FAOILTACH (Wolf Storm) By D.M. Evans Disclaimer - All characters within belong to Mr Whedon except for Cailleach Bheur who pretty much belongs to history. Just wanted playing with them for a little while, all play, no profit Rating - PG-13 Spoilers - Set between "Tomorrow" and "Deep Down" Summary - Gunn's birthday brings some unexpected surprises Author's Note - Thanks to SJ for all the editing. This is done in answer to the challenge #1 at the Potential Awards

NOMINATED - Text Link to the Potential Awards

CHAPTER ONE

"My birthday is January 23rd," Fred said, putting candles in the small round cake on the TV room's coffee table. "Exactly five months before Charles."

"Don't know when mine is." Connor shrugged.

"November, just a couple weeks after Halloween," Fred replied.

"Somehow that's appropriate," Gunn said, ducking Fred's playful slap. Connor didn't catch the subtle insult.

Connor's eyes turned into blue slits. "How do you know? Father never told me."

"I was there when you were born." Fred smiled gently at him, almost motherly.

Connor made a noncommital noise, trying to pretend he wasn't interested. As she lit the candles, Fred could see that he was. Connor had a voracious appetite for knowledge but was loathe to ask questions much of the time. She understood. It made him feel vulnerable because he didn't know anything about this world. He had to feel like she had when she ended up in Pylea, lost and confused. He needed his dad and he was bearing up well without Angel; more so than she was. He had to be incredibly brave. Weeks had gone by without a solid clue as to where Angel or Cordelia were.

Fred was losing hope, which was why Charles' little birthday party meant so much to her. They all needed to get their minds off the chronic disappointment. "Do you know the birthday song, Connor?"

His face screwed up. "The what?" "Never mind." Fred launched into a reedy, high pitched version of the song and Gunn blew out the candles when she was done. "Did you make a wish?"

"You bet. Thanks for doing this, Fred." Gunn half rose out of his chair and kissed her.

"Wish?" Connor queried, poking a candle with a finger as if willing it to tell him why it was standing in a cake.

"You make a wish as you blow out the candles,""Fred said, slicing the cake.. "And it comes true."

"But only if you don't tell anyone what the wish was," Gunn added.

"Why?" Connor asked. "I mean, why put candles on the cake?"

"Dunno," Gunn said, his eyes lighting up at the sight of the rich reddish cake innards. "Red velvet cake, my favorite."

Fred dropped a kiss on the top of his shaved head. "I know."

"And this is how you celebrate?" Connor pressed.

"Well, sometimes you have a big party with all your friends or you go out and do something," Fred said. "What did Holtz used to do for your birthday?"

Connor gave her a look to suggest he thought she had gone suddenly brain dead. "Who had time for that? We were more worried about not getting eaten. I don't even know how old I am." He sounded defiantly bitter, challenging them to deny him his right to feel sorry for himself.

Fred took stock of him."Seventeen or eighteen maybe."

"I would have said he look fourteen or fifteen." Gunn snorted. "For his sake, I hope he's not eighteen."

"Why?" Connor pouted, realizing he was being made fun of.

"That's becoming your favorite word." Gunn grinned. "If you're eighteen, you're done growing and hell, since you're a hair shorter than Fred, that's not a good thing."

Connor bristled. He understood the insult, just not why it was made. "Why?"

"Because the ladies like their men to be bigger than they are."

"Ignore him, Connor. He's a man and they never know what women want." Fred flicked frosting at Gunn. "Some women love small, slender guys, especially when they have pretty eyes like you do."

Gunn rolled his eyes as Connor ducked his head shyly. "I was just pulling your chain, Connor, but given your dad's size, I would have figured you to be taller."

"Oh." Connor's pout became more pronounced. He nodded at the cake. "And this birthday thing is supposed to be fun?"

"Well, this isn't a rocking example given half our friends are missing, but yeah usually they're fun," Gunn said.

"Presents will make it better," Fred declared, bouncing out of the room.

"Presents?" Connor asked.

"You know, gifts? Something you give to friends and family at birthdays and holidays and you have no idea what I'm talking about, do you?" Gunn gave a slab of cake to Connor.

"None." He took the slice. "Thanks."

"Listen to me better than you usually do," Gunn said, his tone light to take out the sting of the words. "I'm gonna tell you the most important thing I'll ever tell you. When you start dating, never, ever forget a birthday or holiday. I don't care what you have to do to your calender to make you remember, don't forget her birthday. You can remember it for twenty years straight but you forget once and she'll never let you live it down."

"I didn't know that I should have gotten you something." Connor made a face. "What would I get?"

"Don't worry about it, kid. I'll have Fred give you gift ideas for women because you don't want to mess that up."

"This is all too complicated." Connor shoved some cake into his mouth.

Gunn nodded. "Women are complicated."

"No, we're not," Fred said, coming back in with a box. "Men are just simple."

Gunn frowned. "You're picking on me and it's my birthday."

"You'll live. Guess what it is." Fred gestured at the gaily wrapped box.

"Let's see." Gunn shook it and the box exploded. He dropped the torn smoking box on the table.

"Was it supposed to do that?" Connor asked, wide eyed. "I hope not." Gunn checked to see if he still had all his fingers.

"It wasn't supposed to go off." Fred scowled, extracting a shattered device from the remains of the box. "I was trying to make you a stake launcher like the one Connor came here with. Only I used a battery to give it more power."

"Well, it had that," Gunn said. "Glad you didn't load it when you put it in the box."

"My launcher never exploded," Connor said superiorly, then got up, heading upstairs.

"Dare I ask what he's doing?" Gunn gave Fred's hand a squeeze.

"Probably not." Her face held disappointment. "Sorry my gift exploded, Charles."

He pulled her onto his lap. "Don't worry about it. I'm sure you'll figure out a way to make it work. Connor and Holtz did it."

"Well, the gift might have been a bust but tonight will be fun," Fred said, "You and me nightclubbing."

"Just so we don't have to take the kid," Gunn said.

"Fred sighed. "I just feel bad leaving him behind. We're the only people he has."

"He's under age. He likes to be alone. He was raised in hell so he can handle sitting around the hotel alone for a few hours." Gunn ticked off his points of protest on his fingers.

"I know but..." Fred silenced, hearing Connor thundering down the stairs.

He had a large knife in his hand. Reversing it, he offered the handle to Gunn. "A present."

Gunn smiled. "Thanks, Connor. You don't have to give me anything."

The boy pushed the hair out of his eyes. "I want to."

"Thank you."

"In November, we'll have a big party for you," Fred promised him. "Hopefully by then your Dad will be back."

Connor's broad smile wavered at that. "Cool."

"You pick up slang fast," Fred said. "It's cute."

Connor blushed as Gunn got up. "We're going out for the night, just me and Fred." "If you don't want to be alone, we can stay," Fred added hurriedly.

Connor shook his head. "Nah, I like it quiet."

"I just worry. You're in a strange place alone." Fred gave him a one-armed hug.

"I'm used to it. Father used to leave me alone and go hide then make me find him. It took weeks sometimes. It was a good game. I like being alone. I have the TV," Connor assured her, putting his plate on the table and grabbing up the TV remote. He traded it for the DVD remote once he had the TV turned on. He pushed the on button but nothing happened. Connor scowled, shook it and tried again. "It's dead."

"I took the batteries out to make Gunn's new weapon," Fred said.

Gunn poked at the mess on the table. "Think the batteries are a done deal. Watch cable."

Connor shrugged and started surfing up and down the channels. He stopped at something that was obviously dated.

"Ooo, that's a good movie," Fred said.

"Why's it all light like that?" Connor gestured at the washed-out picture.

"It's old, from the seventies," Gunn said."It's Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory."

"It's an old kid's movie. It's cute," Fred said. "But it really needs remastered."

"And it shows you what happens when you don't listen to your guardians." Gunn grinned, patting him on the shoulder. Connor stuck his tongue out at him. Gunn laughed. "Come on, Fred, let's get ready to go."

"Have more cake, Connor. If you get hungry, you know how to order take out," Fred said.

"I know how to forage," he replied solemnly, trying to impress on her she didn't need to watch him constantly.

"No foraging," Gunn said. "Last time you said that, you were catching rats by the dumpsters. That's not protein no matter what you say. You get hungry, call the Jade Inn."

"I will." Connor slithered down on the couch, getting comfortable. Satisfied, the lovers left him and went to change for their night out.