doubled over, she told herself that any vampires he encountered weren’t going to be pulling their punches, but as his left knee buckled and he went down gasping, falling onto his hands and knees and making a whimpering sound, she did grimace.

“Are you okay?” she asked.

He gasped for breath for a moment and then looked up at her, his left hand clasped to his side; his gaze for a moment wasn’t pompous or cocksure, but hurt and shocked.

She winced and held out a hand. “I’m sorry – I didn’t mean to… Are you okay?”

The apology seemed to have reassured him that she hadn’t done it on purpose and he nodded. “Just need to – catch my breath. But – that’s what I mean about accuracy, Buffy. You need to make sure you are directing your undoubted strength efficiently.”

She caught him by the wrist and yanked him to his feet, making him hiss and whimper again. She tried not to roll her eyes, but he was such a wuss compared with Giles.

“I know. Preparation, preparation, preparation, right?”

He sighed. “I know you don’t.... I know you think.... I do think you’ve been a little unfair, Buffy. I didn’t ask to be sent here.”

Buffy put her head on one side. “Why does that strike me as unlikely? Why do I have an image in my head right now of you sitting behind a little desk, waving your hand in the air, and saying ‘Oh please, sir, pick me, pick me!’?”

Wesley gave her one of his patented snooty Watcher looks. “It doesn’t exactly work like that, Buffy. One is put on the active Watchers list and then assigned to either a potential or an active Slayer as and when the Council deems one fit for the task. They sent me here because Rupert Giles had proven himself unsuitable and….”

Buffy loomed at him as much as she was capable of looming at a guy a foot taller than her. It seemed to work pretty well as he took an immediate step backwards.

“Giles is the best Watcher your stupid Council has ever had,” she told him shortly.

“My ‘stupid Council’ has been helping Slayers to – ”

“To do what exactly…? ‘The Watchers’ Council – helping Slayers to die young since sixteen eighty-six’. Do you have it on a plaque somewhere?”

Wesley opened his mouth to say something prissy and pompous and then just sighed and shrugged. “Fine, take it out on me because Giles got himself fired. I’m sure it’s easier than blaming him for not following the rules.”

“What we do here isn’t about rules, Wesley,” she told him shortly. “I don’t care what the Council thinks matters. A Watcher is only as much use to a Slayer as she trusts him. And in the case of Giles I trust him with my life. That’s what a Watcher has to earn. It doesn’t just get handed to him because he turns up in a nice suit saying that the Council have decided he’s going to be their representative now. He has to prove himself. The difference between you and Giles isn’t that he got fired and you got chosen to replace him. The important difference is that I trust him to make the right decision to keep me alive. You haven’t earned that yet.” As she walked out she thought angrily And if you don’t cash that reality check sometime soon you’re never going to earn it either.


She suspected that her lecturing of him in the training room was the real reason why Wesley chose to be extra snooty to Giles in the library. She personally thought that if he had seen Ripper unleashed upon Ethan as she had done, not to mention met ticking time bomb-rebel without a cause teenage Giles that he would have kept his prissy little mouth shut – and probably gone and hidden under a table somewhere.

“Are you honestly telling me that you are now proposing to confiscate my mail?” Giles was demanding as Buffy walked in.

Wesley was holding a padded envelope while wearing one of his most annoying Junior Watcher expressions. “As I have endeavoured to point out, this isn’t addressed to your home as would be post specifically intended for you as a private individual. It is sent to your place of work and it mentions not your ‘cover’ occupation but your actual occupation: ‘Rupert Giles, Watcher, the Library, Sunnydale High, Sunnydale et cetera....’ Clearly this package is not intended for you but for whomsoever happens to be the active Watcher for the active Slayer and that means its true recipient should be me.”

Giles narrowed his flinty green eyes. “Wesley, you may have the blessing of the Council but I know the location of every graveyard in this town, and I promise you it could be a very long time before they found your corpse....”

Wesley backed up uneasily, giving a sickly attempt at a smile. “Ah yes, threats.... Very droll. I’ll be sure to notify you if this package contains anything of significance.” And then he was gone at a speed that could just about be classified as dignified withdrawal, although Buffy thought it had more a hint of ‘running for the hills’ about it.

“By the way, if we’re voting, I’m all over the ‘let’s murder Wesley and bury him somewhere quiet’ idea,” she observed conversationally.

Giles poured himself a cup of tea in some irritation. “Can we just take it as read that I answered that with something suitably reproving?”

“We can,” Buffy assured him.

“Although I have to say he really is the most pompous, irritating little…” Giles broke off as Xander and Willow came into the library.

“If you’re bitching about Wesley, please don’t stop on my account,” Xander observed.

Willow gave Buffy a rueful look. “Cordelia and Wesley are making sheep’s eyes at each other in the corridor again.”

“Can anyone tell me what she sees in that guy?” Xander demanded. “I mean is there anyone who has ever met Wesley, ever, who doesn’t think he’s gay, except for Cordelia? And I’m sorry, Giles, no offence, but the accent is annoying. The clothes – also annoying. Who needs to wear six layers of clothing in California? Except for anal tweed-diapered Watcherpeople…?”


Buffy lingered after lessons to see how Giles was doing. “I could go round to Wesley’s, beat him up and steal your parcel back, if you like?” she offered.

Giles looked amused and then reproving. “Buffy, in light of what Faith did recently perhaps we should be a little more aware of how dangerous your strength could be. And besides – you wouldn’t need to beat him up, just threaten him a little.”

She grinned back. “Scout’s honour, I would only frighten him.”

Giles waved a dismissive hand. “Oh let him have it. If it’s interesting enough perhaps it will keep him out of my hair for a few days and we can get on with the important things. Call me if you come across anything on patrol tonight.”

“Would that be at your home or here? Oh wait – you have no life. It will be here.”

He gave her a lofty look. “I’ll have you know I have a very full and exciting life.”

“Who doesn’t find cross-referencing a pulse racer…?”

“Well, quite.” He waved a hand at the exit. “Off you go.”

For all people’s comments about cross-referencing, Giles had to admit that he did find it fascinating. The school emptied at last, day became evening and everything was peaceful. He was working very happily on references to the ‘ascension’ when there was a tap on the door and an all-too-familiar voice said: “Happy Anniversary, Ripper....”

He looked up to see Ethan carrying a bottle of red wine, two glasses, and a long-stemmed rose. Bizarrely, despite having just said his name, Ethan did a violent double take at the sight of him.

“You....” Giles rose to his feet.

“Ah....” Ethan grimaced. “Damn it, Ripper. You never could just cooperate, could you?”

Giles ran at him and then Ethan was dodging and Giles realized he was weaponless just before what appeared to be a very good bottle of Bordeaux cracked him on the head. As he hit the ground he thought: Of course, the parcel and then...Wesley! Then everything went dark.

***

Buffy found Giles groaning on the library floor as she arrived at school. He was lying in a pool of what she had first thought was blood but which had turned out to be red wine. He had mumbled something at her in which the words: ‘Ethan’ and ‘Wesley’ had at first made her mind go to a scary place before she had understood what he was telling her.

On their way to Wesley’s apartment, with a still very grumpy and she suspected slightly concussed Giles, Buffy did feel a little anxious, but she was also quite curious to see what Ethan had had in mind this time. It seemed pretty clear that he had sent the parcel to Giles to work its magic and then had intended to call on him in his changed state. Giles had been a little sheepish about the wine and glasses, and when Buffy had pointed out that that sounded pretty much like Ethan had been expecting a...date, Giles had given her one of his patent pending Watcher glares and she had decided they had probably better not talk about that aspect of it any more.

The point, as Giles had gritted out, in between dabbing at the lump on the back of his head, and picking up his car keys, was that Ethan had clearly sent the package, and, as it had been intercepted by Wesley, there was a good chance that it had had the same effect upon him as Ethan had intended it to have upon Giles.

As it hadn’t happened to Giles, whatever it was, Buffy had to admit that as well as being a little concerned for Wesley she was also a lot curious. So far Ethan’s little tricks had been…bothersome, but not actually all out evil. Turning them into their Halloween costumes and making people regress to teenage behaviour had probably been a lot of fun for him but it hadn’t felt as if he wanted to kill Giles on either occasion, just annoy and inconvenience him, and if that were the case, she couldn’t say she was exactly broken-hearted about the prospect of Wesley being annoyed or inconvenienced. And she would certainly much rather it was him than Giles. Giles, however, did look concerned. As they walked up the stairs to Wesley’s apartment, Giles was frowning.

“It may be on his own head but I’m not at all happy at the prospect of Wesley having visited upon him something that Ethan intended for me. Irritating though Wesley is, he doesn’t deserve Ethan’s idea of a prank.”

“He’s the one who insisted on stealing your mail,” Buffy pointed out. “He’s the one who insists on telling you ten times a day that he’s the Watcher now, not you. So, forgive me for thinking a little ‘serves him right’ if he’s now having to wear a dress or walk on his hands or whatever.”

“Given the boarding school he attended, I imagine he’s had to do both of those things in the past.” Giles frowned. “But – Ethan can be truly nasty.”

“I remember him trying to turn me into Eyghon chowder in his place.”

“Well – quite. Wesley’s lack of experience in the field may be frustrating but it’s also just a fact that someone like Ethan could be a horrible shock to his system.”

“Are we sure his system doesn’t need a little shocking?” Buffy countered.

Giles grimaced. “I think Ethan may be a shock too far for a Wyndam-Pryce. I suspect there are nuns in closed orders who have seen more of the world than Wesley has.”

“Isn’t that up to him?”

Giles sighed and took off his glasses to clean them. “Not really. I gather that he was told he was going to be a Watcher from early childhood, never given any choice in the matter, and told to put his head down and work hard to achieve that aim. I think that’s why he finds your outlook a little…bewildering. He assumed you would have the same attitude as him.”

“Well, excuse me for not being stuffy and pompous.”

Giles smiled at her fondly. “I think his imaginary Slayer was a lot more like Kendra.”

Buffy thought of the other girl and winced. “Was yours…?”

“Well....” Giles grimaced. “That is rather how we’re told Slayers are. Girls born to their calling, who live and breathe vampire slaying. I think you…bewilder and frighten him. He doesn’t understand why you haven’t read the Slayers’ Handbook, why you should want to have any other kind of life, or why I haven’t impressed upon you that life is real and earnest and dangerous.”

“Because we know it is. We live it.”

Giles nodded. “Exactly. But Wesley hasn’t been in the field long enough to know that yet.”

“He’s just so annoying.”

“He is very young, Buffy. This business with Ethan has really put things into a little more perspective for me. Wesley really hasn’t had a life as yet.”

“I know that, but don’t you think he should listen to the people who have? The people who have been doing this job for the past few years while he’s been…doing whatever really stuffy pompous people in England do?”

“That would have been nice. But I think his heart’s in the right place. He’s a different person with Cordelia.”

“Yes, incoherent and embarrassing.”

“They were in the library yesterday - she asked him for some help with her homework, and, although I think he did understand it was actually her way of flirting with him, Wesley did help her with her homework and he got…very interested in the whole project.” Giles thought about the boy Wesley had appeared to become in front of him then; Giles pretending to be busy with the books while keeping an eye on the two of them so as to prevent Wesley making a total tit of himself, if that was at all possible, for Cordelia’s sake as much as his, and had been surprised by the way the same person who couldn’t seem to communicate with Buffy or Faith without putting their backs up, could show Cordelia the possibilities in her project.

“You were saying you were more interested in the fashions of that era than the social history, Cordelia? But if you think about it the two were really connected. To understand the fashions of that time you have to understand the strict social hierarchy in place and also the place of women in society. Whalebone corsets are not symptomatic of a society that allows its women to be free and unrestricted in thought, mind or deed.” Wesley turned through the pages, finding a reference for her. “Here, this is a description of what it felt like to wear one of them. Women were dealing with constantly restricted breath. That’s why there was so much fainting. They would also have been in considerable pain.” He looked down at her shoes. “I don’t know anything at all about women’s fashions but I gather those shoes of yours are fashionable, yes?”

She smiled at him when anyone else would probably have died for that remark. “Well, duh.”

He smiled back, only fluttering a little. “Are they comfortable?”

“What does that have to do with anything?” Said with another smile that showed she entirely got his point.

He nodded his head. “Well, there you are. You think the pain is worth it. So did those women. But with them it was to do with a need to conform to society’s expectations of them as much as personal preference. I suppose what this project is asking you to decide is if your fashion decisions are made because of peer pressure or individual choice. Do you wear shoes that hurt your feet because of the pleasure you get in looking at them, or because of the reaction other people might have to seeing you wearing them?”

Giles had to concede, if only privately, that Wesley had managed to deal with Cordelia’s project tactfully and without making her feel that her assignation was some kind of comment on her perceived shallowness. He had also given her some pointers that might make her do a much better job than she would otherwise have done. Giles certainly knew he would not have taken the hour Wesley had just done to help her understand what was required of her.

Cordelia pointed one elegant foot to show off her shapely ankle. “Well, what reaction do you have to seeing me wearing them?”

Wesley swallowed hard, adjusting his tie, flushed, and then looked at her shoe. There was a pause before he said, “Honestly…? I’m now worried they may be hurting your feet.”

Cordelia’s smile was unexpected and looked more genuine than any expression Giles had seen cross her face since her break up with Xander. “No pain, no gain, Wesley.”

Wesley averted his eyes. “I’m sure someone who liked you, would like you in trainers.”

“But that comes after. First you have to get them to like you, and no one likes a girl in trainers.”

Wesley looked at her and then back at the project. “Perhaps you should concentrate in your project on whether or not things have really changed for women? Are they still turning themselves into…male constructs through fashion, or are they in fact only dressing for each other – sort of signals of rank and hierarchical standing.” He still looked flushed and breathless when gazing at her but Giles had to admit that if one overlooked his ridiculous fluttering over – presumably – the first pretty girl to ever pay him any attention, he was talking some sense. After another pause he looked back at Cordelia, eyes kind and concerned. “And, given the nature of the Hellmouth, wouldn’t trainers be…safer? I’d hate you to get captured by a vampire because you were a slave to your…who does make those shoes?”

Cordelia kicked off one shoe and held it up, the heel pointing at Wesley who flinched. “Good for close combat.”

He examined the shoe heel closely. “Are they made of wood?”

And then Xander and Willow had come in, and Cordelia had hastily replaced her shoe and Wesley had sprung to his feet and looked guilty, and said something pompous, and Xander had sneered at him, and he had fallen back and darted a look at Cordelia who had collected up her work, said something withering to Xander, and left.

“Giles…?”

Giles collected himself as Buffy recalled him to the present. She waved a hand in front of his face. “You sort of drifted off there.”

“I was just thinking of the way Wesley was with Cordelia.”

“Embarrassing and annoying?”

“No…well, yes, that too, but he seems to do better…without witnesses.”

Buffy raised an eyebrow. “So, you’re saying if we just shut him in a room by himself he’d be all useful, sensible, non-annoying guy.”

Giles frowned. “I think we – fluster him.”

“Giles, he needs to learn to interact with real human people and not just Cordelia.”

“I know.” Giles snatched a breath. “He’s just…horribly and embarrassingly inexperienced. Every time he says something particularly inane, I see myself in his shoes, and just want to smack him for showing me up.”

“I want to smack him every time he opens his mouth, just because,” Buffy admitted.

Giles looked at the number on the door of the apartment. “This is it.” He knocked on the door. “Wesley…?”

There was a long, long pause when nothing happened and then Giles thought he heard something. He knocked on the door sharply. “Wesley? Wesley, I need you to open the door.”

He wouldn’t have put it past Ethan to give him an ass’s head or turn him into a hobgoblin, but either way they needed to know the worst. Thinking of the man’s background, Giles decided to play the ‘male authority figure’ card and said sharply: “Wesley, I’m well aware that Ethan may have enchanted you with what it was in that parcel you insisted on taking home with you, but we can only reverse what he’s done if you let us in. Now open the door this instant.”

There was a noise from the other side that sounded like a stifled sob and then the sound of something being laboriously dragged around the room, a thump as it hit the door, and then the rattle of chains being struggled with. Giles waited with unconcealed impatience as bolts were pulled very slowly and locks struggled with – had Ethan given the bloody fool horns in place of hands? – and then a small voice said pathetically: “Wait....” There was the sound of something heavy being dragged away and then the door was pulled open a crack and someone who did not sound like Wesley said: “I’m not allowed to invite you in.”

“That isn’t necessary, Wesley.” Giles pushed the door open and then stopped dead.

Buffy gasped and clasped a hand across her mouth.

They both stared at a boy of surely no more than six who was without a doubt the thinnest child either of them had ever seen. His dark hair stuck up from his head and his blue eyes were enormous in his narrow face. He had obviously been crying, and tear tracks were visible on his face. He was swamped by a blue and white striped pyjama jacket that he had tried to fold back to reveal his hands. Buffy had never seen wrists that thin in her life.

Giles darted a glance at her anxiously, afraid that she might laugh, but she looked a long way from making fun of the boy Wesley had presumably turned into.

“Wes-Wesley…?” Giles asked.

Wesley nodded wretchedly. He looked up at Giles fearfully. “Did I get sent away?”

Buffy sank to her knees in front of him. “Do you know who we are?”

He shook his head and then wiped his hand across his eyes again. “No, and I don’t know where I am and I can’t find my clothes. Is it because I broke Mummy’s vase? I didn’t mean to.”

“Tell me your name?” she asked.

“Wesley Wyndam-Pryce.”

She took his hand, shocked by how thin it was. “I’m Buffy Summers. This is Giles.”

As Giles crouched down in front of him, Wesley flinched, clearly afraid to meet Giles’s eye. Giles managed a smile. “Wesley, you have been the victim of a spell. You had contact with something…mystical and it seems to have turned you into – who you are now.”

Wesley looked down at himself in shock. “But this is always who I am.”

Buffy muttered to Giles, “He only remembers being a kid.”

Giles asked, “Wesley, do you know what a Slayer is?”

Wesley appeared shocked and looked around anxiously. “I’m not supposed to talk about it.”

That did simplify things a little. Giles put his hand on Buffy’s shoulder. “Wesley, Buffy is the Slayer.”

Wesley’s eyes widened and he gazed up at Buffy the way people looked at movie stars. “You’re…the Slayer?”

Buffy was looking around the room, thinking what it must have been like for this confused little boy to wake up here and not recognize a single thing or have any memory of how he came to be here. She looked at the chair he’d had to drag across the room to stand on to undo the bolts and chains. “I’m Buffy,” she repeated quietly. “And I’m going to get you some clothes that fit you and find you some breakfast, okay? Are you hungry?”

He nodded. “Yes.”

Giles saw that look from Buffy and said, “Oh yes, probably a good idea. Let me just....” As he went off to find the contents of the parcel Ethan had sent, Buffy folded back the sleeves of Wesley’s pyjama jacket more neatly and gave him a reassuring smile. “There was a spell, but it’s going to be okay. We’re going to take care of you and work out how to make things…better. Okay…?” She gave him what she hoped was a reassuring smile and it seemed to work as she got a glimmer of a smile back. “I’m going to pick you up now, okay? Because you have bare feet and you’ll hurt them on the ground.” He nodded, and she picked him up. He weighed…nothing. So frighteningly light that the lump in her throat got bigger, especially as he gave a little whimper of pain as she held him. “What’s wrong…?” she asked.

“Nothing,” he whispered, burying his face in her neck.

She put a hand on the back of his head and stroked his hair. “Don’t be frightened. We’re going to take care of you.”

“Is Daddy angry with me…?” he breathed.

“No, Wesley,” she said raggedly. “No one’s angry with you.” She looked up to find Giles with something wrapped in a towel, that she presumed must be whatever Ethan had sent. He also had Wesley’s keys in his hand. She nodded at the door and he held it open for her, and then locked the door behind them.

She could feel Wesley’s wet eyelashes against her skin, his bony little arms wrapped around her neck. She looked up at Giles and mouthed: “He’s so thin....”

Giles nodded, and held open the next door for them, Wesley blinking at the sunlight. He gazed up at the apartment building in confusion. “Is this London?”

“It’s Sunnydale in California in America, Wesley.” Giles unlocked the car and held open the passenger door.

Wesley gazed up at him in fearful confusion. “Did I get sent away?”

“No, you came here to…work. Let’s not worry about that now, Wesley. Let’s just get you some clothes and breakfast as Buffy suggested.”

The department store was mostly empty at this time in the morning, and Buffy sent Giles to buy Wesley socks, a t-shirt, and underpants first so he could try clothes on without being naked. Giles paid for them in some embarrassment, murmuring something about losing the boy’s suitcase at the airport. Buffy thought the bored salesgirl was pretty remiss in the way she just shrugged and shoved Giles’ credit card through the machine. If ever a boy looked as if he had been abducted from his bed, it was Wesley, after all.

She hissed angrily to Giles: “We could have kidnapped him for a child porn ring for all she knows!”

Giles shrugged. “I know, but let’s just be glad she’s so lacking in any sense of social awareness as it certainly does simplify things. Shall I take him into the changing room?”

Wesley’s arms tightened around Buffy’s neck at the prospect and they both saw the flash of fear in his eyes as he looked up at Giles. She sighed. “I’ll do it.”

In the changing room, she gave him a reassuring smile and unpacked the shorts and socks, letting him pull those on under the cover of the pyjama jacket, then she unbuttoned the jacket and told him they could go and pick some really nice clothes for him, talking brightly until she peeled back the jacket and saw the bruises on his ribs. She gasped and lifted his arm so she could take a better look, touching the purple skin gently. There was an angry mark spreading across half of his left ribcage, and other bruises on his arms. She let the jacket fall to the floor in the changing room in her shock. “What happened?”

“I don’t know.” Tears came into his eyes again. “It was like that when I woke up.”

“Does it hurt?”

He nodded mutely and she gathered him into her arms very gently. His body felt warm and light but terribly bony and she kissed the top of his head. As she did so she had a sudden memory of losing patience with adult Wesley in the training session and kicking him in the ribs, of him gasping and doubling up. Her eyes widened in horror as she realized how he had come by the bruises. “I’m so sorry,” she gasped.

He gazed up at her as if she were the nicest person in the world. “It’s not your fault, Buffy.”

She got to her feet, still holding him, and took a moment to collect herself. She snatched a breath. “What’s the last thing you remember?”

He shivered. “I was clumsy. Daddy was cross with me.”

She looked at him in the mirror and winced at the sight of his narrow little shoulder blades. The child was just skin and bone – and bruises. Way too many bruises, purple and blue marks all over his back. Not all of them could have come from her training sessions with him and she suddenly remembered that he had been moving stiffly even before they began. Faith had evidently taken out some of her annoyance on him as well. Buffy closed her eyes as it occurred to her that, given how much stronger they were than Wesley, they hadn’t been behaving much better than the child batterers they now appeared to be.

“Buffy…?” Giles asked cautiously from outside the changing room. “I’ve found Wesley some clothes that I think might fit him.”

Still holding Wesley so his head was against her neck; the little boy curled up against her quite comfortably, as if this was a treat for him and he wasn’t going to do anything to stop it; she turned and twitched back the curtain. Giles saw the bruises and she saw the flicker of shock in his eyes, and then he was hastily looking away and removing his glasses under the pretence of cleaning them. When he turned back there was a sickly smile on his face. “Okay, Wesley…?” he said brightly. “Would you like to try these on?”

She felt Wesley tremble against her and he slipped down at once, carefully not making eye contact with Giles as he murmured, “Yes, sir.”

Giles swallowed. “Do call me ‘Giles’, Wesley.”

“Yes, Mr Giles,” the boy said obediently.

Still keeping to his bright voice, Giles said heartily: “Well, try this on, Wesley. Let’s see if they fit you.”

As Wesley struggled with the clothes, Giles just looked at her and Buffy said quietly: “The ones on his ribs were me. I think the ones on his back may have been from Faith.”

“For God’s sake, Buffy,” Giles hissed at her. “How long has this been going on?”

“I only did it once.” She couldn’t meet his eyes. “I didn’t know Faith was.... I’m sorry.”

Giles looked down at the little boy currently trying to pull on a pair of trousers. “I’m sure you are.”

The clothes did not fit. Buffy and Giles looked at the way the trousers hung off his narrow hips and the shirt sleeves dangled past his hands while Wesley gazed mournfully at his fingertips.

“Perhaps a t-shirt and some jeans....” Giles went off to find something slightly less junior Watcherish, while Buffy picked Wesley up, his arms automatically going around her neck, and his legs wrapping themselves around her so he could sit on her hip. She stroked his hair and he gave a sigh of contentment.

When was the last time anyone cuddled you? she found herself wondering. She carried him out into the store and hunted for shirts and t-shirts, she and Giles collecting a pile of jeans, mini cargo pants, shoes, and clothing that probably said more about their personalities than Wesley’s.

Giles also bought a large box of safety pins and said hesitantly, “Do you know anything about sewing?”

“Not much,” she conceded. “But perhaps my mom....”

Giles got that embarrassed look he always got now when any reference was made to Joyce. “We may have to call upon her services. I don’t think Wesley is exactly an off-the-peg size.”

“Not unless there’s a line of refugee wear around here somewhere we haven’t found yet.” Buffy took him back into the changing room and got him into a pair of jeans, a t-shirt, and a shirt, which, with the cuffs folded back, was a reasonable fit. She sat him on the check out counter so the sales assistant could run the bar code gun over the labels on his clothes. He giggled when it beeped and the girl did briefly pause in her gum chewing to nod to Buffy. “Cute kid.”

“Yes, he’s adorable,” Buffy returned.

Wesley looked at up at her in surprise and then gave a shy little smile as he realized she wasn’t joking. Giles also looked at her in some surprise and then said, “He’s my nephew. He’s over from England on a visit.”

“Oh....” The girl shoved their purchases into a bag. “Welcome to America.”

Wesley said, “Thank you,” shyly. Then Buffy had scooped him off the counter and was carrying him back to the car.

“I think he must be five or six,” Giles pointed out. “And the shoes are about the only thing that fit him properly. I’m sure he can walk.”

“He likes being carried,” Buffy said firmly.

“I’m eight,” Wesley whispered to Buffy.

She looked down at his undersized little body. The Wesley they knew wasn’t exactly bulky but he was tall and…normal looking. For the first time she wondered what Wesley really looked like under all those layers of clothing. It was hard to believe that a child as fragile as this had grown up to be very substantial.

“Good Lord,” Giles murmured. “Let’s get you some breakfast.”

At Buffy’s insistence they took Wesley to a place where he could have some pancakes for breakfast instead of the boring cereal that Giles had been suggesting. The little boy’s high quiet cultured voice in all its Harry Potter Britishness sounded particularly incongruous in a fast-food restaurant that seemed to epitomize everything American. He ate very neatly, with his elbows jammed into his sides, chewing everything carefully.

Neither of them was quite sure why they decided to take him to the library, except perhaps that a problem this enormous needed the full quotient of Scoobies dealing with it.

Wesley’s already over-sized eyes looked even bigger when he saw the library. He gazed around at it the way another child might have looked at Disneyland. Giles said, “Would you like to have a look around, Wesley?”

As always when Giles spoke to him, he dropped his gaze and hunched his narrow little shoulders nervously, then caught himself doing it and hastily straightened up. Giles could almost hear it in his mind; some scary authority figure snapping: Stand up straight when I talk to you, boy. Wesley said: “Yes, please, sir,” nervously.

“Please call me ‘Giles’, Wesley,” Giles sighed. He held out a hand and Wesley tentatively took it. Giles showed him around the library, but the boy was much too nervous to take in anything he said to him. Whenever Giles started to tell him something he looked like a deer in headlights, clearly fearing that he was going to be tested on it later and wouldn’t remember. And he wouldn’t remember, of course, because he was too scared of forgetting later to comprehend it now. Giles found it more upsetting than he would have liked to admit that Buffy, the person who had been bullying Wesley in their training sessions – and if she had not already been feeling as bad about that as it was possible for a person to feel, he would certainly have had a whole lecture to deliver about that – was treated as someone safe and comforting, while he was regarded as an ogre. And yet he was surely more familiar than an American high school girl....

Giles flinched inside as he realized that, of course, that was the problem. Giles was the kind of man Wesley knew of old: British, tweed-wearing Watcher, just like his father. He was frightening exactly because he was so familiar.

Speaking as gently as he could, Giles took him into his office and said, “Would you like to sit with a book for a while, Wesley?”

Wesley nodded. “Yes, please.”

“What are you reading at the moment?”

Giles knew it was unlikely that there would be anything of the right age group for the boy here but he wondered if Buffy or Willow might have some of their old children’s books.

“This one.” Wesley pointed at a copy of Hartley’s Lesser Demons of the Lowerworlds. It was written in Greek and had proven to be very useful at highlighting demon habits. It was also something adult scholars might have struggled with.

Giles blinked and picked up the book, wondering if Wesley had mistaken it for something. “This one?”

Wesley took it from him very carefully and laid it down on the desk. “I was halfway through chapter five. But I couldn’t find my notebook.”

Giles dazedly watched him turn to the correct page and handed over a notebook and pen as they were shyly requested. It was only as Wesley snatched a deep breath and then leant over the volume that he snapped out of his trance-like state. “Wesley – I don’t mean what are you reading as part of your…lessons. Don’t you have something that you’re reading for – enjoyment?”

Wesley looked up at him out of those huge blue eyes. “I’m only allowed to read for fifteen minutes before lights out.” He looked up at the clock on the wall. “It’s still lesson time.”

Giles looked up to see Buffy in the doorway with a look on his face that perfectly matched the way he was feeling.

“It’s holiday time, Wesley,” he managed a little hoarsely.

Wesley sighed. “Demons don’t take days off.” It was clearly something that had been said to him many times before.

Giles looked around for inspiration and saw a dog-eared copy of Roger Lancelyn Green’s Tales of the Greek Heroes. That might possibly pass for schoolwork and yet was at least written for children and enjoyable. He snatched it off the shelf and held it out. “You’re having different lessons while you’re staying with us, Wesley. I’d like you to read this instead.”

“What language do I have to translate it into?” Wesley looked anxious.

“You don’t. I just want you to read it in English. Okay?”

Wesley looked confused by that concept, but obediently took the book that Giles handed to him and went to sit at the table in the library.

As he went and sat down, Giles snatched a breath and Buffy came over to say quietly: “I hate your stupid Council more than I can ever put into words.”

“Right now, that makes two of us.”

She looked back at Wesley. “When did he ever get to be a kid?”

“He didn’t.” That was what Giles had finally realized. Of course, he hadn’t. He had to know everything anyone could possibly need to know who advised a Slayer, and, given all the demons and vampires and monsters and spells and curses in the world, a Watcher could never know too much. So there wasn’t time to be a child; and all childhood was to some Watchers was evidently a period of learning all the things they would need to know later.

“We have to do something,” Buffy hissed.

“Yes, we have to change him back.” Giles turned his attention to the amulet that Ethan had sent, which he had retrieved from Wesley’s room.

Buffy put a hand on his arm. “No, we have to help him. That little boy. We have to make it not be like this.”

Giles looked up at her and said gently: “Buffy, it was like this and it’s too late to change that.”

“We keep him,” she hissed. “Keep this little boy and we don’t let them take him back and we let him have...fun.”

“It didn’t happen.” Giles held her gaze. “Wesley’s childhood is what it was. Just like yours. Just like Xander’s. We need to help the adult Wesley.”

“He doesn’t need to grow up the way he is.”

“He is the way he is.” Giles put away the book he had got down. “Let’s just try to get him back....”

***

Date: 2005-10-16 01:11 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] eloise-bright.livejournal.com
Your little Wesley is utterly adorable. The concept of reading for fun just passing him by..

*runs off to read next part*

Date: 2005-10-30 04:48 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] elgrey.livejournal.com
I'm just playing around with my icons and just noticed this comment from you. Thank you. I love Wesley-as-a-child in all fic and just really enjoyed playing with him.

Date: 2006-10-02 03:24 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fractal-bat.livejournal.com
Oh cool! I am just starting this from the beginning because I saw your recent update. I am excited about reading more! It's really good so far!

Date: 2006-10-02 04:31 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] elgrey.livejournal.com
Oh thank you so much for reading. I hope you enjoy it. (And that it doesn't slow you up in recapping the next part of 'Ghost Cop'...hint, hint.) :)

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