TESTING NORMALCY Postcards From the Edge Series Story #8 By D.M. Evans Spoilers - Most of AtS4 Rating - PG-13 Disclaimer - You already know this. I don't own them. Joss does. Thanks for letting me borrow them Summary - Faith and Fred embark on a dangerous mission, taking a teenager shopping. Author's Note - This is the eighth story in a series. They're all stand alone but you might want to read the others. The link to them will be at the end of this. Also, it's obviously AR since Connor is still around after S4 and Faith has returned to L.A.

The mall. Who knew two words could pack in so much dread? I had someone else's money in my hot little hands, a lot of money. The temptation to go blow it on boutique clothing was strong. Growing up shopping at consignment stores had given me a yen for something better. A few years of prison grey had only sharpened that desire. Or maybe I had caught it from Cordy somewhere along the way or even Buffy and Dawn way back when.

Fred made sure we got exactly where we were supposed to go, the mall. No detours for her. Too late we were both reminded how crowds scared Connor. He clung to us like a burr as we floated along the mall, poking into various stores but nothing seemed to impress him as being something he wanted to wear. Or should I say he'd have settled for the first three items Fred pulled off the rack simply because he didn't have a clue about fashion and he wanted to be out of the mall as fast as possible. That must be coded into the Y chromosome.

"Let's try there." I jabbed a thumb across the way. I was getting frustrated and more than a little bored. I wasn't cut out for domestic stuff, I guess.

"Wilson's Leather?" Fred raised an eyebrow. Figures she'd protest. I can't decide if she's a prude, a tease or just plain nuts.

"Just to look around," I said, blazing a path to the store before Fred could throw a wet blanket on the idea."We're not getting anything done anyhow."

"I like how it smells," Connor said, dogging me. Was that a glimmer of excitement in his eyes? Yep, looked like excitement to me. So Connor's a leather boy, how fun.

"There's nothing like the smell of leather," I agreed, linking arms with him.

"Faith, we really can't afford to buy anything there," Fred fretted. "I know Angel gave you a lot of money but he wanted you to get Connor more than one item of clothing."

I sighed. The truth hurt. Fred did look apologetic. She was probably just as happy to see Connor having a good time. "We'll just look."

Connor had already detached himself from my arm and was lost in the store. I found a pair of pants, a deep emerald and soft as a newborn's butt. Green wasn't my color but these pants were beautiful. At over two hundred dollars, they would have to stay right where they were. It was disappointing but if that was the worst thing that happened to me it'd be a good day. I found Connor eyeing up a coat that was sexy on the mannequin. Too bad Connor was only half as broad. Still, he needed a jacket. Maybe we could justify the expense.

"Go ahead and try it on," I said. "How do I know which one?" He looked at me and Fred with huge eyes.

That's when I realized he'd never really had store bought clothes, at least none that he had helped buy. Had this boy ever done anything normal? How freakish had his life been? I'm not usually the sympathetic type but I did feel sorry for Connor.

"It goes by size," I said. "I'd go with small."

He gave me an annoyed look. Who'd have thought Connor'd be the sensitive type?

"Fine, medium." I took the jacket off the rack and handed it to him. The thing hung on him. Fred and I exchanged glances and together said, "Small."

I could see the thrill was gone for him. The tag of small was like an insult but he put it on. It didn't look half bad. I ran a hand over the black leather, caressing his shoulder through it. "I like it."

He rested his cheek against his shoulder, savoring the feel of the leather. He pulled up the collar, sniffing it. His pretty blue eyes fluttered shut and he seemed suddenly peaceful. "Reminds me of home."

"Is that a good thing?" I whispered to Fred. I knew what home meant to him but there were times he was oddly blase about living in hell.

"Some things were good," he replied, taking the jacket off. Damn his keen hearing. "We can't afford it, can we?"

Fred and I exchanged a glance, hearing the disappointment in his voice. It hurt. I knew Fred wanted him to be happy. She had cared for him at a time he was making some of the hardest adjustments in his whole live, a terrible, confusing time. I knew she hadn't entirely forgiven his betrayal though and this trip seemed to be helping to win her back, if the expression on her face was anything to judge by.

"We'll see," Fred said. "Wes wanted us to get you some dress clothing so we can visit." She looked suddenly nervous. "Cordy."

Those words hit him like a sledgehammer. I watched as what little color he had drained out of him. I squeeze his hand. I felt so odd in this role of comforter. I was used to just using men up and tossing them aside. I've never been anyone's emotional support. I was so ill-suited for that. I knew he still felt deeply for Cordy. It didn't make me self-conscious or jealous. It was a simple fact. I couldn't tell him I usually get gone once I've been naked with a guy. Cordy had done that to him already and it nearly crushed him from all accounts. And there was something sweet and vulnerable under that dangerous shell of his. I wasn't used to seeing guys in that light. It made me want to stay to protect him.

"Sorry." Fred looked mousier than usual. She knew how he felt. I knew she was in the camp of 'Ewwww' when it came to Connor and Cordy's relationship and like the rest had been vocal about it without a thought to how much it would hurt. "Wes thinks it'll do Cordy good to see us but she's got some of her old personality back."

"I remember." I put my arm around Connor's too-narrow waist. "She had the poor little rich girl down pat."

"Right. We don't need to get you a suit or anything, Connor but some slacks, a nice shirt or two and dress shoes," Fred said.

I almost burst out laughing at Connor's expression. Horrified didn't begin to cover it.

"I have to wear a dress?" His eyes were so big they seemed to suck in the rest of his face.

"You could pull it off," I teased. I can't really describe the noise he made at that. I guess it was the bruised manhood moan. "But she means the hard shoes like Wes wears sometimes."

Those huge baby blues turned to me. "What do you mean, I could pull off wearing a dress?"

I patted his head and he swatted playfully at me. "I'll explain later. Come on, let's get those dress clothes first. They're the most expensive then we'll find you some actual fun clothes."

Buying Connor dress clothes sounds simple enough. According to Fred, it was like dressing a two-year old. I've never tried that personally and after this I never want to. The slacks and shirts weren't so bad. He wouldn't look at any pants that weren't black, grey or brown - I was kinda grateful he didn't like plaid - so we got him one of each and some gorgeous shirts in deep purple, emerald, red and a slate blue that was iridescent; its color changing as Connor moved. It all looked good on him but you could see how thin he was. The real problem was when we got to the tie. Somehow Fred learned how to tie them but it was like trying to lasso a buffalo. Connor fought and fussed and demanded to knew what purpose a tie served, like I had a clue. The next battle was over the dress shoes which he utterly despised.

Finally, despite his protests, we just bought some ties that matched his shirts, got him black shoes which I told him he'd be pulling out of his ass if he didn't quit whining, then let him loose in the mall to find clothing that fit his personality. Whatever that might be was anyone's guess. Since he dressed in browns and grays and in clothing that was obviously too big and someone else's cast offs, I'd say his tastes were questionable at best. I was almost shocked when he got sucked into Hot Topics. Goth and punk wouldn't have been what I thought of when I pictured Connor but it was the most excited he'd been since we came through the doors.

"What have you found?" I asked. Beaming, he held up a black T-shirt reading, 'I'm not shy. I'm just examining my prey.'

I snatched if from him. It was too perfect. "This is going to Angel."

His face fell. "But."

"No buts. Does it come in extra large?" I asked, edging him out so I could dig through the stack for Angel's size. He sighed and relented but that's Connor for you. A girl could really get off on bossing him around, he likes it so much. I probably should just let Connor have the shirt. Angel would probably never wear a T-shirt but it was worth a shot.

"This is you, Connor." Fred waved another black T that said, 'Chicks dig scrawny pale guys.'

He pouted so badly birds could have landed on his lower lip. I flicked it with a finger and he rolled his eyes at me. If Fred hadn't been standing there, I would have sucked that lip but I promised Angel I wouldn't freak out his friends too much.

"Get it whether he says yes or not," I told her. And we did.

We got him a few other T-shirts including one that said, 'My day is not complete until I've terrified a complete stranger.' I got that one for myself, too, and Fred insisted I get a coffin purse. It was the strangest thing but it would hold a few stakes so why not? We got Connor some other shirts, including a bright red one with flames and Chinese dragons and some baggy pants and romper stompers. Connor, if left to his own devices at least in this store, was drawn to black and red. Great, he'll look like Spike. He's even skinny and short.

We left the store loaded down and Fred counted up the money. She and I had an agreement, I'd forgo getting much for myself, just so we could be a little nicer to Connor. "If we get him tennis shoes and jeans at Wal-Mart, we should have enough for that leather coat. Would you like that, Connor?"

His eyes lit up like that blue lava lamp he had been eyeing up in Spencer's. "Can I?"

Times like this it was easy to see Connor for what he was; a kid desperately wanting approval and he was finally giving a little of that teen-aged 'gimme' attitude down. I had grown up hard but the little Connor told me about his upbringing made me cringe and almost wish for my days in Boston. I wanted to see him like this, an eager pup. He seemed almost normal.

"You can," Fred said, double checking the count.

One leather coat and one giant Cinnabon later, we were lugging everything to the Suvie. Note to self, never let Connor have that much sugar at once. He was practically ping-ponging off the cars and was fidgeting all over the back seat as we headed for Wal-Mart.

"So this is what normal kids do?" he asked after I reached back around the seat and swatted him, telling him to sit still. God, when did I become Mom?

"Yep," Fred assured him.

He smiled wildly. "I'm finally normal."

Fred and I exchanged glances. Damn if that didn't nearly break our hearts and make us proud at the same time. Neither of us had the heart to tell him he'd never be normal. He looked too happy right now to burst his bubble.

Instead I just nodded and said, "Yes, Connor, you're right as rain." That made him smile even more like the Cheshire cat. I was thinking, what the hell is so right about rain?

"When we get home, you'll have to model your clothes for Angel," Fred said.

Connor's smile wavered. "Why?"

"That's what people do. He'll want to see what you bought. It's a dad thing," I said, even though I had no real memories of ever having a dad.

"And that's normal, too?" He sounded suspicious but Fred and I told him it was. "Cool."

And we left it at that. Cool.

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