Xander stretched out across his couch, sighing at the pleasure of being alone for a while. Miri was down in the store with Giles and Oz was out somewhere with Devon. He closed his eyes, basking in the quiet he really never got a chance to enjoy anymore. Until the phone rang. "Yeah?" he asked as he answered. He shuddered and hung up, going back to his nap. "Yay, and they want me to do what?" he asked himself and the quiet room. After a few seconds, he got up, heading downstairs, the quiet suddenly having become oppressive.
Giles looked up as he heard his partner and lover walk in, locking the drawer when he saw his expression. "What's wrong?" he asked quietly, only patting his shoulder since others were in the store with them.
"Faith just woke up. Wesley called from the hospital, said she'd been moving in and out of near-consciousness for a few days now and she had just really woken up. And her first question was about Miri." He stepped closer, looking at the child fenced in behind the counter in her own little play area. "He said she told him she knew before graduation."
"What a git," Spike said, walking out of the back room. "But I'm sure she won't want her, babies take attention and time, and little Faith was never a patient person."
Giles sighed, squeezing Xander's shoulder. "I agree with Spike, no matter how much it harms me to say so. Faith won't want her back after she sees how much of an imposition a toddler can be."
"It's the up to that point that I worry about," Xander said, looking around. His voice dropped. "I'm not giving her back to her. There's no telling what Faith would do to Miri before she realized she couldn't handle it and she's just stubborn enough to keep her because we told her that."
"While that may be true," Giles soothed gently, "no judge in the world would give Miri to her. Not if we tell them how she came to be."
"Then it's a matter of public record, Giles," Xander reminded. "Which I don't want."
"It may come to that."
"Then I'll beat her ass up." Xander picked up his daughter, hugging her tightly. "Yeah, you're not even going to be allowed to see her if I have my way." He put her back down, watching her go back to her building with her blocks before heading back up to his apartment. "Why couldn't she just die," he muttered as he walked out of the store.
Giles and Spike shared a look, this discussion had been going on around Xander for a few months now, ever since the first report from the hospital when she started to show signs of coming around. Spike subtly nodded, heading back to the back room and his research on how to remove his chip without killing himself.
Wesley walked into the store a week after having talked to Xander, frowning at Giles. "I got here as soon as I could," he explained to ease the frown. "And I talked with her. She's most adamant that she be allowed to at least see the child."
"Does she want custody," Oz asked from his position behind the register.
"No, she's aware of what children need, I had a nurse with three of them allow her to babysit. After about an hour, her eyes started to glaze over and she swore off ever having another."
"That's good at least," Giles muttered, heading for the register to relieve Oz. "But I still don't want her to be here and harm Xander."
"Miriam," Wesley corrected.
"No, she won't harm her, at least intentionally," Giles told him, "but forcing her and Xander into the same space would hurt him." Wesley nodded, looking down. "Did she say anything else?"
"She's in the car," the younger former Watcher admitted. "I had to bring her, I was told to watch over her until the Council could decide what to do with her. I was going to bring her to Angel but she wanted to stop in here first."
"Let me call upstairs," Giles said quietly, picking up the phone. "Xander?" He leaned on the counter. "No, I believe you and she should come down for a bit. No, Wesley's back and he's brought her with him." He removed the phone from his ear. "I can understand that, but she doesn't want to take her from you, just to see her." He hung up. "He'll bring her down, but he doesn't want to have to see her personally. He'll let Oz and I handle it."
Xander walked in, silently handing his daughter off, glaring at Wesley as he walked into the special back room that held all of the real occult supplies and some of Giles' books for people to copy from.
Wesley walked out, coming back in with a subdued looking Faith, who instantly smiled at her child. "Hi, sweetie," she said, reaching for the baby but Miri was pulled away from her. "I can't hug her?"
"No," Giles said. "I don't think that would be wise." He looked down at the little girl. "She's unfortunately gotten a gift that can be quite harmful to those she doesn't trust or like."
"Meaning me," Faith supplied. He nodded, setting her down on the counter. "Listen, I'm sorry and all but I'm not the same person." Everyone looked toward the back at the sound of breaking glass. Oz hit the button and went to go check it out. Faith turned back to look at her former mentor. "I really am sorry I hurt him, and I don't want to do it again by hurting her, I just wanted to see her."
Oz and Xander walked out, the younger man having wrapped his shirt around his now bleeding hand. "He hit the bookcase," Oz explained. "We're going to clean up."
Giles nodded, watching them go until there was no possible way for Xander to hear him. "Faith, I know that you feel a mother's love for Miri, but you've destroyed his life. Not once, but twice now. The first when you hurt him and the second when you woke up. He was just getting over how his beloved daughter came to be when you did this and I have to wonder why."
"You love him, huh," she asked, inching closer. "You and furboy both." Giles nodded, glancing around to see if any customers were nearby. "What? Don't want the world to know?"
"No, some of us enjoy having privacy." Giles handed Miri off to Wesley. "Please take her upstairs, it's time for her nap. And I'm sure Xander would probably be ready to hold her."
"You're going to let him hold her with his hand bleeding?"
"I'm sure he won't hurt her," Giles told her coolly, leaving out the 'like you would' part. "Is there some other reason you stopped by?"
"Yeah, I wanted to see B...I mean Buffy. She still around?"
"She's in class right about now. I'll have her come to LA to talk to you."
"Giles, I'm trying to get over what I did to everyone. You're not helping."
"That's not my job, Faith, nor is it your child's or Xander's. And for future reference, Miri is as much mine and Oz's as she is his."
Faith nodded, turning around, shoulder's slumped as she headed back to the car.
Wesley looked at Giles and frowned. "She was trying."
"And I might accept that if she had had a good reason for caring but I doubt that it was real." Giles nodded toward the stairs. "You going to take her up or shall I?"
"No, I will, I'd like to talk to Xander for a bit."
"Wesley, if you hurt that boy, I will come after you. The both of you." The younger man nodded, walking up the stairs with the sleeping baby.
Xander opened his door, accepting his child gratefully. "Thank you." He walked over to the couch, sitting down with her. "Hey," he said, kissing her head. "How are we?"
Miri blinked up at him and patted his face. "Shhh." She laid her head back down, snuggling it into his shoulder to nap.
Wesley held out his arms, offering to take her and put her down but Xander shook his head. "I think we need to talk."
"If Faith's name comes out of your mouth, you won't see her until the bitch is gone," Xander warned. Wesley frowned at him. "Hey, I don't have to like her, that's your job, but I also don't have to tolerate her or the pain she's caused, no matter how much the outcome is one of the most important things in my life." He stood up, heading back to put Miri in her crib, taking most of the stuffed animals he had put in there when he had cleaned earlier back onto the floor and draping the netting snugly over the top so none of them could get back in with her. He motioned Wesley back to the living room, shutting the door partially so he could still hear her. "Wes, sit." The former Watcher sat, looking at him. "Miri is important to me, very important, and nothing is going to ever take her from me. Not the Council, not my parents, and not Faith. No matter how much you think Miri might be a good, calming, and humanizing influence on her, I won't allow my daughter to be harmed by the selfishness of her mother and her now inherent evilness." He sat down in the chair that faced the front door. "I'm sorry if this offends you, but I refuse to let my family be harmed by her again. No matter what the cost is. Even if I have to put her back into her coma myself." He looked at the older man, seeing the sorrow there. "I'm sorry if this hurts you, man, but if you were me, you'd do the same thing."
"That's what I was sad about," Wesley admitted. "I would do the exact same thing, before I even found out if she had really changed or not."
"If you find out that she has, call and tell us, or Giles actually, and I'll listen to a plea for a possible visitation but I'm not giving her up, not without going to jail."
"I can understand that," Wesley said, trying to calm him down. "But if such an event were to occur, you would lose all you held dear right now."
"Not really," Xander said calmly. "I would find a way to bring Giles and Oz to me. The store means nothing to me except a means of support. Those three people are my only family and I won't lose them. No way in Hell." He shrugged. "Though, if you want, I could give you the name of the person I've been seeing about what she did to me so he could talk to her too. He's a pretty good guy when it comes to seeing through the bullshit she's given you." He glanced at the door as it opened. "Faith, what are you doing up here?"
"I wanted to talk to you alone." She leaned against the doorframe. "Can we do that?"
"Do you have on body armor so I don't hurt you?" Xander asked snidely. She shook her head. "And why should I invite you into *our* home?"
"Because I don't want her back." She walked in, closing the door behind her. "Xander, I'm sorry I made you run for therapy but I didn't really mean to hurt you."
"No," he scoffed, "just choke me to death, right?"
"No, that was just playing. I was bad, tainted, and I'm better now." He shrugged. "All I wanted to do was to see her, make sure she's okay and loved and stuff. I knew you wouldn't hurt her but I was curious."
"Now you've seen."
"Yeah, now I've seen. And I like what I see, but I still have some concerns."
"Hey, I'm still her mother."
"How old is she?" Xander asked out of the blue. Faith looked confused. "See, two of the three people in this room can tell you down to the day and even what time probably but one of us can't and never will be able to. You may have changed but you're not getting her back."
"I don't want her back, Xander, she'd die with me."
"So can I just see her again?"
Wesley stood up. "I'll watch her," he said quietly. "You'll hear me yell if something happens." Xander nodded, slumping just a little so he led her back to the baby's room. "As you can see, she's quite healthy and loved," he told her, letting her look around the room, watching as she knelt in front of the crib to look at the little girl in it. "Xander has done an excellent job of raising her so far, and I and Giles both make sure he's got everything he needs." She nodded, brushing over a rail. "Faith," he said.
She looked up. "She's so little."
"She was much smaller when she was born, almost fit into one of my hands." He looked down at her. "She's also very gifted, very strong."
"No," floated in from the living room.
"Sorry," Wesley called back. "She's being well taken care of. Willow gives her a female influence and the boys are together, along with Giles, who lives here with them I think. She's learned both sides of the fence by now I should say and she's quite happy here."
"What's the scar on her stomach?" Faith asked, pointing at where the baby's t-shirt had come up from her wiggling.
"Her appendix burst about a month and a half before her first birthday. It was touch and go there for a few days but she managed to pull through with no lasting ill effects."
"Is that normal?"
"It's quite normal and usually runs in families from what I've heard. I do believe Xander had to have his taken out also."
"She's also got my chronic ear problems," Xander said from the doorway. "Back up, Faith." She scooted back a few inches. "You're not touching her."
Faith stood up. "I'm not going to hurt her."
"I don't care." He moved out of her way. "I'll start sending Wesley extra copies of her old pictures if you really want to see them but you're not getting this close to her again." Faith shrugged, walking out. Unfortunately neither man saw her smirk as she walked out the door. Xander stopped Wesley before he could walk away. "Don't bring her back here and never mention her name around my daughter again," he said quietly. "I refuse to allow her to harm the baby."
"I'll do my best to shield Miriam, Xander," he assured, "I'd not let harm come to her either. We'll be at Angel's." He patted a tense arm before leaving.
Xander sat down in front of the crib to watch his daughter sleep.
Giles woke up to someone pounding on his door, grumbling as he crawled over Oz to answer the summons. "What?" he asked, rubbing his eyes. Xander almost pushed him into the doorframe in his haste. "What's wrong now?" he asked tiredly.
"Miri's not in bed," he said, looking around.
"She's in the one down here," Giles reminded him, pointing. He looked over the young man's attire, or lack thereof, and sighed. "Woke up after another dream?"
Xander nodded, heading to where the extra crib sat but Miri wasn't in there. He headed for the bedroom, the next most logical place, and stopped when he saw her trying to get up onto the bed. "Miri," he sighed, picking her up.
"'Nother dream?" Oz asked, not opening his eyes.
"Yeah, bad one." Xander sat down beside him, clutching the protesting baby to his chest. "Shh, you're fine," he whispered.
"You're not," Oz commented, pulling himself up to sit. "You knew she was down here, asked us to sit, so what's the big?"
"I just dreamed that she was gone again."
"She's not coming back."
"You don't know that," Xander reminded him. "Nobody does. I talked to Angel and even he wasn't sure she's back to be being good."
"Then we'll just have to cope. We had the fingerprinting stuff done, we have a baby locator on her carrier and her backpack. We've done all we can, but I doubt she'll be taken." He smoothed some of the younger man's hair down. "Xan, you worry too much about this. No one's taking her, not from you and not from us."
"You don't know that," Xander repeated, hugging Miri tighter.
"Twit," Miri said, pushing on him so she could breathe. "Me." She looked up at her daddy and smiled, kissing his chin. "Me?"
"Yes, I'm worried about you but I know now that you're safe so you can play with Daddy Oz and Daddy Giles." He handed her over, getting up to watch them for a second before heading back up to his place.
Giles walked back in to lay down, kissing the baby's forehead after he was settled. "I think we need to make him feel safer."
"Is there a way?"
"No," Giles admitted, "but we should look like we're trying."
Xander paced in front of his counselor's couch, his mind going too fast to let any words out.
"If you tear up the rug," Blair said without looking up, "it's going on your bill." He absently brushed an auburn curl back behind his ear as he wrote.
Xander sat down, looking at him. "She came back."
Blair looked up, dropping his pen. "Faith?" Xander nodded, still rigid with tension. "What did she want?"
"To see Miri."
"I know she wants to take her."
"Did she say that?" Blair asked, leaning back. The younger man shook his head. "Then why worry?"
"Because you don't know her, she's sneaky and conniving and...and mean. And if I was her, I'd want to steal her."
"So you're assuming that her mother wants her back so you've worried yourself close to an ulcer?" Xander nodded, grinning, relaxing a little since someone finally understood. "Well, that's rational at least." He frowned, sitting back up. "Xander, even if she wants her back, the courts would have something to say about it."
"And my relationship with Giles and Oz, and my surgery," Xander pointed out. Blair hissed. "Yeah, so it'd be a tossup and mothers usually win those."
"Point," Blair conceded, "but I don't think you need to worry."
"I gave her Watcher one of your cards that I had tacked to the fridge," Xander admitted. "Maybe you could talk to her?"
"I could, but it would have to be in conjunction with your own treatment, I couldn't take her on as a patient because it would be a conflict of interests." The younger man nodded. "Hey, I really wouldn't mind getting into her head, but I can't." He snapped his fingers. "Sam could though." Xander looked up, looking really hopeful. "I'll ask her tonight. Where is she?"
"At Angel's, that other contact number I gave you for Wesley, the LA one." Blair nodded, making a note. "Why would she come in to one of our sessions?"
"To help you get over what she did to you." Xander growled. "Sorry, but only she could explain her reasons for doing it. It wasn't really a power play on her part, you were weak and helpless and she didn't have anything to gain by it."
"It was fun," Xander explained, pulling his feet up under himself to get comfortable. "Purely for fun. She used to view her job the same way, though she knew it was a special duty, it was fun to her. And then she corrupted Buffy."
"Which is still giving you problems," Blair added, making his patient smile slightly.
"Yup, still. She's still freaky and I'm still trying to figure out how to deal."
"Dump her?" Blair suggested.
"She wouldn't last that long without support," Xander reminded him. "And I'm sure ..." He stopped as the door opened to admit a stunning blonde woman. Well, actually she was mildly pretty but Xander now knew her and knew she was stunning internally so her brilliance simply shined out to him. "Hi, Sam."
"Hi, Xander," she said with a small pat to his head. "I'm sorry but I have to steal Blair for work." He nodded, getting up. "Though, I think we may need to talk to a friend of yours about this." She handed Blair a folder, watching as he looked at the pictures, frowning.
"Who has their skin shaded blue and has someone put horns on them?" He looked up at his wife. "This is insane."
"No, it's a demon," Xander said quietly after glancing at the picture. "Giles is supposed to be waiting on me outside by now. I can go get him, he could tell you about any special things you had to worry about on the body." Sam nodded so he jogged out of the office and to the parking lot, motioning Giles to roll down the window. "They just caught a case of a demon," he said quietly.
Oz frowned at him. "What type?"
"Blue, with horns. Can they steal Giles?"
Giles nodded, pulling out the keys and handing them to Oz. "Here, you take him to the mall or something, I'll call your cellphone when I'm done."
"We could come get you," Oz noted. "I'd like to see John again."
Xander shrugged. "I'm okay with that." He got out of the older man's way so he could get out, leading him back into the office. "Here ya go, exceptional knowledge-guy. Oh, and Oz wanted to know if John was going to be there, we were going to stop in so he could say hi when we picked Giles up."
Sam brushed her hair back. "Yeah, he is. I'll warn him that he's coming." She smiled at Xander, kissing his cheek. "Don't worry so much, you're getting wrinkles."
He blushed, heading back out to the car. When he got in, he looked at the backseat then at his lover. "Where..." he started.
"Wesley and Angel are both watching over her," Oz told him. "We can go there and wait. Faith's not there today, Cordy has her helping her for a few days in Sacramento." He started the car. "Want to do that or food first?"
"How about we pull through someplace so I can get a sandwich and then we go see her?"
"Sounds good to me." Oz backed out of the parking spot, heading out onto the highway.
Sam watched Giles read, glancing at Blair then the hall. "I heard my name mentioned," she said quietly, after receiving a kiss from her husband of course.
"Faith's back." Blair told her, "and the first thing she did was to push to see Miri." She winced. "Yeah, basically. Xander gave her my card and referred her but I told him I couldn't take her, interest problems, and said maybe you would."
Sam patted the side of his face. "We'll see. She may not need such heavy treatment."
"She's the same as Buffy is," Blair whispered. "And you remember what John told us when he got drunk?"
"Yes." Sam nodded, going back into the office. "So, what could have killed it?" she asked Giles.
"I'm afraid it's a matter of iron, pure iron to be precise, and it has to be someone incredibly strong to fight off it's usual helper." He pointed at the small blob on the picture. "That, I'm afraid, was it. It's like a tribble from that horrid Star Trek that Xander likes so much, only with foot long teeth and no sense of humor about it's symbiotic mate being attacked."
"Okay," Blair said slowly. "Interesting fact. But what killed it?"
"Someone very strong, fast, and talented who had a very sharp blade." He handed back the file. "And I know of four such people who might do such a thing, two of which are in Sunnydale."
Blair bit his lip for a second. "John told us about all of that stuff," he confessed, "and I had to pump Xander for some details," he pointed at his privacy statement to make his point, "but none of it's gone in the records for anyone to see." Giles nodded. "So, who exactly could have done this?"
"Buffy, Faith, Spike, or Angel are most likely," Giles said, glancing toward the door to make sure they were alone. "Buffy and Spike haven't been out of the college in almost a month due to the demands of classes."
"A vampire is taking classes?" Blair asked, his voice showing his shock.
"No, but the woman who's spelled his chip to make him a lap dog does and he stays with her and Buffy." Giles smiled a little. "It's quite an extraordinary sight, Willow's quite got him wrapped around her finger even though he still protests and swears she's going to be the first gone if he ever gets the chip removed."
"So, Angel," Blair said. "Would he?"
"Only if there was a good reason, he's trying to atone for his past." He shrugged slightly. "I could ask him but I don't see this as his handiwork, he tends to clean up after himself a bit better."
"So, that leaves Faith, right?" Sam asked, looking at the photos. "Tell me about her."
"I can do one better," Giles suggested. "I have her journals at home, the ones I wrote about her, and I can gladly lend them to you."
Sam smiled. "Please, I could use the knowledge, just of the type of personality if for no other reason."
"Of course, I'll send them as soon as I'm at home."
Xander flopped down next to Angel, after giving Miri his pickle because she always liked getting them from his burgers, and took the first bite. "Was the blue, horned thing yours?" he asked.
The vampire just looked at him, frowning in confusion. "A demon?" Xander nodded. "Why?"
"Because my therapist works for the VCTF-LA and their newest case was a blue skinned, horned demon that ended up dead. Giles is consulting as we speak."
Angel got up, going over to his bookshelf but he tripped over the book on the way, frowning at the child he was sitting presently. He flipped through a few pages, showing him a drawing. "That one?"
Xander shook his head. "Horns curled the other direction and he was seawater blue." Angel flipped through a few more and showed another picture off. "Yup, him, if he's that color since that's black and white."
"Yes, his kind usually is," Wesley said as he and Oz walked off the elevator. "You're wanted upstairs Angel, Giles and some woman named Sam are wanting to talk to you." Everyone frowned at Xander.
"Hey, I only hooked them up with Giles, and Blair already knew about the Slayers. John told him." He stood up, scribbling a note. "Here, take this up to Giles when you go."
Angel nodded, heading up with the book, resisting the tugs Miri gave to it to get it back. "No," he said as he passed by her, heading up the stairs.
"You know better," Xander said, looking down at her. She quietly smiled and ate the rest of her pickle.
Angel glanced at Giles as he passed him the note, sitting down behind his desk. "What's going on?"
"Just weeding out possible people," Giles said, crumpling the paper up and putting it in his pocket, folding the ketchup spot to the inside. "Did he feed her the pickle again?"
Angel nodded, still frowning. "Yes, though it can't be good for her stomach."
"Children that age eat what they want, not what their parents want," Sam said wisely. "My daughter had a fixation on rhubarb jelly." She smiled briefly at Angel. "I don't want to know about your caseload, I'm just here about my one strange death and I was told that you may be the one person that might know who did it."
"I might," Angel hedged. He handed over the book. "It's that sort?" Giles nodded, glancing at it. "Did it get it's symbiotic cleaner?"
"Yes, unfortunately it did," Giles said, plucking the folder from Sam's fingers and passing it over. "I do believe it's the dark blob near it's feet."
"Then it had to be someone very quick," Angel said, looking at it. "And probably very short." He handed it back to her. "It wasn't me but I can put out feelers to see if anyone around here did it, maybe find out if it was an unusual event or if they just sat on the wrong person."
"Please, though we were wondering..."
"Faith's in Sacramento," Angel supplied, holding up a hand. "Though she's been itching to go hunt recently."
"Is she turned still?" Giles asked quietly. He saw the glance at Sam. "Someone told them about Buffy."
"Yeah," Angel said, leaning back, "she is. She's hidden it really well from Wes but she's still as bad as the day she conceived her daughter." He rolled his shoulders, moving farther away from the window. "I'd move, I can hear someone outside." Giles and Sam both moved to the doorway, getting out of whomever was crawling through the window backward's way. "Doyle!"
"Scare a guy," he complained, grabbing his chest. "Why're you up so early?" He looked at the other two people in the office, nodding at them. "Sorry, just checking the back way out."
"We'll discuss this later," Angel told him. "Go protect my books."
"Ah, her," Doyle said, his soft lilt holding his own touch of irritation. "Why can't Wes sit her?"
"Because she's knocked him back out on the bed by now."
Doyle nodded. "Ah, yes, the usual." He shook his head, waving at Giles. "You deal with the clients, I'll go deal with the brat."
"My daughter is not a brat," Giles spat, glaring at the young man. "And I'd thank you to be kinder to her. She's not that old and she's curious. Surely you can understand that, being so newly brought back to life and all."
"You'd be Giles then," Doyle said, shaking his hand. "I've not been here when you were before, but your daughter seems to like my books too." He headed for the stairs. "I'll go keep the little dear occupied, you deal with them."
"Actually," Angel called. "They need your help more than mine." He watched as the file was handed over and the young half-demon whistled. "See, we can only come up with one name. And you're supposed to be watching them."
"Faith's downstairs and ..." He never got to finish his sentence, Giles running for the stairs before he could close the file. "Wha'?"
"Faith's Miri's mother," Sam explained, following them down in time to see Xander being held back by everyone else as Faith, or at least she supposed it was the young woman in question, lay with a bleeding lip on the floor. "Xander," she said sharply, making him focus on her. "She can't hurt her." She picked the baby up, kissing her and handing her to her father. "Go clean the ketchup off her mouth before she gets a rash."
Doyle followed them, showing where the linens were, or at least that's the excuse he made. "What was that?" he asked quietly, handing over a washcloth and bottle of soap.
"She's Miri's mother," Xander said, concentrating on his task. "Of course, I don't remember how it happened because I was unconscious at the time, but hey, that's life with the evil bitchqueen." He heard the hiss and nodded. "Yeah, kinda how I feel too."
"No, I meant your neck," Doyle said, touching the bruises that were just starting to show. "When did those get there?"
"Not real sure," Xander admitted. "I kinda woke up to see her holding my daughter after I felt some really strong hands grab my neck again." He handed back the cloth, picking the baby up to hug her. "See, I felt hands go around my neck, but yet again, I wasn't fast enough to stop her from knocking me out." He looked at the young half-demon, seeing he wasn't much older than him. "Weren't you supposed to be watching her?"
"I had orders to stop her from comin' ta see you two, but not about here. I didn't know ya'd be here. I'm sorry."
"No big, not your bad," Xander said with a small pat. "I need some ice before my neck swells." They walked out together to find Blair bending over Faith, examining her cuts and bruises. "Let her die," he said coldly, handing Miri off to Oz, who hadn't fared any better. His daughter started to cry. "Shh," he soothed, "you're fine. I'm sorry we scared you." He kissed her forehead. "Yeah, you sit with Daddy Oz for a few minutes while I go get an ice pack." He kissed Oz lightly. "Want one?"
"Please," he said, stealing another kiss. "Want help?" He hugged his child to his chest, smelling her. "She needs a bath, she smells like Faith."
"We'll give her one in a minute," Giles said calmly. He hugged his youngest lover as he stood, wincing as he moved Xander's shirt aside to look at the bruises. "Go get the ice packs from the freezer, Xander, I'll hold her while you and Oz tend to each other." He nodded, heading for the kitchen.
"Bag's in the drawer," Angel called. "Only one ready pack since we broke the last one over something's neck to kill it.."
"Thanks," Xander called back, coming back with the filled bag and the wrapped blue chilled piece of plastic, handing that one over to Oz as he snuggled into his arms. "I want her back in her coma," he said quietly and everyone looked at him. "I mean it. I don't feel safe with her running around and I don't feel that our daughter's safe with her on the loose either."
"Not wrong to feel that way," Blair told him, "but I can think of something better." He stood up, handing Sam his cuffs. "Here, you do the honors, I want to look at Miri." He walked over to where Giles was sitting, squatting down in front of him. "Hey, Precious," he said quietly, wiggling his fingers at her. "Would you like me to hold you so Daddy Giles can hold your other Daddies?" She held out her arms to him and Giles let her go. "They need you," Blair told him quietly, "I'll sit right here until I have to go then I'll hand her back. I won't move her from your sight."
Giles nodded, getting up to sit between his lovers, holding them both to him as they shook.
Xander looked up from his inventory form, smiling as Giles walked into the store. "Hey, almost got it done if you want to check over it."
"No, I'll do it later." He handed over an envelope. "This came for you. Registered."
"Hmm, New York," Xander said, slitting the side open with his pen. He read the letter and frowned. "Gee, almost a year and a half to get someone into court nowadays," he quipped, handing it over. "The great roadtrip fiasco is going to bite us again. That's the serial killer that wanted me." Giles shuddered. "Sorry, were you trying to forget that too?"
"Yes," Oz called down the stairs, "we were."
"Sorry," Xander called. "I have to go appear."
"Only if they need you to testify," Giles said, handing it back after reading it. "You just have to be ready to appear."
"Hey, I can do that," Xander said, "but I still can't explain why he broke his usual thing to come after me."
"Stop," Oz said, holding up a hand as he walked down the stairs. "I don't need or want to know, okay?" Xander nodded, kissing his cheek. "Thanks. Wes has her, he's feeding her animal crackers."
"Then he can help her brush her teeth too," Xander said, going back to his inventory sheet. "It's no big, guys, really. I'll fly up there for a day or two and come back." He looked up to see both his men shaking their heads. "No? You're going to make me stay and defy a court order?"
"Need I remind you that you tend to get into trouble when you travel," Oz asked, leaning against the other side of the counter so he could get into his lover's face. "That when you and Miri were in D.C. you almost got taken hostage? That she saved you because she became fussy?"
Xander frowned. "Made the news again, huh?" Oz nodded. "Sorry." He stole a quick kiss then one from Giles, going toward the backroom. "Going to count ginseng."
"You're not going to get you out of taking one of us," Giles called after him. He looked at Oz. "Do you want to go or shall I?"
"You," Oz said simply, heading back up the stairs. "I should go save Wes before he has to nap again."
"I sincerely doubt that I would be going with him to visit with a serial killer," Giles called after his lover and business partner who simply laughed.
Xander walked out of the back room, frowning at his oldest lover. "I don't need a keeper, I promise. I'm not going to do anything besides go visit the courthouse and sit there while pretending to be interested." They both looked toward the door as someone walked in. "Welcome to Boca del Infierno," he said cheerfully. "What can we do for you today?"
"Well, two things," the man in black said, taking off his hat. "I need to speak to Oz, and someone who knows New York should go with you."
"NO!" Miri shouted from upstairs, then came the sound of her sliding down them on her butt, the only way she was allowed to go down the stairs on her own. "Daddy mean," she said, running up to her daddy and hugging him. She turned to look at the person and smiled. "You!" She ran over and hugged him.
"Gee, guess she knows you," Xander said, looking him over. "Um, can I ask how?"
"John, get your sliminess away from my child," Oz called as he walked down the stairs. He hugged the much older man. "Don't want her tainted by the things you draw to you, 'kay?"
"Sure, kid, just get the munchkin off me," he said patiently.
"Me?" Miri asked, looking up with a small smile.
"Yeah, you." He bent down, picking her up. "I got a picture of you when you were only a little person." He looked at Xander, who had walked closer, very tense. "Relax, I'm a friend of Oz's, and Blair ordered," he coughed, "me to go with you to New York. Said something about being a worse trouble magnet than he and I combined."
Oz groaned. "You don't know the half of it." He looked at his daughter. "You are still napping." She shook her head, hugging the man again. "Yes, now let's go."
"NO!" she yelled, sticking out her tongue. "Me *big*, no nap."
Xander tapped her on the back. "Yes, you will," he said quietly. "Now please." She pouted at him. "Yes, or no shopping later with Daddy Giles." She blinked at him then held out her hands to Oz, who hugged her tightly. "Thank you."
"Thanks," Oz said with a small kiss to the younger man's cheek. "We'll be up at Giles'." He headed back up the stairs. "John, man, come on, we can talk after we read her a story."
John shook his head. "You really changed him, kid, I'm impressed." He nodded at Giles, heading up after his friend.
Xander and Giles shared a look, then the younger man went back to his inventory.
Oz looked at his younger lover and sighed. "How many more days before you leave to get shot at?"
"Um, sixteen," Xander said absently. "Why?"
"Because I still have to warn John and send him clippings." Xander turned his head to stick out his tongue. "Hey, the man needs warned about you."
"I'm a good boy," Xander said. He put the hamster back in it's cage, closing the little door before it could escape again. "There, her Piglet's all clean and he's burrowing happily." He came over to sit on the couch. "It's not like I planned on running into those people, Oz, I really don't."
"I know. They just like you."
"Yup, but so do you and Giles so it's all okay." He leaned closer. "Want to go cuddle?"
"Can't, Miri's on the bed talking to Willow on the phone. She's trying to allow herself to be talked into going to the park."
"Ah, yes, Alexi." Oz frowned at him. "Hey, he's not *that* much older and he's a good little guy. She needs friends to play with. They're important."
"She'll have plenty when she's older, I'm sure, but why this kid?"
"Because. You remember his mom, she was the little brunette that used to be the guardian of scorned girlfriends and the one everyone went to talk to when they had a problem." Oz nodded slowly. "That's Alexi's mommy, and Gabby is pretty cool. She likes to switch off playtimes with us so she can have some free time too since she's a single mommy."
"So Miri not only has her first real friend but she's part of a two-person playgroup?" Xander nodded. "That's a little advanced."
"Not really. They play around each other but not with each other. He's a boy," Xander whispered the last word, "and they're all icky."
"Me?" Miri asked, climbing up beside them on the couch. "Me play?"
"Yes, you may go play if Auntie Willow will take you," Xander told her. "Daddy Oz has to go to class so I have to work." He got up, heading for the door. "Bring her down when you go, she can play in the storeroom again." He walked down the stairs, closing the door behind him.
Oz shook off the bad feeling he had, looking down at his precious one. "Hi," he said, pulling the thumb she was sucking out of her mouth. "Don't do that."
"You can't play if you're napping."
"NO!" She slid off the couch, heading into the office/cage room and shut the door.
Miri bounded into the store, smiling at the few people in it. "Me play?" she asked, jumping up and down beside her daddy. She knew it was time for someone to take her to the park.
Xander handed the customer back her change then bent down to pick her up, sitting his baby on the counter. "Don't wiggle," he warned, checking another person out. When they were alone he looked at her. "There's no one to take you, sweetness." She started to pout so he kissed the top of her head. "Maybe tomorrow you and Alexi can play together." She started to sniffle, making him desperate to find a cure for Willow being busy. "Okay, how about this? The first other Daddy that gets back can call Alexi's mom and see if he can't come over."
She nodded, then screeched when she saw her playmate through the window, wiggling to get down from the high place. "‘Lexi," she called, pointing. Daddy put her down while he rang up someone else so she ran over to the display window, crawling into it even though Daddy Oz had told her she'd be grounded if he caught her in there again. She patted the window, smiling at her friend and his mom, who brought him inside.
"Interesting display item," the plump brunette told Xander with a small smile, her bright green eyes twinkling in the oddly lined face.
Xander looked at his former classmate and shook his head. "Didn't Daddy Oz say you'd be grounded if he caught you in there?" he called. His daughter appeared from behind the little curtain, wiggling along the edge until her feet hit the top of the two stairs to let her get down. "Thank you. Did you make it messy?"
Miri just grinned at him then at her friend Alexi, who kissed her. "Play?" she asked.
Alexi's mom laughed. "You're a little charmer, you know that?" Miri nodded. "Yes, dear, you may come over and play if your father says it's okay."
Xander nodded frantically. "Please. Giles had to go to a school board meeting that threatened to be an all-nighter and Oz started classes today. She's been driving customers insane by helping."
Alexi's mom patted his shoulder. "We'll be over at my place. The park was muddy."
"Okay, just watch..." She nodded, her smile falling away; he had warned her about Miri's mother already. "Cool, her bag's in the playroom and I think her snack was in the fridge back there." He looked down at his daughter, who was dancing around. "Go get your bag and your snack." She ran off. "Thanks, Gaby, this is way helpful."
"It's good for them to have playmates near their own age, even if Alexi is the shameless older man."
"A whole six months I can forgive," Xander said with a small grin and a waving finger. "Now if it was eight..." Gaby laughed, lightly hitting a perfect ‘C' pitch. "Have fun, someone gave her butterscotch earlier."
"Oh, that was cruel." She turned the stroller around and headed off to help Miri. "Bye," she called a few minutes later.
"Thanks," he called after them as he turned to smile at a waiting customer. "Ready?"
Miri pouted at her friend, watching him scratch. "Play?" she asked pitifully. He hugged her, just cuddling against her littler body. "‘Lexi?" she called loudly, bringing his mommy.
Gaby bent down to look at her son and sighed. "I *told* you not to scratch the chicken pox site." She smiled at Miri. "Let me go put him down, sweetie, he's sick." She picked Alexi up, brushing the dark hair off his coffee colored skin as she headed for his bedroom.
Miri decided to keep herself occupied by rearranging the blocks in front of her with her mind, sorting them how she thought they were prettiest.
Gaby watched from the doorway, mouth open in shock. "I thought it was Alexi," she whispered. She cleared her throat, breaking the little girl's concentration. "Maybe you shouldn't do that, Miri," she said quietly.
"Yes, you. You shouldn't show others that." Gaby sat down next to the baby, brushing through her dark brown curls. "You shouldn't tell others you can do that, sweetie, they could hurt you." Miri looked confused so she tried to simplify it. "People who aren't daddies or uncles think that's bad," she said carefully. "They would hurt you. You can't do it around other people." The baby started to cry so she picked her up, hugging her tightly. "You're not bad, those other people are." The big brown eyes looked up at her. "And those bad people are meanies, okay." Miri nodded. "That's why you can't tell them. At home and other safe places are okay, just not around people you don't know."
Gaby was crying now, her own trauma at finding out people weren't always nice coming back. She hugged and rocked the baby, praying silently that she never would have to have this talk with her son, never have to see that star-shaped scar on his neck that said someone had found out and ‘fixed' him too.