Beginnings by Voracity

Giles looked up from the register, smiling slightly as Wesley came into the store. "Hello," he said, holding up the snack tray. "Want one?"

The younger former Watcher took a filled cracker, biting it delicately. "How's it starting out?" He looked around the small store. "Not too many people."

"The boys' friends from school have already come and gone." He checked his watch and sighed. "Over an hour ago." He looked at the few customers. "Not too bad for the second day of business."

Wesley looked around and nodded. "No, not too terrible." He looked at the older man, looking him over. "You look very relaxed. Is everything going well?"

"Yes, actually. Buffy's gotten good grades this semester so far and everyone else is working back toward the peaceful feelings they used to share." He smiled at the young woman coming up, looking her over. He'd seen her before in the magic shop down the street. "If you need something else, there's a specialty room in the back," he said quietly. "Just some basics right now but we can order anything." He tapped the button that didn't seem to serve a purpose. She nodded so he pushed it, watching as she walked back. "We're all doing all right. Miriam's still doing well. She's upstairs being fed chocolate ice cream by Buffy I believe."

Wesley shook his head. "A bit early perhaps, but a sight none the less probably. May I go up and see her?" Giles nodded so he headed into the back room, heading to see the one he'd considered his.

Giles leaned on the counter, tapping it idly, something he'd heard Oz playing a few days earlier. He stood back up to ring up the returning woman, smiling at her. "Find everything all right?"

Wesley knocked on the door, walking inside. He smiled at the mess the little girl was making over her aunt's shirt, walking over to pick her up. "Hello Miriam, how are we?" He kissed a clean spot and took the washcloth Willow handed him with delight, going back to his nurturing phase. "Where's Xander?"

"Over at Oz's," the young women said together, then grinned. "They're making something for Giles' birthday," Willow elaborated.

He nodded, sitting down to finish cleaning her, laying her down on his joined legs. "And how has she been?"

"She's had a bump on her forehead from where she flipped into the crib's railings but otherwise she's fine." Buffy picked her up, pushing aside some of her hair to show off the faint bruise. "He took her to the doctor's but she's fine."

Wesley frowned deeply. "She's turned over already?"

"That's what Oz said." Willow leaned across the back of the couch, wiggling her fingers at the baby. "Xander had been putting stuff up downstairs late so she came over to watch her," she said, pointing at her friend. "When he got up the next morning, she had that big ol' egg on her forehead. So, of course, Xander panicked and ran her to the doctor's, who told him it was just a bruise and that he needed crib pads." She touched his shoulder. "We're fine, really. She's well taken care of."

He nodded, looking her over for more signs of trauma then picked her up to hold her against his chest. "How are things otherwise? I've heard some nice things about someone's school work this term."

Buffy nodded. "Not too bad. Mostly C's with a few B's tossed in." She looked at Willow. "It's all her fault of course, but that's beside the point." Willow punched her shoulder so she grunted in mock pain. "We're gonna go downstairs if you're gonna be here for a while?" She stood up, tugging on Willow's sweater until she followed.

Xander stuck his head out from across the hall. "The estrogen brigade gone?" he asked, grinning. When Wesley nodded he opened the door fully and walked over, sitting down at the other end of the couch. "I'm not hurting her, it happened in the middle of the night." The older man nodded, still frowning. "Oz thinks she's got some sort of gift and it's come back to hit her, literally," he said quietly. "We've set up a camera to catch her sleeping. We were just watching the tape."

Oz walked over, carrying a print out of a scene. "Yeah, she's pulling the lamps." He handed over the picture, sitting down between them. "Hey, Wesley, done hunting for a while?"

"I was back in Los Angeles and thought I should pop up." He craned his neck to see the blurry picture. "What is it?"

"Proof of telekinesis," Xander said, handing it over. "That's the lamp that's been by the door most of the time." He looked at Oz. "So, how do we block it?"

"A protection?" he suggested, looking around the room. "Or softer lamps."

Wesley grunted. "Both might be a better suggestion." He moved her to the other shoulder. "You know if this gets out to her doctor or back to the Council she'll be taken?" Both younger men nodded. "As long as you're aware of it."

"Actually," Oz said, "the Council's sent someone to threaten us already. A few weeks ago he showed up while we were taking a break in the park." He shrugged, looking at the picture where it laid on the table in front of him. "Said they'd take it all from us, including her."

Xander reached over, patting her back. "Yeah, but we showed him we weren't afraid and he went away laughing." He grinned at Oz. "Or did we actually scare him?"


"That's what I thought." He sat back up, looking around the room. "This isn't the first one and Giles was helping us decide on telling her doctor. She's pretty cool about most things and she wasn't even shocked at the bump." He shrugged, then ran a hand through his hair. "I'm kinda worried that Miri'd become a research rat but these two don't think so."

"She's married to a Wiccan," Oz pointed out. "She'd understand and be able to tell us how to deal." He looked toward the door. "Girls are back."

"That's still creepy."

"Hey, wolfy ears and all." He stood up, waving at the baby, who was watching him. "He'll be across the hall. Have fun." He picked up the picture and headed down the stairs.

Xander shifted but didn't move. "I should go view the rest of the tape but I'm basking in watching other people hold her. She likes you." He looked into the dark eyes, seeing the happiness. "You're welcome anytime, Wesley, you know that." He stood up. "I'm gonna go back to my viewing. Have fun cuddling." He walked out, stepping around Buffy as she was walking backwards up the stairs, pulling Willow.

The girls walked back into the apartment, going back to their books, sparing many glances for the man and baby.

Xander looked up as Oz walked back in. "Two more. I printed them. What did Giles say?"

"He said that he's making an appointment in the morning to go talk to Doctor Amri." He picked up the pictures, looking at them. "Why that lamp?"

"It's ugly and she doesn't like it?"

"She's not that fashionable yet." The older man scratched his head and sat down in front of the entertainment center. "We could move the lamp."

"She'd just pull it. We've moved it around the room for the last few days and she's always gotten it." He got up, heading for the fridge. "Soda?"

"No, juice please." Oz got up, heading across the hall, and came back with the lamp in question. "Okay, so let's see if it's the lamp." He set it down, pulling out his magnifying glass to look over it.

"It's an ugly lamp, Oz, nothing more." Xander sat the opened bottle beside the lampshade. "No runes, no markings, not possessed."

"Then why just this one? She's not pulled anything else."

"We leave it lit. Most nights anyway." Xander shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe she's got a Cordelia-type soul and it offends her." He looked over the badly painted thing, seeing the drawings of cave-type things on it. "It offends me but it was a gift from an aunt." He sipped his soda, watching Oz work.

"Willow!" Oz yelled, bringing her running. "Hey," he said when she'd come through the door. "What's up with this lamp? Can you tell?" He handed it over, picking up his juice and sitting back to let her look at it.

"Besides being badly copied?" She looked it over. "Nothing that I can tell, why?" She set it on the side table, watching as it rocked. "Okay, so maybe not. Let me cast something around it and see if it's got something stored." She looked at the two men. "And I thought there was an emergency."

"There is," Oz said. "Miri's pulling it on her head at night." He finished up his juice, setting the bottle between his thighs. "Each night, at least three times last night. That's what the bruise was from."

She scrunched up her face. "Levitation?" He nodded and shrugged. "Then I'll definitely try to figure out the lamp while you guys work on the baby angle." She carried it across the hall, closing both doors behind her.

"Maybe we shouldn't have told her," Xander said. "I don't want Miri looked at strangely. She'll get enough of that just being mine." He saw the pained look. "Ours, sorry."

"No big. She is yours biologically, but ours in spirit." He patted the bouncing knee. "I don't think she'd do that. Maybe try to force her down the magic path but she won't call her a mutant." He looked at the screen, seeing the last picture frozen still. "What is that?" He pointed, then picked up the remote to fool with the picture.

"Not a clue so I saved it so you could look at it on the computer. It just looked funny to me." He finished off his soda, plucking the empty bottle from his friend's lap as he got up. "Want another?"

"No thanks." Oz got up, pulling out the saved files and transferring them to his laptop, calling up his photo program. He enlarged the area, looking at it closely. "Xand, come here," he called. He felt a warm body at his back so moved a little. "What does that look like?" He highlighted it with the mouse.

"Um, an extra hand? I'd be guessing 'cause it's so light though." The younger man tipped his head then shook it. "That's all I see."

"But it's not hers." Oz selected another section, enlarging it. "There it is again." He pointed to it. "It's bringing it to her." He tapped his fingers on the desk a few times then called up another program, setting it to run on the picture. "Let's see if it's a paranormal thing." He leaned back, running into a firm wall behind him that grunted. "Um, space?"

"Sorry," Xander said, backing up, but still looking at the picture. "So, is it a possession? Or is it her?"

Oz shrugged but printed out a high-quality print of the picture. "Not a clue, I'm gonna take it downstairs." He grabbed the magnifying glass on the way out, closing the door softly.

Xander sat down to look at it, watching the string of letters and numbers cross the bottom of the screen. When something came up, he picked up the phone. "Oz?" he said. "It found something. It's her." He hung up, reading the message that was displayed. He didn't move when two more bodies stood behind him, reading over his shoulder. "She's got a spirit around her?"

Giles squeezed the younger man's shoulders, making him move. "Let me see," he said. He sat down in the chair, looking over the entry and the book it came from. "It seems that she's got a guardian, someone watching over her and teaching her things." He frowned, advancing the screen. "I wonder who?"

Willow leaned over, tapping in a code, calling up the further entries from the database she'd created for just such referencing. "Let's see what else it came up with." She read the new entries, tipping her head so it wasn't resting on Giles' shoulder. "Okay, so she's telekinetic, but why now? Gifts don't tend to manifest this young unless they're needed and she doesn't have to protect herself from people."

"But it does explain the calmness," Xander said, still reading. "The first one said that the spirit would talk to her, keep her calm." He looked at Giles then backed up when he realized he was right next to the older man's ear. "Could it be something that came from Faith?"

The older man shook his head. "Most unlikely, but it might be her. She's not come back around again." He looked at the worried parent. "I'm sure it's harmless but we'll try to talk to it tomorrow night." He patted the cool hand. "Go see her, I'm sure you want to make sure she's fine." He got a nod as he watched the boy shuffle out and across the hall. "Who is it?" he muttered, reading the selection again.

"It wouldn't be Faith," Willow said. "She's not that protective. She thought the calling was fun and games." She tapped a few more keys then smiled. "That's what's going on," she said, pointing. "See that marking? It's on the lamp. That's why she's been calling it. The spirit must identify with it so he's teaching her how to do it." She tapped a few more keys, sitting down when he vacated the seat. "Hmm, not a mention of a single person associated but a group of Knights." She wiggled her nose. "That's not right, it can't be." She hit another key then clicked the mouse on a button that popped up. "Hmm," she said, nipping her lip. "Yeah, that's what it is." She hit the printer button, sending it out so they could both read it. "Her gifts aren't manifesting, the spirit's forcing it. He thinks the markings on the lamp are the signs of his enemies so he's trying to destroy it using her abilities." She looked over her shoulder at Giles. "We should be able to summon him up and talk to him pretty easily. He's really close to her."

The older man nodded, taking the papers and sitting down on the couch. Then he looked at it in appreciation before going back to the papers. "We'll need the materials to summon it." She nodded when he looked up. "All right. Go get them and we'll do it at my house tomorrow." He stood up with a grunt. "Why can't he help Xander get better furniture," he muttered, walking out.

He ran into Xander in the hall, handing over the papers, taking the child so he could read it easier. The younger man frowned then looked at him, then back down a few times, then folded it calmly and handed them back. "Then we'll have to call him up and beat the crap out of him for messing with her," he said simply, heading down the stairs. "Wes is sacked out on the couch, head next to Buffy's stroking fingers." He smiled at the person that met him. "Hi," he said, kissing her cheek. "We gotta talk to you." He pulled Miri's Doctor into the storage room.

Giles walked down the stairs, shaking his head. "If he thinks that's for the best then we need to support it," he told himself. He headed into the store, seeing Oz talking to a few of his friends. "Only a half hour more," he announced, stepping around the younger man to get to the register.

Oz nodded then stood back up from where he was leaning and talking to the other man. "Devon wants to see me later so I'll be going for a while. Did we get it?" Giles nodded. "Okay. I'll tell Xand before I head." He looked around the store then went out to talk to someone else he knew.

Giles watched him work the room, wishing he had that sort of skill with people.


Willow frowned at the spirit that was trapped in front of them. "But you can't have her like that. She's just a baby." She walked around the trapping symbols, looking at them to make sure they were all right. "It's a lamp, not a sign that evil was coming for you."

Xander walked closer, bringing Miri with him. "She's mine, not yours and you're not going to use her anymore." He looked at his daughter before picking up a handful of the 'emergency' herbs that would banish the summoning and tossing them on the place where the Knight was trapped. "No one will hurt her again," he said as the spirit screamed and started to twist then disappeared. He looked at the two frowning people. "Tough." He bounced Miri a little, juggling her a little higher, then grabbed his jacket. "If it comes back tonight, I'll yell." He slipped into it from much practice and wrapped her blanket around her shoulders, walking out of the apartment.

Willow looked at Giles, grinning. "I'm glad I'm on his good side with her."

The older man sighed but was smiling himself. "Quite. I'd hate to see him in full protective mode." He looked at the mess on the floor, shaking his head. "Go grab the broom and help me clean this up please. I'd rather not leave this here, one never knows what might happen."

Xander walked down the street, rubbing the baby's back in a soothing way. "Sshh, honey, we'll be home soon and Uncle Oz will be there." He stopped to look around, feeling like he was being watched, then started walking faster, heading for the open store nearby. He'd just made it inside when something hit the door, making him flinch and move away from it. He looked at the store owner, who shrugged from where he was cleaning up a pile of beans. "What was that?"

"Not a clue, happened a few times tonight. You might want to check your own shop." He stood up, coming over. "She yours?"

Xander nodded, pushing back the blanket to show her off. "Yeah, she's about five months." He looked back out the door. "What's going on?"

"Not a clue," the old man sighed. "It hits the doors, knocks some stuff off the shelves if it's open when they come, then they leave and stay gone for a little over an hour." He looked around at the slight disarray. "Want to call your friends to come get you?"

Xander nodded, heading for the phone. He picked it up but ended up putting it back down. "Dead," he muttered. He turned but the owner wasn't in the room. "I'm gonna try to make it home now," he called. He heard a grunt so headed for the door. He hadn't expected someone to step in front of him. "Hi," he said, nervously. "What?"

"We want the cash," he teen said, frowning at him. "Or we hurt you both."

Xander pulled out his wallet. "Nothing in there really but it's yours." He backed against the shelves, holding Miri tighter. "I'm not one of the people here, I work down the street."

"Then we want your cash," he said, flipping open his knife and walking closer. "Now."

"We made our deposit for the night. There's no cash in the building." He looked over his shoulder, seeing the door opening. "Just don't hurt us. We don't have what you want."

The teen snarled, moving a little closer, threatening with the blade. "Why not? You look like you could be fun." He slowly glanced over Xander, then back at his eyes. "You're a pussy," he spit.

"Not really," Buffy said. "I am." She kicked the guy in the back, hitting right about his kidneys. "Hey, Xand," she said cheerfully. "Want to be walked home?" He nodded, mute, holding the baby tighter. "Okay, call the cops and we'll go."

"Phone's dead," he said quietly. He looked toward the back room. "I could go look for the guy's son. He might be able to get another one." She nodded so he headed for the back, pulling the blanket over the baby's head so she didn't see the body lying on the floor. "Buff," he called. "Let's call from outside." He walked back, backing out of the back room and into her, making him jump. He spun, frowning at her. "Don't do that!"

She nodded, taking hold of his arm and leading him out of the store. She smiled at the man walking down the street, talking on his cell phone. "Could you please call the cops? He was almost mugged and the store's been robbed." He nodded, handing it to her after a few more words to the other end. She dialed quickly, turning away from Xander to talk. "Hi, I'm at Ernie's Market and my best friend was just held up in there." Short pause. "No, the bad guy's on the floor and the owner's laying in a puddle, dead as far as I could tell." She frowned. "Now would be good." She hung up, shaking her head and handed back the phone with a smile. "Thanks." She pulled Xander closer, leaning against his arm. "You all right?" she asked softly. "Did he hurt you?"

He shook his head, looking at the lights coming down the street. "No. He was still threatening when you walked in." He shuddered for a second. "I don't want to think about that, 'kay?" She nodded, hugging both of them. "Thanks, again."

"Hey, part of my job is watching out for you." She touched the back of Miri's head, rubbing over it. "I'm just sorry you had to be that threatened." She turned to look at the cop. "The bad guy's on the floor near the front, the owner's near the back and I think his son was still in the back." He nodded, going inside so she turned back to her friend. "What's going on? You didn't have to stop in there tonight. I distinctly remember you shopping yesterday."

"I..." He coughed. "I thought I was being followed so I ducked in. The owner said something had been hitting the door about once an hour so I waited. When I was sure it was over, I tried to call Oz but the phone was dead, so I yelled out that I was going. That's when I ran into the slimy guy. He wanted my wallet so I gave it to him then he wanted me to go get him some more money but I said we'd already made the night deposit, right after I told him I didn't work there." She nodded, rubbing over his arm. "That's when you came in."

Buffy sighed, leaning more into his side. "Yeah, I saw the knife and you and knew it wasn't a good so I headed in." She looked at the officer walking back out. "Was I right?" He nodded, right before he threw up into the trash can beside them. "I see some people have weak stomachs." She grinned up at Xander. "I'll walk you home after they take a statement. I so don't want Giles to jump me for letting you be alone."

Xander nodded, leaning against the light pole, waiting for it to be his turn.


Oz looked out of his apartment, frowning at the man trying to get the key into his lock and not succeeding. "Come on," he said, tugging on his free arm to get him into his place. "What happened?" he asked when he saw the pale complexion.

"Was mugged," Xander muttered. "Ernie's dead. So's his son." He sat on the plush couch, holding onto the baby as tightly as he could. "We were there. I didn't hear him even say a word."

The older man sat down beside him, unwrapping the strong arms from the baby. "Let me put her in on my bed and we'll talk." It took him another minute, at least, to get him to let go and by the time he came back, Xander was laying down, curled up to stare at the blank computer screen. "Hey," he said softly, sitting beside the dark hair to work his fingers through it. "Want to give me the full story?" He felt the head shake more than saw it "Okay, how about we start with something more neutral. How did the summoning go?"

"It came, he went, I got possessive." He tipped his head back, looking at his friend. "I was mugged. He threatened to hurt her too. I didn't even hear Ernie yell." He shuddered a little, putting his chin back against his chest. "It's like I was insulated."

"You may have been. What did you go in there for?"

"Was being followed. Or I felt like I was."

"You did something safe." He moved a little closer, lifting the head onto his leg so he could relax a little more. "What happened?"

"I was standing there, trying to figure out what hit the door when Ernie told me it had been happening about once an hour. He turned around, heading for the back, told me to call you. I tried but the phone was out. I didn't hear a thing, so I yelled that I was going but I ran into the mugger. He wasn't bloody or anything." He started to shudder again. "I gave him my wallet, told him I didn't work there, and that we'd made our night deposit already." He was shaking hard now, losing the adrenaline from the ordeal. "Buffy saved me and I went to check on Ernie and his son and that's when I saw them both, puddled. Big huge red ones that were growing." He took a shaky breath. "I didn't hear him."

Oz rubbed his fingers a little harder against the younger man's scalp. "It might not have been the mugger. He might have just chosen a convenient time." He looked at the open door, hearing someone coming up the stairs. "We're in here," he called. He smiled as Giles walked in. "He's all right and so is she." He nodded toward the bedroom, watching the older man as he left them alone. "Xand, you did what you had to do to protect Miri. Nobody could fault you for that."

"Then why didn't I hear?"

"Many things," Giles said, walking back out with the baby, "don't make noise as they kill." He sat down beside the youngest man's feet. "She was awake."

"She's okay, right?" Xander said, sitting up to take her and look her over.

Giles restrained him, hugging him tightly. "You protected her twice tonight. She's fine." He looked over the dark hair at Oz, nodding at the kitchen. He left them alone. "Xander," he said quietly, "you protected her as well as any of us could. You kept the subhuman teen from hurting Miri by cooperating. She'll not remember this. Nothing that happened tonight was your fault." He squeezed him a little harder with the last sentence.

"Then why didn't I hear him?"

"Because he wasn't killed by a person," Giles said. "Buffy got a better look at the bodies when the Police walked her through to explain to them what had happened. They were torn into by something not human. That teen didn't stab them." He let him sit back up and pull away some. "You did the right thing and you're not at fault."

Xander nodded, running his hands through his hair. "Ernie said something had come by and hit his door about once an hour. And it had come in to knock stuff off when the door was open. He didn't say what he saw though." He looked toward the kitchen. "You guys should start a rescue Xander business."

Oz walked out, shaking his head. "Nope, not needed." He sat down right behind the youngest man. "What was following you? A vampire or something else?"

"I don't know." He closed his eyes, reliving the time before the attack. "It was like a watching. But the thing hit the door right after I got in so maybe it was the same thing."

"Could the baby be attracting things tonight?" Oz asked.

"With the other spirit being gone, it's possible it left a taint, something that might call to others that would hang here." He rubbed over Xander's shoulder and up to the side of his face. "We can start searching tomorrow while we work." He looked at Oz, who shrugged. "Maybe neither of you should be here tonight."

Xander nodded, leaning back into the warmth behind him a little. "Yeah, it might be good to take her to your place."

"All of us," Oz said softly, mostly because his mouth was right beside Xander's ear. "Go pack her a bag and grab the playpen. We'll let you camp on the couch." The younger man got up, walking out and over to his apartment. He had to come back for his keys, but he left again, still walking slowly. When the other apartment door was closed, Oz moved closer to Giles. "Will it be okay?"

"Of course," the older man said, smiling slightly. "He's known we're together for a while now. I'm sure we can either be quiet or just hold one another." He stole a brief kiss. "Go grab something to wear tomorrow, all of your clothes there are dirty." He watched his lover walk into his bedroom then turned his attention to the hallway. "Xander," he called, "do hurry up. It's getting late." He smiled as the door was opened and the playpen was shoved out, along with a backpack and a smaller bag. "It's only for a night," he reminded him when a third bag appeared.

Xander closed the door behind himself. "Yeah, but she needs stuff." He left it all there, heading back in to sit on the couch. "I'll take the couch, all right? She can sleep in the living room with me so you guys can have some privacy." Giles nodded, still smiling slightly. "Thanks."

"We're not upset," Oz pointed out, walking back out with his old pack from High School. "Lots of stuff, Xand." He looked at the small pile. "Toys?"

"Her sleeping stuff is in the blue one and her clothes are in the other. The diaper bag has the normal stuff, just a few extra bottles."

"Your things?" Giles asked pointedly. The youngest man gave him a confused look so he looked at Oz, nodding at the other apartment. When they were alone, he handed back Miri. "Here, she's still being a bit fussy."

"I think the spirit kept her calm." He looked down at his little girl. "Hey," he said softly. "Want to go camp at Uncle Giles' tonight?" She drooled and waved her arms a little. "I'll take that as a yes." He untucked the bottom of his t-shirt to wipe her spit off. "You really do that too much dear." He watched as her thumb found its way into her mouth, calming her instantly. "Thought so. All it took was the mention of Giles and you calm down." He handed the baby back, walking out to grab the stuff in the hall. "Your car?"

"Outside," Giles said, watching him. He looked down at her, frowning a little. "You really should calm down for him too. He feels most unneeded sometimes." He stood up, grabbing Oz's keys from the bookcase beside the door before locking the door and closing it.


Oz sat up in the bed, listening to the quiet conversation in the living room. He tipped his head, moving onto his side to hear better, dodging the arm that tried to pull him back under the covers. When he heard the upset noises the baby was making, he got up, not bothering to cover his nakedness with a robe, and walked out to see if he could help. "Hey," he said quietly, walking up behind the couch. "Want to talk?"

Xander turned his head to look up. "Why didn't you put on clothes?"

"Because I wasn't wearing any." He leaned against the furniture, hiding himself from view. "Better?"

"Yeah, Miri doesn't need to know about nudity yet." He looked down at the little girl he was feeding. "She was fussy so I was holding her."

"You were fussy so you're using her to comfort yourself," Oz corrected. He saw the wince but it wasn't refuted so he went on. "Want to talk some more?"

"Not really. I'd rather forget that it happened."

"Bring them in here," Giles called from the bedroom.

"No thanks," Xander called back. "I don't want to interrupt."

"You were," Oz said, "our sleep." He reached over the back of the couch, taking the baby. "Come on, you need cuddled like a teddy bear too." He walked back to the bedroom, pulling the playpen with him.

Xander watched him go, but didn't move. Not even when Oz walked back out to frown at him. "No, I'm not going. You two need your privacy." He 'meep'ed as he was picked up and carried inside. "Oz!"

"Sshh," Giles said, pulling back the covers. "Get in and be quiet. She's sleeping." He waiting until both of them were back in the bed before tossing the covers over to his lover. "There, much better for all of us." He reached over to take Oz's hand, letting them rest on Xander's stomach. "Good night." He closed his eyes again, falling back to sleep quickly.

Oz rolled onto his side, planting himself next to the younger man. "You're safe, just nap," he whispered. "I won't attack you."

"I know," Xander said. "I feel safe." He curled up on his side, facing Oz, closing his eyes.

"You are," the middle man said. "Always safe with us." He closed his own eyes after watching the other two sleep for a few minutes, heading back into sleep himself.


Xander woke up to someone pounding on the door. He got out of the bed, not realizing in his morning haze that he had to crawl across somebody, and went to answer it. He frowned, scratching his chest at the woman on the other side of the portal. "Huh?"

"Xand," Buffy said, walking inside. "Why are you here?" He gave her a confused look. "It's ten and you're not at the store. None of you are."

He nodded, closing the door, grunting at her as he walked past to make some coffee. He figured out that this wasn't his home when he didn't see the coffee maker ready for him. In fact, he didn't see one at all. He frowned around at the kitchen, looking for where it had hidden itself, whistling softly for it.

Oz walked into the kitchen, pulling the kettle over onto a burner and turning it on. "Hey," he said, standing right behind the younger man. "Still in pre-caffeine haze?" He got a nod and a still confused look. "Remember last night?" Xander started to open his mouth, then he went white and sat down in the middle of the floor. "I'm guessing that's a yes." He turned to look at the woman watching him. "My keys are on the table, grab them and go open for us. We'll be in within an hour or so." She nodded, picking them up to jingle for his inspection then left after he nodded. He squatted down, getting on the younger man's level. "It's not that bad."

Xander got up in a rush, knocking Oz over, and looked around. When he didn't see Miri he headed into the bedroom, slamming open the door and sighing as he saw her happy face looking up at him in shock. He picked her up, sitting with her on the floor.

"Bloody earthquakes," was muttered from the bed.

Oz walked in, smiling at the barely-awake Giles as he handed over a cup of tea. He sat on the floor with Xander, handing over a cup of instant coffee. "Morning," he said. He was looked at and then blinked at, reminding him that he wasn't wearing anything but a love bite on his chest so he pulled down a blanket to cover himself. "Buffy's opening for us," he said softly.

Giles groaned, getting up. "I'd best go save the customers before she runs them off." He walked around them, heading for the bathroom. "It's not what it appears, Xander," he said as he passed.

Oz nodded. "You just needed to be surrounded by other people so you slept between us." He looked at Miri. "I know someone needs changed so why don't I do that?" He tried to take the baby but the death grip around her small body prevented from doing more than irritating her further. He cleared his throat. "Xander, dirty diapers smell and give her rashes. Let me have her." He held out his arms, waiting.

The younger man looked down, looking at her. He slowly handed her over, watching Oz walk out to the living room where her stuff was and sipped his coffee. Slowly thought came back to him, prompting him to review what had brought him over to this apartment and why he'd woken up between the lovers. He shook his head, standing up, only to be pushed back onto the bed by Giles as he walked back in. "Um, Giles? I'm not Oz," he said carefully, not knowing what state of reason the older man was in.

"I know but it's your turn to make the bed." He pulled an outfit down from the closet and headed back to the bathroom. "Nothing fancy, just smooth it out a bit. Thanks." He closed the bathroom door behind himself.

Xander looked around then sat back up, setting his cup carefully on the side table before he got up. He turned to look at the comforter and the disarray of the sheets, shaking his head. He bent over, starting on the near side.

Oz walked back into the bedroom, stopping to watch his friend make his occasional bed. "You do that well," he said quietly, turning Miri around to watch. "See, Daddy knows how to make a bed, even when he's still in morning confusion."

Xander turned to look at him. "Hi," he said, looking at his newly naked daughter. "Did we make a bigger mess than usual?" He walked around the bed, going to work on the other side.

"Not really. Want help?"

"Nope, Giles said it was my turn." He shrugged, pulling the comforter over a little more before walking back around to smooth the other side.

Oz walked to the foot of the bed, smoothing it out and laying her down on it. He grabbed a few pillows, putting up guards for her so he could move away from her. When he was satisfied that she couldn't get hurt, he looked at his friend. "Wigged?"

"Not really. Confused though." He sipped his coffee, wincing at the bitterness near the bottom. "I've got to get him some better stuff and a coffee maker. Even a perk that sits on the stove would be better."

Oz chuckled, walking around to hug him. "You needed the comfort of contact last night. Nothing happened, at least nothing more than becoming my personal teddy bear." He let him go, stepping back.

"Why are you still naked?" Xander asked. "Did I... um, never mind." He blushed slightly.

"Yeah, I sleep like this and no, you didn't even glance at me in interest while you were snuggled up against my chest."

The younger man nodded, turning and walking out to head for the kitchen. "Giles said he was going to save the customers from Buffy," he said, pouring some more water into his cup to make some more coffee. He glanced at the clock. "We slept in too long." He finished stirring so turned to look at Oz. "So, now what?"

"Now, we get ready to go face the day and head over to help." He walked a little closer. "Did it bother you?"

"No, I was just confused for a second. I didn't remember getting in with you two." He blushed slightly again, hiding it with a long drink from his mug.

Giles chose that moment to walk into the kitchen, and seeing the naked man and the blushing man he had to come to one conclusion. "Nothing happened outside of what we would give the baby."

Xander nodded. "So Oz told me." He smooshed himself against the counter so Giles could get by him. "We'll be in after we shower and naked boy gets dressed." He looked at Oz, raising an eyebrow. "Or do you intend to come to work like that today? I could make up a cute sign, it'd give us great business." He grinned more now, wiggling his eyebrows.

Giles rolled his eyes. "Please put on some clothes, Oz, before he puts you out on the sidewalk to draw in customers." He found what he was looking for and turned around to see his lover still standing there. "Unless you'd like that."

"Wouldn't bother me," he said, crossing his arms and grinning slightly. "And we could use the business."

Giles bit into his muffin, shaking his head. "Do it and I'll spank you later," he threatened, heading for the door. "I'll see you in a while," he called, walking out.

Xander looked at his friend. "I couldn't do it." He finished his second cup of coffee and put the mug into the sink.

"Be with Giles?"

Xander snorted. "No, run around naked all day." He walked past him. "Want first shower?"

"I forgot to pack your stuff. Use mine." He watched the sweatpants-clothed body disappear into the bathroom. "I wouldn't mind if you did though," he muttered, pulling out stuff for his own breakfast.


Giles looked up as the door chimed, smiling at his two helpers. "Good morning," he said.

"And he does it without coffee," Xander said in fake awe. He looked at Oz. "Must be good for him to wake up with us there and the baby hovering." He grinned, looking around the empty store. "Nobody?"

"A few but it's not lunch rush yet." He took possession of the carrier. "Did she get a bath too?" He brushed some of the damp curls around then sniffed her. "You smell nice," he told her. "Must have used Oz's soap."

"Both of us," Xander said, hopping up to sit on the counter. "Forgot to bring any."

"I forgot to pack you any," Oz corrected. "You didn't remember to pack a bag for yourself." He pushed the special room's button, heading back there. "I'm going to grab something, be right back."

Giles waited until they were mostly alone in the store before saying anything. "We're trying to keep it quiet. I feel that if our relationship got out, it might hurt him or the store." He looked at the younger man. "Just be a little more careful who you mention it around," he said when he saw the hurt look.

"Sorry," Xander said, getting down. "I didn't mean to spill it." He looked at the stuff he'd been sitting on. "Didn't we just get a shipment?"

"Yes, but we've already sold out of some things. Those candleholders went over well. As did the novelty items I thought might fail."

"We just gotta keep it fresh," Oz said, walking back out. He walked around, sitting on the stool. "Okay, about the thing last night. We know it hits like a strong wind, right?" Xander nodded when he looked up, "and Ernie didn't see it so it's either really fast or in some sort of smoke or air form." He flipped through the book, coming to the section he wanted. "And we know what it didn't want so that could rule some things out."

Xander raised a hand. "Are we doing that in here?"

Giles shrugged. "I don't see why not. No one's here at the moment." He followed the youngest man's gaze, landing on Miri's carrier. "She'll have to know eventually, even if we do save her from the Council." He patted Xander's shoulder. "We'll not let her help us look though." He saw the frown and pulled him over, walking him to the back room. "What's wrong?"

`"I just want her to grow up normal. Not different, not weird, not abnormal in any way. I just want her to grow up to be an average person." The older man nodded, prompting him to get it out. "I mean, she's already shown a gift for pulling things to her and now we're gonna start researching in front of her? How normal is it for a two year old to know more demons than other kids?" He crossed his arms, looking Giles in the eyes. "I just want her to be happy and normal, never to be touched by the Hellmouth."

The former Watcher nodded, rubbing his forehead. "A noble sentiment, but it's already too late for that." He took off his glasses to rub his eyes. "She's already been touched and if the Council finds out that she's not being exposed then they could try to make good on their threats to take her from you." He put the glasses back on, grabbing the stiff shoulders. "I'm not suggesting that we teach her the Craft right away, just to not make it hidden around her. I don't want her to be different any more than you or Oz do. I'd love to see her have the life you and he were denied, playing and living normally, but it's not going to happen that way, not fully. We'll try to make it as normal for her as we can but we're not going to succeed that well. She'll have to know, just to protect her from the nights." He let go, stepping back, watching for a strong reaction one way or the other.

Oz walked back, carrying her carrier and handing it off to Giles. "Let me." He waited until they were alone, then closed the door to give them some privacy. "Xander, what worries you the most? That she's going to get hurt or that she might turn out to be one of us?" He leaned against the only exit, waiting for him to figure it out.

"Both," the younger man said finally. "She's going to be singled out because we're raising her without a mother. She's gonna be made fun of because of me. I just want her to be able to make more than four friends in her life." He sat down on the small desk, getting up when it tipped with his weight. He looked around the room, not seeing anything, so leaned against the opposite wall. "You know what happens to kids that are picked on. They're miserable. They're lonely. If she comes in the first day of school and starts talking about demons and stuff, it'll just set her further apart and she won't have...." He stopped, not wanting to let that pain out.

Oz figured it out anyway. "She won't have a Willow around to cushion the crushing rejection?" He nodded at the hesitant nod. "You know that's a few years off, right?" He saw the stronger nod so walked over to where he was standing. "I don't think she'll be any different than any other kid. Maybe a little more knowledgeable but she'll know enough to hide that stuff by then." He took one of the solid hands in his, squeezing it. "Yeah, she's already different, but he was right. We can't hide it from her and expect her to be safe." He looked into the dark eyes. "Not even if she was moved off the Hellmouth. She'll always be different, her very nature makes her that way." He let the hand go, turning to stand in front of him. "Xander, she's got a gift and you've accepted that. You know she's got to be taught how to use and not use it, right?" He saw the nod. "Okay, so why is this knowledge any different? It's just something else to protect her from the big, bad world."

Xander swallowed. "You make it all sound so normal," he said softly. "I just want her to be..."

"Not you?" At the silent nod, he pulled the younger man in for another hug. "She'll be fine and happy. When she's old enough, we'll put her into a good daycare one day a week to let her get used to other kids. She'll be making friends in no time." He pulled back, brushing some of his hair out of the way. "She's got your personality, she'll make tons of friends and we're not gonna let her be picked on. I'll be one of those people that storms in to rip apart the principle if she is." He grinned, seeing an answering one. "Just think of her brains. Giles is determined to have her reading by the age of four. She'll go in ready for second grade and be light years ahead of the other kids so she'll hang with the smart ones."

"I want her to take self defense when she's older," Xander said, stepping back and running into the wall. "It'll be good for her."

"Sure, something peaceful that can still help her defend herself." Oz waved at the door. "Shall we?"

"Yeah, it's almost lunch." He walked over to the door. "Oz, thanks. You're a great dad, even to me." He opened it and walked out.

Oz stood up a little straighter and smiled. "Yeah, I do do okay, don't I." He walked out, closing the door behind him.


Willow looked up as the baby walked through the doorway, well entered first anyway. She smiled, getting up off her bed to grab her from Oz's arms, dancing Miri around the room. "Oh, did you come to see me? How about we study for my math test tomorrow?" She looked over her shoulder at her former boyfriend. "Why did you bring her up here? I didn't think this was a planned trip."

"It's not," he said, sitting down on Buffy's bed, running into the lump known as the Slayer. "When Xander was mugged last night, he ran into something else too and we're trying to figure out what but you have the book we need." He turned his head to look at the barely appearing blonde haired lump. "Morning." He didn't dodge the soft pillow that hit his arm. "Not have a great night?"

Willow rolled her eyes. "Buffy decided to try the evils of beer again at a frat party." She sat down on her own bed, turning the baby to look at her roommate and occasional lover. "And that is why beer is bad, Miri. You don't want to turn out like her. No, yucky." She turned her back around to make a gross face, which to her delight was almost copied. "Yay, that's the spirit!"

Buffy looked at Oz and moaned, "Aren't you glad she's not going to have one of her own soon?" She pulled the blankets back over her head, hiding again.

Willow pouted at her, making it through the covers if the pained groan was any indication. "The book's behind my computer," she nodded her head at the desk, "and I'm done for the day if you guys need help."

Oz got up, walking over slowly. "Not really. It's been slow so far so we've been researching in between customers." He picked up both of them, looking at the titles. "Does he know you have this one?" He held up the one on sexual demonology.

She blushed. "Not really." She turned her head to grin at the blue eye peeking at her. "I had to do a paper so I borrowed it to research a spirit." She shrugged, laying down to put the baby on her stomach. "Why don't I come over to help you guys research and give some female influence."

"Not really needed," Oz said. "She's doing okay with just us guys." He walked over to the bed, zipping the book into his jacket before picking Miri up off her Aunt's belly. "Say nighty-night, Miri, and we'll go back to dad." He waved her little arm for her then looked at Willow's hurt expression. "If we go later to find it, then you're coming over. Okay?" She nodded, still hurt looking. "Will, it's not that we don't want you there, it's just not the right time. When she's older you're gonna have a bigger part in her life but not at the second. Not while we're trying to figure things out." She nodded so he turned her to rest on his shoulder, looking at Buffy. "Aspirin and some juice, helps me." He walked out of the room, closing the door softly.

Buffy pulled the covers down, looking at her roomie. "He's right. They're getting everything sorted out and we'd just get in the way." She tossed her stuffed pig over when she got the pained pouty look. "Hug him, he needs strong womanly arms to teach him not to drink beer too." She pulled the covers back up, grunting at the weight of a body as it hit her head. She popped an eye out, looking at her friend. "Is this a cure for a hangover?"

Willow nodded, kissing her forehead.


Oz walked back into the store and looked at the police officer bother his friend. "Hey," he said, walking over and handing the baby over. "Will's anxious to sit later if you want it." He turned to the officer. "Can we help you?"

"I just needed to ask him some questions about the incident last night." He turned back to Xander, sneering now. "Now, why did you go into that store again?"

"Because I thought I was being followed." He turned the baby around. "She and I were walking home from visiting the other man that helps us here. I felt like I was being watched so I headed for the only open store I saw, Ernie's. When I got there, I tried the phone but it was out of order and I felt comfortable enough to finish walking the three blocks with her so I started to leave after calling out to him. That's when I ran into the mugger guy, and Buffy saved us." He hugged Miri harder, bouncing her slightly. "I gave a statement last night."

"Oh, I know, but it looked really well rehearsed."

"That's because I had to be led to it. I was in shock. It's not everyday that you almost die." He looked at Oz, then at the unhappy baby that was making 'you're smooshing me' noises again. "Want to go feed her? I don't want her here, I think it's a bad influence to see her father questioned by the police." He handed her over at the short nod, watching as they walked up the stairs. "Now," he said, turning back to the officer, "what's your problem?" He leaned closer, not resting on the counter. "That I'm a single father? That she was there? Or that I didn't put her down and beat the shit's ass?" He frowned at the man, raising an eyebrow, trying to look like an intimidating Giles-type person. "Otherwise this is harassment and I'll call a lawyer."

The officer stood back up, frowning at him. "Why didn't you hurt him yourself? Waiting for a woman to do it for you?" His sneer was more prominent now. "I'd never have done that." He started to walk away.

"Yeah, but my kid's probably happier having a father that gives a damn about her." He glared at the other man as he turned around. "Yeah, you heard me right. I was alone and holding her. I wasn't about to put her down to try and fight him off with skills I don't have a lot of or some imaginary weapon that you think I had hidden. Now, if you have any *real* questions you can come back and I'll gladly answer but I refuse to be mocked by you." He crossed his arms over his chest, turning his head at the clapping from the back of the store. "Hey, Giles," he said, turning back around to face the officer. "Any *real* questions?"

"No, I think we've got all we need." He opened the door and strode out, his every move saying he was pissed.

"Before you say a word, he was insulting me and trying to say I wasn't a good father or a real man." He turned to face his friend and mentor. "I won't have it, especially not around Miri."

"I understand fully," Giles said, walking over to where he was standing. "Just remember that stores live on their reputations." He patted the still crossed and tensed arms. "Where is she anyway?"

"Oz is feeding her upstairs. I didn't want her here when I snapped." He grinned, just a little. "Felt good though."

"Oh, I know that. Ripper is still a part of me and always will be." He walked past the counter, heading for the back stairs. "I'll just pop up to see her."

Xander brushed a hand over the counter then grimaced, getting the cleaning supplies from under it and cleaning the spot the officer had been leaning on. He was still scrubbing when someone came in. "Hi," he called, not looking up. When he did, he saw the same officer. "Did you have another question?"

"Only about one thing. Do you know how much trouble you're in?" He spun the younger man around, handcuffing him.

"Hey! Hold on, I have the right to yell up the stairs and tell them, right?" He dragged his feet as he was pulled out of the store.

"Wrong. You get a phone call when we get there and feel like giving it to you."

"Giles! Oz!" he yelled, hoping at least one of them would hear him. They were just pulling away when Giles made it to the front door, frowning at him and turning to shout.

Xander looked up at the new officer walking in. "Why am I here? Well, besides the fact that I objected to the first idiot's problems with me not fighting with a baby in my arms?" He crossed his arms on the table, leaning on them a little to relive the pressure on his rear from the hard chair.

"Huh? Oh, you're the prime suspect now." He slapped down the folder, leaning over to loom over him. "Now then, let's try this again."

"I was being watched, or felt like I was. I went into the store because it was open. I tried to call my neighbor but the phone was dead. I yelled that I was going then ran into the mugger. Then my friend saved me, beating him." He looked up. "I didn't do anything."

"So, where had you been?"

"At a co-worker's home. Rupert Giles. He's the older guy that helps us run the place. He, I, the baby, and another mutual friend of ours were all at his house."

"Where you exposed your baby to men having sex?" He frowned.

"One, I'm not gay. Two, our friend is a nice *female*. And three, I don't think so. I wouldn't have sex in front of my child. I won't expose her to that. Even the straight friends I have aren't allowed to do more than kiss in front of her." He shrugged. "Where you got any of those assumptions, I don't know but I bet you're gonna be sorry." He leaned back, wincing at the pain in his rear. "Now then, I believe I asked for a lawyer over an hour ago and I've still not gotten one." He put his crossed hands in his lap, looking at the officer.

"Yeah, he's stuck in traffic."

"And I'm an elephant." He raised an eyebrow. "Just because I went to school here doesn't mean I'm stupid." He wiggled to get more comfortable. "Are these chairs to take the place of the old tortures?"

The officer nodded, writing something down. "Yup. Why? A little tender? Or is it from something else?"

"I'm straight, thank you." He glared. "If you can find a man I've slept with then I'd be *pleased* to meet him."

"Oh, really?" He stood up, smiling. "You were seen coming out of your coworker's house this morning."

"I was upset last night and he invited me over to sleep on the *couch*. Anything else?"

"Yes, actually, our officer noticed you came out of the bedroom, with a naked man, who was also holding your baby."

"That's Oz, my neighbor. He was changing her and she's not old enough to know the difference between clothed and not." He shrugged lightly. "As for me being in the bedroom, I went in to be comforted when I started to have nightmares. Was clothed all night, didn't do anything anyway because I wouldn't." He turned his head to look at the window. "And you got those images from the street how? 'Cause I know you can't even see the front door from the street, much less through heavy wool curtains that block out the light." He shifted again, grimacing. "And that would be trespassing, something else that's nice to talk about to lawyers." He looked back at the mirror. "If they're supposed to being watching, they need to talk a little more quietly."

The officer walked out, frowning. He came back with a bald man dressed in sloppy clothes, smelling like whiskey, just shorter than Oz. "Lawyer," he said, sitting him in a chair. "You're being arraigned in an hour." He walked back out.

"So, let me guess, they're giving me the worst guy on purpose?"

The lawyer nodded, his comb-over falling down into his eyes. He pushed it back and picked up the folder. "What did you do?"

"I was the victim of a mugging and then when the officer started to insinuate that I wasn't manly and was actually gay because I didn't put down my child to fight the mugger, I insulted him." He held up his hands, still cuffed. "Isn't it illegal to leave these on for three hours?"

"I don't know." He looked at the folder, shaking his head. "They've got some impressive evidence against you." He pulled out a paper. "A knife?"


"Two bodies?"

"Didn't do it. Went in because I felt like I was being watched or followed." He pulled over the paper he'd written it down on after the third recitation, handing it to him. "Here, what happened."

The smelly man looked at it then at the evidence sheet. "This doesn't match at all."

"I *know* that!" He got up, pacing the room. "I ... didn't .... do ... anything!" He spaced the words out, hoping that they would get through the fogged brain. "Now, get me out of here."

"You can't get bail for capital murder."

"There's no way they can charge me with it. I didn't even know they were dead until I went to go look for them after my friend kicked the mugger's ass." He stopped, looking at the older man, grimacing. "How are they able to do this?"

"They're the police." He shrugged, tapping the table. "Sit."

"I can't, my rear's numb." He sat/leaned on the edge of the table. "Now what?"

"Now, we go before a judge, you say 'not guilty', I request bail and get laughed out of the room." He stood up. "I'm sorry, son, but they've got you."

"I didn't do anything."

"That's the spirit. If you maintain your innocence then it'll be easier to appeal your conviction."

"Nope, no way. I want a real lawyer. Sorry, but I don't like drunks that I know more than." He stared the man down. "I suggest you put that motion up before the judge too." He turned to look at the door. "Giles," he said in relief. "Get me a real lawyer?" He walked over, standing beside his friend. "Please?"

"Of course, but that won't be necessary. I believe we should be having a visitor soon who will let you go." He scowled at the lawyer. "You really pissed them off, didn't you?" He stepped out of the way so the smelly little man could go. "What's happened so far?" He sat down in the chair, grimacing. "I thought this country banned cruel tortures of prisoners." He shook his head, patting the table. "The new Mayor will be down soon and this will all be sorted out." He patted a hand reassuringly.

The first officer stuck his head in the door. "No touching the prisoners." He closed the door again.

"Shithead," Xander muttered, bringing his hands up to scratch his jaw. "Did you know that they peep in windows? The second guy said he saw Oz walking around naked." He looked at the table. "I hate this place," he said softly. "I really hate this town."

Giles nodded. "I know," he said, taking a deep breath. "As do we all." He looked up as a new officer, this one in a suit walked in. "Is this charade over with yet? I'd like to take him home." He stood up, staring the man down.

"Yes, it is. The first two officers are being shown the error of their ways. IA found out that they forged the evidence sheet and earlier statement." He motioned Xander over, unlocking the cuffs. "All things in this room are recorded and I've been instructed to grant you a copy and an apology."

"I'll think about not suing," he said, shaking out his arms. "Giles, let's go before they do something else to harm us, like call Social Services and fake a report there too." He walked out the door, frowning at the people he met, none of whom would look at him.

Giles looked at the man, still frowning, putting his hands in his pockets to keep himself from doing something stupid. "I believe it would be best if we weren't bothered again. He's most upset and more than ready to take the baby and leave." He walked out, nodding at the people he knew, heading out to the car. He looked around, not seeing Xander anywhere. He got in, turning the car on and pulling out slowly, watching the sidewalk for him. He found him a good block away. "Get in," he called.

Xander stopped, watching as the car was parked and Giles got out to lean on the roof. "I'm walking before I explode and do something stupid. Go cuddle Miri for me. I'll try not to hug her too hard when I get home." The older man nodded, getting back in and driving away. He looked around, then headed for the park, meaning to cut through it. Halfway through, he ran into the man from the Council. "Popping out of bushes again?" he asked, not stopping to look at him.

"Most unfortunate what happened." He jogged to catch up to Xander, getting in front of him and stopping him. "We really don't want to see it again."

"I was the *victim*!" he shouted. "I'm not the one that did anything! Go tell the idiots that you work for that they'd better not show up over this because I'm so close to disappearing right now it's not funny." He pushed past him, shoving him to the ground, and kept walking.

He didn't see the man pull out a cell phone and dial it.

When he got back, Giles was standing in the door, watching for him. He pushed past without a word, heading up the stairs. He walked into Oz's apartment, still not talking, just picking Miri up as he was trying to get a spoonful of oatmeal into her mouth and going over to his place and slamming the door.


Giles looked up as the Council's man walked in. "Oh, go away. We've been through enough today without you." He locked the register's drawer and stood up straighter. "What?" he asked when the man just stared at him.

"You can't let him leave."

"I don't plan on it. She's like my own." He frowned, walking around the counter. "I'd hope that you don't think he did anything to warrant their attention. All he did was stand up for himself and they accused him of horrible things."

"Yes, so I heard, as did the rest of the city." He waved a hand around the store. "Not much business?"

"Not on this day usually but we're expecting more tomorrow night." He sniffed, patting the counter. "We've made quite a successful go of it so far."

"And with the city thinking he did it? I think it's about to collapse around your ears, Rupert." He turned and walked out.

"Bloody prig," Giles sighed, turning around to look at the back room, where Oz was standing. "Don't even tell him of this, it'll just hurt him more." The younger man nodded, heading back into the room.


Xander looked at the reporter, swinging his feet against the counter he sat on. "I didn't do anything. I was mugged. I didn't hear them die, I didn't see them die, and I sure as hell didn't do it. The police are persecuting me because of a supposed thought that I'm gay, which I'm not. And even if I was, it still isn't right." He turned his head to smile at someone walking through the door. "Hey, Oz. This guy's from the paper. He actually wants to hear the truth."

"About time." He shook the man's hand and looked at his friend. "Get off there, it cracked last night and we don't want you in the hospital again." He walked around the store. "Inventory tonight so we can order."

"Sure, remind me later." He turned back to the reporter. "Need anything else?"

"How about a picture of the baby?"

Xander picked her up, turning her toward his chest to hide her face. "No. I don't want her hurt by this." He frowned. "Would you if it was your kid?"

"No," he admitted, putting up his stuff in his briefcase. "Thank you, I'll get it in for the morning edition." He shook Xander's hand and waved at Oz as he left the store.

"Hmm, free publicity too," Oz muttered, walking back over. "You really shouldn't sit up there." He took the baby, waiting until Xander was on the floor. "Was that wise?"

"I can't let it stay like this." He turned, waving a hand around the deserted store. "I can't stay a suspected murderer."


"That either!" He looked at his friend, shaking his head. "Don't joke about this Oz. It hurts." He turned, walking up the stairs but he came back for Miri. "We're gonna go read. Yell if you need me." He jogged up them, holding her tightly.

Oz nodded, hopping up onto the counter. "Okay," he said, looking around. "Now what?" He turned his head, looking at the woman walking in. "Can we help you?"

"I just wanted to talk to the young man that was falsely accused." She smiled gently. "I'm Ernie's ex-wife."

Oz nodded and reached around to pick up the phone. "Xander," he said, after dialing. "Ernie's ex-wife's here." He hung up, and they both turned at the sound of running feet down the stairs.

"Hi," Xander said, panting, holding Miri again. He shook her hand. "I'm sorry. I really am."

She nodded, touching the back of the baby's head. "So am I." She handed him a paper. "For anything that you get from the city." She stepped back.

Xander looked at the papers and shook his head. "I'm not suing them. They've taken care of it internally." He set it on the counter. "Listen, I didn't know what happened. I was in the front, I didn't even hear it happen."

She nodded, still looking very sad. "I know, but I can't let you just sue them and take all of it." She started to walk out.

"I'm not suing them," he called. "I refused to." When the door shut, he turned to look at Oz, who was reading it. "Okay, this Hellmouth has gotten us on the ass again, now what?"

The older man shook his head, turning the paper around so he could see it. "We're being sued, even if we don't sue the city. For hefty damages." He grimaced, picking back up the phone to call Giles. "Hey, it's me. Ernie's wife is suing us." He hung up, frowning. "He's going to a meeting with the school board. He thinks his job's going to disappear because of this."

"That's it," Xander said, walking up the stairs. "I'm not staying. She can have all this." He actually made it to the top before Oz caught him, shoving him against a wall. "I'm not staying here. I won't let her be hurt by this."

"You can't take her away from us." He stroked over the back of Miri's head. "You said she's ours too."

"I can't *stay*," he said, thumping his head against the wall. "This has got to stop."

"Let me take her. We'll go to Giles' tonight and talk." He held his arms out, remembering very well that nobody got her from him when he was upset.

Xander handed her over, then headed for his apartment. "Take her for now," he called. "I'll come get her later tonight." He slammed the door, knocking some plaster off the wall.

Oz held her tightly, hugging her hard, as he walked down the stairs. "You're not going," he muttered. He walked behind the counter, grabbing the door keys. He was almost there when he saw Willow walking toward them. He waited until she was inside to lock the door. "We're having a crisis. Now's not the best time."

"Yeah, well, I'm having one too." She looked around the store. "Did you know that one of my teachers thinks he's guilty and he believes in guilt by association so I'm obviously bad?" She turned to look at him again. "I'm having to defend myself to the dean of the college tomorrow because he turned me in for academic fraud."

Oz held out an arm, letting her sink into his side. "We'll handle it. Don't worry. Meet us at Giles' tonight." She nodded so he let her go, unlocking the door and walking back out. He relocked the door and headed for the back. "It's time for some special stuff," he told Miri, hitting the button on the way.


Giles looked around the table at his friends. "I don't know what to do. My job has been put on hold indefinitely. We're being sued by Ernie's ex-wife, and Willow's being brought up on false charges at school." He looked at the assembled grim faces. "And Xander's ready to leave us and take Miri with him."

Oz shook his head. "I won't let him." He turned to look at her, her carrier sitting on the seat beside him. "She's not going."

"Indeed," Giles sighed, "but we can't fight him if he's determined to go." He looked at Buffy. "Anything adverse affecting your life yet?"

"Not really. My grades are consistent. None of my teachers are acting wacky towards me." She took Willow's hand. "We're okay besides that one thing."

Willow nodded, frowning. "And I've got that covered. I handed in a copy of the paper today, along with a more detailed reference sheet. She's looking at it tonight." She shrugged. "I'll bring the book with me tomorrow."

Giles nodded. "Have at it then." He looked at Oz. "What have you got planned?"

"Tracking device on his car. And in her things. I'll go after him and bring them both back if he manages to get past us." He sniffed as someone walked toward the door. "Company."

Buffy got up to get it, snarling at the person on the other side. "Go away Spike. This doesn't concern you."

He pushed past her, shoving her and the door out of his way. "That's nice," he said. He looked at Rupert. "You're dead," he snarled, leaping at him, feeding face out.

Willow picked up a wooden bowl, breaking it, and tossing the pieces to each of them. They surrounded the vampire, fighting him.

No one noticed Xander sneaking in the way Oz used to and getting his daughter. Or his leaving again.

Buffy had just managed to knock Spike back outside when Oz grunted and headed for the bedroom. She didn't follow it out into the street after hearing his yell in outrage, instead running in to find him looking at the open window. "What?" she asked, rubbing over his arm.

"He's gone and taken her." He spun around, walking back out. "Don't, I need to check something." He pushed between them, making it out to the front steps. "Come on," he said, waving him on. Spike got up and ran away, laughing manically. "Thought so." He turned to face the others. "Diversion." He jogged up the outer stairs, heading down the street quickly.

Willow looked at Giles then at the empty chair. "He didn't," she gasped, then shook her head. She looked at the older man, frowning when he didn't move. "Giles, let's go. We've got to stop him." She pinched his arm, making him come out of whatever funk he was in. "Let's go."

He followed her out, getting in to drive. They made it to the apartment and store about the same time as Oz, following him up the stairs. They found a note tacked to the door, written in large red crayon:

Gone fishing, be back eventually. Don't even try to track me, Oz. Xander.

Giles ripped it down and tore it into little pieces, venting his frustration on it. "How dare he," he said, not caring what everyone else thought of his behavior. "Stupid boy, we would have closed ranks around him and protected them both."

Oz turned him around, holding him tightly, making him give up the paper shredding. "I'll find him. I'll bring them both back to us. Get this fixed so he won't be so panicky when we get back." He gave him a light kiss on the cheek before going into his apartment to grab some things.

Buffy and Willow steered Giles back to the street and into the car, Willow getting in to drive him home.