"You'd better get down here right now, or I'll…"

"Or you'll what?" Spike asked flippantly from his vantage point. He was sitting cross-legged on the higher shelf of a steel rack that supported several boxes of different sizes and colors and, as of now, a five year old boy, a plastic battle-axe and an extremely expensive dual channel spectrograph.

"Or I'll climb up there and drag you down myself!" was Knox's exasperated response.

When Spike didn't reply and just stuck out his tongue at him, Knox finally snapped: he grabbed the nearest stool and placed it before the rack, clumsily but resolutely starting to climb on it. Realizing that he meant business this time, Spike quickly grabbed the spectro-thingamajig to which the prat seemed to be so attached and hung it over the edge of the shelf.

"Think you can catch it if it falls?" he said, grinning slyly when Knox stopped dead, transfixed by the sight of the four digit priced apparatus dangled seven feet from the floor.

"That's... not a good idea," Knox said through a dry mouth, his eyes trained on the spectrograph.

"What does it do, anyway?" Spike asked, cocking his head to the side and giving the device a critical look.

"Why don't you come back down here," Knox said warily, "and I'll show you."

"I don't think so."




"Murder, murder, murder," Spike started to sing at the top of his lungs, juggling the spectrograph and causing Knox to grit his teeth in agony, "someone should be angry."

"Now don't..."

"The crime of the century: who shot little Bambi?"

"Spike..." Knox tried again, but it was hard to sound like an authority figure when he was also mentally calculating how many paychecks it would take for him to pay for the spectrograph if it was to be deducted from his salary.

"Never trust a hippie..."

"Is everything alright here?" -- Knox and Spike turned to the doorway to see Wes standing there, with his hands dug into his pockets and a leisurely smile on his lips as he decided that paying for a broken spectrograph himself would be worth it for the sake of seeing Knox cry.

"Hi, Wes!" Spike merrily greeted him. "Knox is being a pain," he tattled in response to Wes' previous question.

"That," Knox told Wes between clenched teeth, pointing at the spectrograph with a slightly shaking hand, "is a compact dual channel spectrograph with a 256 pixel photo-diode array detector."

"Then you shouldn't let a five year old play with it," Wes chided him with a straight face, entering the room.

"I was trying to talk him into handing it back to me," Knox hissed, "but he doesn't respond well to authority."

"Spike," Wes said, looking up at the boy and ignoring Knox's dirty look, "would you please give the spectrograph to me?"

"Okay," the boy replied, promptly starting to climb down the shelves as Knox watched in disbelief.

"Good boy," Wes said, smiling and ruffling his hair as Spike handed him the spectrograph. "All you had to do was ask nicely," he told Knox with a small self-satisfied smile. "He's five, for God's sake," he said, shrugging in feign puzzlement. "How hard can it be?"

- x x x x x -

"We should do that more often," Spike said as he and Wes walked toward the elevators, having left Knox to fume in the laboratory.

"We most certainly should," Wes replied with a wide grin.

"So," Spike said as they stopped at the elevator door, "when is Red arriving?"

"You remember Willow, too?" Wes asked, surprised.

"Who's Willow?" Spike asked.

"You just asked about her," Wes said, giving the boy a puzzled look.

"I asked about Red," Spike said, frowning slightly. "You said she's coming to help me."

"I said Willow is coming." -- Wes scratched his head, getting more confused by the minute.

"You said Red is coming," Spike insisted. "Who's Willow?"

"Who's Red?" Wes countered.

"She's…" Spike hesitated, suddenly looking perplexed. "You said she was coming to help me," he finally said, his voice trailing off as he didn't feel so sure any more.

"I said Willow is coming to help you," Wes said gently, kneeling down before the boy and placing a hand on his shoulder. "Willow does, indeed, have red hair," he offered. "I seem to recall…" -- he hesitated -- "someone calling her Red."

Spike shuffled his feet, his lower lip jutting up as he looked back at Wes, suddenly not so interested in that matter any more.

"Wes," he said in a small voice, "what's wrong with me?"

"I don't know, but we'll find out, little mate," Wes promised, patting the boy's shoulder and trying to sound as reassuring as he could as he stared into the scared blue eyes that looked back at him in fear and confusion.