"Oh, dear, this is not good," Giles said, falling onto the couch to stare out the window, thinking about the call he'd just taken. He picked up the phone again, dialing a number from memory. "Hello? Mrs. Harris? Is Xander there?" Pause. "No, it's something of an emergency and I need to speak to him in person. Do you know where he might be?" He nodded and hung up, dialing Buffy and Willow's room at the dorm, hoping at least one of them might know.
"Willow?" He frowned and shook his head. "It's Giles, Willow, and I need to get in touch with Xander most urgently. Have him come over. And this is not something for the group so don't worry." He hung up on her machine and leaned his head back on the couch, closing his eyes, hoping the news he'd gotten would leave his mind.
When he couldn't relax, he got up, heading for one of the few bottles of alcohol he kept in the apartment, pouring out a large glass of scotch. "Why him?" he asked it, sitting at the table, staring at the phone as he drank. "He doesn't need this sort of pressure." He drained the glass quickly, getting up for another. He turned toward the door, hearing hurried steps run down the stairs, so he went over to let whomever in. "Xander," he sighed in relief. He looked over his shoulder. "Are you alone?"
The younger man nodded, breathing hard. He pushed past the older man, flopping down onto the couch and turning his head to watch the older man pour another drink. "Personal best. What's wrong?" He paused, taking a deep breath, then taking the glass Giles handed him full of amber liquid. "It's that bad?"
Giles sat down next to the younger man, sipping his own drink. "Mostly, yes." He drained his own glass and waited for the younger man to drink some of his own. "I've just received a most disturbing call from Wesley. He's here in the States, but he's not alone." He took off his glasses, rubbing over the bridge of his nose. "You know Faith is in a coma still, correct?" The younger man nodded, looking startled and still upset over what she had done to him. "Well, about a month ago, she gave birth, still comatose. Wesley argued with the Council to take the child to its father, and he won. How I'm not sure but he succeeded." He paused, watching the younger man blanche slowly. "Yes, I see you've counted backwards. Do you remember if she....." He coughed a little. "Did... Was she protected when she attacked you?" he finally got out.
Xander got up to pace, shaking his head. "Wasn't paying attention to that part," he muttered. "Trying to breathe pretty well took all my focus." He drained the glass then looked at it before slamming it against the door. "Why me?" he shouted, raising his arms up. "I'm attacked and then I'm a *father*?" He sat down in the middle of the floor, concentrating on the nice simple patterns on it.
Giles stood up, walking around to be beside him. He pulled the younger man up, looking at him. "We're not sure yet but Wesley said it was the most probable situation." He frowned. "Would you be willing to take a blood test?"
Xander shook his head and sighed. "I should."
"There's another thing you need to know," Giles said, pulling him back to the couch and forcing him to sit down. "The Council has said if the father can't be found then she's to be brought back and trained as a Chosen One." He saw the small head shake. "That means she'll never know anything but distance and anger," he said, squatting down to look at the younger man. "They'll never let her have a normal life, not even to have friends. She'll be isolated as they tried to do to Buffy and Faith, making sure she never knows what she's missing." He pulled the sunken chin up. "I don't want to lay that on you, but I felt you had to know." He stood up, walking over to where he'd put down his glass, refilling it and handing it over to the younger man. "Xander, I'm sorry. I never wanted to bring up your ordeal with her. In truth, I wanted to forget it happened, but now neither of us can."
"Why did she pick you or why is this happening to you?" He watched the slumped figure drink, sighing and coming over to sit beside him. "It happened because she had already turned by then, she enjoyed hurting others. As for why it happened to you, I have no earthly idea. Maybe she saw someone weaker and needed to show her own strength by making you submit to her or someone lower than her in her own mind." He picked up a limp hand, holding it in his own. "You have to make a very hard decision right now. He'll be bringing her here tonight to meet you and to start the blood work if you agree." He pulled him closer, after taking the glass and putting it down, enfolding the trembling body into a strong, comforting hug. "Whatever you feel is best, I'll stand behind you. Never fear that we all will." He pulled back, brushing away a tear. "Will you at least consider all the options, for her?"
Xander looked up into the deep eyes, seeing the concern and pain. "I can't let her grow up like I did. Everybody deserves love." He looked down at their joined hands. "But I'm not sure I can do that. I don't have a steady job, no apartment where she and I can live. No babysitter when I have to go to work." He started to laugh, wiping at his eyes with his free hand. "This sucks. I'm going to make her life worse but it's the only option."
Giles shook his head. "It's not. If you feel you can't deal, you could send her back or let her be adopted." He wiped at a tear, frowning. "There are more options than you know at this moment. Just calm down and we'll figure this out later." He gave him another quick hug then took possession of his hand back. "I'll be in the other room if you need me. Stay and think or go and think, but he'll be here around dark." He walked into the bedroom, closing the door gently.
Xander looked around the room, then picked up the glass of alcohol and drained it. He picked up the phone, needing to get some things in order before tonight. "Hey," he said, "I won't be in to work tonight. I've just had a personal problem come back to haunt me." He frowned and hung up, shaking his head. "Then I'll find another one," he muttered. He leaned back, still holding the phone. Should he tell anyone else about this yet? "Giles?" he called. "Can I tell Will? I could use her advice."
"Of course," the older man said, coming back out. "It might help to have another perspective on the situation." He smiled kindly and looked at the door, hearing another set of footsteps coming down them. "Or that might be her." He walked over, letting the person pounding on the wooden portal in. "Oh, Spike," he said, stepping aside so the harmless vampire could walk in. "What do you want?"
"A hiding spot if I could. Some of my former mates found out I'm not able to hunt and now I'm the fox." He looked at the solemn body on the couch. "What's up?"
"Nothing," Xander said, getting up. "I'm gonna go use the phone in your room," he said softly, heading down the hall and closing the door gently.
Giles looked at Spike, then outside. "You can't be here tonight." He sighed and dug in his pockets, handing over the keys he'd confiscated a week ago after some neighbors had complained about the black Chevy. "Go see Angel in Los Angeles or something, it's not going to be pleasant here later." He turned around and walked toward the kitchen. "And yes, I did mean now instead of later."
Spike looked at him funny. "So, what tragedy happened in his life this time?" He walked farther in to lean on the counter. "Did he knock someone up or something." It's a good thing he was fast enough to dodge the thrown stake. "Never mind," he said, backing up and heading back out into the cloudy day. "I'll be back in a few days or so. Maybe my Sire will know some way to take this horrible thing out of my head." He slammed the door behind him, leaving quickly before he died.
Giles sighed, putting down the extra stake he'd picked up and picking up the pot to put some water in it. "And maybe your Sire will end your suffering for all our sakes," he muttered. He put the pot on the burner, turning it on and watching it as it heated.
Xander looked around the warm room, sighing and falling sideways onto the bed. He picked up the phone and dialed the dorms, hoping that Willow had been irresponsible girl and hadn't gone to class. He frowned when Buffy answered. "Will there still?" He shook his head, twirling the cord in his fingers. "No, I needed to talk to her. Tell her to call me here at Giles when she comes back in?" He sighed. "No, Buffy, it's nothing you can help with. It's a Willow and Xander sort of problem and I need to talk to her." His eyes got very large and his feet quit wiggling. "No, don't come over tonight," he said quickly. "It's nothing for you to know about, okay? Let's just leave it as a non-slayage problem and stick it in the personal file, 'kay?" He sighed as he hung up, resting his head on his crossed arms. "Why did she do this to me? Hurting me wasn't enough?" He sighed again, gently falling asleep, needing the healing time to process without thinking too much.
Giles opened the door to see Willow and Buffy standing there, then looked at the clock. "Willow, he's in the bedroom asleep. Buffy, give us a second, would you?" He walked the young woman back, knocking softly before opening the door. "It's complicated," he told her softly. "Just listen and don't judge. He needs his friend at the moment." He turned, walking back out to the kitchen where Buffy was sipping at a bottle of juice. "Buffy, this isn't the best of times for you to be here. He needed her, not for a Slayer reason or a paranormal reason, just as a friend."
"We're friends," she justified. "What's up?"
"It's personal," Xander shouted from the bedroom. "Go back to the dorms and I'll tell you later after I've figured it out."
Giles nodded. "That would be for the best at the moment. I'm sure he'll be sharing this news with you soon enough but not tonight." He waved a hand at the door. "Please trust me on this."
She shook her head. "Not a good thing," she muttered, walking past him. "I'll go out on patrol tonight but I'll be home the rest of the time. Call me if you need me." She walked out, only a small hurt look on her face still.
Giles wiped his forehead and sighed. "That's one less thing to worry about." He turned at the sound of someone walking down the hall. "Willow?" he asked, seeing her so upset. "He didn't tell you?"
"Not that part." She paced around the living room. "Why didn't he tell me he had been hurt. I wouldn't have remarked on his neck if he'd said that." She looked at their friend. "So, Wesley's coming back tonight with the bombshell?" The older man nodded, making her sigh. "Should I be here?"
"Only if you feel comfortable with the situation and if he wants it." He looked around the corner, staring at the closed bedroom door. "Do you want her here tonight?" He frowned at the thump of a pillow hitting it. "I'd say not," he said, turning back to her. "I'm sure he'll be calling you later though, to tell you what's going on and such." He smiled, trying to calm her fears and ease her conscience. "We'll handle it."
Xander walked out, pulling Willow back down the hall with him. He slammed the bedroom door and Giles waited for the yelling to start, or the screaming actually. He pulled down his teakettle, running some more water into it and setting it to warm. He watched as Willow stormed out, wincing at the slammed door, then turned to watch the younger man walk slowly down the hall. "You told her?"
"And her exact words were, 'how ... why couldn't you have been more careful'." Xander leaned against the counter, watching the wall for strange behavior. "I told Oz, not her, when it happened and she can't understand." He looked up, seeing the pained expression the older man was wearing. "Do you know where he is? Or even a phone number?"
Giles turned, pulling out a drawer, searching through it until he found a small postcard to hand over. "That was the last time I'd heard anything. Almost a month after he left so it's a few weeks old." He pulled the unresisting body over, hugging him. "Call him and talk. Wesley won't be here for another hour or so." He let go, stepping back and watching the slumped man walk back to the bedroom. He turned to grab the kettle before it went off, setting it aside until he'd gotten his cup and tea bags down. "And I pray he's still there," he whispered. "I'm not up to this task." He watched the water flow over the bag, seeing the white of the bag tainted as the contents leaked out to merge with the water.
Xander looked at the phone, then at the card, waiting while it rang on the other end. "Hi," he said softly. "Is Oz still there?" He paused, hearing the soft words that someone had tried to muffle. "Tell him it's Xander and it's an emergency." He wiped at his eyes at his friend came on. "Oz, I...remember when I came to you before, after Faith..." He took a deep breath. "She's given birth and everyone thinks it's mine." He choked, breathing hard. "And I don't know what to do."
Giles watched Xander pace around his apartment, seeing the glance every minute or so at the clock. "He'll be here soon. He flew into LAX yesterday." He finished his cup of tea, putting it aside. "Sit, this isn't helping matters any." He stopped the moving body as it passed near him again. "Sit, Xander. You're not doing yourself any good getting worked up again." He patted the couch with his free hand. "He'll be here soon."
Xander shook his head, shaking off the restraining hand. "I need to work off the energy before I explode." He looked around the small apartment. "What if she's mine?" He turned to look at his friend and mentor. "What do I do then? I can't stay in that basement. I need a new job, but I need a degree to get a decent one to support her." He bumped into the end table and sat down on the floor, rubbing over his leg. "What do I do if she's mine?"
"Then we figure it out," Giles said softly, reaching a hand out to pull him back up. "Come sit." He grunted as he pulled, helping the younger man to the couch. "Are you all right?"
Xander pulled up his pants' leg, looking at the soon to be bruised area. "No broken skin, I'll live." He looked out the window, rubbing over the sore spot. "Did he say what she was like?"
"She's a month old," the older man reminded him. "She's not got much of a personality yet I'd think." He smiled gently. "You'll do fine, whichever choice you make." He patted the upraised knee and stood up to get himself some more tea.
When the knock on the door came, he watched as the younger man rushed for it, not even trying to get in the way. He pulled down a second cup, starting the tea Wesley would probably want and need.
"Wes," Xander said, pulling open the door. He frowned when it was Buffy. "No, go away. This is not a Slayer problem."
She walked in, tugging on her ponytail to tighten it. "Then why did you say 'Wes'?" She raised an eyebrow at Giles. "What?"
"Not tonight," he reminded her. "Unless it's a Hellmouth, apocalyptic emergency, this is not the night to be here."
Xander took the direct route, turning her around by force and opening the door to shove her out. "Later," he promised. "I'll come by and tell you both. Just go away for now." He closed the door and leaned against it. "Could have been a disaster." He jumped as someone else knocked on the door, spinning and opening it. "Wes?" he asked the man encased in leather. "Please tell me you weren't turned."
The former Watcher walked in, shaking his head and taking off his glasses. "Hardly," he said. He smiled at Giles. "Rupert." He turned to look at the anxious young man. "She's in the car, but I was waiting for Buffy to leave. She's still lurking in the bushes."
Xander shrugged, walking out. "Buffy, scram," he called, heading up the stairs to the street. He followed the sounds of crying, heading to the small economy car parked in front of the building. He looked down at the window, smiling as he caught sight of the little body inside. He tried the door, getting in to pick her up. He struggled with the buckles that were unfamiliar to him, to say the least, but did release her eventually. He turned to find his friend at his back, looking over his shoulder. "Giles?" he asked, holding her out to him.
"Of course. Get the bags and the seat." He turned, walking back inside.
Xander gathered up the bag and pulled the seat out, kicking the door shut before following down the stairs. He stopped in the doorway, seeing the happy smiles both older men were showing her. "She's all right? I didn't hurt her getting her out?"
Wesley turned his head to smile at the younger man. "No, she's fine. I too fought with the ghastly seat the first time." He looked at the open door. "Maybe you should come in," he suggested. "I don't think you want the whole world to know at the moment."
Xander nodded, walking in and kicking the door shut behind him. "Okay." He set down the seat on the table, weighing the bag before putting it down too. "What's her name?"
"Madeline," Giles said. "Miriam Madeline." He looked at the younger man. "And your last name was put on her birth certificate."
Wesley waited for the young man to sit next to him before handing her over. "I had the initial testing done already. She's your blood type and she looks like you." He paused, choosing his next words carefully. "Xander, I understand that this is a big responsibility but we both feel it is yours to do and that you're more than capable of raising her." He took a deep breath but the firm hand on his shoulder stopped him from saying anything else.
"Xander," Giles said. "This is still your decision and we'll both stand by it, but we would like it if you would give some thought to keeping her." He walked around the couch to sit down in the chair, watching the young man look at the child. "She looks like you."
"What if she's not mine?" He turned to look at the two older men, moving back and forth between them. "Then what? The Council raises her?"
Wesley nodded. "She would be given to a family in the village, to a Watcher's family, to be raised in the right traditions."
"And if she's not a Slayer-to-be?" He was looking at the little girl.
"She doesn't have the marking but she'd be made into a Watcher after her schooling was done." He sighed. "Xander, I need to tell you a few things." He took a deep breath and then picked up his tea to drain the cup before going on. "She's yours. Faith didn't have another lover during that time." He saw the blanche. "And I saw the markings as well as everyone else did. I know this will be hard for you, but I need to think about what's best for her." He looked at Giles, who nodded. "If you're not willing or able to raise her, I would be the one doing it." He flushed slightly. "I've been doing so since she was born, fighting for her not to become one of us against her will, but I'm willing to step aside and let her be yours." He reached over to smooth some of the unruly dark hair on the baby. "She's an incredible young lady so far and I would like to at least see her occasionally but I would understand whichever decision you'd make." He sighed, leaning back. "Just so you know she'd be loved."
"Would you be going back?"
"That's the deal." He pulled a paper out of his jacket, opening it and handing it over. "This is the contract the Council and I drew up. If I can't find her father, I have to go back. I won't be reinstated but I will live near them and raise her under their protection and scrutiny." He shuddered briefly. "A truly horrid life that."
Giles stood up, walking over to take the baby from the young man's arms. "Let me go put her in on the bed to rest so we can talk." He waited, arms out, watching the young man look into the dark eyes so like his own. "Xander?"
Xander looked up, then nodded, handing her over. He waited until they were alone. "She's mine?" he asked quietly. Wesley nodded. "You're absolutely sure? No other candidates, no others she attacked, no sleeping with the Mayor or that stuff?"
The younger former Watcher nodded. "She's yours. Faith didn't attack anyone else, the Mayor had her on too tight a leash and he wouldn't have touched her himself because of his fear of germs. The only ones we know she touched were some of her henchmen, who were all sterile because they were vampires." He put a hand out. "Whatever you decide," he said again.
The young man nodded, getting up. "I'm going for a walk, tell Giles I'll be back after a sugar run." He grabbed his jacket and walked out, not closing the door fully.
Giles walked back out, going over to shut it. "Is he really?"
"Unless she did something that they didn't know about, yes. She was being watched by the Council after she turned." He cleared his throat. "They knew about his attack also. They brought it up actually. I had been hoping to take her and run away from them."
Giles shook his head. "There's no such place, Wesley. You should know that by now." He held up the bottle of alcohol he'd resorted to earlier, waving it slightly. "Ready for a drink yet?"
Xander walked down the street, hands in his pockets, eyes on the ground, not paying attention to the world around him. He blinked in surprise as a pair of familiar shoes stopped in front of him, making him look up. "Hi," he told his oldest friend. "Still making assumptions?" He walked around her, still going for something sweet to help him think.
Willow put a hand on his arm, stopping him. "Xander, I'm sorry about what I said earlier. I wasn't thinking and I'm sorry I hurt you. That thought should have never entered my mind." She looked into his eyes. "Are you all right?"
He shook his head. "No, this brought it all back." He looked down the street. "Go home, I'll call tomorrow." He removed her hand and started walking again. "And don't go over," he called back.
She stood there, watching him walk away. "If that's what you want," she whispered, "then I'll have to wait. I can't lose you too." She turned to face her shadow and protection, her spelled guardian for the next few months. "Spike? What's going on in there?" She walked over to where he was sitting on the stairs. "Are they saying mean stuff about him?"
The vampire shook his head. "They're both concerned. As they should be. If the Council takes her, then she'll have a miserable life." He turned his head to look at her. "We can come back tomorrow. They don't want us tonight." He stood up, holding out a hand. "Time to get you back to the dorm."
She took his hand to stand up and followed him as he walked away.
Xander walked out of the bulk store and looked around before starting back, his bag of candy hidden in his inside pocket. He looked up at the corner, almost smiling at the familiar blue van sitting across the street. "Hi," he said, walking up next to it, taking his friend in his arms for a hug. "Thanks."
"Hey, you needed me." Oz pulled back some, grinning just a little. "Let's get back, I need to hide from Willow. I don't want her to know."
Xander nodded, walking around the side of the vehicle to get in, getting comfortable for the short ride. "You sure you want to be here for me? She's gonna throw fits when she finds out."
"So don't tell her," the older man said, turning on the van and pulling out into traffic. He turned in the middle of the street, heading back to the apartment. Soon he was in front of it, waiting. "I'll be back in a minute, let me go park someplace like a garage." He patted the trembling arm. "Go inside. They're waiting and I'll be back."
Xander got out, heading down the stairs and back inside. He looked up as he walked through the door, grinning slightly. "He'll be back in a minute." Wesley looked confused but Giles nodded so he sat down on the couch, taking up his former spot and pulling out his bag of sugary goodness. "So, Wes, what's she like?" He ate the first piece of chocolate, needing it at the moment.
"She's still very drooly and dependent but I'd say that was normal." He smiled a little. "She's adorable but not a morning person. She keeps my hours easily, most of the night awake. She's not a heavy sleeper but she responds well to music and deep voices." He looked over his shoulder as someone else walked in. "Oz," he said gravely. "Did he tell you?"
"I'm here for support then I'm turning back into a pumpkin." He looked around the room, then headed down the hall when Giles pointed. "Thanks," he called back.
Wesley shook his head. "She's got the most amazing eyes. It's like they can see through you, all the secrets you're holding in come out to her." He smiled again. "She's also energetic, something I would guess comes from you."
Xander nodded, eating a third piece. "Yeah, I'm a little hyper." He grinned a little at the disgusted snort from the corner. "Ran into Willow, who apologized, told her to come back tomorrow." He looked over his shoulder as Oz walked back out, carrying the little child. "She up?"
"She does that," Wesley said. "For many hours at a time sometimes."
Oz nodded. "Yeah, babies do that." He handed her off, watching as Xander put aside his candy to look at her. "She's yours man, she's got your hair and smile." He sat on the coffee table. "What are you going to do?"
"If I don't take her then the Council gets her," he said quietly. "They'll give her to Wesley and make sure she becomes one of them." He looked at his friend. "I don't know yet."
Giles cleared his throat. "I'd sleep on it at least. She and Wesley can sleep here tonight. Oz, I'm assuming you have a hidden spot to go to ground for the night? I know you don't want Willow to know you're around." He saw the nod. "All right, let's meet back here in the morning." He stood up, picking her up as he walked by. "We'll go put you both in on my bed, Wesley, and I'll take the couch."
Xander looked at the younger former Watcher and frowned, having a sudden bout of empathy. "You'll be an Uncle? Like the visiting often kind?" He saw the nod and sighed. "Good." He stood up, looking at Oz. "I need to go think. Want to come to my basement?" He got a nod so he picked up his bag of candy and they walked out together. "I'm just not sure," was heard trailing off into the night.
Giles looked at Wesley as he walked out. "She's not a Chosen One. They'll destroy her spirit if she stays."
"I know. That's why I fought so hard." He looked over his shoulder at the door. "Can he handle it?"
"Yes, but I'm not sure if he thinks he can." He headed for the kitchen. "Tea?"
"Please." He stood up, walking that way also. "But do you have any that doesn't have a bag? The paper makes it taste funny."
Xander walked into his basement and stopped. "Anya," he said, getting her attention. "Not tonight. I need time to think about a personal problem." He made it to the bottom of the stairs and stopped, watching her put down the magazine. "I'll call tomorrow, 'kay?" He smiled hopefully.
"Sure," she muttered. "What's wrong?" She rubbed along the side of his face. "Anything I can help with?"
"Nope, this isn't an 'us' issue for the moment." He watched her walk up the stairs and out of the house then went over to sit on his lone chair, thinking until Oz reappeared. "Hi," he said when he heard the quiet steps. "So, what do I do?"
"In your situation?" he said, coming over to sit on the edge of the bed. "I'd do it. She'll have a better life with you, even if you work at McDonald's forever." He scooted back, crossing his feet on the bed. "I still say she's yours."
"I know," he said quietly, "but with what happened? Won't that hurt her?"
"Only if you tell her."
"But I'm not ready. I can't take care of her. She needs stuff I can't give." He closed his eyes, thumping his head on the back of the chair. "I can't give her what she needs."
"She needs love and someone to take care of her and provide the minimum for living." Oz shifted some, looking over his shoulder at the window. "No curtains?"
"No, but there's a dog next door." He got up, heading up to lock the door at the top of the stairs with the illegal lock. "Better?" His friend nodded so he sat back down. "I don't think she'll come over again tonight. She stopped me before I made it to the store." He pulled out the bag and tossed it toward the older man. "Have some, Oz, I don't want to be the only one on a sugar high."
Oz ate a piece and nodded. "Not bad." He put the bag aside. "You can do it. You'll need some help for a while. Maybe WIC or something too but you're more than capable of doing this." He turned his head at the sound of a twig snapping, moving to the floor and laying down so no one would see him. "Maybe you should move though."
Xander nodded. "Yeah, raising her here might be a bad thing." He looked at the window, frowning at the face pressed against it. "Go home Buffy!" he yelled. He watched her shoes disappear toward the front of the house. "I think she's beaten her old record for nosing into stuff." He shook his head, looking at the floor. "So, how's Montana?"
"Nice country, pretty boring, but the call was forwarded to San Francisco where we were really." He shrugged. "Have a small job, someone there that knows in case." He rolled onto his side, looking at the younger man. "How's she holding up?"
"Very badly. She cast a 'will' spell and made me a demon magnet and almost got turned into one herself. She's been having problems with her concentration since you took off." He looked down, frowning. "You destroyed all that you helped her build. She's back to the mousy thing she was in Junior High." He saw the sadness. "Get it figured out yet?"
"Mostly but I'm needed there for now." He sat up. "I'll be back this summer probably."
"Want me to pass this along?"
"No, I was going to call her since I'm here and tell her." He raised an eyebrow. "Think it'd go all right?"
"Has Hell frozen?" He rolled his eyes. "Oz, she's majorly gone over this. She's asked *Spike* if there was something wrong with her."
"What's up with him and her anyway? I saw them walking together."
"He's been made harmless thanks to the commandos." He grinned. "Came begging at Giles' to be saved. Then she made him her personal puppy while trying to fix it."
"Hmm, could be interesting." He looked at the window, seeing a shoe walking by it again. "What's with her?"
Xander stood up, going over to his closet. "That's Willow. You gonna hide?" He opened the door, holding it open.
Oz shook his head, laying down and scooting under the bed. "Hate closets," he muttered.
Xander grinned as he walked up the stairs to let her in. "No," he said, getting serious. "I said tomorrow."
She pouted at him. "But you need to talk. I know you do, otherwise you wouldn't have told me any of it." She tried to walk past him but he didn't move. "You sure?"
"Very," he sighed. "Listen, all right? This isn't something I can talk about now or here. When I've figured some things out and know for sure what's going on then I'll tell you." She nodded, giving him her hurt look. "Go back to the dorm and curl up for the night. It's gonna take me a while to get my head right."
She nodded and turned. "Okay," she said, dejected. "I'll wait for you to call me." She shuffled off, laying one hell of a guilt trip in her wake.
Xander walked back down the stairs after relocking the door, heading for his chair again. He watched the sneakers progress past the windows, sighing as they stopped at one point, probably so she could look back, hoping he'd be looking. "Go home," he muttered. He checked to make sure they were alone then hit the top of the bed. "Safe again. She's gone to pout."
Oz wiggled back out, coughing lightly. "You should clean down here and she needs to clean her toys better." He stayed lying down, hidden from all the windows. "I hated when she did that to me."
"Yeah, me too," Xander said, sitting back down in the chair. "So, how do I manage this? I've lost my job since I didn't go in today. I can't live here with her. I *won't* live here with her." He shook his head. "This is a major problem."
"Of course it is." He reached over, patting a twitching foot. "But you'll manage. You'll find another job and a place. Maybe Wesley could stay around until you're able to do that." He popped his neck. "I need to go hit my friend's house. He should just be getting up." He saw the worried look. "He does the night shift at the porn store." He grinned slightly. "Many interesting things in his apartment." He stood up, stretching up to pop his back. "You gonna be okay tonight?"
"Yeah, just call me in the morning. I need to get up." He rubbed his eyes and when he opened them again, he was alone. "Yup, just like old times, Batman." He got up, pulling off his shirt and laying down on the bed. "Again you slide off into the shadows." He closed his eyes, relaxing and letting his mind think for a while without him.
Giles looked up as his door was knocked on, frowning at the man at the table. "Who was it?"
"Oz," Wesley said, shifting the baby some to get a better grip on her wiggliness. "Saw him walking over through the window."
The older man walked over, letting him in. "Where's Xander?"
"I called him before I left. He'll be over in a while." He walked in, waiting until the door was closed. "I'll be back this summer, and I'll call her later today. Just don't tell her about this."
"Of course not," Giles said, walking back to the kitchen. "Would you like some breakfast?"
"Nah," he said, picking up the phone. "I'll call her. Already ate."
"She has caller ID," Giles reminded him.
"So?" He attached something to the back of the handset and dialed. "You'd like the guy I work for. Former Fed, kinda paranoid, takes all sorts of precautions." He tapped his foot, waiting for her to pick up. "Willow?" he said softly. Then he pulled the phone away from his ear. "No, I had the most distressing dream so I thought I should call. Are you all right?" He turned his back to rest it against the small pillar.
Giles shook his head, dishing out some food onto a plate and carrying it to the table. "Let me," he whispered, setting it down in front of the younger former Watcher and taking Madeline. "Yes, we'll eat deary," he told her, sitting down on the couch to feed her.
Wesley ate and watched both dramas unfold, wondering why he'd been caught up in either of them.
Xander stumbled in, nodding at everyone and taking his child from his friend's arms. "So, how are we this morning?" he asked, patting her back as he headed for the kitchen. He looked at Oz, who was lounging against the wall talking to someone and nodded. "Coffee?" he asked, pulling down the jar of instant. He saw the small shake so pulled down a single cup, pouring it one handed.
Wesley walked in, taking the spoon and finishing off the dark liquid for him, then handed it over. "It's a bit to get used to."
Oz frowned and pulled the phone away, glaring at Wesley. "No, Wesley's not here with me. I'm still in Montana. I'll be back this summer after the person here doesn't need me anymore." He rolled his eyes, thumping his head on the wall. "Why?" Long pause. "Can't we do it this way?" Short pause. "I know, he's got it blocked. He's a former Fed and he's paranoid." He shook his head, hanging up. "She's dating Spike?"
Xander choked on his coffee, almost dropping the cup. "She is?"
"Ah, that answers that." Oz walked over, taking the baby. "Let me, I've not held her yet today." He looked at the little girl looking at him. "You're going to be held often and very spoiled I bet. Uncle Giles would do that all by himself." He walked with her back to the living room, sitting down on the couch.
"Hey, I could use the help," Xander said. He leaned on the breakfast bar. "So, what's the plan for today?"
"Blood test," Giles said. "Then we take her to get a check up and then we figure out how to work this if you still want." He looked over his shoulder. "You do want to, don't you?" he asked, dreading the answer, in either direction.
The young man took a deep breath and stepped off the edge of his old world. "I can't let her be raised like that. I won't let her become me." He finished his coffee and rolled up his sleeve. "Here?"
Wesley shook his head. "I've made an appointment with a doctor to do it. The Council's paying." He looked at Giles, seeing if what they'd talked about should be brought up, then got a small nod. "The Council has made a few provisions for you." He cleared his throat. "There's a trust set up for her schooling. They want her to be raised as a potential Slayer, even though she's not a candidate. They may still want to make her a Watcher when she's older."
"At least she'll have some sense," Giles muttered.
Xander nodded. "Okay, but that still doesn't solve the no-job, need a better place to live headaches." He walked out, coming over to sit on the couch, watching Oz fuss at his little girl. "And I can't let her go back, even if."
Giles nodded. "I feel the same and I'll be here for you, as will Wesley when he's around." He frowned at the younger man. "Are you still hunting Demons?"
"Well, actually, yes, I am." He straightened his tie. "It's a decent living. Plenty of it to go around also." He raised an eyebrow at the older former Watcher. "Are you still pretending to be a Librarian?"
"Well, nobody's sure yet. After the graduation explosion, the school's not been rebuilt so I'm out of a job for now." He adjusted his glasses. "I'm working on some temporary projects and the like but nothing solid for now."
Xander turned his head to look at Wesley. "Demon hunter? You?"
"I've caught a few," he defended. "But back to the subject at hand. She's also got another heritage that might help with your other problems, both of you." He cleared his throat, sipping his tea slowly. "You remember the store Ethan Rayne used to run?" He saw the pained expressions. "I see you do. Well, the Council has bought the building and they've put it in her name but under Giles' care for now." He cleared his throat again. "Whatever you want to do with it is permissible, but it should be something that would help her."
Oz looked up at the oldest man. "Book store?"
Giles smiled, shaking his head. "There's a few of those presently. I think we could all come up with something reasonable though." He looked at Xander. "And there's an apartment above it. Two if I'm not mistaken from our scouting."
"Do they need work?" Oz asked. "Codes would need to be checked before anyone could move in."
"Everything is in order as far as I know," Wesley said. "I would suggest a specialty shop that you could order occult things and not look strange in." He shrugged. "Just my opinion."
"Hmm, that candle shop's going out of business," Xander pointed out. "He's retiring."
"True," Giles said. "We could take over his inventory. Add some books and other novelties, and the real thing of course for the real users." He nodded at Oz. "You're coming back, would you be willing to help?"
"Hey, I like her." He patted the back of her head. "She's comfortable to me." He looked down at her drooling on his shoulder. "And she drools like my snarly self." He wiped it off and turned her around resting her against his chest. "So, what do you think about that, Miri?"
"Miriam," Wesley corrected. "I named her after my mother." He smiled slightly. "I'll be back to check on her also."
Giles nodded. "And I'll have to start making reports again probably, just to update them."
"Whoa," Xander said. "This is getting heavy." He stood up, looking at the two former Watchers. "I want her as far away from them as possible. I've seen their nastiness first hand and I didn't like it. I want her to grow up like Oz and Giles, not like that guy that came to hurt Buffy on her birthday."
"Very true," Giles said. "And we'll insulate you both as much as possible." He looked at Oz, who was nodding. "You're not going to be thrown to them, Xander, far from it. I'll be an Uncle, a very close one. When Oz comes back, I'm sure he's going to do the same. Willow and Buffy will probably smother the child in love." He grinned, fondly thinking. "I know Willow's been wanting to have one now for a few years."
Oz coughed. "Not going to happen so she can spoil this one." He reached over to touch Xander's arm. "They're not getting her," he said. "I'll help when I'm back." He jumped up when someone knocked on the door. "That's my cue to hide in the bedroom," he said, handing her off to Xander and walking that way.
Giles waited until he heard the door shut before getting up to let whomever it was in. "Buffy," he said. "What did you need this morning?"
She stepped in, looking up at him. "I want to know the source of the wiggings around here." Her eye caught on Xander and she slowly turned to face him. "What's that?" she asked, walking over. "Xander, please tell me you didn't get some poor girl pregnant."
Wesley and Giles both groaned but the elder Watcher handled it. "Buffy!" he said sharply. "That's enough." He stared her down. "I think you should go until he's ready to share the whole story with you." He held open the door, waiting for her to get the picture.
She nodded, backing up. "Sorry, Xand, didn't mean it that way." She walked out the door, running up the stairs.
"Well, Willow will know in under an hour," Wesley said.
"Twenty," Xander said, looking at the clock. "She's got class for another fifteen." He looked down at the little one he was holding and panicked. "Giles, she's thrown up, what do I do?" He laid her down gently on the couch, touching her forehead with his fingers. "And she's warm."
Wesley sighed and got up, walking over to pick her up and check her over. "She's spit up, a natural occurrence in a baby's day, and," he checked her forehead with his lips, "he's right, she's a bit warm."
Giles grabbed the phone book, flipping back to the yellow pages. "Pediatricians," he said slowly, hunting through the listings for them. "Aha, here's one. Just up the street, accepting new patients. I'll call." He picked up the phone, dialing quickly. "Hello? I need to bring in my child. She's running a fever." Pause. "No, she's new to the area." Longer pause. "Thank you. We'll be right up." He hung up. "She can squeeze us in in an hour." He took the child, getting her into her little leather jacket. "Oz," he called, "we're taking her to the doctor's. Will you be all right?"
He walked out, leaning against the counter. "Sure. I'll pull down a book and go hide until you get back." He looked at Xander, seeing him trying to put on his jacket inside out. "Calm down," he said softly. "They do that too." He saw the white spot so picked up Wesley's napkin to wipe at the spot. "Condor's?" he joked.
Xander sighed and then grinned, laughing slightly. "Thanks," he said, patting the strong shoulder as he walked past Oz. "We'll be back in a few hours." He grabbed the baby and headed out the door. "Come on," he called when he wasn't immediately followed.
Giles looked around then at the calm young man. "There's food and cable and such. Be comfortable and don't answer the door if it makes you feel better." He walked out, following Wesley.
Oz walked over, throwing the locks and leaning against the wood. "Yeah, she's gonna be fussed over." He headed for a bookcase then back to the bedroom with his choice.
Xander sighed, sitting down hard in the chair. "So, she's all right from what you've seen, Doctor Amri?" He looked up at the older, partly Asian woman.
The doctor nodded, smiling slightly, her light tan skin wrinking at the corners of her eyes. "Yes, that's perfectly normal. It's not that high." She smiled at Giles. "Who's the father?"
Xander raised his hand. "I am. Her mother.... Let's just leave it as a long story and she's in England, all right?" She nodded. "Thanks. Not something I wanted to share."
She looked at Giles, who was staring at the baby. "You've had custody of her for how long?"
"Um, I've had her for a month," Wesley said. "But I'm turning her over to him as that's what I'm supposed to be doing." He looked at his watch. "Xander, blood work."
"Paternity," the doctor guessed. She got stereo nods. "We can do that here. Let me go get a syringe." She turned her back, walking across the room to the locked cabinets and pulling out her keys. "What's really up?" She unlocked the cabinet and pulled out a box, taking a syringe and a tube out. "This isn't normal at all."
Xander looked at Giles, who shrugged. "Her mother attacked me," he said quietly. "She wasn't quite all there." He shifted some. "A few months later she ended up in a coma at home. She's still in it."
She nodded, biting her lip. "Okay. So you're taking responsibility for her actions?" She held up a piece of tubing. "Roll up your sleeve please, Xander." She smiled, pulling him over to the table. "Much easier this way." She tied it around his arm and took the cap off the needle, holding the skin taut with a hand while she stuck him. "And now you're a father, of less than a day so far, and you're what? In college?" She watched the tube fill then pulled it out, laying it down while she wiped down the spot and bandaged it. Then she capped the needle and put it on the counter. "Now what?"
"I'm not in school right now," he admitted, "but I'm looking at that again. I'm in between jobs, just got offered a chance to work in a new store. Why?"
She pulled out a pamphlet from the holder on the wall. "WIC," she said. "Gives you stuff and coupons for formula and diapers. Very handy. Those things are expensive." She walked back over to the table, pulling out her little light and putting a new cap on it. "Let's check her ears and give her a full physical. I hope she comes back, she's so sweet." She smiled as she leaned down, looking in one ear, then frowned, looking at the other quickly. "She's also got a nasty buildup in her ears." She checked the rest of her quickly, then turned to look at the three men, handing Miri off to her father. "I'll give you some antibiotics and instructions on cleaning her ears." She put back up her scope, crossing her arms and leaning against the table, looking at Giles. "I'm supposing here but you'll help him a lot?" She got a nod, making her smile. "Then I'll teach both of you." She nodded at the pamphlet holder. "I've got some other stuff for you in the office, I'll get it when I get the stuff." She uncrossed her arms and walked out, closing the door softly so as to not wake the baby.
"Ah, Miri," Xander said, "you're gonna be fine. Yeah, we'll be okay after we clear up your ears. I used to have a lot of that too and it's normal." He hugged her tightly, then looked up to see the tolerant smiles. "What?"
"Nothing," Wesley said quickly, "just thinking how natural you seem to be with this now."
"You do seem well able to handle this," Giles added. "I think we'll leave her at my house and you'll be over most of the time for a while, until we can get you into a better place that is. We can also start giving you short times alone with her and work your way up to total independence." He smiled as the doctor came back in. "What do we need to do for her ears, Doctor?"
"Well," she said, handing over the blue bulb. "First off all, I want you to wash them. Gently of course, but with warm water. You'll be disgusted by what'll come out but that's normal." She handed over the bottle of eardrops. "Then, after they're clean, I want you to put a drop in each one. It might work better if you clean one side and do the drop while you clean the other, having her up on her side. It'll give it a chance to soak in." She smiled, leaning against the counter. "Anything else?"
"Good ones with moisture guard." She handed over a list to Xander. "Some information every new parent needs. Including when you need to call or take her to the hospital."
He handed her off to Giles, looking over the information he'd been given. "So, this hospital and you'll take her?"
"Of course," Doctor Amri said with a smile. "She's precious and I would fight you if you tried to take her elsewhere." She looked at the vial on the counter. "I'll get this done and call you later, Mr. Giles. I'm assuming that you'll all be over there." She picked it up, walking out. "Have fun and a nice walk back."
Xander pushed down his sleeve, putting on his jacket and holding up his little girl's. "Here Miri, let's get you ready to go back outside. It's cold out there today. Windy and everything nasty like that."
"It's warm compared to where she was," Wesley said. He took the information, waiting for her to be readied. "And could you please not call her that? My mother would have fits."
Giles put an arm around the other man's shoulders. "Ah, but I think she'd be fine. It's a softer name for her. When she's older or when he's scolding her he'll call her Miriam and you'll call her that always." He smiled slightly. "It's a parental prerogative to shorten names. And I think it's adorable." He took her back, resting her little body against his shoulder. "Shall we go confront the confused redhead?" He walked out, followed by the two men.
"Why would Oz be confused," Wesley said.
"Willow," Xander said. He shook his head. "Not yet. I'd like to procrastinate on this topic."